This New $16 Serum Replaced My $245 One, and My Skin Looked Better in One Week

"Look how good my skin looks!" I practically screamed at my dad the second he slid into the passenger seat of my car. It was fall, right around Thanksgiving, and my dad was in L.A. helping me pack up my apartment before the holidays, after which I'd be moving into a new place across town. It'd been about three months since I'd last seen my family, and after years of trying to get my hormonal acne under control (and constantly tweaking my skincare routine and lifestyle habits), my skin was finally, miraculously, completely clear. Heck, it was glowing! For the first time almost ever, I felt confident walking outside without a stitch of makeup, and even more astounding, whenever I did so, I'd accrue compliments (sometimes from complete strangers) on my skin—an experience that was completely foreign to me. 

My family, obviously, has become intimately attuned to my skin woes, and my parents have a keen awareness as to how much my acne-prone skin has impacted my self-confidence over the years. But as I mentioned, I'd been working diligently to hone my skincare routine to best serve my finicky complexion and was also working with a naturopathic doctor to balance my hormones with a few key supplements and lifestyle changes. The work had paid off, and my skin had, slowly but surely, undergone quite the transformation. Until, of course, everything went to shit. 

It hadn't been but three days after I'd so superfluously bragged to my dad about the status of my skin, that I noticed a few new bumps around the corners of my mouth, most of which (at the time) were exclusive to the left side. Huh, that's weird, I thought to myself, not overly concerned and chalking it up to hormones since my period was looming. Fast-forward a few weeks, however, and I was in total panic mode. What had started as a few bumps had morphed into a full-blown breakout, and I was experiencing an ever-increasing flush of red inflammation all around my nose, chin, and mouth that looked more like some kind of crazy rash—hardly the hormonal pimples I was accustomed to. 

Long story short (and fear not—there will be another in-depth story about my experience coming soon to Who What Wear), after getting in to see a derm while home for the holidays, I found out I was dealing with perioral dermatitis and some acne. My skin was a true melting pot of everything that can happen to one's skin at this point: flaking, scales, bumps, redness, pimples, itchiness… You name it, I had it! I was prescribed a special breed of antibiotics to help clear the flare-up (although my doctor told me it could definitely recur), I went back on spironolactone (a prescription medication that has helped clear my skin in the past), and I began taking neem (more on that below). Last but not least, I was forced to replace my old skin-improving product routine with an entirely new one devoid of any and all actives and exfoliating agents and in favor of barrier-friendly hydrators and lightweight, non-irritating formulas. 

Luckily for me, my need for an overhauled product regimen perfectly aligned with the launch of a brand-new, low-priced skincare brand called Byoma (exclusively sold at Target), which prioritizes practically every single thing I was looking for in new, dermatitis-friendly products: clean, noncomedogenic, dermatologist-approved ingredients specifically designed to improve and repair the skin's barrier function while simultaneously hydrating, balancing, and brightening. A proprietary Tri-Ceramide Complex is touted as the line's MVP, and all seven formulas (one cleanser, one toner/face mist, two moisturizers, and three serums) are mix-and-match compatible and boast complementary key ingredients to boost skin health.

One Week After Using Byoma


One Week After Wearing Makeup



Although I'm excited to eventually try all seven of Byoma's formulas, I started out with the Hydrating Serum, which seemed the most benign and thus the safest. Due to the state of my skin, I'd gone without anything other than a cleanser, eye cream, face cream, and SPF for weeks, and I couldn't wait to see how the $16 formula, which is enriched with moisturizing squalene and glycerin along with the signature Tri-Ceramide Complex, would impact my skin. Fun fact: One of the many things I love about the brand is that it lists every single ingredient on the side of the product and explains what, exactly, each ingredient does—the transparency is beyond cool.

Keeping my fingers crossed that nothing in the serum would aggravate my skin, I followed the package's instruction and squeezed about six drops into my palms before massaging and patting them into my complexion. The serum has a milky, more viscous consistency than the other (far pricier) hydrating serums I'd used pre-dermatitis, and at first, I was skeptical. It almost felt more like a milky face cream than a serum! Of course, the second I saw how plump, glowy, and dewy, my skin looked, all worry was erased. Not to mention I noticed that regular morning and evening application—just after a few days—made a noticeable difference in both the look, feel, and texture of my skin. Yep, miracles do exist, and apparently, they come in aesthetically pleasing periwinkle packaging, they'll only set you back $16, and they are available at Target. 

