10 cult-classic beauty products that are totally worth it… and 5 that don’t live up to the hype

Christopher Kane - Spring 2012 beauty

What makes a beauty product a cult classic? Before beauty blogs took off (and before I became a beauty editor), I would read these lists in magazines, totally fall for the media hype and then become obsessed with hunting the products down. This was before we had Sephora, and before Shoppers Drug Mart carried every beauty brand known to woman, so there was also a thrill of the chase element at play. The fact that you couldn’t find them just anywhere only added to the cachet.

Now? I’m a lot more objective. Having worked in the beauty industry for so long and tested a gazillion jillion products over the years, I’ve got a much better idea of what I’d fork over money for… and what is essentially just an everyday mascara or whatever in famously recognizable packaging. (You probably know who I’m talkin’ about here, but more on that in a bit.)

So here’s my list of the cult buys that are still worth it—and the ones that you’d be better off leaving for a 2012 upgrade.

10 cult-classic beauty products that are totally worth it

1. Mason Pearson Brush

Mason Pearson brush 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

This is the exact brush I’ve had for, I don’t now, 10 years now? These babies last a lifetime, so they’re definitely worth the investment. I’ve used other high-end brushes but none come close—the MP never pulls or snags, and I even use it to comb out my hair after a shower! The best. The end.

2. Tweezerman Slant Tweezers

Tweezerman Slant Tweezers 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hypeHave you ever tried using a cheap-ass pair of tweezers? Yeah, it’s not fun… sorry, Revlon. While I don’t really endorse going crazy with the DIY brow-shaping, everyone still needs a pair of these in her kit for those times when you’ve gotta pluck out a wayward eyebrow hair. (For other areas of your face, run—do not pass go—and buy this handy tool. It’s not a cult classic, but maybe someday it will be.)

3. NARS Blush in Orgasm

NARS Blush in Orgasm 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

Yeah, yeah, you knew this was going to be here. But seriously—it’s true that this shade looks good on just about everyone. I always end up coming back to this blush, and it’s especially on trend right now because I’ve been feeling more peachy than pinky with my cheek tones lately. I do wish they’d come out with a sparkle-free version… maybe someday.

4. L’Oréal Paris Elnett Hairspray

LOreal Paris Elnett Hairspray 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hypeThis only made its way to Canada a few years ago—it used to be that you’d have to smuggle it from overseas. What makes it so great? It’s super-light, brushes out clean and doesn’t flake or leave hair sticky. (Although I could live with the slightly old-lady smell.) One year, when I was having my hair done by Sally Hershberger’s manservants, they busted this out—instead of Hershberger’s own products—to set my hairstyle. Doesn’t that say something?

5. YSL Touche Éclat

YSL Touche Eclat 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hypeAs long as you get that this is NOT a concealer—it’s an illuminating pen—you’ll understand the cult of Touche Éclat. (Although I’m fully aware that many folks, who probably aren’t plagued by terrible dark circles, do use this as an under-eye concealer.) Like Carmindy, I’m a huge fan of strategic brightening. Here’s a guide to the upside-down triangle technique.

6. Shu Uemura Eyelash Curler

Shu Uemura Eyelash Curler 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hypeI have the same philosophy for eyelash curlers as I do with tweezers: don’t cheap out. Shu’s has never failed me—it gets close to the roots of my lashes without making me feel like I’m going to rip them out. I don’t think they sell separate replacement pads, which is a little annoying/wasteful… but you should be able to get in at least a couple of years before you have to repurchase.

