Thursday, March 22, 2007

Going Red Part 1: The Balm

I first became obsessed with red lips when I read an article in "Seventeen" when I was in sixth grade. My mother's friend's daughter, whom I've never met, received two of the same issue of the magazine by mistake and somehow it made its way to my posession. Beauty magazines were still a great mystery to me, and I poured over the pages over and over until the thing was reduced to shreds and my mom got me my own subscription. I remember visiting this article on red lips time after time of flipping throug the magazine, it seemed that if I could somehow achieve effortless red lips then somehow I would be popular and thin and attractive. As I slowly began building my makeup collection, I've actually found some truth in this. Red lips are empowering, they scream self confidence and ooze sex appeal- if done correctly, that is. And managing it correctly is what seems to keep a lot of women from embracing the look. Over the course of the next few weeks I'll post the tricks and products I've come to rely on, beginning with the least intense ways to do red and ending with full-on cream lipsticks, as well as advice on what to do with the rest of your face.

As a quick note on color selection: the internet and beauty magazines are full of detailed advice on what reds to pick for your skin tone. The essential piece is that reds are made with a variety of undertones, so pick one that has the undertones that you look good in. I.e. if you can rock orange like there's no tomorrow, then go for that hot oranged red from the 50s. If you wear really earthy colors, then pick a creamy rosy slightly browned red. Again not to diss on drugstore lines, but be a little careful- these reds are notorious for turning fuschia and orange so use a tester if at all possible. If you haven't stumbled onto this gem already, provides extensive consumer reviews on beauty items- it's great for getting an idea of whether a product is going to turn a funny shade after application, and for looking at what specific shades work on what range of skin and hair coloring.

The easiest place to start when beginning to work red into one's makeup collection is with a tinted balm- either a traditional Chapstick type formula or one of the sheer moisturizing non plastic shine tinted glosses now on the market. The benefits of its sheerness are that it's very low maintenance- you never have to worry about it smudging or fading strangely, and you can swipe it on without a mirror- and that it's not intimidating if you're anxious about starting to wear red. Where gloss tends to make more of a statement through higher shine and more intense pigment, balm gives the effect of making your lips look like you just ate a popsicle. It's also a great product to use in conjunction with lip stain and to refresh red lipstick throughout the day. My all-time favorite is mark. Kiss Therapy Super Soothing Lip Balm in Sheer Red, which isn't available from mark. at the moment but can still be found on eBay. The formula is a thicker and less fragrant version of Smith's Rosebut Salve, and the tint is an effortless true red, perhaps a little on the cool side. The balm also packs some nice shine and moisturizes very nicely. The bonus is that this stuff is cheap- a few dollars for 12 g. If you can't find a sheer red balm that you like, apply your favorite semi-glossy untinted version and lightly fill in some color with a lip pencil or smudge on a little lipstick before the balm to sheer out the color and it will give the same effect. Once you find a tone of red that's flattering on you, wearing a sheer and shiny balmy version is one of the most effortlessly sexy ways to make a statement.

Other balms I haven't tried but beauty magazines rave about: Bobbi Brown Tinted Lip Balm, Stila Lip Pot in Cerise, and Urban Rituelle Pomegranate lip balm.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Best Blush Ever

A short time ago I posted on how to work with powder blush to make it more natural. The truth of the matter is that while I love working with powder blush, it's not my favorite. I reach for my Cargo Miami Beach when I'm in the biggest hurry and when I look exhausted, and I love to play with blending shades of powder when I'm getting dressed up for fun, but when it comes down to it I think that creams and gels give a glowier more natural look.

As Rosie Jane Johnston, founder of Rosie Jane Cosmetics, commented in Lucky a long while back, there really is something about powder blush that just kills a dewy look. Fresh dewy cheeks are another one of those things that I get complemented on all the time, and truthfully- the only things you need to execute it perfectly are some concealer if you have blemishes, a dewy cream or gel blush, and some setting powder. I recommend a drier concealer like Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage because it won't smear off as easily. The application of the blush itself depends on the exact product you're working with. I don't care much for liquids, they're harder to control and messier- overall not worth dealing with when there are so many hassle-free alternatives on the market. If you're working with a highly pigmented cream or something in pot form, dabbing two or three fingers or a sponge into the product and using a smudging motion on the cheeks works well. Very dry and highly pigmented products yield lovely results when you work them into skin dampened with moisturizer, which also adds some dewiness as these tend to be a little more on the matte side of things. If it's a sheerer/wetter product or something in stick form, it usually works just fine to apply straight to the skin and then blend the edges with fingers or a sponge. The key to not looking like a big shiny mess is to mattify the rest of the skin- especially around the nose and under the eyes- so that only the cheeks are giving off sheen. You can also experiment with dusting powder over the top of the blush to control how dewy it looks, some of the wetter formulas will still look shiny after the powder sets for a few minutes. Ultimately it's worth it to play with these products until you master the application, and don't hesitate to aks someone at the makeup counter for help if you don't know where to start with a specific product.

