Syndets and Lipid Free Cleansers, What Are They? Do They Work?


You may have come across the term Syndet or `Lipid Free Cleanser’ when researching mild cleansers for your rosacea.

What are theses modern cleansing marvels, and what are you missing by not having them in your daily regime?

What is a Syndet?

Well the term means `Synthetic Detergent’ and is an attempt to create a cleanser that is suitable for the most sensitive of skins. These surfactants (they break the surface of dirt and grime) are made from oils, fats or petroleum, but are not processed by saponification like regular soaps.

What about a Lipid Free Cleanser?

Lipid-free cleansers are soapless liquids that cleanse without water. These products often contain glycerin, cetyl alcohol, and propylene glycol, but they do not contain oils or fats. They leave a thin moisturizing film, and are especially useful for people with sensitive or irritated skin.

Why are Soaps not recommended?

In general a pure soap is not recommended for rosacea sufferers.

A true soap is created by saponification, a process where long-chain fatty acids are combined with an alkali,  resulting in fatty acid salts – what we know as soap.

A true soap is `basic’ on the pH scale which means a value of around 9 to 10, which is far greater than the skin’s pH of 4.5 to 6.5. This means that a soap will change the acid/alkali balance of the skin.

What does skin pH mean?

The pH of the skin is generally in the range 4.5 to 6.5.

pH numbers refer to the acid, neutral or alkaline nature of the skin. The number is a range from 1 to 14, where 1 is highly acidic and 14 is highly basic (or alkali).



Hopefully it is clear from the above picture that it is not a good start to use a product in the 9-10/blue range on skin that is more in the 4-6/orange range.

What will Pure Soap Do to your Skin?

As we are told by Patricia K. Farris MD in `Skin Care Based on Science: Improving Outcomes in Rosacea’ (Cosmetic Dermatology Feb 2012 Vol 23 No. 2), continued use of alkali soaps or cleansers will increase the pH of the skin and cause functional changes such as a disruption of skin lipids, alter the skin flora and could also compromise the skin barrier function.

Thus the aim is to use a cleanser that is slightly acidic or neutral pH.

Also harsh surfactants can damage proteins and disrupt lipids in the stratum corneum and thus contribute to epidermal barrier dysfunction.

What about Combars?

A combination bar is a combination of a true soap and a synthetic detergent. Again they are general pH of 9-10 so are a poor choice for rosacea sufferers.

So what should rosacea sufferers use?

Milder cleansing alternatives that are recommended for rosacea sufferers fall into 2 camps – syndets and lipid-free cleansers.

What is a Syndet made of?

Syndets generally contain less than 10% soap, so can provide a more favourable pH.

Syndets are available as bars or liquids and can commonly contain sodium cocoyl isethionate as well as sulfosuccinates , alpha olefin sulfonates, alkyl glyceryl ether sulfonate, sodium cocoyl monoglyceride sulfate, betaines.

What are Lipid Free Cleansers?

Lipid free cleansers are able to cleans without containing any fat, and like a syndet have a slightly acidic or neutral pH. In general these cleansers do not lather and leave a thin moisturising layer on the skin.

What, No Lather?

Yes that’s right, don’t expect a soothing fluffy lather from these lipid free and syndet liquid cleansers. Say goodbye to that face full of bubbles you used to see in the mirror. You don’t need it, and it may be indicative of a harsh soap.

Article Abstract

Skin Care Based on Science: Improving Outcomes in Rosacea

Cosmet Dermatol. 2012;25:72-78.

Patients with rosacea have compromised skin barrier function and are more prone to dryness, irritation, and skin sensitivity.

With an understanding of the pathogenesis and inherent skin problems that rosacea patients experience, it is essential for dermatologists to provide specific recommendations for skin care.

Cleansers and moisturizers must be selected to improve skin barrier function and reduce inflammation.

Cosmeceuticals with anti-inflammatory actives may be helpful in mitigating the signs and symptoms of rosacea.

This article will review topical skin care products that may improve treatment outcomes in rosacea patients.

So What Now?

Are you currently using a pure soap every day? It may be worthwhile considering adding one of the following recommended cleansers to your daily cleansing regime.

Recommended Syndets

The article recommends the following Syndets;

1. Aveeno Moisturizing Bar


Oat FlourAvena Sativa , Cetearyl Alcohol , Stearic Acid , Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate , Water , Disodium Lauryl Sulfosuccinate , Glycerin , Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil , Titanium Dioxide , Citric Acid , Sodium Trideceth Sulfate , Hydrogenated Castor Oil

2. Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar


cetaphil-gentle-cleansing-barIngredients: Sodium cocoyl isethionate, stearic acid, sodium tallowate, water, sodium stearate, sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate, sodium cocoate, PEG-20, sodium chloride, masking fragrance, sodium isethionate, petrolatum, sodium isostearoyl lactylate, sucrose cocoate, titanium dioxide, pentasodium pentetate, tetrasodium etidronate. May also contain sodium palm kernelate.

