Sunday, March 18, 2012

I hate it when bloggers do this

So, yes, I took another hiatus. Several months worth of hiatus, actaully. Work, family life, and grad school (OMG, grad schoooooool!) ate up all of my free time and then I got lazy and fell out of the blogging habit. Whatever, I'm back!

Moving right along, let's talk about subscription services, AKA, my new kryptonite. I started out with Birchbox, then added MyGlam, and just barely signed up for Julep Maven. Yes, I'm aware that three beauty sample subscriptions every month is excessive, but what can I say, I like getting packages in the mail.

For anyone out there who doesn't know what Birchbox, MyGlam, and Julep Maven are, they're like crack for beauty junkies. In a nutshell, each sends you a box (or bag) full of samples from various beauty, nail, hair care, and skincare lines every month. Birchbox and MyGlam are $10/month each and pull samples from a wide variety of lines. Julep Maven is $20/month and deals exclusively in nail polish and nail care items. The extra $10 allows you a sneak peek at each month's box and the option to skip it if it doesn't float your boat, plus an option to switch your box to a different one if you'd prefer.

So, the good, bad, and ugly of each service as I've experienced it:


Birchbox is one of the older subscription services, and probably my favorite at the moment. You never know what you're going to get with Birchbox, and in the past I've scored some really amazing stuff (Beautyblender!) and some real crap (orange energy drink powder that went straight in the trash). Mostly the box breaks down into one item I love, 2-3 I'm intrigued by, and at least one I know right away won't be for me. This month's was a tube of product for curly hair, and my hair is straight.

Thankfully I have a friend with curls, otherwise it would already be halfway to the landfill.

The Good:
-I have yet to get a 100% dud box from Birchbox. Their samples are generally well chosen and I've purchased a number of full-sized ones from their shop.

-The shop! For every product you review out of your box each month you get 10 points. 100 points equals a $10 credit in the shop. It's not Sephora, but Birchbox's selection isn't bad at all, and they're always adding new items. I've scored $40 in credits already, which is 2/3 the cost of my subscription thus far.

The Bad:
-Too many samples! If I decide to unsubscribe from Birchbox it'll be because I simply can't keep up with the samples I already have. Especially when it comes to skincare I'm wary of new products because my skin is very, very sensitive, which means the samples tend to pile up in my
dedicated sample drawer. It's more my problem than theirs, but it is becoming an issue.

The Ugly:
Birchbox's shipping is terrible. Really terrible. Takes-three-weeks-and-is-rerouted-to-California (I live in Texas, and the boxes ship from New Jersey) terrible. People in the Midwest and on the East Coast always have their boxes at least a week before I get mine, which is just inexcuseable in my book. I understand why they skimp on shipping given that I'm only paying $10 and getting a lot in return, but it still bugs me.



MyGlam started out really well, with a launch bag offering Urban Decay and several other really nice high-end brands. It's been all downhill from there, and (fair notiice) I'm on the verge of unsubscribing because I'm so underwhelmed by what they're offering.

The Good:
-I've liked at least one thing in every bag so far, which is a plus. One month it was a really cool glitter nail polish, another month it was some chocolate samples on a day when I really needed a sweet pick-me-up. This month I also got a $25 credit towawrds a $50 purchase at Dermstore that's making me happy.
-The makeup bags each month's samples arrive in have also been uniformly decent, and several have been nice enough to give as gifts to friends. I prefer them to the Birchbox cardboard box (what else?) that just gets thrown away.
-I've also had really positive customer service experiences with them the couple of times I've contacted their team.

The Bad:
Aside from at least one solid product per bag, the rest of the samples have been really underwhelming. Plus, you'd expect a subscription service shilled by a makeup vlogger (Michelle Phan) would include mostly cosmetic samples, which has absolutely not been the case. Offhand I don't think I received a single makeup item in the March bag. This seems to be a common complaint because the MyGlam team has apparently announced that April's bag will have more cosmetics (which is the only reason I'm keeping my subscription after the March debacle--see next section). To which I say: we'll see.

The Ugly:
OMG, the March bag.

