What Are The Best Skincare Brands?

by Gio

the best skincare brands

I’m an elitist.

When it comes to skincare, only the best products will do.

And why not? I’m not exactly going to achieve the glowing, flawless skin I want if I settle for second best, am I?

But, how do you define best?

My Criteria

  1. Top Notch Formula: forget those rare “miraculous” exotic extracts the manufacturers swear do wonders for the skin. If science hasn’t shown REPEATEDLY that an ingredient works, it doesn’t make the cut.
  2. Functional packaging: the best skincare ingredients are divas. When they come in contact with light and air, they throw a tantrum and stop working. So, they must come in opaque and airtight tubes and bottles for me to even consider them.
  3. Reasonable price: I don’t mind paying a small premium for something that REALLY works, but some brands charge an outrageously high price just because they can. That’s not cool.

So, what are the best skincare brands that fit these criteria for me?

paula's choice 10% niacinamide booster 01

Best Multitasking Skincare Brand: Paula’s Choice

I love Paula’s Choice because it makes my life so much easier.

Shopping for skincare is a minefield. How do you know what works, what YOUR skin needs and what irritates it?

Paula’s done all the research work for you. She doesn’t care about what ingredient is the current media’s darling. She doesn’t stop using an ingredient because the idiots at the EWG think it’s bad (#sorrynotsorry, they get it wrong WAY more often than they get it right).

Instead, she looks at the science. If science says an ingredient works, it makes the cut. If science says an ingredient is irritating, it gets the boot.

The best part? Each product has EVERYTHING your skin needs – nothing more and nothing less.

Here’s the deal: skin is a complex organ that needs humectants and occlusives to moisturise it, antioxidants to fight wrinkles, skin-soothers to calm down inflammation and a lot of other stuff.

Most skincare brands give you only ONE of the things. Like, a moisturizer that only moisturises. Or an antioxidant serum that only prevents wrinkles.

Not Paula’s Choice. Each of their moisturisers (and everything else they make, for that matter) has a bit of everything so it can moisturise, fight wrinkles, calm skin etc.

No more wondering if a product has what it takes to work. No more worrying a product will irritate you. No more splurging on 3 products when the one will do.

See why I’m in love?

Best Picks:

  • 10% Niacinamide Booster ($42.00/£40.00): a niacinamide + antioxidants booster you can mix with your fave skincare products to moisturise skin, soothe irritations, brighten the complexion, fight wrinkles, fade away dark spots and even shrink pores. Available at Dermstore, NordstromPaula’s Choice and Selfridges.
  • C15 Super Booster ($49.00/£45.00): a dupe for Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, it’s loaded with antioxidants and skin-soothers to destroy free radicals and calm down inflammation – two of the main causes of premature aging. Available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Nordstrom, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges.
  • Calm Redness Relief Repairing Serum ($34.00/£32.00): a soothing serum with antiaging properties even sensitive skin will love. Available at DermstoreLook Fantastic and Paula’s Choice
  • Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment ($56.00/£47.00): turns your serums and moisturisers into powerful wrinkle-fighters. Available at DermstoreFeel Unique and Paula’s Choice.
  • Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ($29.00/£26.00): a best-selling exfoliant that unclogs pores, treats breakouts and gets rid of blackheads. Available at DermstoreFeel Unique, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges.

Shop Best Paula’s Choice Products

Related: Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster Review

drunk elephant c-firma day serum

Best Natural Skincare Brand: Drunk Elephant

Ok, I’m using the term “natural” very broadly here. Drunk Elephant doesn’t shy away from synthetic chemicals – IF they work and are safe.

But they do refuse to use silicones, fragrances, dyes and other chemicals with a bad rep. If you want them out of your skincare products, Drunk Elephant is a brand you want to check out.

Why? Well, Drunk Elephant has a lot in common with Paula’s Choice. ALL their products feature actives that can really do what they claim on the tin.

Plus, they’re multitasking. Their vitamin C serum, for example, fights wrinkles, moisturises skin and gently exfoliates it to boot.

The only con is the price. Drunk Elephant is more expensive than Paula’s Choice but then they use way more natural extracts – those can cost a pretty penny!

Best Picks:

  • B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum ($52.00/£44.00): a super hydrating hyaluronic acid serum that doubles as an oil-free moisturiser for oily skin. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK.
  • C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00/£67.00): a dupe for Skinceuticals CE Ferulic that fights premature aging, moisturises skin and gently exfoliates it too. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK.
  • Lala Retro Whipped Cream ($60.00/£50.00): a rich cream with antioxidants to deeply moisturise dry skin and keep premature wrinkles at bay. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK.
  • Lippe Balm ($18.00/£15.00): a moisturizing lip balm with antioxidants that treats and prevent chapped lips while helping to slow down premature aging. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK.
  • T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00/£76.00): a multitasker that exfoliates, hydrates, soothes, unclogs pores and helps prevent wrinkles. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK.

