The other day I was thinking about it and I realized – I finally had figured out a (somewhat!) affordable but fancy bedtime skincare routine.
It’s mostly clean, too. Retinol is not clean and I don’t think the Pixi Glow Tonic is clean either, but everything else is! I always say that I try to be 80/20 in my own skincare routine with a focus on clean ingredients BUT I also want high-tech and need my retinol! (If you want a clean alternative I would definitely recommend trying Bakuchiol, which I wrote about in this post!)
I have more affordable skincare recs here in this post… but I’ve never outlined a full skincare routine at solely affordable/drugstore prices. If you buy everything (8 products) featured, that’s $153. Not cheap (the two retinol products drive up the cost!) BUT you’re getting a full routine that is in my opinion, pretty comparable to a MUCH more expensive skincare routine.
ALSO: be sure to check out Sephora’s newly launched “clean beauty under $20” page!
Affordable Skincare Routine
Before we dive in, a few quick things!
- THIS is my current skincare routine. I’ve updated a few things and will do a winter skincare post but that will give you the general idea.
- THIS is the correct order to apply your skincare products! (I’ve listed out this routine in proper order but I always get asked questions about product order so I wanted to link to that post again.
- This post is a bedtime routine! I find that if you are diligent at night you don’t have to do a ton in the morning. I usually splash my face with water (or use this toner/cleanser), and pat on a light moisturizer, my fav daytime eye cream and tinted moisturizer w/ SPF. Don’t ever skip SPF… I usually try to wear at least SPF 30 every day. I haven’t found an affordable/drugstore one I truly LOVE yet but this is my fav from Supergoop. You want to fight against those free radicals!
Lastly, these are just the skincare products I love and what works for me! Everything mentioned in this post has been tested, vetted, and is fully Grace-approved! BUT if we have different skin types, this might not work for you. I’m 38 with dry skin. My biggest concerns are dehydration, fine lines, and texture. I will occasionally get a little bit oily (especially on my t-zone and get so annoyed by the larger pores on my nose!)
I love love love a good double cleanse. It’s such a nice way to kick off your skin care routine! A balm to remove all my makeup, dirt and grime… and then a gel cleanser to get my skin really clean and prepped for skincare. Besides being super effective, it’s also just a really nice, luxurious ritual. I don’t double cleanse every night but I do it if I wore makeup, my skin feels dirty, I’ve been traveling, or I just want the ritual. If not, I’ll just pick one!
Start by using the Cocokind Oil to Milk Cleanser ($18). Massage this on dry skin and then add a little bit of water to emulsify. Overall, I’m pretty medium on Cocokind but I really love this cleanser and it’s a great price. You could also do a micellar water as your first step (so many of my girlfriends are OBSESSED!) and I get it, it’s satisfying and they really do get all of your makeup off but I personally prefer an oil cleanser or cleansing balm!
THEN, use this Weleda Clarifying Gel Cleanser ($20). I love this cleanser – it’s my favorite face wash at this price point. It smells amazing and really deep cleans. Even though I have dry skin I really like this cleanser as it deep cleans, prepping my skin for moisture!
Exfoliate (2-3x a week)
For a manual exfoliation, I love the Seaweed Bath Company’s face scrub. It looks like it has been discontinued, but not to fear: I’ve been testing out this one from Versed and it’s just as good… maybe even better? Budgets aside, it is my favorite face scrub but I do really love that it is $17. I got a tip to (gently) exfoliate for two full minutes in the shower and this has been a game changer… your skin will be buttery soft and SO SMOOTH afterward!
Retinol / Acid / Serum
A few times a week (I do it every other night, recommend starting with 1-2x a week) use the Olay Retinol Serum. At $29 this is the most expensive of the products, but it’s also really effective and most retinol serums cost $100+. Definitely read my full review of the Olay retinol products. I find them to be very good and comparable to the more expensive retinol products I’ve tried.
Pixi Glow Tonic ($14) is the real deal and my favorite affordable glycolic acid/toner. It’s similar to P50 in that it exfoliates and makes you GLOW!
On non retinol nights I would do a gentle serum like the Olay Wrinkle Correction Serum, or acid. (This is also when you’d do your salicylic acid to treat acne if you have oily skin.) Or if your skin is feeling tight or irritated, skip this step and just go straight to moisturizer. If you have sensitive skin, acids can often do more harm than good.
Everything really depends on YOUR skin (test things out! Pay attention to how your skin feels) but I would recommend doing each of these things SEPARATELY a few times a week. Don’t do them both, I think retinol + glow tonic would probably be a little too much. I’d probably start with retinol 1-2x a week and Glow Tonic 3x a week with a couple off nights where you do a hydrating serum (don’t have a drugstore/affordable rec for that yet) or just go straight to moisturizer after you cleanse).
I am still loving the Olay Retinol Eye Cream ($29) and use it every night. It’s gentle, it doesn’t irritate, and I have definitely noticed a big improvement in the texture around my under eye area. I get asked if it helps with dark circles and I don’t think it does but honestly, no topical cream is going to fix your dark circles.
