The best drugstore cosmetics

The best drugstore cosmetics
Celebrity makeup artists Toby Fleischman, left, and Molly R. Stern sample cosmetics from the local drugstore. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by those endless rows of cosmetics at your local drugstore. The products are plentiful, peppering an expanse of shelves in a dizzying array of compacts, lip stains and neon-tube mascaras, all housed in tightly sealed packages.

The search for a new foundation or cream blush is even more daunting as some tout skincare components. And with technological advances in cosmetics and the trend toward multi-use makeup (such as BB creams that both cover and treat skin and lash-accelerating mascaras), brands like CoverGirl, Maybelline, L'Oreal and Rimmel frequently release new products with claims that they can emulate the performance of high-end makeup brands.


As the aisles flood with new products, how does one make sense of it all?

We tapped celebrity makeup artists Molly R. Stern (whose clients include Reese Witherspoon, Kate Beckinsdale, Penelope Cruz) and Toby Fleischman (Evan Rachel Wood, Ellen Page, Ariel Winter, Jane Lynch) to try dozens of products on themselves and their clients over the course of a few weeks. They dug in, sometimes testing multiple colors, and gave their feedback as well as a handy number rating for quick reference — 1 being the worst and 10 being the best. Several products were good enough to land in heavy rotation in the artists' makeup kits. Here are their top picks in major makeup categories.


According to Stern and Fleischman, the color combinations in traditional drugstore powder eye shadows have been lacking and the staying power less than impressive. Cream shadows have been the best new addition to the aisles, as they can be used to build depth and density on the eyelid. With several new cream shadows available, the artists' found that Maybelline's 24 Hour Color Tattoo was the overall winner for the buildable color, high pigment and longlasting formula.

"I love this product," said Stern, who rated it a perfect 10. "It's a gorgeous, easy-to-apply cream formula that wears impeccably. The color range is great, and it's a must-have for anyone who doesn't want to work too hard to get great color."

Other high-scorers were:

Milani Runway Eyes Shadow "These are gorgeous," Stern said. "They have a very prestige feel to them. The colors are soft, yet have a nice punch. ... Home run with these if you like a sparkly eye." Rating: 8

L'Oreal Paris Color Riche Shadow Quad "These color combos are really pretty, and the shadow is nice and pigmented; therefore, it sticks on application and wears well," Stern said. "I have used these on the red carpet and have not been disappointed." Rating: 8

Almay Eyeliner Pencil "The color is rich, and it goes on really easily," Fleischman said. "The best part is that it does not run onto the crease of the eye, even hours after applying." Rating: 9

L'Oreal Infallible Gel Lacquer Liner "This comes in beautiful colors including navy, slate and bronze. The formula really does stay put the entire day without dissipating," Fleischman said. Rating: 7


Fleischman found mousse foundations to be less than desirable and chalked the product up to a marketing gimmick. The traditional liquid or cream (with one exception of a whipped foundation) won out over the new mousse products. Multi-tasking BB creams proved strong, and most drugstore brands have good versions that are on par with the more expensive options.

CoverGirl Smoothers BB Cream "This formula feels great and provides really nice coverage," Fleischman said. "It turned out to be a good balance between a foundation and lotion that could replace other more expensive brands." Rating: 9

Revlon ColorStay Whipped Crème Foundation "My favorite prestige foundation is a whipped formula (Chantecaille Future Skin Foundation), and I was really impressed with this mass version," Stern said. "The Revlon formulation is a bit thicker than the Chantecaille, but the finish is quite similar." Rating: 8

Garnier BB Cream for Combination to Oily Skin "I've been a fan of this BB Cream since it came out overseas and it was one of the first BB Creams to hit the mass market in the U.S.," Fleischman said. "Garnier has reworked the formula and packaging since then, and I was excited to try the new oil-free formula. I didn't see a lot of difference between the oil-free and regular formulas, but I still love the light-to-medium coverage and the SPF 20. It definitely evened out skin tone and minimized pores." Rating: 5


Sheer lip balms and chubby sticks seem to be flooding the aisles at the drugstore, and Stern and Fleischman were keen to put them to the test.

L'Oreal Colour Riche Caresse Wet Shine Stain "I've been a fan of the Maybelline 10 hour Gloss Stain, so I was excited to try the L'Oreal version," Fleischman said. "Going on, the consistency felt thicker than the Maybelline, which I liked because it was easier to get a precise application. The color dried much darker than it appeared upon first application or from the swatch on the bottle. It stood up well to eating and drinking, but the stain didn't last as long as it does with the Maybelline line. I did, however, like the variety of lighter colors L'Oreal offered." Rating: 7

Revlon ColorStay Overtime Lip color "The color was true to the packaging," Stern noted. "It went on smooth and feels OK without a lip moisturizer. However, once the included gloss is applied, it feels amazing and lasts as long as it claims. The intensity of the color fades, but a hint of the shade lasts up to 16 hours." Rating: 9 ½

