I like to keep my skincare favourites short and sweet because, honestly, I think it's important to really whittle everything I tried this year down to the absolute best! As always, this post is about new discoveries and rediscoveries, so it's not just me regurgitating the holy grails every year with a couple of updates, but I'm going to compare the new discoveries to all-time faves where relevant. Let's jump into it...
First Cleanse - Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm* | £37 | full review
This has to be one of my all-time favourite cleansing balms because the texture is so unique: it kind of just melts, without any work at all. It's really soft so quick and easy to spread across the skin, plus I do enjoy the scent of this. It melts down my makeup effortlessly, it emulsifies nicely and it leaves my skin soft but doesn't leave behind any kind of film. It was definitely worth the wait in terms of getting this product to the UK.
I have to be honest: this almost pipped Then I Met You to the top spot, but it's a newer addition and I'm always cautious about calling something a favourite prematurely! Again, the texture is really unusual - I've linked my video of it to give you a visual. It's like this soft, fluffy, melting formula straight out of the tub. It has a light scent and a simple ingredient list, but cuts right through whatever's on my face without stripping it. My skin feels completely clean but nicely-moisturised after!
Second or Morning Cleanse - Venn Moisture Balance All-in-One Face Cleanser* | £55 | brand review coming soon
I know I technically discovered this last year, but I opened a new bottle this year, so that counts, right? Honestly, I love this light, fluid, milky-emulsion cleanser; it doesn't foam, it's gentle and it has some really great ingredients packed into it. We have chamomile to soothe, glycerin to draw water into the skin, PHAs to hydrate and gently exfoliate, niacinamide to help support the skin barrier, panthenol for soothing hydration and more. I know it's a cleanser but I just love how gentle and non-stripping it is and how it makes my skin feel after use!
Second or Morning Cleanse Honourable Mention - Cipher Cloud Melt | A$85 | brand review coming soon
This has actually just been reformulated and I just got the new version, so I'll be doing a full brand review soon! However, I picked it up earlier this year, cracked it open a few months back and love it. It fulfils a similar role to the Ordinary's cleanser in my routine, in that it's a fantastic multi-tasker. It comes out like this wonderful fluffy creamy-gel and can be used a moisturising morning cleanse or as a one-step option on sunscreen days. It even does a decent job against makeup! I'll dive into the ingredients and everything else once I've tried the new version in a full review, but I'm sure it's still amazing.
Vitamin C or Antioxidant - Youth to the People 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum* | £55 | full review
This is actually probably a tie with the Summer Fridays serum from last year as my favourite ever gentle-but-effective Vitamin C derivative serum with added antioxidants. For me, if you're going for derivatives (which are more stable and less irritating than ascorbic acid, but not as scientifically-backed in terms of giving results) then you kind of want several. In here we have tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and ethylated ascorbic acid, which are all really great derivatives. Then we have caffeine and other plant extracts as antioxidants and a really hydrating base. This gives me an immediate glow boost but over time also helped my skin's overall tone look more even. At the same time, it's never irritating and I can use it daily with ease alongside other actives.
Vitamin C or Antioxidant Honourable Mention - Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Antioxidant Serum* | £145 | full review with dupes coming soon
I couldn't not mention the OG, the gold standard... It's not my first time using this product, but every time I get a new bottle, I remember how great it is! This is a pure-form ascorbic acid serum and the most scientifically-sound formulation on the market in terms of stability, but it also doesn't irritate my skin. It combines the ingredient with Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid for stability and for synergistic antioxidant benefits, protecting the skin from free radical damage. You're also getting a boost in collagen production as well as those brightening benefits. It's a classic for a reason!
Chemical Exfoliant - Medik8 Press & Glow PHA Tonic with Enzyme Activator* | £25 | full review
I've mentioned before that where exfoliation used to be the only 'active' part of my skincare routine, I lean on it a lot less these days. This 5% PHA toner slots perfectly in alongside my Vitamin C and retinoids a few times a week. It smooths my skin and gives me the instant gratification of a glow boost without any irritation. It's not stripping, it's not drying and gives me just the right level of exfoliation.
This was totally different to any acid I'd tried before and I think that's why it was so stand-out for me! It's a salicylic acid treatment in an oil form, so whilst it has those anti-blemish benefits whilst also moisturising my skin at the same time. It's amazing for decongesting my skin, clarifying my complexion and making my skin's texture and tone smoother and more consistent.
This year I ventured out of my Medik8 comfort zone and tried some of the newer retinal formulas to market. This launch from Sachi Skin combines my favourite retinoid (one step up from retinol, one step down from tretinoin) - encapsulated for stability and a gentle slow release - with some fantastic supporting ingredients to soothe and brighten the skin. This is a 0.05% formula - it gave me no irritation but this is an advanced retinoid, not the first one you ever try! I would personal recommend graduating to this if you've used the Medik8 formulas in 1 and 3, as it's stronger than those but not as strong as their 6, and I enjoyed this so much that I could easily use this up again before reaching for something stronger (yes, this is me refusing to choose a favourite). It's a little more on the pricey side, but retinal is expensive to formulate with and you're getting all these added extras in this formula.
Retinoid Honourable Mention - Allies of Skin 1A Retinal & Peptides Overnight Mask | £105 | full review
Look, I was a little dubious of this formula at first given the price-point, but now I've used up a tube of this, the Sachi Skin and a tube of the Medik8 this year, it does last a really long time being 50ml rather than the 30ml of the other two products. This is also a 0.05% encapsulated formula, which has been perfect for my skin this year. It's light and moisturising and also contains peptides, which I sometimes struggle to get into my routine, and they can have some really great well-ageing benefits too.
