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Today we're talking Allies of Skin and PSA Skin! Seeing as these brands are sister companies, I thought it'd be good to cover them together so I can talk through the similarities and differences, given one of these brands is very, very high-end and the other is more mid-range. I've been testing out a number of products from each brand and it's time to return my verdict and tell you a bit about them...
Both brands are Singapore-based and founded by Nicolas Travis, a young entrepreneur with a background in pharmaceutical science, business and marketing. His first venture was Allies of Skin, which launched in 2016, after Nicolas struggled to find products on the market for his acne-prone skin. When he initially created the brand, it was quite focused on the concept of masks, though since Allies became so huge outside of East Asia, there have been some name changes and rebrands (and also reformulations along the way). Allies is an incredibly expensive brand, especially considering how ubiquitous it is on social media, which will put many people off. It's all very well talking about how incredible the formulations are and the amount of research that went into selecting innovative ingredients, but for many the prices are far, far beyond their reach. I think that's probably part of the reason why PSA Skin was launched this year; obviously the branding is a little younger and more fun, perhaps signalling to a different age demographic, but they also offer some similar ingredients for a much more affordable price-point. Both brands really simplify down the skincare routine to the essential maintenance products and actives, so they're easy to approach and navigate and don't release new products constantly.
Let's start with Allies. I actually picked up the products I have from them during a Space NK deal (if you spent £60 on the brand, you'd get the cleanser for free, so I only paid for the mask) and did also put my N.Dulge points towards the purchase. We'll get the product I don't like out of the way first... The Molecular Silk Amino Hydrating Cleanser | £37 | was not at all hydrating on my skin! I actually cringe a little when I see people recommend this product for dry or dehydrated skin because it was just so stripping for me. Knowing a little more about the brand background, I can understand how this cleanser came to be; Nicolas Travis has been pretty open about having acne-prone skin, so I think this is definitely a product more for oily skin types. I think I just bought into the hype without realising that it just wasn't going to be for my skin.
The ingredient list sounds good, so it must be something in the formulation or the surfactants used in this product that causes extreme drying in my skin. It contains lipids, which should moisturise and replenish the skin, hyaluronic acid to pull water into the skin and plant oils like moringa and safflower. There are also gentle actives, like Vitamin C, which has skin-brightening properties (but probably not in this sort of low-concentration, wash-off product) and lactic acid (to attract water and gently exfoliate). I didn't actually realise this was a foaming gel cleanser when I bought it, so that's my bad, but it's just incredibly drying on my skin. I now reserve its use for when I've just been out for a run and need something to cut through the sweat and the sunscreen. Not what I'd had in mind for a luxury cleanser like this!
The other product I tried from this brand is the 1A Retinal & Peptides Overnight Mask | £105. To understand how this product works and also how it differs from its equivalent in PSA Skin's line, it's useful to understand how retinoids work. What the end goal is when we apply retinoids to the skin is to get retinoic acid to our cells. Retinoic acid is available in forms such as tretinoin by prescription only. Cosmetic products require your skin to convert them into retinoic acid, so one step away, we have retinal (which is included in this product), one step further away is your bog-standard retinol and then we have retinyl palmitate, as a sort of retinol precursor. Generally, the closer your retinoid is to retinoic acid, the more noticeable results you will see. Retinoids were originally developed for acne-prone skin (however, you can't use them if you're on accutane, or if you're pregnant / breastfeeding, and wear sunscreen!) but were also discovered to have anti-ageing benefits and are fantastic at smoothing the skin and evening out its tone, reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation. However, they were also discovered to be the only topical skincare ingredient with the ability to reverse the signs of ageing. Personally, I love retinal, because it gives me noticeable results fast.
