The $20 Luxury Face Cream

There’s a boom in low cost skin-care products with a luxury vibe. Here, a look at some of the best of the new class.

Comments: 83

  1. The best skin care products are from Mario Badescu. I have used them for decades and no other products compare. I also use Ahava body lotion which is the best of the best. These products are reasonably priced and deliver every time!

  2. @kkm Agree on Badescu. Would add Cerave and Kiehl's to the list of tried and true.

  3. @H.M. : Thanks for your note - I've tried them - if you have never tried Ahava - from Israel - buy a small bottle and see what you think!

  4. @kkm Mario Badescu's lipbalm is the best $8 I've ever spent. Had seriously chapped lips and a day after using it, they were healed. It's been my go-to ever since.

  5. This is a great resource. Thank you for putting it together. It would be nice to know upfront which of these brands are cruelty-free and do not test on animals.

  6. Old school. Noxzema and Coppertone 30. In the desert southwest, sunscreen moisturizes longer, face and arms.

  7. @Carol Noxzema is loaded with irritating ingredients like eucalyptus oil, fragrance, camphor, phenol, and menthol, none of which benefit anyone's skin. These are some of the worse irritants found in the world of skincare, but rarely all in one place.

  8. @415missy which indeed may lead one to think it doesn't make much difference either way what we put on our skin (except sunscreen).Good genes, good diet, exercise, no smoking are the biggest determinants of good skin.

  9. The only thing that actually affects and improves the skin is prescription retinoids. Everything else is a waste of money. Moisturizers are good for moisturizing but all the other gimmicks and trendy ingredients don’t do a thing. The most blatantly fraudulent claim is that applying any cream with Halyuronic acid actually does anything for the skin. Totally bogus.

  10. @N I am allergic to a preservative in many, many products. I have to use a vaseline based anti-inflammatory on my face due to other allergies. I started using Laroche-Posay hyaluronic acid serum beneath it and the improvement in my skin is wonderful. Just my experience.

  11. @N sorry, not bogus at all. HA attracts and binds to water, adding moisture to the skin. Full stop. Works well enough; no intelligent person is claiming miracles. You wanna get nasty on an ingredient, try propanediol.

  12. @N On the contrary, Trader Joe's Hyaluronic Acid moisturizer keeps my eczema in check. Far better for me than all those specialized eczema creams.

  13. surprised you missed Alpyn beauty - best weve ever tried

  14. Taking sand from an island sounds the opposite of eco-friendly.

  15. I've been using the same inexpensive, awesome, skin-researched-based products for about 15 years (if you want to know, it's Paula's Choice). My skin is still flawless, and I'm no spring chicken. You seriously don't need to spend $200.00 on mineral oil, petrolatum plus a few other basic ingredients like lanolin and seaweed ( I'm looking at you, Crème de la Mere).

  16. @LauraF Totally agree; no one can go wrong with Paula.

  17. Paula’s Choice is awesome! I’ve been a fan since her “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me” days. I wish she still controlled Beautypedia — it was my go-to for finding great makeup at the drugstore.

  18. Another vote for Paula’s Choice. Amazing products, a line for every skin care concern, reasonable prices and great sales. 65 and I don’t look it thanks to her products.

  19. I worked for a company that manufacturers skin care products. Some of the skin care products were one of the most inexpensive brands; it's sold at Walmart. Others were designer brands. I was in my 40s at the time and asked a chemist at the company about skin care products. She told me that with the fancier brands, you're paying for the name and the packaging. She advised me to do what most of us already know... wear sunscreen. Moisturizers, etc, just go for something inexpensive, same with cleansers or whatever else you like. She emphasized that a good night's sleep and healthy diet were more important than skin care products.

  20. Body creams: Udderly Smooth (for leads greasy feel) and good old Nivea (more greasy) in the blue jar. Both are so cheap and sold at every drug store. Recently discovered Weleda light weight Skin Food for a heavier face cream. Delicious.

