The No-BS Guide To Buying Drugstore Makeup

Navigating the overwhelming drugstore makeup aisles can be like managing your Netflix queue — you know there’s tons of good stuff in there, but where to start? The good news is, there are plenty of treasures that rival the more expensive department store options. You just need an expert guide on cutting through the clutter.

We grilled makeup pros, stalked beauty editors, and studied drugstores’ best-seller lists to find out the very best basics with which to stock your makeup bag. Whether you're building your first bag from scratch, restocking your current one with more budget-friendly options, or just looking for some winners to add to your daily lineup, consider these buys the Orange Is the New Black of your kit.
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Foundation
The foundation of many makeup bags is, well, foundation. Revlon’s ColorStay formula is one of the most popular drugstore foundations sold in the United States — and the fact that it’s long-wear only adds to the appeal. Beyond shade-matching, you can choose between options for normal to dry skin or normal to oily skin to make sure it's the right fit for your complexion.

Revlon ColorStay Makeup, $8.79, available at Target.
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Concealer
The handy crayon tip of this concealer makes it a cinch to apply and blend. There’s enough pigment to cover dark circles and blemishes, and it has a hint of luminosity so it never looks chalky. Celebrity makeup artist Jenn Streicher says she keeps this in her bag for touch-ups and uses it as a highlighter as well as a concealer.

Physicians Formula
Nude Wear Touch of Glow Stick, $7.77, available at Walgreens.
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Primer/Highlighter
Celebrity makeup artist Fiona Stiles compares this mass-market formula to the super-luxurious Tom Ford luminizer. The primer preps skin for smooth makeup application, but the multitasking potential is what truly makes it a must-have.

Stiles especially likes to use it as a spot highlighter on the cheekbones, under the eyes, and down the bridge of the nose. “I have been using this forever,” Stiles says. “It was discontinued for a while, and I was devastated. But it’s back and better than ever!”

L'Oréal Lumi Magique Primer, $11.66, available at Drugstore.com.
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Bronzer/Blush
You don’t need a complicated contouring kit to try the technique. These silky powders create a healthy glow that makeup artist Molly R. Stern uses on her celebrity clients. Stern says the darker shade can be swept on to contour the cheekbones and jawline, while the peach blush is a fresh and natural option for every day.

E.L.F. Contouring Blush and Bronzing Powder in St. Lucia, $2.99, available at Target.
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Mascara
Whether you ask makeup artists or check drugstore sales stats, CoverGirl pretty much owns the mascara marketplace. And this version is especially a crowd-pleaser: More than 7.5 million tubes of this top-selling formula are sold per year. (Pros are also fans of CoverGirl LashExact Mascara and CoverGirl Clump Crusher Mascara.)

COVERGIRL LashBlast Volume Mascara, $7.79, available at Drugstore.com.
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Eyeliner
Your go-to liner should be versatile, and this gel formula fits the bill. The four rich shades set to a long-wearing, shiny finish that lasts a whopping 24 hours. (Though we do recommend washing it off before bed.)

It's oil-free, doesn't flake, and will cost you half of comparable department store options, says celebrity makeup artist Andrew Sotomayor. But don't just take his word for it: This is one of the most popular makeup items sold at CVS across the board.

Maybelline Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner, $9.99, available at CVS.
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Eyeshadow Palette
No need to scour the shelves for shadows that will work for your skin tone. This palette offers a dozen perfectly pigmented shades of soft pink, brown, tan, bronze, and taupe in a flattering finish.

Use a wet brush to take these silky powders from day to night, or layer them for added intensity. Celebrity makeup artist Fabiola says this is her go-to for a versatile smoky-eye look.

Sonia Kashuk Neutral Shimmer 3 Palette, $19.99, available at Target.
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Lip Color
There’s nothing like a no-risk makeup investment. For $3, you can’t beat the payoff of this liquid lip color (which comes in 13 shades). Celebrity makeup artist Nick Barose loves the intensity and long-lasting wear — and the fact that you can grab multiples and experiment without feeling like you're throwing away your money.

Wet n Wild MegaLast Liquid Lip Color, $2.99, available at Drugstore.com.
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Brow Pencil
Brow products can be tricky to find at the drugstore, as many of the shades tend to skew too dark or too warm. Not these. The eight hues of Nyx's micro brow pencils include auburn, ashy blond, and taupe. And, the superfine pencil and accompanying spoolie brush allow for the most natural-looking application.

Nyx Micro Brow Pencil, $10, available at Nyx Cosmetics.
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Powder
Powder can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Neutrogena uses finely milled powders with rice proteins to absorb excess oils and blend seamlessly without caking. Need more proof? It’s one of the top five face products sold at CVS.

Neutrogena Shine Control Powder Invisible, $12.99, available at Drugstore.com.
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