Best Makeup Buys

SPECIAL REPORT (Last Updated: 9/10/2014)

Finding the best makeup can be a challenge and wasting money just isn't pretty.

This Special Report lists some of our favorite makeup, tried and tested so you’ll know how it performs and what to expect.

From foundation to lip gloss and everything in between, this is your one stop makeup shopping list.

Best Makeup Categories

We Love Makeup!

Whenever makeup is the topic on our radio show, we have more listeners and more questions than for any other topic! That's probably because makeup delivers such instant gratification. Swipe on a new lipstick or blush, and your whole mood can change for the better. Find that perfect foundation for your oily skin or blush that makes your cheeks subtly glow, and you're ready to sing its praises to whomever will listen.

It boils down to this: The right makeup can be transforming by making you feel beautiful. And when you feel beautiful, your whole outlook changes--for the better! What's not to love about that?

Of course, for all the excitement makeup stirs, there are just as many questions: Which products are the best? Which are worth the splurge? Which ones will make me look the most gorgeous (with the least effort and time) day in and day out? That's where this report will prove invaluable. You'll find out about the best products in every major makeup category--and the reasons why the Paula's Choice Research Team recommends them so highly.

10 Basic Beauty Guidelines You Must Know

  1. Expensive doesn't mean better!
    There are good and bad products in all price categories, and there are brilliant inexpensive products you should absolutely consider before going for the expensive stuff.
     
  2. Always check foundation, concealer, and powder colors in natural light.
    Department store lighting is deceiving; what looks perfect under artificial light can look glaringly wrong in broad daylight.
     
  3. Be careful with shiny blush and eyeshadow.
    Generally, for daytime makeup, a blush with a matte finish or just a hint of sheen works best. Shinier makeup is best reserved for evening use or special occasions.
     
  4. Test powder-based products (e.g., blush, eyeshadow) with the appropriate, full-size brushes.
    Avoid sponge-tip applicators for eyeshadows and those cheap, super-tiny brushes often packaged with powder blushes.
     
  5. Never test mascara or liquid eyeliner in the store.
    Even if the brand offers disposable applicators, you don't know how many people have double-dipped, how old the testers are, or how contaminated they may be. We know it's a pain, but for the health of your eyes, it's best to purchase these products and test them at home.
     
  6. Before you test a lipstick on your lips, have a salesperson sanitize it for you with an alcohol-based spray.
    Lipsticks at the counter can become contaminated with germs and microbes that you don't want near your mouth. No alcohol spray? Then wipe off several layers of lipstick with a clean tissue or have the sales associate "shave" off the top portion of the lipstick with a disposable spatula.
     
  7. Think twice before testing a lip gloss on your lips.
    Most glosses have sponge-tip or brush applicators that can harbor germs from other people. It's best to swipe the gloss on the top of your hand so you can get a sense of how the color "reads" on your skin and can assess its texture and finish.
     
  8. Spot a cosmetics salesperson whose makeup you admire? Ask them for application tips!
    Especially if their skin tone is similar to yours, chances are good you'll pick up some great tips and begin to feel more confident about selecting the best colors for you.
     
  9. OK, we have to mention this: avoid blue eyeshadow!
    Unless it's a deep navy (which can almost pass for black), most shades of blue are difficult to work with, and they do not play up blue eyes (actually, the opposite is true). The same goes for any eyeshadow shade that's too colorful, including orange, green, fuchsia, teal, and especially red, which can make your eye area look inflamed rather than attractive. Not ready to give up such shades? Think of the fashion magazine covers you've admired, and then ask yourself: How many of those models or celebrities were sporting bright, colorful eye designs?
     
  10. Don't be afraid to return a makeup product, even if you've used it.
    Almost all drugstores and mass-market stores (such as Wal-Mart) will provide a complete refund on cosmetics purchases if you have the receipt--even if the item has been used. Note: Target stores no longer issue refunds to customers attempting to return cosmetic purchases if the item(s) have been opened and/or used.
     

