"The most beautiful makeup for a woman is passion, but cosmetics are easier to buy."
                                                                                              —Yves Saint Laurent

If you're new to this blog, then read our guides to the basics: Skin (Part I), Skin (Part II), The Supernatural, Color Theory I, Color Theory II, Eyes, and Brushes.

Also, check out the blogsale.

· Beauty Notes: The Ascension
· Perfume Notes: L'Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu
· Beauty Notebook: Pai
· Beauty Notes: Incoming
· Beauty Notes: Unfinished
· Culture Notes: Modern Life
· The Beauty Primer

Art Tattler
the glamourai
The Non-Blonde
Perfume Shrine
Lisa Eldridge
Garance Doré
Smitten Kitchen
Into The Gloss
Grain de Musc
Res Pulchrae
Drivel About Frivol
The Selfish Seamstress
Killer Colours
Bois de Jasmin
Glossed In Translation
Jak and Jil
Toto Kaelo
Worship at the House of Blues
I Smell Therefore I Am
Food Wishes
The Natural Haven
Messy Wands
1000 Fragrances
Moving Image Source
The Emperor's Old Clothes
M. Guerlain
Colin's Beauty Pages
Barney's jewelry department
loodie loodie loodie
The Straight Dope
Sea of Shoes
London Makeup Girl
Sakecat's Scent Project
Asian Models
Ratzilla Cosme
Smart Skincare
Illustrated Obscurity
A.V. Club
Tom & Lorenzo: Mad Style
Eiderdown Press
Beauty and the Bullshit
La Garçonne
Flame Warriors
Everyday Beauty
Fashion Gone Rogue
Now Smell This
The Cut
A Fevered Dictation
Nathan Branch
101 Cookbooks

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Beauty Notes: The Ascension
by Dain

Here's a confession: I don't own crazy amounts of makeup.

Believe me, I'm not abstemious. When something takes possession of my fancy, I buy without fail, without shame. Makeup is itself a luxury, and very often the expense is intrinsic to its appeal. I am certainly not above it. A world without indulgence would be a dull place indeed. But, I am not a curator. It doesn't suit my temperament, collecting for the sake of collecting.

The exercise of taste requires critique. Otherwise, it cannot be distinguished from mindless appetite. Yes, judgement is harsh, negative; an intelligent appraisal will necessarily be deconstructive rather than constructive. But it also sharpens our pleasure, more nuances register on a fully conscious palate, or as La Rochefoucauld famously quipped in defense of la haute cuisine, "To eat is a necessity, to eat intelligently is an art." So it is with all matters of taste. Proper appreciation is not possible without critical thought: the delicately layered flavours of a soup, Melville's extraordinary gusto, the feline curves of a Maserati, or the way Guerlain's Rouge Automatique hugs your lips. It is not the object, but the conscious act of satisfying the self, ruminated upon, that yields the greatest pleasure. I'm not suggesting of course that makeup can be compared to high art, as anything more than a frivolous commodity. But I do think it is possible to enjoy it intelligently, thoughtfully. Moreover, in a very concrete way, the criteria for evaluating products is unique to the individual. That's the most fascinating of all: all you need is your own face. I love that. You can just figure things out for yourself.

My aim is to love everything I buy. Excess, I think, blunts the appetite. All my efforts are focused on editing. No redundancies, no excess, just the essential palette, narrowed down to exacting minutiae. I loathe clutter. If my appreciation extends past the initial shine of novelty into repurchase, so much the better. Give me one awesome taupe, not a dozen. Frothing ecstatically over bimonthly Chanel collections reeks of bourgeois aspiration—or greed, to put it plainly. Why not be picky? It's only lipstick.

You may keep your peachy nude glosses; I can't wear 'em. It's just a fact of my coloring.

