This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click and/or make a purchase, I may earn a few cents at no additional cost to you. Any products gifted by a brand will be marked "c/o." Thanks for helping make this blog possible! <3
Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing more daunting than makeup aisles. Unless I have something particular in mind, I often feel overwhelmed by the insane number of choices out there. I’m no expert but I have a pretty comfortable makeup routine now after YEARS of trial and error. One thing that would have been really helpful to me a few years ago is a “makeup starter kit.” A list of affordable, tried and true products that I could start with and then build upon….so that’s what I’ve done for you.
I went through and picked out my favorite, most affordable options for what I consider to be “makeup essentials.” These are ALL drugstore items and most are cruelty free – the ones that aren’t, I listed a CF alternative. There’s a good chance you already have at least some of these items in your makeup bag, but if you don’t you can build an entire makeup kit for less than $50. WHAT?! I know, I’m a genius.
- Rimmel Lasting Finish Foundation ($8) – This is probably my FAVE drugstore foundation so I was really upset when I discovered Rimmel isn’t cruelty free! Tragic. It has kind of a strong smell but it’s really fresh. It is the perfect satiny finish and it’s great for mixing with matte foundations if you have dry skin like me. Downside: this doesn’t come in many shades. Like, the selection is laughable.
- Maybelline Fit Me Matte and Poreless ($8) – Easily the best matte drugstore foundation I’ve ever used. This stuff is the real deal matte though so don’t wear it if you’re feeling super dry. Like I mentioned above, sometimes I’ll mix matte + dewey foundations though for something in the middle. The good news is, there are LOTS of options as far as color goes. Also apparently there IS a “Dewey” version of the Fit Me foundation but I haven’t tried it yet. My gut tells me it’s a winner.
- NYX Mineral Stick foundation ($10) – This foundation is in no way perfect, but it’s probably the best medium-full coverage/cruelty free/drugstore option I’ve found. I also love that it’s a stick so it’s suuuuper easy to travel with.
Eye primer –
- elf Shadow Lock Eye Primer ($2) – I will never shut up about this primer because it’s $2 and it’s amazing. In the last two years, I swear to you my eye makeup has probably creased less than five times. It’s INSANE. This stuff cannot be beat (I used to wear the Urban Decay eye primer and I swear it’s the same formula). Spend the time and money and use an eye primer – otherwise why waste the time doing your makeup?
- NYX HD Photogenic Concealer Wand ($5) – Freaking love this concealer! It’s super creamy and easy to smooth out with your fingers or a beauty blender.
Eye Shadow –
- elf Flawless Eyeshadow Palette ($2) – I’m a firm believer that as long as you’ve got the right primer and tools, your brand of eye shadow doesn’t matter much. Edit: there are DEF some chalky/not as pigmented shadows out there so you’ll hit a few duds but that’s true for high end shadows as well. I love these $2 palettes from elf because they’re compact, come with colors that go perfectly together and they tell you where to place the color! Obviously you can mix things up but these palettes definitely helped me feel more comfortable with shadow application.
- elf Intense Ink Eyeliner ($3) – If you want to go for liquid, this is the best inexpensive stuff I’ve ever used. And I’ve tried a lot. It’s SUPER pigmented and the felt tip makes it really easy to work with. Don’t get the thick version unless you’re planning on going full-on Amy Winehouse every day.
- NYX Retractable Eyeliner ($4.50) – If you prefer pencil liner, I really like the NYX retractable liners. I don’t really use liners that require sharpening because #lazy. These have great pigmentation and I never have problems with smudging (as long as I’ve set my undereye concealer properly).
Blush and Bronzer –
- elf Contouring Blush and Bronzing Powder ($3) – Pick your poison. I’ve had great experiences with elf Blushes – the color you choose totally depends on personal preference. If you’re new to bronzing/contouring/blush, definitely pick something that looks like it will be light and natural for you. Aka if your skin looks like mine, pick the palest one. I love these duos because they work well, they’re a great price and it’s super convenient having both products in one place. If you want more to choose from, elf has great blush and bronzer palettes for $6 each – that’s what I use almost every day.
- elf Moisturizing Lipstick or Matte Lip Color ($3) – This was really hard to narrow down because obviously everyone loves different lipsticks. I finally decided to choose two options that are the biggest bang for your buck. If you like matte, go with the elf Matte Lip Color, if you prefer something a little creamier, the Moisturizing Lipstick is for you. Both great, but also both have some duds. I’d go with a safe pink or berry to start with.
- NYX Eyebrow Cake Powder ($6) – I used this brow powder for quite some time before I moved over to Anastasia Dipbrow Pomade (which is still my top recommendation). That being said, this kit is perfect for beginners because it comes with two shades that you can kind of mix until you get the right color. I also love that they have a super ashy palette for cool blondes. Just make sure to have your own brush because the one it comes with is a joke.
- elf High Definition Powder in Sheer ($6) – Don’t waste your time doing your makeup if you’re not going to set it! Sometimes I see people on YouTube who don’t set their makeup and I’m honestly not sure how it doesn’t just slide off their face – maybe it’s just me? Either way, a translucent powder like this applied VERY lightly is going to help your makeup last way longer. I’m not 100% sure how this particular powder would look if you have skin that’s substantially darker than mine but for $6 it’s probably worth trying.
- NYX Doll Eye Volume mascara ($9.50) – The only mascara that I will let touch my eyelashes anymore. Okay maybe that’s a little dramatic but this stuff is BOMB. It seriously lifts the lashes to give you that awesome doll eye look. I’ve tried a LOT of bad cruelty free mascaras and this one knocks them all out of the park.
Non Essentials (but I would really recommend still getting them if you can!)
- Rimmel London Stay Matte Primer ($7) – Want your makeup to stay? Start with the right base. To be totally honest, I haven’t found a great drugstore primer yet and I’m basing this solely off of experience with the brand + other reviews. I would give the Rimmel Stay Matte Primer. It’s $6 and their Stay Matte Foundation has crazy staying power – since this is from the same line I trust it. Update: I have since tried this primer and it’s definitely a winner! The texture is more of a lotion but it soaks into the skin very quickly.
Finishing spray –
- NYX Makeup Setting Spray ($8) – This isn’t a necessity but if you want your makeup to go from morning to night, I would drop the $8 for some setting spray. Once you’re done with all your makeup EXCEPT mascara, just mist this over the face. THEN do your mascara. Unless you’re going for the Kim K cry face look…in which case, you do you.
- elf Blush in “Gotta Glow” ($3) – HOLY goodness this stuff is gorgeous. Super fine powder that’s the perfect shimmery highlighter – I think this would actually work on a WIDE variety of skin tones. It’s also super easy to work with and almost impossible to mess up.
PHEW I think that’s it! I know this is insanely long but hopefully it was helpful if you’re looking to build a brand new makeup kit, fill in the gaps you’re missing or if you just want some budget friendly/cruelty free alternatives to what you already have!
What else would you add? Is there anything that you think is essential to a makeup kit that I forgot to include? Let me know in the comments!