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Because beauty doesn’t have to break the bank.
I love behind-the-scenes looks at what my favorite celebrities use in their skin care routines. At the same time, I realize I would dig far too deep into my pockets if I followed an identical routine.
I often longingly look at beauty products and try to justify a splurge, but I always end up feeling that the beauty rituals of influencers are out of reach for me.
The truth is, you can create a beauty routine with accessible alternatives that’s just as effective as your favorite beauty maven.
All you need is a little bit of information and some creativity.
“The use of skin care products is a part of self-care,” says Dr. Monica Li, a Vancouver-based dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia. “But using skin care products that are supported by science with evidence-based ingredients is the more important point.”
Dr. Katie Beleznay, a Vancouver-based dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia, says that while higher end skin care brands may invest more in research and place a greater emphasis on packaging elegance, the same active ingredients can be found in some popular mass-market brands.
This means that higher cost beauty products may have some merits that justify the price difference. Still, it’s often possible to find a lower cost alternative that provides similar benefits with just a little bit of research.
Beauty doesn’t need to be pricey. There are plenty of lower cost alternatives that provide similar results without breaking the bank.
Low-cost beauty swaps
1. Dr. Barbara Sturm Anti-Pollution Drops
When I first found out about anti-pollution drops, all I could think about is how badly I needed them.
Not only do I regularly expose my skin to the damaging high energy (HEV) rays produced by my screen, but I also spend a lot of time outside absorbing harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and environmental pollutants.
Thank goodness there are lower cost options available.
Swap: The Better Skin Co. Super Shield Anti-Pollution Serum
These anti-pollution drops are a natural defense against environmental particulate pollution and damage from UV light.
They’re powered by the herb white horehound and combine the healing properties of turmeric with the soothing properties of aloe.
It can give skin a youthful complexion and a healthy glow.
Swap: e.l.f Beauty Shield Vitamin C Pollution Prevention Serum
For an even more affordable option, consider this lightweight serum that’s made with antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
The antioxidants work to protect your skin from environmental pollution while also rejuvenating.
It reduces fine lines, brightens skin tone, and leaves behind a glowing complexion.
2. Shani Darden Retinol Reform
Retinol is considered a gold standard skin care ingredient for many reasons: Beleznay says that retinol can help treat acne, clogged pores, improve texture, fine lines, and even out skin tone — no wonder it’s on many beauty influencers must-have lists.
Dr. Shreya Andric, a Sydney, Australia-based dermatologist, suggests the use of this product early on as a preventive measure. She advises integrating it into your skin care routine slowly to allow your skin to adjust.
Andric also stresses that retinol should only be applied at night, as retinol makes the skin more sensitive to the sun. Sunscreen should be applied during the daytime.
You don’t need a pricey retinol product. With proper use, these anti-aging and skin renewal properties can be captured in lower cost retinol finds.
Swap: The INKEY LIST Retinol Serum
The INKEY LIST Retinol Serum is formulated with 1 percent stable retinol and 0.5 percent granactive retinoid for rejuvenating skin renewal.
It also hydrates with squalane.
This slow-release formulation works to minimize irritation that regular retinol can cause. It’ll leave your skin looking firmer and tighter.
Swap: The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2 Percent in Squalane
This product is made from 2 percent granactive retinoid, an advanced formulation that works to provide the same benefit as regular retinol without the irritation.
For anyone looking for advanced skin care technologies at reasonable prices, The Ordinary might just be the brand for you.
This product may reduce signs of aging while being gentler on the skin than other retinol products.
3. Indie Lee’s Meditation Facial Mist
Do you ever just need a quick refresh during the day? Something you can spritz on anytime, anywhere?
Look no further! These alternative products will soothe your skin and promote well-being.
Swap: Jowae Hydrating Water Mist
This hydrating facial spray combines the gentle scent of the refreshing Sakura blossom hydrolat with antioxidant Lumiphenols to create the perfect mist.
This moisturizing spray will absorb quickly and evenly into your skin, leaving you feeling fresh and revitalized.
Improve skin hydration with a gentle mist and enjoy the fresh fragrance of flowers at the same time.
Swap: Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs, and Rosewater
This floral facial mist combines the moisturizing and refreshing properties of rose extract and the soothing properties of aloe with the antioxidant properties of gardenia extract.
