50 best beauty bargains: Sali Hughes’s favourite products for under £20

At the drawing board stage of this year’s bargain special, I genuinely worried I wouldn’t find enough products at a low enough price to celebrate. Having formulated my own products (which naturally, I excluded from consideration), I know how expensive the entire supply chain has become since Brexit and Covid.

Unlike with the creation of luxury products, the formulation of beauty bargains is a precarious process. Every single spray mechanism, lid and millilitre of ingredient increases the bottom line and jeopardises commercial viability. Which is why I’m even more impressed when a bargain brand launches something brilliant that can hold its own against the limitless budgets of the luxury sector.

Photograph: Martina Lang/The Guardian

I needn’t have worried. My long-list of 130 under £20 came easily; whittling it down was much more difficult. There is a smattering of repeat winners, as I’ve always felt it dishonest and unhelpful to pretend a product has been bettered for the sake of fresh content. So here they are again.

A note on animal welfare. I have not marked any of my picks “cruelty free”, as no beauty products sold in the UK and EU are tested on animals – this has been the case since 2014. Many beauty consumers are worried that our adherence to the EU ban on animal testing is in danger post-Brexit, but to opt back in to animal testing is not in a brand’s commercial or reputational interest. It would be an unnecessarily complex, stupid thing to do.

This isn’t to say many brands here don’t still sell in mainland China, where they’re required by law to submit products for animal testing, but I’ll leave you to decide how you feel about that. I have specified where a product is described as “vegan” by its manufacturers. There may be others on the list that are vegan-suitable but not declared as such, so do check with brands and retailers for more information.

Happy shopping.


1 Garnier SkinActive Vitamin C Daily UV Brightening Fluid Glow, 40ml, SPF50, £8.66 (vegan)
Recently, a number of industry colleagues complimented me on my skin and asked me which foundation I was wearing. I wasn’t. I’d just put on this and some concealer. It’s a peachy-toned, very subtly pearlescent sunscreen for any skin colour and type that simultaneously perks up the complexion while protecting it from UV. Garnier and its sister brand Ambre Solaire are now so dominant in the brilliant budget SPF sector that they should probably be investigated by the Competition Commission.

2 Bioré Aqua Rich UV Watery Essence Sunscreen, 50ml, SPF50, £15.99
Still the gold standard in budget daily sunscreen for those with oily skin, this super-fine, weightless, invisible Japanese sunscreen gives refreshing, juicy hydration, zero grease, and works great under makeup. If you’ve been buying dubious imports and paying the extra tax, you’ll be glad to know it’s finally available (albeit with a price hike) in Superdrug.

3 e.l.f. Holy Hydration! Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm, £11 (vegan)
A terrific, removes-it-all balm to be massaged into dry skin, emulsified with a dash of warm water, then removed with a warm wet flannel, to leave skin clean, comfy and ready for bed.

4 Garnier Gentle Hydrating Deep Face Cleanser, £5.59 (vegan)
One of my favourite launches of the past 12 months, from low-end to high-luxury. If you are sensitive skinned, cash-strapped, faff-averse or time-poor, this is a terrific, easy-to-use face wash either on its own in the morning or as a second night-time cleanse after makeup remover. Rinses away fast and thoroughly without the drying squeak, leaving skin clean, comfy and calm. 10/10.

5 Ambre Solaire Over Makeup Super UV, SPF50, 75ml, £13
I’m disappointed to see this increase substantially in price since my previous list in 2022, but so has the size of the can and it’s still well worth the money. The official guidance is to reapply sunscreen every three to four hours to remain protected. In reality, practically no one follows it. This – a portable, mess-free, instant SPF top-up that doesn’t alter or remove makeup – leaves us with no excuses.

6 Olay Super Serum, £19.99 for a limited time (then £39.99)
Grab this while you can, because the UK launch price is temporary. Has almost everything you’d ever want in a daily serum: niacinamide, vitamins C and E, collagen peptide and lactic acid, all in a silky, glow-giving, slightly pearlescent serum. It’s going gangbusters across the Atlantic – there’s a bottle sold a minute in the US.

