review cetaphil gentle skin cleanser

What are dermatologists thinking?!

You know how they always recommend Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser to their patients – even those with sensitive skin?

Turns out, there’s stuff here that would make sensitive skin scream in pain! Are they just being irresponsible or do they know something we don’t?

Let’s take a look at the ingredient list to find out:

What’s In Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser?


Wait, the first ingredient is alcohol?! Isn’t that drying to the skin?

It depends. Some types of alcohols do make sensitive skin scream in pain. I’m talking about Alcohol Denat, Ethanol, Isopropyl Alcohol, and SD Alcohol. If you find these at the top of an ingredient list, beware.

But Cetyl Alcohol and Stearyl Alcohol – the alcohols used in Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser – are fatty alcohols. Completely different thing. Fatty alcohols are moisturizing. Phew!

These good alcohols also bind the oils on your skin with water so that they can be rinsed away. In plain English, it cleanses and moisturises skin at the same time.

Related: What Does Alcohol-Free Really Mean?


Isn’t this the industrial antifreeze used in brake and hydraulic fluids?

Yep, but don’t worry. Derms know something about it you probably don’t: it’s the dose that makes the poison.

Propylene glycol is dangerous at 100% concentrations. In the minuscule doses used in cosmetics, it’s perfectly safe.

But why is it in Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser? Propylene Glycol is a humectant: it attracts water from the environment into the skin, keeping it hydrated during the cleansing process.

Related: The Truth About Propylene Glycol: Why It Isn’t As Dangerous As You Think


Cetyl Alcohol and Propylene Glycol are terribly misunderstood but Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has gained a bad rep for a good reason: it’s irritating as hell.

When scientists want to know how irritating a substance is, they compare it to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate! Surely, that tells you everything you need to know about it, right?!

Not. So. Fast.

High concentrations of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate can and do strip the skin of the natural oils that keep it moisturised. Result = dry, irritated skin.

But Sodium Lauryl Sulfate isn’t the only cleansing agent in Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser.  Even if it’s in third place on the ingredient list, the emollients that come before it counteract its drying and irritating effects – to an extent.

In other words, you can’t judge a product based on one ingredient. How that ingredient plays with its teammates matters too.

But, if your skin is sensitive or dry, I would still err on the safe side and avoid this. I know this seems to counteract what I’ve just said but these skin types are quite delicate.

For some of you with dry and sensitive skin, the addition of these emollients will be enough to avoid any side effects. But others may still experience them. At the end of the day, everyone’s skin is different and can react differently to the same product.

Sensitive skin, in particular, is such a wild card as you never know when it may throw a tantrum. So while I applaud Cetaphil for doing its best to counteract the irritating effects of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, I wish it replaced it with a gentle alternative altogether.

Related: 7 Most Maligned Ingredients In Skincare Products


Is there anything in Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser that didn’t gain a bad rep for one (bad) reason or another?!

Parabens got a bad rep when a study found them in breast tumours. Problem is, that study has so many flaws, even the scientists who did it claim they didn’t find any proof parabens cause cancer.

If you’re interested in the long version and why this study can’t be taken seriously, check out this post where I use science to debunk this and other parabens myths (hint: you shouldn’t worry about their estrogenic properties either).

Parabens ARE sensitive skin friendly. A lot of preservatives that are replacing them are actually more irritating!

Related: Parabens Are Safe: Why Science Says You Shouldn’t Fear Them

cetaphil gentle skin cleanser for sensitive skin review


Despite the addition of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, this liquid cleanser doesn’t foam.


It’s fragrance-free. One less irritant to worry about. Phew!

How To Use It

It’s the first step of your skincare routine, both in the morning and at night.

Performance & Personal Opinion

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser has a very basic 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:

  1. No reason to use antioxidants or other goodies that would just be rinsed down the drain.
  2. The more stuff it contains, the higher the chance it’ll bother sensitive skin. Basic and simple works best for this skin type.

Still, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can’t help but wish they removed Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and replaced it with gentle cleansing agents.

I’m not the only one. Personally, my skin has nothing against this cleanser. It removes dirt and makeup well.

But a quick Google search reveals another story. So many people reported their skin has become drier or erupted in pimples after using this.

If you have dry/sensitive skin, stay away!

Who Is This For?

I personally don’t recommend this cleanser. Despite Cetaphil’s cleanser to tone down the irritating potential of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, there are much better cleansers out there that cleanse skin without no irritation whatsoever.

Who Is This Not For?

No one. But it’s especially not suitable for dry and/or sensitive skin.


Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser comes in a sleek white bottle with a blue pump dispenser. A bit boring, but hygienic and practical.

Does Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Live Up To Its Claims?

A mild, soap-free face and body cleanser that hydrates and soothes as it cleans. It cleanses well, but it doesn’t hydrate and soothe.
Ideal for dry, sensitive skin. Suitable for all skin types. It’s more suitable for oily than dry skin.
Dermatologist tested and clinically proven to be gentle on sensitive skin. It depends on how the test is done. You can literally get away with testing it on ONE person with sensitive skin… In my experience, and in that of many others, this isn’t the gentlest cleanser for sensitive skin.

Price & Availability

£8.35/$13.99 at Feel Unique and Ulta

Do You Need It?

Nope. There are gentler cleansers around.


Dupes & Alternatives

Have you ever tried Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleaner? Share your experience and opinion below.


Water, Cetyl Alcohol, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Stearyl Alcohol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben