What's Your Go-To Beauty Steal?


It's a vital life skill to know what works for you in the genre of Drugstore Makeup especially when you need some and have none on hand. A special drink-after-work invite. A near-miss paramour sitting unaware at the end of the bar. An unexpected sleepover with an Important Presentation the next morning. We don't all have time to wait for Sephora to open and casually put on a face of sampler makeup. Know your drugstore products, and you can access your Reliable Beauty Look anywhere, anytime.

But there's a special sub-genre of drugstore makeup. Beyond the aisles, at the edges of your drugstore, is that middle-school kiosk-nirvana of Truly Frugal Makeup. Usually (coincidentally?) down the row from the travel-size product section. Wet 'N Wild. NYC Color. Jesse's Girl. It varies by region and chain. It's the makeup that, when you were in 8th grade, you were sure you would wear to your wedding. And why wouldn't you think that? It's a total dream—makeup that costs around a dollar. A DOLLAR.

Anyone can go into a drugstore and pick out a very respectable compendium of products from those titans of industry— Revlon, Maybelline, CoverGirl. But, let's face it—when I think of “cheap thrill,” I'm not really thinking of a $30 Rite-Aid run. No, the real cheap thrill is a full face of makeup for about five bucks. It takes a truly skilled and devout beauty-survivalist to stalk the drugstores for the best variety of Wet 'N Wild, determining your best shade while you fight off teenage girls shopping with their moms.

You've heard “you get what you pay for,” but not always. Sometimes you get a lot more. And sometimes you get nothing. Therein lies the possibility of the thrill.

The dollar-liner you may not have tried—but really should—is Black Radiance Eye Appeal Blending Pencil in Kohl Brown. It's creamy and smudgy, great for the outer corners of the eye, and lends an effect that's all lived-in and wonderful. These are great pencils and I want everyone to know it. Comes with thoughtfully attached smudger, to give your finger a break.

Then again, NYC Eyeliner Duet in Unforgettable seemed like a great idea, until a few days into using it I thought I had started rapidly aging. I bought a Roc eye cream and everything in panic. I finally realized that the black pigments of the NYC Color. liner were silently abandoning their post on my eyelid and migrated and settled into various pores and lines all below my eye. It looked like I had wrinkles. Not great. I still use this pencil all the time, but only the bright side, which is very much like Benefit Eye Bright. I use it in the inner corners of my eyes to look very nearly vibrant.

If you're into super-low-budget liquid liner, the NYC High Definition Liquid Liner in Soft Black (which, as far as I can tell, is the only color available) is it's own singular delight. It's got a brush applicator, which I find surprisingly delicate. I have to wipe off most of the product that comes out on the brush, but to a creamy and heavily pigmented result on the lashline. You'll have to maneuver around it a little, but you'll learn to love it.

But the clear all-around winner is Wet 'N Wild Color Icon Liner in Taupe. I use it as an eyeliner when I'm feeling tan and nude and glorious. This is also a fantastic eyebrow pencil. I love this thing like Oprah's-Couch-Jumping-Tom loves Katie. I haven't been without this since I bought my first, in high school. But! A caveat—you know how Pocahontas sings that axiom about the impossibility of stepping in the same river twice? Well, that's kind of like the Taupe pencil. It's a different taupe every time. Sometimes the kiosk's supply has been restocked before it's totally run out, and you can see two or three different “taupes,” ranging from a deep vanilla to a light brown. Sometimes more warm in color, sometimes more cool. But don't worry. Wet 'N Wild Taupe will always be there in some formula. After all, you can't hold something wet and wild down. You can only love it the way it is. So just enjoy the taupe of the moment—that’s what I do.

So what are your favorite products that cost next to nothing? You have them; we want them. Spill.

—Trace Barnhill

Photo courtesy of the author.