13 Healthy and Cheap Beauty Replacements

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For many women, this is a familiar moment:

You're standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, with an expensive cream, examining its claims that it will erase fine lines, firm up your skin, super-moisturize, exfoliate, clear your pores, make you smell like peaches and exude a glow of health and happiness.

This must be true, because its special formulation contains these special beads, or special proteins, or special vitamins, or this special scientific thing that sounds really impressive though you're not really sure what it is, and it's got a picture of a mountain on the front and says something about being a traditional Swiss formula. You've been using it for three months now every day.

And you look exactly the same.

The Case for Simplicity

Each year, American women aged 30 to 49 spend approximately $1,200 on cosmetics; $1,000 on their hair; $500 on eyebrow maintenance and waxing; and $400 on caring for their hands and feet, according to Newsweek. That's around $3,100 annually—and $31,000 over a decade!

If it seems ridiculous to you that you could put the cost of a nice car on your face, believe us--we agree. While there are some tried and true beauty products we think are worth the splurge, there's also a lot of silly stuff that costs us more. Like pink shaving lotion. What do those "silk ribbons" do exactly again?

We've decided to simplify this routine a bit, and sourced low-cost, one- or two-ingredient replacements for your personal care products that are just as effective. And not only are they less expensive, they're also healthier and more natural than the 15-ingredient alternatives, which use an alarming number of preservatives and parabens (linked to cancer and organ toxicity).

(And pssst ... these recommendations are pulled right from our free Cut Your Costs Bootcamp, a ten-day email program with quizzes, checklists and ideas for reducing expenses in every area of your life. If you like these tips, you can get more by signing up for the bootcamp!)

Check out our slide show, and let us know: What other simple products do you use instead of conventional, branded products?

To view the slide show as one long list, click into the show and choose "list view"

View Slide Show

*All prices from Drugstore.com and FreshDirect.com as of May 2012

  • Kbear

    Instead of throwing away those Vitamin E pills, mix a few drops of a capsule into your conditioner – extra shine boost for your hair!

  • Kimberly

    Don’t use baby oil for an eye make up remover. I used it for years and then I ended up with a huge cyst on the inside of my eye lid that had to be cut out by an opthamologist (talk about scary!). He told me the baby oil clogged my tear duct and this caused the cyst. He said this wasn’t common, but he’s seen it happen in others as well. He advised that I  use traditional eye make up removal pads (such as by Almay) instead.

    • Lisa

      THANK YOU for sharing this. I was definitely considering it. 

    • LeAnne

       Very true.  You should not use baby oil at all.  It is not good for your skin!

  • Faith

    This suggestion has health risks. Remember what petroleum is and where it comes from. Skin is the largest organ of the body and will absorb harmful chemicals. The skin layers need to breathe and petroleum jelly blocks the skins natural functioning.

  • Absab_1212

    Cute article and your heart is in thd right ace but I also have to say no to the mineral oil/baby oil and Vaseline suggestions due to the toxic ingredients and carcinogenics in them. Stinky too, I don’t want those smells near my nose or that kind of grease on my body clogging things up. Cheap, but so cheap quality, I’ll pass on those.

  • Befrugalwithflair

    The product that you can purchase at Walgreen’s, CVS, RiteAid, or your grocery store are quite effective…and always on sale! Watch for the sales, use coupons, and you will find enormous savings! I just stocked up on $400 worth of Physicians Formula product. Paid $60 and received $40 in gas cards. My daughter and I really like this particular product.. We now have a years worth.

  • beth

    my mom taught me that when she was sick and it was to cold to wash yoyr hair they would comb dry oatmeal through it,it would actually clean it up and also it works for greasy hair too

    • Middtere

      Agree, have tried an oatmeal mask for my hair- worked wonders as a clarifyer! :)

  • Aynikki

    I use coconut oil to remove makeup, and in a pinch can use it as facial moisturizer before bed (gets in your hair though, so you have to be careful or wash your hair in the morning). Mixed with sugar it makes a fantastic body/facial scrub, and leaves your skin feeling amazing! The sugar dissolves before it can be too abrasive. Add some coffee (I use fresh grounds, but you can uses already “brewed”) to the scrub, leave on for five minutes in the shower for a natural skin tightener/toner. Works great. Vitamin E oil makes a great eye cream. 

