Let’s be real, I think the quest for perfect skin is one we’ve all been on since getting our first taste of acne in seventh grade. Now, being a junior in college, I’ve had years of testing out several skincare products—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and I’ve concluded that expensive does NOT equal better. Until about four years ago, I struggled with persistent unsightly blemishes that wouldn’t go away no matter what I did. For a while there, I just sort of accepted that I had acne and always would, no matter how much time and money I spent on fancy facials and luxury skincare products that promised to make all my troubles go away.
It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I started making some subtle changes that almost instantly cleared my skin: I started paying attention to what I ate and drank and stopped spending so much dang money on my skincare routine. Through recommendations from friends and dermatologists, I was introduced to products that have not only consistently kept my skin clear and healthy but are actually affordable.
I know what you’re thinking—you get to spend less money on skincare and have a flawless complexion? It’s almost too good to be true. Keep reading for the nine best skincare products under $50 I swear by for clear, glowing skin all year long.
Trader Joe’s Jojoba Oil
My number one, no-exception rule for flawless skin? NEVER SLEEP WITH MAKEUP ON. I don’t care how tired, lazy, or buzzed you are. Washing your face at the end of the day is a must (whether you wore makeup or not). Consistently sleeping with makeup on causes eyelash breakage, wrinkles, and, of course, acne from clogged pores. I've tried (and then ditched) quite a few makeup removers, from chemical-ridden makeup removing solutions to rough wipes that felt like they were harming my skin more than helping it. My favorite all-natural face and eye makeup remover is Trader Joe’s jojoba oil—and it was recommended to me by my dermatologist.
Jojoba oil is one of the few natural oils that actually fights against acne with its anti-inflammatory properties while also removing every trace of makeup from heavy foundation to the most stubborn mascara. With clean hands, I massage this oil over any areas I applied makeup to and then wash off the oil with my facial cleanser. During winter or whenever my skin is on the drier side, I love to add a few drops of this to my moisturizer as well.
iS Clinical Cleansing Complex
Investing in a great facial cleanser is a must for clear and healthy skin. This one’s a no brainer, but it’s something I overlooked for years! Several popular cleansers on the market use harsh chemicals that can strip your face of its natural oils and cause irritation (hello, redness!). I’ve been using iS Clinical’s Cleansing Complex for two years now, and I can say in confidence that it’s majorly changed the texture of my skin.
The cleanser is promoted for all skin types, using a combination of bio-nutrients, antioxidants, and mild resurfacing ingredients that thoroughly cleanse the skin without stripping its natural oils. I used to only wash my face at night since I’m prone to dryness until an esthetician told me washing my face in the morning is essential to preventing breakouts since we often sweat in our sleep. Luckily, this cleanser is gentle enough to use morning and night without drying out the skin (even during winter).
Elta MD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen
Did you know excess sun-exposure is the top cause of premature aging? Sunscreen is crucial to having tight, glowing skin not only in your 20s but as you get older too. My go-to facial sunscreen is Elta MD’s Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 46. The formula was developed by dermatologists for acne-prone skin and is oil-free, so don’t worry, it won’t break you out. The sunscreen comes in clear, which I wear under makeup, or in a tinted shade for days when you want a little more coverage. I wear this daily, applying one pump to my face and neck after moisturizer. So many young adults overlook the importance of wearing sunscreen for preventing discoloration and wrinkles, but it really is the key to aging gracefully. Trust me, your future self will thank you.
Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water
As a college student, I’m not trying to break the bank over my skincare routine. That being said, I’ve learned not to overlook drugstore products. Believe it or not, your local CVS holds some of my favorite products for perfect skin! One of them is Garnier’s Micellar Cleansing Water, which I'm sure you've already heard about. The French skincare secret cleans your pores while locking in your skin's moisture. I love to use this after washing my face morning and night for a glowing complexion; just apply some micellar water on a cotton pad and gently rub it on your skin like a toner. After the water dries, go on with your usual skincare routine. This product also doubles as a great makeup remover if oil cleansing isn't your thing.
CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM
Another drug store product I use religiously is CeraVe’s PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion. Even though it’s a nighttime product, I use this moisturizer morning and night. The ultra-lightweight and oil-free lotion is perfect for hydrating the skin without appearing oily and, most importantly, without breaking you out. For years I bounced from cream to cream trying to find one that doesn’t leave me ridden with whiteheads; not only is this one ridiculously affordable, it does its job perfectly.
Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
Sometimes we can do everything right and still wake up with an unwelcome pimple (especially around that time of the month). It’s inevitable! But when it does happen, leave the blemish alone. I can still hear my mom screaming at my ninth-grade, pimple-popping self: “YOU’RE MAKING IT WORSE!” she’d say. It took me dozens of acne scars, some of which I still have today, to finally realize she was right. Unless you’re a licensed dermatologist, you probably don’t know what you’re doing. Popping pimples can make blemishes worse and cause post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation, especially if you’re prone to scarring like me. Even though it’s tempting, save yourself the agony and dry out the blemish instead.
Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion is one of the most popular skincare products for a reason—that reason being that it works. This magical spot treatment uses salicylic acid, sulfur, and zinc oxide to draw impurities from the skin without scarring. Moral of the story here? Hands off the pimples.
Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides
You know that saying “you are what you eat”? Well, every 27 days, your skin completely regenerates itself with cells made from the nutrients we get from our food. For the sake of my complexion, I try my best to avoid foods that cause inflammation (dairy, highly processed and greasy food) and focus more on fruit, veggies, grains, and responsibly sourced protein. In addition to being aware of my diet, a habit I’ve adopted this past year that has made a noticeable difference in the elasticity and tightness of my skin is taking collagen supplements. I add one scoop of Vital Protein’s Collagen Peptides to my smoothie or coffee every day (it’s completely tasteless); not only does collagen help strengthen hair, skin, and nails, but it also fights aging. We start losing collagen as early as age 25, so feeding your collagen supply early isn’t a bad idea. Plus, the supplement will leave your skin glowing!
S'Well Reusable Water Bottle
Like the food we eat, water intake is crucial to having clear and hydrated skin. Sure, it’s the oldest trick in the book and you're probably sick of hearing it, but it’s a non-negotiable for a healthy complexion. Drinking two to three liters of water per day flushes out inflammation-causing toxins and helps the skin self-moisturize (hello, natural glow!). The benefits of drinking water go far beyond skincare, so diminished blemishes is just one of the perks that come with healthy water intake. I carry a reusable water bottle with me at all times so I don’t forget to keep sipping. If plain water isn't your thing, try spicing it up by adding lemon wedges, mint leaves, or sliced berries.
SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub
Lastly, one of my favorite products that helps achieve a flawless complexion is the SkinCeuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub. I use this product before facial cleanser once a week during the warmer months and then twice a week during the winter since cold weather means dryer skin. The smoothing polish sloughs off dry and dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. It also increases blood circulation, which in turn helps you to achieve a natural, healthy glow. This exfoliant was created for all skin types and is especially beneficial to repairing dehydrated, discolored, or aging skin. However, it’s also important not to over-exfoliate, as doing so can strip your skin of its natural oils.