Article by: Perry Romanowski

Today we’re going to take a look at a cleanser that is fairly frequently recommended by dermatologists. This was a brand that I had heard of even before I got into the cosmetic industry. And that is saying something because prior to working in the cosmetic industry, I didn’t pay attention to any brand of personal care product. I just used whatever happened to be in the bathroom.

Anyway, let’s take a look at Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

LOI – Cetaphil

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

Talk about a straightforward formula! This are certainly no superfulous ingredients in this product. The 1% line is pretty easy to guess and it is almost certainly between the Stearyl Alcohol and the Methylparaben.

Kudos to Cetaphil for embracing the Formula Minimalist startegy.

What the Ingredients do

There really isn’t much to this formula but let’s analyze it.

1. Water – Solvent
2. Cetyl Alcohol – Opacifying, thickening, moisturizing
3. Propylene Glycol – Humectant, foam supressant
4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – Cleanser
5. Stearyl Alcohol – Opacifying, thickening, conditioning
6. Methylparaben – Preservative
7. Propylparaben – Preservative
8. Butylparaben – Preservative

Formula Commentary

It really is amazing that a formula so simple could be the basis for such a significant brand. SLS is one of the harshest detergents you can use but when you mix it with propylene glycol and fatty alcohols, the irritation is mitigated and the product can be sold as a “gentle skin cleanser”.

The formula has no dyes or fragrances so I’m certain dermatologists like that, but why they would recommend it, I do not know. It says it was originally created by a dermatologist so perhaps that is the reason.

This is a nice formula and shows that a simple formula can still be a best seller.


  1. Avatar

    Hi Perry,
    Can you please tell me why there are 3 different parabens listed in the LOI? Were they added individually or were they all present in one preservative ingredient used but must be all disclosed in the label?
    Thanks for this very informative forum. I enjoyed following the discussions.

    1. Avatar
      Mark Fuller

      Generally if parabens are used, a combination is used. This is a combination Product like Liquipar. All must be listed.

    2. Avatar

      A blend is used because it is more effective against a wider range of microbes than any single paraben. These parabens are likely added as a single raw material.

  2. Avatar

    There is something missing here. I believe that it is only fair to inform the public that this product is not a good choice for anyone who suffers from acne. Disclosing that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a pore clogging ingredient makes sense so this product can be avoided and they can find a cleanser that doesn’t contain any pore cloggers.

    1. Avatar

      What evidence can you provide that SLS is a pore clogging ingredient? The chemistry of it would suggest exactly the opposite. It is a surfactant that is included for its cleansing properties.

  3. Avatar

    “(…) but why they would recommend it, I do not know.”

    I know: because Galderma (a L’oréal owned brand) does marketing for dermatologists. If Dove (Unilever) does the same, then dermatologists will recommend Dove. There isn’t a very strong sense of Evidence Based Medicine in this medical speciality.

  4. Avatar
    Mark Fuller

    I am very familiar with this product. In retail Pharmacy Compounding we never built the base from scratch. If we needed a Cream we used Eucerin. If we needed a lotion, we triturated (cool word, look it up) the active into Cetaphil. If we needed an ointment we used Aquaphor.
    The biggest adjustment transitioning over to Cosmetic Formulating (besides the lack of similar proof for the “actives”) was actually having to design and make the base!

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