Beauty on the Cheap: The $50 Drugstore Start-Up Makeup Challenge

By Voxy  

Gauntlet for the Left Hand by unforth.So, a few weeks ago, Froggy challenged me to put together a start-up kit of makeup, using drugstore products, for $50. (Well, using the word “challenged” makes it sound like she came to my house, called me out, threw a gauntlet on my front steps, and told me to pick my second as we would be dueling at dawn the next morning. It wasn’t like that. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if Froggy owned a gauntlet. ;) )

I am pleased to report that I did it! and came in $1.50 under to boot. OK, so I didn’t count sales tax. And I did the majority of the shopping at Target and (hides face) Wal-Mart. I know! I know! But getting a whole face full of stuff for under $50 is hard! If you don’t want to shop at Wal-Mart, you can call it an under-$60 challenge and do it wherever you like. I live quite near a Wal-Mart but I didn’t realize how small the beauty department at this particular store was; only two aisles, and short ones at that. So you may have even more options than this!

Below I’m going to give you the basics and what they cost. Tomorrow, there will be suggestions for adding on to or changing products out of this collection.

For $48.50, according to prices in-store and online, you can get a foundation, a concealer, an eyeshadow quad, an eye/brow liner, mascara, a blush, a lipgloss, and brushes. That’s pretty darned good, I think.

Foundation

It will be no surprise to regular readers that I’m going to go for the Almay SmartShade Anti-Aging Foundation (SPF 20) for $10.97. I use this myself and like it very much; the sunscreen does not break me out, the product does not clog my pores, and the shade matching works very well. (I reviewed an earlier version of this product here.) It comes in only a few shades, but the color-matching technology is good enough that it should suit most people. If you prefer a mineral powder foundation, I’m opting for L’Oreal Bare Naturale, which I’ve also reviewed previously; this was available at my Wal-Mart for $10.50.

Other popular drugstore foundations at the moment include Revlon ColorStay ($12.99 at drugstore.com) and Cover Girl Advanced Radiance ($10.99 at drugstore.com).

Concealer

Again, sticking with a on old standby that has worked well for me for both undereye circles and for blemishes: Cover Girl CG Smoothers concealer stick, $5.99 at Target.

Eyeliner

There are a few products on the market that do double duty as eyeliners and brow liners. (Obviously, they are brown.) Brown eyeliner looks good on anyone, and if you get something that also matches your brow color (or, preferably, is a tiny bit lighter), then you’ll in effect be getting two products for the price of one. Can you use a regular brown eyeliner, one that’s not specifically made for brows, as a brow pencil? Sure — but because those formulas are usually a little creamier, it might smear.

Because cost was a primary concern, I went with Cover Girl Brow and Eye Makers 2-pack for $2.86. The package even comes with a sharpener, which is handy. Maybelline makes a comparable product which does not require sharpening and costs $4.48. Getting this one instead will put you 12 cents over the $50, but I have to say I think it’s worth it. For the sake of the challenge, my official pick is the CG for $2.68, but I strongly suspect the Maybelline product is superior. I have to admit that if I weren’t aiming for a $50 target, I’d probably have recommended separate eyeliner and brow powder/pencil, just because it’s hard to get something that’s the right texture for both different uses. Prestige Cosmetics makes excellent inexpensive eyeliners in a variety of colors (if you go to their website, don’t be distracted by the fact that they are picturing lipliners instead of eyeliners; they look just the same and the color selection tab at the bottom works properly to show eyeliner colors); they are $5.39 at ULTA but can usually be got cheaper elsewhere.

Eyeshadow

In terms of mileage for the buck, you can’t do much better than a nude trio or quad. Most lines make some version of these, so you’ll have options. In general I think neutral shades are safe to buy in the drugstore; I tend to go high-end if I want something that’s bright, bold, or highly pigmented. (And, I admit, it is luxurious to have some high-end neutrals too.) Here I’m going with Rimmel’s Color Rush eye shadow in Smoky Brown (or Smoky Brun, depending on whether you’re looking at the product or the display!). You get two lid colors, a highlighter color, and a crease color, all for $4.28. You don’t have to use all four; you can just use one lid color and call it a day. But at least you get options.

