Skincare products I fell in love with in 2020

Sweden’s beauty industry is huge. And I mean huge. Aside from the country’s Foreo products taking over the world with supposed supersonic skincare, people in Sweden have not stopped shopping for skincare and beauty products (myself included) despite the pandemic. Here are some skincare items I have fallen in love with in my year living an hour away from Sephora. The products listed here are the ones we don’t get in South Africa, but there are some people who do import them. (I’ve not ordered from any of these places so I can’t vouch for their reliability or pricing.)

1. The Ordinary
Few brands have revolutionised skincare the way The Ordinary has. This is an affordable, high-quality brand with innovation and luxury as its strongest selling points. The products I am currently using are:

AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution: It looks like a blood facial and my husband says it looks like I have strawberry jam on my face. The mix of AHAs and BHAs deeply exfoliates to clear up congestion, dead skin, and hyperpigmentation. My skin looked brighter and smoother after just two uses with little to no irritation. You need to follow the instructions, though! Dripping it onto the skin from the dropper = BAD!

Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution: While the idea of putting something called an acid on my face feels disturbing. But in reality, chemical exfoliants are much gentler and better than physical exfoliants, like face scrubs. This glycolic acid visibly resurfaces my skin, and it’s pretty gentle. Use it every other night – only at night – and with a cotton pad. It’s magic.

Salicylic Acid 2% Masque: The charcoal-coloured mask is the only thing that’s been helping with my breakouts – seriously. It gives me a bright, exfoliated glow without irritating my skin even though it does look like I’m doing blackface for 10 minutes.

Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%: It controls and balances sebum activity and reduces the appearance of skin blemishes and congestion. It can also help with many other skin issues like spot breakouts, scarring, and hormonal what-whats, and is suitable for all skin types. Unfortunately, I find it quite sticky and it doesn’t play nicely with foundation.

Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA: This reduces the look of dark spots and hyperpigmentation and treats pigmentation by inhibiting the formation of melanin in small amounts. Therefore it must be used with a sunscreen! It’s been my go-to during the day, while I saved the niacinamide for the evening routines.

2. Ole Henriksen

Find Your Balance™ Oil Control Cleanser: This Danish company has been on everyone’s lips since the release of the Truth Serum (which I hate because it makes me smell like a bag of naartjies) but the face wash has been a lifesaver for my oily skin. It’s like jumping into a bowl of cucumbers after a long day and quenching my skin with goodness while getting rid of all the day’s grime. If I don’t use an oil cleanser to take off my makeup, a good double cleanse with this does the job without the need for micellar water.

Balancing Force™ Oil Control Toner: While it is really your average toner, it controls surface oil, helps minimise the appearance of pores and plays nicely with my other products, especially the serums from The Ordinary that I use afterwards.

3. Dr. Jart+ Cerimiden Cream

My favourite. Absolute favourite. It’s lightweight ceramide cream that hydrates the skin barrier from within, preventing chronic water loss. It may seem counterintuitive to use a moisture-rich cream when I have oily skin, but it’s basically all day, time-release moisture that prevents overproduction of oils throughout the day.

4. The Inkey List Retinol Serum

Over the past few months using this serum, I found that my skin felt smoother, softer and more elastic. While I don’t have a serious problem with fine lines and wrinkles, it helped with my blemishes and the hyperpigmentation around my neck area has lightened significantly. They are still there, but not as dark as before. And damn, it’s affordable.

5. Origins Super Spot Remover™ Acne Treatment Gel

I had my fill of spot treatments until this one appeared in my goodie bag of freebies from Sephora one day. So as to not bombard my skin with serums and treatments, I started using this on visible blemishes once a week and my skin is crying about not being able to get this back home. With the amount of acne I once had, this little thing helped reduce it by more than 50%.

6. Wishful Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub

Developed by Huda Kattan of Huda Beauty, it has a glue-like consistency that pills as you scrub it on your skin. I don’t use this religiously. Only when I need that instant glow and removal of flaky, dead skin from my face and neck. It’s not harsh at all and I love the texture – it’s not grating like most other face scrubs. I’ve shied away from physical scrubs in favour of chemical exfoliants recently but this is a gem.

7. Mr Blanc Bamboo Charcoal Whitening Polish

Aside from being 100% cruelty-free and sustainable, the toothpaste targets teeth-staining tannins found in tea, coffee, tobacco and wine. I love that it’s low in abrasion and removes stains from the surface of the teeth without harming the enamel and helps control tartar build-up. But you must use a regular toothpaste alongside it – I decided to make it part of my evening routine only. It also makes the teeth and gums quite sensitive with prolonged use so take a break every now and then and go back to it.

8. Peace Out Acne Healing Dots

My Once-off “I CANNOT AFFORD TO HAVE A PIMPLE ON MY FOREHEAD TOMORROW” fix. I got a strip of these free so I stuck on some of the acne stickers atop my zits and let them get to work overnight. The next day when I took them off, they had reduced in size and were less inflamed. I was thoroughly impressed. The next night, my acne had cleared completely after the second try. My makeup went on much smoother, particularly my foundation, as it was no longer collecting and caking around any bumps. I ended up buying a pack and am sad they’re almost done.

L9. Sol De Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream

First, let’s get one thing straight: This is not a normal body butter. When you apply it, it melts into your skin and leaves a dewy, velvety finish. I felt like silk and looked like it too. For the three days that the tester lasted, that is. It’s meant to help with cellulite and stretch marks but fuck it, I don’t care. I just want this as my daily body lotion … but it’s 550 kr (R980) so I can’t justify that price for anything – not even feeling like a damn goddess.

10. L:A Bruket 092 Hand Cream

One day, we decided to go to the seaside town of Varberg. There, I found a bargain bin of all-natural spa and body products designed to counteract even the harshest of elements – or so they said. The hand cream is as moisturising as it is intoxicating. The company claims the products stimulate blood circulation, relieve overworked muscles, and alleviates sunburn. Well, it did all of that and more. Never have my hands felt so luxurious. The only thing I don’t like is the over-fragrancing of the products, which is so unnecessary.

11. Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo

The Scandinavian shampoo brand contains an effective (new-age) combinations of anti-dandruff actives such as Salicylic and Lactic Acids. As we ran out of our products from home (inevitably, as I had only brought enough for four months and was here for 11) I found this on sale at Åhléns and immediately fell in love. Especially because my hair’s been falling out due to my medication. Hubby and I use the same shampoo and conditioner as we both have similar hair issues. So it worked out. And I love it.

12. Foreo Play Cleansing Tool

It’s a tiny little face massager made of silicone and magic and is non-porous, which means it doesn’t contain any holes that will stay moist and harbour bacteria. It dries quickly and it takes no time to get cleanser residue off the massaging things and is completely waterproof. But the Play, which is now discontinued, has only 100 uses and has to be recycled afterwards. As soon as this one dies, I’m saving up for a new, rechargeable one. This is how they get you, dammit.

I hated these:
Pixi Glow Tonic
is a complete waste of time. It’s expensive, packed with essential oils, fragrance, and other irritants, and doesn’t do as good a job as The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid.

The Wishful Honey Balm Jelly Moisturiser feels so damn good but is damn pricey, isn’t helpful to the skin in any way, and has to be applied in amounts that don’t warrant the price tag.

Mario Badescu Facial Spray is just coloured and fragranced water and sounds like a kink. That’s all I’m saying.