On your face

Kat von D, the reality show “personality” and plastic surgery junkie, recently began selling her own line of make-up. Against my better judgment I ordered the Ludwig eyeshadow palette last spring. I was sent the Beethoven one by accident:

Right from the get-go I suspected that Beethoven would be a travesty; some of these colors don’t even look like they might complement each other nicely.

Nevertheless, I tried really hard to love it. At the time this was only my second voyage beyond drug store eyeshadow (the first with Clinique Moisture Surge being somewhat disappointing). For a month or so I wore them like a lucky sock. Over our wedding weekend in Antigua last June I took some pictures with Kat von D’s colors on my lids and boy, did I look even less photogenic than usual. Por ejemplo:

wedding fuck

You might ask yourself, “who the fuck wears nasty gray eyeshadow with a pink dress?” Good question. But in reality that was the lilac eyeshadow with medium purple as the contour color. For some reason the light colors (lilac, green, and yellow) turn extremely powdery and lose most of their pigmentation, and the effect is just enhanced by flash photography.

Today I compared Beethoven side by side with similar colors from the Dior Coquette quad (obviously a present to me, as I’m not nearly so fabulously wealthy that I contemplate blowing $58 for eyeshadow). The colors I used were lilac and medium purple, as well as dark gray (Coquette) and blue (Beethoven) because there was no other overlap. I used the same primer, mascara, brushes, and application techniques on both lids. So:

As expected the Kat von D lilac shade looked like sparkly chalk rather than a pleasant highlight. The medium purple shade gave a more impressive contrast at a distance, but up close it clearly had not blended well. The dark blue, which I used to contour my crease, actually did not show up as blue at all – as you can see it doesn’t look much different than the dark gray I used on my other eye.

I know, I know, it’s easy to say that the Beethoven palette looks tacky next to colors by Dior, which are the BMWs of eye make-up. So next I compared it to the Covergirl Forest Light palette, which is pretty much the Hyundai of eye make-up. I used the shades gold/yellow, green, and brown in a simple daytime style blending the lightest to the darkest shade from the tear duct to the outside. Again I used identical primer, brushes, and technique, and omitted the eyeliner entirely.

The green is just unspeakably hideous – very garish and chalky. The other two colors fared okay but not significantly better than the Cover Girl versions. Kat von D’s brown definitely stood out more. It was however also a total pain in the ass to blend into the skin.

Nowadays I only use the Beethoven palette if I need some dark, highly-pigmented shadows to use as wet eyeliner. The dark sparkly purple, black, and brown work really wonderfully to that purpose. I’m not sure what to do with the majority of the colors though. At least Halloween is coming up!


The source of the above quotation is a pile of crap, though I doubt anyone will recognize it, but I happen to think that phrase is one of the finest I’ve ever seen in the English language. I just can’t help myself sometimes.

Two brief things crossed my mind today as I was cleaning the apartment and coding for my professor:

First of all, the skincare company Philosophy rocks my world. I don’t generally believe too much in brand loyalty, but not only is their On A Clear Day retinol-hyaluronic acid lotion the most effective anti-acne product I’ve used in my entire life, but I’m already obsessed with their Turbo Booster C Powder. Its a stabilized, powdered form of vitamin C that one mixes in with one’s regular lotion, cream, or serum, preferably in the morning. I’ve only been using this shit for about two weeks and my skin looks a lot more radiant. I’ve been using various sunspot-reducing products for years, including one with hydroquinone; Turbo Booster C is in a higher stratosphere in terms of results. Now if only Philosophy would quit packaging most of their wares in translucent jars I might buy more of them!

Secondly, I was thinking about shiba inus. Specifically how the only thing more awesome than a shiba inu is a long-haired shiba inu.

I’ve only started paying attention to make-up a few months ago. It occured to me fairly early on that I look like a drag queen when sporting many of the new trendy styles (such as extreme smoky eyes, sparkles on the inner corner of eyes, matching lip and cheek color, etc.). Drag queens are certainly beautiful but that’s not the look I should be rocking during class. I think it’s a matter of my skin tone and facial structure actually because I applied make-up on Sascha once and he looked surprisingly classy with smoky eyes and contoured cheeks.  Anyways! I’ve moved away from color experimentation towards improving on a more “natural”-looking technique that doesn’t require constant touch-ups throughout the day. Against my better judgment, I’ll be using unflattering photos of myself taken with a flash to demonstrate what may be some useful tips for dialing down the gaudy.

