A good exfoliator like Origins Modern Friction. The difference between high-end exfoliator and drugstore exfoliator is huge, which is what you should look for in deciding if an expensive product is worth it — what is the difference in quality between this and the drugstore item? The Modern Friction is a paste that you add water to, the little scrubbies are rice grains and they are naturally round so they aren’t poking little holes in your face (this is a real thing cheap exfoliator does) and it gives you a very deep clean so you don’t even have to use it everyday. Bonus: the product contains lemon oil so it brightens your skin. For this reason I “save” my exfoliating for before events like dates and going out.
A moderately priced moisturizer. Cheap moisturizer clogs your pores and feels disgusting on your skin. Think about it this way: anything that sits on the surface of your skin is one thing, but if a product is meant to sink in and be absorbed, it’s worth it to find one that isn’t crawling with chemicals. I like Korres Wild Rose 24-Hour Moisturizing & Brightening Cream.
Not worth it:
La Mer. First of all La Mer is made in long island. Second of all it is gel-y and crusty.
Target face masks. You don’t use a lot of money to buy these, but that’s because the ingredients are like, clay and zero nutrients. One of our staffers had an allergic reaction to one of these.
Korres body wash (or body wash in general). I only got this expensive body wash because I had a lot of credit on my Birchbox account back in the day from doing reviews and nothing else seemed really enticing. The smell was good, but not overpowering as I kind of prefer my shower scents to be. And it doesn’t do anything special. It’s just soap. How special can a soap be? It doesn’t absorb into your skin so you don’t have to be very careful about ingredients or quality. Just find a fun smelling drugstore brand you like.
I apply this same rule to face wash.
La Prairie Skin Caviar. This costs a fortune and creates no change in skin. It does smell nice though. Also the packaging takes years to open.
NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer. I put this on in Sephora when I was killing time at the mall and drove back the next week and purchased it even though I wasn’t in need of a new foundation. It gives me a dewey, glowing base that I absolutely adore. This is one of my favorite products.
MAC Studio Sculpt Foundation. For times when you need a full coverage foundation this one is perfect. It’s not too heavy but it’s a solid base for everything else you need to put on, and it blends well, so you won’t get a line down your chin.
Not worth it:
Finishing powders. I see the appeal of these, they set makeup and provide a softened finish that looks great in real life. However, these are a nightmare if you’re going anywhere where pictures will be taken. The flash reflects off them and you can look like a ghost face with a tan neck. I’ve experienced this across multiple brands.
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer. I had a roommate who swore by this, but it’s a very watery formula. It can be streaky and it has the dreaded gel like texture when it dries on your face.
Chanel Vitalumier. I got a sample of this and went back and purchased it. The texture is unlike any other foundation I’ve ever tried. It feels like you’re rubbing silk on your face. The coverage is good and I like the way it looks on, it’s a soft, dewey finish. However, it can look weird in photos so I waffle between loving this product and not using it.
Laura Mercier Eye Primer. I have deep set eyes and skin texture that’s just on the oily side so I *must* use a primer every time I use eyeshadow. This one is great and sticks to the shadows, I never have creasing or flakes when I use it. I also love the application want for this, and it lasts forever.
MAC individual eyeshadows. I love these. They’re such a little addiction, it’s hard to walk by a MAC store and not stop in and try a new shade out. My favorite going out combination is the use the Black Track paint pot as an eyeshadow primer (over my entire eyelid) and then put Carbon eyeshadow over the top, with a little bit of Crystal Avalanche on the inside corners to lighten it up. It’s the perfect going out look. I’m also a big fan of Naked Lunch and Rice Paper for everyday looks.
MAC paint pots as eye primer. They do the trick just fine.
Not worth it:
Maybelline Color Tattoo eyeshadow/primer: This product reminded me why I don’t *do* drugstore makeup for the most part. It’s too watery to stick to your lids and it just falls off almost immediately. I’m going to throw most drugstore shadows into this category as well. They crease and flake in ways I haven’t experienced since I switched to higher-end products.
Urban Decay Primer Potion. Okay, I know the beauty world dies over this little guy, and that’s fine, maybe it works fantastically for most people. But it doesn’t work for me. I have deep set eyes so they are a bit trickier, and whatever I use needs to be stickier than this ended up being.
Benefit They’re Real. This is the hands down favorite of almost every woman I know. My mom even has teeny tiny lil stubs of lashes and they make hers look good. It’s not clumpy or flakey, just all around fantastic.
Lancome Definicils. Lancome has earned it’s reputation as the best mascara brand. If you want a simple, defined, everyday look that isn’t super “I’m wearing a lot of makeup”-y I’d use Defincils.
