Sunday, July 31, 2011

Laura Mercier Crème Lip Colour in Sparkling Pink

Laura Mercier's Crème Lip Colour in Sparkling Pink ($22) is the kind of lipstick that could be just about anyone's go-to nude, especially for those who do not care for nude lipstick. Quiet, elegant, and understated, Sparkling Pink does not get the attention it deserves, where it is continually overshadowed by NARS Dolce Vita and the like.

Sparkling Pink is described as a "cool rose pink." Not quite. It's not very rose, and the pink is strongly tempered by beige with infinitesimal gold shimmers. The end result is a kind of pinky beige grey whose mauvish rose tones are quite understated, even muted, unless you look at the color in direct sunlight.

Direct sunlight
Indoor lighting, no flash
I prefer the lipstick's previous name, Pink Champagne, which truly resembled pink-tinted golden champagne, where the tiny gold shimmers could almost be envisioned as bubbles. This lipstick is certainly more complex than it appears. At first glance, it looks like any pinkish-beige lipstick, with perhaps a slight grey undertone, but on my lips, it becomes a velvety-soft pink with a whisper of warmth to keep it in the natural range. Outdoor lighting, however, is where this lipstick really shines as that's when the gold emerges.

Direct sunlight
Indirect sunlight
Indoor lighting, no flash
This is a full-coverage lipstick, not at all sheer. Like all Laura Mercier lipsticks in the Crème formulation, the texture and finish are outstanding. Soft, cushiony, and smooth. For a mere $22, this lipstick rivals many of its competitors, which sell for $10 more or, um,  more.

I originally assumed Sparkling Pink would be too nude for my medium-rose pigmented lips, especially when I first saw it in the tube. I had really hoped for a MLLB shade, but unfortunately it tones down my natural pigment just a bit, so it's not my best color. Still, it is beautiful, and it requires little thought or planning. The color lasts about 4 hours, and when it fades, it does so evenly--no crumbly bits at the corners or unsightly rings around the edges.

Can you see the gold? It was really hard to capture it.

Though I prefer more contrast, brightness and clarity in my lipstick, I do have a small handful of softer, lip-matching pinks. Here are some comparisons to Sparkling Pink:

Natural, indoor light, no flash
Don't be put off by Prescriptives Rose Mystique, which is described as a dusty rose. It appears almost orange-red next to the others (and it's in the B/R category), but my camera is playing tricks. It really is a very soft rose with gold microshimmers. 

I couldn't find NARS Dolce Vita for comparison (and I forgot to swatch Chantecaille Rosewood), but if memory serves, Dolce Vita is cooler and more sheer than Sparkling Pink, which looks greige compared to all the others..

Direct sunlight
Bottom line: An all-purpose lipstick, which at $22 and 4g is a total bargain.

All photos mine

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Beauty Spotlight Team: What's in Modesty Brown's Bag?

It's time for another Mystery Makeup Bag post from the Beauty Spotlight Team. It's only the second post and we've already got some cheating going on! Modesty Brown is bending the rules and showing us what's in her holiday makeup bag. It looks pretty small though, surely that's never going to last a beauty blogger through a ten-day holiday? Let's see what's she's crammed got in there ...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rouge Bunny Rouge Alabaster Starling Eyeshadow

I purchased Rouge Bunny Rouge Long-Lasting Eyeshadow in Alabaster Starling (£ 22.00) at the same time as Delicate Hummingbird, so I am a little behind in my review. At 2.4 grams (around $34 at today's exchange rate), the eyeshadow—in terms of texture, ease of application, and longevity—is what I have come to expect from this brand. Luxe.

The color is described as metallic silvery-white, with a hint of pinky beige. Excellent highlighting eye shadow

Alabaster Starling in direct sunlight
Alabaster Starling in indoor lighting, no flash
Unlike other brands, whose color descriptions are so far outrageously wrong as to be laughable (e.g., Bobbi Brown, where "mid-toned grey" is warm brown, etc.), Rouge Bunny Rouge does an excellent job, although I wish I saw more of the pink beige on my skin than a reflective white sheen.  I also should have payed closer attention the word metallic, because what I was really looking for was a base color, Unfortunately, the frost in Alabaster Starling is outside my comfort zone for everyday/office wear. As suggested, I also tried it as a highlighter, directly under my eyebrow arch, on my cheekbones, down the bridge of my nose, on the Cupid's bow of my lip, and so on, but let's just say this look is better reserved for evenings, ideally on under-30 skin.  I prefer Chantecaille Perle eyeshadow for its more subtle highlighting effects.

Nevertheless, Alabaster Starling is an outstanding product. It blends with ease and lasts all day, even without primer. If a foiled eyeshadow effect is what you enjoy, this should thrill you. Here are some swatches of Alabaster Starling on my (NW15) skin:

Swatch in direct sun
Indirect sun
Natural indoor light, no flash
The following Zuneta video shows Alabaster Starling being applied. Starting at 01:05, you can get a really good visual for how shimmery this eyeshadow is.I saw the glitter and bought it anyway.

Bottom line: Outstanding quality and beautiful color, but I've never been comfortable with frost on my lids.

All photos mine. I purchased this eyeshadow from

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Beauty Spotlight 07.24.2011

Photo credit Vogue
 It's HOT! Since we can't bring you the beach, this week, the Beauty Spotlight Team shines cooling light on Le Metier de Beaute, helps us get our glow on, keeps us smelling great, and has some awesome beauty goodies to giveaway!

