Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies mascara

Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies
I haven’t loved a Maybelline product since I was nine years old and I got a frosty pink lipstick as a party favor at the birthday party of a friend whose mother was out of town and whose father didn’t realize lipstick doesn’t come out in the wash.

Then I made a desperate stop at Target the day of my brother’s wedding. (The same fateful trip to Target during which I let the spectre of Collier Strong sucker me into buying that silly L’Oréal roller foundation.) I’d been given a heads up by the officiant that I’d want waterproof mascara for the ceremony, so in my mad rush I grabbed the closest product on which I could make out the words “black” and “waterproof.”

And then I fell in love. I have never been able to manage false lashes. (I think that’s going to be one of my beauty new year’s resolutions.) This product doesn’t go all the way to making me look like I’m rocking actual falsies, but it comes just about as close as I think I’m going to get before I can learn to master that tube of Duo lash glue that mocks me from my vanity drawer. It lengthens, thickens, blackens, and stays on all day. (All day and into the next if I forget to take it off.)

They’re not kidding about the waterproof part, either. This mascara made it through my little brother’s wedding 100 percent intact. It stayed put through the weeping and the laughing and the dancing. Plus it’s handled the Alaska winter well -- my eyes seem to water nonstop, all day long, when it’s cold and dry (like it was all throughout December), and this stuff doesn’t go anywhere, no matter how leaky I happen to be. The downside is it’s a little hard to get off when I actually want it off, and I occasionally find myself getting a little overzealous with the eye makeup remover, which doesn’t help my eye watering problem.

Best of all: Since I started wearing this mascara, I have been accused of secretly using Latisse. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Maybelline Volum’ Express The Falsies mascara
Bottom Line: As close as you’re going to get to false lashes without learning to use lash glue.
Price: $
Tip: Invest in a good makeup remover that doesn’t irritate your eyes. The waterproof claim is legit.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Holiday wish lust

Oops. I’m sure I meant to type “wish list.” Close enough. Here are a few things I can’t quite justify buying for myself just now, but I would love to see turn up under my Christmas tree. Are you listening, Santa?

Illamasqua 4-Colour Liquid Metal Palette 02
I wanted it when I saw it on I wanted it more when I saw Belle Du Jour’s swatches. I have a feeling that when I get to Las Vegas in a few weeks and hit up the Sephora in the Venetian that seeing it in person may dazzle me enough to push me past the $42.50 price tag.

Bare Escentuals bareMinerals Kaleidoscope
I’m not a big mineral makeup fan, but I do love the bareMinerals eye shadows, particularly for foiling. And I just want to eat these 20 candy-colored shadows. At $89 for the set, that works out to $4.45 per “petite” eye shadow, which isn’t bad at all.

NARS single eye shadow in Étrusque
I’m constantly on the search for the Perfect Gold Eye Shadow, and I think this one is probably it. I choke on the idea of paying $23 for a single eye shadow, but I have yet to regret a NARS purchase. Hundreds of bottles later, I have yet to find a nail polish I love quite as much as the original Zulu.

Philosophy Have a Cherry Christmas products
I’m in love with Philosophy’s new holiday scent. In fact, I may even love it more than I love Candy Cane, which is saying something, because I really love Candy Cane. It’s not the price that puts me off with Have a Cherry Christmas... it’s the fact that I can’t really justify it. I’ve already got a massive stash of Philosophy three-in-ones... including at least one nearly-full bottle of Candy Cane from last year. If my fiancé sees one more show up... well, let’s just say I’d have to find a way to sneak it in. And maybe transfer it to an old empty bottle. And that’s a little more bath and body subterfuge than I’m really comfortable with.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

E.L.F. holiday gift sets, part 2: Pretty glitter, delicious parabens

We’ve established that I was not terribly impressed with the first E.L.F. eye set I tried out -- the shadows seemed to be imbued with an instinct driving them to find their way to my cheeks like elephants seeking out their traditional graveyard. But I’d told myself if I could find three products I liked among my E.L.F. purchases, the experience would have been worthwhile.

