If you used to follow me over on Byrdie, you might know I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to my makeup routine. If I had to choose between hair, skincare, nails, and makeup, the latter category would be my favorite. By far.
Ever since I first swiped a mascara wand over my lashes back in middle school, I’ve been obsessed—poring over my favorite magazines, creating very extensive lists of very expensive products to try (much to my parents horror, I’m sure), and creating binders and folders filled with torn out inspirational beauty looks from said magazines. Luckily, I think I ended up in the right career path to put my passion to good use.
I’m not sure why I became stuck on high-priced, prestige makeup, but I did. Throughout high school and college, I’d spend most of the money I made nannying and working at my retail job to squirrel away Dior mascaras, Clé de Peau concealer, and Giorgio Armani foundations and luminizers. My friends, meanwhile, would shake their heads and grab whatever they needed at the drugstore. I was the odd one out, but I didn’t mind.
Fast-forward to years later and I still love really expensive, luxurious makeup. That said, one of the biggest things I’ve learned as a beauty editor (and makeup artists agree) is that some makeup products just aren’t worth the investment. Slowly but surely, I’ve found foundations, mascaras, and highlighters that are just as magical as their pricier counterparts, and I’ve begun sprinkling them into my (still mostly expensive) routine.
But what would happen if I made the complete switch to drugstore products? To settle my curiosity, I decided to re-create my $436 (I know—whoa) makeup routine for a drugstore version ringing in under $100 ($99, to be exact!). Keep scrolling to see how my makeup routines compare, products and photos included.
My Expensive Routine: $436
There are only two primers I’ve ever loved. This one from Tarte which is hydrating, and especially perfect for winter, and Koh Gen Do’s Makeup Color Base in Yellow ($55).
I actually have a few fancy foundations I love, but this long-wearing formula from Laura Mercier is the one I wear most often. It offers flawless, buildable coverage, it stays in place, and it basically makes my skin looked airbrushed and discoloration-free. (Even when it isn’t.)
Not surprisingly, the brand’s matching concealer is just as good. It’s been my go-to for several months now and obviously layers seamlessly on top of the foundation.
I know a lot of people don’t like powder, but for me, it’s essential. Despite how many formulas I try, I’ve used this classic from MAC since college. It keeps my makeup in place without altering the color of my foundation or deadening the glowy finish of my makeup. I sweep it under my eyes, on my chin, and all over my T-zone.
I’ve never loved cream bronzers or contour sticks, so powder bronzers have always been my go-to. This pretty gold compact from Westman Atelier is a standout and one of the best I’ve tried in the past year.
I love blush, and Nars will always just be it for me. I own lots of shades, but at the risk of being predictable, I couldn’t live without this cult color. However, Free Soul, Seduction, Outlaw, and Sex Appeal are also always at the top of my makeup drawer.
After blush, highlighter is probably my most beloved makeup staple. I’m addicted to multiple formulas—both powders and creams—so I’ve found layering the two to be both strategic in terms of staying powder and immediate photogenic-ness. I start by dabbing on a creamy formula, wait a few minutes, and use a brush to dust on a powder highlighter a few minutes later after the cream has a chance to melt into my skin. I like to use this pink one to enhance the color of my blush.
Then comes the powder. This trio from Charlotte Tilbury is perfection and has tons of payoff. (I’m not shy when it comes to highlighter and want my face to glow!)
My makeup look is incomplete without eyeliner, and I only ever use liquid formulas. Specifically, this one from Stila is pretty much the only one I’ll touch thanks to its precision, super-inky color, and staying power.
I was honestly surprised by how much I loved Glossier’s mascara when I first tried it last year after its buzzy launch. It doesn’t deliver tons of volume, but it lifts, elongates, and separates lashes to perfection. I’m almost never without it and can’t get over how natural it looks.
A former co-worker first introduced me to this exact lipstick shade from Kosås, and it’s pretty much been my most worn shade ever since. It’s hydrating, lightweight, and after you rub your lips together post-application, gives your lips a plush, plump, enhanced look.
Celebrity brow and makeup artist Stevi Christine has been doing my eyebrows for just under a year now, and I’ve never loved any pencil (or product collection in general) more than her own. Ever since I’ve started using this ultra-precise pencil, I’ve been getting tons of compliments on my brows. I appreciate how easy it is to apply and how natural-looking the end result is.