The nut jobs at Beauty Crazed have obviously been addled by the heat and are giving away a crazy amount of makeup - go enter before they come to their senses!

Find out what animal Marcia from Beauty Info Zone compares Napoleon Perdis lipsticks to and see if this is something that you do too.

Zuzu's Petals at Everyday Beauty reevaluates what beauty represents for her and wonders what it means to you and how your views have evolved over the years.

Over at Lipstick Musings, Shannon's got a sweet tooth...and she's craving more of Laura Mercier's Luster Eye Shadow in Chocolate!

Londonmakeupgirl got a sneak peek at what you can expect to see from Selfridges for Holiday 2011. There's another beauty advent calendar, and some beautiful palettes from Bobbi Brown and Suqqu. Have a look here: Selfridges Christmas in July.

Makeup Merriment shares a great summer eyeshadow, Chanel Ombre d'Eau eyeshadow in Delta, with us. Check your stash to see if you have this too.

This week Modesty Brown goes nude with Kevyn Aucoin's Expert Lip Tint in ThelmaDora.

Paula, from Older Girl Beauty, wants to tell you about the Clarisonic Deep Pore Cleansing brush head and give one of them to you (*and your BFF!). She'll even throw in a Mia to use it with, too!

Get your glow on! Pammy Blogs Beauty shares her top self-tanning tips & tricks.

Perilously Pale gives us sneak peek swatches and a review of the Le Metier de Beaute Silk Road Kaleidoscope Eye Kit from the upcoming Fall/Winter 2011 Collection.

Styrch at Pretty in Dayton gets frisky with her little bottle of LP No. 9 for Women by Penhaligons, LTD.

Cindy over at Prime Beauty shows you five must-have pink blushes for a fresh summer sun-kissed glow.

Visionary Beauty checks out the Mediterranean inspired Penelope Kaleidoscope from Le Metier de Beaute.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What is Beauty To You? (Bien Dans sa Peau)

'Endless Summer' hydrangeas from my garden
So far, I have written primarily about makeup on this blog, but I have been thinking more holistically about what beauty means to me and how my idea of it has changed in the last fewyears. As much as I derive pleasure from looking at beauty in nature, architecture, fashion, the seaside, and other equally gorgeous things, more and more I realize that to truly be beautiful, I need to feel something more than the ball of stress that lives in my belly, to feel a sort of beauty emanate from the inside out—not in a vain or woo-woo, crystal-wagging way—but in a bien dans sa peau way, which for me means being comfortable in my own skin whenever and wherever I am.

I have been lucky, and I have had a nice life so far, but I often find myself swept up in life's sense of urgency (an urgency that seems especially prized in the US Northeast) and I endeavor to remind myself to slow down. However, I always manage to convince myself that I will, just after this next thing I need to do. Once I do that thing, I can finally let myself relax and enjoy whatever. So it's pretty clear to me that the person most to blame for my lack of peace is me.

So how do we make more time for ourselves? I can't be the only one who sees the irony in the many 'helpful' tools invented the last several decades, which are supposed to save time, but which instead compel us to do more, use up more of our time, and which even contribute to a sense of frustration that we might not be doing enough. For example, one reason I avoided Twitter for so long (which is every bit as fun as I knew it would be) was because I did not want yet another online medium that sucked away even more of my time, time where I could be recharging  my reserves by just sitting quietly, reading a book with a cat in my lap. I am starting to find it really sad that each passing year sees me spend less and less time enjoying my 3D life.

Photo credit: Apple
How often do I enjoy today—right now, this very minute—my beautiful surroundings, the ones I worked so hard to create? Not very often. Don't I gulp my espresso while feverishly scrolling through Google Reader so I can race out the door to work? Aren't I always doing three things at once to save time (e.g., giving myself a manicure while flipping through a magazine and watching something on TV). Aren't my gardens parched and weedy because I am too "busy" on the computer? No wonder time goes by so fast, and no wonder I enjoy/notice so little of the beauty that surrounds me. I'm going through life with blinders on.

So what is the resolution? When do I get my reward for all this hard work? The answer is when I give myself permission. Stress, frenetic activity, and lack of sleep are not beauty enhancers. I often think about cultures whose simplicity and practice of mindfulness allow for more down time—the way an Italian will sit in a café with a small cup of coffee, not take a giant travel mug to go. Or the beautiful simplicity of a Japanese meal, arranged perfectly on the plate. I think about how, growing up, my family sat at the dinner table every night, without fail, unless someone was away. My mother set the table with the good china with paper napkins (were weird WASPs, what can I say) and always lit candles if we ate after dark. Nowadays, it seems that I rush through dinner in front of the computer or while reading a book. It's no wonder I rarely feel satisfied with my food; it's hard to feel satisfied when you're barely aware you ate anything.

Last week, I spent the final six days of my vacation building a private office as a birthday present for Mr. Petals while he was away. As I dug into closets and crawled under the eaves on days where temps soared into the high 90s, I felt shocked and then overwhelmed by the amount of useless detritus I had accumulated in the 8 years since we'd moved to this house. Who needs three sets of mixing bowls? Or two crock pots or books from my undergrad years or baby clothes, furniture and books for that child I am not going to have? Or a dead air conditioner? Or (for god's sake) bag upon bag of empty makeup boxes? Truly, how sad and pitiful is an empty box with all that air and unused space sucking up the energy of my surroundings.

