How to be a smart makeup buyer

Posted on January 19, 2017 under Thoughts

I’ve had a bunch of makeup reviews that I want to get up here, but I rely completely on natural lighting for my photos and it’s been unrelentingly dark and grey here lately. There are some really exciting new launches and new-to-me products that I want to showcase here, but today I’m going to improvise and share some of my tips on how to be a smart makeup buyer. These come both from my own experiences as an avid makeup consumer over the past four years as well as my professional experience working cosmetics retail for coming up on three years.

Research, research, research

We’ll start with the most obvious tip. There really are no guarantees when it comes to purchasing makeup. For whatever reason, a much-loved or super hyped product may not work out for you. Skin type and personal preferences play huge roles in our experiences of different products. But, obviously, the first step when it comes to becoming a smart beauty consumer is to cut down on impulse purchases. Buying blind isn’t guaranteed to lead to disappointment, but when you carefully research each product you buy you’ll have a better idea of what you can expect. I look for detailed reviews which clearly describe colour, formula, and application. I know that longwinded beauty reviews aren’t really the norm, but I appreciate a 1500 word lipstick review far more than one that’s just like, “I love this! It’s sooo pigmented and feels great.” The more details, the better – that way, I’m able to make a decision based on my preferences rather than the blogger’s. I mean, if I read a rave review of a lipstick that mentions that it has a very creamy, almost slippery formula, I’m probably not going to buy that product even if the blogger loves it, because I know I prefer a slightly dryer, longer-lasting formula.

Be aware of what you have in your collection

When you’re a makeup enthusiast and you have more products than you functionally need (inasmuch as you need any makeup products), it’s easy to forget what you already have. Most of us makeup hobbyists have probably been in the position of bringing home a new product only to realize that it’s pretty much the same as something we already own. I think this gets exacerbated further by the rise of eyeshadow palettes. Once you own a few neutral palettes, everything else just becomes different combinations of colours that you already own with a few new shades here and there. I rarely get inspired by new palettes anymore because I know that I own pretty much all the shades already – and I own way fewer eyeshadow palettes than your average YouTuber. It’s also easy for me personally to accumulate multiple lipsticks of the same shade. When I first got into makeup I kept buying fuchsias because that was a colour I was really into at the time and which I thought looked great on me. I think that sometimes we get caught up in hype and want to try a new product and so we buy a colour that we know we’ll like so we can try the formula. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do this if you really want to, but at this point I’m not going to buy something just to try it. I’ll buy it if it’s something I don’t already have, or if it’ll replace something I do have.

Don’t get fooled by packaging

I don’t mean not to let pretty packaging convince you to buy a product (which is also true, and which I need to get better at myself). The fact is that a lot of packaging is specifically designed to deceive you into thinking you’re getting more than you are. Lyn at Brutally Honest Beauty has a great series devoted to exposing this. I see this all the time with my customers. I can’t tell you how many times a customer has looked at the L’Oreal True Match foundation (not an affiliate link; there’s an image on the page for reference) and exclaimed at how small it is. They’re always shocked when I pick up a bottle of the True Match Lumi and tell them that it contains the same amount of product. Almost every foundation is 1oz (30mL); it’s one of the few types of makeup products with a very standardized size across brands. Bulky packaging might fool you into thinking you’re getting more, but with a few rare exceptions such as the MUFE Water Blend, you’re not!

This is the case with a lot of products.

From the packaging I’d assume that the two full-sized liquid lipsticks seen here contain about the same amount of product and that the mini Stila one contains about a third of the product of the full-size. (The tube is considerably smaller in all dimensions – it’s shorter and thinner.) However, the mini contains half the product of the full size (0.05 fl oz and 0.10 fl oz, respectively), and the hot pink Joe Fresh lipstick contains twice as much product as the Stila one, with 0.20 fl oz. You’d never know that just from looking at them!

Twist-up chubby lip pencils can be really convenient when it comes to application, but the packaging is also pretty deceptive as the product doesn’t go very far down in the tube. This Revlon Balm Stain contains 2.7g of product; the more standard Maybelline bullet lipstick has 4.2g.

While the NARS blush compact pictured here is clearly larger than the Sleek blush, the Sleek product actually contains 8g of product to NARS’ 4.8g.

Clearly, it’s incredibly hard to tell from packaging just how much you’re getting. If price per ounce or gram is a big concern for you when makeup shopping (which makes sense for products you’re likely to use up and repurchase regularly, such as foundation or eyeliner), your best bet is to actually read the label to see how much product you’re really getting! Packaging doesn’t tell much of a story when it comes to how much product it truly contains.

