The Unsung Heroes of Drugstore Shopping

There’s something so promising about a deluxe, well-lit 24-hour drugstore. The possibilities seem endless, the product selection immense. You may end up spending 60 bucks every visit, but look at all the neat stuff you got! Granted, not every impulse buy is satisfying, but the good ones keep us coming back. These are the products whose discovery, dependability and price point we revel in.

Black Tights
The number of times I’ve darted into a Duane Reade pre-meeting for a pair of black tights because I either snagged mine or forgot to shave is…well, it’s three. But those were three crucial moments, and Duane Reade had my back. Stick to the opaque ones, they’re the darling of the hosiery aisle.

Pilot Rolling Ball Pens
Imagine never having to touch the communal credit card pen at a bodega again. This level of preparedness feels so grownup.

Neutrogena Natural Radiance Bronzer
I’ve used this product everyday, year-round for the past five years. In the winter it prevents me from looking sickly, and in the summer it’s a great accent to my olive skin-tone.  Yes, I play with Guerlain Terracotta every time I pass Sephora, but this is my mainstay.

Scunci Hair Ties
Gone are the days of finding your hair tangled on the metal clip that connects two ends of a red, stretched out, gold-flecked hair tie you found in the back of a drawer somewhere. These hair ties are gentler, more resilient, and all-black for easy coordination, should pig tails come back in style.

Bulk Athletic Socks
High-quality socks can be great for a long run, but then I lose one, and none of my socks match, and they’re surprisingly expensive to replace, and I end up wearing the same dirty ones because I don’t have a washing machine. Enter: bulk low ankle socks. Buy a bag of ten. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

Spin Pins
Want a polished top bun? Spin pins. Want perfect loose waves? Spin pins. Want to put your hair up without crimping it? Spin pins. After a bit of product and while my hair’s still wet, I use two sets of spin pins to make buns at the nape of my neck, pulled tight from the front so it dries straighter there. I spritz the buns with a little texture or surf spray, maybe follow up with some Elnet, and let the magic happen. I often re-do the buns while my hair’s drying, so they waves aren’t too set. The result is everything I’ve always wanted for my hair.

Seche-vite Quick-Dry Top Coat
I heartily believe that any quality of nail polish can look good, provided you use a quick-dry topcoat. This one’s my go-to, and without it I’m incapable of a smudge-free at-home manicure.

Andes Creme de Menthe
For a candy that seems so nostalgic, it’s both surprising and delightful how many drugstores stock them. Buy a pack, throw ‘em in your freezer, forget about them, and be overjoyed when you discover the shiny green box months later while searching frantically for any semblance of a treat.

Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover
When these first came out they had a felt tip, which absorbed whatever stain you were treating, dragged it around, and ruined anything else you tried to treat.  At some point Tide got clever and replaced the tip with a less-porous plastic, turning the product from massively destructive to somewhat magical. We’ve had good results using this on sturdier, washable fabrics. It’s definitely not a substitute for the dry cleaners, though.

Velvet Hangers
The mid-way point between wire hangers from the dry-cleaners, and wooden ones that cost more than my clothes. They’re not thaaat expensive, they’re thin so you’re not giving up closet real estate, and the velvet provides some traction for those pieces that always slip to the closet floor.

Bikini Zone
Shaving’s not my top pick for the bikini line, but in a pinch this will make the whole thing go much smoother. (Pun intended.) I particularly like this product for underarms, though, as I tend to get bumps there post-shaving, as well.

Now it’s your turn to tell us your unsung drugstore heroes, so that they, for once in their lives, can feel very sung. Take it away, Enrique!

— Kate Barnett

Illustrations by Charlotte Fassler & Krista Lewis

  • Isabel

    love this!

  • Heather Funk

    Tide to go! When I worked in tandem with a school psychologist who had lots of meetings to go to, we would sit there and spill coffee all over ourselves and not care AT ALL because I had the magic drawer full of Tide to go.

    Also re: black tights: Get the Hanes or Bare Necessities brands, as opaque as possible–these are actually about as snag-proof as they come, and I can attest as a clumsy person who regularly wears a ring with a marquis-cut stone.

  • Charlotte Fassler

    I fully purchase all of my tights (save for some from Uniqlo– the heat tech ones rule) and socks from the drugstore. A really great life hack.
    I am also a pretty big fan of drugstore mascara. I have gone through phases of just about every mascara but currently I am kickin’ it old school with the old classic Maybelline.

  • Nancy

    Palmer’s cocoa butter in stick form. It fixes er’ythang. One glue-stick-like tube will last for months – assuming I don’t lose it.

    Bulk emery boards. I think a pack of 10 is, like, $1? I know you’re only supposed to use glass files, but sometimes I just need to fix a jagged edge. (Side note: having nail files all over the place helped me quit biting mine 4 years ago.)

    Swedish Fish. Because they remind me of my mom and they are the best.

    • Amelia Diamond

      PALMER’S COCOA BUTTER IN STICK FORM IS MY LIFE. I have maybe 10 that I keep in every single purse!!!

