N&O Beauty Panel finishes its stint

As far as N&O Beauty Panels go, this group was our most sensory panel yet. Too smelly? Ding. Too greasy? Gone. Too sticky? Nixed.

Over and over it went with lotions, lip glosses, body butters and cleansers.

They weren't an agreeable bunch, but they did their job well, testing 33 products valued at more than $600 to see not only whether they had the right scent or formula, but also whether they had value, especially in today's economy.

Some of the products were as cheap as $2.19 (Blistex, which was one panelist's second-favorite product). Others were a little more pricey, such as the $75 Vicky Tiel Sensuel for Women perfume. Most of what they tried was drugstore, salon and department-store brands that cost less than $15. Many were under $10.

What rated the best? It turns out that three of the five panelists' favorite products came from the batch of cleansing products. Two of those were exfoliators that offered up a spa experience on drugstore price.

See what each panelist liked most as we bid farewell to our third class of the N&O Beauty Panel.

Stephannie Renee Cooper: Softsoap Body Wash Spa Exfoliating, 18 ounces, $5.49, drugstores. I absolutely loved this product from the moment I tried it. The fragrance is addictive and the exfoliating sea salts are an added bonus. At $5.99 a bottle, this body wash rivals some of the more expensive brands. I love the fact that this product really does make me feel like I have a mini spa experience every time I use it. Everyone should have this in their shower!

Jill Dykes: John Frieda Collection Weatherproofing Daily Conditioner, $5.99, mass retailers. My favorite product is the one I use every day. It conditions really well and does not leave your hair weighed down on humid days, which we get plenty of here in Raleigh. It leaves hair shiny and healthy, and best of all, it's cheap. In fact, I think this is probably the least expensive product we sampled all year. It's hard to believe my favorite product is also the cheapest. (My husband is in shock, actually).

Helen Featherson: Elizabeth Arden Mediterranean Body Lotion, 6.8 ounces, $29.50, Macy's, Ulta. This lotion gave me a silky feeling when used on my body. However, it was the fragrance that made me fall in love with it. Overall, this lotion provided a luxurious experience that was hard to beat. It costs more that I would normally pay for lotion, but if I can find it on sale, it will come home with me!

(Runner-up: Blistex Medicated Lip Ointment, $2.19, drugstores. I have used the entire tube that I was sent to test. I bought another tube and use it at least three or four times a day. It was a great find for my dry lips.)

A.J. Scarzafava: Lush Ultra Brand Cleanser, 1.5 ounces, $14.45, Lush. As hypocritical as this may sound, this was my favorite product. In one of my earlier reviews, I made the claim that this was the oiliest of all cleansers and is impossible to wash off. But I was wrong. I went back to the Lush store at Crabtree Valley Mall to ask about the proper use of this product. I explained my bad experience and that I was not sure I was using this product right. And sure enough, I was not. I was told that after applying this very rich cleanser to your face, it is recommended to use toner and cotton balls to remove the excess. Ever since, I have fallen in love with this Ultra Brand product. It does leave your skin "ultra soft" and "ultra smooth." I have really sensitive skin, and it does not irritate my skin at all. Sometimes all directions are not on the container, so my advice would be to go to the place where a product is sold to get any questions you could possibly have answered.

Lynn Wegner: Biore Pore Minimizing Refining Exfoliator, 3 ounces, $12.99, drugstores. I liked the green apple fragrance. The cream with granules worked well and washed off easily and my skin felt soft and smooth. This type of "mechanical" exfoliator must be combined with a chemical smoother, but the combination is as effective as an expensive spa peel in my experience! As we are being urged by our new president to "do our share" and figure out where to save and where to spend, this could be a "win-win" for us all!