We’ve found cheap skincare alternatives that are remarkably similar to expensive, luxury brands like Charlotte Tilbury, La Mer, Estée Lauder and more
The skincare industry is worth roughly £2.6 billion. TWO POINT SIX BILLION. That’s an almost incomprehensible amount of money and it goes some way towards explaining why there are so many skincare brands, products, and ingredients. It’s overwhelming.
Whereas makeup typically (but not always) comes in a little cheaper than skincare and is based more on colour theory, which makes it easier to mix and match palettes, foundations, and concealers, skincare is a more precise beast.
You can’t just swap moisturisers in and out in the same way as makeup because you need to give them time to settle into your skin.
The positive thing, though, is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the best results. In many cases, you can find a cheap skincare product that contains very similar ingredients to more expensive, luxury items.
These are known as skincare alternatives and we’re going to be listing the best cheap alternatives to luxury skincare on this page over the coming weeks and months. We’ve previously done the same for the best makeup alternatives in the UK – at the time of writing, you could save yourself more than £320 by swapping premium makeup for our as-good, cheaper versions.
A number of these skincare alternatives have come from a major skincare group test we’ve been doing over on TikTok. You can read more about this test on our best moisturiser and best serum pages, or check out our TikTok series for yourself.
We’re going to be updating this page with new skincare alternatives as we uncover them, so be sure to check back.
THE ICON: As you can read in our Clinique Moisture surge review, the 100H hydrator is a great choice for all skin types. Clinique describes it as a “refreshing oil-free gel-cream moisturiser” and it’s been formulated to make your skin look more plump and youthful. In our hydration test (you can read more about this on our best moisturiser page), it carried on increasing hydration for more than hour without feeling heavy or greasy. It can even be used as a 5-minute face mask as well as a highlighter and cuticle treatment. There’s a lot to love about this product – other than the price, that is!
THE ALTERNATIVE: A great Moisture Surge alternative that’s more than half the price of the icon is the No7 HydraLuminous Water Surge Gel. Its formula, consistency and finish are incredibly similar and we’d go as far as to say that the No7 HydraLuminous has a number of benefits over Clinique’s version. Firstly, it’s cheaper. Secondly, the most abundant ingredient in the No7 version is glycerin. Glycerin is found naturally in the skin and helps to hydrate and retain moisture. By comparison, glycerin is further down the list in the Moisture Surge. No7 even says its “HydraDrench complex powered by naturally derived plant hydrators” can instantly infuse skin with fresh hydration.
THE ICON: Charlotte’s Magic Cream (£49) is a rich, luxurious cream that is said to be the makeup artist’s go-to cream when working with models and celebs. It apparently took 20 years to perfect and is one of the brand’s biggest bestsellers. This is because it helps plump and firm the skin, reduces the appearance of fine lines and contains SPF15. It also contains Vitamin C (albeit in a small amount, but still…) and a host of skin-loving oils. The downside is that you have to pay £49 for the smallest, 30ml pot, while a 150ml pot is a staggering £185!
THE ALTERNATIVE: The best Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream alternative we’ve found, and can vouch for, is the e.l.f Holy Hydration (£12). Its consistency is very similar, but we find that the Holy Hydration melts into the skin more easily than the Charlotte Tilbury version. What’s more, the Holy Hydration we’ve included in this skincare alternative guide is fragrance-free. Charlotte’s Magic Cream is fragranced and while it smells subtle and fresh, this means it can cause irritation and issues, especially for people with sensitive skin.
THE ICON: The Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser (£1b) is a superb two-in-one cleanser. It can be used on dry skin to remove tough makeup, or on damp skin to leave it feeling refreshed and clear. This gentle gel face wash is suitable for all skin types and contains five different skin conditioners. This means it won’t leave the skin feeling irritated or feeling tight. We’re big fans of this formula. Plus, it’s safe to use on the eyes because it contains contact lens solution!
