The seduction of the “free gift”


You know you want it; the alluring and intoxicating gift with purchase, known by the acronym “GWP” in the beauty-obsessed community (and finally, a legitimate use of the verb “to obsess”).

I’m not doing the research necessary to pinpoint the exact moment when this thing started, because I doubt you care.  Most of us are aware that Estee Lauder, Clinique and Lancôme have been leading the pack–by the nose, to their counters—for ages, offering collections of freebies at various times of the year in department stores from Boscov’s to Bergdorf’s.  These events used to incite a certain measure of hysteria, but have become commonplace to the point that you no longer see lines of giddy women waiting to earn their bonuses.

Though not scientifically proven (yet), a tiny eye shadow palette, or a 15 ml. sample of facial toner can have a pulling effect similar to the Earth’s moon on our oceans.   You might not need or want anything at all from the brand, but you will sure as hell think of something to buy in order to meet the minimum purchase required to get the gift.   Sales people are helpful – they feel your lust, they sense your vulnerability, and you are done for.

Let’s break down what you’re actually getting in the latest Clinique event at Nordstrom.  For a minimum purchase of $32, you’ll get the following if you choose the warm (vs. cool) set (an $82 value):

All About Eyes (0.21 oz.) – enough eye cream to last a month or so – not bad, if you buy into the necessity of eye cream in the first place.

Repairwear Sculpting Night Cream (0.5 oz.) – I don’t know how you can get any rest while being sculpted, but okay.

Take the Day Off Makeup Remover (0.5 oz.) – I actually like this stuff – it’s similar to Goo Gone.  But do I really need to spend money on products I don’t need to get this tiny bottle?

Rinse-Off Foaming Cleanser (1 oz.) – useful for that trip you’ll be taking someday.

Compact with All About Shadow Duo in Sunset Glow and Black Honey plus a Soft-Pressed Powder Blusher in Fig – adorable, and likely to go completely unused.

Dual-End Different Lipstick in A Different Grape and High Impact Mascara in Black – I’m confused.  Grape is almost never a warm color– shades like this make you look like you’re suffering from hypothermia.  And in what altered universe is a mascara on the other end of a lipstick?  That’s just silly.

Long Last Glosswear in Love at First Sight – well, yes, that’s the whole point.

Pink Printed Cosmetics Bag – the kind of quality you’d expect in an object manufactured in great numbers and offered for free.

How do these brands give you all these extras and still turn a profit?  Because the mark up on cosmetics is almost 80%.  So is the value of the gift actually $82?  No, it’s more like $17 and it’s only valuable if you can actually use it. When women come to me for lessons, they bring me all of their cosmetics to sift through, and most of these gifted products end up in the Naughty Basket (the place where useless make-up goes).

The only difference, after all, between a GWP lipstick and a full-priced version is the packaging.  So why does the retail version cost so much?  Because it can.  So is the gift with purchase an itch that deserves scratching?  Probably not.  In the end, nothing is really “free.”

Going, going, blonde …

I was born blonde.  Not a towhead, but a sort of all-American kind of blonde whose hair was full of highlights during the way too short Vermont summers.

I'MNINE Aside from one bleaching mishap in my rock singer days, I kept to my natural color until I was 27 – that’s when I started to have The Red Vision.  I think it began after watching the movie Private Benjamin, in which, toward the end of the film, Goldie Hawn goes strawberry.  While not inspired to enlist, I was ready to join the Red Brigade.


Red worked – really well – for years.   I have very pale skin with neutral undertones and my eyes are blue.  Everybody thought I was a natural redhead (although there was that L’Oreal Feria incident in grad school – suffice it to say that it’s a good thing I had my Arabic class in the morning, because I had to go to class with a scarf on my head).

A few years ago, pushing 25 years of red headedness, I began to have The Platinum Vision.  I was  first inspired by the singer Emmylou Harris and from seeing anyone who had the good fortune and peachy complexion to look smashing with prematurely white hair.  Then, I saw The Devil Wears Prada starring Meryl Streep as the icy Miranda – wow.  I tried on wigs to get a feel for how I’d look, and even bought a platinum bob (for sale – message me).

When I proposed changing my hair color, most of the friends I told were against it.  Some were downright hostile and forbade me to do such a thing.  This, of course, stirred the teenager in me to do it without hesitation.  The adult in me was resolute in any case and I made the appointment.


People told me that they admired my bold move and that I looked years younger (not why I did it, but thanks).   Most surprising was that the unworn clothes in my closet suddenly made sense – it seemed I had been shopping for the platinum me all along.

Changing my hair has changed everything.  Now, when I tell people that I’m a former rock singer, they actually believe me.   Whatever hair I wake up with works – I have my Gwen Stefani days, my Brienne of Tarth days and my Andy Warhol days.  It is so much easier to get dressed now, and the over-used term “edgy” kind of applies to me.  My lipstick options increased to include a range of pinks that weren’t flattering to me as a redhead.

