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Where to Save, Where to Splurge: Drugstore vs. High-End Makeup

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Makeup
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Here at CF, we’re all about saving money anywhere we can — especially when it comes to beauty products. Whether it’s by couponing at the drugstore or shopping on discount sites, we love when we can snag a good deal on cosmetics.

But while it’s nice to save money, in some cases, the old saying “you get what you pay for” applies. While it’s tempting to assume that all high-end cosmetics are overpriced, a few of them are truly worth the splurge. Other types of cosmetics are about the same, whether you get them at the drugstore or Sephora.

So how do you decide where to spend your money? Read on to find out which products you should buy at the drugstore, and which products are worth the splurge:

3 Product Categories to Save On

Below, I’ve listed the three types of products you should usually buy for cheap. In these cases, the products either have short shelf lives or don’t differ much in quality from drugstore to high-end brands.

1. Mascara

Drugstore mascaras
Products (L-R): 1. L’Oreal Voluminous Mascara, 2. Maybelline Full ‘N Soft Mascara, 3. Almay One Coat Nourishing Thickening Mascara

Because mascara has the shortest lifespan of all cosmetics, needing to be replaced about every 3-4 months, it should definitely be one of the products you pick up at the drugstore.

While not all drugstore mascaras are created equal, many of them are as good, or even better, than their designer counterparts. Look for mascaras that have an even, not-too-dry, not-too-liquidy consistency and stray away from gimmicky brush shapes.

2. Lipstick

Drugstore lipsticks
Products (L-R): 1. Covergirl Lip Perfection Lipstick, 2. Revlon ColorBurst Lip Butter, 3. L’Oreal Colour Riche Lipstick

If you’ve walked up the cosmetics aisle of your local drugstore, you’ve undoubtedly seen rows upon rows of every lipstick imaginable — and all at very affordable prices. After trying many designer AND drugstore lipsticks, I’ve found that there isn’t much difference between them. All the major drugstore brands have expanded their color selections and improved staying power.

If you’re looking for a really specific or trendy shade (like a Nicki Minaj-esque fuchsia), you might have to go high-end, but otherwise, stick to the drugstore brands!

3. Nail Polish

Drugstore nail polishes
Products (L-R): 1. Essie Nail Color, 2. Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure, 3. Maybelline Color Show Nail Lacquer

After seeing the Thakoon for NARS collection that came out last spring or the newly launched Oscar de la Renta nail colors, it’s tempting to fork over $20 or more just to see what all the fuss is about.

However, keep in mind that nail polish isn’t the longest lasting beauty product – when polish dries out, it’s impossible to use again unless you buy a thinner to mix into it. In addition, inexpensive brands nearly always knock off high-end shades, so it’s not necessary to fork over a million to get a cutting-edge look. (Check out our favorite nail polish blogs for the latest high-end polish dupes!)

3 Product Categories to Splurge On

Now that you know which products to save on, I’ll tell you where you should be spending your makeup money. The three products below are applied directly to your face and can vary a lot between brands – in these cases, I believe you get what you pay for!

1. Foundation

High-end foundations
Products (L-R): 1. Make Up For Ever HD Foundation, 2. bareMinerals SPF 15 Foundation, 3. Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Full Coverage Foundation SPF 15

Foundation is always a good splurge in my book since it goes directly onto your skin and has lots of potential to irritate or break you out. Also, it’s essential to match your foundation to your skin tone, and high-end brands often have better shade selections. (This is especially true if you’re very pale or very dark skinned!)

While drugstore brands are starting to become more conscious of the ingredients they use and the shades they offer, there are already a slew of designer brands that have perfected their non-irritating, skintone-matching formulas.

2. Makeup Brushes

High-end makeup brushes
Products (L-R): 1. Sephora Ultimate Travel Tool Brush Set, 2. MAC Cosmetics Brushes, 3. NARS Travel Brush Gift Set

First things first: Go throw out those cheap sponge-tipped applicators and mini brushes that came with your eyeshadows or blushes! They’re basically useless and nearly always lead to sloppy, imprecise application.

Quality makeup brushes have the ability to make any makeup — cheap or expensive — look like it was professionally applied. Check out our guide to the best makeup brushes and learn which brushes you need for your collection.

3. Blush

High-end blushes
Products (L-R): 1. NARS Blush, 2. Bobbi Brown Blush, 3. Dior Rosy Glow Healthy Glow Awakening Blush

Like foundation, blush is applied on top of the skin and can potentially irritate it. Blush is also one of those products that isn’t foolproof and can end up making you look like a clown if not blended properly.