A few weeks before each bag is shipped, the MyGlam Facebook account posts teaser photos (sometimes blurred, sometimes a super closeup that makes it impossible to see brand names or details) of that month's bag contents. It's fun to try to figure out what you'll get, and I enjoy the teasers. This month they posted a close up of a pink pleather-looking thing with a caption along the lines of, "We think you'll be really excited about this item!" I was...skeptical. I got excited about a Beautyblender spounge from Birchbox (see upcoming review) and the Naked2 launch from Urban Decay. Pink pleather? Not likely to increase my heartrate anytime soon.

So the bags shipped. MyGlam has faster shipping than Birchbox (could have something to do with the fact that they're coming from California and I'm in West Texas) but I was out of town for Spring Break so I didn't get my bag until most people had already had theirs for several days. Thank goodness too, because I was prepared to face my bag when I finally got home and had time to open it.

See, the pink pleather thing was a makeup brush holder containing a pink-handled ponytail brush. It stank. A lot.

Now, there were two issues with this item from the beginning that should have ensured it never reached production phase, much less distribution to members.
-First was the issue of giving a very cheap, very flimsy eye brush to a group of consumers savvy enough about cosmetics to be interested in MyGlam in the first place. If 90% of MyGlam subscribers do not already have a comprehensive eye brush collection I will make a public apology and, I don't know, eat one of my own eye brushes, but I'm pretty comfortable with the probability of my made-up statistic. To wit: we are not a group to be impressed by a cheap brush.
-Second was the smell. MyGlam claims it was glue and that only a small number of bags/brushes were affected, but that's not what the comments from their Facebook page and various beauty blogs and forums suggest. My own bag and brush smelled so strongly of chemicals that they went straight into the trash. To wit: quality control needed to step in and stop production and/or shipment of these things before they damaged the brand's reputation.

This incident alone wouldn't have immediately prompted me to consider cancellation if it hadn't come directly on the heels of a fairly big dust-up over tubes for one product being re-labeled with a sticker for something completely different and shipped out with February's bag. The two products were made by the same parent company and the tube was for something that had been discontinued (and did appear to be filled with the product on the sticker label) but bad PR inevitably followed when MyGlam wasn't immediately forthcoming about the label issue.

All of which is to say that it's pretty clear that MyGlam's team isn't as consumer and customer service savvy as they'd like to believe. Like I said, if next month's bag isn't full of cosmetic samples that actually ipress me I'll be cancelling. Life is too short, and my sample drawer is too small to waste time, money, and space on stuff from an unreliable source.

Julep Maven:

I feel a bit disingenous including Julep Maven with Birchbox and MyGlam simply because I've only received one box from them so far. Still, I really love what I've received (two nail polishes and a hand scrub) and really, really love the fact that I can see what I'm getting ahead of time and opt out if I don't want it.

Julep is different from the other subscriptions in that they ship their own products only. No samples from other brands from what I can tell, just nail polish and related products from Julep's in-house line. I love nail polish, and I've been intrigued by Julep colors for awhile now, but the price point for each bottle ($14 for 0.27 oz) was steep. Twenty dollars for a box containing at least two bottles of polish seemed like a good deal, particularly when paired with a 1 cent first-time subscriber promotion. Sold!

So, the colors. I've only tried "Kelly" so far (a slightly shimmery cool-toned pearl white) but the formula seems solid if a bit runny. It doesn't chip easily, and is both attractive and worth roughly $10 if I split the cost of the box subscription between it and the other color I received, Emma. There was also a hand scrub, so call it $6.50/item and it's a very good deal.

When you sign up for Julep you also take a little "style quiz" which categorizes you into one of five boxes. On the 20th of each month you get an e-mail with the contents of the next month's box, and the option to switch for a different one, keep yours, or suspend your service for a month.


Choice. Birchbox and MyGlam offer variety, but no choice. Julep Maven offers little variety, but plenty of choices. Switching up the routine is nice, isn't it?

I'll do an actual good/bad/ugly review once I've gone through a few months of service, but I will say now that I am in love with Julep's shipping. I signed up last Wednesday, and my first box was at my door by Saturday. Hold me, Julep Maven, I'm yours!

In Summary:

I'm back, hopefully better than ever, and excited to keep writing about cosmetics I love! Hooray!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lips I'm Loving

Two things:  first, apologies for the recent blogging hiatus!  It was one of those unintentional no-I-don't-feel-like-writing-today-let's-see-what's-on-TV weeks.  Second: I am absolutely in love with two new-to-me lipsticks and need to explain why they are awesome and deserve a place on your "to purchase" list.

