While I don’t suggest choosing your place of work based on proximity to Trader Joe’s, I will reveal that mine is right next door to one. I go there for workday lunch, or on my way home to pick up cheese for an impromptu picnic—it’s the only place in Manhattan I can buy industrial tubs of blueberries and fresh-cut hydrangeas without blowing through a paycheck. I thought I’d tried everything they sold until I noticed, hidden between vitamins and dog treats, skincare.
It made me nervous to put all my faith in one brand—no less a brand known better for $2 burritos than serums. But, as with three-tier dip, crunchy almond butter, and cinnamon bun brioche, I had to know—was I missing out on something amazing? For a week, I let my face be the judge. I set the barometer for greatness on par with my favorite drugstore brands. I wasn't expecting to wake up with a new face, but I also hoped I wouldn't break out in zits or hives. At well under $100 for the entire haul, it was a low-stakes experiment. And after a week of use, most of them delivered on their promises without anything bad happening. Of course, some were better than others—this is how I'd rank them.
11. Mineral Sunscreen Stick
This left a slight white cast on my face, and I’m quite pale! Not the best sign, and why this sunscreen stick is lowest on my list.
10. Rich Hydrating Face Sheet Mask
I was nervous to try this one because a lot of Amazon reviewers mentioned that the mask made their skin sting. But I tried it, dear reader, because I am dedicated to this job. Anyway, nothing happened. At most it felt like a hydrating serum, and it smelled strongly of cucumber—the added fragrance, I’m guessing, may be why some people had an adverse reaction. A fun impulse buy at the end of the checkout line, but you may be better off with the peanut butter cups.
9. Antioxidant Facial Serum
There’s good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news: this is not a very good serum. In fact, I’m not actually convinced it’s a serum at all! It has the full alphabet of vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, and K) for brightening, soothing, exfoliating oomph, but the base is a silicone called cyclopentasiloxane. There’s a lot going on here, but the point is, even though this serum boasts star ingredients, I’m not sure if any of them are actually penetrating my skin. It doesn’t feel all that active, and I didn’t see any visible differences in my skin like I was expecting. Now for the good news: this is an excellent primer. The gel-like texture smooths evenly onto skin, and leaves a velvety matte finish. And that silicone with the long name you’ve already forgotten? Turns out it’s also the first ingredient in both the Tatcha Silk Canvas and Hourglass Veil Mineral primers. I have a hunch this is a pretty decent dupe for the latter, for under $20—you’re welcome.
8. Micellar Cleanser & Makeup Remover Towelettes
My first thought when I opened the packaging was, “Hey, these smell like Craisins!” Take that as you will. The towelette (let’s be real—it’s a wipe) took off my concealer but not my eyeliner, and left a slightly tacky residue on my skin. It wasn’t exactly a makeup remover, and it wasn’t exactly a cleanser—I still followed with both for a proper clean. So, not a proper replacement for either, but good to throw in a gym bag for a quick post-sweat wipe down.
7. Hyaluronic Moisture Boost Serum
This HA serum is very middle of the road. Does it hydrate? Sure. Is it the best HA serum on the market at this price point? Eh, probably not. It takes some time to sink in, and while you’re waiting, it feels filmy and slippery to the touch. But at the end of the day, it does what it’s supposed to, which is hydrate. I don’t know! This is fine! But if you’re willing to venture outside of TJ’s, the one from The Inkey List is better.
6. Rose Facial Oil
Now feels like a good time for a refresher on how to read an ingredient list. On beauty products, the ingredients are listed from highest concentration to lowest. That’s how you’d know that this rose oil is actually sunflower seed oil and coconut oil, for the most part. It’s nice and light, and smells beautifully of rose, but it loses points for trying to be sneaky. It does win best in packaging, if you’re into that.
5. Enrich Moisturizing Face Lotion SPF 15
While the packaging looks almost exactly like this Olay moisturizer, we’re still at Trader Joe’s—oh, Joe! You can’t fool us that easily! This is a much better sunscreen option than the stick. I used a full half teaspoon, and it blended in fine with no white cast. It’s not the best moisturizer on this list, so that’s why it’s not higher.
4. Ultra Hydrating Gel Moisturizer
This gel moisturizer feels just as light as the HA serum and wins out against it in terms of hydration. All your favorite humectants are inside—glycerin, aloe, sodium hyaluronate, heck even propanediol, one of the good alcohols, snagged an invite. It’s refreshing on skin, and even better when stored in the fridge. If you’ve been looking for a gel moisturizer to try for summer, this is a good place to start. It’s already gotten Tom’s stamp of approval.
3. 100% Organic Argan oil
OK, this one is actually all argan oil. Not groundbreaking, not proprietary, but not bad either. Quite good, in fact—nice as a summer alternative for face oil people, a smooth finisher for hair, and, my favorite use, mixed into a cream bronzer for the dewiest tan you ever did see.
2. All-In-One Facial Cleanser
Though it’s dressed like a hand soap, I actually liked this cleanser! I massaged one pump of the gel on slightly wet skin, and lathered it into a satisfying foam. When it rinsed, my skin felt clean, but not tight. Since it’s now in my bathroom, I’ll probably keep using it. Plus, the list of “all” TJ has packed “in one”—Exfoliant, Toner, Tearless, Antioxidant—reads like this SNL skit. Grab when sitting on the toilet and recite in Vanessa Bayer’s voice for a laugh.
1. Antioxidant Facial Moisturizer
Like the cleanser, the packaging of this moisturizer is lacking. Joe, if you’re out there listening, please hire someone to do your product design! Luckily, it’s what’s on the inside that counts—and what’s inside this bottle is more moisturizer than you could ever need to keep one punim (yours) silky smooth. Seriously, this is a huge bottle when you compare it to other moisturizers. I used it at night, and when I woke up my skin felt hydrated, not oily—but it was light enough that you could use it during the day if you wanted. I can see myself keeping it in the rotation as a basic moisturizer that I know won’t irritate me or break me out, or the perfect, simple base for vitamin C powder.
Which I guess was the main takeaway from this whole experiment: pretty much everything is good. If you don’t know anything about skincare, or have choice paralysis, you won’t mess up with Ol’ Joe. But if you’re looking for more? You might want to look elsewhere.
Photos via ITG