Cleaner Cleansers: Your post-Cetaphil skin-care regimen

Washing your face_cleansers

(Photo: Tumblr.com)

When we first broke the news that cult- and dermatologist-favorite cleanser Cetaphil was not doing your skin (or general health) any favors, we know, it was a major buzzkill.

And so we set out to create a list of better-for-you substitutes to make breaking up with it slightly easier.

Since then, more and more natural and organic brands have debuted and introduced cleaner cleansers we can get behind—and we’ve tried them all to bring you this updated list for 2015.

Instead of mostly water and a few irritating chemicals, they’re primarily made with plant-based ingredients, and several are organic. Most importantly, none contain potentially toxic beauty ingredients like those on the Dirty Dozen list.

Of course, just like your organic tomatoes, they may cost slightly more than mainstream face washes, but most on this list come in at less than $40, so you won’t get total sticker shock compared to your drugstore (or Sephora) faves.

Speaking of which, you’ll mostly have to have to look beyond your neighborhood CVS to find many of them, to stores like the Whole Body section of Whole Foods and boutique natural beauty shops or websites like Spirit Beauty Lounge  or Follain. Or, to make it super easy, you could just click through, below.

Here are nine cleanser cleansers to start washing up with, now.

burts bees1. Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Purifying Gel Cleanser ($14) Burt’s Bees is arguably the cleanest (and most time-tested) drugstore brand out there, and this acne-preventing cleanser contains willow bark, a natural source of salicylic acid, which is a proven pore penetrator and skin calmer.

2. Meow Meow Tweet Face Cleanser ($25) The light milky texture is a lot like a certain drugstore brand best-seller, but the ingredients are so much better in this indie Brooklyn brand. It’s all about super-star plant actives, such as witch hazel, tea tree, and coconut oil—ingredients that can actually do something beneficial for your skin (like prevent over-drying it or causing breakouts). Just FYI: Its light forest-fresh scent means your boyfriend might steal it, too.

31dBwVzjX4L3. One Love Organics Easy Does It Foaming Cleanser ($30) One Love’s foaming formula—filled with organic Chilean soap bark, cold-pressed apple oil, and vegetable glycerin—feels just right for normal skin after a sweaty workout when you need a little scrubbing action on your face. And it comes with just the right amount of naturally produced bubbles (not sodium laurel sulfate), so you feel super refreshed.

4. S.W. Basics Cleanser ($22) S.W. Basics signature cleanser is the ultimate product for super sensitive skin or those who need to taper off overly active or aggressive products. Made with only three all-organic ingredients (rosewater, vegetable glycerin, and tea tree oil), you can apply it with a cotton pad and rinse for an ultra gentle clean feeling. (Although you may need something a bit stronger to get makeup off beforehand.)

Acure5. Acure Sensitive Facial Cleanser ($15) If you’re missing the texture of your traditional drugstore cleanser, you’ll love this one. It’s a super gentle, creamy cleanser for sensitive skin, with a barely-there scent. Though its loaded with calming chamomile, superfruits, and a fermented resveratrol probiotic for good measure. It takes off makeup with ease, and the argan oil hydrates and balances your skin’s sebum (oil) production. (Oh, and it’s now available at Target!)

6. Intelligent Nutrients Plant Stem Cell Science Purifying Cleansing Gel ($38) Here’s something you should know: Algae extracts, like in this certified organic soothing gel cleanser, do an amazing job of purifying and balancing your skin (especially if it’s oil-prone). And this cleanser calms sensitive skin with summer lilac plant stem cells, too.

beautycounter-routine_clean-cream_cleanser-495x6507. Beautycounter Routine Clean Cream Cleanser ($24) This gentle cream cleanser is formulated using the safe, scientific principles the brand is known for, with skin-soothing organic coconut oil and aloe (that make it great for dry skin), healing botanical extracts, and a light-yet-refreshing citrusy scent from essential oils. And it gets your makeup off and cleans underneath in one, easy step.

8. Shamanuti Activated Charcoal Cleanser ($36) Charcoal is this year’s hottest beauty ingredient, and its detoxifying properties make this cleanser perfect for acne- and freakout-prone skin. (It leaves your face feeling deeply clean after you rinse.) Other anti-inflammatory ingredients—like Roman chamomile and rooibos tea—help reduce redness, too.

suki-face-exfoliate-foaming-cleanser9. Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser ($33) This best-selling exfoliating wash starts as a coarse sugar facial scrub but quickly transforms into an ultra-creamy citrus cleanser as it touches water and you rub it into your skin. All this multitasking leaves your skin feeling extra fresh and a little taut. It might be too harsh for every-day use, but it’s great several times a week for keeping your pores clear and skin bright.

*This article was updated on February 9, 2015.

30 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. September 19th, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Arbonne products are botanical, safe (non-toxic) and no animal testing or animal ingredients as well. 20-80% off with yearly membership. Check out the website!

  2. October 14th, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Thanks for this article. I just found this website and am obsessed with it.

  3. January 6th, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Hi Melisse,

    Just thought you’d like to see this review of the REN line – somewhat critical. Would love to know your reaction!


  4. January 15th, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    checked Burts Bees Acne solutions out on EWG’s Skin Deep site and it got a 6. NOt a very safe rating. Can you explain why? I am researching an acne solution for my daughter.

  5. January 15th, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I know sodium laurel sulfate is toxic but is this related. Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino-Acids

  6. Well+Good
    January 15th, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Hi Judy,

    The alcohol used in the Burts Bees formulation may be the cause, but I can’t be sure, since these products have not been evaluated by the EWG. And according to that site, SODIUM LAUROYL OAT AMINO ACIDS has a toxicity rating of zero. Are you using another source? Please let me know.