First is Bobbi Brown's Treatment Lip Shine in Moonlight Rose.  This is a moisturizing product (containing, among other things, cocoa and shea butter) that also delivers a beautiful my-lips-but-better effect.  It comes in a surprisingly small, thin tube, which I love since it's easy to slip into a pocket or small purse.


Initially I wasn't a huge fan of this lipstick.  There was a strange, faint smell after application I didn't care for, but I kept using it because the color was so, so gorgeous.  I later determined that the smell was probably from the shea butter (a scent I've never cared for) and after 10 or so uses it appears to have faded considerably.

So what made me a convert?  Well, the color helped.  Midnight Rose is a soft, dusky, rosy brown that perfectly compliments a neutral look.  I most often wear it with Tarte's Exposed blush and an eye from the Naked 1 palette.  Rather than being a boring neutral, though, Moonlight Rose has just a touch of shimmer, making it a more interesting and deeper shade than one would think on first glance.  It also does EXACTLY what it claims in the moisturizing department, and I absolutely love how soft and supple it makes my lips feel.  It does fade unevenly (not a huge problem since it's such a muted shade) after 3-4 hours of wear, which takes points away from its overall awesomeness, but the moisturizing effects last much longer than the color.


The second lipstick I'm loving is Buxom's Big and Healthy Lip Tarnish in Scandal.  This is one of my rare in-store Sephora purchases, and was a total impulse buy.  I was actually planning to get a Benefit lipstick that day, but since the spring line hadn't arrived yet, I started to peruse the Buxom display.  This gloss/stain/plumper pencil caught my eye, and a swatch of the lovely color on my hand compelled me to plunk down my $18.  It was a good decision.


Lip Tarnish is a sharpenable pencil (and includes a sharpener in the cap, which is a huge plus in my book since I never carry lone sharpeners in my travel makeup bag) that, like the Lip Shine above, does what it says it will.  It glides on fairly easily (there's not a lot of slip in the product, so expect a bit of tugging) and then stays there until the cows come home.  The "gloss" shine lasts at least 2-3 hours without feeling overly tacky.  Like all other Buxom lip products I've tried, this one plumps with a gentle tingling sensation that isn't uncomfortable in the way so many lip plumpers can be, and it leaves behind a very pleasant minty scent. As a color, Scandal is a warm mauve that pairs well with my pinkier blushes (Buxom's Hervanna in particular). 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bargain fragrance sets? Sign me up!

I don't typically feel comfortable writing about perfume because I have no idea how to describe a fragrance beyond whatever is printed on the packaging and "it smells pretty." I do love fragrance, though, and my favorite perfume purchase of the holiday season is easily the Sephora-exclusive Love Yourself sampler set from Tocca.


For $18 you get seven .05 oz spritzers of Tocca perfumes packaged in a very nice cardboard box that closes securely to prevent breakage if dropped. The scents included are: Cleopatra, Bianca, Stella, Florence, Brigette, Giulietta, and Colette. Unless you're bathing in the stuff, I'd guess each spritzer could be used for at least two weeks straight, which is more than enough time to try it out and decide if you'd like to indulge in a full-sized bottle ($68 at Sephora).

There's really a fragrance or five in this set for every preference, and I know my only challenge when they're gone is going to be deciding which bottle to purchase first. Bianca is my current favorite, though my preference seems to change based on which scent I'm wearing at the time.

This is a limited edition set, so if you've ever been tempted to give Tocca a try now is the time to do it!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The MAC Skunk Brush--My New BFF

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when C receives any amount of money as a gift she will inevitably wind up spending it on makeup. Ergo, when my mother-in-law sent me some cash for Christmas, my first instinct was to rush to the local Sephora (inside JC Penny, but beggars can't be choosers) to indulge myself.

