43 Cheap Beauty Products That Actually Work Better Than Expensive Ones

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Cheap beauty product effects compared to the expensive ones

With luxury beauty and skin-care launches emerging all the time, it’s dangerously easy to blow your budget on that new diamond-infused moisturizer/lipstick made of unicorn blood/bronzer that comes with a one-way ticket to the Amalfi coast (only one of these stories is true). But you don’t need a $700 serum (that one’s real) when there are so many cheap beauty and skin care products out there that work just as well — and even better — than their expensive counterparts.

Often, these high-performing products are drugstore staples that have proven their clout over many years, if not generations. Take the $10 dry shampoo spray you might’ve used in high school, and which deserves a revisit for its unparalleled de-greasing powers and sexy, sky-high volume it offers even the finest hair. Or, how about the beloved, velvet-finish setting powder that’s literally been on the market since 1935? If it was good enough for your glamorous grandmother, it’s good enough for you.

Other products have achieved more recent fame, especially on Amazon: Like a $5 mascara that’s garnered well over 100,000 perfect ratings, a $6 liquid lipstick that remains rich and opaque amid apocalyptic conditions, and a liquid exfoliant that seamlessly lifts away blackheads, and which shoppers have dubbed a “miracle product.” Elsewhere on this list, you’ll find some less expensive alternatives to luxury products that stand on their own as stellar, regardless of comparison.

Find all that and much, much more in this round-up of the best cheap beauty products for $30 and under — so you can save your cash, but splurge on quality.


The All-Purpose Cream That Professional MUAs Swear By

Beloved by makeup artists, celebrities, and beauty editors for decades, Weleda Skin Food is the ultimate cult-favorite product. This rich cream is infused with a blend of fatty acid-rich oils and butters to rehydrate dry, cracked skin, while calendula and chamomile soothe redness and irritation. If you find this too rich for your face then you can apply it anywhere below the neck, or even use it as a dewy, colorless highlighter.


A Liquid Exfoliant That Gets Rid Of Blackheads

According to its 21,000+ five-star ratings on Amazon, this liquid exfoliant from Paula’s Choice is nothing short of a miracle product. A simple (but powerful) blend of 2% salicylic acid and green tea extract both exfoliates and soothes, so it helps with virtually everything from clearing up unwanted blackheads and acne, smoothing keratosis pilaris, calming rosacea flare-ups, or just giving your complexion a thorough polish.

“This stuff should be called a miracle in a bottle. When I use it on my [...] skin, it transforms it from congested, irritated, and bright red to calm, clear, and glowing overnight,” raved one reviewer.


The Drugstore Mascara With Over 104,000 Perfect Amazon Ratings

There’s no reason to spring for a tube of designer mascara when there are so many good drugstore ones on the market — and with an epic 104,000+ (!!!) five-star ratings on Amazon, this mascara from essence is one of the best (and cheapest) you can get. Across the board, reviewers confirm that this performs better than expensive mascaras in delivering volume, length, and an intense, long-lasting color payoff, even on the shortest of lashes. It’s everything you want in a mascara, all for just $5.


A Gel Eyeliner That’s Waterproof And Smudge-Free

If you’re someone who only uses eyeliner on special occasions, you probably don’t want to drop a ton of money on it. Luckily, this waterproof gel liner from Rimmel is here to save the day. Available in 11 different shades, this smooth and creamy eyeliner is smudge-proof and glides on easily. Over 17,500 Amazon customers gave it five stars, with one saying that it’s the “best eyeliner I have ever bought and used.”


This Creamy Gel Cleanser That Makes Your Skin Feel Plump & Nourished

Sometimes cited as a more affordable alternative to Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, this CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser boasts a similarly creamy-gel texture, and it leaves even the driest skin feeling plump and nourished, not stripped and tight. It’s ideal for sensitive skin types, too, thanks to barrier-building ceramides and quenching hyaluronic acid in the formula, and the lack of common irritants like fragrances and dyes.


