If there is one good thing about my love for fancy skincare, it’s that when I come across something cheap that I like, you can be relatively certain it’s decent quality. Of course, it may still not be right for you, because your skin is different, but it’s unlikely that after years of testing some very good stuff, I’d be taken in by something completely useless.
This post has been long in the making and I’m still not entirely happy with it. I only wanted to include things that are truly affordable and that I’d gladly use instead of my absolute favourites. Ideally, I’d like these products also to be easily accessible for most of my readers. You know what? It’s not easy to find products like that. Some of the stuff here isn’t quite as cheap as I’d like, some isn’t easy to get in Europe and a couple of things I haven’t yet tried. But here we go.
1. First cleanse. When it comes to balm cleansers, The Body Shop’s camomile one is still hard to beat. For me, it’s only draw-back is its boringness. If you have access to Korean brands, Banila Co Clean It Zero cult products have a lighter texture, but are equally effective. For oils, I still adore Caudalie Make-Up Removing Cleansing Oil. It’s not that cheap, though, so I recommebnd you try the new oil from Simple – I haven’t yet, but Sali Hughes approves and she’s almost never wrong. If you like creams – Lush Ultrabland is lovely.
2. Second cleanse. This turned out to be one of the most difficult categories: it’s almost impossible to find a reasonably priced water-based cleanser that isn’t stripping. In the end, I did find something I really like, however: L’Oreal Pure-Clay Detox & Brighten Cleanser is truly affordable and although somewhat foaming, my skin tolerates it very well. Especially good when your pores feel congested. Slightly similar in function is the COSRX gel cleanser – no clay, but the unclogging action is there.
3. Acid toner. I have to mention Pixi Glow Tonic: not super cheap, but it’s good value for money and performs somehow extremely consistently. If your budget is tighter, The Ordinary provides a more affordable (and possibly equally good) option in its Glycolic acid 7% Toning Solution. There are absolutely no bells or whistles, but it works. A general rule: when on the budget, go for liquids, not pads. Liquids will last you much, much longer.
4. Toner/essence. Now, if you have access to Asian beauty brands, this is a category where they exel. I’d say that almost any Korean toner is better than a traditional Western toner which usually don’t do much (unless they are acid toners, but for that, see above). One of the more accessible ones is Klairs Supple Toner that is simply a lovely product that I imagine works for every skin. For affordable hydration, Hada Labo is hard to beat. And it’s not exactly cheap, but Missha’s First Treatment Essence is much less expensive than the very similar SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. I prefer the latter, but there is no denying the price is punitive.
5. Serum. The Ordinary rules this category, I don’t think there’s anything else on the market that gives you that level of active ingredients for this kind of price. Especially when it comes to retinoid and vitamin C products, the price/efficacy ratio is rather extraordinary. If that is too hard-core for you, there are also the basic hyaluronic serum and Buffet, a good all-rounder. I have several posts about The Ordinary range, in case you’re interested in what I rate.
6. Moisturiser. In theory, I’m very much in favour of cheap moisturisers. I use very active serums and simply want a nice, comforting cream on top, it doesn’t need to have amazing ingredients or anything. In reality, I haven’t come across many affordable moisturisers I like – possibly also because I haven’t tried that many. I do really like L’Oreal Hydra Genius, however, if you need something very light and everybody I trust in terms of skincare loves CeraVe (difficult to gt where I am, so I haven’t used it myself). La Roche Posay is not exactly cheap, but their Effaclar Duo is possibly the best moisturiser for problematic skin regardless of the price. The Toleriane range is lovely as well.
I’ve left out the nice-to have categories – eye creams, mists, masks – and will hopefully do a separate post on these in the future. As always, if you have additions and recommendations (or want to argue), please share in the comments!