Drugstore Beauty Products That Are Truly Worth the Hype — All Under $25
The best things in life are free, sure, but the not-far-behind second best — beauty products, what else? — can really add up, especially if you're just starting to devise a routine. And while there's something to be said for investing in yourself, there are some makeup, hair, and skincare buys that belie the price point.
The key is knowing where to look (and, spoiler alert, it's in the neighboring aisle of Kleenex to help you with those happy tears). Yep, the beauty section at the drugstore is just as stocked with high-quality hair treatments, facial cleansers, and mascaras as it is the basics. To help you sift through the masses, we asked our trusted team of beauty editors how they would spend $25 at the drugstore.
The strategies varied — some divvied it up between a few skincare essentials, while others would spend it on quality makeup staples — but all of them are the perfect excuse to spend your money elsewhere (because "hugs" and "kisses" can only get you so far).
CeraVe Renewing SA Face Cleanser
"My approach to beauty can be summed up in two words: no frills. I look for simple yet effective formulas that work hard on without making my hyperreactive skin freak out (which, I assure you, is a full-time job in and of itself)." — Kelsey Castañon, senior beauty editor
"If I could only use one face wash for the rest of my life — even if budget was no object — I would choose the CeraVe Renewing SA Face Cleanser ($10). It's the only (and I mean only) formula that contains pore-purging salicylic acid but doesn't spur flare-ups or dryness with my sensitive skin, which makes it a national treasure in my opinion. Plus, it costs me less than my sad salad come lunch time — and yields way more compliments, too."
CoverGirl Exhibitionist Mascara
"Anyone who knows me understands I'm picky with my mascara (and if you don't know me, just trust that I'm a big snob), but the CoverGirl Exhibitionist Mascara ($8) never disappoints. Not only does the hourglass-shaped wand curve ever so slightly to hug every last lash, it also combs without clumping — making mine look bigger, bolder, and more fluttery with every swipe. Get this: Even after a full days-worth of wear, your lashes will look just as good as they did in the morning, with zero smudging or fallout. (No wonder it won a Power Your Pretty award.)"
Dove Beauty Refresh + Care Volume & Fullness Dry Shampoo
"All hail the hair gods that blessed the world with dry shampoo, but I'm sending my special thanks to Dove for introducing the Beauty Refresh + Care Volume & Fullness Dry Shampoo ($5) to its product lineup. Just a few spritzes to my roots and nobody would be able to tell I haven't washed my hair in two (or three . . .) days, and for that, I am forever #thankful."
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleansing Cloths
"In the land of sensitive skin, Cetaphil is considered the holy grail — and these bigger-than-normal, unscented Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleansing Cloths ($3) will have your skin feeling like Beyoncé and JAY-Z's, too. (Plus, for the price, you won't feel bad about going through them too quickly, but I did go over by a dollar.)"
Total Spent: $26
Aussie Mega Hold Hairspray
"Because my skin is temperamental, annoyingly specific, and differs a ton from my face to my arms or legs, I have to approach every product category differently. For body products, I look for the most hydrating options possible (even more so in the Winter), but for face products, I try to avoid most oils or overly thick textures. When it comes to makeup, I'm somewhere in between: it really depends on what kind of shape my skin is in at the time, but generally I like products to feel as lightweight as possible." — Carrie Carrollo, native associate beauty editor
"Call me a weirdo, but several years ago, I pulled the Aussie Mega Hold Hairspray ($5) from the depths of my mom's product closet, and it's been my go-to ever since. The grape-y scent is not only reminiscent of my childhood shampoos (in the best, most #nostalgic way), but it holds my hair in place without leaving any crunch whatsoever."
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Whipped Body Balm
"My skin gets dry and irritated in the Winter (with a special shoutout to the keratosis pilaris that flares up extra bad on the backs of arms), so I need something that'll keep my skin hydrated. Although the texture of the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Whipped Body Balm ($7) is SO lightweight — "whipped" (as the product's name states) is pretty accurate — it keeps my skin super hydrated all day long, plus it smells amazing."
Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Concealer
"YouTubers put me on to this
Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Concealer ($10) a while ago and after one use, I understood why it's such a widely-recommended favorite. It's easy and mess-free to use (you literally just twist and apply), has great coverage (especially for under my eyes), and lasts forever: definitely a drugstore holy grail."
