One in 5 makeup items, 1 in 3 face skincare products and 1 in 4 body products you buy will be a complete waste of money. Isn’t that staggering? The cosmetic industry can be very misleading and full of exaggerated marketing claims. There are so many products with claims they will never live up to, most of them being exaggerated from a single or a couple ingredients, and sometimes even complete marketing lies.
I’ve recently done a little spring clean (check out:Coffee Chat: Spring clean your house, your beauty and your mind), gone through my cosmetic collection and re-evaluated what goes in my drawers, meaning what is worth my time or not. I used this re-evaluation process to create a little statistic to show you how many products are a waste of your time and money. For every category of product I judged, I counted how many of them I kept and how many I discarded. The numbers are obviously not statistically significant (although for some categories they might be as I had more than 100 products to take part!), but I think it gives a nice idea of the trends of the beauty market and at the very least it might provide you with guidance as to which cosmetics are the best and worst to buy, and which ones you should think twice about.
Grab a coffee and let’s begin!
Here’s the results by category and some thoughts for each. In the tables below “usable” means these products were not a waste of time and money, but at the same time this does not mean that they are the best. For example, if 88% of nail varnish products is usable this doesn’t mean that they will all be chip free, some will chip faster than others, but all are usable. This study was not about absolute top quality but rather about what is a complete waste of time. As a result, the “waste of time” category indicates the % of products that literally waste your time and money. These products will either not live to their claims or do such little difference that is not worth it.
|Product category||Usable (%)||Waste of time (%)|
|Overview: makeup products||80||20|
|Overview: bronzer/contour products||77||23|
|Overview: blush products||88||12|
|Overview: highlighter products||91||9|
|Overview: face palettes||83||17|
|Overview: concealing products||80||20|
|Colour correction products||90||10|
|Overview: foundation products||75||25|
|Overview: pore minimisers||91||9|
|Powder pore minimising products||100||—|
|Cream pore minimising products||81||19|
|Overview: makeup primers||83||17|
|Primers for nourishment or makeup longevity||71||29|
|Overview: setting powders||79||21|
|Overview: eyeshadow products||86||14|
|Overview: makeup setting spray||60||40|
|Overview: eyebrow products||88||12|
|Eye brow gels||92||8|
|Eye brow pencils||83||17|
|Overview: eye lash glues||100||—|
|Overview: lash primers||50||50|
|Overall: Lip products||73||27|
|Lipbalms, tints and stains||77||23|
|Lip plumbing products||10||90|
This is perhaps the most interesting category of all but not the most important! For all makeup items you buy about 1 in 5 will be a complete waste of your money and time. Considering that this DOESN’T mean that the remaining 4 will be top quality, that’s pretty bad isn’t it? More reason why reading reviews you can trust before purchasing is very important.
Overall, powder makeup has a higher chance to be usable than cream ones with the main problem usually being the colour. IF you find the right colour of powder contour, bronzer, blush, foundation etc then the product will likely be usable. The biggest problem with powder foundations for example, is matching the colour to your liquid foundation (so that you can do quick re-touching during the day) but the problem usually goes away if you use them alone. BB creams were the worst in the foundation category with their biggest problem being strange shades of colour. Yes, a lot of BB creams end up being a little orange!
On the other hand, cream products tend to last less time and usually suffer from cracking (so drying up), have more chance to be the wrong colour (most cream contours/bronzers are orange looking) and can be difficult to apply, with some of them even removing-clotting-damaging the makeup underneath.
Pore minimising products tend to be mostly usable, with 91% of them being acceptable. The biggest problem with pore minimisers is not whether they work or not, is whether your foundation ruins them after or not. Hard mattifying foundations (unfortunately like my beloved Estèe Lauder Double Wear) will reveal pores no matter what minimiser product you use.
The most usable primers are the mattifying ones and although some mattify better and longer than others, I have yet to find one that claims to mattify and doesn’t at all. The worst are the ones that claim skincare benefits, the nourishing primers, with about 29% of them being useless. This illustrates nicely that skincare is a harsher category than makeup with a lot more marketing and money wasting claims.