My collection of lipsticks, more or less. My personal preference is for proper saturation, either through massive overpigmentation or bright rather than muted color, all variations on pink, berry, and red. Even if my skin didn't desaturate pigment, it's a bore to wear neutral, assiduously naturalistic makeup all the time. Even this little chart (which took an embarrassingly long time to organize) chafes and frets me, a reminder to consolidate even further. But I leave it alone, and try not chase THE PERFECT RED that will quench my thirst. In the first place, colors are discontinued so regularly that it's necessary to try new products from time to time. Second, most women tend to gravitate towards a range when it comes to lipstick—it has to do with one's choice of blusher—and within that range, subtle differences in undertone and finish and saturation do manifest materially. By contrast, corals all wear the same on me.

The escalation of a holy grail, in three stages:
  1. squee! SHINY NEW SHIT!: Relatively easy to invoke, if they're clever about developing a product properly. Whatever gets you in the store, forking over your credit card. At this point, its only merit is shininess: a luxury label, exclusivity, limited edition, unique/complex colors, aesthetic presentation, hype.
  2. Sometimes by chance, sometimes it's a well honed eye, but it becomes a favorite, a part of your daily rotation.
  3. A true grail, beloved and repurchased, just gets better and better. It doesn't taper into boredom, but only seems to become more precious with time. A rare feat, considering that the first step is all about boredom. It would have to be love to obviate all other possibilities and justify monogamy.
It's very much a gradual process, trial and error. You buy, you try, and buy again. If The Beauty Primer is basic, I'm now speaking to end game, once you've figured yourself out. It is a kind of eternal return*, you go through many just to arrive at the ultimate incarnation, but with each cycle I figure I'm somehow closer to release.

With eye makeup, I'm considerably less organized. Unless you're working with neutrals, where undertones are a consideration, you can pick color for the sake of color. I have a few of these, simply for the objective beauty: Rated R by NARS, Guerlain 2 Place Vendôme, or Shiseido's Fire Trio. I also wear blues and purples comfortably, as they resonate well with the pink undertones of my skin. Shadows last forever, so they do accumulate. It's the everyday neutrals I moniter more carefully. For those, I rely heavily on Laura Mercier. She does cool neutrals with inimitable panache; ultrafine pigments, tastefully low shimmers and dense mattes, well calibrated complexity that nevertheless never competes with the face. No matter the look, I always use Stellar, a finely silvered beige, and Deep Night, a near black navy: one to highlight, the other to define the lashline. I have no others. These are perfect on my cool skin.

Except for a taupey smidge in Twilight Grey, there are no browntones. I cannot, cannot wear brown eyeshadow. I know that sounds queer. Here's one of those shades that everyone knows, MAC Club, a cult classic:

I have so much fun doing awful makeup.

Talk about death. I couldn't even manage this as eyeliner. It has something to do with the translucence of my thin skin: brown won't integrate if there isn't enough melanin. It just looks like dirt. To pull off earth tones, I have to restrict them to eyeliner, so Teddy and Bronze 10L function as contrasts, playing against the cool washes. Teddy alone, with enough purple smoke lurking beneath the surface to make it wearable for me, can convey a smoky eye—after all, a smoky eye is nothing more than stylized dirt. The only way around a warm brown like Club, however, is to wear it with verve, or in makeup parlance, editorial. In the second look, Club has been anchored by a rim of saturated black, dusted by glitter, and countered by an equally draining wine lip (see closeup). Once the look becomes deliberately dramatic—in this case a 20s-inflected vamp—it's no longer a concern that it's so hideous. It works, but it's not supposed to be wearable.

If Unfinished covers my philosophy on naturalism, this one is about how I arrived at my personal palette, mostly the bolder colors rather than neutrals. For me, it's definitely been a process of editing. Culled from the comments: I'm not opposed to curators (the good ones are indispensable resources). I think it's ok to buy something for very frivolous reasons: simply for the unique colors, beautiful presentations, or rarity... Those are good reasons to enjoy your purchases[;] it doesn't always have to be about utility. But I can't help but question, when your stash goes into excess, can you really appreciate everything? And wasn't the purpose, in the first place, about enjoying yourself?

