I wrote a post like this way back when I started my blog, so I thought it might be interesting to update it and see how many of my favorites have stayed the same and how many have changed, now that I've tried a lot of new shit. I've also compared a lot of cheaper things to more expensive products along the way, and in all cases, the makeup in this list equals or outperforms pricier alternatives. I'm just doing makeup today, but I'll follow up with another post about my cheap favorites from other categories like skin care and hair products.
My cheap favorites are reliable and inexpensive. They're things that I replace when I finish them. Obviously I don't use these products exclusively, but I keep coming back to them because I prefer them to others. Below I've included links to previous reviews on my blog, if they exist. I've also tried to link to the best places online to buy these things, to my knowledge. Most of them are easy to find in any drugstore or Target/Walmart, etc.--in which case you might be able to get them on sale. But you might be like me and prefer online shopping when possible, so I've linked them below.
There are a few categories of makeup for which I don't have a current cheap favorite. For example, foundation: I'm picky about it and haven't found anything I absolutely love at any price point, though the Maybelline SuperStay Better Skin Foundation, reviewed here, is decent when sheered out, and Boots No. 7 Lift & Luminate Foundation is amazing if you can find a good color match (I can't). As for concealer, I have a favorite (reviewed here), but it's not cheap. I've used some good drugstore concealers, like Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Dark Circles, but I tend to run into problems with the range of shades available. I had a favorite powder (Maybelline Mineral Power Finishing Veil Translucent Powder--lots of Maybelline here in the "almost" category) but of course it's been discontinued, so I'll have to find something else soon. I don't have a favorite bronzer, because I almost never wear bronzer. I also don't currently have a favorite lip gloss, I guess because it's not a product I love to wear in general. There a plenty of perfectly fine lip glosses out there, but nothing that I am particularly excited about.
But let's get to my actual favorites. My photos aren't the prettiest, because I am currently using most of these things and, in many cases, have been using them for a long time, so they're a bit beat up. (Lots of images after the jump.)
Favorite Cheap Brow Product: Avon Ultra Luxury Brow Liner in Blonde ($5 from Avon). Reviewed here. Somehow, magically, this warm taupe works for me no matter what color I dye my hair, and my hair has been red, dark blonde, light brown, and deep brown in the last couple of years. I prefer a simple pencil to other brow products, because a good one works much more quickly and easily than anything else, in my experience.
Runner up: The e.l.f. Studio Eyebrow Kit ($3 from Target) is great if you prefer to work with powder and wax (reviewed here), and the Covergirl Brow and Eye Makers pencils ($1.50 for 2 with coupon right now from Amazon; $3-3.50 for 2 in limited shades from drugstore.com) are the cheapest out there and also work great (though not as eyeliners) (reviewed here).
Favorite Cheap Eyeshadow Primer: Wet N Wild Take On the Day Primer ($4.69 at Target). Reviewed here. Hits all the right notes: intensifies pigmentation/color, prevents creasing and fading, sets quickly, not patchy.
Favorite Cheap Eyeshadow: The best quality for the lowest price are the Wet N Wild ColorIcon palettes and trios. Reviewed here, here, and here (so old!). Comfort Zone, pictured above, is my favorite ($3.59 from Walgreens). You need it if you like shimmer or duochromes--the brown-teal duochrome in the bottom right is stunning. I also have a bunch of the trios ($2.97 from Target), which are great too: Silent Treatment, Walking on Eggshells, and Sweet as Candy, in particular. The taupe shade in Silent Treatment is perfect.
My oldest continuing favorite is the Revlon quad in the photo above, called Copper Spice ($3.29 from Ulta). The colors are beautiful and the pigmentation is great (swatches here). I have plenty of fantastic affordable eyeshadow singles, too. If you like duochromes, again, the Prestige Total Intensity shadows ($8.50 from Amazon; $2.09 for limited shades from Ulta) are fucking amazing. Other excellent choices are Maybelline Color Tattoos ($5.60 from Amazon)--especially Bad to the Bronze and Barely Branded (reviewed here and here) and L'Oreal Infallible singles ($5-6 on Amazon) (reviewed here). If you prefer mattes, Ulta has some nice singles, such as Milk Chocolate ($6 but usually on sale).
Runner up: Covergirl's new TruNaked eyeshadow palettes ($12 from Ulta) are probably going to end up on this list, but I've only had Roses (Instagrammed here) for about a week, so I need more time to be sure. (It's also slightly over $10 if you don't get it on sale . . . picky, picky.) So far, I love it. I'll post a full review soon. (ETA: Reviewed here!)
Favorite Cheap Liquid Eyeliner: L'Oreal Lineur Intense Felt Tip Eyeliner ($8 from Amazon). Somehow I have never really reviewed this, and I plan to remedy that soon. It's really the best liquid liner ever. It's felt tip, which I find easier to manage than a brush, but it dips into the liquid rather than wicking it like a marker, so it doesn't dry out while you're using it. I found the brown on clearance at CVS for 50% off, so keep an eye out for that. I hope that doesn't mean they are discontinuing it!
