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Is Cetaphil a good mild cleanser for getting rid of germs?

Bluecatbaby asks…Lately I’ve had some kind of rash on my wrist. Instead of using my usual Softsoap non-antibacterial, I bought Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser to use as hand soap, thinking it would be less irritating. I chose Cetaphil because on the website of the National Eczema Association they recommend using products at a certain pH that makes them less irritating, and Cetaphil is on their list. Now I’m wondering if Cetaphil can really do the job of getting rid of germs, like from the bathroom, or from handling raw egg or meat. If Cetaphil isn’t good to use for cleaning germy hands, does anyone know of another gentle cleanser that is? Also, does anyone agree or disagree that the ph of a soap or cleanser plays a part in how irritating it is?

The Beauty Brains respond:

When it comes to removing bacteria there is evidence that shows regular cleansing products do a good job but anti-bacterial soaps are a little bit better. Check out this post on Can soap really kill germs for more details along with references. But what about irritation?

Is Cetaphil mild?

There are two main factors that determine the irritation potential for a cleanser and pH ain’t one of them! That’s because based on the chemistry of the surfactants used to most cleansers, pH is in a very narrow range typically (somewhere around 5 to 7.) AHA cleansers are an exception because the pH is lower due to the acid but that’s not the kind of product for talking about here. Here are the two most important factors that do determine how irritating a cleanser might be.

Type of surfactant

As we’ve explained before, some cleansing agents are inherently more irritating to skin than others. Sodium lauryl sulfate, which is in this Cetaphil product, has been shown to interact with skin protein in a way that makes it harder to rinse away which results in irritation for some people. (To be fair it should also be noted that many many people use this ingredient with no problem whatsoever.) Sodium cocoyl isethionate is a much gentler (but more expensive) ingredient that is used in the top 10 mildest body washes and facial cleansers. (Follow the link for technical references which back up what we’ve said here.)

Fragrances and essential oils

Fragrances are one of the most potentially irritating ingredients used in cosmetics. That’s why fragrance allergens must be listed as separate ingredients. And don’t think they are irritating just because they’re full of “bad synthetics.” Even natural essential oils, especially citrus oils, can be very irritating to skin. So, fragrance free products really do have an edge when it comes to mildness.

How does Cetaphil score?

Well it’s kind of a mixed bag – there’s no fragrance which is good but it uses sodium lauryl sulfate which may be bad. This is one of those cases where you’ll have to try it for yourself and see. The product is reasonably priced and if it doesn’t irritate you it’s perfectly fine to use. If you still have irritation issues after using it look for a fragrance free facial wash based on sodium cocoyl isethionate.

Cetaphil cleanser ingredients

Water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Audrey C. October 24, 2014, 10:18 am

    Can you please do a post on the importance, or lack thereof, of pH levels in skincare, especially in facial cleansers, specifically? Lately, a lot of skincare forums and sites have been touting that the pH level of your cleanser is more important than almost anything else, and that if you use a very basic cleanser, you’re causing irreparable harm to your skin’s acid mantle. I’m a little dubious as most of the literature I’ve read shows that your skin reverts to normal pH levels after around 10-15 minutes, but I’d like to see what actual cosmetics chemists and not internet gurus have to say on the matter.

  • amy October 24, 2014, 1:51 pm

    where is the link for technical references? I can’t find it. I’d like to see that list of top 10 mild cleansers.

  • KA May 27, 2016, 9:41 am

    I was on a pro makeup artist FB page where “experienced professionals” were lambasting Cetaphil as garbage that was causing cystic acne. I had never heard of this before and your above comments still don’t answer to this.
    I do see alcohol as drying and irritating to the skin. I heard parabens aren’t so good for the skin. But being a novice still to ingredients and having just discovered this fabulous website I still don’t know if it’s a good facial cleanser or not. And if not, WHAT IS? Not everyone wants to spend a ridiculous amount of $$ on fou fou products that don’t tow the line anyway as you so adeptly state elsewhere.
    Full disclosure:I have the WORST SKIN EVER. Cystic acne. Orange peel. UGH.

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