A no-BS list of the beauty products one editor swears by.

By Laura Reilly
Updated Apr 07, 2020 @ 11:45 am
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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In my time as a heavy frequenter of the r/SkincareAddiction subreddit, I remember participating in a thought experiment one user posted to the forum: If you had all the time and resources in the world, what would your skincare routine look like? As you can imagine, there were a lot of “La Mer all over my body” and “bathe in SK-II daily”-type answers. My own contributions were just as fantastical, I’m sure.

This was all before I took up my role as a shopping editor, and most certainly before working from home became a fixture in my life. As an expert in consumer beauty, I’m able to test a massive range of products in order to best make recommendations based on their quality and efficacy. This entails calling in the most lauded luxury skincare standholds, and experimenting with buzzy and under-the-radar brands.

In that respect, one could say that I do have access to all of the beauty industry’s resources. And, with the new normal of a coronavirus-imposed schedule that allows me to experiment with all types of gloops and spritzes throughout the day without ever having to tone it down to be out in public, in a way I also have all the time in the world, too.

Of all the gazillion incredible skincare products waiting patiently in boxes under my bed, these are the select few I’ve entrusted to carry my skin through this indulgent, best-of-the-best endeavor. The hypothetical has become the actual. As a shopping editor, here’s the elaborate, 13-step skincare routine I’m following now that I have all this time.

Step 1: Ayond Metamorph Cleansing Balm

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In all my years of testing skincare against my annoyingly picky skin, I’ve found that I rarely need to use a true cleanser. For days when I wear makeup (lately, that’s when I’m taking selfies around the house), I’ll prep my skin for a long, indulgent pampering session by swiping it clean with a small dollop of this rich balm cleanser. Not only does it completely and thoroughly remove any makeup, it also softens my skin and even helps unlodge stubborn blackheads and closed comedones with a gentle facial massage.

Shop now: $80; ayond.us

Step 2: Goop by Juice Beauty Exfoliating Instant Facial

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This product is everything I usually avoid. It's pricey, it's from an overly buzzy brand (well, two brands), and it uses microgranules to exfoliate. Unfortunately, this mask chose me, and my skin adores it. The ultra-fine grains buff my skin ever-so gently when I manually massage it across my face in the shower. The magic of this product, though, is that it does so much more than your average St. Ives scrub. Once I've rubbed little circles over my cheeks, chin, and T-zone, I keep the product on for another three minutes, allowing the built-in chemical exfoliants to do their thing. My face is brighter, smoother, and softer straight away, and even more so the next morning.

Shop now: $125; goop.com

Step 3: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid

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Every self-professed skincare person knows this is the best BHA in the game. The oil-soluble chemical exfoliant pairs beautifully with an AHA like the above, and so far, no other salicylic acid product — no matter how trendy or beautifully packaged — has been able to top this $30 bottle that lasts a lifetime. I leave it on for 20 minutes to let the active ingredients soak in (no rinsing!) before moving onto my next step — which, combined with the BHA, happens to be a two-punch trick I learned on Reddit.

Shop now: $30; nordstrom.com

Step 4: Schaf Arctic Mud Treatment

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So, here’s the trick: Following up your BHA salicylic acid treatment with a clay mask will totally clean out your pores. This two-step secret weapon will make the black spots on your nose and the rough bumps on your chin just pour out, leaving behind teflon-smooth skin. This particular mud mask from Schaf is a cut above the rest. It packs the mineral punch of a clay mask but is shockingly gentle thanks to nourishing oils and the super-ingredient niacinamide, which brightens and evens complexion.

Shop now: $50; schafskincare.com

Step 5: Farmacy Honey Potion Renewing Antioxidant Hydration Mask

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If you think I’m not doing at least two masks a day, boyyyy... Multi-masking is like the extra scoop of the skincare world; you know you deserve it, so just treat yourself. This sticky, golden mask feels like something Cleopatra would have worn in all her pre-Sephora, glowing-skin wisdom. Much like pure honey, this mask is humectant and anti-inflammatory, and it’s supported by the addition of glycerin and vitamin B for further hydration and soothing.