The Best of the Best

Although this is a pretty long list, it is not by any means complete. There are many more top-rated makeup products reviewed on Beautypedia. For this report, we included products that not only were highly rated for performance but also really impressed us and are easy to find. Given how many thousands of makeup products we review, we can assure you that these are among the best of the best. Below each product you'll find brief points describing each product. For the complete review, please visit the Beautypedia Reviews section of this site.

Foundations

* = a makeup splurge

Almay Clear Complexion BlemisHeal Makeup ($13.99)

  • Liquid foundation with medium to full coverage
  • Ideal for oily, breakout-prone-skin

Avon Smooth Minerals Pressed Foundation ($11)

  • Smooth texture that's easy to blend
  • Leaves a luminous glow on all skin types

*Clinique Almost Powder Makeup SPF 15 ($26)

  • Superb pressed-powder foundation that slips on like a second skin regardless of skin type
  • Provides sun protection and a sheer matte finish with a hint of shine

*Estee Lauder Resilience Lift Extreme Ultra Firming Creme Compact Makeup SPF 15 ($42)

  • One of the best cream foundations for dry skin not prone to breakouts
  • Looks beautifully natural and is a pleasure to blend

*Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation ($62)

  • Liquid foundation with a well-earned reputation among makeup artists
  • Best for normal to slightly dry or slightly oily skin

L'Oreal Paris True Match Super Blendable Makeup SPF 17 ($11.49)

  • Liquid foundation with sun protection and gorgeous shades
  • Leaves a luminous glow on all skin types

*M.A.C. Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation ($27)

  • The classic pressed-powder foundation with shades for almost everyone
  • Never looks dry or chalky, best for normal to slightly dry or slightly oily skin

*Make Up For Ever HD Invisible Cover Foundation ($42)

  • Liquid foundation with enviable coverage and shades for pale to dark skin
  • Suitable for all skin types

Maybelline New York Dream Smooth Mousse Foundation ($8.99)

  • Mousse-like cream-to-powder texture that looks amazingly natural
  • Leaves a luminous glow on all skin types

Maybelline New York Dream Liquid Mousse Airbrush Finish ($8.99)

  • One of the easiest-to-work-with liquid foundations
  • Leaves a luminous, soft matte finish that's best for normal to oily skin

Paula's Choice All Bases Covered Foundation SPF 25 ($19.00)

  • Creamy liquid foundation with sun protection and a satin matte finish
  • Best for normal to dry or sensitive, rosacea-affected skin

Paula's Choice Best Face Forward Foundation SPF 25 ($19.00)

  • Silky, fluid texture blends like a dream and sets to a weightless matte finish
  • Created especially for normal to very oily or acne-prone skin

Paula's Choice RESIST Instant Smoothing Anti-Aging Foundation ($25.00)

  • Dual-action formula smooths and helps skin look younger
  • Leaves a natural-looking radiant finish for a healthy glow

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Tinted Moisturizers

* = a makeup splurge

*Purminerals 4-in-1 Mineral Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 20 ($34)

  • Highly blendable formula with an impressive mix of proven anti-aging ingredients
  • Soft satin finish is a good option for normal to slightly oily or combination skin

Boots No7 Soft & Sheer Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15 ($11.99) 

  • Sheer, smooth, and slightly creamy with sun protection
  • Moist finish that's best for normal to dry skin

Neutrogena Healthy Skin Enhancer SPF 20 ($10.49) 

  • Brilliant blend of sheer color with sun protection and anti-aging ingredients
  • Satin finish that's ideal for normal to dry skin

Paula's Choice Barely There Sheer Matte Tint SPF 30 ($17.00)

  • Super smooth and lightweight hydration with gentle sun protection
  • Leaves a natural finish suitable for all skin types, especially sensitive skin

*Stila Sheer Color Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15 ($34) 

  • Lightweight lotion texture plus translucent color and sun protection
  • Soft matte finish that's best for normal to oily or combination skin

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Concealers

* = a makeup splurge

L'Oreal Paris True Match Concealer ($8.95)

  • Silky liquid concealer with helpful brush applicator and buildable coverage
  • For all skin types, including acne-prone skin

*Lancome Maquicomplet Complete Coverage Concealer ($30)

  • Smooth liquid concealer remains crease-free and provides medium to full coverage
  • Provides a soft matte finish

Mary Kay Concealer ($10)

