Let's face it, the amount of cash we spend on beauty products can get out of hand pretttty quickly, especially when we keep trying to replace products that end up not suiting us with other products. Then we see this new product, then that even newer product...before we know it we're hundreds in the hole living off ramen for the foreseeable future.
Our arsenals can be overflowing with products we never got around to returning, and stuff we're totally over (rainbow highlighter anyone?), yet we're always scoping out the never-ending onslaught of new products and sometimes our eyes are just bigger than our budgets.
Fortunately, drugstore products afford us a bit more leeway when it comes to preserving our funds...and a lot of the time drugstore products are just as awesome (sometimes better) than the high-priced luxe items we drool over at *insert luxury beauty retailer of choice here*.
This is why I wanted to let you in on my little secrets – my drugstore MVPs...my go-to products that have either saved me a LOT of money over the years or products that have out-performed products with heftier price tags.
#1: Cover Girl AquaSmooth Cream Foundation
I have to start this list with my most trusted ally and the product that I have used the longest out of this entire list.
I can actually remember the first time I used this foundation: I was 19 and staying at my friend's house for the weekend, but I realized too late that I had forgotten my beloved MAC foundation (gasp!). My friend and I had to meet her family at this fancy shmancy restaurant and I had NO foundation on! We ran into a drugstore and I grabbed this foundation. I've never looked back.
This is my HG foundation and even though I will use and try out other foundations at times to mix it up, I always always fall back on good ol' CG AquaSmooth. In fact, I usually have two in my possession at all times.
Its solid cream-to-powder formula provides the most amazing medium coverage! It's matte without looking too flat, it's buildable, moisturizing without being too wet, the color matches my skin perfectly, and it wears on my skin like an Olympic athlete.
It's super easy and quick to apply and can be applied with either a brush or a sponge (even the included sponge provides a flawless finish).
It has never broken out my acne-prone skin, and has helped me conceal some pretty serious breakouts, redness, and hyperpigmentation. It doesn't feel heavy or look heavy in natural light and its compact packaging makes it easy to just throw in your purse.
AquaSmooth contains SPF 20 and has gotten me through a lot of Coachellas without touch-ups. That's right. It's that baller.
I have tried other CG foundations over the years but nothing...NOTHING...holds a candle to AquaSmooth.
Because AquaSmooth is typically at the bottom of CG displays with all their older products, it can be easy to overlook this little gem.
#2: Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge
The Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge is my number one choice when it comes to sponges. It performs just as well as a Beauty Blender but at a fraction of the cost. For the price of one BB sponge you can get a pack of 4 RT sponges and still have change left over.
Their shape provides a better application for setting powder, they're soft but firm enough that they don't soak up too much product and have a beautiful bounce, and because they're more affordable I'm able to change them out more often (meaning less bacteria buildup).
Also, they just released a version that comes with a carrying case which is the perfect solution to carrying sponges while traveling! Keeping my sponges protected while traveling has been an issue for me and now I don't have to worry about it.
#3: L´Oréal Voluminous Carbon Black Mascara
I have tried TONS of mascaras over the years and most have been less than stellar. They either flake, clump, aren't dark enough, sting my eyes, or just leave me unimpressed and wanting more, especially at their price.
L'Oréal's Voluminous Carbon Black has been my HG mascara for a few years now. I have both the regular and waterproof, although I prefer the regular formula because I feel it's a tad darker than the waterproof formula.
This mascara is a super dark rich black that brings extra drama to my light blonde lashes. It never makes my lashes look clumpy and the wear is fantastic! It never wears down or flakes and it makes my lashes look full and voluminous.
Voluminous Carbon Black contains Panthenol and Ceramide-R which protects and conditions lashes so they're soft to the touch, never dry and brittle.
The wand is full, soft, easy to use, and grabs even the smallest lashes. I never feel like I'm struggling to coat my bottom lashes with this wand and rarely do I even get smudges underneath my lashes unless I'm in a rush and applying my mascara manically.
It does take a bit more effort to remove as it can get quite messy and smeary, but with the cash you're saving from that high-end mascara you can totally afford to grab Too Faced's Mascara Melt Off Cleansing Oil ($17) that will remove your mascara quickly and easily.
#4: J.Cat You Glow Girl Baked Highlighter
I am admittedly a highlight hoarder. It's seriously become a problem. I think I have more highlighters than any other product (although liquid matte lipsticks are in stiff competition for first place). I have spent some serious money all in the name of the perf glow. Name a highlighter, any highlighter. Chances are...I own it or have owned it.
Recently though, I've been obsessed with J.Cat's You Glow Girl Baked Highlighters in White Goddess and Crystal Sand. These highlighters out perform some higher priced highlighters by a landslide.
They are crazy pigmented, blinding without being too glittery, easily blended for a natural looking glow, built up quickly for an intense glow, and they don't exaggerate texture. They have a long wear time, and they're finely milled...not chalky or powdery.
I actually cannot recall the last time I was this impressed with a drugstore highlighter. They pretty much blew me away when I tried them for the first time and they've become my go-tos while all my other highlighters sit unused and lonely.
Granted, J.Cat can be a bit difficult to track down, but my local grocery store started carrying the brand as well as my local Walgreens. If you can find them, buy them, and pass on the higher priced super-hyped highlighters.
