The $30 Makeup Challenge

Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
As beauty editors, we're used to getting a lot of (read: all) of our beauty products gratis. It's one of the perks and necessities of the job. We can't tell you about the best red lipstick for you, and why it's so great, if we've never tried the thing, and purchasing all of the products needed to do a comprehensive review isn't exactly realistic for most people’s salaries. I'd like to meet the person who can buy 50+ lipsticks in one go — I'd really like to hear all about how they made their first million.

So yeah, I've become rather accustomed to getting all of the coolest stuff without the hefty price tag. I realize how spoiled that makes me sound, but it's my reality. Unfortunately, that can leave an editor out of touch with how women actually shop for beauty. Don't get me wrong — there are plenty of drugstore beauty products we all know, use, and love. But our first thought when writing about something is not, How much does it cost? but rather, How good is it overall? and Is it worth the price?

However, I definitely understand the importance of affordability. And you guys have been very vocal about telling us we need to be realistic about the average woman's beauty budget and give you ideas for routines you can actually afford. Well, challenge accepted. Let me introduce you to the $30 Makeup Challenge.

I told my fellow R29 editors to grab everything they needed to create a full makeup look and asked them to wear only those products for a week. The catch? I only gave them $30 each to buy it all. Cue dramatic wails of despair and pleas to opt out. Asking a makeup lover to wear only one shade of eyeshadow is the equivalent of telling a chef they can only make one meal.

But, I forced them to politely requested that they, and I quote, "Suck it up and stop whining." Ahead, our harrowing tales of mascara deprivation — and triumphs of cosmetic creativity.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Megan McIntyre, Beauty Director
The first thing I learned? That $30 does not buy you a lot in beauty land — unless you only wear ChapStick and clear brow gel, for which, kudos to you. I wear much more makeup than that, partly out of necessity and partly out of boredom. I do not have what you would describe as "good skin." Despite trying every acne-banisher on the market, I still suffer from the occasional hormonal skin freak-out. So concealer and foundation or BB cream are musts.

My must-have skin arsenal includes Tom Ford Concealing Pen, Iope Air Cushion Sunblock XP, and Charlotte Tilbury's Mini Miracle Eye Wand (that's $135 right there on complexion products alone). As I said before, I fucking love makeup so I'm all over with my eye products. But usually, you can count on two to three shadows and a liner (sometimes two), plus a coat of mascara — my go-to right now is Shu Uemura's Petal Lash. My ever-revolving lip wardrobe runs the gamut from oxblood to brown (hi, Urban Decay 1993!) So, yeah, I like me some cosmetics and my Champagne tastes do not accommodate a beer budget.

Of course, a couple of days before we kicked this off, I experienced (and am still in the throes of) one of THE worst breakouts of my entire life. And not the cute little blackheads type — we're talking giant, red, painful cysts all over the lower half of my face. Great.

Add to that the fact that I was heading to a wedding in North Carolina. It's like the world (and my hormones) were conspiring against me. Hence my lack of enthusiasm for this experiment. Did I mention this was my idea? Yep, definitely regretting that one.

I blew the majority of my budget on L'Oréal's Magic Skin Beautifier BB and & Other Stories Festoon Classics Complete Face Palette. Reasoning that the BB would do the majority of the concealing, I grabbed Nyx's Wonder Pencil to brighten my waterline and for any emergency spot coverage. I topped it all off with Wet n Wild's Color Icon Brow Pencil.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Day 1: I dove into the challenge feeling pretty pleased with my ingenuity. I applied the BB cream all over, the concealer pen on my waterline and pimples, the silver cream on my lids, and a heavy dose of the burgundy on my lips. Was immediately humbled when my BB made my skin look orange and the concealer pencil refused to spread, pulling on my delicate skin. The eye cream did go on pretty great and gave my eyes a soft smoke — until midway through the day, when I looked in the mirror and saw the dreaded shadow crease. The brow pencil did its job splendidly, so at least my arches looked great. Day 1 = epic fail.

Day 2: Learning from my mistakes, I applied the BB with a lighter hand, and only did the waterline with the pencil. Silver shimmer on the eyes again. In a stroke of what I thought was genius, I curled my lashes and used my fingertips to push the black cream onto them to darken them. Suck on that, mascara. Well, except for the fact that I couldn't effectively coat the tiny lashes without getting dabs of black on my skin. So, I just used my finger to blend the smudges into some semblance of a smoky eye. Kind of worked. Attempted to compensate by doubling down on the brow pencil for a statement brow, which ended up saving the look.

