If you're into fashion, you've probably heard about the concept of "investment dressing."
The idea is to pay more for those higher-quality pieces—like a classic handbag or a trench coat—that will always make you feel like a million bucks and can form the foundation of your wardrobe.
Have you considered taking the same approach to your skincare routine?
To get the most mileage out of your beauty dollars, invest in your workhorse skincare products—the ones you'll use on a daily basis, that can make the biggest difference for your skin.
Often, spending a little extra cash means you can get higher concentrations of active ingredients, fewer irritating, pore-clogging or dehydrating ingredients, and elegant textures that are easy to layer. If you want to go beyond topicals, there are also some super effective tools and supplements to take your skincare to the next level.
Wondering what's worth splurging on? I'm here to help! Below, find the items that belong in every skincare wardrobe, plus my top picks for each.
A Mild Acid Exfoliant
If there's one thing that can absolutely transform your skin for the better, it's acid toning. I apply a hydroxy acid product every morning and night to exfoliate, brighten, fade pigmentation and prevent breakouts.
While you don't HAVE to splurge in this category (one of my favourite acids is this one), you may want to if you're looking for a specific strength or combination of acids, natural ingredients, and/or a certain scent or texture. For best results, it's worth finding a product gentle enough that you can use daily.
Acids to invest in:
- Biologique Recherche Lotion P50: Biologique Recherche basically invented the idea of twice-daily acid toning, with the famous Lotion P50 range of exfoliators. (Their Dr. Philippe Allouche recommends P50T in particular.) No matter which version you choose, P50 is in Holy Grail territory; I'd recommend it to everyone.
- SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense: The 1.5 percent salicylic acid in this serum is hard to find, and ideal for treating and preventing mild acne. It also contains dioic acid to reduce excess oil, and glycolic and citric acids for signs of aging.
- Tata Harper Resurfacing Serum: With plant-derived alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids in a creamy serum base, this is a lovely all-in-one product if you want light exfoliation along with hydration. I've been using it all fall and really like it.
- Omorovicza Acid Fix: Another AHA-BHA treatment, this serum contains glycolic, salicylic and lactic acids along with an array of calming, hydrating ingredients to minimize irritation. (Note that the fragrance is natural, not synthetic.) Every single product I've tried from this brand has been top-notch.
A Gentle Cleansing Brush
A cleansing brush can make a huge difference after days when you've worn heavier makeup, silicone-based products or sunscreens. It will remove far more dirt, oil and product residue than is possible with fingers alone, leaving your skin incredibly clean. You'll not only be less likely to develop breakouts, but you'll also absorb more of any active ingredients you apply afterward (that means better results from your products!).
I recommend investing in a sonic-powered brush with silicone bristles, which are gentler on the skin than nylon, and won't harbour any nasty bacteria. The gentle vibrations will help break down debris so it's easier to remove, without causing any irritation.
Cleansing brushes to invest in:
- Foreo Luna: I've used this gadget for a few years now, and it's my all-time favourite. The cleansing mode gets off up to 99.5 percent of dirt and oil, while the anti-aging mode (the reverse side) can be used as a massage tool. I'm always blown away by how soft my skin feels after I use this. There are versions for Normal, Sensitive and Oily skin, but Combination works best for me.
- PMD Clean Facial Cleansing Device: This just-launched brush also features silicone bristles and sonic vibrations, but in a slightly different design (it has a handle). You can choose from gentle and intense pulses, and cleansing and massaging modes, all in the one brush.
I don't need to tell you that retinoids are the gold standard when it comes to anti-aging. Derived from vitamin A, they are the most proven of all active ingredients, and can help with wrinkles, acne, pigmentation and sagging.
It used to be that you had to choose between harsh prescription retinoids or weak over-the-counter ones, and both were typically loaded with mineral oil or silicones. But that's not the case anymore—the new generation of OTC retinoids have a high percentage of actives, with less irritation, and in a base of cleaner ingredients.
Retinoids to invest in:
- Lixirskin Night Switch Retinol 1%: The newest retinol on the block features a generous 1 percent dose and one of the shortest ingredients lists I've seen. Although it's intended to be used on a three weeks on, three weeks off schedule, I don't see why you couldn't stick with it continuously (like derms recommend).
