I'll preface this review by saying I can't walk into Target and refrain from heading to the beauty aisle. Even if I go in for toilet paper, chances are I'll walk out with a beauty product or two (or five). One day, after a supermarket run, I moseyed over to Target's beauty section (which, can we just take a moment to appreciate the glow-up that is the Target skincare aisle?) and came across E.l.f'.s Holy Hydration Face Cream Fragrance-Free ($12).
After applying it under my usual makeup, let's just say I was taken aback.
Pros + Cons
- Vegan and cruelty-free
- Inexpensive compared to similar products
- Smooths skin under makeup
- Non-greasy formula sinks into skin
- Not Byrdie Clean
- Can pill depending on how it's applied
The Bottom Line: Inexpensive and highly effective
E.l.f's Holy Hydration Face Cream Fragrance-Free is free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and gives dry skin the hydration it needs to look smooth underneath makeup—all for $12.
E.l.f. Holy Hydration Face Cream Fragrance-Free
Best for: All skin types
Star Rating: 4.5/5
Potential allergens: Yes—stearic acid
Active ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, peptides
Clean?: No—contains PEG-100 stearate and polyisobutene
About the brand: E.l.f—which stands for eyes, lips, face—cosmetics is widely loved for its pro-quality, low-priced products. Devotees also love the brand for its vegan, cruelty-free formulas.
About My Skin: Dry and sensitive
When I'm having a bad skin day, I'm probably the only one who knows it (and even still, that doesn't stop me from doing everything I can to remedy it). The culprit of those days, for me, tends to be dryness—which inevitably translates to streaky foundation, caked-on concealer, and an overall dull-looking complexion.
Add on environmental conditions like traveling and cold weather, and my skin issues multiply.
Initially, I picked up the original version of this cream, but after realizing it came in a fragrance-free type, I swapped it for the sake of my sensitive skin.
With the help of a few skincare products, I've been able to tackle the root of the issue; but to be frank, it's been an expensive journey. More often than not, there are a few things I have to do pre-makeup to ensure my skin doesn't appear parched—my normal routine involves a spritz of MAC's Prep and Prime Fix+ ($29), an SPF, and a face cream.
The Feel: Light and easily absorbs
This is a thick cream (a little goes a long way), yet it feels lightweight and easily blends into the skin. I don't find myself having to rub it in for a long time; rather, a few swipes across my face and it's already absorbed.
I can also feel the hydrating benefits throughout the day—not just immediately post-application, which is an issue I had with other supposed "long-lasting" moisturizers. And though I don't have oily skin, several reviewers have said it's non-greasy and helps reduce the appearance of pores underneath makeup.
The Ingredients: Major hydrators
- Hyaluronic acid: With its ability to retain water, hyaluronic acid helps give skin its elasticity and moisture. A starring ingredient in many moisturizers, it's widely revered for its ability to visually plump the skin.
- Peptides: Holy Hydration Face Cream contains two peptides: palmitoyl tripeptide-1 and palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7. According to dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, peptides generally send signals to skin cells. Tripeptide-1 can stimulate collagen production, while tetrapeptide-7 also calms and improves the skin barrier, Nazarian says, noting that both peptides used together can also help other ingredients penetrate skin better.
- Squalane: Another familiar face in many a hydrating product, squalane helps keep moisture locked into skin. Squalane is actually a shelf-stable derivative of squalene, which is usually soured from the olive plant.
- Niacinamide: If part of the word looks vaguely familiar, it may be because you've seen it on the label of your daily multivitamin. Niacin and niacinamide are forms of vitamin B3—though niacinamide is the form more commonly used in topical skincare products for its brightening and resurfacing capabilities.
Squalane is the hydrogenated form of squalene. It is a lipid that is naturally found in the skin and secreted by the sebaceous glands. It calms inflammation, supports the outer skin barrier, and works well with actives like retinol.
How to Apply
I applied a dime-sized amount to my entire face and waited about 20 minutes before applying my other products (I always let my skincare products settle in before adding on makeup to allow for better absorption).
I recommend only using a dime-sized amount—otherwise it could begin to pill up.
The Results: Great skin in a jar
After using it several times, I realized the cream was the common denominator on all of my good skin days.
When I finished my makeup, I was taken aback. Let's just say my skin has never looked that plump, smooth, and flawless. Anyone who wears makeup on a consistent basis knows how important it is to find skincare products that'll enhance makeup rather than make it more difficult to apply. After first using E.l.f.'s Holy Hydration Face Cream, I was convinced I was just having a good makeup day—there was no way a $12 face cream could make my skin look that good, right?
After using it several times, I realized the cream was the common denominator on all of my good skin days. Thanks to the blend of hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump, niacinamide to brighten, squalane for elasticity, and peptides to promote collagen, I'm smitten.
Now it's something I can't do my makeup without, especially if the day calls for a heavier look (you could say I use this as more of a primer versus as an actual a.m./p.m. face cream). Still, I don't think I ever knew what "supple skin" actually meant before this product. My skin looks and feels like velvet.
I can't recommend this face cream enough. I love that the brand formulated this to work for several skin types—it's moisturizing and brightening for dry skin, balancing for combination skin, and sensitive skin types can opt for the fragrance-free version.
The Value: Affordable and clean
Lately, I've been making an effort to incorporate more clean products into my routine. The only problem is they usually set me back over $50. This $12 skincare product is free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and gives my dry skin the hydration it requires to look smooth underneath makeup. Considering it contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid and peptides that are typically found in higher-end products, it's a great drugstore cream at an unbeatable price.
And at 1.7 oz of product, it's sized comparably to other hydrating creams.
Similar Products: You have options
Derma-E Hydrating Day Cream: You won't look hard to find another moisturizer featuring hyaluronic acid, though this pick is double the price at around $25 and also has soothing green tea. Derma-E is also vegan and cruelty-free, plus recyclable and manufactured using wind energy.
Tatcha The Dewy Skin Cream: Tatcha's skin-plumping moisturizer ($68) also contains hyaluronic acid and squalane in a 1.7 oz size at a much higher price point. It adds in Japanese purple rice and botanical extracts for extra pampering.
Our Verdict: An overall winner
Whether you're on a budget or not, this cream is worth a try—no matter your skin type. When I discover a formula effective at relieving my dryness, allows for a flawless makeup application, and is under $15, I want to shout it from the rooftops for all of my fellow dry-skinned beauty buffs to try. I'm ecstatic that there's a skincare product that's free of sulfates and parabens, has an accessible price tag, and is just as effective as its higher-end counterparts.