  • CleoBarker

    I’m a super advocate for saving money, but some of these are on my definite no no list… This is the first LV content I have really disagreed with thus far.
    Firstly, you don’t need shaving cream and definitely not baby oil… I get the best results from a cheap milk bath bubble bath that costs me $4 every other month for a 24 oz. it contains milk proteins, silk proteins, and vitamin E. Make it yourself with a combo of powdered milk, aloe and vitamin E oil (plus a scented shower gel of your choice for bubbles/fragrance).
    You don’t need eye makeup remover, its oily and just causes you to rub your eyes. I just use my all natural cleanser and slide it gently across my eyes and the makeup comes right off and causes my eyes less irritation and stress than scraping cotton over it repeatedly- causes wrinkles.
    Hand and foot cream, I buy the lotion+aloe from banana boat and it works for all my needs, but if you look at the grand scheme of things, lotion/hand cream/foot cream is not very expensive, its OK to splurge on one you like. Also invest in a good callus scraper (I love the one from tweezerman) and take good care of it.
    Anti-aging creams and good makeup for me are a necessary expense which is why I cut where I can. I invest in beauty balms and mineral makeup and use eye cream at night and night serum/collagen serums, and I’m only 22 and I always see the results, especially on my eyes and neck. If you invest in good products for your skin, you get fewer to no breakouts and you won’t have to reapply. Plus if you get into a rewards program (like at sephora,) they love giving out samples- effectively cutting down on anti-aging products since there is almost always one out for the pickin’. I set aside $100 per month for all my makeup and beauty needs. Another idea? Beauty swap parties. Host a girls day and trade slightly used products that you just don’t need/want/use. Trade for something you really need. :)
    Masques, I like avocado cucumber aloe made at home, but I also love buying the cheap clay chocolate masques from Claires, because usually you buy a certain amount of them, and they throw in one for free or you get them all for 30% off. Plus its so good with my oily and sensitive skin, and you feel spoiled. Also good for at home pedis!
    Shampoo and conditioner? I just buy the organix (Awapuhi ginger or Cherry Blossom) and it works very closely in quality to pureology which is crap-expensive, natural, and vegan friendly. When you go to your hair salon, always look for 50% off markings on big bottles and splurge on that, its worth the price.

  • Amber

    You can also use coconut oil instead of lotion. There are so many benefits of coconut oil. I also use it around my eyes before bed instead of an expensive eye cream.

  • Jen

    I used to use baking soda as toothpaste, because that’s what I used growing up and couldn’t stand the taste of “normal” toothpaste. However, I was forced to learn to live with the taste after developing a lot of cavities- I haven’t had a single one since switching to regular toothpaste (and my water does have added flouride) If you actually use just the pea sized amount suggested, toothpaste lasts a long time, and this one is about health not vanity, so that’s not a good place to skrimp just for the sake of saving a few pennies. 

  • Jen

    I use pond’s cold cream (or store brand equivalent) for makeup remover, and it works wonders and leaves my skin moisturized. However… instead of worrying about how much makeup remover costs, how about just wearing less makeup, less often? That would save a lot of money and a lot of harsh chemicals on your skin… 

  • Katherene`

    Bravo LearnVest.  You nailed this time.  Love, Love the great ideals.  One thing I know for sure, I will be saving a lot more money on beauty products.  It goes without saying: Out Mothers did know what works best.  That’s why there skin looked so radiant!

  • Kade Karen

    I disagree with item 5, oral antiaging and anti-wrinkle cream.  In order to effect favorable changes in the skin it would be necessary to take huge and dangerous doses of oral supplements.  Topical applications are much more effective.  There are many inexpensive OTC products with antioxidants and glycolic acid such as the ones you wrote about awhile ago.                        Dr Karen Kade, dermatologist

  • Shazzer4400

    I’ve been using baking soda and organic ACV for the past year instead of shampoo and conditioner and I have gotten non-stop compliments on my hair!

  • AKM

    Baby wipes are great for makeup removal and facial cleansing when you’re too tired to wash or you’re traveling/camping/etc. I’ve also heard that they’re great at taking out stains, but I’ve never tried that. 

  • anon

    The caveat to #6 is that baking soda can fade the color of color-treated hair.  Otherwise, great list!

    One home beauty remedy I would add to this list is that aspirin can make a great mask for acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid, the active ingredient in a lot of acne fighting cleansers, is a metabolite of aspirin.  A bottle of generic aspirin tablets is cheaper, and will last you way longer, than expensive cleaners and lotions.  You can Google “aspirin mask” for directions.  

  • Mary

    i switched to flax seed oil from fish oil (bad breath) and have a huge mostly full bottle of fish oil left, anyone have creative uses for it? i have a cat and might ask the vet next week if it’s safe to give to her.. i just want to get rid of it!

  • I use baking soda to wash my hair and then rinse with apple cider vinegar. I also use the baking soda as deodorant. I clean the bathroom with baking soda as well. I use coconut oil or raw shea butter on my hair and skin.

  • Suzyfern

    Baby oil usually has mineral oil in it.  I would not  recommend using any petroleum product on anyone’s skin. 

  • Patriotwoman

     The biggest savings I get is by doing my own Brazilian Blowout with “Uncurly” for about $15 instead of $300-400 charged by salons.  I have naturally kinky/fizzy/wavy/curly hair and I am able to make it  look like it’s had a professional blowout every day.  Professional products, professional results, do it yourself price.


  • ChrisK.

    I saw this thrifty tip a few years ago and it still works great for me: Instead of using name brand shaving cream, try hair conditioner. A little dab will do you and if you collect the freebies they give you in hotels it costs next to nothing. My skin is left soft and moisturized, and it smells nice too.

  • alex252

    Cosmetics have never worked for me, i don’t like wasting time by direct bargains on such cosmetics. There are so much natural ways for making skin fair and lovely, that always work for me.