- Shani Darden Retinol Reform: A celebrity favourite, this serum contains 5 percent retinyl propionate along with niacinamide and lactic acid. I got really good results from it!
- CyberDerm Retin+Erase: If you find retinol too irritating, give this a shot. It has a new, gentle but effective retinol ester at the highest concentration on the market. Plus there are only four ingredients total.
- Arcona Advanced "A" Serum: Here's a silicone-free formula containing retinaldehyde—which is not only less irritating than retinol, but also stronger (since it's the direct precursor to retinoic acid).
- Verso Super Facial Serum: This is one of the only products with retinyl retinoate, an ester of retinol and retinoic acid. It's said to be more active than retinol, and less irritating.
A Clean Body Moisturizer
If anything should have clean ingredients in your beauty routine, it should be your body moisturizer. It's the one product we use in the highest quantities, since it covers the largest surface area. And most of us apply it daily, right after a shower, when our skin drinks up more product.
Some of the worst ingredients in body lotions that I recommend limiting or avoiding include polyunsaturated oils (which are unstable and can actually change your body's fatty acid composition); petroleum derivatives; hormone-disrupting sunscreen filters; and irritating fragrances.
Body moisturizers to invest in:
- REN AHA Smart Renewal Body Serum: This lightweight lotion packs 10 percent lactic acid to exfoliate scaly legs, while shea butter delivers moisture. I'm currently using it and it's not greasy at all.
- Dr Roebuck's Top Stuff Ultra Hydrating Body Creme: If you're looking for a super thick cream, this fits the bill. It has shea butter and macadamia oil for long-lasting hydration.
- Odacité Perfect Nutrients Body Lotion: With aloe vera plus coconut, jojoba and olive oils, this lotion is lightweight but nourishing.
- One Ocean Ultra Marine Cellulite Night Cream: This rich body cream is made with shea butter, jojoba oil and marine bacteria extracts that are clinically proven to help firm and tighten.
A Microcurrent Device
Microcurrent is one of the few at-home skincare treatments that actually does work. Think of it as a workout for your face: the device delivers a painless electrical current to your facial muscles in order to stimulate them. The result? An instant lift and firmer, tighter, glowier skin.
The only catch is that you need to use your device consistently—at least three times a week—to see and maintain results. But if you can commit, it's an excellent alternative to Botox, as it works by strengthening the muscles (rather than paralyzing them).
Microcurrent devices to invest in:
- NuFace Trinity Facial Toning Device: The best-known device delivers microcurrent through two spherical prongs (you can also buy a more targeted eye and lip attachment). If you're looking to firm sagging and reduce fine lines, this is your best bet. I've used it off and on for about a year now, and can attest to the immediate lifting effect!
- ZIIP Nano Current Device: This futuristic-looking device emits nanocurrent, a slightly different (lower) frequency of current. As it can treat signs of aging, acne, and dullness, this device would suit anyone with multiple skin concerns. I just invested in one myself, so stay tuned!
A Niacinamide Serum
Niacinamide is probably the most underrated ingredient in skincare. Did you know that it can treat pigmentation, acne, wrinkles, dryness, oily skin, redness and sallowness?! It's also an antioxidant, so it protects your skin from free radicals just like vitamin C—but with a much longer shelf life and a lightweight, watery feel.
Since it does so much, and it's so safe and well-tolerated, I recommend niacinamide for all skin concerns. (It can easily replace your vitamin C serum and hydrating serum, by the way.) For more about the benefits of niacinamide, see here.
Niacinamide serums to invest in:
- Paula's Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster: This silicone-free clear liquid serum gives you a high 10 percent dose and feels super watery on the skin. I'm using it right now and love it.
- Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum: For those seeking a natural formulation, try this 10 percent niacinamide serum. It contains bioflavonoids and licorice root, and is free of fragrance and essential oils.
- SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense: If you're specifically concerned about pigmentation, this formulation should help. It has five percent niacinamide with tranexamic, kojic and sulfonic acids.
A Non-Comedogenic Face Oil
Face oils are like a top coat for your other skincare products, helping to seal in moisture and prevent it from escaping. So it's always handy to have one in your arsenal to layer over your serums and creams (or even to mix into creams and foundations).