Most setting powders work well with about 21% of them being a waste of money, usually because they are made of such simple ingredients that are just not worth the £30+ price tags. However, their biggest downfall that makes them not worth your time is the fact that about 21% of them tend to reflect light, which means that they are an absolute OH GOSH NO for flash photography, and some of them are actually from big reputable brands!
Most eyeshadow products tend to be worthwhile and interestingly. Single eyeshadows tend to have a higher success than eyeshadow palettes, even though we will never use them and forget them somewhere in the back of a drawer. So practically, perhaps not worth your time and money either. Nevertheless, it’s easier to get 1 eyeshadow right than 12-20-30 of them so it’s expected that singles would have a better chance than palettes.
The main reason for eyeshadows, whether palettes and singles, being unusable was mainly colour intensity and payoff, with a lot of drugstore ones being so natural that you wouldn’t even know you are wearing eyeshadow. Even if they are super cheap, those £10-20 could be better spent and your stress-annoyance level would be lower.
About 17% of eye shadow primers suffer from a similar problem, they just don’t do anything to help the eyeshadow stay colour intense for longer or not crease, any better than a naked eye would. To make things worse, I’m not taking into consideration how many of them are more useful than just using a concealer or foundation on the eyes and if I did, they would probably be a lot less worth your time and money overall.
A staggering 40% of makeup sprays are just worthless. Even though this item is a makeup artist and blogger favourite, if you look at their ingredients they don’t all contain ones that could protect your makeup. Even worse, some sprays that are considered to be setting sprays, like the famous MAC Fix +, are not! For more info check out: Showdown: Urban Decay All Nighter vs MAC Prep and Prime Fix+. Are They Both Setting Sprays and Which One is Best? In-depth Review and Ingredient Analyses
The truth is, your foundation will last as long as the foundation is good for. If you want long lasting makeup invest in a long lasting, good foundation, and other products that will help create a better base, like a mattifying primer if you are oily or sweaty. The setting spray will not take you where the foundation doesn’t.
Most eyebrow products were usable and this category tends to be very much down to personal taste. The biggest drawback making about 12% of eyebrow products not worth it is the colour match and how harsh they can be on the eyebrow hair. Especially, some dry pencils!
About 1 in 5 mascaras is a complete waste of money and will not lift your lashes at all. That’s not to say that the rest will give you a fake set of lashes for the entire day, but they are good enough to use up but perhaps not re-purchase after. Mascaras is one of the biggest hit and miss categories in makeup, so think twice before purchasing and replace yours every 2-3 months! Check out: Should we be using expired make up? What are the guidelines for the correct use of cosmetics?
All eye lash glues I ever used did the job. Some kept the lashes put all day long and some only for a couple of minutes or hours, so quality does vary, but all did the job for some time. Remember this is not a post about absolute quality but rather about complete incompetent products.
Lash primers on the other hand were a hit or miss, with only 50% of them worth your time. This is a product category with amazing claims and very little results. Remember that hairs are dead and there isn’t a lot of nourishment you can do to them. Look for lash primers that will prolong your mascara or just find a good mascara to begin with! This product type is really not needed, spend your money somewhere else.
My favourite of them all, the lip products! Most cream (standard bullet) lipsticks are usable with only 3% of them being complete rubbish. The money wasting factor comes from liquid lipsticks, lip balms, lip primers and the worst of them all, lip plumping products. Liquid lipsticks rarely last longer than cream lipsticks and so their “untouchable” claims are mostly exaggerated marketing. However, their biggest drawback is how they collapse, not the need to re-touch, with some of them coming off in bits, a sight that is not complimentary at all. Lip balms and primers claim to nourish and moisturise the lips much more than they actually do, with most of them doing so very superficially, moisturising only for a couple of minutes and containing very basic skincare ingredients. Yes, your lips are skin too so invest in a nourishing one.
