Friday, October 12, 2018

Astrology by Bite: A Rant

As I'm sure you've heard by now, Bite Beauty has almost finished releasing a series of twelve Amuse Bouche lipsticks inspired by the signs of the zodiac. Bite started with Aquarius in January, and they're now two signs from the end, having just revealed Scorpio on Thursday. (If you're curious about Sagittarius and Capricorn, Trendmood has leaked all twelve shades here.)

Like any other enamel-pin-collecting queer millennial, I enjoy astrology. I don't believe in it, per se, but I'm a Scorpio with Pisces rising and Aries moon, and that combination of signs is pretty damned accurate for my personality. (I didn't identify with Aries until I caught myself saying to my boyfriend, "I don't have anger issues; I'm just angry all the time.") So I've been following Bite's releases all year, initially with eager anticipation, then with increasing bafflement, and now with outright annoyance. The Astrology by Bite series was a great idea that could have been executed in a million appealing ways, but Bite simply blew it. The lipsticks themselves seem up to Bite's usual high standards (Kate of More Like Space has reviewed all the shades from Aquarius to Virgo), but almost every shade is an absolutely bizarre choice for its zodiac sign. I didn't feel the need to complain on my blog, though, until I saw the Scorpio shade.

Now, look: everyone knows that Scorpios are the goths of the zodiac. Halloween and the Day of the Dead (i.e. my birthday) fall during Scorpio season. Scorpios are INTENSE and MYSTERIOUS and VENGEFUL and occasionally PETTY. In fact, we're vengeful and petty enough to write an entire snarky blog post if Bite releases a Scorpio lipstick that isn't even close to the vampy splendor we deserve:

EXCUSE ME? A bright orange-red? A bright orange-red that looks identical not only to a bunch of other orange-reds Bite has released previously, but also to the Aries shade from March? Would you even be able to tell these two apart without the astrological signs on the tubes?

They look only slightly more different in these swatches from Bite's Instagram story:

Bite's explanation for this choice is that Scorpio is the most ~*~sExUaL~*~ sign of the zodiac: "For sexy Scorpio, Bite mixes up a bombshell shade. This searing, spicy red is perfect for hot dates." Hot fire-sign dates, maybe, but Scorpio is a water sign, and its particular brand of sexuality isn't the retro pinup look-at-me brand. Like, come ON. Everyone was expecting a dark purple or plum, or a burgundy, or even a metallic black reminiscent of the studded leather outfits we Scorpios wear while tying up our lovers in sex dungeons. A bright orange makes no sense for Scorpio. And I'm not the only one who thinks so:

Source: Temptalia

But Scorpio isn't the only sign to have gotten totally shafted this year, so let's go through the Astrology by Bite series sign by sign and analyze where the problems lie. (I wasn't able to find Bite's blurb for every shade, but I've copied and pasted the ones I could find. All photos are Bite promo images from Temptalia.)

Aquarius ("berry plum"):

Bite started the year strong with this bright purple, a good match for eccentric Aquarius. I don't have any complaints about the shade itself, but I am annoyed that Bite kicked off its series with the first zodiac sign in the Gregorian calendar year. The zodiac actually corresponds to the Julian calendar, with Aries as the first sign.

Pisces ("pitch-perfect peach"):

"Ruled by the planet Neptune, Pisces is the water sign of artists and dreamy creative types; it’s considered the most spiritual and compassionate sign of the zodiac. Pisces are soulful, and like water they 'go with the flow,' blending in and out of different environments."

Just two lipsticks in, things start to get weird. Pisces is a water sign. Its symbol is literally two fish. For this most aquatic of signs, Bite chose...a brownish peach. I think a soft shade of blue would have been perfect for sensitive Pisces, but Bite clearly decided to stick with traditional lipstick colors for this collection, despite having created blue lipsticks in the past. Lame.

Aries ("fiery orange-red"): 

Back to the expected with this bright warm red, which is exactly the color I would have chosen for impetuous, hot-tempered Aries, though I might have made it metallic for even more punch.

Taurus ("muted white-chocolate rose"):

"Taurus is an earth sign, ruled by the planet of love, Venus. Sleepy, sensual Taurus is enamored with everyday luxuries: Flowers, chocolate, and all the finer things in life are essential to beauty-loving bulls." 

When I think of Taurus, I think of rich food and dark wine. This is a beautiful MLBB, but it's more subdued and professional than I'd expect a Taurus lipstick to be. For this sign, I would have liked to see a rich chocolate brown (similar to Smoked Za'atar) or a merlot red, though I understand that Bite was trying to make a spring-appropriate shade.

Also, it's "enamored of," not "enamored with." Just sayin'. My mistake: both are correct!

Gemini ("warm nude" and "fun-loving red"):

"For Gemini, the sign of the twins, Bite offers a double-sided bullet. A warm nude and a fun-loving red let Geminis mix up their style as they please." 