THE ALTERNATIVE: Sadly, our original Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser alternative (the e.l.f Bounce Back Jelly Cleanser) seems to have been discontinued but we have found a slightly more expensive – yet still cheaper than Glossier’s – alternative from Byoma. Called the Byoma Cream Jelly Cleanser (£9.99), it’s a hydrating cleanser that gently breaks down dirt, and gets rid of excess oil and makeup without damaging your skin barrier. This is thanks to something called the Tri-Ceramide Complex – a mix of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids) plus antioxidant-rich liquorice root and green tea extracts. What’s more, it’s pH-balanced so is great for all skin types, and is vegan, and cruelty-free.
FURTHER READING: Spotlight on…e.l.f, the vegan boss of the makeup and skincare world
THE ICON: Pixi Glow Tonic (£18) is an exfoliating toner that helps firm and brighten your complexion with the help of glycolic acid. This toner helps reveal glowing skin and can work to remove any bumpy skin. It’s widely revered for its ability to smooth the skin while removing excess oil and impurities. Using this every other day is all you need to achieve clearer skin and it contains Aloe Vera to help smooth and hydrate the skin too. One of the best things about this toner is that it’s alcohol-free, too. You can read more about this in our What does toner do – and why is it so important? guide.
THE ALTERNATIVE: The Original Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£6.80) is from one of our favourite brands; a brand that makes highly effective skincare that isn’t heavy on the price. This The Ordinary toner is a mild exfoliant that helps improve the appearance of the skin and gives visible clarity. Unlike some other glycolic acid toners and products, this toning solution also contains Tasmanian Pepperberry to avoid any irritation and it’s this which gives the toner its pale peachy colour. This toning solution also contains Aloe Vera, just like the Pixi Glow Tonic, to help smooth and hydrate the skin.
THE ICON: Possibly the most famous face moisturiser on Earth – and one that costs a pretty penny – is the La Mer Crème de la Mer Moisturising Cream (from £230). The smallest pot (THE SMALLEST) costs £230 but if you buy the 500ml version, it will set you back £1,550. Nope, that’s not a typo. The reason it costs so much is that it uses the highest quality raw materials that give real results. The all-day moisturiser helps give your skin natural radiance, while the texture of the cream is lightweight while rich, making it perfect for all skin ages. Helping your skin feel hydrated, plump and not to mention it blurs fine lines. It’s like a little pot of magic.
THE ALTERNATIVE: This was a tricky skincare alternative to find and while we haven’t found an exact like-for-like La Mer alternative, we’ve found an incredibly close second. The Liz Earle Skin Repair Rich Cream Jar (£23) offers remarkably similar quality raw materials, like Borage, Shea Butter, and Avocado Oil. The texture is a cooling gel that glides beautifully on the skin. It gives up to 72 hours of hydration and helps balance shine and oil on the skin too. This cream leaves a dewy look and a lovely natural glow to the skin.
FURTHER READING: Best moisturisers: Discover which moisturiser best suits your skin
THE ICON: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum (£140) is widely regarded as the best anti-ageing serum on the market. It shields the skin from ozone pollution, and protects it from free radicals, and radiation. It gets its name from the fact it contains 15% of pure Vitamin C, 1% Vitamin E and 0.5% Ferulic Acid. Vitamin C is an absolute must-have when it comes to protecting your skin from the signs of ageing, and damage from the sun. Vitamin E has antioxidant properties, while Ferulic acid helps nourish your skin. As you probably would have guessed, given the huge price tag, this serum takes itself very seriously but is effective from the first use.
THE ALTERNATIVE: If you’re after an affordable (in fact, we’d go as far as to say cheap) skincare alternative for SkinCeuticals £140 serum, we highly recommend the Super C15 Serum (£7.49) from SkinPep. It contains the same concentration of key ingredients – 15% Vitamin C, 1% Vitamin E and 0.5% of Ferulic acid. It’s also alcohol-free, perfume-free and hypo-allergenic. It does come in small bottles (7ml) and each one costs £7.49. However, you can buy a bundle of four for the reduced price of £18.99, giving you only 2ml less than what’s in the SkinCeuticals version. You will have to pay tax (£1.50 per bottle), but shipping is free unless you want it delivered the next day. SkinPep’s C15 Serum has countless reviews from loyal fans across the web and we’re similarly hooked!
FURTHER READING: What is Vitamin C good for and how does it improve your skin?
