As much as we'd like to say we love affordable drugstore beauty products more than spendier finds from Sephora, Violet Grey, and Dermstore, ehhhh that would definitely be a lie. Unfortunately (for our wallets, at least), my fellow WWW beauty editor Courtney Higgs and I have rather expensive taste in beauty products. (Remember that time I realized my makeup routine totaled a whopping $436?!)
But, there is a but. Since it's part of the job, we've definitely tried our fair share of drugstore beauty products. Over the years, we've amassed a collection of budget-friendly finds we're actually more obsessed with than their luxe, investment-worthy counterparts. Sure, I might have a drawer of lovely mascaras from Chanel, Dior, Too Faced, Lancôme, and more, but running short on my beloved neon-orange tube from Covergirl is what sends me into a cataclysmic panic. And there's more where that came from!
Below, Courtney and I are sharing the best drugstore beauty products we use on a regular basis and mix with or sub for even the most spendy of beauty formulas. They're not necessarily new or particularly exciting, but they're the ones we truly can't live without and haven't felt the need to replace with higher-end options—even years later. Keep scrolling!
Let me just start by saying this ointment was originally formulated to soothe chapped cow udders. It's not at all glamorous, but it's seriously the best ointment. I see instant relief from severe dryness, peeling, irritation, and any other skin woe with just a dab of this miracle product. I have at least four tins at home and one on my desk at work so I'm never without it.
This is one of those black-girl staples we all swear by. It's the best gel in the world, and you can quote me on that. It's the only one I've ever used that helps me achieve slick styles without turning my hair into a gross hard hat. The best part is that it's so inexpensive that I can use it quite liberally without any guilt.
Foundation is one of those products I vividly remember watching my mom apply as a child, so as soon as I was old enough to experiment, I was all over it. That said, I've tried a lot of foundations. This one by L'Oréal holds its own against some of the most beloved, expensive formulas out there. It was actually recommended to me by a makeup artist friend who always keeps it in her kit. It's soft and dewy and leaves my face utterly flawless but still looking like skin. The only drawback is that my perfect shade doesn't exist; I have to mix two together.
This cleanser from French drugstore brand La Roche-Posay recently saved my life while traveling. That's dramatic, but after accidentally packing a pint-sized cleanser that had some comedogenic junk in it (which my skin immediately rejected in the form of whiteheads and zits galore), I found this at a nearby drugstore. After just a couple of uses, this exfoliating, salicylic acid–spiked cleanser almost completely cleared and settled my skin. It's amazing, and I've been committed to it even since coming back home to my old favorites.
This is one of the first mascaras I ever used, and as long as CoverGirl continues to make it, I swear I'll be swiping it until my dying day. I naturally have long, dark lashes, so I can't stand heavy, clumpy formulas (or huge brushes!) that weigh them down or turn them into a sad, droopy mess. Remarkably, this is one of the only wands that doesn't do the above. It's great for curl, volume, length, and separation, and I always come back to it. I know they have multiple LashBlash formulas now, but the O.G. orange will always be my forever favorite.
I discovered this dry shampoo pre–night out at a friend's house (a fellow beauty editor for another publication, actually!) and have purchased multiple cans since. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say this, but in my eyes, it's a more affordable dupe to my fave dry shampoo from DryBar, and I love using it as both a dry shampoo for greasy roots and a texturizer if I need some volume. It smells amazing (I always get compliments if someone goes in for a hug), and it's one of the few products I use on freshly washed strands and dirty strands, alike.
I don't even remember when I started using this concealer stick from Revlon, but I basically never leave the house without it. I put it on top of pimples, on top of under-eye circles, as a primer for my lips and eyelids—everything. I once lent it to a former co-worker who said she "hated all drugstore products" when she was desperately seeking concealer post-work, pre-date, and she couldn't believe how great it was. I honestly prefer it over Clé de Peau Beauté's cult-favorite stick concealer.
If I didn't know any better, I would think this foundation was about five times the price. The coverage is medium to full but super buildable, dries to a flattering sating finish (not too matte and not too dewy), and is infused with a healthy dose of SPF, vitamins, and other glow-inducing ingredients your skin will love. I have countless foundations that are way more "iconic" and way more expensive, and I usually reach for this one.
I know people have their feelings about self-tanner, but I'm a self-professed self-tanning fiend. For years I had been scarred from my high school days of being perpetually orange and streaky, and I was on a strictly expensive diet of only the most expensive mousses and lotions out there. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I was visiting my parents in Arizona, picked this mousse up from the drugstore, and actually loved it more than the majority of formulas I have stuffed in my cabinet at home. The color develops into a really natural and believable shade (even on my ghost-white skin!), it smells better than the majority of formulas I've tried, it lasts, and it also doesn't feel sticky or overly gross on my skin post-application. As far as self-tanners go, it doesn't get much better than this $12 option.
I'm not a hairspray person, but every blue moon I need a quick spritz for an extra layer of hold security if I know I'm in for a long day or night. Since my hair is fine in texture and also super-bleached, I need something that's lightweight, and won't turn my fragile strands into a clumpy sticky mess. And, I definitely don't want to feel like I have to wash my hair AGAIN the following day just because of my hairspray. I've been using this fine mist from TRESemmé ever since celeb colorist Justine Marjan introduced it to me a couple of years ago after it launched (she also used it recently here), and I love how soft malleable, and not product-y my hair feels post-spray. That said, it keeps things in place for hours and hours. Truly, it's magic.
Face masks are an expensive bracket of beauty product. And, to be honest, most of my favorites are upward of $50. Whoops. However, I discovered this one back when I was in college (when I just couldn't swing expensive skincare) and, remarkably, it's STILL in my arsenal of acne-fighting formulas. Unlike a lot of clay and charcoal mask formulas, it's not irritating or harsh on the skin, and it really does alleviate my congested skin almost instantaneously. Sorry for the gross visual, but it basically sucks the gunk right out. (Which is exactly what I want from a detoxifying mask, TBH.)
Not only do these blushes from Milani look expensive packaging-wise, but they also give the prettiest punch of color. Every shade is gorge, and I use my collection just as much as I use my favorite powder blushes from Nars, Hourglass, and other more expensive brands. Plus, it's like a two for one, because the finish is glowy enough to pass for a subtle fleck of radiance. Essentially, you're getting a blush and highlighter for less than $10. It should be illegal.
I'm not sure if I'd normally categorize Essie as a drugstore brand, but I'm including this epic top coat in this roundup because it's available at affordable pit stops like Walmart, Amazon, Target, and CVS, and at just $11 gives me a long-lasting gel finish that's way more budget-friendly than an actual gel manicure. I pretty much refuse to use any other topcoat at this point and rarely go to the salon.
Hair accessories are having a major moment right now, but up until Scünci's latest launch, (entitled the Elite Collection), nothing that wasn't expensive struck my fancy. That said, the affordable brand is now bringing us allllll the gorgeous scrunchies, barettes, headbands, and clips a girl could ask for at the fraction of the price. And, um, if these butterfly clips don't give you *elevated* '90s nostalgia, I don't know what will.