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Smackdown Field Trip: Makeover on a Budget

By Amalah

Alright, here’s the skinny. I decided around the new year that a woman quickly approaching 30, who has a
professional-type job working with the community (I’m a newspaper editor) should sort of look like a grown-up.
You know the deal, jewelry every day, clothes that match (the horror!) and are at least a little stylish (I do work in newspapers, where there’s very little money, so you know, on a tight budget) and the biggie — makeup every morning.
This is huge for me, because I rarely wore makeup before a few months ago. And now? Every day. Here’s my dilemma: If I go to one of those places where they put you in the chair and teach you your “colors,” are they going to sell me a bunch of stuff I’m never going to wear? (for your purposes, I’m thinking of that Ulta place on Rockville Pike, by the Whole Foods, The budget feels that might be in my price range)
I’m not looking to wear a ton of expensive makeup, just want to make sure I’m wearing the right colors/the right foundation for my skin tone, etc. And I’m awful at picking stuff like that. I think the foundation/powder I’m using right now is definitely not the right color, but it’s all I’ve got. (unless, of course, you’d like to join me there and use me as a guinea pig for a smackdown column?)

See the last line of her email? That’s when the lightbulb went on over my head.
Field trip! Smackdown field trip! Shoppingshoppingshopping!
Several weeks and 14 bazillion emails later, Shannon and I were standing outside a suburban Ulta (think the beauty section of Target, supersized), while I tried to casually inspect her pores and skintone while not looking like a huge asshole who was inspecting her pores and skintone.
So. The challenge: a full cosmetic makeover. Everything from foundation to lip gloss, geared for someone who doesn’t really love wearing makeup…and all for under $100. Eek!
I have to tell you I was pretty relieved to see Shannon in person — her skintone is dagnabbed gorgeous, all peachy pink and even, and she had no history of crazy skin sensitivity or breakouts or dry patches. She has some serious dark circles and minor enlarged pores around the T-zone, but overall I was shopping for someone with skin WAY BETTER than my own.
(And yet she was way too nice for me to hold this against her. Because you know, I’m so like that.)
Because of Shannon’s bad history with poorly-matched foundation and perma-dark eye bags, I decided that the bulk of our budget would go towards foundation and a concealer.
If you’re makeup deficient, cash-strapped and have an Ulta in your area, GO THERE. They’ve got a nice blend of higher-end cosmetics (Smashbox, Bare Escentuals, Sue Devitt, etc.), drugstore brands (L’Oreal, Maybelline, etc.) and their own Ulta-branded line. PLUS: two-for-one sales, which Shannon and I totally rocked.
IMG_7441.JPGFirst we played around with Smashbox Backdrop Cooling Tint SPF 15. I thought, maybe, for someone who doesn’t like a lot of crap on her face, that a little sheer coverage would be kind of nice. But this was waaaay too sheer. It vanished completely on her face and covered NOTHING.
IMG_7440.JPGThen we tried Smashbox High Definition Healthy FX Foundation. (Can I just interject to say how awesomely idiot-proof the Smashbox line is? Once we determined the perfect shade for Shannon’s skin in the tint, we were able to just grab the same shade in the regular foundation. No fancy poetic naming crap to slog through — just one-stop color shopping.) And it was great! Great! Shannon’s skin glowed but did not look remotely makeup-y. Her pores vanished, but she swore she couldn’t feel the makeup on her skin. (I kept asking, like a nervous hovering grandma — does your skin itch? do you feel like it can breathe? is there stinging? burning? renting of garments? anything?)
$38 for foundation. Not cheap, but you know what? Foundation can do really, really bad stuff to your skin, so even if you don’t have a whole lot to spend, PLEEEEASE put the majority of your budget here. Skip that extra eyeshadow or lipgloss. And remember that a bottle of foundation will last you at least six months.
Next we moved on to concealer, which was probably Shannon’s number one makeup need. And lo, I trembled, because I don’t have the dark circles. Yes, I get them when I am hungover/tired/hungover, but I don’t suffer from thinning-skin kind of shadows that Shannon has.
First, we tried some Sue Devitt concealer that did absolutely nothing. We attempted to try a Smashbox one but the tester in Shannon’s shade was missing. Then I wandered past a display for a line I’d never even heard of — Neostrata — and noticed little before-and-after photos of a woman with dark eye circles who used their concealer.
“Hey!” I said to Shannon, “Try this!”
(Yeah. That’s the kind of first-hand, super-educated advice you get from me, week after week. Are you terrified yet?)
BOOM. Dark circles concealed. Like, impressively.
$16.50 for the CoverBlend Multi-Function Concealer by Neostrata.
Next up: eyeshadow. No question where we were heading for this, though. Ulta has a fantastic line of store-branded cosmetics, and I LOVE their eyeshadows. I probably own about four dozen of them — at $6.50 a pop, and a nearly never-ending 2-for-1 sale, you really can’t do much better.
So okay. If you have no idea what color eyeshadow to buy, obviously I can’t do a personal color consultation for everybody. (Hell, I own a slew of colors that I never, ever should have bought for myself, so I’m no expert.) But basically — you want a neutral shade that’s just a little lighter than your skin tone for your base, then apply it lid to brow. This shade should be completely matte, no shimmer.
Then for your eyelid, pick something that compliments your skintone (NOT YOUR EYEBALLS), that’s a little darker than your base shade. (Seriously, SKINTONE, not eye color, is what you should worry about.) For Shannon, I picked out two shades of a peachy/gold/peachy color. One matte shade and one with a nice amount of shimmer. I instructed her to wear the matte shade to work, applied in a sideways V on the outter edge of her eye, and then save the shimmery version for going out.
(Shannon gave a big thumbs down to eyeliner, which is fine, but if she ever does want to get super done up for a special occasion, a slanted brush dipped in water will turn her shimmery eyeshadow into a really awesome and idiot-proof eyeliner)
Eyeshadow: $13. Buy-one-get-one free. We bought three shadows and then used the last freebie to buy an Ulta mascara. I have no idea if it’s any good or not, but hey! Freeee.
For blush, we picked out a Physician’s Formula Multi-Colored Blush. As a self-admitted Blush Moron, I’ve found that the PF compacts are pretty much idiot proof (it’s a theme!).
Blush: $10.99.
(Shannon already owned a decent set of brushes, by the way, otherwise I would have subtracted $20 from our budget and told her to go buy this set from Target.)
Next up: lips. Shannon, like maaaany of us, already owns a slew of lipglosses. But the one she had in her bag was way too light. Way too neutral. Totally eh.
Since we still had a nice amount of breathing room in our budget, I marched back to the Smashbox display and told Shannon to treat herself to one. nice. lipgloss. We picked out a winey-brown shade that was little darker than what she would usually wear, and BOOM! Damn!
Shannon has really nice lips, y’all. You heard it here first.