Multi-Active Treatment - Paula's Choice Clinical Discolouration Repair Serum* | £46 | full review
I love a multi-active formula, especially when it comes to tackling hyperpigmentation and discolouration. There's no single ingredient that's a silver bullet against this concern so the Paula's Choice formula comes at it from several different angles with the key players being bakuchiol (as an antioxidant), niacinamide (to inhibit the spread of hyperpigmentation) and tranexamic acid (which looks promising for discolouration issues like melasma). It's gentle, it can be used daily and it works!
This is honestly quite similar to the Paula's Choice, but it's a tad lighter in texture if you have more of an oily skin type. Again, it's nice and gentle and began working for me within a really good amount of time. It's formulated with niacinamide, again, alpha arbutin and tranexamic acid. Both are great, I think I just saw results a tad faster with the Paula's Choice and it's more accessible here in the UK.
Face mists usually fall into the 'nice but not life-changing' category for me, but this one actually is kind of life-changing... It has a bit of weight to it, not only being formulated with both humectants (drawing water into the skin) like glycerin and hyaluronic acid but also moisturising sweet almond oil to bind in hydration. Plus there's plenty of soothing goodness with panthenol, amino acids and sodium PCA. It calms, hydrates and supports overall skin health.
This is a totally different product but one I also really enjoyed this year. It's packed full of fermented ingredients and hydrating goodness and never fails to give my skin the fresh, juicy glow I crave. It has some weight to it but never feels sticky or like there's too much product on my skin.
This is such a perfect serum when I'm not sure what to reach for or I just want general glow and hydration with some antioxidant benefits. It has both a soothing and a gently clarifying quality to it with ingredients like cica, prebiotics, niacinamide, panthenol and red algae.
This is just a lovely everyday moisturising serum that also contains ceramides to boost up the skin barrier. When I had this serum it was just a default product I instinctively reached for during the winter and spring and it always seemed to do it for me. There's soybean oil in here, niacinamide, peptides and cholesterol to prop up the ceramides.
This is just a fantastic, elegant, simple and multi-tasking moisturiser. It's both softening, smoothing and deeply nourishing but has this light, fluffiness to its texture. It's not an overly-complex formula and doesn't contain any fragrance or obvious irritants so it works for me even when my skin is feeling sensitive. It's gorgeous under makeup but also substantial enough to use as a night cream. It's just dreamy!
This is one I love using for the exact same reason as the I'm From Cream, to be honest! It provides intense moisture and I can use if AM or PM but it has a light texture that works beautifully under makeup too. If you're looking for a daytime-appropriate barrier repair cream: this is a great option. You have Vitamin D3, plant lipids, ceramides, Vitamin F, prebiotics, probiotics, Vitamin E, cholesterol and more. Which you go for really depends on how complex of a formula you want.
This is a super-lightweight barrier repair oil. I use it generally before bed as the final step in my routine, but when my skin really needs it, I'll use a couple of drops during the day under my moisturiser. There's something so reparative about this for dry, sensitive skin and its star ingredients include Vitamin D3, phospholipids, squalane, Vitamin F, fatty acids, Vitamin E, humectants and more.
This was a very close second! This isn't an oil that feels overly oily despite being formulated with replenishing omega fatty acids. It's also packed full of antioxidant goodness and has a great anti-inflammatory benefit for the skin. It's a rare formula in that I think most skin types could probably get along with this oil.
It was never going to be anything other than this, let's be real! This blend of nourishing butters and oils keeps my lips so nourished and the light texture makes it great for day or night, I even now have it in different tints to wear on makeup days.
Everyday Sunscreen - Ultra Violette Supreme Screen Hydrating Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+ | £34 | full review
2021 was the year in which Australian sunscreen brand Ultra Violette made its way to UK shores and I was not disappointed by their formulas! This is a high-protection sunscreen that's lightweight, radiant (but not greasy) and sits beautifully under makeup. It works so well as a primer too because it has this mild peachy correcting tone to it. This was my go-to for summer - obviously not if I was going to the beach or something, but for makeup days when I was out and about and needed that protection without the pilling.
Another fantastic option was this sunscreen from Hello Sunday. Don't be confused by the name or applicator: just apply it like any other sunscreen. It's light, radiant and never pills up. It's another formula that's eliminated the need for primer in my routine, because I personally prefer as few steps as possible when I'm wearing makeup so a multitasker like this is perfect.
Now this is the product I'd wear to the beach! Let me know if you'd like more of a deep-dive on the science behind Evy's formulas, but in short: they've done a lot of testing on these formulas and this specific product is fantastic for staying on the skin for hours and hours, through the heat and sweat. I personally re-apply this to my face and body if I'm out and exposed every hour or two regardless, because there's always going to be a margin of error, but it just gives me the peace of mind to know I'm not going to accidentally burn if I temporarily get wrapped up in something or I'm distracted. The filters are all modern and non-irritating and it comes out as this mousse: you just rub a golf ball sized amount between your hands for each section of your body and it melts in immediately with no white cast (unlike traditional creams and lotions). And, honestly: the easier it is to re-apply your sunscreen if you're hiking, at the beach or exercising in the sun, the more likely you are to do it enough!
Lastly, let's talk about my mineral find of the year. Does it beat my favourite from last year? (The Skingredients - reviewed here.) It's tough to say; I do prefer the texture and hydration of the Skingredients for my dry skin, but I do think the Murad is more universal and works for a wider range of skin tones so in some senses I'm more likely to recommend it. This has a slightly peachy tone, meaning I can apply and reapply it throughout the day without experiencing any white cast, it has good broad-spectrum protection and it has added antioxidant goodness.
What have your skincare favourites been for 2021?