Here is where the Astrology by Bite series jumps the shark. How would a human being wear this lipstick? I appreciate the spirit of the thing, but if you're going to make a two-toned lipstick, maybe pick two colors that actually go together.  (Kate mixed the two shades to create a soft salmon pink, but I can't imagine many people going to that trouble.) Or if you want the red/nude split, make a dual-sided lipstick like the ones Bite itself has released in the past. Or just give us a freaking duochrome along the lines of the Prismatic Pearl Multisticks. Bite could have conveyed the Gemini ethos in so many interesting ways, but they went with the least wearable one. If you want nightmares, check out the two-toned lip that Bite itself created.

Cancer ("muted mauve with gray undertone"): 

"For nurturing, caring Cancer, Bite mixes up a safe-but-sexy neutral. Cancers will love this muted mauve with gray undertone that looks just as good at home as it does at work."

Gosh, that looks familiar:

Cancer and Taurus aren't quite as similar as Aries and Scorpio, but they sure are close. Also, Bite missed the perfect chance to set an oceanic mood by describing the lipstick as a "sandy beige" (though as swatches reveal, Cancer is much pinker than the promo photo indicates).

Leo ("glittering gold"): 

"Leo offers incredible vibrancy and bold dimension. Leo is a fire sign, ruled by the sun. Like the sun, bold Leo lions like to be the center of attention: They’re dramatic and charismatic, always the star of the show."

The person in charge of these promo images is totally a Leo.

Here's where my inner conspiracy theorist emerges. Leo looks very similar to the sheer gold lipstick that Bite released for the holidays a couple of years ago. Is it possible that some of the zodiac lipsticks are repackaged older shades with astrological signs slapped on? I won't deny that this lipstick is appropriate for Leo, but surely the stereotypical Leo would want an opaque gold, not a sheer one.

Virgo ("grapey-red"): 

"Virgo is an earth sign, ruled by the planet of communication, Mercury. Disciplined Virgos demand perfection and order all around them; they’re known to be humble and practical, and love a good value...For earthy Virgo, Bite mixes up a shade inspired by the fruit of the vine. This grapey-red is a smart hue that goes with everything."

This is by far my favorite shade in the series (surprise), and it's not a terrible choice for Virgo, though I would have expected something a little less dramatic.

Libra ("balanced medium brown"):

"For stylish Libras, Bite mixes up a shade made for hitting the social circuit. This balanced medium brown gets along with just about anybody."

In my opinion, it's impossible to make a brown lipstick that "gets along with just about anybody." There is nothing less flattering than a brown lipstick that clashes with your undertones, as I discovered when I tried on Bite's own yellow-toned Edgy Neutrals collection last year. And Libra is a warm brown that most certainly won't get along with cool-toned folks. That said, I'm not sure what color I would have assigned to Libra. It's an artistic, creative sign, so maybe a neutral with a twist, like a grayish lavender?

Sagittarius and Capricorn are a bright pink and dark plum, respectively. Many of the Sagittarians I've known well have been narcissists with no sense of personal or professional responsibility, and neon pink is indeed a color that shouts "look at me, but don't expect anything of me." (No offense to any Sagittarians reading this, of course. I'm sure you're lovely people.) Bite's choice for Capricorn is more mystifying. Capricorn is a businesslike earth sign, so I would have assigned it an office-appropriate color, a soft neutral like Taurus or Cancer. Why not give the vampy shade to Scorpio? (Look, we hold grudges. We're not going to get over this.)

Taken as a whole, the Astrology by Bite lineup seems unbalanced and incomplete: lots of warm oranges and browns, two pairs of near-dupes, only one dark shade, and no truly offbeat colors (unless you count Leo's gold). This series had so much potential, but it's started to feel like a cynical cash grab: "Well, the kids like astrology, so let's re-release some old colors and put astrological symbols on the tubes; they'll eat that shit up." The first four lipsticks sold out almost immediately, but all five shades from Gemini to Libra are still available on Bite's website, suggesting that I'm not the only one to have soured on Astrology by Bite. I think Bite is at its best when pursuing its foodie roots (e.g. Edgy Neutrals, Spice It Up) instead of hopping on the latest trend, and I hope Astrology by Bite isn't an indicator of things to come for the brand.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Pumpkin-Walnut-Chocolate-Chip Cookies 2.0

Almost exactly four years ago, I posted my recipe for pumpkin-walnut-chocolate-chip cookies, which I've made at least once every autumn since, including this morning. These cookies are my humble attempt to replicate the ones that used to be (and still are, for all I know) sold at the coffee shop in my college library. Here's today's iteration:

I've tweaked the recipe a bit since 2014, so I thought I'd post an update for those of you interested in making them, which everyone should be. Note that the walnuts and chocolate chips aren't mandatory at all (though they are, of course, highly recommended).


