Lately I've been thinking about how much the beauty industry has changed in the last 10 years. I can still remember visiting bricks-and-mortar MAC stores and Mecca Cosmetica when it was a humble counter tucked away in the corner of Kirkcaldie & Stains. The only big celebrity beauty lines were Glo by J.Lo (still rate) and Cindy Crawford’s rare French melons.
Not that I'm totally nostalgic for those simpler times. Less competition and online accessibility meant it was much easier for a beauty product to shoot to cult status even if it shouldn't have - why Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse had us all in a chokehold, I don't know. As the beauty industry continues to boom and compete for our attention, we’ve all become more fickle. Even the pros ain't loyal! It wasn’t long before beauty influencers who became famous for helping us sort the good from the bad began changing their entire routines at the drop of a TikTok trend.
All that is to say that when I asked my Ensemble co-workers (the lucky few who have a stream of beauty launches landing on their desks) what products they actually keep buying with their own money, it was hard to get answers. We love all the shiny and new, but I think a cult classic means more these days. So, this one's dedicated to our holy grails, sentimental favourites and unsexy saviours that we pray are never discontinued.
Rebecca Wadey, Ensemble co-founder
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, $399
Since turning 40 I’ve religiously used a great quality vitamin C every morning and a retinol at night. This serum comes with a raft of 5-star reviews online and for good reason: it makes a visible difference to the brightness and texture of my 47-year-old skin.
There are also a couple of other serums I use religiously and I would pay for if I wasn’t in the enviable position of getting them either free or heavily discounted (shout out to Emma Lewisham Skin Reset Serum and Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum), but for the purposes of this story, I am sticking to the strict rule of things I have paid full price for, more than three times. The Skinceuticals is eye-wateringly expensive (I feel a little sick seeing it written out like this) but a little goes a long way, I allocate myself a bottle a year.
Retinol from my GP, free on prescription from Chemist Warehouse or Countdown, around $5 from other pharmacies
I justify the cost of my vitamin C by getting my retinol free, on prescription. It’s a little-known life hack I’m happy to share with Ensemble readers. Obviously if you buy any number of the higher end retinols on the market, you get little extra boosters for your skin amongst it but honestly, we are all just there for the retinol itself and if you can get that for free, you’d be a fool not to! Plus, I mix it with a little face oil or Weleda Skin Food on occasion for a little more TLC. As with all retinol it can be a little harsh and drying.
Trilogy Transformation Cleansing Oil, $38
I worked on a sponsored content piece for this product years ago and fell in love with it (as did the makeup artist, Shirley Simpson, who has used it religiously ever since). I don’t subscribe to the double cleansing philosophy (in my opinion it’s just an excuse for consumerism, but I could be showing my age) and this is my go to cheap(ish) cleanser for morning and night; it’s effective at removing makeup and leaves my skin feeling nourished.
Tyson Beckett, Ensemble and Sunday style reporter
Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask - Grapefruit, $34
That I’ve used an entire tub of this thick as fuck lip balm this year stand testament to just how gross winter has been and how dry my skin has gotten. I’ve tried all the other lip balms and my scaly lips don’t like any other as much as this one. However I went into Sephora to restock last weekend and the flavours on offer were dismal. Gummy Bear? Sweet Candy? I don’t want to taste like a can of Cool Charm.
Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Water Essence, $38
I have tried many many many hyaluronic acid serums and none of them leave my skin feel as squelchy as this Isntree version.
Reach Between Toothbrush Firm, $2.99
Lara alluded to it in last month’s Nice Things article, but I have very specific and strongly held opinions about toothbrushes. Namely - this is the only one that should exist. I’ve been using this make and model for as long as I can remember, save for a brief flirtation with an electric brush. I always get the firm version, nothing else feels clean and always in purple, because growing up Dad had the red one and my brother the blue.
Lara Daly, Ensemble publishing coordinator
Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, $48
I’ve used this product for so long I’ve seen it go through at least four re-designs - all hideous. I’m not buying this because it looks chic, but because it works. Anyone who has ever spent hours scrolling acne skincare Reddits knows about this product, and that Paula’s Choice is the OG internet skincare brand. (Paula herself is a legend who literally wrote the book calling bullshit on brands like La Mer). I bought my first bottle when I was 17, learnt how to use it properly (sparingly!) when I was 21, and have been hooked ever since. It makes my skin glassy smooth and tight in a good way.
Dove Summer Glow Gradual Tanning Lotion - Medium to Dark, $8.99
Again, this is one of those products I have used forever. The smell brings me back to the first summer I used it as a brazen 11-year-old at Tolaga Bay campsite, the first New Years I was allowed to drink shandy. I love being golden, always, and I like that this gives me a decent colour after one use, but it’s not as scary as regular self-tanner. And it’s always under $10.
Mecca Max Whip Lash Tubing Mascara, $28
I have used tubing mascaras (latex based, they come off in little tubes) for years and will never go back. I was a Kevyn Aucoin stan when I worked at Mecca, but have since discovered their house-brand one is an amazing dupe, at less than half the price! I have been through at least four tubes, nothing seems to compare.
Zoe Walker Ahwa, Ensemble editor and co-founder
There’s been a lot of chatter lately about Glossier’s 'demise' and 'fall from grace' (it’s because of this new book that I am desperate to read it). Call me basic - my beauty routine certainly is - but it’s still number one in my beauty cabinet, and one of the few brands that I regularly re-purchase. In the past I've stocked up whenever I am, or someone I know, has been in the US, or used YouShop - but they just announced NZ shipping, yay! Obviously there’s Boy Brow, which I’ve bought several times, plus the skin tint and concealer - which are pretty much invisible, which is how I like my makeup.
Cosrx Hyaluronic Acid Intensive Cream, $31
I go through phases with this very rich hydrating moisturiser, but right now I’m on my fifth or sixth pottle. It has a gel-like consistency and can go on a bit sticky if you use too much, but it’s one of those products that makes me feel like I’m actually moisturising my skin. I also love and rebuy Cosrx’s Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF50+ - it’s super light, doesn’t smell and is perfect as an everyday sunscreen.