Friday, November 22, 2013

Guest post from Savannah Scorpion: Why Do Cosmetics Companies Make The Same Damn Thing? (And what you should buy instead)

[Ed. note: Savannah sent me this post on Nov. 6, and I'm only getting to it now! Oops. I was looking back through my emails thinking, "Wasn't it just a few days ago?" I have completely lost track of time this month. But better late than never, because this is a good one.]


If you are new to the blog, I am Savannah Scorpion, a former Seller of Expensive Cosmetics Shit At A Retailer You All Know And Love. I periodically do guest posts about how your cosmetics sausage is made.

Here's a picture of me hugging a pizza:
Have any of y'all ever walked around a cosmetics aisle, and marveled at how every company seems to be making the same damn things?

You're not seeing double.

Remember, most of he cosmetics brands are owned by a few select companies. So when a prestige brand (expensive, sold at a specialty retailer, salon, or department store)  introduces a fancy new product, a mass brand (not expensive, sold at drugstores, mass-market retailers) owned by the same company will frequently release something similar--just at a different price point.

Also, cosmetics companies have a tendency to behave like a hivemind. So, when one company releases a New, Innovative, Thing evey other brand is scrambling to replicate it and repackage it, because they don't want to lose customers to the New, Innovative, Thing sold by The Other Cosmetics Brand.

What I'm going to do is go over some of the more popular trends  in cosmetics and skincare, and help you save money by pointing out the best products ("best" rarely translates to "most expensive").

1. Blotting Papers

What They Do:
They blot your shit for when your face gets shiny.   Blotting papers let you remove oily gunk from your face, which is a hell of a lot better than putting more face powder on top. And while they won't smear your makeup, blotting papers can help when you have those days when you leave your house, look in your car mirror, and say "Oh shit I totally overdid it today".
Virtually every brand has their own blotting papers--most of which are made with rice paper, and you can easily spend anywhere from 3-15 bucks. If you buy more expensive papers, you simply paying for more elaborate packaging.

The best, in my opinion, are the Sephora brand blotting papers. They aren't the cheapest or most expensive (they retail for 8 bucks), but they have 100 sheets, and amazing at blotting oily crap. I've found that cheaper brands have less papers, or smaller sheets. The great thing about the Sephora ones is that even if you use these frequently, they last 1-2 months. It really doesn't matter if you get the Vitamin C, Green Tea, Salicylic Acid, or Lavender papers, because there's really no way to get any major skincare benefits (besides oil absorption) from blotting papers.
[Ed.: e.l.f. also has some decent ones for $1, but they are definitely not going to last as long as those.]

2. BB/CC/DD/Blah Blah Blah Creams

Alphabet creams are probably here to stay. Yippee skippee. If you believe everything you read, you will be convinced that these creams are magical, can turn back the ravages of time on your face, rescue kittens from burning buildings, etc, etc, etc, etc.

None of this is true.

Here is the short list of what these creams do:

1. They provide light to medium coverage
2. They provide basic sun protection via broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen
3. Depending on the formula, they may provide basic skincare benefits

Here's the short list of what these creams DON'T do:
1. They will not eat you out.
2. They will not do your taxes

I like BB creams for those days when I've overslept, and I want to abbreviate my morning routine, because I get my basic coverage plus my sunscreen in one step (and while this is not ideal, it's better than no sun protection at all). Whether or not a BB or CC cream will replace your foundation depends entirely on how much coverage you need. If you need/prefer full coverage, they aren't going to cut it.

However, if you currently use a mineral or powder foundation, a BB cream can help give you a more even base (plus you shouldn't be relying on a mineral powder foundation for your sunscreen anyway)

So, what should you buy?

Well, first, I should make it very clear that alphabet creams are being marketed toward a white audience with a skintone that ranges from "Ghostly Pale" to "Porcelain". There are a few mass brands hat are expanding their skintone ranges on their BB creams, but it is very slim pickings for people of color.