  • Long-lasting liquid concealer with impressive coverage
  • A top choice for dark circles or for concealing red marks from acne

Paula's Choice Soft Cream Concealer ($13.00)

  • Suitably creamy for use around the eyes--and it won't crease into lines
  • Balanced texture that isn't too slick or greasy, yet is easy to blend
 

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Loose Powders (including mineral makeup)

* = a makeup splurge

L'Oreal Paris Translucide Naturally Luminous Powder ($11.79)

  • Smooth, silky texture with a subtle radiant finish
  • Best for people with normal to dry skin who want to look polished without looking powdered

Boots No7 Perfect Light Loose Powder ($12.99)

  • Perfectly packaged for on-the-go use with a built-in brush
  • Feather-light texture ideal for normal to oily skin

*Jane Iredale Amazing Matte Loose Powder ($31)

  • Absorbent formula and matte finish for superior shine control
  • Perfect for oily skin

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Pressed Powders (including mineral makeup)

* = a makeup splurge

*M.A.C. Select Sheer Pressed Powder ($24)

  • Does what powder should without looking dry or unnatural
  • A formula for all skin types and a wide range of shades

Maybelline New York Fit Me! Pressed Powder ($7.99)

  • Creamy-smooth pressed powder leaves a soft, sheer finish
  • Maybelline’s Fit Me! shade matching guide makes finding the right shade refreshingly easy
 

N.Y.C. Smooth Skin Pressed Face Powder ($2.99)

  • Beautifully silky texture and sheer application
  • The best and least expensive powder for anyone with normal to dry skin

Paula's Choice Healthy Finish Pressed Powder SPF 15 ($18.00)

  • Silky-smooth application and a gentle formula for sensitive skin
  • Great way to boost or touch up your sun protection at home or on-the-go

Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free Mineral Face Powder SPF 16 ($13.95)

  • Shine control and extra sun protection in one convenient pressed powder
  • Doesn't look cakey and doesn't make your skin look dull
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Blushes

* = a makeup splurge

L'Oreal Paris Visible Lift Color Lift Blush ($12.95)

  • Sponge-like texture with cream-to-powder finish works for all skin types
  • Gorgeous shades with a luminous finish for a healthy glow

*NARS Blush ($27)

  • Some of the best shades around, from mild to wild
  • Impressive color payoff that lasts, and shine that doesn't flake

Neutrogena Healthy Skin Custom Glow Blush & Bronzer ($11.49)

  • Two products in one: soft blush and flattering bronzer
  • Use alone or mix for sheer, natural color with shine

Revlon Cream Blush ($9.79)

  • Great cream-to-powder blush for normal to slightly dry or slightly oily skin
  • Compact includes a helpful pop-out mirror

Sonia Kashuk Beautifying Blush ($8.99)

  • Beautiful colors and a smooth, natural result
  • Includes versatile shades with a matte finish

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Bronzers

* = a makeup splurge

e.l.f. Studio Baked Bronzer ($3)

  • Smooth texture with sheer, buildable color
  • All shades provide a subtle, warm glow that isn't orange

NYX Matte Bronzer ($9)

  • Truly matte shades in attractive neutral brown to warm russet colors
  • Intense color; a little goes a long way

Rimmel Natural Bronzer ($4.99)

  • Pressed-powder bronzer with a perfectly smooth texture and application
  • Shades infused with just a hint of shine for a soft tan glow

*Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzing Powder ($30)

  • A truly matte, utterly believable bronzer
  • Concentrated formula requires just a sheer touch for great results

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Eyeshadows

* = a makeup splurge

*Laura Mercier Matte Eye Colour ($24)

  • Awesome, smooth texture that blends impeccably
  • Almost matte finish (you'll see just a hint of shine) with lots of light shades

NYX Cosmetics Eyeshadow ($5)

  • Impressively smooth, pigmented powder shadows that give M.A.C. a run for its money
  • Dizzying array of shades, with plenty of everyday colors in matte or shimmer finishes

Physicians Formula Matte Collection Quad Eye Shadow or Bright Collection Shimmery Quads Eye Shadow ($6.75)

