The Standard Beauty Products I’m So Glad I Invested In

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I need makeup. I’m not one of those girls who can just roll out of bed, dab on some moisturizer, and navigate the world with effortless confidence. And I don’t think that this makes me inherently ugly, nor do I cringe when I see myself in the mirror when I’m just hanging out at home. But I am able to recognize the truth: I have always had problem skin, I am prone to redness and splotches, and I have puffy little bags under my eyes regardless of how tired I actually am. Makeup isn’t exclusively an issue of “making me look prettier,” it’s “eliminating the impulse in others to ask if I am sick or tired,” which is fine. We are used to seeing photoshopped, no-makeup-makeup women in our culture, etc, etc. My success in life is not entirely dependent on my use of foundation, but it certainly helps, and I don’t have a problem with that.

Despite all this, though, investing in good beauty products and routines was never my forte. I recognized my need for improved skin, shapely eyebrows, and a general glow of health, but the last thing I wanted to do was drop 100 dollars at an upscale makeup store on products that only stood a 30 percent chance of working. My usual experience with spending real money on cosmetics was a few sad attempts at recreating a YouTube tutorial, followed by an overwhelming sense of defeat and a resolution never to enter that store again. Everything from moisturizer to eyeshadow was subject to this maddening cycle. But looking back, it’s pretty obvious that my problems were largely due to the fact that I was just spending, not really investing.

I didn’t invest my time or my capacity to properly google things, I would simply stumble on something that looked good while out shopping, maybe give a cursory ask to the salesgirl who is bound to say that everything is ~the best product ever~, and buy it. And when you have problem skin that is extremely sensitive, you cannot afford to just try shit out on a whim. One mistake and you can send your face into a purgatory of dried-out inflammation for a few days, and unless you take the time to perfectly match a product to your tone and texture, you are destined to look like the signature Oompa Loompa that we have all grown up fearing. Maybe the flawless, aspirational-bone-structure beauty vloggers can afford to try out trendy shit, but my poor, ravaged face cannot.

So I started researching. Makeup Alley became my friend, and so did their Yelp-esque collections of hundreds of honest, real-life reviews. It was there that I discovered the La Roche Posay Effaclar series, featuring the Duo cream that I hoarded while in France (where it is cheaper) because it transforms my skin like few other products have, with no irritation. But it was also there that I learned about the honey mask, a nearly free alternative to many of the more expensive masks you can buy, which leaves your skin soft, moisturized, and toned all at once. Yes, it’s really just organic honey with (if you choose) another ingredient like lemon or olive oil. And yes, it works that well.

And like skincare, makeup can and should be a mix of the high and low. Investment products are important, but so are the things that can come and go with the trends, such as crazy eyeshadow, lip balm, fun nail polishes (I will one day own the entire Essie collection), and colors you’re experimenting with. But I did two makeup sessions with an artist this week — one at MAC, one at NARS — and let me tell you, it was a revelation. First of all, if you’re in need of new makeup anyway, there is no reason not to cash in on the free makeover/consultation that comes with it for a certain amount spent. Second of all, having a professional sit you down and go through your face in a comprehensive, custom way is something everyone who has trouble with their skin/makeup should experience. I did MAC for my eyes/brows, and NARS for the whole face, and the products I got from both of them are incredible so far. I’ve gotten nothing but compliments, but never “I love your makeup.” It’s always “you look nice,” “your skin is glowing,” etc. Putting on the foundation/blush I got from NARS and using the pencil/brush/gel from MAC — with maybe a dab of tinted lip balm — is enough to make me look and feel totally glowy and put-together with no effort. And as Ella Ceron recently wrote, putting on a bold lipstick changes the way the entire world perceives you.

I don’t think that everyone needs to spend hundreds of dollars every few months on maintaining their “made-up” look. But I do think that if investing in your beauty — in presenting a version of yourself that will be treated better by our shallow, appearance-oriented society — is important to you, there are certain things you should really do well. You should only put products on your skin that will take care of it, improve it, and make it look its best while on. You should take the time to get a consultation from a professional who can save you years of unnecessary trial and error when it comes to the fundamental things you wear everyday. You should — as former makeup artist Jeremy Renner once said — frame the face with products that fit you perfectly and can be relied on to do the bulk of the work.

At the end of the day, a YouTube tutorial can’t know you. And cycling through endless drug store attempts to find the perfect daily routine is bound to leave you frustrated and, in the end, not having saved that much money. While there are going to be things that you find you can get away with being thrifty on, if you’re anything like me, one Clarisonic will be worth a thousand exfoliating face washes. And one bottle of excellent foundation that actually leaves your skin better than it found it forgives years of terrible forays into bad BB creams. Again, if you are one of those blessed people who can get away with not really thinking about what goes on your face, more power to you. But if you are one of the many who go from “did you not get any sleep last night” to “you look great and I am more interested in listening to what you say” with a little concealer, it’s worth it to invest. Always.

  • This is so true! I’ve been investing in better makeup and skin care products over the past few years and there’s no going back. Plus – a lot of the better products require you to use less, and they end up lasting so much longer. For example, my new favorite multi-purpose moisturizer (skin savior by one love organics) costs about $70, but it also lasts me 13 months and can be used in a variety of ways. AND it makes my skin look/feel like a million bucks. Totally worth it.

    • Lauren Ver Hage

      I’ve considered trying out skin savior! I’ll take your word for it and give it a go!

  • I’ve always debated wearing makeup or not because of the feeling that I’m not “being real” or “myself” I get when I do happen to put it on. But your point of view is a pretty good one; this “identity crisis” doesn’t need to happen if I don’t want it to. Aside from that, yes! I think, if one were to invest time into doing makeup and whatnot, it’s best for one to find the best source of expertise tailored to one’s face. It’s not that hard too; sometimes Nordstrom has free walk-in consulting right through the mall entrance. 🙂

  • Maha Ansari

    Love this article! I appreciate the fact that you frame regular makeup use as something normal, rather than a shameful practise that should make a girl feel guilty for not *sHowiNg Her TrUe ColOUrz*

  • Caitlin

    I got a makeup consultation done at Sephora before my wedding because I was already planning to buy some new makeup for it, and it was amazing! I had no idea how much of a difference a few little changes could make, and I ended up with a few new products that I felt confident were worth the investment.

  • missarewa

    I love this article. Some things will always be worth it, a clarisonic, good foundation, a good primer, good moisurizer and eyeliner that won’t run. I have a teeny box of makeup that I can create several looks with. It’s not about quantity, and yes, you have to do research.