Most high-end blushes have finely milled pigments that offer a smoother, easier application than their drugstore counterparts. Blush also has a very long shelf-life – one compact can last a couple years – so it’s a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck.

What do you think?

Which products do you splurge on? Which ones do you buy at the drugstore? Do you agree with my picks? Is there a product you swear by that is really expensive or really cheap? Let us know by leaving a comment!

Posted on on September 18, 2012 / Filed Under: Beauty & Hair / Tags: , , , , ,

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32 Responses to “Where to Save, Where to Splurge: Drugstore vs. High-End Makeup”

  1. 1
    September 18th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Great post! Not too sure I totally agree with having to splurge on brushes — I’ve found that ELF brushes work as great as the ones I buy from sephora.

  2. 2
    September 18th, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    After all the scary stuff showing up on makeup, I’ve switched to vegan/organic/natural cosmetics instead. I like to feel pretty, but I don’t want to slowly poison myself by doing so.

  3. 3
    September 18th, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    I’m totally agree with nail polish,as my manicure master once told me, that all of them(and she tried like thousands of them) last for approximately equal periods of time, the only good and expensive thing you have to have is the base coat and top coat(Sally Hansen, for instance, has a range of nail polishes that can be used for both at the same time) This will make your manicure last for longer time.
    I’m buying expensive foundations too – I love my Dior Nude, you can really feel the difference, and it stays all the day long.
    About blush – I bought a palette from Blush professional with 8 colours, and it’s actually quite ok, so I don’t think I would spend much on blush.
    Thanks for a great article btw) Good to know, I’m not the only one who thinks in the same way)

  4. 4
    September 18th, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I love CoverGirl Lip Perfection and Revlon Lip Butters! I also really love the colors of the Revlon Moondrops lipsticks! Such a good post!

  5. 5
    September 18th, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I don’t splurge on anything if I can find it cheaper in the drugstore…..
    I use Covergirl foundation, and it’s very okay….nothing special, but it’s affordable and the shade is a perfect match.
    Maybelline’s The Falsies in Black Drama is the most. amazing. mascara. EVER!!!!! Takes some getting used to, but it makes my lashes look super long and thick….love it.
    For eyeliner, I’m in love with Wet n Wild’s Mega Liner Liquid Eyeliner – the brush is amazing, and you can buy either a matte black or black with sparkles, which I love ;)
    The BEST red lipstick EVER (and I’ve even splurged before on red lipstick!) has to be Revlon’s matte lipstick in Really Red – it stays forever and I finally found a red that looks great with my skin tone ;)

  6. 6
    September 18th, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    As a general rule, I prefer to spend more money on things that will be covering my entire face (e.g. foundation). For nail polishes I tend to go for the middle ground – I find that the super-cheap ones are clumpy or watery even when they’re new, but I wouldn’t spend more than £4-£5 on one! Having said that, I love my Clinique mascara – although if there is a cheaper alternative that works just as nicely, I’d love to hear about it!

  7. 7
    September 18th, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Here is what I do after years of trying out makeup.
    Save: Mascara (L’Oreal or Maybelline), Nail Polish (Sally Hansen), lipstick (L’Oreal or Maybelline),
    Middle: Brushes (I have both Elf and Sephora brushes). blush (I have NARS, Clinique, and L’Oreal).
    Splurge: Eyeshadow (Urban Decay, Clinque, and Two Faced)-It’s worth the extra cost for the color intensity and staying power, and foundation (Clinique and Makeup Forever)-It’s worth the extra cost for staying power, clean finish, and it doesn’t clog my pores.

  8. 8
    September 18th, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    i am prone to splurging on makeup but I’ve found that Neutrogena skin clearing foundation is amazing. my skin typically sucks but it has actually improved since I started using this foundation. also, it’s a fraction of the price of department store brands.

  9. 9
    September 18th, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    I use all vegan products from Arbonne for my makeup. The mascara is the best and the tinted moisturier I use is amazing. I am super pale and never could find a shade of foundation or coverup that worked for me.

    There makeup brushes are perfect and were only 35 so that’s not bad considering that other people have said they have lasted for years!

    I use cheap nail polish and things like that. But all of my makeup I buy high-quality that’s vegan. Most mascara has tar in it and I hate that stuff, it makes your mascara clump.

    Also ladies, never buy anything with Mineral Oil in it! Mineral Oil is a form of gasoline and is sold to cosmetic companies as a filler. That’s why I use Arbonne.