  • 1 cup plain canned pumpkin (this is a little less than a standard 15-oz. can)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (you can use a bit less or more, depending on preferred sweetness level and presence/absence of chocolate chips. I used 1/2 cup today and wish I'd used less)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder 
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. powdered nutmeg (slightly less if using fresh)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider, milk, or water (optional, for thinning dough)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)


  • In large bowl, combine pumpkin, egg, oil, and sugar.
  • Dissolve baking soda in 1 tsp. milk and add to pumpkin mixture.
  • In smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices, and salt.
  • Stir flour mixture into pumpkin mixture; add vanilla.
  • Add chocolate chips and walnuts, if using.
  • This is a thick, gooey dough; if you'd like to thin it out a tiny bit, add 1 tbsp. of liquid, e.g. apple cider (which I used today), water, or milk.
  • Drop by rounded spoonfuls (I used an ice-cream scoop) onto greased baking sheet. I find that this recipe makes about 15 medium-sized cookies or 20 smaller ones.
  • Bake for 13-20 minutes, depending on the intensity of your oven; remove when lightly browned and barely set on top. When I first made this recipe, I had a gas oven that ran cold, and I needed the full 20 minutes. My new apartment has an electric oven, and the cookies were done at 13 minutes today! So yeah, know your oven. 

And done! I'm looking forward to taking these cookies to work this week instead of my usual Larabars. Happy fall (in the Northern Hemisphere), everyone!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Glosses of Autumn, Part 1: Bite Prismatic Pearl Gloss in Rose Pearl

I'm back, bearing makeup!

For the first time in the 4.5-year history of Auxiliary Beauty, I went over a month without blogging. A lot happened in those six weeks: I moved to a new apartment with my boyfriend; finished my summer job at a university office and began an adjunct gig in Jersey City; got more serious about my creative writing and completed a short story for the first time in nearly a decade; and prepared my materials for one last go at the academic job market. So, yeah, not a lot of time for blogging. Now that things have settled down a bit, I'm hoping I can return to my schedule of two or three posts per month.

Oh, and I made it through my August replacement-only no-buy successfully...well, sort of. I placed a ColourPop order at 8:30 pm on August 31 because they were having a sitewide 25%-off sale and I didn't know how long it would last, but I'm still counting that as a victory. I ordered four powder eyeshadows, one Jelly Much eyeshadow, and one Lux Lipstick, and those kept me amused enough that I didn't buy any more makeup until last weekend, when I succumbed to a sparkly black Liquid Catsuit lipstick from Wet n Wild's Halloween collection:

It's called Shady Witch, and it's FAR better than you'd expect a $4.99 sparkly black liquid lipstick to be.

More on all those budget delights in another post, or a few more posts. This one will be a review of a pricier item: my last splurge before my August no-buy. I'd had my eye on Bite Beauty's magical-looking Prismatic Pearl glosses for a while, but a couple of things kept putting me off. First, the $22 price tag. I have no problem paying $22 for a lipstick, but gloss tends to have a shorter shelf life, and Bite prides itself on its food-grade ingredients, which means I probably can't count on its glosses to last longer than a year or so. Second, it was Bite, a brand with which I had a checkered past. But after my great experience with Star Anise, I went back to Sephora and took another look at the pink-bronze-green duochrome (tetrachrome?) glory that was Rose Pearl, and I could resist no longer.

Well, actually, I spent some time deciding between Rose Pearl, Oyster Pearl (another in the Prismatic lineup), and NARS Full Vinyl Lip Lacquer in Abruzzo, but determined that I'd get the most wear out of Rose Pearl.

L-R: Oyster Pearl (which I still want tbh), Rose Pearl, Abruzzo.

I should note that Bite also makes Prismatic Pearl Multisticks in the same shades as the glosses, but they're not quite as magical-looking: liquid formulas are the best for showcasing sparkle. Check out the Prismatic Pearl Glosses under the bright Sephora lights and see if you don't come away desperately wanting at least one, even if you're not a gloss person or a shimmer person. I dare you.

Unfortunately, Bite likes to package all its products, no matter how sparkly, in boring gray boxes. At least the Prismatic Pearl box has a tiny lip-shaped iridescent sticker indicating the shade inside:

The gloss comes in a sturdy rectangular plastic tube with a matte gray...lid? top? what do you call the handle of a gloss applicator? I've been away from beauty blogging for too long. For a size comparison, here's Rose Pearl next to my favorite autumnal cocktail, a Manhattan:

The label on the bottom serves a dual purpose: it not only indicates the shade name, but also disguises how little gloss there actually is in the bulky tube. (As if I have a chance of finishing what little there is before it goes bad.)

After buying Rose Pearl, I waited several days to open it because it was too exquisite and I didn't want to mar it with my clumsy monkey paws. Then I waited two months to write a review because I felt that neither my prose not my phone camera could do justice to Rose Pearl's beauty. In preparation for this post, I've taken at least a hundred photos, but not one of them captures what I see in real life. Rose Pearl is the perfect autumnal gloss: a sheer bronze base with densely packed fuchsia shimmer and a yellow-green shift that suggests a hint of decay.

