Great skin care doesn’t have to be expensive. And if you’ve read any reviews of The Inkey List, you know this to be true. The British brand has been providing reliable skin-care essentials under $15 since 2018, but thanks in part to TikTok, the buzz for the best Inkey List products is just getting started.
The line is often compared to The Ordinary for its affordable cost and formulas focused on single ingredients. And while both brands have truly impressive quality, where they differ is the packaging. The Ordinary takes a clinical approach with names that refer to specific ingredients, while The Inkey List breaks down the phonetic spelling of ingredients, along with a clear description of the result it gives.
This is no coincidence, as the brand’s founders Colette Laxton and Mark Curry set out to simplify the world of skin care. To do so, the brand offers a quick quiz on its website, called the Recipe Builder, which will craft you a customized routine, or you can use the brand’s Ask Inkey feature to have any imaginable question answered at all times.
Still, the line, which features 36 skin-care products in nearly identical packaging, can be a bit confusing. While you could theoretically test your way through the entire line for the cost of one luxury serum, that’s what dermatologists and editors are here for. Glamour editors—from skin-care obsessives to true minimalists—put the whole line to the test. Read on for their honest The Inkey List reviews and our breakdown of the products truly worth adding to your routine.
The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum
“Lactic acid is one of my favorite skin-care ingredients, but it’s usually harder to find in more affordable products. Lactic is great for acid beginners in general since it hydrates as it exfoliates, and this is a particularly gentle one. Over time I definitely saw more of an evenness and glow, and my skin was super soft. If you want to be wowed, I would say go for something with more punch, but if you just want to dip a toe into acids, this is your girl.”
“This gave my beloved retinol a run for its money! I much prefer this formulation, which is a light cream, over other serums. It was much easier to distribute than an oil-based formula, so I wasted less of the product and was less at risk of overusing it and irritating my skin. It was a really easy addition to my skin-care routine—it layered on smoothly and didn’t dry me out. The only downside is that The Inkey List only makes this retinol with 1% retinol and 0.5% granactive retinoid, whereas other brands offer higher percentages. I think this is the ideal product if you want to start incorporating retinol, or if your skin is sensitive.”
“I’ve really upped my skin-care routine during quarantine, and it’s been working wonders. I use this in the morning with my Paula’s Choice Niacinamide Treatment, and then some evenings I use my Shani Darden Retinol Reform. Altogether I’ve seen a lot of improvement in my hyperpigmentation and skin texture, but this product is to thank for fading those really tough dark spots.”
“My skin has recently made me painfully aware of the fact that even though I’m locked inside 24/7, time stops for nobody. Since the start of the pandemic, I feel as if my youthful-looking complexion has starting looking…not quite as youthful. Dry patches, undereye shadows, and new tiny lines (fun!) are suddenly visible, and this moisturizer contains a peptide duo that helps support natural collagen and hydrate skin. I love a cream that doesn’t just moisturize but works to fix other problems, and with continued use I think this one—which is super lightweight, almost like a gel—could be it.”
“Vitamin C is one of the cornerstones of a solid skin-care routine, but it’s also a difficult ingredient to get into when you’re first building out your regimen. For one, the best vitamin C serums tend to be expensive, and two, they’re not always exactly pleasant to put on, thanks to their signature tangy scent. That’s what makes this cream such an excellent gateway into the category. The formula isn’t greasy or smelly, and since it has a cream base, it’s easy to mix with moisturizer. It won’t give you the full brightening power of a $160+ serum, but it definitely makes a noticeable difference in the overall radiance of your skin.”
“I’m a sucker for a fancy night cream, but this gave my more expensive options a run for it’s money. It goes on as a sort of creamy, cushy gel that dries down to almost nothing. Normally I like to feel really greased up before bed, but this one provided just as much moisturizing power as something thicker. It plumps up my skin beautifully, calms the between-seasons redness I’m currently dealing with, and doesn’t clog my pores. If you’re only going to grab one thing from the line, I would make it this one.”
“If you’re trying to take a more hands-on approach to learning about skin-care ingredients, I highly recommend you start with squalene. After spotting the lightweight hydrator in several of my favorite facial oils, I decided to try its full power, uninterrupted, for 14 days. I feel it does a great job of restoring balance to my skin after using retinols, enzymes, and other active ingredients. It’s versatile enough to boost either your a.m. or p.m. routine (or both!) by adding a few drops to your favorite moisturizer.”
“To be honest, I’m still undecided whether I think eye creams do anything long-term, so this $10 option doesn’t feel like too much to risk. It depuffs thanks to the metal tip and provides a great base for my concealer, which are my two major concerns. It also brightens thanks to mica, and has blurring spheres to make me look just a touch more well-rested.”
The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid Hyperpigmentation Treatment
“I can’t say that I was familiar with tranexamic acid before this—apparently it’s clutch for reducing hyperpigmentation and dark spots—but I can say with certainty now that this is a lovely product. It is super smooth and light, glides on easily, and feels nice with just a moisturizer on top. You definitely have to be sure to wash it off in the morning, but it tells you that on the bottle. I do think it’s making a mild difference to my skin—things are looking brighter and more even—and I look forward to using it for a long time to come.”
“I was excited to try this because The Inkey List said it reduces redness—and snow mushroom honestly sounded very mystical. It was very gentle and mild, and left me with a nice glow, but not super greasy. It didn’t help with my mask-induced redness, but turns out only my dermatologist could. For the price, it’s definitely a great no-frills moisturizer to have on hand.”
“In theory I know the benefits of antioxidants and how they’re essential for long-term protection against free radicals and signs of aging, but in practice I rarely want to spend my money on products I won’t see an immediate return on investment from. That’s what makes this lightweight serum, which is also formulated with hydrating squalane, so appealing. While there’s no overnight difference, for $7 I know I’m doing something to protect my skin down the road. Plus, it’s a great option if you have sensitive skin that reacts poorly to vitamin C.”
“I have sensitive, acne-prone skin, so I was reluctant to believe the hype about hyaluronic acid, assuming an acid was the last thing my skin needed. But this serum left me converted. Unlike exfoliating acids, H.A. is both gentle and deeply hydrating. After using it both morning and night for a few weeks, my skin feels totally balanced with zero clogged pores.”
“Rosehip oil has recently become my secret weapon for waking up with a radiant glow. (Don’t be confused—rosehip oil, which is filled with fatty acids and omega-6 that plump up your skin, isn’t the same as rose absolute, the rose-scented essential oil you’re probably thinking of.) If you want your skin to look luxuriously dewy without appearing shiny, add this stuff to your nighttime regimen ASAP. As we roll into the winter, I’ll be relying on this to improve my skin’s overall texture and moisture retention.”
Toners are an important part of the skin-care equation, especially if your end goal is dewy, luminous skin. However, a lot of people still don’t know what exactly toners are or what they do. Board-certified dermatologist Tiffany Libby explains that a toner is designed to help remove the debris your cleanser might have missed and to prep your skin for the next step in your routine. “I think of them more as an adjunct or add-on to your skin-care routine,” Libby tells Allure.
Toners of the past were known for their astringent properties, which often dried skin out. Today, however, toner formulations have been improved to target an array of skin concerns, such as the loss of collagen or excess oiliness that can lead to breakouts — all made with varying ingredients, depending on your skin-care goals.
Board-certified dermatologist Sapna Palep tells Allure toners that hydrate and smooth out fine lines often contain antioxidants, amino acids, and hyaluronic acid. While toners that treat acne often include salicylic or glycolic acid.
Just as there are different ingredients for you to choose from, there is more than one way to put product on. Application is very easy and Libby says it’s really up to an individual’s preference: you can use your hands or cotton pads (Palep’s preference). And beyond the traditional bottled liquid, toners can also come in other delivery systems, such as gel sticks and face mists. (Libby particularly loves the spray formulations.)
But with so many toners out there in the market, it can be difficult to know what to pick for your specific skin needs. Scroll down to find the right toner to add to your skin-care routine.
Kate Somerville Liquid Exfolikate
If adding a toner to your mix feels like an unnecessary middle step, the Best of Beauty-winning Liquid Exfolikate by Kate Somerville may change your mind. Think of this toner, packed with alpha hydroxy acids and fruit enzymes, as a multi-purpose treatment that helps get rid of dead skin buildup so that your products absorb better. Spritz it on a night right before your moisturizer and sunscreen.
Some facial toners use alcohol to clear away dirt and oil, but it can seriously dry skin out. Clean & Clear’s Lemon Juice Toner does the exact same thing, sans the stripping alcohol. There’s also vitamin C in this Allure Best of Beauty 2020 winner to help brighten and even dullness and dark spots.
Mamonde Rose Water Toner is made with 90 percent rose water to give skin an intense boost of hydration. Not only will your skin will feel soft after using it, you’ll also get that dewy look that so many of us are constantly chasing.
If you’ve been using and loving the Pixi by Petra Glow Tonic for as long as I have, you know it’s basically magic in a bottle. It’s made with hero ingredients — such as glycolic acid, aloe vera, and witch hazel — recommended for clearer, softer skin.
Those who are blemish-prone will want to pay special attention to the Boscia Resurfacing Treatment Toner. It contains alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids (like glycolic and salicylic acid) to gently remove dead skin cells and clear pores of dirt and grime — both of which will prevent breakouts in the long run.
Can a toner really be moisturizing? The 2019 Best of Beauty winner Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid answers that question and more. Thanks to a formula full of ceramides, an ingredient that helps restore any lost moisture, skin is left feeling soft and supple after every use.
Ole Henriksen Balancing Force Oil Control Toner is made with a powerful blend of glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids to control excess oil production without stripping away too much moisture. Plus, the 2019 Best of Beauty winner has a refreshing eucalyptus and peppermint scent that makes it a joy to use.
As the only mist on this list, Too Cool For School Rules of Mastic Facial Tonic doubles as a toner and hydrating spray you can use in the morning and then throughout the day. It contains ceramides and mastic oil, which strengthens the skin’s resiliency and helps heal damaged skin.
I came to the Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Facial Toner because I have an unhealthy obsession with all things rose, but I stayed because it’s just that damn good. The 2017 Best of Beauty winner contains rose fruit extract, rosewater, and angelica leaf extract — all known for their nourishing and soothing properties. Plus, it’s alcohol-free, so it won’t dry your skin out.
Lumene Glow Lumenessence Brightening Beauty Lotion contains only the best ingredients to get you glowy skin. Yes, it has vitamin C, but it also has wild arctic cloudberry, which helps fight off oxidative damage and strengthen your skin’s natural defense barrier.
Milk’s Matcha Toner is truly unique for many reasons, but the obvious? It’s a solid, gel-stick toner, made with anti-inflammatory matcha green tea and oil-wicking kombucha, to soothe skin and prep it for its next skin-care product.
There are a lot of reasons you might want to try a cleansing balm in place of your regular liquid, wipe, or bar cleansers. For starters, there’s the change of season. As temperatures fluctuate, it gets harder to keep your skin hydrated. “A balm is an effective option to remove dirt and oil without overly drying the skin,” says New York City-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner. (Having flaky, parched skin no matter the season is another key motivator to switch things up.)
There’s also a more practical consideration: If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like washing your face, several of the following require no water. Massage, wipe away, and allow the leftover goodness to soak in, leaving your skin even more supple. Face wash plus night cream in one swoop? That’s our kind of win-win.
Whether you are looking for an affordable pick (how’s $10 sound?) or you are looking splurge on your skin, here, 11 of the best no-fuss formulas to try.
Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm
The combo of sunflower and ginger root oils in this balm-to-oil formula work to cleanse skin from dirt, oil, and pollution buildup, while papaya extract gently sloughs off dead skin cells. Together, they make one rock solid cleanser.
The Drunk Elephant Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser is an Allure 2019 Best of Beauty winner for many reasons. Yes, it will remove makeup in a flash, but its formula is what makes it really stand out. Infused with fruit extracts (blueberry, kiwi, and strawberry) to slough off makeup, dirt, and grime, and a blend of nourishing oils (marula and baobab), your skin will feel baby smooth once you’re done double-cleansing.
The Inkey List has been doing skin care right since day one, and its Oat Cleansing Balm is yet another great launch. Formulated with oat kernel oil to keep skin hydrated and one percent colloidal oatmeal to reduce redness, this luxurious formula will never strip your sensitive skin of moisture.
Waterproof mascara can be nearly impossible to remove, but the Then I Met You’s Living Cleansing Balm makes it possible. The non-greasy formula efficiently melts away waterproof formulas, leaving skin hydrated and velvety soft. (No wonder it’s an Allure 2019 Best of Beauty winner.)
The cleansing balm version of the iconic Pond’s Cold Cream has quickly become a staple in its own right: it’s a highly effective makeup remover that nourishes skin as it wipes away dirt and grime. This drugstore option is great for all skin types (it’s even gentle enough to use on sensitive skin) — and that’s why it won a 2018 Best of Beauty Award for best cleanser under $10.
Made with an impressive cocktail of botanicals like smoothing lavender and chamomile, the Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm takes you straight to the spa. Warm a scoop between your palms, massage into your skin, then gently wipe away with a damp cloth. Because some of the balm will be left behind, the collagen-boosting and antioxidant-rich blend will have more time to get to work.
Test the cleansing balm waters by starting out with a lightweight formula like the Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm that gently lifts dirt and makeup sans one bit of elbow grease. Plus, the creamy formula is less occlusive than some waxier balms, so it will feel more comfortable on slicker skin.
It Cosmetics Bye Bye Makeup 3-in-1 Makeup Melting Balm
Dark burgundy lipsticks and stay-put metallic shadows don’t stand a chance against this creamy soufflé of botanical oils and hydrators in the It Cosmetics Bye Bye Makeup 3-in-1 Makeup Melting Balm. Once all that mess is taken care of, a layer of high-performing ingredients, like retinyl palmitate, hyaluronic acid, peptides, and ceramides stay behind to work as a line-reducing serum.
At first touch, this Best of Beauty-winning product feels just like its name — goopy. But after swirling a scoop of the Goop by Juice Beauty Luminous Melting Cleanser into your face, it instantly softens and disappears, which makes sense considering coconut oil is the second ingredient. (It also contains olive oil and a veritable English garden of dreamy botanical essential oils.) You may balk at the price, but in this case, you do get what you pay for: The product is formulated with 75 percent organic content and includes a white linen cloth to stylishly wipe all the balm away.
As Instagrammable as sheet masks are, they simply aren’t intended for the unique issues associated with the skin around eyes. Sure, a well-fitted face mask might deposit a few beneficial ingredients near your eyes, but sometimes you just want to target the periorbital area — without the mess of a drippy sheet mask. So it’s no wonder that there has been a veritable eye-mask boom, leading to a much-welcomed deluge of sticky, comma-shaped patches made specifically formulated to target the dark circles, early-morning puffiness, and texture changes that happen to this especially delicate section of skin.
Whether you want an overnight option for fine lines, a quick cooling fix, or a once-a-week way to hydrate and brighten, here are the 16 best eye masks on the market for those moments when you’re looking for a little more intensity than what a daily eye cream can provide.
