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Review of Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser

cetaphil Daily cleanser

Its time for a new cleanser. When my oily skin started to feel tight after cleansing, I knew it was time for an upgrade.  Would this iconic facial cleanser live up to the hype during a six month trial?

Why do dermatologists always recommend Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser? 

Dermatologists love Cetaphil because it is gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin.

This is partly because it only contains eight ingredients: the fewer the ingredients, the less chance of irritation.

Also it doesn’t contain any fragrance which is a common cause of irritation.

I am impressed – such a minimalist approach takes confidence.

What is a harsh detergent doing in a cleanser for a sensitive skin?

So why does it contain sodium lauryl sulphate, a harsh detergent and known irritant?

Surely it would dry out and possibly irritate the skin?

In the short term, no. A nourishing emollient cleverly buffers the skin from the detergent.

It also contains a humectant to attract moisture to the skin. 

This idea of a buffer is so simple yet it works – I don’t know anyone who has ever reacted to it.

Do I agree with Caroline Hirons?

I am sure that some dermatologists recommend Cetaphil because they are in the pockets of multi-nationals, but I am not as sceptical as Caroline Hirons. When it was launched, it was seen as a truly revolutionary alternative to soap.

I disagree with her on a few more points.

Foam. Yes it does foam slightly, but it is still gentle because of the buffering.

Parabens. Despite the furore, there is very little conclusive evidence against parabens. However, from a marketing point of view, Cetaphil should probably consider replacing them.

Alcohol. Not all alcohols are drying. Cetaphil uses a high concentration of cetyl alcohol, but it is a humectant, not the drying, irritating type of alcohol.

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Our skin is not pH balanced!

Science has moved on however, and Cetaphil is starting to look dated.

A quick science lesson:

pH balanced:        7

acidic:                    under 7

alkaline:                 over 7

Alkaline cleansers, (like soap). disrupt the acidic barrier of our skin.

If a new client has red, sensitive and spotty skin, I usually find that her cleanser is too alkaline. They dissolve lipids from the skin’s barrier, so moisture escapes and the skin dries out.

We need those precious lipids to give our skin a glow, especially after 35.

Cetaphil is pH balanced (6.3 – 6.8), and inspired a whole generation of pH balanced cleansers. But our skin is not pH balanced – it is slightly acidic (4.5 to 5.5).

So long-term use of pH balanced cleansers will damage your skin’s barrier and lead to premature ageing.

Conclusion: ironically Cetaphil doesn’t cleanse very well.

Rating: 2/5

Caroline Hirons was right in one respect: it doesn’t remove all make-up and sunscreen, so I ended up using it as a second cleanser.

Ironically the protective buffer actually prevented it from cleansing thoroughly. I wasn’t so keen on the buffer – it left a residue on my skin.

Its simplicity is also its downfall: it doesn’t contain any proactive ingredients. It’s time for Cetaphil to upgrade – I’m surprised that they haven’t already.

Charlotte Wilkes
Charlotte Wilkes

Anti-aging beauty blogger and full-time advocate for sunscreen

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  1. 07/03/2020 / 12:22 pm

    I have been using Cetaphil bar soap for years but I do have problems with ageing dry spots some acne and so on, so what do you suggest I wash my face with ? Please do not say an oil ! I do not like them and I have oily t zone. I always remove my makeup first with micellar water, thanks for any advice, Laurie

    • 10/03/2020 / 9:56 am

      Hi Laurie
      I have not used the Cetaphil bar soap, but most soaps are quite alkaline so I never recommend them. For your morning cleanse, I would recommend an exfoliating cleanser containing glycolic or salicylic acid to keep your pores clear. There are several good brands, including Medik8k, Neostrata or Glo Skin. For your evening cleanser, I always recommend double cleansing if you are prone to spots. First of all a make up remover: whether that is a micellar water, cleansing oil or cleansing milk. I personally believe that you need to do a lot of rubbing to remove make up with a micellar water, but many of my clients like them. I know that you don’t like cleansing oils but the clinique Take the Day off cleansing oil is very efficient and doesn’t clog my pores. (I have an oily skin). Just make sure you always double cleanse after your make up remover – you can use the same cleanser that you use in the morning. Whatever you use, there should never be any tightness afterwards.

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