7. Essie Nail Polish in Mademoiselle

Essie Nail Polish in Mademoiselle 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

I don’t care what the nail trend of the day is—I say everyone needs at least one classic sheer shade in their nail polish wardrobe. It’s no secret that Essie’s forte is in these pale, ballerina, bridal-type colours… and none is more classic than Mademoiselle. Glossy pale pink but not in-your-face, it goes with every skin tone. (I also love Hi Maintanence, BTW, but that’s a newcomer…)

8. Urban Decay Primer Potion

Urban Decay Primer Potion 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

It’s the original eye primer, and dare I say it… the best? Give this a whirl and see if it doesn’t tame your oily eyelids into submission. It’ll also help colours stay more true. (I admit that I’m a lazy b*tch, so I tend to wear my one-step, built-in waterproof sparkly nude creams more often than not… but once in a blue moon, when I want to go smoky, I do the prep.)

9. Smith’s Rosebud Salve

Smiths Rosebud Salve 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

I seriously love these old-fashioned tins, don’t you? The fact that the company is over 100 years old, family-owned and produces these lip balms in the good old US of A just makes me happy. They’re not expensive and work great as a lip balm, cuticle moisturizer and more.

10. Kiehl’s Creme de Corps

Kiehls Creme de Corps 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

You know what? If you’re going to splurge on a body lotion, this is a damned good one to pick. It’s been around since the ’70s and is amazingly rich and hydrating without being greasy like, um, that horrible category called “body butters” (sorry). I also love that you can pair it with any scent and it won’t clash.

And with that, now it’s time for the products I suggest you skip…

5 cult beauty products that don’t live up to the hype

1. Maybelline New York Great Lash Mascara

Maybelline New York Great Lash Mascara 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

Maybelline makes a lot of excellent things, but for me, this is not one of them. For me, this is the most over-hyped beauty product of all time—I just don’t get it. There are far superior mascara formulas out there… I mean, it’s 2012 now! Come on.

2. OPI Nail Polish in I’m Not Really a Waitress

OPI Nail Polish in Im Not Really a Waitress 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

This was a big deal about a decade ago, with everyone claiming that it was the best, most universally flattering red. I don’t know if I ever liked it or just wore it because I was told to. Now? It just feels really dated. I like my reds bright and clear and strong.

3. La Mer Crème de la Mer Moisturizing Cream

La Mer Creme de la Mer Moisturizing Cream 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

Some people still love this stuff. Okay, fine. Just know that it’s really expensive for what it is—which is moisturizing, sure (with mineral oil!) and not really any anti-aging ingredients. I think you can get a far better bang for your buck by upgrading to one of the more technologically advanced offerings on the market, like Prevage, StriVectin, etc.

4. Benefit Benetint Rose-Tinted Lip & Cheek Stain

Benefit Benetint 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

I used to be into this stuff big time for my cheeks. And the legend of how it was created is pretty cool—apparently the Benefit sisters made it for some exotic dancer to tint her nipples (!). I used it for quite some time, but then it dawned on me that I could do better—it was going on overly bright and streaky (because it’s next to impossible to blend quickly enough), left me with stained fingertips and always made me nervous that it was going to spill. Better to go with a cream or powder blush that you can blend for a more natural, flushed-from-within look. Or just save this for your lips.

5. Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream

Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream 10 cult classic beauty products that are totally worth it... and 5 that dont live up to the hype

Here’s one that every model apparently “swears by.” The word cream is not really accurate, as it’s more of a thick, Vaseline-like gel than anything. And it’s supposed to be one of those multi-purpose salves that you can use anywhere, for anything. But I just can’t get over the medicinal quality and goopy texture… there’s nowhere on my body that I want to put this.

Now, over to you guys:

Do you agree with my picks of what’s worth it and what’s not?
Which of these prodz have you tried?
What are YOUR best—and worst—cult beauty picks?

31 Comments

Rebekah
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 11:49 am

Amen to the Maybelline mascara!! I find it so watery and ineffective. I’ve never understood the hype for that one.

