ceraVe vs cetaphil

CeraVe vs Cetaphil Compared: It’s a Close One, But There’s Still a Clear Winner

I’d rather not have dry, sensitive skin, but when it comes to CeraVe vs Cetaphil compared, I have the ideal skin type to break it down for you. CeraVe and Cetaphil are both meant to be gentle enough even for sensitive skin. They’re free from many common irritants in other skin care products.

I’ve had eczema my whole life (it improved as I got older, but it still flares up occasionally) and spent several years battling to get rosacea under control.

As a beauty writer who tests makeup products, I was under extra pressure to control my skin. I also worked in sales, and when my skin was so red and itchy, there was nothing I could do to hide it. My confidence (and income) suffered. Having reactions to everything I put on my face (and sometimes my body) made life difficult. Researching and finding products and a routine that worked for me almost became a full-time job for a while.

If you’re trying to find out if CeraVe or Cetaphil is better before you put another product onto your face and then plunge into regret and disappointment because you chose the “wrong” one, I know exactly how you feel.

The good news: Both lines are excellent and unlikely to irritate your skin. The better news: I can tell you which one worked best for me (there’s a clear winner) instead of just telling you, “They’re both good, so you should try them both and see which one you like.”

Bottom Line Up Front: CeraVe Is Usually Best, But It’s Close

I don’t dislike Cetaphil, but CeraVe (at least their Hydrating Cleanser) has my heart, and I don’t see myself switching anytime soon unless they change the formula and it stops working for me. I compared the CeraVe cleanser to Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser and felt no interest in switching to Cetaphil.

Both cleansers come in pump bottles, have an almost lotion-like consistency that doesn’t produce a lot of suds, and are priced within a few dollars of each other (Cetaphil’s cheaper). They’re very similar, but CeraVe wins.

However, I always have a small jar of Cetaphil’s Moisturizing Cream with the green lid on hand (it can be used on the face or body). It’s no longer a staple in my daily routine because I’ve shifted to more of a focus on anti-aging.

Still, I always have it for days I want something quick and easy or when something else has caused a reaction. CeraVe’s Daily Moisturizing Lotion works similarly for me; they’re interchangeable in my mind, and I also have a small bottle of it. I just happened to try the Cetaphil one first and stuck with it. It’s slightly more moisturizing.

Main Differences Between CeraVe vs Cetaphil

The main differences between CeraVe vs Cetaphil are:

Some of CeraVe and Cetaphil’s products are so similar, they’re interchangeable in a daily routine. However, there are still some differences that could make one better than the other for you. To make this a more focused, even comparison (at least for the moment), I tested two comparable cleansers–one from each line–made for dry, sensitive skin.

  • CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser (the one I compared to Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser for this article) is best suited for very dry to normal skin, whereas Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleaner is best for dry to normal or even combination.
  • CeraVe is perfect for washing your face morning or night, even if you’re wearing a little makeup, whereas Cetaphil is best used in the morning or makeup-free skin at the end of the day.
  • CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser contains hyaluronic acid (wonderful for dry skin) and ceramides (excellent for eczema, rosacea, and acne), whereas Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser has hydrating glycerin, vitamin B5 (which holds moisture in the skin), and vitamin B3 (which strengthens the skin barrier and helps reduce redness).
  • CeraVe has products for every skin type but focuses more on issues that occur with dry and/or itchy skin, whereas Cetaphil’s product line seems more balanced between different skin concerns. There’s not a tremendous gap between the two, but it’s something to consider if your skin isn’t dry.

Key Features of CeraVe

  • Though CeraVe products focus a lot on hydrating the skin and protecting the skin barrier, the line offers products for various skin concerns and all skin types.
  • CeraVe products use ceramides to keep the good stuff, like moisture, in, and everything else, out of the skin to keep the skin barrier strong and healthy.
  • Not only does CeraVe help keep your skin barrier healthy, but it helps restore it when needed, too.
  • CeraVe is one of the most soothing skin care lines I know of. It’s one of the few I can turn to when my eczema or rosacea flares up.
  • One of my favorite things about the CeraVe line is the wealth of information on their website. They break the information down by concern and ingredient to tell you in detail why something might help, and which products you should try with that ingredient. Not all brands do this as well as CeraVe.
cerave cleaner label
Ingredients and details on what makes CeraVe’s cleanser so hydrating / Photo by Crystal Schwanke

Pros

  • The cleaner truly does leave my skin feeling hydrated. Others that make similar claims leave me feeling at least a little dry.
  • My skin has never reacted badly to a CeraVe product, and I’ve tried several. I can’t say that about many other lines, even the ones made for sensitive skin.
  • The line encompasses solutions for all skin concerns, from dryness and sensitivity to acne and aging. In my experience, they do what they claim to do.
  • It’s easy to find CeraVa products in-store and online, making getting your hands on it easier than other products.

