Saturday, July 7, 2018

Making Up with 95% Humidity

If there's one thing I've learned from living in central New Jersey for the better part of a decade, it's how to choose humidity-resistant makeup. (I would say "humidity-proof," but nothing is truly humidity-proof except mosquitoes.) In a part of the world where the humidity index routinely hovers above 90% and occasionally creeps up to 100%, it's essential to know which formulas won't slide off my face before I even leave the house—or, at least, will look semi-decent as they slide off. In addition to living in the muggy armpit of the United States, I'm also a person who sweats a lot, particularly on my face and scalp. After my 20-minute walk to work, my face is dripping and my hair is as wet as if I've just showered. All this is to say that if I vouch for the tenacity of a formula, believe me: it's tenacious.

When choosing my makeup on particularly humid mornings, I look for formulas that a) stain the skin, b) dry down completely, or c) fade gracefully. (I'm talking about color makeup, by the way: I have yet to find a humidity-resistant concealer, but please enlighten me if you know of one.) Because I don't wear foundation, powders don't blend out properly when my skin is damp, and brushes don't glide across my skin as smoothly as usual. And let's be honest: now that I'm working a 9-to-5 job, I have a newfound appreciation for products that I can mash into my face with my fingers when half-asleep. On summer weekday mornings, I gravitate toward liquid or cream eyeshadow, liquid or cream blush, matte liquid lipstick, and sheer lipstick. This post will be an overview of my favorite formulas and shades in those categories!

1. Liquid and Cream Eyeshadow

My OG humidity-resistant holy-grail shadow is Maybelline Color Tattoo in Bad to the Bronze, one of my summer staples since 2013 (this is my second one):

Bad to the Bronze is cooler-toned than most bronze eyeshadows on the market (I'd even venture to say it verges on taupe), with a formula that blends out smoothly but sets quickly. This stuff is apocalypse-proof. Unfortunately, none of the other Color Tattoos I've tried have impressed me as much, but I will repurchase Bad to the Bronze as long as it's available. It's one of the very few products that I discovered early in my makeup journey and still wear frequently today. For proof of its incredible longevity, look no further than this (rather gross, sorry) photo from earlier this week:

I took this after walking home from work on an afternoon when the heat index was about 100°. I was more sweat than woman, as you'll see more clearly if you enlarge the photo, which I encourage you not to do. And yet, incredibly, neither my eyeshadow nor my lipstick budged. (The lipstick is Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuit in Nice to Fuchsia; more on that later.)

The Glossier Lidstars are a newer discovery. (Disclaimer: I purchased all the Glossier products in this post with store credit earned through my affiliate link.) Glossier is known for sheer, barely-there makeup, but many of their sheer products are surprisingly long-lasting. I've now tried every Lidstar except Herb, and I wear four of them regularly (Moon is a lost cause, and I actually sent it to an Instagram pal just yesterday):

L-R: Fawn, Cub, Slip, Lily.

Obviously, the packaging leaves much to be desired: the caps crack after a few weeks of gentle use (par for the course with Glossier, I'm afraid). But the formula is so tenacious that I can forgive the cheap packaging. These shadows dry all the way down and can be removed only with oil-based products. Sweat and tears will leave them unscathed.

Top to bottom: Lily, Slip, Cub, Fawn.

Cub and Fawn are pigmented enough that I can apply them with my fingers. Slip and Lily are sheerer, and they look patchy when finger-swiped across my lids, so I prefer to dab them on with their doefoot applicators and blend them out with a synthetic brush (I bought a cheapo one from e.l.f expressly for this purpose). This creates a beautifully smooth finish, even on my deeply creased eyelids. Here I am wearing Slip recently, as well as Glossier Cloud Paint in Storm (more on that later, too) and MAC Metallic Lipstick in Pale Rose. Slip matches my skin unnervingly well; it's the slightly shimmery my-lids-but-better color that I've wanted since my earliest days of wearing eyeshadow.

