9 Favorite Skincare Products From The Inkey List

The Inkey List — for those who may not know and consequently have been seriously missing out —  is a U.K.-based brand that made its way to Sephora shelves worldwide back in 2019. Brand co-founder and chemist Mark Curry along with co-founder Colette Laxton were devoted to creating a brand that introduces effective ingredients into your skincare routine without asking you to spend more than $15. In other words, you get to save some money while you watch your skin thrive.

Not only is the brand very reasonably priced, but it’s also very easy for a consumer to navigate and shop. Each product in The Inkey List is named after its main ingredient. For example, if you want to try a hydrating hyaluronic acid, it makes a serum that’s simply called Hyaluronic Acid. The same goes for exfoliating glycolic acid; the brand offers a Glycolic Acid Toner. You get the gist. And if you’re confused about which ingredients you need for your skin type, concerns, and goals, it has you covered with plenty of helpful information. 

With more than 30 affordable, ingredient-centric products in The Inkey List’s lineup, it’s hard to know what you may want to start with. While I enjoy a lot of the products, I’ve narrowed it down to nine of my favorite products.

Oat Cleansing Balm

The Inkey List’s Oat Cleansing Balm is formulated with oat kernel oil to keep skin moisturized and colloidal oatmeal to reduce redness. This surprisingly luxurious face wash will strip all the makeup and dirt off your skin but will never strip your skin of moisture. And that’s why it won a 2020 Best of Beauty Award.

Shop $10

Hyaluronic Acid

For just $8, the Hyaluronic Acid is a great pick if your skin needs a burst of hydration. Just a dime-size amount of this lightweight serum and your dry, dehydrated skin will be thanking you for quenching its thirst.

Shop $8

Caffeine Eye Cream

The Caffeine Eye Cream does for your eyes what a cup of coffee does for the rest of you: make you look more awake. The formula is made up of caffeine that reduces puffiness and Matrixyl 3000, a peptide that cosmetic chemist Ginger King says will help to boost collagen to firm up the skin and minimize fine lines. When the two are combined, you’ll be looking like you had a full night’s rest (even if you didn’t).

Shop $10

Salicylic Acid Cleanser

The Salicylic Acid Cleanser gets a gold star for helping acne-prone skin get — and stay — clearer. This formula features 2 percent beta hydroxy acid to exfoliate skin and unclog pores, and its zinc compound helps reduce inflammation.  

Shop $10

Glycolic Acid Toner

The Glycolic Acid Toner features 10 percent of its star alpha hydroxy acid, glycolic acid, to minimize the look of pores and fine lines. It also has witch hazel to help control excess oil. After just one use, you’ll notice smoother, brighter skin. 

Shop $11

Kaolin Clay Mask

The Kaolin Clay Mask is ideal for getting all that gunk out of your pores. The mixture includes kaolin and smectite clays, which work together to remove gunk from pores and absorb excess oil. All in all, this mask will leave skin looking even and feeling clean.  

Shop $7

Rosehip Oil 

After winning a Best of Beauty Award in 2019, the Rosehip Oil is still an all-time favorite. It’s made of 100 percent pure rosehip oil, which promotes softer and smoother skin. Apply a couple of drops as the last step in your skin-care routine before you go to sleep, and you’ll wake up with glowy, moisturized skin every time.

Shop $11

Tranexamic Acid Night Treatment

According to Miami board-certified dermatologist Roberta Del Campo, tranexamic acid is an increasingly popular ingredient for treating discoloration. “It’s known to help not only lighten [hyperpigmentation] but decrease recurrence,” she says, and that’s exactly what the Tranexamic Acid Night Treatment does. After your pimple heals and becomes a dark spot, just apply a pea-size drop of this magic potion every night, and you’ll surely notice a difference in your skin after about a month’s use.

Shop $15

Vitamin C  

Get your glow on with the Vitamin C cream. The formula is 30 percent L-ascorbic acid, a form of vitamin C that brightens dull skin. Another perk: Use this moisturizer before your morning makeup routine and you can say hello to a smoother canvas for your foundation. 

Shop $10

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Here’s Exactly What Salicylic Acid Does To Your Skin

In the over-the-counter battle against breakouts, there are a few key players you should know about, and salicylic acid is at the top of that list. Simply speaking, salicylic acid is one of acne’s biggest enemies. You reach for a product within the second you see a zit invading your face. You slather it on a pimple overnight and oftentimes, you wake up in the morning with a pimple that is dried up and much less noticeable. But, what exactly does salicylic acid do, and what are the best ways to reap its benefits?

What is salicylic acid?

First off, let’s establish what salicylic acid is. It’s a little complicated, but the exact structure of salicylic acid is important in explaining why (and how) it works so well. When it comes to skin-care products, there are two classes of acids you’ll see often: beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).

“Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid,” says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller. “[This] means the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid part by two carbon atoms, as opposed to an alpha hydroxy acid where they’re separated by one carbon atom.”

Furthermore, salicylic acid is actually derived from willow bark, says cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, and it belongs to a class of ingredients called salicylates. Are you still with me? Good, because this is where it gets fun. “This structure is important because it makes salicylic acid more oil-soluble so it can penetrate into the pores of the skin,” Schueller says.

