What Happened When I Switched To A Drugstore Beauty Routine

It's no secret that beauty editors get to try a lot of products — many of them so pricey that, even if they're amazing, they aren't things a lot of us would actually buy on the regular. Working in beauty doesn't necessarily translate to bigger paychecks or less financial responsibilities than anyone else, after all.
So, I decided to spend a week on a beauty budget — treating my once no-holds-barred routine to some much-needed frugality. It didn't necessarily mean using less (I am a beauty editor, after all), but it did mean spending less. From my hair to my nails, I would only buy drugstore products and see what hidden gems I'd unearth in the process.

What did I learn? Some discoveries were super exciting (like an amazing matte red lipstick and a face wash that zapped a breakout — both under $7 each). Others were less triumphant (I didn't find a foundation or shampoo I liked, which is a bummer). Of course, it was only a week, so I couldn't try everything, but a lot of what I did fall for made the effort worth it.
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Ahead, the lessons I learned during my drugstore-only beauty week.
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Lesson: The perfect red lipstick is just $6 (!)

There are a few top dogs in the drugstore lipstick aisle already — Revlon's chubby pencils in both bright and neutral shades always impress, and Nyx Matte Lipstick has a great reputation. But I have to admit, I didn't see this red coming.

In fact, this Milani lipstick is one of my favorite discoveries in this story — maybe even this year — and proof that I haven't given the drugstore enough credit. It's a perfect blue-based red that's incredibly vibrant, richly pigmented, and a comfortable matte texture that stays put without drying out. (For reference, the texture is nearly identical to Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencils and the color is just a touch brighter than my normal go-to red.)

Further proof: I saw celeb makeup artist Jenn Streicher Friday afternoon and she was equally obsessed with the color when she saw it on me.

Milani Color Statement Moisture Matte Lipstick in 72 Matte Kiss, $5.99, available at Milani.
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Lesson: Simple acne products can be best

I rarely break out, but when I do, it's the underground, painful, lasts-for-too-long cystic kind — which are such a pleasure, aren't they? A week before I started this experiment, I felt a breakout coming, and none of my pricey products were doing shit, so I hit Target and picked up this wash.

This cleanser could not have impressed me more. It stopped my blemishes from getting as bad as they normally do, helped clear some congestion on the rest of my face, and didn't dry out my already dry skin — yep, even when I applied my go-to spot treatment for additional exfoliation in the evenings.

Faced with a long flight at the end of the week (anyone else break out when they travel?), I also picked up the wipe formula on my way out of town, which cleanses and treats with the same low level of salicylic acid.

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser, $6.82, available at Target.
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Lesson: This $10 brow pencil is prestige-level good

Ask any professional makeup artist and they'll tell you what's wrong with most eyebrow pencils at the drugstore: the color. Most are too dark in shade and almost all are too warm in tone, a combination that ends in obvious results for the majority of people who use them.

Nyx solved this problem, I discovered this week, with a whopping eight shades of their Micro Brow Pencil. Luckily, this includes the ones often left out of the drugstore ranges, like auburn, ashy blonde, and taupe, which is well-suited for many blondes and brunettes with cool undertones in their hair.

Plus, the pencil is thin, it comes with a spoolie, and the formula is dry, which helps with precision and a longer-lasting result.

NYX Micro Brow Pencil, $10, available at Nyx Cosmetics.
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Lesson: Splurge on serum, save on moisturizer

I didn't use this drugstore moisturizer long enough to tell you whether or not I saw an improvement in tone or fine lines, but what I can tell you about it is all positive. It felt lightweight on my skin, never greasy, and soaked in almost as quickly as I smoothed it on. Which means that the broad spectrum SPF 30 didn't leave a residue, a white cast, or smell at all like sunscreen, for that matter.

Moral of the story: Anything that makes it easy to wear SPF without feeling like you're wearing SPF is good in my book. I found it just as effective and luxurious-feeling as my favorite $200 cream. If I do splurge on a prestige skin-care product in the future, I'll make it a serum, not a lotion.

Roc Multi-Correxion 5-in-1 Daily Moisturizer, $23.37, available at Ulta Beauty.
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Lesson: You do not need to splurge on mascara — ever!

