Monday, May 29, 2017

Real Techniques Mini Sponges

Something different today: a mini-review of something that isn't makeup! You've probably noticed that my obsession with color makeup is several orders of magnitude greater than my interest in skincare, brushes, haircare, or "boring makeup" (mascara, brow stuff, concealer, etc). But for variety's sake, I thought I'd write about a new tool that's been amusing me for the past month and a half. What's more, it's a tool that I use to apply "boring makeup"!

Since I don't wear foundation, I miss out on a whole category of beauty-world hype. Last year, the internet went crazy over Beauty Blenders (and knockoffs thereof), but I paid no attention until I became aware of the mini versions. Because, of course, I do wear base makeup: I apply NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Vanilla to my gruesome undereye circles almost every day. I'd never had much trouble blending it out with my fingers, but during my last trip to Ulta, I picked up a four-pack of mini "miracle complexion sponges" by Real Techniques. Above, I'm holding the two that are still pristine; I'm currently using the purple one, and the fuchsia one developed a huge crack when I washed it for the first time. Here's the purple sponge in my hand for scale:

It has a flat end for stamping on product...

..and a pointy end for getting into the inner corners of the eyes:

To cover my dark circles, I dab the concealer in a few little dots below my eye, spray the sponge with my Heritage Store glycerin and rosewater face mist until it's damp, and then blend in the product with a patting motion. A huge part of the hype around facial sponges must be that they're just plain fun to use. The damp sponge is soft, bouncy, and cooling. My skin feels like it's being pampered, not heartlessly spackled. And the pointy end of the sponge is a lot more efficient than my fingers at blending concealer up to the tear duct.

Novelty aside, though, do the sponges actually deliver better results? Let's take a closer look. Here are my unconcealed dark circles:

For my first attempt, I applied the same amount of concealer with the sponge (your left) and my fingers (your right). I also made up my eyes and brows: Glossier Boy Brow in Brown, Maybelline Bad to the Bronze cream shadow, Urban Decay Whiskey eyeliner, and Revlon mascara.

As you can see, the sponge delivered less coverage, likely because some product disappeared into its crevices. So I applied another layer to that eye:

Better, but still not quite as good as the other eye.

Finally, my full face, with Illamasqua Zygomatic cream blush, ColourPop Lunch Money highlighter, and NYX Alabama lipstick. Today was overcast with very thick clouds, like almost every other day this May, so I look a bit washed out:

Oddly, the concealer applied with the sponge seemed to wear off faster. I glanced in the mirror two hours later and the circle under my right eye really jumped out at me. To be fair, I don't aim to cover my circles completely (I think I look a little uncanny-valley with thick undereye concealer), but I need some coverage. I also find that every few days, the sponge fails to blend the concealer over one particular spot under my left eye. The product sort of clumps up on itself and I have to go in with my finger and try to spread it around and ARGH.

I'm glad I decided to write this post, because my little experiment was enlightening. It turned out that I had to use almost twice as much product to get the same result with the sponge as I did with my fingers. And since NARS concealer ain't cheap, I may have to return to the old-fashioned application method and use my fingers like a goddamn peasant. But I do love how precisely the sponge delivers product to my inner corners, so I may use it for that specific purpose and pat in the rest of the concealer with a finger. In any case, I don't think I'd recommend these sponges for anything but their feeling on the skinbut some days that's enough for me. Introducing sponges to my routine has reminded me that makeup is about not only the finished result but also the process of application. Which should be fun!

What's your experience with beauty sponges? And is it possible that I could use my own sponges more effectively (by wetting them more, or not at all, or...)?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Life Update

Hey! I promise that my blog still exists and that I'm still alive. Look, I even have a pin to prove it:

Appropriately, I took this photo while waiting outside my therapist's office.

