Few things in life fill me with more joy than opening up the lid of a seriously luxurious beauty product. It’s shallow, I know, but there’s something about the feeling I get when I know I’m treating myself to something great. I guess that famous advertising tag line sums it up so well: It’s because I’m worth it, right? That’s essentially how consuming luxury beauty products makes me feel, whether that’s treating myself to a nourishing hair mask or taking the time to really massage in my nightly moisturizer.
Having said that though, there are certain products I prefer to buy on a budget. While some high-end alternatives to my budget beauty favourites are wonderful, when it comes to spending my hard-earned cash, the budget buys win. After many years of testing new beauty launches, I have come to discover that certain products just aren’t worth a great expense—either because the budget options are just as great or because the results just don’t justify the cash.
Similarly, luxuries aside, I have also discovered that certain products often require a bit of extra expenditure if you actually want them to work. Take, for instance, certain powerhouse skincare ingredients that are notoriously difficult to formulate with and makeup items that have the edge over budget competitors due to slightly more expensive, but much more efficacious, ingredients.
I have spent years learning about what goes into beauty products, so keep scrolling to discover the items I’d always spend a little more cash on (and those I’d prefer to scrimp on).
Although a great cleanser is hard to come by (something deep cleansing but not stripping), some of the best formulas around cost less than $20. While luxe balms might set you back a little more (lots of them include costly essential oils), skin-loving cleansers that focus on barrier function, like this one from CeraVe, don’t have to cost the earth.
Remember earlier when I said some ingredients are really hard to formulate with? That goes for a whole bunch of antioxidants, primarily vitamin C. As it is naturally an unstable active, in order for vitamin C to be at its most effective, a lot of research and time has to be taken to get the formula just right. When I see affordable vitamin C serums, I’m often dubious. This cult serum from SkinCeuticals is pricey, but it genuinely works.
Spend: Eye Shadow
I’m not a massive eye shadow girl, but I have noticed over the years that cheap formulas just don’t cut the mustard. I like something creamy, pigmented, and blendable. All too often, cheaper formulas overpromise on pigment pay-off and end up looking patchy and dry. My go-to shadows? VB Beauty’s Smoky Eye Bricks blend like butter, and the palettes themselves are basically works of art.
I used to think that foundation was an essential splurge item. However, affordable formulas have come in leaps and bounds more recently. A beautifully sheer, glowing coverage is something only luxe brands seemed to be able to pull off, but lightweight budget buys like this one give those high-end products a run for their money.
While high-street brands have nailed foundation formulas, I can’t say they’re quite there with their concealers just yet. In my experience, the majority of affordable concealers are drying and tend to crease. Of course, there are a few exceptions, but for me, it’s always safest to spend a little more on my cover-up. This matte-finish cream from Nars is my go-to.
Conditioner, on the other hand, is something I like to invest in. While some leave behind heavy coats of moisture, others just don’t seem to deliver enough. Oribe’s Gold Lust Conditioner is quite possibly one of my favorite hair products out there. It’s cripplingly expensive, but it leaves my hair so soft and silky. I just can’t stop myself from repurchasing.
When it comes to makeup items that aren’t applied in abundance, like blush, I think it’s safe to opt for budget options. This peach-toned powder is one of my favorites. I just apply a tiny amount to the apples of my cheeks to freshen up my complexion.
It might seem odd to suggest that bronzer and blusher act differently (especially if they’re both powder formulas). However, the difference between a good and bad bronzer can totally change your look. I personally find that higher-end, buttery bronzers tend to melt and blend more seamlessly into the skin, creating a more natural depth. I can’t be without my all-time favourite, Laura Mercier's Matte Radiance Baked Powder.
Save: Body Cream
I’m quite the body care connoisseur. But while I’m more than willing to invest in skincare for my face, I can’t say I care too much about body cream formulations. In my experience, affordable body moisturizers can feel equally as luxe as others 10 times their price. The Body Shop’s Body Yogurts are lightweight and velvety and leave skin silky smooth. Plus, they smell divine.
Spend: Bath Soak
An item I am willing to spend on when it comes to body care is bath soaks. This might be a more personal opinion, but because I put a lot of importance on my nightly bathing ritual, I’m also willing to invest to make sure it’s perfect. A luxury bath oil like this one from Aromatherapy Associates not only leaves skin glowing and nourished but also fills the room with the most calming scent.
Daily SPF application is absolutely imperative if you want to maintain a healthy, youthful-looking complexion, and luckily, formulas have come a very long way. If you want your SPF routine to ooze luxury, then by all means be my guest. But affordable options are out there, too, and they’re just as good. This formula is great for sensitive skin and is basically undetectable once it has been applied.
Moisturizer, on the other hand, is an area where I do prefer to spend a little more. I find that cheaper formulas tend to contain filler ingredients, such as silicones and artificial fragrance, much more abundantly that higher-end versions do. That’s not to say all cheap moisturizers do or that all luxe moisturizers don’t, but I have found that the majority of my go-to moisturizers sit on the pricier end of the spectrum. This cult formula is lightweight but perfect for virtually every skin type.
Save: Hyaluronic Acid
This might surprise you, but hyaluronic acid isn’t a product that promotes long-term skin health. Sure, it’s great for delivering instant moisture and plumping skin in the short-term, but it’s not a powerful active. I find that the majority of affordable hyaluronic serums do the job just fine, and The Ordinary’s offering is one of the best in the business.
Spend: Exfoliating Acid
Actual exfoliating acids, on the other hand, do sometimes require a little more thought and expenditure. I personally find AHAs like glycolic acid too harsh and stripping for my skin and prefer to invest in PHAs like gluconolactone. These acids work similarly to AHAs (exfoliating at a deep level) but don’t come with sensitizing side effects. Unfortunately, they are hard to formulate with, so only a handful of (slightly more premium) brands like Medik8 offer PHA formulas.