Friday, September 28, 2012

Henri: Politique

All cats should have political leanings, ne pensez-vous pas?

Apparently there was an Internet Cat Film Festival in Minneapolis, and Henri 2, Paw de Deux earned the equivalent of the People's Choice Award.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Challenge of Having Cool-toned Brows

I discussed the importance of eyebrow grooming in an earlier article, but this post addresses brow color.  If, like me, you are completely cool-toned and fair, and your skin broadcasts any warmth added to it in unflattering ways, you already know how hard it can be to find an appropriate brow color.

Brow products did not reach my level of consciousness for a long time. My younger, ashy brows were full and well shaped. Maintenance required semi-weekly tweezing and tidying hairs with a brow comb or clear mascara. In my late 20s, I began neatening the lower tail edges with Clinique Brow Shaper using its enclosed stiff brush. Great.

Now fast forward a decade or two. In the last few years, my eyebrows have become more needy. I've noticed diffuse hair thinning, especially toward the bridge of the nose. My brow hairs have also become noticeably wispier, and new growth is lighter—not white or grey (yet), but not the normal dark ash blonde I'd seen in the mirror for decades. I guess this is the first stage of my hair losing its pigment before it goes white altogether.

Returning to Clinique, I quickly discovered that filling in the bare patches was essential for creating a frame for the face, and that when my brows were full, I could wear less makeup overall. However, if you are cool toned (not cool neutral), be prepared to slog through multiple products that lie about what color they are. Hopefully I can help you slog a little less, though my journey is far from over.

Beauty pundits claim that if you are dark haired, you should choose a brow color 1-2 shades lighter than your hair color, and if you are light haired or grey (or white) you should choose a brow color 1-2 shades darker. I say throw out the rules and try on the product. Only you will know what looks best on you.

For my declining level of  contrast, my brow color must be a little darker than my dark ash blonde hair, that is about 5% grey. My brows have always been darker than my hair, and—unlike the hair on my  head, which takes on gold and red highlights from the sun—my brows are completely ash and cool without a trace of highlight color (warmth). And therein lies the challenge.

Clinique's Brow Shaper in Shaping Charcoaled served me well for almost 20 years. Don't think of a charcoal briquet you'd toss in the grill, which is almost blue black. Clinique's product is a mid-toned grey grounded by a hint of brown. Although it is a powder, it's waxier than eyeshadow. Perfect for those of us with ashy brows, even fair-skinned ash blondes because you can comb out any excess to bring the saturation down. Overall, it is an outstanding product, and although there are only four colors from which to choose, I would guess that 90% of us could find a decent match from one of Clinique's offerings. My alabaster-skinned, True Autumn mother, for example, wears Wheat.
Unfortunately, Charcoaled has recently started to appear too dark, as my brows have begun to fade and thin.

As my hair began to grey and cool even further, and the slow lightening reduced the contrast levels, I embarked on the hunt for a lighter replacement of Shaping Charcoaled in the same hue. I never imagined it would be so difficult. Yet I have spent three baffling years looking for an appropriate brow color, failing time after time after time.

The problem is that designers and manufacturers don't seem to understand that ASH is a COOL GREY color, whether it's wood ash, paper ash, or charcoal ash. All you need do is look at the tip of a burned-down cigarette, or shovel out the refuse from a wood fire, and you can see that those lightweight, flyaway particles are grey and cool, not warm or golden brown or reddish brown.

Does that look warm and brown to you?  (source)

Yet almost every single color I purchased with the word "ash" in its name or description contained visible yellow in it. Sometimes red. Even reviews on Makeup Alley confused me. Did I have special eyes, where only I could see the warmth? I doubt it. I just think the majority of humans buying makeup are warmer in tone.

I doubled my efforts, hoping to find the perfect brow color to replace the utilitarian Clinique Brow Shaper, knowing it had to be out there.

I liked Laura Mercier Brow Definer in Warm (Warm Brunette), which a friend told me was actually a mostly cool mid-toned charcoal brown. The wax formula is excellent with great longevity. Unfortunately, Warm presented the same issue as Charcoaled: Too dark. Ultimately, the color wasn't quite cool enough, either.

