You know that tired old magazine question they always ask celebrities or models: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one makeup product, what would it be? The question never specifies why you would want a cosmetics product on a desert island. Are there other stranded people on the island? Is this a Lost situation? Are the other people hot?
The idea of needing makeup in deserted exile is probably pretty silly for most people. But the true beauty addicts know: it’s almost impossible to choose just one. Hell, even if nobody is around, what if I get rescued? By cute Coast Guard guys? What if I come across a reflective surface and get scarred for life? What if I just get bored and want to look cute for no particular reason? I SHOULD HAVE THAT RIGHT. I mean, I’m stranded, for god’s sake. Let me have this.
So while Chapstick and mascara are some pretty solid contenders, I’m pretty sure I’d have to go with a nice matte brown shadow. I use that stuff for everything. A smoky brown eye is my daily go-to, I fill in my eyebrows with an angled brush if I’m out of brow pencil, and it’s perfect for contouring under my cheekbones (subtlety is key here — fan brush or angled blush brush, shade out the hollows of your cheeks and blend the shit out of it — or risk looking like you got caught in a Stevie Nicks music video from the ’80s).
You gotta love a product that can multi-task that well. And it doesn’t even need to be a super high-end brand. I’ve used shadows from Maybelline, Revlon, and Cover Girl, and they work just as well as anything from Bobbi Brown, Lancome, or Laura Mercier. Just make sure it’s matte. Your eyebrows will look weird if they’re all sparkly. Ditto your contouring.
What can’t you live without?
In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.
Gawker made fun of Brit Morin’s “Pretty Zombie” makeup tutorial today. I don’t know who she is either, but we all know Halloween is a time to look hot, not scary. If you’re too lazy to buy a two-foot $39.99 piece of Spandex from Spirit Halloween, Brit has you covered. Look ugly-pretty with items from your own makeup drawer!
Here are the steps:
- Apply primer to your face, as you would if you were applying normal make-up, because that’s all you’re doing, is applying normal make-up.
- Apply a foundation that is one shade lighter than your natural skin. WHOA WHO’S THAT DEAD GIRL? It’s you.
- Instead of applying brown bronzer, as you normally would, apply gray bronzer (eyeshadow). Do NOT skip this step, as it constitutes almost the entirety of your costume.
- Add “a touch of brightening powder” over the gray “to soften the look.” Dial that grey back. Dial it way, way back.
- Brush your eyelids with a couple neutral shades of shadow. Start with something “vanilla-like” on the inner eyelid, moving to “beige” on the outer. Don’t be afraid to get really crazy here, experimenting with the rainbow spectrum of beige—it’s Halloween—but don’t get really crazy.
- Use an espresso shade to give yourself a great smoky eye. Above all, keep it subtle. You want to look dead, not like you’re from Jersey.
- Use eyeliner and mascara to help give your lashes “a fuller look.”
- Line your bottom lash with red lip liner. The tutorial suggests using a lip liner that one commenter later pointed out is not eye safe and could lead to eye irritation or even vision loss. Follow your heart on this one. (You can’t follow your eyes because you are blind now.)
- Put red lipstick on.
It should be noted that I used my own makeup kit as a costume one year, but these were my results:
Nobody’s going to accidentally have sex with that zombie.
Nope, they will know exactly what they’re getting into.
There is a tone of discouragement running through this series like a seam of mold in a block of bleu cheese. That ain’t me. I’m the curd and I’m here to say, “You go girl!”
I have been raised almost entirely among men. I have two brothers, no sisters. Of my 12 cousins there is one girl, a tomboy 20 years younger than me. I went to Catholic school, where the girls are able to grow their mustaches before the boys. I have paid the same attention to my sundry lady friends’ beauty routines as they have the fluctuations in the roster of the New York Knicks. The result? You have me totally fooled. Makeup, hair tricks, perfumes. I actually believe this is how you look and smell. I am content to assume that female tear ducts secrete eye liner, their pores the scent of lilacs and lavender or whatever.
There is one thing that does not fool me: bronzer. I am pale by birth (Nordic stock) and by lifestyle. I don’t climb mountains for a living; I sit at a desk and write beauty articles for a law firm. I realize how hard it can be to incite melanin production. That said, I have had visions of the future and they concern me. I feel duty bound to reveal them here. You won’t find this information anywhere else.
Based on my desire to take this article where I want it to go, beauty trends have a way of pushing the envelope, finding extremes and going beyond to magnificent new frontiers in the field of good looks. Today, you ladies are using bronzer. The Arms Race and Space Race each escalated exponentially. The Face Race will be no different. Before too long, a simple coating of light orange will not be enough. Soon to follow will be the new product, bronzest. Taking note of the Olympian ideal, we know bronze is trumped only by silver and gold. Now look, I like Star Trek probably more than the next guy. I could get down with robo-chicks. But ladies, you’re not robots. All that fucking paint is gonna get everywhere, more specifically all over my stuff. I just washed these sheets fer chrissakes. And you’re already beautiful the way Jesus and Buddha made you: with your blue shaded eye spaces and perfectly arched eyebrows, the way light catches your permanently flushed cheeks. You works of art, you.
This is the first we’ve heard of Todd’s supersecret beauty/law job. Also, he is a doublespacer. The world should know.
Ah, bronzer. At best, it can make you look vibrant and healthy. At worst, it can make you look like a Jersey Shore cast member’s pillowcase (are we still making those references? whatever, I’m doing it).
Easy, no-muss bronzing: find a finely-milled matte bronzer and apply with a fan brush. The sparseness of the fan brush’s bristles will ensure a sheer, idiot-proof wash of color (idiot). Bronzing can not only save a too-light foundation application, it can contour your face as well. Apply on high planes of the face where the sun would naturally hit (forehead, nose, cheekbones, a tiny bit on the chin). For contouring, brush into temples, the hollow space under your cheekbones, and under your jawline. You can also brush it over your collarbone and shoulders for a nice sun-kissed glow. As always, don’t forget to blend that shit.
You guys. You GUYS.
I’m a little late to this fanbase, but I’m absolutely obsessed with Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics’ Lip Tar. I’m a sucker for crazy formula innovations, and this is no exception. Lip Tar is packaged in a tiny, almost sample-sized squeeze tube, but after one use it’s obvious that these bad boys will last a long time. A tiny bead of product is all you need, as the color is supersaturated. They come in a rainbow of colors (white, black, and primary colors included), and at $16 it’s easy to see why the beauty world is snatching them up for mixing.
Since they’re so pigmented, you have to apply them with a lip brush (which OCC has begun to include with each Lip Tar). I bought Black Dahlia (pictured, top left) because, well, for one: how great is that name? Plus, the almost-black purple shade is crazy fashionable for autumn. Sephora was out of stock, so I had to buy it on Amazon, which meant mine didn’t come with a brush, sadface. Not to be deterred, I used a concealer brush instead. I don’t wanna brag (yes I do) but the buddy I was Skyping with as I was testing it was all “Daaaaaayumn girl”. This is definitely a vampy look to be worn with buttloads of confidence (try finding that sentence in Glamour).
The Lip Tars are 100% vegan and cruelty-free. They have hemp oil, peppermint oil, and vitamin E, ostensibly for moisturization, although I wouldn’t say they’re particularly hydrating. I had to layer a clear balm on top for comfort after a little while, but the color stays put.
Plus, how fun is it to put something with “tar” in the name on your face?
Ever see a product sitting on a shelf and just said, “Seriously, WTF is that? Medieval torture device? Alien probe?” That’s where this new feature comes in. Here I will talk about beauty items that can sometimes seem daunting or confusing or just plain weird.
