These Luxury Skin-Care Brands Don't Sell Anything Over $50
Forget everything you know about luxury skin care — that it’s sold at department store counters, housed in oversized, double-walled jars made to look like prismatic gems, and without fail, will take a dent out of your month’s rent. Thanks to a commitment to transparency, crowdsourced intel on what consumers really want, and in-app shopping on Instagram, the best new skin care comes courtesy of direct-to-consumer startups. These brands pack their formulas full of high-performing actives and completely weed out the cost that comes with retailer markups. The result: affordable serums, moisturizers, and masks that contain cutting-edge technology, feel luxe, perform like brands that sell for at least four times as much. Below, meet the most luxurious new skin care brands creating kick-ass formulas — all for less than $50.
The brainchild of some of the best minds in beauty (Tatcha and Benefit execs and the Juice Beauty co-founder), Kinship launched just a few weeks ago with a tight collection of genderless skin-care products that feel far more elegant than their price tag (and bright, gen-z packaging) suggest. Take Self Reflect ($25), a mineral sunscreen with SPF 32 that packs a whopping 22.4% zinc but doesn’t leave a white film on skin after application. The probiotic-laced formula also absorbs quickly without leaving a greasy film and reminds us of our all-time favorite SPF from a clinical line (which is sold only in dermatology offices and for more than twice the price). Then there’s Insta Swipe Lemon Honey AHA Pads ($22), which pulls off its own rare trick: The alpha hydroxy acid wipe eats away at dead (and complexion-dulling) cells on the skin’s surface but doesn’t tingle or sting our skin like most acid-soaked pads. The only other pad of the dozens we’ve tried that manages the same feat? One created by a celebrity dermatologist (and, seemingly, for those with celebrity-sized bank accounts).
Soft’s male co-founders love skin care. But when they started looking past cleansers and moisturizers from their favorite men’s skin-care lines, they hit a wall: Where were the masks? “The culture is changing, but men’s skin care isn’t keeping up,” note co-founders James O'Dwyer and Patrick Dolezal. So they partnered with a female co-founder and came up with a fix: a mask-centric line that’s made for everyone. The first launch is Moisture Mask ($36), a creamy formula with proven hydrators like hyaluronic acid, squalene, and niacinamide. The mask can be worn for 15 minutes or overnight as a deep moisturizer to quench skin. That the treatment is lightly scented like palo santo is no accident. The brand encourages optimizing the self-care aspect of skin care by listening to a guided meditation or playlist (provided on its website) while we mask.
We’ve talked about oneKind’s disruptive approach to skin care before. The newly-launched brand uses a data-driven approach to determine exactly what products it will make next, collecting clues from follower comments on social media and search on the company’s sites, for example. Initial launches include Midnight Magic PM Serum ($42), a weightless formulation that boasts the skin-smoothing and acne-reducing power of retinol, but without the irritation (thanks to birch bark extract and vitamin E). Dream Cream ($38), a night cream, packs powerful hydrators but doesn’t leave skin greasy. The brand is also hellbent on cutting the fat from the development and retail processes. Its direct-to-consumer business model wipes out costly retailer markup and commissions, while made-in-LA formulas bypass synthetic fragrance, silicones, PEGs, phthalates, mineral oil, and parabens and are housed in 75% post-recycled plastic.
Micellar water that doubles as a toner. Eye cream that mends chapped lips. A water cream moisturizer that can be used as a mask. Yes, Care Skincare’s multi-tasking products are geared to save us time. And, yes, the products are made with the same proven ingredients used in much spendier skin care (hyaluronic acid, black tea ferment, willow bark, Granactive Retinoid, and alpha-arbutin, to name a few). The brand is also positioned to save us serious coin. By focusing on what’s inside the formula instead of packaging (which is greige, navy, and purposefully meh) and dazzling ad campaigns or in-store displays, it’s able to kick out formulations that are made and packaged in the USA and on par with much fancier brands. Though we hate to admit it, we’d likely pay two or even three times more for its Eye + Lip Nourishing Cream — which impressively smoothed our kisser and quenched crepey under eye skin — if it were sold in a more weighted and prettier jar, but we’re so glad we don’t have to (and thankfully, never will again).
The beauty industry is notorious for touting the use of high-performance ingredients in spendy formulations, but not sharing exactly how much of those ingredients are used. To wit, just a drop or two of a banner ingredient can be buried among cheaper filler ingredients. But this direct-to-consumer startup wears its ingredients on its sleeve. So named for its commitment to transparency and affordable skin care for all, Ghost Democracy clearly labels the concentration of active ingredients used on the front of its packaging and prices everything at $38 or less.
Among the standouts in the six-product lineup: the oil-free Clean Lightweight Daily Face Moisturizer, which boasts 12% of microbiome-balancing probiotics and doesn’t leave skin feeling wet or slimy like many gel creams. Another favorite? Lightbulb Vitamin C Serum, which uses vitamin C ester (tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate) as its workhorse and is boldly housed in a clear bottle. “Advancements in cosmetic chemistry have brought new formulations of vitamin C that are stable in the presence of light. So, these products do not need to be stored in the same [opaque or amber-colored] containers that you have traditionally been used to,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “These vitamin C esters like THD ascorbate Are also commonly used in water free, or anhydrous, formulations which further enhance their stability.”