Friday, April 30, 2021

Auxiliary Beauty Has Moved!

I've lost count of the number of times I've declared my intention to migrate my blog from Blogger to Wordpress and buy my own domain, but guess what? I finally got around to it! From now on, you can find me at...

(The unscrupulous dickheads squatting on the no-hyphen version of the URL were charging almost $700 for it.)

Please come check it out! I'm going to make this Blogger blog private in a week or two, but I'll leave it up for now while I fix a few things on the new site. 

I'm excited! This change was long overdue.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Great Blush Inventory of 2021

When I first got into makeup, in the early 2010s, blush was an afterthought in the Western beauty community. Everyone had a couple of blushes, generally a warm pink and a cool pink, but beauty bloggers often fretted about the prospect of looking tacky or clownish or old-ladyish (never mind the ageism and internalized misogyny involved in those fears). Blush seemed to be regarded as a necessary evil: it helped warm up the complexion and tie a look together, but a few granules too many and you'd be in embarrassing Pierrot territory. Only the bloggers who focused on retro aesthetics (Marianne of Esme and the Laneway comes to mind) embraced blush wholeheartedly, which reinforced the stereotype that blush was unmodern. Ever impressionable, I absorbed the general anxiety about the prospect of "clown cheeks." For a couple of years, I owned just two blushes, NARS Mata Hari and a peach-pink Covergirl Cheekers, and applied them very gingerly. 

My aversion to bold blush started to fade in late 2013, when NARS released the controversial Guy Bourdin collection, which contained the most beautiful blush I'd ever seen: Coeur Battant, a vibrant magenta. I was conflicted: I didn't think I'd wear Coeur Battant often, if at all, but I needed that shade of magenta in my life. I bought it, of course, and its mere presence on my makeup shelf began to open my mind to other blush possibilities. So did the now-defunct beauty blog Drivel about Frivol, which often spotlighted creative Korean and Japanese blush techniques. And then I got into k-pop and began noticing new-to-me blush placements in almost every music video I watched. The screenshot below is from Red Velvet's "Dumb Dumb" (2015), which was one of the first MVs that popped into my head when I thought of k-pop makeup from the mid-'10s. As you can see, Koreans were wearing "sunburn blush" well before Western teenagers on TikTok were!

A few years after that, I became obsessed with disco beauty, the aesthetic from which NARS had drawn inspiration for the Guy Bourdin collection. Makeup artists who defined the look of the late '70s and early '80s, such as Sandy Linter and Way Bandy, used blush in vivid shades of fuchsia, peach, and scarlet to sculpt the face and craft a sharp-cheekboned, androgynous allure. 

Gia Carangi for Harper's Bazaar Italia, September 1978 (source).

Recreating disco or k-pop looks on my own face, however, presented a problem. Bold blushes were almost nonexistent at drugstore price points (as I complained in a blog post in 2014), which limited my ability to experiment. At various moments in the mid-to-late 2010s, blush seemed to be on the verge of making a serious comeback in the West, but the hype always died down. There was some buzz around the Marc Jacobs two-toned Air Blushes in 2016, and around the Glossier Cloud Paints the next year, but blush-focused looks remained rare. Devotees of the heavy Instaglam look certainly went hard with their blush, but they also went hard with every other category of makeup. Blush was still an afterthought, existing mainly to divide the obligatory stripe of bronzer under the cheekbone from the obligatory stripe of metallic highlighter above it. No one seemed inclined to experiment with placements or unconventional colors; boring peaches and warm pinks dominated. Dark days.

In other words, we millennials had several chances to bring back blush, and we failed. It fell to the youths of Gen Z to accomplish what my generation could not. In the past year or two, blush has experienced the renaissance for which I waited nearly a decade, and I couldn't be more delighted about it. So delighted, in fact, that I've bought four new blushes since the start of 2021. Blush has, at least momentarily, supplanted lipstick as my favorite category of makeup. I can hardly believe I just typed that sentence.

