If you train martial arts, in particular BJJ or MMA, you’re probably well aware of the risk of skin infections like ringworm and staph. Getting one of these nasty bugs could cause you to miss months of training, so it’s crucial that you get clean with the right type of soap after hitting the gym.
What Makes a “Martial Arts” Soap?
Jiu Jitsu and MMA athletes are typically looking for soap that contains tea tree oil. Wrestlers have long used tea tree oil as a remedy to protect them from skin infections. Is it legit though?
In a randomized, placebo-controlled study, 158 participants with tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) were given tea tree oil to treat their skin condition. The researchers found that:
“There was a marked clinical response seen in 68% of the 50% tea tree oil group and 72% of the 25% tea tree oil group, compared to 39% in the placebo group. The mycological cure rate was 64% in the 50% tea tree oil group, compared to 31% in the placebo group.”Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study.
So there is definitely evidence that tea tree oil does have antifungal properties. Additional research has further validated this hypothesis, including this study that found tea tree oil to be effective against the fungal skin infection candida.
There’s nothing worse than getting sidelined from training by a skin infection. I’m not a doctor, and I’m certainly not saying that using a soap with tea tree oil is a surefire way to never get ringworm. But the evidence suggests that martial arts soaps with tea tree oil are a good choice if you practice BJJ or other combat sports.
Bar Soap vs Body Wash
When it comes to martial arts soaps, most brands offer both bar soap and a body wash. It’s really up to your personal preference which you want to go for. Personally, I use bar soap at home and keep body wash in my gym bag.
Benefits of Bar Soap
- Typically lasts longer than body wash
- Can easily scrub away grime without a loufa
- Less waste
Benefits of Body Wash
- More convenient to take to the academy in your gym bag
- Easy to share with training partners
- Doesn’t require a soap bar rack or carrying case
In either case, you really can’t go wrong with either bar soap or body wash after training. At a high level, here are my favorite choices in each category. Then I’ll break each down with their pros and cons.
Best Bar Soaps for BJJ and MMA
These bar soaps are all specifically designed for the needs of Jiu Jitsu and MMA athletes.
Best Body Washes for BJJ and MMA
Just like the bar soaps above, all of these body washes are uniquely formulated for martial arts training.
The Best Soaps for Fighters
Let’s take a closer look at these soaps and determine the pro’s and con’s of the top options.
Guru’s Choice for Bar Soap: Gold BJJ Submission Soap
– Available in 3 scents: Classic, Peppermint, and Charcoal (all of which are packed with tea tree oil)
– Hand-milled, so the tea tree oil is maximally effective
– Been around for a while, trusted by lots of athletes
– The bars don’t last as long as triple-milled soap
Gold BJJ’s Submission Soap is one of the most popular soaps among Jiu Jitsu athletes, and for good reason. They offer their soap in 3 different scents, all of which contain tea tree oil and are made in small batches in the USA.
Rather than using harsh chemicals, Submission Soap is all natural so it does not break down your skin’s natural line of defenses against germs. Instead it relies on the properties of tea tree oil we covered earlier to help protect you from skin infections like ringworm.
This soap is vegan and GMO-free. Gold BJJ offers it in a 1-pack, 2-pack, and 5-pack. The best value is definitely the 5-pack option.
– Defense soap has been making products to protect wrestlers for years and really knows their stuff
– Triple milled bars are extra hard and last a long time
– Made without any fragrances, dies, or sodium lauryl sulfate
– Some people do have an adverse reaction to it, and it's pricey
Defense Soap is one of the oldest and most trusted names in martial arts soaps. While they focus on making products for wrestlers, you’ll see their products in all sorts of academies including Jiu Jitsu and MMA gyms.
Defense’s bar soap is their first and most popular product. It’s designed for everyday use (as opposed to some of their medicated products, which are only to be used while skin infections are active).
Guy Sako, the founder of Defense Soap, developed his line of products for youth wrestlers like his son. They’ve stood the test of time and Defense products are a staple in wrestling locker rooms across the country.
– Endorsed by high profile NBA athletes
– Infused with Activated Charcoal, Tea Tree Oil, and Shea Butter
– They offer an 8-pack which is excellent value
– Designed for athletes, but not specifically martial artists
Art of Sport is a relatively new brand that took the sports soap market by storm with high profile athlete endorsements including NBA star James Harden and the late Kobe Bryant. They’ve been featured in all of the major sports outlets including ESPN and Men’s Health for their lineup of sulfate-free, paraben-free soaps and deodorants.
I like Art of Sport’s charcoal bar soap because it is almost an in-between version of the Gold BJJ charcoal soap (the charcoal does a great job of exfoliating) and the Defense triple milled soap (which is super hard and dense).
This soap also lathers a bit better than most BJJ and MMA specific soaps. It’s hypoallergenic and the multipacks are an incredible value.
– Unique lemongrass formula (in combination with tea tree oil)
– Infused with Activated Charcoal, Tea Tree Oil, and Shea Butter
– Made in an FDA registered facility in Montana
– Personally, I don't love the lemongrass scent
Solpri markets their Shield line as “How Athletes Get Clean.” While not specifically made for martial arts, their bar soaps are popular with Jiu Jitsu and MMA practitioners.
