There is something truly magical about a
good drugstore beauty find. After all, who doesn't like to save money? But while you probably have a trusty under-$10 mascara, hairspray, and shampoo, navigating the skincare section can be a lot more difficult.
In addition to the vast array of options, there is a lot to think about — like finding a cleanser that won't strip the skin, a moisturizer that won't clog your pores, and an eye serum that will de-puff without irritating. All that requires a good amount of trial and error. But why waste both time and money when we can do the legwork for you? To help guide you to the right drugstore shelf, we've tapped a handful of experts for the affordable skin-care formulas that they trust.
So, what do our own R29 editors
and some of the top celebrity makeup artists buy at their local pharmacies? Ahead, 14 essentials that will cleanse, tone, hydrate, and refresh skin for less than $25.
Expert: Monika Blunder, makeup artist to Jessica Alba, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Emilia Clarke "This 5% glycolic toner helps remove dead skin cells and firms and tightens the skin. It’s a super effective product for a great price."
Expert: Carola Gonzalez, makeup artist to Kerry Washington, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Leona Lewis "I use this on a daily basis on both myself and my clients, before makeup application. It instantly quenches the skin and keeps it looking smooth and hydrated. It’s like drinking water for the skin."
Hydro Boost Water Gel,
Expert: Jo Baker, makeup artist to Emmy Rossum, Salma Hayek, Olivia Wilde "I love using witch hazel as a toner. It cleans off any dirt, oil, or makeup residue, and gives me the cleanest base to begin makeup! At a fraction of the cost of normal toner, it's a must-have for me and in my kit. It's also great for skin that is prone to breakouts, as it has a gentle antibacterial property."
Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel,
Expert: Anne-Marie Guarnieri, former R29 deputy editor, Beauty "A few years ago, Johnson & Johnson sold my beloved Purpose soap-free face wash to another company, and even though it remained more or less the same in terms of formula, it became nearly impossible to find at drugstores, for reasons that are not clear to me. I started using Cetaphil Gentle Bar Cleanser out of necessity. Now, I can't imagine using anything else — and I can always find it at my local Duane Reade, even in a multi-pack. Like Purpose, Cetaphil is soap-free, and for a regular user of Retin-A, it's a cleanser that keeps my face from drying out into a tight, flaky mess. But it still removes most makeup (I use micellar water as a backup for stubborn mascara). It's a must-have. Plus, since it's a bar formula and not a liquid, I never have to worry about not being able to take it on a plane."
Gentle Cleansing Bar,
Expert: Robin Black, celebrity makeup artist and founder of Beauty Is Boring "Aside from the incredible scent, this mist is perfect for spritzing your face post-makeup to set it, or as a body spray when you need a quick refresh. I carry a small bottle in my bag for quick doses of both the calming scent and hydration throughout the day. You can purchase it in Whole Foods, online, or in many natural markets."
The Expert: Lexy Lebsack, R29 West Coast beauty editor “My eyes tend to get puffy at the drop of a hat, so I consider myself an eye-roller aficionado. I keep this product in the fridge (which is key for any roller), and apply it when I wake up with bags under my eyes. It de-puffs, feels great, and is super gentle. But the best part is that it’s the only formula I’ve found that’s in a soft tube, so you can squeeze it like toothpaste, which allows you to get the right amount of product every time.”
Revitalizing Eye Roll-on,
Expert: Monika Blunder, makeup artist to Jessica Alba, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Emilia Clarke "This is very comparable in quality to the more expensive micellar waters. Great for quick removal of makeup, and this product is gentle on skin." Botanics All Bright Micellar 3 In 1 Cleansing Solution, $5.99, available at Target.
Expert: Carissa Ferreri, makeup artist to Gina Rodriguez and Bailee Madison "I didn’t think it could get much better than the classic, original Biore Strips, but it just did. These have purifying charcoal, which pulls out even more dirt, to rid your skin of those nasty blackheads."
Deep Cleansing Charcoal Pore Strips,
Expert: Monika Blunder, makeup artist to Jessica Alba, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Emilia Clarke "It’s a fantastic deep-cleansing mask that draws impurities out of the skin. My skin always feels so refreshed after doing this mask."
African Black Soap Problem Skin Facial Mask,
Expert: Robin Black, celebrity makeup artist and Beauty Is Boring founder "So the name isn't exactly encouraging (nipple balm for lips?) but this is one of the best heavy-duty lip moisturizers I have ever used. It's the only thing that works in NYC's mid-winter icy winds and L.A.'s incredibly dry, hot summers. The texture is extremely thick and goopy, but pile some on before bed, and you will wake up with plump, moisturized lips. "I also like to apply a tiny dab before getting ready in the morning, so that by the time I get around to lipstick, it has sunk in and moisturized my usually dry lips."
Original Nipple Balm For Lips,
The Expert: Kelsey Castañon, R29 beauty news editor "I'll admit: I'm an oil-phobe. The ones I've tried (and believe me, I've tried a quite a few) tend to be too heavy or leave behind a sticky residue, which means a pimplepalooza for me the next day. Not so with this brilliant gel-oil. Not only is it incredibly lightweight, it's also packed with ceramides and sunflower oil that helps lock in moisture. Sounds like a win-win to me." CeraVe Skin Renewing Gel Oil, $24.99, available at Walgreens.
The Expert: Samantha Sasso, R29 beauty editorial assistant "I don't have a lot of products for acneic skin in my collection, so when I do break out, I'm ill-prepared. But the one thing I've learned to always keep stocked is this spot treatment. It always, without fail, works to significantly erase redness overnight." Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment, $8.99, available at Walgreens.
The Expert: Mi-Anne Chan , R29 beauty writer "I’ve been using this moisturizer for almost five years, and it’s something that I always go back to because it won’t break me out and moisturizes really well without leaving me greasy. Plus it has sun protection — so it checks all my boxes." CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM with SPF 30, $13.49, available at CVS.
The Expert: Rachel Krause, R29 beauty writer “I’m noncommittal with cleansers, but I always keep a bottle of this one on hand as backup. It’s incredibly gentle, and leaves my skin feeling clean and comfortable, never stripped.” La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser, $14.99, available at Walgreens.
The Expert: Megan Decker, R29 beauty production assistant “I’m not really picky when it comes to cleansers. In fact, I prefer not to spend a lot of something that I just wash off my face immediately (for products that sink in, that's a different story). Affordability aside, I like this cleanser specifically because I can actually feel it tingling while it cleanses deep into my pores. I always keep a bottle in my shower and use it when my face needs a good, deep clean." Bioré Deep Charcoal Cleanser, $5.99, available at Target.
The Expert: Cat Quinn, R29 beauty director "I’ve tried just about everything for the persistent acne on my cheeks — prescription ointments, natural salves, OTC creams. Everything either dried out my skin (making things worse) or did absolutely nothing. I was *this* close to popping Spironolactone when I decided to give this gel a shot. Within two months, it cleared up my acne without causing any dryness at all. (And it’s so light, you can wear it under makeup.) You can’t put a price on clear skin — but $13 is pretty fucking good." Differin Acne Treatment Gel, $12.89, available at Target.
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