We Tried CeraVe’s £19 Retinol Serum On Three Different Skin Types

Whether you’re a beauty novice or a skincare obsessive, few ingredients can be as intimidating as retinol. By now, many of us know about its benefits: it creates new skin cells, stimulates collagen production, reduces the appearance of pores and pigmentation, and improves of skin texture.
But there are so many questions when it comes to selecting the right product. What's the best formula for your skin type? Which is the right brand for your price range? And how do you choose a percentage that is gentle yet effective? That's before we've touched on all the potential side effects like redness, irritation, breakouts, dryness and sensitivity if you use too powerful a retinol too often. For those of us with sensitive skin or who are prone to breakouts or dryness, getting started with retinol can feel like a daunting task.
Advertisement
So when CeraVe, our go-to for simple, gentle and sensitive-skin-friendly products, announced its Resurfacing Retinol Serum, we knew we had to test it out. At £19 a bottle, it follows the brand’s high street-friendly pricing and is formulated with other buzzy skincare saviours besides encapsulated retinol.
First up, CeraVe’s star ingredient: ceramides (three of them in fact). Ceramides are fatty acids (oils) found in the skin that act like a glue, binding our cells together, protecting the skin's natural barrier and helping improve moisture retention. Then there's niacinamide, a must for those with oily and acne-prone skin. Essentially a form of vitamin B3, it hydrates, helps curb excess oil, minimises the appearance of pores and soothes irritation. Liquorice root extract, a natural brightener, rounds out the impressive mix. 
Curious about how the serum would work on different skin types, three members of the Refinery29 team adopted it into their skincare routines for a month. One is a regular retinol user with oily, acne-prone skin, one is an infrequent dabbler with dry and sensitive skin and the third is a total beginner with combination skin. Read on for our thoughts.
DashDividers_1_500x100
Photo Courtesy of Esther Newman.

Esther Newman, Affiliate Writer

Skin type: dry and sensitive
"I’ve tried retinol a little here and there but have never found the right product for me. CeraVe is already one of my favourite brands and its Hydrating Cleanser, £10, is my everyday cleanser (a saviour for my dry, sensitive skin) so I was excited to try out the Resurfacing Retinol Serum. On first impression, it fits everything I know and like about the brand. The packaging is simple and functional; I like that it’s a pump bottle rather than a dropper as it’s easier to use and it doesn’t feel like I’m losing any product.
Advertisement
There is no smell (great for my easily irritated skin) and the formula is lightweight and refreshingly gel-like. CeraVe doesn’t specify the amount of retinol used so I imagine it must be very low. After doing a little digging, I found that the retinol is ‘encapsulated’ with a protective outer lipid or fatty acid layer. This helps it penetrate the deeper layers of the skin better and without irritation.
Even though I’ve used retinol before, I started slow, using it only twice a week in the evenings, after cleansing and before moisturising. The formula is non-greasy and absorbs quickly. I don’t feel like it dries my skin out but I always follow up with a big dose of my favourite moisturiser (Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, £50) to be sure all the goodness is locked in.
I’ve found this serum a really gentle introduction to using retinol regularly and it hasn’t irritated my sensitive skin. Quickly, I amped up my usage to three or four times a week. Like many people find when using retinol for the first time, it did cause me to break out a little — this is called 'skin purging', where all the blemishes lurking beneath the surface are drawn out. This cleared up within a few weeks and by the end of the month I noticed my skin looking brighter, with old acne scarring lightened. I’m yet to see much of a difference in the fine lines on my forehead and around my eyes. I think a well-seasoned retinol user would benefit more from a higher-strength product."
Advertisement
DashDividers_1_500x100
Photo Courtesy of Kristine Romano.

Kristine Romano, Associate Editor, Photo & Design

Skin type: combination
"As a complete newbie to retinol, it’s safe to say that I was pretty nervous about trying CeraVe’s new Resurfacing Retinol Serum. I’ve heard retinol can make your skin worse before it makes it better so I’ve been using it twice a week to allow my skin to get used to it first. I must say, my initial impressions have all been positive. The consistency of the serum is much like a thin moisturiser and it doesn’t really have a smell. Upon applying it for the first time, it went on really smoothly and I didn’t experience any initial irritation or sensitivity; the same can be said a whole month later.
One month down the line, I can’t say I’ve noticed much of a difference in my skin but I do find that it feels a lot smoother when I wake up in the morning after using it. I’m now using it three times a week in the hope that I’ll see more noticeable improvements in some of my skin concerns, such as texture and uneven skin tone. I’ve been told patience is everything when it comes to using retinol for the first time, so here's hoping!"
DashDividers_1_500x100
Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Kilikita.

Jacqueline Kilikita, Deputy Beauty Director

Skin type: oily/acne-prone
"Dermatologists always sing retinol’s praises. Derived from vitamin A, the ingredient has the power to speed up skin cell regeneration, minimising fine lines, hyperpigmentation, spots and the skin staining left behind by breakouts. It’s not without its downsides, though, including potential irritation if used incorrectly or the percentage is too strong. Neither online nor in the press information I received could I find the exact percentage of retinol in this serum. It's relatively far down the ingredients list (after hydrating and oil-reducing niacinamide, as well as barrier-protecting ceramides), which suggests the amount is probably quite low.
Advertisement
Thanks to the niacinamide and ceramides, my skin was soft and plump after a couple of weeks but the serum didn’t do much to quell my breakouts. I would say this serum is perfect for retinol beginners who want to start low and slow, rather than someone like me, who prefers something a little stronger to treat acne. A dermatologist through the online consultation service Get Harley recently prescribed me tretinoin 0.025 (also derived from vitamin A, like retinol, but more potent) so I’m going to stick to this instead. That said, I’ve been using the remainder of CeraVe’s retinol serum on my chest (also prone to spots thanks to hormones) and I’ve noticed a good improvement when teamed with Glow Hub Purify & Brighten Body Cleanser, £12."
DashDividers_1_500x100
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by us. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy or click on something we link to on our site, we may earn a commission.

More from Skin Care

R29 Original Series

Advertisement