Warding Off Dry Skin With Dr. Bronner’s Soaps

dry skin

If you know me well, you would be able to tell what season of the year it is by what Dr. Bronner’s soaps are in my shower.

In the summer you’ll see Citrus and Peppermint Castile Liquid Soap, followed in the fall by the Almond Liquid Castile and the Rose Castile Bar Soap, the Lemongrass Lime Organic Sugar Soap and Organic Shaving Soap in the winter, and back to the Liquid Almond and Citrus in the spring.

I didn’t start this cycle intentionally, but over the years, I’ve noticed the pattern to my preferences, and realized there’s a rationale. As my skin reacts to the changes in temperature and humidity throughout the year, I progress through the relative “moisturizingness” of the various soaps.

During the hottest of the humid dog days of summer, I need the cooling and drying of the Peppermint Pure-Castile Liquid Soap. When humidity falls to single digits and the wind whips my skin in late fall and winter, I ultimately land on the Organic Shaving Soap for its most intense hydration. I wash with it from head to toe.

Let’s break it down:

Castile Liquid Soap

Simple, classic and incredibly versatile. If I had to choose only one soap for cleaning it all – from myself to dog to my dishes – that’s the Castile Liquid Soap. It is made with organic vegetable oils, including coconut, olive and palm kernel oils. These uncomplicated and natural ingredients make it ideal for all, including babies and people with sensitive skin.

Of all the scents in the Dr. Bronner’s soaps, those in the Castile Liquid Soaps are the most vivid to me. Perhaps they also tug from my childhood the singular scent of my grandfather’s house in which all the Castile Soap scents intermingled. There’s nothing like the Peppermint pick-me-up or the soothing yet unexpectedly spicy Lavender, but most often I need that mellow Almond or the brightening Citrus. Then there’s the Tea Tree with all its therapeutic, soothing powers for troubled skin, which always will have a home near my sink.

Castile Liquid Soap is exceptionally clean rinsing. It’s few ingredients keep it simple and are especially suited for easily irritated skin. However, as the seasons turn and my skin needs a little more moisture, I kick it up a notch.

Castile Bar Soap

The Castile Bar Soap is not just the liquid dehydrated and wrapped in a bar. Though mostly the same, a few changes give the bar its hardness plus a slight increase in moisture. For starters, palm oil in the bar replaces the palm kernel oil in the liquid to produce a hard soap that doesn’t get soggy in water. Palm oil contains stearic acid, which some people find to be less drying than the lauric acid found in coconut oils. Also, the addition of sodium chloride (aka “table salt”) further hardens the bar and matches the natural salinity of our skin. Read more in my post, Liquid vs. Bar.

But what really nudges the bar soap up on the moisturizingness scale is a process called super-fatting. While that perhaps doesn’t sound great for your diet, it’s a pretty great thing for your skin. In Castile Liquid Soap, the hemp seed and jojoba oils are saponified, i.e. turned into soap, along with the coconut and olive oils. In the Castile Bar soap, the hemp seed and jojoba oils are added after the saponification process. This means they remain as oils in the bar instead of being turned into soap, able to nourish our skin in their original form.

With winter coming, though, I’m going to need a little bit more.

Organic Sugar Soap

The Organic Sugar Soap was designed to fulfill two purposes: to work in a pump (the Castile Soap doesn’t) and to bring more moisture and softness to the skin. It starts with a base of the Unscented Castile Liquid Soap. Organic white grape juice replaces the water content and partners with organic sucrose (sugar) as natural humectants. Humectants bond with water molecules to draw moisture into the skin and hydrate it.

Then there’s the Organic Shikakai powder, which gives the Sugar Soap its distinctive caramel color. Shikakai, which is a natural saponin (i.e. soap), is long known for its ability to condition and nourish skin and hair as it cleans. It gently washes away dirt and grime while leaving the skin’s natural oils in place. (Shikakai’s amazing qualities are highlighted in my post, Benefits of Shikakai Powder for Hair and Body.)

Though the pH of the Castile Soap is already at a mild level of 9.3 ± 0.6, the Shikakai powder lowers Sugar Soap’s pH even further to 8.5 ± 0.5. This makes it extra gentle on dry skin, whether we’re talking face, hands, hair, or body.

But sometimes even that isn’t enough.

Organic Shaving Soap

Don’t let the word “shaving” mislead you. The Organic Shaving Soap is not your dad’s shaving cream. It is a soap. The ingredients are nearly identical to the Organic Sugar Soap, but more concentrated with the Shikakai powder and sugar. Not only do these make the Organic Shaving Soap thicker, but they provide the maximum smoothness and nourishment to skin and hair. This is the most moisturizing soap of the bunch.

