Licensed Esthetician + Acne Specialist

Skin Care

Why Cerave and Not Cetaphil

June 18, 2018

Why Cerave and Not Cetaphil

Cerave and Cetaphil. Two [almost] similar brand names that are polar opposites.

I’ve been going to dermatologists since I was 10. Puberty took a hit on my skin and my forehead was taken over by the texture that was constantly itchy and peeling. My PCP recommended betamethasone, guess what my dermatologist recommend? Cetaphil.

Nearly every single visit since, I have had at least 1 Cetaphil recommendation per visit, if not an entire Cetaphil routine. You would think dermatologists are contracted by Cetaphil to promote their products (lol). But, this [hopefully] isn’t the reason why. Instead, dermatologists recommend Cetaphil frequently because it rarely irritates the skin.

When you go to a dermatologist and receive a prescription of, let’s say, tretinoin, your dermatologist should warn you about all the potential side effects. One of the many side effects of prescription medications for your face is irritation and dryness, or retinoid dermatitis. A condition where the skin begins to flake and becomes really irritated when one uses retinoids without also promoting a healthy moisture barrier or if they have really sensitive skin.

Many dermatologists, in my experience, actually trigger retinoid dermatitis. They try to mitigate this by recommending Cetaphil but what they should actually be recommending is Cerave. Cerave will not only achieve their goal of mitigating irritation, but it will actually promote a healthy moisture barrier and enhance the efficacy of the retinoids they prescribe. But why would they do that when they can simply damage your moisture barrier and have you be dependent on them? Dermatologists are not your skincare friends, estheticians are. Estheticians aren’t paid by your insurance, they’re paid by you achieving your desired results. Estheticians teach you how to be proactive, dermatologists are reactive.

Let’s look at the ingredient lists of comparable moisturizers from each brand. We’ll break down why you should be using one and not the other.

Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion

Water, Glycerin, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Dimethicone, Sodium Levulinate, Sodium Anisate, Caprylyl Glycol, Benzyl Alcohol, Panthenol (Vitamin B5), Stearoxytrimethylsilane, Stearyl Alcohol, Citric Acid, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer

Cerave Moisturizing Lotion

Purified Water, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Behentrimonium Methosulfate and Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20 and Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6-II, Ceramide 1, Hyaluronic Acid, Cholesterol, Dimethicone, Polysorbate 20, Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate, Potassium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Cetyl Alcohol, Disodium EDTA, Phytosphingosine, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Carbomer, Xanthan Gum.

What’s the difference?

The two products are both meant to be daily moisturizers. But, only one of them really moisturizes and helps to promote a healthy skin barrier and water-retention. That’s Cerave. Every single one of Cerave’s products has ceramides. Cerave also adds hyaluronic acid and cholesterol. Both of these are also found in your skin and promote a healthy moisture barrier. Your skin’s structure is made up of 50% ceramides, 25% cholesterol, and 15% fatty acids. There are 9 ceramides that are found in the skin. Cerave incorporates 3 of them into each of their products. Cetaphil has just the basics of any body lotion. They did add avocado oil which is great for dry skin, but that’s about it.

Do you see now why dermatologists recommend Cetaphil? Because the ingredients will literally do nothing for your skin, so it won’t interfere with retinoids. But when you’re using retinoids, you actually want products that hydrate, moisturize, repair, and protect. That’s where Cerave comes in. So if you’re using Cetaphil as your daily routine, your skin is staying exactly where it’s at. You won’t experience progress, and might even experience regression. They use sodium lauryl sulfate which is an incredibly harsh surfactant that strips the skin of moisture. The pH in most Cetaphil products is between 5-6, which isn’t harmful, but it further proves that their products are just meant to sustain and not actually enhance.

Retinoids promote cell turnover. If you’re not properly taking care of your skin while using them, you’ll only damage your moisture barrier. Damaging your moisture barrier will then worsen all of your concerns. Don’t listen to any derm that recommends Cetaphil to you along with a prescription. RUN.

Is Cerave that great?

