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The Base Vegetable oils, such as palm and coconut, cleanse gently, although they can irritate sensitive skin.
Lather Detergent levels are low, to keep the skin's moisture barrier intact.
Softeners In addition to glycerin, these bars also boast ingredients such as shea butter or essential oils.
Fragrance Look for the natural scent of plants, flowers, even fruit. Some feature exotic ingredients and may also use lab-produced scents.
Size and Weight A variety of shapes and heftier sizes (from seven to 11 ounces) are a trademark.
Packaging Fancy boxes and pretty paper wrappers transform this basic into a real treat, but also bump up the price.
*L'Occitane Shea Butter Extra Gentle Soap in Milk, $10, is perfect for dry or dehydrated skin.
*Blue Q Mental Case Soap, $8, is vegetable based.
The Base Animal fat or a petroleum derivative is combined with vegetable oil.
Lather These tend to be heavy on lathering agents, which can dehydrate skin.
Softeners As in their more-expensive counterparts, glycerin is the star. Many brands are adding shea butter, olive oil, and honey, but in smaller doses.
Fragrance Chemical-based fragrances are the norm. Some brands get the scent just right; others can smell unnatural.
Size and Weight Usually a curved shape and under five ounces, these easily fit in a woman's hand.
Packaging Simple cardboard wrapping is typical, but sophisticated presentation is becoming more common.
*Dove Pro-Age Beauty Bar, $2.99 for two, exfoliates with rounded beads and moisturizes with olive oil.
*Dial White Tea and Vitamin E Glycerin Soap, $2.19 for three, nourishes skin.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2008.