Wander Beauty Baggage Claim Gold Eye Masks
The gold foil of Wander Beauty’s Baggage Claim Gold Eye Masks isn’t just for Instagram (though they do make for a great skin-care selfie). The precious metal actually helps retain heat so the hydrating serum doesn’t evaporate, allowing hyaluronic acid to absorb more effectively.
Talk about futuristic. The mechanics behind Circcell’s Insight Collagen Eye Treatment require you to press a fluid chamber to release an activator formula onto each patch. It’s the best way to get the most out the highly concentrated freeze-dried collagen within.
Yes To Coconut’s Energizing Coffee Super Eye Mask is made of 100 percent cotton and contains coconut extract to hydrate the delicate under-eye area, as well as coffee (hence the name) to boost circulate and reduce puffiness. Throw it on for ten minutes and you’ll see a noticeable difference once you take it off.
Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Pure Retinol Express Smoothing Eye Mask
If you’re not yet using retinol in the eye area, Shiseido’s Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Pure Retinol Express Smoothing Eye Mask is a great place to start. The stretchy material keeps them perfectly in place for 15-minute line-reducing sessions.
Verso’s Reviving Eye Mask with Retinol contains a hydrogel formulation in its patches that allows the gentle retinol within to penetrate for optimum impact, leaving under-eye skin moisturized and de-puffed.
Patchology’s FlashPatch Restoring Night Eye Gels take advantage of the body’s natural nighttime repairing abilities by sitting firmly under the eyes while you sleep, depositing an all-star cast of smoothing and brightening ingredients, like retinol and cucumber extract.
As if de-puffing peptides didn’t make these impressive enough, the water embedded in these Skyn Iceland’s Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels is actually Icelandic glacial water. The result is a super-cooling effect to diminish the appearance of swelling.
Tatcha Luminous Deep Hydration Revitalizing Eye Mask
Originally created to help heal burns, Tatcha’s Luminous Deep Hydration Revitalizing Eye Mask are made with sheets that seal revitalizing, antioxidant-rich botanicals into the skin for intensive hydration.
Beloved by celebrities like Victoria Beckham, 111Skin’s Celestial Black Diamond Eye Mask minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and crepiness with skin-plumping hyaluronic acid, retinol, and peptides. After just one use, the eye area looks visibly brighter, smoother, and healthier.
Erno Laszlo’s Multi-Task Eye Serum Mask targets all your concerns: dark circles, puffiness, fine lines and wrinkles, and crepiness. It does so with a powerful blend of algae extracts, vitamin B3, and soothing allantoin.
If I told you there was a skincare equivalent of bundling yourself up in a cashmere tracksuit, would you believe me? Buckle up naysayers – you skincare non-believers of the world – for there actually is a product that cossets and comforts the skin just like the softest ensemble. Its name? Weleda Skin Food.
A beauty editor and makeup artist favourite (most have it in their kit), Weleda Skin Food is an under-the-radar cult moisturising cream that promises “rich, intensive skincare” for the face and body. Its certified natural formula contains wild pansy, sunflower seed oil, chamomile, calendula and rosemary extract, to deeply nourish, hydrate and soften rough or compromised skin. Put simply, it’s a winter saviour.
“I love it as it penetrates deeply, offering instant hydration and nourishment,” agrees make-up artist Celia Burton, who knows her way around a juicy skin situation. “It was one of the first products I discovered as a make-up artist and it’s stood the test of time, sitting in the same place in my kit 12 years later. It enriches and brightens the skin, smells divine, and its ingredients list is small and uncomplicated. It’s an all rounder.”
She also attests to its multifaceted nature: she uses it as a base under make-up, as a rich, nourishing mask on flights, a salve on dry patches and as a night cream in the winter months. “I use it religiously all year round under make-up, and apply it to my cheeks and around my temples and eyes to impart glow before I apply my foundation.” Trust me when I tell you this little trick (learned from make-up artist Katie Jane Hughes, another big Skin Food fan) adds a whole lot of oomph to a bog-standard foundation. The compliments will come thick and fast.
As a thick, rather unctuous cream (housed in a distinctive and very easy-to-use green tube), oily skin types might prefer the Light formula, which contains many of the same skin-loving ingredients but feels that little bit more comfortable if heavy creams aren’t your thing. Given it’s winter and our skin barriers are always in jeopardy – thanks to the combination of cold weather and central heating – it’s a fantastic cream to add to basket, and given that it’s a mere £7.95 for a 30ml tube (£12.95 for 75ml), it’s an affordable one, too.
Every few years, a new “it” ingredient starts making the skin-care rounds—even if it’s not new at all. This time it’s niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that’s been a fixture in commercial cosmetic formulations and dermatologists’ offices for decades. Recently, though, it’s been popping up in all types of products as a recognizable and desirable skin-care ingredient.
But if you’re not quite sure what niacinamide is or what it’s doing in your moisturizer, you’re not alone. Here’s what you should know before adding it to your skin-care routine.
What exactly is niacinamide?
Niacinamide, which is also called nicotinamide, is one of two major forms of vitamin B3 (niacin) found in supplements (the other is nicotinic acid). It’s often touted to help manage acne, rosacea, pigmentation issues, and wrinkles. But is there any science behind those claims?
Scientists theorize that niacin (and therefore niacinamide/nicotinamide) may be effective because it’s a precursor to two super-important biochemical cofactors: nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+/NADH) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP+). Both of these molecules are central to the chemical reactions that your cells—including skin cells—need to repair damage, propagate, and function normally. Many of these essential reactions can’t occur at all without NAD+, which your cells can’t make without niacinamide.
“By giving your body the precursor, the thought is that it allows your body to make more NAD+,” John G. Zampella, M.D., assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman department of dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. This fuels your cells to proliferate and also allows your body to absorb and neutralize more free radicals.
Essentially, free radicals are molecules that have either lost or gained an extra electron, which makes them unstable and highly reactive. In high enough doses, they can damage healthy cells. But NAD+—courtesy of niacin (and niacinamide)—contributes an extra electron to those unpaired free radicals so they can chill out and stop wreaking havoc all over the place.
Interestingly, the same process—helping your body create more NAD+ and, therefore, repair damage—is thought to be the root of both topical and oral benefits derived from niacinamide on the skin. (Reminder: Niacinamide is just another form of niacin.) There’s also evidence that topical niacinamide can increase the production of ceramides (lipids that help maintain the skin’s protective barrier), which may contribute to its topical effects on wrinkles, fine lines, and the skin’s moisture barrier. All of this is probably why you’re seeing niacinamide listed in a bunch of skin-care products.
However, there aren’t a ton of high-quality studies looking at topical niacinamide for many cosmetic uses.
What can niacinamide actually do for you?
If niacinamide is involved in most important cell functions, then there’s nothing it can’t cure, right? Well, no—if every cellular process in our bodies could be perfected with vitamin supplements, we wouldn’t need antibiotics or radiation therapy. That said, oral and topical niacinamide may have some actual benefits for skin health:
Skin cancer prevention:
Ask a dermatologist what niacinamide does best, and the very first thing they’ll say is probably “skin cancer prevention.” In a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers gave 386 patients 500mg of oral niacinamide or a placebo twice daily for 12 whole months. All the participants had at least two non-melanoma skin cancers within the previous five years and, therefore, were at a high risk for developing another skin cancer. Results showed that during the study year there were 23 percent fewer new cases of skin cancer in the group that received niacinamide (336 cancers) compared to those who got the placebo (463 cancers).
Both Dr. Zampella and Laura Ferris, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh, told SELF they frequently suggest oral niacinamide to their patients with a high risk for non-melanoma skin cancers, and cited this study as the reason why.
