Beauty Bag Standoff! Luxurious Beauty Essentials v. Drugstore Alternatives


There is an intense satisfaction we get from casually pairing our long coveted (and somewhat pricey) Isabel Marant suede over-the-knee boots with an unbelieveably affordable mini skirt from H&M. The high/low dynamic makes us feel like we’re getting away with something. So, it’s no surprise that on any given day, a peek inside our makeup bags might reveal an equal amount of luxury from the Chanel makeup counter mixed in with some basic essentials from the nearest drugstore.

A recent trip to Bergdorf’s Beauty Level left us dizzy with how we managed to spend close to $450 on five items that fit in a tiny bag in under 20 minutes. What just happened? What exactly did we purchase?

Not ones to harbor buyers’ remorse, we decided to learn something from this experience, and over the course of three weeks put our extravagant purchases to the test. Is there a tangible difference between expensive and affordable moisturizers whose price points span over $100? Is a smartly packaged lip balm worth our last 20 bucks? These are the questions that need answering.

So, in the spirit of spring cleaning, we’re swinging our medicine cabinet doors wide open and dumping out the contents of our collective purse to reveal what five beauty essentials we may (or may not) be willing to spend a small fortune on.

Facial Moisturizer with SPF:
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First things first. The warmer months are officially here, which means more time spent outside. It also means we’re not leaving the house without a quality SPF on our face. It’s just that simple.

What’s not as simple is trying to decide if we could ever live without Natura Bisse’s Sun Defense Oil Free SPF 30. We love everything about this deliciously creamy, yet never pasty, luxurious feeling moisturizer, including its fresh, summery smell and full coverage SPF. The only thing shading our less-than-perfect view of this lotion is the cost: $95.

In a pinch, we’ve found that Purpose Dual Treatment Moisture Lotion is an affordable runner-up. You’ll sacrifice the texture and smell we so love about the Bisse, but this moisturizer is a durable, oil free SPF 15 that won’t get greasy under makeup or need constant reapplying. Plus we’re sold on the $10 price tag.

Winner: Natura Bisse Sun Defense Oil Free SPF 30. The $85 tag difference is steep, but we found we could literally skip the expensive moisturizer step with this all-in-one. Plus you couldn’t beat the amazing lightweight feel.

Lip Balm in a Savvy Case:
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We’re addicted to lip balm around here. But spending anything more than necessary on such a basic item never really occurred to us until we tried the Rachel Zoe-endorsed Fresh Sugar Rose Lip Treatment ($22.50). An amazing, rose-tinted balm that smells like fresh citrus encased in a glamorous, weighty, metallic screw-top tube, it ensures we’re never left chapped on the go.

While we could probably talk ourselves out of this one using reason and the satisfaction we get out of picking up yet another cheap and colorful gloss everytime we stop for gum or paper towels, we couldn’t shake the feeling that there’s something wonderful about a lip balm in a savvy case. So you can imagine our excitement when we first spotted Eos, a perfectly packaged little pink bauble of delight sitting in between the Orbitz gum and the peanut M&M’s at our local Duane Reade checkout.

Upon further inspection, the Eos revealed itself to be a 95 percent organic, paraben free, great tasting lip balm that comes in four flavors (the newest, Lemon Drop, has SPF just in time for summer) and the sphere-like case ensures a quick and easy swipe across the lips. If we saw Eos at Sephora we’d swear it costs twice as much as its $4 scan.

Winner: Fresh Sugar Rose Lip Treatment. It may be more than we ever spent on a lip balm but our lips were moisturized for much longer. We chalk it up to the lack of waxy residue.

Mascara Worthy of Our Attention:
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Total market saturation is the only way to describe the mascara scene these days. There are so many different hues, lengtheners and plumpers that some brands have even created vibrating wands to enhance lashes and entice us to drop our old game and give theirs a try. That may be why we’ve stayed so close to home on this one, replacing tube after tube of Chanel’s Inimatable Noir Black.

Then one day, a trusted friend who rolls deep in beauty swag and gifted samples tossed Rimmel London’s Sexy Curves our way. Having very limited history with the brand (for years they were a Wal-Mart exclusive) we had zero expectations. Immediately drawn to the uniquely curvy brush and thick glossy black liquid, we couldn’t believe how easily we might have overlooked this $7 gem. With a price that low, we might actually follow our own advice about replacing our mascara every three to four months.

Winner: Rimmel London’s Sexy Curves. It was a sleeper hit! Though we love pulling the sleek Chanel tube out of our makeup assortment, we’d rather save up for the full-on handbag.

Body Lotion That Isn’t A Waste of Your Time:
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Winter weather is as conducive to dry skin as electricity is to wire. But now that we’re gearing up to wear jean shorts and Alexander Wang tees as our summer uniform, it’s time to face this battle head on.

It takes a clever and sly salesperson to break through our retail beauty counter armor and convince us to buy anything, let alone La Mer’s The Body Creme for $195. Perhaps it was the promise that the La Mer is so wonderful and so hydrating, that we wouldn’t need to apply it everyday that made us more easily entranced. Most likely, it was our shame for neglecting our skin for so long.

Nevertheless, it’s a luxurious addition to our daily routine, but therein lies the rub. It’s a daily exercise, and it takes a pretty decent amount of the stuff to properly cover us from head to toe roughly $15 worth with every application. Simply put, it’s too rich for our blood.

Luckily, there’s an alternative that produces quick yet long-lasting results. Eucerin Plus Intensive Repair ($6.50) is like boot camp for the skin in that all too quick transition from snow boots to shorts. Fortified with alpha-hydroxy, Eucerin is a rich, no nonsense cream that has a somewhat heavy texture (much like a body butter) so it’s best applied at night or when you don’t have to get dressed right away.

Winner: Eucerin Plus Intensive Repair. A surprisingly hydrating body lotion that worked. We’d still like a lovely scented lotion once in awhile but this will do othe everyday trick.

Facial Cleansers, Watch It Go Down the Drain:
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Face wash is an everyday staple. As one of the first products we use in the morning, and one of the last before our head hits the pillow, it’s no wonder we spend so much time obsessing over which one is best for our skin.

A friendly recommendation pointed us in the direction of Nude Skincare’s Cleansing Facial Wash ($24). A steady favorite, Nude Facial Wash is completely free of harmful chemicals, gives us glowing skin, and we love the soft, Moroccan-inspired scent.

A cheaper, yet just as gentle alternative is the dermatologist recommended Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser ($10). Similar results, minus the scent and with more utilitarian packaging. Total disclosure, we use both cleansers religiously.

Winner: Tie! We found switching between the two gave us the best results.

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