  21. Less greasy*

  22. I wish you would of added which are the "most natural" I know you can't say organic if they are chemistry made, but since I eat organic why put this type of cream on face and body. Again, it would of been nice to know which is most natural.

  23. As a teenager I worked behind the counter at one of the high end department stores selling $75 and up creams. I was 15 and 6 ft tall and when asked what kept my skin so 'youthful' I pointed to the most expensive items. Now at 44 and finally a run in with acne, who knew adult acne was a thing, I use a combination of high and low end. Roc and Kiehls for eyes, Cerave cleanser, glycolic/salicylic wipes from Amazon and sunscreen religiously. SPF 20 for running around and SPF 30 and up for real sun exposure. I recently had an officer ask for proof of ID when I gave my birth date! Ageing is fine but aging beautifully is fabulous.

  24. @HrhSophia which Kiehls?

  25. Retinol is the only product that has been proven to improve skin/reduce fine lines. Everything else is marketing. Having said that, I get a monthly sampler box and there’s almost always a high end moisturizer. I’ve tried about 20 different ones over the last 2 years. They are all great! But no better than the $15 ones you get in the drugstore. But if you like high end products, I recommend the samplers. It’s not just moisturizers - you get serums and oils and all that fancy stuff. For $150, which is May annual Xmas present to myself, it’s totally worth it!

  26. @BBB Which company makes the monthly sampler you prefer?

  27. Birchbox is the bomb!

  28. There are so many cruelty free beauty brands now, it's easy to feel good about what you use regardless of price. But we need to be sure the brand is actually cruelty free as some put in fine print that animal testing is not done them or their suppliers, but some countries they sell in do test. Short answer: if the product is sold in China, they are torturing animals so we can look good.

  29. I personally love the face serum by Forage Wellness. You can get it on Etsy for about $25. All natural, feels great on my skin and people always say I look luminous. It is made in small batches by an entrepreneur in her 20s. All good.

  30. Maybe this is a little off subject but cardiovascular exercise has been shown to improve skin elasticity/youthfulness.

  31. I worked at a skincare brand for 10 years and I’ve tried everything. Non-prescription skincare does not make a big difference in skin appearance. Here’s a great, cheap beauty tip: taking vitamin c tablets daily can noticeably improve skin’s appearance.

  32. Lots of these are over $20. Misleading headline.

  33. What's hilarious is, excepting the masks maybe, the names of these products make it a mystery exactly what it is they are. Maybe the products are ok but the marketing - - - -

  34. @DVargas The Ordinary is pretty good about listing ingredients, but you have to check their website. Once you know what ingredient does what, it's much more clear.

  35. Halotherapy has done wonders for my skin.

  36. I am a dermatologist with 20 years experience. Absolutely all of this is make-believe. Human skin did not evolve the need for goop. Wear a hat, use sunscreen. Moisturize and avoid soap only if you have eczema. That’s it. The fact that women spend so much time and money on snake-oil is, to me, a depressing sign of failure both of feminism, and of science education.

  37. You have never seen a skin benefit from Retinoids? Moisturizer in cold winter, dry indoor heated conditions?

  38. I find it funny that you claim we don’t need goop, and in the next breath recommend sunscreen.

  39. Given that dermatologists often hawk overpriced skin care products in their offices I’d say it’s also a failure within dermatology.

  40. Very informative, many thanks. May I suggest an article on under eye concealers...

  41. @RC Not only concealers but anything, and I mean anything, that reduces the bags (other than tea bags and cucumbers). Oh, and concealers that don't sink into wrinkles but I guess that is sort of impossible and I should know - I have quite an inventory.

  42. Nivea cream- the real kind from Germany, NOT Mexico. The only unfortunate thing about Nivea is it's not cruelty free.

  43. @N Can't imagine why you would recommend it, if it embodies cruelty to animals?

