Shampoo is not body wash. Body wash is not shampoo. We know this, buuuut…they’re both viscous gels we use in the shower to clean ourselves, so it seems like we could save a little cash and use one for the whole job, right? Well, technically there’s no one stopping you — but you shouldn’t.
To be fair, both shampoos and body washes work in the same way. They contain molecules called surfactants, which perform the nifty trick of attaching themselves to dirt and sweat, but also attaching themselves to water, which means the dirt gets pulled off your skin and all the gunk gets washed down the drain.
However! “The type of surfactants used for hair are different from the ones that we use for our skin,” says dermatologist Rajani Katta, author of Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. “Shampoo is formulated to be stronger than body wash, to break up the oil a little bit more effectively. So I would not apply it to the body — it would probably be too harsh.”
Shampoo is also formulated to remoisturize and nourish your hair after cleaning it, which helps its health. If you washed your body with it, these ingredients could wind up leaving your skin feeling greasy.
Meanwhile, since body washes are tailored for less harsh cleaning, they’re not going to do nearly as good a job as a shampoo. “If you were to use a body wash in your hair, it wouldn’t break up the oil [and dirt] as well,” says Katta. “It’ll leave that residue behind.” That means you could end up with flat, listless hair, as all those oils you’d normally remove will continue to weigh it down.
If you’re in a shower emergency where you only have one or the other, using either for your total cleaning process won’t cause your hair to fall out or your skin to peel off, but it’s important not to make it a practice. And if, for some reason, you have to pick one or the other, definitely choose to use the body wash as shampoo, and not vice versa: “Your hair can withstand a bit more than your skin,” says Katta.
And if you’re waiting for our article on whether you can just use dish soap for everything, no, just stop doing it.