Day 3: Airplane-travel day. Zero makeup in the a.m., but hella self-conscious of my skin volcanoes. Rehearsal dinner for the wedding meant a coat of BB, concealer on the waterline, and the Champagne shimmer on my cheekbones, Cupid's bow, and nose. I kept my lids bare, and decided to embrace the smudgy tendency of the creams by using a Q-tip to spread the black pigment under my eyes in a smoky line. Looked kind of badass, actually. A light wash of red, pressed into my lips with fingers, and that mascara trick (this time with a cotton swab, which made application way easier). Brows for the win. Again.

Day 4: Wedding day. Used the BB, but I cheated and skipped the concealer pencil in favor of my go-to Tom Ford. Don't judge: You would have done the same thing if a professional photographer were running around snapping pictures. Layered on the silver with a very heavy hand, trying to build the color. Not really successful, and I wound up fixing it every five minutes throughout the evening. Super-deep stain on the lips and heavy brow pencil, which compensated for the eyeshadow mess.

Day 5: Applied the BB, and threw on the concealer pen half-heartedly. Feeling experimental, I smudged the black on my lids and undereyes, then pressed the silver onto the centers of the lids. Looked great for 4.5 seconds, and then creased the minute I blinked. Apparently the more I layer, the quicker it migrates into my crease. Wiped the Champagne shimmer all over my lips, then used my finger to press a touch of the red in the center. Dug the frosted, nude look it gave me. Skipped the brow pencil, so as not to overwhelm my eyeshadow work of art.

Day 6: Travel day. Slapped on the BB and called it a day.

Day 7: BB cream, silver shadow, and heavy red lip, applied precisely with a lip brush. Had a brainstorm while applying my brows — since the pencil blended so well on my arches, wouldn't it do the same as an eyeliner? That's a big fat nope. Gave up on life and resignedly accepted my undefined gaze.

While my experience wasn't necessarily the greatest, it's not because the products themselves weren't good — the BB cream, once I learned the right amount to use, had surprisingly effective coverage. If I hadn't been planting a zit farm on my face, I'm pretty sure it would have been perfect for my skin. And the brow pencil, eyeliner misfortune aside, rivaled many of the pricier ones I've tried.

The palette had so much potential, but not without some help. I think a primer would have made all the difference. And, to be fair, there are very few cream shadows — including the designer brand ones — that stay in place without creasing. The concealer pencil was just a mistake on my part. It wasn't made for pimple coverage or undereye circles, only eye brightening — I expected it to do way too much. I definitely should have ditched it and grabbed a mascara instead.

Conclusion? Those of us with problem skin are screwed, because all of our money has to be spent on complexion products. I definitely appreciate the cheap color products much more now — for just a couple bucks you can get a few great liners, powder shadows, and lip colors to mix up your look.

I would genuinely love to hear from you guys in the comments how you break out your beauty budget. I clearly need some pointers.

L'Oréal Magic Skin Beautifier BB, $10.99, available at Ulta; Wet n Wild Color Icon Brow Pencil, $1.99, available at Drugstore.com; Nyx Cosmetics Wonder Pencil, $4.49, available at CVS; & Other Stories Festoon Classics Complete Face Palette, $15, available at & Other Stories.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Taylor Bryant, Beauty News Editor
Full disclosure: I'm not a big makeup person. Okay, even that's being generous. I'm not a makeup person, at all. I can get down with some cheek tint, a few swipes of mascara, maybe — maybe! — lip color of some kind, if I'm feeling daring. But, it's not an everyday thing for me. I'm a big skin-care junkie, so any base makeup feels like my face is suffocating and eye makeup adds an extra, unnecessary removal process to my nightly routine.

Which brings me to my second disclosure: I'm also super-lazy. I'd rather save the extra 10 minutes it takes to cake on my face and get more sleep. Or the extra steps it takes to remove my makeup at night to, you guessed it, sleep. Needless to say, this challenge was going to be a bit of a, well, challenge. But not in the, Oh my god, I can only wear concealer — and it has to be from a drugstore?! way of my coworkers, but in the Oh my god, I actually have to DO and wear makeup ALL DAY?! way.

