Friday, September 28, 2012

Henri: Politique

All cats should have political leanings, ne pensez-vous pas?

Apparently there was an Internet Cat Film Festival in Minneapolis, and Henri 2, Paw de Deux earned the equivalent of the People's Choice Award.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Challenge of Having Cool-toned Brows

I discussed the importance of eyebrow grooming in an earlier article, but this post addresses brow color.  If, like me, you are completely cool-toned, where any hint of warm color on your face makes you look dirty or ill, you already know how hard it can be to find an appropriate brow color.

From my late teens into my 20s, brow products did not reach my level of consciousness. My ashy brows were full and well shaped. Maintenance required occasional tweezing and smoothing down unruly hairs with a brow comb or clear mascara to keep everything tidy. In my late 20s, I began neatening the lower edges with Clinique Brow Shaper and the enclosed stiff brush. But in the last few years, my eyebrows became more demanding. I noticed diffuse hair thinning, but especially toward the bridge of the nose. My brow hairs had also become noticeably wispier, and new growth was lighter—not white or grey (yet), but not the normal ash-colored hairs I'd seen in the mirror for decades.

Turning back to Clinique, I quickly discovered that filling in the bare patches was essential for creating a frame for the face, and that when my brows were full, I could wear less makeup overall. However, if you are cool toned (not cool neutral), be prepared to slog through multiple products telling lies about what color they are. Hopefully I can help you slog a little less.

Beauty pundits claim that if you are dark haired, you should choose a brow color 1-2 shades lighter than your hair color, and if you are light haired or grey (or white) you should choose a brow color 1-2 shades darker. I say throw out the rules and try on the product. Only you will know what looks best on you.

For my level of  contrast, my brow color must be a little darker than my dark ash blonde hair. My brows have always been darker than my hair, and—unlike the hair on my  head, which takes on gold and red highlights from the sun—my brows are 100% ash and cool without a trace of highlight color (warmth). And therein lies the challenge.

Clinique's Brow Shaper in Shaping Charcoaled served me well for almost 20 years. Don't think of a charcoal briquet you'd toss in the grill, which is almost blue black. Clinique's product is a mid-toned grey color with a whisper of brown. Though it's a powder, it's waxier than eyeshadow. Perfect for those of us with ashy brows, even fair-skinned blondes because you can comb out any excess to bring the saturation down. Overall, it is an outstanding product, and although there are only four colors from which to choose, I would guess that 90% of us could find a decent match from one of the offerings. My alabaster-skinned, True Autumn mother, for example, wears Wheat.
Unfortunately, Charcoaled has recently started to appear too dark, as my brows have begun to fade and thin. Also, perhaps I purchased a bad batch recently, but the powder finish seems to have gone from matte to something a bit more shiny. Finally, as my brow hairs lose volume, the hairs themselves seem to be thinner, and some are growing in blonde. (I swear they aren't grey, even though my head hair is about 5% grey with the white hairs concentrated in one cool-ashy stripe near my part.)

Because this change in my base hair color has further cooled my skin's appearance and reduced the contrast, I embarked on the hunt for a lighter replacement in the same hue, never imagining it would be so difficult. And yet I have spent three baffling years looking for an appropriate brow color, failing time after time after time. All the while, I have been fuming inside, wondering why on earth it should be so hard.

The problem is that designers and manufacturers don't seem to understand that ASH is a COOL GREY color, whether it's wood ash, paper ash, or charcoal ash. All you need do is look at the tip of a burning cigarette, or shovel out the refuse from a wood fire, and you can see that those lightweight, flyaway particles are grey and cool, not warm or golden brown or reddish brown.

Does that look warm and brown to you?  (source)

Yet almost every single color I purchased with the word "ash" in its name or description contained visible yellow in it. Sometimes red. Even reviews on Makeup Alley confused me. Did I have special eyes, where only I could see the warmth? I doubt it.

I doubled my efforts, hoping to find the perfect brow color to replace the utilitarian Clinique Brow Shaper, knowing it had to be out there.

