The Inkey List review: Retinol, salicylic acid cleanser, hyaluronic acid and more

The Inkey List stormed onto the skincare scene almost four years ago. It was a

The Inkey List stormed onto the skincare scene almost four years ago. It was a time when the market felt complicated, overwhelming, expensive and often confusing – and at the time, its only real competitor was The Ordinary – so it felt refreshing that new brands were launching with the aim of making skincare accessible and affordable while also simplifying routines and encouraging consumers to educate themselves on ingredients.

The brand’s ethos has remained the same over the past few years, and its core aim is to break down beauty jargon in order to deliver a streamlined approach on the most effective and proven-to-work ingredients. The ever-growing collection of products – which are all housed in straightforward, fuss-free packaging – spans hero ingredients, from hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to retinol and salicylic acid, alongside a collection of cleansers and a recently-expanded range of hair and scalp products.

The nature of The Inkey List’s range allows customers to (safely) mix and match products and customise routines without breaking the bank, and to target skin’s ever-changing needs, wants and concerns.

Plus, if you’re just starting out on your skincare journey or aren’t sure where to go next with it, Inkey experts are on hand to help – either via Instagram DM or the brand’s website. If you’re keen to find out which products a beauty editor has on repeat, keep reading.

How we tested

The Inkey List is a brand that our tester has been using on and off since its launch in 2018, so each of these products has been used for a continuous amount of time as a staple part of both her morning and evening routines. Her skin type is blemish-prone, falls on the slightly oily side and is sometimes sensitive.

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The best The Inkey List products for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – The Inkey List oat cleansing balm: £9.99, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best anti-inflammatory serum – The Inkey List niacinamide: £6.99, Boots.com
  • Best moisturiser – The Inkey List omega water cream moisturiser: £9.99, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best cleanser for oily skin – The Inkey List salicylic acid cleanser: £10.99, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best hair treatment – The Inkey List PCA bond repair hair treatment: £12.99, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best eye cream – The Inkey List retinol eye cream: £9.14, Feelunique.com
  • Best acid exfoliator – The Inkey List PHA toner: £9.99, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best brightening treatment – The Inkey List alpha arbutin: £9.99, Boots.com
  • Best targeted blemish treatment – The Inkey List succinic acid blemish treatment: £6.99, Cultbeauty.co.uk

The Inkey List oat cleansing balm

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

It was a hard call to make, but this has to be our favourite product from The Inkey List. Known for being kind to the skin, oats are a great choice of ingredient for all skin types – and especially those with sensitivity, redness or irritation. This cleanser is formulated with oat kernel oil and colloidal oatmeal, meaning it strikes a good balance between gentle and hardworking. It helps skin maintain moisture levels while working to dissolve dirt, make-up and everything else that has gathered on your skin throughout the day, without drying out or stripping it. Plus we love that it can double up as a face mask – just apply a generous layer onto cleansed skin and leave on for around 10 minutes or so. It’s a truly magical product.

The Inkey List niacinamide

Best: Anti-inflammatory serum

Rating: 9/10

Niacinamide might be difficult to pronounce, but it’s a real unsung hero when it comes to skincare. It’s a good option for all complexions, but especially those with oily or sensitive skin because it works to control excess oil production and reduce the appearance of pores, while also calming down irritation or sensitivity. This serum is formulated with added hyaluronic acid to help hydrate skin too, and can be used both morning and night. Our tester has been through multiple bottles and she applies it after cleansing AM and PM.

The Inkey List omega water cream moisturiser

Best: Moisturiser

Rating: 9/10

New for 2022, this is a does-it-all, water-based gel moisturiser that optimises the skin’s hydration levels – AKA it does everything that a good moisturiser should. We love that it’s not heavy, sticky or greasy and doesn’t leave any residue in its wake, either. It’s packed with a hardworking blend of ceramides to prevent water loss alongside glycerin – which hydrates skin – and niacinamide to regulate oil production. It’s a good product to use either after vitamin A (retinoids) to help reduce the chances of irritation, or on the nights when you’re short on time and just want to use something simple yet effective.

