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We De-Bunk Cetaphil. Hint: It's Terrible For Your Skin

De-bunking Cetaphil: One Ingredient At A Time


September 15, 2016

Cetaphil is one of the most recommended facial cleansers on the market – a favorite among most dermatologists. Yet, I believe there’s nothing healthy about the Cetaphil formula. If you take a closer look at the Cetaphil label and analyze the ingredients, we can see why Cetaphil is not doing your skin any favors. In fact, its working against you.  And let me tell you why. You should not only be looking for a cleanser that is free of toxic ingredients such as parabens and PEGs, but I also believe a cleanser that you use twice a day should be judged on what it gives your skin. And Cetaphil doesn’t give you much. Well & Good tackled this issue and I couldn’t agree more.

Let’s take a close look at the eight ingredients  in Cetaphil: water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.

So What is propylene glycol (AKA PEGS)?

PEGs (polyethylene glycol), the third ingredient listed in Cetaphil, is better known by its acronym, PEG, isn’t a single ingredient.  It is a class of ethylene glycol polymers that are used to help keep beauty stable.  PEGs also are responsible for helping to bring bad chemicals into your skin.  This includes the harmful ingredients they are often contaminated with.  According to a report in the International Journal of Toxicology by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, pollutants found in various PEG compounds include ethylene oxide (used to manufacture mustard gas), 1,4-dioxane, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and heavy metals (lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, cadmium, arsenic).

PEGs are typically followed by a number correlating to how many units of ethylene glycol they contain.  The lower the number, the more easily the compound is absorbed into the skin.  Please see below for the most common PEGs used which might come in handy for checking your ingredient labels:


So What is sodium lauryl sulfate?

Sodium lauryl sulfate, the fourth ingredient in Cetaphil, is no good either. You also want your cleanser to be sulfate-free. Most cleansing products contain a surfactant, such as Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES).  The addition of surfactants helps break down the dirt and oil and removes them during the rinse process.

However, while removing the dirt and oil, surfactants tend to strip away the skin’s essential moisture barrier resulting in drying out the skin.  Also products containing SLS and/or SLES are sometimes contaminated with a carcinogen called 1, 4-dioxane.  While this last fact may be minor because the carcinogen is at trace levels, it is still a little disturbing.

Carcinogens aside, surfactants also strip your skin and scalp of their protective barriers, which we need for protection. As a result, surfactants are also known irritants as they can remain on the top layer of skin.

What you want is something that will still remove dirt and makeup,  without stripping your skin of its essential oils.

What are Phthalates and Parabens?

Three of ingredients in Cetaphil fall into this camp. Phthalates and parabens are also found in many cosmetics and skincare products used for a variety of things. They can make the formulas flexible and “bendy.”  They can extend shelf life. They are found in many scented and cosmetic products, where they stabilize the fragrance, increase spreadability, and enhance absorption. So you’ll find them in deodorants, nail polish (where they help prevent chipping), hair spray (where they prevent stiffness), perfumes, lotions, creams, and powders (including baby lotions, creams, and powders). The chemicals from these products can be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream.

Studies have shown that phthalates are known to cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive systems.  A study led by Dr. Shanna Swann of the University of Missouri, identified a positive correlation between male infant abnormalities and the level of phthalates in their mothers’ bodies.

In 2002, a coalition of public health and environmental groups tested 72 name-brand, off-the-shelf cosmetics for phthalates. They found that nearly three-quarters of the products contained the plasticizers. And when the CDC tested phthalate levels in humans, it found the highest levels in women of childbearing age, presumably because of their use of cosmetics.

While many cosmetics companies have reformulated their products to remove phthalates, it is a good idea to read every ingredient label to make sure that your beauty products are completely free of phthalates.

Please see below for a list of the most common phthalates, which may come in handy for checking labels:

DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
DEP (diethyl phthalate)
BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)
DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
DnOP (di-n-octylphthalate)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is another plasticizer

So What Should You Look For?

Obviously I am prone to Restorea products, since I created them. All Restorsea cleansers, PRO Foaming Cleanser and Reviving Cleanser are FREE of surfactants. This means that they safely and effectively remove dirt and oils without stripping the skin of its essential protective barrier.  While all Restorsea products are anchored by our proprietary ingredient, Aquabeatine XL®, our cleansers are special because they also contain the Songyi Mushroom, a natural extract which is known for its skin brightening properties.  The Songyi Mushroom is effective because it doesn’t have to sit on the skin for very long for it to work.  This is what makes it ideal as an active cleanser ingredient.  If you use any of our cleansers every day twice a day, after 8 weeks you will see brighter, glowing skin. You can also learn more about Restorsea’s salmon egg enzyme and our $25mm patent by reading this great Charlotte’s book article.


Patti Pao is a regular contributor on Charlotte’s Book. She shared her personal struggles with cystic acne. And she also told us all of the unglamorous entrepreneur moments she has had.


 Read client reviews, book appointments, and get expert advice. Only the best cosmetic doctors, skincare gurus, nutritionists, fitness and wellness professionals make it into our book.


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