Beauty Alert: The Only Highlighter You’ll Ever Need

Brace yourselves for a little makeover! As your beauty editor, I often want to be able to take a closer, deeper look at products and stories I don’t want anyone to miss, and I haven’t always been able to fit these things into the bite-sized beauty news roundups at Hard Lacquer.

I’m super excited to expand this type of coverage moving forward in posts dedicated to giving you just that! Having this new space will also double as a good way to feature brands I’ve discovered on my own or who have graciously allowed me to test-drive their products and report back — and just as I always have, you’ll know when the latter is the case, and I will be 100% honest in my reviews. Let’s jump in!


via CVS

Skin+Therapy: CVS Debuts a New In-House Skincare Range…And It’s Really Good!

One beauty editor with super sensitive skin and a penchant for pricey skincare (not me, I swear) did the unthinkable and changed her tune about a drugstore skincare brand. Skin+Therapy is the new anti-aging and advanced acne therapy brand by CVS, and it offers consumers nearly two dozen fully-loaded products under $20 that are 100% free of a slew of no-no ingredients for sensitive skin (sulfates, comedogens, irritating fragrances, etc.).

What they do contain are high-end goodies like squalane, an unparalleled moisturizing oil previously sourced from shark liver — which is wrongful — but now found in plant-derived formats thanks to beauty innovators like Emeryville-based Biossance, plus a slew of other known powerhouses like glycolic and hyaluronic acids, retinol, allantoin, with shea, other nourishing oils, and floral waters to balance things out.

Our go-to neighborhood drugstore is a Walgreen’s, so I haven’t pounced on it myself yet, but it’s always nice to find promising, affordable, high-quality brands to offer readers, and CVS Skin+Therapy sounds like it has the potential to be a sure thing!

Our Own Volition: The New Frontier of Beauty Meets Tech

Since first discovering Volition Beauty and now that I represent them as a brand ambassador, I’ve become more and more obsessed with the innovators and incubators on the front lines of the STEM x Beauty scene. It’s a fascinating, rapidly growing sector that I honestly can’t get enough of (and it looks like investors are finally starting to feel the same way).

The allure and access of the Bay Area’s tech stronghold seems to be wrestling away a longstanding East Coast dominance when it comes to cutting-edge beauty and shiny new brands, or at least staking a claim to it, because science! Even Connecticut-based Perricone MD relocated its HQ to SF and opened up a flagship at Berkeley’s posh Fourth Street Shops awhile ago. (By the way, their No Makeup line is pretty near perfect.)

Seeing new science and tech merge with the beauty industry is thrilling for me, and I feel blessed to be a part of it and get to glimpse these shifts from the inside. Unlike so many other startups, the force behind this new wave of beauty is tapping into an undeniably financially fertile industry by empowering us as individuals to know and express what we want, and offering us customization like we’ve never seen before.

Definitely read more here if you’re just as excited as I am!

“My Wife Doesn’t Use Beauty Products”: Birchbox CEO Calls BS On Clueless Male VCs and Good Old Silicon Valley Sexism

Everybody knows I love a good subscription beauty box; my monthly tab is about the equivalent of one high-end tube of lipstick per month ($10 apiece for Birchbox and Play! by Sephora, $14.70 for a discounted Glossybox). Some folks might prefer one high-end item over a pile of deluxe-size samples, but they keep my curious little hands busy with almost 20 new products to play with each month.

That would be disastrously expensive (or a troubling addiction, even) put any other way. What might feel overwhelming to some is like damage control or a nice, controlled burn for me: Beauty boxes mitigate those ill-advised impulse buys and help introduce me to new brands, products and beauty science in the process.

In the video above, Birchbox CEO and Co-Founder Katia Beauchamp explains how Birchbox was born out of a disconnect between a global $500B industry and the fact that its internet share in the US tops out at about 7% today, and the desire to bridge that gap in a meaningful way. Birchbox, a clear success story, was Forerunner Venture’s first major investment, and Katia and Kirsten Green, Forerunner’s founder and a leading woman in venture capital, talk sexism in the industry as well.

