Welcome to Hard Lacquer, your new source for beauty news and reviews at Autostraddle. The world of cosmetics is a vast and shimmering sea filled with mermaids and wonders and ships in the night; but in its fetching waters as on land, we suffer a certain invisibility compounded by the narrow social canon of femininity.
Hard Lacquer turns the tide, providing a lush cosmetic isle for beauty-seeking queers who want a bay to call their own. Each post in the series will kick off with a short roundup of the latest in beauty, followed by a deeper dive into a few special products.
+ Loving the trend of smaller braids on spring runways, it’s definitely more wearable than some of the others and french braiding my bangs into the rest of my hair has been a godsend in taking the edge off the growing-out process.
+ You guys. There’s like, a Neko Atsume but for fish in an aquarium and FOR BRUSHING YOUR TEETH. I don’t understand it, but I need it. What a world!
+ In other goddess bless beauty news, Beauty Brains broke down the science (or lack thereof) behind Wen products and claims of hair loss. The bottom line? If you use Wen and it’s working for you, it seems perfectly safe to keep on keepin’ on. Phew!
+ One thing y’all often ask for is low-key makeup for work settings, or makeup tips for looking more professional. That’s tricky for me to answer because while I love makeup, I don’t necessarily believe in the necessity of wearing it “for professional reasons.” I know, I know, pretty rich coming from a beauty editor, but hear me out: I’ve toiled in awe alongside tons of women who never wore makeup on the job (and rarely outside of it), yet they’re all highly professional, formidably smart and successful women who are great at what they do. It should not be news that for the vast majority of us, what we slap on our faces in the morning has absolutely nothing at all to do with our quality of work. And yet, unfortunately, “women who wear makeup earn more and are treated better” and are often perceived as more intelligent and competent, according to myriad studies and articles discussing the wildly unjust Makeup Tax (a not-so-distant cousin of the Tampon Tax).
Is it bullshit? Absolutely, of course it is. It all is. I think it’s reprehensible. I fucking LOVE makeup, but it really, really pisses me off that anyone would feel like they have to do shit they don’t want to do just to avoid any further widening of an already inexcusable wage gap that has massive short- and long-term financial and economic ramifications for women. The truth is, it doesn’t just start when you enter the workforce; wearing makeup at school helps get girls better grades and if I confessed how stabby that makes me, I’d probably get arrested. It makes me angry and it makes my heart ache, so I both fully support never, ever wearing anything you don’t feel comfortable wearing and sucking it up and wearing makeup because you can’t afford not to. What’s my point? (I have one, I swear!) If you opt for the latter, shoot for this breezy trifecta: Mascara, Brows, Lip Balm.
Seriously, that’s it. Don’t believe me? Check this out, and tell me mascara isn’t the #1 most striking effect, beating out brows, lipstick and blush. You can stop there, get a clear mascara or a brown one if you can’t stomach full black, it’s totally a thing. Or keep going; Grooming your brows can be as easy as running a little spoolie through them, getting them shaped periodically by a pro, or using a clear or lightly tinted formula rather than busting out the big guns. A good lip balm emphasizes or enhances your lips, and that’s often possible with little to no color at all — look for simple, fuss-free shades more honey and peach in tone. You shouldn’t need a mirror to confidently apply, it should be as easy as putting on Chapstick. Those should all help hit that sweet facial contrast spot without feeling like you’re “made up.”
SLATHER, SLAY, REPEAT
Let’s talk about moisturizers, babycats! Specifically, nighttime moisturizing. Why nighttime? Because beauty sleep is not a thing evil stepmothers and boogeymen made up to tuck you in with the patriarchy at night, it’s when our bodies rev up regenerative and restorative functions, and when moisture loss, collagen and hyaluronic breakdown are especially real. There’s also some evidence that suggests the absorption potential of ingredients formulated to penetrate the skin are increased during sleep (but the same can’t be said of ingredients NOT meant to penetrate the skin).
Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, spikes cortisol, which increases inflammation, which is definitely not your skin’s friend. Throwing your skin’s water balance off means it’s less supple, and the next thing you know, fine lines and wrinkles are like GUESS I’LL JUST LIVE HERE FOREVER IT’S COOL YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ME WHATEVER. It’s not just about fighting dark circles or puffy eyes and keeping acne at bay (both of which are exacerbated by lack of sleep or low quality sleep), it’s about giving skin as much of a hand as possible in order for it to be its best 24/7.
It would be nice to have an all-purpose moisturizer you could use anytime, wouldn’t it? Honestly, that’s how I do it. The premise of most night creams is technically kind of a sham. You don’t necessarily need to spend money, let alone loads of it, on a a special nighttime moisturizer for the sake of having a dedicated nighttime moisturizer.
According to most experts, however, it can make sense for a lot of people to have a separate nighttime moisturizer. WHAT THE WHAT, you say? Bear with me here: loads of moisturizers would be just dandy for day and night if it weren’t for key ingredients that make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, such as:
- AHAs (lactic acid or glycolic acid)
- Benzoyl Peroxide (anti-acne agent)
- BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids like salicylic acid)
- Hydroquinone (used for skin whitening)
- Retinol (anti-aging)
- Natural oils (things like citrus, peppermint, and lavender oils may increase photosensitivity)
Of course, you can use sunscreen liberally to try and protect your skin (you should be wearing some anyway), but if you want to reduce risk, those creams will likely serve you best solely at bedtime, when they can do their best without putting your skin in harm’s way.
There’s also the fact that some folks use daytime moisturizers containing SPF, which can compromise hydrating properties in order to accommodate the sunscreen. While most brands work hard at ensuring their SPF products are non-comedogenic, they are usually more expensive because it costs more to make them. Why slather that on at night when the upside is so marginal compared to the risks?
