It’s no secret that beauty editors get a lot of mail—think Santa Claus on December 1st or former Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron in 1974 amounts. These packages of products arrive on a daily basis, ready to be sniffed, swiped, and smeared. As circumstantial as this degree of access (and excess) may be, it is also useful when it comes to making thoroughly vetted recommendations.
Not only has experimenting with lots of different products taught me that expense does not necessarily beget value, it has also introduced me to some incredible hidden gems–i.e. products I might have overlooked if they hadn’t literally landed on my desk. Since hype isn’t the only good metric for judging a beauty product, and can actually be misleading on occasion, I asked my fellow beauty professionals to tell me about their underrated favorites, too.
Scroll down for a roundup of unsung beauty heroes that deserve more credit than they typically get. I’ll go first!
The $5 Mascara That Will Give You Fawn-Like Lashes & the Nipple Cream You Can Use Everywhere
Recommended by: Me, Sable Yong!
The Unsung Hero: Essence Cosmetics Lash Princess Mascara
Why It’s Underrated: For $5, this mascara does it all—and by “it all” I mean make your lashes look like they nearly doubled in length in a matter of swipes. I have short, downward-angled lashes that would rather fulfill their biological purpose of blocking eyeball debris than ensnaring the amorous attention of men (or, you know, whoever) while standing at attention in curvaceous kickline formation. I recently said au revoir to regular lash extensions, and this mascara is honestly the only thing getting me through the breakup.
The Unsung Hero: Lansinoh HPA Lanolin Minis
Why It’s Underrated: Technically, this is nipple cream for nursing mothers, and while I’m very confident in its ability to sooth a post-meal areola, it’s also an excellent lip balm. It’s a thick, clear balm that’s made of 100% lanolin, which really does the job of soothing chapped lips and chapped noses (during cold season after being tissue-ravaged), flaky skin patches, or blisters on your heels. It also makes a great brow groomer, eye gloss, wet-look highlighter, and hair fly-away dampener—and can serve as an adhesive when sticking gems or any sort of cosmetic embellishment on your face. I like the mini pack because it comes with tiny tubes you can store in different places or split the pack with friends, like friendship balms. Cute.
The Japanese Cotton Buds That Were Made for Glitter Addicts and a Rosewater Mist You’ll Want to Spritz Over Your Entire Body
Recommended by: Robin Black, Makeup Artist and Founder of Beauty Is Boring
The Unsung Hero: Daiso Japan Sticky Head Cotton Buds
Why It’s Underrated: These are essentially Q-tips with one sticky end that are perfect for removing loose bits of glitter and eyeshadow without ruining your base makeup. I also lightly tap the tips of people’s eyelashes with them to remove any fallout from shadow prior to applying mascara. They come individually wrapped so you can slip a few in your clutch for touch-ups throughout the evening.
The Unsung Hero: Heritage Rose Petals Rosewater
Why It’s Underrated: This humbly priced rosewater smells delicious and is perfect as a toner for sensitive skin or setting makeup. I keep a spare bottle in the fridge during the hotter months for a refreshing spritz.
The Gentle Cleanser That’s a Life Saver for Super Sensitive Skin
Recommended by: Rio Viera-Newton, Beauty Writer at The Strategist
The Unsung Hero: Dr. Loretta Gentle Hydrating Cleanser
Why It’s Underrated: I have the most sensitive, temperamental skin—everything dries and/or breaks me out. This cleanser has this really interesting, gelatinous watery texture that’s ultra gentle and hydrating but is still effective at removing dirt or makeup. I found out that this specific product was formulated with “post-procedure skin” in mind—so if you were to get a really aggressive laser treatment and had red and raw skin, you could still use this cleanser. For me, sensitivity isn’t just a treatment-specific issue, it’s an everyday thing, so I’m insanely grateful for this product. I think there needs to be more of a cult following behind it.
The Cotton Squares You’ll Never Want to Leave Home Without
Recommended by: Karina Hoshikawa, Beauty & Market Writer at Refinery29
The Unsung Hero: Muji Large Cut Cotton Squares
Why It’s Underrated: It may seem strange to get excited over something like cotton squares, but if you’re like me, they come in handy for a wide variety of things, including but not limited to applying P50, gently (no tugging! ever!) removing makeup, and taking off nail polish. Muji’s unbleached cotton squares come in literally the largest pack I’ve ever seen sold, but are still super reasonable at just $6. I used to bring a pack home with me whenever I’d visit my family in Japan, but luckily, Muji has fully set up shop here in NYC. They’re soft yet durable (i.e. won’t disintegrate at the first contact with liquid), making them a total upgrade from drugstore generics. [Editor’s note: Cotton is a natural fiber and is biodegradable, but if you’re looking to cut down on waste, I also love these machine washable, reusable cotton pads by Daily Concepts.]