2. Liquid and Cream Blush

Another longtime holy grail is Illamasqua Cream Blusher in Zygomatic, a pinkish beige that matches every makeup look. I've owned this blush for four years, which makes me think I should toss it soon, but it hasn't gone bad in any perceptible way. I guess I'll just keep using it until it does? (I notice that I bitched about the Jersey humidity in my original review of Zygomatic. Some things never change.)

Zygomatic is my only cream blush, but I've recently discovered the glory of liquid blush, in the form of Glossier Cloud Paint. I own four Cloud Paints, and I've been wearing them almost every day this summer. In fact, I can't remember the last time I used a powder blush.

Inspired by draping queen Lena of Faceonomics, I've changed my everyday blush placement as well. I used to apply blush to the tops of my cheekbones, where highlighter usually goes, but now I like to blend it below my cheekbones for a more contoured look. This placement is especially effective with darker blushes like Storm and Dawn, the new Cloud Paint shades. (I still apply light blushes to my cheekbones or the apples of my cheeks.) Storm is a deep rosy brown, close to the color of dried blood, and Dawn is a bold, slightly burnt orange. Here they are at full strength and blended out, in shade (top) and sun (bottom):

 Dawn is the perfect shade for replicating an amazing look from a k-pop video I saw recently:

I'm not brave enough yet to go quite as bold as Taeyeon (or Lena), but this is my best attempt at sunburn-contour so far. I really like it! As always with blush photos, it looked bolder in person, I promise.

3. Matte Liquid Lipstick

As regular readers know by now, my favorite matte liquid lipsticks are the Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuits. Comfortable, long-wearing, cruelty-free, and $4.99 a pop: what's not to love? I own five:

L-R: Rebel Rose, Nudist Peach, Missy and Fierce, Nice to Fuchsia, Goth Topic.

They also work well as sheer stains, which I learned from Julia of Spiders and Caterpillars. My favorite Catsuit for this purpose is Goth Topic, which I bought last fall but never got around to reviewing. At full strength, it's a very dark brownish plum that's a little much for everyday wear, especially during the summer (though my commitment to summer goth remains strong). Sheered out, though, it's a moody plum that delivers a desaturated goth vibe. To apply, I use the applicator to dot a few drops on my lips; then I blend out the pigment with a finger, adding more color as necessary until I reach my desired intensity:

4. Sheer Lipstick

Of course, I also own several bona fide sheer lipsticks. Yes, these fade quickly in the humidity; but at least they fade nicely, which is all I ask. What I really like to avoid on hot, humid days are opaque cream lipsticks that smear when I try, pointlessly, to wipe the sweat off my face. (Glosses are also a little more smeary than I'd like, though I do wear gloss occasionally during the summer.) Here are all the sheer lipsticks I own currently:

L-R: Urban Decay Seismic, Urban Decay Lawbreaker, Glossier Like, ColourPop Bee's Knees, NARS Orgasm, NARS Dolce Vita.

Swatches, same order. (That's three [!!] swipes of Glossier Like and one swipe of every other shade.)

L-R: Seismic, Lawbreaker, Like, Bee's Knees, Orgasm, Dolce Vita.

And that's it! What are your favorite products to wear on humid days? Do you have any tips for making makeup last when the air is almost too damp to breathe?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Glossier Lash Slick: My Platonic Mascara?

Disclaimer: I bought this product with store credit earned through my Glossier affiliate link (thank you to those who have clicked on it!). I am not a Glossier rep.

Glossier has existed for three and a half years, and I've been searching for the perfect subtle mascara for almost that long: that is, ever since CoverGirl LashBlast Length got discontinued.  I figured that if anyone could make a good no-mascara mascara, it would be Glossier, since they seemed intent on perfecting the negative version of every category of makeup (no-lipstick lipstick, no-foundation foundation...). So when they finally announced the debut of Lash Slick about six weeks ago, I was very excited. Of course, that was shortly after I discovered Wet n Wild MegaLength, which gave me a lash pretty close to my ideal; my only complaints were that the formula was on the watery side and took a while to dry. Would Lash Slick give me my desired length and subtlety with a drier texture? I couldn't wait to find out, and ordered it about a month ago. I've worn it almost every day since, which tells you something.

