Foxalicious Fundamentals: Brushes 101

Why on Kitchen role? by Mini OzzY.There’s this funny thing that happens when you start a new habit or activity — you get a little ways into the activity and then all of a sudden you get the impression that you’re also supposed to go out and buy a ton of activity-related accessories and paraphernalia and doodads… at which point carrying on starts to seem frustrating and fussy, especially if you’re not really confident about how to use the doodads in question.

If you’re just starting to explore makeup, or deciding to be a little more adventurous or explore more products, one of these daunting doodad categories is brushes. So let’s get this one out of the way right now:

Q. Do I really need all those fancy brushes?

A. No. No, you do not.

If you’re just starting out with makeup, there are only three brushes I think you need to own:

1. Blush/powder brush

2. Concealer brush

3. Eyeshadow brush

If I could throw a fourth in there, I’d say a brow/lash brush, because I think brows should be groomed even if you’re not applying any product to them. But really, I’m good with the first three. Here’s why:

Any tinted moisturizer or cream, stick, or liquid foundation can be applied and blended with the fingers. (Could you use a brush, or a sponge? Sure. Is it absolutely necessary? Nope.) Same goes for cream blushes.

Foundation/Blush Brushes

If you have a powder foundation or a powder blush, then you’ll need a brush. It is perfectly OK to use the same brush for these when you’re starting out. Powder mineral foundations work best with kabuki brushes, so if you plan to use a mineral foundation, get one of these; with a light touch you can use this for blush as well. If you’re not going to get a mineral foundation, a puffy powder brush is fine, and is easier to adapt to both foundation and blush. If you buy drugstore makeup (which I am not dissing, as there are many good brands), chances are that the brush that comes in the makeup compact is not worth the cost of the plastic used to make it. Unless you are Bobbi Brown, you cannot apply blush in a subtle and sophisticated manner with a two-inch brush with a head that would be better suited to applying war paint.

Concealer Brushes

There are good concealers out there in all shapes and forms: liquids, powders, sticks, creams. While you will use your fingers a lot of the time to blend a liquid, stick, or cream concealer into your skin, a brush is really useful for precise placement. This is particularly true if you’re using concealer over blemishes or in the eye area, because often your fingers are too big and round to put the product where you want it and nowhere else. A concealer brush will have a flat head (not poofy like a powder brush) and the bristles will be trimmed into a round or elliptical shape. Think of the end of a popsicle stick; that’s the shape you want for an all-purpose concealer brush.

Eyeshadow Brushes

Those spongy applicators that come with eyeshadow palettes are the little evil cousins of the compact blush brushes. They are not doing you any favors. If you are only going to get one eyeshadow brush, I highly recommend a slanted crease eyeshadow brush, because it’s easier to make this brush also double as a lid or highlight shadow brush than it is to get one of those brushes to double as a crease eyeshadow brush.

Most people who are starting out with makeup routines will probably be using pressed eyeshadow rather than loose mineral eyeshadow (it’s just easier). If you do find yourself wanting to try a loose mineral eyeshadow, you are likely to find that a brush made for those products works a little better.

How to Use

A common misconception that people have about brushes (not unreasonably) is that they are meant to place product on top of the skin. For most cream and liquid products, and for some powders like eyeshadows and mineral makeup, they are instead meant to press or work the product into the skin. This will be true of liquid and cream concealers — except when you are trying to cover up a blemish, in which case you want to get the product on the skin with the minimum amount of poking around at it — and if you decide to try a brush or sponge for liquid or cream foundation it will be true of that as well. Try a stippling or dotting motion rather than a gliding motion to apply and blend these products. Mineral powders are best when pressed gently into the skin using a buffing motion.

Care and Feeding

OK, no feeding required. But brushes do have to be washed regularly. Once a week is great for starting out, but you can probably get away with 2-3 times a month. You can buy special brush cleaners, but you don’t need to; your facial cleanser will work just fine. I usually put a squirt of facial cleanser into a drinking glass, add about 3/4″ of warm water (not more!), swish it around, and throw in two or three drops of tea tree oil, which is a natural antibacterial agent and which helps dissolve gunk on the brushes. I put all the brushes in to soak for about 5 minutes; keeping the water level in the glass low helps minimize the amount of water that gets into the metal ferrule. Over time, too much water in the ferrule can dissolve the glue that holds the bristles in the brush, so you want to minimize this.

