Gone are the days of huddling with your teen pals over the 99-cent Wet-N-Wild lipsticks in the drugstore. One thing you learn as you grow out of epic hair-and-makeup experimentation and resulting mistakes is that ageless beauty means ensuring that all of the products you use on your skin and hair are high-quality and nourishing. Unfortunately, the best products can also starve a wallet. Fortunately, there are some tricks to get the top brands for a steal.
There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of advertising for this cult-fave hair line — it’s the same reason you don’t see cocaine dealers taking out billboards to pitch blow to addicts. Once you try this luxury French brand, usually on a salon visit where the stylist knows you’ll get hooked, you’re blown away by the lustrous, supermodel results. It’s an especially valuable weapon in the haircare arsenal for those who have long hair and want to keep it shiny, ultrasoft and full of body.
- ChromaRiche or Nutrive shampoo and conditioning masques
- Thermique blow-dry creams, especially the recently introduced Keratine Thermique
- Fibre Architecte, a serum that when used with a flat-iron defies Mid-Atlantic humidity
- Materialiste, a new spray gel for bulking up hair volume that makes blowouts big and super-soft
- The Gommage, a pre-shampoo exfoliant for your hair and scalp that is simply amazing
- Lacque Noir hairspray, super-strong hold with zero stiffness or stickiness
First of all, beware the discount sites offering cut-rate Kerastase. It’s only supposed to be sold by salons, and though authentic products are sold in some other places you could encounter quality issues ranging from knock-offs to diluted products. I’ve also seen discount Kerastase products offered in antique packaging or a product line that was discontinued years ago. That being said, recently discontinued products or ones that got a company facelift can sometimes be found at reputable retailers such as Nordstrom Rack or RueLaLa.
I’ve found the best way to get these coveted products without getting scalped is buying directly from the company. Sign up at Kerastase-USA.com, and you’ll get three free samples with each order (hoard these for traveling). There’s always a special promotion going on such as free travel sizes, gift sets, free shipping or discounts off your entire order. You get an extra discount off discontinued products, which is great unless you really fall in love with one of them. And check out Goodsearch before you check out: over the summer, I scored several free full-size products with random promo codes off this coupon site.
There’s something so ahhhhh about this Scandinavian line of facial creams, cleansers, eye potions, serums and masques. Ole has been treating the sun-soaked skin of Angelenos at his Southern California spa for decades with natural formulations. I didn’t begin using the products until after I moved from L.A. to D.C., and love that there’s a regimen for the steamy icky summers and the coldest winters. I also hate any beauty product that smells musky, so the naturally fruity scents of Ole’s products are especially refreshing.
- Ultimate Lift Eye Creme, like a cooling shot of cucumber for tired eyes in the morning
- Sheer Transformation, the ultimate moisturizer that’s lightweight and incredibly quenching at the same time
- Truth Serum Collagen Booster, like giving your skin a drink of orange juice without the stickiness
- Aloe Vera Deep Cleanser, can banish breakouts fast
- Walnut Complexion Scrub, for instantly smooth skin
- Lemon Strip Flash Peel, a 10-minute facial that does its job
One of the great things about this line is the range of value sets in full sizes or deluxe minis. The deluxe minis last for a good amount of time, and also give you the opportunity to try new products without a full commitment. Sephora sells some of these sets and will sometimes throw them in the online clearance section, but to get the full range shop directly from OleHenriksen.com. Here, you get three free samples with each order — and stored in a ziploc, a sample of eye serum goes a long way — as well as special offers. There’s usually a promotion going on such as complimentary shipping or deluxe minis, but hold out for the Fourth of July and Black Friday for the big bonanza: a gift bag with $100 worth of products, free with a $50 purchase.
Discount stores such as TJ Maxx sometimes get Ole products, but buyer beware. I bought a jar of Invigorating Night Treatment at TJ Maxx once, and something about it was just off. I’ve also seen products there that haven’t been part of the Ole line for a while, so age is probably an issue here.
The perfectly chic makeup wardrobe just isn’t complete without NARS. And it’s not just because of the kitsch (or kink) factor of its best-selling blush shade, Orgasm (because it gives you that flush — you get it). If I’m in Sephora and checking out new products and colors, I gravitate to Nars first. It’s like a candyland of sophisticated, provocative colors in muted black packaging, and even though pricey some of the products have exceptional longevity — the blush is so pigmented (yet foolproof, really) that you’ll be working off a pan for a long time.
- Blush, which as of this writing comes in 31 shades (not counting the dual-blush compacts)
- The Multiple, a creamy stick for cheeks, eyes and lips
- Dual-Intensity Eyeshadow in Pasiphae – yes, they make other colors, but this intriguing “shimmering peacock burgundy” duochrome is quite simply the best eyeshadow shade ever, at least for my green eyes
- Velvet Gloss Lip Pencils, which won’t leave you reaching for a gloss topcoat
- Larger Than Life Long-Wear Eyeliner in Via Veneto, a smooth black formula with built-in sharpener in the base
- Lip Gloss, which I’m glad I can finally recommend because they recently reformulated and now the quality of the gloss is as good as the shades
NARS is one of those brands that doesn’t go on sale much because they don’t need to. You can occasionally find NARS at Nordstrom Rack, though not in the bulk quantities like Stila holiday sets that land at the discount retailer. Sephora has become quite good at including NARS products in their frequent-buyer perks and in their discounted collections of best-selling products. Last year the birthday perk was a pair of NARS lip pencils; for some reason, Sephora let me have two birthdays so I scored an extra set.
Buying directly from NARS, though, you can land killer free gifts like a free mini blush, eyeliner or lip gloss. Be sure to sign up for email to get promo codes for the latest specials.
