Your first cleanse is the product you use to remove makeup and / or sunscreen and the two main options for doing this are oil cleansers and balm cleansers (which melt from butters into oils) so I have one of each!
My first option is the Q+A Grapefruit Cleansing Balm* | £9 | which is super handy and comes in a travel-friendly tube. The texture means it comes out of the tube easily and the formula isn't too rich or heavy. You only need a small amount and you can massage it onto dry skin to melt it down and lift up makeup and sunscreen at the end of the day. Then, simply emulsify it into a milk with water and either rinse the skin thoroughly with water or remove with a damp cloth. It's moisturising but doesn't leave the skin feeling greasy or full of residue, and it does a really great job of cutting through everything.
My other pick is the Super Facialist Vitamin C+ Skin Renew Cleansing Oil* | £12. This is one of the quickest first cleanses I've ever used; just drop some into your palms and watch the makeup melt as you spread it over your skin (of course, you then emulsify and remove it from your skin). It's lightweight, it's not overly 'oily' and it works, even on heavy makeup. It's a great product for converting people away from wipes and no-rinse micellar waters, because it's just so satisfyingly effective and efficient at taking everything off at the end of the day. There's no residue left behind on my skin after use either!
Moving onto second / morning cleanses; I'll hold my hands up and admit that I like non-foaming cleansers, so both don't foam. I have a more jelly, water-based option and then something creamier and more lotion-like. These are the gentle cleansers you want to use in the morning or following your PM oil-based cleanse.
The slightly richer of the two is the ever-underrated Superdrug Me+ Hyaluronic Acid Cleanser | £8.99. This comes out like a creamy lotion that still has a humectant quality to it, so it's nothing overly heavy or thick. It's formulated with hyaluronic acid to draw moisture into the skin, gentle, non-foaming surfactants, niacinamide (it's a cleanser, so it's not going to work wonders but in this context it can help boost up skin barrier function) and ceramides (also a skin barrier booster). All-in-all, these are great ingredients for keeping the skin in balance through the potentially-stripping cleansing process. It leaves my skin soft, happy, hydrated and clean after use!
If you prefer something a little more jelly-like then the Aveeno Calm + Restore Nourishing Oat Cleanser* | £8.99 | is for you. This is a water-based (but milky) non-foaming cleanser that's a great gentle option for just about any skin type. Its second ingredient is glycerin (a water magnet) which is what gives it its jelly-like texture, plus it's formulated with oat extract to soothe redness and irritation. Again, it just maintains my skin's equilibrium and cleanses without drying out my skin.
Next, let's talk Vitamin C; the most commonly-used antioxidant. I love antioxidants in my morning skincare routine because they protect the skin from free radical damage and work synergistically with sunscreen, so you reap the maximum benefits from both. There are two options with Vitamin C; the pure form - which does have stability issues and can be irritating for some - and derivatives, which work as antioxidants but don't have the same evidence to back them when it comes to boosting collagen production and keeping our skin looking and feeling fuller for longer.
It has gone up quite a bit in price, which is a shame, but the Ordinary's Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate 20% in Vitamin F | £19.50 | is still a really great formula. This is an oil-soluble Vitamin C derivative in a bed of replenishing, fatty Vitamin F. This offers a much more gentle alternative for people who can't tolerate the pure form of the ingredient. The oil delivery system makes this gentler too and provides added nourishment for dry skin types (but it's not too 'shiny' looking for a morning routine, unless you already have combination / oily skin). This formula leaves my skin looking radiant and healthy, as well as protecting it throughout the day, without any of the drawbacks of pure ascorbic acid.
As mentioned, ascorbic acid can be fussy, so I'm careful with my recommendations in this category, but one I do think is effective and as stable as possible is the Geek and Gorgeous C-Glow 15% Vitamin C Serum* | £11.95. This is a water-light serum with pure Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid (for added stability). What makes this formula work is that it's an independent brand formulating in small batches, so you're getting a very fresh product that you'll want to use daily once it arrives. I am always able to use this up before it starts oxidising in any meaningful way. It isn't irritating to my skin like some pure Vitamin C formulas have been in the past, and it gives me fresh, glowing skin that looks nice and even. If you're after a pure Vitamin C serum on a budget then look no further!