A challenge indeed, but one I was more than up for. The products I chose were Circa Beauty’s Lip & Cheek stain in Baracoa (because, see above), Maybelline’s Great Lash Waterproof Mascara (because it’s a classic), and NYX’s Micro Brow Pencil (because I’ve been meaning to give my brows a little loving).
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Day 1: The first day of the challenge was also the start of a press trip to Richmond, VA. Flying with makeup on was definitely a first for me, so I kept things pretty light: I opted for a dab of the tint for my cheeks and lips, along with one coat of mascara and some brow-grooming. For dinner, I upped things a bit with a couple extra swipes of mascara and added some more color to my lips. One thing’s for sure, I blended in well with my fellow makeup-wearing beauty editors.

Day 2: With an itinerary-filled day ahead, which also ended with another plane ride, I continued my subtlety streak and dabbed on just enough makeup to look presentable.

Day 3: Same thing, different day. But this time around, I arrived back in the office. Though my coworkers didn’t exactly believe I was wearing makeup (I swear, I was!), I did get a couple compliments on the “lusciousness” of my brows.

Day 4: I put on my regular, everyday products for the day but around midday I may or may not have cheated. Remember when I said I’m not a big makeup person? That changed once Maria introduced me to H&M’s glorious Velvet Lip Cream. I tested it out for, like, a minute and the compliments started pouring in. What’s a girl to do?! That’s right, wear it for the remainder of the day and into the night. Everyone’s allowed a cheat day every now and then, right?

Day 5: Went out with friends for dinner and drinks, and painted on all of the makeup. While I’m not crazy about makeup during the day, I’m all for it once the sun starts to set. I dabbed on a little extra color on my lips for more of a berry tint and applied the mascara closer to my lashline to get an eyeliner effect without the liner.

Day 6: Today was technically Sunday — my designated day of rest. And by rest, I mean lounge around my apartment all day and wash my hair. So I forwent the mascara for the sake of my poor eyes.

Day 7: Went out with a bang and wore a full face of makeup — lip and cheek tint, mascara, brow pencil, the whole shebang. While it did take me an extra like five minutes to get ready, I rolled with it because the end was finally near. And I guess it paid off, because — true life — a lady asked me if I was wearing fake eyelashes on the subway.

The challenge pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to explore my makeup options (slightly) and, for that, I’m grateful. The most annoying part? Having to remember that I was actually wearing makeup. I couldn’t recklessly rub my eyes in the middle of the day or take a sip of water without leaving an outline of my lip stain on the rim of my cup. Granted, these are minor grievances, but they’re the little things that a non-makeup-wearer-turned-makeup-wearer notices. And complains about.

While I probably won’t become an everyday full-face makeup-wearer anytime soon, I have found myself swiping on mascara and cheek tint more than usual. And I’ve found a hybrid brow pencil and gel that I’ve become obsessed with. Who knows, I might verge into frequent-wearer territory. If only for the compliments.

Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof Mascara, $5.99, avaialble at Ulta; Nyx Cosmetics Micro Brow Pencil, $9.99, available at Ulta; Circa Beauty Color Exposure Sheer Lip & Cheek Stain in Baracoa, $13, available at Drugstore.com.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Cat Quinn, Deputy Beauty Director
My makeup bag isn’t huge, but it’s definitely curated. I know exactly what products I like, and I use them on a consistent basis — with a couple wildcards to keep things interesting. I wear the same medium-coverage foundation, concealer, brow powder, mascara, blush, bronzer, and pink balm every day. Then, I keep black eyeliner, brown eyeliner, a bronze eyeshadow palette, and fuchsia and red lipsticks for days I want to mix things up and for more formal events.

Because I keep things relatively simple — and because I’ve learned just about every makeup hack in the book — I thought this experiment would be a breeze. I chose the Sonia Kashuk concealer palette to use, duh, as concealer — but also as a highlight and contour for my face and eyes. I picked up a fuchsia matte lip pencil to wear on my lips and dot on my cheeks for a rosy flush (it even came with a “blurring" tool for ombré and other various lip looks). Brow pencil and gel were a must, and I figured they could double as eyeliner and eye gel. And, of course, a black volumizing mascara because I would feel naked without it. (And, turns out, this is already my daily mascara, so score.)

Overall, I was excited, especially since I chose a look — clean skin with a bright mouth and lashes — that I love, wear often, and that works for both formal and casual events. This was especially key given that I was traveling to New Orleans for a wedding during the challenge.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Day 1: Right off the bat, I vastly underestimated how much of a foundation girl I am. I stare longingly at my medium-coverage foundation as I carefully brush on the concealer, which does a good job covering the problem areas — even if the problem areas are my entire face today. After sweeping on a generous coat of lipstick, I run into a friend who texts me, “Your lip is amaze.” So far, so good.

