I'm a Packaging Snob, But These 10 "Ugly" Products Are So Good I Don't Even Care

Updated 08/14/19

 @amanda_montell

I’m sure you’re already well aware, dear Byrdie reader, of all the factors to consider when investing in beauty products. Of course you want your formulas to be effective and ethically made, but let’s be real—how they look in your bathroom is kind of just as important. After all, a product’s packaging is the first thing you notice, and speaking personally, I sometimes can’t help but assume that nice branding is a sign of what’s inside the bottle. I’m not proud to say that I have invested (and in fact re-invested!) in products that just sat on my countertop for months just because I liked the way they look

Certainly, it’s not always the case that great packaging equals great product. In fact, sometimes the reverse is true. As choosy about packaging as I am, there are a handful of products that I will always, always re-purchase even though from the outside they look, well, a little bit janky. This list is dedicated to those special serums, sunscreens, hair masks, and more that work so damn well that I can’t even hate on the packaging.

Retinol Serum
Tree of Life Retinol Serum $11
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I can’t even really knock Tree of Life for choosing not to update their packaging. This mom-and-pop brand produces incredibly well-formulated, non-toxic serums for a tenth the price of higher-end brands, precisely because they don’t shell out tons of funds on marketing and branding. Their impressive 72% organic retinol serum keeps my hormonal acne at bay (it also has over 3,000 reviews and almost five stars on Amazon). 

Sun Protection
Nivea Japan Super Sun Protect Water Gel $15
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I own about six sunscreens from beautifully packaged luxury skincare brands, but day after day, I find myself reaching only for this impossibly lightweight SPF 50 from Nivea’s Japanese line. The formula absorbs instantly and feels and smells like nothing. It’s such a holy grail product for me that I don’t even mind that it looks pretty blah on my countertop.

Hair Mask
Aussie 3 Minute Miracle Moist $3
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A bright purple plastic bottle with the English language’s most reviled word—”moist”—scrawled across the front? Doesn’t exactly scream chic… but thanks to its blend of avocado and Australian jojoba oil, this gem of a drugstore hair mask leaves my color-damaged hair ridiculously silky and shiny. Worth it. 

Hair Dryer
Conair InfinitiPro 3Q Advanced Brushless Motor Dryer $53
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This clunky silver hair dryer is nowhere near as *aesthetic* as the Dyson or Harry Josh’s iconic green dryer, but ugh… I love it. The brushless motor is freakishly powerful and takes my hair from soaked to perfectly dry, shiny, and frizz-free in less than five minutes. I’ve owned my dryer for over four years, and it’s still going strong. It’s also on sale these days for just about 50 bucks. So what if it’s not the prettiest hair tool in the world? I just keep mine under the sink until it’s time to work its magic.

Cleanser
Epicuren Clarify Cleanser $25
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I love Epicuren’s plant-based, results-driven formulas so much that I forget to notice that their packaging isn’t the fanciest on the market. This gently exfoliating cleanser, formulated with salicylic acid, willow bark extract, and aloe, helps clear my breakouts while leaving my skin glowy and irritation-free.

Cotton Pads
Muji Makeup Facial Soft Cut Cotton Unbleached $13
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Having a plastic bag of taupe-ish cotton squares on your countertop is not my ideal vibe by any means, but I simply cannot live without these skincare pads, which I use to remove my makeup and apply toner. The versatile unbleached cotton never pills or wastes product. I just need to come up with a chicer way to store them in my bathroom, because this staple is going nowhere.

Exfoliating Mitt
Gaiyah Exfoliating Mitt $9
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There are so many beautiful body scrubs out there, but this weird brown exfoliating mitt does the job of sloughing dead skin off my body in a way that’s a million times cheaper, less messy, and more effective. It works to smooth my skin and remove leftover self-tanner so much better (and faster) than any other product that tbh I doubt I’ll ever use body scrub ever again.

Lip Balm
Carmex Lip Balm $3
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It’s hard for me to reconcile spending more than $3 on lip balm when this medicated drugstore standby gives my lips the hardcore hydration I’m looking for. The bright red-and-yellow packaging is kind of an eye sore, but I can always rely on Carmex to treat my lips even when they’re hopelessly chapped, so I’ve learned to accept it.

Eye Cream
Cetaphil Hydrating Eye Gel Cream $12
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I’ve tried eye creams that come in dainty jars with posh golden spatulas, but in general, I’ll always prefer skincare that comes in a tube (more hygienic and protective of the formula). This outside of this drugstore eye product is nothing to write home about, but the lightweight yet hydrating gel-like formula on the inside, packed with hyaluronic acid, totally makes up for it.

Flat Iron
Phuse Hair Tamer Styling Iron $125
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Another hair tool that might not be as Instagrammable as brands like T3 and GHD, but that I’m obsessed with nonetheless. I’ve had this flat iron for almost five years and it’s never let me down. I love how quickly it heats up, the wide range of temperature settings, and how easily it glides through sections of hair whether to straighten or create flat iron waves (my personal everyday look). I own another, prettier hair straightener, but this is still the only one I use.

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