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This year, I really wanted to challenge myself and not do posts on 'best skincare in x category' then 'the best skincare in y category' and talk about 50+ products in total. So, you're getting one post, featuring the best of the best of my 2020 skincare discoveries. It's all killer, no filler, so let's dive in...
Let's kick things off with cleansers! I think in 2020, I realised my skin is definitely more on the dry side and I just don't like foaming cleansers the majority of the time. I can do a gentle lather, but why bother when there are so many great formulas out there that don't do anything like that?
I recently finished up the Kate Somerville DeliKate Soothing Cleanser* | £33 | full review | and of course I had a backup ready and waiting already, because this has been one of my go-to morning cleansers for a large part of this year. It's a light, non-foaming emulsion cleanser formulated with ceramides and peptides to hydrate the skin and keep its barrier healthy. It's on the list of products that my skin can tolerate when it's extremely dry or sensitised and it's a great product to use alongside retinoids because it's so hydrating and gently cleanses without at all stripping the skin. Another great option for a second or morning cleanse (though it can also remove light makeup if you need it to) is the Skingredients PreProbiotic Cleanse* | £24 | full review. This is a gorgeous cream-based cleanser formulated with prebiotics and probiotics, to contribute towards a healthy skin barrier, and PHAs to hydrate and provide some very gentle exfoliation. It's somehow nourishing but also lightweight and easy to remove. Again, it's just gentle on my skin and leaves mine soft and clean without that 'my skin has just been robbed of all moisture' feeling.
Moving onto cleansers that I use to remove makeup and sunscreen, my go-to for the small amount of travel I've done this year has been the Ordinary's Supersize Squalane Cleanser | £13.75. This cleanser is great at removing makeup but also makes a great moisturising morning cleanse; so it's a great option when I want to pack as few products as possible. It comes out as a creamy balm, and as you massage it into dry skin it melts down into something more oil-based, then on contact with water it emulsifies so you can remove it easily. Squalane is a plant-based skin-similar oil that's great for dry and sensitive skin types. I honestly felt like choosing between the Ordinary's Squalane and the Inkey List's Oat cleansers would be like a parent having to choose a favourite child, so I've included both! It's strange to think that when I tried both of these for the very first time, I wasn't that into them, and now they're total favourites. One of my go-to products for removing makeup and sunscreen at the end of the day is, of course, the Inkey List's Oat Cleansing Balm* | £9.99 | full review. I've used up a tube of this now, and have to admit it's pretty hard work to get the product out, but if you give it a good shake and get a bit further through the tube; it's fine. It's a cleansing balm so just warm it between your hands and it'll begin to melt down a little so it becomes an oil as you massage it into the skin. It melts down makeup effectively, lifting and removing everything. It's incredibly gentle too, even on my sensitive eyes, and contains oat kernel oil and colloidal oat for dry, sensitive skin.
- TONERS -
I feel like my tastes in exfoliating toners have really changed this year, sorry Pixi Glow Tonic! My eyes have just been opened beyond the world I knew, of glycolic, salicylic and the occasional bit of lactic. This year I've really gotten into ingredients like PHAs, mandelic acid and also acid blends that help you get that multi-level exfoliation magic.
The first really gentle acid I tried was the Inkey List's PHA Toner* | £9.99 | full review. This smooths, softens and hydrates my skin; it's not at all stripping and I can use it when my skin is feeling sensitive. It works on a surface level, which is fine for me, as someone with drier skin. It gently loosens dead skin cells that cause dull, dry-feeling skin to reveal fresher, smoother skin. A product that levels up the PHA magic is the Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tightening Toner | £31 | full review. This combines it with BHA in the form of willow bark (think of it as a gentler salicylic acid precursor) so you get both the surface exfoliation and something a little more pore-penetrating (though nothing is going to 'tighten' your pores, I'm afraid!) What I really enjoy about this is that a) it works and b) it hydrates. This smooths the skin in the exfoliation sense, but it's also incredibly hydrating and will leave your skin looking dewy and fresh. The only slight negative I have for it is that it does contain fragrance; it doesn't bother my skin, but it's something to consider.
Possibly my favourite toner of the year was the PSA Heroine Mandelic and Licorice Glow Toner | £28 | full review. This is a cocktail of all of my essential brightening ingredients. It's formulated with mandelic acid, a gentle AHA that's fantastic for hyperpigmentation, and also a little lactic acid, which can hydrate as well as exfoliate. Then there's licorice extract, a gentle brightener, and also niacinamide; my multi-tasking hero (more on it later...) I love that this toner is incredibly gentle but it works to treat pigmentation spots and smooths the skin with zero irritation.
