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On paper, multi-purpose products are a no brainer. Something that washes your body, your face, and your hair is an economical purchase, plus it also saves time (and caddy real estate) in the shower. But it’s worth questioning whether 3-in-1 washes, among hybrid products, are the most optimal choice for skin and hair care consumers, especially with brands like Xbox trying to embark on the territory.

Pantene introduced some of the first 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner products back in the ’80s with the signature ingredient Polyquaternium-10. From there, the phenomenon expanded to other parts of the body and the rest is essentially history. The key word here is “care”: Is it all that care-ful to shampoo with your body wash, given the fragility of our hair? Plus, if you’ve got oily complexion and I’ve got sensitive skin, then that 3-in-1 product is going to react quite differently on our faces. Our needs are different, and a universal product doesn’t necessarily factor that into the equation.

Our skepticism toward these products starts with another multi-use formula that men in particular love: the 2-in-1 shampoo-conditioner. Greg Ruggeri, owner of Salon Ruggeri in New York, echoes my gripes. “I think that that’s a pretty hard stretch to successfully achieve,” he said. That’s because shampoo strips your scalp of the oils that keep hair lustrous and healthy. Conditioners go in and repair the clean-but-dry hair by delivering nutrients and moisture to each strand, as well as the scalp. Combining them nullifies the conditioner, because it needs to standalone. It needs to be the final step, not a joint one.

“These products will definitely clean your hair,” he adds. “But if you want your hair to feel silky smooth, these products won’t do that.” For that reason, 2-in-1 hair products should instead be counted as a hydrating (read: less drying) shampoo, but still one that requires standalone conditioner after the fact.

For a second opinion on the 3-in-1 cleanser, we sought expertise from board-certified dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali in New York. “Facial skin is much thinner than body skin and is more prone to react or get irritated than body skin,” he explained. “And the hair may need different ingredients to nurture the follicles.”

Bhanusali regularly sees patients who have an oily scalp but a dry face (this qualifies as combination skin), and he says that these patients are prime candidates for irritation if the proper products aren’t used. And, it’s no surprise that no such cleanser exists to address both concerns. But consumers eat up the multi-use products, and I see a new half dozen or more each month. So, clearly they don’t disrupt guys’ routines enough to be shelved. Or rather, enough guys have favorable experiences, so these triple washes are worth stocking.

We also wanted to hear from a brand owner on the matter—someone who helped craft a multi-use product, so we went to V76 by Vaughn and asked stylist and V76 founder Vaughn Acord about his 4-in-1 product. (It also works as a shave cream in addition to triple cleansing power.)

After testing the product multiple times on different lengths of hair, we noticed one key difference: Shorter hair is mostly unbothered by V76’s 4-in-1 and even seems to appreciate the efficiency as it flushes an oily scalp clean. When the same product was used roughly six months later on the same scalp with longer hair, the hair shaft felt limp like any other shampoo. It also cleanses an oily face and body, sans problems. Technically, it never promised to be a conditioner though so it does deliver on its task of cleansing everything.

Acord pointed out that the target consumer of these multi-use products are often short-haired men, or even bald guys: “Keep in mind the general length of men’s hair doesn’t always necessitate the use of conditioner. I recommend using a conditioner for guys with drier textures or more length,” he says.

In other words, it’s OK if that 3-in-1 (or 4-in-1) dries out the hair, because there isn’t enough hair in the first place; the texture and composition of each hair won’t be altered like with longer hair. He also notes that any successful multi-hyphenate products need to be clean, rich, and hydrating, which usually boils down to having the right ingredients and formula.

“Read the label, and pick a product that uses clean and safe ingredients that promote hydration and moisturization [for face, body, scalp, and hair],” he adds. For the record, one such ingredient in V76’s product is “the light type of coconut oil,” which soothes skin and thwarts bacterial growth. Another, bamboo stem extract, is rich in organic silica, which skin uses to maintain elasticity.

If you have hair that is long enough to spike up or texturize, then it’s best to keep your hair care routine separate from your skincare regimen. It’s as simple as that. However, if that all-over cleanser doesn’t disagree with your face, then use it on your body too. That’s the good litmus test: Does your face react neutrally or positively? Then by all means, wash your body with it too.

There are many 2-in-1 body and face cleansers that already pursue this task, and which succeed at it famously. The best among them, and the near-unanimous favorite of dermatologists, is Dove soap. I like using the sensitive skin one, because it more or less uses the face as a baseline, since it’s far more sensitive than the body to detergents. With that reasoning—that it’s great for cleansing the face—then it’s also a good body bar. Just don’t try shampooing with it.

Here are some of our favorite multi-function washes. Use them all over your body if you’ve got short hair and not-so-sensitive skin. Or, simply use them as a 2-in-1 cleanser of both face and body, and invest in a standalone pair of shampoo and conditioner. Oh, and just as you should follow a shampoo with conditioner, always follow a cleanser with a moisturizer.

Our favorites:

All-Over Wash for Face, Hair & Body

Jack Black

$21

No sulfates in sight. But there is jojoba, shea butter, and sea kelp (among other nourishing ingredients) to ensure you don’t parch your hair or skin. Chase it with a conditioner.

4-in-1 Cleansing Foam

V76

$19

This one feels foremost like a shampoo, which is why I like it for the category. You’ll still need to follow it with a conditioner. And as a bonus, it’s also an effective shave cream.

18-in-1 Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

Dr. Bronner’s

$18

An oil-derived cleanser that expels excess grease, leaving skin and hair nourished in its wake. Again, follow with a conditioner, and save some soap to clean the dishes or the dog!

Skip these ones:

Body Fuel All-in-One Energizing Wash

Kiehl's

$20

There aren’t enough reassuring and clean ingredients in this one—it’s a lot of synthetics. I like it as a body wash, and even appreciate that they market Facial Fuel separately as a face cleanser. I just won’t be washing my hair with either.

3-in-1 Body Wash

adidas

$5

Adidas claims that this product “respects your face and conditions your hair”. It does neither. But it’s a decent body wash, sure.

Shampoo Conditioner Body Wash

Suave

$10

Don’t wash your hair with something this large that costs just $3. That’s a surefire sign that there are no quality, nourishing, and clean ingredients inside.

Words by Adam Hurly

Grooming and travel writer from the US, based in Berlin.

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