Cons 

  • Sometimes I’m surprised by how much it costs since it’s a drugstore brand, but it’s still not especially expensive.
  • The cleanser isn’t the best at removing a full face of makeup, so you’ll probably need another product. I oil cleanse first if I’m wearing much more than concealer, powder foundation, blush, and a little mascara (and it only sometimes does a good job at getting the mascara off).
  • You might not have access to the full CeraVe line where you shop. As I looked at what they offer on the CeraVe website, I noticed some products I didn’t even know they had. They could have your next holy grail product, but you might never find out without checking the site and ordering it online. (You should still be able to find the basics at most drugstores, though.)
CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser texture
CeraVe’s face wash looks and feels like a lightweight lotion. / Photo by Crystal Schwanke

 

CeraVe cleanser with water
CeraVe’s Hydrating Facial Cleanser doesn’t foam or suds up (but it still gets your face clean!) / Photo by Crystal Schwanke

Key Features of Cetaphil

  • Cetaphil has a well-deserved reputation for being kind to sensitive skin (I’ve had more than one doctor recommend it to me).
  • Cetaphil products serve a range of skin concerns and types well without causing irritation or breakouts. There’s even a suncare line that includes mineral sunscreen, often the best bet for sensitive skin.
  • Cetaphil is a drugstore brand, so it’s easy to pick it up on a whim or quickly grab more when you run out.
  • Compared to other brands for sensitive skin, this one is relatively inexpensive.
  • Cetaphil products use glycerin and vitamins B3 and B5 to hydrate, strengthen, nourish, and protect the skin.
back of the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser bottle, showing label
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser has a relatively short list of ingredients / Photo by Crystal Schwanke

Pros

  • It’s gentle enough for sensitive skin. Even mine. I even used Cetaphil when my rosacea and eczema flared up, and it didn’t make them worse (though I wouldn’t say my skin condition improved a ton while using it, either).
  • It’s pretty affordable and easy to find at drugstores, Target, Walmart, etc.
  • If it has a scent at all (it’s fragrance-free, but even those products tend to smell like something), it’s barely detectable.
  • It can be used without water, too. I tried that years ago, and though my skin felt hydrated, it also felt like there was a film on top, which is the intention. (I definitely wouldn’t use it this way if I had makeup on.) For the sake of this comparison, I used it with water, just like the CeraVe cleanser.
  • Cetaphil’s Moisturizing Cream is calming and doesn’t cause redness or itching, even when my skin is already reacting poorly to another product. I can use it to calm the redness, itching, and stinging (but I always wash with CeraVe first).

Cons 

  • It’s more drying than CeraVe (in my experience), so even though it’s safe for sensitive skin, I’d go a different route for dry skin, even though the Gentle Skin Cleanser is meant for “Dry to Normal, Sensitive Skin.”
  • It’s no match for makeup, even on light-makeup days. Even my concealer didn’t come off, and it usually doesn’t take much for that.
  • A little while after I washed my face with it, I started to get a little itchy around one eye and my jawline. There were no visible or overwhelming adverse effects, though.
  • The Moisturizing Cream I like isn’t as intensely moisturizing as I would prefer. I can use it daily, even under makeup. Being able to wear it under makeup is a “pro” but I was hoping for something heavier to use as a night cream, especially in the winter. Still, I always have some on hand because it’s reliably moisturizing and soothing enough to use when my skin’s not happy.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser has a lightweight lotion-like texture.
The Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser has a lightweight lotion-like texture. / Photo by Crystal Schwanke

 

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser produces no suds
The Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser produces no suds, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. / Photo by Crystal Schwanke

Other Brands to Consider

Eucerin

Original Healing Cream

If you’ve ever had dry, sensitive, irritated, or eczema-prone skin, you’ve probably heard of Eucerin. Especially the Original Healing Cream. It’s thick, creamy, a little oily, and can help soothe itchy, irritated skin. It’s been part of my life since I was a kid because I’ve always struggled with eczema.

However, you might have yet to realize they have a whole skincare line for the face and body, and the products are intended to be for sensitive skin, just like that tub of moisturizing cream everybody knows about. I’ve tried a few of their products, like their color-correcting (green, for redness) daily moisturizer with SPF.

