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Budget-friendly beauty
Credit: Beatriz Kaye, HelloGiggles

I’ve always treated skin care as a sensual form of self-care at the end of a long day. Instead of a structured routine limited to three or four products, I love to have a selection at my fingertips so that I can shake things up depending on how my skin feels. I have a product on my Beyonce-adorned skin care shelf for just about any skin ailment you can think of, and only a few of them are under $20. (Big yikes for my wallet.)

On a late night munchie run to Walgreens, I was speeding past the skin care aisle to grab my favorite bag of jalapeno chips and wondered, “What was so bad about buying my skin care products here?” I’ve always been afraid of breakouts, irritation, and dryness that spread throughout my skin in college when I was living off of ramen. Many of the bad habits that wrecked my skin back then—terrible diet, late nights, high stress (art school is not a joke, y’all), and the makeup-stained pillowcase I slept on for weeks without washing—have since stopped, so I thought: What’s the harm in trying to switch my entire skin care routine to affordable products from a drugstore?

The method

Usually, when introducing new products to your skin care routine, you should introduce one product at a time so that if breakouts do occur, you can pinpoint the exact culprit. For the sake of this particular experiment, I decided to keep using the same set of products for a week to see how they work on my skin, and switch things up the following week. What worked stays, and what doesn’t work gets replaced by one of the many products I gathered in my endless research. I stayed flexible with my routine and made note of how each product felt before, during and after application to see if it was right for me.

My regular routine and skin issues

Credit: Beatriz Kaye, HelloGiggles

This summer, I’m committed to getting at least two hours of outdoor exercise every morning. It’s great for my health but the sun exposure has taken a toll on my skin. I’m relying on a few products in my go-to stash to clear my face of impurities while moisturizing my dry/combo skin. I typically mix Fresh Soy Face Cleanser ($42) and Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Mask ($58) to concoct a gentler exfoliant that helps suck impurities out without leaving my skin dry. I also use Josie Maran’s Skin Dope CBD Oil ($78), which has cleared my skin tone and texture significantly. I have to admit that the CBD oil is the product I’m most scared of parting with, but I’m looking forward to seeing how drugstore products hold up.

Regular skin care routine:

Regular routine total: $543

Week One: Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate.

I’ve heard a lot about double cleansing—a cleansing method of using an oil-based cleanser to remove impurities, then following with a second, water-based cleanser to remove water-based impurities—but I don’t typically use the method myself for fear of drying my skin out. Buying drugstore skin care products means your dollar stretches further, so I decided to give it a try for the first week. I used Burt’s Bees’ Facial Cleansing Oil with Coconut & Argan Oils ($15.99) and Aveeno’s Positively Radiant Cleanser ($8.99). The first difference you notice once you make the switch are the different smells. Even though Burt’s Bees’ formulas are derived from natural ingredients, the combination of scents just threw me off completely. It definitely made the experience less luxurious for me.

Credit: Beatriz Kaye, HelloGiggles

To exfoliate, I used L’oreal’s Detox & Brighten Clay Mask ($12.99) two times during the week and I was completely blown away by its effectiveness. It was really heavily scented, to the point that I got a little lightheaded while I was waiting for the mask to dry. But it drew out impurities effortlessly under 15 minutes, especially around my nose and t-zone. I avoided putting the over-scented mask on the outside of my face because those parts are more prone to drying and irritation. I used a Biore Charcoal Pore Strip ($7.99) to continue to draw out the impurities on my nose, and I was incredibly satisfied by seeing a full house on that pore strip.

The mask didn’t leave my skin feeling too dry, but I was worried that using it a 2-3 times per week would cause my skin to dry out and flake into dreaded eczema. While it didn’t dry my skin out completely, I did notice a rapid change in my skin tone. While the texture was clear, the tone became a little more dull and pale. I decide that the double cleansing might have been stripping too much of my skin’s protective properties, especially from the sun’s rays during my morning workout routine, so I decided to nix that in next week’s rotation.

Products used:

Total: $122.41

Week Two: Hydrate or bust.

This week, I’m focusing on finding ultra hydrating products to counteract the dehydration my face is battling from New York sun and wind, so I’m starting with Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Hydrating Cleansing Gel ($8.99). The gel lathers into a really luscious texture, and I actually don’t mind the smell of this one. I loved this cleanser because it didn’t dry my skin out and it definitely left my skin feeling cleaner.

I’m also a hardcore believer in layers of moisture for nighttime, especially if you have central air. Typically, I’ll layer oil and night cream on top of each other, leaving a few minutes between the application of the two products to let each of them work their magic. For nighttime hydration, I used Burt’s Bees’ Complete Nourishment Facial Oil ($8.99) and Burt’s Bees Hydrating Night Cream ($9.49). Again, Burt’s Bees’ facial oil was perfectly effective, but I’m thrown off by its strong scent. The night cream worked instantly overnight, and I saw a significant decrease in my pore size around my T-zone. I did notice that I went through a significant amount of product in a week, which means switching to this night cream means more frequent purchases.


Three nights a week, I also slathered on Bliss’ In The Honey Moisturizing Mask ($15) before moisturizing for the night. I was pleasantly surprised by how gentle the formula is on my skin, just because I’ve always shied away from drugstore products thinking they will be way too harsh on my skin. Bliss’ Honey mask is honestly so much more effective than the expensive masks I use for hydration. The mask clearly boosted the vibrancy and moisture of my skin, especially combined with the Burt’s Bees’ oil and night cream.

Products used:

Total: $90.65


Two week drugstore routine total: $213.06 for 17 products
Average drugstore product price: $12.53

Regular routine total: $543 for 10 products
Average regular routine product price: $54.30

Final thoughts

The main sensory difference between expensive and cheap beauty products is the smell. Yes, luxury beauty products use one-of-a-kind ingredients, pristine packaging, and gentle formulas to justify the price point. But sometimes we let a placebo effect take over and we start believing that drugstore products are inherently lower quality without actually trying them. My skin responded really well to most of the products I tried, and I’m considering making my skin care routine more of a mix between high- and low-priced products. I can’t bring myself to part with the CBD oil because I really did find my skin to be more vibrant and saturated.

I know that my own commitment to skin care seems super time-consuming, but the key takeaways from this experience are to trust your senses. Trust your fingertips, your nose, your eyesight, and, of course, your skin to tell you what products are working during and after application of a product. Spend as little or as much as you can on what makes your senses feel good.