Want to Wash With Shampoo? Read This First

Gets You clean

Have you ever climbed into your shower and reached for your body wash only to discover that the bottle is empty? Or perhaps you think that all this skin and hair care hype is just that—hype. Whatever the reason, it’s got you wondering—can you use shampoo as body wash?

You can use shampoo as body wash, but avoid using it on your face and sensitive private areas. Shampoo’s lower surfactant levels make it less effective for your skin than body wash. Shampoo’s conditioning molecules can make your skin feel greasy. Also, consider shampoo quality, as well as your skin type and overall health. 

As you know, you cannot mix oil and water, so washing with just water will not remove the oils and dirt from your skin and hair. (And by the way, you don’t even want to get rid of all the oils on your body. Renowned medical esthetician Ann Webb told me this when I talked to her about the best ways to moisturize skin in the tub.)

In any case, you may be wondering, are all soap forms equal? In a pinch, can you interchange shampoo and body wash?

Surfactants Help Oil and Water Mix

Shampoo and body wash both work as surface-active agents, also known as surfactants, to clean your skin and hair. Surface-active agent molecules have a polar side (attracted to water) and a nonpolar side (attracted to oils and dirt). The surface-active agents act as a go-between, nudging the water and oils to mix together and wash off skin and hair.  

Shampoo and Body Wash: The Difference

Shampoo has a lower surface-active agent level than body wash. It also usually contains conditioning ingredients, even if it’s not a two-in-one shampoo. 

The reason for the lower surface-active agent levels is to ensure that the hair on your head does not lose all of its natural oils when you wash it. Just as very oily hair is unhealthy, so too is very dry hair. 

The addition of conditioning molecules, which are attracted to each hair follicle, helps your hair stay soft and smooth, reducing tangles and making it easier to brush. If you use shampoo for very dry hair, it is likely formulated to have a higher conditioning content to combat this dryness. 

Can You Wash Your Body With Shampoo?

woman in shower

You can wash your body with shampoo. Technically, most shampoos and body washes are similar enough to make this a relatively harmless practice, but some disadvantages exist.

Your Skin May Feel Slick, Not Clean

On the one hand, you might find that the shampoo is not removing dirt, oils, and odors from your skin as well as a body wash does. This is due to the lower level of surface-active agents. You may have to double cleanse to get the same effects as a body wash. Additionally, the conditioning molecules could leave your skin feeling slick as opposed to clean.  


Your Skin May Feel Better Moisturized

On the other hand, you may struggle with very dry skin. In this case, the lower levels of surface-active agents and the addition of conditioning molecules could help your skin stay moisturized. (If you’ve got dry skin, or you want to relax better in the shower, you’ll definitely want to read this post about the very best ways to use essential oils in the shower.)

Go Slow!

As with any skin product, you shouldn’t just put it all over your body the first time you use it. Of course, if you have been washing your hair with your shampoo in the shower, then you already know that it’s not going to bother your skin. If you wash your hair in the basin or over the tub, your hands and wrists have at least been exposed. 

However, if you start a new shampoo, don’t just lather yourself top to bottom the first time you try it. If you react to a specific ingredient in the new shampoo, full-body exposure to the allergen will be unpleasant. 

This happened to me with a new tea tree oil shampoo. It smelled so good, too! I washed my hair but then later, my head and my arms and back started itching like crazy. Ugh! I should have been careful to only use it on my head first, and maybe wash my hair in the tub so that it didn’t get on my skin.  (If you do too, you’ll want to use the best towel for sensitive skin.)

However, if you tend not to have especially sensitive skin and you run out of body wash, you can probably use your shampoo without a problem.

Can You Wash Everywhere with Shampoo?

A sitz bath can relieve itching and irritation

Your private area is sensitive to fragrances and other chemicals found in most forms of soap. Even though you have hair there, it doesn’t mean it will be appropriate for you to shampoo and condition it! 

It would be best if you were not washing this area with body wash either; most body washes are damaging to the sensitive skin in this area. Washing down yonder with only warm water is recommended. But if you need or want to use soap, choose a mild and fragrance-free soap (look in the hypoallergenic products section). 