Know your ingredients

This mostly pertains to skincare, but having a good idea of the basics of ingredients can help you be a savvy shopper. Because I’m trained in skincare I can pick up any product, read the ingredients list, and have some idea about what it’s supposed to do and probably if it will work well for me. I know what ingredients do and what works for my skin. Being able to identify filler ingredients, irritants, ingredients that don’t mesh well together, and ingredients that work (or don’t work) for you really gives you a leg up with shopping. This is true for all cosmetics (you might know that you’re allergic to a specific pigment or that a common ingredient in many foundations breaks you out), but it really helps to have an understanding of this stuff when you’re purchasing skincare so you don’t have to go off the claims on the box. You definitely don’t have to be an expert in ingredients, but knowing a lot of the common ones will help you narrow down the field and can also help your sales associate make a great recommendation if you ask for help!

These are the things I personally do and keep in mind when I’m trying to shop mindfully. I’ve become much more picky with my makeup purchases as of late and I think that’s been working in my favour – I realized that there weren’t really any outstandingly bad makeup duds for me in 2016, which could be a fluke but which I like to believe has to do with my smarter consumption habits.

Current makeup storage

Posted on November 22, 2016 under Thoughts


My life for the past four years has been very transient: I have spent each school year in a different apartment or dorm, and summers in Toronto with my family. I never managed to set up much of a permanent makeup storage situation because I’ve basically been hauling big rolling suitcases of my stuff back and forth between various cities (and countries) for four years.

Now I’m in a weird place: I’ve been in Toronto since April and will be here until August or September. That’s enough time that I want my surroundings to be nice, but not enough for me to set up anything permanent. But the tiny table I had been using as my vanity was becoming untenable: almost every square inch of it was covered in acrylic containers, and it was hard to see and reach everything. Additionally, I’m not a drawer kind of gal. If it’s not out in the open and easy for me to see, I won’t use it. So I devised a $40 solution that ticked all the boxes for me.

Namely, I bought 4 small square IKEA LACK shelves for $10 each, mounted two on either side of my table, and set up all my acrylic containers on them. Originally I had three, one on top of the other, but I realized that I a) needed more space, and b) I couldn’t reach the highest one. I picked up another one at my earliest convenience and rearranged them like so:


I’m actually really happy with this solution. I’m not sure that this is what I’ll continue to do long-term, but 40 bucks is a reasonable investment for the outcome.

Of course, I couldn’t show you the big picture without details…


This shelf holds my everyday essentials and all my lip products. In the past I’ve had various larger lipstick holders from Ebay and Amazon, but I’ve ended up transferring all my traditional bullet-shaped lipsticks into 9-slot holders from Dollarama. They’re $3 each and are really sturdy and well-made, and I like that they’re smaller because it gives me more options for configuration.


Most of my everyday products are in this shell dish that I got from Ten Thousand Villages last year. Next to it you can see my pencil sharpener and my Maybelline Color Tattoo in Tough As Taupe, which I use on my brows every day.


Currently I have four lipstick holders on the go, though they’re not all completely full. The two in the back hold all my drugstore lipsticks, most of which are by Rimmel, Maybelline, Joe Fresh, and Collection. The one in the very front is all my prettiest lipsticks: MAC in the back, YSL in the middle row, and Charlotte Tilbury and Clarins in the front. (If I get more gold lipsticks they’ll definitely take MAC’s place.) The holder next to it is hard to make out since most of the products are black, but in the back row I have two Lancôme GWPs and a matte by Lise Watier. The middle has my two NARS Audacious lipsticks, and the bottom row has two minis, one by MUFE that I got at Winners and the Marc Jacobs birthday gift that you’ve already seen on four million blogs this year.

You can also see that I have a cup of lip liners in the back left corner. You can’t tell from this picture, but it’s a holographic cat cup that Aisling got me. (There’s another on my eye product shelf that you can see a bit better.)


I also have this multi-slot acrylic holder which I think I got from Winners. In the back I keep my liquid lipsticks, then jumbo crayons, then some random products (brow gel x2 and a mascara that I don’t use on a daily basis), then some cheek products that I don’t have another home for. Next to that I have my foundations, daily sunscreen, and moisturizer.


Next to that I have my cheek products. I really love the container I have my blushes in, which I got from Marshalls – I like that it has three different sections, though I pretty much have no room left for any new products. In the first section I have mostly cheap blushes – Sleek, H&M, Milani – as well as a Tarte blush that didn’t fit anywhere else. The second compartment is just for my beloved Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blushes. The last one is a mish-mash of mid-range and high-end stuff: Guerlain, Chanel, Benefit, and NARS. (I know it’s probably tacky to keep luxury products in their velvet sleeves, but there you go.)


