Monday, 28 January 2008

#62 Join the Line

Something odd's happening. For years and years, the only girls I ever spied wearing inky eyeliner were either channelling a goth, punk or retro aesthetic - oh, and then there was my mum, who hasn't left the house without her customary slash of molten kohl, for, gosh, I'd say coming up to thirty years. But, all of a sudden, it's everywhere. I've seen lid-flicks on so many different women in the last month (none of whom are Amy Winehouse), that I have no choice but to assume we're in the midst of a full-fledged frenzy - hell, even my make-up shunning mate turned up to an East London gig wearing nothing but electric blue ticks - and no, they weren't on her trainers. It's easy to see the attraction. A well-lined upper lid does something extraordinary to eyes - it's like wearing a thick rack of false lashes, except you don't have to worry about them falling off or getting a globule of glue in the eye. Focus is immediately shifted to the peepers and even the least likely to flutter take on a doe-eyed quality - something that Lily Allen (who, let's face it, looks a stone's throw away from ordinary without it) has mastered well. Add an inky line and eyes are immediately more intense, flirtier, sexier - get the line right and even piggy eyes can be transformed into Pocahontas style slits.

The problem is, the trend has stolen my thunder. I've always loved a good flick. So much so, in fact, that I've spent the best part of the decade trying to settle on the single most foolproof way to cultivate a precise, symmetrical set of lines. There are several additions to the market this month that promise to make the enterprise easier. Bad news is that most of them are TERRIBLE. They promise foolproof application and long-wearing colour, when in truth, they dribble on and rub off at the first sign of a sweat.

First up, Estee Lauder Double Wear Zero Smudge Liquid Eyeliner in After Hours. It's limited edition this one, which is no bad thing, as it's really rather dire. Even after giving it a good shake, the consistency borders on fountain pen ink - watery, imprecise, lacking in definition. The brush isn't terrible - it's a sort of hard, pointy felt tip - but the wand is too long, making it difficult to manoeuvre it along the eyelid. The long-lasting formula also flakes, rather than wipes, away - annoying when you're trying to correct the line with a cotton bud dipped in make-up remover.

Next up, the new L'Oreal Superliner Carbon Gloss. The formula's better with this one - you get a TRUE, inky, deep pigment, but once again, the wand's not up to much. The 'precision tip' liner is basically a pliable piece of skinny sponge that does not have anywhere near enough firmness to create a neat line. I've used it about 3 times now and the result has steadily improved, but it's another example of a design that's making an already-tricky technique even trickier. It's got the same flake-away formula as the Estee Lauder wand too (although not quite as bad), which means that if you want to neaten up the flicks afterwards, you're invariably taking away an entire clump of the stuff, rather than leaving a neat, precise line behind.

Then there's MAC Liquidlast Liner. It has the best formula of the lot, but still, application ain't child's play. You've already got to be pretty savvy with a stick to get the line of your dreams - but at least it comes in a dazzling array of colours and the formula doesn't flake away when approached by make-up remover.

My favourites? I have two. One is Shu Uemura Liquid Eyeliner. It's an exquisitely crafted brush pen - press lightly against the eyelid and you'll get a thin line, press harder and the line will widen, but it won't wobble or look uneven. The ink dispenser button at the bottom also means that it lasts an eternity without drying out or up - something that can happen a lot faster with pot-style liners.

But, you still need a steady hand for the Shu (and yes, some practice). The real foolproof option (and one that I go back to when I'm in a rush in the morning), is a flat liner brush (the Ruby + Millie Eyeliner Brush is cheap and also, the best I've ever tried), dipped in water and then pressed into a jet black shadow. Tap off the excess and then, looking into the mirror, simply line the brush up with lashline on the upper lid and press down onto skin. It will leave a neat black dash behind, and work steadily across the lid, wetting and dipping the brush again if colour starts to weaken, until you have a neat line running all the way across the lid. For a flick at the outer corner of the eye, simply angle the brush slightly upwards and away from the lashline and press against skin - it will leave a short, neat flick behind that you'd struggle to get first time with an inky liner - and unlike inky formulas, it can easily be neatened up with make-up remover.

Go on, catch a flick. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

#61 Premature Estimation

To understand just how little guidance real women get when questing after skincare solutions, one need only recall the recent frenzy for Boots No 7 Protect & Perfect - with thousands of people (the men all apparently buying for partners) diving to get their hands on the latest 'elixir of youth.' What this serum had, that far fewer anti-ageing counterparts have been subject to, was some TV time behind it - forming part of a much-watched Horizon documentary shown late last year. So, can anyone even remember the facts behind the product? Or has hype overtaken sense yet again?

To recap, laboratory tests were headed up by an expert dermatologist - who tested No 7 Protect & Perfect and deemed it to be effective at combating sun damage.

Ah. If only it were that simple. The fact is, the test was a very small one involving just 9 volunteers... oh, and it was carried out on their forearms - not their faces.

Following the results of the initial 'HORIZON' experiment, the dermatologist (Professor Chris Griffiths), has since initiated a six-month double-blind clinical trial, involving 60 volunteers: “We are giving the cream to 30 people to use on their faces and a normal moisturiser to 30 more as a placebo. At present we are about halfway through the trial, although we have not started assessing the results yet.”

So, this is the real test. I mean, it involves actual people's faces, which is a good place to start when trying to assess whether or not a face cream works...