If you are a Magical Unicorn Person, here are my alphabet cream suggestions:

1. If your main concern is coverage, go with a cream from a color cosmetics brand
2. If your main concern is a higher SPF/skincare benefits (moisturizing, mattifying, etc), go with a cream from a skincare brand.
3. Most alphabet creams use mineral sunscreens, so if those make you break out/sensitive, skip them
4. Don't believe the hype

Stuff I Put On Myself and Brightest Bulb In The Box both did some great posts about the hype around BB creams.

3. Colored Mascaras

When I worked as a tour guide, I damn near shit my pants with delight when I found a place that sold electric blue mascara (at the Beauty Mecca in Savannah on Montgomery Crossroads next door to the Kmart). Nowadays, colored mascaras are more popular, and every brand from Chanel to Maybelline sells them.

What you should purchase entirely depends on how frequently you will use colored mascaras.

If you are like me, and the answer is "ALL THE DAMN TIME, OBVIOUSLY", go with something mid-range. I adore the Sephora brand colored mascaras because their color payoff is fantastic, and the formula, while not waterproof, is long-wearing and isn't smeary. And they are making sparkly shades for the holidays!

I've found that the super-pricy shit, like the Butter London, Anastasia, and Chanel mascaras isn't really worth it, because remember folks, you have to toss your mascara out every 3 months.

If you need colored mascara for a one-off costume, get something cheaper. Maybellline is doing a limited edition colored version of their Great Lash Mascara, and while their formula is meh (smeary and not good for sensitive eyes), the colors are fun. Rimmel has also debuted a range of colored mascaras.

4. Nude Eyeshadow Palettes

Once upon a time, a cosmetics company called Urban Decay debuted their Naked Palette. And the beauty world went goddamn nuts. What made the Naked (and their subsequent Naked 2) pallete such a success were their versatile, blendable eyeshadows that could do every look from "going to the mall' to "going to murder you in your sleep". While these palletes are a great deal for what you get (12 full sized eyeshadows, a brush, a mini bottle of either eyeshadow primer or lip gloss) 50 bucks is still a lot.

Have no fear, cosmetics companies are trying to cash in on the popularity of nude palettes, and many have come out with palettes that are very similar to Naked and Naked2.

I should back the fuck up and say that in the spirit of full disclosure, I own the Naked2 palette. I also didn't pay full price for it. I also use it damn near every day.

If you wear eyeshadow every day, I'd recommend going with a prestige brand nude palette. If you have blue or brown eyes, go with a palette with warmer brown and copper tones, like Naked. If you have green or hazel eyes, go with a palette with more greiges, like Naked 2. And if you are not a fan of shimmer, and want more matte shades, step away from the UD shelf and go with options from LORAC, Inglot, Sigma, Sephora, etc etc.

If you don't wear eyeshadow frequently, and you want a basic nude palette because you have a wedding/special event coming up, go with a palette from a mass brand, or have your cosmetics sales friend come over to your house and show you how to put on eyeshadow:
 and then take lots of silly selfies together.

Nouveau Cheap has an exhaustive guide to Naked palette dupes here.

5. Gel pot eyeliners

These little things are amazing.  You apply a gel liner with a brush, to get more color intensity than with an eyeliner pencil, but have more control than with a liquid liner. These are essential for things like cat eyes.  And my current favorite you-can-pry-from-my-cold-dead-hands gel liner?

Seriously, if you need black gel liner, there is no point in spending more at MAC/NARS/Bobbi Brown/Tarte/etc goddamn etc when this shit is sofa king amazing. It doesn't smear or transfer, and it lasts for fucking ever. Shit isn't just sex-proof, it's really fucking epic sex-proof*. The brush it comes with is pretty useless as a liner brush but it does make a pretty good lip brush.

The only time where I can really advocate spending money on a prestige gel liner is if you are looking for a gel liner that is in a color other than black/brown/dark purple/navy. Prestige brands will have a wider color range, because mass brands will only sell the colors that they think will sell en masse.

