Makeup 101: Inexpensive Brands

A number of my bros have asked me how to do basic makeup, what makeup brands are worth the money, what is the science behind skincare (if there’s any at all,) and a variety of other makeup-related things. Here’s a post in that vein. Inexpensive makeup brands are a good way to get started and play around while discovering what you like on your Makeup Journey™ without spending all of your money on makeup, slowly amassing a collection that you’ll never be able to use and developing a habit that will last you the rest of your known life (like me.)

Drugstore brands– called such because they’re usually available in (in my case, American) drugstores. These range from good deals to absolute shit not worth the cost of the packaging to stuff that is more expensive per ounce than the big names. I’m going to name some of my favorites and what products I like from them.

Neutrogena is good for basically anything skin-related, so foundation, concealer, powder, etc. I’m sure that their lip, cheek, and eye products are equally fabulous, but they’re more “wearable” (aka “normal”) than what I like so I’ve stayed away from them. I’d definitely recommend Neutrogena skin makeup over anything else in Walgreens, CVS, etc. They also make a lot of great skincare products (their Advanced Wrinkle Moisture, basically a strong retinol cream, is getting its own post at some point,) especially for acne-prone or otherwise sensitive skin. Their makeup remover is better than a lot of high-end brands. Buy their makeup remover. Now.

Covergirl has some acceptable foundations and powders (I used them a lot for theater in high school) but in my experience they make interesting and nice mascaras, and acceptable eyeshadow.

Maybelline has a weird line of “bouncy” and/or “whipped” cream products which are pretty good for their price point, though I wouldn’t recommend their foundation (the bouncy/whipped turns cakey in a bad way.) They have interesting and bright lipsticks in their ColorSensational line, and their eyeshadow is a smidge better than Covergirl’s. They also have a series of gel and twist-up eyeliners that are nice and affordable.

Almay makes a decent makeup remover, and a variety of wearable cosmetics. They have an interesting “match your eye color to your eyeshadow” series of eyeshadow palettes that are good quality, and are useful for folks who want wearable looks but have a hard time picking colors. Their skincare, like Neutrogena’s, is pretty good.
L’Oreal is expensive, and some of the products aren’t worth it. Like most of their eyeshadow. It’s not good enough for the price. They’re owned by the same company that owns the super high-end, luxury brand Yves Saint Laurent, so if you want products (esp. lip products) that have the appearance of high-end, they’re the way to go. They’re chemically almost identical, aside from scent.

Wet n’ Wild, aside from an unfortunate name perpetually stuck in the 90s, has a lot of nice stuff. Their nailpolish is really cheap but wears better than comparably priced stuff, and their eyeshadows SOMETIMES are great. They have palettes of eyeshadow (always 8 colors) that are phenomenal for the price. And their eyeshadow primer is the way to go. Their Halloween collections (under the label Fantasy Maker) are a good way to get into more theatrical stuff without actually buying theater makeup.

Rimmel makes good lipsticks, lipliners, and eyeliners, but I haven’t tried anything else from them so I can’t speak for their other products. Their Kate Moss line of lipsticks is especially good, and the matte lipsticks within that line are probably my favorite matte drugstore brand lippies.

Revlon has the best drugstore lipsticks (in my opinion) and pretty nice satin and shimmer eyeshadows. They also have good matte lipsticks, and are probably tied with Rimmel in terms of awesome.

Sonia Kashuk is Target-exclusive (I think) and I’m honestly amazed at how inexpensive the products are for the quality. I have several of the lipsticks and honestly, they’re nicer than many high-end brands (*coughNARSMACcough*) and their eyeshadow and brushes are very well reviewed.

Pixie is another brand I’ve only every found at Target, but they have two products that are worth it: their gel cheek stain (which rivals Benefit’s Benetint) and their nude eyeliner (which is ACTUALLY NUDE and not yellow or white. This product is used to line in inner part of the lower eye to make one look like they slept instead of writing tumblr posts about makeup all night.)

Physician’s Formula has a super fancy science name that’s probably really misleading, but they make really good skin makeup and blushes. They also have an “organic” mascara that’s supposed to be great for people with sensitive eyes (though “organic” has nOTHING TO DO WITH THAT.)

Milani has a lot of great products in misleading packaging. Their cream eyeliners are on par with Urban Decay’s, which are the best of the high-end in most people’s opinion. Their cream eyeshadow pencils are similar. Their nailpolish is also pretty good. I imagine the rest of their stuff is similarly good from online reviews I’ve read.

NYX has been pretty hit-or-miss in my opinion, but their Jumbo Eyeshadow Pencils are fantastic. If you like crayons and drawing on your face, they’re worth it. They also have some nice blushes.

