Personal Care Items: What’s Worth Your $$!

publicdomain1Although the purpose of this blog isn’t exactly personal finance, nor is this a beauty blog, I would argue that it’s still important for the average college student or professional to assess which items are worth big bucks. “Value” is highly subjective and there are many items that we ascribe personal or sentimental worth to based on our knowledge of the product. For instance, my car-lover friends might scoff at my boring 2009 Hyundai Sonata but to me it’s my precious mode of transportation, plus I purchased it with my own money and I’d like to think I made an informed decision based on my needs. And although “needs” in terms of personal care are subjective – a beauty guru is probably far more willing to spend money on cosmetics than a broke, frumpy English student like myself – the products themselves at least suggest some degree of universality. In fact, this frumpy English student was once a bit of an avid cosmetics collector herself and would like to think that her opinion is at least somewhat informed without glorifying too much of the vapid consumerism that plagues beauty blogs (not to bash, but it’s true).

Speaking of vapid consumerism, perhaps I should provide an example as to why I feel like blogs without a marketing agenda should also be considered before spending a lot of money on an unnecessary personal care item. Take a look at this article (of which this blog post is blatantly based on) that consults a professional makeup artist for its product recommendations. $20-50 for sunscreen?! Are you a lunatic? My skin is porcelain; I go through about a quarter of a bottle of sunscreen for every trip to the the beach (plus I live in Florida so my trips to the beach are at least semi-frequent!). I would be spending hundreds of dollars a year on sunscreen and frankly I just can’t even believe someone would administer that kind of advice and I’ve certainly never heard of dermatologists urging people to invest in such fancy sunscreens.

I could go on for ages about consumer culture and how affluence is a national value in the U.S. However, this whole “nobody blogger telling you how to live your life” thing is starting to get annoying. On to the unwarranted advice!

Save on:

  • shampoo and conditioner – I’ve spent up to $40 on salon-quality shampoo and conditioner. While I’ve certainly (sometimes) had good results from such expensive products, the change in my hair doesn’t warrant the vast price difference. Most unfavorable reviews of shampoo and conditioner on are concerned with astronomically-priced products not significantly outshining drugstore alternatives. Different strokes for different folks of course, but ultimately I’m of the opinion that hair texture is primarily genetic and by eating well and treating your hair well, you won’t need to make such investments, especially since bottles of shampoo and conditioner don’t tend to last for very long.
  • nail polish – There’s no reason to not get nail polish under $10! For instance, MAC carries extremely expensive nail polish despite the fact the the formula is just as good, if not sometimes worse, than drugstore brands. I would argue that if the beauty of the color is what you’re after, to just invest in an essie or OPI polish (brands that produce dozens and dozens of colors and shades) and then use a top coat to make your nails shine. And while I love my Butter London polishes, I still have to use two coats of color and a top coat, just like I do with my OPI polishes.
  • soap – My skin is very sensitive and dry so I have to use moisturizing soaps to keep from flaking. And while I love the pleasantly-scented, ultra-organic/vegan soaps that many specialty shops sell, ultimately the purpose of a soap is to wash your body without irritating your skin, an objective that I think is achieved by plenty of cheaper brands.
  • sunscreen – Like I said above, sunscreen is important. I would rather buy a giant bottle of SPF 30 that will last me the whole year than be constantly buying tiny bottles of “designer” sunscreen. I’m sure it smells better than regular sunscreen, but I’d rather just smell like everyone else at the beach than risk a friend yoinking my $50 sunscreen (I still have a tube of an ex-boyfriend’s sunscreen sitting around) or getting sand in the bottle.
  • moisturizers – This is a tricky subject because I know a lot of people have a lot of different skin types and conditions, especially as we age. However, while investing in anti-wrinkle and repairing moisturizers might make you feel more at ease about aging, do you really think you should be spending your money – at 21 years old – on such creams that often aren’t even backed by convincing clinical studies? I slather my dry skin with a Garnier moisturizer and it gets the job done, making me wonder why I ever even considered purchasing a moisturizer for $50+. Perhaps that’s an investment I’ll make when my skin genuinely starts to age.
  • eyeliner – There is definitely a difference in ease-of-use between prestige cosmetics and drugstore eyeliners. That being said, many drugstore brands are mimicking more expensive cosmetics and releasing eyeliners that perform just as well or only slightly worse. After all, when you think about it, eyeliner is just a microscopic line you trace over your eyelid – are people *really* going to tell the difference between the Dior eyeliner you’ve smudged along your lid as opposed to a stick of Maybelline? I would also like to add that drugstore gel liners are a pretty great value. I spent a lot of money on my MAC gel liner and liner brush, and as far as I know Maybelline offers a gel liner and brush duo for under $15! I also am constantly getting compliments on my L’oreal Lineur Intense liquid liner, far more than I ever got when using a more prestigious brand.
  • mascara – You have to replace your mascara every two to three months, and the idea of dropping $30 on a mascara six times a year seems outrageous. I used to be obsessed with beauty products and would use any excuse I could to justify what I was spending but to be perfectly honest, I can never tell the difference between a cheap and expensive mascara. Loads of drugstore brands make fantastic mascara, such as L’oreal Voluminous, and are under $10. Imagine saving $120/year just on mascara!