This mask (also formulated with peptides, which are often touted as increasing collagen production, but there's not a ton of evidence to support this, though they are a humectant (albeit a very expensive one)) gives me smoother, clearer, more even skin with the appearance of fine lines reduced. After many years of not really getting those 'wow! Is that really my face?!' results from retinol, this product really blew me away. However, I do also find Medik8's formula incredibly good (even at only the second-strongest of four intensities available) and it's half the price. I was also a little surprised that this contains fragrant essential oils, because I understood that the line was fragrance-free. As many point out, you can get bona fide retinoic acid on prescription for about £20 a month, but not everyone's skin can handle it and this mask provides an elegant, moisturising formula to go along with the game-changing active. Some people are all about raw functionality, others like a bit of luxury; it's really up to you. Personally, I probably wouldn't purchase this again given how much I like Medik8's, but I'll use it up and enjoy it whilst I have it. It isn't a beginner's retinoid; start with a retinyl palmitate once a week and progress from there in terms of concentration and regularity of use. Peeling is a common side-effect of retinoid use at the start, but I didn't experience any with this product, which is another bonus for me because tret makes me peel!
Overall, I'm a bit on the fence with Allies. It's ultimately kind of risky to buy such expensive skincare products! I hear so many people rave about their moisturisers but given the brand's background and who this is coming from; I actually suspect that they're formulated more for oily skin types, which puts me off a little (especially after my experience with the cleanser). I've heard great things about their face mist and they also have a mandelic acid serum I think could work for me, but overall I guess I struggle to see what's so special about an ingredient I buy and enjoy from the Ordinary for £5. I'm open to being proven wrong, but I just don't know that I want to spend more of my money on their products. It's kind of gutting, because I really enjoy their ethos and approach to skin, as well as the ingredients they choose to focus on and the transparency they bring to the industry, but I think it'd be hard for any products to live up to my expectations given the cost.
This is a nice little segway into PSA! Let's start with the Reset Acai and Manuka Honey Nourishing Cleanser | £20. This just landed on the websites of their UK stockists but I've been using it a while as I ordered it from Beautylish. What can I say? I'm just impatient! This is described as a 'nourishing' cleanser, but as I've discussed: I have different ideas about what 'nourishing' and 'hydrating' mean to these brands! This does still have a slight foaming action, which takes it from a cleanser I love, to a cleanser I like, however it isn't drying or stripping on my skin like the Allies one. It's a gentle cleanser that I tend to use in the evening as a second cleanse. The ingredients in this product are lovely; acai as an antioxidant, manuka honey (which has the double benefit of being anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, but also very moisturising), lactic acid (to gently clear dead skin cells and reveal smoother, more radiant skin) and replenishing jojoba esters. This is a solid cleanser; I have no complaints and the only reasons it isn't a total favourite are that it's described as 'nourishing', so I expected it to moisturise my skin a touch more, and I wish it didn't foam / later at all.
The next product is one I have a backup ready to go of: the Heroine Mandelic and Licorice Superfood Glow Toner | £28. This toner opened me up to a whole new world of gentle acids. This chemical exfoliant can be applied by me (as a seasoned acid-user) every day, if I want to, and I can (cautiously) combine it with other actives. At the same time: this stuff works! Let's rewind a little and walk through the INCI list. The star of the show is mandelic acid; a gentle AHA that works specifically well for targeting hyperpigmentation. The large molecular size of mandelic acid means it's more slowly absorbed into the skin than something like glycolic, which can be irritating to some. Personally, I can easily use this product daily and reap the benefits of smoother, more glowing skin and improved clarity with zero irritation. It also contains licorice extract, which is a gentle skin-brightener to really support the work of the mandelic. There's panthenol, to help with water retention and replenishing jojoba esters, which I suspect are in there to counteract the acids, because this isn't at all drying. There's black tea ferment and and green tea extract to act as skin-protecting antioxidants. There's also niacinamide in the mix; one of my favourite all-rounder ingredients that can regulate oil production in the skin, as well as strengthen its natural balance. Additionally, lactic acid is included within the formula, another AHA that I do also find a lot less full-on than glycolic and it's specifically good for dry and mature skin types. Overall: this is one of my all-time favourite acid toners for its gentle but effective formula.
I've already totally used up a bottle of the Most Hyaluronic Super Nutrient Hydrating Serum | £34 | which says a lot when you're a skincare blogger! This is the product that really made me realise that there's life beyond single-ingredient HA serums. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, so draws water into the skin (which is why I recommend applying it to slightly damp skin) and a formula like this that has different molecular sizes to reach the different layers of the skin. However, what really makes me love this product is all the other good stuff in there that deeply moisturises my skin, calms it when it's irritated and just injects some life into it overall! It's formulated with nourishing safflower oil, kombucha and acai as antioxidants and panthenol for that water-retention. It's all the good stuff my skin needs on an everyday basis and I can't recommend this serum enough.
