Most of the links in this post are for products on Amazon, and as an Amazon affiliate, I am compensated for purchases through those links. I will be compensated for sign-ups through the referral links, as well.
At a reader’s request, I’m reviewing the various affordable beauty products I use. (And a few splurges.) A lot of people assume that drugstore beauty brands are low quality, but there are a lot of cheap, effective beauty out there.
There’s a lot to cover, and of course, some people will only care about certain categories. So I compiled a list below for easier navigation of the various topics.
- The cheapest anti-aging product
- The truth about collagen
- Anti-wrinkle eye creams
- Anti-wrinkle facial creams
I think this is a big one for most women looking into beauty products. So let’s start here. And we’ll begin with…
The cheapest anti-aging product
Sunscreen. Every day.
I’m turning 44 in a couple of months, and most people are surprised when they find out I’m not in my 30s. While some of it may be good genes, I credit sunscreen for a lot of it. Because I put it on every single time I leave the house. (And then impatiently wait 15 minutes for it to sink in.)
Why it’s important
A lot of people don’t know that it only takes 15 minutes of sun exposure for damage to start. (Yes, that includes sunlight through your car windows. Or any windows for that matter.) And UV damage exacerbates signs of aging.
So if you’re going outside or even if you’re just getting sunlight through a window, put on sunscreen. This includes cloudy days, since up to 80% of the sun’s rays are still getting through.
And don’t forget to wait at least 15 minutes for it to sink in.
Which product to use?
First of all, a reminder: a reminder: DO NOT USE HOMEMADE SUNSCREEN. People protest, saying they don’t burn with their DIY stuff. Cool, but a sunburn is only part of the issue. You’re still probably not getting as much/as even of protection as the commercial products.
Use a cream rather than a spray. A lot of the sprayed stuff goes in the air rather than on your skin, which (besides wasting product) causes uneven application and, therefore, uneven protection.
You’ll want at least SPF 30, but for those of us who are extremely melanin-challenged, SPF 45 is best. Anything past SPF 45 has a negligible amount more protection, according to experts, so why pay the higher prices?
I use Neutrogena SPF 45 as it seems to be good at not clogging my pores. But I’m guessing most sunscreen made by skincare companies will be just as good.
Be sure to reapply every two hours. Protection degrades past that point.
And make sure to cover all exposed areas! Dermatologists frequently see skin cancer on the neck/tops of the ears. Ladies, don’t forget any decolletage that might be showing.
How to keep if affordable
If you use sunscreen as much as I’m recommending, it adds up quickly. So you need to scout for deals!
I tend to load up during sales at Walgreens sales. A two-pack retails for $14.99, but often there’s a BOGO50 deals — and the store routinely has 25% off coupons. With those deals combined, it’s only $16.87 for two two-packs. Plus I get 2% back through Mr. Rebates.
Another option is CVS (1% through Mr. Rebates): A two-pack retails for $19.49, but if you use the CarePass monthly credit or if you, like me, receive a 40% off coupon at least three times a month, it works out to a good price.
But if you run out in between sales/coupons, Amazon has the best default price at $14 for two tubes.
Okay, now on to the rest of the anti-aging/anti-wrinkle information. Let’s start with a misunderstood ingredient in the products
The truth about collagen
Collagen helps skin stay more elastic/plump, and it’s in connective tissue as well. As we age, our bodies product less of of the protein, which means our skin starts to sag.
As a result, a lot of anti-aging products brag about collagen being one of its ingredients. And sadly that means absolutely nothing.
Other than helping moisturize, externally applied collagen has no effect, folks. Its molecules are too big to penetrate the skin enough to make a difference to how much collagen our body has to keep our skin youthful.
So if you truly want to increase the amount of collagen in your body — either for vanity reasons or for healthy connective tissue — then you need to take a supplement.
There are pills you can take, but most require you to take a ludicrous number each day. So I use a collagen powder. Truthfully, I don’t even know if that is doing any good, but if nothing else, maybe it’ll help my connective tissue and help avoid injury/pain.
If you try a powder supplement, definitely mix it into something flavored, as the taste is… not great. Since I don’t drink already-flavored beverages, I just use squeeze-bottle flavoring. Also, it likes to clump, so be sure stir it well and drink it quickly.
Okay, now on to actual products!
Anti-wrinkle eye creams
Unfortunately, I haven’t had a ton of luck with these products.
I’ve tried RoC Retinol Correxion Under Eye Cream, Neutrogena Healthy Skin eye cream, and probably others I’m forgetting. There are lots of good reviews for those products, so maybe if I’d taken before/after pics I’d have seen them working. But as it was, I didn’t notice any obvious improvement.
So recently I decided to bite the bullet and try Clinique’s Smart Clinical Repair, which is a painful $55. I bought during a sale (which the company has plenty of) and got the product for $38.50. But still… ouch.
It’s been two months, and looking at them side by side… I guess I see some difference?
I tried to document as best I could, but while taking the second picture, my undereye bags were worse. I’m not sure if that matters when trying to document wrinkles.
