Best skincare products: the ultimate daily routine of editor-approved buys

These are the best skincare products our beauty editor really rates, from cleansers to serums and sunscreen

Collage of three of the best skincare products on a blue background, bioeffect cream, espa cleanser and kate somerville spf spray
(Image credit: Future)

"What are the best skincare products?" is probably the question any beauty editor gets asked the most at parties. And you'd better hope you've just topped up your glass of sauvignon if you want to start that sort of skincare chat, because once we get going on this topic it's hard to stop for breath.  

When it comes to picking targeted treatments for our skincare routine, much comes down to your skin type, lifestyle, and specific concerns. So one person's idea of the best Vitamin C serum or best retinol cream, for example, could vary wildly from the next. Sweeping, general recommendations don't really apply in those cases, so you won't find them in this particular guide. 

But, when it comes to the absolute essentials, skincare products designed to clean, hydrate, and protect your face it is absolutely possible to pick a selection of all-time favorites. I'm talking about the best cleansers, most universally adored serums, do-it-all moisturizers, and all-important sun protection. These gentle yet effective skin superstars work across the board on almost every skin type and are likely to please anyone who gives them a shot. 

How to choose the best skincare products for you

Ultimately, the best skincare products are the ones you enjoy using—if you love your cleanser you'll feel inclined to use it every night, even when tired or tipsy, and that's how you get results. With that said, there are some elements of skincare that are universally good news, and some not so good: 

  • Ingredients: For basic daily skincare, you want to get the bad stuff off then gently replenish. Generally excellent, highly proven, and non-irritating ingredients that will never let you down include ceramides, niacinamide, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and antioxidants like Vitamin E. 
  • Texture: Again, a lot comes down to preference, but any expert would advise avoiding very foamy washes that make skin feel tight and anything gritty that can damage the skin barrier. If your skin is oily, occlusive creams will feel horrible and water-based hydrators like sweet relief. If it's dry you will probably adore richer-feeling buttery creams, oil-based serums, and balms.
  • Fragrance: It's good practice to avoid heavily perfumed products across the board. While a hint of a lovely aroma can help motivate you to use a product, high levels of artificial fragrance are at best unnecessary, at worst irritating.
  • Claims: A healthy dose of cynicism is useful for picking the best skincare products, as god knows there's plenty of beauty marketing untroubled by factual truth. No daily skincare product can lift skin, radically replenish lost volume, or shrink pores, so if it claims to, walk away.

Seek out well-formulated buys in a texture you like and at a price you can afford. Use them properly every day and be prepared to wait a little bit for results. The results will come. And when they do you can tell all those friends feverishly begging for the name of your dermatologist, that it's simply "a good consistent routine with the right products." That's skincare smugness at its best. 

The best skincare products, by our beauty editor

Best skincare products—cleansers

Learning how to wash your face has a bit more to it than you might think. With a cleanser, you are looking for something that balances effective washing with gentle skin-nourishing ingredients. It's wise to avoid products that contain harsh detergents and foaming agents that make you squeaky clean. After washing, your skin should feel thoroughly cleansed, but also soft and bouncy, not tight. 

CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser

(Image credit: CeraVe)
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1. CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser

The best budget cleanser

Specifications

RRP: $14/£10
Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, ceramides
Skin types: Normal to dry

Reasons to buy

+
Gentle and unstripping
+
Hydrates as it cleans
+
Great value 

Reasons to avoid

-
None, we love this

You really can't go wrong with CeraVe and this particular product ticks so many boxes for every skin type, although it would make a particularly good choice for those who need skincare for dry skin. Thanks to that shapeshifting formula it has the refreshing lather of a gel wash yet the comforting, skin softening powers of a cream. 

It's fragrance-free, beloved by dermatologists for its non-irritating ingredients list, and contains ceramides to bolster dry or depleted skin. It may not be the most glam-looking tube but that pump-action comes in handy for an in-shower AM cleanse. 