This doesn’t mean that two niacinamide capsules a day (which is what participants took in the study) will stave off skin cancer forever. The study focused on people who had experienced skin cancer before—not the general public. And it doesn’t tell us anything about using niacinamide to help prevent melanoma skin cancers (and the research we do have suggests it’s not super helpful for those). But if you’ve had multiple non-melanoma skin cancers in your life, it could be worth asking your dermatologist about oral niacinamide.
So, there is some evidence that oral niacinamide can be helpful for skin health in this specific situation. But is topical niacinamide helpful too?
Acne, rosacea, and other inflammatory skin conditions:
Niacinamide’s anti-inflammatory properties make it an attractive treatment for skin conditions marked by inflammation, like acne. In fact, in two double-blind studies—one published in 2013 and the other published in 1995, both in the International Journal of Dermatology—a topical preparation of 4 percent niacinamide treated moderate acne just as well as 1 percent clindamycin (a topical antibiotic commonly prescribed to acne patients) when applied twice daily for eight weeks.
Other research suggests that a 2 percent topical niacinamide may also inhibit the production of oil, which could be beneficial to people dealing with acne. Plus, both dermatologists we talked to say that niacinamide is relatively nonirritating compared to other acne treatments, making it an especially attractive option for people with dry or sensitive skin.
In addition to topical preparations, oral niacinamide supplements have been shown to reduce inflammation associated with mild to moderate rosacea and acne, particularly when oral antibiotics aren’t an option. But according to both Dr. Zampella and Dr. Ferris, the key words here are “mild to moderate.” They advise that severe cases usually call for stronger medications like retinoids or systemic steroids in the case of acne, not vitamins.
There is also limited evidence that topical niacinamide can help repair the function of the stratum corneum, the protective outer layer of skin, which may add to its anti-inflammatory effects.
Pigmentation issues, fine lines, and wrinkles:
There are very few clinical studies on the effects of niacinamide on fine lines and wrinkles, so the evidence we have is somewhat sparse. But there are a few studies. For instance, in one study published in 2004 in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, researchers had 50 women (all white and between the ages of 40 and 60) apply a moisturizer containing 5 percent niacinamide to one half of their face and a placebo moisturizer to the other half for 12 weeks. Their results showed that the halves of their faces receiving niacinamide had significant improvements in hyperpigmentation spots, fine lines, and wrinkles compared to the control side.
Another split-face study, this one published in 2011 in Dermatology Research and Practice, found that a topical 4 percent niacinamide treatment was less effective than 4 percent hydroquinone (usually considered the gold standard) for treating melasma over eight weeks in 27 participants. Specifically, 44 percent of patients saw good-to-excellent improvement with niacinamide and 55 percent saw the same with hydroquinone. So, the niacinamide wasn’t totally ineffective—and it came with fewer side effects (present in 18 percent of participants) than the hydroquinone (present in 29 percent).
However, niacinamide is more frequently studied in combination with other topical medications—not on its own, which makes it difficult to know how effective it would be by itself. Based on the available evidence, well-studied options like prescription retinoids (and sunscreen!) or other antioxidants, like vitamin C, will probably do more for you than niacinamide if hyperpigmentation, fine lines, or wrinkles are your primary concerns. But if your skin is too sensitive to handle those other options, or you’re just looking for a gentler treatment for whatever reason, niacinamide might be a helpful alternative.
Here’s how to get started with niacinamide.
Adding topical niacinamide to your skin-care routine is simple and low risk: Buy a product that contains it, and apply as directed. Some people experience some mild irritation, which will likely go away with repeated use. (If it doesn’t, or you have any questions about what kind of side effects you’re experiencing, definitely check in with your derm to make sure you don’t end up with something more serious.)
Most major studies used topical preparations containing 2 percent to 10 percent niacinamide, so look for a product in that range if you can. Those who are looking for a moisturizer with niacinamide may want to check out CeraVe PM Face Moisturizer ($16, Ulta), and Dr. Zampella also recommends the Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% serum ($6, Ulta).
There isn’t a prescription version of topical niacinamide, but your dermatologist may be able to add it to topical prescriptions in a process called “compounding”. According to Dr. Ferris, if you go through a pharmacy that specializes in compounded medications, it could be cheaper than a generic. The actual cost depends on your insurance and the compounding pharmacies in your area, so be sure to ask your dermatologist for more information.
Keep in mind that while niacinamide is unlikely to hurt you, it’s not a miracle drug—if you’re thinking niacinamide is the solution to all your problems, you may be sorely disappointed. “Not everything that’s red on your face is going to be acne or rosacea,” Dr. Ferris reminds us, “so make sure you have the right diagnosis before trying to come up with a treatment plan.” A dermatologist can help you decide if niacinamide is worth trying or if there’s another option that may be better for you and your skin.
The main focus of your morning routine should be hydration, plus setting the stage for the day with protection against whatever elements your skin is going to come into contact with.
Although most of the world is still abiding by shelter-in-place or social distance mandates, our day-to-day routines right now still impact our skin, from wearing a face mask regularly to the endless Zoom work calls you’re doing all day long. And if you’re anything like me, not adhering to proper posture and resting your chin on your hands instead.
“You may believe that most of the skin damage you get is caused by sun exposure and outdoor pollution, but the World Health Organization has now determined that indoor pollution is worse than outdoor pollution,” says Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare. “Consider what you’re doing during the day and what elements you may be facing when you’re applying your skincare products in the morning.”
Step 1: Cleanser
Using a gentle cleanser in the morning is important for any skin type, concern, etc.
“Cleansers for sensitive skin in particular should have a creamy or milky formulation,” says Dr. Jennifer MacGregor, dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, who also notes that any topical treatments can have a bit of a drying effect at first. “I love Cetaphil milky cleanser because it gently cleanses without drying or stripping your skin’s moisture barrier.”
Step 2: Any topical treatment
“Differin is the only topical that can be applied day or night,” says MacGregor, but it should always be applied to skin directly after cleansing and patting — never rubbing — skin dry.
“Use only a pea-sized amount of Differin gel around your entire face,” recommends MacGregor. Then gently massage until the gel is absorbed.
Step 3: Serum
A hydrating serum is a great option for morning to ensure the skin is moisturized. MacGregor’s favorite, Alto Defense Serum by Skin Better, offers a generous mix of antioxidants, fatty acids, and ceramides. These powerhouse ingredients build a saran wrap-like cover over the skin, which protect from dryness and free radicals, plus it soothes inflammation and the appearance of skin redness. Remember: Hydrated skin is happy skin.
Step 4: Eye Gel
An eye gel can de-puff smooth out the under-eye area, which will make makeup application easier. Tap Biossance Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel around the upper and lower eye area with your fingertip to calm and hydrate skin.
Step 5: Moisturizer
Once your serum and eye gel are fully absorbed, follow up with a lightweight, but seriously hydrating moisturizer to further prime and prep your skin for the day ahead.
When it comes to the best ingredients in a moisturizer to satisfy thirsty skin, “look for barrier repair ingredients, like fatty acids and squalane,” recommends Alexiades, as a healthy skin barrier is essential to smooth, hydrated skin. Omega-3 and omega-6 are the most popular fatty acids. Although common plant, nut and seed oils, like sunflower, safflower, flaxseed, and rose-hip seed, also have high concentrations of omega acids, so keep an eye out for those ingredients, too.
But before you settle on a morning moisturizer, evaluate whether stress is also affecting your skin’s oil production, causing your face to look extra shiny by lunchtime.
“If moisturizers with those ingredients are too creamy and your skin is oily, consider Theraplex HydroLotion or CeraVe moisturizing cream,” says MacGregor, adding that these formulations were specifically designed for sensitive skin.
Step 6: SPF
“You should finish off with SPF,” says Dr. Ellen Marmur, dermatologist and founder of Marmur Metamorphosis Skincare. “No matter the time of the year, this ingredient should always be a factor in your routine in order to fully protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays.”
