So Long and Thanks for all the Clicks

Although my posting schedule has been inconsistent for over a year, I haven't officially announced the end of Faceonomics as we know it until today. I've found my interest in beauty waning over the past two years or so, and with it my enthusiasm to discuss the subject in online spaces. Most of my readers first met me when I was a(n over-)active Reddit user, going by username lgbtqbbq, enjoyed  my briefly prolific perfume review blog of the same name, and followed me to my faceonomics Instagram and blog pages, where I find myself today.

Reddit was, and remains today, an excellent forum to explore and learn more about makeup, skincare, and the beauty world in general, but in using it I became trapped in a loop of my own making. I'm a chronic people-pleaser, and I took some kind of pride in the identity I forged there as a diligent question-responder, concept-explainer, and newbie-herder. I did these things to pay back the favor for users who did the same when I was learning the ropes, and I also did it because it conferred some privileges and attention from fellow Reddit users. I became fairly dependent on the validation of other users, who would praise my attentiveness and willingness to respond to even the dumbest or meanest posts. At the time, I was going through a difficult period of my personal life, and I didn't have emotional energy to fix my real life. So Reddit became an arena where I could give and get the things I was lacking offline. If you met me during that time, I wasn't a fake version of myself, but I was definitely an unevolved, tired, and unfulfilled individual.

At the same time, I generated a lot of original content on Reddit, not just replies to people's requests for help, and I wanted to feel more of a sense of ownership over that content. Reddit's anonymous and crowded interface, though my profile was attached to my real name and image, swallowed up the writing and photos I spent many hours on. And I wanted a separate space to feel proud of and call my own. This is what prompted my partial move to Instagram and a blog, which I completed almost a year ago, as the issues I had with Reddit multiplied. I quit that platform entirely when I realized that my former identity as a people-pleaser had stuck, and I was getting dozens of private messages a week from complete strangers begging for extensive time and attention to fix their issues. I also found that as readership in my favorite subs grew, the communities pandered increasingly to the lowest common denominators in any niche hobby: purchasing and complaining. 

I'm entering a period in my life where I want to have an expansive, inquisitive perspective. Beauty as a hobby encourages, or enables, a small world perspective that stunts and limits my curiosity. It's not just the rampant consumerism, or getting tired of Instagram trends. I simply have zero interest in talking beauty, whether product, technique, or artistry, at the moment. Two of my favorite beauty blogs: Bad Outfit Great Lipstick and Auxiliary Beauty have recently shuttered and referred to their beauty hobbies enabling a certain laziness in their creativity. I feel the same way. What was once a necessary outlet for things I couldn't otherwise process has become a weight around my neck, distracting me from fulfilling pursuits and exciting new challenges. I'll be focusing on writing for myself in the next year. I may publish some of it here, or you may see it somewhere else, who knows! I won't be publishing new content on this blog. I will close the comments and leave up all the existing posts.

Faceonomics will continue on Instagram, though I now consider it entirely a personal account, and I don't intend to post any beauty junk, besides extemporaneous musings. Keep up with me there for food, cats, writing, and silly memes. Thank you so much for your readership and Internet friendship over the years!


Skincare Experts: Trust and Critical Thinking

The skincare hobbyist world is not what it was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. In the last few years, skincare as a hobby has exploded, and that explosion owes a lot to social media, the blogosphere, and forums like Reddit. Using these online tools, amateurs and experts alike can share knowledge and experiences with respect to skincare.

This has been a net-good for skincare hobbies, in my opinion. There are more products reviews for curious consumers, and more discussion and scientific analyses for wannabe skincare scholars. 15 years ago if you picked up a skincare item at the store, you would only have the opinion of a pushy salesperson to convince you to get it/not get it. Now you can google the product name and find dozens if not hundreds of detailed reviews and accounts of this product's efficacy.

There are hundreds of small-time bloggers, but there are also some prominent, next-level Skincare Gurus who, by virtue of their experience or their large following, enjoy a prominent expert status. In some cases, it's well-deserved and in others it's misplaced, but this post isn't about dissecting who is great and who sucks. Instead, I'm going to outline some best practices for judging opinions/reviews and placing them all in context in your index of skincare knowledge.

So you don't think I'm dissing general categories of people, I'll name some sources I personally pay attention to, and whose advice I find helpful, once taking into account the specific challenges I'll outline below. When writing this post, I particularly thought of Caroline Hirons (former esthetician and longtime consultant for beauty brands), Paula Begoun (former beauty journalist and current skincare brand owner), Sam Bunting (cosmetic dermatologist, TV personality), Jude Chao (blogger and experienced skincare hobbyist), Stephen Ko (cosmetic chemist), and Lisa Eldridge (makeup artist and expert, skincare enthusiast). And of course I'm including my fellow amateur skincare lovers on the Instagram and Reddit communities. I want to put those examples in your brain at the outset of this, because my criticisms and comments extend to all categories of skincare nerds.


I love that I don't even have to leave my couch to read or hear the opinions of estheticians, doctors, and cosmetic chemists alike. The Internet allows people with a variety of industry backgrounds to chime in on a number of subjects. What would have taken hours and thousands of dollars for consultations/discussions is now available online from a variety of sources.There are also hundreds of genuinely well-meaning and cautious amateurs with no industry training who dispense genuinely good advice in a few corners of the Internet.

I think that only good things can come from exposure to such a vast sample of viewpoints and backgrounds. I don't prioritize one background over another. To me, an esthetician who worked for 30 years with a variety of clients likely has reliable and useful knowledge that you can't get from a dermatologist. And a brand owner's opinion should always be taken with a grain of salt, but someone who designs and sells skincare absolutely has information and suggestions that can assist you in your skincare explorations.

It only makes sense to balance your roster of skincare gurus. If you mainly follow amateur hobbyists on Instagram, try adding a few dermatologists or high-profile estheticians to your list. You will find the more opinions and recommendations you are exposed to, the more well-developed your perspective on skincare will be. Just because you saw a dermatologist and she fixed your major skin problems with a few recommendations, it doesn't mean that you won't learn useful things from other professionals (or laymen.)

The biases and knowledge specialties will vary depending on industry and background. A facialist likely has a different viewpoint or orientation toward acid peels compared to an amateur, and a dermatologist probably has strong feelings about retinoids that a brand owner for a company that produces mainly antioxidant-based skincare will not agree with. Personally, I love to listen to everyone, because there are kernels of truth and a good philosophy to be found in every category.

Among amateurs, the product and ingredient biases tend to be more split based on skin type. Because most of their knowledge comes from pure personal experience with their own faces, amateurs/non-professionals (like me!) will have recommendations based on what works for them. And that can be a good thing if you share skin frustrations, but it's always good to read opinions from people who have worked with a variety of skin types and issues. This is analogous to the difference in a YouTube Makeup Guru and a real world Makeup Artist. The former is amazing at taking care of her own face, she knows the ins and outs of exactly what colors to use and where to put them. But she would likely have no clue what to do if plonked down in front of 10 models and told to make them up. The type of knowledge gained from experience with other people's faces is not better in all cases, but it is different and necessary. I truly don't prioritize one over the other. What you hear from a facialist who has worked with dry to oily skin, 15 year olds and 70 year olds, will not necessarily be as helpful in some cases compared to what you get from one very articulate amateur who is the same age and skin type as you. In some cases you will get a lot out of the amateur's advice, because she will have tried all the options suited to your skintype, and will have some relatable insights for your exact skin. By listening to laymen and to professionals, you will gain more breadth and depth of knowledge than just sticking to one category.

