The world of beauty can be overwhelming, as much for our cabinets as our wallets. But rest assured: a high-powered cosmetics arsenal need not break the bank. Take it from the stars of Vogue’s Beauty Secrets, who have revealed that some of their most prized products are in fact some of the best priced.
See La Roche-Posay’s $14 Serozinc Toner, a mattifying mist that has earned Naomi Campbell’s seal of approval. What’s more? The Kendall Jenner–beloved Mario Badescu Facial Spray—laced with soothing green tea, cucumber, and aloe—rings in at just $12; spritz it on before applying a layer of Sydney Sweeney’s go-to $16 Embryolisse Lait-Creme Concentre or a $19 hyaluronic-acid-infused primer that’s a mainstay in Jessica Alba’s Dopp kit. Gigi Hadid, meanwhile, swears by Maybelline’s Lifter Gloss. Delivering an ultra-moisturizing, ultra-shiny finish for only $7, it’s one makeup must-have that will leave you anything but high and dry.
Below, shop the best beauty products under $20 on Amazon, as chosen by Vogue’s Beauty Secrets stars Gigi Hadid, Emma Chamberlain, and more.
If you’ve been on the internet within the past year, chances are you’ve read about The Ordinary or have seen photos of its minimalistic products (picture what face serums would look like if Apple made them). The Canadian skincare brand has everything from facial peels to zinc serums at super affordable prices — which is why it’s amassed a cult-like following.
Because the brand has so much to offer, it’s hard to figure out what to start with, especially when anti-aging is on your mind. There’s a ton of competing information out there when it comes to skincare, which is why I usually opt for reviews from Reddit and advice from dermatologists.
There are no skincare fanatics out there quite like those on beauty subreddits. They’ve tested out every product imaginable, and give raw advice and reviews like a best friend. When it comes to what works and what doesn’t, Reddit doesn’t hold back. Here’s what they have to say about some of The Ordinary’s anti-aging offerings.
“I’ve had a great response to Alpha Arbutin from the Ordinary. I really notice a difference that I hadn’t achieved with retinol or vitamin C, which are commonly used. Something to keep in mind if you try the common solutions and don’t see the results you’re after.”
“The alpha arbutin works on my dark spots. I noticed they fade faster than my usual routine. I also use niacinamide for my whole face to target oiliness. The AA, I patch it only on my dark spots. But you have to combine it with regular exfoliation and sunscreen.”
Best to combat puffy eyes: Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG
“At the moment I have a cold that morphed into a sinus infection (the JOY!). I’m even puffier than usual. Normally I would patch test, but what with not feeling well and looking like a freaking basset hound I thought screw this sh*t and put it on. It bloody works! You can see the difference almost immediately (this coming from me is a high praise :)”
Best for fine lines and wrinkles: Granactive Retinoid* 2% Emulsion
“It eliminated most of the fine lines on my forehead (I’m 28, combo skin, prone to breakouts). Makes my skin very smooth too! I started on the 1 percent in squalane in December but I think that made me break out so I switched back.
It did take me a couple of months to really see the difference though, but I read somewhere retinoids take at least min six to eight weeks to reach their top effect (the anti-aging part at least, don’t know about the acne prevention)… But I’m really happy now!“
“I currently [use] the Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%, it’s only been two days and my skin when I wake up is so glowy and well-hydrated. I’ve been letting it sit at night for about 30 mins before adding my Ponds Hydrating Cream.”
Best for evening skin texture: Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
“I’ve been raving about this stuff on this sub for a while now (and being consistently downvoted for some reason). It really is a game changer. I can’t use it every day because my skin is very thin and sensitive but on the days I do use it it gives me porcelain skin.”
The future looks even brighter for cult skincare beauty brands The Ordinary and NIOD, part of Deciem Inc.—following Estée Lauder’s $1 billion purchase for majority stake in the Canadian-based, multi-brand company.
Estée Lauder Companies Inc. announced that it will increase its investment in Deciem Beauty Group Inc., from 29% to 76%.
