Being a discussion of some weird and shady things to look out for.
“At 70 years old if I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the word ‘f—k off’ much more frequently.”— Helen Mirren
Hello and welcome to The Feminist Lipstique. I’m your hostess; today you can call me Lacrimosa Mirren. I’m a feminist in my early 30s who recently became obsessed with makeup, and is trying to figure out if makeup brands think we’re stupid.
Last time we talked about the things that beauty brands do that make me mad. Today we’re going to talk about the things that make me just roll my eyes. These things are the more obvious, pathetic, money grabs. This one will come with pictures, because some of these you have to see to believe. (Also I apologize, because I am pretty sure I got a lot of this information from watching YouTube videos, and I have watched so many of them at this point that I can’t remember what comes from where. It’s highly likely that I got stuff from Whitney Hedrick, Abby Williamson, Nisipisa, and Smokey Glow.)
There is probably no more unbelievable phrase in cosmetics than “Limited Editions.” “Limited Edition” is the (usually) false claim that the company makes to ensure you rush to buy something instantly, that you take part in the secondary market to buy things at ridiculous markups in order to be able to tell investors, “Our palette is so popular that people are buying it at a 400% markup!” Most of all, it is a way to test the popularity of a product without having to do any of that difficult stuff, like “advertising” or “making it good.”
The fact that brands like to do “limited edition” launches that aren’t limited edition is an open secret in the beauty community that brands pretend doesn’t exist. Charlotte Tilbury deadass did a “24-hour only” launch of an eyeshadow palette and media breathlessly went with that talking point, before admitting at the veeeeeery end of the article that actually, after the 24 hours, the palette would be available again in about two weeks.
I don’t have exact statistics, but based on anecdotal evidence I’d say the majority of makeup that is advertised as “limited edition” becomes a regular or semi-regular part of a brand’s collection about 60-70% of the time. I’ve only been paying close attention to makeup and makeup releases for about 7-8 months, but in that time, there’s only one “limited edition” makeup release that I can think of that hasn’t become part of a permanent rotation, and that’s the Star Wars collection from Pat McGrath. And I mean… look at it. It’s pretty and all, but nothing exciting. The only makeup or packaging that resembles Star Wars beyond the very, very superficial of the outside packaging is the R2-D2 lip balm, and that’s mostly because they bothered to put a red dot on the tube. Also, that is a goddamn $40 lip balm. No. No I say.
Pretty much every other time in recent memory, “limited edition” has been code for “artificial scarcity,” a deliberate ploy to take advantage of people’s FOMO. And even when products aren’t cycled into normal rotation immediately, they can be cycled in again even years later. Or “limited edition” means more about the packaging than it does the product.
The related issue to “limited edition” is “limited quantity.” This is when brands launch something they know full well is going to sell out almost instantly, yet still only produce it in a limited quantity just so they can pump up the hype, mysteriously promise future restocks to further pump up the hype, and also have the social cachet of saying, “we sold out in X minutes!” Colour Pop released a Sailor Moon collection that sold out in less than thirty minutes, then were vague about when the restock would occur. Same thing with the Jeffree Star/Shane Dawson Conspiracy palette.
Basically, if you see any makeup launch marked as “limited edition” or even “likely to sell out,” take a really deep breath before you go insane over it. Think it over. How likely is it that the item is really limited edition? What about the product is making you want it so badly? Do you really need it right now, or can you wait until the buzz dies down? How sad will you be if it really was limited edition and you missed out?
Don’t let your FOMO rule you, friends.
Repackaging Old Products to Get Them to Sell
Now this one doesn’t bother me too much as long as brands are kind of honest about it. I understand the need to get rid of old inventory, especially when you are selling something that expires, like makeup. But whereas a lot of companies will have a sale or do something else to reduce stock, makeup companies will instead slap a sticker of a snowman on something and call it part of the holiday collection. If you see a “new” collection with a shade that looks a lot like one in an “old” collection, you’re probably right. And again, as long as brands are upfront about this, I don’t mind too much. It’s often necessary to update package to keep items looking fresh, and if you already have a good shade range, why fix what isn’t broken? But if brands are trying to sneak one past customers by adding some flair to a product that was a dud, it pisses me off.
Turning One Trick Ponies Into Beating a Dead Horse
Urban Decay’s Naked palette. Tarte’s Shape Tape concealer. NARS’ Orgasm blush. Once, these were all innovative products and runaway successes. Now they are Rambo: Last Blood where an original good idea has spawned so many sequels and product tie-ins that you not only don’t understand what is going on, you are kind of retroactively mad at the original good thing.