There are so many great night creams out there but personally, Skin Food and Skin Food Light ($12 each) are my two favs here. Both are so hydrating. I would liken the Skin Food to La Mer’s original cream (it’s extremely rich – a little goes a long way and you have to warm it up between your fingers first) and the Skin Food Light to the Dr. Bader Rich Cream (in consistency, not active ingredients, obviously). I use both creams a lot… usually Skin Food at night or when my face is just extra dry, and Skin Food Light for day. I have a post about Skin Food, with all of its many uses… it’s one of my favorite parts of my skin care routine.
Lock it all in with Oil
We’ve talked about this before but oil is the last step, and it locks in all of those good actives!!!
Everyday Oil ($14 for one ounce) is one of my favorite oils, and it’s an amazing price! I like to tap on oil over my moisturizer as a final step before bed to lock everything in. It smells amazing, it feels amazing, and it leaves my skin so glowy. The Everyday Oil Mainstay Blend smells like Palo Santo which I love but they also make an unscented formula for my sensitive skin friends!
PS – I’m still on the hunt for a good affordable hyaluronic acid! If you have recs, leave them in the comments and I will give them a try.
I need me some retinol products! I’ve tried to find them but I don’t think they’re available in Hong Kong, ugh… ❤️✨
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
Aw, hopefully they will launch internationally!
I believe Drunk Elephant is now being sold in Hong Kong and they have a Retinol product.
Not a budget skin care question, but do you have thoughts on true botanicals products?
Hey Lauren, I think they are a great brand! I have tried a few things (not all) and loved them. Their body oil is heaven!
Concerning the olay products- are you concerned about the fact that they are no clean? I used to use the serum and loved it but trying to go as clean as possible in my routine.
I think it’s really a decision you have to make for yourself, with what you’re comfortable with.
I always strive to be at least 80/20 and to be upfront about that. While I am always trying to find clean products, I care most about effective products.
I only use clean body care products (since the surface area + amount of products you are using is so much bigger) but will make allowances for high tech products that make such a visible difference in my skin. That’s just MY decision and what works for ME, as I am not a scientist, etc. So of course I am concerned, but I also use such a tiny amount of the products that I don’t feel awful about it. It’s really up to you. If you are fully clean in your routine I would highly recommend the Herbivore Bakuchiol Serum which is great (though I don’t think it works QUITE as well as retinol). I guess you just have to sort of weigh which thing is most important.
Always love skin care posts! I am the exact opposite skin type of you (combo, sensitive and acne prone and don’t tolerate oils well) but I am 39 and need products with age prevention but that are also geared toward acne prevention for combination and sensitive skin. Not an easy task. To make it even more difficult I have recently gone 100% clean in all personal care products and have had a really hard time finding a substitute for my “Clear skin, holy grails”. Beauty Counter and Tatcha broke me out terribly. All of this to say that I think I have hit on a winner in Ghost Democracy. I haven’t seen you mention it yet so I wanted to mention it to you. It is clean and affordable and for all skin types. I have been using the wash, vitamin c, hyaluronic acid and moisturizer and so far so good!
I’m so glad you’ve found something you love!!!
This is a fantastic post! I have a follow up question — I have been using the Herbivore Bakuchiol serum (at your recommendation!) and love it but would like to try the Olay Retinol Night Serum…any suggestions on how to use both? Like count them both as a retinol and rotate which one you use? I know this is a very specific question, but I feel like if anyone knows how to incorporate various similar purpose products it would be you!
Thanks for the kind words!
So the Olay Retinol and the Herbivore Bakuchiol Serum essentially do the same thing/are the same step – one is retinol and the other is a retinol alternative! I personally wouldn’t bother… I’d use the Bakuchiol and then try the Olay afterward when you finish the bottle. I think the Olay is slightly more effective than the Bakuchiol, but the Bakuchiol is clean of course, whereas Olay is not. I just don’t really see the point in using them both! You could always rotate between them if you really want/are curious, but since they are the same step, it feels excessive (and I say this as someone who has several different retinol/retinol alternative serums, but testing products is my job… for a non-blogger, you prob only need one!)
Hope that makes sense!
I haven’t tried all of these but FWIW I can co-sign Weleda, Pixi Glow Tonic, and Everyday Oil! This seems like an excellent place to begin for anyone unsure about what a comprehensive routine looks like. Thank you!
Thank you so much for the co-sign!!! 🙂
This is my favorite post on the Stripe of all time! Fab work, Grace! I love to mix prestige brand and drugstore brand products and this helps me so this so well! Love it!!
Oh good I am so happy to hear that!!!
Where would you do a spot treatment? I know you probably don’t get much acne, but I didn’t see it in the skincare order post.
Great question! Yeah my skin is so dry so I rarely do one but if I do I do it as a last step BUT I also try not to get any moisturizer on the affected area as I use such rich, oil-based moisturizers!
Love this 🙂
I’m so glad!
I love this post. And this reminded me that I need to buy more Skin Food as I just ran out. Thank you, Grace!
Thank you so much for posting this! I didn’t notice a vitamin C in the routine – any affordable recommendation? Thanks! 🙂
I just looove Pixi products!
Lisa | Lisa Autumn
Agree! They have some really fantastic, affordable products!