See also Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar well tolerated, even helps rosacea symptoms

3. Dove Sensitive Skin Unscented Beauty Bar

dove-sensitive-unscented-beauty-barIngredients: Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Tallowate, Sodium Palmitate, Lauric Acid, Sodium Isethionate, Water, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Maltol, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891)

4. Olay Ultra Moisture Bar

olay-ultra-moisture-barIngredients: sodium cocoyl isethionate, paraffin, sodium cocoglyceryl ether sulfonate, glycerin, water, talc, magnesium stearate, sodium isethionate, stearic acid, magnesium cocoate, coconut acid, sodium stearate, sodium cocoate, fragrance, magnesium laurate, titanium dioxide, lauric acid, sodium laurate, tetrasodium edta, butyrospermum parkii (shea butter), trisodium etidronate, peg-90m.

Recommended Lipid Free Cleansers

The article recommends the following lipid free cleansers;

1. Aquanil Cleanser (Aquanil Cleansing Lotion)

aquanil-cleanserIngredients: Water (Purified), Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Benzyl Alcohol, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Xanthan Gum.

2. CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser



Ingredients: behentrimonium methosulfate and ceteayl alcohol, carbomer, ceramide 1, ceramide 3, ceramide 6-ii, cetyl alcohol, cholesterol, dipotassium phosphate, disodium edta, glycerin, glyceryl monostearate, hyaluronic acid, methylparaben» phytosphingosine, polyoxyl 40 stearate, polysorbate 20, potassium phosphate, propylparaben, purified water, sodium lauroyl lactylate, stearyl alcohol, xanthan gum

See also: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser and CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion User Reviews

3. Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser


Cetaphil-Gentle-CleanserIngredients: purified water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben

See also Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser User Reviews


You may also like to investigate Vanicream because that is also a mild moisturizer –   Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream User Reviews

Your Thoughts Please

A quick search reveals that we rosacea sufferers know very little about the following products. If you have tried them please do tell us what you thought of these;

  • Olay Ultra Moisture Bar
  • Dove Sensitive Skin Unscented Beauty Bar
  • Aveeno Moisturizing Bar
  • Aquanil Cleanser

Highlighted Products

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About the Author

About the Author: David Pascoe started the Rosacea Support Group in October 1998. .

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20 Reader Comments

  1. Elsa says:

    There are so many unpronouncable chemicals on the ingredients list of all these products. I wonder if there is a natural product that could be used as a cleanser? I personally use Clinique redness solutions soothing cleanser to remove makeup, which I find is effective and gentle. Interestingly there is no list of ingredients on the tube.

    • It can be scary to see a long list of ingredients, but don’t be daunted as you can start to make sense of them. It does help if the list of ingredients is short of course.

      Here is is list of ingredients for the Clinque Redness Solutions Soothing Cleanser from here –

      water/aqua/eau, squalane, glycerin, butylene glycol, phenyl trimethicone, ammonium acryloyldimethyltaurate/vp copolymer, avena sativa (oat) kernel extract, cucumis sativus (cucumber) fruit extract, hordeum vulgare (barley) extract/extrait d’orge, sucrose stearate, sea whip extract, cholesterol, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seedcake, chamomilla recutita (matricaria), acetyl glucosamine, ppg-20 methyl glucose ether, caffeine, propylene glycol dicaprate, caprylyl glycol, stearic acid, sodium chloride, disodium edta, bht, phenoxyethanol, polyaminopropyl biguanide, yellow 5 (ci 19140), green 5 (ci 61570), blue 1 (ci 42090).

  2. says:

    what about Neutragena oily face wash with salacylic acid as it’s key ingredient. How harsh is that for the PH levels on rosacea skin? I have been using it for years!

  3. Alicia says:

    What about vanicream? I bought the bar of soap and you can use it on your face these are the ingredients sodium cocoyl isethionate, stearic acid, water, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, sodium isethionate, sorbitol solution, ceteareth-20, propylene glycol, cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl monostearate, white petrolatum, simethicone, polyethylene glycol monostearate, titanium dioxide, sorbic acid, BHT

  4. Angela says:

    I have used several of these “recommended” liquid cleansers and bars, and I had nothing bur problems with my skin. I have rosacea and acne and all of these caused horrible break outs. Afterward I found a list of comedogenic ingredients online and found several of the ingredients are VERY high on the list of causing acne AND irritation. My advice is to avoid all of these cleansers.

    I am still searching for any cleanser that is compatible with my wretched skn.

  5. Victoria says:

    Cetaphil lotion has actually caused me to have rosacea bumps on the sides of my nose so I switched to just using CeraVe for face wash and face lotion and I don’t have any breakouts. I am also taking Oracea in the morning and using Finacea at night. Still experienceing minor rosacea bumps and redness in/on my cheeks.

  6. Christine Hicks says:

    My Dermotologist recommended PanOxyl bar with benzol peroxide and it has made a huge difference in the acne in my face. It really had made my acne disappear for a long time but my face continues to change as I get older and I now have bad allergies to boot. I use Metro gel and Klaron lotion and take Doxicycline. I am struggling with makeup and moisterizers that don’t break me out and help with sensitive skin.

