Like all my shopping-savvy peers at the Strategist, I love a good dupe. Whenever a fancy, pricey new beauty product hits the scene, my first order of business is to scavenge the internet in the hopes of tracking down a budget-friendly alternative. The trouble is, sometimes a product is so special that it just can’t be mimicked. Below, I’ve rounded up three of my favorite “unicorn” products — products where the formula is just so good, and the results so on point, that finding an alternative is just (sadly!) not humanly possible.
I’ve been using this oil from True Botanicals every evening at the end of my routine for a couple of weeks now, and I love it. The squalene-and-seed-oil blend is lightweight, fast-absorbing, and without fail makes me wake up with insanely bright and ultrasmooth skin. The oil was formulated with breakout-prone skin specifically in mind — it’s hydrating and nourishing without triggering any kind of acne flare-ups. Of course, this face oil is vey expensive. But I’ve tried so many potentially cheaper alternatives (from Whole Foods, the Ordinary, and Farmacy Beauty, to name three), and none of them has been as fast-absorbing, as lightweight, or has left me completely pimple free like this. I’ve gotten so many compliments on my skin since I incorporated this product into my routine.
I’ve wanted to write about this TIMY toner-and-essence set for some time. But before I sung its praises, I wanted to be sure that the stuff was as game-changing as I suspected. After two months of diligent daily application, I am ready to definitively say that the toner and essence are can’t-live-without staples in both my morning and evening routine. Historically, I’ve applied a high-intensity exfoliant (like P50 or Cosrx AHA) to my skin a few times a week to ensure that my texture was smooth and my acne was kept at bay. Because the toner contains a super, super low-level exfoliant (literally one percent), I took my P50 and Cosrx AHA out of my routine and started using this every day instead. The switch was life-changing. This product does not strip, irritate, or over-exfoliate your skin, and the small concentration of lactic acid and glycolic acid is balanced out with a high concentration of birch juice — a hydrating and skin-soothing ingredient that is common in K-beauty products. What the toner does do, though, is calm, soothe, and brighten the skin, while simultaneously making sure pimples don’t sprout. The essence, meanwhile, is packed with galactomyces — a refining and brightening ingredient also found in my old, beloved Cosrx essence — as well as antioxidant-rich black chokeberry, fine-line- and hyperpigmentation-reducing red algae, and polyglutamic acid, which holds four times more moisture than hyaluronic acid. The formula is so nourishing and hydrating that even skin-care guru Gothamista gave it a stamp of approval. My skin truly looks brighter and smoother than ever since I started using these, which have led to zero new breakouts.
I can always tell when Charlotte Tilbury has done a celebrity’s makeup for a red-carpet affair. The person always has a perfect matte lip, as well as an unmissable, beautiful lit-from-within glow. This cream is basically that red-carpet radiance in a jar. It is so, so hydrating and plumping, and leaves zero greasiness. A lot of people claim that finding a dupe for this cream is easy, since there’s nothing particularly crazy on the ingredient list (hyaluronic acid, rose-hip oil, camellia oil, and antioxidant vitamin E). But I’ve tried about 100 potential dupes for this — from French pharmacy darling Embryolisse’s Lait-Creme Concentre to the Astral Original Moisturizing Cream — and the formulas are never as lightweight, nongreasy, or glow-inducing. I wish it wasn’t worth it, but it just really, really is. I use it every single morning, and if I ever run out, or can’t carve out $100 to buy a new one, my plan B is always Supergoop’s Daily Moisturizer.
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 acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.