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Cruelty-Free Drugstore Makeup Starter Kit 2021
Are you new to cruelty-free makeup, or want to build your collection with affordable makeup? You’re in the right place!
I’ve been testing a lot of cruelty-free (and vegan!) makeup and found my favorites in each category (foundations, concealers, etc).
Check out the video for a closer look at the products! (Also embedded at the end of this post).
(All products are cruelty-free at the time of posting. Products followed by a * are owned by a parent company that tests on animals. See this post for more info on which brands I consider to be cruelty-free.)
This is going to be a long one, so let’s jump right into face products.
For reference, my skin type is oily/combination, so my recommendations may differ depending on your skin type.
Face / Complexion
To be completely honest, some people may not need foundation primer. For me, it helps makeup go on smoother but actually is negligible as far as making it last longer. (See this video for more about that!)
When I do use a primer, my favorite is the e.l.f. Cosmetics Poreless Putty Primer. It’s a new-er cult classic from e.l.f. and has rave reviews. They also have a matte version, and a dewy version.
Here are a few of my favorite drugstore-priced foundations. Check out this blog post for a full list of cruelty-free and vegan drugstore foundations (that have good reviews and shade range). At the end of the post, I made a table that will help you pick one for your specific skin type and coverage needs!
My favorite is the NYX Cosmetics Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Foundation*. It has a ton of shade options, matte finish, and full coverage. It lasts a long time on me and covers any acne spots or scars.
Second favorite is the Milani Screen Queen Foundation. It also has quite an amazing shade range. This is on the opposite end of the spectrum, as it is a light coverage and has a more natural skin finish. Milani claims that it works for all skin types. A light coverage foundation will even out your skin tone or redness, but won’t hide any spots.
I highly suggest picking out a foundation that will work for your skin type and desired coverage and finish. Not every foundation will work for everyone.
A few options here as well. If I’m using a fuller coverage foundation, I’ll only use concealer on my under-eyes. Some concealers can tend to crease in the fine lines, but I haven’t had any issues with these. (Remember to set it with powder!)
First up is the e.l.f. Cosmetics Hydrating Camo Concealer. This is a better option if you have dry skin, as it has a more dewy finish. A little goes a long way, and it has great coverage.
E.l.f. also has the original Camo Concealer. It has a matte finish and full coverage. It dries matte and stays in place. (If you like using concealer instead of eyeshadow primer, this may be the one for you! I use it to do a cut crease and clean up any eyeshadow mistakes).
Another pick is the Milani Conceal & Perfect Longwear Concealer. The formula is similar to the Hydrating Camo Concealer. It is full coverage and has a natural finish.
Any of those concealers would work for covering up spots. To give a brightening effect on your under-eyes, choose a shade that is just a little lighter than your skin tone.
I’m still on the hunt for another powder that comes in multiple shade options. “Translucent” powders may be actually translucent on me, but not on everyone else. I’ve slowed down my search, since I already have so many to choose from (not drugstore though), so I’ll get back to it when I use up some other ones in my collection.
My favorite setting powder is the Milani Prep Set Glow Illuminating Transparent powder. Some powders can leave your skin a bit flat, but this one has some definition to it. It’s not “shimmery” but has just a slight amount of reflect, so it looks like actual skin.
Setting spray may seem like an extra unnecessary step. (I actually tested this theory in this video). But, it does give your makeup that “finished” look. It smooths everything out and gets rid of the powdery look.
I always apply setting spray before I start my eye makeup, as it can sometimes make mascara transfer. Or just wait to do mascara until very last, depending if you’re an “eyes first” or “face first” kind of person.
My favorite is the Milani Make It Last Setting Spray. It doesn’t have much of a scent (which is a huge bonus for me). It makes the makeup look smooth and more like natural skin.
Milani also has a dewy version of the Make It Last – Make It Dewy Setting Spray. This would be better for those with dry skin who want a dewy, glowing finish. It doesn’t have shimmer in it, but the best way I can explain it is it hydrates your makeup to look fresh. Do not recommend for oily skin.
