A couple of weeks ago, I published Part I of a two-part series called “The Insider’s Guide to Beauty Products. Are You Spending too Much or Too Little?” It included suggestions and tips on where to save and where to spend on skin care products. Part II of this series answers the most frequently asked questions I’ve received about makeup products during my years in the beauty industry.
There’s a vast world of makeup brands, products, and prices to choose from, and it can be overwhelming to stand before the cosmetic wall of your local Walgreen’s or in the center of the beauty department of Nordstrom, trying to decide whether or not you should spend $28 or $10 on a mascara. What’s the difference?
I can help you with that.
Assuming you’re on a good-quality skin care routine, makeup can even out your skin tone, make the eyes look bigger and brighter, put some youthful blush in your cheeks, and sexy up those pouty lips. Makeup can make good skin glow.
But like anything else, makeup products vary widely in quality and price. So here are a few insider tips into where to save and where to splurge.
1. Brushes. We have to start here because the quality of your brushes makes a huge difference in the quality of your makeup application. A good brush makes an inexpensive product look smoother, whereas a cheap brush can make a Chanel blusher streaky. Drugstore brushes are like painting your house with a whisk broom. They pick up and lay down color unevenly, they make blending difficult, and they often start shedding quickly. Buy good ones. You don’t need a lot. A fat, fluffy, all-over brush for powder or bronzer, a blusher brush, and a couple of eyeshadow brushes should do it. But go to Nordstrom or Sephora and get the best you can afford. Your makeup will look better, they feel yummy on your skin, and they’ll last you for years.
2. Foundation. Get out of the drugstores. Most drugstore foundations have a lot of pink in them (weird, since most skin tones are yellow-based), which can look chalky. And since most drugstores don’t have testers, you can burn through a whack of money trying to pin down the right color. Cheaper foundations also tend to be heavier, with uneven consistency, making them harder to blend. Foundation is supposed to look like great skin. Higher quality foundations are sheerer, easier to blend, can be perfectly color-matched by a skilled makeup artist, and often contain marvelous things like light reflectors that give the skin a luminous (think “younger”) look.
3. Blusher. This is a product where you can go in whatever direction you want. If your brush is good, the drugstore brands are fine. Department store prices are largely about the upscale compact the product comes in. If you’re a fan of shimmer, try to avoid the super cheap ones that look like they’ve been infused with glitter. Shimmer and glitter are not interchangeable, especially if you’re over 50. Shimmer is subtle and pretty. Glitter is for six-year-old fairy princesses and prepubescent figure skaters from Disney on Ice.
4. Eyeshadow. This depends upon your ability to blend. Drugstore eyeshadow tends to be heavier and more pigmented than department store versions, which can look harsh or overly done if not extremely well blended. But drugstore brands can be a reasonably safe bet if you use a high-quality brush, stick with neutral colors, and be cautious about the sparkles (see Blusher, above). If you’re hopping on the colored eyeshadow trend this year, seriously consider moving up. Cheaper blue eyeshadows can be brighter and more truck stop waitress than the heathered hues of Estee Lauder. Leave the $4 Crayola colors to the tweeners.
5. Mascara. This is a tough one, because the only thing more subjective than fragrance is mascara. Every woman has her favorite, and God help any makeup artist who tries to take it away from her. The good news is that there’s no reason to spend extra money on this one. The current “battle of the wands,” with each brand claiming that their wand is somehow magic because it’s curved, or fatter, or longer, is just stupid. Some of the most prominent beauty industry powerhouses I know have used Maybelline for decades and will never switch. My personal favorite? L’Oreal Voluminous for day, and Rimmel Outrageous Retro Glam whenever I want lashes out to there. Both available at Walmart.
6. Lipstick. Like blushers, drugstore and upscale department store lipsticks have very little difference in the product itself. The consistency and the color options are similar. The primary difference is in the containers. Department store brands often come in gorgeous, expensive-looking gold or silver tubes that “click” when you close them, making you feel glamorous whenever you pull them out of your purse. They’re like fabulous Prada sunglasses vs. knock-offs from the Eyeglass Barn at the outlet mall. Drugstore brands are usually in plastic tubes that just say “Git ‘er done.” But either way, they look the same on your lips. Your call on this one.
7. Pressed Powder/Bronzer. Like foundations, it’s very difficult to find cheaper versions of these products that look like real skin. The cheap ones are heavier, harder to blend, and often come in un-skintone-friendly shades (especially bronzers, which all seem to be made at the Oompa-Loompa factory). They tend to quickly migrate into fine lines, making them more visible. Better brands come in real-women colors. They’re also more finely milled, don’t settle into lines, and contain light reflectors that give the skin a gorgeous, soft matte finish that their drugstore counterparts can’t match.
8. Eye/Lip Pencil. Suffice it to say that there are only a few places, worldwide, that manufacture makeup pencils. The part of the product that you apply is simply encased and labeled uniquely for every brand. (Do you see where this is going?) Pick these up anywhere.
Questions? Leave them below, and I’ll answer them if I can!