Skin care products that are better than expensive products, according to science
Cheap but good skin care: We’ve dived into the world of skincare science and ingredients, and found 19+ powerful cheap products that are actually GOLD, and BETTER than most high-end products! Cheap skin care with well-proven and healthy ingredients can truly transform your skin into what you’ve always desired!
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It took me 10 years of skin struggles to realize I had bought the wrong products. In my head, expensive = good. That is entirely inaccurate! I had been through brand after brand of really fckn expensive skin care, promising to cure my skin problems, yet it never did.
This issue is why I started deep diving into skincare science. After this, I never looked at the skincare brand or price, only the ingredients list. I only used products with clean, few, and proven ingredients, suited for my skin type.
And you know what?
I got the skin of my dreams within a short amount of time. No dry patches, less oil production, old scars faded, more even skin tone, less texture, and smaller pores. My skin is so damn good now I rarely use foundation.
My point is, never to assume a product is good because it’s high-end. Do your research, aim for well-proven active ingredients that are good for you, and steer away from products containing bad ingredients, or un-proven alternative ingredients.
A product is only as good as its worst ingredient.
A skincare routine is only as good as its worst step.
When you are working on getting that glowy, flawless skin – your skincare routine is CRUCIAL. For instance, most people cleanse wrong – this causes a microscopical layer of dirt and dead skin cells on your skin. Unfortunately, this acts as a barrier, so that the products you apply won’t be able to penetrate into the skin.
An ideal skincare routine would be:
- Cleanse. Once in the morning, twice in the evening.
- Exfoliate 1-2 times a week. This is like a deep cleanse.
- Apply serums. Serums are thin and therefore able to deeply penetrate into your skin, and permanently fix and improve your skin.
- Creams. Creams work as a surface protector. It should protect your skin against blue light, pollution, and similar, while it also gives surface hydration. Moisturizers won’t be able to sink into your skin, that’s why serums are important.
- SPF during the morning routine.
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Find your skin type (quiz) and the best skincare steps for you
Cheap skin care products that are better than expensive products
The magical yet affordable products are ranged in chronological order to the skincare categories.
Pssst. None of the products below are collaborations with skincare brands. All recommendations are always independent and based on tons of research and trying products bought with own money.
If you want to read studies on the science behind product/ingredient suggestions, make sure to check out the sources at the bottom of the page!
The Cerave salicylic acid cleanser has many science-proven ingredients and it’s super clean without unnecessary add-ons. Its main active ingredient is salicylic acid, which is a BHA able to really penetrate into the skin for a good cleanse. You should never use a cleanser without AHAs/BHAs, it simply won’t cleanse well enough.
The CeraVe SA cleanser is excellent at cleaning out pores. It also contains niacinamide which is great for balancing the skin and reducing pores. The product has hyaluronic acid for hydration. It won’t leave your skin feeling stripped – but if you have very dry or sensitive skin, I recommend adding a few drops of squalane to your face before cleansing. It’s a game-changer.
An exfoliator should mainly contain salicylic acid (BHA) or lactic acid (AHA), like the face wash. These ingredients are great at deep cleaning the skin, without stripping it.
Please don’t use scrub exfoliators, since the grains ruin the skin on a cellular level.
Paula’s choice 2% salicylic acid exfoliator is a great product. It’s clean and simple and does exactly what it says. Another very similar (and cheaper) product to is The Ordinary’s 2% salicylic acid mask.
These products can be used by all skin types, but if you struggle with very dry & sensitive skin – lactic acid tends to be more gentle than salicylic acid. If that’s the case, aim for The Ordinary’s lactic acid leave-on exfoliator instead.
//Cheap skin care products
Serums. THE holy grail of skincare.
Have a few favorite serums with different benefits on hand. Remember that some serums should only be used at night (aka not in the sun), and some serums don’t go well on top of each other.
Serums should be “tapped” into the skin. Let it sink in for a minute, before applying the next serum or moisturizer.
Consider applying your serums with a rose quartz gua sha! They are super affordable and feel soo good to use, like a facial massage. The Gua Sha helps “press” the products into the skin, it’s also said to stimulate collagen production, and people claim frequent use helps define the jawline and reduce fine lines caused by tension. Here’s how to use it.
