Okay so let’s start with a disclaimer: When I describe beauty products I can’t live without, I’m being a bit hyperbolic. Do they fall under food? No. Clothing? No. Shelter? No, unless we’re talking sunscreen should I ever be stranded on a tropical island. So of course I could live without these beauty products. However do I prefer having them in my life rather than alternatives? Heck yeah.
I have tried a whole lot of beauty products over the course of my life — trials (and mistakes) from department store beauty counters, gifts in goodie bags, hand-me downs from friends who somehow had extras, samples from brands for review consideration, samples from brands that came free with purchase. It’s all given me a world of perspective about those products I really, really like, and where it’s worthwhile for me to splurge.
For me, the real tests of a must-have product are whether I reach for it first even when there’s an alternative nearby; whether I get a little anxious when I realize I’ve run out; and whether I get a lot anxious thinking about the product being discontinued or unavailable. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, and all that.
(Sorry, Joni Mitchell. I know this is like the total opposite of what your song lyrics were about.)
So a $45 mascara? Eh…probably not an essential for me. Lipsticks? I’m a little slutty with lip color and can swap one for another pretty easily. But these seven products I’ve chosen here? Oof.
I know they’re indulgent, and not everyone out there is a beauty junkie. But I do consider them all truly worthwhile products if you’re the type who’s willing to spend a bit more on a top-of-the-line beauty splurge as long as you know it won’t end up half-used in the back of the medicine cabinet.
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The first foundation I really fell in love with as an adult was discontinued (thanks, Chanel!) and they never quite made anything that worked as well for me after that. Until I found a Mac product I loved and then…yep. Gone. So it took me years and years of looking until I found Delilah. Well, in part because it’s a totally new brand and never existed before.
As I said in my Delilah cosmetics review last year after receiving products for trial, this is the stuff you cry about when you imagine running out. It goes on flawlessly, your skin looks gorgeous without looking like you’ve got on anchorwoman pancake, and honestly, every single friend I’ve recommended it to since then has absolutely become a convert. For extra-awesome results, I couple the foundation with the Delilah Under Wear Foundation Primer, and I never even used a primer before, let alone discovered one I really like using every day.
This is beauty addiction product #1 and if I had to sacrifice any of my favorite beauty products, Delilah’s Foundation would be last. (Foundation $55, 38ml; Primer $45)
I really adore the fine line I can get with a good liquid eyeliner pen like the one from Delilah or Chanel (Kristen’s own cool pick of the week on a recent Spawned episode). But I find that if I can only pick one, it’s traditional eyeliner pencil that I never want to leave home without. It helps me get the perfect smudge without trying to look like I’m a 21 escapee from a Katy Perry video. Plus, the Stormy Grey is a beautiful, subtle alternative to black, though the Black Navy is striking too. I can use it for daytime, or layer it on more thickly for a nighttime look making it a strong cosmetic kit essential. ($25)
I also happen to love the Laura Mercier Smudge Brush with it — it was kind of pushed on me by a makeup artist at a counter who claimed she was more “successful” with it than when she used finger for blending. Now I see she was right. Plus, unlike the eye pencil, you never have to replace the brush. ($24)
As a pretty low-maintenance beauty routine kind of gal (believe it or not), I never thought I’d “love” a scrub, let alone come to see one as an essential beauty product. I discovered this one last year when Kristen dragged me into the West Village Jo Malone boutique and the salesperson suggested we try out. Turns out — huge score! The scrub is gentle and conditioning, the scent is mild, and it exfoliates thanks to teeny fragments of walnut husks, meaning it isn’t destroying the planet like scrubs that use synthetic plastic microbeads. I use it on my legs to exfoliate before I shave (what a difference!) and on my face once or twice a week in the shower. And then wow, moisturizer and foundations go on just so much more evenly plus my skin feels terrific. ($55, 7 oz)
This is one of those multi-purpose cosmetics that’s technically called an eyeshadow, but it’s perfect for brows in particular, since it’s soft, matte, and even. Considering I’ve alway preached that groomed brows are the key to looking polished even with no other makeup on, if I had a single makeup item in my kit this would be it. And yes, it’s a shadow too; so while I don’t tend to wear eyeshadow much day to day, I can swab a brush in a pinch, should I need to heavy-up my makeup for a photoshoot or an impromptu dinner. So, hooray for multi-purpose products! And it’s not even that much of a splurge, considering this is another one that lasts me nearly two years. Which is definitely longer than 5 lattes last me.
