I Tried a Drugstore Skincare Routine and My Skin Has Never Looked Better

Photo: Getty Images/Jamie Grill
My beauty cabinet currently looks like the stuff that #shelfie dreams are made of, and on a given day, my regimen costs upwards of $1,600 because I slather on between 12 to 15 products, including a $200-plus essence, a $158 lactic acid treatment, and a $125 botanical serum. So...yeah, despite the fact that my routine is stacked and wildly effective, you wouldn't exactly call it "wallet friendly."

Confronting a pile of empties, however, I was faced with the decision between buying pricey replacements and paying my rent (obviously, I was forced to pick the latter), so it got me to thinking: Is all of this really worth it? My skin looks pristine, but could I achieve similar results without a hefty price tag?

To find out, I decided to hit the drugstore to buy up under-$40 elixirs. My mission? To see if they could make my skin look as glowy as pricier counterparts. With stores like Target and CVS becoming more committed than ever to making clean, effective products accessible to customers and with new affordable brands popping up on the daily, the search was actually kind of a piece of cake. And much to my delight, when I walked into my mom's house for a visit after five days of using exclusively drugstore diamonds, her first question was: "What have you been doing to your skin?" Clearly, the regimen was paying off. Here's how to copy it.

Photo: Simple

Simple Kind to Skin Cleansing Facial Wipes, $5

I've always felt weird about spending big money on makeup-removing wipes, so these have been my cleansers of choice for the past few years. They're super gentle, yet work really well to get rid of makeup and prep skin for a deep cleanse to follow. I use them at night as the first step in my routine (or even alone when I’m too lazy for a full 10 steps).

Photo: YesTo

Yes To Tomatoes Anti Pollution Detoxifying Charcoal Oxygenated Foaming Facial Cleanser, $7

I’m a sucker for a good foaming cleanser, and this one takes it to the next level with an attached face brush that brings on the bubbly. The combination of charcoal and tomatoes helps to detoxify skin from the dirt and grime that build up every day. The built-in brush is like giving myself a mini facial massage, which not only feels amazing, but also helps to add yet another level of deep clean and gentle exfoliation.

Photo: Bioderma

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water, Cleansing and Make-Up Removing Solution, $10

Full disclosure: this micellar water has been a mainstay of my routine for awhile, and it's my go-to on nights when a double-cleanse is in order. According to Kathryn Dickinson, founder of clean beauty shop Aillea,  micellar water "contains microscopic oil molecules—called micelles—suspended in water, which work to remove dirt and hydrate your skin,” making it a great option if using a regular cleanser twice a day dries out your skin. I like my face to feel squeaky clean, so I use a micellar water on a cotton pad following my foaming cleanser and the foundation-colored cotton swabs reinforce the fact that I made the right call.

Photo: Sailor

Sailor Sea Mist Refreshing Toner, $15

This toner gives back to my skin once its been stripped of all the gross stuff. It’s made with witch hazel, which acts as an astringent, yet is formulated with extra-hydrating natural ingredients like aloe vera, marine extracts, cucumber extract, and basil essential oil to help balance that out. While toning is a totally optional step in many people's skin-care routines, note that it can help to infuse vitamins, hydration, and nutrients into your skin, and even help balance its pH.

Photo: Alba

Alba Botanica Hawaiian, Papaya Enzyme Facial Mask, $7

If you’re looking to be transported back to spring break 2010, this stuff will do it. It felt like I was rubbing a tropical vacation on my face in the best possible way. It goes on like a jelly, and I could tell it was working right away by the slight tingle it triggered in my skin. I left it on for the recommended five minutes during my evening routine while I brushed my teeth and scrolled through my Bumble messages, and could see—and feel—a visible difference when I wiped it off.

Photo: SkinFix

Skinfix Moisture Boost Serum, $35

TBH, I was most worried about losing my arsenal of serums, but when I found this one, which uses peony root and red seaweed to enhance radiance, reduce pigmentation, and repair collagen, I instantly fell in love. Considering I couldn’t see any difference at all in my skin upon making the swap, I’d say that it definitely works the way it’s supposed to.

Photo: Shea Moisture

SheaMoisture Matcha Green Tea And Probiotics Soothing Relief Eye Cream, $12

This matcha and probiotic-infused eye cream is packed with antioxidants, which help with puffiness and dark circles. I used this bad boy after a few late nights out and was deeply impressed by how quickly it helped me fake a full eight hours. The tube’s metal tip smoothes on the formula, while cooling the under eye area.

Photo: Olay

Olay Total Effects Whip Facial Moisturizer SPF 25, $39

If I had to pick an all-time favorite product from my drugstore routine, this would be it. Olay’s new fragrance-free whipped moisturizer is equal parts lightweight (it feels like you're slathering on frosting) and heavy duty with active ingredients like vitamins C and E plus niacinamide to get to work creating a smooth, silky complexion. I love that it has SPF 25, too, which means I don’t have to worry about adding an extra step in my regimen to make sure my skin is protected.

Photo: Burt's Bees

Burt’s Bees Complete Nourishment Facial Oil, $20

The best part about this facial oil—which goes on silky and doesn’t leave any sort of a slick film—is its smell. I used it at night, and the combo of rosehip, jojoba and evening primrose lulled me to sleep, and didn’t grease up my pillows while I snoozed.

Photo: Dove

Dove Shower Foam, $8

Since I was deeply committed to this experiment, I decided to bring make my drugstore skincare routine truly "head to toe" and bring it from my sink into my shower, too. This frothy formulation is so hydrating, I don't even need to use lotion when I step out from under the stream (I still did, though, because, #selfcare). The foaming technology is among the first of its kind, and helps maintain moisture in your skin instead of stripping it the way regular soaps (and foams) do. From here on out, this stuff will be a mainstay in my shower routine.

Photo: Neutrogena

Neutrogena Hydroboost Body Moisturizer, $10

Slathering on a body moisturizer after the shower has become a sort of daily luxury for me, and I was curious if the price of the product would make any difference in how much I enjoyed that part  of my routine. The short answer, it turns out, is that it doesn't matter if I'm slicking my skin with a $70 moisturizer or a $7 rendition. This hydro-boost lotion contains hyaluronic acid, which helps to bind moisture and keep my skin happy from head-to-toe.

Want more from the drugstore? Try one of our all-time favorite hydrators, straight from aisle 1. And the affordable goodness doesn't just stop at skincare: Here's why you should lighten your makeup bag load with a drugstore mascara.

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