As fate would have it, however, there wasn't a parking space to be seen in the vicinity of Penny's, so I had to park on the other side of the mall and enter through Dillard's. Now, we don't have many good department stores in my small city, but Dillard's has an excellent selection of makeup counters that are run by incredibly nice people. I refuse to go anywhere near the counters at Macy's unless I'm desperate because the sales associates know far less about their products than even I do (and I'm hardly an expert) but I've learned some really valuable things from my friends at Dillard's. So it is hardly a surprise that I...lingered there for awhile. Naturally, I found more than a few things to spend my Christmas money on (Chanel's spring collection is calling my name seductively) but the item I wound up purchasing came as a total and very welcome surprise.

I'd been looking for a good new foundation brush for awhile, and when I stopped by the MAC counter the associate suggested that I try the 227. It's their "large" skunk brush (the 228 is the "small") and at first glance didn't look like quite what I had imagined when I asked about applying liquid foundation. It works like a dream, though, and creates a beautiful glowing finish that is frankly astonishing. I swear it even makes my pores look noticeably smaller.

I actually like this brush so much that I bought a second one today to use on my finishing powder.  I'll report back soon on how well it works for me in that respect.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Word on Red Lipsticks

Taking my cue for Karen at The Makeup and Beauty Blog, I've been spending some time this week considering red lipsticks. Namely, why I don't own many of them. Now, it's not like I don't enjoy red--it's one of my favorite colors--or that I don't think I can pull off red lips--I know I can. Honestly, when I think of red lipstick I think of supreme confidence, and that's just not something I feel I have when it comes to my physical appearance.

This isn't to say that I don't like the way I look. I do. I'm never going to be show-stoppingly gorgeous, but I'm both old and wise enough to know that doesn't really matter. So where does this lack of red lipstick-level confidence come from? "Society" is too easy and flippant an answer, and it's also really not true.

I don't know that I have an answer to this question yet, but I'm going to keep pondering it. In the meantime, I'm going to make a point of buying and using more red lip colors--in this case, seeing may be believing.

NARS lipstick in Flamenco pictured.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tarte Smoldereyes Liners--An Amazing Deal, but Worth It?

I was thrilled when the Tarte Smoldereyes liner set came back into stock at Sephora; $39 for six liners than normally retail for $25 each. Now, I love me some Tarte, but that is an insane price for an eyeliner. The set works out to just over $6/pencil, though, which is a steal.

Left to right, the liners come in Golden Beige (champagne with shimmer), Moss (olive green with shimmer), Violet (purple sparkle), Espresso (medium brown with shimmer), Silver Black (black with glitter), and Smoke (metallic silver with shimmer). The kit also comes with a basic sharpener, which is a good thing because these babies are far thicker than any other eyeliner that I've ever seen. They're more the size of an eye pencil intended for use as a shadow than as a liner.  Each pencil also comes with its own smudging sponge, which works remarkably well to smoke out the colors.

First impressions:

Silver Black:

Silver Black was the first pencil I tried. I'd been warned about the huge chunks of glitter in it ahead I'd time, but was still surprised at how much glitter I saw when I started applying it. Most of it ended up tangled in my lashes, and proceeded to fall into my eyes for the next 30 minutes. Still, the color payoff was excellent, the formula was pleasantly soft and easy to work with, and it was fully opaque after one pass. Personally I don't really mind the glitter overall since I already have enough black liners that are work-appropriate and have been looking for a special occasion one, but if you're in the market for an everyday liner you should look elsewhere. 

Wear time in the upper lash line: 10+ hours
Wear time on the waterline: I am so not even going to try this given how much glitter this pencil has. Beauty is pain and all of that, but I'd need to be a masochist to put this that close to my eyeball.


Smoke was my second liner, and thankfully there was no glitter in this shade. It's a lovely medium metallic silver--very similar to Urban Decay's Gunmetal, but with more shimmer. Like Silver Black it's a soft, creamy pencil with excellent pigmentation. I almost think it's too soft as I kept having to comb little pieces of it out of my lashes as I applied it. You can even see in the top swatch that there's a small chunk of liner that came off onto my hand when I applied a line of color.

This one isn't dark enough to be worn alone on the upper lid, but looks nice when used over a line of darker liner. It smudges particularly nicely using the attached sponge.

