welcome to SKINCARMA!

These are the musings of a skincare junkie + writer + brand guru with 25+ years of product wisdom put into action to demystify skin care. 

You can change your skin’s destiny.™

Look at this Kylie Skin product monstrosity that I just had to try for myself!

Look at this Kylie Skin product monstrosity that I just had to try for myself!

When it comes to skincare, I’ll try anything at least once. I don’t know what that’s about exactly. Maybe it’s a trust thing and I don’t believe everyone can be objective. Maybe it’s because I don’t trust big beauty company marketing because I was raised in it. It could also be that I’m just really jaded!


Maybe I need to experience everything myself. Be alone with it. Come to think of it, there are a few things that I’d much rather do alone. Like grocery shopping. I hate being distracted at the market. I’m very focused, knowing exactly what I want when I walk into the Whole Foods 365 up the street. Food is personal.

Skin care is like that for me, too. I need to experience a product intimately to form a valid opinion of it, to love it or hate it — and to be able to write about it. You see what I’m getting at here? Food and skin care! To me, they’re of equal importance to my wellbeing.

And it’s my urge to be experimental (call it inquisitiveness) that drove me into the arms of Kylie Jenner. I don’t even think I would recognize her in an online photo, let alone in person. I don’t usually give those “famous-for-not-being-famous” types much attention. (I learned my lesson back in the 90s with that Kato Kaelin dude!)

I firmly believe that everyone deserves to have good skin care.

I firmly believe that everyone deserves to have good skin care.

So when it comes to her new skincare brand, Kylie Skin, I just had to experience it myself. Is Kylie’s skin care as hollow as her celebrity persona? Is it all an act, a really bad joke? I’m still attempting to answer that. So I’ll keep on trying her products one by one until I come to an informed conclusion.

But this blog isn’t about rich, famous-for-not-being-famous people like Kylie Jenner. This blog article is about the rest of us. It’s about skin care for everyone. Skin care we can all afford — the kind of well-formulated, pro-skin health products we all deserve.

Central to the Skincarma philosophy is that skin care should be democratic — with a small “d”. To me, “democratic skin care” means well-formulated products that are accessible to the broadest number of people — and that make it possible for everyone to have healthy skin. I believe that everyone deserves great skin care!

Big beauty marketing pushes the exact opposite narrative: that only the affluent should have access to the best skin care available. And that’s just complete nonsense. What’s going on with Dr. Barbara Sturm and her out-of-reach $300 Hyaluronic Acid serum? And do you think La Mer believes every human being should have access to their products? Whether La Mer’s Creme de la Mer is a good product worthy of its $185 price tag (it is not) is entirely irrelevant. All La Mer needs is for their affluent customer to believe that it works better than what the commoners have access to.

“Everyone deserves great skin care!”

Over the last few months, I’ve been collaborating with a very smart dude in Sweden named Michael. If you follow me on IG, you’d recognize him as @skincare.product.ratings. We talk about skincare a lot — and share a sense of absurdity when a brand markets what we know is a shitty formula. Sadly, people buy it anyway. The Kylie Skin products come to mind. As does La Mer’s overrated cream. Both simply manipulate people at opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum.

Take a look at my review of Kylie’s toner:

“The milky toner is another story entirely — and by far the worst of the 3 products I tried first. It’s just ridiculous — with a single active ingredient above 1%. How do I know that? The natural preservative & common allergen, Phenoxyethanol, is ingredient no. 6 and it can only be used at a 1% concentration — meaning everything after it is below 1%. The first 5 ingredients are Water, Glycerin, Squalane, Dicaprylyl Ether (chemical emollient) & Neopentyl Glycol Diethylhexanoate (skin-conditioning ester). Beyond that there are a few botanical oils and extracts, along with Chlorphenesin — a preservative used for its anti-fungal & anti-bacterial properties. The problem is that it also causes irritation & contact dermatitis in many people, especially those with dry and/or sensitive skin. I don’t understand how this product is even called a toner. It’s the weirdest ‘toner’ I’ve ever used. I think it’s better as a lightweight body lotion. Unless, of course, you have dry or sensitive skin!”

But given that reality, I know people will still buy it; some of them are suckered into it by her celebrity, others because they love the pink packaging. And still, others — let’s just call them the most naive — are incapable of imagining a product with Kylie Jenner’s name on it could really be as bad as it is.

