A Case for Drugstore Beauty

There's no shame in getting your lipstick with CVS ExtraCare points

A Case for Drugstore Beauty

As a Sephora employee, I hear a lot of unpopular makeup opinions. I also get the luxury of trying every new product that rolls its way onto the black tile. But before I was a Sephora doll, I was a CVS drugstore beauty die-hard, and after you swatch enough liquid lipsticks and shimmer shadows, you start to wonder what that $20 price difference really boils down to. Is buying drug store makeup bad for you or your skin? Does using drugstore brands make you "bad" at makeup?

Contrary to what the Instagram influencers and YouTube beauty gurus of the world might tell you, no.

In fact, because I live for drama and receipts, I did a little digging. For the most part, drugstore products contain the same basic ingredients as a comparable high end product. First, here's the ingredient list for Maybelline's Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Primer, which is $6.99 at Ulta.

Maybelline Primer

Now, here's the ingredient list for one of the best selling pore eraser primers at Sephora, Smashbox's Photo Finish Foundation Primer, which is $36.

Smashbox primer

There's a lot of words here that are rough on my dyslexia but let me break it down: both of these products contain Dimethicone, Dimethicone crosspolymer, propylene glycol, and silica. Those are the ingredients that fill in pores and make your foundation slap and stick onto your face. All the extracts are for scent/finish. Smashbox retinyl palmitate, which is an ester of retinol which basically is absorbed by your skin, but the active form of vitamin A in retinol neither through skin absorption or chemical reactions is actually very effective for anti-aging or hiding already formed wrinkles. Can you believe I never even took high school chemistry?

If you're ever bored, I suggest opening up sephora.com and cross checking ingredient lists with "lower quality" brands. It doesn't take a Mensa membership to figure out that a $30 lipstick and an $8 can be more like cousins than distant strangers. Okay, well, maybe more like estranged cousins because the $30 lipstick thinks she's better than the $8 lipstick just because the $8 lipstick doesn't own a Birkin.

But I digress, because you're probably dying to know at this point: Lillie! What's up with that $20 price difference? The fancy flower seed extracts and pointless retinol compound that you don't actually need make up a big part of that price tag. Again, for a basic pore covering primer do you really need camellia olefiera leaf extract? I mean, I'm no esthetician or cosmetic chemist, but I'll say no with semi-confidence knowing that it's a trace extract of green tea but ok. I know a lot of clients and consumers are freaked out by ingredient lists because frankly, a lot of it looks like something out of Star Wars. Of course, some brands are better for you than others and that goes for most industries, not just makeup. So in a perfect experiment, if we had two brands (a drugstore brand and a high end brand) with exactly the same ingredient list, why would one be more expensive than the other?

Image and packaging, baby. I'd like to move away from Smashbox because I don't want to seem like a hater, so let's look at a brand I genuinely enjoy: Urban Decay. Except for their Naked palettes, I'm a big fan of everything Urban Decay does. But when it comes to colorful liners, mascaras, glitters, and lip products, Hard Candy (which is available at Walmart) is in that same bag. When you close your eyes and think of Urban Decay, you probably think of Lizzo or Ezra Miller or Joey King with flawless skin and subtle pops of color. When you think of Hard Candy, if you think of Hard Candy, you think Walmart and $6 lipstick. But here's the difference: as Urban Decay spends tens of thousands of dollars on advertising campaigns with trending celebrities and extravagant packaging, their prices rise. In effect, you're paying for packaging. You're paying for Lizzo and Ezra Miller's face hanging on a mirror next to Ulta or Sephora's Urban Decay section.

Urban Decay's Alice Through the Looking Glass packaging

Yes, I've been one to swoon over packaging many a time. I'm not without flaw! I just can't stop thinking about how for the price of one Urban Decay palette and one of their eyeliners you could get all of this from Hard Candy. All because you're not shelling out money for the hype, you're just buying the eyeshadow and nothing else.

Eye palettes from Hard Candy's website

So, does using drugstore makeup make you a worse makeup artist? Does it mean your looks aren't worthy of Instagram explore page fame? I have always said that beauty is subjective. I genuinely enjoy editorial and high-fashion makeup for everyday. If you wear neon green eyeshadow to your office job, we're best friends as of right now. That being said, as a cosmetologist, but also as a person, I swear that it doesn't matter how much you pay for your makeup. But if you take away anything from this, remember that research is key. Drugstore makeup is not inherently bad and luxury brands aren't inherently good. There can be and are quality differences all across the board, even between two luxury brands. I wouldn't say Huda Beauty is on the same level as YSL products, yet both brands are considered "high end".

The beauty industry, specifically makeup products, was valued at $532 billion dollars as of 2019. It's only going up from there because of some really great advertising strategies from cosmetic CEOs who pay 20 year olds minimum wage to spend hours the Internet finding trends for them to capitalize on. All in all, makeup is just like any other industry. Would you buy a gourmet cracker brand if it looked exactly the same as the Great Value version just $20 more expensive? Maybe you really love lightly toasted, sea salted crackers and are willing to shell out that extra cash. Or maybe you can do without the frills and don't need the brand name. Neither one is better or worse than the other. But there isn't any point in shaming someone who likes gourmet crackers, or someone who likes drugstore makeup. There are much more important things to worry about than what brand you're tagging on your makeup portfolio posts, I promise.

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Lillie Superstar
Lillie Superstar
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Lillie Superstar

formerly gifted child writing about makeup, fashion, hair, and other things that no one other than my mom will read.

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