Peptides are an amazing class of ingredients that show promise in terms of boosting collagen production, plus they're hydrating and replenishing for the skin. They're also a great option if your skin just doesn't tolerate retinoids and Vitamin C; you can reap some really similar benefits, and peptides really aren't irritating. They can get pretty pricey, but I have two formulas here that include peptides that show real promise.
The first is the Ordinary's Multi-Peptide + HA* | £15.90 | which is pretty market-leading in terms of the peptides it's formulated with; we have argireline and two forms of Matrixyl. Matrixyl 3000 specifically is one of the best-researched peptides out there when it comes to potential collagen-boosting benefits, plus Argireline (in this formula it's combined with other peptides to give it a boost; this blend is called Argirelox) is often touted as 'botox in a bottle'; whilst I wouldn't go that far, it does show promise in improving the look of expression lines. This also contains hyaluronic acid to boost hydration levels in the skin. It's plump, bouncy skin in a bottle and these ingredients could also help with keeping your collagen stores topped up in the long term.
A cheaper formula that's a great starter-peptide is the Bondi Sands Plump It Up Peptide Serum* | £8.99. I've been using this to death because it's just so easy to slot into my routine and it always seems to do the trick. It's a milkier, more substantial-feeling serum than the more watery formula from the Ordinary, so it's really well-rounded as a one-step serum in comparison (despite not being quite as techy). It has a base of glycerin for hydration, plus grape seed oil to leave the skin nice and soft after use. In terms of peptides, it's formulated with the Matrixyl 3000 blend (so is an amazing price for such a great ingredient) and a reparative copper peptide; it's simple but really covers off your bases in terms of protecting and boosting the skin. It also never fails to leave my skin looking and feeling bouncy and healthy after use.
Retinoids are pretty much the gold standard in well-ageing; proven to boost collagen production and improve the appearance of existing photo-ageing (as well as helping with scarring, texture and discolouration). These aren't really beginner-friendly formulas (check out this post for my top picks in that category), they're just the best affordable ones I've tried. Both happen to be retinal formulas because this is my favourite form of retinoid for my skin (balancing quick, visible results with minimal irritation / adjustment time) and it's only recently become accessible at a lower price-point. Whilst retinoids aren't for everyone (and shouldn't be used whilst pregnant or breastfeeding), I think there's a formula out there for most people; these are just the ones that have worked well for me as an intermediate retinoid user.
First up, I obviously have to mention the Geek & Gorgeous A-Game 10 0.1% Retinal Serum* | £17.95. It's a 'no frills' formula that just works for me! There aren't a ton of added extras in here, but it works great with a good moisturiser (which we'll get onto shortly). This is definitely on the higher-strength end when it comes to concentrations of retinal, and there's an A-Game 5 with 0.05% that's a more suitable 'first retinal' for those progressing from retinol. This product didn't irritate my skin (though bear in mind I've been using retinoids pretty much every single night for the past 3-4 years) but gave me visibly smoother, more even skin.
More recently, I also tried and saw results with the Elf Youth-Boosting Advanced Night Serum | £22. It's a little pricier but you're getting the added benefits of antioxidants and soothing ingredients like bisabolol. Although it contains a lower concentration of retinal at 0.06%, this is still potent and Elf pair it alongside granactive retinoid, which is another Vitamin A derivative that can deliver excellent results with less irritation when compared to other retinoids. This product really worked for me in terms of delivering those retinoid results I'm looking for, and again; I didn't observe any dryness or irritation.
Let's talk exfoliation. Today I wanted to spotlight two next-generation chemical exfoliants (there are already plenty of glycolic and salicylic acids at every price-point on the market), because they really highlight how advanced drugstore options have become (especially when compared with the St. Ives Apricot Scrub era...) I personally only feel the need to do either a peel once a week or a serum or toner 2-3 times a week when it comes to my skin. Now I have good peptides, retinoids and antioxidants in my routine, exfoliating all the time isn't really a priority. So, I have two gentle options for you: a serum and a toner.
