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This £12 cleanser cleared up my acne in two weeks

Gamechangers: There’s a reason this brand is a big hit with dermatologists

Ellie Fry
Wednesday 27 January 2021 15:50 GMT
The formula features salicylic acid, a hero ingredient for oily skin types
The formula features salicylic acid, a hero ingredient for oily skin types (The Independent)

I’ve struggled with acne since my teenage years, and while I’m mostly (and thankfully) past the stage of severe cystic breakouts, my skin is far from clear despite now being in my mid-twenties. The painful under-the-skin spots are now few and far between, but I’ve been left with plenty of scarring and inflammation and still experience very sore breakouts from time to time.

This, paired with the fact that my skin is both oily and sensitive (acne sufferers will share my pain), means that trying new skincare can be a gamble. Of course, the nature of being an editor on a product review section means I take this risk regularly, and after trying endless amounts of skincare that has promised me clear skin, less texture, a brighter complexion and reduced scarring, most with no avail, I’m the perfect guinea pig for a product aimed at acne-prone skin.

Dubbed as “lockdown skin” by experts, many people have reported an uptick in acne flare-ups, redness, excess oiliness or dryness during the coronavirus pandemic. It's safe to say I also noticed a complete change in my skin during the first lockdown back in March, ranging from extreme dryness one day to uncontrollable oiliness and sore breakouts the next.

As someone who also wore a full face of make-up to work everyday pre-pandemic, going completely fresh-faced for months on end only to be rewarded with yet more breakouts and soreness was the ultimate betrayal. Thankfully, since then my skin has started to settle, but I’m still always on the hunt for a new product to soothe inflammation and prevent spots.

The sheer amount of marketing claims, buzzword ingredients and new technologies that land in my inbox would overwhelm even the most well-versed of skincare experts, which I certainly do not claim to be. In fact, it is only through going back to basics and stripping down my skincare regime that I have found a new holy grail product that offers truly tangible results after a few weeks of use, all for the grand old total of £12. If your skin is struggling during lockdown 3.0, read on to find out why you need this humble cleanser in your life.

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The gamechanger: CeraVe SA smoothing cleanser with salicylic acid, 236ml: £12, Boots – buy now


This American, dermatologist-founded skincare brand finally arrived in the UK in 2018, much to the excitement of avid fans including skincare expert Caroline Hirons. It joins the likes of The Ordinary and The Inkey List in its pared back, science-led approach, focusing on the efficacy of ingredients rather than luxurious packaging and exaggerated marketing.

Many of the brand’s products are suited to sensitive skin, which was music to my ears, and although the brand is regularly recommended by dermatologists, it reached a new found cult status in the UK during lockdown, as TikTok users raved about the products for their results and accessibility.

Although CeraVe was on my radar, I hadn’t tried its products until late last year when my skin was in the depths of a lockdown 2.0 breakout. Its smoothing cleanser is infused with salicylic acid, a hero ingredient for oily skin that gently exfoliates, unclogs pores and reduces inflammation and redness. It’s part of the beta hydroxy (BHA) family, which in layman's terms means it is brilliant at deeply penetrating the pores without causing the irritation that other acids can often cause. It can also help to reduce sebum production, helping to reduce acne, and can calm down the skin during a particularly bad breakout too.

As with the rest of CeraVe’s line, the packaging is uninspiring yet practical, with a hygienic pump neck and a slightly see-through bottle which helps to identify when you’re about to run out of product. The non-scented gel formula is certainly not a luxury experience to apply, with a runny consistency that offers a slight lather, but it truly delivers on its claims. After just one use during particularly bad breakouts, redness is reduced and my skin feels smoother, and after just two weeks of using the cleanser twice daily, my acne significantly cleared up and breakouts have been kept at bay ever since.

This no-frills product helps me manage my skin during a flare-up, improving the texture of my scarring and banishing any inflammation. At just £12 a bottle, I honestly can’t see myself using anything else for the time being, which is a big statement to make given how much I love trying new formulas. While it doesn’t offer the same experience as a more luxe, creamy cleanser, I’d take the results of CeraVe’s offering any day.

Buy now

CeraVe was also awarded the top spot in our review of the best skincare products for £10, and was recommended by dermatologists in our guide to winter skincare essentials, so it’s safe to say it’s a brand worth investing in.

For more skincare insights, read our review of what happened when we tried Caroline Hirons’s skincare routine

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