not a professional. just crazy.

All of My Favorite (Under $30) Skin-Care Products

Photo: Courtesy of the retailer

It’s no secret that keeping up with beauty trends can be costly. Testing out all of those cult favorite, must-try products — Biologique’s P50 or an SK-II essence — can be, to say the least, financially inconvenient. I, of course, know this from experience — while I treasure the process of discovering and trying new products, my bank account does not (I sometimes think I hear my credit card laugh as the cashier at Sephora rings up my one thousandth container of Tatcha Recovery Cream). But looking at my end-of-month bank statement recently, I noticed that I seem to consistently choose expensive skin care over late-night taxis and fine dining. I found this realization disturbing.

I vowed then and there to make an effort not to spend more than $30 on any new beauty products I wanted. (I realize that $30 might still seem steep, but given that “cult beauty” isn’t cheap, and if you’re like me and live for the world of cult beauty, it’s a slightly less financially ruinous price point for your habit that will still ensure the quality of your products.) Here are a few products under $30 I can personally vouch for.

One of my all-time favorite dupes for the Bioderma micellar water is this micellar water from Garnier. This is just as soothing, hydrating, and good for taking off makeup as Bioderma, but it’s half the price.

This cleanser from Cetaphil is a staple I don’t often talk about. As someone with dry skin, I’m keen to try any beloved cleansing milks on the market, with a particular sweet spot for Biologique’s Lait U. However, whenever I run out of the B.R. cleanser and really just don’t have what it takes to purchase another, I’ll grab this cleanser, which I almost always have somewhere in my bathroom. She’s extraordinarily gentle and also does a great job of thorough cleaning. I will say, it doesn’t do an incredible job at taking off makeup. I usually use micellar water beforehand and then wash my face with this.

Ah, a classic favorite of mine from the original Google doc. Since I wrote it, I’ve switched to the wine version of these exfoliating pads. I find that they actually do a much better job with helping out blemishes — why, I’m not so sure. Just something I’ve noticed.

The Ordinary is one of my all-time favorite beauty brands — I’m obsessed with the results of all of their products, and the prices are, frankly, to die for. I’m sad to say I only discovered this fairly recently and it is … some shit. Though it has the same packaging as all of the other Ordinary serums, this is, in fact, a powerful little exfoliant. Apply a few drops, evenly distribute it across your skin, and wash it off in ten minutes. This product is really incredible. You will see results on any kinds of blemishes and brightness within just a few uses, if not the first one.

She is sitting riiiight on the $30 mark, but I’m so glad this product was able to make the cut. When I wrote my original Google doc, a lot of you asked questions about why a toner had been excluded. To be honest, a lot of toners I tried ended up drying out and irritating my skin — as a result, I kind of dismissed the necessity for toning in my routine. Besides, a lot of my exfoliants acted as a dual toner. This toner, however, promised extreme hydration and balancing of your pH, so I decided to give it a try. I absolutely love what this has done for my skin. This product is super hydrating and smoothing, but it’s also given my skin this really balanced complexion throughout the day that I’ve never quite been able to achieve. I’m typically dry in the mornings and oily later in the day, but since this product has been incorporated into my routine, I found my skin has found a really happy medium.

I randomly impulse purchased this a few months back and have felt really happy to see it on my bathroom sink ever since. This essence is really light and watery — but I’ve found that there’s something about that consistency that penetrates really deep into the skin quickly. If you have oily skin — this essence is a must-try. It’s also really great for brightening any hyperpigmentation or scars.

I’ve tried a lot of essence on the market. But as far as cheap, effective, healing essences go — this will likely forever be my favorite. If you are struggling from acne, hyperpigmentation, or general textural issues on your skin, definitely give this a try.

I’ve written about this oil in previous articles, but I don’t think you guys realize how important this dupe was for me. I was floored by the results of Drunk Elephant’s Marula Oil (I got it as a gift, so I wasn’t cheating, okay?) — it made me look so dewy, radiant, and hydrated. However, I was devastated to realize that I had unintentionally incorporated yet another intensely expensive product into my routine. Then, an angel from above, a.k.a. a stranger on Instagram, DM’d me to inform me that the Ordinary made a marula oil. While the marula oil from the Ordinary is a bit thicker in consistency than Drunk Elephant, they are basically the same. I love this so much — truly one of my all-time favorite dupes.

I mention this almost every post, so you probably know the drill. Incredible for zits, redness, and inflammation.

I know I’ve written about this product a lot, but I think it’s really important that those of you who are on the market for a brightening serum or any product that lightens dark spots try this out. Come on, it’s Cosrx, so you know it’s going to be good.

Finding a thick moisturizer that doesn’t make you break out can be genuinely hard. Look no further — this moisturizer from Cosrx is truly incredible. It’s thick and hydrating without ever clogging my pores or making me break out. A true favorite of mine.

I’ve been freaking out over this mask since I first used it. This is a “two step” beauty mask — meaning you apply two masks at the same time. I know that sounds weird, but it’s really not — in fact, layering is a really important part of the K-beauty philosophy. This mask is so calming and hydrating — I had a blemish that was super irritated and mean, and when I took this off, I could actually see that it was less inflamed and red. It’s also extraordinarily hydrating.

This sleeping pack from Missha is a great dupe for getting the retexturizing and love that I typically receive from my psychotically expensive Tatcha Recovery Cream. Sleeping packs, as I’ve mentioned before, are kind of like a moisturizer or mask synthesis. This is incredible for when I have redness, scarring, or deeply dehydrated skin. I put this on after all of my other treatments, lathering it on liberally, and go straight to bed. Your skin will look and feel incredible in the morning.

Would be rude of me not to include these, so here’s a gentle reminder that these are everything in the world to me.

As you guys know, I’m a picker. Every day, I struggle to stop myself from picking my face off completely. Something that has helped me immensely is icing. Since I’m so attracted to picking, I had to find an alternative way to find a kind of release when I breakout. Instead of extracting, I’ve lately been icing. I keep this jade roller in the freezer, and when I have a zit, I roll this jade roller over it quite aggressively for a few minutes — and I can feel the zit go down almost immediately after. This has changed my life. If you have a cystic zit that you simply cannot extract — Ice. That. Bitch. If you’re a picker, please try this.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

For more Rio-approved beauty products, check out The Strategist’s store on Amazon. 

All of My Favorite (Under $30) Skin-Care Products