This post was inspired by an odd-looking brush that was included in my latest brush set purchase. Now, having worked in the beauty industry for seven years, it’s pretty embarrassing that I don’t know what one of these brush-set-staples is. Kind of like how I still don’t know how to tie my shoes without using bunny ears. Someone taught me the bunny ears and then just forgot to help me graduate into around-the-river-and-through-the-rocks or whatever the grownup version is. THANKS MOM.
I decided that if I didn’t know, there was a good chance some of you didn’t (let’s be real, I mean, I love you guys, but some of these questions are 13-year-old-Seventeen-Mag-reading-level) (KISSES!). I mean, I’ve always wondered, but it’s just one of those things, you know? Stuff slips through the cracks.
So I looked it up. According to Sephora, it’s “A stippling brush that perfectly applies powder, liquid, and cream foundations. Ensure a gorgeous, sheer finish and even, streak-free application with this stippling brush that complements any foundation. The white, taklon bristles apply product and the black, goat bristles blend for flawless results—an ideal duo of natural and synthetic fibers. The sleek, wood handle fits comfortably in the hand and allows for total control over your desired look.”
In other words, the white, sparser-bristled part picks up the product, and the black, denser-bristled part buffs and blends it into the skin. How have I lived without this sorcery for so long?
Says my dear friend Kim, a supertalented makeup artist and product hound like me, “I apply liquid foundation with it because it gives a flawless, airbrushed finished and you can build up the foundation where you want more coverage! Great for HD powders, blush, and cleaning up dropped shadow, too!” Damn, lady, I’m sold. She swears by MAC’s Duo Fibre Face Brush ($42, a mixture of goat and synthetic fibers). Kathryne, another makeup artist friend, added, “Also, it helps stretch foundation so you end up using less, and can make a full coverage foundation not look and feel so heavy. A big trick is after you put on your foundation with the brush, after you applied blush and/or bronzer, slightly go over the area with the used stippling brush, and it helps to make the blush and bronzer blend into the makeup to give a more natural look.”
Yeah, my friends are awesome. It’s okay, you’re in the inner circle now too, by virtue of this blog. You’re welcome.
And don’t worry! Bunny ears work just as well, and most of my shoes have zippers anyway.
Are you confused by the entire existence of a product? Weigh in in the comments, or head over to the And You Make Yourself Another Facebook page to join the discussion.
This post has been percolating ever since I became a Lady in Black, Keeper of the Creams, Defender of the Glass Case. I won’t name names, but I used to work for one of the big, fancy department stores as the counter manager for one of my favorite cosmetics lines. Now, I had already worked at the biggest Sephoras in two major cities (San Francisco and Chicago, respectively), but this? This was an entirely different beast.
They were the lonely. Drifting between the aisles. Coiffed hair, impeccable handbag, nails meticulously looked after. Couldn’t possibly have a job; all they did was bother the department store salespeople all day. You learned their names, their spending habits. Despite talk of summer homes and a preference for Chanel, they rarely bought. No, they just wanted to talk, to feel listened to. “Is this my color? Do you have anything more mauve-y? No, not mauve-y, pink. No, not pink, but not, like, purple, you know? Or do I mean mauve after all?” Exhausting. A Sondheim musical could have been written about these women. Ladies who lunch.
Then there were the teenagers. Poor lost souls with acne, barely able to squeak out a “No, thank you,” in response to an offer of help. Grubby hands in the testers, spraying each other with perfume and giggles. When prom season came they were shoved into our makeup chairs in droves by inattentive parents. We were gum-snappingly told, “I want to look like Beyonce in that video, you know?” We knew. Both parties knew the depths of that impossibility, but we each politely engaged in the fantasy that such a thing were possible. The social contract. “No problem.” When the makeover was done, they thanked us and scooted off. Nobody taught them the manners of the makeup counter: you waste hours of someone’s time as they strain to conceal your pimples, you must contribute to their sales goal.