The REN Ready Steady Glow toner is a good clean alternative to the Pixi Glow tonic and costs about the same per ounce.
Thank you so much for the rec, that’s a great idea! I never think of Ren as affordable but you’re totally right.
love this! Do you find that the eye cream helps with dark circles? I’ve been looking for an affordable eye cream that really helps with this.
I’m copying what I wrote to another commenter on the actual Olay post (sorry to be lazy it’s just a longer response re: dark circles!!!)
It doesn’t help w/dark circles. Retinol will brighten up your face as a whole (it renews cell turnover resulting in more radiant skin) but dark circles are their own sad issue. It’s great with fine lines and texture, though!
Unfortunately as much as marketers would like us to believe there is no topical treatment for dark circles that will have lasting results (plenty have light reflecting particles in them like the Ole Henriksen one, which definitely brightens things up, but once you wash them off you wash off the brightening effect).
I have dark circles and my formula is… this eye cream at night to help with lines and texture and then in the morning I use the Ole Henriksen eye cream and then the Ilia concealer. I find that the combination of a retinol eye cream (which helps with texture!) at night, and then a brightening eye cream in the morning with a good concealer is the holy trifecta. The retinol is a key part of this as it keeps the area smoother, so concealer goes on better!
Thanks for the info!!
Excellent blog post! This is something I’ve been wondering about! love to get your stamp of approval. What do you suggest for a body lotion that is clean? Thanks! ~Ashley B.~
I personally really love the REN body serum, Weleda Skin Food Body Butter, or my new obsession -the body stone!
This post is amazing. I want to up my skincare game, but I’m pretty low maintenance (as is my skin, fortunately) and have a hard time justifying the cost of pricier items!
I am so happy you enjoyed the post – thank you!
Hey Grace! When should you start using retinol? I’m almost 27, considering pulling the trigger…
I would talk to your dermatologist! I didn’t start til I was 37 but that was probably a little late!
How does the night pillow hold up with face oil? I just got one and I’m worried because my cotton pillowcase always looked so gross 2-3 days after washing it thanks to face oil.
Oh no! I might have really dry skin because I never have this problem! I also tend to read for 45 minutes before going to bed, so there’s not really any oil on my face left to rub onto a pillow.
Thank you for this post, Grace! I value your knowledge on skin care, and I appreciate you taking the time to list affordable options (and the order to apply them in).
I’m so glad to hear that! Thanks for taking the time to comment!
So happy to read this post with items I can afford. Now i just need to see which ones i can buy in Australia
Love this post so much, Grace!! And, AMAZING to know about Skin Food Light; I love Skin Food but definitely can’t use it daytime under my makeup…. I’m going to try the light version, and the Olay eye cream.
PS: for people who prefer ordering on Amazon, just saw that Everday Oil is available there Prime in a few size options! 🙂
Oh that’s amazing, thanks for sharing!
(Just a caveat – I actually knew this… but since Emma is a good friend + small business owner, I always prefer to drive folks to her site as all the money goes to her and not Amazon 🙂
Ah awesome!!! Skin Food Light sounds perfect for you!
This is such a great and helpful post, thank you. Have you tried the versed cleansing balm? I don’t like it as much as farmacy but think it’s a nice and less expensive option.
I haven’t! I loved their body oil and a couple other products but I generally think Versed is a fantastic brand. Try the Cocokind cleanser! It’s really really nice.
grace you look so beautiful in this pic!!
That’s so nice! Thank you!
Love all of your recs, thank you so much! Do you put sunscreen on over Skin Food Light in the morning?
Yup! Sunscreen is the last step of your skincare routine!
Love this! Would also love a morning routine/daytime version of this!
This is close to the Korean skincare routine. Love it!
This is such a great post to get someone started with affortable skincare! I purchased 4 of these products and have been loving them. Thanks for your always amazing reviews Grace!
Got the double cleanser duo you recommended here and am LOVING it.
I love the Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid.
Hi! Would you use the Pixi tonic every night, or only on days you don’t use the retinol? Thanks!
Hi Dee! I would not use it on retinol nights! Too much acid, I think it would be overkill 🙂
Hi Grace! I love this post and refer to/repurchase the products all the time. Could you re-link the Seaweed Bath Co. scrub? The Amazon link is sold out and it doesn’t seem like it’s coming back into stock but I wanted to make sure you get the credit 🙂
Oh man – it looks like it’s been discontinued!!!!
This one from Versed is SUPER similar (maybe even better?) at the same price point – I just started testing it a couple weeks ago: https://bit.ly/2CWJWwr
I’m personally a fan of REN! I used their bio-retinoid anti-wrinkle oil and their aha tonic exfoliator and love them. They claim to be “clean” products but I haven’t researched that to confirm.
LOVE Ren, but this post is meant to be more affordable and I would not classify them there! 🙂
On the nights you use retinol, do you use Skin Food after or just do the retinol only?
I find that I still need to moisturize after retinol especially if I use the Olay serum (if you do the Olay moisturizer you prob don’t need skin food too). So yes… I’d pat on the retinol and let it sink in, and then 15 min or so later moisturize!