When It Comes to Makeup, Do You Skimp or Splurge?

My friend Lori calls it “the attack of the $50 lipstick”: one of those moments when you’re feeling so awful (fight with a significant other), so giddy (fabulous annual review) or simply so aimless (killing time at a tedious conference), that you experience an unassailable pull toward your favorite high-end cosmetic counter or boutique and lay out enough cash for a dinner for two.

Is it ever worth it? For the most part, you can get a great look with affordable drugstore makeup that’s just as polished as what high-end cosmetics can deliver. There are certain beauty items, however, that call for a splurge.Find out what’s worth paying extra for, and what’s not.

Is It Worth It?

Is It Worth It?

My friend Lori calls it “the attack of the $50 lipstick”: one of those moments when you’re feeling so awful (fight with a significant other), so giddy (fabulous annual review) or simply so aimless (killing time at a tedious conference), that you experience an unassailable pull toward your favorite high-end cosmetic counter or boutique and lay out enough cash for a dinner for two. 

Is it ever worth it? For the most part, you can get a great look with affordable drugstore makeup that’s just as polished as what high-end cosmetics can deliver. There are certain beauty items, however, that call for a splurge. Find out what’s worth paying extra for, and what’s not.

Skimp: Foundation

Skimp: Foundation

Drugstore foundations have come a long way from the heavy, too-pink shades of yore, and there are now affordable options out there for every skin tone and skin type. The biggest issue we usually encounter when buying drugstore foundation is getting the color right: If you’re unsure of your choice, buy it from a store that offers a no-hassle makeup return policy.

Save with L’Oreal True Match Super-Blendable Makeup $11.49
This is an affordable everyday foundation for normal to oily skin types and comes in a good range of skin tones and undertones. If your skin tends to be dry, make sure to apply moisturizer underneath.

Skimp: Blush

Skimp: Blush

Your choice of blush usually starts with powder (for more oily skins) or cream (for drier skins). Fortunately, both are available at great prices with equally great formulations — think finely-milled powders and sheerer, buildable cream blushes to prevent blush overload.

Save with NYX Stick Blush or Powder Blush $5-$6
Budget-conscious beauty line NYX is offered in stores like Target, as well as online. Whether you’re looking for cream or powder, this brand offers gorgeous texture, buildability and color.

Splurge: Eye Shadow

Splurge: Eye Shadow

Eye shadow tends to fail you for one or two reasons: Either it changes color (oxidizes) on your lids, or it disappears (or sneaks into your creases) within a few hours. This is especially true if you have oiler or older skin. If this is a problem, consider a pricier shadow with more pigmentation and staying power, or try a reliable high-end eye shadow primer.

Splurge on MAC Eye Shadow $15
Originally developed for professional makeup artists, MAC offers a line of more than 150 shadows — from “All That Glitters” to “Yogurt” — that stay true and stay put.

Skimp: Eyeliner

Skimp: Eyeliner

Eyeliner suffers from the same staying power issues as eye shadow, but as long as you find an affordable brand that lasts and doesn’t irritate your eyes, save your splurge money for something more luxurious.

Save with NYC Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil $3.99
Not to be confused with NYX Cosmetics, NYC Cosmetics is another affordable line with great choices. The waterproof eyeliner glides on and stays put, but comes off easily with makeup remover. For $3.99, what more can you ask for?

Skimp: Mascara

Skimp: Mascara

More than most makeup, mascara can inspire a lot of loyalty: Some of us need length, some demand volume. Clumps are deal breakers for some and tolerable for others. Once a woman finds the brand that works for her, she often won’t want to risk change — regardless of the price — and I get it. However, if you’re looking for an everyday, affordable option to open up and define your eyes, it’s out there.

Save with CoverGirl Lash Perfection Mascara $6.49
This mascara builds volume and length through multiple coats ­— making it easy to create the definition you want without overdoing it — resists flaking and removes thoroughly with soap and water.

Splurge: Highlighter

Splurge: Highlighter

Highlighter is tricky stuff: It can make you look like a million bucks, or it can make you look like a greasy, glittery mess. This is why it’s worth it to invest in a well-formulated highlighter that applies sheerly and avoids sparkly bits, and preferably comes in a cream- or liquid-based illuminator you can apply precisely with your fingers.

Splurge on NARS Illuminator $30
Available in four shades, this pearly liquid adds a natural light that never looks like “too much.” Tap it on to cheekbones, beneath the arch of the eyebrows and in the bow of your lips.

Skimp: Powder

Skimp: Powder

Powder sets the rest of your makeup and reduces shine. It’s usually one of the last things you apply, which means that even if you use the priciest foundation and eye shadow, a bad powder can ruin everything. The good news is that some of the best-setting powder out there is ridiculously cheap.

Save with Ben Nye Neutral Set Face Powder $6.00
This colorless face powder sets your makeup beautifully and naturally without creating a “cakey old lady” look. It’s only available in loose form, but the finish makes it worth it and a retractable kabuki brush makes it easy to travel with.

Splurge: Lipstick

Splurge: Lipstick

Does good lipstick need to be expensive? No. Is great lipstick worth it? Absolutely yes. Not only is this probably the beauty bag item you most frequently use in public, it’s also the one you reach for when you need a little boost of mojo during the day. So put some of the money you save on other cosmetics toward a jaw-droppingly beautiful shade of lipstick with a nourishing, lasting formula. Bonus points if the lipstick comes in a substantial case that catches the light when you pull it out of your bag and closes with a satisfying click.

Splurge on Guerlain Rouge G de Guerlain Jewel Lipstick Compact $49.50
Guerlain created the first tube lipstick more than a century ago, and now they’ve upped the ante with a rich, highly pigmented product with a dash of ruby powder to reflect light. The sleek silver case, designed by a Parisian jeweler, features a small mirror that pops up when the lipstick is removed. (This may seem like a hefty price tag for lipstick, but it’s a relative bargain compared to other Guerlain offerings–the brand also sells the world’s most expensive lipstick at a whopping $62,000!)

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