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There’s a time-honored tradition of hunting for skincare and makeup products that are similar to and cheaper than more expensive brands. They’re called “dupes,” and it’s not necessarily a derogatory term in the way that “knockoff” is in fashion. Sure, beauty companies might not love that other brands are trying to low-ball them, but the formulas tend to be different, offering some overlap of ingredients with similar textures and similar results.
I’ve spent a lot of time on Reddit, makeup forums, blogs, and social media searching for dupes and tried a bunch of products on my own, always with an eye out for good alternatives. Below are five great ones, some of which cost much less than half of their pricey inspiration product. (This should also be a lesson not to sleep on Korean beauty — the industry makes some incredible, much cheaper product.)
An essence, in case you’re new to the term, is a product that’s somewhere between a serum and a toner. It’s watery but generally contains higher concentrations of ingredients. SK-II is made out of fermented yeast, as is the cheaper Korean Missha essence. While it’s questionable whether fermented products in skincare do anything, Cate Blanchett has been using SK-II for 15 years, which is a pretty convincing argument.
The Skinceuticals version is the OG holy grail of vitamin C products, but then Drunk Elephant came along and made a darn good dupe at half the price. Yes, it’s still really expensive. (Recently I wrote about Skinceuticals in our story on expensive products that are worth the money while our market editor, Tanisha, chose Drunk Elephant, so cost is all relative here.) Paula’s Choice makes a version that is a teeny bit cheaper if you consider the cost-per-ounce rate. It’s hard to stabilize vitamin C, which likely contributes to the cost.
Micellar water is the great beauty success story of the last few years. While previously a thing only in France, the watery, slightly oily cleanser that you don’t need to rinse off has become a sensation. The Bioderma version was previously the only game in town, popularized by beauty editors and models raving about it and stocking up in French pharmacies when they went to Paris for jobs. There are tons of micellar waters out now, but this Garnier version is a pretty loyal homage to the original at a true drugstore price.
Addicted to this tingly, slightly crunchy exfoliating mask? If so, this K-beauty version is equally as deep-cleansing at a third of the price. The Caolion mask is missing some of the extracts that are in the Glamglow mask, but it has the same volcanic minerals and same type of clay, which is what helps pull the gunk out. The Caolion mask is a bit more gentle without the big pumice chunks that the Glamglow version has.
While the sunscreen ingredients in these aren’t exactly the same, they’re similar, and both formulas share the same microencapsulation technology. They both go on as thin, pretty-immediately-absorbed lightweight gels without any white cast or gloopy sunscreen feeling on your skin. The Korean version has a higher SPF and is more than twice the size of Glossier’s version. (If you’re having a hard time finding this one, try the Make P:REM Blue Ray Sun Gel SPF 50 ($32). Apparently the company is replacing it with this newer version.)
If you’re looking for a dupe for your favorite product or want to share a dupe you’ve found, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.