Pretty packaging and enticing product promises aren't the only things that are appealing about items in the beauty aisle. Whether you're shopping at your local drug store or the beauty counter -- your options for hair, makeup, skin, nail and body products seem infinite. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by variety, or buying every "miracle" product known to (wo)man, we suggest sticking to five items.
Only five? Yes. We asked our experts to dish on the five things you really need.
Establishing a set of beauty products that work for your individual needs can be difficult, especially when standard hair and skin routines have expanded way beyond a simple three steps.
Identifying five products that are absolute necessities and deciding which ones are simply nice to have, may help you establish a regimen that's comfortable and affordable. Some products are so beneficial because they keep your skin, hair and nails in top form, they should never be skipped.
To have healthy skin you have to protect it from the sun. If you don’t use SPF you will cause sun damage and will have to fix the problem, so why not prevent the problem? It’s better to prevent, than fix the damaged skin.
Shinobu Lee, esthetician for Kate Somerville Skin Health Experts
Whether your hair is fine, medium or coarsely textured, straight, wavy or curly, conditioner is the No. 1 must-have. Keeping your hair conditioned makes styling easier and protects your hair’s health.
“Conditioner adds moisture to the hair that shampoo sometimes strips out," says Karissa Masters, owner of Karissa’s Divine Design Beauty Salon in Torrance, California. "It penetrates and moisturizes the hair shaft, making the hair softer and more manageable. Conditioner also adds sheen and detangles, making styling easier."
Skipping shampoo, especially if you have oily hair, might seem gross, but skipping conditioner can lead to breakage, dullness and reduced manageability. Find one that works for your hair type and use it every time you lather up and between shampoos. Investing in and using a deep conditioner once a week will help repair damaged hair.
Many beauty editors and beauty websites swear by Keratase’s Oleo Relax Deep Conditioner, but brands at lower price points also offer moisturizing benefits. For a moderately priced conditioner, try Paul Mitchell products. A tried-and-true brand for every day – and one on "Allure" magazine’s best beauty products list – is Pantene Pro-V. It’s available in several varieties for different types of hair.
Some women complain about dark under-eye circles. Others want fuller lips. Those blessed with incredibly long lashes couldn’t care less about mascara. Individuals with flawless skin never need to be matched for foundation. Makeup can dramatically update and refresh your look, but narrowing it down to one must-have product can be difficult.
Marisa McCabe, a makeup artist based in Los Angeles, says every woman benefits from a dark, rich eyeliner. Although black eyeliner can be too harsh for some skin tones and for everyday wear, varying shades of brown work for all skin tones and occasions, McCabe says. The basic idea is to bring out your eyes. For those who like to experiment, indigo, dark gray and forest green are also good choices.
“Women express themselves through their eyes," McCabe says, "so if you can draw people into you by accentuating and defining your eyes with eyeliner it helps. When the eyes are defined, it puts the emphasis where it should be.”
Many variations of eyeliner are available. Some make drawing a wing tip easier while others are good for a smudged look. For an everyday eyeliner, head to your local drugstore for a Revlon, CoverGirl or Maybelline waterproof formula. If you feel like splurging, try a liquid liner in an easy-to-use applicator from YSL or Sonia Kashuk.
McCabe’s runner-up for makeup must-have is concealer, although she says many people use it incorrectly and have a hard time experiencing its benefit. She notes that concealer isn’t just for dark eye circles, uneven skin tone or blemishes. It’s for any woman who wants to brighten her look. Spread concealer on your eyelids to brighten the entire eye area, or use it to make your face look more angular and to create a polished look.
Most people are accustomed to a three-step routine for skin care: cleanse, tone and moisturize. Shinobu Lee, an esthetician at Kate Somerville’s Los Angeles clinic, says that preventing damage should be the most important step in your skin care routine.
“To me the most important thing is the sun protection, the SPF,” Lee says. “To have healthy skin you have to protect it from the sun. If you don’t use SPF you will cause sun damage and will have to fix the problem, so why not prevent the problem? It’s better to prevent than fix the damaged skin.”
Many moisturizers come with SPF protection in them, but Lee prefers using a moisturizer first and then applying sunscreen as a second step. She thinks it’s better to use a sunscreen with an SPF of around 50 and recommends using nothing lower than a 30. A lot of people are only diligent about sun protection for their face, but if you are active outdoors, lather on the sunscreen on any exposed body part.
Look for a sunscreen formula that is not only right for your skin type (there are extremely lightweight formulas for oily skin and thicker ones for dry skin), but that also provides broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunburn protection with the least amount of chemicals. All of the Environmental Working Group’s top picks contain either zinc or titanium materials to help cut UVA exposures. Among the sunscreens on the group's list are Aveeno, La Roche Posay and the house brands of CVS and Walgreens.
What’s second in line when it comes to skincare? Hydrating your skin with the right moisturizer for your skin type.
Having clean and neat nails is important, especially for first impressions. Routinely buffing your nails can keep them looking just as nice as an application of lacquer. Healthy nails are the basis for a good manicure, so use cuticle oil as part of your daily nail care routine to grow and maintain beautiful nails.
“I specifically love to suggest to my clients who have any type of nail problem to hydrate," says Connie Flagg, manicurist at both the Queen Bee Salon in Culver City, California, and the Four Seasons Spa in Beverly Hills, California. Cuticle oil will hydrate your skin and nails. It (the oil) just makes them look healthier and nicer. Even if you can’t get to the manicurist, put the cuticle oil on everyday.
“Not everyone can afford or has the time to get a manicure," Flagg says, "but oil adds a refreshing look to your nails. The thing is consistency.”
Flagg recommends massaging cuticle oil or an organic jojoba or apricot oil into your fingertips before going to bed to give the oils sufficient time to work. She likes Creative Nail Design’s solar oil. Formulas are also available from Essie and Sally Hansen.
To keep your body skin supple and moisturized, lotion or body oil should be a daily staple. For maximum benefit, be sure to slather on your choice lotion right after you shower, while the skin is still slightly damp.
Some people like to use oil instead of lotion because they feel it is absorbed more quickly. It's really a matter of personal preference. Skin absorbs anything applied to it.
Drugstore brands such as Eucerin and Lubriderm are popular. More expensive lines include La Mer’s The Body Crème, which is top-rated by "Allure" magazine.
You Are What You Eat
When it becomes to beauty routines, nothing is more important than making the right choices about what you put into your body. Carrie Adase, Los Angeles-based clinical nutritionist and owner of An Angel’s Touch mobile spa, encourages whole food eating and water consumption for optimum health.
A lot of people just want to pop a supplement, but Adase says that if you eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables every day, you’ll get all of the vitamins and minerals you need.
Check your local farmer’s market or health food store for budget-friendly whole foods.
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