Active topicals (like Differin) that work to increase cell turnover tend to also increase photosensitivity, says Alexiades, making daily sunscreen applications an absolute must.
Marmur suggests using a mineral sunscreen with zinc or titanium dioxide, which sits on top of skin instead of getting absorbed. EltaMD’s UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is a sunscreen beloved by beauty editors and dermatologists alike.
Nighttime Skincare Routine
At night, Dr. Marmur says that your primary concern should be repairing and rejuvenating your skin.
“Your skin needs to be nourished morning and night,” adds Dr. Ciraldo. “But nighttime is when you should address your personal skin issues.”
Plus, let’s be realistic: Who has time to do a face mask when they’re getting ready in the morning?
Step 1: Cleanser
You’ve probably heard how important it is not to sleep with your makeup on, so unsurprisingly, cleansing your face should be the first step in your nighttime routine, but which cleanser you reach for depends on your skin type.
“People with normal to dry skin should choose a hydrating cleanser,” says Alexiades. “If you strip the skin with an alpha hydroxy acid cleanser, it may be too dry and the Differin gel will further peel the skin and result in itchiness and flaking.”
If you have oily skin, “a sulfur or acid cleanser may be okay to prep the skin before your topicals,” she explains, while noting that with serious breakouts, a medicated cleanser may be prescribed and should only be used at night.
Step 2: Any topical treatment
Just like in the morning, “a pea-sized amount of (in this case) Differin should be first on cleansed skin and then layer creamier formulations on top,” says MacGregor. Be sure to apply Differin all over your face rather than as a spot-treatment to defend against future breakouts.
Step 3: Serum
When treating acne with a topical product, there is truth to the “too much of a good thing” saying. Dr. Alexiades says to definitely avoid using retinol, Retin A, or other retinoids, and think twice before adding chemical exfoliants or peel pads to the mix. “If you use a benzoyl peroxide or acid, beware that your skin may get too raw, dry and inflamed,” she warns.
An ultra-nourishing and replenishing serum is your best — and safest — move for a bedtime serum after a topical. Go with a formula that has soothing, hydrating ingredients to bind moisture to skin without clogging pores, like SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel.
Step 4: Eye Serum
“Always use an eye repair serum, since this is one of the more sensitive parts of the face and ages faster than other areas,” says Dr. Marmur. “People may habitually itch and rub their eyes during the day due to dryness or just pure stress.”Elemis’ Absolute Eye Serum is designed to reduce dark circles and puffiness while keeping the entire area soft and smooth.
Step 5: Moisturizer
Nighttime is when you can use a moisturizer that’s richer than what you would typically use in the morning. “This will keep your skin hydrated throughout the nighttime and ready for the morning,” explains Dr. Marmur. “Look for a moisturizer that’s oil-free in order to not add to the amount of natural oil your body produces when you’re sleeping.”
Ask any skincare lover, and they’ll tell you there’s no better feeling than coming home after a long day, removing all your makeup, and applying your nighttime skincare routine. While you can use the same cleansers, toners, and serums that you applied in the AM, if you’re looking to really transform your skin, you should be using a night cream as the last step in your PM routine instead of your regular face moisturizer.
According to New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman, that’s because “night creams are more nourishing and hydrating than your daytime moisturizer. Generally, night creams contain more moisturizing ingredients and are thicker in texture.”
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner agrees on the importance of having a night cream in your beauty arsenal, telling InStyle, “We know that skin goes through circadian rhythms, where specific activities occur in the morning and others in the evening. Skin hydration levels start to decline in the afternoon and continue into the evening, and skin cell turnover increases while we sleep. So a night cream is important to address the specific issues that the skin faces in the evening — offering hydrating and enhancing skin repair and collagen production.”
When it comes to choosing the right night cream for your skin, Dr. Zeichner recommends looking for creams that are “designed for nighttime use, usually containing ingredients that stimulate collagen production to address fine lines and wrinkles, such as retinol, hydroxy acids, peptides, or specialized botanical ingredients.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Jaliman says that in addition to formulas that will stimulate skin cell renewal, the best night creams should also feature moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and ceramides. That’s because “improving our skin’s hydration as we sleep is very important.”
With so many night creams on the market, it can be tricky figuring out which ones are actually worth buying, so with these dermatologist guidelines in mind, InStyle editors rounded up 20 night creams that customers say help them wake up with glowing skin each morning. From a retinol-infused night cream to a multitasking option and an affordable drugstore pick, keep reading to shop them all.
Top-Rated Option: CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream
Over 10,000 Amazon shoppers are obsessed with this CeraVe night cream, with many calling it a “miracle in a jar.” The popular product is packed with ceramides and peptides that work together to soften and rejuvenate your skin overnight, so you’ll wake up with a refreshed and glowing complexion. Even better, it’s also infused with hyaluronic acid to target fine lines and wrinkles. “This product is amazing,” raved one shopper. “I saw results the first morning after use. Unbelievable. Significantly less redness and a huge reduction in acne. It’s been about two weeks now and my skin looks the best it has in years. I’ve even had compliments this week on my clear, youthful skin! I’m hooked for life.”
Best Dermatologist Pick: Senté Dermal Repair Cream
Santé’s night cream may be pricey, but Dr. Jaliman says it’s worth every penny. It’s one of her top picks because “it contains green tea and hyaluronic acid and has an ingredient called Heparin Sulfate Analog (HSA) that works to deeply hydrate and maintain your skin’s health. It helps lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” In addition to hydrating skin and reducing redness, Dr. Jaliman says it’s a great option “for those who need to repair the skin barrier.”
Best for Dry Skin: L’Occitane Ultra-Rich Shea Butter Cream
This L’Occitane night cream uses shea butter and glycerin as its active ingredients, which makes it a great deeply moisturizing treatment. Shoppers with extremely dry skin said this product is the only thing that finally got rid of their dry patches and flaky skin. Plus, they love that the night cream left their skin looking fresh and dewy and not greasy. “This is my holy grail product for my super dry and dehydrated skin. It is a lifesaver during the cold and drying winter in Massachusetts,” raved one reviewer.
Best for Dull Skin: Clarins Extra-Firming Wrinkle Control Regenerating Night Cream
Clarins’ overnight cream will revive lackluster skin and give you a more youthful appearance. Dr. Zeichner is a fan because it’s “a rich, hydrating cream that contains a blend of botanical extracts to help firm and improve the appearance of lines and wrinkles.” Reviewers say that it made their skin look firmer and smoother in just one use. One shopper called it “an overnight facial in a bottle,” before adding “My skin was glowing and plump. I was in awe of how much it changed my skin in less than seven hours. I repurchased this again finally and this morning my boyfriend mentioned how supple and radiant my skin looked”
Best Collagen-Infused: Maryann Organics Collagen Night Cream
This night cream by Maryann Organics is infused with collagen to help reverse prominent signs of aging. The multitasking product smoothes fine lines and wrinkles, diminishes the look of dark spots, and hydrates skin at the same time. Customers love how the cream is made in the U.S. from organic materials and that it doesn’t leave behind a sticky or tacky feel. “I love this moisturizer,” said one reviewer. “It’s not super pricey and it does exactly what I need, evens out skin tone and helps wrinkles — really makes me feel awake and young just after 20 minutes of putting it on. Especially overnight I wake up feeling great on my skin in the morning.”
