It's no secret that splurging on some fancy mascara can make your day. If we’re being completely honest, maybe it could even make your week. Or your month.
Shopping for products to go along with your favorite tutorial on Supergreat is well and good, and browsing the aisles of Sephora in the most well-lit sections (you know, the ones with the palettes that are out on display and may or may not have a few fingers swipes through them) can feel exhilarating. It’s all fun and games until the person at the cash register rings you up and the total stares right back at you.
Investing in high-quality makeup is always something we’re going to encourage, don’t get us wrong. We love the headrush, too! However, there are ways to achieve your dream look and still maintain a balanced checkbook. The key? Wandering a little farther back in the store to the bad lighting and overpriced tubes and trays for some genuine buried treasure.
Don’t believe us? Let’s take a little tour of the most cost-effective finds on the market to complete all your looks!
To begin our journey into the world of affordable makeup, it’s only right that we introduce you to some of the most reputable companies in the game. These brands have been around as long as the maker of your favorite designer lipstick, and there’s a good chance they’ve been kicking ass just as long.
To stay afloat in the inexpensive product world, a brand has to fight for its right for relevancy. This means inventiveness, a real knack for playing up trends, and a consistent set of individual core values (and staple products) that will keep customers hooked for decades.
Here are a few of our favorites that you’re likely to see in any local Walgreens, CVS, or even near the checkout line in Ulta.
We’re suckers for a company with an excellent marketing team (keep your eyes peeled for the #LAGIRLVACAY challenge circulating TikTok this summer). Founded in 1985 in, you guessed it, California, L.A. Girl offers a full makeup line and an expansive selection of brushes.
In fact, it can even be your one-stop shop for a first-time full face if you’re new to the makeup world or are looking for some fast replacements on a trip without all of your products. Be sure to check out their new glossy tint lip stain that holds its pigmentation after some ample blotting and never dries out, or their $3 concealer.
This brand is a tad newer than others on this list (2009), but that has no bearing on how advanced its formulas are. They truly offer anything you can imagine. Makeup artists and influencers alike fawn over the Take Me Back to Brazil palette, which features shimmery shades in incredibly bright shadows including neons. It is currently 25% off, so run and grab it.
This accessible company embraces the principles of inclusivity. Catered towards darker skin tones, their website allows you to find your perfect match with examples of light to medium, medium to dark, and dark to deep offerings. The baseline shade begins in a color that would normally fall in the medium to dark shades of a drugstore company. Check out their Color Perfect Liquid Make-Up for a smooth and natural foundation in 24 available shades.
This brand has made waves over the years for its commitment to well-made and cheap products (seriously cheap...we’re talking 60 cents for nail polish). They are especially known for aligning their launches with pop culture. Right now their Spongebob Squarepants collection is popular, featuring an eyeshadow palette with shades so shiny that it may even rival Fancy Squidward’s glow. The Big Poppa Mascara in their current collection is a nod to the Notorious B.I.G., even featuring his iconic crown on the packaging.
Most of these brands are so fantastic that we’ll be circling back to them later on, but we just had to drop this name as early on as possible. Their gold packaging can be spotted from the corners of any store, and we think you should definitely let it draw you in. Did you know Cardi B’s makeup artist even advocates for their products? Milani Conceal + Perfect 2-in-1 Foundation and Concealer offers 45 shades, lasts practically forever, and brightens your skin while firming and toning it.
Drugstore makeup is, on principle, a way for everyone to have access to high-quality formulas with low-end budgets, but we do admit that sometimes the prices can rack up quite a bit. In an effort to dodge those unlucky discoveries, here are some standout products that are all under a Hamilton.
$8.99. Talk about a bang for your buck. Save your time and your money with this primer, concealer, and foundation in one. Unlike your ex that lathered on that nasty shampoo-soap combo, this shit is the real deal! The formula is long-lasting and got a Good Housekeeping Beauty Award in 2021. It has light coverage.
PS: Remember when Taylor Swift was an easy, breezy, beautiful Covergirl? We trust her judgment on this one.
$9.99. Gel pens. We’re kind of obsessed with them. Now, get ready for gel liner. The same smooth effect, instead this time it's on your face and not paper and you can really, really enjoy it. This liner does not fade or lose pigment and it's a super dark black.
