Monday, June 18, 2012

The gimmick mascara: It slices! It dices! It curls your eyelashes!

Is it just me, or does every mascara claim to be a specialist these days? They don't just make your lashes black; they lift or separate, curl or lengthen, thicken, strengthen, multiply, falsify... I'm surprised Ron Popeil hasn't jumped on this.

That said, some of these gimmicks really work. And some of them are just – well, just gimmicks. In this video I provide a quick look at four I've tried, with mixed results.

The good

I've blogged before about two of the specialized mascaras I really like. Urban Decay's Supercurl Curling Mascara made my "best of 2011 beauty" list, and Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies has made the blog a few times, including a post of its very own back in 2010. In the video, I talk about how I use each one; they both have unique properties and require some special handling.

Also, no matter how many times I type it out, "Volum' Express" never stops seeming like a silly name. I mean, what's with the apostrophe? What is that conspicuously missing E really supposed to convey?

The bad

Two gimmicky mascaras that disappoint: Physician's Formula Shimmer Strips Custom Eye Enhancing Mascara Duo in Glam Brown Eyes has a brush that is just as oversized and unwieldy as its name, and the bonus bronze highlighting mascara doesn't do a thing for me. (Besides which, just because I have brown eyes doesn't mean bronze is a good color for me. Brown-eyed girls can have cool-toned skin, you know.) And L'OrĂ©al Telescopic Explosion Carbon Black Mascara, with its strange, ball-shaped wand, just wasn't happening for me. 

More detail in the video, including a rambling story about how I used to wear blue mascara when I was in elementary school and a lot of strange hand gestures as I try to explain how I use various mascara wands. Enjoy! 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Born smelling this way

When people first started talking about Lady Gaga's fragrance, coming this September, I wasn't that excited. I'm kind of meh on celebrity scents (although I will admit I completely love Wonderstruck by Taylor Swift, even though I'm sure I'm at least a decade out of the target demographic). But then I read this:

Lady Gaga Fame is the first ever black eau de parfum that sprays clear and becomes invisible once airborne. The black-to-clear fragrance is a fantastic innovation of patent pending fluid technology, exclusively launched with Lady Gaga Fame ... The innovations in Lady Gaga Fame go beyond the black-to-clear fluid: The olfactory structure itself is also very rare for the fragrance industry. Traditionally, perfumes have a pyramidal structure — a hierarchy of sorts with top, middle and base notes. This fragrance, on the other hand, has a unique structure called the "push-pull" technology, where the ingredients interact together to highlight different olfactive aspects of each note at the same time, without any hierarchy. 

All that, plus it smells like orchids, apricot and jasmine. September can't come soon enough.

More on the Monster Mama's signature scent, plus my two summer favorites from Missoni and Demeter Fragrance Library, in the video.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Online bargain beauty shopping: Never pay full price again

"It costs a lot of money to look this cheap."
– Dolly Parton

I told my husband I'm blogging about how to save money when shopping for beauty products. His advice? "Don't buy beauty products." Tee hee. So droll.

Obviously "don't buy beauty products" is terrible advice. (Sorry, honey.) But at the same time, there's no reason to ever pay full price for high-end beauty products – at least, not when you're shopping online. In my younger, carefree days, I used to place full-price orders to Sephora on a regular basis without any regard for the cost, but now that I'm older and more mature and married and saving for things like a bigger house and retirement, I have to be more responsible. While there are some drugstore products I love (more all the time, in fact, as mass market cosmetics companies step up their respective games), I generally prefer higher-end products (I haven't walked out of the house without a dusting of Benefit Dandelion since 2005, and I don't intend to start now), so I've found some ways to save money while still buying the products I love.

Here, now, for your benefit, I present my tricks of the trade.

How to buy the designer makeup you want without breaking the bank


I'll be the first to admit I was wary about joining Ebates. Quite honestly, it sounds too good to be true, which to me meant it sounded shady. Basically, you shop and then Ebates gives you money.

No, really. That is how it works.

Turns out, it's actually legit. Basically, Ebates gets a commission when you make a purchase through their website. (You have to sign up for an account first, obviously, and you have to visit the online store you're shopping through the Ebates website.) Instead of keeping all the money, Ebates pays a portion of each commission to the shopper.

Ebates offers cash back from something like 1,500 stores, including:

Avon • bareMinerals • Barneys New York • Bath & Body Works • Bliss • The Body Shop • Carol's Daughter • Clinique • Elizabeth Arden • L'Occitane • Macy's  • Philosophy • Sally Beauty • Sephora • Ulta

In addition to the regular cash back, Ebates has a "daily double" every day, featuring double cash back from one merchant. For example, normally you get 4 percent cash back on a Sephora purchase, but when is featured as the daily double, you get 8 percent back. Pay attention to the different cash back percentages and shop wisely. If you're going to order, say, a Murad face wash, you might want to order it through (11 percent cash back) instead of Ulta (4 percent cash back).