I next tried the two other colors in Mercier's Brow Definer formula, Soft and Fair:
  • Soft (Deep Blonde/Light Brunette) was a lighter, neutral-leaning brown that was too warm because of its red undertones. It turned my brows auburn, but Soft could be an option for cool-neutral/warm-neutral skin tones.

  • Fair (Light Blonde) was downright warm. Whoever has been calling this color "ash" and "cool" in reviews must be looking at it in a parallel universe, not on mine. Or their skin is very warm toned. Light is a warm yellow brown, which I could see the moment I unscrewed the lid.

And why do brands automatically think that if you are blonde, you are a golden blonde? Perhaps because it's been the Hollywood standard for decades (even though there were plenty of platinum blondes in Hollywood's golden era). Aren't there a ton of ash blondes/light ash brunettes walking around in the world, or are we such a minority that our wee spending power can't support R&D for appropriate shades?

Other brands and colors I tried and rejected in the last couple years (just so you don't have to):
  • Clinique Brow Shaper in Taupe and Wheat, both too warm. I should have known better with Wheat, but Taupe seemed promising. It was a failure. Taupe is a warm reddish taupe brown. The Clinique sales associate shuddered and, without a word, handed me a cotton pad soaked with Take The Day Off and slid Charcoaled toward me.

  • Clinique Superfine Liner for Brows in Soft Blonde — too warm/yellow. Even now I can see yellow in the product swatch, so I have no idea why I even bought it. Desperation.

  • MAC Impeccable Brow Pencil, Dirty Blonde. One would think this would be an ashy color, since "dirty blonde" is often synonymous with "mouse brown," which by its definition is grey brown. And when I first pulled the cap off, I danced with joy because it looked perfect. Alas, it was not to be, as it was too warm. It looks as though MAC has discontinued the color anyway.

  • Chantecaille Brow Definer in Ash Blonde. This pencil looked extremely promising, but the online color swatch below is completely misleading. In fact, if this pencil didn't lay down a golden blonde stripe, I will eat it. Or I would if I still had it. I returned it immediately and without a shred of guilt due to false advertising.

  • Anastasia Tinted Brow Gel in Granite. Satisfactory in hue, Granite was too dark. Moreover, as gel products deposit color on the hairs, like mascara, they do virtually nothing to fill in bare patches, unless you want to poke wet color onto the skin and brush it out with the wand.

  • Becca Brow Powder, Fair. The online color looked promising. Alas, the swatch and writeup was incorrect. The second I lifted the lid I could tell it would be wrong, and it was, indeed, too warm and golden brown against my skin. (UPDATE: Becca Brow Powder in Ash is cool enough but (... wait for it ...) too dark.

  • Three Custom Colors Brow Powder, #2. The product writeup says "ideal for ash blondes or those with light ash brown, gray or salt and pepper hair." 3CC usually does an amazing job with color matching, but #2 gave me yellow-orange brows.

  • Prescriptives Groom Stick for Brows in Clove.  One of the best I tried in a twist-up pencil, but my skin projected the whisper of red undertones, so it was not an ideal product on me. It's also too dark, but I do have one of these in my dressing table and I still use it occasionally.

  • Shiseido Hard Formula Brow Pencil in Seal Brown 02. and Stone Grey 05.   Both too warm.