But the worst product of them all and an almost complete waste of money, is the lip plumbing product. Just don’t buy it. I have only ever once used one that I thought did something and it wasn’t even measurable, I probably imagined it. If you want your lips to be thicker you have two realistic options: overdraw them or get lip fillers. Lip plumpers are more often than not a complete waste of time and money, not to mention that some of the ingredients they contain (those that often give a tingling or burning feeling to the lips) are damaging to the skin.
|Product category||Usable (%)||Waste of time (%)|
|Overview: face skincare||69||31|
|General face moisturiser||68||32|
|Other skin treatments (AHA, BHA etc)||83||17|
|Face SPF products||70||30|
|Cream/gel face masks||73||27|
|Sheet face masks||90||10|
|Overview: face cleaning products||79||21|
|Cream/gel face cleansers||77||23|
|Balm face cleansers||70||30|
With only 69% of face skincare products being worth something, this category is the cosmetic industry’s biggest downfall. This means that 1 in 3 face skincare products you will buy are completely not worth your money and time. The reasons behind this vary from product to product and brand to brand but some of them are:
- marketing exaggerations 1: a product might contain an ingredient, for example, hyaluronic acid, but only a small amount, but the product is marketed all around that ingredient because it’s trendy, buzzworthy or scientific sounding (peptides for example are commonly used to make things sound scientific).
- marketing exaggerations 2: a product is marketed around claims it will never achieve.
- psychological marketing hook 1: a product is specifically targeting something that you might feel negatively about and so think that this product could be your easy solution (and this usually taps into female fears). For example, older women often dislike their saggy necks or wrinkles, even young women are being constantly told to remove and prevent wrinkles, or dark eyes etc etc.
- psychological marketing hook 2: pretty packaging. Somehow, there is a history behind this, women have grown or been taught to think that effective creams come in nice jars. Jars are actually the worst type of packaging for creams because they are unsanitary and they allow air and light in, which in turn can destroy the product’s effectiveness.
- insufficient ingredient value: some products might contain a good amount of a good ingredient BUT these are also not worth your time because your skin doesn’t just need one ingredient. This is why brands that tend to create their marketing around 1 ingredient, like for example, grape or olive extract etc, are not complete skincare products. Your skin, like your diet, needs a few different ingredients to be healthy. Such products are only worth it if the rest of your skincare is complete and you are specifically missing that ingredient.
- price: not all cheap products are bad but most often than not when it comes to skincare, those £1-15 face creams won’t contain anything skin nourishing, but rather just superficial standard moisturisers (there are some exceptions of course but are rare). You have to remember that cosmetic businesses, are…BUSINESSES and they have to make money. They wouldn’t always be able to create cheap products with top ingredients, simply because they would then loose money or make very little profit to be worth it. Skincare is an investment, both prevention-wise but also money-wise.
Anyhow, I can go on and on with this list, but I don’t think you need much convincing. How many skincare products did you buy that did nothing or offered only very superficial results that go away after a day?
Remember, about 1 in 3 skincare products you buy is a complete waste of money and time. Isn’t that staggering?
The worst category is night moisturisers. There is no night cream out there that you cannot wear in the day (given that you also use an SPF product). The main difference between a night cream and a day cream should be SPF. There are no ingredients that work better or get absorbed better in the day than in the night, or vice versa, and that is all clever marketing to make you buy 2 products. However, I would still suggest you buy 2 creams with different ingredients to give your skin variety. But you can choose either of them to be your day or night cream or mix it up!
In second place are eye creams and lip masks. Eye creams are most of the time either the same as a face cream or a slightly more concentrated version. There are no “special for the eye” ingredients or extra effectiveness in them. If there was, why not use it all over the face? Eye creams are over rated and you can have the same results by using just a good, nourishing face moisturiser all over. If you like the idea of an eye cream, at least look for one that has different ingredients to your face moisturiser, to give your skin variety.
Lip masks on the other hand, should have been amazing. Our lips go through so much throughout the day and get so little skincare. A nourishing mask would be a very nice addon to do once or twice a week, but sadly most lip masks contain mostly standard ingredients and not everything that your skin needs. Moreover, a lot of lip masks are very difficult to wear and fall off very quickly before “the mask time” is done. Not that it matters so much but it can still be annoying.
Face serums and eye serums are mostly good. They tend to go wrong when marketing takes over. Because serums are seen as “specialised products” the prices and marketing tend to go a little far sometimes. Just look for serums with ingredients that the rest of your skincare doesn’t contain so that you create an all rounded regime. I would recommend having a hyaluronic acid and vitamin C & E serum(s) around at all times, and then add any other ingredient that your routine might be missing or be low on.
