Lately, I’ve been on a beauty kick. I’m blaming my ever-increasing fascination on something I just starting doing this year: sample-hacking.
Yeah, I just made that phrase up.
While I’ve always loved testing out the latest hair, makeup, and skin care products, I’ve also always been afraid of spending money on a product and then hating it. Anything that cost more than $25 and didn’t work out made me feel like I might as well have just flushed my money down the toilet.
But then I discovered that Ulta and Sephora both have a variety of sample/mini/travel-sized products that you can check out relatively inexpensively, and it’s changed my beauty game. Sephora even has an awesome subscription box (sort of like Birchbox; my aunt who’s cooler than I am introduced me to it) that’s only $10 per month, and so it’s a low-risk, no-guilt, foray into Beauty 101: Adulting Style.
Thanks to sample-hacking, I’ve been able to test out some higher-end products and determine which ones are worth the investment. I’ve also stuck by my tried-and-true drugstore-brand solutions as well.
Here’s a roundup of all the awesome products that I promise will change your life:
- Ouai Dry Shampoo Foam – Not to be dramatic, but I’ve tried all the dry shampoos, and I would stake my life on this one. It works for all hair types (none of that white streaky dust for my non-blonde friends), it doesn’t leave behind buildup, and because it’s foam-based, it actually kind of soaks up oil while adding texture. I’ve gone as long as four days and three workouts before needing to wash my hair. (Full disclosure: by the fourth day I was definitely rocking a messy bun, but it’s good to know you can push the limits of a blowout if needed.) It also worked wonderfully on my very fine/thin hair . . . didn’t weigh it down at all!
- Ouai Volume Spray – I’m genuinely obsessed with all of Ouai’s products and haven’t tried a product of theirs that I don’t LOVE, but this my absolute favorite. Spray this stuff in before blowdrying and your hair will have volume and bounce without any of the stickiness or dryness other products cause. You seriously can’t tell you even have anything in your hair. It’s like magic, and it’s one of only a handful of products on here that I use almost everyday. The bottle also lasts a while, so it’s not a bad investment.
- Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray – My other go-to dry shampoo/volume and texture solution is by Oribe. I bought a bottle of this a couple years ago and use it intermittently. It’s lasted forever and gives my stick-straight hair instant texture and body. I also use it before curling my hair to help it hold.
- It’s A 10 Miracle Leave-In Lite – Sometimes, especially in the winter, my hair gets frizzy and tangled. A few spritzes of this stuff before drying my hair helps with both (especially the tangles!). It does 10 different things (hence the name) all for the price of one. I prefer the “lite” version because I’ve found the standard option sometimes makes my hair greasier than normal.
- IGK “Mistress” Hydrating Hair Balm – This is the other hair product that I ADORE. I just discovered it a couple months ago, and now I use it everyday and don’t know how I ever survived without it. I put a bit in my still-wet hair and then blow, towel, or air dry. It keeps my hair soft, shiny, and frizz-free, and if I need to restyle (or recover from a commute with the radio up and the windows down), I just add a bit more. It’s never weighed my hair down and in fact even seems to somehow add volume. This is another product that you can easily stretch over a couple months, even if you’re using it daily, like me. It’s probably my favorite hair product of all-time.
- HASK Superfruit Deep Conditioner – This is my favorite hair mask, and I maybe use it once a week. A single packet is super cheap and lasts me about two months. It’s especially great at making your hair shiny.
- MAC Strobe Cream – Another new discovery and already something I’ve worked into my (almost) everyday routine! This baby is a moisturizer, highlighter, and blush all rolled into one. I’m SUPER pick about moisturizers because I break out really easily, and because I hate that greasy feeling that some lotions cause. This one is so lightweight, and adds a super soft shine to your skin, giving you a glow that seems all-natural and even translates to that dreaded group pic. It also has the tiniest bit of pinky-peach tint to it, so it’s perfect for a super-pale gal like me.
- Remembrandt Whitening Toothpaste – I prefer red wine and drink coffee ALL THE TIME. This toothpaste makes it look like I don’t, at all. It’s miraculous and wayyyy cheaper than using whitening strips.
- Ulta Juice Infused Lip Oil – Another everyday item! This stuff beats chapstick one-thousand times over and is the only reason my lips survived winter. You can get tinted version but I just have a clear one (it smells amazing – like coconut!) and religiously apply it before I go to bed at night.
