Is High End Beauty Losing It’s Sparkle? Affordable Makeup Has Never Been So Good

I will always remember my first ‘proper’ makeup purchase. Having spent years investing my pocket money, part time earnings and later my student loan on an array of brightly coloured and carefully selected purchases, it was a moment when I left behind being a child and finally felt like a fully fledged grown-up. I was spending a whole £16.00 on a lipstick and it came from Clinique. The delicious scent, intricate metallic casing and iridescent shine left a tingle up my spine; I was so keen to keep this precious commodity for as long as possible I barely used it, meaning to my pain it eventually dried out and had to be thrown away. To me, that’s what premium beauty is all about: a moment in time that draws out emotions and leaves you feeling special. It’s sometimes worth paying over the odds for a lipgloss if it makes you feel like a princess every time you use it; importantly it’s as much about the packaging, the scent, the sounds and smells as it is about what’s inside. Over the years I’ve become as likely to gush over a £30.00 bronzer than I am a £2.99 nail varnish, but that’s because I like to treat myself to little moments that remind me how far I’ve come and how hard I’ve worked since that very first Clinique lipstick purchase. However, in recent months I’ve felt myself becoming increasingly disengaged with a lot of high end beauty brands in favour of their much more affordable counterparts. Not only are they sometimes more enjoyable to write about, but you seem to get more excited about a beauty bargain than you do about a limited edition eyeshadow palette that will send you back fifty quid. Is high end beauty starting to lose it’s sparkle?

So what determines whether a beauty product is ‘high end’ or more on the budget side? For me it’s about ingredients, but also crucially about placement and packaging. If a product is in the aisles of Boots or Superdrug then it tends to be affordable and fast moving; if it’s displayed beautifully on counter with a sales assistant offering up advice and a tutorial on how to use it effectively, then it’s definitely on the more premium end of the spectrum. Similarly, if a product is packed in a durable and beautiful compact or jar then it starts to feel a little bit more worth the extra cash – because paying over the odds is about the whole experience, not just about what’s inside. You can often guess the price point of a product just by the outer packaging, with cheaper brands tending to opt for more generic materials, shapes and sizes to keep their costs down. However, with the invention of brands such as Kiko and Ciate, packaging is as much a part of the offering as the formulation – the lines are starting to blur and more budget brands are definitely keeping up with their high end counterparts.

Historically the more a product cost the better quality it would be; however, the direct correlation between cost and quality no longer exisits, as it’s more about finding a story to tell and setting price accordingly. There are so many factors that go into deciding a retail price (that’s for another blog post on another day,) that it’s becoming increasingly hard to navigate our way around beauty departments and know where to invest our cash. Makeup brands including MUA and Makeup Revolution have totally changed the landscape of beauty: gone are the days when you had to pay a lot of money to get a decent product. You could pop into Superdrug this afternoon and buy a whole new look for less than £20.00 – something that resonates and appeals to every one of us. Technology has evolved, prices have come down and volumes that these brands are shifting ensure they can keep their prices as cheap as possible. They’re making makeup fun and accessible again, removing the stigma of spending only a few pounds on an eyeshadow palette and turning it into a matter of celebration. After all, we’re the Primark generation: we’re happy to admit we spent only tenner on those new shoes, or that our Saturday night dress isn’t designer at all. It seems we no longer hide away the cheap makeup and only bring out the Benefit compact powder in public; we’re as happy to be seen with a L’Oreal lipstick as we are a Lancome one.

What’s increasingly interesting to me is the amount of innovation that’s coming out of some of these ‘mass’ brands. They’re quick to jump on new trends, they identify what their customer wants, they churn out new launches at the speed of light and they do all of this while keeping their packaging fun and their prices low. You can justify yet another highlighter if it costs no more than a latte and muffin, but if it’s the price of a weekend away in Paris it may not be something you’ll jump to – especially if there’s nothing new or innovative about it. Over the last year the majority of the more premium brands have become a little lacklustre and stuffy, churning out the same stuff time and time again with nothing new to bring to the party. Although occasionally there’s something truly exciting (notibly the YSL Touche Eclat Foundation, Urban Decay Alice in Wonderland collaboration, Hoola Bronzing Gel, Lancome’s Juicy Shakers and Bobbi Brown’s eyebrow gels,) on the whole it leaves me feeling a touch ‘meh’. How can I talk about yet another nude eyeshadow palette that costs £45.00 when there’s so much newness and innovation in the mass category?