I remember when Urban Decay cosmetics had so much glitter there would be fallout all over your clothes by the end of the night. The brand has grown up along with its devotees, and yet still feels like playtime with palettes and rainbow-hued sets that make a beauty junkie giddy. The shades still have the gritty urban names, a nice contrast to other makeup lines that seem to consult a map of the Caribbean to name their colors.
- Eyeshadow – their Vice 4 palette is probably one of the best range of shades I’ve seen in this exceptional, blendable formula
- Eyeshadow Primer Potion, which you slick onto your lids before the shadow to make it stay all day (even comes in an anti-aging formula)
- 24/7 Glide-on Eye Pencil, which comes in an impressive range of shades in a no-tug, stay-put formula
- All-Nighter Makeup Setting Spray, weightless and miraculous
Urban Decay does end up in the Sephora online clearance bin fairly often as new palettes are rotated in and older products are rotated out. Sometimes you can find big batches of Urban Decay at Nordstrom Rack, such as a nice-size cache of primer potion I recently saw at my local location — just because they’d changed to a different style of packaging. And discounted products can be found in the sale section at Urban Decay’s website. Sign up for emails to get a head’s up on their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, which last year included some half-price products.
This apothecary-style brand — since 1851, as the packaging always reminds us — is for the girls and the guys. While they frequently introduce new formulations, the classics remain some of the best products at Kiehl’s.
- Lip Balm, unscented or in flavors such as mango, mint and cranberry. A true can’t-live-without.
- Creme de Corps, probably the best body lotion out there in terms of hydration and non-greasy feeling
- Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado, which feels oh-so-good
- Over-Night Biological Peel, which you smooth on, go to sleep and wake up refreshed
- Ultra Facial Moisturizer SPF 30, which isn’t thick under makeup like some moisturizers with sun protection
- Bath and Shower Liquid Body Cleanser in Grapefruit, which comes in other scents but why bother when grapefruit is so refreshing
When I want some lip balm, I first go to Nordstrom.com, which has free shipping on any size order. They offer three free samples with any beauty purchase. Sometimes the samples are really good, like travel-size mascaras and vials of perfume. That way you’re paying regular price for a lip balm, but also getting a free high-end mascara that will last about two months.
Kiehls is a good direct-buy spot, too, with free samples of your choice on every order. Discounts on your total purchase are frequently offered and you can rack up frequent buyer points to cash in. Last year for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Kiehls.com offered free shipping with any order and between 3-4 deluxe minis with each purchase. Needless to say, I got a lot of single lip balms and a lot of travel sized Creme de Corps and other freebies.
I used to think Philosophy shower gels were the bathtime standard until Nordstrom offered big discounts on Whish body washes during their anniversary sale. This stuff is ultra-creamy with shea butter, aloe and raspberry butter, and leaves you stepping out of the shower with no need for lotion. All-natural ingredients leave your skin looking and feeling delish.
- Bath & Body Gel, a non-drying body wash in scents like key lime, blueberry and orange cream
- Body Butter, a super rich and creamy treatment that works especially great on hands and feet
- Shave Crave, a shaving cream that gives your legs the body butter treatment without the extra step
Watch Nordstrom for value sizes — the anniversary sale discount on a jumbo size of the body butter was huge. To get the full range of products, shop directly from Whish. You’ll get 10 percent off your first purchase if you sign up for emails, and holiday gifts sets give you an opportunity to try the products and special-edition scents.
Make Up For Ever
This professional line has a wide range of products that you might never use, but if you’re ever in front of a camera you’ll be glad to know they exist. I’m not sure I’ve forgiven them yet for discontinuing the Lab Shine Lip Gloss; I’m using my back-ups sparingly as it was the perfect, non-sticky moisturizing gloss. But forgiveness comes easier once I dip into some of Make Up For Ever’s other standouts.
- Step 1 Skin Equalizer, which used to be HD Primer but now comes in a range of formulations for different skin types and needs
- Rogue Artist Intense lipstick, a perfectly smooth, moisturizing formula in tons of highly pigmented shades
- Aqua Eyes, a creamy eyeliner that comes in much more than basic black
- HD Microfinish Powder, a fine, white finishing powder that works on every skin tone without the powdery look
Make Up For Ever doesn’t sell to the public online, though you can browse through their website for product information. There are a handful of boutiques nationwide. Thankfully, they’ve started to offer more value kits at Sephora. (Note that Sephora stores usually don’t stock the full range of shades in this extensive line because they don’t have the room, so you may have to buy online.) MUFE products are also often featured in the Sephora frequent-buyer perks and even wind up in the online clearance from time to time, especially after the holidays when they’re liquidating leftover gift sets. I got some kits half-price after Christmas last year.
Waiting for a sale on Dior is like waiting for the Bentley dealership to have a sign-and-drive event. The products are pricey, but they do steal the show when it comes to mascara and an ingenious nail topper.
- Nail Glow, a little bottle that goes a long way with a simple slick on bare nails for a classy, shiny look (hard to explain, but it’s the non-manicure manicure)
- Diorshow Blackout Mascara – it’s really black, it’s really perfect, sleek without globs
- Diorshow Maximizer Lash Plumping Serum, a primer for your mascara that keeps smudges or flaking at bay
- Diorshow Brow Styler, with a pencil on one end and a brush on the other — this comes in a universal shade, and it’s really amazing that it is truly universal considering all the shades of brows in the world
When you see a Dior deal, seize it. At times, Sephora has offered sets near the checkout with two travel-size Dior mascaras at a discount — a good deal because by the time you use one up, you should be switching to a new tube of mascara anyway. Nordstrom, Macys, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales have a good range of holiday sets and palettes, some with mascara.