After becoming increasingly obsessed with Byoma's Hydrating Serum and being able to ensure it wouldn't worsen or excite my dermatitis in any way, I decided to get really crazy and added another Byoma product into the mix: the Balancing Face Mist. (This is especially bizarre considering I am not a face-mist person. In fact, I'm the complete opposite of a face-mist person!) That said, here I am regretting every despicable thing I've ever uttered in regard to the product category because this balancing elixir from Byoma is brilliant. Like, it's exceptional, and I'm pretty sure spritzing my face with this superfine mist and following it up with the Hydrating Serum played a very large hand in my dermatitis healing and practically disappearing after just one week. 

Although the causes of perioral dermatitis are diverse and not entirely clear, one of the biggest potential offenders is a broken skin barrier, which is what Byoma specifically seeks to remedy. Just like the serum, the face mist features the brand's signature Tri-Ceramide Complex to support barrier health, but it's also fortified with probiotic ferment and allantoin to soothe, calm, and re-feed the skin's microbiome. 

As a self-proclaimed skincare snob (who, before, almost exclusively used super-expensive product staples), I could not be more surprised—and thrilled—by Byoma. To me, everything about the brand is genius, accessible, and bar-setting. I never thought I'd be here saying my most treasured skincare possessions clock in at under $20, but here I am screaming it from the rooftops, and I highly recommend you try the brand yourself.

More Affordable Beauty Staples You'll Find on My Vanity

First things first—I absolutely never start my morning or evening skincare routine without wearing this plush headband from Versed. It's adorable, obviously, but it also keeps all of my little bleached baby hairs out of the line of fire. 

Micellar waters are a dime a dozen these days, but while they might seem benign, I've found that a lot of formulas have not-so-great-for-acne ingredients lurking in their depths. (For instance, castor oil is a common additive that sadly clogs my pores.) I've been using this zinc- and aloe-infused cleansing water from Sephora Collection for years now, and it's done wonders for my complexion. I use it every morning and evening before I go in with my normal cleansers, almost like a double-cleansing method. It absorbs and lifts away all the ills so my favorite face washes can really go to town and more effectively clean my skin. It's great for all skin types, but especially for peeps looking to target blemishes, pores, and oiliness. 

Before I discovered this gentler alternative from Versed, I had a rather volatile relationship with physical exfoliants. Read: They completely effed up my skin. So many formulas are overly harsh and abrasive and can actually compromise or even damage the skin's delicate barrier. This one features superfine microcrystalline, a 100% plant-based, biodegradable alternative to microbeads, and leaves my skin feeling baby smooth sans irritation. I can honestly say the results are comparable to an in-office (and very spendy) microdermabrasion treatment. Each tube lasts forever since a little goes a long way, and for just $17 a pop, it's become a once-per-week ritual my bump-prone skin absolutely craves.

Dark circles and dryness are two of my biggest concerns when it comes to my eye area, and this $24 brightening serum from Mario Badescu tackles both with just a dab and a blend. It's a cheaper (yet just as satisfying) alternative to three or four other practically identical formulas I've used in the past. It immediately gives your under-eyes a hit of luminosity, which diffuses the look of shadows just as well as an IG filter.

I know $36 isn't exactly "cheap," but hear me out. I've tried hundreds of face creams, from $15 to $900 (yep, they exist!), and this is my absolute favorite of all time. Since my skin is prone to breakouts and congestion, I prefer lightweight gel formulas to ultra-heavy occlusive creams, but so many lighter moisturizers on the market just don't give me enough long-lasting hydration. This one from the French brand Avène has been a true miracle for my skin. It keeps my complexion balanced and dewy (but not too dewy), and it has the added benefit of making my makeup and foundation look absolutely stellar. I can't recommend it enough.

That said, there are times when I need a heavier face cream (i.e., when I visit my family in Arizona and my skin instantly takes on the texture and feel of a reptile), and in said cases, I always, always, always use Embryolisse's cult-loved Lait-Crème Concentré, a holy-grail formula beloved by everyone from beauty editors to makeup artists to celebrities and has been a best-selling product from the brand since the 1950s. Nothing gives a better, smoother, or suppler-looking finish to my skin. If you've never tried it, and veer combination or dry, you're in for a treat.