6. Cleansing/makeup removal oils

Now, you're going to need to clean off all of your BB cream and gel eyeliner, and cleansing oils and fancypants makeup removers have become all the rage, probably due to the rise in popularity of the oil cleansing method.

Here's some important shit to know:

Don't waste your money on Clinique's Take the Day Off, or Mary Kay's Makeup Remover. Neutrogena's Oil-Free Makeup Remover works just as well, for cheaper. Or, wait for those brands to offer special deals. Clinique practically passes out deluxe samples of Take The Day Off when you make a minimum purchase. I just got a flier from Sephora Inside JCPenney, offering a deluxe Eye Makeup Remover.

You can use natural oils in lieu of the fancy potions cosmetics companies sell. However, olive oil can clog up your sink, and coconut oil can clog up your pores. Before using, patch test your shit!

And whatever you do, do not ever, ever EVER FUCKING EVER use Dr. Bronner's soap to remove your makeup. That shit will burn your eyes out, which will hurt (to the point where you will be hunched over a sink yelling "OW, OW OW"), and will strip your skin and make it even oiler and more unpleasant to deal with the next day. Make like Nancy Regan and Just. Say. No.

(Also, a message for men, and those who aren't makeup or skincare savvy: if you intend on entertaining and sleeping with people who wear makeup, put some cold cream and Cerave in your goddamn bathroom, okay?)

7. HD Everything

This is the part where I get to dust off my B.F.A. and wax poetic about film:

Once upon a time, people made movies with film. Movies shot with actual film are amazingly beautiful. Film can capture a grater range of colors and shade values, and when you are shot in film, you will look so goddamn gorgeous on screen.

However, film is really goddamn finicky to work with. You have to light every shot perfectly, and it can take up to 45 minutes to an hour to set up for a film shot. Then, you have to wait and get the film developed before you know if anything turned out well.

Enter, The Digital Revolution! (TM)

Digital cameras are easier to work with, easier to light for, and you get immediate gratification. However, that High-def look can be very unforgiving, especially if the lighting is not on point. And most gaffers/cinematographers are dudes, and dudes don't always pay attention to the concept of flattering lighting.

[As an aside, I got to meet Lily Tomlin when I was in skewl, and she talked about how the crew on a film mercilessly teased and pranked her because she asked them to light her scenes in a non-shitty fashion.]

Because of this, cosmetics companies, starting with the prestige brands, have been creating makeup labeled as "high definition". This is also why foundation primers have become so damn popular. Make Up For Ever got a lot of attention a few years back for -OMG- actually running a foundation ad that wasn't retouched with Photoshop!

Here's my take on all this shit:

It is not too difficult to create a "flawless" look using non-HD products. The first secret: Primer. Primer has been discussed a lot on this blog, and there are some great affordable options--such as Monistat Anti-Chafing Gel. The second secret: Quality implements. Get good brushes (I like Real Techniques brushes, and the Sephora #56) and sponges (You don't have to use the Beauty Blender, and there are a number of great dupes), and practice blending your shit. To quote a friend of mine: If you just use Q-tips and crappy brushes, your makeup is going to look like shit, no matter how expensive it is". Revlon has a great Camera Ready line of products, and e.l.f. also has a great HD finishing powder. I can say from personal experience that the Revlon Camera Ready powder is great for a long day on set portraying a fighting nun:
 You thought I was kidding.

Unless you are spending a lot of time in front of a high-definition camera, you shouldn't have to buy all HD products. And if you do have a job where you spend your days in front of a high-def camera, a makeup artist will probably be putting your makeup on for you.

8. Mineral Makeup/Foundation

I'm sure that, at one point in your life, you were watching TV late at night, and you saw an infomercial for Bare Minerals. For people who haven't worked in cosmetics, Bare Minerals is the thing you see on television. For those of us who have worked in cosmetics, Bare Minerals is, to quote my ex-GM, "the best friend you wished you never had".

