Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How I Wash My Makeup Brushes

Almost every time I discuss makeup brushes someone asks about brush cleaning. It used to surprise me a little. After all, don't we all wash our brushes and have our own long-set preferences about tools and products? However, I've realized that my own routine has changed and evolved over the years, and now I have a system in place that makes the process quicker and easier (for me). This is how I get through a big pile of brushes (several weeks of laziness) relatively quickly and painlessly.

Detergents and Cleansers:

  • A bar of Shea Moisture Black African Soap (available at Ulta and Amazon, usually well under $10). This one cleans about 95% of gunk and goop from every brush.
  • Hakuhodo brush soap (available from hakuhodousa.com, under "Accessories", $8-$18, depending on size). I use it on my most delicate and expensive brushes, not that the black soap isn't good enough for them, but still.
  • A good face cleansing oil. Whatever's on hand. This is especially effective for foundation and concealer brushes, and a good oil can actually restore tired old goat hair brushes and make them look new again.
  • Daiso Detergent Cleaning for Makeup Puff and Sponge (about $6 on Amazon). Very effective for foundation sponges. I alternate between this one and the Beauty Blender cleansers (liquid and bar). They all work well.
  • An anti-bacterial soap to clean the various tools once I'm done.


  • Sigma cleaning mat (available at Nordstrom and Ulta, among others, $25 well-spent). It curves around the drain and has suction cups that hold onto the inside of the sink.
  • A full set of Sigma Dry'n Shape Tower. I don't put it together to full height, because it makes sticking the brushes into the loops harder. I split the levels according to the brushes on hand. I also don't always use the elastic part. I find the Brush Guards to be more effective and easier to navigate.
  • Benjabelle brush trees, both the large original and the mini (for thin and narrow brushes). About $25 each on Amazon. My original is several years old (from around the time they launched), yet reliable and sturdy. The mini feels more rickety and requires a firmer hand and some cursing. Or perhaps mine is just defective.
  • Brush Guards (those are the stretchy plastic net things you can see in the second photo). I have about five packs of every size (there are four sizes).  I buy them on Amazon, and with proper care they last for at least a couple of years.

  • I collect my dirty brushes in the metallic utensil holder you see above. I try not to accumulate too many, even though I can (see: I have many brushes), because otherwise the task seems too daunting, and then I procrastinate (because I can. See above), and it becomes a Situation. What you see here is a larger than should be number of brushes, but it wasn't dire.
  • First, I assemble the various drying tools, arrange everything like so, plop the Sigma mat in the sink, carefully place my iPad in the medicine cabinet and go to Lisa Eldridge's channel (she's soothing and I prefer rewatching videos I've already seen, so I don't have to focus too hard). I  adjust the water temperature to reasonably warm and start.
  • Holding the brushes with the hairy head down I wet them, soap and lather, gently rub them against various areas of the mat and rinse clear, all the while making sure not to saturate and no get water directly into the ferrule (we don't want to loosen the glue that holds the hair together). That's why double-ended brushes are a pain. Foundation and concealer brush usually need a repeat, and sometimes a combination of cleansers. Artis brushes and their like also require a prayer.
  • Once clean, I gently (GENTLY) squeeze (not wring!) the water out of the brush, and arrange it for drying. When only washing a handful of brushes at one go I usually put the brush guards on right away, and stick the brush (hair down, again) in one of the drying tools, where it fits best depending on size and length. This time I was dealing with a few too many brushes, so I first placed them in the racks and only when done, dressed them up in the brush guards (sliding from the handle down). It's a matter of preference, not a rule. 

Speaking of rules, when it comes to brush guards (I have the originals as well as various Asian ones), there's just one: Use the smallest size you can for any given brush. You'll be amazed how far they stretch, and the whole point is to keep your brushes as tight as possible and prevent splaying. The first time you see the shadow/liner guard it looks very narrow, but as you'll see, it fits the largest and fluffiest blending brush easily. I even use it for the smallest Yachiyo brushes though the other ones require the blush brush size. Now someone please make brush guards for fan brushes of every size. I'll love you forever.