The other reasons for using two different moisturizers are mostly aesthetic. If you favor a nice, heavy cream for nighttime use, chances are that it’ll make a greasy, swampy mess under makeup (or even on its own). Folks will often pair something lighter and more primer-y than what they use at night for day, which makes perfect sense. Makeup can get expensive and it sucks to watch it collapse over moisturizer it doesn’t get along with!
What does all of that mean? It means you don’t need a special PM moisturizer — for example, after cleansing I prefer to layer repairing serums with active ingredients at night under the same moisturizer I use under an SPF in the AM — but you may very well prefer one depending on your skin’s needs. Skincare isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like it to be, but I’m here to help! Now let’s look at some wins and recommendations and get you fresh as daisies.
These are all every bit as good as the expensive stuff, which frees up your wallet for investing in other skincare products with more powerful and concentrated ingredients. CeraVe is packed with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, Simple is a really straightforward formula safe for the most sensitive skins, and Weleda packs a serious punch with a really thick, rich consistency and is best used sparingly (but you can use it all over, which is awesome). You can find it at Whole Foods, and the former two at drugstores and supermarkets.
I personally love every single one of these moisturizers, and while repeat buys are on the rare side for me, you can add Embyrolisse to the list alongside Weleda and CeraVe; I could not tell you how many tubes or bottles of this trio I’ve gone through, but it’s a lot.
Let’s start with the Block Island Organics Night Cream, though, because it is brilliant and I have had no qualms about using it for day. It’s a lovely, simple but effective and nourishing formula that works beautifully with every last one of my makeup and skincare products. I also love knowing that it’s made by a majority women-owned family company that started semi-locally on Block Island, Rhode Island! If your priority is using something organic and natural, made with botanical ingredients and rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and E, you might want to give this a try. (Use code AJAA to get 20% off your order through 3/16!)
Clinique is fantastic for oilier, combo or troubled skins that are more in need of a balancing, fast-absorbing, oil-free formula. It’s nice that you get a whopping 4 oz. of product for $26, it’ll last you awhile! Embryolisse is a bit of cult classic, works wonders removing makeup and as a base under makeup, but it just happens to be a completely unfussy, really gorgeous moisturizer. Yes, I know Paula’s Choice hates it and no, I don’t bloody care. My skin is stupid happy whenever I’m using this, and just writing about it is making me annoyed that I don’t have some on hand right this second!
One thing to know as we get into pricier options is that the cost is partially explained by costlier ingredients, fancier packaging, or the experience. I can’t tell you whether or not those things are worth your hard-earned cash when there are far cheaper options that do the job (and well), but if they are, these are some really delicious options!
Lush’s Gorgeous smells freaking divine. Let’s be real, that’s Lush’s forte and sometimes its own downfall, but here it works. It’s packed with oils, sinks in beautifully and has worked wonders in the texture and brightness of some folks’ skins. Belif’s Aqua Bomb is SO GOOD, it smells like Sprite but if K-Beauty is your jam, this is a total must-have. It’ll give your skin that squishy, bouncy, “moistful” feel so sought after in Korean skincare. I was skeptical at first but kept having super grabby hands and realized I couldn’t get enough of this little pot! It’s more expensive but not, like, obscene. For fancy lady vibes, grab this sleek black bottle from Chanel (of course). A lot of skincare products talk a big game but deliver mediocre results, but every time I went to bed with this on, my skin felt changed immediately, and even better in the morning. Softer, radiant and glowing. I used an even lighter hand than usual with my favorite CCs, and went totally barefaced more often. Considering how little I used, the $85 price tag doesn’t seem outrageous – this will last you six months or more.
If you’re more of a facial oil kinda person, I don’t blame you. They’re hella dreamy, easy to use year-round, and have a ton of versatility when it comes to adding a drop to other products, kinda like beauty mixology! This roundup includes a few I’ve tested recently, as well as trusty standbys.
Fresh’s offering is loaded with omegas and antioxidants to keep skin youthful and protected, while Nude’s is an inventive, silky formula that aims to help tone, firm and smooth the skin. I’ve hungrily gone through two samples and might just snag this since it’s on sale — it feels super luxurious! You couldn’t pick anything more solid than Josie Maran’s classic Argan Oil for achieving a glow, and it’s great for use anywhere on the body (there’s a semi-matte light version now, too). Finally, this Lotus face oil from Clarins is part of a trio of oils that they offer — it’s best for combination skin, but there’s one geared toward normal (Blue Orchid) and dry skins (Santal). I love that it hydrates like an oil and treats like a serum. I’ve used this morning and night since October and the bottle is not quite half empty, which makes the price tag a little easier to swallow. They all smell really lovely and last ages and ages.
Now that you’ve got lots to choose from, a few notes on application! While there’s nothing wrong with going straight from cleansing to moisturizing, if you have other products you use, it’s important to know how to layer ’em up so that each one can be most effective. A good rule of thumb I think I’ve mentioned before is to start from thinnest and work your way up to thickest. If they’re similar in viscosity, go with potency instead.
You also don’t want to pile too many products on at once; according to a Vogue guide on layering, “most dermatologists agree that applying more than three formulas at a time can be a bit overwhelming,” creating a traffic jam of sorts on your face. Here’s an awesome chart for figuring it out:
And something even simpler:
Just like with diligently washing the day off your face at night, moisturizing is an important step in giving your skin what it needs to look its best. You gotta give it tools — sleep, breathing room, a moisture barrier and steady arsenal of kickass, good-for-you ingredients — so it can do its job! I’m still going through trial-and-error to bring you a thorough sheet face mask post next, but so far the results are exciting and I can’t wait to share more with you soon. ‘Til then, sweet peas!