However, posts have been scarce this month for a few reasons:

  • I don't know where my money will come from after August, where I'll be living, or whether I'll even stay in academia, so most of my energy has been devoted to sorting that out
  • I'll probably be defending my dissertation in a few months and it needs a lot of editing plus an introduction, hahaha kill me
  • I've been revising an article that I want to send off again by the end of the month
  • The weather has been shitty and overcast for most of May, limiting my ability to take decent photos
  • Literally everything else in the world is awful??

I have a habit of announcing a blog hiatus only to write a post two days later, so I'm not going to do that now, but I think it's fair to say that posting may be slow over the next few months as I blunder toward a plan for this year slash the rest of my life. For now, I thought I'd share a little photo album of what I've been doing/seeing/buying/reading this month.

One of the nice things about living in the suburbs is that everyone competes to have a greener thumb than their neighbors:

I've been getting back into embroidery, an on-and-off hobby of mine since second grade. I started by embroidering a Jenny Holzer truism that seemed apt for this particular political moment. I fucked up the spacing, but hey, Trump is fucking up our entire democracy; IT'S ART, OKAY. I'll add some flowers or something eventually.

I just started Lara Elena Donnelly's novel Amberlough, and though I can't deliver a definitive verdict yet, I'm enjoying the hell out of it so far. I mean, what's not to like about queer speculative fiction full of political intrigue and cabaret? It reminds me of a less prolix Mieville novel. And since my main complaint about Mieville is that he uses 30 words when he could use five, that's a very good thing.

I went to Philadelphia last week to visit one of my grad-school friends before she moves back to the UK at the end of the month. I love the old houses along Baltimore Avenue in West Philly; they're an interesting mix of heavy Northeastern materials and quasi-Southern design. And those colors!

I escaped the 95-degree heat with a visit to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. They had a exhibit on magic in the ancient world, featuring all sorts of amulets and talismans, like this statuette of a soldier with a Medusa-head shield:

And Mesopotamian plaques with images of captured demons:

While in Philly, I bought a nail polish from the indie brand Philly Loves Lacquer, which sadly closed up shop last year:

This shade is Stinking Glitterveta, named after the Philly-based prog-metal trio Stinking Lizaveta, which itself is named after a character in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. That complexity of allusion (and glitter) is hard to find outside the indie world. I layered Stinking Glitterveta over two coats of Barry M Butterscotch Sundae, but it turned out to be one of those annoying glitter polishes that require you to pour a blob of product onto a piece of paper and use a tool to fish out the larger glitters one by one. Still, I think it turned out well, even if the points of the stars tend to detach from the nail:

That particular combination of fuchsia, lime, and black reminds me of my early childhood, when it seemed to be everywhere. I had a Barbie dress in that color combo, as well as a little fuchsia-and-lime wallet that I decorated with sparkly fabric paint and rhinestones. And speaking of fuchsia, I also bought a third Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuit in Nice to Fuchsia, which reminds me of my dear departed NARS Angela. Here's NtF next to a Revlon lipstick I've decided to return; I really need to stop buying warm brown nudes.

I think this shade of magenta-berry is one of my most flattering colors, though I don't wear it often.

I usually steer clear of Urban Outfitters polishes, which seem to be prone to chipping, but I couldn't resist this metallic rose shade, called (wait for it) Metallic Rose. It's quick-drying, opaque in two coats, and not particularly brushstrokey. Unfortunately, it does start chipping on me in a day or two, but it's so pretty that I really don't mind. I'm happy to wear it for as long as it consents to stay on my nails.

Amid all this buying, I finished my second lipstick of the year: Urban Decay Revolution Lipstick in Streak, which I took to layering over other shades for a more muted, brownish peach.

Here I am wearing Streak over Glossier Generation G in Cake, as well as some Modern Renaissance shades on my eyes. Sorry the photo is a little washed out.

