I have to come clean. Although there are plenty of under-£10 skincare products and affordable French pharmacy brands that I personally shop for and can wholeheartedly vouch for when it comes to their efficacy, I have a deep-seated love of luxury skincare that I just can't shake. Of course, I'm lucky enough to be sent a huge amount of product to try as part of my job—at this point, my bathroom cupboard is basically an extension of my work desk—so I'm under no illusion about the fact that celebrity-approved moisturisers and high-tech skin gadgets likely wouldn't form the basis of my regular skincare stash if I didn't work as a beauty editor. But that doesn't mean that my penchant for the high-end is any less real.
However, extravagant packaging and A-list fans aside, is there actually any benefit to splurging on skincare products, or can switching to cheaper buys reap the same results? I decided to find out by sidelining all of my fancy favourites to try out affordable alternatives.
With multiple products on the go at any given time, it can be tricky to decipher what comprises my standard skincare routine. However, I rounded up my most regularly used products and current highlights to create a pretty accurate picture of my usual regimen. The total? An enormous £669. Yes, even I was shocked.
Keep scrolling to see what happened when I swapped my expensive favourites for an affordable skincare routine—coming in at just under £98.
#1: Morning Cleanser
I tend to gravitate towards gel cleansers and micellar waters for my first cleanse of the day, as I like something lightweight and gentle that won't leave my skin feeling stripped or tight. I always come back to this cult one from Fresh, as it's pH balanced—so there's no risk of irritation—and it leaves my skin so soft.
Since switching to the CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser, I have noticed that the texture of my skin is so much smoother. It contains 0.5% salicylic acid to gently dissolve dead skin cells and unclog pores, and it really works. Although I previously avoided using too many active ingredients in the a.m., I could make a permanent exception for this cleanser.
#2: Morning Serum
I basically always look tired, so I am a bit obsessed with vitamin C serums. In fact, they're probably the skincare product that I get through the fastest. This one from Ole Henriksen is my current favourite. I love the whole Banana Bright range, so I knew it would be a winner. Along with vitamin C to brighten and protect the skin, it contains exfoliating PHAs to target uneven texture, hyaluronic acid to hydrate and banana pigments to brighten. Basically, it's a brilliant all-rounder.
To be completely transparent, you kind of pay for what you get with vitamin C serums, so I was never going to find a formula with a potent dose of the ingredient for an affordable price point. However, Skin Proud's contains 2% vitamin C along with a host of other skin-friendly ingredients, and it was really lovely to use. Sure, it didn't impart a visible glow like the Ole Henriksen serum, but my skin definitely looked refreshed and healthy. It's a very decent switch and might also be a good shout if you have sensitive or reactive skin.
#3: Morning Eye Cream
Just like my morning serum, I tend to go for vitamin C–based eye creams to bring the brightness. I adore this one from Drunk Elephant because it does a brilliant job of de-puffing tired eyes and illuminating the skin beneath. Yes, it's expensive, but it contains an impressive five forms of vitamin C and really delivers on results.
Of course, there was no chance of getting an equally potent vitamin C formulation for a snippet of the price, but I did come across a few affordable eye creams using caffeine as their star ingredient—like this one from The Inkey List. This was really brilliant at de-puffing and cooling tired eyes, and friends who suffer from dark circles have raved about this in the past, too. I wouldn't say that it's as brightening as I'd like, but it did layer really well beneath my concealer for a smooth finish.
#4: Morning Moisturiser
They might be on the pricey side, but Charlotte Tilbury's moisturisers have cult status for a reason—they're really great. My go-to is this lightweight version of the classic Magic Cream, which can be a little heavy for my oily skin. Whenever I use it, my skin looks like it's had a mini facial, as it's so plump and glowy. Plus, I love that it contains protection from blue light—perfect for workdays when I'm sat in front of a screen all day—as well as pollution and UV rays with SPF 20.
For my affordable swap, I opted for this gel-cream moisturiser from Versed. As I always apply a separate SPF before my makeup, sun protection wasn't a must, but a lightweight texture was, and Versed really delivered. This has a jelly-like texture that feels so cooling and refreshing when applied. If you suffer from a puffy morning face, then I can't recommend this enough. On top of that, it contains aloe leaf and green tea to soothe and calm the skin, and I found that it really helped to bring down redness and inflammation around breakouts. I'm a fan.
#5: Morning SPF
Skin experts are always unanimous on the importance of using an SPF, so I make sure to always apply one as the final step of my skincare routine. I'm very fussy about the types of formulations that I like, so I test every single SPF that I'm sent for work in my quest to find the best ones. This new one from Hourglass is incredible. It's really lightweight and fluid in texture—it's more serum-like than a classic SPF—and it doesn't leave even a hint of residue on the surface of the skin. Even better, it actually left my skin looking even glowier. The only downside? That eye-watering three-figure price tag.
I already use and love this SPF from affordable suncare brand Bondi Sands and recommend it to everyone seeking a well-priced facial sunscreen. It has a very liquidy consistency, so although it does have a classic white colour, it sinks in quickly without a trace. Sure, it feels nowhere near as luxurious as the Hourglass SPF, but it's non-greasy, doesn't clog pores and provides seriously good sun protection. If I'm buying sunscreen with my own money, then this is what I'd go for every time.