I chose the nude quad because everyone looks good with a natural eye. But if you’ve got some brown shadows at home already and are looking for something different, you can get similar sets of mauve- or blue- or grey-tinted neutrals. And take your skin tone into consideration — some lines’ nudes lean a little warm, and some a little cool. Again, I’d stay away from the ultra-brights if you’re just starting out.

Mascara

This is a category I thought a lot about, and I have to confess that my eventual recommendation is not actually a mascara I’ve tried, but it’s one that’s gotten very, very good reviews, and quite a lot of them. For several years I used Maybelline Lash Stylist, until it was discontinued, and around that time I switched to Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes!, which I love and so I don’t see myself going back to drugstore mascaras anytime soon. Because I stuck with Lash Stylist for a few years, I missed a lot of the other mascara releases that happened during those years. So, take it with a grain of salt, but know that I read a lot of reviews.

The product I’ve picked for this challenge is Cover Girl Professional All-in-One Curved Brush Mascara, which retails for $3.99 at Target. It also comes in a waterproof version for the same price, if you prefer that, but I don’t tend to recommend waterproof mascaras as a first option as I find they are more likely to irritate my eyes and are harder to remove. (And at Target, if you want to get the straight brush instead the curved one, you’ll save another 10 cents! Srsly — it’s $3.89 while the curved brush is $3.99.)

Right now there’s a lot of buzz about Cover Girl Lash Blast mascara, which is a little pricier, but one of the things that people commonly complain about in regards to Lash Blast is that the enormousness of the brush makes it difficult to control application of the product. If you’re looking for a starter set, it’s probably better not to get something that hands you a steep learning curve straight out of the package.

Blush

Here I went with Maybelline Expert Wear Blush ($4.48), because they offer a wide range of colors: 13 blush colors and 3 bronzer colors if you prefer a bronzer instead of a blush (same price). Revlon also offered some nice-looking blushes, but the color range wasn’t as wide and prices were in the neighborhood of $8-8.50 instead of $4.50. They do look like interesting products, though, and they offer cream, powder, and mineral formulas, so if you don’t find anything in the Maybelline aisle that suits you, I wouldn’t hesitate to hop over to Revlon.

Lips

For someone who’s new to makeup, a gloss is IMHO a much better bet than a lipstick or lipstain — easier to apply, less worry about smearing or smudging, less worry about the color being too strong, etc. Glosses do come in a wide range of pigmentation (more is better) and stickiness (less is better), and after carefully perusing the options, I went with Revlon Super Lustrous Lipgloss, which Wal-Mart had for $5.94. I actually purchased the Cherries in the Glow shade I’d mentioned the other week in the Drugstore Red Lippies and Glosses post, and like it very much. It’s very sheer and I can’t think of anyone who couldn’t wear it. It definitely does not scream “HELLO MY LIPS ARE VERY RED!” like some lip products can. They also have a variety of other tones: pinks, corals, and nudes. P.S. — Dear Revlon, I still hate your website. Plz fix it. OKthxloveyoubye! — Voxy.

Brushes

So, since you’re going to throw out all the applicators that come with those packages (right? you are, aren’t you?), you are going to need some brushes — at least for the blush and eyeshadow, and possibly to smooth out the foundation or apply concealer in hard-to-reach spots as well. Fortunately, there is a perfectly priced set of Essence of Beauty brushes available at CVS (their exclusive retailer, so you won’t find them elsewhere): a six-brush travel pack of face brushes for $9.99. This package contains the following: powder brush, blush brush (either of these can really be used for blush), eyeshadow brush, shadow eyeliner brush (in case you want to use the dark shade out of your quad as an eyeliner), smudger brush (so you can blend the colors in the quad together), and concealer brush. Voilà! Everything you need. Like Ecotools, Essence of Beauty brushes are far better than their price point might lead you to believe. I just bought two sets of EoB brushes for myself — not the travel set I’m mentioning here, but a two-pack eye brush set and some dual-ended face brushes.

