I Tried 60 Samples of Expensive Beauty Products in 30 Days—Here's What I'd Buy

I should probably start by clarifying: Even pre-quarantine, 50% of my job entailed unboxing, testing, reviewing, and re-testing beauty products. This is not a luxury I take lightly, and while it might seem like a mundane task, my fellow beauty editor, Courtney, and I take a lot of pride in our ability to test and provide thoughtful feedback. (We quite literally receive hundreds of packages each month, so you can understand how this makes up a big part of our job!) Some of this feedback is just between the two of us on Slack, some of it goes to a brand's PR team or even its CEO, and a lot of the time, it comes directly to you!

With so many swipes and swatches under my belt, it takes a lot to impress me, and I've admitted on more than one occasion that I've become a bit jaded to the beauty industry's deluge of smoke-and-mirror product launches. Therefore, when a product truly knocks my socks off, it feels like a really big deal, and I can't wait to share every detail. 

Before quarantine, my normal day-to-day was studded with meetings, events, writing, catching up on emails, and everything else being a beauty editor entails. (In addition to, you know, having a life outside of work!) Because of that, it became nearly impossible to try every single product I received, and I had amassed quite a large collection of expensive, sparkly items at home (and in my car, TBH) just waiting to be broken into for testing.

I'm lucky enough to be able to work from home right now, and since all of those products are in close proximity and awaiting their potential moment of glory, I've gone full ham, working my way through as many samples as possible. (Some are travel-size samples I've been gifted with in boxes, at events, etc., and some are full-size samples I haven't had a chance to work through yet.) For the past 30 days or so, it's been a fast-and-furious round of beauty-product speed dating, and now, I'm here to report which of these very expensive beauty products I would pay full price for. (In fact, I've already had orders out to Violet Grey and Dermstore to replenish some of my favorites!) Curious to see which expensive beauty products are truly worth the investment? I'm sharing all of my recent favorites below—keep scrolling. 

The Best Expensive Skincare

I go back and forth with toners. Sometimes I'm on the train, and sometimes I'm off. But using this best-selling (and very clean!) formula from Indie Lee has me back on board and planning to stay awhile. Right after cleansing, I saturate one of my favorite toning cloths from Renée Rouleau with the solution and then smother my face with. It has high-quality ingredients like aloe, hyaluronic acid, coenzyme q10, and chamomile, and I've noticed a significant uptick in my complexion's dew point and brightness since I started using it every morning and night. 

Trust me—the fact that this masque runs for a spine-tingling $100 is not lost on me, and I wouldn't recommend it if I didn't feel it was worth every last penny. Since it comes as a powder, you combine just a tiny bit with water until it transforms into a luxe, mask-friendly paste. It has delicious, organic, wild-harvested ingredients (think nutmeg, vanilla, cacao, cayenne, viamin C, cinnamon, clays, and charcoal) that work harmoniously to immediately perk up the circulation in my complexion, and it's even helped clear some stubborn blemishes I've been at war with for months. Fun fact: You can also use it as a spot treatment!

Every single time I see a celebrity or model run through their nighttime skin routine, this popular (but very expensive) cleanser seems to make an appearance. And now that I've reached the last few granules of my sample size, I see why: $75 is a lot for a cleanser, but it's also important to note that this formula pulls double duty as an exfoliant (which makes it especially great for people like me who have oily or combination skin).

This cleansing formula starts off as a fine-grain powder cleanser that transforms into pillowy foam once you add water. Enzymes play the MVP by loosening and lifting away dead, dry skin and removing every last trace of makeup or excess sebum or skin residue. 

I fell in love with this serum after receiving a sample post-facial from celebrity esthetician Shani Darden. Then, a month later, another celebrity esthetician, Melanie Grant, also recommended it as a regular installment in my skincare routine. Now, I use it every morning and night, and my skin has been smoother, less red, and significantly more hydrated and glowy. I blame the all-star mix of plumping hyaluronic acid, skin-strengthening vitamin B5, healing Centella Asiatica, and hyperpigmentation-lessening mushroom extract. I've been foisting it on anyone and everyone asking for skincare recommendations recently. 

I'm almost out of my pint-size sample of this eye gel, and all I can say is that despite how expensive it is, this is by far one of the best beauty products I've ever tried. The consistency is so dreamy and smooth. It's not sticky, it absorbs relatively quickly, and it's a great silky base pre-concealer. Plus, it helps calm any irritation or puffiness, lift and tighten fine lines, and reduce dark shadows.

I know I just talked about an eye cream, but my beauty-loving soul wouldn't feel right without talking about this anti-aging option too. Before I ran out of my sample, I was alternating between this one and the 111Skin formula above, and honestly, my under-eyes had never looked better. I've noticed a decrease in the lift and brightness of my eyes since I ran out, and I can't wait to restock. This one is especially great if you're prone to dryness and flaking, as it has a lovely rich formula that brims with hyaluronic acid, vitamins A, C, and E (which all help with circles and discoloration!) plus the brand's signature blend of peptides and TNS for extra anti-aging perks. 

The Best Expensive Haircare

I've loved this mask for quite some time, but I ran out of my big gilded tub quite some time ago. I had a few travel-size packets on hand, though, and recently I've rediscovered my obsession with this French strand-saver. It smells like a bouquet of flowers and transforms even my crankiest hair day—i.e., when it feels like straw. Since I've been at home, I like to let it sit in my hair all day post-shampoo and then I'll wash it out after I work out and before I do my evening skincare. It's turned into such a lovely ritual. 

