Beauty busts: Products I regret buying

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Sometimes even high-end makeup products don’t work out as anticipated.

Everyone has beauty favorites — products they purchase again and again because they deliver everything promised. We all have beauty busts too. Some are impulse buys, while others are selected with care based on reviews or brand reputation.

I’m here to share some of my recent not-so-great product experiences. Be warned, though, that the old “one person’s trash is another’s treasure” adage applies to cosmetics: What doesn’t work for me may work quite well for you. Without further ado, here are some high-end items I regret buying:

  • The Balm’s Cindy-Lou Manizer — I’m a big fan of The Balm’s products, including their cleverly named eyeshadow palettes and blushes. Their “Manizer” luminizers — Betty-Lou, Mary-Lou and Cindy-Lou — are wildly popular and receive incredible reviews. I chose the Cindy-Lou version because I’m quite fair and it’s described as a “soft peachy-pink highlighter.” Perhaps the shade was too close to my skin color, because it didn’t show up on me at all. Zilch, zero, nada. I’ll pass it on to a friend who may have better luck.
  • Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield — I’m a huge fan of Murad and of their Essential-C cleanser in particular. I purchased the Invisiblur product because it promised to be the ultimate multitasker: A primer with an SPF of 30 that blurred fine lines and other minor skin imperfections. It went on smoothly but any blurring effect was imperceptible. Even worse, makeup applied on top had a tendency to pill and it gave off a strange, strong scent. Thanks, but no thanks.
  • Coola Makeup Setting Spray — I routinely use a setting spray after applying makeup and have had good luck with Urban Decay and Skindinavia. (No surprise, really, as they’re made by the same company.) I decided to try the new Coola spray when I ran low on my usual go-tos. What a mistake. It didn’t have any effect on my makeup’s longevity and it had a strange chemical smell. While my other setting sprays feel like nothing on my skin once they’ve dried, Coola’s version seemed to sit on top of my skin. Not a good feeling. I’m going back to my favorite: Skindinavia’s Ten Years Younger.
  • Benefit Air Patrol — This new product is an eyelid primer that promises to combine SPF protection with moisturization while making eye makeup crease-resistant. While it lived up to the promise of crease-resistance, I didn’t notice an increase in moisture and I didn’t like the product’s thin consistency. I prefer a primer that evens the tone of my eyelids and this one just didn’t offer that type of coverage. I’m sticking with my tried and true MAC paint pot in Painterly.
  • Sunday Riley Effortless Breathable Tinted Primer — I love Sunday Riley’s skin care line and am devoted to the Luna sleeping oil, Ceramic Slip cleanser and Good Genes serum. Those products are of such quality that I had high hopes for the primer. While some reviewers have said they’re able to wear the primer alone without benefit of foundation, I found the tint and coverage so light as to be negligible. It also made my makeup sit oddly on my skin. I don’t usually have markedly visible pores, but I did when I used this primer. No, thank you.
  • Ciate Liquid Velvet Matte Lip Slick — Ciate is a familiar name to nail polish lovers and the company is branching out with other types of cosmetics. I’m a big fan of matte liquid lipsticks, so I thought I’d give Ciate’s a try. While the colors are lovely, I found that the formula never “set” on my lips. As a result, it was prone to smearing and not very long-lasting.
  • Tom Ford Traceless Perfecting Foundation — Don’t get me wrong: I love Tom Ford. He’s an amazing designer and his makeup line is top notch. The lipsticks and eye palettes are to die for: Spanish Pink is my ultimate go-to lippie. I’m always looking for my holy grail foundation and good experiences with Tom Ford combined with positive reviews convinced me to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, I found the formula quite sticky, as if it never fully dried, and it broke down after just a few hours, primarily on and around my nose. Although it’s supposed to provide medium to full, buildable coverage, I would say the coverage was medium at best.

What about you? Have you had disappointing experiences with makeup products? Please share your regrets in the comments section!

Falling in love with autumn beauty trends

fall-makeup (2)Sorry for the delay between posts: I’m just recovering from a terrible, lingering end-of-summer cold. Don’t you hate those? Anyway, now that my nasal passages are clearing and I can begin to breathe (and think) more clearly, let’s talk about my favorite beauty season: fall.

I live in Columbia, S.C., a city in the southeastern United States that’s famously hot. Seriously, “famously hot” is the city’s official motto. It remains sultry here until mid-October or later: It’s not unusual for trick or treaters to head out on Halloween without jackets.

