Drugstore vs. Department Store: Beauty Bloggers Do the Work for Us

When I was a kid, most of my makeup consisted of hand-me-downs from my mother's cosmetics case, or 99 cent Wet n' Wild purchases from the local Rexall Pharmacy. On Saturdays, my friend Andrea and I would ride our bikes downtown and shop for cheap makeup created, branded and marketed (it seemed) for little girls like us. Fast-forward to our teen years, when I started hanging out with my friend Jessica, who had a drawer full of expensive makeup from brands like Clinique, Estée Lauder and Shiseido. Jess would gift me the items too light for her Italian princess coloring, which often came as a gift with purchase (GWP). The first time I hit the department store to replace one of these items, I was in for a serious case of sticker shock. Twenty dollars for a lipstick? Thirty for face cream? It was too rich for my blood, and I returned to the world of drugstore makeup, supplemented by the occasional castoff from Jessica.

If a stroll through the beauty counters at your favorite department store leaves you with a similar case of sticker shock, you aren't alone. Beauty magazines regularly feature "spend vs. save" articles, as well as pieces on "Drugstore brands celebrities love!"

I already read a few beauty blogs, like Gaia at The Non-Blonde and Sabrina at the beauty look book, because I like their reviews of perfume and nail polish, respectively. Both women review mostly high-end makeup and perfume brands, although the occasional cult-favorite drugstore brand sneaks its way in. Gaia's tagline at The Non-Blonde is "I try stuff, so you don't have to" -- an appealing concept to anyone who has spent four times what they felt comfortable spending on a lipstick, only to have it languish at the back of a drawer because it was too dry/oily/dark/light/smelly.

For women like these beauty bloggers makeup is more than a hobby, it's a lifestyle. When they travel, visiting favorite boutiques and perfumers is on their list of sightseeing stops. (I'm guilty of this, too. On my trip to Paris in 2010, I insisted on visiting 31 rue Cambon, the original Chanel boutique above which Coco Chanel's apartments have been preserved since her death.) The power of the beauty blogger is such that companies now send them products for the sole purpose of review, and they are invited as media to trade and industry shows. These particular blogs favor high-end makeup, are geared toward women who exclusively (or almost exclusively) shop these brands, and mentions of drugstore brands are generally infrequent.

And then there are bloggers who specialize in the genre of affordable cosmetics, like G at Nouveau Cheap and Jenna at Budget Beauty Blog. In addition to sticking with brands that can be found at most grocery and drugstores, they also link to promotions for coupons, giveaways and samples. The focus is affordability, first and foremost, and performance considerations are next. Just like high-end beauty bloggers throw us the occasional "bargain bone," the bargain beauty bloggers do occasional features on more expensive products. Unfortunately there is very little crossover, so finding a comparison of Revlon and Chanel, or Maybelline and Yves Saint Laurent, is rare. Old standbys like Maybelline Great Lash, Aquaphor Ointment, CeraVe cleanser and Fruit of the Earth Vitamin E cream often get coverage on both types of sites, but the Venn diagram of beauty blogs has yet to present itself. It's a shame for consumers like me, who are as likely to shop at the Chanel counter as at CVS.

The closest I have come to being able to compare high-end with drugstore cosmetics is the makeup review Web site Makeup Alley and the online store for retailer Ulta. After you create an account at Makeup Alley, you can read thousands of product reviews and ratings, and if you don't find what you are looking for, simply write your own review or hit the discussion boards to spark the conversation yourself. Ulta carries both high-end and drugstore brands, which can be purchased at store locations or through its site, where users can rate and review products as well. In the absence of a broad-spectrum blog covering cosmetics in a wide range of price points, for now we just have to do our research, keep our receipts and hope for the best.

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Christina Uticone