Building A Skincare Routine On A Budget

Skincare-ing errs towards the “proper adult” end of the beauty spectrum. By which I mean, kind of boring, fundamentally rooted in delayed gratification, and, most importantly, bloody expensive. The inevitable transition from wipes ‘n’ body lotion to a full, protecting, illuminating, nice-skin-maximising routine can be an overwhelming process. But it need not be so. There are now a ton of effective, pleasant to use and actually, genuinely affordable skincare products available for use. Yes, there’s more to being a fully functioning adult than a fully functioning skincare routine – but it helps.

The first and arguably most essential thing is removal of makeup. There are a plethora of options for this, but I find micellar water the most effective and gentle. Most “drugstore” brands have caught up to the pricier French pharmacies and started carrying one, and to be totally honest, they’re basically much of a muchness. L’Oreal, Garnier or Simple, swooshed around on a cotton pad, will get the bulk of the grime off your face.

Of course, simply removing makeup isn’t actually enough when it comes to cleaning the face. You need what is scientifically referred to as a “proper cleanser” – aka one that involves standing over a sink. I really like the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser for drier, more sensitive days, although their Foaming Cleanser is preferable to those who prefer a soapier feel. I would use both with a nice hot flannel, for luxurious spa feel and also gentle exfoliation.


Acid toners have recently made their foray into the mass skincare market, having previously belonged solely to fancy brands sold tiny bottles with French writing on the side. Cheap skincare saviours, The Ordinary, have recently launches a Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution. Although potentially on the harsh side for beginners, it effectively smooths out texture and evens tone without scratching at your skins surface – just start slow. Plus, it comes in a giant 240 ml bottle and costs around a fiver.

The Ordinary is also my go-to budget brand for serums. Their website is horrendously confusing for non-nerds, but safe bets are the Hyaluronic Acid, to plump and hydrate, the Alpha Arbutin, to brighten dark spots, and the Niacinamide and Zinc, which calms redness and reduces acne. A few drops layered under a basic moisturiser works wonders.

Said basic moisturiser can basically be anything. I try to avoid mineral oils, because it’s a cheap filler ingredient that just works as a barrier, and I don’t want fragrance or essential oils because they don’t actually have any skin-benefits. The most boring of all is the Cetaphil Moisturising Lotion, which comes in an industrial and deeply un-glamourous looking pump bottle.  It works well by day and night, sealing in the other, more exciting ingredients and leaving skin smooth and supple. It also doesn’t ball up under makeup, which is top news.

Oh, and also by day, you really must be wearing an SPF. It’s one of the very very few actually proven things to prevent skin aging, plus it protects against burning and cancer and all that worthy stuff. I like ones from Neutrogena (available on Amazon) and La Roche Posay. Both leave a slightly sticky finish, so they basically double up as primers too, if you need another impetus to smush one on.

With these few products, you’ve pretty much got the bare bones of a routine. However, skincare is a slippery slope, and additions can soon start to seem irresistible. But even the most superfluous of steps don’t actually need to be expensive. Luxury is a feeling, not a price tag, man.

For starters, face masks. L’Oreal have recently-ish launched a bunch of different clay masks in glass pots – a red one for brightening, a black one for purifying and a green one for mattifying. They’re all good (and, shhhh, quite similar) but I find the black one to be really similar to the horrifically expensive GlamGlow. I apply a thick layer and remove with a flannel to decongest pores and help clear up acne patches.

I’m also a big fan of a face mist. They’re such absurdly decadent products that using them makes me feel like a princess: a nice feeling. But if you can’t justify spending hard-earned ca$h on some nice smelling water in mist form, it’s super easy to make your own. You can even buy rosewater from the “ethnic” (there words, not mine) section of the supermarket. Whack it into a spray bottle and use it under makeup to refresh and help with moisture absorption, or over makeup to add glossy glow.

A similar principle applies to facial oils. Although I tend to find them too dangerously pore-clogging, plenty or normal or dry skinned humans will find them massively beneficial to add moisture and luminosity. And a lot of the pricey ones are based on just a couple of high quality natural oils. Things like jojoba, sweet almond, rose hip and argan can all be found at a health-food shop in massive bottles and for a fraction of the price.

Taking care of your skin, though initially both boring and stressful-seeming, is actually a really fun and (brace yourself) rewarding process. Look after your skin, and your skin will look after you. Or whatever.

Words: Annie Doyle, Illustrations: Leona Cheung

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