The addition of thyme extract helps clarify and boost complexion, allowing for re-energized skin.
It smells heavenly, too.
4. Dermalogica Special Cleansing Face Gel
“The goal of skin cleaning is to remove debris and odor from our skin,” says Thomas Beachkofsky, a Florida-based dermatologist. Beachkofsky explains that soap-free cleansers may be better for those with a history of sensitive skin or eczema.
When looking for a cleanser, Li shares that formulations that are pH balanced and gentle are more likely to be compatible for use in all different skin types. She points out that these characteristics can be found in affordable cleanser options that are widely available to the public.
Swap: Spectro Jel Cleanser
Soap-free and fragrance-free, this gel cleanser will remove bacteria and impurities without irritating the skin.
Different formulations are available for blemish-prone, dry, or combination skin types.
Non-irritating and pH balanced, it gently lifts oil and dirt for a clean finish.
Swap: Vanicream Gentle Face Cleanser
Lather this oil-free, soap-free cleanser onto your skin to effectively remove bacteria, makeup, and irritants.
It’s free of dyes, lanolin, paraben, and formaldehyde.
This formulation won’t clog your pores and will leave your skin feeling soft and clean.
5. Indie Lee’s Purifying Face Wash
A simple face wash that gently removes makeup along with impurities is a must-have. These micellar cleansing waters are simple, nonirritating, and cost-effective.
Swap: Bioderma Sensibio H20 Micellar Water
This micellar water formulation offers a gentle way to cleanse and remove impurities.
This formulation is effective in removing makeup, gentle on the eyes, and perfect for sensitive skin.
Andric is a fan of this product due to its effectiveness in makeup removal and recommends its use as the first step in a double-cleansing routine.
Swap: Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water
Make your micellar water work smarter, not harder.
This cleanser is powerful at removing dirt and makeup while leaving the skin feeling purified and refreshed.
6. Indie Lee Superfruit Facial Cream
A good facial moisturizer is essential to all skin care regimens. However, the right facial moisturizer is highly individual.
“There are many ingredients in these products and one size does not fit all,” explains Beachkofsky, adding that a fragrance-free formulation is always advised.
When selecting facial moisturizers, Li reinforces the importance of identifying evidence-based ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid.
“Ceramides are an important component of a robust skin barrier, protecting us from microbes and environmental insults, while hyaluronic acid helps retain moisture to keep the skin surface healthy and hydrated,” Li says.
Andric adds that vitamin B3 (niacinamide) has been shown to help maintain skin barrier function and integrity.
Check out these two affordable moisturizers that contain evidence-based ingredients.
Swap: La Roche-Posay Double Repair Face Moisturizer
This face moisturizer is made with niacinamide, ceramide-3, prebiotic thermal water, and glycerin.
This formulation works to repair and replenish skin, maintain a healthy biome, and boost ceramides to provide hydrated and radiant skin.
In addition, SPF 30 protects from harmful UV rays, so you don’t have to worry about adding a sunscreen to your routine.
Swap: Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Lotion with Hyaluronic Acid
This nonirritating, lightweight facial moisturizer spreads easily onto skin and allows for rapid hydration.
This lotion is formulated with hyaluronic acid, a potent anti-aging and hydrating agent. This formulation is gentle, hypoallergenic, and noncomedogenic (meaning it won’t clog your pores), a perfect choice for sensitive skin.
7. Kosas Wet Lip Oil Gloss
A good lip gloss can provide us with a pop of color and a bit of glisten.
These lip gloss products are cost-effective and bring attention to your smile while still offering hydration.
Swap: Glossier Lip Gloss
Available in three shades, this long-wear lip gloss will provide an instant shine.
Formulated with vitamin E and jojoba oil, this lip gloss offers a range from vivid color to clear glimmer to holographic glow.
All the while, it leaves your lips soft and smooth without frequent application. It’s vegan too!
Swap: Hard Candy Plumping Serum
This lip serum will visibly plump your lips and give them a gorgeous shine.
The formulation hydrates with hyaluronic acid to give lips a boost. This product is available in a wide array of shades to suit almost anyone.
