8 Budget Makeup Favorites (Plus a Beauty Industry Secret)

8 Budget Makeup Favorites

A couple of years ago, I published a list of what I keep in my makeup kit. Products (and people) change, so I thought it would be fun to give that post a make-over.

I’m one of those people who feels a little undressed without makeup, so just like my morning shower and coffee, eyeliner is an essential part of my routine. And, thanks to a couple of insider tips, I no longer feel like I’m missing out when I pass those luxury makeup counters at Bloomingdales.  (More on that later.)

Here is what I’m using now:

1.  Tinted Moisturizer

More of a tint than a moisturizer, this very light foundation needs to be applied along with lotion so that it spreads on easily. I’ve tried others and I like Neutrogena’s Healthy Skin Glow Sheers because it’s lightweight in both consistency and color.

2.  Concealer

To hide those dark under-eye circles I’ve always had, I sweep on L’oreal’s True Match Super-Blendable Crayon Concealer, which I discovered is a good alternative to the famous $70 Clé de Peau concealer.

I have also tried and like Neutrogena 3-in-1 Concealer for Eyes, which is not cakey or too bright.

3.  Eye Shadow De-Creaser

A common problem is when eyeshadow or liner transfers to the upper lids, usually due to oily lids or heavy upper lids.  The best defense against this makeup mishap is to use an eyeshadow primer in addition to a waterproof eyeliner (more on that soon).

A lot of makeup companies make eyeshadow bases, but I found L’Oreal De-Crease from the drugstore, and it works great.

4.  Blush

When I wanted to create a natural, no-makeup look that I saw in Real Simple magazine, I used a birthday gift card to buy the hilarious yet irresistibly named multi-purpose blush stick from Nars called The Multiple in its most popular color, Orgasm.

When that ran out and I didn’t feel like paying $39 for blush, I found an Orgasm equivalent: Milani Baked Blush in Luminoso for $8.

Tip:  To find a low-cost alternative to pricey cosmetics, do a web search for the product name followed by the word “dupe.” 

5.  Eyeliner

Revlon’s ColorStay liquid liner was recommended theater makeup at the Syracuse Children’s Theater

When my daughter Virginia was cast in Aristocats a few years ago and the theater director required kid performers to buy Revlon ColorStay Liquid Liner, I knew it must be an unusual product. In fact, it really does stay.

So when the show was over, I slipped it in my own makeup bag and have used it for years.  I’m currently using the créme gel version of the Revlon ColorStay line, which doesn’t require as steady of a hand as the liquid liner, and has a little softer (and less permanent) look.

6.  Eyeshadow

When I was living in New York, I met a guy who worked at the corporate headquarters of L’Oreal. He told me that,

Secret:  L’Oreal drugstore cosmetics are made with the same exact ingredients as their luxury department store brand, Lancôme.

So why pay four times as much and get upsold by a beautiful saleswoman, when you can toss basically the same product into your basket at CVS and be out of there for $4?

I like L’Oreal eyeshadow (Studio Secrets Professional Eye Shadow Singles) and I’ve been using the smooth latte color forever.

7.  Mascara

Mascara is a perfect place to save on makeup since magazines are always saying how their favorites are run-of-the-mill products like Maybelline Great Lash.  (Maybelline’s parent company is also L’Oreal, by the way.)  Right now I’m using Maybelline’s Full ‘N Soft waterproof mascara in Very Black.

Why waterproof?  I used to get waterproof mascara in high school because (a) I dreamed of being part of the kind of torrid love affair that you see in the movies where they fight in the rain, and (b) I used to laugh so hard I would cry, quite frequently. I still sometimes do that (b not a) but mainly I just want to avoid looking like a raccoon.

8.  Tinted Lip Gloss

Frequency of kissing is the reason I made the switch from lipstick to chapstick. It’s not what you think. When I had my first baby, I was overcome with the urge to kiss her five million times a day. And why would I want to cover that porcelain skin with Revlon’s “wine with everything”?

This glorified chapstick — Nivea Kiss of Care & Color — is smooth and soft and gives me just a hint of color.

Do you have a valuable beauty product that doesn’t cost a lot?