A Dry Shampoo That Makes Your Hair Feel Squeaky Clean

Inexpensive dry shampoos generally work just as well as their pricer counterparts, but this Batiste Dry Shampoo specifically is a drugstore staple. It makes your hair and scalp feel as clean as though you just washed it, rather than some dry shampoos that make your hair feel more grimey. It gives your hair tons of body and texture in the process, too. Massage the product through your scalp to amp up the volume, and to dissolve any white residue this spray might leave behind.


This $9 Smoothing Serum For Sleek, Glossy Hair

I’ve tried countless smoothing serums over the years, but this classic drugstore serum from John Frieda consistently outperforms them all — including the ridiculously expensive ones. Not only does it give my hair the most gorgeous, glossy finish, but it also helps define my natural waves, without weighing down my fine-ish hair or making it feel greasy. This works beautifully as a heat protectant, too.


A 3-Pack Of Classic Lip Balms That Smell Like Fresh Roses

When my beloved Christian Dior’s Crème de Rose Smoothing Plumping Lip Balm was discontinued a few years ago, I turned back to C.O. Bigelow Rose Lip Balm — a high school favorite — as an alternative, and I wondered why I ever started to spend upwards of $20 on a lip balm. This all-purpose salve offers long-lasting hydration to even the most chapped lips, plus a just-bitten, rosy glow. Smooth it over your cuticles, knuckles, or any other small areas that could use some hydration (and a subtle, fresh rose scent). This also works as a wet-look highlighter or eye gloss.


This Treatment Stick That Brightens & Hydrates Tired Eyes

Eye creams are notoriously expensive, but this $15 eye treatment works just as well (if not better) for moisturizing and brightening your under eyes. Each handmade treatment is infused with a blend of nourishing butters, like shea and cocoa, while rosehip oil and centella asiatica work to calm inflammation and puffiness. The stick packaging keeps everything hygienic, and it feels like bliss to roll on. Store it in the fridge for an extra cooling sensation.


A 4-Pack Of Makeup Sponges That Work Better Than Beautyblenders

Beautyblenders may be the most iconic makeup sponges on the market, but I (and thousands of happy Amazon reviewers) think these Real Technique sponges actually work better, thanks to their thoughtful design: You can use the flat end to cover larger swaths of your face, then the edges and pointed end to get into smaller areas, like under your eyes. They maintain their shape and absorbency for months and clean nicely, so this $11 four-pack may very well last you a year.


This $20 Vitamin C Serum For Clear, Glowing Skin

Premium vitamin C serums can cost well over $100, so this $20 vitamin C serum is a refreshing entry to the category. And, according to its 45,000+ perfect Amazon ratings, quality isn’t sacrificed for value. One reviewer wrote that this serum “saved their skin” from acne flare-ups and unwanted scarring, and others love its featherlight, non-irritating feel. Most reviewers report that this works quickly, too: “Within the first three days of using the serum, I was asked if I had been tanning because my skin was glowing,” one customer reported.


The Fan-Favorite Hair Brush That Painlessly Glides Through Knots

Wet Brush is the OG detangling brush, and it’s still the best brush out there for painlessly gliding through knots and tangles. The key is in the brand’s signature IntelliFlex bristles, which are firm enough untangle tricky knots, but gentle enough to protect hair against breakage and pulling. No surprise that it’s garnered over 32,000 stellar ratings on Amazon, and generations of loyalists.

One reviewer reported: “My hair is super thick and tangles easily, so I already have issues with fallout. With this wet brush, I barely loose any strands while brushing, even on dry third-day hair. It only takes a few strokes to completely detangle my hair after a shower and then my hair is smooth all day!”


An Ultra-Precise Brow Pencil That Rivals Anastasia Brow Wiz

This NYX Micro Brow Pencil is a worthy alternative to Anastasia Brow Wiz. Like the premium product, this pencil’s micro tip mimics the look of actual brow hairs and offers tons of precision, and the waxy consistency has great staying power. It comes in an impressive shade range too, which includes a tough-to-find Auburn shade for redheads.

  • Available shades: 7


This Oil-Free Moisturizer Infused With Brightening Niacinamide

You can’t go wrong with any of La Roche-Posay’s products, especially if you have sensitive skin, but this Double Repair Face Moisturizer is a particular favorite. A potent blend of ceramides and Prebiotic Thermal Spring water help repair your skin’s natural barrier to lock in moisture, while niacinamide works to brighten and even your complexion. It’s oil-free, so it’s a safe bet for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin types.