I've been enjoying Burnt Orange as a crease color, with lighter peaches and beiges on the lid:

And that's all for now! I actually have quite a few products to review, but I have a weird hangup about writing review posts if I can't make them interesting in some other way. Still, better a straightforward review than nothing at all, I suppose.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sheer Matte Showdown: ColourPop Blotted Lip vs. Glossier Generation G

I've owned two Glossier Generation G lipsticks, Jam and Cake, for over a year now, and I wear both pretty regularly. They have their flaws (enumerated in the reviews I've linked), but I love the ease and subtlety of the sheer matte finish. So when I heard that ColourPop was releasing a new lipstick formula that seemed, shall we say, inspired by the Generation G formula, I had to order a couple of shades for comparison.

For the record, it doesn't bother me that ColourPop more or less ripped off Glossier's idea. Glossier has ripped off quite a few ideas from Asian skincare, and anyway, that's how the beauty industry works: one brand comes up with a general idea, and other brands improve upon it, and the consumer gets a wider range of choices. While Glossier offers six shades of Generation G, ColourPop's Blotted Lip lineup comprises 11 shades, with a further eight in the liquid-to-matte Ultra Blotted Lip range. All of the BL and UBL shades have names that evoke popsicles or candy, in line with the "popsicle lip" trend that has dominated East Asian beauty for years but has only just made it to the West.


In this post, I'll compare the Blotted Lip and Generation G formulas in several different categories and see which comes out on top. (Note that although I spent my own money on the Blotted Lips, the Generation Gs were gifts from Renee.) First, though, a bunch of photos! Choosing just two Blotted Lip shades was tough, but I eventually settled on Drip, described on the website as a "warm rosey mauve," and Bees Knees, a "fuchsia."

It should be "Bee's Knees," and the absence of that apostrophe really annoys me.

I don't see much mauve in Drip, which looks to me like a straightforward pinkish brown, though it pulls a bit cooler on my lips. Bees Knees is a very red hot pink along the lines of Revlon Cherries in the Snow, and the more you layer it the redder it gets. I don't usually care for this shade in opaque formulas (hence my neglect of Cherries in the Snow), but I find it a lot more wearable in Blotted Lip form. Here's one and three layers of Bees Knees (left) and Drip:

One (top) and three layers of Bees Knees on my lips:

Drip, same story:

And some comparison swatches:

L-R: Revlon Colorburst in Fuchsia, Revlon Cherries in the Snow, Bees Knees (1 layer), Revlon Balm Stain in Crush. Why are all my fuchsias from Revlon?

L-R: Milani Matte Naked, MAC Whirl, Drip (1 layer), Revlon Matte Balm in Sultry.

Finally, the two shades on my face (I'm wearing about three layers in each photo). Here's Bees Knees with ABH Buon Fresco eyeshadow, Urban Decay Demolition eyeliner, and NARS Threesome blush:

Drip with ColourPop Paper Tiger and ABH Golden Ochre eyeshadows, UD Whiskey eyeliner, and Illamasqua Zygomatic blush:

Not terribly happy with this eye look. Oh well.

And now for the SHEER MATTE SHOWDOWN, with the caveat that Glossier has made slight changes to the Generation G packaging and formula since I got Jam and Cake. The tubes are now fully opaque, and Glossier claims the formula is more moisturizing (though customer reviews would indicate otherwise). But since Glossier hasn't reformulated the lipsticks completely, I think my comparisons are still worth something.

ColourPop: 1g (0.035 oz)
Glossier: 2g (0.07 oz)

The Generation G lipsticks apparently contain twice as much product as the Blotted Lips, which I find baffling. The tubes are almost exactly the same size, and the bullets are almost exactly the same width. I've used about half of each Generation G shade, but from what I can remember, the bullets are about the same length as the Blotted Lip bullets.

The only explanation I can think of is that the Glossier lipsticks have more product wedged down in the tube to stabilize the bullet. But since that product isn't accessible unless you dig it out, I think it's fair to say that these lipsticks are functionally about the same size. Right? Am I missing something?

Winner: Glossier, I guess? I wish I had a new Gen G so I could do a better comparison.