ESPA Optimal Skin Pro-Cleanser

(Image credit: ESPA)
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2. ESPA Optimal Skin Pro-Cleanser

The best mid-price cleanser

Specifications

RRP: $43/£31
Key Ingredients: Vitamin E, jojoba, pumpkin enzymes
Skin type: All

Reasons to buy

+
Spa-like experience 
+
Glow-boosting
+
Multipurpose product 

Reasons to avoid

-
Not for very reactive skin

There's only one reason why you might not like ESPA's multi-purpose cleanser and that's if you have extremely reactive skin that's not so keen on fragrant natural oils. Now that's out of the way let's discuss all the reasons you will love it. 

The smell is like a posh spa, which makes sense from a posh spa brand. The texture starts as a fresh gel then shapeshifts into a nourishing milky oil as you wash while jojoba beads and fruit enzymes gently exfoliate for an immediate, noticeable glow. This is active enough to improve your skin but gentle enough to use daily. Once a week, leave it on for a bit longer and you have yourself a mask. Genius! 

Sarah Chapman Ultimate Cleanse

(Image credit: Sarah Chapman)
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3. Sarah Chapman Ultimate Cleanse

The best luxury cleanser

Specifications

RRP: $75/£54
Key ingredients: Peptides, rosehip oil, Vitamin A
Skin type: Normal to dry

Reasons to buy

+
Gorgeous balm texture
+
Active ingredients 
+
Spa-like natural scent 

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricey

There's a reason we named this one of our ultimate skin essentials in the 2021 w&h Clever Skincare Awards—it is beyond beautiful, combining a luxurious balm texture with some seriously hard-working ingredients. 

Contained within that high-quality oil-infused formula are cell-energizing peptides, antioxidant vitamin E, and cell turnover boosting Vitamin A. It cleans and softens beautifully, smells like a dream, and is unusually practical for a balm in that pump bottle. Top marks. 

Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Cleanser Gel

(Image credit: SkinCeuticals)

4. Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Cleanser Gel

Best treatment cleanser

Specifications

RRP: $55/£40
Key ingredients: Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, glycerin
Skin type: Combination, dull

Reasons to buy

+
Actively works on the skin texture
+
Very refreshing texture 
+
Nicely balanced formula

Reasons to avoid

-
Packaging can waste product

SkinCeuticals never miss an opportunity to include active, results-driven ingredients in a product, which means that as well as being a refreshing, effective face wash this cleanser also undergoes work on skin texture. It includes two skincare acids, glycolic and salicylic, one of which gently exfoliates the skin's surface while the other digs into pores and dissolves congestion. 

Both are included in fairly mild amounts so you needn't worry about over-exfoliating, and you can expect brighter, smoother-looking skin after a few days' use. Due to its fresh and lightly foamy feel, this lends itself more to an AM shower than an evening ritual, but it feels great at any time (as long as you don't mind a tiny tingle) One gripe: unless you're very careful, about twice as much product as you actually need comes out with every squeeze, which considering the price tag feels like an annoying waste. 

Serums

Your everyday serum should contain a light moisture-binding ingredient like hyaluronic acid plus a couple of other gentle skin-replenishing ingredients, like niacinamide, ceramides, peptides, Vitamin E or even low doses of a gentle exfoliating acid like PHA. Of course, many people use powerful ascorbic acid serums during the day or learn how to use retinol at night to work on specific concerns, so feel free to sub them in as desired. 

The Ordinary Buffet

(Image credit: The Ordinary)
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5. The Ordinary Buffet

The best budget serum

Specifications

RRP: $18/£12.70
Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, several peptides
Skin type : Mature

Reasons to buy

+
High percentage of peptides
+
Hydrating 
+
Light texture

Reasons to avoid

-
Lightly tacky when applied

A wonderfully descriptive name for a serum that has its finger in many pies. The main selling point of Buffet is a combination of several powerful peptides, which work together to re-energize old skin cells to boost all sorts of functions like collagen production, healing inflammation, and reducing superficial lines. The great thing about peptides, aside from their versatility, is their gentle nature, so any skin type is likely to get on with them making this a great all-rounder. 

It also includes hyaluronic acid (HA) which draws water into the skin and holds onto it, plus another humectant, glycerin, and probiotic ingredients to maintain a healthy skin barrier. Like, many HA serums it does have a slightly tacky finish when first applied, but you can't knock skincare of this quality for the price of a takeout pizza.