    Two suggestions for you, besides trying another brand I’ve mentioned here. Shop by companies who’ve signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:

    Try this $10 sample pack of acne-prone-skin products from SpiritBeautyLounge.com. This retailer only stocks rigorously natural and organic options:


    Good luck! Melisse

  7. March 12th, 2012 at 6:08 am

    This was a great post, thanks for the info.

  8. April 12th, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Even though I don’t agree with every thing you’ve claimed, its a fascinating perspective.

  9. September 29th, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    I checked out Pur Minerals, they conatin Bismuth. I found a makeup called Real Purity Healthy Glow Creme Foundation, it only conatins: Distilled Water, Glycerin, Clay, Rice Bran Oil and Iron Oxides. It’s bismuth-free, titanium dioxide free, zinc oxide free, and mica free. I ordered a sample size should receive it sometime next week. Fingers crossed. If I still have problems then we know that either I’m allergic to iron oxides (which is in all mineral makeup) or it is actually my hormones.

  10. October 18th, 2012 at 1:46 am

    […] Image Credit: 5 […]

  11. December 12th, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Burt’s Bees is now a Clorox company. The formulations might be the same as always, but I cannot support a company that produces so many other toxic products that cause health and environmental harm.

  12. February 8th, 2013 at 6:42 am


    In my opinion this is the great post.We have to maintain our skin very healthy by using natural anti aging products.

  13. Valerie Coffin-Mitchell
    February 9th, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Today am getting all sorts of server error messages on links from the main page to other information, can you fix it? Love your web site and the info…..

  14. Melissa
    February 9th, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Thank you for featuring Beautycounter’s Routine Clean Cream Cleanser! I am a consultant for the company and this is one of my favorite products. Visit my website, melissafry.beautycounter.com and email me with any questions. xo

  15. Kelsey
    February 9th, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    This is great! Thank you so much.
    If you have the chance, a round up of clean, animal-friendly make up products (BB cream!) would be awesome!

  16. Jennifer Freitas
    February 10th, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    We just LOVE the Shamanuti cleanser as do our clients! And we have heard sooo many good things about Meow Meow Tweet Tweet! We have many other CLEAN beauty brands that deserve a mention! Fig + Yarrow, Belmondo, Cocoon Apothecary, Pangea Organics!!! Dont forget men too though! Ursa Major is loved by men as is Rebel’s Refinery!

    Thanks well + Good for doing what you do! xoxoxo

  17. April 25th, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Hi – any suggestions for someone who is allergic to ‘everything’? I am using Clean and Clear shampoo by psico.com and when I tried their face cleanser – a rash! Even my dermatologist is frustrated.

    Thanks for all you do

  18. June 20th, 2015 at 9:05 am

    Do these companies also NOT test on animals? The Beautycounter cleanser is fantastic.

  19. July 27th, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    For actual RESEARCHED and unbiased skin care information, people can check out: http://www.beautypedia.com. They sort and review all brands, and you canal so search by those who don’t test on animals.

    Many of these so-called “natural” and gentle products are horrible with loads of irritants and essential oils that – while smelling great – are horrific for your skin. But, don’t take my word or these companies’ words for it (seriously, do they cite actual studies or are they just giving you the “facts” about why their products are so perfect), but do your research!

  20. July 27th, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    What about bareminerals makeup..is it safe?

  21. July 28th, 2015 at 2:23 am

    What about their body lotion?

  22. August 3rd, 2015 at 9:41 am

    Also check out Ava Anderson Non Toxic. All ingredients are 100% organic and contain no harmful ingredients. avaandersonnontoxic.com/johannas

  23. August 17th, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    I can’t believe that no LUSH cleansers made the list of safe alternatives! They have cleansers that are preservative free and very inexpensive for their effectiveness. Better research needed:(

  24. August 28th, 2015 at 12:54 am

    Unfortunately, It doesn’t seem like many of these are good alternatives to cetaphil. I use it because I have very sensitive skin prone to redness and irritation. All these scented products with witch hazel and tea tree oil are no good for my face. It would be nice if you could look at the pros of cetaphil, like how gentle it is for sensitive skin, and find some alternatives. I’ve struggled so hard to find a natural product that won’t irritate me. Guess I need to keep searching.

  25. September 10th, 2015 at 5:59 am

    Are any of these products suitable for a 10 going on 11 year old girl, whose skin is very sensitive?

  26. September 27th, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Best I have ever used is Monsia!

  27. October 23rd, 2015 at 6:58 am

    Great list! I want to try the Acure Sensitive Facial Cleanser.

  28. November 2nd, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Are any of these 9 recommendations oil-free as well? I’m suffering from Seborrhoeic dermatitis, and i have been using an over-the-counter, 1% Hydrocortisone cream for 4 years. It worked really well, but I was so ill informed about what cortisone does to one’s skin. Now the condition has worsened. Reading through articles about Seborrhoeic dermatitis, all point me towards an oil-free facial cleanser and an oil-free moisturizer. I was looking at neutrogena products, but they are just another big company. I’m hoping to find a more nautural product. Any suggestions?

  29. December 5th, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    I’m sorry, but most of these products could be terrible for people with sensitive skin. Anything with salicylic acid is going to irritate sensitive skin – I don’t care where it comes from. Almost all botanicals make me go red. Just because something is natural does not mean it works for everyone. And frankly, $36 for a product you use every day, sometimes twice a day, is just too expensive.

  30. December 6th, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    Have you ever evaluated Whole Food’s 365 brand facial cleanser? Its what I have been using. Here is a blog article that shows the improvements from Cetaphil. If not, Ill probably switch to Burts Bees http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/whole-story/facial-cleanser-face

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