Skin treatments are also mostly good but a lot of them fail at very basic things like for example, some AHA or BHA products are outside the working pH of the compounds, meaning that they won’t be effective, or contain only one of the two etc. Both AHA and BHA are valuable no matter what your skin type is as they offer different properties.
Out of all type of masks, the sheet masks are the most worth it. Not due to the ingredients they contain, they are often mediocre, but due to that relaxation, feminine, pretty, me-time they create.
On the other hand, a product that is under rated is toners. Toners or tonics can actually be very beneficial if you choose some that are nutritionally beneficial and have ingredients that are missing from your creams. See your toner as your addon skincare item and choose strategically. Be picky! Sadly, most toners in the market are just glorified cleansers but there are some that actually contain skin nutritious elements too.
Lip scrubs can be a waste of your money and time because a lot of them rely on sugar to be the exfoliator. Lip skin is very sensitive, and sugar can be a very good and kind exfoliator, but sugar is much cheaper than the price of those lip scrubs! This item falls again into the “special cosmetic” category and therefore, the prices can also be ridiculous for containing mostly sugar or some other standard exfoliator.
When it comes to cleaning products, about 1 in 5 is a waste of your money. Cleaning products don’t need to contain anything nutritious for the skin (don’t pay ridiculous prices for them) they are meant to just clean. However, there are some that don’t clean well at all, even after going over the skin twice. Cleansers that still leave traces of dirt behind can be the underlying reason why you have breakouts or bad skin. So be picky and make sure to choose one that is not too aggressive either, as you wouldn’t want it to strip out all of your skin’s natural oils, lipids etc.
Similarly, about 1 in 4 face scrubs are not worth your time simply because they are too harsh for the skin and could potential cause damage. Physical face scrubs are in general not the best choice either way. Incorporate AHAs and BHAs into your routine which will exfoliate more gently and only the cells that are dead.
Finally, makeup wipes can be a very useful tool but make sure it is not your go to way of cleaning your face. I haven’t come across any makeup wipe that will not work at all but of course there are some that are better and more efficient than others.
|Product category||Usable (%)||Waste of time (%)|
|Overview: foot products||80||20|
|Overview: tooth products||83||17|
|Overview: hair products||64||36|
|Cream/gel hair shampoo||63||37|
|Dry hair shampoo||90||10|
|Hair heat protection||75||25|
|Overview: tanning products||60||40|
|Overview: bath products||79||21|
|Bubble bath products||83||17|
|Overview: body products||75||25|
|Body SPF products||80||20|
|Overview: hand products||90||10|
Foot treatments are again one of those “specialised” products that are not that special. There are many foot treatments out there that claim to do a lot of nice things to your feet but if you look at their ingredients, they are really not that fancy at all. Not saying you shouldn’t treat your feet skin, you definitely should it goes through a lot, but you don’t need to necessarily waste a lot of money on foot masks and treatments. A good scrub if you have a lot of dead skin and body moisturiser will do the trick! Make sure to moisturise them as part of your body moisturisation routine, this will also help with their overall condition and could also minimise how much dead skin you might end up getting on your heels, for example. Give them a little massage, they deserve it!
Very similarly, tooth treatments often tend to be glorified toothpastes or be on the other scale, so aggressive that you could potentially be damaging your teeth. Don’t look for quick fixes here, ask your dentist!
Hair products is surprisingly quite a bad category too. A lot of the claims are just marketing exaggerations as your hair is basically dead and there is only very little you can do to it. Hair masks that claim to nourish your hair, will not, at best case they will change the texture and make it more manageable. Scalp treatments on the other hand, could be the product that makes a difference as our scalp is skin too and the hair follicles are alive. Those are the things you could nourish and take care off, in order to create beautiful hair in the future. However, most scalp treatments I’ve come across don’t contain very good skin ingredients and I’ve also never seen a difference in my hair at the time or in the future after using them.
Hair styling products, whether mousses or sprays or oils etc tend to also be a hit or miss. Most of them will give you more tame hair, possibly simply because adding product to them makes them more “dirty and heavy” and therefore more manageable. A lot of them just don’t live up to the expectations. Similarly, many volumizing products leave a lot to be expected and even those that work, their effects don’t always last very long. Sadly, hair products might just be one of those things that you just have to waste money on and try to see what works for your hair.