Failing miserably with traditional brow products, I next experimented with eyeshadow as brow filler:
  • Bobbi Brown (matte) eyeshadows in Cement, Grey, and Slate and the Long-wear Cream Eyeshadows in Cement and Slate ... all turned yellow on me, much the way they do on my eyelids—although Slate comes closest to being acceptable in hue but too high in value.
  • Maybelline Color Tattoo 24 Hour Eyeshadow in Tough as Taupe. Not horrible, as far as color goes, but I didn't care for the crispy eyebrows the cream shadow created. Also, just too dark. (Great eyeshadow, though.)
  • MAC (matte/matte2) Eyeshadows in Coquette, Wedge, Omega, Mystery, and Concrete—all too warm and/or sludgy. Copperplate was the best of the MAC eyeshadows I tried in my brow hairs, but it was still too warm. Copperplate and Mystery have now been discontinued.
  • Prescriptives U-Pick eyeshadow, Pewter. Almost identical to Clinique Charcoaled with less staying power. Plus it's been discontinued for ages. Meh.
  • Chantecaille Lasting Eye Shade in Zinc and Patchouli. Colors were wrong, and the powder blew off my brows when my cat sneezed across the room.
All failures. I am sure there were many other attempts and failures, but I have forgotten them.

And yet, the news isn't all bad. You didn't think I was going to just write a post about how fruitless the choices are and how we ash blondes/browns are left in the dust, did you?

There does seem to be an almost-good-enough solution: Yves Saint Laurent Eyebrow Pencil 004 ... in  Ash. And it really IS ash; in fact the online swatch at Nordstrom is more realistic.

The texture is interesting. It's hard, similar to Shu Uemura's hard brow pencil formula, but not quite as hard. I immediately thought of Shu when I first swatched 004 on the back of my hand and noticed it deposited almost no color, that I had to sweep back and forth several times until the pencil deposited enough color I could see. It showed up better when I applied eye primer before swatching.

The following two photos are comparisons (in different light) of the standby color I've worn for years, along with some recently tried-and-rejected products. All are compared to YSL Ash for color context.

Indirect sunlight

You can see how Laura Mercier's Fair and Soft clash against my pink undertones. Even Shu's Seal Brown has warm red undertones I'd never noticed before. Mercier's Warm isn't bad and Clinique's Charcoaled is a near-perfect color, but both are too dark. YSL's Ash (which I had to gunk on heavily to get it to show up) was the current winner—but it it is far from perfect because my skin projects yellow undertones that are not visible when looking directly at the pencil "lead".

Natural indoor lighting

I am still in an arranged-marriage honeymoon phase with the Yves Saint Laurent Eyebrow Pencil, and since pencils have never been my first choice, I have one product left to try, which is on its way to me: Anastasia Brow Powder Duo in Ash Blonde/Cool Taupe. Dare I hope they mean what they say when they say "ash?" It looks very promising, and if the reviews are to be trusted, it really is cool toned, but the product image ... well, let's just say I have my doubts.

The above Nordstrom swatch makes the duo appear warm, but when I see it in context with Anastasia's Golden Blonde duo, it looks less warm. 

Bottom line: The YSL pencil is, so far, the best new color I have come across in years for purely cool-toned skin that is fair. It isn't perfect, but it's pretty good.

UPDATE March 2013: The Anastasia Duo powder product was a disappointment, as I found nothing ashy about it whatsoever. It appeared yellow. Also, over time the YSL Ash pencil appeared more and more warm. The product I have been using for the last few weeks is an eyeshadow: Inglot 349M, a lighter and cooler version of MAC Omega.  Cool in hue, right chroma, and good staying power. It's pretty good, but the search is not over.

UPDATE Dec 2013: I'm still searching. Shiseido Natural Brow Pencil in GY901 Natural Black is pretty excellent. It's not really black, more a medium cool grey that I can feather on to the desired intensity. I have also been experimenting with Bobbi Brown's newish eyeshadow called Cool Ivory. It's everything I wanted Cement to be. They look similar in the pan, but Cool Ivory is decidedly more ash (cool). I've been using it as brow filler and a subtle contour, and it's pretty good but not perfect, as it is took light but may hold promise after my brows are fully greyed.

UPDATE 2017: I flit back and forth between Clinique Charcoaled and Shiseido Natural Black. I actually used and repurchased the Shiseido, which says a lot. Which product I chose depends on whether I want pencil or powder. THE HUNT CONTINUES.

Laura Mercier, Chantecaille, Clinique and YSL, Shisido, and Anastasia product images from Nordstrom. Becca and 3CC from Dermstore. MAC taken by me.