Splurge Versus Steal: Beauty Products That Are (Not) Worth the Money

Believe it or not, the average woman will spend $15,000 on makeup in her lifetime. If that makes you gasp, then listen up! While certain beauty products are worth the big bucks, there are some you can definitely get away with buying on the cheap. Read on for where to splurge and where to save on your makeup and skincare. 


Anti-Aging Skincare (Face Cream, Serum and Neck Cream)

With all of the innovations in skincare, it’s truly best to splurge when it comes to anti-aging products you apply on your face. Makeup artist Regina Sneor says she sees too many people who skimp on what’s best for their skin.

“Not all skincare is correct to use on everybody,” says Sneor. “I particularly like an anti-aging line called Zelens from Dr. Marco Lens. It’s made of natural retinols from the shiso plant, the Japanese mint leaf. The products exfoliate without aggravating the skin.” Sneor also notes that for those who favor products that contain retinol, SkinMedica is the line that many skin professionals sell in their offices.

Cheryl Santucci, Mario Tricoci director of esthetics, also believes that skincare is always worth spending on, especially if you have specific concerns and want faster results. “Look for quality ingredients and formulation,” says Santucci. “For example, I love the new Dr. Babor Skincare Toolbox, which has something for everyone. The cost per use may be a little more money but your skin’s health is always worth the investment.”

Makeup Brushes

As long as you take care of them, good makeup brushes last forever. Inexpensive brushes shed and won’t give you the flawless, streak-free coverage you want in a makeup brush.


Higher-end bronzers are more finely milled so you’ll get increased color without having to keep dipping your brush into the makeup.

Foundation, Concealer and Powder

Foundation, concealer and powder are the makeup items you should splurge on. “I tell all of my clients to splurge on a great foundation and powder because a flawless finish is everything,” explains makeup artist Elise Brill. Find a foundation that enhances your skin, giving it the perfect finish without making your skin look pasty and overdone.

Makeup artist Jenny Patinkin agrees that foundation is a splurge-worthy product because the truly excellent formulations also have skincare properties in them. “You’re paying not only for the pigments and coverage in the foundation but also for the research, development and ingredients that benefit the skin,” she says.

Likewise, makeup artist Josie Volpentesta says, “I’m all about ingredients so I use quality products that are good for my skin and don’t clog my pores. I’m a big fan of Dior Hydra Life Pro-Youth tinted moisturizer followed by bareMinerals pressed powder, especially on warm days. Both have SPF, which is always a plus.”

Santucci recommends a brand called COSE (at Mario Tricoci) where she blends a custom mineral and water-based foundation to your skin tone and can adjust coverage from sheer to full.

Blow Dryers and Flat Irons

Brenda Bonomo, stylist at Pascal Pour Elle, suggests investing in tools with nano and ceramic technology as they’re easier to use and more gentle on hair. When you invest in superior styling tools, they last and you don’t have to constantly replace them. BaByliss and ghd create quality dryers and irons.

Hair Brushes

A good hair brush combs through your hair, but a great one prevents breakage and adds shine.

Once you invest in a fantastic brush, you won’t have to replace it for years or ever.

Shampoo, Conditioner and Hair Treatments

“Eighty percent of people are getting hair chemical services today and 65 percent are receiving extensions, dreadlocks and doing thermal damage to their hair,” says Bonomo. “That equals hair that needs basic replenishing of amino acids, keratin and moisture deep inside the hair strands. Skimping on good shampoos and conditioners is a big no, no. It’s all about ingredients, how they’re processed and where they come from. Healthy scalp, damage prevention and maintenance are key.”

For Men

Bonomo stresses that face and beard care are more important than ever. “Antiseptic tonics keep bacteria levels low and pores closed after a shave, preventing infection,” she says. Tonic wipes keep beards clean throughout the day and essential shaving oils help prevent ingrown hairs.” Merz Apothecary in Chicago has a wide selection.


Daily Moisturizer

The drugstore has many options that are just as sufficient as a day cream that’s top of the line. Choose one that has broad-spectrum sunscreen included.


That $8 mascara works just as well as a $40 one and because you should toss mascara after three months, it’s silly to splurge on a fancy one. Plus, with all the new wands and various formulas that curl, double and lengthen, it’s fun to try out a few different options.

Lip Gloss and Lip Balm

Lip gloss adds shine to your pucker, but let’s be honest, a gloss is a gloss and it tends to disappear after an hour. Drugstore lip glosses have the same shimmer and staying power as a higher priced gloss. The same goes for lip balm. Scrimp here!

Body Lotion

Most body lotions contain the same moisturizing ingredients, but have simply been packaged and marketed differently. Coconut oil or jojoba oil is inexpensive and effective.


Forgo the pricey liner says Volpentesta. “I found that Sephora eyeliners are quality products that are easy on the wallet and do the job just as well as any designer cosmetics.”

Nail Polish

All nail polish is more or less made of the same ingredients, designer or not, so choose that bottle of Essie over the bottle of Chanel.

A Toss-Up 


You don’t have to shell out $50 for a Tom Ford lipstick, but a department store brand lipstick (think Bobbi Brown, NARS, Laura Mercier) is going to have more pigment and not dry out your lips as cheaper lipsticks will. That being said, Volpentesta swears by Sephora lipsticks as she’s found that they do the job as well as some of their higher-priced counterparts.


The reason many splurge on eyeshadow is because at a department store, you can sample the colors, where a drugstore typically does not have testers. Some of the priciest eye shadows are manufactured in the same factory as their lower-priced drugstore equivalents but marketed in a different way. At the end of the day, I always recommend MAC eyeshadows. Their pricing falls right in the middle and the shadows contain a lot of pigment meaning longer lasting color.


This choice depends on your skin type. If you have problematic skin, invest in a higher-priced, gentle cleanser to help remove dirt, control oil and still hydrate. If your skin is not acne-prone, Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is favored by beauty pros across the board and works on all skin types.

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