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I’ve tested high end skincare, I’ve tested $1 moisturizers, and let me tell you, good skincare does not have to be expensive! This post is proof, as I share my top picks under $20 to create your best skincare routine on a budget.
How to stretch your dollar when it comes to skincare
If budget is a concern, I would cut back to just the very basics: cleanser, serum, moisturizer, and sunscreen in the morning. If you’re young or want to cut back further, you can even skip serums altogether!
Say you have a little left over in your budget, I would consider investing more $ in a well-formulated serum. Sure you can spend it on a inexpensive eye cream or a toner, but in my experience, you’ll get a better value with the serum. Whatever benefits a $6 eye cream is providing you can probably be replaced by an extra layer of your moisturizer around the eyes.
Affordable facial cleansers under $15
Don't let the prices of these cleanser fool you. $15 may seem like a lot, but if it lasts 3+ months, isn't it a better value than a $5 travel sized cleanser that only lasts 2 weeks? This post is all about giving you the best value for your $, so bulk is the way to go!
Cerave Hydrating Facial Cleanser
This gentle cleanser is a great option if you prefer a creamy texture with no foaming action. It's non-stripping and cleans well without leaving any film or oiliness. Skin just feels soft and balanced.
Stearyl Alcohol can cause some people to break out, so if you're one of those folks, try one of the other options.
My current go-to face wash. I'm a big fan of the gel texture how it gently cleans without stripping the skin. It has the tiniest bit of foaming action but not so much where it'll leave your dry skin feeling even drier.
If you find gel cleansers too strong, this Aveeno facial cleanser is the perfect in-between gel and cream textures. It doesn't foam and feels lighter than the Cerave, but more nourishing than the Inkey List. I don't have eczema but I know people who do and they swear by this cleanser to calm their skin!
A no-frills work horse makeup remover that is also excellent for removing blackheads using Fiddy Snail's Grit Method. This is a lighter and runnier oil, fragrance-free, and emulsifies well so no wash cloth required to remove.
IMO it works so much better than the cult favorite DHC cleansing oil and it's more affordable, especially if you get the refill!
If there's one category that you should be spending more money on, it's your serum step. After much research $20 seems like the sweet spot where affordability meets efficacy.
The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C + EGF Serum
The gentlest vitamin c I've ever tried, there's no stinging or redness with this one at all, making it a great pick for dry skin types. It features 15% Ascorbyl Glucoside + 1% EGF so you can that antioxidant and tiny anti-aging boost.
I didn't notice any brightening effects, but the antioxidant benefits are still there and for price, I think it's a lovely option.
Contains double the amount of retinoid compared to the Inkey List Retinol, but still super gentle thanks to the form (granactive retinoid) used. The creamy emulsion provides some extra moisture that dry skin types can use without feeling heavy or oily.
Sure both Inkey List and The Ordinary offer hydrating serums that are more affordable, but this delivers more value for its price. Not only is this ampoule hydrating, it's not sticky (I'm looking at you TO), and it offers skin soothing benefits.
If your skin is prone to irritations, this is a great one to add to your routine.
For the super dry skin, an oil-based serum will help replenish the missing lipids and keep your skin soft and moisturized. Watermelon Seed Oil is a great option that's not only rich in vitamins a and e, but it also has a light texture that feels comfortable on the skin.
No budget skincare routine would be complete if I didn't recommend this famous La Mer dupe. If your skin barrier is compromised or you're struggling to find something that actually keeps your skin moisturized all night, look no further.
→ $0.99 for 30ml ($0.03 per ml) at Ulta and Target
If the Nivea creme is too heavy for you and/or you're a fan of ceramides, give this Illiyoon cream a try. It's more elegant and less heavy than the Cerave, but it'll still help reinforce your barrier and keep your dry skin well moisturized.
I also love using this on my super dry feet, works better than dedicated foot creams!
My all time favorite everyday sunscreen, and it's pretty much as perfect as sunscreen can get in my opinion. No white cast, no shiny finish, no stickiness, and proven SPF50 PA++++ protection. You might not survive a beach trip with this but for everyday wear it's more than enough.
An underrated gem and the most affordable sunscreen I've come across yet. Elegant texture, no white cast, and no stickiness. It's almost as good as the SCINIC except that 1) it hasn't been independently tested and 2) it irritates the eyes when it gets in.
If you don't care about #1 and don't have sensitive eyes, you won't be disappointed with this one!
The lipids in our skin decrease as we age, so for mature dry skin it’s especially important to use products that respect and reinforce the skin’s moisture barrier. Look for ingredients like ceramides, lipids, cholesterol, and retinol.
If budget is a concern, I would remove the serum step but still keep the sunscreen. Wearing sunscreen daily will be much better for your skin in the long run than just applying serum but skipping spf. A non water-resistant chemical sunscreen like the Verdio can also be easily removed by a regular cleanser, no double cleansing required.
Author: Jenny Wu
(she/her) Skincare educator and researcher with 9+ years of writing experience on the topic. Also a health coach in-training who is passionate about evidence-based wellness 🧪. Learn more.
Skin profile - 30's,
dry/combination, focused on well-aging, hydration, and a healthy glow ✨