As a beauty editor whose job it is to test out a lot of beauty products, it’s fair to say that I have gone through a somewhat shameful amount of skincare in my time. As I am sure you can imagine, getting sent all the latest and greatest skincare products free of charge opens up a world of opportunities for my skin. It means that whenever my skin is feeling a certain way, whether it be stressed, dry or breaking out beyond belief, I usually have the best product for its exact need somewhere in my stash.
But after nearly seven years in this job and very rarely buying beauty products, this year, I’m vowing to make a change. No, I’m not quitting my job, but rather, I’m going to start buying my own skincare products again. Why, you ask? Because the truth is when you get sent the best beauty products for free, it’s very easy to lose touch of which ones are actually important.
One of the questions I get asked the most is What are the most important skincare products? And while this question doesn’t sit particularly well with me (when it comes to specific product recommendations, they’re different for everybody), I do appreciate that when we’re all strapped for time and cash, it’s really all anybody wants to know.
While I’m still going to need to test and trial products for work, when it comes to my skincare mainstays, I’m switching things up. In a bid to definitively answer beauty’s million-pound question, I’m vowing to clear out my stash and just use the products that really are the most important.
Before we get into this, I would like to highlight that just because I am “getting rid” of certain products in my main line-up doesn’t mean I’m ditching them altogether or that they’re no good. I will, of course, still keep hold of them for when their time comes. Without further ado, here’s a roundup of the products that I’m going to invest some more time and money in this year, and the ones I’m bidding adieu to (sorta).
Buying: Cleansing Creams
If you only buy one cleanser, make it a creamy formula that can be used both morning and night. I am a real believer in double-cleansing at night, and although many will have you believe you need two separate cleansers for this, you actually don't. Having just one effective creamy cleanser and using it twice in the evening should be efficient enough to rid your pores of grime and makeup. This creamy gel from Pacifica is one of the best no-fuss cleansers I have ever used.
Stashing: Cleansing Foams
Don't get me wrong. There are some great cleansing foams out there (like this one from Plenaire), but I'm yet to find a dermatologist who would recommend a foam over a cream. Foams can be gentle, but many can be moisture-stripping and cause skin upset if used too often. While I would recommend using a cleansing cream as a double cleanse, I wouldn't recommend cleansing twice with a foam.
I'm not going to beat around the bush here. Your skin doesn't need a face mist. However, I have come to the realisation that a boring skincare routine doesn't work. Not because it isn't filled with lots of great products and ingredients, but because if it's boring and unenjoyable, you won't keep it up. I find a mist is the perfect way to add a sense of sensorial luxury. This one from La Roche-Posay is affordable and filled with some truly exceptional skin-soothing ingredients and feels wonderful to apply. Forget expensive mists—this one is all you need.
Stashing: Exfoliating Essences
I know a lot of beauty editors and skin experts who swear by exfoliating toners, but I personally won't be spending my money on them this year. Sure, they are a really effective way to brighten and reduce breakouts, but in my experience, they have the ability to make or break your complexion. Even as someone who knows the ins and outs of INCI lists, I struggle to know whether the acid exfoliants inside will be too strong until it's too late. I'd recommend using your toner as a means to amp up hydration, rather than risk irritating it straight after cleansing.
Buying: Calming Masks
There's no doubt that some of the most important skincare products in my line-up are calming face masks. Whenever my skin is freaking out, whether that be from a reaction to a product or stress-induced breakouts, a calming mask is the first thing I reach for. This mask contains a blend of skin-soothing botanical extracts and a little bit of vitamin C to help boost glow while it works its calming magic.
Stashing: Sheet Masks
This, believe it or not, is the only product category on this list that I will not own a single one of in 2022. Last year, I used up a lot of leftover sheet masks from years gone by, and they are finally all gone. Sheet masks aren't just a great example of beauty's shocking display of waste, but they also don't do a huge amount for your skin. Face masks should contain an abundance of hard-working ingredients, and the rewards of which just can't be reaped when they're in sheet form.
Buying: Vitamin C
When it comes to serums, vitamin C is really where you're going to get the most bang for your buck. Even if that buck is of great magnitude. Vitamin C is one of the most well-researched and proven skincare ingredients available. We know that it works. However, it is also incredibly hard to formulate with, which means a lot of vitamin C serums out there don't really come with the antioxidant protection they promise. This stuff, however, does. It's expensive, but the results are worth every penny.
Stashing: Hyaluronic Acid
I'm going to get slated for this, but hear me out. I love hyaluronic acid. Its plumping, hydrating abilities are truly exceptional. However, I believe that serums should be for truly efficacious, results-driven ingredients that struggle to remain potent in creams and moisturisers. There are loads of great hyaluronic acid–infused moisturisers around (nowadays, most contain a hefty dose of the stuff), and adding another layer of skincare onto my face to get the same results just isn't necessary. However, I understand that lots of people love their HA serums, and this one from SkinCeuticals is exemplary.
For me, as an oily skinned gal, a weekly exfoliating treatment is an absolute must if I want to keep my skin looking clear and glowing. A strong but wash-off option like this one from Drunk Elephant seems to be the most effective way of reaping the benefits while avoiding irritation. I like having the control of being able to take it off the minute my skin starts to feel a little sensitised.
Stashing: Leave-On Acids
Let me start by saying that I really, really love this product. In fact, I will always have a bottle somewhere in my stash. However, as previously mentioned, I like having a bit of control over how much exfoliation my skin is seeing. This year, in order to avoid unknowingly over-exfoliating, I'm keeping my daily products simple and getting my exfoliation in via more intensive weekly masking treatments.
Buying: Basic Hydrators
When it comes to moisturiser, I have learned that keeping things as fuss-free and basic as possible is the way to go. And although you don't need to part with loads of money to see good results (there are some great moisturisers out there for less than a tenner), the moisturising stage of my routine is by far the one I enjoy the most. That's why I like to spend a little bit more and really revel in the luxury. While I won't be repurchasing this particular tub anytime soon (believe it or not, I don't have £135 knocking around), it is the one moisturiser I would purchase if I could afford to. It's rich and hydrating without being oily and sticky.
Stashing: Active Creams
Another face cream I absolutely love is this one by Sunday Riley. It contains a really glow-boosting dose of vitamin C and delivers ample hydration while its at it. The reason for me stashing this away is personal. As previously stated, I prefer to get my vitamin C kicks from a jam-packed serum and therefore don't require any more in my moisturiser. I like to get all of my active ingredients in before I apply a hydrating moisturiser to lock it all in. Serums, as a rule, tend to be a better way to deliver active ingredients, whereas moisturisers put hydration first.
One thing I have learned over my years in this job is that if you really want to give your skin the best possibly chance at dodging premature ageing, you must use a separate SPF product every single day. This mattifying sun cream is by far one of the best I have ever used for daily application. It takes down greasy shine, doesn't make my eyes sting and feels like a second-skin.
Stashing: SPF-Infused Moisturisers
Moisturisers that contain SPF are a really great way to give your skin a bit of extra protection but only if you're also applying a separate SPF product. I get my extra SPF hit from an SPF setting spray (the Kate Somerville one) and am pretty stringent with my sun cream application. If I am going on holiday, I will pack a moisturiser that contains a little bit of SPF protection, just to be safe. For the most part, however, moisturisers that contain SPF just aren't as good at doing their primary job. In its nature, SPF is sticky, light-reflecting and a little bit greasy, and these aren't things I want out of my daily moisturiser. This one from Kiehl's is my go-to for hot sunny days or when I'm heading abroad. I apply it before my facial SPF—never on its own.