Tag Archives: products

Free mascara? No thank you, Marc Jacobs…

Something rather unusual and seemingly extravagant was attached to my March 2018 issue of Vogue – a free sample of Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir Major Volume Mascara

The full-size mascara retails for $26 and what they attached – using an elaborate plastic shell contraption – was what product junkies everywhere know as the “deluxe sample.” I’m, like, “wow, that’s fancy!” And I’m also, like, “wow, that’s wasteful!” Because I’m a tree hugger from Vermont and excess packaging for the sake of marketing hurts my cold little heart.

I couldn’t get an up-to-date or reliable number for American Vogue’s current print circulation, but let’s assume, for sanity, that they only sent these tricked out issues to a certain target demographic. Or maybe they didn’t. But let me pull a number out of my … say, 100,000.

If we’re to believe (and We don’t) that the full size retail product is worth $26, then one might assume that the sample would retail for half that. In fact, I don’t even have to assume, because they sell a “travel” sample for $14 on the MJ website.  Because who wants to lug around that big ol’ full size version?

So, 100,000 x $14 = $1.4 million dollars – just for the product, not for the fancy injection-molded mascara holster or the additional postage. One might ask, “how can poor Marc Jacobs make a profit?!?” One might answer, “because the product/sample costs him …uh…pennies.”

I’m not at the moral of the story yet … of course, I had to sample the product. It was not brilliant.  It did not “deliver” my “most epic lashes yet.”  In fact, by the end of the day, what had previously been on my lashes was on my cheeks. My good old, tried and true Cover Girl LashBlast Fusion Mascara ($7) would have never pulled a stunt like that.

The moral of the story: Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir Major Volume Mascara, which the designer says was inspired by the “first beauty memory of his mother carefully shaving fibers from a velvet ribbon to create her own couture faux lashes”…. is not worth $26. Less hope, more wisdom.

To be discontinued …

I appreciate loyalty in friends, spouses and pets.  As for brand loyalty, I’m not as constant, especially when it comes to cosmetics.  Since I’m a pro, I’m confident that I’ll manage to find a replacement if my favorite black eyeliner is discontinued.  And no, I’m not telling you what my favorite black eye liner is.  It might get discontinued.

For some, the thought of a favorite lip color no longer being available for purchase requires breathing into a paper bag.  Not that there’s a correlation between the loyalty to the lip color and said product being flattering.  It’s just something these women feel comfortable wearing.  Like sweat pants.  Which usually aren’t flattering.  Bam.

Meanwhile, cosmetic manufacturers will continue to discontinue stuff, so that they can throw something new at your face to see if it will stick.  The beauty industry, like the fashion industry, operates according to the principle of Constant Stimulation, and keeping consumers guessing is very stimulating, and very profitable.  And given the monstrous variety of makeup on the market, it’s hardly rational to think there can only be one of something that will work.

Trust me on this one – like lovers, there’s always a replacement for whatever you think you can’t live without. It’s make-up,  after all –  not a vital organ.  Less hope, more wisdom.

Make-up stories from the Democratic National Convention

Because I’m based in Philadelphia, I was able to get up close and personal with some of the key players and willing participants who were here to take part in the events surrounding the DNC  – one for the her-story books.

First, I was hired to do make-up and hair for a senator, and the democratic party chair, from a mid-west state; this senator made history in her own ground-breaking way.  I’ll leave the rest to you and The Google.

Because discretion was required as per the client’s job description, I was left wondering about the double standard between men and women in public life.  Men who go on camera do get some make-up, usually to control discoloration and shine; if, however, they happen to wander (okay… blunder) past the make-up artist and straight onto camera, it’s unlikely that a hailstorm of tweets will come raining down about how bad or tired they look.   On the other hand, smart, rational women like my clients know that they must, at the risk of seeming shallow/vain or extravagant to constituents, have at least some styling (same has the men plus minimal eye make-up, blush and lip color), or…. yup, a Tweetstorm is a’comin.

I was also hired by Revlon to bring my team to an event hosted by Walgreens at their flagship store.  The invite-only crowd was made up of young, professional women, mostly lobbyists from the DC area, and they seemed to enjoy the pampering that the men in attendance were not privy to.  I will say that if you want a bright shade of lip color with a softly matted texture, the Revlon Ultra HD Matte Lip Color is a reasonable option.

Finally, I think Hillary’s make-up on the final evening was perfect: minimal eye featuring mostly liner and lashes, just enough cheek and lip color, and no overt attempt to obscure reality.

Switch to a CNN spot, wherein Donald’s national campaign spokesperson is wearing make-up like something out of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  I utterly missed her message because I was too fixated on her 4-alarm smoky eyes, bow-chicka-wow-wow lip gloss and “eyebrows on fleek.”  Honestly, I don’t think I missed anything, but you get the picture…. if you don’t, here it is.  The video, that is.  Full screen, please.

Expect more politically and socially-inspired posts until this wacky election season is over.   Less hope, more wisdom.

Self-tantalizing …

Provocative title, no?  Actually, what I mean to talk about is a self-tanning product that I quite love.

Self-tanners come in several forms, but whether a lotion, gel, foam, spray or wipe, they are mostly messy, smelly and sticky. They’re also difficult to use properly, because to apply successfully, you need to be an exfoliated, patient person with an artistic flair who is motivated to be sleek, tan and hairless.

I used to be that person, but no longer have the excess hormones required to give a crap about looking totally hot in a bathing suit.  Now I just want turn my skin down a few watts with as little trouble as possible.

I could opt for a spray tan from a Fake Tan Professional. This would require standing in a cold space, in front of a stranger, in nothing but a paper thong, while she (most likely) wages an aerosol assault on my dignity.   A lot of my bridal clients opt for this service.  They have tons of hormones and are planning beach honeymoons.

Speaking of beaches, St. Tropez (yes, a glamorous destination, but also a company that manufactures well-regarded self-tanning products) has come up with what I consider a dream strategy to avoid wearing long pants all summer.  It is the genius of St. Tropez Gradual Tan In-Shower Tanning Lotion.

You spread this mild smelling lotion onto clean, wet skin in the warmth and privacy of your own shower.   You now have to remain damp and lotion-y for three minutes (I keep a kitchen timer nearby) before lightly rinsing and patting dry. Here are some suggestions for what to do in those three minutes:

  1.  Sing “The Girl from Ipanema” – twice
  2.  Do 90 Kegel exercises
  3.  Think about which country you’re going to move to after the 2016 Presidential elections

Practically, you could apply a hair mask and shave your underarms.  Afterward, get dressed, don’t get dressed, whatever you need/want to do, but you will not be sticky, smelly or streaky.  And, over time, you will develop an even, light-to-medium tan.  Brilliant product… give it a try and let me know if you worship it like I do.

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 MakeupAlley.com.  “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 MakeupAlley.com 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 …

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.”

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?

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 drugstore.com 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 drugstore.com’s partner site, beauty.com (what I would have given to think of that domain name first – I’d be writing this from Bali).  Beauty.com carries what are considered more prestige brands, so if you shop on drugstore.com, 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.