Beauty Downshift Challenge – Is it worth ditching brands for cheaper ‘dupes’?

Beauty Downshift Challenge – Is it worth ditching brands for cheaper ‘dupes’?

Eg, £17 MAC lipstick vs £1.50 Primark look-alike

At MSE, we’ve challenged you to ‘downshift’ your grocery shop for years (check our Downshifting Guide), but you can also save money on make-up and beauty products by downshifting from brands to much cheaper ‘dupes’ – a look-alike product, where often even the packaging is similar to the more expensive brand.

I’ve looked into just how cheap these cheaper versions are, though I must stress this is purely a price comparison and I’ve not tried them all myself, though as you’ll see below many beauty bloggers and MSE users like them. Nevertheless, as they’re cheap, you could always try them and if you like them, great. If not, you’ve not lost much.

What are the key things I need to know about dupes?

  • Many are widely praised by beauty bloggers and MSE Forumites for being just as good, if not better than, their pricier counterparts. Of course, we’re not skincare experts and we haven’t tested all the products ourselves – but since publishing this blog last year, we've had many positive comments about dupes from MSE users including these...

Aldi's hot cloth cleanser is virtually identical to Liz Earle's! It smells the same, the consistency is the same. I would recommend anyone to try it out. A great product with great results!

– Sarah F.

Snap! I’ve been using Liz Earle’s hot cloth cleanser & really can’t see a difference! Lacura’s moisturisers are just as good as Clarins also... I can buy the whole range I need from Aldi & still have money left over!

– Justine W.

  • Whilst duplicates might have very similar ingredients and properties they most likely won't be exactly the same – always read the packaging and check ingredients if you have any allergies or skin concerns. The exact formulation of most beauty products (especially perfumes) are a closely-guarded secret.

  • All these products are sold by reputable retailers – like Boots – so they're quality checked and aren't the same as something you might buy at a car boot sale. The British Skin Foundation told us all cosmetic products are subject to the same stringent tests and just because a product is cheaper, doesn’t mean it’s less effective or unsafe for the skin.

I've picked out some of the most highly-rated beauty dupes I’ve heard about this year at Primark, Aldi, Boots and Superdrug, along with how much you can save if you take the Beauty Downshift Challenge. While you can usually find dupes at other retailers throughout the year, these are the biggies.

Only make a switch if you’re happy to try something cheaper to see if you can achieve the same results. Check our Cheap beauty & make-up deals page for more offers.

Here's a comparison of what’s available in stores now, subject to stock, and how much extra you’d pay for the similar big-name near-equivalent. I've noted below where products have been confirmed as cruelty-free and/or vegan – where I've not indicated either way, it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't, I’ve just not had confirmation.

Primark dupes - incl £1.50 lipstick vs similar £17.50 MAC lipstick, 91% saving

Primark has a whole host of beauty dupes, often quickly selling out as people rush to try out products at around 10% of the cost of the big brand. We scoped out both the Primark closest to MSE Towers and a Primark store outside London to see what you can currently get.

Primark product Similar branded product
Matte lipstick, 3g - £1.50 (cruelty-free) MAC matte lipstick, 3g - £17.50 at MAC
Double Take eyeshadow palette, 8x1g, 4x3g - £8 (cruelty-free) Urban Decay eyeshadow palette in 'Backtalk', 8x1.4g, 4x4g - £31.50 at Lookfantastic (cruelty-free)
Nude basics eyeshadow palette, 8x1.5g, 4x1.9g - £4  Urban Decay Naked 3 eyeshadow palette, 12x1.3g - £33.60 at Lookfantastic (cruelty-free)
Smokescreen eyeshadow palette, 9x1g - £3 Huda Beauty Obsessions palette in 'Smokey', 10g - £25 at Feel Unique (vegan & cruelty-free)
Lip contour matte lip gloss and lip liner, 4ml, 1g - £3 Kylie Cosmetics matte lip kit 3.25g, 1g - $29 plus delivery (about £22, cruelty-free)
Matte primer, 42ml - £3 (cruelty-free) Smashbox photofinish primer, 30ml - £26 at Smashbox (vegan & cruelty-free)
Wonderlash mascara, 9ml - £3 (cruelty-free) Benefit 'They're Real' mascara, 10g - £18.70 at Boots (not cruelty-free)
Loose mineral powder, 13g - £2 (cruelty-free) BareMinerals original mineral foundation SPF15, 8g - £27 at Boots (vegan & cruelty-free)
Ultimate matte foundation SPF15 in 'Nude Beige', 32ml - £5 (other colours available) Estée Lauder double wear foundation SPF10 in 'Cool Bone', 30ml - £28.47 at Boots (other colours available)
Liquid concealer, 8ml - £2 (several colours available, cruelty-free) Maybelline 'Fit Me' concealer, 6.8ml - £4 at Sainsbury's (several colours available)