When the indoor heaters, low humidity, and general cold suck every last drop of moisture from my skin, I use the Organic Shaving Soap head to toe. It soothes and moisturizes my parched, itchy skin, and restores some life to my dry winter hair. I didn’t figure this out on my own. It was my sister-in-law, Kris, who first mentioned it, and after my initial reaction of, “You wash your hair with shaving soap?!” I realized she was absolutely right! Don’t let that name “Shaving Soap” deter you from washing everywhere with this super soap. 

How Essential Oils Impact Moisturizing

The essential oils used to scent Dr. Bronner’s soaps are part of what make the soaps so very unique. However, essential oils are not merely pleasant. They each have properties and benefits. And as counterintuitive as it may sound, some oils are more drying than others. 

Mild Scents:

Mildest of all is the Unscented Castile Soap, produced by my grandfather at the special request of the UCLA Medical Center’s maternity ward when they requested a simple, pure, unscented Castile Soap. It contains no essential oils and double the amount of olive oil in ratio as the other scents. This makes it extra gentle for skin. If you have sensitive or very dry skin – or want to add your own essential oil blend – this is for you.

Almond and Rose come next, gentle on sensitive or dry skin. These two scents are only available in the Castile Soaps. Almond gets a lot of use in our house. Of the Organic Sugar Soaps, I lean towards the milder Lemongrass Lime scent. It seems I’m fond of the color green.

Moderate Scents:

Citrus, Lavender and Tea Tree are great for otherwise normal skin. Tea tree essential oil is accumulating an abudnance of research regarding balancing out combination skin and helping to combat bacteria, fungal infections, and acne.

More Drying Scents:

Peppermint and Eucalyptus – Both of these essential oils contain naturally occurring menthol and eucalyptol, respectively, which means they are great for waking you up in the morning as well as for clearing congestion. Eucalyptus used to be our recommendation to accompany acne treatments before my brother developed the Tea Tree. Peppermint in particular is cooling on a hot day or after working up a sweat because menthol activates the same receptors in our skin that sense cold. However, menthol can increase transepidermal water loss, and so are not best for sensitive or dry skin.

If, despite your best efforts, dry and chapped skin gets you, check out my post on Winter Skin Remedies for tips on quick relief and healing.

While all the soaps have their special place in my heart and home, they meet different needs. I hope this breakdown provides direction for which might work best for you and when. I’d love to hear your stories of when you reach for the different types.  

Further reading

This use and many more are in my book, Soap & Soul: A Practical Guide to Minding Your Home, Your Body, and Your Spirit with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, available now in hardback on or at your favorite bookseller, and as an eBook and audiobook (read by me!) from wherever you download or listen.  

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Walter Moody says:

Crusty 77 year old feet what will make them less like brick bats on my wife. Help me!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Walter- Happy to help! My recent article Healthy Hand & Foot Care (llinked here: has lots of tips just for you. Start by giving your feet a soak in warm water with some Peppermint or Castile soap. After they’ve soaked for 10 minutes, scrub them with a sugar scrub to remove rough skin. Then slather your feet with the Unscented Magic Balm (or use the Arnica-Menthol Balm if you’re up for it!). Put socks over the balm on your feet, ideally overnight, but if you can’t sleep with them, leave them on for a couple hours (watch a good move). Repeat this regimen weekly until your feet are soft as soft can be!

Esmeralda says:

Hi Lisa,

I’ve asked in your other posts about Castile soap and sugar soaps reacting with the minerals in hard water and you’ve commented that they do in fact react to create that nasty film (soap scum). Since we’re on well water, we can’t use those products.
We do have Sal Suds and it works great.

I wanted to ask if your shaving soap would also react with our hard water.

Thanks Lisa.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Esmeralda- Soap scum is certainly the drawback of using a true soap. The Organic Shaving Soaps is a similar formula to the Organic Sugar Soaps and I’m sorry to say, does have the same reaction with hard water. Depending on your level of water hardness, soap scum can be easy to mitigate with vinegar or baking soda. For more details, see my blog post,

Savy says:

Hi Lisa,
I thought I submitted a question to you last week but couldn’t find which article I asked it in so I don’t know if you replied. 🙂 Our entire family just started using Dr. Bronner’s unscented castile soap as we all have very dry, sensitive skin. I’d like to add some essential oils to the unscented soap and wanted to know what ratio of soap and oil you would recommend for hand soap and body wash? Also, will adding essential oils to the soap make it more drying on the skin? Thank you!!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Savy- Welcome! I’m glad to hear our Castile soaps have been helpful to your family! The ratio for essential oils very much depends on which essential oil you’re using. They vary in intensity. Although I don’t usually predilute the Castile for body washing, instead letting my wet washcloth dilute the small squirt I add, you can predilute it in order to add your own essential oils. Perhaps try a 1:10 dilution. In a 16 oz. bottle, start by adding 10 drops of your essential oil. If that is not strong enough, add a few more at a time and swirl to achieve your desired intensity. To minimize dryness, go with a mild essential oil.

