Bustle August 4, 2023



Beauty Experts Say You're Probably Overpaying For These Things — & Here's What To Buy Instead


How to save without compromising on results.

When it comes to beauty purchases, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge, but don’t get it twisted — a product doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to work well. In fact, the beauty experts below, like hair stylists, estheticians, dermatologists, and makeup artists, say that you might be overpaying for a whole lot. Want to know when to shell out and when to save your money for the best results? These experts are here to help guide you.

From makeup hacks and clever multitaskers to the drugstore faves that even top industry experts are loyal to, the following products are effective and will help you save a little money, too. Read on for all the products these beauty experts swear by — each for $40 or less.

Overpaying For: Fancy Facials Oils

What To Buy Instead: This Pure, Organic Argan Oil
Cliganic 100% Pure Argan Oil

“Stop wasting money on expensive overpriced facial oils!” says Sue Perez, and Emmy Award-winning TV makeup artist. “Using 100% pure argan oil is an excellent lightweight, fragrance-free organic option,” she adds. Lightweight argan oil is rich in vitamin E meaning it’ll moisturize skin, give you a glow, and help reduce inflammation — and you can use it on your hair, too. This one is cold-pressed, cruelty free, and certified organic — and it’s only $10.

Overpaying For: Petroleum-Based Creams

What To Buy Instead: This Tried-&-True Skin Protectant
Vaseline Petroleum Jelly (3-Pack)

Another ingredient you might be overpaying for? Petroleum jelly. Perez says that in some expensive face creams, the first ingredient is petroleum — so just pick up some Vaseline instead! “Face creams or any face lotion for that matter is used to prevent moisture loss,” says Perez, “So how expensive it is becomes completely irrelevant,” she explains. Countless derms recommend Vaseline for slugging, too.

Overpaying For: Prestige Mascaras

What To Buy Instead: This Drugstore Mascara That Pros Swear By
L’Oreal Paris Makeup Voluminous Original Volume Building Mascara

Makeup and brow artist Stevi Christine says that drugstore mascaras often work just as well as luxury ones, especially in a pinch. “If you like a specific type of wand, just look for that wand in a lesser expensive product for similar results,” says Christine. This L’Oreal Paris Voluminous mascara is one of Amazon’s best sellers, with over 65,000 five-star ratings from reviewers who love how the product thickens lashes without clumping or drying them out. And Christine isn’t the only expert who loves this mascara — countless other makeup artists, including Mario Dedivanovic (Kim K’s longtime MUA), swear by it, too.

Overpaying For: Individual Brow Products

What To Buy Instead: This Eyebrow Kit That Triples As Eyeshadow & Eyeliner
Revlon Eyebrow Kit

Christine also recommends looking for multi-use products that take up less of your makeup bag — and of your wallet. “My personal fave is a brow powder that can be used as eyeshadow and eyeliner,” she says. This Revlon eyebrow kit comes with powder to fill in your brows, wax to help mold them and make them stay in place, and a spoolie and angled brush — so you’re getting an on-the-go-friendly brow and eye makeup product for less than $10.

Overpaying For: Single-Use Makeup Products

What To Buy Instead: This Triple-Tasking Multi Stick
e.l.f. Monochromatic Multi Stick

Another multitasking product that Christine loves? “A lip, cheek and eye product,” she says. This Monochrome Multi Stick from e.l.f. is a shimmery, blendable, cream-to-powder product that can serve as lip tint, blush, and eye shadow. It comes in seven different colors that you can blend out with your fingers or a brush, perfect for on-the-go touch-ups. And, like all e.l.f. products, it’s cruelty-free and vegan.

Overpaying For: Separate Sunscreens & Tinted Moisturizers

What To Buy Instead: This Tinted Mineral Sunscreen
Australian Gold Botanical SPF 50 Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion

Lover of multitasking makeup and skin care products that’ll save you money, Christine says you’ll also always find tinted sunscreen in her makeup bag. “It's your SPF and makeup in one,” she says. This SPF 50 from Australian Gold ensures proper sun protection, with 8% titanium dioxide and zinc oxide for a mineral sunscreen that’s compliant with the Hawaii Reef Act 104. The product comes in three shades, designed to blend in with your skin tone and give you natural-looking, lightweight coverage with a non-greasy, matte finish.

