There's a lot of skincare that hasn't made it past patch testing for me recently, and that's a shame. But the few items that haven't completely eaten my face from the get-go have ranged from solid to stellar. Even the things that didn't really work for me are still passable. (I almost called them "C+ fare," but I think that's a little too much teacher at 8am on a Thursday.) Fair warning: we're slowly leaving the depths of winter, so hydration has been the name of the game these past few months.
Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Lotion, starts ~$11.50 on Amazon
The darling of skincare forums across the net, Hada Labo's Gokujyun "lotions" are almost constantly recommended to people looking to combat dehydration without breaking the bank. I put "lotion" in quotes because these aren't milky, creamy products in the traditional western sense, but rather watery serums meant to be used under moisturizer. Hada Labo's Premium Gokujyun Lotion is slightly thicker than their original formula, and it contains more forms of hyaluronic acid for better hydration.
I found the texture of this serum to be a bit sticky; I always had to wait about five minutes before putting moisturizer on top of it, or else it just wouldn't spread correctly. If you have oily skin or you dislike "feeling" your skincare in the slightest, you'll want to stick with the original formula and its more watery texture. Despite this unpleasantness, I always woke up with glowier, less dehydrated skin after using my Hada Labo. Alas, I also began waking up with pimples, too. After experimenting with product combinations and doing a bit of product elimination, I realized that this serum will break me out if I use it for more than a day or two at a time. Still, it's beyond affordable and works, so if you're dehydrated and the texture and the ingredients list don't freak you out, give it a shot!
Jordan Samuel Hydrate Facial Serum, $29 at JordanSamuelSkin.com
When every affordable hyaluronic acid serum I tried freaked out my skin, I decided to give it one last shot with this Instagram famous luxury edition. No lies, I kind of hoped I'd hate it. It just has such a simple ingredients list for a $29 product! Who wants to spend that on a basic serum every 3-4 months?
...but damn, does this stuff work for me.
I didn't think it would, though, because it's even thicker than the Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Lotion. As weird as it sounds, imagine hair gel thinned with a drop of water. That's how viscous this stuff is. Despite this thick texture, three drops of Jordan Samuel Hydrate absolutely melts in to my slightly-damp skin; I can apply my moisturizer within a minute of application. And for whatever reason, this seems to plump up my skin even more than the Hada Labo did. It's almost like I can feel my skin holding on to the water.
Beyond the price, my biggest complaint about Hydrate is its rather musty smell. It fades a few minutes after application, thank goodness. I also dislike glass bottles because I'm a klutz, but I know that's what most people prefer and it's totally functional packaging, so I won't whine too hard.
Paula's Choice RESIST BHA 9 Treatment, $43 at Paula's Choice
I don't deal with true blue acne, and I don't get a ton of giant zits--most of mine are of the "inflamed red bump with a clear white head" variety. But when I do get those deep-in-the-skin monsters? Oof, they're doozies. They're so weirdly smooth and darkly colored that it's hard to cover them with concealer, and they swell so much that I often have to take ibuprofen for the pain.
Because I don't get these sorts of zits often, I figured the $5 "travel size" vial of BHA 9 would be perfect for me. It's smaller than most perfume sample vials, aka "ludicrously tiny," but I've dipped a q-tip in it about a dozen times so far and it's still over half full. I like to put this stuff just on the blemish before going to bed so that I wake up with a much tinier, easier-to-treat white head. Just check out the images above: I spotted that honker on my chin after my shower one night, I dabbed on the BHA 9, and I woke up with that itty bitty white head. That's magic to me.
Two notes. One, Paula's Choice can't outright state that this is an acne product because it contains 9% BHA and there are regulations about that, so they say it's for "stubborn skin concerns" instead. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. Two, my big, red blemishes pretty much always have a white head somewhere, though it may take a magnifying mirror to see it. If you suffer from actual cystic acne deep under your top layers of skin, I don't know how much this product will help you.
It Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye Eye Cream, $48 at Sephora
I'm not sure It Cosmetics needed two instances of the word "eye" in this product name--if you say it's a "bye bye under eye" cream, most of us are going to get where it goes. Then again, we have curling irons and electric knives with labels screaming "DO NOT USE INTERNALLY," so maybe I'm optimistic.
It Cosmetics claims that this cream will "instantly brighten and reduce the appearance of dark circles, puffiness, fine lines, and wrinkles." As somebody with very deepset eyes and fair skin, no cream is going to get rid of my dark circles, but I'm all for the promised brightening and smoothing effects. I didn't think I'd get them from a stiff blue concoction that needs to be warmed between the fingers before you can really pat it in to your eye area.
But I did get some of those effects. This definitely made the skin around my eyes feel softer and look a little smoother, though it certainly didn't erase my fine lines entirely. The brightening was very subtle and probably came mostly from the fact that this is moisturizing, but hey, I'll take that over glitter any day. A little of this goes a long way, too; I've been using the same deluxe sample for over a month and it's still half full.
This is the one product on this list that I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend, but to be totally honest, I'm probably not their ideal customer, and I think most eye creams are a load of hooey. Somebody with puffy eyes, please test this and report back!
Belif The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb, $22 at Sephora
Easily confused with its thinner, more gel-like cousin "Aqua Bomb," Moisturizing Bomb is basically everything I like in a moisturizer. It has a rich, emollient texture, it packs on the hydration without feeling filmy or heavy on my face, and it works wonderfully under makeup. It must share a dash of magic with the Jordan Samuel Hydrate Serum. And in fact, my current dream trio is Jordan Samuel Hydrate under my moisturizer at night, a humidifier running while I sleep, and a thin layer of Belif Moisturizing Bomb in the morning to lock it all in. The glowy skin you see in the picture above is 75% due to this combination. (I also exfoliate regularly.)
Weirdly enough, I would say that this actually has a slightly thinner texture than most equivalent moisturizers; it's more like a true unguent than a cold cream. It's still plenty thick by most people's standards, however, so if you have oily skin or you dislike anything even remotely greasy-feeling, you'll want to reserve this one for night time or just skip it.
Two quick whines, because that's how I roll. First, because Moisturizing Bomb is packaged in a jar with a small-ish opening, it can be kind of hard to pull out every last bit of product hiding in the nooks and crannies. Second, you'll get smacked with an intense herbal smell every time you open that jar, and it will linger for a bit after application. The results are worth it for me, and I've actually come to like the smell, but it was a real shocker when I opened it for the first time.