Below, I've sheered it out as much as possible to make the base color more visible:

Rose Pearl is about 75% opaque: on my lips, it's nowhere near as intense as it appears in the tube, but it still covers my natural lip color almost completely. Because of its multidimensionality, it looks very different from one lighting situation to the next. Under artificial light, the greenish shift becomes apparent:

Direct sunlight brings out the fuchsia:

And indirect natural light turns it into a rosy copper:

I'm not usually a fan of layering lip gloss over lipstick or lipliner (too gooey and slippery), but I was curious to see how Rose Pearl would fare as a lip topper. Over a flesh-colored liner (Milani Nude), it looks pretty enough, but loses its duochrome effect:

But over a dark liquid lipstick, it's absolutely stunning! Here's Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuit in Goth Topic on its own, then topped with Rose Pearl:

Rose Pearl's applicator is a small doefoot that comes to an unusually sharp point. It applies gloss decently to my bottom lip, but I always have trouble getting my top lip covered, because the point of the applicator scrapes off the product that has already been laid down. I end up with gloss collected along my upper lip line but relatively little on the lip itself, and I have to go back in with a dabbing motion to fill in the gaps. Not an insuperable problem, but somewhat annoying.

I'm very happy with the Prismatic Pearl formula. These glosses have the same sweet lemon scent and taste as the Amuse Bouche lipsticks. It's not an overwhelming fragrance, but I can detect it for at least an hour after application, so that's something to keep in mind if you're sensitive to scents. The formula is on the thick side but (thankfully) not sticky, and the glitter doesn't make it gritty. I can get about three hours of wear from Rose Pearl before I feel like I need to touch up, which is pretty impressive for a gloss. Like most glosses I've tried, Rose Pearl is quite moisturizing.

Despite its cool-toned fuchsia and green duochrome, Rose Pearl looks warm-toned overall, and I always end up wearing it with bronze and warm red elsewhere on my face. I also always end up wearing it with this one dress:

More recently, outside, same dress:

In my next post, I'll review another newish gloss that I've been wearing a lot this fall. I should note that my new apartment gets almost no direct natural light, so you'll have to bear with me while I sort out my lighting for blog photos. (I've been taking makeup selfies in the car, but that's not exactly a long-term solution.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

My Best No-Buy Tips

Since I'm moving this month and need to limit both my spending and my accumulation of new crap, I've put myself on a replacement-only beauty no-buy until the end of August. It's been pretty easy so far: I've been so consumed with other problems that I haven't had much brain space for makeup. But since there's no telling what temptations I'll face in the second half of the month, I thought I'd write up a list of the techniques and mantras that have helped me through previous no- and low-buys. (Disclaimer: I don't have a shopping addiction, which is a serious disorder, and I'm not qualified to counsel people who do. This advice is designed for those who, like me, occasionally impulse-buy things they can live without.)

1. Know your triggers. 

Here are mine:

a. Feeling (even) more broke than usual. I've spent my entire adult life as a graduate student and underemployed academic, so money has always been tight. But I've noticed that when it's particularly tight, I feel the near-constant urge to treat myself to a new lipstick or nail polish or enamel pin. Being poor is exhausting, not least because you're constantly reflecting on all the basic amenities you can't afford, so it's tempting to buy yourself a little luxury that you can afford. Which I don't think is a bad thing in itself (cue Republican outrage that people on welfare dare to buy beer and ice cream, as if saving that $5 will help them afford a house). But it can easily get out of hand.

b. Uncertainty about my future. Like many people who came of age during the recession, I'm getting by on contingent employment and have no idea what my life will look like in the long term. For the past two or three years, I've been unable to plan more than a few months ahead, and that's taken a significant mental toll. Ordering a treat online and using USPS tracking to monitor its progress toward my house is an easy way to ensure that I can look forward to something, even if my long-term prospects feel grim. But the pleasure is fleeting and illusory. (Wow, this post got real pretty quickly. Sorry.)

c. Anxiety from overwork. I'm never so tempted to impulse-order makeup as when I'm completing a bunch of job applications on a tight deadline. It's like, I'm already doing six things at once, and all six are agonizingly stressful, so why not add a seventh that's at least somewhat fun? For me, those impulse purchases almost always result in regret.

2. Turn to new techniques and inspirations, not new products.

If you feel like you're in a makeup rut, and you're bored and dissatisfied with how your looks are turning out, new products will only do so much. Your skills and your range of inspiration will stay the same, and instead of doing a halo eye with orange, peach, and light gold eyeshadows, you'll be doing the same old halo eye with red, pink, and champagne eyeshadows. If you own enough makeup to be undertaking a no-buy, there's no way you've exhausted the potential of all that makeup, I promise. Watch old movies or new kpop videos.* Binge Lisa Eldridge tutorials. Take another look at the Pat McGrath editorial photos you saved on your "makeup inspiration" Pinterest board three years ago. Practice your blending skills right before you shower.

