This or That | Critical Comparisons for Mindful Purchases

Estee Lauder Lipsticks

Have you ever seen two products and thought it was impossible to decide between the two of them? Do you have two similar shades in your stash but haven’t been able to explain why one stands out to you over the other?

There are more obvious ways to compare between two products, like looking at the price, size, whether the brand is accessible (or desirable to have or purchase), and so on.  There are also more nuanced ways of really looking at how you use your products, what you like the best, what might be driving you to use one product over another, and so on.

Initial Comparisons: External Factors

I consider these to be external factors since they’re less related to actual product performance since even if one product was vastly superior, it doesn’t actually make it a real choice to someone.

Price: What role does it play in your enjoyment of a purchase?

Most people have a finite budget for beauty spending, so it’s important to weigh whether a product is “worth it” to you and your budget.  A $125 palette might be easy to justify to someone who spends $200 a month on beauty but require infinitely more soul-searching if $200 is one’s entire annual budget!

A palette you’ll use every single day, love to use, and fulfills a need you had may very well be “worth it” if you know that you’re unlikely to be tempted by much more during the year.  If you’re someone who likes more variety and has a tendency to go from product to product, it might make more sense to stretch out the budget across more products than all in one.

Size: Does the amount of product provided for the cost make sense?

There’s no point in purchasing a $100 bronzer that contains 16 oz. of product if you plan to use it once a month. It would be better to purchase a $10 bronzer that contains 0.10 oz. (which is double the size of the average eyeshadow) to use once a month. You would still struggle to finish that size!

On the flip side, if your favorite cleanser is available in a jumbo-size and you’ve been loyally using it for a year, spending more upfront but getting a better deal price-per-ounce would make sense.  The cost/size ratio also depends on the type of product as some products have shorter shelf lives than others, so spending less for less product is often the better move for something that is hard to use up quickly (whether because a little goes a long way or you won’t use it daily).

Eyeshadow Palettes

Brand: Is the brand accessible or one I’d purchase from?

More brands are more accessible globally than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that they’re equally accessible; they might be harder to get, take longer to ship, or have a significant markup that makes a $10 product in the US become a $25 product in Australia.  More recently, consumers are taking stronger positions on the brands they support personally.  These are questions that are easier to answer in my experience, since they’re often a yes/no position.

Dupes: If you already have something like it, why are you interested in something similar anyway?

Look, we all have weaknesses for certain things.  The longer we are into a hobby, the more likely we’ve accumulated what we need to enjoy that hobby, which includes beauty.  I imagine that if you’ve been making purchases in the last few years, you likely have a neutral eyeshadow palette, whether you’ve purchased a pre-made one or you’ve created your own out of singles.

Is it because it’s new and shiny?  It can be easy to get into a rut with our favorites or even get bored of them, but just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s actually that different in practice.  You can also inject new life into old favorites and go-tos by layering them with other products, e.g. add a little bit of a deeper blush to add more depth to an existing or try a new highlighter layered over your old favorite blush.

Are you unhappy with what you have? Maybe it was the color of that red lipstick you bought that sold you, but it turns out that the formula is just drying enough to keep you from wanting to wear it 24/7.  You can try to make a product work for you, like adding a bit of lip balm on top of a drying lipstick, but sometimes there are products that don’t work or end up in the “can’t be bothered” category.

Do you feel an urge to “collect ’em all”?  It’s worth trying to push back on the temptation to purchase all of something, whether it’s because you just love the performance of a particular formula and think, “Well, surely every shade is worth getting, even if I might not use one or two that often!” or the idea of “completing” your collection or a set of things.

Is it because you think it could be even better than what you have?  Could it be? How much better? This goes back to the second question–are you unhappy with what you have–but if you love that product and don’t actually have any issues with it, what do you really think another product is going to do that’s better? Is it really going to be worth upgrading for $10, $20, or $30 and having two of something similar?  I routinely tell readers that if they’re happy with their $10 option that a $50 option is not going to be 5x better for them–price rarely signifies quality.

Eyeshadow Palettes

Deeper Comparisons: Product Performance

You’ve already assessed whether it makes sense to purchase one product over another based on more external factors (expanded on above), so now it’s time to dive into product performance.  If you notice, I don’t actually say how well a product has rated or reviewed or whether it’s a quality product per se; it’s actually more about the performance relative to your needs, wants, and preferences.  A product can review well and be a poor fit for you!

My ratings are based off of the formula’s claims as much as possible–sometimes I have to make inferences or hold to “industry” standards, e.g. very few brands deliberately market eyeshadow as sheer.  This means if a blush is supposed to be pigmented and it’s sheer, it will lose points for lack of pigmentation, while a lipstick that’s supposed to be sheer that ends up opaque will lose points for being too pigmented.

