How Much Should You *Really* Spend On Makeup?

When it comes to cosmetics, what’s worth shelling out for — and what should you scrimp on?

how much to spend on make-up- stila foundation compact with gold exterior and beige product

Perfectly Poreless Putty Perfector from Stila. (Photo, courtesy Stila)

I have a love-hate relationship with makeup. Sure, it gives a sun-kissed glow even in the dead of winter, eliminates dark eye circles, boosts lip brightness and makes even my short and sparse lashes look downright fluttery.

But then there’s the cost.

Dropping $300 at the makeup counter and walking out of the store with a teeny bag containing a couple of bottles and a lip-gloss? No thanks. Unless there’s literal gold or a cute puppy wedged in each squeeze bottle or compact, I’d rather spend that much hard-earned cash on travel or winter coats for the kids.

Still, I have to look presentable most days, so my makeup kit is full of budget and mid-range products. It probably resembles that of a lot of Canadian women — one study found that roughly half of us wear at least one makeup product each week.
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To find a way to look like a million bucks without shelling out that kind of money, I chatted with Nikki Strachan, a veteran makeup artist and instructor at George Brown College in Toronto. A self-described “product junkie,” she quickly assured me that there are ways to spend wisely without scrimping on good products.

It’s all about that base

According to Strachan, if you’re going to splurge on anything, make it your skincare and a really good primer. “If you think of your face as your platform, you want to build it with a good surface,” she explains. “If you have a good base, then you can probably get away with buying drugstore foundations.”

In other words, while shelling out for her personal fave – Giorgio Armani foundation – will get you pretty flawless skin, it’s $72 a bottle. Another top pick is Laura Mercier, but depending on the variety, it can set you back $100. Middle-of-the-road prices come from NARS and Stila, but last all day and come in loads of shades. For the budget-conscious, GOSH at under $25 is a good pick, she says.

The best drugstore mascara

Good skin means you can go cheaper on things like mascara. How cheap? Try $4.99. That’s the cost of one of Strachan’s surprise go-to picks for creating long, luscious lashes.
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“This is going to sound crazy, but Essence,” she says of the drugstore brand. “I always struggle with finding a great mascara that doesn’t irritate my eyes – and I tell you, these mascaras are amazing.” She says the brand’s eye and brow pencils also work well — and at $3.49 (or less!) they’ll hardly make a dent in a beauty budget.

How to save on makeup if you have sensitive skin

Those with sensitive skin don’t necessarily have to pay extra for hypoallergenic brands, either. For some people, it’s simply a matter of staying away from waterproof products, which tend to cause irritation, explains Strachan.

Another – practically free – way to avoid the itch? Remember to wash off makeup each and every night before bed.

Lip service for lips

If there’s one thing to splurge on while shopping for cosmetics, it’s lipstick. About that, Strachan and I are in complete agreement. My Chanel lipstick in Parisian red is the only tube I’m willing to pry out with my pinky finger. At $46 it cost more than a night out, but it goes on smooth, hydrates and the pigment is to die for. (No bleeding or feathering, either.)

“That’s the thing,” says Strachan. “Anything around the mouth is such a make or break. If you put any pennies into your lipstick, it will be worth the money.”

That’s partly because good lipstick stays put — so you don’t need to apply as often. Less shopping equals more money in the bank.

The best drugstore cosmetics

It’s not always possible to spend big, though. Luckily there are still a number of solid makeup choices at a lower price point. Strachan points to NYX for lipstick, L’Oreal’s Paradise Enchanted Blush which, as she puts it, has a “fruity, flirty scent” and Revlon eye shadow palette, which stays put because of its extra pigment.

Meanwhile, Benefit’s concealer is “super creamy and great for all skin types,” she explains.

Don’t brush off good brushes

I’ll be honest, although I’ve been wearing makeup from the time I figured out how to raid my mom’s stash as a pre-teen, I didn’t know that foundation brushes existed. But they do — and they’re a revelation. (Yep, I made a beeline to Sephora after talking to Strachan and bought one for $40.)

Not just because these brushes blend foundation and liquid blush so they look more natural on the skin, but because they make those products go much further than if you used a makeup sponge or fingers. A little dot of foundation goes a long, long way when swiped with a brush.

A sponge, my former go-to, sucks up so much foundation you’ll often lose half of it, explains Strachan.

“If you have those good tools, your products will last and you won’t find yourself having to buy more,” she says. “At the end of the day that will save you money.”