At this point, I definitely have too much makeup. Over the years I’ve amassed a collection of luminizers and lip stains that would rival a small store, and my products somehow exceed my storage capacity despite my best efforts to regularly streamline. But it wasn’t always that way. When I was just out of college, I could fit everything I owned into a small bag. Half of the products I used then were less than ideal—my over-priced designer lipstick was ten shades too dark for my face, and in retrospect, my then-favorite blush made my cheeks a little too rosy. At the time, I thought having the best makeup meant paying the highest prices.
One of the most frequent questions I receive from readers is how to create an entire makeup collection on a budget. While some of my favorite high-end products are great splurges to add to an existing collection, purchasing everything from scratch—whether starting out or putting together an on-the-go makeup bag—can result in an expensive investment. Here are my go-to products for building a collection under $100:
Foundation (Sephora Collection 10-Hour Wear Perfection Foundation, $20): If you can afford to splurge on foundation, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. But many makeup artists swear by drugstore versions for creating luminous, flawless-looking skin, and there are so many great options on the market these days. Alina and I both currently spring for Armani Luminous Silk Foundation ($62), but when we were younger, we each used CoverGirl and Revlon from the drugstore. Our Associate Editor Leslie uses Sephora Collection 10-Hour Wear Perfection Foundation, which is one step up from drugstore brands, but a fraction of the price of designer and and creates similarly seamless skin.
Powder (L'ORÉAL Infallible Pro-Matte 16HR Powder, $13): I don’t use powder often and prefer a less matte look, but I like to keep this on hand for summer days when my skin looks more oily than dewy. This option from L'ORÉAL lasts all day but goes on sheer enough that it doesn’t completely offset natural glow.
Concealer: Rather than buying a new concealer, use a tip I learned from professional makeup artists and mix together a dot of foundation with some pressed powder to make a tacky paste that works just as well as non-DIY products.
Cheek stain (Tarte Cheek Stain in fearless, $16): While using a cheek stain as a lip stain isn’t technically what you’re supposed to do since they aren’t intended for use on lips, (it’s completely safe, they can just taste bitter), it’s something I do all the time. Using the same color on my lips and cheeks makes for a natural-looking flush, and this one from Tarte has staying power—it somehow lasts all day—and couldn’t be easier to apply.
Bronzer (Hoola Soft Bronze Box O' Powder, $15): This is the ideal bronzer if you’re new to the bronzer—or even makeup—game in general. It has a warm, flattering color without any shimmer and the application is fool-proof. It lasts forever and you only need a small amount to enhance color in a natural way, so this mini-box is the perfect size for someone on a budget.
Mascara (CoverGirl LashBlast Mascara, $6): When my friend Jenny told me she had been using this drugstore mascara for over ten years, I knew I had to test it for my Mascara Beauty Trial. In the end, it didn’t win for best mascara in a competition amongst many higher-end versions, but I loved how buildable it was and how natural it made my lashes look, which is a win at any price.
Eyeliner (Almay Liquid Eyeliner in Black, $5): This eyeliner is one of those rare products that actually does what it says it will (in this case, last for hours). I usually use it to apply tiny dots in between my lashes to make my lash line look darker, but it makes me comfortable to know that when I do choose to go for a more dramatic look, like a cat eye, it isn’t going anywhere.
Brow pencil (Revlon Fantasy Brown Pencil, $6): When I first made the (much-needed) transition from thin, over-plucked brows to fuller, more natural brows, this was the first brow pencil I reached for - and thankfully, it didn’t let me down. The pencil glides on easily and the tinted gel fills in the rest for natural-looking hairs.
Lipstick (MAC Lipstick in "Rebel", $17): I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating—this lipstick looks magically good on everyone. It has the bright, inviting shade of a bougainvillea blossom and when blotted, leaves a perfectly-tinted stain worthy of any girl’s makeup bag.
*Prices on websites sometimes change based on the day of the week or the season, so if you don't see the price listed in this post, check back another day—it may come back!