$7.20. Were you a preteen or a teenager in the mid-2010s? If so, you probably watched Bethany Mota lather about a pound of this onto her face for that “just after gym class” tutorial about nine hundred times. Miss Mota was onto something, as she always is, and this holds up all these years later!
The formula doubles as sunscreen and seemingly never empties a tube. But when you do finish one you’ll be running back to CVS for more. It has decent coverage, it’s incredibly lightweight on your skin, and so smooth you’ll love using your fingertips for this one just like you did in middle school.
$5. Packaged in such a simplistic black bottle you would never guess that it actually includes aloe, green tea, cucumber, and vitamins A, C, and E. It’s soothing and locks everything in with moisture. Dries down quickly and doesn’t mess up a matte look by making you too dewy. Plus, it smells kinda nice without being fragranced.
$7. Build your own collection of these bad boys; they come in all shades! It goes on incredibly smooth and creamy with an easy-to-apply wide and flat tip. You don’t need to layer it at all for the desired effect. It can be slightly wet for a while, but once it does dry your lips won’t crack or wear off.
$9.99. This versatile, highly wearable palette features nude shades with one pinkish/silver shadow. It is heavily pigmented in a consistency that can only be described as satin. Blendable and buildable. There are roughly 15 combinations you can make with the six shades offered, but they range from a sultry smoky eye to an everyday work look. It is so small that you can slip it right into your front pocket for convenience. It’s made to use on the go!
We wrote a piece about the power of finding a cheap replica for your favorite, expensive products a while ago and we stand by what we covered. Nothing can beat that magical moment when your Milani Baked Blush swipes on the same as your Nars Orgasm Blush, with a $32 difference in between their retail values.
A few easy substitutes include Maybelline’s Dream Lumi Touch Concealer for YSL Touche Éclat, MISSHA The First Treatment Mist for Love SKI-II Mid-Day Essence Spray, and Wet n’ Wild’s Rosé in the Air palette for Anastasia Beverly Hills’ well-known Modern Renaissance palette. Our community members added a few additional recommendations as well.
Community member @Tru_beauty compared the NYX Micro Brow Pencil to Benefit’s Goof Proof Eyebrow pencil. Considering how much Benefit has invested into producing exceptional brow products, this must be a pretty serious copy to get the job done. NYX’s pencil has a fine tip but a thick swatch of pigment and that looks totally natural. It comes with a spoolie on the other end to comb out those unruly hairs before and after, too!
Colourpop is one of those cosmetic companies that burst onto the scene and completely change the game for everyone. Founded in England, when these products started hitting American shelves there was a frenzy for them. @Relpixela advises to try out the Ultra Glossy Lip in Tight Fit for a Fenty Gloss Bomb in Fenty Glow dupe. You know how much we love Fenty X Beauty and apparently, this gloss is even less sticky with more color options. Colourpop is also known for its near-exact dupes of most Kylie Jenner Lip Kit liners and lipsticks.
Tarte Shape Tape received a lot of praise for its smooth and creamy formula, but mostly for its high coverage and ability to completely cover the darkest of dark circles. However, it seems it is pretty easy to find a cheaper version of the holy grail item. We recommend E.L.F’s 16-Hour Camo Concealer because it is long-lasting, only six bucks, and comes in 26 shades. Plus, it has some avocado oil infusions! @Lauren-conklin says to try Maybelline NY Dream Brightening Creamy Concealer for a $22 difference.
Pro tip: E.L.F has a strong commitment to including natural ingredients in many of their products, although it is not a marker for branding. It's a interesting because the drugstore darling could definitely pull a bigger audience if they marketed it for these purposes!
Their Baked Highlighter is an absolute classic and we’ve definitely run through over a dozen. However, it isn’t widely known that the strobe-like product actually contains five vitamins, jojoba, rosehip, sunflower, grape oils, and apricot. Marked for sale at $4? Sounds like a steal!
Did you think that our trip through affordable makeup ended with what we brush on? Hell no! Our community member @Thankful-and-thriving, an amazing medical assistant from the United Nations New York office, popped in to give a few cheap skincare alternatives for an article. Just to be extra nice, we’ll pass some on:
Whether you’re balling on a budget or have entered a funk with the same few high-end products and need a little mix, these inexpensive finds can help you create just about any look. Drugstore cosmetics are meant for everyone. Their versatility and wearability make them worth so much more, but we’re thankful they’re not!
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