I will say if you are a true skincare beginner, it is better to follow a regimen or philosophy based around an "expert." It's too difficult to know, as a newbie, who you are listening to. I've seen very earnest, serious-sounding routines given from one amateur to another, and neither was aware that it was horribly destructive and counterproductive (think: Clean & Clear scrub followed by a rubbing alcohol wipe, use aloe vera if feeling dry.) If you're brand-new to skincare, there are smart amateurs out there, but you won't be able to pick them out as easily. Stick to the basic posts and simple advice from experts where possible.

Time Spent in Industry/Hobby

A minor corollary to the above point is to consider the guru's time spent engaged in the line of work or hobby. This is not a direct measure of quality, but it does help you weed out some people who may not know what they are talking about. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, because there are people who spend dozens of years in an industry and they are not holistically well-informed or good at communicating that opinion. But in general, make sure to heed the advice of seasoned, competent, and cautious advisers over the advice you get from a super-excitable and confident newbie.

There's that old adage about the man who knows he knows nothing being wise. May sound a bit trite, but it's true. Listen to people who tend to tack on "your mileage may vary" or "proceed cautiously" when dispensing their own advice. They are aware that everyone has individual reactions and skin issues, and they do not want you to be disappointed or emotional when things inevitably go off-script. Someone who confidently assures you that you'll definitely love my routine, it's so easy, all I use is lemon juice Nivea scrub SPF 15! is probably not thinking about different skin types and variance in product tastes.

Free Products

While this is a touchy subject in general, I believe conflicts of interest for beauty gurus/influencers cannot be ignored, and so I do take it into account when a skincare guru receives free products, either as gifts or in exchange for reviews. Read the link above for a more detailed breakdown of my thoughts on the subject of conflicts of interest in the social media marketing age.

Even the most honest, trustworthy, and virtuous gurus will be influenced in some way when they receive free product. If a guru receives thousands of dollars worth of product every year, for free, their recommendations and daily routine will be skewed because of that. Even if they remain outspokenly conscientious of budget-friendliness, if you look at the products they use on a daily basis, they will likely prefer/use more expensive ones. And that makes sense. When dealing with a pool of products which are all formulated well and effectively, it's pretty easy to choose the one with sexier packaging, a nicer scent, and a slightly more luxurious texture.

The results of the Heritage Rosewater Mist ($8) and the Omorovicza Queen of Hungary Mist ($90) are likely comparable, as the main constituents of both are glycerin and water, but if I was given the latter for free, you bet your ass I'd be spritzing it and showing off the lovely frosted-glass bottle as much as possible. And it wouldn't be fake enthusiasm. I would genuinely be excited to receive such a lovely and luxurious item, and I would 100% enjoy it.

The question is- for these gurus who receive those types of products on the daily- how do we, as followers, figure out what products are in the "beautiful but would never buy if I was a pleb" category, and which are worth the expense? That's not a question I have a concrete answer to. I think if skincare is a hobby and not purely a perfunctory grooming task, it inevitably involves some element of luxury. You can choose a $90 mist and not be "wrong," but you have to always prioritize your own budget and look at a spectrum of reviews for luxury products. Do not buy a product that is raved about by your Favorite Skincare Guru Ever without checking for reviews from people who purchased it themselves. Wait and see if your Favorite Guru repurchases or continues to use it after a few months- that will show you a bit more information than just a preliminary rave.

Preferences/Strong Opinions

Something which definitely concerns me about the culture of worshiping skincare gurus is that there are people who take every word from a single person's mouth as gospel. Following one smart expert might not lead you astray, but what if you follow 20 "trusted" sources? What happens when Paula of Paula's Choice loves mineral oil and Caroline Hirons hates it? Where do you fall on the issue, and does it have to do with your own preferences, or just which woman you trust more/discovered earlier in your journey?

For me this is an issue everyone has to hash out for themselves, and it really will influence the way you consume skincare media and advice. There are certain truths in the field of skincare science, but the vast majority of "rules" are guidelines. You can cherry-pick evidence to support both sides of a black and white issue. It doesn't mean either person is wrong, nor does it mean both people are 100% right. The perspective of the person making a claim matters a great deal, and it's your job as a media consumer to account for their perspective, even if the guru believes him/herself to be making an irrefutable claim.

Again with the example of Caroline Hirons/Paula Begoun on the issue of mineral oil- I have seen nasty remarks directed at both women, as if either is being willfully deceitful and spreading bad information. These two women are actually friends, and agree on a great deal of skincare "truths." They simply have a different perspective on the issue. For one, I've seen the Hirons say that mineral oil is a lazy ingredient in expensive skincare as the MSRP would allow for more expensive ingredients and better "value" to the consumer. But of course, there is value in simple, non-irritating skincare that prevents water loss (which mineral oil does.) I've also seen her claim that mineral oil is "junk" for the skin, which is a bit more of an extreme position, and I do believe this comes from her desire for the average person to get good bang for the buck when purchasing skincare. Paula Begoun believes, as many others do, that the evidence points to mineral oil being a good thing in most cases, and that shying away from the ingredient can be detrimental for your overall routine.

In this instance, you could find a perfectly good regimen for your skin listening to only one of those women, even though they are diametrically opposed on this issue. But if you close your ears to other experts, and only listen to one as your Own Personal Skincare Jesus, you are missing out on the beauty in the noise. There is such a wide-ranging diversity of opinions in the skincare world- and if you are grounded in science and you don't make an impulse purchase based on one beautiful review, you are not going to come to much harm just listening to what others have to say.

I would say I'm less on the hippie-dippie side of things. Probably growing up around Berkeley engendered in me suspicions toward anything that smacks of ignorant do-gooders. But I still like to read interviews with brands that follow a green/hippie philosophy. There's good knowledge and wisdom there, even if it doesn't apply to me personally at that time. I can better recommend mineral oil-free alternatives to someone who refuses to use it (even though I love it) if I read a moisturizer round-up from a mineral oil-hating blogger. I'm not vegan, but I have friends who are who ask for vegan recommendations. You can decide what to believe, in all cases, but you can never go wrong hearing more opinions.


After dunking on hippies, I'll venture to the other end of extremes and mention that, especially in the last 5 years, there's been a lot of science-washing in the skincare hobby world. After decades of hiding cosmetic formulary behind a veil of glamour and "ah, you wouldn't understand it" brand esotericism, finally consumers have better access to information about ingredients and formulas. But this exposure to more information does not necessarily create a better understanding or deeper knowledge for the average person. In fact, there are some people who, because of their own lack of scientific background, pick and choose the "sciencey" experts who deliver information in the cutest blurb/post and blindly parrot the information without thinking critically about the subject.