Wear time on the upper lash line: 12+ hours
Wear time on the waterline: 4+ hours


I tried Espresso next, and like Smoke it felt very, very soft. A good liner needs to be soft to apply properly, but again, you shouldn't have to pick bits out of your lashes. I'll be honest, I wasn't thrilled with how Espresso applied or wore on the waterline. Pigmentation was far less impressive than Smoke in the same area, and wear time was much less. Application on the upper lash was unusually tricky with Espresso, as the pencil was so soft that I couldn't keep a point on it to save my life. I'll experiment a bit with this one (it's occurring g to me as I type to stick it in the fridge for a few hours before sharpening/applying again) but as of this writing I'm not a big fan.

Wear time on the upper lash line: 12+ hours
Wear time on the waterline: under 3 hours

Golden Beige:

Golden Beige was next on the docket, and much like Silver Black it is chock full of big flecks of glitter. Pigmentation-wise this is a very light champagne color, probably best worn as either a highlight shade or above a darker liner right at the lash line. The color is totally overwhelmed by glitter, though, and it was really hard to tell where I was seeing pigment versus glitter at times.  If it wasn't for the sparkle factor this would become my everyday highlight color, though, because it really is a lovely golden champagne color.

Wear time on the upper lash line: No idea. Try as I might, I could not get this to show up well enough on my pale skin to gauge wear time. I'm going to guess that it's the same as the others, in which case it's an all-day affair.
Wear time on the waterline: 3 hours


Moss applied beautifully, and like Smoke and Violet is shimmery without being glittery. The shimmer in all three shades is muted enough to be work appropriate (unless your workplace is extremely conservative). Like Golden Beige, Moss is light enough to need a bit of help from a darker shade on the upper lash line. It's a gorgeous golden green, and provides a not-insignificant amount of brightening, especially above the lashline.

Wear time on the upper lash line: 12+ hours
Wear time on the waterline: 3 hours


Violet is bright purple, and walks the line between the set's shimmery colors and its glittery ones.  It sparkles, but doesn't have the huge chunks of glitter that make Silver Black and Golden Beige problematic.  The color is intense, and I actually had to remove my first application and re-apply because it was too much for the look I'd already created.  The intense pigmentation also helped it last longer on the waterline than the others I tried, which was nice.  This pencil definitely had the softness issues that I discussed above, but wasn't quite as hard to work with as Espresso.

Wear time on the upper lash line: 12+ hours
Wear time on the waterline: 4 hours

Bottom line:  this set is absolutely worth the money IF you're looking for liners to create smokey looks rather than precision lines.  These pencils are too thick and too soft for detail work, though one could probably deduce as much from the "smolder"part of the product name.

The single best thing about the Smoldereyes liners is their longevity.  Wear time for every one was incredible--I wore each for at least 12 hours before removing it, and still had to scrub a bit to get the last vestiges of liner off after removing the rest of my makeup.  They have far more staying power than Urban Decay's 24/7 liners, though you do have to trade off precision for longevity when you go with Tarte.  Given my penchant for 14+ hour days, this is a set I will definitely use until the last stub of pencil is gone.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bobbi Brown's 20th Anniversary Palette--Twee is Putting it Lightly

I had been warned that the Bobbi Brown lip palette was disappointingly tiny, so I wasn't shocked when this box:

turned into this box;

before finally revealing the palette itself:

That said, WOW, it is tiny. Each pan is roughly the size of a pencil eraser, and the brush that comes with the palette is toothpick-sized. It's like an American Girl Doll accessory or something.

That said, as a sampler pack this isn't bad at all. I really like Bobbi Brown lipsticks, and a set like this is an opportunity to try a crapton of them. For $60 I'd have preferred more product, but since it was a gift I'm willing to overlook the gross pricing issues and focus on the lip colors themselves.

You'll forgive me if I don't swatch everything--I'm guessing there's fewer than 10 wears for each pan based on the amount of product in them.

The top pan is composed of mostly brown-based reds, pinks, and neutrals from Bobbi Brown's original launch line. The bottom pan contains a much brighter and bolder selection of links and corals that are current or new shades. A mirror separates the two pans when the palette is snapped shut.

So far I'm a fan of the colors in the palette with the caveat that it is an absolute ripoff given how tiny it is. I know a lot of fans and customers have been giving this set incredibly bad feedback based on size alone, and they're not wrong. We're used to getting a lot more bang for our buck when we buy a palette than Bobbi has offered here.