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  • Nina August 2, 2014, 9:57 am

    Hey Tragic, I like Origins too, especially their makeup remover. I swear it’s the only thing that works.

    My most inexpensive makeup is, like you said, mascara. I see zero difference between high end and drugstore versions. And lip gloss.

    Everything else though I tend to get brand name. The cheaper versions don’t work when I compare. My trick is to use makeup in general as sparingly as I can. :)

    • Amy August 3, 2014, 10:56 am

      Hi Nina,

      I agree — less is usually more when it comes to makeup, and for me, some is better than none.

      Thanks for the tip on the Origins make-up remover. I love face-cleansing towelettes — they’re expensive but you can find generic versions on sale.

      Take care,

  • Julie Crafton July 31, 2014, 1:55 am


    I love that you wrote this post! As a fellow frugal minded person I often feel guilty spending money on myself. It’s nice to be reminded that it’s OK to pamper myself a little bit – and all the better if it’s a steal of a deal at the drugstore.

    I too discovered Milani Baked Blush in Luminoso a few years ago and have been using it ever since. I can’t wait to try some of these other products, the purchase of which will be made all the sweeter with my $3.50 Ulta Beauty coupon.


    • Amy August 3, 2014, 10:53 am

      Hi Julie,

      So great that you have some free spending money, and that it will definitely go toward some mom pampering!


  • Charlene Ross July 30, 2014, 5:18 pm

    Fabulous! Thank you so much for this. Especially the mascara tip – heading off to vacation in a few days and need a waterproof mascara. I’ll definitely be picking up the Maybelline.

    And I had always hoped that was true about L’Oreal – good to know that it is! :)

    • Amy August 3, 2014, 10:52 am

      Good to hear from you, Charlene. Have a great trip!


  • Candy Lyons July 30, 2014, 4:27 pm

    And I thought I was the only one who had Nars “orgasm” blush. I love it; have loved it since a nice man named Kenny gave me a make over and used it. Don’t particularly love the name, but it’s a great color.

    • Amy August 3, 2014, 10:51 am

      Hi Candy,

      So funny that you have the Nars blush too. I think it’s mythic.


  • Jen @ Jen Spends July 29, 2014, 12:31 pm

    Thanks for the updates, Amy! I’ve pinned a few of these to try myself. I’m especially thrilled that you found a dupe for the blush. Everyone swears by Nars, but it’s so expensive! I’m not serious enough about makeup to justify that cost.

    • Amy August 3, 2014, 10:49 am

      Hey Jen,

      I know, that Nars dupe is valuable. The Milani one is a bit more organge-y, but I like that it’s made in Italy!

      Take care,

  • J.Lee July 29, 2014, 12:25 am

    Fun list! I hear so much buzz about the Milani Baked that I will have to try it for myself. Eye concealers are a must have mid 30’s+ but I’m sort of obsessed with Maybelline Dream Lumi in Radiant. I hate to say this but the coverage is comparable to YSL Touche Eclat, I swear it. I go through it like crazy but with that under the eyes and dabbed on a red spot and some mascara (Lancome Hypnose Drama- splurge) I feel totally ready to go. I also love Baby Lips from Maybelline in Quench (clear). It goes on morning and night. So fun. Thanks for sharing!

    • Amy August 3, 2014, 10:48 am

      Hi J.Lee,

      Great to hear about your Maybelline favorites — thank you!


  • Victoria February 22, 2012, 12:04 am

    Amy, this is great advice and all, but all of these brands and products are made up of synthetically generated compounds. If you were to say, share some natural or organic budget friendly option, now that would be a real find!!! Natural make up is really good for you compared to the conventional stuff with parabens, SLS, phthalates, and other petroleum derived preservatives. Too bad it’s not so good for the wallet! :)


    • Amy February 22, 2012, 7:28 pm

      Hi Victoria,

      I hear you. And I had another reader point out the eco- and animal-friendly aspect. It’s true that I didn’t really consider these issues, even though I love anything all natural, including animals. :-)

      As you intimate, these products have become specialty and therefore expensive. I bet there are some formulas that we could make a home, although I don’t know how good I would look as a result!