I recently had the idea to take an inventory of my blush collection. "How many could I really have?" I thought. "Fifteen, maybe?" Not even close. As it turns out, I own twenty-two (22) blushes in powder, cream, and liquid formulas. Granted, I amassed this hoard over nine years, but even so. Twenty-two blushes. That's a ridiculously large number. So I decided to compile this post as a tribute to all the beautiful blushes I've collected over the past decadeand as a reminder to myself that I absolutely, positively do not need a single blush more. 

Slightly more than half of my complete collection.

Below, I've photographed every one of my blushes as it looks right now, linking to my own reviews where available and putting asterisks next to my favorite shades. 

Powder Blushes (10):

An incomplete family portrait.

1. 2aN Dual Cheek in Cotton Candy Violet (bought in 2021):

2. ColourPop Whirl (2018):

3. Milani Coral Cove (2015):

4. NARS Coeur Battant* (2013):

5. NARS Mata Hari* (2013):

6. NARS Threesome (2017):

The original packaging fell apart (as expected of NARS), so I had to transfer the blush to a magnetic palette, and it suffered some damage in the process.

7. Sleek Flushed* (2014):

8. Sleek Life's a Peach (2014):

9. Tarte Paaarty* (mini) (2017):

10. Urban Decay Afterglow Blush in Rapture* (2015):

Cool-toned powders, L-R: Threesome, Cotton Candy Violet (right-hand shade), Mata Hari, Coeur Battant, Whirl, Rapture. Two swipes of Cotton Candy Violet, one swipe of all the others.

Warm-toned powders, L-R: Paaarty, Coral Cove, Life's a Peach, Flushed:

Cream Blushes (8):

Please excuse my fugly carpet. 

11. Bbia Downy Cheek in Downy Lavender (2019):

12. ColourPop Super Shock Cheek in Aphrodisiac* (2019):

13. ColourPop Super Shock Cheek in POV (2021):

The blush suffered severe shrinkage in transit and popped right out of the pan, so I had to smush it back in.

14. Fenty Cheeks Out Freestyle Cream Blush in Daiquiri Dip* (2021):

15. Fenty Cheeks Out Freestyle Cream Blush in Strawberry Drip* (2020):

16. Milk Lip + Cheek Color in Werk (mini) (2020):

17. Tower 28 BeachPlease Lip + Cheek Tinted Balm in Magic Hour* (2021):

18. Rituel de Fille Color Nectar Pigment Balm in Bloodflower* (2020):

Swatches, L-R: Downy Lavender, Strawberry Drip (two swipes), Daiquiri Dip, Bloodflower, POV, Werk, Magic Hour, Aphrodisiac. Top photo in shade, bottom in direct sun.

Liquid Blushes (4):

19. Glossier Cloud Paint in Dawn (2018)

20. Glossier Cloud Paint in Haze* (2018)

21. Glossier Cloud Paint in Puff (2017)

22. Glossier Cloud Paint in Storm* (2018)

Swatches (one swipe each):

L-R: Dawn, Haze, Puff, Storm.

And now for some recent blush-centric looks! As usual, the blush looked much bolder in person than it does in these photos.

I call this one "1979 meets 2009." Points of interest: old Kiko eyeshadow, NARS Coeur Battant blush, and Revlon Glass Shine lipstick in Beaming Strawberry.

ColourPop powder eyeshadow in The News, Fenty Strawberry Drip, and Revlon Glass Shine in Fire and Ice:

And some pre-shower experimentation with sunburn blush, using Fenty Daiquiri Dip, which I'll probably review in due course:

My blush-related goals for the rest of 2021: buy no new blushes, hit pan on at least three shades, and experiment with using two or more shades in a single look. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

2020 Lipstick Chronology #4: Urban Decay Lip Chemistry Tint in X-Ray

 Product: Urban Decay Wired Vice Lip Chemistry Lasting Glassy Tint in X-Ray

Date Purchased: Mar. 1, 2020

Grade: B

Let's take a time machine back to the United States on the first day of March in the year 2020. After a shaky start to his primary campaign, Joe Biden has just emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee. President Trump still has his Twitter account, of which he makes prodigious daily use. What increasingly dominates the American headlines, however, is the novel coronavirus. It seems just a matter of time until the virus spreads across the country, but no one seems to know how fast it will spread, how broadly it's already spread, or how easily it's transmitted. (The answers, as it turns out: very, very, and very.) Panic buying hasn't yet set in, but many of us are nervously, uncertainly picking up extra cans of beans or packages of spaghetti on grocery runs. And Urban Decay has released its '80s-inspired Spring 2020 collection, centered on a palette that's supposed to be the spiritual heir of the Electric palette.

