In February, it’ll be fourteen years since I posted my first blog on this website. Back then, in 2010, the website was called A Model Recommends and each post was a couple of hundred words long, if that. I just wrote exactly what I thought of a product in the shortest, snappiest way and the images that accompanied those reviews were the brand’s own still-life product images, dragged and dropped from their online shop or from Google. The phrase “social media” didn’t really exist yet and the word “influencer” was still a glorious decade or more away.
Sometimes I re-read these reviews and wonder at how simple online life was, then. I was writing about products that I’d discovered during my twelve years as a model, when I’d been sitting in the chairs of famous makeup artists and having my hair chopped about and backcombed into oblivion by the coolest stylists. It had been an immensely brilliant way to find out about the most effective cleansers, the gentlest skin-soothing tinctures and the balmiest hair-smoothing creams because these mega-professionals, these industry kingpins, they were sent everything on the market to try out on their models.
(Makeup recommendations weren’t always quite as fascinating, because 90% of the time everyone just used MAC and it often got very boring for me as a nosy product sleuth, but that’s a story for another day!)
So yes; I travelled about the world as a model and then I wrote about the things I loved. But then things began to change; my blog almost immediately snowballed into something quite big and I adopted a whole new role: all of the skincare and haircare and makeup samples were coming straight to me and so rather than passing on other people’s recommendations, I became the product tester!
It was, I felt, an almost overwhelmingly weighty responsibility. With something like 450,000 pageviews a month on this website at the height of the blogging boom, I knew that what I wrote would influence how people spent their money and because of this I felt that I had to be extra-diligent about how I went about testing and rating the products that were sent in. I read extensively about how certain ingredients worked and whether they would be beneficial, I spent half my life on a website called Cosmetic Cop that cut through a lot of the marketing bullshit, trying to hone my critical eye and above all I tried to test the products fairly and practically, giving them enough time to do what they should do and limiting the number of new products I introduced at once.
To cut a long story short (maybe all of this history deserves its own post!) I treated my beauty product-testing as a proper job. And it quickly became a proper job. And I am still very much as diligent in my testing and reviewing as I was all of those years ago, when I was still working from my free Blogspot website and using copy-and-paste stock images. If I say I love something then you can guarantee that I really do and that I’ll have tried enough stuff from the same category to have a pretty good idea as to how it ranks against its competitors. But I always think that the true proof of an outstanding product is the one that I will personally use again and again. And even more than this, it’s the one that I would buy again and again. Because it makes absolutely no sense to buy something when you have twenty similar versions of it waiting on a shelf to be tried – why spend thirty quid on a mascara when there are five new ones that have just landed on your desk to be tested? If I’d go and buy it, despite the pile of stuff I still need to wade through, then I’d say that’s a fairly solid recommendation for something.
So I’ve started a new habit. I’ve started making notes on all of the products I use again and again and saving the packaging when I finish them so that I can keep track of personal favourites. Which skin recovery cream I reach for above all others; which retinoids I would recommend to my friends without hesitation – which facial mists I can’t live without. (Answer: none of them, I find them mostly quite pointless and I hate the feeling of spraying my own face.) I have some plastic boxes in my office into which I chuck these pots and bottles and tubes – the foundations I can always rely on, the mascaras I’d pack in a hurry, the cleansers that are a cut above the rest – and every now and again I either take a photo of the contents of the boxes or I sit down and make a list of them with a few added notes.
This post (got to the point in the end!) is basically the contents of one of those boxes. The skincare products I’ve used repeatedly, more than any others, throughout 2023. That’s not to say there aren’t two dozen or more other skincare gems that I’d love to rave about – there most definitely are – but the hallowed Boxes of Regular Use only hold so much. So these are the true staples. Enjoy. In this era of serious skincare overload (there are so many brands and so many people selling them) I hope that this provides a genuine little glimpse into my routine.
OK here we go then: my most-used skincare products of 2023. Maybe next year I’ll manage to get myself into some sort of order for a makeup version and a hair one as well, but I’m only just managing to publish this in 2023 by the skin of my teeth so I don’t think it’s wise to get too ambitious…
Ad info: no paid or sponsored content. Contains press samples and affiliate links are marked *. I have worked with or currently work with some of the featured brands but their inclusion here is purely editorial.
My Most-Used Skincare Products: 2023
I’m arranging these products into a vague resemblance of my daily skincare routine.
