Ethical Beauty Review: W3ll People Expressionist Mascara

Amongst cruelty-free beauty bloggers, W3ll People’s Expressionist mascara has gotten rave reviews, so I was excited when I noticed that Target.com had started selling W3ll People products. Since this mascara is supposed to be a more natural product, it’s also won recognition from Allure and Elle magazines. Unfortunately, I did not find this mascara to live up to the hype. The one good thing I can say about it is that it did not clump at all. You don’t need to wipe any excess mascara off the wand. This does darken my lashes nicely and it can be built up a little bit but on me it also smudges and flakes. If you are one of those people who can wear regular (rather than waterproof mascara) without having issues with smudging, then you may like this mascara. But I am not one of those people and so this mascara is basically a $20 piece of trash. If you’re looking for a natural mascara, I recommend Pacifica’s mascara which has a very similar formula and wand, but is half the price and is available in a water-resistant formula.

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Ethical Beauty Brand Overview: FLOWER Beauty

As an ethical shopper, Wal-Mart is a store I’ve always avoided shopping at. However, when I heard that Drew Barrymore’s cruelty free brand, FLOWER Beauty, was also made in America, I knew I had to venture into the heart of darkness to check the brand out. Please note that not every product made by FLOWER Beauty is made in the US. The brushes are made in China, for instance, and unlike Eco Tools and Real Techniques, the brand does not make any kind of public statement about making sure that their factories adhere to ethical standards. Please double check each label to make sure the product you’re buying is made in America. I’m happy to report that all the products I tried were fragrance-free. As someone whose allergies are often irritated by fragranced products (indeed, fragrance is a skin irritant so even if you’re not allergic, your fragranced products may be causing your skin problems). Another note about the brand is that they seem to have cut corners on quality control. Of the products I ordered online, fully half were defective in some way (the mascara did not have the rubber lip which wipes excess mascara off the wand, the eyeliner stick one of the twist up eyeliners kept falling out the tube, making it un-useable and the highlighter chubby had the same problem (which is why I didn’t review it here). But the good news is that Wal-Mart was happy to return or exchange all the defective items. And I’m intrigued enough by the affordability and accessibility of this (mostly) ethical brand that I am going to try some more of their products for another review in the next few months.