    Becky

  10. 10
    September 18th, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Since I wear so little makeup, I find myself splurging more often than not on what I actually wear. Typically, I leave the house with SPF, mascara, and lipstick on. My favorite lipstick is YSL and I pick that up at Sephora. It goes on so smooth and lasts quite a while. Plus, it smells yummy! I do save on mascara, though, and buy Covergirl’s NatureLuxe at the drugstore.

  11. 11
    September 18th, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Great post! I still prefer to splurge on nail polish though, lol.

  12. 12
    September 18th, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    I agree with everything you wrote, except I think you can find good blushes without spending a small fortune. I have the CoverGirl Cheekers blush in Rose Silk and its wonderful when applied with the correct brush! Also, I think many drugstore brands sell quality brushes too, as long as you know where to look. Sonia Kashuk (found in Target), EcoTools (found at CVS), and some of the ELF studio brushes are really good.

  13. 13
    September 18th, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Also eyeshadows are better to splurge, I usually buy my makeup on the drugstore but after I tried some mid end eyeshadows (Too Faced) I was hooked, the texture and pigmentation is amazing! Also I agree on the nailpolish, I thought well Chanel must do a killer nailpolish but it’s rubbish, I prefer a hundred times a O.P.I. or Sally Hansen!

  14. 14
    September 18th, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    I agree, I think eyeshadow is worth splurging on but I’ve found that many drugstore brands are really improving their formulas. Maybelline Color Tattoo eyeshadow is probably the best drugstore eyeshadow I’ve ever used–check out some YouTube reviews on it, everyone loves them!

    As for brushes, yes, Sonia Kashuk brushes are amazing! However, I’ve found that some Target stores only carry a few of her products making it difficult for some people to get their hands on. I’ve never seen ELF brushes at my local Target but have been really wanting to try them for a while.

  15. 15
    September 18th, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    However, something that does come into play is what the cosmetics are made of. Like you said about the blush and foundation, it can irritate your skin. It may also be animal tested, have banned/toxic chemicals and ingredients, or just be plain harmful.

  16. 16
    September 18th, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    I have trouble finding anything pale enough for me, high-end or low-end. I ended up buying a white foundation (Manic Panic) and mixing it with other foundations. There are good low-end ones out there, so if I have to mix products anyway, I’ll buy low end.

    I actually have trouble with drugstore mascaras. I love high-end mascaras.

    Drugstore lipsticks are just hard to find in matte finishes!

  17. 17
    September 19th, 2012 at 12:14 am

    Revlon lip butters are the best drugstore lipsticks ever! Actually I am a fan of Chanel rouge coco shine lipstick, but lip butter can definitely competes with it, and the price is more lovely

  18. 18
    September 19th, 2012 at 5:17 am

    as a person who \is obsessed with nail pollish (seriously, I own like 70 shades, they’ve got they’re own drawer) definitely go drug store, you may ocasionally have to put on a second coat, but they are definitly just as good, and there are some just fantastic colours-and seriously dark blue is dark blue no matter what brand

  19. 19
    September 19th, 2012 at 8:30 am

    As a girl who doesn’t know too much about makeup, I really appreciate this post! I recently got into lipstick for the first time, but didn’t want to fork over $24 for one color. I got Revlon Lip Butter instead at Target for $5.50 and it’s amazing! Glad to see it made it to the save list. :)

  20. 20
    September 19th, 2012 at 11:06 am

    What about eye shadows? Ive tried drugstore and high end brands and i dont see the difference. I usually use concealer/eye primer as a base. I’m almost an expert at primers, foundations, liners, blushes, etc. but I don’t know jack about eye shadow-what’s the best option for a beginner with a budget?

  21. 21
    September 19th, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I’ve been so tempted to buy that NARS blush for over a year now. It keeps popping up on lists for best blushes for fair skin. I finally took the plunge and spent the $28. I can’t wait to try it out!
    In general, I’m a drugstore cosmetics shopper. I did buy some Lancome foundation and concealer a few months ago from Sephora and I really love it, especially compared to the cheapo brands I had been using for years. I don’t think I’ll ever spend over $10 for mascara, nail polish or lip color because I’ve never had a problem with my cheap brands there.

  22. 22
    September 19th, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Heh, I’m the opposite of everything on this post!

    I use drugstore foundation and drugstore blush–also drugstore brushes (I notice NO difference!). In fact, those expensive foundations gave me worse coverage for some reason (MUFE, Laura Mercier, etc) than my Maybelline and Revlon ones. The Revlon ColorStay is the best and does not break me out!!

    Blushes: like others have said: Cover Girl and L’Oreal!

