The next high-end product we have is the only one in this post that I just didn't really rate... it's the Dr. Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF 50* | £110 (30ml). I actually did like this product when I first got it for it's light texture and the way it sat under makeup and gave my skin a nice glow without any cast (and don't get me wrong: we have several nice added hydrators and antioxidants in here). As a side-note: both of these products should be applied as the last step in your skincare routine and not mixed with makeup, moisturiser or anything else, regardless of what the brands say... However, this formula got gloopier and gloopier over time and started pilling up on my skin, despite still being well within the use-by period, so I stopped reaching for it. Even when I was enjoying it, it was not worth £110 and also I think sunscreen is something you should be able to use generously without worrying about how much it costs, or you just won't get the benefit of it. I'm glad I got to try this so I could just tell you that it is not worth the money. If a sunscreen existed that was 'worth' £110 (though I could personally never): this formula isn't it.
Really, a chemical sunscreen made in Europe should have a nice texture and shouldn't give a white cast, so you absolutely don't need to spend £110 to get those baseline boxes ticked. However, I do appreciate an elegant sunscreen that's dreamy under makeup and my alternative to the Dr. Barbara Sturm is both cheaper and better: the Hello Sunday the One That's a Serum SPf 45* | £20 (30ml). Yes, this is still only 30ml, and you're getting a very slightly lower SPF level, but it still had broad spectrum protection (with modern filters) and some antioxidant benefits and visible light protection. For me, this is to wear under makeup for incidental sun exposure: I'm not going to the beach with it and slathering it on religiously every hour or so, so the amount doesn't really bother me. The texture is light, there's no cast and it doubles as a gorgeous radiant primer. Plus, I got through an entire bottle of it without the texture changing, which is always nice!
One of my favourite treatment finds from last year was the Paula's Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster | £37 (30ml). This is a kind of creamy formula; I personally use it under my moisturiser in the evening a couple of times a week. It's actually really hard to get a decent texture with azelaic acid at this concentration but this product achieves a good level of cosmetic elegance. 10% is a really good, effective concentration, and you won't find it much higher in a cosmetic ingredient unless it's a derivative. This ingredient is also available via prescription as it's a great option for rosacea, inflammation from conditions like acne and also for treating uneven skin tone and post-inflammatory marks. This is paired with 2% of salicylic acid, making it a great multi-pronged attack. Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant with the power to get into the pores and clear out blemish-causing debris. So, you're kind of treating the pigmentation and preventing further breakouts at the same time. There's also licorice extract in here, which helps with discolouration. These ingredients are formulated alongside soothing and hydrating ingredients so although this is a powerful active, I can't say it's ever irritated my skin personally. At the same time, it delivers the results of clearer, more even skin, speeding up the lifecycle of both breakouts and dark marks left behind from them.
I do have a full review of some new launches from this line but a clear standout is already the Beauty Bay 2% BHA Overnight Mask with Salicylic Acid + Azelaic Acid | £7.50 (50ml). Based on the texture of this product and the fact they haven't disclosed the concentration of azelaic acid and seem to be pushing the salicylic in this formula more, I don't think this contains a lot of the azelaic so how good of an alternative this is really depends on how important that is to you. This has a really nice gel-cream texture and can be used under moisturiser or in place of it and I like that we have aloe in here to balance out the actives and add a soothing angle to the formula. The only thing to flag up is that this does contain citrus extracts: if your skin doesn't agree with those, you definitely don't want to put this on an inflammatory condition like acne or rosacea. All-in-all, I found this helped clear up breakouts and congestion and helped move along fresh marks from spots that had recently healed. I wouldn't say it was as dramatic of a result as with the Paula's Choice, but honestly: at this price-point, it's well worth giving it a go.
Honestly, the Sunday Riley UFO Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil* | £68 (35ml) | has been a pretty unique product in my arsenal for a long time now and I'm actually kind of surprised nothing similar to it had come along before now. This is a 1.5% concentration salicylic acid treatment, but in an oil form. For my dry skin that still gets hormonal breakouts: this is a match made in heaven, when so many salicylic acid products on the market are drying, stripping or just not substantial enough for my skin. It combines salicylic acid with licorice extract, black cumin oil for it's anti-inflammatory benefits, turmeric as an antioxidant and other moisturisers like jojoba oil. There's a bit of tea tree, which I think is fine as an antibacterial in a lower concentration like this. There are a couple of flower essential oils in here, so for some people, the added ingredients aren't necessarily a bonus if they could cause them irritation. I personally don't experience any with this, but it's just a heads up. Overall, this formula isn't drying or irritating but really helps reduce the 'angriness' of breakouts and also to clear those little under-the-skin congestion bumps I sometimes get.
