LIFE | Beauty brands are taking us for a ride

After I’ve paid my rent, bills, taken the cat to the vet (he’s fine, thanks for asking!) and whatever other expenses come up, I spend a lot of my spare income on beauty products. I love expensive perfumes and am prepared to drop cash on skincare, whether I’m testing something that’s trending or want to treat myself.

Most of the time, though, beauty products don’t need to cost much, and when things are expensive, you’re paying for the brand, the concept and the feeling of expensiveness rather than something that’s of a truly higher quality.

We’re all being taken for a ride. There’s no other way about it—brands don’t care about helping you get a bargain, or “empowering women” or whatever marketing fluff they’re selling you this week. They exist to make money. They cannot exist without you purchasing their products and making a profit off the products they’re selling you.

I learned this more than anything while I worked at Clinique. The ‘cost’ of a product to the store, or to the brand, is less than half what you pay retail. We should all know this anyway, but when you see the numbers written down it really brings it home. And the cost is even more inflated when the product itself doesn’t contain expensive ingredients or benefit from extensive innovative research.

So with all that said, what beauty products are you wasting your money on?

11 beauty products you can cheap out on

Makeup wipes

Not all makeup wipes are created equal—this much is true. But that doesn’t mean that more expensive wipes are better. After discovering that the $2-a-pack makeup wipes from The Warehouse are good and fine (and even unscented) I can’t justify the $8 Simple ones, let alone the $45 Estee Lauder ones.

Cotton pads

I wrote about the bougie Shiseido facial cotton not that long ago and tried to justify it but the reality is that tiny squares of cotton are tiny squares of cotton. I mean, if you want to treat yourself then an $8 box of cotton squares is a cheap way to do it, but it’s still a silly and completely unnecessary expenditure to talk yourself into.

Face cloths

I use a face cloth about 2% of the time I wash my face, almost exclusively when I want give my face a good scrub without fussing with an actual scrub.

You can get gently exfoliating 100% cotton cloths that stimulate circulation for $27 for a pack of three, or what about a set of seven finely woven and incredibly respectful bamboo fibre cloths for $42? I realise that works out to only $6 per cloth, but don’t try to tell me you need seven incredibly respectful face cloths when you could use a $1.50 flannel (if it’s good enough for a princess, it’s good enough for you) or a set of baby muslins from eBay.


Cleanser just doesn’t stay on your skin long enough to need to cost $71 (as much as I like Ceramic Slip). I’ve been gradually downgrading my daily cleanser from a $46 one to a $23 one to a $20 one (without any sacrifice in my standards—still cream, still gentle) because it’s stupid to pay that much for a cleanser. And, in fact, the CeraVe one is even cheaper ml-for-ml and super legit.

Cleansing balm

Technically a sub-category of the above, cleansing balm is one of the wankiest and overpriced categories of skincare. It’s great if you have very dry skin or sensitive skin, but it still doesn’t need to cost one hundred and twenty nine dollars (or $115 if you get it from Cult Beauty, what a bargain).

Super expensive skincare like Omorovicza or Eve Lom just isn’t made for people like us. You see Caroline Hirons using it because she literally works with/for these brands and gets it all for free (and makes a lot more money than you or I do), or Amelia Liana because her family is wealthy as fuck even before you consider her income as an ~influencer~.

These people have a super-distorted view of what’s a reasonable amount of money to spend on skincare. Don’t blindly listen to them when they gush about the balm that’s more than your monthly power bill being “sooo~ nourishing” and that it’s a “must have”.

Cleansing oil

Another sub-category of cleanser, cleansing oil is extra frustrating when it’s expensive because you’ve usually got to use a second cleanser after it. Its primary function is to break down your makeup, and whatever magic ingredients it’s touted as containing, you’re rinsing them off the second you follow it with even a gently foaming cleanser.

Forget Tata Harper’s $110 cleansing oil and get the $12 Simple cleansing oil or a bottle of sweet almond oil instead.


A lot of cheap toners contain alcohol, which I’d suggest you steer away from, but on the flipside, a lot of cheap toners don’t contain alcohol, and all you have to do is read the ingredients to find that out.

