Let's Talk Tools

Most of my tools are HGs - maybe that makes me sound very old and set in my ways, but at this point I've been wearing makeup long enough to have a really good idea of what I like. I rarely find myself looking for anything new on the tools front, so here are my current (and maybe forever) favorites:


Whether I use a brush or a sponge to apply really depends on the formula of the foundation - looser liquids get the sponge, but for thicker liquids or creams I always use a brush (I only use my fingers if the circumstances are truly dire, because what a mess!).

I've had the original Shiseido foundation brush for almost a decade now. Its thick, flat top and medium-soft bristles are ideal for buffing - I just dab a little foundation in spots on my cheeks and chin and then blend outward in circular motions. This lets me keep my coverage to a minimum, focused in my t-zone where I need it but blended out to the edges of my face for a natural look. And after ten years it still looks as good as new as long as I keep it washed regularly.

A few weeks ago Shiseido released reformulations of a lot of their products - one of those is a revamped foundation brush. I've been so happy with the original, but I'll probably go ahead and get this newer version as a backup (and so that I'll be more likely to wash at least one of them regularly).

When I need a sponge, I reach for one from the Sephora Collection. I've tried Beauty Blender sponges, and honestly, I prefer the texture of the ones from Sephora. It's not just a matter of cost, although it doesn't hurt that the Sephora sponges come in at a lower price point. I've got half a dozen of the egg-shaped sponges that I bought on a sale three years ago - I wash them regularly, and they still look as good as they day I bought them.


I don't use concealer that often, but when I have the occasional breakout I like to be able to cover it precisely. For that kind of detail, my favorite brush is The Concealer Brush from Kevyn Aucoin. Its tiny brush head makes it easy to dab just a little bit of concealer, and that control helps me keep the concealer texture looking natural.


I don't do big puffs of powder all over my face - in the last few years I've been trying to reduce the amount of powder I use overall because I think it ages me, so I like the tapered tip on the Sephora PRO Sculpting Blush Brush #99 that allows me to tap just a little in the areas I want to concentrate on (my chin, apples of my cheeks, bridge of my nose, and inner eyes - my t-zone, basically). It's ostensibly a blush brush, There is no rule that says you can't repurpose a brush for whatever you want!


Blush may be my favorite product, the one thing I wear every single day, so it's probably no surprise that I have so many brushes to apply it with. When I put on powder blush, I don't use broad strokes, I dab spots across my cheek and blend as I go, so a brush with a fat, round head is ideal for me.

To that end, the e.l.f. Ultimate Blending Brush is my go-to for everyday. Its slightly domed top lends itself to daubing, and the bristles are soft enough to make blending so easy.

My new favorite might be the Zoeva 126/Luxe Cheek Finish brush though. I picked this up in Germany, and the bristles are so soft it just makes blending a dream. The brush head is fuller at the top than the base, so I pick up product and dab onto my cheeks from the side of the bulb.

I don't use it as often these days, but for years my HG blush brush was the Nars Yachiyo Kabuki Brush. My favorite thing about it is actually the ergonomics of the handle. It's thin but has a wrapped texture that makes it easy to grip. The shape of the brush head is not ideal for me, but the way it tapers does offer a lot of different options for application and blending and makes it easy not to use a heavy hand.


I don't use highlighter every day, but when I do I apply it with the MAC 133 Synthetic Small Cheek Brush. What I like about it is that the brush head is small, so it's just the right size to glide along the top of your cheekbone without drifting down onto the rest of your face.


I also don't wear eyeliner that often, but when I do it's a potted gel liner, and the only thing I'll use to apply it is the MAC 263 Small Angle Brush. Its narrow, stiff bristles give easy precision and control, exactly what you need when you're trying to get that perfect cat-eye.


There are definitely more expensive eye brushes out on the market, but Ecotools are still beloved for a lot of reasons. For a budget price point, you can get a full set with a variety of useful brush shapes and soft, flexible bristles. I have a set like this one, although mine is an older version that's no longer on sale. That says a lot though - I got my set almost five years ago and they've held up well through many uses and much washing. The two I use the most are the large flat shadow brush, for applying color to the lid, and the smaller accent shadow for smudging in the crease.

One thing that's common about all of these brushes is that the bristles have never fallen out. I've encountered that with too many brushes, even from expensive brand names. It sucks to be applying makeup and find stray dark strands embedded in your face. I remember once being told - by someone trying to sell me brushes - that this was normal and I should always expect it. But it's never happened with any of the brushes I've listed above, and some of them have been in my collection for years.

Things I don't use:

I don't use an eyelash curler - long, nicely curled lashes are the one thing I come by naturally and I've always been grateful for it. Even in my late 40's, my lashes haven't started to fall or droop - hallelujah!

I do have a MAC lip brush, but I don't use it often - like, maybe once a year. Lip brushes are great for people who are applying color to someone else's mouth, but I just don't need that kind of precision for myself on a daily basis.

How I cleanse:

I probably don't clean my brushes as often as I should (who does?). My foundation brush is the one that I absolutely have to wash every other day or so - if I don't, the bristles get waxy and application gets streaky. The rest get washed anywhere from once a week to every other week, depending on how often they're used.

My process is simple, though - I just wet the brush heads, squish some Dr. Bronner's Baby Unscented Liquid Soap through them, rinse until the water runs clear, then leave them up in a brush stand to dry.

Cosmetics Shopping in Germany!

