The best affordable makeup under $25

The saying ‘you get what you pay for’ does not universally apply to beauty products. While the science involved with skincare advances, textural superiority of certain makeup products and beautiful packaging befitting precious objet d’art invariably nudge prices up, it doesn’t mean there aren’t equally worthy options with far lower price points. 

Great beauty items should do what they say they will with little effort or expertise required, but beyond that, being enjoyable to use and designed to look good on your bathroom shelf are characteristics that vary in importance depending on who you talk to. 

If you’ve ever detoured from an affordable, reliable go-to in favour of a one-off splurge only to discover the newcomer gives a depressingly average result, you’ll know how disappointing it can be, but trying numerous cheaper products without getting the result you’re after can be equally wasteful. 

So without further ado, here’s our edit of the best makeup products under $25, each excellent performer deserving a spot on your shelf and in your routine.

e.l.f. Hydrating Camo Concealer, $10
A Kmart visit often means you come home with more than you went for. Next time, add one of E.l.f’s famous long-wear, full coverage concealers to your cart. 

Mecca Max Wink Ink Super Mascara, $22
Beauty superstore Mecca’s house brand is sorely underrated, with some great makeup that’s easy to use, including this all-rounder mascara perfect for everyday wear. 

Zara Eye Shadows Duo, $24.90
Pigment packed but wearable, these easily blendable powders come in a duo compact that can be refilled once empty. Part of fashion retailer Zara’s excellent new affordable makeup line.

MAC Cosmetics Mini MAC lipstick, $25
Bending the rules slightly to allow a mini size to sneak in but this size allows trialing more colours than you would with a full size and comes in some of MAC’s absolute classics like Ruby Woo (pictured) and Velvet Teddy.

Mecca Max Off Duty Blush Stick, $20
Another entry from the Mecca Max brand, this easy-to use cream blush that can be swiped directly on to skin and blended with fingers for a lively healthy matte flush of colour. 

Maybelline Hyper Easy Liquid Liner, $20
Getting a smooth, black line across lashes can take practice but this fine brush-tip version makes things a bit easier with a hexagonal grip and inky pigment that doesn’t drag or skip. 

The Ordinary Serum Foundation, $14.50
Water-thin and weightless, this medium coverage foundation buffs into skin beautifully with a dense-bristle foundation brush giving a natural finish. It comes in 21 shades with different undertones.

MCoBeauty Magic Brows Fibre Gel, $18
Brush upwards through brows to add a touch of believable tint, thickness and volume and set in place all day. Good to fill out sparse patches or greys.

Colour by TBN Lipsticks, $5.99
Smooth and moist, with a good range of on-trend colours and a vegan formula that feels comfortable on, these creamy lipsticks might be a the steal of the lot 

COVERGIRL Easy Breezy Brow Pencil, $15.99
A micro-fine tip allows you to draw in fine, single hair strokes and the formula has excellent staying power. The attached spoolie is useful for grooming hair into place so you can see where the gaps are to fill in.

L’Oreal Paris Color Queen Mono Eyeshadow, $14.99
Beautiful eyeshadow singles with good colour payoff in matte or shimmer shades and some more creative colour options.

Maybelline Superstay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick, $22.99
Probably the longest lasting lip colour we’re ever tried with fantastically bright and true shades. We do suggest you have an oil cleanser on hand to get these off though, they have serious staying power.

Meet the Wellington spirit-maker carving out new traditions

It took a ‘life crisis’ to distill Frankie McPhail’s passion for whisky into a new career making spirits that defy centuries of tradition, utilising unexpected ingredients and methods while challenging the palate in the most delicious and intriguing way possible.

Photography by Fold in the Map

Frankie McPhail begins by recounting the time she was sitting in a bar in Courtenay Place, going through a life crisis. Having moved to New Zealand from Canada to work for a retail clothing company, in 2015, she found herself with her contract ending and visa running out. “I asked myself, ‘If I could do anything in the world, what would it be?’ I looked at my glass and said, ‘F*** it, I’m going to make whisky.’”

McPhail has been a whisky lover for many years, but turning her passion into a career wasn’t easy. “I had no idea how to make whisky. I had failed math and science quite a bit. And I was assistant manager of a retail store, so I didn’t really have any money, either. So it wasn’t really in the cards or destiny for me to do it,” the 33-year-old says.

But as all the great romantics would know, if you love something enough, you’ll make it work. And with the help of her plumber fiancé, a fellow brewery friend and her family, McPhail opened her very own distillery in the heart of Wellington.

Inspired by her grandfather, a fishing boat engineer who she describes as a “big Croatian man who didn’t have all his fingers”, McPhail named Southward Distilling after his boat – an ode to his seafaring spirit and connection to nature. The 300-litre copper hybrid still that sits in Southward Distillery is lovingly named after her grandmother Kay, who supported McPhail in getting the business across the line in the beginning.