Did I just tell you to listen to experts when in doubt, but also don't listen too hard to experts? I contain multitudes, yada yada. Although many of the more science-minded Internet skincare personalities like Stephen Ko or Lab Muffin are intelligent and well-reasoned, it doesn't mean that you can read their posts and regurgitate the information in order to understand skincare better. One of the most hazardous trends I've noticed is the frantic perusal of INCI lists (ingredient lists) and the dogged insistence that if you recognize ingredients and their position in those lists, you can predict how a skincare product will behave. Blogs like Chemist Confessions have certainly contributed to this issue, though I think we humans will always find a way to take a nuanced issue and make it black and white, thereby nullifying the value in the endeavor.

You can read an ingredients list and scoff at the low position of a botanical extract in the INCI list, because, armed with your cursory reading of someone else's summary of the necessary percentage of astragalus extract for anti-inflammatory activity, you know that that extract is in there for looks, not for utility. But that would be a gross misunderstanding of how skincare ingredients are produced (there is no industry-standard rule for concentrations of botanical extracts) and also the way the formulation process works. The main reason I hated The Ordinary skincare line when it launched was that it followed that reverse-reasoning of a skincare mob: X% of Y ingredient is GOOD so our formula contains ONLY X% of Y ingredient and no other USELESS garbage. I have noticed a lot of self-appointed INCI detectives hyperfocus on the active ingredients and dismiss the unsexy things like solvents, emollients, emulsifiers, and basic humectants with a wave of their hand. In reality, the majority of a user's experience with a skincare product, as well as its efficacy (how well it absorbs, how effectively it penetrates, how well it layers with the user's makeup and other skincare) is dependent on these unsexy "fillers." The best skincare is the skincare you'll continue to use. The best skincare is the skincare that, day in and day out, makes a noticeable improvement in the quality and feel of your skin. There's an annoyingly vast gray area to individual skin preferences, but it comprises the majority of the skincare experience. 

When I've been asked how I "know" a skincare product is working, my answer is usually that I don't ever know, for sure. I have been known to use a "Holy Grail" product for a year, then take it out of my routine just to check and make sure it's doing something. Sometimes I'll add it back, and sometimes I'll leave it out. Because neither our bodies nor our environments have static compositions, sometimes what our skin "liked" last October doesn't carry over to what it likes this May...or this coming October. Hormonal changes, ways of eating, stress, age, weather, location, and many more factors are lumped into this mystery question of "what does my skin like?" And no cosmetic chemist can write a single post helping you answer that question. It's up to you to experiment and be patient with building a routine that works in reality, not in theory

Concluding Thoughts

This is a complex situation that can't be reduced to "X guru good Y guru bad, thanks for coming to my TedTalk." I think that the industry and hobbyist communities are filled with both the well-meaning and the treacherous, the informed and the ignorant. Most people have a blend of all of these qualities. Every single one of us has blind spots and prejudices, and as a consumer it is your responsibility to take information from a wide variety of sources to balance out and eliminate those blind spots as much as possible. As always, my recommendation is to build a skincare routine slowly, one product at a time, while observing how your skin reacts to individual items. Feel free to hold all the advice of skincare experts and hobbyists in your mind at the same time, but remember that your experience will be a large factor in deciding what stays on your shelf and what gets tossed in the trash. Remember that it's all too easy to misinterpret or extrapolate wild conclusions from nuggets of truth, and most skincare rules are more like maybe-sometimes guidelines.


Avoiding Cheap Impulse Buys

Many beauty addicts got their start in the drugstore. My own interest in beauty was first piqued while tagging along with my mom to the pharmacy as a middle-schooler. I fell in love with the transformative promises of skincare, haircare, and makeup, and the drugstore is where I sadly picked up some of my less responsible spending habits.

I decided to completely forgo drugstore makeup in 2018 (and I managed to keep that resolution!) however that doesn't preclude me from being tempted by cheap stuff- whether online makeup brands, drugstore skincare, or deeply discounted higher-end products.

On the face of it, accumulating lots of cheap items doesn't present as problematic as splurging on expensive ones. However, if you're like me, you can justify an expensive haul made up of cheap items, simply because the volume of items acquired seems so impressive.

I can sensibly talk myself out of a single $45 purchase at Sephora, and turn around and spend $60 at Target because my "haul" is multiple products. In theory, getting more bang for your buck sounds great- but in most cases, the bang you get isn't all that amazing. My return/discard rate for drugstore purchases is much higher than the rate for high end purchases.

Pretend the potential purchase is the same price as comparable items in your collection. I've been guilty of buying a $6 highlighter when I own multiple $30 highlighters. And why? I guess to satisfy this itchy feeling that buying a cheap highlighter would be like getting away with murder. But the fact is- if I wasn't willing to invest similar amounts of money in a drugstore item as the expensive version, and I already own an expensive version, the low price tag shouldn't be tempting at all.

Keep a piggy bank. For larger purchases, you might not want to take hundreds of bucks out of your bank account and stash them around the house. But for cheap stuff, go ahead and force yourself to go to the bank, withdraw $20, put it in a piggy bank, and see if you really want to go take that money and spend it at CVS. Many people struggle with money not being tactile and palpable, and by sidestepping the seductive credit card convenience, you will reinforce to yourself that you are spending real dollars that could be spent on better things.

Consolidate drugstore visits. As much as possible, don't make multiple trips to the drugstore in a week. If you need to pick up a prescription, and you're not quite out of toothpaste yet, buy it when you're getting your meds, otherwise you're more likely to come in next week and be tempted by makeup all over again. When I go to the drugstore and only buy one necessity, I have this maddening urge to make the trip "worth it" by buying more stuff. I'm way less likely to browse lipsticks if I have my hands full of backup floss, a case of seltzer, and a new bottle of toilet cleaner.

Make a few ground rules. Maybe you need to avoid the drugstore altogether. Maybe you don't allow yourself to peruse a few tempting brands that constantly disappoint. Or maybe you have to restrict yourself to domestic drugstore makeup only- no eBay orders or international swaps for you! Just like a diet, there are many ways to approach overindulgence. There's no one size fits all solution, but you absolutely do need to give yourself some restrictions. Write a list, and post it somewhere you can see it. If you just have the rules floating in your head, it's easier to bend and break them.

Keep all your receipts. I know, it's a pain in the ass to keep the 5 foot long CVS receipts, but you have to do it. I'm personally more likely to return a $40 foundation to Sephora if I hate it, but I easily let 5 bottles of $8-$12 foundation from the drugstore pile up until I get sick of looking at them, then throw them away. I waste more money and storage space on drugstore makeup I'm too lazy to return, because the price per item is lower. Because most drugstores don't have a sophisticated beauty rewards program, unlike Sephora or Ulta you will always need to bring your receipt along. But at least in the USA you can absolutely return used makeup if you hate it, and you should take full advantage of the return policies in place without any guilt. I keep a cardboard box next to my vanity, and every time I make a new beauty purchase, I throw in the receipt or packing slip, along with the outer packaging if there is any. That way there's no hunting for scraps of paper when I find I need to return an item.


Free or Cheap Ways to Fix Winter Skin

I love the transition from hot weather to cold, but my skin decidedly does not. Whether I'm living in frigid Scotland or temperate California, my skin protests the changing seasons  by erupting in acne (often caused by dehydration) and exacerbated by indoor heating and dryness.

