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

{RELATED POST: The 10 Best Expensive Makeup Brands That Are Worth the Price}

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!

14 thoughts on “Where to Save, Where to Splurge: Drugstore vs. High-End Makeup”

  1. I love wet not wild matte lipsticks but I do have some mid range/high end lipsticks but I prefer wet n wild. Foundations and primers HAVE to be HE because the drug store didn’t work except L’Oréal magic perfecting base and elf eye primer but MAKE cosmetics primer best hands down. Brushes eco tools, elf, and morphe brushes are great and none over 8 dollars. Eye liner prefer UD and dior they both dry super quick I like drug store but takes a while to dry. Love UD pencil liners they last FOREVER and are super creamy. Bronzer can go either way I love covergirl, shea moisture, too faced sun bunny and chocolate soleil, and casino by nars. Blush HE because blends better buy now and elf makes some nice blushes but NARS, tarte, and cargo has some of the finest blush. Eyeshadow I prefer UD, too faced, some mac, dior, chanel, Tom ford, and fashion fair. Eyes anastasia everything and fashion fair.

  2. For mascara, I will go for the drugstore stuff. To me, there’s no point in splurging on a product that is meant to be tossed after 3-6 months.
    Concealer/corrector. These are my main “face” makeup products, so it makes sense for me to invest in quality products. For corrector, I’m loving Benefit Erase Paste and my concealer of choice is the CoverFX Cream Concealer. These two beauties layered together make my nasty dark circles look less scary.
    Powder. At the moment, I’m using the Rimmel Stay Matte. It does a fairly good job and keeping the oil at bay. Having said that, I would be open to trying a higher end powder, should one present itself.
    Makeup brushes. At the moment, it’s mostly drugstore. I would like to eventually replace them with a small set of quality brushes.

  3. I’ve slowly been replacing my drugstore makeup with better quality products, but even so, it nearly killed me to spend $25 on It eyeliner (at the recommendation of the nice sales lady at Ulta). A couple of days after buying it, I had my first occasion to wear it (since I don’t actually wear make up every day). I applied my makeup around 10 am, took a nap around 1 pm ended up running through a sprinkler around 10 pm (don’t ask) and at midnight, had to very carefully and very thoroughly wash around my eyes because the liner was still there. It hadn’t smudged or turned into raccoon eyes and it was almost the same beautiful jet black as it had started out 14 hours earlier.
    As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth every bloody cent.

  4. Foundation? Maybelline Fit Me 115. It’s the only company i have found that does a pale enough rosy beige for my skin tone. Bareminerals and Clinique are just too dark, and no amount of fancy ingredients and blending quality make up for the wrong color, ever.

    Lip color? Revlon Colorstay Overtime Lipcolor stays where I put it through everything but a greasy meal. It won’t even transfer on a coffee cup once it sets and stays flexible. Others I tried never held to begin with or peeled, and less touch-ups mean less product is needed, saving money long term. And despite being a liquid, I have had these last for years, mostly only getting new ones because I lost a shade or want a new color.

    The liner brush I love for cream liner or wet shadow application? E.L.F. makes a silky synthetic with just the right amount of stiffness for precise lines and wings. The synthetic also means you don’t need any sort of fussy cleaning product to keep the bristles nice while keeping a sanitized tool. Mine often gets washed with Dawn dish soap or vodka between colors without suffering for it. You may want to spend more for some brushes and mind your cleaners, but with the angled liner brush there is no reason to.

    Oh, and for eyeshadow? If I can’t splurge, the dollar store gets some of the more expensive drug store brands for cheep, and L.A. Colors tends to make a better shadow then you’s expect. It’s a good way to get a low cost pallet for testing new colors and methods before splurging on designer shades you may never use past this season. It may be worth the extra $$$ to get a high end version of your daily pallet, but how much do you really want to spend on experimentations?

  5. Eyeliner is a definate splurge item because high end brands have better and more intense pigment that applies smoother and eyeshadow well that is an item that has to be consciously and cuatiously picked and bought because color pigment, consistency, matte or metallic or shimmery, it needs to have good blending attributes which not all drugstore cosmetic shadows have. High end counters are more likely to give you the option of matte metallic or whatever shine for each shadow color. where drugstore shadows are less likely too.

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

    -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!!

  7. 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?

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.



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