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Do Soaps Enhance Beauty?
Dr. Rajan T.D., MD, DVD, DNB
Until recently soap advertisements were confined to the press, and not many people paid much attention to them. However, ever since television advertising became popular everyone wants a soft and glowing complexion. Soap advertisements have done more harm than good as it has confused the customer. Many of our ancestors were as healthy as modern men even without using soap at all. Today everyone feels that they should use a particular type of soap as it will transform their skin dramatically.
Skin is the outermost protective shield of our body. It has to brave not only the ravages of heat and cold but also defend itself from environmental pollutants, insects and micro-organisms. A large number of microbes live on our skin without causing any discomfort or producing any infection.
Soaps are used to cleanse the body. They contain a mixture of fatty acids and other chemicals, which help in washing off grime, dust and microbes. Perfumes and colouring agents are added to impart pleasing odour and make it look attractive.
Specialised soaps contain glycerine and related substances in addition to the regular components. These chemicals help to retain water within the skin and hence, they are useful for people with dry skin. Oilatum, Dermadew, Glyfresh and Dove are examples of such moisturising soaps. Most baby soaps also have a similar composition so that they do not cause any harsh effects on the baby’s delicate skin.
Dry, Oily and ‘Normal’ Soap
Until about 2 decades ago, other than doctors, hardly anyone knew about dry skin and oily type of skin. With a strong media blitz, people were informed by soap manufacturers that they should select soap depending on the nature of their skin. Suddenly people were in a tizzy trying to find out what kind of skin they possessed. Until they identify their skin type, they would have to go without a bath, it seemed!
Yes, it is a fact that the nature of skin varies from one person to another. People whose skin produces a lot of sebum (the oily secretion from certain glands in the skin) possess “oily skin” while those who lack it are said to have “dry skin”. Some may have oily skin in some areas of the body whereas at other areas of their skin is very dry. This has been termed combination skin. The most fortunate one is the person with a good balance between oily and dry skin, i.e. “normal” skin.
Most of the soap manufacturers have modified the composition of their regular soaps and incorporated specific moisturisers in them so as to reduce the dryness of the skin. These soaps come with additional labels suggesting that they can reverse the dryness completely. Unfortunately they do not mention the exact composition of these soaps on the wrapper, since it is not required by law, and therefore doctors are unable to recommend them.
Lately pharmaceutical companies have started manufacturing soaps containing antifungal agents and anti-scabies medications which are to be used only on a doctors’ prescription, if there is a skin disease. There are also soaps for people with oily and pimple-prone skin. These are available under several brand names such as Acnil, Acne Aid etc. The cosmetic industry has also launched soaps like Pears Oil-control which are meant for oily skin
A modern stunt among soap manufacturers has been to promote ordinary soaps as ‘medicated’ soaps. They claim to “clear the skin of bacteria and make your skin stay young and healthy, forever”! Advertisements thrive on exaggerated claims. Even though the customer may not really believe the entire advertisement he is still tempted to “try out” the new product. There is no harm in experimenting with a new soap they feel.
Do these ‘medicated’ soaps really help?
Genuine medicated soaps are those that are prescribed by doctors for specific skin disorders. There are soaps containing medicaments which help in the treatment of fungal infections (Keto, KZ), scabies (P-scab), pimples etc. There are also moisturising soaps containing moisturising agents which help people with dry skin to some extent. However, most ‘medicated’ soaps advertised for the general public do not contain any significant medicine! That is because these ’medicated’ soaps contain mild antiseptic agents in addition to the regular group of chemicals.
Manufacturers claim that these substances remove bacteria from the surface of the skin. Whenever a portion of the skin is washed with soap and water, it remains clean and relatively bacteria-free for hours if kept clean. As the hours go by once again microbes start accumulating till the area is washed again.