I also like the e.l.f. Cosmetics Stay All Night Micro-Fine Setting Mist. This one has a different feel after you spray it. It feels more like it’s actually doing something, whereas some setting sprays can feel like you’ve basically just sprayed water. (The packaging is not the best – the sprayer clogs easily. That’s the main reason I don’t use it more often).
Bronzer / Contour.
Over my makeup-using years, I’ve gone back and forth between bronzer and contour. At first I was strictly contour only, then bronzer only, and now I regularly use both.
The way I use them, bronzer is generally a warmer-tone product and I use it on a big fluffy brush at the back of my cheekbones and around my hairline to give my face some warmth. Contour is generally a cooler-tone product and applied more precisely to give shape to the face – mainly under the cheekbones and sides of the nose.
The drugstore bronzer I’ve been using lately is the Milani Silky Matte Bronzing Powder. It is available in multiple shades and blends easily.
For contour, I’ve been using the same one for quite a while – the e.l.f. Cosmetics Contour Palette. I’ve actually used up a few of the shades, and swapped them out for other compacts they sell with the same interchangeable packaging. The shade on the bottom right is a perfect contour shade for me, and the top left is my go-to all-over highlighting shade.
If there’s anything the drugstore does right – it’s blush.
A classic standby is the Milani Baked Blush. They have lots of shades from neutral to super bright, and have a nice shimmery finish.
Next is the e.l.f. Cosmetics Primer Infused Blush. These are available in either matte or shimmer, and last for a long time on your cheeks.
Most recently, e.l.f. Cosmetics came out with the Bite Size Face Duos. These have a blush and highlighter in one small compact. The blushes are very pigmented, but I’m not a huge fan of the highlighter. The highlighter shades would be better for those with medium to deeper skin tones, or they can be applied over the blush since the blush is matte.
It took me a while to get around to using drugstore highlighters. I had tried a few before but they were just… okay compared to some higher-end ones I’ve tried. But, they’ve really stepped it up.
The best I’ve found is the Milani Highlighter duo – they have several shades and the one I use is Supercharged (the lightest). There is a cream on one side and powder on the other, though the cream feels more like a creamy powder (?) to me than an actual cream. Still gorgeous.
Another good one if you’re looking for something a bit more subtle is the e.l.f. Metallic Flare Highlight. It’s a baked formula, which is stiffer than a normal powder so you have to dig at it to get some color payoff but the finish is lovely.
I really wish I had known about eyeshadow primer when I started doing makeup years ago. The answer to “my eyeshadow looks like crap” was to “buy a more expensive eyeshadow”… which didn’t work.
My favorite standby eyeshadow primer is the Milani Eyeshadow Primer. Primers last foreeeeeeever and I managed to use up one of these a few years ago. (Pro tip, it may get watery so shake it up or roll it in your hands for a minute).
Use a tiny amount for each eye, about the size of a grain of rice. Seriously. Too much will make the shadow crease, which is what you’re trying to avoid. And if you have hooded lids – keep your eye closed for a minute until it sets.
The drugstore was really lacking in the eyeshadow department as well. Now they have better formulas that rival high-end, but sadly a lot of palettes aren’t vegan.
(An ingredient to look out for in eyeshadows is carmine – and I’ve seen some with beeswax, which makes zero sense?)
My favorite drugstore palette has been the e.l.f. Cosmetics Opposites Attract palette. I’ve had it for about 2 years now and am shocked I haven’t hit pan on any of the shades. There is a mix of warm tones like golds and peaches, as well as cool tones like purples and grays. You can create looks from each side, or go between them! They have a few other palettes in this format as well, like the Earth and Ocean, 18 Hit Wonders, New Classics, and Retro Paradise.
Another hit from e.l.f. is their Bite Size Eyeshadows! They are great quality, especially for the price, and perfect for if you don’t want to commit to a large palette.
There has been a complete 180 turnaround from the drugstore with brow products. Gone are the days of choosing between an orange or black eyebrow pencil and clear mascara. That was a nightmare as a blonde – I either didn’t do my brows or used a taupe-color eyeshadow.
