Walk through any makeup aisle at a department store and you’ll be inundated with flashy displays, luxurious-looking bottles and perfect, ageless women representing the faces of each brand. It’s intimidating! On the other hand, if you stroll through a makeup aisle at a supermarket or drug store, you’re left overwhelmed and alone with more questions than when you came in. Where’s the happy medium?
Let this guide be your go-to for honest assessments of which cosmetic items are worth the department store prices and which products you should confidently snag at a discount store.
Splurge vs. Save
It’s important to recognize what kinds of products make you feel your best, and then make your splurging decisions around those. So what is it about makeup that makes you feel good? Does your heart flutter when you find the perfect nude lip gloss? Do you feel your sexiest with nothing on your face but a good moisturizer? Or do you treat your going-out look like an art form?
If you’re the kind of gal who just throws on a little eyeliner, mascara and lipstick every morning and only rarely breaks out anything else, invest in a great eyeliner, mascara and lipstick. There’s no reason to spend big bucks on special occasion makeup that you’re only going to use five times. You’re going to be more satisfied with the higher-priced items you purchased if you use them all the time.
Splurge on foundation.
A makeup base—whether it be powder or liquid foundation—that matches your skin tone exactly and works well with your skin type is invaluable and can only truly be discovered at a department store. Eliminate the guesswork at a discount store; you’ll end up wasting money on color and formulas that aren’t quite right simply because you don’t have an expert to guide you.
Clinique Even Better Makeup SPF 15 ($27). This oil-free liquid foundation, equipped with built-in sunscreen, actually helps diminish age spots the more you wear it.
Splurge on eyeshadow
Discount-brand eyeshadows never seem to look the same on your eyes as they do in the package; it takes heavy application to see the color payoff. Splurge on high-quality eyeshadows for smooth, even application and a look that doesn’t fade or crease throughout the day. It also helps to have a department store beauty advisor tell you which colors look good on you and how to apply the shadow for your eye shape.
MAC Eye Shadow ($16) These shadows boast highly pigmented powder that applies evenly and blends well. Custom-match the single shades to create a look unique to you.
Splurge on makeup brushes.
Even generics from Sephora and Ulta shed and scratch.
bareMinerals brushes ($12-$30) These brushes will change your makeup life! The soft-tapered bristles deliver the perfect amount of product to the contours of your face. The result is a natural, flawless look.
Splurge on lipstick.
Many drugstore lipsticks taste bad, smell funny and don’t go on smoothly. With something so close to your mouth that we oftentimes unintentionally eat, go for the lipsticks with better quality ingredients. Luxury-brand lipsticks also offer better color payoff and come loaded with lip-repairing ingredients.
Lancome L’Absolu Rouge ($30) This lipstick offers delightfully rich colors that moisturize and colorize in just one swipe. It replenishes your lips with anti-aging ingredients, too.
Save on eyeliner.
Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner ($7.99)
This automatic pencil eyeliner glides on easily, doesn’t tug on your eye and stays put all day. Its waterproof formula won’t smear, smudge or fade.
Save on lip gloss.
No need to be as picky about lip glosses, as most of them don’t have staying power or much color intensity, anyway. A glossy lip shine is a glossy lip shine, so stock up on the cheapies. Just about any lip gloss, no matter the cost, will look good over the brand of lipstick splurge we recommended.
L’Oreal Colour Riche Colour Caress Wet Shine Stain ($10) This gloss melts onto your lips into a beautiful luster without the sticky feel. And score!—this particular product is reminiscent of the luxury lip gloss Rouge Pur Couture Glossy Stain by Yves Saint Laurent, at a third of the cost.
Save on blush.
NYX Powder Blush ($5) When saving on blush, make sure your product choice doesn’t have any shimmer. Drugstore blushes with the illuminating quality look unnatural. So find a complementary matte hue—peach looks good on everyone!
Save on mascara.
This one was hard for me because I believe there’s no price cap on having the plushest, fullest lashes imaginable. But I also realize the impracticality of spending $35 on a luxury mascara only to have it replaced every three months (that is, if you’re a follower of hygiene standards). But yes, there are drugstore mascaras that wow as well. It’s all about the brush.
