Shampoo vs Body Wash

Back profile of a woman taking a shower in the bathroom.

It is one of those mornings where oversleeping and imitating Flash in the shower is deemed normal, but alas, for the sake of speed, innovation strikes. If you are like me and under the impression that ‘soap is soap’ and that all types of soap can be used for general purposes – it is just not true. Shampoo and body wash have very different purposes with a big difference regarding their application and properties.

The chemical elements used for shampoo are very different than those used for body wash. Shampoos are specifically made to remove the unwanted build-up of sebum in all kinds of different hair and to trap hair grease and -oil. It is specifically formulated for hair and sculps.

On the other hand, the formulation of body wash is not as complicated, because the skin is a living organ that replaces the outer layer of the skin quite frequently. It is a lot less complicated soap than shampoo.

If you still think that you can kill two birds with one stone and only use one of these soaps for both applications, then follow along with the article explaining why this could be damaging to both your hair and skin.

What Makes Shampoo and Body Wash Different?

Hands filled with shampoo foam.

One of the first differences to recognize between shampoo and body wash is the percentage of surfactants in each. Generally, shampoo has a lower percentage of surfactant in its formula than what body wash contains. That means that shampoo can be easily rinsed off with water and that it does not extract that many natural oils from the hair with a lower surfactant percentage.

Shampoo’s biggest role is to clean hair and scalp, but the main concern is that hair is dead. It is not a living organ like the skin is. The skin renews itself over and over while hair only grows from the scalp, but you are still left with dead hair, that is until you cut it.

With that, when using the wrong soap for your hair, can be damaging for the hair leaving it dry, prone, frizzy, and brittle. The chemicals and ingredients for shampoo are much more delicate and carefully included in the ingredient list, than body wash.

There are a lot more hair types to cater for in shampoo than there are for body wash, which mostly only caters to cleaning and moisturizing dry skin.

The most common pH in the body wash is about 5 to 6.5. High acidity will make the skin extremely irritable. The pH of shampoo on the other hand ranges from 4 to 6.

Different Functions of Shampoo and Body Wash

The main reason why we use shampoo and body wash not interchangeably is that the function of these two differs dramatically. The hair and skin have very different needs, and they cater to various things.

  • Shampoo can be used to treat damaged hair due to color treatments, whereas skin does not need this.
  • Some shampoos are designed to help reduce frizzy hair, and skin does not need to cater for any frizzy anything.
  • Dry hair would need more moisturizing and conditioning features in the ingredients than would be needed for the use of body wash for dry skin. Hair dryness and skin dryness are two very different types of dry.
  • There are way more hair types to cater to with shampoo than for body wash to cater to the skin. 

What Makes Shampoo and Body Wash Similar?

Woman applying body wash in the bathroom.

Shampoo and body wash are in some way quite similar, but also in the same breath very different. 

Both can be:

  • Scented or unscented 
  • Liquid or bar form
  • Colored or clear
  • Designed to clean and wash
  • Most soaps contain surfactants (an ingredient that increases water’s ability to spread and to thoroughly wet something) to remove dirt and oil

What is SLS?

Woman applying body wash on the white bath puff.

SLS is a type of sulfate, and they are called surfactants. They are commonly found in most soap types like shampoo and body wash. The SLS attaches itself to the water molecule so that the detergent can be spread throughout the hair making it foamy and wet.

Sulfates help to act on the hair surface to remove dirt, sebum, and other products like hair gel residues.

Too much sulfate in body wash can be harmful to the skin. It is an agent that can dry the skin quickly and can even cause acne. The longer it is on the skin the harsher your skin can react to it.

Although, it is way worse for your facial skin than it is for your body skin. That is why some of the body wash products do have a small percentage of sulfate in their ingredient list, making it more natural.

If a body wash product contains a concentration of more than 2% in its formula, it could irritate the skin if it is left on for 24 hours or longer. SLS in shampoo can dry out the hair a lot if the concentration in the formula is too high.

Nevertheless, it is a very effective cleaning agent to remove dirt. SLS is the reason the liquid turns into a foamy lather to get that ‘clean feeling’, and it can be washed off easily. It is paramount to rinse it off and not keep it on your skin or hair for too long.

Replacing Shampoo with Body Wash

Woman applying body wash in the shower.

It is highly doubtable that the body wash you are using is completely naturally made i.e., made from animal or vegetable fat mixed with an alkaline solution. So, in that case, it is not recommended to replace shampoo with body wash. When replacing shampoo with body wash, it will extract even more natural oils from your hair leaving it very dry (even dryer than shampoo containing an SLS ingredient).

Using a body wash as shampoo can also cause dandruff and irritability. The body wash does not lather in hard water as well as shampoo does, which makes it more difficult to rinse the body wash off your scalp. This can leave you prone to a dry and still ‘soapy’ scalp that can cause dandruff and irritability.

It will also affect your hair drastically in terms of the type of hair you have. If your hair is already dry, frizzy, prone, or even curly – using body wash as shampoo will only make these problems way worse. Curly hair will not at all be compatible with body wash as it does not have the ingredients in it to contribute to this type of hair.

Curly hair is a very difficult type of hair to take care of (as an example).

Replacing Body Wash with Shampoo

Back view of a man applying shampoo on his hair.

One can use shampoo as body wash, but it will not be as effective. One will have to scrub a lot harder and longer to remove dirt and oils from the skin. It can also leave your skin feeling slimy and not as fresh as the body wash would have.

Some of the ingredients in the body wash like fragrance and moisturizer helps that the skin feels and smells clean for longer.


There may be lots of similar qualities in shampoo and soap, but just because they look the same does not mean that you can use them for the same purposes. In life, everything has a purpose and a function and so does shampoo and body wash. It is however a bit more acceptable for the skin if you use shampoo as a body wash, but not so much using body wash as a shampoo.

The different things they must cater for makes it a miss-match compatibly and you will most likely end up with irritable skin, and problems with your hair and scalp.

Even if you must take a ‘Flash-shower’, try to not mix and match the two and take care of yourself. Wonderful-looking and feeling hair with radiant skin will do you wonders!


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