As a person who suffers from what can be pretty severe acne, I find myself absolutely mesmerized by skin care culture. On late nights, you can find me scrolling through various models’ or beauty gurus’ Instagram photos, zooming in on their impossibly clear, glowy skin and scouring through thousands of comments for a hint of what products they may be using. Other times, I’ll spend hours (yes, hours) watching my favorite beauty YouTubers test and review new serums or lotions or talk about the products they already swear by. Gathering recommendations from people with smooth, acne-free skin gives me hope that maybe one day I’ll look the same.
However, my dreams (and my wallet) are usually dashed at lightning speed, after I research and look up the skin care items that are being raved about. Turns out, skin care is somewhat of a luxury--a luxury that I, and many others, simply can’t afford. High-quality skin care can be alarmingly expensive, which is sometimes due to the brand name or ingredients used in the formula. I remember finding a nicely packaged, highly-reviewed facial cream online once, only to feel my heart break into a million pieces after looking at the price. ($350 for a gold-infused moisturizer?! Who even NEEDS gold in their moisturizer?!)
For months, I’ve been obsessively checking online makeup stores, testing out sample products from Sephora and spending way, way, way too much money on items that just ended up making my skin worse.
However, after so much time of draining my bank account and the painstakingly slow trial-and-error process it takes to test skin care products, I think I’ve found a solution for cheap, yet high-quality skincare, and it goes by the name of T.J. Maxx
Unless you've been hiding under a rock for, say, the last 42 years (the store was founded in 1976), I'm sure you've heard of T.J. Maxx. They have locations nationwide and sell a wide variety of clothing, shoes, furniture and other various household items. Trust me, I’m no stranger to the franchise--when my teeny-tiny hometown of Culpeper, Virginia got one a few years ago, it was basically Christmas. They’ve stayed a staple of contemporary American society over the years, branding themselves as a retail store that has for everybody. Little did I know, however, they have a hidden treasure trove of cheap skin care items, that aren't made up of harmful chemicals or weird perfumes.
I’ve actually found quite a few products that were amazing for my skin, so much so that I feel kind of guilty for getting them at such a cheap price. (Okay, maybe not that guilty, but you get the picture.)
In this list are the most high-quality, effective and cheap skin care products that I've found in my many T.J. Maxx expeditions, in no particular order.
1. Valjean Labs Hydrating Facial Mist with Vitamin B5 and Hyaluronic Acid
I tend to have pretty dry skin, especially in the winter- so I've been in dire need of a quick fix for when I'm about to go outside and brave the cold. This mist is as hydrating as they come, because of the presence of Vitamin B5, which is a water-soluble vitamin with natural abilities to moisturize and soothe skin. The mist itself is also cool and refreshing. (Plus, it makes me feel super fancy when I use it, which is always an added bonus.)
2. Alba Botanica Hawaiian Detox Scrub with Volcanic Clay
Price: Below $10
I've been looking for a good exfoliant for a while, due to the frigid weather drying my skin out. Exfoliating can mean a world of difference to your skin, especially when it’s blustery outside. I really loved this find in particular, because the exfoliant was harsh enough that it scrubbed off my dry, flaky skin, but was still gentle enough that it didn’t irritate it. I already knew that the Alba Botanica brand was good for acne, but this product seriously changed the way my skin looks with and without makeup. The only downside is that sometimes, scrub particles will be left on your face after washing, but they can be easily wiped away with a makeup remover or brush. This item isn't available online, so I couldn't find an exact price point- but I do remember the product being less than $10.
3. Skinsolve Clarifying Tea Tree Beauty Oil
This one is for anyone who struggles with crazy, unpredictable acne, like me. I’ve been struggling with awful cystic acne my entire life, and I’ve tried to use pretty much every spot treatment known to mankind. No matter what I picked up at the store or what my dermatologist recommended, both salicylic and benzoyl peroxide spot treatments were useless to me. Tea Tree oil is different, however- no spot treatment has ever worked better for my skin. The oil dries out even my most stubborn acne, practically overnight. That being said, too much tea tree oil can be excessively drying and irritating to the skin, so make sure to use it in moderation or mix a small amount into your moisturizer or face wash.
4. The Body Shop Clarifying Milky Toner with Chinese Ginseng and Rice
Price: Below $15
Anyone who has a skincare routine knows how important of a step toner is, especially to those who are acne-prone. The reason I loved this toner was that I almost immediately saw results: after just a few uses, I could see a slight brightening effect and an evening-out of my skin. It’s alcohol-free, which makes it less drying than some toners can be. Also, it’s 100% vegan- it’s always reassuring to know your beauty products aren’t being made with or tested on animals. I couldn't find an exact price point online for this item, but I remember it being less than $15, which is heavily discounted from what you would pay in-store at The Body Shop.
5. Berrisom Animal Sheet Masks
Price:$2-$5 for individual mask
Pretty much every Korean skin care product is amazing, so this one was no surprise. Berrisom's Animal Sheet Mask line has seven different animals to choose from, each animal designating different ingredients for your skin: the dog mask has Hyaluronic Acid, the panda has blackberry extract, the tiger has Red Korean Ginseng. I’ve tried the panda mask, and it left my skin feeling impossibly smooth and soft. Plus, the animals actually look kind of terrifying on the face, so it’s a good opportunity to hide and see if you can scare the heck out of someone. The price point isn't listed online, but these kinds of masks typically go for $2-$5 individually and around $10 for a pack.
6. Organic Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is just one of those fail-safe products that everyone rants about, and for a good reason: it’s insanely moisturizing and naturally antibacterial and antifungal. Personally, I love using coconut oil as a makeup remover, as it breaks down all of my makeup without harsh chemicals that sting. On a day where my skin is particularly dry or irritated, I like to add a small amount to my moisturizer- be careful using coconut oil if you have oily skin already, though, as it could block your pores.
I stumbled upon some lucky finds in my previous treks to T.J. Maxx, but don’t just blindly grab any item you find for less than $10. Just like with anything else, be aware of products’ ingredients and expiration dates. For example, check the expiration date on any sunscreen you find, as they tend to be pretty soon. Additionally, be careful with any product containing Vitamin C, as it has a very short shelf life and might be close to its expiration date as well. And you don’t want to be putting an expired product on your face, trust me...I’ve been there way too many times and it’s not worth the bargain.
In general, skin care can be expensive and hard to access, but don’t let that deter you from searching for quality products that fit your budget. Stores like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Ross are often discredited for selling discounted items (sometimes for a good reason), but don’t get scared away--you might miss out on a good deal.
This is the end of my list for now, but I fully expect to expand it, as I continue along my quest for clear skin. If you’re struggling with your skin like me, just remember that it’s not the end of the world, and don’t give up on looking for a product that might work for you. You might just wander into a T.J. Maxx one day and find it.