8. Laneige Lip Glowy Balm
Tinted lip balms are the perfect alternative to lipstick, especially during hot summer days. These balms will soften your lips while providing you with the perfect pop of pigment.
Swap: Neutrogena MoistureShine Lip Soother
This lip balm will give your lips a soothing shine and healthy-looking glimmer.
SPF 20 protects the lips from damaging UV rays, while cucumber, chamomile, and glycerin gently hydrate.
This product is available in four different shades to suit your mood or your outfit, so feel free to apply and express yourself!
Swap: Burt’s Bees Squeezy Tinted Balm
This hydrating lip balm is made from all-natural ingredients and available in four different shades. The texture is smooth and creamy and provides the perfect splash of color.
9. Unseen Sunscreen by Supergoop
Andric, Beleznay, Beachkofsky, and Li all agree that sunscreen is a vital component of any skin care regimen.
“No matter what skin type you have, sunscreen is the most important step, not only for preventing sun damage and resultant skin cancers, but also for anti-aging,” explains Andric.
As per usual, price doesn’t mean increased benefit. If you know the criteria for a good sunscreen, it’s possible to find a good product on the cheap.
“A good sunscreen product should be broad spectrum (covers UVA and UVB), have that minimum SPF, and be water resistant,” says Beleznay. “A minimum SPF of 30 is recommended but can be higher, especially if spending a day at the beach.”
Beleznay recommends applying sunscreen daily for maximum effect. Apply after other skin care products but before makeup.
Beachkofsky emphasizes that to receive the full effects of sunscreen, proper application and reapplication is crucial.
Check out these two affordable sunscreens.
Swap: CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30
This effective moisturizer with SPF 30 contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and ceramides.
This product will hydrate without clogging pores while also providing broad coverage against harmful UVA and UVB rays.
If you need more to convince you of this product’s efficacy, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends it as a sun protection product.
Swap: Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Sunscreen SPF 70
This sunscreen doubles as a lotion and a sun protectant. This formulation is oil-free and nonirritating to the face and body.
With SPF 70, this product has broad coverage against UVA and UVB rays and while also hydrating with antioxidant oat.
10. Oribe Signature Conditioner
If you have dry hair, investing in products that help bring back moisture is vital. Consider these affordable luxury hair conditioners.
Swap: Kristin Ess Signature Conditioner
This conditioner is suitable for all hair types and will leave your hair shiny.
The weightless silky formula is designed to smooth split ends and moisturize hair.
It’s sulfate free and smooths and softens your locks, all while protecting from environmental stressors. It doesn’t leave much left to be desired!
Swap: OGX Renewing + Argan Oil of Morocco
This conditioner uses argan oil to revive, strengthen, and nourish hair.
It repairs dry and damaged hair, leaving it sleek, shiny, and smooth.
Identifying lower cost alternatives can take some work and research. Andric recommends keeping it simple with active ingredients.
Look at active ingredients
Active ingredients are the ones doing the bulk of the work to achieve results.
Go for reputable brands
When searching for products at a drugstore, Beleznay suggests looking for reputable brands and finding the products that are right for your unique needs.
Some reputable drugstore brands for skin care include Aveeno, CeraVe, Cetaphil, La Roche-Posay, Vichy, and Neutrogena. They offer a wide array of skin and beauty products at a good price point.
Stick with the basics
If you’re running on a tight budget, it’s important to prioritize the essentials.
“The basics of a skin care routine consist of a moisturizer, cleanser, and sunscreen,” explains Li. Each of these products has many affordable and accessible options.
“If nothing else, the best thing you can do is keep your skin clean and protected from ultraviolet radiation,” Beachkofsky says.
He notes that the best results often have nothing to do with price, but with how well the product recommendations are followed.
“Better compliance generally results in better results!” he says.
Li adds that visible improvements following a consistent skin care routine typically require 3 to 4 months, so patience is key.
While pricey beauty products can be a nice addition to your beauty routine, they’re not the only products out there.
There are lower cost alternatives available that are better for your wallet and don’t compromise quality.
All it takes is a little bit of research to identify the cost-effective product that’s right for you.
Azra Chatur, BScPharm, is a freelance writer based in Edmonton, Canada. Passionate about writing, she strives to use her evidence-based pharmacy knowledge to promote health and wellness. Connect with her on LinkedIn.