As I mentioned in my MegaLength post, I'm reluctant to pay more than drugstore prices for a product as short-lived as mascara, and Lash Slick is $16. I probably would have ordered it even without store credit, given the difficulty I've had in finding a good subtle mascara, but the price point is a little steep for my usual taste. That said, Lash Slick is cheaper than other mascaras from mid-priced brands: Too Faced Better than Sex is $23, while Benefit Roller Lash, MAC Haute and Naughty, and Urban Decay Perversion are all $24. Lash Slick gives you 0.29 oz. of product compared to Benefit's 0.3 and Urban Decay's 0.4, so it's a comparable size for significantly less money. I'm really pleased about this, given Glossier's record of charging mid-range prices for deluxe-sample-sized products (looking at you, Generation G).

Glossier describes Lash Slick as "the perfect everyday mascara," water-resistant but not waterproof. It "curls and sculpts as it lengthens, enhancing the look of your natural lashes instead of clumping them together or spackling them in product." This effect is the result of "teeny-tiny fibers [that] coat lashes from root to tip to create a lengthened baby-extension, while flexible film-forming polymers lift and lock each fiber into place." (Indeed, the Lash Slick box advertises its contents as "film form mascara," whatever that's supposed to mean.) In other words, this is a fiber mascara that's made to look subtle but still deliver the look of "lengthening baby-extension[s]," a phrase that, like much of Glossier's copy, could have used some editing for clarity. Awkward wording aside, that description sounded promising, given my taste in mascara.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Lash Slick tube thicker and heavier than other Glossier packaging I'd encountered. Here's Lash Slick between a Lidstar eyeshadow (left) and a Generation G lipstick:

Lash Slick is a little bulkier than Wet n Wild MegaLength, though at least it doesn't bulge out in the middle like other mascaras I've tried. It slides nicely into the glass jar I reserve for mascara, eyeliner, and stick/liquid eyeshadows.

The Lash Stick brush is long and straight, with short, densely packed bristles:

Note that there's a perfect amount of product on the bristles. As Renee pointed out, there's a really good stopper in this tube. I wish the Boy Brow tubes had equally good stoppers; I hate getting too much product on the brush and having to wipe it awkwardly on the lip of the tube.

By contrast, the MegaLength wand is shorter and slightly convex, with more space between the bristles. Also, whereas the Lash Slick bristles are staggered, the MegaLength bristles are lined up in vertical columns:

Lash Slick comes in just one color: black. While that certainly simplifies the decision process and spares me the usual stress of having to choose between "Black," "Black Black," "Blackest Black," and "Noir Black," I find it odd that Glossier doesn't offer any other shades. Boy Brow debuted in black, brown, and blonde, and you'd think Lash Slick would offer a similar range.

I don't find mascara reviews very helpful without direct comparisons, so I spent a day wearing Lash Slick on one eye and MegaLength on the other. First, here are my lashes without mascara. They're decently thick, but the tips are so light as to be almost invisible, which is why I prefer lengthening to volumizing mascara.

And here's Megalength on my right eye (your left) and Lash Slick on my left eye (your right):

Obviously, MegaLength is darker and more dramatic (I have the darkest shade, Very Black), and at least in this photo, it seems to have done a better job of lengthening. However, when you look more closely at the Wet n Wild eye, you notice that some of the lashes are clumping together or bending in strange ways. (Ordinarily when I wear MegaLength, I use a clean spoolie to separate and straighten out my lashes.)