  • Zoom-In Ultimate Mascara Waterproof – Waterproof mascara is the number one thing that people request recommendations on. It’s VERY difficult to find an ethically made waterproof mascara for some reason! I really wanted to love this mascara because it’s so accessible and affordable, but unfortunately, I found it to be just ok. The gimmick with this mascara is that the wand comes with a dial at the base so you can customize your brush. It’s a cute idea, but I found I wasn’t thrilled by any of the wand shapes, and I mostly just ended up using wands from other mascaras. The formula itself is very wet and goopy. You have to really wipe the wand off before applying it or else it will clump, smear and flake. You also can’t pack it in to add volume because if you do too many layers, it will flake. If you are looking for a natural looking mascara, one that will add some definition and length and is waterproof, then this will work for you. Just don’t apply more than a couple of coats or it will smudge or flake. I tried to use this as a waterproofing top coat and it smudged on me. So I do not recommend this mascara, sadly.
  • Lighten Up! Brightening Concealer – This is FLOWER Beauty’s version of YSL’s Touche Éclat and like that product is more of a highlighter than a concealer. I applied this on the top of my cheekbones, in the middle of my forehead and down the center of my nose. It does a decent job of highlighting those areas, however, I notice that it really grabs on to my setting powder, leaving a slightly cakey finish. This could be a function of the fact that I have dry skin. If any of you have normal-to-oily skin and try the product, please let me know in the comments how it performs for you!
  • Easy on the Eyes Longwear Eyeliner – This is a twist-up eyeliner like TheBalm and Jordana’s. The one workable color I got (Khaki Shimmer) was not very pigmented and I found the wear to be average. Because the quality is so similar to Jordana’s Easyliners and these eyeliners are twice the price, I don’t recommend this product unless you’re drawn to a specific color.
  • Shadow Play Eyeshadow Quad – I got this quad in the color Smoke & Mirrors, which looked like a beautiful neutral-toned matte palette. Unfortunately, the pigmentation on these shadows was really weak. Yes, the colors are pretty but I think the quality of Sonia Kashuk’s eyeshadows is superior at a similar price point.
  • Eyes on the Prize Eyeshadow Chubby – I was pretty excited about this chubby as creamy eyeshadows can be longer lasting than powder. Again, I was disappointed with the performance of this. After an hour or two it had completely disappeared off my eyes. Where did it go? Maybe the same place my socks always disappear to.
  • Color Play Crème Eye Shadow – I was really hoping that this product would mimic Maybelline’s Color Tattoo shadows which work great as a primer and really make eye shadow looks last longer. Sadly, no. Over the course of the day it faded away to nothing.
  • Transforming Touch Powder-to-Crème Blush – I was really intrigued by the gimmick of this blush – I’ve seen cream to powder blushes but never powder to cream! This blush has a really unique texture (even though it is a powder, it has a slightly slippery feel which I guess is the to cream part of the formula), it is also very pigmented and is highly blendable. It gives a gorgeous flush to the cheeks and is very long lasting. It comes in two colors – A-coral-ble – a warm-toned pink and Tickled Pink – a cool-toned pink. I have to admit, I don’t really reach for these powders very much since I’ve tested them for review but they’re well-formulated.
  • Win Some, Rouge Some Crème Blush – I believe these blushes have been repackaged and I am uncertain if the repackaging was accompanied by a reformulation. The ones I bought for review come in a little pot. The new packaging is more like a classic drugstore blush container and includes a foam applicator. These blushes are really nice – very blendable and long lasting. They give a very natural flush to the cheeks. They were definitely my favorite product from the FLOWER Beauty line. I guess I’ll have to try the repackaged versions to see how they stack up!
  • Lip Suede Velvet Lip Chubby – Matte lipsticks tend to come in two types. The first type, the true matte, tends to be highly pigmented and a little bit dry. The second type (usually billed as a moisturizing matte) is a regular moisturizing lipstick with cornstarch (or something similar) added to give it a slightly matte to satin finish. These lip chubbies fall into the second category. Although they are not as long lasting as my beloved long wear liquid lipsticks, they are an excellent option for days when I just want to grab a lippy and go. They’re soft and comfortable to wear and a breeze to reapply. The only downside is these types of lipsticks can accentuate patches of dry skin so make sure your lips are exfoliated before you apply this.
  • Kiss Stick Velvet Lip Color – Like the Velvet Lip Chubby, this lipstick is soft and comfortable to wear. It does tend to smear a little so you’d be best off using a lip liner. This is a nicely pigmented and comfortable option for someone who prefers a tube lipstick and the packaging looks very pretty.
  • Lip Radiance High Shine Lip Lacquer – I’m not typically a lip gloss person, but some makeup looks just work better with a glossy lip, so I like to have a couple of options in my collection. I really liked this lip lacquer. It is a full coverage lip gloss, so your natural lip color will not peek through. It doesn’t have any shimmer, so it gives a very sophisticated finish to the lips. And also comes with a flat sided doe-foot applicator which is my favorite type of applicator for products like this. The packaging itself is very pretty, accented with rose gold details. The quality of the product and the packaging definitely rivals products that are twice the price.
  • Shine On Lip Gloss – Unlike the full-coverage Lip Lacquer above, this gloss was formulated to be medium-coverage, which means your natural lip color peeks through. If you don’t want that, then you would be will advised to wear a lip liner underneath. Because these lip glosses are medium coverage, do not be scared off by the colors in the tube – they really just give a tint to the lips. They have a little bit of shimmer, but it’s not very noticeable on the lips. Like the blush above, these glosses have been repackaged and I do not know for certain if the products in the new packaging have been reformulated. However, since the name and description of the product has remained unchanged, I would guess that changes to the formula would be slight.

Overall, I was impressed with FLOWER Beauty’s line and I will definitely be checking out more products in the future.

Ethical Beauty Brand Overview: Sonia Kashuk

Today in #EthicalBeauty, I’m writing about Sonia Kashuk, a brand available exclusively at Target. I’ve been a fan of Sonia Kashuk’s brand since she first launched it at Target. It used to be a super bargain brand – with Revlon prices but department store quality. Now it’s not quite so inexpensive – ounce for ounce, some of the products are as pricey as the most luxurious brands – but for the most part the quality is still there. The only bummer is that Target doesn’t put out testers of the products (which they do for their other brand Pixi) and they don’t accept returns on open products. It’s really annoying, especially when you’re trying to figure out your foundation color. Please note that not all of Sonia Kashuk’s products are made in the US so I’m only reviewing products that are. Please double check labels when you’re buying Sonia Kashuk products – and be aware that their brushes are all made in China.