As long as I can remember, every winter that I've been aware of my own skim, I've gone into a moisturizer-buying frenzy when the temperatures dip. Black Friday and holiday sales/new releases only encourage that bad habit. I'm never more gripped by unsubstantiated and overblown marketing messaging than I am when my face is flaking off.

I've noticed a lot of my followers and mutuals on Instagram falling over themselves to bolster their routines with winter's arrival, and they often do so by splurging on new supposedly heavier-duty creams, high-tech treatments, and plsuh-sounding masks. But I've found, for the most part, that's not the most economical or efficient way to save your face. Here are the things that make the most difference for me, in the shortest amount of time, with the least financial outlay:

Get a humidifier 

Shit, get two humidifiers. Put one on your desk at work, and put one on your nightstand for when you sleep. My face starts cracking around my jawline like clockwork the 3rd week of October (coincides with my birthday, thanks for the gift, Universe, you REALLY shouldn't have) and usually I'm too lazy to set up the humidifier until a few weeks later. But when I do set it up, I'm always astounded at the difference I feel in my skin. It's not instantaneous, but within 3 days, I notice increased comfort throughout the day, better makeup weartime, and less irritation and sensitivity when using acids or masks. I live in California- we do not have harsh weather. But most people crank up the heat in their cars, offices, and homes when the temperature starts to drop below their comfort zone (in California, that's under 68 degrees) and indoor heating wrecks even the most resilient of moisture barriers. Don't cry about humidifiers being expensive when I saw your Instagram stories justifying your desperate Drunk Elephant moisturizer purchases! A $60 humidifier will last multiple winters and pay for itself.

Ointment up, girl 

Vaseline, Aquaphor, Cerave Healing Ointment, Biafine...there are so many options out there, and they all cost peanuts. During summer you might have the luxury of falling asleep with a whisper of gel-cream, or a light layer of hydrating toner on your face, but in the winter you need a heavy duty arsenal. I use my ointments as sleeping mask, spot "treatments" for dry spots even under makeup, and most importantly, I use them to bolster the strength of my existing every day face creams. By mixing a blob of Cerave Cream (nowhere near potent enough to carry my face through a winter's night) with a blob of Aquaphor, I can make my wimpy day moisturizer into a powerhouse night mask, without shelling out for three "sexy" new night creams that end up disappointing me or breaking me out. If you're not hardcore and you don't enjoy having a literal full face of Vaseline when you fall asleep, you're wrong, but you can do my sleeping mask trick as a final step.

Oil is your friend 

Seriously, if you're not already a facial oil convert, you're missing out. It's [current year] and you have no excuse. There's some debate as to whether facial oils work better when applied BEFORE creams or after. Especially during winter, I say porque no los dos, and I oil-sandwich my night cream and let it all soak in while I slumber. The trick with facial oils is to apply them to not-fully-dry skin (usually I'll press on a layer of toner or gel essence, wait for it to soak in 50-75%, then go in with my oil) and also to press into the skin sparingly. You can always go back and add a few drops, but my skin prefers less oil, layered, rather than a whole puddle of oil slapped on at once. Although my skin loves many lightweight oils like jojoba, green tea seed, and hemp oil in the summer, in the winter I focus on heavier oils like mineral, lanolin, and pomegranate oil. Pure oils are remarkably cheap, even "precious" ones like pomegranate oil. Once I've determined what my skin likes by buying small samples from Garden of Wisdom, I search for bulk suppliers to get the best $/oz. I buy $28 for a pound of pomegranate seed oil. Trust me when I say the investment in oils is worth it, and minimal when compared to purchasing ready made products. My favorite trick is to mix a bottle of 50/50 light and heavy oil (my current go-to combo is green tea seed + lanolin oil) and keep a bottle on my bathroom counter to mix into my routine anywhere I want. It's cheaper than store-bought oils, so you can be really generous and frequent with application. The thing I love most about pure oils is how versatile they are in my routine. I've mixed a few drops of facial oil with my toner as a first step when my skin was raw and dehydrated, but I needed my face to be less greasy for makeup prep. You can apply oil at any point in your routine, mixed or unmixed, and it will do something slightly different. Experiment with "timing" and ratios of oil:other skincare and you'll be amazed at how cheaply you can stretch your routine.

Use less, not more, skincare 

With this I'm specifically side-eyeing your (I'm sure) highly reasonable stack of acids, exfoliators, masks, and treatments. During the winter, your skin will tolerate less. That's just the truth. You're sick more often, you're exposed to harsh outdoor weather and indoor climate control, you're probably eating like crap and sleeping odd hours due to your circadian rhythms getting dicked by the lack of sunlight...give yourself a break. Give your skin a break. This doesn't mean you can't treat acne or aging concerns for half the year, but if your skin is rebelling, and you are throwing more products at it to make it behave, take a beat and think about removing  a few steps before you add more. I specifically back way off of BHA usage in the winter- most weeks using it only once instead of 3-4 times like my summer schedule. I also completely swear off all clay masks from October to March, even though I adore them. I tend to avoid all physical exfoliation in the winter. I lean heavily on diluted tea tree oil and azelaic acid as those are the two least-drying but still-effective acne-fighters in my routine. Even glycolic acid, which my normally hardy skin loves, needs to be used with caution because it can cause tightness and itchiness on skin sensitized by winter. The best part about this tip (toots own horn discreetly) is you're encouraged to spend less not more. You do not need to buy One Magical Thing, Darling to fix your face. You need to listen to your own needs and be patient, even if that's less sexy and satisfying than blowing your skincare budget on 5 new cool-sounding moisturizers.

Turn the thermostat down 

Hi Hungry, I'm Dad! Seriously, this may not be an option depending on where you live or who you share a living space with...but if you can at all avoid running the heat, do it. Not only will it save you money, it will also save your poor dehydrated skin. I run hot, I'll admit, but I bundle up in cozy pajamas and wool socks when I'm bumming around the house in wintertime. I never turn the heat on unless I have an overnight guest who runs cold, and because of where I live, that works for me. Of course this is not a cold turkey directive- if you live somewhere with a more punishing climate, you may need to run the heat. But think about reducing your usage whenever possible. Bundle up more, put an extra quilt on the bed, even use a heating pad or blanket in place of running the forced-air heater. Your skin will thank you.

Wash your hands way more

And keep an extra tube of your favorite cheap face cream as a hand cream. I will admit I tend to wash my hands less in the winter even though I touch my face more. Either from feeling cold, or being annoyed at extra breakouts or dryness, my hands definitely wander to my chin and cheeks more than they should. And clean hands will mitigate the damage to some degree. In addition, washing hands a crapton is the best way to avoid catching cold. Personally, I get sick every single time there's "something going around," but the winter that my mom did chemo, I was so terrified of infecting her with a bug that I washed my hands upwards of 10 times a day. And I didn't get sick that whole year.
I avoid washing my hands in winter for a few reasons- one is that the sensation of cold water is obviously bothersome. Solution: run the hot water if you can. Just do it. The other reason I avoid it is because my already-dry hands feel drier the more I wash. I solve this by keeping a tube of cheapo face cream by my keyboard. This way if I touch my face I don't leave greasy, breakout-inducing hand cream swatches everywhere. Face cream is sufficient for daytime hand dryness and won't provoke more breakouts if I do touch my face.

