CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

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What’s it Like?

Texture? It’s a creamy gel. I’d call it a cleansing gel before I’d call it a cleansing cream, but it is pretty emollient.

Color? It’s white/off-white. No color added.

Fragrance? None to report. It just smells like a cleanser.

Morning cleanse, first cleanse, or second cleanse? I prefer this in the evening as a second cleanse, but it could very well work for all three, as long as one isn’t wearing an inch of makeup.

Removes makeup? I would guess that it would get through regular makeup. As always, I think that anything that is very thick, water resistant, or long-wearing should be removed with an oil or balm.

Strips the skin? No, not at all.

Leaves a film? I don’t think it leaves a film, but I do think it leaves a sense of replenished hydration behind. This feeling doesn’t feel like a ‘film’ though.

Leaves the skin feeling? Clean & respected.

Foams? No, not at all. It doesn’t even really lather.

Suitable to rinse off? Totally.

Actives or contraindications?

Not really, but it does have some things in it that are worth writing about. It contains a few synthetic ceramides, which are helpful ingredients for restoring the skin barrier. There are some other good emollient ingredients, which help the skin to feel soft, like cholesterol and some fatty alcohols. And since it is a cleanser, there are also some surfactants. The selected surfactants are pretty mild, which makes sense, given the fact that it is marketed as “Gentle.”

The formula contains parabens, so a lot of people will say that it shouldn’t be used, and that it is unsafe, and it will give you cancer. The claim is that a face wash, which is left on the skin for around, I don’t know, a minute, with a concentration of less than 1% of several naturally occurring preservatives, will give you cancer. I encourage readers to think about this claim. Like, really think about whether or not that makes sense to you.

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How do you use it?

I tend to use it at night as a second cleanse, when I like the plush softness it lays on my complexion. I like an active, zappy morning cleanse, but one would be well suited with CeraVe in the morning as well, especially if one’s skin is sensitized. If one doesn’t wear waterproof makeup, one could use this cleanser twice to double cleanse. I personally don’t love it as a first cleanse – I much prefer the way that cleansing oils seem to make the day’s grime undo itself. CeraVe certainly works as a first cleanse, but it is less efficient than an oil.

When I was re-adjusting to using Tazarotene, I found this to be the cleanser I reached for the most. I found its easy, non-problematic formula to be ideal when my skin was challenged.

What are your thoughts?

This is a short review for me. I am generally no champion of brevity, but in this case, I think it is okay, because this cleanser is just a no-brainer.

On the skin, it is halfway between a gel and a cream – it is like the least emollient cream, or the most flat, opaque gel. I apply it to dry skin, and add water after. With the addition of water, it gains some more slip, but doesn’t change significantly. It doesn’t so much emulsify as it rinses away. As in, I wouldn’t say the addition of water adds anything to the texture, it actually just makes the texture seem to lift off the skin.

Of all cleansers on earth, I think this is the one that I recommend the most. I’ll summarize why:

  1. It will not cause surface dryness. In so doing, using a cleanser like this will lead one’s skin to a place where it will respond better to other topical treatments
  2. It is unlikely to cause any issues for anyone, so I have confidence it won’t make someone’s face fall off or leave one afflicted with hives
  3. It isn’t foamy, but has an appealing texture, so I find even people who love a foamy cleanse can live with it
  4. It is really easy to find.
  5. It is in a huge bottle which lasts forever
  6. It is really affordable.

If my skin is sensitized or challenged, I find it inordinately worthwhile to go back to basics. This cleanser is helpful for getting things back to their baseline, and thus expedite my complexion’s return to normalcy.

My gripes about this cleanser are few, and revolve around the fact that it’s not particularly joyful. The texture is nice, but not lush. There’s no fragrance. It’s just not, like, fun. On the one hand, I feel as though life is too short and I am too fortunate to use products that don’t make me swoon. Yet, this product thorough, efficient, well tolerated, respectful, and affordable. Given these unarguable virtues, it feels quite absurd to complain about it.

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Can you say something about the brand?

CeraVe was brought to market in 2006. I remember being at the dermatologist around that time. She asked me which cleanser I was using – I told her Cetaphil – and she said something like “Okay, there’s a new line called CeraVe. It’s better. Use that.” And then my mom drove me to Target and bought it for me. I actually remember this very lucidly.

The brand has always marketed itself as being “Developed with Dermatologists,” but I can’t find anything about which dermatologists, and what the philosophy behind the line is, or why it was developed. Based on images from the original packaging, I am led to believe that CeraVe was developed and brought to market by a company called Coria Labs, which is in Fort Worth, Texas. This company was then acquired by Valeant Pharmaceuticals (now called Bausch Health Companies). CeraVe was acquired by L’Oréal Group in 2017.

Anyway, the claim to fame for CeraVe is their Ceramide complex, which is their proprietary blend of synthetic ceramides. They function to help to restore the skin barrier. The products in the line are free of common allergens and irritants, have appealing textures, and are affordable. I have a lot of confidence in the whole of the line.

Full Ingredients List

Water | Glycerin humectant | Behentrimonium Methylsulfate/Cetearyl Alcohol emulsifier | Ceramide 3 a skin-replenishing lipid | Ceramide 6 11 a skin-replenishing lipid | Ceramide 1 a skin-replenishing lipid | Hyaluronic Acid humectant | Cholesterol emollient | Polyoxyl 40 Stearate emulsifier, surfactant | Glyceryl Monostearate emulsifier, surfactant | Stearyl Alcohol emollient | Polysorbate 20 emulsifier | Potassium Phosphate pH balancer | Dipotassium Phosphate pH balancer | Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate surfactant, emulsifier | Cetearyl Alcohol emollient | Disodium EDTA stabilizer | Phytosphingosine skin-replenishing lipid | Methylparaben preservative | Propylparaben preservative | Carbomer thickener | Xanthan Gum thickener

How long have you used it for?

I feel like I’ve had this cleanser forever. In my mind, I’ve had it since 2006, which is when it launched. So I’ve been using it for 12 years, plus or minus.


$16 / 473 ml | $0.03 / ml

Similar to

This is very similar to the La Roche-Posay Toleraine Cleanser. They are very similar. The LRP is a little creamier. It also contains prebiotics and niacinamide, which are nice to have. They feel virtually the same on my skin, and leave my skin looking and feeling the same way.

I think this is the bookish, more serious, less cool-grrl sister of the Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser. I actually like the Milky Jelly – it feels good on the skin. It smells of rose water which I love. Milky Jelly is more expensive and is no better a cleanser than CeraVe – it is just more fun and cool.

The same could be said for the Fresh Soy Face Cleanser – the Fresh has a lovely fragrance, and is a more slippy/jelly texture. It is no better a cleanser than the CeraVe. I actually like the CeraVe more, on my skin.

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Literally every drugstore. It’s on Amazon