If you want a gentle hydrating toner then Thayer’s Witch Hazel with Aloe will do the job; if you want an active exfoliating toner, look no further than The Ordinary’s 7% glycolic acid. Sorted.

Face mists

This category could have an entire ranty blog post of its own—in fact, this whole post was inspired by the appearance of Tatcha at Mecca. YouTube’s favourite waste of money, the Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist, is now available at Mecca, $75 for a whopping 40ml.

Online beauty culture has taught everyone that 15–20 spritzes of this expensive glycerin water over your makeup will transform you. I get mad just thinking about it. I watch these videos and straight up can’t tell a difference after they’ve emptied a third of the bottle onto their face.

See also: Omorovicza Queen of Hungary Mist. $92 at Mecca, or $85 at Cult Beauty. When I see people like Ruth Crilly, who I respect immensely, talk about how wonderful and indispensable this is, I instantly think “oh, I want that”. And then I remember it’s almost one hundred dollars for some nice smelling water. Switch your brains on, folks!

There are plenty of affordable “dewy” facial mists out there, like the Australis Facial Spritz, and even though it’s not a dupe ingredients-wise for Tatcha’s mist, it performs pretty similarly.


I like expensive mascaras. And that’s the thing with everything on this list—there are lots of expensive beauty products that are lovely. But having recently opened a new tube of the Jordana Best Lash Extreme Volume Mascara ($5 from BeautyJoint) and remembering it does everything I want a mascara to do and nothing I don’t want a mascara to do… remind me why would I buy Diorshow again?


I consider shampoo to be in the same vein as cleanser: it’s for taking dirt off, not putting anything on, so there’s no need for it to cost over $20. I’ve experimented with more expensive shampoos over the years (like Bumble and Bumble) and liked them, but not enough to keep paying $40 a bottle. In fact, I’m using the L’Oreal Botanicals Coriander Cure shampoo and conditioner at the moment and am quite content to stay in this price range (or lower).

Hair treatments

I’m speaking from experience here, and it’s firmly my own fault. I bought the sans ceuticals pH and shine corrector way back, for $50. Guess what. It’s a spray bottle of apple cider vinegar. It works amazingly, but don’t be a fool.

Same with “intensive” hair masks—they’re usually just thick conditioners, and you can achieve the same effects from putting your conditioner on and then getting out of the shower and hanging out for half an hour (I don’t know, paint your nails or watch YouTube or something) before rinsing it off.

(And yes, I know there are expensive hair treatments that do work, like Olaplex. They’re not what I’m referring to.)

I’m not trying to shame you if you do spend lots of your money on expensive beauty items, from this list or otherwise. I do the same. But I do want to remind people to take a critical look at what they’re buying before they drop hundreds of dollars on beauty “must-haves”.

What expensive beauty products have I missed? Or what expensive beauty products do you think are worth the spend?


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  • I love this post! I hate spending on beauty products that I know just aren’t worth the money. This was so refreshing to read! xx

    Indie// In Search of the Holy Grail

  • Rochelle Lisa Suddens

    Great post.Thank you.

  • Awesome post Morgan! Totally agree with you! If I find myself lusting after an expensive new beauty product, I will try and look elsewhere for a cheaper alternative that contains similar ingredients or performs a similar function.


    PIGMENT STUDIO | Beauty | Lifestyle | Art

  • Stephanie

    I think it’s entirely up to the person if they want to spend their hard earned money on skincare. If it’s within your means and you enjoy it then why are you making people feel bad for how they chose to spend their money. Some may spend it on shoes or bags or clothes which like skincare is marked up ridiculously because that is how the retail world works.
    Caroline hirons also stands by this- if you can’t afford it find something that you can afford.

  • Lisa

    Thanks so much for your post! It is so easy to get influenced by the “influencers” and think you absolutely have to have the latest Holy Grail product – and then there is always the next one and the next one. Deciem’s The Ordinary has really made me re-think the skincare I buy. And now other brands’ fancy and spendy serums etc just make me mad – especially when the number 1 ingredient is often water! I was really annoyed at Hirons YouTube video about the Ordinary which in my opinion was very budget-shaming. I’ve had nothing but good experiences from the Ordinary and enjoy the results, the range of options and the price point and it has made me think more seriously about the other products I’d been influenced into buying and whether there are equally effective alternatives. Thanks for another great “no BS” blog!