Even though my skin has drastically improved in recent weeks, I almost always have at least one little friend or two who come to play. I've tried so many acne spot treatments, and while there are some great formulas out there, I almost exclusively stick to these handy-dandy hydrocolloid patches from Hero Cosmetics. Not only do they stave off my pick-hungry fingers, but they're non-drying and suck out all the gunk (sorry for that visual!) in just six to eight hours. I pop them on right before I hit the sheets and wake up to flatter, less angry spots. They're truly life-changing.

Name a more iconic face-makeup remover wipe. As hard as I try to break up with my reliance on makeup wipes, I just don't think it will ever happen. I've tried every kind known to womankind, and this OG favorite (which I've used since high school, thank you very much) just can't be beaten. They're plant-based and compostable, which makes me feel a little less guilty, and they remove my makeup and lightly cleanse my skin with just a few swipes across my face. I always follow suit with micellar water and face wash and am never not impressed by how little makeup residue is left behind after I've gone in with one of these (unlike a lot of makeup wipes that don't make a huge dent when it comes to a thorough pore detox).

I have ultra-sensitive eyes, and regardless of how much sleep I have or haven't logged the night before, I always wake up with red, dry, watery eyes. Most days I just deal, but if I have lots of meetings or know I'll be on camera or taking pictures, I never skip Lumify's eye drops. I've tried every kind of drop out there, and these ones work instantly, don't irritate my eyes, and the ultra-white results last all dang day. They were first recommended to me by a makeup artist, and it's really no surprise that these drops have become a pre-red carpet standby amongst the A-list. 

Okay, again, I realize this isn't the most affordable SPF formula on the market, but a little goes such a long way, and I am absolutely addicted to the bouncy, ultra-hydrated finish it gives my skin. I pretty much only use mineral sunscreen formulas these days, and it just doesn't get better than this nourishing, antioxidant-rich blend of pure argan oil, jojoba oil, and green tea. It's dreamy, and you will love it!

I never recommend trying a new supplement before consulting a doctor (I was given the green light on this by my dermatologist), but after about two weeks of daily use, these neem capsules have made a huge difference in the health and clarity of my skin. An ancient Ayurvedic antidote, neem is traditionally used to help calm and reduce skin irritation and support liver function, natural detoxification processes, and overall immune health. I started taking two capsules a day after doing lots of research and reading that neem's natural antibacterial properties can help combat acne-causing bacteria, and it can also help control the skin's oil production, further aiding its skin-clearing benefits. Neem might not work for everyone, but I've found it highly beneficial for my skin.

Sure, this lip-volumizing mask from Lawless will set you back more than a tub of Aquaphor, but it's more than worth the $21 price tag, and in addition to its plumping wow factor, it is one of the only lip products that can keep my dry-as-a-bone lips hydrated, pillowy, and velveteen-soft throughout an entire night's sleep. I always roll my eyes a little when a product claims filler-caliber results. And no, nothing will ever take the place of actual filler, but this one comes pretty dang close. Usually, lip masks are too heavy and sticky for my taste, but this one is significantly lighter and more comfortable without compromising on that aforementioned hit of hydration. Maxi-Lip is the key ingredient and is scientifically and clinically shown to visibly increase lip volume by 40% while also helping to support natural collagen production over time. Other key hitters include shea butter and hyaluronic acid.

I have no problem admitting I'm absolutely perfectionistic when it comes to maintaining a porcelain-white finish to my teeth. So, it likely won't come as any surprise that I've tried practically every type of whitening product and contraption that's on the market. But, let me just say, these ingenious dissolving whitening strips from SmileDirectClub are the absolute best. The brand recommends applying the strips once a day for seven days straight to get the most out of your treatment, but you'll notice big-time results after just one use. They're mess-proof, they easily stick to my teeth, and they are hyper-convenient. I pop them on after I brush my teeth at night right before I go to bed—a piece of cake and my teeth look professionally whitened come morning. (People have even started asking me if I have veneers since I started regularly incorporating these strips into my routine!)