Makeup mavens - your help is needed!
February 16, 2010 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Choosing the right makeup and brands is really confusing for me. So many companies - so many colors and combinations. I need help choosing lipsticks, pencils and eye shadows that will look good and feel good. What are some really excellent brands to go with that are cost effective? Colors that I'm looking for golds, creamy browns, tawny pink - soft and muted. Extra points for classy and luxurious though I'm out of the Chanel, Dior and Bobbi Brown league. I'd say low to middle range in price. Thanks!
posted by watercarrier to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I have uber sensitive skin and I love Bare Escentuals. Everything blends together beautifully, it's easy on the skin, and it lasts forever which mitigates the costs which are not too crazy. I typically have a pot of white/cream eye shadow that I can mix with other colors to mute them as necessary.

The best way to experiment with what you like and what looks good on you (whatever the brand) is to go into a place like Sephoria and have them do a consultation for you.
posted by Kimberly at 11:20 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend loves Makeupalley for product reviews, so if you have an idea but aren't sure what others think of it, you can try that.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:22 AM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

MAC is my all-around favorite - they're known for their bright colors, but they have many excellent neutrals. Not only are their makeup artists/salespeople generally helpful and friendly, but you get the benefit of a huge and informative fanbase. If you want to start from scratch, I'd suggest looking there first. Many nicer department stores (e.g. Nordstrom, Macy's) have a MAC counter front and center - go during a quiet time because they can be crowded on the weekends when everyone's out shopping and you might have to wait a bit to talk to someone.

Out of the drugstore brands, L'Oreal is my favorite - the range and quality of their products is right up there with most of the more expensive brands. Milani is one of the cheapest brands but they are good quality for the price, especially the single eyeshadows.

I would probably not go into Sephora if you don't know what you're looking for - Sephora is a lot of fun, but the layout and variety of brands can get a little confusing, and I've found that they tend to focus more on the latest and greatest gimmicky new product than on finding what works for you.

On preview: seconding Makeup Alley.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:29 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not cheap, but it's also not super expensive, and I've been really happy with MAC. If you go in during the day, or some other time when it's not super crowded, you can get good advice. Also, remember, you don't need to buy all of the products they show you.

As mentioned above, they have great counters in a number of department stores. Call ahead to check, though, because there are exclusivity deals that mean there aren't MAC counters in the same department stores in all places.
posted by mercredi at 11:32 AM on February 16, 2010

I'm another sensitive-skin type, and I prefer mineral cosmetics as well. Bare Escentuals is good, but I also like Pur Minerals -- one of their foundations is a better match for my skin tone, and I've had good luck mixing and matching different mineral makeups. The initial outlay is a bit steep, since you need all the little brushes and stuff in addition to the little jars of makeup, but since you only use a tiny bit at a time, the makeup lasts for much longer.

Ulta stores can be a good resource for makeup help; I've had good luck with the makeup artists/salespeople at my local store, and the prices tend not to be as high as Sephora.
posted by kataclysm at 11:44 AM on February 16, 2010

As far as color makeup goes, I only ever really wear lipstick (actual lipstick, not gross goopey lipgloss), but by far teh best lipstick is Clinique (at department stores). They sell online at and if you join the email list they have free shipping and mini samples with your order just about every week. I find their lipstick to be well pigmented, have colors that are complementary to a lot of skin tones, doesn't bleed, and doesn't wear off in the center of the lip leaving an outline. It is also the most moisture-retaining lipstick I have found as it does not dry out and flake my lips.

MAC has some really funky colors of lipstick for special occasions, but their lipstick is a bit dry and drys out your lips. When you try to wipe it off, the intese pigments accentuate the gross lip flakes that have formed. I use MAC colors for special occasions, but not every day.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:14 PM on February 16, 2010

I think the brand depends on your skintone and ethnicity. My fellow Asians (South and East) really like MAC for the range of shades it has. Bare Escentuals wasn't that great for me because I didn't like all the mixing and tapping and stuff.
posted by anniecat at 12:19 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, if you mean that you're okay with drugstore brands, I can't advise on those because it's hit or miss, and mostly miss for non-Caucasian shades.
posted by anniecat at 12:21 PM on February 16, 2010

Mac is awesome, well-made make-up and a lot of fun. You can go crazy with their colors or keep it a bit natural. I also like Clinique a lot for skin care and natural make-up (lip glosses and the like).

Keep in mind that you do not HAVE to wear base or powder everyday unless you want to, or you have some flaws or "blemishes" you want to hide. I have freckles and somewhat large pores but overall my skin is very clear and smooth and I never, ever wear base. I do, however, wear sunscreen every day.

