Navigating Cleansers Shouldn't Be So Damn Hard

Navigating Cleansers Shouldn't Be So Damn Hard

I go to Sephora’s website, and I search “cleansers.” I am immediately hit with 443 results. You'd think that having an endless buffet of options would be comforting. Surely, I can find the perfect solution for whatever skin problem I am struggling to solve, right? Brightening scrubs, antioxidant cleansers, micellar waters, cleansing creams, double cleansing balms… the possibilities are endless!

Except... I feel the opposite of comforted. Instead, I feel completely overwhelmed. My bank account recoils in dread at what's about to come, but there's nowhere for it to hide. We haven't even broached shampoos yet. Once I'm done, maybe I'll still have enough to casually pick up a clearance body cleanser at the local pharmacy. The body always gets the leftovers, despite being my most sensitive and most expansive organ.

Why does it have to be this way?


Products are all about ingredients, y punto. Forget the marketing claims and the cute packaging, no matter how convincing they are. The FDA does not regulate cosmetic packaging, which means companies can make (or make up) whatever product claims their customers want to hear, but they never have to deliver for you to make that initial purchase. For cleansers, at the end of the day, the only thing a cleanser can do is, well... cleanse. No cleanser is going to erase wrinkles or brighten your skin, because a cleanser only sits on your skin for a few seconds before it is washed away. This means whatever “miracle” ingredients a brand sprinkles in are just expensive sink water. So, skip all the marketing gimmicks and zero in on that ingredient list. More specifically, look at the surfactants, because the surfactants are the ingredients that are actually doing the cleansing.


Our number one pick for the BEST cleansing surfactants is isethionates. They are also expensive, so you generally see them in higher-end skincare and haircare options, but, my God, do they work! Imagine this: rich lather, quality cleansing, and ultra soft skin and hair. Isethionates will make quick work of it all. Isethionates are biodegradable, sulfate-free surfactants derived from coconuts, and they are exceptionally gentle. They produce a robust lather and will effectively remove dirt, oil, makeup, sunscreen, and other grime WITHOUT causing excess irritation or dryness. Bonus: some isethionates also contribute to hair detangling! Common isethionates include sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium isethionate, and sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate. At Mil Usos, we chose to use sodium cocoyl isethionate in our cult-favorite bar cleanser, Char Goals Everything Bar Cleanser.


Another excellent surfactant option is betaine cleansers, with cocamidopropyl betaine being the most common. Cocamidopropyl betaine is also derived from coconuts, and this this ingredient not only facilitates cleansing, but it also increases lather and calms the skin. At Mil Usos, we chose to use a superior betaine cleanser derived from shea butter, called Shea Butteramidopropyl Betaine. This ingredient protects the skin and scalp from dryness and irritation. Betaine cleansers aren’t quite as strong as other surfactants, so they are often used as co-surfactants, which means you will have to check and see if the other surfactants listed are irritating to skin. On their own, however, they are exceptionally gentle to skin and hair and are often included in formulas claiming to be natural or organic.

Plant oils: 

Our next favorite cleansing option is plain ole’ oil. Ever used mineral oil as makeup remover? If not, tens of millions of women certainly have. Oil dissolves oil-based products, waterproof sunscreens, and sebum off the skin, which is why mineral oil is the original makeup remover before makeup removers and oil-based cleansers became their own categories. Mineral oil, however, is a petrochemical, which is derived from petroleum - one of the dirtiest industries on the planet. We recommend plant-based oils that are full of antioxidants, plant sterols, polyphenols, carotenes, and vitamin e. Cranberry seed oil contains all of these antioxidants in spades, and we feature heavy doses of U.S.A.-sourced cranberry seed oil in both our Char Goals cleanser and our Total Cranarchy moisturizer. To cleanse with oils, take a few minutes to massage oil into dry skin, and then use a warm, damp washcloth to wipe away. And… poof! You’ll see all the makeup and dirt left behind on the washcloth. You can use the Total Cranarchy Multi-Use Balm in exactly this way with fantastic results.

Isethionates, betaines, and plant oils are the foundation of any good cleanser, whether you're washing your hair, face, or body. These exact surfactants are used in boutique shampoos, high-end face cleansers, and specialty body washes. Here at Mil Usos, instead of packaging the same cleanser into different bottles for hair, face, and body, we just created a single kick-ass bar cleanser that can be used everywhere. This is why our Char Goals Everything Bar Cleanser is so simple yet incredibly effective. By zeroing in on a cleanser’s ingredient list and being ultra specific about which ingredients make first string, you can cut through all of the marketing chatter and find the best cleanser for your skin, body, and hair!

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