How does a skincare brand break the internet?
You could ask The Ordinary, which everyone seems to have an opinion on. Or you could look to the likes of Glossier and Fenty Skin, who have hooked their cult-like followings via relatable marketing and hyper-covetable design.
But it’s not all evangelical praise for this affordable skincare line. Enter the murky depths of Reddit, for example, and you’ll find people with a lot of not- so-great feelings about the debatably reductive formulas. For every person who claims their skin was transformed by the brand, it seems there is another who was left unimpressed. (A common thread is the inclusion of preservative parabens in many of the formulas, which some believe to cause health concerns. The vast majority of studies suggest otherwise.)
So, is Cerave really a skincare hero or one to skip? And why do people have such strong feelings about this brand?
Internet hype and sponsorship deals aside, the real appeal of Cerave lies in its simplicity. The brand is best known for its facial cleansers – there’s a foaming one and a hydrating one – and its no-frills moisturisers for face and body. The unifying concept is that of strengthening the skin barrier; while these products won't brighten, resurface or plump like an active-packed regime, they will keep your skin surface protected which, in turn, prevents a host of skin issues (such as moisture loss and irritation) from arising.
The star ingredient in Cerave is ceramides: lipids, or fats, that are found in the upper layer of skin. As medical doctor and aesthetician Dr. Kemi Fabusiwa explains, “ceramides prevent transepidermal water loss, moisturising the skin and maintaining its barrier – and a strengthened barrier helps to protect the skin from micro-organisms, pollution and other external aggressors.”
Scour the ingredients lists a little closer and you’ll find other beneficial ingredients playing the supporting roles. Where surfactant sodium-lauryl- sulphate and artificial fragrances often appear in products of this price, you’ll find nothing of the sort on a Cerave bottle. Instead, humectant hyaluronic acid and glycerin sit alongside mild, coconut-derived foaming agents and brightening niacinamide.
This month, the brand has expanded its core offering, moving into the serum market with the Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum. Lightweight and creamy, it blends the beauty world's favourite humectant with softening emollients, meaning it's able to deliver serious moisture without feeling heavy or sticky. At under £20 for a bottle, and with an ingredients list that stands up to scrutiny, it's set to become another sell-out.
“Cerave is a brand created with and recommended by dermatologists”, says Dr. Fabusiwa. “The premise behind it is affordable products with ingredients that actually work and have a strong evidence base. It’s a shining example of what a skincare brand should look like in 2021: low cost but high value that strips skincare right down to the ingredients that you actually need.”
Aesthetic doctor Dr. Amiee Vyas, another Cerave endorser, puts the brand’s popularity down to the fact that we’re all ‘skintellectuals’ now. “There has recently been a greater emphasis on skin education and people wanting to understand the ingredients their skin needs to function at its best. I have seen this in social media and magazines as well as in my clinic – previously a patient's eyes would glaze over as I explained ingredients, waiting for me to just hand over the product, but now they want to know more.”
In other words, consumers are now more willing to skip over the skincare sex appeal and head straight for the ingredients and formulas they know to work – ceramides included. “While more sophisticated medical grade products exist, Cerave has made ceramides affordable and adapted their formulations for different skin concerns with packaging that's easy to understand - it does what it says on the box!” says Vyas.
“This is a brand without fragrances or frills – just skincare that delivers”, agrees Dr. Fabusiwa.“We are in an age of misinformation, constantly being sold an idea that high cost equates to high value, with consumers opting for great smells and pretty packaging over efficacy.” She uses the Cerave Moisturising Lotion herself, daily.
“We are now understanding the value of stripping down and going back to basics when it comes to skincare”, says Dr. Fabusiwa. “Ten-step routines that include multiple acids, serums and creams might actually be doing more harm than good in terms of sensitising the skin and irritating your moisture barrier.”
Dr Vyas agrees, adding that Cerave’s short ingredient lists make it especially beneficial to dry and irritation-prone skin types. “Cerave gives you your ceramides, fatty acids, lipids and hyaluronic acid delivering moisture as an instant hit and then a long lasting effect through a clever delivery system. Some of their products also contain active AHAs, BHAs and antioxidants which are a good stepping stone before upgrading to more medical grade active strengths.” What’s more, those with darker skin may find a heavy dose of ceramides especially beneficial – generally speaking, there's naturally a lower level of ceramides present in Black skin.
So, it seems the Cerave hype may well be warranted – to a point. While these easy formulas won't deliver the targeted results of a brightening vitamin C or line-fading retinol, they’ll certainly hydrate and balance as well as anything in a gilded jar.