A Lash Primer That Doubles Your Lashes’ Volume & Length

A coat of this L'Oréal Paris Voluminous Lash Primer supercharges the volume you get with any mascara you layer over the top, and helps the pigment last much longer, without streaking or smudging. For really intense lashes, pair it with the brand’s Voluminous Mascara, a high performer in its own right.


This Cocoa Butter Body Lotion That Makes Your Skin Glowy & Soft

There are so many fancy body butters on the market, but honestly, I have yet to find one that does anything that good old Palmer’s Cocoa Butter can’t do: It makes you skin feel soft as a pillow, glow like a goddess, and smell like vacation. What more could you reasonably ask for? This big, pump-top bottle is ideal for slathering this cushiony cream all over your body.


A Blush Compact With 5 Different Shades

If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, this blush compact is definitely worth a look. Not only does it include five different shades, but reviewers adored how the “colors are beautiful.” Plus, each one comes with a brush for application.


These Fun Foil Eye Masks That Instantly Awaken Tired Eyes

Instantly erase the evidence of a sleepless night with these Bliss eye masks, soaked in a serum containing smoothing hyaluronic acid and zingy xylitol. Bonus points for the selfie-worthy, star-stamped foil material.

“Love this eye mask! Adheres very well, without much slipping.. and it really does work. I use them usually after I didn’t get much sleep, and my eyes are much brighter and less puffy afterward. Highly recommend!” one Amazon reviewer wrote.


The Original Pimple Patches (That Cost Just $6)

These COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patches started the pimple patch craze, and they’re still among the best you can get. At $6 for this pack of 24 patches, they’re incredibly affordable, too. Each pack contains three patch sizes, so you can address both individual pimples and larger breakouts all at once.


A Combo Pack Of 24 Sheet Masks That Boost Your Skin’s Elasticity

24 sheet masks for $14 is a truly unbeatable value, especially considering how good these masks are. All 24 of them are infused with hydrolyzed collagen, hyaluronic acid, and panthenol for plumpness and hydration, but from there, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure of sheet masking: There’s calming aloe, brightening pearl, cooling cucumber, and so much more. This would make an amazing gift for the K-beauty lover in your life.


This 60-Count Jar Of Glycolic Acid Pads For Easy Exfoliation

Glycolic acid pads have taken the skin care industry by storm, since they’re an effective, fuss-free way to deliver that potent AHA all over your face, neck, and decolletage. Among all the pricey options on the market, these pads from Nip + Fab stand out for their approachable price point (just $13 for 60 pads!), as well as their efficacy: In addition to 5% glycolic acid, these pads are soaked in lactic acid, niacinamide, and salicylic acid — the holy trinity of brightening and polishing.


This Makeup Setting Spray That’ll Seal Your Look

When it comes to setting your look, you’ll need All Nighter by Urban Decay. It’s paraben-free, oil-free, and feels weightless. The spray can help your makeup stay fresh for up to 16 hours without fading or smudging, meaning it’s an excellent product to have on hand for photo-heavy events. To really seal the deal (get it?) it’s perfect for all skin types.


This Rinse-Out Treatment That Makes Your Hair Shiny In Just 8 Seconds

This L’Oréal 8 Second Wonder Water does exactly what the name promises: Leaves your hair shiny, silky, smooth, and strong after just eight seconds. Apply a coat to the ends of your hair after you shampoo, count to eight, rinse it out, condition, and bask in the glory of your megawatt hair when it dries. This treatment is about as weightless as it gets, so it’s suitable for all hair types, including finer hair.


A Liquid Liner For Foolproof Cat Eyes & Super-Sharp Wings

Even liquid liner newbies can draw on crisp, sharp wings with this NYX Epic Ink Liner. The short nib and micro tip give you lots of control, and the glossy pigment flows easily from the marker pen. No skips, no need to draw back over your line. Many Amazon customers pick up this cruelty-free liner as a less expensive alternative to the cult-favorite KVD Beauty Tattoo Liner.