Primark matte lipstick vs MAC matte lipstick

Primark goes so far as to seemingly mimic the shape and colour of the packaging of branded goods, so these really are lookalikes (put them side by side and the visual similarity’s usually quite obvious).

As I normally use Smashbox primer, I picked up the Primark version and it looks, smells, and goes on really similarly to the branded product. MSE Debs picked up the matte lipstick, and although she usually uses MAC she reckons Primark’s is pretty decent for the price, and the 91% saving. There's also a similar Primark lipstick for 90p which you might want to look out for, but it's the matte version that people reckon is a dupe for MAC.

While buying Primark instead of an expensive brand is always cheaper, in some cases you'll also get more of the product, eg, 13g Primark loose powder instead of 8g BareMinerals powder. Though some big brands aren't cruelty-free, so if that's important to you, Primark has quite a few 'Leaping Bunny' certified cruelty-free products – a nice extra on top of an up to 93% saving.

Aldi dupes - incl £2.49 concealer vs similar £20 YSL Touche Éclat, 90% saving

Aldi has a host of beauty dupes on its shelves – look out for its own-brand ‘Lacura’ on everything from day cream and concealer to a ‘Liz Earle-alike’ hot cloth cleanser – though stock may vary from store to store.

Aldi product Similar branded product
Lacura concealer pen, 2.8ml (cruelty-free) - £2.49 (sold out online, check in store) YSL Touche Éclat illuminating pen, 2.5ml - £20.50 at Debenhams
Lacura caviar day cream SPF15, 50ml - £6.99 La Prairie skin caviar luxe cream, 50ml - £362 at John Lewis
Lacura Q10 night cream, 50ml - £1.45 Nivea Q10 night cream, 50ml - £5.49 at Boots
Lacura 'Illusion Touch' 2in1 concealer & foundation, 2g/30ml - £7.99 Lancôme Teint Visionnaire Foundation, 30ml - £40 at Feel Unique
Lacura smoothing face scrub, 150ml - 85p Simple smoothing facial scrub, 75ml - £1.69 at Superdrug (£3.38 for 150ml)
Lacura charcoal mud mask, 50ml - £5.99 Glamglow super mud mask, 50g - £42 at Lookfantastic
Lacura daily cleansing wipes, 60 - £2.49 (not available online, check in store) NIP + FAB's £13.59 Glycolic daily cleansing pads, 60 - £13.59 at Boots
Lacura hot cloth cleanser, 200ml - £3.99 (not available online, check in store) Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish hot cloth cleanser, 100ml - £15 at Boots

Aldi concealer pen vs YSL Touche Éclat illuminating pen

As with Primark above, Aldi's duplication of big brands even goes so far as to mimic the appearance of the packaging. Reviews on Aldi's page are mostly positive, though it seems some reviewers didn't get on with the face creams. From the feedback we've seen, if you're a YSL or Liz Earle fan - or you enjoy caviar-based skin care - it might be worth checking out Aldi's alternatives as you could save up to 98% by downshifting to Lacura.

Sadly, Aldi’s £5.99 ‘Naturals’ eyeshadow palette – a look-alike of Urban Decay’s ‘Naked’ palette (norm £40ish) as well as many other Aldi 'dupes' recently sold out online (though some may still be available in store), which perhaps shows how many people out there have caught the bug for downshifting.

