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In recent months, I've been trying to focus my energies in the skincare world on smaller, independent, less problematic brands (which are also great for cruelty-free shoppers). If they're UK-based, women-owned or POC-owned, then even better! I realised I'd been a bit too focused on reviewing the brands that send me products, which is all well and good, but it really does hinder you in discovering new, up-and-coming companies in this space. Today I'm shining the spotlight on a selection of such brands that have really impressed me...
Ok, let's get this out of the way first! When I first discovered Dr Sam Bunting Skincare, I was really impressed with the brand; it's founded by a female Harley Street dermatologist, so doesn't contain potential irritants and is focused on active ingredients that will make a difference to your skin, at the same time the packaging is stylish and the product range simple, as opposed to being a vast collection of single-ingredient actives. Additionally, the price-point of the products is really reasonable. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when they recently launched a tinted mineral sunscreen in the shades light, medium and clear; their argument was that deeper skin tones preferred the clear formula and the amount of pigment needed to create a darker shade would make it a 'makeup product' as opposed to a tinted sunscreen (this is odd in itself because I wouldn't say you create different shades by adding more of the same pigment to a formula). Honestly, I didn't buy this (if you can't create a tinted shade for everyone right now; release the clear version and keep working on the shades) and I really didn't appreciate the snotty tone of their response when I reached out to ask this question. Customer feedback is vital in the process of launching new products and it's a shame this brand couldn't take it on board. I was honestly hesitant on whether to still include this brand in my post, as my excitement towards it has dampened somewhat, however I appreciate some people might not think this is a sackable offence, and the products are great. In the very least, this is an opportunity to talk about this matter and give you the information so you can decide for yourself.
The products I have to discuss from this range are the cleanser and the serum. Let's start with the basics: the Flawless Cleanser | £16. This is super simple; a non-foaming jelly cleanser with a minimal INCI list with humectants and formulated without fragrance. The way Dr Sam recommends using this is as a multipurpose product, so whilst she still recommends a double cleanse (to remove makeup and sunscreen, then cleanse the skin beneath), she rightly points out that you can use the same product to do that (it doesn't have to be an oil followed by a gel). This is gentle, hydrating and suitable for near enough any skin type. It does work pretty well on makeup, though I really don't wear a lot of heavy makeup, so I can't comment on how it powers through glitter and waterproof mascara. It's also a great second or morning cleanse. I really don't have a bad word to say about it; it's a fantastic all-rounder.
I also have the Flawless Brightly Serum | £44 | which is the day serum option from this brand. This has a lightweight but creamy texture that's so pleasant to use! I get that not everyone wants to spend £44 on a serum and they have brands like the Ordinary that provide actives for an affordable price, though you're sacrificing something in the texture, feel and application of the product as well as the fact that they're individual ingredient formulas. It comes in an opaque pump bottle, which prevents oxygen and light getting into the formula, both of which can degrade the active ingredients. This serum contains azelaic acid, niacinamide, ascorbyl glucoside and bakuchiol. Azelaic acid is a fantastic ingredient derived from grains that can help combat hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the overproduction of melanin in these areas. Given it's an anti-inflammatory, it's also widely used to treat acne and rosacea. We also have niacinamide, one of my favourite multi-tasking ingredients; it regulates oil production in the skin, it can calm redness and inflammation, alongside strengthening the skin's natural barrier. Ascorbic glucoside is a form of Vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is the Vitamin C gold standard with a lot of research behind it, however it's pretty unstable and can be irritating for some skin types, particularly in higher concentrations. This derivative is more stable and a lot gentler whilst still offering the Vitamin C benefits of glowing, even skin and protection against free radical damage. Finally, we have bakuchiol, often called 'the natural retinol' but I personally haven't tried one that even comes close to giving me retinol results! It can smooth the skin, reduce discolouration and calm things down without being irritating or conflicting with other ingredients in your routine. All-in-all; this is a fantastic product for smoothing and brightening the skin. It's gentle, suitable for everyday use and I saw a visible improvement in the tone and texture of my skin.