Why it is that fewer than 5% of women-run companies are getting VC funding, especially when virtually every single study and new research shows that ventures with strong numbers of women on the executive and board teams consistently fare better and are more successful, without fail? Another example? Take Glossier, with $8.4M in funding (some of it from Forerunner). Watch the video for their war stories on dealing with SV sexism and the inspiring vision they have for the future of beauty and women in tech!

Lightning Round

+ Don’t ask any dumb questions, OF COURSE YOU NEED THIS. Bitter Lace Beauty is a Las Vegas-based, cruelty-free indie makeup brand that was under-the-radar until this rainbow highlighter straight-up broke the internet this week. Literally overnight everyone wanted a piece of Prism and few actually got their hands on one before the entire Etsy shop sold out — not just of this particular highlighter, but every. single. available. item.

Bitter Lace Beauty owner and creator of this magical unicorn gift from the gay heavens, Jenna, has promised to restock Prism ($22) very soon, so follow their Instagram, luxuriate in the dreamy swatches and video of it in action, and try not to pass out from holding your breath!

+ Do you like science class? Do you like beauty products (of course you do, you’re right here)? Here is a very informative and in-depth explainer of skincare delivery systems. There is a great analogy about how they’re like Caviar bringing you ice cream and all the factors involved in it landing on your doorstep perfectly cold and in a timely manner.

+ It’s a good thing you already knew this because of my Strobing 101 post, but it looks like achieving “dewy baby angel skin” through layering or mixing shimmery primers with your foundation is getting more and more popular! Yay!

+ Great roundup of TMs in case you’re running low. I cosign the Bare Minerals, Jouer, and NARS, and would add Supergoop! and Perricone MD.

+ Lush’s Magical Moringa is WITCHCRAFT. First of all, just to be kind of a dick about putting it through its paces, I put it on my T-zone before a barre class. “Haha, Lush, let’s see you survive THIS nightmare.” An hour of isometric lunges and planking and sadistic cardio later and it was like I hadn’t worked up a sweat at all.

But sometimes in barre class when a leg is fully lifted and bent behind me and my glutes are screaming for mercy and I can’t really feel my standing leg as I stare at the floor, my back in a perfectly straight line, I just watch as droplets of sweat drip-drip-drip onto my mat while the instructor counts off our reps, hoping I don’t pass out. It is not a dainty sweat, so how the eff did this stuff disappear all of that? How?!?! It’s made with cornflour, cocoa and shea butters, and a slew of wonderful oils. That’s it!

So next I tried wearing it under normal makeup and still looked freakishly perfect 8-10 hours later, like an airbrushed me had been airbrushed all over again. By angels. Like the ethereal velvet skin of creepy television beauty work, but… significantly less creepy.

I don’t understand it; the tub will last eons, I’d never wear it to bed (not moisturizing enough, which is the general consensus), and I highly recommend layering or mixing a face oil or moisturizer for any dry spots or if your skin is combination or dry, but if you are the kind of person who is desperate for something to sop up the oil that crops up on your face throughout the day or just need to keep a warm weather sheen at bay, either buy this or get a sample of it to try. Skin that skips “dewy” and goes right to “shiny” will love this.

The only cons are that you have to work fast and tinker with it to find out the amount and application that works best for you, but it’s a small price to pay for the freedom of not having to think about shine all day! You just scrape a bit out of the tub, melt it between your fingers, and work into skin.

And now for my favorite part of the makeover: you giving me your beauty questions to answer! (You can also email me at!)

YNH: Beauty Box

Need beauty advice? Come at me with makeup, skincare, hair stuff! AMA about DIYs or hacks or lazy femme tricks! I'm ready. This is gonna be so fun!

That’s it for now, my loves. More soon!

Aja Aguirre is a perpetual late bloomer from SF who writes about style, fashion and beauty for Autostraddle. Her award-nominated style blog, Fit for a Femme, takes on both coasts' signature styles and draws on her experience as a personal stylist. Check out Instagram for her latest looks, and Twitter or Tumblr for QPOC Speakeasy x Femme Power vibes.

