Hot stuff: the 50 best summer beauty buys for £20 and under

·12 min read

Beach essentials, in-flight moisturisers, festival favourites and summer party makeup: these were the products I was imagining when I began work on this summer beauty bargain special many months ago, before it had become clear that, for a second summer on the bounce, few of us would be straying far from home. Some rejigging ensued to incorporate less seasonal skincare, but I make no apologies for my optimism and hope that some of my final 50 will become firm favourites, both now and in more ordinary times ahead.

Besides, our instinct for both self-care and the desire to save money have become more important during the pandemic. Every woman I know has experimented during the past 15 months, whether by learning satisfying new makeup skills away from outside scrutiny, changing hair colour or making time for body treatments. As jobs have become less secure, cost has rarely been more important. My usual £15 RRP benchmark has been nudged upwards by a fiver, in line with inflation and the (sometimes Covid-related) rising cost of raw ingredients, but it’s worth noting that, at time of writing, the vast majority of products listed were available at a good discount somewhere on the high street or online.

Finally, the absence of a previous listing doesn’t mean it has been bettered or fallen from favour, only that I’m keen to make space for other brilliant bargains and to avoid repetition. “Vg” signifies a product suitable for vegans. Happy shopping – our high streets need us more than ever.

1 Typology Organic Carrot Macerated Oil, £10.90 for 100ml (vg)

Facial oil is a lazy girl’s best friend. There’s no hanging around for weeks: a good oil will make skin look nicer tomorrow than it does today. The carotene imparts a subtle glow, while the oil conditions and softens skin.

2 Dr Jart+ Ceramidin Cream Mist, £13 for 50ml

This is instantly cooling and calming. If your foundation becomes dry and dull after lunch, your face feels tight and sore behind PPE, and no face cream is ever quite enough, layer up with this as often as you feel the urge.

3 M&S Formula Cleansing Balm and muslin cloth, £14 for 140ml

When M&S all but admitted their Rose Cleansing Balm was gone for good, I rushed to their website to check this gentle but hardy makeup remover lives on. It does, but it may be a case of use it or lose it.

4 Nip + Fab Purify Salicylic Fix Gel Cleanser, £9.95 for 145ml (vg)

This great little wash, with salicylic acid and niacinamide, is ideal as step one in a teenager’s morning ablutions, but it can work brilliantly at any age.

5 The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C and EGF Serum, £14.99 for 30ml

Still the best daily vitamin C serum under £20. Apply after exfoliation, before suncare, and see glowier skin in a fortnight, at most.

6 Isle of Paradise Day Dew Self-Tan Face Mist, £15.95 for 100ml (vg)

Spritz on to bare skin or makeup and the fine droplets will instantly cool and revive, while gradually bronzing your face over two to three hours. Keep in the fridge if you like (I like).

7 L’Oréal Volume Million Lashes Mascara, £10.99 for 10.5ml

This good all-rounder gives flake-free fat lashes in two coats and rarely smudges. There’s a waterproof version, too, should you find yourself able to holiday.

8 Morphe 2 Jelly Eye Shimmer, £10 for 5.2g (vg)

I am determined this summer will involve fun, frivolous makeup not suitable for Zoom. Plunge a finger into the pot and smoosh on pretty glitter (bronze Woah is my favourite).

9 Vita Coco Coconut Oil, £2.29 for 50ml (vg)

Blond or grey hair going to be touching chlorine this summer? Stop it going green by slathering with oil pre-dip (this doubles as a lip balm). Shampoo out when you get home.

10 Altruist Invisible Sunspray SPF50, £5 for 100ml (vg)

Sun protection is healthcare, and healthcare should be democratic. Altruist, founded by dermatologists, offers high-quality, vegan, cruelty-free, coral-friendly suncare at low prices. And donates profits to children with albinism in Africa.

11 Muji Oil Cleansing, £4.95 for 50ml

An excellent oil cleanser that behaves like something much more expensive, this removes even heavy makeup without trace or discomfort.

12 Garnier Ultimate Blends Plumping Hair Food Watermelon & Pomegranate Shampoo and Conditioner, £6 each (vg)

This is a pretty fantastic all-rounder, volumising fine hair to leave it fuller, easier to style and not weighed down by silicones. The packaging is recycled and recyclable, and the natural fragrance is bliss on a hot, sticky day.

13 Beauty Pie Superluminous Undereye Genius, £7.24 for 4g

This will be my replacement for Becca’s iconic undereye brightening corrector (the company sadly ceases trading this autumn). Wear with or without other makeup – just stroke on with fingers or buff with a brush.

