Is Cetaphil as Clean & Good As They Claim? We Investigate
Cetaphil promises sensitive skin salvation. With its minimalist branding and “dermatologist-tested” stamp, this 75-year-old skincare brand wants you to trust its gentle touch.
But in 2023’s era of ingredient transparency and eco-consciousness, Cetaphil’s credentials are under scrutiny. Does this classic drugstore darling actually deliver clean, non-irritating formulas and planet-friendly practices? Or are its sustainability claims just slick greenwashing?
We examined the ingredients lists and sustainability reports to separate fact from fiction. You won’t believe what we discovered about America’s #1 gentle skincare brand. The truth may surprise loyal users and make eco-warriors think twice.
Ingredients (Rating: Avoid)
Cetaphil claims its products improve the skin’s quality and barrier function. The company emphasizes its experience in the industry, partnerships with dermatologists, and sensitive skin formulations.
Cetaphil’s key ingredients section lists major ingredients like niacinamide, glycerin, aloe vera, shea butter, and others. The brand claims these ingredients are supported by scientific research to improve the skin’s barrier, aesthetic, and function. As a 2010 study examining the effects of topical niacinamide pointed out, there are promising studies, but further research is needed. The same is true of all of Cetaphil’s key ingredients.
The ingredients section describes the benefits of the ingredients and not potential side effects. This section does not provide an exhaustive list of all ingredients, but only highlights favorable ones.
The features section lacks consistency. Some products are labeled as fragrance-free and paraben-free, while others have hazardous substances in their formulations.
Cetaphil states it is reformulating products with cleaner ingredients, based on the latest scientific research. The brand asserts these reformulated products have no parabens, sulfates, or ingredients from animals.
However, when we reviewed the current products on Cetaphil’s website, we found sodium laureth sulfate and parabens in some products. This statement leads customers to believe that Cetaphil’s products are safer than they are. Cetaphil has only reformulated a few products so far.
We reviewed the ingredients in 70 of Cetaphil’s products and found many harmful ingredients we recommend avoiding.
Parabens — The dangers associated with parabens have been a subject of debate within the scientific community, as they are known to act as endocrine disruptors and have been linked to health issues such as breast cancer.
Chemical Sunscreens — Some Cetaphil products contain chemical sunscreens like homosalate, octisalate, avobenzone, and octocrylene. We do not recommend chemical sunscreens for several reasons. Recent studies have raised concerns about the safety of these sunscreens, as some of their ingredients have been found to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
BHA / BHT – The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has found that BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) has the ability to disrupt the endocrine system. BHT has been linked to hormone disruption, and appears on California’s Prop 65 list as a potential carcinogen. Typically, BHA and BHT can be found together, and the effects of both chemicals (together) are still unknown.
Parabens — Parabens are commonly added to cosmetics to prevent bacterial growth, ensuring the products remain safe for use. Especially in daily-use cosmetics like mascara, the risk of bacterial contamination is high in the absence of such preservatives. Nonetheless, there’s growing concern over the potential health implications of these chemicals.
Triethanolamine — Certain research suggests that triethanolamine may have carcinogenic properties. While studies on its oral intake showed that TEA wasn’t cancer-inducing in both rats and mice, it did exhibit toxicity to rat kidneys, with female rats being particularly affected.
Cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB) — Known to cause skin irritation in some users. In fact, CAPB was named The American Contact Dermatitis Society’s “Allergen of the Year” in 2004.
Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs) — Emulsifiers, solvents, humectants, and viscosity modifiers in cosmetics. However, PEGs can sometimes be contaminated with carcinogenic substances, such as 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide.
Because the brand contains a number of ingredients we recommend avoiding, we give them a rating of Avoid in terms of ingredients.
Sustainability (Rating: Iffy)
Cetaphil outlines its sustainability practices as the “Clear Skies Journey.” This term evokes a sense of clean environmental standards. Cetaphil’s sustainability policies focus on four tiers: reducing our environmental impact, formulating with cleaner ingredients, using smarter packaging, and supporting our communities.
The brand claims it is, “transforming [its] current factories to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2022 and carbon neutrality in [its] current production facilities.” There has not been an update about whether the goal has been achieved, so this appears to be outdated information.
Regarding environmental impact, the company claims to have reduced water consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 33% and 60%, respectively. According to Cetaphil, factories use renewable electricity source.