7 Simple Micellar Water, 400ml, £6 (vegan)
All other makeup-removing waters can get their coats and return home. If you’re in hospital, at a festival, in a rush, knackered, drunk, ill or lazy, this is your instant and effortless cleanser, and there’s no rinse required. Anyone paying for luxury micellar is throwing cash down the drain.

8 L’Oréal Revitalift Clinical Anti-UV Fluid, 50ml, SPF50, £19.99
One of the most celebrated skincare products of 2023. It’s not hard to see why this weightless, comfy, oil-free liquid has turned out to be such a crowdpleaser. A great all-rounder for every skin tone and texture. Extremely easy to use, carry – and to love. The elegant texture behaves itself under makeup and leaves no white cast or ashiness on deeper tones.

9 The Body Shop Camomile Gentle Eye Makeup Remover, 250ml, £8 (vegan)
At the time of writing, Body Shop stores and website are still trading, and I hope you are still able to support what is undoubtedly the single most influential and important British beauty brand in history. I could have chosen any number of its products, but it seemed right that I went with this, an Anita Roddick original and a household staple of mine since the 1980s. This is a brilliant eye makeup remover, but also the best stain-busting cleanser for delicate fabrics, upholstery and other fine surfaces. It lives under my kitchen sink and, truly, has saved many a day. Let’s try to save its maker.

10 Hada Labo Moisturizing Facial Sheet Mask, 20ml, £3.29
I can’t claim to be a regular mask user (if your skin responds well to an ingredient, use it daily rather than saving for Sunday best), but if you’re flying long haul, prepping for a wedding, recovering from a hangover or simply wanting to shut out the world and not speak for 10 to 15 minutes, this is the hyaluronic acid-drenched mask I’d recommend. A huge drink of water for a frazzled face.

11 Ambre Solaire Anti-Dryness Super UV Protection Cream with Glycerin, 50ml, SPF50, £12
Probably my most worn sunscreen of last year. If you have dry skin, this glycerin-rich cream acts as a high protection SPF, rich and non-greasy moisturiser, and makeup primer in one. Outstanding value for a formula that trumps many a high luxury offering.

12 Adore Home Wash Mitts, £7.99 for six (vegan)
For perfect, gentle exfoliating and thorough cleansing, don a fresh one of these to complete your morning routine and leave out to dry, then use again for night-time makeup removal before washing with your whites. Expensive cloths from fancy brands are a waste of cash. I buy these by the dozen.

Photograph: Martina Lang/The Guardian

13 Curél Deep Moisture Spray, 150ml, £19.50
Not much from this high quality, mid-price brand slipped under the price threshold except for this, arguably Curél’s best product. Mist this pH-balanced, alcohol-free, ceramide-rich hydrating lotion over midday skin to revive and refresh, over night-time retinoids to counter dryness, over a just-showered face to top up moisture reserves, on top of makeup for a glassy, glowy finish, or all of the above – this is essentially a drinks dispenser for thirsty skin.

14 The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors Beta Glucan, 100ml, £12 (vegan)
No bargain beauty bonanza is complete without a shout-out to the brand that revolutionised the sector with its democratic, effective, active single ingredient skincare (think of luxury beauty brands as Anadin Extra, and then think of The Ordinary as generic, plainly packaged supermarket paracetamol and you get the business model). Ironically, though, it’s this newer range of multi-ingredient formulas that better appeals to my own skincare tastes. This super-light gel moisturiser for the grease-averse is well worth your cash. Teenagers love it, too.

15 Byoma Clarifying Serum, 30ml, £12.99 (vegan)
Byoma’s focus is firmly on protecting and nurturing the skin’s healthy barrier function, which is first to suffer with many harsh products for oily and “problem skin”. This takes a kinder approach with zinc, gentler poly-hydroxy acids, antioxidants and a blend of cushiony ceramides. An intelligent formulation at a great price, and refillable too.

16 Beauty Pie Japanfusion Pure Transforming Cleanser, 100ml, £10 to members (vegan)
There’s loads to love at Beauty Pie, but I’ve limited it to one entry, since the bargain prices are reserved for members (this product is £17 for non-members), which involves an annual subscription fee (one I cheerfully pay myself). I chose this east Asian-style morning cleanser because there’s nothing else quite like it – a light, silky cream that “breaks” into a gel as it’s massaged into dry skin, then turns milky on contact with water, to be rinsed or wiped cleanly away with a wet flannel, leaving behind plumped, clean, healthy-looking skin. One of the all-time greats.