  • Hidden Agenda Concealer Palette – I really like this palette. It comes with three shades of concealer and a tiny pan of setting powder. There’s a greenish shade to use over red areas and then a lighter and darker color you can blend for a custom color match. The only downside is that this palette only comes in two colors – light and medium – and the medium is actually on the light side so a lot of women are left out. However, if you are in the color range of this products, it’s great to have in your kit!
  • Radiant + Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 15 – I love that this tinted moisturizer has a broad spectrum sunscreen, though I prefer a minimum SPF of 30. This is a really good product in a fairly decent range of shades that is a nice option for anyone looking for sheer to light coverage.
  • Foundation Stick – I was hoping this would be a full coverage stick as I prefer full coverage cream foundations to come in a stick rather than a pot. Sadly, the coverage on this is about a medium and it isn’t really buildable – it gets too cakey looking when I try to build it up in areas that need more coverage. If you’re someone who needs light to medium coverage, this would be great because you can apply it directly to areas that need more coverage and then use a damp Beauty Blender type of sponge to spread it out to the rest of the face.
  • Undetectable Loose Powder – This is a great loose powder. On me it is undetectable as it says it is, although I am not sure if it would work as well on darker complexions. It’s a smaller loose powder container with a screw on top so it’d be great to travel with. The only thing is that at $10 for .1 oz, it’s not that inexpensive.(To compare, Laura Mercier’s loose powder is $37 for 1 oz – 10x the product.) BUT it’s one of the few cruelty free loose powders out there and it’s the same quality as any department store loose powder.  Please note, on Target’s website, it says this product is imported, but on the packaging, it says that it is Made in USA. That could mean that they’ve changed where they’re getting this product manufactured so please double check the packaging when you buy it!
  • Shimmering Loose Powder Bronzer – I don’t necessarily see the value of a loose powder versus a pressed powder bronzer, as I didn’t see a difference in the application but this is a nice shimmery, golden bronzer that gives a lovely sunkissed glow. It’s not exactly natural because you can see the shimmers but if you want that J. Lo glow, this product will deliver. This comes in packaging that is almost identical to the loose powder so, again, it’s actually not that much of a bargain for the amount of product you get BUT a little goes a looooong way so this should last you a long time.
  • Beautifying Blush – I got this in Flamingo, a lovely cool-toned pink. I really love the packaging of these blushes as the compact is small, flip top (instead of screw) and has a clear top so you can see the color of the product. This blush gives a very natural flush to the cheeks. It doesn’t really build up so if you’re looking for a “pop” color, keep looking.
  • Creme Blush – I got this in Rosey – a warm-toned pink. This is actually way more pigmented than the Beautifying Blush so at first I had clown cheeks. But once I got the hang of it, this blush gave a gorgeous natural flush. I like using a stippling brush to blend it out onto my cheeks.
  • Dewy Luxe Lip & Cheek Balm – This is a liquid stain like Benetint which you can apply with the little brush applicator. I’m not crazy about products like this because they tend to set faster than I can blend them out but if you like Benetint, you might want to check this out as a cruelty-free alternative.
  • Satin Luxe Lip Color SPF 15 – If you like bullet-style lipsticks, Sonia Kashuk has a great selection of beautiful, flattering colors. These lipsticks are comfortable on the lips, though not necessarily hydrating, and have a luminous finish.
  • Lustrous Shine Lip Crayon – I have this lip crayon in a couple of colors – Dahlia (a beautiful deep fuchsia color) and Sweet Pea (a perfect peachy nude). These are great throw on lipsticks because the smaller tip makes them easy to apply without a mirror (although Dahlia is so pigmented, you probably want to use a mirror just in case).
  • Moisture Luxe Tinted Lip Balm – For those days when you just want a touch of color, for a my lips but better look, these are easy to grab for. I wish they’d come with a broad spectrum SPF, though, since I still have to layer these with my SPF lip balm.
  • Shine Luxe Sheer Lip Color – This lipstick is a little more pigmented than the tinted balm above and is formulated for shine rather than moisture (although it still feels soft and comfortable on the lips like a lip balm). The texture reminds me a lot of Clinique’s Almost Lipstick and I find that I reach for this a lot on days when I’m running errands and don’t want to be too precious about my lips. I personally prefer this to the Moisture Luxe Tinted Lip Balm but I like slightly more pigment. Otherwise, the texture of the two is very similar.
  • Liquid Line Precision Marker – I was really excited about this eye liner because it looks a lot like Kat Von D’s Tattoo liner. Unfortunately, the actual pigment is really thin so it doesn’t show up on my lids the way that I want it to. I would NOT recommend this, sadly.
  • Dramatically Defining Liquid Eye Liner – Like the marker above, I found the pigmentation in this eyeliner to be watery – it was really hard to get a defined black line. Another eyeliner dud!
  • Dramatically Defining Longwear Gel Liner – If you’re looking for a cruelty-free, ethical (made in the US!) gel liner, this is definitely one to check out. It has great pigmentation (unlike the liners above) and definitely performs the same on me as other gel liners that I’ve tried.
  • Lay It On The Line Eyeliner Palette – If you’re someone who likes to use a pigmented powder eyeliner pressed into your lash line with a flat head brush then this stuff is the bomb. I really love that you get 6 colors in this palette. It’s my favorite of the Sonia Kashuk eyeliner offerings. A couple of colors are a little light, and I would consider them eye shadows rather than eyeliners, but that’s a minor quibble.
  • Dramatically Intensifying Kajal Crayon – This product is really beautiful to look at and fun to use for a VERY dramatic look. Think Benefit’s Bad Gal eyeliner. This crayon has a very thick tip and no way to sharpen it. The annoying thing is that this doesn’t really smudge very easily. Whenever I tried to use a smudge brush to smudge it out for a smokey look, the brush lifted the product off my eye lid. I didn’t find this to be very workable for my purposes, but if you want a very dramatic, dark thick line and don’t want to smudge it, this is a good option.
  • Eye On Neutral Matte Eye Couture Palette – At $20 for .34 oz of eye shadows, this is VERY pricey for a drugstore brand. However, it’s still a great deal when compared to department store palettes and with one exception, the eye shadows all perform as well as department store eye shadows. (The exception being the creamy white, which has barely any pigment.) This is a great addition to any eye shadow collection. A great basic to build a cruelty free kit on.
  • Pearlesence Longwear Creme Shadow – I have problems with dry eyes that water constantly, so I had high hopes that this creme shadow would last longer than powder on primer. Sadly, it didn’t. Based on how well a swatch on my hand lasted, I think anyone with normal eyes would be happy with the wear of these pretty, metallic creme shadows.
  • Eye Makeup Remover – If you’re a fan of biphasic eye makeup removers like Lancôme’s or Neutrogena’s, you *have* to check this out! This is great at removing waterproof eye makeup or liquid lipstick. Granted, you do still need to do a bit of rubbing, it’s not exactly effortless (but I find that to be true of ALL eye makeup removers since I use waterproof eyeliner and mascara), but this is one of the best eye makeup removers I’ve tried and it comes in a nice big bottle so it’s a great deal!