In the morning I rarely do a proper cleanse (I do a deep cleanse every night) and so more often than not it’s a quick swipe-over with:
This is a mild acid exfoliant in liquid form that you simply pour onto cotton wool, wipe over and leave. I love it because it’s genuinely gentle enough to use every day – and in the morning, at that. It keeps my skin clear and bright and it leaves my evenings free for my retinol application. (I wouldn’t have any problem using this before my retinoid it’s just another step to remember and I like to keep things simple!)
This is my PMT week alternative to the Placid – it’s salicylic acid and so specifically adept at keeping pores clear and tackling any nasty hormonal spot outbreaks. Pricier than the Sali Hughes exfoliant but hugely effective and this has been a staple in my skincare routine for longer than I care to remember.
I then go in with an antioxidant serum every morning, before my moisturiser or SPF. I see a profound difference to general brightness of the skin and evenness of tone when I use a vitamin c serum, in particular and I like to tick the box for “extra protection” – it’s sort of like the underwear to my sunscreen, which is obviously the ultimate protection! This year, as in 2022, the serum has nearly always been:
I love the unusual, dry texture of this serum. It doesn’t glide on or feel slimy, it’s more like smoothing on…velvet. Which is going to be the most abstract statement on this page but it will make sense if you’ve ever used this. Then we have, in next most-used place:
This can be applied directly to the skin as a serum or mixed into moisturiser or SPF as a booster. I apply directly, just a couple of drops. It’s not cheap but works out considerably more affordable than the Kiehl’s or the Lancome below.
This contains Ferulic Acid (as in the famous Skinceuticals CE Ferulic) but – at least to me – is infinitely preferable, texture-wise, to the Skinceuticals product. That one feels very perfunctory and science-y (to give it its due, it probably is one of the best in its category) and it has a dropper and doesn’t spread so nicely on the skin. The Lancome Triple Serum combines the ferulic, once pumped out, with hyaluronic acid and niacinamide and it slips smoothly onto your skin whilst ticking a few other “desirable ingredient” boxes. I’ve used this a lot this year and I’m not totally ashamed to say it’s partly because it comes in a pump, my preferred serum dispensing method!
I follow the serum with either a moisturiser or sunscreen. Rarely both as I tend to pick sunscreens that are very moisturising. Take the Murad Essential C as an example:
It feels just like a high-end moisturiser and is a high end moisturiser. It just happens to have the sun protection built in. I realise it’s not the highest factor available but for incidental, non-summery sun exposure in the UK (which is my primary usage) I do tend to go for an SPF30 or even 25 because I tend to prefer the texture and so it means that I’ll apply it more consistently.
You can find loads of other sunscreen recommendations here. They are conspicuously absent from this round-up mainly because I test so many of them that I don’t use one version often enough for it to make it into the special box of repeated use. I will do an update post soon, with regards to sunscreen as I know that it’s one of my most common requests. (Make sure you’re subscribed to posts by email (it’s free) so that you get the post sent straight to your inbox when it publishes. You can sign up here.)
If I’m not going outside at all, or I want something soothing and plumptious to layer underneath my sunscreen then I have a little stable of simple moisturisers next to my desk that I grab a tube from. One of the most-used this year? A very old favourite:
I must have been using this for over twenty years by now. It was one of my first skincare loves when I became a model – the rose smell was the start of a lasting affair with perfumes that had rose scents and I loved the richness of the cream that seemed so light and unassuming when it was squeezed from the tube. It’s still a favourite after all of this time.
My most-used evening skincare products for 2023 are possibly almost identical to my most-used evening skincare products of 2022. I’m a creature of habit. In fact I don’t think that there are really any new launches here at all, apart from the excellent Elizabeth Arden Retinol + HPR cream.
I start my evening routine with a deep, thorough cleanse and this is non-negotiable. I don’t have much of a cleanse in the morning and so this session needs to do the heavy lifting. My most used type of cleanser? A balm. I like the solid form application and then the way it melts down as you massage it in.
I’m not sure that you can go far wrong with the Hot Oil Cleanser from Beauty Pie. It behaves in exactly the same refined, ultra-effective way as the luxury balm cleansers that are five times the price. Gets off all makeup, sunscreen, dirt and then removes with a warm flannel to leave soft skin. No tightness and absolutely no greasy residue. (The price you see when you click through is the membership price; it’s kind of a unique set up so read about it here but if you do sign up, use the code RUTHSENTME to get some money off.)