I first fell in love with Stila Convertible Colors because Rose, a gorgeous soft red, looks lovely on both cheeks and lips. These tend to fall into the dry category, although the colors tend to have different consistencies. Generally I sweep a dab of moisturizer onto my cheeks, pat two fingers onto the surface and smudge to blend, then swipe the excess color on my fingers onto my lips and top with clear gloss. This is definitely a harder product to master, especially the darker colors, because it takes so little product, and I don't recommend investing in this if you're constantly crunched for time although it's a great multipurpose product to take traveling. Stila Convertible Colors retail for $22.

Tarte Cheekstains are my overall favorite cream/gel blush because they're so easy to use, they have great lasting power, and they come in a very wearable range of shades. The big push pop packaging creates a large round surface to pick up product with your fingers, a sponge, a cream blush brush, or allows you to apply it directly to the skin with very little efort. Minimal blending is necessary as these are pretty sheer, but the color builds nicely with some layering. Some of the shades are in a true translucent gel formula and others are creamier and opaque in the package, but all of them give a sheer pop of color to the skin. After a couple tries, I've found that these take only a little more time to apply than a sweep of powder, and their moistness definitely perks skin up on those painfully tired days. Some people experience that these don't dry completely on their skin, but I've found that a light dusting of powder on top doesn't completely kill the dewiness and sets the blush so that it lasts all day. Generally these act like a stain, so once you apply them the color is good for most of the day. While the package is definitely bulky, you do get a ton of product for your money; one stick will last you for years to come. If that's too much commitment or too much blush to cart around in your purse, Tarte offers a mini size which also lasts forever even though much smaller. Blushing Bride is definitely a shade to check out, it's an earthy warm berry that I've found to be much more flattering on pale skin than pinky reds like Benefit's Benetint. Tipsy is one of those fabulous peachy pinky shades that magazines tout for good reason as gorgeous on most skin, and especially perky when you're tired or sick. Tarte Cheekstains retail for $28 for the full size, $15 for the mini.

Got Shine?

Don't get me wrong, I love glossy lips and dewy cheeks. But the oil slick known as my forehead? Yeah, not so much. Since puberty I've tried a number of powders and primers to keep the oilies at bay, but MAC Blot is definitely the standout.

But before getting into the merits of Blot, there isn't enough powder in the world if you don't have a good skincare routine to begin with. I can't tell you how many women I know think they have a serious oil problem but don't use any moisturizer or don't wash their faces on a regular basis. Beauty magazines tend to run regular articles about basic skincare, so if you don't have a routine established yet I suggest going to the library and flipping through some old issues of Allure. Personally, my oiliness has greatly imroved since I've simplified my routine down to a gentle cream cleanser twice a day, a light moisturizer with seaweed extract- The Body Shop's Seaweed Mattifying Day Cream is beloved by myself and my BFF, the Olay at home microderm kit once a week, and the occasional mud mask or serum application when I'm stressed. I've found that consistent daily face washing and moisturizing and a weekly gentle but deep exfoliation goes a long way in improving oiliness.

Although this regimen has drastically improved my skin, I do rely on MAC Blot powder to keep my face looking polished throughout the day. I usually apply with a fluffy brush in the morning, and once again before going out at night and my face stays shine free without looking cakey or ashy. I've used it with and without foundation and it seems to work equally well, although I would recommend gently pressing your face with a tissue after foundation and before Blot; this is a great trick to gently lift excess moisture out of the foundation while leaving the pigment behind so the face stays matte longer throughout the day. If you use powder foundation but still get oily, using Blot underneath other powders is also pretty effective at controlling oil. One piece advice on shade selection- unless you're gothic white, pale ladies should go for Medium, Light is a little too chalky.

If you're not too oily and find Blot a bit on the dry side, Stila Sheer Pressed Powder is great for achieving a polished look but couldn't quite stand up to my oily skin. If you love powder but have normal to dry skin, Laura Mercier Loose Setting Powder gives an amazing soft focus glow- I love it, but my oily skin eats through it in a couple hours.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

For That Effortless Glow

Me and Bobbi Brown, we're on the same page when it comes to creating a realistic looking glow. For years I've been layering two or three shades of powder blush to get the most natural looking color and as I was flipping through a back issue of a beauty magazine Bobbi listed this as one of her top makeup tips. So hey, we can't both be wrong...