My favorite products in the line, the ones I definitely recommend, are the matte eye shadow palette, the eyeliner palette, the concealer palette, the loose powder, the Lustrous Shine lip crayon, the Shine Luxe Sheer Lip Colour and the Eye Makeup Remover but I think this line has a lot of great quality products and an affordable price point and is well worth the trip to Target!

Ethical Beauty: Ethical Brushes, Part Two

In my last makeup brush post, I wrote about cruelty-free brushes that are made in America. Because both Hourglass and OCC’s brushes were on the pricier side, I wanted to cover an ethically made budget brand, EcoTools, as well as some beautifully made yet affordable brushes by Antonym Cosmetics.

EcoTools

EcoTools is a budget brand of environmentally friendly brushes known for their soft bristles. I’d heard great things about EcoTools line of brushes but given their low prices and synthetic bristles, I was a bit skeptical. I was pleasantly surprised to find that EcoTools is a great line that makes some good quality brushes for an affordable price. The only downside to the line is that they don’t sell many individual eye makeup brushes and the quality of those brushes is spotty. (This seems to be a theme in budget brush lines as Real Techniques* has a similar hole in their collection.) Although EcoTools’s brushes are made in China, they have made the following statement on their website about their labor practices:

“We require our suppliers to adhere to fair labor standards including child labor restrictions, fair wages, and compensation for overtime. The production process is monitored as we maintain our own trained quality control and quality assurance staff, conducting ongoing and random inspections to ensure consistent quality and safety. Work environments are held to high standards, as is the quality of the product.”

I haven’t found an organizational body like Peta that third party certifies a company’s labor practices so for now I’m taking EcoTool’s word for it. If I hear anything different about EcoTools business practices, be sure that I will write about it here!

  • Essential Eye Set – This is a five brush set of eye brushes. The brushes have shorter handles which make them suitable for traveling. I tend not to be a fan of brush sets since in my experiences the quality of bundled brushes tends not to be as good as the quality of individually purchased brushes. This set did not impress me at all. I found the size and shapes of the brush heads to be off. The two bigger brushes have brush heads that are too big for a really accurate application and the two smaller brushes have brush heads that are laughably tiny. If you want to get an eye brush set from EcoTools, I recommend the Eye Enhancing Duo Set.
  • Eye Enhancing Duo Set – this set comes with two double headed brushes. Each handle is full-length. I actually was pleasantly surprised with this set. After the Essential Eye Set, I had fairly low expectations. The blending/smudging brush is actually a really decent brush, especially given the budget price tag. The shade/define brush I was less thrilled with mainly because the eyeliner brush had bristles that were too soft and flexible, making it difficult to get a really precise, defined line.
  • Flat Eyeliner Brush – I was *really* glad I bought this brush at a store that accepts returns because this brush was a dud. Unfortunately, EcoTools seemed to prioritize the softness of the brush over its efficacy. It was far too flexible to give a good, defined line. It was also too thick. It’s disappointing because a push liner brush like this one should be a no-brainer for a budget cruelty free company since it must be made from synthetic bristles in order to achieve the stiffness you want in such a brush. You can buy an inexpensive brush from an arts store to do this job for a couple of dollars.
  • Full Eye Shadow Brush – I was pleasantly surprised with this brush. You can use the flat side of the brush to pack on color or the top to lay down a wash of color. The bristles are soft enough that you can use the edge to apply a more defined line in your crease if you wish.
  • Airbrush Concealer Brush – I actually used this brush as a blender rather than as a concealer brush. I found it particularly effective to use with my ColourPop eyeshadows.
  • Stippling Brush – I prefer to apply my foundation with a combination of fingers and BeautyBlender style sponge but I *love* this brush for applying cream formula blushes. It gives a really nice natural finish and blends the blush out beautifully.
  • Fan Brush – This is such a handy brush to have around. I use it to whisk away any eye shadow fall out. It is also great for applying bronzer and highlighter with the lightest of touches.
  • Tapered Blush Brush – I was kind of surprised by how much I loved this blush brush. It’s just got the perfect tapered shape for blending out blush on your skin. It’s really soft and easy to use.
  • Large Powder Brush – This brush is less densely packed than the OCC powder brush I reviewed last time and is great for those times when you only want to apply your powder lightly. There’s not a HUGE difference between this brush and the Mattifying Finish Brush if you only apply a super thin layer of powder. However, if you have oily skin, I’d recommend going with the Mattifying brush.
  • Mattifying Finish Brush – If you have oily skin, sometimes powder application can be tricky – if you put on enough powder to leave your skin looking truly matte, it can end up looking cakey. This brush applies a really light layer of powder so that it takes down shine while still leaving the skin looking like skin.