Here’s the upside: in 2019, we have full access to really good skin care at affordable prices. There’s no reason not to have a well-formulated, pro-skin health skincare routine. So, Michael and I got to talking about just that. Could we combine our knowledge and come up with a really good, affordable skincare routine for, say, $100? We talked about what the individual components of our hundred-dollar regimen would look like — and which product categories are required to achieve your healthiest skin possible, day in and day out.


So, we debated and debated until we agreed that we’d created the perfect skincare regimen for around $100. Why do I say “around $100”? Well, it’s because we couldn’t factor in random variables like shipping charges, currency fluctuations, product access, and even brand pricing strategies in different regions of the world. For instance, The Inkey List’s Tumeric Cream —which we selected as our moisturizer option — is priced at £7.99, while in the US it’s $12.99. The exact equivalent at today’s rate should be $9.98. Go figure! And, our Vitamin C selection comes from a new, indie brand that isn’t yet available in the US. So I paid to have it shipped from the UK.

We couldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So “around $100” it is!

The exercise was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. The options only seem infinite. The reality is much tougher. There aren’t a lot of democratically priced, well-formulated Vitamin C serums, for instance. Vitamin C is tough to formulate well and many brands use potential skin irritants that we both eschew. Irritants like fragrant plant oils, denatured alcohol and two preservatives found in the vast majority of products — Phenoxyethanol and Chlorphenesin. We also didn’t factor in clean or even natural and organic products. Is it possible yet to have a clean, natural skincare routine for $100? We saved it for another time!

So with that, here are the seven products that Michael and I agreed would deliver optimum skin health for around $100!

The Ordinary’s Squalane Cleanser is simply a no-brainer for the $100 regimen!

The Ordinary’s Squalane Cleanser is simply a no-brainer for the $100 regimen!

Cleanser : The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser

I can’t say enough about this cleanser. Not only is it dirt cheap (no pun intended!), but it’s a phenomenal cleanser that gets the job done. Where do I start? Well, it’s just $7.90 for a 50ml tube. That’s relatively small for a facial cleanser and Deciem took some slack over it from die-hard fans of The Ordinary. I found that my first tube of it lasted me about three weeks. I’d been using it since the day it launched and had gone through maybe a dozen of them before Deciem tripled the size to 150ml. Even then, they managed to keep the cost below $20!

The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser is aptly named because its first ingredient is literally Squalane — the super replenishing, non-fragrant plant oil found in olives. It also happens to be found in human skin, meaning it’s bio-compatible — the skin already recognizes it and skin loves ingredients it already knows!

Deciem says that, “the formula incorporates Squalane, alongside other lipophilic esters that are gentle, moisturizing, efficient in dissolving makeup and facial impurities and increasing the spreadability of the product.” I couldn’t have said it any better.

The Squalane Cleanser formula functions much like a cleansing balm or cleansing oil. You need to massage a small amount onto dry skin for a bit. Its thick, rich texture emulsifies with warm water to remove grime, sunscreen and makeup, if worn. It feels so effective that I often don’t bother to double cleanse after it, feeling that it’s done the job perfectly well. It’s simply a no-brainer for the $100 regimen!


Toner + Humectant : Benton Fermentation Essence

Okay, here’s where things started to get really tricky — and where Michael and I got the most creative. I’m a huge proponent of two elements I consider essential to any healthy skincare routine — a hydrating toner and a humectant serum. Skin needs a lot of things in order to be healthy. It needs vitamins, antioxidants, nourishing actives in the form of botanical oils and extracts, proper cleansing, sunscreen — and it needs to hold onto as much moisture, in the form of water and oil, as possible. That’s why humectants like Hyaluronic Acid, Beta Glucan, Aloe Vera, Glycerin and even honey are so important. They each help your skin to retain moisture. There’s a terrific list of humectants, both natural and synthetic, here.

The Benton Fermentation Essence is exceptional.

The Benton Fermentation Essence is exceptional.

Okay, so our challenge was keeping a healthy skincare routine at around a hundred bucks. That meant we would possibly have to combine a step at some point. The Benton Fermentation Essence wouldn’t at first seem like it could or should make it into a $100 regimen. To start, it’s around $30 (I got it for $27!) — between a third and a fourth of the total. And the last thing you’d imagine adding to a tight routine is an essence, right? But what’s an essence anyway? It’s just a word with no real, clear meaning. Maybe its translation in Korean or Japanese means something significant, but in English it means nothing more than a watery, concentrated treatment.

Quite simply, the Benton formula is exceptional. It’s so pro-skin health that we just had to find a way to include it. First, it contains four humectants: Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract and Sodium Hyaluronate — the salt form of Hyaluronic Acid that’s actually the most compatible with the skin. Check off that humectant box!