Day 2: I’m feeling a little bummed about my four-item makeup bag, especially with a wedding tonight. I spend 45 minutes curling, teasing, and spraying my hair to distract myself from the lack of makeup. I look fine — but I would trade one of these New Orleans beignets for a dab of bronze eyeshadow in a second.

Day 3: Travel day. I pack my makeup bag in my carry-on, massage a little cream and oil into my face, and chug water throughout the flight. I am somewhat relieved to be apart from my makeup bag.

Day 4: Realizing that my luminous complexion is going to have to come from somewhere other than a good night’s rest, I load up on skin care. Correction, I gorge on skin care. I scoop out about $200 worth of the most expensive mask, creams, and oils I can find and, guess what? My skin really does look amazing. I dot on a bit of concealer and a flick of mascara, and walk out the door. This is what being Cate Blanchett must feel like.

Day 5: I wake up with about the same enthusiasm as someone unscrewing a bottle of cayenne lemonade on day three of their cleanse. Normally, a bright mouth makes me excited — but I think the key is mixing up the colors. After smearing on more concealer, I decide to skip the lips and instead add a bit more to the cheeks for a really rosy flush and use the brown brow pencil as a contour. I definitely look more alive, even if I don’t feel it.

Day 6: Are those blackheads? Whiteheads? A pimple? A rising zit? Guess who just realized they synced up their monthly cycle with a full-makeup overload? And my skin is not happy about it. As soon as I get home from work, I double-cleanse my face, double-mask it, then sweep on a light cream. Please be gone by morning. Please be gone by morning.

Day 7: Still there! I cover the redness with the green-tinged concealer in the palette (the one day this week I used that shade and it really does work) and avoid putting anything else on my face. And I book a facial.

If I were to do this experiment again, I probably would have sacrificed some of the quality of the products — and instead loaded up on quantity. While the drugstore products I chose were just as effective, and looked just as good, as many of my normal prestige items, I was so dang bored. Where was my red lipstick? My rosy blush? My warm bronzer when I wake up looking like a ghost? My smoky eyeshadow palette when I’m feeling saucy?

I realized that even though I don’t wear a ton of makeup on a daily basis, I do wear a lot on a weekly basis, and switching things up really does wonders for my mood. Unlike Gwen Stefani or Taylor Swift, I will not be able to commit to one lip color (especially fuchsia) for life. And I have never been happier to have my foundation back. I even gave it a little hug.

CoverGirl LashBlast Clump Crusher Mascara, $6.99, available at Target; Maybelline Lip Studio Color Blur in Fast & Fuchsia, $8.99, available at Ulta; Revlon Brow Fantasy Pencil & Gel, $8.79, available at Walgreens; Sonia Kashuk Hidden Agenda Concealer Palette, $10.49, available at Target.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Maria Del Russo, Beauty Editor
I came into this challenge fairly cocky, because I’ve got a fairly stripped-down makeup routine. I’ve ditched foundation and just rely on concealer (actually, the one I used for the challenge!) to cover up my problem areas — any zits, redness around my nose, and my undereyes. Then, I use RMS Beauty’s Living Luminizer on the high points of my face, down the bridge of my nose, on the centers of my eyelids, and on my Cupid’s bow. I curl my lashes, line my waterline with NARS Kohliner, and pile on my GrandeLash Mascara. Finally, I pop on my signature red lip — the color of choice when I was picking products for this story was Armani’s Ecstasy Lacquer in 402 Red to Go.

I rarely, if ever, stray from this routine. I hate a bold eye, I don’t love a contour, and my red lip has served me well lately. So all I’d have to do was find cheaper versions of what I already own, right? The concealer I kept the same, because I think it works well for me. Instead of RMS Living Luminizer, I used Nyx’s Born to Glow Illuminator in Sunbeam. It was a little pinker than my normal luminizer, so I thought it could double as an easy cream eyeshadow. I swapped in Maybelline Color Elixir Lip Color in Signature Scarlet for my normal lip gloss, since it was the closest match to the red I normally wear, and finished my bag with Rimmel London’s ScandalEyes Retro Glam Mascara, because it looked the gunkiest. I do love a gunky lash. And, with that, I started the most hellish week of my life.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Day 1: I wore all of my products, and the day went off without a hitch. I did have to reapply my lip color more than the Armani gloss, but that wasn’t such a big deal.

