Hard Lacquer: Skincare Deluxe Edition featuring Sheet Masks & Cruelty-Free Micellar Waters

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Header by Rory Midhani

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.


In this issue of Hard Lacquer, Maree and I tackle the ubiquitous sheet face mask and revisit micellar waters, cruelty-free style! Let’s jump in with the news!

+ A little something for those of you who lack a steady hand when you’re giving yourself a manicure or pedicure at home. Looks messy, but if you ever miss the feeling of peeling glue off your fingers, this new product is quite the treat.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. I sure could have used this cat-eye quick fix the other day (okay, maybe most days) — it uses a slanted brush and concealer to correct subtle mistakes! 

+ Here’s a comprehensive guide to preventing, treating and covering up dark circles. And for anyone who isn’t afraid of needles, this worked for one woman’s undereye bags like a charm! 

+ Say it ain’t so: Now triple-cleansing’s a thing? Feel free to click through if you’re a masochist or clean freak!

+ IDK about you, but I can’t tell whether concealer is one of those things that’s worth splurging on or something that should be easy to procure and really affordable. Thankfully, Pixiwoo recently give us their roundup of the best drugstore concealers if you’re in the latter camp!

+ Never 100% sure when to use which brush and for what? All the mystery is taken out of it in this quick rundown of the basics! The more you know…

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Having a Ferdinand the Bull moment at my mother’s house. via FFAF

+ After a pre-SXSW salon emergency, I said a quick little prayer and plopped into a total stranger’s chair to give me my hair back last month. Thankfully, it all worked out beautifully, and now I’m back in the V-Triple-B (Vigilant Brass-Banishing Babes). In my current rotation? A super-potent brightening shampoo from Phyto and Oribe’s Bright Blonde Conditioner on the luxe side, plus John Frieda’s highlight-activating shampoo and conditioner on the drugstore side.

I picked up Lush’s Marilyn and Daddy-O but feel like neither is quite right for my hair — the former poofs mine up in a way no other product has and the latter is just too harsh. (People love them, though, so it might just be my stupid high standards or hella thick hair or something.)

Have you ever used blue, purple or brightening shampoos or conditioners? Share your faves in the comments!


Aw, Sheet

After test-driving many different sheet face masks over the course of two weeks and across 3,000 miles, the verdict is in and it might shock you: I kind of hate them. I wanted to like them. Truly, I did. I wanted to jump the runaway hype train of face sheet masks, since everyone’s been all-aboard going back to 2014, when they first gained steam and quickly became one of the fastest-growing segments of skin care.

Now they’re everywhere, from Instagram to an entire mini-wall full of them at Sephora, tempting little packets promising to perform like a nitro boost for the skin: jam-packed with killer ingredients, providing a physical barrier that gives them no place to go but deep into your thirsty little pores, like a potent treatment shot as general or as specific as you could want or need from a 15-30 minute quick fix.

Fiber (cotton or cloth) masks are generally the least expensive but also provide the least impressive results. Mine all fell into this category, and maybe if I’d gotten my hands on either the hydro-gel or bio-cellulose versions (you guessed it — pricier), I’d have been more pleased with the process and results.

People with far more ingredient knowledge than I, stress that your sheet masks should contain both fantastic ingredients as well as ingredient penetration enhancers and delivery systems. If you’re driving precious cargo from Point A to Point B, basically, don’t expect a lemon to do the job well.

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How the whole shebang works via FutureDerm.com

On the plus side, going out for a facial or spa treatment is expensive and sucks up other resources, like time, especially if you consider the healing period afterward, which can be anywhere from a day to several days, depending. Face sheet masks are a good way to DIY similar results in the comfort of your own home (or hotel room!) if your skin needs some TLC.

Plus, they’re funny and creepy and have become almost a beauty bonding rite of passage; with your bestie, with your partner, with your goofy colleagues at work or family members.

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I do not exaggerate! Get your own 5-pack of Face Shop animal-themed masks at Amazon.com for $11.30, have memories for a lifetime. (Or at least as long as a Snapchat!) via Gangnam.com

As long as you wear the mask for at least 20 minutes, you’re likely to yield at least 80% efficacy. If you can hold out for sixty minutes, that shoots up to 99%!  Though any mask with AHAs, including those containing glycolic and lactic acids, should stick to the instructions on the package.

Most masks nowadays suggest patting the excess “essence” or liquid into the skin and carrying on with your day or skincare regime; I like hanging on to the excess in the packet and working it in at night and letting it work magic while I sleep for a little bonus.

Some folks skip the sheet part altogether and just wring that sucker out and spread the treatment out over the course of a few days or the week, depending on how much you can squeeze from one mask. Others cut it into sections and meter out treatment that way. There’s no one way to do it, that’s for sure.

