Smart beauty shopping: three questions to ask yourself before you buy

Visiting the cosmetics section of department store is sort of like running the gauntlet (an ancient form of punishment wherein one must run between two rows of assailants who repeatedly strike at one’s person).  A useful analogy, considering the crap women have to put up with from beauty retailers, who are coming at them from all sides with the latest products.

One way to stop overzealous sales people in their tracks is to pretend that they are, for example, your husband, your child or a pet.  “No” should be much easier using this simple visualization tool.

In addition to growing a pair, here are three questions you can ask yourself before you lay out your hard-earned cash on a new beauty product:

What’s my budget?  Don’t get sucked into the vortex of luxury cosmetic brands if you can’t afford it –  expensive products aren’t necessarily better and if you believe that they are, then you should be able to support your beliefs financially.

Do I like the scent and or/ texture of this product?  This is an especially important question when buying skin care products, which only help you if you’re consistent with them.  You should like the way a product smells and how it feels on your skin so that you’ll actually use it.

Do I like the packaging?  For some, packaging is a major factor when making a cosmetic purchase.  Will it be on display, or tucked away in a cabinet, and if the former, do you care what it looks like?  Maybe not, but a poorly designed compact or palette, the kind that break almost instantly, get scratched up, and/or become a crumbled mess kind of bum me out.  I look for packaging that suits my simple aesthetic and that delivers a satisfying “click” of quality, like the seat belt of a fine German automobile.

Now go get ‘em, tiger….


Sorry Kylie Jenner, and, some lip tips…

I was delighted to appear with adorable newswoman Alex Holley on Fox29 Good Day here in Philadelphia a few weeks ago to demonstrate how to get full-looking lips like Kylie Jenner without the injections that she totally had.

Here are the tips I shared before I went to the on-air spokesperson dark side (watch all the way to the end, do not ever do this on network TV, and….. I crack myself up sometimes!):

1.  Prep lips with water before applying lip balm, Vaseline or whatever you use.  Putting these products on already dry lips won’t do you much good.
2.  Dark colors work best for those with fuller lips, and will make thin lips look even thinner, sad, Goth, etc.
3.  To make lips look full, use a lip liner one or two tones deeper than your natural lip shade.  I often line lips after applying color – less drag, less chance of overdoing it.
4. Less than full lips look better in light-to-mid-tone pink, peach or rose shades.  Full lips look good in any shade.  Bitches.
5.  A bit of gloss in the center of the lower lip will add fullness.  I love me some clear gloss.

Thanks for putting up with me, Alex and Fox29.  No offence, Kylie Jenner.   Less hope, more wisdom.


Three cheap and useful last-minute beauty gifts

Countdown to the holidays and that stocking is looking mighty empty.  Here are three fun giftlettes for the beauty-conscious on your list:

Sephora Collection Precision Pore Cleansing Pad ($6 at Sephora)


This wee pink thing could replace your $100 Clarisonic in an instant and never needs recharging.  It feels like a thousand tiny fingers are massaging (and exfoliating) your face, and you can use it with any cleanser (I use Aquaphor baby wash).  Plus, the silicone pad has a suction cup so you that can stick it to your shower tile, or wherever. Genius!


Revlon Marchesa Slant Tip Tweezer ($10 online and in drugstores)


Most of us are not going to afford a Marchesa gown any time soon, but while we’re saving our pennies, errant brow and chin hairs will continue to sprout.  Might as well pluck with aplomb.  Revlon also makes a sparkly pink one for “Vegas Barbie” types.


Kevyn Aucoin Lash Curler ($21 at Nordstrom)


Better than the Shu Uemura version in my opinion and with a namesake that’s somewhat easier to pronounce.  Comes with an extra red pad that you won’t have to use for years, because the original pad (firm, so it works better) will last so long.  99% of women need a lash curler, but won’t necessarily spend on it, so consider this a luxury item that will make you look very generous and well-informed.

Happy Holidays and New Year to all of you.  Less hope, more wisdom.

See the makeup light …

Make-up application, like photography, has a lot to do with controlling light.  For example, the fundamental purpose of eye shadow is to create a…uh… shadow that makes your eyes look bigger and/or makes your eye color stand out (I will not say “pop” – I will not say it.).  But one can only control light so much with make-up, because the former changes with every step you take.