* In Hindu and Buddhist theology, the concept of cyclical time, endless repetition on the same theme, symbolized by the ourobouros, a snake swallowing its own tail (and my youtube ID). It's a bit sacrilegious repurposing it for consumerism, but it's nice to know that your collection of twenty taupe eyeshadows has some philosophical basis, eh?

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6/29/2011 [19]

Perfume Notes: L'Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu
by Dain

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Las Meninas (1656).

Or, how I came to terms with my strong distaste for patchouli.

Woods, among which I'd place patchouli, are not always best on their own. Though they add depth to flightier notes like florals, they are too murky, too bass-toned, for the tastes of feminine perfumery. When they do take central position, such as the sandalwood of Bois des Îles or the cedar of Féminité du Bois, their angularity is mollified by equally intense sweetness. Patchouli is even more rugged, with the damp, dark brown, vegetal-mineral aroma of fertile soil, a sour medicinal whiff that aligns it closely to oud. It boasts a long history, from the days in which fragrant leaves were used to wrap precious Eastern silks to deter moths during their long journey to the West, and the smell was so addictive that it became the favored perfume of the Belle Epoque*, to its pivotal role in chypres in the earlier half of our century, and its associations with headshops in the latter. Like oud, patchouli is often paired with rose, of which L'Artisan's own Voleur de Roses is the prime example, though this tendency is also evident in meaty chypres like Aromatics Elixir. Overall, my dislike of the note is sufficient to turn me off anything that makes a direct quotation of patchouli, though I make exception for Bornéo 1834 and its fantastic bitter coffee-cacao accord, so it is really by accident that I ended up with a sample of Timbuktu.

Far from the overbearing earthiness of most patchoulis, Timbuktu is unusually luminous and gentle. From the opening flash of green mango skin and the dry heat of pepper, hints of vegetal growth, more muted than in Duchaufour's Sienne l'Hiver, we follow the trail of incense smoke (frankincense and myrrh) to the backdrop of resinous, sun-warmed woods, courtesy of a generous slug of vetiver. This airy interpretation of patchouli conveys quiet elegance. In defiance of gravity, it never seems to touch earth—for a couple of hours, the patchouli wavers between winey humidity and the aridity of a desert, without ever really falling into either camp—but from start to finish, Timbuktu is shot through with light. One sniff chases away the cobwebs clogging my head, like a good cup of coffee. Though its substance is one of the roughest aromatics in all of perfumery, Timbuktu never shouts. It stands still and relies on charisma—after all, you don't need to be aggressive with patchouli—with a polish that's stylized, even calculated. I'm strongly reminded of Steerpike (Peake's own drawing at right), the Machiavellian kitchen-boy-turned-elite villain in Mervyn Peake's marvelous but underrated Gormenghast Saga, the most haunting and strange of the English fantasy genre that emerged after WWII.

Bois de Jasmin
Nathan Branch
From Top to Bottom: Perfume Patter
Luca Turin
Now Smell This
Feminine Things
Pere de Pierre

* Both The Cherry Orchard and Madame Bovary reference its use.

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6/24/2011 [2]

Beauty Notebook: Pai
by Dain

At times, greenwashing can take on the tenor of a witchhunt. In fact, all ingredients, whether water, formaldehyde, or lavender extract, are chemicals. Some ingredients do pose serious health risks, but it would be inaccurate to villanize synthetics universally without proof. Sulfates, for example, do a really stellar job breaking up oils and dirt and makeup on the skin and hair; for that reason they're everywhere. They are not carcinogens. However, as anyone who doesn't have very tough, oily skin can attest, sulfates are seriously irritating. Many synthetics, especially the effective ones like sulfates, glycolic acid, vitamin C, and avobenzone, are harsh, even damaging. This is reason enough to avoid them. Even if they're not toxic, there's not much virtue to irritant, whatever its superficial benefits.