Next, it contains a slew of healthy nourishment for the skin, ingredients that would be impossible to include in effective individual serums in the regimen, including peptides, ceramides, amino acids and two active probiotic ferments. Bifida Ferment Lysate is an ultra nourishing, balancing probiotic that helps protect against UV-induced skin damage and may even help repair damaged DNA. It’s the star ingredient in Estée Lauder’s $100 Advanced Night Repair. The second is Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, the yeast-derived active that powers the J-beauty cult favorite SK-II Pitera Facial Treatment Essence. You know the one; it’s ridiculously priced at $185.00.

And because the Benton Fermentation Essence is so watery, it functions perfectly well as a toner — which I consider essential. So Benton it is. Get in my regimen!

The Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum made the cut.

The Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum made the cut.

Vitamin B3 : Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum

Remember when I said that skin needs antioxidants and vitamins to maintain healthy functions? Well, Vitamin B3, also known as Niacinamide, happens to be one of the most potent antioxidant vitamins there is. It’s a true powerhouse when it comes to skin health. Just ask my muse Paula Begoun, founder of fan-fave skincare brand Paula’s Choice. Regrettably, we couldn’t afford the Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster. As perfect as it is, it’s $44.

About Niacinamide, straight from Paula’s mouth:

The Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum made the cut at just $6.

The Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum made the cut at just $6.

Also known as vitamin B3 and nicotinic acid, niacinamide is a very effective skin-restoring ingredient that offers multiple benefits for aging and blemish-prone skin. Among these benefits is the ability to visibly improve the appearance of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines, dullness, and a weakened skin surface. Niacinamide can also mitigate and to some extent help visibly repair damage from UV light and offset other sources of environmental attack, including the negative impact of various types of airborne pollutants. Unlike many beneficial ingredients, niacinamide is stable in the presence of heat and light.

So you see, Niacinamide is a must-have. The trick was finding an affordable one that was well-formulated, too. That’s how we discovered Good Molecules!

Think of Good Molecules as one of those super affordable skincare brands that make access to good skin care easy. Yes, democratic skin care! Similar to The Inkey List and The Ordinary, Good Molecules offers a range of targeted treatments — like a Hyaluronic Acid serum, Squalane Oil and even a cleanser at a crazy low cost.

Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum isn’t a perfect formula — but it’s good enough!

Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum isn’t a perfect formula — but it’s good enough!

By no means is the Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum a perfect formula like the Paula’s Choice option. But, the second ingredient is Niacinamide, putting it on par with the level of the vitamin in that Paula’s Choice serum — about 10%. Honestly, that’s what we cared about most.

At just $6, the Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum does contain both Phenoxyethanol and Chlorphenesin, preservatives that are restricted above certain amounts, but they’re likely at low enough levels as to be innocuous, with little chance of compromising skin health or irritating the skin.


Vitamin A : The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane

Okay, so who doesn’t have a love-hate relationship with Retinol, aka Vitamin A? It’s a rather complicated ingredient with multiple forms in varying strengths. If you’ve tried prescription strength Tretinoin or Retin-A, you know the affects are immediate —with signs of drying, sensitivity and redness. No pain, no gain, right?

The Ordinary’s Retinol 0.2% in Squalane  is a perfectly viable Retinol option.

The Ordinary’s Retinol 0.2% in Squalane is a perfectly viable Retinol option.

The experience isn’t for everyone. And a prescription-strength retinoid is not possible in a hundred-dollar routine. But skin can really benefit from Vitamin A, and from its multitude of benefits.

According to Paula, “Retinol is a powerhouse ingredient that has value for skin on several fronts: It’s a skin-restoring, wrinkle-smoothing, firming ingredient and an antioxidant, allowing it to improve a variety of skin concerns, most related to visible signs of aging.”

So, Retinol is a must. The trick was finding one that was both well-formulated and inexpensive. We looked at options from all over the map and decided that one I’d had a great experience with just happened to be democratically priced, too. It’s the Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane from The Ordinary. Deciem actually offers six options — three conventional Retinol serums and three more potent Retinoids. I’ve used The Ordinary’s Retinol 0.2% in Squalane and both of the brand’s Granactive Retinoids in Squalane, in strengths of 2% and 5%. I have experienced little, if any, irritation at the 2% level and only moderate dryness around my mouth at the 5% strength. Of course, I love the fact that the formulas are in a Squalane base (it’s the #1 ingredient) which gives skin extra nourishment and moisture. I also love the high level of Bisabolol in the two Granactive Retinoids. Bisabolol is the active component of chamomile that helps to soothe skin and ameliorate any potential irritation.

