Saturday, May 25, 2013

Splurge Worthy: Your Guide To Shopping High-End vs. Budget Brands

All Products Pictured in This Post Purchased By Me

Splurge Worthy

One question I get asked a lot is, "What products are worth spending money on?"  In other words, beauty items are available at all price points. How does one know when to buy a drugstore version versus going to a department store and spending more for a high end product?  If I were writing this post ten years ago, it would be much easier, as the discrepancy between drugstore and high end makeup was much greater.  However, drugstore makeup has really stepped up in recent years, so much so that I've actually found certain products to be nearly identical to their high end counterparts. While this is a good thing, because we can all save money, it can also be a bit confusing for people to know which items are still splurge worthy
Makeup really falls into three categories in my opinion. You have the budget friendly brands such as those you can find at the drugstore, as well as low cost independent brands. These brands are companies like Milani, Wet n Wild, NYX, etc. There is the super high end luxury market with brands like Hourglass, Koh Gen Doh and Trish McEvoy.  There are also a ton of what I call mid-priced brands. Many people refer to these brands as high-end as they cost much more than drugstore, but I think places like Sephora and Ulta offer many products that fall somewhere in between the super luxurious and drugstore prices.  These are brands like Stila, Too Faced, and Tarte, to name a few. Most of the items in my personal collection fall in the mid-priced range.

It is important to note that the term affordable is a relative one. What is affordable to me, may not be to you. I never suggest that you shop outside of your means. You can find good quality makeup at all price points, and today there are enough choices on the market to satisfy just about any beauty budget. My suggestions in this post are general guidelines, and should be taken in conjunction with common sense and keeping your own personal needs in mind.

In general, these are the items I think are splurge worthy. It is important to note that there are exceptions to every rule, a notion which I will expand upon as we go along:

  • Brushes - buy the best brushes you can afford. This will be different for everyone. However, good brushes will last you a long time, and you will see a real difference in your makeup application. 
  • Foundation - Foundation is the number one makeup item you should splurge on. It's directly touching your skin, and is the base for every makeup look. Color matching is key, which is something that is simply not possible at most drugstores.
  • Concealer - A concealer with the right coverage and texture is important.  For the same reason as foundation, this is worth spending a little more on. 
  • Bronzer - If you get the wrong shade of bronzer, the golden glow you covet will simply look orange and unnatural. Getting a good quality matte bronzer in the correct shade is worth the splurge.
  • Skincare - This is especially true as we age. If you are looking for any type of serums infused with antioxidants or special properties, you may have to spend a bit more as cruelty-free skincare is limited at the drugstore. 
  • Unique Products - There are full websites dedicated to makeup dupes (low cost duplicates). However, since new products are always coming to market, there are simply some mid to high end products that are not available in cheaper form.  
  • Things You Wear Everyday - For example, if you rarely wear bronzer, you might not want to spend a lot of money on it. However, if you are the type of person who has one signature lipstick that you wear all the time, you might want to go ahead and splurge for something a little more high-end. In short, don't spend a lot of money on stuff that you won't use. If you are shelling out more coin, make sure it's for a product you really love and use. 
Where you can save:

  • Mascara - Mascara is meant to be thrown out every 3 months. Therefore, spending a lot of money on a tube that won't last you very long doesn't make a whole lot of sense. However, there is always an exception to the rule. For me personally, I haven't found a great waterproof drugstore mascara yet. Therefore I'm shopping from the mid-priced selections available. However, should a drugstore version come along that I love, I will absolutely buy that instead. 
  • Lipstick - I personally change my lipstick a lot. It's for this reason that I tend to shop the budget brands for this product. It is much more practical to have many different colors of an affordable brand. 
  • Gloss - Some of the budget glosses available are so good! I really can't tell the difference between some of the more affordable brands and higher end glosses on the market. Plus, once it's on your lips no one will know if you spent $30 or $3. 
  • Eyeshadow - Like lipstick, I wear a different eyeshadow look every single day. Eyeshadow is one of the most fun makeup items to experiment with because the color combinations are endless. Not every budget brand is good, but there are some on the market that really work well without breaking the bank. 
  • Eyeliner - When looking for a basic black eyeliner, you should have no trouble finding a budget friendly version. Most every brand offers these, and there are many more good liners than bad on the market. The only time you might have to go high-end is if you are searching for a very specific color. Although, brands like NYX and even Milani offer so many options these days, that going high-end is becoming less and less necessary.  
  • Lip Liner - I only own one or two luxury lip liners and they were total splurges. High-end lip liner is totally unnecessary. The majority of my lip liner collection is from budget friendly brands.
  • Lip Balm - Unless you have severely dry lips, it should be easy to find a  budget friendly lip balm. 
Now that you know which products I think are worth spending a little bit more on. Here are some real life examples of brands that I recommend and reasons why they are worth the splurge:

As I mentioned above, I think it's worth buying the best brushes you can afford. Affordable means different things to different budgets. These two brands are personal use luxury brands. I have every brush from both of these lines, and they are truly amazing and worth the splurge in my opinion.

