The world of beauty can be overwhelming, as much for our cabinets as our wallets. But rest assured: a high-powered cosmetics arsenal need not break the bank. Take it from the stars of Vogue’s Beauty Secrets, who have revealed that some of their most prized products are in fact some of the best priced.
See La Roche-Posay’s $14 Serozinc Toner, a mattifying mist that has earned Naomi Campbell’s seal of approval. What’s more? The Kendall Jenner–beloved Mario Badescu Facial Spray—laced with soothing green tea, cucumber, and aloe—rings in at just $12; spritz it on before applying a layer of Sydney Sweeney’s go-to $16 Embryolisse Lait-Creme Concentre or a $19 hyaluronic-acid-infused primer that’s a mainstay in Jessica Alba’s Dopp kit. Gigi Hadid, meanwhile, swears by Maybelline’s Lifter Gloss. Delivering an ultra-moisturizing, ultra-shiny finish for only $7, it’s one makeup must-have that will leave you anything but high and dry.
Below, shop the best beauty products under $20 on Amazon, as chosen by Vogue’s Beauty Secrets stars Gigi Hadid, Emma Chamberlain, and more.
The beauty industry has a bad habit of labeling actual change—eliminating harmful ingredients or including actual representation in imagery—as trends. Clean beauty has become a casualty of this phenomenon, which is only emphasized when brands use vague terms and greenwash their products, despite a lack of commitment to true sustainability. Hopefully, this “fad” is here to stay, with consumers continuing to demand higher quality and more eco-friendly beauty products. However, as “green beauty” is being hailed as the new cool thing, Jessica Alba and the Honest Company were one the first brands to pave the way for innovation in the space.
“No one had even heard of the word ‘non-toxic’,” Jessica Alba told ELLE.com, as she discussed the founding of her brand.Started in 2011, The Honest Company–and its later brand, Honest Beauty, which launched in 2015–were emphasizing healthy ingredients and sustainable packaging before these were common PR-manufactured buzzwords.
“Back in the day, when I wanted everything to be in packaging that’s super sustainable, it just didn’t exist,” says Alba. Prior to new innovations in the field, options for a beauty line that also cared for the environment and health of its consumers were incredibly limited. Looking back at where the state of clean beauty was just a few years ago, Alba remarks, “How is this both expensive and terrible?”
Welcome to Artist Spotlight #62 series on my blog.
Luckily, the market has come a long way, and Alba’s company has been at the forefront. Now, cartons that house Honest Beauty products are 100% recyclable or compostable, and completely tree-free. “There are no trees that are harmed,” quipped Alba. Aluminum tubes, tin compacts, and refillable jars are being implemented for customer favorite products, and all orders from Honest.com are now carbon-neutral. And that’s just a snapshot of the changes the brand is implementing, now that more options are available.
Despite having a head start on the conversation surrounding sustainability in the beauty industry, it can still feel like an uphill battle. Along with pricey product stability testing, figuring out the best way to streamline production, and making sure the consumer had the best experience with the products, another major obstacle was raising the bar of manufacturing partners, who create the components for the brand. “They even had to implement new machinery that they didn’t have before, in order to fill our products in the more sustainable packaging,” says Alba. The goal, besides making products for Honest Beauty, was to create an infrastructure “so that they can offer it at more accessible prices to more companies, including us.”
Along with new packaging and sustainability goals, Honest Beauty is continuing to create new products that combine efficacy with its planet-centered goals. Their new Daily Defense Collection, which launched on July 19th, features a waterless cleanser, purifying toner, and setting spray, and was created to be integrated into anyone’s daily routine. And like the rest of their line, all these products were created with a focus on sustainability.
While the goal may be to become one hundred percent green, there is still so much work ahead. Continuing to invest time and money into creating and innovating clean alternatives–and make them available to as many brands as possible–isn’t a goal that can be checked off easily. And yet, it’s essential to keep working towards it, even when small changes may feel feeble. As Alba puts it, “This is just common sense. You should just care about your planet, the ocean, people’s health.”
And as more beauty brands feel the pressure to address their consumers’ demands for cleaner, more sustainable beauty, the more it’s apparent that Alba and Honest Beauty were ahead of their time.
“We’ve always cared about this stuff,” says Alba. “It’s just, the marketplace has finally caught up to us.”
Kosas Color & Light: Crème Cream Blush & Highlighter Duo
Kosas gives you the best of both worlds by packaging a cream blush and highlighter in this compact case. And because it’s Kosas—a clean beauty brand—the duo is formulated with nourishing oils and pigment to give you the skin and makeup look of your dreams.
