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I’m nothing if not a fan of efficiency. In high school, I ate the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day for an entire semester. My thinking: Each of the three meals tasted good and gave me enough energy to get through the day. Why complicate my routine by giving myself unnecessary decisions to make? Around the same time, I adopted a similar approach with my makeup and toiletries (let’s call it my “best beauty products routine”) I found a go-to eyeliner, mascara, eyeshadow, statement eyeshadow, eyeshadow primer, face primer, facewash, and face lotion. (I’ve never been much of a lipstick or face makeup person, so those didn’t make the “best beauty products” cut.) The only product I’ve swapped out in the last decade? Liquid eyeliner. The one I used in high school offered a brush that was far too thick for regular cat-eye use; last year, I encountered one that got the job done every time—and swiftly added it to my routine.
You might call what I’m doing “strange”—and I can’t really argue with you. All I can say is that I’m engaging in a little “choice minimalism” (put less pompously, I’m “not fixing what isn’t broken”). I’ll never be the kind of person who tries every new beauty product that hits the market. I care about how I look, but not enough to spend a bunch of time optimizing every product in my collection. Instead, my goal has been pretty simple: to find a bunch of products that do exactly what I need them to do—and that do so reliably. I’ve basically achieved that, eight times over. Behold, my tried-and-true favorites—and exactly what I love about each one.
The 8 products I’ve used since high school:
L’Oréal Paris’s Le Kohl eyeliner pencil was the first eyeliner I ever bought, and it’s still my go-to pencil. (That said, it’s no longer available in quite the same form. So I’ve substituted the very similar L’Oréal Paris Le Khol Superliner above.) I’ve experimented with a few others over the last decade, but I’ve always found them too waxy, too smudgy, or too quickly dulled.
This one is easily sharpened, so it lasts a long, long time. It promises crisp lines and a lot of control—which I love, because I wear eyeliner several times a week. Plus, you can score it at your local drugstore.
Did I buy my first CoverGirl Last Blast Volume Mascara after watching the America’s Next Top Model episode where all the contestants advertised CoverGirl Lash Blast Volume Mascara? Absolutely. But did I ever regret that product placement-driven purchase? Never. Though some people prefer a mascara that leaves their lashes extra long, and others prefer one that leaves their lashes extra thick, I favor a product that offers both in equal measure.
I want a mascara that’s bold (but never clumpy), and long (but never spindly). CoverGirl Lash Blast Volume Mascara nails this balance better than any other product I’ve tested—and I’ve given all kinds of wands, labels, and price points a try.
For a long time, I relied on one of those truly massive eyeshadow palettes that boasts neutrals, saturated shades, and everything in between. The only problem? Those things are huge—and fragile. You can’t really travel with them, and you only end up using one or two of the colors regularly, anyway.
For my 16th birthday, a friend gifted me a tiny Sephora Collection Colorful Eyeshadow in a metallic blush shade (Color 205: Ballet Shoes). And I’ve been wearing it ever since. The color is versatile enough to wear with any look in any setting, and the eyeshadow itself is compact enough to carry anywhere. Such a win.
Early in my high school career, I was pretty experimental with my look—and sometimes that involved wearing the most saturated, statement-making eyeshadows I could find. These have largely fallen out of my routine, but I still think it’s worth keeping one show-stopping eyeshadow around for parties, costumes, and any event that warrants a little next-level glam (New York Fashion Week, for instance).
I’ve tried a lot of loud eyeshadows, but L’Oréal Paris’s HiP Metallic Shadow Duo (in 906: Platinum) has outperformed them all. Many drugstore eyeshadows offer little in the way of saturation, leaving anyone who wants a bold shade stuck at Sephora or Ulta. But this silver/charcoal combination is the most vibrant I’ve found. It’s dense enough to create a head-turning look in seconds, and the built-in color combination means you can get a two-toned look without carrying around an extra product. (My go-to color combo isn’t currently available on L’Oreal Paris’s website, but a very similar silver/violet combo is!)
Eyeshadow primer is a must for anyone who regularly wears eye makeup. I realized this very early on, when my eyeliner kept sweating into my crease and my eyeshadow kept disappearing altogether. A friend recommended I try Urban Decay’s Eyeshadow Primer Potion, and I’ve never looked back—seriously, I’ve never even tried another eyeshadow primer. That’s how good this product is. I use it every single time I wear makeup, and I have absolutely no complaints.
(That said, I definitely recommend the doe-foot applicator over the larger squeeze tube. I bought the latter thinking it would fit my needs, but the primer applied less smoothly and dried out a lot faster. It might’ve just been my tube—rather than all tubes. But I’ve never had an issue with the doe-foot applicator, so I’d recommend that one in particular.)
When I first fell in love with Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer, I was dancing regularly—and caking a ton of stage makeup onto my face for performances. The key to keeping my skin from going haywire after every show? Starting with a layer of Smashbox Photo Finish. The primer is so soft it left my skin feeling velvety smooth, and it kept my makeup in place no matter how sweaty I got. I’ve tried other primers, and none of them offer the same blend of moisture, texture, and grip.
