Cleaner Cleansers: Your post-Cetaphil skin-care regimen

woman washing her face with natural cleanserIt’s a buzzkill to discover that your favorite facial cleanser—and one that dermatologists love to recommend— is not so clean.

But an increasing number of natural and organic brands are vying for a chance to purify your pores. To find them, you may have to have to look just beyond your neighborhood Duane Reade or CVS. Try the Whole Body section of Whole Foods or ABC Home, a font of luxe natural beauty lines, or go online and check out Spirit Beauty Lounge or Saffron Rouge.

Here are some cleaner cleansers to choose from—all of which I’ve tested extensively and recommend wholeheartedly. Instead of water and chemicals, every one of these facial washes contains 85 percent or more plant-based ingredients, and several are organic. Also important: None contain ingredients on the Dirty Dozen list or that are considered potentially toxic.

Just like your organic tomatoes, these cleansers may cost a little more than chemical-based facial washes, but they’re no more than a couple of cocktails, and a heck of a lot better for your skin.

Burt's Bees Natural Acne Solutions Purifying Gel Cleanser

Probably the cleanest cleanser for acne, a chemical-lade category, sold in drugstores

Acne-prone skin
Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Purifying Gel Cleanser
It’s one of the cleanest drugstore-brand lines in the acne category. The new Acne Solutions line contains willow bark, a natural source of salicylic acid, which is a proven pore penetrator and skin calmer. $10, www.burtsbees.com

Oily skin
Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree Liquid Soap
The closest thing to a natural Cetaphil, this liquid soap is affordable, all natural, and contains tea tree, a natural anti-bacterial. It’s gentle enough to use in conjunction with acne treatment products—and by other skin types after yoga class. $5.99, www.drbronner.com

Sensitive, all types
Living Tree Botanicals Essential Cleansing Lotion
It’s a gentle creamy cleanser with green tea, roman chamomile and honey, all of which are natural anti-inflammatories. The company is founded by a Brooklynite and all products are handmade. $20, www.livingtreebotanicals.com

Living Tree Botanicals The Essential Cleansing Lotion

It's clear what the skin-calmers are in this cleanser: plants

Combination skin, adult acne
Amala Beauty Purifying Gel Cleanser
Blue lotus and white clay removes what you don’t want (shine, dirt of the day, etc.) but leaves your skin feeling soft and looking like you’ve just used blotting papers. Also sold at ABC Home. $48, www.amalabeauty.com

Dry, delicate, and mature skin
Red Flower Nature Lymphatic Phytopower Sea Cleanser and Masque
Organic mushrooms, algae extracts, and antioxidant berries. It’s like an all-natural protein bar for your freakout-prone skin, and doubles as a face mask (thanks to white peat) when you leave it on for five minutes. $38, www.redflower.com

And a few special cases:

Grapefruit Face Wash by HGO Labs by H. Gillerman Organics

This Grapefruit Face Wash has eight recognizable ingredients in it

Skin that feels tight after you wash it
Kahina Giving Beauty Facial Cleanser
Exfoliating papaya enzymes and omega-rich argan oil helps brighten and nourish skin that feels clean but shrink-wrapped when washed. Love the clear disclosure: “99.0% of plant ingredients are organic; 99.4% Natural” and the profit-sharing: 25 percent goes to Berber women. $46, kahina-givingbeauty.com

Skin addicted to foaming cleansers
HGO Labs Grapefruit Face Wash
How to get foam without sodium laureth sulfate? This aerating pump froths the organic deep-cleansing ingredients as they’re dispensed from the bottle. Genius. Another boon: The cleanser’s handmade every few weeks. $19, http://bit.ly/cOhAkr

More natural brands with really clean cleansers: Pangea Organics at Whole Foods, Jurlique at Spirit Beauty Lounge, Intelligent Nutrients at ABC Home, REN and Nude Skincare at Sephora, Naturopathica at Naturopathica.comMelisse Gelula

12 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.

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