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.