The brand uses mono-material containers which are composed of a single material. These containers are easier to recycle. However, Cetaphil claims that its mono-material containers and closures are partially recyclable at most facilities, which is vague. The brand does not go into detail about its paper-based, renewable, biodegradable packaging. In order for the paper to be renewable, it would have to be sourced through ethical, sustainable means, which Cetaphil does not detail.
Cetaphil states its employees volunteer at Camp Wonder, a summer camp for children with chronic skin diseases. Cetaphil and Galderma have donated $1.5 million and 50,000 products to the camp, which was founded by the Children’s Skin Disease Foundation.
Animal Welfare (Rating: Avoid)
On Cetaphil’s website, the brand claims “animal welfare is a key priority.”
This statement is misleading, because it claims that Galderma, Cetaphil’s parent company, does not test on animals. It does not mention third-party suppliers, which may test on animals. Cetaphil does not go into detail about which “industry-recognized, non-animal testing methodologies” they use.
The company also makes the following misleading statement: “Nevertheless, some may conduct animal testing for certain cosmetic products prior to approval for sale on the market, as is still the case in China.”
The company’s wording is vague and contradicts its previous statements about it being a cruelty-free company. Cetaphil’s products are sold in places where animal testing is required, which means they may be tested on animals.
Cetaphil also mentions Galderma’s partnership with the Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS), a nonprofit that looks for non-animal testing methodologies. Cetaphil does not detail the terms of the partnership, which is iffy. The fact that IIVS has an active program in China to encourage different testing mediums does not reflect Cetaphil or Galderma’s practices. This vague statement misdirects consumers to believe the brand is more active in eliminating animal testing policies.
Cruelty-Free Kitty reports Cetaphil is not a cruelty-free brand. It is unclear if the brand or others in its supply chain test ingredients or finished products on animals. Its parent company, Galderma, is also not cruelty-free. Cetaphil may test products on animals in parts of the world where it’s lawfully required. No independent organizations have awarded Cetaphil a cruelty-free status.
Cetaphil does not market its products as vegan. Since Cetaphil and its affiliate company are not cruelty-free, their products can’t be truly considered vegan.
Final Brand Ratings
Our rating scale ranges from “Best” (for having the best practices) to “Avoid” (for having unacceptable practices). We rated Cetaphil as follows.
|Ingredients||Avoid||Cetaphil advertises gentle, dermatologist-recommended products for sensitive skin. The brand lists key ingredients backed by science like niacinamide, glycerin, aloe vera, shea butter, and others. It describes the benefits, but not the potential side effects. When we looked at the full lists of ingredients for Cetaphil’s products we found many hazardous ingredients like fragrance, PEGs, parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, BHA, BHT, retinyl palmitate, chromium oxide green, kojic acid, and many others. Some ingredients have the potential to be laced with contaminants. A few skincare products had chemical sunscreen ingredients like homosalate, octisalate, avobenzone, and octocrylene. Despite assurances, Cetaphil has only reformulated a few products with cleaner ingredients.|
|Sustainability||Iffy||Cetaphil’s “Clean Skies Initiative” outlines its approach to sustainability. Cetaphil claims it has reduced water and energy consumption. The brand’s goal was to have “100% renewable electricity by 2022 and carbon neutrality in [their] current production facilities,” but it has not updated customers about whether the goal has been reached in 2023. The company volunteers and donates funds and products to Camp Wonder, a summer camp for children with chronic skin diseases. Cetaphil’s recycling practices are vague. We also found ingredients that can be toxic to the environment, like cyclomethicone and cyclopentasiloxane.|
|Animal Welfare||Avoid||While Cetaphil claims “animal welfare is a key priority,” its practices show that is not the case. Cetaphil is a subsidiary of Galderma. Neither company is 100% vegan or cruelty-free.|
Overall Rating: Avoid
Cetaphil is a brand that uses all the right buzzwords, like “science-backed” and “dermatologist recommended.” However, the company’s substance does not match its image.
Terms like “dermatologist recommended” are misleading, because the public is not given information about which dermatologists recommended the product. The dermatologist could be paid by the company to endorse the product, which would question the ethics of the recommendation.
Cetaphil’s features section distracts from the harmful substances in its products. While some products are labeled “fragrance-free,” many others contain undisclosed fragrances.
In 2021, the brand announced it intended to reformulate products to better align with clean beauty standards. However, in looking at the ingredients in Cetaphil’s present product lineup, there are still many hazardous ingredients that are not beneficial for humans, animals, or the environment.
For these reasons, Cetaphil receives a rating of Avoid.