Best Drugstore Option: L’Oreal Revitalift Night Cream
If you’re looking for an effective night cream that won’t break the bank, thousands of Amazon shoppers recommend L’Oreal’s Revitalift version. The product’s three main ingredients (pro-retinol, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C) hydrate and smooth skin while evening out your complexion. According to the brand, you’ll see brighter and firmer skin with just one week’s use, and tons of customers agree. “After a week, I felt that I had a younger glow. After at least two weeks, my skin actually does look a more consistent texture and color — I haven’t even been wearing makeup,” raved one shopper. “It’s lightweight and smells delicious and is very inexpensive, which surprised me. I almost feel like it’s too lightweight to work, but the ingredients must be doing something for my skin.”
Best Multitasking Option: RoC Multi Correxion 5-in-1 Restoring Night Cream
The best beauty products can tackle more than one issue at once, so it’s no wonder this multitasking RoC night cream is so popular with Amazon shoppers. The five-in-one product smooths wrinkles, reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation, tightens and hydrates skin, and evens out skin tones at the same time. Plus, the product is non-comedogenic, so you never have to worry about it clogging your pores or causing breakouts. One shopper wrote, “I can’t rave enough about this product! I’ve been using it for over a year now and can really tell the difference when I miss a few days. When you put this on the night before, your skin feels so smooth and supple the following morning. Some days I can actually skip my day moisturizer, this product works that well. It is definitely a workhorse against fine lines and pores. I’ve used products costing far more that do much less.”
Best Cruelty-Free Option: Kleem Organics Anti-Aging Retinol Cream
If shopping cruelty-free products is important to you, check out this night cream from Kleem Organics. Along with toning and firming your skin, the paraben-free product also works to improve the look and feel of your skin’s overall texture. For these reasons and more, over 4,000 customers have given it a perfect five-star rating, with one writing, “This stuff feels like silk going on and works great. Soaks in immediately. I used it twice a day when I first received it because of the cold weather my face turns into scales. It worked overnight it seemed. My face is as smooth as a baby’s tushie.”
Best Brightening Option: Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Overnight Cream
Using viniferine and hyaluronic acid, this brightening night cream by Caudalie will visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation while also plumping your skin. In a clinical self-assessment study, 95 percent of users said their skin looked brighter and 100 percent of users said their skin looked more rested after using the night cream for just 56 days. “I’ve used this consistently at night for a least a year now, and I can honestly say this is one of the BEST night creams on the market,” raved one shopper. “No matter what my skin is going through, this cream restores my skin texture at night and leaves it bright come morning. I’ve also seen the effects of brightening as my dark spots have faded tremendously.”
Best Firming Option: StriVectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer
To start off their day with firmer and smoother skin, hundreds of Amazon shoppers slather on this StriVectin night cream before they go to sleep. It’s loaded with powerful ingredients like copper tripeptide and retinol to minimize the look for wrinkles, tighten crepey skin, and increase your skin’s elasticity. “I have definitely noticed a positive effect on my skin. I’m 58, and have fair skin with a tendency to dryness, and, in this recent foul weather, redness. This intensive night moisturizer has done a lot to alleviate that. It goes on easily, and you don’t need a bunch to get good coverage. My skin is clearer, firmer, and some of my fine lines have already started to disappear,” said one shopper.
Best Strengthening Option: Lancome Bienfait Multi-Vital Overnight Moisturizer
This Lancome night cream is a favorite of Nordstrom shoppers who love how well it hydrates their skin and improves their complexion. The popular skincare essential uses a unique strengthening complex made up of omegas 3 and 6 and vitamins E and C, which work together to hydrate skin and protect it from external aggressors. “Absolutely love this night cream,” said one customer. “Best I’ve ever used. I suffer from dry skin on my forehead and cheeks and clogged pores on nose and chin. This has done wonders to hydrate and smooth my skin. I’m 41 and have finally found my holy grail! Better than any other high-end or drugstore brands I’ve used including those twice as expensive.”
Best Hydrating Option: Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Night Cream
Target dryness by letting your skin soak up this Burt’s Bees Night Cream while you sleep. Made from 98.9 percent natural ingredients like jojoba oil and Clary sage, the top-rated night cream promises to hydrate your skin for up to 24 hours at a time. After using the cream for a few weeks, many shoppers said it not only softened and moisturized their skin, but it also reduced redness and inflammation. “This feels amazing and creamy,” wrote one customer. “Rubs in well, leaves a little oily sheen, but I like that. I have super dry skin, particularly in the winter so it’s very soothing. I’m sensitive to smells and this doesn’t bother me. I’ve tried multiple natural night creams but none of them leave my skin feeling as hydrated as this one.”
Best Fast-Acting Option: It Cosmetics Confidence In Your Beauty Sleep Night Cream
While most skincare products can take weeks or months to work, It Cosmetics says you’ll see results from its night cream in just seven days. The fast-acting formula is full of hyaluronic acid, adenosine, and ceramides that smooth out fine lines, wrinkles, as well as revive dull, dry, and saggy skin, all while you sleep. Shoppers also love how great it smells. “What’s not to love with this cream? It has a pleasant, light lavender scent — perfectly relaxing for nighttime,” wrote one shopper. “I love that it’s thick enough to have that luxurious feel on my face, yet so absorbent that it immediately sinks into the skin. I never knew just how thirsty my skin was until I started using this. And bonus — my fine lines on my forehead have started diminishing after one week of use. It’s noticeable!”
Best Day & Night Option: Tula 24-7 Hydrating Day & Night Cream
Looking for a super hydrating night cream that’s also lightweight enough to be used during the day? Check out this option from Tula. The moisturizing treatment gives your skin a dose of olive oil squalane, shea butter, grape seed oil, and vitamin C to increase skin hydration and target dark spots, fine lines, and more. Meanwhile, the probiotics in the cream work to calm skin and reduce inflammation. “This product is amazing and is by far the best moisturizer I’ve ever used,” wrote one reviewer. “I first started using it when I was getting hormonal acne and it soothed my skin almost immediately (along with the salicylic acid gel). Then, I moved from a humid climate to the Arizona desert and it supported me through that too! The only con is the price, but the little jar lasts me well over a month, so no big problem.”
Best Vitamin C Cream: Derma E Vitamin C Intense Night Cream
This Derma E night cream is loved by hundreds of Ulta customers because it uses vitamin C to make dark spots and hyperpigmentation much less noticeable. The vegan face cream also helps smooth wrinkles, improve skin texture, and even out skin tone. “I apply a thick amount right before I go to bed, and magic seems to happen overnight. I’m a skincare buff and have tried so many products. I’m hooked on this night cream. My acne scars are slowly fading and skin is consistently smoother and more radiant. And the price for this cream is incredible, compared to hundreds I’ve spent on other brands that haven’t worked half as well.”
Best for Wrinkles: No. 7 Lift & Luminate Triple Action Night Cream
Ulta customers say their wrinkles have met their match with this night cream by No. 7. According to the brand, your fine lines will be reduced and skin will appear firmer with just two weeks of use. The product also targets dark spots and scarring at the same time, leaving you with a brighter and smoother complexion. “This cream does exactly what it states it does, just better. In less than two weeks, I could see a huge difference in my skin,” raved one shopper. “Both my face and neck are so amazingly soft now. It has made me just speechless at how wonderful this product works.”
Best for Sensitive Skin: Clinique Smart Night Custom-Repair Moisturizer Cream
If you suffer from sensitive skin and need a night cream that won’t cause any outbreaks or irritations, consider this Clinique option. Along with being non-acnegenic and allergy-tested, the cream is also free from any fragrances, parabens, sulfates, and phthalates. Shoppers love the skincare product because it revived their dull and dry complexions and left them with smoother, firmer, and plumper skin. “I’ve been using this moisturizer for a little over a month now and I am quite pleased,” wrote one customer. “It is not heavy, has not caused any breakouts and I have noticed improvement in the appearance of my skin. I’m sure the longer I use it, the more it will help, and I look forward to further results.”