Double-ended brushes need to be laid flat (another reason I dislike them), as do massive Kabuki brushes (on their side). I put sponges to dry on towels, but a friend has shown me a photo of a sponge drying rack, so I'll probably get one soon enough (Amazon). Once all is clean and drying I wash the mat with an antibacterial soap, hang it to dry,  thank Lisa, and put everything away. Then  close the bathroom door (because cats) and wait. Thick and dense synthetic brushes take forever. Artis takes even longer. But within 12-24 hours it's all dry and I can put the brushes back in their various holders and drawers.

This time I also discovered that my medium Yachiyo, a much-loved and oft used brush, was left behind, and I washed it afterwards, and hung it to dry with some sticky tack, as seen on my Instagram. Whatever works, right?

That's it. I hope it was helpful. If you have more tips, tricks, or favorite products please share them.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Keep warm, joyful, and eat something great. Our late lunch/not-really-dinner included a chestnut soup and glazed Brussel sprouts in pistachios and cranberries. Then we melted into a puddle watching the Best In Show dog  show while Bob took a nap.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Currently- November 2016

Today Will be Different by Maria Semple. She's the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, and this novel serves another dose of biting Seattle not-so-typical slice of life.

Nick Cave's covers of Leonard Cohen's songs are my favorite.

I've been enjoying every minute of The Crown. We've also binged on the second season of Red Oaks (Amazon). This bittersweet story of a group of twentysomethings in Bergen County, NJ, during the 1980s deserves more attention and hype.

Just watch the last episode of John Oliver's Last Week Tonight. Otherwise I've got nothing.
Not safe for work, obviously.

Vintage: Magie Noire. The real stuff, especially in the huile concentration. New: Atelier des Ors Iris Fauve.

Dark dark red lips.

Frequently Worn Item/Outfit
It's black tights season again. I can't say I'm too happy about it.

A bowl of fresh ricotta cheese with two spoons of honey blended in. Or a plate of burrata with a slice tomato. Or Irish cheese wedges. There's a theme here.

I can't even.

A bubble of home life, cats, friends, decorating. And cheese. We'll always have cheese.

More cheese?

I keep having to remind myself that very short women should probably avoid over-the-knee boots, but this Givenchy doesn't look half bad:

Random Thought
You know it's bad when it feels like Bill Mahr isn't using enough profanity.

Dare I ask how are you? What's on your list of loves and banes? Any wishes and recommendations?

Art: Charles Burchfield, Autumn Wind, 1949. I've always found that Burchfield is to anxiety what Van Gogh is to hallucinations.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Kevyn Aucoin- Glam Days and Candle-Lit Nights

It's equal parts the season and the fact that I've been testing a couple of full coverage foundations that made my face all one level and weird looking, but I've been gravitating towards these high glam Kevyn Aucoin items that shape, highlight, and create pretty focal points even on the most flattened face. Besides, they're genuinely pretty, as well as versatile (as long as you're willing to rock deep dark red lips during the day, which I've been doing lately). None of these are new, seasonal, or limited, which is another reason to show Kevyn Aucoin the love. I appreciate a reliable brand that doesn't pull the proverbial rug from under me.

I told you it was very subtle on its own.

Kevyn Aucoin The Celestial Skin Liquid Lighting is a light cream-gel illuminator that can be worn in several ways: underneath, over, or blended with one's foundation. Compared to a classic such as Becca SSP, this one is very subtle and far less effective underneath foundation. Dabbed on the high points of the face it is elegant and flattering. Celestial Skin will not be detected from space and is under no danger of being Instagram's new thing, and that's nice. It's simply a lovely product. Longevity, though, can be questionable if used on its own. You can either top it with the Celestial powder, or go for this product's biggest strength: mix it with a good liquid foundation. That's where it performs best and truly shines (no pun intended. Mostly). My bottle of of The Celestial Skin Liquid Lighting is from an early batch, before the two other shades, Sunlight and Starlight were added. I think the latter have more pigment in them and might look better on darker skin tones.Candlelight is completely neutral and subtle, so take that into account when you're planning to shine.

Kevyn Aucoin The Celestial Bronzing Veil was launched earlier this year. I actually chose the darker one of the two, Tropical Nights, which i felt was less orange and more in tune with my coloring. It's an ombre bronzer with a satin finish (decidedly not matte) that adds glow as well as color, which is what my face desperately needs these days (being this green and deathly so early in the season doesn't bode well for February). The width of the bronzer's compact allows you to place a brush on either the light or the dark side of its face, bt my preference is to swirl them together, unless I'm placing them on the eyelids. Again it gives a healthy internal glow that looks more natural than painted-on. I was surprised to see that this Kevyn Aucoin product was made in China. It's the only one in my collection so far, and will require future investigation.

