Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Some Thoughts on NARS and "Cruelty-Free" Beauty

Earlier this month, NARS shocked many of its customers by announcing that it was expanding into China, whose government requires animal testing on all imported beauty products. Like most successful smaller beauty brands, NARS is already owned by a larger, non-CF brand (Shiseido, in NARS' case), but it has not allowed such testing on its own products since its founding in 1994. Now that's about to change, and quite a few NARS loyalists are upset, including prominent cruelty-free bloggers and YouTubers like Killer Colours and JKissa. I'm far from a prominent blogger, but I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss my views on NARS and the larger debate over cruelty-free beauty.

NARS x Guy Bourdin, Holiday 2013 (source).

First, a little about my current stance. If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you'll know that while I strongly favor cruelty-free brands, I'm not exclusively cruelty-free. This accords with my views on meat-eating: I'm mostly vegetarian, and about half of my meals are vegan, but I eat meat or fish maybe three times a month. I also wear leather shoes, in part because I have fucked-up ballet feet that don't do well with synthetic material. When it comes to makeup, my big purchases are almost exclusively cruelty-free; the only exception is the occasional MAC lipstick. If I'm going to spend $30 on a lipstick, though, I'll patronize a brand that doesn't test on animals. As a result, I never buy makeup from designer brands like Chanel or Dior. For drugstore makeup, though, I'm a bit more lax. When I need a specific cheap makeup item, I check out the CF drugstore brands first, but I simply don't have access to many of those. I also feel less guilty spending $7 on a Maybelline lipstick than I would spending $37 on a Chanel lipstick. Irrational, I know.

NARS x Sarah Moon, Holiday 2016 (source).

My opinions on skincare are slightly more complicated. Again, all other things being equal, I favor CF brands. But skincare products either work or they don't, and I don't feel too guilty about favoring a non-CF product that plays well with my skin over a CF one that breaks me out (looking at you, Lush). Also, in my experience, cruelty-free skincare is a lot more expensive and elusive than cruelty-free makeup. I was recently in Sephora to look for an oil cleanser, and I couldn't find one that was both cruelty-free and affordable for me. (For the record, I ended up with the Caudalie Make-Up Removing Cleansing Oil, which is working perfectly so far. More on that in a future post.)

There's also the unfortunate reality that the deeper you look into any brand, within the beauty industry or outside it, the more ethical issues you'll uncover. That's just how capitalism works, and it's up to every consumer to decide what she finds too problematic to support. Sitting here right now, scouring my brain and browser history, I can't think of a single beauty brand that 1) lives up to all my ethical standards and 2) makes products I actually like. Many of the brands that advertise their CF status are problematic in other ways. Jeffree Star, Kat Von D, and Lime Crime are headed by deeply objectionable people. Marc Jacobs had that cringetastic dreadlocks scandal last year. Glossier...is Glossier. Some CF brands produce limited shade ranges that exclude many people of color. Indie makeup has its own universe of interpersonal drama. Personally, I choose not to support the first three brands I listed: I'd rather give my money to a non-CF brand than to Jeffree Star's Chanel-boomerang fund. Other people make different calculations. Some of my favorite beauty bloggers love Kat Von D; some love designer brands; some love indies. I don't judge them for those choices, and I hope they don't judge me for mine.

NARS x Steven Klein, Holiday 2015 (source).

It should also be noted that many small brands are cruelty-free because they don't innovate: they're using formulas and ingredients developed by larger, non-CF brands. The phrase "cruelty-free" is an effective rhetorical tool, but follow any brand far enough back in the production timeline and you'll uncover some form of cruelty to either animals or humans. Which is not to say that we should all throw up our hands and stop supporting CF brands: individual consumers can make a difference, as they did a few years ago when they forced Urban Decay not to expand into China. However, I think this issue is more complicated than "buy exclusively cruelty-free or you're a HEARTLESS ANIMAL KILLER." Like it or not, the real problem lies with the larger system, not with individual brands. Companies aren't charities: they exist to make money, and if they can make more money, you bet they will.

NARS x Andy Warhol, Holiday 2012 (source).

But am I disappointed in NARS, you ask? Yes, I'm fucking disappointed. For as long as I've been passionate about makeup, NARS has been my favorite brand. It's the only brand I've ever loved wholeheartedly as a brand, as an overarching aesthetic vision and not just a collection of products I happen to enjoy. But the products are pretty damned good, too. NARS makes several of my holy grails, such as undereye concealer (Radiant Creamy Concealer in Vanilla), matte red lipstick (Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Mysterious Red), and sheer nude lipstick (Sheer Lipstick in Dolce Vita). I love makeup because I love color, and in my opinion, NARS does color better than any other brand. Year after year, they release shades that are complex and offbeat but sophisticated and wearable. In particular, I have yet to find a brand that produces more beautifully balanced pinks and reds.

Top to bottom: Vanilla, Mysterious Red, Dolce Vita.