Available shades: 3

Overpaying For: Prestige Body Butters

What To Buy Instead: This Drugstore Body Lotion With The Right Ingredients
Jergens Shea + Cocoa Butter Body Lotion

Instead of splurging on pricey body butters and creams, Christine recommends buying affordable, high-quality body moisturizers based on ingredients instead. “Save your money and go to Amazon or your local drugstore and buy anything with cocoa butter, olive oil, shea butter or coconut oil — these ingredients leave your skin feeling hydrated and some smell so yummy naturally,” she says. This Jergens Shea + Cocoa Butter Body Lotion contains naturally derived African shea butter, cocoa butter, and vitamins B3 and E to deliver intense hydration to dry skin while promoting a more even skin tone.

Overpaying For: Pricey Hair Towels

What To Buy Instead: This Cheap One That Works Just As Well
YoulerTex Microfiber Hair Towel Wrap (2-Pack)

“Microfiber towels are the most gentle way to absorb water after cleansing. Instead of buying one for $50+ Amazon has them for $10,” says Christine. Microfiber is lightweight, durable, and quick-drying, so you can absorb excess water after your shower without tugging at your hair with a conventional towel — and this way, you’ll spend less time blow drying it. This microfiber hair towel is just as effective as its pricier counterparts, but accomplishes the exact same job. And since you’ll get two for $10, the value is unbeatable.

Available colors: 16

Overpaying For: Root Touch-Ups At The Salon

What To Buy Instead: This Genius Root Cover-Up Spray
L'Oreal Paris Magic Root Cover Up Spray

No need to spend a fortune going to the salon every two weeks, or investing in expensive volumizing sprays. “Use a root cover spray when in a pinch for color,” says Christine, “great for covering grays or making your roots appear thicker.” This L’Oreal Paris root cover-up spray masks unwanted roots and makes your hairline appear fuller in seconds. It comes in eight natural-looking colors, costs only $10, and has over 40,000 five-star Amazon ratings to boot.

Available shades: 8

Overpaying For: A $200 Boar Bristle Brush

What To Buy Instead: This Boar & Nylon Bristle Brush For Affordable Detangling
MISEL Boar Bristle Hair Brush

Considered the golden standard in hair brushes by hair stylists, boar bristle brushes are great for detangling thick hair, evenly distributing your hair’s natural oils, and helping hair retain its natural texture — but they can get pretty pricy. “If you’re not ready to shell out $300 for a full boar brush, opt for brushes that have both nylon and boar bristles,” says Christine. “I use similar types of brushes to detangle, and they’re great for styling and updos.” This MISEL Hair Brush has both boar bristles and flexible nylon tips to give you silky smooth hair and help you detangle knots painlessly.

Overpaying For: Prestige Brow Pencils

What To Buy Instead: This Drugstore Brow Pencil That Works Just As Well

“I have used a countless amount of brow pencils and have learned that as long as it’s not too hard or dry and there’s a shade that works for you, then a drugstore brand has good options,” says Christine. She recommends filling in spare areas in your brows with a drugstore pencil, like NYX’s cult-favorite micro brow pencil, and spending a little more on brow gel or wax to help them stay in place.

Available shades: 12

Overpaying For: Expensive Gua Sha Stones

What To Buy Instead: This $8 Option That Gets The Job Done

Christina Uzzardi, a Los Angeles-based esthetician and founder of facial spa Cheeks + Co, says that a lot of gua sha stones are overpriced. “You can find the same one under $30,” she says. For example, this ROSELYNBOUTIQUE gua sha tool costs just $8, but offers up the exact same gua sha benefits.

Overpaying For: Facial Cleansing Brush Devices

What To Buy Instead: A 50-Pack Of Natural Face Sponges
GAINWELL Cellulose Facial Sponges (50- Pack)

Desireé Delia, lead facialist at Augustinus Bader’s Skin Lab in New York, recommends nixing expensive ultrasonic cleansing brushes for facial sponges instead. “Over time, the [ultrasonic] brush can harbor bacteria and disrupt the skin’s pH leaving irritation, sensitivity, and broken capillaries,” she says. “Instead, reach for a facial sponge and wash in circular motions to exfoliate your skin. You can buy a package of 50 for $9.99.”

Overpaying For: Most Face Toners

What To Buy Instead: This Multi-Tasking French Micellar Water
Bioderma Sensibio H20 Micellar Water

“When it comes to toner, you might be overspending,” says Delia. She says that toners are simply meant to balance your skin’s pH and remove excess dirt and oil that’s still there after cleansing, in which case a tried-and-true micellar water, like Bioderma’s Sensibio H20, will do the trick. “Instead, splurge on serums and moisturizers,” she advises.

