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5 Affordable Skincare Dupes That Are Just as Effective as High-End Ones

Wearing a mask all day at work could irritate or damage your skin. To help soothe your skin, we highlight some budget-friendly skincare dupes for top-rated high-end products.

As Singaporeans take precautions to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, wearing masks has become second-nature. Essential workers in particular have to wear masks for extended periods of time. However, due to the tight fit required, wearing a mask all day at work, especially in heat and humidity, could lead to skin damage. Professor Karen Ousey, the Director of the Institute of Skin Integrity and Infection Prevention at the University of Huddersfield, explains that people who wear masks experience sweating, leading to friction that "causes pressure damage on the nose and cheeks." To prevent skin damage, Professor Ousey suggests keeping your skin clean, well-hydrated and moisturised, and to apply barrier creams half an hour before you put on a mask. As we aim to keep our faces hydrated and pain-free, we may end up wondering what products to purchase. While high-end products may be perceived to produce better results, they're expensive and may not be affordable to most people during this time. On the other hand, cheaper products may be less effective. To help you build your skincare routine, we found some of the best wallet-friendly dupes to proven high-end luxury skincare products that are just as effective.

1. Facial Treatment Essences

A skincare routine usually consists of several steps. An essence is typically applied after cleansing your face to soften and prime your skin for absorbing subsequent products like serum and moisturizer. In Asia, the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence has gained a massive following due to an ingredient SK-II calls "Pitera". “Pitera” is actually Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate (GFF), a nutrient-dense yeast byproduct of fermented sake that may diminish signs of aging, brighten skin tone and promote cell regeneration.

This table shows the high-end facial treatment essence by SK-II, and its dupe by COSrx, along with the main ingredients and cost

However, SK-II’s product is priced at S$108/75ml. But there’s an affordable dupe on the market--the COSRX Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence costing just S$29.80/100ml. It contains 95% GFF, a higher concentration compared to SK-II’s 90%. Both products contain common secondary ingredients like Butelyne Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Water, Sodium Benzoate, Methylparaben, and Sorbic Acid. However, COSRX’s essence includes other beneficial nutrients like Niacinamide (Vitamin B3 which has anti-aging benefits) and Panthenol (an anti-inflammatory nutrient derived from B vitamins that reduces redness and oxidative stress from the environment). Not only is this dupe 80% cheaper per mL than the SK-II essence, but it also contains more beneficial nutrients for your skin.

2. Exfoliating Facials

Exfoliating facials remove dead cells on the outer layer of your skin to reveal a smooth and even complexion. Exfoliating ingredients can come in a cleanser, a serum or at-home peels that typically contain Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and/or Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA). While AHAs work to combat scarring, BHAs work to exfoliate the top layer of the skin, purge excess oil and prevent acne breakouts. Together, these 2 ingredients help to promote healthy, rejuvenated skin.

This table shows the high-end exfoliating facial by Drunk Elephant, and its dupe by The Ordinary, along with the main ingredients and cost

For instance, the Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial (S$113.50/50ml) and The Ordinary Peeling Solution (S$10.60/30ml) are both peeling solutions that contain AHA and BHA. The former contains 25% AHA and 2% BHA, while the latter contains 30% AHA and 2% BHA. However, a higher percentage of AHA doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better as your skin could be more susceptible to irritation, especially if it’s sensitive. But if you’re looking for an affordable dupe of Drunk Elephant’s, The Ordinary Peeling Solution, which is about 91%, cheaper will give you the same exfoliating results. However, you should only exfoliate once or twice a week, as over exfoliating will leave you skin sore and irritated.

3. Night Repair Serums

Your skin recovers from the day’s damage at night. The extra blood supply to your skin gives it energy to increase its natural repair. A night repair serum, applied after the facial treatment essence, will help support the skin’s nighttime renewal by providing essential hydration and activating the skin’s nighttime rhythm to reduce signs of aging.

This table shows the high-end night repair serum by Estee Lauder, and its dupe by Missha, along with the main ingredients and cost

The Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II (S$102.13/50ml) has been a popular choice in the skincare community, and the Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Science Activator Ampoule (S$26.80/50ml) is touted as the dupe. The common primary ingredient in both serums is Bifida Ferment Lysate, which strengthens the skin’s barrier, while the common secondary ingredient is Hyaluronic Acid, which hydrates the skin. However, Missha’s night repair serum contains retinol, a form of vitamin A that boosts collagen production, and niacinamide. Both ingredients help fight wrinkles, and aren’t present in Estée Lauder’s night repair serum. Besides the additional ingredients, Missha’s serum costs about 74% less than Estée Lauder’s, which gives you more value for your money. But more ingredients also mean a higher probability of skin irritation after use, so if you have sensitive skin, it may be worth splurging on Estée Lauder’s night repair serum.

4. Cleansers

Cleansing is the first step of your skincare routine to remove excess oil, sweat, makeup and dead skin cells so that you can apply subsequent products like moisturizer or serum. Face cleansers that contain Glycine Soja (Soybean) have been popular within the skincare community for amino acids that promote healthy and bouncy skin, as well as their gentle cleansing properties.

This table shows the high-end cleanser by Fresh, and its dupe by Sana By Noevir Nameraka, along with the main ingredients and cost

One of the holy grail cleansers in the skincare community, the Fresh Soy Face Cleanser, is a non-drying gel that comes with a hefty pricetag of $53.90/150ml. For a cheaper alternative, the Sana By Noevir Nameraka Honpo Soy Milk Facial Cleansing Wash has been recommended by the beauty community as a budget-friendly dupe for its focus and inclusion of Glycine Soja (Soybean) and other soy extracts, costing just $21.13/150ml.

5. Moisturizers

As one of the most important steps in your skincare routine, moisturizing helps prevent your skin from drying out by holding moisture in the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of your skin. When your stratum corneum is functioning properly, it protects your skin from irritants.

This table shows the high-end moisturizer by Glow, and its dupe by Bliss, along with the main ingredients and cost

While all moisturizers on the market can keep your skin hydrated, some are formulated to feel better on the skin or improve moisture barrier. For instance, the Glow Watermelon Pink Juice Oil-Free Moisturizer ($55.30/60ml) and Bliss What a Melon Hydrator ($28.40/50ml) both contain watermelon extract, which is antioxidant-rich and may replenish lost vitamins and minerals. Hyaluronic Acid—which hydrates the skin—is a common secondary ingredient in both products. As these 2 moisturizers are so similar, the Bliss What a Melon Hydrator is a cheaper alternative to the Glow Watermelon Pink Juice Oil-Free Moisturizer. However, the latter contains artificial colouring, which could be a concern for those looking for as little chemicals as possible in their skincare products.

Conclusion: Which Product Is The Best For You?

When it comes to skincare products, your mileage may vary. Before committing to any product, do a patch test to see if you may be allergic to any ingredients. Instead of buying a full jar or bottle of skincare product from the get-go, try to get some samples from the stores and give yourself time to decide which ones you’re adding to your routine. It’s also important to do your research, read reviews and find out which product to use in each step of a skincare routine. Besides buying dupes, try to also take advantage of sales and discounts if you see any, so you can get more mileage out of the products you buy. Lastly, you can use a credit card that provides cashback and rewards on beauty purchases.

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