Like the many natural formulations, skincare that's specifically targeted at sensitive skin is defined negatively, by conspicuously avoiding the known irritants. Pai, a British line developed by Sarah Brown, unites both premises: a natural brand for sensitive skin. It's so simple and elegant a solution, it actually astonishes me that this is the first time I've seen it. Unlike petroleum-heavy Avene, Pai selects the highest quality, skin-loving oils. All fragrance derives from the natural extracts, not added perfume, and the formulas are minimally preserved, manufactured by Pai's own house laboratory in small batches to ensure freshness. Above all, Pai is incredibly upfront about their ingredients. They answered all my questions about rosehip oil in full detail; I'm genuinely impressed by their commitment to transparency.

Natural moisturizers have come a long way from the unctuous barrier cream. Thanks to a blend of naturally-derived emulsifiers, Chamomile & Rosehip Sensitive Skin Cream ($38) commands a velvety-smooth texture to rival the elegant feel of a silicone base. The water phase, infused with extracts of azulene-rich chamomile, absorbs quickly, with glycerin to aid moisture retention. It leaves behind a delicate residue of shea butter, and if you look close, you might detect minute granules before they melt into your skin. Raw shea butter heals and protects thin, fragile skin better than anything else, but on its own it has an uncomfortably heavy texture. Pai dilutes it with skin-friendly natural oils: apricot kernel, jojoba, rosehip, safflower infused with thistle, manuka, and vitamin E. It has a pleasant smell of chamomile tea, touched by the rosy sweetness of geranium, so avoid if you have an allergy to chamomile. There's no such thing an ingredient that's 100% hypoallergenic; the best formulators can manage is to avoid obvious offenders. Always test first.

As you may guess from its ingredients, the Chamomile & Rosehip cream is best suited for drier skin types, a medium-rich cream. One of the critical problems encountered by sensitive skin is erosion of its acid mantle, and it's therefore necessary to rebuild its oil barrier by artificial means. While you don't need sensitive skin to enjoy the Chamomile & Rosehip cream, keep in mind that skincare designed for sensitive skin tends to be heavier. For me, it's been the perfect weight for the many cool summer days of 2011, but it won't be quite enough on its own in the dead of winter. It's a very simple formula of concentrated emollients, and to thin it out properly, I recommend applying it over damp skin; a face mist would be a nice touch here. A little goes a long way, though a liberal application serves as a calming mask when you've been rough with your skin. My skin responds very positively to this cream—healthy and balanced, at its own personal best—so I expect I'll return to it again and again.

INGREDIENTS  purified water, chamomile water, apricot kernel oil, cetearyl alcohol and glucoside, jojoba oil, rosehip oil, thistle oil, shea butter, vegetable glycerin, natural vitamin e, chamomile extract, rosehip seed extract, corn extract, manuka oil, rosemary extract, lavender oil, rose geranium oil, basil extract, lactic acid.

After collectively shunning oils for two decades, the pendulum of consumer taste has shifted: now, nothing's more in vogue than a face oil.

It makes a lot of sense. You can't pile on foaming cleansers, anti-blackhead scrubs, and alpha-hydroxy serums indefinitely; even the toughest skin will eventually register damage and become rough and devitalized. A silicone-based moisturizer, the skincare equivalent of empty calories, luxurious in texture but low in nourishment, isn't going to cut it. An oil is very simple, simpler even than an emulsion. It virtually mimics what the skin does anyway—produce oil—only with potent antioxidants and nourishing EFAs, it's additive, rather than subtractive, skincare. They feed your skin, particularly if you've used a lot of harsh skincare in the past. With regular use you'll find your skin takes on this glow, a bloom of health. And far from sparking off congestion, the oil inhibits sebum, by deceiving your pores into thinking enough already there, and combined with proper exfoliation softens up clogs until they turn translucent—easy extraction. Oddly enough, they are trickier to manipulate on dry skin, because if you suffer from dehydration, as most dry-skinned people do, they merely coat the skin (since there's no water in an oil). I always rub an oil in damp skin, or even better over moisturizer where it locks in all the good stuff.

