Splurge or Save? Skin Care, Makeup and Hair Care Products

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Are Your Beauty Products Worth It?

Woman examining skin care product in drugstore
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I get these questions all the time: Do I really need to spend $20 on a lipstick? Can't I get a good enough foundation from the makeup aisle at my supermarket? My hairstylist says the shampoo at her salon is superior to the $5 shampoo I've been using for years. Is she right?

Here, we break down the facts for you.

Find out what beauty products are worth the splurge and which ones you can get at your local Walgreens, Walmart, Target or Rite Aid. From makeup to hair care to skin care, get the scoop on what's really worth the money. First, let's begin with eyeliner and eyeshadow.

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Splurge or Save: Eyeliner and Eyeshadow

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Save on eyeliner, splurge on eyeshadow.

Most pencil eyeliners are made of wax, which is not worth $18 when you can get a great pencil eyeliner for $3 from any drugstore. Don't like the way wax won't glide on easily? Try a kohl pencil or a liquid eyeliner. You can get either cheaply at your local Walgreens or Target.

When it comes to eyeshadows, quality is quantity. A great eyeshadow (like the beauty editor's all-time favorite, Dior 5-Colour Shadow Palette) will stay on your eyes all day long, while a cheap, $4 palette will have faded by the time you finish your mid-morning coffee. What's more, quality department counter eyeshadows typically have richer colors.

Don't want to spend upwards of $20 on a pricey palette? Invest in a small tube of M.A.C. Paints, which acts like an eyeshadow primer and will keep even the least expensive eyeshadow in place for ​days. With a dab of this on your eyelid, your shadow isn't going anywhere.

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Splurge or Save: Cleansers and Moisturizers

Moisturizer in hand
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Save on both cleansers and moisturizers.

Surprise, surprise. There's no reason to open your wallet wide for quality cleansers and moisturizers. In fact, even the fanciest dermatologists and skin care specialists recommend basic drugstore cleansers and moisturizers to clients. "There have been no studies to support that expensive face creams do better than a good mid-level brand," says Rebecca Kazin, medical director at Johns Hopkins Dermatology and Cosmetic Center at Green Spring Station in Lutherville, Md. in the Huffington Post. "Typically, a moisturizer is a moisturizer."

Miami Beach dermatologist Leslie Baumann's favorite moisturizer is an $11 bottle of Cetaphil. In Vogue Magazine, Manhattan dermatologist Lisa Airan (clad in Manolos, a Hermes bag in hand), mentioned her cleanser of choice is Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash. When I had oily skin, Purpose was my favorite cleanser as well, which once caused my friend Laura to exclaim, "I can't believe you're a beauty expert and you use a cleanser made by Johnson & Johnson!" I explained to her that basic drugstore cleansers do an excellent job of removing excess oils and dirt. You don't need fancy ingredients for that.

When considering moisturizers, you'll want one for body and one for the face. Consider your skin type for facial moisturizer — products are formulated by skin type. For body lotions, consider your needs. Do you have ultra-dry skin that needs super hydrating, or are you looking for a light moisturizer that will soak in fast? Either way, you can find a great buy for under $10 at a drugstore. There's no need to dump $44 on a bottle of Kiehl's Creme de Corps (a body lotion I'm partial to) — unless you just love the product (I do love Kiehl's lotions).

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Splurge or Save: Foundation and Concealer

Applying foundation
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Splurge on foundation AND concealer.

While you can get a decent foundation at your average drugstore, the chances of you finding the perfect shade for your skin color can be hit or miss.

Too much money is wasted annually on the wrong shades of foundations and concealers, which is the main reason I say, "Get thee to the department store and skip the drugstore." Nothing beats the discerning eye of a makeup expert when it comes to finding the right shade and formulation for your skin tone. A makeup expert can take one look at your skin and determine if the foundation or a tinted moisturizer best suits you or if you need a lighter or darker shade of concealer.

I suggest a department store such as Sephora for foundations and concealer rather than a specialized counter such as Clinique or M.A.C. Why? Sephora beauty experts have a wide variety of brands to choose from, whereas a Laura Mercier makeup artist only has Laura Mercier makeup to try out. (That said, Laura Mercier is hands-down my favorite brand for foundations and concealers).

Extra tip: You may need different shades of foundation for summer and winter. Most people have a shade or two darker skin in the summer time.

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Splurge or Save: Hair Brushes and Makeup Brushes

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Splurge on hair brushes, save (somewhat) on makeup brushes.

Cheap drugstore hairbrushes made of plastic bristles can pull and break hair. Nothing beats a high-quality boar bristle brush, which you'll have for a lifetime. Because boar bristles have become so popular, they're popping up at some of the better drugstores these days. But they will cost you more than the plastic brushes. The $125 you'll spend on a Mason Pearson brush is one investment you won't regret (just don't tell your husband).