  44. Nivea is a traditional, good, solid moisturizer, but I hate that’s it’s not cruelty free. Not everyone looks for cruelty free products (though I wish they did). Another choice is Eminence products which are organic and cruelty free. Eminence is a bit more pricey but excellent products.

  45. My dermatologist recommended plain old vaseline and it is like a miracle in a jar. For years now.

  46. @Maureen that’s what I have been using also. You can’t beat Vaseline.

  47. @Maureen Vaseline has no good qualities for skin care unless you use it on your elbows. That stuff never goes near my face!

  48. You missed Curology, prescription retinoids from online dermatologists, way more affordable than Face RX, and Timeless, which has many fine serums, competitive with the Ordinary.

  49. I love The Ordinary. I even think it's cool that it's useful to have some scientific literacy to navigate their product line. Among other things I've been using their Vitamin C suspensions, noting that the one I usually use is suspended in silicone, to prevent oxidation from degrading the acid (most vitamin c products on the market are useless since the acid is degraded by the time you use it). I'm 36 and take good care of my skin, and I've noticed that I feel less of a need to wear foundation since I began to use the Ordinary. Also a shoutout to Revolution Skincare's hydration boost gel cream.

  50. A number of years ago, I heard about Boots No 7 line of skin care, decided to see what the fuss was about and so, when in England, I bought the cheapest jar I could find - Essential Moisture Day Cream. I've been using it ever since and my skin has never looked this good since I was an acne-free teenager - I'm now over 70. I haven't seen it for sale in the US and, sadly, other No 7 products seem much much more expensive here than in the UK. So for now, I bring back an ample supply every time I travel to the UK.

  51. @NK Target sells Boots No. 7

  52. pretty sure I have seen Boots 7 at Target.

  53. Target carries the Boots No7 skin care.

  54. Solid advice, don’t spend your rent or retirement savings on skincare. $450 on a month’s supply of wrinkle cream when you’re 30 years old is not advancing anyone’s standing in any world and never will. If you have that kind of money, send it directly to the public schools in the Mississippi Delta. You just never know when one of those kids will end up saving the world.

  55. the beauty industry has us desperate for the next new thing and it is usually the same old thing, repackaged. What bothers me most is the plastic waste for beauty products--every sample is in a container that is likely not recyclable and will end up in landfills or the ocean. Keep that in mind when you try, sample or buy the next new thing--you probably already have something just like it. I'd love it if influencers could start caring about beauty product waste and lean towards more beneficial, sustainable choices while they are touting the next new thing to their actively consuming audience.

  56. I’ve been a Nivea original cream formula user for 30 years. No need for anything else. Under $10 and the jar’s contents lasts for a year.

  57. @Sue Generis I need to add that I also use pure jojoba oil from Trader Joe’s. Just three drops is enough for your face. Your skin will feel smooth and it’s non greasy. Great for your skin and hair too. I wasn’t aware of Nivea and animal testing before, so thanks.

  58. I'm almost 70 and I've tried just about every brand of skin cream there is. The best one I've found is a good, strong sunscreen. Protecting your skin from the sun is the only thing that will make a difference. Nutrition and genes have a lot to do with it, too. But, even with that aging will happen. It's just life. None of this stuff will make any difference.

  59. I am dedicated to the affordability of The Ordinary-- between that, a Cerave face wash, and daily sunscreen, my skin has been better than it's ever been. Maybe squalane, Buffet, niacinimide, hyaluronic acid, and rose hip oil don't do much, but it's an inexpensive couple minutes twice a day where I focus not on my kids/job/partner/the world going to hell in a handbasket, but only myself. I'm staring 40 in the face and still get carded anywhere I go, which is enough of a gentle ego boost for me to keep using them.

  60. Jojoba oil. $12.

  61. I have always thought that if “wrinkle” or “beauty” creams really worked wealthy women would look like newborns. They don’t, and we won’t either. I try to care for my skin in simple ways and embrace my age.

