I've spent my entire beauty-obsessed life (so basically 6th grade and beyond) spending entirely too much money on makeup. And skincare. And bottles of shampoo and conditioner and volumizer. I'm not precisely sure why or when my middle school self decided reasonably priced drugstore finds were beneath me, but I have a hunch it was around the same time I subscribed to virtually every beauty magazine, combing through the glossy pages cover to cover like religion. I decided early on I wanted to become a beauty editor or a makeup artist, and at the time, I thought I needed an understanding of only the most expensive, cult classic, holy grail beauty products in order to be successful (a super-misguided conception, I've come to realize).
Of course, there have been a select few drugstore offerings I've monogamously stood by over the years (CoverGirl LashBlast Volume Mascara $9, I'll love you forever), but for the most part, I've been a complete brand snob. I realize this isn't exactly an attractive admission, but it's a 100% honest one all the same. However, after first getting my start in the industry as an intern for Byrdie, then graduating to assistant beauty editor, and then landing a dream job as associate beauty editor here at Who What Wear), I've slowly been proven increasingly wrong as far as the worthiness and quality of drugstore makeup.
Turns out, beauty editors, celebrities, and even makeup artists (the pickiest of the picky) totally love a great drugstore find. The rub? Not all drugstore offerings are created equal, and there are only certain beauty staples makeup artists recommend reaching for at the drugstore.
Since there's some strategy involved and since I don't want you to end up like me (succumbing my paychecks to prestige makeup and prestige makeup, alone), we're sharing which beauty products makeup artists say are worth the investment and which beauty products worth the save. Oh, and we also asked them to share all of their favorite formulas with us—save and splurge alike. Ahead, the very best product investments according to four of the industry's best makeup artists. Keep scrolling!
Even though cult-classic liners from beloved brands like MAC and Charlotte Tilbury are often favorited by makeup artists and beauty editors, lip liners are one beauty staple makeup artists agree you can and should grab at the drugstore. Although liners aren't essential, they can lend a helping hand where precision and durability are concerned—especially if you're one to opt for a statement-making color. Celebrity makeup artist Ash K Holm, who counts lip-blessed beauties like Shay Mitchell and Kim Kardashian as clients, recommends this shape-perfecting pick from Maybelline.
"I would say lip gloss is something you can definitely buy in a drugstore," celebrity makeup artist Morgane Martini confirms. "You can still get good quality for your money and are usually safe to use without having to fear allergies or skin reactions."
We're big fans of this cheekily named number from Soap & Glory, and although the gloss only comes in three colors, the trio manages to look ultra-flattering on every skin tone.
Are you noticing a trend yet? All four makeup artists we talked to mentioned any lip-related beauty product is probably okay to shop for at the drugstore thanks to consistent and dependable quality. (Thrilling news as we love to have as many color options as possible in our collection.) Oh, and if you're not sure where to start, Adele's go-to makeup artist Michael Ashton has your back.
"Everyone should have the perfect nude lipstick in their makeup bag as it is a classic beauty look that's perfect for daytime but also looks elegant with a smoky eye for the evening," he tells us. He loves this line of lippies from Maybelline in particular thanks to the hydrating ingredients and shade range. Plus, if you're in a pinch, he says you can use the ultra-moisturizing formula as an on-the-go blush alternative.
That being said, if you don't want to go with lipstick as your blush, Ashton says saving money on an actual blush is totally fine too. “When it comes to creating a natural looking flush to the cheeks, I prefer to work with cream blusher," he shares. "This bendable cream formula works well applied with either the fingertips or a buffing brush as it melts into the skin giving a seamless application of color."
Does it get better than a $4 blush that's approved by the same man who's behind Adele's glow? We think not.
Clear Brow Gel
“Well-groomed brows frame any makeup look, and this gel brow gel is perfect for brushing brow hairs into place so you can see what areas you need to shape and fill," says Ashton. As for his application MO, he likes to use a clear brow gel first, which gives your pencil something to adhere to and therefore keeps your brow game perfectly in place for longer.
"I love Ardell individual lashes for my clients, and they are super affordable!" celebrity makeup artist Tobi Henney exclaims. "Lashes do not need to be expensive to look amazing."
Martini is also a fan of getting lashes at the drugstore and says these handy multipacks from Kiss Lashes (which include five pairs!) are her go-to for creating a showstopping red carpet moment.