After the brushes have soaked for just a few minutes, swirl each around in your palm with a little bit of cleanser. Swish until no more color comes out. Rinse well, pat dry with a towel, and lay them down to dry with the brush head over the edge of the sink or counter. If possible, position them so that the brush head tilts down; again, this helps get water out of the ferrule. An easy way to do this is to put a piece of non-slip drawer liner over an empty three-ring binder and lay the brushes on the sloped surface with the brush heads hanging over the edge. Let them dry overnight.


There is no need to spend a ton of money on brushes, particularly when you’re starting out. I recommend the following:

Ecotools makes really excellent brushes for next-to-nothing. They’re available at many stores, including Target and ULTA, and on They offer both individual brushes and inexpensive brush sets; selection will vary depending on where you’re shopping. A good starter package is the Ecotools 5-piece brush set (which is really four brushes plus the bag, but whatever): $10.99. This contains a fluffy brush that can be used for powder foundation or blush, a concealer brush, a mineral eyeshadow brush (which could also be used to apply regular eyeshadow), and a small kabuki brush. I’m not really wild about the small kabuki brush (it’s too loose), but all the other brushes are excellent. The powder brush and a “deluxe” version of the concealer brush (I’m not sure what the difference is except that the handle is longer) are also sold separately for $8.99 and $3.99 respectively.

For a better kabuki, try the Ecotools Retractable Kabuki ($8.99). Not only is it firmer to start out with, but if you want it to be a little firmer still, you can retract the brush a tiny bit back into the holder and it will compact the fibers a little bit more. Also, it’s travel-friendly.

On the slanted crease eyeshadow front, I use a Sephora Professionel brush that appears to no longer be available; this brush from Avon’s Mark line looks like a comparable product, and will only set you back $7.00. A lot of the crease brushes made today are smaller and thinner than I would recommend for a beginner; a brush that’s closer to 1/2″ than 1/4″ wide is easier to get started with.

Beyond the Basics

There are tons of other brushes available, and they’re each designed to do specific things. As you become more comfortable using these basics, you might want to try out some of these other brushes. I’d say the next set of brushes to explore would include the following: brow brush, eyeliner brush (or small tapered eyeshadow brush; either can be used for applying gel eyeliners), lip brush, contour blush brush, non-tapered eyeshadow brush for color application and blending.


Provenance: I do not own the Avon eyeshadow brush; all other brushes were purchased.

Photo: / CC BY-SA 2.0

All About Stick Foundations

The holidays are upon us and many of us will be in full partying mode. That usually means dressier clothes and more makeup than we wear to work. So now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s a good time to go over your makeup needs before hitting the party circuit. Since makeup will look best on a great canvas, consider a new foundation. A good, well-matched foundation can add a hint of color, conceal some skin flaws, add moisture or block oil (depending upon formulation), and serve as a canvas for blush. I usually wear powder foundation for everyday, but when glamour is called for, I prefer stick foundations.

Stick foundations take a little practice to apply, but in my opinion are worth the time. The tools you’ll need are a foundation brush and latex sponges. Foundation brushes usually have synthetic fibers, as this one by Sonia Kashuk does:

For latex sponges, buy a bag of inexpensive ones at the drug or beauty supply store. You can wash and reuse them, but there’s a limit to how may times you’ll reuse them before they fall apart. Now that you have the tools, you can practice applying the foundation to your newly washed face. I usually put a stroke down my nose, one across my forehead, and a stroke on each cheek. Blend with either the brush or the sponge (keep it dry). You’ll likely like one way, brush or sponge, better than the other way. I find with me it’s a mood thing, so I have an inexpensive brush and a bag of sponges from CVS. You’ll have placed enough foundation to cover your chin; if not, dab a dot on there too. If you need more coverage (I generally go for sheer), apply  a bit more where you need it. If you applied a bit heavily in spots, use the sponge to make it more sheer. When you are satisfied, you can apply a light dusting of powder before continuing with blush. I personally find that the light powdering sets the foundation and helps the blush (I use powder) to last longer.