Aja has written 45 articles for us.


  1. seconding Laneia’s excitement for YNH: BEAUTY BOX!!!!

    I’m really curious about the different beauty subscription boxes in general- I had ipsy for a long while, but got tired of their selections– I didn’t care for a lot of their products, and they kept sending me hair stuff (which is a problem because I asked them not to and I have a shaved head…), so I’d be curious to hear about your experiences with different boxes, Aja!

    • I’ve been getting Ipsy for a couple months now, and last month, I didn’t get anything I was excited about, but this month I got a bunch of awesome things!

      I also get the Julep maven box, when I can afford it, it’s around $25 a month but it’s completely customizable and you can skip whenever, so there isn’t any risk involved. It’s full sized products from Julep, so it isn’t like Ipsy or Birchbox.

      • Play! by Sephora has been great. I trust the quality of the products and have been pleasantly surprised by the selection month-to-month. Even when a product isn’t for me — like the NARS Satin Lip Pencil I just got in Rikugien, a shade that just doesn’t suit me — it’s something I feel really good about having tried.

        I love Glossybox. It’s expensive, but it hits the beauty trifecta: high-end stuff, big sizes, lots of it.

        Birchbox just got fired up again in January after a three-year hiatus. I feel like their selection had plateaued for me back in 2013, but reviewing the boxes I’ve gotten this year, they’ve been pretty great!

        I’m not a big fan of the way Michelle Phan has comported herself in the past, which is why I can’t speak to Ipsy or her other brands (there’s plenty of info on that via The Google), but I had no idea how customizable and flexible the Julep box is — that sounds pretty cool.

        Hope that helps!

  2. Oh wow, yes, I absolutely DO need that rainbow highlighter to achieve my full mermaid potential. I signed up to have Etsy email me when the shop comes back.
    And I’m so going to check out Lush’s magical moringa because my face is super oily and gets very sweaty, and it sounds like it might go well under my moisterizing sunscreen.
    Also, I am FINALLY wearing sunscreen everyday because I bought some that feels amazing. I decided to try Hawaiian Tropic because I was not wearing sunscreen because it felt gross, smelled bad, and turned my skin white no matter how much I rubbed it in. Well, this kind smells great, feels great, and even has subtle shimmer. So that’s my beauty news for you.
    Oh yeah, and I tried one of those sheet masks the other day, and it made my skin feel so soft! Bonus points for looking like a monster for 20 minutes before the big reveal!
    Oh, and I got a professional manicure for the first time in my life 3 weeks ago, and I got so many compliments on the color! I’m going back tomorrow!
    Thanks for having beauty stuff on Autostraddle because it makes it more accessible.

    • Well done with sunscreen! And the manicure, holy smokes! Be a dear and post a link so we can find it online, too? Pretty please!

      It’s so amazing how baby soft those sheet masks make your face, right?! Good stuff.

  3. That weird moisturizer that keeps your face from getting oily INTRIGUES ME

    I don’t wear makeup except for last summer when I hilariously tried to be “more femme” & immediately regretted plucking my eyebrows like CHRIST Y’ALL I barely make it to work on time as it is??

    But yeah I care about my skin. It sorta holds all my insides on the inside, so.

    Ya Know

  4. My “something must be amiss here” sensors went on red alert when I read that you were in the middle of a barre class and your moisturizer was keeping you from sweating. That doesn’t sound good. Your skin is supposed to sweat! Your skin is the first place impurities that can’t be processed by the liver go to be released, and preventing your body from sweating them out is going to cause problems. This is why so many people are anti-anti-perspirant. But anti-perspirants also have harmful chemicals that keep you from sweating, and lush is only using “fresh, natural” ingredients and botanical oils, right?

    It doesn’t look like it. Firstly, the ingredient that’s keeping you from sweating is the corn flour. It is absorbing the sweat as you produce it. The problem with this is that when ingredients like corn starch, corn flour, corn silk, rice powder and talc (all absorbent) become moist with sweat, they can turn your pores into a breeding ground for bacteria. Ahoy, breakouts! Let yourself sweat it out during barre, it’s good for your body. If you want to avoid getting sweaty on a summer’s day out, you can probably proceed to use the product with caution and make sure when you take your makeup off you properly cleanse your pores to prevent any cornfloury bacteria from breeding. All essential oils are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal so a couple drops in a carrier oil massaged into your pores should do the trick.