This is why the light in which you apply your make-up is so bloody important.  Some of you put make-up on in the car – if so, go stand in the corner because you’re naughty.  But most of you put make-up on in a bathroom, with the light coming from overhead.  So, for example, no matter how much concealer you put on, you’ll still see a dark circle underneath the eye, because the light is hitting your brow and lashes and casting a shadow.  I am reminded of a certain Seinfeld episode….

Wisdom: most of what we see in the mirror that we don’t like is just bad lighting.

Celebrities are almost always seen under optimum lighting conditions in retouched photographs – no pressure. Imagine they’re caught lingering in unflattering shadows – those photos could very well end up in a supermarket rag, tagline: “The beauty is really a beast!!”  When I hit the lotto, I’m going to hire a personal lighting technician to make sure I’m perfectly lit at all times.

Mix bad lighting with failing eye sight and you have a beauty problem, which can be solved in most cases with the purchase of a good lighted make-up mirror.  They can range in price from $30 to over $1,000 dollars, and can be on pedestals, or wall mounted like the sort you might find in upscale and apparently sympathetic hotels.  Don’t be afraid to spend – a mirror that offers a good view of your bad self is priceless.

Whichever you choose, the reflection should be clear and undistorted.  Speaking of which, three to five times magnification should be sufficient – no one sees you 10 times larger than you actually are.  Nor is it helpful to see only a giant EYE in the mirror – maybe for over-scrutinizing your laugh lines, but not for successful make-up application.  You need to be able to see most of your face without distortion.

I just replaced the high end mirror I bought on eBay years ago with a product I’m rather giddy about – the cordless LED make-up mirror by simplehuman®bt1080_mainThe 8” version, which is ideal, comes in both pedestal and wall-mount style, has a perfect five times magnification, great glass quality, and the light is daylight temperature, the best for applying make-up.  It also has this somewhat creepy but useful habit of coming on when you get in front of it and then turning off automatically.  Strange at first but now I kind of dig it.

The simplehuman® 5X Sensor Vanity Mirror ($200) can be purchased at Bed, Bath& Beyond, so head over there ASAP with a 20% off coupon in your hot little hand, and you will be literally, and figuratively, illuminated.  You’re welcome!

Maybe she’s born with it?

Most women don’t know how to apply make-up very well.    While this cosmetic incompetence is divine for my job security, it has also inspires me to ponder the existence of a Make-up Gene.

Indeed, there seems to be an assumption on the part of many grown-ups that girl babies emerge from the womb knowing how to apply make-up.   The beauty industry runs with this notion, giving its consumers a ton of choice, but very little to go on in terms of how to use the stuff, leading to lots of unwise purchases and even more frustration.

“My mother never taught me,” is the excuse I hear most often from women about why they’re god-awful with make-up.  The accused, who probably had no time to bathe let alone to apply lipstick, takes the blame yet again for an alleged deficit in her child.  This is why I have cats.

I also have four brothers and no sisters, and my mother never once attempted to teach me anything about make-up.  She was the sort who would go into a department store and proceed to stick her finger into every unchaperoned eye shadow tester, then smoosh it onto her lid (an unsanitary practice that to this day provokes me to breathe into a paper bag).   It’s not your mother’s fault – get over it.

My mother was a writer, but she also produced beautiful watercolors on a whim, designed and made a lot of her own clothing, and decorated her house enchantingly with flea market/curbside treasures.  My father is an architect who could have as easily been a painter or sculptor.   Perhaps I picked up an Art Gene from them, but don’t think I can do much else besides paint faces.  I’ve had occasional success with line drawings intended to make fun of people, but that’s about it.

In conclusion, I do not support the idea of a Make-up Gene and I don’t want to hear another word about it.  Nor do I want you to feel bad because you’re not awesome at applying make-up.   I’m sure you’re awesome at many way more important things, like running a company, inspiring others and driving safely.   Besides, I can help you improve your make-up application situation.  Call me.

You may not want “Bette Davis eyes”

Lining the lower lids is not good after a certain age, and I’ve had a theory about why that is for some time.  Here goes:

As we age, our skin slackens, droops, etc. – super fun.  The lower eye lid that was once tightly related to our eye ball is now sagging, and as it does, the waterline – that moist part between the lower lashes and said ball – starts to tilt outward, giving us a delightful bloodhound effect.  Lining the lower lid only highlights this unfortunate situation.

