The Budget-Friendly Skincare Products Beauty Insiders Swear By

From a gentle cleanser to an overnight facial peel.

In the skincare world, there’s a commonly held belief that the more you spend on your beauty routine, the greater the results. It’s often thought that a $500 moisturizer—boosted by rare, newly discovered ingredients and concocted in a remote European lab—must work better than a product one-tenth its price. But do you really have to drop nearly half a paycheck to achieve that lit-from-within glow? The short answer: absolutely not.

We tapped eight beauty industry insiders—including a dermatologist, a makeup artist and a model—for their top drugstore buys. Scroll down to shop their favourite budget-friendly and effective skincare picks that ring in under $50.

The Oily Skin-Saving Cleanser: Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser

“I’ve been using this cleanser ever since the first formulation came out almost 15 years ago. I’m in my mid-’40s and I’ve tried numerous lines at every price point over the years, but I still find this one to be the best. The gentle formula—which contains acne-fighting salicylic acid and radiance-boosting soy extract—works well for my oily-to-combination skin. It removes makeup easily (there’s no need for a separate eye makeup remover or wipes) and it leaves my face completely clean without drying it out.”—Sophie Hsin, Toronto-based makeup artist


The Gentle Exfoliator for Sensitive Skin: Indeed Labs Exfoliator II Facial Powder

“As a beauty editor, I try my best to test out everything that comes across my desk. The constant stream of new formulas means I often experience major skin sensitivities and reactions, but I’m not afraid to use Indeed Labs’ Exfoliator II every other day. Rice bran is the star ingredient here: it’s what gives this powder product its gentle manual exfoliating action. I see results instantly, without any dryness, redness or hives—it gets a thumbs up from my sensitive skin! It’s also a near-identical dupe for multiple products with the same consistency and exfoliating benefits. I dare anyone to put this side by side with its direct, more expensive competition in a blind test and tell the difference.”—Bahar Niramwalla, Toronto-based beauty editor


The Moisturizing Facial Sunscreen: La Roche-Posay Hydraphase UV Hydrating Moisturizer Sunscreen SPF 30

“When it comes to skincare, a common question I get from patients is, ‘Where can I save, and where do I need to spend?’ I always point to La Roche-Posay’s Hydraphase as a great multitasking product. I first tried it as a dermatology resident, and I have yet to find a more expensive option that combines sun protection and hydration together so effectively. This brand is backed by scientifically rigorous, advanced technology, but the most important thing is how it feels. I always tell my patients that the best sun protection is the one they look forward to putting it on. This one doesn’t have a chalky texture or white cast and feels comfortable, with just enough hydration for normal-to-combination skin.”—Dr. Shannon Humphrey, Vancouver-based dermatologist at Humphrey Cosmetic Dermatology


The Hydration-Boosting Serum: L’Oréal Paris Revitalift 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum

“Hyaluronic acid serums can be a bit sticky or leave your face feeling like you’re wearing a mask, while others seemed to do nothing at all. This one from L’Oréal Paris—which I’ve been using non-stop since first testing it a year and a half ago—absorbs well, hydrates my dry skin and makes makeup go on smoother. It’s intensely hydrating, and a total lifesaver during the winter months. I find myself routinely re-upping my stock because it gives you that J.Lo glow. It’s nice to find a product that actually works but doesn’t break the bank—I like having leftover money to put towards my shoe budget!”—Dominique Baker, Ottawa-based influencer


The Grown-Up Acne-Fighting Treatment: The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA

“I heard about The Ordinary’s Mandelic Acid and its acne-busting properties on a podcast last April and decided to give it a try. This product absolutely blew my mind. It started working immediately, clearing up existing breakouts and preventing new ones from appearing. Each day, I could see the improvement in my skin; I woke up every morning excited to see the progress. I love that mandelic acid is gentle and clears my skin without drying it out. I’ve shelled out a lot of money in the past in an effort to control breakouts, but no other product has given me results like this. The fact that I paid less than $10 for this proves that effective skincare products don’t have to be expensive.”—Antonia Fifi, Toronto-based blogger


The Resurfacing Peel That Works While You Sleep: Versed The Shortcut Overnight Facial Peel

“I’ve only been using this leave-on overnight exfoliator for a month, but I’m hooked. The easy-to-understand labeling on Versed products—it tells you exactly what it does and what skin issue it’s for—is a feature that drew me in from the start. Thanks to its skin-resurfacing, lactic-and-glycolic acid combo, this one’s ‘made for dullness and aging skin.’ I especially love to use it after hours of wearing heavy makeup—I always wake up to glowing skin the next morning. At just under $30, it gives me results I would usually have to pay much more for.”—Musemo Handahu, Halifax-based content creator


The Lightweight Sunscreen with High SPF: Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Face Sunscreen SPF 60

“My love affair with sunscreen started in my ’30s, when I became aware of the dangers and drawbacks that come with sun exposure. Now in my mid-’50s, I still love the sun, but our relationship includes some healthy boundaries, like a high-protection sunscreen (this formula also comes in an SPF 110). This affordable option from Neutrogena is a staple in my skincare stash. I’ve been using it for close to a decade now, and not only does it protect your skin, but it also prevents dryness that comes with exposure to the elements. Plus, there’s no tint or chalky residue, and it’s lightweight and fast-absorbing. It’s just as good as some of the pricier options out there.”—Mandy Johnson, Barrie, Ont.-based model


The Eco-Conscious Brightening Cleanser: Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser

“When people think of clean beauty, they sometimes think of earthy essential oils, which isn’t for everyone. Indie Lee takes a modern approach to the category, with beautiful packaging, high-quality ingredients and refreshing scents at a reasonable price. This cleanser is fortified with strawberry seed oil—which is packed with hydration-boosting and redness-reducing omega-3s—and it doesn’t dry out my skin. It provides a gentle, nourishing cleanse that makes quick work of every last bit of makeup.”—Avalon Lukacs, Calgary-based founder of Aura Inner Beauty


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