I've recently discovered that hair perfume is the one beauty product I never knew I needed. Ever since Byredo sent me a sample of its shine- and moisture-enhancing spritzer in the scent 1996, I've been head over heels. I love 1996, but now that I'm out, I can't wait to try the perfume in all of the other iconic Byredo scents. 

Truth be told, there are so many quick-fix damage solutions that are simply bologna and don't work. (Sorry, I'm just being blatantly honest here!) That said, I've become rather infatuated with these potent drops from Oribe, and they've slowly but surely become my absolute favorite product from the brand. The concept is brilliant—you just add however many drops you want into your other favorite haircare products—and its potent mix of vitamins, linoleic acid, biotin, and sea kelp extract creates the ultimate treatment option for anyone who doesn't like to mess around with masks or other time-consuming hair rituals.

Before you shout at me for including a $160 shampoo, please hear me out. I didn't WANT to like this product. In fact, I was already completely obsessed with the Russian Imperial Masque (see below), and I couldn't afford to fall for yet another one of Philip B.'s masterpieces. And yet, here I am. The first time I used it, I followed the directions and applied the tiniest bit after cleansing with my favorite clarifying shampoo. I couldn't believe how dreamy and lathery and all-around magical this shampoo felt in my hair. It smells intoxicatingly good, and after letting it marinate for a few minutes (per the directions), I washed it out, and my hair felt like liquid velvet—a sensation I'm used to after masking but definitely not shampooing.

It's won countless awards, it's designed to work with every hair type, and the ingredient roster is out of this world: L-amino acids, protective silk, wheat and soy proteins, a high dose of panthenol (vitamin B5), shea butter, and a Russian-inspired concoction of chamomile, grape seed, rosemary, nettle, burdock, sage, and a whiff of amber oil. Never again will I dread washing my hair.

Okay, I'm SORRY, but I have to talk about this expensive mask as well. (And for what it's worth, a little goes such a long way, so it makes the splurge a little less painful!) Simply put, this is one of the best hair masks I've ever treated my hair to. And now having tried it, my strands would be so, so sad without it. It has a lot of the same magical ingredients that the shampoo does but is enhanced with even more breakage-reducing, hair-growth-enhancing additions like Carthamus Tinctorius Oleosomes (which make over the body, strength, and softness of the hair), pea peptides to stimulate the hair follicle for increased hair growth, and glycerin to help strengthen and prevent ragged ends. My hair is so soft, shiny, and tangle-free post-washout. It practically shimmers. 

The Best Expensive Bodycare

If you've been reading my content for a while, you already know how I feel about body oils. I don't love them, and there are actually only a few formulas on this planet that I find even semi-palatable. So you'll know how Earth-shaking it is when I say that this body oil (combined with the butter, below) has borderline changed my life. Of course, that's dramatic, but in a time of life when the little things really count and I'm really leaning into my self-care routine, finding a body oil as delicious and gleam-inducing as this one feels big. 

First of all, it smells amazing. I can't get over it. Second of all, it absorbs quickly (a detail I require), and the 100% botanical blend is laced with enough nutrients, antioxidants, and fatty acids to make Moon Juice's entire supply look weak. The magic lies in the combination of rose-hip, grape, and apricot oils, which instantly awaken the skin and make it soft, supple, and ultra-hydrated. 

Okay, part II—the body butter. I honestly can't say which I love more, Mutha's body oil or this truly butter-like skin balm, but it's safe to say that when combined, the effect is dynamite. Once a week, I apply the oil followed by this butter post-shower, and I don't have to reapply any kind of body moisturizer for the next six to seven days. It's just that effective at keeping your skin dewy, bright, and topped up with hydration. 

From Kim Kardashian West to January Jones, everyone in Hollywood uses and loves this cult-loved body scrub. And I've officially joined the club. It smells like cake (but not in a gross, overly sweet kind of way), utilizes a key mix of AHAs and BHAs to rid of your skin of dulling dead skin cells, and features the lushest mix of coconut oil, sweet almond oil, and jojoba seed, which melt right into your skin for a ridiculously lovely conditioning experience. In fact, it's so moisturizing you don't even need lotion, cream, or oil afterward. (Not that that stops me, however.) I made my way through the adorable mini-size jar pretty quickly, so I'll be splurging on the full-size now that I've used up every last sugar crystal. 

I'm pretty big into self-tanning, so keeping my body hydrated, smooth, and exfoliated at all times is paramount for a natural, even finish. Oils and butters can be too greasy when I'm spot-treating a flaky elbow or knee, so for times when I need something less slippery but still really rich and replenishing, I reach for Augustinus Bader's cult-loved body cream. (Fun fact: I like it better than the iconic face formulas!) The smallest dollop will take you a long, long way, so the full tub will keep you going to make the $165 price tag worth the investment. 

If beauty editors received grades, I would without a doubt score a hard D+ in diligent sunscreen application. (I beg of you, do better than me!) That said, I received a sample of RéVive's extremely luxurious new body SPF, and it just might be the A+ formula I was waiting for. It's expensive, yes, but it's also an amazing skin treatment enveloped in super-charged SPF protection. It boasts an advanced UV defense system to provide protection against damaging rays while simultaneously softening the skin and shielding it from UVA/UVB rays and premature skin aging. Oh, and let's not forget the amazing antioxidant complex, which includes vitamin E, L-carnosine, and silybin, plus hydrating and skin-renewing agents like glycerin and bio-renewal protein. 

Up next: I'm a Selective Beauty Shopper—Here's What I'd Buy From Sephora's Savings Event

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