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Jestkaa
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 11:50 am

I agree with a lot of this but I LOVE the medicinal smell of eight hour cream. It isn’t at all a day product for me but as someone who suffers from eczema and occasional cracked skin- it is literally a dream. It works better than anything else.
And Nars Orgasm has never done it for me. I agree with you that it just needs to lose the shimmer because without it I’d be in love but I can never justify glitter on my cheeks.
Everything else on the worst list is completely true. I also will never understand the allure of diorshow mascara.. it’s clumpy and heavy therefore weighing down lashes and defeating the purpose of my wonderful shu uemera curler and it is so heav9ly scented! Everyone I’ve ever talked to about it agrees.
About la mer- so over hyped and their so-called exclusive “miracle broth” can be found online for 15.50 and mixed into a regular moisturizer without the mineral oil.

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Mallory
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 11:52 am

I really love the 8 hour cream but it’s true you have to be okay with the smell. It works amazingly if you want a glossy look for your make up. I’ll put it on my eye lids and dab a bit onto my cheek bones for a very subtle, not shimmery, highlight. It also works great when I travel because I only need one product to use for lips, hands, cuticles and wherever else is feeling dry.

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Gia
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 11:55 am

The only one that really surprised me here was Maybelline’s mascara. While I’ve never purchased it myself, I basically grew up hearing about its works-for-everyone-and-is-the-holy-grail,basically-of-all-mascaras reputation. I guess millions of people can be wrong! ha

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Dana
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 11:58 am

Great article Michelle. You named all my faves, plus a few I didn’t know about. I am running out to buy the eyeshadow primer right now! Alas, Nars Orgasm Blush doesn’t work on my red irish complexion. It just doesn’t show up.

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Josie M
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 12:31 pm

Thank you for the Maybelline Great Lash mascara talk! I’ve always thought it was terrible and it makes me so confused when watching a makeup/makeover/makeup tips show and they pull it out like it’s the bees knees. Come ON, that mascara blows.

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Vicki
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 12:43 pm

I completely agree with the Nars Orgasm, the Kiehls Creme de Corps, Essie polish and the Tweezerman tweezers. I also think the Great Lash is highly overrated. I haven’t tried the Mason Pearson brushes though. Do you know where they can be purchsed online or in Canada??

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Vero
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 12:47 pm

Yup, that Maybelline mascara is actually just about the worst I’ve ever tried. And while I don’t understand how one eyelash curler could be better than another (they LOOK exactly the same, right?) I just might have to dump my Revlon for a Shu Uemura because I can’t stop hearing about how awesome they are. (oh, and I love my Elnett, but the smell makes me want to puke…)

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Vicki
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 1:13 pm

Vero, I haven’t used the Shu Uemura eyelash curler but my sister has and she says it’s the best too!! :)

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Nomadic D
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 1:33 pm

Hugely agree with you on pretty much everything here. I also used benetint for a long time until one day my mom asked if I had a rash. No mom, I did that on purpose. Blech. I will say though, that chacha tint is a bit creamier and easier to blend and I’m totally in love with it. I can’t stand great lash, and I never even understood what we’re supposed to DO with that 8 hr cream! As for the good stuff, I’m with you 100%, except for the brush, which I’ve never quite believed. But then, I don’t even own a cheap brush, so I’m hardly one to talk on that subject. I also stopped using touche eclat because I’m trying to go a little more low-maintenance, but I agree it’s great stuff. Everything else, I’m right with you, 100%

http://nomadic-d.blogspot.com/

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francine
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 1:35 pm

Totally agree that good quality tweezers and eyelash curlers make a huge difference. I’ve had the same tweezerman tweezers for about 8 years now and they still work great. I’ve never tried the shu curler but I have a shiseido eyelash curler for years (they have replaceable pads), and whenever a cheap eyelash curler has come near my eyes I can’t believe the difference. I like Nars orgasm it but it’s not my fave, I like pinker blushes more. I find the sparkles don’t show up to much unless I’m in direct sun but do wish they weren’t there. I like the format of the Nars multiple, but for some reason there is even more shimmer in that one!

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Natalie
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 1:41 pm

Maybelline must pay big bucks to have everyone continue to profess their love for that mascara. And it irks me to all ends when I see it win beauty choice awards. WHO likes this stuff? There’s so many better drugstore formulas out there these days.

