Having worked in beauty for over 13 years I have come across my fair share of both brilliant and truly awful beauty products. In this post, I’ll be focusing on the former, the ride or die skincare buys that I simply can’t live without. These are the products that I empty time and again. The reason being, each and every one surpasses my expectations and I’m pretty tough on the beauty products in my armoury. Of course, innovations in science drive the cult of newness but it’s the products that live up to the hype that make it onto The #AmyApproved Skincare Edit. The evolution of beauty means I’ll be updating this list as and when a new product rocks my world. Until then, here are the 29 best skincare products that you should get acquainted with.
If you invest in one product make it a really great cleanser. I was always quite lazy when it came to skincare when I was younger but since I stopped cutting corners, especially with cleansing, my complexion has improved ten fold. I get far fewer spots, the texture is smoother and it just looks brighter. That’s because a thorough cleanse will clear the way for all your other skincare to drive deeper down so it can do what it needs to do, rather than sitting on top blocked by old makeup and the day or night’s dirt (lovely!).
You don’t need to spend a lot. I keep the Avène Cleanace Cleansing Gel in my shower for a quick cleanse in the morning. The Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser is a little pricier but it’s a multi-tasker. I reach for it when I’m in a hurry but my skin needs a thorough cleanse as it gently exfoliates too, so I can skip the exfoliating step. At night, I use a slightly richer cleanser like the Elemis Superfood Facial Wash, which feeds the skin with goodness (honestly it looks so glowy and feels so smooth and plump after), or the Your Good Skin Hot Cloth Cleanser, which is the hands down the best hot cloth cleanser I have ever slapped onto my face, full stop.
Acids sound scary, right? Well, I promise you they really, truly aren’t. I’m going to do a longer post on the various different acids out there but here’s a little intro. When my skin is spotty (pretty much every month, like clockwork) I reach for the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion. It contains the Beta Hydroxy Acid salicylic acid, which is oil-soluble so it can penetrate deep into blocked pores and exfoliate inside to unclog, it’s anti-inflammatory too so it speeds up the healing process.
I also enjoy a pre-soaked pad because it saves me buying separate cotton wool. Glycolic acid is a potent acid (best avoided if your skin is sensitive) that sloughs away dead skin cells leaving the complexion seriously glowing, the Malin + Goetz Resurfacing Glycolic Pads are brilliant. The Alex Steinherr for Primark Pollution Solution Dual Texture Exfoliating Pads are a gentler option but they are seriously effective, and affordable to boot. They contain the hottest new acid on the block Polyhydroxy Acid (PHA) which is a much gentler exfoliant, alongside hydrating lactic acid, making them ideal for everyone, even if you’re prone to redness and rosacea.
Of the liquid varieties I love Ren’s Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic which contains lactic acid and willow bark extract (a natural BHA), it’s brilliant at reviving skin and just making your complexion look incredibly dewy and healthy. Then there is the classic Pixi Glow Tonic which combines glycolic acid with soothing aloe vera, ideal if you’d like to try glycolic but want to tread carefully.
Ah, serums. Most days I don’t bother with moisturiser and instead layer up with these. Serums are your chance to really tailor your routine and problem solve, so this is where a little skin ingredient research comes in handy. The serums below are ideal for my complexion: oily/combination with hyperpigmentation but your skin could be different and would require a different cocktail of ingredients.
Below there are, however, a few serums everyone could benefit from. Hyaluronic acid is a molecule that is naturally occurring in young healthy skin. It can hold 1000 times its weight in water so it’s a total saviour for dry or dehydrated skin. (Side note: dry is a skin type you’re born with, dehydration is something that can happen to anyone regardless of skin type.) The Pestle & Mortar Pure Hyaluronic Serum is lovely to use and does the job of hydrating the skin so brilliantly.
Everyone should use an antioxidant serum, especially if you live in a city. Vitamin C is a brilliant antioxidant but currently, I’m using The Ordinary’s Pynogenol 5% on Really Ree’s recommendation. It’s extracted from pine bark and has been found to be a potent antioxidant. Quick science lesson: free radicals caused by things like pollution and UV rays can damage our lipids and proteins (amino acids) affecting the skin barrier, they can also target our DNA and affect our cell function, so slathering on a daily dose of antioxidant serum is a wise complexion-protecting tactic.
Our skin is the largest organ and it’s there to protect us. A healthy skin barrier means everything is functioning well but when the barrier becomes compromised that’s when skin irritation and redness occurs. Amino acids are found in abundance in a healthy skin barrier so, whether you have sensitive skin or want to keep your complexion healthy, a serum with amino acids like The Ordinary Amino Acids + B5 one below would be a smart addition.
So, here’s where it gets much more targeted.
If you suffer from spots and redness like me then The Ordinary serum with Niacinamide 10% and Zinc 5% will help to take down the inflammation and heal the skin. Whether you buy this product are not, if you have blemishes these are two ingredients (alongside salicylic acid) that you should have in your bathroom cabinet.
Another great spot-fighting buy is the iS Clinical Active Serum which Rosie Huntington-Whitely told me about (eurgh, what a name dropper but it’s true). This is an exfoliating serum that sloughs away at dead skin that could block pores so it effectively prevents spots happening in the first place. I took this on a beach holiday last year because long-haul flights and SPF are a bugger for causing me spots, but this serum had my back and I didn’t get a single spot all holiday. MIRACLE.