Shop Best Drunk Elephant Products

Related: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Full Review

niod modulating glucosides review

3. Niod

Deciem has a gazillion brands, each one with a distinct mission and personality. The Ordinary, for example, is all about bringing you actives that work for the cheapest possible price.

I’m all for that but… I’m a NIOD girl at heart. I like it because it pushes the boundaries, using the latest breakthrough ingredients and technologies no one else has.

And, it doesn’t charge you a premium for it. I mean, when Skinceuticals came out with its CE Ferulic serums – revolutionary for its time -, it charged $150+ for it.

NIOD doesn’t think originality and breakthroughs should come with a premium price tag. If you want to be the first to use the new skincare HGs of the future, look no further.

Best Picks:

  • Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 (£38.00): a copper peptide serum to boost collagen, firm skin and keep in a constant state of repair. Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Net-A-Porter.
  • Ethylated L-Ascorbic Acid 30% Network (£33.33): a highly concentrated vitamin C serum that fights wrinkles and enhances skin barrier function. Available at Beauty Bay.
  • Modulating Glucosides (£21.33): a serum loaded with every skin-soother you can think of to calm down irritations, reduce redness and prevent premature aging. Available at HQ Hair.
  • Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex (£25.00): it has 10+ forms of hyaluronic acid to hydrate every layer of your skin and plump up your face. Available at Beauty Bay and Cult Beauty.
  • Survival 30 (£25.00): a sunscreen on steroids that protects skin from the sun and prevents sun damage without leaving a white cast behind. Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Feel Unique and Net-A-Porter.

Shop Best NIOD Products

Related: Niod Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 Full Review

cerave moisturizing lotion

Best Drugstore Skincare Brand: CeraVe

This is the best skincare brand you can find at the drugstore. Bar none. Trust me, I’ve tried them all.

Ok, it’s better for dry skin than oily skin – those moisturisers are on the thick side. But hey, they’re just what the doctor ordered to strengthen your skin’s barrier and keep your skin soft and supple even in the foulest of weathers.

CeraVe products are loaded with niacinamide, ceramides and fatty acids, all the good stuff skin needs to stay hydrated and withstand the attacks from cold weather… and that we take for granted.

The downside? You won’t find many antioxidants here. Hey, they have to keep the price down somehow…

Best Picks:

  • Foaming Cleanser ($14.99): a gentle, ph-balanced cleanser for oily skin that melts away impurities without drying out skin. Available at Dermstore, Ulta and Walmart.
  • Hydrating Cleanser ($14.99): a gentle cleanser for dry skin that removes dirt and impurities while moisturising skin. Available at DermstoreFeel Unique and Ulta.
  • Lightweight Eczema Soothing Cream Oil ($20.24): a rich but non-greasy moisturiser that soothes eczema and parched skin. Available at iHerb and Walmart.
  • Moisturizing Lotion ($10.98): a lightweight body lotion that packs a super moisturizing punch. Available at DermstoreUlta and Walmart.
  • PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($15.99): a thick, super moisturizing cream for night time suitable for dry and sensitive skin – even rosacea prone! Available at DermstoreiHerb, Ulta and Walmart.

Shop Best CeraVe Products

Related: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser Full Review

What do you think are the best skincare brands out there? Share your picks in the comments below.

Take The Guesswork Out Of Skincare Shopping

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Get access to the “Pro Skincare Library” for exclusive skincare routine “cheat sheets” and tricks to help you navigate the beauty aisles jungle like a pro and immediately know what to pick off the shelves to achieve the gorgeous skin of your dreams - even when you’re drowning in an endless sea of skincare products.


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16 comments

Bianca Gallegly Horkan August 8, 2014 - 12:35 pm

Olay.

It’s never let me down and I always get compliments on how good my skin looks. Why would I change to some other, higher cost brand, when this one works so damn well for me?

Of course, that being said, I do try other brands (typically from my Ipsy subscription) but I end up going right back to Olay.

Reply
Gio August 8, 2014 - 12:44 pm

Bianca, yay, another Olay fan! The brand is so unappreciated, and yet it’s the best you’ll find at the drugstore. I often come back to it too and I agree, why pay more when this one works so well?

