How CeraVe Became The Budget Skincare Brand Beauty Editors Go Wild For

It’s difficult to articulate exactly what makes a universally beloved beauty product, but whatever it is, skincare brand CeraVe has it. Having launched in 2006 in the US, few faces that have tried a CeraVe product have not liked it. Now, it’s the fastest growing brand in health and beauty, with a total estimated retail value of over £31 million.

Over Zoom, one of the founders of the brand, Tom Allison, explains that a big clue to its success is in plain view on the utilitarian packaging. “Under the CeraVe logo, it says ‘developed by dermatologists,’” he says. “In 2004, we brought together a panel of dermatologists who are considered the world experts in ingredient formulation design and asked them what they would create were they to start a skincare brand themselves. They pointed us to ingredients called ceramides.”

At the time, skincare fell into one of two camps: so gentle it wouldn’t disrupt sensitive skin, or so thick and occlusive that skin had no option but to not dry out. Ceramides, which had been extensively researched and scientifically supported by clinical papers, offered a solution to these two extremes, and one that would work for all skin types. “If you imagine the skin is a brick wall, skin cells stack up on top of each other like bricks, and there is mortar that holds the cells together. Half of that mortar substance in skin is comprised of ceramides,” explains Allison. “Put simply, you don’t lose water through the skin cells themselves, but rather through the cracks between them – also known as barrier dysfunction.”

The CeraVe range is built on ceramides, which explains where the “Cera” in its moniker came from. The “Ve”, meanwhile, comes from MultiVesicular Emulsion (MVE), a clever delivery technology in each formula that escorts ingredients to exactly where they need to be within the skin – no mean feat given our skin is a defence machine that doesn’t let any old thing through its walls. “It delivers six times the amount of active ingredient to skin, in comparison to an identical formulation without MVE – and it’s patented and exclusive to us. [Skincare] brands that just have water as an ingredient in their dropper bottle formulations? There’s no thought into the actual delivery of the ingredients into the skin,” Allison says.

Allison and his team understand that today’s customers can see through a poor formulation. In this hyper-connected age, we are more skin-savvy, understand the specific benefits of each and every ingredient, and know what the skin needs. As a result, transparency is king. “Our product development process gives us a leg up, since the dermatologists we partner with are considered subject matter experts when it comes to ingredient and formulation designs,” says Allison. “Transparency drives trust with the consumer.” 

Since a lot of skincare now comes with a lofty price tag – and sometimes for dubious formulas – CeraVe’s affordable, efficacious (and luxurious) formulas are refreshing. All products – even the jumbo sizes – cost less than £20, with the bestselling Hydrating Cleanser a steal at £15 for a large 473ml bottle. “CeraVe delivers performance while still driving accessibility,” adds Allison. “We define accessibility in two ways: easy to find at your local store or e-commerce site, as well as value for formulation design and size of format.” Big tick on both counts. 

Since the brand puts an onus on creating a product that appeals to dermatologists – its “most important customer” – it’s not just the formulas that are important, but how easily their clients can get hold of them. If a dermatologist is to recommend a product to a client to use consistently, they need to know it’s affordable and easy to find – especially since most clients are paying to visit the dermatologist in the first place, and will often be forking out for prescriptions, too. Accessibility also comes from the fact that there is a formula for every skin type, race and age.

The brand can afford to sell its excellent formulations at a great price because it forgoes the big budget celebrity advertising and paid influencer posts that so many brands subscribe to. Instead, it lets the products speak for themselves, and ultimately, word of mouth is the biggest driver of sales. You only have to take a quick glance at TiKTok to see thousands of videos offering organic testimonials and before-and-after photographs featuring the brand’s products. “We are not making as much money as other skincare brands, and L’Oréal [which bought the brand in 2017] knows that, but it’s okay because we perform and that’s really all that matters,” says Allison.

So, what to try first from the brilliant budget brand beauty editors can’t get enough of? The Hydrating Cleanser is an excellent all-rounder that effectively and gently removes make-up and grime, leaving all skin types happy and hydrated. The recently-launched Hydrating Cream-to-Foam cleanser, meanwhile, is designed for those who like the sensation of a foaming formula, but with the sensibility of the hydrating cleanser – it uses amino acids, rather than surfactants, so won’t strip the skin like most foaming formulas do. Oily skin types will love the SA Smoothing Cleanser thanks to the 0.5 per cent concentration of salicylic acid, which gently exfoliates clogged pores. 

The rest of the range is brilliant, too. Everyone should have a Facial Moisturising Lotion in their repertoire, whether their skin is acneic, and even the Salicylic Acid Foot Cream is a must-buy.

CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

Enhanced with a non-foaming gel texture, the silky face cleanser gently lifts away debris and impurities from the skin’s surface. The CeraVe hydrating cleanser resists feelings of dryness or tightness as it effectively freshens the complexion. Suitable for dehydrated and normal to dry skin types, this product is fragrance-free and non-comedogenic to avoid clogging the pores.

CeraVe Smoothing Cream

Designed to combat a variety of skin concerns, including unwanted bumps, scaliness and extreme dryness. Replenishing and non-irritating, the rich cream is packed with essential ingredients to benefit both face and body.

CeraVe Moisturising Cream

Cocooning yet non-greasy, the moisturising cream contains three essential Ceramides and Hyaluronic Acid that work in synergy to moisture and protect skin’s natural barrier. Locking in moisture for all-day hydration, it utilises MVE® Delivery Technology, which ensures controlled release of ingredients for 24 hour hydration. Gentle on skin, it leaves itchy, uncomfortable patches feeling soft and replenished. Developed by dermatologists.

Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser

Suitable for normal to dry skin types, the luxurious formula boasts a rich, creamy texture that transforms into a luxurious foam. 3 Essential Ceramides harmonise to reinforce the surface barrier, restoring vital moisture to thirsty areas of skin. Amino Acids work to preserve complexions from environmental aggressors, supporting a hydrated, healthy-looking finish.

CeraVe Smoothing Cleanser

A 0.5% concentration of Salicylic acid allows the cleansing formula to perform a chemical exfoliation, gently dissolving dead skin and pore-clogging impurities to reveal a smoothed surface, without disrupting skin’s microbiome.

VOGUE article

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