When it comes to fall beauty, sometimes you just have to ignore the temperature and go by the date. Mid-September means college football is underway (though let’s not dwell on that because my beloved USC Gamecocks are having yet another rebuilding year). It also means it’s time to shake off the pastels and tropical shades of summer in favor of the deeper, darker — and, in my view, sexier — colors of fall. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the beauty trends in store for autumn.

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Colorful liner along the lower lashline gives eyes a boost.

Bold eyes: There’s good news and bad news for those with shaky hands — dramatic eyes are the thing for fall. Intense, geometric eyeliner is one of the season’s most popular trends, and we all know getting sharp, even wings is one of the trickiest makeup tasks. (Tip: If you just can’t seem to pull off a respectable wing, try using clear tape, angled from oustide of your lower lid to the end of your eyebrow, as a guideline. Better yet, use a stencil like the one from Beth Blender Beauty.)

If wings are just not going to happen for you, another option is the smokey, smudgy, kohl-lined look. The key is imprecision. Pick up a soft, malleable kohl liner in black, brown — or even dark blue or purple — and smudge away. Kohl-rimmed eyes look better as the night goes on, because they become even smudgier and sexier as the minutes tick by.

While dark, kohl-rimmed eyes probably aren’t the best choice for work, another fall look most certainly is: a pop of color along the lower lash line. Amethysts, blues, golds … almost any shade will work.

Lip service: It’s time to put away the Barbie pinks and sweet-girl peaches in favor of  darker hues. One of the hottest trends is vampy lips, or lips so dark they’re verging on black. I may be showing my age, but I think those extreme shades are best left to the young ‘uns. Women, and especially working women, would be better off sticking with deep berry and plum shades (and, of course, classic reds that never go out of style).  On the other end of the spectrum are the nudes: Heavily lined or kohled eyes combined with intense lips can be too much. When that’s the case, opt for a classic nude or one of the “new nudes” — gray-beige lip shades, such as Truffle by Dose of Colors and Bow and Arrow by Kat von D, are making a stand.


Give yourself a lit from within look by brushing luminizer on the cheekbones, chin, nose and browbone.

Strobe light: Heavy contouring a la Kim and the other Kardashians has take the nation by storm, but the message for fall is, “Go toward the light.” Heavy contouring is being replaced by strobing, which involves using liquid, cream or powder luminizers to brighten the high planes of the face, such as cheekbones, browbones and noses. The goal is to create an angelic, lit-from-within glow. I most often reach for Kevin Aucoin’s Celestial Powder or Champagne Pop, which is a collaboration between Becca Beauty and Jaclyn Hill, a YouTuber who’s deservedly made it big. By the way, Champagne Pop is a limited edition luminizer, so don’t wait too long if you want to add it to your makeup bag.

Getting cheeky: The key for fall is flushed cheeks that look like you’ve just returned from a brisk walk in the chilly autumn air. Plums are a great choice and one of my favorites is Marc Jacobs’ Shameless Bold Blush in Tantalizing, which is a deep magenta. Another nice pick is Cabana Boy by the Balm. Other great options for fall — especially if you are fond of the earthy bronze, gold and orange eye shades that are all the rage — are Warm Soul and Love Joy from MAC Cosmetics.

As fall rushes in and ushers in cooler temperatures, don’t forget that no makeup looks its best without the foundation of good skin. Remember to exfoliate, tone, correct and moisturize every day, morning and night, to give your color products the right palette to work from.

Finally, if the weather has already turned chillier where you live, enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of fall. If not, light a Pumpkin Apple, Fall Leaves or Sweater Weather candle and pretend!

From sample to shelf: Beauty PR that worked

unnamed (8)My makeup and skin care addiction results in lots of beauty samples. They’re the mini packets and whatnots that come in paid beauty-box subscriptions and with orders from Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom and the like — not the full-size products and nifty gifts sent to top beauty gurus. I can’t imagine reaching that kind of nirvana because at my age I’m pretty much outside of the desired demographic.

In many ways, marketers for beauty companies have it easy. Their products are easily sampled, unlike the products of most major corporations. For example, I’m a senior writer for a large, well-known U.S. insurer — perhaps even the best known (think “lovable duck”). Insurance companies can’t send out sample coverage for potential buyers to try. Instead, they have to prove they’re the best the old-fashioned way: with good customer service and by paying claims quickly. That said, not every beauty product is an easy sell. Sometimes sample packets are too small to have meaning. For example, skin care products generally don’t produce overnight results, so one- or two-use samples must be stellar to be convincing (although they’re useful when packing for vacations).

