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How Students Do Skin Care on a Budget

Taking care of your skin is a necessity, but sometimes, the price of skin care makes it seem like a luxury. Below, we take the best tips and tricks for taking care of your skin on a budget, shared by undergraduate college students. 

In college, it feels like expenses suddenly add up faster than ever before – there’s textbooks, laundry, public transport, a meal plan, student housing, extracurricular activities, and of course tuition. Shelling out for pricey skin care products may not be in the budget, but being a student doesn’t mean you can’t have good skin. 

Below, I talked to some fellow students about their favorite tips and tricks for taking care of their skin for less. Read on to see their best advice for buying skin care on a budget.

Do Your Research

Effective, quality products don’t necessarily have to be expensive – K-beauty is a prime example of this. “Simply Googling what the cheapest/most effective natural brands are can be very helpful,” says Olivia Winter, a rising sophomore at Pace University. “You will most likely come across links to different articles with all different lists. With that, I always make sure to comb through the most popular articles I find and compare the prices, ingredients, and quality. Most of the search leads me to various Amazon products, and I make sure to read the reviews of the products on Amazon and take those into consideration as well.” 

RELATED: The 10-Step Routine on a Budget

Drugstore skin care is notorious for being cheap, and to a college student especially, it’s more convenient than ordering something online, paying for shipping, and waiting 3-7 business days for it to even reach you. “Affordable,” “easy,” and “effective” are big buzzwords to any college student, and that’s exactly what drugstore skin care products can be. It may take some effort to hunt down the perfect product, and their may be some periods of trial and error, but when you find a product with a low price point that works for you, you’ll wonder how you (and your wallet) ever survived without it.

“I love the CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion because it’s affordable and you get more with your money than higher end moisturizing products,” says Isaiah Zarate, a rising senior at Pace University. “It has hyaluronic acid and ceramides that keep your moisture barrier strong, and it keeps my skin hydrated throughout the day.” 

Remember: just because a product is cheap, doesn’t mean it’s ineffective! Reading the reviews and ingredients in any product is important, but it can be especially helpful when scouting for cheap drugstore products. 

DIY It

DIYs have been a long-standing method of getting creative, treating your skin, and pinching your pennies all in one step. Homemade treatments are a holy grail to college students (and a fun social activity to do with friends!), and to anyone looking to save some money, they’re an easy way of creating your own skin care products and knowing exactly what’s going into them.

“I use a lot of homemade masks and spot treatments to deal with any acne or scarring, and I always keep a tub of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly around to fix up any serious dryness issues,” says Spurthi Kontham, a rising senior at New York University. “I always switch to an all-natural toner of apple cider vinegar diluted in water when my skin is going through a rough patch. It is especially great for helping to heal acne issues. For skin brightening, I use a mask of honey and lemon. I always have sandalwood powder laying around, when mixed with a bit of tumeric and water that works great to even skin tone.” 

From standard kitchen staples to household items, almost every skin care DIY is a combination of ingredients you likely already have lying around. Saving even half a lemon when you cook, some spare honey in your cupboard and some apple cider vinegar from your fridge can level up your skin for no cost at all, with ingredients you may have otherwise had no use for and thrown away.

“If you mix a bit of baking soda in with your face wash, it helps get rid of blackheads and filaments because it messes with your skin’s pH,” says Alexa Pye, a rising freshman in college. “But make sure you use a toner right after to bring everything back into balance!” 

A note of caution when using DIYs: Make sure you understand how the ingredients will react with each other and react with your skin and immediately stop using it if you notice any irritation, redness, dryness, or other abnormalities. Some ingredients can do more harm than good, but no matter what your skin type and skin concern is, there’s a perfect DIY out there for everyone.

“A DIY I use is a coffee ground scrub with honey to use as a face mask or even a body scrub,” says Hannah Mader, a rising sophomore at New York University. “A mixture of salt and water is another good DIY for spot treating pimples.” 

Buy in Bulk

“I always try to buy in bulk, especially if it’s a product I know I love,” says Elli Hu, a rising senior at New York University.

Her words are a life-saving, wallet-loving, go-to intuition for anyone trying to save on skin care. If you have good experiences with a product and it’s available in bulk (ie. a larger quantity for a cheaper price), go for it! Most companies that sell products in bulk package their best-sellers this way, so usually, the item can speak for itself. 

“My favorite moisturizer, Belif Aqua Bomb, is sold only at Sephora and it can be really expensive,” shares Hu. “However, they just dropped a higher-volume package that saves a few dollars than you would buying two smaller containers.” 

Another type of product that often comes in bulk are sheet masks like these from Mediheal

If a product you love and use often is available in a larger quantity, it’s almost always cheaper in the long run to get the higher volume version than to continuously spend money on the lower volume version which you run out of faster. But what do you do with all that extra product you just purchased that you aren’t ready to use yet? 

