Which Makeup Products To Splurge On (& Which To Buy On The Cheap)

Sarah Autry

Before I had kids, I was constantly trying the newest makeup brands and techniques; it was so much fun playing around with all the products. But then the world got a whole lot busier and I started grabbing whatever was closest and cheapest and calling it good enough. But one fateful day, I went to the DMV to renew my driver’s license and destiny intervened. With the help of a clearly spiteful DMV worker who told me that my “hair looked flat” and I that should “fluff it up a bit” I took my worst driver’s license photo ever (why I took advice from the DMV Lady, I will never know).

(I advise not looking at this before picture for too long or your eyes may start to burn)

The silver lining is that it made me realize I had stopped caring at all about my makeup routine and that the picture didn’t do justice to how I felt on the inside, young and bright-eyed and vibrant. So I went back to the basics, and in this case, that meant a lot of Google research and Youtube videos. I learned two things:

1: The products and techniques you used at 20 are not the same ones you need when you are 30 (or 40, 50, 60…), but that doesn’t mean you can’t look just as fabulous!
2: Some expensive makeup is worth buying, but there are also tons of makeup artists out there creating stunning looks with brands available at drugstores like Target, Walgreens or Walmart (Glory Hallelujah!! And all our wallets sang…)

So, without further adieu, here is how I gave myself a makeup makeover.


“I Woke Up Like This” Skin

Ever look in the mirror when you wake up and wonder what happened to you in your sleep? How did your skin get so dry in the matter of a few hours? And where did those blemishes come from? While the mystery might forever remain, there are products out there that will help you wake up with skin you can be confident in.

NARS Tinted Moisturizer 
When it came to moisturizer, I wanted something lightweight that stayed on all day, matched my skin tone, and looked like I was wearing nothing at all. This NARS tinted moisturizer is one of my main splurge items because I haven’t found anything I love quite as much!

Tight Budget Tip: A good alternative at a quarter of the price, L’Oreal Infallible Foundation also comes in tons of shades for matching your skin AND has a Pro-Matte version and a Pro-Glow version (good for oily OR dry skin).

NYC Smooth Skin Transparent Loose Face Powder
After watching a lot of tutorials, I realized I had my powder game all wrong. I always used a colored powder on top of my foundation, which always made my face look Jersey Shore tan or ghostly pale. NYC Smooth Skin is a transparent powder that sets your foundation so it stays in place while adding no extra color, plus it eliminates shiny skin!

Real Techniques Beauty Blender Sponge
This tool is going to help blend your makeup and achieve that airbrushed, professional look. It has made my under eye and highlighter/contour makeup (more on that later) look so much more natural and helps it stay on your skin longer. The original Beauty Blender retails for $20, but at $4.50 per sponge, the Real Techniques’ version is a much better deal and I think it works even better than the name brand.  This is a good tutorial on how to use it!


WTF is Contouring???

Contouring, in short, is using darker and lighter shades of makeup to shape and highlight different areas of your face. It can be intimidating at first, but once I figured out how to do a low-key version I really liked how natural it looked.

Maybelline Master Contour Stick
I suggest watching this quick tutorial to learn the basics of contouring, but generally speaking, this contour stick is such an easy way to get a more dramatic look for special occasions (date night, holidays, any day you feelin’ fancy). If you’re not sure you’re ready for a full on contour look, JUST USE LESS or blend off more for a subtle look!


Bright Eyed and Bushy Browed

This was THE BIG ONE for me. First of all, dark under eyes runs in my family, so no matter how much sleep I get, they are always shadowed. Add less sleep and more wrinkles to the equation, and it was the area I started feeling most insecure about. I spent a lot of time Youtubing tutorials, but ultimately loved the end look of this tutorial and I finally feel bright eyed again!

BECCA Under Eye Brightening Corrector
My second splurge-worthy item, this BECCA under eye cream, was one of the ONLY under eye products that could really take on my dark under eyes without making them look yellow, orange, or still too dark. Plus, it stays on and it doesn’t leave creases. Pair with your favorite concealer (I love this Grafobian HD Crème) and use your Real Techniques sponge to blend them together.

Tight Budget Tip: If you don’t struggle with dark circles as much or just need something cheaper to brighten your under eyes, then try Maybelline Instant Age Rewind. It gives great coverage for a much smaller price tag!

Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder for Under Eyes
Here’s the thing: no matter what you put under your eyes it will not matter if it has rubbed off by the end of the day. I highly suggest putting some type of translucent finishing powder on top of your under eye makeup to set it and keep it in place. The Laura Mercier version is the best I’ve tried AND it lasts me for at least 6-8 months, so it’s worth the money.

Maybelline Brow Drama Crayon Pommade
Thicker, darker eyebrows are all the rage right now. But if you’re like me and don’t wear full on makeup everyday, super shaped eyebrows look weird on an otherwise styled down face. This is why I love the Maybelline Brow Crayon, because it’s SUBTLE. It goes on smoothly and is very forgiving, so you don’t have to be an expert at drawing in your eyebrows to accentuate them a little more. If you DO prefer the more angular and clean look, this L’Oreal Brow Pencil will do the trick!

Estee Lauder Sumptuous Extreme Mascara
Of all the makeup out there, mascara is my favorite. Which also means I have tried a TON of mascara. But by far and away, this Estee Lauder Mascara is the best I’ve ever used. It lengthens with as little as one coat, and after 2-3 it starts to look like I’m wearing false eyelashes (people ask me about this all the time!). If you’d like something a little less expensive OR really want a mascara that thickens and separates your eyelashes, try Revlon Ultra Volume Mascara. I use this a lot too!


So there you have it! That is how I gave myself a makeup makeover, and now I finally feel like my beauty routine is making me look as good on the outside as I feel on the inside. Toss on a little BareMinerals Matte Lipcolor or Revlon Ultra HD Matte Lipcolor (my two faves for lips!) and you’re ready to go.

Keep in mind: I DON’T USE ALL THE PRODUCTS EVERY DAY! I’m giving you the full run down, but for day-to-day use, I stick to the tinted moisturizer, translucent powder, under eye concealer and mascara. So don’t worry, you can still roll out of bed and get a put together look in five minutes or less. And for days when you want to look a little more glamorous, now you’re equipped to rock that look, too!

What are the makeup go-to’s in your bag of tricks? I’d love to hear what products you are obsessing over to create your own fresh look! Don’t keep all the good stuff to yourself…