First up is the Ordinary's Mandelic Acid 10% + HA | £7.40. This is a serum featuring a brilliant AHA that has a larger molecular weight, meaning it's absorbed more slowly by the skin, reducing the risk of irritation. Mandelic acid isn't just an exfoliant to smooth the skin and increase its cell turnover, but it's specifically effective against discolouration and its antibacterial properties make it a great option for blemish-prone skin. It's gentle but it works; my skin is smoother and brighter immediately and over time, it really helps clear up marks and scars from healing blemishes.
The other option I have is a little more geared towards dry and / or sensitive skin; the Inkey List's PHA Toner* | £11.49. PHAs are their own category of chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs, and are characterised by their large molecular size and their hydrating properties. At low concentrations, they are sometimes included in formulations just for their hydrating benefits. This formula leaves my skin softer, smoother and more hydrated after use and its so gentle that if my skin has been feeling a little sensitive; I can still use this. Plus it contains soothing aloe extract a little niacinamide to boost skin barrier function and help treat discolouration.
Next, we have moisturisers. This is a little more subjective, as everyone has their preferences but I have a few options that really stood out to me and should cover off most bases, so I'll talk through each in terms of who they might be for and when to use them.
My first pick is the Bondi Sands Daydream Whipped Moisturiser* | £9.99 | which I think will suit most skin types; for my dry skin, it's more of a summer daytime option, but if you're oilier you can use this for most of the year and swap to the gel formula from the same range for the summer. This is a nice, light lotion that's still substantial enough to provide moisture and hydration for my skin all day long and leave it nice and soft. It also works really well with all of my other skincare, favourite sunscreens and makeup products, which helps! It's a lovely all-rounder that's not too heavy or too light, formulated with ingredients like Vitamin E, caviar lime (a powerful antioxidant) and glycerin for water-based hydration alongside seed butters and plant oils (like rosehip) to leave the skin feeling really nourished after use.
A product I typically use during the daytime in winter (but would also be a great night cream for just about anyone) is the Byoma Moisturising Rich Cream* | £13.99. This moisturiser comes in a pump bottle so the texture is a little more lotion-y but it still feels really comforting and nourishing once applied. It's formulated with the lipid barrier holy trinity of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids to keep your skin happy, moisturised and in balance. Plus, we have nourishing shea butter and bakuchiol, which has antioxidant benefits, as well as helping treat discolouration. This is such a steal and a great all-rounder for my skin.
Last - but not least - we have the Ordinary's Natural Moisturising Factors + PhytoCeramides* | £20. This is a newer spin on their original NMF + HA moisturiser, which is a great basic that seems to work for just about everyone. This is a very rich moisturiser (I personally only use it as part of my PM routine, as it would be a bit much to bast on before putting on sunscreen and makeup) that's great for using on very dry, sensitive skin or alongside a retinoid to help take the edge off it and buffer things with skin barrier goodness and counteract any potential drying effect. Natural Moisturising Factors (as the name suggests) naturally occur in the skin, and it's great to top them up with a product like this in situations where the skin can be prone to dryness (such as with use of stronger actives, or even just to counteract the impact of winter on the skin). The lipids in this formula just add that extra kick of nourishment that ensures my skin is soft, moisturised and happy by morning.
I couldn't not mention my current favourite sunscreen: the Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun Rice + Probiotics SPF 50+ PA++++* | £17 (get 15% off with code JASMINETALKSBEAUTY(affiliate)). This is a great winter option because it's not water-resistant so doesn't necessarily require a full double cleanse to remove, but also because it's so cosmetically-elegant that it just feels like a nice extra layer of moisturiser. It's nothing too shiny on my skin, it's wonderful alone or on makeup days and it has added antioxidants and moisturising, skin barrier supportive ingredients too like prebiotics and rice extract. It makes wearing sunscreen so effortless! Therefore, this is my recommendation if you generally don't enjoy the texture of feel of most sunscreens on your skin but really want to get into that 'every single day' habit.
Have you tried any of my top picks? What would you add to this list in these categories?