PREAMBLE

I’ve realized in the course of writing this that many of the beauty dictums I consider strenuously vetted in fact constitute a set of misremembered or totally fabricated beliefs I don’t want to bother correcting. And what’s more ravishing than self-delusion?

Note I am not talking about drinking plenty of water, which evidently helps, nor do I blindly accept that one hundred different mascaras will suit your lashes in one hundred different ways. I mean that I am spiritually certain brushing your teeth twice a day is a sham but I can’t say how the germ of this idea took hold. I mean I think sleeping with my makeup on helps form a protective shield around my epidermis so that no harm may befall it while I dream. (Define “free radical,” I can’t.) I mean isn’t it the case that hot and cold water are both better for your hair in different ways? It all depends on the weather anyway. To tame curls, allow them to dry excruciatingly slow within the carapace of your softest turtleneck sweater.

Sometimes reality creeps in, usually when people intervene on my behalf, and I’ve been lucky like that. My greatest beauty lessons are those I’ve learned from my friends and colleagues, especially over the last couple years I’ve worked at Jezebel and have been reading beauty writing consistently for the first time since high school, piquing my interest. Actually, the first lesson I came up with on my own, and that was to stop eating entire pieces of cheese. It’s done wonders to clear up my skin.

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Second: at a party last summer where Jezebel staff were present an extremely kind coworker asked me which daily sunscreen I used and her impassioned bewilderment at my wordless reply was enough to let me know it was time to buy a new tube of something. I went with Supergoop Everyday Sunscreen and now I apply a bit of it every morning. I like the way it smells; I hope it smells like me.

Third: Around this time I attended a spin class with my friend Ava and realized I should start working out on a regular basis. And I do! It helps with mood, with skin, with health—I do the elliptical. Ask anyone I know. But I have not done another spin class.

Fourth: On the subway six months to a year ago my friend Tony told me there’s something called a “moisture barrier” and I made fun of him the entire ride for getting his information so spastically wrong, but when I got home and looked up “moisture barrier” I saw it’s all true. I consolidated my moisture barrier.

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I am always ecstatic when I make a new friend who is not a writer. About eight months ago I met Nina who is so much more than not-a-writer: she’s funny, and warm, and in the skincare industry. Nina has taught me in a manner that I’m sure appears casual and offhand to her but which I experience in a state of rapturous attention, where trapdoors to alternate realities spring open at the mention of each new glycerin, to understand something about this mysterious boundary between my brain and the ambient computer screen. Nina taught me about hyaluronic acid and this, I’m telling you, is the heaven of acids. For dry skin I have so far found nothing better. By the way, it took me until my mid-twenties to figure out I had dry facial skin, and then another several months to make the connection that this probably meant my scalp also tended on the dry side, after all, they are contiguous and of the same head, which fortunately still has the capacity to be amazed and placated.

MORNING

Now at last I wash my face. I’ve been using the same face wash for a few years, Glo Skin Beauty Clear Skin Cleanser. It gently exfoliates and smells like chemical melon. I found out about it from my mom, who uses it on her own face, and I believe she got the scoop from an actual dermatologist. Sometimes I wash my face in the shower, sometimes it’s a separate affair (for more on this see the “NO SCHEDULE” section below). Next, I apply a couple pumps of Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Lotion. A few times a month I bathe my face in a sheet mask for 15 minutes, or alternately a wonderful Alder New York Hydrating Face Mask. Not today. It’s 10 AM.

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I wake up protected by a magic force field of yesterday’s makeup.

NO SCHEDULE

I have no schedule, there is no typical day.

MAKEUP

I’m going into lower Manhattan today to work on writing assignments, such as this product log. As I said, many of my beliefs about beauty are specious and only in my mind. As such, my actual makeup routine is quite rudimentary. Its level of difficulty does not reflect the hours passed collecting images of celebrity heads in desktop folders for “inspiration,” or that I spent most of my life convinced I was unattractive but that this could be remedied, just not by anything I could do. Throughout my teen years, beauty symbolized a surrender of power, both painful and divine. I idolized fashion designers and models. Maybe it’s important to write about beauty every now and then or else it will fester, like an incision that never healed. I was watching an interview with Jacqueline Rose the other night as I was falling asleep and she said something in the course of it like “you are always deceiving yourself, but not interminably.” This is my main beauty advice.

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The makeup I put on to go out with friends or to a cafe to work is the same, give or take. The give I’ll tell you about now, as I apply it: I take a kabuki-style brush and dust some BareMinerals Original Powder Foundation all over my face. The effect is that my face is now a little less shiny. For pimples I might dab a bit of this on directly with my finger. I give each of my under-eye areas a smudge of a concealer I bought at Sephora two years ago (it’s far from running out but the brand label has rubbed off and I don’t remember it, sorry!) and pat it in lightly, patiently.