Finally, the sample-grubbers. No particular social standing; the well-dressed indulged as often as the bag ladies. They were only after one thing: free. Some of them asked for recommendations and pretended to listen to our prescriptions; eyes glazing over as they waited for us to stop so they could blurt, “So can I get a sample?” Some dispensed with pretense altogether, cruising by the counter with a hasty, “Do you have any samples?” They were the worst. Samples aren’t meant to just be indiscriminate free gifts, they’re meant for you to try a particular product before you buy it. We would shove the bottom-of-the-drawer samples into their greedy hands, hoping to be rid of these scavengers. Sometimes they would turn their noses down at the choices. “No, I don’t want this.” The logic, the entitlement of some people. It was a pleasure to tell them no. You will take it and you will like it.
The dirty not-so-secret of department store counters? Sales goals. Commission. The whole system is kind of barbaric and backward, though it has its place (coughcapitalismcough). If you’re looking for a new foundation (or anything else), salespeople can be invaluable. The good news is that they usually rep for one particular brand, so their knowledge of the range of products and ingredients are thorough. The bad news is that they usually rep for one particular brand, so they may or may not have as thorough an understanding of another brand you might like to try. More than that — they might not want to sell it to you, even if it’s the superior product. Each counter (and by extension, each salesperson) has a predetermined sales goal that’s based on the counter sales from the previous year. The system works to an extent — the sales around the holidays are always higher, and there’s always the post-holiday wasteland of returns. But what about the random day some charge-happy customer decided to have a shopping spree? Should a salesperson be penalized for not being able to duplicate that on the same day next year? Of course not. But they are.
If a salesperson doesn’t make their goal, they will get chewed out by their superiors., sometimes at the top of every hour. We were frequently chased around by our department managers, admonished if we lingered for a moment, stopped to exchange pleasantries with a coworker, read the back of a product box. “Sell, sell, sell,” went the refrain, as if we didn’t know. The frequent whispered joke behind a departing back, “Oh, is that what we’re here for? I HAD NO IDEA.”
In my opinion the whole department store experience is kind of broken, which is why I mostly shop at Sephora. However, if you need a little more hand-holding, department stores are great for that, and some of the most talented artists and friendliest salespeople I know work at department stores.
How to Get What You Want
Establish what you’re going in for, first off. Is it to explore new stuff from your favorite brand? Get matched for your perfect foundation shade? Learn about the latest skincare? Or maybe you just want to replenish the stuff you’ve run out of. It’s helpful to know this before you walk in so you can more effectively communicate your objective with the salesperson. This ensures that neither of you wastes your time.
Good ways to express these to salespeople: “Thanks, but I’m just playing around for now. I’ll let you know if I have any questions.” “I just need to grab a couple of my staples real quick. Here’s what I need: […]” “Can you tell me about [product I saw in a magazine/on TV/etc.]?” “I came back from vacation with a tan and was hoping you could do a foundation match for me.”
Now, if a salesperson at a department store spends time with you, you should be sensitive to that. Obviously you’re never obligated to purchase something you don’t want/need, but don’t waste their time if you’re not intending to buy. If you’re just going in to look at shades in real life before you buy them online (huge pet peeve of the department store salesperson), you need to communicate this to them so they will leave you to your own devices. You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and take up a table ordering waters for hours, would you (WOULD YOU)? Then don’t do the same with a counter person.
And if they spend a lot of time with you and you absolutely don’t find what you need, don’t let them bully you into a purchase. You need to thank them for their time, ask for their name or get their business card ,and (if they’ve been helpful and you like them, of course) tell them that you’ll come back to them when you need help next time. Don’t feel bad about not spending money if you both tried to find something and couldn’t. It happens. Just be sensitive to the fact that they spent time with you that could have been spent on a paying customer.
Don’t just go to a counter because you want free stuff. If you’re just trolling for free samples, sign up for Birchbox or Beauty Army or Beauty Bar’s Sample Society. For $10-15 a month, they’ll send you deluxe samples in the mail. It’s not exactly free, but it’s cheap and fun and a great way to try things you might not otherwise have picked out (I’ll be doing a comparison post on these services in the next month or so). Plus, you don’t have to look like the asshole who’s just trying to hoard free shit.