Talk to any whisky maker and you’ll learn that it’s a job that takes a lot of patience. It can take years and even decades to produce your first drop, which can prove challenging when you don’t have much start-up capital to see you through the years. And so, McPhail started Southward Distilling’s journey making gin.

A pioneering spirit

A whisky woman through-and-through, the idea of distilling a white spirit came with some reluctance, she admits, recalling a specific night crying in her living room to her fiancé, lamenting that she didn’t like gin and didn’t want to make it. “I very quickly realised in the scheme of the dream that you have to take certain routes that might not be expected,” she says. “It was a very pivotal moment for me, deciding, if I was going to do gin I was going to do it my way.”

She set about making gin the way a whisky-lover would, thinking: how would a traditional Scotch whisky drinker enjoy gin? What hasn’t been done in the gin industry that’s worth trying? “It’s about playing with flavour and palette. We might not like the London Dry gin; we might like something that’s a new world style – that’s bigger and bolder.”

Her naivety over gin and her love for whisky has led her to craft some unconventional varieties, including a smoked rosemary gin that tastes “like a roast lamb dinner”. “It pushes you far into that savoury, rough, almost rye whisky-like category. My fiancé thought I was crazy when I created it, but people really like it because when you pair it with ginger beer or ale, it connects to the New Zealand nostalgia of having roast lamb dinners, or rosemary in the garden. It ties into that subconscious way of tasting that if you’re familiar with it, your brain has already decided it’s open to it before it hits your lips.”

This way of weaving memories and stories around the spirits – and not solely describing them by flavour and profile – is a defining aspect of McPhail’s approach. “I’m steeped in story and nostalgia. Even the bottle shape that we have is tied to the whisky I was drinking when I decided I wanted to make whisky.”

Mountains and waves serve as the inspiration behind the gins, the rugged peaks a link to her homeland in British Columbia and the landscape of New Zealand. The ocean connection is an ode to her grandfather and her life growing up on the Pacific Coast: seaweed is used as one of the botanicals in the Wave Gin, harvested nearby in Cape Palliser, adding a sweet dryness to the flavour profile.

While gin-making lets her be agile and experiment, whisky is, of course, her first love. Now two years into the business, McPhail is excited to have just begun making her first whisky. Diverting from the tradition of ageing whisky six to 12 years, hers will sit for two to three years in a method of short-ageing.

“It’s not necessarily that something aged for two or three years is bad,” she explains. “Getting it into the right cask, say a chardonnay or cognac, will give you a flavour that means you can release it in two to three years as a good drinking whisky. Especially because of the wine industry that we have in New Zealand, you can choose some really amazing things in the wood to get that flavour in it. And the grain that we have in New Zealand is so unique.

“We have an opportunity to learn from the brewing industry in terms of what they can do with beer, learn from the wine industry in terms of what casks they have, and create something that’s really unique to this part of the world.”

It seems archaic, for sure, to describe gin as feminine and whisky as masculine. McPhail agrees that it shouldn’t be reduced to a male versus female thing, but does acknowledge that women aren’t as prevalent in distilling as men, a disparity that translates to the way it is marketed. A 2020 study by global movement OurWhisky that looked at the Instagram accounts of major whisky brands found that posts featuring men outnumbered women by 228 per cent. “There is that real tradition of older gentlemen drinking rough single malt, smoky Scotch. It’s been done that way time and time again.”

Her approach isn’t about disregarding tradition, but finding ways to make it unique and push it forward. “If we were to make whisky for the next thousand years like we have for the last thousand, for sure that would be great. But what opportunities lie in playing with different casks or changing things up? What rules am I breaking and why am I breaking them? I’ve got one shot to create my legacy and so creating whisky that respects but innovates tradition is how I operate.”

As to the future, McPhail says the dream is to build a distillery out in the wild on the Wellington coast. Southward is still young so the dream is a few years away, but she’s happy to spend the time getting there. “It sounds cheesy, but I feel like it’s what I’m born to do. Liquor evolves and develops as time goes on, and this is my legacy. To be able to harness the environment and story and get to live my dream every day is pretty special.”

Frankie’s must-try bars in Wellington


“Bespoke cocktails to your taste and preference. These guys have a stunning bar and have our gin as their house pour. The experience at Nightflower is like no other and my personal favourite.”


“Tucked away on Tory Street up a flight of stairs, Hawthorne is a cozy lounge that can shake or stir up some amazing concoctions and build them to suit or with a twist. I highly suggest sitting at the bar or by the fire and ordering a Martinez or a Manhattan.”


“Even though we make gin you can’t go wrong with a good beer. While Hanging Ditch takes care of the laneway cocktails with bottles hanging above their heads, their neighbour Goldings is the perfect hideaway. I highly recommend going off menu and ordering a Southside from Hanging Ditch. The atmosphere alone is worth it.”