We’ve Joined the Cult of Fancy Hand Soap (and We’re Never Going Back)

February 10, 2021 Off By Mary Frances Knapp

If only we had a dollar for every time we’ve obsessively scrubbed our hands with globby, Sad Flubber hand soap during the pandemic (we’d def have more than those stimulus checks, but let’s not go to there right now). Ideally, the only places where we should be squirting cheap, skin irritating foam on our hands is at The Bar (RIP) or the airport, and as we continue to wait out a safe return to both, one thing has become clear: We have to keep shaking up our at-home brain breaks and self-esteem—starting with our hands.

It’s hard to rationalize when and where we should drop (relatively) tiny, stupid, juicy sums of our leprechaun coins on something just because it makes us feel good, but that’s what’s so perfect about something like hand soap: It’s an inherently practical purchase, and one whose scale of luxury, in our humble opinion, can range anywhere from a few bucks to the price of a fat bottle of whisky. High-end and wash has become such a covetable item that there has been media chatter about which brand will become the next jewel of the public eye (and omnipresent status symbol of restaurant bathrooms), with Eater declaring that “Le Labo might be giving Aesop a run for its money” and GQ lauding Aesop hand sanitizer as “a flex for an anxious time.”

All that industry chatter aside, it’s genuinely ripe for a little bit of olfactory escapism—a simple necessity that, when elevated, turns into a gateway luxury that leaves our fingers energized and luxuriated, as if they’ve been coddled in buttercream and butterfly-kissed by clouds—something each and every one of us deserves, whether your personal-spa-in-a-bottle is teetering next to the faucet in an otherwise grungy bachelor pad or perched by the farmhouse sink of an impeccably remodeled chef-grade kitchen. The following soaps straddle the price spectrum between "special" and "won't bankrupt anyone," while offering a virtual sensory vacation. Because the pandemic may get the Happy Birthday song, but at least we get a soap that takes our nostril hairs to Paris. 

The OG

Aesop Soap
Photo: Aesop

Say what you will, Aesop's ever-popular hand wash still slams. Citrusy, woody, and thoroughly “herbaceous,” this hand soap makes us feel both worldly and down-to-earth, like Francis Mallmann has roasted our hands over a spit and doused them in the nectar of the gods. The amber bottle is so iconic, it's become a status symbol—and it's big enough to make the price tag well worth it. 

Resurrection Aromatique Hand Wash, $39 at Aesop

The soap she told you not to worry about 

Le Labo Basil Hand Soap
Photo: Saks Fifth Avenue

You know how every office has that one guy who just smells really good? Like you get stuck in the elevator with him and it's overpowering and borderline annoying, but also intoxicating and aspirational? That's the Le Labo guy. His cloud of Santal 33 practically precedes his presence, and leaves a memory of him wherever he may pass. Anyway, Le Labo is a hot-shot scent factory and their hand soap is no exception, this one in a more subdued basil-verbena scent that is combined with sea buckthorn, sugar scrub, and hand-soothing rosemary for feel-good effects. Its bottle is unimposing to the miscellaneous house guest, but IYKYK. 

Le Labo Basil Hand Soap, $23 at Saks Fifth Avenue

That Big Sur trip you were planning (in a bottle)

Big Sur After the Rain Soap
Photo: Liberty

The couple behind this New York City fragrance house is so in love with their scents, they’ve even paired them with songs (to say nothing of their IRL boutiques, a kind of Brutalist-James-Turrell wet dream). The Big Sur handsoap is also rooted in a hyper-specific, curated narrative of smelling “rain water in eucalyptus groves off Highway 1,” and specifically “young green shoots, long spears, russet underbrush.” We don’t know what long spears are, but this is the olfactory escape we’ve been looking for.

D.S. & Durga Big Sur After Rain Hand Soap, $43 at Liberty

Soap for the commune

Bathing Culture
Photo: Bathing Culture

“Bathing Culture” makes soap for the commune. It’s certified organic, smells like redwood trees, and comes in a groovy glass bottle that gives us the sensation of rollerblading down Venice Beach whilst hoverboard douches and that dude with a snake smile from afar. While it is very important to reiterate that we cannot make medical statements about this soap, it is also very important for us to talk about how much it makes us feel some type of way. 

