We Tried Five Drugstore Makeup Brands And Here’s What Actually Works Best

Because you’re not made of damn money.

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2. Makeup is great, but it can cost a buttload of money, which is why we decided to test out a bunch of drugstore makeup brands to see what works best.

3. But first things first: Meet our makeup testers.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed
Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

• Each tester applied the product with only the tools provided by each brand. If the product didn’t come with an applicator, they had to use their fingers.
• Each tester wore each product all day and rated the product not just on application but on all-day wearability, and, you know, how much they liked how it looked.
• Each tester was asked to give each brand an overall rating based on their experience with the products.


5. First up, Wet n Wild.

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1. Color Icon Kohl Eyeliner Pencil, $0.99
2. Color Icon Eyeshadow Trio, $2.99
3. Color Icon Blusher, $2.99
4. Silk Finish Lipstick, $0.99
5. CoverAll Coverstick, $1.99
6. CoverAll Face Primer, $4.99
7. CoverAll Crème Foundation, $3.99
8. MegaPlump Mascara, $3.99

Total Face: $22.92

NOTE: We couldn’t find Wet n Wild foundation shades that matched Essence’s and Monique’s skin tones.

Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed

Augusta: Applying the eyeshadow, lipstick, eyeliner and blush was WORK. I had to go over my lips about seven times because it goes over lips like a car goes over speed bumps. Filling in the cracks took some time. 5/10

Essence: Definitely wouldn’t rush to try any of these products again. 4/10

Lindsey: I was having an identity crisis. On the one hand, I felt like a wannabe guest on Toddlers and Tiaras, and on the other hand I felt like a 90-year-old crypt keeper with my pale face and scaly lips. Isn’t makeup supposed to make you feel ~beautiful~? 3/10

Monique: When it came to the blush, well, I know this is cheap shit but I wasn’t expecting anything this bad. And the eyeshadow: It was hard to put on because it wouldn’t adhere to my eyelid. I’d just get a rainstorm of powder showering down on my innocent eyes. A high note was the lipstick though. I was expecting dry and chalky, so this was a pleasant surprise. 4.5/10

7. Then we tried E.l.f. makeup. E.l.f. runs around $2 for mascaras and $6 for foundations.

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1. E.l.f. Studio Moisturizing Lipstick, $3
2. E.l.f. Studio Kohl Eyeliner, $3
3. E.l.f. Essential Volumizing Mascara, $2
4. E.l.f. Studio Flawless Finish Foundation, $6
5. E.l.f. Studio Mineral Infused Face Primer, $6
6. E.l.f. Studio Blush Palette, $6
7. E.l.f. Essential Flawless Eyeshadow, $2

Total Face: $28

• There was no foundation available in a suitable shade for Essence.

Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed

Augusta: Blush, primer, and foundation are AWESOME and the E.l.f. packaging is incredibly innovative. 6.5/10

Essence: Some days I just don’t feel like trying but I don’t want to look dead either, so mascara and liner are my saviors. I’d lean on E.l.f. on those kind of days. The shadow and blush were decent, but highly doubt I’d buy them. 5/10

Monique: Meh city. Nothing impressed me. I feel very Mckayla Maroney toward the whole line. 5/10

Lindsey: The eyeliner was crazy. After taking it out of the box, I discovered a cap with a built-in sharpener. Genius! Take notes, cosmetic companies! It applied OK — more like a smudgy smokey liner, which I think is what the product was going for. I also LOVED the blush, but everything else was a thumbs down. 5/10

9. Monique was not feeling it.

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10. Next up: The Prestige makeup line. Products start at $3.95 for eyeshadows and lip liners.

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1. Prestige Classic Kohl Eyeliner, $3.95
2. Prestige Total Intensity Eyeshadow, $9.75
3. Prestige My Biggest Lashes Mascara, $7.50
4. Prestige Total Intensity Lip Crayon, $9.50

Note: No foundation or blushes were used.

