Packaging Versus Reality: 11 Products That Are Better Than They Look

Instagram is changing the face of beauty as we know it. Brands like Glossier, Sand & Sky and Milk Makeup have all enjoyed huge growth by using the social platform as a space to engage a devoted following, but there’s one key factor to having such omnipresence across channels dedicated to everything visual: product packaging. Whilst a few years ago you might have been happy to pick up a new moisturiser based on a recommendation from a friend, now you’re more likely to buy one because you’ve spotted the Millennial Pink packaging or apothecary-inspired dispenser on your feed.

Although the #shelfie hashtag has been used over 1.3 million times, it’s not just the rise in beauty bloggers sharing the contents of their enviably sized bathroom cabinets that has caused this shift in product perception. Whether it’s a cute tube of lip balm captured artfully tumbling out of your favourite influencer’s It bag or a carefully curated product lineup making an appearance in the backdrop of their #ootd, fashion girls are also keen to share their beauty finds with the most gorgeous packaging.

So where does that leave the beauty products that are just as good (if not better) in terms of performance, but are burdened with packaging that isn’t as attractive? I believe there’s a host of skincare, makeup and hair items industry insiders and stylish women use daily but that they’ll never share on Instagram. These are the products that genuinely work, and will be repurchased time and again, but to put it bluntly, just don’t look that great. Scroll down to discover some truly excellent beauty formulas. Just remember the old pre-Instagram adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Think of this as the white tee of your beauty stash; it won’t turn heads, but it’s a product that can be relied upon. Previously a skincare insider secret, purse-friendly pharmacy brand Cetaphil has been consistently recommended by dermatologists and adored by makeup artists for its simple fragrance-free formulas. Now celebs like Charlize Theron swear by this soap-free face-and-body cleanser thanks to the way it gently softens your skin as it cleans to leave you with a fresh-faced glow.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t recognise the iconic pink and green packaging of this Maybelline mascara. Garish? Certainly. Dated? Quite possibly. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this mascara works. Model Pia Miller swears by this lash-conditioning formula that lends lashes a natural-looking fullness on days where you don’t want your makeup to look too done.

When it comes to lip care, we tend to be partial to a pretty pot of something luxurious to display on our bedside table. This one from Eucerin, on the other hand, takes a decidedly medical approach to lip care—it’s a dermatologist-approved, heavy-duty gel that combats even the driest of winter lips. You’ll sometimes spot this in the on-flight wash bags of stylish jet-setters, as the high glycerin content guarantees soft, smooth lips even in the most dehydrating of conditions.

The tube might be basic (although it does benefit from being Instagram’s colour of the moment, green), but inside you’ll find a skin-enriching balm that’s been going strong since 1926. Acquiring a whole host of famous fans along the way, including Alexa Chung and Victoria Beckham, it’s a multitasker that can be slathered on to soothe dry patches of skin as well as lightly patted onto cheekbones for a natural, dewy look.

Giving French pharmacies a run for their money, CeraVe is the U.S. answer to affordable, dermatologist-approved skincare. Agreeably, the packaging definitely isn’t as chic as some of its Parisian counterparts, but with fans like Olivia Wilde swearing by its skin benefits, we can forgive it. The oil-free lotion even rivals even the more high-end moisturisers and uses hyaluronic acid and ceramides to deeply nourish the driest of skin types.

Ask anyone whose signature look includes a flick of eyeliner and chances are they’ve tried this cult one from Kat Von D. The woman made her name as a tattoo artist before launching her own vegan beauty line back in 2008, so unsurprisingly, the brand aesthetic is heavily ink-inspired. However, if you can look past the grungy rose sketches on the box and the gothic font on the tube, inside, you’ll find a tapered pen-style applicator that makes it easy to apply a sharp, precise line and an inky-black formula that genuinely doesn’t budge.

In a world of Fenty Beauty and Marc Jacobs, where foundations come nestled inside sleek glass packaging, Vichy’s black plastic tube does little to stand out from the crowd. But this is the ultimate secret weapon in operation skin cover-up. Boasting a 25% pigment concentration (a standard medium coverage foundation has 10% to 15% pigment), this fluid formula can cover everything from acne and dark circles to tattoos and scars. It lasts for up to 16 hours without drying the skin out, so it’s ideal for busy girls.

Ask any French woman what they use on their skin and chances are that they’ll have a tube of this cult cream on hand. A pharmacy staple, this lotion can be used for a multitude of beauty tasks, from moisturising to removing makeup. It’s a backstage staple, too, thanks to the way it preps and primes skin. Rich in fatty acids, it creates a satin-soft texture and adds a natural brightness to your skin.

One of the beauty industry’s fastest-growing product types, dry shampoo is no longer the dirty secret of lazy girls everywhere. Oribe and Hair by Sam McKnight both offer luxe bottles of oil-absorbing spray, but this original formula from Batiste has been leading the way for over 40 years. Not only does it make your hair feel clean and fresh, but you can also use it to add texture to fine strands for a stylishly dishevelled finish. Just spray it in at your roots and follow with a blast of hot air from your hair dryer for extra volume.

Beauty influencers have been raving about this concealer for years—and not just because it’s the cost of your morning macchiato. Whilst the packaging is reminiscent of the products that we reached for in our teenage years (and is renowned for the lettering rubbing off after just a few jaunts in your makeup bag), it does make light work of covering up blemishes. Plus, if you can’t be fussed with using multiple base products, you can sheer it out over your moisturiser as a makeshift skin tint.

To be fair, the packaging of Dr. Bronner’s does-it-all soaps has remained pretty similar to its earliest incarnations in the ’70s, so it definitely boasts some retro appeal. However, unlike every influencer’s favourite Aesop soap, you’re unlikely to spot a bottle of this in any Pinterest-inspired bathroom. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. A minimalist’s dream, you can use this to wash your face, body, hair and even home. Gwyneth Paltrow loves the lavender scent for a relaxing bath at the end of the day.