All right, no one remembers or cares about that last thing, but this is a beauty blog. 

So there I was at Sephora in Cleveland, determined to leave with just one item: the new 24/7 eyeliner pencil in Jolt, a matte chartreuse (mini-review here). But I couldn't help swatching everything else in the spring collection, including the five new shades of Lip Chemistry Tint, a formula that I'd somehow never noticed or heard of. Gothademic that I am, I was especially taken with the shade second from the bottom: X-Ray, a very dark plum, which looked like it would pair well with Jolt. So I bought it, too.

In both formula and packaging, the Lip Chemistry Tints remind me of the YSL Glossy Stains, one of which I reviewed almost seven years ago (!). Like the Glossy Stains, X-Ray has a pronounced alcohol smell that dissipates soon after application. It comes in a square bottle with a twist-off lid and a flat doefoot applicator.

Urban Decay's ad copy described X-Ray as a "black cherry," but it contains very little red; it's a deep raisin with a lot of gray and brown. When I made comparison swatches for this post, I was surprised that X-Ray's closest cousin in my makeup collection turned out to be not one of my other purples or plums, but MAC Antique Velvet, a dark Jazz Age brown with a hint of violet.

 L-R: MAC Antique Velvet, X-Ray, MAC Men Love Mystery, Marc Jacobs Vinyl Dream, Urban Decay Seismic.

Above, two coats of X-Ray just after application; below, two coats after a couple of hours and a can of La Croix. The gloss wears off fairly quickly, but the stain can outlast a bowl of pasta. Unfortunately, the stain alone is much less attractive than the stain plus gloss. (There's a reason why the look of a cherry-popsicle stain is generally seen as desirable and the look of a grape-popsicle stain is not.)

Putting on X-Ray is a somewhat stressful process, because once the product makes contact with your skin, it sets almost immediately. There's no going back: if you happen to smear it outside your lip line, or to decide after fifteen seconds that you'd rather wear NARS Red Square, that's too fucking bad. The only way to remove most of it soon after applying is by scrubbing your lips with a washcloth (or, I suppose, with a lip scrub). When my mother was waiting tables back in the '70s and '80s and a customer asked one too many times for a water refill, she'd reply, "Well, you'll just have to wait." Likewise, if you regret putting on X-Ray on a particular day and aren't willing to exfoliate your lips to remove it, you'll just have to wait for it to fade. I find that the best application method is to carefully coat my lower lip, VERY QUICKLY smush my lips together to transfer the color to my upper lip, tidy up the edges with the doefoot applicator, then repeat these steps if I want a deeper color (which I generally do). Once set, the formula feels weightless and skin-like and isn't particularly drying. 

You'd think that such a formula would be mask-proof, but alas, it is not. For science's sake, I wore X-Ray under a KF94 mask for over an hour during a visit to the optometrist. When I removed the mask, it was covered in purple smudges, and only a bit of color remained on my lips. I will say that the longevity of X-Ray seems to have decreased somewhat in the year since I bought it, so a newer Lip Chemistry Tint might hold up better under a mask.

Now for some looks! I've always struggled to make X-Ray flatter me. This is odd, given that MAC Antique Velvet is one of my most flattering lip colors and X-Ray is essentially a sheer, slightly cooler-toned version of Antique Velvet. However, X-Ray tends to emphasize my cool olive (i.e. gray) undertone and make me look a bit sickly. My instinct is to pair dark lip colors with very subtle makeup everywhere else, but I'm not sure that's the best approach with X-Ray:

