With countless brands and formulations available on the market, shopping for beauty products can often be overwhelming especially if you’re wanting to make your hard-earned dollars go further. And here at Vogue Singapore, we believe good skincare should be accessible to all. While price points for luxury beauty brands may be prohibitive for some, let’s also take a moment to appreciate that ‘expensive’ skincare doesn’t always equate to ‘superior’ products. In fact, our carefully considered ‘$100 skincare routine’ features some excellent ingredients-led skincare products that are a virtual steal for the value and efficacy they offer—illustrating that potency isn’t always synonymous with price tags.
One budget and three different skin types and concerns later, here are the high-quality and low-cost skincare favourites Vogue Singapore’s beauty team purchases on repeat. And to be honest, even with a budget or not, these picks are a permanent fixture in our beauty cabinet.
Early 20s, Acne-prone, sensitive skin
In my early twenties, I really only have two things on my mind: SPF and getting the best bang for my buck. SPF for preventive anti-ageing and the latter—because I’m a firm believer that good skincare doesn’t and shouldn’t cost a fortune—you just gotta do your research. Like most, my skin oscillates between having clear, acne-free skin, and that-time-of-the-month angry breakouts that remind me to never complain about a single pimple ever again.
Coconut oil—organic, refined, cold-pressed coconut oil. I type this with bated breath and slight reluctance because I can almost picture the aghast expression you’re wearing right now. But hear me out: this all-natural ingredient is anti-bacterial, anti-yeast and anti-heavy-duty waterproof mascara—melting away the stubborn coats with a shimmy through your lashes. Warming up a coin-sized drop in my palms, I massage the oil onto my face before washing it all of with water and following up with a gentle cleanser—a step that should never be neglected because coconut oil can potentially clog your pores.
My first response to a burgeoning zit is slapping on this clear, circular hydrocolloid pimple patch that absorbs all the gunk from the pimple while preventing me from further aggravating it by picking at it—an added benefit that has stopped the scarring process in its tracks.
Like BTS’ Rap Monster, I’m a huge fan of Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm in shade Rose. Currently on my second purchase, this lip balm not only keeps my chapped lips well moisturised but doubles up as an on-the-go stick blush for a warm, rosy look.
Moisturiser and Mask
Another from the K-beauty brand CosRx, this overnight rice mask doubles up as an anti-inflammation spot treatment, visibly reducing redness and inflammation thanks to its hydrating and nourishing composition of 65% rice extract, niacinamide and sunflower seed oil. If you use it sparingly, who’s to stop you from using it as a day/night time moisturiser too? It’s all about multi-functionality here.
I remember when my mother would forcibly apply sunscreen on my face. These days, skipping that step feels almost cardinal. The last step of my skincare routine, I’m quite convinced that my search for the best sunscreen is over. Containing hyaluronic acid and hydrating glycerin, Bioré’s UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence has a gel-like formulation that instantly sinks into my skin, leaving a fresh, dewy finish.
Total spent: $79.56
Early 30s, uneven, blemish-prone, combination skin
I’ll be honest—I’m a creature of habit, and consistency just thrills my skin. This, however, can be quite a challenge, what with the nature of my job having to try new and different beauty products daily. First world problems, I get it. I navigate my ever-changing skincare routine with exactly that—a very specific routine of steps where I introduce and swap in (or out) new formulas without actually changing the sequence. I do, of course, make exceptions for days when my skin needs extra TLC, be it a maskne-mending treatment, a retinol cycle, or a luxurious face mask (Sulwhasoo Creamy Ginseng Renewing Creamy Mask, I’m looking at you).
So whether I have a $100 or $1000 budget, I make sure all my skin bases are covered. And for my combination, uneven and blemish-prone skin, this means: A nightly double cleanse to gently but thoroughly purify; a toner (alternating between one to exfoliate and another to hydrate; at least two more light serum layers to boost brightness, hydration and plumpness; a nourishing moisturiser to seal it all in; and finally, SPF to shield skin throughout the day.
Cleansing is crucial. Not only does it take the day off (SPF, make-up, sebum, dirt), it preps your skin to receive all the goodness of your ensuing skincare steps. Bioderma and Garnier micellar waters sweep away “light days” but if I’ve had a full day (or a full beat), I go in with Clinique’s Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm, and wash everything off with a gentle cleanser that rehydrates, soothe or brightens (think formulas with AHAs for light chemical exfoliation in the shower).
PSA for those battling maskne: Before adding all those acids and acne treatments to cart, you need to focus on one, a good cleansing regime to eliminate all maskne-breeding bacteria and unclog pores, and two, calm any inflammation or sensitivities before going in with harsh acne-busting formulas that may aggravate your skin even further and do more harm than good.
I find this the most recharging step for my skin. Simply because this is where my skin just drinks up whatever I put on it. I alternate between exfoliating, hydrating and antioxidant-rich toners like AHC’s Aqualuronic Hydrating Toner and Indie Lee’s CoQ10 Toner. CoQ10 is a naturally produced enzyme found within our bodies, and works to re-energise cell activity that not only makes them stronger and healthier, but also protects against free radicals (culprits of skin-ageing). Indie Lee’s formula comes packed with hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, cucumber, chamomile and sage too, providing extra hydration and replenishment. For an exfoliating toner, The Ordinary’s is both effective and affordable, and works to lift the top layer of dead skin cells and stimulate cell turnover to remedy dull skin, pigmentation and dehydration.