17 Dr Jart Cicapair Sleepair Intensive Mask, £17
Arguably not a high street brand, but this is such good value that I had to include it. A skin-soothing mask to be applied before bed for greater comfort and calm to irritated skin. Suitable for rosacea sufferers.

18 La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo+M, 40ml, £16.72
The first thing I suggest when anyone asks what they can give their teenagers whose mild acne does not require medical attention. And what I gave to my own two sons when their time came.

19 CeraVe Moisturising Cream, 50ml, £6
It’s hard to believe wildly popular US megabrand CeraVe has existed in the UK for only six years. Founded by dermatologists, its entire philosophy is based around the use of three ceramides (found naturally in the skin and essential in a healthy barrier function) and a patented delivery system. This, CeraVe’s first product, delivers ceramides to faces and bodies, young to old, giving immediate comfort and calm to sore, chapped, dry or compromised skin. A handbag hero and skincare staple.

20 Weleda Skin Food, 30ml, £8.25
There are few skincare products as loved, and as recognisable, as this thick, unctuous, somewhat unwieldy, multipurpose moisturising skin ointment. With a large assortment of spin-offs from the original (Skin Food Body Butter, Skin Food Light, Skin Food Lip Balm and so on…), the Skin Food franchise has become the veritable M&S Percy Pigs of beauty, but this classic tube has most things covered. Keep in your bag for use on face, cuticles, elbows – anywhere that needs some comfort and slip.

21 La Roche Posay Cicaplast Ultrarepairing Soothing Balm, 40ml, £10.90
There are few products I recommend to everyone of every age and skin type, but Cicaplast Balm is less a beauty preparation, more an extension of your household first aid kit. This thick, clinically proven, dermatologist-recommended balm provides immediate and lasting relief to sore, bitten, reactive skin. (I used it on an angry allergic reaction to nickel in February. My red, blistered wrist was calm in three days.) It can be dabbed safely on everything from minor burns to nappy rash. You need it.

22 CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser, 236ml, £14.50
Salicylic acid (SA) is the best ingredient for minimising those rough, bumpy pimples on upper arms, thighs and lower cheeks. It’s also very effective on blackheads and mild acne, making this non-irritating, generously portioned face and body wash a great multitasker for all the family. There’s a matching body lotion if you’d like to take a belt and braces approach.


23 Superdrug Vitamin E Almond Oil Moisturising Shower Cream, £2.29 (vegan)
My fallback approach has always been “cheap shower, luxury bath”, but this combines the two. Milky, skin-softening wash cream that fills the bathroom with the comforting smell of bakewell tart. The excellent price means you can glug away guiltlessly when in need of a treat.

24 Garnier Body Superfood, 100ml, £9.99 (vegan)
Garnier’s reinvention has been done so well that I could probably fill a whole top 20 with its products, but these Body Superfood creams are among my most used personally. Satisfyingly huge tubs of luxurious, skin-softening body cream to slap on with lavish abandon. I favour the Vitamin C; the Oat Milk & Probiotic and the Avocado & Omega 6 versions, but every cream in the lineup is well worth your tenner (usually much less, since they’re frequently on offer).

25 Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam, 200ml, £17.49 (vegan)
Self tan is a spendy sector of beauty, commanding a premium for its seasonal popularity and occasional use. Bondi Sands is priced more fairly but doesn’t compromise on top-end quality and ease of application. Exfoliate thoroughly with a scrub mitt or cloth, then apply this on to clean skin with a tanning mitt until blended. Gives even, brown colour for three to four days.

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26 Dove Restoring Care Foaming Bath Soak Coconut and Cacao scent, 450ml, £2.99
Dove relaunched its bath and body care last year, and didn’t put a foot wrong. I’ve so far emptied three squeeze bottles of these soft, fragrant, grown-up bubbles, and my skin approves. Budget bath-time decadence without the dryness.

27 Dove Pro-Age Care Body Lotion, 400ml, £7
Another 2023 beauty highlight for me. This ungreasy, fragrant lotion descales with alpha hydroxy acids as it moisturises, leaving rough shins and upper arms smooth, silky and comfortable. Scores extra points for a fast sink-in time, allowing for quick post-shower dressing.

