I’m very, very good at finding incredible things that aren’t expensive. I’m an unapologetic fast-fashion advocate, I can forage any cheesy mall store and emerge with a respectable outfit, and I understand the thrill of a particularly successful Marshall’s or TJ Maxx run. That skill also applies to beauty.
As much as I like the feeling of unboxing a beautifully-packaged Chanel lipstick or slathering on a ridiculously overpriced skin cream, I know for a fact there’s a cheaper version out there somewhere. It may not come in a gilded package, but it’s made with the same ingredients and does the exact same thing.
As somebody who spends an alarmingly large amount of time testing out (and compulsively hoarding) beauty products, browsing the aisles at both drugstores and Sephora, and posting reviews on MakeupAlley.com (hey, no judgment—we all need a hobby) I feel qualified—nay, compelled—to share with you $20 truly spectacular finds that all clock in at $20 or less.
If you haven't discovered Korean beauty brand Chosungah 22 yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. I adore the kitschy packaging and bright colors, but also the unique formulas, many of which just don't exist stateside. Right now, I'm using these mini lip and cheek gels made with Manuka honey extract and argan tree kernel oil.
Chosungah 22 So Tiny Lip & Cheek Face Color, $14 each; at Sephora
Beauty editors are kind of freaking out about Maybelline's new liquid lipsticks with good reason—they go on like a gloss but stay on like a stain. Plus, they're noticeably hydrating and come in 10 high-impact colors like fuchsia, orange-red, violet, and electric pink.
Maybelline Color Sensational Vivid Matte Liquid Lip Color, $7.99 each at drugstores or Ulta
People lose their shit over this anti-bacterial, super-soft synthetic Taklon brush that's thick enough to seamlessly apply bronzer, powder, or highlighter to your entire face or body (or all three—I own four of these and use them for everything.)
e.l.f. Studio Kabuki Face Brush, $6; at e.l.f. Cosmetics
A professional makeup artist recently introduced me to this waterproof gem, and it's become my number one desert-island product. It's one of the only brow enhancers I’ve found that darkens and thickens without making me look like I used a product to darken and thicken. It also applies like a dream thanks to vitamin E and argan oil.
Urban Decay Brow Beater in Dark Brown, $20; at Sephora
Second-day hair is my jam—I actually prefer it to squeaky clean strands—so a solid texturizer is a non-negotiable. I absolutely adore Oribe's Dry Texturizing Spray, but at $46, replacing it is a bit of a kick in the gut. Luckily, Not Your Mother's Double Take is a formidable competitor—and is just six bucks at the drugstore and gives me that same matte, mussed-up effect.
Not Your Mother's Double Take Dry Texture Spray, $6 at drugstores or Ulta
This little wand has become my holy grail for taming frizzies that emerge the second I step into humid weather. It looks like a tube of mascara and you simply use the spoolie and clear liquid formula to flatten flyways, frizz, and rogue hair.
It's part of Carson Softsheen's line of products geared toward African-American hair, but I truly believe anyone who deals with frizz can benefit.
Dark and Lovely Anti Reversion Edge Sleeker, $5.99; at drugstores or Softsheen Carson
Don't let the bold red shade fool you: This cream applies relatively sheer and melts into cheeks for a natural flush and adds a subtle matte tint to lips.
& Other Stories Kick Pleat Red Cheek and Lip Tint, &18; at Stories
Prepare to get addicted to this tinted top coat from Milan's favorite affordable makeup line Kiko that's designed to be applied on top of existing mascara for extra volume. Made with proprietary collagen complex and rice waxes, it makes lashes expand while remaining super-soft.
Kiko Milano Volume Top Coat, $10; at Kiko Milano
Stop searching for the perfect liquid highlighter, this is it. I bought it on a whim, and now mix it with foundation or pat it on my cheekbones every single day. It adds a dewy glow without looking too shimmery, and comes in four shades from super-pale pink (my favorite) to bronze.
NYX Born to Glow Liquid Illuminator, $7.50 at drugstores or NYX.