CHEAP SERUMS THAT ARE BETTER THAN MOST EXPENSIVE SERUMS:
Niacinamide: Balancing the skin, more even texture, fade scarring and lines:
The Ordinary’s niacinamide + zinc serum, niacinamide is a super effective and well-documented ingredient that helps balance the skin, reduce pore size, reduce scarring, even out skin tone, reduce fine lines, and overall make the appearance better. The Ordinary’s niacinamide serum stands out by having a pretty high prosentage of niacinamide. The zinc also helps protect the skin against daily wear and tear. The product is clean, oil-free and of course cruelty-free. It’s a must-have!
Cos de Baha hyaluronic acid serum. Everyone needs hydration, and hyaluronic acid will help you with getting a moisturized, healthy, and plumped face. The Cos De Baha serum is also super clean (wouldn’t suggest anything else) with a high enough percentage of hyaluronic acid. Always apply hyaluronic acid serums on damped/wet skin, ideally in a humid area, like the bathroom right after a shower!
However, If you live in a super dry climate (like Nordic countries away from the coastline), or spend a lot of time in places with dry air (like an airplane), hyaluronic acid isn’t the best choice of a hydrating ingredient. That’s because the molecules, easily explained, work by taking the humidity from the air, and “giving it” to the skin. If there’s no moisture in the air, the molecules take moisture out of your skin, and you end up drier than ever. Read the further explanation here.
So, if this is the case – aim for amino acids as a moisturizing serum instead! The Ordinary’s amino acid + B5 serum is GOLD. Can also be used in humid climates.
If you struggle with dry skin, make sure to check out this article about ways to deeply hydrate the skin instantly.
Vitamin C: More plumped skin, stimulating collagen production, glow, youthfulness:
Topical use of vitamin-c promotes collagen production, hydrates, brightens, plumps, protects against free radicals, fades hyperpigmentation, and much more.
If you are interested in topical skincare use of VITAMIN C, you should go for L-ascorbic POWDER, and mix a scoop into your moisturizer before applying it, instead of a regular ready-to-use serum. That’s because liquid “already mixed” vitamin-c serums tend to be highly unstable and oxidize on your skin, which causes cellular damage.
There’s one ingredient that has A TON of research supporting its effectiveness. I’m talking about retinol.
Other ingredients, like the ones mentioned above, can make the skin appear younger by plumping it and overall improving its appearance. But there’s only one ingredient, (according to science), that could actually turn back time.
In addition to reducing fine lines, wrinkles, and skin tightening, retinol also helps fade scarring and treats moderate acne.
Note: Retinol makes your skin very light-sensitive, therefore it should only be used at night, and avoided during periods you are spending a lot of time in the sun.
The Ordinary’s Retinol 1% is just fantastic. It’s made with squalane oil (non-clogging), which makes it stable and less irritating. Personally, I have not experienced any discomfort using this, even though I have very sensitive skin.
//Cheap skin care products
The Ordinary is just magic. It’s clean without unnecessary add-ons, and it’s cheap and cruelty-free. The brand has A LOT of products, make sure to check out this article with their top 11 most effective products according to skincare science.
Peptides – tighten loose skin, improve elasticity, repair sun damage, and fade pigmentation.
Peptide serums are another holy grail of skincare. Peptides (amino acids) are the building blocks (proteins) needed to produce collagen and elastin. Together with retinol, you’re all set for aging slowly.
Good and clean peptide serums are unfortunately quite expensive. Paula’s Choice peptide booster is a very popular serum loved by so many people, and it’s on the more affordable side of the good peptide choices. Slightly cheaper is The Ordinary Buffet + Copper peptides. I use this myself, and my skin felt SO good after just one night with this serum. Highly recommend!
Extra hydration & glow for people with very dry skin:
The last cheap serum is the SQUALANE OIL.