*Yes, that link is a shameless attempt to make you fall in love with my precious daughter Song Yuqi and her group, whom I narrowly and tragically missed seeing in NYC two weekends ago. The makeup in that music video is really good, though.

3. Mix and layer colors to create your perfect products.

I've watched YouTube videos by professional makeup artists and by social-media influencers, and I've noticed a stark difference between the two kinds of videos. Whereas beauty gurus tend to create the same looks over and over with a constantly changing array of trendy products, real makeup artists mix and layer the same products over and over to create a constantly changing array of looks. In other words:

Makeup artists: narrow range of products -> wide variety of looks

Beauty gurus/influencers: wide variety of products -> narrow range of looks

When I realized this, my perspective on my makeup collection changed dramatically. I'm more familiar with my coloring and tastes than any brand is. Who has a better chance of creating the perfect brownish peach lipstick for my skintone: me, or some committee in a boardroom? (For the record, my perfect brownish peach is Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuit in Nudist Peach layered over Milani Color Statement Lip Pencil in Nude.)

4. Look up reviews of products you already own.

This will serve a twofold purpose. Not only will it remind you of the reasons why you bought the products and the excitement you felt when you first used them; it will also lead you to blog posts and tutorials that will give you new ideas for using those items.

5. Keep track of all the shades you own in your favorite makeup category.

For each of the past two years, I've maintained a list of all my lipstick shades (current total is 45, plus eight glosses), putting an asterisk next to a shade whenever I wear it and starting the list over at the beginning of the year. I keep the document in my Google Docs so I can view and update it on my phone when I'm out and about. This exercise reminds me just how infrequently I get to wear my favorite lipsticks, even the ones I think I wear often, because my collection is so damned large. It also gives me pause when I contemplate buying another, because that will be just one more lipstick that will prevent me from wearing the others!

6. Don't beat yourself up if you buy something.

Guilt is counterproductive. First, because it can lead to even more spending: "I've already broken my no-buy," you think, "so what's one more purchase?" Second, because brands use your guilt as a marketing tool. A glance at the Instagram account of pretty much any social-media-based brand will reveal as much. Brands love posting those "hiding your makeup orders from hubby" and "spending your therapy money on lipstick" memes, because they tap into the undercurrent of guilt we all feel as consumers. And there's nothing quite like feeling the very people who are trying to sell you more makeup. Third, because how many things does our society tell women feel guilty about? Eating. Not eating. Being girly. Not being girly. Wearing makeup. Not wearing makeup. Having feelings. Not having feelings. It's enough. Break the cycle. When you slip up, get right back on the wagon; more importantly, reflect on why you slipped up, what triggers got you there, and how you can resist those triggers in the future. Then move the fuck on.

7. Remember that the feeling of shiny newness always, ALWAYS fades. And soon.

Think about the last few products you bought. How long did your excitement take to wane? A few hours? A day or two? The pleasure of new makeup or skincare is real, and it's not worthless, but it's not even close to permanent. During your no-buy, focus on things that can improve your life in the long (or, at least, slightly longer) run.

And that's it! Wish me luck for the next two weeks, and let me know your own no-buy and low-buy tips!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Anti-Haul: Mauve/Plum/Purple Eyeshadow Palettes

Despite the flood of new eyeshadow palettes in the past few years, I own just a few: Modern Renaissance, Naked2 Basics, a nine-pan custom theBalm palette, and a magnetic palette containing, among other things, slightly less than half (five shades) of a depotted theBalm Nude 'Tude. The newest palette in my collection is Modern Renaissance, which I bought in December 2016; the others are all at least three years old. Of course, by normal-person standards, this is a lot of eyeshadow. But by beauty-blogger standards (which is what we're using here, right? cool), it's almost nothing.

No, actually, this is a lot.

There are a few reasons for my (relative) restraint in this category. First, though I wear eyeshadow almost every day, I'm more of a wash-of-one-neutral-color person than a seven-different-shades-plus-liner-and-falsies person. I also prefer cream and liquid formulas to powders, especially in the current heat and humidity. And even if I were someone who made time to play with multiple eyeshadows every day, I doubt I'd own many more palettes than I already do, for the simple reason that the eyeshadow trends of the past few years haven't been kind to cool-toned people. Most orange, red, and warm brown shadows make me look ill, yet it's been difficult to find anything else.

However, the last couple of months have seen a trend toward purple and plum tones in palettes. This is very exciting for me: I'd be all over a palette full of plum, dusty rose, and mauve shades in matte and shimmer finishes, sort of a cooler-toned Naked 3. So far, none of the new offerings has embodied my ideal, but it's still been hard to resist settling for something not-quite-perfect. So in the spirit of not settlingand in the spirit of our much-missed Lady of Consumption Reduction, Kimberly ClarkI'm going to write up a good old-fashioned anti-haul for some of the palettes that have come out in recent months. I know I'm not the only one who's been wanting a purplish palette, so perhaps this post will help you as well. (All images taken from brand or Sephora websites; pardon the potato quality, but I wasn't going to steal from Temptalia, so.)