In Danessa Myricks’ world, the number one rule is to experiment. The makeup maven’s cult-favorite Colorfix is a creamy, multipurpose pigment that can be used as eyeshadow, lipstick or gloss, blush—anywhere.
LYS Beauty Higher Standard Clean Cream Blush with Vitamin E
There’s a reason this blush is flying off Sephora’s (online) shelves. Cream blushes normally don’t give an intense color payoff but LYS Beauty’s version is the exception. With six colors to choose from, the cream blush imparts a soft matte finish that can be dressed up to full glam or subtle for soft glam.
This blush is a dream thanks to its cream to powder formula. It’s smooth to the touch and melts into the skin. Plus, it’s whipped to perfection with vitamin E and argan oil to keep the skin moisturized.
Flushed, rosy cheeks have always been a constant in Patrick Ta’s artistry. Enter Double-Take: a blush palette with two options. One side of the palette is a cream blush, and the other side is a powder blush to complement each other.
Finding the right makeup products that won’t break you out is hard, but Honest Beauty is a start. Free of any harsh chemicals or ingredients, Honest Beauty’s Cheek Blush is a good-for-skin product packed with raspberry, blackberry, and grapefruit extract.
Cheek Gelee is basically a stain for your cheeks, without the stubborn stiffness that comes with stain-like products. This blends like a dream with the other makeup products on your skin for a seamless, symmetric makeup look.
BeachPlease blush delivers buildable color in a luminous, second-skin finish. This silicone-free formula is made with skin-loving, plant-based ingredients like green tea extract and aloe vera extract to give skin support with every application.
This first-of-its-kind water-resistant blush combines pigments with a non-greasy blend of weightless oils and spherical powders for a natural flush you can’t mess up. The ultralightweight, liquid-like cream melts on contact and blends to a smooth, satin finish that won’t cake, crease, or clog pores.
This vibrant, yet natural-looking cheek color has a virtually powderless finish. The silky-smooth, stay-true formula is available in a range of shades for every skin tone. It makes creating that just-pinched look simply effortless.
LYS Beauty Higher Standard Satin Matte Cream Blush
Give your cheeks a kiss of color with this cream blush that delivers high payoff for all skin tones. Packed with clean, skin-loving ingredients like kaolin clay and avocado oil, this multipurpose cream leaves skin looking refreshed. Rich in pigment, this blush adds the finishing touch on any look.
Experience a perfectly diffused, soft-touch matte blush with a rush of color. Formulated with NARS’s blending and blurring Color Diffusion Complex, smoothing jojoba gel, and antioxidant-rich passion-fruit oil, this lightweight, creamy mousse transforms into a velvety powder for a skin-like finish.
One stick, all the versatility. This cream-to-powder stick works overtime as an eyeshadow, lipstick, and blush, delivering a gorgeous hint of color wherever you want it. The nourishing formula glides on and blends seamlessly, melting into your skin for a fresh and flattering finish.
This blush is easy to use and impossible to overdo in a lineup of shades designed to enhance every complexion with a youthful glow. Created by Rihanna, these shades are sheer, buildable, and melt into skin. The sweat- and water-resistant formula smooths over skin without feeling sticky or greasy.
Soft and flexible, this balm blush glides on beautifully. Micro-fine pigment powders deposit a touch of color without covering up the skin’s natural texture. Made with low-weight emollients that won’t clog pores, the formula has a light, balmy finish for a long-lasting glow that’s never cakey.
Achieve your best natural look with this sheer, easy-to-blend cream blush formula to bring out a dewy and healthy glow. Keep this in your makeup bag for an instant pop of color whenever you’re on the go and want to bring out that natural glow!
Aside from sunscreen, moisturizer is arguably the most crucial part of any skincare routine. Whether you’re looking to banish rough patches, soothe sensitive skin, or simply to keep your hydration levels in check, the quest for the perfect formula can be frustrating, to say the least — and it can end up taking a toll on your patience and your wallet.
Although there are a lot of different moisturizers with their fair share of bells and whistles, a few characteristics should be standard. “A good moisturizer should absorb right into the skin and relieve any tightness or dryness,” New York City-based dermatologist Lokita Singh has previously told Allure.“It should be lightweight so you can’t feel it as a distinct layer on the skin.”
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
Certified by the National Eczema Association, the ceramides in CeraVe Moisturizing Cream tackle dehydration, while the hyaluronic acid draws in moisture. This gentle cream, which won a 2018 Best of Beauty Award for being the best sensitive-skin moisturizer, also guarantees a huge bang for your buck because a 16-ounce jar retails for under $20.