And here's a closer view of Lash Slick. You can see here that it's lengthened my lashes just as much as MegaLength has, but without sticking them together. Only one lash looks a bit wonky:

Here are my closed eyes. MegaLength has left some flecks of product in my crease, which often happens because the formula takes a minute or two to dry. Lash Slick has a much drier formula.

And a full face. Again, Wet n Wild on your left, Glossier on your right:

My lipstick is MAC D for Danger, which I still need to review, damn it.

Glossier claims that Lash Slick lasts all day and comes off easily, and I've found both of those claims to be true. It does start to flake off in tiny fibers around the eight-hour mark, but it holds up almost perfectly until then, and I can attest that it stands up to sweaty workouts, 100% humidity, and long crying sessions. (Sidenote: what do you call the crisis between quarter- and midlife crises?) I had some trepidation about the concept of a fiber mascara (a phrase that evoked nightmare visions of Younique spider lashes), but Lash Slick is pretty similar to other mascaras, including MegaLength, in the way it comes off. (MegaLength has about the same wear time, though it's less resistant to sweat/tears/Jersey humidity.) Here's Lash Slick looking pretty rough after 11 hours, but I have yet to find a lengthening mascara that doesn't look like thisor worseafter 11 hours.

MegaLength reaches a similar level of flakiness after just six and a half hours (granted, the flakes are smaller):

And here is where I set aside my usual Glossier snark, because Lash Slick is really fucking great. A+. 4.98/5. It's not only the best Glossier product I've ever tried, but also the best mascara I've ever tried. It's just about perfect, and you know how much it pains me to say that about a Glossier product. Now all Glossier needs to do is expand Lash Slick's shade range, and we'll be all set. For now, if you're looking for a subtle mascara that lengthens and separates lashes, look no further: you've found it.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Visit to the Glossier Showroom

I've fallen behind on my promised Glossier reviews (surprising no one, I'm sure), but here's the first of two Glossier-centric posts that I hope will make up for my dereliction. I've been testing Glossier's new mascara, Lash Slick, for the past month, and I finally set foot in the Glossier ~*~showroom~*~ earlier this week. This post will be an account of my time in the showroom, and I'll review Lash Slick later this week. I promise!

It's behind glass because it's a SHOWROOM, GET IT?

The Glossier showroom started as a pop-up shop, but became a permanent fixture in NYC's trendy Soho neighborhood at the end of 2016. Despite my fairly frequent visits to New York, I always found an excuse not to see the Glossier mothership. First, I almost never go to Soho, because I'm not a teenage model, a fashion journalist, or a trust-fund "DJ/actress." Second, I suspected that the showroom experiencebecause everything is an experience these dayswould entail close quarters with aggressively friendly employees, and nothing triggers my social anxiety like attentive salespeople. I like my shopping excursions to be as anonymous as possible, thanks; I hate when capitalism disguises itself as friendship. (Yes, I'm tons of fun at parties!) Third, I'd used store credit to buy almost all the Glossier products I wanted, and I wasn't terribly interested in swatching what remained. This week, though, curiosity got the better of me. If any beauty brand has succeeded in capturing the millennial zeitgeist, it's Glossier; wasn't it my duty as a still-youngish beauty blogger to enter the blush-pink womb?

The showroom is located on Lafayette Street, right at the border of Soho and Chinatown. It's a great shopping area even if you don't have much money (though especially if you do). After browsing Muji (neon gel pens!), Blick Art Supplies (will I never find a water-soluble pen for my embroidery?), and a little covered market featuring local artists/crafters/cheesemongers, I headed toward the brownstone that houses Glossier:

When I walked in, a young woman in a pink jumpsuit asked if I was there for the showroom, then pointed me toward the elevator and directed me to the penthouse level (eyeroll, I know, but the elevator button literally says "PH," so I can't blame Glossier for that). I hope the showroom employees trade off this doubtless annoying task! Riding up to the fourth floor with a few tourists, I noticed that the elevator was scented. I texted my boyfriend about this and he replied, "May your experience be carefully curated."

