Makeup is a huge part of my life. Period.

And it’s not just me. Sixty-six percent of consumers ages 18 to 29 report that they wear makeup if not every day, then several times a week, according to a study by Statista. Wearing makeup is a form of artful expression, and the price tag can reflect it.

Personally, I tend to use expensive makeup. Foundation, as the name implies, is the backbone of any solid look, so it makes sense to spend extra. My foundation (NARS Natural Radiant Longwear) is $49 a bottle for one fluid ounce of liquid gold. (Though if you're a brand-name addict like me, you can sometimes find your favorite brand on discount on sites like Cosme De.)

One day, as I was buying some of my favorite makeup in Sephora, the bill came to more than $100 for two items. I couldn't help but wonder, Do we really have to spend so much money to create our look?

Then I wondered, Could I achieve the same look with drugstore brands instead of the name brands at Sephora?

So while my best friend and makeup artist extraordinaire, Jessie O’Neill, was visiting, I roped her into helping me with the ultimate test: creating the same look with cheap versus expensive makeup. I won’t reveal either of our conclusions just yet — you can see the results below and decide for yourself!

Expensive Makeup

Products Used


  • MAC Natural Radiance Primer in Blush, $42
  • Benefit Boi-ing Industrial Strength Concealer, $22
  • NARS Sheer Glow Foundation in Mont Blanc, $47
  • Laura Mercier Translucent Powder, $38
  • Benefit Hoola Lite and Hoola Bronzer, $30 each
  • NARS Blush in Orgasm, $30
  • Anastasia Beverly Hills Amrezy Highlighter, $28


  • Anastasia Beverly Hills Modern Renaissance Eyeshadow Palette, $42
  • MAC Fluidline Gel Eyeliner, $18
  • MAC Zoom Lash Mascara, $24
  • Clinique High Impact Mascara, $19

Lips and Brows

  • Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow in Taupe, $18
  • MAC Lipstick in So Chaud, $18.50

Total: $406.50

Stage One: Face Basics

Jessie started with the MAC primer and followed with NARS foundation, which gives a dewy, glowy look. Boi-ing concealer was used to provide extra coverage to any area of the face that might need it, such as under the eyes for hiding dark circles or any other blemishes found. The powder mattifies the face just enough to keep everything in place, but not enough to dull the shine. Jessie used her favorite makeup for this look, so it comes highly tested and recommended.

Stage Two: Face Build Up, Brows, Eyes

Jessie then used bronzer below the cheekbone and highlighter slightly above, then blended four different shades of yellow, orange, and brown eyeshadow to create a smoky autumn look.

Brows are defined to perfection, the highlighter is popping, and eyes are on point. I’m a big fan of my friend's makeup skills, if you couldn’t already tell, but the important thing to note is the pigment of everything — all colors are intense.

“I use two different mascaras: one for length, one for volume. They are both waterproof,” Jessie says. “The eyeliner is one I have been using for years, and it’s the best I’ve come across by far.” 

Stage Three: The Final Look

As you can see, it’s a beautiful look with a pop of color on the lips to really bring it to life. We chose these colors together in order to showcase different elements of makeup and what it can do. The contrast between this look and the one created with cheaper makeup is noticeable, as you will see.

Cheap Makeup

Products Used


  • CYO Long Lasting Foundation, Lifeproof, $7
  • Wet n Wild Photo Focus Dewy Face Primer, $5.49
  • Rimmel Stay Matte Powder, $5.79
  • L’Oréal Infallible Total Cover Color Correcting Kit, $16.99
  • CYO Contour Kit, Girls on Contour, $6


  • Maybelline Lemonade Palette in Lemonade Craze, $13.99
  • Revlon ColorStay Crème Gel Eye Liner, $11.99
  • L’Oréal Voluminous X Fiber Mascara, $10.99

Lips and Brows

  • CoverGirl Easy Breezy Brow Sculpt, Set Pomade, $11.99
  • NYX Soft Matte Lip Cream in San Juan, $6.50

Total: $96.73

The cheap makeup came out to a quarter of the price. The packaging is scaled back, too. Let’s see what else is different.

