Please Don't Do This to Your Face: Cetaphil Edition
Hello and welcome back to what is fast becoming my favorite blogging topic: things you shouldn't do to your skin. I'll admit I've been dying to write this one for some time. So without further ado, let's talk about Cetaphil.
I'm always shocked by the number of people who come to me and swear by this product. I'm even more shocked at how many people use this product because their dermatologist swears by it. Generally, dermatologists like Cetaphil as a go-to for people with problematic or sensitive skin. Reason being that it is fragrance free and contains only a handful of ingredients. But let's look at those ingredients, shall we?
In order Cetaphil contains: water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol and three types of parabens. If some of these ingredients are sounding familiar, it might be because you've seen six of them on a list known as The Dirty Dozen - a list of cosmetic ingredients to be avoided, due to their potential toxicity. Even if you're not particularly concerned with your cleanser containing carcinogens and hormone disruptors, you might want to be alarmed that with the exception of water, every single one of these ingredients is a manufactured chemical.
Now I'll be the first to point out that not all chemical ingredients are bad. Sometimes you need chemical ingredients to enhance and preserve the more natural ones, and many chemical ingredients have amazing benefits for the skin. However, in this case you have a lot of chemical ingredients that aren't doing much of anything and no ingredients with nutritive properties. If you want to go with our metaphor of feeding your skin as you would the rest of your body, I would compare Cetaphil to a can of diet soda. All chemicals and zero nutrition.
While a bad cleanser won't necessarily make or break your skin care routine, it's important to realize that it could be sabotaging your skin in more subtle ways. Besides being drying for many skin types, this supposed "non-irritating" cleanser does contain a known skin irritant - sodium lauryl sulfate. Typically used as a foaming agent, SLS can be irritating to the eyes as well as the skin. When used over time it can also strip and damage your skin's natural barrier, leading to more long-term issues.
Having used Cetaphil once myself, I can attest that it was gentle but also extremely drying. My face felt tight and not great for about a day after using it. I can only imagine what it would feel like after using it twice a day over a prolonged period of time. When you strip your natural barrier, you may start to notice that all products feel irritating or sting when applied, or don't work at all. That's because your skin has been stripped of its protective lipids. Your pH balance may be out of whack, making it difficult for other products to penetrate and do their job.
Although it is billed as being safe, gentle and clean it's important to remember, that most over-the-counter brands spend lots of money on advertising to convince you of this very thing, while not investing a lot of money into making those claims true. You can read more about that in this blog. It's also worth noting that Cetaphil is manufactured by a big pharma company called Galderma which produces acne medications, but also has ties to Nestle and L'Oreal. As a result of those deep corporate pockets, dermatologists are kept in steady supply of Cetaphil samples. Interesting, no?
So what should you use instead?
If you've been relying on Cetaphil for some time, the idea of trying something else might seem scary, but I promise there is such a thing as a gentle, non-irritating cleanser that is actually gentle and non-irritating for the skin. I personally like the Green Tea & Citrus or Pomegranate Cleanser from Skin Script RX. Unlike Cetaphil, professional cleansers contain ingredients for soothing and even repairing the skin. If you've already messed up your barrier with a harsh product like Cetaphil, the best thing to do is just to back off and stick to only a simple routine of (actually) gentle products until your skin can rebuild itself.
When shopping for a new cleanser, you will want to look for more antioxidant ingredients which protect your skin from free radical damage. Moisturizers such as plant seed oils are also great in a cleanser. Botanicals such as aloe are good for soothing the skin and protecting the natural barrier, rather than destroying it. If you're struggling with acne, you want anti-bacterial ingredients and anti-inflammatories. You won't find any of these things in a bottle of Cetaphil.
What about other Cetaphil products?
As you can probably see from the above photo, Cetaphil doesn't stop at cleanser. They actually produce a full line of face wipes, moisturizers, lotions and even baby products (?!). While my default answer would be to pass on these, I thought I would give them the benefit of the doubt and research a few other items from the Cetaphil lineup.
The items I checked out included a calming moisturizer for eczema, a daily lotion and a hydrating night cream. To their credit, I did spy a few seed oils and moisture-binding ingredients in these products. However, they still lean heavily on chemical ingredients. Most of which are pretty worthless fillers and even some known irritants. Verdict: this is not a brand that prioritizes skin health (or health in general) when formulating their products. A few good ingredients do not balance out the toxic ones. Additionally, they appear low on the ingredient deck, meaning you aren't getting much of the good stuff anyway. With all that in mind, I would skip the Cetaphil for your face and for the rest of your body.
Still have questions or want help decoding your own cleanser? Shoot me an email! I'm happy to help you on your product journey!