Case in point: Bette Davis in the film “What ever happened to Baby Jane?”  Yes, there are many things wrong with what’s happening here cosmetically, but as you can observe, her maniacal droopiness is glorified by the dark black liner on the lower lid.  She looks like a crazy bloodhound.

Bette Davis

Now, in real life, and although she was an eccentric life-long smoker who never had plastic surgery as far as I can tell, Ms. Davis would not be caught dead or alive looking un-glamorous.


What a broad.  Meanwhile, I’m delighted to report that I was visiting a highly-respected and gifted Philadelphia plastic surgeon recently (who shall remain nameless but whose initials are the same as Kentucky Fried Chicken if you leave out the “Fried”) and he said I wasn’t incorrect.  Bam.

So you can go for Bette Davis eyes if you want, but just make sure it’s from the right movie (like “Dark Victory” – she dies in the end, but looks divine while doing it).


Nude lips are for super models

Stone Groove Photography

According to my unscientific data collected from the field, about one woman in ten looks good in a nude lip color.

Did I say “woman?”  I meant “girl,” or at least a female who is blessed with the full lips and smooth skin of adolescence.  Yet I’ve seen so many women purchase overly-light lip colors in order to achieve the nude look, or to look natural.  If “natural” means nothing, then mission accomplished.

Still, if you’re bent on approximating the nude mouth look of, say, a Jennifer Lopez,  but don’t have the collagen to pull it off—and admitting that is the first step to recovery—make sure you’re using a clear gloss over the lip color.  Nude matte lips only work on super models in magazines, in those pictorials where they look as though they’re dying of starvation.

You should wear a nude lip color because it’s flattering, not because you admire it on someone else.   Less hope, more wisdom.

Clean make-up brushes: next to godliness

658877_origCleaning make-up brushes is something I do after every job and it’s a makeup artist’s cross to bear.  That said, you don’t need to be quite so devoted – I recommend cleaning brushes used for powders once every couple of months or so, and brushes used with cream products (like concealers) twice a month or more.

If you’re using a small brush with a gel eyeliner, then it might need cleaning after every few uses, because the product is meant to set to a long-lasting finish and the brush will get stiff with dried pigment.

To clean your brushes, I recommend Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade and Organic Castile Liquid Soap.  Those kooky labels that you’ve never read are covered with Dr. Bronner’s personal philosophy, referred to as the “Moral ABC,” at the heart of which is the idea of spiritual unity, or “All-One!”  Take a closer look at one of the labels next time you’re in Target, or better yet, go to Bronner’s website and read while in bed, because doing so will probably put you to sleep.

The charm of the Bronner story notwithstanding, the product continues to be one of the most versatile cleaning products in existence.  The “18 in 1” claim is true, for indeed one can clean one’s entire body and house with this stuff – add baking soda and white vinegar and bring down the likes of Proctor and Gamble once and for all.  The original Peppermint formula now comes in multiple scents, including Tea Tree, Rose, Almond, Eucalyptus, Baby Mild (unscented), Lavender and my new personal favorite, Citrus.

Basic brush cleaning technique: use about 1 part soap (you can try any liquid soap or shampoo, really – in fact, you can clean your brushes and wash your face with this one!) to 10 parts water.  Lather up, rinse very, very well, squeeze out and lay flat to dry.  Good idea to do this at night so the brushes are completely dry by morning.  Heed my words, because using an even slightly damp brush on a powder product will render the latter useless by compacting the pigment into something with the consistency of a hockey puck.

Seasonal tip: in the summer humidity, brushes can take forever to dry, so I use a towel to blot the excess moisture, especially from the larger ones.  In the winter, they’ll dry much faster, just like your skin (note to author: future post topic).

Clean brushes smell nice, feel plush and are good for you.  Off you go, then….

Don’t make me blush

READERSI subscribe to Allure Magazine  – mostly out of guilt, because I’m in the biz and I feel like I’m supposed to be familiar with the products and trends beauty editors are spouting on about. Some of those cosmetics will cross my path when I’m giving a make-up lesson, and more often than not, they are deemed useless to the woman who bought them, and go straight into The Naughty Basket.