Shop now: $56; sephora.com

Step 6: Kindred Black Organic Damask Rosewater Toner

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By this point, I’m ready to move onto the leave-on products, so I’ll want to treat my face with something super watery before adding in thicker products to allow for better absorption. This apothecary-esque rosewater toner from Kindred Black’s Slow Skincare line is probably overkill — Thayer’s witch hazel with rose petal will get the job done just as well — but the act of taking a splash from this precious, cork-sealed bottle is what makes the act “pampering” rather than just performing maintenance.

Shop now: $58; kindredblack.com

Step 7: Kora Organics Noni Glow Sleeping Mask

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Don’t let this product’s name fool you — it may be called a “sleeping mask,” but it’s actually a layer I’ll happily apply even on days I’d bare my face in public (RIP our social lives). This jelly-textured gloop is the most hyaluronic acid-rich substance for which my skin has absolutely no upper limit. Even if I applied 100 coats, my face would still revel in every fresh application. When I skip this step, I feel the difference for the rest of the day. This is my key to moisture retention and dewy indulgence.

Shop now: $48; sephora.com

Step 8: The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA

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For the first of my two moisturizers (I’m excessive but not without purpose), I use this shockingly affordable cream that’s formulated with the outer layer of skin’s naturally occurring lipids: ceramides, phospholipids, and triglycerides. Together, these ingredients enhance the skin’s ability to keep itself hydrated and supple. The finish is a pleasant balance of moist and sheer, which further primes my skin for consecutive layers.

Shop now: $6; sephora.com

Step 9: Haoma Earth Night Creme

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I’m feeling like Akon right now, having trouble finding the words to describe this moisturizing night cream. And it’s not because I’m worried about getting radio play (although, podcasters, HMU for that guest spot), but because what I get out of Haoma’s products is almost more spiritual than physical. Like the brand’s equally magical Day Creme that I already hungrily panned, this dense, luscious moisturizer, with its buried-treasure script and cauldron-esque ingredients, offers a brief departure from reality. It sinks in so elegantly it feels like it’s made of James’ magical beans, were he to have gone the cosmetics route instead.

Shop now: $110; neimanmarcus.com

Step 10: Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum

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You’ve probably noticed my routine has foregone the lion’s share of skincare’s buzziest luxury products, and that’s simply because, for me, the picks featured here are genuinely better than the La Prairies and Biologique Recherches that didn’t make varsity. One important exception to that recurrence is Vintner’s Daughter. Each drop of this exceptionally viscous serum escapes its dropper with the aroma of a thousand botanical gardens. But you won’t find fragrance listed anywhere on the ingredient list — its powerful scent is the result of natural oils of staggering quality. Well before cannabinoids came into the skincare world, Vintner’s Daughter was championing the power of plants, and there’s no better argument in their favor than this Botanical Serum.

Shop now: $185; revolve.com

Step 11: Supernal Cosmic Glow Oil

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I’ve previously ranked this buttery oil as one of the top face oils, specifically for combination skin. The more I use it, though, the more I want to promote it to the rank of best face oil, overall. With a gorgeous slip and hand-feel, this omega-rich oil acts as conductor to my orchestral regimen, harmonizing all anterior layers, moisturizing my skin and balancing excess oils at once.

Shop now: $108; credobeauty.com

Step 12: NIOD Hydration Vaccine

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Nothing like a melodramatically named product to make me feel like my routine is working. This final layer is like a less-sticky cousin to Vaseline and Aquafor, and helps me make it through the night without drying out.

Shop now: $55; asos.com

Step 13: Dyson Humidifier

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If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times. A powerhouse humidifier will get you your money’s worth of any and all skincare products, and even create conditions for using fewer humectants and moisturizers. It’s unfortunate, I know, but this wincingly expensive one, which is actually step 0, is the one I stand behind.

Shop now: $500; qvc.com

See more things I SwearBy.