This is my way to try and remove my own preferences from the review and give you insight into how it performed from a more objective starting place.  We often read a product’s description and think, “That’s a good fit,” so that is also why it’s important to hold brands accountable to what they claim!

Let’s start looking at product performance by going using The Glossover characteristics…

Pigmentation: Is it the level of pigmentation I want?

I wish more brands were comfortable with marketing products as sheer or medium or buildable coverage.  I review so many products that seem like they were intentionally sheerer but they claim otherwise (and even promotional swatches show full opacity).  Sometimes it’s like brands are allergic to the word sheer!  There is absolutely a place for sheer products, but there are times when pigmentation is also a necessity.

Whether opacity or sheerness is desired is linked to your own preferences, what your needs are, and how you apply your products.  Someone with naturally pigmented lips may find that opacity is critical in a lip product, whereas someone may find that sheerer blush is more foolproof.  You may desire more pigmentation in one type of product and less in another.

Are you light-handed or heavy-handed?  It can be nice to spend an hour applying your makeup, but the reality is that sometimes we’re rushing out the door in minutes, so if you’re heavy-handed, does it make sense to have something that’s so pigmented that you end up having to spend more time blending it out?  If you’re light-handed, do you really want to spend time adding three or four layers of a sheer blush to see the color on your skin tone?

Do you need full opacity in one stroke or do you find you prefer to build up coverage? There’s no right or wrong way, and if you take the time to think about how you apply makeup and why you find yourself reaching for one product over another, you can learn so much about yourself that will make purchasing decisions easier and easier.

For example, my preferences run totally counter to the idea of one-and-done for eyeshadow, so on a personal level, I really don’t care about whether an eyeshadow can be sheered out for a wash of color, and I do want pretty opaque coverage in my eyeshadow… except for really intense, deeper matte shades, like a matte black eyeshadow, where I find I’m totally cool with building up coverage (less chance of fallout, more versatile, easier to blend and place without overwhelming a look, etc.).

I know that when it comes to blush, even though I love rich hues like a red or berry, I rarely reach for them because they do require a lighter-hand and more careful application on my skin tone–I’m more inclined to reach for a medium pink than blend out a red to a pinky-red effect.

Makeup Products

Texture: Does the finish and consistency work for me?

Texture is a measure of performance, like blendability, whether there’s fallout or patchiness, how it sits on skin/lips (or wherever), but it can also be the place where you can identify whether the actual finish makes sense, too.  Examples: 1) chunkier, physical texture can lead to shimmer that’s more prone to emphasizing the skin’s natural texture; 2) a drier, more powdery texture can result in dull, flatter finish; 3) a very dewy finish might translate into greasy on someone with oilier skin.

What are my deal-breakers? It’s hard to come up with a one-size-fits-most here for texture, since powders, liquids, and creams can differ substantially, so it’s more important to consider what you really look for in a particular type of product (both format, like powder over cream, but also whether it’s an eyeshadow or a highlighter).  Here are some things that I might consider personally:

  • How much fallout? Is it just fallout during application? Does it sheer out too easily?  I don’t mind some fallout during application as I usually do eyes before my base, but I don’t like fallout during wear.  I also don’t like when fallout is a consequence of a drier/more powdery formula that then sheers out too readily!
  • Does it take forever to dry down?  I have no desire to keep my lips parted for 10 minutes for a liquid lipstick to dry down and set.
  • If I apply a second layer, does the unevenness go away? Here I’m thinking about a pencil eyeliner that might be sheerer, slightly less pigmented in one stroke but looks fantastic in shorter, more overlapping strokes (which is how I tend to apply my pencil eyeliners).
  • Does it require application with fingertip or a wet brush? For certain shades, I might be more or less willing to use fingertips (a lighter pop of sparkling eyeshadow, sure, but a jewel-toned emerald? I know I’ll place that in a smaller area where fingertip application is a challenge for me).

Will the finish and texture of this product play well with other products I use? My skin type?  Not all products layer well, and there are instances where certain products perform more consistently if paired with other complementary products (say an eyeshadow primer, which is a step many have no issue with). If a cream blush applies beautifully over bare skin but is prone to lift away foundation and you wear foundation everyday, it’s a mismatch.  Nobody’s looking to buy three other products to make one product perform its best!

Longevity: Does it last as long as I want it to?

Longevity can be looked at from two perspectives: actual wear time where the product looks mostly intact/good and how well it wears down (whether one reapplies or not).  A lipstick that lasts three hours but wears away evenly and is easy to reapply might make total sense for one person, while another will want a budge-proof option that lasts through two meals and hours of talking.

