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We usually use shower gel by rubbing it on our palms and then applying it to each body part in turn in order to clean oily substances that clung to it since our last shower. This procedure does not cause the gel to foam (if it is applied to a completely hairless place, such as a clean-shaven head or back, it will produce some small amount of foam (also depending on how much you rub it); if it is applied to a place with relatively small clusters of hairs, such as arms or legs, it might foam up a bit more, and so on).

However, when applying shower gel or shampoo to a hairy place, such as the head, the groin, etc. it usually foams up significantly and rather quickly. A clear shower gel or shampoo will become a white foam in a short time.

Why is that? Is it the air trapped among the hairs?

(Please do not confuse this question with this one, they are different enough).

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  • $\begingroup$ Not foam at all? I can wash my hands (no hair) with shampoo and I still get at least some foaming. I think the difference in foaming is a matter of quantity, not of quality. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Feb 9 '17 at 5:22
  • $\begingroup$ @CurtF. Yeah, it's too definite to say "not foam at all"... I'll edit. $\endgroup$ – Don_S Feb 9 '17 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ No need to tell where you have hair and where you don't $\endgroup$ – Red Floyd Feb 9 '17 at 9:14
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It's mainly due to the surface area and the spacial distribution of hair compared to that of hairless skin.

A typical human hair width is around one micron. Given the various hair length and thickness (space between hairs) on the different hairy regions of the body, there are orders of magnitude more surface area on which soap bubbles (foam) can adhere as compared to smooth (or even very rough), hairless skin.

The second part of that answer, the spacial distribution, just means that the hair gives support to sustain the bubbles so they don't immediately collapse.

Short answer, but I think this pretty much covers it.

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A loofah produces more lather than our hands because of its high surface area, which is due to the large number of holes in it.

When the lather comes in contact with the oil particles micelle formation takes place and the lather fades away as the soap particles adsorb on the oil particles. The hair can act as the loofah by increasing the surface area for the soap to act on.

You may have experienced this that when we wash our hands full of oil with hand wash not too much lather is produced but when we wash our hands which are almost oil free or dry a lot of lather is formed.

There could be another reason,

A typical soap is a Sodium salt of higher fatty acids (RCOONa). At low concentrations soap acts as an electrolyte but at a certain temperature (known as Kraft temperature) and concentration (Critical micelle concentration), the soap particles adsorb on the oil particles and form a colloid.

You may have also experienced that if we take a lot of hand wash and a small amount of water it doesnt lather much but if we take the hand wash with a considerable amount of water a lot a lather forms. This may be due to the critical micelle concentration which wasn't achieved in the former case but achieved in the later case.

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