Frankincense just does something good to my state of mind. I know that essential oils aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (and I’m actually surprised, in many ways, that they are mine!) but there are a few blends out there that just work for me and have a profound effect on how I feel. Deep Relax from Aromatherapy Associates, for example, sends me into the deepest sleep if I use it in my bath before bed. It’s so effective for me that I’d hesitate to use it and then drive, or even operate a hand mixer!
Anyway, Neal’s Yard have a Frankincense range and I have always been a fan. This cleanser has double whammy greatness because I love the smell of it as I massage in, but I also really rate the texture and action of the product itself. It feels very clarifying in my PMT week when my face just feels a bit gungey and gross. It’s a rich cream but removes to leave no residue, just very deep-cleansed skin.
My routine in the evening is cleanse-and-then-just-retinol on one day and cleanse-and-then-hydrate-and-repair the next. I use a retinol eye cream every night regardless of which night it is (this one*, usually) because it’s my crinkly eyes that are changing texture before the rest of my face but for all other face parts I alternate nights. My most used retinoids?
For about the umpteenth year running, I have been cracking on with my own personal daily booster from Skin + Me. Mine contains tretinoin, which is the most powerful form of retinoid and (I think in most countries?) requires a prescription. With Skin + Me you have an online consultation and then some follow up questions with the team before your particular product is assigned to you and sent out. I’ve had great results with my booster and no side-effects, probably because the percentage of actives is gradually increased month on month.
I have to say though, it felt counterintuitive to only be testing one thing again and again when such a large part of my job is…testing things. And so I did some switching up this year. First to:
This is Arden’s latest big skincare launch and I think it’s great. It’s retinol, but presented in a way that can be more easily tolerated by skin that usually says a hard no to retinoids. It’s so easily tolerated, the brand say, that you can use it morning and night. I tested for a couple of months and yes, it’s a great luxury option for those who want to add retinoids into their routine but want zero problems with dryness, flaking or itching.
On the other end of the line you have the powerhouse that is
I am back on this in a big old way. One of the things I found with my Skin + Me booster is that my face was getting a bit dry and I was having to really pack in the moisture on the nights in between. Almost do a kind of repair job on my face. The Crystal Retinal formula seems to be a little more hydrating and so I’ve appreciated the reduction in dryness. This is also available without any online consultations and so on – you just buy it* – and it comes in varying strengths. I should probably be on more than the “6” but that’s what I had two of and so that’s what I’ve been using. It’s great stuff!
If you’re at a loss, by the way, as to what the hell retinoids are (you’ll most likely have heard the word “retinol” instead) then it’s a skincare ingredient that’s brilliant at tackling nearly every sign of ageing and also helps with spot-prone skin at the same time. It works on fine lines, wrinkles, unevenness, firmness and at the same time it tends to keep skin very clear.
Side-effects tend to be itchiness, flakiness and dryness which is why I don’t overdo it with my retinoids – every other night maximum. On the nights in between I use quite simple, soothing, hydrating products. My most-used serum to layer under just about anything for instant relief is
I go through bottle after bottle of this and even use it on my dodgy shin. (I have one shin with an extreme dryness problem that’s been there since my teens. It’s very odd, flares up every now and then but is vastly helped if I regularly use this Aveeno serum!) If I just want to make sure I’ve taken care of my skin barrier and calmed everything down a bit then I reach for this almost without thinking.
My most-used moisturiser over the top?
This is one of the most massively hydrating face creams I’ve ever used. It’s almost too much, in a way, despite leaving no greasiness or overwhelming slick. It seems to just fill the skin with water from the inside (I know this isn’t true but stay with me) so that my face is sort of turgid with it, like a wobbling eighties waterbed. As well as the supreme moisturising effects it happens to be a powerful source of peptides. I won’t go into peptides now because quite honestly we’ve done vitamin c and retinoids and that’s enough bad science explanation for me for one day but it’s safe to say that peptides are a good idea. And this cream ticks that box so that I don’t have to think about inserting them into any other part of my skincare routine. This is a high-end investment cream but – as usual with Beauty Pie – it’s far less than it should be if you have membership.
Blimey. That turned into a post and a half, didn’t it? What a way to finish the year. See you on the other side! Remember that you can subscribe to these posts by email so that you never miss one – just click here. It’s free and takes no time at all and there will be little bonuses coming up in 2024 as I return to posting more of this long-form content.
Here’s the video version of this post, just in case you fancy spending even longer hearing about my 2023 favourites:
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