Minimalistic skincare routines come with benefits for your skin and your wallet. One clever strategy is to find products that make your skin and your hair happy, such as nourishing oils or moisture-rich shea butter. But it can be tricky to determine just how much you can trim from your product collection while maintaining glowing, problem-free skin. For instance, subbing out body wash in favor of shampoo may seem like a good idea, but it’s vital to understand the formulations of each and how certain ingredients may impact your skin health and appearance.
“In general, one would want to use a separate body wash and shampoo because hair and scalp have different needs than the skin,” explains Justine Park, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Los Angeles. “However, there are multipurpose body washes that double as shampoos as well, which adds more confusion to the mix,” she adds.
Ahead, find out everything you need to know about using shampoo as body wash, according to dermatologists.
Shampoo vs. Body Wash
Shampoo is formulated with specific ingredients to clean the hair without stripping it of its natural protective oils, and it tends to have a lower pH than body wash, according to board-certified dermatologist Connie Yang, MD, a cosmetic board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “The purpose of body wash is to cleanse the skin; thus, it is formulated with a higher concentration of surfactants that remove dirt and excess oil on the skin,” she explains.
Hair care requires more harsh surfactants (soaps) to remove oil (sebum), dirt, and sweat from the scalp and hair, while body washes are generally milder and don't have as high concentrations of surfactants. According to Dr. Park, body washes are typically maintained at a higher pH so as not to break down the natural protective acid mantle layer of the skin.
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Conversely, shampoos typically have a lower pH level compared to body washes, making them more acidic, which is necessary for maintaining a healthy scalp, according to Andrei Ghreghina, DO, MS, a dermatologist and co-owner of Oceans Dermatology.
When to Use Shampoo as Body Wash
If you want to simplify your routine or save money, you may be tempted to use a shampoo as body wash. Dr. Yang doesn’t recommend using these products interchangeably but says it can be fine in a pinch.
According to Dr. Park, anyone with a shaved head or who is bald can use body wash on their heads without issue. And if you don’t have skin conditions such as eczema or dry, sensitive skin, using a multipurpose shampoo-body wash product can work for most people. “Keep an eye on how your skin responds and switch back to separate products if you experience any dryness or irritation,” she adds.
One specific instance of shampoo being useful as a body wash is with the skin condition Tinea Versicolor. Tinea versicolor (TV) is a yeast that lives on most people's skin, but once it overgrows, it forms scaly white patches (most commonly on the trunk). According to Todd Minars, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, people prone to this yeast get it repeatedly.
Dr. Minars, who is also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, suggests that you can prevent or at least decrease TV frequency by using a medicated over-the-counter shampoo as a body wash. “The anti-yeast ingredient in many dandruff shampoos can be effective at preventing Tinea Versicolor, so I will often recommend Nizoral 1% ($15) shampoo or Selenium Sulfide Shampoo to be used as a preventive body wash daily or a few times a week in these patients,” he says.
Potential Consequences of Using Shampoo as Body Wash
While sudsing up with shampoo is acceptable in a pinch, it’s likely best to avoid completely replacing your body wash. “Using shampoo as body wash consistently over time can dismantle the pH barrier and lead to irritated or inflamed and distressed skin,” warns Dr. Park.
Dr. Ghreghina warns that repetitively using shampoo on the body can disrupt the natural pH balance of the skin, which may result in dryness, irritation, or other skin issues. “Shampoos are formulated with specific ingredients tailored for the scalp and hair, which may not be as gentle on the skin when used on the body,” he says. “Regularly using shampoo as a body wash can potentially lead to skin dryness, irritation, or even allergic reactions.”
In short, while occasional usage of shampoo as a body wash is unlikely to cause significant harm, it's generally recommended to use products specifically formulated for each purpose. “Dedicated body washes are designed to provide optimal care, cleansing, and moisturization for the skin; this ensures that both your hair and skin receive the appropriate care they need to stay healthy and comfortable,” says Dr. Ghreghina.
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