Shortly after finishing college, I started working a regular job — not an amazing job, but it was enough to allow my beauty habit to go somewhat unchecked for a while. Then, everything changed when life happened, and I quit my job and moved to the U.S.
It took me a while to find another job; my days of carefree shopping sprees were over, and to be honest, I didn’t take to beauty budgeting all that well. If you had called me a pampered brat, I would have had to agree.
But something very good came out of that time. I discovered some excellent wallet-friendly beauty and skincare products, and not just those tempting cute packages strategically placed beside the checkout counter, or the last-minute dollar deals I add to my cart to reach the free shipping threshold (don’t tell me I’m the only one who does that!), but products I’ve consistently purchased over and over, just because I love them.
Here are 10 of my favorite skincare treats, each of them $10 or less, to leave your skin healthy, glowing and fresh, without making your wallet unhappy.
1. Shiseido Facial Cotton ($9.50)
I know, fancy facial cottons might be the last thing on your mind when you’re on a budget, but hear me out. Shiseido’s version is thicker and softer than the average drugstore cotton, and it doesn’t leave behind any stray fibers on my face.
But those aren’t even the reasons it’s on my must-have list. What I recommend using this for is something called “the lotion mask.”
Shiseido’s cotton is much thicker than regular drugstore cottons and withstands a little stretching. It also separates easily into thinner layers.
Start by taking one of the cotton pads, soak it in water, and squeeze out most of the water by pressing it between your palms.
Then, pour a few drops of any alcohol-free toner on it (I think rose water works great), stretch the cotton a bit, and separate it into three thinner layers.
Next, place them over your face, and relax for about 10 minutes. When you’re done, even after just one use, your face will feel hydrated, smooth, and have a noticeable glow.
Try it! It could be the best $10 I’ve ever spent, and if you have a Japanese store nearby, you might be able to find an even less expensive version of a similar idea.
2. Olay Daily Facials Cleansing Cloths ($7)
These are carried in most drugstores, and having tried many different cleansing cloths and washes — including some crazy expensive ones — I have yet to find one that leaves my skin in a condition as good as these.
If you’re new to them, here’s how they work: They’re small square towelettes that you wet, and when you rub them against your skin, they work up a lather. Just gently scrub with them to cleanse.
I use them like a washcloth, and then use lukewarm water to rinse off most of the lather from my face, before rinsing any residual cleanser with cooler water.
There’s not a lot to them, but I think these cloths really work only up to their potential if you follow the directions.
Thrifty tip: Half a towelette should be sufficient in most cases (unless your normal day involves mud-wrestling alligators). Just snip them in half and store. The smaller size makes them easier to use, and this way they last longer. Store in any air-tight container, so they stay moisture-free.
3. Lush Toner Tabs ($2)
I’ve tried just about every Lush product out there and have loved most of them. I’m a Lushie. My favorites, though, are their fresh face masks, which are made with natural ingredients. Pair them with one of Lush’s Toner Tabs, and you’ve got yourself a nice relaxing at-home facial, all for less than $10.
First the toner tabs, which look and feel like macro-versions of regular tablets (some have petal bits in them).
In the pic: Tea Tree Toner Tab, Vitamin E Toner Tab, and The Dream Steam Toner Tab.
To use one, just bring some water to boil, and pour it into a larger vessel. Then, plop a toner tab in and watch it fizz. Hold your face a safe distance away from the water, and let the steam (be careful!) rise up to your face. Do this for about 5 minutes.
The toner tabs fizz and bubble and fill the fragrant steam with essential oils to give your skin an extra boost.
Thrifty tip: You can break the tabs in half to get two for the price of one; half tabs seem to work just as well.
4. Lush Face Masks ($7)
Made with fresh, natural ingredients, these face masks need to be stored in the fridge to keep them from spoiling before their already short shelf life of about 2-3 weeks. My favorites are the Cosmetic Warrior (for acne-prone skin) and Brazened Honey (for dull skin) ones. If you have dry skin, you might like the one called The Sacred Truth (it’s filled with antioxidants).
Thrifty tip: When you exchange five clean tubs, you can get a free face mask of your choice.
5. Crabtree and Evelyn Hand Recovery Creams ($8 each)
These are some of the best hand scrubs I’ve ever used. Fine salt and pumice granules provide the scrubbing power, while macadamia and shea nut butters soften and moisturize hands.
Plus, they smell awesome!
6. Crabtree and Evelyn Hand Creams ($8 each)
The perfect followup to the hand scrubs. Crabtree and Evelyn also makes these excellent daytime hand creams. I call them daytime creams because of how moisturizing, yet lightweight, they are, and how quickly they absorb, so no telltale fingerprints on cookie jars. Just saying.
7. Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream ($6 for a 0.6-ounce tin)
This is not the size that you get for $6 (that’s a larger tin shown here) – this is a small sampler tin that I am currently using.
I have to admit, I don’t like dish washing, but even with the minimal amount I do, I manage to get really dry cuticles, thanks to dish-washing soap. My pick for a fabulous cuticle cream? Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter. I even use it as a hand cream, since my hands tend to get really dry. The lemony scent is strong, but it doesn’t bother me.
8. Lush Glorious Mud Body Mask/Scrub ($6.95)
Lush Glorious Mud is like playing in the mud for grownups.
To use it, just wet your skin, and scrub with this muddy bar. That’s it. Leave it on for a few minutes, and rinse.
It’s probably the easiest way to smooth skin. It feels like rubbing a fine sand and leaves behind a muddy mess, but it washes off easily. It also adds a little moisturize to my skin. While I find the fragrance quite mild, if you have a sensitive nose, you might want to test it in-store before buying.
Thrifty tip: The bar dissolves super fast in water, so avoid submerging it for long or turning the water on it while using. I wipe my hands before I pick it up so no extra moisture gets on the bar. Or, you could just break it up into smaller chunks, and use those to avoid a soggy mess. Plus, it’ll last longer.
9. L’Occitane Shea Butter ($10)
Unlike the Burt’s Bees tin, this IS the size you get for $10. I prefer the smaller size, though, since the butter tends to get a little rancid if not stored properly, and I don’t use that much.
It’s also available in a larger, more economical tin that retails for about $40.
10. Burt’s Bees Mama Bee Nourishing Body Oil ($9)
I have very dry skin, and most normal moisturizers just aren’t moisturizing enough for me. In my quest for a longer lasting moisturizer, I discovered after-bath oils.
Burt’s Bees Mama Bee Oil fits neatly into the my sub-$10 slot. Apply this mix of sweet almond oil, wheat germ, and grapeseed oil to damp skin. You need much less oil this way, and it absorbs much quicker.
I love the moisturizing effect this oil has, but because of the lemon peel oil, it does have a strong lemony scent (which seems a lot stronger in the bottle than it does on me). I think this is a perfect after-bath oil, especially during the colder months.
There’s a wide world of affordable DIY beauty tips and trick out there, but partly because I have sensitive skin, and also because I don’t always want to spend the time, I prefer the convenience of these store-bought versions.
Even if you aren’t on a tight budget, I think all of these are awesome buys.
Since we’re on the subject of bargains, what are your favorite budget luxuries?