Including a years-old hair curling wand that "smells like high school drama and hairspray from doing musicals."
Welcome to "Splurge/Save," a series in which we quiz beauty obsessives about the top luxury ("splurge") and drugstore ("save") products in their routines.
Lylli Stapper has a flair for the theatrical. Since launching her TikTok channel in 2020, the 22-year-old digital content creator — known to her 2.3 million followers as, simply, Lylli — has gained platform-wide recognition for her smart bursts of comedic timing. Stapper makes me laugh daily, through the pixelated glass of my phone screen, of course, but that's not all for which her community loves her.
The thing is, Stapper, a self-described "theater kid," is what you might call a beauty aficionado. Her "get ready with me"-adjacent videos, which highlight under-the-radar drugstore staples alongside a careful edit of viral designer products, are among her most popular on the app, often clocking in far north of a million views. Where other beauty-focused creators at her level of influence may have built followings upon $90 foundations or $50 contour wands, Stapper has done something of the opposite — without compromising on a splurge here or there.
"I don't have anything that's like, in the $100 range," she tells me over Zoom from Washington, D.C., where she moved last year. "I've only recently gotten to a place where I can afford to purchase those products, but I fall in love with what I've already found, which are budget options. So why even go for these luxury brands?"
Stapper came to TikTok like many of us did — in early 2020, feeling the pressures of the pandemic and desperate for an escape. It didn't help that she had only recently moved to Los Angeles for college, and with stay-at-home orders in effect, suddenly found herself back in Oregon, living with her parents and, as she says, "probably oozing unhappiness."
"My mom sat me down and said, 'Lyllian, I don't care what it is, but you need a creative outlet,'" remembers Stapper. "'You're not happy.' I was like, 'I don’t really know what to do, but I'll give it a shot.'"
TikTok quickly presented itself as a viable option, and soon, there she was sharing her skin-care and makeup routines for all the internet to enjoy. As her following grew, evolving into a community that, she says, supports her through and through, so too did her relationship with the beauty industry, and cosmetics especially.
"Makeup used to be more of a toxic interest," she says. "It started in high school when it was all about trying to cover up my face, instead of accentuating it. I just remember putting on tons of foundation and powder to hide the fact that I had acne. God forbid I ever showed oily skin. The whole point was to mask everything."
After developing an interest in skin care in her later teens, Stapper found herself revisiting makeup once again, only this time with a much healthier approach. Today, it's her job to explore the products and techniques that, she says, might have gotten her "made fun of in high school."
Ahead, Stapper shares her top "splurge" and "save" beauty picks across a wide variety of categories.
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Cleanser: "The cleanser I'm using nine times out of 10 is the Aveda Botanical Kinetics Purifying Gel Cleanser ($28). It helps with my sensitive skin. It doesn't irritate. It smells great, but it's natural.
"The other I like, often for traveling, is the CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($16), which I feel is a big staple in a lot of households. CeraVe just comes through.
"I also use a cleansing balm to take my makeup off — the Clean It Zero 3-in-1 Cleansing Balm Original ($27). It's absolutely wonderful and just dissolves everything."
Moisturizer: "I have a few different moisturizers and combine all of them in my hand. One is the CosRx Oil-Free Ultra Moisturising Lotion ($25), with birch sap. I stumbled across this a few years ago and it's the only thing that doesn't break out my skin, but also keeps it hydrated.
"Then I like the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer With SPF ($20.99), and I also use it for my sunscreen, as well."
Sunscreen: "La Roche-Posay is a pretty good dupe for my Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen ($38) that I also go for, which is definitely a little bit splurgier, in my eyes.
"I'm a huge fan of Aveeno skin-care products, like their Positively Radiant Daily Face Moisturizer With SPF 30 ($22). I tend to have one of those on hand if I run out of my others."
Serums: "I use two. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Hydrating Serum ($9) is my staple. It keeps my skin from flaking, yet it doesn't make it oily.
"And then I have the L'Oréal Paris 12% Pure Vitamin C + E + Salicylic Acid Serum ($32.99), which is kind of a new addition. I get hyperpigmentation every time I pop a pimple or one goes away, but this is a product that genuinely starts brightening those spots right away and makes my skin feel toned and fresh, and that makes me happy."
Acne care: "I like both Differin Gel ($16) and Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Original Acne Pimple Patches ($13), and I don't have any alternatives for those because they're the staples!"
