How to pick a good face wash

Slique says: Is it true that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) in facial cleansers is bad for your skin? I find that whenever I use a cleanser with SLS my skin will feel a lil’ bit dry.

The Right Brain responds:

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and its cousin Sodium Laureth Ether Sulfate (SLES) are favorite topics here on the Beauty Brains. We’ve blogged before about how they are good cleaners, but they can dry your skin if you’re not careful.

Does that make sulfate based products bad? Not necessarily, because it depends on what else is in the formula. A well formulated product that uses sulfates in combination with milder surfactants or with conditioning agents that prevent the skin from becoming too stripped, are perfectly fine for most people.

So that made us curious – how many face washes DO use sulfates? A quick trip to shows that none of the top ten brands used SLS, but we did notice that 7 of these 10 used other sulfates to some degree.

So if you’re looking for sulfate free and you want to pick a good face wash, here’s the list of ten face washes ranked from least expensive to most expensive (based on cost per ounce) with all the cleansing agents spelled out .

Skin Milk Face Wash – contains little sulfates

Cost: $0.66/oz

Surfactants: Stearic Acid based soap, Glycereth 26, Cocamide DEA, Sodium Laureth 13 Carboxylate, PEG 100 Stearate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Comments: Stearic acid soaps give a whipped creamy kind of foam.

Olay Foaming Face Wash for Sensitive Skin – contains little sulfates

Cost: $0.75/0z

Surfactants: Sodium Myristoyl Sarcosinate, PEG 120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Sodium Lauroamphoacetate, Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamide MEA

Comments: A surprisingly low cost formula considering the range of mild surfactants.

Seabreeze Naturals Foaming Face Wash – contains a lot of sulfates

Cost: $0.75/oz

Surfactants: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PEG 120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate


Basis Clean Face Wash – contains a lot of sulfates

Cost: $0.92/oz

Surfactants: Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Lauryl Glucoside, PEG 7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, PEG 8, Glyceryl Laurate, PEG 200 Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate,

Comments: The combination of betaine and laureth sulfate is one of the most popular mixtures for shampoos.

Neutrogena Deep Clean Facial Cleanser – contains sulfonates, not sulfates

Cost: $1.08/oz

Surfactants: Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium C12-15 Pareth-15 Sulfonate

Comments: This formula will certainly deep clean since it uses sulfonates, a class of surfactants as stripping, if not more stipping, than any of the sulfates.

Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash – contains moderate sulfates

Cost: $1.08/oz

Surfactants: PEG 80 Sorbitan Laurate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine,

Comments: This is essentially a baby shampoo formula.

Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash – contains no sulfates

Cost: $1.15/oz

Surfactants: Castile Soap

Comments: No sulfates to be found but pure soap can also be drying to the skin.

Nature’s Gate Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash – contains a lot of sulfates

Cost: $1.20/oz

Surfactants: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocamide MIPA,


Biore Pore Minimizing Foaming Face Wash – contains moderate sulfates

Cost: $1.66/oz

Surfactants: Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Isethionate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Decyl Glucoside, Cocamidopropyl Betaine

Comments: Isethionates are very rich foaming and mild to the skin.

Kiss My Face Organics Jump Start Exfolliating Face Wash – contains no sulfates

Cost: $3.25/oz

Surfactants: Decyl Glucoside

Comments: A mild, corn based cleanser but certainly not worth almost 3 times more than Biore, the next most expensive product.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

If you’re looking for a sulfate free face wash, the relatively low levels of SLES in and Skin Milk and Olay look like they’re the best value.

What’s YOUR favorite way to clean your kisser? Leave a comment and share the products you like with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.