Which Beauty Products Should You Splurge On?

Updated 05/08/19

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They're obvious questions: Do I really need to spend $20 on a lipstick? Can I actually get a good enough foundation from the makeup aisle at my supermarket? My hairstylist says the shampoo at her salon is superior to the $5 shampoo I've been using for years. Is she right?

Admittedly, all luxury beauty brands have their benefits. But if you need to streamline your spending, some might not be worth the sacrifices you're making. The answers largely vary from product-to-product, and even brand to brand. So decide for yourself which beauty products are worth the splurge, and which ones you can get at your local drugstore. From makeup, to hair care to skin care, it's important to know what's really worth the money.

01 of 09

Splurge or Save: Eyeliner and Eyeshadow

Splurge on both.

Most pencil eyeliners are made of wax, which is not worth $18 when you can get a great pencil eyeliner for $3 from any drugstore. But if you don't like the way wax won't glide on easily? Try a gel or a liquid eyeliner. The liquid or gel eyeliner is where you want to spend your money. While a wax eyeliner will smudge, if you're looking for something that glides on easy, odds are you're not going for a messy look, so opt for liners that are known for their staying power. Pat McGrath's Perma Precision, $28, is one that won't budge.

When it comes to eyeshadows, quality is paramount. A great eyeshadow (like the beauty editor's all-time favorite, Dior 5-Coleurs Shadow Palette, $62,) will stay on your eyes all day long, while a cheap, $4 palette will have faded by the time you finish your mid-morning coffee. What's more, quality department counter eyeshadows are almost always more pigmented, so they provide more bang for your buck. If you don't feel like a palette is really your style, find a few shades you really love (one for your lid, one for your crease, and one to darken the corner of the eye) and buy singles of them.

02 of 09

Splurge or Save: Cleansers and Moisturizers

Save on cleansers, splurge on moisturizers.

This might come as a surprise, but there are very few reasons to open your wallet wide for a quality cleanser. In fact, even the fanciest dermatologists and skin care specialists often recommend basic drugstore cleansers to clients. In Vogue Magazine, Manhattan dermatologist Lisa Airan (clad in Manolos, a Hermès bag in hand), mentioned her cleanser of choice is Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash, ($12). Basic drugstore cleansers do an excellent job of removing excess oils and dirt. You don't need fancy ingredients for that. 

That said, as with everything, a fancy cleanser can be great if you manage to afford it. If you have a preferred brand, don't dump it unless you actually want to. Some people, particularly those with bad acne, or sensitive skin may take a while to find the right cleanser—and it might be one on the pricier end.

When considering moisturizers, understand it stays on your face all day, and soaks into your skin. There are great moisturizers out there for cheap, but they're usually not filled with the best ingredients for you to be absorbing. You'll want one for your body, and one for the face. Consider your skin type for facial moisturizer; products are formulated by skin type. For body lotions, consider your needs. Do you have ultra-dry skin that needs super hydrating, or are you looking for a light moisturizer that will soak in fast? Either way, you can find one under $10 at a drugstore that will do the job, just check the label first. For non-toxic body lotions, we're partial to Grown Alchemist's Mandarin & Rosemary Leaf Body Cream ($26).

03 of 09

Splurge or Save: Foundation and Concealer

Splurge on foundation AND concealer.

While you can get a decent foundation at your average drugstore, the chances of you finding the perfect shade for your skin color can be hit or miss—particularly given the fact that drugstores adjust their shade ranges based on predicted demographics for skin color.

Too much money is wasted annually on the wrong shades of foundations and concealers, which is the main reason you should get your butt to the department store and skip the drugstore. Nothing beats the discerning eye of a makeup expert (or just testing it on your skin) when it comes to finding the right shade and formulation. They'll be able to take one look at your skin and determine if the foundation or a tinted moisturizer best suits you or if you need a lighter or darker shade of concealer. Also, you may need different shades of foundation for summer and winter. Most people have a shade or two darker skin in the summer time.

A department store like Sephora is a better idea to go to for foundations and concealer, instead of a specialized counter such as Clinique or M.A.C. Why? Sephora beauty experts have a wide variety of brands to choose from, whereas a Laura Mercier makeup artist only has Laura Mercier makeup to try out.

04 of 09

Splurge or Save: Hair Brushes and Makeup Brushes

Save on hair brushes, splurge on makeup brushes.

