My Top 17 Best Skin Care Products
90% of figuring out what skin care works for you is trying it. There’s only so much that you can tell from ingredients, since the formula (and the quality of ingredients ) will determine its efficacy — and naturally, no skin care company is going to readily give its formulas away. And as for quality, unless you have access to their suppliers and can trace the origin of each ingredient, wellllll. You’ll just have to try it out, won’t you? Two products can have the same exact ingredient list and be a completely different product. It’s like baking: one slight change to the ingredient measurements and your cake might turn out more like a cookie. Or something like that. I don’t know, I have never baked anything except Funfetti straight from the box. Anyway, my point is: chemistry!
Now, since 90% of figuring out what skin care works for you is trying it (and let me stress that I pulled the “90%” figure out of thin air), that may lead to a lot of trial and error before you find what works for you. So what do we do? We turn to friends and the internet for recommendations. I am your friend and I am on the internet, and I, skin care obsessed and tester of many a product, have some recommendations for you. No one’s skin is exactly alike, so what works for me may not work for you, but heck, that’s what good return policies are for.
Please keep two things in mind:
- I may have listed 17 products, but I do not use all of these at once
- I may have listed 17 products, but these aren’t the only products I use. I have lots and lots of skin care products in my arsenal, and many more that I love.
Here’s how I determined my top 17 best skin care products: by how often I use them, how often I replace them, their efficacy, and their price in relation to their efficacy. I don’t mind investing money in my skin, but just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best. Some of my favorite products are sold at Target, while others are sold at fancy spas. It’s a healthy mix of high and low. Let’s hop to it.
Pixi Glow Mud Cleanser
Glycolic has the smallest molecular size of AHAs and can most easily penetrate the skin, making it a great and effective option for clearing up pores, banishing blackheads, and gently exfoliating by promoting cell turnover — and it boosts collagen production. Normally I would reserve active acids for leave on treatments (unlike cleansers, which you wash away), since it needs time to penetrate, but I love this gentle mud cleanser. At night, I start with a cleansing oil and then go in with this cleanser and my skin feels new again. While it may seem like a lot to use this and follow with other acids (toner and serum), the cleanser isn’t on my skin long enough to be terribly active — and I’ll switch to Avene gentle cleanser when I want something even more gentle. P.S. Unlike BHA (Salicylic), Glycolic is water and not oil soluble, so this won’t dry you out.
The Body Shop Camomile Silky Cleansing Makeup Remover Oil
If you wear SPF (and you better!!) or makeup, start your cleanse with an oil or balm that can break down all of that before you go in with your second cleanser. I love this oil. It’s relatively inexpensive for a large bottle, has a pump (which I prefer for a cleansing oil), and it effectively breaks everything down in one fell swoop. I apply to dry skin, work it in and wipe it off with a cloth before going in with my second cleanser. I have a few other oils I use, but I included this one because I think it’s a great deal for such a nice product!
Pixi Glow Tonic
When you think toner, you might think of that Sea Breeze toner that adults used to give to teenagers for its astringent properties. This isn’t that. Generally speaking, toners can have all sorts of purposes: to balance your pH, moisturize, calm, thoroughly clean what’s left behind. pH balance isn’t always an issue since many cleansers are pH balanced, but in general, I think of a toner as the prep step before any treatments. I usually reach for Pixi Glow Tonic in the morning after cleansing, and use it (or FAB radiance pads) at night, too, when I’m using a more active treatment and want something not as strong. If you’re new to acid toners, this is where you should start — and if you’re not, you should still have this in your cabinet. It’s great because it’s efficient but not so strong that it can’t be used in conjunction with stronger treatments. P.S. A few people have asked me if this is a “dupe” for P50. In short, no. Completely different product, and P50 is much stronger than this. However, it’s a great alternative if you 1. Don’t want to spend the money or 2. Want something less intense.
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50
I almost didn’t put this on the list for one reason: it’s kind of a pain to get it, since it’s only sold in spas and a couple of websites. Biologique Recherche is very particular, and wants people who use their products to have a skin care analysis with a professional, so their products can be properly matched to the skin’s concerns. I get that, I really do. There’s no one size fits all in skin care. If there were, we would all have perfect skin. That being said, if you want to give it a go, there are ways around it. You can call Rescue Spa and get their advice on what to try, and then order from there. I actually order from Vicki Morav, though, and all you have to do is sign up on their site. What I love about them is that they’re very generous with samples of other Biologique products. And since they’re not cheap, that’s a huge perk!