#6: Evening Cleanser
Hands down, this has to be my favourite cleansing balm of all time. While it's usually the classic formula that I love, I'm currently working my way through this dreamy rose-infused pot. As a first cleanse at night, this can do no wrong. It removes all traces of makeup and daily grime while hydrating and brightening the skin. Plus, the texture and scent are so luxurious that using it genuinely feels like a little spa ritual at the end of each day.
The balm-to-oil cleanser that I swapped it for is my first foray into Glow Hub Beauty. I actually received this product as a Christmas present, but I'd put it to one side. I have to say, though, if the rest of Glow Hub's product offering is as good as this, then I'll be a fan for life. It did a brilliant job of melting away makeup and cleaning the skin while leaving it feeling plumped and nourished. It contains coconut oil and shea butter, which was something I was a little nervous about, but I have no unusual breakouts to report—just dewy, soft skin.
#7: Evening Exfoliator
After cleansing, I tend to alternate between either a chemical exfoliator or a face mask depending on what my skin needs. If I'm dealing with breakouts, then Paula's Choice's 2% BHA (£28) is one of my regular go-tos, but it's this skin-brightening exfoliator from Summer Fridays that I'm reaching for most as we move into spring. While I wouldn't recommend this if you have particularly sensitive skin—it contains 16% AHAs—it really does a great job of addressing everything from enlarged pores and congestion to uneven skin tone and dullness. My skin always looks so much better in the morning after using it.
I switched it with an AHA and PHA toner from Beauty Bay's in-house skincare line, which I've heard a lot of good things about. This is a far less potent formula than the Summer Fridays one, so I'd recommend it if you're new to acid exfoliators. For the price, I feel like it did a decent job of smoothing the surface of the skin and decongesting pores. However, my skin didn't feel transformed come morning with this one. It's definitely more of an entry-point exfoliating treatment.
#8: Evening Face Mask
Face masks are probably my most switched-up category of skincare products. I have lots on the go at once, as I love testing new ones. However, this mud mask from Omorovicza is in constant rotation, as it's so brilliant. Lots of clay masks are aimed at younger, spot-prone skin, but if you're still dealing with breakouts in your 30s like me, then this is a great mask to try. It's purifying and deeply cleansing—my skin always looks so clear and clarified after use—but it also firms and plumps the skin and smooths over fine lines.
I purchased my affordable alternative on a whim during a recent Cult Beauty order, and I'm so glad I did. It contains charcoal, chamomile, honey and lavender, so it walks that line of being purifying and calming. While the product itself doesn't speak to any anti-ageing benefits, I definitely think it's a good option for more mature complexions thanks to the skin-hydrating benefits, but it's got your back if you're after something that will calm angry breakouts, too.
#9: Evening Serum
My evening serum varies depending on what active exfoliators or face masks I've used before it, but this one from Oskia is a firm favourite. I first discovered it when I was looking for a retinol alternative while pregnant. This contains bakuchiol, a natural retinol alternative that targets signs of skin ageing like loss of elasticity and fine lines. I reach for it on days when I want a serum that's going to leave my skin looking fresh and bouncy, but I'm not after anything too potent that might clash with ingredients that I've used earlier in my routine.
There are so many brilliant affordable serums on the market now, so it was hard to narrow it down to one affordable swap, but I went for this beauty-editor favourite from The Ordinary. It's a blend of hydrating hyaluronic acid and skin-protecting vitamin B5, so it's a brilliant basic serum for days when your routine might be a little heavy on the actives and you just want to keep your skin feeling soft, moisturised and comfortable. For the price, I have no complaints—my skin drinks this up.
#10: Evening Moisturiser
Much like the brand's iconic cleansing balm, Elemis moisturisers form the foundation of my everyday skincare routine, and I always have a couple that I use when I'm not testing out new things for work. Although this is described as an anti-wrinkle formulation, I've been using it since my mid-20s just because I love the texture and feel so much. I'm only just starting to get fine lines around my eyes now, so maybe it really does work. I love that this manages to be intensely hydrating without weighing skin down. Top tip: It is insanely pricey, so I always check QVC for Elemis deals before purchasing.
I'm still not entirely sure if this affordable alternative from Soap & Glory is an overnight mask or a nighttime moisturiser, but it contains some of the same skin-oxygenating benefits as my Elemis favourite. It felt really hydrating on the skin, and I'm really impressed at how dewy my skin still looked by morning. It's definitely earned a permanent spot in my bathroom cupboard.
It's pretty clear to see that, all in all, swapping my expensive favourites for an affordable skincare routine meant very little compromise on results, and I've even discovered some new staples along the way. Undoubtedly, the place that affordable skincare products can fall down is with the experiential factor. If you're looking to create spa-like vibes with your skincare routine, then the aromas and textures of cheaper products often aren't as indulgent or luxurious. However, when it comes to efficacy, there's no doubting that there are plenty of brilliant alternatives.