28 Gallinée Cleansing Bar, £13 (vegan)
When I first wrote about this gynaecologist-formulated, ultra-mild cleansing bar for every – and I mean every – part of the body, the response was split between fury at the suggestion that intimate areas might need a special soap (no, they don’t) and gratitude from my fellow cystitis sufferers who declared it life-changing (yes, it is). If you know, you know. If you don’t, count yourself lucky.

29 Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Deep Moisture Express Body Mist, 200ml, £6.99
I’d never skip body cream, but the heavy textures, delayed absorption and greasy after-feel of many of them often puts off people who sorely need extra moisture. This solves the problem, adding instant, weightless comfort and lubrication to dry skin. The efficient aerosol even treats the back without need for gymnastics.

30 Vichy Capital Soleil Solar Protective Water, 200ml, SPF30, £14.62
A fast, easy, invisible, entirely non-greasy SPF that provides high protection while simultaneously imparting non-shimmery glow to summer limbs. Needs virtually no rubbing in and works with every skin tone. I’ve never passed it to anyone who didn’t immediately love it.


31 Stila Convertible Color Dual Lip & Cheek Cream, 4.25g, £18
Not a high street product as such, but I cannot believe that, decades after its first launch, and when prices across beauty have soared, this outstanding multipurpose lip and cheek cream is still less than £20. And so it well deserves its repeat entry this year. Brilliant and bargainous, this creamy balm smooshes prettily into the skin, leaving a dewy – but not shiny – finish. Bravo.

32 L’Oréal Paris True Match Nude Plumping Tinted Serum, 30ml, £14.99
I wish I had a pound for every woman (and man) who has thanked me for this recommendation. A sheer, ultra-flattering, skin-hydrating and idiot-proof base for casual makeup days. If it weren’t for the glass dropper bottle, which some find awkward to use as well as less portable, this would be faultless.

33 Maybelline Dream Radiant Liquid Foundation, 30ml, £8.99
I spied this a few months back and bought it on the spot. It’s very easy to apply and wear, and lasts well without the colour altering at all. Moist, satiny, comfortable and glowy, it’s a great all-round, everyday medium-coverage foundation for any skin type. You can’t get a better base for under a tenner.

34 Sculpted By Aimee MyMascara, 13.1g, £18 (vegan)
There were heaps of Sculpted By Aimee products I would have liked to have included (especially lovely HydraTint), but all crept past the price cutoff. So I went with this very effective, dramatic but elegant and comfy-to-wear mascara, since I’ve yet to find anyone who doesn’t love it. I’d like more shades now please.

35 No7 Hydraluminous Moisturising Foundation, 30ml, £14.95
This is easily the best No7 makeup product. User friendly (in the absence of brush or sponge, it can go on with fingers), could pass convincingly for very many foundations priced at £35-plus, and leaves skin perfectly even, healthy looking and smooth. I wish more foundations were packaged in this sort of handbag-friendly tube.

36 e.l.f. Halo Glow Liquid Filter, £15, 31.5ml (vegan)
For this list, I never look for “dupes”, but this one (based on a favourite Charlotte Tilbury product) is too good to gate-keep. For instant, sheer glow apply this pearlescent lotion all over your face. For more coverage, layer your regular foundation over the top. For a brightening moisturiser, mix in with your day cream or use it as a cheekbone highlighter. Comes in a good range of shades. I wear Light.

37 Makeup Revolution Ultra Cream Bronzer, 12g, £6 (vegan)
I favour a cream bronzer over a powder for a more natural, skin-flattering veil of sunny colour. A non-orangey tone, a sheer, believable coverage and blendable but controllable texture represent the difference between a good and bad one, and this ticks all three boxes. The extraordinary price makes it a no-brainer.

38 NYX Lip Pencil, 1.04g, £4
Hands down, among the best lipliners at any price point. Neither too hard (scratchy), nor too soft (in constant need of sharpening), these are the perfect Goldilocks’ porridge of pencils and come in sensible, lip flattering shades you’ll actually use. I wear Nude Beige with brown lipsticks, Pale Pink and Mauve with pinkier tones, and Natural blended in with clear lip balm for an easy, everyday lips-only-better tint.