NARS thinks we’re all still teenagers who giggle and shiver at sex words, and has just released the Orgasm X collection, which I think is the one where the Orgasm blush tries to kill some kids on a space station. There are 12 different spinoffs of the Naked palette now. 12. And Tarte has slapped the word “tape” onto basically everything they make so that there is an MCU-style universe of related “tape” products, including the original concealer, a foundation, a matte foundation, a glow wand (whatever the hell that is), a body makeup, a travel size concealer (I thought concealer already WAS travel size, but shows what I know), a pressed powder, a setting powder, a hydrating primer, a “pore and prime balm” (not sure how that is different from a primer), a setting spray, a moisturizer, a travel size of basically everything else I just said, a “tone tool” (It’s a big ol’ brush for the body makeup), a primer stick, and a Christmas ornament. I am not even slightly kidding.
Now, reportedly, at least a few of the Naked palette follow-ups are ok, and I’m going to be willing to guess that Orgasm X, for all it’s 90s-tastic attempts at edginess, will be fine, because NARS does good blushes. I’ve heard most of the shape tape follow-ups are trash, but haven’t experienced them personally. But the fact that these brands are trying to trade on the success of their initial products this long after the original, and with this many variations away from the original (try to tell me that the original Naked palette and the Naked Cherry palette are even slightly thematically related. Go on, I dare you) is both tiresome and shows a lack of faith in the products they’re actually producing. NARS shouldn’t have to call every other product “Orgasm” in a desperate bid for our attention if their new blushes are good. Urban Decay should try to sell us a red-tone palette without lying in our face and telling us it’s related to their original neutrals palette. We’ve moved on, and it’s time for them to do the same.
Weird Brand Tie-Ins
Look at this bullshit. Look at it.
Natalia Romanova did not get stupidly killed in a gaping plot hole only for her corpse to be desecrated this way. No. This is the Ulta tie-in collection for the upcoming Black Widow movie. I could have designed a better, more character accurate collection with five minutes, six colored pencils, and a napkin. This is trash. This is Ulta trying to get rid of extra makeup shades by slapping a red hourglass on it and hoping we’re foolish.
And this isn’t even the worst offender. The world of makeup and brand tie-ins is…. weird. At its best, it’s a good product tied to a quick hit of nostalgia. At its worst, it’s only nostalgia. Or stuff that can’t even be nostalgia because it hasn’t come out yet, and I don’t know who it is for. Pur Cosmetics and Colour Pop seem to be the worst offenders (pretend I knew how to put the umlaut above the “u” in Pur cosmetics). These are a random assortment of the brand tie ins the two brands have done in the recent past. None of them have good reviews, none of them have been tied to their pop culture reference in thematically appropriate ways, and none of them give me faith in humanity.
THE GRINCH. THE GRINCH Y’ALL. AND IT DIDN’T HAVE GOOD GREENS.
And Colour Pop had the option to make a Sailor Moon palette with the colors of the Sailor Scouts and they didn’t take it. Seriously, someone in the makeup industry hire me.
Now, not all brand tie-ins are completely pointless, and some brand tie-ins seem well thought out and actually make my fangirl heart go pitter patter. But those are few and far between.
Smokey Glow has a video about makeup that is a gimmick, and I have been personally victimized by one of the items on her list. I always have a really hard time with eyeliner. I very carefully follow eyeliner tutorials, trying to get that perfect, rockabilly cat eye. Then I look up, and BOOM. I’m the Winter Soldier.
So when I was shopping for new eyeliner and found that they’d come out with a new “pizza roller” design that was supposed to help you apply eyeliner more precisely, I was like, “This is an amazing idea, that obviously has come from makeup brands that care very much about us. And just look at all of those definitely accurate advertisements showing their precision and wonder. What could possibly go wrong?”
Everything. Everything could go wrong. I would show you what could go wrong with the one I BOUGHT with MY OWN MONEY, except I CAN’T because I threw that piece of trash in the GARBAGE where it belongs. These things are absolute garbage. The eyeliner doesn’t get on the wheel evenly, so your eye basically has the same effect you’d get if you ran your bicycle over some wet paint and then continued down the road. Sure, there’s color SOME of the places your wheel drops down, but not all of them. So you try to fix it. And then the plastic hits one of the crinkles in your eyes and skips it like Bart jumping a cliff on his skateboard. So you try again, and then too much comes down, and it’s all uneven. And so you try again, and just about when you think you’ve gotten it, you realize that the eyeliner you started with at the beginning is basically already gone because in order to work with the wheel this formula has to basically be food coloring in water.