Best Splurge: Shiseido Future Solution LX Total Regenerating Moisturizer Night Cream
If you’re willing to splurge on a top-of-the-line night cream, Nordstrom shoppers say to make it this Shiseido option. The rich and hydrating formula features the brand’s signature SkingenecellEnmei complex, which “slows down the appearance of visible signs of aging and helps restore and prolong a youthful look.” The cream is also infused with Brunet extract and Japanese botanicals that make your skin look and feel more supple. One shopper wrote, “This cream is amazing. It makes pores tiny, leaves a beautiful texture on your skin, and my face has a healthy glow all day. I went on vacation and forgot my regular very expensive cream at home. Had a sample of the Future Solutions cream and used it. I kept looking in the mirror because my skin looked gorgeous after one day. By the time I got home, I had to buy cream! It continues to make my skin look terrific, and I will continue to buy it.”
Best Retinol Option: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream
Retinol is the main ingredient in this Murad night cream, meaning it will boost skin’s natural collagen production and help reverse prominent signs of aging. The cream’s ultra-hydrating formula also features niacinamide and picolinamide, which help even out skin tone and leave you with a glowing complexion. In a four-week clinical trial, 83 percent of users said they “noticed firmer, more supple skin,” while 80 percent said they “saw increased radiance and glow.” One shopper called it their “holy grail” before adding, “This night cream is great for those who want to reduce fine lines and reduce breakouts. I was struggling with acne after stopping birth control and was under quite a bit of life stress (i.e. wrinkles formed) and this stuff has saved my skin.”
Best Mask: Glow Recipe Watermelon + AHA Glow Sleeping Mask
This Glow Recipe Sleeping Mask is one of Sephora’s most popular overnight treatments with an impressive 205,000 “loves” from shoppers who say it has transformed their skin. Like the other night creams on this list, the nighttime product should be applied to your face before you go to sleep. The hyaluronic acid and AHAs in the formula to exfoliate dead skin cells and shrink the look of pores, while the watermelon extract and peony root work together to hydrate and brighten the skin. “This stuff is amazing! The first night that I tried it, it made my face tingle. The next morning I woke up with a very noticeable difference. My pores were minimized, my skin tone was even, my fine lines were less noticeable, my skin looked healthier than it has in a long time. Very polished. The results got even better as I kept using it.”
Ah yes, it’s winter again. Forget your bones, you can probably feel it on your face, now home to dry, flaky skin. Seeking solace in a favourite face oil or moisturiser might seem like the only answer (and they can help, more on this later), but there are a number of other things to be aware of when it comes to your winter skincare regime. If you refuse to let your skin suffer as a result of plummeting temperatures this year, read British Vogue’s seven rules of winter skincare – they’re simpler than you might think.
Keep your skin barrier strong
“As we move into winter, our skin is exposed to variations in temperature and humidity, as well as wind and rain, which can place stress on our delicate skin barrier. It’s the perfect time to rethink your skincare routine to battle environmental stresses,” explains consultant dermatologist Dr Thivi Maruthappu. The key indicators of skin barrier disruption are tight, irritated, itchy, and dehydrated skin.
Even in the months when the weather is less temperamental, our skin barrier is subject to disruption – excess use of stripping skincare products and external aggressors like pollution can all affect it – but it’s especially important it’s looked after in winter. Look for skincare that contains ingredients like niacinamide (try Paula’s Choice Clinical 20% Niacinamide Treatment), which “increases ceramide production in the skin, is anti-inflammatory and fights uneven pigmentation”, explains Maruthappu, as well as ceramides themselves (check out CeraVe), lipids, and richer creams that lock moisture in.
Medik8’s new H.E.O. Mask is exactly the tonic for winter skin, as it contains humectants, emollients and occlusives in optimal ratios, to first deeply hydrate, and then lock in moisture. Use it once or twice a week to tackle dehydration and dryness. Maruthappu is also keen to point out that upping your intake of healthy fats helps moisturise the skin from within – look to her Instagram page for sources of barrier-boosting fatty acids. “Look after your skin barrier and it looks after you,” she says simply.
Nail your nighttime regime
It’s at night that our skin goes into repair and restore mode, so it’s key to get your evening skincare routine in check. Facialist Debbie Thomas recommends cleansing with a non-drying acid cleanser – “look for polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), as they are the kinder cousins of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)” – like Exuviance’s Gentle Cream Cleanser, and then following up with an active product. “I alternate retinol with peptides, which are the second most proven ingredient when it comes to skin health and regeneration after retinol, and then apply a ceramide-rich hydrator to seal in the actives and protect the skin,” she explains.
Thomas is quick to warn about retinol, however, and says that though you might assume winter is the best time to start using it, the skin is already prone to becoming irritated and dry in the cooler months, so it’s important to tread carefully. “It can take several weeks for the skin to acclimatise to retinol use – it’s common to experience some dryness and redness – so if your skin already goes this way in winter, the combination of both could be unbearable and difficult to deal with. My main advice is not to overdo it.” Those already using retinol can continue as normal.
Dial down the exfoliation
When flakes strike, sometimes it feels like the only route is to exfoliate them away. Actually, this can further impair the skin barrier, leading to more skin issues. “I tend to advise reducing the frequency of exfoliation to once or twice a week,” says Maruthappu, “And avoid combining physical exfoliants, like grainy scrubs, with chemical exfoliants, like alpha or beta hydroxy acids, as this can lead to redness and irritation – particularly if you are also using a retinoid product.” The secret? Don’t overdo it with your skincare – less (and gentle) is more.
Load up on antioxidants
One of the biggest challenges for our skin in winter is the constant changes in temperature – moving from the heat to the cold outside wreaks havoc on our skin. Spending time inside with less fresh air also has its issues: “Recycled air has more toxins in it and central heating removes water from the atmosphere, which in turn removes water from the skin,” explains Thomas, who is a big fan of keeping an air purifier in the room you spend the most time in to promote healthy skin.
Antioxidant-rich skincare is also important, as it helps defend the skin against micro-toxins caused by recycled air, as well as those from pollution, UV and blue light damage, all of which are very much real, even in the depths of winter. Look for ingredients like vitamin C, vitamin E, resveratrol and niacinamide.
Avoid oils if you’re oily
Don’t assume that the cold months mean you have to switch your favourite moisturisers for face oils. While drier skin types can benefit, oilier ones should steer clear. “I generally recommend face oils for those with dry skin, as oils tend to sit on the skin surface and prevent further moisture loss,” says Maruthappu. “But the added benefit of a separate moisturiser can help to moisturise deeper layers of the skin. I tend to advise against oils in oily or acne-prone skin, as this can trigger breakouts by causing further congestion.” Those with oily skins should instead stick to non-comedogenic formulas that contain ingredients like dimethicone, ceramides or hyaluronic acid.
Heavier isn’t necessarily better
Just as with oils, thick and heavy formulas aren’t always best for the skin – although they do have their place in some skincare regimes. Thick, nourishing balm cleansers are a wonderful way to treat skin to some pamper time – try Chantecaille Rose De Mai Cleansing Balm – but they won’t necessarily hydrate skin. “If you apply a lot of heavy products to the surface, your skin’s sensors read this as not requiring true hydration, so they won’t absorb the required water into the deeper layers of skin,” explains Thomas. “After a time, the deeper layers become lazy and unhealthy, which eventually means more dryness and more irritation on the upper layers.” To remedy this, look to lots of hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid (a popular one is Oskia’s Isotonic Hydra Serum), and squalane, and simply seal them in with good hydrators, as mentioned earlier. “The best way to hydrate your skin is from within, so drink lots of water too,” advises Thomas.
