Ever spend a pretty penny on a beauty product that promises to transform the way you look, only to find it does…well, not much? It's easy to get suckered into thinking you need to invest in pricey products and treatments, but more expensive doesn't always equal better when it comes to beauty. Here, we've narrowed down which hair, makeup and skin fixers are worth spending your hard-earned dollars on — and which ones aren't.
Spend: Everyday basics Save: Trendy makeup shades
We apply the same cost-per-wear philosophy to makeup as we do to clothes. It's worth it to spend more upfront for a neutral shadow palette you'll wear down to the pan. For colors you're unsure about (this season's on-trend burgundy, anyone?), test-drive a drugstore version before you commit to a pricey shade that looks pretty in the package but doesn't flatter your face.
Natural-looking highlights really look better when a colorist handpaints them (a technique called balayage). Pros are trained in the proper placement of highlights, while DIY jobs can turn out streaky, and without the proper toner, turn brassy. However, taking your hair a shade or two darker all over is more or less foolproof, so try it at home with a semi-permanent box dye.
Cleanser doesn’t stay on your face long enough for its active ingredients to make much difference, so stick with a simple, gentle formula and spend your skincare dollars elsewhere. Prescription retinoids like Renova are worth every penny, but over-the-counter retinols give a good bang for your buck, too. Both are among the few anti-aging ingredients that dermatologists universally agree to be effective.
The ability to try on prestige foundation and concealer shades at a makeup counter is worth the price alone, considering how trial and error at the drugstore adds up, fast. More expensive foundation and concealer tends to come in a wider shade range and have smoother, more refined formulas. But the best investment when it comes to your complexion is sunscreen — and you don’t have to spend a lot to get good protection. Another benefit to using inexpensive SPF? You won’t skimp on slathering it on for fear of using up a precious bottle.
There’s nothing worse than a poor quality makeup brush that sheds all over your face, but a well-made brush, when cared for correctly, will last you for many years — and help your makeup go on smoother. On the other hand, we haven’t found much of a difference between drugstore and prestige mascaras, so if your affordable version suits you, there’s really no reason to upgrade.
A great haircut is beauty gold: not only can the right style help you look younger, thinner and more pulled together, it changes the way you feel when you look in the mirror, which in our minds is basically priceless. On the other hand, not even an arsenal of fancy brushes can save a sloppy style. That $150 Mason Pearson may be a nice luxury, but there are plenty of similar brushes that work just as well (in fact, one of the biggest hairstylists in the business told us he only uses Sonia Kashuk hair brushes, which retail at Target for under $20).
While we’ve noticed drugstore shampoos and conditioners getting better and better, many of them are still made with cheap detergents that can strip hair’s moisture. Plus, salon shampoos tend to have more sophisticated scents, and that just makes us feel pampered. When it comes to styling products, though, inexpensive versions are often just as good. For example: tons of hair pros use L'Oréal Elnett ($14.99 for a massive can) on set, which is a good enough endorsement for us.