At just $9.60, you can’t go wrong with either option.



Vitamin C : Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C 23% Serum & Ferulic Acid

The  Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C 23% Serum & Ferulic Acid  is a solid Vitamin C serum.

The necessity of Vitamin C goes without saying. Honestly, if you’re not using a separate, well-formulated Vitamin C serum in your skincare routine, SWYD and get one. I wrote an entire blog about Vitamin C, arguably the most potent and universally beneficial of all antioxidants. Feel welcome to read it here.

In the article, I said that, “Vitamin C is old news. I get it. But, fortunately for all of us, it’s made a real resurgence lately as marketers and consumers alike have begun to focus on tried-and-true ingredients rather than sexy product launches powered by massive marketing campaigns. People are starting to realize that a $5 jar of Vitamin C powder like The Ordinary’s 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder is more of a game changer than La Mer’s $370 The Concentrate. There’s a reason that one of them was the 2018 Skincarma Product of the Year — and one of them wasn’t.”

Did you know Ferulic Acid helps keep Vitamin C stable?

Did you know Ferulic Acid helps keep Vitamin C stable?

A well-formulated Vitamin C serum is hard to come by. The ingredient is notoriously difficult to formulate with. It’s just a really sensitive kinda guy. Vitamin C loathes three common elements — sunlight, air and water. In its most potent forms, including a water-free Ascorbic Acid powder, it’s even sensitive to peptides. Often quite needlessly, Vitamin C serums are costly. Given all of that, there are still several excellent options out there that we considered for our $100 routine, including options from The Inkey List, The Ordinary and newcomer Fourth Ray Beauty.

But we settled on indie brand Garden of Wisdom. It just seemed cool! The Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C 23% Serum & Ferulic Acid is a really solid VC option that costs just £10.00, or $12.47. It’s a relatively tight formulation with just nine ingredients. It comes in an air tight, opaque bottle with a pump — and is stabilized by its BFF Ferulic Acid, a potent antioxidant that has the remarkable ability to protect Vitamin C against oxidation.


I’m excited to explore more of what Garden of Wisdom has to offer. They’re not available in the US yet, so I had to ship it from the UK. But if their top-shelf Vitamin C serum is any indication, I’m going to be amazed by what I find.


Moisturizer : The Inkey List Turmeric Cream

In my opinion, The Inkey List’s Turmeric Cream is the best product of the two dozen or so they offer — and a damn good moisturizer in comparison to a lot of moisturizers out there. It’s lightyears ahead of Kylie Skin’s abominable Face Moisturizer — and, I would argue, better for your skin health than the $185 Creme de la Mer. It’s the perfect balance of a lightweight textured lotion and seriously pro-skin health ingredients like, of course, antioxidant Turmeric Root Extract. I use some form of turmeric every day to alleviate inflammation in my body — and to help me bolster my migraine defenses.

In fact, the ancient cure-all is purported to be an effective alternative to acetaminophen. In addition to its proven anti-inflammatory benefits, turmeric is also a potent antioxidant on par with the best botanical extracts. But The Inkey List’s formula isn’t just an antioxidant-packed cream. It’s also loaded with moisturizing, skin-replenishing plant oils like Squalane, Coconut Oil, and Oat Kernel Oil — in addition to Vitamin E, emollient Lecithin and humectant Glycerin.

As with all of their formulas, The Inkey List kept out any potential irritants like denatured alcohol and fragrant plant oils used to scent a product to make it more appealing. That must have been particularly tempting with this one as turmeric has a really strong odor. In fact, the Turmeric Cream does smell slightly spicy, earthy and oddly savory — but it doesn’t linger long. Its soft, creamy texture melts right into skin.

At just $12.99, you can get 14 tubes of this for the cost of a jar of La Mer. Thank me later!

At $12.99, you can get 14 tubes of this for the cost of a jar of La Mer.

At $12.99, you can get 14 tubes of this for the cost of a jar of La Mer.

Sunscreen : Skin Aqua Super Moisture Milk SPF 50 / PA ++++

Our hundred-dollar healthy skin regimen would be meaningless if it didn’t include sunscreen. I’ve written several articles about the importance of finding one you love, including a recent blog about my top facial sunscreen picks.


Sunscreens usually aren’t all that expensive. And they’re not particularly difficult to formulate. But finding one you really like at the right price takes some thought. As with the Squalane Cleanser, though, this one was a no-brainer. I’m already madly in love with a well-formulated, effective and affordable sunscreen! It’s the Skin Aqua Super Moisture Milk.