One thing I've only recently come to realize — buying make-up at a boutique or department store is a far better experience than buying pharmacy brands. For one thing, most pharmacy brands are almost as expensive now as dept. store brands. But the other thing is, if you go to the Clinique counter, for example, and get a consultation and find a cosmetician who will take you on as her client and attempt to actually build a relationship with you, you will have a lot less trial-and-error in trying to find colors and textures that work with your skin. And if you try something and you don't like it, it's a lot easier to return a $20 tube of lipstick to Clinique than it is to return a $10 tube of lipstick to Walgreens.

Sephora is also a good place for a wide variety of make-up styles and "personalities." The service there isn't as personal as at the Mac or Clinque counter, but it was a revelation to me when, after using up a $30 canister of Philosophy lotion that actually made my skin drier, the cosmetician said to me, "You should have returned it." I said back, "I can do that?"

In summation, those mid-range brands are sometimes cheaper in the long run, and definitely worth the value.
posted by Brittanie at 12:23 PM on February 16, 2010

Ulta will change your life.* They carry most of the same brands as Sephora, but cheaper!

In terms of colors, Nars, Stila, and Cargo have good-quality products with a wide but tasteful range of colors. They're all good for lip colors and face powders. Benefit's Benetint is a classic lip/cheek stain (it looks expensive, but a bottle will last forever).

posted by oinopaponton at 12:36 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love lipcolor but lately I've been having a terrible time with lipsticks drying my lips and making them peel. I've started using Burt's Bees tinted lip balm and I really like it. It comes in a range of colors and has a surprising amount of pigment for what it is. It also tastes nicely minty and feels good on my lips.

A nice tawny pink lipstick is Clinique's Bamboo Pink.

My current favorite lip liner pencil is CoverGirl's Outlast Smoothwear in Blush. Most light pink liners are either too orange or too bubblegum-pink, but this one is a nice shade and lasts a long time on my lips.

I like the Pur minerals as kataclysm mentioned above. I can't seem to get the hang of applying mineral foundation with brushes so I bought some cheap "sponge puffs" to use with mine, which incidentally saved me the cost of the brushes.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:38 PM on February 16, 2010

The only makeup you really need to go expensive for is foundation and powder, where colour matching and consistency can make a major difference.

Knowing more about your colouring would help. If you are naturally tan/brown/olive in colour, I highly recommend MAC for powder (Studio Fix is the name of the product I like, it's a powder compact, about $35 and lasts months). Maybelline mineral foundation is also great- colour and coverage for $17 and that bottle will last like 2 years.

For colour cosmetics like eyeshadow, liner, mascara, and lip gloss, you can totally go cheap, it doesn't make that much of a difference. Although I really like MAC paint eyeshadow, which I apply with a finger. My favourite colour is a slightly shimmery neutral beige called Chiaroscuro, That little tube is about $25 but it will last forever.

For blush, whatever you choose will look more expensive if you pick one that does NOT contain sparkly particles, and always brush plain skin-toned powder on your cheeks before brushing powder blush overtop (powder on powder allows better belnding).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2010

Best answer: I'm no makeup expert, but I like the same kind of colors you do- gold, pink, brown- and I absolutely love this palette from Tarte. The colors are subtle, a little shimmery but not glittery and obvious, and the palette has enough variety that you can change things up day to day. The included eyeliner is also really nice.

In my experience, it's easy to blow a lot of money on drugstore makeup that you never wear because it doesn't feel quite right. Stepping up the price point just a little generally gets you much better quality and often, more chances to try before you buy.
posted by MadamM at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

xteener is a "makeup guru" on YouTube and she's the only one I know that doesn't use MAC religiously like all the others, usually uses drugstore brands.

For makeup she often uses NYX which I believe is less expensive than your department store counters. For some reason I can't access their european website for some reason, but just google "nyx cosmetics".

She also uses Too Faced. I have a different palette from her, I use the Natural Eye Kit (she has the Smokey eye kit) and I think it's a really good bargain. I know, $36 sounds like a lot but they'll last a really long time and it's a great range of colors.

She also uses Urban Decay and I can also attest this stuff is pretty good. Urban Decay eyeshadow palettes are actually a really good bargain and I highly recommend their Book of Shadows II. Also, sounds pricey at first but between this and the TooFaced kit, I'm set 99% of the time. The book of shadows also comes with their excellent eye shadow primer (to help keep the eyeshadow from creasing) and two soft eye liners in black and brown. Oh man, it might not be available now, so keep your eyes peeled!

She also sometimes has some random stuff from Target (Sonia Kashuk mainly).

She is also a big fan of ELF makeup brushes which are also pretty cheap but I can't remember if she really uses their makeup. I personally have a weakness for MAC brushes, but these are definitely an investment. But get good brushes! They make a huge difference for eye makeup.

