These are the low-cost beauty essentials that locals love best.
No matter what continent you’re on, you’ll find low-cost beauty and grooming staples made with quality ingredients that have stood the test of time to become self-care essentials, even iconic products of their country. Scope them out in supermarkets or corner drugstores, ask locals about the best, and stock up. These tried-and-true beauty solutions make great souvenirs, too.
Rento Tar Sauna Soap
It’s all about the sauna in Finland (you’ve probably heard the statistic that there is one sauna for every 1.5 people in the country). Sauna accessories are a big part of sauna culture. One of the best accessories is Rento’s Sauna Soap (on a rope), which comes in various scents including birch and tar. The tar version, a deep chocolate brown in color, has a unique smoky fragrance, making you feel like you’re inside a smoldering sauna hut. It’s derived from pine tar, which the Finns tout for its ability to reduce inflammation, as well as its deep moisturizing capabilities.
INSIDER TIPFor an optimum sauna experience, grab a loofah and scrub off dead skin. Always dry off with 100% cotton towels. They absorb wetness better and will be the kindest to your skin.
Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentre
Embryolisse’s moisturizing milk is kind of like the basic white T-shirt of the French beauty regime, a low-cost staple that’s easy to use and goes with everything. Fashion week makeup artists love to use it as a primer and makeup remover. So does any Madame or Mademoiselle who also appreciates it as a deep penetrating moisturizer. The cream was invented in 1950 by a Parisian dermatologist. The name of the original formula can’t help but intrigue: is it made with embryo extract? If so, whose? The answer, you’ll be pleased to know, is non. It’s just named that way because it’s supposed to make your skin as soft as a baby’s.
INSIDER TIPEmbryo+ lisse (which means smooth) = Embryolisse. Great product, terrifying name.
This toothpaste brand was started in Switzerland about half a century ago with a red and white tube in the same colors as the Swiss flag. Though today it’s gone multi-national, it’s still a Swiss favorite, and a cult classic. Elmex was the first toothpaste to use amine fluoride instead of sodium fluoride as a cavity fighter. It’s best when used in conjunction with Elmex Dental Rinse, which leaves breath feeling as clean and fresh as alpine air.
Hukka Eye Orbits
Finnish craftsman carve and smooth local Hukka soapstone into donut-shaped pieces, which the Finns chill and then place on their eyes to reduce strain from long hours at the computer, a late night out, or allergies. The difference between this and a chilled spoon, or cucumber slices? The two-billion-year-old soapstone, which comes from the Karelian mountain range, is great at retaining coolness (or heat) to make the eye treatment last a nice long time.
This classic French ointment was originally used to heal cuts and dry nasal membranes. But it also has many uses in the beauty world. The signature pink and white tube (it also comes in a stick, but purists go for the tube) is in the case of every makeup artist, and in the bathroom drawer of pretty much every Parisienne. Those in the know dab it on cheekbones for a bright highlight or brush it on top of eye shadow for a glam makeup look. But it works especially well as a weapon against dry, chapped lips, delivering relief and shine.
Magno Jabon by La Toja Black Soap
Magno black soap first appeared in 1955 in one of those glamorous beauty ads of yesteryear. The soap contains glycerin and was made with the softening water of Spain’s La Toja spring. It has many a fan in the acne-troubled, but it’s also popular with those who have fun just watching the ebony black soap lather up white as snow, and who like lovely slightly citrusy scent that’s reminiscent of Spain.
Binchotan Charcoal Toothbrush
These toothbrushes blend Binchotan Charcoal powder into the bristles. The activated charcoal has been used for centuries in Japan as a water purifier and it’s touted as naturally anti-bacterial. It also supposedly radiates negative ions while its soft bristles are gentle on the gums. The chic, sleek shape of the colorful wand provides style to your oral health routine.
Graham’s Natural Alternatives SunClear SPF 30+ Reef Friendly Sunscreen
It’s a no brainer to slather your skin with sunscreen while on the beach. But how much thought have you given to what washes off in the water (or sometimes gets deep into the sand)? Oxybenzone is a common UV-filtering chemical compound that is toxic to coral and contributes to the decline of reefs around the world. A spray sunscreen wafts into the air and can get embedded in the beach, becoming a hazard to turtle nesting areas. Help save the Great Barrier Reef and other environmentally impaired areas with Australian brand Graham’s Natural SunClear SPF 30+ reef-friendly sunscreen that is free of Oxybenzone.
Manetti & Roberts Acqua Alle Rose Wet Wipes
Refresh your face day or night with a swipe of these rose tonic wet wipes. They are a marvel, made with the distilled essence of the Centiflora rose petal and based on Acqua Alle Rose’s original 150-year-old formula. They also remove makeup and dirt from your face, and the scent of roses smells divine as it softens the skin.
Chanteclair Lessive Savon de Marseille
France makes the best-smelling laundry soap and Liquid Marseille laundry detergent is a top pick for its fresh scent. It’s a pain to pack (make sure the lid is tight and double plastic bag it before you put it in your suitcase), but once you’re back home, you’ll be glad you made the effort. Use it for sheets and linens to bring that iconic Marseille scent home.