I’ll let you be the judge of whether it’s worth the money.
I will say that the product lasts quite a while. Even with twice daily use for two months, it looks like only about half of the small container is gone.
If you do want to try it, here are some ways to make it a bit more affordable:
- Wait for one of its many 25% off sales and combine it with 5% cash back through Mr. Rebates
- Macy’s sales now often include 15% off beauty, and while the Mr. Rebates Macy’s rate is normally 3% cash back, it has recently had a lot of 6% or even 10% cash back days for the store
- Sign up for Sephora’s loyalty program and take advantage of the 20% off coupons it intermittely offers — plus 3% cash back at Mr. Rebates
- Bluemercury with 8% cash back at Mr. Rebates (not sure how often sales happen)
Anti-wrinkle facial creams
The ones I’ve tried are:
- RoC (both serum and night cream)
- L’Oreal RevitaLift
- Neutrogena Healthy Skin
- Olay Regenerist
- Avon’s anti-wrinkle products (the names escape me)
They all felt very nice on my skin, and… That’s about it.
That said, even now that I’m using a retinol cream (Tretinoin), I haven’t seen a difference. So maybe my skin just isn’t at the point yet where noticeable results are possible.
If anyone has noticed a difference with any of the products, please leave a comment.
Of course, not every product needs to be devoted to anti-aging. So here’s what I use to battle the desert conditions.
Even if you don’t live in the desert, it’s best to apply lotion daily. Try to do it right after a shower while your skin is still slightly damp.
My go-to is Aveeno because it’s long-lasting. Unless I let myself get extremely dehydrated, I never have to reapply during the day. I never have to apply it more than once a day.
I go through a bottle about every two to three months, but thanks to the CVS CarePass, I pay a fraction of the retail price. And I go through Mr. Rebates for an extra 1%. Obviously, it’s small, but might as well get every penny I can, right?
I really like Neutrogena Hydro Boost. It’s a lightweight gel — but it lasts well. It has hyaluronic acid, which is supposed to attract moisture from your environment. Good luck with that in the desert, Neutrogena. Nonetheless it feels pretty good.
In the past, I’ve also used Aveeno Positively Radiant and was pretty happy with it. I think I only stopped because I started trying anti-aging facial moisturizers.
CVS and Walgreens routinely have BOGO50 deals for both products pretty often, plus there are coupons. And Walgreens has intermittent “Buy two, get one free” deals on things like moisturizers. But if you’re buying in between sales, Amazon usually has the lowest price.
I’ve always been self-conscious about my oily T-zone. It’s gotten a bit better as time has passed. But it’s still definitely there, so I’ve tried a number of options.
I was really excited to try the Cetaphil dermacontrol, which is supposed to be an oil-controlling moisturizer, and I saw… zero difference. Boo.
I did have a pretty good experience with Clinique’s Stay Matte Hydrator. I did still get a little oily after five or six hours — especially if I wore makeup — but as soon as I applied some, the shine was gone.
That said, the $41 price tag meant that, even with a sale plus 5% cash back through Mr. Rebates, it wasn’t a very affordable option.
So I was thrilled to find out that e.l.f. (5% cash back through Mr. Rebates) makes a mattifying lotion. Like the Stay Matte Hydrator, it doesn’t completely stop the shine — though of course some of that could be a slight sweat sheen — but it soaks up anything instantly once I pat it in.
Here’s a before/after for you:
It’s worth nothing that I also tried e.l.f.’s oil control serum that’s supposed to help shrink pores and prevent oil. But even using it daily for a couple of months, I haven’t seen a change.
I don’t bother using a body scrub, since I use an exfoliating towel from The Body Shop. (It must be at least eight years old and still going strong, so definitely worth the $5 I paid.) But my face’s texture is definitely better when I use some type of exfoliator.
In the past, I’ve had great results with the super affordable St. Ives apricot scrub. Even with inflation, it’s only about $4 a bottle in stores.
But if your skin is too sensitive for that (and you have a little money to burn), philosophy’s The Microdelivery exfoliating face wash is fantastic. The microbeads are gentle but still do a great job.
These days, I just use my Clarisonic with some Cetaphil face wash. And that seems to do just fine. Incidentally, while I’m happy with my Clarisonic, I’m guessing the knock-offs work just as well.
Another exfoliating — and eco-friendly! — option is to buy a Makeup Eraser towel. I bought one to cut down on waste from makeup remover disposable cloths.
The towel does just as good a job as those. And this option is great for sensitive skin because it doesn’t require any cleanser. You just need to wet the cloth and wipe off in a circular motion. The fibers on the cloth also exfoliate as you go.
I’m pretty dull in this area. I always get drugstore stuff.
In fact, I really prefer the smell of the Milk and Honey body wash by Suave, which is ridiculously cheap at around $2 a bottle.
This is probably one of my favorite categories, probably because there are so many cool options.
I keep it simple (and relatively affordable) with Redken Color Extend shampoo, since I dye my hair to cover my grays. I got a huge bottle at Ulta when it had a rare 20% off coupon (instead of the usual $3 off $15).