- Essence Get BIG! Mascara – The best mascara I’ve ever used. My BFF Megan turned me onto this product and the crazy thing is that it’s also the cheapest mascara I’ve ever used! It’s waterproof, gives you great volume and length, is very flexible (i.e. you can touch it up before drinks with the girls and the extra layers won’t get clumpy and gross), and it’s never, ever failed me.
- Too Faced Melted Matte – After trying what felt like a million lipsticks over the years in an attempt to find one that would 1) stay on all night, even throughout a multiple-course meal; 2) not dry out my lips and make them flaky; and 3) come in a variety of colors, from everyday to dramatic, this is the real deal. It’s more expensive than I would typically spend on a lip color, but it LASTS! My favorite color is Sell Out, which I swear looks good on everyone. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, Maybelline SuperStay 24 Liquid Lipstick actually stays on even longer, I’ve just always found that it dries my lips out. But, for a big night out or infrequent use, it’s not a bad option.
- Urban Decay All-Nighter Makeup Setting Spray – It’s REALLY rare that I use this, but when I do, it’s awesome. If you have to wear a full face of makeup for something (like if you’re in a wedding or at a gala), spritz some on and you won’t need any touch-ups, all night (or day!) long. I never actually believed that this stuff worked, but it DOES! Pro Tip: If you’re going to be soaking up some sunshine, Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist is a great alternative, because it’s got SPF 50 which will protect your makeup and your skin!
- Korres Greek Yoghurt Foaming Cream Cleanser – Since I don’t wear foundation and my everyday makeup routine is very minimal, I typically just wash my face with water at the end of the night. But, if I have to wash-and-go post workout or something, I love to use this to get my face really clean. It’s great for all skin types, nourishes as it refreshes, and helps reduce redness. It also leaves your skin crazy soft.
- Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque – I’ve actually written a whole other post about my favorite inexpensive products for acne-prone skin, but this one isn’t on there because it’s a relatively new discovery. For some reason that I can’t figure out, this super-cheap face mask that I’ve only ever found on Amazon is THE BEST THING for getting rid of zits. IDK, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
- Philosophy Purity Made Simple Pore Extractor mask – I read an article recently about how pore strips actually aren’t great for you (still not sure if I agree, I use them on occasion without issue), and then promptly received this in a Sephora sample box. It’s an exfoliating face mask complete with purifying white clay and salicylic acid, and I’ve seen it banish blackheads after a single use, no exaggeration. It also smells divine.
- First Aid Beauty Hello FAB Ginger & Turmeric Vitamin C Jelly Mask – This mask revives your skin and combats dullness, redness, and dryness. After using it my skin is hands-down the softest it’s ever felt. If you’re really in a #TreatYoSelf mode, spring for Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial. (Points for the name “Drunk Elephant” alone, right?!). I was lucky enough to get a sample of this insanely expensive stuff and I now understand why people trade their firstborn child for it. Use it sparingly, once a week . . . it’s basically a spa-worthy facial in a bottle.
- Anastasia Beverly Hills precision tweezers – Sort of a weird thing to add to this list, especially because they’re stupidly expensive for tweezers (!!!) but I SWEAR TO YOU . . . you will never deal with your eyebrows the same way again. After YEARSSSS of never being able to get the smaller, finer, elusive eyebrow hairs, these tweezers have cut my tweezing time at least in half. They’re incredible. You see a stray hair and POOF! your tweezers magically grab it.
- Cremo shaving cream – You can find this stuff at Walmart. It’s made in America (hooray!) and will give you the smoothest shave of your life. It will also last you months and months and months.
- It’s A Spa World After All sugar scrub – My aforementioned BFF Megan is so talented that she created her own line of hand-crafted spa products, and they are DISNEY INSPIRED! They’re super cute but more importantly, they WORK WONDERS! I’ve spent years trying to find a good body scrub that doesn’t feel oily or sticky, and this one is the one. She has seasonal scents as well as classics, and my favorite is the Pineapple Swirl because it smells SO GOOD. I use this everyday!
- It’s A Spa World After All body butter – My other fave from Megan’s shop (though I’m also a sucker for her bath bombs) is her body butter. Again, smells great, cleverly named and packaged, all-natural ingredients, and crazy effective!
Hopefully some of these items shake up your beauty routine a bit! I’ve linked where possible to the travel-size versions of products so that you can test them out sample-hacking style. I definitely don’t use all of these in one day, one week, or even one month, (my daily hair/makeup routine is maybe 10 minutes, tops!) but it’s nice to have options!
If I missed something you can’t live without, please let me know! I love discovering new products and am always on the lookout for new favorites.