The Best Drugstore Cosmetics

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There are lots of opinions out there about "mass" vs. "class" in the makeup world. Does price reflect the quality and performance of a product?

Because I have owned a cosmetic company myself, I can address this topic from a business perspective. Sometimes companies that are very large, i.e. the Maybellines and Revlons of the world, can command better prices from their manufacturers because they order in such high quantities (kind of how Wal-Mart and Target work). In these cases, those more favorable prices can then be passed along to the customer.

On the other hand, as I am also a makeup artist, I have sometimes found that price does equate with quality. Because this can be very confusing for you, the makeup user, here's a little insider cheat sheet. Keep clicking for a breakdown of what I and several of my makeup artist friends feel are the very best budget-priced makeup products out there.

Primer

A great start for flawless-looking skin is primer. Use primer to even out your skin's texture before applying makeup. I really like the L'Oreal Studio Secrets Magic Perfecting Base. This amazing product smoothes lines, hides pores and banishes many imperfections. It's silky, lightweight, applies easy and leaves a smooth, matte finish. It's also dermatologist tested for all skin types.

$12.99 at Ulta.com

Concealer

This product area is one where I feel like the best variety might be found in higher-end products, but I did find a few budget options for you. My issue is less with formulation than color range. I like Maybelline's Instant Age Rewind Double Face Perfector, which has a concealer on one end and highlighter on the other. The concealer has a really nice formulation, but like so many other drugstore concealers, only four shades.

$7.49 at Drugstore.com

Women of color fare a bit better in terms of color range. The Iman Luxury Radiance Liquid Makeup is available in 8 shades. It's intended to be used as a foundation, but I found it too thick for that. It makes a fantastic concealer, though. Some retailers offer it with a really nice application brush — a great value for a concealer product!

$15 at Drugstore.com

Foundation

The Avon Magix Cashmere Finish Liquid Foundation comes in a handy squeeze tube. It has a nice, medium coverage and is available in 12 shades. It contains Avon's exclusive Optix Light-Diffusing Technology, which diminishes the look of pores and fine lines as it reduces shine for up to 10 hours. And a bonus of SPF 10. $11 at Avon.com

For women of color, my friend and celebrity makeup artist James Vincent (who has worked with Lady Gaga, Liv Tyler and Joan Jett) recommends the Black Opal Foundation Sticks. James says "They have the perfect pigments for women of color — the shade range is unbelievable!" He also recommends these sticks to be used as bronzers for women with lighter skin stones. "Choose the shade that is two to three shades darker than your foundation and apply wherever sun would naturally hit the face…forehead, cheekbones, nose and chin."  $8.99 at Amazon.com

Face Powder

For fair-medium skin tones, I like the Essence Mineral Compact Powder. It's an ultra-fine compact powder with minerals for a natural matte finish. Medium coverage, four shades. $2.99 at Ulta.com

For women of color, the Black Opal Mineral Mineral Brilliance Powder Foundation is really nice. It's free of oils, fragrance, parabens and talc so it's great even for problem skin.  Medium coverage.

Available in drugstores nationwide — prices vary by store. Try Walmart.com.

Bronzer

Bronzing powders are great because they give the appearance of a sunny glow, without the damage from the sun. Bronzers are also tricky because many brands don't have enough color options and bronzers often have too much shimmer. Celebrity Makeup Artist Tina Turnbow (she's worked with Amanda Peet, Leslie Mann, Mariska Hargitay and Mary Louise Parker) loves the new Physician's Formula Healthy Wear SPF 50 Bronzers. Tina says, "the Physicians Formula bronzer has the perfect amount of luminosity, not too orange and good for your skin and the environment! The Fair bronzer is awesome for pale women looking for something with a soft bronze feel."

These are also great because they come in four shades and contain SPF, antioxidants and brightening ingredients, for healthy and protected skin.  $14.99 at Ulta.com

Powder Blushes

One of my favorite beauty bloggers, Felicia Walker Benson, is very excited about the recent re-launch of Wet n' Wild. The Editor in Chief for ThisThatBeauty.com, Felicia loves the new richly pigmented shadows, liners and blushes. Felicia says, "this collection delivers the color payoff of a high-end brand but for the low-low starting price of $3.99!". She is a big fan of their blushes, "The powder is finely milled and applies evenly. Blushes range from slight shimmer to matte finish. Peach, pink and bronze shades all deliver highly pigmented payoff."

