Most people will admit to having a favorite store, a place so filled with goodies that it soothes them to walk in the door. For me, it’s the drugstore. When I feel anxious, just walking down the fluorescent-lit aisles lowers my blood pressure. Parents take their toddlers to rubber rooms with trampolines so they can bounce off the walls in a safe environment, but I’m a drugstore cowgirl, so that’s my safe place. There’s only so much trouble my debit card and I can get into.
You don’t need to spend top dollar for luxury products that are going to be in brief contact with your body, only to get rinsed down the drain: shampoos, conditioners, facial washes and body washes. And many drugstore cosmetics and skincare brands are excellent quality for a tiny fraction of the department store price. I’m on a budget, so I prefer to spend my money on a few key items, like makeup brushes, hair styling tools and certain cosmetics. There’s a difference in quality between a Mason Pearson hairbrush and a $2 brush from CVS, at least when you have baby-fine hair like me. I will also happily pay more for foundation and concealer because I have combination skin in a difficult tone to match. But I can find everything else I need at my neighborhood drugstore.
Start with research. Beauty magazines like “Allure” are a fantastic resource for what products are new on the market and what products are rated the best — sort of like a “Consumer Reports” for cosmetics. But read these magazines with a discerning eye. If a Drew Barrymore photo shoot credits her cosmetics as CoverGirl, don’t assume the editor is necessarily recommending those products for you. Realize that Drew has a contract with CoverGirl. Same goes for Beyonce, Evangeline Lilly, and Eva Longoria wearing L’Oreal. If an article appears to rave about one line of products exclusively, watch for the words “special advertising section” or “promotion” at the top of the page in tiny font. Instead, look for testimonials from readers, editor’s picks or reviews by makeup artists or dermatologists stating why one product is superior to the others. Then make a list of the products you need most.
Tear out any coupons you find in the magazines or weekly circulars for these products. Many of the companies also have online coupons. If you’re worried that you won’t find the right shade of makeup, many brands have online shade-matching tools. L’Oreal will match your current makeup shade from another company to a comparable L’Oreal product. CoverGirl’s website has an online quiz, which provides shade recommendations.
When you arrive at the drugstore, stay focused. The cosmetics aisles are packed with tantalizing discounts and store promotions. I don’t recommend buying products just because they’re on sale. But if the items on your list are being offered at a discount, swoop them up. And if the store-brand generic item is cheaper and has the same ingredients as the product you planned to buy, get that instead.
This is the most important part. If the shade is off or the product’s not working right, take it back. At CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart and Kmart, you can return opened cosmetics if you keep the receipt. A few drugstore chains offer only a store credit, but most will refund your money entirely without a hassle. If you take advantage of this policy, you’ll end up with the best quality product in the right shade without having to deal with a pushy cosmetics counter salesperson. And you’ll feel smart, which looks great on everybody.
The tried and true drugstore products that most frequently make experts’ “best of” lists are:
Aquaphor Healing Ointment
Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser
St. Ives Invigorating Apricot Scrub
Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer
Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
Olay Regenerist Advanced Anti-Aging Eye Lifting Serum Daily Treatment and Anti-Aging Micro-Sculpting Cream
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock w/Helioplex
Pantene Pro-V shampoos and conditioners
John Frieda Frizz-Ease Hair Serum Original Formula
VO5 Hot Oil Conditioning treatment
L’Oreal Elnett Satin hairspray
L’Oreal True Match concealer
Revlon Super Lustrous Lipgloss
L’Oreal HIP High Intensity Pigments eye makeup
Maybelline New York Great Lash mascara
Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure