There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be looking after your skin if you’re on a budget. Luckily, some of the best skin care products out there are also super affordable – letting you have a skin care routine that’s not only cheap, but also scientifically proven to actually work!
In my case, I’m pretty strict with how I spend my money.
But I’m also in my early-30s and so I’m very keen to slow down those fine lines that have kindly made themselves at home on my face in the last few years.
So I’ve spent countless hours doing research into anti-aging skin care products that won’t waste my money and won’t waste my time.
Should I really use cheap skin care products?
Absolutely. After all, it may be no surprise to you that many (or most!) skin care products don’t really live up to their hype.
Either you’re paying for something that has no scientific backing or you’re paying too much for something that you can get for FAR cheaper.
Thankfully, the internet is full of people who’ve done amazing research into what actually works.
And as you’ll see, what actually works for your skin will also work for your budget!
There are two things I should add before going ahead, though.
Firstly, as mentioned, my main concern at this stage is anti-aging so this routine focuses on that. If you have acne or other concerns, I’d recommend that you go check out the Skincare Addiction subreddit which is full of experts on anything skin-related.
Secondly, there’s an acronym you need to know: YMMV, which stands for “your mileage may vary”.
That is, while these products work for me (and thousands of other people on the internet), they may not work for you.
Your skin may be sensitive to something in the product or you may have an allergy to an ingredient that you didn’t know about before – or any number of other reasons.
That’s why that if you decide to try any of these products, patch test them first on a small part of your skin that isn’t super visible. That way, if you’re in the unfortunate minority that have a negative reaction to something, it won’t be as bad as if you spread it all over your face first.
The best skin care products on a budget
The order of the products below isn’t the order in which I use them – that can be found in the next section after the product list.
Instead, I’ve listed them in order of importance based on their anti-aging benefits.
Ideally, you’d get all of these (or equivalent ones that work for you).
There’s no question about it: sunscreen is absolutely the most important product in your skin care routine.
After all, check out this man’s face after 28 years of working as a truck driver, with only one side of his face being exposed to sun through the truck window that entire time.
See if you can guess which side…
Prevention is better than cure and given that sun damage is the biggest cause of wrinkles, spots and sagging on your face, it’s imperative that you wear sunscreen every day.
(Not to mention the importance of preventing skin cancer!)
There are two broad types of sunscreen: physical and chemical.
The difference is explained here but, essentially, physical sunscreens block UV rays while chemical sunscreens absorb and scatter UV rays so they don’t cause any harm.
While chemical sunscreens are more common, I choose to use a physical sunscreen because of the protection it provides and the fact that they’re better for sensitive skin.
My absolute favourite is the Australian Gold Tinted Botanical Sunscreen.
It’s SPF 50, water resistant and, as the name says, has a very subtle tint that has the effect of ‘blurring’ any imperfections.
I wear this every day to work and don’t wear any foundation or anything on top of it. The effect is subtle but really nice, especially combined with the matte, non-greasy way that this stays on my face.
If you’d prefer to not have a tint, there’s a cheaper non-tinted version which is supposed to be just as nice to wear.
And when you’re wearing it every day (you are, aren’t you?) having something that looks and feels good can be just as important as the benefits it offers for your skin.
It’s always good to start and end the day with a fresh face, so having a cleanser in your routine is a simple, effective way to make that happen.
Removing not only your sunscreen but also the general muck that your skin picks up throughout the day is super important for anti-aging. Unfortunately, just using water often isn’t enough to get all of it off.
Luckily, one of the cheapest cleansers on the market is also one of the best.
The CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser is cheap, lasts forever and is amazing for your skin.
Even if you have quite sensitive skin, this stuff will leave your skin feeling fresh and hydrated.
(There’s a reason that it’s an “internet favourite”!)
I will add that I like to make sure I have a really clean face, especially as sunscreen can be a bit resistant to efforts to remove all of it.
It gently removes all of those really stubborn things on your face, especially sunscreen, allowing the Cerave cleanser to do a “final clean up” and make sure your skin is ready for the big guns that come afterwards.
And given how cheap this is (and how long it lasts!), it’s a great addition to my skin care routine.
You may know this as Tretinoin, especially if you’ve ever used it to control acne, but Retin-A is the big mama to have in your skincare arsenal.
Ask any dermatologist and they’ll tell you how this is the product that has the most scientific backing for its anti-aging benefits (besides sunscreen!).
As explained in this article, Retin-A:
- Increases skin-cell turnover;
- Thickens the layer of skin below the outer protective layer;
- Stimulates the cells that produce collagen (the elastic fibrous structure that gives skin its firmness); and
- Increases the blood flow to your skin.
What does this mean? Well, only fewer wrinkles, smoother skin, reduced discoloration, tighter pores, and a reduction of sun damage.
Not a bad outcome all round, really!
The ‘problem’ with Retin-A is that it’s only available with a prescription in many countries, including the US, and it can be really expensive in those countries if your insurance doesn’t cover it.
There are options though! Websites like Curology can be great if you’re in the US.
Alternatively, if you or someone you know is travelling overseas soon, simply search “Retin-A” and the country name in Google before going to see if it’s available over the counter.
That usually means it’s WAY cheaper too. Here’s a list of some countries where you can buy it without a prescription, including Mexico for around USD 10.
A tube lasts for at least six months and the results for your skin are seriously amazing, so you should definitely do everything you can to get your hands on it.
