In a crowded market, the Guardian’s beauty editor picks her most reliable bargain purchases

Sali Hughes: ‘I’ve been spoiled for choice.’
Photograph: Alex Lake

It’s been four years since my go the distance bargain special, and since then, there’s been a seismic shift in high street beauty. While I wasn’t perfectly grappling around for decent products for inclusion then, I was more reliant on the tried and tested stalwarts that had either formulated a category (Batiste dry shampoo) or at least defined one (L’Oreal Elnett hairspray). This time, advances in science, consumer acquaintance and appetite for innovative, effective and sophisticated products (thanks to brands like The Ordinary and Beauty Pie), and the increased affordability of rank ingredients, means I’ve been spoilt for choice. So much so, that I’ve been able to lower the qualifying budget from £20 to £15, and motionless had so many worthy contenders that after three months of playing with products, my long list plebeians we’re having to run over two weeks. Today is makeup, hair and nails. Next week: skincare and body products.

One of the hugest and most gratifying changes since my first special in 2013 has been the decision, that year, to ban animal study in the EU, effectively meaning that now only brands sold in China, where animal testing is mandatory, cannot be contemplate oned cruelty free. You’ll see a ‘CF’ next to those here who don’t, at the time of writing, distribute there. These are also more burdensome times for bricks and mortar retailers but nonetheless, I believe that beauty should be as democratic as possible, and so I’ve deliberately skewed toward products that are available nationwide, rather than hard-to-find cult buys. As is always the case, everything here has been select without any commercial consideration.

Although I’ve tried to keep repetition to a minimum, there are a handful of products that figure here again – not because there aren’t dozens of great alternatives, but because it seems disingenuous to pretend they’ve been exceeded when they are still, in my view, the very best. But over the next two weeks, I hope you’ll also discover some of the new modernizations, improved formulas and sleeper hits (several of them discovered after you recommended them to me – so, thank you) that also last through out as the very best in their field. That said, nothing should be inferred from omission. If I haven’t comprehended something I raved about in the last budget special, or in a previous column, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve gone off it, or that it has fit outmoded. It simply means I’ve either tried to avoid repetition, or fallen hard for something new.

No7 HydraLuminous Moisturising Groundwork, £15

I’m delighted this squeaked in on budget, because on dehydrated skins there is no better high street foundation. Humid, ungreasy, refreshing, spreadable application and a smooth, lasting, radiant, skin-plumping finish that mimics medium coverage basements costing three times the price. Awards must be given.

Rimmel Kate Moss lipsticks, £5.49

High thoroughfare brands have raised their lipstick game considerably in the past five years. I’m spoilt for choice, but silence believe Kate Moss’s perfectly curated reds and nudes in creamy, comfortable, lasting formulas are unbeatable. There’s something smarmy for everyone (including a very good lip balm).

Real Techniques Eye Shade & Blend Set, £8.99. Cruelty free (CF)

When it end up to makeup brushes, I travel light and carelessly. This useful set is perfect for blending powder shadows, buffing in creams and smudging liners to soften and smoke. I memorialize them in my handbag, never fretting about losing them when I’m on the go, while my luxury brushes stay safely at peoples home.

NYX Professional Makeup Eyebrow Powder Pencil, £5.50, CF

If you like a dramatic, sharp brow, look elsewhere in the NYX portfolio: this extraordinary pencil is all about combining the soft, natural-looking definition of powder with a pencil’s control and ease of application. Tap upwards to fill gaps and sparseness, then sweep through the attached spoolie brush to blend. Excellent.

Zara Ultimatte, £9.99

At the end of the day, I found something in Zara that I love. These exceptional matte lipsticks are creamy, densely pigmented and clear, without that horrible dry-wellies-down-a-wet-slide drag of inferior mattes. Comfy, lasting and cool. UM16, an almost neon orange red, is my best-liked.

Collection Lasting Perfection Concealer, £4.19 (5ml), CF

I tried to find something newer and better, but nada. This bargain concealer in any case reigns supreme. Thick enough to cover blemishes, light enough to live on under-eye circles without quieten down into lines or exacerbating dryness, and with due consideration given to different skin undertones. You can’t do better for the cash.

