You probably recall this scenario well: You spend hours looking at about a bajillion shades of foundation, dabbing some on your chin and hoping it won’t cause a breakout hours later. Or maybe you fall in love with the perfect shade of maroon for your lips, only to find that it dries into a shriveled mess once you sip your chai tea. Sigh. There’s nothing sadder than a deceptively gorgeous lipstick you can’t use.
We get it. When it comes to buying makeup, the biggest question is whether it will deliver what it promises. We’re not expecting miracles here, but we wouldn’t mind getting pretty close.
It’s quite simple. Whether you’re shopping luxury or picking out items from the drugstore, you want beauty products that will go the distance and won’t mess you up. And if you can save a little money while you’re at it, even better.
Demystifying which products aren’t worth the hype can get tricky (and pricey) when you’re staring down an array of options. From glittery primers and liquid eyeliners to shade-transforming lipsticks, choosing the right product ain’t for the weak of heart.
That’s why we’ve taken on the challenge for you. Since we know information overload is overwhelming, we’ve narrowed down items ranging from budget-friendly treasures to higher-end products that are actually worth their salt.
Enjoy our roundup of exclusively quality picks, and get shopping!
1. SUNDAY RILEY Luna Sleeping Night Oil
As a rule, you’ll want to use a lightweight night treatment that regulates your skin’s oil production and won’t clog your pores. And if you’re blemish-prone or have less-than-lustrous skin, you’re better offer with a lightweight formula. Some folks swear by Luna, but we find that its oil base is a bit heavier than retinol products that contain more water.
Try Instead: Retinol Fusion PM by Peter Thomas Roth
This serum’s potent retinol formula improves your skin’s overall texture and appearance with minimal irritation. Plus, the results are cumulative; the longer you use it, the better your complexion will look. It’s also WAY friendlier on your pocketbook compared to Sunday Riley’s $105 per bottle.
2. Laura Mercier Invisible Loose Setting Powder
It’s undeniable that a simple and foolproof setting powder is essential in any makeup arsenal, but you also don’t want to overspend when you can easily opt for a lower-priced option compared to Mercier’s $38 powder.
Try Instead: NYX Studio Finishing Powder
In addition to smoothing over textured skin, NYX mattes over greasy spots without looking cakey. The finishing powder is made with 100 percent pure mineral silica and works on all skin tones.
Use lightly and blend with your concealer for an even, flawless look!
3. MAC Lipsticks
Finding the right beauty product for our lips means looking at the entire picture: color, shine, staying power, and of course, affordable price. While there are a ton of options out there, some aren’t so great on your budget. Case in point: MAC lipsticks will run you $18.50 per tube.
Try Instead: NYX Lip Lingerie
This lush liquid lipstick will cost you less than half the price of MAC’s alternative and give your lips a stunning matte finish. Not only does NYX offer a variety of luscious, natural-looking colors, you don’t have to reapply their lipstick every 30 minutes.
Dab some on before going out and look fresh for the rest of the day.
4. Smashbox Iconic Photo Finish Foundation Primer
You know how photo-editing filters give your skin that smooth, flattering look? That’s what a good foundation primer will do for you—create the perfect base for your makeup. Whether you’re looking to minimize the appearance of pores or conceal uneven skin tone, we’ve nailed down the best primer for your budget, and it isn’t this one from Smashbox.
Try Instead: NYX Professional Makeup Studio Perfect Trimmer
If you struggle with foundation “melting” on your skin, try applying a thin layer of this silky formula beforehand for a smooth matte finish.
Compared to Smashbox’s $36, NYX offers a flawless alternative.
5. GLAMGLOW YOUTHMUD Tinglexfoliate Treatment
A good face mask is the foundation of any good skincare regimen, and while GLAMGLOW’s aroma is enticing, there are more cost-friendly alternatives to their $69 treatment.
Try Instead: Freeman’s Feeling Beautiful Gel Mask and Scrub
What you want is a silky formula that isn’t abrasive and allows your skin to breathe. Freeman’s polishing mask not only helps absorb oil from your skin without overdrying, it also gently exfoliates impurities away.
Black sugar gets rid of dull skin cells for extra smoothness and works for all skin types (especially sensitive). We recommend using twice a week for a dewy, glowing complexion.
