If I had to highlight only one term that has the power to make a beauty editor shudder unlike any other, it would have to be "anti-ageing”. Because the truth is (and brace yourselves for this one), no beauty product truly has the power to totally reverse the signs of ageing. No serum, cream, oil or mask that money can buy can actually eradicate wrinkles.
With that being said, there are a very small number of ingredients that can definitely help minimise signs of ageing (and even more so when they're used alongside youth-preserving massage techniques). But when I say very small, I mean it. In fact, there is only a handful of ingredients that have been scientifically-proven to reduce the appearance of age-related skin issues. From wrinkle-reducing retinol to skin brightening vitamin C, it’s hard to comprehend why beauty companies expect us to pay premium prices for ingredients that actually work, right?
If you ask me, great skincare shouldn’t have to come with an eye-watering price tag. Unfortunately, when it comes to anti-ageing products, more affordable brands often get written off as ineffective because of their overuse of the phrase "anti-ageing” in their ads. And sure, while so many affordable products that claim to rewind the clock do little more than give your skin a hefty hit of moisture, there are many that do actually contain the rare ingredients older skin might genuinely benefit from.
So to save you from having to try out every single budget anti-ageing product out there, keep scrolling for the affordable options that contain powerhouse ingredients. Oh, and they’re all under £40. You’re welcome.
The chances are you’ve heard all about retinol before. It’s shouted about from the rooftops by experts for all beauty buffs to hear, and for good reason. Catherine Borysiewicz, consultant dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic explains, "Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that is widely researched and is a proven skincare ingredient.”
But what does it actually do? Well, essentially, it speeds up the rate at which our skin cells turnover, helping to improve firmness. "Through promoting cell turnover, it improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone,” adds Borysiewicz.
And because retinol is such a hot commodity right now, you’d better believe beauty brands set their prices high. Don’t get me wrong—in certain cases, expensive products are fully justified through the strength of their formulas and ingredients, however, when it comes to retinol, stronger isn’t always better. Oftentimes, powerful retinol can leave skin red, irritated and cause peeling. As a result of this, the strength of retinol that we are actually allowed to buy is very limited, meaning that one of the only things that set expensive retinol products apart from the rest is the nourishing ingredients the retinoid sits beside (of which affordable formulas also have many, FYI).
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With a slow-release oil encapsulation system and soothing shea butter and vitamins C and E, this cream delivers all of the effects of a luxury retinol cream without any major irritation.
Containing pure retinol, this serum delivers seriously impressive results for a high-street product. Plus, it also contains macro hyaluronic acid to help retain the skin's natural moisture levels.
This is stuff is formulated for those with sensitive skin, so if you're worried about retinol causing irritation, this is a great place to start.
Indeed's Retinol Reface is highly regarded by beauty editors thanks to its instantly smoothing and brightening results.
2. Hyaluronic Acid
Okay, so hyaluronic acid might not be widely considered an anti-ageing ingredient, but if you ask me (and many experts), it’s one of the most important ingredients for a mature skincare routine. Naturally occurring in our skin, hyaluronic acid retains moisture and helps keep our skin plump and bouncy. Unfortunately, as we get older, our skin's hyaluronic acid production starts plummeting and skin because drier, crepey, and lacklustre.
Unlike other naturally-occurring plumping ingredients such as collagen, our skin does actually have the ability to absorb hyaluronic acid through a cream or serum, albeit only at surface level. "Moisturise with a hyaluronic acid cream or serum where the skin feels dry,” advises Borysiewicz. "This will plump and hydrate the skin throughout the day.”
So although hyaluronic acid won’t guarantee long-term results like a retinol might, the skin will look instantly plumped and more youthful. A twice-daily application should be enough to keep up results.
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With a blend of hyaluronic acid and matrixyl 3000, this is one of the most plumping serums around.
Specially formulated with the purpose of plumping fine lines, this rich concentrate will also help to soothe and hydrate.
Ideal for when tired skin needs a plumping pick-me-up, this mask delivers serious plumping hydration in under 10 minutes.
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This powerhouse serum utilises peptides, ceramides and hyaluronic to help stimulate collagen production and plump.
3. Vitamin C
You might be familiar with vitamin C as a brightening and glow-boosting ingredient, but first and foremost, it should be recognised as an incredibly powerful antioxidant. And it’s cool, I get it. No one actually knows what antioxidant means, right? When it comes to age-defying skincare, though, it’s actually really beneficial to be in the know.
Things like pollution and UV rays trigger our skin to produce harmful particles dubbed "free radicals” which cause long-term DNA damage and speed up the ageing process. What antioxidants do is help counteract and reduce that free radical production, thereby protecting our skin from further premature ageing. "Antioxidants [like vitamin C] support cells, boost collagen and brighten existing skin pigmentation. It is a key anti-ageing ingredient,” says Borysiewicz.