The Expert Lip Color in Bloodroses is a Kevyn Aucoin classic. It's a deep blood red  if there ever was one, in a true lipsticky formula: satin finish, cream texture, average longevity that will transfer onto teacups, men, and pets, and will require a touchup after a meal. I'm perfectly fine with that, as I'm feeling too old for walking around with a puckered prune for a mouth. Instead, this smooth and rich lipstick has an old Hollywood charm (the packaging doesn't hurt), and since Bloodroses is such an intense color there's also a staining effect that when coupled with a good lip liner (I do need to by the matching Bloodroses pencil) keeps one looking reasonably pulled together for hours at a time, even with natural fading. The ingredient list shows aroma/flavor, but it's faint enough not to be a deciding factor for me (then again I'm normally not sensitive to that, and am usually perfumed to high heaven anyway).

My original intention was to use all of these plus more for my birthday look or any of last week's outings, but I was severly Not In The Mood, and have barely taken pictures or notes of my daily makeup and experiments. I'll try to make up for it in a holiday look or something. In any case, the bottom line is that these are all elegant and beautiful makeup items with a very classic feel.

Kevyn Aucoin The Celestial Skin Liquid Lighting ($52, made in the USA), Kevyn Aucoin The Celestial Bronzing Veil Tropical Nights  ($48, made in China), and The Expert Lip Color in Bloodroses ($35, made in Italy) are available at Select department stores, and Sephora (the lipsticks are online only at the latter).

Sarah Jessica Parker- Stash

There's a lesson there for all of us in the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker didn't give up on perfume. The 2005 Lovely didn't resemble the very precise vision SJP had originally as documented in Chandler Burr's book, "The Perfect Scent". It was packaged and marketed to a different audience, that of young(ish) women who were most likely taking "Which Sex & the City character are you? online quizzes, hoping to be a Carrie and feeling a certain disappointment when the algorithm declared them a Miranda. The inoffensive clean musk of Lovely (I am, or was, mostly anosmic to whatever's in there) was followed by the commercial flop of Covet, a perfume that was too weird for the Charlottes and Mirandas with its prickly green chocolate notes, and was probably a half-baked rush job to capitalize on Lovely's (and Sarah's) mega success. Then there were various bastardized flankers (The Lovely Collection, Cove Pure Bloom, and SJP NYC, all of which have probably never been in the same room with Sarah Jessica Parker herself). To add insult to injury, the stuff currently sold at the drugstores under the name Lovely smells to me like it bears little resemblance to the 2005 original.

A couple of months ago I had some Ulta points to use and enough interest in SJP's recent endeavours to use them on a 1/3 oz rollerball of Stash. Of course, the notes sounded intriguing (various woods, vetiver, incense) and SJP's love of masculine perfumes was  also an incentive, but Sarah is  still under  contract with  Coty, and that's rarely a good thing. The gamble ended up being the best use of my Ulta rewards in a very long time. Earthy, gritty, musky in that fabulous human warmth way--- Stash covered me in a soft and beloved afghan that invites people and cats for a snuggle. The husband was first intrigued, then quite taken with the perfume, and ended up relocating the rollerball to one of his shelves.

What is it about Stash that makes me want to wear it several days a week lately? Part of it is how it cushions that morning transition from the warm bed into an  unfriendly and aggravating world. I've been rediscovering my love for black pepper recently. Last night the Blond and I had dinner at Kajitsu in NYC, where one of the delectable courses was flavored with a thin sheet of black pepper pressed into a bark shape. It was exquisitely paired with panko-fried cauliflower and taro. My point is that the aroma of black pepper is awesome, with or without vegan food. Then there's the particular composition of incense and wood that could have easily come from any over-hyped niche perfume line, and in this case boasts an impressive achievement: if my memory serves me right, the wonderful creamy massoia oil was among the first natural ingredients to be heavily restricted by IFRA, as it can be a major skin irritant. the perfumer behind Stash have managed to recreate the comforting aroma of massoia bark oil with whatever it is that exists today, and blended it beautifully with the bracing notes of cedarwood and vetiver (lots and lots of vetiver, actually, multifaceted to show off both its dry and leathery sides).

