Straight Dope on Soap

Once upon a time, soap became a mystery to guys. It went from being a simple brick of tallow and glycerin to a complex mix of fancy fragrances, moisturizers, and chemical ingredients that flabbergast the most well-read of scientists.

What the hell is “sodium laurel sulphate” anyway? And why do they list “Aqua” as an ingredient? Are we too stupid to know that’s water?

Anyway, when it comes to soaps, we’ve all succumbed to the ease and convenience of things in bottles. But those things in bottles are really just overpriced (and watered down) versions of actual soap. And many of them include a long list of toxic ingredients that not only don’t help clean your skin, but can actually irritate it. They’re also no good for the environment, and many ingredients (including some perfumes) are actually estrogenic in nature.

That’s right…your fancy bottle of “For Dudes Only” body wash that smells like a mixture of tiger musk and kung fu excellence is actually interfering with your hormones.

Not to worry. Here’s a list of three simple bar soaps you can get for pretty cheap. If you suffer from acne, these are amazing (for reasons you’ll learn in a moment). If you’re worried about body odour, they have that covered too. Our recommendation: buy all three, and use them for every shower in exactly this order. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ve been missing.

Step 1: Carbolic

Carbolic Soap (courtesy of The Soap Works)
Carbolic Soap (courtesy of The Soap Works)

Carbolic soap is legendary. It’s made with carbolic acid, which gives it its distinctive smell (think of a combination of old people and hospital). It is a mild antiseptic that is so effective it’s actually used most often in relief efforts where wide scale hygiene programs are needed. Field medics and many hospitals in developing countries still use it as a pre-operative scrub, because?it works. For many years, it was the mainstay of households around the world (which may account for the “traditional” soap smell associated with it).

Here’s the thing: we find the scent a bit repugnant. But it’s an effective cleanser. So we recommend keeping it in a plastic or Tupperware container with the lid on?[trust me…the first time I brought this stuff home my whole bathroom smelled like a hospital. ~ ed.]?Unless you like the scent, in which case go nuts…but don’t expect it will sit well with your next female guest.

Carbolic soap is renowned as an acne treatment and a deodorant bar because of its natural antibacterial quality. Rub the soap on a cloth or scrubbie thing and lather up everything. When you rinse off, you’ll be amazed at how clean it rinses…and you’ll know the meaning of the phrase “squeaky clean.”

Step 2: Pure Glycerin

Pure Glycerin Soap
Pure Glycerin Soap

Pure glycerin soap is the backbone of all good soaps. It’s the cleanest clean you can get, and contains no added ingredients. For this reason, pure glycerin should be clear, brown or amber in colour, and have no real odour. It looks, feels, and smells clean, and that’s why you want it. Just like the carbolic soap, this stuff rinses so clean you’ll hardly believe it. Use it everywhere, but especially on acne-prone areas like your face, shoulders, and back.

Vegetable Glycerin Soap (courtesy of The Soap Works)
Vegetable Glycerin Soap (courtesy of The Soap Works)

Glycerin is perfectly biodegradable and is ideal for people with sensitive skin and allergies. This alone makes it a top recommendation by acne experts. For the outdoorsy types, it’s also very environmentally friendly, cleans beautifully, and is safe for waterways and septic systems (making it ideal for the cottage as well).

For all these reasons, however, it can be expensive. But pure glycerin that has been well dried can last a very long time while still lathering nicely. A less expensive alternative is pure vegetable glycerin. It does the same job, but is made from rendered vegetable fat sources rather than animal sources. This also makes it a good alternative for those wanting to reduce their animal usage (like vegans) while still getting the benefits of a clean glycerin soap.

Step 3: Tea Tree Oil

Tea Tree Oil Soap (courtesy of The Soap Works)
Tea Tree Oil Soap (courtesy of The Soap Works)

Tea tree oil is well-known for being anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and is recommended as a treatment for everything from acne to athletes foot to psoriasis. Usually the recipe involves adding a few drops of pure tea tree oil to your bath water, but having it in soap form makes it a great daily cleansing solution as well.

By the time you lather up and rinse with tea tree oil (which has a very mild scent of its own, if you get a variety without added perfumes), the impact of that first carbolic lather will be washed away. Tea tree oil is also mildly astringent, which means after warming up and cleansing nicely with carbolic and glycerin soaps, the tea tree oil will help shrink your pores, preventing dirt from building up again. This combination is a great factor in preventing blackheads, while the antiseptic quality helps


One last note: doing this triple-threat with these soaps can start to rob your skin of moisture. They’re?very good at stripping away extra oil from the skin’s surface. As a result, you may find you need to use a moisturizer after your shower. We’d recommend you shop for an unscented one in the baby aisle, rather than look for a “manly” scented one that will undo all of the work you just put in in the shower. Baby moisturizers tend to be milder, made with less perfume (ideally with none, but smelling nice is big business), and can last a long time.


These soap tips are highly recommended for the treatment of acne and other skin conditions. If you do suffer from adult acne, we strongly recommend checking out Mike Walden’s “Acne No More” program, which includes a number of bonuses, including individual counselling. Cleansing is just one part of the equation. ?Click Here?to see his free video, and find out what’s missing from the formula.