Day 2: I cursed myself for not picking an eyeliner to go in this bag. Even though I try to get as close to the root as possible with my mascara, it still doesn’t mimic the tightline effect I’m used to. Since I didn’t want to deal with reapplying my lipstick, I skipped it, and walked around looking like I was wearing zero makeup. This isn’t very Maria.

Day 3: I had my first official meltdown. Why? Because the weather was cooling and a bright red doesn’t match my fall feelings. I started fantasizing about the makeup looks I’d try once this torture was over — especially after being at an H&M event and seeing all the gorgeous, dark hues. Suddenly, my monogamous relationship with red lipstick didn’t seem so exciting anymore. I wore all of my products, but loaded up on the luminizer on my eyes. It made me look like I was hungover, which was right on-trend.

Day 4: Wore all my products, but skipped the lip, because ain’t nobody got time anymore. I don’t love that lip gloss. It comes off immediately, whether I’m drinking a coffee, eating a sandwich, or just talking too much. But there was a glimmer of hope. I had my first day of shooting my beauty show on Refinery29’s YouNow channel, so I used that as an excuse to pop on a bright lip. Hey, my audience needs some pizzazz!

Day 5: I had a date this night, and before I left I was standing in my bathroom in my underwear sweating because I had no idea what I was going to do with my makeup. I was sick of this challenge. Defeated, I pulled out my mascara wand, and was suddenly inspired. This brush pulls out a ton of pigment on the tip. But instead of wiping off the excess, I dabbed it onto the back of my hand. Then, I took an angled eye brush, dipped it into the pigment, and used it to sketch on a cat-eye. It worked brilliantly. The consistency was just like that of a pot gel liner, so it glided on seamlessly. Plus, my date said he dug my eyeliner. Score!

Day 6: Armed with my new “eyeliner,” I lined my eyes in black and loaded up on mascara for a cool '90s look. Then, I mixed my luminizer with my concealer and tapped it on my lips. I felt like Liz Phair, and was mad at myself that I hadn’t come up with my liner trick earlier.

Day 7: Final day, and I couldn’t be happier. To celebrate, I used all my products, and tightlined my upper waterline with my eyeliner trick. I planned on wearing a dark-purple lipstick the next day. I was excited.

I got majorly knocked off my high horse with this experiment. I figured that, since my makeup look is fairly minimal, I could get away with an on-the-cheap routine. But makeup is kind of like eating at a buffet. If you have every food imaginable laid out in front of you, after a while you’ll narrow down your favorites. But, take all the other options away except for your favorites, and you may find yourself salivating over something you never thought you’d want. Like blue lipstick.

I was lucky to pick all the products I enjoyed. (Except the gloss.) I’ve used the mascara and concealer in my routine since, but have tossed the lip gloss and the luminizer. I’m happier with my fancier items. This experiment taught me that a little extra cash does get you better products in certain cases — like lipstick and luminizer. But, the one thing I will never not use is my little eyeliner trick — especially when I’m in a bind.

Truthfully, I think this experiment made me want to wear more makeup. After wearing red lipstick for what felt like 100 years, I’ve been cycling between a deep burgundy (Smashbox’s Be Legendary Lipstick in Screen Queen) and a haughty plum (NARS Be Audacious Lipstick in Liv). I’ve even started contouring my nose and cheeks. If I had a makeup budget, I’m not sure how I’d do with it — especially considering the fact that I love playing with colors and looks. I give props to people who keep things tight money-wise in the cosmetics department, but I’m happy to be blessed with a job that nurtures my ever-changing beauty looks.

Rimmel London ScandalEyes Retro Glam Mascara, $4.07, available at Walmart; L'Oréal True Match Super Blendable Concealer, $8.99, available at Ulta; Maybelline Color Elixir Lip Color in Signature Scarlet, $7.19, available at Drugstore.com; Nyx Cosmetics Born to Glow Illuminator in Sunbeam, $7.50, available at Nyx Cosmetics.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Anne-Marie Guarnieri, Deputy Editor
When Megan, R29’s beauty director, asked (nay, insisted) that I participate in this story, I tried to get out of it. I have a routine that works, I’m trying new stuff constantly, and I change out my makeup bag on the daily. My regular look, just makeup, includes no fewer than 10 products. Here’s a sample day: CC cushion compact, two types of concealer, eye primer, eyeshadow or eyeliner (sometimes both), mascara, eye brightener, two shades of blush, and a lip-layering situation that typically involves balm, tint, and a corresponding gloss. That’s 12, right there. And that lot doesn’t add up to $30; not even close.