ColourPop: $5 for 1 g (0.035 oz) = $5 per gram
Glossier: $18 for 2 g (0.07 oz) = $9 per gram

Even if the Generation Gs really are double the size of the Blotted Lips, they're still much pricier per gram. And since the Blotted Lips are more pigmented, you'll likely go through them less quickly. I think the Generation Gs are vastly overpriced for what they are, and I'm happy that people wanting the sheer matte look now have a cheaper option.

Winner: ColourPop


Both lipsticks are housed in thin white tubes that snap shut securely (remember that the new Gen G tubes are more opaque than the one above). The silver lettering on the ColourPop tube is a nice touch, though if experience can be trusted, it will probably wear off in a few weeks. I like that the inner part of the Blotted Lip tube matches the shade of the lipstick.

Almost every review on the Glossier site and MakeupAlley notes two big problems with the Generation G packaging: the cap is prone to cracking and the bullets often break off at the base. In fact, it seems like the packaging revamp has somehow made the cap flimsier! I can report that both of my Generation G bullets broke off shortly after purchase (the caps are still intact), though I managed to mash them back into their tubes. Interestingly, a couple of Blotted Lip reviews have mentioned the same issue. There must be something about a dry, waxy formula in a thin tube that leads to breakage. My own Blotted Lips are fine so far, but I haven't had them long; I'll update this post if they break eventually.

(Update, 6/4: I opened Drip today and the bullet had detached from the tube! Luckily it didn't fall out. Be careful, guys.)

Winner: ColourPop


Glossier claims that all of their Generation G shades have "dialed-down pigment loads," though Cake and Like in particular are "super subtle." I can certainly attest to this! No matter how many coats I layer on my lips (usually about four or five), neither Jam nor Cake can reach full opacity. The Blotted Lips are significantly more pigmented, and Bees Knees in particular takes on the look of a regular lipstick after three coats. Drip and the two Gen Gs aren't pigmented enough to smooth over lines and dry patches on my lips, but Bees Knees is.

Here's one swipe (top) and three swipes (bottom) of each shade:

L-R: Jam, Bees Knees, Drip, Cake.

And here I am wearing Cake...

...and Jam:

In this category, I think the Blotted Lips have the advantage. They're sheer when first applied, but you have the option of layering them for a bolder look. The Generation Gs are practically invisible on my lips with just one swipe, and I have to use several coats if I want them to show up at all. Again, this is just personal preference: the Generation G formula was designed for people wary of traditional lipstick, and that is...not me, lol.

Winner: ColourPop


The Blotted Lips have no scent whatsoever, while the Generation Gs have a faint clay-like smell that vanishes after application.

Winner: ColourPop, though I don't find Glossier's scent problematic at all.

Comfort Level:

Glossier claims that the Generation G formula contains blue agave, which "binds moisture inside lips for comfortable wear," and safflower oil, which "creates a barrier to prevent moisture loss in lips." But a glance at the customer reviews will reveal that the formula falls short in the moisturizing department. Personally, I find the Generation Gs neither drying nor hydrating. They certainly don't make my lips feel better if they're already dry, but they don't actively suck out moisture either. They're also more emollient than the Blotted Lips, meaning that I can smush the color around on my lips after application.

Unfortunately, the Blotted Lips haven't lived up to my expectations for comfort. Drip in particular is quite drying (it even looks dry in the FOTD I posted above). It makes my lips peel almost every time I wear it, but layering it over a balm interferes with color payoff. The best method I've found is one layer of Drip, followed by one thin layer of balm, followed by a couple more layers of Drip. I was hoping that Drip could be my new throw-on-and-go purse lipstick (to replace Revlon Pink Truffle, which I seem to have lost, and which itself replaced my lost NARS Dolce Vita), but the formula is just too finicky. For some reason, Bees Knees is more comfortable than Drip, though still a bit more drying than the Generation G formula. The Blotted Lips aren't at all emollient, either: I can't really move them around on my lips, which is a problem when I've applied them wonkily.

Winner: Glossier


When I wear one of my Generation Gs, I find myself touching up every 90 minutes or so. The Blotted Lips last longer: Bees Knees in particular stays on for 2-3 hours before I need to touch up. Bees Knees also seems to fade more evenly than Jam, which can cling to dry patches in my lips.