14 The Ordinary Concealer High-Coverage Formula, £4.90 for 8ml (vg)

An excellent concealer for oily skin types. Dense pigment (from a wide shade lineup) covers blemishes weightlessly and without clogging.

15 Garnier Ambre Solaire Face Protection Mist SPF50, £5.99 for 75ml

Ever wondered how to reapply facial sunscreen over makeup? Start the day with your favourite SPF, then top up with this. It doesn’t disrupt makeup and works a treat. I can’t be without it.

16 Glossier Invisible Shield Daily Sunscreen SPF30, £20 for 30ml (vg)

An exceptionally light, ungreasy, transparent facial sunscreen, this is especially good on brown, black and olive skins. Very fairly priced, it is one of the all-time suncare greats.

17 No7 Hydra Luminous Moisturising Foundation, £15 for 30ml

I rarely heap praise on a high-street foundation, but this is a moist, radiant, medium-to-full coverage cream with good glide and blendability, and a dewy finish. You can’t do better for the cash.

18 Dove Pro Age Nourishing Body Lotion, £6.29 for 100ml

This fragrant, ungreasy, bargainous body lotion adds moisture, while soothing and shifting dull, dead skin. Great on ashy limbs in shorts season and on mild keratosis pilaris – those tiny bumps on upper arms. Slather on daily after showering.

19 Catrice Lip Cushion Protecting Lip Balm, £3.95 for 15ml

A luxurious-feeling, all-natural balm to keep lips soft and any dry patches moist. I like it slicked over liner pencil to create a sheer, flattering colour that doesn’t smudge over my face mask.

20 Supergoop! Glowscreen, £15 for 15ml (vg)

A terrific SPF30 from one of the very finest suncare brands, it glides swiftly over serum for a bright, comfy, protected finish. More suitable for balanced and dry skins.

21 NYX Epic Wear Liquid Liner, £9 for 3.5ml (vg)

In a world of wasteful plastic pens, this is among the last proper brush liquid eyeliners, and shows how much more precise, pigment-drenched and lasting a true liquid liner is.

22 Hello Sunday The One That’s A Serum Day Drops SPF45, £20 for 30ml

My most used sunscreen, this light, viscous serum packs the same punch as a greasy cream but feels more pleasant, doesn’t sting my eyes and sits beautifully under makeup.

23 Versed Dew Point Moisturizing Gel-Cream, £13.50 for 60ml (vg)

Affordable silicone-free face creams are hard to come by, so I swooped on this like a gull on chips. For oily, combination and balanced skin types, it’s a tall glass of water for the face.

24 Rimmel London Super Gel Nail Polish, £6.99

A high-street favourite. Two thin coats give a good eight to nine days of unchipped shine. Marvellous stuff.

25 Jil Sander Sun Eau de Toilette, £8.20 for 30ml

This 90s classic smells of sun cream and baby powder on hot, beachy skin, with none of the coconut oiliness of most scents of the genre. Sweet but neither cloying nor sickly.

26 Zara Beauty Ultimatte Refillable Matte Lipstick in Hero, £11.99 for 4.3g

I’m blown away by Zara’s beauty products. It was hard to single out a favourite, but after months of mask wearing, it seemed right to place a vibrant red lipstick centre stage. Just add a light base, bronzer and mascara.

27 The Inkey List Fulvic Acid Brightening Cleanser, £10.99 for 150ml (vg)

This lightly foaming, reviving face wash works best for a single morning cleanse, or as a second rinse after a makeup-removing balm at bedtime. Male family members love it, too.

28 Evolve Organic Beauty Sunless Glow Body Lotion, £18 for 250ml (vg)

The rich texture, fast absorption, natural glow and smoothing alpha hydroxy acids make this the best gradual-tan lotion ever – at any price.

29 Versed Weekend Glow Brightening Solution, £16.50 for 120ml (vg)

I love everything from this terrific brand, and I can’t think of a liquid exfoliant I like more at the price. Sweep over just-cleansed skin ahead of SPF, for a bright, glowy complexion.

30 Soap & Glory Blot Right Now Blotting Sheets, £2.67 for 30 (vg)

When oily noses become shiny and congested, adding face powder only further clogs pores. A blotting sheet does the opposite – lifting oil away to give a longer lasting, matte finish.