The difficulty lies in finding the right oil, once you do, there should be a significant improvement in the quality of your skin. You do have to use it religiously. In particular, I am fond of rosehip oil; it's a good place to start for beginners. It's a rich source of EFAs, particularly linoleic and linolenic acids, with a dose of antioxidants: lycopene, a carotenoid, which lends the oil its distinctive amber hue, tocopherols, or vitamin E, and vitamin C. What makes rosehip particularly noteworthy is a naturally occurring form of trans-retinoic acid, without the irritation that attends synthetic tretinoin; according to Pai, rosehip's tretinoin "is contained within a complex of unsaturated fatty acids" and is "better absorbed by the skin due to its... affinity with our skin cell structure". Fine and silky, drier than olive oil, a drop or two massaged well should not feel too occlusive for night.

Unfortunately, seed oils have a short shelf life, and rosehip is especially delicate. Since a bottle of oil goes a very long way, this results in unnecessary waste. When extracted via cold-pressing (as it sounds, mechanical pressure at low heat), it expires within six months. Pai's Rosehip BioRegenerate Fruit & Seed Oil Blend ($35) improves on the traditional method. They use high pressure liquid CO2, from a volcanic source, for extraction. They utilize the whole plant, and the yield is actually more concentrated, yet without the distinctive grassy-fishy odor of cold-pressed rosehip oil (this smells like straw). The method is cleaner, more environmentally friendly. Finally, because oxidation does not occur during extraction, and Pai infuses the rosehip concentrate with vitamin E from safflower oil, the shelf life is extended to two years. Since safflower is so lightweight, the blend absorbs very quickly, with minimal residue.

INGREDIENTS  CO2 extracted rosehip fruit oil, CO2 extracted rosehip seed oil, natural vitamin E from safflower.

I do have two critiques of Pai. The first, is the packaging. Considering the effort Pai goes to formulate with minimal preservatives (vitamin E, sodium anisate, sodium levulinate, lactic acid) and commit to small batches to ensure freshness, clear glass, pretty though it is, seems a poor choice. I keep mine in the original boxes. The other is the complexity of sensitivity; it includes, surprisingly, acne-prone skin. If you think about it, skin that breaks out easily is constantly irritated, undergoing an immune reaction. So far, Pai only addresses the traditional dry/sensitive skin type—rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, allergies, damaged skin, genetically thin skin—without truly tenable options for very oily or acne-prone skin. As a new brand, however, this does not mean that Pai won't develop solutions in the future.

Pai is offering both the Chamomile & Rosehip Sensitive Skin Cream and the Rosehip BioRegenerate Fruit & Seed Oil Blend as a combined offer. It's a savings of $8 with free shipping. Pai is also sold at Spirit Beauty Lounge and Nubonau.

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6/20/2011 [4]

Beauty Notes: Incoming
by Dain

I have a genuine affinity for natural skincare. I like supporting small, independent companies that would genuinely benefit from the word-of-mouth style of blogging. I like they often have a personal story behind the brand. I do respect how many of them focus on being ecological sustainable and socially responsible; it's not quite equal to cutting down on petrochemical dependence, but it is definitely an option that every consumer should be able to embrace to some degree. I especially like the transparency of the formulations, I always read ingredients lists. They don't tell you everything, but a premonition is extremely useful. I wouldn't know how octyl methoxycinnamate behaves without a chemist's perspective, but from long experience, I can always detect the shea butter in a cream.

I'm getting really fed up, however, with greenwashing, when major conglomerates exploit what is essentially a sincere movement by a handful of dedicated individuals. In the days to come, I'll be highlighting some excellent brands that do green properly. I hope you'll find them interesting reads.

The champagne flute (senior gift) features the logo from my residential college at Yale, Jonathan Edwards.