I liked Laura Mercier Brow Definer in Warm (Warm Brunette), which is strangely named because Warm is actually a mostly cool mid-toned charcoal brown. The wax formula is also really excellent with great longevity. Unfortunately, Warm presented the same issue as Charcoaled: Too dark. Ultimately, the color wasn't quite cool enough, either.

I next tried the two other colors in Mercier's Brow Definer formula, Soft and Fair:
  • Soft (Deep Blonde/Light Brunette) was a lighter, neutral-leaning brown that was too warm because of its red undertones. It turned my brows auburn, but Soft could be an option for cool-neutral/warm-neutral skin tones.

  • Fair (Light Blonde) was downright warm. Whoever has been calling this color "ash" and "cool" in reviews must be looking at it in a parallel universe, not on mine. Or their skin is very warm toned. Light is a warm yellow brown, which I could see the moment I unscrewed the lid.

And why do brands automatically think that if you are blonde, you are a golden blonde? Perhaps because it's been the Hollywood standard for decades (even though there were plenty of platinum blondes in Hollywood's golden era). Aren't there a ton of ash blondes/light ash brunettes walking around in the world, or are we such a minority we don't matter?

Other brands and colors I tried and rejected in the last couple years (just so you don't have to):
  • Clinique Brow Shaper in Taupe and Wheat, both too warm. I should have known better with Wheat, but Taupe seemed promising. It was a failure. Taupe is a warm reddish taupe brown. The Clinique sales associate shuddered and, without a word, handed me a cotton pad soaked with Take The Day Off.

  • Clinique Superfine Liner for Brows in Soft Blonde — too warm/yellow. Even now I can see yellow in the product swatch, so I have no idea why I even bought it. Desperation.

  • MAC Impeccable Brow Pencil, Dirty Blonde. One would think this would be an ashy color, since "dirty blonde" is often synonymous with "mouse brown," which by its definition is grey brown. And when I first pulled the cap off, I danced with joy because it looked perfect. Alas, it was not to be, as it was too warm. It looks as though MAC discontinued the color anyway.

  • Chantecaille Brow Definer in Ash Blonde. This pencil looked extremely promising, but the online color swatch below is completely misleading. In fact, if this pencil didn't lay down a golden blonde stripe, I will eat it. Or I would if I still had it. I returned it immediately and without a shred of guilt due to false advertising.

  • Anastasia Tinted Brow Gel in Granite. Satisfactory in hue, Granite was too dark. Moreover, gel products deposit color on the hairs, like mascara—they do virtually nothing to fill in bare patches, unless you want to poke wet color onto the skin and brush it out with the wand.

  • Becca Brow Powder, Fair. The online color looked promising. Alas, the swatch and writeup was incorrect. The second I lifted the lid I could tell it would be wrong, and it was, indeed, too warm and golden brown against my skin. (UPDATE: Becca Brow Powder in Ash is cool enough but (... wait for it ...) too dark.

  • Three Custom Colors Brow Powder, #2. The product writeup says "ideal for ash blondes or those with light ash brown, gray or salt and pepper hair." OK, maybe if you want orange/yellow-tinted brows.

  • Prescriptives Groom Stick for Brows in Clove.  One of the best I tried in a twist-up pencil, but my skin projected the whisper of red undertones, so it was not an ideal product on me. It's also too dark, but I do have one of these in my dressing table and I still use it occasionally.