6. Too Faced Mascara
We love a good mascara. We might even go overboard with our paycheck if it involves a long-lasting, clump-free formula. Luckily, a budget-friendly option exists to achieve that dramatic lash.
Try Instead: Butter London Double Decker Mascara
While both bottles are similarly priced (Double Decker goes for $20 compared to the Too Faced Mascara’s $24), Butter London gives better value with its lightweight liquid and extreme curl technology.
Get extra length and definition by applying in a zigzag motion from root to the tip of your lash.
7. Urban Decay Naked Eyeshadow Palette
The right blend of eyeshadow can look downright magical. Whether you go for neutral or dramatic colors, there’s nothing more flattering than a shade that stands out, lasts the entire day, and won’t won’t smudge into creases. But a good palette no longer means a $54 dent in your budget.
“The naked palette from Urban Decay—which I do like—seems to be the only pallet most [people] seem to think is available,” says New York celebrity makeup artist, Chris Lanston, who’s worked with James Van Der Beek and Robin Thicke. As it turns out, though, there are many others to choose from.
Try Instead: NYX Professional Makeup Ultimate Shadow Packet
Going out for the night? The 16 rich shades in this set range from mattes and metallics to shimmers and satins for a mesmerizing finish.
Create a sultry, bold look for under $20!
8. Marc Jacobs Re(Marc)Able Full Cover Foundation Concentrate
The first rule about wearing foundation: You never want to feel it on you. And this is especially true if you’re acne-prone or have an oily complexion. While Marc Jacobs is widely buzzed about, its formula doesn’t fare well on all skin types.
Try Instead: Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Foundation
Wear it in hot or humid weather for coverage that goes above and beyond. Just a few dabs go a long way, and unlike other foundations, this one is definitely worth the cost.
Wear it for flawless matte coverage that’s both lightweight and comfortable to wear all day. Perfect when traveling or those all-day meetings.
9. Charlotte Tilbury Instant Hollywood False-Lash Effect Mascara
Rather than pay $32 for a tube that might smudge under your eyes in a matter of hours, switch over to a mascara that costs less than your daily latte and leaves virtually no flakes.
Try Instead: L’Oréal Volume-Building Mascara
Rest easy knowing your dramatic look won’t end in a clumpy disaster by smoothing out lashes with this allergy-tested formula.
This mascara is also fragrance-free and recommended for sensitive eyes or contact-lens wearers.
10. BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter
If you’re not a fan of the glittery Twilight look, Becca’s shimmering pressed highlighter may not be for you. But that shouldn’t stop you from having lush, luminous skin.
Try Instead: NARS Illuminator
This light reflecting liquid casts quite the spell with its ultra-weightless texture. The subtle formula will make any winter skin look alive.
Wear it as a highlighter, or mix it in with your favorite foundation for a gorgeous touch of shimmer that won’t startle your friends.
11. Tarte Shape Tape Concealer
Here’s a truth: I can’t live without my concealer. If I had to choose one and only one item to take with me on a trip, the right concealer is a close tie with my faithful eyeliner. There’s nothing a good concealer can’t do—hide dark circles, even out skin tone, and, more importantly, give you that elusive well-rested look. For this reason, you want a formula that gives you coverage without looking too obvious.
Try Instead: NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer
While pricier than Tarte’s Shape Tape, this long-wearing and crease-proof formula layers easily without caking.
And unlike other overhyped concealers, this one won’t make your skin break out.
12. Lipstick Queen Frog Prince Lipstick
If shade-transforming lipstick is your thing, why not opt for one that won’t cost you $25? Queen Frog Prince gets a lot of buzz, but there are more budget-friendly alternatives that have the exact same concept.
Try Instead: Barry M Genie Color Change Lip Paint
For less than half the price, watch your lips magically turn from green to a long-lasting shade of pink.
Aside from getting your shade-changing fix, this lip paint actually stays on for a solid eight hours!
13. Handy Mixture Nylon & Boar Bristle Hair Brush by Mason Pearson
Finding the right hairbrush for your texture can give you a completely new look and also protect your hair’s health. But fear not; you don’t have to spend $150 to tame your unruly mane.
