Are expensive products really worth the money? Or can you get something equally as effective at the drug store? A 2017 study by OnePoll found that the average American woman spends about $313 per month (or $3,756 per year) on her appearance, with makeup products second on the list after haircuts.
Whether or not these numbers accurately reflect your beauty spending habits, one thing is clear: everyone is well served by getting the most value out of the products they buy. To help you do just that, we enlisted the help of New York City-based makeup artist Julia Joseph.
We asked her to curate a list of expensive makeup products and a companion list of more affordable equivalents. Then we had her complete the looks: One using only the costly items and one using the, well, less costly items.
These brightening concealers are sort of the industry standard, mainly because of their great texture and brightening effect. This under-eye one claims to erase dark circles, and I tend to agree. But upon application, the concealer was a bit more sheer than I anticipated and the creamy texture resulted in some creasing (which you can combat with a clear eye primer).
While the finish of this concealer is slightly more matte than I generally prefer (resulting in a less natural texture), it’s still an incredible work horse and has more staying power and less creasing than the YSL concealer. And the color range cannot be beat—at just $5 each, I can have a color for everyone in my kit, which saves me a lot of time adjusting and custom mixing.
I chose this foundation because I love how comfortable it feels on the skin and how easy it is to apply—it’s light and fluid but still buildable for those who like heavier coverage. I also appreciate the more inclusive color range it offers.
Maybelline Fit Me! $8.49
This is a great, more affordable foundation option—also with an extensive color range—but it definitely has a heavier finish. For a lighter, dewier look, I would dilute it slightly with face oil or emollient moisturizer.
RMS Buriti Bronzer, $28
I swear by this one and, after completing the two looks, can confidently say it remains the superior product (though it did cause some creasing on the eyes). Unlike most bronzers, it has incredible depth, range of color and the creamy texture works harmoniously with foundation. It has both red and green copper tones, which creates a mesmerizing glow that is infinitely flattering.
For a more affordable option, the Born to Glow illuminator in “Sun Goddess” is a pretty good color match to the Buriti Bronzer, but it can dry and set rather quickly, making it difficult to use with other products like foundation. It does, however, work great on the eyes with no creasing.
Everything about this line screams over the top indulgence, but this mascara really impressed me. It is an excellent product all around and I highly recommend it for those who want to splurge—its pigmented formula goes on smoothly, it is easy to layer and the contoured wand is nice and spikey so it gets every lash. Plus, the packaging is beautiful.
This mascara is as solid as it gets and is a staple item in both my kit and my personal makeup bag. It is waterproof and comes in true black as well as “black brown” for blondes, redheads and more natural looks. It’s also buildable, so you can do a single coat or really pile it on, which is especially great for a flirty ’60s or ’70s bottom lash look.
This product is my go-to and, after the shoot, is still my liner of choice: It’s slightly more malleable and lasts for a long time without drying out. If you want to achieve a sharp cat eye though, you may want to use a more precise brush.
This nifty little liner is a two-in-one deal. You can use the gel side for more smudged looks or the liquid liner tip for sharp cat eyes. But it’s a bit dry so can tug at the skin slightly and wasn’t as easy to work with as I thought it would be. It has good staying power though.
This wins. I swear by it and use it in my kit and personal bag. They have a fantastic color range, and the tiny tip makes it easy to draw strokes for a very realistic look. The color deposit isn’t too heavy, which makes them more foolproof, and their soft black is fabulous for people with black hair or for brunettes who prefer an ash tone.
In general, people like how easy this pencil is to use: The angled edge and smooth color deposit help to create a clear, contoured brow. But it is much more pigmented than most eyebrow pencils, so I recommend using a very light hand. While I think the price is a bit ridiculous, each pencil comes with a refill, so at least you don’t have to worry about burning through it too fast.
For this shoot, I used the 943 Euphoric matte finish and was shocked to find that the color is almost an exact match to the Maybelline Super Stay lipstick—though this one is much more moisturizing and that, along with the light violet scent, justifies the higher price tag in my opinion. A great bonus is that the lipstick is part of Dior’s sustainability strategy, so the tube is refillable.
I purchased this lipstick for myself in a pinch and had no idea how much I would love it. But, for this shoot (I used the “Live On The Edge” color), I realized it can dry out the lips quite a bit, so be sure to prep with a lip balm first, which you then might also need to reapply periodically.
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Julia Joseph is a makeup artist based in New York City and founder of The Natural.