I arrived at 12:30, just 30 minutes after the showroom opened, but it was already bustling with customers. I can only imagine how hot and crowded the small room gets on weekend afternoons (Yelp reviews confirm my suspicions), and I'd strongly recommend visiting as close to opening time as possible. The space was pretty much what I'd expected: well-lit, painted floor-to-ceiling in millennial pink, perfumed with Byredo Burning Rose candles, and crammed with glass-encased product displays and tables for swatching and sniffing.

Right in front of the elevator is an alcove that conveys a decidedly vaporwave aesthetic:

I was a little disappointed to find that the flowers were fake, though I suppose installing fresh orchids every morning would be beyond even Glossier's budget. Frankly, there was something comforting about seeing the seams behind the tapestry: the fake roses, the scuffs and fingerprints on the pink paint, the wear and tear that New York pollution and foot traffic inflict on the most carefully arranged spaces. I also appreciated the large sink in the corner: it was nice to be able to wash off all the swatches and the ambient grime of the city.

Glossier's other concessions to uninstagrammable reality include plenty of benches where bored husbands, boyfriends, and fathers can sit and check Twitter:

The non-dad clientele was predictably young, though even younger than I'd anticipated: lots of women in their late teens and early twenties, with the occasional set of parents. The pink-jumpsuited employeeswho are unaccountably called "editors"reflected the customer demographics: not a single salesperson looked over 25. Not for the first time, I wondered about the curious discrepancy between Into the Gloss readers and Glossier customers. I've been reading ITG almost since its inception, and I'd estimate that the average ITG reader is around my age (i.e. an older millennial, now in her late twenties or early thirties). But Glossier targets a younger, less beauty-savvy customer. If you've been reading ITG for years, you probably don't need a starter sunscreen and moisturizer, yet that's exactly what Glossier offers. Which is not to say that people my age and older can't enjoy Glossier's offerings: my favorite makeup look is no-makeup makeup with a bold lip, and Glossier provides everything for that look except the bold lip. But a glance around the showroom made it very clear on which age group Glossier's branding is most effective.

Speaking of employees (sorry, editors), there were a lot of them. Like, possibly too many. Their main task is to ring up customers on the iPads that they carry in the back pockets of their jumpsuits, but most of them seemed to have nothing to do but hang out and chat with each other. I understand that their youthful pastel presence is part of the ambience, and that the showroom is often much busier than it was that day, but I don't think I've ever been in a store with so many salespeople per customer. To their credit, they were not at all pushy; in fact, I felt that I was interrupting their conversations by asking for help. A customer experience somewhere between those two extremes would have been nice.

Despite my assumption going in that I had all the Glossier makeup I wanted, a swatching session determined that Lidstar in Lily and Generation G in Like would have to come home with me.

The green swatch is Lidstar in Herb, which looked very patchy. Would not recommend. Lily is more purple and sparkly in person!

Actually buying these items, however, turned out to be surprisingly complicated. I approached one of the employees and asked if I could use my store credit toward my purchase. She told me that there was no easy way to do that: I'd have to get out my phone, log in to my Glossier account, order the items, specify that I wanted store pickup, actually enter the showroom's address just to make sure, and place the order, which she would then fetch for me. Couldn't be simpler! I did all this, but of course I'd forgotten my Glossier password and had to reset it, and the whole process ended up taking several minutes. Considering that a huge part of Glossier's appeal is the affiliate link they give to every new customer, it's bizarre that the showroom hasn't worked out a smoother system for applying store credit to in-person purchases, especially after one and a half years in business.

After completing my purchase, I took the elevator back to the ground floor, feeling that I'd spent a pleasant, if unremarkable, 20 minutes. Would I recommend the showroom to a visitor to NYC? Maybe. If your main purpose in going there is to try Glossier products in person before forking over $18 for a liquid eyeshadow or tiny lipstick, then knock yourself out. But if you're mainly curious about the customer experience that the Glossier wizards have conjured up, I'm not sure you'll come away enchanted. Some things just look better on Instagram.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

What Does "Good at Makeup" Mean to You?

