Beauty Q&A: If You See Something, Say Something

1. I have a younger sister who just graduated college and is now out in the working world, holding down two part-time jobs while searching for her full-time breakthrough. She’s fun, gorgeous, great skin, but her taste in cosmetics and perfume is a little… what’s the nice word for tacky? Let’s just say tacky. Paris Hilton scents, way-too-dark lip liner, the whole deal. I’d like to use Christmas as a chance to introduce her to nicer brands and less garish colors, without stifling her fun or putting her in totally boring neutrals. If I get her a Sephora gift card, though, I feel like I’d just be enabling her addiction to plum-colored everything. Any suggestions?

This is a choose your own adventure answer. If your sister is as confident as she sounds, good-natured, and likes having heart-to-hearts, proceed to answer A. If you’re in the mood for an elaborate, harmless, fun scheme because you don’t have much going on right now and your sister is also maybe a bit sensitive, proceed to answer B.

Answer A: Have you tried talking to her about it? Maybe, if you sat her down and said, “Hey Paris, what is UP with your style? It’s so… unique?,” she would fill you in about how she secretly wants to be a makeup artist for Cirque du Soleil so she practices on herself in small ways, and also her girlfriend just really loves her perfume — it reminds her of when they first met in freshman year — so it’s like, why change if she still looks gorgeous and gets all the jobs, you know? No, you don’t know, and neither do I. My bet is she really loves her look and feels good about it. She wouldn’t be the only one — what you’re describing sounds pretty mainstream, if a little young, which your sister is, so that’s fine. Is there a possibility that you’re maybe… projecting a little? Sometimes when we think we want “what’s best for someone,” what we really want is for them to make the exact same choice we would so we can feel validated and “right.” Or we have anxiety about the world perceiving them negatively, and judging us by association. Or, we secretly desire to look and smell like Paris Hilton, but could never pull it off as successfully as our little sister, so we convince ourselves that she actually looks and smells bad. Free psychoanalysis today! Whatever the real issue is deep inside of you, big sis, accepting her, but being brave enough to have an honest, loving conversation about your discomfort will be really good practice for relating to your future lover/child/best friend who one day morphs into an unrecognizable life form. Just come prepared to apologetically remove any potential sticks you might find up your butt. Then go buy her the Sephora gift card.

Answer B: Get makeovers together! I’m speaking from experience here, except I was the little sister character . You see, way back in the 1990s, there was a style called “grunge” and it forbade young ladies from wearing blush, unless you were wearing tons of it ironically. Either way, you looked dead — freshly or open-casketly — and that was the point. Moms don’t like that! Moms like their children to look alive and healthy, did you know? So, anyway, my mom somehow got me into some blush one day and I can honestly say that before she had me try it on, it had NEVER OCCURRED TO ME to wear blush. None of my friends ever had any! It just didn’t come up. And it looked fine and I didn’t immediately add it to my makeup bag, but it made its way in there by junior year. Okay, so back to the plan:

Schedule side-by-side, early evening makeovers at a fun counter at the department store — like Nars or Benefit — and talk to the artist who will work on your sister beforehand, letting them know your concerns and The Plan. (Did you know you can call and schedule those beauty-counter makeovers ahead of time? You can.) Then, pitch this plan to your sister: “Let’s get dressed up, go get stupid mall makeovers and hit the town for some classy winter cocktails… like ladies!” I mean, seriously, how fun does that sound? You said she’s fun, remember? Once your faces are corrected, the key is to take her somewhere your friends will be, or at least where you’ll know the bartender or someone, and have them compliment her, subtly. “I love your lipstick.” That’s it. I know it’s sneaky! And I don’t care. Putting a new idea in a resistant person’s head is tricky. Don’t expect any change to happen overnight, but if you do it right, it’ll plant a seed of doubt in her as she applies her black lipliner the next morning. *TENTS FINGERS*

2. I need help finding my signature scent. This seems to be a thing a Grown Ass Lady should have, and while lots of perfumes smell nice to me (and some

give me horrible sneezing fits), I have yet to find The One. Searching online by keyword (floral/spicy/fruity) is useless because perfumes are more complex than a few choice words can describe. I even went to Sephora to smell all the smells, but nothing was exactly what I was looking for. The scents I like are reminiscent of an Indian rug store — sandalwood, patchouli, amber, things like that — and nothing overly girly. My problem with perfumes is that they all smell so… perfumey. I guess I’m looking for something that isn’t so much like a layer of scent surrounding my body, but something that seems to emanate from my skin, so people will think I naturally smell like a spice wagon. Short of rubbing myself in straight essential oils, I don’t know what to do!

Have you tried rubbing yourself in straight essential oils, perchance? Do it, but avoid straight patchouli oil, as it smells like… patchouli oil. I know it sounds like a standard, boring place to shop for such a thing, but Aveda actually makes some really nice oils and blends that are meant to be worn as perfume. They’re unfortunately called “Pure-Fumes,” but I’m recommending them as there are Aveda salons and stores everywhere, making it easy for you to test them in person.

A tip when shopping for scents: smelling the bottle or spraying onto blotter papers are great ways to narrow down your selections, but to really get a sense of the scents, put your two faves on different wrists, or a wrist and a shoulder if you only have one wrist. Go shop somewhere else for an hour and then see how the perfumes actually react to your body chemistry, and more importantly, whether your nose gets sick of them over time. I find that my favorite perfumes kind of disappear and I don’t notice them after a few minutes, and my most hated smells linger and irritate me all day long until I take a shower and change my clothes.

