Here is the long awaited (by me) sequel to my cheap makeup post: skincare. As with the makeup, these are all things I've tried and repurchased because I liked them so much. Trusty and reliable! There are other good cheap options out there, of course, but I'm not going to vouch for anything I haven't used. Please leave your suggestions in the comments, though.
Some categories, again, are missing, because I don't use that type of product (e.g. toner), or I don't have a current favorite, or my favorite is a little more expensive (e.g. targeted products like retinol, or exfoliants, or my favorite sunscreen). And because I like to experiment with new things, I don't have all of these products on hand to photograph at the moment. You should keep in mind that I have combination-oily skin that is not particularly sensitive, and that I don't usually like fragrance in products I put on my face. If you have a different skin type, your results may vary (though you may find some of these things effective anyway).
That's enough preamble and disclaimer. Here's the list:
Favorite Cleanser: I'm using some Paula's Choice face wash at the moment, but my favorites are from Neutrogena. I especially like the Redness Soothing Gel Cleanser and the Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser. They do a great job of removing oil and makeup without drying out my skin. The latter comes in a really big bottle for $8-10, so it's an especially good value.
Favorite Facial Wipes: I try not to use these too often because of the waste, but a few times a month when I'm too tired to wash my face properly or when I'm traveling, they are handy. I've tried a lot of brands, and my favorite are the Simple Cleansing Wipes. They are unscented and they remove makeup effectively without causing dryness. They also have a very soft but durable texture (make sure you get the regular ones, not the exfoliating variety). The cheapest place to get them online is in a pack of two (50 wipes total) from Amazon for about $7 (and right now there is a $1 off coupon).
Favorite Makeup Remover: I don't use actual makeup remover on my eyes most of the time (only when I end up with a free sample somehow). Although dual phase formulas can be very effective, I don't like the oily residue they leave behind. It tends to cause milia around my eyes even if I wash it off. Instead, I wash my face first, and then I spread a small amount of Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion (about $10) on my upper and lower lids and wipe it off with a dry tissue or cloth. It removes all the makeup residue and--bonus--my eye area is left moisturized. If I have a lot of waterproof mascara caked on my lashes, the lotion doesn't remove it instantly, though it does clean up any that has transferred to my skin. And I have a huge bottle of decent, gentle moisturizer that I can use for whatever other purposes I want. (You can also use moisturizer like this as a cleanser in a pinch--or if you find most cleansers drying. Apply it to your dry skin and massage lightly, splash on water and massage some more, and rinse.)
Favorite Acne Spot Treatment: Lots of people like benzoyl peroxide for acne, but I tried to get it to work for years and it never did anything for me other than bleach my sheets and towels. I've found tea tree oil more effective. I dip a q-tip in it and dab it on individual zits. With oils like this, there's a lot of variation in strength (even though they all say "100%" on the bottle, they are actually diluted), so look for good reviews. I've been using the Mason Natural Tea Tree Oil ($8) for a few years with good results.
Favorite Facial Oil/Anti-Aging Treatment: I love rosehip oil. It does all sorts of wonderful things for your skin, no matter what skin type you have. (Read more about it from Lab Muffin.) The only downside for me is that I have to avoid my eye area with it, or at least use it sparingly there, because my eyes don't like oils and again with the fucking milia. You also have to read reviews of this stuff, because the quality and potency will vary between brands. And make sure it doesn't smell like roses--it's not made from rose petals. In fact, it usually smells a bit like cooking oil. I've had good luck with the Aura Cacia Rosehip Oil ($7) and Life-Flo Rosehip Seed Oil ($6). You only need 2-3 drops for your entire face, so a bottle lasts a long time, at least until it spoils.
Favorite Mask: Hands down, Freeman Avocado and Oatmeal Clay Mask. Reviewed here. It really absorbs oil and helps to clear pores without drying out my skin. Love it, and it's $4 for a huge tube that never ends. I've tried more expensive clay masks. This is better.
Favorite Lip Balm: Palmer's Cocoa Butter Swivel Stick ($2-4). It looks like a glue stick, smells subtly like white chocolate, and keeps my lips super soft all winter. My favorite, forever. This enormous tube lasts a long time, as you can tell from my beat-up photo. Do not make the mistake of buying the teeny Palmer's lip balm with the sunscreen in it! That one is bitter and a fraction of the size for the same price. If you can't find the giant Swivel Stick with the other lip balms, look next to the Palmer products in the lotion section (or at Shopper's Drug Mart in Canada, sometimes it's with "ethnic hair care"). Or get it from drugstore.com for less than $3.
Favorite Hand Cream: I love, love, love Caldrea Hand Balm in the Ginger Pomelo scent. It's way better than the more expensive hand creams I've tried (ahem, L'Occitane), though it might be a tad splurgy at $10 a tube. But it smells amazing, and moisturizes extremely well while still absorbing quickly and not being greasy.
Favorite Foot Cream: O'Keeffe's Foot Cream ($5). Reviewed here. Put a very small amount on your feet before bed and they will be softened up significantly by morning. In a few days of using it, all the rough skin will be gone. It's really good. I don't recommend using it on hot and sweaty nights, because it has a slightly greasy feeling, and I think that's gross when I'm already sticky.
These are the best of the (cheap) best in my opinion, but I'd love to hear about any other affordable skin care you'd recommend--especially if you have a different skin type, since I can't really evaluate things that don't suit mine.
(Note: The title originally said "under $15," because when I started writing, I thought that the Simple moisturizer was over $10. But everything on the list can actually be found--in the U.S.--$10 or less. Excellent!)