Toiletries and cosmetics are notoriously difficult to shop for. Manufacturers make completely optimistic (and often fantastical) claims promising everything from the fountain of youth to teeth so white they’ll stop traffic.

Cosmetics, toiletries, feminine hygiene products and skin care regimes can cost anywhere from a dollar to hundreds of dollars, yet it’s almost impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison.

Think that spending more equates a higher quality product? Think again! Take Wen hair care products as an example. Wen has been in the news lately due to reports of irate customers who’ve claimed hair loss and scalp irritation after splurging on their bottles of $32 Cleansing Conditioner. This unfortunate situation only hammers home that when it comes to cosmetics and toiletries, you don’t get what you pay for! (Also, simpler is often better, as my $1 White Rain brand shampoo has yet to give me any problems.) Here’s what you need to know when it comes to choosing the very best personal care products without emptying your credit union account.

Do your research

First of all, know how you want your products to perform and don't let yourself be swayed by advertising or slick designer packaging. Paula Begoun, A.K.A. The Cosmetics Cop has made a career out of taking a scientific and critical eye to cosmetics products, and her book Don't Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me is a trustworthy source for unbiased beauty facts. If the information you need is not in this 1,110 page tome, you're unlikely to find it anywhere. Put this book on hold at your library and educate yourself on how to protect yourself against an often misleading industry.

Hair care products

You can choose to splurge on expensive infomercial or salon hair care products, or you can shop at your local supermarket or drugstore. The website Cheapism awarded their best everyday shampoo award to humble Garner Fructis, and I've always been perfectly happy with my White Rain shampoo. A buck per bottle, people! A buck per bottle.

Acne care

Your teen may be pleading for expensive and highly advertised $40 Proactive products, but the active ingredient can be bought for just a couple of bucks. Yes, I'm referring to Benzoyl Peroxide, which comes in a simple $5 tube and was a big success with my teenagers. The only thing to note with any peroxide product is that it'll give a tie-dyed look to bedding, so maybe dedicate a few sets of scrappy sheets until their skin clears up. No Justin Bieber with the generic, but maybe that's a good thing.


Makeup is another category where a more expensive item does not guarantee a higher quality product. Yes, many high-end cosmetics deliver on their promises of smooth application and a finished look, but so do a good number of the less expensive brands. Need an example? Paula Begoun rates the $1.99 Wet-n-Wild eye shadow as high as the $59 Giorgio Armani alternative! No brand rates high across every category, so you'll need to do your research. But that's true with any purchase in life.

Avoid needlessly gendered products

Whether it's deodorant, shampoo or razors, women's products tend to cost more and often include less product. So unless it's a scent issue, (I'm look at you, Axe!) you'd be smart to check out both sides of the aisle.

Read more: Best shaving blades for women

Feminine hygiene products

The average woman spends $1,773.33 on tampons over the course of her lifetime, which is an expense ignored by many personal finance experts. It's a monthly expense for an average of 40 years, but can be alleviated by one simple purchase. The menstrual cup. Not highly advertised, these reusable silicone cups last for years before needing to be replaced. The main brands are Diva Cup and Moon Cup and come in two sizes, pre and post-childbirth. Once only available online, menstrual cups are now carried at mass merchandisers such as CVS and Walgreen's. Safe and FDA approved, these $40 one-time purchases will change your life.

Skin care lotions

Although you can buy separate lotions for your face, eyes, feet and even your elbows, it's not necessary. Skin is your largest organ and it's the same from head to toe. Women have somehow been convinced that they require specialized eye creams, which can easily run $400 for 1.7 ounces. (Yes, you read that right!) One of Paula Begoun's main soapbox stands is that "you don't need a separate eye cream for the eye area." It would be great if a miracle elixir could erase signs of aging, but that isn't biologically possible. So keep your money in your wallet and choose a single all-over body lotion.


Whether you're male or female, young or old, there's a personal product company that's more than happy to take your money. So do your research and keep a critical eye on anyone claiming to transform you into an Adonis or Aphrodite. Keep it simple and you'll have one more tool to stay on top of your finances.