Bargain Beauty Buys: Daily Essentials

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I’ve been wearing makeup since the 7th grade. My mother couldn’t keep me away – I would steal the leftover stubs of my older sister’s eyeliner, so desperate was I to be grown-up. My enthusiasm for cosmetics has not waned since then, and over the years, I’ve tried out hundreds of products. Most of the magazines I read growing up were tailored to white women, with their longer lashes and pink-tinted skin, so I had to figure out on my own which brands and palettes best suited my Asian features. Above are all very affordable items that passed the test.

In my experience, eyeliner has far more impact than mascara. I have gone through so many different kinds, from MAC’s eye kohl to Dior’s crayon pencil, as well as cheaper drugstore varieties like CoverGirl and Maybelline. But I always find myself returning to (1) Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner (Black). It’s waterproof, doesn't smudge and lasts twice as long as any other eyeliner. I usually apply it over (6) Urban Decay Primer Potion for extra longevity.

Another crucial makeup item that I only discovered in the last year is eyebrow filler. At a very young age, my older sister taught me the value of strong eyebrows – too thin and you look like a porn star, too bushy and you look manly. The main rule is to pluck according to your natural arch. Unfortunately, despite being decently shaped, my brows are very light. (2) Benefit Brow Shaping Kit – which comes equipped with a pigmented wax, shadow, brushes and tweezers – takes care of that problem completely. And the wax helps the color cling to my eyebrow hairs in a way that looks fairly natural. 

Many of you might be scratching your heads over that (3) Old Spice Deodorant. I’ve always hated how women’s deodorants and perfumes emphasize sweet floral notes, and would borrow boys' products whenever I could. After several women admitted to using this deodorant on one of my favorite beauty blogs,, I decided to give it a try myself – and was instantly won over. It smells just like its name, “fresh,” and at USD 2.75, its price definitely deserves a mention.

Earlier I downplayed the importance of mascara for Asian women. While I stand by that comment, I will say that well-curled and made-up lashes can still make a huge difference in opening up your eyes. (4) Revlon Full ‘n Soft is great because it leaves your lashes nice and soft instead of hard and clumpy, while still adding length and volume. 

Especially in dry and polluted Beijing, a rich moisturizer is essential. I recently acquired (5) Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, and in my next trip back to the States, plan on purchasing the rest of their skincare line. True to its claim, this cream is light-textured but keeps my face smooth and healthy-looking throughout the day. For my body, I have (9) Body Shop’s Olive Body Butter within reach by my bed so I remember to apply it on my elbows, neck and knees before I go to sleep. I love the mild scent and nothing is quite so nourishing as body butter.

Even though I don’t have many blemishes, I still use facial powder, just because it evens out my skin tone and serves as a good base for blush and bronzer. For years I have stuck to (7) bareMinerals Original Foundation (Medium Beige). (I briefly tried the Matte version, but I think it works better for people with oily skin. Likewise with the Golden Medium color, which is supposedly intended for yellow undertones, but just made me look like I was wearing more makeup – not a good thing.) I then top it off with some (8) bareMinerals All-Over Face Color (Warmth) on my cheeks and forehead – my trick to looking tan year-round, even without regular trips to the tropics.

For an even "healthier" glow, I dust on (10) MAC Mineralize Skinfinish (Gold Deposit) as well. My little sister first turned me onto it – I love it because you can apply it not just to your cheeks, but also your eyes or wherever you want to add a little sheen and color. Only thing is, use this in moderation! It's a highlighter, not a bronzer – and if you go overboard, you’ll end up looking like a gold disco ball.

And finally, for my seriously thick and often unmanageable hair, I turn to (11) L’Oreal Elnett Satin Hairspray. I usually don’t brush my hair; I just embrace its wildness by running some wax through the ends and spraying this on liberally to prevent frizz. This hairspray is especially useful when I tie my hair up into a high bun or ponytail, to keep my ‘do from looking like a giant pouf.