Winner: ColourPop


ColourPop triumphed in most categories, and I'd recommend the Blotted Lips more enthusiastically overall, but the comfort level is a big drawback for me. My experience with Drip doesn't tempt me to buy more shades in this formula. A couple of people have commented on my Instagram that they find the Ultra Blotted Lip formula less drying, so that's something to keep in mind. As for Generation G, my opinion hasn't changed since last year: a nice lipstick, but not worth $18but then, what lipstick is worth the price asked for it? (If this review has somehow encouraged you to buy one, you can use my Glossier affiliate link here. Or not.)

Have you tried either of these formulas, or anything similar?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

MAC Metallic Lipsticks in Metal Head and Pale Rose, and a Lipstick Taxonomy

Now that beauty-throwback trends have slid forward in time from the Brown '90s to the Iridescent '90s, brands are releasing a flood of metallic lipsticksor, at least, what they call "metallic lipsticks." But there tends to be a huge amount of variation between one formula and another, and even between one shade and another. Some "metallic" shades have an even sheen; others have big chunks of glitter; others shift their color depending on the angle and light. Can all of these finishes really be described by the same adjective? I THINK NOT. So I present to you...

You might have to enlarge the image to see all of my neurotic little notes, but the main point I'm trying to make in this flow chart is that whether a lipstick can be classified as "metallic" depends on 1) the size of the shiny particles and 2) the color of the particles relative to the base color. I define a metallic lipstick as one with an even sheen (i.e. no visibly discrete particles) that is the same color as the base color. Here's a close-up of the relevant section:

All of these categories are up for debate, of course, but this is more or less how I classify lipsticks in my head. Which brings me to the subject of today's review: Metal Head and Pale Rose, two shades from MAC's new Metallic range. I wish I had a macro lens or, you know, anything better than an iPhone camera, because my photos don't remotely do justice to the sparkle.

I was a little confused when I saw photos of these lipsticks pop up on Temptalia. I'd been expecting something like the NYX Wicked Lippies, but most of the MAC shades appeared to have a sheer base color and a contrasting color of shimmer or glitter particles, which made them indistinguishable from MAC's venerable Frost formula. (My flow chart would put most MAC "frost" shades into the "shimmer" or "pearl" category, since I define "frost" pretty narrowly as a white or silvery sheen. Again, up for debate; there's a case to be made that a silver/white pearl or a gold sheen could count as frost, or that I'm putting way too much thought into this.) It's unclear to me why MAC didn't simply expand the Frost range, as they did the Matte range two years ago. My best guess is that "frost" is still a dirty word, evoking silvery bubblegum horrors from the '80s, and MAC thought they might as well cut their losses and create an entirely new category. Hey, it worked on me: I spent an embarrassing amount of time one morning admiring Temptalia's sneak peek of all 18 shades. If you're in need of some extra beauty today (and who isn't, these days), do yourself a favor and scroll slowly down that page. Here are some far less pretty swatches of my own, taken under Nordstrom lighting that's pulling all the shades a bit warm:

L-R: Cold Front, Royal Hour, Pale Rose, Metal Head, Foiled Rose.

And the full display:

The first shade to catch my eye was Metal Head, a sheer purply black with fuchsia sparkle. Some of you will remember my ultimately futile search for a sheer black lipstick last year (posts here and here). After destashing my deluxe sample of Givenchy Noir Révélateur earlier this year, I gave up the quest, concluding that it might not be possible to find a lipstick that delivered the look I wanted. But when I saw Metal Head, my lust revived. Honestly, I didn't even care how it wore; I just wanted to own and ogle that tube of cyberpunk perfection. So I bought it. 

A few weeks later I tried on Pale Rose, which seems to be the blogger favorite, and bought that too. 

