In the AB world, the graveyard of regrettable purchases stretches for miles in every direction, a barren and blighted necropolis marked by inexplicably cute headstones and forever haunted by the souls of dollars wasted, never to return. Every day, even more products suffer an untimely trashing and even more dollars drift away. We all fall into the BUY ALL THE THINGS! trap at some point. But we don’t always have to. You can save a little (or a lot) of money and break the cycle of shopping sadness just by asking yourself a few questions before you hit the checkout button.
1. Why do I want this?
Ideally, the answer would be “I’ve researched this product, and it appears to address a need that I have in a way that is compatible with my skin and current routine,” but don’t feel bad or close the tab on that tempting item just yet if it isn’t! Even if your reason for wanting the product is something like “Everyone else loves it,” “It has cute packaging,” or “It’s really cheap,” it could still end up working out for you. Just be aware of your motivations. Sometimes, just realizing that you only want a product because of hype or cuteness or a good price (or your personal trigger ingredients) is enough to snap you out of that trance so that you can take a more critical look at the item.
2. Do I know what this is supposed to do?
With some products, like cleansers and sunscreens, the purpose is clear. With others, it may not be. And if you aren’t sure what it’s supposed to do, you can’t be sure you need it.
Are all your favorite bloggers and everyone in your forum of choice raving about the Lovederm Watery-Bright Shimmer Chok Apple Day Pack Ampoule Booster Gel-Essence? That’s a good sign! It means that the Lovederm Longest Name Gel-Essence has done something of value for a lot of people. But you should still figure out exactly what that “something” is–what the product actually does–before buying it. It’s easy to get caught up in the mass hysteria that occasionally takes hold of the AB (or any other hobbyist) community, run out and buy the Watery-Bright Blah Blah Blah, and realize too late that you have no idea what to do with it or have no use for it. Then? Regrets.
(That Lovederm Watery-Bright Shimmer Chok Apple Day Pack Ampoule Booster Gel-Essence, though. Good shit, right? Can’t live without it.)
3. Is the thing the product is supposed to do something I actually need?
So you’ve determined that the Lovederm Watery-Bright Shimmer Chok Apple Day Pack Ampoule Booster Gel-Essence is a hydrating product that also adds shimmer to your skin. Okay, great. Now, do you want or need a hydrating product with bonus shimmer? Because if you don’t, then there’s generally no reason to get the Lovederm Longest Name Gel-Essence.
If the purpose of the product you’re considering does fit a need you’ve identified in your own skin/skincare routine, however, yay! Things are looking hopeful!
4. Can the product actually do what it promises to?
The sad fact of the cosmetics industry all over the world is that it runs on grandiose claims phrased in deliberately misleading language. The marketing department promises miracles while simultaneously sneakily invalidating those promises using”weasel words” like the examples in this Beauty Brains post and this one. It’s all about getting as close to the edge of deception as possible without running afoul of the law.
That doesn’t mean that products with fantastical marketing claims are worthless, though! It just means that when you’re evaluating a product’s potential, you need to ignore the efforts of the marketing team and look at the work of the R&D people instead. Do a little research into ingredients and the results.
As far as checking the ingredients goes, typically you only really need to look at the first four or five ingredients in the list. In many products, those make up the vast majority of the product’s volume. Do any of those first few ingredients address the problem that the product claims to solve? If not, feel free to look a little lower, but know that the chances of effectiveness diminish by a lot. Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure the product doesn’t contain any ingredients that you know don’t play nicely with your skin.
A little ingredient awareness will speed this process up, but even if you have no clue what any of those long science words means, you can still get a decent idea just by Googling and reading the results on credible websites. CosDNA is a great starting point, though I agree with Michelle at Lab Muffin that comedogenicity ratings are flawed and should be taken with a grain of salt. Ingredient databases associated with official regulatory bodies like the FDA are generally reliable. Surprisingly, so is the Paula’s Choice Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary. I’d stay away from sites with a strong bias or particular agenda, such as EWG.
To get an idea of the product’s real-world results, find some credible reviews of it if you can and haven’t already. Look for reviews where the reviewer has used the product for a substantial amount of time and is able to go into detail about the product’s effects. Before and after pictures aren’t terribly important, in my opinion, since they can be so easily faked (everyone and their mother owns studio lighting and knows how to retouch their own selfies these days). Don’t get hung up on whether the reviewer purchased the product or received it from a sponsor, either. What you’re looking for is some kind of consensus. Do most of the credible reviews say the product gave real results? That’s a great sign, because it means the product does have the potential to do the thing you want it to do!
5 (and final). Does the product make sense with my current routine?
If you haven’t spent much time in the AB community yet, you might be surprised to hear how common it is for people to buy a product and then realize they have no idea how to use it or where it goes in their routine. Or realize that it’s redundantly similar to a different product they’re already using. Whoops.
So make sure you know what you’re supposed to do with the product once it’s in your hands. Just figuring out what consistency the product is can help immensely so that you’ll know which step of your routine it occupies and whether there’s anything already filling that step.
Redundancy of product type isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. Having more than one option for any given step of your routine can be a good thing, the start of an effectively curated skincare wardrobe, as long as each option fills a different need. (For example, an emulsion for days when your skin doesn’t need much moisture, a medium cream for when your skin’s a little drier, and a heavy cream for extra dry days or nights.) Redundancy of step and purpose probably is, unless you’re willing to throw out your existing product or wait until you finish it before starting your new one.
Whew! Has the product you want passed our test? Yay! Now you have solid reasons for buying it and aren’t just mesmerized by the shiny, sucked in by the marketing, or jumping blindly onto a bandwagon headed straight for the AB graveyard.
Oh, and if the thing you’re craving hasn’t passed the test but you’re still dying to have it? You know what? It’s your life, your face, and your money, so if buying that thing will make you happy, then hey–at least you’re getting it with an awareness of the limitations. Who knows? The product might surprise you, maybe even become your new holy grail. Discovering great things by YOLOing strange items into your shopping cart is a traditional part of the AB adventure.
What wacky purchases have you made lately? Have any of them become staples in your routine? And have any of them been total duds? I want to hear about them!