As for actual perfumes that have the notes you’re looking for, many, many formulas these days contain those elements, but it sounds like you’ve tried a bunch of the more popular ones and are disappointed. If you have a little money to spend on one amazing bottle — and it sounds like you do since this will be the only perfume you will possess — I suggest two niche brands: Penhaligon’s, and in particular I think you’d like their Hammam Bouquet as it’s got the notes you like and isn’t very “girly,” and Kilian. Available at upscale department stores, Kilian makes just plain weird smells inside the prettiest bottles for the top of your dresser. These will do that magical “it can’t be a perfume because IT’S COMING FROM INSIDE HER” thing. “In The City of Sin” sounds up your alley:

“A place of extreme temptation where every street corner offers the possibility of impromptu encounters and seductions. IN THE CITY OF SIN opens with an explosion of Bergamote from Calabria, pink Peppercorns and Cardamom from Guatamala. The perfume then evolves into a heart of Apricots and caramelized Plums held in check by the Turkish Rose Absolute. A light haze of Indonesian Incense entrances and then lends a profound depth, further sustained by Atlas and Virginia Cedar woods and rich Indonesian Patchouli. Each bottle includes a white clutch embellished with a goldtone snake detail.”

Yeah. Start saving up.

3. It seems like every woman in New York City owns a pair of perfect black leather riding boots. Buttery leather, a sleek rounded toe, the slightest heel (maybe 2″ max), sometimes a zipper, no frills or ruffles or studs, perfectly classic, simple, and exactly what I’m looking for. Are these women paying out the roof for the shoes of my dreams? I want warm, perfect boots that look great with tights as well as black jeans, and maybe boots that will last me through several winters. My budget is ideally $200 (about five times more than I have ever spent on a pair of shoes), but if you think investment boots might cost me more, I will take the plunge. I have walked out of so many vintage shops, shoe stores, boutiques, and department stores empty handed — I am starting to think I need to begin asking random women on the street where they buy their boots. I really don’t want to do this!

Why not!? They don’t bite. Do you know what the women of NYC love pretty much more than anything? Being complimented by strangers and bragging about getting a great deal on something. You’d be making their day. I’m going to pretend I’m one of them and you just stopped me on the street:

You: Excuse me, ma’am? I mean miss! Sorry, miss. So, um, first of all, ack! This is making me so nervous. I never do this and I HATE it — I mean truly I do NOT want to be doing this for some reason — but oh well, here goes: I love your boots and I was wonderi…

Me: Thank you! Oh my god, I know, right? They’re amazing, right? I’M amazing, RIGHT? I’M YELLING BECAUSE OF THE SIRENS AND ALSO THE EXCITEMENT OF THESE BOOTS AND GETTING COMPLIMENTED BY A STRANGER WHO IS NOT TRYING TO SELL ME A DISCOUNTED HAIRCUT. The two-tone thing really makes them stand out. I got them online for 160 bucks plus free shipping. Do I win?

You: Sure.

Me: Good. They’re by Steve Madden, if you can believe it.

You: Nope. Okay, bye.

Aaand, scene.

You can also — like I’ve said too many times already, but I’m sorry, it really is the answer — go to and put in all of your requirements. Here are a bunch of black riding boots with no or low heels for under $200.

4. I have eye bags FROM HELL. I am only 42 and I am suffering from these huge, puffy bags that I *cannot* get rid of. I have tried everything imaginable: eye creams, roll-on caffeine, tea bags, cucumbers, Sudden Change Eye Serum, ice packs, and Preparation H. Concealers don’t seem to be of any help because I don’t have dark circles. YouTube tutorials all seem to be make up oriented, but when I use a lot of eye make up, it seems like it is more pronounced. Besides, I usually only wear mascara and a gel eyeliner, so I look kind of funny (and not ha-ha funny) when I wear too much makeup.

I only survived the summer by pretending I was Jackie Onassis and going around in oversized sunglasses whenever possible. This plan, being both stupid and effective at the same time, is not going to work in Minnesota in the winter when it is dark out the majority of the time.

Is an eye job going to be my only option? Do I have to divert my 50th Birthday Boob Lift Surgery Fund to take care of these damn things?

Well, harumph, welcome to being a mortal human animal with a face. Your first option is to get rid of your face. Just kidding. Actually, first, have you seen an allergist? You don’t mention your eyes being irritated, so this is a longshot, but you might be reacting to something in the air, or on your pillow. If you notice it’s worse during certain times of day, or after you’ve visited a particular place, write that shit down and take it to a doctor. There might be drops or allergy meds that’ll clear this right up. Also, how much water are you honestly drinking? However much, double it.

Short of that, however, you have a condition called Aging. Over time, the fat in our mid-faces starts to move around.

TANGENT: One time I went to an eye doctor because I have a floater that truly obstructs my vision and drives me insane. (In fact, I see you right now, you piece of shit!) She looked into my eye with a… thingy… and was like, “Yep, it’s a floater. Sorry! It’ll probably be there for a long time and there’s nothing we can do.” And I was like, “Boo. Dumb answer. What is a floater, exactly?” And she said to imagine the inside of your eyeball: when you’re born, it is like a firmly set up Jell-O mold in there, but as you age, the Jell-O starts to melt. Occasionally, as it slowly disintegrates, a chunk breaks off — like a piece of an iceberg floating away into the sea — and it just bobs around in the melted part until it either fully liquifies or you die. THE END.

Where was I? Oh, so your midface fat is melting and some slides down to give you jowls, and some breaks apart under your eyes to give you bags. (Or something more scientifically “correct.”) So, now you just look like a person who is getting older and sometimes that sucks and other time you are Audrey Hepburn. I dunno. I guess try to get okay with it somehow (meditation?) or you’re looking at spending at least $3,000 to have a lower eyelid blepharoplasty. And this gives me the perfect excuse to link to tons of graphic before and after photos of eye surgeries on my “favorite” website.

Previously: Nails 101.

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