I’m telling you this story, not for the fun of it, but so that you’ll consider embracing a dreamed of, perhaps drastic change in your look.  It could cause an electrifying jolt to your otherwise primitive way of seeing yourself.  Good luck and send pictures.

No pressure…

This sort of magazine cover call out makes me need to breath into a paper bag.  The “clock” isn’t going to stop.  You know this, I know this, and beauty editors know this … I think … maybe they don’t.

Cosmetics are delightful because they can help you look better – if, at the same time, you and the people around you think you look younger, also delightful.  The moral of this short story is that being a great-looking 40, 60 or 80-year-old is a healthy (and realistic) goal, and doesn’t come with the added pressure of thinking that getting older is simply not allowed.

Thanks Allure.  Less hope, more wisdom.


Make it last: eye shadow

Fading, creasing eye shadow is a complaint I hear often.  If you’re still operating in the 20th century with your makeup routine, you’re probably missing out on some of the groovy cosmetic innovations that can prevent this.

Assuming eye shadow is a thing you do (because it may not be and that may be okay), there is no reason why it should fade, or travel southward to inappropriate territories of the facial region.  The culprit is usually an oily eyelid, so the strategy is to use a product that will control the oil, and in some cases, correct discoloration.

I’m not as sold on facial primers but primers for the eyelid are fairly miraculous.  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Urban Decay Primer Potion ($20). One of the first. Go for the original version that dries relatively clear or the Eden shade if you want some color correction. They also make a version that claims to be “anti-aging” but I suspect that’s a load of bunk and not worth the extra $4.udpp
  2. Two Faced Shadow Insurance ($20). A bit lighter in texture then Urban Decay. They make two other versions called “Candlelight” and “Champagne.” Even though they sound very romantic, you don’t want these. They both have shimmer, which will only highlight crepiness on the lid. And don’t go for the Lemon Drop, which claims to correct redness, but there’s not enough pigment in it to correct anything.twofsi
  3. Tarte Clean Slate 360° Creaseless 12-Hr Smoothing Eye Primer ($19). If you can get past the ridiculously long name, this is a nice one. No color correction, but seems to be more moisturizing than the others – give it time to dry down. If you’re a tree hugger like me, you’ll like this one, because the brand has a so-called “healthy, eco-chic” philosophy.tarte
  4. Laura Mercier Eye Basics ($24). If color correction, particularly brownness, is something you need, this would be a good choice. Just stay away from the Flax shade because it’s pearlized.lm
  5. Jane Iredale Lid Primer in “Lemon” ($19.50). This one is really good for correcting redness on the lid. The brand is also good for eco-types, because Jane founded her line on the idea of avoiding chemicals.jilid

Back in the day, I used foundation or concealer on the eyelids as a primer.  They can work, though not as well in terms of oil absorption.

Isn’t the 21st century awesome?

Author in the news, 4/2015

Not just shameless self promotion here, although I’m not above that: I delight in relieving women of useless, inappropriate  make-up.  They usually enjoy it, unless there’s a hoarding problem, in which case I have to pry open fingers, and sit on the recycling container until they leave the building….

Happy Spring!!

Philadelphia Magazine, April 2015
Philadelphia Magazine, April 2015

Don’t: bright eyeliner

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I can hear Patricia Heaton’s make-up artist saying something like “We’ll do electric teal liner underneath the eye! It is so on trend!!”

Patricia Heaton, an Emmy Award winning actress, probably relies on stylists to get her ready for public consumption.   Make-up is probably not the main concern in her life and that’s okay.  But I don’t like to see women become victims of beauty trends that don’t work for them.

This was not a successful look for Patricia.  The too bright eye liner is all we can see, like a little blue train wreck.  As with any other discoloration (redness, darkness under the eye, blemishes), it’s distracting.  A deep eggplant would be about as colorful as I’d go here, so that we see her pretty eyes, instead of being held captive by her liner.

In spite of the marketing, there is no point in owning an eye liner this bright, unless you’re me, and if I have such a pencil in my kit, I almost never use it.  And neither should you.  If you bring something like this to me I will throw it out.

Thanks for inspiring this post, Patricia Heaton.  Call me.

Buy wisely: mascara


There seem to be new mascaras introduced to the beauty market daily.  Brands usually advertise these breakthroughs using models and celebrities wearing false eyelashes.

I did a quick search on to see how many options one might have in choosing mascara.  Brace yourselves: there are 236 choices from 35 different brands.  Then I learned that there are an additional 180 choices from 47 brands on’s partner site, (what I would have given to think of that domain name first – I’d be writing this from Bali). carries what are considered more prestige brands, so if you shop on, you are either poor or just have bad taste.