  • Whether you go for matte or shine, these quads are tough to beat
  • The shiny shades don't flake, and most sets are smartly designed

Revlon Illuminance Creme Eyeshadow ($6.50)

  • The go-to choice for fans of cream eyeshadow and beauty steals
  • Soft colors that won't crease and can be used with powder shadows

Wet 'n' Wild Color Icon Eyeshadow Singles ($1.99)

  • Surprisingly good performance and color payoff for the price
  • Variety of finishes from matte to sparkles (but the sparkling shades flake)

Paula's Choice The Nude Mattes Eyeshadow Palette ($40)

  • Fragrance-free formula has a buttery-smooth texture that blends easily.
  • Versatile, flattering range of colors, 11 of which offer a true matte finish

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Eyeliners

* = a makeup splurge

Almay Liquid Eyeliner ($7.29)

  • This classic remains of one of the very best liquid liners at any price
  • Goes on smoothly, creating a dramatic line without flaking, chipping or looking crinkled

M.A.C. Technakohl Liner ($16)

  • Creamy texture and super-smooth application give way to a soft powder finish
  • Smudge-resistant, and each shade adds a subtle gleam to your lash line

Maybelline New York Line Stylist Eyeliner ($5.79)

  • Automatic, non-retractable pencil that stays in place all day
  • Smooth and even application sets to powdery finish

Sonia Kashuk Dramatically Defining Long Wearing Gel Liner ($8.99)

  • Among the best gel-type eyeliners, regardless of price
  • Absolutely won't flake, smear, smudge, or break down from oily eyelids

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Brow Products

* = a makeup splurge

e.l.f. Wet Gloss Lash & Brow Clear Mascara ($1)

  • You won't find a better clear brow gel for anywhere near this price
  • Dual-sided component allows use as clear brow gel and clear mascara

Paula's Choice Brow/Hair Tint ($12.00)

  • Expert, dual-sided brush allows you to groom and define unruly brows
  • Sheer color that sets to a soft, non-sticky finish while keeping brows in place

Physicians Formula Brow Definer Automatic Brow Pencil ($5.95)

  • Among the best brow pencils at any price
  • Smooth application and sheer colors for natural-looking definition without smearing

*Urban Decay Brow Box ($29)

  • A brilliant, all-in-one brow-grooming and -shaping kit
  • Includes shades for blonde, auburn/red, and brunette brows

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Regular Mascaras

* = a makeup splurge

Almay One Coat Lengthening Mascara ($5.99)

  • Thickens as well as it lengthens
  • Clean, clump-free application that wears well and removes easily

Cover Girl Lash Blast Volume or Lash Blast Length ($7.79)

  • Whether you want volume or length, these mascaras are tough to beat
  • Dramatic, sweeping results with minimal effort

*M.A.C. Studio Fix Boldblack Lash ($16)

  • A mascara anyone can get right with just one coat
  • Thickens and lengthens in equal measure without flakes or clumps

Maybelline New York The Colossal Volum' Express Colossal Mascara ($7.77)

  • Your ticket to dramatic lashes--this isn't a mascara for the lash-timid!
  • Produces impressive results almost instantly; the more you apply, the fuller your lashes get

N.Y.C. City Curls Curling Mascara ($2.99)

  • Really works to curl lashes, leaving a beautiful fringe of impossibly long lashes
  • Comes off with any water-soluble cleanser

N.Y.C. Lengthening Mascara ($1.99)

  • The least expensive mascara that still provides long, defined lashes
  • Comes off with any water-soluble cleanser

Paula's Choice Illicit Lash Maximum Impact Mascara ($12.00)

  • Creates supremely long, beautifully separated lashes with a soft curl
  • Specially designed brush ensures you reach each lash, for maximum results

Maybelline New York One by One Volum’ Express Waterproof Mascara ($7.99)

  • Full brush waterproof mascara that thickens, lengthens and separates lashes beautifully
  • Wears without flaking, even when lashes get wet
 

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Lipsticks

* = a makeup splurge

*Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Lipstick ($26)

  • Paula's personal favorite true matte lipstick (and she's tried them all)
  • Beautiful shade range and a smooth application that won't bleed into lines around the mouth