Hello! Gutentag! I'm back from Germany! This two-week trip was all about culture - we spent a lot of time in museums, churches, and castles - but I did get a little shopping in too, so I wanted to tell you all about that. If you're planning a trip to Germany any time soon, here are the kinds of places you might find cosmetics and fragrances:

On our first morning in Munich, we stopped in the Marienplatz to get data cards for our phones, and I visited an independent parfumerie called The Beauty Spot on the Marienplatz (the city center) in Munich:

A few days later, we visited Oberpollinger, also on the Marienplatz in Munich. Oberpollinger is a huge department store, with five stories of retail and a very fancy restaurant on the top floor. We went for breakfast, but while I was there I stopped at the MAC Cosmetics counter. After just a few days of museum-hopping I had already been outside enough to get some color, so I needed to get a slightly darker shade of my Pro Longwear foundation. I mention this mostly because my experience at the store was so nice. I was already worn out from struggling with my German, but although the sales associate didn't speak much English either, we still managed to make ourselves understood to each other and even had some laughs. It was such a relief - I felt right at home for the first time. (She also gifted me a Cremesheen Glass which I LOVE, the bright pink La Salsa from the Fruity Juicy Collection of May, 2017.)

I knew that Sephora didn't have any standalone stores in Germany, so you can imagine my surprise when I walked into Galeria Kaufhof, another German department store chain, and found a Sephora inside. Galeria Kaufhof reminds me a lot of Macy's - it's a moderately-sized store with fashion and home departments. The Sephora had on offer a lot of their own Sephora Collection products and a few more Korean skincare brands than I'm used to seeing in the U.S. stores, but I didn't see any other U.S. brands. (and I wonder if that's because of the same trade limitation that keeps Sephora from opening standalone stores there). I did pick up a couple of things from Charlotte Tilbury - the Wonderglow Primer (which I love!) and Magic Foundation in 1 Fair.

Germany has a couple of ubiquitous "drogerie markt" (drug store) chains - dm and Müller. They're a lot like CVS or Walgreens in the U.S., except that they don't have pharmacy counters. They carry some over the counter medications, plus other sundries, mostly cosmetics and body products. A few of the drugstore brands they carry aren't available in North America. dm, for example, has their own brand - Balea - that has some good skincare lines.

In Germany and Austria, prescriptions must be filled at a proper Apotheke, or pharmacy (you'll recognize them by their prominent signs). While these places mostly provide medications, they do also carry some finer skincare and fragrance lines. In Berlin, I went into one where I finally found Roger & Gallet fragrances (it's possible to order some Roger & Gallet products to ship to the U.S., but I had never tested any of them before so I was happy for the chance to do that):

Karstadt is another German department store chain. It reminded me of a cross between Macy's and Target, if that makes any sense. Their stores have a wonderful selection of products - everything from fashion to toys to home furnishings, all in colorful displays. The one we went into in Berlin even had a gourmet grocery belowground. We only stopped in to visit the Apotheke inside, though, so I can't tell you much about their cosmetics department (although I think most of what they carry are the major brands available in the U.S. anyway).

Douglas is a chain of standalone stores. They remind me of Sephora in terms of their layout, but they don't seem to carry as many brands. I saw them all over, but I only went into the one in the Mall of Berlin. Most of what they carried were brands available in the U.S., with a few exceptions - I picked up another palette from Zoeva, along with a few of their store brand mascaras and some skincare:

Finally, we stopped at Kaufhaus des Westens in Berlin. This is probably the largest department store I've ever been in, maybe even larger than Harrods in London. It reminded me a lot of Bloomingdales, with its individual boutiques for fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Prada. They have a huge cosmetics floor but mostly carry brands available in the U.S., so I didn't buy anything there, just spent a lot of time marveling at the size.

Europe at this time of year can get a little warm. It was in the mid-70's to low 80's most days, which doesn't seem particularly hot. The catch is that a lot of European buildings don't have air conditioning - they haven't really needed it before now, so global warming is making things a little uncomfortable. Even the museums were warm - I've gotten used to those being chilly havens because, you know, temperature control is important for preserving the art and artifacts. But across Germany, most museums are in buildings that are, themselves, hundreds of years old, so retro-fitting with modern air conditioning may not be easy. In the apartments we rented, our only option was to leave windows cracked to get some air flowing. Basically, I was a giant sweatball for two solid weeks - I never really cooled down, except in the earliest hours of the morning.

But my MAC Pro Longwear foundation worked like a champ. I'm so glad I tested foundations before I left. At the end of August I'll be putting it to the ultimate test: the New York City subway in the hottest part of the summer.

Current obsession: Marie Antoinette. We spent a few days in Vienna, and while there we visited the Hofburg, the palace where she grew up (her mother was Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria and the only female Habsburg ruler). I picked up a book about her life after I got home, and suddenly I'm down a rabbit hole, learning about her life, the strategic importance of her marriage, and how very much she was a product of her environment. I'm not sure she could have turned out to be anything other than she was, and I'm also not sure that she was quite the villain that popular history paints her to be.

Current music: Depeche Mode. They were in town while we were in Berlin. In fact, they were playing at a venue near the Olympic stadium the day we visited, Evidence of the band and their music was everywhere, so I've been revisiting my collection since I got home.

In a few days, I'll be off traveling again, this time on a work trip to Baltimore, so I probably won't be writing much until mid-August. Keep an eye on my Instagram account though! If anything interesting happens that involves makeup, you'll see it there!