I recently had a realization that I've been pondering ever since: I've been passionate about beauty for seven years, and I've had a beauty blog for four of those years, but I've never considered myself particularly good at makeup. Believe me, I'm not fishing for compliments; I'm simply stating the truth as I see it. I'm decent at makeup. I can put together a passable face in 15 minutes. I can do a simple look for daytime and a smokier one for my rare nights out. Overall, I'd give my skills a B, and I'm fairly satisfied with that grade.

At the same time, I feel slightly absurd calling myself a "beauty blogger" when I'm seldom impressed with my own creations. Granted, I've never claimed to be a makeup artist or a guru or whatever; this blog is a chronicle of my life as a makeup consumer, hobbyist, and overthinker. But starting a single-topic blog implies a certain level of expertise. And when I come across posts like this one, or editorials like this one, I'm reminded just how far I have to go. I don't feel that I'm in a position to offer tips or advice, and I doubt I've inspired many people with my artistry. That sounds like impostor syndrome, but it really isn't. I know that I'll probably always be an enthusiastic amateur, and that people visit my blog mainly for the writing, and I'm fine with that. But I want to get better. I want to look in the mirror after the final swipe of lipstick and think "Wow," not "Well, that's probably good enough, and I certainly don't have time to wipe it all off and start again."

But simply resolving to "get better" isn't good enough. What does "better" really mean? What, exactly, am I trying to improve? Which brings me to the title of this post: what does it mean to be "good at makeup"? After some thought, I've isolated four criteria that I've been using all along, albeit unconsciously, to decide whether someone is good at makeup: creativityversatilityadaptability, and consistency. (I told you this blog was a chronicle of overthinking.)

1. Creativity

To me, "creativity" means the ability to put together looks that make people say "Why didn't I think of that?" It means having a large repertoire of inspirations: historical decades, fashion designers, fiction, mythology, global trends. It also means bravery: the willingness to take risks on your own face, to play with unorthodox color combinations and makeup placements. When I think of creativity in the beauty realm, I think of Pat McGrath's work for Dior in the 2000s:

Dior F/W 2009 (source)

Obviously, this sort of look isn't viable for your average workplace. But creativity on a smaller, subtler scale can be just as compelling.

2. Versatility

If creativity is the theory, versatility is the practice. You might be able to think up ambitious concepts, but how well can you execute them? I'm sure we can all name at least one YouTube guru who has attracted criticism for creating the same look over and over with different products, or who has announced that they were going to do something "totally out of my comfort zone, you guys," only to end up with the same old warm-toned eye and glossy nude lip. Needless to say, there's nothing inherently wrong with having a comfort zone and a signature look. Personally, I feel most like myself with a subtle, neutral eye and a bold lip, and I doubt that will change in the near future. But I'd like to have the ability to alter my look significantly on the rare occasions when I feel like a change, and that ability eludes me much of the time.

3. Adaptability

How good are you at adapting common techniques to your own features? How well do you know the shape of your face? If you see a beautiful editorial look on a face very different from your own, can you adjust the placement and colors to make the look work for you? If you're using a color that doesn't usually flatter you, can you blend it with other colors to make it more flattering? Why am I asking so many questions?

4. Consistency

In scientific terms, this means that given the same products and tools, you can reproduce your results on a different day. Your liquid lipstick generally stays inside the lines; you generally don't end up with clown cheeks unless you're trying to. This criterion is my true Achilles heel, especially where eyeshadow is concerned. About 75% of my attempts to construct an eye look with more than three shadows end with muttered curses and a vigorous application of micellar water. Yesterday, for instance, I wanted to do a muted coral look with a touch of glitter. After 30 minutes of blending and patting and scrutinizing and blending some more, I ended up with this:

I know I still need to review Glossier Boy Brow in Clear. Suffice to say that it doesn't hold recalcitrant brow hairs as firmly as I'd like.