Stage One: Face Basics

Jessie chose a foundation and primer as similar to her NARS and MAC ones as she could find. The Wet n Wild primer is dewy, like the MAC primer, and the CYO foundation is long lasting and lightweight. It looks good, and she was fairly happy with them both, considering the price.

“The foundation wasn’t too bad,” she says. “It just gave more of a matte finish than what I am used to. I have dry skin, so it’s hard to find a moisturizing, dewy foundation at a lower price anyway.”

Stage Two: Face Build Up, Brows, Eyes

As you can see, the definition here isn’t as strong as it is with expensive makeup. “The bronzers did not blend well at all,” Jessie says. “The eyeshadow palette was great — very pigmented and varied in color. The eyeliner was surprisingly long lasting and fluid. The mascara was okay, but it made my lashes too spidery.”

Stage Three: The Final Look

I can’t put my finger on it, but there is definitely something lacking in this look that is present in the expensive counterpart. Maybe it’s a mental thing, knowing that one is expensive and one is cheap, that makes me prefer the first one. But, if you’re on a budget with makeup, you can easily create a professional look regardless of the price!

Cheap vs. Expensive Makeup: Let’s Compare

Expensive Makeup ($406.50)
Cheap Makeup ($96.73)

“Overall, for the price of the cheaper makeup, the look was very similar,” Jessie says. “But, as I have sensitive skin, I would stick to my tried and tested face products, as it has taken me some time to find something to suit my skin type.”

But, she adds, “I will definitely consider looking for eyeshadow palettes similar to the Maybelline one I used in the cheaper look!”

“Considering my own makeup collection is valued at well over $600, the cheaper ones might be okay sometimes. LOL!”

Taking into account that the cheap look is a quarter of the price of the expensive look, it just goes to show that you don’t have to spend a small fortune on makeup to look amazing!

I’m still going to spend $49 on a bottle of foundation, though. Some people are beyond help. That's where discount retailers like Cosme De come in, though!

Bonus: Makeup Horror Stories

Cheap vs. Expensive Makeup: Is There A Difference? Is high-end makeup really better than the stuff you buy at a drugstore? Check out this comparison of cheap vs. expensive makeup to find out. #makeup #frugalWhen starting out using beauty products of any kind, there are bound to be some epic fails. Check out what misfortunes befell some of our readers.

Caroline McCreesh

I once put on fake tan I found in the back of my Mum's bathroom cabinet because it was a really expensive one — little did I know, it had been there for years and I ended up looking like the Incredible Hulk!

Annie Bowden

I bought tinted aftersun on vacation once, and my boyfriend used it not knowing it was tinted and didn’t wash his hands. It was everywhere!

Donnamarie Byrne

I bought NARS foundation, and it was a bad batch! My face was so itchy and lumpy after it. I knew it was a particularly bad bottle because I used my friend’s identical one and had no problems. The store told me to send back and they would refund if it was bad — lo and behold, I got my money back!

Laura Rebell Gross

Does “Nair-ing” off an eyebrow in college count?

James Urteaga

I used the Rodan + Fields eye cream (it can run up to $150), and it burned so much. I gave it away after trying it one more time to confirm.

Eileen Healy

My dad had skin cancer on his hands a while back. (Thankfully, he is now cancer-free!) The doctor told him to always put sun cream on his hands while driving, or wear gloves.

The doctor gave him some spare cream, and one day, Dad decided to put a lot of it on his hands and carry on driving. Midway through driving, he realized that it was tinted moisturizer that he put on his hands, and now the keys, wheel, and nearly everything else in the car was orange. He couldn't get the tinted moisturizer off his hands for hours!

Heidi Collins

Does trying to shape my brows with a razor and shaving them off by mistake count? Then I tried to hide it using eyeliner, but got into the shower one day and forgot I drew them on. When the liner started running down my face, my family finally caught on!