The cultish J-beauty formula contains a combination of mineral and chemical sunscreen filters. In addition to Zinc Oxide, this super (and I mean suuuuuper!) fluid milk also contains Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate — a chemical sunscreen active more commonly known as Octinoxate, the oldest and most common sunscreen used to protect skin against UVB rays.

Formulated without alcohol, something common to Japanese sunscreen formulas, the Skin Aqua Super Moisture Milk is a whole new level of awesome. I have never experienced a sunscreen like it — having come across it a year ago.


This Skin Aqua sunscreen is, as the name implies, as light as water. It’s literally the most watery sunscreen I’ve ever used — with a texture like an ultra-lightweight serum. Because it’s so super light, it’s really easy to spread over the skin. With an SPF 50+ and PA ++++, it’s also powered by two forms of humectant Hyaluronic Acid and Glycerin — as well as replenishing amino acids and collagen. We got bonus skin health points in the the hundred-dollar regimen with this one. As I said previously, “it goes on like magic and just feels like it was made in some off-planet laboratory.” I didn’t have to go to Mars to get it. I got it on Amazon, illegally, for just $39 for a 3-pack or $13 apiece.

So there you have it — a complete pro-skin health skincare routine for around $100! Of course, you don’t need to start over, but consider any or all of these terrific pro-skin health options to replace what you’re already using after you’ve finished a product. And be sure to catch Michael and me on our IG pages if you have any questions — or even other product suggestions. The learning never ends…




Orpheus finishes everything!

Orpheus finishes everything!

The Ingredient List of The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser:

Squalane, Aqua (Water), Coco-Caprylate/Caprate, Glycerin, Sucrose Stearate, Ethyl Macadamiate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Sucrose Laurate, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate, Sucrose Dilaurate, Sucrose Trilaurate, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, Isoceteth-20, Sodium Polyacrylate, Tocopherol, Hydroxymethoxyphenyl Decanone, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Malic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Chlorphenesin.

The Ingredient List of the Benton Fermentation Essence:

Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Aqua (Water), Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Glycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Bifida Ferment Lysate, Ceramide NP, Althaea Rosea Root Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Betaine, Panthenol, Allantoin, Sodium Hyaluronate, sh-Oligopeptide-1, Zanthoxylum, Piperitum Fruit Extract, Pulsatilla Koreana Extract Usnea Barbata (Lichen) Extract, Adenosine, Arginine, Xanthan Gum, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Polysorbate 20, Lecithin.

The Ingredient List of the Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum:

Water/Aqua/Eau, Niacinamide, Dipropylene Glycol, Glycerin, Betaine, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin, Ethylhexylglycerin, Caprylyl Glycol, Xanthan Gum, Sorbitan Isostearate, Polysorbate 60, Diphenyl Dimethicone, Disodium EDTA, Triethylhexanoin, Polyglyceryl-10 Oleate, Hydrogenated Lecithin.

The Ingredient List of The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane:

Squalane, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Bisabolol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil.

The Ingredient List of the Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C 23% Serum & Ferulic Acid:

Distilled Water, L-Ascorbic Acid 23%, Alkyl Benzoate, Panthenol-D, Carbomer, Ferulic Acid, Sclerotium Gum, Optiphen, Hyaluronic acid.

The Ingredient List of the The Inkey List Turmeric Cream:

Aqua (Water), Squalane, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, C12-16 Alcohols, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour, Curcuma Longa Root (Turmeric) Root Extract, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Oil, Palmitic Acid, Tocopheryl Acetate, Phenoxyethanol, Lecithin, Glycerin, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Levulinate, Sodium Anisate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Stearoyl Glutamate, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Tocopherol.

The Ingredient List of the ROHTO Skin Aqua Super Moisture Milk (SPF 50 / PA ++++):

Water, cyclopentasiloxane, zinc oxide, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, BG, diethylhexyl succinate, polymethylsilsesquioxane, hydrous silica, glycerin, lauroyllysine, lauryl PEG-9 polydimethylsiloxyethyl dicone, diethyl amino hydroxy benzoyl Hexyl benzoate, hyaluronic acid Na, acrylates copolymer, hydrogengen dimethicone, phenoxyethanol, triethoxysilylethyl polydimethylsiloxyethylhexyl dimethicone, methyl paraben, EDTA-2 Na, acetyl hyaluronic acid Na (super hyaluronic acid), hydrolyzed collagen (collagen) , Arginine, Pis ethylhexyl malonate Hydroxymethoxybenzyl.