True beauty junkies are no stranger to the wondrous possibilities that exist within your average neighborhood grocery store—anyone who’s ever discovered a perfect $3 lipstick in the cosmetics aisle knows this. Outside of the beauty section, though, a grocery store hold tons of opportunities for skin-care solutions that are not only affordable, they’re also backed by (gasp!) actual dermatological science.
Venturing outside the cosmetics aisle of your grocery can yield incredible acne spot treatments, moisturizers, even super-hydrating lip treatments, many at a fraction of the cost you’d typically find at specialty beauty retailers. We asked three skin-care experts—dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Assistant Clinical Professor at the George Washington University Medical Center Department of Dermatology; celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas, founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection; and New York City aesthetician Andrea DeSimone—to give us the scoop on a few grocery store beauty buys outside the cosmetics aisle that actually work.
Food-grade cooking oils
The oil cleansing method has gained major steam among beauty buffs in recent years, perhaps due to the growing popularity of Asian skin-care routines. While plenty of brands offer spendy oils with big promises (and equally big price tags), you might be able to reap the same basic benefits by just heading over to the baking aisle, where an array of oils are up for grabs for a fraction of the fancy luxe brands.
“I find face oils are best for people with either dry, normal, or combination skin,” says Dr. Tanzi. “For very dry skin, olive or coconut oil is best. For normal skin, argan and marula are good to maintain moisture levels. For combination skin, grapeseed oil is helpful to regulate excessive oil in the T-zone.” She adds that many oils are best used in combination with other ingredients, not necessarily on their own. Vargas says that coconut oil is generally good for most skin types, except for those with acne. And, according to de Simone, macadamia nut oil “is fantastic to treat dry flaking scalps.” “I would recommend massaging it into the scalp at night and shampooing it out in the morning,” she adds. Different products can work for different skin types and conditions, so be sure to do a little research on what might work for you, and always patch test on a small area of your skin beforehand.
Undiluted tea tree oil
Make your way over to the first aid section, because that’s where you’ll find this oil, a killer secret weapon for fighting blemishes overnight, in its purest, most concentrated form. “Tea tree oil is great to spot treat acne blemishes,” says Dr. Tanzi. “Tea tree oil for acne will reduce inflammation and works as well as 5 percent benzoyl peroxide without the irritation.”
Vargas agrees: “Tea tree oil is awesome for killing bacteria and healing fungus on the skin. It kills a pimple fast when used in the right formula.” Heads up, though: In its undiluted form, tea tree oil is really damn powerful (as in, can cause chemical burns if you aren’t careful), so try diluting it with a neutral oil and applying the mixture carefully with a cotton swab directly on the afflicted area.
Diaper rash cream
It’s the zinc oxide—an active ingredient in blogger-beloved products like Mario Badescu’s Buffering Lotion ($19) and Glossier’s Super Pure Serum ($28), to name a couple—that makes this unexpected gem a great, albeit underrated, acne spot treatment. “Diaper rash cream is pure zinc paste, which will dry out a zit, and has slight anti-inflammatory properties,” Tanzi explains. Plus, conventional rash creams will typically employ a higher concentration of zinc oxide: Desitin uses 40 percent, while the aforementioned Mario Badescu spot treatment is more likely somewhere between 2.5 percent and 5 percent.
Also tucked away in the first aid aisle, these medicated bandages, which are meant to drain and draw out the moisture from blisters and other wounds. Turns out, they can also be repurposed to do the exact same thing with painful zits. Most recommend employing hydrocolloid bandages after you’ve popped a zit (or carefully lance it with a sterilized lancet, which you’ll also find in any drugstore first aid aisle). Once you’ve done the deed, just stick the medicated bandage on the blemish and wait for it to suck out the remaining gunk, which will be trapped in the gel of the bandage. “This is not a bad idea if you've picked a zit and want to promote healing,” says Tanzi.
Apple cider vinegar
From health tonic to surface cleaner, apple cider vinegar has been extolled as a cure-all with countless virtues—some more valid than others. But for certain skin types, it can be a great stand-in for toner, says Vargas. “Raw apple cider vinegar is particularly amazing for people who break out. [It] exfoliates and balances the skin and it also helps calm breakouts and heal them quickly.” (She adds that, of course, the strong odor is not for everyone. Prepare to smell a little like salad dressing.) Tanzi takes a more measured approach to ACV, explaining that it may not actually be beneficial for everyone. “It’s good for people with really oily skin,” she says. As always, patch test.
There’s no such thing as a skin-care magic bullet, but seriously: as a hydrating, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial healing agent, honey comes pretty close. And our panel of experts seems to agree. De Simone says she loves honey for its “anti-microbial, hydrating, and enzymatic properties,” and recommends blending it with full-fat Greek yogurt for a rich, hydrating mask.
“Honey is an excellent, natural hydrator of the skin, but still allows it to breathe, which is why it is so good for regeneration and skin healing,” explains Tanzi. “Honey acts as a moisturizer and anti-inflammatory ingredient to soothe the skin. It also has natural antibiotic properties to reduce bacterial growth.”
Vargas echoes this: “It's also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, so it's great for people who have acne and breakouts. It really calms down breakouts immediately and can be used overnight as a spot treatment for people who need their skin to heal fast. Honey is also loaded with antioxidants so, in a raw state, it's a great tool for anti-aging.”
Bonus from personal experience: It’s definitely one of the tastier masks you can DIY.
As if we needed another reason to fuel a coffee addiction, caffeine is one of the few ingredients actually purported to have a temporary effect on the reduction of visible cellulite, according to Tanzi. “The most expensive cellulite creams contain caffeine, or an ingredient similar to it,” she says. “You can make your own ‘cellulite’ treatment by adding a cup of warm coffee grounds to three tablespoons of olive oil. Make a paste and put it on the thighs. Wrap in saran wrap and let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Follow with a vigorous massage of the area with a washcloth.”
Thanks to microfiber cloths’ absorbent properties and super-tiny fibers (and, therefore, soft surface), these are great for gently removing makeup, cleansing oil, or cleanser without the gritty, physical exfoliation that often occurs with conventional, brittle terry washcloths. If your skin is sensitive to exfoliation, or if you’re already using a chemical exfoliant and don’t want to overdo it, these are worth a try. Skin-care buffs recommend buying these in the household cleaning aisle, though you can also get gentle cloths in infant care sections of the store (or even the office supplies aisle, since smartphone and laptop screen cleaning cloths will also do the trick).
Beware, vegan friends: This one won’t work for you. But for the rest of us who suffer from brutally dry, cracked lips in the wintertime and also don’t mind slathering said lips in oil secreted by the glands of a sheep, well, a lanolin-based nipple cream just might be your best bet. Turns out, the waxy sebaceous oil is an incredibly effective emollient, which is why it’s employed to help ease nipple irritation in breastfeeding moms. “Lanolin is a well-known moisturizing ingredient that is found in some lip products too, so this one isn't too ‘far out,’” says Tanzi. But the option of skipping expensive lip products in tiny packaging and, instead, reaching straight for the often cheaper-by-the-ounce boob cream can certainly give you more bang for your buck.