What I really enjoy about this brand is that it covers off a lot of the active ingredient bases in a way that's simplified. For example, I suffer with hyperpigmentation after breakouts and there are so many amazing ingredients out there that can combat this; the Flawless Brightly Serum includes many of them in a single easy-to-use product. It's the perfect range for the skincare enthusiast that prefers a minimalist approach. Yes, the products are a bit of an investment, but you could honestly use this line exclusively if you wanted to and have a really solid skincare routine.
Next, let's talk about Deviant Skincare, who have seen a ton of interest recently since being featured in the latest Caroline Hirons kits. The concept behind this UK-based brand is sleek, stylish simplicity. The products come in black packaging which explains exactly what they do, and it's very much a capsule skincare line with timeless, gender-neutral products. It was co-founded by Natalie Smyth, who is so young and incredibly successful in this space, which is pretty inspiring.
The product everyone loves is the Cleansing Concentrate | £31. This is a brilliant luxury cleansing balm option if you want something without fragrance. Most cleansing balm options on the high-end side of things are full of fragrant essential oils and, whilst there are many functional options on the market, sometimes you want something a little nicer! This comes in a black pot with this incredible gold seal and the balm itself is formulated with hemp seed oil, camellia seed oil, Vitamin E and other non-floral plant extracts. This does have a slightly grainy texture to it, but simply warm it between your fingers and it will melt down a little for application (or, if you prefer, they also do a cleansing oil). It's incredibly effective at breaking down makeup and emulsifies easily when you add water, so you can simply wipe your face off without any tugging or pulling. It's very gentle too, even on my sensitive eyes.
My personal standout is the Gentle Resurfacing Liquid | £35. Honestly, I'm all about the gentle chemical exfoliants these days and Natalie specifically formulated this product as an alternative to harsher AHAs like high-percentage glycolic acid based toners. This does contain a little glycolic, but the other acids are higher up on the INCI list. This is also formulated with lactic (great for dry and mature skin types), mandelic (a gentle AHA with a large molecular size that's fantastic for targeting hyperpigmentation) and salicylic (a BHA that can penetrate deep into the pores to help breakouts and also pigmentation left behind after they've cleared up). There are also PHAs in the mix, another gentler acid that exfoliates on a surface level. Alongside these acids, there's also green tea extract as an antioxidant and licorice extract, which has skin-brightening properties. I personally prefer to use an acid toner 3-4 times a week, but if you wanted to (and your skin is used acids) you could probably use this daily (just don't forget the sunscreen!) This causes me zero irritation or redness, personally, and I find it really works for my skin in terms of making it softer and smoother, doing a great job of getting rid of the dead skin cells on the surface. I also felt this helped fade some of those stubborn pigmentation marks I have over more prolonged use. I really, really like this stuff!
PSA Skin is one of my favourite skincare discoveries of 2020 and there are two products here that are in the 'all time favourites' category for me. You might have seen Allies of Skin around on Instagram, looked them up and needed the smelling salts at the price of their products! PSA Skin was created by the same founder - Nicholas Travis - as a more affordable sister brand with similar ingredients and concepts. I like that the branding feels fresh and young but the formulations are not playing around! I've only tried a couple of products from Allies of Skin, with one total hit and one slight miss, but the range is roughly analogous and I think, for the comfortably mid-range price; PSA offers some incredible formulations.
First up, let's talk about a product I've already used up and repurchased: the Most Hyaluronic Super Nutrient Serum | £34. This is one of my favourite serums of all time; it's a moisturising, hydrating all-rounder. I used to be all about the single-ingredient hyaluronic acid serum, but this is far more well-rounded; as well as containing this water magnet (along with another humectant in glycerin and panthenol, to help retain water in the skin, it also contains safflower oil to moisturise and seal in the hydration. There are also some other interesting ingredients in here: fermented radish root, fermented black tea, acai extract and licorice extract, which have antioxidant and gentle skin-brightening properties. It's just a fantastic all-rounder for dry and lacklustre skin and is a product I can use even when my skin is a little more on the sensitive side.