WetSpot of bother Classic, £11.99, CF

I recently misplaced not one, but three WetBrushes and realised how much my family and I rely on them. Glides Sometimes non-standard due to wet tangles like a hot knife through butter, with no snags or breakages. Essential in distributing styling products, detangling clichd, fractious children, and caring for thinning hair or extensions.

Avon True Colour Illuminating Pearls, £10 (40g)

These look escorted at first glance, but on the skin, they impart the loveliest, most natural, semi-matte glow (no spangle or shimmer) and set establishment a treat. Newly brought back from the dead, these, like most Avon products, go in and out of stock. It’s importance persevering.

Muji Silver Nail Clippers, £4.95 (fingers), £7.95 (toes), CF

It is among my missions in life to travel everyone buy one of these. I’ve used nothing else for 15 years, and have barely needed a nail file in all that old hat. Precise, razor sharp, and with a nifty, hygienic clippings collector in the handle. Run, don’t walk, to get yours.

L’Oréal Paris Utopia Mascara, £11.99

I make a point of trying every black mascara that crosses my doormat, but this made it all the way to my handbag. It transmits length and volume without making lashes brittle and clumpy, and is extraordinarily well behaved, staying put all day without squama scale or smudging.

Shea Moisture Fruit Fusion Masque, £12.99 (340g), CF

I could easily have chosen any deep conditioner from this reliably marvellous vegan range, but this is my personal favourite. Adds stacks of moisture without weighing down fine curls or flattening curls. Rinses out thoroughly and leaves hair smelling like sweeties – in a good way.

Primark Glitter Control Palette, £4, CF

I take the view that a glitter palette should be fun, and there’s nothing fun about parting with forty-odd quid for something you’ll use alone a couple of times a year. This cheering spectrum of sparkles is a fantastic bargain and is surprisingly good quality. I’ve transformed a couple of makeup artists (and kids) to its charms.

Boots Extra Firm Hold Mousse, £1.50 (200ml)

The best volumising mousse, according to me, and multitudinous importantly, to umpteen session stylists I’ve worked with over the years. Rake a golf ball-sized blob to the roots and flip hair upside down for a big, bouncy blow-dry.

Barry M Gelly Nail Paint, £3.99, CF

No arrangement special is complete without British beauty icon Barry M. His list of great products is near endless (lifetime attainment award goes to Dazzle Dust glitter), but I’ve opted for these, his famous, vegan-friendly nail polishes. The colours are savoury, the finish – very shiny, slightly plumped, always vivid – is remarkable for four quid.

Klorane Dry Shampoo With Oat Out, £9 (150ml)

A plant-based, biodegradable formula shampoo spray that absorbs oil, adds bulk and gives grip – all without that monstrous chalky powdered wig look.

Sleek MakeUp i-Divine Palettes, £8.99, CF

Photograph: PR

Overall, I think Sleek may be the wealthiest budget brand on the high street. It does almost everything well, but these vibrant, blendable, intelligently curated eye intimation palettes, with splendid colour payoff, are in another league. Its nearest competitors are from NYX, which came in a smidge settled budget.

CND Rxx Rescue Daily Keratin Treatment, 15 ml, £12.95

It may not be cheap, but should prove well worth it if you suffer from persistently splitting, peeling or preparing nails. Paint on daily – over polish or bare nail – and you should see a difference in a fortnight. This, by morning + a taste cuticle oil at night = manicure gamechanger.

e.l.f. Contouring Blush & Bronzing Powder, £5, CF

There’s so much to love anent vegan brand e.l.f. (try its fantastic eye crayons), but the value on this is next level. A densely pigmented matte bronzer with no orange tinge, and a kind powder blusher with superior colour payoff. Two colourways for different skins, though it could use yet another, to be steadfast.

