Ask Belle: Makeup on an Intern’s Budget

May 6, 2013


I don’t wear makeup often and I need to buy some to get me through my internship.  I need some direction on where to save and where to splurge, as you say.  

Thx! Ash

Much like your wardrobe, you should splurge on the foundation and save on the accessories.  Spend your money on a good foundation, concealer and powder.  Save on blush, eye makeup, lipstick and mascara.

If you’re starting mostly from scratch, I recommend the Laura Mercier Flawless Face Kit ($60) from Sephora.  She also makes a Flawless Face Book ($59) that you can keep in your purse for touch ups.  I also like Clinique’s foundations (I’ve used Superbalanced and their BB Cream), and Benefit makes a great concealer (this book should get you started).

As for saving on the rest of your makeup wardrobe, the NYX brand makes some fantastic products that won’t break the bank.  This palette has some lovely eyeshadows and lip colors (very similar to the Urban Decay Naked and Naked 2 palettes).  I’ve been using their liquid liner, and I kind of love it.

Hopefully, other readers can post about their favorite saves and splurges to help you get started.

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  1. Rory says:

    I’ve found the best places to splurge are on foundation and a good primer. Any of the Smashbox primers are solid picks, as well as Benefit’s the Porefessional if you have large pores. Belle’s right, NYX is really good, and the Flower line from Walmart is surprisingly really good as well.

    • E says:

      FYI a dupe for the regular Smashbox primer is the Monistat Chafing Gel. I use it daily and it is amazing (and only ~5-7$ a tube depending on where you buy it).

  2. Addison says:

    If you tend to sweat in your face at all and don’t need a ton of coverage, I strongly recommend a tinted moisturizer or BB cream instead of a foundation. Since you’re an intern, I assume you’ll be walking and using the Metro and the humidity in DC is horrendous. Then again, I’ve only ever used drug store brand foundation so maybe there are more expensive brands out there that can withstand a lot of sweating. As for other products, I love Physicians Formula BB cream and blush. And if you want volume, Maybelline Million Lashes is my go-to drug store mascara

  3. Pancakes says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with this.

    If your skin is already quite nice, you can save even more by skipping face makeup. Most days, I don’t wear any. Maybe a little blush or bronzer, but that’s it. And for the days you’re feeling a little patchy, you can smooth on a tinted moisturizer. Most people I know love the Laura Mercier one.

    What I’d save on:
    Blush — most drugstore options are good enough
    Mascara — I’ve tried both high and low end, and I prefer low end. My favorite is Maybelline The Falsies waterproof
    Bronzer — Folks like NYX and NYC make perfectly good ones
    Eyeshadow — love the L’Oreal Infallible shadows. You only really need 2-3 maximum for a neutral eye that you can smoke out for party occasions.
    Lipstick — honestly, I think a tinted balm that helps warm up your face is plenty professional.

    What I might splurge on:
    Eyeliner — for me, I have a hard time finding one that stays put that’s inexpensive (or expensive, for that matter). I use Eyeko’s liquid liner and Physician’s Formula Shimmer Strips waterproof in black. I’m purchasing the Armani one next. I don’t mind paying extra to not look like a raccoon. But if you have no problems with your eyeliner staying put, totally fine with going low-end (like Revlon ColorStay, that PF one I use, or Milani).

  4. Lisa says:

    Agree with everything already said. I would recommend Perfekt’s Skin perfection gel–it controls shines, makes pores smaller, makes everything look nicer and smoother, but is not very heavy at all.

    As for cheap blush/eyeshadow/lipstick, I would check eyeslipface. Their prices are AMAZING and their makeup is actually pretty decent. Their eyeliner and eyeshadow are particularly good.

    I would also check ebay. I know a lot of people are getting subscription boxes these days, and they will try to sell stuff that they don’t like on ebay. Blushes and lip glosses are frequent features in the subscription boxes and I know I’ve received some colors I didn’t want.