Then, I've also been loving their Heroine Mandelic Acid and Licorice Glow Toner | £28. This is the product that really started my love for gentler acid toners. As I mentioned when discussing the Deviant toner; mandelic acid is a great gentle option for those wanting to combat pigmentation marks and licorice is a brightening agent that really supports this work. I personally think this is my favourite of the two; it just works so well for evening out my skin tone and getting rid of dry skin cells and I can even use it when my skin is a little more sensitive to remove any surface skin peeling. It really is an impressive product for how gentle it is.
Overall, I'm so impressed with everything I've tried from this capsule line. PSA delivers powerful actives and great ingredients that work for my skin and won't break the bank. Slowly but surely, I've been working my way through the rest of the products I have from them for a joint brand review with Allies of Skin, but I was a fan from day 1; the products and ingredients are well thought-out with no filler ingredients or fragrance.
I am also going to be doing a full brand review on Skingredients (I originally bought these products myself, but their PR agency got in touch with me a couple of months later and sent me the rest of the range), as I'm trying out the newer additions to my collection at the moment, but there are a couple of clear winners already that I want to talk about in this post. It was really great to attend a brand event for them (digitally) recently and it gave me a great overview of the brand and their ethos. Skingredients is an Irish brand founded by Jennifer Rock, a Dublin-based dermal facialist (who is absolutely lovely!) I first discovered their brand through Caroline Hirons and the love has just grown from there. The concept behind this brand is that they have 'the Core Four' skincare products; the basics that everyone needs in their routine and then the 'Mix and Match' products that your skin may want from time-to-time. This is a refreshing move away from the idea of 'skin types' and I've been so impressed with the quality of these ingredients and formulations for the comfortably mid-range price-point.
The first product I have to talk about is from the Core Four: the PreProbiotic Cleanse | £23. I love this cleanser! It's pretty much everything I look for in a morning cleanse, especially at this time of year, but it's actually a great all-rounder. It's a cream cleanser that you can apply straight to the skin or you can dampen your fingers before dispensing it for a more lotion-like texture. It contains prebiotics and probiotics, to balance the natural bacteria found on your skin in order to promote healthy barrier function, and also PHAs, the gentlest acid exfoliation option, to help smooth the skin and help get rid of some of the dead cells sat on the surface. This is the perfect moisturising, softening cleanser to gently cleanse my skin without stripping it in the morning. It can also remove makeup - I use it with the cleansing mitt from this brand that they sent over to me - however, I'm sure any microfibre cloth will do the trick. I can't get enough of this stuff and really recommend it.
The second product I'm going to talk about is from the 'Mix and Match' range: the Skin Good Fats | £39. I absolutely love this moisturiser on my skin when it's dry or compromised. It has a texture that's not overly rich or greasy, but is packed full of good stuff like ceramides (the skin's 'building blocks' that strengthen its natural barrier and prevents water loss), niacinamide (as I discussed earlier) and other antioxidants to protect the skin from environmental damage, such as Vitamin E. I tend to use it as a night cream, but can see myself applying it during the day as the cold weather sets in. Or you can spot-apply it to dry patches of skin that need some extra love. If you need to soften, moisturise or replenish dry or irritated skin; this is a fantastic product.
Overall, I'm so excited about this brand and can't wait to share the rest of the range with you! I think Skingredients really gets the foundations of the skin health right and I'm really looking forward to see what else they might add to the Mix and Match collection in the future. There are no fragrances, known irritants or redundant ingredients in there; just proven actives and products to protect and repair the skin.