This 2-in-1 Mascara & Lash Primer Made With Natural Ingredients

“Clean” beauty products tend to be pricey, but this $17 mascara/primer hybrid from Honest Beauty is a rare exception. It’s free of common irritants like synthetic fragrance, parabens, and silicones, and includes some nourishing botanicals like vitamin E and jojoba esters. Beyond the ingredients list, customers are “very impressed” with this two-in-one mascara and primer for its “amazing separation and volume,” and that it “does not budge until I wash it off at the end of the day,” according to one happy reviewer.


A Body Scrub That Gently Polishes & Nourishes Dry, Dull Skin

Even sensitive-skinned folks need no longer shy away from exfoliators with this body scrub. It’s formulated with rice bran wax to nourish and soothe dry skin, while exfoliating particles gently slough away dull skin, leaving your whole body baby-soft and radiant. The best part? It’s also completely vegan.


This Shimmery Liquid Eye Shadow That Comes In 18 Brilliant Shades

Put a little twinkle in your eyes with this shimmery liquid shadow, packed with ultrafine glitter that refracts beautifully in the light. It applies like a creamy liquid, but when it dries down, it doesn’t crack, fade, or budge. These gorgeous shadows happen to be a great alternative to Glossier Lidstar.

  • Available shades: 18


A Hydrating Body Lotion So Lightweight, You’ll Barely Know It’s There

If you hate the feel of heavy, sticky lotions, pick up this NIVEA Breathable Nourishing Body Lotion. Just as the same says, this delivers all the intense, long-lasting moisture of a richer lotion, but it feels featherlight on your skin and dries down instantly. It feels so refreshing during the hotter months, or when you step out of a steaming-hot bath or shower.


These Machine-Washable Cloths That Slough Off A Full Face Of Makeup

These reusable makeup removing cloths are an environmentally friendly alternative to cotton rounds or disposable makeup wipes, and they feel so soft and plush on your face. Despite their gentle feel, these are heavy-duty enough to remove a full face of makeup when wet, even without the help of a cleanser.


A Cult-Favorite Moisturizer That’s Like A Glass Of Water For Your Skin

You’ll find this Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel moisturizer on many a top shelf. The gel-like consistency feels wonderfully soothing, and hyaluronic acid in the formula instantly quenches and plumps your complexion, leaving it velvety-soft and glowy. This oil-free moisturizer is an excellent pick for people with oily and combination skin in particular, and many Amazon reviewers with acne love it, too: “My acne wasn't as red, or aggitated looking. And had seemed actually slightly minimized,” reported one customer.


This All-Natural Face Mask Made With Brightening Botanicals

This Andalou Naturals mask is packed with some of the natural world’s best brightening ingredients, like Manuka honey, vitamin C, glycolic acid, and exfoliating fruit enzymes courtesy of pumpkin puree and pineapple and apple extracts. This is a great, gentle option if you have sensitive skin or are new to the exfoliating game; and since Manuka honey is antibacterial, it can even help quell breakouts.


A Treatment That Restores Brittle, Damaged Nails To Peak Health

It’s admittedly not the sexiest product in the world, but this Jason Tea Tree Nail Saver is a true game-changer. This potent blend of tea tree, sesame seed oil, safflower oil, and vitamin E works to strengthen, smooth, and restore brittle, bumpy, or bruised nails, and tea tree’s antiseptic qualities can alleviate fungal infections, as well. Be sure to massage this serum into your cuticles, too.


This Lavender-Scented Foot Mask That Makes Your Feet Feel Baby-Soft

Whether you love them or fear them, there’s no denying that foot peels work — and they’re oddly satisfying, once you get over the initial terror of watching your feet molt like snakes. This three-pack of sock-style peels are just as effective as their pricier counterparts for making your feet look and feel brand-new (literally, like baby feet), and the lavender scent is a spa-worthy touch.


