Can You Use Shampoo As A Body Wash?

Let me run scenario by you and tell me if it sounds familiar:

You skipped out on showering for a couple of days and find that you are ‘well-seasoned’ to say the least.

You hop into the shower, go to get your body wash and find that its completely empty…

…you look over at your shampoo bottle and begin to make do with what’s left in that container in order to get your body ‘clean’.

But for some reason or another it just feels like a slimy mess when scrubbing down.


We’ve all been there.

Whether the Amazon order didn’t arrive yet or you simply forgot to pick up the essentials at the grocery store this past weekend, you are washing with the ‘not recommended’ products.

To better equip you on your next foray to a half-baked shower, we wanted to take a look at some staple products (shampoo, body wash, and a plain old bar of soap) and see if its ok to use these interchangeably when in a pinch.

Here’s the results:

Shampoo Is Designed To Perform In A Much Different Manner

sudsing ingredients in soap

As anyone could tell you, shampoo should be used on only your hair right?!

I mean, you aren’t supposed to be using it on any other areas of your body…

…are you (this is a rhetorical question)?

But why should shampoo only be used on your head?

Is it just a clever way for companies to sell more product?  Or is there actually a compelling reason why shampoo is only for your hair and soap/body wash is for the rest of your body?

Well get this:

The chemical structure of both shampoos and body washes are VERY similar.

But they are of course different as well.

When flipping over the shampoo bottle you are always typically going to see one of the two hallmark ingredients:

Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) or sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).

These two surfactants are responsible for giving you that familiar sudsing effect.

Not only do they give you the physical and visual feedback that you are getting clean, but they also will work to allow the dirt and oil to attach to the water and be removed from your hair (source).

Now there is quite a bit of scrutiny around these two ingredients (SLS, SLES) especially in the last couple of years.

With new natural and organic inspired companies for men, women, and children seemingly popping up every day, these companies have largely placed SLS and SLES under the microscope and targeted as the reason why you need to switch your shampoo.

Secondly, the close examination of SLS and SLES has lead to movements like ‘no poo’ in recent years.

Based on our research, however if this is misguided please drop a line in our contact form and we will update accordingly, but there has been no compelling scientific evidence that SLS and SLES are necessarily bad.

Furthermore, non-profit groups like EWG (Environmental Working Group) have rated both SLS and SLES as being relatively safe ingredients.

In fact, SLS is found within most toothpastes (again as a primary sudsing agent) – although their inclusion may lead to canker sores.

For the men with color treated hair or severely sensitive skin reading this, there have been some instances where switching to a sulfate-free shampoo may produce better results.

But SLS and SLES aside, you will find shampoos (both from large manufacturers and boutiques) that will load up the product with natural moisturizing agents including carrier oils like jojoba, argan, or sweet almond oils.

These will help to not only make the hair follicle look much better (by giving it a nice non-greasy sheen), but feel a whole lot healthier as well.

It’s natural ingredients like these that really set shampoos apart from most body washes and bars of soap.

In addition to shampoo, you will also want to reach for a conditioner as it provides an extra layer of moisture for your hair.

This is largely the reason why you always see shampoos and conditioners sold in tandem with one another.

Body Wash Is Designed To Remove Oils And Dirt

Now when you take a look at body washes and soaps, you will see a slightly different effect on your skin.

Most notably, ingredients in body washes and soaps differ largely from shampoo as they not only don’t feel as slimy after application, but they work a bit harder to fully remove excess dirt and grime.

This is especially important for the men out there who get their hands dirty during their day job or even those who live in large metropolitan areas where pollutants are much higher.

Secondly, body washes may contain beads or other exfoliating properties that work to remove dead skin cells and other debris from your skin.

Given that bars of soap have a tendency to dry out your skin or leave soap scum, men who are looking for better results often gravitate towards all-natural offerings like the ones we outlined here.

If the all-natural route isn’t your thing, using a body lotion will be a great way to re-introduce moisture once you are finished with your shower.

What Happens If You Substitute Your Shampoo, Body Wash, Or Soap?

Now there is absolutely nothing stopping you from using the products interchangeably.

In fact, several years ago shampoo wasn’t a thing – people would just use one bar of soap for everything!

But as science and chemistry has improved over the years and the formulas within the products are designed for different uses, you will still want to use shampoo for head and soap for body.

The reason largely is that if you try to use a bar of soap on your hair, it will still strip away the dirt and essential sebum oil from your scalp leaving your hair looking much dryer and brittle afterwards.

Secondly, using soap on your head may cause an uptick in dandruff production as your scalp may try to compensate for a sudden lack of sebum oil by overproducing it for the next few days.

Now if you go the other way and try shampoo on your body, given the naturally slick composition of shampoo, you will likely find that it’s going to be much too slimy and a whole lot harder to rinse off.

If you are in a pinch it can work, however, its largely ill advised.

The Only Type Of Solution You Can Substitute

natural bar of soap

Understanding that everyone’s scenario is different, if you absolutely need a single product solution, then your best bet would be to go with a natural bar of soap.

Natural soaps often contain ample amount of carrier oils and other moisturizing ingredients that not only do a pretty darn good job at cleaning your body, but the natural oils will help to keep your hair relatively intact when used on your scalp.

Now it still won’t be nearly as good as a targeted solution like a natural shampoo, but when in a pinch and you are looking for a viable substitute, a natural soap will be best.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

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