Is this terrible? No. Would I have attracted pitying glances if I'd worn it out of the house? Probably not. But I've seen thousands of images of great eyeshadow, and I'm self-aware enough to know that this didn't measure up. So I wiped it off and slid back into my comfort zone, producing a simpler look with two shadows and a pencil liner. I added a bold lipstick (ColourPop Dream Easy) and went about my day, feeling comfortable but a little disappointed in myself.

Really, I wrote this post because I'm very curious how other people define "good at makeup." (I almost posted in r/muacjdiscussion before remembering I HAVE A GODDAMN BLOG.) So let me ask: do you consider yourself good at makeup? And what does the concept mean to you?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Lip Liner: An Overdue Appreciation

It will surprise none of my regular readers to learn that if I could wear only one category of makeup for the rest of my life, it would be lipstick. (I could probably use nude lipstick as undereye concealer, right?...right?) I wear lipstick every single day. I've tried almost every color category of lipstick. I created a lipstick taxonomy, for God's sake. But despite my passion for lipstick, a passion that has lasted the better part of a decade, I didn't use lip liner until fairly recently. The reason will sound a little neurotic, because it is: I wanted to experience each of my lipsticks in its "purest" form, without adulteration. If I bought a lipstick, it was because I loved that particular mixture of pigments and respected the craftsmanship behind it. I didn't want anything to alter the delicate balance of warm and cool tones in NARS Mysterious Red or the subtle dustiness of Urban Decay Backtalk.

But tastes change, and sometimes it takes me a while to figure out how unflattering a lipstick truly is. That happened last year when I was trying to use up Urban Decay Revolution Lipstick in Streak, a slightly sheer pinkish peach. I realized that Streak had a white base that clashed with my cool olive undertones, and that I'd be better served by a muted peach. But I was so close to finishing the tube; I couldn't give up now! Enter lip liner. A layer of Milani Color Statement Lip Pencil in Nude, a deep MLBB shade, neutralized Streak's white base and produced a more flattering brownish peach.

Around the same time, I discovered that liquid lipsticks looked less wonky when I took the time to outline my lips with liner in a similar shade. That was the period when I was falling in love with the Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuits, and I ended up buying lip liners to go with Missy & Fierce and Nice to Fuchsia. I took to outlining my lips with a pencil, smudging that line inward, and then applying the liquid lipstick just to the inside of the line; or else applying the lipstick first, then penciling in a line to clean up the edges.

I present all these methods as if they're glorious revelations, but they're literally how you use lip liner; I was just too stubborn and lazy to learn. Now, a year later, I have a respectable collection of seven lip liners, one in almost every color category. And what better way to express my newfound appreciation of lip liner than with a post featuring the whole family? From left to right, we have NYX Slim Lip Pencils in Pumpkin, Mauve, Cabaret, and Bloom; Milani Color Statement Lipliners in Nude and True Red; and Barry M Lip Liner in Plum.
Lip liner: not the most photogenic beauty product.

(Even within this tiny sample size, there's disagreement over whether "lip[]liner" is one or two words. Personally, I incline toward "lip liner," but then I run into the awkwardness of having to hyphenate the phrase when I use it adjectivally, as in "lip-liner collection." That looks pretentious, but it's correct, damn it.)

