Cetaphil: Why the Popular Cleanser Isn’t Doing Your Skin Any Favors

Below is a post from Well+GoodNYC, a web site devoted to beauty, health, wellness in its many forms that we absolutely love. Founded by journalists Melisse Gelula and Alexia Brue, W+G has become a go-to for us, and we hope it will be for you, too. You’ll see them around these parts every week, and we’re thrilled to have them!

Cetaphil probably has the best PR of any facial soap. Beauty magazines gush over it as a no-frills $8 must-have. Dermatologists love to recommend it as a mild and non-irritating facial cleanser for two reasons: it doesn’t contain fragrance and, more tellingly, because MDs have a big Pharma love affair with the manufacturer, Galderma, the offspring of Nestlé and L’Oréal, which also makes acne drugs like Differin.

And yet there’s nothing healthy about this face-washing prescription.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser contains just eight ingredients: water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.

All but the water are chemically manufactured (let’s hope), and propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, and the three parabens have a seat on the dirty dozen, a list of cosmetic ingredients to avoid as potentially toxic.

Read the rest of the post here.

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31 Responses to “Cetaphil: Why the Popular Cleanser Isn’t Doing Your Skin Any Favors”
  1. candace says:

    I”m glad someone broached this subject. Before I read The Book, whenever I ran out of money for clinique cleanser I would be tempted to purchase Cetaphil. I”m glad I never did! Goodness….THREE parabens?! goodness! I’ll just stick with my Dr. Bronner’s, thank you very much. Seriously. Thank you very much.

  2. Gala says:

    Best place for some honest advice on cosmetics is through Cosmetic Cop/ Paula Begoun. She breaks down all the ingredients and will comment on packaging (if you read her books you’ll know what I’m talking about.

    She’s also created her own cosmetic line (which I haven’t tried yet). I’ve read about her line and it seems to be good but I prefer going to a drug store to buy my products off a shelf. I highly suggest reading her books to get a better understanding of ingredients listed on products.

    Just remember that just because you are using natural/ organic ingredients doesn’t mean it wont irritate your skin or clog pores!

    Product review
    http://www.beautypedia.com/

  3. Rebecca says:

    Ugh…many years ago I used the stuff. I recall it being highly recommended by whomever I was listening to back then. It’s just so appalling the way toxic crud gets marketed as healthy.

  4. Jenny says:

    sadly i use this cleanser everyday because my skin really does freak out if i stop using it!! :( what are some good clean alternatives??

  5. Rb. says:

    I started switching between Cetaphil and Cerave cleansers a couple of years ago when I began getting severe facial eczema from… who knows? The hundreds of patch tests and experimental diets haven’t been able to pinpoint a cause reliably.

    What I do know is that my skin has improved significantly since I STOPPED trying new natural and organic products.

    As my dermatologist explained, and as I’ve found in daily use, for people with truly sensitive skin, botanical, plant based ingredients do more harm than good. Many of the popular plant-based ingredients can and do irritate skin.

    I care about my health AND use Cetaphil cleanser. It’s unfortunate that so many followers of blogs like this and Well+Good believe those two things are mutually exclusive.

    I, along with Jenny above, am wondering where the alternatives are! Everyone has an agenda here.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Rb, I’ve felt that most people who comment here generally get that each individual makes choices of products based on a number of concerns, and that some of us (like me) have sensitive skin, or just are sensitive to certain things that others can use with no problem. Sometimes a complex mix of botanicals is not the best choice – I prefer a shorter list of ingredients for most of my products. Something really simple like Dr. Bronners (unscented) may work well, they have a bar and a liquid version. I use the liquid, but it’s not the best choice for my “mature” facial skin. Have you tried just simple honey? I like to do that occasionally, but it’s not an every day thing for me. I guess depending on what the bees were eating you could have a sensitivity to honey though.

  7. HD says:

    I have very acne prone skin and cetaphil is one of the many products I tried (along with philosophy, kiehls, proactive, differin gel, countless oral medications, and many more). After reading your book, I thought it couldn’t hurt to try a few more products on my face. I’ve been using desert organics face wash, followed by John masters toner and Burts bees on the spot treatment. It’s been only 6 weeks and I’m amazed at the results… my skin has actually cleared up! I’ve spent 15 years and thousands of dollars on dermatologists and in just 6 short weeks my skin is actually clear. I can’t believe it and I now enjoy looking in the mirror.

    Its so hard to believe that all it took to clear my skin was getting rid of the toxic chemicals use in mainstream products.

  8. Ariel says:

    Skincare is the one thing that I have not found to be as effective with the organic/natural brands I’ve tried. I wish I could find a good alternative to my Neutrogena Acne Scrub because all of my other makeup and beauty products are natural. I spent a lot of money trying to find a natural cleanser that cleared up my skin but was not successful. Any suggestions?

  9. Siobhan says:

    Ariel, if you like that stuff I’d try Tata Harper’s regenerating cleanser which has a gentle scrubbing effect, or a gentle cleanser from Evan Healy (tea tree if you’re oily, blue lavender if you’re dry/irritated/acne prone).

