What most people think $100 worth of makeup looks like:
What $100 worth of makeup really looks like:
Makeup is expensive. Seriously. It costs a lot of money, and if you are like me, you work hard for your money. You deserve the best for your buck. Today's mission is to help you get that.
This isn't a makeup review. It's more of a general discussion about how and where to buy makeup. I've been pretty lucky. I made most of my mistakes early and learned from them. So I'll talk about how I pick and choose, where I shop and why, and what I have bought that I like (and don't like).
I have been lucky (or careful enough) that I like most of what I have bought. A good reviewer is a huge help in making makeup decisions, and I can't recommend Stephanie Nicole highly enough. She works in the cosmetics industry and is honest and tough but fair. Check her out.
UPDATE: Sadly, Stephanie has become inactive. However, her channel and old videos are still worth watching!
General Information about Buying Cosmetics
If you've never bought cosmetics before or are very new at it, here's some stuff you should know:
Before the 20th century, many cosmetics were bad for you. They would slowly destroy your skin, make you go mad, and shorten your life. Things are a lot better now, but people still worry. Here are some of the things that people worry about today:
Scary Chemicals Talc and Parabens have been in the news the most. Many people refuse to buy makeup with parabens and worry about talc. Our beloved Dom de Luxury doesn't like parabens, and they are worth avoiding just for that reason. I like parabens (I think bacteria are a bigger risk than parabens), and I am not worried about talc. But it's your face. Makeup is supposed to be fun, and you're not going to have fun if you are worried about your makeup making you sick. Here are some links on both sides of each issue so that you can decide for yourself:
- Talc is Safe (U.S. FDA)
- Talc is Good (EGW Cosmetics Database)
- Talc is Bad For You (CBM)
- Parabens are Safe (Cosmetics Cop)
- Parabens are Good
- Parabens are Bad For You
Off Label Uses
"It is not advisable" to use products labeled for one part of your body on other parts. That might be good advice, but I completely ignore it. I use eye pencils and eyeshadows on my lips, lip pencils, and lipstick on my eyes. I use eyeshadow for blush and blush for eyeshadow. I am all about the color and the look. While I haven't grown two heads yet or gone crazy (I was like this before I started using makeup), I want to make you aware that if you do this too, "some people" think it is dangerous.
In practice, I'm not sure how serious this risk is. I honestly don't worry, but I am, writing a tutorial for you guys. So I called the FDA today, the U.S. Agency regulating drugs, cosmetics, and food. I wanted to learn how dangerous it is to use a lip pencil to cut a crease. I was on the phone for an hour, but I did finally get someone who answered my question:
"Here's something that could happen to you: the red in red lip liners comes from carmine. Carmine (carminic acid) is extracted from little bugs (cochineal bugs) that some people are allergic to. So if you use this around your eyes and are allergic, you could have an allergic reaction.
Of course, this made me curious. If carmine, AKA carminic acid, AKA red bug juice is dangerous, what do they use in red eyeshadow? Maybe they should be using that in red lip pencils, right?
I look at one of my favorite red eyeshadows, Love+, from Sugarpill. Guess what is in it? Carmine. Whoa, horsey! So I called the FDA and asked them if it was OK for companies to use carmine in eyeshadow. (Yes, I felt like a rat for telling on my favorite cosmetics company):
Me: "Is it OK to use carmine in eyeshadow? Is that legal?"
FDA: "Yes, it is."
Me: "Someone at FDA told me not to use red lip pencils on my eyes because they contain Carmine."
FDA: "Yes. That is what we advise."
Me: "Doesn't this seem inconsistent to you?"
FDA: "I'm just telling you what the FDA's position is."
ME: "Which is that it's OK to use carmine on your eyes only if it's in an eyeshadow?"
Me: "OK, Bye."
FDA: "Thank you for calling FDA."
That's my tax money at work, as usual, doing nothing for me. Well, I will say those FDA people are very polite. The lesson I draw from this is to do whatever you want. If something gives you a bad reaction, avoid it in the future.