I'm much happier with the look I put together today. I came upon the inspiration for it on one of my favorite Instagram accounts, Discontinued Makeup, an hour or two after publishing this very post last Sunday, and I immediately unpublished the post so that I could try out the look and report back. I'd feel weird uploading a screenshot of someone else's Instagram post, but you can see the look here; it's a 2003 ad for Versace makeup, featuring pastel lavender eyeshadow and a glossy brownish plum lip, an interesting cross between Biba and Y2K-meets-'60s. Here's my modest attempt:

For the eyes, I used ColourPop Howlin' on the lid, Urban Decay Undone (from Naked2 Basics) on the upper lashline, Covergirl Snow Blossom and Topshop Holograph on the browbone/crease, and more Holograph in the inner corner. I realized this morning that I didn't own any white eyeshadow, so I picked up Snow Blossom for $3 at the grocery store. What a blast from the past, down to the extreme fallout:

Close-up of the eye (there was heavy cloud cover today, so you can't see the pretty pink/blue shift of Holograph). It was fun to reverse the usual order of things with a matte lid and shimmery crease!

My blush is 2aN Dual Cheek in Cotton Candy Violet (a new purchase that I'll review before too long, I hope), and my highlighter is NYX Twilight Tint (as invisible as Holograph because of the bad light, sorry):

Outtake feat. a photobomber and a different inner-corner shade (ColourPop Sunburst):

Of course, you could also go full vamp and pair X-Ray with an intense smoky eye, à la this look from a recent k-pop video:

Despite its good qualities, X-Ray has come to reside in my "what was I thinking?" category. I really like the Lip Chemistry Tint formula and would be interested in trying more shades of it, but this particular shade doesn't work very well for me. Oh, well: even the most seasoned makeup gremlins among us sometimes make such mistakes.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Tower 28 BeachPlease Luminous Tinted Balm in Magic Hour

Last summer, I got rid of my Illamasqua cream blush in Zygomatic, one of my all-time favorite beauty products, which I'd bought in the UK in June of 2014. I hadn't noticed a change in its appearance, smell, or performance, but I felt increasingly uncomfortable smearing a six-year-old cream blush on my face. Unfortunately, Illamasqua is no longer available in the United States and I don't exactly have international travel plans, so I started looking for a replacement.

That was harder than you might think. Zygomatic filled a very specific niche: it was my perfect nude blush, a slightly cool-toned beige that harmonized with my coloring and worked well with both warm and cool colors elsewhere on my face. Most beige blushes on the market lean either warm and peachy or noticeably pink. But I recently became aware of the cream blushes from the newish beauty brand Tower 28, and one of them, Magic Hour, looked very similar to Zygomatic. So when I was in Cleveland earlier this week, I popped into Sephora and was pleased to find Magic Hour in stock, and here it is! 

I knew almost nothing about Tower 28 before buying Magic Hourthat's what I get for not being on TikTok, I guessso I had to do some research for this post. Founded in 2019 by Amy Liu, who previously worked in marketing at such beauty brands as Smashbox and Josie Maran, Tower 28 made it into Sephora this past January, just a year and a half after its debut. (You might assume that Liu is a Gen Z influencer type, but she's forty-one and has a mere 1,727 Instagram followers! It's refreshing to see a new beauty brand that doesn't have a famous figurehead.) Tower 28 currently offers just a few products, all at a midrange price point: lip glosses in jelly and milky formulas, cream blushes, a cream bronzer and shimmer-free cream highlighter, and a setting spray. 

I'd describe the brand's aesthetic as "minimalist '80s," which sounds like a contradiction in terms but somehow works: slim, clear packaging, sheer but vivid color products, and California-vaporwave boxes. (Tower 28 is a lifeguard tower in Santa Monica, apparently.) That neon typeface with the squiggly W is marketing gold:

One reason why Tower 28 entered Sephora so soon is that Liu created the brand with sensitive skin in mind, so it fits nicely into the "Clean at Sephora" initiative, which pushes "clean beauty" products formulated without parabens, mineral oils, and other ingredients that have acquired a bad rap in recent years. Frankly, I find the whole "clean beauty" movement kind of silly: many of the allegations against the stigmatized products (for instance, that parabens cause cancer) haven't been scientifically proven, and the American cultural obsession with "clean" products and foods seems to me to dovetail with growing anti-vaccine and other anti-scientific sentiments. 

