The Under-$30 Skin-Care Buys Our Editors Always Recommend

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The word “cheap” gets a bad rap: It’s frequently used to describe situations one might otherwise call gauche, like regifting the sweater you snagged off the free table at work or “forgetting” your wallet at home to weasel your way out of paying the bill. But the word, despite its negative connotations, really isn’t all bad — especially if it means getting more bang for your buck on what tends to be one of the more expensive parts of your beauty routine: skin care.

Affordable finds abound in the makeup and hair aisles, but quality skin care that won’t cost you a significant chunk of your rent can be harder to come by. Luckily, our editors have been trying the latest and greatest at every price point for years, and we’ve got plenty of wisdom to share. Ahead, check out the skin-care products our editors are loving — including the ones that snagged honors in our 2018 Beauty Innovator Awards — all ringing in at under $30 a pop.

At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.


“For the lazy, wannabe French woman who loves the idea of micellar water… but never remembers to pick up cotton pads at CVS.” —Cat Quinn, beauty director

Simple Skincare Micellar Make-Up Remover Wipes, $6.99, available at Target


“I’ve been so focused on getting rid of my acne for the past decade that somehow I woke up 29 having never started a real anti-aging regimen. Luckily, this gel (which is the highest-grade retinoid you can get OTC) has been doing double-duty — clearing my breakouts and softening fine lines and age spots. Because there’s always something…” —Quinn

Differin Acne Treatment, $28.99, available at Ulta Beauty


“Take away the sexy weighted jars and beautiful ingredient stories about a rare flower plucked from the highest point on earth — and what we all really want from our moisturizer is something that feels light, doesn’t clog our pores, and gives skin a nice glow. You wouldn’t put it in a flat lay, but it looks damn good in selfies.” —Quinn

Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer, $13.47, available at Jet


“For $3, this hyaluronic acid face mask is extremely impressive. It delivers on hydration, especially after weeks of packing on makeup. Every time I use this, my skin immediately looks like I left a facial appointment, without having to spend facial money. It doesn’t get much better than that.” —Thatiana Diaz, Beauty Writer

Neutrogena Moisturizing Hydro Boost Hydrating Face Mask, $2.99, available at Target


“My face loves anything with vitamin C, because it adds an instant glow to my dullness-prone skin tone. I’ve grown accustomed to expensive nighttime oils and 30-minute masking sessions to get my fix, but this creamsicle-scented oil stick changes the game. A few swipes on the super dry patches where I crave some dewiness (usually my cheeks and outer corners of my forehead) and my skin’s bright and shiny in the best way.” —Megan Decker, Beauty Assistant

Physicians Formula Vitamin C Brightening Facial Oil Stick, $17.47, available at Amazon


“Your skin is in for a real treat after you peel this rubber mask off. The glue-like formula forms into a Flubber-finish that makes your complexion looked like it was kissed by a million skin-care angels. My skin was bright AF, hydrated, and looked even more glowing when I woke up the next morning. I’d recommend this one hundred times over for anyone looking to revive dull skin.” —Aimee Simeon, Beauty Writer

Dr. Jart+ Shake & Shot Firming Rubber Masks, $12, available at Sephora


“I try my best not to be a sucker, and to judge my skin care by how well it works as opposed to how pretty it looks on my bathroom counter. That said, I can tell you that it is true: This gentle cleanser is every bit as good at removing makeup and leaving skin fresh and clean — but not parched! — as every Glossier diehard says it is. The faint, pleasant scent reminds me of the rose-infused cream puffs I ate at Regis Philbin’s favorite Italian restaurant, Valbella, on my 18th birthday and still think of from time to time, and even though I could kill an entire bottle in about a month, the price tag doesn’t make me feel like I have to use it sparingly… unlike my other favorite cleanser.” —Rachel Krause, senior beauty writer

Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, $18, available at Glossier


“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — and this simple face cream might not be fancy or technologically advanced, but it certainly ain’t broke, that’s for sure. I’ve tried many a moisturizer in my day ( too many, maybe?) and this is straight-up the most soothing, most lightweight, most absorbent, most repairing, most non-pore-clogging formula of them all. I use it every morning without fail; it works nicely under makeup, too.” —Krause