Morning Beet-Carrot-Apple-Ginger Juice:
    a quarter of a large beet, peeled and thinly chopped
    4 large carrots, peeled and thinly chopped
    small lump o' ginger, also peeled and thinly chopped
    1 fuji apple, peeled and sliced
    1 ½ cups water
    2 tablespoons honey
Unless you've got a good juicer, I find it necessary to chop the harder vegetables—the beet, the carrots, and the ginger—into very small portions, with enough water to reduce friction, to make it easier on your blender, and blend them first. The apple is softer, so it's not so critical. This is a very pulpy, fibrous juice, so unless you've got a juicer that strains for you, you will have to hand sieve. This juice is both tasty and energizing. Personally, I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so I find the apple and the honey are sufficient at balancing the earthy flavour of the beets (which I love), and the ginger lends some brightness to the concoction.


6/15/2011 [0]

Beauty Notes: Unfinished
by Dain

There's a French expression I like, bien être dans la peau, that sums up the aesthetic behind natural makeup: instead of chasing perfection, leave well enough alone.

Laura Mercier for Allure, May 1998.

Mercier's idea of strong day makeup, before magazines stopped showing pores.

I've been on beauty sites for a long time (since 1997), and if I've learned anything, it's that good makeup comes down to good judgement. It's not exactly rocket science—formulations that match your skin type, pigments that integrate well with your undertones, techniques that flatter your features—once you figure out those personal parameters, the rest is just endless, obsessive finetuning. It's all in good fun, as long as you don't allow enthusiasm to cloud your judgement, especially when you're going for naturalism. Frankly, I don't want to look like a starlet. Nothing in life has any business being HD perfect*. I'm the kind of person who will use old-school eyeshadow over gel liner, just to avoid the hard, crisp edge. More than other styles of makeup, naturalism should be an exercise in restraint: an absolute minimum of pigments, carefully selected for specific purposes. Call it unfinished. I like that raw, organic quality.

N.B. This discussion applies to naturalism, not to other styles. Obviously, if you're attempting a specific, more stylized look, other rules apply.

I cannot command sufficient invective to convey the intensity of my detestation for thin, overplucked brows, trying too hard for an arch. Ah, with those sad, insubstantial tails. When brows are left alone, they can be shapeless, unruly, patchy, even unibrowed; these are negligible, correctable. Badly judged eyebrows, on the other hand, are hideous. Brows work in concert with the structure of your face, so when they no longer fit, your entire face is thrown into disharmony. The fit is more important than getting a perfect arch. When you focus on achieving a particular shape, you're isolating them from the rest of the face, and you have to compensate by filling them in heavier than usual. The result is a highly stylized, artificial brow. It ages you. Megan Fox, for example, who started off with a unibrow, always looks like her makeup artist stuck stencils on her forehead.

My own brows are far from great. Like most people, mine are asymmetrical: the right one sits slightly higher on my face. The tail is short, almost stumpy. The arch is rather flat, so I tweeze beneath them a little bit (classic Tweezerman Slant) to enhance the shape, not too much. Since I'm Asian, the hairs are very straight, so a few tips poke out in spite of brow gel (Etude House Dr. Lash Ampule Lash Protect), but I don't trim, for fear of getting that awful crisp edge.

To fill them in, I use an RMK Brow Brush, a flat angled badger hair brush, ever so slightly tapered, larger and not so painstakingly precise as Shu Uemura 6OB. Normally, I use Laura Mercier's Brow Definer, a tinted pomade. It goes on softly, like a powder, but with the glossy finish of a pencil, so it doesn't go flat and obliterate texture. It gives your eyebrows just a subtle notch in definition. When applied well, I don't even have to brush them through with a spoolie. One tiny jar lasts forever. Not quite perfect, still the best I've tried, a unique product as far as I know. Warm, like most "ashy brunette" shades, leans slightly yellow-brown against black hair, not to the point of being a dealbreaker. Because it's so soft, it won't fill in bald areas, it clings better to hair than skin. It also tends to disappear when photographed (an excuse for why my brows usually look wonky in pictures), but for more intensity, you can layer powder on top of its waxy base. If Suqqu ever comes to these shores, I'd like to try the Eyebrow Liquid Pen, or maybe the equally unavailable Shu Uemura Stone Grey.

