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The Best Skincare Products That Won't Break the Bank

When it comes to skincare, it's easy to think that the more we spend on products, the better our skin will look. Fortunately, that's not really the case. The best skincare products can also be affordable when they come from a brand that takes the time to research the most effective ingredients out there. It's quite possible to get glowing, gorgeous skin without going broke or even having to duck into the drugstore.

If you could spend all your cash on a bottle of essence from the actual Fountain of Youth, that would be one thing. But the truth is, much of the price of popular beauty brands includes the companies' big marketing budget and retail profit markups, which means your money isn't going toward high-quality skincare ingredients.

But not every brand works that way. Here are some high-quality skincare solutions that are also surprisingly affordable.

Ghost Democracy Transparent Gentle Exfoliating Daily Cleanser ($24)

Two different forms of AHA, glycolic acid and mandelic acid, gently exfoliate without stripping away natural moisture the way harsh sulfate-based soap might, making this the rare facial cleanser that works just as well for sensitive skin and oily skin. Willow bark extract also helps to dissolve pore-clogging dead skin cells and balance sebum production. Niacinamide acts to fight inflammation and reinforce the natural skin barrier, smoothing out skin texture and brightening skin tone. After washing with this gentle foam, your skin will feel clean and fresh, not dried out.

Farmaesthetics Blemish Tincture ($22)


An excellent, natural blemish treatment, this tincture is amazing for clearing up mild breakouts and preventing acne in areas where it's especially prone. Apply it to freshly-clean skin, and watch spots basically disappear much faster than usual. This blend contains tea tree oil, which can help kill bacteria and has been shown in multiple clinical trials to be great for controlling mild acne, and lavender oil, which can be very soothing to skin and help reduce redness.

Ghost Democracy Lightbulb Vitamin C Serum ($34)

With scientific study after scientific study singing the praises of topical vitamin C for evening out skin tone and protecting it from the elements, you know you want to add this antioxidant to your beauty routine. Many vitamin C serums contain L-ascorbic acid, the water-soluble version that degrades and becomes less effective over time. Lightbulb uses the more stable tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate, which won't break down before your skin cells are ready to use it. Studies show that vitamin C works best in partnership with vitamin E to make skin radiant, so this serum also contains a nice dose of that, too.

The serum also includes moisturizing bisabolo, derived from chamomile, which draws additional moisture into the skin without feeling greasy. Last but not least is the hero ingredient bakuchiol, the plant-based retinol alternative that evens out and enhances skin tone while improving elasticity. Basically, this is like having four serums in one, making it an even better deal.

Alder New York Clarifying Face Mask ($8)

This natural face mask is basically ideal for anyone suffering from a breakout. It incorporates bentonite clay, which can draw impurities to the surface; rosemary oil, which can fight acne; and activated charcoal, which draws out everything from dirt to bacteria. We'd avoid using this one more than once a week because it could be drying long-term, but as part of a healthy skin care routine for someone who experiences regular breakouts, this mask is a real winner (and it's a very reasonable price).

Suntegrity Skincare Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen for Body ($24)


A mineral-rich sunscreen, this is one of the best sunscreens on the market because it's great for blocking solar rays—without damaging our coral reefs. Made with exclusively non-nano zinc oxide, this formula is about as safe as safe can get for both our bodies and our environment. It earns a very reassuring number-one rating from the EWG, which is notoriously picky about the sunscreens it promotes.

Ghost Democracy Floodgate Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($34)

Moisturizing serums are a seductive place to drop extra money in the hopes of attaining dewy, healthy skin. You don't need to for this one, and yet you can absolutely feel that it's packed with 2% of that super-moisturizing hyaluronic acid, a humectant that pulls in up to 1,000 times its weight in water. The HA in this serum is formulated with both high and low molecular weight, which means it can be quickly absorbed into the skin while also protecting its outer layer, so not a drop goes to waste. It also has 4% niacinamide, which again strengthens the skin's barrier while smoothing and brightening skin tone. Linden flower extract and white tea leaf extract (which retains more antioxidants than green tea) help protect cells from damaging free radicals. The result is soft, plump, hydrated skin.

Ghost Democracy Clean Lightweight Daily Face Moisturizer ($28)

Some moisturizers, even the expensive ones, use petroleum byproducts or silicone to fill their jars with something that feels soft, even if it's not all that great for the skin. Ghost Democracy's moisturizer instead uses plant-based ingredients that have multiple proven benefits, packed into a non-greasy moisturizer that is suitable for daily use.

One surprising active ingredient in Clean is probiotics, which help balance out the skin's microbiome, reducing the inflammation caused by bad bacteria and maintaining the pH balance of the skin's outermost protective layer. With a healthy microbiome, your face will feel neither too oily nor too dry and experience fewer breakouts and redness caused by inflammation.

Like Ghost Democracy's cleanser and serums, the moisturizer also contains niacinamide, because this ingredient can do so much to make skin look healthy and glowing. More moisturizing power comes from oat seed extract, a soothing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, as well as panthenol, a form of vitamin B5 that enhances elasticity. Men love this multitasking, lightweight lotion as much as women, so if you buy enough to share, you can really get your money's worth.

Salt & Stone SPF 30 Lip Balm ($5)

We love this lip balm because it's super hydrating while also protecting the fragile skin on your lips from sun damage. It uses sweet almond oil and shea butter to condition lips and lock in moisture, and non-nano zinc oxide to block out harmful UVA/UVB rays (without using chemicals that damage our coral reefs).

Ghost Democracy Boomerang Firming Eye Concentrate ($30)

Ghost Democracy's Boomerang Firming Eye Concentrate

Eye cream is a product that people may spend excessively on or skip altogether, not knowing whether it's really worth all the fuss. Ghost Democracy decided to ensure that its eye cream really can solve many of their skin woes in this delicate area. It has amino acids, the building blocks that cells need to repair themselves so the skin around the eye can retain moisture and firmness. Anti-inflammatory mallow flower extract and passionflower extract moisturize and reduce puffiness. Bakuchiol improves cell turnover and boosts collagen production, reducing the appearance of dark circles and fine lines, while reishi mushroom extract penetrates deep into the skin's layers to hydrate and plump it up. Antioxidant Uva Ursi leaf extract brightens the skin. Apply Boomarang twice a day and right away the polysaccharides in its rhizobium gum and Acacia Senegal gum will lend a lifting effect, for visible improvement to the eye area.

Ghost Democracy Softglow Facial Oil ($38)

Whether you want to layer moisturizing products or would like to skip moisturizer and go straight to a facial oil, this is a great way to deliver maximum hydrating glow with minimum breakouts. Three nourishing botanical oils make up this lightweight product: cloudberry oil, which is rich in vitamin A, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids; cottonseed oil, which has vitamin F, fatty acids, and antioxidants; and meadowfoam oil, which has antioxidants and moisturizing long-chain fatty acids. Smooth this on your skin daily to make it feel smooth, calm, and thoroughly nourished.

Low Cost to You... and to the Earth

Often when we opt for less-expensive drugstore beauty brands, it means compromising other things we want from our skincare—they're less effective, they're loaded with cheaper ingredients that may be more harmful to our skin, or they're made with ingredients that were cheaply farmed or harvested, at a high cost to the environment. Opt for products that are clean, vegan, and cruelty-free, and saving now won't cost you more down the line.

Next Up: The Best Face Cleanser For Your Skin