Vitamin D supplements are a must
If you’re already an avid British Vogue reader, you’ll know the importance of taking a vitamin D supplement in winter; most in the UK aren’t getting enough year-round, let alone in the colder months when the days are shorter and darker. It’s important for our skin, too. “Vitamin D is key for the skin’s defences,” says Thomas. “Inflammatory conditions, like acne, rosacea, and eczema often flare up when we are deficient in it.” On top of that, a lack of it can negatively affect our mood, causing further hormonal imbalances, and meaning our skin is infinitely more likely to misbehave.
So, you’re new to skincare. Or, maybe you’ve decided it’s time to take your routine to the next level with more than just a simple cleanser and moisturizer. Either way, you’ve done the research, read some online reviews, and stocked up on products in your budget that will treat your main areas of concern. Now, you just need to figure out whether the ingredients in all of these creams, serums, and masks work harmoniously.
Welcome to skincare mixology 101. Second to picking formulas for your skin type and issues, it’s important that all of the products in your routine compliment one another so you can actually see results. “Mixing ingredients without proper knowledge of how these ingredients work and what other ingredients they may interact with will be not only a waste of money, but also time. It can also lead to frustration if less than expected results are seen (or if the skin becomes irritated),” says Dr. Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
Skin irritation is another big factor to consider when curating the product lineup in your skincare routine. “Your skincare routine should include products that complement each other in order to avoid over-drying, over-exfoliating, or irritating the skin,” adds Dr. David Lortscher, board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology. “More is not always better.”
With the help of both dermatologists, INSTYLE editors have put together a complete guide of the dos and don’ts of mixing and matching the most popular skincare ingredients found in products.
Ah, retinol. It’s one of the most revered skincare ingredients that dermatologists loveto recommend. Also known as vitamin A, what makes retinol so great is that it promotes skin cell turnover, which can help improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin texture, dark spots, and acne. The only catch? Retinol can be extremely irritating. “Retinol is an effective anti-aging ingredient, but can exacerbate skin dryness,” explains Dr. Lortscher.
Do Mix: Retinol with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides as well as SPF.
“Make sure to moisturize; humectant ingredients like hyaluronic acid can draw and hold water molecules to the surface layers of your skin, while oil-based emollient ingredients help seal in moisture.” It’s also important to keep in mind that retinol can make you more sensitive to the sun.
“SPF should be worn religiously every day of the year, not only to prevent skin cancers, wrinkles and sun spots, but because many other ingredients we apply to our skin including retinol and retinoids can make the skin more sensitive to the sun,” says Dr. Marchbein.
Don’t Mix: Retinol with vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and AHA/BHA acids.
AHA and BHA acids are exfoliating, which can dry out skin and cause further irritation if your skincare routine already includes retinol.
As for benzoyl peroxide and retinol, they cancel each other out. “It is not recommended to use benzoyl peroxide and retinoids together as they can literally cancel each other out rendering them less effective,” explains Dr. Marchbein.
“Vitamin C protects the skin from oxidative free radical damage and works best in the morning,” says Dr. Marchbein. This ingredient also brightens the skin and can even lighten dark spots.
Do Mix: Vitamin C with antioxidants and SPF.
When vitamin C is used with other antioxidants like vitamin E, it can boost results and efficiency. The same goes for wearing vitamin C under sunscreen. “Vitamin C serums should always be layered under sunscreen because they compliment one another and will protect skin against UV damage,” explains Dr. Marchbein.
Don’t Mix: Vitamin C with retinol.
In contrast to vitamin C, retinol and retinoids build collagen and help repair the skin, so they’re best used overnight. Since vitamin C thrives in the daytime, it’s best to keep these ingredients separate from each other because they have such different functions.
Salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids are all effective exfoliants that can improve skin texture, tone, and in the case of SA, treat acne. That being said, all three of these acids can dehydrate and irritate skin. The bottom line: When using products with AHA or BHA acids, follow up with a hydrating product.
Do Mix: AHA/BHA acids with moisturizing ingredients and SPF.
“Moisturizing after applying AHA and BHA is extremely important so as to limit irritation. Look for ceramides, petrolatum, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin to hydrate and soothe skin,” says Dr. Marchbein. Using a product that combines multiple low-level AHA and BHA acids can be an extremely effective way to exfoliate and unclog pores.
Like retinol, AHA/BHA acids can cause sun sensitivity. While you should be wearing sunscreen every day regardless of what products are in your skincare routine, it’s extra important to not skip this step when you’re using these ingredients.
Don’t Mix: AHA/BHA acids with retinol.
“I strongly caution those also using retinoids for acne or anti-aging as the combination with various acids may cause excessive skin sensitivity, irritation, and redness. In fact, AHA and BHA should not typically be used together with retinoids on the same day,” explains Dr. Marchbein. “Also, be careful combining various acids or even physical and chemical exfoliants, as this can lead to irritation and even eczema.”
Benzoyl peroxide can be a game-changing addition to your skincare routine if you have acne-prone skin. The caveat? It’s another drying ingredient. “Because acne treatments in general can cause dryness and irritation of the skin, combining them together needs to be done with caution and every other part of the skincare routine (i.e. cleanser and moisturizers) need to be extremely gentle and ultra hydrating, respectively,” explains Dr. Marchbein.
Do Mix: Benzoyl Peroxide with gentle hydrating ingredients, SPF, and topical antibiotics.
Along with moisturizing ingredients that can buffer the dehydrating effects of benzoyl peroxide, the acne-fighting component can be used in conjunction with prescription topical treatments like clindamycin. SPF should also be worn every day.
Don’t Mix: Benzoyl peroxide with retinol, acne prescription tretinoin with caution.
As previously mentioned, benzoyl peroxide and retinol can deactivate one another when used together. While prescription acne treatments can be used with BP, tretinoin requires extra care.
Dr. Lortscher explains: “Depending upon how the product is formulated, benzoyl peroxide may inactivate tretinoin somewhat if they are mixed together in the same bottle. They do appear to work just fine in our experience, when applied to the skin one after the other — and it does not matter in which order, just rub one product in gently and completely before applying the other,” he says. “If you want to minimize any chance of interaction if you are using tretinoin, apply the tretinoin-containing formulation in the PM, and use your benzoyl peroxide in the AM, or use a wash-off benzoyl peroxide cleanser rather than layering a leave-on benzoyl peroxide.”
Otherwise known as vitamin B3, this antioxidant is an anti-inflammatory that can brighten skin and even out discoloration.
Do Mix: Niacinamide with (almost) every ingredient in your skincare routine.
“Because niacinamide is anti-inflammatory, the skin reacts very minimally to it, and side effects such as irritation are unusual,” Dr. Lortscher explains. “It should be compatible with most other skincare products, and for best results, use a leave-on product such as a moisturizer.”
Don’t Mix: Niacinamide and vitamin C.
Although they’re both antioxidants, vitamin C is one ingredient that’s not compatible with niacinamide. “Both are very common antioxidants used in a variety of skincare products, but they should not be used one right after the other,” says Dr. Marchbein. “Their potency is significantly diminished when used together, unless application is spaced by at least 10 minutes between each serum.”
If you’re going to use one skincare product, make it SPF. It’s the only way to effectively protect skin from cancer and environmental aggressors, which can lead to premature signs of aging. Given its importance, SPF can be layered over any skincare ingredient.
Do Mix: SPF can (and should) be used in any and every skincare routine.
Don’t Mix: SPF with makeup or moisturizers.
Yes, SPF can feel like an extra step in an already-extensive skincare routine, but don’t try to take shortcuts. “Don’t mix your sunscreen with your makeup or moisturizer and apply as one—sunscreen should be applied as a single layer to preserve the protection factors,” says Dr. Lortscher.