But when Megan gave me those puppy-dog eyes of hers, along with strong admonition that I should stop being a baby and just do this already, I caved. I scoured Ulta and Drugstore.com and Target to find products that would not only provide a simulacrum of my regular routine, but also clock in at $30. Under, even! (I’m nothing if not competitive.)

My strategy was to spend the majority of my $30 on a face product — the theory being that as long as my skin looked good and glowy, the rest of my makeup could be pretty simple. Also, to save a few more dollars, I opted for the cheapest concealer known to man: wearing my glasses. This also meant that I didn’t feel compelled to buy eye makeup beyond mascara, as the glasses would be adornment enough. (Also, I actually need them.)
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Day 1: Realized that my strategy had some flaws. Sure, my skin looked decent (it’s a good powder and provides excellent full-coverage), but an especially...festive girls’ night the evening before meant I looked way more tired and puffy-eyed than I expected, and the glasses weren’t fooling anyone. Also, the blush I chose was a little weak (both in tone and payoff), and I could have benefitted from a little more color. The Dr. Pepper lip gloss was right, though. It’s been a staple in my makeup bag since junior high, and it never disappoints.

Day 2: I decided to double down on a few things: two coats of mascara, which helped my eyes look a little brighter, and two passes of blush, this time using my own brush and not the weak one it came with. The mascara was a noticeable improvement, but my complexion was still kind of...blah. I looked flat and monochrome. I also didn’t notice that more-than-halving the amount of products I normally use saved me much more time when getting ready in the morning. If anything, I was spending MORE time trying to get these four to perhaps give me unrealistic results.

Day 3: Finished reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. A major tenet of her book is getting rid of things that don’t bring you joy. I decided this experiment wasn’t bringing me joy, so I skipped it. That night, I gave myself a major glitter cat-eye and a proper cheek, and concealed my little heart out. (Sorry, Megan!) I felt so much more like myself. I also LOOKED more like myself. Well, myself in makeup.

Days 4-7: I’d like to tell you that I was a good team player and re-booted the experiment. But I didn’t. I totally abandoned it. That Marie Kondo book really stuck with me. So not only did I jettison the project, I spent several hours over the next few days getting rid of every last beauty product in my apartment that no longer brought me joy or had any utility. Not-quite-right blush? Gone. Nearly expired mascara? Binned. Weird raisin lipstick that I could never make work? See ya. Illuminator that made my skin look like frosting? Bye, forever. The process was invigorating. The space I cleared was astounding. And the number of products that remained became manageable, with every one of them serving an identifiable function.

The products I chose for this experiment, blush excepting, are totally good products. Not, perhaps, in the combo I was using, but solid performers nonetheless. The problem was that I didn’t spend my $30 wisely. I could have gone cheaper on the powder and gotten myself a sparkly eyeliner, brighter blush, bright lippy, and/or a decent concealer to throw into the mix. In other words: variety, fun, joy! Which is totally doable for $30, and which I could have also figured out had I given it a little more thought.

Maybelline Lash Sensational Mascara, $6.99, available at Target; CoverGirl Cheekers Blush in Natural Rose, $3.99, available at Drugstore.com; Bonne Bell Lip Smacker Lip Gloss, Dr. Pepper, $1.99, available at Drugstore.com; Physicians Formula Super CCC Correct + Conceal + Cover Powder SPF 30, $13.99, available at Ulta.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Mi-Anne Chan, Beauty Editorial Assistant
I pretty much wear the works when it comes to makeup — highlighter? Yes. Bronzer? Duh. Brows? Most definitely — but most people wouldn't be able to tell, because I like to keep it minimal. On a typical day, I'll wear a little bronze eyeshadow (right now, I like Eyeko's Me and My Shadow in Bronze) with a thick coat of Maybelline's The Falsies Waterproof on my lashes. Sometimes I'll throw in a black or brown kohl or liquid liner, but that really depends on my mood. For my base, I'm a tinted-moisturizer or just concealer gal through and through. Lately, out of sheer laziness, I've just been using Urban Decay's Naked Skin Concealer with a little powder over top. After my base is done, I'll usually throw on a dusting of bronzer and a pop of blush, the shade of which varies day to day.