- SERUMS & TREATMENTS -
2020 has really been the year of me finding incredible actives that really work for my skin, beyond exfoliating acids. I've been so amazed by some of the ingredients I've tried and the results I've seen from them. As a person of colour, despite having drier skin I do suffer from hormonal breakouts, which usually clear up quite quickly, but the uneven pigmentation left behind afterwards is really my main issue. Additionally, I've entered my late 20s, so using products that stimulate collagen production is another area that became really important to me this year.
My favourite everyday non-active serum that I used up entirely this year (and have two backups of!) is the PSA the Most Hyaluronic Super-Nutrient Hydration Serum | £34 | full review. This serum really did convert me from my previous wisdom that pure hyaluronic serums were somehow better or more potent. Hyaluronic acid is a moisture magnet that pulls water into the skin, so be sure to apply it to slightly damp skin. What I love about this product is that it boosts the hyaluronic magic (which is multi-molecular to ensure its goodness reaches the different layers of the skin) with lots of other fantastic ingredients. Panthenol helps retain water in the skin and there's licorice root extract, fermented ingredients, antioxidants like kombucha and also safflower oil to moisturise the skin. It's gentle, it plays well with other actives and it really takes the hydrated feeling to the next level by helping your skin to better retain water.
My star Vitamin C is really the product that made me realise Vitamin C can be amazing! Before the Summer Fridays CC Me Vitamin C Serum | £57 | I found Vitamin C could give my skin a healthy, dewy glow, but I hadn't really experienced The Results. However, this formula knocked my socks off! This product contains a good concentration of ethyl ascorbic acid and ascorbyl glucoside as Vitamin C derivatives, alongside niacinamide. There are also some moisturising oils in here. This serum was incredible at evening out my skin's tone, it was very gentle and suitable for daily use, plus it comes in an elegant, moisturising formula.
Now, let's actually talk about niacinamide and how I find it beneficial for my skin! It was a pretty close race between this product and one from Dr Dennis Gross, but the Venn Vitamin B Activated All-in-One Concentrate* | £155 | is both a unique formula and a truly beautiful one to use, which is why it's the product that made it into this post. It isn't cheap and you certainly don't need to spend this much on niacinamide, but I'm here to talk about the skincare products that gave me results and were a joy to use this year, whether they're £10 or £100+ and I truly loved this. What is it? It's a serum or an all-in-one serum and moisturiser. I can definitely get away with using it as a one-step solution when I want too because of its thicker, creamy-lotion texture. It's formulated with lots of lovely, moisturising plant oils alongside niacinamide, which is my skincare all-rounder. Niacinamide helps strengthen the skin barrier, improves water retention in the skin, can help brighten an uneven skin tone and also helps to regulate oil production in the skin. Using this product regularly just improves the overall tone, texture and quality of my skin and it has the most beautiful texture!
I've used retinol on and off for a while and liked it well enough, but I didn't really 'get' why people swore by it... until I met the Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3* | £45 | full review. Retinal is one step closer to retinoic acid, making it a more potent, direct route to retinoid benefits like fading the appearance of scarring, smoothing the skin and increasing collagen production in skin cells. This product gave me incredible, noticeable results fast! It also doesn't make me peel and has a really moisturising texture. Retinoids are now an indispensable part of my skincare routine.
I've really been enjoying discovering serum blends this year that can tackle my skin concerns with a targeted, multi-pronged attack, as opposed to trying to work out which single-ingredient serums I can and can't layer up. My favourite product in this category has to be the Dr. Sam Bunting Flawless Brightly Serum | £44 | full review. This gentle, everyday-appropriate serum combines the brightening properties of azelaic acid, ascorbyl glucoside (a Vitamin C derivative), niacinamide and bakuchiol (often called the 'natural retinol' - whilst I wouldn't go that far, it does have some skin-smoothing properties). It's not a bad price at all, it comes in a moisturising, but non-greasy formula that feels beautiful and elegant on the skin, and it works! It helped my skin tone look even, smooth and radiant without irritating it at all.
