How 5 Dermatologists Would Spend $100 at Sephora on Summer Skin Care

How 5 Dermatologists Would Spend $100 at Sephora on Summer Skin Care

Mar 22, 2024

This article was originally published on

Author: Jolene Edgar & Melanie Rud

“This is really hard! I could have spent my entire skin-care budget on one item,” says Beverly Hills, California, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban, accurately capturing how we all feel whenever we venture, virtually or IRL, into the Sephora skin-care section. But herein lies the challenge: curating an effective summer skin-care routine for $100 or less. Given this task, five top dermatologists, with different skin types and concerns, scoured the site for workhorse ingredients and trusted brands in order to find the best skin care at Sephora. While some of their picks were no-brainers—the unimpeachable sunscreen and vitamin C, for instance—we found a few surprises in their carts too. (And speaking of sunscreen, don’t miss the one formula that was recommended three separate times.) Let their thoughtful selections guide your own medicine-cabinet upgrades and summer skin-care routine. 

Dr. Fatima Fahs is a board-certified dermatologist in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and the founder of Dermy Doc Box.

Total cost: $97.50 for 4 items

Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40, $34

“This lightweight sunscreen doubles as a primer, meaning, it pairs well under makeup. But if you prefer to go makeup-free, it also has a smooth finish that blurs away the appearance of pores, even when used on its own. The oil-free formula is also ideal for anyone who feels like sunscreen leaves their skin too shiny. I apply a nickel- to quarter-size amount to my face and neck daily.”

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, $29.50

“I love using this to exfoliate dead skin cell buildup and brighten the skin to get that dewy summertime glow. It contains a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, which is a beta hydroxy acid that can dissolve excess oil, making it great for anyone prone to breakouts or blackheads. I use it as I would a toner—post-cleansing, applied onto a cotton round and swiped gently across the entire face, concentrating on the T-zone—the area most prone to clogged pores. Make sure to follow with a moisturizer.” 

Fresh Sugar Lip Balm Sunscreen SPF 15, $24

“Don’t forget that your lips need sun protection too! This balm is extremely hydrating, includes a dose of that super-important SPF and also doubles as a lip tint. My favorite shade is Honey, a warm nude, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the colors, and there’s also a clear option. Swipe it on daily, and if you’re going to be outside for more than two hours, make sure you’re reapplying regularly as well.” 

Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm, $10

“Most people associate richer, heavier cleansing balms with winter, but they can be an invaluable asset in the summer too. I like using it as the first step in a double-cleanse routine, because it’s a great way to gently remove sunscreen and makeup—even waterproof mascara—without overdrying the skin or causing irritation. And you need only a small amount of this guy to get the job done, which is why this mini size is perfect. Warm it in between your palms and massage into skin before rinsing, then follow with your favorite cleanser.”

Dr. Sonia Lamel is a board-certified dermatologist in Seattle.

Total cost: $85 for 2 items

Ole Henriksen C-Rush Vitamin C Gel Moisturizer, $46

“When summer comes, I like to lighten up my skin-care routine. That means, I pick a lighter moisturizer and products that have a dual purpose so that I can use fewer items in total. I love hyaluronic acid gel creams, like this one, for long-lasting yet lightweight moisture that doesn’t leave you feeling oily by the end of the day. Antioxidants also become more important during the summer months. This formula pulls double duty because it contains vitamin C, which offers that antioxidant protection, and also helps to combat pigmentation and brighten my skin.”

Peter Thomas Roth 3% Glycolic Solutions Cleanser, $39

“It’s more important than ever to make exfoliation a regular part of your summer skin-care routine, to help ward off the clogged pores that can come with more sweat and oil building up on our skin. I prefer light, chemical exfoliation—ideally, in the form of a glycolic cleanser, like this one. It helps dissolve dead cells on the surface of the skin, to improve both texture and tone, and because it’s a rinse-off product, it’s less likely to irritate the skin than a leave-on formula. Still, I recommend starting by using it only two to three times per week and gradually increasing the frequency, as needed.”

Dr. Tiffany Libby is a board-certified dermatologist, a Mohs surgeon, and an assistant professor of dermatology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Dr. Tiffany Libby chooses IT Cosmetics Confidence in a Cleanser, Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster with Pure Vitamin C 10%, MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème Broad Spectrum SPF 50 UVA-UVB Sunscreen, and The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA for summer skin care at Sephora under $100.

Total cost: $98.80 for 5 items

IT Cosmetics Confidence in a Cleanser, $28

“I’m all about gentle, effective cleansers that will not strip the skin or overdry it while washing away impurities. I love that this one is formulated with hyaluronic acid and ceramides, to help hydrate the skin and restore its moisture barrier. It’s especially important to dissolve the oils, sweat, and dirt that we may see more of during the hotter, more humid months—but it’s also crucial to make sure your cleanser isn’t abrasive and giving you that ‘squeaky-clean’ feel that often leads to dryness, irritation, and breakouts.”

Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster with Pure Vitamin C 10%, $20

“Vitamin C serums are typically where I’d splurge. But this inexpensive L-ascorbic acid formulation with hydrating ingredients and salicylic acid can target discolorations, improve the skin’s texture, and help build collagen. I love antioxidants year-round, to protect against and repair free-radical damage from environmental pollutants and UV radiation, but they’re even more important during the summer, when our exposure to UV rays and subsequent free radicals increases. Vitamin C also helps treat and prevent brown spots, which often pop up during these months due to sun exposure.” 

MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème Broad Spectrum SPF 50 UVA-UVB Sunscreen, $30

“This is a lightweight mineral sunscreen with 17% zinc oxide—the higher, the better—that offers the nonnegotiable broad-spectrum coverage from UVA and UVB rays, an SPF [of] 50, and a silky, smooth finish. I recommend using a nickel-size amount on the face every day of the year, reapplying at least every two hours when outdoors.”

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA, $6.80

“I love lactic acid—an AHA peeling agent that’s well known for its hydrating properties. It resurfaces, evens out skin tone, and improves fine lines and other early signs of aging. I use it two to three times per week underneath my nighttime moisturizer, for light, glow-boosting exfoliation.”

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration, $14

“This is a nourishing and hydrating cream with shea butter and colloidal oatmeal, which has anti-inflammatory and barrier-repair properties to help relieve irritation and dryness. In the summer, I’ll sometimes swap in a lighter gel moisturizer before bed, but on most nights, I still prefer a more substantive cream to deliver hydration overnight.”

Related: 8 Dermatologists Reveal Their Favorite Vitamin C Serum Under $100

Dr. DiAnne Davis is a board-certified dermatologist in Houston specializing in skin of color, cosmetic dermatology, and laser surgery.

Dr. DiAnne Davis chooses Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40, The Inkey List Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Moisturizer, Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Dark Circle Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum, and LaNeige Water Pocket Sheet Mask Sleeping Mask (Replenishing) for summer skin care at Sephora under $100.

Total cost: $100 for 4 items 

Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40, $34

“As a woman of color, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of sunscreen for protecting skin health and preventing discoloration and signs of aging. My patients’ biggest question is always, ‘Will it match my skin—or is it going to make me look pasty, ashy, and streaky?’ With this formula, we don’t have to worry about it blending in, because it goes on clear. I think it could be a real game changer, in terms of getting more people to be compliant with daily sunscreen. I also like that it contains dimethicone, which helps to hold moisture and gives skin a matte look.”

The Inkey List Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Moisturizer, $10.00

“I need to have a retinol in my skin-care regimen, to prevent fine lines and maintain an even complexion. I typically use a prescription-strength product, but not everyone can tolerate the peeling and stinging that comes with it. Bakuchiol is a plant-based ingredient that functions in the same way as retinol, upregulating collagen synthesis and improving fine lines and hyperpigmentation but without the irritation. I’d alternate this with my Rx formula, using it every other night for a moisture boost. In the summer, especially, we need something that’s going to work against the photoaging process that’s triggered by UV exposure.” 

Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Dark Circle Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum, $50

“[Excess] pigment is often to blame for dark circles under the eyes in people of color. So one of the things that I look for in an eye serum is how much hydration it can give me, because I cannot correct hyperpigmentation on skin that isn’t well moisturized. When skin is dry, the cells are fighting against me to hold everything in, including pigment. Hydrated cells just release the unwanted pigment more effectively. This serum moisturizes with dimethicone and hyaluronic acid. It also contains vitamin C, which protects skin from free radicals and pigment changes.”

LaNeige Water Pocket Sheet Mask Sleeping Mask (Replenishing), $6

“I don’t generally like or recommend masks with treatment ingredients, because I worry about them being overly harsh or stirring up acne, but this sheet is primarily water and glycerin to give skin a healthy dose of moisture, which we can all benefit from over the summer.”

Related: 6 Controversial Sunscreen Ingredients—and 3 That Are the Gold Standard

Dr. Ava Shamban is a board-certified dermatologist with practices in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, California. 

Dr. Ava Shamban chooses The Ordinary 0.5% Retinol in Squalane, The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F, Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40, Dr Jart+ Dermask Ultra Jet Peeling Solution, and Biossance Squalane + Antioxidant Cleansing Oil from summer skin care at Sephora under $100.

Total cost: $96.60 for 5 items 

The Ordinary 0.5% Retinol in Squalane, $5.80

“I’ve been very curious about this brand. The products have high concentrations of all the good stuff, yet they’re very reasonably priced. This serum contains 0.5% pure retinol, suspended in moisturizing squalene to balance out the potential drying effects of retinol. Even though it’s a lower percentage, it should do the trick. I’m excited to see how far it can move the needle to help reduce the appearance of fine lines, eliminate photodamage, and support cellular turnover and textual issues without a strong dermal reactivity. And that price tag!”

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F, $17.80

“Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate is a supereffective derivative of vitamin C that brightens dull skin and evens overall tone. It’s a highly stable, oil-soluble form, and in its natural state, it has perhaps the highest percutaneous absorption factor, which means it can successfully get through the skin barrier faster than other types of vitamin C. This is a water-free solution with essential fatty acids, making it not just a summer essential but an all-year-long anti-aging must-have.”

Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40, $34

“No dermatologist would kick off summer without proper sun protection. This invisible formula has seafoam, which is good for increased hydration, and red algae, to help protect us against blue light damage—which we all need, since we’re on screens so much more these days.”

Dr Jart+ Dermask Ultra Jet Peeling Solution, $9

“With [its] fruit enzymes and acids, this two-step cellulose mask is bubbly, hydrating, and calming—the perfect R&R for skin. I’d consider it time and money well spent for something that’s both a treat and a treatment. It keeps pores clean and clear, gently peeling off the upper layers of the stratum corneum to reveal smoother, more even-toned skin.”

Biossance Squalane + Antioxidant Cleansing Oil, $30

“This super antioxidant-rich cleansing oil will remove makeup, environmental sludge, heavy sunscreen, and debris without stripping the skin, thanks to hydrating plant-based squalane. Summer cleansing is a key first step to keeping skin clear, healthy, and balanced.”

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