Ten years ago, there were only a handful of effective skincare brands that fitted the bill when it came to cleansing, toning and moisturising. It would often include the big heritage companies that could afford a lot of research into new ingredients and, indeed, the marketing budget to match.
But the past few years have seen a big shake-up, with lesser-known indie brands now reigning supreme. They may only be known for one or two must-have cult products, sometimes recommended through word of mouth, but are almost always deserving of a space in your bathroom cabinet.
I have been a beauty editor for more than a decade, so my own bathroom cabinet is now a complete pick and mix of indie brands combined with a few old tried-and-tested favourites.
I’ll never use a full range of skincare from just one brand: rather, a cherry-picked selection, because there is no brand that offers a one-size-fits-all approach to skincare. Here are some of the best little-known skincare brands worth the money.
Best for... gentle, effective skincare: Dewy Skin Cream, £63, Tatcha
When news broke earlier this year that the American-Korean brand Tatcha was launching into the UK at Space NK, skincare fans went wild on social media. While that’s not always a good indicator of whether a skincare range really performs, in the case of Tatcha, there’s real reason to be excited. It’s a collection of skincare that is particularly suited to midlife skin – the rich texture of the Dewy Skin Cream glides onto the skin beautifully and gives you the sort of skin that immediately looks more healthy and happy.
Best for... SPF upgrade: Queen Screen Lightweight Skinscreen SPF 50+, £36, Ultra Violette
Innovation in sun protection has come a long way in the past five years and this cult brand has been at the forefront of the revolution. Founded in Australia, which is notoriously the most difficult place to get sun protection approved, there is a complete collection of products in different formulas depending on your skin type. I’ve used the Queen Screen Lightweight Skinscreen SPF 50+ to the last drop twice-over: it sits on the skin like a luxury serum.
Best for... reducing redness: Clarifying Serum, £12.99, Byoma
After years of harsh acids being dangerously trendy in skincare, the industry has swung the other way: brands are increasingly concerned about protecting the skin barrier and the microbiome (the microorganisms sitting on the surface of the skin). Enter Byoma, an affordable skincare brand that is great for skin of all ages – and particularly good if you have teens looking for their first foray into “proper” skincare. I really rate the ceramide-rich Clarifying Serum which is brilliant for sensitive skin or calming redness.
Equilibrium by Hourglass
Best for... deep hydration: Intensive Hydrating Eye Balm, £92, Equilibrium by Hourglass
I always question when established make-up brands launch into skin, because more often than not the formulations and efficacy don’t come close to brands that simply focus on the skin. This is not the case with established make-up brand Hourglass, who last year launched a small but mighty skincare line. The Intensive Hydrating Eye Balm alone is the first one I’ve used religiously every single day for months, and the resultant empty pot is proof of how much I rate it. There’s even a face cream version, too.
Best for... puffy skin: Radiance Firming Serum, from £77, Iraye
The lymphatic system – which is the network of vessels that move fluid through the body – is at the centre of this new skincare brand. Because as we all know, a sluggish system often shows in your skin first. Founded in 2020 by two pioneering lymphatic scientists, the products by Iraye are all proven to activate the lymphatic system, improve the skin’s radiance and create a more sculpted appearance of the face. If you’re prone to puffiness or a dull complexion, give the Radiance Firming Serum a go.
Best for... spa-moment at home: Radiant Rani Brightening Saffron Serum, £135, Ranavat
When the Indian-American founder of the luxury skincare brand Ranavat was formulating her range, she wanted to harness the rituals of Ayurveda with science-backed formulas. While the products all have the smell, look and feel of the types of skincare you’d find in a posh spa, they have impressive skin-improving benefits, too. If you like using oil, try the Radiant Rani Brightening Saffron Serum, which is so good that the brand can’t keep it in stock quick enough.
Best for... budget-friendly skincare: Lip Plumping Serum, £20.80, Typology
This Parisian brand was founded by the same man behind interiors site made.com, in a bid to create great skincare at approachable prices. It certainly fits the bill. The smart, apothecary-style bottles are functional and stylish and the clever formulas are reassuringly no-nonsense. The Targeted Blemish Serum (£12, uk.typology.com) and Vitamin C Serum (£13.80) are two of the best-sellers because they really do deliver results, but the Lip Plumping Serum is one of my favourites.
Best for... sensitive skin: Deep Moisture Spray, £19.50, Curel
Curel is Japan’s leading skincare brand and, like Byoma, is a range that focuses on protecting the skin’s barrier. Yes, you can get it in Boots, but don’t let that distract you from its cult-like status: its Deep Moisture Spray sells out time and time again for good reason. It rehydrates the skin in seconds and improves the look of make-up throughout the day. There’s a variety of cleansers in different formulas, from oils to gels and cream, so you can be sure to find a skincare product for you.
Allies of Skin
Best for... problem-solving skincare: Mandelic Pigmentation Correction Night Serum, £89, Allies of Skin
This insiders-favourite skincare brand started life in Singapore in 2016 – its founder Nicolas Travis suffered severe acne as a teen, and wanted to create a brand that had high-tech ingredients at the centre. The serums in particular are extremely results-driven – the Mandelic Pigmentation Correction Night Serum cleared a patch of post-inflammatory pigmentation on my skin within a month. The equally brilliant 20% Vitamin C Brighten + Firm Serum (£85) is a best-seller.