This happens, in part, because every year, Allure polls their readership on their favorite products, both “drugstore” (cheap) and “department store” (expensive) varietals.  I wish I could say that they lead the reader into choosing certain products by making the poll multiple choice, but they don’t.

Which is why I’m so intrigued, flabbergasted and somewhat deflated that NARS Orgasm Blush is a consistent winner in the fancy blush category.  When I started thumbing through the results in the June 2015 issue, I literally cringed to turn the page because in my cold little heart I knew that I would once again bear witness to the consequences of choice fatigue and consumer conformity around an awesome marketing strategy.  Apparently they don’t call it a “cult” classic for nothing.


It’s commonplace for my clients to have this blush in their make-up bags when I meet them, because they’ve read somewhere that it works on “everybody.”  Not.  It’s a strong coral with too much gold shimmer for daytime, and too much orange to work on pale-ish amateur cosmetic wearers.   You need a somewhat deeper yellow-based skin tone, or at least a tan, to have a good NARS Orgasm.

Ironically, the naughty Mr. Nars makes another blush, with a less playful, more misogynistic name (“Deep Throat”) that actually does work on a lot of women (less gold shimmer, and a softer pink-coral).  You don’t need to run out and buy it, especially if you are, like me, somewhat offended by a product named after a porno about, uh, having a deep throat.

There are tons of cheek color options out there that will give you a similar effect, like Tarte Cosmetics Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush in “Fearless.”  No shimmer to speak of in this one, hence more wearable for the 12 hours of day and even nighttime.   And the motivational name says it all.

Then let’s look at the rich data available on  “MUA Top Picks” is the most reliable statistical category because not only are the products highly rated, but because users demonstrate a keen interest in repurchasing.  If you look at blushes, not only is NARS Orgasm not at the top, it’s not in the top 156 choices, in spite of being the “most reviewed” blush.  Ta da.

Power of suggestion, slick marketing and ultimately, a desire on our part to have choosing products be a tad easier, are all at play here.  Nars admits that it’s “a combination of the shade and the name that made it so popular.”  I wager the latter, because infinite blush choices and expensive advertising campaigns by other cosmetic brands that result in the same blush being chosen fifteen times as a reader favorite suggest to me that the beauty industry has a lot more imagination than we do.

By the way, the same argument goes for another perennial winner in the Readers’ Choice issue, that is, Maybelline Great Lash Mascara (26% of users would buy again).  So many better and equally affordable choices – check out this post on a few I like.

Speaking of which, I would really like your wise comments on this topic …

Wash your face, baby …

Disclaimer: this may be the only time that I recommend a product intended for someone younger than you are.

I get “what’s the best cleanser?” a lot. Clients ask me what I use.  I answer “whatever is around,” and then I make a joke about how if dishwashing liquid was the closest thing to me, I’d use that.  Not so far from the truth.  I’m going to use something with a soap-like action so that most if not all of my make-up, including mascara, comes off in one shot.

Dermatologists like to recommend Cetaphil.  I think this is for legal reasons, because it’s fairly innocuous as far as irritants go, and because derms, like beauty editors, don’t have much in the way of imagination.  Cetaphil doesn’t do a good a great cleaning job and you’ll need a separate remover for stubborn eye make-up.

Some companies claim that their cleansers can work for “anti-aging” (my absolutely most least favorite term of all time).  Not so.  Check out this article from The Beauty Brains blog, and this review of an otherwise highly rated product from Beautypedia, which is typical of their take on high-minded cleansers .   Any ingredient that might have a chance in hell of doing you any good shouldn’t be rinsed off.

My now-healthy husband had to undergo radiation in his face and neck region, and I went on the hunt for mild, soothing cleansers for him.  Lo and behold, I stumbled upon this gem, which I’ve been using as a facial cleanser ever since (when I’m not using dish soap, if that happens to be closer):

Aquaphor Baby Gentle Wash & Tear Free Shampoo, Fragrance Free Mild Cleanser, 13.5 Ounce

Makes sense, right? A mild cleanser that won’t leave your skin feeling stripped or tight? Because you wouldn’t do that to a baby, would you?

You can experiment with other baby washes qua facial cleansers that you might like better, but I think I’ve got something here…