100 Best Beauty Bargains

SPECIAL REPORT

You're on a budget and want to spend less on beauty products, but you still want great results.

From cleansers to mascaras, we reveal which inexpensive products perform beautifully.

You'll look great with money to spare and avoid wasting money on products that don’t work!

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Without question, many consumers are concerned about the effects of recent economic conditions in the world. With headlines and financial markets fluctuating wildly many of us have to deal with some tough choices regarding budgets. People are making decisions about what they need to scrimp on and what they can do without. Proceeding cautiously is the logic many consumers are following.

Interestingly, despite spending concerns in many areas, lots of women freely admit that they won't curb their spending on cosmetics, especially if they are using something that they believe will provide the positive changes they want to see on their face (whether they actually see results or not). Depending on your point of view, that's understandable; in the broad economic scheme of things, splurging on skin-care or makeup products is a minor indulgence compared to buying a new car, new wardrobe, or taking a vacation. But wasting money on expensive makeup and skin care quickly adds up in a short period of time--and there are many ways to put that money to better use and take brilliant care of your face and body. This report is a great place to start!

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Cleansers:

Regardless of skin type cleansers were held to the same standard of excellence: they had to be gentle, not irritate or burn the eye area, and clean the face well without leaving it feeling greasy or dry. These products listed, along with many others are, at the very least, as good, if not better than cleansers priced 10 to 20 times as much.

      Best Inexpensive Cleansers for Normal to Dry Skin:

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Toners:

We wish we had better news about toners but this is the one area where the skin care industry fails miserably. It really doesn't matter the price category, with very few exceptions they are either boring, ordinary, dated formulas or they are an irritating concoction with ingredients that are damaging on skin. For some unknown reason this category of product has not progressed to a level of excellence as many other areas of the cosmetics industry.

Toners should be loaded with the great ingredients skin needs to function at its best, make healthier cells, and feel and look beautifully smooth. Even a small amount of antioxidants, cell-communicating ingredients, and skin-identical ingredients would have been enough to get a good rating but that wasn't the case overall. The one toner from Clinique listed below is the best in the bunch for the price, and given the number of products available in this category that is just pathetic. We also included Paula's Choice toners because, for reasons unknown (and surprising) to us, it's the only cosmetics company offering affordable toners with state-of-the-art formulas.

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Exfoliants:

Exfoliating skin on a regular basis can make a huge difference in its appearance. Whether you have oily, dry, sun-damaged or blemish-prone skin, it will absolutely benefit from the use of an exfoliant. Removing built-up, unhealthy dead skin cells can reduce wrinkles, unclog pores, reduce blemishes, and make skin look and feel noticeably smoother and more even.

Based on published research effective exfoliants were rated excellent when they contained glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid in a base that had a pH of 3 -4. Gel or liquids were considered best for normal to oily skin and lotions and creams preferred for normal to dry skin. Use of an AHA or BHA product requires daily use of a sunscreen rated SPF 15 or greater to protect the new skin from sun damage and further encourage healthy skin cell formation.

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Acne:

A study appearing in both The Lancet and the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology established that benzoyl peroxide is the first line of defense to eliminate the bacteria that causes blemishes. To make sure these products could achieve the best results only the ones not containing extraneous irritating or drying ingredients were included (irritating skin hurts the skin's healing process, causes bacteria to proliferate, and can add dry, inflamed skin to the list of your skin care woes).

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Moisturizers:

(including anti-wrinkle, anti-aging, anti-gravity, treatment, hydrating, fortifying, nourishing, etc. products)

Although the cosmetic industry would love for you to believe there are numerous critical differences amongst products based on the name or price on the label for this vastly overloaded category of creams, lotions, balms, and gels, there isn't. Regardless of the name on the label, what all of these products should contain are ingredients that help skin look and act younger and keep the skin hydrated (not greasy). There are dozens and dozens of these great ingredients and they are grouped in four categories: antioxidants, skin identical (repairing) ingredients, cell communicating ingredients, and anti-irritants. When you give your skin these substances it will be the best it can be. There isn't one miracle ingredient for skin. Think of it like your diet, pomegranates may be a great healthy fruit to eat but if that was all you ate you would become malnourished. The same is true for skin. It takes a complex group of substances to keep it young and healthy and that is what should be in your moisturizer (wrinkle cream, anti aging, or whatever name the cosmetics company callsit).

All skin types need these ingredients and that was the fundamental aspect of rating this category of skin care products. It was also essential that they be in air-tight packaging(meaning no jar containers) because many of these precious ingredients deteriorate in the presence of air. Lotions and creams were recommended for normal to dry skin and gels and serums for normal to oily/combination.

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Sunscreen: Face & Body:

Paula has spent her career nagging, cajoling, encouraging, sweet-talking, persuading, and begging women to use sunscreen. There is no area of skin care that is of more vital importance. Most of the problems we associate with aging on the face are related to sun damage. Wrinkles, loss of firmness, skin discolorations, and loss of elasticity are part and parcel of not protecting your face from the sun (or doing so sporadically or seasonally rather than daily). On a more serious level, sun damage can cause skin cancer. Wearing a well-formulated sunscreen 365 days a year is essential. Preventing skin from tanning is key because when skin is tan (or gets burned) the color change is a damage response and not a good thing. A tan may look good to you or others, but there is no refuting it signifies skin has been damaged.

