Hierarchy of Makeup Spending: Part 1


One of the unpleasant side effects of getting married was becoming willing to spend more on makeup.  In my quest for the perfect wedding-day makeup, I discovered that some things actually are worth the extra money, and then I started wondering if EVERYTHING in my makeup stash would be better if I spend more on it.  And so I did.

And I’m not going to lie to you, if we were still in the States, I might be continuing on in my merry expensive-makeup indulging ways.  I am pretty much the poster woman for The Lipstick Effect.  Nice makeup was a relatively cheap way for me to have some consumerist fun.

But no more!  In South Africa, makeup is more expensive across the board.  Even the cheapest of cheap things in my makeup kit, the classic Maybelline Great Lash mascara, costs R80 or about $10 USD.  I used to get that for 5 bucks back in the states without even bargain hunting. I think you could get a three-pack on Amazon for ten bucks sometimes. I don’t like spending three times what I think I could be spending on things unless they FEEL fancy.

Unfortuantely, while the price-hike on fancy makeup is relatively smaller, the price floor is still twice as high as it is for drug store stuff. [Also, while there is MAC, Clinique, Smashbox, and several other fancy brands I like, a lot of my favorites (Urban Decay, Make Up For Ever, and now Benefit) aren't in the South African market].  While I do suffer from a touch of “If I’m going to spend too much on something, I might as well spend WAY too much on something” consumerist logic, it’s hard to spend THAT much on makeup.

Because  it’s not just that makeup costs more here, it’s that its price relative to everything else is much higher.  For what I would spend on say, a Revlon lipstick (R150), I could take me and Collin out to a reasonably nice dinner, or see three movies, or buy a case of beer.  So it feels like a much less innocent indulgence.  [I redirect my "I need to buy myself a present" impulses toward the purchase of fashion magazines, which ends up only fanning the flames of my rampant consumerism.]

So I’ve had to re-evaluate my hierarchy of makeup spending.  I’m going to walk you through it strata-by-strata, and because my blatherings have gotten so long I’ve decided to break it into a series of posts.  I’ll start with the things that I’ll spend the big bucks on:


Foundation.  For one thing, you’re putting this all over your face, so spending more to get something that will treat your skin right is worth it.  But my main reason for spending the big bucks on foundation is that there is no person at the drug store whose job it is to pick out the right shade and formula for me.  There’s too much trial and error in drug store makeup to make the lower price actually meaningful. But if you’ve already found a cheap one that matches your skin and doesn’t make you break out or flake up, bully for you!  Keep buying that.

Literally half of these shades are named “[Something] Beige.” Eff that noise.

[Source: Maybelline]

Brushes. Because they last pretty much forever, and the better quality ones do a dramatically better job and feel nicer on your face.  I still won’t spend $30 on an eyeshadow brush like MAC seems to want me to, but let’s face it, if I had a little more cash coming in, I probably would.  If you are starting from zero brushes and trying to build a collection, you’ll probably want to spend less per brush (I think Eco Tools are at the perfect price point for that situation, and they make combo packs).  If you just want to add one specific thing to your set, there’s no shame in spending more. Think of it as a price-per-use situation, and TREAT YO SELF.  My favorite of all my brushes, the Sonia Kashuk flat-top brush (I use it damp for applying foundation and dry for blending everything else), was probably the most expensive brush I’ve ever bought, but it has been worth every. red. cent.

[Source: Target]

Waterproof eyeliner.  As I covered in one of my first makeup posts, expensive waterproof eyeliners do tend to last longer, wear better, and survive more tears and other wet things.  But if you just want to use a pencil eyeliner, I think you might as well buy a cheap one, or just use your eyeshadow as eyeliner as demonstrated here by the illustrious (no pun intended) Natalie Dee, whose makeup blog you should all be reading because it is funny, no-nonsense, and informative.


Highlighter.  I basically consider myself a thrift hero for never having succumbed to my desire for YSL Touche Éclat, the drag queen’s highlighter of choice, which sells for $40.  But I did buy the $30 Benefit Watt’s Up and the $26 dollar Benefit Moon Beam.  I have spent more than $50 dollars on highlighter.  I am guessing many makeup wearers don’t even know what highlighter is.  Sigh.  And look, I’m not going to get all evangelical on you and insist that you should be dropping mad cash on shimmery goop for your cheekbones to be all that you can be.  But if you have already fallen down this rabbit hole, I think you’ll agree that a good highlighter (one with the right tone for your skin, appropriate level of shimmer, ease of application and blendability) is worth some extra bills.


Stay tuned for the next post in this series, in which I talk about the makeupy things I willfully spend too much on, and why some eyeshadows and lipsticks are “worth it” but others are not.

Meanwhile, dear readers, please confess your own makeup splurges in the comments!

[Just BTW, no one gave me any money or swag to mention any of the products in this post; not like I'm ABOVE taking money or swag, I'm just not important enough to be offered it.]