Antonym Cosmetics

I stumbled on this indie brand thanks to my beauty box subscription to Petit Vour. I tried a couple of their brushes and fell so in love with them that I bought almost the whole line! Antonym‘s brushes have the same high quality construction as Hourglass’s brushes, but without the painful price tag (the blush brush sells for $20 compared to Hourglass’s $58). They are made in Europe. I adore the bamboo handles – they’re the perfect size and shape and are very lightweight. What I really love about this line is the wide selection of brush head styles and shapes. A lot of cruelty free brands don’t offer a lot of options (Hourglass, I’m looking at you).

  • Contour Brush #3 – I use this brush to apply highlighter at the top of my cheekbones and at my temples, but if you like using a contour brush to apply blush, this will do a great job. What I like about it is it has a relative small head so you’re not applying a super thick line of blush.
  • Foundation Brush #4 – I find most paddle style foundation brushes to be similar but since I didn’t have a cruelty-free one in my kit, I picked this up. I find that I use this brush to lay down a basic layer of product and then use my BeautyBlender sponge to blend it out. I find this brush to be great for cleaning up the edges after I’ve done a dramatic eye makeup look.
  • Concealer Brush #5 – This is a paddle style concealer brush with a relatively large head. It’s got longer bristles which means the brush head has a lot more flex to it. I actually use this brush when I want to pack pigment on my eyelid since I usually use fingers to blend out my concealer.
  • Large Eye Shader Brush #6 – I confess, I don’t reach for this brush very often. The large brush head is just a bit too large for my preference. However, if you really want an intense application of eyeshadow and want to cover a greater area (from lash line to brow, for instance), then this is a good brush for that. It’s also a great brush for packing on loose pigments.
  • Medium Eye Shader Brush #7 – This is a good, basic brush for laying down a wash of color on your eyelid. Almost every brush line makes a brush just like it.
  • Medium Angled Eye Shader Brush #8 – This brush is really nice for applying a very precisely line in your crease, or for blending. I also like to sweep it across my lid to apply a wash of color.
  • Large Pencil Brush #9 – This is a great brush for smudging eyeliner or for a precise application of eye shadow to the crease.
  • Blending Brush #10 – This brush really surprised me. Until this point, I would have said that taklon bristle brushes aren’t the best for blending eye shadows. Although this brush doesn’t perform as well as OCC’s blending brush, it’s still fluffy enough that it does a really decent job.
  • Small Eye Shader Brush #12 – So by now, you guys will have figured out that I prefer a smaller brush head so it should come as no surprise to you to find that this is one of my favorite brushes in the collection. In fact, I have two. I use it most to put highlighter in the inner corners of my eyes or on my brow bone but I use it for lots of other things, too. I use it to press a wash of color on my eyelid, to blend concealer on areas that need extra coverage and the edge can be used to smudge out eyeliner, or run eye shadow under my eyes. I’ve even used it to fill in my brows!
  • Small Angled Brow Brush #13 – Lucky 13! As I’ve mentioned before, most brushes like this are very similar but having said this, this is a great quality brush for a really decent price and I use it every day.
  • Eyeliner Brush #14 – I don’t use this kind of brush for eyeliner. I find it’s great for covering small blemishes, though.
  • Lip Brush #15 – I really love this brush because the pointed tip makes for a really precise lipstick application.
  • Mascara/Brow Spoolie #16 – If you’ve already got a spoolie brush, you certainly don’t need this one. But I bought it because I liked the longer handle and the fact that it matches the brow brush (I’m nerdy like that).
  • Covered Lip Brush – the portable version of #15.
  • Medium Pencil Brush #19 – Along with #12, this is the MVP of my collection. I’m considering buying a second one. I use it every day to get a really precise crease application (the most precise of all the brushes I’ve used) and to smudge out eyeliner or run eyeshadow along the lash line.

And that’s it for my brush round up! What are your favorite ethical brushes? Please let me know in the comments!

*Real Techniques is another option for budget-friendly, cruelty free brushes. While they are made in China, like EcoTools they have a Fair Labor statement on their website. I have not assessed their brushes for review, but I’ve heard good things.