However, it’s perfectly legitimate to want to try things before you buy them. This way you can make sure a product works for you and that you don’t have an allergic reaction to it. So if you have a specific product in mind, you can express this to the salesperson. “I’m looking to get matched for a foundation and take home a couple of samples so I can figure out which one I like best,” is a good starting place. That way everyone’s expectations are on the same page, and the salesperson can show you a few different foundations without doing a long, involved application/demonstration process. They will give you their name or their card, and you should come back to that salesperson if you end up wanting to purchase one of those products. If you can’t find that salesperson on the day you come back for it, don’t sweat it. It’s just polite to purchase from them if you possibly can.
The idea behind this service is that you can try new products and learn tips and tricks from a makeup artist. It is not offered so that you can get your face done before a big date or a wedding because you are too lazy or unskilled. This is still an ostensibly acceptable reason to make an appointment with a counter for a makeover, but it’s expected that you will also be prepared to buy the products that you love. You should expect to buy 2-3 items minimum.
You can think of not purchasing after a makeover like going to a fancy restaurant and not tipping. Nobody is going to chase after you screaming about the check, but it’s a little worse than impolite. Don’t be a dickhead. If you’re not willing to drop money, ask a skilled friend to do your makeup instead.
All this may sound daunting, but the gist is simple: just be a good person. Respect other people’s time. Resist the urge to treat retail employees like your personal slaves. Communicate your objectives clearly and politely, and don’t let anyone push you around. If you just follow those guidelines, you’ll have a ball at the makeup counter, walk away with some great stuff, and nobody will talk about how awful you are behind your back.
Cat Marnell is blowing up right now.
She’s a former beauty editor for xoJane. The NYT did an excellent profile on her last month, and many other publications have followed suit. The reason for this is that Cat Marnell is a living, breathing, blogging trainwreck. She writes explicitly about her extensive drug use and sordid past and apologizes for nothing. She’s incredibly compelling, in a guilty-pleasure kind of way.
The internet is divided on Cat’s writing ability, but she has a candor that’s refreshing in an industry that can feel dusty and regurgitated. Today she linked to an article she wrote for xoJane about Fashion Week, and I absolutely love what she has to say on the subject of trend reporting:
[…] in my opinion, beauty backstage at shows are nice to look at but that’s it. They don’t mean anything and there are hundreds of “trends” to be declared every season and they are always the same: bold brows, tawny skin, messy updos, deep side parts, fuschia lips.
Whatever. A makeup artist worked with a fashion designer to create looks that complement the clothes — which do matter — and then the magazines and websites go crazy turning those beauty looks into content which encourages you to buy a zillion products and recreate the looks yourself.
Don’t you already sort of know what looks good on you?
Now don’t get me wrong: I love beauty, I promote beauty products, makeup, hair, glamour, the fun of being a woman. I’ll teach you all about the genius products that will improve how you look, and sometimes there are new discoveries to share at Fashion Week in this respect.
And I do particularly like the different nail polish looks and believe THOSE start trends (because nail polish is like an accessory; it works on everyone), and once in a while a lipstick fad will start on a runway, but — for the most part, runway beauty is just that: runway beauty. Not an actual trend. Come on!
I’m not going to tell you that ballerina buns are a trend because three shows did ballerina buns this season. Guess what? At least three shows put ballerina buns on their models every season! Just like messy braids, or bronzy skin, or strong brows, or orange lipstick or smoky eyes.
Nor am I going to tell you how to “Get The Look” and replicate the ballerina bun trend from the runway. Google that shit! It’s all over the Internet already! I can’t think of anything more BORING. GOD.