1. Natasha Denona Mini Lila Palette ($25)

This one grabbed my attention immediately. Five Natasha Denona eyeshadows for $5 each, when her ten-pan palettes retail for $95? In exactly the color range I've been looking for? Sign me up! And I find huge palettes overwhelming (more on that later), so the small size was appealing, too. The more closely I looked at the shades, though, the clearer it became that this wasn't exactly the color range I'd been looking for. First, the two browns are...weird. The matte brown has a yellow tone that doesn't harmonize with the purples and plums; it seems like a lazy attempt to placate the YouTube beauty gurus who need that WARM TRANSITION SHADE, damn it! I wish this shade were a cool pinkish brown, like ABH Buon Fresco, or a taupe. The shimmery brown is a little better, but still not cool-toned enough for my taste. For that matter, the three purple shades look odd together, even excluding the browns. You've got a practically magenta matte, a purple-blue duochrome, and a brownish plum matte. I just can't imagine many looks in which all five of these shades, or even a few of them, would play well together. It's kind of extraordinary that such a small palette manages to be so disharmonious.

Remember, though, I'm viewing the palette from the perspective of a pale, cool-toned person. Makeup Withdrawal just posted a review of Mini Lila, and it looks great on her because the browns read almost as nudes. If warm browns don't turn as orange on you as they do on me, this could be a decent option.

2. Anastasia Beverly Hills Norvina Palette ($42)

This is the big one, of course. It's even featured on the cover of the Ulta catalog I received yesterday (side note: why is Ulta sending me physical catalogs? is it 1998?). I get a lot of use out of my Modern Renaissance palette, so I was excited to hear that ABH was making a purple-toned palette, but my heart dropped when I saw the first photos. Norvina has the problems of the Mini Lila palette on a larger scale: ABH just can't jettison those warm brown transition shades, and the overall color scheme suffers as a result. I think the lavender packaging has fooled people into seeing the palette as cooler-toned overall than it really is, but it's just Soft Glam with a couple of purples and plums thrown in. I'm also not a fan of ABH's metallic formula, which is too thick and clumpy for my textured eyelids, and this palette contains seven metallics. I love Volatile and Passion, though, and it would be cool if they were available as singles (they're not; I checked).

Also, do I really want an eyeshadow palette bearing the name of a woman who, when she received perfectly valid criticism about the Subculture palette, accused her customers of not being able to use makeup? Nah, I'm good.

Update, 8/17: I swatched Norvina at Ulta last weekend and was really disappointed in the matte shades. Not only are most of them even warmer-toned than they appear above, but some of them are also very patchy and/or powdery. From left to right, we have Soul, Incense, Love, Volatile, Passion, and Eccentric:

3. Lorac Pro Palette 4 ($44)

I've never tried anything from Lorac, mainly because I have a few irrational prejudices against the brand. First, "Lorac" is the founder's name, Carol, spelled backwards; that's lame. Second, Carol wants us to pronounce it as "luh-ROCK" instead of "LOR-ack." Sorry, Carol, but I'm not going to disregard the conventions of English phonetics for you. Third, Carol did a bizarre, tone-deaf Reddit AMA a few years ago. (I'd highly recommend reading the ONTD post I've linked; it's hilarious.) Fourth, I'm not sure what Lorac's overall concept is supposed to be, and that bothers me. The packaging is drab and boring, and there doesn't seem to be much imagination or creativity behind the products. Try harder, Carol!

Bias aside, though, this isn't the palette for me. At 16 shades, it's the largest on this list, and I find large palettes overwhelming. How anyone uses those 35-shade Morphe palettes without developing decision fatigue in 30 seconds, I have no idea. And I feel like a broken record here, but this is yet another "purple" palette with a bunch of warm-toned brown shades. Most of the shades are around the same level of saturation, too, and I can imagine them blending into a muddy wash. Then there's that baffling matte black with glitter. I thought we weren't doing matte blacks with glitter anymore. Shame on you, Carol.

4. Lime Crime Venus 3 Palette ($38)

The problem with any Lime Crime product is, it's Lime Crime. When I first got into makeup, Lime Crime was notorious for the shady behavior of founder Doe Deere. I don't think many makeup consumers these days are aware of Lime Crime's sordid past, so here's an EXTREMELY long list of Doe's misdeeds, with receipts. (Selling repackaged pigments! Wearing a Hitler Halloween costume! Telling her followers to send nasty messages to Temptalia's personal email! Releasing an offensive "China Doll" palette!) As recently as 2015, Lime Crime's website was hacked and its customers' credit card information stolen, but LC did nothing about the problem until it became public. Doe has stepped back from the brand in the last couple of years, but I'd still feel weird buying anything from Lime Crime, even in 2018. They just seem generally unwilling to acknowledge, let alone make amends for, their many mistakes.