  5. Betsy says:

    I love the four color eyeshadow palettes from Revlon, CoverGirl, etc – make sure to get them at CVS when you have 25% off! Physicians Formula (like the other ladies here say) makes really good foundation, tinted moisturizer, and powder. Also, invest in a good eyeshadow primer, since it may all sweat off before you get to the office in the morning. I just started using theBalm’s Put a Lid On It – it’s $18 for a little tube, but I got it first through Birchbox, and it lasts forever!

  6. Erica says:

    For foundation, I would recommend Bare Minerals for a non-make-up wearer who is converting. It is light enough that you don’t feel like you’re wearing make-up, but provides coverage. I wear only Bare Minerals for all other parts of my make-up, but I feel like foundation may feel the most “cakey” for a non-make-up girl who is converting.

  7. Rachel says:

    I agree with Erica’s note about a non-makeup girl starting slow with mineral foundation. I like Bare Minerals, and have also had great luck with Pur Minerals (available at Ulta). It’s great for light-to-medium coverage, and is much lower-maintenance to both apply and touch up.

  8. Elena says:

    My favorite drugstore finds are Physician’s Formula Organic wear mascara and Maybelline Dream Fresh BB cream. I purchased the Maybelline BB cream after seeing it on several makeup lists online alongside high end brands. It provides light coverage and has spf 30!

  9. M says:

    For a foundation that will wear long and still look great at the end of the day, I love Clinique’s Stay Matte. It doesn’t come in a huge amount of shades, but provides sheer coverage in the places you need it and goes on best with a foundation brush. Perfect for the DC humidity.

  10. chelsea says:

    After years of wearing high-end makeup products, I changed careers and department store makeup wasn’t in my budget anymore. I love Maybelline products, especially their Dream Bouncy blush and foundations.

  11. BBB says:

    I almost exclusively wear Revlon’s colorstay line. I have tried higher end make-up, from benefit to mac to clinique, and I just never feel it does that much better (disclaimer – my face just absorbs and literally eats make-up).

    I did recently get a lancome mascara in my birchbox that I loved. I splurged and spent $27 on it at Sephora and I’m glad I did. For drugstore mascara, maybelline is the best.

  12. Kim says:

    I agree with the commenters above. If you are happy with your skin, you probably don’t need the full coverage of foundation if you are new to make up. I think you could go with a very natural look and build it up as you get more comfortable.

    My suggestion is to start with a moisturizer with sunscreen in it. Find one that you love. I keep a back-up of a liquid foundation (L’Oreal Colour Match) concealer (Cover Girl) that I use occasionally. Most days I just use pressed powder over my moisturizer to prevent shine (also Cover Girl). It means that no one will notice if you sweat it off or touch your face during the day. You could also mix the foundation and your moisturizer for a little sheer coverage.

    My makeup routine now includes blush (I use an old Stila product or Clinique) every day, but I didn’t start that until I was 27. I use Eyeshadow quad palettes in neutral pinks and browns. I like L’Oreal and Revelon for drug store brands. I like Clinique a lot too and am trying out the Urban Decay Naked palette.

    I also use a tinted balm or gloss on a very regular basis. Try Burts Bees for a drug store brand. I actually splurge a little here and my day to day favourites are the almost lipstick honey series from Clinique and the way pricy Fresh Sugar series.

    Day to day, I don’t often wear mascara. I touch my eyes too much. But if you must, I like Maybelline Great Lash for drug store choices or Clinique Lash Thickening mascara or Lancome Defincile as a day to day choice. You can probably go without. Eyeliner is a new choice for me day to day. I prefer to go with more of a splurge here, again, Clinique or Urban Decay. I used to wear Maybelline and Rimmel had some that were ok, but didn’t go on very well. I also have a liquid liner by Almay I like.

  13. Ashleerene says:

    I love makeup but I do a really light, neutral face for at work because I tend to wear bright colors and don’t want to be too loud. I agree, your budget should be more focused on getting the best base makeup to suit your needs. On days when I need a bit more coverage I use Laura Mercier’s cream foundation. Make Up Forever also has a fantastic line and, like the Laura Mercier kits Belle suggested, they make a set with your basics ( just check Sephora for the HD kits)..

