Splurge vs. Save: Top Four Most Popular Skincare Ingredients At Every Budget
Ingredients play a major role when it comes to choosing efficacious skincare products. Here are four game-changers that make a difference—in both splurge-worthy and budget-friendly options.
Ingredients aren’t the only important factor to consider when it comes to skincare. After all, results take time, and for many of us, taking the time to apply multiple layers (or just a few, if simplicity is more your style) of toners, serums, and moisturizers is an important form of twice-daily self-care. The texture, scent, and packaging of a product also contribute to your appreciation of it and ultimately influence whether you end up using it consistently. But of course, what a product actually does (or at least promises to) plays a major role in your decision to purchase it.
So, which ingredients are a must? Many of them provide benefits for certain skin types or work to alleviate specific issues like dryness, oiliness, acne, and the like. But others are pretty universally recognized as being beneficial for most skin types, like the four below. As a bonus, I’ve added products that boast the ingredients in more luxe and economical versions—proof that quality skincare doesn’t need to break the bank!
This well-known antioxidant provides so many benefits: not only does it help protect your skin from free-radical damage (and therefore slows down signs of aging), it also has brightening and anti-inflammatory properties, and helps stimulate collagen production. It’s truly a skincare all-star in that it helps brighten, firm, protect, and repair. Applying a vitamin C serum under your moisturizer and sunscreen in the morning is the most common way of adding the ingredient to your regimen, but you’ll also find it in moisturizers, eye creams, toners, and more.
- Splurge: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum | $166
One of the most famous vitamin C serums, this SkinCeuticals formula combines L-ascorbic acid (often recognized as the most stable and effective form of vitamin C) with vitamin E and ferulic acid, for a triple antioxidant cocktail that works synergistically to protect the skin and target wrinkles, loss of firmness, and dullness.
- Save: Melano CC Intensive Anti-Spot Essence | Around $15
If you have even a mild interest in Japanese skincare, chances are you’ve seen this intensive vitamin C essence before. Tons of positive reviews everywhere you turn and a tiny, tiny price tag even with import mark-ups make this iconic product a must-try whether you’re looking to fade hyperpigmentation spots, acne scars, or just brighten up your complexion.
Nothing short of a skincare miracle, retinol is one of the skincare ingredients that have the most data to back up its benefits. A derivative of vitamin A, it helps promote skin cell turnover, fights wrinkles, provides skin-smoothing benefits, and even helps increase collagen production for more firmness. Retinoic acid, which is what retinol is converted to when it’s absorbed into the skin, is also available with a prescription; it works faster and more effectively and can be beneficial for acne. Retinol, retinyl palmitate, and retinyl propionate are all types of retinoids (vitamin A) that are a little less potent than straight-up retinoic acid, but also less irritating, which is why they’re often found in non-prescription formulas like the ones below.
- Splurge: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream | $82
Since retinoids tend to break down when exposed to sunlight, they are often recommended for use in the evening, mainly to ensure they maintain their effectiveness. This nourishing night cream boasts two types of retinoids, as well as niacinamide to promote a healthy skin barrier. Plus, it works for all skin types!
- Save: Olay Retinol24 MAX Night Hydrating Moisturizer | $53
Combining retinol, retinyl propionate, and niacinamide in one great fragrance-free night cream, this formula is the supercharged version of Olay’s original Retinol24 night moisturizer. I find this product line offers great quality for an affordable price—a good starting point if you’re looking to add retinol to your routine.
Although it’s been used for a long time in skincare, hyaluronic acid has really been in the spotlight these last few years. A naturally occurring humectant in the skin, it’s super effective when it comes to hydration and plumping. And who doesn’t need a little more of that? It’s often combined with other beneficial ingredients in serums, moisturizers, toners, and eye products, but I like to use a separate hyaluronic acid product with several molecular weights for a daily dose of hydration that reaches different levels of the skin.
- Splurge: Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair | $105
Did you know that Estée Lauder’s original Advanced Night Repair serum, launched in 1982, was the first skincare product to incorporate hyaluronic acid, and actually the first serum… ever? The brand has updated the formula many times since, incorporating new technology, but it still contains a nice dose of good old trusty HA.
- Save: Hada Labo Gokujun Premium Hyaluronic Acid Lotion | $20 or less
Hi, it’s me, pushing J-beauty again—although you don’t have to know that much about it to have come across this hyaluronic acid toner with a serum-like consistency before: it’s widely loved and often considered one of the best hyaluronic acid products on the market. The version I just finished was formulated with five types of hyaluronic acid, and the latest version (updated in 2020) contains seven. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
The building blocks of collagen and elastin, when applied to the skin, peptides help stimulate collagen production. This helps with firmness and smoothness, as well as fine lines and wrinkles. There are many different kinds of peptides that offer various benefits like brightening, promoting elasticity, or even locking in hydration. Experts seem to agree that they should be used with other skincare ingredients for maximum benefits.
- Splurge: Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer | $68
I have a tub of this polypeptide cream waiting to be opened, and the reason it’s in my “next up” basket is that I tried a small travel size and loved it, but I’ve also read so many positive things about it. People seem to like that it sinks in quickly, moisturizes well, and isn’t irritating. It’s a splurge, but by the looks of things, it’s worth it!
- Save: No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Day Cream SPF 30 | $25
If you still haven’t tried anything from UK brand No7, it’s time you did! Famous for its Protect & Perfect Serum—which had people lining up to buy it in 2007 when a documentary stated that it had proven anti-aging effects—it offers effective formulas at very reasonable prices. This daytime moisturizer from the same line includes Matrixyl 3000+, listed as an anti-wrinkle peptide technology. It even includes SPF 30, to boot!
How many of these ingredients are currently a part of your skincare routine? What are some of your holy grail products that include them? Drop a comment below!