“If you can, definitely buy in bulk and store product that doesn’t need to be used right away,” says Winter. “I purchased a one pound block of African black soap and cut it into manageable cubes. I also carry my shea butter with me literally everywhere, but since the container it came in is so large, I use an old hair mask container to hold a smaller amount and keep it convenient.” 

That word—convenient—encapsulates buying in bulk. It’s easier not only on you but on your wallet, and more than once, I’ve been on the receiving end of having a stash of a product I love that a store stopped carrying. Places like Costco and Target are fantastic for buying in bulk, but even drugstores sell large versions of items for a lower cost. 

“I love the Pixi Glow Tonic toner from the drugstore because it has glycolic acid in it so it gently exfoliates my skin, and it contains aloe vera so it doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin,” says Amber Lee, a rising senior at the University of Michigan. “I buy this in the bigger size because it’s more than twice the normal size for less than twice the price.” 

Look For Steals and Deals

Finding hidden deals can save you big time when it comes to spending on skin care. Being thrifty relies on knowing how to hunt down those hard-to-find, poorly advertised sales and steals! But for college students, knowing the nooks and crannies of companies’ sales is key.

“I always look for deals on skin care products, like Nature Republic’s Buy 10 Get 10 mask deal. This comes out to about a dollar per mask, which is really worth it for me,” says Hu. 

Sometimes, deals can be limited, like when a company is promoting a limited time offer. In other cases, such as with Nature Republic, deals are ongoing so you can enjoy the savings and skin care any time. Googling ‘skin care deals’ will offer up results mostly consisting of limited time specials and offers, but sellers such as Groupon, Overstock, and Ebates show special coupon codes and bundle packages. Moreover, beauty retailers often have package deals or rewards programs, such as Sephora’s VIB program or Soko Glam’s very own VIP and VIPP levels, in which you gain points with every purchase which can be redeemed later or used for discounts.

“I recommend getting a subscription box like Sephora Play that will send you sample sizes of high end skin care that can last you up to a month!” says Mader. 

Use Multi-Purpose Products

What do a burn-soothing balm, a dry patch moisturizer, a gut-boosting refreshing drink, and an acne treatment all have in common? Well, for starters, they’re all the same single-ingredient product—aloe vera.

“I love keeping an aloe plant at home because it’s such a cure-all for most skin irritation,” shares Hu. “I’ve used it for sunburn on my cheeks, for dry patches on my elbows/face/neck, and for chub-rub on my thighs. The juice/flesh is super spreadable so you don’t really need that much. It’s a really versatile plant; I’ve seen beauty gurus on Instagram blend aloe meat with some other skin-safe oils for hair masks and other hydrating DIY products.” 

Products that can serve more than one purpose in your skin care routine are gold. Versatility that allows for one item to be used to treat multiple problems will save you a ton of money that would otherwise be spent on more and more products to treat all your needs. Finding the right product to use for multiple things can be tricky, but trust me, they’re out there! Below, a few students share their favorite multi-purpose skin care products:

“Shea butter is the only thing that soothes my eczema flare-ups. It has a MULTITUDE of uses. It is an amazing daily moisturizer, acts as a good sunscreen, is wonderful for healing fresh tattoos, and helps fade scars like nobody’s business. Shea butter is also used in many hair products.” – Olivia Winter

“A tub of Vaseline is so versatile. This is my back-up for lip balm, plus if my skin is having a really dry, sensitive moment, I’ll use it as a moisturizer while I sleep. It’s sticky but it does the trick by morning. It has helped me in the past with under eye bags too, and keeps the lashes and eyebrows healthy.” – Spurthi Kontham

Plan for Longevity

Why spend a lot of money on a small amount of product when you could spend less money on a large amount of product? If you can, always try to buy for the long-run.

This doesn’t necessarily mean buying in bulk, as I mentioned above, but it means spending on products that you can use for a long time and that will last you for a long time. 

“One tub of Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay lasted me a year and cost about $12,” says Kontham. “Mixed with apple cider vinegar, there’s truly nothing this mask can’t fix for me. I am a student and have always been a thrifty make-doer, so I am all about buying products with longevity and that I can trust to do the job.”

Indeed, products with a longer life span will keep you thrifty. Drugstores are popular for selling items with long life spans—Kontham notes a tub of CeraVe moisturizer as another favorite with a long usage time—as are marketplaces such as Amazon. 

But some products, though they aren’t packaged for longevity, serve that purpose anyway as you only use a small amount with each use. Exfoliators tend to have long lifespans, as most people only exfoliate a few times a week, yet most exfoliators are sold in the same quantity as daily moisturizers and cleansers. 

“I moisturize my face and neck with raw unrefined shea butter on Amazon,” says Winter. She purchased 24 ounces for under $14 in December, uses it twice a day, and has hardly made a dent in it after seven months. 

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re a student or not, saving a couple of dollars while still having an effective skin care routine is tantalizing. In the end, thriftiness really comes down to flexibility and strategy—if you’re willing to cut some corners and hunt down some deals, a cheaper skin care routine will be a piece of cake. Just remember to utilize your resources, and don’t be afraid to try new products! 

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