"It is not advisable" to use non-makeup products for makeup. That's advice I mostly follow. A common practice that scares me silly is using craft store glitter on your eyes. Craft store glitter is cheaper than the stuff you get in makeup stores, so I understand the temptation. But makeup glitter is cut especially, with rounded edges and sides, so the risk to your vision is minimal. If it falls in your eye, it's much less likely to cut it open. Don't they tell you to apply craft store glitter with safety glasses on? Doesn't that tell you something? Craft store glitter has sharp edges, which can cause permanent damage.
I break this rule only for large objects, like rhinestones, jewels, or stickers.
Makeup has expiration dates. That's something I check in the store (after all, I want the freshest makeup possible), and I pretty much ignore it once I drag it home. That's the same policy I use with my milk, eggs, and medicine. If the makeup doesn't look right, starts smelling funny, or is acting 'weird,' I toss it. I am meticulous about always washing my brushes and keeping things clean. Not only will this help your makeup look better, but it will also extend its life because you won't contaminate it. That's what I do, but how you cope with expired makeup is another thing you must decide for yourself.
Most places will let you return makeup, even if you have opened it. That surprises most people, but it is true. I always check the return policy at the stores I am shopping at. If I am going to plunk down $75 for some cosmetics, only to get it home and discover I hate it, I want to be able to take it back. In most cases, you will need the original receipt. And, if you have used the entire product up before you return it, you will have difficulty convincing them you didn't like it. However, I have returned makeup a few times and never had a problem.
Fancy retail outlets like Sephora will do this for you, but it is also the policy at certain drug store chains such as Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart. Mail-order companies also do this. Precise details vary, so always check before you purchase.
How to Select Cosmetics
Price VS Quality
Buying cheap cosmetics is appealing, but they are usually cheap. Unfortunately, some companies will happily sell you cheap makeup for a lot of money, so you can't tell the quality just from the price. Drugstore brands are typically the least expensive. There are some decent ones, but none equal the quality of companies such as Sugarpill or MAC. But starting out, it's reasonable to try some good quality drugstore brands.
Makeup is very personal, so even the best products might not work for you. Even if it gets glowing reviews, consider that if that reviewer's skin tone is a lot different than yours, those products will not look the same on you. Good reviewers recognize this and will usually talk a bit about it.
Pigments are the most expensive part of any product, so it's not surprising that less expensive products usually have less pigment. You can't tell how pigmented something is by looking at it in a pan - there is so much product in the pan that it will always look great in the package. The only way to tell is to put it on your skin. I can't tell you how many times I fell in love with an eyeshadow in a drugstore only to find that I could barely see it in the mirror when I got it home and put it on.
It costs more to grind products finely, so this is another area where cheap cosmetics can cut corners. The finer it is ground, the better it will usually look.That's especially true with 'shimmery' shades. The "shimmer" in most makeup comes from mica, a naturally occurring rock. Finely ground mica shimmers beautifully.
One interesting thing about technology: just because your DVD player says "Sony" on it doesn't mean Sony made it. The company that made it is called the "Original Equipment Manufacturer," or OEM for short.
This also happens in the makeup world - I call them "Original Makeup Manufacturers" or OMMs. I've never seen this term anywhere, but I like it. It's sometimes called "private labeling." Some people get upset by this practice. It only bothers me when I see makeup from an OMM selling for outrageous amounts. So when I see a palette by Morphe, Violet Voss, or Shandy selling for more than $50, I know you can often get the same palette from Crown (probably the company that made it) for $19, and I get upset.
Pressed or Loose Powder?
You can buy powder products like eyeshadow, blushes, bronzers, contours, or finishers in a pressed or loose form. Pressed powders are hugely more convenient and easier to use. Pressed powders almost always contain talc as their largest ingredient to make them easier to spread, so if you have a talc allergy, avoid it.
You sometimes read that one or the other version of powders has more pigmentation, but I haven't found that to be the case in practice. Loose powders are more versatile. You can mix them with other powders more easily, and you can also apply them wet. You can use water, but you can also buy cool liquids from makeup companies that you mix with loose powder to convert it into a liquid form and spread it just like a liquid liner. That is so cool. I like Inglot's Duraline for this kind of magic trick!