    While I prefer the higher end brands for my base, there are some regular brands that have great options too. Most days I can just use Loreal’s BB cream, it’s really light and still has decent coverage. I have also been really impressed with Loreal’s new concealer sticks (they twist up, and work like a crayon, making them easy to use even at at 5am). Sonia Kashuk’s line at Target makes a great concealer stick, loose powder and neutral eyeshadow quad as well, (not to mention she has some fantastic brushes).

    For the fun stuff, I second the talk about NYX, I own a few of their powder blushes and have had a lot of luck with their eyeshadow sticks. If you grab a couple of pretty neutrals you can rim your entire eye to get a subtle smudge and just dust a little loose face powder- it’ll last all day. Maybelline’s Bouncy Blushes comes in pretty colors and are great in hot weather. Their color tattoo cream eyeshadows are easy to use and come in great neutrals (Bad to the Bronze is a favorite), and their mascaras are just generally great. Also, they recently came out with a Color Whisper lipstick- the colors are bright, but translucent and they wear like a balm instead of a lipstick. There’s one called One Size Fits Pearl, it’s pretty neutral.

  14. GingerR says:

    Figuring out what colors flatter you is half the battle in buying make-up. When you figure that out then drugstore products will look much better.

    I don’t care for tinted moisturizer because it stains. I’d go with a lotion/sunscreen – every day. That will keep your complexion from looking uneven or like you spent lunch in the sun.

    Beyond that a touch of mascara and lipstick are my choices.

  15. GoGoGo says:

    Sounds like great tips from everyone. I’m another makeup-novice here. I’d love to ask the group:

    If someone wanted to get a really good skin foundation, whether BB cream or a mineral foundation, is it worth it to go to a counter where a person will do some color matching magic for you?

    If so, where would you guys recommend? Somewhere like Sephora, or a Clinique counter at Macy’s? Or, does it actually not help the much, and the main thing is to find a brand you like and pick it out yourself?

    I appreciate the tip of splurging on this component and saving on the rest. Want to do it right.

    • S says:

      Consider making an appointment with a Nordstrom Beauty Stylist ( They are not affiliated with any counter or brand and will help you find make up that is right for you from across the products for sale at Nordstrom. And it’s free (though there may be some pressure to buy, it’s not required). I found that making an appointment was easier/less intimidating than trying to lasso a Sephora employee.

    • CH says:

      In my experience, figuring out the matching color is the hardest part, and I really need that expert help in choosing a foundation and a concealer. I second the Nordstrom recommendation, because the stylist there can recommend a brand based on your skin type and coloring. They are also usually happy to give you little samples of the foundation/concealer you pick, so you can try them in different lights and see how well they last during the day.

      As someone with “problem” skin, I’m happiest with my makeup when I can fake a good complexion, so that’s where I spend my money and to me it’s worth every penny. For foundation, concealer, and powder, I love Bobbi Brown, and the stylist at Nordstrom helped me pick it out!

      I use drugstore brands for blush (Cover Girl, although I got a Nars blush as a gift and it’s amazing), eyeshadow (I like the Sonia Kashuk and ELF palettes at Target), eyeliner (L’Oreal gel, Maybelline pencil), lip color (Burt’s Bees tinted, Clinique Black Honey for a little splurge), and mascara (Maybelline Full & Soft, the best mascara I’ve ever worn).

      I’m not a makeup novice, but I think it’s worthwhile to visit the beauty counter and re-evaluate the products I’m using every couple years. Companies change their formulas, and my skin changes, and what worked two years ago may not be the best product for me today.

  16. AVV says:

    I tend to stick to drugstore brands.

    Primer: I’ve found that Revlon PhotoReady Primer comes well recommended by Allure, etc. and in my experience does a good job, even in DC heat/humidity.

    Foundation: I’ll second the Maybelline Dream BB Cream recommendations. The texture is wonderfully light, but still evens things out.

    Concealer: Revlon PhotoReady has a great stick concealer, and Neutrogena makes a good under-eye liquid pen/brush concealer.