    Brushes: Sonia Kashuk or Real Beauty from CVS

    Mascaras: I used to swear by drugstore mascara (CoverGirl). I still do use it occasionally, but I really do notice a difference when using a more expensive one (Dior or FairyDrops). It usually is less clumpy and more dramatic. But everyone’s lashes are different : )

    Lipsticks: High-end is the way to go for me. I occasionally use drugstore lipstick (Revlon Lip Butters!) but they are full of LEAD! Seriously. And you end up ingesting it because it’s on your lips! They just came out with a bunch of studies on it. I agree it’s so important to have organic lipstick if possible, or at least higher-end. The higher-end lipsticks have WAY less lead in them. Although spending any more than $25 or so on a lipstick is crazy to me : ) I think $10-$20 is a good price range (like MAC, or Bare Escentuals)

    Foundation: Like I said, I use drugstore. For mineral foundation/powder, I use EveryDay Minerals (less expensive and just as good if not better than Bare Minerals).

    Funny how everyone’s tastes are different when it comes to makeup : )

    Now liquid eyeliner…I need help with that!

    Is an expensive one worth it??

  23. 23
    September 19th, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I agree with everything you said!!

    I would NEVER buy drugstore foundation or blush! They use so much talc in their products and are always hard to blend. Don’t get why some girls are concerned with bad ingredients in some products but not others. I think its always important for all products. If you find that high-end makeup isn’t blending, you’re probably not applying it right!!

    I’m also so glad you mentioned Lip Butters!!! They are amazing and probably the best lipsticks on the market right now (drugstore). I also love Essie for nail polish. I think OPI and Zoya are also good buys. They’re not drugstore (you can get Nicole by OPI at Target and CVS) but they definitely aren’t as expensive as Chanel or NARS or those kinds of brands.

    Also, where does MAC fit in the mix? I feel like their products aren’t as expensive as some Sephora brands, but they aren’t dirt cheap either. Maybe a happy medium?

    Anyways, love your posts!!! Keep em coming :) :)

  24. 24
    September 27th, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    I personally disagree with the mascara ruling, because I have sensitive eyes. My last experiences with drug store brands did not end well. I have only been able to use Clinique, and Urban Decay. Maybe they’ve gotten better, but I don’t want to risk it.

  25. 25
    September 29th, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Chelsea- Illamasqua has a great white white foundation to mix in and it may be better than Manic Panic. It is a little pricey at $42 though.

    Jenny- Glad you enjoyed the article! Yes I am so obsessed with Lip Butters, I have almost all the shades!

    Jackie: In my personal experience, I have found that high-end eyeshadows perform much better than drugstore brands. I HIGHLY recommend buying high-end eyeshadow palettes rather than single eyeshadows; you get much more product for the price.

  26. 26
    September 29th, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Carrie: If you’re concerned with lead being in your lipstick, then you might want to reconsider your choice in drugstore brands. Both Cover Girl and L’Oreal blushes contain lead.

    Rowan: That’s a toughie! I guess it’s just the line between low and high end!

    Elizabeth: Yes, if you have allergies to certain products then high-end may be your best option. Although, Almay, Neutrogena, and Physician’s Formula are are ophthalmologist-tested and hypoallergenic.

  27. 27
    November 28th, 2012 at 10:44 am

    great article!

  28. 28
    January 7th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    This is really a great read. I never used makeup most of my young teen years. Now, I find myself obsessed and in new uncharted territory though I have learned alot from different websites, people at stores and other articles I’ve read in magazines. I take whatever help I can get so thanks girls.

    As for my makeup goes, I am still finding the right foundation for me. I do not like drugstore foundation, that’s a definite for me. It has made my skin break out too often. I do love Laura Mercier, Tarte Amazonian is pretty good too but I am still looking for that certain one that makes me look silky, smooth and have an illuminating effect. I think my next choice will be either Givenchy, Diorskin or Kohgendo cosmetic foundation. I’ll let you know what I think.

    As for blush…I have tried Origins and love that and Tarte Amazonian Blush & Glow which is ok. I want something more powdery again I will be trying Kohgendo, heard great things about them. I may also try the Covergirl Cheekers that someone mentioned. I love rosy pink colors as my skin is partly rosy.

    I love powders too which was not mentioned on here. I love the Origins powder.

    As for mascara I use Givenchy right now but I may try Arbonne. Didn’t realize mascara had tar in it. Very scary and many foundations contain bad ingredients as well. I have started loving organic stuff and i use so little to give more a natural look. I dont like heavy makeup it makes my skin feel too harsh and I have sensitive skin anyway.

    As for the eyeshadow. I love estee lauder dramatic colors and Sephora’s Urban Decay. I will be trying Christina Choi in a month or so as well and I may try the Too Faced Eye shadow.