L’Oreal Paris Voluminous Original Mascara ($7.29) This drugstore mascara actually lives up to its claims. It separates and volumizes, goes on clump-free and doesn’t flake during the day.
Day To Night
There is no reason to keep two separate makeup bags for day and night makeup looks. All you need are these versatile products so morning-to-night makeovers are a cinch.
- Laura Mercier Smooth Finish Foundation: Use this adaptable foundation dry during the day and wet at night. During the day, apply it with a fluffy powder brush to get a sheer-to-medium coverage that settles nicely into the skin. For more coverage at night, wet the sponge the compact came with and smooth it on your face’s troubled spots.
- Anastasia of Beverly Hills Brow Pencil: Eyebrow grooming and filling are essential because they provide a good frame for your features. If you only do one thing, fill in your brows.
- Clinique “Jenna’s Essentials” eyeshadow quad: During the day, use the white shade all over your eye—even underneath your eyebrow—to lighten and lift your eyelid. And then use the lighter brown in the crease to softly define the shape of your eye. For night, you’ll want to add deeper colors so your eyes stand out in dim lighting. Buff in the darker brown in the crease and smudge a little bit of the black in the outer corner.
- Lancome Blush Subtil contour blush palette: Use the pink shade on the apples of your cheeks during the day, concentrating the color in the center of your face and sweeping the excess up and out to your temples. For night, add the contouring bronzer shade underneath your cheekbones, along your temple and on your jawline. Top it off with the highlighting powder just above your eyebrows, along the bridge of your nose and a dab right above the center of your upper lip.
- Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner in black: Don’t worry about having raccoon eyes before the sun goes down—this eyeliner will not budge. Trace your upper lashline for day and echo the bottom lashline for evening.
- Estee Lauder Sumptuous Extreme Mascara: Voluminous lashes are a must no matter what time of day it is. Sweep mascara on the top lashes during the day. Add another coat to the top lashes and some on the bottom lashes for your night look.
- Chanel Rouge Double Intensite Ultra Wear Lip Color: This lip stain will get you through dinner and cocktails without creeping outside your lip lines or transferring to your wine glass. Use the clear glossy side for day and incorporate the color side for night.
Minimize Dark Circles & Wrinkles
- Treat the under-eye area with Even Better Eyes Dark Circle Corrector by Clinique. This eye serum is clinically proven to lighten dark circles by 30 percent in 12 weeks—even hereditary ones.
- Hydrate the eye area with a nourishing eye cream like Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avacado. Your eyes will look well rested and appreciate the drink of moisture.
- Correct the discoloration under your eyes with a yellow- or peach-based concealer like Bobbi Brown’s Creamy Concealer Kit. This comes with a setting powder for the concealer so it won’t settle into the wrinkles under your eyes.
- Avoid shimmer. Instead, highlight the orbital eye bone with Yves Saint Laurent’s Touche Eclat. It catches light, leaving you with glowing—not glittery—brightened eyes.
The look of your skin is a direct reflection of how you care for it, so it’s important to moisturize with a heavy-duty anti-wrinkle cream. The Ferulic & Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer by Dr. Dennis Gross visibly improves the look of fine lines and wrinkles. To make your jar of cream last, apply a dime-sized amount while your skin is still damp from cleansing so it will spread further while using less.
Estee Lauder Perfectionist CP+R Line Smoother smooths fine lines and creases instantly. Think of it as gentle spackle for your face.
Use a silicone-based face primer under your foundation so your makeup goes on evenly and smoothly. Try Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer.
Clinique Repairwear Laser Focus liquid foundation is emollient, offers ample coverage and even has some of Clinique’s wrinkle-repair serum in it. This foundation does more than just cover wrinkles—it corrects them!
Use this powder rubdown trick with Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder: Rub loose face powder between your fingers to warm it up, and then dab it into your skin only where you get oily. The skin-on-skin contact melts the powder into your face and steers you away from the dull, chalky look.
By Brooke Reynolds | Photos by Chris Whonsetler | Modeling by Laura McHale