Lancôme Advanced Génifique Serum

(Image credit: Lancome)

6. Lancôme Advanced Génifique Serum

The best mid-price serum

Specifications

RRP: $83/£60
Key ingredients: Antioxidants, pre and probiotics, hyaluronic acid
Skin type: All

Reasons to buy

+
Works on tone, texture and lines
+
Barrier boosting
+
Glamorous

Reasons to avoid

-
Lightly fragranced

This is an absolute classic that almost every Beauty Editor will have had in her skincare kit at some stage. Taking the little bit of everything approach of many of the best skincare products Génifique combines Ascorbyl Glucoside, a Vit C-based antioxidant, HA to hydrate plus pre and probiotics which work with the body's microbiome to create a healthy skin barrier function. 

Like any product from Lancôme, all this skincare action comes with a healthy dash of French glamour, naturellement. The texture is milky and silky, a light, floral fragrance will be appealing to all but the very sensitive, and the vial itself looks like something out of Death Becomes Her. The ultimate compliment in my book. 

Révive Moisturizing Renewal Hydrogel Serum

(Image credit: Revive )
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7. Révive Moisturizing Renewal Hydrogel Serum

The best luxury serum

Specifications

RRP: $256/£185
Key ingredients: Several forms of HA, Aloe, plant-based proteins
Skin type: Normal to dry

Reasons to buy

+
Luxurious texture
+
High tech hydration
+
Dewy finish 

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive

If it's high-end hydration you seek, you really couldn't do better than this quenching serum from uber-scientific skincare brand Révive. It contains not one but four different forms of hyaluronic acid in various molecular weights to reach and hydrate different parts of the skin. It also has encapsulated oil capsules to see to naturally dry skin types as well as dehydrated ones. 

Along with that we also get juicy botanicals like aloe and cucumber plus a skin-identical protein to replenish. Phew! At this price, you can bet the texture is glorious and the packaging fabulous. It should probably come with a warning, try this once and you'll be hooked. 

Institut Esthederm Intensive Vitamin E Antioxidant Face Serum

(Image credit: Institute Esthederm)

8. Institut Esthederm Intensive Vitamin E Antioxidant Face Serum

Best protective serum

Specifications

RRP: £65
Key ingredients: Vitamin E, glycerin, algae
Skin type: Normal to sensitive

Reasons to buy

+
Protects from environmental damage 
+
Very gentle 
+
Lovely milky fluid
+
Unfragranced

Reasons to avoid

-
Fairly pricy 

Vitamin E is an underrated antioxidant, with it's potent cousin ascorbic acid (aka Vitamin C) generally stealing the limelight. But while Vit C is undoubtably a powerful protector and brightener, it is highly unstable, tricky to formulate, and can cause irritation to sensitive skin. Enter Vit E, which works in much the same way to mop up free radicals in the skin and help undo smoke, pollution, and UV damage, but is generally more stable and kinder to the skin. 

Here, Vit E is included in two forms and delivered via a light milky serum that feels pleasantly softening thanks to glycerin and smells of nothing in particular. The whole vibe here is caring and unobtrusive, but you can trust plenty of tone-brightening, damage-reducing action is happening in the background. Top marks for texture, it absorbs easily and sits happily under any moisturizer or makeup you apply. 

Best skincare products—moisturizers

The best face moisturizers should, unsurprisingly, moisturize with humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin and emollients like shea and cocoa butter or squalane. Using a face moisturizer with SPF is a great way to go, and the texture is up to you—classic cream, gel or fluid—but it should leave skin soft, comfortable, and plumped yet not overloaded or greasy. 

L'OReal Paris Revitalift Fragrance-free Day Cream

(Image credit: L'Oreal)
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9. L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Fragrance-free Day Cream

The best budget moisturizer

Specifications

RRP: $18/£12.99
Key ingredients: Pro-retinol, probiotics, salicylic acid
Skin types: Normal to oily, sensitive

Reasons to buy

+
Pleasant texture
+
Hydration and texture-boosting
+
Great for reactive skin

Reasons to avoid

-
None, a great buy

Drug store beauty at its finest, this cream is an excellent example of how clever and multi-tasking budget-friendly skincare can be. As well as hydrating and making your skin feel comfy (undoubtedly the top two jobs of face moisturizer) it also includes some gentle actives like retinyl palmitate, a retinol ester that gradually improves cell turnover and boosts collagen production. 