So, as you can imagine, I took that opportunity to ruthlessly clear out, and when I had finished, I could not believe what the end of the driveway looked like on trash pick-up day, not to mention the top of the driveway, which was full of small furniture and bags and boxes for Good Donor, who will appreciate all those clothes, books, shoes, and toys.

 The New York Times
I quickly realized the fastest way I could restore inner peace and outer beauty to my life was to stop being a curator. More choice means more stuff, thus more stress, which means more excess and compounded stress, which leads, once again, to feeling overwhelmed.

Speaking of choice, does anyone over 40 remember when we went to the store to buy jeans there was one kind—dark-rinsed straight legs that had to be washed a bunch of times before they were soft enough to wear? Now there's bootleg, wide leg, skinny, tapered, stovepipe, cropped, capri, natural waist, low waist, high waist ... and then each of those styles comes in a variety of colors!

I hate to feel unsettled and restless in my own home, a place that should be a relaxing haven, because of the self-imposed chaos and clutter from empty UPS boxes, piles of paper on every horizontal surface, a mountain of unread magazines that I swear I'll get to, items that belong in other rooms, shoes everywhere, clean laundry that needs to be put away (where a laundry basket stands in for a bureau), makeup and camera equipment scattered all over the place, and so on. And it doesn't help that my job often demands 60-80 hours a week because there always seems to be yet another deadline. Not to stumble too far off track, but what happened to our work life? When did working more than 40 hours a week become a given, a badge of honor? It's a very sad state of affairs, indeed, for we salaried workers, where overtime is unpaid time. Blame the 80s.

Henceforth, I have renewed my commitment to making a concerted effort to slow down, to be happier with less, and to be mindful of what I have and what I experience. When I take the time to appreciate, to put things in their proper place when I have finished using them (not to mention actually having a place to put them away), my surroundings feel much more beautiful, and I feel that beauty radiating from within.

As I worked through the house last week like the Tasmanian devil, I found myself weeding out every place I touched. Everything is in its right place, and I feel so much better—even (and especially) the way I pamper myself. That had gotten out of hand, too, and I found ways to edit that, as well.

Thankfully, I do not have a skincare obsession, and my routine and products have always been relatively minimal. I did take this recent opportunity to edit it down to just a few items, tossing out all the rest. Here's what remains:

  • Caudalie Foaming Face Wash. I use this in the shower each morning. Because it is so gentle, it does not require any added moisturizer after, and I get what little sunscreen I need from my makeup.
  • Bioderma Crealine H2O Ultra-Mild Non-Rinse Face and Eyes Cleanser. I love this at night in warmer months. Nothing takes off the day as well as this, and so gently. In colder months, I switch to the more creamy Avene Extremely Gentle Cleanser.
  • Baltic Collagen, a serum that acts as primer, moisturizer, highlighter, and treatment. Love it.
I love the simplicity of using so few products, as well as not having to add moisture back to my skin since I am not stripping it. My face has rewarded me by being less oily and less reactive. All good.

My closet has been pared down to only the pieces that make me feel great, and it's so much easier to get dressed when I know where everything is (and that it all fits). No longer do I give closet space to that chic thing that will look great after I lose those X pounds.

Hermes Les Jardins d'Armenie
I no longer hang onto tee shirts for years just because they are still in good shape. I spend the most I can afford on fewer items, such as a camelhair coat, cashmere blazers, merino sweaters, and so on. I live in neutrals (shades of soft pin-tinged grey and clear blues are my best friends), so I add color with accessories like scarves, shoes, and handbags. This works for me as long as I adhere as best I can to my new one-in-one-out rule.

To help me make wiser, more thoughtful and discerning purchasing decisions, I had a "seasonal" color analysis done, mostly to confirm what I already suspected about my coloring and tastes, but also to get the swatches!

From top, counter clockwise: Chips for my eyes, hair, and skin
My chips matched the colors in one of my mother's scarves
(I don't do florals outside the gardena)

Many sartorial experts (and also makeup artists) claim that anyone can wear any color, and while that may be logistically true, why would I want to look good when I can look great? For example, everyone says blue eyes should wear brown eyeshadow for contrast. My eyes are blue, and I get this advice all the time. I even have an amber starburst around my pupil, which makes my irises appear olive green, so I would think this brown-with-blue recommendation is especially true for me, but I look hideous in browns, almost all browns, and especially warm browns. And so despite my gut feeling for what looked good, I'd become confused by the conflicting information, so I went to a place where my skin, eyes, and hair were analyzed, which felt the tiniest bit more scientific and less woo woo.

My True Summer fan deck
The analyst fed the ID for the matching chips into the computer, which returned a result with my season and a recommended swatch book. It's just a guideline, and I like to think I am more creative and intuitive than having to consult a swatch book when I go shopping, but it was interesting to have some of my favorite colors confirmed and just as interesting to see other favorites tossed aside when I realized that those were wearing me. Nothing compared to seeing the transformation of my skin when the color people draped a minimal set of different colored fabrics on me. I had always suspected I was a "Summer," and I was right.

And now for the best part! Even though I wear a relatively full face of makeup when I leave the house, I use a fairly light hand and choose neutral colors that can be found within my body, mirroring the concept of Ellis Faas (using a fair number of her products). Other favorite brands that are always in rotation are Chanel, NARS, Chantecaille, and Laura Mercier. I still get some use from a few Shu Uemura eyeshadows from the older collection (before the brand was pulled from US retail locations). I used to wear makeup to look older, more sophisticated. Now that I am older, less makeup makes me look younger and more rested.