Additionally, for women, shampoos and other soaps can interfere with the pH balance. This makes us vulnerable to yeast and bacterial infections, which any woman worth her inorganic bubble bath already knows.

Can You Wash Your Hands With Shampoo?

You can wash your hands with shampoo. Once again, however, the lower levels of surface-active agents in shampoo make it less effective to wash your hands, especially if you’re trying to clean grease off of your hands after working in the garden, garage, or even the kitchen.

Another issue with using shampoo as a hand wash is that it does not contain antibacterial ingredients like most good hand soaps. The age in which we are living with viruses like COVID makes this a severe disadvantage to using shampoo as a hand wash. 

You can add an antibacterial cleaner into your shampoo, but only if you separate it from the shampoo you are going to use on your hair and body! It is probably just easier to buy hand soap. But, if you’re out of hand soap and desperate, go ahead and use shampoo until you can get out to buy more.

Can You Wash Your Face With Shampoo?

All the double cleansing, air-drying, serum-using, moisturizing face care zealots will weep if they hear you are thinking about washing your face with shampoo. But it’s not just them. 

Your face is a careful balance of oil glands, pH, and sensitive skin. Face care products are specifically designed for the skin on your face. They are formulated to help your face achieve its healthiest state, no matter what type of skin you have. 

As your face is always on display and your facial skin’s health is so important to your confidence (let’s just admit it), stick to the official skin products. Additionally, if the oils and pH’s of your face get out of balance, it can take ages to get things right again. 

Important: The Type of Shampoo and Your Skin Type

bowl of oats

Medicated shampoos can be harsh on the skin. 

Poor quality shampoos might have all sorts of unpleasant ingredients in them that can be bad for your skin (they’re probably bad for your hair, too). 

If you have sensitive skin, the fragrances in shampoo may cause dermatitis. Of course, if you’ve got sensitive skin like me, it’s best to stick to a hypoallergenic body wash. Shampoos and conditioners made with oatmeal, body washes made with oatmeal–or bathing in oatmeal!–can be especially soothing for people with easily irritated skin, or sunburns, or rashes. (You can also make a homemade goat milk soap with oats and hemp seed oil. It take about 5 minutes to make and is awesome for skin.)

If you have dry skin but oily hair, your shampoo is going to aim at stripping more oil out than regular shampoos. This can further dry out your skin, so be sure to apply a high-quality moisturizer after you bathe or shower with shampoo.

But Can You Use Soap or Body Wash as Shampoo?

soap bubbles

But what about the reverse? Maybe you’ve run out of shampoo, so you want to wash your hair with soap or body wash. Here’s the thing: The higher surface-active agent levels in body wash will strip all the natural oils out of your hair, leaving it dry and brittle. So unless you’re desperate, don’t!

Can Anti-Dandruff Shampoos Help Acne?

Some people report that using certain anti-dandruff shampoos on your face and body can treat acne. The reasoning behind this is that these shampoos contain pyrithione zinc and selenium sulfide, which are antifungal and therefore supposedly effective for fungal acne. 

That said, before you start using a medicated anti-dandruff shampoo to wash your face, speak to your own dermatologist. Remember, you are not just exposing the skin of your face to these antifungal ingredients, but all the other components that have been formulated to maintain hair (dead) but not skin (living). 

But what if you are stranded in a hotel in a strange country, your luggage is missing, no stores are open, your face is filthy from hours of travel, and all you have access to is the hotel’s courtesy products? Then if you don’t have especially sensitive skin, go ahead and use shampoo on your face—it shouldn’t hurt this once.  

Shampoo as Body Wash: The Bottom Line

Shampoos and body wash work on similar principles of using a surface-active agent to bind oils and dirt, allowing them to be washed off of your skin and hair with water. However, there are differences in the composition and levels of ingredients in these two soap products. 

You can use shampoo for washing your body, but you should not use body wash to wash your hair. Additionally, shampoo should not be used on faces or private areas; it is too harsh for these parts of your body and can interfere with delicate pH balances.

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