The $4 Skin Care Routine That Makes Me Regret Every Other Product I’ve Spent Money On


Squad, I’m coming at you today with a good old-fashioned Beauty Post, because I’m feeling like I haven’t been enjoying life in the slightest lately, and it is definitely time to talk about a fun, lighthearted subject. (Instead of, you know, student loans and work projects… blegh.)

This is an important post, because as a human, a writer, and a true citizen of the world wide web, I find it very important to be as transparent as possible at all times — even if that means I have to go back every once in a while and address some inconsistencies.

But here’s something that will probably always be true: I like to talk about beauty. I love this topic so deeply that it makes me question whether or not I’m actually a terribly shallow person, although I don’t think I am.

I like to talk about beauty hacks, budget beauty tips, and have gone into great detail about how I created (and maintain) my own beauty budget. I’ve even discussed the time that I threw my entire beauty budget out the window to make room for a super bougie $80 moisturizer, and justified that purchase to high-heck for nearly a thousand words.

And while I don’t necessarily regret purchasing that moisturizer, (it is super amazing, and should I find myself in a comfortable enough financial spot once it runs out to replace it, you bet your ass I’ll want to) I’ve actually had a bit of a beauty-budget change of heart.

When I brought that beautiful pot of Lush face lotion home, I was convinced that I needed to spend that amount of money in order to have the type of skin that actually made me feel somewhat comfortable as a bare-faced human. (Actually, if we’re being really honest, I’ll probably never feel completely comfortable as a bare-faced human.)

The point is, I had been testing every single “miracle” product I read about in a trashy magazine or beauty blog, and was actively searching high and low for the thing that was going to save me. When I did find something that happened to work (and also happened to be extremely expensive) I figured it was well-worth the splurge, because it was honestly the only way I ever saw myself having nice, soft skin ever again in my life.

But sometimes, the exact moment you decide to stop digging is the moment when you strike pure gold.

One night, panicked after I left my Lush face cleanser and moisturizer (aka my skin’s actual saving-grace) at home, I dragged my confused “why don’t you just use my liquid Softsoap” boyfriend to the local CVS so I could get something to cleanse my skin. After walking up and down the aisle for a minute feeling hopeless, I remembered that African Black Soap existed. I’d used it before but not since my skin got really bad in 2014. I remembered at that exact moment that before I’d gone Lush-crazy and started spending a ton of cash on pricey skincare, I was able to spend $4 on a bar of soap that kept my skin feeling amazing. I swiped it up right there, and when I washed my face later that night, I was hooked again. I’ve pretty much packed up the majority of my skincare-product-collection and have only been scrubbing my mug with my $4 soap since then.

The point of all of this, really, is uncertain. It seems to me that any time I make a blanket statement regarding beauty or skincare, something comes along and ~changes my life~ a week later, and I emerge with somewhat-clearer skin and a brand new beauty-philosophy. What seems to remain constant is the fact that when it comes to this stuff, change is inevitable, and making any overarching statement about the best skincare and the most effective moisturizer and the sure-fire, never-fails, $400 beauty budget is eventually going to come back to bite me in the ass.

This does go to show, also, that while it is certainly okay to spend a fuck-ton on skincare or makeup (provided that you have that money to spend, and feel like it is a positive or necessary addition to your life), it is also entirely possible to find things that work beautifully and effectively when you’re on a tight little budget.

I feel like living proof of this, because a month ago, I was swearing up and down that the only thing my skin needed was an $80 moisturizer, and today, a $4 skincare routine has made me regret every cent I ever spent on any other products.

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at!

Image via Pexels


  • Anna

    Preach. I’ve been using the same 2 drugstore products (cleanser and moisturizer) since I was a teenager and have never worn any sort of concealer/foundation/powder/whatever. Granted, it’s a chicken-or-the-egg situation- do I have great skin because of the simplicity of my routine or do I have naturally great skin that enables my simple routine? Guess I’ll never know because I’m not about to change anything now.

    • JD

      Samesies. I basically never wash my face separately, just in shower and I’ve always had clear skin. In fact when I’ve splurged on facewash, THATS when I break out.

  • Violaine

    For people who aren’t into African Black Soap, I’ll share my cheap routine too!
    My skin looks just as good (I don’t really have a problem skin) as when I was spending money on fancy Korean products or Lush or anything else.

    Coconut Oil to remove makeup and dirt
    Any soft, foaming cleanser (at the moment I use Biore, the charcoal thing; but I used others in the past – as long as it’s not too harsh I’ll use it) – or maybe African Black soap 😉
    Moisturizer – at the moment I use a fancy Korean one, but I also use the cheap Nivea soft cream (smells so good), and I’ve used other little-known organic stuff. Sometimes I just use a bit of coconut oil again, or sometimes both coconut oil and then cream.

    That’s it! It comes to probably around £10 in total…

    • Jack

      What Korean stuff do you use? I used to be a huge Korean beauty junkie so I’m always interested to hear what people like!

      • Violaine

        Right now I use “Milky Piggy Moisture Sparkle” by Elizavecca – honestly, I would not recommend it… It comes in a cute package and sounded promising but it’s basically a thick cream that is not even as moisturising as what it claims to be.

