Cruelty-Free Skincare Favorites + Updated Routine

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Stephanie Ziajka of Diary of a Debutante shares her cruelty free skincare routine and favorite cruelty free skincare products

I’ve seen way too many articles about the horrors of animal testing, so going cruelty-free was one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2020. I was a little nervous that it’d take a ton of time and experimentation to replace all my non-cruelty free staples, particularly because I have rosacea, hyperpigmentation, and frustratingly sensitive skin, but the swapping-out process was completely painless. I’ve found some amazing new “holy grail” products, and in all honesty, my skin’s (all conditions considered) never felt better. I also love that I’m supporting brands who value animal welfare for a change. Keep reading for my favorite cruelty free products and new cruelty free skincare routine!

Before diving in, I wanted to share a list of all of my favorite cruelty free skincare brands, several of which aren’t represented in this post–

I also love La Mer, although they’re too pricey for me to purchase regularly. You can also find some amazing budget-friendly products on Amazon, as well (FYI- several products in my cruelty free skincare routine were Amazon finds). Click here for a full list of cruelty free skincare brands from Cruelty-Free Kitty!

Best Cruelty-Free Skincare Products

Stephanie Ziajka of Diary of a Debutante shares the best cruelty free eye cream, best cruelty free acne treatment, best cruelty free face moisturizer, best cruelty free face wash, best cruelty free makeup remover, and more

Best Cruelty Free Makeup Remover

I couldn’t narrow down the single best cruelty free makeup remover, so I’ve got two recommendations for you. Dermalogica PreCleanse Cleansing Oil is amazing (literally magic in a bottle) and leaves my skin feeling insanely soft, clean, and hydrated after every use. It doesn’t travel well, though– and it doesn’t claim to be a full-blown cleanser, so when I’m flying (or when I’m too tired to wash my face), I use IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Makeup Cleansing Balm instead. It’s great for even the driest skin and literally melts all makeup, including eye makeup, off your face. 

Best Cruelty Free Face Wash

Everyone has a different skin type, so I think the best cruelty free face wash varies from person to person. I will say, though, that Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel is a cult favorite for a reason. I’ve got more skin concerns than I’d like (hyperpigentation, rosacea, dryness, excessive oiliness), so given all the other significantly harsher products in my skincare lineup, I need a cleanser that won’t further irritate my skin. Not only is Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel ultra gentle, it’s effective– and under $15, too! It doesn’t foam, though, so if you like using a deep cleansing brush with your face wash, you may want to try Dermalogica’s Special Cleansing Gel or TULA’s amazing probiotic-based cleanser instead. 

Best Cruelty Free Scrub

I never realized just how much I love Dermalogica until writing this post. Dermalogica Daily Superfoliant is the definition of a “holy grail” skincare product and easily wins my vote for the best cruelty free scrub. It blows my mind that an exfoliant this good can also be so gentle, but it is. After every use (I use it a few times a week), you’ll notice fresher, smoother, and brighter skin, guaranteed. Trust me, if you ignore every other product on this list, this one’s the one to try!

Also, if you want a good second option– Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Pore Exfoliating Treatment is pricey as all get-out ($24 for a .5oz sample, $85 for a 2oz bottle or $175 for a 5oz bottle), but I’ve never had a product make such a dramatic impact on my skin after one two-minute use. It makes my skin smoother and fresher with visibly smaller pores and diminished fine lines… in only two minutes. To clarify, it’s technically four treatments in one (cleanser, scrub, peel, and mask), but I consider it a scrub, since its exfoliating properties are the main reason I buy it.

Best Cruelty Free Toner

There are some great rose water-based toners out there, but nothing beats Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner in my opinion. It’s made with a handful of all-natural ingredients and no chemicals, so it’s soothing, gentle, and effective even for the driest, most sensitive skin. You also can’t beat its price tag!

Best Cruelty Free Moisturizer

Honestly, you really can’t go wrong with any Dermalogica products (whether you’re adopting a cruelty free skincare routine or not), but Dermalogica Active Moist is one of their best. It’s ultra lightweight and gives my skin the hydration it needs without clogging pores or making it super greasy. The only downside is that it doesn’t have SPF in it, which leads me to my second recommendation, which I use religiously in the mornings. Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF50 Moisturizer is an equally amazing product, particularly if you’re adamant about wearing SPF (I actually have it listed as my favorite sunscreen below). It goes on super smoothly, absorbs quickly, and isn’t anywhere near as oily as other moisturizers I’ve tried with SPF.

Best Cruelty Free Face Serums

This really needs to be broken up into two categories– best cruelty free brightening serum and best cruelty free hydrating serum, but for all intensive purposes, I’m combining them into one. Even though it’s more expensive than I’d like, my vote for the best cruelty free brightening serum (aka Vitamin C serum) is Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum. I apply it every morning and have seen such a difference in skin tone since I started using it. It smells amazing, too, and doesn’t irritate my skin like some of the other Vitamin C serums have.

The best cruelty free hydrating serum, on the other hand, is Cosmedica Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum. No contest. I’d been using Rodan + Fields Active Hydration Serum prior, and it’s awesome but wayyy out of my normal price range. I lucked out when I found Cosmedica’s product, which works just as well, on Amazon for $15. I apply it every other night (I alternate between hyaluronic acid and retinol cream), and my skin just looks refreshed and healthy when I wake up in the morning. 

Best Cruelty Free Eye Cream

I made the switch from Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado to Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream a few months ago, and I’m so glad I did, even though I’ve already run out of it. They’re both around the same price point, but Drunk Elephant is just an all-around amazing company that makes all-around amazing products. This eye cream, in particular, visibly brightens and tightens the under-eye area (ie less fine lines and wrinkles) and has been granted the coveted Clean at Sephora label. Some users have reported sensitivity around the eyes, but I never have– and my skin’s pretty easy to irritate. 

Drunk Elephant is on the pricier end, though, so if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, Pure Biology Total Eye Cream is equally deserving of the best cruelty free eye cream title. This is what I use on a daily basis, and I love it. It’s formulated with Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid, and it immediately makes my dark circles and morning puffiness less noticeable!

Best Cruelty Free Eye Serum

I’ve been layer Dermalogica Biolumin-C Vitamin C Eye Serum underneath my eye cream every morning and night for about two weeks, and my eye area is already noticeably firmer and brighter. Plus, I love the consistency– it’s lightweight and absorbs quickly, so none of it gets soaked into pillowcases or affects makeup application. It’s a little pricey ($70 per tube), but a little goes a long way. Bottom line– if anti-aging is a major concern, this serum’s a must-try!

Best Cruelty Free Eye Balm

TULA Rose Glow and Get It Cooling and Brightening Eye Balm was one of my more recent beauty finds thanks to the hype on Instagram. I’d been using Cocokind’s MYMATCHA All-Over Moisture Stick prior, and I do love it (and its $6 price tag)– it just goes on so heavy on my face, and it feels like a balm. I mean, to their credit, it is a moisture stick. That said, though, TULA Rose Glow Eye Balm is super light and can be applied under or over makeup, any time of the day. It also makes my under-eye area tingle (in the best way) and leaves a visible glow on my face.

Best Cruelty Free Retinol Cream

Retinol creams are notoriously expensive albeit essential in any skincare routine. I came across LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream Moisturizer on Amazon a few years back and immediately understood why it’s got over a 4.5-star rating with 8,500+ reviews. Not only is this retinol cream cruelty-free with no artificial fragrances or parabens, it’s only $20 and so good, you guys. It provides prescription-strength retinol without all the burning, flaking, and peeling. Because my skin’s so sensitive, I typically alternate between hyaluronic acid and retinol cream at night, even though this cream is designed for daily use. 

Best Cruelty Free Acne Treatment

I’m 31, and I still get hormonal breakouts from time to time. I’ve been spot treating with Mario Badescu Drying Lotion since I was in college– when the breakouts were constant, and it’ll still win my vote for the best cruelty free acne treatment when I’m my 50s and 60s, too. It smells like acid and burns a little bit when applied, but I’m telling you.. there’s nothing more effective.

Best Cruelty Free Face Mask

I have super sensitive skin, and TULA Detox in a Jar Exfoliating Treatment Mask gently exfoliates without stripping the skin of essential oils. Not only does it smell ah-mazing, it leaves my skin feeling clean and looking bright in the process, too. I just apply a decent amount to my face every 4-5 days and wait five minutes for it to dry. Then, I wash it off with warm water (normally in the shower) and gently pat my face dry. Crazy easy, crazy effective.

If clay masks are more in your wheelhouse, Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay is a must-try. It’s $5, and it’s unbelievably effective for clearing up acne.

Best Cruelty Free Facial Mist

I carry a mini bottle of Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater with me everywhere I go. It’s an amazingly calming after-makeup refresher. As much as I love it, though, I’ve gotta admit that Pixi by Petra Hydrating Milky Mist is a close second, especially for dryer climates. When I lived in Florida, I’d go through a bottle every month– not an exaggeration. 

Best Cruelty Free Face Sunscreen

I have severe hyperpigmentation from sun damage, so I don’t play around with sunscreen anymore. It’s a mandatory part of my cruelty free skincare routine– and not to sound preachy, but it should be a mandatory part of yours, too. Of all the skincare products I’m willing to splurge on, a good face sunscreen is literally at the top of the list. Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF 50 Moisturizer is the best there is– it’s light, doesn’t make my skin feel greasy, and completely protects my face from discoloration. Rodan + Fields REVERSE is a worthy second, too. It’s super effective and packed with additional skin nutrients, but it makes my skin feel significantly greasier after application. Read my full review here!

My Cruelty-Free Skincare Routine

Beauty blogger Stephanie Ziajka shares an updated cruelty free skincare routine

I’m so thankful that I’ve finally found a cruelty free skincare routine that works for me, you guys– and like I said, I swear my skin’s happier than ever. Here are all the products I use in the morning (in order of use)–

    1. Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel– This cleanser foams up really nicely, so I like to use it with my facial cleansing brush.
    2. Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner– I highly recommend using Swisspers cotton rounds to apply it– they’re the best!
    3. Sunday Riley C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum– I apply two pumps and then make sure I leave ample time to dry. I normally get dressed and drink my coffee in between this step and the next (anywhere from 10-15 minutes). 
    4. Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery Moisturizer– I apply this all over my face and neck. I love that it’s formulated with SPF (saves me a step at the end)!
    5. Dermalogica Biolumin-C Vitamin C Eye Serum– I layer this serum underneath my eye cream for optimal anti-aging benefits. It’s uber lightweight, and a little goes a long way!
    6. Pure Biology Total Eye Cream– This eye cream was a lucky Amazon beauty find (see more here), and it works great! I particularly love how non-greasy it feels.
    7. TULA Rose Cooling and Brightening Eye Balm– This isn’t a routine step per say, but I do apply this cooling eye balm throughout the day. It feels amazing (literally tingles!), and love how it highlights my eye area!

    Here are the products I use at night (in order of use)–

    1. Dermalogica PreCleanse Cleansing Oil– I pump some into my hands and apply to my dry face– then I wash it off with warm water.
    2. Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel– My esthetician advised against using facial cleansing brushes more than once a day, so I normally apply this gentle cleanser in the shower and then rinse off with warm water.
    3. Dermalogica Daily Superfoliant– This stuff is absolute magic. Even though it’s gentle, excess exfoliation causes all sorts of redness on my skin, so I only use this twice per week.
    4. Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner– Again, highly recommend Swisspers cotton rounds! They don’t leave any fuzz behind or soak up excess product.
    5. Alternate between Cosmedica Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum and LilyAna Naturals Retinol Moisturizer– They’re both pretty strong, so if my skin’s looking particularly dry, I’ll pass on both and go bare for the night.
    6. Dermalogica Active Moist Moisturizer– I literally can’t sleep if I feel like there’s excess oil on my face, so love how lightweight and non-greasy this formula is!
    7. Dermalogica Biolumin-C Vitamin C Eye Serum– I layer this serum underneath my eye cream for optimal anti-aging benefits. It’s uber lightweight, and a little goes a long way!
    8. Pure Biology Total Eye Cream– Again, I’m super glad I found this miracle eye cream! Not only is it affordable (under $25!), it’s easy to apply and isn’t greasy in the slightest.

    So there it is– my new “holy grail” cruelty free skincare routine! Let me know if you have any questions about any of the products I use, how I use them, or what. I’m more than happy to help. Thanks for reading, y’all!

    Photography by Catherine Rhodes


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