Ultra-Cheap Beauty Brands: Are They Worth the Cents or Not?

You hear those $1 eye shadows and $3 lip glosses calling out your name every time you hit the drug store. But surely there’s a reason they’re so cheap, you tell yourself. Guess again, ladies: Here are the high-quality cosmetics and accessories you absolutely have to have from these deceptively cheap beauty brands.

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More than once, you’ve contemplated a splurge on the iconic NARS Orgasm/Laguna blush/bronzer duo. If that hefty price tag has always stopped you, though, steal a glance at the e.l.f. Studio Contouring Blush and Bronzing Powder ($3) in St. Lucia. It’s a virtual doppelgänger and delivers the same flattering color payoff, with a few minor exceptions. The blush gleams, although it’s a bit less pigmented than Orgasm. And the bronzer delivers a richer finish, so it’s perfect for contouring.

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Heavily saturated color is a must if you’re after a show-stopping look this holiday season. My go-to for the party circuit is Wet n Wild Mega Slicks Lip Gloss ($1.99) in Red Sensation. Flecks of glitter liven up this sizzling, warm red, making it the perfect addition to a festive ensemble.

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A must for desk drawers, purses, and travel, NYX All Over Balm ($6.50) is akin to those beauty secrets passed down for generations. The softening emulsion is available in three varieties (I’m partial to coconut/vanilla), and each is infused with a nourishing oil (argan, coconut, or macadamia). As its name suggests, it’s ideal to use anywhere from your hair to your feet, and it’s so hydrating you’ll want it by your side all winter long.

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There’s nothing better than makeup that looks as fresh at the end of the day as it does when you first apply it. I’ve become dependent—in an I-can’t-live-without-this kind of way—on ULTA Makeup Setting Spray ($10), which sets my makeup just as well as its higher-end counterparts. A little bit goes a long way, so this essential lasts for quite a while.

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A frequent traveler, I always attempt to scale down my makeup collection for the road. A tried-and-true substitute for my massive eye shadow collection is the NYC IndividualEyes Custom Compact ($4.99). Inside are four colors that complement each other beautifully, plus a primer, a highlighter, and a dual-sided applicator. The payoff is fantastic, the colors actually last, AND you’ll save plenty of space.

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Once a high-end brand sold at the likes of Fred Segal and Nordstrom, Hard Candy stepped into the mass beauty realm when it became exclusive to Walmart. Don’t be fooled by the lack of prestige, though; the products are still more than worthy of a spot in your makeup bag. I’m obsessed with the All Glossed Up Hydrating Lip Stain ($5) in Sand Castle—it’s the perfect nude with a touch of pink.

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It’s something every woman should have in her arsenal: a flawless, versatile nude nail polish. Flower Beauty Nail’d It Nail Lacquer ($4.98) in Fanatical Botanical absolutely…well, nails it! The soft pinkish-nude features pale flecks of shimmer that give it just a little boost. Classy and understated, it’s perfect to wear anywhere, with anything.

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Unruly brows get the VIP treatment with Essence Lash & Brow Gel Mascara ($2.99). Simply dab it on and smooth brows into place for a polished look that lasts.

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