Total Face: $30.70

Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed

Augusta: All of the eye products I’d actually buy and use, but the lipstick was a joke. 7/10

Monique: The mascara was very nice! If you had put a fancy brand name on it, I easily would have paid $26 dollars for it without batting a lash. I liked the eyeshadow, too. It felt very sexy and sophisticated with my smokey eye and polka-dot dress. 5/10

Essence: I was underwhelmed. The name “Pretige” is misleading — I was underwhelmed. I’d never purchase anything from this brand. 4/10

Lindsey: The lipstick is so glittery, it made me feel like a Bratz doll. It’s a crayon, so it wasn’t as smooth as a lipstick or lip creme. I was hoping that eating lunch and drinking water would help it to wipe off because I was honestly embarrassed to have it on. The mascara was pretty underwhelming. I had to do a couple of coats before I noticed any noticeable volume or length. But the eyeshadow felt realy silky and nice. The color payoff was also pretty amazing. 5/10

12. Then we gave Nyx Cosmetics a try. Single eyeshadows start at $4, and blushes are $5.

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1. Nyx Soft Matte Lip Cream, $6
2. Nyx Lush Lashes Mascara, $7
3. Nyx Concealer Wand, $5
4. Nyx Love in Paris Eyeshadow Palette, $5
5. Nyx Studio Perfect Primer, $13
6. Nyx Stay Matte But Not Flat Liquid Foundation, $7.50
7. Nyx Powder Blush, $5
8. Nyx Slim Eye Pencil, $5

Total Face: $53.50

• There was no foundation available in a suitable shade for Essence.

Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed

Monique: If I had to select one brand that got the most right, this would be it. I looked a bit clownish with all the products on at the same time, but individually the products were great. Nyx knows their shit. 7/10

Essence: I liked the finished look; results WAY better than I expected. 7/10

Augusta: OMG this foundation was SO. BAD. When I went to squeeze it onto my hand, I squeezed out about 2 tablespoons of water (or some clear liquid goop?) first. Then, I had to really blend to make the color sit well on my skin tone. This felt like straight-up face paint. The only thing I LOOOOVED from this collection was the eyeliner. Everything else I could do without for the rest of my life. 5/10

Lindsey: I’ve been a longtime fan of Nyx’s, so I knew we’d get along just fine, but I’m sad it betrayed me with it’s foundation. I had the same problem Augusta had. Nyx, how can you do me so dirty? 4/10

14. Here are the Milani products we used:

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1. Milani Liquid Eye Liquid-like Eyeliner, $7.99
2. Milani Color Statement Moisture Matte Lipstick, $5.99
3. Milani Secret Cover Concealer Cream, $5.19
4. Milani Runway Lashes Mascara, $4.99
5. Milani Smooth Finish Cream-to-Powder Foundation, $8.99
6. Milani Baked Blush, $8.49

Total Face: $41.64

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Monique: I applaud them for at least remembering that white people are not the only people who exist. The only thing I really liked were the liner and lipstick. The money spent on the other things would have been better spent on a burrito. 5/10

Augusta: The mascara was super easy to apply, and the eyeliner was so smooth. The eyeshadow was pigmented and easy to blend. As for the foundation, I loved this foundation so much that I wanted to keep putting it on because it was the first foundation that actually made my skin look awesome and matched my skin tone. Overall, this brand is incredible. I just would like the lipstick to last longer, but everything else was INCREDIBLE. 7/10

Essence: I’m very satisfied with results and would recommend as a more cost-friendly alternative to higher-end makeup. For sure. I’d use this brand again and would buy when I needed makeup but my pockets were trippin’. My favorite drugstore brand that I’ve ever tried. 7/10

Lindsey: Milani lipsticks always smell amazing, like Jolly Ranchers. The color was also super pretty and applies really nicely. The blush is INTENSE, and the mascara is super easy to apply. 6/10