Just like wearing only specific colors for my apparel, I wear only clear blue-red, deep pink, or mid-toned rose lipstick, so that simplifies my choices, and I can put my makeup on each morning in under 5 minutes. Shopping is also made simple, since there are colors I never even consider (peach, coral, brown, bronze, orange-reds, and so on). But even before the color analysis, which also recommends makeup colors by brand,  I had my own technique to see if a color flatters me: I try the item on with no other makeup on my face, and if it is face/eye brightening, it is a keeper. If it creates shadows, or pulls redness or makes my skin look sallow, out it goes. I wrote about my unscientific technique here.

I think that's enough of this hugely long-winded post, so if you are still with me, congratulations! I am curious about what beauty means to you and how you manage it in your lives. I hope I didn't put you all to sleep.

All photos mine except where noted in caption

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bunnies. Just Because

I just saw a cute bunny in my yard eating clover, so I thought I'd bring you some odd bunnies.


And just because I am feeling silly tonight, I also bring you the melancholy Swedish playwright and author, August Strindberg, along with his high-pitched, rotund friend, Helium:


WEN Cleansing Conditioner

I don't review skincare or hair care products often because 1) it takes too long to properly test a new product and 2) I have neither the inclination nor patience to cycle through new products every few weeks. And unlike my fickleness with makeup, I am generally content with my current regimes.

Well, maybe that's not entirely true about my hair; I had just reached a point where I didn't think anything would help it.

I was born with baby-fine hair that never had much volume, not even as a kid. I also have an oily scalp, so I have always washed my hair every day. Once I stopped fighting my hair's natural texture, and found the right cut for me, I accepted my hair and managed to have it look pretty good for years.

Until I stopped taking oral contraceptives. Or at least that's what seems to be the catalyst because the change in hormones caused me to lose about a third of my overall volume, and after waiting several years for it to grow back, I begrudgingly accepted it might not. I didn't have tons of hair to begin with, and I expected a brief shedding from the hormonal change, but I never imagined I would lose so much and get nothing back.

I realize it is normal to shed hundreds of hairs a day, naturally,  but I was losing so much I wondered how I was not going bald. I can't begin to tell you how traumatizing it was to see a miniature wiglet circling the shower drain each morning. If I gathered up that little fluff of hair, it would fill one of those mini jam jars you get at brunch buffets. I was tested for all kinds of things, but nothing turned up.

To baby my hair, I tried different shampoos, including volumizers and those without sodium laurel sulfates, which I suspected were too harsh for my fragile locks and were contributing to the breakage. I even experimented with henna (much gentler than chemical dye), which left my hair feeling heavy and silky, but the color did not suit me.

Out of the blue, enter a very kind blogger. I don't even remember how the topic of WEN Cleansing Conditioners came up, but Jeanie sent me a box of huge samples to try out. I never thought conditioner would satisfactorily clean my hair, or at the very least my hair would be so greasy by the end of the day, I envisioned the entire experiment turning into a complete failure, so no one was more surprised than I when it worked!

WEN thoroughly cleans my hair (I can hear a little squeaking as I rinse it), and over the few weeks that I tested it, I noticed the following:
  • The short new growth around my crown no longer stood on end in a crazed halo of frizz.
  • My hair was shiner.
  • The ends no longer felt crispy.
  • I began to notice progressively less hair loss in the drain.
  • More body.
  • Scalp produces less oil.
  • Hair color lasts longer.
  • And, yes, I could still skip a day!
I was so happy with the results, I ordered a 16-ounce bottle from Amazon (I get free shipping and they have a no-nonsense return policy). I chose Cucumber Aloe, which is for all hair types, particularly fine to medium hair. Prices vary at different e-tailers, but I paid $38.75. If I had wanted to use a different scent, I could have saved $10, but most of the others are for thicker hair.

The WEN line by Chaz Dean is fairly comprehensive, but I don't see myself using more than just the cleansing conditioner. I don't even follow his exhaustive instructions or use nearly as much product as he recommends, and I still get great results. Here's what I do:
  • Wet hair.
  • Pump out a small amount (about half a shotglass full) and disperse through my palms. (My hair is a short bob, so you might need more product than I use.)
  • Press the product on the sides of my head (over my ears), at the nape of my neck, and at the hairline near my forehead, and then swipe my hands up toward my crown.
  • Massage and smear the conditioner around for about a minute.
  • Comb through my hair.
  • Leave the product on my head while I do whatever else I need to do in the shower.
  • Rinse rinse rinse with lukewarm water and finish with a cool rinse to seal the hair cuticle.
I let my hair air dry for an hour, and if it does not settle into the shape I want, I put bamboo (velcro) rollers in my hair for about 15 minutes, and the added body those provide lasts all day.

Honestly, I am not sure how much different this product is from regular conditioner, and it's a bit pricey, so it might be worth comparing ingredients because you can go through a bottle of WEN fairly quickly--especially if your hair is not short. That said, I have tried the "no poo" method with regular conditioner, and ALL weighed my hair down, so there is something special about the mixture of ingredients with WEN.

Out of curiosity, I used a regular (SLS free) shampoo last weekend, thinking it might be a good idea to clarify, and my hair felt awful. Stiff, dry, sticky, crunchy, and when I ran a comb through it, there were tons of hairs stuck in the teeth. Ugh, no thanks.

Bottom line. LOVE! I see no need to ever use anything else, and since I get no buildup, there is no need to use a damaging clarifying shampoo.

Meanwhile, I am not even sure how I missed Jeanie's WEN posts, but here they are.

