While staying with a good friend over the weekend, I was delighted to discover Mario Badescu Seaweed Cleansing Soap in the shower. Like any curious houseguest with a weakness for trying new things, I helped myself to a heaping portion at morning and night. After hearing the brand touted on Oprah and Martha Stewart, I knew that Mario has friends in high places. If the daytime talk show queens approve, then the products surely have a massive fan following. But the Seaweed Cleansing Soap fell short on all criteria to make me Badescu-believer, let alone a full-fledged fan.

Mario Badescu doesn't slap a seaweed label on his face soap for no reason. The color of the creamy cleanser is a fitting sea foam green, with minuscule dark green bits meant to resemble algae extracts. There is a high concentration of a kelp called Bladderwrack, an edible brown seaweed that does not (as its name implies) affect your bladder, though it might impart anti-aging benefits by infusing the skin with polygalactosides, amino acids,  vitamin C, and vitamin A. Standard ocean seaweed contributes a few more antioxidants, but that's where the good tide gets flushed out by a swell of bad.

Unlike Mario Badescu's Cucumber Cleansing Lotion, the Seaweed Cleansing Soap is not a minimalist. While the former furnishes its formula with only five purposeful ingredients, the latter has a propensity for tchotchke. Crammed into every corner, there are viscosity controllers and film formers (Propylene Glycol Dipelargonate, Polyglycerylmethacrylate, Lauramide DEA). The backyard is a heaping mass of junk. Once you get past the irritating pH adjuster triethanolamine, you uncover a putrid pile of formaldehyde-releasing and potentially toxic preservatives (quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, two parabens).

For cleansing power, you could do worse than ammonium laureth sulfate, but you could also do far better. Though it doesn't change the structure of proteins like its sister lauryl, this harsh synthetic surfactant dries out skin. The same goes for lauramide DEA, which is an ethoxylated detergent (gentler than a sulfate) that carries the risk of contamination with a probable human carcinogen. Propylene glycol, a petroleum derivative, not only raises red flags all around for organ system toxicity and allergies, but it also enhances the penetration of the other chemicals in the formula. Another mediocre inclusion is the fatty alcohol cetyl alcohol, not recommended for sensitive or irritated skin because of its capability to alter the lipid bilayer of the epidermis and cause allergic dermal reactions.

My generally combination-type skin, prone to the most unexpected sensitivities, fortunately did not flare up from Mario's chosen irritants. However, the cleansing soap's creamy consistency is misleading since its effects are extremely drying rather than hydrating. Both times I washed with the cleanser and followed up with my regular moisturizer, my skin began to feel tight and flake within half an hour. This reaction is no surprise, really, considering how much the synthetic scraps outweigh the two measly seaweed extracts. It's almost as if a blindfolded Mario grabbed a handful of chemicals, tossed them into a pot, and called it Seaweed Soap. He should have included a warning label for unsuspecting houseguests.

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Ingredients:

Deionized Water, Bladderwrack (Fucus Vesiculosus) Extract, Stearic Acid, Propylene Glycol Dipelargonate, Polyglycerylmethacrylate, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Seaweed (Algae) Extract, Glyceryl Isostearate, Lauramide DEA, Cetyl Alcohol, Triethanolamine, Quaternium- 15, Imizalodinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben.