I Recreated My $704 Acne-Fighting Routine for $145 and Learned a Lot

Hi, my name is Amanda, and I can’t stop talking about acne. That’s what happens when you’re an adult human who, for the first time in her life, breaks out like a pubescent, hormonally whacked-out teenager at the age of 27. Indeed, earlier this year, just in time for my Saturn Return, a bout of unwelcome blemishes sprouted across my face (you can read about what caused them here), causing me to panic-spend hundreds of dollars on all the beauty editor- and facialist-approved acne products and services I’d learned about over the years. (That’s hundreds of dollars not even counting all the stuff I’ve received for free, due to this blessed line of work.) Because that’s the thing about getting acne for the first time as an adult—you flip out because you don’t recognize your skin and are willing to go practically bankrupt fixing it. At least that’s what I did.

As luck would have it, the changes I made to treat my acne seemed to work. A combination of professional facials (shoutout to my queens Cynthia Franco, Shani Darden, and Renée Rouleau), plus a litany of potent at-home treatments including much of Renée Rouleau’s acne line, plus items from Sunday Riley, Osea, Shani Darden, Drunk Elephant, and Epicuren cleared my chin breakouts significantly. The problem was, when I took the time to add it all up, the products I was using (not even counting the facials) amounted to over $700. If I didn’t have access to complimentary samples from brands, there’s noway I would realistically spend that much cash on my pimples.

$700 for a bunch of acne products that are gonna run out in two months? That’s beyond bankrupt. 

So, I decided to set a reasonable skincare budget—an amount of money that seems less than outrageous to spend on an at-home acne routine. My number? $150. Then I took a look at the key ingredients in my pricier products… AHAs and BHAs, retinol, zinc oxide, fruit enzymes, tea tree… and tried to find more affordable alternatives that contained the same. The result? The following 10-product routine, which amounts to about $149 total. Read on to learn my honest thoughts about which cheap acne products work, which I’d really rather splurge on, and how my skin is doing after two-weeks on this new budget acne routine.