Pictured Above: It Cosmetics Fan Brush* and Hourglass Cosmetics Foundation/Blush Brush

Anything directly touching your skin is worth spending a bit more on. With foundation, it is so important to get color matched when purchasing a brand for the first time. In general, high-end brands often offer a better color selection and many offer different formulations for various skin types.  I have never seen a display in a drugstore where you can test out cruelty-free foundations before you buy them. For this reason alone, it's worth the splurge. 
 Pictured Above: Hourglass Veil Fluid Makeup Oil Free SPF 15 (vegan)
Koh Gen Do Moisture Foundation 

Overall, I am not very impressed with most drugstore concealers. I have pretty dark circles, as well as acne scars that need to be concealed. This one from Tarte, is one that I have repurchased time and time again. The coverage is amazing, plus it's smooth and blendable, leaving a natural dewy finish on the skin. For under eye concealing, it creases far less than any other brand I've tried. You only need a tiny amount so 1 tube will last you for months. 

 Tarte Maracuja Creaseless Concealer 

As you can see from my picture, my skin tone is quite fair. Those with a very light skin tone have to be extra careful with bronzing. One brush stroke too many, and you can look dirty, rather than bronzed. Those with skin lighter than mine may be better off skipping bronzer altogether. However for me, this bronzer from Too Faced Cosmetics in Milk Chocolate Soliel, is the perfect matte bronzer for contouring, or just adding some warmth to the face. This is a product that I have repurchased because no other brand looks as natural on my skin.  

Too Faced Milk Chocolate Soleil Light/Medium Matte Bronzer

Of all the products in my beauty arsenal, skincare is the area where I have spent the most money. All the makeup in the world won't look good if there isn't a good base to apply it to. I believe makeup is best used for enhancing your natural beauty rather than camouflaging imperfections. Don't get me wrong, I obviously use concealer to hide my imperfections.  However, my first goal is to get my skin looking right.  I have tried more skincare brands than I care to count. However there are a few brands that I continue to stick with. Dr. Dennis Gross (not pictured) makes a great skincare line, as does Nude. In particular, I favor this toner from Nude which I really find helps balance the oil production in my skin.  It doesn't contain any parabens, synthetic fragrances or dyes, so it's non-irritating to my finicky skin.  I just pump a little bit onto a cotton ball after cleansing and wipe it over my skin.  Plus this product is completely vegan.

Nude Skincare Purify Toning Water

Unique Products 
These are some products that I splurged on simply because they are unique. I love makeup and beauty items, and I honestly just bought them because they make me happy. I haven't found any dupes for these, and truly feel they are worth their price tag. You have probably seen these products mentioned in previous posts because I love them so much!

 Pictured Above: Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder
 Pictured Above: Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer & Hourglass Solar Tan Self-Tanning Primer
 Pictured Above: Josie Maran Infinity Cream Intensive Creamy Oil

Things I Wear Everyday
This product has also been mentioned in a previous post.  Hourglass N 28 Lip Treatment Oil is certainly a splurge!  At $42 many will wonder if I've lost my head paying this much for a lip product.  However, this really is something I use every single day. I use it at night as a treatment, in the morning under my lipstick and even solo on days where I just want a little healthy shine to my lips.  I've been using this basically since it hit and I honestly do notice a positive change in my lip texture. My lips seem smoother, and more supple. Furthermore, if you have issues with chapped lips as I sometimes do, you'll find this really is splurge worthy. 

Pictured Above: N 28 Lip Treatment Oil

Now that we know where all my money goes, here are the areas where I save:

Tons of makeup artists use drugstore mascaras. Oddly, I didn't until fairly recently. The reason being, I could not find a good cruelty-free drugstore version.  However, luckily sometime late last year, I discovered a few gems from Physicians Formula. I really like these and find they rival higher end brands I've tried.  The one exception is waterproof. I have not found a good cruelty-free drugstore version, so if you know of one I should try, please let me know in the comments below!

Pictured Above: Physicians Formula Organic Wear 100% Natural Lash Boosting Mascara and
 100% Natural Origin Mascara

Some people might disagree with me on this.  However, I change my lipstick a lot. I wear a different shade every day, and sometimes even change my lip color mid day. For example, I may wear a nude lipstick during the day, and change to a bolder lipstick at night. I highly recommend the new Milani Color Statement lipsticks. I bought the whole collection, because they offer such a great color variety and the formula is smooth and creamy. The one exception is when I need a very long lasting lip color. For example, if I were to attend an event and needed a long wear formula where I wouldn't be able to reapply, then I would opt for Tarte Glamazon 12-hour wear formula which although pricey, in my opinion is worth the splurge.  