I've just gotten into makeup lately and I think you can get away with drugstore brands definitely for lip gloss and lipstick. Probably get away with eyeshadow, depending on the brand. But for face makeup (ie foundation/powder) and mascara I have learned the hard way (with a lot of money) that's it's worth going to the counters for these.
posted by like_neon at 12:54 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing MAC. The products are very good quality, there's a nice wide colour range and, like others have said, you can get some good advice from their counter.
posted by Jelly at 1:06 PM on February 16, 2010

I've been very happy with just about everything from benefit cosmetics. I've gotten great advice from their counters, particularly at Macys, and have not regretted any product I've purchased from them. I don't wear foundation, but I'm a huge fan of erase paste and "hello flawless" powder. Their color cosmetics are also lovely.

I've used MAC in the past, and it is also a really good choice, at a similar price-point to benefit.

For either, before you go to Sephora, make a visit to their individual counters and take advantage of the free makeover (but be sure to buy something when you're done). Once you know what works for you, THEN you go to Sephora or order on-line.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 2:52 PM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Price will not tell you anything about the quality of a color cosmetic. There are two reasons for this. The first is that skin is idiosyncratic so what works on your skin might not work on someone else's and vice versa. The second reason is that most of the color cosmetics on sale are generic items that go on to be branded for a particular company.

However, there are some companies that manufacture makeup only for themselves and not for anyone else. I know that Mac is one of these. I believe there are others, possibly including Nars. Nars makeup has a lot of pigment. Barry M makeup also has a lot of pigment and I think they also manufacture only for themselves, but I can't swear to it.

Not every item you use even needs to be top quality. Something like foundation needs to be a close match to your skin tone, so you have to get that right. But the right foundation for you could turn out to be a 99-cent one that you can only get at the dime store or it could turn out to be a $99 custom-blended one, there's no way of telling till you try. And the only mascara I use is L'Oreal Volume Shocking, which has to be waterproof as otherwise it would run. But that's me.

Other makeup I just buy in cheap handfuls because it doesn't really matter if the result isn't perfect. I've got tons and tons of cheap lipsticks that range from OK to great.

For more objective reviews you'd best check out Beautypedia who analyze the ingredients and can accurately explain whether a product is overpriced for its quality or is worth the money.
posted by tel3path at 3:40 PM on February 16, 2010

MAC has some really funky colors of lipstick for special occasions, but their lipstick is a bit dry and drys out your lips.

This really depends on the finish of the lipstick. I love MAC lipsticks, but generally avoid Lustre finish, Glaze, and Frost. If a color is an Amplified Creme or Satin, then I'm interested. Cremesheens are so-so, and a bit sticky for me, but they're not as drying on many people.

I like MAC a lot. My skin tone is kind of weird (pale, slightly warm neutral undertones) and they have a wide range of shades and usually can give you a good fit. They also have tons of colors and tons of finishes to suit almost any preference for color cosmetics.

Someone mentioned ELF brushes above. I use these a lot. Their quality is great for the price. I also like Sonia Kashuk brushes from Target. The CVS brushes (Essence of Beauty) are also nice quality.

There really is so much difference between cosmetic brands and what people prefer that the best way to figure out what you like is to read some reviews (like on Makeup Alley) and just go in and try a few things. Drugstores have good return policies these days. Sephora has an excellent return policy and will also give you samples if you ask so you can take some foundation and try it in daylight to see if you like it, for instance. Department store returns are also generally very easy.

L'Oreal HIP is also a favorite line of mine. It's drugstore makeup, but the quality is really nice, the colors are pigmented, and stores often have sales on these items. Their most expensive item is gel eyeliner, which is about $12 (and it's such a great product!). I got mine on a buy one get one free sale along with a gloss.

For lip gloss, Sephora brand and Victoria's Secret seem to make the least sticky glosses I have found, though for color payoff and lasting I love MAC Lipglass and Lustreglass.

One thing that will help is a primer for your eye makeup. It can make even a cheap eyeshadow look more colorful and last longer. Foundation primer is really nice too. Neither of these have to be expensive. Revlon makes a nice face primer. Urban Decay Primer Potion is many people's go-to for eyes, though I use a MAC Shadestick on my lids as an eye base.

It seems you already have some idea of what you might like, so now it's really a matter of finding what works on you and more importantly, what makes you feel pretty and comfortable. If subtle is what you're looking for, then BeneFit and Philosophy's makeup collections both emphasize natural and are two great companies.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:27 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love Clinique's lipsticks (I didn't use to, but I picked something up for my mom recently and tried it myself and loved it - it's called the Buttershine and it's nice and moisturize-y), and also those from BeneFit and Prescriptives. I love NARS lip glosses and stains, and am currently a huge fan of Korres lipglosses - all natural!

I am also going to second going into a Sephora and asking for help - but for the love of god, don't do it on a weekend afternoon! When I was shopping for my wedding makeup, I walked into a Sephora on a weekday afternoon, and a very nice woman spent more than half an hour helping me find everything I needed (a combination of several brands). The other really great thing about Sephora is that they are very generous with samples - so with my wedding makeup, for example, I got a bunch of samples and tried it all out at home a couple times before I bought anything. Also, they'll take anything back, used or unused.