Ethical Beauty: TheBalm Brand Overview

I’m finally reviewing one of my favorite discoveries since focusing on ethical beauty products. I’ve heard of TheBalm for years but since it isn’t carried in the stores I usually go to, I’d never actually played with any of the products. Like Benefit, theBalm’s products are often packaged in cardboard packaging (which is great for the environment since they’re biodegradeable) and also like Benefit the packaging is very cutesy and the product names are pun-y. I admit, the packaging is not to my taste but once I started using the products, I could care less because TheBalm has a great line of products at a very affordable price. (Especially if you stock up during their 50% off flash sales on TheBalm.com and Hautelook!)

Face Makeup

  • timeBalm Foundation is a medium to full coverage creme foundation. It has a sticky, thick texture very similar to concealer. The coverage is great but I found it somewhat challenging to blend out to a natural finish. It’s not a great choice for someone who is a foundation novice since it can easily look quite heavy-handed. However, if you are a fan of MAC’s Full Coverage Foundation and are used to blending it out with a wet BeautyBlender type sponge, then this would be a really good cruelty-free alternative.
  • BalmShelter SPF 18 Tinted Moisturizer gives sheer to light coverage. Not quite enough for me (I prefer medium coverage) so I ended up using this as a base and then blending the creme foundation over areas that needed extra coverage. This tinted moisturizer actually has a broad spectrum sunscreen which means it actually can replace your sunscreen (although personally I prefer SPF 30). It comes in a generous 2.15 fl oz tube so it’s actually a great deal at $25 when you consider that most tinted moisturizers come in 1 oz tubes and at 50% off it’s a steal that rivals drugstore prices with department store quality.
  • Sexy Mama is a translucent pressed powder suitable for setting your foundation and touching up through out the day. Unfortunately, it only comes in one color so I’m not sure how well it would work on darker complexions but it gave me a weightless and invisible mattifying effect. Since the packaging is cardboard, this compact was actually really lightweight to carry around in my purse.

Eye Products

  • Meet Matt(e) Nude Palette – This is easily my favorite TheBalm product. As the name suggests, it contains a selection of 9 neutral colored, matte eye shadows. Each pan contains a full-sized eyeshadow – a 0.1 oz size, which is double the size of MAC’s full-sized eyeshadow pans. The colors are buttery soft, super pigmented and a dream to blend. Really a gorgeous, gorgeous palette.
  • Nude ‘tude Palette – This palette is theBalm’s answer to Urban Decay’s bestselling Naked palette. It contains 12 neutral tone shades – 8 shimmery, 4 matte. It’s not quite as generous as Meet Matt(e) nude – each pan is 0.03 oz – but it’s still a really good deal, especially compared to the price per ounce of Urban Decay’s Naked palettes. I actually prefer this palette to UD because it has a gorgeous aubergine shade and a burgundy-gold smokey eye is one of my favorite looks. (If you’re eyeing Charlotte Tilbury’s Vintage Vamp palette, you can create a similar look with this palette for a fraction of the price). Like the Meet Matt(e) Nude palette, the shadows here are highly pigmented and a breeze to blend. There IS some fallout from the shimmery shades but still the quality of theBalm’s shadow formula is definitely up there with the best of the high end brands.
  • Mr. Write (Now) eyeliner pencils are retractable pencils with a sharpener included in the base. They’re quite soft which means they’re easy to blend and smudge BUT it also means that the tips break off quite easily, which is annoying. I don’t find them much of an improvement over Jordana’s similar eyeliners, which are a fraction of the price.
  • Put A Lid On It eye primer – I’ve never really used eye primer before so I can’t speak to this primer’s performance compared to other brands but I can say that my eye shadows definitely lasted longer when I used this as a base. I only wish that it had some pigment as I have some visible blood vessels on my eyelid that I’d love to cover with primer rather than using both primer and concealer or foundation on my lids.

Cheek Products

Along with the Meet Matt(e) Nude palette, TheBalm’s cheek products are my favorite. They come in an array of beautiful colors and finishes and blend beautifully.

  • HotMama! is theBalm’s answer to NARS’s iconic Orgasm blush – it’s a gold infused peachy pink that gives you a gorgeous glow. I actually prefer the formula to Orgasm, which I find somewhat chalky and unflattering on my skin tone.
  • FratBoy blush is a matte peachy color. It gives a gorgeous, natural look to my cheeks.
  • CabanaBoy is a pinky plum with just a touch of shimmer to give it dimensionality (you don’t see the shimmer on the skin). You can wear it sheerly for a natural flush or build it up to give that just in from the cold glow.
  • DownBoy is a matte, neutral pink color. If you only buy two blushes for a natural every day look, I would go with FratBoy and DownBoy as between them they will go with the majority of your lip products (I pair DownBoy with the cooler toned colors like berries and cool-toned reds and FratBoy with warmer toned colors like corals and warm-toned reds.)
  • BahamaMama is a matte bronzer. In the pan it looks scary dark but if you apply it with a really loose brush (like a fan brush) with a very light hand, it can work for even fairer complexions.
  • Betty-Lou Manizer is a shimmery bronzer/highlighter for that golden, sun-kissed look.
  • Cindy-Lou Manizer is a champagne-pink highlighter and it looks lovely when you’re going for a slightly cooler toned look.
  • Mary-Lou Manizer is my favorite of the highlighters – it’s a champagne gold color that works beautifully in the corner of your eyes as well as on your cheekbones. Apply it with a damp BeautyBlender style sponge for a truly luminous, strobing effect.