Basically well-formulated sunscreens require an SPF 15 or greater with UVA protecting ingredients of either titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (butyl dibenzylmethylethane), Tinosorb, or Mexoryl SX (ecamsule). Sunscreens were considered excellent when they also included antioxidants, cell communicating ingredients, and skin identical ingredients.

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Facial Masks:

Facial masks are an extra, optional enhancement step in any skin-care routine. What you do to your face on a regular basis is far more important then what you do once a week or once a month. Think of it like your diet, if you only ate healthy food once a week it would not be anywhere near as beneficial if you ate healthy every day. Skin care is the same way. Still, some women enjoy the relaxing experience of using a mask and the temporary improvement they often see in their skin therefore makes them worthwhile.

Masks for normal to dry skin that contained emollients, antioxidants and skin-repairing ingredients were rated the highest. Masks for normal to oily skin needed to have absorbent properties in order to receive a good rating. All masks with irritating ingredients or in jar packaging received an average to poor rating.

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Body Moisturizers:

Skin from the neck up or neck down need the same ingredients to keep it healthy: antioxidants, skin-identical ingredients, anti-irritants, and cell-communicating ingredients. Body products are generally not as elegantly formulated as those for the face, but some come close and those are the ones included in this list (and there aren't any expensive body products that were better formulated than these).

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Foundations:

As the first step in a beautiful makeup application, it is a must that foundation looks good and matches your skin color as closely as possible. The foundations chosen below are not only excellent values but have smooth textures, natural-looking finishes, provide light to moderate coverage, and blend well. Those with sunscreen contain one or more of the right UVA-protecting active ingredients while those without sunscreen should be paired with a daytime moisturizer rated SPF 15 or greater. Since almost all of the foundations on this list are available at drugstores (which means testers are scarce) be sure you purchase from a retailer with a good return policy in case the color is wrong or you simply do not care for the foundation.

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Concealers:

The concealers chosen are among our favorites at the drugstore. All of these do what a concealer should do, provide coverage, look relatively natural, not crease into lines, stay put throughout the day, and feel great on skin. These live up to that standard and surpass it and truly prove that expensive is not better in the world of skin care or makeup.

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Face Powders:

A sheer, silky texture and lightweight, non-drying finish are the main attributes we look for in a loose or pressed powder. You'll find all of the options below have those traits along with a price that is almost too good to be true, yet it is. There are somewhat better powders from some drug and department stores lines, but you'll spend a lot more for a slight to modest difference (depending on personal preference and how often you powder).

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Blushes:

Two of the three blush picks below are powders while Maybelline's option is a sponge-like mousse that is easy to apply and blend. All come in an enticing range of shades that produce a translucent flush to perk up your complexion. Remember, if you're doing a full makeup, blush is a must. Even those preferring minimal makeup should not leave blush by the wayside because it is so essential for enhancing your cheeks and giving skin a soft, healthy glow and that's what these blushes will all provide.

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Eyeshadows:

If you're on a budget and want to do a full eye design, you can't go wrong selecting a well-coordinated set of eyeshadows, but only if the colors are harmonized and not all over the color spectrum. For the most part, finding this blend of flattering colors can be a tricky endeavor. The way some cosmetic companies (both inexpensive and luxury brands) put colors together can only be described as strange and contrasting in a way that is glaring and distracting. Vivid disparate colors may look fun in the compact, but good luck using them in any semblance of order to do what eyeshadow is designed for, which is to shape and shade the eye (just look at most models or celebrities on a fashion magazine cover and you'll see what we mean).

All of the eyeshadows sets below offer a good selection of shades that put the spotlight on your eyes rather than on the wild color-by-numbers look that competes with rather than enhances what many women believe is their most attractive feature.

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Eye Liners, Brow Shapers, and Mascaras:

Finding a good eye pencil that doesn't need sharpening and lasts most (if not all) of the day used to be a challenge, but not anymore. The fact that such formidable pencils are available at a great price further sweetens this fact. The same is true for brow pencils and powders, of which there are more very good yet inexpensive options than ever before (thankfully the waxy brow pencils that produce a severe look a la Joan Crawford in the '40s are few and far between).

As for mascaras, we have reported for years that some of the most impressive options are available from drugstore lines such as those listed below, along with L'Oreal (though theirs did not make the cut for this report due to a higher price point). All of the regular and waterproof mascaras below produce impressive results with a good balance of length, definition and some thickness (in the case of Rimmel's, lots of thickness). Those fond of mascaras from Lancome should know that parent company L'Oreal also owns Maybelline New York, whose latest mascara formulas perform as well or better than those from Lancome.

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Lipsticks, Lip Gloss, and Lip Liner:

Cream lipsticks and sheer lip glosses tend to be favored by many women, and for the most part those are well-represented and excel where it counts for the budget-conscious cosmetics consumer. Don't let the teen appeal of lines such as Jane and Wet 'n' Wild dissuade you from trying their lipsticks—they don't offer fancy or opulent packaging a la Dior or Chanel, but the performance will surprise you. When it comes to long-wearing lip colors, you can spend twice as much if you choose to but you won't get better results than from the inexpensive long-wearing lip colors listed below.

The lipliners included in this list don't need sharpening, come in a satisfactory range of shades and have a soft glide texture that goes the distance once set.

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Best Paula's Choice Bargains

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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