I caution anyone with my skin type (dry, sensitive) against using the Hydrating Cleansing Gel now that I tried it and had a horrible reaction. Still, I’ve liked everything else I’ve tried. Their Advanced Repair and Eczema Relief lines are some of my favorites.

Aveeno

aveeno creamy oil

For daily care and maintenance, Aveeno is one of my top picks for dry, sensitive skin. The colloidal oatmeal in their lotions has quelled my itching skin off and on for years. I love the Creamy Moisturizing Oil when my body needs extra moisture during the day and I want something that absorbs quickly and doesn’t feel sticky. The lavender-scented Stress Relief Body Lotion is another standout product from the line.

As for my face, I like the Ultra-Calming line. The makeup remover wipes are some of the few I can use (most of them turn my face red). I like the Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 15, as well as the Ultra-Calming Nourishing Night Cream.

First Aid Beauty

First Aid Beauty

I tried First Aid Beauty at the suggestion of a helpful Sephora salesperson when it seemed my face was determined to stay red and itchy forever. The line didn’t make it worse and seemed well-suited for sensitive skin. Since then, I’ve found things I prefer to use, but it’s still one I recommend to people who have tried Cetaphil and CeraVe with little success.

The downside of this one is that you can only get it at Sephora or the First Aid Beauty website.

The Ordinary

the ordinary hyaluronic acid

I recommend the Ordinary with slight hesitation, not because the line could be better, but because it’s easy to get lost in the weeds with this line. There’s so much, and so much of it’s based around certain ingredients.

That said, if you’re not new to the skincare world and have a general idea of which ingredients your skin loves, you can get products that feel tailor-made for your needs without spending much money.

For example, say you have dry, sensitive skin and know you react well to products with hyaluronic acid. In that case, you could try their Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 as part of the skincare routine you build for yourself.

The Ordinary products can be found online and at Sephora and Ulta stores. They don’t have

TULA

tula skincare detox in a jar

I used TULA products for years, and I still use their Detox in a Jar Exfoliating Mask–it’s one of the only exfoliating masks that leaves my skin bright and glowing, not red. In my experience, the Daily Cleanser, Hydrating Day & Night Cream, and exfoliating mask are as friendly to dry, sensitive skin as CeraVe and Cetaphil.

I still think TULA is excellent for the same skin types as CeraVe and Cetaphil. I only stopped using it because of the prices. I realized other products (like CeraVe and Cetaphil) did the same job at a fraction of the cost. I’ve repurchased the Detox in a Jar mask at least six times, though.

Aquaphor

aquaphor healing ointment

I don’t think of Aquaphor as a whole skincare line as much as the brand that makes a rich moisturizer that can be used head-to-toe when my skin is dry, chapped, and flirting with another battle with itchy eczema. I used the Healing Ointment on my daughter, who inherited my skin type and concerns, more than myself, but it was a go-to for both of us for the first few years of her life.

Aquaphor doesn’t have the full array of face and body products that some of the other lines do, but if you’re after something that’ll help soothe and heal dry, cracked, or itchy skin, they do it well.

It’s more of an ointment than a cream–more intense than either moisturizing cream from Cetaphil or CeraVe–and reminds me of Vaseline. I prefer the consistency of this one over the Eucerin my mom used on me when I was growing up, even though it, too, is thick and not exactly pleasant to put winter clothes over.

FAQs

Question: Which is better between CeraVe and Cetaphil?

Answer: It’s close, but CeraVe is better overall.

Question: Do dermatologists recommend CeraVe or Cetaphil?

Answer: Yes, dermatologists recommend both.

Question: Is it okay to use both CeraVe and Cetaphil?

Answer: Absolutely. I use a CeraVe cleanser and follow it up with a Cetaphil moisturizer. Though everyone’s skin is different, I don’t know of a reason not to combine products from these two lines. Both are good for sensitive skin.

Conclusion: I Have to Go with CeraVe

I truly love both CeraVe and Cetaphil skincare lines. Still, CeraVe’s cleanser is irreplaceable in my mind. Everything I like within the Cetaphil line has an equivalent product in the CeraVe one that I like just as much.

The cleanser is the deciding factor here because it’s more hydrating and doesn’t leave my skin feeling dry or tight at all. Cetaphil’s seemed more suited for skin less dry than mine.

CeraVe is the safer bet for anyone with dry or sensitive skin. It’s the one I use most often. If you want something for normal, combination, or oily skin, Cetaphil is a better place to start.

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