The most expensive and terribly named mascara (By Terry “Mascara Terrybly”) is $48.  The least expensive is by the brilliant cheapo brand e.l.f. at $1.49.  You have 414 others choose from.  And that’s just from these two sites.

Clearly there are way too many mascaras, and I want to steer you away from being a ninny and spending $48 (or more, because the most expensive mascara I could find was $70) on a tube of dreams.

I always tell my clients that the best place to purchase mascara is at the drugstore – expensive is not better in this case.  Make-up artists, as a species, are fond of L’Oreal Voluminous for its reliability, and I’ve been using it in my kit for years.  But I just experimented with Maybelline Full ‘N Soft Waterproof ($7) because it’s one of the top rated mascaras on Make-up Alley, and it’s really good.  As the name suggests, no crunchiness, and the brush is easy to work with.  No smudging or flaking whatsoever.

While I tend to think that waterproof mascara is for brides and scuba divers only, and because true waterproof mascaras require an oily remover, which is a pain, I’m still for the waterproof version of Full ‘N Soft because with warm water and soap, this stuff (mostly) comes off.

Lash wisdom: curl them first (I prefer the one made by Kevyn Aucoin – worth $21 because you’ll have it forever) and then apply mascara from root to tip, wiggling at the root to get all of the lashes involved in the fun.  Don’t get sucked into gimmicks, like mascaras with wands that wiggle for you.

Go, spend your hard earned money on a tube of empty promises.  But I’d rather you spend $7.

Why a blog?

Beke BeauA few years ago I started writing a book about make-up for grown women.  Titled … what should I call it?  Make-up for Mature Women ™, like my workshop?  No – too literal, and not inviting to 30-somethings who could benefit from the content.   Fabulously Glamorous Ageless Beauty at any Age?  You’re wiser than that.

It occurred to me that I should do a blog instead, a way more modern approach that would allow me to share spontaneously and keep current with my audience.   Plus I wouldn’t have to find a publisher, leaving me time for maintaining my self-respect.

I present to you the Beauty Sageist blog.  I’m writing for wise women who want to use make-up as a tool, not a toy, and who are tired of being confused, and, quite frankly, nagged by the beauty industry to “fight” aging.

I’ll blog on using make-up strategically, and about products that are either blog-worthy or that you need to be warned about (like a blush with a racy name that supposedly works for everybody and might be sold by a brand name that rhymes with “CARS”).

I’ll also share my favorite resources for researching products and product claims. Occasionally, I’ll post unretouched makeovers of real women.   I will never use the word “flawless” unless I’m being sarcastic.

I would love to hear your suggestions, questions and requests for post topics.

Less hope, more wisdom.

Welcome to Beauty Sageist

target-beauty-sectionIf you are a baby boomist like me, or even from Planet Gen X, you may have noticed the astonishing increase in cosmetic choices since the days when you first started to use make-up.  Back then, in the beauty Stone Age, we chose from a few drugstore brands like Cover Girl, Maybelline and Max Factor and even fewer (what were then considered) high end brands like Estee Lauder and Clinique.

Now there are thousands of cosmetic lines, sold in stores ranging from Target to Bergdorf Goodman; cosmetic specialty stores such as Ulta and Sephora, and brand specific stores like MAC.  These outlets sell like gangbusters online as well, and let’s not even get started on the hypnotizing shoppertunities offered 24/7 on QVC and HSN.


Speaking of excess, one website lists over 650 active beauty blogs remarkably narrow in content and written by mostly 20 and 30-somethings.   In a mind-numbing attempt to be thorough in my research, I am visiting each and every one.   Scary statistic: there were 530 blogs listed when I first conceived of writing on this topic six months ago.

On these sites, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of product reviews, accounts of bloggers’ latest make-up “hauls,” and photos of things like a giant made-up eye, or a hand striped with various eye shadow swatches (what one’s hand has to do with anyone’s eye is still a mystery to me).   Most of these blogs are produced by everyday people who like to write and who are in love with – actually, are besotted by – beauty products and all things that Make You More Beautiful.

On, a website with a membership of over one million, you can find 2.5 million reviews of about 150,000 products and filter those reviews according to your age, skin color and skin type.  If you’re retired, or spend enough time at work goofing off online to be a good candidate for more free time, you can join the thousands of members who post on the various boards upwards of 45,000 times per day.

Then there’s YouTube:  at last search, I found 3.7 million make-up tutorials and 2.4 million make-up reviews.

You might say that we’re a little obsessed.   And in spite of having facilitated all of this vital cosmetic product development and world healing online social activity, we are no less confused, no more confident that we can use beauty products to our advantage, to be more attractive, to be more loved, to stop time.

Remember that Virginia Slims slogan, “you’ve come a long way, baby?”  We haven’t.

Don’t get depressed; come back to visit and we’ll sort this out together, as adults.

Less hope, more wisdom.