No, it’s not a blurring primer-induced mirage: there are lots of great products at Sephora under 20 bucks. Even 10 bucks! And, if you head to the drugstore, you’ll find aisles upon aisles of products that act much more luxe than they’re priced. It’s great news for beauty impulse shoppers who love to pop into the nearest store whenever they need something new—you can, quite literally, just go to whichever is most convenient and find something that matches your budget and needs. Not everything in stock will do both. But a lot of stuff will. Here’s how to edit down your options like a pro:
Things to buy cheap: serums, sunscreen, masks, cleanser
You know how people say that if you want to eat healthier, only shop the perimeter aisles at the grocery store? Yeah, Sephora isn’t laid out like that. However, thanks to capitalism, they do generally group competing brands at the same price point near each other in the store. First, locate The Ordinary, which keeps costs lower than a latte by nixing marketing and proprietary research (they used ingredients already well-researched instead). The Inkey List should be nearby, and they take a similar approach, but in a way that’s a little easier for the shopper who wouldn’t medal in a spelling bee of complicated ingredients. Think of the two brands this way: The Ordinary is a great source for serums, while The Inkey List offers more treatments and cleansers. After that, skip Sephora’s own copycat range and head straight to Innisfree, a low cost entry into K-beauty. Stock up on sensitive skin friendly sunscreen and gentle clay concoctions.
Value sets aren’t always a great deal, so approach them like a too-good-to-be-true telemarketer call. Minis won’t last very long, and are often marked up per ounce to cover the cost of fairy-sized bottles. (Ditto with individual sheet masks, BTW. You only get one use! You’re better off buying a regular, full-sized mask and using sparingly.) Plus, when you need to re-up your routine, you’ll have to replace the tiny thing you now love at full price. The only time going mini to save makes sense is when you’ll never be able to get through the full-sized version before it expires—a great example is Dr. Jart’s Cicapair corrector, which you’ll find shrunken at the check out maze. Jumbo sizes of pricier products make sense if they have a pump and a long shelf life, like sunscreen.
Shop the best steals at Sephora:
At the drugstore
Things to spend on: acne treatments, retinoids, moisturizers
Drugstores don’t have spunky attendants meticulously restocking their beauty shelves all day, and each one will have a slightly different selection. You’ll find the most luxe options at Target, which is cannonballing into the beauty space with a robust indie selection and, coming next month, in-store Ulta racks. CVS is your next best bet, while Walgreens/Duane Reade trails behind. You can still find some of the really good stuff there, but there’s just less variety.
If your definition of luxe skincare is medical grade, high-powered stuff, let’s talk classics. The biggest brands have the most money to spend on rigorous clinical testing, and dermatologists love this stuff. PanOxyl’s cleanser contains the highest amount of benzoyl peroxide you can get without a prescription. (You can also use it as a spot treatment if easily irritated.) Differin, La Roche-Posay, and Avene all have retinoids as strong as a prescription, but if you’d rather be the tortoise than the hare, start with Olay’s overnight retinol. All of this isn’t to say you should toss out the indies altogether: Naturium (at Target) and Peach Slices (at CVS) both excel in the hydroxy acid department. Just remember not to overload your routine on actives.
Shop the strongest goops on drugstore shelves:
Or maybe you like expensive skincare because it feels as rich as a bowl of spaghetti carbonara. The drugstore’s got that kind of thing too! Just look for words like “repair” and ingredients like cica and ceramides. In terms of stuff to wash your face with, Pacifica’s new fragrance-free ceramide line has a hydrating jelly cleanser that foams just the right amount, while Avene’s gel-texture oil cleanser goes on like honey. Lightweight moisturizers like Cocokind’s Barrier Serum and Naturium’s Gel Cream are perfect for hot summer days, but at night (or in the winter) trust the French and the Germans. A tin of Nivea cream will only set you back one dollar. Just one dollar! Your skin will never know—save the cash burning a hole in your wallet for something else.
Shop the richest, cushion-y drugstore skincare:
Photo via ITG