    Also, I feel like lush is ALWAYS trying to trick people with their ingredients!! These days a lot of people are aware of basics like what SLS are and know how to avoid them, but there’s a lot more to know, and Lush exploits that knowledge gap and tries to pass off some ingredients as natural that actually aren’t through tricky language. For example, under the “fresh ingredients” (they say “fresh” but that’s really just a pleasing buzzword that doesn’t mean anything) they list their fragrances as cintronellol, eugenol, geranial, limonene, and linalool and claims that they’re natural ingredients. Well, they’re actually just natural compounds. These compounds exist naturally in certain plants (for example, eugenol is a compound that composes 85% of clove oil), but these ingredients aren’t natural, they’re fragrances that have been created developed in labs from natural compounds, and can still irritate you just like other synthetic fragrance can. Lush doesn’t want to use actual clove or lemon essential oil because that’s too expensive, but they’re sure as hell going to *imply* they’re using essential oils. Check out lush’s language to describe eugenol on their ingredient page, it’s really misleading: “Eugenol is a yellow viscous liquid ~with the same odor~ as clove. It makes up 85% of clove oil.
    It ~occurs naturally~ in cinnamon and bay essential oils among others.
    We use it as a ~fragrance material~.
    As ~it is a constituent of some essential oils~…”

    This also probably explains why every time I pass by a Lush store I feel immediately woozy and nauseous. Their fragrance is not natural, it’s naturally derived synthetic fragrance.

    Trickery like this makes my blood boil! It makes me so sad to think about some girl out there with sensitive, oily, acne-prone skin who might by looking to try natural alternatives to reduce her sweating but whose skin is only going to get worse. For so, so long I thought natural products “didn’t work” on me and it made me feel really frustrated and hopeless about my complexion. It took my a long time, a lot of money, and a lot of research (still learning so much all the time!) to realize the problem wasn’t me, it was most products. It’s not that natural products “didn’t work”, it’s just that the natural products weren’t actually “natural”, or if they were they were using natural ingredients that can fuck up your skin, naturally.

    /end Lush rant.

    Anyway, that’s why I can’t do birchbox or other luxury sample mailers. I’m far too picky about what goes on my skin and there is just too much bad stuff out there. It makes me sad that I have to don my critical skeptic hat so often when really all I want to do is rub roses on my cheeks and paint rainbows on my face without a care in the world

    • Also, if you think this comment is long, you should’ve seen my comment-that-never-was on the history and usage of nymphaea caerulea oil aka Egyptian blue lotus oil. It was basically my ode to serums, botany, and Cleopatra I was writing in response to your comment about Clarin’s blue lotus oil (love), but then my computer ate it and I never got around to retyping it.

      One day…

      • I was privileged enough to grow up with a mom that was super into health food and in a household where we could afford it, so I had an early start learning about that stuff, but I didn’t start learning really in depth about food until I started cooking for myself as a college senior. I’ve been realizing more and more that skincare, food, wellness, fitness, labor, and communing with nature, they’re all connected for me.

        As far as food and nutrition goes, there is a LOT of information out there and it’s really hard to parse through. Scientific studies are constantly being used by over enthusiastic bloggers to make outrageous claims like “EGGS CAUSE CANCER” one week and then “EAT EGGS THEY PREVENT CANCER” the next. There’s also so much problematic language surrounding health, size, and physicality, and a lot of classism and pretentiousness in the wellness community. In the end, it’s all about what works for YOU. You do you, as we say. All the research in the world won’t amount to much if you don’t do a bit of experimenting in your own life.