Behind that I have a single-compartment acrylic container that I also got from Marshalls in a two-pack. I keep a jumble of stuff in there – my bronzer, my powder highlighters (and Topshop Glow highlighter), setting powder, a ColourPop blush that didn’t fit in the other container, my contour product, and a NYX concealer palette sitting on top of two boxes of false lashes. I have two loose powders and my dirty, torn-up Quo blending sponge which I desperately need to replace. (The bowl it’s sitting in has been floating around my house for as long as I can remember. I’ve used it variously to hold candy, my keys, and now my blending sponge.)


Next up: eyes! This shelf is overflowing, but oh well.


The main focal point is of course a stationery organizer from Dollarama which holds my most-used palettes. (Actually, I never use the yellow theBalm palette in the back, so I’m not sure why it’s in that organizer/my collection in general other than the two colours in it that I love.)


I use a napkin holder from Dollarama to hold my other palettes, which I don’t reach for as often but which are still nice to have on hand.


Here’s another of those one-compartment acrylic organizers. It holds smaller palettes and singles – you’re mainly seeing Lancôme GWP quads and Maybelline Colour Tattoos. (You’ll also spot my single ColourPop shadow, NARS Dual Intensity singles, and another velvet-pouched Guerlain product.)



The final shelf is a jumble of skincare things that I don’t use daily, backups, and samples. They’re housed in Vichy gift set boxes that a customer didn’t want. (I always have an eye out for possible storage solutions…) The vast majority of the stuff in these tins was given to me by brand reps at work. (Actually, the only things I see in those pictures that I purchased myself are the ELF brush cleaner, the Stila eyeliner, and the backup of Sally Hansen Pacific Blue.)


By the way, I took this photo when I was like thirteen and I went to summer camp for photography. Most of my pictures are pretty good but have wonky borders because I was very sloppy when developing them. This is actually one of my better border moments, though the picture itself is slightly out of focus.


My brush holders are vases from Dollarama with vase filler also from Dollarama. They could both use a bit more filling, especially the smaller one that I use for my eye brushes.


I keep a small hand towel to wipe off my brushes and dirty fingers, as well as baby wipes for, you know, wiping things. Mainly swatches, since wipes haven’t touched my face since probably the 1800s.

And there we have it: my inexpensive but functional and pretty makeup storage!

(And if you’re interested, a very different and even more temporary setup from February 2015 when I was living in Glasgow.)

A new haircut for 2016

Posted on January 11, 2016 under Thoughts

In January 2014, I bleached my hair for the first time so that I could dye it magenta. After a brief flirtation with magenta and then hot pink (and a 6-week lavender interlude in the fall of 2014), I became a fulltime blonde in April 2014.

On January 4, 2016, I bleached my roots and toned my hair like I’ve done countless times. This time was the straw that broke the camel’s back: my hair became in alternating sections gummy and brittle, breaking off in remarkable amounts. The toner burned my scalp and I turned beet red. (Later I was told that I’d probably developed an allergy to my beloved Wella T-18!)

I knew this day would come; I’ve been rather indiscriminate with the bleach and was under no illusions that I’d be able to keep up the platinum forever. I immediately made an appointment with my hairdresser, who squeezed me in for the next day. I told her I was prepared to take as much off as necessary. She said we’d really only need to cut side-swept bangs to camoflage the breakage around the hairline and take a few inches off the lengths. I told her to go shorter.


Apparently my favourite selfie pose, with and without lipstick – because a good selfie is not complete without lipstick. YSL Rouge Volupté 17, for the record.

So shorter we went!

I really like my haircut; I’ve never been particularly attached to my hair, and though it was a bit of a shock to see it shorter than it’s been since I was thirteen, I was excited. I think once about three or four more inches grow back in I’ll like it even more, since I find just below chin length to be the most flattering on my face shape. But I’m glad I went for a big chop, because the more we took off last week, the less destroyed hair there is for me to deal with. I’m most devastated about the bangs; it took me eighteen months to grow them out from the blunt fringe I had for years, and I didn’t want to give up on my hard work. But they’ll grow back.

Shorter’s okay by me too because my hair is so thick that when it gets long sometimes it’s a bit unmanageable. I don’t think it’ll stop having a life of its own, but at least there’s less of it to wrangle! Also, don’t tell all the people who have told me repeatedly that blonde suits me, but I will not miss the process of doing my roots.

I’m not sure what the gameplan is now. Clearly, no more bleach will be in my future. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll dye the ends to match my roots or if I’ll just embrace a grungy, two-toned, very-long-roots look. Maybe I’ll even dye it another bright colour while I still have the blonde base. I think I’m going to try to let it be as much as possible for as long as possible, though – it’s been through a lot over the past two years, and certainly deserves a break!

All I know for sure is that I’m still adjusting to the extremely reduced amount of conditioner it takes for my whole head.

It doesn’t seem to dry any faster, though. It’s still absurdly thick, after all.