I received a recent query from a younger reader asking whether I could recommend “beauty products on a budget.” She added: “I’d love to buy La Mer but it’s just not realistic.” I loved the provocation and thought I’d share my favorite affordable beauty finds — nothing on this list is over $50.
+Makeup Remover: Almay Oil-Free Eye Makeup Removing Pads ($4.99) and Garnier Micellar Water. I have used the Almay pads since I was in my teens for mascara. They work incredibly well. For the rest of my face, I use micellar water. I tend to prefer Bioderma’s, but Garnier’s is remarkably similar and can be purchased for less. The only difference is that I find Bioderma’s slightly gentler and more effective at removing every trace of makeup. But both are very good.
+Cleansing Pads: Shiseido Facial Cotton ($12). Trust me when I say that this is worth the splurge over your standard-issue drugstore rounds. You get a LOT of pads for the price and you truly only need one at a time (I find I need two of the rounds from the drugstore because the products leak through the pads!) These are so much softer and gentler on skin. I’m obsessed. Related, I’ve tried lots of different make-up removing washcloths (including the highly-touted Makeup Eraser, which was just ehhhh IMHO — I don’t like how the fabric does not wick away moisture! It just kind of lays on your skin and does not absorb? I don’t get it) and the like but I always return to inexpensive, quick-dry washcloths bought in bulk.
+Cleanser: Tatcha The Deep Cleanse ($38). I love the texture of this product and — more importantly — the way it leaves my skin feeling completely cleansed and smoothed, but not dry. I prefer a cleanser with some grit to it (I used Proactiv for well over a decade) and this does the trick, but gently. I have a travel size that I genuinely look forward to using while on vacation!
+Serum: Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum ($45). I was initially going to write Ole Henriksen’s Truth Serum, which I have raved about a trillion and ten times and costs $48, but I can’t in good faith posit it as an “affordable beauty” product because I go through it so damn fast, and spending $48/month on a serum feels nuts. From a cost standpoint, you’re better off with Mario Badescu’s vitamin c serum, which is a more concentrated oil that yields very similar results and lasts an eternity. (I know this because I received an itty bitty trial size of it that probably contained 1/10th of a fluid ounce and it has lasted weeks.) I use the dropper to place a drop on my forehead and each of my cheeks and then sort of pat it into place right after I’ve cleaned my skin. Just like the Ole Henriksen product, I feel like the lights turn on once I’ve applied it. My skin just looks brighter and plumper and happier.
+Moisturizer: Belif The True Cream ($38). GUYS. This gel-like moisturizer is INSANE. It glides into skin and truly hydrates. I have even set aside my precious La Mer in favor of this during these ultra-dry lingering months of winter. I LOVE IT. And $38 yields a sizable tub of product that has lasted a long time. Huge fan of this Korean skincare label!
+Eye cream: Ole Henriksen’s Banana Bright Eye Cream ($38). I love this lightweight cream, which truly does brighten the eye area — my chief concern, as I have very dark undereye circles.
+Mask: Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque (2 for $11). I used this back in high school — it’s an O.G. wonder-worker. Not fancy, available in your local drugstore, but they WORK. I had occasion to use this recently while at home in D.C. and was astounded at how soft and clean it left my skin. Note that this price is for two LARGE TUBES. This will last you a lifetime.
+Concealer: Laura Mercier Secret Concealer ($27). OK, this is an expensive product, but I wear minimal makeup and so a good concealer is a must. This is the one I continue to go back to after trying different products. It’s thick. But it really hides anything and blends very well.
+Tinted Moisturizer: Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer ($46). I just switched to using Chantecaille’s tinted moisturizer but LM’s is the OG and I wore it for probably a decade. Bonus: it includes SPF! I like that this evens out skintone and glides on easily. I do prefer Chantecaille’s formula, which just sort of lays on top of the skin better (I feel like it kind of melts into my face and everything blurs and looks very natural), but LM’s is very good, too, and more affordable.
+Loose Powder: Makeup Forever HD Loose Powder ($20). The mini size will last a long time — this is great at setting a light application of makeup without looking cake-like thanks to an ultra-light consistency. I usually only use this in the wintertime when I feel I need more coverage/finish.
+Blush: Bobbi Brown ($32). This will last you forever and therefore I say it’s worth the incremental cost increase over cheaper brands. I love the colors (especially “Pale Pink”) and the formula (it stays on your cheeks and you only need a swipe or two — highly pigmented!) but I especially love the longevity. I’m sure I should have tossed mine long ago (I know cosmetics have a shelf life) but mine has legit lasted for five years!
+Mascara: L’Oreal Voluminous ($8). I am a bit of a mascara snob, but this is the best you can buy from the drugstore. I know Maybelline’s classic pink and green tube gets all the love from beauty editors, but I much prefer the L’Oreal formula and especially its brush. It gets the job done.
+Lipstick: Maybelline Color Sensational Lipsticks ($6-7). I love the formula and pretty colors of this particular lipstick line; they’re easy to apply, but they last. I own a couple of their pink shades, but my favorite is their Pink Me Up, which I often keep in my handbag. A great everyday neutral hue.
+Wunderproduct: Elizabeth Arden 8-Hour Cream. I’ve talked about this too many times, but I cannot live without this ointment. I use it on lips, cuticles, dry skin (layered over lotion/body oil) — even rashes, burns, and abrasions. It works WONDERS.
+Body Wash: Neutrogena Grapefruit Body Clear Acne Wash ($18 for 3). It’s not sexy, but this stuff is the ONLY formula I have found that prevents body acne outside of Kate Somerville’s Body Wash, which she no longer makes (!!!) I have used this consistently since probably eighth grade and I know immediately when I’ve not used it.
+Body Soap: Dove Beauty Bars ($14 for 14 bars). A classic. I used these in my childhood and still use them now while traveling. We upgraded to Molton Brown body wash purely for vanity reasons (the smell!), but I still adore a classic Dove bar soap. It was all I wanted after my c-section: taking a shower with a fresh bar of Dove soap felt like an anointing.
+Shampoo: Pantene Pro V ($5). If I’m ever traveling without my own shampoos, I always go with Pantene. It’s the most moisturizing and least offensive when it comes to the cloying scents you usually find in drugstore shampoos. If you like to wear your hair straight, I love Organix’s Keratin Treatment Shampoo and Conditioner ($16 for set). It really does help with straightening hair so you can spend less time straightening it with hot tools. A girlfriend of mine with GREAT, glossy hair recently shared that she uses Trader Joe’s shampoo ($12) and cannot rave enough about it. Going to give that a try, too!
+Body Lotion: Fresh’s Hesperides ($23). It smells like heaven (a fresh-cut grapefruit sprinkled with sugar) and deeply hydrates. I cannot live without this. In my opinion, worth the cost increase, but not as pricey as some of the balms and lotions you find from other prestige cosmetics providers.
+Hand Cream: Molton Brown ($15). Always in my purse during these dry winter months. My hands are so disgustingly reptilian!
What are your favorite affordable beauty buys?! I feel like y’all will have some incredible additions to this list.
+Dying over this Missoni-esque dress!!!