Also, I see that people above mentioned BareEscentuals - it looks fantastic, but makes my face itch and break out, which sucks because I really liked it, so definitely try before you by. I have the MAC mineralize foundation and it's really nice, but I've never been able to work with their eyeshadows and blushes, I find them too highly pigmented and they don't work when I try to do the neutral look. Maybe I'm doing something wrong :)
posted by echo0720 at 5:51 PM on February 16, 2010

Check out this book from your local library: Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter without Me.

It covers everything you could possibly want to know about make up. It cuts through hype and gets to the truth of what is actually beneficial (i.e., what is CoQ10, and do I really need it) and helps you save money by showing you which less expensive brands or products are just as good as their expensive equivalents.
posted by wwartorff at 6:07 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Mac, if it's not out of your price-range. (Really, even though it might seem like a lot to spend $20-$25 on something, when it lasts half a year it's not that bad.) I don't use anything else and the make-up artists there are amazing and helpful.
posted by Nattie at 6:24 PM on February 16, 2010

You should shop at Sephora and MAC instead of drugstores or department stores because the attitude is very low-pressure and you're unlikely to end up buying something you'll later regret. Go to MAC (counter at a department store is ok too) when it's not busy and be totally honest about what you want and how much you can buy. MAC has really great bright colors, but their neutrals are really good too. I don't wear makeup every day, but the eyeshadow I bought in 2007 is not even close to being finished.

Ask them for their most popular golds, neutrals, or whatever-- the popular shades really are better. Perhaps you could try this palette. Personally, I have the shades Print (black), Espresso (dark brown), Cork (medium brown), Satin Taupe (glimmery brown), Shroom (glimmery cream), Shale (mauve-plum), and Club (an AMAZING "red-brown with green pearl"). I use Print and Espresso as eyeliner, with this brush. I also sometimes use this amazing gel liner in Blacktrack or Macroviolet, which makes it very easy to vary the intensity. On a regular basis, for work and going out, I only use four of them. At $15 a pop, that's $45. If you don't want to waste your money, then get good brushes-- ask the artist for a demonstration-- and learn how to use your makeup in different combinations. All of my makeup is really versatile, depending on how I use the brushes, and I learned everything from the people at the store. Remember, start with what are the 2-3 most popular golds/creamy browns/tawny pinks? This is because every MAC shadow has a slightly different formulation and the crowds have figured out the best. If you're not happy, then you can branch out.

For lipstick, I'd say the best is NARS, but you know what? My Neutrogena lipstick is pretty good too. I think Ulta might allow you to try on drugstore brands, but I can't remember. Foundation depends on your age and skin type. I treated myself with a $40 tube of Laura Mercier tinted foundation but most days I still just use lotion plus my $8 L'oreal mineral makeup. If you're spending any amount of significant money don't purchase until you've walked around wearing it for 8 hours.

On preview: Urban Decay primer potion is actually magical if you have problems with makeup coming off before the end of the day. Use sparingly, totally worth it! L'Oreal HIP and Milani are also good for eyeshadow-- at 2 or 3 dollars a pop, I buy Milani when I want to try a random new shade. HIP is a copy of MAC, but it's really only good for very colorful shades. Makeup alley can tell you what HIP shades match to what MAC shades. Makeup alley, in general, is a very scary, obsessive, and wonderful site.
posted by acidic at 6:34 PM on February 16, 2010

L'oreal can be surprisingly good; it's a well-known "secret" they are the budget-modeled sister of Lancome products. Urban Decay's eye make up products are good, though many come in wilder colors than you're going for; their liner pencils and shadows in particular are great, and their eye primer potion is pretty much the gold standard for make-up-aholics.

Max Factor single eyeshadows used to be super great; I know they revamped the line a while back and I haven't had a reason to investigate yet so I can't expressly vouch for the current set, but they had a lot of neutral beige-y pinks that absolutely made my eyes pop in the most subtle but awesome way.

Iman has some really awesome, warmer classy/classic shades. I'm a huge fan of that line's shadow called Pewter, myself.
posted by ifjuly at 8:11 PM on February 16, 2010

I second the rec
posted by Salamandrous at 8:29 PM on February 16, 2010

Thirding and (sister sites) Lots of good information there.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:54 PM on February 16, 2010

Response by poster: Since I posted I was doing a little searching on the web and ultimately decided to go with something very natural and organic with the least amount of chemicals and additives. Will probably go with the smaller companies though Tart (has a natural line) at Sephora's is something I will look into. Thank you very very much guys - the beautypedia is a find a half.
posted by watercarrier at 7:00 AM on February 17, 2010

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