Bobbi recommends using a soft color close to the shade you naturally blush and a brighter pop of color like apricot or coral pink. I don't particularly regard this as a rule that you should absolutely follow, but I do find that using shades from two different color families works best as long as they're colors that work on you and they coordinate well. I.e. don't use something extremely warm toned or orange based with something extremely cool toned or blue based. On my pale skin I love to mix Bobbi Brown's Pale Pink blush-bright cotton candy pink, with Stila Tutu blush- softer peachy pink. This trick is also highly effective with a bronzer, I've used everything from red, plum, pink, and peach with some golden bronzer and it looks amazing.

The only downside with this trick is that it's not time effective, and often I just need something I can swipe on over a little concealer and get out the door. Two years ago my best friend bought Cargo's Beach Blush, and once I saw what it can do I've been hooked ever since. I use Miami Beach, shown at left, which shows up as an effortless healthy dusty pink golden bronze. This shade is great for pale skinned girls whose skin makes most nude beige pinks and bronzes go orangy. My olive toned best friend loves Coral Beach which is a peachier golden bronze, and it flatters her whether she's pale or fairly tan. Besides how easy they are to use, they're also nicely versatile- the two lightest shades make great eyeshadows, so when I go on vacation I usually just take my Beach Blush, mascara, concealer, and a lipgloss. While sometimes these look a little too shimmery in the sunlight, they don't emphasize pores as much as other shimmer blushes out there. Cargo has one matte shade out, and will probably release more in the future. Beach Blush retails for $26, and comes in five ultra flattering shades.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mmm, Lashes

As some of you may know, I had muscle corrective eye surgery a little over a moth ago, after which I wasn't allowed to wear eye makeup for two weeks. While I could handle not wearing eyeshadow (maybe I cheated occasionally with a touch of highlighter on my browbone), I really began to miss mascara.

In the interest of keeping my eyes clean even after I could wear it again, I decided to toss my almost empty tube of Maybelline Full'n'Soft waterproof mascara and thought it would be fun to experiment a little with a few of the small tube samples I've received over the past year. Generally it's a bad idea to base your opinion of a mascara based off of a tiny sample- generally the full size is probably going to be better. But I was reasonably impressed with Stila's Major Lash and Lorac Lashes, both of which gave me pretty, long, defined lashes that could easily be built up to a little more drama. Generally I'm not willing to buy high-end mascara, I think the drugstore has plenty of awesome options and I'm not going to feel good about throwing away an expensive mascara when it starts to go funny as mascaras often do. But both of these seem like they have potential and they're not too expensive if you prefer a step above drugstore.

When I went to the drugstore to pick up a full-sized tube, Cover Girl's Lash Exact was on sale so I thought I'd give it a try. It's been years since I've strayed from Full'n'Soft and I've never bought anything other than Maybelline as I've always been impressed (aside from the generally hated Great Lash), but I've been curious about the new trend of soft rubber bristled mascara brushes so on a whim I decided to try it. I have to say, I'm less than impressed with the formula- it really tends to flake and smudge throughout the day. And while my lashes were nicely separated and defined, it didn't do a very good job of coating the tips of my lashes which made them look a lot shorter than they usually do with mascara. Overall it was really difficult to build any volume and thickness without my lashes beginning to clump. The brush, however, is pretty useful- it does a nice job of reaching the lashes on the outer corner of the eye although again building volume is problematic. It's also great for doing lower lashes, where you mostly want some tint and definition and not thickness or lenght. If you're looking for really subtle tint and definition, this is a pretty good formula although I would suggest getting the waterproof formula, or if you strive to sculpt perfect lashes you might get this on sale and use it for the brush. Otherwise I'd pass.

I probably won't be straying from my beloved Maybelline Full'n'Soft waterproof again. It really does a great job of giving me volume and lenght while keeping my lashes defined. The waterproof formula never smudges or flakes, and the soft wax formula keeps my lashes from getting brittle and it's really not that hard to remove with just soap and water. I do however use Lush's Ultra Bland cleanser- a rich oily makeup remover- to take off eye makeup a couple times a week to condition my lashes and keep them from breaking. Maybelline Full'n'Soft varies in price and is widely available at drugstores, Lush Ultra Bland is $13.50 for 1.5 oz.

