The Budget Guide To No-Makeup Makeup

Photographed by Tory Rust.
Call us enablers, but we can pretty much always find ways to talk each other into expensive beauty buys. Tom Ford lipstick? Add it to your online cart. Diorshow mascara? Time to swipe that credit card, friend. But, with more subtle items — a.k.a. products that help you achieve a no-makeup makeup look — we're more likely to balk at a price. Why spend dough on something you can't see? You can do that on the cheap. Right?
That's exactly what we set out to test in this installment of Cheap Challenge. Armed with $30 each, we four beauty editors raided our favorite stores to find products that would make us glow without looking overly done-up. It turns out, no-makeup makeup is a lot harder to shop for and pull off than it seems.
Click through to see (and shop!) our looks. Minimal makeup may be tough to perfect when you're on a budget, but it's doable — and we're here to prove it.
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Photographed by Tory Rust.
Megan McIntyre, Beauty Director
No-makeup makeup intimidates me. As an acne sufferer, the idea of trying to look like I'm not wearing any makeup has always seemed counterintuitive to my life's mission of covering up my blemishes, post-acne hyperpigmentation, and Dawn of the Dead undereye circles. But, I could see the appeal: I was hypnotized by the models' skin at Proenza Schouler and intrigued by the challenge to try and cook up my own minimal look.

I chose Target, because I have a soft spot for its beauty department and great assortment of brands. I knew from the myriad interviews and stories we've done that bold brows and highlighted skin are key to no-makeup makeup. So, I chose four products I thought would give me the best shot of crafting that.

First, I moisturized. I'm fortunate in that the regular moisturizer I use, Shiseido's All Day Brightener, has illuminating pigments to make my skin subtly glow and counteract any dullness.

I used the highlighting end of the NYX Push-Up Bra pencil underneath my arches, down my face, and over my nose. Then, I applied a diagonal line up my cheekbones, a few dots on my browbones, and softly traced my Cupid's bow, using my fingers to blend. I also used it on the lower waterline to brighten my sleepy gaze. I brushed my brows with a spoolie, and used the brow-pencil side of the Push-Up Bra to fill them in with short, feathery strokes, finishing with a final spoolie stroke for even application.

Next, I warmed the Boots Super Balm between my fingers. I dabbed some on my cheekbones, and applied some to my eyelids for a glossy effect. I used the remnants to delicately brush over my brows with my finger to keep the hairs in place. Then, I applied the Neutrogena balm to my lips. I loved how soft and plush it made them feel, and the color was spot-on for me.

I curled my lashes, and used a tissue to wipe the excess product off the mascara wand before swiping on a coat — for me, no-makeup makeup is about long, separated lashes, not clumped-up volume. I held the brush horizontally first and wiggled it up my lashes, and then used a trick I learned from some clever makeup artists, placing the brush vertically against my lashes to make sure I coated the tips. I then used my finger to push the still-wet lashes upward and enhance the curl.

I stayed within budget, but I have to come clean: I did use some of my NARS Creamy Concealer before I got to work, dabbing a tiny amount under my eyes and on my zits a few hours before I applied the other products. Hey, you try having your face photographed for millions of people to study and judge, and tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing. #sorrynotsorry

I don't want to brag, but I think I really nailed the whole no-makeup makeup thing. I like skin that looks like skin, just a bit better, but until now I wasn't sure how to pull that off without using base products. This experiment gave me the confidence to know that I can go BB cream-free and still look pretty great.
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Photographed by Tory Rust.
Phillip Picardi, Senior Beauty Editor
Walgreens is a beauty mecca, and I love that it offers some more prestige brands along with your typical drugstore finds. But, was it easy to find a look within my budget? Hell to the no. No-makeup makeup is all about subtle nuances, and it's primarily skin-focused, so getting my skin to where I wanted it to be was a little bit difficult.

The most important thing with no-makeup makeup has nothing to do with makeup at all. You should have an entire skin regimen that consists of layering hydrating products so that your face is plumped and ready for a light-handed application. When I woke up the morning of this shoot, I made sure to exfoliate, use a liquid lotion, apply a face oil, and then finish with a gel moisturizer and my eye cream. I actually mixed my Revlon Skinlights right into my moisturizer to get an overall luminosity to my face.

After base makeup, I grabbed Maybelline's blush stick, which also has a bit of a sheen to it, and pressed it into the apples of my cheeks using my ring finger. I then dabbed it onto my lips, finishing with a slick of lip balm to sheer it out a little bit. I used Maybelline's Barely Branded (an eyeshadow) as a highlight — I just tapped it onto the high planes of my face, making a sideways V-shape from the top of my orbital bone to the outer end of my brow. I also brought that to my inner corners, down the bridge of my nose, and onto my Cupid's bow.

Then, I spooned a little bit of that eyeshadow out and mixed it with Revlon Skinlights on the top of my hand, and used a cream shadow brush to sweep it over my eyelids. I tapped the excess of that mixture onto the tops of my cheekbones and onto my lips.