Now sheer as stick foundations can be, they still have to match your complexion properly. Really, the only way to match foundation is to try it on. Go to your favorite store (mine for this is the Nordstrom near me) on a sunny day, wearing no makeup on your clean face. Go to the makeup counters and tell the sales assistant you want a perfect match for foundation color in stick foundation. He or she should apply2 or 3 colors that a likely matches along your jaw line. This is key: you cannot try on foundation color on your inner wrist; you will not get a good match that way. Trying it along the jawline allows you to see which one disappears- that’s your matching color. Ask if you can take the mirror (or bring your own) and walk out into the sun. Make sure the color is true, and the foundation isn’t too pink or too yellow in natural light. If none match you, thank the rep, cleanse your face, and go to the next counter. You may have to try several brands until you hit the correct color match. At a Nordstrom or a Sephora, and surely other stores, a single rep may be able to help you with several lines. Last spring when I needed a new stick foundation, I went to Nordstrom, and one rep helped me find my perfect match, though we plowed through several makeup lines to find it.

Suggestions for makeup lines to try:
Bobbi Brown— a lot of colors to choose from; tends to be a little on the yellow side.
MAC— comes in warm and cool tones for better matching.
Shiseido— my personal pick (pictured above); the lightest ivory matches me prefectly, but of course you have to match it to you.
Laura Mercier— much as I love this line, all the foundations were too dark for me.
Becca— this line has 30 shades ranging from palest ivory to deep ebony; expensive but has SPF30 as a bonus.
Bloom— available at ULTA, this medium coverage stick comes in fewer shades than the rest and contains oils, so beware if oils make you break out.
Iman— good for those needing deeper colors. Fourteen rich shades in all.
She Uemara Nobara— Expensive, but a cult favorite.

How to Do Red Lipstick

Every woman should have two things in her arsenal against the world: a killer pair of red heels, and a fabulous red lipstick. (If worse comes to worst, you can stab people with the stiletto heels and jam your lipstick in their eye.)

I’m a fan of natural-looking makeup, I really am. But every once in a while, you just need a Red Lipstick Day. And if you can’t remember when your last RLD was, chances are you could use not just a fresh start, but a fresh tube of lipstick. I mean a really red, bold, luscious, daring, watch-out-world-here-I-come lipstick.

The thing is, of course, that you need the really red, bold, luscious and daring lipstick that tells the world to watch out because it’s you who’s coming, not someone you’re pretending to be. The red lipstick that’s right for you can give you confidence, style, and sass, but only if you believe in it. (Kind of like Santa.) There shouldn’t be a power struggle between you and the lipstick. You want to be wearing the lipstick, not letting it wear you. If the lipstick is winning, it’s the wrong shade.

Fortunately, there are approximately 39847923876 shades of red lipstick to choose from. By figuring out whether you look better in warm reds (ones that tilt towards orange), or cool reds (ones that tilt towards blue), you can eliminate approximately half of those right off the bat, which leaves you with only 19923961938. See? Easy as pie.

If you don’t normally wear lipstick, then you’ll probably want to start with some more neutral colors before you jump into reds (or explore red glosses, which aren’t as strongly pigmented). This will also help you figure out if you look better in warm or cool colors: start with corals, bronze, or brown-tinted tones for warm skin, and pinks, berries, or plums for cool skin. Some people whose coloring is balanced between warm and cool can do either, but usually can’t go to the extremes of either half.

Recently it’s been über-hip to give products names that have nothing to do with the colors they are. Don’t ask me why. So if you are browsing a list of, say, NARS lipsticks, you will see the following “shades”: Mindgame, Success, Beautiful Liar, and Christina — which are very nice but which give you no indication of the tint. Traditionally-named warmer reds will have names that include things like brick, spice, terracotta, fire, sunset, etc.; cooler reds will have names that include things like berry, wine, currant, cherry, or ruby.

