Recently, I spent $38 on a few ounces of moisturizer. Even worse, I had to go to Sephora to get it. For some women, that place is a giant candy store. For me, it’s a hideous carnival of too many fragrances, where the spackle-faced carnies are pushy and poreless. (I can barely apply eyeliner without looking like a prostitute with Parkinson’s Disease. Also, I have pores.)
A few weeks before my mortgage-worthy moisturizer purchase that, need I remind you, cost roughly the equivalent of three movie tickets, I bought an under-eye cream for $25. So far, I’m pleased with both of my purchases, but these pricey beauty buys aren’t nearly as satisfying to me as that old-fashioned drugstore staple: All hail Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque.
It’s not just because I’m cheap (which I often am). For me, when something costs more than $10, it had better work. So when I can buy 12 ounces of blackhead-zapping gunk for five bucks and it actually does something, it’s nothing short of miraculous. And I’m positive that the Mint Julep Masque really has helped my skin.
So this puts me in the awkward position of being both a believer in and a skeptic of drugstore beauty bargains. Growing up in rural Texas, cosmetics fit into two categories: 1) the stuff mama wore – Cover Girl, Maybelline, Noxzema, Carmex, and 2) the “fancy, expensive” stuff – Revlon, L’Oreal, Neutrogena, and anything else with a soft-focus advertisement that featured the word “luxurious.”
It would be years before I discovered that a whole new world of cosmetics awaited me at fine department stores everywhere. In such places, my thrifty mom only let my sister and me browse the sales racks. The cosmetic counter clerks looked bored, yet judgmental — perhaps because they knew a commission from the likes of us was not in their future.
In high school, a friend and I went to the local Dillard’s to an unoccupied makeup bar, smeared garish colors all over our faces, and then ran around the mall screeching, “The makeup artist says I look so beautiful!” (We were easily amused theater dorks who were escorted out of the mall on more than one occasion.)
So the drugstore beauty aisle doesn’t intimidate me. Its lighting is generally no different than that of the rest of the store. No one’s behind a glass-topped table ready to pounce and swipe a $15 lip gloss across my mouth while trying to upsell me on products I never knew I needed. “Eyelash tint? Really?” True, you can’t try anything on before purchase, but as far as beauty products are concerned, the drugstore is a mighty cheap gamble.
But back to Her Majesty. I didn’t use Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque until my second year living in grimy New York City. My skin constantly broke out, but nothing helped. I drank liters of water at a time, used all the chemicals available on the market that are supposed to kill acne-causing bacteria, and switched up my birth control — all to no avail.
I bought her Mint Julep Masque one day on a whim and applied it the same night. I’ve been doing just that a few days a week ever since. Okay, I can’t attribute my smoother, more even complexion entirely to Her Highness. My hormones are more under control now. (It helps that I’m no longer a public school teacher flooded with the stress hormone cortisol.) My diet also has radically changed for the better. Some of my positive skin changes may even be the result of ditching many of the cheaper drugstore toiletries I grew up with in favor of slightly more expensive, noncomedogenic products on the same shelves. Today, I’m not afraid to venture into boutique territory to invest in something that may really improve the condition of my skin, but honestly, it’s the corner drugstore that makes me truly beautiful.
You can take the girl out of the CVS, but you can’t take the CVS out of the girl.
So what are your favorite drugstore beauty bargains? Tell us in our comments section, below.