Jenny says:

Hi Lisa. I’m new to using Dr Bronner’s soaps and I have two questions.

I started with the Rose castille as a hand soap in the bathroom and loved it! Then I purchased the Eucalyptus – without being able to smell it – because it was on sale. I am finding the scent very acrid and unpleasant. Can you please suggest an essential oil that would go with it? I have also thought I could mix it, using half eucalyptus and half unscented, but still think I would like to add a different scent.

Secondly, I use a CPAP machine for sleep apnea and need to clean the external pieces, one small “nose pillow” daily, and the hoses (made of rubber and plastic) and headband (microfibre) weekly – nothing that goes inside to the machine itself. I used the rose castille and rinsed until I could no longer detect any scent. My question is this: do you know if any of the different types of castille would be more or less likely to break down the rubber and plastic? I was thinking the unscented Baby soap could be good, but then read in one of your posts that it has more olive oil in it, so am rethinking that.

Thanks much, Jenny

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Jenny- Welcome to Dr. Bronner’s! I have a Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil blend that smells nice. Perhaps try adding lemon. All of the Castile Soap scents are equally safe on rubber and plastic. Pick a scent you enjoy for your CPAP, on the the off-chance any scent is left behind.

Amy says:

I am eager to try lots of your products and this blog is ever so informative!

I will agree, however, with another commenter (though I think I’ll be a lot nicer about it) that I also find the Castille soap drying. I did some half-baked research into this and I read that coconut oil when saponified is quite harsh. I don’t really know how true that is. I purchased 100% olive oil castille soap to see and I think it is a bit more gentle thought it also leaves my hands with a bit of an odd feeling. (Something analogous to a strange after taste…but with touch instead of smell.) I wonder, also, if perhaps it’s the absence of other ingredients that might not be so good for us but that we’re trained to expect in our soaps that gives me the impression that it’s drying when perhaps it’s really not. I have a big old quart of the unscented stuff and so I have tried using it again (after my initial effort a couple of years ago) and I think I’m getting more used to it now. I do plan to try your shaving soap after reading your interesting post about the hieararchy of moisturizing features in your products. I will keep trying. Your brand culture is amazing and what’s not to love about the company! I just wish I understood why the Castille soap doesn’t tickle my fancy.

Lisa Bronner says:

Thanks for your note. It’s great to hear that you’re in sync with what we’re doing at Dr. Bronner’s! You’re right that saponified Coconut oil is dryer on the skin than olive oil, but it is cleaner rinsing (and more bubbly – a fun but irrelevant feature). That is why we blend the two, plus add hemp and jojoba. That doesn’t mean it’s right for your skin, though. You might just need a little more moisture. You’ve got that quart of the Castile Soap, which you can use for many things – foaming hand soap and a bunch of household dilutions found here: Also, you can follow up washing yourself with a light application of coconut oil or another moisturizer.

Sabrina says:

Hi there!
Is the lavender bar soap good for acne as well? I have been struggling with breakouts (never really had them before) and am trying to get a handle of them. I saw your blog post about washing your face with the soap – does the skin purge at all once you begin using it or does it just take a little time?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Sabrina- We hear from customers that just about any scent of Castile Soap helps with acne-prone skin. Tea Tree, with its natural microbial properties, seems to be most helpful though. Castile soap does tend to dig down deep into our pores and bring stuff out. This can result in an initial breakout, but this will clear and your skin will better off for it. Give it about 2 weeks.

NOT Impressed says:

Bronners is the worst drying ‘Castle’ soap I ve ever used. It’s horrible! Ruined my kitchen and bathroom metals, leaving rings too even diluted to the max. I use an other brand now Their SUDs one has SLS as in Sodium Lauryl Sufate, wow, seriously??!!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi there – I’m terribly sorry to hear of your negative experience. I’m glad that another soap is working for you. The Sal Suds, which is a household cleaner, is what contains the SLS. It is an ingredient surrounded by much confusion. Please take the time to read my post about it, and note that Sal Suds is not meant for the body, as it is drying: “There is no Cancer Risk from SLS.”

