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 cherish 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 pharmacies 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 25 drugstore products I’ll never, ever upgrade. And most are well below $25.
Two words: game changer. I thought acne was a thing I'd left in my teens, but it turns out—fun!—it can surface again as an adult. I recently tried this mask on a cluster of distressing pimples around my chin and—I'm not kidding—they were gone by morning, likely thanks to the 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide treatment that's been proven to reduce the size and redness of breakouts in just four hours.
Neutrogena Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask, $8.99
I hoard these packets like they're being discontinued and use them every single time my wavy color-treated hair feels parched, brittle, or just meh. The gentle, hydrating nutrients—including soybean oil, glycerin, and olive oil—always leave my hair silkier and easier to manage.
Tip: I also like to run it through my ends at the beach during the summer.
Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Replenishing Pack, $1.39
Tweezers are tweezers, right? Wrong. I've been living my life in a haze of "whatever works" until I recently asked a makeup artist what tweezer she swears by and discovered it's Revlon's slant tip or bust. I now keep the slanted version in my bag at all times and find it gets closer to the root than any other brand I've tried.
Revlon Expert Tweezer Slant Tip, $7
Essie is pretty much the OG of nail polish, and Go Ginza—a super-hip white-based lavender—is my all-time favorite shade.
It's a bit hard to use by myself—it needs two to three solid coats to make sure it's totally unstreaky and as bold as I like it—but I often bring it with me to the nail salon just in case they don't have it.
Essie Go Ginza, $8.50
For $3, you won't find a more pigmented liquid stain than Demi Lovato's recent (and excellent) collaboration with drugstore brand New York Color. It comes in three colors—berry, red, and pink—and it's so pigmented, that you need a very light hand. (I mix the red shade with a touch of moisturizer and dab on my cheeks for all-day color.)
NYC New York Color Lovatics by Demi Lip & Cheek Tint, $3.40
Few activities are more pleasurable in life than dampening your nose, applying a Boiré strip, peeling it off, and looking at the residue. Gross? A little, but I've been loyal to seeing what ends up in these guys since high school—and swear they keep my nose relatively blackhead-free.
Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips, $7
Kylie who? Beauty obsessives 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 including fuchsia, orange-red, violet, and electric pink.
Maybelline Color Sensational Vivid Matte Liquid Lip Color, $7.99
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
People lose their shit over e.l.f.'s super-soft synthetic kabuki brush that's thick enough to seamlessly apply bronzer, powder, or highlighter (or all three—I own a handful and use them for everything) to your entire face or body.
e.l.f. Ultimate Kabuki Brush, $10
TMI: I don't have huge boobs, and when I choose not to wear a bra, I swear by these silicone adhesives to keep things PG. And yes, they're pretty much in every drugstore beauty aisle.
Hollywood Fashion Secrets Silicone CoverUps, $12.99
I mix this under-$5 formula, the absolute best drugstore conditioner out there—made with rosehip, vitamin E, and jojoba extract and zero sulfates—with a pump of Redken's Frizz Dismiss every time I wash for hydrated, silky hair. Plus, nothing smells better than classic Herbal Essences!
Herbal Essences Smooth Collection Conditioner, $4.50
I'm a brow obsessive and recently discovered this magical product that glides on like a pomade but stays put like a powder. I sometimes use a super-thin brush to apply it if I'm not looking to add a ton of extra to my brows, but still want to darken and thicken.
Maybelline Brow Drama Pomade Crayon, $8.99
I'm fully on board with this brilliant multipurpose oil that does everything from treat dry, aging, and uneven skin to help shrink stretch marks and minimize scars. I use it for all the above.
I'm not a huge mascara person, and I'm always looking for one that tints without making me look like I darkened and thickened. I love the lithe spoolie that deposits just enough color.
Rimmel Scandal Eyes Mascara, $4.75
Does any shaving cream compare to this hydrating gel-to-cream formula? Absolutely not. #Lifer.
Skintimate Hydrating Shaving Cream, $3.50
Every beauty lover knows Physician's Formula's bronzers are pretty much the OG drugstore product, and this new one—called Instaready—imparts a perfect glow without being muddy, orange, or too shimmery.
Physician's Formula #InstaReady Filter Trio BB Bronzer, $14.35
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, which literally melts away makeup and hydrates dry skin just as well as moisturizer. Pro tip: It's super thick, so a little goes a long way.
Pixi by Petra Nourishing Cleansing Balm, $20
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
An excellent gentle spot treatment for minor zits, this oil is made with Willow Bark Extract, which contains natural beta-hydroxy acids that work as a skin exfoliator to help unclog pores.
Burt's Bees Herbal Blemish Stick, $8
I, like so many other women I talk to, don't wear eyeshadow. However, I do use the powder formulas as eyeliner, and apply with a damp brush. I keep Milani's innovative gel shadows at my desk in black, brown, and gray and apply it on my lid and waterline when I'm looking to really bump up my makeup.
Milani Bella Eyes Gel Powder Shadow, $4.99
Nobody does my nails better than a pro, but I'm not always in the mood to sit in a chair for 30 minutes. When I DIY it, I find this formula—made with a blend of nourishing oils— works wonders at softening cuticles, and I keep one in my makeup bag at all times to reapply throughout the day.
Sally Hansen Cuticle Rehab, $5.99
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 Softsheen-Carson'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
I ask every dermatologist I meet which drugstore products they're partial to, and they've all name-checked RoC's super-light Deep Wrinkle Night Cream, which hydrates skin cells and reduces the appearance of expression lines and deep wrinkles. For $24.99, it's worth trying before switching to pricier formulas.
I bought this, comparable to powder highlighters 10 times its price, on a whim and plan to stick with it. Swirl all three shades together, or use them separately for a targeted glow.
Wet n Wild MegaGlo Illuminating Powder, $4.99
You already use Cetaphil face wash, so why not these fragrance-free cleansing cloths? I keep them in my vanity at all times on nights I'm too lazy to fully wash my face or when I'm wearing more makeup than usual and need a pre-cleanse.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleansing Cloths, $6.40