Dermatologists love Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. They always gush over its benefits and often recommend it to their patients, especially those with sensitive skin. And yet, one quick look at the label is enough to realise that this cleanser doesn’t really contain any special ingredients. Worse, a few of them have actually gained a bad reputation! So, what are dermatologists thinking?!
What Cetaphyl says
Cetaphil® Gentle Skin Cleanser is great for daily makeup removal. Originally formulated for dermatologists, this cleanser is gentle on your skin and sensitive to your skin’s needs. Cetaphil® Gentle Skin Cleanser will not strip the skin of natural protective oils or emollients, or disturb the skin’s natural pH balance. This dermatologist-recommended cleanser is fragrance-free and non-comedogenic. Cetaphil® Gentle Skin Cleanser is gentle enough for children, teens and adults.
Full Ingredient List
Water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.
Wait, the first ingredient is alcohol?! Isn’t that drying to the skin? Well, it depends. Alcohol Denat, Ethanol, Isopropyl Alcohol, and SD Alcohol, can all be drying and irritating and should be avoided when they are found at the beginning of an ingredient list. Cetyl Alcohol (like Stearyl Alcohol, also present in the formula), instead, is a fatty acid. This means that they have the ability to bind the oils on the skin with water so that they can be rinsed away, but can also attract moisture to the skin, keeping it moisturized and preventing dryness.
Isn’t this the industrial antifreeze used in brake and hydraulic fluids? Yep, but don’t worry. In cosmetics, it is used at much lower concentrations that are safe and effective. So, what does it do in a cleanser? Propylene Glycol is a humectant: it attracts water from the environment into the skin, which helps to keep it soft.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Ok, so Cetyl Alcohol and Propylene Glycol are safe, but Sodium Lauryl Sulfate must be bad. Isn’t this stuff so irritating that whenever scientists want to test how irritating a substance is, they use SLS as comparison? Yes, that’s true. SLS is so effective at cleansing skin that it can remove the natural oils that keep it moisturized, causing dryness and irritations. And yet, lots of people, even those with sensitive skin, can use this cleanser without experiencing any irritation at all. How is that possible? First of all, there’s not much of it in the formula. Plus, its irritating effects are soothed by the higher emollient concentration of Cetyl Alcohol.
There are so many myths surrounding parabens that one post wouldn’t be enough to debunk them all! But I’ll try to be brief here. Parabens are often included in skincare products because they are the gentlest and most effective preservatives available. Parabens started gaining a bad reputation when a study found them in breast tumours. However, those cells were subjected to a huge concentration of parabens, thousands of times higher than that used in cosmetics.
In addition, neither that study, nor any other, has shown that parabens are found in a higher dose in breast tumour tissue than in any other type of human body issue. No study has even found a link between parabens and breast cancer, nor proof that they caused it. As for their estrogenic disrupting properties, studies on these too were conducted by making fish (or other animals) eat parabens in amounts much higher than those used in cosmetics, so the results can’t be applied to humans.
Final considerations on the formula
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser has a very basic and simple formula that only contains what’s strictly necessary: a surfactant to remove oils and dirt, moisturizing ingredients to prevent dryness, and preservatives to keep it safe and effective. I usually complain about such basic formulas, but in this case, it makes sense.
First of all, there’s no much point in putting antioxidants or other beneficial ingredients in a cleanser as they will just end up down the drain. In addition, this is a cleanser formulated for sensitive skin, and the more ingredients you add to the formula, the higher the chance it’s gonna cause someone an irritation. Natural ingredients in particular, which are made up of tens of different chemicals, are often more likely to cause irritations and allergies than synthetic substances made in a sterilized lab with only a bunch of compounds.
Having said that, there are so many great cleansers for sensitive skin on the market today that this can hardly be said to be the best. Great yes, but best, nope. While I have never heard of anyone having a bad reaction from using this cleanser, I wish Cetaphil reformulated it to get rid of SLS. It may not be problematic in this formula, but there are now other cleansing agents that are both gentle and effective, so I don’t see any reason to stick to such a dated ingredient. I’d still keep the formula simple and basic, though.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is available at Amazon, Boots, and Drugstore. A 8 fl oz bottle retails at $7.99.
The Bottom Line
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is a great option for people with sensitive skin. Its formula is mild and effective, if a little dated. I like how basic it is (less ingredients = less chance of irritation; plus fancy ingredients in a cleanser are simply washed away down the drain so there’s no point in adding them anyway), but I wish they reformulated it to get rid of SLS and substituted it with gentler cleansing agents instead. In any case, the formula is unlikely to irritate sensitive skin even as it is.
Have you ever tried Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleaner? If so, how did it work for you?