Wash your clothing and bedding more frequently 

In the summer, I tend to wear low necklines and use next to no bedding. In the winter, I'm bundled up in scarves, turtlenecks, and you better believe I have my duvet pulled up around my face when I fall asleep. All of these cozy, cuddly items gather dirt and grossness and should be treated as breakout hazards. So be sure to switch out your sweaters, coats, and bedding whenever possible, and spot clean if you can't run them through the machine.

Break up with "always never" rules 

Maybe you think your skin tolerates alcohol all the time- I've been known to insist that. Maybe you know for a fact that you can't use heavy sleeping packs. Changes beget more change. Changes in temperature and habits during winter might affect your skin in unknown ways. Don't be scared to experiment and push the limits a little with how heavy your routine is at night, how much and what products you use, etc. Your skin in summer is not the same as your skin in winter and I know it's scary to play by different rules, but it's better to face facts than to insist your alternate reality is the truth.

Be kind to yourself

I'm a filthy capitalist shill, not a corporate shill. Companies love to lump your bothersome winter problems into a cutesy self-care package that conveniently stuffs into a stocking for the holidays. The truth is, you have more important things to spend your cash on than 5 new moisturizers. Some common sense and holistic self-care (holistic here meaning with regard to your whole person and routine, not just skincare) will do more for your wellness this winter than an advent calendar of travel-sized hydrating lies.


How to Apply Eyeshadow to the Lower Lashline

Defining my lower lashline is a technique I struggled with for a long time. From what I've been hearing- many of you share in that struggle. Because it was such a hard concept for me to understand, I think I developed a pretty good set of guidelines/common mistakes in my own journey. People do not enough, not too much

Build a Strong Foundation

The first step is one that so many people skip- and in my opinion it really shows. You must prime and set your primer well. And I do mean well- most people neglect primer or perfunctorily pat on a tiny amount. Generously prime and set thoroughly with a full layer of translucent powder or skintone shadow. If you don't apply primer, the soft and crepey/lined skin under your lashline will have a snowball's chance in hell of "grabbing" onto shadow and holding it in place. When people tell me they look sick or dead with lower lashline shadow, they usually are not taking the time to complete this step.

I use maybe 25% less primer than I use on the top lid, to cover the lower lashline, but it's by no means a tiny amount. I like to dot it all along the lower lashline with a Q tip and use my pinky finger to blend out. Primer should cover the area where eyeshadow will go and then some so don't be afraid to bring it down further than you think. If you powder your undereyes/foundation/concealer, prime before your powder step. I find applying eye primer on top of powder can lead to clumping.

Setting your eye primer is also a non negotiable step- eye primer itself can range from ultra creamy to a stiff waxy consistency, but if you go directly on "damp" primer with colored powder, you're going to have a streaky bad time. Setting with either translucent face powder or with a skintone-color shadow will not hinder the grippiness of your base, but it will allow for a smooth blending surface for any colors you apply on top.

Use transition shades

Imagine this, but shaped like the bottom of an eye not a perfect semicircle

Are transition shades "high maintenance?" Sure, but a lot of makeup techniques are high maintenance. The trick to good makeup is to make the end result appear effortless, but this requires far more work than meets the eye.

Transition shades are essential if, like me, you do not have a very 3D eye shape. Whether your eyes are very round, hooded, or flat, you might find yourself craving extra dimension and dynamism. Transition shades can help you with that by carving out more bone structure to make your eye makeup look defined, intentional, and interesting. Tangentially, when you are reading the makeup routines of models and celebrities remember that they have been selected as the top 1% of genetically gifted naturally beautiful and interesting looking people. What they can do with one color on their exceptionally sculpted and defined eyes...might take a bit more time and product for a normie.

This goes for the bottom lashline too. I always use at least 3 separate tones for my lower lashline eyeshadow. This enables me to create a softly blended, smoky appearance with very little work or actual blending. This is a simple technique but hard to put into words. Hopefully the following graphic expresses what I'm getting at:

Apply lighter colors first, and add darker colors
overlapping but not covering all of the last shade

Whatever you do, do not "stack" colors on top of each other- this will turn into one smudged line of a single color, awkward- use colors so that separate "bands of color" appear consecutively- you can layer, but make sure each layer doesn't obscure the last one completely. Always go from light to dark- if you try to apply the darkest shadow first and then blend out with a softer color, you are going to experience more muddiness and smudging. Pros can do the "blend out a dark line" well because- they're pros. Amateurs should use techniques and methods that create less work, not more. And smudging out a dark line that you've placed on bare skin is hard mode, make no mistake.

Remember that there is no single "holy grail" transition shade- it's dependent both on your skin tone and on the specific eye look you are doing. When I do a smoky green look, I use a pale nude, a bright yellow, a mustard yellow, and an acid green as my transition shades before I start going in with darker green. When I do a blue look, I'll use white, a pale gray, a darker gray, a bright blue...and then go in with navy. If in doubt, go monochrome. Do not slap on a brown crease before you do a colorful lid...just because. Think in terms of a color wheel and work within color families to begin. Once your understanding of color and shade has deepened, you can start playing with contrasts.

Apply More Than You Think

Most beauty mistakes/ruts are a result of making erroneous assumptions. People tell me every day "I can't wear lower lashline shadow, it doesn't work on me," or "I can't wear red lipstick ever," and I can tell not only from their pictures that it's untrue, but also because the more definitive/certain a statement is, the likelier it's unfounded. A huge mistake I was making for years is that I didn't apply enough eyeshadow to create definition. *Dwight Schrute voice* What? More shadow to appear less raccoony? Yes, it's true. If you wimp out and apply a thin line of eyeshadow, you might as well not even put anything there. Halfhearted attempts, borne out of a fear of adding too much depth or shadow, will always look wishy washy, unflattering, and unintentional.

Applying your colors lightest to darkest not only gives a beautiful smoky gradient, it also will unlock more confidence. It's really intimidating to go in on a bare eye with a big ol ring of black shadow. It's not that intimidating to apply a large halo of flesh tone, then go in with a slightly smaller ring of medium brown, etc etc. This is not only a good technique to create a speific effect, it will actually give you better muscle memory and understanding of just how low you can go (hint: it's always lower than you think.) Sometimes people will send me their makeup photos on IG or reddit and request constructive criticism- I have never seen someone who brings their shadow too low or has too much drama on a lower lashline. I always see a tentative little crisp line directly under the lashes, and it's an easy fix...just use way more shadow than you feel confident using. 

Here are some examples of old looks (left) where I hadn't quite mastered the lower lashline...side by side with looks that show a deeper understanding of shadow technique (right.) Please note the old looks appear less dramatic and that is due to the quantity of shadow on lower lashline. They were not intentionally soft/low contrast, the intention was to create a smoky effect, and I failed. The current examples represent what I intended to do all along. There is still a way to do soft makeup, intentionally, and some examples can be found later in the post.