1. Wash and moisturize your face. Use a gentle cleanser. If you absolutely have to use toner, at least use the alcohol-free variety, but know that any toner or harsh soap will just strip the acid mantle from your skin, convincing it to produce even more sebum, so it’s not a great long-term strategy for oil-control. My squeaky clean face avec moisturizer, sun damage, acne scars, and goofy grin:

2. Apply a silicone face primer and an eyeshadow primer. Silicone primers contain giant molecules (dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane) that form barriers over your skin. Essentially they keep your sebum from mingling with your make-up, which keeps you fresh-faced longer without having to re-apply powder. Excessive powdering is a very easy way to ruin a no make-up look. The eyeshadow version is “tackier” to help pigments stick to your lids. They also prevent creasing later in the day. The industry standard is Too Faced Shadow Insurance. In my experience primer does not add color to your face (or lids) , even the “bronzing” varieties, although some people who post reviews online would disagree. After silicone primers set for 2-3 minutes however they do impart a subtle glow on your complexion:

3. Apply foundation. I’ve never used foundation because it tended to just slide off my face, but the aforementioned primer seems to help a lot in that regard. Illamasqua Rich Foundation is an awesome foundation because it’s as full coverage as possible while still looking virtually invisible on the skin. It’s sort of a pain in the ass to put on though. I have to mix two shades to match my skin tone of the moment, and then add two parts moisturizer (or Clarins Beauty Flash Balm) per one part foundation, the resulting mixture of which needs to be applied with a damp sponge. If you don’t have a crazy amount of discoloration you might be better off with a medium coverage foundation, but sheer varieties are usually wastes of time. A good foundation must match your complexion exactly and will even out your skin tone and all but the most glaring imperfections:

4. Apply blush. Creams and powders are really great for contouring your cheekbones, but they come in obviously manufactured shades. Most of them also have sparkles or gold flecks in them that make you look like you’re wearing blush, not blushing. Use a liquid blush like Benefit Benetint instead; you can’t really use it to contour but if you apply it on your cheeks and blend it out and up towards your hairline, it will give you the illusion of an inner glow.

5. Apply concealer sparingly and set your make-up with powder. To me a concealed giant zit doesn’t look much more attractive or hidden than an unconcealed one, so be judicious about what you think worth the effort. For powder, use a good powder brush and small, circular movements. As a rule the powder should either be translucent or match your skin tone. However, using a “highlighting powder” like the sheer pinkish Benefit Dandelion can produce a quite adorable and still natural-looking flushed effect. If you’re into it, you can apply a bronzing powder around the periphery of your face, blending carefully with a powder brush. Absolutely do not use bronzing powder on more than just the periphery though – applying it “wherever the sun hits you” as some magazines suggest looks tacky and bizarre.

6. If you wear lip color, choose something similar to your natural shade. Not only does this obviously look more “natural,” but this way the inevitable fading won’t be very noticeable. With concealer on my forehead, blush, powder(s), and lipstick:

7. Accentuate your eyes. Eye make-up is tricky because there is a fine line between only adding subtle touches and there being no visible change at all. This step probably makes the most difference in your overall finished appearance, so give it the attention it deserves. Here are some general suggestions that may or may not apply to you: (a) For the brows, use wax instead of pencil or powder. Wax fills in all the sparse areas and keeps your brow hairs in place without looking like you obviously worked on it. (b) For your eyeshadow, the only colors I would really avoid are black and white. Anything else can be applied in a non-gaudy manner. For me, layering two colors horizontally looks much better than darkening the outside corner, but it’s different for everyone. (c) For the eyeliner, use gel or wet powder because they last the longest, and nothing screams “I’m wearing make-up” like multiple smudged lines across your lids. Don’t be afraid to use black or other dark colors but be very, very afraid of lining the bottom lid all the way across. This will make your eyes look tiny and evil. (d) Use a good lengthening mascara like Imju Fiberwig or Sephora Lash Stretcher. They contain fake lashes that stick to your real lashes and look (surprisngly!) much more natural than “thickening” varieties. With eye make-up and brushed hair:

… too bad there’s no way around the goofy grin. 🙂

Typically I find skin care reviews to be wastes of time because most of them are just two sentence in which the reviewer shares that the product is the worst or best she’s ever tried. This is uninformative because (1) people don’t or can’t accurately describe the fragrance/ texture/ color that they hate; (2) describing something as “too greasy” or “irritating” doesn’t mean anything to me unless I know how naturally oily and sensitive their skin is; (3) a lot of times people give bad reviews for malfunctioning packaging, bad service, excessive expense, or something else that only applies to their specific situation rather than to the product itself.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution – the various lotions and potions are on sale today because some people’s skins benefit from them (the exception being Clinique Dramatically Different Lotion which objectively sucks). I still believe that although sunscreen, retinol, Vitamin C, Niacinamide (B3), Tocopherol (E), exfoliants, and possibly copper alleviate superficial skin conditions and have been scientifically proven to slow down the rate of skin aging, there is not much a cream can do to reverse damage done to the deeper layers of the skin where the wrinkle forms. The best plan of action is preventative care – please don’t wait until your face looks like Mick Jagger’s ball sack to start shopping for a moisturizer.