Hair shampoos and conditioners also promise a lot of nourishment that is not completely possible. To make things worse conditioners are actually almost a debatable product as they often tend to contain exactly or very similar ingredients to their partner shampoo. Like eye creams, that are often a more concentrated version of a moisturiser, conditioners tend to be a more concentrated version of the shampoo. So, do you really need it? Conditioners tame the hair a bit and give it a nice texture but you might get more out of them if actually you use a different shampoo and conditioner, instead of essentially using the same thing twice. You are not missing out on anything if you don’t use matching shampoos and conditioners, that’s just a nice way of brands selling you two products in one go. Alternatively, you could use hair styling products to tame your hair instead. Not saying conditioners are a complete waste of time, I am a sucker for using matching products too, but they are nowhere near as useful as you might think.
Heat protection products tend to be ok with some of them not containing enough ingredients or reasonable concentration to actually be protective. However, their biggest downfall comes from application. Even if you use a heat protection product your hair is likely not protected at all, simply because there is no way you would have covered every single hair from top to bottom. It’s one of those products that are a good idea but in practice don’t really work as well. Not saying you shouldn’t use them but perhaps spend more time applying them and be mindful of where you might have missed a spot or two!
Even though chemical tanning is safer than sun tanning, 1 in 2.5 tanning products is not worth your time. A lot of tanning products come with very orange tints and will make you look like an orange. To make things worse, the way a colour develops on your skin might not be the same as with someone else, so you might need to just go through trial and error with these ones. See which colour works best for you but please, stay off the orange ones!
Bath products are mostly worth your time simply because they offer a nice opportunity for relaxation and me-time. Their downfall is nourishing claims that they cannot fully support, this tends to be more for the salts, and surprisingly many of them are not as foamy as you might expect. I’ve had several bubble bath products that are flat in the water, and that’s just not the experience you are expecting.
Body products are an underdeveloped cosmetic category and beauty influencers are not even pushing the demand for higher standards. Why is it that we take such good care of our face and forget that the rest of our body is skin too? Or do you think that you face needs more nourishment than the rest of your body? Wrong, wrong, wrong! Sure, we get obsessed with our face because we don’t want to get wrinkles, which is in fact the worst way of going about building a healthy skincare routine. Wrinkles will come no matter what, you can only slow them down and make your skin healthy. But what if you had a perfect face and a really dry, saggy, old body skin? That’s not a look you’d want either is it?
Unfortunately, 1 in 4 body products is a complete waste of time. The biggest offenders in this category are actually body scrubs because they tend to be way too harsh for the skin. I’ve actually come across several body scrubs that sound and smell so lovely (coffee or fruit extracts etc) but are so harsh I’ve had to wear gloves to use them, because my hands find it too harsh to apply. Sure, your skin might feel very soft and shiny after, but you don’t know how damaged it is on a molecular level. Harsh physical exfoliation is not worth the risk and so it’s not the best way to go about it. Look for, although they are rare, some body products that offer AHA and BHA exfoliation.
Shower gels are the other big offenders here simply because of their claims. They are a cleaning product and if they promise you skin nourishment, it’s mostly a waste of your money, time and ingredients. Any product that is washed off, especially as quickly as a shower gel, will have almost no time for the ingredients to be absorbed and therefore, will offer almost no skincare benefits. You are essentially just washing down your money and ingredients. All a cleanser should do, whether body or face, is clean, the rest of your skincare and bodycare will take care of nourishment. Shower gels are a product not worth spending a lot of money on.
Sadly, 1 in 4 body moisturisers is also a complete waste of time and even more sadly, that doesn’t mean that the rest are good, they are just usable. Body moisturisers, more often than not, contain just standard moisturising ingredients and not many, or any, skin nourishing compounds. Your body doesn’t just need moisturisation, if the skin is not healthy it will not hold it anyways.