The other, newer gimmick I can think of are the Kaja Beauty blush and bronzer stamps.
The idea is that the product is trapped in some… inkpad nightmare zone at the bottom, and the applicator is a foam stamp in a cute shape like a heart, star, or moon. (Someone call Lucky Charms, there may be copyright infringement going on.) So you are able to stamp a cute shape on yourself and be Instagram ready. And if you want to spend $25 of your hard earned dollars on the ability to do cheek stamp of a star in your bronzer… you do you boo. But if you want to buy a product that actually works as… you know… blush or bronzer… this is a terrible idea. It’s hard enough to apply makeup evenly without stamping overlapping stars all over your face. Are you kidding me?
Gimmicky/Weird Palettes and Palette Shapes
What do you do if you want to release a palette, but you don’t trust your own products to stand on their own merit? You release a wacky palette or a wacky-shaped palette.
The worst offender for this is probably Glamlite, who if they didn’t have weird food-based palettes, wouldn’t have palettes at all. (Almost literally.) But almost every makeup brand has dipped their toes into this category at least once. Sometimes the results are reportedly actually good makeup, like Too Faced’s Chocolate Bar. Sometimes they seem forced and have shitty makeup, like Too Faced’s White Chocolate Bar. Sometimes the concept is cute, but storing them would be absolute hell, like I Heart Revolution’s bunny-shaped eyeshadow palettes they released for Easter.
Seriously, I’m not punking you.
In general, all of them are attempts to make you break one of the cardinal rules of makeup: Don’t buy makeup just because the packaging is pretty. Packaging should be functional and of appropriate quality. At its most aesthetically-driven it should be an excellent accent or nice bonus for the makeup inside. But it should never, ever be the main reason you buy a product. As Whitney Hedrick explains in multiple videos that I do not have the energy to track down, makeup expires. Unless you are literally wanting to use that makeup package as decoration (and even then, there are probably cheaper ways) you should not be buying makeup just because it looks pretty in the packaging, because it’s going to go bad on you.
Beauty Boxes/Mystery Boxes
Speaking of expiration dates, let’s talk about beauty boxes and mystery boxes! Luckily we seem to have passed kind of the heyday of both the beauty box idea and the mystery box idea, but they are definitely still around, and tempting us with their promise of potential incredible deals and endless samples. But I’m going to destroy the mystery a bit, and tell you exactly what is in those boxes:
Products that are close to expiration
Products the brand couldn’t sell so they have too many
Four samples that don’t work for you for some reason
One sample that may work for you for some reason
Random tchotchkes you probably don’t need
If most of these products were good, they wouldn’t be in a beauty box or mystery box. And you’re almost always going to have better luck with a product that you choose for yourself, in a shade or formula that works well for you, than with a random sample that you have very little control over. And that’s without getting into the multiple scandals or kerfuffles surrounding beauty boxes and mystery boxes, like Jeffree Star’s misleading advertising and faulty products, or the fact that Boxycharm fairly clearly counterfeits some of the products in their boxes, puts in expired or close-to-expired products (there’s a Smokey Glow video about this, but I forget which), and even conspired to use duped makeup with Storybook Cosmetics.
I get the excitement that Beauty Boxes and Mystery Boxes can bring. It can feel like winning the lottery, only with blush. I also get the whole “enchantment of the unknown” that can be exciting. I, too, used to be obsessed with getting crappy jewelry out of vending machines, certain that one day I would get the Big Prize. But I promise you there are better things to spend your money on in order to get that excitement without getting fifteen 1/2 ounce bottles of lotion that you’ll never remember to use.
Advent Calendars and Bundles
Advent Calendars share basically all of the problems with mystery boxes and beauty boxes, only 25 times over and with more green and red. Again, there is no good reason to spend money on an advent calendar instead of on products that you know you are interested in. Again, you’re going to end up with a ton of things that you didn’t actually want, and that will probably ultimately end up wasted.
Bundles, again, are similar. You’re more likely to end up with full-sized products, but they’re trying to get you with the idea of how much money you’re saving without thinking about the fact that you don’t want half of the stuff that is in it. “Wow, this stuff that is normally $50 is only $30, that is such a good deal!” you say to yourself, looking at the $10 lipstick that is the only part of the bundle that you actually like. It’s a trap, don’t fall for it.
Again, none of these things are mortal sins, just weird or annoying brand habits to keep an eye on as you’re on your makeup journey. Join us next time, when I talk about how brands and influencers are not your friends!