Cerave Vs. Vanicream: The Quest for the Holy Grail

Here ye! Here ye! Loyal readers of this fine blog!

I hath declare a war between two glorious + fierce moisturizers: Cerave Moisturizing Cream and Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream.

Let the battle for the holy grail begin!

Difference #1: Cerave Spreads Easily and Absorbs Quickly

Cerave looks like yoghurt.

Okay. Maybe that’s not exactly true.

It’s more like greek yoghurt—thick and ever-so-slightly runny.

On application, it spreads smoothly and absorbs quickly.  

There’s just one problem.

Whenever I apply it to compromised skin (like after a boiling hot shower), it burns like a mofo. And it doesn’t stop burning for a good 5 minutes. My delicate areas (like the skin under my eyes and my upper lip area) feel especially uncomfortable.

Now onto Vanicream.

Vanicream’s consistency is pretty similar to Cerave’s. But a bit thicker and a, dare I say, tackier.

It’s not as spreadable as Cerave—I kinda have to work it into my skin. And on top of that, it takes a bit more time to sink into my skin, but it does sink in eventually.

The good things about Vanicream is that it never burns or stings, making it ideal for my sometimes-compromised skin barrier.

Bottom line: Cerave has a better consistency. But, if you’re on the sensitive end of the spectrum, avoid the (potential) burn by choosing Vanicream.

Difference #2: Cerave Uses Sophisticated Ingredients

A lot of people think these two products are identical. I mean, they pretty much share a name—ahem, Cerave Moisturizing Cream & Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream—they have similar labels, and they’re eczema-friendly.

But by looking at their ingredients, you’ll find two completely different products.

Cerave Ingredients:

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

Vanicream Ingredients:

Purified Water, Petrolatum, Sorbitol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Propylene Glycol, Ceteareth-20, Simethicone, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-30 Stearate, Sorbic Acid, BHT


Petrolatum—commonly known as petroleum jelly—is a semi-solid hydrocarbon derived from petroleum. When you put on your skin, it acts as an occlusive. Meaning that it seals-in moisture and prevents evaporation. (Both)

Ceramides are lipids that play an essential role in regulating moisture and maintaining the skin barrier function. Suffice to say: hydrated skin = happy skin. (Cerave only)

Hyaluronic Acid is a carbohydrate molecule that’s naturally found in skin. In products, it acts as a humectant. Which is just a fancy way to say that it attracts + retains moisture. Fun fact: HA can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water—hello, plump skin! (Cerave only)

Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol. But it functions as a humectant when it’s used in products. I doubt that it’s as fab as HA, but I’m sure it serves its purpose. (Vanicream only)

Cetearyl Alcohol is a fatty alcohol. Despite what you might have heard, not all alcohols are the devil. Fatty alcohols, like cetearyl alcohol, often act as emollients in skin care. (Both)

Bottom line: Vanicream has less ingredients, so it’s better for people who are allergic to, you know, EVERYTHING. Otherwise, Cerave has better, more sophisticated ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid—it’s the clear winner in this round.

Difference #3: Vanicream is Vegan AND Cruelty-free

Vanicream is vegan AND cruelty-free.

It even says so on their website:

“Pharmaceutical Specialties Inc. does not test our products on animals nor do any of our products contain any animal ingredients.”

Cerave isn’t.

And no, there isn’t any info about it on their website. I had to email customer service to find out.

Here’s what they said (FYI: L’Oreal is Cerave’s parent company):

“L’Oréal has developed a very rigorous safety evaluation procedure of its products, backed by research. Well before the question of animal testing was raised by civil society or within a regulatory framework, L’Oréal has been committed to new methods of assessing safety that don’t
 involve animals. A true pioneer, L’Oréal has been reconstructing human skin models in laboratories to elaborate in vitro safety tests since 1979, as an alternative to animals. In 1989, L’Oréal completely ceased testing its products on animals, thus 14 years before the regulation required so. Today, L’Oréal no longer tests its ingredients on animals and no longer tolerates any exception to this rule.

