Just when it seemed that fall had taken over for good, summer came back for more, bringing with it runny makeup and shiny faces. The other day I wandered into CVS to beat the stubborn heat, and a few minutes of aimless wandering led me down the makeup aisle. I noticed a flurry of “Buy one, get one 50% off” stickers in the Almay section, and so naturally, I took the bait. Five minutes later, I was walking out of the store with two new purchases: Almay Clear Complexion Concealer (an old favorite) and Almay Smart Shade SPF 20 Anti-Aging Concealer. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a sale.

While I find that most drugstore moisturizers can’t measure up to their premium counterparts, I think that many low-end makeup products can rival more expensive versions. Under-eye concealer is as essential to my morning makeup routine as mascara. I could probably survive on those two products alone. For the past few years, I have been faithful to L’Oreal True Match Super-Blendable Concealer as my go-to under-eye circle eraser. Among other liquid concealers, it won me over with its creamy texture, instant coverage, and easy blendability. The shadows under my eyes seemed to get a dose of sunlight each morning thanks to True Match.

However, I’ve always known that True Match was not my one true love. The more I relied on this concealer to counteract my eyes’ weary circles, the more I realized its shortcomings. Though it has a fluid consistency, True Match needs a base of eye cream to spread on evenly - a problem when you need a touch-up in the middle of the day with no cream on hand. (This is gross, but I have improvised with spit on more than one occasion.) Eye cream is also essential because True Match dries quickly, and over time, this effect can lead to clumping of the product in skin creases. My smile lines prefer to keep a low profile. I began to grow tired of keeping a vigilant watch on my under-eye skin to make sure there weren’t ripples of residual concealer in my (formerly inconspicuous) creases. Would my spontaneous CVS run leave me with a superior replacement?

Smart Shade had a few selling points: sun protection to fend off wrinkles, color-matching technology, and the buzzword “anti-aging” in its name. I always get the lightest shade in a concealer for under-eye use, since I have a fair complexion and the purpose is to lighten the skin, after all. Smart Shade’s creamy product comes out of the tube nearly white, with tiny dark flecks.  As promised, the concealer blends in readily, transforming into a skin-suiting shade.

The first difference I noticed between True Match and Smart Shade was that the latter feels more moisturizing and looks more sheer. Smart Shade seems to work with the help of light-reflecting pigments, whereas True Match relies on straight-up coverage. The downside to Smart Shade’s eye-brightening effect is that minute glittery specks are visible to the naked eye. Though it doesn’t collect in creases like True Match, Smart Shade also doesn’t cover shadows as thoroughly as True Match. In a spot test on my hand with both concealers, Smart Shade outperformed True Match in lasting power, so much so that I had to scrub the skin-colored smear vigorously with soap and water to make it disappear.

The one quality that the two products share is a paraben-happy formulator. The ingredients lists for both concealers are chock-full of icky chemicals such as phenoxyethanol, PEGs, and silicones-a-plenty. Smart Shade offers more of the good stuff (which gives at least some weight to its anti-aging claims), including sodium hyaluronate, vitis vinifera extract, aloe leaf extract, and vitamin E. But there is enough bad in both formulas to scare off sensitive skin and clog a few pores.

Neither concealer is without its faults. L’Oreal’s True Match accentuates wrinkles, while Almay’s Smart Shade uses SPF to help hinder their formation. True Match offers shimmer-free, full coverage, whereas Smart Shade tricks the eye instead of actually covering up its shadows. Alas, my quest for an all-around safe, effective drugstore concealer continues.

Ingredients in Almay Smart Shade:
Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide (7.5%), Zinc Oxide (2.0%)
Inactive Ingredients: Aqua (Water, Eau), Dimethicone, Isodecane, Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Butylene Glycol, PEG 19/19 Dimethicone, Trisiloxane, Cetyl/PEG/PPG 10/1 Dimethicone, Alcohol Denatured, Phenyltrimethicone, Nylon 12, Tribehenin, HDI/Trimethylol Hexyllactone Crosspolymer, Sodium Chloride, Cyclohexasiloxane, PEG/PPG 18/18 Dimethicone, Alumina, Boron Nitride, Galactoarabinan, Tocopheryl Acetate, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Vitis Vinifera Seed Extract (Grape), Centaurea Cyanus (Cornflower) Flower Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Ginkgo Biloba Leaf Extract, Hydrolyzed Glycosaminoglycans, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Silica, Methicone, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Ammonium Polyacrylatedimethyl Taurate, Cycloheptasiloxane, Acrylonitrile/Methacrylonitrile/Methyl Methacrylate Copolymer, Polysorbate 20, Polysorbate 80, Talc, Tetrasodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Propylparaben, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Mica, Iron Oxides (CI 77491, 77492, 77499)

Ingredients in L’Oreal True Match:
Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, Isododecane, Glycerin, Cyclohexasiloxane, PEG 10 Dimethicone, Polymethylmethacrylate, Butylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Isoeicosane, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Cetyl/PEG/PPG 10/1 Dimethicone, C9 15 Fluoroalcohol Phosphate, Sodium Chloride, Phenoxyethanol, Alcohol Denatured, Polyglyceryl 4 Isostearate, Hexyl Laurate, Isostearyl Neopentanoate, Capryl Glycol, Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Tocopherol, Panthenol, May Contain (+/-): Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Iron Oxides (CI 77492, CI 77499, CI 77491), Mica