This is a fact I've known for years, with some of my favorites being L'Oréal Voluminous (long, defined results perfect for every day) and Maybelline The Falsies (tons of volume, an inky black color, and easily layered for a bit of drama). But, if you want to take it a step further, this Physicians Formula duo is for you.

While reading the instructions, my first question was, "Is this stuff going to get in my eyes?!" but somehow it didn't. Here's how it works: You apply a coat of the mascara — which isn't half bad on its own — then, while it's still wet, you coat the lashes with these little fiber "extensions" and add another coat of mascara. I also combed through it all with a clean spoolie brush, as it was a touch lot clumpy. (Just be sure to finish before the mascara dries or it's going to be a big mess.)

The result was a bit intense — hello, lashes — and looked a little like I had just gotten extensions (or was religiously using Latisse). My final reaction: I can get into this for a night out. Okay, like, really get into this.

Tip: The little fibers are black and immediately fall onto your cheeks — which looks weirdly like cheek stubble — so do your eye makeup before any face makeup so you can wipe the area clean.

Physicians Formula Eye Booster Instant Lash Extension Kit, $14.99, available at Physicians Formula.
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Lesson: Spray deodorant ain't half bad

Before this experiment, I thought spray deodorant was a little weird. It makes me immediately think of the '80s — not that I was using deodorant as a child — but it feels antiquated, nonetheless. I challenged myself to try this formula from Dove (maybe I was missing out big time?) and I was pleasantly surprised.

I mean, it's deodorant, so there isn't a ton to say, but it checked every single box: It goes on faster than a stick and with less maneuvering when half dressed, it doesn't rub off on clothing, it smells good (I like the cucumber scent best), and it works just like the best stick formulas.

Dove Dry Spray, $7.59, available at Dove.
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Lesson: Pink shadow is truly underrated

Pink is perhaps the easiest color to wear on lips and cheeks, but hard to rock on the eyes, right? Wrong. This palette from CoverGirl is surprisingly pretty on the eyes and not at all scary (you won't look sick or like you've been rubbing your eyes). There are neutrals to reign in the brighter hues, plenty of shimmery and matte colors to build depth, and they all blend together quite nicely.

Tip: The color is more foolproof than, say, a deeply pigmented MAC shadow, so use a wet shadow brush if you're used to high-impact shades.

CoverGirl Roses TruNaked Eye Shadow Palette, $11.99, available at Ulta Beauty.


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Lesson: Whitestrips have gotten even better

I've interviewed enough dentists over the years to know that Crest Whitestrips are the benchmark of effective at-home teeth whitening, but it had been years since I gave them a go. A few weeks back, I got this pack and noticed results with just the first strip (!), but as things go, they ended up in the back of my medicine cabinet. This week I pulled them out and went for it.

My teeth felt immediately sensitive after one use, and even though I skipped a few days, my teeth are so. much. brighter. in just a week. As opposed to the ones I used years ago, this rendition sticks like crazy to your teeth — you actually have to peel them off with a little force after, which is admittedly a little freaky. I'm not sure if it's this new grip that makes them more effective, or it's a better formula, but I am once again a devotee and will definitely finish this box, although I'm not mad at my results after just four strips.

Crest 3D White Luxe Supreme FlexFit Whitestrips, $59.99, available at Target.
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Lesson: Wipes are boss — but they come with a few rules

The drugstore has officially cracked the code on the wipe game, with nearly every brand offering some kind of cleansing cloth. But not all wipes are created equal. I did my fair share of testing, and here are two rules I now swear by: Know when something has acne fighters and use it as a treatment only and sparingly; and just say no to "exfoliating wipes" as they're way too harsh.

That being said, I have two favorites for everyday. The first is Cetaphil's wipes, which are soft, super-moist, and oh-so-gentle, making them perfect for dry and sensitive skin. Simple's Micellar Wipes also passed my test in a big way; they have a clean scent and wipe away makeup, too, making them perfect for normal to oily skin.

Those prone to breakouts can treat skin on the go (like after the gym or when traveling) with medicated formulas from Neutrogena or Yes To Tomatoes, both of which are great.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleansing Cloths, $6.37, available at Drugstore.com.
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