Cult Beauty Products That Live Up to Their Reputation (and the Ones You Can Pass On): Part 1

These hair- and body-care products are sought-after and beloved for a reason.

Ever since I was a preteen, teaching myself about beauty by poring over the pages of InStyle and Allure, I've been obsessed by the concept of the "cult" product. I delighted in reading about bestsellers from across the world, items that every in-the-know beauty lover kept in their immaculate, grownup bathrooms.

I suppose I'm a grownup now, and somewhat in-the-know as well, but my love for cult products still has not waned. I scan beauty blogs and forums to know what's up in both the luxury- and drugstore-beauty worlds, and I take notes on the products I see continually popping up in #shelfie snaps on my Instagram feed.

Herewith, I present Part 1 of the best-of-the-best cult products I've tried... and the ones over which I can't quite understand the hype. First up, I'm talkin' body and hair products.

The Ones I Love

Mountain Ocean Skin Trip

This guy came to my attention three or four years ago in the midst of obsessively reading beauty blogs. It seemed that every effortlessly pretty, hippie-esque artist/model/singer swore by this lotion, a blend of coconut oil, lanolin and aloe vera.

A few summers back, I managed to pick up a bottle at the always-lovely Ricky's NYC and immediately fell in love. It smells like vacation, and I now stockpile this lotion. It is my body-moisturizing holy grail! I rely on it year-round for soft, smooth skin that smells faintly of beach days, and in the winter, it takes care of itchy hives brought on by my overheated apartment.

Salux Nylon Japanese Bath Towel

With 442 reviews on MakeupAlley and an average rating of 4.8, the Salux-branded washcloth is the little scrub-towel that could. I raved about this affordable must-have back in 2013, and I'm still cuckoo for its dead-skin-cell-shedding ways. A good scrub down with Salux, followed by lotioning up with Skin Trip... well, that just guarantees skin that's softer than a baby/peach hybrid.

Kiehl's Original Musk Shower Gel

Kiehl's bestselling Musk oil, believed to be blended in the '20s and made available for customers in 1963, is warm and sexy, combining beautifully with the wearer's body chemistry into an inviting, clean and complex aroma.

The super-concentrated shower gel that bears its scent has the same effect, lingering on the skin after gently cleansing it without stripping or irritating. Under running water, it froths up into a bubble bath that fills your entire bathroom with the iconic, musky scent. I love this stuff.

The Mason Pearson Bristle & Nylon Brush

I don't think there's been a beauty tool more hyped than the Mason Pearson, perhaps because its price causes so many to do a double take. Yes, upwards of $100 for a hairbrush may seem ridiculous, but hear me out: the MP is the MVP of hairbrushes, particularly the bristle and nylon mix.

The layout of this mixture of bristles works expertly to detangle my dry, frizzy mass of fine hair. Smoothed over strands, it helps to shape my hair; brushed closer to the scalp, it boosts circulation (so necessary if you're trying to grow your hair out) and helps to evenly distribute natural oils for smoothness and shine; used to back comb at the crown, it softly teases for extra volume.

And these brushes are built to last: I can't tell you how many times I've dropped my precious brush on hard floors over the last few years and yet it has nary a ding. I can absolutely see myself having this brush for years and years to come. It still looks and feels brand new, consistently gives me the results I want, and other than a comb and a flat-iron, it's the only hair tool I regularly depend on.

Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray

Just look at its product page, the words "CULT CLASSIC" emblazoned in giant text behind the image of the can. I could write poetic odes to this multitasking mist, a product many brands have tried to imitate but none can touch. Everything from its scent, to its texture, to the way it makes my hair look and feel—all of these are reasons I continue to repurchase this fancy-pants spray.

This is one of the most sought-after products in celebrity hairstylist Oribe's line, frequently used on Vogue and Vanity Fair covers to give a healthy dose of va-va-voom to the hair of the rich and famous. Misted at the roots, DTS gives floppy strands a lift and helps mattify oil. Scrunched into the lengths, it gives hair a bit of grit, allowing it to hold any given style with ease.

I carry my mini can around and mist it into my hair after a long, sweaty bike ride; it revives my lifeless hair enough so that no one can tell I was just wearing a helmet. And that iconic citrus-and-bergamot scent? After mass demand, it's now available in a heavenly eau de parfum.

Alberto v05 Hot Oil Weekly Intense Conditioning Treatment

I can't help myself when it comes to these nostalgic treatment tubes (they've been around for decades; your mom probably loves 'em). They're cheap, smell great, leave my hair silky-soft, and make me feel like a retro glamazon.

Sunday nights are made for face masks and slathering your hair with warm, nourishing oil. Let this vintage ad convince you.

And The Ones That Make Me Go "Eh"

Kérastase Shampoos and Conditioners

As a pre-teen, I remember reading in a magazine that Jennifer Lopez used Kérastase hair products and that they were SO fancy and SO luxurious and "Whaaaaa, $40 for shampoo?!" The whole concept blew my little Herbal Essences-coated mind.

Years later and knee-deep in the luxury beauty world, I'm not thrown off by pricey shampoo, but I do wonder about Kérastase. By no means am I saying that Kérastase's products are bad—not at all. Their products feel and smell luxurious and leave my hair shiny and soft. However, I do wonder if they're worth their salon price.

The reason? Parent company L'Oreal's ownership of Kérastase means that the salon and drugstore products share a lot of the same research, innovation and ingredients. While washing my hair with Kérastase feels perfectly lovely, I've had the exact same results with L'Oreal's line of drugstore dupes at a fraction of the cost. L'Oreal's Eversleek Deep Conditioner in particular gave me silky, smooth Kérastase-esque hair, with a sulfate-free formula to boot. Because the truth is, sometimes you're just paying for a name.

Coming soon: my more beloved cult-favourite skincare and makeup products.

  • What cult classic hair and body products do you regularly stock up on?
  • Which ones left you disappointed?