The Differences Between Drugstore Makeup And High-End Makeup

Is all makeup created equal? Read on to find out what our experts had to say.

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If you love makeup or other beauty products, you probably have your go-to brands that routinely fill your makeup bag—and some are probably expensive. But with that higher price tag, are you automatically getting a better product? High-end makeup aficionados often claim their products have better quality ingredients than their drugstore counterparts. Nevertheless, a quick scroll through your Instagram feed shows makeup fans everywhere achieving incredible looks with drugstore brands as well. In the battle of makeup types, which type reigns supreme? Here’s my personal makeup confession: I buy almost all of my beauty products from department stores or high-end retailers. The extra cost is justifiable because I work from home, I mostly reserve my pricey makeup for special occasions, and the products last for months. As I’m darting out of the department store, the highly saturated pigments of lipsticks and blushes capture my attention. Plus, I’m lured in by the promise of a mascara that won’t flake or a high-shine lip gloss that creates the perfect pout. At different times in my life, though, I’ve used my fair share of drugstore cosmetics. In my college years, the price point of drugstore brands was more affordable to me, and I loved experimenting with the newest products on the market. If I had any issues with an item I’d purchased, I could easily exchange or return it. But somewhere along the line, I stopped using drugstore makeup altogether, and I began to believe the best cosmetics came from high-end retailers. In my search to find quality beauty products, was it necessary for me to switch from drugstore makeup to high-end cosmetics? Or could I have found great products at both price points? To compare these two makeup categories, I spoke to several experts—a cosmetic chemist, a geneticist, a pharmacist, and a makeup artist—to gather insights across a variety of cosmetic specialties and find out the differences between drugstore makeup and high-end makeup. Suffice to say, it might be worth revisiting the products you’ve been using—after all, you may find some items are worth the splurge and others are worth the save.

All ingredients aren’t created equal.

Soraya Ali-Hope has some knowledge about the cosmetics industry; she’s worked in it for 34 years. “All ingredients are not created equal,” says the president, founder, and cosmetic chemist for the Octagon Marketing Group, which helps producers formulate cosmetics. “Raw materials can be sourced from different countries and may be extracted from natural sources or synthesized in the laboratory.” In general, the mass-market brands like CoverGirl or Revlon incorporate more synthetic and less expensive ingredients into their products. On the other hand, high-end products, like MAC or Bobbi Brown, often have premium formulations, higher quality ingredients, more pigment, and include more costly technologies in the creation of those products. Ali-Hope says high-end makeup brands regularly utilize “advanced chemistry for both liquids and dry powders.” Frequently, high-end makeup has cleaner ingredients, fewer fillers, and a range of shades to suit your skin’s individual needs, and they may have a performance advantage over their drugstore “dupes” (less-expensive products that are similar to high-end versions). Additionally, many drugstore lines have professional makeup artists test and promote their products after they have launched in store. With high-end cosmetics, it’s not uncommon for them to have artists involved in the formulation of each collection from start to finish.

The quantity of the ingredients varies.

Do two products that purportedly contain the same active ingredients perform the same? Not necessarily. Consumers may not be aware that companies will promote their products as containing particular ingredients…while the quantity of those special ingredients vary among brands. Therefore, you might not get the same beneficial results from one product to another. “There are definitely differences in ingredients and formulations for high-end brands over drugstore brands, particularly in the clinical quantity used in the formulations,” explains Neal Kitchen, chief geneticist and COO at makeup brand HydroPeptide. “Peptides (short chains of amino acids) are a great example of ingredients where the type of peptide and the quantity of the peptide are both essential for how effective the ingredient will be on your skin.” Two brands could market the same ingredient but have significantly different results on the skin, explains Kitchen, if one brand is using it for marketing purposes rather than the clinical impact.

It’s a case of convenience versus performance.

Peter Matravers, PharmD, chief scientific officer for makeup seller Arbonne, explains the uses for high-end and drugstore brand makeup. “For daily maintenance, functionality, and simple needs, I would say stick to mass-market brands if budget is an issue. Not all of your products need to be premium,” he says. “Beyond general maintenance,” he continues, “you want to be aware of your specific needs that would benefit from premium, more performance-based formulas that deliver better results.” Don’t go running off to high-end retailers just yet! At the end of the day, there seems to be a place for both drugstore and high-end cosmetics in your makeup bag. Drugstore brands formulate their products with affordability in mind. High-end products, on the other hand, are formulated to better suit an individual’s preference and goals, meaning the products serve more specific functions in your beauty routine.

What does the makeup artist have to say?

Chicago-based makeup artist, Vanessa Valliant from Valliant Beauty, says, that high-end products “tend to have a better range of classic colors for customers. While they may showcase a certain collection each season, they aren’t solely focused on trends. However, drugstore makeup brands love to pour out every trendy color that hits the market each season.” Valliant—whose customer base includes celebrities, brides, fashion models, and everyday women—primarily favors high-end makeup brands due to their consistent formulations and wide range of pigments for each skin tone. Drugstore brands, though, have the advantage when it comes to price point and experimentation. They can also be helpful when trying out new products (like the latest matte lipstick or a metallic eyeshadow you’ve been curious about) without committing to a higher cost. Although not all ingredients are created equal, Vaillant says it’s all about the application of the makeup that can make or break your look. “Anyone can take drugstore or high-end makeup and blend them to perfection on the skin, achieving an overall, amazing makeup look,” she says. “There are a few high-end makeup lines that have more longevity due to their waterproof ingredients. But for the most part, with the proper application, you can achieve longevity out of both drugstore and high-end cosmetics.” Valliant tells her clients that there are some products worth the extra investment; additionally, she tells them there are drugstore items that work well and won’t cost them a small fortune. Ultimately, the choice as to which makeup is right for you depends on your skin’s needs, the goals you have for the product, your likes and dislikes when it comes to specific cosmetics brands, and your budget.

So, when should you splurge? When should you save?


Valliant recommends buying skincare products, foundation, a well-made set of brushes, and lipstick from high-end brands. “Beautiful makeup begins with healthy skin. I love a good skincare line like Kiehl’s because your skin is the largest organ, and it must be hydrated daily. Plus, they have a wide range of products to fit your skin type,” she says. “Also, it’s important to spend a little extra money on foundation … because it tends to perform better on the skin, and it’s created to mimic the look of real skin. My personal choices for foundations and concealers are by Tom Ford and Dior.” For brushes,” she continues, “I like NARS. Well-crafted brushes last longer; they’re softer on the skin and are more tailored to specific areas of the face. Lastly, purchase your lipsticks from a high-end brand like Bobbi Brown. There are many colors and textures to choose from, and they’re designed for a variety of skin tones. You can’t go wrong with a lipstick like that!”


Valliant suggests purchasing mascara, eyeshadow palettes, blushers, highlighters, and eye pencils at the drugstore. “Maybelline mascara is hands down the best mascara on the market—you’ll find one in every professional makeup artist’s kit,” she says. “If you’re looking for the latest trends, NYX carries the latest eyeshadow palettes, blushes, highlighters, and eye pencils. Nowadays, you can find a wide range of products to fit your budget and needs at most drugstores.”

What’s our takeaway: Drug Store or High-End Makeup?

Regardless of whether you prefer drugstore cosmetics or high-end makeup brands, it’s important to focus on what best suits your skin’s needs, from the price point to the wearability of the product. In the long run, the makeup brands that are right for you are the ones that nurture your skin and help you look and feel your best—regardless of the differences in how they’re made or where you bought them.