Scarlett Johansson’s The Outset skincare review: does it live up to the hype?

The brand was create to care for the skin’s barrier - and is now available in the UK

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The Outset
Ellie Davis14 June 2023
ES Best

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Do we really need another celebrity beauty brand? We can’t help but ask ourselves this with every A-list focused press release that lands in our inbox.

The beauty industry is a saturated market and as a beauty editor, it’s a challenge to keep up - but for a consumer, it’s nothing short of a minefield. It feels almost daily that we hear about another ingredient set to transform our skin or freeze it wrinkle-free in time like something out of Death Becomes Her. Yet more often than not, we are left disappointed.

Turns out, this is dissatisfaction isn’t limited to us non-Hollywood folks. The stars really are just like us and experience the same trials and tribulations of nailing down a beauty routine that actually works. In fact, that’s the very reason award-winning actress Scarlett Johansson founded her brand new skincare line, The Outset.

“When I was in my twenties, my skin was always so irritated”, she explained to me over Zoom. “I had this acne that would move to different sides of my skin and it was a pain point for me for a very long time. I would go to the dermatologists and use all the drying creams and toners and actives on top of actives without knowing anything and digging and trying to find answers”.

The Outset

It wasn’t until she stripped it all back with a simple cleanser, serum, moisturiser combo that it all turned around for her. “My skin was the best it had ever been for as long as I could remember and that’s where the next chapter of the journey started”, she said.

Johansson teamed up with beauty entrepreneur Kate Foster who herself struggled with acne and very sensitive skin to create The Outset that is centred around caring for the skin barrier. They believe this is the starting point for healthy skin - hence the name. The brand places an emphasis on simplicity, accessibility or, as Foster explains, “consistency over complication, nourishing and care over drying and “fixing””. They may just be on to something. With 60 per cent of the population faced with sensitive skin, a skincare label that caters for this, while also being effective can go a long way.

The Outset

What first struck me about the range was how extensive it was, especially for a line that claims to be minimal. It’s launching in the UK with eight products, which doesn’t exactly seem simple on the face of it.

What is definitely minimal is the formula. The Outset is designed to be clean (free from fragrances, parabens, phthalates, sulfates or allergens) and clinically tested for sensitive and blemish-prone skin, while also being vegan. The signature ingredient is derived from the Cassia flower, which adorns the bottles and is a botanical alternative to hyaluronic acid, swapped in as it’s believed to be longer lasting, sustainably sourced, vegan and eschews that sticky or tacky feeling you get with some moisturising products.

The packaging is sleek, minimal but premium and recyclable. Sustainability is also prioritised, from the refillable glass bottles to the waste-conscious packaging.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the products and find out if they pass the ES Best test.

The Outset Gentle Micellar Antioxidant Cleanser

The Outset

The Outset’s eight-strong line-up can be condensed down to just three products for a daily barrier reset. Whether you choose to follow this pared-back trio or like to take the Korean skincare approach of many more elements, you will always start with cleanser.

The Gentle Micellar Antioxidant Cleanser is as it says on the tin: gentle. I was concerned on first use that this thin and lightweight texture wouldn’t be able to hold its own. I wondered too whether the gel, slightly foaming formula would cause increased dryness to my skin - but happily I was wrong on both fronts. A full face of makeup did require a double cleanse but it worked well in lifting off the product without drying. It’s surprisingly effective.

The product contains the trademarked Hyaluroset Complex that is made up of a botanical alternative to hyaluronic acid designed to be more long-lasting as well as cleaning micelles, something familiar to the Micellar Water fans. There’s a 7 amino blend and antioxidant fruit extract blend that are said to have an anti-ageing effect. It’s fragrance free, can be used by the most sensitive skin and no fear of it ending up in your eyes as there’s no burn.

The lid is a screw cap, which makes it secure and spill-free for travel.

Buy now£32, Cult Beauty

The Outset Firming Vegan Collagen Prep Serum

The Outset

This lightweight serum glides onto skin and leaves a brighter complexion in its wake. The results are instant with the potent cocktail of vitamins and vegan collagen getting to work hydrating, plumping and firming the skin.

The second step in The Outset curated routine, it combines the likes of the botanical nourishing complex with a whole host of ingredients that I’ve never seen before (Brassica Napus Seedcake Extract, Mexican Arnica Flower Extract, Black Quinoa Extract and Pullulan) that are all about smoothing, soothing and layering the skin in much-welcomed mineral goodness. It does feel slightly tingly but this doesn’t last long.

Johansson reveals that this award-winning product “prepares your skin to accept the moisture from the day cream”, encouraging the latter to be more hydrating. She also says that you “can mix it with concealer to use for light coverage or with tinted moisturiser”.

Buy now£46, Cult Beauty

The Outset Nourishing Squalane Daily Moisturiser

The Outset

If you’re opting for a minimal routine, this may be the last of the three steps. Even when you’re adding other more specific ingredients to the mix, moisturiser will be the second last part (only followed by SPF, of course).

The Nourishing Squalane Daily Moisturiser is great. It’s rich, thick, nourishing and long-lasting - a winning combination for a moisturiser in our book. That being said, ahead of summer and for the sweat-prone among us, it may not be the one you’ll reach for in humid temperatures for the reasons just mentioned. It can also be laborious to rub in.