Let's move on to some exfoliating treatments. I very nearly went with the famous peel pads from this brand, but I actually felt more strongly about the serum version: the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting and Refining Serum* | £68. I always reach for this product during 'that time of the month' because that's when I do get these annoying little colonies of spots, and this product has an amazing ability to clear things up fast, as well as leaving my skin incredibly soft, smooth and even. I don't find it irritating at all, despite the fact it contains a blend of glycolic, mandelic, lactic and salicylic acids. They're counterbalanced with bisabolol, panthenol and jojoba esters to help keep up the skin's hydration level. As a one-off treatment, the Algenist Blue Algae Vitamin C Dark Spot Correcting Peel* | £80 | full review. Name an ingredient that tackles hyperpigmentation and I'll bet you it's in this product! There's Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), azelaic acid, glycolic acid, tranexamic acid, mandelic acid and salicylic acid. It's incredible; the glycerin in this product really helps to buffer the strength of the ingredients and I often don't recommend products that are wash-off when it comes to Vitamin C, but once or twice a week; this blend of ingredients worked serious magic on my skin in terms of getting rid of stubborn pigmentation spots, not to mention it provides incredible exfoliation, so you get the immediate satisfaction of ridiculously soft skin.
- MOISTURISERS, SUNSCREENS, CREAMS & OILS -
Let's move on to moisturisers and their relatives. I honestly can't get enough nourishment these days! I also discovered some fantastic sunscreens and an eye cream that really wowed me...
I'm sure the regulars wish I'd shut the hell up about this product but I WILL NOT! In 2020, I polished off a whole tub of the Kate Somerville DeliKate Recovery Cream* | £69 | full review | and got myself a backup. It's one of those things where; I know CeraVe is good for my skin and probably offers similar ingredients, but I really do appreciate a formula that feels beautiful on my skin and leaves it as soft and smooth as this cream does. It was specifically designed for compromised skin and therefore it's my default if things are feeling sensitised; I slather it on and let my poor face heal. It's fragrance-free and formulated with several types of ceramide, shea butter, sunflower oil and honey extract to provide that next-level nourishment, as well as helping to repair a damaged skin barrier. Another similar cream I really enjoyed this year so couldn't not mention is the Biossance Squalane + Omega Repair Cream* | £49 | full review. Biossance have built their range around their sustainable squalane and I've already discussed in this post why this is a fantastic skin ingredient. Omega fatty acids also help replenish dry or damaged skin. This is also fragrance-free and safe for my skin in its most sensitive moments. What I love about this cream is how it melts into the skin. It's definitely not as thick and inherently satisfying as the Kate Somerville formula, but it's actually fantastic under makeup, softening and smoothing my skin, whilst helping replenish it at the same time.
Still on the theme of nourishment, I totally fell for the Sunday Riley Juno Antioxidant + Superfood Face Oil | £54 | full review | this year. I used up a small bottle of it and needed the biggie! This is a fragrance-free blend of nourishing, antioxidant-rich fruit and plant oils, that are totally non-irritating for my skin and work well alongside actives. It's not greasy or smothering; it just locks in my skincare and gives dry, dull skin deep nourishment and a bit of life!
During the summer months, my moisturiser of choice was the Volition Celery Green Cream* | £46 | full review. This has a lightweight gel-cream texture but does contain some oils like soybean, which is perhaps why this seems to give me lasting hydration. There are lots of water-attracting ingredients in the mix like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, but oils help seal them into the skin. There are lots of extracts like apple, green tea and cucumber in the mix for their hydrating, refreshing and antioxidant properties. This cream gives me fresh, dewy skin in a lightweight, hydrating layer that allowed my skin to breathe when the weather was hotter.
It was hard to choose just one, but I have! My favourite sunscreen of the year was the Keep Cool Bamboo Sun Essence SPF 50 PA ++++* | £24.90. This beautiful formula feels lightweight and moisturising with a high level of broad-spectrum protection that leaves no white cast on my skin! Is it the sort of durable formula you should slap on before a beach day when you're sweating and taking a dip? No, it's not intended to be a 'stay on your skin no matter what' sunscreen; it's an everyday product to wear in your everyday life. Contrary to popular belief; sunscreen isn't only for the summer and certainly isn't only for holidays. It's the best preventative measure you can take to look after your skin and ensure your active skincare works to the best of its ability.
Last but certainly not least, we have the Murad Vita-C Dark Circle Corrector* | £56 | full review. Before this product I'd really have maintained that no product is going to help your dark circles, but I think I stand corrected! It makes sense; this is a targeted Vitamin C treatment in airtight packaging. It's not cheap, but if you (like me) have stubborn hyperpigmentation around your eye area; this really made a visible difference for me.
What do you think of my picks? What were your top picks of 2020?