How Much Should You Really Spend On Makeup?

Here’s how to decide what’s worth shelling out for and what you should you scrimp on.

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I have a love-hate relationship with makeup. Sure, it gives skin a sun-kissed glow even in the dead of winter, eliminates dark eye circles, boosts lip brightness and makes even my short and sparse lashes look downright fluttery. But then there’s the cost.

Dropping $300 at the makeup counter and walking out of the store with a teeny tiny bag containing a couple of bottles and a lipstick? No thanks.

Still, I have to look presentable most days, so my makeup kit is full of budget and mid-range products. It probably resembles that of a lot of Canadian women—one study found that roughly half of us wear at least one makeup product each week.

To find a way to look like a million bucks without the steep price tag, I chatted with Nikki Strachan, a veteran makeup artist and instructor at George Brown College in Toronto. A self-described “product junkie,” she insists that there are ways to spend wisely without compromising on quality.

It’s all about that base

According to Strachan, if you’re going to splurge on anything, make it skincare and a good primer. “If you think of your face as your platform, you want to build it with a good surface,” she explains. “If you have a good base, then you can probably get away with buying drugstore foundations.”

In other words, while shelling out for her personal fave–the Giorgio Armani Power Fabric foundation–will get you pretty flawless skin, it’s $78 a bottle. At $50 to $60 each, Laura MercierNARS and Stila products are still expensive, but they’re long-lasting and come in a wide range of shades. For the budget-conscious, Revlon is a good pick at under $20.

A photo of an Essence mascara with the wand out to illustrate an article about how much you should really spend on makeup.

The best drugstore mascara

Taking good care of your skin means that you often can go cheaper on things like mascara. How cheap? Try $5. That’s the cost of one of Strachan’s surprise go-to picks for creating long, luscious lashes.

“This is going to sound crazy, but Essence,” she says of the drugstore brand. “I always struggle with finding a great mascara that doesn’t irritate my eyes–and I tell you, these mascaras are amazing.” She says the brand’s eye and brow pencils also work well—and at just $3.50, they’ll hardly make a dent in your beauty budget.

How to save on makeup if you have sensitive skin

Those with sensitive skin don’t necessarily have to pay extra for hypoallergenic brands, either. For some people, it’s simply a matter of staying away from waterproof products, which tend to cause irritation, explains Strachan.

Another–practically free–way to avoid the itch? Remember to take off your makeup and cleanse your face every night before bed.

A red Chanel lipstick in a gold bullet on a white background to illustrate an article on how much you should really spend on makeup.

Lip service for lips

If there’s one thing to splurge on while shopping for cosmetics, according to Strachan, it’s lipstick. At $46, a Chanel lipstick may cost more than a night out, but it’s pigmented, goes on smoothly and hydrates the lips as you wear it. “Anything around the mouth is such a make or break. If you put any pennies into your lipstick, it will be worth the money,” she says.

That’s partly because a good lipstick stays put—so you don’t need to reapply as often. Less usage means less shopping, which equals more money in the bank.

The best drugstore cosmetics

It’s not always possible to spend big. Luckily, there are more great drugstore makeup products than ever to choose from. Strachan points to NYX for lipstick, L’Oréal’s Paradise Enchanted Blush which, as she puts it, has a “fruity, flirty scent” and Revlon’s ColorStay 16-Hour Eye Shadow palettes, which stay put because of their extra pigment.

For blemishes and dark circles, the Benefit Boi-ing Brightening concealer is “super creamy and great for all skin types,” she adds.

Don’t brush off good brushes

I’ll be honest, although I’ve been wearing makeup from the time I figured out how to raid my mom’s stash as a pre-teen, I didn’t know that foundation brushes existed. But they do—and they’re a revelation. (Yep, I made a beeline to Sephora after talking to Strachan and bought one.)

These brushes are designed to blend foundation to a seamless finish so the products look more natural on the skin. Plus, they make your foundation go much further than if you used a makeup sponge or fingers. A little dot of foundation goes a long way when swiped with a brush. Some sponges can absorb so much foundation that you’ll often lose half of it, explains Strachan, though options like the BeautyBlender and the Real Techniques Complexion sponges can be used wet to prevent this problem.

“If you have those good tools, your products will last and you won’t find yourself having to buy more,” she says. “At the end of the day that will save you money.”