Sure, you’ll often find beauty editors chatting about the life-changing new products they’ve added to their routines, and often, those products come with hefty price tags. But not everything beauty insiders use actually costs an arm and a leg. In fact, many of their favorite finds are affordable buys—something I’ve learned over the years by chatting with editors about their holy-grail products. So what are the affordable products that earn just as much love as their expensive buys?
Ahead, beauty editors are weighing in on the inexpensive products they can’t live without. From the glycolic pads that are the secret to glowing skin to the makeup-artist secret for brightening under-eyes to the $11 foundation that rivals expensive formulas and more, these are the game-changing finds beauty editors swear by.
Jessica Chia, Contributing Editor, Allure
"Nothing makes my skin look smoother and more glowy than using peel pads. My longtime favorite were Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Pads, but they're $88 for a monthly supply. Then I tried The Magic Pads. Like Dr. Dennis Gross's pads, they contain glycolic acid and are gentle enough for daily use (the Magic Pads also contain hydrating glycerin and soothing aloe), but they're only $20 for a two-month supply, so I can stay radiant without cutting into my rent money."
"My naturally oily skin is a blessing when it comes to preventing wrinkles, but not so much when it comes to keeping a full face of makeup from bleeding, blurring, creasing, and pooling on my face. Needless to say, a high-quality primer is a must. I fell in love with the super-chic packaging of Heir Atelier after spotting it on celebrity makeup artist Fiona Stiles's feed and was even more impressed with it (and the fresh apple scent) when I used it. However, it's $42, so I never felt comfortable recommending it to friends. Enter L'Oréal's Infallible Pro-Matte Lock Makeup Primer, which I had to try for a story I was writing at the time. I put it on under makeup, went to church, cried my eyes out, and then walked in the rain to a date. I immediately dashed to the bathroom to check my makeup, and it was—get this—entirely intact. I haven't strayed from this drugstore gem since!"
Erin Jahns, Beauty Editor, Who What Wear
"This mascara is everything. It makes your lashes insanely long, but it's super lightweight so that they stay lifted, curled, and incredibly separated. Everyone I've put onto this mascara is obsessed and thanks me later. I can't live without it."
"I use this foundation more often than I use my other stash of far more expensive formulas. It has amazing coverage, it's super buildable, and it makes your face looked airbrushed. I'd never know it's under $11—it almost seems illegal."
"I'm such a self-tanner addict, and believe it or not, I always end up picking this affordable mousse up when I'm traveling or without my usual stash of more expensive options. It dries incredibly fast, the color always turns out even and natural-looking, and the smell is far less offensive than so many other tanning products on the market."
Maureen Choi, Beauty Director, Violet Grey
"This is my (and countless makeup artists') secret beauty solution for any and all sleep-deprived/stressed-out days. It feels lovely and cooling thanks to a refreshing blend of aloe vera and xylitol while also brightening and smoothing crepiness so bags don't look as noticeable and concealer sits evenly on top. I keep it chilled in the fridge for an extra jolt of ahhh and use the chubby-stick applicator to manually flush fluid from around my eyes. Highly effective and a nice price? Talk about a beauty win-win."
"I'm a bodycare nerd who spends just as much time on the skin below my neck as I do on the skin above it, which is why I rely on this bouncy, pH-balanced body scrub a few times a week to keep things supple, healthy, and smooth. Infused with a detoxifying combo of bamboo charcoal, pumice, and a gentle trio of glow-boosting acids, this shower staple takes the error out of exfoliating, leaving skin thoroughly soft, happy, and hydrated without ever being too harsh."
"When I turned 38, I became the lucky beneficiary of angry, unpredictable redness and inflammatory breakouts linked to rosacea. I reached for a ton of stuff that was formulated specifically for sensitive skin with no real results. Then, I remembered a video I had seen nearly a decade ago as a beauty editor in NYC about the effects of Avène's healing water on chronic skin issues like eczema, dermatitis, and scars. After three days of using this rich, barrier-repairing formula and the Thermal Spring Water, my face was back to normal. No more redness, zero breakouts, and a renewed sense of confidence. Rosacea or not, doesn't that sound like the skin you want, too?"