They are one of the few bar soaps that uses Lemongrass in addition to tea tree oil. Solpri claims that Lemongrass has been shown to be even more effective than tea tree oil in combatting skin infections. I did find one 2010 study that documented the effectiveness of lemongrass against “pathogenic organisms” but the evidence looks pretty thin to me.
Guru’s Choice for Body Wash: Defense Soap Body Wash
– Formulated with 1% tea tree oil and 1% eucalyptus oil
– Super moisturizing thanks to coconut, jojoba, and olive oils
– Defense's proprietary blend lathers very well
– Expensive for a 12oz bottle
Defense Soap’s body wash shower gel is my go-to for a post training shower at the gym. Their body wash comes in a bottle that I can easily stash in my gym bag, and it lathers so well that I do feel like I get a really deep clean with it. One thing is for sure – if I leave the bottle in the academy shower, everyone else will have used the rest of it by the time I get back to it.
While it’s a little pricey for a 12oz bottle, it would be a lot more expensive to get a skin infection and not be able to train while still paying my academy dues. I think Defense’s shower gel is a smart investment for anyone practicing BJJ or MMA.
– Used by some of the highest profile BJJ athletes from Renzo Gracie NYC
– Good for sensitive skin thanks to Organic Aloe
– Tea tree and mint formula smells great
– The shape of the bottle is a little awkward (short and stubby) to fit in a gym bag
Kimura Soap Co. was launched by a few of the athletes that train in Renzo Gracie’s legendary “Blue Basement” academy in Midtown NYC. If you follow Gordon Ryan, John Danaher, and other members of the Danaher Death Squad you might have seen them promoting Kimura Soap Co.’s body wash on their Instagram pages.
Kimura Soap’s body wash is organic and made in small batches in Vermont. They place a strong emphasis on being an American made product – even all of their bottles, caps, and labels are made in the USA.
While it’s a newcomer to the market, overall I am impressed with Kimura Soap Co.’s body wash. It’s tea tree oil and mint formula has a nice minty finish that feels really refreshing after training.
– Made with organic and natural ingredients
– Enriched with Omegas 3/6/7/9 and Vitamin E to soothe your skin
– Over 4,000 positive customer reviews
– Not a martial arts specific formula
Remedy Soap is not specifically made for martial artists, but I wanted to include it on this list because it is one of the most popular general tea tree oil body washes on Amazon, with over 4,000 positive customer reviews.
One unique aspect of this body wash is that it’s enriched with a variety of moisturizing ingredients (including Omega 3, 6, 7, & 9 fatty acids, Vitamin E and C, and Aloe Vera). Tea tree oil can sometimes feel a little dehydrating on your skin, so it’s definitely nice to have some of these additional soothing ingredients.
– Best value of any tea tree body wash I've found
– 100% all natural ingreidnets
– Made in an FDA registered facility in Tennessee
– The lid can be a little leaky, definitely keep it in a Ziploc or waterproof pocket if it's in your gym bag
Nextrino’s Active Body Wash is another very popular general tea tree oil body wash. It’s made without any sulfates parabens, or other nasty chemicals.
I’ve found the tea tree oil concentration of this body wash to be very strong, which is a good thing for anyone who practices BJJ or MMA. After taking a shower with this stuff, your whole bathroom definitely gets a strong tea tree oil scent. The price point of Nextrino’s body wash is hard to beat, it’s one of the best value options I’ve seen available.
Jiu Jitsu Hygiene Fundamentals
It’s important to remember that cleaning your body isn’t the only important part of staying ringworm free. These are my suggestions on other ways you can make sure you don’t get sidelined by skin infections:
- Wash your gear after every training session. No, it doesn’t matter that you “rolled light” today and your gi didn’t get that sweaty. Wash your dang gi.
- If you train in the gi, wash your belt. Yes, I said it. There is a longstanding tradition of not washing your belt in Jiu Jitsu, and it’s time for it to end. BJJ athletes love to proclaim themselves as following a practical, logic-based martial art that has proven to be effective. But then they basically prescribe to an urban legend that they’re going to lose all of their skills if they wash their belt. All your unwashed belt is doing is increasing the likelihood of spreading nasty skin infections around your academy.
- Help keep your academy clean. Even if you clean your body and gear thoroughly after each training session, it’s not going to make a difference if you’re hopping right back onto dirty mats the next time you train. Be a leader at your gym, and take action even if that means sticking around after class to help clean the mats.
This video from brown belt YouTuber Breathe and Flow does a great job of covering why hygiene in Jiu Jitsu and martial arts is so important:
Which Soap is Right for Me?
If you search around online, there are a lot of Jiu Jitsu soap companies in particular that have popped up recently. The ones I’ve highlighted in this article are brands that have stood the test of time and are trusted by real martial artists.
My choice for the best Jiu Jitsu and MMA bar soap is Gold BJJ’s Submission Soap. I like that I can mix it up between 3 scents, and it’s a solid value for an all natural tea tree oil soap.
When it comes to body wash, I prefer Defense Soap’s body wash. Defense has been making products to protect wrestlers for years. Their 12oz bottle is the perfect size to toss in your gym bag.