Plug just about any beauty product plus the word “dupe” into Google and dozens, maybe hundreds, of results will pop up providing suggestions and comparisons. The internet is teeming with beauty enthusiasts searching for and documenting inexpensive duplicates of high-end products.
In the beauty industrial complex, which is forever pushing you to buy that $30 Dior mascara or $40 YSL highlighter, finding a product that accomplishes the same thing in your local CVS feels oddly rewarding and even like a small rebellion. Besides the obvious upside of saving some cash, the joy of dupes is that in some tiny way, you’re sticking it to the man (and looking good doing it.)
After experimenting with many beauty products, both high-end and low, here are my five picks for the top drugstore dupes of all time:
1. MILANI LUMINOSO BAKED BLUSH VS. NARS ORGASM
Between its claim that it looks good on anyone and its provocative name, Nars Orgasm blush has quickly reached such iconic status that Nars has an entire line of Orgasm products – highlighters, lip gloss, nail polish, and Orgasm’s more glittery sister, Super Orgasm.
As a makeup newbie clutching a Sephora gift card at age 17, the only item I knew I wanted was Orgasm. I wore that damn blush every single day, and it lasted me three years before disintegrating. Gross admission: I once dropped it into a (clean!) toilet, fished it out, let it dry, and continued to use it. That is how much I loved that $28 blush.
But when my compact finally reached its natural end, I decided to hunt down a cheaper version. After some trawling of the internet I happened across Milani Baked Blush in Luminoso, which was widely hailed as an Orgasm dupe. Its popularity was evidenced in how many drugstores I had to search before I finally found a compact, and what I found is that I actually like this blush better than Orgasm.
The golden glitter that speckles your Orgasm compact (I have never, ever written Orgasm this many times in my life) is bemoaned by many users. The whole concept behind Orgasm is that it gives you a perfectly natural, peach-pink, I-just-got-laid flush, and the glitter entirely ruins that illusion. No one is naturally glittery except Twilight characters. The Milani blush, however, has the exact coloring of Orgasm but without the glitter. It’s super pigmented and finely milled, meaning it applies better than any $7 blush has a right to. I’ve had mine for almost a year and you can hardly tell I’ve used it at all. It might take you some legwork to hunt one of these blushes down, but I promise, it is worth it.
2. PRESTIGE TOTAL INTENSITY EYELINER VS. URBAN DECAY 24.7 LINER
I spent high school wearing a few Sephora-brand kohl pencils down to nubs, and the many pictures of 16 year old me with liner melted all over my face indicate that maybe I should have tried something else. Sometime after moving to New York I encountered Prestige, a brand that can be hard to get your hands on (I’ve only ever seen their displays in New York drugstores) but are completely worth the effort. They make amazing lipsticks and brow products, and their Total Intensity Eyeliner is the stuff of my dreams. There’s a wonderful demonstration of its wear (spoiler: it destroys the Urban Decay) over at Project Swatch and notorious beauty blogger Cat Marnell, who is never spotted without kohl-rimmed eyes, has persistently recommended them.
I think I have at least three of these liners stashed around my apartment and in my bags because as far as I’m concerned, they’re perfect. They go on smoothly and incredibly pigmented – no tugging at your eye or reapplying line after line. They smudge out nicely with the help of a pinky finger or a q-tip, and the lasting power is incredible. It has the perfect balance between staying power and softness so that it looks better at the end of the night (or in the morning) than it did when you put it on. And they cost $5.
3. WET ‘N WILD MEGA EYES CREAM LINER VS. MAC FLUIDLINE EYELINER GEL
I much prefer cream or gel liner to liquid — it’s just more user-friendly. The thicker consistency means that if you have shaky hands or poor hand-eye coordination, each quiver of your fingers won’t send your liner flying all over your eyelid. If you’ve been struggling for years to make a perfect cat-eye, get rid of your liquid liner and pick up cream liner and an angled brush. The skies will open up, angels will sing, you will achieve the sought-after cat-eye with a sweep and a flick.
MAC has a particularly devoted following among makeup enthusiasts and Fluidline is the kind of cult product that people use for decades. That’s a lot of eyeliner, and at $17 per pot, that’s a whole lot of cash. The popularity of Fluidline and Bobbi Brown’s gel liner has created a trickle-down effect in the drugstore: L’oreal has a cream liner, Maybelline has a cream liner, even E.L.F. has one. The best drugstore cream liner of all, though, is also the cheapest by a mile: Wet ‘n Wild. It’s a perfect matte cream that comes in a little glass jar and costs all of $4. It even comes with a little angled brush (although it’s terrible and scratchy and you should throw it out and use your own brush).
The only downside to the Wet ‘n Wild liner is that it tends to dry out quickly, which I suspect has to do with the plastic cap. However, they’re so cheap that their short lifespan hardly matters; just run out and grab a new one. They cost less than a latte.
4. ONE ‘N ONLY ARGAN OIL VS. MORCCANOIL HAIR TREATMENT
Sometime in 2011, the beauty industry caught wind of argan oil and lost their collective minds. Argan oil is made from the kernels of the argan tree, and is essentially a deep leave-in conditioner – it can restore fried hair to its former glory, or bring shine and smoothness to normal hair that just needs a little boost. The Moroccanoil brand cornered the market on argan oil so thoroughly that before long any argan oil was referred to as “moroccan oil.” It seemed impossible to me that a 3.4 oz bottle of hair oil could cost $40 – what was in there, liquid gold? Though it’s possible to buy pure argan oil, most argan oil products are made primarily of silicones with a dash of argan oil thrown in – including Moroccanoil.
One ‘n Only Argan Oil can be picked up in any Sally’s and costs a quarter of what Moroccanoil does. Their ingredient lists are nearly identical and by my estimations, the two products work exactly the same way – working a dime-sized amount into the bottom half of my damp hair after a shower transforms my dull, tired hair into a marvel of shine and softness. Would I pay $40 for that? Probably not – but I’ll gladly pay $10.
5. WET ‘N WILD MEGALAST LIPSTICK IN VAMP IT UP VS. MAC CYBER
Dark purple lipstick is definitely an advanced makeup move, but it’s growing increasingly popular – it’s even beginning to show up on the red carpet, particularly on Girl With A Dragon Tattoo star Rooney Mara. However, if you’re feeling hesitant about taking the plunge into dark lipstick, you probably don’t want to shell out for an expensive product. MAC Cyber is one of the most popular burgundy lipsticks out there, but it’s a risk to drop $15 on a product you might only wear a few times.
Makeup dupes are great for trying out a new trend you’re unsure of, and here Wet ‘n Wild comes to the rescue again! Their Megalast lipstick in Vamp It Up is almost the same color as Cyber, and it costs $2. I actually love the Megalast lipsticks – they’re very matte and have impressive staying power, which is important in a dark lipstick. (If half of your nude lipstick has come off on the rim of your cocktail, odds are that it’s not going to be super noticeable. Having half your mouth burgundy and half your mouth bare, however, looks a bit odd.) I bought this shade to give the burgundy trend a go and I absolutely love both the shade and the formula. I wore it out last weekend with just mascara, a hint of eyeliner, and bronzer, and I can’t remember the last time I got so many compliments on my makeup.
If you’re a beauty fanatic like me, what drugstore dupes do you swear by? Are there any you like better than the “real thing” – have you tried any of these? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear from you!
*Note: all prices USD.
Reader submission by Jessie Lochrie