It feels almost weightless, absorbs instantly, and doesn’t leave a single trace of white cast or residue.
Every day, without fail, you need to be slathering sunscreen on your face. After not wearing SPF regularly for the first 21 years of my life, it’s basically become my way of sending a love letter to my skin. However, I’d be absolutely lying if I said that I wasn’t picky about my sunscreens.
Look, some people will stand by mineral sunscreens, and if they were the only option available — sure, I would, too. But if I’m choosing from a range of broad-spectrum (meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays) sunscreens that are at or above the American Academy of Dermatology-recommended SPF 30 level — barring any irritation or side effects — I’ll choose a sunscreen that I’ll actually enjoy putting on every day.
Current cult-favorite is Flesh Beauty’s Sheer Flesh Hydrating Serum, which is a chemical sunscreen that delivers broad-spectrum SPF 35 protection. “Chemical sunscreens penetrate the top layers of the skin and absorb UV rays to prevent them from causing damage,”Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, explains.
Sheer Flesh contains common chemical sunscreen ingredients, like homosalate, octisalate, and avobenzone (but does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate), but there are actually over 30 chemical sunscreen ingredients. “A combination of ingredients is often used together to ensure broad-spectrum coverage,” Chang says.
Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, are made with ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. “They are small mineral particles that sit on the surface of the skin and act as a [physical] barrier to reflect UVA and UVB rays away from the skin,” Chang says.
Science aside, let’s get into why Sheer Flesh, in my opinion, is one of the best sunscreens out there. As most people of color would agree (even though I’m light-skinned), nobody likes dealing with white cast or taking a long time to fully rub in sunscreen. “Chemical sunscreens tend to be more lightweight and non-sticky, so they are generally easier to apply and do not leave a whitening effect,” Chang says, speaking to their appeal.
So not only does Sheer Flesh absorb immediately without any hint of residue, but it’s also really hydrating — which I’m about all day, every day. It feels like a cool burst of moisture, and my skin can’t get enough of it. To be more specific, it’s infused with glycerin, pomegranate, and honey extract — all ingredients that hydrate and nourish skin. It also gives the skin a slightly dewy finish, which is usually only achieved with makeup products.
It also has a lovely, but not overwhelming, scent, thanks to a blend of chamomile, orange, and lemon notes. I can live with sunscreens that smell, well, like sunscreens — because it’s serving a greater purpose — but if a sunscreen smells like citrus fruits, I’m not complaining. It’s also the perfect follow-up to my morning moisturizer!
Olay Regenerist Collagen Peptide24 Hydrating Moisturizer
For plump skin, try Olay’s Collagen Peptide24 Moisturizer. Its lightweight formula has vitamin B3 to brighten your complexion and collagen-boosting peptides to firm skin and diminish fine lines. When the two work together, you’re looking at a hydrated, smooth complexion.
If there’s anything 2020 taught us, it’s that we need to wash our hands all the time. With hand-washing comes dry skin and the Yes to Avocado Hand Cream will fix those dehydrated, cracked hands right up. The avocado-based formula replenishes skin, and hyaluronic acid will maintain hydration.
If you didn’t get enough sleep, that’s OK because Mario Badescu’s Caffeine Eye Cream will make you look like you got a full night’s rest. The moisturizer in this tub is filled with caffeine for brightness, hyaluronic acid for hydration, and jojoba oil to help treat dryness.
Dermalogica’s Neck Fit Contour Serum is filled with firming ingredients to give you a tight, line-free neck. The list includes rye seed extract, which smooths skin, and resurrection plant to strengthen the area. It’s applied with the built-in roller bar that also gives a cooling effect.
Clinique Smart Night Clinical MD Multi-Dimensional Repair Treatment Retinol
The Clinique Smart Night Clinical MD Multi-Dimensional Repair Treatment Retinol flattens out fine lines with the power of retinol. Plus, it also has hyaluronic acid and squalane to give you a boost of hydration while you sleep.
The new Simple Instant Glow Cleansing Wipes do way more than flawlessly take off stubborn makeup. Each cloth is made with niacinamide to brighten skin and glycerin to moisturize. So once your skin is clean, it’s also glowing.
Meet the Inkey List’s first spot treatment: Succinic Acid Acne. This magical little tube is loaded with succinic acid, an anti-inflammatory ingredient that helps to reduce oil levels in your skin, as well as salicylic acid to exfoliate, sulfur powder to unclog pores, and hyaluronic acid to ensure skin stays hydrated.
L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Facial Drops
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t bronze up your complexion. The L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Facial Drops give fairer skin tones a subtle glow when you mix five drops of this serum made with dihydroxyacetone (a sugar that when mixed with proteins on your skin makes it tan) and hydrating hyaluronic acid with your favorite moisturizer.
Your skin’s about to be drunk in love with Drunk Elephant’s Sweet Biome Fermented Sake Spray. It’s a cocktail of coconut water, vitamin F, and sake extract to calm redness and hydrate the skin. Use it as a step in your skincare routine after cleansing or as a refresher during the day.
The blend of alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids in the HoliFrog Halo AHA + BHA Evening Serum is going to give you clearer skin once you start using it for a few weeks. Not to mention, this formula is packed with moisturizing oils like that of rosehip and prickly pear, so no need to worry about all of those acids drying your skin out.
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.”
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.”
When it comes to moisturizing your skin, it can be challenging to achieve the perfect balance between hydrated and greasy, especially on hot, humid summer days. To the rescue: hyaluronic acid serums. Hyaluronic acid is a powerful skincare ingredient that can help retain moisture. “It’s a humectant that attracts water, hydrating the skin without making it oily,” explains William Kwan, MD, a San Francisco-based dermatologist. For this reason, serums that contain hyaluronic acid are ideal for those with oily skin. “Many moisturizers are too heavy or can cause acne [for people with oily skin], which is why I love hyaluronic acid gels,” he says.
What’s more, hyaluronic acid can deliver serious anti-aging benefits—whether or not your skin shows signs of aging. “Millennials should consider including hyaluronic acid to ensure their skin is adequately moisturized and stave off dryness and irritation,” says Ted Lain, MD, a dermatologist from Austin, Texas. “Older people need hyaluronic acid not only to help moisturize, but also to delay skin thinning, itching, and the overall aging process.”
La Roche-Posay Redermic C Anti-Wrinkle Firming Moisturizing Filler for Sensitive Skin
Ted Lain, MD, a dermatologist from Austin, Texas, loves this hydrating serum, which he says delivers both short- and long-term benefits. “I look for products that can give an immediate plumping due to short chain hyaluronic acid, and a longer term moisturizing ability with the longer chain hyaluronic acid and other humectants,” he explains.
It’s not cheap, but this product is “the most consistent” over-the-counter hyaluronic acid serum New Jersey-based dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD, has found. “It has five different types of hyaluronic acid in it,” she says. “And it hydrates the skin without making it sticky.”
New York City-based dermatologistDebra Jaliman, MD, recommends this Neutrogena serum. “It contains hyaluronic acid, it’s non-comedogenic, and it’s incredibly hydrating,” she says. Plus, it’s wallet-friendly.
Dr. Kwan’s top pick is this Skinceuticals serum, which he says is perfect for aging skin, since hyaluronic acid can help revive the skin’s natural elasticity. “It also has 2% licorice extract, which can help lighten and brighten the skin,” he adds.
Dermatologists love this brand, which is formulated with ultra gentle ingredients that won’t irritate even the most sensitive skin. And of course, their hyaluronic acid serum is no different. We love that the formula layers beautifully under their classic Moisturizing Cream.