For a nourishing body moisturiser check out: The Staple of Body Moisturisers – Paula’s Choice Daily Replenishing Body Cream – In-depth Review and Ingredient Analysis
Finally, hand products tend to be mostly useable. The biggest downfall is again skincare and claims related. Most hand creams contain only standard moisturisers and lack nourishing value. Also, they are essentially a “made up” product as well as there is no reason why you cannot use your body cream for your hands too. The biggest argument against this is if you want to carry your hand cream with you and in that case, here’s some nourishing options:
|Product category||Usable (%)||Waste of time (%)|
|Overview: relaxation products||94||6|
|Overview: workout recovery products||90||10|
|Overview: female hygiene products||100||—|
|Female genital cleaning products||100||—|
|Overview: hand gel sanitisers||100||—|
|Overview: beauty tools||98||2|
|Brush cleaning products||100||—|
|Other beauty tools (sponges, tweezers etc)||85||15|
Most relaxation products are useful simply because they can offer you some relaxation if you allow your mind and body to relax. However, a lot of them are most expensive than they are worth. If you are looking for relaxation may I suggest some free yoga, meditation or even drawing videos on Youtube instead? Those will also give you more lasting relaxation and some life skills as well, than those couple of minutes of using a relaxation related cosmetic. Check out: Coffee Chat: I’ve tried Yoga for 30 days and this is what happened
Surprisingly, all workout recovery cosmetics I’ve used worked for me. I’m referring to creams, gels or oils that you rub on your skin to help muscle aching. Some of course worked better than others, but they all gave me some muscle ache relief. The effect could just be because you have to massage the product in, and of course massaging is known to relieve muscle tension but hey, it’s a good excuse to give yourself a little massage and it feels nice.
Also surprisingly, all female hygiene products I used were usable. Not all of them were the same quality or I would re-purchase, but they were usable and not a waste of money. This is a very personal category and although it will take some trial and error until you find the period pads you like for example, none of the products you will buy will be useless.
Beauty tools was also very good category with almost anything you buy being useful. Whether it’s brushes or sponges, razors, tweezers, you name it, they will be usable. As with anything some will be better than others but all will be usable for a small period of time at least.
|Product category||Usable (%)||Waste of time (%)|
|Overview: Nail products||91||9|
|Nail top/base coat||90||10|
|Nail varnish colour||88||22|
The general trend for nail products is very good. About 91% of all nail related products are worth using, with only 9% of them being a complete waste of time. This means that most nail products you buy will be usable, but of course some will be better than others. The high success percentage in this category is probably related to the fact that our nails are dead cells which essentially means that the products we use for them don’t need to be that amazing to begin with. In fact, this is really evident from the fact that the lowest positive percent category is the nail/cuticle treatment. Cuticles can indeed be nourished as they are the “still alive” part of the nail (which is also why you shouldn’t push it back or physically damage it!). In this category only about 66% of the products were worth using however, a large amount of the failing 33% was because of products that claim to nourish your nails, which is impossible. One of the best ways to nourishing your hair and nails is by following a healthy diet. Surprise, surprise.
Most, 90%, top or base coats were usable, probably because of the low expectation of this type of product. All they need to do is provide a layer. About 88% of colour nail varnish was usable with the remaining 22% either being too thin or too thick in consistency. This was also the failing reason for the 10% of top and base coats, some were either so thin they didn’t offer any protection or were so thick they were annoying to use.
All nail accessories I ever used (clippers, filers, toe separators etc) were usable for a period of time.
|Product category||Usable (%)||Waste of time (%)|
This is a tough category as scent can be very personal. For this reason, I didn’t judge these products based on whether I liked them or not but rather on how usable they are.
All perfume accessories (little bottles, funnels etc) were usable. About 86% of perfumes are worth your time with the remaining 14% failing on either price (can get similar scents for a lot less money and since perfumes are just about scent then it’s a waste of money) or longevity (some perfumes evaporate too quickly or their scent changes too much when you spray them on you).
Hope this post gave you some pointers as to where to spend your money and time. Remember to always read trusted reviews before purchasing a product and trying out samples of it, if possible. There will always be a product that just didn’t work out for you, beauty can be very personal afterall, but you can at least limit that as much as possible.
I am not affiliated with any company or brand. These are my views and experiences.
Beauty is a very personal thing, we all have different skin, requirements and biological build which can influence things. What worked for me might not work for you and vice versa. Have you ever tried these products? Did they work for you? Let me know your experiences below!
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