Makeup brushes are a good example of when synthetic can actually be simpler on your life. Synthetic brushes are easier to clean and easier to use with wet makeup than their much more expensive natural bristle cousins (which can come in pony, squirrel, goat or badger hair).

That said, cheap makeup brushes won't last nearly as long as well-made brushes. For this reason alone, I suggest investing in affordable brushes from Sephora, M.A.C. or Sonia Kashuk (available at all Target stores). These brushes aren't "cheap" but they won't break your bank, like my bevy of Trish McEvoy brushes broke mine years ago when I invested in them. Just as a gourmet needs only three types of kitchen knives to cook like a chef, you need only three or four makeup brushes to get flawless makeup like a model.

Extra tip: Always throw out the tiny brushes that come with department store makeup. You'll get a much smoother, flawless finish with a professional makeup brush.

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Splurge or Save: Shampoos, Conditioners and Blow-Dryers

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Save on shampoos and conditioners, splurge on blow-dryers.

Sorry you hairstylists out there with a fancy brand to push, the truth is drugstore brand shampoos and conditioners get the job done. There's no need to spend $75 on a ginormous bottle of Kerastase shampoo, unless like me, you're super attached to the way it makes your hair smell or you really, truly believe in the bottle's claims that its special ingredients can pump up your volume into Beyonce-like proportions.

One reason mass brand products, like Pantene and L'Oreal, are so great: The companies have billions of dollars to put into cutting-edge research.

As for blow-dryers, the new ionic dryers like this HAI Tourmaline Ionic Blowdryer that finish hair in record time not only save you time every morning, but they cut down on heat exposure to your hair and, let's be honest, less drying time means less damage.

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Splurge or Save: Lipstick and Lip Glosses

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Save on lipstick and lip glosses.

Let's talk lip glosses first, because the gloss trend continues.

The fact is, lip glosses rarely last, so why spend big bucks on them? Both Revlon and L'Oreal make a great basic lip gloss. That said, you'll find much better color ranges and a less stickiness if you splurge on Nars or Chanel gloss, the beauty editor's favorite.

As for lipsticks, the formulations in Chanel, M.A.C., Vincent Longo, Dior and Giorgio Armani can't be beaten, but you can find a great long-wearing lipstick in your local drugstore.

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Splurge or Save: Mascara and Eyelash Curlers

Woman putting on mascara in mirror
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Save on mascara and on eyelash curlers.

I say this begrudgingly because I only wear Lancome brand mascaras (mascaras being one of those beauty products people find and stick by forever), but I really don't need to be spending the money I do on mascara. Maybelline New York Great Lash Mascara has gone down forever as the best drugstore buy ever. At just $7 a tube, it's a good basic standby. L'Oreal and Max Factor also make great drugstore mascaras.

Every magazine touts Shu Uemura as the eyelash curler everyone must have in their makeup drawer. So why then do so many makeup artists stockpile the much cheaper Revlon Extra Curl Eyelash Curlers? Hmmmmm......

Full disclosure, I absolutely prefer my Shu Uemura curler.

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Splurge or Save: Tweezers and Flatirons

Tweezers
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Splurge on tweezers AND flatirons.

The tweezers you can get at grocery stores are useless. Trust me, I am a tweezer addict. I've tried them all. The best one I've found is Tweezerman slant tweezers. Cheaper brands just don't have the holding and pulling power that a Tweezerman has. I have owned more than 25 pairs over my lifetime. Just one should last a lifetime (if they wear down, you can mail them in and the company will sharpen the edges for you for free), but I am so addicted to brow- and chin-tweezing that I take mine with me everywhere and constantly lose them (the woman at my local apothecary on Bleecker Street thinks people keep stealing them).

Ceramic flatirons (more than $50 at a beauty supply store) are worth the money if you straighten your hair on a regular basis. Not only will a quality flatiron last longer, but according to InStyle magazine, most stylists agree on the superiority of ceramic tools. They get hotter faster, smooth the hair shaft better and are less damaging to hair, according to InStyle, which consistently name ceramic tools a best buy year after year in their "Best Beauty Buys" issue.

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Splurge or Save: Blush, Bronzers and Powders

Young woman applying makeup with brush
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Splurge on blush, bronzers, and powders.

While you will consistently find drugstore mascaras, cleansers, and moisturizers on your average "Best Beauty Products" lists, you won't find many drugstore blush, bronzers, ​and powders. Why? Luxury powders have been pulverized to such a degree that you can layer and layer without ever looking like a clown, according to Marie Claire beauty editor, Didi Gluck in the magazine.