Both alpha and beta hydroxy acids exfoliate the skin, but AHAs are water-soluble, while BHAs are oil-soluble, explains New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Sejal Shah. Examples of AHAs, for reference, include glycolic and lactic acids.

“Generally, oil-soluble ingredients penetrate through the lipid layers between the skin cells more readily,” Shah explains. In other words, oil-soluble ingredients can penetrate the skin at a deeper level than their water-soluble counterparts.

Robinson sums up their differences succinctly. “AHAs work well on the skin’s surface to loosen old, dead skin and reveal fresh newer skin,” he says. “Salicylic acid works deeper [and is] able to penetrate into the pores to unclog them.”

What does salicylic acid do for the skin?

What all of this means is that salicylic acid can get deep into your skin to do its job. This quality is precisely what makes salicylic acid such a potent ingredient for targeting acne — especially for blackheads and whiteheads.

Once it penetrates the skin, salicylic acid “dissolves skin debris that clogs pores, [acts] as an anti-inflammatory and also helps red inflamed pimples and pustules go away faster,” explains Naissan O. Wesley, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles.

The ingredient can penetrate so deeply into skin that actually breaks down the connections between skin cells, according to Schueller and Wesley. “Once it has penetrated the skin, the acid part of the molecule can dissolve some of the intracellular ‘glue’ that holds skin cells together,” says Schueller.

Salicylic acid is also an exfoliant.

This breaking down of skin cells also promotes exfoliation. Salicylic acid is considered a keratolytic medication, which means that it’s perfect for supreme exfoliation. “Keratolytic medications cause softening and sloughing of the top layer of skin cells,” says Rachel Nazarian, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

Salicylic acid also loosens and breaks apart desmosomes (attachments between cells in the outer layer of skin). “This ‘desmolytic’ action encourages exfoliation of skin and unclogging of pores,” says Sue Ann Wee, a dermatologist in New York City.

“One thought etiology of acne is that the skin cells do not behave normally, and rather than sloughing off through a healthy skin cell cycle, they stick together and clog the pores, creating cysts and blackheads,” says Nazarian. “Salicylic acid aids in removing and loosening these skin cells and helps to dissolve the blackheads.”

Salicylic acid works best on blackheads and whiteheads.

Schueller says there are three factors that contribute to acne: an abnormal sloughing off of skin cells, excessive oiliness, and the action of P. acnes bacteria. “Salicylic acid helps with the first cause by dissolving the type of skin debris that clogs pores and causes acne,” he says.

Therefore, the best acne to treat with salicylic acid are blackheads and whiteheads. “Salicylic acid can directly dissolve the keratin plugs and regulate the skin cells,” says Nazarian. “It does have some effectiveness against cystic acne due to its antibacterial activity, but less so than the classic blackheads and whiteheads.”

Who should avoid using salicylic acid?

You can actually use too much salicylic acid, which can become a problem. “The primary negative side effect of salicylic acid is its ability to irritate and dry skin in those that are very sensitive or those who overuse it,” says Nazarian.

“Depending on the concentration and the number of applications, some people may experience dryness, peeling, redness, and some skin irritation,” says Schueller. For this reason, those with skin that’s already severely dry or sensitive should consider avoiding SA altogether. It’s also not the best choice if you are pregnant or taking certain medications, including blood thinners.

What’s more serious: “Applying salicylic acid or any salicylate to very large portions of your body can lead to salicylate poisoning.” So just don’t apply a layer of it all over — stick to only acne-prone areas.

What are the best salicylic acid-containing skincare products to use for acne?

As with many things in life, the answer to this question depends largely on the individual. “Depending on the severity of their acne, I may recommend an [SA-containing] acne wash, such as SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser, which contains a blend of salicylic acids,” says Wesley. “For mild acne that just occurs every so often, an acne spot treatment can be helpful, especially when applied early.”

Some of the editors’ favorite salicylic acid-spiked spot treatments include Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment and Murad Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment, both of which contain two percent of the ingredient.

As far as concentrations go, the Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers to make acne-fighting claims for salicylic acid-containing products if they use it at levels between 0.5 percent and 2 percent, so that is the full range you’ll find in over the counter skin-care products. For chemical peels performed at the dermatologist’s office, the concentration may be as high as 20 to 30 percent, Wesley says.

Two off my personal favourites are The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser & The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque.

Bonus: Salicylic acid can help with dandruff.

Salicylic acid isn’t just for blackheads, according to experts. “At lower levels, salicylic acid can speed up the desquamation process and aid in conditions such as dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis, which are caused by a slowing down of skin cells sloughing off,” says Schueller. Pretty cool.

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The Most Exciting New Skincare Products of January

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. 

$39 (Shop)  

Yes to Avocado Hand Cream

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. 

$5 (Shop)  

Mario Badescu Caffeine Eye Cream

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. 

$18 (Shop)  

Dermalogica Neck Fit Contour Serum

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. 

$82 (Shop)  

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. 

$69 (Shop)  

Simple Instant Glow Cleansing Wipes 

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.  

$5 for 25 wipes (Shop)  

The Inkey List Succinic Acid Acne Treatment

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. 

$9 (Shop)

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.

$17 (Shop)  

Drunk Elephant Sweet Biome Fermented Sake Spray

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. 

$42 (Shop)

Holifrog Halo AHA + BHA Evening Serum

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.   

$62 (Shop)

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