We also get probiotics for barrier-boosting properties, plus a smidgeon of pore-clearing salicylic acid, which makes this a great choice for oily or combination skin types. As well as what's inside there's much to love about what's been left out, namely fragrance, alcohol, and colorants, plus the jar is 30% recycled and 100% recyclable. Bravo. 

Elemis Pro Collagen Marine Cream

(Image credit: Elemis)
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10. Elemis Pro Collagen Marine Cream

The best mid-price moisturizer

Specifications

RRP: $76/£55
Key ingredients: Padina Pavonica, mimosa, Vitamin E
Skin type: Normal to oily

Reasons to buy

+
Beautiful texture
+
Potent algae and botanicals
+
Instantly plumps

Reasons to avoid

-
Lightly fragranced

The first thing that sets Marine Cream apart is how it feels—a glossy water-cream texture that glides onto the skin like butter on a hot crumpet. Gorgeous. Ingredients-wise this is a winner too, as along with some classic hydrating ingredients we get powerful restorative algeas, anti-inflammatory botanicals like ginkgo biloba and rose. 

It smells beautiful, like one of Elemis's spas if you've ever been lucky enough to visit. There is a smidge of fragrance in the mix, but nothing worryingly overpowering, and that slippery texture gives you plenty of time to massage it in. It leaves behind a light dewiness but nothing too rich or occlusive, which makes it a particularly good choice of skincare for oily skin

BioEffect Hydrating Cream

(Image credit: BioEffect)
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11. Bioeffect Hydrating Cream

The best luxury moisturizer

Specifications

RRP: $125/£90
Key ingredients: Plant derived epidermal growth factors, Vitamin E
Skin type: All

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful skin-restoring actives
+
No filler ingredients
+
Pleasing texture

Reasons to avoid

-
Not for tight budgets

Epidermal Growth Factors are a fascinating, if controversial, area of beauty (traditionally this skin-restoring ingredient was extracted from human cells.) But this brand has found a way to produce a plant-based EGF with all of the collagen-boosting powers and none of the ick factor. 

As well as barley-derived EGF, this Icelandic-made cream has a short and sweet ingredients list of hydrating heroes hyaluronic acid and gentle antioxidant Vitamin E. It's unfragranced, lightweight and layers well over other skincare and under makeup. Expect plump, ungreasy skin with cumulative texture improvements over time.  

. Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream

(Image credit: Kiehl's)

12. Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream

The best all-rounder moisturizer

Specifications

RRP: $58/£48
Key ingredients: Squalene, apricot kernel oil, salicylic acid
Skin type: Any

Reasons to buy

+
Beautifully light texture
+
Suits all skin types
+
Great mix of hydrating ingredients 

Reasons to avoid

-
None, we love this

I'm yet to recommend this product to someone and hear anything but euphoric ravings about it in return. Truly, this moisturizer seems to work for anyone and any skin, it's one of the best skincare products for women, men, young and old alike. So what's the secret? 

Well, it seems to hit the perfect sweet spot between being deeply, beautifully hydrating but incredibly light in texture. It is packed with nourishing ingredients such as olive-derived squalane and botanical oils but delivers them in such an elegant non-greasy texture that oily or combination skin types are as well-serviced as dry ones. It's also fragrance-free so suits sensitive skin, plus it contains specific proteins that help your skin hold onto hydration during hot and cold temperatures. Truly a product for all faces and all seasons. 

Best skincare products—sunscreens

The best facial sunscreen can come in either mineral or chemical form, with mineral physically blocking UV rays while chemical sits within the skin and absorbs UV before it can cause cellular damage. Mineral tends to be better for sensitive skin but can look a bit thicker, while chemical has a more elegant texture but is less gentle. SPF30 is the bare minimum for proper protection.

Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Skin Nourishing Face Milk SPF30

(Image credit: Hawaiian Tropic)
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13. Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Skin Nourishing Face Milk SPF30

Best budget sunscreen

Specifications

RRP: $11/£8
Key ingredients: Mineral blockers, glycerin, papaya extract
Skin type: Normal to dry

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value
+
Dewy finish 
+
Delicious fragrance 

Reasons to avoid

-
May be too glowy for oily skin

You might associate Hawaiian Tropic with glamorous body oils and tropical scents, but this proves they can do SPF as skincare just as beautifully as the fun holiday-focussed stuff. 

It's the first mineral sunscreen from the brand and a very impressive one at that. As with all mineral SPF you do need to rub it in a little bit longer than a chemical formula but once you do it blends away nicely and manages that tricky thing of not leaving any chalky cast on the skin. In fact, it leaves a slightly dewy sheen instead. Once applied, you'll benefit from UVA and UVB protection, in a certified reef-friendly formula with an exotic, evocative fragrance. 

Paula's Choice Essential Glow Moisturizer SPF30

(Image credit: Paula's Choice)
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14. Paula's Choice Essential Glow Moisturizer SPF30

Best mid-price sunscreen

Specifications

RRP: $41/£30
Key ingredients: Mineral filters, licorice, illuminating particles
Skin type: Normal to dull

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value
+
Brightens and protects
+
Skincare ingredients 

Reasons to avoid

-
Unusual colour

Another mineral sunscreen, this time from ultra-trustworthy skincare goddess Paula Begoun's brand. Warning: The color may alarm you at first glance. It's a sort of greyish beige that, I promise, disappears completely when you rub it in, leaving only a very flattering hint of gleam behind. 

As well as SPF30 protection this contains brightening botanicals like licorice to work on skin tone plus hydrating ingredients like glycerin and nourishing argan oil. Oily skinned types could absolutely use this as a moisturizer and sunscreen in one, if you have dry skin, layer up with a light hydrating serum. 

Skinceuticals Advanced Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF50

(Image credit: SkinCeuticals)
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15. Skinceuticals Advanced Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF50

Best luxury sunscreen

Specifications

RRP: $62/£45
Key ingredients: Mineral and chemical filters, niacinamide, tranexamic acid
Skin type: Mature

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful skincare ingredients 
+
Lightweight texture
+
Prevents and repairs

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricier than some

It is so rare to see this much skin-improving technology been packed into such a light elegant SPF50 sunscreen. This formula combines mineral and chemical filters in a loose, weightless cream, which sinks in swiftly without so much of a hint of chalkiness. As well as offering broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection, it gets to work doing all sorts of other things too. 

Niacinamide, that all-around superstar, works on skin tone, regulates oil production, calms inflammation and boosts hydration. It also improves the environmental protection offered by your sunscreen. Even better, 1% tranexamic acid inhibits pigment transfer and inflammation, both of which can help prevent pigmentation. Essentially this feels great, works hard, and looks like it's not there. Truly the sunscreen dream. 

Kate Somerville UncompliKated SPF50 Soft Focus Makeup Sett

(Image credit: Kate Somerville)

16. Kate Somerville UncompliKated SPF50 Soft Focus Makeup Setting Spray

Best sunscreen for makeup wearers

Specifications

RRP: $47/£36
Key ingredients: SPF50, hyaluronic acid, botanical extracts
Skin type : Any

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent for on-the-go top ups
+
Flattering non-greasy finish
+
Hydrates the skin 
+
Weightless feel

Reasons to avoid

-
Aerosol can waste product

It's all very well applying your best facial sunscreen first thing in the morning, but as we all know SPF needs to be topped up to keep working, and as any makeup wearer knows it's not ideal to start smearing a thick cream over your carefully applied natural makeup look—and that is the genius of this product. 

Part setting spray, part high factor sun protection, this can be misted on over makeup and reapplied as often as you like without smears, smudges or greasiness. If anything it actively improves the look of your makeup, giving it a soft-focus blur effect plus lightly plumping and refreshing the skin with hyaluronic acid. The only downside? Like any aerosol mist, you will lose a bit of product to the atmosphere every time you apply. But with a bit of care you can minimize wastage, and it's a small price to pay for flattering, easy, round-the-clock skin protection. 


Fiona McKim
Fiona McKim

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.