Minority Report: My One Year Media Diet

Mei-Lu’s media ban logo selections

Over a year ago, one of my favorite social media friends, Joel Turner, began a project he called the Ladyist Experiment. For one year, he would listen to, read and watch only works by female artists. His project has made me think a lot about my own media diet. Although I am a minority and a woman, most of the works I consume and revere have been created by white men. That’s not accidental because our worldwide culture is dominated by works written by white men. Our definition of what constitutes good art, which works belong in the classics “canon” has been decided for us by the preferences of upper class white men through the ages and therefore, unsurprisingly reflects the interests, politics and priorities of our patriarchal society. When I look back on my literary education, precious few works by women made it into my curriculum. In fact, I can count them on one hand – in high school, only Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome made it into my curriculum. We read multiple works by Charles Dickens but no George Eliot,Elizabeth Gaskell, Brontë sisters or Jane Austen. We studied multiple works by Steinbeck and Hemingway but no Gertrude Stein. I recall one work by a person of color in the entire four years of my high school education. Although we covered the civil war and the civil rights movement, it was primarily from the perspective of the white male leaders such as Lincoln and Kennedy.

This educational indoctrination for what is considered worthy has had far-reaching consequences for what we, as a culture, take seriously. Any work written about a woman which focuses on topics that interest women is immediately and rather sniffily dismissed. More than once, I have heard Jane Austen’s literature described as nothing more than “wedding porn”. (A truly condescending phrase to apply to a woman who write so forthrightly about how utterly trapped even upper middle-class women were in the 19th century, how completely dependent they were on the whims of men for their well-being.)  I recently revisited Shirley Conran’s novel Lace, a book I often hear described as ‘trashy’. Reading it, I was impressed by just how much the book is about the experience of rape culture in the forties through the seventies, by the frustrations of living, working, and conducting relationships with the glaring gender-based double standards. Like Jane Austen before her, Conran has found her literary work dismissed for focusing on female characters and their priorities (friendship, love, marriage, career, children, an enjoyable sex life – not necessarily in that order). Yet I found her book to be cannily written and sharply observed portrait her upper middle class female characters. Were they privileged? Yes, of course they were. (Just as Jane Austen’s characters were privileged.) Yet for all that each of the women suffered as a result of living in a culture that privileges the priorities of men over women. Each of them bore the stamp of rape culture. This book reflected the concerns of millions of women and yet somehow is considered trash. Meanwhile, as a culture, we bend over backwards to embrace genre works written by white men despite their obvious sexism, racism or classism. Witness the recent renaissance of iconic Sherlock Holmes, the epitome of the superior upper class white man, superior by virtue of his race, class, education and gender, a character who is never wrong and therefore stands as an argument FOR colonialism in his embodiment of superiority. Or, for that matter, Batman, for goodness sake, a 1 percenter if there ever was one, a rich white man who believes he knows better than the electorate what is good for the city, who works outside the boundaries of law or the judicial system.

I could probably only consume cultural products by women and people of color for the rest of my life and still not address the imbalance created by my media diet up until now. So I’m giving myself a year from September 1st 2015 to August 31st 2016 to ONLY read/watch/listen to works that have at least one woman or person of color credit as creator. So with bands, I want one band member to be a woman or person of color, with television shows one showrunner, and so on.

I’ll be blogging my experiences here under the hashtag #minorityreport. It should be an interesting year!

Ethical Beauty: Ethical Brushes, Part One – Made in the USA

Even though I’m trying to limit myself to only writing about products that are made locally (meaning North America) there simply aren’t enough options for ethical makeup brushes made in the USA and the ones that are made here are on the pricier side. For that reason, I’m doing two posts. One dedicated to brushes made in the USA and the other dedicated to brushes that are ethically made abroad. Note: I only reviewed the brushes that I could get my hands on. Both Hourglass and OCC have more brushes available than what I reviewed here.

Hourglass Cosmetics Brushes

NOTE: I have just learned that these brushes are made in China. As a result, I no longer recommend them! As I mentioned in my brand overview for Hourglass, they make some beautiful brushes. Unfortunately, the brushes are very expensive and some of them don’t even perform as well as I’d like. The one thing I don’t love about Hourglass’s brushes (other than the exorbitant price tag) is that the brush bristles are relatively stiff. They feel totally soft and comfortable on the skin but they have a tendency to pull at the skin when you’re blending. This isn’t as much of an issue for the complexion brushes because the bristles are so long they have more flex, but for the eye brushes it’s an issue because the bristles are shorter. I have crêpey skin on my eyes these days and so my skin tends to move with the brush, making it a challenge to blend using these eye brushes. They’re great for a very controlled application of pigment, but I found I had to use other brushes to blend out the colors.

