I’ve done a lot of experimenting with skincare over the years. From my first mini Nivea Visage set at the age of 11 (the obsession started young), to the time when I wouldn’t use anything unless it was from Pixi, I’ve been through a lot of different products as my skin has changed. My current cruelty-free skincare routine is one I’m very happy with—fingers crossed it stays that way—and so I thought I’d share what I’ve been using.
Some background: I’ve struggled with breakouts and an oily T-zone since my early twenties, even getting prescriptions from my doctor for creams and antibiotics at one point. However, my skin reacts badly to harsh, spot-busting potions, so I’ve tried to use things that treat spots and inflammation, but are still gentle. Luckily, and also unluckily, it’s getting easier to find products that fit the bill, since adult acne has become more common in women in their twenties, thirties, and even forties.
As always, everything is cruelty-free, and vegan where possible. I’m also trying to cut down on plastic packaging, with mixed results.
Lush Tea Totaler Naked Cleansing Balm (v)
I start the day by washing my face with this solid clarifying cleanser. It’s designed to clear breakouts and calm down the skin—exactly what I’m looking for. To use it, I wet my face (but not skincare advert style, no one does that strange splash), massage the balm into my skin, and wash it away with warm water and a flannel.
You can definitely smell the tea tree. I’d say it’s just the right amount—enough that it’s doing something, but not so much that it’s overpowering. I’ve used pure tea tree oil on spots before and it doesn’t half sting, but you don’t need to worry about that here.
Key ingredients: Witch hazel extract (astringent), tea tree oil (antibacterial and antiseptic), rosemary oil (antiseptic)
What to watch out for: Tea Totaler is quite waxy. You need to dampen your face with a warm flannel in order for the cleanser to glide over your skin.
Cost: £5 for 15g or £8.50 for 35g
Antipodes Kiwi Seed Oil Eye Cream
This has been my favourite eye cream for years. There was a time when I convinced myself I didn’t need one at all, but regular face creams irritate my eye area and not using anything meant my skin got very dry. The Kiwi Seed Oil Eye Cream is super moisturising and I’m convinced it has a smoothing effect, too, because the skin around my eyes is nice and firm. Then again, I’m only 25, so ageing isn’t a concern quite yet.
Key ingredients: Kiwi seed oil, avocado oil, vitamin e, carrot oil
What to watch out for: It’s pricey compared to almost everything else on this list—but it lasts for months and months. Worth investing in if you’re able to do so.
Cost: £31.99 for 30ml
The Inkey List Multi-Biotic
The recent trend for no-frills skincare is one I fully support and The Inkey List are masters of it (although I’m not a fan of the plastic packaging. Not because it’s simple, but because it’s plastic). The Multi-Biotic is a moisturiser that balances, hydrates, and brightens. It contains pre, pro and post-biotics, which are said to help with the balancing process.
The Inkey List say it’s suitable for all skin types, but it’s very lightweight. There’s enough moisture in there for my oily mug, but I’m not sure those with dry or dehydrated complexions would get what they needed. If you do decide the Multi-Biotic is right for you, then it sinks in quickly and makes a great base for make-up.
Key ingredients: Squalane, oat kernel oil, yogurt powder
What to watch out for: It has a subtle, yogurty smell that not everyone will be very fond of. Luckily, it fades fast, so you don’t have to worry about people thinking your face has an odd whiff to it.
Cost: £12.99 for 30ml
Lush Jade Roller Naked Cleansing Balm (v)
Jade Roller is creamy and feels luxurious as it melts into your skin—it’s hard to believe that you can buy the small one for a mere fiver. The name comes from the mung beans, which are embedded into the cleanser and are supposed to act as an exfoliant, although I prefer to use the side without them.
I use Jade Roller to remove my make-up (if I’ve worn any) and SPF in the evening, then follow up with Tea Totaler and the Antipodes eye cream.
Key ingredients: Clary sage oil (soothing), peppermint oil (refreshing), geranium oil (balancing)
What to watch out for: Jade Roller is a lot softer than Tea Totaler, which is great for removing make-up but means it melts very easily in warm weather. I’d suggest keeping it in a sterilised glass jar, rather than the compostable containers Lush sell. And I’ve been finding mung beans under the sink for weeks, so keep an eye on the little blighters.
Cost: £5 for 15g or £8.50 for 35g
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution (v)
The original no-bullshit skincare brand, The Ordinary’s products have made a huge difference to the clarity of my skin. The Salicylic Acid 2% Solution is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), which clears congested skin and balances sebum. It’s pretty concentrated, so I tend to apply it directly to spots and inflamed areas rather than my entire face, unless a mass-breakout situation is happening. As well as stopping spots in their tracks, this solution has also made my skin noticeably smoother.
Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, witch hazel
What to watch out for: BHAs like salicylic acid increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. It’s best to apply them in the evening and wear an SPF the next day.
Cost: £4.20 for 30ml
The Inkey List Squalane Oil (v) & Herbivore Jade Roller (v)
Finding an oil that works with oily skin isn’t easy. And when your skin is sensitive as well… it’s minefield, especially when a lot of essential oils can be irritating.
But squalane is different. A lovely, luxurious last step at night, it’s hydrating, but never too heavy or greasy, and it regulates oil production. I’ve noticed this because I no longer wake up with an oil slick for a forehead.
Key ingredient: Squalane (in fact, it’s the only ingredient—why add anything else when it can do the job just fine?)
What to watch out for: The lid isn’t the most secure, and as I said before, I’m not a fan of the plastic packaging. I got a mini Herbivore Lapis oil free with a Cult Beauty order a couple of months ago, so I’m going to try that once this runs out, since it’s packaged in a glass bottle and also contains squalane. It’s not a long-term solution, however, as a full-size bottle costs £60.
Also: don’t get squalane mixed up with squalene. Squalane can be derived from plants, such as olives; squalene is harvested from shark livers, which is both inhumane and unsustainable.
Cost: £8.99 for 30ml
The jade roller (£26, ethically mined) was a pay-day treat. Using a roller on your skin is said to help with lymphatic drainage and release tension. I admit, I was sceptical about whether it would work, but my skin always looks glowy after I use it to massage in the squalane oil, and it works wonders for puffy eyes in the morning. Not to be sniffed at when you wake up at 5:30am during the week.
So there you go—my cruelty-free skincare routine. It seems like a lot when I type it out, but it never feels like it. I find looking after my skin to be a very calming ritual. Whether I’ve had a busy day at work, am staying in a new place, or have been struggling with anxiety, taking time to look after myself in this way always makes me feel better.
What are your cruelty-free skincare favourites? Let me know in the comments.
(v) = vegan
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Beth, 26, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travelling, and gin.
I write about ethical & eco-friendly living, minimalism, and mental health, as I muddle through one step at a time. Enjoy!