  10. Rebecca says:

    Ariel, I highly recommend the 100% Pure purity line (I love the spot treatment and the mask), and they have a brightening line that’s good for clearing up discolorations left from acne (I love the wash and the mask/scrub). 100% Pure has worked for my older hormone crazy skin and my son’s puberty crazy skin.

  11. Karla says:

    I agree with Rebecca! Definitely try Dr. Bronners unscented for your sensitive skin instead of the Cetaphil. And whenever you’re trying something new, be sure to give it a good few weeks before you stop using it!

  12. philosophotarian says:

    When thinking about skin health and skin conditions, it’s important to remember that what we put into our bodies is just as important as what we put on them. You can use the cleanest products in the world but if you don’t fill your plate (and bowl, and mug, and etc) with healthy things, you probably won’t see super amazing results. If you don’t move your body and stretch and strengthen it, you probably won’t see super amazing results. If you don’t relax and sleep and laugh, you might not see super amazing results.

    Not judging those who aren’t getting the results they want. Not claiming to “know” (in any way) what folks who don’t get the results they want from the products they use are doing or not doing. Just wanted to put this into the conversation.

  13. Merry says:

    Ariel, I am acne prone too and I’ve read a gazillion reviews on more natural cleansers and keys’ island rx (foaming or not foaming version–they’re essentially the same, the normal one is just more concentrated) seems to work really well for acne prone types. I’ve heard acure organics’ face wash and leap organics is good too.

    Rb, I know that a lot of natural cleansers contain essential oil for fragrance which, for sensitive skin, may do more harm than good. I don’t have your type of skin so I’m not sure of any gentle, creamy cleanser rec’s but I do know argan oil is highly recommended for people with eczema.

  14. Jan says:

    I used to use Cetaphil as well, until I read the book No More Dirty Looks, and learned more about the ingredients in many famous, well-known brands.

    I have been switching to more gentle, organic products, and have found I really like (and my skin does too) Weleda Gentle Cleansing Milk and Gentle Toner. I have been using this for over a month, and have good results. I am 55 years old so after decades of using over-the-counter chemicals, I am now treating my skin to gentle, organic products. I haven’t had any bad reactions on my skin to any of the products/ brands I now use. I also like Duchess Marden cleansers, although they are more expensive than Weleda. Weleda is also available at health food stores, and at Target. I also use Dr Bronners Almond Scented soap for my basic hand soap, and for a quick facial cleanse in the shower. I am very grateful for all I have learned from the book, this blog and several other helpful blogs, and am enjoying trying new organic brands.

  15. Terrell says:

    Confession: I am a longtime Cetaphil user. I thought I would be buried with it clenched to my chest. It’s been the hardest thing for me to try to give up as I am in the process of \transitioning over\ to an all natural beauty routine. At this point it is about the only thing I haven’t switched over because, as someone who has sensitive and very dry skin, it has always worked for me.

    After reading No More Dirty Looks, I did go out and purchase John Masters Linden Blossom Face Clenser- which is on the more afordable end of natural face cleansers. When I first tried it straight out for a week, my face sort of freaked out, but then I started sort of transitioning off Cetaphil (sort of like morning wash with John Masters, Evening was with Cetaphil) and now just wash my face Cetaphil 4 times a week. As most people have mentioned. sensitive skin tends to freak out with any change, but I have found that by gradually stopping rather than going \cold turkey\ with cetaphil has prevented a full face freak out.

    That being said- Dr. Bonner’s unscented is too drying/harsh on my skin although I am glad to see that it has worked for so many people. I would love some recomendations especially on the more afordable end of things (I would LOVE to try tata harper’s but $50 bucks is a bit too much for me)..

    As a total side- I am definitely going to check out using honey and see how that goes!

  16. Rebecca says:

    philosophotarian, I agree wholeheartedly about what you put into your body, etc. I’ve commented in other posts that eating well is the key to good skin for me. And the key to feeling/looking good all the way around, actually.

    good food that I enjoy + exercise + sleep = my best me

  17. Elizabeth says:

    @Merry and @Ariel, Keys Island Rx Foaming Face Wash *IS* a miracle-worker. My face never looked so good–my sister’s too. Unfortunately, I stopped using it because I’m not satisfied with the company’s perservative system. But do your own research on that and if you’re comfortable with what they do, then I say go for it. The cleanser is awesome.

    If you don’t mind spending a few extra $, Dr. Alkatis’ cleanser is pretty awesome too! My face glows with this stuff…but again, I’m so freaked out by the company’s reliance on natural preservatives.

    For all those hoping to move away from Cetaphil, I hear that Organic Apoteke’s Buttermilk Cleanser is a good alternative. You can buy it at Spirit Beauty Lounge.

  18. Alyssa M says:

    Just my two cents… I also have troublesome acne-prone skin that is really sensitive and seems to prefer simple products. I’ve had major success with Eminence Organic’s mineral cleansing concentrate.. really simple face wash that cleared up my skin pretty much completely. Another great one is Kahina’s cleanser, which I just started using. It’s especially good for dealing with acne marks left behind while still keeping skin clear.
    Perhaps one of these would be a good alternative for those of you looking to replace your Cetaphil with something cleaner!