The product combines a powerhouse concotion of moisturisation, from the Hyaluroset Complex, to olive-derived squalane to support the skin’s protective barrier and hops extract. There’s also edelweiss extract, a more antioxidant-rich alternative to vitamin C and red rise extract to shield against free radical damage.

Buy now£44, Cult Beauty

The Outset Smoothing Vitamin C Eye + Expression Lines Cream

The Outset

I have to admit, I take an incredibly lax approach to eye cream. I know I should probably use it but when I’m already loading up on so many different creams, I can’t help but feel like it gets to a point where enough is enough. While it may bring an alphabet of vitamins and anti-ageing benefits to my peepers, this cream wasn’t enough to win me over to the product type once and for all.

It’s a thick cream and very nourishing but I feel applying the other textures up to the periorbital area should do much of the same job. There is the hyaluronic acid alternative complex and a form of vitamin C that works the glowing magic as well as the unique addition of Irish moss with minerals, polysaccharides and micronutrients and centella asiatica extract to smooth and soften. Remember that when applying to the delicate eye area, use your ring finger to dab onto the skin - do not swipe or drag.

Buy now£42, Cult Beauty

The Outset Restorative Niacinamide Night Cream

The Outset

As you would expect from a night cream, this is a thick, fluffy cream texture - and if you follow the entire The Outset routine, by the time you get to this product, there are a lot of different lotions and potions on the face.

My skin was red and inflammed due to the exfoliation step (more on that below) and the Restorative Niacinamide Night Cream wasn’t quite calming enough to counteract this. I did notice a brighter, plumper complexion come morning and there’s the added anti-ageing benefits from the natural vitamin A alternative bakuchiol contained within the formula that encourages cell turnover. There’s the complex too as well as the named niacinamide for brightening and texture uniformity, evening primrose oil for moisture and licorice extract for discoloration.

Johansson recommends that you can even use on the soles of your feet, “I started doing that and it gives you baby feet”.

Buy now£54, Cult Beauty

The Outset Exfoliating Caffeine Micro Polish

The Outset

Dermatologists have long stressed the need to rid our facial routine of harsh exfoliants, detailing first of the microplastic content and then of micro tears that cause moisture loss and redness - which is why I was first surprised at the inclusion of this product, especially when learning of Foster and Johansson’s sensitivities.

This product is likely too harsh for those with sensitive skin and not the kind of formula that you would use every day, despite what’s detailed on the box. In fact, I would only do so once or twice a week as a reset for a really thorough cleanse. It uses a fine perlite that is said to not abrade the skin but with a texture this coarse, how could it not?

There’s also the complex, white tea to protect against oxidative stress and caffeine for brightening. Skin is left feeling soft, smooth and bright after application, but reserve it for a mid-week reset.

If it feels too harsh, take a leaf out of Johansson’s book: take in the shower and thin it out with water.

Buy now£34, Cult Beauty

The Outset Ultralight Moisture-Boosting Oil

The Outset

Harking back to GCSE Chemistry and the idea of combining oil with oil may sound familiar. That being said, I totally understand many people’s reticence in loading up their skin with more oils when they’ve got greasy skin.

That’s the beauty of this product. It is unlike any other oil I’ve ever tried. It’s so lightweight and this is immediately apparent as you catch a glimpse of it. The colourway is not that typical golden hue with a more clear appearance. While ensuring it won’t leave a slick of grease in its wake, it still packs the skin with hydration with only a few droplets. It dries almost instantly with an immediate glowing effect.

The formula is made of the complex, Abyssinian oil that is moisturising and rich in omega fatty acids, acai - a superfood brimming with vitamins A, B, C and E and ultra-hydrating squalane.

“You can add it to your moisturiser or you can use it on its own” explains Johansson. “You can use it at the tips of your hair. You can use it on your cuticles. It’s just a beautiful moisturisation that dries down really dry so it doesn’t feel sticky. It’s game changing, it really is”.

Buy now£44, Cult Beauty

The Outset Purifying Blue Clay Mask

The Outset

This is perhaps my favourite product in the range. Now, I’m not usually a fan of clay masks - no doubt in part due to the drying L’Oreal Detox Mask that was a regular feature in my childhood. I find the texture too stripping on my already-dry skin, but this formula takes a different, more nourishing approach that has a real noticeable effect on blemishes in just one use thanks to the inclusion of salicylic acid. Plus, it’s more sustainable that my traditional sheet masks with a multi-use pot. I’ve had three full-face masks and I’ve barely made a dent.

The texture is creamy and glides onto the skin with enough time to evenly layer over your whole face; lesser clay masks tend to crack or flake almost instantly. It uses the brand’s Hyaluroset Complex as well as blue clay that sets the colour, niacinamide for brightening, gardenia extract to counteract the effect of free radicals and pansy extract for calming. The mineral-rich combination can be applied all over but you can also just set on problematic areas to draw out impurities and even out skin’s tone. All told, it’s a 10 minute treatment.

I agree with Johansson that it “stays really, really moist and it just packs so much moisture into your skin, while still remaning purifying”. She adds, “it is also redness reducing, so you can do it right before you go out for dinner, while you watch TV and it’s not going to be that painful tightening like you’re used to with clay masks”.

Buy now£46, Cult Beauty


Nourishment is what you get with this ScarJo’s The Outset skincare range. Each of the products is rich, moisturising and luxurious in formulation. This also means they can be a touch laborious to rub in and absorb but once you do, the glow is immediate. The only thing that’s really missing is an SPF to complete the collection.