    • You’re welcome Lisa! I didn’t see her video about The Ordinary because, while she’s very knowledgeable about skincare, I’ve kind of gone off her, especially after I started noticing how much she repped things that were expensive and was so reluctant to talk about anything that she’s not affiliated with in some way. I don’t think I’ll go seek it out, just to keep my blood pressure down!

  • My current favorite mascara is the $3 (US) elf Lash Extending Mascara, and I’ve been comparing it to a sample of Burberry I got from Sephora and, you know, I like the bristles, formula, and price of the elf a whole lot better.

    There are certain things I am willing to spend a little more money on (eyeshadow primer is one – I’ve never had as much luck with cheaper versions of the UD Primer Potion; foundation is another, since the drugstore ones have started breaking me out), but my favorite shampoo is the OGX (a drugstore/Target brand, not sure if you can find it) and I am all about those 1.29 rolls of cotton rounds from Target.

    • I haven’t tried any mascaras from elf – I think I’ve always been a snob and assumed they’d be no good, but obviously that’s the kind of thinking I’m trying to stop!

      We have OGX here and I love it! The coconut milk one is my favourite.

      • I picked it up in an emergency one day – had a client meeting and had forgotten to put on eye-makeup, so grabbed a NYX eyeliner and this elf mascara, and I was so ridiculously pleasantly surprised by the mascara and how much I love the wand.

        Right now the OGX caffeine shampoo and conditioner is my jam, it may be placebo but it seemed to help a few months ago when I was experiencing stress-related fallout.

        • I’m not sure if we have the caffeine range here but I’ll keep an eye out for it – it sounds like something I could do with, actually!

  • This is a really interesting post and I bet that working for a brand opened your eyes to mark ups!! I’m going to save this post and reference it in the future when I’m about to splash out 😉

    I must say though I’ve never understood why people spend lots of cotton wool pads…

    The Makeup Directory

    • Thanks Sally! This is only the tip of the iceberg really… I’ve barely touched on colour cosmetics! I might save that for when I’m next feeling ranty…

  • Laura

    I love expensive skincare! When ever I use more highend skincare I see the difference how my skin feels and looks, so for me its worth it x

    Pink Frenzy

  • UntitledMandyMooreProject

    I love this. It’s a nice reminder that we don’t NEED all this new stuff that’s being sold to us every day but I also appreciate the acknowledgement that while some stuff is definitely worth your money, other stuff is just not. I decided a couple of years ago that it’s just not worth spending a bunch of money on cleanser or shampoo because they’re just not on you for long enough to do much. Moisturizer, sure! But a cleanser is getting rinsed off in less than 2 minutes. That said, I almost talked myself into buying the Bumble and Bumble surf shampoo the other day before I remembered that’s insane.

    • UntitledMandyMooreProject

      Oh and I WAS using an expensive balm cleanser, which I loved, but I ran out and I bought the Trader Joe’s cleansing oil for US $7 and you know what, it’s fine. I bought a Paula’s Choice cleanser which was on the upper end of what I’m willing to spend on cleansers (US$18) and when I really think about it, IS IT making a huge difference over the CeraVe I was using? Probably not. Although it does remove makeup better, that CeraVe hydrating cleanser is great but it does not remove makeup whatsoever.

    • Even though I try to stick by what I’ve written in this post, it’s so easy to talk yourself into buying needlessly expensive things! Well, the brand’s marketing does most of the work… it stresses me out how well-marketed-to we are in the current digital/beauty climate!

  • I couldn’t agree more with what you’re saying. I always, I can’t even recall, owning any high-end mascaras before since they need to be thrown out in 3 months anyways, and this is a must for me since I’m prone to getting styes when I don’t (tmi I know). I love that you mentioned The Ordinary since I love them to death! They’re so affordable and actually work wonders on my acne prone skin <3


  • punkdinosaur

    I love you. Keep it real.