ELC, which owns a portfolio of leading beauty brands including MAC, La Mer and Bobbi Brown, made its initial investment in June 2017, and will purchase the remaining interest after a three-year period. Net sales at Deciem for the 12 months ended Jan. 31 were approximately $460 million.
“Over the last four years, we have built a truly special long-term partnership with the incredible Deciem team, and we are excited for what the future holds,” said Fabrizio Freda, president and chief executive officer at Estée Lauder Companies, in a prepared release.
“The company’s hero products, desirable innovation, and digital- and consumer-first high-touch approach have been instrumental to its success.”
In 2013, Brandon Truaxe founded Deciem, known as “the abnormal beauty company,” with the goal of raising transparency in the beauty industry. The company’s portfolio includes six brands; The Ordinary is its largest brand followed by NIOD.
The Ordinary, whose celebrity fans include Kim Kardashian, retails from $3.95 to $28.90, while the vast majority of products retail under $10. The brand’s top-selling product is the Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, a skin blemish serum, for $5.90. According to the company, one product sells every second globally. If The Ordinary offers broad appeal with its budget-friendly prices, NIOD, whose slogan is “skincare for the hyper-educated,” is the higher-end crown jewel in terms of marrying science with skincare. For instance, the smaller-size 15 ml. Copper Amino Isolate Serum retails for $60. All of the Deciem products are created in house in the lab.
“One of the biggest marketing drivers is word of mouth and this can only be achieved by creating formulations that are loved,” said Nicola Kilner, cofounder and chief executive officer of Deciem. “Our products have high levels of trusted ingredients, clear percentages of actives, and most importantly they work.”
Part of the beauty products’ appeal is their simple, almost scientific-looking design.
“The bottles create a lab-like visual in a bathroom cabinet,” Kilner said. “The design has led to a larger conversation about ingredients, we have resonated with a newly coined consumer, the ‘skintellectual,’ who knows exactly what to put on their skin, what the formulas do and in which products to find these ingredients.”
Being a part of the Estée Lauder family will open up a whole new world for Deciem, the executive noted.
“You look at the ELC portfolio of brands and now The Ordinary can mix right next to La Mer,” Kilner said. “We always tried to push that price point does not define luxury.”
The acquisition will allow Deciem to have access to Estée Lauder’s vast resources to grow their brands, particularly global distribution and supply chain.
“We will continue scaling The Ordinary,” Kilner said. “Then we want to get back to the heart of Deciem, which is to be an incubator of brands. Our research and development chemists are working on formulations for new brands as we speak.”
The company’s journey and rise to cult beauty status was not without challenges and growing pains.
“Estée Lauder supported us at our lowest, continue to trust our decisions and most importantly they have loved us throughout,” Kilner said.
The $1 billion paid by Estée Lauder reflects a market value of $2.2 billion. Excluding this gain, Deciem’s net sales and earnings are expected to have a negligible impact on Estée Lauder’s fiscal year 2021 consolidated results, according to the release. The acquisition is expected to close in the quarter ending June 30.
Deciem’s founder Truaxe recognized the synergy between the brands and said Estée Lauder was the only “forever home” for the innovative beauty company.
“They put brand ahead of business and are family-orientated throughout—two values we ferociously hold dear,” Kilner noted.
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.”
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.
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.
Snail mucin. Bee venom. Glass skin. These are just some of the beauty trends to emerge from South Korea in the past five years. Whether you’ve dabbled in a bit of donkey milk (good for rejuvenating the skin with protein and fatty acids) or you’ve played it safe with a weekly face mask, K-beauty is everywhere. In fact, Allied Market Research says that by 2026, the K-beauty market will be worth an estimated $21 billion. According to Jenni Middleton, director of beauty at trend forecasting company WGSN, “During the coronavirus pandemic, consumers searched more for K-beauty, looking for innovative products to add to their lockdown beauty regimes.”
Like most cultural phenomena, K-beauty is ever-changing—what was big last year may not be as popular this year. As Middleton observes, we’re seeing the traditional 10-step routine give way to a more minimalist approach as conscious consumers react against fast fashion and excessive packaging. Elsewhere, playful gimmicks such as color-changing effects or jellylike substances are being passed over in favor of science-backed formulas.
