There are a few hair and beauty products that I don’t like to run out of. In fact, I get so twitchy about the prospect of being without these that I have been known to buy back-ups. There are a couple of tubes of Vichy Normaderm and several bottles of Matrix Biolage Hydrating Shampoo ‘in stock’ in my bathroom cupboard at the moment.
I’ve spent most of my life involved in beauty some way – and it’s given me plenty of opportunities to try things out. One of the most frustrating things about searching for and then finding a so-called Holy Grail (the ultimate; the perfect match for you in its category) product is that it’s not immune from being discontinued.
I’m looking at you, Clinique Gentle Light loose powder and you, Chanel Pro Lumiere foundation and you, Maybelline Lash Stiletto, and you Chanel Incognito lipstick…
And let’s not get into discontinued fragrances or I might just break down.
Sometimes it’s possible to find a replacement for a discontinued favourite; sometimes not and you have to make do with what’s available. On the Clinique Gentle Light front, I’ve come up with my own blend 50% Bobbi Brown Pale Yellow Loose Powder + 50% No7 Perfect Light loose powder. Where Pale Yellow is too yellow and too flat on its own, and the No7 powder too pink and too sheer – together they form the HG loose powder I never want to go without. (I’m a stickler for trying to get as close to my real skin tone as possible when wearing make-up. That can be challenging, when doctors have been known to squint at me and say: “are you always this pale? Let’s test you for anaemia just in case.”)
Being Finnish, I’m not as pale as our Celtic cousins, so there are some warm yellow and neutral tones that need to be carefully matched. Too ‘ivory’ and I look like a freshly awoken vampire – too ‘neutral’ and I look like a waxwork doll. Too ‘warm’ and my face looks dirty. Enter Bobbi Brown Warm Ivory Creamy Concealer – the perfect shade and the perfect concealer. It’s a creamy fully pigmented product that glides on, stays on, and blends incredibly well. No cakey appearance, no bulk, no problem.
Unfortunately blemishes don’t always vanish when you get older – at 40-something I’d really have hoped to only have to worry about wrinkles and sunscreen. But no, that would be far too easy. I struggled to find a skincare product that would somehow, magically, take care of both problems and turns out Vichy had one. I couldn’t have created a better night cream for myself if I tried. Vichy Normaderm Anti-Age is a lightweight hydrating cream with glycolic acid and I use it as a night cream for about half of the time (at other times I either use a lightweight serum with a moisturiser on top, or am treating my face with a retinol product).
With any kind of acid or retinol treatment (never mind with pale Nordic skin), you absolutely have to look after the sunscreen side of things. In fact, out of all the ‘anti-ageing’ products out there, sunscreen is the most effective. Yes, we need sunshine to be healthy and yes, a light tan can look attractive, but I don’t know a single skincare expert who doesn’t wear sunscreen on their face all year ’round and increase the SPF for holidays. With paler complexions, the SPF has to be quite high – I burn to a crisp in half an hour in full sun and even with a high SPF, I’ll get freckles no matter what. Finding a high SPF product that doesn’t turn any make-up you try to put on top into a gloopy mess – not so easy. Until you try Shu Uemura Underbase Mousse SPF35. I use the Beige one (there are shades for almost any skin tone). It’s the perfect base product – it evens out skin tone, makes my make-up last longer and takes care of the sunscreen problem. Now I just have to take vitamin D supplements to ward of deficiency.
There’s another primer I can’t be without – Urban Decay Primer Potion – the best eyeshadow primer in the world. One of the things they don’t tell you is that when you get a bit older, your eye make-up starts to misbehave. Eyeliner smudges. Eyeshadow gathers into creases. Not a good look. The UD Primer Potion stops this nonsense entirely. Your eye-make up will last until you’re ready to take it off.
Mascara can also run and smudge – even when it claims to be waterproof. Not so with the mascara that sounds like someone from the Fast Show invented the name of it for a Japanese sketch: Kiss Me Heroine Make Long & Curl mascara (try eBay and Amazon – I bought my first one in Tokyo a few years ago and have been schlepping it over by any means necessary ever since). It contains fibres and makes your lashes look like you’ve pinched them from an anime character. It does not smudge…or come off at all for that matter until you remove it with its special remover (which I suspect is mostly mineral oil in mascara packaging). Do not buy this mascara without getting the matching remover. Due to the difficult removal, this is not an everyday mascara (that discontinued Maybelline was… sigh), but for special occasions, it’s my HG product in this category.
Speaking of being Nordic, there’s the hair. Fine, mousey – high maintenance if you want to do anything adventurous with it. I’ve always been adventurous (even when I’m giving my hair a rest from colour and bleach, I still can’t resist getting highlights), so it requires a lot of looking after and well-chosen products. Matrix Biolage Hydrating shampoo is my Holy Grail shampoo, no doubt about it. There are others which are okay and I switch around sometimes (like the Klorane range, Redken and a few others), but I always have a bottle of the Biolage shampoo in my bathroom (and a back-up bottle or three in the cupboard). It leaves my hair feeling like hair. Like healthy, strong, clean, shiny hair. I know this sounds like it should be the basic function of all shampoos, but let me tell you – most shampoos leave my hair feeling like straw. Or stretchy plastic. Or fluff.
I use a number of ‘everyday’ conditioners which are fairly interchangeable (my shortlist of favourites: the matching Biolage conditioner, Matrix colour care conditioner, Redken, Klorane and Pureology), but when I feel my hair needs a treat or I want it to look as perfect as it can be, I reach for the Redken Heavy Cream hair mask. It might seem a little counter-intuitive to use such a product on fine hair, but a little goes a long way, and nothing makes my hair feel as healthy and soft as this product. I also have the matching leave-in conditioner for straw-hair bad hair day emergencies (though it’s easy to overdose, so go easy on it if your hair is fine like mine).
It’s not a good idea to wash your hair every day if you can at all avoid it – it’s one of the most damaging things you can do to your hair – so in-between washes, I like to use the Label M. Protein Spray to straighten out any kinks, refresh and protect in one go. Over-using a protein spray is not recommended because it’ll make your hair feel crisp and brittle, but moderate use every couple of days is just right. One of the bonus features of this product is its light and refreshing, herbal-style scent. It isn’t sickly or overwhelming like so many scents for these types of products (I don’t want my hair products to compete with my perfume and when working in the lab or evaluating other people’s scents, the last thing you want is for your hair to be a fragrant foghorn right near your nose).
I’m yet to find a replacement for the discontinued Chanel foundation (that’s a whole other blog post – I’ve spent a lot of time and money searching and tried dozens of foundations in the process), nor have I found a lip colour as perfect as Incognito (it was a mauve-y pink with gold shimmer). I’ll live.
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning MAC Studiofix in NC15 which has been my trusty touch-up companion since it was first introduced in the 90s. I used to use it as an all-over foundation with just some concealer underneath, but with older skin, powder foundation starts to look ageing and flat, so this product has now taken a secondary role.
I have to mention some fragrances, too, or this just wouldn’t be a representative list – the three scents I have gone through several bottles of in the last few years are: Mandragore by Annick Goutal, Daim Blond by Serge Lutens and Alien by Mugler. Considering that my ‘regular rotation’ has 40 or so scents in it, and that I own over 80, going through a single bottle of anything is close to miraculous, never mind several.
What about you? Any products you simply *can’t live without?
[*clearly I don’t mean this literally. It’s good to acknowledge the fact that some of us are so privileged that a discontinued lippie can count as a ‘problem’. On the days when things seem gloomy, it’s good to remember how lucky we really are to get to play with beauty products and obsess over the perfect hair conditioner. ]