Sometimes we need a product to last a long time and do so beautifully, and other times, maybe wearing something sheerer, lighter, or more comfortable is preferred to all-day longevity (maybe one day, everything will wear like iron but remove easily!). It can also be important into understanding how a product breaks down or wears away over time for those who have long days but don’t have time to reapply–like a blush that is still visible after 12 hours but might be faded at the 8-hour mark or base products that look a bit dewier toward the end of the day (and some might be fine with blotting!).

For my own preferences, I’d rather wear something that doesn’t dry my lips out and reapply it than something that I don’t have to reapply but makes my lips peel later.  If I don’t actually need 12-hour eyeliner wear, I’m happy to choose something that might last 8 to 10 hours but removes more readily.

Makeup Products

Application: Does it fit my routine? My techniques?

Some people love a challenge, but based on what I’ve seen in the community at large and with readers here, consistent, more foolproof application seems to be the more desired outcome–like most do not want to spend 20 minutes to blend out a single eyeshadow!  At this point, it is likely starting to sound repetitive, but it all comes down to what methods and techniques you’re comfortable using.

Does it work with your preferred tool and/or technique? If you don’t like to apply eyeshadow with fingertips but the product only works so-so with a brush, there’s probably an option that syncs up better. If it’s hard to pick up with a fluffy brush but all you have are fluffy brushes, do you want to have to work at picking up the product or purchasing another tool to make it work for you?

Does it apply with the effort and/or time I’m comfortable with?  If you’re looking for something that applies effortlessly, but what you’re looking at seems like it has to be applied a certain way or with a certain tool, then it might not fit the bill.  For example, if a blush is easy to blend out, I’m more likely to use that than one that takes more effort to even out.  On the other hand, I might be more willing to spend a bit of extra time to blend out the world’s blackest black eyeshadow (but maybe not 20 minutes!).

Do I feel confident about applying the product?  Some product types are harder to use than others, and there are some techniques that are more challenging to employ, so purchasing a product that requires more care, time, and/or technique that we’re less confident in may mean it’s challenging.  You might want to improve your technique, and so that product purchase makes sense, but you might also be equally satisfied with alternatives that you’re already great at applying.

Further Reading

Here are some additional posts I’ve written in the past that you may find useful in making better purchases or enjoying the purchases you’ve already made more!

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Nancy T Avatar

This is a very timely and useful article that certainly gives me food for thought before any future purchases. Something I needed, considering that I already have far too much to use up in several lifetimes. Now it’s all about making more mindful buying decisions, and stopping myself from making impulsive, rash purchases as much as I possibly can. Thank you!

Kitty Avatar

Lately I’ve been looking more at any lingering effects after removal. For example, I dislike the staining I get from eyeshadow shades. Also dislike the glitter that seems to remain under my eyes after removing shimmery (not glitter) shades, such as some PM or Hulu shades in various palettes. And I’ve given up using eyeliners of any sort because they’re too hard to remove from in between or just above eyelashes.

Ana Maria Avatar

Lingering effects after removal made me use eyeliner in the waterline very rarely. At an eye exam the optometrist detected some dirt, invisible to me but visible in the enlarged pictures. He suggested avoiding applying make-up very close to the eye. Even if I remove it correctly, there’s still the contamination during the day.

Christina D. Avatar

As I’ve gotten older and my collection continues to expand, I realize my “collect ’em all” mentality is often what drives me. Since I’ve become more aware of this tendency, I have reigned it in — but not totally. There are some items, whether it’s brand-related, color-related, performance-related, etc., that I know I will want to have ’em all — so I allow myself a bit of wiggle room.

Lily Kelley Avatar

Excellent article Christine. It gives me something to think about before i make any future makeup purchases. The urge to collect them all hit home.

Ginny Avatar

The tool and technique is something I pay more attention to now, really thinking about what it takes to fit the product into my routine. I have a brush for everything but not many extra brushes… so, if the product requires its own dedicated face brush, but I don’t have one available, then it might just cause frustration. If it can be applied with fingers then it’s easier for me to fit in. But if it’s a liquid or cream product that I don’t see using every day, I shouldn’t get it because it will expire on me!

Also I agree with Kitty. If it’s a pain to remove then it won’t make me happy!

Ana Maria Avatar

I also pay attention to technique when watching reviews. For example, I truly like applying foundation and concealer with my fingers, so a product that have great praises from people who always use a beauty blender might not work for me even if it suits my needs because it doesn’t apply well with my technique. I’m also a one-and-down girl, so if I’m seeing reviewers spending a lot of time applying a product, I know it needs a technique too complex for me.

Ana Maria Avatar

Wow! Such an in-depth and we’ll organized article! This is way you’re such a big voice in the beauty community!

Regarding the price per use you make good points, but I feel like there are other aspects to account for. Two comparable items might be same price per ounce, but still yield different cost per use. A stiffer matte eyeshadow from one brand might last you longer than a more powdery matte eyeshadow from another brand (or even a different color from same brand, since the pigment might be different). With skincare, I do purchase huge bottles of cleansers, but a creamy or gel formula will last me longer, since the more liquid ones just slip through my fingers.