      Anyway, I appreciate your stopping by to voice your concerns and tell me about your interests.

      Take care,

    • J.Lee July 29, 2014, 12:14 am

      @Victoria, do you have any recommendations or favorites of your own that are natural? It’s a really good idea to buy things with less harmful ingredients but so hard to find ones that actually work well. Since you seem very concerned, you probably have a few choice favorites. Can you share?

  • Rachel February 19, 2012, 11:19 am

    Loved this peak inside your make-up bag. I find almost all of my make-up finds are from friends (or websites like this) that have recommended them. I rarely go into a cosmetics store without knowing exactly what I’m buying because I’ve read great reviews (like this) or had a friend recommend something. Helps for avoiding impulse purchases.

    I think I’m adding eye shadow de-creaser to my small arsenal of make-up!

    • Amy February 20, 2012, 2:25 pm

      Hi Rachel,

      I agree that it’s best not to go into a store not knowing what you want, or what the best products are. I love product reviews, and hearing what friends like too. I hope the eye shadow decreaser works for you too!

      Take care,

  • Elizabeth February 17, 2012, 2:04 pm

    Great post!!!!
    My good friend Chuck who does opera hair and wigs and makeup says the same thing: it’s all the same and Maybelline great lash is the best mascara!!! I agree on all points –
    Except one. I splurge on the tinted moisturizer and use Bobbie Brown which is the best thing I have ever found. EVER. IT makes my skin look 20 again…and one more thing. Bobbie b has a lips and cheeks in one little pot thing- sometes I’ll even use it for eyeshadow too. So I save there- and I bet you can get one of those at CVS. like a cream blusher that you also put on lips, then cover w Chapstick.

    • Amy February 17, 2012, 2:13 pm

      Wow, 20-year-old skin! Now that’s a strong endorsement. I might just have to check out Bobbie Brown tinted moisturizer when mine runs out. Or ask for it for my birthday again…

      I love those multi-purpose products like the blush you mention. If we are concerned about expiration, it would be better to buy things that get used up fast.

      Thanks for writing in!


  • Cornelia February 16, 2012, 8:53 pm

    I just started using Skinceuticals tinted sunblock, after having a consultation at a plastic surgeons office. The aesthetician told me that a physical block offers the best protection against the sun. Skinceuticals is 50 SPF. she also told me to smooth it over my skin..and do not rub it into my face..it should lay on top of your skin. I use it as fou ration most days…it has decent coverage. Plus it’s not too expensive (30.00)
    She ALSO suggested I use vitamin C serum with Ferulic acid during the day. I bought the Skinceuticals version, which was very nice but way pricey (80.00) so once it ran out I got another brand via Amazon…I forget the brand but it was much cheaper (23.00) and I think it has similar effects.

    • Amy February 17, 2012, 2:10 pm

      Hi Cornelia,

      Thanks for sharing some tips from your aesthetician! I don’t think I would normally get that kind of professional advice. How do you like Skinceuticals? Is it greasy like many sunblocks?

      By the way, the tinted moisturizer by Neutrogena that I use is SPF 30. I wonder if your aesthetician would approve.

      And good tip re finding similar but cheaper products on Amazon. It’s usually worth a try.

      Thanks for writing in, Cornelia!


      • Cornelia February 21, 2012, 1:25 pm

        Hi Amy,

        The difference between Skinceuticals sunblock and many others is that it blocks with zinc oxide; its a physical block instead of a chemical block. I was told that a physical block offers better protection than chemical.

        Most other sunblocks use chemical sunblocks like oxybenzone…

        • Amy February 22, 2012, 7:29 pm

          Oh, I see! How do you think it wears as compared to chemical sunblocks?

  • lynn February 16, 2012, 11:31 am

    Love your suggestions. Am always looking for a tinted moisturizer/lipstick so will try Nivea.
    But ladies, please do heed the warning about not using old mascara. Once I had to undergo outpatient surgery to remove a chalazion (small bump on eyelid) thought to be caused by bacteria from mascara clogging an eyelid duct. Replace every 3-6 months is the recommendation.