THE ICON: One of the most loved and bestselling serums, Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair (£82) helps supercharge your skin at night while you sleep. This serum uses ingredients that combat signs of ageing. It has a rich consistency but absorbs quickly and if you’ve lost firmness to the skin, the formula will help lift sagging skin and reveal a healthier-looking appearance. This serum helps blur fine lines and wrinkles, giving the skin a radiant complexion while leaving an even tone and texture to the skin. The price shown is for the 50ml version because that’s like-for-like on Missha’s serum, however, you can get a 30ml bottle for £60.
THE ALTERNATIVE: Our Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair alternative is the Missha Time Revolution Night Repair (£44) Not heard of Missha before? It’s a Korean beauty brand that wants to help you discover healthy, flawless skin. This serum’s texture is just like the Advanced Night Repair and is packed with 10 probiotics of different functions that work together to improve the natural strength of your skin. It moisturises, improves wrinkles, and boosts elasticity. Korean skincare believes nature produces the best ingredients and each bottle of Time Revolution Night Repair are five energy components – purple carrots, plum cabbage, eggplant, beetroot, and blueberry. Granted, this isn’t a super cheap alternative but you’ll be saving a significant amount versus buying the Estée Lauder version.
FURTHER READING: Best face serum: The best performing anti-ageing, hydrating serums
THE ICON: Huda Kattan is an absolute queen of the makeup industry and she recently ventured into skincare with her Wishful skin range. We’ve tried a number of products in the line-up – the Jelly Balm is the best moisturiser we’ve ever used – but its Thirst Trap mask is also up there as one of our faves. The Wishful Thirst Trap Mask (£8.99) is packed Huda’s go-to ingredients including rose, aloe vera, and sodium hyaluronate. A version of hyaluronic acid that leaves the skin feeling hydrated after one use. The mask has a unique double-layer fibre that is packed full of vitamin essence. With caffeine making an appearance in this mask as well, it helps re-energise the skin to feel tight and bright.
THE ALTERNATIVE: We couldn’t believe our eyes! Simple’s Kind To Skin Rich De-Stress Sheet Mask (£2.99) contains the majority of ingredients the Wishful Thirst Trap Mask does, yet is a third of the price! We love the mask because it is the perfect antidote for stressed skin. It keeps the skin hydrated while giving our skin a natural uplift with the help of caffeine. It instantly soothes and brightens the skin. Yes, saving £6 doesn’t seem like a huge amount but over time, this difference will soon add up and it’s highly unlikely you’ll see a huge amount more of a difference by paying the higher price.
THE ICON: If you’re not familiar with Drunk Elephant, the skincare brand has made waves recently for fantastic formulas that do as they promise. One of its bestselling products is the B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum (£40). Containing Vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid, this serum holds water to hydrate the skin, while also containing watermelon, lentil and apple extracts to reduce the appearance of fine lines. We love how this serum improves skin’s natural barrier to keep our skin looking healthy.
THE ALTERNATIVE: Did you really think we’d have a whole skincare alternatives article without mention of the absolute affordable OG, The Ordinary? The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 (£5.90) is an oil-free formula that contains very similar baseline ingredients as Drunk Elephant’s serum, without the heft price tag. Hyaluronic acid and Vitamin B5 boost moisture and keep the skin plump. Drunk Elephant’s B-Hydra serum has been known to be slightly sticky but The Ordinary glides on with ease.
THE ICON: Bioderma Sensibio H20 Micellar Water (£15.80) was one of the first dermatological micellar water solutions that suited every skin type, even sensitive ones. This micellar water can be used on eyes, lips and to remove makeup, including waterproof mascara. It lifts impurities and dirt to leave skin feeling smooth and clean, and what love we love the most is that it keeps our skin’s natural balance.
THE ALTERNATIVE: A great high-street brand – Garnier has multiple micellar water solutions but the one that most closely resembles the Bioderma version is the Micellar Water Facial Cleanser Sensitive Skin (£5.99). It removes makeup with ease, is gentle on the skin and leaves our face feeling fresh and free from impurities with a natural glow. Just like Bioderma Sensibio, Garnier’s micellar water is fragrance-free and suitable for sensitive skin.