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Doreen's Deals: Save on cosmetics with drugstore swaps, beauty hacks

Doreen's Deals: Save on fall cosmetics with these beauty hacks and drugstore swaps

Cosmetics are my weakness. I'm a sucker for the latest look and I've got a big shoebox filled with half-used products to prove it.

As the seasons change, women freshen beauty bags and empty wallets in the process. Globally, we spend more than $425 billion on face creams, lipstick and such.

This explains the explosion of beauty retailers like Sephora, Ulta and South Florida-based GBS Beauty moving in on department-store turf. Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and other mass retailers continue to expand beauty offerings, too.

Beauty might be big business, but you don't need to break the bank to look good.

Recently I stopped in at Ulta Beauty and, as usual, walked out a poorer woman than when I entered, but with the promise of flawless skin.

I bought Benefit's The POREfessional Face Primer for $31 and other odds and ends I couldn't live without. The bill was $79.

While I was happy with my purchase, I returned to Ulta to see if I could find a cheaper, comparable product in the name of journalistic research. It cost me another $43.

A manager introduced me to NYX, a brand I had barely glanced at, which is favored by makeup artists for its huge range of on-trend products and low prices.

A tester revealed NYX Pore Filler, $13.99, to be indistinguishable from the Benefit product I'd purchased earlier, except it was $17 cheaper.

That's why I like shopping at Ulta. The store carries prestige products once only found in department stores, along with mass-market brands carried by drugstores. That makes it easy to use testers and compare ingredients on labels to get the best bang for beauty bucks. Stores also accept returns (80 percent of the product must remain) for up to 60 days. Add Ulta coupons, manufacturer coupons and reward points and you're really sittin' pretty.

Slick marketing and flirty packaging have always lured me into spending more than I intended.

It's time to stop buying into the hype and go cheap. A few corporate conglomerates own nearly every brand, so it stands to reason the premium and cheaper products have similar formulations in different packaging.

Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) owns Christian Dior, Benefit, Make Up For Ever, Marc Jacobs and Sephora stores. Estee Lauder owns Clinique, Smashbox, Origins, Mac, Aveda, Bobby Brown, Le Mer and Tom Ford. Shiseido owns Bare Minerals, Nars and Buxom. L'Oreal owns Lancom, Maybelline, NYX, Urban Decay, Giorgio Armani and YSL. Coty owns CoverGirl, MaxFactor, Rimmel and NYC. Revlon owns Almay. Johnson & Johnson owns Neutrogena.

Any new brand not owned by one of the biggies will likely be gobbled up, as was the case with It Cosmetics. In July, L'Oreal bought the company for $1.2 billion. Again, with a B.

Cosmetics are a real racket.

Market research companies estimate products are marked up 78 percent. Slick packaging, manipulative advertising and celebrity endorsements brainwash us to believe that expensive equals better.

So, instead of spending $74 on Lancome Renergie Lift Multi-Action Eye, make a drugstore swap for sister brand L'Oreal Age Perfect Eye Renewal for $25. Compare labels. Both contain mostly water and silicone oil, and have many other ingredients in common.

My multi-store survey revealed wide price differences on mass-market brands, too.

Bed Bath & Beyond, with more than its many aisles of beauty and personal-care products, tended to be cheaper than CVS and Walgreens. You can pump up savings by stacking the store's 20-percent-off coupon with manufacturer coupons on each item. (Stockpile store coupons. They're accepted even when expired.)

Don't assume discount stores only peddle discontinued products, either.

I found excellent prices at Marshall's, especially on premium products. Clinique Even Better Dark Spot Corrector was $50. It's $80 in department stores. StriVectin eye and neck creams were on clearance for $10 to $15. They retail for $95. Essie nail polish, Maybelline and L'Oreal mascaras were $3.99 each. All retail for at least twice that.

Take a closer look at house brands at GBS, Ulta and Sephora as well as value products from NYX, e.l.f., Physicians Formula and Essence.

They're all going to end up in the shoebox anyway.

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