16. Then, jussssssst for ~science~ we tried MAC for contrast against these drugstore brands.

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1. MAC Rich Color Eyeshadow, $16
2. MAC Powder Blush, $22
3. MAC Matchmaster SPF 15 Foundation, $36
4. MAC Zoom Fast Black Lash, $17
5. MAC Pro Longwear Eye Liner, $20
6. MAC Lipstick, $17

Total Face: $128

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Augusta: By far the best makeup because every product in every category was amazing. Everything was easy to apply. And even without a brush, the blush went on perfectly. 9.5/10

Lindsey: MAC is the real deal. I was so impressed with every product. With the mascara, I noticed right away that my lashes were standing up STRAIGHT, which is typically my goal for mascara since my stubby little lashes need some serious help to get noticed. The foundation was so light but still provided great coverage. 9.5/10

Essence: I wouldn’t wear the foundation every day because I’m more simple than that, but would definitely keep it in my makeup bag for when i’m going out and want to look good. 9/10

18. So what were our picks?

Best Mascara: “Prestige. My eyelashes looked incredible all day.” —Monique
Best Eyeliner: “Nyx. This stuff didn’t crease or move.” —Augusta
Best Eyeshadow: “Nyx. Such good colors, such great application. I think I’m in love.” —Lindsey
Best Blush: “Nyx. This blush is awesome. You only need the smallest amount to get some serious color on your cheeks.” —Lindsey
Best Lipstick: “Milani. Daaaaayyyyuummmm! My lips look luscious!” — Monique
Best Primer: “E.l.f. I think the reason my foundation and blush stayed so well was this primer.” —Augusta
Best Foundation: “Milani. A great option, especially for brown women.” —Essence

Lindsey: With makeup, it should really be a mix and match — sometimes it’s worth it to spend more money on a product like a brow pencil or a lipstick if it’s long-lasting and matches your complexion wonderfully, but some products you definitely don’t need to empty out your wallet for.

Monique: In some cases, if I was given the option of choosing a cheap item or a higher-end brand, I would for sure go with the more affordable option. The only thing that I would really put my money toward is the foundation. While I’m sure there are some great options for less expensive foundations *if they make your shade*, I feel like foundations at higher price points last longer and blend into the skin in a way that looks really natural.

Also as a girl who doesn’t wear a full face every day, I found that wearing all this makeup really makes me step up my game in other aspects of my style. I felt ridiculous wearing bright lipstick and shimmery eyeshadows if I wasn’t in an outfit I thought was cute. I also felt the sudden urge to get my brows done. ‘Cause what kind of girl spends all that time on make up and doesn’t even pay attention to her brows?

Augusta: I used only my fingers or the tools each kit came with, which in general were HORRIBLE. So many of the eyeshadows came in this cute little palette of colors, and then as soon as I went to dip a sponge into the powder to apply the shadow, one of two things happened: almost no shadow transferred onto the sponge, or the sponge completely cracked the powder in the palette. The blushes that didn’t come with brushes were such jokes. It’s impossible to properly apply blush with your fingers if it’s a non-blendable powder.

I’ve gained such an appreciation for the right tools: eyelash curlers, blush brushes, eyeshadow sponges, and face powder brushes. But brushes and tools cost money, so even if you’re buying cheap makeup, you wind up spending all of your money on brushes and sponges and blenders anyway. My main takeaway is that the tools you use are worth investing money in. Tools — and technique — make all the difference.

Essence: Overall, I’d definitely use drugstore brands for eyeliner and mascara, the basics. Foundation and lipstick, though, are definitely department-store buys for me. I don’t wear blush every day, but when I do, I’d more than likely pick a department-store brand. If money was tight and I couldn’t afford MAC or another department-store brand, I’d go with a drugstore brand that specifically caters to women of color, like Milani. If that weren’t an option, I’d just go bare face with a cheap liner and mascara and some Chapstick, or makeup-less.

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