Here’s what you need to know. P50 is an exfoliating acid and a darn effective one, at that. It also regulates sebum production (which makes it great for acne) and evens out your skin tone. There are several variants of P50: original P50, P50 1970 (the original with phenol), P50W and P50W 1970 (for sensitive skin), P50V and P50V 1970 (for dry skin), and P50 PIGM 400 (for hyperpigmentation). I prefer the original P50 in the new formula to the 1970 with phenol, though I have friends who feel the opposite. I get similar results from both, but 1970 is a little harsher on my skin and I am not fond of the Robitussin smell. The new formula smells of vinegar, but it doesn’t bother me at all.
For a full breakdown of P50, I highly recommend checking out my dear friend Helena’s post all about Biologique Recherche Lotion P50. It’s super informative and will help you figure out what is right for you.
LACTIC ACID SERUM
Sunday Riley Good Genes
I’ll admit, I thought this product was overhyped and just another lactic acid. I am also willing to admit when I’m wrong, and boy was I wrong. Remember what I said about formulas and trying out products? Well, something about this formula is magic. Much like its smaller molecular AHA friend glycolic, lactic is great for clearing out the gunk in your pores, improving texture, reducing fine lines (read: fine, not deep). The difference is widely in what your skin prefers. My skin loves lactic acid, as it’s a moisturizing acid. If you have sensitive or dry skin and find glycolic to be too much for you, try a good lactic acid. Though I love both, this lactic acid treatment — which also has licorice for brightening — is one of my favorite serums on the market. It makes my skin feel so smooth. I’ve given two different friends some to try and they both went out and bought it for themselves, because they saw and felt results the very next day. If you’re already used to acids, the results may not be as sudden and dramatic, but it’s still 100% worth it.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum
I don’t mind investing in skin care, but I’ve found that some of my favorite, go-to brands are on the more affordable side. Higher prices than drugstore, sure, but well below luxury brands. First Aid Beauty is one of those go-tos for great products that won’t break the bank. I love this hydrating serum because it’s lightweight enough to use both day and night, and highly effective. It contains hyaluronic acid, which is a humectant (meaning it attracts moisture), and colloidal oatmeal and aloe, which soothe irritated skin.
Kate Somerville Nourish Moisturizer
Ooh, I love this moisturizer. It feels like a spa treatment, so cold and lovely and wet. I know that’s a weird way to describe a moisturizer, and maybe it doesn’t sound as lush as a thick cream, but this just feels so nice. I particularly love this moisturizer for daytime as it’s nice and light and has a bright, clean scent that wakes me up. It also contains retinyl palmitate, which is milder version of vitamin A (retinol) — not active enough to cut out your retinol, but a nice added anti-aging benefit.
Drunk Elephant Lala Retro
If Nourish is my daytime moisturizer, this is my night cream. It can be used during the day — it’s not greasy or heavy — but the thick, luscious cream makes it feel like such a night treat. When my skin is feeling dry, this is my go-to. For the record, I wish all thicker moisturizers came in containers like this, with the clean pump top (Nourish is the same, but its so loose that it doesn’t matter). Not cheap, but it lasts a long time. A little goes a long way.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream
Does it seem like overkill to have three moisturizers? In my opinion, no — I have many more, in fact. This is just the tip of the skin care iceberg. Just remember that I don’t use everything at once, and each has its place. If my skin feels even the slightest bit sensitive, I turn to this cream, but it’s also a great daily moisturizer. The colloidal oatmeal soothes irritation and ceramides provide a protective barrier on the skin, keeping moisture in. It also claims to be great for people with Eczema, but since I don’t have that, I’m hesitant to recommend.
Sunday Riley Luna
If you’re not using a retinol, this is a great product to start with. My skin is sensitive to many retinols out there (although lately I’ve been using PCA’s .5% brightening and LOVE it), but Luna is gentle yet still active enough for me. Retinol (Vitamin A) is the best anti-aging ingredient you can get over the counter: it helps prevent wrinkles, firms skin (by stimulating collagen and elastin production), and can help fade hyperpigmentation. Because Luna is formulated with carrier oils, it is much gentler on the skin than many retinol creams. When used in conjunction with Good Genes, it’s even better. Start by using a couple times a week (at night only) and you can work your way up to every other day.
Darphin Orange Blossom Aromatic Care
Not all oils are created equally, so put down your cooking oil and get yourself a good quality oil. One of my long-time favorites, Orange Blossom Aromatic Care is made up of Orange Blossom, Lemon, Carrot, Lavender, Chamomile, Bilberry and Cranberry oils. The thing I love about this oil is that it’s not a slippery, thin oil; it’s velvety and viscous, and a tiny bit goes a long way.