So there's that, but there's also the weird color scheme of this palette. I realize that weird color schemes are Lime Crime's thing, but what is that bright coral doing in an otherwise purple-toned palette with several muted colors? And a larger question: why do brands seem so eager to put bright blue-toned purples and brownish plums together in palettes? Those are two completely different color families, and I'm not crazy about how they look together.

5. Urban Decay Backtalk Palette ($46)

Oh man, was I ever excited about this one when I first heard about it. Urban Decay Vice Lipstick Backtalk, a dusty cool pink in the Comfort Matte formula, is one of my favorite lipsticks ever. It also happens to be the most popular lipstick in the massive Vice lineup (though as a lifelong hipster, I'm not super thrilled about this). As you can see, my tube of Backtalk is well-loved:

What could be better suited to my tastes than an entire palette based on Backtalk? Well, a lot of things, it turns out. The palette skews much warmer than I would have expected (WTF, the warm brown second from right, is aptly named). The quality of the eyeshadows also seems to vary: the shade Backtalk, i.e. the flagship shade of the whole palette, got a D- from Temptalia. And then there's the fact that UD chose to make Backtalk an eye and face palette. This is apparently the post in which I reveal all my irrational prejudices, so let me confess that I have a prejudice against products that try to do more than one thing. Some people might find it convenient to have three blushes and a highlighter attached to their eyeshadow palette, but it just makes the palette look bulky to me. And why three blushes? Most of us, I'd assume, already have at least three blushes that go with the color scheme of this palette. And, if three blushes are really necessary, why are they all medium pinks? I have so many questions, but knowing the answers would probably just baffle and frustrate me further. ANYWAY.

6. Viseart Amethyst Theory Palette ($45)

Let's end with the palette that comes closest to my ideal. Viseart (another brand I've never tried) released Amethyst Theory in April of 2017, which is several geological eras ago in beauty-industry time, but I wasn't aware of it before I started doing research for this post. To be honest, I'd probably buy this palette if it had good reviews. Unfortunately, the few reviews I've been able to find don't speak highly of the formula. Temptalia gave the palette a B overall, and one of the shades received a D-. I still want to swatch this next time I'm at a Sephora that stocks Viseart, but I certainly won't order it without seeing it in person. (Really, I'm just holding out for a ColourPop knockoff.)

From this survey of current palettes, we can conclude that brands just aren't ready to let go of the warm tones that have been selling so well these past few years. (The exception is Viseart, which I see as less trend-driven than the other brands in this post, though I could easily be wrong about that.) This means that we're seeing lots of palettes that feature an awkward combination of warm browns and cool purples/plums. I have a feeling that this transitional stage will be short-lived and the pendulum will continue to swing toward the cooler side of things. For now, all I can do is wait.

Have you picked up any of these palettes? What are you anti-hauling at the moment?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Bite Beauty Spice Things Up Collection: Smoked Za'atar and Star Anise

Oh, Bite Beauty. The intensity of my love-hate relationship with this brand is second only to that of my love-hate relationship with Glossier. On paper, Bite is my ideal beauty brand. It makes nothing but lip products, offering a wide range of complex, well-balanced colors. It releases thoughtful, interesting limited-edition collections, most of which are available for months. Its lipstick formulas are comfortable on my often-dry lips. Yet I've had consistently bad luck with Bite lipsticks, due to their slipperiness and tendency to transfer absolutely everywhere. (See my review of Lavender Jam, which I ended up giving away.) So when Lena of Faceonomics got sent Bite's Spice Things Up collection and very generously offered to give me the two coolest-toned shades, I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I said yes (I mean, obviously), but I was prepared for disappointment.

The Spice Things Up collection (what a lazy name, honestly), inspired by "the warm shades of toasted spices," contains eight lipsticks in Bite's standard Amuse Bouche formula. Like the permanent Amuse Bouche lipsticks, they retail for $26 each. It would be cool if each lipstick smelled like the spice it represented, but all the lipsticks have Bite's usual sweet lemon scent and taste, which I don't mind at all. (It reminds me of lemon bars, one of my favorite desserts.) This collection is limited edition, but it was released two months ago and is still fully in stock, at least on Sephora's American website. The lipsticks come in Bite's standard dark-gray matte tubes, but the boxes, printed with mounds of colorful spices, are genuinely beautiful.

The two shades that Lena sent me are Smoked Za'atar, which Sephora describes as a "plum-chocolate," and Star Anise, a "muted lavender."

Smoked Za'atar on the left, Star Anise on the right.

And just for fun, here are Sephora swatches of the other six shades in the collection. Top to bottom: Pink Salt, Toasted Cardamom, Lit Turmeric, Hot Harissa, Crushed Chili, Saffron Fire.

