Whether you’re a beauty novice or a skin-care obsessive, few ingredients can be as intimidating as retinol. By now, many of us know about its many benefits: It encourages the new skin cell growth, stimulates collagen production, reduces the appearance of pores and pigmentation, and improves 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 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.
First up, CeraVe’s star ingredient: ceramides (three of them in fact). Ceramides are fatty acids (oils) found in the skin that act like 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, minimizes the appearance of pores, and soothes irritation. Licorice 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 skin-care 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.
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 favorite brands, and its Hydrating Cleanser is my everyday cleanser (a savior 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.
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 to use, 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 moisturizing. 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 favorite moisturizer (Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream) 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."
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 that my initial impressions have all been positive. The consistency of the serum is much like a thin moisturizer, 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!"
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, minimizing fine lines, spots, and hyperpigmentation 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.
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."
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