CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum: Review

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

We first recommended this product as a good option for beginners to retinol (Vitamin A). It’s a mild and non-irritating option for those looking to integrate the anti-aging powerhouse ingredient.

As a first-time retinol user, I was nervous prior to using the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum. Would my skin start purging? Would my skin regress back to middle school skin all over again with breakouts?

I’ve already been a big fan of the CeraVe Hydrating cleanser and Moisturizing Cream for a few years now. So when I found out that CeraVe has a gentle retinol serum, I decided to jump on the Vitamin A train and experience the effects of retinol on beginners. Read below for my review of the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum, as well as before and after pictures!

What is CeraVe?

If you haven’t heard of CeraVe yet, welcome to the fan club. CeraVe has gained cult status as a favorite among skincare enthusiasts. Hyram – the pied piper of Gen Z skinthusiasts – has catapulted the brand to sold-out levels across American Walmarts and Targets.

You might be surprised to know that CeraVe is a brand that belongs to the L’oreal Group. Developed with dermatologists, CeraVe’s mission, according to their website, is “to restore and maintain skin barrier for all through efficacy, safety, compliance and accessibility.” Their claim to fame is a blend of three essential ceramides (ceramides 1, 3, and 6-II), fatty acids and hyaluronic acid to restore skin barrier function. This can be found in the Resurfacing Retinol Serum as well.

The serum is a opaque white color, as you can see in the picture. Applied to the skin, it absorbs completely clear. I find that one pump is more than enough for my face.

When should I apply this?

Because this product contains retinol which is extremely photo-sensitive, we recommend applying the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum at night. It belongs after your cleansing products and before your moisturizer. How to use the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum in your skincare routine:

  1. Cleansing Oil (PM only)
  2. Cleanser (optional in the morning)
  3. Toner (optional)
  4. CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum
  5. Moisturizer
  6. SPF (AM only)

If you need help sorting out your skincare routine, take our skincare routine quiz to get one recommended for you.

What is the ingredient list like?

The Resurfacing Retinol Serum contains 32 ingredients. This CeraVe serum retinol percentage is 0.3% encapsulated retinol, making the concentration ideal for first-time retinol users like myself. Let’s take a closer look at the major ingredients in the formulation:

Hero ingredients in the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum: Also known as vitamin B3, Niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin that strengthens the skin’s moisture barrier, reduces the appearance of discoloration, and helps visibly minimize enlarged pores. One of the best moisturizing ingredients, hyaluronic acid attracts water into the upper layer of the skin and acts as a sponge to attract and retain skin’s water content. Fun fact: HA can bind 1000 times its own weight in water! A naturally-occurring component of the skin barrier, ceramides are lipids (fat molecules) that help retain and replenish moisture in the outer layers of the skin. AHAs are water-soluble chemical acids made from sugary fruits. They help peel away the surface of your skin so that new, more evenly pigmented skin cells can generate and take their place. A derivative of vitamin A, retinoids are one of the most powerful anti-aging ingredients that contains the active ingredient retinoic acid, which boosts cell turnover and helps accelerate skin renewal and reduce hyperpigmentation and fine lines. In addition, the ingredient safety breaks down as such (according to EWG ingredient ratings):

Full Ingredient List:

Water, Propanediol, Dimethicone, Cetearyl Ethylhexanoate, Niacinamide, Ammonium Polyacryloyldimethyl Taurate, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Potassium Phosphate, Ceramide Np, Ceramide Ap, Ceramide Eop, Carbomer, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Dimethiconol, Lecithin, Sodium Citrate, Retinol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Cholesterol, Phenoxyethanol, Alcohol, Isopropyl Myristate, Caprylyl Glycol, Citric Acid, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Pentylene Glycol, Phytosphingosine, Xanthan Gum, Polysorbate 20, Ethylhexylglycerin

My Experience with CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

What I liked

I started using the serum at night, starting off at once every three days. Knowing that skin can react poorly to retinol initially, however, I was pretty nervous. To my surprise, I experienced no stinging or discomfort from the first application. For a first-time retinol user, the serum was gentle and did not cause any irritation. This was impressive!

In addition, it was very easy to apply the serum to my face. It absorbed fast without any extra rubbing or pilling. Once on, the serum didn’t feel silicone-y, which is one of my pet peeves. It almost felt as if I were applying a hydrating serum, which again was a pleasant surprise. I also did not detect a fragrance – which is how I prefer my skincare products. Afterwards, I applied my night cream and face oil on top with no problems.

Lastly, did I mention price? It’s hard for me to believe this serum is a drugstore product because it rivaled some of my favorite serums, like the Paula’s Choice Niacinamide Treatment – which is easily twice the price.

What I didn’t like

Honestly, nothing for me here! I really enjoyed this. It’s the ideal beginner retinol serum.

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol: Before and After

Did I see results with the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum? Short answer is yes. I found that my skin became more even toned around my cheeks, with some of the slight hyper-pigmentation reduced significantly.

After the retinol use, my summer freckles faded considerably and allowed for my skin to look much more glow-y than before the serum. I tried to capture it as best I could – but you can see that my skin looks brighter after two weeks.

Final Thoughts on the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum Review

In conclusion, I would wholeheartedly recommend this retinol serum to anyone who is looking for a gentle solution to fade scars, even out skin tone, fade freckles, and brighten the complexion. As a retinol newbie, I found that this was the perfect stepping stone into the world of retinol. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll want a higher dose of retinol and move onto tretinoin, which is the strongest form of Vitamin A. But for now, I couldn’t be more thrilled with this gentle retinol serum.


💡 What’s the difference between the Cerave Resurfacing Retinol serum vs Differin Gel?

Both drugstore products, the Cerave Resurfacing Retinol serum and Differin Gel are two very common Vitamin A (Retinol) products considered by drugstore skincare buyers. Both products contain retinoids, but different types: Differin Gel contains 0.1% adapalene, whereas Cerave Retinol serum contains 0.3% encapsulated retinol. However, adapalene is considered more powerful than retinol, as the only FDA- approved retinoid available over-the-counter. In addition, the Differin Gel is mostly geared toward acne-prone skin or those who are looking to clear acne. Conversely, the CeraVe retinol serum is considered to be more generalist due to the diversified ingredient list.

Read more on: serum, retinol, cerave retinol