Overpaying For: Luxury Retinol Serums

What To Buy Instead: This Gentle But Effective Drugstore Retinol Serum
CeraVe Retinol Serum for Post-Acne Marks and Skin Texture

Vanessa Coppola, a nurse practitioner and aesthetics expert, says that retinol doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. “Most of what makes a retinol good and effective is often overlooked by fancy packaging and advertising,” she says, noting that you want to look for a retinol that’ll penetrate effectively and is formulated with complementary ingredients like ceramides. CeraVe’s Retinol Serum fits the bill, containing encapsulated retinol to help gently increase skin cell turnover, niacinamide to soothe, and ceramides to protect your skin barrier.

Overpaying For: At-Home Microneedling Devices

What To Buy Instead: A Toner That (Safely) Exfoliates Your Skin
Peach Slices 2% Salicylic Acid Acne Exfoliating Toner

Replace your expensive at-home microneedling device with a good AHA/BHA exfoliant and a retinol, advises Coppola. “Many at-home microneedling devices are calibrated in a way that’s too shallow to create a good collagen response,” explains Coppola, adding, “You’re better off with a professional microneedling appointment. [But] if heading into the medspa or dermatology office in not on your horizon, you will likely achieve better at home results with a good chemical exfoliator and a retinol — not to mention a much less costly option.” At home, stick to products that help gently exfoliate skin and reduce unwanted hyperpigmentation, like Peach Slices’ 2% Salicylic Acid Acne Exfoliating Toner, which will also help keep your pores clear of acne-causing sebum and dead skin.

Overpaying For: Expensive Hair Oils

What To Buy Instead: This Simple, Lightweight Hair Oil For Less Than $25
Sun Bum Coconut Argan Oil

Expensive hair oils aren’t always superior to more affordable ones, says professional hair stylist Jennifer Korab. “Check the ingredient lists and go for products with nourishing oils like argan, jojoba, or coconut oil,” she says. This Coconut Argan Oil by Sum Bum is a lightweight, hydrating blend of oils like coconut, argan, sunflower seed, and sweet almond. It helps protect and strengthen your hair while also keeping it shiny and soft — and smelling good, too.

Overpaying For: Dry Shampoo That Leaves Behind A White Residue

What To Buy Instead: An Organic Dry Shampoo Powder For Dark Hair
Acure Dry Shampoo

The same rule goes for dry shampoo, says Korab. “While dry shampoos are a great tool for your styling, some high-end brands can be expensive. Look for drugstore dry shampoos that match your hair color and absorb excess oil effectively.” This organic dry shampoo from Acure was made for brunette hair (though it also comes in a version for lighter hair, sold on the same Amazon page) and quickly absorbs excess oil while giving your hair a bit of volume without any white residue. Korab adds that baby powder also works as dry shampoo in a pinch.

Overpaying For: Hair Growth Products With Lofty Claims

What To Buy Instead: This Rosemary Oil That Helps Encourage Hair Growth
Mielle Organics Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil

“Some hair growth products come with lofty promises and high price tags,” says Korab. “Try a less expensive option like rosemary oil,” she advises instead. This Mielle Organics Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil nourishes and strengthens dry hair, and is infused with biotin to further encourage healthy hair growth. In preliminary studies, rosemary oil has been shown to help reverse some types of hair loss, sometimes just as well as medication. This is also a fan favorite on Amazon with over 35,000 five-star ratings.

Overpaying For: Salon-Brand Shampoos

What To Buy Instead: This Drugstore Set That Works Just As Well
L'Oreal Paris Shampoo and Conditioner

Anna Peterson, cosmetologist and creator of Salon Route, says she often sees people overpay for high-end shampoos and conditioners. “It's a common misconception that pricier equals better,” says Peterson. “In reality, the main role of these products is to clean and condition your hair, which many affordable brands do just as well.” Case in point: This L’Oreal duo that’s sulfate-free, infused with rosemary, and backed by over 8,000 five-star ratings — and each product comes out to just $7.

Overpaying For: Pricey Hair Brushes

What To Buy Instead: This Gentle Detangling Brush That Glides Through Knots
Crave Naturals Glide Thru Detangling Brush

While Korab recommends investing in a good quality hairbrush, “you don't need to overspend on expensive designer brushes,” she says. Instead, “Look for good reviews on brushes that are suitable for your hair type and needs. Amazon has many options with lower price points.” For example, this detangling brush from Crave Naturals is a best-seller with flexible bristles that glide through tangled hair easily. Designed for all hair types, but especially useful for tight curls that are prone to knots, the cone-shaped plastic bristles work to gently separate hair instead of tugging at it. The brush is only 7.5 inches long so it’s great for travel, and comes in nine different colors. And impressively, it’s garnered over 50,000 five-star Amazon ratings thus far.