        Sometimes afterwards I also use a “Sleeping pack” – I have a bubble tea one by Etude House (the green tea one) and what seems to be a moisturising mask – “Water Coating Aqua Brightening” by Elizavecca again.

        They’re both ok and do the job, but honestly I have seen cheaper products do just the same. I also have the baking soda cleanser by Etude House and it is pretty good, I really like it – but I use coconut oil most of the time and they do the same thing – clean and remove makeup without drying.

    • ccnm08

      YES to the Nivea soft. I used to steal it from my French ex and now I’m hooked. I love that’s its so cheap and I can use it every where.

    • jdub

      Yes! Your skincare routine is very similar to mine, but I use baby oil instead of coconut oil.

      Remove the makeup with the baby oil, charcoal cleanser (right now I’m using a store brand because it was on sale, but the Biore one is AMAZING), Apple Cider Vinegar/water toner, then a swipe of baby oil again for moisture.

      I literally wake up to the softest skin, and my breakouts are relegated to one or two a month when I’m PMSing. It’s amazing, especially in winter with all moisture has been sucked out of my skin by the dry air.

      • Ellie Rockhill

        What’s the ACV/Water ratio for your toner? 🙂

        • jdub

          Pretty much half and half! I googled it and that’s pretty much the consensus, but if it’s too drying I’ll add a touch more water sometimes.

      • JD

        I love baby oil. A friend turned me onto it like over a year or maybe two ago, and the one bottle is still going. I use it on my whole body. Like longest lasting product on earth and soo much cheaper than lotion.

  • Jack

    I’m the same way…completely back and forth, one second I’m justifying all the expensive stuff and the next I think simplicity is better.
    But honestly, you know what makes a difference in my skin (and likely anyone elses) is just what I’m eating and drinking. I’m pretty much a 2-3L of water a day type of girl, and I KNOW DEEP DOWN that when my skin breaks out is because I binged on popcorn and vanilla coke at the movies. It has very very little to do with my skincare products.

    • JD

      Ah. I drink so much water and my skin is always still dry. ;(

  • Alliy

    This is a great retrospective on your past beauty posts! I think it’s natural that our beauty routines change over time, especially as our skin, needs, budgets, and environments/stress-levels change too. For me, I’ve found that simpler is actually WAY better for my skin. I have started using Purpose cleanser (which is basically baby shampoo) that is super cheap and can be found in any drugstore, alongside the Walmart Equate knock-off-of-Cetaphil moisturizing cream, which comes in a huge tub. These two products (retailing for <$20 for large amounts together), plus coconut oil to remove my makeup, really helps keep my skin calm and prevents active breakouts.

  • Lauren

    I just had the same experience! I’ve been looking for a cruelty free moisturizer with SPF, and bought one for $30 from First Aid Beauty which didn’t work for my skin at all. Then I found one for $6 from Trader Joes, and it matches my bathroom decor to boot. 🙂

    • Holly Trantham

      My roommate pretty much only buys products from Trader Joes (including toothpaste! and sponges!) and he completely swears by them 🙂

      • JD

        Love their sponges!

  • Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not. You need to pay attention to what goes into your skin care products. Sure, it might feel good the first few days you use it or even a few weeks but then your skin might break out because what you’ve been putting on it is full of junk. I swear by coconut oil to remove make-up but I enjoy the ritual of applying skin care so whatever. It’s not always about whether you NEED something to live, it’s also about the things you enjoy.

  • Lydia Andrea

    Shea Moisture African Black soap bar is all I have used to cleanse in years! I used to be a product junkie but always had bad skin. Once I finally figured out my skin is just too darn sensitive to try out every new skin care trend, I simplified and went natural. Black soap, apple cider vinegar/water toner, pure argan oil as a night time moisturizer, glycerine/water as a day time moisturizer. My skin calmed down and loves the natural, simple ingredients.

  • AJMoneyMatters

    I could not agree more!! I go through phases of buying really expensive skin care because I feel like my skin needs it and then other phases when i’ll go for the cheaper drugstore products and basically get the same result. So much of it comes down to diet as well and staying hydrated rather than relying on overly expensive skin care products to do the work for you!

  • Amy

    I love me some Lush products, especially because they’re cruelty free. Sometimes it hurts my soul (and wallet) to shell out $15 for face wash. I am looking forward to trying African Black Soap. I don’t have super sensitive skin, but it does get majorly dried out in the winter. Anybody have suggestions for drugstore moisturizers they love?

    • SN

      My entire dry-skinned family and I have used Cetaphil our whole lives and would never think about using another moisturizer. It’s a little pricier than Vaseline I think, but there’s usually a off-brand equivalent available and a little goes a long way. We use the cream from the tub, but the lotion is also great if you want something lighter.

      • Amy

        Thanks! I’ve heard good things, I’ll add it to my list!

  • Sara

    A cleanser I absolutely love to use from the drugstore is actually the Johnson and Johnson Baby Wash. That stuff takes off ALL my makeup including waterproof eyeliner, and it makes my skin feel so soft!

  • Alexis Graham

    Yes! I’ve been using baby wipes to take off my makeup, Shea Moisture’s African black soap as my cleanser, cetaphil as my moisturizer, and whatever eye cream I have on hand. My hyperpigmentation has gotten sooo much better, I haven’t had any breakouts, my under eyes have lightened up, and my skin feels so soft!