If sex hair is messy hair, I figure sex makeup is crudely applied. I’m definitely going for the sex makeup look. I smear glittery hot pink Urban Decay “Queen” Eyeshadow—which they don’t seem to produce anymore, so I better make it last—across my lids with my index finger. I’ll trace back over it a few times with that finger to give my look a real color-by-numbers finish. Then I draw a light line on my upper lid with a black L’Oréal Infallible Pencil, and the innermost bottom lash line, where it’s barely touching dry skin. I’ll remove it in pieces throughout the day with Neutrogena Eye Makeup Remover Pads, because it does smudge, but, predictably, I don’t feel comfortable using a product that’s too good at staying on. I like any makeup that sheds itself throughout the day, clings like smoke. My lipstick is NYX Matte Lipstick in Sierra and it stays put about two hours, even if I never lick my lips. Sometimes I just use cherry chapstick. Every now and then I switch to my NYX Soft Matte Lip Cream, Monte Carlo. Then a single layer of Maybelline The Falsies Mascara.

If you’re playing along at home, remember to put your contact lenses in before attempting any of this.

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The new makeup has been laid

SHOWER

I got home and I’ll go out again; in between, I’ll shower. I’m using this Aveeno Positively Nourishing Hydrating Body Wash, which I don’t particularly like but is taking forever to run out. About once a week I exfoliate my body with Deep Steep Passion Fruit Guava Sugar Scrub. I just started doing this a few months ago and fully endorse. It satisfies all my picking-at-myself needs plus is moisturizing. For more of the latter I apply Nivea Soft Moisturizing Cream on my way out of the bathroom.

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Hanging around beaches is my preferred state, but I pass many melancholic days where the closest I get to nature is showering. Enter one of my favorite products, also a recent addition and my most frivolous one: Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub With Sea Salt. It’s like $20 for a tiny tub of gooey salt that smells and feels like the ocean is running through your hair. Somehow it leaves my hair incredibly soft, not wild and encrusted like the one true sea. I condition with Kiehl’s Olive Fruit Oil Deeply Repairative Hair Pak (they misspell “reparative,” maybe on purpose, and I don’t know what “Pak” means—it’s a hair mask), which I leave in for a few minutes while lathering, or shaving my legs, or whatever. It might seem decadent to use a mask as my only conditioner, but I’ve found my curly hair responds positively to maximum richness, else it frizzes up. I splurge on the hair products, but then I rarely wash my hair; that’s one way I justify it.

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HAIR

Now let’s zoom in on the hair. Mine is brown and curly within a wide range of possibility. In summer it’s much curlier. I wash it about once a week and after a couple days the curl is mostly gone and it looks wavy, messy. I change it up pretty often, including recently, which affords me the opportunity to describe two ways to style curly hair, a subject I’ve given lots of attention to.

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First, how I styled it a month ago. It was about shoulder length and I was letting it air dry. In the shower, after the conditioner and shampoo described above, I would pour a capful of olive oil into my palm and rub it into my hair, making sure it touched the follicles from root to tip, but not so as to coat everything like you would a pan. Then I’d immediately rinse it out with cool water. This is a ritual I developed through trial, and error, and, above all, superstition. To explain my thinking as directly as possible: I wanted to achieve hair that was controlled but not greasy. I’ve tried a few post-shower creams and oils, but none of them worked so well as the olive oil that was in my kitchen the whole time. Someone recently recommended coconut oil, which also feels worth trying, but I haven’t yet. For a while I was using Mixed Chicks Leave-In Conditioner, but it was more talismanic in my case, whereas the olive oil made a difference. Anyway, then I’d wrap my hair in a towel for about 45 minutes and let it air dry the rest of the time. Or on sunny days I’d sit outside if I could. Either way it would come out silky, with well-defined curls. Sleeping on wet hair is a real gamble, but sometimes it pays off. I don’t brush it.

A month ago I got my hair cut short again so it hangs just below the ears, and the last few times I’ve washed it I’ve been blowing it out so it reminds me of Jeanne Moreau in La Notte. Now instead of getting progressively flatter, my hair gets more voluminous and tendrilled as the week wears on. I like this very much. To achieve this, first, I leave out the olive oil. I still wrap my hair in a towel when I get out of the shower but only for ten or 20 minutes. Then I blow-dry it (Solano 3200 Top Power Hair Dryer) with a RickyCare Classic Paddle Brush in three layers. This takes another 15 minutes. I use the flat brush so that my hair doesn’t turn out comically round. When I’m done I go over just the ends with a Ceramic Tools 1” Straightening Flat Iron. I guess this is becoming a theme, but again, with the straightener, I barely touch the hair, and never hold it. I more or less hex it with a hot wand.