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- I try a lot of skincare products for my job, and Maelove is one of my most recommended brands.
- Maelove is a skincare line founded by MIT grads and most of the products are under $30.
- Learn more about the company, the products, and how they make skincare so affordable, below.
When you step into a Sephora, it doesn’t take long to realize that plenty of skincare is not affordable. Glossy tubs of La Mer go for $190, and there’s an $85 Peter Thomas Roth mask made with pure 24-karat gold.
But, if you know where to look, you can find skincare products that perform on par with luxury picks. Companies like Maelove, a startup founded by MIT grads, use many of the same ingredients and cosmetics labs as high-end brands but sell products for a fraction of the cost, like a skincare version of Italic.
Formulas are based more firmly in exhaustive research than the farm-to-face movement, and each product in the line is listed under $30, with the exception of the Love 31 face oil ($74.95) and the Moonlight Retinal Super Serum ($34.95, currently sold out).
What’s better, though, is the quality for the price. I try a lot of skincare products — both luxury and drugstore — for my job at Insider Reviews, and if I could only recommend one skincare brand to my friends and family, this would probably be it. The products work well, they’re not expensive, and the startup rarely disappoints. Like the loophole of buying Differin gel rather than Differin cream to save $200, Maelove is one way to save hundreds on the essentials without making any concessions when it comes to what goes into the products themselves. Below, you can learn more about what makes up the Maelove skincare line, including many that I’ve personally tested and reviewed.
The Glow Maker ($28) is a vitamin C serum that works to brighten your complexion, even tone, and lighten dark spots. It’s lightweight and sinks in quickly and completely without leaving any tacky residue. And while vitamin C serums can be drying, Maelove’s iteration has a botanical blend and hyaluronic acid (which can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water) to prevent it.
Consumers have been quick to note the Glow Maker has a very similar ingredient list to the multi-award-winning C E Ferulic Serum ($166), despite being more than $130 cheaper.
The Night Renewer ($28), is one of my favorite products. It uses 10% medical-grade AHA, a blend of soothing ingredients, and hyaluronic acid to gently resurface the skin for better texture and more even tone without being too harsh or drying. It took the company years of research to master something gentle and effective, and they’ve nailed it here. After one night of use, I noticed an improvement in my skin’s texture and tone and have noticed my dark spots fading over time. My pores also look a little smaller.
The One Cream ($28, currently sold out) is an everyday moisturizer that will hydrate without clogging pores. It’s good for all skin types, and it goes on lightweight and absorbs quickly and completely. When I’m not testing another cream, this is the budget-friendly one I prefer — there’s never any irritation to my sensitive skin, and it deals with dry patches well.
The Eye Enhancer ($28, currently sold out) hydrates, tightens, and brightens the delicate skin around the eyes. A little goes a long way, and it absorbs into the skin for an all-day brightness and de-puffing boost. Cold-pressed Robusta Coffee seed extract, which is full of antioxidants and polyphenols, reduces water retention and puffiness, and a botanical complex soothes the thin, sensitive skin around your eyes. But if you’re used to a thicker eye cream this may not be for you — it’s very lightweight.
The Deep Exfoliator ($24) is a good, relatively gentle exfoliant. Its ingredients include BHA (salicylic acid) and pulverized clay to draw out impurities and absorb excess sebum, and niacinamide (vitamin B3), glycerin, allantoin, and
to restore moisture. When used a few times a week, it helps resurface your skin for better tone and texture. It works best when combined with another AHA/BHA like the Night Renewer, but it’s nice on its own — and especially for sensitive skin types. If you’re looking for a stronger exfoliant and don’t want to buy both, I recommend buying the Night Renewer.
The NIA 10 Calming Serum ($27.95) is designed for dry, inflamed, sensitive, acne-prone skin. Niacinamide (vitamin B3),
, and white tea extract work to calm the skin and improve redness and tone over time. I noticed it helped calm my blemishes and made my pores look noticeably smaller. In terms of redness, it’s helped slightly with steady use, but the results have not been drastic. If redness is your main concern and your skin is too sensitive for vitamin C serums, this is worth checking out as an alternative. Otherwise, the Glow Maker may be better for overall tone correction.