I fill in my non-existent brows with a ashy-taupe colored eyeshadow (I've actually been using the same gift-with-purchase Clinique eyeshadow for over two years), and then go in with Blink's Brow Gel in Cardamom Pod (seriously good for those with dark brows).

After that is the most exciting part of my makeup routine: the lips. You know how some people plan their outfits the night before? Well, I plan my lipstick shade and then my outfit to match. I almost always wear a bold lip, whether it's red, hot pink, or deep berry. I own too many lipsticks to count, but some of my favorites include Chanel's Rouge Allure Velvet Lipsticks, MAC's Ruby Woo, and Ilia's Tinted Lip Conditioners.

As you can tell from my lengthy makeup routine, I like to try new things almost daily, so I was pretty worried when I was instructed to use the same five products for an entire week. With that in mind, I chose carefully, picking products I'd either heard or read rave reviews about.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Day 1: I was pretty excited to crack out these products and see how creative I could get with them. The first thing I applied was the concealer, which I instantly realized was not an ideal match for my skin tone. I made it work with some intense blending. After that, I applied the rest of my face: The brow pencil was a perfect match, the lipstick was matte but non-drying, and the cream eyeshadow stayed put almost all day. The mascara, though, didn't give me the instant volume that I thought it would, so I had to spend another minute building it up. I left my apartment feeling somewhat incomplete — I had to forgo powder because of the budget, and my face was an oil slick by noon. Good thing I had a few extra napkins on hand to use as makeshift shine sheets.

Day 2: The second day was more of the same — I applied all the products the same way. I was already bored at this point, and putting on my makeup in the morning wasn't nearly as fun as usual.

Day 3: I had an event that night, and really wished I had some liner to go with my bronzy eye. I remembered transcribing an interview with Bobbi Brown a while back and hearing the legendary makeup artist talk about using waterproof mascara as a gel eyeliner in a pinch — so I grabbed an angled liner brush, dipped it into my mascara, and drew on a subtle cat-eye. Surprisingly, it totally worked. The formula didn't budget or flake off my lids, and no one could tell it was mascara.

Day 4: By this time, I was bored out of my mind with these products. It's not that any of them were bad per se, I just really wanted to throw on another shade of lipstick or maybe even go for a smoky eye. I applied the makeup the same way, but this time blended a little lipstick onto my cheeks as blush — it worked, but I still wished I had a powder blush to dust on.

Day 5: Okay, fine. I cheated. I was at work and headed to drinks with a friend, and I couldn't resist swiping on a layer of MAC's Fashion Revival lipstick (my new fall go-to). I did the same ol' with the rest of my makeup, including a flick of mascara-liner. That night, I got a few compliments on the lipstick, which sort of validated my decision to cheat...

Day 6: I swore to myself that yesterday would be my only slip-up, but alas, I couldn't stand sacrificing powder again so I dusted a little through my T-zone before heading out to run some errands. Even though I love the formula of E.L.F.'s matte lipsticks, I was so bored of the same shade that I didn't even apply it.

Day 7: After two days of cheating, I felt pretty guilty and stayed true to the challenge for the final day. It was a Sunday, so I just wore a touch of the concealer, a bit of the berry lipstick blended into my lips to create a stain, a swipe of mascara, and a light wash of the bronze eyeshadow on my lid. I definitely liked the look, but I could not wait until Monday when I could break out the rest of my stash. Having a makeup uniform might shave off a few minutes in the morning, but if you ask me, it sure as hell isn't very fun.

The experiment made me realize that makeup is a luxury and it's damn expensive. Drugstore makeup seems to be getting more and more expensive but I've gotta admit, the quality is getting better, too. The formula of that E.L.F. lipstick is seriously comparable to a lot of high-end matte lipsticks I've tried, and using the Maybelline cream eyeshadow made me remember how much I loved it back in high school.

That being said, I still love makeup and using the same few products just takes all the fun out of it. Some people collect stamps, others collect postcards, and I collect makeup. The second the experiment was over, I whipped out my Dr. Jart BB Cream and went to town. I think I wore a different bold lipstick every day that week (drugstore and high-end), and felt like myself again.