As Above, So Below

The trend of a colorful lower lashline (POP of color) is one of those microtrends that I see as being less successful and/or interesting. It works when a great MUA does it, and sometimes it works on a normie like us. Maybe it's just my age showing, but it makes me think of my early high school years. My rule is to echo whatever pattern/placement from your upper lid on the lower lashline. If you're doing a halo eye (dark outer corner, bright middle portion) then the same pattern should be mirrored on your lower lashline. If you're doing a gradient smoky eye (light on the inside, gradually darkening as you go out) then same thing applies.

Here are some examples illustrating the principle- if your overall look is soft, you do not always need a smoky lower lashline! Keep things similar in hue and in density/drama. I also broke the rule I explained above in my first "sunset" look with a slightly different color on the lower lashline but I still used familiar transition shades, and kept the finish and saturation level similar. Play around to see what works with your own features. The point is not that you must have a rigidly perfection reflection of your upper lid, but that you should tie in "themes" like colors, finish, placement, to maintain continuity.

Use Multiple Tools

Use multiple tools, and smaller brushes in general- if you try to use one single brush to apply all your lower lashline tones, you'll end up with a muddy ring, regardless of how many colors you use. I absolutely suggest some of the brushes I discuss here, especially the final three. Large blending brushes have no place on the undereye- they can drag color too low, or else blend too thoroughly and destroy your careful placements.


If you've followed this process and still feel like it looks a bit wishy washy or not defined enough- you may choose to stamp a very thin line of waterproof pencil or gel liner along the lower lashline. Because you should already have a near-black/smoky shade in that placement as well, the liner will add weight without looking unblended (do not start blending this- you'll muddy everything up.) Waterproof is pretty essential for the lower lashline I've found- on the upper lid, you can get away with a normal product, but the lower lid is prone to smudging, bleeding, and fading. If you're going to use liner at all, make sure it can go the distance.

As for the waterline, you can leave it bare, apply a nude shade, or with a smoky look, apply a black liner. It's up to you. I've included examples above of all 3. You'll need to experiment with various looks to see what each requires. A filled-in waterline can add a touch of crisp refinement and weight, or it can throw off a delicate look.

The final step is to absolutely load up with lower lashline mascara- although this can look spidery or clunky with no eyeshadow, it adds a beautiful drama and final smoky touch to a lower lashline. I'm always wearing an unholy amount of mascara when I'm complimented on my lower lashes- they're nothing special to begin with, but in this situation you can be liberal with application without an unseemly effect.

Closing Thoughts

Most of my readers enjoy ridiculously long-winded advice (YA CAME TO THE RIGHT PLACE) but if you don't, here's a TL;DR:

  1. Use a lot of primer
  2. Use at least 3 colors in distinct bands
  3. You're not applying enough eyeshadow
  4. Mirror top lid with bottom lid
  5. Use small brushes
  6. Don't forget lashes and possibly liner if the look is heavy enough
Do all eyeshadow looks require lower lashline work? No. But many do. It's up to you to find the right balance with a particular look- and even if you think you don't need lower lashline shadow, you can always add some at the end of the day to see how your face would have looked had you chosen to add it. You should grow your inner catalog of reliable looks, so you gain an instinct for which placements are appropriate in what scenarios! 

A look that's deliberately missing lower lashline shadow

Happy eyeshadowing- if you're not already following me on Instagram, you can find me @faceonomics! Let me know if there are any other technique/general principle posts you'd like to see.


How to Learn Makeup from YouTube Gurus

I started watching YouTube makeup videos when the community was still a fragile baby bird. It was mostly awkward teenagers using their webcams to record ultra-grainy, unedited videos, sharing their genuine excitement in a brand-new medium. That time is past now, and I do sometimes miss the homegrown authenticity, but of course there are many more recent videos I enjoy for their crisp images and fantastic editing.

I learned a great deal of what I know about makeup from simply watching YouTube tutorials. But today's saturated YouTube beauty field is very confusing for new makeup lovers who don't know where to start.

How to Watch YouTube Videos as a Beginner

Just watching some videos is not going to magically make you better at makeup. Just like sitting through a semester of archaeology lectures won't make you Indiana Jones. You gotta get your hands dirty, practice, and actually walk the walk. Most people watch beauty YouTube videos for entertainment. But if your goal right now is to get better at makeup, here's how.

  • Watch beauty experts not just any pretty person with an eye-catching thumbnails. Your goal is to consume excellent material, because as a beginner, it can be hard to unlearn bad habits acquired from not so talented "gurus." There are various experts at different levels of professional development- but make sure not to stray too far into amateur pretty-19-year-old-lifestyle-vlogger territory. Beauty enthusiasts sharing their thoughts as a consumer are a valuable resource when you're more experienced in makeup- but for now they will be a distraction.
  • Stay away from review videos, haul videos, and favorites videos (for now!) These are fun to watch, but they are counterproductive to your learning journey. You don't yet know your own product tastes or even what all these products are meant for, so don't make the mistake of being seduced into hauling a bunch of stuff you'll never use. Trust me- in a few months, you will look  back at your early wishlist and wonder what the heck you were thinking.
  • Follow along with tutorials. When I started doing this, I saw my skills skyrocket much faster than I would have expected. Simply watching someone practice a motion while you follow along with your own tools and products is so helpful, it completely outranks practicing from your fuzzy memory of a tutorial you watched last night. I think most people don't do this- and its importance cannot be overstated. You can pause and rewind, so don't feel limited by the guru's speed or editing.
  • Watch with an eye for categories not products. If you end up watching 5 tutorials and thinking each time wow I really need a matte brown pencil for the looks I want to accomplish, then now is the time to shop for a matte brown pencil. Do not decide you need Tarte Shape Tape just because one pretty lady used it, and it looked really nice on her. Most YT gurus make money from promoting product- period- so you cannot rely on what they use as gospel for what you should buy. As a beginner, you will acquire a not-so-perfect makeup stash and that is how you learn what you love. Buy as little as you possibly can, and be open to the idea that you will outgrow products as your tastes and skillset grow.
  • Repetition is key. Practice from the same video or few videos for weeks at a time. Do not try a smoky eye on Monday, abandon it for the rest of the week, then try again next Monday and cry that your skills haven't evolved. You will build muscle memory and your own understanding of your face by doing the same techniques many days in a row. For now, you don't get to be Crazy Makeup Lady who wears a different look every day. You get to practice the same basic look for as many days in a row, from the same tutorials, as it takes to nail it down. Then you can use that acquired knowledge for the next look you tackle.

List of YouTubers to Trust

Okay, you're just taking one woman's opinion on this. But you gotta start somewhere! The whole point is to start with a basic, limited list, and as your tastes and skills develop, you don't have to take anybody's advice anymore- you can find what you love all on your own! This is a mix of professionals and amateurs- both have something to offer, but for the most part, seasoned professionals who have experience doing makeup on people other than themselves are your best bet.

Charlotte Tilbury (this is a brand channel, so ignore the products as best you can, just follow along with techniques, as hers are sound)

Karima McKimmie (an amateur who is extremely good at communicating techniques and concepts)

Jaclyn Hill

Samantha Ravndahl (although she's a generic vlogger now and skews more beauty guru than expert, she is another semi-amateur/semi-professional who is excellent at communicating technique)

My Favorite "Beginner Friendly" Videos

How to Apply Lipstick by Rebecca Shores

This is a pretty high-effort tutorial, considering lipstick can just be swiped on in 20 sec. But if you are new to lipcolor, struggling with application fundamentals, or trying to fix asymmetry, this will give you a flawless finish. And you can always tweak the techniques to suit your needs.