The Affordable Makeup Routine: $99
Since my favorite more expensive primer is a hydrating, radiance-enhancing formula, I wanted to go with something that promised similar results. When it comes to budget-friendly beauty options, Physician’s Formula rarely disappoints, and I like that this primer is infused with antioxidants and filtering luminescent pearls to help counteract discoloration and uneven texture pre-foundation. It wasn’t quite as hydrating as the Tarte formula, but that said, I was also a hair less greasy by the time I collapsed into my car at the end of the day.
Full disclosure: I’ve actually been pretty darn obsessed with this drugstore formula for a while now. It’s truly one of the best foundations you can get your hands on, and it doesn’t feel or look any different to me than foundations that are way more expensive. I always get compliments on my “glowy” skin whenever I’m wearing. It looked especially fab layered over the brand’s primer.
Like my favorite Laura Mercier concealer, this cheaper option from Nyx comes with an easy-to-apply doe-foot applicator, feels lightweight, and delivers long-wearing coverage that lasted (and still looked good) through a strenuous workout. It was a little bit tackier in texture than my fave Laura Mercier concealer and not quite as easy to blend, but overall, not bad for $9.
Since my usual MAC formula is a pressed powder, I wanted to find as similar of a formula as possible at the drugstore. Revlon’s ColorStay collection is infamous and well-loved, so I thought it would be a good bet. It did an amazing job of keeping my makeup in place, and it easily disappeared into my makeup for an invisible and seamless finish. I never thought I’d say this, but I think it might be better than my setting powder from MAC.
Wet N Wild is one of the most affordable makeup brands you can find at the drugstore, but from my experience, it actually boasts some of the most impressive formulas. I’ve had a few of the brand’s bronzers—including this one—for a while now and actually use them regularly alongside some of my other more expensive makeup products. This powder bronzer blends well and looks remarkably believable for a soft, lit from within glow—at a fraction of the price.
I wanted to find a blush color similar to my semi-shimmery pink go-to from Nars, and even though I’d never heard of or tried anything from Essence, this pretty medley of pinks and the $4 price tag was too good to pass up. I barely noticed a difference, loved the finish and color, and now want every single color it comes in.
Considering how much I love everything else from Physician’s Formula, I couldn’t wait to get my cheekbones on this brand-new product—I knew it would look super pretty layered on top of the Wet n Wild stick highlighter. It applies silkily, makes your skin look twinkly and airbrushed in the best way possible, and is a total steal at just $14. It’s a bit more purple-y and white than I’d normally go for (a tad unicorn, if you will), but overall it was still super-pretty and still earned me multiple compliments from my co-workers.
I love that I can count on my spendier Stila eyeliner to stay in place all day regardless of whether my eyes are twitching and watering in front of my computer screen, I’m out with friends for cocktails, or I’m sweating at the gym. So I didn’t want to compromise when looking for a cheaper alternative. This $6 liquid eyeliner from E.l.f. is also waterproof and looked super-similar to my Stila pen in terms of thickness and design. It did a great job of staying in place all day, just as the brand said it would—and the color was a pretty intense shade of jet-black—just how I like it.
CoverGirl’s iconic LashBlast Mascara is pretty much the only drugstore makeup product I’ve loved and worn since middle school. I still use it to this day, but for experimental purposes, I swapped the OG orange tube I usually use for this brand-new iteration that promises longer wear. Touted as sweat-proof, smudge-proof, and clump-proof, I didn’t really notice a huge difference from the other formula (one of the reasons I love the original is because it doesn’t smudge!), but I did find this one was harder to scrub off after I got home from my evening workout. Annoying at the time, but helpful for the long-haul.
There are so many pretty colors and finishes available in this lippie collection from Almay that it was honestly hard to stick to a similar hue as my normal rose shade from Kosås. Alas, I stayed true to the goal and picked out this pretty creamy formula which looked similar when I swatched it on my wrist. It was a little harder to blend (aka not quite so buttery smooth) than my more expensive fave, but the color was on point, and I appreciated the fact the brand enriches the formula with good-for-your-lips ingredients like vitamins E and C. (Just for fun, I topped it with the shimmering pink shade Skip the Gym—sorry, couldn’t resist!)
This probably makes me a bad beauty editor, but other than the brand’s famous eye shadows, I’d never tried makeup from ColourPop. So while searching for a taupe-y eyebrow pencil to replace my beloved, I fetched this one while scoping around Ulta. I could barely believe the $5 price tag, and the long-wearing retractable pencil was so similar to my usual. The color wasn’t quite right (I’m so picky), but the overall finish was still feathery, and natural-looking.