Photo credits QVC

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hitting Pan: Beauty Badge of Courage?

Contents of one of my three UNII palettes

Back in the days before I'd heard of Project 10 Pan, I used to think that "hitting pan" (seeing that little bit of metal emerge from beneath the product due to regular use) was undesirable. I felt as if my beautiful product had become tarnished, old. And I am ashamed to admit that sometimes I'd chuck it and buy a fresh one, just so I wouldn't have to scrape my brush around the sides to avoid the shiny metal.

Since I was using buying far fewer items a couple years ago, I'd hit pan a lot more often than I do now. In fact the thought of adhering to a Project 10 Pan challenge makes me roll my eyes at myself. Even if I used a base eyeshadow as primer every day, and really packed that pale or skin-toned color down, it would still take more than a year for me to hit pan on even one tiny eyeshadow, like MAC. So the thought of using up every last bit of TEN whole products is downright gut wrenching.

I no longer feel that hitting pan is a negative thing. It tells me I am using a well-loved product, and if I happen to repurchase that item and hit pan again, it becomes clear to me that I have discovered a holy-grail item.

In my entire makeup life, there are scant few items that have reached such lofty status.

My Bare Metal Hall of Shame:
  • Shu Uemura M Beige 800 eyeshadow. Used up completely and repurchased two times. Note, this color is now called 813. By completely, I mean that the corners actually crumbled. ♥
  • Shu Uemura M Beige 804 eyeshadow. Pan barely winking at me now; I have a backup. Discontinued. Of course.
  • Shu Uemura M Grey 943 eyeshadow. Hit significant pan and repurchased M Grey 960 (same color) the moment I learned that Shu Uemura was pulling out from US retail counters.
  • Stila Ecru eyeshadow. Used about half up and repurchased 5 backups. Discontinued. I'll probably have moved on by the time I open my first backup, but it's close to Shu M800, so there.
  • Prescriptives Mushroom. First purchased in 1989 and still buying. Because I use makeup so slowly, I am probably on my 3rd or 4th pan since the first buy.
  • Jane Iredale PurePressed Powder in Bisque. Used up two entirely and then moved to the Ivory color, and now I am thinking Ivory is too yellow and I need to try Light Beige. .
  • Vincent Longo Water Canvas Cream-to-Powder foundation in Porcelain. I have used up every last bit of at least 16 pots of this product in the last 10 years. 
I've made dips in other products and thrown away still more, but the rest of my products are waiting for me to enjoy them again, so I think I will.

How often to you hit pan, and if you use something up, do you ever repurchase?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Beauty Spotlight Team: What's in Marcia's Bag?

Here's a fun new feature from The Beauty Spotlight Team that should appeal to follow snoop sisters. Twice a month one member from our team will shine a spotlight on the contents of her makeup bag, while the rest of us tease you with a photo of the outside of her bag and provide a link to her post.

This week we peek inside Marcia's (Beauty Info Zone) bag. What kind of crazy stuff is she using these days, anyway? Click this link to find out!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why Do You** Blog?

**Disclaimer: This post is my opinion about my own experience blogging. I do not judge other bloggers' styles or motives, and I sincerely hope that comes across.

Photo credit: Natalie Dee

After reading a recent post by one of my favorite bloggers, who wrote that she's going through a blogging slump, I spent a few minutes thinking about my own motives in starting this blog. I won't lie—it began as a part-selfish endeavor. I hoped to draw new members to my forum, as conversations go through a lull in the warmer months, and I also hoped to be one of the lucky bloggers who receives PR samples from the brands I love or would love to try, especially since I am a relatively late bloomer with my makeup exploration, which that all of your wonderful beauty blogs helped ignite.

Photo credit: Natalie Dee

So I approached blogging a bit like a a business. I worked very hard those first couple months to write lots of honest reviews with tons of pictures (and how horrible some of those early, dim photos were!); I used search-friendly post titles, hoping my blog would come up near the top in search results. I scurried to stay on top of new collections, and tried to beat all the veterans in getting my post up first! It was fun—even exhilarating—but it became less so when I began to sound like nothing more than a review churner. I also quickly realized how stressful and labor intensive it is to keep up, to write compelling reviews about beauty products in fresh and different ways, especially since I wanted to write as well as my favorite bloggers.

So now what was my goal? I still wanted to provide visual access to hard-to-find or niche brands, the way you all did before me. Many brands are not readily accessible to me—I would have to drive 90 minutes each way to look at a single nail polish or blush or eyeshadow—so over the years I relied heavily on online reviews with detailed photographs and skin swatches, especially those swatches that compared the reviewed item to others like it; those were invaluable because color is only useful when put in context. I also wanted to add my voice, swatches and colors to the very tiny community of pale, purely cool-toned bloggers, as the makeup industry seems designed for warm or warm-neutral, medium skins.

So slowly, and despite my blog's selfish origins, I found it more rewarding to give back to anyone out there who is researching one of the products I review, the way bloggers had done before me. Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more quickly than receiving a comment or e-mail from someone who bought something I reviewed and loves it. Of course there is always the chance that someone will buy something I loved and hate it, maybe even be angry at me. The risk increases when we buy makeup we swatched on skin tones that are nothing like our own.

