Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Review and Ingredients Analysis

Monday, March 28, 2016

Cetaphil's Gentle Skin Cleanser has been one of my staple products for awhile, but I've just never gotten around to actually doing a proper review until now! I'm sure you've heard of it, unless you've been living under a rock. It's pretty popular as "the cleanser for sensitive skins". One of my roomates back in University (a long, long, long time ago, before this blog was started even!), once commented when she saw the Gentle Skin Cleanser in my skincare stash, "Oh, you're using that! That's the one all the sensitive skin people use!" When you get to that point, you know the product has quite the cult following among its users. It's not just among users though, some of the dermatologists I've been to have also suggested this product as one of the affordable but easily available gentle cleansers for sensitive skin, which is how I started using the product in the first place.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser: One of the world's most iconic cleansers

Obviously, as you can tell, I've used the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser since before I even started this blog - and in fact, before I even started University (now that's even longer ago!), and it's still in my beauty stash to this day. There is one sitting right at my sink, in the largest size you can buy, right now. Yet, I've never actually written a proper review on this cleanser, although I did mention in this beauty box review that I've been using Cetaphil for a long time. I put it down to the fact that sometimes, simple everyday products often get less attention than the flashier, newer things, and with new skincare products flooding the market all the time, it's easy to often overlook reviewing the daily staples.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Bottle
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser: A famous cleanser that is also one of my personal favourites

Well, not any more! Finally (after years later), I am getting around to giving this a proper review. And as with always, I like to start with the ingredients list, to take a closer look at what's in the product.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Ingredients
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Ingredients

The ingredients list of the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser actually is pretty short and simple. There's Purified Water, emollients (Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol) and a humectant (Propylene Glycol), both of which give the product moisturizing properties, the surfactant which actually removes the dirt from your skin (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate), and the preservatives to prevent the product from going bad (Methyl Hydroxybenzoate, Propyl Hydroxybenzoate, Butyl Hydroxybenzoate).

The interesting thing about this formulation is that it is very emollient and humectant heavy - Cetyl Alcohol and Propylene Glycol are second and third on the ingredients list respectively, being present at higher amounts than the surfactant, and Stearyl Alcohol is fifth. So, as you can easily conclude, this is a cleanser that will be pretty moisturizing and non-drying, due to the high concentrations of emollients and humectants. I know some people may have concerns over Sodium Lauryl Sulphate being drying on the skin, and while by itself in high concentrations it can potentially be drying to some skin types, in this formula, it appears to be present in fairly low doses, combined with a large amount of moisturizing ingredients. So I'm not worried that the formula will be drying at all.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser pH
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser: A non-alkaline cleanser with pH6.5

To confirm this, I tested the pH of the cleanser! Often, a high pH (meaning that the cleanser is very alkaline) is often associated with very drying or stripping cleansers. Our skin's pH is pH5.5, or slightly acidic, and ideally, we want to be as close to that number as possible. Pure water has a pH of 7.0, and is considered neutral (neither alkaline nor acidic), so any pH value larger than 7.0 would be alkaline, and the larger it is, the more alkaline it is, which, in the case of a cleanser, means it is likely to be more drying as well. In this case, we have a pretty good reading of pH6.5, both when the cleanser is tested alone, and when it is tested mixed with some tap water (to mimic how it might be used in an everyday setting when you wash your face). This means it is a non-alkaline cleanser, and yes, is indeed formulated to be quite mild and non-drying.

Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser Product
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser: A creamy white lotion that feels moisturizing on skin

Now that we've looked at the ingredients, how does it perform? Well, as you can see from the photo above, the cleanser has a pretty creamy texture. I remember when I first used the Gentle Skin Cleanser, I thought that the texture was more similar to that of a moisturizer than a cleanser! It does feel nice and moisturizing on the skin, due to the high levels of humectants and emollients, and does indeed live up to its reputation of being a gentle cleanser. It also rinses off cleanly, although it doesn't lather up and generate much foam, if any. Basically I use a pump of this, spread it over my face, massage it around for a bit (and don't worry if it doesn't foam), and then rinse it off.

I do have pretty acne-prone skin (as I'm sure you know if you've been reading my blog for awhile), and I don't find this irritating or drying to my skin at all. I also really appreciate that it is fragrance free, and the short ingredients list also means that this product doesn't have any fragrances or potentially irritating plant oils and the like, too, which is also a plus.

Perhaps the only downside to this product is that because it is pretty gentle, it's not going to function as a makeup remover for heavy makeup, like some stronger cleansers do. It does remove some light makeup, but if you have a full face of makeup on, I would suggest that you use a separate makeup remover before using this cleanser. I personally get the best use out of this as a post-makeup-remover cleanser, to make sure everything is really cleaned from my skin, and as a morning cleanser, when I have no makeup on my skin but want to wash off any oils that may have been secreted during the night.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Review
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser: A staple of mine for many years, and a great addition to any skincare regime

So, would I recommend the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser? Yes I would! I've been using this product for perhaps a decade now, and it is one of the staples in my skincare regime, so of course I really like it and think it's a great buy. For an affordable price, you get a well-formulated gentle cleanser that does help to clean the skin, while not stripping it or leaving it feeling tight and dry, and that doesn't aggravate skin allergies or sensitivities. The only downside is the need for a separate makeup remover if you use makeup, but I really appreciate having a great basic cleanser to fall back on.
Recommended? Formulation Packaging Ease of Use Effectiveness
Yes, a great gentle cleanser 9/10 8/10 9/10 8/10
The Bottom Line: Cetaphil's Gentle Skin Cleanser is an affordable, no-frills product that lives up to its claim as a gentle cleanser, with moisturizing properties.

