Let's get right to the point: You want to enhance your face's natural iconic-ness with makeup, but shopping for products amid the bajillions in the beauty store is more overwhelming than doing your taxes or figuring out how to cancel your gym membership. Makeup was an $8.1 billion industry in 2017 (that's more than skincare and fragrance by a long shot), and with so many product options, advertising, and social media publicity, scrambling through the static to find out what in the world is actually worth buying can feel impossible.
That's especially true if you're a busy human being, either don't care to or don't have time to devour every single last makeup review on Byrdie.com (which, like, we get it), want products that actually perform, and have a strict dollar limit to adhere to.
We're not huge on fuss here at Byrdie, so in the name of telling you exactly what you should buy, no nonsense, no brouhaha, we've assembled a face makeup starter pack for three different price points, comprised of a foundation, blush, and highlighter. Certainly, everyone has a different skin tone and type (not to mention varying tastes in shades, textures, etc.), but we're still pretty confident that the following products should do you right no matter what you're working with.
THE BEST FACE MAKEUP STARTER PACKS
For $12, you really can't find a better value foundation than this cruelty-free, skincare-infused find. The product comes in 16 shades, each packed with good-for-you ingredients like hyaluronic acid; SPF 20; vitamins A, C, and E; and a unique brightening ingredient called Chinese Wu-Zhu-Yu extract. The coverage is lightweight to medium but genuinely very buildable and leaves a glowy (but not greasy) finish. It also comes with an oversize doe-foot applicator to make things extra easy.
It's no accident that Milani's tried-and-true Baked Blush wins awards year after year—it's quite simply the best blush you can find at the drugstore. For less than $10, you get a deliriously pretty selection of matte and shimmery shades, all of which are highly pigmented, but not clown-like, and were baked on Italian terra-cotta tiles in the same style of blushes three times the price. Our favorite shades include Corallina, a coral pink, and Bellissimo Bronze, a glowy taupe.
Ask any member of Team Byrdie whether she prefers cream or powder highlighter, and she'll tell you cream every time. That's simply because creams look way more natural and dewier, as opposed to sparkly and artificial. Speaking of products Byrdie editors agree on, this luminous cream stick has been a team favorite ever since it launched during the mad highlighter craze of 2016. Swirl two fingers into the product, and then pat it on your cheekbones, the tip of your nose, Cupid's bow, and inner corners of your eyes for a dewy, brightened effect that you'll be hard-pressed to get from any other drugstore highlight.
Benefit's brand-new foundation is so good, we've already decided it's the one you should buy if you're looking to spend around 30 bucks. The texture is so absurdly lightweight you can barely feel it, yet its formula, loaded with smoothing shea extract and soft-focus "blurring spheres," still manages to create an airbrushed effect. Like the Physicians Formula pick, it has light to medium coverage and a finish that's matte but still skin-like.
What makes these cheek tints special is that they don't have that slippery formula that slides right off your face like other cream blushes—the balmy texture really locks the pigment into your skin so it stays all day. This is especially positive considering that the shades are really too pretty to be true, but also blend really naturally into different skin tones. (I'm a big fan of the shades Poppy and Sunny.) The product is such a hit among makeup artists and their followers that it's one of the top 10 best-selling products at Violet Grey.
If your budget allows for $30, this is the one blush you should snag.
Another Team Byrdie obsession, Rituel de Fille's subtly holographic cream luminizers are the arguably the best makeup product you can buy for $29, period. As our editorial director, Faith Xue, describes, "These creamy, velvety highlighters are so good I actually can't shut up about them. The solid cream formula melts instantly when you swirl your finger in it, and then it becomes one with your skin wherever you tap it. … Try these; I promise you'll be obsessed as I am."
If celebrities, makeup artists, and beauty editors all recommend a single product over and over again, it means it's probably the best. Such is the case with Armani's iconic Luminous Silk Foundation, which comes in 24 shades, all of which have a ton of pigment but a super-lightweight texture, creating a flawless and radiant finish with very little product used. The formula is incredibly blendable, buildable, and leaves the skin looking like real skin. At $64, it's definitely a splurge but totally worth it if your budget allows.
What could make a cream blush worth $56? In the case of Kjaer Weiss's killer product, it's a little bit of everything. You have a gorgeous natural formulation, containing ingredients like jojoba seed, beeswax, castor seed oil, and Rose Rubigniosa seed oil, which make the product both blendable and healthy for the skin. You've got the five richest, most beautiful shades of blush I've personally ever seen (my favorite is Sun Touched), which make the cheeks look naturally flushed and lit from within.
And you've got stunning, well-made packaging that's refillable, so you're doing something good for the planet.
If it's the crème de la crème of highlighters you're looking for, let us point you directly to RMS's palm-sized palette of coconut oil–based luminizers (because why buy only one highlighter when you can buy four)? Nevermind that the highlighters are vegan, cruelty-free, and USDA organic; they're also high-impact and stunning, able to be worn alone or blended for your own custom glow. Every time you use this quad will feel like a luxurious experience, making the $48 price tag well earned.
Want to see more beauty starter packs? Don't miss our skincare version: a cleanser, serum, and moisturizer trio for every budget.