Bioderma Sensibio Light Cream (1.33 fl oz.), $19.89, available at DermStore


“Unlike the protagonist of the Laotian legend explaining the origins of Centella asiatica (“cica” for short), I’ve never been slashed in the stomach and forced to refer to tigers for skin-care recommendations. I do, however, have plenty of other topical concerns, including new breakouts, dark spots from old breakouts, rosacea, and skin that constantly ricochets between oily and acne-prone and dull and dehydrated. These pre-soaked pads, a new addition to my regimen, are really great for all of those things, calming redness and irritation while making my skin look brighter and more even overall.” —Krause

Neogen Dermalogy Real Cica Pad, $20, available at Soko Glam


“I can go on and on about the many positive attributes of matte lip balm (it lasts longer and doesn’t interfere with lipstick, just to name two…) but I won’t. Instead, I’ll gush about my long-time favorite: Burt’s Bees original Beeswax Lip Balm. It’s not fancy, but it does the job while feeling refreshingly tingly on the lips. I have one stashed in every purse, desk drawer, and jacket pocket.” —Mi-Anne Chan, video host and beauty writer

Burt’s Bees® Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm , $2.99, available at Target


“I love a good non-drying acne serum. Why? Because being able to slap this on all over rather than painstakingly dot a spot treatment over my problem areas is a hack I relate to. This serum is a new addition to my routine and I use it every morning before moisturizer and SPF. Plus, I appreciate that it tackles blemishes with zinc and post-acne hyper-pigmentation with niacinamide.” —Chan

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, $5.9, available at The Ordinary


“I’ve gone through multiple bottles of this lotion since discovering it in college. It’s sufficiently hydrating, thanks to ceramides and hyaluronic acid in the formula, but never leaves my skin looking or feeling greasy. Plus, it has SPF 30! I’ve recommended it to countless friends who have all fallen in love with it, too.” —Chan

CeraVe AM Face Moisturizer with Sunscreen, SPF 30, $16.48, available at Ulta Beauty


“After hearing so much hype over this exfoliating toner, I had to test it for myself. It reminds me of Biologique Recherche’s P50, but the former is gentler and much cheaper. Still, it gets the job done and really make my skin glowier overnight.” —Sam Sasso, beauty writer

Pixi Glow Tonic, $15, available at Jet


“These days, it’s rare to find a lotion that just simply does its job — without any frills. This one from Dove is exactly that. Whether you’re dealing with irritated, dry skin or more serious, long-term issues, like eczema, this fragrance-free, noncomedogenic formula gets the job done every single time without the pomp and circumstance of fancy packaging or unique ingredients you can barely pronounce.” —Sasso

Dove DermaSeries Face Cream SPF 15 , $9.89, available at Target


“Most hydrating masks are too greasy for me, but this French drugstore find is anything but. It’s gentle, soothing, and in ten minutes it leaves my skin softer than if I opted for an overnight treatment instead. It’s basically the foolproof mask I use whenever my skin just needs some quick TLC.” —Sasso

La Roche-Posay Hydraphase Intense Mask, $19.98, available at La Roche-Posay


“I started using the healing ointment again after I got my first tattoo, then I realized it’s just the one product you absolutely have to keep in your bathroom no matter what — it just works for everything and anything. (Pro tip: Use on your cuticles before bed to make your old mani look new again.)” —Sasso

Aquaphor Aquaphor Healing Ointment, $6.29, available at Walgreens


“Fancy name, simple results. Basically, this rich moisturizing cream packs a punch of hydration when you really need it. It’s best when you feel like winter got the best of your complexion and you basically don’t know what else to use. This will save your life.” —Sasso

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra , $29.99, available at DermStore


“I cannot, cannot, cannot go to bed with dry hands. This is a staple for my bedside table for one reason: It gets the job done on a budget. ” —Sasso

Neutrogena Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream Fragrance Free , $3.99, available at Target


“Ever since one of my coworkers kicked tap water out of her skin-care routine, I was convinced this was the micellar water would make a convert out of me, too. To no surprise, it won me over. Now, I keep it in bulk.” —Sasso

Simple Simple Cleansing Micellar Water, $14.37, available at Amazon

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camera assistance by Mi-Anne Chan.

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