Drugstore makeup vs department store makeup: Which is best?

Does spending $40 for a single eyeshadow mean it will apply and look better than one that costs $4 at the drugstore?

The surprising answer is no, yet lots of women believe otherwise. Blame the allure of high-end packaging, the emotional pull of a luxury or designer brand, and promises that this foundation, lipstick or blush is the one that’s finally worthy of the hype.

But what if it’s not just hype — and spending more means a better product?

Drugstore makeup vs department store makeup Which is best

Makeup: A multi-billion dollar business

American consumers spend billions of dollars every year on cosmetics. The maze of department store cosmetic counters are designed to tempt with prestigious packaging, wild colors, free gifts and cosmetic counter employees taught to make a customer feel fabulously glamorous.

The cosmetic industry flaunts youth and vitality, but how much must the average consumer spend to look their best?

“Higher cost does not always equal higher quality. Often one cosmetic manufacturer will produce several different lines, so the ingredients in a $2 eye shadow may very well be the same as a $40 eye shadow,” says Cate Williams, vice-president of education for Money Management International. “Most women have over three times more cosmetics than they use. Becoming an educated consumer will ensure that you make your purchases wisely.”

Williams offers these tips on how to look your best without spending a fortune:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Read the packaging closely and look for words such as “may” and “appears.”
  • Get samples of the high-end colors at the department store, smudge them on an index card and take it with you to the drugstore.
  • Great makeup brushes can be found at drugstores. You can also use art paintbrushes at your local arts and crafts store, which work well with cosmetics, too.
  • Beware of fancy containers/purses/makeup holders — go for “single servings” and keep your colors a la carte. You pay extra for packaging.
  • Always buy small containers, because you may eventually outgrow the color or its freshness may expire.
  • Think of your cosmetic purchases in terms of size. Being able to fit them into one case keeps you organized and keeps the quantity down.
  • If you get a free makeover, don’t get talked into buying a bunch of new products. Or, if you must have something, buy the smallest size you can.
  • With more expensive products, ask for a trial size so that should you discover that the color doesn’t work for you or it irritates your skin, you have not wasted money.
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“So next time you are tempted to buy the latest lipstick shade, remember the old adage that beauty is only skin deep,” says Williams. “If you feel marvelous, you look marvelous.”

Are you a beauty spender or a beauty saver?

Cosmetics Cop Paula Begoun — author of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me — and The Paula’s Choice Research Team wanted to know more about the reasons women splurge or save on the contents of their makeup bag.



A survey on the company’s Facebook page received hundreds of responses, revealing the fascinating facts of where women’s luxury beauty dollars go:

  • 40% of women said foundation, concealers, and powder were their #1 beauty splurge! Going high-end for these makeup staples was de rigueur for nearly half of the women who responded. Finding the right shade was the most common complaint when it came to shopping the drugstore for foundation, concealer, or powder. As one respondent explained, “It’s just so hard to find the right skin-tone color if there aren’t testers, and at least the cosmetics counters allow shoppers to try before they buy!” Not buying it? Check out our Mtop-rated foundations in every price range.
  • 25% of people report that expensive eye shadow is worth every penny. Whether forking over $61 for a trendy palette (or $25 for a single), the finish, pigment and color selection was the frequently cited reason for spending big on eye shadows. This quote sums it up, “Shadows with a smooth application like NARS Matte are hard to find. When you find one, who wants to keep looking?” Skeptical? Consider NYX Cosmetics Nude Matte Shadow ($5). It’s a beauty double for NARS Matte Eyeshadow at a fraction of the cost.
  • 20% of women loved their pricey lipstick and lip gloss! The right lip color can brighten a bad mood—but for some women, that benefit is worth the splurge.
  • Only 8% reported spending a lot on blush. Respondents cited the staying power and color choices of department store blushes as a factor in choosing these over their drugstore counterparts.
  • Just 7% of the ladies polled said they indulge in high-end mascara. A common sentiment: “Big fan of Chanel Inimitable mascara – it’s the only one I’ve ever tried that separates my lashes perfectly while adding enough volume and curl.” Chanel has some great mascaras, but a lot of drugstore brands offer excellent mascaras, too. You can find them on our list of best mascaras.
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