What I look for in Makeup
Foundation Foundation is so important it deserves an article of it's own. You can find that here. Foundation should go on evenly and give you the color and coverage you want. It should have minimal color/texture changes throughout the day. (Some foundation oxidizes badly and will look quite different after an hour or two). It should last for quite a while. Similar considerations apply to concealers.
Eye shadow With eyeshadows, the first consideration is pigmentation. The appearance on your face should be what you expect from the appearance in the pan. For example, red eyeshadow should look red, not some pale imitation of red. It should apply smoothly, almost like a cream, without any chunkiness. It should blend well with the colors around it. Of course, be aware of the color wheel. If you blend complementary colors, you will get grey. Jeffree Star (whose makeup and videos I like) gave a bad review to a product that didn't deserve it because it had complimentary colors, and he got upset that when he blended them, they turned grey. That's physics, Jeffree.
There are some eyeshadows that (at least so far) can't be made with all these qualities. In particular, neons and pastels are hard to apply smoothly and difficult to blend. These are great shades, but in the present state of makeup technology, you will not find smooth, easily blendable varieties of these shades. If you want to use them, design your look accordingly
One thing I don't care about that many YouTubers are obsessed with is fallout. I don't understand the obsession with this. You're going to have fallout. It's the inevitable result of applying a powdered substance to your eye with a brush. Deal with it. Since you have to clean off fallout anyway, what difference does it make if there's a little more or a little less? That's how I feel about it. If you want to worry about fallout, add it to your list. It's not on mine.
Lipstick Lipstick should be very pigmented and go on smoothly. It should dry and not move around. The ideal lipstick never needs to be refreshed (this is almost impossible to find). If the lipstick needs to refresh, then it should go on evenly and beautifully on top of the previous lipstick.
Powders I like finely ground powders. These include all finishing powders (translucent), contour, and highlight. As with eyeshadows, they should go on easily, without clumping.
Products I have liked and used
I started out using drugstore cosmetics, but I found it frustrating after a while. Most of the brands are disappointing. After using one too many drugstore lip pencils that didn't make a mark on my skin and drugstore eyeshadows that I couldn't see on my eyes, I've focused on reasonably priced, higher-end makeup. Remember that while that MAC lip pencil might cost you $20, it will work every time and last a year or more.
If you are on a serious makeup budget, I recommend sticking with L'Oreal and NYX (L'Oreal owns NYX). You won't get incredible quality, but you (mostly) will not be disappointed.
Favorite Eyeshadows: Sugarpill
UPDATE: Not anymore. Still a fine company, but I've moved on.
Sugarpill is a great but small company. Their eyeshadows are amazingly pigmented and go on beautifully (Some faves: Goldilux, the best gold eyeshadow ever. Poison Plum. 2 AM. Love+, Dollipop, Butter Cup Cake.) They have amazing lashes. They also give you a lot of product for your money. I've been using some of my Sugarpill eyeshadows for over a year, and I still haven't hit pan. The pricing is incredibly reasonable for such amazing quality! The "pro-pan" versions of their eyeshadows, which fit into a palette, are only $10! Single eyeshadows are between $13-$16; this includes a selection of both pressed and loose.
Sugarpill has been branching out and has added a line of lipsticks and nail polishes. I bought a bunch of lipsticks and think they are fantastic! My favorite lipsticks so far have been from MAC, but Sugarpill is providing serious competition! They also have some rad shades that you can't get from other companies, such as Trinket and Pumpkin Spice.
There are a few products I don't like. I was excited to try their nail polishes, but they disappointed me. I bought several, but the only one I still use is "Space Junk," and I only use that on top of other polishes as glitter. But I do love Space Junk. For the others, I was expecting the same rich, deep colors from the nail polishes that Sugarpill has with their eyeshadows, but I didn't find that. You might love the Sugarpill polishes. I think they are good quality; they aren't for me.