Natural Shimmery Summer Glow by Lisa Eldridge

Healthy, glowy, sunkissed- practically everyone wants to master this look.

In Depth Bridal Tutorial

You don't need to be planning a wedding to want a special-occasion, flawless, "glamorous natural" look in your pocket. Jaclyn Hill has a big personality, but it's her fundamental, careful technique and solid laymen's explanations that make her an excellent source.

Brows by Lisa Eldridge

There is no such thing as timeless- well- really natural makeup is probably timeless. But Lisa always balances trend and technique- she favors a brow look fixed more in personal flattery- not fixed to a specific dated trend (skinny 90s brows, bushy 80s brows, crisp 2010s brows etc.) For most people, brows are not an accent to be played with- they are more of a foundation piece. You want them to look basically the same most days, and you want them to be the best shape and color for your face. You might play with 10 different shadow placements and color schemes in a week, but it's likely your brow experimentation won't be a focus.

Mary Greenwell's Natural Makeup Masterclass

Again with natural makeup- don't roll your eyes at me! Great natural makeup skills underpin every single successful experimental/funky makeup style. If you don't know the rules of making makeup "pretty" you can never figure out the best ways to break those rules and create interesting makeup. Mary Greenwell has a no-nonsense style which relies a lot on hands, multi use products, and natural earth tones. Like all of the gurus I discussed, her videos are a wealth of information and you can't go wrong following along to any of her tutorials.

Sam Ravndahl's Halo Eye

A technique that is both intriguing and challenging to beginners, the halo eye is a high-impact eye looks that actually takes relatively little skill. However, it's a confusing placement and concept when you haven't tried it before- Sam's videos are excellent for shadow placement as she's very specific in her descriptions, and she zooms all the way in to show where and how she applies each color shadow.

Concluding Thoughts

Most people don't take advantage of the wondrous resource that is Beauty YouTube. They approach it as entertainment, and that's perfectly ok unless you're trying to improve your skills. If you are unhappy with your makeup skills, approach the project like a challenging class or subject in school. Use a variety of trusted resources, study and practice every day, and trust the process. You will not become an expert in a few weeks, but within a few months you can grow your knowledge a great deal. 


Favorite Eye Brushes

Today I'll discuss my absolute favorite eyeshadow brushes- the versatile and fabulous tools that enable me to create a wide range of shadow looks and effects. In my opinion, great tools make a huge difference for a beginner, not a complete newbie. If you have never applied eyeshadow- you do not need great brushes. If you have been working with eyeshadow for a few months, you grasp the basics, but your results aren't really satisfying, you will likely see a huge improvement to your technique when you upgrade to good brushes.

If I gave myself a letter grade, I went from a C- to a B- within just two or three eyeshadow applications when I upgraded from basic brushes to really good ones. And that quick boost in technique, from tools alone, bolstered my confidence and allowed me to jump up to a solid B+ to A- fairly quickly, a jump that I think would have taken much longer if I'd stuck with my drugstore brushes.

Why Are Your Faves Mostly Animal Hair?

For the looks I like to create, synthetic brushes typically do not provide the right amount of bend and sway. Synthetic bristles, as a matter of course, are stiffer and more bouncy in movement. Less floppy and yielding. This is fine for precision, but not so good for buffing soft clouds of color and applying with a whisper soft touch. Vegans or people who otherwise object to animal hair use in cosmetics will likely not find this guide useful. I do use synthetic small brushes- for specific and crisp placement, but not in general for blending.

Although squirrel hair is my favorite for face products, I find goat hair has the exact right balance for gripping and depositing powder eyeshadows. It doesn't take away from a powder's pigmentation, but it also doesn't throw a bunch of color down and lead to chunky opaque edges.

Another reason I favor the handmade Japanese animal hair brushes (aka fude brushes) is that those lines offer a wider range of sizes for brush heads. Most American and European brushes are, in my opinion, way too big to be useful to someone with my eye shape. Japanese lines like Hakuhodo and Chikuhodo offer fluffy but small brushes (a category that's sadly underdeveloped in the West) which enable soft and precise blending- the best of both worlds! There are many brands I won't be covering today- the two Japanese brands mentioned are among the most affordable fude brands available on the market, but you could easily spend $200 on a single shadow brush from a more expensive line. Check out the Reddit Fude sub for more discussion and information.

Precision vs. Flexibility

Having said my piece with regards to animal hair brushes, I do find synthetics useful for specific purposes. I mainly use synthetic brushes when it comes to flat, pointed, or compact/stiff brush shapes. Whenever I want to press or pat a patch of color without worrying about the edges or blending, I reach for synthetic bristles. The texture and stiffness allow for better color placement, all at once.

When you are choosing to create softer veils of color- say in the crease or when smoking out your lashline, you want the opposite of precision. I reach for longer bristles, natural fiber, and larger shapes whenever I want to blend anything.

These descriptions are not really weighted by value- simply they are what I've come to expect from a certain size/shape/texture! As a general rule, the shorter the bristles, the more "blocky" and precise an effect it gives. On the flipside, longer bristles usually provide more sway and splay action, which lends well to a blown-out effect.

My Favorites

Now for the meat of this post- my favorite brushes and their specific usages! I will start at the widest "base" and move into smaller and more precise shapes and movements. I've provided photos of the brushes next to a standard MAC lipstick, the most ubiquitous beauty object I could think for size comparison. I've also attempted to show the main placements these brushes work for. My apologies as I tried to make gifs to show movement/placement but I could not find a combination of filming and editing and compression that yielded anything but tragic gifs, so until I troubleshoot that, pics will have to do.

Hakuhodo J5522

The first brush we have to discuss is this huge, fluffy goat hair pointed dome brush. It is relatively stiff, but it's pointed shape and large size make it an ideal choice for swishing a VERY sheer and diffused veil of color in your crease area. If you have large, dynamic eyes and tend to not emphasize your crease a lot, you might not enjoy the effect of this brush. For me, it's indispensable when faking the high but multidimensional crease I love to do on myself.

I use windshield wiper motions with the J5522- it's too big to benefit from "swirling" as it will take over the eye area. It does best for laying down sheer tones in large swaths. I don't recommend using it with a shadow that's more than 2-3 shades deeper than your skintone.

Hakuhodo J5523

The second brush is a classic- or rather it's a near clone of a Western classic we all know and love- the MAC 217. This brush post would be half Hakuhodo, half MAC, were it not for MAC's recent overhaul of its entire brush line. I personally use and love decade-old goat hair MAC brushes made in France, but I can't get behind their new synthetics line. Since any MAC recommendations would be for discontinued brushes, I won't include them!

The Hakuhodo J5523 is slightly smaller and slightly more compact compared to the classic 217. It's a full oval shape, not flat but with a slightly pinched ferrule that gives you a lot of versatility. You can use this brush in several ways- it lays down a patch of lid color quickly, with an automatically diffused edge. You can accomplish this with short combination pat-swipe motions Or you can use it to apply a crease shade, working in small circular buffing motions and building color as desired.