E.L.F. Glitz N’ Glam Limited Edition set
The E.L.F. Get the Look: Glitz N’ Glam set seemed promising: A sparkly pink lip gloss, a duo of shimmery pink blush and steel gray eye shadow, a mascara and an iridescent glitter liquid liner. Definitely not products you’d want to wear all together (unless you’re in middle school, in which case go for it now while you’re still young enough to get away with it), but some fun little items to use here and there.

First, the duo. I couldn’t get a great photo of the blush -- no matter the lighting, I couldn’t manage to get a photo (in focus) that accurately captured the way it looks. So let me just say this: It’s pretty and pink and sparkly, and no one over the age of 12 should be wearing it on her cheeks unless the circumstances involve some sort of dance recital or cheer competition. HOWEVER. A couple of days after I’d written off the blush, just for kicks, I tried it on as an eye shadow by itself with black gel liner. So pretty! It wore well and looked really nice with my skin (which, as you’ve seen, is Alaska wintertime pale). I’ll wear it again as an eye shadow, maybe over a NYX jumbo eye pencil.

The gray shadow is unremarkable, as is the mascara.

I love, love, love the glitter liner. I’m 31, so glitter isn’t something that has a place in my everyday makeup routine, but for parties, the holidays, nights out I do like a little sparkle now and then. And I liked the way the glitter (iridescent in a clear base) added some interest to the otherwise unremarkable eye that was the result of my first E.L.F. test:

The lip gloss was actually the first item I tried out of any of the kits. I ripped into it in the Target parking lot and tried it on right there in the car. My initial reaction: It tastes like strawberry Kool-Aid powder. I was surprised by the taste (most of the lip products I use don’t taste like soft drinks), but didn’t find it unpleasant. I liked the shimmer and the color, although I did notice the pigment sort of moving around my lips as I pressed them together. I’ve since learned not to apply this gloss generously.

I tossed the gloss in my purse and I’ve been carrying it around for a week now and using it throughout the day. I was just starting to really like it when I made the mistake of reading the ingredients and learned something I wasn’t too excited about: It’s chock full of parabens. While the FDA has said it feels parabens are safe for cosmetic use “at the present time,” I’m not really comfortable putting a chemical directly on my mouth that has been identified as a possible contributor to breast cancer. When there are lots of paraben-free lip products out there, why take the risk? So the lip gloss, sadly, is getting tossed.

So far, glitter liner and blush-as-eye-shadow are the only winners, but there are two more kits to get through. Liquid liners and eye shadow quads await review.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

E.L.F. holiday gift sets, part 1: Twinkles in (and under) my eyes

I don’t like cheap makeup.

Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with inexpensive makeup. I prefer higher-end products, although if I find a drugstore item that works for me, I don’t have attitude about buying and using it. But I don’t like makeup that acts cheap, regardless of how little it costs. I don’t have room in my life for product that doesn’t perform. So I’d held off on trying E.L.F. for a long, long time. The rock-bottom prices seemed like a big red flag.

E.L.F. figured out how to get at me, though: I am a sucker for holiday gift sets. Take normal product, rearrange the colors and repackage it with some foil snowflakes, toss in some kind of sparkling exclusive item, slap the “limited edition” label on it, and I’m sold.

So when I wandered into Target and stumbled upon the E.L.F. holiday display, I suddenly found myself dropping $21 on a sackful of “gift” sets. In the car on the way home I managed to convince myself that since I hadn’t spent almost that much on a replacement Clinique Black Honey Almost Lipstick the day before, I could justify the purchase if I could find three worthwhile products among the E.L.F. haul.

I started out with a trial run of the E.L.F. Essentials Eyes Get the Look: Day to Night Limited Edition kit. In this kit: Two eye shadow trios, black eyeliner pencil, black liquid eyeliner, black mascara. Oh, and two sponge applicators to stick in a drawer somewhere.

On initial examination, the eye shadows were disappointing. I swatched them quickly on my hand and very little pigment seemed to stick to my skin -- most of it blew away in a cloud of shimmering powder. So I tried again, this time starting with a layer of Too Faced Shadow Insurance, which seemed to help:

I still wasn’t terribly impressed, but I figured I’d give them a shot. I tried one look with each trio, one on each eye. First reaction: No way would either of these eyes have been possible without a generous application of Shadow Insurance.

