This $15 Cream Is Saving My Skin from the "Retinoid Uglies"

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Cerave Moisturizing Cream
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Retinoids are the popular kids of skincare ingredients. Dermatologists, beauty editors, and celebrities regularly gush over vitamin A products. The all-star ingredient treats acne, evens out skin tone, unclogs pores, and even fights signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles.

But like most good things in life, there's a catch: retinoids (commonly used in their over-the-counter form, retinol) are infamously irritating.

Vitamin A works by essentially accelerating the skin cells, so they turn over at a faster rate. Eventually, this sprint results in smoother, clearer, firmer skin — but you have to get through the excessive peeling, redness, and sensitivity to get to the finish line.

Right now, I'm learning this the hard way. In addition to spironolactone, I recently started using a prescription adapalene-benzoyl peroxide gel (0.1% adapalene is the retinoid found OTC Differin Gel) for the bad breakouts I've been getting on the lower half of my face.

The gel is definitely helping with the cystic acne, but my face is peeling like dried-up school glue. Plus, it's slightly red and tender to the touch. Yup, I'm in the "retinoid uglies" phase, otherwise known as retinization.

While dermatologists typically recommend starting off slow and using a retinoid once or twice a week until your skin builds up a tolerance, it is always still possible you'll experience vitamin A's notorious side effects.

To combat all this, I know I need to moisturize as much as possible, but all of my regular moisturizers have made my skin burn like it's actually on fire.

So, I've gone back to basics and did a drugstore run to pick up a tub of CeraVe's Moisturizing Cream. This classic moisturizer is fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, and formulated with hydrating ceramides and hyaluronic acid. It restores moisture and supports the skin barrier without clogging pores or causing further irritation.

Cerave Moisturizing Cream for Sensitized Skin

To buy: $15;

Gently massaging it into my face has felt like snuggling with my favorite fuzzy throw blanket and relieves the tightness caused by excessive dryness.

To find out exactly how this cream works its magic, I reached out to Dr. Amy Weschler, a board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist in New York City. She explained why ceramides and hyaluronic acids are such great ingredients for sensitized skin such as mine due to my most recent retinoid experience.

First, she tells me that while retinoids dry up the harmful bacteria that are mainly responsible for acne, they also get rid of the good oils, which is why people can experience side effects. So, what makes ceramides and hyaluronic acid such effective moisturizers to relieve dryness?

"Ceramides restore the barrier function of your skin," she shares. "Ceramides made a huge percentage of the lipids that are in the surface of the epidermis (called the stratum corneum). So they are excellent moisturizers."

Hyaluronic acid is another great moisturizer, as well. Not only is it naturally found in the skin and joints, but it's also inherently non-comedogenic, so it doesn't clog pores.

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My skin almost immediately feels softer after using CeraVe's moisturizer every morning and night. Although it did take a couple of days for my skin to feel completely balanced again, this is completely normal. Dr. Weschler says that depending on how bad the irritation is, one application of moisturizer can make a difference, or it might take a few days to restore the skin's barrier.

I'm currently three weeks into using my prescription retinoid gel and still not entirely over the retinization hump. However, this $15 moisturizing cream makes the journey more bearable.

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