$2.99 at CVS.com

Shadow

My favorite budget eye shadow is from Essence. They have so many single colors and some fun quads and duos. The quality is very nice, and all for less than $3 at Ulta.com.

Rimmel London has nice quality and really good, fashion-forward colors. I particularly like their Monos (singles) and Trios. $3.99-$5.19 at Ulta.com

Boots Botanics Eye Colour Duos come in a nice selection of shades and they are packaged in a very nice metal compact with mirror.  Better yet, they contain active plant extracts like Ginko Biloba, which has anti-oxidant properties. For only $6.99 at Target.com.

Makeup artist Dina Gregg, who I have collaborated with in the past, loves the Revlon Matte Eye Shadows. She combines Vintage Lace and Rich Sable. Dina says, "I like to use these two shades together to make the perfect 'greige' (Beige + Grey = Greige, aka, the most excellent, wearable neutral). Love! I just dip my brush back and forth between the two colors before applying to the lid." $4.99 at Drugstore.com

Pencil Liner

My pal, Quinn Murphy, who is a celebrity makeup artist for the likes of America Ferrera and Nina Garcia from Project Runway, loves the Styli Style — Line and Blend waterproof eye pencil.

Quinn says, "This product really does what it says.  It is a long lasting eyeliner yet it allows you to blend and smoke out the liner.  The dry and firm texture allow for better precision and the pointy firm tip gives you complete control.  Here's a tip for flawless liquid eye liner:  Because of the dry/non 'bleeding' properties of this pencil, it is perfect for sketching out your eyeliner shape and then apply your liquid liner on top.  Pencil is more forgiving than liquid liner - you can fix your mistakes before applying the liquid." $5.50 at Beautyneeds.com

For some beauty inspiration, check out Quinn's site.

I also love the Boots No 7 Amazing Eyes Pencil. It has a great smudger on the end. Another high-quality product from Boots No 7.  $6.99 at Drugstore.com

Cream Eye Liner

So, is it clear to you yet that I LOVE Boots No. 7 makeup? Well, I have another product to recommend — their Cream Eye Liner from the Botanics Line is fantastic — long-lasting and high quality. I would warn against using the brush they provide, because it is simply too stiff for a formulation like this. I would use a soft or semi-stiff pointed eye liner brush. $7.99 at Drugstore.com

Mascara

OK…so I am surely not alone in being totally overwhelmed by the mascaras out there, so I was very excited to have a real reason to evaluate lots and lots of mascaras. Here is what I found.

For quick, one-coat natural-ish lashes: Try Rimmel The Max VolumeFlash. This is intended to be a mascara that provides lot of volume and drama, but I actually felt it worked better as a quick one-coat formula. It has a big fluffy brush, but a nice tight wiper so it's great for applying in a rush because there's no mess. It makes the lashes look full and fluffy. $5.47 at Walmart.com

For defined, separated lashes: Boots No. 7 Extravagant Lashes has a square brush, which I had actually never seen before. I was skeptical, but I really liked how the square edges allowed me to get very close to the lash line. This is a buildable mascara, which really excels with the 2nd or 3rd coat. It would be great especially for those with more sparse lashes, because it really thickens. Strong hold and control, and a very tight wiper so no mess! $7.99 at Target.com

For full-on drama: I would recommend Maybelline Stiletto Voluptuous Lash.  his is my favorite mascara for when you really want to take it all the way. It separates, it thickens and it lengthens. My lashes look almost fake, but just almost! It's a bit much for a natural daytime look, but try it with a smokey eye - WOW.  $6.96 at Walmart.com

Makeup artists James Vincent and Dina Gregg both vote for L'Oreal Voluminous Mascara as their favorite. A dual pro makeup artist recommendation? Worth checking out! $7.49 at Walgreens.com

