Growing up, I was familiar with Curél’s large bottles of body lotion, which lived atop my parents’ bathroom counter. To this day, my dad is a regular user, slathering the cream from head to toe daily. But it wasn’t until last year that I discovered Curél’s other skin care line, and I was eager to try it.
What makes the body care a family favorite is also at the heart of Curél’s facial skin care: ceramides. The Japanese skin care company, first founded in the 19th century as a sundry goods shop called Kao, established a dermatological research center in 1976 where it would go on to study the important role of ceramides, or the lipids found in skin cells, in moisturizing the skin and supporting the skin barrier. Today, ceramides are the focus of each of its Japanese skin care products.
Formulated specifically for those with dry, sensitive skin, Curél’s facial care line is made without irritating factors like fragrance, artificial colorants or drying alcohols. It also follows Japanese skin care’s nourishing philosophy of double cleansing and double moisturizing, and consists of four daily products. Compared to the 10-step routine popularized by Korean skin care, this was a welcome change. Read on to discover my favorite products from the line, which ones to skip and how it compares to other simplified skin care.
What we liked about it
I’ve been using Curél’s skin care for two months and it’s helped my skin weather the transition to winter weather tremendously. Like many, dryness is a main skin concern in the colder months. I am 25 years old and have normal to combination skin. Although my T-zone gets oily, I can experience severe dryness on my cheeks. Using Curél’s gentle cleansers and double moisturizing method has kept any tightness or flaking from occurring.
To test the products, I completely swapped my nighttime skin care routine to Curél’s four-step system. For my daytime routine, I incorporated Curél’s Hydrating Water Essence and Intensive Moisture Facial Cream as the moisturizing steps and continued using my preferred vitamin C and sunscreen. Adding Curél to my routine has kept my skin happy and healthy, and I would recommend the line to anyone looking to boost their skin’s moisture. Here are the products I loved:
Curél's skin care system begins with a double cleanse, which has been practiced in Japan for centuries. The first step of a double cleansing routine usually consists of an oil-based cleanser that removes makeup and other unwanted elements from the surface of the skin.
"Double cleansing can help to ensure complete removal of sebum, dirt, makeup, sunscreen and other debris," says Dr. Rebecca Marcus, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Maei MD. "However, it’s important to make sure not to over-cleanse the skin, as stripping it of its natural oils can cause a rebound effect in which the sebaceous glands are stimulated to produce more oil."
Thankfully, Curél's Makeup Cleansing Oil is about as gentle as they come. Its fragrance-free and sensitive skin-friendly formula has a silky feeling when I massage it into my skin, and it successfully removes almost all of my makeup (waterproof mascara is the exception). If you have yet to try a cleansing oil or balm, the trick is to apply it to dry skin so it can best break down the makeup and sebum, then rinse it off with water. As the oil mixes with the water, it creates a milky emulsion that leaves the skin moisturized as all of the debris is washed away.
The Foaming Facial Wash is Curél's second cleansing step, and it converted me into a foam cleanser stan. I've been a double cleanser for years but have always opted for a gel cleanser as my second face wash. Those would sometimes leave my face feeling tight afterward, which indicates dryness. This cleanser, however, features pillowy soft foam that stays plush and light as you lather it on and leaves skin feeling refreshed and hydrated when you rinse it off.
There's no worry of drying out the skin or over-cleansing, as Marcus stated, since this gentle cleanser is designed to keep your natural ceramides in the skin. In fact, each of Curél's three cleansers (I'll get to the Makeup Cleansing Gel later) features moisturizing ingredients that help avoid the stripping feeling that some cleansers give. "Oils like the caprylic/capric triglyceride in the Makeup Cleansing Gel, mineral oil in the Makeup Cleansing Oil and the high glycerin load in the Foaming Face Wash are good indicators that the cleanser has less of a chance of adding to any skin dryness," explain Victoria Fu and Glora Lu, cosmetic chemists and founders of Chemist Confessions.
Curél follows its double cleansing system with double moisturizing too. This first moisturizing step is called a lotion or essence in Japan and it is super lightweight. "We actually would lump Japanese essences and toners in a similar category," say Fu and Lu. "They often come with water-loving hydrators called humectants like glycerin and glycols to add some base-level hydration for skin."
Curél's Hydrating Water Essence features glycerin and hydrogenated castor oil, which help with keeping skin plump and nourished. As a humectant, glycerin "draws moisture into the superficial layers of the skin from the outside environment and from deeper layers of the skin," while hydrogenated castor oil "functions as both a humectant and an emollient, which means that it both draws moisture into the skin and traps it there by occlusion, preventing evaporation of moisture from the skin," explains Marcus.
Like its name suggests, the Hydrating Water Essence has a watery texture that absorbs easily into the skin. It's suggested to apply it directly after double cleansing, but I found that I prefer using it like a toner in my morning skin care routine. I don't cleanse in the morning — it dries out my skin and causes it to become even more oily by the end of the day — so I'll apply this as my very first skin care step before a vitamin C serum, the Intensive Moisture Facial Cream and a sunscreen. The Hydrating Water Essence doesn't feel like a completely necessary step, especially for those who may have oily skin and don't struggle with dryness, but I think of it as a moisturizing primer, prepping the skin for another layer of hydration. And as Fu and Lu note, "Essences tend to have minimal oil content — so most skin types definitely can't rely on essences alone to hydrate!"
