cetaphil gentle skin cleanserMany of my clients are surprised when they find out that I don’t love Cetaphil. I mean, it can’t be all bad if your dermatologist recommended it, right?

I generally don’t get worked up over cleansers, simply because they rinse off. Of all the steps in your skin care routine, I’m more concerned about the stuff that stays on your face, like serums and moisturizers. I always tell my clients that as long as it’s getting you clean, not irritating your skin, and not drying your skin out, I’m fine with it. But let’s take a quick look at the ingredients in the cleanser that claims to be “gentle and non-irritating.”

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

Water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.

(from cetaphil.com)

Breaking down the ingredients list is pretty easy. There’s not a lot here. First we see water, which is standard for most cosmetic formulas. Cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol are both fatty alcohols, used for emulsifying and moisturizing.

The next ingredient that catches my attention is sodium lauryl sulfate. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant, meaning it releases oil and dirt from the skin and creates that foamy texture we love so much. The problem is that SLS can be stripping for dry skins (which may explain the inclusion of cetyl and stearyl alcohol to neutralize the stripping effects), and it can also be an irritant. I’ve talked about SLS before, and my number one recommendation for irritated skin is stop using products that contain SLS. So why would you include this in a product that claims to be gentle?

The final ingredients are preservatives, which are three different parabens: methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. While I am not someone who is concerned about parabens as a toxic ingredient, and I believe they are generally safe to use, I do know that parabens are an allergen for a percentage of the population. Because of this, I generally recommend that my clients with hyper-allergic skin avoid products with parabens.

The truth about Cetaphil is that dermatologists recommend it for two reasons. The first reason is that it doesn’t have any of the obvious irritants in it like synthetic fragrances or dyes. But the primary reason your derm may have told you to use Cetaphil is that the makers of Cetaphil ship thousands of samples to dermatologists across the land, making that recommendation easy. Amazingly, dermatologists know more about disorders of the skin than they do about products (generally speaking, of course there are exceptions), and they often have neither the time or the desire to shop the drugstore shelves to figure out what cleanser is best for every skin type and concern you may have. Also, most dermatologists (especially male derms) don’t consider a cleanser’s ability to remove makeup in their recommendation.

My beef with Cetaphil is pretty basic. First, I take issue with any line claiming to be gentle while using the harshest surfactant out there. Second, before I became an esthetician, I tried Cetaphil. I found it drying, and it stung my eyes. Additionally, I think it does a terrible job removing makeup. I hate to use a makeup remover and a cleanser; I want one product to do the whole job. So for me, Cetaphil never cut it. If you absolutely love it, and it’s not irritating your skin, I don’t have a problem with my clients using it. But keep these things in mind, and if you find yourself suffering from dryness or irritation, you may want to swap your cleanser.


Speak your mind! Do you love your Cetaphil cleanser? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook and tell me what you think!

7 Responses

  1. You should title this – why Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is not the best product for everyone’s Skin. Check out some of their other formulations and see what you think, I am currently trying their Skin Restoring Body Wash – the type free of alcohols and parabens.

    1. Rose, I appreciate your feedback. Some of the other formulations are better, which makes me wonder why Cetaphil would market their cleanser with the most aggressive ingredients as “gentle on the skin and sensitive to your skin’s needs” and “mild and non-irritating” (from their own website). My primary goal with these types of posts is to let you in on how I think when I read the ingredients listed on the back of a product. It always bothers me when the marketing doesn’t add up with what’s actually in the product, which, in this case with Cetaphil, is really my biggest complaint.

      Also, it’s not the alcohols that bother me, it’s the SLS. Cetyl and stearyl alcohol are fine for the skin and used across the board by brands at all price points.

  2. Yeah the SLS (which by the way was first commercially synthesized as a stove cleaning agent lol) will have you using their products forever though. It’s designed and used to hasten premature topographical aging and cell dysfunction. So it’s pretty much a guarantee that if they never fix your skin problems, as a matter of fact if they create a product that degrades the health of your skin so much that when you stop using it your problems actually become 10 times worse, then you’ll be a return customer for the rest of your life, because you were too lazy to look up the chemicals you’ve been slathering your face with for years-as many are. It’s genius really. We really shouldn’t make it so easy for them. Good post miss :]

  3. I had terrible acne in college, likely due to my diet. The problem was, I’d never had pimples and skin irritation like I did prior to that time period. In my Junior year, I couldnt take it anymore so I went to the Dermatalogist and she prescribed me this toxic-smelling roll-on ointment which helped slightly, but mostly just made my face flaky and dry. That’s when I read an article about Cetaphil so I gave it a shot. I’ve had nearly flawless skin since then, and admittedly, my diet is probably much better. However, my mother and sister have used it and it does dry their facial skin out.

    You’re right, it’s not for everyone. But, I promise you the prescriptions from a doctor are far more toxic. I would never look back after using my Anitbacterial Cleansing Bar and SPF 15 Daily Facial Moisterizer from Cetaphil.

    1. That’s a great question! Both prescriptions and OTC skincare can expire and spoil like food. BUT you’re correct that the active ingredient in prescriptions will weaken first before they spoil. Natural products often have fewer preservatives and will spoil faster- sometimes in 9-12 months. Other kinds of skincare can last much longer, but I generally recommend tossing anything older than a year, two MAX depending on the brand and preservatives, if it hasn’t developed a funny odor or color already.

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