Think of this oil-free moisturizer as a sidekick for the Allure Best of Beauty Award-winning Differin Gel (one of the most revolutionary acne breakthroughs in years). Not only is this moisturizer noncomedogenic, but it actually absorbs excess oil. Plus, this formula contains an SPF, so it thwarts breakouts and UV rays.
Cetaphil is well-loved in the skin-care community for its super-gentle formulas that are safe enough for even the most sensitive skin — and the brand’s lightweight hydrator is no exception. It’s spiked with moisture-locking hyaluronic acid and glycerin, so itchy, irritated skin doesn’t stand a chance.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer UV
I’ve already raved about the magic behind this Best of Beauty Award-winning hydrator and how it effectively moisturizes deep into the microbiome, which is the top layer of the skin’s physical barrier. But I also have to give it props for its UV protection, which is a broad-spectrum SPF 30.
New York City dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali recommends Neutrogena’s Bright Boost Gel Cream because of its exfoliating poly-hydroxy acids and mandelic acid, an ingredient that brings down redness and corrects pigmentation issues.
Aveeno Positively Radiant Sheer Daily Moisturizer has earned an impressive five Best of Beauty Awards — and with good reason. It mixes together free-radical-fighting antioxidants, SPF, and soy (which dermatologists say can brighten areas of hyperpigmentation) in a lightweight lotion.
Housed in Bliss What a Melon Water Jelly Hydrator’s bright pink jar is a jelly of the same hue that feels like water as you massage it into your cheeks. The end result: skin that feels bouncy and hydrated.
The star ingredients in E.L.F.’s rich cream are hemp oil, anti-inflammatory fatty acids, and vitamins that work to diminish the appearance of fine lines. The brand also added moisture-retaining hyaluronic acid, brightening and smoothing niacinamide, and nourishing vitamin B5 for a powerhouse blend that improves your skin’s overall appearance.
Quell dryness and and soothe distressed skin with this thick cream. Sweet Chef Superfood + Vitamins Moisture Boost blends together hyaluronic acid and kale, a “superfood,” which touts major moisturizing properties.
If you’re not a fan of heavy, creamy textures, you’ll love L’Oréal Hydra Genius Daily Liquid Care. This liquid moisturizer, which contains hydrating hyaluronic acid and calming aloe water, soothes dry patches and leaves skin feeling soft and silky without a sticky finish.
It may be baby-pink and smell sweet like Jolly Ranchers, but Clean & Clear Watermelon Gel Moisturizer is as hardworking as it is delightful. It contains sodium hyaluronate to leave skin hydrated and feeling refreshed as you apply it. The best part: It costs only $6.
A large glass of red wine, a steamy bubble bath, and a cooling face mask are all it takes to make a perfect night in my book. There’s just one (very big) issue: this sheet mask habit of mine isn’t exactly eco-friendly, thanks to all of those single-use materials. That’s why I was more than intrigued when several brands debuted reusable sheet masks in 2020. Nurse Jamie, Sephora Collection, Avant Guard, and Honest Beauty have all created silicone versions of the masks we know and love — but these treatments don’t contain serum of any kind. They’re designed to be worn on top of skincare products of your choosing, then washed, stored away, and re-used infinitely, therefore cutting down on waste from cotton, plastic, hydrogel, and other materials.
At the risk of sounding like Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder: What difference can a reusable mask make in my skincare routine if it’s not infused with some sort of brightening or hydrating concoction? I want to make more sustainable choices, but will I have to sacrifice my favorite self-care activity in order to do so?
Nurse Jamie Face Wrap Skin Perfecting Silicone Mask
After doing my full night-time skincare routine, complete with serum, moisturizer, and sometimes a face oil, I simply wear the reusable mask anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes, just as its instructions advise. It has loops on either side to hook around the ears, so it never slides around or falls off, even when I’m up and walking around. When I’m done, I simply take it off, wash it in the sink with warm water and soap, pat it dry with a towel, then place it back in its provided storage bag until next time.
What benefit does this serve beyond the benefit of the skincare routine itself? According to the people who created the Magic Mask, a combination of things — the first one being sustainability, which is what initially drove brand founder Jessica Alba to create it.
“There’s all of this plastic that you throw away immediately… it’s almost like the sheet mask has become the plastic straw of 2021,” Alba tells Allure. “At the end of the day it’s just some serum and some moisturizer that you’re penetrating into the skin with the mask, so I thought wouldn’t it be great if we could have a more sustainable option?”