The single best thing you can do if you’re on The Quest For The Perfect Red Lipstick is to buy a lipstick palette that has as many shades in it as you can manage. This is a great way to get your hands on a lot of colors for not very much money. First, test each shade separately, and write down the shade name and your impressions. If one of those little tins doesn’t happen to contain your perfect red, start mixing shades together. (This is where it really gets fun!) I would advise mixing them right on your lips by using a lip brush. Don’t try more than two or three in one session, since your lips won’t fully release the stain and soon you won’t be getting a real idea of what the mixed color looks like on you. Also, try to remember the proportions of what you used so that you can recreate it (“mostly this, with a little that, and a dash of the other thing” is good enough). At this point, if you want, you can mash the various colors together in the right proportions and put your mixture in an empty palette tin.

When you go to the store (and you really must go somewhere with testers if you’re shopping for red lipstick, you absolutely must), take your mixed-up sample with you. Also take a white piece of paper. When you get to the store, use a tester lipstick applicator to smear some of your perfect mixture on the paper. Do the same with any lipsticks you want to test. Comparing swatches on white paper gives you the truest sense of how warm or cool the color is in comparison to your mixed-up sample. It’s much easier to compare tones on a piece of white paper than on your lips or skin. Remember that you are not looking for the color that you think looks prettiest on the white paper — you’re looking for whatever is closest to your blend. Note the closest color and one or two on either side (warm/cool) and test those on your arm (which should automatically eliminate at least one) and then on your lips. The best way to hygienically test lipsticks is as follows:

Easy way: Swivel the lipstick all the way up. Most people test from the top of the tube, particularly where the lipstick is faceted. Often a lipstick that has been ravaged at the top will be completely smooth and untouched at the base around the rim, particularly on the side away from the faceted edge. Go there first. I advise putting far more lipstick on the applicator than you think you will need — in order for you not to contribute more bacteria to the tester, you should use a clean applicator every time you scoop up more product. Better to just do it once if you can.

Hard way: If someone else has read this blog ahead of you and has already mucked up the area around the base, the second-best option is to remove the top 1/16″ of lipstick from the tube and swipe your applicator over the newly-revealed section. Dental floss usually works fine for this, as does beading wire or fishing wire. If you don’t have any of those things in your purse (i.e., if you’re not on your way to a taping of Let’s Make a Deal), you can also use the part of a nail clipper that swings out and lets you clean underneath your nails. Wipe this clean first with alcohol (which the store will surely have with the testing supplies), then use the side of it to slice right through the lipstick. It should be like slicing the heel off of a loaf of bread… except don’t eat it afterwards.

I’m going on forever, and there will probably be more posts about this in the future, but I can’t end without saying that carrying off a red lipstick also requires appropriate makeup on the rest of the face. So if you’re going to the store with no makeup on, or with a soft neutral natural look, don’t judge the red lipstick by how it works with that palette. You’ll need a stronger eye to balance the red lipstick. (That doesn’t mean a lot of dark eyeshadow, but it does mean you’ll probably need liner, mascara, and a good brow.)

This is one of my perfect reds. I’m one of those people who can go either warm or cool with most makeup colors, but reds are still hard for me. I have a few that I like. This is one of the bluer ones — it’s Styli-Style’s L3 lipstick/lip gloss combo (though the lipstick is really more like a lip stain) in a color called Red Hot. The pigment goes on matte, and then you put the gloss on top. In the below picture, the gloss I’ve used is actually a clear Smashbox lip gloss, just because I like it better than the one that comes with the product.


This was taken in natural light and not retouched. It really looks like I missed the bottom center of my lower lip with the gloss, but that’s just a weird camera thing.

I’ll show off some other good/bad red lipstick choices in future posts.

Opening photo: / CC BY 2.0

Opinions, please: Kohl Eyeliner

mäkit3 by Idhren.

As per Pinky’s post (seconded by Tuxedo) in this week’s Open Thread Thursday:

I’d like to hear your thoughts on kohl-style eyeliner. Have you ever tried any? Do you have one that you like? I’ve got L’Oreal’s HiP right now and it’s okay, but the applicator is crap.

Opinions and suggestions, please!

I don’t use it myself, but not because I don’t think it’s a good product. No, I don’t use it because it violates one of the stupid rules I have for what I am and am not willing to do with makeup: I will not use any product that I have to sharpen myself.