Favorite Cheap Pencil Eyeliners: I think there are more and more decent, affordable options out there all the time, especially since most of these things are made in the same few factories. Anything labeled "Made in Germany" or "Made in Italy" usually ends up being good, in my experience. Ulta's eyeliner pencils fit into that category, and they come in a ton of colors, unlike most drugstore eyeliners. I like their twist up liners and the ones you have to sharpen. Reviewed here and here. They are about $8 each but always on sale (BOGO free right now).
Favorite Cheap Mascara: CoverGirl LashBlast Volume Mascara ($5.89 on drugstore.com). This stuff has been around for a long time, and it's another thing that I've mentioned over and over but never actually reviewed. I'll post a proper review soon comparing the regular and waterproof versions (regular is better). In short, it's an excellent everyday mascara. It makes my lashes look great, and there's no trick to it. No layering, no twirling, no fucking around. And sometimes you can get it on Amazon for less than $3 if you stalk it long enough ($3.89 with coupon right now).
Runners up: If you want more drama, Jordana Best Lash Extreme Volumizing Mascara is awesome ($5 on Amazon, but you should be able to get it at Walgreens for about $3; reviewed here). If you want something that won't smear or flake even if you sleep in it, e.l.f. 3-in-1 Mascara is a tubing mascara ($3 at drugstore.com; reviewed here).
Favorite Cheap Blush: Wet N Wild ColorIcon Blush in Pearlescent Pink. Yet another that I haven't technically reviewed. It's hard to find a link to this online at a decent price, because they are changing the packaging, but as a result you might be able to find the old package on clearance in stores for less than its usual $3. It's often called a dupe for Nars Orgasm, but I can't confirm that. It is a peachy pink with gold shimmer, which seems to be flattering on a lot of people. Once when I was wearing this blush, the sun shone directly through a window on to my cheek and my boyfriend asked if I had glitter on my face. The other 99.9% of the time I'm wearing it, the shimmer just adds a natural glow and isn't specifically noticeable. It's pigmented, but not too pigmented, and easy to blend. Good stuff.
Runner up: If you prefer a completely matte blush, the City Color Be Matte blushes are pretty nice, but not easy to find online (or in stores where I live, for that matter).
I thought I would have more to say about blush, but I guess not. Maybe I need to buy more? Ha.
Favorite Cheap Highlighter: Any pale, shimmery, smooth eyeshadow that I own, so I have many excellent highlighters! Seriously, you don't need to buy a separate product, just use something a shade or two lighter than your skin that has some sheen but no visible chunks of glitter. Maybelline Color Tattoo in Barely Branded ($5.60 from Amazon) works well for me, as do the loose e.l.f. mineral shadows ($2.34 from iHerb). You probably already have something that will work, too.
Favorite Cheap Lipstick/Lip Stain: Revlon ColorBurst Balm Stains ($6.84 from Amazon) fit both of these categories. Reviewed here (old post). I like all the colors except the very pale ones, which end up being almost transparent on me. Honey is the exception--it's my favorite professional/serious lip color (reviewed or swatched here and here and here).
Runners up: There are lots of great, cheap lipsticks out there. For matte, I like Wet N Wild MegaLast lipsticks ($2.29 from drugstore.com), though they are drying. The L'Oreal La Lacque lipstick I have is excellent, though strongly fragranced ($8.99 from drugstore.com; reviewed here). The $1 e.l.f. lipsticks (reviewed here) are also great, though the packaging is shit. I recently bought Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Cherries in the Snow ($6.39 from drugstore.com), and it may be the only lipstick I've ever used that is actually moisturizing--not just non-drying, but moisturizing! Pretty, too.
Favorite Cheap Makeup Brushes: I have expensive brushes and I have very cheap brushes, and the good cheap brushes are just as good as the expensive ones. Maybe if I upgraded to brushes that cost $80+ per brush, I would feel a difference, but that's not going to happen. I just can't get that excited about brushes. My favorite brushes are from e.l.f. and Real Techniques. They're soft and functional and durable. They don't shed. Most of the e.l.f. Studio brushes ($3-6 from e.l.f.) are great, but especially the face and blush brushes. If you want to try Real Techniques, the sets are a good value: the Core Collection is only $13 on drugstore.com right now, and the Starter Set is $13 from Target, making them under $4 per brush. ETA: Real Techniques brushes are all BOGO free right now at Ulta, so if you use that deal on the sets, it will make them super cheap! (Thanks for the tip, CountessBeaverhausen!)
Looking over the list, I can see that I've been using most of these things since the beginning of my blog (and many long before that), so they certainly stand the test of time--and my actual testing of them and comparing them with other products. Did I forget any category of makeup here? What would be on your list?