the skin we're in

The 25 Best Cult Classic Skin-Care Products of All Time

The new old news is that everyone is into skin care. But going back to Cleopatra, who allegedly used to take milk baths for the lactic acid benefits, for centuries people have been using products to achieve moisturized, clear skin. The Cut pored over Reddit, Amazon, and Sephora and talked to dermatologists to compile a list of the 25 most classic skin-care products of all time. Since this is a list of classics, a few more recent favorites like Tatcha, Drunk Elephants, and Vintner’s Daughter aren’t on the list. Read on for the sunscreen loved by literally everyone, the “Jesus in a bottle” skin-care product, and more.

SK-II

SKII Facial Treatment Essence (2.5 oz.)
$99 at Dermstore

Created in the 1980s, this is one of the most famous “essences” of all time. The origin story is mythical: Allegedly, scientists discovered sake-making monks with unusually youthful hands and bottled the ingredient (called Pitera) that was making their skin so smooth. According to the brand, a bottle is sold every 22 seconds.

La Mer

La Mer The Moisturizing Cream (0.5 oz.)
$85 at Nordstrom

A moisturizer so legendary that there have been multiple internet conspiracy theories about it.

Elta MD

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 (1.7 oz.)
$33 at Dermstore

When you ask a celebrity or a dermatologist to recommend a sunscreen, this is perhaps the most common answer. Dr. Patricia Wexler says of it, “Everybody loves it. I never had a patient who didn’t like it.”

CeraVe

CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion (12 oz.)
$14 at Dermstore

There are multiple threads on Reddit devoted to how great this brand and moisturizer are for acneic and dry skin. As one Reddit user explained, it works really well because it’s fragrance-free, and the lipids in it are great for barrier repair. Basically put, it’s simple and it works.

CE Ferulic

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic (1 oz.)
$166 at Dermstore

Dr. Wexler says of this the classic anti-aging product. “It works and it’s really great for photodamage.” It’s also one of the best antioxidant serums, with a famous smell often equated with hot dog water or meat sweats.

Aquaphor

Aquaphor Healing Ointment, Advanced Therapy Skin Protectant (14 oz.)
$13 at Amazon

It’s a “cure-all” petrolatum product recommended by dermatologists, and it works equally well on babies and adults. Even in a dermatologist office full of fancy products, Dr. Wexler says, “We use it for everything: Chapped lips, wound healing, face, lips, and body.”

Mario Badescu Lotion

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion (1 oz.)
$17 at Amazon

When celebrities like Miley Cyrus or Lorde post selfies of their acne spot treatments, this light pink paste is almost always included. Practically the entire cast of Riverdale uses it. Dr. Wexler recommends it too because it dries up zits practically overnight.

Neutrogena Pink Grapefruit

Neutrogena Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit (6 oz.)
$12 at Amazon

It’s highly likely that this was in your Top Shelf before you even knew Top Shelf was a thing. One of Neutrogena’s best-selling products of all time, it’s also one of the rare drugstore cleansers that contains a solid amount of salicylic acid, according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner.

Shiseido Eudermine

Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence for Women (6.7 oz.)
$80 at Amazon

Back in 1872, Shiseido launched as Japan’s first-ever Western-style pharmacy. One of their first products to hit it big was this toner/softening lotion. In Greek, the name literally means “good skin.” Makeup artist Daniel Martin (his clients include Meghan Markle and Jessica Alba) calls this the original essence, even before SK-II.

Clinique Dramatically Different

Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion (4.2 oz.)
$27 at Amazon

In 1968, Vogue ran a article asking whether good skin could be obtained through skin care. Evelyn Lauder, dermatologist Norman Orentreich, and Vogue editor Carol Phillips were so inspired by the piece that they launched Clinique. It’s now the No. 1 moisturizer brand in the U.S., due in large part to this yellow lotion (the first and only one of this shade). In 2017, one bottle was sold every 15 seconds.

Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair

Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II (1.7 oz.)
$68 at Amazon

If you’ve ever wondered, “Do I need a night serum?” while walking through an airport, it’s most likely due to this product from Estée Lauder. A duty-free favorite, it’s been one of the brand’s most popular products since its launch in 1982. Celebrities like Martha Hunt praise it for feeling like a drink for your skin. More than ten bottles are sold every minute around the world.

Fresh Beauty Soy Cleanser

Fresh Cleanser Soy Face Cleanser for Women (5.1 oz.)
$47 at Amazon

This is one of the first skin-care products created by the founders of Fresh, Alina Roytberg and Lev Glassman. Created in 1999, it was quickly lauded as being a gentle, effective cleanser that doesn’t strip skin. Redditors widely praise it as a fancier version of Cetaphil.

Dove Beauty Bar

Dove Beauty Bar White (4 oz.)
$7 at Amazon

This white, slightly oblong-shaped soap is one of the most recognizable bar soaps of all time. Sixty of these are sold every second. Created in 1957, it’s endured as a classic because it cleans without making skin feel dry or crackly.

Good Genes

Sunday Riley GOOD GENES All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment (1.7 oz.)
$158 at Dermstore

A newer addition to the list, this acid serum has proved itself to be a classic after appearing on the Sephora skin care best-seller list over and over again. It’s made of lactic acid, one of the gentlest yet effective face acids for your skin, and users on Twitter and Reddit alike enthuse over how it smooths and brightens your skin.

Embryolisse

Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentre (2.54 oz.)
$28 at Dermstore

Thanks to runway makeup artists and international shipping, it’s never been easier to access France’s supply of affordable, excellent drugstore skin care. This is one of the originals, a milky lotion that you see backstage at every single fashion show. It first came to fame for being non-irritating on every person’s skin, regardless if you’re named Bella or Kendall, and it’s remained popular for its moisturizing powers. It’s also the unofficial inspiration for Glossier’s Priming Moisturizer. Plus, it’s the only skin-care product Jane Birkin ever used.

Dennis Gross Peel Pad

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel (30 count)
$88 at Dermstore

Peels sound terrifying, but people return to these peel pads again and again after discovering that with the right dosage of face acids, “peeled” skin actually means glowy skin. This pads gently exfoliate dead skin cells more quickly and effectively than an exfoliator with grains, giving you super soft, “I can’t stop touching my face” skin.

Lancôme Nutrix

Lancôme Nutrix Soothing Treatment Cream (1.9 oz.)
$59 at Nordstrom

This was the first skin-care product ever created by the brand way back in 1936. Its creamy texture was praised as a cure-all for the skin. Due to popular demand, it was brought back a few years ago after being discontinued.

P50

Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 NO Phenol Normal to Oily Skin (8.4 oz.)
$249 at Amazon

Another newer addition to the list, this intensely strong acid serum has earned the nickname “Jesus in a bottle” for its omnipotent powers. It smells truly terrible and has very limited distribution, but it’s in the medicine cabinets of many celebrities. It even made Amanda Chantal Bacon believe in skin care.

Vaseline

Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Unscented Healing Moisture Lotion Pack of 2 (20.3 oz. each)
$17 at Amazon

The original beauty product, it was patented in 1872 and works by preventing moisture from leaving the skin. As. Dr. Zeichner explains, “it’s a tried-and-true product that forms a seal over the skin to hydrate and protect it.”

Cetaphil

Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser Normal to Oily Skin (16 oz.)
$8 at Amazon

Cetaphil is basically the Sesame Street of cleansers. It’s earned a reputation from dermatologists for being safe and gentle, regardless of whether you have a breakout, sun burn, or weird allergic reaction on your skin.

Kiehls Ultra Facial Cream

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream (1.7 oz.)
$30 at Blue Mercury

Mountaineer Robert Anderson tested the efficacy of this moisturizer on a Greenland expedition in which he and other climbers scaled the island’s peaks. The verdict: It performs even on the iciest of mountains. Now, it’s Kiehls best-selling product of all time.

Mint Julep Queen Helene

Queen Helene Masque Mint Julep (8 oz.)
$6 at Amazon

You won’t find it in a Sephora, but this is one of Amazon’s most popular beauty products of all time. It has over 1,000 nearly 5-star reviews and is one of those old-school products that your aunt, mom, and you as a teen might have used. It’s the original anti-acne mask.

Sea Breeze Clean Astringent

Sea Breeze Fresh-Clean Astringent, Sensitive Skin (10 oz.)
$5 at Amazon

This is another one of those rare old-school beauty products that’s hugely popular on Amazon. Martin loves using this to prep and gently tone and clean the skin before applying makeup.

Olay Moisturizing Lotion

Olay Moisturizing Lotion, Sensitive (6 oz.)
$9 at Amazon

Before there was millennial pink, there was the original “pink beauty fluid,” which has been available for over 60 years. A no-frills drugstore moisturizer, it’s known for its light pink milky consistency. On Amazon, there’s a flood of reviews from women who have used it into their 70s.

Stridex

Stridex Daily Care Acne Pads with Salicylic Acid, Sensitive with Aloe (90 count)
$7 at Amazon

This is a holy grail product for many people with acne. You might recognize it from your TRL: Total Request Live years, but these days, adults on Reddit are constantly posting about how effective it is on cysts and whiteheads (thanks to a strong dose of salicylic acid.) Plus, it’s under $10.

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25 Cult Classic Skin-Care Products You Need to Know