    The Lipstick is where I have the toughest problem. I can never find lipsticks that stay and I have even started using Bite sugar scrub to exfoliate my lips everyday. I will be getting the Blissfabulips very soon. So excited. How can I keep my lipstick on? I have tried both the MAC Prep & Prime for lips and the Urban Decay Lip Primer and eyeshadow primer as well. Neither really keep my lipstick on for very long although my eyeshadow one doesn’t come off till I scrub it at night with cleanser. I even use lip balm, Dior addict lip polish, lip treatment, and lip gloss along with my lipstick. Any suggestions to keeping lipstick on would be greatly appreciated. As for the lipstick itself, I love YSL lipstick and lipgloss. I also love Estee Lauder Pure Color and Lacome Lipstick.

    I love eye liner, too. I use Sephora brand or Estee Lauder Pure Color. I was using a drugstore type I got at Walgreens but it kept breaking off. So I use high end for eye liners.

    I also am going to be trying Pink Snowy Powder at Kohgendo soon and there blush. I am excited. It will hopefully give a beautiful pink overglow.

    My skin looks so much more radiant than it has ever looked before. I don’t do makeup everyday unless I feel up to it. Sometimes i go naked.

    But I always Cleanse my face. For cleansing I love Lavender Luminosity cleansing milk from Avalon Organics. My skin has never looked better and it is an all natural product. I also use there toner and moisturizer.

    I will be checking out the Premier Dead Sea Facial Noir soon and doing that once a week, too. It is a bargain steal on amazon. I will never buy those at the mall though, way too steep.

    As for makeup removers, I will be trying the Kohgendo Cleansing Spa Wipes. I’ve tried Pure Melt from Clarins. It does work nicely but I want something I don’t have to rub too hard at. I still had to rub my face somewhat with that and would have splotches under my eyes. I will try this other stuff which is made with natural essential oils and let you know.

    I do love having women to talk to and share makeup hints with. Sorry mine is so long but that’s my experiences!!!

  29. 29
    February 28th, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    NYC brand has some of the best stuff ever. I lovelovelove their red lipstick, in a shade called Retro Red, because it’s the most gorgeous shade of red ever. Like, better than any reds I’ve seen for $20. It’s the perfect red for me, and it’s a really pure red, and it’s less than $2. Amazing.
    I also love the SkyRise mascara from NYC, and I like their powder foundations. And nail polishes. And… Pretty much everything, really!

  30. 30
    July 10th, 2013 at 10:31 am

    If you don’t like when your eyelashes look too heavy, but want to use mascara for creating pretty natural look, you should definitely buy expensive mascara! I remember buying cheap ones in the past and it looked as if you got tons of product on your eyes. But when I got really expensive one, it made everything look simply perfect and it can be used for much longer time than cheap or average-priced ones. All of my makeup has average price, but I understood that it’s really important to buy expensive mascaras.

    I do agree a lot about nail polishes and rest of things – many things can be bought cheaply and result will be similar, so why to overpay?

  31. 31
    December 23rd, 2013 at 11:19 am

    From my experience, I think this is what you should spend on and save on

    Drugstore:
    -Mascara. (Maybelline, Covergirl, Rimmel) Just as good at CVS than at Sephora, depending on the brand you choose
    -Sometimes eyeliner. I find that liquid and gel liners(ELF, Wet n’ Wild) work just as well as some high end ones
    -Lip products. (Revlon, Maybelline)From balm to lipstick, there are some great products at the drugstore

    High End:
    -Primer, foundation, concealer, powder, etc. (Nars, Too Faced, MUFE, Chanel, Laura Mercier, Estée Lauder) It sits on you skin all day long, can easily break you out, and if you’re pretty pale like me, it is SO much easier to find good matches when you splurge.
    -Blush. (Mac, Tarte, Nars) Again, sits on you skin and could break you out. I also find that HE blush has the best staying power and best color choices. I think the same would go for bronzer but I don’t wear it regularly so I wouldn’t know.
    -Sometimes eyeliner. (Urban Decay!!)I think pencil eyeliner is worth a splurge, as to not tug on your eyelid and be a big pain to get off.
    -Eyeshadow. (Mac, Urban Decay, Too Faced) Splurge on eyeshadow because it has so much more pigmentation and stays on a lot longer. The same goes for eyeshadow primer if you use it. However, if your buying a fun color just to wear a couple nights to go out, etc., there is no reason to spend a fortune.

    Hope I helped!!
    -Ari<3

  32. 32
    March 13th, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Well i loved the article but coming to the brushes i disagree real technique is just amazzzzzing elf’s ones r also good but then mac rules!!!

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