Should You Buy Or Make Your Beauty Products? A Handy Guide To Figuring It All Out

If you are crafty, things begin to change in your life as your skills improve. Making your own beauty products can be quite the rewarding hobby. But so can shopping. DIY is equal parts research, execution, and cleaning. There are thousands upon thousands of bloggers and writers who are making DIY into a career, and their recipes can be killer! In the field of beauty, DIY mavens are amateur cosmetic chemists and product developers. Very skilled shoppers are the other side of the coin, but still use skills of deduction, research, and math to make their best purchases. There is merit in both methods of beauty product procurement.

Most of us, however, fall in the middle — sometimes we're feeling up to DIY, and other times we just want to click "Proceed To Checkout." There's something of science at play for us too: It's really interesting to explore when it's most appropriate to make your own product, and when it makes more sense just to buy the pre-made stuff. When weighing your options, you should keep in mind that the product must be safe, reasonably affordable in regards to your budget, and do what you actually want it to do. 

One can be more of a smart move than the other, and if you are into it, you can save piles of cash. I keep certain DIY supplies on hand so I can start projects on a whim. If you do a little reading, you can decide which of these supplies are right for your own arsenal. Usually having a wax, a carrier oil, an exotic oil, some essential oils, and the occasional active ingredient like vitamin C or E is the perfect base for a make-your-products kit.

Here's your handy guide for deciding when to buy and when to DIY your must-have products. 

1. Buy: Facial Creams

Fresh Créme Ancienne, $290, Sephora

I love me some luxurious face creams, and it's definitely one of the items I’d rather spend money on than make. This is firmly in the "buy" category, unless you are a very skilled DIY-er and keep your space meticulously clean. Creams and lotions are hydrating due to water and humectant content. This is blended with oils, waxes and active ingredients in a very specific (and sterile) process. You cannot mess around here. Water sets a finite shelf life for a product, store bought or not, and using anything less than the purest distilled water can earn you the worst breakout of your life. Water out of the tap is positively saturated in microbes, pathogens, and sometimes even living creatures. This stuff is all fed by the fats and nutrients in the rest of the formula, and the next thing you know you’re stuck with a Rocky Mountain surprise across your cheekbones as mold and bacteria attacks your pores. No bueno.

A cream like Fresh’s Créme Ancienne is gonna cost you, but it's something that would be so incredibly hard to make at home. This formula in particular is based on the first face cream and is made in a monastery today by expert formulators. Not gonna happen at home.

2. DIY: Hair Serums

Amika Oil Treatment, $34, Amazon  |  Sea Buckthorn Oil, $18, Amazon

This is a personal choice. Someone like me will never DIY a serum, since I use them so sparingly. This Amika Oil Treatment serum uses sea buckthorn oil and light silicones to help force water molecules out of the hair shaft until your next shampoo — and it's the perfect weight for my finer hair. However, if you're a heavy hair product user, these types of formulas make for an easy DIY that can save you loads of cash.

Try a recipe like the one in this breakdown from Susan Barclay Nichols — and don’t be afraid to play with silicones! Sure you can overdo it, but lightweight ones like cyclopentasiloxane are so cheap and evaporate, which means they deliver whatever else you put into it into the hair while locking out frizz. 

3. Buy Or DIY: Lip Balm

ByTerry Baume de Rose, $53, Amazon

Lip balms fall into either category: They are defintiely easy (and cheap) to DIY, but I thoroughly believe that the pricier store bought versions are worth spending on as well. I can’t rave enough about ByTerry Baume de Rose. It’s the Lamborghini of lip balms. A 1mm little ball of product hydrates your lips and touches up your eyebrows in one fell swoop. The $60 price tag smarts until you realize that if you use it at night you wake up with smooth lips every day forever and ever. I’m only just wrapping up a tub from 18 months ago. It’s no wonder Kim K and co also rave about it.

However, if you enjoy DIY you can make 20 tubs for 60 dollars of a similar quality. Rose wax and rose oil, the star ingredients of the balm, are easy to find online. You can also swap out the rose wax for a cheaper beeswax in a simple recipe like this one.

4. DIY: Face Oils

How into DIY are you? You don't need to be very good at it to nail your own face oil, and it's something I highly recommend learning to DIY. In this case it’s more than pinching pennies. Despite the market being absolutely oiled to death, you will still be hard pressed to find a blend that fits your skin’s exact needs. Everyone reacts differently to some oils, and I tire of seeing the wrongest of wrong fatty acids being pumped as face friendly. By making your own oil treatments, you can experiment with different ingredients until you find the blend your face is obsessed with.

While your friend may swear by using straight coconut or olive oil, you might find the stuff seriously messes with your skin, so making your own oils is the time to get crazy with spot tests. Learning which oils your skin needs — omega 3, 6, or any of the specialty or "exotic" fatty acids — is the ticket to glowing skin. There’s so much material out there, but Dawn Michelle of Minimalist Beauty is my favorite expert oil resource for beginners. 

5. Buy Or DIY: Face Balm

Shiffa Healing Balm, $106, Shiffa

Similar to their lip-focused relative, face salves come in every shape, size and price bracket, and are another tie breaker. A balm like Shiffa’s award winning, luxurious, but pricey, Healing Balm is pretty much inimitable unless you have access to flower oils from small farms throughout the Middle East. Just like the Baume de Rose, the ingredients are easy to use at home, but it would still be expensive to make this balm at home, though likely not quite as much as the original. 

But if you're down for a small DIY challenge, this balm is probably the place to start. Neem, chamomile, and St. John's Wort extracts are so gentle and healing that you can even use this product on cracked skin and cuts. And if you're DIYing for budget, you could always make a few sacrifices to do a cheaper version with your own infused oils. Try studying a recipe like Marie on Humblebee and Me's Belly Bar and decide for yourself.

6. Buy: Deodorant

Aromaco Deodorant Stick, $7, Lush

Lush, I love you and your Aromaco deodorant stick. Seriously, it's the best natural deodorant stick I have ever used since I quit aluminum many moon cycles ago. It smells of patchouli in a real way, not like an incense stick.

You could pour your own bars of (salt-free) patchouli stick like this cool recipe from Crunchy Betty, but you’d never nail that smell without real patchouli plant. Essential oils and scent concentrates always smell more like perfume than the rich, sweet-spicy complexity of the real plant. Also the Lush version is pretty affordable, and I know from personal experience that some DIY deodorant formulas burn the sh*t out of your armpits. Best just to buy this one, I'd say.

Put your knowhow to the test with DIY, but keep your bank account in it’s happy place by knowing when it makes more sense to just buy what you love. It’s a skill that can save you money and sometimes time, but it’s truly a journey of product self-discovery, as you test both categories you learn what works best for you and how to choose products as wisely as possible.

Photos: Maria Penaloza

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