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When it comes to beauty, I tend to ignore any advice anyone gives me. My make-up motto is basically, “Who’s gonna stop me?” I don’t pay attention to make-up trends, since I’m old enough to see how arbitrary and repetitive they tend to be. I definitely don’t pay attention to the silly surveys in which men who don’t know anything about what make-up is, or what it looks like, discuss what make-up they prefer. My philosophy is to start with a clean, moisturized face and good eyebrows, and then do whatever I feel like that day, which might be nothing. Some days I’ll skip make-up altogether; other days I’ll wear 70’s Bollywood-style eyeliner with brown 90’s Cindy-Crawford lipstick. Who’s gonna stop me?
Perhaps ironic for a person who never takes beauty advice, below I share my five universally flattering “beauty essentials”:
I recently read an interview with the make-up artist from Mad Men in which she said she purposely only uses heavy-eyeliner looks on the characters who would have a lot of extra time in the morning. They must have not have made this Revlon pen in the 60s, because you can get a perfect heavy-liner look in less than a minute. It’s an incredibly rich dark color that’s easy to apply and never smudges, and it stays put for hours and hours.
When my favorite eyeliner was discontinued a few years ago (Lancome’s waterproof khol pencil, RIP), I tried just about every liner on the planet, from Wet’n’Wild to Dior, and this one was by far the best. It looks like liquid eyeliner when you wear it. But because it has a felt tip, it’s smoother and much easier to control and apply than a liquid. It can make as thin or thick a line as you want. Just practice on your hand a couple times first to figure out what kind of line you want. Then rest your elbow on a sink or dresser, hold your eyelid taut with your other hand, and you’re ready to go.
The one mistake I would warn against is accidentally missing a spot and leaving a gap above your lash line. Every once in a while I see women in prominent places, even TV sometimes, with big skin-colored gaps between their lash line and their liner. It looks terrible! You can avoid this by first using an eye pencil to make a thin line or even just a series of tiny dots and dashes above your lash line only. That way, if you leave a gap, it won’t show.
I have gotten so many friends hooked on this product over the years, Urban Decay should pay me a referral fee. But it’s a miracle product! At my prodding, even my friends who almost never wear make-up now use this for those few special occasions when they need to wear make-up and have it last through, say, a big presentation or a friend’s wedding. I first heard about it from my sister. If you try it and love it, spread the word.
This is a sheer, creamy primer that comes in a tube. You glide a little bit onto your eyelids with your finger before putting on any eye make-up. It does two amazing things. First, it completely changes your eyeshadow into a glorious, creaseless, vibrant color. You can buy any crappy clearance $2 eyeshadow from the drugstore, and over this primer it will turn into a better, more vivid version of that color. Even if you are wearing a conservative look for work and can only wear mute browns, it will improve that brown. Second, it makes your eye make-up last forever and prevents it from creasing on your lids. If your lids tend to get oily or you spend a lot of time in the heat, this is a must-buy. When I worked in Denver last summer, I wore this primer plus the Revlon eye pen. I would walk to work in 80-degree heat and even after 12 hours, when the rest of me was a big boiling mess, my eye make-up would somehow still be perfect.
One tip: be careful of using it on your crease and browbone because it might enhance your shadow too much. I usually only use it on my lid unless I am wearing serious evening make-up.
There’s a common misconception, probably due to marketing, that using Indian hair products or ingredients will make your hair more like an Indian person’s. I’m not sure this is true with most products. They tend to have been developed to combat the issues of Indian hair, so it’s more likely that you’ll benefit if you already have hair that is thick, coarse and tends towards the frizzy side. If not, the effect may be the opposite of what you’re looking for. But, hair oil is an exception — it’s wonderful and nourishing for everyone’s hair and scalp. Some evidence even shows it can make your hair grow faster (though I personally haven’t noticed this). You can find different varieties of Vatika oil online and in any Indian grocery store. I like the olive oil which also contains almond, cactus and lemon extracts. My grandmother, who had gorgeous waist-length hair well into her eighties, swore by the coconut version.
There are different ways to use it. Many people put a couple drops in their hair during styling, similar to how you might use a serum. For me, that makes my hair a bit greasy, so I like to use it more similarly to a hot oil treatment. I heat it up first (don’t put the bottle directly into the microwave — heat up water on the stove or in the microwave first, put it in a bowl, and then put the bottle in a bowl). Then massage it into your scalp. You can put it in your hair too, but the real power comes when you rub it all over your scalp. If you’re lucky, you might get someone to do this for you and get a scalp massage out of it too. If you have a daughter, it can be a nice mother-daughter bonding ritual. Some of my best memories of talking with my mom were while she was rubbing at my scalp with coconut oil. Once it’s on, leave it for at least an hour or overnight (you can use a shower cap or satin cap to save your pillow) and wash it out with shampoo and conditioner. Enjoy your soft and silky hair!
I first got into Aquaphor when I was trying to find something soothing for my lips to wean myself off of Carmex (it’s supposedly addictive). Aquaphor is an ointment that comes in a plastic jar, similar to Vaseline but with a thinner, more pliable, and less sticky texture. It worked great for relieving chapped lips, but I soon started using it for everything. It’s great for dry hands in the winter, and if you get ashy knees, this will fix that. It’s also nice for when your mascara or eyeliner gets smeared; just rub a tiny dab on your face where the smear is, wipe with a tissue, and it disappears. And I like to rub a tiny bit on my eyelashes at night if they feel brittle. Even my husband, who usually takes off in the opposite direction if I dare approach him with anything cosmetics-ish, finds this innocuous enough to let me put some on his cuticles when they get dry. It’s the most versatile product I own — there are dozens more uses online or that you will figure out yourself. Beyonce claims she smears her face with it every night, but that’d be a little much for me.
What it is about this stuff that makes you feel so radiant? Maybe it’s the psychological effect of the delightful gold packaging, or the satisfying clicking sound the pen makes to dispense the product, or maybe just the fact that “radiant” is in the name. But whatever it is, I love using it.
There’s some mystery about what exactly this stuff is and how you use it. The advertising makes it look like a concealer because it primarily shows women using it under their eyes, but be wary: it does not conceal. It brightens and highlights. If you only need some brightening and blurring under the eyes, you could use it there, but since that’s the only area I happen to need real coverage, it doesn’t work for me there. Instead, I swipe it wherever I want to highlight — cheekbones, browbones, contour above the lip.
Described as a luminizing pen, this product does do something magical with the reflection of light on your face. I love to put it on whenever I need a particular boost, like before a special occasion, after a sleepless night, or my new favorite use — helping me fake the pregnancy “glow” people want to see when I feel too sick to be glowing.
…And that’s what make-up is all about, helping you be your best when you need a little help. Who’s gonna stop you?