The result is one of the best releases of this miserable year (perfumery has certainly followed suit with all the other calamities). The fact that there's also a dry oil in this scent means that some Stash will make its way into my side of the cabinet.

Sarah Jessica Parker- Stash (eau de parfum, $25 to $85, depending on size) is currently exclusive to Ulta. There are also various gift sets that seem like an excellent deal.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen 1934-2016

Leonard Cohen quotes:
"We're always experiencing joy or sadness. But there are lots of people who've closed down. And there are times in one's life when one has to close down just to regroup. "
"I am an old scholar, better-looking now than when I was young. That's what sitting on your ass does to your face. "
"When you stop thinking about yourself all the time, a certain sense of repose overtakes you.  "

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Bobbi Brown Chocolate Eye Palette (2016 Edition)

There were palettes before Bobbi Brown launched her original Fall 2006 Chocolate collection with the sensational palette. Chantecaille's butterflies were the most beautiful makeup items around since the early 2000s, and I had bought countless Dior quints, Chanel sets (remember the Jeans collection? I still have that eye palette from 2003), and Lorac made a nice splash with the Snake Charmer and the Croc palettes in 2006. But everyone went nuts for Bobbi's deceivingly unassuming Chocolate palette. The face of the campaign was the stunning Shirley Bouganim, and the items went out of stock in an unprecedented rate, some to reappear at scalper prices on eBay, other simply  hoarded by makeup collectors. Bobbi Brown tried but never quite recaptured that level of hype and success with sets like the Mauve palette or the Rose & Denim collection. There was even a QVC relaunch of the Chocolate line around 2010 that went mostly unnoticed, ad the Rich Chocolate palette of 2013 that had the same format. But other brands paid attention, and large eye shadow palettes have become increasingly popular. Lorac rebranded and rebuilt the brand around them, Anastasia Beverly Hills nearly made everyone forget that it started as an eyebrow-centric brand, Tarte has been pushing more palettes than anyone can ever use, and there are countless of others at Sephora,Ulta, and the drugstores, dazzling us with colors and patterns. There's something about full sets than many makeup enthusiasts find hard to resist. Just one more palette and my collection is complete, right?

I bought the brand new Bobbi Brown Chocolate eye palette (fall 2016? pre-holiday 2016? Whatever) because this time I was genuinely curious. Some Bobbi eye shadows from recent years were sub-par, but I've felt a shift lately, both in their offering and at the actual counters. I've also noticed that the new palette includes a powder eyeliner trio similar to last year's Intense Pigment Liner, and I wanted these particular colors. So, why not?

The four eye shadow colors in this palette are Ivory (basically, a finely milled translucent powder, even less pigmented than the classic Bone or Navajo). I can only employ it to set my primer and create the smoothest canvas. It does not conceal veins or hyper pigmentation. Then we have Woodrose, a crease color if there ever was one. It works for me, and can also be used to slightly deepen the lower lash line. However, I'm not sure what anyone darker than NC42 would see in it. Milk Chocolate is exactly what it says. It's probably not the first time Bobbi Brown uses this name or shade, and it's a good and effective one. All three color mentioned above are matte, cool-toned, and smooth, and a vast improvement over some Bobbi shadows I've come across in the last five years. The last eye shadow, Velvet Bronze, is in the metallic formula, which is more fine satin shimmer than full-on metal. It's that ray of light that we like in the center of our lids these days, warm toned (see:bronze) and blends well with the mattes. How fun and useful is that?

Then there's the eyeliner portion, and if you've red my last year review you know I'm a fan. It's a tight (no debris) formula, pigmented and pliable that doesn't require a damp brush to perform and stay put. The colors are very dark and sooty, so even the navy doesn't scream "blue". Cocoa Mauve is ore of an elephant color, and I adore it to pieces. Navy is a blackened, well, navy, and Black Chocolate is the darkest brown I have. I've attempted to show that you can get a very fine line out of them, depending on the brush you use. I prefer a very thin angled brush (I have a couple of ancient MAC ones). The eyeliners are of the same quality of last year's, and that's a very good thing.

Now let's also see if we find any similarities to my original Chocolate palette (made in Canada), just for the sake of research. The colors are completely different even if in the same ballpark. While the new palette offers smoother texture, I can't help but think that the 2006 version was more pigmented, even if slightly less luxurious. I don't know if I care, since the new formula is pretty close to that of Tom Ford quads (maybe the packaging is making me biased), and I might have to actually swatch it next to the modern classic Coco Mirage. That's not a bad thing, either.