Total Spent: $22
Jergens Natural Glow Wet Skin Moisturizer
"I have oily skin, and a lot of wavy fine hair. I look for products that make my life easier and my routine faster, especially with my packed schedule." — Sarah Siegel, assistant beauty editor
"I can't go without my Jergens Natural Glow Wet Skin Moisturizer ($8) because it makes it easy to keep my body smooth and bronzed, all before I step out of the shower."
L'Oreal Paris Voluminous Lash Paradise Mascara
"I have found few mascaras that can live up to the L'Oreal Paris Voluminous Lash Paradise Mascara ($8), which gives me thick, curled, voluminous waves with just a few wiggles of the wand. I like to build up a lot of product on my lashes, and this one never gets clumpy, smears, or flakes."
Aquaphor Advanced Therapy Healing Ointment
"My skin is normal-to-dry and fairly reactionary to strong chemicals, so I typically like to play it safe with tried-and-true products or gentle things." — Joanna Douglas, head of native content
"Designer lip balms can feel fancy to use, but I've never found another formula as efficient as Aquaphor. I like to buy the two-pack mini tubes of Aquaphor Advanced Therapy Healing Ointment ($6) and keep one in my bag, the other on my nightstand. I have really chapped lips lately as a fun side effect from my Invisalign, but this completely helps. My favorite use for Aquaphor is calming my cranky cuticles."
Simple Skincare Compostable Wipes
"My go-to face wash is an oil cleanser, but there are too many nights when I conk out on the couch watching Netflix and stumble to bed barely mumbling, "Pleeeease bring me a makeup wipe" to my boyfriend, smearing off my mascara before snoring again. I can feel a lot better about this lazy skincare habit with Simple's Compostable Wipes ($6), since the environment doesn't have to suffer."
Dove Body Wash Deep Moisture
"Dove Body Wash Deep Moisture ($5) is a constant in my shower. The formula lathers nicely and feels instantly hydrating and pampering. I'll be picking up the Deep Moisture formula now to get ahead of the scaly skin that will inevitably appear on my legs come November."
Seventh Generation Purely Clean Hand Wash Fresh Lemon & Tea Tree
"Between dishes and cleaning up after my cats, I go through kitchen hand soap constantly and need something gentle. I'll buy pretty much anything with a Seventh Generation label, and this Fresh Lemon & Tea Tree formula ($3) smells great while keeping hands soft."
Total Spent: $20
Kristin Ess Hair Signature Gloss Temporary Hair Color
"I have long, medium-coarse hair that is naturally voluminous with waves, so I look for products to keep it shiny and frizz-free. I also have normal-to-dry skin with rough patches on my cheeks." — Jesa Marie Calaor, assistant beauty editor
"If the volume and length of hair was directly proportional to the number of secrets it held, mine would rival that of Gretchen Wieners. One of my secrets to keeping it looking shiny is getting a gloss at the salon every few months. Between these treatments, however, I look to the Kristin Ess Hair Signature Gloss Temporary Hair Color ($14). The treatment comes in two parts — shine-boosting potion and its activator — that when mixed together and left in hair for 20 minutes, leaves my hair so shiny, it looks like I'd gone to the salon to get it done professionally."
E.l.f. Cosmetics 16 Hour Camo Concealer
E.l.f. Cosmetics 16 Hour Camo Concealer ($6) is at the center of a lot of hype. A quick Google search of the concealer will yield reviews that say the 18-shade concealer range, which goes for less than $10 per tube, has comparable results to its more expensive competitors. This is why I chose to put it up against my dark spots, splotchy red areas, and difficult-to-shade-match complexion. I pulled the jumbo wand from its tube and tapped it across those areas in hopes that my skin could look more even in tone. I moved quickly to buff it out and let the matte formula set. It left me with a completely even, matte complexion that felt as though I had no makeup on."
Total Spent: $23
Hand and Face Wipes
"My skin is a classic combo. I have an oily T-zone and a dry patches around my hairline and chin. Plus, it can get easily aggravated if I don't play nice. I look for products that will help to gently exfoliate while maintaining my moisture barrier. I also am pretty wary of bacteria, so I try to apply everything with clean hands and fingers — no blenders for me." — Amanda Murray, native senior beauty editor
"First things first, my hands need to be clean before I put them anywhere near my face. It took me years to figure out I was breaking out on my chin because I was constantly resting my chin in my hand while I worked. How gross! I stock up on Hand and Face Wipes ($2) when I'm in a pinch."