I haven't decided whether I'll repurchase my holy grails after I run out, but the good news is that inspiration is free. And NARS provides plenty of it, incorporating such eclectic influences as Pop Art, old Hollywood, science fiction, and bondage. So whether or not I give NARS any more of my money (and right now, I'm not inclined to), I can at least follow their releases and appreciate their experiments with color and texture.

What are your thoughts on the NARS controversy and cruelty-free beauty? I know that opinions vary widely within the beauty community, so I'd love to hear yours!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Reverse Lipstick Chronology #4: ColourPop Lippie Stix in Let's Play

Needless to say, I wasn't feeling entirely celebratory this Independence Day, but I also wasn't going to miss the chance to wear blue highlighter and metallic red lipstick at the same time. I thought I'd use this FOTD post to write a quick review of a product I bought back in November: ColourPop Lippie Stix in Let's Play, part of last year's ColourPop x Hello Kitty collaboration.


Growing up, I owned dozens of Sanrio items: sticker albums, mechanical pencils, stuffed animals, keychainsand, most '90s of all, a red Hello Kitty fanny pack that I still have at my mom's house. I remember chewing Keroppi gum and receiving a set of Pochacco nail polishes for a birthday present. I remember going to FAO Schwarz, the legendary (and now sadly closed) New York toy store, and putting a coin in a giant light-up Hello Kitty that spat out a paper fortune. In other words, there was no way I could let ColourPop's Hello Kitty collection pass me by. To my credit, I limited myself to one item: the Lippie Stix (Stick? Stik?) in Let's Play, a deep pinkish red semi-matte lipstick with red and fuchsia sparkle. Honestly, even if the product had been total shit, I would probably have paid $5 for the packaging alone (omfg the little bows all over the box and tube, I can't even). But the swatches I saw online looked great, and I figured that a metallic red would be perfect for the winter holidays. That's right, I said "holidays." #waronchristmas


Let's Play features a "satin luxe" formula that, so far as I know, has yet to show up in any other ColourPop lipstick shades. "Satin luxe" seems to mean "semi-matte with lots of shimmer," and given how popular metallic lipsticks are these days, I'm surprised ColourPop hasn't produced more colors in this formula. But they're basically churning out a new collection every week (I've long since stopped keeping track), so I'm not surprised that one or two lipstick formulas have gotten lost in the shuffle. According to my lipstick taxonomy, Let's Play sits on the cusp of shimmer, metallic, and duochrome. Up close, the individual red and fuchsia sparkles are apparent, but from a distance, there's more of a pinkish red sheen. The base color is a true blue-based red, but the shimmer pulls it closer to raspberry.


With some other coolish reds:

L-R: NARS Mysterious Red, NARS Cruella, Let's Play, Wet n Wild Missy and Fierce, ColourPop Bee's Knees (two swipes).

Lip swatches in shade, direct sunlight, and artificial light, respectively:




Prior to Let's Play, I'd tried one other Lippie Stix: Frenchie, a bright coral red in a matte formula. I found that shade heavy, waxy, and drying, and I destashed it in short order. I'm happy to say that Let's Play has a superior formula, though the heaviness and waxiness are still present. As you can see from the lip swatches above, the formula is stiff enough that I have a hard time getting it to stick to my inner lower lip, while the tip of the bullet makes outlining my lips somewhat difficult. (Yes, I should probably use a liner. No, I don't own a red lip liner.) There's a fair bit of transfer when I drink from a cup, though Let's Play looks decent for several hours if I don't eat; as the base shade fades, the glitter becomes more prominent. Let's Play isn't drying, but I wouldn't call it comfortable, either: I can definitely feel it on my mouth. It's also very prone to staining. I can't say my experience with Let's Play has encouraged me to try more Lippie Stix, but the shade is special enough that I can live with a waxier formula for a few hours, you know?

For yesterday's FOTD, I used two liners on my upper lashline: Urban Decay Demolition, a dark cool brown, followed by NYX Golden Bronze, an orange-toned bronze. My blush was Illamasqua Zygomatic, and my highlighter was Topshop Glow Stick in Otherworldly, a sheer white cream, topped with NYX Duo Chromatic Illuminating Powder in Twilight Tint, a white/blue duochrome. Though I've owned Twilight Tint for a few months now, I haven't quite worked out how to wear it. I use a Sonia Kashuk fan brush to apply what feels like a normal amount of product, but because my skin is so pale, the white base blends right in. So I add more. And more. And then I turn to the side and have an "I just blue myself" moment:

Believe me, it looked bolder in person. My earrings are from Color Theory Shop on Etsy.

The highlight looked subtler from the front, at least:


I wore this FOTD for a long, humid walk around the lake near campus. It's lonely here now that my boyfriend is visiting his parents and everyone is out of town for the summer, but I retain my commitment to inappropriate glam.

I was listening to Lana Del Rey, and sweating heavily.

Honestly, my biggest issue with Let's Play is its extreme festiveness. I've worn it exactly three times so far: on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Independence Day. I know metallic red lipstick is everywhere these days, but it's hard for me not to associate it with holidays. Do you have any advice for overcoming this brain problem? Because this lipstick is too pretty not to wear more often.