Of course, cosmetics companies aren't stupid. If they are to claim significant 'skin-healing' benefits that border on pharmaceutical, it would then be necessary to subject said products to an enormous battery of expensive tests that could take years. Our governing bodies might allow cosmetics companies free reign over their own research (which is not to say that most companies don't carry out impressive, stringent and exhaustive tests - well, would you risk the lawsuit?!) but pharmaceutical companies do not get the same grace - which is why we now have the frustratingly wooly term, cosmeceutical, being used to describe cosmetics with 'pseudo-pharmaceutical' benefits - a word which has, of course, been invented by the cosmetics companies themselves.

The galling thing about the No7 debacle is not that it isn't a good product. It might well be - and yes, the forearm cells of those 9 volunteers did show elevated levels of two proteins within the skin that ensure its elasticity - but we're talking about 9 people, 9 forearms - and this is all it takes to spark a 6million-&-counting shopping frenzy?

Perhaps it's got something to do with the number 7? The latest craze? The Athena 7 Minute Face Lift (currently being snatched from Harvey Nick's shelves faster than I can type the word 'HYPE') - which contains nothing more than a blend of organic essential oils (although, there are 12 of these, not 7 - that would've been freaky).

I have a pot here and will happily send it to the first person who emails in and is interested in testing it. Why haven't I bothered myself? Because I don't need my reflection to tell me that a pot of cream cannot make me look 18 again. It might be wonderful, it might be the holy grail of face masks, it might take my mug from corned beef to fillet steak, but it will most certainly not make me look as though I have had a facelift. My omniscient beauty ed's ego might be a bit inflated, I'll admit that - but I guarantee it won't be anywhere near as inflated as these readily proliferated product claims. So there.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

#60 Helping Husband

I attended a wedding last month, where my friend's husband - extremely cute in a Mark Owen/Richard Hammond/James McAvoy sort of way - looked utterly dreadful. Bless him. Red eyes, dark circles, patchy skin and a little breakout on the chin. The couple spent several hours on the night regaling guests with stories of just how insomniac, anxious, busy and run down they'd become in the run up... she on the other hand looked flawless, because, as is a bride's right, she'd chosen to have a professional hair and make-up artist transform her from under-fed and hollow-eyed, to glistening cheekboned and ruby-lipped. She might have missed a few winks, but there were no missed opportunities amidst the menfolk, who flocked to her like moths to Greta Garbo's ember-tipped cigarette - she'd never looked better. A few weeks later, I quizzed her on the routine and it came as no surprise that on the morning of the wedding she'd used a cleanser, exfoliator, two masks, eye patches, a calming oil and massage technique (borrowed from her facialist) and then had several primers, highlighters and bases expertly blended and applied by her premier artist. As for her hubby - who's since bounced back to his charming ways - he rolled out of bed after a mere 25 minutes sleep, washed, shaved and patted on moisturiser - hoping for the best, but feeling somewhat hollow and harrowed by the puffy-eyed man looking back at him in the mirror.

This is where I become exasperated. Had he known just three or four simple tricks (his wife was in no position to help, sleeping as they did in separate parts of the country the night before) - he could have fixed his face with minimal fuss and spent the night with chest puffed out, rather than deflated in self-conscious apology.

Having chatted to several of my best-looking and well kempt colleagues, I feel the need to share the following...

1) If you have had no sleep the night before and need to look your best, be gentle with your skin. Overzealous cleansing, exfoliating and shaving will leave your complexion looking as you feel: irritable.

2) A few basics: if your skin is calm, but just looks dull and tired, invest in an enlivening, radiance-enhancing product, such as Nickel Morning After Rescue Gel, £24 ( - do not use immediately after shaving.

3) If your skin looks dry and patchy, after cleansing try a mask that will even out skintone such as Dermalogica Multi-Vitamin Power Recovery Mask, £21.35 (

4) If you have dark circles around your eyes, couple an eye gel or cream with light-reflective properties (my brother loves Lab Series Age Rescue Eye Therapy, £25 ( ) with a concealer. Many will know that I'm not a big fan of YSL's Touche Eclat - and on men in particular, it's very easily spotted (especially when looking back at photographs!). I therefore recommend Laura Mercier Secret Concealer, £18, because it comes in three SKIN-like colours and blends in seamlessly. For best results, apply eye cream and while skin is still the tiniest bit spongey with moisture, tap the concealer all along the orbital bone (the hollowest part of the undereye) with a little finger. When blended, stop.

5) There is no treatment on earth that will get rid of spots instantly. If you are well-off and well-connected, you can book in for an emergency spot shot from a reputable dermatologist(otherwise known as a cortisone injection), but for mere mortals, DIY methods must suffice. I don't rate toothpaste at all - I've seen girls with red rashes after regular zit attacks with the stuff.

If you have no time to spare, my best advice is to take a teeny bit of aspirin, grind it up and add a bit of water to make a paste and dab it directly onto the spot. Leave for a a couple of minutes then rinse away with ice cold water. This will take down some swelling and redness. Another great option is to pop eye whitening drops, which constrict blood vessels thereby reducing blood flow (and redness), directly onto the spot. My current favourite blemish cover-up is Avene Couvrance Concealer Brush, £11 ( It is a pen-style applicator and comes in a beige and a green shade. If you can afford both, I'd recommend using the green concealer on red areas first, before blending, and then brushing the beige colour over that. Faffy it may be, but the formula blends down to utter invisibility and has never once felt heavy on my cake-prone skin.

Poor guys. I may not be receptive to the ongoing male battle to keep tools in trousers, but I'm certainly more than sympathetic should they choose to whip the odd trick out of their sleeves.