“Google that shit”? I’m pretty sure I say this, like, once a day. And this is exactly what I’m trying to do with this blog: eliminate the chaff; step over the detritus of recycled content and get to the good stuff. I’ve done a couple posts for makeup neophytes, but that’s not going to be the norm here. I want to stay away from the features I skip over in fashion magazines and cover the stuff I want to talk about with my girlfriends.
So that and I really just wanted to say “Google that shit” some more.
Drew is a playwright and wordsmith and an all-around fantastic human being; you know, one of those friends you adore but never get to see because they’re across the country? He had a few words to say on the subject of blush:
In a nutshell: let’s try to avoid a Raggedy Ann situation here.
Blush is tough for me because it’s a type of makeup that doesn’t intend to really blend into the skin, or emphasize naturally-occurring lines. Although it can effectively mimic what your face might look like if you’ve just accidentally crotch-flashed a foreign dignitary, let’s not be mistaken here: it’s artifice. And because of this, and how prominently it changes one’s entire appearance, no makeup mistake raises my eyebrow more than an over-rouge-ing.
As far as more “experimental” tones of blush go, I say: huh? Let’s keep in mind what we’re trying to improve here: a woman’s face. There’s nothing more exquisite in the world than a woman’s face. If you held up a woman’s face next to an assortment of, like, colors, guess what I’d be most interested in? Yup, the goddamn woman’s face.
So for the love of all things sacred, please don’t go all Rothko on those cheeks.
Aw geez, Drew. Flattery will get you everywhere (as will a good art reference).
I’ll admit to not being a huge blush user. I’m not sure why, exactly. It’s a lovely concept; it certainly can look very fresh and pretty. I guess it’s just one of those things I forget to wear. I’m more of a bronzer person, and only then to warm up my complexion if I feel a bit pale or I got some unexpected sun on the rest of my body (high planes of the face where the sun would hit) or to contour (slightly darker bronzer applied with an angled brush in the hollows of the cheeks under cheekbones). My favorite bronzers are Hoola ($28) and Smashbox Halo ($39) — both matte and very natural. A couple of great bronzer/blush multitaskers are Smashbox Fusion Soft Lights ($30) and Too Faced’s Caribbean in a Compact in Snow Bunny ($29), though both have some shimmer to them. If I am using blush by itself, I’ll generally go with worldwide favorite Nars Orgasm ($28, and also available in a split compact with Laguna, a soft matte bronzer), or Benefit Dandelion ($28) for more of an ethereal, subtle glow. If you’re looking for a foolproof way to pick a color, try pinching your cheeks (old beauty magazine trick) and pick a color similar to your natural flush. And make sure you pay attention to the level of shimmer in the product — a little can bring out your cheekbones, but too much can make you look like a disco ball. Check yourself out in direct sunlight to be sure.
When it comes to choosing a brush, just remember: the denser the bristles, the more color they will pick up and deposit on your face. The lightest, most subtle brush you can use is the fan brush. Apples of the cheeks are a good place to start, but you can experiment with different planes of your face for different effects. When in doubt, just smile and apply along the part that bulges out most (heh).
As always, just make sure you blend the shit out of it (for the record, I do not want this written on my gravestone).
I hijacked this bio from MTV Voices, where Drew sometimes writes:
Drew Paryzer (a.k.a. Andrés, אַבְרָהָם, ட்ரூ, and Shnookums) is a playwright, journalist, couch-surfing traveler, pun-lover, reflective listener, and heat-seeking missile.
He thinks he might have discovered the meaning of life looking into a pond one time, but then he had to start paying rent. Wrested out of Hebrew day school in Miami at a young age, reared with saxophone and Super Mario in the Rocky Mountains, and raised in South India, South America, and at Sarah Lawrence College, Drew now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. and has little idea what the hell is going on in this world until he starts writing about it. He once tried to climb up a palm tree and uprooted the thing. He’s mostly convinced that we’re all becoming cyborgs. Follow him on Twitter; you’ll be glad you did.
I would love to see a post about how to find the right shade of makeup- I swear I’ve bought eight red lipsticks that I thought would look good and when I got them home realized I looked terrible in it.
