This Viral Retinol Serum Replaced All My Acne-Prone Skin Products

cerave retinol review
This Viral Serum Changed My Mind About RetinolRosdiana Ciaravolo - Hearst Owned

When I think about my formative beauty years, those classic memories of stealing from mum's make-up bag are seconded by only one thing: the vivid nostalgia of wandering down my local supermarket's super-limited skincare aisle during our weekly food shop. On every trip I'd petition to add yet another deep pore cleanser or blemish-busting clay mask to my growing collection of products that promised to clarify my acne-prone skin. At the time, everyone told me that I would grow out of my stubborn hormonal spots, but I'm now in my mid-twenties and I can't say that my complexion ambitions have strayed far from those teenage dreams.

Something that has changed, however, is the products you'll find on my bathroom shelf. What was once a stash of tea tree face washes and now-exiled physical scrubs has been replaced by one (unexpected) ingredient: retinol. More specifically, the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum.


As a former exfoliating acids enthusiast, the idea of sidelining the oh-so-gratifying instant gleam of my favourite salicylic toner and gradually incorporating a retinol into my skincare routine (not to mention, wait for its rewards) left me less than enthused. While retinol is famed for its ability to stimulate skin cell turnover, reduce the appearance of fine lines and under eye wrinkles (yes, retinol eye creams are commonplace now) and improve hyperpigmentation, its benefits for adult acne and congested pores are far less advertised. And, it's no secret that reaping the rewards of retinol requires long-term dedication and patience, so I dragged my feet a bit at first.

Eventually, despite my cynicism, the recurring viral posts won me over and I decided to commit to one bottle of CeraVe's alleged liquid gold. Now at the final few drops, I can safely say it's a true overachiever in my skincare collection: in fact, it has replaced all my usual quick fixes.

For quick context, my skin's condition ebbs and flows massively throughout the month (as is the typical case with hormonal adult acne). As a result, I keep my routine relatively simple; a gentle cleanser, an active serum to target spots and post-acne scarring in the evening, moisturiser and an SPF for acne-prone skin in the daytime.

As recommend, I incorporated one small pump of the Resurfacing Retinol Serum gradually, using it as my active step once a week in the evening before gradually building up to three. In terms of texture, it is relatively weightless; a classic watery serum that absorbs quickly and without a noticeable trace. It's not the most sensorial of skincare products, but that's no what it's there for.

I like to look at this serum's benefits in three categories: barrier care, tone and exfoliation. For the first, it uses a blend of three essential ceramides to nourish and improve moisture retention in your skin’s protective layer. For me, this meant a balanced and hydrated look to my skin both after application and the following morning. Of course, using retinol on acne-prone skin can be risky, as acne is in itself an inflammation issue, but CeraVe's barrier-building approach means this serum is easy to tolerate.

For tone, it uses niacinamide to soothe and improve uneven pigment, including post-acne erythema, or those pesky red spots that appear after a breakout heals. It also works to refine overly enlarged pores: a godsend for those with oily skin, like me.

Finally, we get to the encapsulated retinol, which gently accelerates skin turnover to reduce post-acne marks and promoting a clearer complexion over time. Side note: it's also paraben free and fragrance free (if you care about that sort of thing).

In conclusion, my skin has definitely found a new clarity since I first cracked open that first bottle. While the formula can't halt my hormonal spots all together – nothing will, no matter what the brands promise you – the lifespan of my cysts and whiteheads has been decidedly shorter, my blackheads are drastically reduced and my post-acne pigmentation has finally, dramatically faded. The best part for me is that I didn't suffer with any of the irritation or added sensitivity I'd anticipated when starting my retinol journey. That, and the fact it has streamlined my skincare routine entirely. My former roster of acne-busting skincare? Now clearly in the rearview.

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