The PM option is the Skin Goals Multiacids and Probiotics Perfecting Night Serum | £37. This is a lovely milky-textured serum that again balances some fantastic actives alongside more calming and nourishing ingredients. The exfoliating acids within this serum are glycolic (in a pretty high concentration), lactic, pyruvic and salicylic, as well as PHAs. Glycolic is the gold standard for glowing skin, as probably the strongest AHA on the market, whereas lactic is a slightly gentler, more hydrating alternative. Pyruvic is another AHA, but honestly; I don't think I've used it before (or at least not on its own) so I can't comment on it that much. I couldn't seem to find much information on it online either, which makes me wonder if it's a patented ingredient. Salicylic is the oil-soluble spot-fighting acid that can halt breakouts in their tracks and help clear up scarring left behind by them. PHAs are a very gentle form of acid that exfoliate on a surface level, so are great for loosening up dead skin cells. This blend is going to work on every level of your skin to deliver that acid goodness.
Alongside this fantastic combination of acids, we have some counter-balancing ingredients; moisturising shea butter, rosehip oil to nourish the skin, hydrating hyaluronic acid, niacinamide (to regulate oil production in the skin, calm inflammation and strengthen the skin barrier), tamanu oil to moisturise but also repair the skin and probiotics. Probiotics are a really interesting but still-developing area of skincare. This is live bacteria within a the formula that's designed to be beneficial to the skin barrier. Of course the skin is full of good bacteria that it needs to be healthy, so probiotics contribute towards this with the aim of ensuring healthy barrier function, so your skin retains water effectively and feels calm and balanced. This serum isn't for beginners, in my humble opinion; if you're new to acids then go for Heroine. If you want something a bit more a couple of times a week; Skin Goals is for you. It doesn't irritate or dry out my skin but makes it so smooth by morning; I really notice a visible glow and that my skin texture has improved overnight. With prolonged use, it also helps even out my skin tone and improve the look of dark spots left over after breakouts.
The most recent addition to my lineup has been the Midnight Courage Rosehip, Bakuchiol and Retinol Night Oil | £37. As we discussed in relation to the Allies retinal mask, retinol is one step further removed from retinoic acid, so from this product I was expecting a less-intense formula in terms of side-effects but also in terms of results, and that's what it is, really! It does smooth my skin and it does provide those clarifying benefits, but the results are not as dramatic as with the retinal. At the same time, this is very gentle; I don't get any irritation or peeling with this product, and I think even a relative beginner would get along with this because it's oil-based which counteracts any potential dryness. The only people who might not enjoy this product are really those who have oily skin or dislike oils in general.
Alongside the retinol we also have rosehip oil, bakuchiol and co-Q10. Rosehip oil is a nourishing, non-fragrant plant oil that may also help with wound healing and scarring. Bakuchiol is often touted as the 'natural retinol', so is often recommended for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Personally, I think it's a nice ingredient that smooths and moisturises the skin, but it's no retinol. However, some research suggests that it could work to boost the results of retinol when the two are combined. Finally, co-Q10 is an underrated, but very powerful antioxidant with the ability to protect the skin from environmental damage. I think this is a nice, intermediate retinol-based product. The seasoned pros will undoubtedly be happy to spend the extra for something more powerful like a retinal, but it still does enough to give me noticeable results, at the same time as being gentle and containing some great supporting ingredients. What I actually usually do is go for this most nights and once a week, when I want something stronger, I'll reach for the Allies retinal mask instead.
Overall, in respect of PSA skin; they've kind of knocked my socks off! I think the formulations, the ingredients and their minimalist approach to skincare are impressive, and the products are really well-priced. It's brilliant capsule collection of products that I can recommend pretty universally. They've definitely been one of my favourite skincare discoveries of 2020.
Have you tried either brand and what did you think of their products?