If you could only afford one brush, make it this one. You can literally do a whole soft eye look using only the J5523- no you can't line your eyes with it. But you can do a lot.

Hakuhodo J5529

This brush completely changed my shadow game- it's the shape and size you can't find in any Western drugstore line, and not in most Western luxury brands either. This is like your classic domed blender brush, shrunk to 1/4 of the size. While you might use a large domed brush for your crease (if you haven't tried the awesomeness of a tapered dome like the one discussed above...) you would use the J5529 for more "precise blending." 

This is for depositing accent colors in your outer V and for blending those same colors. The small size is ideal for more detailed, gradient shadow looks as a larger brush would swallow the eye area and turn all the shadows into one color. I also use this on a daily basis to buff and blend smoky lower lashlines- a technique I've heard is challenging for many of you. Trust me when I say the effect eluded me too- until I got the J5529.

This brush is so compact that you can use it fairly lavishly in wide swiping motions- its small head size means it won't disrupt or muddy even if you use it in larger areas. I drag this brush over linear placements like my lower lashline, in a back and forth motion. I also use it in dotting motions to deposit small concentrated patches, and in tight circular motions to blend smaller precise areas like the outer V.

Zoeva Luxe Smoky Shader 234

A natural/synthetic blend brush that I love for packing on lid shades. This is an exact dupe for the MAC 239 (old) and for the Hakuhodo J004G, but I find the 3 truly identical, so I'm going with the cheapest! I hate all the blending brushes I own from Zoeva (and I own them all) because the synthetic blend causes them to be too stiff. They don't have enough yield to really create a halo of softness- but with a shorter brush like this, this is when you stop having to worry so much about bristle quality, and you can find much cheaper items as long as the shape works.

If you are a relative newbie to eyeshadows and you find yourself constantly foiling shadows or using Fix+ to "intensify" your shadows, you may be overlooking a really simple fact: your flat shadow brush sucks at gripping and depositing color! A lot of flat shadow brushes found in American lines are too flat and they don't have enough er, girth, to properly dig into a shadow and pick up color. Slightly fuller and fluffier bristles on a short, flat brush head will also do a better job of laying down color vs a tight flat shape.

I use this brush especially for pressing color into the center of a halo eye or for the lid of a smokey eye...or just for allover shimmer! A very versatile brush that's necessary in any beginner's bag. If you really could only afford two brushes, it would be the Zoeva 234 and the Hakuhodo J5523 I'd recommend first.

Beauty Junkees Pro Pencil Brush

I guess I shouldn't have spent so much time disclaiming my snobbishness, because this is another cheap brush that really performs at the level of a more expensive one. I believe this is pony hair or goat hair- it's found on Amazon Prime and isn't a prestige brand, so I'm not 100% sure of the composition.

A good pencil brush has spring, softness, and precision all in harmony. This one from Beauty Junkees does the trick and doesn't scratch, but it still holds up without splaying its bristles. When you start narrowing the size of brushes, it means you are looking to create more dramatic dimension- deeper, smaller shadows and brighter, tighter highlights. At this point, we stop loving the softly bendy bristles of our earlier crease brushes, and want to focus on getting a stiffer brush head that still doesn't feel rough.

I use this brush every single day- in fact I own two- one for light shadows, one for darker ones. I use the former to apply and blend my inner corner/browbone highlight, to dot concentrated bright spots into a halo eye, and for blending out harsh edges on very graphic looks. The latter is used for adding definition to the corners of a halo eye and for smoking out both upper and lower lashlines.

Due to the pencil brush's stiffness, it works best for dotting motions and very short strokes. It will not hold up to movements that cover a large surface area. You can certainly apply a color in a line across your crease or lashline, but don't expect to get a refined blend- this blends better than applying color with a Q tip, but it is a placement brush not a finisher. For that you'd want to reach for the J5529 to smooth out and buff the edges.

One note is that I own 4 of these and 3 are almost identical, but the 4th is very flexible and flippy. There's variability/inconsistency but to be fair that exists on the handmade/fude side as well sometimes. 

EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo #2 Brush, Angled Side

Confusingly, this is just 1/4 of a single product- the EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo is my favorite drugstore brush "set" in existence. But I want to specifically discuss the angled liner brush head found on one of the dual ended brushes. It is the closest thing to EcoTool's long-discontinued angle liner brush- a brush that perfectly married precision and fullness. Most angled liner brushes are only good for two things- brows and gel liner. They are too stiff and too narrow/tight to ever properly deposit a smoky, smudgy, sexy line of shadow. The EcoTools version is just thick enough to soften while it lays down an opaque line. It's absolutely fine for use with a gel liner or brow product too- but I would highly suggest it if you struggle with your "defined lines" looking skippy or too crisp.

Because of the less skinny edge, this can be worked back and forth in a blending motion, but it will only go so far. I mainly use it in a "stamping" motion to press color in a precise line/at an angle when I need to create a very tightly lined eye or a graphic shape. I usually already laid out a base of softer smudginess, and adding a stamped line on top gives a gradually intensifying effect without having to move your brush around that much!

Brush Care

I'm often asked about my brush care routine. And here is my philosophy: I do not baby my fude brushes, as I consider them tools. For me, they are a means to an end, not collectibles or useful just by virtue of existing. To that end, I wash them as often as I need to to prevent muddied colors, and I recognize as a result they will have shorter lifetimes. Some fude collectors will be able to enjoy the same brush shape and fiber texture from their brushes in 30 years. I fully expect mine to be dead within 10 years, and I will repurchase at that time. You will hear from many Japanese brush lovers that a squirrel brush should only be washed once every few months- to me that would interfere with my ability to use the tool as I want to. I wash it as often as needed to clear old color and prevent breakouts.

If you want to wear a pair of shoes for 20 years, rotate it out, give it breaks, don't wear the pair in harsh weather. If you simply want to wear a pair of shoes everyday, well, ignore that, and buy a new pair when you wear yours out. I want to be able to use my brushes daily, which is why I approach brush care the way I do. Different philosophies for different lifestyles and preferences.

None of the brushes I use are so expensive that the though of repurchasing in a few years bothers me. I want to be able to switch frequently between colors (bronzey looks one day, blue the next, soft yellow the next) without buying endless duplicate brushes or risking a muddy unintentional color mix. All the brushes I discussed in today's post are less than $30 each, and getting 5-10 years' use from a $30 item is reasonable to me. I am being conservative- I have 12 year old goat hair brushes that still perform the same as they did when I got them. But just to satisfy my control freak- I accept that my everyday use brushes may shed or go frizzy within the decade.

I treat my brush hairs like I do the hair on my head. I shampoo with a mild, low-lather shampoo, I squeeze to release excess water, press with a towel, then air dry as long as it takes. I wash my face brushes once a week, and my eye brushes once every two weeks (all of them) and clean individual ones as necessary. Brush cleansers are plentiful and varied nowadays, but I prefer the price and convenience of a gentle shampoo for humans (my favorite is the Tea Tree Tingle from Trader Joe's.) You can also use a gentle low lather face wash, but shampoo is more economical.