Swatches, top to bottom: NYX Pumpkin, Milani True Red, NYX Bloom, NYX Cabaret, NYX Mauve, Milani Nude, Barry M Plum:

These three formulas are quite distinct from each other, which is convenient for review purposes. I've tried just the one shade from Barry M (£2.99), and I'd say it has the driest formula of the three. It's a very traditional lip pencil: good for outlining, but a bit too dry and patchy to use all over the lips. The Milani liners ($3-$5) lie at the other end of the texture range: they're very soft and creamy, which makes them good for filling in lips but less good for outlining. As you can see from the photo of Nude above, it's almost impossible to sharpen these liners into fine points. Finally, the NYX liners ($3-4-ish) are somewhere in the middle: fairly creamy and opaque, yet hard enough to retain a fine point and sticky enough to hold lipstick in place. (Note: these are the Slim Lip Pencils, not the slightly pricier Suede Matte Lip Liners, which are terrible.) The only other formula I've tried is the ColourPop Lippie Pencil (cringe). Frenchie didn't impress me much, but I have another shade, 951, on the way as we speak. Now that ColourPop has had three years to tweak its formulas, I'm hoping the lip pencils have improved. Review to come! Probably!

For the record, lip liner is one of the beauty products, along with mascara and lip gloss, for which I refuse to pay non-drugstore prices. I've heard great things about Kevyn Aucoin's Flesh Tone Lip Pencils and Charlotte Tilbury's Lip Cheats, but I'm not going to drop $25 on a lip pencil when $3 NYX pencils do the job just as beautifully and come in a wider array of shades. (I say this now, but check back with me in six months.)
And now for some individual reviews, in alphabetical order! To give a better idea of the colors, I've applied each liner all over my lips, but I don't wear most of them that way. I'm assessing these lip liners as lip liners, not as lipsticks, so it's not a dealbreaker if they're not perfectly opaque in the swatches below.

1. Barry M Plum

Color Description: Dark purple.
Favorite Pairings: Wet n Wild Goth Topic. It also works decently for MAC Antique Velvet, but isn't quite brown enough.

2. Milani Color Statement Lipliner in Nude

Color Description: Pinkish beige.
Favorite Pairings: Revlon Rosy Future, Wet n Wild Nudist Peach.
Notes: This is by far my most-used liner, though its creaminess makes it better for all-over coverage than for precise outlining. When I wear it under gloss, my lips look...pretty. They look almost sensual. And, as the owner of smallish WASPy lips that (to the best of my knowledge) have never once been described as "sensual," I need all the help I can get. Where Nude really comes in handy, though, is for muting too-bright coral lipsticks. Below, we have a creepy triptych of Nudist Peach on its own (top), Nude on its own (middle), and Nudist Peach layered over Nude (bottom). If you wear one "nude" lip product over another one, do your lips become extra-nude, or do the two nudes cancel each other out?  I could probably get a Nobel Prize for figuring out that one.

And a full face with Nudist Peach over Nude:

3. Milani Color Statement Lipliner in True Red

Color Description: Bright blue-based red.
Favorite Pairing: Wet n Wild Missy and Fierce.
Notes: This is another creamy liner that could work as a lipstick in a pinch, though it feels too thick and waxy to wear that way.

4. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Bloom

Color Description: Bright magenta.
Favorite Pairing: Wet n Wild Nice to Fuchsia.

5. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Cabaret

Color Description: Muted berry red.
Favorite Pairings: Maybelline Smoking Red, MAC D for Danger, MAC Eugenie.
Notes: This is my second-favorite lip liner, with the chameleonic ability to adapt to most colors I pair it with. I always want to call it "Cabernet" instead of "Cabaret," though. Doesn't that make more sense?

6. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Mauve

Color Description: Brownish pink with a hint of taupe. Cooler-toned than Milani Nude. Not mauve. I'm not sure there are more than five people currently working in the beauty industry who know what mauve is.
Favorite Pairings: Pat McGrath Madame Greige, Urban Decay Backtalk.

7. NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Pumpkin

Color Description: Red-orange with gold pearl.
Favorite Pairing: No idea.
Notes: I've owned this for three years (original review here), and have literally never worn it out of the house. I'm not even sure what prompted me to buy it in the first place.

And that's it! Let's talk about lip liner. Do you use it? Do you write it as one or two words? Do you think high-end liners really are worth it (ladies of The Beauty Blackout, I'm looking at you)?