    Blush/bronzer: If you go the BB cream/liquid make-up route, the Almay Smart Shade blush blends well and adjusts to your skin tone. If you like powder, Neutrogena makes some great natural-looking palettes with dimension. Sonia Kashuk has a great bronzer.

    Mascara: Cover Girl LashBlast all the way. Whether you need lengthening, thickening, a little sparkle, waterproof….LashBlast has you covered, at a great price and with great results.

    Lips: I recommend using a lip stain in the morning (and then in your purse for after-work touch-ups), followed by lip balm however often you normally apply. I’ve found Cover Girl Outlast lip stain and Revlon Just Bitten have great colors and great wear. Plus, if you don’t normally wear make-up, you’re pretty much one-and-done with lip stains.

  17. S says:

    I’m an all MAC everything kind of girl. Except I’m not too fond of the mascaras, so
    I’m still on the hunt for the perfect one. But seriously, can’t go cheap on makeup – it’s not even worth wearing if you do. MAC is tried and true!

  18. Kay says:

    I second AVV on Cover Girl LashBlast for mascara. I use the waterproof formula, and although it’s not perfectly water proof, it’s better than a lot of $20 mascara’s I’ve used and makes my thin lashes look great.
    Foundation & concealer: I use the L’Oreal True Match. I use the Naturale powder for warm whether when my skin is oilier and the liquid forumla for the winter. All of these products are under $20, most under $15.

  19. Anna says:

    I didn’t know Nordstrom had beauty stylists. That sounds like a great idea. Otherwise, go to Sephora. You can make an appointment or drop in. The associates there aren’t affiliated with a particular brand, they have great selection, and you can return used items if they don’t work out.

    I love Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer. I don’t like to go too heavy on my face makeup, but I do have some splotchiness and like a little more coverage on the occasional nights out. It’s buildable, so you can use a little for sheer coverage or build it up so it’ll wear like a foundation.

  20. Addison says:

    Oh, and just an FYI for anyone who didn’t know, Rite Aid and Walgreens will allow you to return opened cosmetics. So if something doesn’t work out, you’re not stuck with it. It’s not as big of a deal when the products are relatively inexpensive, but why waste money if you don’t have too?

    • GoGoGo says:

      No way, what? That’s awesome. Another reason to hit the magic deluxe-o Walgreens that just popped up in Chinatown, DC.

  21. MM says:

    I bought the Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage concealer for my under-eye circles based on your rec a few weeks ago, and I’m having trouble figuring out how to apply it – it’s pretty dry, so I end up rubbing the area a lot to blend it in, which isn’t good for the circles! Is there a good brush you use for it? Do you blend it with something else before applying? I’m not near a Sephora, so I can’t have one of their people show me how to put it on, as most of the reviews recommend…Thanks!

    • Anna says:

      MM, have you tried warming it up a bit? I found that usually makes it much more creamy. Just setting your finger on it for a few seconds makes a difference with the body heat. It gets creamier with more use. I usually apply a bit to the back of my hand and apply it with a brush from there.

  22. J says:

    I go with a light neutral face for work. It’s a breeze in the morning, less then 5 minutes. I splurge on Clinque BB Cream and then dust on a bit of Bare Minerals Mineral Veil powder to set it. I don’t have perfect skin at all but I always get compliments on how amazing my skin looks when I use this combo. Everything else I save on. For the eyes I use a cheap neutral 4 shade eye shadow from CVS, I think it’s L’Oreal, and Covergirl Lash Blast mascara. I finish up with Burt’s Bees replenishing pomegranate lip balm which gives my lips just a hint of color. I only use eyeliner, blush, and lipstick when I go out at night.

  23. ELO says:

    I would highly suggest BB cream (I am really impressed with Too Faced BB cream, but it is about $30 a tube) if you are new to makeup. Personally I prefer samples of blush, bronzer, mascara, and eye liner to the drug store purchases. The pigment is much stronger so you can wear less makeup, and by the time I finish a sample I am usually ready for a new color anyway!
    Sephora is a great place to pick up samples as well as the BB cream.

  24. I’m in a wedding this weekend and was also wondering what nice makeup I should splurge on…. great timing! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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