When I was in college, I lived off of Hot Pockets, shopped second-hand, and coasted on fumes to my internships and classes, but my makeup was always on point. I toted a faux Chanel wallet that remained nearly empty at all times, but it was when I perused the e.l.f. Cosmetics collection at my local drugstore that I felt money was no object. My makeup bag never ran low on my favorite $6 foundation (now known as the HD Mattifying Cream Foundation) or the super-creamy, long-lasting $4 Cream Eyeliner. I was even able to experiment and test new products without worrying about spending my last dime—a luxury when you're used to scraping for change. Since then, I graduated and finally began making money at my big-girl job. But even with a bigger budget and access to some of the best beauty products on the market (thanks to said big-girl job), I still continue to stock up on some of my go-to e.l.f. faves.
Founded: Joseph Shamah and Scott Vincent Borba in 2004
Based In: California and New York
Best Known For: Providing high-quality vegan and cruelty-free beauty at minimal markups.
Most Popular Product: Poreless Putty Primer. The brand claims it's the #1 bestselling Primer in America.
Fun Fact: E.l.f. offers a 15% off discount for students who register on elfcosmetics.com.
Other Brands You'll Love: NYX, Colourpop
With a price point to satisfy even the most frugal beauty junkie, e.l.f. (which stands for eyes.lips.face) made its mark on the beauty scene in 2004 with an arsenal of items that delivered major results. At the time of their launch, every product cost just $1, making it one of the only mass cosmetics companies to offer such low prices. Since then, the brand has expanded into a beauty empire that houses categories from makeup and tools to skincare that boast high-quality ingredients like hyaluronic acid, squalene, and CBD.
E.l.f. was founded by father-son entrepreneurs Alan and Joey Shamah, who collectively spent over 30 years in the apparel business. Inspired by the fast-fashion industry's growing success, the duo set out to recreate the model of low prices, fast turnarounds, and trendy aesthetics, but for the beauty world. But unlike the fast-fashion world, the Shamahs vowed to stray away from the notion that cheap products meant low-quality results. Instead, they created products that performed well above its super-affordable price tag.
Although a vast audience, we uncovered that their wants are remarkably similar: access to the best of beauty, without compromising their wallets or the value of their products.
The brand attributes their close relationships with suppliers and manufacturing abroad for keeping their cruelty-free brand costs low. The brand also spends very little money on traditional advertising or celebrity endorsements and relies heavily on social media exposure and crowdsourcing. e.l.f. prides themselves on keeping their finger on the pulse of the customer's needs and wants via online reviews, in-store consumer feedback, and social media.
"We (re)discovered that our target audience is any and every eye, lip, and face," Kory Marchisotto, Chief Marketing Officer, tells Byrdie. She explains e.l.f. is for the maximalist and minimalist, for the young and the mature, for females and males. "Although a vast audience, we uncovered that their wants are remarkably similar: access to the best of beauty, without compromising their wallets or the value of their products."
E.l.f. has stayed true to its mission from day one and continues to surpass expectations. The brand persistently stays on-trend (in addition to inspiring new ones), sources high-quality ingredients that rival brands even triple their price point, and pushes the envelope with innovation. Scroll through for our e.l.f. obsessions, some of which will forever remain our favorite money-saving dupes.
Poreless Putty Primer
If flawless-looking makeup starts with a perfectly primed base, this $8 primer is a small (really small) price to pay for a smooth canvas. This Putty Primer comes in three finishes (poreless, matte, and luminous) for a customizable look, and it's packed with squalane to keep your skin from drying throughout the day. And if you ask me, it's a spot-on dupe for Tatcha's $52 The Silk Canvas Primer.
Squalane is the hydrogenated form of squalene. It is a lipid that is naturally found in the skin and secreted by the sebaceous glands. It calms inflammation, supports the outer skin barrier, and works well with actives like retinol.
Wow Brow Gel
If you lust over thick, voluminous brows, this $4 find can transform even the thinnest, most sparse arches in a few swipes. The wax-gel formula is infused with micro-sized, hair-like fibers to fluff up your brows and comes in five pigmented shades to define those arches.
19-Piece Brush Set
This is the most expensive item on e.l.f. 's roster, and trust us, it's worth every penny. Housed in a chic, travel-friendly roll-up case, this set of 19 vegan brushes equates to less than $3 per brush, all of which can be used with wet or dry products. A steal if I've ever heard one.
Jelly Pop Face And Eye Gloss
Brands from MAC to Morphe and Gucci to Chanel have all released their own versions of a bouncy face gloss that gives your makeup that wet look, but e.l.f.'s is the most affordable by far. Pop it on your eyes, lips, and face (get it?) for a dewy shine that catches the light all day.
We don't have to tell you that contour palettes can be expensive, but not this one. This collection of four powder shades sculpts, shades, highlights, and brightens your complexion for less than the price of your morning coffee. And the best part is it's infused with vitamin E, so you never look dry or chalky.
Gentle Peeling Exfoliant
I'm obsessed with peeling gels that roll away dead skin without harsh abrasives, but those can run you between $40 and $60 a pop. This $10 version gives you the same satisfying exfoliation via tangerine, papaya, and licorice extracts for a fraction of the price.
Beauty Shield Magnetic Mask Kit
If you like your skincare routine to be experiential and (we're just going to come out and say it) Insta-worthy, this award-winning mask is just the product to add to your regime. Apply the antioxidant-packed mask, then use the magnetic wand to remove the mask and extract impurities like something out of a science project, leaving you with super soft, hydrated skin.
Clarifying Booster Drops
This little vial of tea tree oil and witch hazel is your secret to achieving clear skin, while playing chemist in your very own bathroom. Wear the formula alone or mix it in with your favorite skincare or makeup products for a skin-clearing boost.
50 MG CBD Moisturizer
One of this year's trendiest skincare ingredients is undoubtedly CBD, and while most brands offer it at a higher cost, this $15 moisturizer addresses inflammation, dryness, and free radical damage with a whopping 50 milligrams of CBD. It also hydrates skin with hyaluronic acid and sweet almond oil, all while maintaining a lightweight gel-cream texture.