(This is a sponsored review. However the review is my complete and honest opinion.)


  1. Thanks for the review! I'm a little confused-- isn't the majority of the major ingredients alcohols? I'm not an anti-alcohol person. I just assumed the benefits of -OH was to help penetrate ingredients and is only okay to have them in low doses. So wouldn't this formula be more drying...?

    1. @Muser: Thanks for your comment! You've confused alcohol with fatty alcohols. Although lots of people I've seen often get the two mixed up because they both have the "alcohol" word in the name, they are totally different types of ingredients, with different molecular structures and properties.

      The alcohol you're thinking of often appears on ingredients lists as "alcohol", "isopropyl alcohol" or "alcohol denat." in ingredients lists, and is a liquid with a small molecular structure, that can penetrate the upper layers of the skin, and is often used to help thin out the formula or enhance delivery of other active ingredients. It can indeed be potentially drying to the skin in large amounts, so you're not wrong about the properties of plain old alcohol.

      But, the ingredients present in the Cetaphil cleanser are not that kind of alcohol. They are two types of fatty alcohols, Cetyl Alcohol and Stearyl Alcohol. These are much larger molecules that are derived from fatty acids, and are a solid with a waxy feel. When applied to skin, they sit on top of the skin and function as an emollient or a barrier ingredient, which helps to moisturize the skin and prevent further water loss. So you'll often see these ingredients quite commonly used in moisturizers and body lotions, too.

      So that's why the Cetaphil cleanser is not drying - the alcohols it contains are actually fatty alcohols, which are a different type of ingredient altogether. Hope this helps!

  2. Great review! Now I know and understand why many prefer this product.

  3. Ooh, glad to hear that the sulfate in this won't harm the skin! Thank you for the review! Do you happen to know how this cleanser compares to the CeraVe hydrating cleanser?

    1. @Anonymous: I think ultimately, both are good cleansers geared towards sensitive skin, and for that purpose, both get the job done. But there are some differences, which might mean that some people will prefer one over the other. For example the CeraVe has a much longer ingredients list than the Cetaphil, so people who like a simple ingredients list might prefer the Cetaphil. On the other hand, there are some additional ingredients in the Cerave that the Cetaphil doesn't have (most notably the Ceramides and Phytosphingophine) and some people may like that, but others may feel that it's not necessary in what is ultimately a wash-off product. To be honest I've never tried the Cerave before, and I'm quite used to the Cetaphil cleanser, so I can't directly compare, but based on the ingredients list, that's what I can gather. I hope my response helps somewhat!

  4. I'm very disappointed with this wash. I was previously using the Cetaphil Cleanser (purchased from Costco) but didn't feel like it was strong enough to clear up my face. I now use the Citrus Clear Acne Face Wash and for the first 3 uses, my skin felt so clean, especially after the very first use. The second night, even better. Its not strong like proactiv, which makes my skin so dry - its just perfect for someone who has acne like me, cause it keeps the zits away, and got rid of the existing ones that I had.

  5. Hi! I want to ask something. Is it normal for someone having some pimples on the skin when using cetaphill cleanser? And what is healing crisis?

    1. @Anonymous: Are you asking if Cetaphil cleanser can cause breakouts? The cleanser shouldn't be causing breakouts. But from your short statement it's hard to tell what is. However some suggestions for using Cetaphil are: If you're wearing makeup and using the Cetaphil cleanser to remove it, then it's possible that it might not be strong enough to remove all your makeup, in which case you might be better off using a separate makeup remover, and then following up with the Cetaphil. Also, if you have very oily skin (the "normal" Cetaphil is probably best for dry skin) then you might need the oily skin version of Cetaphil, or another stronger cleanser. Hope this helps!

  6. Seems to me like Cetaphil is a prettyy crappy cleanser - SLS, parabens and wax, basically.

  7. How do i use it on face?
    Can i use a soap (kojic) first and after that apply cetaphil cleanser? Thank you. :)

  8. 6.5 is actually a pretty high PH for a cleanser which would make this pretty drying(I actually believe it is closer to 6.8 also). Our skin's PH is actually between 4.5 and 5.5. Using a high PH cleanser over time can lead to damage to your skin barrier and pre-mature aging. This also contains parabens. I have no idea why dermatologists recommend this cleanser so much. It kinda makes you wonder about the other products they recommend. Overall, I would say I do not agree with you about Cetaphil. I would not recommend using it.

  9. 6.5 is actually a pretty high PH for a cleanser (and I believe it is actually closer to 6.8). Our skin's PH is actually between 4.5 and 5.5. Using a high PH cleanser overtime can lead to damage to your skin barrier and pre-mature aging. I have no idea why dermatologists recommend this product so much. It makes you wonder about all the other products they recommend. I would have to strongly disagree with your review of Cetaphil gentle cleanser.

  10. I got a bad reaction with this cleanser. I have very sensitive skin. My dermatologist recommend it. I did not realize this cleanser has sulfates. Right now i just wash my face with water.


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