What’s in the Medicine Cabinet?
Do you ever snoop around other people’s bathrooms? Surveys say that anywhere between 40 and 70 percent of us do, and there are scientific reasons why. While I’d never admit to the practice, if I did happen upon a pricey tube of eye cream or lip scrub (hypothetically, of course), I’d feel a twinge of sympathy for my misguided hostess, especially if she’s on a budget.
Why? Because she’s spending her hard-earned money on beauty products that are either a) totally unnecessary or b) could easily be replaced by something she’s already using. Here are the top 10 beauty products you really don’t need.
Day creams were developed back when ladies carried parasols — if they went outside at all. Modern women know that if we’re serious about protecting our skin, we’re wearing sunscreen every day. And at night, we’re wearing a nourishing moisturizer with ingredients that really work. Unless your “day cream” also contains an SPF high enough to double as sunscreen, it’s a pricey throwback that doesn’t play any necessary role in your skin care routine.
Use this instead: Fortunately, today there are plenty of sunscreens available that also contain the moisturizers and antioxidants once found only in “day” creams. If your skin needs additional hydration, layer your non-SPF “night” cream underneath.
Eye cream is another way that the beauty industry loots your wallet. They’re marketed for the “sensitive eye area” — but think about it: If your regular moisturizer causes irritation around your eyes, it’s also irritating the rest of your face. The effects may not be visible at first, but in the long run that chronic irritation can make it difficult for your skin to repair itself, leading to wrinkles and acne. Why pay for that?
Use this instead: Look for moisturizers that avoid known irritants like fragrance. If you prefer heavier hydration around the eye area, pat a basic use-everywhere emollient like glycerin cream over the moisturizer to seal it in.
Lip primers are supposed to “lock in” color and prevent feathering, but you’re paying anywhere between $10 and $30 for a result you can achieve with what you probably already have in your makeup bag.
Use this instead: Try this seriously budge-proof technique: Apply your favorite lip balm and let it sink in for a moment. Blot with a tissue, dab lips with a bit of foundation or concealer, then line with a lip pencil. Fill in with lipstick, blot, add a touch of powder, and top off with a final coat of lipstick.
Most of us purchase toner with the notion that it will remove any remaining dirt from our face and tighten pores after cleansing. Unfortunately, pores can’t “tighten” (that feeling usually comes from irritating alcohol), and if your facial cleanser can’t remove all of the day’s debris, it’s not doing its job. Bench the expense and the extra step.
Use this instead: Combine a no-frills cleanser for your skin type with the power of the underestimated baby washcloth. These inexpensive, reusable cloths do a great job of prying out dirt and makeup while also gently exfoliating your skin. If you’re tackling a face full of long-wear makeup or heavy sunscreen, try rubbing in a bit of olive oil to loosen the product before applying cleanser.
Brow Setting Gel
This is one product that really gets my arches up, especially when beauty companies expect us to pay $20 or more for the stuff. Address your brow problems with a proper trim and a pencil or powder if needed, but leave this out of your kit.
Use this instead: If your brows are truly unruly, a dab of hair gel or hairspray applied to a spoolie brush or clean wand from an old mascara tube will keep them in order.
Face masks are the classic example of a feel-good beauty product that’s totally unnecessary. Cue the “But my skin is rough and dry/greasy/broken out without my weekly mask!” excuse. And it is an excuse, because your daily routine should be effective enough to keep your skin issues in check.
Use this instead: Regular exfoliation usually alleviates the issues we try to treat with masks. If your skin feels great after a yogurt or enzyme mask, it’s probably because of the acids (alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid, etc.) that remove dead cells and make it easier for moisture to penetrate. Try a daily cream instead. If your oily skin loves the clean feeling of a clay mask, try a regular salicylic (beta hydroxy) acid product to keep your pores clear.
Hair masks are the evil twin to face masks: Instead of regularly tending to your tresses, you ignore them until you binge on a pricey “mask,” thrill at the results, and rinse and repeat while draining your wallet in the process.
Use this instead: To prevent hair from drying out too much in the first place, wash as infrequently as possible (ideally about three times a week) and condition every time you shampoo. Aim to air-dry as much as possible and flat-iron or curl as little as possible.
Lip scrub is nothing but glorified lip gloss with scrubby bits in it. Yet some women feel obligated to spend 20 bucks on the stuff. Like quantum physics and cat fashion shows, this is something I will never understand.
Use this instead: Remember the baby washcloths we recommended? Soak one in warm water, and then gently use a finger to rub it around your lips in small circles. If your lips are really scaly, try using a mix of olive oil and sugar on the cloth.
Stretch Mark Treatments
Unfortunately, since stretch marks develop from the inside of your body, there’s nothing you can do cosmetically to remove them. Expensive over-the-counter products that promise to “lessen” their appearance merely moisturize the skin, and well-moisturized skin always looks better than the dry version.
Use this instead: Petroleum jelly, cocoa butter, or any cheap emollient moisturizer.
If you happen to own a bottle of cuticle cream or oil, go take a look at the ingredients. It probably contains a good amount of beeswax, vitamin E, and/or plant oils, right? Most of the effective ingredients you’ll find in a cuticle cream can be found in any salve or lip balm. You’re just paying more for the cute container.
Use this instead: Any rich moisturizer or oil is ideal for keeping cuticles nourished. Ingredients are only half the deal — it’s the action of massaging the product into the nail bed that ultimately makes any cuticle treatment effective.