14 affordable skincare companies that prove expensive doesn't always mean better

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  • Sometimes a skincare splurge is worth it, but there are plenty of affordable options that can cover all the bases.
  • Below are 14 affordable skincare brands that make under-$50 skincare basics we like to stock in our own cabinets.
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Skincare, with its never-ending carousel of options and well-funded marketing campaigns, can be confusing and expensive to shop. Without expert recommendations or the time and funds to do all the field-testing on your own, it's sometimes tempting to just trust whatever is priciest because, hey, if it's this expensive, it must be good, right?

But that's not necessarily true — and, often, it isn't the case after a certain threshold. It's no great secret that certain clinical heavy-hitters work, or that products sold for $30 can be made by the same cosmetics teams that work on $300 tubs of cream. And while sometimes it's worth it to splurge on beauty products, it doesn't automatically mean you're buying a better product.

There are plenty of affordable skincare brands that perform as well or better than luxury products, at a fraction of the cost. Thankfully, most of what the Insider Reviews team does is test new products for their quality and value. To cherry-pick a few affordable basics that are definitely worth your time, find our favorite affordable skincare brands — and product recommendations — below. 

Below are 14 affordable skincare brands you should know about in 2020:

The Ordinary

Price range: $6-$29

Where to buy it: Ulta

The Ordinary is a well-loved, affordable skincare brand known for "clinical formulations with integrity." In other words, for using familiar, effective clinical technologies with transparent communication and pricing. The Ordinary's Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is one of its most popular products for its gentle exfoliation for better skin brightness and clarity.

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  • This $7 facial peel from The Ordinary is a steal — it evens my skin tone, and the bright red color makes it fun to use

Maelove

Price range: $19-28

Where to buy it: Maelove

Maelove is a relatively new skincare line priced entirely under $30 that was founded by MIT graduates. Eschewing the marketing schemes that make luxury $300 lotions the norm and skincare confusing and expensive, Maelove makes simple, effective skincare products for all skin types in the same high-end cosmetics labs that luxury brands use.

Its cult-favorite $28 vitamin c serum (which consumers have pointed out is very similar to SkinCeuticals' $166 version) put the company on the map, and is prone to frequent sellouts.

Right now, get 10% off any purchase of two products or more with the discount code "TEN" at checkout.

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  • This $28 vitamin C serum that was developed by MIT scientists makes my skin glow — and it's available for preorder after selling out 4 times
  • Every product in this skincare line by MIT grads is under $30 — and they all work better than the luxury options I've tried
  • This $28 cream hydrates skin without clogging pores — it worked wonders on my sensitive skin

Simple

Price range: $5-$10

Where to buy it: Target

It's all in the name: Simple is the skincare brand to know if you'd like affordable, simplistic products that won't irritate sensitive skin. As Insider Reviews editor Sally Kaplan wrote, "Of all the expensive makeup removers and cleansing waters I've tried, this drugstore version is the one I tell everyone about."

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Hero Cosmetics

Price range: $12-$18

Where to buy it: Amazon, Hero Cosmetics

Hero Cosmetics makes Hydrocolloid patches to draw pus from pimples, resulting in noticeably smaller and less inflamed blemishes overnight. The treatment was originally used to treat wounds, but it's gained popularity lately as an answer to acne. Hero Cosmetics is a relatively new brand name, but Insider Reviews reporters agree that their patches work better than those from the genre's most popular competitor.

Here's how it works: Place a sticker on top of a blemish and remove it after a few hours or overnight wear. In a nutshell, it's an overnight miracle product. Multiple reporters credit the Mighty Patch with being the only quick fix worth its money — and one we earnestly wish had existed years before. 

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No B.S.

Price range: $18-$50

Where to buy it: Amazon, Macy's

No B.S. is a plant-based skincare brand that blends scientific heavy hitters with natural ingredients to make for simple, hype- and fad-resistant skin care that just works. Everything is free from fillers like parabens, sulfates, synthetic fragrances, or phthalates. 