The Refresher ($18.95) is a gentle cleanser that helps clean the skin without disrupting its natural moisture barrier, but it can be slightly drying if you’re used to other simple, gentle cleansers like Cetaphil. The Refresher uses a blend of AHAs (lactic, malic, and tartaric) to remove dead or dull skin cells, and without a moisturizer after, it can be drying. Personally, I like that the AHAs help calm my breakouts and remove dull skin, but if you’re prone to dryness, you may want to stick with Cetaphil. The internal straw also doesn’t reach all the way to the bottom of the bottle, so you may have to dig for the last bit of the face wash.
The Moonlight Retinal Super Serum ($35, currently sold out) is Maelove’s first retinal product and, while it uses an ingredient that’s more efficient than retinol, it’s relatively inexpensive at $35 an ounce. It’s currently sold out, but you can sign up for alerts here. Like other vitamin A products, Moonlight is designed to increase the body’s natural processes that combat signs of aging: cell turnover, collagen production, improving discoloration, hydrating the skin, and reducing acne.
Maelove claims its Moonlight serum delivers “prescription level benefits” over-the-counter. And, retinaldehyde is actually stronger than retinol according to celebrity dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman. However, Dr. Engelman also says it can have more intense effects — like dryness. To balance out the formula, Moonlight includes niacinamide, bisabolol, ceramide, tea extracts, hyaluronic acid, and squalane.
It’s also important to note that vitamin A derivatives are a “known teratogen” according to Dr. Engelman, so it must be avoided if pregnant or breastfeeding. You can learn more about retinol and vitamin A and how it works here.
Recently, Maelove introduced a gentler retinol serum that contains the dermatologist-recommended concentration (0.25%) for those who are uninitiated with the ingredient. Called the Stargaze Enhanced Retinol Serum ($28), this formula is a good choice for those who are prone to sensitivity, too. Retinol has plenty of benefits when it comes to reducing fine lines and evening out skin tone, but it’s also known to cause dryness and irritation. The Stargaze serum lessens the effects by including a host of hydrating and calming ingredients like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. If you’ve been wanting to try out retinol but you’ve been worried about potential irritation, this option is a solid entry point with a fairly affordable price tag.
Maelove CEO and cofounder Jackie Kim wanted to cut prices on grooming products, and cofounders Brad Yim and Rishi Khaitan were looking for ways to apply artificial intelligence techniques to unexpected industries. Skincare — with its glamour and markups — seemed like a natural fit.
As industry outsiders, Kim and company were able to pinpoint the norms that needed challenging. “The first oddity of the skincare industry that we noticed was that it’s run like the fashion industry,” Kim explained. “Marketers create trends and endless product varieties in an attempt to maximize sales. What you end up with is a ton of undifferentiated products hyped by overzealous marketers, which leads to confusion among shoppers.”
The team recruited friends from all disciplines — cancer and brain researchers, chemical engineers, lawyers, and medical doctors — to hone in on the research without the baggage of preconceived notions. In essence, Maelove is one huge — and very successful — science experiment.
First, the team leverages decades of clinical research. “There are abundant and widely accepted published works that show which compounds work well for maintaining skin health. These are the tried-and-true ingredients recommended by every dermatologist and [which] are available in both over-the-counter and prescription strengths (the classic ingredients like retinol, AHA, certain vitamins and peptides, etc).” In short, these are the ingredients that should work.
Then, Maelove uses artificial intelligence to scan millions of self-reported product reviews — what Kim refers to as empirical real-world data — to determine which ingredients correlated with success, and which to avoid. These are the ingredients that, according to users, do work.
Finally, the company finds human volunteers to test the formula to verify that it’s effective. So instead of building a business around variety for the sake of variety, Maelove focuses on making one line of stellar skincare that can work for all skin types.
This radically affordable luxury skincare line is the real deal. Maelove makes some of the best and some of the cheapest skincare products that I’ve found. And while I don’t often get to stick to my own skincare routine as a product reviewer, I’ve surprised myself by preferring to use the cheaper Maelove products over luxury skincare I often test for work because they’re simple, gentle, and effective.
I recommend Maelove to everyone who asks me for recommendations because it works for all skin types and doesn’t cost much, but skincare is also a notoriously subjective experience. What works for me may not work for you — even a skincare line built to cater to every skin type. Luckily, Maelove has a 100-day, 100% money-back guarantee, so you’re not risking much if you want to give it a try yourself.
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