For me, spending a lot on a beauty product goes back to that feeling of excitement. It’s that emotional connection to a product – it’s smell, it’s texture, it’s packaging and the way it makes me feel. It needs to impart pure lust and adoration, rather than a feeling of ‘I’ve got that three times over already’. In order to justify the price point there needs to be a real point of difference, an above average formulation, a unique ingredient or a pack that makes me go weak at the knees; without that it’s just another lipgloss. With MUA, Makeup Revolution, Kiko, MINA and Models Own upping their game and taking a huge chunk of business away from the brands we’ve loved and trusted for so long, these luxury names will have to start doing something new to invigorate and excite us again. Nude palettes and red lipsticks may sell, but I want more than just the expected. I want that moment I felt when I first spent £16.00 on a lipstick. Every. Single. Time.

What do you think? Is high end beauty losing it’s sparkle?

Features PR samples unless otherwise stated. To read my full disclaimer, click here.  




  1. Isabelle Collins
    May 10, 2016 / 2:51 pm

    This was a really interesting post and I have to agree, I think high end beauty is losing it's sparkle to a certain extent x

  2. Pam Scalfi
    May 10, 2016 / 3:31 pm

    i personally am a massive fan of drugstore, affordable makeup. NYX for example, is now being stocked in Boots and I have never seen an aisle so busy before! Everything is always sold out and it's definitely taking away business from high end brands but that's because quality does not always mean higher prices and I love that!Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

  3. Brieonna
    May 10, 2016 / 3:42 pm

    I enjoyed your post! I have to agree with you. High end products really are losing their exclusivity and "sparkle". There are so many low-end dupes which can deliver similar results to its high end counterparts. Unlike before where if you were to buy a cheap product it will either fall apart or not work as it should. Many companies are now able to provide high quality at lower prices which at the end of the day drives many consumers to purchase from a bargain brand versus the luxory

    • Hayley Carr
      May 15, 2016 / 6:20 pm

      There's not so much of a compromise on quality now is there, which is the driving force absolutely. Will be very interesting to see how premium brands up their game in the coming years.

  4. Laura Gale
    May 10, 2016 / 4:38 pm

    Great post, Hayley! I can definitely see why you think the allure of high-end products is fizzling out. I don't get excited about high-end products anymore because it just seems to be the 'norm' to purchase them; I think the blogosphere promotes a spending culture to be honest. Also, brands like Charlotte Tilbury seem to spend a lot of time trawling out new products, whereas budget brands like Maybelline and MUR just seem to clock on to what we want and get it on the shelves a lot quicker xxLaura | Lala London: Beauty & Lifestyle

    • Hayley Carr
      May 15, 2016 / 6:22 pm

      You're definitely right – blogs definitely make it seem normal to chuck £50 at a blusher or £90 on a serum. It's not. It's about informed choices and spending your money where you feel most benefit.

  5. Andrew BeautyandTheBoy
    May 10, 2016 / 6:18 pm

    I totally agree it seems like somehow the "drugstore" is becoming incredible yet the high end range of makeup seems to be a bit meh these days they bring out the same things all the time where as in the lower end brands like Kiko are bring out some really amazing affordable makeup that not only looks high end but performs like it too

  6. Katina Lindaa
    May 11, 2016 / 1:16 am

    I look at my makeup collection and I have quite a few high end products but I honestly see myself gravitating towards all of my cheaper alternatives.. Everyday use, special events, everything. Maybe studying marketing has given me an insight into how it can honestly just be the price tag and the packaging alone. There's soooooooo many amazing cheaper products!!! xKatina Lindaa |

  7. Paris B
    May 11, 2016 / 4:29 am

    I'd agree to the extent that there seem to be more lower end brands entering the market, offering decent quality makeup. However, affordability and availability is very subjective, especially where I live. For the price I'd pay for something from the pharmacy, I could top up just a little more for a department store product sometimes. There are exceptions of course. Also, I've noticed that higher end brands are more easily accessible online, but lower end brands which may focus on retailing in pharmacies, aren't as easily found online. e.g. I'm dying to get my hands on Kiko but there's no online store that will ship to where I live! So, I think that this is highly dependant on where you live, and how brands/products are comparatively priced. Either way, it is certainly food for thought!

