If your skin’s freaking out, your cleanser might be to blame. Whether it’s breakout-city, patchy dry skin, or just a generally blah complexion, the most common culprit is that integral first step of everybody’s beauty routine.
And don’t rush to the store to grab a “gentle” face wash like Cetaphil just yet.
Turns out the stuff is pretty much toxic, even though dermatologists everywhere are always recommending it for sensitive skin. Yes, the ingredient list is relatively short, but it’s a doozy: water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben are listed as the main components.
Recognize any of those? You know water, of course. Propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben might look a little familiar—because they’re known hormone disruptors that have been deemed potentially toxic to humans by the Environmental Working Group.
So it becomes clear pretty quickly why this isn’t the best product to put on your face every day. But there are plenty of good-for-skin, non-toxic cleansers that get the job done. Here’s what to look for when you’re shopping for skin care basics.
The first ingredient should NOT be H2O
Like nutrition labels, ingredient lists on beauty products are organized with the most plentiful ingredients listed first. If water is the first ingredient (we’re looking at you, Cetaphil!), that means the majority of what you’re paying for is water. Even if the product is cheap, that’s kind of a bummer.
Look for soothing all-natural oils
Many of the chemicals found in potentially toxic face washes are included not because they’re particularly excellent at cleansing or moisturizing. Instead, those are the ingredients that foam up when you scrub and help that potion slide onto your face evenly. Likewise, chemical-laden moisturizers often use petroleum jelly–based substances to coat the skin. Sure, these work to keeps moisture in, but they also traps bacteria and dirt in pores, which can cause even more problems.
Instead, look for carrier oils that actually remove dead skin and dirt and lock in moisture without clogging pores or aggravating skin. All of the following beautifying oils keep skin hydrated, but still allow it to breathe—plus, they give products a smooth consistency that feels so good to massage into a parched complexion:
- Avocado oil
- Jojoba oil
- Coconut oil
- Rosehip oil
- Argan oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Apricot oil
- Neem oil
- Sesame seed oil
Check for botanicals and essential oils as the active ingredients
Essential oils and other plant-derived ingredients are solid gold when it comes to beauty and skin care. Because they’re already packed with naturally occurring antioxidants and vitamins, plant essences and essential oils are incredibly powerful beauty boosters—and they don’t require much processing.
Especially for sensitive skin, soothing ingredients like aloe, cucumber, lavender oil, primrose oil, rose oil, and witch hazel are key to keeping redness and irritation at bay.
Avoid chemicals and fragrances
Consult the EWG's guide to safe cosmetics, and avoid the ingredients they have marked as potentially harmful at all costs. For the most sensitive skin, even seemingly harmless fragrances can cause problems. As of the publish date of this article, companies are not required to list the ingredients in the fragrances used on packaging, so something simply labeled as “fragrance” could actually be made of unsavory chemicals—but there’s no way to tell. Grab products that come by their scents naturally, either by botanicals or essential oils and avoid beauty supplies with fragrance.
Here’s the thing: Just because that drugstore face wash is less than $10 and works just OK doesn’t mean it’s helping your skin. The good news is that there are plenty of affordable all-natural formulas out there that really do work, whether you struggle with sensitivity, dryness, breakouts, or the rogue wrinkle here and there.
So toss the Cetaphil (it’s not worth it!) and grab an all-natural face wash you know won’t harm your complexion or your health. We love Nourish Organic’s Moisturizing Face Cleanser, because it has cooling aloe and cucumber combined with coconut and neem oil to rinse away dirt and makeup—and it works for most skin types.
Photo credit: Ella Ciamacco