  7. KC says:

    I love aquanil and have been using it for years. Only cleanser that doesn’t irritate my skin

  8. Elspeth says:

    I have been using Aquanil for 15+ years at my dermatologists recommendation, and its fine for daily cleansing. However it does not not remove the waterproof sunscreen that I wear for outdoor sports a couple of times a week. Doc said to wash it off with shampoo…but I’m not sure that’s a great idea. Can you recommend any facial cleansers that can remove sunscreen but not aggravate Rosacea?

  9. Julie says:

    I had used Cetaphil for many years, but didn’t want to put the parabens included in the ingredients on my skin any longer so I switched to Neutrogena ultra gentle cleanser. It has worked out pretty well.

  10. tbor says:

    Good article. I’ve tried most of these cleansers over the years and currently use Aquanil as it is not irritating and leaves my skin moisturized. Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Cleanser Creamy Formula is actually more moisturizing, but the film it leaves on the skin can cause breakouts, in my case at least. Cerave was moisturizing but something in it was mildly irritating, leaving my skin red. I haven’t had luck with facial bar soaps as they were too drying. So for now it is Aquanil.

  11. “cetaphil is good but i take a damp cloth after i use it and can see how much make is left behind so i try to get it off before i apply the night medications for rosacea i like cetaphil but it won’t take off all the make up i use a organic make up by physician formula”

    “I use cetaphil in the morning and every night it seems to help it feels softer but will not get all the make up off !”

    ” I wonder where micellar cleansers fall? I have had great success using the Simple brand.”

    ” I use Avene and Cerave with great results.”

  12. tomato says:

    I have type 1/2 rosacea and dry skin, so this is what my personal experience relates to.
    I’ve used the Dove bar and unfortunately it irritates my skin, though less than most other soaps and cleanser bars. Technically it’s a combar not a pure syndet bar (it contains sodium tallowate which is soap). I did a pH test on it (with a few drops of distilled water) and it’s at 8. So I guess better than regular soap, but still not that great. (That said, tap water has a pH slightly above 7, depeding how hard it is. So I’d be OK with a pH 7,1 syndet bar, but 8 is a bit much)
    My skin also reacts badly to olefin sulfonates, just like with SLS and soap.
    Micellar water is not the best option either IMO. Most versions I found contain harsh surfactans like SLS and the instructions tell you to let it sit on your face and not rinse it off. Even if you do rinse it off then it’s just a diluted syndet (which is OK for some people but not me).
    The best cleansing options I found for myself are:
    1. plain water + microfibre towel/washcloth
    2. mineral oil (baby oil) or safflower oil, then water + microfibre towel/washcloth
    3. Lacura cleansing lotion (from Aldi, unfortunately it’s not always available and not all Aldi stores carry it but I swear it exists), which, judging from the ingredient list is basically diluted, rinse-off, (fatty-alcohol and ester based) moisturizer with green tea extract. You could probably easily make it yourself by taking any neutral moisturizer and mixing it in your palm with some water or tea.
    So, that’s depending on what’s on my face. If it’s just sweat and azelaic acid (which I use daily), water will do. If it’s heavy SPF 50+ cream (=summer) or tinted SPF 30 moisturizer I’ll use cleansing lotion, and if I’m wearing makeup/concealer or Vaseline for cold protection I use oil and maybe also the Lacura cleanser afterwards.
    That said, I have rather dry skin (unless very irritated, then I get oilier patches which I have no idea how to deal with, but I’m not sure if that makes my skin “combination skin”) and I’m totally OK with some mineral oil left on my face, especially in winter. Not makeup though, that gives me some nasty face dandruff.
    Also: microfibre ftw! I’m using both microfibre hair towels and the ones you find in the cleaning aisle. Both are great and don’t leave any lint on my face (I hate cotton lint!). If you want to try this for cheap just get the softest ones (not those meant for scrubbing dishes), and wash at least twice before use.
    I’m still planning to DIY some colloidal oatmeal (will it blend??) and try out the oatmeal cleanser.
    A few words of caution to anyone reading this:
    If you want to use safflower oil for makeup removal, keep in mind that it contains unstable unsaturated fatty acids which will degrade and oxidise upon contact with air and UV light, potentially producing irritating substances and feeding bacteria and fungi (i.e. tiny leftover bits of oil could go rancid on your face after a couple hours). To mitigate this I add the contents of 1 standard Vitamin E oil capsule per ounce/30 ml (roughly) as an antioxidant and store it in a dark drawer. I’ve been using this for years to treat atopic eczema on my arms and legs, using it on my face is purely experimental and I have *not* done it regularly, so I don’t know about any long term effects. At the very least it’s not causing any obvious immediate irritation. Mineral oil should be fine though if you have dry skin and tolerate mineral oil well.
    Some people on a german rosacea site I frequent have raved about using squalane as an oil-based cleanser, but I have yet to try this. So far I’ve only used squalane (which is supposed to be skin-neutral because it’s close to squalene which occurs naturally in the skin’s lipid barrier) as a replacement for jojoba oil to treat some dry patches on my cheeks and forehead. I’m out of squalane though and it’s winter = Vaseline Season ^^

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