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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Balancing the beauty budget

If you've ever felt bewildered by beauty products, join the club. There's a product to fix every possible 'problem' with your looks (real or imaginary) and it can be difficult to tell what you actually need and whether spending more gets a better product. Rumour has it that when you buy from a cosmetics counter, you're just getting a supermarket product in prettier packaging, from a pushy sales assistant in prime retail space. Is it true? The Bargain Queen doesn't know; she's never worked in the beauty industry so she's not sure who to believe.

Then there's the 'you'll be ugly if you don't' factor. A lot of advertising suggests that you must buy products to stop the signs of aging before they appear, lest you end up a prune. The Bargain Queen hears that sunscreen's the only thing scientifically proven to stop your skin from aging, but there are a lot of doctors endorsing products that make other claims. And really, how can you tell? Short of using the products on only one side of your face, you'll never know if your skin would look worse if you hadn't used them.

The Bargain Queen's made some disastrous beauty purchases over the years, which she'll tell you about below. She now has a simple rule: she'll buy expensive if it spends all day, every day, sitting on her face. Or if it's perfume. Otherwise, cheap will do.

If you're interested in what's hiding in The Bargain Queen's makeup bag and bathroom cabinet, here's what you'd find:

The (relatively) expensive stuff
If The Bargain Queen could have only one beauty product, she'd pick Clinique Super City Block. She has pale skin and lives in Sydney, Australia so sun protection is the first priority. But if sun cream feels icky on her skin or makes her look like a ghost, she quickly stops wearing it and gets sunburnt instead. So, a good tinted sunscreen like this one is really important. Plus it even her skin out enough that she doesn't need to wear foundation every day... not that she'd bother, anyway.

The other items that The Bargain Queen thinks are worth the extra money are:
  • Lip balm: MAC tinted lip conditioner lasts forever (The Bargain Queen's half-finished tub is over a year old and has been used everyday) and is much nicer on the lips than anything else The Bargain Queen has tried. It keeps them really soft and gives enough colour for every day, so it's basically two-in-one.
  • Perfume: The Bargain Queen HATES cheap perfume. After using beautiful essential oils from France, everything synthetic smells a bit like cat piss. Clinique Simply is quite nice cat piss though, and saves the world from The Bargain Queen's disastrous experiments in wannabe-perfumery. This is a good thing.
  • Mac brow set: This is quite a new purchase, and like most things The Bargain Queen uses regularly, it's dual purpose. It evens out the colour of her bushy, unruly blonde brows and keeps them in place at the same time. Brilliant!
  • Concealer: The Bargain Queen hardly ever bothers with concealer, but when she does it's Clinique Quick Corrector. It goes on very smoothly, unlike any of the cheapies The Bargain Queen's tried and is pale enough to match her skin without looking sickly.
  • Bedroom Hair: This Kusco Murphy styling product is the only product The Bargain Queen normally wears in her hair and she loves it.
Everything except the concealer is used almost every day and on average each of these products lasts a year, so on a cost-per-use basis, they're super-cheap.

The Bargain Queen also bought MAC foundation a while back, because every beauty editor says you must buy good foundation. It looks really nice in photographs but it's way too much for everyday, so the jury's still out on whether it was a good buy. If she became a paparazzi-stalked celebrity tomorrow she'd probably swear by it, but in her real life it's not especially useful.

So how about the cheapies?
If a product's only used occasionally (say, gold eyeshadow), The Bargain Queen keeps it cheap. There is no point paying a stack of money for something that only comes out of the drawer three times a year. It also makes no sense to spend money on things you don't use much because you probably know a lot less about them, so you're more likely to buy the wrong thing. The Bargain Queen's biggest mistakes are Stila eyeshadow and Armani eyeliner pencil. While there's probably nothing wrong with the products, they've never looked good on her. In both cases, the sales girls said they were perfect for her colouring and really easy to use, but neither of these statements turned out to be true. She now prefers to buy four cheap eyeshadows to find one that looks great, than pay for expertise she might not get. (Plus gifting the leftovers to her sister or friends gives her the warm fuzzy glow of giving, which beats the heck out of muddy bronzers.)

The Bargain Queen is also very skeptical about expensive skincare products and mostly sticks to the cheapies. After a few allergic reactions to high-end products, she's not willing to risk much money on a moisturiser she might have to give away. Plus, if dermatologists say the fancy ingredients can't penetrate into the skin, how are they supposed to actually do all that fancy stuff in the ads?

But enough about things The Bargain Queen won't spend much money on. Here's her favourite low-end beauty products:
  • Mascara: The Bargain Queen loves Maybelline Great Lash (which all the beauty editors recommend), and an Australian brand called Face of Australia. These get thrown away as soon as they start clumping (about every three months) so it seems pointless to pay more.
  • Rimmel eyeshadows: The Bargain Queen's an amateur when it comes to eyeshadow application, so all the fancy stuff is lost on her. Her prefered technique is to find a pretty colour and smudge it over her eyelids with her fingers, which would probably make most makeup artists apoplectic. But it works great with these, and if she looks nice, who cares if she achieved it the 'wrong' way?
  • Dove soap: Everyone's favourite, it cleans and moisturises at the same time. This plus a loofah keeps The Bargain Queen's skin looking and feeling nice.
  • Johnsons skincare. The Johnson & Johnson 'gentle' products in the supermarket actually live up to their name, so they're The Bargain Queen's current favourite.
  • Klorane haircare. Gentle, herbal products available in Australian chemists (kind of like American drugstores), they smell lovely and do a great job on hair.

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