Reply
Jo Anna June 21, 2017 - 2:10 am

Olay products contain too many toxic ingredients. I have a sensitivity to Sulfates & parabens. So brands like this are a no no. I’m all about organic, non-toxic, cruelty-free products. Besides, many of their products are comedogenic.

Reply
Gio June 24, 2017 - 8:25 am

Jo, sorry to hear about your sensitivities. I agree with you that some of their products contain comedogenic ingredients. But they’re not toxic. Just because you’re sensitive to something, it doesn’t mean they’re toxic and will kill everyone.

By the way, do you know that plant extracts contain toxins too? That’s how these plants protect themselves from predators. 🙂

Reply
Ana August 8, 2014 - 2:51 pm

I don’t have personal experience with Olay, but I’ve become very interested in them after reading so many good reviews and the ingredients lists.

They’re not available around here, unfortunately, but, even if they were, I guess they’d be out of my price range after they pass all the customs and taxes.

Reply
Gio August 8, 2014 - 8:48 pm

Ana, what a shame! I hope you’ll be able to try something soon. They make some amazing products, especially considered the price.

Reply
Sarah Strebeck October 27, 2016 - 12:03 am

PAULA’S CHOICE! I’ve been using her line for years beginning with just 1-2 things and then branching out. AM face, neck chest hands and forearms I now use super cheap 1. Equate brand (Cetaphil equivalent) cleanser from WalMart then 2 Paula’s Choice SKIN RECOVERY Enriched Calming Toner 3. PC RESIST Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA 4. PC RESIST C15 Super Booster 5. PC RESIST Ultra-Light Super Antioxidant Serum 6. Neutrogena Age Shield Anti-Oxidant Face Lotion Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 70
PM 1. Equate brand (Cetaphil equivalent) cleanser from WalMart then 2 Paula’s Choice SKIN RECOVERY Enriched Calming Toner 3. Alpha Skincare Intensive Rejuvenating Serum 14% Glycolic AHA for face, neck and chest and hands with Alpha Skin Care Revitalizing Body Lotion with 12% Glycolic AHA on arms, legs and feet. 4. PC RESIST 10% Niacinamide Booster face, neck chest, hands 5. Retin A 0.1 % on face, neck, chest, hands 6. Eucerin Lotion on body and face as a moisturizer.

Alpha (used to be Alpha Hydrox for my Glycolic Acids and Platinum Skin Care for Acid Peels (I’ve done Glycolic (various strengths), TCA 12.5 %, and Lactic Acid 50% so far)

I’m 51 as of last week and most people don’t believe my age.

Reply
Gio November 15, 2016 - 4:48 pm

Sarah, I love your skincare routine. You’re giving your skin everything it needs. No wonder it looks so young! Paula’s Choice rocks, doesn’t it?

Reply
Nomie February 16, 2017 - 6:37 pm

Hi Gio,
What about Mary Kay skincare..? Can you share with me..

Reply
Gio February 22, 2017 - 3:24 pm

Nomie, I’m afraid I’m not very familiar with this brand. Are there any products in particular you want an opinion on?

Reply
Danyel April 1, 2017 - 12:00 pm

My favourite brands are:
Paula’s Choice
Hada Labo
Skin by Ann Webb
Arcona

Reply
Gio April 3, 2017 - 7:15 pm

Danyel, yay another Paula’s Choice fan! It’s awesome, isn’t it?

Reply
SherryG July 26, 2017 - 6:58 pm

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA used to be my go to, until I started tretinoin. It is a great skincare line. Now I no longer use it as my skin can’t handle any exfoliants with tretinoin., and I don’t think I need it. I have a fragrance allergy, chemical and plant, so fragrance free is a must for me. Now that I’m using a retinoid, I’m finding that most drugstore is just fine. I use CeraVe, Neutrogena and Olay. The one expensive item is sunscreen, I use EltaMD Tinted Mineral Sunscreen. It’s hard to find a fragrance free mineral sunscreen at the drugstore, that doesn’t leave a white cast!

Reply
Gio July 28, 2017 - 4:43 pm

Sherry, I hear ya! Sunscreen is the one product you can’t do without but finding the right one seems like a mission impossible! Hopefully, we’ll have the technology to fix this soon. 🙂

Reply
nicky April 21, 2018 - 3:54 am

Which brand is better between Drunk Elephant and Paula’s choice? They have very similar product lines.

Reply
Gio April 27, 2018 - 9:05 am

Nicky, it really depends what you’re looking for. Even when two products have the same active ingredients, their texture/fragrance may be different and just what seals the deal. Paula’s Choice has a bigger selection of products so you’ll be more likely to find something specifically targeted to your skin type there.

Reply

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