That said, I’m also trying to train my hair to be washed less. Every time you wash your hair, you’re stripping away nutrients along with the oil you’re targeting. So fewer washes tends to mean healthier hair.
By “train” I mean that, even once you start washing your hair less, it takes time for your body to realize that it doesn’t need to produce as much oil. So your hair can be a little gross at first.
If so, the first step is of course to brush it out and distribute the oil more evenly. But if your roots are still greasy-looking, I recommend Dove dry shampoo. At $3 to $4 a can, it’s very affordable, soaks up excess oil quite well and has a very light scent.
Of course, if you want really affordable, corn starch is the original dry shampoo. But unless you have light hair, it’s a pain to hide the residue.
While, clearly, I’m not big on high-end shampoo these days I will say that if you every want a beachy wave-look, Bumble and Bumble’s Surf Foam wash actually does a good job. Bumble and Bumble offers 5% cash back on Mr. Rebates, and is carried in stores like Ulta (5% cash back) and Sephora (3% cash back).
I actually don’t really use traditional conditioner these days. Because I use leave-in stuff.
Quick tip: If you do use in-shower conditioner and you hair isn’t prone to dryness, be sure not to apply the cream to your roots. Your roots are always plenty conditioned because that’s where the oil tends to sit. So adding a conditioner can actually make your hair more oily.
Anyway, instead of a rinse, I’ve taken to using Davines Oi Oil products.
Honestly, I’m not even sure how much the products are doing for my hair. I’m just in love with the smell. But my hair is pretty healthy, so presumably the products are helping.
I wish I knew how to describe the scent so you could see why I like it so much. The best description I can muster: It’s flowery without being overly sweet, so I guess I’d say sort of a musky version of flowery, I guess? And the smell is notable without being overwhelming.
The Oi products are sold at Nordstrom, so if you’re near one, go in and take a sniff.
I use the Oi Milk spray-in conditioner before any other hair products because it helps detangle. Once I’m completely done styling my hair, I use the Oi Oil to make sure the scent is still there. And condition my hair, of course.
I like the scent so much that, if I’m going out to socialize and it’s not a hair wash day, I spritz a little of the leave-in spray on my hair to refresh the scent.
A few notes if you decide to try the conditioning oil:
- If your hair ends above your shoulders, one pump is probably plenty. I have thick hair so I do one and a half.
- Rub it between your hands thoroughly before applying. I rub mine together at least 10 times before I apply it. You want to make sure it’s thinly distributed all along your hand.
- Comb through with your fingers
- Do not put it on your roots
Anyway, as much as I love and recommend these products, I’m the first to admit that they are very pricey.
The full-sized spray is $35 a bottle (ouch), though mine did last several months. Still, given the pricing, I recommend getting the travel size ($18) first to make sure it’s worth the cost to you. If so, you can get the full size, which is about three times the travel size for less than double the cost.
The full sized oil is a painful $45. But given that it’s been a year and I’m still working through the travel-size one ($23) I definitely recommend you start with the small version.
You can also get a better price on eCosmetics (5% cash back through Mr. Rebates). That site sells the products below retail and seems to have a fair number of sales.
Important note: Don’t buy these products on Amazon. I was told by a supervisor at the beauty school that there were a lot of people selling fake versions.
I’ve tried a lot of different types of mousse — from pricey Bumble & Bumble stuff to drugstore stuff. And I haven’t noticed a difference whatsoever.
I used Suave mousse for quite a while, but this last time, the store was out. So I grabbed Garnier Curl Construct, since I have wavy hair. It does seem to help a little with curl/wave, but nothing major. But it works as mousse and is only a bit over $3, so I’m happy with it.
Incidentally, if you want to know just how little difference I’ve seen among mousse products, once I bought some mousse at the Dollar Tree. It worked just as well as the others.
One of the great things about traveling is that I’m reminded that my hair actually does have body. Because here in the arid desert, it’s pretty limp. So if I want any volume, I have to backcomb my hair. Which is where texturizing spray comes in.
It’s worth noting that texturizing spray isn’t just for hair-teasing. It generally creates volume and can help hold styles longer, so it’s a good altnerative to hair spray, as it won’t make hair crunchy.
In the past, I’ve used Dry Spun by Bumble & Bumble which was good, but I get the same results with $5 Got2Be texturizing spray. I can get the latter brand at the drugstore, on Amazon or even at some grocery stores. So that onewins.
I did have good results from Beach Babe Texturizing Spray too, but I didn’t like the strong coconut smell. I will note, though, that the product has sea salt just like the Bumble & Bumble’s Surf products. I haven’t tried it for a casual, tousled wave effect, so I can’t speak authoritatively. But it sounds like it might be a comparable (but much cheaper) option to Bumble and bumble.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in teasing your hair, this is the $12 brush I use. Besides doing a good job, it’s foldable so you can take it with you in your purse for any touch-ups.
More to come?
I had planned to dicuss cosmetics too, but this post is already ungodly long. So I guess that’ll have to be a separate piece. In the meantime, feel free to chime in with comments about your own favorite products!