I know I just dragged dermatologists, but I was lucky enough to find one after searching for years who swore off Cetaphil and recommended Cerave. It was the first time I had heard of Cerave and I was going to him desperate for any relief for my eczema that was taking over my body from head to toe. He directed me to stop using my topical steroids and warned me that I may experience topical steroid withdrawal. Which I did. He instead recommended that I start showering only once a day for no longer than 15 minutes. After showering, I apply the Cerave Healing Ointment on my entire body and wear cotton to bed. Day 1 of doing this, I was a bit skeptical. I went to bed expecting to itch myself to sleep like I had been for months, except this night my skin wasn’t itchy at all.

By morning, my flare-ups were completely gone. I expected to see results within weeks, my results were overnight. Every single client I’ve recommended the Healing Ointment to has experienced the same drastic results. I recently had a client who experienced a burn from over exfoliating, and within one use, their skin had completely healed and there was no scarring left behind from the chemical burn. I can’t remember the last time I had an eczema flare-up.

The reason Cerave works so well is because its ceramides and cholesterol which literally repair your skin from the inside out. Also, the healing ointment has a vaseline consistency because it is mostly petrolatum, and that’s what really helps it repair your skin because of it’s occlusive properties that retain moisture and allow healing of the moisture barrier to occur.

But Cerave has parabens?

Yes, I know Cerave uses parabens. But unless you have an allergy to parabens, there is literally no substantial scientific proof that they are toxic. Read this article from the FDA if you’d like to learn more about why parabens are fine in cosmetics. They are preservatives that help to promote the longevity of cosmetics and are safe to use up to 25% in products, but most products use less than 1%. Parabens also don’t harm the environment, another popular myth. The CDC found that they don’t even stay in the environment in this study here.

Shop my Cerave Favs

After reading this, are you Spring cleaning your skincare arsenal and getting rid of all Cetaphil as you should be? Are you questioning everything your derm has ever told you about your skin? Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. Addy

    Would you recommend the healing ointment for daily use for someone with eczema? Or should one switch to a daily moisturizer after flare ups have subsided?

    • Hi, Addy! I recommend the Healing Ointment for nightly use to prevent any future flare-ups and also just to overall promote healthy skin and a healthy moisture barrier. During the day, you can use the Cerave moisturizing lotion for a lighter alternative especially since it's hot in most places now!

  2. Ashley

    I noticed you had the Cerave Hydrating Cleanser, which is advertised for normal to dry skin listed as one of your faves. Would you recommend the Foaming Cleanser for people with oily skin?

    • Hi, Ashley! I would recommend the hydrating cleanser for oily skin. I'm not the biggest fan of foaming cleansers for any skin type as they can be a little bit drying, though Cerave has ceramides and hyaluronic acid in theirs. But, I have not tried it so I cannot confirm if it is drying or not. I would suggest the hydrating cleanser for any skin type, including oily skin types. Oily skin needs more hydration, because lack of hydration results in the production of excess oils. Let me know how you like the hydrating cleanser if you choose to try it!

  3. Divine Webber

    Great and so informative. Thank you for clearing all of this up! I’ve been using the Cerave PM moisturizer day and night after acids and I FEEL GOOD knowing that it’s taking care of my moisture barrier.

    • Hi, Divine! Thank you so much for reading! Cerave is one of my favorite brands to use when I'm incorporating acids into my routine. It prevents any irritation and if I happen to accidentally over-exfoliate or even burn my skin with an acid (I have once, years ago), Cerave treats that within 1-3 days. You're taking great care of your moisture barrier! When you take care of your moisture barrier, your acids and the rest of your routine, in general, is also more effective.

  4. Jamy

    Hi Lily, I love the Cerave cleanser as well. Using it for 3 years now and my skin cleared up a lot! What do you think about this: Jamy

  5. Kylee Nguyen

    Hii Lily, I'm started learning more and more about skin care ingredients and am now realizing how harmful all the things I did as a teenager was. I mean I scrubbed my skin with a lemon and sugar a few times cause I thought it help with my acne. Glad I found this blog. Is the Daily Moisturizing Lotion for face and body or just the body? Target says face and body but the Cerave website doesn't specify

  6. Irene

    Any idea why Cetaphil changed its moisturizing cream formula? Remember the blue top? Now it's green and different. Feels tacky, and not as thick. Is anything on the market comparable to the old original Cetaphil blue top moisturizing cream? Meanwhile, I bought Cerave for the first time, today. Thanks for this article!

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