Best Skin Care Products (That Work) For A Cheap, Affordable Routine on a Budget (2023)

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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!

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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).

But if you’re really trying to save money and live on a budget, this will give you an idea of which items you should definitely try to buy and which ones you may consider cutting out.

1. Sunscreen

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…

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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 theAustralian 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 versionwhich 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.

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2. Cleanser

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.

TheCeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanseris 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.

So for that reason, before using the Cerave cleanser at night, I useLight Cleansing Oil fromThe Face Shop.

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.

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3. Retin-A

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!

(Want proof? This YouTuber is in her mid-50s and this YouTuber is in her mid-60s and both swear by Retin-A. And holy hell, if I can look like them at their ages, then sign me up.)

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!

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Note: Yours may look different depending on the country in which you buy it and which strength you use

4. Moisturiser

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 theCeraVe 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.

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5. Exfoliant

Hands up if you were guilty of using anapricot scrubin 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 herebut 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 theNip + 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.

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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 theSkinceuticals C E Ferulic serum. But at almost $180, the price is flat out ridiculous.

Instead, I’d absolutely recommend usingTimeless 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.

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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

3. Moisturiser

4. Sunscreen


1. Oil cleanser

2. CeraVe cleanser

3. Retin-A

4. Moisturiser

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)!

If you liked finding out about The Best Budget Skin Care Products (That Actually Work), why not share it with your audience?

They love saving money (and having amazing skin) too, after all!


What is a simple but effective skincare routine? ›

Think of your skin-care routine as consisting of three main steps: Cleansing — Washing your face. Toning — Balancing the skin. Moisturizing — Hydrating and softening the skin.

How can I take care of my skin on a low budget? ›

Adopting a simple, three-step approach that includes cleansing, moisturizing, and protecting your skin can help reduce skin care costs while keeping your skin healthy. Limiting the number of products you use can also help, as using several different products can be costly.

What are the only 3 skincare products you need? ›

Cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen. If you're rolling your eyes thinking yeah, yeah, just give me the serums and peels please, stay with us. Because honest, these three core skincare products become infinitely more attractive once you get to know them (and what they can do for your skin).

What is the number one dermatologist skin care brand? ›

Developed with dermatologists, CeraVe is the #1 dermatologist recommended skincare brand1.

What are the 3 most important skincare products? ›

Three Essential Elements in a Basic Skincare Routine
  • Step 1: Cleanser. ...
  • Step 2: Moisturizer. ...
  • Step 3: Sunscreen. ...
  • Taking it to the next level: Antioxidants and retinoids. ...
  • 3 (or 5) simple steps to beautiful skin.

What are the 5 basics of skin care? ›

So if you're interested to find out what my spring morning skin care routine looks like, read on for more details.
  • Step 1: Cleanse with water only. In the morning, I only cleanse with water. ...
  • Step 2: Hydrosol (toner) ...
  • Step 3: Serum and actives. ...
  • Step 4: Moisturize. ...
  • Step 5: Sun protection.
Apr 23, 2019

Which is the cheap and best moisturizer for face? ›

Best Drugstore Moisturizers
  • Best Overall. CeraVe Moisturizing Cream. ...
  • Best for Combination and Oily Skin. La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer. ...
  • Best for Acne-Prone Skin. Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Lotion for Face. ...
  • Best for Mature Skin. Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream. ...
  • Best for Skin Barrier Support.
Mar 27, 2023

What skin care should I use everyday? ›

  • Cleanser. Face cleansing should be the first step in any skincare routine, as it clears away impurities and excess oil that can clog pores and dull skin. ...
  • Toner. ...
  • Serum. ...
  • Eye Cream. ...
  • Moisturizer. ...
  • Sunscreen. ...
  • Cleanser. ...
  • Toner.
Mar 17, 2023

What are the 4 skincare must haves? ›

4 Things You Need In Your Skincare Routine!
  • You Need A Cleanser. There are different types of cleansers such as cream cleansers, oil cleansers, gel cleansers, and foaming cleansers. ...
  • You Need A Serum. Serums tend to have high potency and are meant to “treat” in some way. ...
  • You Need a Moisturizer. ...
  • You Need Sun Protection.
Aug 13, 2021

What is the most essential skincare? ›

Here are 7 must-haves of skincare you need to add to your daily skincare routine.
  1. Cleanser. A cleanser as the name suggests helps clean our face. ...
  2. Toner. Toner is the second step in every skincare routine. ...
  3. Serum. Different serums provide different benefits to our skin. ...
  4. Eye cream. ...
  5. Acne/marks treatment. ...
  6. Moisturiser. ...
  7. Sunscreen.
Aug 1, 2022

What is the most trusted skin care brand? ›

The best skin-care brands of 2023
  • Best overall: CeraVe.
  • Best clinical-grade: Skinbetter Science.
  • Best for acne-prone skin: La Roche-Posay.
  • Best for oily skin: Paula's Choice.
  • Best for dry skin: Comfort Zone.
  • Best for aging skin: Murad.
  • Best skin care with SPF: Supergoop!
  • Best drugstore brand: Cetaphil.
Jun 23, 2023

What is the #1 premium skincare brand in the US? ›

Rodan + Fields is the #1 Premium Skincare Regimen Brand in the U.S. for 5 Consecutive Years1 (2018 – 2022), the #1 Dermatologist Founded Premium Skincare Brand in North America2 in 2022, the #1 Direct Selling Premium Skincare Brand in North America2 in 2022, the #1 Premium Anti-Aging Regimen Brand in North America3 in ...

How can I moisturize my 60 year old skin? ›

Apply a creamy, fragrance-free moisturizer formulated for dry skin within 3 minutes of bathing and throughout the day. Moisturizing helps ease the dryness and restore your skin's protective barrier. When your skin feels very dry, dermatologists recommend using an ointment instead of a cream.

What is the best minimal face routine? ›

Step 1: Remove makeup with an oil cleanser. Step 2: Cleanse with a hydrating face wash. Step 3: Exfoliate with a face serum or apply retinol (she alternates daily) Step 4: Moisturize.

What is a must skincare routine? ›

Usually, a basic routine includes removing makeup, cleansing your face, applying a spot treatment for any blemishes, using sunblock during the day, and putting on moisturizer.

What is a must have in skincare routine? ›

Cleanser and SPF moisturizer will be fixtures in your routine, and some dermatologists may recommend an over-the-counter retinol product or antioxidant serum as a preventative measure to stimulate collagen production.

What are the 4 basics of skincare? ›

The Core Four includes a cleanser, an exfoliant, a moisturizer, and a SPF. Cleansing is the most basic aspect of skincare, everyone should do it daily – from the guy with perfect skin, to the MAC makeup artist.

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