Also, the reason my Illamasqua Zygomatic lasted six and a half years without growing mold? Parabens. Since the paraben-free Magic Hour won't last anywhere near as long, I feel a certain pressure to use as much of it as possible before its inevitable demise.

On to the review! 

The BeachPlease blushes cost $20 for 4.5 grams; by contrast, the Fenty Cheeks Out cream blushes are $20 for 3 grams, so you're getting a pretty good deal with Tower 28. The clear packaging is aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn't feel particularly sturdy. I love bringing cream blushes with me when I travel (here's hoping I get the vaccine before too long and can actually go somewhere this year), but I'd hesitate before tossing Magic Hour into a makeup bag with dozens of other products. This is also the kind of blush that's a real bitch to open: you have to either jam your fingernail into the latch or wrench open the compact while holding the sides. Why do I have a hunch that the hinge will break within a year?

Tower 28 describes Magic Hour as a "sun-kissed rosy nude" (I thought were no longer using the word "nude" as a general descriptor for light beige makeup in 2021, but hey). Unfortunately, Magic Hour leans warmer and peachier in swatches and on my face than it does in the pan. Below, I've swatched Magic Hour with a few other blushes in the peachy-browny-pink family, and it looks almost orange next to the other three. It also has the heaviest and most pigmented formula by far: that's one swipe of Magic Hour with two or three of all the others.

L-R: ColourPop Super Shock Cheek in Aphrodisiac, Milk Lip + Cheek Color in Werk, Magic Hour, Tarte Paaarty. Aphrodisiac is a cream-to-powder blush, Werk is a cream, and Paaarty is a powder.

Magic Hour has an odd texture that I don't think I've encountered in any other cream blush: it's sort of...sticky. When I tap lightly on the blush, my fingertip clings to the surface and comes away with a sizable dab of product stuck to it. Here's a closeup of Magic Hour's texture after I swirled my finger around; I believe the tiny bumps on the surface of the pan are harmless wax bloom. (Interestingly, Temptalia noticed the same thing on her own pan of Magic Hour.)

Because Magic Hour's formula is on the thicker side, application isn't as easy as the "tap tap + blend!" (tapotez + estompez!) method advocated on the label. As with my Fenty blush, I have to exert a certain amount of force to blend the color seamlessly into my cheeks, which are fairly dry. Fortunately, Magic Hour sets quickly on my skin and doesn't feel at all tacky when I touch my cheek.

I have the hardest time getting the blush to show up in photos! Below, I'm wearing three layers of Magic Hour; the color is more evident in person, but still not clownish. It's the sort of blush that's almost impossible to over-apply. On my face, Magic Hour reads as a slightly warm-toned (not rosy, but not quite peachy) flush; I anticipate wearing it often in the spring and summer.

Magic Hour has decent longevity on my cheeks, though I find myself wanting to touch it up around the five-hour mark. Tower 28 claims that the BeachPlease blushes have "a natural luminous finish," which I think would be accurate on skin less dry than mine. On me, Magic Hour is basically matte, though not in a bad way: it does indeed look natural. Below, I'm wearing about two layers of Magic Hour with Glossier Haloscope in Quartz, and you can tell by the finish where the highlight ends and the blush begins:

By the way, this product is advertised as a "luminous tinted balm" that works on both cheeks and lips. Tower 28 has a lot of nerve making that claim, because Magic Hour doesn't even come close to being a functional lip product. It feels gooey, clumps up on every dry spot, and emphasizes lip lines, and the color is straight out of 2009 concealer-lips hell:

Overall, I have mixed feelings about Magic Hour. I do think it looks nice on me (on my cheeks, at least; let's forget that lip swatch ever happened), and I'm sure I'll get a lot of use out of it, but I'm sad that the color isn't quite what I expected. And since I'm not a huge fan of the thick, tacky texture, I don't plan to buy any more shades in this formula. Most of the existing reviews of the BeachPlease blushes seem to be very positive, so here's hoping my review does a little to puncture the hype balloon! Maybe I'll just have to repurchase Zygomatic after all, and deal with the shipping charges...