31 Q+A Squalane Facial Oil, £10 for 30ml (vg)

If you think you hate oil, think again. Squalane is light, fast-absorbing and won’t induce breakouts. Apply to face, cuticles, hair or body for a smoother feel and healthy gleam.

32 Stila Convertible Colour, £18 for 32g

Look, I know Stila is a luxury, rather than bargain, brand. Which is why I’ve included it. For years, it has quietly remained the best two-in-one lip and cheek colour in the world, and it’s seriously worth every penny.

33 Farmologie Body Wash, £5.99 for 100ml (vg)

A range for adults from the makers of the hugely successful Childs Farm brand. Packaged in 100% plastic waste, with mouthwatering scents and soothing oat oil that makes it suitable for even dry, sensitive skins.

34 Kiko Intense Colour Long-Lasting Eyeliner, £5.99

When it comes to bargain eye pencils, you cannot do better than Kiko. The shade selection, smooth application, colour density and longevity are all outstanding.

35 La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo+ Blemish Treatment, £17 for 40ml

For many problem skin sufferers – be that acne, breakouts or congestion – this hydrating gel (used twice daily) makes everything more manageable.

36 Superdrug Vitamin E and Almond Oil Moisturising Shower Cream, £2.29 for 250ml

I love Superdrug’s entire vitamin E range, and this manages the rare feat of making dry skin feel cleaned without soreness and squeak.

37 Noughty Wave Hello Curl Defining Taming Cream, £6.99 for 50ml

This silicone-free cream defines curls and waves without frizz, adds shine without flattening, moisture without grease, and requires such a small dose that the price is a steal.

38 Rimmel London Wonder’Full 24hr Waterproof Brow Mascara, £7.99

In summer, I can’t be bothered with brow pencil or powder. I want a one-wand wonder like this to bulk up each hair, define arches and fix shape.

39 O’Keeffe’s Lip Repair Overnight Lip Balm, £3.94 for 7g

Sexy, good-looking and fragrant, it is not. Effective, it is. Lips ravaged from anxious biting, mindless licking or excessive snogging will feel soft and comfortable in just a couple of days.

40 The Body Shop Vitamin E Moisture Cream, £14 for 50ml (vg)

An oldie but a goodie, this versatile, extremely gentle cream for almost all skin types sits ungreasily under makeup, cooling, calming and offering comforting hydration.

41 elf Holy Hydration! Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm, £10 for 50g (vg)

This gentle cleansing balm, from one of the very best brands on the high street, lifts every scrap of makeup. I need nothing more for my tenner.

42 & Other Stories Lip Balm, £8 for 9ml

I love the idea of tinted lip balms, but many deliver little more than gloss. This one is different, softening dry lips and leaving behind the right amount of casual, cool-girl colour.

43 L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Laser Pure Retinol Deep Wrinkle Night Serum, £14.95 for 30ml

Make the most of the discounted price and use this elegant hydrating retinol nightly, then SPF in the morning. See an improvement in six weeks.

44 Gallinée Cleansing Bar, £10 for 100g (vg)

Let me cut to the chase: your fanny needs this. A gynaecologist-formulated solid bar that can be used all over, without the suds tampering with your delicate pH below stairs.

45 Bondi Sands Pure Self-Tan Foaming Water, £15.99 for 100ml

The best self-tanning brand at the more affordable end of the market, with 100% recyclable packaging and skincare ingredients included. Gives a natural-looking tan in three hours.

46 Hershesons Almost Everything Cream, £10 for 50ml

It took my old friend Luke Hersheson months to persuade me to allow this near my thin, fine hair, convinced a cream would render it lank. It didn’t. Suitable for all, this de-frizzes, defines, holds, styles – “almost everything”.

47 CeraVe Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum, £17 for 30ml

This richly hydrating serum can be worn day and night, alone or with any other product. Expect instantly plumper, less thirsty-looking skin.

48 StylPro Bamboo Reusable Makeup Remover Pads and Laundry Bag, £10.39 for 16 (vg)

There’s no good reason to buy sewer-clogging cotton wool discs, when washables like these are just as good.

49 Fanola No Yellow Shampoo, £8.99 for 350ml

Nine quid may not sound a bargain, but a whopping 350ml is a lot of brassy tone minimiser for your buck. Use weekly to maintain brightness.

50 Steril-eeze Hand Sanitiser, £6 for 250ml

Wherever the next few months take us, hand sanitiser is probably here to stay. This may smell like a municipal pool, but it remains the best sanitiser on the market: 99.9% effective against bacteria and viruses, and a godsend for sensitive skins.

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