not a professional. just crazy.

Some Truly Excellent (Under $25) Skin-Care Products

Photo-Illustration: Courtesy of the retailer

Keeping up with the latest beauty trends isn’t always easy. Testing out all of those buzzy, celebrity approved products — like Biologique’s P50 or Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Hyaluronic Acid Serum — can be, to say the least, financially inconvenient. But the truth is, good skin care doesn’t have to be expensive. Over the years, tons of affordable, effective, and elegantly formulated products have popped up from new brands — not to mention TikTokers have skyrocketed sales of the wallet-friendly brand The Ordinary.

So I took a poll on Instagram, Reddit, and among my colleagues here at the Strategist, asking how much they typically are willing to spend on skin care. Almost everyone agreed that, in an ideal world, they would never spend more than $25 on a product. So I decided to compile a list of the very best products — cleansers, sunscreens, serums, and toners — according to myself and other beauty obsessives, all within that price range. Whether you’re looking for a new hyaluronic acid infused moisturizer, or dewy-inducing SPF, I’ve got you. Enjoy!

E.L.F isn’t a new brand, but I’ve recently come to love a lot of their products. All of their formulas are to-the-point, effective, and pleasantly wallet friendly. This fragrance free moisturizer is packed with peptides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrate and soothe skin dehydrated by its battle with winter weather (or more likely, your ultra-drying space heater). If I blind tested this, I would definitely think were a fancy, luxury night cream.

This blend of hyaluronic acid, snail mucin, and panthenol (an ingredient that has both hydrating and reparative properties) makes for one of the best healing, brightening, and moisturizing essences on the market. This do-it-all essence can combat practically any issues — whether it be dullness, dryness, or acne. Even though this is technically an essence, the formula is so thick I like to apply it as the last step before my moisturizer.

This chemical sunscreen has tons of rave reviewers, and I’m one of them. It’s also a favorite among other trustworthy skincare obsessives like Dieux Skin’s Charlotte Palermino and Into The Gloss’ Ali Oshinsky. The formula is lightweight, hydrating (it uses jojoba and avocado), and, according to reviewers, leaves a minimal white-cast behind. Anyone who loves moisturizing, glow-inducing SPFs needs this sunscreen.

Lots of retinoids on the market are in the $50+ price range, so I was delighted when I found that Inkey List makes one for only $10 (with rave reviews on Sephora’s website, I might add). This is a great retinol for beginners — people who want to try incorporating a retinol into their routine, but are worried about the irritation and dryness that so often comes with retinol products. This formula also uses hydrating glycerin and squalane to minimize any kind of irritation or dryness.

This double-cleanse duo is a collaboration between Pixi by Petra and the London–based skin-care guru and esthetician Caroline Hirons. The system is made up of cleansing oil (which uses conditioning and healing omegas, vitamin E, and evening primrose) to melt away makeup, as well as a cleansing cream (that uses skin-strengthening and plumping peptides, vitamin C, and arginine). Apply the oil to dry skin, rinse, then follow up with the cleansing cream for a perfectly purifying-yet-gentle, non-stripping bedtime cleanse. This is the most expensive product on the list, but it’s a two-in-one so you are getting a bang for your buck.


Niacinamide is a do-it-all ingredient that treats a wide range of skin concerns. It heals and protects your skin barrier, helps fade hyperpigmentation, smooths fine lines and wrinkles, hydrates the skin, reduces redness, and even helps control oil production. This serum also contains zinc, which helps control breakouts.

For oilier skin types, this gentle foaming cleanser from acne-focused brand Starface is, according to reviewers and Redditors, excellent. It uses non-stripping cleansing agents (it’s sulfate-free), as well as exfoliating and anti-inflammatory white willow bark to achieve a thorough (but not tight) cleanse.

Versed is a budget-friendly brand that I’ve been loving lately. And I have to say, out of all of their products, I’ve been most impressed by this P50-ish dupe, which has a blend of seriously effective AHAs like azelaic acid, glycolic acid, kojic acid and lactic acid — all of which help remove dead skin and promote brighter, more even-toned complexion.

CosRx Propolis Synergy Toner

Propolis is a resinous, gluelike substance made by honeybees — and it has hydrating, antibacterial, healing, and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s why it’s considered a fix-all, gold-star ingredient by trusted skin-care gurus like Fifty Shades of Snail and Gothamista. This particular toner uses 72 percent propolis and 10 percent honey extract, which together help deeply moisturize the skin and calm irritation.

Mandelic Acid is a gentle AHA that’s best suited for sensitive, dry, acne prone skin. This serum from The Ordinary is a great option for someone who wants to test the ingredient, without shelling out a lot of money. Its formula incorporates glycerin and hyaluronic acid, so your skin is getting both hydration and exfoliation.

A tried and true classic for combatting breakouts! These hydrocolloid patches suck up impurities and help flatten inflamed spots.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

For more Rio-approved beauty products, check out The Strategist’s store on Amazon. 

Some Truly Excellent (Under $25) Skin-Care Products