Alas, not all the shade names correspond exactly with the spices that inspired them. As you probably know, real star anise looks like this:

I mean, fine, creative license and all that; Bite wanted to make a lavender-tinged lipstick and there aren't many lavender-tinged spices. But the name "Smoked Za'atar" doesn't even make sense on its own terms, because there's no such thing. I did a quick Google search and found that the word "za'atar" can refer to a specific herb related to oregano and thyme (Origanum syriacum) or, more commonly, a Middle Eastern spice mixture including that herb. Like masala, za'atar differs in composition from region to region, but there's one constant: the spices are toasted or sun-dried, not smoked. You can't go into a store and buy "smoked za'atar" as you can smoked paprika. Sure, this is a small detail, but it makes the name of the lipstick feel like lazy orientalism. At least Bite got the color semi-right:

Source: Savory Spice

Sephora's color descriptions for these two lipsticks are accurate for warm-toned people: on Christine of Temptalia, for instance, Star Anise and Smoked Za'atar do indeed look like a "muted lavender" and "plum-chocolate" respectively. Combined with my cool grayish undertones, however, both shades lean much warmer. On me, Smoked Za'atar is a deep neutral brown with hints of yellow and purple, while Star Anise is a gray-toned true nude, close to my skin tone and almost identical to my previous HG nude, Bourjois Rouge Edition in Beige Trench. This was an exciting discovery: I destashed Beige Trench earlier this year because I hated the chemical-floral fragrance, but I was hoping to find a similar nude lipstick eventually. Here's Star Anise swatched on the left and Smoked Za'atar on the right, first in shade, then in direct sunlight:

Let's start with the review for Smoked Za'atar, since it was the one I tried first. Photographed on its own, it does indeed look like a plummy brown...

...but when it's swatched next to other brown lipsticks, its yellow tones come through. Below, L-R: MAC Antique Velvet, Smoked Za'atar, Revlon Fierce,  and Maybelline Raging Raisin, in shade and sun. If you look closely at SZ, you can see a bit of yellow at the edges of the swatch.

I've now worn Smoked Za'atar twice, with a lip liner and without, and I'm sad to report that it suffers from the same weaknesses as the other Bite lipsticks I've tried: it's a tiny bit streaky on my lips (as dark lipsticks often are), and it transfers very easily. As you might be able to tell from my swatches, it has a shine that Star Anise lacks, which unfortunately translates into slipperiness. Here's a (slightly out of focus, sorry) lip swatch; you can tell that it feathers without a liner, a problem that I don't usually have with lipsticks.

And here's SZ (can't help thinking of the Barthes treatise, lol) with ColourPop Lippie Pencil in Taurus, which makes the lines look a bit cleaner:

The formula isn't a dealbreaker by any means, but I think I'll wait until the fall to wear Smoked Za'atar regularly. Both in the tube and on the lips, Bite lipsticks tend to soften in heat and firm up in cold, and SZ will probably transfer less in cooler, less humid weather. In the meantime, here's an FOTD with mustardy eyeshadow and nightmarish humidity hair:

And with tamer hair and a reddish eye look (all I can remember is that I was wearing ABH Red Ochre in the crease):

Star Anise, on the other hand, is an absolute delight. It might be my favorite new lipstick of 2018 so far, and it's certainly made me rethink my entire relationship with Bite.

I couldn't have found a more suitable nude lipstick if I'd asked Bite to design one especially for me. I worried that it might be too similar to my other nude-ish lipsticks, Milani Matte Naked and Pat McGrath Madame Greige. But next to Star Anise, Matte Naked looks almost peach (and it's one of the cooler-toned nudes at the drugstore!), while Madame Greige looks straight-up purple:

L-R: Matte Naked, Star Anise, Madame Greige.

Here it is on my lips; it's less shiny (thus less slippery) than Smoked Za'atar, but it still has a definite shine. I have yet to see a truly matte lipstick from Bite.

SA lasts a surprisingly long time for a nude lipstick: three or four hours of everyday wear (with drinking, talking, etc). And because it's so close to my skin tone, it looks perfectly natural as it fades. Both Smoked Za'atar and Star Anise are extremely comfortable to wear; they're not actively moisturizing, but they don't leave my lips feeling dry, either.

Here's Star Anise on my face just yesterday, with a few Modern Renaissance shades on my eyes and Glossier Storm on my cheeks:

And a few weeks ago, with Glossier Lily on my lids and Illamasqua Zygomatic on my cheeks. I've been meaning to write a quick review of Lily and Slip, but there's been so much Glossier on my blog this year that I wanted to give it a rest for a few posts.

After my positive experience with the Spice It Up collection, I'm going to be paying more attention to Bite's future releases. I'm already contemplating buying one of the Prismatic Pearl glosses, possibly Rose Pearl (which I've swatched in Sephora: it's gorgeous) or Oyster Pearl. For now, though, I'm just happy to have two reasons not to dislike Bite anymore.