L'Oreal Paris Colour Riche Caresse Liquid Lip Lacquer "The texture and wear of this were great," Stern said. "The color range is gorgeous, and the packaging is really elegant." Rating: 9

Maybelline Color Whisper "These are fabulous. They feel amazing, and the color range is spectacular," Stern said. "The only negative to these is that they don't last very long, which won't be a big deal if you don't mind reapplying." Rating: 8

Nuance Salma Hayek Rose Petal Hydrating Balm "The round packaging is great, and the product went on with a lovely emollient thickness," Fleischman said. "The rose smell and taste were delicious, and when I used it on clients, they immediately asked me what it was. I would definitely buy this again." Rating: 7

Burts Bees Tinted lip balm "This was the sheerest deposit of color of any of the lip balms tested," Stern said. "This really is more of a balm with a very slight hint of color. This definitely feels good, but I would consider it more of a treatment than a cosmetic." Rating: 8 for treatment and a 2 for color

Sally Hansen Color Fast Tint + Moisture Balm Stern said, "Of all the chubby pencils, this one actually had the best feeling on the lips. It really feels wonderful and deposits a nice sheer dose of color." Rating: 7

Covergirl Lip Perfection Jumbo gloss balm "These had a great feel on the lips, and the finish is similar to Tarte (the prestige version). The slight gloss finish is a nice sheen without being sticky or greasy at all," Stern said. Rating: 7



Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Eraser "This concealer really impressed me," Stern said. "It feels good and covers. The formula is very pretty and opaque but never felt cakey or heavy." Rating: 8


CVS renewing anti-dark circle roller concealer "I really like this product," Stern said. "This has a roller ball for blending as well as application. You still need your finger or sponge to blend, but with the use of the roller ball, the deposit of color is sheer and easy to use. This is a great choice for someone who is dealing with darkness, as it works very well as a subtle under-eye highlighter." Rating: 7

Almay Wake Up Under Eye Concealer "I liked the consistency a lot. It went on easily, with just a gentle squeeze, and didn't deposit too much product on the brush," Stern said. "The color was good and blended beautifully. Rating: 7

Neutrogena Healthy Skin Brightening Eye Perfector Broad Spectrum SPF 25 "This really works to brighten the under-eye area without being too dense or opaque," Fleischman said. "You can build this up in any dark areas, and it doesn't get cakey or look too light. The SPF 25 is a nice bonus, and the small brush tip makes this easy to apply. Rating: 10


Both makeup artists said that when it comes to eyebrows, two colored powders are better than one for delivering natural dimension rather than a flat, dark, drawn on-looking finish. Milani Brow Kit was a complete product containing two colors of powder and essential brow tools like tweezers and a brow brush.

Milani Brow Fix Kit in Medium Brown "This is a great kit that contains a highlighter, two colored powders, a brow brush, tweezers, an applicator for the highlighter, and a small mirror. I always recommend using two different shades on brows to give them more natural dimension, so I was pleased this little kit provided a lighter and darker powder," Fleischman said. "The highlighter was a nice touch and wasn't too shimmery." Rating: 6

Nuance Salma Hayek Shape & Define Brow Kit in Brown "Like the entire Nuance line, this product has beautiful and functional packaging. The mirror on the outside slides open to reveal a brow gel, a highlighting cream and the brow powder. It only comes in two shades (brown and medium blonde), and unfortunately I felt the brown was too dark for most brunettes," Fleischman said. "But I really liked that it provided the gel to keep the brow in place, and the highlighter gave just enough of a subtle pop of shimmer." Rating: 5


Stern and Fleischman were eager to test cream blushes, which are relatively new to the mass market and still a bit difficult to find there.

Revlon Photo Ready Cream Blush "The colors are extremely vibrant and rich, which I love in a blush. The texture and finish are sheer and easy to apply, and the color lasts," Stern said. Rating: 7

CoverGirl and Olay Simply Ageless Sculpting Blush It's very easy to apply and blend, Fleischman said. "Because of the Olay ingredients, it really offers a glow that other blushes sometimes lack. As with most cream blushes, it doesn't last all day and requires a reapply." Rating: 6


L'Oreal products proved strong, but CoverGirl's new Clump Crusher was a standout for delivering on its promise to stay smooth and not clump regardless of how many coats are applied.

Covergirl Clump Crusher "This is my favorite mascara both personally and professionally," Fleischman said. "The wand is curved rubber and coats each lash really well. And like the name states, no matter how many coats you apply (and I apply a lot), it never clumps." Rating: 9

Maybelline Lash Discovery "This product does, indeed, discover lashes that you didn't even know you had," said Fleischman. "The secret is the tiny brush that you can wield to find those invisible lashes, especially at the corners of the eye and for bottom lashes." Rating: 10

L'Oreal Voluminous Mascara, False Fiber Lashes "Nobody makes a blacker mascara than L'Oreal. Their Blackest Black can sometimes look blue it's so black, which is great for a really dramatic look," Fleischman said. "This mascara has a rubber, three-sided wand that really builds thick, fluffy lashes." Rating: 10