Mind and Body Wash, $35 at Bathing Culture

A cruelty-free soap that costs less than a latte

Public Goods Soap
Photo: Public Goods

We can def imagine this Very Good Soap in Nick Offerman’s guest house bathroom (which we unfortunately have yet to be invited into), because he’s already out here ASMR-carving soaps, for one, and this cruelty-free soap is spartan in design, refreshing in scent (citrus) and made in New Jersey by a brand whose wildest superlative statements are “it’s all good.” Good, and relatively cheap. 

Hand Soap, $4.50 at Public Goods

One for the graphic design nerds and Francophiles

Savon de Marseille soap
Photo: Amazon

Compagnie de Provence makes BIG bottles of CREAMY soap that smell GREAT and CATCH YOUR ATTENTION WITH THAT BIG SANS SERIF TYPEFACE. For real, though, hand soap gourmands absolutely love this stuff—we're talking an orgy of five-star reviews. It's loaded with vitamin E, shea butter, and coconut oil, and you can even use it as shower gel; think Dr. Bronner's gone upscale. It ain't cheap, but at $28 for 16.7 ounces, you get a lot of bang for your buck. 

Compagnie de Provence Savon de Marseille Liquid Soap with Shea Butter, $28 at Amazon

This rad Judy Chicago soap that kinda looks like a butt plug

Judy Chicago Hand Soap
Photo: Coming Soon

1970s feminist and artist Judy Chicago (of that vagina table) has manifested her exploration of the sacred feminine into hand soaps because, why the hell not? While a millennial makeover for the Venus of Willendorf could have felt a little too #GirlBoss, Chicago did a great job of applying a graphic reinterpretation of the iconic figurine, making it a hip housewarming gift or present for an art buff. This Venus comes in a calming lavender scent, and is hand-made in a small batch in Turkey (only 500 of these gals, so scoop fast).

“A Goddess for You” Soap by Judy Chicago, $25 at Coming Soon

This Shark Tank favorite 

Blueland Soap
Photo: Blueland

This unique tablet-based soap system was born from two of our favorite things to stress out about: reality TV and saving the planet. You may know Blueland from when it tap-danced on Shark Tank, or simply because you’re passionate about reducing single-use plastic. Either way, integrating their products into your life is a great way to be a less shitty skin sack on planet Earth. Just add water to the agave, lemon and eucalyptus scented tablets of this soap, and boom. Foam away, in good conscience.

Hand Soap Starter Set, $16 at Blueland 

The lowkey dandy soap

Diptyque soap
Photo: Space NK

This Diptyque soap comes in a refillable, heavyweight glass bottle with a chill take on the fragrance brand's signature biG LeTter logo, bringing the luxuriousness of their boutique experience to our bathrooms without feeling too douchey. The formula is a hydrating blend of lavender, rosemary, and honey, and we’re going to try really hard not to tartine it on a croissant. 

 Softening Hand Wash by Diptyque, $62 at Space NK

A psychedelic solid soap

Kai Organics Soap
Photo: Esty

Kai Body Organics is a Black-owned, artisanal soap shop that’s selling its overstock in packs of three (score). They marble together the natural colors of their ingredients, like “orange, turmeric, sea moss, lard, olive oil, [and] coconut oil” which is serendipitously our dream smoothie in our imaginary life as a lighthouse captain. 

Kai Body Organics 3-pack, $15 on Etsy

No-fuss bubbles from Tokyo’s oldest soap manufacturer

Shabondama Hand Soap
Photo: Dokodemo

We don’t know why the words “trusted by Japanese school children” have us ready to ride ‘n die for Shabondama. The graphic design is calm, straightforward, and indicative of this scent-free, trusted road to bubbletown that lies ahead with this lil dude. It’s formulated without additives, and the refills are just as cool

Shabondama Bubble Guard Soap, $5.73 at Dokodemo

A soap that comes with its own leash

Claus Porto Soap on a Rope
Photo: Amazon

For the sheer novelty of buying something called, “soap on a rope,” we give you this charming oval by Claus Porto. Founded in the late 1800s by two German dudes, this brand has long been making high-quality products that lather you up in old world fashion, and when it does come time to have houseguests again, we can’t wait for the moment when they spend an extra stressful five minutes in the bathroom trying to figure out how TF it works. We may have a problem. 

Unisex Claus Porto Musgo Real Spiced Citrus Soap, $28 at Amazon 

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