The Inkey List salicylic acid cleanser

Best: Cleanser for oily skin

Rating: 8.5/10

Anybody with acne-prone skin should have this in their skincare kit. Formulated with a zinc compound to help target and control excess sebum, the formula also features soothing allantoin, an anti-irritant that protects the skin. As well as removing make-up and cleansing skin, over time this product will reduce the appearance of pores and the likelihood of breakouts, while also working to even out overall skin tone. It’s best massaged into the skin for around a minute to ensure you really benefit from all the active ingredients packed into this bottle, and despite the fact that salicylic acid is a traditionally drying ingredient, this cleanser will never strip your skin or leave it feeling tight.

The Inkey List PCA bond repair hair treatment

Best: Hair treatment

Rating: 9/10

If, like our tester, your hair has been through the mill in terms of colouring, heat styling and just general neglect, then you need this spray in your life stat. Super lightweight, it helps to rebuild and strengthen hair, making it look and feel healthier, as well as working to nourish it and reduce both frizz and split ends. It adds shine, works as a heat protector and defends tresses against free radicals like pollution, plus it helps condition and soften strands, too. A real one-stop shop for all hair types, use it on clean, towel-dried damp hair for maximum efficacy.

The Inkey List retinol eye cream

Best: Eye cream

Rating: 8/10

A little beauty secret: unless your eye cream has retinol in it, you’re better off just taking your usual face cream up and around your eyes because it’ll work just as well. However, when it comes to using something active-based, like this, you need a product that’s been specifically formulated for use around the eyes simply because the skin around that area is so delicate that anything too strong will cause unnecessary irritation. This one is lightweight and formulated with the optimum percentage of retinol to stimulate the all-important collagen production to smooth, brighten and plump the eye area – continued use is the key to success here, and the brand says it can be used around the mouth to target fine lines and wrinkles there too, should you so desire.

The Inkey List PHA toner

Best: Acid exfoliator

Rating: 9.5/10

Polyhydroxy acid – known as PHA – is a relatively new ingredient compared to its stronger BHA (beta-hydroxy acid) and AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) counterparts, but it’s actually our go-to for exfoliation. It’s the most gentle of the bunch and works on a superficial level, which means it won’t cause irritation like some stronger acids (case in point: glycolic) often can. Plus, it helps hydrate skin and won’t cause sensitivity either, so it’s a win/win situation. Used a couple of times a week, or every day if you like, this toner will slough dead skin cells and unblock pores for smoother, brighter-looking skin. Plus it’s formulated with aloe vera leaf juice to soothe and prevent dryness, alongside niacinamide to minimise pores and improve skin texture.

The Inkey List alpha arbutin

Best: Brightening treatment

Rating: 8.5/10

If dark spots, acne scars and marks or hyperpigmentation are among your main skin concerns, it might be time to add alpha arbutin into your routine. A potent and effective ingredient, this highly concentrated formula works to reduce the skin’s melanin production (the stuff that gives your skin its colour), which over time will even out the overall tone. Blended with a mix of hyaluronic acid to improve the effectiveness of the serum on the skin, it also features squalane to ensure the skin remains hydrated. It can be applied morning and evening – we would recommend using it alongside vitamin C in the AM to create a protective powerhouse cocktail.

This product sells out super quick, but fear not, you can sign up for an email notification to make sure you’re the first to know when it’s back in stock.

The Inkey List succinic acid blemish treatment

Best: Targeted blemish treatment

Rating: 8/10

Ideal for those moments where blemishes and breakouts pop up out of nowhere without any warning, this targeted treatment comes out green which works to reduce the redness of spots. The formula made up of 2 per cent succinic acid, a lesser-known ingredient that’s derived from corn that physically reduces the size of blemishes, 1 per cent salicylic acid to unclog pores and hyaluronic acid to ensure skin stays hydrated and moisturised instead of dried out and flaky. The best thing about this, though, is that it can be layered well – either throughout the day to really target pesky blemishes, or underneath make-up.

The verdict: The best The Inkey List products

Overall, you can’t go far wrong with incorporating any of The Inkey List’s products into your routine and there really is something for every concern or skin type within the range. If you’re looking for a reliable cleanser, the oat cleansing balm is a great addition to any routine, and succinic acid blemish treatment is excellent to have on standby to quickly and easily target any unexpected breakouts, while the PHA toner is a must-have for every skin type when it comes to gently sloughing away dead cells at a surface level and for helping improve overall hydration within the skin.

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