Which Beauty Products Should You Splurge On?

beauty products spread out on a table

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These are obvious questions for frugal makeup lovers: 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 from 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. And keep in mind that a "splurge" will always be relative—there are plenty of mid-range brands that are well worth the buy.

Here are our suggestions on when to splurge and when to save.

01 of 09

Splurge or Save: Eyeliner and Eyeshadow

eyeshadow swatches on forearm

Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

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. Here's 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 ($34) is one that won't budge.

When it comes to eyeshadows, quality is paramount. A great eyeshadow, like the beauty editor favorite, Dior 5-Coleurs Shadow Palette ($62) will stay on your eyes all day long, while a cheap, $4 palette will likely have faded by the time you finish your mid-morning coffee (especially without the help of a primer). What's more, quality 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, or want to save a few bucks by buying less, find a few single shades you really love (we suggest one for your lid, one for your crease, and one to darken the outer corner of the eye).

02 of 09

Splurge or Save: Cleanser and Moisturizer

Save on: cleanser; splurge on: moisturizer.

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. Basic drugstore cleansers do an excellent job of removing excess oils and dirt. Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser ($17) is a staple for a reason. That said, 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 not always filled with the best ingredients for you to be absorbing. You'll want separate options for your body and face. Consider your skin type when shopping for moisturizer: Do you have ultra-dry skin that needs major hydration, or are you looking for a light moisturizer that will soak in fast? Either way, check the ingredients first.

grown alchemist body cream
Grown Alchemist Body Cream with Mandarin and Rosemary Leaf $26.00
03 of 09

Splurge or Save: Foundation and Concealer

close-up of woman's face

Omid Armin/Unsplash

Splurge on: both.

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 don't usually have testers available for swatching.

Too much money is wasted annually on the wrong shades of foundations and concealers, which is the main reason you should get yourself to the department store or Sephora if you can afford it. Nothing beats the discerning eye of a makeup expert (or just testing the product on your own skin) when it comes to finding the right shade and formulation. They'll be able to make recommendations and tell you if a foundation or a tinted moisturizer best suits you, or if you need a lighter or darker shade of concealer.

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

cup of makeup brushes

Taisiia Shestopal/Unsplash

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, gentler boar-bristle brushes are becoming more popular and popping up at the drugstores. You can now get a great brush for less than $20. A great one is the Marilyn Brush Downtown New Yorker, $24. 

Makeup brushes are a good example of when synthetic bristles can simplify your life. Synthetic brushes are easier to clean and easier to use with wet makeup than their much more expensive natural bristle cousins. That said, really inexpensive makeup brushes won't last nearly as long. For this reason alone, investing in affordable but not dirt-cheap brushes from brands like Sigma, M.A.C. or Sonia Kashuk (available at Target stores) is ultimately the best idea. 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.

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: Shampoo, Conditioner, and Blow-Dryers

Save on: shampoo and conditioner: splurge on: blow-dryers.

Sorry to all you hairstylists out there with a fancy brand to push—the truth is, nine times out of ten, drugstore brand shampoos and conditioners get the job done. Depending on your hair type, there's probably no need to spend $75 on a bottle of shampoo (unless like me, you're super attached to the way it makes your hair smell or you truly believe in the bottle's claims that the special formula can pump up your volume to Beyonce-like proportions).

One reason products from mass brands like Pantene and L'Oreal are so great is that the companies have billions of dollars to put into cutting-edge research.

As for blow-dryers, the new ionic dryers—DryBar's Buttercup dryers, for example—not only save you time every morning, but cut down on heat exposure due to speedy styling. Less drying time means less damage.

drybar buttercup dryer
DryBar Buttercup Blow Dryer $199.00
06 of 09

Splurge or Save: Lipstick and Lip Gloss

close up of glossy lips

Cesar la Rosa/Unsplash

Splurge on: lipstick; save on: lip gloss.

The fact is, lip glosses rarely last, so why spend big bucks on them? Both Revlon and L'Oreal make great basic lip gloss options. That said, you'll find more color options and less stickiness if you splurge on Fenty, Glossier, or even Chanel, so assess your priorities. If clear gloss is your thing, go cheap.

As for lipsticks, the formulations from brands like Chanel, M.A.C., KVD Vegan Beauty, Dior, and Pat McGrath can't be beaten. If longevity is the only thing that's important to you, you can find a long-wearing lipstick in your local drugstore. But given how much lipstick people accidentally eat over the course of a lifetime, it's good to have a formulation you trust.

07 of 09

Splurge or Save: Mascara and Eyelash Curlers

woman with closed eyes

Jose Martinez/Unsplash

Save on: both.

Mascaras are one of those beauty products people become very loyal towards, but not everybody needs to be spending big money on it. Maybelline New York Great Lash ($8) has gone down in history as pretty much the best drugstore buy of all time. L'Oreal and Max Factor also make great affordable mascaras.

Every celebrity touts the Shu Uemura Eyelash Curler ($23) as the must have in their makeup drawer, but plenty of people prefer the less pricey Tweezerman Great Grip Eyelash Curler ($13) for $10 less.

08 of 09

Splurge or Save: Blush, Bronzers and Powders

woman with chin in hand

Morgan Mcdonald/Unsplash

Splurge on: all three.

It might seem weird because these items can be 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 tend to be softer and more finely-milled, so they blend seamlessly and never look cakey.

09 of 09

Splurge or Save: Tweezers and Flatirons

Splurge on: both.

Let me give it to you straight: the tweezers you can get at the grocery store are useless. Trust me, I am a tweezer addict; I've tried them all, and Tweezerman makes the best. Cheaper brands just don't have the same grip. And just one pair from Tweezerman should last a lifetime—when they wear down, you can mail them in and the company will sharpen the edges for free.

On the other hand, ceramic flatirons, which can run 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, it will get hotter faster, smooth the hair shaft better, and be overall less damaging to your hair.

tweezerman slant tweezers
Tweezerman Slant Tweezers $17.00

Next up: What You Really Need to Know About Makeup Expiration Dates

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