Alex says:

Is the Unscented Sugar Soap less drying and more moisturizing than the Lemongrass Lime Sugar Soap? Thank you.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Alex- The two scents have the same base. The only difference is the addition of essential oils in the Lemongrass Lime, which aren’t particularly drying. Go with whichever scent appeals to you most.

Manon says:

Exactly the info I needed. My hairline dries HORRIBLY during winter and I have dandruff everywhere. I’ve tried sooo many things and nothing works short of slathering oil on my hairline and leaving it on. I’m so buying the organic shaving soap. I just have one question… do you use the shaving soap on your hair by itself or do you mix it with other ingredients? I have been trying to make the coconut milk mixture work and so far, it leaves my hair really waxy. I’d love to have some input on this and would appreciate your advice. thank you!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Manon- Everyone’s hair (and scalp) is a little different, and often finding a natural regimen that works requires some tinkering. I have some suggestions. The first step is to figure out whether you have dandruff or if it is actually dry scalp. Many times the two are lumped together, but they are actually somewhat different, and need to be treated differently. How can you tell? Flakes from dry scalp are usually white in color, and people with dry scalp will often have dry skin on other parts of their body as well (and the condition is made worse by dry or cold conditions). Dandruff is a symptom of oily skin: the scalp produces too much oil, and dead skin cells form oily clumps, which is seen as dandruff. These clumps are often larger than the flakes produced by dry scalp, have an “oily” consistency, and can be yellowish in color. People with dandruff often suffer from oily skin on other parts of their body, including eyebrows, eyelids, ears, and nose.
Unfortunately, many people with dandruff have a tough time finding natural remedies, but it is worth trying a “drying” regimen. Our soaps are naturally drying, so that could work. For dandruff, many people also recommend changes in diet and supplements.
Since the issue worsens in winter, you likely have dry scalp, in which case a moisturizing regimen is needed. The Organic Shaving Soap is our most moisturizing soap for hair and scalp. I don’t pre-mix with anything. With any of our soaps, follow-up with an acidic rinse of either our Organic Citrus Hair Rinse or a dilution of water and apple cider vinegar (50/50 is a good ratio to start with). For dry or coarse hair, the Organic Hair Crème works wonders at smoothing and moisturizing hair. I apply to the bottom 2/3 of my long hair. Or, many people with very dry scalp have success skipping the soap entirely and washing with acidic rinses, such us our Organic Citrus Hair Rinse or diluted apple cider vinegar. I also recommend the “Definitive Guide to Washing Your Hair with Dr. Bronner’s” for excellent tips and trouble-shooting.

Joshua Howard says:

Thank you for this article! I tried your organic sugar soap and it works perfectly! The best soap ever!

Ronald Coley says:

This is great information! I’ve never thought about how some types are better than others depending on the time of year. I’ll also have to avoid peppermint during the winter although I just love the smell of it! Thanks!

Jackie Sweitzer says:

I am a firm believer in your peppermint liquid soap. I buy a gallon at the time. My husband and I use it exclusively in the shower. Since I use it, and non sulphate shampoo in my shower, I have no soap scum to clean. I use a towel to dry the walls and floor of shower occasionally and it sparkles. Haven’t had to scrub any black mildew, or soap scrum from tile or grout in years.

Necole Freeman says:

Thanks so much for this information. It is so helpful. I was becoming concerned because I deal with dry skin and actually purchased another organic product to help. I’ll definitely look into the shaving soap and mild scents for moisturizing.

Linda Crowley says:

I have every variety and scent of your soaps. If I had known how heavenly the Cherry and Green Tea scents were, I would have purchased larger quantities because they are seasonal. I swim every day, so I will try the shaving soap for my hair instead of the unscented liquid Castile. I coat my hair with jojoba oil before hand to minimize chlorine absorption, so I need something to remove it, but not strip my hair either and the Castile soap works well.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Linda- That’s a great tip about the jojoba oil and swimming! Here’s a secret: You can special order the Cherry Blossom and Green Tea by emailing

Kayte says:

I looked through your whole website to find the lavender package you showed in this site….I wanted to send it as pictured to my friend for Christmas. The only thing that resembled it was a package for babies. Is there such a “soap” grouping package as shown in this page presentation for adults? And if so, what might the price be? Thanks so much. I’m obviously already on your mailing list or I wouldn’t have this question…. 🙂

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Kayte- No, unfortunately not. But you can buy the pieces separately. Packaged in a basket, they’d make an excellent gift.

Kelle L Standley says:

Thanks Lisa,
Another great post! I love the peppermint because it’s what I grew up with, but now my favorite is the citrus, we use that as hand soap and in the shower. I’m going to try the shaving soap and the tea tree as I have a bit of Rosacea on my face.
Thanks Again,

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

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