If you do, here are some great tips on how to get used to using Retin-A, as it can be a bit of a process for your skin to adjust. But once it does, it’s so so worth it!
It’s probably obvious, but having hydrated skin is imperative for reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
And this is especially the case if you’re using Retin-A which can make your skin more sensitive.
Unfortunately, we’re bombarded with advertisements for all sorts of moisturisers that claim to do incredible things – often with incredible price tags. And not in the good way.
(On a related note: you don’t need a dedicated eye cream. Think about it this way: why does the skin under your eye need anything different from the rest of your face – especially when the rest of your face is getting the best skin care products available for the best price!)
Fortunately, much like the cleanser above, there’s one moisturiser that’s a favourite all over the internet.
And your wallet will love it too!
I use the CeraVe Facial Moisturising Lotion PM. It’s so light and really great value at that price.
Better yet, it packs an amazing punch with ceramides, hyaluronic acid and nyacinamide which work together to restore and maintain your skin’s protective barrier without irritating it.
(If you’re not sure what those things are or want some super in-depth information on how they’re good for you, this article has an amazing amount of detail on this moisturiser’s ingredients and benefits.)
This makes it especially great for sensitive skin.
I use this both day and night even though the name suggests that it’s only for night use (hence the “PM” in its name)
There’s also an AM version here, with the only difference being that the AM version has sunscreen.
However, as it’s best to use a dedicated sunscreen to maximise your skin’s protection, I prefer to use two separate products. If you really think that you can’t be bothered to do that, then the AM version may be a better option for you.
Hands up if you were guilty of using an apricot scrub in high school?
Yep, most of us did it. And sure, our skin felt smooth as a baby’s butt afterwards.
But it’s since been shown that using a physical exfoliant like a scrub on your face can actually be harmful to your skin, primarily because of the micro-tears it causes.
This is not only bad for your skin from an aging perspective, but it can cause irritation and even infection that leads to more acne.
Fortunately, the world has moved on to bigger and better things, namely AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids).
These are chemical exfoliants – liquids that you apply to your face which dissolve your dead skin, leaving smooth skin behind.
They work amazingly well at addressing issues like fine lines, loss of firmness, rough texture, hyperpigmentation (i.e. pigmentation due to sun or environmental damage, or acne inflammation) and acne.
There’s a ton more information that you can find out here but very broadly speaking, AHAs are great for anti-aging while BHAs have the added benefit of dealing with issues such as blackheads. I personally use an AHA as it’s more in line with what I need.
If you’re just getting started with AHAs, I’d recommend starting with the Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads.
They’re super cheap and great for getting your skin used to acids. You’ll be amazed at how your skin feels after a few swipes although, for me, the most impressive part has been watching the fine lines around my eyes melting away.
(Here’s a hint to save even more money: cut each pad in half before using it! That way, the container will last twice as long.)
And if you’re looking for a BHA instead, this one is one of the most highly recommended at a great price point. My partner uses this and even though he has really sensitive skin, this has been perfect for addressing his skin issues.
6. Vitamin C
Last is definitely not least in this case, as using a vitamin C serum in your skincare routine can have amazing effects on your skin.
In particular, it works at fading hyperpigmentation (including sun and age spots), smoothing skin texture, firming skin, repairing fine lines, and making your skin brighter.
And bonus points: it works alongside your sunscreen (…NOT instead of it) to prevent and address UV damage.
Sorry, you can’t just eat some oranges to get these benefits. But using a vitamin C serum is pretty much that easy!
One that is often recommended is the Skinceuticals C E Ferulic serum. But at almost $180, the price is flat out ridiculous.
Instead, I’d absolutely recommend using Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum.
It’s around 10% of the price of the Skinceuticals one but almost exactly the same in terms of ingredients and effectiveness.
I LOVE the effect that this has had on my skin, as it’s been great at fading some redness I had. I’ve been using this for a few years now and the glow it’s given me is seriously noticeable.
Make sure you keep it in the fridge as it can go off relatively quickly in sunlight and air. I’ve found that by only having it out of the fridge for a few moments each morning, one bottle lasts me around five months.
And at around $3/month, this is a steal.
So what’s the best skin care routine (that’s also affordable)?
This is the routine I follow based on the science I’ve read, the products I’ve tried and the prices I’m willing to pay.
And seriously, my skin looks better than it ever has.
It only takes a few minutes each morning and night, but it’s definitely worth it.
Of course, there are other products you could add for an extra punch.
But for a simple, cost-effective skin care routine that actually works, you can’t go past this:
1. CeraVe cleanser
2a. Five times per week: Vitamin C serum
2b. On the other two mornings per week: AHA
1. Oil cleanser
2. CeraVe cleanser
Total cost*: $69.81
*Without Retin-A (which costs USD 5 where I live but could be a bit more where you are)
Spending less than $70 on all this is incredible, especially when you consider that all of this lasts me anywhere between three and six months, depending on the product.
(Well, except for the sunscreen which doesn’t last anywhere close to three months as it’s better to be generous with something that important. But let’s average it out as everything else lasts for far longer than that.)
So let’s say you use it all up in three months – that’s less than $24/month or around $6/week.
For a skin care routine that will protect you and keep you looking fresh for years to come, that’s definitely an investment I’m willing to make.
What are your budget skin care tips? Let us know in the comments what’s worked for you (bonus points if it’s budget-friendly)!