Eye cream: "The same is true with eye cream. I only have one, which is the Good Molecules Yerba Mate Wake Up Eye Gel ($6)."
Freckle pen: "Here's my Holy Grail. [Laughs] I use Freck Beauty The Original Freckle Freck XL ($28), and it's my favorite thing in the world. The other I have is just on Amazon and it's the Maepeor Freckle Pen in Light Brown Natural ($8), which lasts all day. It's good to have those two to choose between."
Body wash: "I love Native Eucalyptus & Mint Body Wash ($16), and I have this little silicone exfoliator sponge that I use to apply it. I have Native's subscription plan, so it's just a staple in my house. I've also influenced all of my friends, so anytime I go to stay with a friend, it feels like my home away from home because they have the same products in their shower that I do."
Lip gloss: "I love the Anastasia Beverly Hills Lip Gloss in the shade Moon Jelly ($16), and for something more high-end, I like the Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer ($20).
"Honestly, though, I cannot say enough good things about Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25 ($10). I've made so many videos on it, and still, you'd think Jack Black has something over me because of how often I'm like, 'Jack Black Lip Balm… Jack Black Lip Balm…' But I use it for everything, especially when I was living in L.A. I could go on all day about it."
Highlighter: "I have the Bareminerals Mineral Veil Powder ($30), which, I guess, is technically a setting powder. I didn't know this when I first bought it several years ago, though, so I just dip my finger in it and put it on as highlighter. The other one I love so much — because it's so affordable and also has great pigment — is Colourpop Super Shock Cheek Highlighter in Flexitarian ($9). The formula is just wonderful."
Blush: "My blush is either going to be the ColourPop Super Shock Blush ($9) or Rare Beauty; I love both the Stay Vulnerable Melting Cream Blush ($22) and the Soft Pinch Liquid Blush ($23). I was influenced heavily and became a Rare Beauty stan a couple weeks ago and haven't looked back since, so here we are."
Foundation: "I tend to go more for a powder foundation because I feel like it's less heavy and I can manipulate it better than having to sit there and beat my face with a sponge. So I use Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Powder Foundation ($39) or L'Oréal Paris Infallible 24HR Fresh Wear Foundation ($15.99), which are just so good. Recently, I've also gotten more into the ColourPop Pretty Fresh Hyaluronic Tinted Moisturizer ($15) followed by the Rare Beauty Always an Optimist Soft Radiance Setting Powder ($25)."
Mascara: "I don't leave home without it. My typical mascara is Eyeko; their Rock Out & Lash Out Lengthen Mascara ($24) is my favorite thing in the world. I got it in a Sephora trial size once and I've never looked back — except I also love the Fenty Beauty Full Frontal Volume Lift & Curl Mascara ($24) because it's such a good formula and really separates my lashes."
Shampoo and conditioner: "I go for the Aveeno Rose Water & Chamomile Blend Shampoo and Conditioner ($10 each). Oftentimes, and I don't know who mentioned it and has a larger influence than me, I go to the store near me and it's out of stock, and I'm like, 'Who's taking my shampoo and conditioner?'
"I love Eva NYC's Tone It Down! Blonde Conditioner ($13). If you have blonde hair, I cannot recommend it enough. It's gentle. I still use it now when my hair is back to brown because I love it so much.
"I also love the Aveda Botanical Repair Strengthening Shampoo ($36) and Conditioner ($41), and that's definitely a splurge on my part. I don't know if I can justify spending close to $50 each on shampoo and conditioner, but my hair always thanks me for it."
Hair mask: "I like the Aveda Botanical Repair Intensive Strengthening Masque ($65) which is more high-end, and when I was bleaching my hair, it wasn’t sustainable to be spending $60 on a hair mask I was using every day. So I started using the Wella Fushionplex Intense Repair Hair Mask ($25), and it works really well. I also use it to shave!"
Hair curling wand: "I've had the same curler since my freshman year of high school. It's just a pink curling wand from Remington, and I've never used anything else. I feel like she’s a staple in every middle school girls' bathroom, and I'm just out here still using it at the ripe age of 22. Every time I turn it on, it smells like high school drama and hairspray from doing musicals.
"Styling my hair has never been my forte. I don't curl my hair that often, but if I do once in a blue moon, it's with her. She's been through so much. I've gotten very attached. Even at this point, if I did get a fancy Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer ($430), which I'm sure works incredibly well, I know I'd be like, you know how much Chipotle that could get me while I'm sitting in my house reminiscing about old times with my theater hair curler?'"
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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