In today’s ultra-competitive beauty market, the path to becoming a cult product requires flawless formulas, gorgeous pigments, and tones that work well on different complexions and skin types. Think: MAC.’s Ruby Woo or Nars’ Orgasm. These beauty buys aren’t just beautiful and easy to use — they work on almost everyone.
Still, we can’t all afford to drop $17 on lipstick or $34 on blush every time we finish a tube or hit pan — even though they’re worth every penny. Luckily, the drugstore has become a beauty hotspot full of versatile, flattering makeup that feels just as luxe as any high-end brand. Many of these affordable buys have even gained cult followings among pros and beauty bloggers.
But will they work for you? Keep clicking, because we had five staffers test top, under $10 performers ahead.
When it comes to soft, blendable eyeshadows with major impact, L’Oreal’s Infallible formula gives any high-end brand a run for its money. This particular rose gold shade has become a favorite of the beauty-obsessed, thanks to a shimmery sheen achieved when patted on with a finger, or a strong metallic line when pressed on with a stiff brush.
L’Oreal Paris Infallible Eyeshadow in Amber Rush, $8.49, available at Walgreens.
In the pan, the sparkly shadow seemed slightly intimidating, but when we patted the rose gold shimmer onto Diana’s eyelids, it blended seamlessly, adding a soft, natural glimmer. “This was my favorite of the bunch,” Diana said of the hue. “It’s a color I wouldn’t choose for myself, but I instantly fell in love with it.”
On Marshall, the shadow became a coppery shade. “I just got a rose gold iPhone 7 for Christmas, so maybe that’s why I was so excited to try this,” Marshall said. “I’m not actually a huge eyeshadow person — I usually just opt for a cat eye and go — but I loved how well this packed on — and stayed on!” One layer gave Marshall a subtle shimmer; two layers created this gorgeous copper hue.
The formula blended seamlessly onto Eva’s eyelids, creating a shimmery wash of color. “Good color payoff,” she noted, even though her resulting look was much more natural than the others.
After applying Amber Rush with her fingers, Valis raved about the color and texture. “The shadow is super silky, almost creamy,” she said. Depending on how heavy you go, you could even create a foil effect, she added. The color, she notes, is great for work — and happy hour, too. “I’d recommend popping a pinch of this into the inner corners of your eyes to look instantly awake and alert.”
Rachel’s also fell for the formula. “I really liked the color and the pigment feels similar to a higher-end eyeshadow,” she said.
The Contour Kit
You could shell out $30 or more for a high-end contouring kit. Or, you could whip out $4 for E.l.f.’s duo, which comes with a shimmery blush and a matte bronzer. The most-hyped shade? St. Lucia, a peachy pink and medium-toned bronzer.
E.L.F. Cosmetics Contouring Blush & Bronzing Powder in St. Lucia, $4, available at Ulta Beauty.
On Diana, however, the bronzer blended into her skin with little impact — meaning she got less of a contoured effect and more of a shimmer, “which I’m not against for a night out,” she says.
Marshall, a contour pro, typically uses Charlotte Tilbury’s Filmstar Bronze & Glow — 17 times the price of E.l.f.’s version. For her, however, the E.l.f. palette couldn’t compete with her go-to. “I thought the bronzer was a little too heavy and muddy colored for my skin tone,” Marshall said. The blush, on the other hand, had to be packed on. When blended thoroughly, the contour was definitely noticeable, but it took effort.
Just like Marshall, the bronzer needed some extra love to blend properly on Eva. “I never contour, but if I had to start from somewhere, this would be a good price point to buy a contour and highlight set,” Eva said.
The trick to the palette? Start light, and then build. “The contour powder isn’t as pigmented as other formulas, which works to its advantage!” Valis said. (Read: Less chance for obvious streaks.) “As for the blush, it has a slight shimmer to it that diffuses into a healthy glow on then skin without looking glittery.”
Rachel applied the bronzer underneath her cheekbones and to her jawline, then dusted her cheeks with the blush. “I thought the bronzer was a pretty color and it goes on smoothly,” Rachel said, “But the blush was more chalky.” The color payoff, however, was glowy and fresh.
When it comes to great drugstore mascaras, there is an endless supply to choose from. Covergirl’s LashBlast is an instant classic — the volumizing formula is a go-to for pros because it makes short lashes look lush. We put the waterproof formula to the test.
