In the U.S., women spend an average of nearly $3,000 a year to keep their faces looking good, according to one survey. That’s some expensive war paint we’re wearing into battle with nature and the aging process—and we can absolutely do better by our wallets, thanks to a few pointers from beauty and budgeting experts. In fact, you might even discover some new favorite brands that will make you feel like a million bucks (without going broke).
1. Look for Brand Collaboration
Lindsay Ginn, founder of the popular Broke and Beautiful blog, suggests looking for high-end brands in unlikely places. Many luxury labels are reaching out to us commoners by working with the companies and stores we love (and can afford). One recent example is the collaboration between French fashion house Balmain and equally French but considerably less-fancy L’Oreal Paris. “The resulting lipsticks are both affordable and gorgeous,” Ginn says.
2. Trust the Experts
There are a good number of brands run by makeup artists at the top of their field. Not only are these brands extra trustworthy, but they’re frequently very accessible. Some of Ginn’s favorites include Pixi by Petra and Sonia Kashuk’s beauty line at Target. An added bonus: The experts behind the brands often have YouTube tutorials with tips on how best to use their products.
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3. Seek Out Indie Brands With Cult Followings
Indie beauty brands often have high-quality ingredients but at significantly lower costs than their big-name counterparts. “Their overhead costs are lower because they have fewer employees and no need for distribution centers, so they can focus on making better products with top-notch ingredients,” Ginn says. This goes for makeup brands like Notoriously Morbid, which makes intense eyeshadow duos starting at $3, and Fyrinnae, which sells $7 pigment-packed, shimmering lip colors—as well as skin care favorites like ultra-high-quality, low-cost Mad Hippie and Knours, whose six-piece starter kit of clean skin care products is only $28.
Mary Irwin, a makeup artist in New York City, is a huge fan of The Ordinary skin care brand. “They use the best quality formulation, but they don’t advertise, which means savings for the consumer,” Irwin says.
Another of Irwin’s favorites is makeup brand ColourPop. “They do everything themselves, from research and development to production. Because they don’t advertise and they make everything in-house, you get top-of-the-line products for minimal prices,” Irwin says.
4. Carefully Check Out Copycat Products
Since many brands mark up the cost of their products to make up for the money spent on marketing and fancy packaging, you’ll see products with the same ingredients at very different prices. At the same time, formulation can vary greatly between products, and ingredients might work better or worse depending on how the manufacturer handled them, so you might have to experiment to find a true budget gem.
One copycat product comes with the seal of approval from dermatologist Debra Jaliman, M.D., author of the book, Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. “Roc Deep Wrinkle Night Cream is a very good retinol product at a great price. Its much more expensive counterpart is Strivectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Moisturizer—the ingredient list is very similar, but the cost to you is not,” Jaliman says.
5. Do Your Research to Get What You Paid For
“You should figure out which ingredients work for best for you: Does your skin like hyaluronic acid? Squalane? Shea butter? Look for products where that’s one of the top ingredients,” Irwin says.
If you want to be an even savvier beauty buyer, learn how to read a product label, including which ingredients are worth splurging on (and which are a marketing gimmick). So while “the distilled essence of Swiss wildflowers dried atop the Alps by the flapping of angel wings” might sound like exactly what your face needs, sadly, it doesn’t have any scientific value for said face. (See also: that trend of putting gold in your face masks… there’s zero evidence that does anything other than jack the price up and look cute on Insta).
Before you look at the price, the packaging, or even the brand name, look at the ingredients. My favorite place to do research is this Ingredients Database from Truth in Aging. Look for ingredients with proven efficacy, like the moisturizing powers of hyaluronic acid and ceramides, both of which can be found in super-cheap, super-effective CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream, another Jaliman favorite. “This is a great moisturizer at an excellent price that can achieve results of some much more expensive products,” Jaliman says.
6. Use Online Coupon Codes and Rebates
Not only are there coupon codes for nearly every big online retailer, but many brands also offer cash back when you shop online. Ginn recommends checking sites like Ebates, TopCashBack, and RetailMeNot Cashback to get up to 15 percent cash back on high-quality (but pricey) brands like Algenist, Caudelie, and MAC. And before buying anything online, it’s worth checking out sites like Honey for coupon codes you can apply when checking out. You can get anything from a discount to free samples and shipping.
7. Shop at Off-Price Stores
“If you have champagne tastes on a Coca-Cola budget, you’ll be astonished at the treasures you can find at places like T.J. Maxx or Marshalls,” Ginn says. You might have to dig through some crap before hitting gold (just like the rest of the store), but there are finds on these shelves at prices far lower than what you normally see. Ginn has found quality products like Stila eyeliners, Urban Decay eyeshadow palettes, and even a cache of Anastasia Beverly Hills Glow Kits—all hiding in the mish-mash of off-brand hand soaps.