Courtney Higgs, Associate Beauty Editor, Who What Wear
"I first learned about this foundation from a makeup artist who told me that she uses it almost as often as one of her go-to prestige foundations on all her clients. It's that good! The consistency is lightweight and creamy, but it's buildable so you can achieve both no-makeup and full-glam looks. It's one of those super-malleable formulas you can apply with your fingertips without looking like a blotchy mess. The only critique I have is about the shade range, which could use some work. I have to mix two of the colors together to get my ideal shade, but at just $8, that's really not a big deal. I would love to see more shades to make this amazing option for inclusive or darker-skinned beauties, though."
"It's been said that this hand cream is a dead ringer for La Mer's much more expensive body emollient. That's a lofty claim considering that beloved formula graces the vanities of countless celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez. The Nivea version is the one I keep on hand for my nighttime body moisturizing, and I like to think I wake up just as soft and supple as Lopez does."
"Speaking of supple skin, I'm big on applying body oil on damp skin right out of the shower. It's a practice I learned from my mom, who has the softest skin ever! Since I cover my entire body daily, investing in really expensive oil isn't a cost-effective option. Thankfully, this luxe oil from Versed is just as good, if not better, than a lot of the pricier options I've tried. It has nourishing ingredients like coconut oil, sweet almond oil, vitamin E, and calendula flower extract, and the added ylang-ylang essential oil smells divine."
Stephanie Saltzman, Beauty Director, Fashionista
"This multi-molecular hyaluronic acid serum rivals so many of the other expensive HAs on the market, it's almost hard to believe it costs less than $10. It's super lightweight and absorbs quickly, unlike some thicker, more viscous HA serums. I hoard these like crazy and always have at least one bottle when I travel."
"I have fine hair that's also color-treated, and so sometimes it can turn dry and straw-like after I bleach it. I usually turn to this super-dense, rich conditioning mask from Shea Moisture. It moisturizes like crazy and strengths hair, turning it soft, shiny and smooth in just one 5-to-10 minute use."
"This prescription-grade retinoid only became available over-the-counter in the past few years, and while the .1% concentration makes it milder than the one you can still get from a dermatologist, I actually like that because it's slightly gentler, and therefore not as irritating. It's marketed as an acne treatment, and it can definitely be really effective to help prevent breakouts, but it's also a really excellent anti-ager, and one of the best retinol formulas you can pick up at the drugstore, in my opinion."
Sara Tan, Senior Fashion and Beauty Editor, Bustle
"I rarely leave the house without doing my brows. As a result, I've become quite the expert when it comes to brow products, and if I had to pick one type of brow product I use most, it would be a brow gel. While I love Dior's luxurious Pump 'n' Brow and Benefit's beloved Gimme Brow, I am smitten over a new drugstore brow gel that is just as good as, if not better than, the two. Maybelline's Brow Fast Sculpt colors, shapes, and tames my brow hairs quickly and easily. The formula feels lighter than others, depositing just the right amount of pigment onto my brows without going overboard. I also love the brow brush, which features two different lengths—one to fill and one to comb through your hairs. At just under $7, I would call this a major steal."
"Like most other skincare products, it's believed that the more expensive a mask is, the better. But that isn't always the case, especially when it comes to sheet masks. Mediheal is the number one sheet mask brand in Korea, and it won't cost you more than $2 to try one of its nourishing treatments. The masks are also endorsed by celebrity MUA Daniel Martin, who uses them to prep his clients' skin before applying makeup. I love throwing on the Intensive Hydrating Mask at the end of a long week—my skin soaks up all of its moisturizing goodness and feels soft and smooth just 15 minutes later."
Lindsey Metrus Malhado, Senior Editor, Byrdie
"I've talked about this liquid foundation ad nauseam ever since discovering it over 10 years ago. No matter how many prestige foundations I try, this long-wear formula holds rank as the star of its category, rising far above the rest. It blends impeccably, doesn't budge, and can be thinned out for light-medium coverage or built upon for a full-out face beat."
"A celebrity hairstylist once told me that the reason my curls weren't lasting in the humidity—despite my best efforts to create an iron shield of hair spray around my head—was because I was using a formula with large molecules. These were essentially melting down into my hair and causing that 3 p.m. flatness that can't be undone. My fix for that: this superfine, lightweight formula that permeates the hair rather than sitting on it like a sticky coating. I swear my waves only last and look their best when I use this."