Towards the end of last year, I got a sneak peak of the Ordinary's 2% Salicylic Acid Anhydrous Solution* | £5.20 (30ml) | and I was like: 'finally, someone else has done an oil-based salicylic acid!' I get that some people miss the water-based version as a spot treatment, but I guess to me: water-based salicylic acid treatments are ten-a-penny and this is actually quite unique and offers a cheaper alternative to a high-end product a lot of people love. This is a much simpler formula, so whilst you're not getting those added antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients, the flipside is that you're cutting out the extra ingredients that can be problematic for some skin types. You're getting 2% salicylic acid (so it's a little stronger than the Sunday Riley) in a base of squalane (an olive-derived oil our skin recognises as similar to those it creates itself) and not a lot else. This is actually lighter than the Sunday Riley formula, so on my skin, I could wear it during the day. With both of these formulas, I like to apply a couple of drops before moisturiser, usually before bed a couple of times a week. I find this really effective for clearing general congestion and moving on those active breakouts that bit faster, and it's not irritating for me in the slightest.
One of my favourite exfoliating ingredients is the PHA (I did a breakdown of them here) and my go-to for about the past year has been the Medik8 PHA Daily Exfoliating Tonic with Enzyme Activator* | £25 (200ml). I personally don't believe in using leave-on exfoliants every day but this is a gentle option for me 3 times a week (alongside my key actives of Vitamin C and retinoids) with a 5.5% concentration of gluconolactone. PHAs provide slow-release exfoliation but also have hydrating properties that make them great for drier skin types. This formula also contains aloe to soothe and calm the skin. It's never irritated my skin and always gives it that added level of smoothness that I really do appreciate, plus it can aid in the penetration of whatever you put on after it. Even though this is my high-end pick: it's really still not a bad price at all when you look at the cost per ml and the fact this is refillable at a slightly reduced price.
Strangely, this is the first time I discovered my dupe before I discovered my high-end favourite, because the first PHA I ever used was the Inkey List's PHA Toner* | £9.99 (100ml). This contains a gentle 3% of gluconolactone, but also 3% of niacinamide to help stimulate ceramide production, prevent the spread of uneven pigmentation and regulate oil production in the skin. Then we also have aloe and glycerin to soothe and hydrate the skin. I love this product and I go back to it when my skin feels more sensitive to get that smoothness without risking irritation. Both of these are gentle formulas that I love: I'd say it depends on how sensitive your skin is and how often you want to use the product (there's no point in a 200ml bottle if you're not going to finish it). However, if you want a more drugstore option: you can't go far wrong with the Inkey List.
I won't lie: I had mixed feelings towards Fenty Skin when it first launched, however my standout from the line in terms of what felt new and unique and what I enjoyed using the most was the Fenty Skin Fat Water Pore-Refining Toner Serum* | £25 (150ml). This has a bit of weight to it, coming out like a kind of light jelly and it hydrates whilst giving my skin a healthy glow. We have niacinamide, some fermented ingredients, hydrating cactus water and glycerin, a humectant to draw water into the skin. There's witch hazel in here too, which some people don't get on with. I personally took this as an overall formula and it worked for me, so I assume that the ingredient was formulated in a way so it wouldn't feel drying.
I wouldn't have necessarily pulled the Revolution Skincare Hylaboost Multiweight Hyaluronic Jelly Water Toner* | £10 (150ml) | as a potential alternative to the Fenty based on the ingredients alone, which is why I find it so important to test, touch and feel products before saying they're 'dupes'. It still contains the witch hazel and cactus extract but it emphasises its multi-molecular hyaluronic acid formula, though this is of course a humectant like the glycerin in the Fenty. This doesn't contain niacinamide, but that stuff is everywhere so you can easily get it in another step of your routine. Most importantly, this has that same serum-toner hybrid water-jelly texture as the Fenty and gives me the same hydrated glow.
Have you tried any of the products I've discussed? Let me know about any cheaper alternatives you've found to high-end products lately too!