Beyond the environmental benefits, a silicone sheet mask can actually make your already-established skincare routine a little more effective, another reason Honest Beauty opted to create its iteration. “Often when we apply serums and moisturizers, most of the water evaporates during application, but our sheet mask helps to lock in product,” says Mallory McMahon, the associate director of research and innovation at Honest Beauty. “Using [exfoliating serums] with a [reusable] sheet mask may help boost efficacy; when used with hydrating products, it helps lock moisture in and decrease evaporation overall.”
Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara concurs. “Essentially [a silicone mask] acts as a canvas to drive active ingredients [into the skin] as opposed to being the active itself,” she explains. “It works to protect the ingredients so they don’t rub off.” And because these silicone alternatives aren’t already infused with active ingredients, customers get the freedom of fully customizing their mask experience.
It’s all possible because, as McMahon points out, silicone is a “chemically inert” material. I’ll let cosmetic chemist Ginger King explain exactly why that’s important. “[Chemically inert materials] will not have potential reactions to active ingredients,” she says. “You want to avoid any potential interaction of materials that may eat up the mask or leach out undesirable ingredients.” In other words, the silicone material of the mask ensures that you can wear it on top of any skincare product safely and without any adverse reactions.
To make a long point short: Reusable silicone sheet masks are, indeed, effective — maybe just as much as traditional ones. I might not have seen a visible difference in my skin after I began using one, but you can take that with a grain of salt (my skin stays pretty stagnant regardless, thanks to genetics and a skincare obsession). The real benefit is that I can kick my feet up in my bubbly tub with the knowledge that I am not creating as much waste as I once did, so consider me a reusable sheet mask convert.
If you, like many other folks across the globe, are trying to become more sustainable this year, this could be a great, albeit small, first step. Then, it’s time to ponder: What other aspects of your routine are due for an eco-friendly upgrade?
I would say the end skincare goal for pretty much all of us is healthy, smooth, and glowy skin. We’ll pay a lot of money for products from cleansers to moisturizers to serums to get there. The only hitch is that there are many paths to “good” skin, and it all depends on your skin type. The products you use for your oily skin might not exactly work on your friend with dry skin.
One skincare item that can help across the board? A good exfoliant. Now, the specific product you choose depends on your skin’s needs, but some exfoliation every now and then will help slough off dead skin cells, reveal smooth skin, and encourage skin renewal. If you have oily, acne-prone, or combination skin, it might help to exfoliate once or twice a week. For sensitive and dry skin types, however, you might be better off limiting your usage to once a week or even less frequently. Bottom line: Everyone should keep an exfoliating product on hand, no matter their skin type.
There are different types of exfoliants, too. Mechanical ones are the scrubs, sugars, and brushes out there. Chemical exfoliants contain ingredients like alpha hydroxy (glycolic and lactic), beta hydroxy (salicylic), and polyhydroxy acids. While the word “chemical” might sound scary, these products are often much gentler on the skin than the mechanical exfoliants since some of those scrubs can be irritating or harsh.
The sheer volume of exfoliating products out there can get overwhelming and can range from high-end to budget friendly. While I love the splurge-y exfoliants that really do the work, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a quality item—there are a ton of drugstore and affordable buys.
L’Oréal’s daily cleanser is another mechanical and chemical exfoliant combo. It has micropearls and glycolic acid, which work to slough off dead skin cells and improve skin tone and texture.
CeraVe Salicylic Acid Cleanser ($22)
CeraVe’s cleanser is a great option for those with oily, acne-prone skin. It’s formulated with salicylic acid to exfoliate and hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin D to smooth and hydrate the skin.
Burt’s Bees Refining Cleanser ($9)
If retinol irritates your skin, this cleanser might give you the same benefits without any problems. It’s formulated with bakuchiol, which is a gentler, natural alternative to retinol. The cleanser will smooth wrinkles and hydrate (thanks to vitamin E).
Clean & Clear Deep Action Exfoliating Facial Scrub ($6)
As its name suggests, this scrub really gets deep into skin to clear pores and remove dirt, oil, and makeup. When you apply it, you’ll feel a tingly, cooling sensation, which is so refreshing.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Exfoliating Astringent Toner ($24)
Formulated for acne-prone and oily skin, this toner can be used to unclog and tighten pores. It contains salicylic acid to exfoliate and castor oil to prevent any irritation or dryness.
This is one of the more unique exfoliating options on our list since it’s a serum that works to resurface skin overnight for a glowier complexion in the morning. Ingredients include five AHAs to exfoliate and hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture.
