As a bit of a rule, we beauty editors don’t like being asked “What’s the best…” questions. Not because we don’t know what the best products around are, but because tastes and preferences vary so vastly. While the best retinol for one person might be something gentle, for another that product might seem ineffective. Most of the time, when someone asks after the best anything, we’ll have to ask what your requirements are first.
However, when it comes to skincare brands, I’m a little more inclined to make sweeping recommendations. The reason is that some popular skincare brands just get it right every single time. Out of the thousands of brands out there, there are only a few that manage it, I’ll admit, but I believe the ones that do to be the very best.
They are the brands that just seem to really understand the skin’s health. They don’t get sucked in by trending ingredients and instead focus on skincare products that give the skin exactly what it needs to stay healthy. It’s not to say that every single one of the products in that brand’s offering will be suitable for everybody, but rather everybody will find a great skincare product that suits them.
In order to make a definitive list of the best skincare brands around, I didn’t think it smart to compile a list of my favourites. In a bid to make this as fair as possible, I reached out to everybody I know to get their insights. I received a huge number of nominations from Who What Wear editors to beauty PRs and every beauty buff and lover who follows me on Instagram.
After considering every single brand suggested, I used my own knowledge as a beauty editor to whittle it down to 12. The criteria for making it onto the list were simple: Is there a single product in this brand’s offering that I would be loath to recommend? Of course, it makes sense that these brands also offer some of the best products out there in terms of formulations. So without further ado, behold (in no particular order) the 12 best skincare brands in existence.
I know I said that this list was in no particular order, but I would like to point out that if Ihad to choose only one skincare brand to label the best, it would be La Roche-Posay. Out of the 50+ nominations I received, La Roche-Posay was by far the most recommended. Traditionally a French pharmacy brand (although now available just about everywhere), it is a brand adored by skin experts who really know their stuff. I'm talking dermatologists, aestheticians, beauty editors and influencers. It puts efficacious ingredients that target some of the most common skin issues, from rosacea and irritation to acne and ageing, at the forefront of its formulations. The branding is minimalist, and the packaging doesn't ooze Insta-worthy shelfie, but what's inside is exceptional.
If you struggle with breakouts, La Roche-Posay's Effaclar range is considered the gold standard, while Toleriane is a go-to for those with sensitivity, and Lipikar is without a doubt one of the best bodycare ranges out there for those with eczema. Oh, and the suncare is second to none.
Another skincare brand that really champions science is SkinCeuticals. It's (a lot) more expensive than La Roche-Posay, but the active ingredients it delivers are much more powerful too. It was created after decades of research into skin cancer and the power of antioxidants. A straight-talking clinical brand (seriously, I've been recommended this stuff by both dermatologists and plastic surgeons), it delivers high-octane ingredients that really work. In fact, the brand's vitamin C serums are regarded by many to be the best skincare products in existence. No skincare product is worth bankrupting yourself over, but if you have the money to spend on your skin, SkinCeuticals is the way to go.
It's not a great thing for a beauty editor to admit, but there are very few brand founders who I am willing to trust implicitly. Most have an agenda that pushes their products or champion a belief that might not necessarily put skin health first. (When you really love your own products, it's only natural for this to sometimes happen.) The founder of Paula's Choice, Paula Begoun, however, is someone who really knows her stuff. She has pretty much dedicated her life to demystifying the complex world of skincare and formulating products that are backed up by proper science (not the sort of small studies a lot of other brands latch on to). The products are simple to shop and come with easy-to-follow guidance. It's safe to say the results are pretty spectacular too.
Most of the brands on this list are all substance but lack a certain “style.” Sadly, really efficacious skincare tends to be this way. However, a lot of respected dermatologists admit that while fragrance-free, sulphate-free, fun-free skincare is typically the best way to go, the very best skincare products are the ones you actually use. Elemis is a brand that straddles this line expertly. A spa brand first, the products are luxurious and joyful to use while delivering really great results, too.
Please trust me when I say that recommending really expensive skincare products makes me feel very uncomfortable. However, it would be irresponsible for me to discredit certain skincare brands based on their price tag. Because, yes, while Augustinus Bader products (and a couple of others on this list) are ludicrously expensive, they're also really very good. All of the products are formulated with the brand's TFC8 complex, which aims to nourish and tackle virtually every major skin concern out there.
When it comes to affordable skincare, it can be very tricky to find a brand that hits the nail on the head every time. Many brands bring out huge lines that leave us feeling confused and let down by false claims. CeraVe, however, has a tight edit of products that really do deliver everything that they promise. The products are formulated alongside dermatologists and, as a result, give skin the essentials. In fact, most dermatologists will say that CeraVe's affordable cleansers are the best that money can buy.
Alongside La Roche-Posay, Sunday Riley is another brand that is amongst the most-nominated for this roundup. The brand's ethos is “Powered by science, balanced by botanicals,” and I would say that sums it up quite nicely. The active ingredients are powerful and do their job expertly, and the botanical extracts also do their job to create a more luxurious user experience. The “natural” fragrances can take a little while to get used to, but the amazing results will have you repeat-buying for eternity.
I have written about the wonders of Dr. Barbara Sturm products a lot purely because I get asked about them a lot. It seems as though every celebrity out there swears by the power of this brand, which makes sense seeing as Sturm herself is a facialist to the stars. The products are eye-wateringly expensive but are also exquisite. Do you need to part with the cash to get great skin? Absolutely not. However, the science-backed formulas do their best to convince you otherwise.
A far cry away from some of the really active skincare brands on this list, Avène puts skin-soothing formulas at the heart of its ethos. Another French pharmacy brand, Avène utilises the “healing” powers of thermal spring water. I'm not entirely sure I buy into it, but the products are great nonetheless. Ideal for those with skin prone to redness or those with particularly dry skin, Avène products make for great skincare-shelf staples.
You might not be familiar with FaceGym's skincare offering, but trust me when I say it's time to get on board. Famed for its hardworking, lunchtime facials, the brand knows a thing or two about what people really want from their skincare products. While the intense facial massages that they offer (seriously, they're like a workout for your face) focus on lifting and tightening, the products are simple and put general skin health first.
I have been feeling some sort of way about The Ordinary for a little while now. I know that the products are great, but I can't help but feel as though the brand has contributed to the growing confusion around skincare products in recent years. Having said that, the products are truly excellent given the price. Before you shop from The Ordinary, I recommend doing a little bit of research into the product you are buying, the skin types it is best suited for and exactly how to use it. It's not an easy brand to navigate. However, if you know your stuff and buy the right products, you're on a one-way track to great skin.
Another facialist to the stars, Kate Somerville really knows skin. Having worked with it every day of her career, she sees exactly how skin reacts to certain products and ingredients. As a result, it's safe to say that every single one of her skincare products works exactly as she promises. The thing that is most admirable about Somerville is her honesty. She doesn't promise that her products will clear up chronic skin conditions, but she can deliver products that will help keep issues at bay and prevent exacerbating them.
It would seem that all the colours missing from Italy’s catwalks have resurfaced onto the international influencers peppering the streets. As always, camera-ready showgoers were strutting around the city for Milan Fashion Week, and while this year