For drugstore nailpolish, Essie is the way to go. Their base and topcoats are lovely, and they have a huge variety of colors.

For drugstore brushes, ELF is cheap and pretty ok, and Ecotools is fantastic. Most of the brushes I use are Ecotools.

Online Indie brands– There are lots of amazing indie companies with products in the lower end of the price spectrum, but it can be hard to tell if an indie company is established and trustworthy, or if they’re selling unsafe or repackaged bullshittery.

Fyrinnae is fantastic, but their website is always down. They’re a really small (less than 10 people, I think) company with a big following. They do collections that benefit endangered species, and LGBTQ organizations. They’re the best and I love them. Everything they make is superb, unique, and interesting. Basically, I want to be them. If you buy one product from Fyrinnae, I recommend their Pixie Epoxy more than any other eyeshadow-prep product on the market. It’s basically a gel that you pat eyeshadow over to make it FABULOUS. SO FABULOUS.

Portland Black Lipstick Company has a fairly slow turn-around time, but they make some of the least expensive interestingly colored lipsticks in the indie scene. They make a selection of reds, but have metallic olive, purple, blue, etc. They also offer samples that last a long time and let you play around with crazy colors that you’re not sure you’ll be into.

Limnet Lipsticks (available via Etsy) is similar to PBLC in that they’re inexpensive, colorful, and have samples. An added bonus (for some) is that they’re entirely vegan- no beeswax or carmine. It’s hard to make good vegan lipsticks, and their stuff is amazing (side note: I wore their dark blue lipstick to a Sephora VIB Rouge event and 5 or 6 employees asked me what I was wearing on my lips. This has also happened with Fyrinnae eyeshadows.)

Sugarpill is on the cusp of inexpensive indie and high-end, imo. Mainly because their stuff is so wonderful that I have a hard time believing that it’s not a gajillion dollers. If their eyeshadows feel too expensive, look at the sizes. They’re big, really big for the price. And a little goes a LONG way. They also have a nice selection of really weird fake lashes.

My two favorite indie Etsy nailpolish companies are IndigoBananas andDandyNails. Both companies (though I think DandyNails is a single lady) make unique colors that last longer than basically all drugstore, and longer than many high-end.


Good for Skin Makeup: Neutrogena (DS,) Physican’s Formula (DS)

Good for Lipstick: Maybelline (DS,) Rimmel (DS,) Revlon (DS,) Sonia Kashuk (Target,) Portland Black Lipstick Co (indie,) Limnet Lipsticks (indie)

Good for Eyeshadow: Maybelline (DS,) Covergirl (DS,) and Wet n’ Wild (DS) are ok, but NYX (DS,) Fyrinnae (indie,) Sugarpill (indie,) and Sonia Kashuk (Target) are the way to go.

Good for Nailpolish: Essie (DS,) Milani (DS,) Wet n’ Wild (DS,) IndigoBananas (indie,) and DandyNails (indie)

Good for Eyeliner: Maybelline (DS,) Rimmel (DS,) Milani (DS,) Pixie (Target)

Good for Brushes: ELF (DS,) Ecotools (DS,) Sonia Kashuk (Target)

Good for Mascara: Covergirl (DS,) Physician’s Formula (DS,) Maybelline (DS)


2 thoughts on “Makeup 101: Inexpensive Brands

  1. I’d like to add that Revlon makes some pretty good nail polish as well. Seconded on the great lipsticks too! Also- if you want some great black cream eyeliner for $3 ELF has one. Their other colors of cream eyeliners I would not recommend, but the black one is fab. I noticed you didn’t mention NYC (New York Color,) which is similar to Wet n’ Wild. They have some all right lipsticks especially for someone who might want to try out, say, bright orange or barbie pink, for under $5 in case the color doesn’t work (aka me).
    One more note from me: Covergirl has just come out with this line of “truNaked” eyeshadow palettes that are not-so-subtly riding the Naked palette wave. THEY ARE GREAT and like $12. I really hope they expand that formula into some more fun colors but seriously, I got a similar palette from Lorac and the Covergirl ones are better.

    Anyway, that’s a good ol’ text wall from me but I have FEELINGS about cheap makeup. Also I like your blog. 🙂


    1. Ahhh this is all great information! I definitely agree about Revlon’s polishes, and a lot of them match lipsticks if that’s your thing. (Revlon started that trend, like they were the first brand to sell nail polish that deliberately matched lipsticks, it’s SO COOL!)

      I always appreciate other people’s feeling about cheap makeup! There are so many options, and no one person can reasonable try them all.

      Thank you for reading 😀


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