PCA Skin Ideal Complex Revitalizing Eye Gel
This eye gel firms, smooths, and lifts the entire eye area (including the eyelid). It’s also available as a cream, but I prefer it as a gel. It contains niacinamide (skin restoring, improves fine lines, retains moisture, reduces puffiness and is a stable antioxidant) and Myristoyl Nonapeptide-3, a peptide with similar benefits as vitamin A (without irritation). It’s nice on its own, but if my eyes are extra puffy, putting it in the fridge makes it feel even better!
Strivectin TL Advanced Tightening Neck Cream
Do you need a separate neck cream? The short answer is no, but you’ll want one when it’s as good as this. So many people treat their face and neglect their neck and decolletage, and that’s why they reveal our true age. This tightening neck cream is thicker than anything I’d want to put on my face, but it’s a dream on my neck. I’ve been using this for quite awhile, and it has visibly improved the “neck bands” I was starting to see. I was looking in the mirror the other day and thought to myself, “Wow, they’re barely there!” It’s expensive, but it lasts quite awhile since a little goes a long way. I’ve been saying “a little goes a long way” a lot, huh?
PCA Skin C and E Strength Max
Vitamin C — more specifically L-ascorbic acid — is a powerful antioxidant. It has anti-aging and brightening (correcting pigmentation) benefits, and also helps your skin defend itself from free radicals in the environment. However, vitamin C is a particularly unstable ingredient: exposure to air, heat, water, and light can decrease its potency, and though topically it’s the most effective, L-ascorbic acid is also the least stable in solution. Even in a pretty airtight, amber container such as my favorite vitamin c (following), it’s slowly losing effectiveness as it sits on the shelf, due to its formulation. Drats! PCA spent years perfecting this formula to make it as stable as possible, and even tested its shelf life after 3 years with the same effects. Pretty impressive! That’s the good part, but if you’re like me and prefer a serum, this takes a little getting used to. It feels like an ever-so-slightly gritty primer (due to the silicone) — the texture reminds me of Dr. Brandt’s Pores No More. This has a maximum concentration of vitamins C and E, so if you’re new to vitamin C, start with the regular C&E. I’d also advice doing a patch test, and you can also cocktail with your moisturizer! Use in the daytime.
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
As I mentioned before, Vitamin C is an unstable ingredient that doesn’t do well in water based formulas. However. This is a great product, and the proof is in the pudding. The downsides? It’s expensive and doesn’t have a long shelf life, due to the instability of its active ingredient. I asked a chemist for an opinion, and she said it’s a great product (even called it “groundbreaking” when it first came out), but that once it starts oxidizing and turning from a light yellow to amber, time to throw it out and get a new one. So, don’t stock up. Some people disagree, but I’m not arguing with a chemist. That’s not turning me away from this product, though — I truly love this serum.
Erno Laszlo White Marble Bright Face Mask
Erno Laszlo feels like Old Hollywood luxury to me, and maybe that’s because its roots are steeped in exactly that. Marilyn Monroe, Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn, and let’s not forget Annie Hall. That doesn’t mean they’re stuck in the past (though I wouldn’t blame them) — their products are top notch. I’m wild about their White Marble lighten & brighten face mask. You mix the two packets (a gel and a powder) to make it into a thick and rubbery paste, and when it dries, you peel it off to reveal smooth, bright, supple skin. They have other masks tailored to different needs, too!
Dr. Jart Water Fuse Hydro Sleep Mask
True story: one of my dear friends fell asleep with a clay mask on her face (Ahhh!) and ended up with the most dehydrated, tight skin I have ever seen. She warned me before we met up and I thought she must have been exaggerating, but it was painful looking. I brought her a jar full of this sleep mask and told her to put it on top of her moisturizer at night. She woke up the next day and asked me what this magical product was, because it is that good at restoring your skin’s moisture. I love this sleep mask, especially in the winter. It’s a skin saver!
SKIN CARE ESSENTIALS GIVEAWAY
I know skin care can be really expensive so I wanted to do a giveaway of some of my favorite products. I’m giving away a set of products, pictured above. It includes most of the products listed in this post and is valued at over $600! In order to enter, make sure to do each step listed below:
- Leave a comment down below on this blog post with what product you want to try and your Instagram handle!
- Follow me on Instagram.
- Subscribe to my weekly newsletter below. (Make sure to use the same email as in #1!)
- Bonus Entries: Like and comment on this Instagram post tagging one of your friends in the comments. (You can comment multiple times for a better chance at winning.)
[GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED]
Congrats Brittany Bell, you are the winner!
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