1. Hanbang ingredients
Hanbang ingredients are traditional herbal ingredients used in Korean medicines and they’ve long been a staple in Korean life. For example, ginseng root, houttuynia cordata, sacred lotus, and rehmannia boast antiaging, anti-inflammation, and regenerative properties.
2. Acid layering
K-beauty has been incorporating more acid into its products, but with a gentle approach that focuses on striking the balance: Too much can irritate and aggravate your skin, too little will yield no results, so products with an optimal amount is key. Use the right balance of AHAs and BHAs (plant and animal-derived acids) to gently exfoliate dead skin cells and smooth skin texture.
3. Carrot seed oil
Carrot seed oil is an unsung hero at the moment, although it has been used in K-beauty for more than 10 years. It contains vitamin A and is a great antioxidant. It’s antiaging, antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory—so it’s ideal for anyone looking to brighten up their skin.
4. Gentle retinol
K-beauty’s ‘skin first’ approach will continue through 2021, especially given that self-care and skin care are so important right now. There’s no denying retinol’s powerful antiaging properties, but the K-beauty approach uses a lower percentage, so the skin stays healthier and less irritated. Retinol is highly efficacious without causing unnecessary damage.
5. Centella asiatica
[The year] 2021 is less about what’s ‘buzzy’ and more about what’s tried-and-true, with a focus on calming the skin. Centella asiatica [an herb grown in Asia, known for being anti-inflammatory]—or ‘cica’—is huge right now. With everyone dealing with the prolonged stress of the pandemic and dreaded ‘maskne,’ soothing irritated, angry skin seems to be at the forefront of people’s minds. Cica is the ingredient that everyone wants to add to their routine.
6. Clean beauty
More brands are developing products free of chemical additives, artificial ingredients, and fragrance. Products will be even more gentle with effective plant-based ingredients, and many brands are becoming vegan as well. Consumers are more aware of what they put on their skin.
7. Pre-, pro-, and postbiotics
This year, inner and outer wellness brands and products will gain more popularity. For example, brands that focus on pre-, pro-, and postbiotics; microbiome-friendly skin care; and consumable supplements, which benefit both the skin and the gut.
“K-beauty will shift more towards a holistic approach, linking skin care and internal health. I take probiotic supplements for my bouts of eczema and I love using K-beauty products with fermented ingredients. I regularly use 107—it uses aged [seven- and 10-year-old] vinegar [that promotes good gut health]. Their vinegar tastes delicious with honey!”
8. Flexible minimalism
A few years back, we were oversaturated with the ‘10-step Korean skin-care routine.’ The ‘skin-care diet’ [using fewer products and steps] that followed was a pushback against that, but it was too restrictive for those who wanted more results than could be attained with just the basics.
Flexible minimalism is a focus on clean and simple product lines, which makes customizing your routine easier. There will also be a push towards pared-back lists of ingredients. Single and minimal ingredients are appealing because of their simplicity and high concentration of the hero component.
9. At-home indulgences
Skin care has a functional element—it has to work and deliver results—but I expect products that provide meditative, soothing, and spa-like moments to take off in a big way. They can transport you mentally and emotionally to another headspace.
10. Hyphenate and hybrid skin care
We’ve started seeing ‘skipcare’ as a K-beauty trend, where the focus is on a pared-down, simple, and minimalist routine. We will be seeing more efficient and effective multitasking and versatile products—what we like to call ‘hyphenates’ or ‘hybrid’ skin care.
11. Skin detoxifying and barrier strengthening
“The belief that ‘skin is a reflection of your mental state’ comes from Korea, and growing up, my mother emphasized this to me many times. We’ll see more barrier-strengthening ingredients that boost immunity, such as mushrooms, plus detoxifying herbs including mugwort and ginger. Ceramides [which form a protective layer to help prevent moisture loss and visible skin damage] will make a comeback too.”
