Winter isn’t just coming – it’s here and in full swing. Which means most of us are looking to up our skincare game. So, today, I’m diving into the best skincare according to a chemist.

I’m kind of a skincare junkie. But it can be difficult to determine which products are good and which ones are overpriced and non-effective. With that in mind, I asked someone with far more expertise: a chemist.

Every beauty product on the market has the ingredients listed on the back. But how many of you actually know how to read that ingredient list? Because to me, it might as well be written in a foreign language.

Luckily for me, John is a chemist. Whenever I buy a new serum or moisturizer, I have him look it over to tell me whether or not it’s good. And I wanted to share his insights with you all!

So, without further ado, here is the best skincare according to a chemist.

Related Read: My New Favorite Amazon Skin Care Essentials

Best skincare according to a chemist
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Rules of Skincare According to a Chemist

Before I jump into the best products to buy, there are some things to consider when shopping for skincare. Basically, the rules of skincare.

1. Know what you want to get from it

Before buying any skincare product, you need to know what it is that you want the product to do for you. What is your overall skincare goal? Understanding that is key to figuring out what ingredients to look for.

Are you looking to smooth your skin? Even out your skin tone? Reduce oiliness or acne? Whatever it is that you want, figuring that out is the most important step.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: what if I want a product to do everything? Well, unfortunately that’s not going to happen. There’s no magic product that will fulfill all your skincare needs. Further, if a product says it will, then chances are it won’t do any of them very well.

So, instead, figure out what’s most important and go from there.

2. Look for the Right Ingredients

Once you know what you want out of a product, you can look for products that contain the right ingredients. That’s where the chemistry thing comes into play. Understanding what chemicals are effective for what skincare goals is vital.

For example, if your goal is moisturizing or smoothing your skin, you’re going to want to look for products with hyaluronic acid. That’s a big skincare buzzword, but that’s because it does a very effective job at repairing collagen.

Part of the trouble, though, is in understanding chemist lingo. Hyaluronic acid has different names and comes in different forms, some of which are more effective than others. The two main forms are hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate. Both are good, but again, it depends on what you want the product to do.

If you’re wanting to reduce wrinkles, look for a product with sodium hyaluronate. It penetrates the skin more easily. But, if you’re just looking for something that will moisturize your skin, hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid is a good way to go.

Here are some of the most common skincare ingredients and what they’re good for:

Skincare IngredientPurpose
Azelaic AcidUnclogs pores, treats acne and rosacea
Glycolic AcidSmooths wrinkles, exfoliates skin, brightens skin tone
Grape Seed ExtractImproves moisture, collagen, and skin elasticity   
Growth FactorsIncreases collagen and elasticity, smooths wrinkles, repairs damaged skin
Hyaluronic AcidMoisturizes skin, improves collagen, smooths and plumps skin
Kojic AcidBrightens skin – helpful for treating and preventing hyperpigmentation
Lactic AcidSmooths wrinkles, brightens and evens skin tone
NiacinamideBrightens skin, minimizes pores, improves skin texture
PeptidesSmooths wrinkles, improves collagen, decreases inflammation
RetinolSmooths wrinkles, treats and prevents acne
Tea Tree oilTreats acne, reduces redness, reduces oily skin
Vitamin CBrightens skin, evens skin tone, smooths wrinkles

3. Look at the Ingredient List

Order matters. That’s the biggest takeaway when it comes to the ingredient list.

By law, companies have to list all of the ingredients they use in a product. Further, they have to list them in descending order of concentration. Which means that the first ingredient on the list is the largest. This will almost always be water.

Since some chemicals do not dissolve easily in water, they might use an alcohol or other non-polar substance to ensure dissolution. Then there are chemicals (such as propanediol) that are used to help the solution retain moisture and permeate your skin so that it’s more effective.

From there, you should start to see some of the key ingredients that are listed in the above table. This is where you need to pay attention to the order. If it’s listed at the very bottom, it likely means it isn’t going to do anything.

In addition, you want your key ingredients to be listed ahead of any colors, preservatives, and hopefully fragrances.

Best Skincare Products

With all of the skincare rules in mind, I asked John for some specific skincare recommendations. He looked at the ingredient list along with the price of the product to determine if it was worth it.

Because that’s the other thing he’s taught me: some ingredients just cost more than others. Whether or not a product is overpriced has more to do with its ingredient list than its actual price.

For example, if you’re wanting a growth factor serum, you’re looking at spending over $200. That’s because growth factors are expensive. And they require a certain chemical environment to be effective. (There’s a lot more to that, but it’s a little too science-y for me, so I’ll leave it at that.)

Here are John’s top skincare products:

Paula's Choice BOOST Hyaluronic Acid Booster with Ceramides for Lightweight Deep Hydration, Concentrated Serum, 0.5 Ounce
Paula’s Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster
Vitamin C Serum - Best skincare according to a Chemist
La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum
Alpha H Liquid Gold - Best Skincare according to a chemist
Alpha-H Liquid Gold Glycolic Acid Toner
BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant
Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant
TNS Advanced Serum - Best Skincare according to a chemist
SkinMedica TNS Advanced Serum
Powerpeptide Serum - best skincare according to a chemist
Drunk Elephant Powerpetide Serum
Biossance Squalane + Lactic Acid Resurfacing Night Serum
Biossance Squalane + Lactic Acid Serum
Nourishmax Hyaluronic Serum
NourishMax Hyaluronic Acid Serum
SkinMedica Retinol product
SkinMedica Retinol Complex


If you only take one thing away from this post, it’s to know what you want. That’s true for many things in life and your skincare is no exception. Once you know what you want, you can make sure to research the best product for you.

Do you have a favorite skincare product? Let me know in the comments below!

As always, thanks for reading!


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  1. avatar

    I have realised with use that if a product contains even a tiny amount of alcohol, my face won’t be able to take it. Of course, I found out the hard way ha! Lovely post Katie, very insightful x

    1. avatar

      It’s always important to know your own skin and how you react to products.

  2. avatar

    Great post – it’s so important to know what’s in your skincare. I loved the ingredients table you shared!

    Corinne x

    1. avatar

      Glad you found it helpful!!

  3. avatar

    This was a really helpful post! I’ve been suffering from breakouts recently so I’ve been looking for something to combat that and now I know to look out for products with azelaic acid and tea tree oil. Thanks for sharing, this was really informative x

    1. avatar

      Definitely! Retinol can help with that too, but it should only be used at night since it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun.

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30ish Lifestyle blogger, relationship "expert," and modern-day agony aunt.
Sometimes humorous, always honest.