There’s a limit to how excited I can believably sound about a no-frills, hypoallergenic cleanser that’s been around forever, but that doesn’t diminish its importance in my routine. I need you to understand this before I begin unpacking its understated charms. While I have never brandished a bottle of Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser in anyone’s face while screaming, “You have to try this!”, it’s managed to hold a place on my bathroom counter for well over a decade. That accomplishment should really speak for itself, but in case you need more convincing, it’s also a regular award winner and at the top of dermatologist recommendation lists. Ahead, my honest review of one of the beauty industry’s most iconic formulas.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
Star Rating: 4.3/5
Best for: All skin types, especially dry, sensitive, and acneic skin.
Byrdie Clean: No (contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and parabens)
About the brand: Beloved by dermatologists and editors alike, Cetaphil specializes in gentle skincare essentials for a variety of skin types and conditions. Their first product, launched in 1947, is the Gentle Skin Cleanser (previously named “Cetaphil Cleansing Lotion”).
About My Skin: Combination with mild rosacea and breakouts
Despite how glowy my skin looks at first glance (the result of layers and layers of meticulously applied skincare), it takes a fair amount of work to get there. My skin type is combination; I tend to be dryer around my nose and cheeks, where I also have mild rosacea and redness. I get regular hormonal breakouts on my cheeks and chin, although they’re usually contained to one or two pimples at a time. Because of this, I also have some lingering dark marks and hyperpigmentation from the previous month’s batch of breakouts. I’ve figured out a multi-step routine over the years that helps me keep everything in check, which no one has ever described as “low maintenance.”
If there’s one part of my daily regimen that could be classified as chill, it’s cleanser. Since I’m washing it off anyway, I don’t ask that much of the formula other than that it refrain from aggravating my sensitive patches. I want a formula that’s a little hydrating, one that would never commit the egregious sin of stripping my skin. Basically, a formula exactly like Cetaphil’s.
Ingredients: Derm-approved, gentle, but not Byrdie Clean
This cleanser is non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic, and non-alkaline. However, it doesn’t meet Byrdie’s Clean Beauty Pledge due to the inclusion of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and parabens. Sulfates are a common surfactant included on our list because they can cause irritation in some formulations, while parabens are a controversial preservative. For this reason, some prefer to use products without these ingredients. If you’re on the fence, dermatologist recommendations remain in Cetaphil’s favor due to the mild effects on patients with skin conditions ranging from acne to eczema. The fatty acids help provide a moisturizing effect, while studies have shown that the ingredients can be tolerated by those with rosacea without causing any damage to the skin barrier or moisture loss.
The Feel: Like lotion
Straight out of the pump, the formula has a translucent look and moisturizing feel that glides easily over skin. I still remember using Cetaphil for the first time and being surprised by how much it felt like a runny moisturizer. Technically speaking, it’s a rinse-free formula and you can tissue off the excess after coating your face, leaving a thin, emollient layer behind. I’ve always preferred aggressively splashing it off with water, though. It’s just part of my preferred cleansing experience.
The Scent: Unscented
As with most products formulated for sensitive skin, Cetaphil is fragrance-free.
The Results: A clean, non-stripped face
In the morning, I apply a generous pump and work it in. It doesn’t lather, so I just remove it after I feel it’s sufficiently well acquainted with my face. Note that this is most definitely not meant to be a makeup remover and won’t break up mascara or foundation the way a heavier cleanser will. So at night, I usually do an oil cleanse to remove any traces of makeup before going in with a second pump of Cetaphil.
As for the results, it’s really not so much about what this does for my skin as what it doesn’t do to it. I never have to worry about irritation or dryness when I use this, and it’s the first thing I reach for if my skin has an adverse reaction to something I’m testing. I know from years of experience that my face will always tolerate its mild properties, even when my rosacea flares up. It’s not the kind of product meant for instantly boosting glow or tightening pores; it’s the reliable primer that preps your skin for the rest of those products, or swoops in to save you when something goes wrong with testing one too many alleged miracle workers.
The Value: A drugstore gem
I’m not going to pretend to be immune to the siren song of luxury cleansers, but there’s something to be said for being able to pick up a giant, 16 fl oz tub of $14 Cetaphil at your local drugstore. One bottle lasts for many months, and there will inevitably come a point where you feel like you are dispensing cleanser from the Mary Poppins bag of face washes. There are of course smaller sizes of Cetaphil sold at lower price points and larger value packs, but whichever way you look at it, it’s a good deal.
Our Verdict: Stands up to the test of time
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is one of those products you meet once and kind of feel like you’ve always known. It’s not particularly flashy or hyped, but it’s always there when you need it and reliably good at its job. If you want a cleanser that simply gets your face the ideal amount of clean without ever irritating it, Cetaphil is your best bet.