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A few years ago, I peaced out from a toxic environment and began working from home (pre-pandemic, even) in a tiny apartment brimming with makeup, hair products and skincare. It was a sweet dream and a beautiful nightmare, to quote Beyoncé, and wholly untenable — so, faced with the mounting evidence of hormone-disrupting ingredients in beauty products, I decided to narrow down my routine. Out: Anything with endocrine-disrupting properties and irritants like formaldehyde. In: Those favorites that fit my personally defined “clean” profile.
On top of making my apartment way more orderly (there were spreadsheets involved), the clean-out solidified that excellent products don’t *need* even small doses of ingredients with long-term repercussions. And while there are now clean options across all price levels, some of the best admittedly come with eye-watering tags — so with Black Friday upon us, this is my clean skincare shopping list. Ahead, find best-in-class moisturizers, innovative anti-agers, and eye creams that rely on proven-safe ingredients, all for way less money than any other time of year.
Reese Witherspoon’s glow seems to emanate from within, but the actress and entrepreneur has revealed that part of it, at least, stems from religiously using Biossance skincare. Her allegiance runs so strong that she signed on as a brand ambassador earlier this year, and we have it straight from Witherspoon’s mouth that she uses the brand’s Squalane + Omega Repair Cream. Can’t say I’m surprised: According to one person, it plumps up wrinkles so much that they become “barely noticeable” within half an hour. Over time, those same creases “become less and less prominent, and some have disappeared completely.”
Shop now: $36 (Originally $48); tula.com
With over 400 five-star reviews to its name, Tula’s Triple Vitamin C Serum is another slam-dunk from the prebiotic-centered brand. On top of its microbiome helpers, the serum features two types of fast-acting vitamin C, and a third that the brand says “reactivates” throughout the day to keep aging free radicals and pollution off your face. “It’s only been a week, and I can already tell a difference in the appearance of my skin,” wrote a shopper with skin that was dull and spotted from sun damage. “My complexion is becoming much more even, and fine lines are already starting to disappear. With these results using clean ingredients, I’ll definitely be purchasing again.”
Emma Watson is one of the rarer celebrities to spot on the red carpet circuit, but every time she pops up — most recently, at London’s Earthshot Prize awards — she looks spectacular. The actress has publicly announced her devotion to sustainable fashion and eco-friendly beauty, highlighting brands like Kjaer Weis on Instagram. And per shoppers, the brand’s Facial Oil is a revelation: Even 74-year-olds say they’re “amazed” to see wrinkles softening within a week, thanks to ample rosehip seed oil, sweet almond seed oil, and yam root extract, which studies find increases collagen production.
Shop now: $35 with code GOGREEK40 (Originally $59); korres.com
Even as a beauty writer, I was skeptical of eye creams for the longest time. That is, until one of InStyle‘s editors came in raving about the effectiveness of this bounce-restoring Korres eye serum — and shoppers back up its excellence. “Thank you for making me look 10 years younger,” wrote one reviewer; others said sagging skin lifted within four days of use. And while you normally have to plunk down around $60 for it, today’s sale brings the serum to $35.
It’s not easy for a face wash to actually accomplish something in the 30 seconds it’s on your face, but users write that this cleansing milk goes there. “I must say how plump and moisturized my face looks as soon as I am done with this cleanser,” said a 45-year-old shopper on Amazon. “My wrinkles (fine lines and mature lines) appear less visible.” According to the brand, those results are thanks to the formula’s antioxidant-packed resveratrol CoQ10, plus apricot, sweet almond, and borage oil, panthenol, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Writing about Amazon best-sellers day in and day out, you get jaded by huge numbers of exclamatory reviews — even the Acure Brightening Facial Scrub’s 14,000 five-star ratings. Yet the passion with which people talk about this exfoliant is always persuasive: “[I am] 59 years old, still no wrinkles,” began one such ditty. “I used to bake in the sun in the mid-’70s to early ’80s. I attribute my lack of wrinkles on my face (I do have some crows feet on the side of my eyes and some bags under my eyes) to this exfoliant.”
After years of putting my skin in the hands of gravelly, shell-heavy face scrubs, I prefer a less stressful chemical experience to get glowing skin (I might be alone here, but I don’t think I am). Cocokind’s resurfacer-cum-moisturizer babies your face with a mix of bakuchiol, squalane, beta glucan and wild indigo extract, along with cucumber fruit water, jojoba oil, and baobab seed oil (the brand also breaks down the percentages of each ingredient for full transparency). “Instant youth,” said a commenter. “This stuff is amazing, especially considering you just apply and go to bed.” Hyperpigmentation packs its bags and texture smoothes, all without irritation or dryness.
Finding mineral sunscreens that aren’t annoying to use is easier these days, but truly excellent ones are rare in the under-$30 range. Avène’s twist is the exception: The zinc oxide-powered formula incorporates niacinamide to brighten skin and allantoin and bisabol to moisturize, so reviewers write that the white cast vanishes instantly as it quickly sinks in. “This is the only sunscreen I have found that doesn’t contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals, doesn’t make my face break out, and is easy to apply,” said a thrilled customer. “It doesn’t leave a white cast or clog my pores. It’s the best.” More proof: One person wrote they’ve stuck with the serum-style SPF for eight full years.
Remember ye olde rhyme, “make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold?” That’s the story between next-generation anti-agers like bidens pilosa and retinol; the black-jack extract in Ren’s Bio Retinoid Youth Serum smoothes out wrinkles and rough texture without any of the irritation, discomfort, or buffering that retinol is known for. “I have been using it for a week now, and already my skin looks smoother, pores are less noticeable, fine lines are less obvious, redness is reducing, and my skin definitely has more of a glow,” wrote a fan.
If you think you know a mouth-watering smell, just wait until you sniff this butt-softening body scrub (it’s what I imagine the Kardashian/Barker beach proposal smelled like, not least because Kourtney’s a Kopari fan). Coconut oil and mimosa flower make for its delicious scent, while finely ground coconut shell powder, castor oil, jojoba oil, sunflower seed oil, shea butter, and vitamin E leave behind velvety skin. “I was told my skin looks richer and brighter, and then [was] asked if I was aging backward,” wrote a customer of the scrub’s effects. They followed with no less than five celebratory emojis, and with the price marked down $10 for Black Friday, that’s exactly the mood.