By my estimation, I make one full-size purchase for every 25 products I sample. Here are some recent products that went from sample to makeup shelf:

  • Bumble and Bumble Surf Foam Cleanser and Creme Rinse Conditioner. I received three samples of this cleanser/creme rinse combo and the third was the charm. I had good hair days each time I tried the samples — my hair seemed to have more volume, bounce and shine. That was enough to convince me to pull the purchase trigger.
  • Benefit They’re Real! Mascara. I’ve mentioned before that my lashes seem to “eat” mascara. I don’t know where the mascara goes; it just seems to disappear from my lashes as if it was never there. They’re Real! gives me both volume and length, plus it stays in place until I take it off.
  • Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes. This mascara sat in my sample drawer for months until I decided to give it a try based on YouTube recommendations. The reviewers were right: It makes my lashes look long, fluffy and flirty — and even the non-waterproof version stays put.
  • Too Faced Hangover Rx Replenishing Face Primer: Too Faced is one of those companies that offers generous, frequent samples. I tried this primer after a sleepless night. (I’m somewhat of an insomniac.) The primer lived up to its promise to leave my complexion brighter, more moisturized and “awake.” I don’t use Hangover Rx every day, but I reach for it if I’m tired, dehydrated or wearing a foundation that’s somewhat drying.
  • Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation. I wouldn’t have tried this foundation without the benefit of a sample. Truth be told, I loathed the original formula. I even purchased it twice because people raved so much I thought I’d missed something. When the reformulated version was released, I shrugged because I figured it would be much of the same. But no! After trying a generous sample — enough for about four days of wear — I realized the new version was the bomb. In fact, I liked the liquid version so much I also purchased the stick version for travel.
  • Kat von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick. I received substantial samples of Kat von D’s signature lipstick in two shades, Bachelorette and Underage Red. I’m one of those women who doesn’t like to reapply lipstick often, and I found the samples long-wearing and comfortable. As an added bonus, I received favorable comments from strangers when I wore them. I now have about eight shades in my collection and couldn’t be happier with their performance.
  • Marc Jacobs Le Marc Lip Creme. I received a sample of Le Marc Lip Creme in So Iconic as part of Sephora’s loyalty program. I loved the formulation: It was rich, creamy, long-lasting and made my lips appear pouty and plump. I purchased full sizes in three other shades and they’ve become my favorite lipsticks.
  • Beach Walk perfume by Replica and Orange Sanguine from Atelier Cologne. Tiny one- or two-use spritzers of these scents were included in separate Sephora orders. Beach Walk has a clean, fresh fragrance that does, indeed, smell like the seashore. Orange Sanguine is a close-but-not-quite-there approximation of heady orange blossoms. I purchased travel sizes of each and discovered they smell wonderful both separately and together.

Lesson learned: Shop your sample drawer! You won’t love every product, but if you’re like me you’ll find some hidden gems.

Cancer upped my beauty game — and what I learned can improve yours

unnamed (7)Having breast cancer at a relatively young age changed me in many ways. Some were large: It helped me to recognize my strength, better appreciate the people and places I love, and taught me to live more in the present. It also changed me in smaller ways: I’m more patient, more at peace with myself and much more relaxed about “the small stuff.”

Another thing that changed after cancer and chemo was the way I look after myself on a daily basis. Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I kept my skin clean and marginally moisturized and that was about it. But six months of chemo left me looking older, tired, gray and determined to do something about it. In some ways, having cancer at 40 helped me look better at 56. Here are some things I should have been doing before cancer that I now do religiously — and they’re things you can easily do to look younger and healthier, no matter what your age:

  • Exfoliate: Keeping your skin clean is one thing; bringing new life to your complexion is another. Exfoliating does the job by removing layers of dead skin cells that accumulate over time. It can help with acne, speed up the skin’s renewal process, reduce the appearance of pores, and even lighten age and sun spots. It also allows you to get your money’s worth from serums, moisturizers and other skin products by removing debris on the skin’s surface, ensuring products penetrate more deeply. Products to try: Clinique Exfoliating Scrub, Kate Somerville ExfoliKate, Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub
  • Tone: Many people skip the toning process because they believe it’s simply not necessary. I use not one, but two, toners as part of my morning and evening skin-care routines. After washing my face, I use an acid toner to aid in the exfoliating process, followed by a moisturizing toner that rehydrates my skin. Products to try: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha-Beta Glow Pads, Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Pads, First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads (acid toners); Josie Maran Nirvana Hydrating Mist, Caudalie Grape Water, Murad Resurgence Hydrating Toner (moisturizing toners)
  • Mask: I’m a great believer in skin-care masks and try to have one or two “beauty nights” per week. Masks do everything from smooth and brighten to moisturize and exfoliate. Whether you’re using a peel-off mask, a traditional wash-off mask or an all-in-one sheet mask, the process is quick and easy. You can multi-task by making mask time work with your television viewing: In most cases, you can apply a mask during one commercial break and remove it during the next. I’m also a fan of “sleeping” masks — the kind you apply at bedtime and wash off the next morning. Products to try: Ole Henriksen Blue/Black Berry Enzyme Mask, Tony Moly I’m Real Rice Sheet Mask for Clear Skin, Peter Thomas Roth Rose Stem Cel Bio-Repair Mask, Freeman Feeling Beautiful Tea & Lemon Clay Mask, Formula Get Your Glow On Brightening Peel-Off Mask
  • Scrub and moisturize: I’m talking about lips. Crusty, chapped and dry lips are simply unattractive, and trying to cover the problem with lipstick or gloss just makes it worse. Your lips deserve just as much attention as the rest of your face: Smooth, plump, moisturized lips are younger-looking lips. Products to try: Lush Lip Scrub, Fresh Sugar Lip Polish, Tarte Maracuja Lip Exfoliant (scrubs); Kaplan MD Lip Mask, Dior Creme de Rose, Tony Moly Lip Balm (moisturizers)
  • Curl: Your lashes, that is. I didn’t appreciate my full, long lashes until I lost them during chemo. They grew back after my treatment ended, but never regained their previous lushness. In addition to using an eyelash-growth serum, I curl my lashes. Doing so makes the lashes appear longer while giving my eyes a more wide-awake and lifted appearance. Products to try: Shue Uemura Eyelash Curler, Shiseido Eyelash Curler, Kevin Aucoin Eyelash Curler, Sephora Show Curl XL Lash Curler for Round Eyes (my favorite)

Gimme some lip: Five top lipstick shades

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Back row, left to right: Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, MAC, Smashbox Front: NYX

I was a rather late arrival to the lipstick game. When I was in high school and college, the natural look was in and — thanks to the hereditary benefit of a naturally pink pout — I rarely wore lip products at all. I never got into lip glosses (too thick and gooey) and lipstick required touch-ups throughout the day, which was something I just couldn’t be bothered with.

As I got older, however, two things happened: First, I discovered that the right lip shade can work wonders, particularly in terms of brightening an aging face. Second, lipstick formulas changed. Today’s lippies don’t feel nearly as heavy and waxy as the old formulas that made my lips feel like they were suffocating beneath a heavy, uncomfortable film. What’s more, the latest formulations are longer-lasting, reducing the frequency of touch-ups.

Today, I have a rather large collection of lipsticks, ranging from nuder-than-nude to fiery reds. Here are a few of my current favorites:

  • Tom Ford Lip Color in Spanish Pink: This is my favorite pink nude. It’s also my most spendy lipstick, purchased at the crazy price of $50 for the tube. It’s a good thing this was a “Sorry, not sorry” selection. It’s creamy, has the perfect amount of sheen and is a lovely beige-pink shade worthy of a classic Hitchcock blonde.
  • Marc Jacobs Le Marc in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: First, let’s talk about the case: It’s sleek, curved, sexy and magnetized. The lipstick inside is sexy too — it’s a deep rosy shade with beige undertones that promises 10 hours of velvety, hydrating wear. Ten hour is stretching it (in my experience, no lipstick holds on for that long), but I love the way it makes my lips look smooth and full with a slight sheen.
  • MAC Red — MAC makes a wide array of gorgeous reds. While Russian Red and Ruby Woo get the lion’s share of raves, I’m partial to the simply named “MAC Red.” It’s a vivid, bright, blue-red with a satin finish that makes my teeth look several shades whiter. Simply named … simply gorgeous.
  • Smashbox Be Legendary Long-Wear Lip Lacquer in Fuchsia — Generally, the glossier the lipstick the shorter the wear. The Smashbox Be Legendary formula is different in that it goes on like a lacquer but turns into a glossy, long-lasting stain. When I think of fuchsia, I think of a punchy, in-your-face reddish pink. This is a kinder, gentler, muted fuchsia — a shade so pretty that strangers stop me to ask what I’m wearing on my lips.
  • NYX Liquid Suede Cream Lipstick — Anyone who knows me knows that I’m partial to matte, liquid lipsticks because they’re so long-wearing and never need a lip liner. My favorite from among the new, very affordable NYX entry into long-wearing matte brigade is Tea & Cookies. Pinky browns are all the rage, but sometimes they’re too brown on me. This shade has just the right combination of pink and brown and the color doesn’t budge, even during a meal.