Available colors: 9

Overpaying For: Most Face Washes

What To Buy Instead: This Super-Gentle But Effective Cleanser For Under $10
Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser

Peterson also says that “pricey makeup removers are often oversold,” recommending instead a simple, affordable cleanser that’ll get the job done just as well. Dermatologist Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose agrees. “Facial cleansers should typically be the least costly step in your routine,” she says, noting that you should save your money for serums and moisturizers. This tried-and-true Vanicream facial cleanser gently and effectively removes dirt, oil, sunscreen, and makeup, and has the Seal of Acceptance from the National Eczema Association. It’s safe for all skin types, even the most sensitive and allergy-prone (like all Vanicream products).

Overpaying For: Luxury Body Washes

What To Buy Instead: This Basic (In A Good Way) Drugstore Version
Cetaphil Ultra Gentle Body Wash

Peterson uses the same rule for body cleansers as she does for facial cleansers, noting that inexpensive ones usually get the job done just as well. “You certainly do not need to spend so much for a body wash especially since a lot of product is used up quickly while bathing or showering,” she explains. Instead of opting for pricey shower gels, “look for a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser that lathers sufficiently and doesn’t leave residue,” she advises. For example, this Cetaphil Ultra Gentle Body Wash cleanses your body without leaving your skin feeling dry and stripped, and it’s safe for sensitive skin types, as well.

Overpaying For: Designer Makeup Brushes

What To Buy Instead: This 5-Pack Of Pro-Favorite Brushes
Real Techniques Makeup Brush Set with Sponge Blender (5-Pack)

Peterson recommends being “cautious about the allure of designer makeup brushes,” noting that “there are plenty of mid-range brushes that offer the same result without the luxury price tag.” This five-pack of brushes from pro-favorite brand Real Techniques includes a makeup sponge, a blush brush, a contour or liquid foundation/blush brush, a setting powder brush, and an eyeshadow brush. The ultra-plush synthetic bristles help you achieve a flawless finish, and thousands of Amazon reviewers rave about the quality of these budget-friendly brushes.

Overpaying For: Bar Soap In Pretty Packaging

What To Buy Instead: This $2 Exfoliating Soap For Super-Soft Skin
Yardley Oatmeal and Almond Bar Soap

While there are lots of pricey bar soaps on the market, “They won’t cleanse your body better than low cost counterparts,” cautions Peterson. (In fact, with many bar soaps, you’re paying for the pretty gift packaging.) Yardley’s Oatmeal & Almond Bar Soap exfoliates skin naturally with soothing oatmeal, leaving your skin clean, moisturized, and oh-so soft for less than $2.

Overpaying For: Most Hair Ties

What To Buy Instead: These Silk Scrunchies That’ll Last Forever
CELESTIAL SILK Mulberry Silk Scrunchies (3-Pack)

“Elasticated hair ties get expensive over time as they constantly need replacing,” says Issie Churcher, principle colorist at Joshwood Colour in London. Elastic hair ties can also damage your hair, so instead, Churcher recommends silk or satin scrunchies since they’re less damaging and will essentially last forever. Made of 100% premium grade mulberry silk, these mulberry silk scrunchies protect your hair from breakage and frizz and come in a bunch of fun colors. Plus, you get three for just over $15, making them a great value.

Available colors: 37

Overpaying For: Pricey Hot Tools That Can Damage Hair

What To Buy Instead: This Air Dry Cream For Gorgeous Natural Curls
OGX Locking + Coconut Curls Air Dry Cream

“Instead of using expensive heat appliances on your hair, embrace your natural texture with creams and sprays,” advises Churcher. This OGX Coconut Curls Air Dry Cream enhances your natural curl pattern and keeps your hair soft without any crunchy or greasy feel. Designed for medium to coarse curls, the cream contains coconut oil and shea butter for hydration, and helps tendrils curl up gorgeously as they air dry, you can skip the hot tools.

Overpaying For: In-Salon Clarifying Treatments

What To Buy Instead: This Clarifying Shampoo That Does The Same Job
Malibu C Un-Do-Goo > pH 9 Shampoo

“A Malibu treatment at the salon is a great way of getting rid of ‘waxy hair’ from product build up, but it can be very expensive,” says Samuel Ashcroft, a stylist at Joshwood Colour. Instead, he recommends opting for a clarifying shampoo once a week, which he calls a “cost effective alternative.” Made by the same brand that offers those in-salon clarifying treatments, this Malibu C shampoo effectively eliminates product buildup, hard water deposits, and anything else that’s weighing your hair down or dulling your color, and since it’s only intended to be used occasionally, this one under-$20 bottle will last you ages.