Hannibal is so exhausted, he can't bear to look
I know I needn't tell you bloggers and readers of blogs how time consuming and exhausting maintaining a blog can be, not to mention (potentially) expensive. If I am reviewing, for example, a new eyeshadow palette, I need excellent light to take the most helpful photographs, and ideally, several types of light (direct and indirect sun, indoor/natural lighting, flash/no flash). Sometimes I have to wait several days for the sun to come out. I must allocate time to select and then edit each photo from the dozens of shots I too, in order that what you see online matches the color of the product I hold in my hand. To provide that, I remove distractions (cat scratches on my hand!), and adjust exposure, contrast, saturation, tint, and remove shadows. I try to label photos with product names when I swatch several together, so you can tell them apart without having to look at the caption (captions don't show up in Google images), and I always remind myself to add a watermark to each photo, since so many photos are stolen for use on eBay and other sites, including other blogs.

I had no idea what to expect when I started blogging. I assumed it could be competitive, maybe even catty. And yet I was quickly accepted, guided by kind people, promoted by generous people, and embroidered into a tightly-knit, global community of like-minded people. And how small that world is. To be sure, there are some negative aspects (SPAM, mean comments, a tiny percentage of other beauty bloggers who won't give you the time of day, and so on), but the positive far outweighs any negative. As for using search-friendly titles, I still try to think of what someone like me would enter into a search field, if I were looking for a review of a product, and it can work in unexpected ways: It was quite amusing to read (and reject!) some of the comments I received  for my nude post. (Made you click, didn't I?)

I started to relax about my content, but I found myself worrying about my blog's popularity, wondering why some blogs that started around the same time as I had double or triple the number of followers. And like the writer I mentioned in my intro paragraph, I found myself obsessing over statistics, especially views by post and what my traffic sources were. For anyone who has a Blogger blog, I probably don't have to tell you how unhelpful their out-of-the-box tats are, and as for the followers ... well. Increasing those numbers goes back to my original intent for this blog, where I assumed more followers = more popular = perks. It felt a little like trying to get in with the "in" crowd in school, and that was when I started to take a really hard look at what I wanted for myself and from this blog. I realized that trying to increase followers purely for the sake of increasing numbers felt hollow, and it made me reexamine my motives.

My day job pays me to write professionally (so please forgive lazy writing on this blog, where I come to relax without fear of the editor's red pen), and the golden rule is Know Your Audience. There's little point in writing if no one is reading, so having lots of people who click "follow" and never visit my blog again would make me feel sad. I would much rather have fewer followers but know that they follow because they are interested in reading what I post, at least once in a while.

As for the PR samples, no one was more surprised than I when those gifts felt a tiny bit like a burden. I insist that my posts be unadulterated by fear of having the goods shut off, just because I write an honest review that a PR firm might interpret as negative. If samples come my way, fun! I will write about them (with full disclosure) only if I like them, and I will give them away if I don't. I do not care about this blog becoming "famous." As a fairly private person, too much attention would make me uncomfortable, so I have little interest in being invited to special events. You won't see me doing YouTube video reviews, and I am certainly not looking for a job working for Miranda Priestly. I already have a job that I love. This blog is a happy hobby, nothing more.

About a quarter of what was once my total stash
I love beauty-products, especially makeup, but I discovered that after months of accumulating new products to review, I felt inundated, overwhelmed. I enjoyed makeup less because I wasn't giving myself time to enjoy it, so quickly was I moving on to the next new thing. So I have slowed down the tidal wave of product, hoping there are other ways I can add value than by churning through new products several times a week. I'm not saying I'll stop buying product—I've already tried abstinence and it didn't take. But my purchases will be more discerning and reflective. How many different shades of taupe does one person need, anyway? Don't answer that, Elvira!

So why do I blog? For fun, friendship, and I guess I feel like I have something to contribute to this small inner world of beauty. I hope that by sharing my thoughts with this community, some of you feel the same way. Very few women in my 3D life even wear makeup, so I can't talk to them about my love of beauty products.

I also hope that by writing more thought-provoking posts (and potentially fewer product reviews) I won't lose anyone, but I am willing to take that risk. Like any hobby, blogging must find a place of balance within my life. I don't want to spend the entire summer glued to the monitor when I could be enjoying my gardens outside

Why do you blog? I suspect many of you want to give back, but if you are doing it for samples or an internship or to be flown free to IMATS or to become as famous as The Arm (KarlaSugar), fantastic! Please leave a comment and tell me what that's like—I'd really love to know. I do not judge, I merely observe. And as I mentioned in my first sentence, my slight shift in focus is based purely on my own experience, a blog evolution, after makeup started to feel a little less fun. At one time, I wanted it all and maybe I will again.

My photos. Illustrations by Natalie Dee

Rouge Bunny Rouge Original Skin Blush in Delicata: The Accidental Bronzer

Left to right: Delicata, Gracilis (click to enlarge)
In May I placed a Zuneta order so I could try my first Rouge Bunny Rouge products. For weeks, I'd been irresistibly tantalized by RBR blog reviews, mostly based in the UK My order included For Love of Roses Original Skin Blush (£25.00) in Gracilis. If you want to know what I think about the texture, pigment, and finish of Rouge Bunny Rouge powder blush formulation, please read my review.

As soon as I placed that order, I came across reviews by London Makeup Girl, Modesty Brown, and Lipstick Rules and realized I should have ordered Delicata, as well. So I did.

Left to right: Delicata, Gracilis (click to enlarge)
I love Gracilis, and I am so glad it was my first experience with RBR blushes because I won't lie to you. When I first opened the lid on Delicata and saw that nude color winking up at me in the pan, my reaction was YUCK. This is blush? Described as nude beige-rose with the barest hint of peach, I knew I'd be taking a risk with the peach part, because my skin does not naturally blush peach or any warm color. In fact, if get very angry or flushed I blush a furious fuchsia red. The color peach does not suit me in blush or eyeshadow, lipstick, or apparel of any kind.