E.l.f. Cosmetics, NYX Cosmetics*, and Milani all have great brow products. (Most are vegan, just check for beeswax or carmine).
A great brow mascara (for if you’ve already got some brow going on and want to fill in a bit) is the e.l.f. Cosmetics Wow Brow. It is tinted, and has little fibers in it that make your brows look fuller.
In conjunction with the Wow Brow, I use the Milani Weekend Brow pen. It’s a brush-tip style pen that allows you to fill in your brows with natural-looking hair strokes.
Or, if you want something a bit more low-maintenance (but still good), check out the e.l.f. Cosmetics Ultra Precise Brow Pencil. There are many brow pencils that basically are the same, but this one is by far the cheapest. You can use it for those hair-like strokes, or just color in your brow and brush it through with the spoolie on the end.
A good drugstore eyeliner is surprisingly easy to find, I’ve liked every one I’ve tried so far but these are my stand-bys.
If you’re looking for a pencil style liner, the e.l.f. Cosmetics No Budge Retractable Liner is great, it really doesn’t budge.
If you’re new to eyeliner, I’d suggest a pen style liquid liner, but they run out too fast for me. So I’ve been using this on from e.l.f. as well – their Expert Liquid Liner. It has a pot of the liquid and a brush, and it’s lasted way longer than the pen style. It just takes some practice.
Mascara at the drugstore is tricky as well, especially finding a vegan one.
I struggle with lashes that want to point downward no matter what I do, so I try to go for a waterproof mascara – which is almost unheard of in a vegan formula.
The only one I’ve found and like is the Milani The Waterproof One. I haven’t had any issues with it flaking or smudging, and it lasts a long time.
To be honest, lip liner isn’t necessary for everyone. I didn’t really use it until I got some more sheer lipsticks and it helped them not settle into my lip lines and look funky. It’s not just for making your lips look bigger!
My favorite is the Milani Color Statement Lip Liner (the red shade isn’t vegan but the rest are). I use the shade Nude and it matches my lips pretty well, and makes other sheer or light lipsticks look better.
Another good and more affordable one is the NYX Suede Matte Lip Liners*. (This is the only lip liner formula from them that is vegan – their Slim Lip Pencils are not.) They come in a TON of different shades.
Until recently, I’ve gone for more mid-range lipsticks. When I first started with makeup I’d buy every. single. color. of drugstore lipstick ranges, then moved on to only a few from mid-range brands. I’ve recently discovered a few good drugstore ones!
To go along with the NYX Suede Matte Lip Liners, they have the Suede Matte Lipsticks*. These come in a ton of colors as well, and have a matte finish that lasts all day.
A newer favorite is the e.l.f. SRSLY Satin Lipsticks. They have a more creamy finish, and look so nice. I use a lip liner with a few of the shades but, again, not always necessary. They last longer than other cream lipstick formulas I’ve used.
I can’t believe I’m recommending a lip gloss, but here I am. I have sworn my undying love for matte liquid lipsticks (which seem to be lacking at the drugstore), but I tested a gloss for you guys.
The Milani Ludicrous Lip Gloss is one of the best that I’ve tried. I prefer a thicker but not overly sticky formula, because I can’t deal with that feeling of the gloss getting in my mouth. This one fits the bill very nicely.
Two new lip balms have hit the market this year, and are oddly similar. So I like them both interchangeably.
The e.l.f. Cosmetics Ride or Die Lip Balm is a squeeze tube balm that is tinted (they have a clear one as well) and is super hydrating while not totally absorbing into your skin. I.e. you don’t have to reapply every 5 minutes.
The Milani Fruit Fetish Lip Balm is similar, but a thinner formula, and in a squeeze tube with an applicator so you don’t have to use your finger.
And that is it! This took a while to get written, turns out it’s much faster to say this in a video than to type it all out, find links and photos, and organize it! So maybe share with your friends and follow me on Instagram and YouTube?