  19. Ariel says:

    Thanks everyone for the suggestions!

  20. Merry says:

    @Elizabeth, thanks for the recommendation! I am definitely trying keys next (non-foaming version, though), but I haven’t done a lot of research on preservatives so now I’m a little worried. have you found anything with a preservative system you’re comfortable with, still “clean” as far as ingredients go and effective?

  21. Caralien says:

    I tried it decades ago to test the hype on my hyper sensitive skin. No go. It was around that tine I realized that ANYTHING that suds with sodium laurel/laureth sulfate over dried my skin, which made it break out under a hardened dry layer.

    So I used baking soda in the shower. That worked perfectly until I hit my 30s. Now it’s olive oil prior to getting into the shower, a tiny dab of baking sOda if I happen to get a pimple.

    I disagree with the previous posters who claim that those if us with truly sensitive skin would like this and the naysayers must not have sensitive skin.

    I’m allergic to everything, so trust me when I say that cetaphil did not work at all for me.

  22. Meagan says:

    Not too long ago I discovered African Black Soap. The kind you can get at Coastal Scents online.
    It’s works GREAT for acne! And it’s SO affordable. I encourage anyone who hasn’t tried it yet to do so. Do some research on it!
    Leaves your face feeling smooth and super clean.
    Shea Terra makes a liquid version but I don’t care for it quite as much as the solid.

    Also, theres this company called “The Body Deli” who sells a great Grapefruit/Sage cleanser that works well for acne prone skin.
    They have raw organic skin care, and some of their products are so fresh they have to be refridgerated.

    If you like toners try Alteya Organics Bulgarian Rose Water Toner. It’s awesome, gentle, and soothing and has several other uses.

  23. brooke says:

    Ive had to use cetaphil soap and shampoo for years. Otherwise I get red blotches all over I have not found a natural brand as sensitive as of yet.

  24. Matt says:

    Aubrey Organics. I use their sea buckthorn solution and it is absolutely wonderful

  25. Joe J says:

    How frustrating to be in your 40s and still fighting oily skin and breakouts! (Though oily skin does keep wrinkles at bay!) Like many women, I’ve bounced around from one cleansing product to another, trying to find one that deals with oiliness and breakouts without stripping the skin completely and leaving you feel dried out. Shielo’s Complexion Scrub cleans the face well with a gently-foaming gel (it doesn’t take much product), and the skin feels fresh and balanced afterward — not tight and dry. I’ve used it for a month now, and I’m getting good results. And the product is sold at a fair price. I had to buy online at Shielo’s website, since my local store does not stock it. But its worth it – its the only thing that helps with my acne!

  26. Claudia says:

    IM SO CONFUSED FROM ALL THIS COMMENTS , I WANNA KNOW IF CETAPHIL REALLY WORKS !? ive tried everything and nothing has work im desperate :(

  27. Debra says:

    In my early 40s, I learned to control my oily skin and breakouts with magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that has drying properties. It is also anti-septic. I gingerly apply it to my face twice every day, beginning and end. I treat the occasional (maybe once every three or four months…really) blackhead with four or five spot treatments. It also controls the shine. I discovered this inexpensive trick from Paula Bugoun. I get the magnesium from either an off brand or the popular brand like Philllip’s Milk of Magnesia. It lasts a long time and I keep the product clean by pouring it into my hand rather than inserting my finger. Over the months, some of the water will evaporate so I rehydrate by adding water. Sometimes, when the product will not pour, I use a Q-tip. You must figure out how to apply in order to blend the product as well as how often to apply as too much drying will only activate more oil production. I am now 52 years old and I still use it. I also use a moisturizer, even on my oily skin. It also absorbs my oil. I no longer wear a foundation, but when I did, I used the magnesium and moisturizer under it.

    And, of course, as someone has already said, diet affects how we look on the outside. Loads of fruits and vegetables make a huge difference.

  28. Linda Money says:

    Thank You, but No Thank You….I will stay with the Cetaphil, because if it keeps my face clean and looking good like it does, then it is working for me. I know dermatologist who recommend this and to me that is enough proof that it is good.

  29. Alice says:

    I noticed tat dis products haven 3paraben in it which hav a risk to cause cancer, n my son is using Cetaphil cleanser since baby until now 2yrs old as his skin is sensitive type ..should I stop using dis as paraben is v harmful to our health?

  30. Shirley says:

    When I tried Cetaphil for the first time, I realise it does not clean well despite all those toxic ingredients that it contains, causing me to break out. Once I switch to something else, my skin improves and stay clean again.

  31. Grace a says:

    I used Cerave for years, but stopped using it because I found better results with Citrus Clear products. Typically whatever the dermatologist gives me works for a while, but then stops. Now that my acne has become a lot more mild. I’ve been using Citrus Clear every day and it really helps a lot. I felt like Cerave was only moisturizing and not really cleaning, but I really feel clean and refreshed after using the Citrus Clear Face Wash. I’d recommend it to any teenager who just wants their freaking acne to go away for good.

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