[Editor’s Note: Rachel has eyelash extensions so she did not participate in this portion of the makeup challenge.]
Covergirl LashBlast Volume Waterproof Mascara, $6.99, available at Target.
We first had our testers use Sonia Kashuk’s affordable eyelash curler for extra drama before applying the mascara. The result? Long, and lush for Diana. “I have very short eyelashes, so I’m game for simple tools that will help enhance them,” Diana said. “This curler was easy to use, but I do wish it had a stronger grip.”
As for the mascara? It fulfilled her three requirements: “Short bristles perfect for my little lashes, no clumps, and easily removable before bed? Yes, yes, and yes.”
Marshall typically uses a travel-sized plastic eyelash curler, thanks to a minor metal allergy. But for a one-time use, the Sonia Kashuk did just fine. “I was very impressed with both how easy this was to use (no tight squeezing) and what a nice curl it gave my lashes,” she said.
A few coats of mascara later, and her lashes were long, full, and defined. “I love LashBlast,” Marshall said. “I recently switched over to playing around with pricier stuff, and, aside from pretty packaging, haven’t noticed a huge difference. Plus, it makes it so much easier to toss it when it’s time, guilt-free.”
For Eva, the Sonia Kashuk curler was too deep to fit her eyes easily, but the mascara definitely added length and volume.
On Valis, however, the curler worked perfectly. “Sonia Kashuk’s was wide enough to grab every single lash without pinching or snagging,” Valis said. The mascara was also an old favorite. “The wand works serious magic to get at every last lash without clumping or with the mascara ending up all over my eyelid. As for the formula, it seriously pumps up the volume on my little lashes without making them look like spider legs,” she said.
Want a radiant flush for a fraction of the price of the big guys? Milani’s Luminoso blush has long been considered a top drugstore pick for universally-flattering rouge. But are the rumors true?
Milani Baked Blush in Luminoso, $8, available at Milani Cosmetics.
On Diana, the powder blush was more of a shimmer. “With my skin tone, it would need to be a deeper shade of pink,” Diana said. When patted onto the apples of her cheek, however, the blush gave her a peachy, highlighted effect.
Surprise surprise! Marshall actually owns and uses this blush on the regular. “It’s such an easy way to brush on some color before I leave the house, and it’s pigmented without being so pigmented that it streaks all over the place,” Marshall said. “I can just swipe it on once or twice with minimal worry about blending, or none showing up.” This blush just so happens to be her secret to the no-makeup makeup look.
On top of Eva’s natural flush, the peachy shade gave her a major wash of flattering color. Layered over foundation, however, and it creates a nice, neutral shimmer.
“I usually stay away from coral-based blushes as they tend to turn me a little orange, but this one might be the exception,” Valis said.
Luminoso, when applied to the apples of her cheeks, had Valis practically glowing. “The pigment payoff is a bit sheer,” Valis noted, “but that works in its favor by allowing you to slowly build up coverage for a gentle flush and avoid going overboard.”
Rachel was the most surprised by this versatile blusher. “I wouldn’t have thought to try it if I saw it at the store, but the color is really natural and pretty on!” she said.
This $6 lipstick is so good, even makeup artists love it, and Nyx’s wine-burgundy color is pigmented enough to work on a variety of skin tones. Dab it on with a lip brush for a matte, berry stain, or apply it straight from the tube for a dark, sultry lip. But don’t take the pros’ word for it…
Nyx Cosmetics Soft Matte Lip Cream in Copenhagen, $5.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
“I normally wear Glossier’s Gen G in Jam, but this is just like it,” Diana said. Immediately following this photo shoot, she went out and bought Nyx’s shade. “At half the price, how could I say no?”
On Marshall, the deep hue showed hints of purple for a unique take on the classic red lip. “I loved how it set into a matte, but wasn’t drying,” she said. “Plus, the deep purple is such a great vampy winter color that I can still pull off in the office.”
Apply the lipstick with a much lighter hand and blot if you want a soft berry stain, like Eva preferred here.
One layer straight from the tube created a red-purple lip on Valis. “Slick on another layer and you have a serious statement lip suited for a night on the town,” Valis said.
Rachel used two coats of the lipstick to show off the full impact of this color. Even better? “It stayed on very well,” she said. “I went to the washroom two hours later and it hadn’t moved.”
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