Try Instead: Wigo Cushion 100 Percent Boar Bristle Brush
Whatever your hair length (but especially for longer hair), WIGO’s bristles will give you that added smoothness.
Try it for an extra-sleek blowout on medium to thin strands.
14. Clinique Almost Lipstick – Black Honey
There’s nothing worse than falling in love with a lipstick shade only to have it end up chapping your lips—it’s almost perfect, but not good enough. If you’re not thrilled with Clinique’s formula (or price, at around $20 per tube), we’ve found a smoother-looking alternative.
Try Instead: Oh Sugar! Tinted Lip Balm Soda
The name alone sounds yummy. Infused with grapeseed oil and avocado butter, it’s like therapy for your lips (no, not that kind—whatcha thinkin’?).
Get your favorite shade in a nourishing balm for only a fraction of the cost!
15. Anastasia Beverly Hills DIPBROW Pomade
Obsessed with those ultra-defined brows you see all over social media? We feel you. A good pomade can give you that dramatic flair, but make sure the texture doesn’t dry out.
Try Instead: Milani Stay Put Brow Color
Compared to DIPBROW’S $18 pomade, with Milani you get a creamy, waterproof texture that stays moist for longer.
Pro tip: Try it in dark brown for a more natural finish.
16. Kat Von D Tattoo Liner Liquid Eyeliner
When it comes to liquid liners, you want a pencil that’s not going to smudge or fade after applying. While Kat Von D works great for many, others have found it streakier than they’d like.
Try Instead: Rimmel London Color Precise Eyeliner
Create precise lines or thick dramatic looks with Rimmel’s sweat and humidity-proof pencil. The liner glides on smoothly and gives you a flawless look that won’t budge.
Pro tip: For smoldering, smokey eyes, Lanston suggests using an old black pencil liner after burning the pencil wax for three seconds.
“Let it cool and apply,” Langston says. “It stays on all day and [is] super dark.”
17. Urban Decay All Nighter Makeup Setting Spray
We get it. You’ve heard the hype and find yourself tempted by the allure of avoiding makeup meltdown. But as it turns out, you can get the exact same value as All Nighter without dishing out $32.
Try Instead: Elf Makeup Mist & Set Spray
With just a few sprays, Elf’s refreshing formula (made with aloe, green tea, and cucumber) will give your makeup staying power and hydrate your skin. Just hold the bottle at arm’s length and lightly mist over your makeup.
Bonus: Elf’s cosmetics are all cruelty-free and vegan—so you can also feel good about wearing them.
18. Too Faced Born This Way Liquid Foundation
Unless you have ultra-dry skin, you might find Born This Way on the greasier (and orangey) side. No worries, though. If you’re on the hunt for a long-wear foundation that will give you more value for your buck, we’ve got you covered.
Try Instead: Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Weightless Foundation SPF 15
More than anything, what you want is your skin to breathe and for any foundation to feel weightless or “barely there.” This ultra-silky formula will not only stay on for an astounding 16 hours, it won’t crease, and it will withstand humidity.
The foundation is also formulated without parabens or sulfates, and is ideal for normal to oily skin types. Well, I’m sold.
19. Kylie Cosmetics Lip Kit
“Anything Kylie Jenner is a bit overrated,” Lanston says, “but I give her credit for living her best life.”
We agree! Lanston adds that we can easily find the same value (and a similar formula) while also paying less.
Try Instead: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Weightless and highly pigmented, this creamy lipstick gives you intense color without drying out your lips.
It’s also enriched with vitamin and avocado oil for added softness and hydration. We recommend pairing your smokey eyes with Stila’s nude Angelo shade.
20. Physicians Formula Powder Palette Mineral Glow Pearls
“Certain highlighting products with extreme high-beam power, like Physicians Formula Pearl—I believe—can make you look like a landing strip at night at an airport,” says Lanston. He recommends using more subtle highlighters you can build on, with lots of options for shades.
Try Instead: NYX Highlight & Contour Palette
After putting on your foundation, use the palette to enhance features like your cheekbones, nose, and jawline. First, apply the deeper (darker) powders to any spot you’d like to shade and define, and then add the lighter highlighting colors on areas to emphasize.
Pro tip: Use it for perfecting a dramatic brow.