I've been an Ebates member for just about a year, and I've already gotten four checks totaling $110.38. Seriously. There's no reason to not use this service. Unless you hate getting free money back for buying things you were going to buy anyway, in which case, why are you even reading this post?

Retail Me Not

I never, ever, ever, ever, ever click "submit" on an online order form until I've checked Retail Me Not aggregates coupon codes from around the Web (including e-mail newsletters, member deals, etc.) and makes them available for public use. Each code is displayed with a graphic showing what percentage of shoppers have successfully used the code. (Some codes are expired or limited to certain amounts/products/etc.) I usually try to limit my online shopping to sales and special discounts, but when I absolutely have to have something, I always turn to Retail Me Not to see if I can save some money.

Flash sale sites

"Flash sale" sites like Hautelook and Gilt often feature bath, beauty and skincare products. These sites offer limited-time liquidation sales on certain brands (usually high-end). Each day you get an e-mail letting you know what's on sale and when the sale ends. When I sat down to write this post, Gilt Groupe was featuring Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, with and Clarins sales set to start in the following days, while Hautelook had Kinerase, Sorme Cosmetics and Proliss on sale, with Crown Brush and Coola Suncare on deck. (Hautelook also features NYX Cosmetics from time to time.) Flash sale sites are free to join, with no membership fees or other charges – just the cost of any purchases you choose to make.


I'm of two minds about shopping for beauty products on eBay. On the one hand, I've never had a bad experience with an eBay beauty purchase. (I've stuck mostly to perfume. In fact, right now I'm wearing a Missoni perfume I bought on eBay four or five years ago.) On the other... well, there are a few caveats. One is that you don't really know where the product is coming from or where it's been – or how old it is. Maybe the eBay seller got an extra bottle of something for Christmas, or maybe that lot of lip glosses "fell off the back of a truck," or maybe they picked it up at a liquidation sale. When in doubt, message the seller and ask how old the product is and where it came from – and don't be afraid to ask for more photos or details. If you don't get the answers you want, don't bid.

There have been a lot of problems over the years with counterfeit cosmetics for sale on eBay, particularly MAC, so if that's your thing, check out some of the resources to help you ensure you're getting legit product. Ask questions, do your homework, and always, always, always check seller feedback. PayPal does provide some protection for fraudulent sales (I've had success getting money back from a flaky seller), but the best way to not get ripped off is to be an informed shopper.

eBay Guides: How to avoid fake MAC cosmetics products
BellaSugar: How to spot fake cosmetics on eBay
eBay Guides: Guide to fake vs. authentic MAC brushes
Buying cosmetics on eBay: How to spot fake products

Look for free shipping

Whenever possible, take advantage of free shipping promotions. This is a bit of a sticky wicket here in Alaska (and Hawaii), as some merchants tend to capriciously exclude us from free shipping deals – often, I'm pretty sure, because they just don't know very much about shipping to the non-contiguous states. (It's called Priority Mail Flat Rate. Look it up. I'm talking to you, Bath & Body Works, with your  ridiculous $20 minimum Alaska shipping charge.) Two notable exceptions are Sephora and Nordstrom, both of which include Alaska in their excellent shipping policies. I've also had good experiences with Macy's.

Retailer e-mail lists and loyalty programs

The best way to never miss the best price on a favorite product is to join your retailer's e-mail list. I'm on about a hundred mailing lists for various beauty products, brands and stores, and yes, that means I delete a lot of e-mails every day. But it also means I know when to buy the things I like and get the best deal, whether it's for triple points at Nordstrom, 15 percent off at Sephora or a blowout sale price at Philosophy. Putting up with all those extra e-mails saves me hundreds of dollars every year since they also mean I know when to jump on special offers and surprise sales.

When it comes to loyalty programs, not all insider cards are created equal. Ulta's Ultamate Rewards program has been a big bust for me because the rewards can only be redeemed in-store and only during a very limited timeframe – so since there's no Ulta in Alaska, even though I drop a fair amount of cash there a few times a year when I'm traveling out of state, there's essentially no incentive for me to try to accumulate Ulta rewards. The Sephora V.I.B. program, on the other hand, has been very kind to me, with discounts, special offers, perks and annual gift cards. And I always use my MOD debit card when I make a purchase at Nordstrom, especially during double- or triple-points promotions, because I have earned several $20 Nordstrom Notes certificates over the years. If you belong to a points program like Nordstrom's, try to save your shopping for times when you earn bonus points. For example, my locally owned beauty supply store (what's up, Marie's!) offers double loyalty points every Sunday. And if you live near a Sally Beauty Supply, there is no earthly reason not to pay to join their membership program. Your $5 annual fee gets you a lower price on every single product in the store (plus they give you a $5 off coupon right away, and you get a discount coupon every month as long as you spent $25 the month before).