I never shut up about Pixi's products—I consider them the best-kept secret in beauty—and stock up whenever I'm in Target, where they're sold. I recently tried out this cleansing balm-to-oil, which literally melts away makeup and hydrates dry winter skin as well as moisturizer.
Pixi by Petra Nourishing Cleansing Balm, $20; at Target or Pixi Beauty
This mist is—for lack of a better phrase—the bomb. Made with organic coconut water and infused with youth-boosting hibiscus petals and moisture-adding Bulgarian rose, I find myself spritzing it on my face about six times a day.
Herbivore Botanicals Mini Rose Hibiscus Face Mist, $16; at Urban Outfitters
You'll be transfixed by the stylish, almost-neon hue—inexpensive makeup rarely looks this pigmented—but also by the fact that starts out as a loose powder and transforms into a creamy stain as it’s applied—so ’90s, and so much fun. Oh, and it's Drew Barrymore's beauty brand.
Flower Cosmetics Transforming Touch Powder-to-Crème Blush in Tickled Pink, $12.98; at Walmart
A multi-use beige pencil that works like a charm to overline lips, perk up tired eyes, or even cover redness like a concealer.
MAC Studio Chromagraphic Pencil, $16.50; at MAC Cosmetics
There's nothing I hate more than waiting for my nails to dry and gladly cough up the extra few bucks when my manicurist offers quick-dry top coat. Now, I use it at home too with this must-try topcoat that not only dries nails in 45 seconds, but makes them ridiculously glossy. Oh, and it's made with caviar extract, which some brands say is packed with amino and fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
Nails Inc. 45 Second Top Coat with Kensington Caviar, $15; at Sephora
Even if you're not a hardcore shadow fan, you'll fall for this jelly-like formula from amazing Korean makeup brand Too Cool For School that leaves a superfine shimmer on lids. I like to dab the lightest shade—a beige pearl—on the inner corner of my eye, but it comes in three neutral colors.
Too Cool For School Dinoplatz Eyeshadow on Flatiron, $18; at Sephora
This stuff has been around for 90 years and has makeup artists, editors, and celebrities singing its praises, and I like to refer to it as the $20 La Mer. It's a super-thick miracle cream that deeply hydrates, restores and protects skin with nourishing plant oils and extracts, and absorbs within seconds. I often dab it over makeup to give my skin a dewy glow.
Weleda Skin Food, $19; at Weleda
A click-twist liner pen unlike anything I've ever tried—instead of the typical marker-like formula most liquid eyeliners impart, this one is made with matte gel. Plus, the slanted applicator tip makes it impossible not to draw a straight, lash-hugging line. (I prefer the mini travel size to the full, FYI, because it gives me more control.)
Benefit Cosmetics They're Real Push-Up Eyeliner Mini, $12; at Ulta
Before products from British beauty superstore Boots were available in the U.S., I'd ask everyone I knew traveling to London to bring me back bottles of this—it's that good at removing traces of makeup my Clarisonic missed.
It's rare to find a toner made for dry skin so that's the one I use, but it's also available for oily and normal types, too.
No. 7 Beautiful Skin Soothing Toner, $8.99; at Target, Walgreens, or Boots
We talk about Wet 'N Wild's MegaLast Lip Color a ton in the StyleCaster office, and most of us wear it regularly. Each one is $1.99 (!) and they're so creamy and pigmented that you only need one swipe to get maximum color payoff. It comes in 26 colors so you have no excuse not to try it.
Also, these guys are made with an exclusive polymer complex, coenzyme Q10 and vitamins A & E, all of which soothe and plump lips—not bad for less than $2!
Wet 'N Wild's MegaLast Lip Color, $1.99 each; at drugstores or Wet n Wild
Hands-down, one of the best hair oils out there. I run a little bit through my ends after using a clampless iron—it's made with hydrolized keratin so it defrizzes like a champ) and also use it to revive my hair when it hasn't been washed in a few days. Unlike other oils, it's not very thick, so it never adds unnecessary weight, and it comes in a tiny vial so it's easy to slip in a makeup bag.
Hask Keratin Oil Smoothing Shine Oil, $2.99 at drugstores or Ulta
Hask Keratin Oil