Finally, now my blemishes are less frequent I’m trying to tackle my hyperpigmentation which is partly spot scars and partly dark patches from the sun, pollution, etc. The Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution sinks in fast and contains Vitamin C to target and brighten the dark patches, as well as antioxidant-rich peony extract which prevents against oxidative damage that can trigger our melanin to go into overdrive.
In the skincare community, there are two schools of thought when it comes to moisturiser. Those who believe we don’t need to use one because they make our complexions lazy and sluggish. And those who believe a moisturiser can lock-in our serums so they work more effectively and also to bolster our skin’s protection from the elements (TEWL is Trans Epidermal Water Loss which is basically where water evaporates out of the skin and moisturisers can prevent that).
I was firmly in the first camp after I gave up moisturiser for an ELLE feature I wrote a few years back. For three weeks I ditched moisturiser and afterwards, my skin was more hydrated than before. Mind blown. But then Augustinus Bader launched The Cream, I reviewed it for a Byrdie feature and I was hooked. It left my skin feeling incredible, smooth, hydrated and it didn’t clog my skin or cause spots like some creams can. It has some great science behind it, Augustinus Bader is a German scientist who specialises in stem cells and wound healing in burns victims; to fund his research he created The Cream using all his knowledge of how skin regenerates. I don’t use it every day, and I tend to use it at night. In the day, I top my serums with Skinceuticals Advanced Pigment Protector to further tackle my pigmentation (it uses a combo of acids to tackle the melanin production and dark spots and generally brightens the complexion).
A few nights a week I use the Skinceuticals Retinol 1.0, which is pretty potent (it comes in 0.3, £65, and 0.5, £66 too so you can build up gradually). Retinol is the absolute boffin on the skincare world and I believe everyone in their thirties should be using one. It’s a Vitamin A derivative that tackles everything from skin tone and texture to spots and pigmentation. When you first use it you may notice some dryness and flaking, (which is why you start with a low percentage and use just 2-3 times a week and build up the days gradually). On days when you’re not using the retinol you’ll want to gently exfoliate away those dry patches and flakes (the Alex Steinherr for Primark Pollution Solution pads are great for this).
Side note: You’ll notice I don’t use separate neck or chest creams, I’m a firm believer that anything you apply to your face can be massaged down your neck and onto your chest. I also don’t use an eye cream, which is partly laziness but also because most of the serums I apply can be used around the eyes and my Augustinus Bader lotion is light enough to smooth up to the orbital bone.
I’ve also popped an essence into this section by Kiehl’s Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence, but I actually use it after cleansing and before applying my serums. Essences are a Korean beauty step that is meant to prepare the skin to absorb the products you apply afterwards. This one contains Iris extract to nourish whilst it gently exfoliates and hydrates the skin, so you can use it on days when you’re not using an acid.
Besides a good cleanser (and retinol if you’re in your thirties) using an SPF is the absolute best thing you can do for your complexion. On holiday or days when I don’t want to wear a lot of makeup I quite like a tinted sunscreen. Avène is probably the most pigmented, whereas Heliocare and Ultrasun just add a healthy glow to pale skin tones like mine. Kiehl’s has launched a brilliant oil-free SPF (so it won’t clog pores) and it isn’t tinted. I’ve been using it for months and it’s the best everyday SPF I’ve ever used. It doesn’t have that chalky texture so would be a good choice for darker skin tones, too. It’s really lightweight so you don’t feel conscious about adding another layer of product to a spot-prone complexion. It’s a winner.
When it comes to face masks I use them for added hydration when my complexion is looking a bit dull or feeling a little dry. I also wear them on flights, which gets me some odd looks but who cares, right? The Colbert MD Illumino Anti-Aging Brightening Mask is made with a bio-cellulose that has an almost gel-like feel that hugs the contours of the face, it’s packed with hyaluronic, calming niacinamide and lactic acid to brighten. The masks are pricey (you get five in a box) but so worth it—after 15 minutes you look like you’ve had a facial.
For a more affordable option, the No7 masks come in packs of four and are brilliant. They’re fabric, but they have hooks that slip over the ears to keep the sheet in place. They also boast a panel that wraps around the neck which is genius. The Lift & Luminate masks are infused with Matrixyl 3000 Plus, a line relaxing peptide, hyaluronic acid and brightening Vitamin C. They’re seriously impressive for the price.
I am never far from a face mist, these two are my absolute favourites, from the fine mist they distribute to the scent (Emma Hardie’s smells like a spa, while La Mer’s has both the brand’s iconic Miracle Broth and unmistakable scent) to the hydrating benefits. Misting your skin throughout the day prevents that 4pm shine and helps your makeup go the distance.
Everyone may be firmly on the jade roller bandwagon but I love these manual tools below. The Nurse Jamie UpLift Facial Massaging Beauty Roller has nodules and spins quickly to help mimic a facialist’s technique and boost skin circulation. The Gua Sha is seriously effective at ironing out tension from the jawline, cheekbones and forehead (you’d be surprised how many knots you get in your face). The Body Shop Oils Of Life Twin-Ball Facial Massager is, in my opinion, far more effective at massaging the skin than a jade roller, the silver balls are cool so help to reduce puffiness and hug the contours of the face.
Are there any skincare categories, ingredients or products you’d love to know more about? Shoot me a DM on Instagram @amy_lawrenson or pop your question in the comment box below!
Disclaimer: Some of the links included in this post is affiliated, which means if you buy them I’ll get a small amount of money in return. Which, I’m not going to lie, I will likely spend on cheese.