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.
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.