Shop savvy

Bottom line: It's possible to save plenty of money on beauty products – if you're willing to strategize and invest some time and energy in doing it right. If nothing else, join Ebates and always remember to start your shopping trip there – and never finish a purchase without checking Retail Me Not. Your wallet will thank you.

This post contains referral links for Ebates, Hautelook and Gilt Groupe. Essentially, if you click on these links and complete purchases, I get credits added to my account. I'm not compensated for mentioning these sites. I legitimately like, use and recommend them. You may, if you prefer, bypass my referral links and go directly to,, or 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

When wedding rings attack

Last summer, as I have every year since graduating from college, I spent some time in August running around in the woods on the East Coast. On my flight home, I noticed the fourth finger of my left hand itching and took off my wedding band and engagement ring to find red bumps underneath. I figured my finger was swollen from the humidity and the traveling and all the salty camp food I'd been eating, so I more or less ignored it.

Thus started my long, annoying battle with what I've come to learn is commonly called "wedding ring rash." Want to see a picture? Here you go:

That's my rash on a relatively good day, as it was calming down. I didn't think to take photos when it was red and raw and erupting all over my hand. Want to see it again? This time, imagine a ring of tiny, fiery red blisters spreading out from that band of inflamed skin:

Unfortunately, photographs don't show itching. If they did, the photo would probably look something like this:


I realize complaining about getting a rash from a piece of jewelry that would probably feed a family of eight for a decade in some countries is the ultimate in First World Problems. It's also a really, really common First World Problem, as I learned when I took to the Internet to figure out what to do about it.

If your wedding ring gives you a rash...

It's probably caused by either (a) a metal allergy or (b) contact dermatitis. I was pretty sure I had the latter, since my engagement ring, which I'd been wearing problem-free for almost 18 months at that point, has exactly the same shape and content as my wedding band. Plus, my rings are platinum, and the odds of an allergic reaction to a platinum ring are incredibly slim. (Not nonexistent, but slim.) Gold jewelry (especially 14k and 18k) is more likely to contain nickel, which, as it turns out, is a pretty common allergy.

Some people resolve their wedding ring rash by simply painting the inside of their rings with clear nail polish; others end up at the dermatologist (or the jeweler, buying a replacement ring). Here's how I cured mine and prevent its return:

  • Liberal application of Cortizone 10 Cooling Relief Gel.
  • I had to take my rings off and leave them off until my finger healed completely.
  • Very careful handwashing practices. (More specifically, very careful hand drying practices.)
  • I take my rings off at night.
On that last one, if you're paranoid about losing them (like I am), what has worked for me is making a very strict policy about ring placement. My rings always go on a ring holder on my dressing table, and that's the only place they go other than my finger. When I travel, I have a small travel jewelry box (like this) with ring holders in it, and that takes the place of my dressing table ring holder.

Oh, and once a month, I boil my rings. Yeah.

Watch the video to find out more about what I learned while researching wedding ring rash, why you should not under any circumstances use Neosporin on your rash, and why the coffeemaker is an important part of my jewelry cleaning routine:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: Little Black Bag

I'm basically horrified at how long it's been since I posted, especially since there are a ton of things I've wanted to talk about. I think I've been letting myself get overwhelmed by the idea of writing and photographing and proofreading, which I make more labor-intensive than it probably needs to be... and then I remembered: Hey! This is the Internet! I have a webcam! Talking is easy!

Et voila... one video review, in which I talk about why I refuse to pay full price for Betsey Johnson jewelry:

Little Black Bag is a subscription service with a twist: You only get to pick one of your items, but you can trade the other items you get with other members. The trading part, as it turns out, is what's really important, and I explain that in more detail in the video.

I heard about Little Black Bag through a Klout Perk that increased the value of my bag $1 for every point in my Klout score. (I paid the full price of about $55, and my Klout score is somewhere north of 50, so basically, I got an extra item.) I don't know if this perk is still available, but if it is, and you're a Klout user, and you're thinking of trying out Little Black Bag, check it out – because hey, free stuff.

(Speaking of free stuff, full disclosure: Little Black Bag also has a referral program, like Birchbox or Julep Maven, and if you join any of these services using my links in this paragraph, I get bonus credit. You can also cut me out of the process entirely and just join at

Here's what I ended up with in my first box:

1. Betsey Johnson Rose Petal Illusion necklace  2. Betsey Johnson Round Pink and Crystal Stud  earring  3. BCBGeneration sage studded clutch  4. Michael Marcus Red Your Mind nail polish

Like other subscription services, you can skip a month or cancel at any time, and I think I'll be skipping a lot of months since the price is so high.

And I think I'm sold on this whole vlogging idea. Mostly because there's no proofreading. The only downside is I can't do it in my pajamas and an aspirin mask.

Little Black Bag

Bottom line: Fun to shop but too spendy to do every month.
Price: $$$$
Tip: Make the most of the trading period, and look out for opportunities to trade up in value or trade for multiple items to increase your bartering power.