So why the standard hefty price tag? Unlike cheaper, less efficacious ingredients, vitamin C is highly unstable and volatile. This means the minute it is exposed to light, heat and even oxygen, its effectiveness rapidly starts to decline. Formulating an effective vitamin C product can be very costly for a brand, so it is common for great vitamin C products to cost an arm and a leg (see SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic for reference). However, things like dark bottles, airless pumps, booster formulas and single-use designs can help bring the price of effective vitamin C down, so always look for such things when shopping.
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Cleverly designed to keep vitamin C at its most potent, you activate this booster on first use and it remains potent for a full 21-day course.
Vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid is considered to be one of the most universally glow-boosting and protective ingredients around. This product champions L-ascorbic acid as well as hydrating and plumping hyaluronic acid.
Formulated with both antioxidant vitamin C and glow-boosting alpha-hydroxy acids, this day cream gets to work fast.
It's truly impressive to find such a potent formulation for this price, but this new launch from L'Oréal Paris really delivers on efficacy with 12% pure vitamin C alongside skin-smoothing salicylic acid and plumping hyaluronic acid.
4. Face Creams
Although anti-ageing as a term especially when it comes that moisturisers, is complex because ultimately nothing can permanently reverse the signs of fine lines, pigmentation and dryness, However I whilst I truly believe that ageing is a privilege we should fully embrace, with the added help of some of the best anti ageing creams-that genuinely work without breaking the bank - it can feel even easier to build good skincare habits that support those hard working active serums.
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If lightweight watery face creams aren't quite your style then try switching to this deeply nourishing option from Caudalie. We love how it leaves skin looking dewy but not greasy and the fact that it absorbs quickly and doesn't pill or flake.
New gen beaut brand Youth to the people's Adaptogen cream, really is a great all rounder. Hydration without the stickiness, so there was no disruption to our usual morning makeup routine, but thick enough to keep your nighttime serums working your best? Sign us up.
TikTok fell head over heels for this cream over the past year and thanks to it's keen balance of deeply rich cermides and soothing honey, it's not hard to see why.
This is the French pharmacy favourite that editors and skin experts can't get enough of - fact. Partly due to it's restorative formula that packed with antibacterial agents zinc and copper, but mostly due to its pocket-friendly price point.
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Considered nature’s alternative to retinol, bakuchiol is thought to deliver very similar results, with minimal irritation. Personally, I swear by this stuff.
This rich night cream harnesses the power of plant cells to help regenerate and improve the appearance of fine lines.
Formulated with a clever amino-peptide complex, this lightweight, airy moisturiser makes skin appear plumper and more hydrated.
No, this serum doesn't contain any super-powerful actives, but it does contain a very impressive concoction of hydrating, skin-loving ingredients, such a ceramides, squalane and glycerin, to keep dehydration lines at bay and restore a youthful glow.
It’s affordable but powerful. This serum contains peptides to help stimulate collagen production and hyaluronic acid to rejuvenate and hydrate.
The delicate eye area is one of the first to show signs of ageing. This peptide-packed eye cream works to support the skin's natural collagen production, so fine lines, wrinkles, and dark circles appear less obvious.
When it first launched, this innovative serum from No7 was an instant sell-out, with queues forming outside Boots stores before it had even launched. It's still a bestseller for good reason—it uses an exclusive blend of peptides to reverse visible signs of skin damage.
CeraVe's formulas are considered among the best when it comes to ceramides (which help to strengthen and support the skin's barrier). With the addition of retinol and niacinamide, it's ideal for those who are new to using retinol.
Retinol use is often discouraged around the eye area as the skin there is more delicate and prone to sensitivity, however this eye cream is specifically formulated to be gentler. It works to smooth, brighten and plump for visibly brighter skin.
Skin looking dull and flat? This tonic works to slough away dead skin, leaving your complexion radiant.
Thanks to a combination of powerful exfoliating acids, this mask works to target dull skin, rough texture, and uneven skin tone, all in one go.
A thick night cream remains one of the best ways to soften and plump skin quickly. This one also helps to brighten skin, thanks to the inclusion of kakadu plum.
Designed to replenish collagen and restore firmness to loose skin, this serum contains a potent blend of vitamin C, peptides, and antioxidants.
This story was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.
Shannon Lawlor is a renowned beauty journalist and has contributed to Who What Wear’s beauty content since 2020. As a leading beauty editor, expert and brand consultant, she has over eight years of experience working for some of the industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear (of course), Glamour UK, Stylist, Refinery29 and Fabulous.
Having also worked behind the scenes with some of the industry’s biggest brands and retailers, Shannon has a unique insight into what people really want from their beauty routines. Understanding that beauty lovers seek honest, open and responsible advice, she has it made her mission to demystify the intimidating world of beauty, taking a no-frills approach to the most relatable topics.
While Shannon is the first to admit she doesn’t hold the answer to every beauty question out there, she is dedicated to sharing her expert insights in a bid to help. As a self-proclaimed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for easy-to-use, foolproof beauty products and has made it her mission to scope out the best of the best.
When she’s not working, Shannon is likely soaking in the bath or giving no-holds-barred beauty reviews on Instagram from her bathroom floor.
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