Aldi also has a £5.99 line of 100ml perfumes that look and smell suspiciously like Jo Malone fragrances – which are also usually much pricier, at £90 for 100ml. See our Cheap perfume guide for more smell-alikes. Unfortunately, a lot of Aldi’s beauty dupes aren’t available year-round as they’re labelled ‘Special Buys’, so you may need to keep your eyes peeled each time you shop there.

Boots dupes - incl £7 CYO shimmer oil vs similar £46 Fenty 'luminizer', 85% saving

If you don’t want to wait for Aldi’s offers to come back in stock or are looking for something different, it’s worth checking out your local Boots stores as we’ve heard there are quite a few dupes available.

Product at Boots Similar branded product
Botanics All Bright Radiance Balm, 50ml*, £7.99 MAC Strobe Cream, 50ml - £25 at MAC
CYO Gift of Gold Bronzing shimmer oil, 30ml*, £7 Fenty Beauty Lava Luminizer, 90ml - £46 at Harvey Nichols
Sleek MakeUP Copperplate highlighting palette, 9g*, £9.99 Huda Beauty 3D Highlighting Palette, 30g - £40 at Selfridges
Sleek MakeUP Matte Me liquid lip*, £4.99 Kylie Jenner liquid lipstick, 3.25g - $17 at Kylie Cosmetics (about £13 before delivery)
CYO Shimmer Switch bronzing & highlighting palette in 'In the Clouds', 7.2g*, £2.50 (out of stock online, check stores) Bobbi Brown shimmer brick, 10.3g - £30.60 at John Lewis

Boots CYO 'Shimmer Switch' vs Bobbi Brown 'Shimmer Brick'

Superdrug dupes - incl £4 MUA pressed powder vs similar £26 Nars pressed powder, 85% saving

I’ve taken a look at feedback online, and tried a few of these products myself, and these are some of the best dupes I’ve come across at Superdrug. It’s own products often match or exceed the cruelty-free and/or vegan status of the expensive brands they appear to be emulating.

Product at Superdrug Similar branded product
ELF Mineral face primer, 14ml* - £7.50 at Superdrug, or 30ml for £12.50 at ELF (vegan & cruelty-free) Smashbox photofinish primer, 30ml - £26 at Smashbox (vegan & cruelty-free)
B Pro makeup setting spray, 50ml* - £6.99 at Superdrug (vegan & cruelty-free) MAC Prep and prime fix, 100ml - £19 at MAC
B Blending sponge, each* - £3.32 at Superdrug (vegan & cruelty-free) Beauty Blender, each - £17 at Space NK
MUA Professional pressed setting powder, 9g*, £4 (cruelty-free) Nars Cosmetics pressed powder in 'Transparent', 7g - £26.10 at Debenhams
Revolution Conceal & Define concealer, 3.4ml*, £4 (vegan & cruelty-free) Tarte Shape Tape, 10ml - £22 at Tarte (vegan & cruelty-free)
Nip+Fab highlight palette in 'Stroboscopic', 20g* - £10 (vegan) Anastasia Beverly Hills Glow Kit in 'Sun Dipped', 29.6g - £41 at Anastasia Beverly Hills (vegan & cruelty-free) Most similar to discontinued 'Ultimate Glow'

Superdrug 'B' blending sponge vs Beauty Blender

Superdrug's own beauty dupes can often be subbed for other vegan and cruelty-free products, like the Smashbox photo finish primer and ELF mineral face primer. All Superdrug B's products are vegan and cruelty-free, and all Superdrug-branded items are labelled as being suitable for vegans or vegetarians. 

Some dupes are hard to compare if they're vegan and/or cruelty free and the alternative isn't, but there are a lot, like Superdrug, that now label what is and isn't suitable.

Do I get the same amount?

Looking at the sizes of products, in most cases the beauty dupe is a smaller size than the big brand – but even if you were to buy multiples to get the same amount, you would almost always spend significantly less.

If you still prefer the big brand, it might be worth waiting for discount events like Boxing Day and January sales, Black Friday, or department store discount days before you stock up.

Would you give up your favourite brand and downshift to a dupe? What are your favourite beauty dupes? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter, or Facebook.