As for color payoff and blendability, the teal/gray/white trio applied and blended in a fashion that I’d say was just OK. The gold and purple trio, though... well, you may have noticed in the photo above that, although the shadows are packed with glitter, there doesn’t appear to be very much glitter on my eye. That’s because it all ended up here:

The purple shadows, in fact, sort of separated themselves into glitter and pigment as they touched the brush (not that much pigment seems to have made it onto the eye). I tried applying them wet, too, but that just meant more glitter shedding onto my cheek. The glitter also left my eyelid feeling irritated after I removed it. The mascara performed exactly as you’d expect considering the price, as did the liquid eyeliner. I’ll admit I’m not brilliantly adept with liquid liner, but I’m fairly competent when I’m working with good product. This eyeliner was totally unforgiving, and bled like the dickens.

Still, I thought I’d give one of the sets a trial outing. So I did a look using the teal trio before going out on Saturday night. I kept it very, very simple, as I didn’t particularly trust these shadows to stay in place. The eye started out more or less satisfactory and stayed that way through dinner (forgive my badly-in-need-of-grooming eyebrows:

Maybelline The Falsies mascara; Stila Smudge Pot in Black

When we went out for drinks afterward, though, I excused myself to the ladies’ room and looked in the mirror to find two trails of gray-green sludge running down the inner corners of my eyes. Fortunately, I was wearing my glasses, so perhaps it wasn’t as noticeable to my dinner companions as it was to me. PERHAPS. By the time we got home, the teal was creasing, leaving white streaks across my eyelid.

One kit down and nothing to recommend it. Next time: Will E.L.F. redeem itself?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Conquer your brow hair removal fears

I didn’t start plucking my eyebrows until my mid-20s. I love having well-groomed eyebrows, but plucking could take over my whole life (how fast do those things grow, anyway? Why don’t the hairs on top of my head grow like that?), and quite honestly, I was too much of a baby to go into a salon and get my brows waxed by a professional. Then this tutorial popped up on YouTube:

I’m a big fan of YouTube guru SecretLifeofaBioNerd. She’s adorable, she’s fun to watch, she offers a wide variety of beauty and style videos... and she taught me how to sugar my eyebrows, which has totally changed my life.

The trick to this is making sure you get the consistency of the sugar mixture just right. It takes some trial and error to figure out exactly when to take the mixture out of the microwave. Err on the side of too soon -- you can always put it back in to boil a little bit more, but if you boil it too long you end up with hard candy. Make sure you let it sit for about 10 minutes, and test it on your hand to make sure it’s cooled enough before you spread it around your eyebrow. It’s all-natural (and edible!) and there’s a good chance you’ve already got everything you need right there in your kitchen. The only thing I had to buy the first time I tried it was Popsicle sticks.

As for the pain... well, I find it’s significantly less uncomfortable than plucking, mostly because everything comes out at once. And there’s something really satisfying about seeing all those little hairs come out in one quick pull. (Maybe that’s just me.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Don’t let ‘Project Runway’ make you buy this

Like lots of people, I looked at the L’Oréal True Match Roller foundation and laughed. Really? They want us to apply makeup with a tiny little paint roller? Ridiculous. I rolled my eyes (not my foundation) and moved on.
L’Oréal Paris True Match Roller

Then that sneaky Collier Strong got to me.

Fans of “Project Runway” are familiar with Strong, consulting makeup artist for L’Oréal, due to his many appearances on the show to consult with designers on sponsored challenges and runway looks. In the course of working with a designer on this season’s Studio Secrets eye shadow challenge, Strong busted out the True Match Roller and talked about what a great way it is to apply foundation. He may have used the word “ingenious”; I don’t exactly recall. At any rate, the bug was planted. Honestly, I should have known better. As far as I can tell, all the foundation used on “Project Runway” models is applied with an airbrush, not a funky little sponge roller. I don’t for a moment think L’Oréal would have been rollering makeup onto those models’ faces if they didn’t happen to have the True Match Roller to promote.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later. It was the day of my brother’s wedding and I was out of foundation, having run out of my usual makeup and thrown away a bottle of the Revlon Photo Finish, which everyone but me seems to be in love with. I didn’t have time to get downtown after helping set up for the reception to get to Nordstrom for some expensive-but-reliable Lancôme, so I swung by Target to see what I could come up with. On the L’Oréal aisle, I paused in front of the True Match Roller. Collier Strong seemed so excited about it... it couldn’t be too terrible, could it?

