Even if you love makeup, looking for the perfect product is a daunting task. If you’re on a budget, like most of us, it can be nearly impossible. That’s not for lack of selection: Visit any drugstore or pharmacy and makeup is the first thing you see when you walk in.
You’re hit with an endless wall of cosmetics, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by retouched celebrity faces, ambiguous words like “refining” and “anti-aging,” and brand after brand with racks of products that all look the same.
Add to that the fact that you can’t swatch, shade match, or feel anything on your skin before buying it, so you’re really going on faith that both the formula and the shade are going to work for you each time you purchase.
I’m obsessed with makeup and I’ve tried almost everything you’d find in a local drugstore, so I know which ones are worth your time. If you’re as overwhelmed as I once was, here are some reliable options to start with. This isn’t the first time we’ve done a roundup like this, but this time let’s start with a bare face and work our way out, with options for every layer and most skin tones and types.
Let’s begin with a disclaimer. Saying any beauty product is the best, foundations especially, is asking for trouble. Everyone has a different skin type and preference for what is wanted out of a foundation. What makes these picks the best is the quality of their formula, overall wear and, of course, shade range, because even if a foundation is touted as the absolute best, if it comes only in light to medium shades, how good is it, really?
First up is L’Oréal True Match. You’ll probably recognize this foundation because it’s been around for a while. It may not be the flashiest item in the drugstore, but it doesn’t need a ton of hype because the foundation speaks for itself.
It is very lightweight and gives you nice, medium coverage and is able to be layered in places where you need to hide any imperfections or sheered out in places where you want to let your skin show through. It doesn’t cake up or enhance texture when layered, and blends away seamlessly without any hard lines.
True Match gives you a natural, skinlike finish. It’s not a matte foundation, but it gives you a soft-touch, luminous look while helping to control oil. Simply, it keeps skin looking like skin. It’s oil- and fragrance-free, made with SPF, and is available in 33 shades, from light to deep dark in numerous undertones, making it one of the most diverse foundations in the drugstore.
Next, look for Wet n Wild Photo Focus Foundation. Keep your eye on Wet n Wild. It is known for a few things: being very inexpensive, having luxury formulas, and most important, being one of the only cruelty-free beauty brands in the drugstore.
Photo Focus is a creamy, medium-coverage foundation that applies beautifully, blends out smoothly and dries with a matte finish that stays shine-free throughout wear. I have combination skin and usually have to blot excess oil off my face at least once, even when I wear matte foundations, but I don’t have to blot when I wear this. It controls oil and shine without making my skin look dry or flaky, or bringing out any uneven texture.
Wet n Wild tested this foundation under seven photo lighting conditions to ensure it keeps your face looking gorgeous and natural in photos and selfies. Available in 20 shades, this is a beautiful option for anyone looking for a luxury foundation for barely over $5.
I reach for the same concealer whether I’m wearing a full face of high-coverage makeup or on the days when I’m “not wearing any makeup.” The right concealer can be incorporated into any makeup routine, and a real standout can be found in the drugstore. That standout is NYX HD Photogenic Concealer.
NYX Photogenic Concealer gives you workable high coverage without being too dense or too thick. It blends beautifully, is creamy and hydrating enough to be worn under the eyes and has a luminous matte coverage with a skinlike finish that won’t throw you under the bus when you’re trying to spot conceal. Available in a diverse range of 20 shades for most skin tones (and an additional three for color correcting) for just $5, this is one of those products that should be in everyone’s makeup bag.
Search no further than Physicians Formula Butter Bronzer.
It’s the best drugstore bronzer, full stop. There is really just no competition. Honestly, it would be a challenge to find a high-end bronzer that beats this.
The reason this one stands out from the rest is that, while being a pressed powder, it applies with the color payoff and blendability of a cream product, but doesn’t build up too quickly, look chalky or gray as some bronzers tend to do, or get too orange. It’s just … good.
The downside, and possible deterrent from buying this product, is that, as drugstore products go, it’s a bit on the pricey side: $15 is at the high end of the drugstore spectrum, but this bronzer is worth the splurge, I promise you. There is a reason this is an essential product for so many.
Cream blushes are an ideal makeup bag essential because whether you’re wearing a full face of makeup or just want to bring a flush of healthy color to your bare skin, you can work cream blushes into any look. If you’re in the drugstore looking for a cream blush, search the shelves for Maybelline Dream Bouncy Blush.
This one is really special. The formula is unique, it’s not a pressed powder, nor is it a typical cream blush. It’s a putty texture that changes shape as you press your finger into it. The texture is unique, but so is the wear.
A lot of cream blushes can either be too dense, almost like a lipstick, and seem to just sit on top of skin rather than blending into it, or they can go the way of a cheek stain and be too intense, too quickly. Dream Bouncy does neither. It takes to skin beautifully, can be built up or blended away depending on what you prefer, and appear to be coming from your skin naturally.
Virtually every drugstore or pharmacy should have Wet n Wild’s MegaGlo Highlighting Powder.
Originally released as a limited-edition product in 2016, people went so crazy about this highlighter that Wet n Wild brought it back as a permanent part of its collection and added four more shades, six in all. What makes this highlighter so good is that the powder is finely milled and perfectly pressed into the pan to apply easily, wear beautifully and take you from subtle luminosity to full glow in just a few passes of the brush. This could go up against any of the highlighters in Sephora and still come out on top. And it’s only $5.
This one’s fairly simple and an easy choice, but you might not think that given how many options are available. Stick to Maybelline’s Color Sensational Lipstick. It’s affordable and available just about everywhere.
Maybelline’s Color Sensation Lipstick is simply the MAC of the drugstore. With more colors and finishes every season in its iconic formula, there’s a color for every skin tone and mood.
More than foundations even, it’s difficult to find a mascara you really love, especially in the drugstore. There’s a lot to consider, be it lengthening, volumizing or both. You also have to think about brush type. Nylon or rubber? Washable or waterproof? Black or blackest black?
I’m just saying, it’s hard. Here are a few that I really love.
First, L’Oréal Feline Noir Mascara. Available in both washable and waterproof, this is a killer mascara that makes your lashes look a little longer, a little fatter, and gives them a nice, feline flick at the tips.
Next, Maybelline Volum’ Express Mega Plush Mascara. This is the most underrated mascara in the drugstore. It’s a unique gel-mousse formula that is more lightweight than other mascaras but gives you just as much impact. The wand is hinged, working with your lashes and the applied pressure when you’re swiping it on, for soft, fluttery, gorgeous-looking lashes.
Finding really great beauty products in the drugstore isn’t easy, but it is possible, so bookmark this in your phone and next time you’re looking for the best beauty buys in the drugstore, you’ll have a better idea where to start.