These are items I can justify splurging on from time-to-time, but cheaper alternatives can still get the job done.

  • pigments/face makeup – When it comes to foundation, in many cases the more expensive brands do tend to deliver a much nicer result. I’ve noticed that my face feels smoother and looks better when I’m using fancier foundation than when I’m using my cheap Revlon whipped mousse (off-the-record: don’t buy that foundation). And while eyeliner, nail polish, and mascara are relatively inconsequential and indistinguishable elements of a beauty regime, the quality of your foundation does matter and is noticeable to others. I also think that some pigments such as lipsticks, blushes, eye shadows, and bronzers, blend better if they’re from a nicer brand although some drugstore brands like NYX are notorious for carrying nice pigmented makeup. In either case, doing your homework and choosing the products that blend best with your skin type is most important. Swatches of products, found on almost every beauty blog, are insanely helpful for this reason.
  • brushes – Tying into the above entry, applying your makeup with a good-quality brush is really important. I believe that the more makeup you use – especially if it’s expensive makeup – the more important it is to invest in a good brush set. A lot of gurus swear by Sigma brushes but I’ve actually found them to lose their shape quickly and to shed like crazy. This is definitely a case where doing your homework and going out and feeling brushes for yourself is very important. What good is your NARS blush if you’re using a crappy plastic brush (think the ones included in drugstore blushes) to apply it? Why use a brush that sheds everywhere to apply your foundation, getting all the hairs stuck in your face makeup?
  • hair serum – I swear by the Fekkai Glossing Cream, but I’ll admit that the drugstore serums I’ve tried have been pretty lackluster. Since my roommate and I both have thick, curly hair, we like to use more expensive serums to minimize frizz. This is a product that I don’t use everyday but for some hair types, it’s totally worth the money.

Spend on:

  • razors – Last semester there was a hiccup with my financial aid and I wasn’t reimbursed for my expenses until December. As a result, I had to make a few sacrifices. Buying 2-blade plastic razors instead of nicer 4+ blades was one of them. Using cheap razors is actually pretty painful, especially on my dry skin,  and the amount of razor burn and nicks I endured was certainly not worth the couple of bucks that I saved during my trips to the grocery store.
  • tampons – Two words: Cardboard. Applicators. If applicators don’t bother you then you must be one blessed lady, because I would rather give up chocolate than give up plastic applicators.
  • tissues/toilet paper – Having soft paper products to rub against your body makes a significant difference in your comfort level during less-than-comfortable moments. Soft tissues in particular make a significant difference in how much you hate your life during allergy season or a bad cold.
  • acne care – Again, everyone’s skin is different, but shouldn’t it make more sense to spend more money on treating acne than buying a fancy foundation to cover it up? While I’m certainly not trying to judge people who struggle with acne (a condition that I was blessed to not have to deal with much) I know that it can be a painful and uncomfortable condition. There isn’t anything wrong with choosing not to treat it if it doesn’t bother you, but for those who are truly self-conscious about it, I don’t think there’s anything shameful about spending the money to improve the health of your skin. This sounds like it’s contradicting what I said earlier about sunscreen and moisturizer, but those are products that, should they cause an adverse reaction in your skin, should certainly be discontinued from use and returned as soon as possible.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel like a lot of people attempt to “pamper themselves” by buying expensive products to enhance their appearance while perhaps neglecting more important aspects of personal care and hygiene. It was a sobering moment for me when I found myself looking at my horribly razor-burned legs in the midst of a bathroom that is full of high-end cosmetics or when I came down with a terrible infection and rubbed my nose raw with rough tissues despite the rest of my face makeup looking flawless. In my opinion, comfort is the most important aspect of personal care and I would rather my body be comfortable than beautiful.


One thought on “Personal Care Items: What’s Worth Your $$!

  1. Love this! I enjoy a good Essie or OPI nail polish every now and again, but I also like my $4 Revlon nail polishes, too. I will spend money on skin care because of my eczema, but I think plenty of products (like shampoos/conditioners) can be just as effective in their cheaper versions and the brand names.

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