Serums are to supercharge your skin and target specific concerns. In my case, I need light but intense hydration to keep my combination skin bouncy and balanced (i.e. preventing dehydrated, dry patches which can lead to the overproduction of sebum and thus, not-so-cute oil slicks across my face), and Hada Labo’s Super HA Premium Lotion is my OG. I pair this with a good dose of vitamin C—ascorbic acid boasts potent antioxidant ability, boosts collagen proliferation and suppresses skin’s melanin production—so it helps to heal scars, reduce hyperpigmentation and rebuild brighter, smoother skin.
Dear, Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop
Hada Labo Super HA Premium Lotion
Once I’ve packed in all the nourishment my skin needs, I seal it all in with a no-frills moisturiser. The key functions here are to provide additional moisture while ensuring minimal trans-epidermal water loss—in turn, improving skin barrier function and essentially rebuilding healthier, younger-looking complexions.
Combining antioxidant-rich formulas with a good sunscreen can amplify defense against free radical damage—so I always make sure to always check both boxes. Besides shielding your skin from harmful, ageing sun rays and environmental aggressors, wearing sunscreen prevents post-inflammatory pigmentation from getting worse by blocking UV exposure, which increases melanin, the pigment that causes cells to darken. This lightweight Senka formula keeps skin moisturised with double hyaluronic acid and a Natural Silk Cocoon Essence, and doubles up as a skin-smoothing make-up base that evens out and brightens up skin tones.
Total spent: $98.15
Mid 30s, sensitive skin with enlarged pores and dark spots
My relationship with my skin has had its ups and downs over the years. I experienced acne in my teenage years and was prescribed Retin-A or tretinoin, a topical retinoid. Did it clear my acne? Absolutely. However, I was never quite guided by my doctor on its proper use and still cringe at the thought of habitually using it in the daytime. Without sunscreen. Or moisturiser. I know, I know. This still makes me want to scream into my pillow. Thankfully these days, we have #skintok, beauty vlogs, and a whole acne positivity movement to help normalise textured and breakout skin. And rightfully so, because there’s no such thing as poreless skin. But back then? I counted myself lucky to finally have clear skin after years of horrific over-the-counter, skin-stripping acne products. Thankfully, it’s been on the up-and-up since then.
Breakouts and sensitised skin as a result of testing new products are an occupational hazard. Ever the curious journalist, I love learning about new ingredients and separating hype from essentials. Over-testing can sometimes can lead to disastrous results with my complexion often becoming so inflamed and reactive so I try to pare things, sticking to products with ceramides and hyaluronic acid. When in doubt: do less.
Cleansing has to be my favourite step in my skincare ritual. While I avoid cleansing my face in the morning (a wet muslin cloth helps me freshen up), I love removing the day with my balm cleansers which work best on my sensitive skin.
Made-in-Korea beauty brand, Good Molecules has recently captured my attention for its collection of effective, wallet-friendly products. I added their Caffeine Energizing Hydrogel Eye Patches to my cart and never looked back. That aside, a good hyaluronic acid that hydrates the skin is essential even for combination or oily-on-the-surface skin types. You really can’t go wrong with this jumbo-sized Hyaluronic Acid applied on damp or wet skin, before your other skincare steps.
Now for the fun part: Skincare math. I use hyaluronic acid + a Vitamin C serum + sunscreen in the mornings for bright, hydrated, and protected skin. An exfoliating acid such as AHAs or BHAs at night + bakuchiol to retexurise, regenerate, and repair. Bakuchiol offers similar anti-ageing benefits of retinol, without the irritation.
Good Molecules Jumbo Size Hyaluronic Acid Serum
The Inkey List Bakuchiol Moisturiser
BTS, the world’s biggest pop band contributes approximately $4.5 billion to South Korea’s GDP and we’re pretty sure their influence on K-Beauty and their favourite Mediheal masks plays an indirect part in those figures. These inexpensive face masks are a skincare essential for rehydrating and repairing the complexion. The boys use it after gruelling concerts on tour, but these 20-minute masks have also saved and woken up our complexions before shoots.
Sunscreen. Wear it when it’s sunny. Wear it when it’s cloudy. Wear it when you’re indoors and working remotely near a window. Wear it because you’re using antioxidants or retinols or chemical exfoliators that thin the skin out. To truly protect your skin from the damaging (and let’s face it, ageing) effects of UV damage, religious and consistent use of SPF is a must—that includes reapplying it every two to three hours. As any beauty junkie worth her salt will tell you, the only way to ensure that the rest of your skincare steps including vitamin C and retinols don’t go to waste, is to protect your skin with SPF. And if you’re of a deeper skin tone struggling one to find UV protection that doesn’t leave a white cast: We’ve got you.
If there’s one thing that’s going to keep you looking free of wrinkles and dark spots longer, it’s sunscreen. And when it comes to this hero product, prevention is better—and more cost-effective—than corrective cures such as in-clinic lasers or peels in the future. Not sure of how much to use on your face and ears? Draw on a stripe of sunscreen on the underside of your index, middle, and ring fingers as a guide. Don’t forget your neck and hands!
Total spent: $94.54