The Difference Between Face and Body Skin-Care Products

The Difference Between Face and Body Skin-Care Products featured image
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My husband left me with an empty bottle of face wash in the shower last week, but I could not for the life of me use my body wash instead. Whether some version of this has happened to you or not, the beauty industry has programmed us not to use the two interchangeably. We scan bottles and jars for the words “for face” or “for body,” and that’s how we use our products. But, what would happen if we used body wash on our face, or body sunscreen? Will there be actual repercussions for our skin, or is it perhaps just one big marketing ploy to sell more products? Here, experts share their insight.

  • Julian Sass, PhD, a cosmetic scientist and product developer based in Canada
  • Martha Soffer, an Ayurveda expert and founder of Surya Spa in Santa Monica, CA
  • Elyse Love, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York

The Difference Between Face and Body Skin-Care Products

“Face and body products are made differently, but not in the ways you might think,” says cosmetic scientist Dr. Julian Sass. “Body lotions need to spread more; body washes normally have a stronger clean. However, the big difference between face and body products is the cost to make them. Body products are usually larger, so they require more materials and are more expensive to make. Ideally, brands would charge more for larger products to make up for this, but people tend to want to pay less money for body products because they’re using them on a really large area. That means that some sacrifices are often made for body products because the profit margins are normally smaller. It might be texture, performance, fancy actives, packaging, or any number of things. You can absolutely use body products on your face, but the experience may not be as nice because of those sacrifices.”

Additionally, Dr. Sass says that the absorption of actives is generally higher in body products. “This is because the surface area of the body is so much larger,” he explains. “Therefore, we generally use smaller amounts of actives like retinol in body products. We also have to account for some other smaller formulation aspects, like ensuring the emollients in the product have a long spread on the skin. This makes it easier for the consumer to apply the product on their entire body without a lot of effort.”

Can you use body wash on your face?

“The skin on our face is more sensitive than on our body,” says Martha Soffer, an Ayurveda expert and founder of Surya Spa. “The face is also generally more in contact with the elements and has more specific needs that vary from individual to individual. For example, if your skin is oily, dry or breaking out. “Most facial care products address these focuses specifically. On the other hand, body products are often more generalized, with a greater concentration of, honestly, mostly mediocre ingredients.”

For this reason, Soffer doesn’t recommend using body wash on your face. However, she says that facial products are made with more delicate skin in mind, so they’re likely easier on your body. Cost-wise though, this probably isn’t something most people will opt for in their routine because face products are pricier. That is, unless you want to mimic the late Karl Lagerfeld and bathe in your milky face wash. The bottom line: Dr. Sass says that unless the formula specifies not to use it on the face or body, it’s fine to experiment and see what works best for you. This is also true for sunscreens, he notes.

What about bar soap?

Not all bars of soap are created equal, and many are not made for the face. Be sure to look at the label and directions before using one on your face. However, the Dove Beauty Bar is great for both areas and the number-one bar soap recommended by dermatologists. “Dove bar soap is actually made to use on your face and body, so it’s fine as long as your skin doesn’t have issues with it,” says New York dermatologist Elyse Love, MD. “Also, don’t directly apply the same bar soap to your sensitive areas and your face.”

The Ayurvedic Approach

For those who practice or are interested in Ayurveda, Soffer says there is a direct link between the face and body. “The skin is understood as the body’s largest organ,” she explains. “What we put onto—or into—our body is going to directly effect what is happening on our face. With this in mind, I created a line of abhyanga body oils to help our body’s skin with specific issues. If it is dry or flaky and needs to be calmed, or if it is irritated, red or breaking out and needs to be cooled. Or, if it is oily or stagnated and needs to be energized. After consistent use of whichever oil is the best fit for you at any given time, I can guarantee that you’ll see changes on your face. However, because of the quality of these recipes, these oils are safe to use on the face, too, if you prefer. At Surya, Ayurvedic body and face products can be used interchangeably with no harm done— only help done.”

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