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With thousands of makeup products to choose from, and new and improved options cropping up each season, it can be overwhelming and pricey to find the best solutions for your individual beauty needs.
After all, there’s nothing more annoying than shelling out big bucks on the lipstick of the moment just to have it rub off on your teeth during that highly-anticipated date or crucial meeting.
Because these embarrassing moments are avoidable, and more and more brands are making great products that are actually affordable, we’ve asked makeup experts who’ve spent their entire careers test-driving drugstore formulas to pick the ones that have made the biggest difference in their — and their clients’ — lives.
From the soft-matte, smudge-proof liquid lipstick that has over 7,000 reviews to the gold-standard mascara that has managed to capture the hearts of makeup experts everywhere, read on as they share the game-changing eye, lip and face products they’ve come to rely on most.
Best drugstore makeup, according to experts
Mary Irwin, a makeup artist in New York, considers this lipstick from Maybelline “a real game changer” thanks to its impressive formula.
“I love this lipstick! There are 35 colors to choose from, the applicator is super easy to use, and the formula is extremely long-wearing. I can wear it for 10 hours and it won’t budge!,” she said of the product, which has a near five-star rating from over 7,000 reviewers on Walmart's website.
Neil Scibelli, a celebrity makeup artist and beauty expert who’s worked with clients like Elle Macpherson and Sofia Richie, considers this primer-serum a must-have for natural-looking, dewy skin.
“It’s filled with hydrating peptides, which boost the skin’s radiance and hydration, and also contains a built-in highlighter," Scibelli said. "It's not overly shiny, but gives the skin that instant healthy glow which can be worn on its own or under makeup."
He adds that the lightweight gel consistency also dries quickly, meaning you don’t have to wait too long if opting to layer makeup over it.
Tara Dowburd, a makeup artist and founder of Make-Up Therapy who’s worked with celebrities such as Kristen Bell, Kaley Cuoco and Ana Ortiz, always reaches for this mascara from L’Oréal.
“It stays on beautifully on the upper and lower lashes, doesn’t clump or flake, and is buildable for creating a natural or dramatic effect depending on the number of coats you apply,” she said. “The pigment is also great. The black is a true dark black, the dark brown is a gorgeous chocolate brown, and they even make a deep green, which is especially beautiful on hazel eyes!”
This anti-inflammatory formula from Green Goo — made with a blend of aloe vera and vitamin E for added nourishment — was designed to solve a range of skin concerns.
“I use it on over-washed, dry hands, under my eyes at night, and on my kids’ scrapes," said Carissa Passerella of Hooked on Beauty. "For clients, I press it onto cheekbones for a slight glow to finish off makeup perfectly, as well as on clean skin for a no-makeup highlight anywhere I want the light to hit the skin."
When it comes to blushes, Scibelli has come to rely on Milani for its clean, vegan and highly-pigmented formulas, which he finds comparable to their luxury counterparts.
“They offer a wide range of shades — from gorgeous peaches to deeper rose colors — and cater to all skin tones," he said. "The blushes also contain a slight built-in highlight, which reflects light around the cheekbones."
This one has a 4.6-star rating from nearly 400 reviewers on Walmart's website, and comes equipped with a mirror and brush.
Katherine Dorn, a celebrity makeup artist at Pierre Michel Salon, recommends these Wispies from Ardell for those who don’t like to wear traditional (and sometimes uncomfortable) false lashes.
“They are lightweight and accentuate the eyes with a pretty, natural-looking wispy effect,” she said.
Conceal, contour and highlight like a pro with this budget-friendly pick from L.A. Girl. “It comes in a wide range of shades and color-correcting formulas, which can be used to create beautiful, lightweight and buildable coverage,” Dorn said.
The brand recommends applying with a finger or brush and setting with loose powder for best results.
Shira Aaron, a celebrity makeup artist in New York, counts this slick stick from Burt’s Bees among her multitasking must-haves.
“Aside from its ability to add a quick pop of color to your lips and cheeks, it glides on smoothly, blends easily, and has some pretty amazing benefits and claims. Your skin will stay hydrated with ingredients like jojoba, sunfower and coconut oil, and it’s formulated without parabens, phthalates, petroleum or SLS,” she said, adding that she uses the six shades on a range of different skin tones.
Great for sensitive types, this cleanser from Garnier gets the job done without any harshness or irritation.
“I’ve been using and traveling with this cleansing water for years. It's gentle, especially around the eyes, yet still removes all traces of makeup," Scibelli said. "I personally love dipping into it with a Q-tip to sharpen up a cat eye or clean up eyeshadow from under the eyes."
There’s also a version specifically designed to tackle waterproof makeup for tougher formulas that require a bit more heavy lifting.
As its name would suggest, this foundation from Juvia’s Place glides on easily and strikes the perfect balance between dewy and matte.
“It offers full coverage that can be sheered out and leaves you with a soft-matte, long-wearing finish. It’s great for oily skin!” Irwin said. She’s also a big fan of the brand’s eye shadows.
Dorn often recommends clients use No7 sheet masks as a way to prime their skin before she applies their makeup. “They make such a wonderful variety of easy-to-use masks that are super-concentrated with the most wonderful ingredients, helping with anti-aging, firming, purifying, lifting and hydrating,” she said.
"I love the Covergirl Matte Ambition Face Powders. Not only do they provide a smooth matte finish that never gets cakey, but all CoverGirl products are Leaping Bunny Certified Cruelty-Free everywhere in the world!" said Andrew Sotomayor, an Emmy-winning makeup artist in New York.
Reviewers on Ulta Beauty's website also love its lightweight texture and shine-controlling capabilities.
For more stories like this, check out:
- I've been a beauty editor for 20 years — here are 20 products I swear by
- I finally tried retinol in my 40s — and I wish I'd done it sooner
- 7 of our favorite face washes that combat summer skin issues