Eyeshadow's Best Friend

After a long night of dancing and socializing a friend asked me what eye makeup I use because it was still vibrant and perfect after eight hours. The vibrant part is easy: skip over drugstore eyeshadow and head to the department store. While I don't agree with MAC's business ethics, they're the first counter I visit when I'm looking for something bold- my favorite is Steamy, a gold tinged teal. Generally I love Stila's eyeshadows the best, which aren't that expensive when you consider the pan size and the line offers a beautiful spectrum of gorgeously wearable neutrals. This is not to say that all drugstore lines are all terrible (Milani for example is generally comparable in quality to mid-end lines), but eyeshadows are notoriously hit or miss and generally a drugstore brand won't deliver the pigment necessary to go uber vibrant. This is especially true of shades in the blue-green range, which look sickly as they start to fade.

The other half of the equation is Urban Decay's Primer Potion. If you want your eyeshadow to last, this stuff is truly a miracle worker. My oily skin makes all eyeshadows crease, it's just a matter of time. While it inevitably does so when I'm using Primer Potion, I still make it about seven or eight hours before any creasing develops as opposed to one or three. I've found that I use less eyeshadow now because I don't have to reapply, so it's definitely a great investment in that regard.

The major issue with Primer Potion is that it takes some time to master. Because it adheres shadow so strongly to your skin, blending becomes more difficult. I had previously mastered blending a wash of shadow to just above my eye crease and I've had to re-learn how to do it, and it definitely takes a few more minutes now to do it correctly. You absolutely must use a good quality fluffy medium powder brush or it will look smudgy, and I've found that loading the whole side of the brush evenly with powder and slowly working it along the lid is the best technique. If you blend shadow unevenly around the edges it's easy enough to gently wipe off with a finger, but if you typically do a wash of a light shade from lash line to browbone and then work in a darker color from lash to crease, I would suggest applying the light shade second which will allow you to correct mistakes and aid in blending out the edges of the darker shade. It's also slightly problematic that Primer Potion flattens the shimmer in frosty shadows. This is a good thing if you're not a big shimmer fan, but I love how pale frosty colors like Stila Kitten almost make the skin look wet, and Primer Potion definitely ruins that effect. These two issues aside, it's still very much worth owning for keeping eyeshadow intact through work and late night social events. It retails for $15, one tube should last you months.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

My one and only

I love my hair. I've spent the last three years growing it out so there would be more of it to love. But now that it's reached the middle of my back I'm starting to have a major split end problem. While silicone, listed on labels primarily as dimethicone, is often hailed as a miracle ingredient that protects hair from damage and seals split ends and is used in almost all hair products, I was shocked to read in a back issue of Allure that silicone actually damages hair further with prolonged use. Of course I immediately began scanning all of my product labels to start seriously cutting down. Most leave-in conditioners list silicone as a main ingredient, which will severely dry hair out if used in excess, so I've started slathering my ends with olive oil once a week for about a half an hour before showering. I've also invested in a tube of Frederic Fekkai's Glossing Cream.

This is probably one of the nicest hair products I've ever encountered. It's a thick gorgeously fresh scented leave-in conditioner/styling cream that promises to hydrate, eliminate frizz, and protect hair from heat tools and UV rays. Although it contains silicone, it also contains a healthy dose of olive oil so it doesn't primarily rely on silicone to protect hair. This product has replaced my Garnier Fructis Long'n'Strong leave-in and the Redken Glass that I used sparingly to smooth down the baby hairs at the top of my head. While Glossing Cream seems rather expensive, I only need about two peas worth of product as opposed to twice as much Garnier Fructis leave-in plus 3-6 drops of Redken Glass. Even the travel size will last you ages. This is a teriffic product and is now the only styling product I need to get great looking hair. Retials for 19.50 for 4 oz, or $9 for 1.6 oz

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Not that I have time to start a blog...

especially with my senior thesis project, huge digital photography assignments, a part-time job, volunteering at Oregon School for the Blind, starting up the Anthropology club, getting my Little Sister through sorority initiation next week, and upcoming graduation all looming over my head...

But hey, if you're like me then you understand that pursuing beauty is a meditative process- from using luxe soap in the shower once in a while to spending months planning the perfect makeup look to wear for a special night out (hey maybe I do that obsessively). The problem becomes balancing enough beauty time with leading a hectic life. Over the past three and a half years of undergrad I've gone through cycles of exploring the newest beauty items and then cutting my stash down to the perfect essentials. People ask me for advice about all sorts of beauty related things all the time, and as an attempt to improve my general well-being I thought it's past time to create a blog on this subject. The topics I will most heavily concentrate on are beauty items- especially those that are time and cost effective, the answers to questions I get asked repeatedly, and my thoughts on new products when I get a chance to experiment with them (which shall unfortunately be rarely as I don't live in a big city and I have no time for the mall).

You're more than welcome to post comments, especially color suggestions for women with skin tones other than pale caucasian. I don't in any way mean for this blog to be ethnocentric, but at the same time I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on anyone's coloring but my own.