The silly little roller was red flag #1. Red flag #2 should have been the fact that the True Match Roller doesn’t come in my color. In L’Oréal’s terms, I’m smack between a C2 (Natural Ivory) and a C3 (Creamy Natural). The True Match Roller comes in either C1-C2 (Alabaster/Natural Ivory) or C3. I decided to default to the lighter shade, thinking I could make up the difference with bronzer if I had to.

When it came time to roller the foundation on to my face, I was horrified to find I was painting pale, streaky stripes all over my face. C1-C2 is not the right shade, it turns out, if you’re somewhere between a C2 and a C3.

Try.Believe.Love. kit
That was the first problem, and if the shade had been a better match for my skin, it wouldn’t have been a problem. The second problem, though, was this: A roller, which is a great device to use to paint a wall, is not the perfect way to paint a face. A wall is flat and has straight edges. A face -- well, a face is anything but. In order to get good, even coverage, I found I had to press much harder than I was comfortable with, especially around the eyes and nose. And then the product still required lots and lots of blending. On the day of the wedding, I warmed my entire face with my hands to melt the makeup a little bit, then blended with my fingertips. After all that, I still ended up going over it with some mineral makeup powder I had in a drawer (the remnants of the Bare Escentuals bareMinerals Try.Believe.Love. kit I picked up at Sephora last summer; I tried, but neither believed nor loved), which defeated the whole point of buying foundation in the first place. I knew I had the mineral makeup, but I specifically didn’t want to use it -- it’s not great for photos (too reflective).

Ultimately, if the shade had been a better match, I might have been happier with the product, although if I hadn’t been using the Clarisonic I probably would have been much less happy with the application (I wouldn’t recommend it for skin with any kind of uneven texture). The fact remains that a paint roller is not a great way to apply paint to a surface that isn’t relatively flat and rigid. I think it may be possible for some people to find happiness with the True Match Roller, but if you take it for a test drive, be prepared to spend a lot of time blending.

L’Oréal True Match Roller Foundation
Bottom Line: The makeup is decent, but the applicator leaves much to be desired.
Price: $$
Tip: If there isn’t a tone that’s a near-perfect match for your skin tone, this probably isn’t the product for you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I’m about to save you $8.95

Oh, Lush, you are so wonderful. Your delicious-smelling soaps... your all-natural facials... your super-helpful retail associates... your solid conditioner with the long-lasting aroma that makes me want to make out with my own hair. You’re worth the premium price.

Most of the time.

Here’s one Lush product you don’t need to buy: Mint Julips Lip Scrub. I’m sure it’s delicious and wonderful and does all the things it’s supposed to do. It also costs $8.95 for a 0.9 oz. container and contains essentially two ingredients: sugar and oil.

Guess what you probably have in your kitchen? That’s right. Get ready to soften your lips and save some money.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your own peppermint sugar lip scrub and free yourself of the desire to spend $9.94 per ounce on Lush’s version:

-- A little bit of sugar (I use Wholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Organic Sugar, which we buy in a 10-pound bag at Costco. It’s vegan, halal, kosher, karmically balanced, etc., and it costs a little more than regular sugar, but you can use any old granulated sugar).
-- A few drops of peppermint oil (I buy the organic kind at my local grocery store. Look on the baking aisle; depending on the quality available, you’ll spend between $7 and $15 for a 2 oz. bottle).

That’s it.

Now, pour that little bit of sugar into the hollow of your hand. Oh, you want a measurement? Fine... use about an eighth of a teaspoon. Then add a few drops of peppermint oil. Your ratio should be roughly two parts sugar to one part oil. Now use your finger to mix it up, and then rub it all over your lips.

In Lush stores the associate will tell you to lick the scrub off your lips, and you can do that with this scrub, too. If you’re like me, though, and you’ve colored outside the lines a bit and don’t like the idea of saliva all over your face, you can rinse it off with water. I like to finish up by applying lip balm, or just another dab of plain peppermint oil.

