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Cents & sensibility

Hands up how many magazine features you've read since the recession hit about must-have bargain basics like, um, Elnett hairspray and Johnson & Johnson's Holiday Skin?

It's not exactly revelatory to be told that these best-sellers are popular buys and it's a bit of a shame too, because there are many high-performance products out there in the pharmacy and supermarket sectors that deserve some love. I've been testing budget buys that perform for pocket-friendly prices, and here are the results.

1 Maybelline Dream Creamy Foundation

As a foundation snob, I find it hard to admit to liking anything less than luxury, but Maybelline Dream Creamy, €12.39, is a very good product for the price. It is a compact-to-liquid base that will suit normal-to-dry skins down to the ground. Solid-looking in the pan, it transforms to a cream on the face, delivering coverage that's smooth and dewy. The one gripe I have is with the sponge -- ditch it and apply with a brush instead, you'll use less and get a better result. The shade choice is also quite limited, but if you find a match then this is a great buy. At pharmacies and supermarkets.

2 Gosh Trio in Diamond Rock

Happily, this excellent little brand is much more widely available in Ireland, as it's now being stocked across the Awear chain. There are lots of good picks from the company but I'm really taken with the shadow Trio in Diamond Rock, €11.99. This is, quite frankly, brilliant value. You get three highly pigmented shadow shades in smoke-tastic greys and one white to highlight, making this an excellent night-time choice. Best of all, though, is the fact that the greeny-grey shade in the trio is an almost perfect match for Lancôme's cult Erika F shadow, but for a lot less of an outlay.

3 Mavala Eye-Lite Eye Base

A great brand for weeny bottles of on-trend nail polishes, it also has a compact range of products for peepers. Mavala Eye-Lite Eye Base, €6.95, isn't as strong a performer as Too Faced Shadow Insurance, for example, but will add intensity to wishy-washy shades, keep pigment in place and help shadow stay put for longer. It can also be used as a mixing medium. For the price, it's a decent buy, and you'll get a tube at pharmacies.

4 L'Onglex Nail Polish Remover

Okay, it's definitely not the sexiest thing in the world but L'Onglex Nail Polish Remover, €3.69, is really good value and it really performs. It has no time for darks and glitter and whips them off as quickly as it does a pastel pink. In two formulations, acetone-based and acetone-free, there's one for everyone. You'll find the repackaged, retro bottles at supermarkets such as Dunnes and Superquinn now.

5 Babara Daly Super Sheer Loose Powder

Barbara Daly's make-up line for Tesco has lots more hits than misses and is even nicer now in its new, swish packaging. Barbara Daly Super Sheer Loose Powder, €6.65, is a great supermarket buy. Silky smooth, there's none of the grittiness you often get with cheaper powders and it mattifies nicely without adding colour or excess texture to your make-up. The only problem I have with it is the annoyingly small container, so I dispensed mine into an empty loose powder pot, which solved the fiddly issue of getting a uniform amount onto the brush.

6 Head & Shoulders Smooth & Silky

I never thought I'd recommend Head & Shoulders to anyone who wasn't a man, and when its Smooth & Silky shampoo, €3.59, arrived for testing, I immediately put it at the male end of the bath. Except, not long afterwards, I ran out of my own fancy stuff and, in desperation, reached for it. And this variety of the dandruff-sufferers' favourite is really very nice: it is indeed smooth and silky, and did a very nice job on my frizz-prone hair. In fact, I like it so much I'm on my second bottle.

7 Prestige Total Intensity Eyeliner

Eyeliner pencils need to be buttery soft or else they'll drag delicate eye skin, and sadly, most budget brands haven't managed to get it right yet, delivering up rock-hard products that hurt. As a result, my normal go-to for kohl pencils is Giorgio Armani, but not since I discovered Prestige Total Intensity Eyeliners, €7.59, last summer. These are fab -- silky smooth and super-smudgeable, you can use them solo or as a base for a smokey eye. Interested? You'll find them at Boots.

8 Bourjois So Laque in Blue Mysterieux

There's a big trend in the beauty blogosphere towards cheaper spends that provide the same look as a high-end product. Chanel's nail polishes are a case in point. One of the best takes on the cult Chanel Blue Satin shade is Bourjois So Laque in Blue Mysterieux, €7.99.

I can't count the number of times I've bought this since it launched, and it is a fantastic product. Two coats delivers a gleaming midnight blue that would give many varnishes twice the price a run for their money.

9 Barry M Dazzle Dust

After a long-term thing with all forms of cream and gel eyeliners, I'm revisiting my love of eyeshadow and have a new-found appreciation for loose pigment too. Sure, you can spend on Mac's dazzling Reflects and pigments but choose wisely and you'll get the same effects using the far-cheaper Barry M Dazzle Dust, €6.95. These loose powder shadows last for absolutely ages and look fantastic on, belying their small price. The stars like 'em too: Barry M counts Mel B, Little Boots and Christina Aguilera as fans.

Me? I plump for the Petrol Black and Sapphire shades, but with more than 60 colours to choose from, you're spoiled for choice. At Boots.

10 Vichy Essentielles Shower Gel

I'm always happy to spend on bath products, even if it is, quite literally, money down the drain. Cheaper brands tend to be chock-full of foaming agents which I find dry my skin, but Vichy have managed to combine a gentle formulation with a decent price in their new Vichy Essentielles Shower Gel, €5.90.

Cheap enough for everyday use, it smells deliciously of roses and doesn't dry out your skin. You'll bag a bottle at your local pharmacy.