Sephora Collection Outrageous Volume Mascara in blue. This is just $15. It’s a simple blue mascara you put on after your regular mascara and it has a subtle effect of making your eyes appear bigger, more open, and whiter. The brush really helps avoid the clumps you may get from layering on multiple mascaras.
Not worth it:
Chanel Le Volume Mascara. The brush is weird, it isn’t sturdy enough to handle the formula.
Dior mascaras. They just do not live up to their name. And no one is more disappointed about it than I am. Sorry.
MAC lipsticks. I love these. It’s affordable to have a bunch of different colors and they stay on your lip pretty well and are long lasting. I can never have enough shades. I rarely wear it because it’s so bold, but I love the dark purple Cyber. I wear Chatterbox a lot as an everyday color, and Girl About Town is my standard issue going out color.
Tarte LipSurgence sticks. I cannot recommend these highly enough. They are a simple highly tinted chapstick-like product that you swipe on your lips and the color lasts forever. It’s a bit easier to use than lipstick because it’s not as thick, so there’s less room for error when you’re reapplying without a mirror. I use some colors as everyday ones, and really bright ones for special occasions when I know the color will need to last.
Not worth it:
NARS lip pencils. They have really great colors. Other brands should study the colors they use. But they dry out quickly and are a huge pain to sharpen. Why can’t they just make them fit in the standard sharpener?
Givenchy lipstick. It dries your lips out.
Any lipgloss or chapstick that costs more than a few dollars. Look, I know the best one out there is actually Dr. Weil’s Conditioning Lip Balm and it has tumeric in it and it keeps your lips hydrated… but you can just reapply a $1 chapstick a bit more often and get the same results.
OPI. An oldie but a goodie, this was my first favorite brand, and is still my go to for nails. The colors simply show up the way they do in the bottle and you only need two coats. It also doesn’t chip as easily as other brands. Plus, OPI is so universal that if you find a great color at the nail place you can just buy it and use it yourself later, everyone uses it.
China Glaze. Not as cute as OPI, in my opinion, but it resists chipping like a mofo.
Kiss ImPress nails. Okay, confession, I’m actually in love with these cheap-y press on nails. (Kara Nesvig got me hooked). In my opinion, they’re the perfect solution to nails because they look absolutely flawless, they’re cheap, and they won’t ever chip. They come as press on nails, which is the way I wear them for a day. Then I take them off and nail glue to the backs and reapply. They’re super sturdy and will stay on for a week, at which point you can switch colors or reapply nail glue.
Not worth it:
Essie. This one hurts to put in the “not worth it” column because their color selection is on point — if only the colors transfered to your nails the way they look in the bottle. Also: one you put it on your nails are chip-a-palooza.
Chanel. This one also hurts to include because I feel so fancy when I’m applying it. This is a product I grew up dreaming about using one day. And it’s not bad nail polish by any means. It’s just probably not worth $28 unless money is of no concern for you whatsoever. In which case, please bring me on your yacht and I will supply all the Chanel polish you desire.
Anything from St. Tropez. These people know how to make a flawless at home tan. There’s not a major event I attend without using the One Night Only instant tanner and I use the bronzing mousse throughout the year. The best thing I ever did was suck it up and buy their tanning mitt. It’s dorky, but it’s changed my life (and made streaks a thing of the past).
NARS The Multiple. You can use this as face bronzer or run it down your arms and legs when you need some color there. It’s very no-nonsense and lasts forever.
Too Faced bronzer. The best bronzer. I use it under my cheekbones daily.
Not worth it:
Michael Kors leg shine. This is one of my biggest product disappointments ever. I was so pumped about the idea of this product. I wanted one for my bathroom and one for my purse to swipe on at the beach or wherever I wanted to add a tiny glow or color to my legs in the summer. But when I want to Sephora to try it out before I bought it, it didn’t work, at all. Did anyone try this product out before they shipped it out? It leaves only an extremely faint bit of color/shimmer behind it, but that’s it.
Sevin Nyne products. Okay, this is Lindsay Lohan’s brand, I should have known better. But her tan was perfect! And, these all have a super yummy coconut rum smell. But they are dark, and streaky, and too liquidy to apply well.
Jergen’s Natural Glow. LOL no. This product does absolutely nothing. Well, maybe it moisturizes.
A word about vanity products
If you’re like me and consider yourself a beauty product junkie, performance isn’t always the end all be all. Sometimes you just want a few fancy products for the hell of it. I love my YSL lipstick (le fuschia) and Chanel nail polish even those those products aren’t much better than their MAC and OPI counterparts. Just pick things you will get to look at often. For instance, a great vanity item is a Chanel 4-pack of eyeshadows because you’ll use the mirror to apply all your makeup if you’re not at a big mirror, so you get a lot more mileage out of it than just how long the shadows last.