But not just any oil will do. It's important to choose a stable one, that is resistant to oxidation (in other words, rancidity, which releases free radicals that cause cellular damage). And of course, it should be non-comedogenic for YOUR skin. There's no one oil that works for every single person, and any oil can be comedogenic. So trial and error is the only way to figure out what your skin likes. I find most people seem to do well with squalane—read more about its benefits here.
Face oils to invest in:
- Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil: Squalane is my favourite oil, and Indie Lee's is my favourite version of it (derived from olives). It's extremely stable, lightweight and fast-absorbing.
- Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Oil: For drier skin, marula oil is a good choice. It's a thicker oil, and a little goes a long way.
- Herbivore Orchid Facial Oil: If you're after an oil blend, this combo of coconut, camellia, jojoba and squalane oils is both hydrating and lightweight.
- MV Organic Skincare Pure Jojoba: As one of the highest-quality jojoba oils on the market, this has a fine texture that penetrates fast. It's also said to help regulate sebum flow.
A Red Light Device
If I could only use one gadget, I'd choose my beloved red light therapy device. What's red light therapy, you ask? It's more than just a skincare treatment. Red light floods our cells with energy (ATP), which reduces stress and inflammation and stimulates repair on a cellular level.
Most of the lights out there are very weak, so it's worth investing in a powerful device that emits the same intensity and wavelengths that have been used in clinical studies. Red and infrared light can help with acne, wrinkles, sagging, hair loss and numerous health conditions. Find out more about red light therapy here and here.
Red light devices to invest in:
- Red Light Man Red Light Device: Red light tends to be best for surface concerns. I use this light daily and swear by it for treating breakouts, plumping my skin and just general relaxation.
- Red Light Man Infrared Light Device: Go for infrared light if you want to treat both the skin surface and deeper tissue. It's also useful for joints, bones and muscles.
A Multitasking Moisturizing Cream
Moisturizers are a dime a dozen, but most are made from ingredients that aren't great for your skin—like silicones, petroleum derivatives, unstable oils and synthetic fragrances. If you find your skin needs more hydration than you can get from just a serum and oil alone, spend more on a well-formulated cream that will truly nourish your skin.
Look for a silicone-free or low-silicone moisturizer with a combination of humectants (like hyaluronic acid), emollients (like squalane) and occlusives (like shea butter). If you're sensitive, you may wish to avoid essential oils as well as fragrance. More on how to choose a moisturizer here!
Moisturizing creams to invest in:
- Omorovicza Elemental Emulsion: Even though it's oil-free and has a lightweight texture, this lotion is surprisingly effective at keeping skin hydrated. It's also perfect for acne-prone skin.
- LXMI Crème du Nil Pore-Refining Moisture Veil: This shea-based cream is the ticket to plump, dewy skin. It's quite rich, so you only need a tiny amount.
- Odacité Beautiful Day Moisturizer: One of the best all-natural options is this lotion with aloe vera, coconut oil and jojoba oil.
- OSEA Atmosphere Protection Cream: This cream is high in macadamia oil, shea butter, jojoba oil and avocado oil, yet it sinks in fast and is completely non-greasy. So good!
- Indie Lee Active Oil-Free Moisturizer: This light, oil-free lotion is perfect for combination and oily skin types.
A Safe, Effective Sunscreen
All the anti-aging products in the world won't help if your face is getting unprotected sun exposure during peak daylight hours. But not all SPF is created equal. Contrary to what you might think, a lot of sunscreens don't contain the right active ingredients (or enough of them) to do their job—at least against UVA, the rays responsible for aging. Plus, many contain filters linked to hormone disruption.
So it's a no-brainer to invest in a safe, effective (and ideally non-greasy and non-whitening!) sunscreen. In North America, zinc oxide is our best option, and it's now being formulated more elegantly than ever before. Elsewhere in the world, Tinosorb M and Tinosorb S are also good filters. Download my free checklist to learn more about choosing a sunscreen!
Sunscreens to invest in:
- Ava Isa Pure Untinted Ultra Matte SPF 45 Sunscreen and Ava Isa Aurora Rose Ultra Matte SPF 45 Sunscreen: Available in tinted and non-tinted versions, this sunscreen offers incredible protection and a matte finish. If you hate the feel of SPF, this is for you!
- Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30 and Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense SPF 30: Also available with and without a tint, this brand's SPFs are sheer and dewy but not oily.
- REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Face Sunscreen: This is an ultra-lightweight, non-greasy sunscreen with high protection.
- Kypris Pot of Shade: Heliotropic SPF 30 Sunscreen & Primer: Here's a high-zinc, natural sunscreen that protects and primes your skin for makeup.
A Sulfate-Free Cleanser
Ultimately, you wash your cleanser down the drain, so is there any reason to buy a pricier one? Yes, if it means you're able to clean your skin without stripping, clogging or irritating it. The wrong cleanser can actually create skin conditions you wouldn't normally have, like sensitivity or acne.
Invest in a cleanser that is free of sulfates (harsh detergents) and fragrance, that removes dirt and oil without leaving behind residue, and that doesn't make your skin feel dry or tight.
Cleansers to invest in:
- Dr Roebuck's Noosa Nourishing Creme Cleanser: This creamy, unscented cleanser is ideal for dry and sensitive skin and can be removed with warm water or a wet cloth.
- Omorovicza Cleansing Foam: A super luxurious, creamy foaming cleanser that won't strip your skin.
- Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser: For acne-prone skin, this all-natural foaming cleanser is calming, exfoliating and balancing.
- Drunk Elephant Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser: This fragrance-free gel is suitable for almost every skin (except dry) and does a great job of getting off makeup.
- Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser: I'd recommend this gently lathering natural gel cleanser to everyone. It doubles as a makeup remover and mask.
A Microneedling Tool
Microneedling, also known as dermarolling, involves piercing your skin with fine, short needles in order to generate new collagen. As scary as it sounds, it's actually one of the best treatments for improving wrinkles, loose skin, pigmentation and scars; it also increases the penetration of your topical products by up to 80 percent.
You'll get the best results if you combine professional treatments with regular shallow needling at home. Look for a 0.2 to 0.3 mm needle depth, either in a dermaroller-style tool or a stamping device. As long as you follow proper sterilization procedures and don't needle over active acne, open wounds, warts, eczema or psoriasis, it can be done as often as daily.
Microneedling tools to invest in:
- BeautyBio GloPro Microneedling Regeneration Tool: This 0.3 mm roller vibrates to increase circulation and emits red LED light to reduce inflammation. Every three months, you should replace the head.
- Nurse Jamie Beauty Stamp: This one's a gentle dermastamping tool with 0.2 mm needles that you stamp into the skin.
- Environ Gold-Roll CIT: A favourite of celebrity esthetician Joanna Czech, this roller has 0.2 mm gold needles that naturally suppress bacteria.
A Lip Balm That Works
Dry, chapped lips look as bad as they feel. Often the culprit is not so much the weather but your existing lip products! Many lipsticks, glosses and balms contain irritants and allergens that keep your lips chronically dehydrated, sore and cracking.
There are three emollients I swear by to heal dry lips: lanolin, shea butter and squalane oil. Make sure the lip balm you invest in contains at least one of them, and that it's free of (or low in) problematic ingredients like vitamin E, fragrance, flavour, essential oils, menthol and camphor. More help for dry lips here.
Lip balms to invest in:
- Lanolips 101 Ointment Multipurpose Superbalm: This balm is made of 100 percent medical-grade lanolin (a wax found on the wool of sheep) and repairs your lips like nothing else. It's my number one lip recommendation.
- LXMI Pure Nilotica Melt Nourishing Balm-to-Oil: This one's a pure shea butter that melts into the lips, leaving them hydrated, protected and glossy.
- Henné Organics Luxury Lip Balm: I love this all-natural blend of coconut oil, beeswax, avocado oil, shea butter, cocoa butter and jojoba oil in a stick format. There is a tiny bit of vitamin E, but not enough to cause irritation.
A Really Great Face Mask
Are face masks necessary? I would say it depends on the face mask! Most of what's out there is good for a temporary hydration boost and a little self-care moment, but that's about it. However, there are a few "investment masks" that can do a lot more, especially if you make them a consistent part of your routine.
Skip the sheet masks and look for a product with high-quality treatment ingredients like emollients, yeast extracts and clays. Many products can be even be worn overnight.