(How dumb is that? I will spend hours figuring out how to use a liquid liner, I will stick hot rollers in my hair for 45 minutes in the morning, I will spend 20 minutes with a mud mask drying on my face, but I will not sharpen eye, brow, or lip pencils.)

I know the L’Oreal product is not a pencil, but loose kohl that you apply with a thing-that-is-not-quite-a-brush, so it doesn’t get covered under my stupid-things-I-will-not-do policy, but it brings up another thing that I intend to rant about later when I do a post on liquid eyeliners: things that are supposed to be brushes SHOULD BE BRUSHES. They should not be little foamy things that are the general tapered shape of a brush but that do not behave like one.

As you can see, I have some Issues. The L’Oreal packaging is very cool, though — they’ve definitely got the harkening-back-to-ancient-Egypt thing going on. The Guerlain is similar, right?

Those of you who use kohl, what’s your choice and why, and are there any application tips you can share?

Photo: / CC BY-SA 2.0

Estée Lauder’s Virtual Makeover Tool: Ur Doin’ It Rite

Estee_lauderDo you remember a few years ago, when the whole “virtual makeover” thing hit the streets harder than a hungover Real Housewife of Atlanta after an all-night party? You uploaded your picture and then told the website to apply various shades of makeup, haircolor, hairstyles, etc., and almost without exception the results looked like you had put on a cheap, ill-fitting wig, smeared dirt on your eyelids, rubbed a child’s watercolor palette somewhere in the general vicinity of your face, and then slept on the whole business? My favorite incarnation of this is the “HairMixer” application on Facebook, where I discovered that a) I can’t pull off Paris Hilton’s hair (much as I might want to), and b) I look disturbingly good with Anderson Cooper’s hair. I’m not really sure what that says about my foxaliciousness, but I’m pretty sure it’s nothing good.

Overall, I’d have to give these sites a pretty firm thumbs-down. They’re fun to play with, certainly, but their accuracy leaves much to be desired.

Just when you hoped thought this trend was going the way of the dodo (which I believe involves a left turn at Albuquerque), Estée Lauder has decided to dip its pedicured toe in the water with the Let’s Play Makeover tool, and I’m surprised and pleased to say that this is the best virtual makeover tool I’ve used (although I wish the name didn’t make me feel so much like a six-year-old).

The basic idea is the same as all of the similar sites: upload a photo, and then do things to it. However, the folks at Estée Lauder have taken remarkable care to allow you to actually map the products onto your face correctly, so that your lipstick doesn’t end up on your chin and you are still recognizable under what you’re wearing. It’s very sophisticated; I’m impressed. For best results, you should use a photo of yourself in which you are facing the camera straight-on, with good lighting and no makeup. They recommend that the photo be reasonably high-resolution; although they say not to, I used a picture taken with my webcam and it was just fine.

In order to get greater precision, they do ask you to map more points on your face than other sites do, but since this helps yield better results, it’s a worthy investment of an extra two minutes. The best part, though, is the number of options you get. You choose your skin tone in terms of both light-to-dark and warm-to-cool, specify the amount of coverage you want from a foundation, can tell the computer how you like your eyeshadow applied (lid only, lid and crease, or lid, crease, and brow bone), and can control how much of each product is applied to your face. It’s exceptionally elegant. Of course the selections you make also offer to let you buy the products in question with one click of a button, but you can’t blame them for trying to sell product!

You can save the looks you make, clear your look and start over, or apply one of their “one-click” looks, which are pre-loaded assortments of products that reflect current trends. Of the two currently on the website, one of them was horrendous on me, but the other was surprisingly good.

Now whenever you play with something like this, you have to keep in mind two things: a) if you go to the store and buy the product that looked great on you in the mockup, there’s no guarantee that it will look exactly the same, since you are both dealing with a photo taken of you in particular lighting, etc., and looking at the colors through your computer display’s gamma settings; and b) finding the right products does not relieve you of the obligation of applying them with some modicum of skill if you want to approach the mockup. But there is one thing in particular for which I think this tool is exceptionally useful: testing out possible colors in The Quest for the Perfect Red Lipstick. Although I wouldn’t rely on this for exact shades, you can see whether in general you look better in reds that tilt orange or those that tilt blue.