  • No. 2 Foundation/Blush Brush ($58) – This brush has a densely packed, medium domed brush head – it’s very soft and luxurious feeling. If you like using a brush to buff in your foundation, this brush will definitely give you an airbrushed, velvety finish. I have dryer skin so I don’t like the finish that brushes give for foundation – the Beauty Blender sponge works much better for me. As a blush brush, your satisfaction with this brush will depend on the size and shape you prefer in a brush head. I personally prefer a smaller brush head with a tapered shape so this isn’t my favorite type of blush brush. But for the type of brush head, it’s gorgeous – it’s super soft and blends beautifully.
  • No. 3 All Over Shadow Brush ($30) – if you’re only going to have one eye shadow brush, this is a great one to go for. You can use the flat part of the brush to pat colors on your lid and the edge to apply a very precise crease color.
  • No. 4 Crease Brush ($30) – If you want a more diffuse color in your crease, this is the brush to reach for. Technically, this brush is also supposed to be used as a blender but it really doesn’t do the job well on my crêpey eye lids. If your skin is taut, you may find this works just fine.
  • No. 5 Concealer Brush ($25) – Hourglass makes two concealer brushes. This smaller one has a really tapered head suitable for getting into the smaller areas on your face. Or you can use the flat side of the head to really pat concealer on. This would be the brush to use around the sides of your nose and to cover up blemishes.
  • No. 8 Large Concealer Brush ($30) – This larger brush is great for covering a larger area (so for hyper-pigmentation or large red areas for those of you with rosacea). The size is halfway between the smaller concealer brush and the average foundation paddle brush. The brush head is exactly the same tapered shape as the No. 5 which means it’s really great for create precise lines. I like to use it to “erase” any eye shadow that has migrated past the imaginary line from the end of my brow to the side of my nose. Both of Hourglass’s concealer brushes are beautifully made and have a really versatile shape. If you’re a perfectionist about your complexion makeup, these would be a great addition to your brush collection.
  • No. 9 Domed Eyeshadow Brush ($28) – The bristles on this brush are very densely packed and are great for packing on the pigment in a very controlled way.
  • No. 10 Angled Liner Brush ($28) – I have to say, I find all angled liner brushes to be more or less identical. I’ve never met one that seemed to stand out from the pack. This one has a nice thin edge for applying a slim line of eyeliner to your lash line. You can also use it to fill in your brows.
  • No. 11 Smudge Brush ($26) – Of all Hourglass’s brushes, this is my favorite. It’s actually hard to find an ethical smudge brush and this one is perfect. You can use it to smoke out your eyeliner or apply a thick but diffuse line of dark eye shadow to your lash line.

Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics

OCC’s brushes look and feel so much like natural hair that I had to double and triple check that they were indeed synthetic. The softness of the brushes means that they’re MUCH better at blending than the Hourglass brushes were. They’re also more affordable than Hourglass brushes without sacrificing quality so if you want to stick to brushes that are made in America, I would recommend starting with OCC’s brushes and then maybe filling in your collection with a couple of speciality brushes from Hourglass’s line.

  • #1 Large Powder Brush ($28) – I love this brush. From the size, shape and weight of the handle to the softness of the bristles to the fluffiness of the brush head, this is an awesome powder brush for just setting your makeup without disturbing the pigment. It’s also really nice for blending out contouring, blush and bronzer lines. It DOES have a big head so if you’re one of those people who only powders in the center of the face, you might find the brush head too large.
  • #4 Tapered Blending Brush ($22) – Thank goodness for this blending brush! As I mentioned before, Hourglass’s blending brush did not do the job for me so I found myself reaching for this one a lot. It’s also great for applying a really diffuse color into your crease. OCC makes a larger version of this brush that I’d really like to give it a try.
  • #8 Small Shader Brush ($22) –  I really like smaller flat sided brushes because I can be really precise about using the side of the brush to pat on lid color. I prefer to pat on lid color rather than brush it on because then you don’t get any fall out. You can also use the edge of this brush to apply a defined line of color to your lash line or crease.
  • #5 Angled Blending Brush ($22) – This is a great brush in a shape that I haven’t found in any other ethical lines*. It’s great for a very precise contoured eye shadow shape or for blending out your crease in a very controlled way.
  • #7 Large Shader Brush ($22) – This is a larger version of the #8 (or the #8 is a smaller version of this). I prefer to use the #8 for the reasons stated above, but if you prefer a larger brush for laying down color, then this is the one for you.

If you guys know of any cruelty free companies that make their brushes in North America, please let me know! Otherwise, please keep a look out for the second part of my ethical brush post about ethical brushes made abroad.

*Although Sigma and IT for Ulta are technically cruelty free, their brushes are made in China, a country notorious for human rights abuses in its manufacturing, and I don’t know if they make any efforts to ensure protections for the workers in their factories.