Pictured Above:  Milani Color Statement Lipstick (budget friendly) & Tarte Glamazon Pure Performance 12-Hour Lipstick (mid-priced to high-end) 

I rarely wear gloss solo. I usually use it as a topper over my lipstick. With the exception of some super highly pigmented glosses, most of the sheerer formulas are better off being purchased at the drugstore. Notable favorites are picks from Milani and NYX. I also have to say the liquid lipstick from E.L.F. which is really just a high shine gloss, is amazing especially considering it only costs $1! 

Pictured Above: e.l.f. Essential Luscious Liquid Lipstick, Milani Crystal Gloss 

This is another low-cost pick that may surprise some. However, once applied to the eye, you will be hard pressed to figure out if the shadow is high-end or budget friendly. The main difference is texture and pigmentation.  However brands like NYX and Milani are pigmented, smooth and easy to blend. I really think if these were depotted and in a Z-Palette, many people would have difficulty telling them apart from a higher end brand. NYX offers a huge color selection with many shades comparable to MAC. Inglot is another brand that offers great color and formula selection at a fraction of the price. Also, newer to my collection are the Makeup Geek eyeshadows which have really impressed me. 

 Pictured Above: Milani Powder Eyeshadow in Pearl

Pictured Above: NYX Trio Eyeshadow Nude/Taupe/Dark Brown

This is one pick I think many will agree with me on. I know people that regardless of price, would still choose a drugstore eyeliner because they are so good these days!  Some of the drugstore versions are even better than their high-end counterparts. My favorite brand for eyeliners is NYX because they have a huge color selection.  They offer both the traditional pencil format as well as a mechanical pencil version.  The Milani Shadow Eyez chubby liner below is nearly an exact dupe for the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Shadow Pencils. The only difference that I can find is in color selection. For liquid liner, try the Physicians Formula 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner in Ultra Black.

Pictured Above: Milani Shadow Eyez 12-HR Wear in Champagne Toast, NYX Slim Eyeliner Pencil in Yellow and NYX Mechanical Eye Pencil In Golden Olive

Lip Liner
As mentioned above, I own very few high-end lip liners. I find little difference between the high-end brands and my lower cost picks. The majority of my lip liner collection is from NYX and Milani, though I do have some from Stila that I purchased on sale from Haute Look. When it comes to lip liners, you really don't need to have a lot. Many people can get by with just a nude. However if you have a nude, red, pink and berry color, you are probably good to go.

Pictured Above: Milani Color Statement Lip Liner in 03 Nude

Lip Balm
It may be a little confusing for me to list lip balm here since I mentioned the Hourglass Lip Treatment above. However, I really didn't need the Hourglass Lip Treatment. It was a special treat that I bought for myself. For those just looking for a normal lip balm, there are many on the market to choose from. Lately, I've been enjoying this chubby one from Wet N Wild. It moisturizes the lips while adding a little shine. Plus, it smells like strawberries!

Wet N Wild Juicy SPF 15 Lip Balm in Strawberry

As a reminder, you should only buy what works for your budget. The above is just a guideline of how I think about beauty products, and what I personally buy. I do have high-end and drugstore items for just about any makeup product because I am always open to buying new things. If I am in the market to try a new foundation brand, there is a good likely hood that I pop into Sephora and get color matched. However, if Milani comes out with some new lipstick shades for summer, you better believe those are going to end up in my shopping basket. 

I hope you found this post helpful. Please let me know what your latest splurge or save was!

*All items pictured in this post were purchased by me. However, IT Cosmetics has sent me other brushes in the past for review. The brush pictured above was purchased by me, and I have purchased other brushes and cosmetics from the brand with my own money. I do not get paid to write reviews or include any specific brands in my posts. All opinions are my own, and I only share specific brand names with you in hopes of helping you make informed purchasing decisions.


  1. This is a really great article Liza! I agree w/ the foundation & concealer, once you find something that works stay with it.

    && I'm also a huge fan of makeup geek. Marlena is doing a great job at updating her formulas.


  2. This is a great idea for a post :) I agree with these too... although I would say I have been thrilled to find quite a few budget-friendly brushes that I adore. The only times I can imagine spending more for something like a gloss or lipstick is when it's something really unique - like you said, something "non-dupeable"

  3. I love the Milani lipsticks too! They have so many shades!!! As far as a waterproof mascara, I don't usually use them and can't say I've tried a whole lot, but I recently picked up the Prestige Waterproof mascara in an aqua tube and I was quite surprised by it's lengthening, volumizing and non-clumping abilities! It's more on the wet side, which I tend to hate, but this one seems to be pretty good. I haven't tested it for too long, but the times I've used it, I really like it! My only problem with it is that I tend to get it all over my lash line :( I always have trouble with that, but for some reason I ALWAYS get my eyelid with this one. If you try it, let me know what you think! :)


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