    • Hayley Carr
      May 15, 2016 / 6:23 pm

      That's very true – lower end brands tend to focus on retail points rather than expensive online destinations and direct shipping, which makes sense when you take into consideration the cost it takes to set up. But I hear rumours of brands investing in online stores a lot this year.

  8. Prettiful Blog
    May 11, 2016 / 10:37 am

    Essence, Catrice, MaxFactor, NYX and LA Girl are also a few of my favourites in the budget department.

  9. Tracy@Beauty Reflections
    May 12, 2016 / 6:07 pm

    This is an interesting point, but I think only applicable to places like the UK where your drugstore makeup IS nice. Here in Canada, we don't have those awesome brands you guys enjoy like Sleek, MUA, Kiko-I'd LOVE for Kiko to come to Canada. Until those brands start being sold here, drugstore beauty quality is FAR below higher end makeup. Plus, brands like L'Oreal is pretty $$ for drugstore makeup here in Canada. For example the regular retail price for the Lumi Cushion Foundation is $24.99-$29.99! For that amount of money, I'd might as well go high end, where there are more shade options to choose from, PLUS being able to see a tester to swatch to get a match.

    • Hayley Carr
      May 15, 2016 / 6:24 pm

      That's really interesting to see how it is outside the UK. And if they're that expensive I can see why you opt for more premium brands too.

  10. Bee
    May 14, 2016 / 8:03 pm

    I think it depends on where you live. For countries where beauty and cosmetics are heavily concentrated (like US or UK), it levels the playing field because consumers look for quality and if they can get that from the drugstore, I'd also be happy. However, I live in Asia & prices between drugstore and high-end are so close that sometimes I'm willing to pay extra just because they got the exact color or match that I'm looking for. So when I come home from my beauty purchases, I know I'm happy with it. The packaging is an added bonus though.

    • Hayley Carr
      May 15, 2016 / 6:25 pm

      That's definitely what you tend to get with more high end – better colour options and absolutely better matches for non caucasian skin tones.

  11. Nicky Kentisbeer
    May 18, 2016 / 1:19 pm

    I'd say you are completely on point here Hayley. In the past, much has been attached to cost and name in terms of popularity and wearability but people also vote with their purse. Lifestyle and budget often stand in the way of purchases and if we are moving away from the traditional high end purchases, then providing a new product passes the usual 'criteria', we are happy. Perhaps buying habits change in terms of age group too. Not such a big pot for make-up but a desire to still make a sound purchase, lends itself to these lower end brands. I think the different kinds of marketing are having an effect on our purchases too, in so far as people buy from people. We are changing up our habits and buying into the appeal of a smaller brand that is identifying with us and if they stocking the shelves quicker than so be it! We only have to look at Zoella's influence on the younger market and see the products that are selling. Like you, I also enjoyed stroking my expensive product lovingly but if the triumph of cost over perceived gain is outweighed, then we must take heed. Really interesting read.

  12. Lime_Smoothie
    May 22, 2016 / 10:17 am

    When I was a teenager, I remember saving up for Chanel lipstick and nail polish, then making a pilgrimage to Kendal Milne in Manchester to purchase. I held onto them for years, as it was all about the high quality feel of the packaging, the satisfying click of the lipstick, which made it feel 'better' than my 17/Rimmel purchases for everyday.Now I'm grown up and have the income to choose, I have a mix of high end and high street. There are a couple of things I repurchase again and again (NARS Orgasm, Chanel Safari), and I will treat myself to MAC when stateside but the stuff I reach for everyday is normally from Boots/Superdrug. The quality of Rimmel lipsticks now is so high that I prefer them to my MAC, and wear them more regularly. Similarly, I've realised that Chanel nail polish has great colours but the formula/brush are poor, so I tend to wait for a dupe in a high street reliable like Rimmel or Barry M, if I want that season must have colour.

  13. Anonymous
    May 30, 2016 / 9:51 am

    Amazing post!!!! I'm on the fence. I def think drugstore brands have stepped up their game. Honestly…I mostly shop higher end because I'm able to easily color match and swatch the products. Also the sales people help. If drugstore makeup brands actually had counters with sales people… I would be all over it!!!!Mel |

  14. Shopping Obsession
    August 16, 2016 / 1:29 pm

    Awesome post! I admit that I was more drawn to high end products before mostly due to the fancy packaging. But realize that a lot of the drug store products perform just as well if not

Leave a Reply


Looking for Something?