A Retinol Eye Cream For Long-Lasting Results — & It Only Costs $16

Celebrities and pros alike swear by RoC’s retinol products, including this eye cream that’s gentle enough for retinol beginners to use. This contains the highest concentration of retinol you can get in an over-the-counter product, but a soothing mineral complex counteracts potential drying or irritating effects. As both retinoids and eye creams tend to be expensive, it’s pretty incredible that this powerhouse costs just $16 on Amazon.


This Drugstore Polish That’s Great To Travel With

When discussing the best nail polishes, you can’t leave Sally Hansen out of the conversation. Known for being a tried and true drugstore favorite, this Insta-Dri polish is serious. It dries quickly, has a thick curved brush that allows for easy application, and it comes in plenty of colors so you can always mix things up. Forgot to get a manicure before going someplace fancy? Grab some of this and you’ll look event-ready in no time.


The Only Matte Liquid Lipstick You’ll Ever Need, For Just $6

This NYX Soft Matte Lip Cream is a perfect product, in my opinion. It feels plush and creamy upon first application, but dries down to a matte, powdery finish that makes your lips look naturally fuller — and once it’s on, it doesn’t budge for hours, and it doesn’t totally dry out your lips. (Which is why it’s my go-to lipstick for long, possibly sweaty events, like weddings.) With 32 rich shades to choose from at just $6 a tube, you’ll want to collect a few.

  • Available shades: 32


A Delicious, Vegan Lip Scrub Made With Sugar & Coconut Oil

This all-natural lip scrub is made entirely of ingredients you could find at your local health food store, like sugar, sweet almond oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil. Use this a couple of times per week for your softest, plushest lips ever. Scrubs are also key when prepping your lips for smooth lipstick application, especially if you’re opting for a matte formula.


The Gold Standard Of Loose Powders That Customers Still Love

This Coty Airspun Loose Face Powder is a case study in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”: It’s been on the market 1935, and with over 46,000 five-star Amazon ratings, it’s clearly a favorite to this day. This velvet-finish powder has pretty good coverage, so you can use as a setting powder, for baking, or as a foundation. Despite that ample coverage, it feels featherlight and breathable on your skin.

  • Available shades: 6


A Mattifying Foundation That Feels Lovely & Light On Your Skin

Another drugstore classic, Maybelline Fit Me Matte + Poreless is the rare mattifying foundation that doesn’t feel tight and claustrophobic on your skin. Rather, reviewers say it feels light and non-irritating, even on sensitive skin, while micropowders and clay work to keep excess oils at bay for hours. With an impressive 37-shade range, you’re bound to find a shade that suits you perfectly.

  • Available shades: 37


This Full-Coverage Concealer That Shoppers Can’t Live Without

“I’ll never use another concealer. Hides imperfections and brightens at the same time,” one Amazon reviewer gushes of this e.l.f. concealer. This ultra-creamy concealer provides good, opaque coverage, lasts all day (even in heat and humidity), and doesn’t crease — aka, everything you want in a concealer, especially one that only costs $6.

  • Available shades: 18


A $25 Essence That Totally Transforms Your Skin

Very few skin care products have transformed my skin overnight, but this MISSHA essence is one of them. One nightly sweep leaves my skin clearer, energized, and stronger and more elastic to the touch, thanks to a fermented yeast extract (a hero ingredient in Korean skin care) that clarifies and refines skin. This big bottle lasts for ages, but at just $25, I’ll gladly stock up on this holy-grail product.


This Pore-Blurring Primer That Makes Your Makeup Go On So Smoothly

This wildly popular primer from Elizabeth Mott works to minimize the appearance of pores, eliminate excess shine, and create a smooth, velvety canvas for your makeup to cling to all day long. If you’re more of a “dewy finish” than a “powder finish” person, pick up the Illuminating version, which offers more hydration and a hint of radiance. Either way, you can pair your primer of choice with the brand’s best-selling setting spray for even more security.


A Creamy Bronzer That Blends Like Butter

Blended with nutrient-rich shea butter, cupuaçu butter, and tucuma butter, this Physicians Formula bronzer feels more like a skin care product than it does a cosmetic. It glides on smoothly (like butter, one could say) and blends seamlessly for a naturally sunkissed look, while ultrafine pearls offer a soft-focus finish.

  • Available shades: 5

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