Maybelline Color Tattoo in Bad To The Bronze, $5.60, available at Drugstore.com; CoverGirl LashBlast Waterproof Mascara, $8.99, available at Ulta; E.L.F. Matte Lip Color in Berry Sorbet, $3, available at E.L.F.; L'Oréal Brow Stylist Sculptor, $7.19, available at Drugstore.com; Rimmel Wake Me Up Concealer, $9.84, available at Asos.
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Megan Cahn, Senior Beauty Editor
If you divide makeup into three categories — eyes, lips, and skin — I’m definitely an eye girl. I can’t live (i.e. leave the house) without my patchy brows filled in (I use Zoey Van Jones powder) and mascara (NARS Audacious or Lorac Pro + Fiber). I was off the eyeliner kick for a while, but am back on it, and usually just grab whatever cheap black liner is lying around the office. I do shadow, too, either the Hourglass Modernist Palette or Charlotte Tilbury Eyes to Mesmerise cream shadow.

For this experiment, I went with a brow powder that doubles as a liner and an eyeshadow trio with cream, light, and dark-brown shades — the base, lid, and crease basics. As for mascara, I’d been wanting to try the Maybelline Colossal Volum' that is supposed to give your lashes a clumpy effect (in a good way), so what better time than now?

Not saying I’m #blessed when it comes to my skin (I’ll probably wake up with an instant-karma zit tomorrow morning), but I don’t have too much trouble in this department, so I opted out of face products.

I did choose a cream blush that could double as a lip stain (doing my best multitasking here!), to give my face a little life. After a long time without cheek color, I’ve come to appreciate the transformative powers of a rosy flush. I love a bold lip, but knew I could go sans for a week as long as I had said lip stain and some clear Maybelline Baby Lips to keep my pout moisturized — and my wily brows in place, too (good hack, I know).

Going into the challenge, I wasn’t too worried. I thought I had armed myself with a solid arsenal of products that seemed to mirror what was in my makeup bag before my beauty editor days — minus the brow powder. I, too, didn’t learn about the magic of brow products until Cara Delevingne rushed the scene. Admittedly I was a little worried about not getting any BB cream, but that stuff isn’t cheap!
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Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
Day 1: Went to work wearing all my products. I have used the brow powder before, so I knew it would do the job filling in my once over-plucked arches just fine. But it didn’t work so well as eyeliner. Thankfully, I had my nice-and-simple shadow trio to give my eyes some definition. I swiped on the mascara, added a little blush to my cheeks and lips, and walked out the door.

Day 2: Work again, and everything was just fine, again. But do you want your makeup to be just fine? I was beginning to feel a little restless with my options already. Funnily enough, I had decided not to get the one drugstore product I actually use, regularly, and the one product that would have helped me feel a little more than fine. As French women say, all you really need is a little black eyeliner.

Day 3: I’ll let you in on a little secret: I used my tinted sunscreen today (and every day after). Hey, you should never leave the house without SPF and this technically falls under skin care. So I’m not cheating, right?

Day 4: Okay, I’m used to my look. It’s actually kind of nice to just have the same routine every morning — one less thing to worry about, you know.

Day 5: Suddenly I thought I got my colors all wrong. My brow powder felt too dark, and my cream blush and lippy too light. I look at all the off-limits makeup on my vanity and scowl. Okay, maybe I’m more of an options person than a uniform person.

Day 6: Someone compliments my lashes. Mascara is definitely the hero product in my $30 routine. It does not, in fact, go on clumpy, but simply makes my lashes full and voluminous. I’ll keep this guy around.

Day 7: It’s Sunday, so I opt out of wearing makeup altogether and it feels freeing. But I am looking forward to a fresh start on Monday — all my options will probably make me feel even more free.

I am not beholden to certain makeup brands like some, but I do depend on makeup to make me feel put-together and fresh. I felt stifled by my lack of options throughout the week, but it was less about the price or quality of the products. It was more that I had no time to try them out first and find which ones really suited me. If I had to actually live on a $30 makeup budget, I could #makeitwork (though I would like to be allocated a little more cash for the BB cream I didn’t realize I held so dear) — it just wouldn’t be quite as fun.

Maybelline Expert Wear Eyeshadow Trio in Almond Satin, $2.99, available at Ulta; Maybelline Volum' Express The Colossal Washable Mascara, $5.29, available at Target; CoverGirl Bombshell POW-der Brow & Liner, $11.79, available at Walgreens; Nyx Cosmetics Cream Blush in Boho Chic, $6.99, available at Ulta; Maybelline Baby Lips Moisturizing Lip Balm Stick SPF 20, $4.19, available at Walgreens.
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