Truthfully, in my own experience and according to what I believe to be unbiased articles written by dermatologists not employed by cosmetic companies, almost every skin care product is essentially a moisturizer and layering on serums, treatments, and creams doesn’t necessarily amplify their effects. In fact, they can sometimes cancel each other out or cause unwanted reactions. Finding a great moisturizer is the most effective, most hassle-free way to better skin. As I’ve mentioned previously, my own skin has resembled an over-sensitive oil slick splattered with acne since I was a preteen and, even though still very far from perfect now, it’s improved beyond my wildest dreams since I streamlined my skincare routine.

Absolutely stay away from anything with denatured alcohol or any alcohol listed with a number in it (ex., SD-40). These are possibly the worst substance you could be applying to your face because they cause wrinkling through pervasive moisture loss and sun discoloration through photo-sensitivity. A lot of high-end organic lines and L’Oreal unfortunately use alcohol as the base for all their moisturizers. Just because it’s made from corn doesn’t mean it’s safe! Also, don’t buy anything that isn’t packaged in an opaque tube or pump bottle. Sticking your finger into a jar alters the cream’s PH balance and sunlight and oxygen start breaking down nutrients like Vitamin C in a week. All of Olay’s moisturizers, even the low-end ones, actually have awesome formulations. They even come in fragrance-free versions which are great for your skin because essential oils are irritating and also cause photo-sensitivity. However, a lot of Olay products also come in glass jars.

Among higher end moisturizers, glass jars are even more common. They also tend to be overpriced concoctions of exotic plants that may be beneficial, damaging, or inert – who knows? That company may have been the only researcher interested in them in the first place, so don’t be seduced by their scientific-sounding “proof” that cactus juice diminishes undereye circles. That being said, my mom misunderstood the exchange rate at the duty free shop of the Tokyo Narita Airport and bought me Lancôme Absolue Replenishing Lotion SPF 15 and I secretly love it. I only use it for special events like my semi-annual romantic dinner, but it feels so comfortable and I (delusionally?) believe that some of the claims about its active ingredient, Pro-Xylane, actually look promising (see video clip below). Obviously I can’t afford $135 for a moisturizer though, being a mere grad student.  “Dermatologist” lines like DDF, Murad, and Perricone MD are even more high-priced than old-school luxury department store brands. I’ve seen some that are $300 a pop. They tend to eschew plant ingredients for scary chemicals. I used a free sample of Murad Age Reform Serum for three days under my eyes and it honestly tore my skin off. It looked and felt raw.

Anyways, Philosophy On a Clear Day is what I’ve settled on for everyday use. I’m happy that it contains hyaluronic acid rather than shea butter or oil and the retinol really controls my acne. I apply an inoffensive broad-spectrum sunscreen on top. However, it’s not for everyone. I believe that everyone should find a product that suits them rather than just blindly following public opinion. It’s important to educate oneself about the available options because marketing firms are striving to get you to blow money on moisturizers that are either ineffective or damaging. In fact almost every single cosmetics company spends a much greater portion of their budget on marketing than on research.

I’ve been busy all day writing a paper about English missionaries in southern Africa, but as I was taking a short break I stumbled upon this ridiculous article entitled “Courtney Love’s Breast Implants Kill Her Dog.” Jesus. The alternate universe that Hollywood celebrities live in sometimes boggles my mind. It’s recently come to my attention that pretty much every female and some male actors have had plastic surgery. Even Rosanne Barr’s had a selection including lipo, botox, rhinoplasty, facelift, and breast implants. Lindsay Lohan, who is a few years younger than me, has had multiple facelifts already. Megan Fox has fake cheeks and breasts. Nicole Kidman has fake everything: eyes, nose, lips, jawline, brow. I guess I have nothing against plastic surgery generally (although I’ll never have it myself), but I find it sort of creepy that people make their facial features look completely different from what they’ve seen in the mirror all their lives.

There are a ton of before and after pictures on the web for anyone who cares to search.  These are samplings of Paris Hilton, Li’l Kim, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Even if they look prettier after plastic surgery (which isn’t always the case), I can’t imagine straying so far from reality without somewhat losing touch with it.

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