Stocking this shit is a literal pain in the ass, and quads, and calves.
Also, if you've sold this shit before, you probably had to sit through the world's worst instructional video, in which the Northeast Director of Education did a shitty tutorial, all while saying "uh", and "um" every five seconds.

Bare Minerals is no longer the only mineral makeup option. Which, in my opinion, is a VERY good thing. There are mineral makeup options from Kevyn Aucoin, Pur Minerals, Kat Von D, L'Oreal, Physician's Formula, Mary Kay, Avon, and so on and so forth. Because they are more sheer, their less goof proof when it comes to color matching. The key to these products is, once again, having good brushes to blend with (look for synthetic brushes with densely-packed hairs).

Here's how to quickly determine if mineral foundation is right for you:

1. Do you have oily/combination skin?
2. Are you looking for a foundation that provides light to medium-ish coverage?
3. Can you use mineral sunscreen?
4.. Do you need to be fully made up, while working outside in Southern humidity?

If you answered "Yes" to at least numbers 1-3, a mineral foundation is right for you. If you have dry skin, or are sensitive to mineral sunscreens, skip this shit**.

And, if you do choose to go with Bare Minerals, go with the Matte formulation. The Original (Luminous) formula will highlight every pore/fine line/pimple, and looks incredibly shitty when photographed.

9. Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is used in water filters to filter out impurities in water. So it will totally remove impurities from your face, right?


Most of the evidence I've found about the efficacy of activated charcoal in skincare has been anecdotal at best. The most popular products are made by Origins and Boscia, two expensiveasallfuck skincare brands.

I've used both the Origins and the Boscia charcoal masks, and I had wildly different results.

The Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask is a clay mask that you apply to damp skin. This mask irritated the crap out of my skin, and left it dry, and bright red. I would not recommend this product to anyone who has dry/combination skin, sensitive skin or has rosacea. If you have oily and not-sensitive skin, this might be worth it. In any case, buy the small bottle, and return that shit if it causes irritation or inflammation.

However, Boscia's Luminizing Black Mask is one of my would-take-to-my-grave skincare products. You apply it to clean, dry skin, let it dry, peel it off, rinse, and then moisturize. I've found that it helps reduce the number of sebaceous filaments on my T-zone, and helps take care of the flakiness I get on my cheeks--all without making my skin more irritated. However, it is  pretty pricey (30 bucks and change for a full-sized bottle). Boscia products are sold on HSN, and they occasionally have really good beauty sales with reduced prices and free shipping. Also, I only apply it to the spots on my face that get clogged up, which helps stretch the product so it lasts longer. The Boscia website occasionally offers sales, and starting tomorrow, Sephora is offering a 20 percent discount for VIB members. The Boscia Facebook page also frequently offers giveaways of this mask,, so definitely hit "like" and stay updated.

An even cheaper option is the Freeman charcoal mask. I have not tried this product, but it's gotten good reviews. Musings of a Muse had a positive experience with it, but also warned that it would not be the best option for someone with sensitive skin/skin prone to redness. It looks like the Freeman website is currently running an online sale on all of their masks. the FB25 code gives you 25 percent off your order. 

10. "Gentle Peel" Products

Once upon a time I blew 90 bucks on Perricone MD's Blue Plasma, a chemical exfoliator that is meant to be used at night.

It didn't do a damn thing.
I recently purchased (on clearance) Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir. It was 20 bucks, and it's probably not doing a damn thing.

HOWEVER, at least Olay clearly states on their packaging that their product will not deliver results as quickly as the chemical peel you'd get at a plastic surgeon's office. Versus Perricone making every promise under the damn sun.

Fancy skincare products are like men: If they promise the sun moon, and stars, they are probably lying.

*Eyelid licking may have been involved.

**Bare Minerals has developed a new "Ready" foundation, which is a creamier compact foundation, which is better for dry skin. However, if you're even the teensiest bit oily, this shit will flake right off. STOP THE INFOMERCIALS AND REFORMULATE YOUR SHIT, PEOPLE!

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