TikTok Is Making "Unsexy" Beauty Products Seem Very Appealing

A trend on the app is giving familiar standbys a new name. It's a reminder that there's more to beauty than pretty packaging.

Charine Cheungg holds up her favorite unsexy beauty products in her bathroom in a collage surrounding her with her favorite unsexy beauty products
(Image credit: TikTok/@carinecheungg, @_boussoo)

The corner of the internet known as beauty TikTok (or BeautyTok, for short) is usually filled with eye candy. Each day, my feed surfaces jewel-tone fragrances that glisten beneath their sculptural caps; celebrity-approved body creams that perch in pristine bathrooms worthy of an Architectural Digest photoshoot; or lip oils and body mists that shimmer in front of a resort backdrop. But lately, dermatologists, editors, and everyday content creators are appearing on my For You page with products more commonly seen under the harsh florescents of a CVS than a carefully positioned ring light. Each one refers to their armfuls of tested-and-approved creams, lotions, ointments, and tools with an eyebrow-raiser of a name: "unsexy beauty products."

For audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands (and in a few cases, millions), TikTok recommendation videos are currently singing the praises of humble, drugstore-oriented skincare and beauty with the same fervor usually reserved for the latest luxury launch. The tongue-in-cheek "unsexy" moniker comes from two directions: the packaging—which favors straightforward product descriptions over flashy, photogenic designs—and the purpose. From video to video, participants in the trend share recommendations for items to treat common conditions like dandruff, dry skin, eczema, or rosacea.

As creator @haleyreidtay explained to more than 200,000 viewers of her roundup, "Nothing about these [products] has to be sexy or cool, aside from the fact that they work."


♬ original sound - tay

♬ original sound - Charine

To be clear: The products defining this TikTok movement aren't new. Some, like tubs of Vaseline and bottles of hydrocortisone cream, have existed on the market for longer than this magazine. Others fall under the umbrella of "medical grade skincare," with dermatologist-backed formulas and studies proving their results.

All that's different with "unsexy beauty products" is the terminology—and the tone of the conversation. Openly discussing the diaper ointment that treats irritation or the drugstore facial cleanser that clears breakouts is a refreshing twist in an app saturated with paid placements and sticker-shock price tags.

"This is currently my favorite trend on TikTok," creator @_bousso told over 179,000 viewers on her "unsexy" product review. "These are products that are affordable but might not look aesthetically pleasing, but that just gets the job done." Her haul included a bar of Dial soap and a Dove Acne Clear cleanser.

Commenters who tune in without posting themselves also enjoy the change in perspective. "It's so refreshing to find a video I actually trust [because] you're not sponsored by this or anything," one viewer wrote under creator @sarah.kidwai's reviews of First Aid Beauty's Bump Eraser Scrub and a generic Hydrochlorus Acid Spray.


♬ original sound - Bousso

♬ original sound - Abbey Yung

Most creators' bathroom cabinet hauls end with a line like this: "Unsexy products actually are sexy—because they work."

Marie Claire beauty editors agree. So ahead, we share the so-called "unsexy" essentials with a permanent spot in our beauty routines. Just like people, you can't always judge a product by its packaging.


♬ Calm background music with acoustic guitar and saxophone(1288148) - ame

♬ original sound - marla catherine

Shop 'Marie Claire' Editors' Favorite "Unsexy" Beauty Products

Halie LeSavage
Senior News Editor (Fashion & Beauty)

Halie LeSavage is the senior fashion and beauty news editor at Marie Claire, where she assigns, edits, and writes stories for both sections. Halie is an expert on runway trends, celebrity style, emerging fashion and beauty brands, and shopping (naturally). In over seven years as a professional journalist, Halie’s reporting has ranged from fashion week coverage spanning the Copenhagen, New York, Milan, and Paris markets, to profiles on industry insiders including stylist Alison Bornstein and J.Crew womenswear creative director Olympia Gayot, to breaking news stories on noteworthy brand collaborations and beauty launches. (She can personally confirm that Bella Hadid’s Ôrebella perfume is worth the hype.) She has also written dozens of research-backed shopping guides to finding the best tote bags, ballet flats, and more. Most of all, Halie loves to explore what trends—like the rise of doll-like Mary Janes or TikTok’s 75 Hard Style Challenge—can say about culture writ large. (She justifies almost any purchase by saying it’s “for work.”) Halie has previously held writer and editor roles at Glamour, Morning Brew, and Harper’s Bazaar. Halie has been cited as a fashion and beauty expert in The Cut, CNN Underscored, and Reuters, among other outlets, and appears in newsletters like Selleb and Self-Checkout to provide shopping recommendations. In 2022, she was awarded the Hearst Spotlight Award for excellence and innovation in fashion journalism. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Harvard College. Outside of work, Halie is passionate about books, baking, and her miniature Bernedoodle, Dolly. For a behind-the-scenes look at her reporting, you can follow Halie on Instagram and TikTok.