Even if a medicated soap is used, the story is no different. Microbes will start growing the moment the effect of the antiseptic agent wears off. Therefore, using expensive medicated soaps only provide a false sense of security. Quite often parents’ question, “how can my daughter develop so many boils when she takes bath with medicated soap”? The answer is clear: any soap, whether medicated or not will provide absolute hygiene only for a short period. Boils or infections can develop despite using medicated soaps.
Soaps containing antibacterials, antifungals etc. are promoted freely even though medical professionals themselves debate over whether something that is rubbed on the skin and washed off in 30 seconds is really doing something? Yes, it does something good – to the manufacturer and the distribution chain!
Soap manufacturers have capitalised on the confusion among the public, which has been party of their making, and produced soaps containing varying grades of moisturisers and antiseptics. Those containing more moisturiser are recommended by them for people with dry skin and vice versa.
The type of soap to be used on the skin depends on the nature of the skin as well as the weather. As a rule of thumb, those living in places like Mumbai where the humidity is high and have oily skin or young men and women with a lot of pimples should not use moisturising soaps. Similarly people with dry skin should not use any soap too often for fear of aggravating their dryness.
In winter none of the soaps should be used excessively, particularly the elderly whose skin is dry. Soaps, therefore, hardly affect beauty. It surely helps to clear the skin of dirt and microbes.
Skin Allergy & Soap
People prone to skin allergy should avoid soaps containing too many chemicals. Now, how does one know the exact composition of a bar of soap? It may be easier to reach the moon than try to get its composition from any manufacturer.
People tend to think that their skin disease can be scrubbed away with medicated soap but it only aggravates the condition.
Therefore, if you are allergic to several skin creams and lotions, avoid using medicated soap. Besides, soaps should not be vigorously rubbed into the skin if there is even an doubtful sign of injury or rash.
Ageing gracefully with soap!
Age Skin type Soap or cleanser
Infants Sensitive skin Use baby soaps or those with moisturiser
Below 5 years Normal skin Baby soaps preferred, not compulsory in summer
5-12 years Dry, itchy skin Baby soaps preferred, not compulsory in summer
Normal Any soap during humid weather
Adolescence/Adult Normal skin; Any soap for body;
Oily skin on face Avoid moisturising soap for face in summer
Dry skin and dry face Moisturising soap all over
Above 50 years Dry Moisturising soaps during humid summer
Very dry, itchy skin No soaps in winter. Use minimal lather for sweaty body folds
About Dr Rajan TD
Dr. Rajan T.D. is an alumnus of Mumbai University and practices as a Specialist in Skin & STD at Andheri (Mumbai) since 1991. He had been a Lecturer at K.B.Bhabha Hospital before venturing into private practice. He has been practising in the north-west suburbs of Mumbai and is now busy running two clinics in Andheri.
He is an expert in all skin diseases, diseases of hair, nails and sexually transmitted diseases. He is a keen listener and allows his patients to communicate. Most skin diseases require Counselling as they are chronic and sometimes, disfiguring causing tremendous anxiety. Dr. Rajan takes his responsibility very seriously and explains in detail to his patients about how to cope with them even if cure is slow to come.
Dr. Rajan regularly writes in various websites and periodicals on several social issues as well as those relating to the pharmaceutical industry. He was the Souvenir Editor for Asian Dermatology Congress 2016. He has authored a chapter in the Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology: A Practical and Evidence-Based Approach and has several publications in numerous websites, newspapers and periodicals. He simplifies complex skin disorders into simple language making it easy for the reader to understand their disease.
He regularly lectures doctors on skin and sexually transmitted diseases. In addition he advises Pharmaceutical industries on drug development, promotion and marketing strategies. He believes, education of the general public is the key to successful treatment of skin disorders.
The social worker
Dr. Rajan is a Hon. Consultant to Larsen & Toubro Ltd, Air India and ONGC. It would surprise many to know that Dr Rajan TD has been running a skin OPD run by Larsen & Toubro Ltd. at Andheri for two hours every Tuesday since 1991. He has treated over 60,000 patients free of charge at the centre.
He is associated with various charitable institutions which treat physically and mentally disabled children.