Maybelline New York Color Sensational Lipcolor ($7.49)

  • A modern cream lipstick that keeps lips moisturized
  • Huge range of shades, helpfully divided into color families

NYX Soft Matte Lip Cream ($6.00)

  • Creamy texture with a lovely, true matte finish
  • Has a slightly slick feel that keeps lips comfortable and isn’t drying

Paula's Choice Sheer Cream Lipstick SPF 15 ($15.00)

  • Almost weightless texture imparts soft color and healthy shine
  • Great way to protect lips from sun exposure while keeping them smooth

Rimmel Lasting Finish Lipstick ($4.99)

  • A creamy lipstick that surpasses some that cost four times as much
  • Feels great and leaves lips with a soft gloss finish

Sephora Rouge Cream Lipstick ($12)

  • Beautifully creamy and a shade range that's sure to impress
  • A great option for those who don't want a shimmer or frosted finish

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Long-Wearing Lip Colors

* = a makeup splurge

Cover Girl Outlast All-Day Lipcolor ($10.30)

  • One of the earlier two-step lip paints, and it remains among the best
  • Cover Girl trumps most competing brands on the basis of price and color selection

Maybelline New York Superstay 24 Color ($9.99)

  • Base coat's texture makes it easy to evenly distribute rich color
  • Long-lasting, and holds up beautifully throughout the day

Sephora Color Lip Last ($12)

  • Makes good on claims of long-lasting wear (more than 9 hours)
  • Doesn't settle into fine lines

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Lip Glosses

* = a makeup splurge

*Korres Natural Cherry Full Color Gloss ($17)

  • Unexpected, but very good, balm-like texture that works great to prevent chapped lips
  • Imparts soft color with a non-sticky, wet shine finish

L’Oreal Paris Colour Riche Le Gloss ($7.95)

  • Smooth, balm-like texture feels luxurious on lips
  • Shades leave a wash of color that’s neither too sheer nor overpoweringly bright
NYX Mega Shine Lip Gloss ($5.50)
  • Very smooth emollient texture that isn’t the least bit sticky
  • Enormous shade range from clear to everything beyond, most of which have a strong color deposit

*Trish McEvoy Beauty Booster SPF 15 Lip Gloss ($25)

  • Smooth texture, minimally sticky finish with lots of shine
  • One of the few lip glosses with reliable broad-spectrum sun protection

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Liquid & Powder Shimmer Products

* = a makeup splurge

e.l.f. Cosmetics Mineral Glow ($8)

  • Loose powder with shine adheres well without flaking
  • Soft colors that cast a subtle glow wherever they're applied

*Trish McEvoy Shimmer Pressed Powder ($32)

  • Superior smooth texture that's a cinch to blend
  • Provides soft, non-flaky shine that's suitable for day or night

Victoria's Secret VS Makeup Pro Radiant FX Face Illuminator ($18)

  • Housed in a bottle with built-in pump applicator
  • 1/4 to 1/2 pump is all it takes to softly highlight facial features

Revlon PhotoReady SkinLights Face Illuminator  ($12.99)

  • Sheer fluid texture makes this easy to apply and blend with foundation or moisturizer
  • Finish imparts an attractive shimmer, not shine, to the skin

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Brushes & Cases

* = a makeup splurge

e.l.f. Cosmetics 11 Piece Studio Brush Collection ($30)

  • All the essential brushes and then some, for a great price
  • Includes a brush case

Paula's Choice Mini Brush Set ($39.00)

  • The most essential brushes tucked into a sleek pouch
  • Perfect for travel or on-the-go use; fits easily into a small evening bag

Sonia Kashuk Brushes ($7.99-$19.99)

  • Beautifully made and built to last, with elegant, ergonomic handles
  • Great for those who prefer full-size brushes

*Trish McEvoy Brushes ($14-$90)

  • Quite simply, these are among the best brushes money can buy
  • Practically endless options, whether you're a makeup novice or professional

*Trish McEvoy Ultimate Beauty Organizer ($105)

  • A "beauty briefcase for the makeup diva intent on perfect organization
  • Impeccable craftsmanship and thoughtful design makes the price easier to justify

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

View Media Highlights

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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