PS I have fairly dark hair and the Blonde color is perfect for me. So don’t be thrown off by the name. ($25)
PPS Of course, a brow shadow is only as good as the brush that applies it and I have yet to find one better than the one from Chantecaille. While it’s technically called an eyeliner brush, it’s flat and perfectly angled to get your brows just how you want them. It even saved me once when an overeager waxer did some really frightening things to my eyebrows. Let’s just say most bikini waxers leave more of a landing strip than what I had above my eyes that month. ($28)
When I received this as a very, very generous gift I was like hm…an oil? I’d always used creams as moisturizers. Turns out this stuff is like liquid heaven, with the most delicious herbal scent and silky, non-greasy feel. When the scales of winter hit my skin, I slather on a few drops overnight and see a huge difference by morning. It also makes for really indulgent massage oil. I don’t use it every day, and I have gone through about one-third of the 125ml bottle in the past year. So like these other products, it’s less of a splurge than it seems.
6. Chantecaille Just Skin Tinted Moisturizer and Sunscreen SPF 15
Perhaps it seems a little weird to have two foundations on the list, but I can’t choose between them! I’m like Allie Sheedy in St. Elmo’s Fire. Only I’m choosing both because, duh. Why walk away from two good things? (What was wrong with you, Allie?) Chantecaille’s tinted moisturizer with a non-toxic mineral sunscreen is my go-to during those summer months, when I’m lighter on the makeup but still want SPF. It is the most perfect tinted moisturizer I’ve ever tried, with a translucent look that gives just enough coverage, if you don’t have the type of skin that requires a lot. Plus I love the brand overall — I’ve never tried a bad product from them and I love everything they stand for. ($69, 1.7 oz)
I grappled with adding this one to the list since I admittedly don’t always use concealer. But then, I really should — and I have the Instagram photos to prove it. So I’m going with Delilah’s concealer pencil, because it’s just so amazing, it’s replaced Touche Éclat in my makeup bag after years of use. That’s saying something. It gets top marks from me because it’s creamy but not greasy, the color is just perfect for me (I use Barley) and I really really adore the pencil form factor. It’s expensive for sure but will last me for years. Because I suck at throwing out makeup. ($42)
And…a note about Creme de La Mer
I felt I had to mention Creme de La Mer, because I know so many women swear by it, and I’m asked all the time whether I’d recommend it. My grandmother evidently used it way back in the day, and my mother did too. But the truth is, I’d never tried it. Until recently. Thanks to a teeny little trial packet of it that came with a Nordstrom order. Uh, wow.
In my brief experience, I found it beyond phenomenal for dry (ahem or aging) skin in the winter. After one use my mother even asked what I was doing differently with my skin. So I squeezed the bejeezus out of that little packet for four days and enjoyed it while I could, all the while pretending I was one of those women with a private pilates studio, who uses summer as a verb.
As much as I liked it, for $85 a half-ounce, I just can’t convince myself to take the plunge. (Plus, I prefer moisturizers in pumps or tubes , which feel more hygienic and don’t expose the product to air so quickly.) Even my aesthetician says that when she looks at the ingredient list, she doesn’t believe the price adds up. Still, if any Powerball winners who happen to be reading want to anonymously leave a few jars on my doorstep, I wouldn’t say no; but until then I’m happy enough with other facial moisturizers to pass on this mega-splurge.
And you know, I think I’ll follow up this post with my must-have drugstore beauty products. Because there are so many great budget products out there, and looking and feeling your best is definitely not all about the splurges.