  1. I had been eyeing Bare Minerals for some time, and the wedding was my excuse to buy it. If it went in the wedding budget, it was practically like it wasn’t real money! (I wish.) In any case, I absolutely love using my bare minerals now and I’m so glad I bought it. It’s still not an every day sort of makeup for me (takes too long) but for special occasions or a fancy date night, I always bust it out.

    • My sister (who never wears makeup) got Bare Minerals for her wedding and she looked amazing! I think it is great Gateway Makeup (although my sister never really wore it again). Unfortunately I can’t really wear it because my skin is too dry and it makes me look ashy. But I’ve been into the hard stuff, so to speak, since grade school, so I didn’t need the gateway drug.

      • I now swear by the “Crushed Pearl” (EYEROLL) shade of Bare Minerals eye shadow. With a little primer, that stuff stays put like gang busters.

  2. I’m in the process of trying to steer my entire life toward the “the more you use it, the more you should love it” mentality. When it comes to makeup, this means I’ve started spending out for my daily staples:

    Clinique’s City Block SPF 40 primer ($20) – some people find primers unnecessary and I get that, but I love this one because it evens my skin tone and I don’t like moisturizer with SPF.

    Chanel Concealer ($40)

    Chanel Foundation (used daily only in the winter) ($50)

    Everything else – shadows, liners, lipstick-that-doubles-as-blush – comes from the drugstore.

  3. I am a Benefit devotee. Products of theirs that I use daily (in this order):
    the POREfessional (primer)
    Some Kind-a Gorgeous (best foundation I’ve ever found)
    Hoola (bronzer, will phase this out soon)
    Dandelion (blush/highlighter)
    Boi-ing (concealer I swear by)

    Products of theirs I own that I occasionally use:
    High Beam (I think a variation of Moon Beam?)
    Posie Tint (will forever remind me of your wedding as Reg introduced me to it there)

    The only thing I’ve tried of theirs that I didn’t like is their mascara. Too thick for me.

    Pretty much all Benefit products feel like a splurge so I try not to buy too often, and stick to the products that I know work for me. This is problematic when it comes to the foundation, which is $28 and only lasts me a little over 2 months.

    • The *only* Benefit product I have is their mascara. I loved it at first — LOVED it — but it did seem to get clumpy and thick really fast.

      Mascara is one kind of makeup where I feel there is a big difference between the cheap stuff and the good stuff. Apart from that, I’m very unlikely to splurge on expensive makeup. I’ve read a lot of stuff to the effect that there’s very little formulaic difference among makeup; that the price difference in brand has everything to do with branding, packaging, and marketing/advertising. This is coming from somebody who doesn’t have particularly sensitive skin, though. Obviously, the smallest differences in formula and chemistry can make a difference with sensitive skin, and anybody along those lines has to go with what works, at whatever price point you can afford, I think.

      What I *am* likely to spend the big bucks on (when I have them), though, is skin care. My basic regimen of Dove soap and Lubriderm lotion notwithstanding, I will slather on stuff that costs some bucks, because I think there are vast differences in quality for the price. This is directly tied in with the fact that the older I get, the less makeup I am wearing. I think I am beginning to view makeup more as a statement piece/art/color enhancement than a beauty enhancement. For the latter, I turn to skincare. Sigh. Aging.

      WAIT. Exception: I wear Lancome concealer and have for years. I think it’s 30-some bucks per tube and I probably buy two a year. That is a huge makeup splurge for me, but I am very pale and have noticeable bags under my eyes and I cannot mess around with concealer. I’ve never found a drugstore brand that cuts it.

      • Spoiler alert: I will go on to write that I think mascara is all the same for me so I spend as little as possible!

        I also am not even getting into the subject of skin care (or hair care) because that’s a whole other bag of cats. Suffice to say I go through A LOT of lotion so I try to keep it on the cheap side, but I spend an unholy amount to keep myself in Moisture Surge.

        • Ha! Just goes to show how different people’s faces and body chemistry are. One woman’s junk is another’s treasure (one woman’s mascara is another’s bronzer).

          Slathering myself in moisturizer before bed makes me feel like Cleopatra. The difference between how sexy it sounds vs. how sexy it feels is all the world.

        • I love coconut oil as a body moisturizer.

    • I always associate Benefit cosmetics with YOU!

      I think Moon Beam came after High Beam, as like, a warmer-toned version of it. I wanted to buy Hoola for the “Spring” before I found out that Benefit left South Africa. I used to love Coralista blush, which I got as a sample from Sephora one time and used until it was gone, but I found a pretty reasonable dupe for it from NYX for like, R60, so that’s gonna be my go-to now I guess.

  4. I always wear Rosa Rosa by Estee Lauder. It looks good on people of every coloring, I promise!

  5. Pingback: Hierarchy of Makeup Spending Part 2 | HitchDied

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