I also wasn't crazy about their neon eyeshadows. They call these "elektrocutes." These are neon shadows with added glitter for sparkle. The neon is OK. All neon is hard to work with, and as I worked in the shadows, the glitter disappeared. I got these on sale for a great price, and that's the only way I would suggest that you buy these. Sugarpill also makes a line of brushes, but I have never tried them.
They are in a few stores, but the best and easiest way to get them is to order directly from The Sugarpill Website
New Favorite Eyeshadows: Viseart
I still like Sugarpill, but Viseart's products are beyond. They are absolutely the best shadows I have ever used. They blend like butter and come in the most amazing shades! I also own most of their pro-pallettes and a few commercial ones. I can't recommend them highly enough. They are, sadly but understandably, much more expensive than Sugarpill.
Favorite Pencils and Lipsticks: MAC
Sugarpill doesn't make any pencil product. I love the MAC lip and eye pencils. They have beautiful colors and great pigmentation, go on smoothly and blend easily. I use them for eyes, lips, and eyebrows. MAC has also (at least so far) made my favorite lipstick. Some of my favorite shades: Ruby Wu (use this with a Cherry lip pencil and Lady Dangerous right in the center for a Marilyn Lip), Myth (use with a Spice lip pencil, and Kinda Sexy right in the center for a perfect nude lip). I also like using the MAC lip pencils to build up a lip look.
MAC also makes a "chromographic" pencil that goes anywhere and has fantastic pigmentation. These are available only at their PRO stores or online.
Sugarpill eyeshadows tend to the colorful and outrageous, which I love. But if you want more subdued shades (always good), you will have to look elsewhere. I love and use MAC's taupes, browns, and warm coppery shades. They also make a loose eyeshadow in "Vanilla," which is to die for.
Most towns have MAC stores, and a few have MAC PRO stores. I love the people who work at MAC, and they will also give you stuff like free face charts if you ask nicely. If you don't have a MAC store, you can go to the MAC Website
Favorite Foundation, Concealers and Correctors: KRYOLAN
Kryolan is not a typical consumer company, but they will sell their stuff to you. If your town doesn't have a Kryolan store (most don't), you can find their products in places that sell makeup for the theater or television.
I tried a lot of different foundations before I discovered Kryolan's TV Paintsticks, but once I did, I was hooked. I use these TV Paintsticks not only as a base color but the lighter colors (in 00 or sometimes, in 070) as a combination of concealer and highlight and the darker colors (usually NG1) as a cream contour. I also use shade D32 of their Dermacolor line to hide my 12 O'clock shadow and eyebrows.
UPDATE: I am still using Kryolan foundation, but I've moved to their new line Digital Complexion line. It's fantastic!
It's best to buy directly from a store because their shipping favors large orders. But if you can't find it in your town, you can order directly from the Kryolan Website
Favorite Single Products
These are all things I can't live without. I use them with almost every look:
- Favorite White Setting Powder: Ben Nye Neutral Set (UPDATE: Not anymore.)
- Favorite Translucent Powder: Airspun. (UPDATE: Not anymore.) It's an iconic brand that has been around for about 100+ years. It is in drugstores and inexpensive.
- Favorite Eyeliner: Kat Von D Tattoo in Trooper. Love it.
- Favorite Black Gel Liner: Inglot #77. I can't live without this.
- Favorite Glitters: Ben Nye, Glitter Injections, Makeup Forever, Violet Voss
Favorite Cheap Drugstore Companies
L'Oreal and NYX L'Oreal and (mostly) NYX, which L'Oreal owns, are the only drugstore companies I currently recommend. I still use a few NYX products, including their contour palette, Jumbo eye pencils, and (occasionally) lip pencils. (UPDATE: I haven't used any NYX in a year or two.)
Companies to Avoid
- Shany. The worst.
- Morphe. The brushes are acceptable. The makeup palettes do not give you enough product or quality for the price.
I hope this was helpful! You can always send me questions, comments, or anything friendly at any time!