My reason for leaving my hair alone is simple: it grows exactly as I like it. Why mess with it?

I've never liked perfect hair. I don't even own a hair brush. Admittedly, it's a fashionable moment for touchable, undone virgin hair, the inevitable backlash against eerily perfect, plastic starlets. Minor imperfections (a lack of volume at the crown, irregularities in texture) only add to its allure. Since my hair is long and dry, I focus entirely on care: a very basic cut, infrequent shampooing, lavish conditioning, no heat or chemical treatments whatsoever. As it turns out, my hair prefers sulfates and light silicones mixed into natural oils. Expensive formulations mark no improvement. I'm not consistently loyal to any brand. Lately, I've gone cheap and cheerful with Garnier Anti-Dandruff shampoo, reasoning healthy hair begins with the scalp, but I'm just as likely to splurge on Leonor Greyl some day, purely on whim, for a whiff of Rue de Faubourg St. Honoré. The sole exception is Kérastase; nothing in its ingredients distinguishes it from other L'Oréal formulations, but this stuff really works.

Layering conditioners on dry hair.

Like Masquintense, Ciment Anti-Usure is a concentrated protein treatment that restores shine and health to damaged hair—you don't need much. It doesn't moisturize like a standard conditioner, so after rinsing away the Kérastase, I massage in plenty of Alaffia Every Day Shea Conditioner, an oddly watery, but nourishing, silicone-free formula that sinks into the strands instead of than coating them. If you've got long hair, you know how frustrating it is to go through conditioner like water, but this is an economical 32 ounces for $10. Finally, to lock in the moisture, I use a silicone/natural oil leave-in treatment. With the popularity of Moroccan Oil, I expect to find a knockoff comparable to Neil George.

In this surfeit of high-definition, hyperrealistic silicone bases, I like my skin to look as fresh as possible. A well executed base isn't one that corrects every single flaw—that's for photographs—but one that uses coverage as conservatively as possible.

I'm lucky to have beautiful skin, with a very fine, even grain. It has a well conditioned glow, as most of my beauty budget is devoted to skincare. It would be a crime to cover it up. I still end up accumulating base products, perhaps I'm especially suggestible. But makeup isn't my hobby out of necessity, I'm fascinated by the ritual of it, and enjoy getting sucked in by the minutiae. Lately, I submitted to the fervor that surrounded the new Chanel foundation like an online nimbus, before I came to my senses and returned it. It's strange, but, foundation never looks good on me. On my unusually thin skin, coverage looks more conspicuous than it would generally. You know how cakey and obvious heavy concealers look on the thin skin around your eyes? I have that problem all over. Besides, I can live with a little unevenness. A perfect base looks very flat, no matter how advanced the technology, so makeup artists reintroduce dimension by contouring and highlighting. When you add primers and an infinite variety of foundation and concealer brushes (buff? stipple? paddle? pinpoint?) and custom-mixed concealer... Frankly, it's a lot of fuss. After all, your base is supposed to undetectable. The simplest way to look like you're not wearing any makeup is to wear less.

Closeup on swatch.

Most of the time, I wear only undereye concealer, Make Up For Ever Lift Concealer #03 Neutral Beige, in which I've found a holy grail. With a milky-peach undertone, it brightens more than it conceals, just enough coverage to alleviate the moderate sallowness around my eyes, and it blends seamlessly, invisibly into the skin. To set, I dust on some Chanel Poudre Universelle, a very sheer layer with the ultrasoft RMK Cheek Brush. Honestly, the difference is imperceptible—loose powder, after all, isn't much coverage—but it pleases me to think it refines the texture while adding a touch of luminosity. That's it, my everyday base. It's not about coverage at all.

If I'm in the mood to perfect my skin, I wear tinted moisturizer. That's about as heavy as I can go, and even then it can look plastic. I use Laura Mercier Moisturizing Foundation in Warm Ivory, slightly darker and more yellow than my actual skin tone, useful for correcting ruddiness. It's quite densely packed, fine pigment, so I cut it in half with a sunscreen (any titanium-dioxide sunscreen, not necessarily SK-II) to diffuse the coverage. I almost always use my fingers, easier to wash than brushes. As the moisturizer absorbs, it allows the pigment to adhere more realistically. Another advantage is that I can use Warm Ivory neat, very selectively applied, as concealer, without fear of a mismatch. I don't break out often, so buying a separate concealer isn't worthwhile, but sometimes the skin around my nose can be red. If I'm in a rush, I use Lunasol Skinfusing (not pictured); powder foundations tend to be lower in coverage than their liquid counterparts.

In case you think I'm totally off my rocker, here I am in nothing but Anthélios (quite a greasy sunscreen, no?) versus my everyday base of undereye concealer and loose powder. Just to be neat about it, I also dabbed some foundation around the nose to cancel some lingering ruddiness from my flu. And my favorite red lipstick: Shu Uemura RD 178M.

Go ahead, supersize me.

Believe it or not, nothing's there but Poudre Universelle. That's how obvious coverage looks on my skin. Weird, isn't it?

There's nothing haphazard and sloppy about unfinished naturalism. If anything, it's more meticulous. Most people wouldn't use three conditioners. But I decided against styling it, so my hair needs to be in optimum condition. I chose Laura Mercier's Brow Definer because it subtly enhances the density of the hair, instead of a product that can redraw my brows. I've gone through a dozen undereye concealers, with minute variations on texture, coverage, brightening, and undertone, before settling on MUFE Lift. I know, it's anal, but this is often the only product that goes on my skin. It really has to deliver.

* Kim Kardashian is the perfect example of HD perfect. Beautiful makeup, all in neutral earth tones, but not naturalism, if you catch the difference.

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6/12/2011 [6]

Culture Notes: Modern Life
by Dain

I'm currently in the throes of a severe cold, so I haven't been able to gather the wit to write, but I thought this music video was interesting. Staggering how far we've come from the hand-to-mouth simplicity within a few centuries.

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6/07/2011 [0]

The Beauty Primer
by Dain

We've arrived at the natural conclusion of The Beauty Primer series. These are not designed to be step-by-step tutorials, but general theses that any woman can adapt to her own needs and preferences. For that reason, The Beauty Primer is not about exalting particular shades or espousing particular techniques (all products mentioned throughout this series are references rather than recommendations), but outlining basic and universal parameters. I am not a makeup artist, esthetician, dermatologist, nor chemist, but a consumer. This blog may seem heavy on information, but I shouldn't like to begin mistaking my enthusiasm for inquiry with expertise. If anything, I write from a position of ignorance. Writing The Beauty Primer is the only means to answer my frustration with the endlessly reiterated pablum. In that respect, I am my own target audience. Otherwise, I should like women to make their own observations and judgements, because if you're interested in this stuff, in its own shallow way it is a form of self-knowledge: "I have chosen these products because this is the face I have." I find that more empowering than simple appetite. The Beauty Primer is both rewarding and challenging to write. I cannot generate posts frequently; some require two weeks of drafting before they're ready for publication. Even then I fail to be comprehensive, as if I weren't already painfully verbose. Some of the earlier articles are seriously outdated. I see more flaws than not. All the same, these are among my favorite posts, partly because I overcome my own ignorance, partly because some of these articles are unique in their content. There are so many excellent beauty blogs out there. No matter how few people read mine, I'm glad that I can contribute to that general dialogue with original material. To me, that's what the internet is all about.

As The Beauty Primer is the main project behind this blog, I should like to take a break from blogging and focus on other aspects of my life for a while. Before my hiatus, I'd like to conclude with some of my own personal preferences (so there's a few posts left) to balance out the highly generalized discourse of The Beauty Primer.


6/02/2011 [4]

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