It’s like an oil, except it’s non-clogging, and it absorbs easily into the skin, leaving a beautiful natural glow (compared to regular oils which are clogging and leave a greasy, oily cast)
Squalane oil can be used alone or added to moisturizers or foundations for extra dewiness and moisture. I also like to mix it with water in a spray bottle, for hydration mists during the day. The serum can also be used as a hair and body oil.
Make sure the squalane oil is 100% pure, some brands add in some other oils and perfumes – you don’t want that. Squalane oil can be delivered from different things, I prefer it made from plants (vegan).
Some suggestions are Amara beauty 100% squalane, plus for being in a bigger bottle. Another clean option is The Ordinary’s 100% plant-derived squalane.
Squalane really is the secret to naturally glowing skin!
Check out this article if you want to learn more about what squalane really is!
//Cheap skin care products
MOISTURIZERS (SURFACE PROTECTORS)
A good moisturizer should make a barrier and protect your skin against free radicals, pollution, and blue light, in addition to moisturize the surface of your skin. A good moisturizer should also work as a primer, giving a good “grip” for make-up.
Choose a creamy moisturizer if your skin is normal to dry. Choose a gel moisturizer if you have oily and acne-prone skin.
Cheap, creamy moisturizers
The Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré is a great choice if you like natural, creamy moisturizers. It’s very hydrating and works great as a make-up base.
Another more clinical choice is the CeraVe Cream Moisturizer. It’s oil- alcohol-, and fragrance-free, and it contains well-documented ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide.
The last gold-mine cheap product is The Ordinary’s moisturizing factors – can’t get enough of the ordinary. It’s super clean and works GREAT with make-up. Warm it up in your hands, before you massage it into your skin, let it sink in before you continue your routine.
The Versed Dew Point, is a cheap yet excellent option. It’s cruelty-free and clean, and the brand is really picky with the ingredient, steering away from stuff like parabens, silicones, sulfates, and artificial fragrances. This product got super popular after the skincare-guru Hyram recommended it.
Another great option is the slightly more expensive Paula’s choice moisture gel. A big plus for containing niacinamide, which is great for balancing oily skin’s sebum production, and reducing pore size.
The last (but not least) step of your daytime skincare routine.
Finding a perfect sunscreen is difficult, and especially affordable as well.
We all have different skin, and different preferences when it comes to sunscreen. Common SPF-issues is feeling heavy, sticky, and uncomfortable on the skin, white-cast, pilling, making pores bigger, and causing break-outs.
For me, it’s especially important that the sunscreen feels super lightweight on the skin, in addition to having high-quality SPF, being clean, reef-friendly, and acne-safe, and of course not leaving a white cast. In other words, a sunscreen without the common sunscreen issues.
Here are some cheap but good SPF recommendations, depending on your preferences:
Julep clear GEL sunscreen Is a sensitive skin-friendly gel sunscreen with SPF 40++, it feels and looks invisible on the skin, and since the color is clear, it won’t leave a white cast on even the darkest skin tones. It also protects your skin against environmental damage. The gel sunscreen leaves a glowing finish.
Jane Iredale POWDER sunscreen Unfortunately this is not a cheap product, but I still wanted to include it for you if you struggle with acne and/or oily skin. Jane Iredale’s products are just magic for acne-prone people. Powder sunscreens are by far the best way to use SPF if you are acne-prone. Alternatively, you could go with the fantastic Jane Iredale pure-pressed base (refill-it’s cheaper), which has the same amount of SPF – that way you get both SPF and pressed foundation in one product. Consider investing in this, you won’t regret it. It’s loved all over the globe with good reason!
People are crazy about tinted SPFs like the ELTA MD and ILIA SPF skin tint.
If you are looking for a dupe to these, give DRMTLGY universal tinted SPF a try! It’s half the price, more lightweight, and has SPF 46++ of excellent quality.
Personally, the ILIA skin tint is too greasy/sticky for my taste, while the DRMTLY is not greasy at all.
INCIDecoder //skincare ingredient checker
Skinsort //skincare ingredient analyzer
National Library of Medicine //ex. studies niacinamide
National Center for Biotechnology //ex. studies salicylic acid
NIH //ex. studies retinol
NCBI //ex. studies hyaluronic acid
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