Plus, I actually looked forward to using Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer, because it left my skin in better shape than it found it. Seriously, my skin looked better the day after wearing a ton of makeup and sweating for hours on end—all thanks to this primer. I had no idea it was possible, but somehow, Smashbox made it happen.
When I first began experimenting with facewashes, I struggled to find one that really worked. My skin was never particularly acne-prone, but I did get the occasional zit—and a lot of blackheads. None of the facewashes I tried seemed to make a difference, so I took a chance on the Clean & Clear Essentials Deep Cleaning Astringent my friend swore by. Immediately after using it, my skin was red (and honestly, it stung a little), but the next day, it was so smooth I couldn’t stop touching it. I began using the astringent regularly—especially after dance performances, where I’d caked all kinds of makeup onto my face.
Worth noting: Astringents are really intense. (Like I said, my skin stung the first time I used this one.) They’re not for everyone, and they can dry out your skin if you don’t follow-up with a ton of moisturizer. For this reason, I’ve actually cut down on my use to a few times each week. My skin isn’t as oily as it was in high school, so it doesn’t make sense to use every day anymore. Still, I turn to it when my skin is out of whack, and I still rely on it to cleanse my face on days where I’ve worn a ton of makeup.
I wasn’t sure what lotion to use with my astringent, so I just stuck with the one that came recommended: Clean & Clear Essentials Dual Action Moisturizer. This face lotion always plies my skin with enough moisture that it looks healthy, but not so much that it gets shiny. In other words, it offers everything you could ever want from a face lotion. Occasionally, I supplement with a stronger body lotion or a little face oil, but this is still my go-to. I no longer use it every day—just on days when I’ve used my astringent, or when my skin needs a little extra love.
The 1 product I added to my routine last year:
I’ve been a cat-eye fan since my senior year of high school. Seriously, every time I wear makeup, you can expect to find a subtle wing lining my upper lids. For years, I relied on a drugstore liquid liner. It was good, affordable, and offered adequate control, but the brush dulled over time, leaving cat eyes harder to come by.
A little over a year ago, I discovered Sephora Collection’s Long-Lasting Wear Eyeliner, and immediately offered it a spot in my routine. The brush is thin and hard, with just enough give to keep your lines looking smooth. I’m obsessed, and I own it in a few different colors—all of them lovely.
A few other favorites that joined the party after high school:
There are a few products I didn’t start using until college—or even after. These didn’t get classed with the liquid eyeliner, because they didn’t replace anything in my routine. And they didn’t get classed with the other eight, because I haven’t been using them for a full decade. Still, they’re tried-and-true favorites in their own right, and I’d be remiss not to mention them, too.
Sometime in college, I decided to become a perfume person. I wasn’t sure where to begin, but after smelling a few of my friend’s Chanel No.5 perfumes, I became convinced that their Eau de Toilette Spray was the fragrance for me. The scent is a little subtler than the Eau de Parfum version, but it still drips with sophisticated appeal (without feeling stuffy).
The price point is a little intense, but I can honestly say one bottle lasted me a full two years—and I wore that sucker every single day. I restocked earlier this year, and though I occasionally find myself tempted to try something new, Chanel No.5 Eau de Toilette Spray is just too good to part with.
For as long as I can remember, Vaseline has been my go-to nighttime chapstick. But it took me a while to adopt it as my daytime chapstick, too. (I spent years experimenting with various chapstick brands before caving and deciding to carry a tiny tub of Vaseline with me at all times.) Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find me without Vaseline in my bag.
Partway through college, I also realized Vaseline made for a great eye makeup remover. I’d tried a bunch of other, more official makeup removers, but they’d always stung my eyes. Vaseline got the job done without leaving me in pain, which is really all I could ask for. (Plus, I don’t have to worry about carrying makeup remover with me on vacation. It’s already in my bag.)
When I was 23, I decided to bleach my hair. This wasn’t a bad decision, but it did leave my locks in sorry shape. Now, every time I get out of the shower, I run a bunch of Aveda Dry Remedy Daily Moisturizing Oil through my damp hair to give it some much-needed moisture. The oil smells so great that I actually look forward to using it. (And I even use it on my face on particularly dry-skin days!)
I went a long, long time without a go-to body lotion. I mostly scoured Target for something that was inexpensive and looked like it might smell OK. This was a bad strategy. After graduation, I forced myself to accept that good lotion might not lurk in the bargain bin, and I bought the brand my aunt has always loved: Aveeno. It plied my skin with moisture, making it a must-have during New York’s coldest, driest months. It also wasn’t that expensive, and I regret spending so much time without it.
I don’t have a go-to lipstick, foundation, powder, bronzer, highlighter, or concealer. The lipstick shouldn’t come as much of a surprise—I’m (obviously) more of an eye makeup person, and I usually rely on Vaseline to get the job done as far as my lips are concerned.
The face products might seem a little more shocking, mostly because I have a go-to face primer and literally nothing to layer over it. But again, when I fell in love with Smashbox Photo Finish Primer, I was dancing regularly, and needed some stage makeup go-tos. The face products I relied on were far too thick and showy to wear on the regular, so primer was just about the only thing I was able to hold onto from that time. One day I might end up with a few new favorites, but for now, my routine does exactly what it needs to: It keeps my choices to a minimum, so I can spend my time and energy on other stuff.