Masks to invest in:
- Biologique Recherche Masque Vivant: My all-time favourite mask does everything from brightening and tightening to reducing excess oil and clearing blemishes. I can't recommend this one enough!
- MV Organic Skincare Signature Mineral Mask: This mask is a pure, mineral-rich French clay that you mix with water or a face mist before applying. Thanks to its high zinc, magnesium and silica content, it is soothing, softening and hydrating. According to the founder, using it regularly can really strengthen your skin.
- Indie Lee Clearing Mask: For oily and acne-prone skin, nothing beats this clarifying mud mask.
A Clean Foundation
You're wearing it all over your face all day long, so shouldn't your foundation be as beneficial as your skincare products? Sadly, I think most foundations exacerbate skin problems with their high levels of irritating, dehydrating and pore-clogging ingredients. My skin improved so much when I switched to cleaner versions a few years ago!
I know it can be a hassle to have to find your shade match in a new range, and get used to working with a different product, but your skin will thank you. Happily, I'm seeing clean foundations with broader shade selections than ever before, with textures that rival their mainstream counterparts.
Foundations to invest in:
- Sappho New Paradigm Essential Foundation: If you like a liquid foundation, this is the best formula, hands down. It gives light to medium, natural-looking coverage and is silicone-free. There are currently 12 shades, with more to come.
- Omorovicza Complexion Perfector: Available in four shades, this is a silicone-free tinted moisturizer that gives you light coverage and skin benefits in one.
- RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up: I can't live without this hybrid concealer-foundation in a pot; it's what I wear most often. The texture can take some getting used to (I recommend setting dewy areas with translucent powder), but it looks gorgeous on the skin and is made with only a few natural ingredients. There are 16 shades.
- RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up Cream Foundation: This is the new cream version of the cult favourite, which gives you full coverage and comes in the same 16 shades.
A Natural-Looking Luminizer
Here's a little tip. Wearing some luminizer along the high points of your face (like your cheekbones, the bridge of your nose, and your Cupid's bow) automatically fools people into thinking you have great skin. You'll look dewy and healthy and glowing, even if you're not having the best skin day underneath.
But it needs to have a natural-looking finish, so avoid anything with glitter, shimmer or crazy colours. Invest in a luminizer that subtly catches the light—that's the key to making people believe it's YOU, not the product.
Luminizers to invest in:
- RMS Beauty Living Luminizer, Peach Luminizer, Champagne Rosé Luminizer, Magic Luminizer or Master Mixer: Living was the OG (and my personal favourite), but you can't go wrong with ANY luminizer from this brand. Bonus: they're made with all-natural ingredients.
- Tata Harper Very Highlighting: This one has a pearly finish that is very similar to Living Luminizer.
- LXMI Nilotica Goddess Glow: This rose-gold illuminator can be applied as a highlighter or mixed with foundation to add glow.
A Collagen Supplement
The last investment product on my list is all about nourishing your skin from within. I've been taking collagen as a dietary supplement for several years now, and I truly believe it has helped! As the most abundant protein in our bodies, collagen is rich in amino acids and acts as the key building block of all connective tissues. By taking it orally, we are able to absorb the amino acids we need to build NEW collagen and decrease inflammation. It's also an excellent source of protein.
Collagen peptides, collagen hydrolysate and hydrolyzed collagen are all the same thing; they're fast-absorbing forms of collagen that dissolve in hot or cold liquids. I stir them into lattés and smoothies. You can also do gelatin, the cooked form of collagen, but it's trickier to work with as it gels up in cold liquids (like Jell-O!).
Collagen supplements to invest in:
- Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides: Vital Proteins is my go-to. The powder dissolves completely and you can't even taste it. I usually do two scoops daily.
- Great Lakes Collagen Hydrolysate: I've also used this product extensively. It dissolves well, too, although there's a very slight flavour.
There you have it—the types of products that can truly transform your skin for the better, that are worthy of your hard-earned cash.
While ALL of these could be part of your skincare arsenal, you could certainly cherry-pick your investments depending on your biggest skin concerns and budget. If you're dry, you'd probably prioritize a great face cream, mask and cleanser, whereas acne-prone folks might want to splurge on acids, retinoids and foundation.
It's all up to you, but hopefully this list of my top picks has helped! Out of the dozens of products I test out each year, these are the REAL game-changers. Let me know what you think!
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