If you like the idea of having a little jar of lip scrub, just mix up a batch using that two-to-one sugar-to-oil ratio and store it in one of those little clean empty jars you’ve been saving (or a little plastic container). You can also substitute different edible oils (olive, almond, etc.) for the peppermint oil.

For a rough cost comparison, let’s say you’re using sugar that costs $1.25 a pound (which is more than most sugar actually costs), or about eight cents per ounce, and peppermint oil that costs $6 per ounce. At a two-to-one sugar-to-oil ratio, three ounces of lip scrub (which is approximately one gazillion applications) will cost you about $6.16, or a little over $2 per ounce. Or, if you’re like me and you already have sugar and peppermint oil in your baking cupboard... free.

There you go. I just saved you nine bucks. If I were you, I’d spend it on nail polish.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Clarisonic: My new best friend

How much did buying a Clarisonic change my life? Oh, where to start...
Clarisonic Plus Sonic Skin Cleansing System

I had perfect skin when I was a teenager. PERFECT. One pimple every now and then, easily zapped with a few days’ application of Campho-Phenique (thanks for that tip, Mom), but for the most part I just splashed off a little Noxzema most nights and was good to go. That’s right, most nights. Sometimes I just rinsed with water. Sometimes I didn’t wash my face at all.

I should have known karma would even things out someday.

My mid-20s hit, and all of the sudden my skin was unmanageable. Blackheads. Pimples. The kind of red, bumpy acne other people struggled with 10 years earlier -- mostly on my chin. I naïvely thought my problems could be solved with Noxzema. They couldn’t. I tried a bunch of other drugstore products. Fail. I moved on to more expensive stuff. I wiped the handset of my office phone with Oxy pads. I tried washing my face more. I tried Proactiv. I tried Murad. I tried Philosophy. I tried washing my face less. I went back to Proactiv. I went back to Murad. Sometimes it got better. It never got great. Most recently, I’d settled on a routine made up mostly of products from Sally Beauty Supply’s Beyond Belief line and was getting the most satisfactory results I’d seen in a long time, though I still wasn’t trouble-free.

I’d been looking at the Clarisonic brush since it first rolled out, but I couldn’t get over the price. That’s the real drawback: This thing is not cheap. I thought about settling for the more bare-bones Clarisonic Mia, but if I was going to lay down triple digit dollars for a gadget just to wash my face, I wanted to do it right and have all the bells and whistles.

What finally pushed me over the edge? A sunburn. I kid you not. I burned my décolleté pretty badly on the East Coast in August, and when the burned layer of skin started to peel away I was amazed at how smooth and baby-soft the skin was underneath. I wanted my face to feel like that. So I cashed in some Amazon credit to ease the sting somewhat and ordered the Clarisonic Plus. In pink.

The Clarisonic was developed by a team that included one of the lead inventors of the Sonicare toothbrush. If you’ve made the switch from a regular toothbrush (or even another vibrating brush) to Sonicare, you probably have some idea of what it’s like to wash your face with the Clarisonic brush in comparison with a standard face washing routine, and you’ll be able to understand why I could not stop touching my face after using the Clarisonic for the first time. Or the second time. Or any time since. I’ve been using it daily for two months now, and I still can’t stop touching my soft, soft, beautiful, soft face.

Now, the real question: Did it resolve my -- ahem -- blemish issues? Well, yes and no. I still have some blemishes (which is particularly annoying because I’m 31 and I feel like I’m also starting to see signs of wrinkles, and it is JUST NOT FAIR to have both at the same time), but their numbers have been greatly reduced. They also tend to have shorter life spans -- individual zits go away much more quickly than they used to. I’ve also been under a lot of stress at work, and my nutrition, sleep and hydration all got screwed up over the past couple of months, so I know those are all part of the problem.

Beyond reduced pimples, my skin is glowing. GLOWING. It looks better than it has since I was a kid. It’s so soft (did I mention it’s soft? It’s so soft), and it feels cleaner than it ever has. (And it’s supposed to reduce the appearance of fine lines, too.) My products absorb better, my skin is better moisturized, and I feel great about my face.

Clarisonic Plus Skin Cleansing System
Bottom Line: Spendy, but worth it
Price: $$$$$
Tip: The Mia is temptingly less expensive, but spring for the Plus with its wider variety of settings and options for personalization.