#5: Revlon Balm Stain in Honey
Unfortunately I was not blessed with naturally pigmented lips. Without anything on my lips my lips look pale and washed out. I love my matte liquid lipsticks but I typically prefer a more easily maintained, more natural look for daily use.
Revlon Balm Stain in Honey is my absolute fave lip product. Seriously, I have one on me at all times. It produces a naturally beautiful neutral pink flush with a subtle sheen that doesn't look overdone and the color lasts for a super long time.
It's moisturizing formula is not too sticky or wet, has no taste, and doesn't feather. The Bal Stains have a slight peppermint scent that is a bit odd, but I don't mind it and it doesn't cause a tingling sensation.
I basically use this Balm Stain like a chapstick...I don't even need a mirror to apply it! What's more is that one stick lasts a crazy long time, even with daily use. I finally replaced the one I've been carrying with me for well over a year that no longer has any markings on the stick. It was definitely time.
I believe the Balm Stains have recently been re-branded as Color Stay Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stains, yet the one I picked up still just says Balm Stain. Regardless, it's fitting they should be added to the Color Stay lineup since their pigmentation does last a long time. Keep in mind though that they are not transfer proof, especially while they're still tacky. Once they've dried down after being on your lips for awhile, the transferring lessens.
The Revlon Balm Stains come in 6 colors in varying shades of pink, berry, and red with Honey being the lightest in the range. I think Honey is a somewhat universal shade that will look beautiful on most skin tones.
#6: L´Oréal Brow Stylist Definer & Brow Stylist Plumper
Brow products are truthfully the bane of my existence. I have tried so many products from every brand you can possibly think of, and yet I never end up completely satisfied. In fact, the more expensive a brow product is, the less I seem to like it. I know it sounds completely backwards but it's the truth.
Brows are the one step in makeup application that drives me up a wall, whether I'm doing my brows or others (but especially my own). When I look for a brow product I have a long list of requirements with ease of use, natural looking shades and formulas, and staying power being the top three.
A few months ago I had run out of my Benefit brow products but didn't want to make the trek to my local Sephora (knowing that Ulta was out of my colors), so I went to my local Walgreens down the street, determined to find something comparable that would at least tide me over.
With a basket full of contenders I ultimately chose the L'Oréal Brow Stylist Definer Ultra-Fine Tip Shaping Pencil and the Brow Stylist Plumper Brow Gel Mascara. After all, they were “Buy One Get One 50% Off” with the rewards card. How could I say no?
I came home, immediately busted them open and went at it...and OMG do I love these two products!
The pencil is indeed ultra-fine tipped which easily shapes and defines the brow without looking harsh. It is pigmented and only requires the lightest of strokes to apply. The spoolie on the other end is perfect to keep brushing through the color as you're working for a softer look, and using this pencil takes very little time and effort.
The Plumper is akin to Benefits Gimme Brow, but provides more hold. It easily creates a full, feathered brow without clumps, and looks really natural. The Plumper keeps my brows on lock through the day which is hard to do because I have bangs that are always hitting my brows.
When I do my brows with these two products my brows look even better than they have with higher priced products, and it actually lasts until I decide to take off my makeup.
The only thing that can be difficult about these products is choosing the correct shade since they are blister packed and you can't see the shades. I will say that the shades are pretty accurate to their labeled shade, so there's no need to go darker to play it safe like you need to do with some brands. If you feel stuck between two shades, I recommend going with the lighter of the two if you want a more natural look. If you're going for dramatic bold brows, pick the darker.
I personally use Dark Blonde in the Definer pencil which is a soft taupe, and I use the Light to Medium in the Plumper. The shade of the Plumper is a bit lighter than the pencil, but this gives my brows some gradient definition that doesn't make them look as solid or flat in color.
These two products are completely comparable to more expensive products and I highly recommend them if you're on a budget. I've also used NYX, Revlon, Maybelline, Cover Girl, Wet N Wild, and Rimmel...but these two L'Oréal brow products reign supreme.
#7: Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Eraser Dark Circle Treatment Concealer
This concealer has a massive loyal cult following for a good reason. It is simply the best concealer available in the drugstore and is even the concealer of choice for many pro makeup artists.
I've been buying this concealer since it launched many moons ago and it is still one of my must-have “can't live without it” products. It is another product I keep returning to even after trying out others.
This super creamy pigmented concealer is dispensed with a domed sponge tip applicator that is gentle on the under eye area and applies the concealer beautifully. I do use my ring finger or a concealer brush to blend it in after sweeping it on to preserve the sponge tip as best I can.
Honestly, this stuff is a powerhouse for those with discoloration under their eyes or around the nostrils, and it conceals breakouts effortlessly. It provides amazing coverage that brightens and conceals without looking heavy or overdone and it is the perfect consistency.
This concealer contains Goji Berry extract and Haloxyl which not only corrects dark circles, but diminishes puffiness as well.
It does have a tendency to crease slightly, so it's best to set it with a setting powder to prevent creasing. However, the coverage lasts all day long! In fact, in a pinch it can even double as a foundation *wink wink*.
Banish Starter Kit
Brigid Anderson has been a makeup addict for over 15 years and has worked as a freelance makeup artist and stylist for fashion labels and music videos. When she isn't writing about and using beauty products, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their dog Ivan, hoarding vintage clothing and vinyl records, and binge watching 'Game of Thrones'...repeatedly.