        What we put in our bodies is the source of what we produce. The words “you are what you eat” get thrown around so much that nobody even knows what they mean anymore a la “hahaha u mean if I eat carrots I’ll become a carrot?” but seriously… what you put in your body shows up in your life and on your body. Heavy, dense unhealthy foods lead to heavy, dense feelings. Spicy warm things like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon warm your stomach up and get your digestion going. An excess of estrogenic foods like wheat and potatoes can result in acne flare ups in your hormonal acne zones, meaning your chin and jawline (this is a big one for me… damn you gluten for being so delicious!). Give up on hype diets and eating trends and start to get back in tune with what your body wants and what it’s telling you. From the start, eliminate as many processed foods from your diet as you can and start eating more vegetables. Then, learn in your leisure time. Get curious. Enjoy yourself. Learning about this stuff isn’t going to be fun unless you let it be fun. If it’s a chore, it’s a chore.

        I find that a lot of western dietary habits can have negative effects on the body. Learning about nutrition can be a great way to learn about other cultures and their histories. If looking at all the *new* research about nutrition makes you weary, you may find it humbling instead to turn to research that is centuries upon centuries in the making. It’s just important to remember your sources and not be appropriative. I have personally found a lot of practical wisdom in Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and acupuncture. I also advise you read books, not blogs. Ayurveda: A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari changed my relationship with my body forever and The Grub Bag by Ita Jones radicalized the notion of food for me. I’m still learning so so much every day. It’s a lifelong journey for sure. I hope I’m still being astounded by plant facts and delighted by new recipes at age 90.

    • “Natural” is basically a meaningless word. Everything is derived from nature if you look back far enough, and pretty much everything you buy has been processed in some way.

      There’s no point in worrying about wheather or not a product is natural, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that (a) it’s safe (b) it works for you and (c) it’s ethically produced.

    • Bang on with the Lush rant Monique!
      As a person who deals daily with the cosmetic world (and the language approved and associated with it), they really do manage to exploit that knowledge gap amongst the public.
      Sure, some of their products are great (I live with their hair sea salt spray), but unfortunately you do have to dig a little deeper into just how ‘natural’ their products claim to be.
      (Side note: A lot of their shampoos say they are SLS free… But they get around this by using other surfactant based sulfates and by using a very carefully selected list of approved ingredient names.)

    • You’re so right, and I have noticed a number of beauty editors imploring their readers not to use store-bought cornstarch for the plethora of beauty hacks and DIYs out there for the very reasons you mention above. It can get gnarly!

      The cornflour, or cornstarch, typically used in cosmetics is usually pre-treated and therefore notably different from the kind that comes on grocery store shelves. Lush is notorious for eliciting very strong love/hate vibes, and I’m awaiting a call back from them to find out more about their ingredient in this formula. I also wonder if their inclusion of Rosewood oil in Magical Moringa is to give it an intentional antiseptic boost. We’ll see!

      I love your passion and enthusiasm for finding what works for you — it’s such a satisfying thing to see that kind of determination in readers!

      • Interesting! The rosewood oil would probably do a good job of combatting bacteria production too. I’m interested in what Lush has to say!

        Thanks 🙂 it’s nice to have safe havens like this where I can express my opinions and preferences!

  5. thanks for recommending supergoop that one time (this time reminded me)! i finally got my acne clear enough that i feel comfortable doing less than a full-coverage foundation, and spring is here, including sunshine, so i decided to try it, and it is AMAZING at both evening out my skin tone and protecting from sun, and is really easy to apply smoothly! still only three white-people-ish shades though, which is a major bummer.

  6. I just want to pop in and say that I see all y’all in the YNH: Beauty Box submissions so far, and I AM SO SO SO GIDDY AND EXCITED to answer every single one of them! Keep ’em coming, you beautiful dreamboats!

  7. I gasped when I saw that highlighter– so beautiful! I’m wondering, though, is there a way to make those colors more “wearable” (like not full-on glam… just a lil bit glam) as a highlighter? Also, related, I wanna add some color into my daily makeup routine but I’m not sure how!

  8. I have super oily skin so I usually just skip moisturizing (I know I shouldn’t, shut up) BUT EVERY SINGLE MOISTURIZER LEAVES MY SKIN EVEN GREASIER! I’ll give the magical Moringa a shot 🙂

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