Ingredient focus

8 affordable ways to upgrade your regime

Whether you already speak fluent ‘skin care’ or whether you’re new to the concept of acids, we’ve cherry-picked eight of our favourite affordable actives to amp up your current regime or to help you discover the perks of the hero ingredients everyone’s talking about.


A member of the AHA family – that’s alpha-hydroxy acid – glycolic works by dissolving the ‘glue’ that sticks dulling dead cells to the surface, while also supporting renewal to leave skin looking smoother and more light-reflective (read: glowy). The concept of ‘acid on face’ can be daunting, but Pixi’s bestselling {Glow Tonic} is gentle enough to be used every day after cleansing – just sweep over face, neck and chest in the evening to wake looking luminous.


An acid but not as you know it, the body produces its own hyaluronic acid (or HA) to lubricate joints and help supplement skin’s lipid barrier (responsible for keeping ‘good stuff’ in and ‘bad stuff’ out). Able to hold up to 1000 times its own weight in water, this miraculous molecule helps to hydrate as it plumps to diminish the depth of fine lines. With two weights of HA to quench your skin’s thirst, Versed’s {Hydration Station Booster with HA} – £18 – can be used as serum or mixed with your cream or foundation to dial up the dewiness.


Often found as L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C works to shield from the daily aggressors while working to counteract scarring and dark spots to actively brighten and unify uneven skin tone. A powerful antioxidant, as well as a boon for those longing to battle brown patches, THE INKEY LIST’s {Vitamin C Serum} offers the ultimate ‘Starter for (under!) £10’.


Like a shot of espresso for skin cells, caffeine is found in a swathe of eye treatments because of its zing-giving benefits. A great way to fake ‘wide awake’, caffeine constricts tiny micro- capillaries, helping to minimise under-eye shadows to send your bags packing (praise be). Star of Patchology’s {FlashPatch Rejuvenating Eye Gels} – starting from £3 – these brightening, de-puffing patches diminish the look of dark circles to help you look enviably rested.


A pore-purging sibling to alpha-hydroxyls, salicylic acid is a BHA (beta-hydroxy) that penetrates pores to dissolve all the ‘gunk’ that contributes to blackheads and breakouts, Beloved by the beautysphere, PAULA’s CHOICE {Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant} comes in a 30ml bottle to let you discover its pimple-diminishing properties.


It’s probably quicker to list the (few) things that niacinamide doesn’t do, so expansive are its attributes. A fancier title for vitamin B3, this does-it-all hero is great for diminishing visible pores, improving skin tone, softening fine lines, boosting barrier function, inhibiting moisture loss and fortifying compromised complexions. THE INKEY LIST’s {Niacinamide} represents amazing value – at only £6.99 it’s the perfect excuse to discover the good it can do.


Speak to any ‘skintellectual’ and chances are, you won’t be waiting long before the topic turns to retinol. Retinols, retinoids and retinoic acids (more about those {here}) are the best way to soften the signs of the passage of time – from fine lines to lost elasticity – retinol works to re-densify, lift and refine. The {Retinol 0.5% in Squalane} from The Ordinary skin care has a wallet-friendly price tag and is buffered so you get the pros without its scaly side-effects.


The ‘scaffolding’ that keeps skin firm and supple, cells’ manufacture of collagen starts to tail off as we age. Retinol helps to invigorate collagen synthesis, while Pixi’s phenomenal {Collagen Tonic} infuses depleted complexions with plant-derived collagen, peptides and coconut water to maximise moisture retention (it’s a great hydrator). Perfect to help your get more from your moisturiser, at £10 it’s well worth the splurge.

To learn a bit more about actives that play well together we’ve compiled {a guide} to which ones to use when.


Verity Douglas

Verity Douglas

Content Editor

Verity is our Content Editor and a Cult Beauty veteran. Currently on maternity leave, raising Cult Beauty’s honorary ‘word nerd’, Tabitha, she speaks fluent ‘beauty’ and loves nothing more than the marriage of language and lip balm (and cleanser and candles… ad infinitum). Nothing can stop her from quoting Nancy Mitford, treating herself to yet another Bella Freud candle for her desk or buying that pilgrim-esque collared or heavily fringed outfit she’s been eyeing. You can trust her to debunk widespread beauty myths and dispense invaluable advice with ease…