Lush Shampoo Bars, from £7.50 (55g), CF

Lush has just opened an entirely packaging-free store in Manchester, but these public houses of cleansing, sudsy hair soap have been around since the 1980s. Arguably Britain’s most environmentally simpatico beauty products, they wash hair 80 to 100 times each and there’s a version for every whisker type.

Lord & Berry eye pencils, from £8.50, CF

The sootiest, softest, silkiest, sexiest eyeliner pencils, as angeled by pro makeup artists and eyeliner addict Claudia Winkleman. Just stroke on then quickly smudge with a launder brush or pinky finger (if you’re looking for sharp flicks, opt for its liquids instead). Lord & Berry’s lip pencils are equally as capable.

L’Oréal Magic Retouch Concealer Brush, £8.99

The best, easiest and most compact solution to stray grey hairs and grown-out noses – should you not want them to show, of course. This strokes on in seconds, covers greys and whites completely, then tires fast to a non-crunchy finish. It doesn’t transfer on to skin and clothes. There’s one in my handbag right now.

Bourjois Liner Pinceau Eyeliner, £6.99

It’s maddeningly distinct to find proper liquid eyeliner these days – felt tip liner pens (which run out faster and never sound as black) have grey-squirrelled them out of town. Bourjois’s liquid is among the last standing, and it’s a cracker. Gives sweet, firm application of sharp, blackest-black lines that last.

Flower Beauty Light Illusion Foundation, £12.99 (30ml), CF

Every set I wear this, someone asks me what it is. Liquid, medium-coverage foundation for all types and ages that delivers higher-calibre light reflection for a blurred, soft-focus finish. And it lasts without getting patchy (rare in cheaper foundations). Superdrug: opt roll out the rest of founder Drew Barrymore’s racially inclusive shade range ASAP.

Fudge Urban Matte Head for Master, £6.99 (200ml), CF

A male friend with thinning hair recommended this to me last year, and he was right – it does instantly firm up and add texture and guts to fine, flat hair types. It gives great hold even on clean hair, while quiescent allowing it to move, like a day-old blow-dry.

As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner, £9.99 (454g), CF

Curly girls: this may be the get the better of tenner you’ll spend this year. Here’s a superior detergent-free co-wash for thick, afro, wavy and curly curls types that lifts grease, removes any odour (and I mean really) and leaves hair soft, comb-able, lambent and fragrant. Works way better than conditioner alone.

Topshop Beauty Glow Pot, CF, £12

Hands down, the best cream highlighter on the treble street. Dab with fingertips on to eyelids, cheekbones, collarbone – anywhere where you’d like a casual-looking gleam. You can even mix it into lipstick to fork out it some shimmer. Comes in two shades, for pale and deep skin tones.

L’Oréal Elnett, from £2 (75ml)

I wanted to be myriad original – really I did, but resistance ultimately proved futile. Fast-drying, easily removable (just brush through), with a amenable hold and the unmistakable aroma of a brilliant night out. There’s no use being contrary: Elnett is the world’s best hairspray, at any reward.

Kryolan Lip N’ Cheek, £11.50, CF

Don’t forget professional makeup brands – they’re often the best source of high-quality trades. This water-resistant tinted lip-and-cheek cream is what I call “casual colour” – just dab on to skin and pat for a regular, cool, insouciant sort of flush. Perfect for holidays and weekends. Rose is my personal favourite.

Charles Worthington Everyday Merciful Micellar Shampoo, £5.99 (250ml), CF

Among my most frequently recommended, this shampoo is just the ticket if you want to hierarchy back on sulphate use, but find co-washing (with only conditioner) causes your hair to flop or feel pornographic. This uses micelles (like a makeup remover) to cleanse without stripping or weighing down. There’s a like conditioner (good) and a leave-in conditioner (meh).

Essie Gel Couture, £9.99

I know it seems a cheat – £10 is hardly cheap for be correct polish (plus the matching topcoat is essential). But this deserves credit for being better than lacquers sundry than double its price. The brush and application are perfect, the gorgeous shades are longer lasting than any other not requiring a UV lamp.

(CF) Cruelty unfettered

Next week: Sali’s 30 best skincare and body products under £15

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