The next brand we're going to take a closer look at is Apothaka; they're UK-based and owned by a Woman of Colour (Natasha, who is also really, really nice and does incredible nail art on Instagram!) This brand is a little different to many of its peers; the products are plant-based but it doesn't position itself as 'natural' or 'chemical-free' or any of that scaremongering nonsense, plus it offers a range that's fragrance and essential oil free, which is what initially piqued my interest in this brand. If you enjoy the sensorial experience of skincare containing fragrant oils; you can still get that from this brand, but for those who can't tolerate it, there's a fantastic range of products that are designed to support sensitive and compromised skin types.
First up, let's talk about the Barrier Support Serum with Niacinamide and Ceramides | £19.50 (10ml). This is a gel-based serum that's fast-absorbing, making it suitable for all skin types in need of these ingredients. As I've discussed; this contains two of my essential skincare ingredients and is one of the few serums that my skin can not only tolerate when it's feeling reactive, but that actually calms down the sensitivity. There's also hyaluronic acid in the mix to pull water into the skin's layers, so I tend to apply this to slightly damp skin. This is a really well-rounded everyday serum for winter skin and I love it!
I also loved the Comforting Oil with Cucumber, Calendula and Co-Enzyme Q10 | £21 (10ml). This oil is nourishing but absorbs and doesn't feel greasy on my skin. It's formulated with calendula to moisturise dry skin, cucumber to calm the skin and also act as an antioxidant and Q10, an incredible but very underrated antioxidant to protect the skin from free radical damage. There are also other deeply nourishing oils in the range, such as hempseed, safflower and sunflower. It gives me soft, smooth, moisturised and calm skin by morning (I use it as the final step of my evening routine and it works a treat).
Overall, I'm really enjoying the products I have from this brand; I've almost used up my minis and I think we can say that my trial of the range was a success! I really enjoyed both of these products and, also within the fragrance and essential oil free line, there's a moisturiser and essence I really like the look of. I know a lot of people want simple, plant-based formulas, but they're often formulated with lots of potential irritants; this is that rare line that offers something effective that's also suitable for sensitive skin types.
Last, but certainly not least, we have an Irish brand co-founded by a Woman of Colour that I've actually been a fan of for a few years now, but still think is pretty underrated: Pestle & Mortar. This is a capsule line of luxury skincare that's treatment-focused but very elegant. This is probably the most high-end brand in this post, but they don't have a bunch of products they're trying to push; instead its a curated collection of powerful actives and everyday essentials.
First up is an old favourite: their Pure Hyaluronic Serum | £21 (15ml). I recently picked up a mini of this, but I have emptied a full-sized bottle before because I love this formula. Hyaluronic acid serums aimed at drawing water into the skin are ten-a-penny, but truly elegant formulations aren't. Often they're sticky, tacky, filmy or otherwise unpleasant to use. Not this one; the Pestle and Mortar formula melts into the skin beautifully to leave it looking plump and healthy, and feeling deeply hydrated thanks to its multiple molecular sizes so the ingredient can reach the different layers of the skin.
More recently, I also tried their Vitamin C 2-Phase Serum* | £68. This is a beautiful oil-based Vitamin C serum that I recommend for dry skin due to it's dewy finish and deeply moisturising feel (thanks to the oils that dispense into each pump alongside the water-based Vitamin C). Vitamin C is one of those ubiquitous ingredients that's so rarely done well; throughout 2020 I've been trying different formulas to figure out which are really worth the money, and this one gets my stamp of approval. Not only does it give my skin an immediate glow boost, but (after several weeks of use) it resulted in a noticeable improvement in the appearance of pigmentation marks on my skin to give me a clearer, more even complexion. It's a winner!
I really enjoy this product line because it feels very considered; everything in the range performs a clear function, they aren't launching new products every week and, although they're an investment, these are the sorts of ingredients worth investing in. You have your Vitamin C, your retinol and your hyaluronic acid, alongside an acid toner, face mist, moisturiser, eye cream and double cleanse system. The packaging feels very sleek and luxurious to use, but it's not all style; there's so much substance too.
Have you tried any of the brands I featured here? Which independently-owned brands should I check out next?