Brows

Celebrity Makeup Artist, Quinn Murphy, loves the Maybelline Great Lash Clear Mascara for Lash and Brow. Quinn says "If you are someone who has a good shaped brow and doesn't require any filling in, this is a great way to give your brows a polished finish.  The clear gel holds the brows in place and leaves a soft satin finish."  It can also be used as a clear mascara to add a little natural polish to the lashes.  $4.99 at Drugstore.com

If you need to fill in the brows, I like the NYX AUTO Eyebrow Pencil  It's an automatic pencil (so no sharpening!), which is easy to use and has a brow brush on the end for grooming.  They have 8 very good basic shades so you will definitely be able to find a good, natural looking match. $4.99 at Ulta.com

Lipstick

There are so many drugstore lipstick options out there, but I have to say that there were very few budget brands with formulations that I liked.  This might be one of those categories where it's better to splurge a bit.  Thankfully, I find a few budget favorites, so here goes:

Creamy - Avon Ultra Color Rich was my favorite emollient lipstick.  Very good for dry lips and with a bonus SPF 15.  27 shades to choose from! From $3.99 at Avon.com.

The Revlon Moondrops are another nice, creamy option.  They have so many shades and are a favorite of celebrity makeup artist James Vincent.  He especially loves their reds! $8.99 at Drugstore.com

Matte - Wet n' Wild Silk Finish has a very nice matte feel and full coverage application. $1.29 at Drugstore.com

For women of color, try the Black Opal True Tone Lipsticks.  They have 12 shades, which are very true to how they look in the tube.  They are full coverage, with a silky, matte texture.  $6.99 at TreasuredLocks.com

Lip Gloss

I have to say that I was pretty impressed by a lot of the lip glosses I tried.  Let's narrow it down to a few categories:

Creamy - No 7 Lip Glace is a smooth, comfortable creamy gloss with no stickiness.  It feels almost watery on the lips but wears well.  They have loads of individual shades, or you can try their Lip Glace Colour Collection for only $14.99.  Another fabulous product from Boots No 7! $7.99-$14.99 at Target.com

Sticky/High Shine -  The Rimmel Royal Gloss with Vitamins is a yummy, glossy formula with loads of shine.  And lots of pretty colors to choose from, so have fun! $4.99 at CVS.com

Stains - Mark makes a really nice stain called Gloss Gorgeous.  It has a lovely, creamy texture, almost like a creamy sheer lipstick.  Refreshing minty taste.  There are only 4 shades, but they are really nice so worth checking out! $9 at MeetMark.com

Lip Liners

Makeup artist James Vincent loves the Wet n' Wild Lip Pencils. "They are the perfect purchase for beauty on a budget.  At prices under $2, you can't beat their rich pigment load and soft, smooth texture for a long lasting and easy to apply eye or lip liner", James says.  His favorite?  Wet n' Wild Lip Pencil Brandywine 666, which is a beautiful, fleshy pink.

This pencil received a double endorsement - makeup artist Dina Gregg loves it too! She says, "This is a natural fleshy rose that can fill in - or fill out - any lip! Top with lip balm or gloss for a more natural look, or your favorite lipstick of the moment."

$1.49 at Drugstore.com

Nail Polish

I have been a lifelong fan of Sally Hansen products and I still am.  They have a formulation for everyone, from Insta-Dri for those in a rush, to Hi-Definition, for those who love drama.  They also have really good nail treatment products!

One of my favorite new-ish Sally Hansen products is the Color Quick Fast Dry Nail Color Pen.  This is a handy click pen that you can carry in your makeup bag and touch up in a pinch. I carry the Sheer Pink with me.  It's perfect for when you are on the way somewhere and realize you forgot to do your nails! $7.79 at Ulta.com

In my research for this story, I did discover a few new favorite brands:

Orly has a huge range of shades and I really like the formulation.   It dries fast and is very opaque so you could even get away with one coat.  The shades that I tried came with a cute little coordinating lip gloss, so keep your eyes peeled for those! $6.99 at CVS.com

OPI has a new line called Nicole that is really nice if you like a more sheer formula.  I love sheer-ish coverage with bright colors and these also dry really fast. More than 40 shades to choose from! $8 at Sears.com

Rimmel's polishes are also somewhere sheer and they have lovely colors.  Long lasting and fast drying! $3.99 at Ulta.com

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