Let’s go through my top five before I tell you why they’re not my jam:

Karuna Anti-Oxidant+ Face Mask

This deep conditioning, serum-infused cloth mask is for all skin types, and promises to give tired skin a glowing appearance, healthier look and feel, and promote elasticity. I wore it for 30 minutes instead of the recommended 10-20, letting the oil-free formula of hyaluronic acid and peptides, plus aloe vera, chamomile, Chinese licorice and vitamin B work all the way in under a 100% natural wood pulp fiber sheet.

My thoughts: My skin felt lots firmer and more taut afterward, but my pores seemed a little enlarged and the glow I had from an early morning workout was definitely more bangin’ than the one this mask gave me.

Too Cool For School Egg Cream Sheet Mask

Total sucker for this packaging and duh, the name. It’s also pretty wallet-friendly, which is cool. This microfiber sheet mask is infused with egg white and egg yolk extract “to instantly hydrate for a bright and radiant complexion.” It also promises some firming effects and to remove dead skin cells for a clean, beautiful finish.

My thoughts: In terms of radiance, this one is eggscellent. Eggceptional, even! Okay, I’ll stop. I noticed a beautiful glow and improvement in evenness throughout the day; this is one of those masks that seems to just intensify in terms of results. So the longer it’s been since application, the prettier it gets. Lovely! I was so pleased I didn’t put a lick of makeup on for the rest of the day, but the firming/tightening was noticeable enough that I had to give my skin a few spritzes of Tony Moly Pocket Bunny Sleek Mist (which sadly isn’t available at the Sephora website anymore) before applying a light dose of belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb.

Tony Moly I’m Real Tomato Face Mask Sheet – Radiance

These puppies are sold in 2-packs which makes them an even better deal than the previous one! Sephora offers seven of the eleven options you see above, which is still a nice array of choices, and I chose Radiance because that’s something I feel is easy to assess in terms of results. The package claims the mask will give skin a healthy-looking, dewy glow, using a 3-layer sheet system comprised of pulp and rayon to help deliver tomato fruit extracts to boost radiance and transform your skin into a smooth, refreshed, healthier-looking complexion, plus peach fruit extract to brighten, hydrate, and refresh.

My thoughts: I wasn’t super impressed by this one, but I wasn’t displeased by its results, either. It’s a fine option and I like that there’s a big selection to target your concerns, and that you get more for your money with a 2-pack. It did leave my skin baby soft and poreless, which isn’t nothin’, but I’d have liked for it to have just a smidgen more of a plumping effect.

SESHA SKIN THERAPY Botanical Hydro Mask

This one is fancy and high tech, using a technology created by a Harvard and MIT-educated scientist called Permeation Enhancement Technology (P.E.T.®), a medical breakthrough using a key ingredient to offer an enhanced delivery system. This mask claims to deeply hydrate and nourish the skin, and is “soaked in botanical extracts such as cucumber, aloe and hyaluronic acid” to moisturize and purify flaky skin “while also soothing the surface and stimulating collagen production.” Sounds good!

My thoughts: It was very silly of me to try such a deeply cooling mask on a cold post-winter winter’s day, but for warmer days? SO COOLING, SO REFRESHING, SO CUCUMBER-Y. Keep this one on your shortlist for summer! It was my favorite; I guess I secretly wanted something plumping and gorgeous, and I got all that and more from this puppy. It’s like it combined all the things I liked in the other masks and then gave my skin a mega-bouncy boost of hydration, too.

BioRepublic Skincare Pomegranate Crush Illuminating Mask Set

This little guy arrived in a Birchbox ages ago, so I rotated it into the experiment and decided to pamper my skin after a long cross-country flight last week. The illuminating fiber mask is packed with antioxidants like Vitamin E, and promises to leave skin brighter, smoother, and all-around happier, thanks to pomegranate and green tea extract. Bonus: They’re totally biodegradable!

My thoughts: On par with the Tony Moly Radiance mask, this one left my skin a bit more hydrated and incredibly soft, but didn’t deliver any other noticeable, impressive results. I wonder if the Aloe Rescue or Green Tea versions would be more effective, but mine was just okay. Maybe my skin just doesn’t like these red fruit situations after all and it has more to do with that than the product itself.

Final Thoughts

Sheet face masks have a lot going for them: They’re pretty gosh darn effective across the board, they deliver results you can see immediately, and they’re handy, very portable, and fairly affordable. They were a dream while traveling, and they’re a great alternative to the packaging that often comes with a quality mask with similar results.

So what’s my beef with them? They’re messy, they’re goopy, they don’t feel awesome on. They drip on your clothes (or robes or pajamas), they look totally bonkers, they mess dangerously close to your hairline when many of us stretch anywhere from 2-3 days (or more) between shampoos and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to try and cancel out sticky, heavy-duty serum from my bangs with baby shampoo! The OSFA thing just doesn’t work in reality — I always had to fold or manipulate sheet overhang, which can crease or create weight where things should be totally flush and smooth.