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Hafsa
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 3:16 pm

I agree with almost all of the cult products you don’t like with the exception of the Eight Hour Cream, I just love that stuff!

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pinkpeonygirl
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 4:15 pm

Amen to all of that :-)
I am drawn to cheek stains because I don’t like the texture of powder blush, but they are so insanely difficult to blend. How fast can one be, really? I also find the brush more important than the mascara itself.

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ava
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 9:56 pm

For me, the most overated product would be Diorshow mascara, heavy and weights down the eyelashes. Also Pantene – it’s just doesn’ t work for me. My fave staple would be Smashbox primer. Next chapstick ( yes I cannot leave without it. Use it all the time) Opi is not my favorite nail polish either – love the color selection but china glaze or orly doesnt chip and stays longer.

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Julia
Wednesday, June 27/2012 at 11:30 pm

Love this post. 100% agree on the Shu curler, Tweezermans, UD Primer, and Great Lash reviews. I’m glad I wasn’t going crazy hating on Great Lash! I also can’t live without Nivea A Kiss of Moisture (dark blue) chapstick. It’s basically a cheaper version of the Fresh balms.

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marta
Thursday, June 28/2012 at 4:06 am

Great post! Nars orgasm does not look nice on my oily skin, I don’t need more shine/sparkle/shimmer, thanks.

I agree with all of you guys about Maybelline Great Lash. I only bought it because everyone seemed to like it, but I was shocked how average it is.

And I do use Benetint (in the pink tone, I think it is called Posey) but I too hate that it stains the fingers :(

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Ashley
Monday, May 27/2013 at 2:31 am

The gel ones from Benefit (the Posey and the Cha Cha one) can be applied with a brush. I got shown how to to it at a benefit school. Basically what they did was brush a regular blush brush again the little brush it comes with and then blended it out like you would a powder. Its magic actually.

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Denise Moran
Thursday, June 28/2012 at 8:48 am

100% endorse the shu, twezzer, MP brush, Elnet, YSL, UDPP, Salve, and the keihls. Also the great lash, benetint, and OPI.

To the Essie and Nars I say perhaps. But as the mom of girls with brown skin, I get a bit annoyed at the “goes with all skin tones” . I just don’t see that cool pink being the most flattering on yellow skin either. But the formula on both of these is really good, but shimmer is beginning to look dated to me.
To diss a la mer for being just a moisturizer that works? It’s labeled and marketed as a moisturizer that works! Contrary to popular belief petroleum products( petrolatum and mineral oil) are tops in moisturizing. In fact Smith’s rosebud salve is tinted, scented petroleum. Does a great job on your lips right? Creme de la mer is a great moisturizer. When you say there arTo diss a product for not being another product doesn’t make sense. It’s like dissing the smiths for not having a lip exfoliator in it. Is it overpriced? Perhaps, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
The eight hour cream smells medicated because it is. It it’s got BHA in a petroleum base( first product of it’s kind) so you can imagine how revolutionary it was. BHA works. Petroleum works. Both are proven by science. Minus the tint and perfume it’s the same as the smiths WITH the exfoliant! It’s basically aquaphor with Beta Hydroxy acid

To the worthy cult list I would add Loreal Voluminous Mascara. It’s the drugstore mascara GL should be.
To the doens’t live up list I would add cetaphil cleansing lotion. It’s touted as the most gentle,simple, cleanser but it’s FULL of chemicals NONE of which are beneficial. In fact the ingredients don’t differ at all from a basic two dollar hair conditioner. And it cleans about as well.