12. A boost in body care
In Korea, many body-care rituals originate from the bathhouse culture, where milk treatments are slathered on the face and body, and baths are steeped with skin-beneficial ingredients, such as green tea and probiotics. During a difficult year, personal self-care has taken on new importance for many, so we expect to see the definition to include all of the skin, from head to toe.
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.
Best Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin: Boscia Green Tea Oil-Free Moisturizer
“Less moisture in the air causes skin dryness,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “If your skin’s natural moisture barrier isn’t properly hydrated, it’s not as equipped to fight off acne-causing bacteria.” If you deal with constant blemishes, look for an oil-free, water-based lotion or gel that will moisture skin without clogging pores. This Boscia gel offers a soothing formula, rich with calming tea tree extract that will minimize breakout-induced redness.
Best Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Ultra-Calming Moisturizer SPF 15
If your skin leans on the sensitive side, Dr. Nussbaum recommends avoiding moisturizers with “irritants such as fragrances, dyes, lanolin, parabens and formaldehyde.” This drugstore staple checks off all the boxes. Aveeno’s moisturizer is light, fast-absorbing, and is formulated with skin-calming botanicals. Bonus: It also serves as a second layer of SPF protection.
Best Moisturizer for Hyperpigmentation: Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30 PA+++
Whether your uneven skin tone is the result of a bad breakout or caused by sun damage, a vitamin C-infused moisturizer will help brighten dark spots while simultaneously hydrating skin. But don’t forget the sunscreen. “Moisturizers containing SPF will reduce the oxidative damage of the sun,” explains Dr. Nussbaum. That’s exactly what this Murad tube is made to do.
Best Moisturizer for Oily Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream
Fun fact: Hyaluronic acid is an all-star moisturizing ingredient, because it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. That’s what makes Neutrogena’s gel-based, HA-packed moisturizer ideal for oily skin types. Instead of a heavy cream, this lightweight water-based product pulls in moisture without clogging already congested pores.
Best Moisturizer for Combination Skin: The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA
The Gemini of skin types, finding the right moisturizer for combination skin can be tough because it has to jive with both oilyness and dryness. That’s where The Ordinary’s Natural Moisturizing Factors comes in. The lightweight, non-greasy cream includes dermal lipids to protect the outer skin layer, hyaluronic acid to draw in moisture, and amino acids to hydrate. It’ll moisturize the right areas of the face without making oily spots shinier.
Best Moisturizer for Aging Skin: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer
Important PSA: The sun can still cause oxidative damage in the winter, which can lead to photoaging. That said, Dr. Nussbaum suggests looking for a moisturizer that’s packed with antioxidants to counteract the harmful effects of UV/UVA rays. What else should an anti-aging moisturizer include? Retinol, along with skin-plumping hyaluronic acid and moisture-sealing ceramides. “Certain moisturizers will contain a form of retinol that increases skin cell turnover,” she says. “The shedding of the dead skin cell layers also enables increased absorption of moisturizers.” Look no futher than this Dr. Dennis Gross jar, which is formulated with both retinol and ferulic acid, a powerful antioxdant.
Best Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream
“Ceramides are lipids that help form the skin’s natural moisture barrier,” explains Dr. Nussbaum. “In dry, cold weather, your skin’s ability to naturally produce ceramides may be compromised, leading to dry, dull skin.” If your skin is extremely dry year-round, go with a ceramide-rich moisturizer for winter, like Dr. Jart+’s cult-favorite cream. The lipids will strengthen the skin barrier so less moisture gets out.
Best Moisturizer for All Skin Types: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream Face Moisturizer
If your skin doesn’t fall into one particular category, Dr. Nussbaum is a fan of Olay’s Sculpting Cream because it’s a rich, nourishing cream that works well for balanced skin, but also targets dryness and aging. “It contains niacinamide (vitamin B3), a hard-working ingredient which regenerates surface cells and strengthens skin’s natural moisture barrier,” she says. “It also contains amino-peptides, known to boost collagen production and improve skin’s elasticity, smoothness and firmness as well as hyaluronic acid & glycerin.”
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.
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.