I've just given up high-end makeup cold turkey, and suddenly it's all I can see. My bathroom countertop is piled to the ceiling with Becca highlighters, Too Faced lipsticks, and Nudestix brow pencils that I'm now forbidden to use. At the office, every Byrdie desk is overflowing with loot from Sephora, mocking me with its gleaming labels. A package arrives for me from Nars. I don't even open it. Because for the next five days, I'm not allowed to use it—any of it.
Starting today, I'm embarking on a little beauty experiment: I'm going to use exclusively drugstore makeup every day for a week to see if I can tell the difference.
This really shouldn't be difficult. Throughout my high school and college years, I only ever used the cheapest makeup available. I'd enter Sephora under one scenario: to do my makeup, swipe as many free perfume samples as I could get away with, and leave.
However, my ever-intensifying beauty fixation and unique day job have slowly coaxed me into believing that you have to pay a little more (or in some cases, a lot more) for the formulas and results you want. Earlier this summer, for example, I decided that $55 was the price one had to pay for the ideal red lipstick.
But I wasn't raised to be like this. So I decided it was time for a change. Here's how the experiment worked: For a week, I replaced every last one of my luxury makeup products with a drugstore option, and I didn't tell anyone. I chose classic products I'd loved years before and new releases whose formulas intrigued me. The goal was to see how I liked the products and how other people reacted to them.
To be honest, my prediction was that I'd feel "meh" about most of the makeup and promptly return to my high-end routine once the detox was over. I certainly didn't expect to dig dozens of products and rethink my philosophy on the price of makeup.
To kick off my week, I went with the look I'm most comfortable with: winged liner and a tangerine lip. With skepticism, I broke into my new drugstore arsenal, praying the concealer would blend, the eyeliner would stay put, and the lipstick would offer pigment. I had a dinner engagement that night, and I didn't want to embarrass myself.
With its creamy, crease-less formula, L'Oréal's Visible Lift Blur Concealer ($8) was the first to impress me. (Unexpectedly, I've continued using it every day since the experiment.) The CoverGirl blush ($9) and bronzer ($13) I used bore a surprising resemblance to my favorite Hourglass Ambient Lighting products. The fine-tipped NYX liquid liner ($7) swished across my lid with the flexibility and pigment of products thrice its price. So far, so good.
But what struck me the most about this look was this Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick ($9), which I'd pulled from the obscurity of my lipstick drawer after having abandoned the stuff for half a decade. Five years ago, when I was living in New York City, this was my absolute favorite lipstick—I wore it almost every day.
Rediscovering its moisturizing consistency, lightweight feel, and vibrant color left my lips on-point all day, but it also sent me back, as if by time machine, to my former life in New York. Every time I looked in the mirror, I caught a glimpse of my 19-year-old self—that naïve hot mess with her orange lips—and it reminded me of how far I've come since.
Fueled by nostalgia, my confidence in the experiment swelled a percentage point or two.
My Tuesday look was a bit more trend-driven: a fuchsia lip and glossy lids.
Remembering the versatility of the drugstore that I once knew so well, I decided to get crafty: Instead of hunting for a highlighter explicitly intended for glossy lids, I whipped out a Carmex lip balm ($3). I dabbed a few layers of the stuff onto my lids, paired it with a bright pink lip ($3), and was feeling my look the whole day.
This look also introduced me to Pixi's Natural Brow Duo ($16), which has replaced the $33 brow product I was using before. Featuring a teardrop-shaped pencil on one end and a tinted setting gel on the other, the product is alarmingly luxe.
Another thing I love about this look is that 100% of the products used are cruelty-free, which I was delighted to find at the drugstore.
My Wednesday look was responsible for the most compliments I've received on my makeup in weeks. (And because I survive on sweet talk over oxygen, I proceeded to keep a log of the exact tally: five total.)
My co-workers particularly took to the blush color, which they were all startled to discover was a $3 pick from Wet n Wild. I'm fairly confident that if someone repackaged this blush, slapped a different label on it, and displayed it at Sephora, there would be few customer complaints.
Complete with a nude liquid lip and a silvery eye, both thanks to Maybelline, the look achieved a day-to-night balance that seemed to resonate with the Byrdie crew.
Star product: Wet n Wild Color Icon Blush in Rosé Champagne ($3).
On Thursday, I said screw it and doused my face in bronzer ($16). I also stepped out of my normal routine to create a smudgy cat eye with L'Oréal's Smokissime eyeliner ($9). This unique product features a chubby pointed applicator that delivers powder to your lids, creating a messy, smoked-out look without the need for eye shadow. (Though I applied some E.l.f shadow underneath anyway. What can I say? Thursday was wild.)
Forcing myself to get playful with products had the same effect on the looks I was willing to try. Though I probably won't go quite this bronzy in the future, it was worth the risk. (Honestly, whose makeup looks 100% perfect every day of the week anyway?)
Star product: L'Oréal Infallible Smokissime in Taupe Smoke ($9).
By Friday, I'd already learned that drugstore makeup could help you re-create current trends and support a cruelty-free lifestyle. But could it take you on a night out?
Equipped with a Kim K-esque nude lip from Kate Moss's Rimmel collection ($6), Maybelline's High-Impact Strobing Stick ($10), and a pair of user-friendly lashes from Ardell ($8) (which are self-adhesive and require zero coordination or glue), the answer was a yes, indeed.
Normally at the end of a detox, no matter how refreshed you feel, the first thing you want to do is eat an entire pizza. But by the end of my makeup cleanse, I wasn't feeling as ravenous as I thought I would. Sure, I was eager to get back to my $55 lipstick (fancy habits die hard). But I didn't see it as necessary anymore.
Rediscovering the drugstore showed me more than just the error of my makeup snobbery. It reminded me of the scrappy, creative beauty consumer I used to be. As it turns out, with a little savvy, you can have your bright lips, your cat eye, and a full bank account too.
Star product: Ardell Self-Adhesive Press On Lash ($8).
This story was originally published August 24, 2016.