Buying Makeup

It might surprise you to find out how few companies actually make those many brands you see in the drugstore, or the high end beauty store. Sometimes the products are remarkably similar – I only have limited experience, but I’ve read reviews.

Two really big companies dominate (look at the actual pages for complete listings):

  • L’Oreal owns:
    • Urban decay and Lancome in the premium market
    • L’Oreal, NYX and Maybelline in the lower price market
  • Estee Lauder owns many of the premium brands: Estee Lauder, Clinique, Smashbox, Mac and Bobby Brown are all owned by Estee Lauder

There are of course many, many other brands with various selling points, real and imaginary. Many are known for specific kinds of products. For example Dermablend makes some particularly heavy foundations that are good for beard coverage. Nars is well known for their lipsticks.

Just because a product, e.g. mascara, is made by the same parent company doesn’t mean it’s the same product. One the other hand sometimes it comes very close. There is a $35 mascara from Lancome that a friend of mine swears by. The $10 L’oreal voluminous mascara is very close if not identical. It’s a go to purchase for me, although right now I’ve treated myself to a Laura Mercier one.

Drugstore Brands

Makeup is a funny business. I don’t know the facts, but I get this feeling that there is an enormous markup. Makeup is sold by image and that’s done by an enormous amount of advertisement featuring incredibly beautiful models and actresses. Good luck looking like Olivia Wilde made up by a professional makeup artist.

It generally doesn’t pay to be really cheap about makeup. Cheap makeup often doesn’t work well, doesn’t go on well, doesn’t last and has thin pigmentation. Eye shadows are a great example of this. When I was first getting going I was very frustrated because I would put eye shadow on and basically nothing would happen. These days I use a Naked Eye palette and it is just wonderful. A palette like that lasts for many years and is worth the money.

My experience has been reasonably positive with drugstore brands like L’Oreal, Revlon and NYX. NYX makes some wonderful chubby eyeliners that are very reasonably priced. Sephora’s house brand of chubby eyeliners and regular eyeliners have gone on well for me. By contrast I had bad luck with the L’Oreal eyeliners, I was uncomfortable pressing hard enough to get good transfer to the lid.

Premium Brands

Make sure to try them out. You’ll pay $25-$30 for a lipstick or mascara, $40 for foundation, so you really want to like it if you’re going to buy it. Use the sales staff for color picking and help choosing.

I personally think of these brands as more of a treat, but as time goes on I’ve realized that with the exception of mascara, which you must, must, must throw out after 3-6 months!(*), most of my makeup is lasting for years. Given that it’s sort of nice to get the good stuff, it’s a type of pampering I can afford since I don’t buy makeup all the time, not every month even.

However, some things are more a matter of style and your taste that week or month and a cheaper product may not be a compromise. Read reviews on sites like Makeup Geek and look at the beauty hauls on YouTube if you get into this.

(*) Unlike most makeup, mascara has a wand that contacts your lashes and is replaced in the tube. Over time, bacteria can grow in the makeup and become a hazard. It is safest to discard it on the short end, although I was told the LM mascara I bought should be good for a full six months. Eye infections are not worth the risk! I mark the first use date on the tube so I know.


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