Overpaying For: Prestige Hair Masks

What To Buy Instead: This Ultra-Nourishing Deep Conditioner
L'Oréal Paris Elvive Extraordinary Oil Rapid Reviver Deep Conditioner

Ashcroft has a hair mask hack, too. “Hair masks are a lovely treat but they are generally expensive,” he says. “Leaving a lower cost standard conditioner in the hair for a little longer than usual can make the hair feel a little softer.” This L’Oreal Paris deep conditioner is formulated with camellia and sunflower oils to deeply nourish even the driest of hair types. “Save the masks for a once-a-month treat,” says Ashcroft, and use this regularly instead.

Overpaying For: Specialty Makeup Primers

What To Buy Instead: This Pro-Favorite Moisturizer & Primer In One
Embryolisse Face Cream & Makeup Primer

“You’re probably overpaying for makeup primers,” says Sophie Marcopoulos, a licensed esthetician, makeup artist, and skin care studio owner. “At best, they’re unnecessary, and at worst, they can hinder your foundation application by pilling or adding another layer of thickness to the complexion.” She recommends instead using a moisturizer that works well with your skin and under makeup. The cult favorite Embryolisse Face Cream & Makeup Primer is a great option for this — the ultra-hydrating cream is approved by celebs and top makeup artists for the smooth, nourished base it creates.

Overpaying For: Makeup Primers (Continued)

What To Buy Instead: This Drugstore Setting Powder That Locks In Your Look
e.l.f Halo Glow Setting Powder

If you have oily or textured skin and want to save money by skipping the primer, Marcopoulos instead recommends “[applying] a setting powder after foundation in a patting motion to increase smoothness and longevity.” This e.l.f. Halo Glow Setting Powder will do just that, smoothing over the skin, blurring imperfections, and helping your makeup stay put all day long — all for just $8.

Overpaying For: Prestige Lip Pencils

What To Buy Instead: This Under-$5 Lip Liner That Performs Like A High-End One

“You’re probably also overpaying for high-end lip pencils,” says Marcopoulos. “Drugstore lip pencils are typically just as high quality and well performing as their high end counterparts, with a variety of colors to choose from.” At just $4, this NYX Slim Lip Pencil comes in 11 different colors, providing a smooth base to extend the color of whatever lipstick you’re wearing. Or, as a longer lasting alternative to lipstick, you can wear lip liner all over instead. Plus, NYX is America’s number-one lip liner brand.

Overpaying For: Products You Wash-Off

What To Buy Instead: An Active-Rich Serum
Naturium Niacinamide Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%

Dr. Rahi, a Beverly Hills-based double-board certified aesthetics doctor, seconds the advice of Dr. Murphy-Rose — save your money on affordable cleansers and invest your dollars in leave-on products rich in active ingredients instead. “Don't overpay for a cleanser that ends up getting washed off your skin,” Dr. Rahi says. Serums, on the other hand, “contain a high concentration of active ingredients and absorb quickly into your skin.” Naturium is a brand that makes some of the best and cheapest serums on the market. Their niacinamide and zinc serum is particularly popular, and contains all the ingredients you need to keep your pores clear and promote a more even complexion. While this makes it great for acne-prone skin types, the formula is also balanced out by hydrating hyaluronic acid and nourishing vitamin E, so it’s a solid option for almost any skin type imaginable.

Overpaying For: A Scalp Massaging Brush

What To Buy Instead: This Super-Popular $6 One
HEETA Shampoo Brush

“A scalp scrubber is a must-have in my shower,” says Dr. Rahi, explaining that it helps exfoliate the scalp, stimulate blood flow, and promote overall healthy hair. “With that said, there is no need to pay more than $10 for a good scalp scrubber,” she explains. This scalp scrubber/shampoo brush, for example, is an Amazon best-seller with over 100,000 (!!!) five-star ratings, and each color costs less than $10.

Available colors: 10

Overpaying For: Name-Brand Hot Styling Tools

What To Buy Instead: This 2-in-1 Curler & Flat Iron
Conair Infinitipro 2-In-1 Stainless Styler

“When it comes to styling hair, I feel like people are overpaying for name brand styling tools,” says Raven Hurtado, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. “There are other styling tools that work just as good and cost a fraction of the price.” Case in point? This Conair two-in-one Styler makes it easy to both straighten and curl your hair with its genius design. It has five heat settings that reach up to 400 degrees, and takes only 30 seconds to heat up. Best of all, it’ll set you back just $40 for the price of two tools.