The Moisture Facial Milk is one of two second-step moisturizers Curél offers. It has a serum-like texture — not as watery as a toner, not as dense as a cream — that feels soothing and light. A great option for those who only need light hydration, the Moisture Facial Milk contains plenty of hydrating ingredients that can make it stand up to heavier moisturizers. In fact, it shares many of the same ingredients as the Intensive Moisture Facial Cream. "We spot helpful barrier-helping ingredients like cetyl-PG hydroxyethyl palmitamide, cholesterol and soothing active allantoin," Fu and Lu share. "Of course, glycerin hanging out at the second position for both these products adds a solid bit of hydration too."
Since I broke the rules on the double moisturizing and began using the Water Essence in the morning, I decided to substitute the Facial Milk in as a first moisturizer before the Intensive Moisture Facial Cream — and I'm glad I did. Since I have true combination skin, my cheeks get quite dry, especially during the winter. Doubling up the Facial Milk and face cream helped replenish my skin, and I actually noticed a difference in how soft and supple my cheeks became after a couple weeks of using both. Thankfully, Marcus confirmed that this is perfectly fine, especially for parched skin. "Using extra moisturizer can be beneficial when skin is extra dry, especially in winter months," Marcus says. "As long as it’s not an occlusive product that clogs pores, feel free to use as much moisturizer as you need to help your skin feel adequately quenched."
That said, I can definitely see the Water Essence and Facial Milk combo being sufficient for sensitive skin types who live in more humid climates.
The Intensive Moisture Facial Cream features the same benefits as the Moisture Facial Milk but in a cream formula. It's lightweight and nongreasy, yet it grips the skin in a way that feels nourishing. I loved that it dries down but still feel like a veil of moisture on the skin. I use it in the morning, before applying SPF, and at night as the last step in my routine.
As the fourth and final step in Curél's system, it rounds out the ceramide-focused collection with another dose of barrier-building ingredients. As mentioned before, it shares many of the same ingredients as the Moisture Facial Milk. In addition to the humectants, it also features allantoin, which has a range of benefits. "[Allantoin's] keratolytic action helps to gently exfoliate skin and prepare it for optimal absorption of moisturizing agents," Marcus says, adding that the ingredient "promotes wound healing, has antimicrobial effects and facilitates proliferation of healthy tissue by promoting cell proliferation and extracellular matrix synthesis" (an important part of collagen production).
What we didn’t like about it
Because Curél’s double cleanse, double moisturizing system provides options, there were naturally some that I preferred over the others.
For cleansing, I found the Makeup Cleansing Oil outperformed the Makeup Cleansing Gel. Both products are considered the first step in Curél’s double cleansing routine, and both are meant to melt away stubborn makeup like long-wearing foundations and waterproof mascara. The gel has an oil-rich formula that feels similar to a cleansing balm when massaged into the skin; however, the cleansing oil was able to do a better job overall.
Although neither the gel nor the oil was able to completely wash off my waterproof mascara (I have to use micellar water to get every bit off), I struggled less with the cleansing oil and found its emulsification to have a more complete cleansing effect. Other reviews on Amazon reflect my experience and note that the cleansing gel is not effective at removing waterproof makeup.
Then, for moisturizers, Curél also offers a ceramide-rich Deep Moisture Spray for the face and body. It’s actually a convenient product that is nice if you need a quick hit of moisture, but it felt too heavy for my face and not rich enough for the body.
The fine mist makes it easy to apply anywhere — it dispenses like a sunscreen spray — and absorbs quickly once you pat or rub it in. As Fu and Lu note, “The Curél spray does have more nourishing ingredients in the spray like its signature ceramide precursor, cholesterol blend, which makes it a better choice than just any other spray. However, we’d suspect that those with drier skin would still need a thicker lotion or cream to lock everything in.”
It features many of the same hydrating and soothing ingredients as the other moisturizers in the line (such as glycerin, cetyl-pg hydroxyethyl palmitamide, cholesterol and allantoin) but leaves the feeling of a greasy film sitting atop the skin. This feels heavier on the face than the body, so I’ve opted to use it only as a body moisturizer. The instructions also say to avoid the eyes, which is pretty difficult when spraying it on the face.
For the body, it gives a light layer of moisture that might be enough in the more humid months, but doesn’t feel rich enough for my desperately dry winter skin.
I also tested the Moisture Repair Eye Cream — which is actually one of my favorite products from the line — however, it is currently only available for a steep $40 at Stylevana. The eye cream sinks in quickly and helps relieve any dry patches in the under-eye area. It feels soothing and light, despite being a thicker formula. Hopefully it will be restocked on Amazon soon.
How it compares
Curél’s products follow the trend of skinimalism but are rooted in Japanese beauty traditions. The straightforward line is a great option for those with sensitive, dry skin that are in need of hydration. The comparable price point and performance to other dermatolgist-loved drugstore brands like CeraVe and Cetaphil is a plus, but it is currently only available via Amazon. Furthermore, Curél does not offer targeted treatments for multiple skin types like other drugstore brands. However, Curél’s collection successfully delivers on what it aims to do. And even without multiple product lines, Curél still offers options for its users to choose what cleansers and moisturizing steps they prefer.
Curél is worth trying if you want a no-fuss skin care regimen. Those with skin concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation or wrinkles will probably want to incorporate other treatments with active ingredients that can address those conditions, but Curél’s four-step routine is a nice starting point. The accessible price point is another plus, as you can purchase your preferred four steps for under $70.