Failing with traditional brow products, I next experimented with non-conventional items (e.g., eyeshadow) as brow color:
  • Bobbi Brown (matte) eyeshadows in Cement, Grey, and Slate and the Long-wear Cream Eyeshadows in Cement and Slate ... all turned yellow on me, much the way they do on my eyelids—although Slate comes closest to being acceptable in hue but too high in chroma.
  • Maybelline Color Tattoo 24 Hour Eyeshadow in Tough as Taupe. Not bad, but I didn't care for the crispy eyebrows the cream shadow created. Also, just too dark. (Great for eyeshadow, though.)
  • MAC (matte/matte2) Eyeshadows in Coquette, Wedge, Omega, Mystery, and Concrete—all too warm and/or sludgy. Copperplate was the best of the MAC eyeshadows I tried in my brow hairs but still too warm.
  • Prescriptives U-Pick eyeshadow, Pewter. Almost identical to Clinique Charcoaled with less staying power. Plus it's been discontinued for ages. Meh.
  • Chantecaille Lasting Eye Shade in Zinc and Patchouli. Colors were wrong, and the powder blew off my brows when my cat sneezed across the room.
All failures. I am sure there were many other attempts and failures, but I have forgotten them.

And yet, the news isn't all bad. You didn't think I was going to just write a post about how fruitless the choices are and how we ash blondes/browns are left in the dust, did you?

There does seem to be an almost-good-enough solution: Yves Saint Laurent Eyebrow Pencil 004 ... in  Ash. And it really IS ash; in fact the online swatch at Nordstrom is more realistic.

The texture is interesting. It's hard, similar to Shu Uemura's hard brow pencil formula, but not quite as hard. I immediately thought of Shu when I first swatched 004 on the back of my hand and noticed it deposited almost no color, that I had to sweep back and forth several times until the pencil deposited enough color I could see. It showed up better when I applied eye primer before swatching.

The following two photos are comparisons (in different light) of the standby color I've worn for years, along with some recently tried-and-rejected products. All are compared to YSL Ash for color context.

Indirect sunlight

You can see how Laura Mercier's Fair and Soft clash against my pink undertones. Even Shu's Seal Brown has warm red undertones I'd never noticed before. Mercier's Warm isn't bad and Clinique's Charcoaled is a near-perfect color, but both are too dark. YSL's Ash (which I had to gunk on heavily to get it to show up) was the current winner—but it it is far from perfect because my skin projects yellow undertones that are not visible when looking directly at the pencil "lead".

Natural indoor lighting

I am still in an arranged-marriage honeymoon phase with the Yves Saint Laurent Eyebrow Pencil, and since pencils have never been my first choice, I have one product left to try, which is on its way to me: Anastasia Brow Powder Duo in Ash Blonde/Cool Taupe. Dare I hope they mean what they say when they say "ash?" It looks very promising, and if the reviews are to be trusted, it really is cool toned, but the product image ... .well, let's just say I have my doubts.

The above Nordstrom swatch makes the duo appear warm, but when I see it in context with Anastasia's Golden Blonde duo, it looks less warm. 

Bottom line: The YSL pencil is, so far, the best new color I have come across in years for purely cool-toned skin that is fair. It isn't perfect, but it's pretty good.

UPDATE March 2013: The Anastasia Duo powder product was a disappointment, as I found nothing ashy about it whatsoever. It appeared yellow. Also, over time the YSL Ash pencil appeared more and more warm. The product I have been using for the last few weeks is an eyeshadow: Inglot 349M, a lighter and cooler version of MAC Omega.  Cool in hue, right chroma, and good staying power. It's pretty good, but the search is far from over.

UPDATE Dec 2013: I'm still searching. Shiseido Natural Brow Pencil in GY901 Natural Black is pretty excellent. It's not really black, more a medium cool grey that I can feather on to the desired intensity. Also, consider checking out Bobbi Brown's newish eyeshadow called Cool Ivory. It's everything I wanted Cement to be. They look similar in the pan, but Cool Ivory is decidedly more ash (cool). I've been using it as brow filler and a subtle contour, and it's pretty good but not perfect (too light now but maybe great when my brows are fully greyed).

UPDATE 2015: The winner is definitely Shiseido Natural Eyebrow Pencil in GY901 Natural Black. I actually used one up and repurchased, which says a lot. It remains the best of the lot for me, though I still dabble in Clinique Shaping Charcoaled and just brush most of it out.

Laura Mercier, Chantecaille, Clinique and YSL, Shisido, and Anastasia product images from Nordstrom. Becca and 3CC from Dermstore. MAC taken by me.