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Aztec Secret

Price range: $8-$15

Where to buy it: Target

Aztec Secret really only sells one product, but we would be remiss not to include the phenomenon of the Indian Healing Clay Mask in an affordable skincare list. The Aztec Clay Mask basically acts like a vacuum for your pores in the five to 20 minutes it's on. The 100% natural calcium bentonite clay draws out all the impurities deep in your skin for what has been called 'the world's most powerful facial' — and it's helping to combat serious acne. The mask has been championed everywhere from Sephora beauty blogs to the review section on Amazon (which has over 11,000 five-star ratings).

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Muji

Price range: $13-$32

Where to buy it: Amazon

If Muji calls to mind stationery sets and ballpoint pens, you're thinking of the right Japanese retailer. Most of its offerings are household goods, but the skincare line is the real unsung hero. For instance, this High Moisture Light Toning Water is gentle, extremely hydrating, and doubles as both a toner and a moisturizer. Our editor swears by it for preventing dry, flaky skin.

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Mario Badescu

Price range: $6-$45

Where to buy it: Amazon, Nordstrom, and Urban Outfitters

Mario Badescu is the brand behind the popular acne spot drying lotion that everyone from beauty editors to supermodels like Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner swear by. Badescu products have a potent combination of the usual scientific suspects as well as botanicals. It's best known for the Drying Lotion and a trio of facial misting sprays.

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Brickell Men's Products

Price range: $12-$75

Where to buy it: Amazon, Birchbox

After finding their own options lacking, Josh Meyer and Matt Bolduc founded Brickell Men's Products to introduce a premium men's skincare line that uses natural and organic ingredients. The products are almost all standouts, but Insider Reviews reporter Amir Ismael especially calls out the Purifying Charcoal Face Wash: "It uses all-natural ingredients like charcoal, peppermint, and eucalyptus. I'm able to deep-clean my pores and get a refreshing and invigorating sensation without using harsh chemicals on my skin."

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Farmacy

Price range: $6-$68

Where to buy it: Sephora, Amazon

Farmacy makes affordable farm-to-face skincare that combines great natural ingredients with scientific advancements. Their cult-favorite Green Defense daily SPF uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect skin from the sun, while the antioxidants in the echinacea give skin a boost. According to Insider Reviews Buying Guides editor Malarie Gokey, "the addition of marigold extract seems to help calm my skin and prevent redness or inflammation. The sunscreen isn't oily, thick, or sticky, and it blends in well, too."

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Acure

Price range: $9-$17

Where to buy it: Amazon

Acure is making a name for itself as the 100% vegan and "0% pretentious" brand for skin, hair, and body products. You won't find any parabens, sulfates, mineral oils, petrolatum, silicones, or animal testing — and the Brightening Facial Scrub, which works on all skin types and uses a chlorella growth factor to stimulate new cell growth, has over 1,500 five-star reviews on Amazon. 

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Cerave

Price range: $5-$25

Where to buy it: Target, Amazon, Walmart

Developed by dermatologists, CeraVe is another excellent standardized skincare system. The hero ingredients in every one of their products are ceramides, which help restore the skin's barrier, making it soft and moisturized and helping your body protect itself against irritation and air pollution. 

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Cetaphil

Price range: $5-$17

Where to buy it: Amazon, Target, Walmart

Cetaphil is a favorite brand among our minimalist colleagues and many of the dermatologists we confer with for articles. The brand specializes in simple, universal formulas — and they work well. 

We love the brand's Moisturizing Cream and Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser. Story producer Emily Hein has said the Gentle Foaming Cleanser strikes the perfect balance between combating the oil on her forehead without drying out the rest of her sensitive, acne-prone combination skin. 

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Aveeno

Price range: $3-$21

Where to buy it: Amazon, Target, Walmart, Ulta 

In our experience, Aveeno makes one of the best affordable moisturizers: the Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer. It's lightweight, packed with nutrients, and an accessible (though not extremely cheap) price. We've found that our skin just sort of soaks this formula up and, afterward, we've got a noticeable "glow" for the day. It's not greasy, either, and hasn't clogged our pores. 

 

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