Even before swatching these lipsticks, I had a feeling that the flow chart would place them in a category other than "metallic." Below, I've swatched them next to two other shiny lipsticks: Urban Decay Roach and Milani The Ultimatte. Both of those shades have an even sheen that's roughly the same color as the base color, which qualifies them for the "metallic" category. The MAC lipsticks, though...well, take a look:

L-R: Roach, Pale Rose, Metal Head, The Ultimatte.

Out of focus:

Pale Rose and Metal Head have much larger sparkles than the other two. And while Pale Rose's sparkles are similar in color to its base, Metal Head's sparkles are definitely not. My flow chart would put Pale Rose in the "glitter" family and Metal Head in "shimmer."

But the chart has one big weakness: it assesses how lipsticks look in the tube, not on the lips. And unless I'm in direct artificial light, the two colors in Metal Head blend into a metallic-looking grayish purple. Someone commented on my Instagram that the shade looks very similar to Kling It On from MAC's Star Trek collection last year, and after looking up swatches, I suspect that Metal Head may be a repackaged Kling It On. So if you missed out on that one, here's another chance!

I worried that Metal Head might apply or wear off unevenly, but I'm impressed by the formula. It's definitely sheer (the swatch above is two or three layers), and if you look closely, you can see that it bunches up a little in my lip lines. From a normal distance, though, I think it looks pretty good! It applies smoothly without being too slippery (though it does need touching up after two hours or so), and it feels comfortable and slightly moisturizing.

When I posted about Metal Head on Instagram, I got some questions about whether it would work as a topper for another lipstick. So I layered it over MAC matte lipstick in Men Love Mystery, a bright warm purple. Here's Men Love Mystery on its own (top) and under Metal Head (bottom):

Layered over Milani Matte Naked, Metal Head produces an interesting purplish taupe:

Metal Head made both lipsticks darker and cooler-toned, but the sparkle didn't really translate in either case, which was disappointing. Still, much better for a "smoky lip" than Black Lace Rabbit.

Some reviewers have praised Pale Rose for being more opaque than MAC's darker metallic shades like Metal Head. What they haven't made clear, though, is that it's not the base color that provides that opacity; it's the thickly packed glitter. Metal Head looks metallic under certain lights, but Pale Rose always looks as sparkly as Lana Del Rey's décolletage in the "Music To Dangle Prepositions To Watch Boys To" video:

If Metal Head is cyberpunk, Pale Rose evokes trashy '60s and '70s futurism, like Lana Del Rey in a lamé catsuit and fake antennae. I don't know why I'm so attracted to that aesthetic this spring, but I really am (not that my attraction translates into any meaningful difference in my fashion or makeup). Pale Rose is a sheer pinkish brown with abundant gold sparkles and a glint of pink here and there. I've swatched it between two other nudeish lipsticks, Bourjois Beige Trench (left) and Milani Matte Naked (right). Beige Trench looks shimmery here, but that's just the sunlight.

Pale Rose on my lips:

When I say "abundant gold sparkles," that's exactly what I mean. Pale Rose feels gritty when I'm applying it (though not when it's sitting on my lips). And I wasn't aware until I tried Pale Rose that a lipstick could have glitter fallout. Here's the tissue with which I removed it last time I wore it:

All this sounds like complaining, but I'm actually pleased with Pale Rose. It's not an everyday shade, but I like it as a retro-futuristic variation on an ordinary MLBB. Here I am wearing Pale Rose with a Modern Renaissance "smoky eye" that got almost entirely lost in my eyelid crease. I'm wearing Warm Sienna in the crease, Antique Bronze all over the lid, Cyprus Umber in the outer corner, and (I think) Primavera in the inner corner:

It was smoky, though, I promise. I need to start blending my crease color way higher, I guess. But how much higher can I possibly take it before it runs into my eyebrow?

Overall, I really enjoy Metal Head and Pale Rose. I'd recommend the MAC metallics to anyone who enjoys offbeat lip colors, with the caveat that most of the shades are not true metallics but sheer lipsticks packed with shimmer of a different color. If that appeals to you, then knock yourself out. Have you come around to the Iridescent '90s yet?