Cheap drugstore hairbrushes made of plastic bristles can pull and break hair. We all know that. But thankfully, there have been plenty of boar-bristle brushes recently popping up everywhere, so much so that you can get a great brush for $18-or-so. (A great one is the Marilyn Brush Downtown New Yorker, which costs $18.) Because boar bristles have become so popular, they're popping up at some of the better drugstores these days. Still, they will cost you more than the plastic brushes. If you want a $125 Mason Pearson brush, it'll feel worth it, but you don't need it. 

Makeup brushes are a good example of when synthetic can actually be simpler on your life. Synthetic brushes are easier to clean, and easier to use with wet makeup than their much more expensive natural bristle cousins (which can come in pony, squirrel, goat or badger hair).

That said, cheap makeup brushes won't last nearly as long as well-made brushes. For this reason alone, investing in affordable brushes from Sigma, M.A.C. or Sonia Kashuk (available at all Target stores) is ultimately the best idea. These brushes aren't "cheap," but they won't break your bank. Just as a gourmet needs only three types of kitchen knives to cook like a chef, you need only three or four makeup brushes to get flawless makeup like a model—anything else than that is excess, but if you're really into makeup you might want it.

Only keep around the tiny brushes that come with department store makeup for touch-ups on the go. You'll get a much smoother, flawless finish with a professional makeup brush.

05 of 09

Splurge or Save: Shampoos, Conditioners and Blow-Dryers

Save on shampoos and conditioners, splurge on blow-dryers.

Sorry you hairstylists out there with a fancy brand to push, the truth is drugstore brand shampoos and conditioners get the job done. There's no need to spend $75 on a ginormous bottle of Kerastase shampoo, unless like me, you're super attached to the way it makes your hair smell or you really, truly believe in the bottle's claims that its special ingredients can pump up your volume into Beyonce-like proportions.

One reason mass brand products, like Pantene and L'Oreal, are so great: The companies have billions of dollars to put into cutting-edge research.

As for blow-dryers, the new ionic dryers—DryBar's Buttercup dryers, which are priced at $195, are great—that finish hair in record time not only save you time every morning, but they cut down on heat exposure to your hair and less drying time means less damage.

06 of 09

Splurge or Save: Lipstick and Lip Glosses

Splurge on lipstick, save on and lip glosses.

The fact is, lip glosses rarely last, so why spend big bucks on them? Both Revlon and L'Oreal make a great basic lip gloss. That said, you'll find much better color ranges and less stickiness if you splurge on Fenty or Chanel gloss, the beauty editor's favorite.

As for lipsticks, the formulations from Chanel, M.A.C., Kat Von D, Dior, and Pat McGrath can't be beaten. If longevity is the only thing that's important to you, you can find a great long-wearing lipstick in your local drugstore. But given how much lipstick people accidentally eat while wearing it, it's good to have a formulation you trust.

07 of 09

Splurge or Save: Mascara and Eyelash Curlers

Save on mascara and on eyelash curlers.

Mascaras are one of those beauty products people find and stick by forever, but I not everybody don't needs to be spending the money they do on mascara. Maybelline New York Great Lash Mascara has gone down forever as the best drugstore buy ever. At just $6 a tube, it's a great—possibly the ultimate— basic standby. L'Oreal and Max Factor also make great drugstore mascaras.

Every magazine touts Shu Uemura as the eyelash curler everyone must have in their makeup drawer. But plenty of people prefer Tweezerman's, so it's up to you. (Full disclosure, I absolutely prefer my Shu Uemura curler.)

08 of 09

Splurge or Save: Tweezers and Flatirons

Splurge on tweezers AND flatirons.

The tweezers you can get at grocery stores are useless. Trust me, I am a tweezer addict. I've tried them all. The best ones are Tweezerman Slant Tweezers, ($23.) Cheaper brands just don't have the holding and pulling power that a Tweezerman has. Just one should last a lifetime (if they wear down, you can mail them in and the company will sharpen the edges for you for free), but they're so small that they're pretty easy to use.

Ceramic flatirons (usually more than $50 at a beauty supply store) are worth the money if you straighten your hair on a regular basis. Not only will a quality flatiron last longer, but they're far superior to any other one you can get your hat on. They get hotter faster, smooth the hair shaft better and are less damaging to hair.

09 of 09

Splurge or Save: Blush, Bronzers and Powders

Splurge on blush, bronzers, and powders.

It might seem weird because they seem very extraneous, but if you use them frequently, you have good reason to splurge on anything in powder form. While you will consistently find drugstore mascaras, cleansers, and moisturizers on your average "Best Beauty Products" lists, you won't find many drugstore blush, bronzers, ​and powders. Why? Luxury powders have been pulverized to such a degree that you can layer and layer without ever looking like a clown, according to former Marie Claire beauty editor, Didi Gluck, in their magazine.

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