Delicata disappointed me on sight because it was so ... well, beige. If I scrutinized the color in the pan and turned it every which way, I could almost make myself believe I was seeing a cool pink beige, but it was not a color I thought of as a blush for someone with pink-porcelain skin like mine. I assumed it would look gorgeous on that lovely, pale Irish peaches-and-cream complexion, but I don't know anyone with that coloring, so I tossed Delicata in the the back of a drawer, unused. Had I seen Delicata at a makeup counter, I doubt I would have even tried it on.

Help meeeeeee ... I am NUUUUUUDE!
And so Delicata sat around, unwanted, until one day I realized what a brat I was being, that I might as well try it since I was stuck with it. I halfheartedly swept some into the hollows of my cheekbones and along the top of my forehead, sat back and took a look, and I suddenly realized I had accidentally discovered the first  "bronzer" that my skin could handle! Let's call it a blonzer because it's a bronzer for cool blondes.

Because I am so fair, ALL bronzers look unnatural on me, even the ones I hang onto out of sheer stubbornness (e.g., Edward Bess and Armani). Though supposedly suitable for pale faces, those bronzers are still either too dark or too golden. So I pulled out the Edward Bess Luxury Face Brush and swept it across the nudey-pink pan and buffed Delicata over my cheekbones, across my forehead and the bridge of my nose, finishing with a light dusting on my chin. Instant love. In fact, the result was exactly what I'd hoped Bobbi Brown Illuminating Bronzing Powder in Antigua would be, which turned out to be a disappointment, as it was really just another rosy blush.

Here is Delicata compared to Gracilis. Since I love cool blushes, you can imagine my surprise when I saw that beige color in the pan.

Bottom line: The day I decided to give this a try, an angel got her wings. Delicata imparts a very subtle glow, rather than a true blush, and it does not highlight areas of pinkness from mild rosacea. The fact that Delicata pulls double duty as a bronzer makes this one worth every penny.

All photos mine.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Which Cult Beauty Items Are Not (or Are) Worth the Hype?

Part 4 of the "I Don't Get It" series.

MAC Spice

I first purchased this beauty editor-recommended lip pencil in 1993, after reading about a new-to-me brand called M.A.C. in a fashion magazine. Touted as a universally-flattering liner, it was supposed to be the only lip pencil a woman needed, but it was just OK, a touch too warm. I used it sporadically over the next few years and then lost or tossed it. A couple years ago I repurchased it, and it was much worse than I'd remembered; it looked orange on me.

NARS Orgasm

Not one of the Orgasmic blush, lip gloss, nail polish, or multiple (highlighter) flatters my skin tone.

I sometimes wonder if Orgasm has reached cult status on its name alone, as there is nothing especially unique about the color. Surely this shimmering peachy pink blush looks beautiful on many ladies, but it just makes me look feverish, and I'd rather get that flush the old fashioned way.

Stila Kitten

This eyeshadow is so pretty in the pan, a shimmering champagne-pink beige that I hoped would be like a second skin for my eyelids. But, alas, no.

Instead I get an uber-sparkly finish that highlights every flaw around my eyes and makes the skin look like crumpled tissue paper. If anyone knows of a more satiny pinkish-beige that is cool toned, please let me know because that color would nicely round out my eyeshadow collection.


Chanel Mademoiselle

How could one little lipstick, described as a muted rose pink, turn into such a terracotta horror fest on me?

I am convinced that Mademoiselle is the Mood Ring of lipsticks. It looks so rosy and beautiful on Vanessa and in the tube, but it turns a hideous brown-orange on me--and that surprises me because my lips are a medium-pigmented mauve-rose that usually turn most lipsticks cool or cooler.

Urban Decay Primer Potion

This primer gets much love, but not from me. I expect primer to even out skin tone, so eyeshadow I apply over it is unadulterated by red skin or blue veins. UDPP is a beige silicone product that provides nice slip, but worsens the appearance of my eyelid skin, making it look crepey. I also hate the packaging, which wastes a lot of goop.

Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer

I really wanted to like this TM because I am a huge fan of Laura Mercier products. Alas, it is too dewy for me (and I do not care for the oil-free version), but the worst bit is that the chemical sunscreen reddens my skin, defeating the purpose of evening out my skin tone.

Clinique Black Honey

This "almost" lipstick continues to win awards in beauty magazines--it's even in Elle magazine's Hall of Fame. I once read that Madonna wore it on the cover of her Ray of Light album, and Black Honey is THE "lipstick" that beauty pundits insist is universally flattering. It is not. I am part of the universe, and Black Honey is not flattering on me.

Although it is described as an ultra-sheer berry stain, I see a reddish-brown raisin color. It has the unwanted tackiness of a lip gloss, and it has no staying power. I realize a sheer lip product won't last long, but I get better mileage from lipstick/gloss hybrids by Chantecaille and Laura Mercier. Worse, Clinique's formulation dries my lips. I much preferred Clinique's Sheer Raspberry Almost Lipstick back when they sold more than just this single color.

Other super-popular products that don't wow me:
  • MAC Lip Glass. Too sticky and product accumulates in the corners of my mouth.
  • MAC Paint Pots. Stiff and drying. And while Painterly looks perfect in the pot, it turns orange on me.
  • Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser. I cannot use this product for the chemical stench of it alone.
  • Essie Ballet Slippers. Continually cited in magazines as the perfect pale pink, this nail polish gives me lobster hands.
  • LipFusion Plumping Gloss. It's gloss, after all.