  • Jenna Calderone

    I subscribe to the cat-eye as an every day makeup look, and the best liquid eyeliner I’ve found is L’Oreal Lineur Intense Brush Tip in Carbon Black. The brush tip takes some getting used to, as it’s like a little paint brush rather than a felt tip, but it stays on all day and is so saturated and opaque.

    • Kate Barnett

      YES!!!! when i wore a cat eye that was the only product i could use. why don’t more liquid eyeliners come with a brush instead of felt tip?? such a good call.

  • Chloe

    I love this so much! I’ve missed drugstores a ton since moving back to Europe. To this day every single US trip I’ve made has involved a huge CVS or Walgreens shop!

    Sunscreen in a “glue-stick-like tube” (to quote Nancy)!
    Mini versions of everything!
    Definitely Tide to go and hair ties!
    Oh and best value for money for a European, huge containers of generic ibuprofen!!

    • WhiteLady

      I know Chloe! I always plan a Walgreen’s spree when in the States.
      My essentials:
      – Advil liqui Gel biggest container
      – One a day vitamins also biggest container
      – Hair ties
      – Garnier Fructis dry shampoo (haven’t been able to find it in Europe)
      – Carmex
      – A slow walk through all aisles to pick up lots of random stuff.

      and now I will have to add “tide to go”!

  • Anything from Burt’s Bees because I haven’t had a bad product from Burt’s Bees yet.

  • Leslie

    Softlips lip balm (a billion times better than the over-hyped EOS), Eucerin cream, and generic tea tree oil. These items will solve every beauty problem you ever have.

  • Leslie

    Also: Ikea sells an 8-pack of wooden hangers for $5. Makes your closet look like Anthropologie.

    • Kate Barnett

      good to know! they’re still a bit bulky for my miniature closet, but one day…

  • Dominique

    great post again 🙂


  • Guest

    I’m not even joking… I’m obsessed with the pilot G-2 pen in 0.5. I can’t write with anything else; it makes handwriting look amazing.

  • Oh god, the drugstore. CVS is a 10 minute walk from my campus and during the school year I make the pilgrimage an uncountable number of times per semester. There is nothing so soothing to me as the hum and flicker of the fluorescent lights and the possibilities presented by the myriad of bright and shiny products. I allow myself to pick out whatever I want (whatever! where else is that truly a possibility in life?) and I think that it’s this freedom – working in tandem with the total escapism that is shopping for shiny, new, and cheap shit – that produces such a therapeutic effect. I leave feeling restored, fortified, and usually $30 poorer.

    All of this to say, I’ve accrued some serious drugstore product knowledge. My top 3 recs:
    -L’orèal OleoTherapy Perfecting Oil Essence; it comes in a glass bottle, smells like flowers and happiness (seriously, it smells way too good to be a drugstore hair product), and is in all ways superior to Moroccan Oil, my former hair oil of choice.
    -Weleda Everon lip balm; organicish ingredients, smells like roses, makes your lips feel like silk (no lie)
    -Physicians Formula Solar Powder Bronzer; helped me look like a normal person during my last Tulum holiday – I’d decided that the sun’s rays would under no circumstances touch my face – it doesn’t have glitter (why do most bronzers sparkle?!) and, used in conjunction with a Clarins tanning primer thingy, made my face convincibly browned enough to match my body

    ….annnnd I could keep going (for hours, prob), but I’ll stop myself. Weird implications of consumerism as therapy aside, my drugstore sessions seriously help to keep me sane (and they are, I might add, much cheaper than some habits).

  • Waxelene. It works like Vaseline, but no petroleum.

  • Aubrey Green

    Tide to Go. Seriously. The best thing ever. Amelia, did you get that stain worked out from your sweater?

  • great post

  • Cherylin Clark Blitch

    I recently (somewhat accidentally) discovered the wonder that is the quick-dry top coat. How did I not learn about this before age 29? What have I been doing all this time?! Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Top Coat = miracle in a little red bottle.

  • Brittany Jackson

    Tide to Go all the way, no longer am I doomed to a life of black and navy!

  • Tamara

    the socks…yes!!! along the same note…white undershirts…mini sizes for carry-on luggage…and the cases of small empty containers in which to pour your fancy-a$$ products for curly hair…

  • Morgan

    Pilot G2 Pens yaaaaaas!!

  • Kari

    I love just being in the drugstore so much that I once applied to work at the make-up counter in a Shopper’s Drugmart. I have a degree in geology and had already been successfully working in the field for 3 years. Apparently my rock skills failed to impress 🙁 I would have given it all up for them!! I still visit often, I can spend hours in there!

  • KAB

    Pssssst! dry shampoo!!! It’s literally the best dry shampoo out there and costs less than $10!

  • I go for the knockoff OPI nail polish…I think it’s called Sinful Collections or something like that. I can pay $1 for an electric blue polish I want RIGHT NOW…instead of a $8-$12 electric blue polish I’ll wear once and kick myself for buying.

  • habitatus

    DUANE READE ANTI-FRICTION STICK! Cute, small package…simply glide on/ around your heels and viola: no more blisters or scabs on your feet from new shoes. I swear it works…and it’s like $3, so if you don’t believe me, just try it.

  • Francalou

    I inherited my mother’s passionate/irrational dislike for wire hangers. Velvet hangers or naw.