    • Amy February 16, 2012, 2:09 pm

      To cover all the bases, I checked on FDA regulations for cosmetic expiration dates. There are no hard and fast rules, but they do say anything that is used around the eyes should be tossed after a few months. You can read more at the Budget Fashionista: http://www.thebudgetfashionista.com/archive/makeup-expiration-dates/

      Maybe safety should preclude frugality, and I should spend $10 on a new compact of pressed powder…

      Thanks for your thoughts, everyone!


  • Elizabds February 16, 2012, 7:26 am

    Hey silly! You’re STILL in your 30s! (heh heh, right?)

    I have two makeup consultants (sister and good friend) and I never read the mags that “tell” you what to buy, so this kind of info is helpful. Love the secret; I’ll pass on to my consultants. Anyway, sister and good friend advise what makeup to use and I use it for the next decade until they issue a new edict. Simple. Interestingly, Bare Escentuals was my last pronounced makeup and someone, somewhere (their competitor?) told me you shoudn’t breathe the stuff, but since I live in the dessert, I don’t worry too much about a few more particulates in my air…

    Also, agree with you about “old” makeup. Since I’m lazy and don’t have eye issues (pink eye, etc.), I use my mascara for decades–until the stuff runs out, but of course the magazines advise (per health concerns?) you change it like a toothbrush.

    Finally, not 100% on topic, but sometimes I feel more “powerful” when I skip makeup and just go out with a bit of lip color (okay cheating) and embrace my splotchy skin tone. Mostly, I do this when running errands. If supermodels do it, why shouldn’t we? :)

    • Amy February 16, 2012, 1:52 pm

      Hi Eliza,

      I love that your sister and good friend are your beauty consultants. Sometimes it’s so refreshing to just have someone say, “buy this.” Too much choice is overwhelming.

      And the no-makeup power is not off-topic at all. I see what you are saying — the I can do anything attitude — is so freeing.

      Take care,

  • Amy Stockton February 15, 2012, 9:48 pm

    Hey – I’m confused – are you saying you are using or advocating using powder from pre-wedding days? That doesn’t sound “clean.”

    • Amy February 15, 2012, 10:23 pm

      Hi Amy,

      Yes, it’s true, I am using powder I started eleven years ago. I’m not advocating using old makeup, especially if this kind of thing grosses you out. :-)


  • Jen @ Jen Spends February 15, 2012, 7:20 pm

    Posts like this are so helpful to me! I do like to wear a bit of makeup, but was never taught what to buy, so I’ve been winging it for years. I do really like L’Oreal products (and had no idea there was a connection to Lancome). I’ve been using their True Match foundation for a long time, but now I find it a bit too heavy and fussy since I’m not working anymore. The color matching is impeccable, though. I like their True Match blush as well. I’m very happy to see a tinted moisturizer recommendation that I can afford–I’ll have to pick some up next time I’m out.

    • Amy February 15, 2012, 8:57 pm

      Hi Jen,

      Thanks for telling us about True Match foundation and blush. I’d never heard of that. I think I’ll check it out soon when I’m ready to not buy another $39 NARS blusher.

      I hope the Neutrogena tinted moisturizer works well for you too!


  • Tragic Sandwich February 15, 2012, 11:54 am

    I haven’t worn makeup in so long that I don’t even know what I have at the moment–I do like Origins, which isn’t the cheapest but is far from the most expensive. I rarely wear eye makeup, because after a few hours it makes my eyes sting, no matter how hypoallergenic the brand may be.

    Maybe when Baguette is a little older, I’ll be able to revisit makeup. I’ll need new products by then, anyhow!

    • Amy February 15, 2012, 8:55 pm

      Hey there T.S.,

      Hey, if you’re naturally beautiful and/or self-confident enough not to wear make-up, more power to you!

      I’m sorry to hear about the eye stinging though. Products have come a long way. Maybe you could find something super all-natural?

      Thanks for sharing your perspective,

      • Tragic Sandwich February 15, 2012, 10:25 pm

        My husband would say I’m that beautiful–I would go with confidence. I’m sure it’s a time issue! Actually I’d like to get back in the habit, but my mornings are just too crowded at the moment.