  62. @Mary You're wrong. There's a lot of new skin science out there, and if you use Retinol, vitamin c, Alpha and Beta-hydroxy acids and a host of other proven ingredients, your skin will look better.

  63. I agree with several of the respondents-Paula’s Choice products are amazing and the web site discusses and explains how and why a particular skin product is beneficial. At 73 my skin has never looked better since I have been following Paula’s advice. Please note that the site rates all the major cosmetic companies on their products effectiveness and whether or not they do animal testing. The site is called Beautypedia. Check it out.

  64. Here we go, again. Women, you are being scammed. Sure, if you have SERIOUS Skin issues or problems, you might need help. See a Dermatologist or your regular Physician to get advice and possibly Medication. Otherwise, save your Money for important things. I’m now 60 years old and this is my entire face/ beauty regime : Mild face scrub, used every 2 or 3 days, gently in the Shower. Concentrate on the T-Zone: forehead, nose and chin. Avoid eyes. Then, wash face/neck/ shoulders /bosom area with Dove Baby Soap, in Shower. After entire Shower done, wrap yourself and hair in towels. While skin is still moist, slather on the lotion, to areas mentioned above. I currently used Burt’s Bees BABY lotion. Six ounces for about 8 or 9 dollars. Use liberally, let in really sink in before getting dressed. That’s absolutely it. IF, I wear make-up during the day, I will repeat the washing and lotion before bed. But thats rare, only on Vacation or “ going out “. Don’t waste your time and Money. I don’t have time for 19 steps , or the patience. And I’d rather save the money for retirement. And by the way, my skin LOOKS 45, 50 at most. And that’s before I’ve had Wine. Best wishes.

  65. @Phyliss Dalmatian No sunscreen for you? I have used sunscreen on my face for decades, but I have ignored my hands. When I look at my 72-year-old wrinkly hands I am aware that my face would look just as wrinkled had I not been using sunscreen.

  66. Coconut oil - I use Trader Joe's- is a wonderful moisturizer for those past the age of pimples. Scoop some out of the jar, rub it lightly in your palm to liquefy and then tap it lightly onto your face. Brown sugar makes a great exfoliating scrub. Just a little bit mixed with some water. Buy fewer cosmetics. You'll save money, put less plastic into the environment and put fewer chemicals on your skin.

  67. @Deborah, I’m 37 and coconut oil gives me cystic acne if I even look at it... I’m hoping the age of pimples ends one day for me!

  68. I am very lucky to have won the genetic skin lottery: I inherited my father’s perfect complexion. I have always appreciated it and protected it from the sun. I apologize for sounding like I am bragging, but many women through the years have asked me what my skin-care regimen is and walked away disappointed. I have no secrets beyond Marseille soap, water, moisturizer and sunscreen. Nothing that you can buy in a bottle or a jar is worth the money. For the record, I did not inherit the slender morphology.

  69. @flipturn I have my mother's perfect skin, too. She never aged until she became ill. I live in a retirement community and have been told, with concern, that you have to be 55 to live here. I'm 62. My secret has been to stay out of the sun, don't use horrible gunk like foundation that looks ugly and clogs the skin, and generally leave my face alone. My idea of exfoliation is a good scrub with the rough side of a washcloth. Cosmetic manufacturers are selling a dream, not a reality.

  70. It is interesting that Beauty Pie is on this list because when you add the cost of subscription and the cost of shipping, as well as the mandatory 3-month subscription, the product will cost way over $20. If you just want that one moisturizer, it would cost you $47.52.

  71. If you're interested in keeping your skin looking younger, prescription Renova works if your skin can tolerate it. It won't touch the deep wrinkles but it really smooths the surface of the skin and helps soften the finer ones. It is way more than $20, but the only other thing you need is sunscreen and a mild moisturizer. Drugstore brands are fine. It's worth it if you're someone who needs to see results.