Nenuco Baby Agua de Colonia
Like many items on this list, this “baby cologne” is multifunctional. Put a splash in baby’s bath water or add a few drops to the water chamber in your iron. Parents sometimes even spray it into their kid’s hair or inside hats and helmets as a citrus-based flea repellent. Oddly, it’s also been known to revive cut flowers. It’s pH-neutral for sensitive skin and we can’t get enough of its subtle lemony scent.
Leite De Rosas
This is the brand that every Brazilian girl will say her mother, aunt, grandmother, and maybe great grandmother told her about. Leite De Rosas has been around for almost a century and the retro-looking packaging has been the same since its first days. It delivers a 1-2-3 punch: Brazilians use it as a skin cleanser, a makeup remover, and a deodorant. Many appreciate its astringent qualities and swear it’s the best weapon against acne, though the company doesn’t market it for that. Others like to mix it with baking soda for a deep pore cleanse.
A-listers’ makeup artists are usually packing an arsenal of MAGICSTRIPES, a new German line of face-defining contour strips. German makeup artist Natalie Franz was inspired to create eyelid contour strips after she saw a similar product that temporarily rectified eyelid droop on a trip to Japan. Her line includes a range of sizes from tiny almond-shaped under eye strips to bigger ones that target sagging chin and cheeks. All in the line are stuffed with high concentrations of rejuvenating serums that are dermatologically tested, paraben-free, and cruelty-free. It’s an old-school idea updated with new technology and cool, minimalist packaging.
Helia D Anti-Wrinkle Roll-on Eye Serum
Helia D is a favorite Hungarian drugstore brand known for its use of natural plant ingredients. The roll-on eye serum in a cute little tube contains vitamin E and sunflower extract as well as key wrinkle fighter hyaluronic acid. It feels nice and cool as you roll it over little crevices, smoothing them out.
Jade Face Roller
This Chinese skin-care tool has been used to massage the skin since at least the 17th century. But these days it’s a beauty blogger favorite‑-the rollers are often sold in millennial-pink shades. The long long list of its supposed benefits (erasing wrinkles, decreasing under eye circles, curing headaches, and calming inflammation) are mostly anecdotal, but there are certainly doctors who will vouch for the fact that rolling can increase blood circulation (preventing blood stagnation being a core part of Chinese medicine) and improve lymphatic drainage.
Grandpa Headache Powders
WHERE: South Africa
Cool retro packaging aside, this longtime, best-selling headache remedy is a triple threat against headaches due to its combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. Needless to say, it’s to be used with caution, and as sparingly as possible. But its fans will say that nothing cures a headache faster or more effectively. It also comes in a pill form, although the powder form is said to get to the problem even faster.
Lakme Eyeconic Kajal
First, a primer on the difference between kajal and kohl: Kajal is mostly made with a combination of natural ingredients and soot, while kohl is made from powders, pigments, and waxes. The second thing to know is that kajal is a quintessential part of any Indian makeup routine, delivering the perfect smoky eye. Lakme Eyeconic Kajal is quality yet inexpensive brand that can be found in the many little beauty shops around India where it’s said to prevent eye infections and ward off evil.
Maybelline Great Lash Mascara
There are more expensive mascaras than this classic US drugstore brand, recognizable at first glance by its iconic pink and green tube. But it’s the magic wand of choice for makeup junkies, professional or amateur. The water-based mascara with its user-friendly small brush first appeared in 1971, and its formula hasn’t changed since–although its color range has increased, going all the way to “Blackest Black.”
Acne Pimple Master Patch
COSRX is a popular line of K beauty sold online. Its low price and short list of ingredients appeal to skincare enthusiasts worldwide. Their Acne Pimple Master Patches are clear thin hydrocolloid stickers that cover zits. They cling to skin, even if its oily or damp, and stay firmly in place even in the shower, all the while breaking down the dirt that causes blackheads. Wear them overnight and peel off in the morning to wake up to bright clear skin.
Alcolado Glacial is made by the same company that manufactures the Caribbean island’s famous eponymous blue liqueur. But, this stuff isn’t blue (it’s a bold emerald green) and you sure don’t drink it. It’s a mentholated splash that locals like to call “air conditioner in a bottle.” Splash some over your body, behind your neck after a day at the beach, or after a hot and weary commute home from work. The menthol really cools you down. Locals also use it as an aftershave, cologne, insect bite relief, even as a cure for stuffy noses.
Never mind that this product isn’t made in Egypt (it’s made in the United States). It’s based on the beauty rituals of the country that gave us henna, honey and milk baths, eye makeup, and countless ancient beauty products that we still use today. While we’re not sure if this is Cleopatra-approved, it does have quite the current celebrity following who like the fact that Egyptian Magic is made without added preservatives, parabens, or GMO ingredients. In fact, it has just six ingredients: olive oil, beeswax, honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, bee propolis, and “divine love.” This mighty all-purpose product is used by Egypt Magic junkies as a face moisturizer, eye cream, scar treatment, hair mask, shaving balm, eczema cream, and burn ointment—just to name a few uses.