Lipgloss: $15.
Worth it.
To save the purseload of glosses she already owns, we picked out a Maybelline lip liner that will add a little definition and drama to the probably-overly-neutral colors. And since Maybelline was also 2-for-1, I picked out a nice, basic lengthening mascara for under $5.
Foundation, concealer, three eyeshadows, two mascaras, blush, lipgloss, lipliner. Daytime and evening looks. Total cost? $99.94. Plus $5 for tax. *shakes fist at guv’n’mint*
IMG_7442.JPG(Oh! As as a total side plotline and your Amy-as-idiot anecdote for the week, I got distracted at some point by the LipFusion lip plumping glosses, and insisted on trying out the $50 (FIFTY!) version, which meant I had to give makeup application advice while drooling. “Stheriously, thith sthuff will lastht you sixth monthsth.” Yeah. I am awesome. And still as thin-lipped as ever.)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Love, love, love the smashbox. Especially the lip gloss.
And the under the eye concealer is magic. Even my 4-year-old said “you don’t look tired today, Mommy.”
Thanks, Amy. You helped me pick out makeup that even an idiot (me) can use! 🙂


I’m a fan of the field trip. Very fun to read. Thanks.


What? No before & after picture?
I love the ‘field trip’, by the way! You could do your own makeup/skincare-only version of What Not To Wear!
I’m rushing out to try some of that concealer…I have killer dark circles (thankyouverymuch, 3 kids who are apparently living in a different time zone than I am!) and am on the neverending search of a concealor that doesn’t make me look just like I have peach-colored bags under my eyes!


before and after pictures!!


Amalah, I want you to coordinate all my shopping trips! Are you making any trips to Boston soon? We have a huge Sephora and beautiful parks. 🙂


I’m a 30-something who has just recently started using makeup regularly myself. Thanks to you, I’ve discovered Sephora. (My bank account does NOT thank you- ha!)
I did a search on the Ulta website, and lo and behold, there’s one near me (I live in the Seattle area).
I am now ruined for good.
Thanks for all the tips and humor!


I second the request for before and after photos! (Please? – you could do it piecemeal if you don’t want your face on the internet. Eye, before and after the super concealer and shadow, cheek before and after idiot-proof foundation and blush, etc.)
And while I’m being all demanding, how about an update with Shannon in a week or two to see how she’s getting on with all her new stuff?
Love your sites, Amy. Thank you, and keep it coming.


I agree with Claire! If you’re even in Boston and want to accompany me to Sephora I will buy you lunch! Like a nice lunch with wine and stuff.
Too bad there’s no Ulta near me in New England. Any suggestions on shopping on their website?


I have to say I thank you for the Field Trip. 🙂 I’m (hopefully) starting a new job soon, and all my makeup was like, seriously about 9 years old, so I tossed it when I moved recently and had nothing to work with. I had an interview the other day and did an emergency walmart run for some CoverGirl kinda stuff. Seriously, though, if I get this job, I’m going to need some makeup. And if I don’t get this job, I might want some pretty makeup for interviews. I have an Ulta practically across the street, so I”m… Read more »