The Good

This post would be unbalanced if I didn't include some of the products that I think are worth the hype. Here are just a few of the hyped-up products I love.

YSL Touche Eclat

I adore this highlighter/concealer hybrid. So much, in fact, that I am on my third, which is unprecedented for fickle old me. It doesn't conceal as well as it highlights, but my undereye circles aren't that awful, and it provides some nice brightness along the nasolabial fold. I apply it in the inverted V made famous by Trish McEvoy, and my skin just glows.

Lipstick Queen Medieval Tinted Treatment

Medieval is a clear and very sheer red that even the shy could slather on, without a mirror, and never worry about looking too done up. Are you reading this, Ammie?

Shu Uemura eyelash curler

After years of using a Revlon curler, I was initiated into the shu cult, and I love this curler for giving me truly curled lashes, not that crazed crimp redminiscent of the curling-iron bang circa 1984.

Lancôme Definicils Mascara

I can't believe I walked by the Lancôme counter for more than a decade without trying their Definicils mascara, even though I read countless reviews on how great Defincils is. It really is most excellent.

Moroccanoil hair serum

I resisted trying this hair oil for the longest time because my hair is very fine and thin, and I assumed adding any oil would make it limp and greasy. Not so. This stuff calms down the halo of frizz from new hair growth without weighing the rest of it down, and it smells divine, like sweet nuts. And luckily, I don't get buildup, so I do not have to clarify often. I use the Light version.

WEN Cucumber Aloe Cleansing Conditioner

I've tried the no-poo method using straight-up conditioner and my hair felt great. For a couple days. Then the greasies would come back with a vengeance. A lovely blogger sent me several huge samples of WEN. I tried it, loved it, and ordered the full size. Still loving it, and this is so worth the hype, even on my ultra-fine, thin hair. WEN leaves it soft and manageable without any frizz or dryness. I can even skip a day washing, and I don't have to use the above-mentioned hair oil. It's really a shame you need to use so much, as this stuff isn't cheap.

Chanel  nail polish

What can I say that hasn't already been said. I love Chanel polish, from the colors to the formulation. Elegant packaging, decent longevity, and beautiful, unique colors. I don't wear nail polish often, but when I do, it's almost always Chanel I reach for.

CHANEL Glossimer

Anyone who reads beauty blogs knows how incredibly popular these little tubes of pretty pigment are, and to be sure, they are beautiful to behold. For a long time I did not get it. I'd purchased a few, but I never used them. But one day I bumped into one of the super-pigmented Glossimers, and I finally found a lip gloss I could stand. Smooth, reflective color that last for hours without making my lips feel like they are glued together. I love because it feels more like a liquid lipstick than a tacky gloss, and I most definitely prefer the few that are shimmer free.

BeautyBlender sponge

I admit I was among the first to pooh-pooh this silly-looking sponge, but it really does provide a poreless finish, from liquid foundation to tinted moisturizer to BB cream. And it doesn't suck up much product if you use it damp. Worth it.

Bobbi Brown Eyeliner Gel

A decent color selection and amazing longevity, I own a couple of these (Granite Ink and Graphite Shimmer), more than I will ever use in my lifetime. I love that I can apply the gel over the lashline, poked into the lash roots, or I can tighlined from below without irritation (as long as I let the pigment dry before I start blinking). The color stays put ALL day, which is a double-edged sword because it can be quite challenging to remove if tightlined. Bobbi Brown gel liners are the best out there.

MAC Satin Taupe eyeshadow

I have been purchasing MAC products since 1993 and no longer love it the way I used to, but Satin Taupe is a gorgeous silvery-cool bronzed brown with a hint of plum that looks good any time. I believe this eyeshadow is listed as a frost, but (like Tissueweight) I find it has more of a satin finish. It was this eyeshadow (and MUA reviews and YouTube) that reawakened my dormant makeup obsession a couple years ago.

Laura Mercier Sparkling Pink (fka Pink Champagne)

As a person not fond of the nude trend, this color is as close to nude as I get. A beige blue pink with very subtle gold shimmers, I wish Sparkling Pink (reviewed here) were a hint cooler, but I enjoy it for the excellent formula and the fact that I can apply it without a mirror.

Shiseido Pureness Oil-blotting Papers

My skin is no longer as oily as it once was, but there was a time when I would not go anywhere without my Shiseido papers. I discovered them around 1987 and thought they were a brilliant idea. They might have been the first.

And for the sake of full disclosure, here are some of the cult items I have never tried:
  • La Mer anything. I chortled when my friend, Veuve, called it Le Meh.
  • Le Métier de Beauté Eye Kaleidoscopes. Call me a wimp, but I don't care for the need to layer. If an eyeshadow color does not stand on its own, it hits the bricks.
  • Spray-on foundation, any kind. How does one keep it off your hair and brows and eyelashes? Eek, no, not interested.
  • Urban Decay Naked Palette. It looks so pretty in the palette, but there is too much shimmer in that palette for me, and way too many warm colors.
  • MAC Russian Red lipstick. I believe this is matte or satin formulation. Most MAC lipstick is already drying on me, so it's a no go.
  • Preparation H as an undereye puffiness reducer. I just can't get past its intended use.

What are your must-have cult products and which ones disappointed you?

All photos from stock via Google images