There’s so many aspects of everything and I love this discussion because it makes me more informed on what to consider with my purchases.

Genevieve Avatar

Thankyou so much, once again, for this insightful post. Many of the points raised are relevant to me.
1. Price – as everything is so expensive here, I have to think carefully before I purchase a product as to whether I really need as against want it. International shipping rates can be over the top too.
2.Size – I just don’t fancy any large eyeshadow palettes above 12 pan or so. They ususually contain shades that I simply won’t use.
However, I do purchase skincare cleansers, body wash and shampoo by the litre, as you’ve mentioned, it is much more cost effective.
3. Brand: Some brands eg Charlotte Tilbury, are not available here and for most other US brands, we only get a curated sample of their products – even the DS brands like Maybelline. Needless to say, the one product that you want (say Maybelline’s Spice for Me lipstick) isn’t available here. Or Essence’s Satin blush that Nancy loves so much.
It’s quite preferable to go and swatch yourself, unless it has been reviewed here in detail.
That’s why I love this blog so, so much.
4. The Dupe List – I always peruse the dupe list for shades that I like so I am not duplicating my stash. It is true that we all love certain shades/colours and probably have them in abundance, but I think most of us are utlilising our own stash better and avoiding purchases of the same colour over and over.
I did go through an ‘urge’ to collect them all when I was having a ‘green moment’ some years ago and I made some unwise purchases, but I don’t do that anymore.
5. Pigmentation – I do love products to be quite pigmented, as I use a ‘light hand’ in terms of my application of eyeshadows and blush. So this area is important to me.
6. Texture – is really important too. I dislike matte eyeshadows and lipsticks (no lip glosses, lip stains, lip lacquers). But I prefer matte foundations and blushes – no shimmery highlighters or bronzers either.
I won’t really look at products that don’t have the texture that I prefer.
7. Longevity: Like you Christine, I would much prefer to have a creamy, hydrating lipstick that I have to reapply regularly than a lip product that is going to wreck my lips by staying on for 4-5 hours. I like my foundations, blushes and eyeshadows to stay on for 8 or so hours, but my lipstick wear time is negotiable for my comfort.
8. Application: I don’t ‘do’ fussy – anything that takes too long or too many steps to apply is no-no for me. I don’t mind dampening my brush to apply some eyeshadows, but that’s about it. Simply because I wear glasses and applying anything without my specs on is very tricky.
It helps if you have the right brushes for the job – the angle brush for blushes, a variety of brushes for the application of eyeshadows – thin brush, fluffly brush for blending etc.
I generally feel reasonably confident about applying my makeup these days, thanks to your informative posts here.
Thank you once again Christine.

Ana Maria Avatar

I like your point on size. Thinking back, I’m very picky with sizes. I don’t like very long pencils (lips, eye, brows) and mascaras. But I don’t like using/holding eyeshadow or blush singles, I prefer medium sized palettes. I tend to buy skincare to a specific size. I always go big on cleanser, toner, make-up remover and SPF, because they sit together on a counter and I hate size mismatch. Also, because I always buy vitamin C and benzoyl peroxide in small sizes (unstable actives I prefer to have as fresh as possible, not sitting for months), I tend to purchase other actives (exfoliants, retinol, niacinamide, oils) in smaller packages as well because I store them in the same place.

Maggie Avatar

Thank you for this! Bookmarked!

Shelter-in-place is making me really think about my collection and how my purchases contribute to it. Right now, makeup isn’t a requirement bc of masking so if I buy something, it had better be a darn good reason. I have purchased some items that have stayed on my wishlist for 2+ years upon learning that these would be gone forever if I didn’t jump on it. I consider what I got to be contributions.

“Can I use what I have to achieve my desired results?” My collection is vast enough for the answer to be “yes.” I rescued some items that were originally going to the donation pile and played around to achieve some looks that I was originally going to spend more money on. See? We do buy the same sorts of things over and over again–just perhaps in slightly different finishes, undertones, or depths. So money saved.

Alex Avatar

Thank you! A very well thought through article.
As I get older I try to concentrate on things I really love and avoid unnecessary impulse buys. Also only replace articles when I need them (several years ago I bought two expensive face oils on a special offer, one turned rancid…so a not so good deal) And is it really vital to replace a used up and beloved neon coral lipstick at the end of the summer when it will mostly sit in the drawer until next spring?
Price: I don’t mind spending on things I use and enjoy a lot but never splurge on just occasionally used products.
Brands: I’m more happy with high-end brands but try not to get deceived by packaging, price, and hype. And of course always check your reviews before buying!

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