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Carla
Friday, June 29/2012 at 11:19 am

You are brilliant. I especially agree with the Great Lash being over hyped.
I do however still love my 8 Hour Cream, it has a old legend too; apparently Elizabeth Arden herself developed it for her prized horse who was burned in a stable fire. It healed the horse’s burns and over the years it has helped heal all sorts of scratches, burns and chaps that I’ve had. I wear it every night before bed on my lips, after kissing my boyfriend goodnight (because he cant stand the stuff).
Thanks for your lists

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Andrea Z
Saturday, June 30/2012 at 1:10 pm

You’ve made me want to go out and buy all the things I’ve run out of (mainly, Elnett… Nars….) And I know I need some tweezers, so I think its time to finally invest in Tweezerman. And that Essie shade, the more I see of it, the more I want it… and about the Urban Decay – it’s the one I use most often, but I’ve heard that Too Faced Eye Shadow Insurance does the same job except that it allows for a better blending of eyeshadow!

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Sunny
Saturday, October 6/2012 at 3:07 pm

So true about the Maybelline mascara! I bought a tube because of all the hype around it and I was not impressed at all…funnily enough Revlon makes the best (affordable) volume mascaras, I’ve gone through about about 4 tubes already so I’m sticking to that until I can afford something like YSL or Lancome mascara.

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Lindsay
Friday, October 12/2012 at 9:42 pm

So so happy to hear your stance on eight hour cream. When I first smelled it, I thought it was a tube that had gone bad. Nope…. It just smells that way. GROSS

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Ellie
Sunday, October 14/2012 at 9:56 pm

I agree on everything (of the ones I’ve tried, that is). The only thing I will say is that, while I am SO happy to finally find someone who agrees with me on Great Lash, the clear version of Great Lash is actually amazing. I use it under my regular mascara (because waterproof formulas make your lashes brittle) and it works so well. It gives a nice “wet look” to my lashes.

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PK
Wednesday, October 17/2012 at 3:29 pm

It is so good to hear someone else saying that the Maybelline mascara does not live up to its hype. Maybelline must pay people a lot of money to keep spreading the word, but it truly is not a quality mascara. It makes eyelashes look fake and spidery and constantly rubs off onto the upper part of the eye lid. Bad, bad, bad.

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Casandra
Sunday, October 28/2012 at 4:46 pm

I love Tweezerman!!! I have a Betsey Johnson pair (so cute!), and they are the only tweezers I use. I immediatly threw out all of my Revlon ones after this discovery. They are said to grab a hair with every pluck, and that’s no gimmick. It’s like there is some kind of hair magnet on the tips. They also come with free sharpenings for life! Well worth the $25, do yourself a favor and buy a pair.

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Jake
Thursday, April 4/2013 at 8:33 am

I can’t go a single day without Eight Hour Cream! Soo many uses.. it’s a really great healing product for any dry skin, eczema, cuts, grazes… etc.
It does come in a fragrance free version now too for those who don’t like the original smell.

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Samantha
Friday, April 19/2013 at 12:00 pm

agreed! love it…try it on pimples! (:

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Samantha
Friday, April 19/2013 at 11:59 am

I disagree with the Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream! Though it is more like Vaseline, it’s great for EVERYTHING. Eyelashes, elbows, lips (…your boyfriends lips), hands, and PIMPLES…it has salicylic acid!

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Amanda
Friday, August 30/2013 at 2:26 am

Everybody who hates great lash hates it because they’re putting it on wrong So I gotta stick up for it. I know that nobody reads the packaging these days but it says very clearly DO NOT LET DRY BETWEEN COATS. that is why people get less than brilliant results. If you wiggle it and apple all of your coats while its still drying (not dry) you get beautiful fanned out lashes. And it comes in EVERY colour. Love it.

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Kayla
Tuesday, February 4/2014 at 8:20 pm

Thank you Amanda! Great Lash is a fantastic everyday mascara for natural, full lashes. I have bought so many other kinds of mascara, and always under up back with Great Lash. I’m blonde and very fair and thick super voluminzing mascara looks absolutely ridiculous on me when I’m going for a natural everyday sort of look. The L’Oreal Voluminous mascara ends up under my eyes and makes me look like a racoon.

The Nars blush always looks so much lighter here than the one I have at home, but I have a sneaking suspicion its Super Orgasm…

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