But they are super cool products with undeniable results, so while I won’t be donning them weekly or anything, I’ll definitely pack a few on trips and indulge once in awhile, especially when a nice, relaxing cool down is just what I need.

Share your faves in the comments, I’d love to hear recommendations of your tried-and-true picks!


5 Reasons Micellar Water Isn’t a Scam + Top 5 Cruelty Free Options by Maree

If you exist as a person on the internet, it’s likely you’ve come across this strange, nonsense-sounding thing called micellar water (we even on this fair site covered it briefly last year). Probably you read about it and thought, “Special face water? That is PISH-POSH.”

It very well might be total and utter you-know-what. It might be made with dish soap in somebody’s cellar. However, it is also a long-time darling of makeup artists and French women alike, two categories of person I am all too willing to believe when it comes to my face.

The science behind it focuses on these tiny little things called micelles. A micelle, according to Lab Muffin, is a ball-shaped cluster of surfactant molecules. Surfactant molecules have two ends: one that’s attracted to water (hydrophilic) and one that’s attracted to oils and grease (lipophilic).

They’re essentially a nice middle ground where water and oil can play around together in harmony. And they’re so gentle that when they’re left on the skin — say, after you swipe some micellar water on your face — they won’t dry you out.

Since I’ve been using micellar water everyday for the last two months, surfactants and I have become besties. We basically braid each other’s hair and make mix tapes with hand-drawn track lists. They do a lot of really snazzy things that I’m starting to think I can’t live without, like:

  1. Remove eye makeup impeccably with none of that oily residue business.
  2. Act as a gentle toner after cleansing.
  3. Combat the drying effects of hard water.
  4. Stand-in for a cleanser in the morning when you’re running late but wanna look and feel refreshed.
  5. Clear up pesky neck breakouts if you’re prone to those (guilty).

Bonus: I filled a travel-sized bottle with the stuff and took it with me on a 21-hour flight and it was the only reason I didn’t arrive looking like a sad, slightly crazed raccoon. Pure starshine? Possibly. Good molecular skincare science? Absolutely.

Five Cruelty-Free Micellar Waters

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Cattier Perle d’Eau Cleansing Micellar Solution, $28.99 for 10 oz
Ziaja Natural Olive Micellar Water, $12.99 for 6.7 oz
Avene Micellar Lotion Cleansing and Makeup Remover, $15 for 6.76 oz
REN Rosa Centifolia 3-in-1 Cleansing Water, $18.24 for 6.8 oz
Sukin Micellar Cleansing Water with Chamomile and Cucumber, $21.37 for 8.46 oz
(all available via Amazon)

Thanks for reading and we’ll be back next time with loads of makeup goodness for spring! Which is finally here! Hooray!

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.

15 Comments

  1. For sheet masks I like the brand Boscia, especially their green tea mattifying hydrogel mask. It makes a noticeable difference for my oily skin and it’s cooling and soothing. I’m excited to try the Tony Moly products!

    • Right?! They’re SO messy, even unpackaging them and unfolding them and getting them situated on your face — none of it is pleasant or enjoyable, is all I’m saying.

  2. I definitely need the under eye links, thank you!

    What I REALLY need is a step by step guide for broke-ass tomboys who need to use a bit of makeup to look alive at work.

    BUT first, the under eye thing. It suggested tea bags? Is there a certain type of tea? Do you just dip it in a bit of cool water first?

    • Here’s a pretty great guide for using tea bags, that might help you out!

      As for tomboy makeup, it’s so different for everyone that it’s hard to give OSFA advice, but definitely cleanse and moisturize (i.e. take good care of your skin), and if you feel like you need a bit of makeup, the biggest bang for your buck is gonna be three easy things:

      1. Super lightweight coverage you don’t have to think about. Think tinted moisturizer.
      2. Clear or subtle mascara — Mineral Fusion makes a great one and bonus points for curling your lashes beforehand, Tweezerman curlers can be found at drugstores in different sizes for different eye shapes!
      3. Clear or very lightly pigmented lip balm. Burt’s Bees is perfect for this!

      If you wanted to up the ante, I’d add brow grooming like Glossier’s Boy Brow to the mix. I wish I had some willing tomboys I could do before/afters on and give y’all photo proof, but you’ll have to take my word for it for now!

      • I wish you had before/afters because I just looked at their website (which you can’t see if you have Adblocker on fyi!) and I am 100% not convinced that boy brow is a thing anyone needs. Before/afters could help.

        But thanks so much for the tea links! Exciting that you brew tea with them first, I was worried about being wasteful but I drink 2 cups of tea at least every AM anyway.

        And thank you for all the other advice as well!

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