The Completely Free Curl Secret and a Product That Makes It Even Better
Recommended by: Lauren Valenti, Senior Beauty Editor at Vogue
The Unsung Heros: Water… and Algues et Fleurs Leave-In Curl Enhancing Spray
Why They’re Underrated: Given the industry I’m in, I often have curly-haired women asking me about what I use in my hair and my default answer is always really annoying: water. I also take really good care of it: to start, I stay heat-free, do deep treatment masks, and get regular trims as much as possible to preserve the integrity of my curl pattern. After I wash my hair, I tend to be a styling product minimalist, applying a lightweight curl cream from roots to ends and letting it air dry. Then, in the days that follow, I use water—either drenching my hair in the shower or using a spray water bottle—to totally reset my curls. It’s the only way to keep my spirals defined and springy between washes. It’s easy and free! If I need a little extra reinforcement, I mist and scrunch my damp hair with Leonor Greyl’s Algues et Fleurs Leave-In Curl Enhancing Spray, which I also think is underrated. It’s pricey, but I can’t get enough of the old-timey French scent and a little goes a long way to help me coax my curls back to life.
The Bounciest Face Cream and a Foundation Stick That Redeems Foundation Sticks
Recommended by: Jessica Matlin, Beauty Director of Harper’s Bazaar
The Unsung Hero: Kiehl’s Super Multi-Corrective Cream
Why It’s Underrated: I’ve been using this cream since it debuted in 2013. I can honestly say that with consistent use, it improved my skin’s texture and also gave it more “bounce.” (The formula is also supposed to have a firming effect, something I am more grateful for today than when it launched!) I have to admit, whenever I stray to try out other creams—it’s just part of my job—I inevitably come back to this one within a few days. I find few creams are as effective.
The Unsung Hero: Kristofer Buckle Triplicity Foundation Stick
Why It’s Underrated: I went off foundation sticks ages ago (I can’t with that dry, pasty application), but Kristofer Buckle’s version is the exception. It’s called Triplicity because it has a priming “core” at its center (helping to smooth lines and wrinkles), offers buildable coverage, and—my favorite—imparts a blurring effect. You know what else is nice? It’s only $22, which makes me happy to recommend it to people without feeling like a jerk.
The Oils That Will Transform Your Hair While You Sleep
Recommended by: Megan O’Neill, Senior Beauty Editor at Goop
Why They’re Underrated: Hair oil is the difference between me looking like a street urchin and someone who actually takes time to scrape themselves together each morning; it makes such an enormous difference in smoothing and softening my natural texture and boosting shine. Hair oil is not for absolutely everyone—I have friends with finer textures who don’t go for it because it weighs their hair down—but it’s a miracle for curly, course, or particularly abundant hair. Plus, I love the idea of anointing my head with all those nourishing, gorgeous-smelling botanicals. Hair oil is pure, natural goodness! I smooth a few drops in every night before bed, then twist my sections up into little braids. It’s a lovely wind-down ritual and gives me the best crinkly, wayward texture in the morning.
The Cleansing Bar That’s the Perfect Antidote to Body Acne
Recommended by: Tynan Buck, Freelance Beauty Writer
The Unsung Hero: Vanicream Cleansing Bar
Why It’s Underrated: Vanicream Cleansing Bar is the only thing that’s really changed the game for me since I started using it. I know, bar soap doesn’t seem like a beauty product. But I’m a beauty writer—everything is beauty. Growing up, I never struggled with acne, I never really even broke out, save for one gnarly zit here and there. But then I turned 30 and suddenly, I had… body acne. BACK-NE. And all sorts of it! Big, cystic pimples, clusters of small breakouts, scatters of red speckles that seem to live under my skin. All of it. I was insecure and, you know, in those moments where I was shirtless in front of someone, or hell, even just wearing a tank top in the summer heat, I felt vulnerable. Anyway, I started Curology, which links you up with a dermatologist through their app. Very 2019. I mentioned my body acne problem to her and she gave me a few solutions to explore, one of them being Vanicream Cleansing Bar. I hate bar soap, but I was willing to give it a try and I have to say it cleared my skin up in a measurable way, and it didn’t take long to do so. I guess it works by addressing all of the causes of body acne as well as killing the fungus living below the skin that creates all of the red blotchy shit that doesn’t even reach the surface. My back is much clearer now and I’m so, so happy. It’s not expensive, you don’t need a prescription, you can buy it online, and it’s cruelty-free, which is important to me.