All four makeup artists agreed that an amazing skincare routine is the at the heart of an amazing makeup look. And while they recommend investing in your serums and moisturizers (don't fret, we'll get there!), they say reaching for a less-expensive cleanser is an acceptable compromise. After all, it won't stay on your face as long as products like serum and cream. Martini loves the facial cleansers from dermatologist-approved brand Cetaphil, and Ashton tends to reach for the above hydrating formula from La Roche-Posay.
“French pharmacy skincare brands are renowned for both quality and efficacy. What I love about this cream cleanser is how gentle it is on the skin while effectively removing makeup and impurities," he explains. "I always like to do a double-cleanse as the first wash will remove any product and pollutants, while the second cleanse allows the product ingredients to really penetrate and treat the skin.”
Even though there are plenty of splurge-worthy mascaras makeup artists love (Ashton recommends Hourglass Caution Extreme Lash Mascara $29), many makeup artists also agree that mascaras don't need to be spendy in order to yield super-fluttery results.
"I love to own a great mascara for voluminous lashes, and the best part is that it doesn’t have to be expensive," says Henney. This iconic tube from Maybelline has been an industry go-to for years, and Henney says it gets the job done perfectly.
We're the first to admit we fall weak at the knees at the mere sight of a drop-dead and ridiculously high-priced eye shadow palette, but according to our team of makeup pros, cheaper alternatives can provide results that are just as mesmerizing.
"I love Colour Pop Eyeshadows, as they have brilliant pigments and are very affordable," Henney shares. "As for application, I like to layer these on top of a cream product as a base, which will allow your eye shadow to last from day to night!"
Remember what we said earlier about makeup artists prioritizing skincare? According to artists like Henney and Ashton, serums are one of the most important components for achieving flawless makeup.
"As for beauty investments,100% skincare products!" exclaims Henney. Definitely splurge on great serums with vitamin A. I can’t live without Rationale 1 and 2 serums to start my daily skincare routine—and I have never found two products that have helped so much with my acne and pigmentation issues.
"For me, there are a few product categories that are worth their weight in gold, and you really do get what you pay for. I will always splurge on fantastic moisturizer," says Ashton. "Having quickly become one of the favorite creams of the Hollywood A-List, this luxe moisturizer helps stimulate the skin's cell renewal for a brighter and more youthful appearance. I love to use this as a base before foundation as it quickly hydrates and plumps the skin, creating the perfect base for foundation."
Even though $21 is a pretty penny where eyelash curlers are concerned, we spot this cult-classic curler in almost every artist-approved kit we snoop in. Ashton reveals why: "Not all eyelash curlers are created equal, and this one is the best in its class. Designed with a slightly wider and ultra-comfortable silicon pad, this will help you achieve the perfect curl to your lashes that will open up the eye shape."
A Bronze & Highlight Duo
Of course, you can splurge on bronzers and highlighters separately, but why spend the extra cash when you can get a makeup artist–approved pick that does both in one fell swoop?
"Charlotte Tilbury's Filmstar Bronze and Glow ($68) is a staple bronzer and highlighter I definitely recommend to invest in," says Henney. "Additionally, Tom Ford's Shade and Illuminate ($85) is a brilliant creamy contour and highlight palette. Try applying the highlight with your finger and tap on the product to the tops of the cheekbones for a glassy skin–like sheen!"
"Investing in the right foundation for your skin type is so important for creating a flawless makeup look," Holm shares. "Next to skincare, the foundation you wear is just as important. We all have different skin tones, textures, and skin types, so it's important to be mindful of these things when choosing your formula. For example, if you have dry skin, you need a foundation that is going to keep your skin hydrated throughout the day. I'm in love with Dior Forever Skin and Dior Forever Skin Glow Foundations. This line ranges from a dewy hydrated texture to a 24-hour matte finish. Plus, there are choices for all skin tones."
Having the right tools to apply your makeup is also important, so Holm doesn't recommend skimping when it comes to your brush selection. She says brushes with have soft fibers make for a more seamless finish. "Say Mé's handcrafted brushes are the softest brushes I've ever tried. The fibers feel so soft and dreamy against your skin and make your liquid and powder formulas glide on across your face."
Last but not least, when it comes to getting what you pay for makeup product-wise, Ashton says investing in a high-quality eyeliner is one of the best things you can do for your eye makeup aesthetic.
"With an amazing shade range, these gel liner pencils have a fantastic formula that will give you great color payoff and long wear. Try using alone as an eyeliner or blend over the eyelid as a base before applying eye shadow.”