Certain health authorities may nevertheless decide to conduct animal tests themselves for certain cosmetic products, as it is still the case in China. L’Oréal has been the most active company working alongside the Chinese authorities and scientists for over 10 years to have alternative testing methods recognized, and permit the cosmetic regulation to evolve towards a total and definite elimination of animal testing. Thanks to this, since 2014, certain products manufactured and sold in China like shampoo, body wash or make-up
 are no longer tested on animals.

L’Oréal does not use any ingredient from rare or endangered animal species, nor any ingredient of porcine, bovine or ovine origin; except lanolin (which is taken from live sheep). We use derivatives of raw materials of animal origin in restricted quantities, such as honey, beeswax, lanolin, as well as fish derivatives and poultry egg derivatives.”

Unlike Vanicream, Cerave’s response is long-winded and convoluted.

The first paragraph says that L’Oreal is a “pioneer” when it comes to animal testing. But that’s BS, especially when you consider the second paragraph, which says that animal testing is unregulated in China. L’Oreal doesn’t specify what they’re doing in China (Manufacturing? Supplying? Something else?). Nevertheless, it’s safe to assume that Cerave products aren’t completely cruelty-free.

The last paragraph is pretty clear—I’ll give them that. That being said, it doesn’t bode well for vegans. L’Oreal does use animal products in “restricted quantities.”

Bottom line: Hats off to Vanicream for their transparency.

Difference #4: Vanicream Usually Comes in Pump-Form

Both products have two buying options:

  1. A tub
  2. A tub with a pump

The thing is, if you look for these two moisturizers in your local drugstore, you’ll be hard pressed to find Cerave in pump-form. But you can almost always find Vanicream in pump-form.

Here comes a rant, my dudes:

I absolutely loathe tubs without pumps. Yes, both moisturizers contain preservatives, which will stop bacterial growth. And yes, I only use clean hands when handling my moisturizers—I’m not a heathen. But still. It’s unhygienic. I mean, what if there was gunk under my fingernails? Or what if someone else (like a house guest) dipped their grubby fingers into my tub? Ew!

Pro tip: The skincare isle usually carries tubs, while the lotion isle usually carries pumps. So if you don’t find what you’re looking for, don’t lose hope. Just move over to the next isle.

Bottom line: Vanicream typically comes in pump-form. Cerave typically comes in tub-form.

Difference #5: Vanicream is Usually Cheaper


Both moisturizers are at the premium-end of drugstore brands, so they’re a little more expensive than your average, everyday Aveeno.

Generally, the pump-less tubs of both products ring-up at the same price. Maybe (just maybe) you’ll find a dollar’s worth of difference between them.

For tubs with pumps, it’s a different story. From what I’ve seen over the years, Vanicream is almost always cheaper than Cerave. Usually by a few dollars.

But wait there’s more! Cerave has 2-dollar-off coupons on their website. And it’s not hidden in deep links—there’s literally a “Coupons” signal on their main navigation.

Bottom line: Penny pinchers are bound to side with Vanicream because it tends to be cheaper (even without a coupon).

Cerave Vs. Vanicream: Which One is Better?

It depends on what you’re into.

Personally, Cerave is my holy grail (see it here on Amazon). I use it everyday (on both my face and my body) and I couldn’t ask for a more perfect moisturizer.

Here are the reasons why Cerave is better than Vanicream:

  1. It sinks into my skin like a dream, meaning that it’s perfect for a quick and lazy morning routine
  2. It has better ingredients (i.e. ceramides and hyaluronic acid)

At the same time, I totally understand the pull towards Vanicream (see it here on Amazon):

  1. It’s vegan and cruelty-free (Cerave isn’t)
  2. It’s generally better for uber-sensitive skin types—no burning or stinging to see here

For another moisturizer comparison, read my next article: Cetaphil vs. Aveeno: What’s the Difference?

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