Bottom Line: Good Bobbi is back. At least for now.

Bobbi Brown Chocolate Eye Palette ($60, made in the USA) is available at counters everywhere and online.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Day

Today I'm going to wear something pretty, a red lipstick, and go vote. I hope you do, too.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

NARS Velvet Lip Glide- Bound, Danceteria, 54, Toy

The recently released NARS Velvet Lip Glide range caused some confusion among lip color aficionados. People have been hoping for a while that NARS would join other brands and release a full-on matte liquid lipstick of the kind that holds on to lips for dear life, only in NARS's unique and uncompromising shades. There were rumors that the formula Velvet Lip Glide is going to be just that, the liquid lipstick to end them all.

It isn't, and that's mostly a good thing.

Two years ago, before the onslaught of liquid lipstick as we know them today (think of the brands that are heavily promoted on Instagram and YouTube) I might have called NARS Velvet Lip Glide a "liquid lipstick". It's a liquid lip color with an opaque pigmentation and no glossiness. As a matter of fact, this NARS formula reminds me f a Lorac liquid lipstick that existed about twelve years ago, Lip Intensity. It gave full coverage, high pigment intensity, and a creamy finish. It also got everywhere, especially on my teeth until I've learned how to apply correctly.

It's a similar story here. NARS Velvet Lip Glide feels absolutely wonderful on the lips. It's a very smooth and light product that hydrates reasonably well (without the plumping effect of hyaluronic acid formulas, for better and worse). It's as comfortable as these things get while providing an intense pigmentation and full coverage. The finish is labeled as "semi-matte", but I'd say it's more of a cream-to-satin, but that might be dependant on particular colors.

Now, here's the bad news: the robust doe foot applicator is completely wrong for the Lip Glide. It picks up too much product and lacks precision. The results could have been comic if it weren't my own face and reputation. No matter how many times I've wiped the tip of the applicator on the rim of its tube, I still had on twice the amount needed for my lips, and any excess landed immediately on my teeth, and kept crawling there even after the finger-in-mouth trick. It was exasperating.  The only solution I've found was to pick up the color from the applicator or from the tip of the tube itself with the smallest lip brush I could find (or a wide eyeliner brush, like the classic Bobbi Brown), but only after I make sure there isn't a gloop of product there to begin with. The amount of color you need to cover your lips is tiny, and the Velvet Lip Glide stretches to infinity.

Once the color is on, you still need to remember that this is NOT a liquid lipstick in the modern sense. It transfers onto tea cups, husbands, and cats, and needs to be fully reapplied after a meal, which might not be the most convenient thing considering ne should use a brush. My best advice is to anchor the Lip Glide with a matching lip liner first, and to wear it on regular days when you can take a quick break with your makeup bag, and not on a dinner date with a new prospect.

Now to the colors I was sent:

From left: Bound, Danceteria, 54, Toy

Bound is a classic nude rose, a "my lips but better" shade for any (it's half a tone lighter than my own natural lip color, which has its uses). I'm guessing that Bound is the most popular shade in this range because it's so easy to wear.
Danceteria sounds like the name of a disease (actually, the whole line is named after dance clubs from the 1970s), and is so bright and pink that I cannot wear it on its own (true pinks are hard for me). However, a touch of Danceteria mixed with any of the other colors makes them that much better, so in reality it has somehow became one of the most used.
54, named after the legendary studio, is a gorgeous red with a hint of a pink base. There are two other bold reds in the Velvet Lip Glide range, Mineshaft (a warm red) and Le Palace (blue based), so I'd say that everyone can find her or his poison here. There's also another red, Deviant , which is exclusive to narscosmetics.com and their freestanding boutiques, which might be more of an everyday red. Had the formula  been less finicky I would have bought it in a heartbeat.
Toy is a dark and vampy purple. I don't look good in it on its own, but mixed in equal parts (which means a pin drop of each) with Danceteria is my perfect plum, as you can see below:

Bottom Line: Use responsibly.

NARS Velvet Lip Glide ($26 each) is available from select department stores, Sephora, NARS boutiques and narscosmetics.com. The products for this review were sent by PR.