So, where do we stand with the math?

Almay SmartShade foundation: $10.97

CG Smoothers concealer: $5.99

CG Brow and Eye: $2.86 (but really, think seriously about the Maybelline; I’ll send you the twelve cents. If you get the straight brush mascara instead of the curved brush at Target, there’s a dime right there, so you’d only be TWO cents over!)

Rimmel eyeshadow quad: $4.28

CG Professional mascara: $3.99

Maybelline ExpertWear blush: $4.48

Revlon Super Lustrous lipgloss: $5.94

Essence of Beauty brush pack: $9.99

TOTAL: $48.50

Note: In addition to tomorrow’s post on possible additions to or substitutions for items in this list, I’m planning to do another one of these kind of posts for higher-end products, probably a $100 Sephora challenge. (I can’t do it on $50.)

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12 Comments

  1. avatar Froggy
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

    So, I’ve been using the Almay foundation for about a week now, and now I’m used to it I’m completely sold. I’d never quite believed the whole ‘your skin but better’ line, but that’s exactly what this stuff does. I’m on the fair/medium stuff – we’ll see how it copes as my skin tans over the next weeks. So far, more impressed than I’ve ever been with a foundation.

    High five, Voxy!

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    • avatar Voxy
      Posted April 7, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Oh, I’m *so* glad that worked out for you! Very happy to hear it.

      ::high five::

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  2. avatar a biologist
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for asking!
    I tried out a medium brown shadow several times when going out in the evenings. You were right about the neutral shadow. I thought it really improved my look in a subtle way. With eyeshadow primer to prevent it from disappearing in two hours I’m going to also look for a lighter brown for day wear.

    The medium brown came out of an Almay palette for blue eyes with three shades of purpley-blue. For fun/practice with brushes I am going to try to learn a smokey eye look with those blue shades.

    I am uncertain about my eyebrows. I tried using a couple of shades of brown eye liner on them, but they were too dark, and I’m not sure I was applying them correctly. I also tried the brown shadow as a proxy for brow powder, but it was also too dark. Both looks were also too made-up looking for my work environment; the norm is to look very natural. Maybe I need a much lighter brown. The individual brow hairs are cool dark brown, but my brows are sparse, so the effect from a distance is of brows that are more of a light/medium ash brown.

    You’re welcome! With your coloring, you might find a brow powder would be better for you than a pencil. Since you own a brown liner already, try it on your brows and see how you like it; it might be too dark. In the mid-brown range, pencils tend to be pretty reliable in terms of color matching (i.e., most people who are going to want a mid-range brown shade can wear most of the pencils in that shade without worrying *too* much over whether they’re too warm or cool) but the light end of the spectrum is harder to match. In general, if you are torn between a warmer shade and a cooler shade that are both the same color level, go with the cooler one.
    (What did you end up doing with your eye makeup and brow since you took those photos you sent me, and how has it worked out?)  

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  3. avatar Inthelab
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 6:50 am | Permalink | Reply

    BOGOs do help the budget, no question. The only downside is that then you’re restricted to what brands are on sale and you’re forced to choose something out of the same brand in order to get the BOGO when you might rather get that product from a different brand.  

    True; but then I’d wait for the Neutrogena BOGO sale since I like nearly everything in that line.

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  4. avatar a biologist
    Posted March 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for this post! It’s almost summer sun protection time so I’m making a trip to the health & beauty aisles at Target this weekend. I’ll be checking out the brow pencil and red lipgloss.

    Doing a Sephora version sounds fun too–more products for me to cyberstalk when I’m avoiding writing.

