Over the past 10 years, I’ve literally tried too many products to count. (What was the name of that amazing face cream again? I forget and digress!) Hands down, one of the biggest questions my friends, family and legit strangers ask me is if pricey products are really worth it. Sadly, they are pretty underwhelmed with my response: it really depends.


Yes, you get what you pay for in terms of packaging and formula, but efficacy can vary. If you only use that expensive AF eye cream once in a blue moon—sorry, sis those bags aren’t going anywhere. Like your summer body, getting your #bestskinyet requires work and commitment. You must be in it to win it. Plus, things that I had lackluster experiences with can totally be your new go-to. Key things (i.e., skin type) can make or break your result. Even your derm can give conflicting advice from time to time.


Thankfully, most of my beauty products are comped (a.k.a. free) so I can test without guilt regardless of the pricepoint. However, there are a few standout products that have crossed my proverbial beauty desk that I can’t shut up about. So here’s a quick rundown of my favorite splurge versus steal items worth checking out.


Face Wash: La Prairie Foam Cleanser ($85) vs. Nubian Heritage African Black Soap Facial Wash & Scrub ($12.99)

By now, I hope that you have read enough articles to know that squeaky clean is the devil. Your skin is not a marble countertop; it’s a living, breathing organ that deserves to be treated with care. When it comes to washing my face, I only deal with two products (well, three but the third is technically an oil). The only product line I seriously stand behind with no questions asked is La Prairie, a Swiss-based beauty company that means business.I am addicted to to their super light, non-drying, makeup-removing foam cleanser despite the fact it’s an outrageous price. Since money does matter, I found respite in a Target favorite that costs one-sixth of the price: Nubian Heritage. What I love about this face wash is a little goes a long way. It also gently exfoliates away dry patches so I don’t have to worry about a second step.


Lip Balm: Pat McGrath Lip Fetish Lip Balm ($38) vs. CLINIQUE Pep-Start Pout Perfecting Lip Balm ($17.50)

I never thought lip balm could be glamorous until I met Pat McGrath. First of all, she’s everything—who else can slay runway makeup like her? So when she personally handed me her always sold-out, limited-edition bespoke white lacquered lip bullet, I nearly squealed with joy. It’s beautiful to look at, and nothing else makes your lips feel softer, more hydrated and all-around dewy. It’s the crème de la crème in lipcare. As a more affordable runner-up, CLINIQUE’s balm is also pretty impressive. It lasts for a few hours without constant reapplication and comes in chic tints like tangerine, cherry and guava if clear is too boring for you.


Facial Essence: fresh Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence ($68) vs. e.l.f. Hydrating Water Essence ($10)

WTF is an essence you are probably asking? Less concentrated than a serum but equally as powerful, these lightweight, watery formulas help hydrate, brighten and smooth your delicate visage. In short, it’s an extra (but impactful) step within the buzzed about K-Beauty realm. I prefer essences over toners because they feel like they are adding something to my skin as opposed to stripping away moisture. Surprisingly, I actually prefer the cheaper version (e.l.f.) only because you use so much of it. Some days—especially during the winter—I use one twice a day to combat dry skin. For more info on essences (and their benefits), check out this article.


Body Oil: Pratima Love Oil ($38) vs. Bio-Oil ($19.99)

If I have to chose between lotions and oils, I’ll always pick oils. There’s something more satisfying about dramatically rubbing on oil fresh out the shower. These are both long-time favorites that I have been using for years. Pratima is deliciously beautiful (how can you not like these floating flowers?), and while technically for expecting moms (which I am not, let me be very clear!), Bio-Oil keeps my skin glowing all day long. It’s super absorbent, non-greasy, and scentless. I coat myself senseless day in and day out. And no, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon…


Sunscreen: Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ ($40) vs. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum SPF 45 ($7.79)

Listen, as a women of color, trying to find a sunscreen that doesn’t look absurd is a chore. Some look ashy, some leave a weird purple hue, and others simply don’t rub in. Thankfully the industry has become a bit more woke—and they’ve stepped up their game to create formulas for all women. Shiseido’s formula feels more watery than your typical sunscreen but absorbs quickly without a weird residue. As for a drugstore dupe, Neutrogena makes a great version that isn’t greasy at all.


Need more? DM me at @jmargaretbeauty for real-time beauty advice. Seriously, I’m around!