  72. If you are REALLY interested in keeping your skin looking younger, stay out of the sun, keep your body hydrated from within, avoid stress, get enough sleep, exercise....and for those of you who still are having trouble, try a new set of parents. Oh, and give up the idea of younger is better. Genetics has a lot to do with it. The benefit of following this advice? You may get healthier skin although the greater benefit is that you will save a bunch of money and might find that the really important things in life have nothing to do with how you look.

  73. Wear sunscreen and hats. Don’t wear makeup. If you must wear makeup, use cold cream to gently remove it. Wash your face only once daily at night with mild soap, and splash or wash with cold water in the morning. Try Cerave or a light touch of food grade glycerin, coconut butter, or olive oil if skin is dry. The only thing you get with expensive face products is a hit to your wallet, more chemicals, more perfumes, and fancy packaging. The ingredients are all sourced from and manufactured by the same few manufacturers, usually in China. You’ll notice heavier perfumes being used to cover the smell of rancid or off-quality oils in drug store brands made in China. Using shampoos, soaps, lotions, sunscreen that are allergy free may help. Try “Original Sprout” or something similar.

  74. Thank you for this article! Great to know that if you are going to spend money on skin care, you need not blow hundreds of dollars. For those of you posters who won the wrinkle free gene pool lottery, good for you. For the rest of us, hope in a jar is a time tested elixir.

  75. There are a few simple things to keep in mind when you buy skincare products. I think the most ignored and easiest to control is fragrance. There is no reason to add additional fragrance to a product. And here’s a fun fact. Have you ever noticed that “fragrance” is just listed as “fragrance?” That there’s no breakdown of what’s in it? That’s because the FDA doesn’t require companies to disclose what they’re using to scent their products. So anything, from essential oils (which are the essence of the plant, not essential to your skin) to the most alarming lab-produced chemicals can legally be put into your lotion or serum (etc.). “Fragrance” is very likely to irritate your skin. The other thing you can do is educate yourself. Learn to assess whether or not your skin might benefit from any particular product. Learn what all those ingredients are. Learn what they do. Learn in what concentration they’re effective, and how they need to be packaged to remain stable...I could go on. Paula’s Choice is a great resource for this. They have a comprehensive encyclopedia that rates and describes the uses of ingredients, and every product review lists the ingredients in the product they’re reviewing. And wear sunscreen.

  76. My eyelids were itchy, I would rub them ‘til my eyes turned red. Drove me crazy. Tried Neutrogena hyaluronic acid eye cream and in 2 days no more itchy skin. I live in the desert southwest. Something good happened to my skin and now I use it every day, very affordable, too.

  77. My grandmother, 98 years old this year, has absolutely wonderful skin. She uses Ponds and probably bar soap. About ten years ago I switched to her “regime”. No regrets!

  78. For years, I ignored the many articles that recommended Cerave. It has boring, unsexy packaging, no scent and just seemed so dull and basic. Guess what? It’s fabulous. I use the huge jar for day and their night cream at night. My skin looks really good! I’m a convert.

  79. I will soon reach 60, but people think I am in my 40s or younger (except for my hands, whose age will always show if you are skinny, which is how I convinced a bouncer who carded me). I never did anything for my skin, having no time or interest for it - so little that my one big mistake was not putting on sunscreen, which has left me with some dark spots. So now I put that on religiously, as well as a hat all year, and moisturize when winter heating dries out my skin.

  80. I have very dry and very sensitive skin and have been using Clinique men's products off and on for a couple of years now. They are generally unscented, do what they say they are going to do and are generally well-priced. The local drug store also happens to sell them at 30% off on a pretty ongoing basis. From the product reviews, it seems many women have noticed the same and switched accordingly.

  81. Vanity and insecurity treatments.

  82. a large two pack of Cetaphil purchased at Costco takes care of all my moisturizing - face, legs, arms. Reasonably priced and works great!