Bin that plastic bottle of shower gel. The soap bar is back - and better than ever, writes Claire Coleman
Bars of soap are back - and in a big way. Once thought to be old-fashioned, drying and harbourers of germs, we shunned them in favour of shower mousses and liquid soaps.
Now, though, we've fallen in love with them all over again. Data from Kantar Worldpanel show that in the year to September 2018, Britons spent £68.3 million on barred soaps. That's up 2.9 per cent on the previous 12 months, confirming market analysis by Mintel in the preceding years.
Part of it is down to environmental concerns. A bar of soap requires minimal packaging and Kantar's researchers found that almost half of bar soap users say that they avoid products that are harmful to the environment.
But what about the fears that soaps are astringent and unhygienic? Newer formulations no longer dry skin out, while several scientific papers dispute the theory that bars spread germs. Then there's the luxury factor.
"Bar soaps are now slightly more indulgent than they have been in the past, as there is now a bigger opportunity for a more premium offering," says Tim Nancholas of Kantar Worldpanel.
He's not wrong - high-end names such as Sisley, Diptyque and Senteurs d'Orient offer bars costing as much as £33. But good soap doesn't have to cost the earth - here are some of the best bars for your buck...
Best for affordable indulgence
L'Occitane has a great range of soaps in some of its most-loved fragrances. The Almond Delicious Soap (£5.50) has flaked almonds to gently exfoliate, while the Verbena Leaf (£5.50) contains citrusy, crushed verbena.
Best for the face
Soap bars destined for the face are more likely to be called cleansing bars these days - presumably in an attempt to distance themselves from drying soaps of old - but they're a soap bar by any other name. French pharmacy brand La Roche-Posay has a Lipikar Moisturising Cleansing Bar (£5.50) designed to help improve the barrier function of dry skin.
Best for fragrance fans
Le Labo is one of those fragrance houses that all perfume geeks adore, as much for its chic and minimalist packaging as its scents. Four of its best-loved fragrances are available in bar form and, although an eyebrow-raising £32, they're a wonderful gift. Try Rose 31, a smoky, woody floral that the smart Fairmont hotel group uses for its in-room toiletries.
Best for beautiful packaging
Liberty is a treasure trove for soap lovers and its own brand soaps in gorgeous retro-modern packaging (£6.95 each) are a winner. Citrus fans will be in heaven - there's also lemon, bergamot and coriander, grapefruit and yuzu, and a fig variety for those that prefer something more floral.
Best budget buy
Made - as you'll probably remember from those television adverts - with a quarter moisturising cream, Dove's Beauty Cream Bar isn't described as a soap, but it is, to all intents and purposes, a soap bar that moisturises while it cleans. Whether you use it on hands, face, or body, it's famed for leaving skin feeling soft, not taut, and at £1.59 for two bars (Superdrug, and nationwide), it's definitely the budget buyer's favourite.
Best for traditionalists
With fragrances that date back to the 18th century, Floris is one of the UK's best known, and revered perfumers. Its bar soaps are available in a range of its perfumes, from classics, such as lily of the valley and white rose, through to more modern scents, such as the citrusy Cefiro. All come embossed with a 19th-century design and the royal warrants, so you'll know you're in good company.
Best for all-round goodness
Vegan, 97 per cent organic, and wrapped in FSC certified recyclable packaging, the soaps produced by BeCo sound virtuous, and that's before you know that they are all made in the UK by a not-for profit social enterprise that helps to create jobs for people who are visually impaired, disabled or disadvantaged. There are three scents - Spring Meadow, Wild Berries and Honey Blossom, and they're just £3 each. Available in Sainsbury's, Waitrose and coming soon to Co-op.
Best for your hair
Washing your hair with a bar of soap might sound counter-intuitive, but in a bid to go plastic-free, a number of smaller brands have launched shampoos in the form of cubes or bars. The Shine Shampoo Bar (£9.50, shinehairgroup.com) was formulated by a hairdresser with 30 years' experience who wanted a transportable shampoo - it comes in its own reusable tin - that lathered well and was kind to hair. This smells lovely, leaves hair clean but not stripped, and doesn't irritate the scalp.