I don’t subscribe to any hard and fast rules about this, myself. Some people will tell you “Oh, you’re an autumn, only wear warm colors,” or “If silver looks best on you, you should only be looking for cool tones,” but I don’t buy that stuff. You may find that you’re drawn to one color family or another, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear whatever you want. There’s another theory that you should go with your natural lip tone, but a few shades darker (Bobbi Brown is a big proponent of this theory). That’ll rarely steer you wrong, and is a great rule of thumb for interview makeup, impress-a-guy-on-the-beach makeup, and omg-she’s-totally-born-with-it makeup, but who wants to look natural all the time? Red lipstick is a powerhouse makeup decision and a birthright. Every woman should have a go-to red lipstick in her makeup drawer that she can swipe on when she’s feeling blah or femme fatale. The one one-size-fits-all tip I’ll throw out on red lipstick? Try MAC Russian Red. I’ve yet to see it look bad on someone.
And side note: I will wear any lip color. I am a total undiscriminating cosmetics slut and have absolutely no shame — and I think a lot of makeup-obsessed women are like this. It’s as if pretty, natural shades are our gateway drug and we start only being able to get high by upping the craziness factor on our shadows and lipsticks from time to time. So yeah, give me a Barbie pink gloss and I’ll sport it for a while. Vampy dark purple? Shit, I’ll try it. The only color family I avoid like the plague is nudes. I think it makes pretty much everyone look dead. Seriously, if you ever see me wearing it, I probably am; and depending on my state of consciousness you should either call 911 or Buffy Summers.
So unfortunately, since there are no hard and fast rules, there is no magic equation that will work for all women. What I can give you are tips for finding it on your own.
As always, you can shop at drugstores or you can shop at more high-end stores like Sephora or a beauty counter. The benefit of a drugstore is that lipstick is cheap and you can buy a couple and not feel the sting quite as badly. The benefit of shopping at the latter is that you can try them on and take them back if you change your mind.
Start with the swatch test: pick out some colors that you’re drawn to. Nine times out of ten you’ll be drawn to the colors you look best in. If you’re not, you just need more practice (and like I keep saying, that’s what makeup is all about). Swipe ’em on your hand, pay attention to the undertones and what you like about each. When you find two or three you’d like to try on, you can ask the person behind the counter to disinfect them for you, or do it yourself (Sephora has stations on each end-cap for just this purpose). You’ll need to spray a generous amount of alcohol into a tissue and wipe — really get at that sucker — then shave a little bit off the top with a Q-tip before applying. Do NOT apply without doing this — it’s unhygienic and everyone will look at you like you were raised in a barn.
If you’re unsure about the color you like, walk around the mall with it for a while. Get comfortable. See how it wears. See how you like the formula.
Finally, if you do get it home and you change your mind after wearing it for a few days, you have a couple of options. You can blend it with colors you already have to get the perfect shade (I always have a neutral lipstick, brownish lip-liner, and a few bright colors on hand for this reason). Jean Godfrey-June, beauty editor at Lucky Magazine, says that a universal beauty truth is that “Any two random lipsticks you’ve ever bought – any – when combined, will always be flattering, no matter what your skin tone.” Go ahead and try — it’s pretty much foolproof. I know you want to find your lipstick holy grail. We all do. But sometimes life isn’t perfect, and you have to work with the universe to get what you want (pretty deep for a makeup blog, huh?).
If you still can’t stomach it, take it back. Sephora and almost any department store will exchange your product for you, even if you’ve already used it — and if you’re feeling truly hopeless, their salespeople will help you find a better shade. I’ll be honest — helping someone pick out a lipstick shade is only slightly above watching paint dry for any salesperson (seriously, there’s only so much “I want a red, but not too red. Kind of brownish, but not like a woody color, something more, I don’t know, pink? No, not pink…” one person can take), so use this option as a last resort. You should be able to figure this one out on your own.