39 Maybelline Eraser Multi-use Concealer, 6.6ml, £7.19
This narrowly beat Bourjois as my best budget concealer because of its superior and inclusive shade range. This is a terrific medium-coverage concealer for covering dark circles, discoloration and spots. The Bingo-dabber style applicator makes on-the-go application a breeze.

40 Hildun Silk to Set Kajal Liner, £16
In no way am I suggesting that £16 is cheap for an eyeliner, but it would be remiss of me not to draw your attention to these, which in their price bracket at least, are peerless. Beautiful, elegant shades, easy gliding application and (after allowing to set for a minute) very good longevity. This Irish beauty editor-founded brand is giving luxury houses a run for their money.

41 Revlon ColorStay Crème Eye Shadow, 5.2g, £6.99
If your eyeshadow makes a break for the border too soon after application, grab yourself one of these – they do not budge. The colour palette is small, but all three shimmery, neutral shades are super-flattering, mistake-proof (including with smooshy fingertip application) and go with every occasion, from supermarket run to wedding.

42 NYX Lift & Snatch Brow Tint Pen, £9.59
I have forsaken all other brow pens across all price points. This is the best. A super-fine nib, free-flowing ink in accurately flat, cool, dull as a dirty puddle colours, and a natural looking hair-stroke finish all make for sharp, groomed-looking brows in a more dressy makeup look. Start in the middle of your brows where hairs are denser, before moving the pen to either end – it looks more natural.

43 Max Factor False Lash Effect, 13.1ml, £10.39
Still one of the greatest mascaras for creating long, fluttery, bovine lashes – many a beauty editor agrees with me.

44 e.l.f. No Budge Cream Eyeshadow, £5 (vegan)
There were several excellent e.l.f products jostling for inclusion (including the viral Putty Blush), but this creamy pot of eyelid colour romped home because it holds its own against the luxury equivalents. I blend over the eyelids, just beyond the socketline, and use a smaller brush to apply as a soft, smudgy, lower eyelid liner. Sand Dune – a neutral, taupey brown – is the easiest to wear.

45 Real Techniques Mini Multitask Brush, £6 (vegan)
Looks unexceptional, but this mini pink makeup brush has long been among my most used beauty tools. Blends cream or powder bronzer – even foundation, powder and blusher at a push, is small enough to chuck into a mini-bag, cheap enough to wash with Fairy Liquid, and accessible enough to replace easily if lost. I won’t be without it.

46 Rimmel Kind & Free Pressed Powder, 10g, £6.99
Bargain face powder can look dusty or caked on, but not this. It’s a finely milled and consequently sheer, silky, subtle face powder that effectively mattifies shine around the nose, chin and forehead without dulling the face’s vigour.


47 Pantene Molecular Bond Repair Intensive Hair Mask, 300ml, £10
Bonding products – treatment products that fill broken and damaged bonds in fragile or over-processed hair – have, without question, represented one of the biggest innovations in beauty in well over a decade. Last year saw bonding technology trickle down from luxury to budget products, and this is among the best of them (and carries that addictive and unmistakably Pantene smell of clean hair). Use weekly on damaged lengths.

48 L’Oréal Age Perfect Beautifying Silver Care, 80ml, £11.75
Since bleaching my brown hair to match my greys in 2021, I have tried more than 100 temporary toners, from purple shampoo to indigo mousse. This is simply the best. Originally recommended to me by a reader in her 80s, this simple, wash-in, two-minute conditioning toner, gives even, no-yellow brightness to hair made blond, white, grey or silver by either bleach or time. And it’s risk-free – the results last only two to three washes. Why L’Oréal makes it so awkward to find, I don’t know.

49 L’Oréal Elvive 8-Second Wonder Water, 200ml, £5.99
Britain’s most popular hair brand’s most hyped launch was not for nothing. This fast, light-textured conditioning treatment continues to fly off the shelves – and with good reason. Post-wash strands feel glossy, almost laminated, without any heaviness. There’s now a version for every hair type and gripe.

50 Monday Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner, 350ml, £3.33 (vegan)
Pleasingly fat bottles of sodium laureth sulphate-free, vegan haircare that looks great, performs very well and represents outstanding value for money. Children love it, too.

Prices correct at time of going to press


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