Neutrogena Deep Clean Purifying Cooling Gel and Exfoliating Face Scrub ($9)
This salicylic acid scrub works hard at clearing acne and clogged pores, but it won’t leave your skin irritated since the formula is a cooling gel. It’s never been more refreshing to exfoliate!
Bioderma Sebium Exfoliating Gel ($15)
Oily skin gets relief with this gel scrub. It has both mechanical and chemical exfoliants, like microbeads and glycolic and salicylic acids, to remove dead skin cells and promote cell renewal. Antioxidants, laminaria, and vitamin E work to leave the skin soothed and radiant.
Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub ($23)
Formulated with rice granules and vitamins B5 and E, this scrub works for all skin types to improve dull skin. It doesn’t contain dyes or perfumes.
Avène Gentle Exfoliating Gel ($20)
Here’s yet another mechanical and chemical combo. This exfoliating gel purifies pores and increases cell turnover thanks to exfoliating microspheres, salicylic acid, and zinc gluconate. It also contains spring water to soothe redness and inflammation.
Bioré Pore Unclogging Scrub ($6)
This scrub not only works to unclog pores and slough off dead skin cells, but it also has acne-fighting benefits, courtesy of salicylic acid. And because it clears out dirt and oil, it can prevent future breakouts.
L’Oréal Pure-Clay Face Mask ($10)
Use this face mask up to three times a week for 10 to 15 minutes to even skin texture and leave your face looking glowy. It’s formulated with clay, red algae, and volcanic rock to exfoliate and smooth the skin’s surface.
“During this time of uncertainty, my focus is mainly on the wellness of mind and spirit,” says Lee. “I find that I am more nurturing and minimal in my daily routine and I am taking a break from makeup. I have found that now, more than ever, my olfactory senses really influence my mood. I use Chanel Huile de Jasmin on my face and décolletage daily and using what’s left on my hands, I run it through my hair.”
“The hair holds scent very well and to be gently followed by the scent of Jasmin feels very nurturing,” she continues. “In place of wearing perfume, I’ve been mixing a few drops of Huile de Jasmin into my favorite clean, fragrance-free body lotion by Nécessaire.”
“I like to use this stick first in the obvious spot, where it’s intended for use: in the hollows of my cheeks,” she shares. “I start at my ear and swipe inwards, stopping halfway on my cheek. This product is so easy to use and can easily be blended out with fingers or any type of semi-firm brush. While I’m at it, and quickly multi-tasking with my makeup, I also love to swipe a bit just above the crease of my eye on my outer brow bone, on the hollow of my temples and the other edges of my forehead, and of course, along my jawline and under my chin. It glides so easily, and just by using that one product, I feel like I am able to give my skin such great, yet subtle, dimension.”
As a makeup artist to stars like Laura Harrier, Yara Shadidi, and Ella Mai, Emily Cheng has more than a few tricks up her sleeve. But using mascara for both the eyelashes and as an eyeliner is one of her best kept secrets. She uses Too Faced Better Than Sex to make the eyes pop.
“When I was in Paris a few months ago, my personal liquid liner had run out and I was in a rush, so I used my Too Faced Better Than Sex Waterproof Mascara with an angled brush and it worked perfectly,” she reveals. “The consistency was like a gel liner, and I felt like it stayed on even longer than my usual waterproof liquid liner.”
“I use this little tube for everything, from keeping my lips moisturized to soothing my sandpaper dry hands after disinfecting the house and washing them,” she explains. “It’s even the best no makeup, makeup highlighter for Zoom calls with that special someone. I dab a little on my lips and use the residual to add a luminescent pop to the arch of my brow and cheekbones. This ointment is effective and my quarantine must-have.”
“This is a liquid shimmer powder. It goes on as a liquid and dries as a powder,” Tanno says. “I used the applicator to apply all over my eyelids. I tapped a small amount on the apples of my cheeks and blended it up to high points of my cheeks for a healthy-looking highlight. Lastly, I added a touch to the center of my lips to add a pop of shimmer. One product equals a full makeup look in under five minutes!”
“Tattoo Liner can give you a flawless cat eye, but also, freckles! Because of Tattoo Liner’s super fine brush tip, it’s super easy to give yourself the sharpest cat eye you’ve ever had,” he shares. “And while you’re at it, gently press the tip of the Tattoo Liner onto your cheeks and nose for some super subtle freckles. One of the best things is that it is waterproof and you won’t have to worry about any smudging.”
“The soap helps to thicken the brow and make them stay in place,” she says. “First, fill your brow in with a pencil, then using the spoolie side of an eyebrow brush or pencil, go back over them with soap.”