I did technically stay within budget, but I feel like I cheated a little — base makeup and skin care don't technically count for these Cheap Challenge stories, and I obviously used a (very expensive) concealer. (Skip the hateration, please: That camera lens was right in front of my face, and I have zero time for my pores and dark spots to be showing up on Google Images.) But, in the spirit of the story, I think all budget beauties should try NYX's HD Concealer, which was recommended to me by my friend, the makeup artist Benjamin Puckey. The finished product was absolutely a look I'd wear normally — in fact, it's my go-to.
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Photographed by Tory Rust.
Maria Del Russo, Beauty Writer
I've been attempting to scale back on the amount of makeup I've been wearing lately — mostly because I've been going to the gym in the mornings (#NewYearNewYou) and hate schlepping my entire makeup kit around with me all day. So, I figured I had this on lockdown.

Turns out, Sephora isn't exactly the easiest place to shop for no-makeup makeup. Since I didn't have a dramatic lip shade or an over-the-top cat-eye to hide behind, I found myself wanting to buy more products than I have in previous Cheap Challenges. Insanity, right? This is supposed to be about bare-faced beauty, dammit!

As I typically do, I headed toward the Sephora's travel-sized products. Brows were my number-one issue: I knew they needed to be on-point in order for me to feel comfortable with this look. So, when I spotted Anastasia Beverly Hills' Brow Bar, it was like I heard angels singing. I then snapped up a Bite lip duo in Date and Fig (two beautifully neutral colors) and some Rosebud Salve in a tube, which you can use for just about everything. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Rosebud Salve could unite the world if given a chance.)

I first used the mini Brow Wiz to fill in my brows as usual. Then, I used a spoolie to brush the pigment through and groom my set. I finished by setting them with the brow gel in the kit. Then, since I didn't have the funds for mascara or eyeliner, I used the Brow Wiz to tightline my upper waterline. I curled my lashes, and used the brow gel to coat them and give them separation. I dabbed some of the Rosebud Salve onto my eyelids, and then added just a touch of Date to the center of my lids for a hint of color.

I used Date again on the apples of my cheeks, and swiped the Salve along the high points of my face as a highlighter. I hit my orbital bone, cheekbone, down the center of my nose, and my Cupid's bow. I used Fig as a makeshift nose contour. I rubbed some of the pigment onto my pointer finger, and then ran it down the side of my nose before blending it with a clean finger. I was surprised with how well it turned out! I finished the entire look by swiping Date on my lips and popping some of the salve on top.

While I totally loved my look (and wore it proudly for the rest of the day), I have two admissions to make. One, I went $4 over budget — cut me some slack! Two, I used NYX HD Concealer under my eyes. I haven't been sleeping all that well (thanks, 6 a.m. workouts), and it was starting to show under my eyes. So, was this experiment a complete success? No. But, I do feel a lot better about embracing a more "natural" look. I'll count that as an A- pour moi.
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Photographed by Tory Rust.
Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Bar To-Go, $16, available in-store at Sephora.
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Photographed by Tory Rust.
Taylor Bryant, Production Assistant
I chose Duane Reade, because I (naively) thought I'd be able to get both decent and affordable products for under $30 there. I thought wrong. Out of all the Cheap Challenges we've done so far, this has proven to be one of the hardest — which is ironic, because it requires the least makeup. Turns out that trying to look like you're not wearing any makeup requires a lot of products.

The look I was going for was bare-faced, but glowy. I've been wanting to experiment with eyeshadow a little more, so I incorporated that into the challenge. I chose a neutral palette to give my eyes just a slight hint of color. I used a combo of bronze and brown on my lids, and a lighter tan tone toward the inner corners of my eyes. I picked up a highlighting bronzer to give my cheeks some rosiness and to brighten up my face a bit. I chose a subtle pink lipstick for the simple fact that I wanted to keep the overall look on the more low-key side. I also dabbed some color on my cheeks to add to the rosy, just-walked-out-of-the-freezing-cold-but-I-still-look-adorable look.

The last product was the hardest to choose. I desperately wanted a mascara, but knew that it would detract from the look I was going for. I also needed a product that would help give my brows some semblance of tameness. I settled for a clear version of Maybelline's infamous Great Lash mascara, which can also be used as an eyebrow gel. Thank goodness for its double-duty qualities, since I couldn't afford another product.

This is definitely a look that I would wear on the regular. I'm not a big makeup-wearer to begin with, so it strikes a balance between not trying too hard and not looking like I don't care at all. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the Great Lash as an eyebrow gel (as an actual mascara, not so much). The highlighting bronzer is another product I'm going to keep in my rotation. I loved the subtle hue and illumination it gave me. It will be so clutch come summer.
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Photographed by Tory Rust.
Maybelline Master Hi-Light Bronzer, $6.99, available in-store at Duane Reade; NYC City-Proof Twistable Intense Lip Color, $2.88, available in-store at Duane Reade; Maybelline Expertwear Eye Shadow Quad Powder, $6.49, available in-store at Duane Reade; Maybelline Great Lash Clear Mascara, $5.99, available in-store at Duane Reade.
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