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    • avatar Voxy
      Posted March 23, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Permalink | Reply

      You’re welcome! With your coloring, you might find a brow powder would be better for you than a pencil. Since you own a brown liner already, try it on your brows and see how you like it; it might be too dark. In the mid-brown range, pencils tend to be pretty reliable in terms of color matching (i.e., most people who are going to want a mid-range brown shade can wear most of the pencils in that shade without worrying *too* much over whether they’re too warm or cool) but the light end of the spectrum is harder to match. In general, if you are torn between a warmer shade and a cooler shade that are both the same color level, go with the cooler one.

      (What did you end up doing with your eye makeup and brow since you took those photos you sent me, and how has it worked out?)

        (Quote)

  5. avatar Froggy
    Posted March 23, 2010 at 10:09 am | Permalink | Reply

    This is definitely something to chew on – thanks!

    Eyebrow pencil and blusher are two things I’d never have considered using – I have thick, dark eyebrows that I have to pluck constantly (Indian blood), and I don’t know that I want them to look even denser. And I find myself fighting with my somewhat ruddy complexion when I use makeup, so adding more rubor on top seems silly. Will these things make my life better? If you say so, I’ll take the plunge.

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    • avatar Voxy
      Posted March 23, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink | Reply

      You don’t necessarily have to use a brow pencil to *darken* the brow — really, you want the end result to be indistinguishable from your natural brow color. But they are useful in helping to *shape* the brow — making the arch a little higher or giving definition to the end of the brow so that you get a nice line going out to your temple rather than straggliness or bare spots. If you don’t need one, or don’t want one, then what I’d recommend instead would be a brow brush or spoolie to groom and a clear mascara to set so that you don’t get straggly as the day goes on.

      You may feel differently about blush if you’ve found a foundation that gives you enough coverage that ruddiness isn’t an issue. (If you end up trying that Revlon Custom Color foundation over the summer, let me know; I’m curious to hear how those work.) Like brow powder, blush is also useful in helping define the features — your natural ruddiness may be a beautiful shade, but you might be able to bring out your cheekbones more by adding blush or a super-light bronzer at the right places. It doesn’t have to go on the whole cheek (and in fact most of the time, it shouldn’t). And blush doesn’t have to be pink — you might try something that’s sheer and peachy or nude or tawny (but not muddy). This is not so much adding color to the skin but altering the shade of the natural flush that’s already there.

      In both cases (brow and cheek), I think it’s about taking control of your natural features and making them work for you. It’s all about proportion and perspective.

      I would definitely go to a Sephora or an ULTA and try out a bunch of blush colors — even if you don’t intend to buy high-end, you want to test a lot of shades so that you can compare “here’s what this will look like in the compact” with “here’s what it will look like on me.” It’s very hard to judge from the package, even if you have a lot of experience.

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  6. avatar ab_grp
    Posted March 23, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink | Reply

    This is great! Congrats on successfully putting together the package. I would love to see the Sephora package. Maybe I should hold off on my Sephora trip (virtual) in case you do end up creating that lineup.

    Since I don’t get to check here every day, I don’t always post, but always enjoy reading. Your hard work is much appreciated!

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  7. avatar Inthelab
    Posted March 23, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    CVS often has BOGO on beauty stuff; I’d wait for that and buy a lip liner too.
    Wonder how cheap you can go with a BOGO sale. $30?

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    • avatar Voxy
      Posted March 23, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink | Reply

      BOGOs do help the budget, no question. The only downside is that then you’re restricted to what brands are on sale and you’re forced to choose something out of the same brand in order to get the BOGO when you might rather get that product from a different brand.

        (Quote)

    • avatar Grasshopper
      Posted March 23, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink | Reply

      See, it’s the waiting part that would be annoying for me. (Also the part where I would have to cross a border to get to a CVS).

      Froggy could also save cash by going to a garage sale instead, where there are also buy-one-get-one-free deals. But then, there’s waiting and choice limitations there, too.

      Okay, tongue out of cheek: I really like that there’s variety in your recommendations. Froggy and I have vastly different makeup styles and looks, but the choices you present could work for each of us. And we could accomplish the feat pretty much anywhere that there’s a drug store.

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