As someone with chronically not-so-great skin, I've been on a seemingly endless search for the magic beauty product that will suddenly make my face glow and my pores disappear. In that time, I’ve kissed a lot of frogs, and wasted thousands of dollars on items and routines that have done nothing. While I’m still not sure I’ve perfected my arsenal of goods, I’m certainly much closer than I was before, and more determined than ever not to waste money on the wrong things.
To help you avoid the inevitable makeup and skin-care land mines, I asked 11 New York women to dish on the beauty buys they regret most. You might not agree with all of their opinions, but you'll be more informed before you make your next purchase. And, feel free to let us know if you do love the products mentioned here, just to show how different our approaches to beauty can be.
1. "I have probably cycled through every designer mascara on the market, and I have never noticed a significant difference in my lashes, ever. Each one was recommended to me by friends/bloggers/makeup sites with glowing reviews, but at the end of the day, none of them ever did a better job than a good ol' drugstore-brand mascara. What does make a difference, though, I've learned, is priming your lashes and using a curler religiously. If you do those two steps (both of which can be acquired for a few bucks at the drugstore), you will notice a huge difference in the va-va-voomness of your lashes."
— Aly M., marketing
2. "My worst beauty buy was drugstore DIY hair highlights when I was in high school. Before I did the deed, my fear was that the highlights would come out streaky. After the fact, that was the least of my worries. The color only really picked up on the top of my head where the heat was, and it was orange all the way around. I was a cheerleader back then and had a game, and when I got there, everyone called me Ariel for my reddish-orange disaster hair. My advice is, if you have dark hair, do not attempt to lighten your locks yourself, especially with drugstore dye. If you must try, go for Manic Panic bleach at Ricky's."
— Rachel Walden, Small Girls PR
3. "When I became a teenager, I used the entire Clinique system because that’s what my mom uses (I feel like we all do this, right?). I’ve since come to realize that we have completely different skin types, and I spent years using toner (because it’s Step 2) when I have uber-dry skin and should not be using a toner in the first place! Now, I’m committed to a simple, milky cleanser and a super-hydrating moisturizer, and my skin is much healthier."
— Autumn Reeser, actress
4. "Gel. Manicures."
— Nina L., education
5. "For a long time, I had a bad habit of letting my hairdressers push products on me as I left my appointments. (I’m one of those people who is very vulnerable to salespeople in all forms.) Even when the products were good, I never really integrated them into my routine or bought them again once the bottles were empty. I probably wasted a total of $1,000 over the years on hair products I never really used — or, at least, never used properly."
— Caity G., city planning
6. "I have two big ones:
"The first is Manuka Honey Bio Active 30%: I’ve started doing this thing where I put raw, organic manuka honey on my face and convince myself that it’s going to leave me poreless and glowing as I lick it off. Honey, when applied topically, is antimicrobial, hydrating, and known for locking in moisture. And, manuka honey, as I once read somewhere I can no longer recall, is just like regular honey except on steroids. So, I thought to myself as I was browsing the aisles at Organic Planet just itching to buy something, What could be better than raw, organic manuka honey? My eyes landed on manuka honey with 30% bioactive ingredients. As one might suspect, this percentage has added nothing to my life aside from a gaping hole in my credit-card bill (it costs upwards of $100) and reason to believe I know what 'bioactive' means when I, in fact, do not.
"The second is La Prairie Skin Caviar Luxe Cream: Here’s one in an exhaustive list of products that I purchased solely based on the company's stellar marketing tactics; it was the inclusion of the word 'caviar' and the nearly $300 price point that seemed to tug at my heartstrings. I know that caviar is irresistible on a blintz with a sliver of smoked salmon and a dollop of crème fraîche. So, how could it not be just as good for my skin? The idea of coating my skin in caviar felt so luxurious, so queenly, but most of all, it sounded like something Angelina Jolie would bathe herself in on a daily basis. In retrospect, I will concede that I would have probably been equally as smitten with a 'Dom Perignon Eye Cream.' But, it wasn’t until I read Anja Rubik’s seal of approval that I made a beeline for the La Prairie counter at Bloomingdale’s.
"Now that I’ve learned more about the actual ingredients that go into skin care, I look at the ingredient list of this product and, I swear, I emit an audible shriek; the cream doesn’t contain just one paraben, but three! But, at the time, I was unreasonably rapt and, as such, meticulously applied the cream every day and night with that useless little espresso spoon it comes with (which probably accounts for at least $100 of the price). I can say now, with full certainty, that any positive 'effects' I may have noticed while using this product were all psychosomatic — possibly even hallucinatory."
— Rachel Hodin, Thought Catalog
7. "Drugstore foundation. It wasn’t the biggest waste in the sense that they were never very expensive, but given the sensitivity of my skin and its weird coloration, I should have saved myself the hassle of trying basically every foundation in CVS and just gone with one that actually worked for me. (I use NARS now — and it is the perfect balance of coverage and not making me break out, ever)."
— Talia K., marketing
8. "Dumb canned water. It can cost around $12 for a can of a couple ounces of water that you mist on yourself to set your makeup or hydrate. One day, I realized that I could just buy a spritzer for a few dollars and fill it with Brita-filtered water every now and then. I’ve never looked back, even if I’m not getting all the fancy fake minerals in my daily spritz."
— Mara W., Publishing
9. "Those wand curling irons. I know people love them, but I burn my hand every single time. And, the glove thing gives my hair static."
— Anna Lindow, General Assembly
10. "For me, a big part of beauty when I was younger was losing weight, and I tried just about every diet you can think of, to very mixed success. The worst I ever did was NutriSystem. It was expensive, not that effective, and so many of the meals were just disgusting. I have since learned that the best way to [my own] long-term weight loss is making small changes with normal food, drinking a lot of water, and not buying pre-packaged meals.”
— Ella N., business operations
11. “About a year ago, I kept hearing and reading over and over how amazing this one toner was: Biologique Recherche 1970, original formula. I was still in this phase of 'If it's expensive, it must be amazing!' so I thought, 'Fuck it, I want infant skin' and ordered it online, where it is only sold at one exclusive salon. It was really expensive (I think about $50 for a tiny bottle), and they literally ask you if you're pregnant or breastfeeding before you buy it because there are so many chemicals in it. Anyway — it burned, smelled like gasoline, and dried me out severely — and I'll probably have The Hills Have Eyes-esque children now. Back to Dr. Hauschka toner, forever.”
— Anna Breslaw, freelance writer