Beauty Abroad, Part 17: The Great British Swatch-Off

(Apologies to a show I’ve never actually watched. I’m told that I should!)

I’ve noted before that the average British woman seems to get more excited about makeup than the average American woman does. I stand by my original conclusion: “In my experience, Americans pay more attention to the overall effect of their makeup, while the British pay more attention to individual details.” Drugstores in the UK offer more shade variety per brand, and it’s not unusual to see people wearing red or fuchsia lipstick when out and about. Experimenting with makeup is part of British culture in a way it’s just not in the US; there’s a sense of play here that I find so refreshing. I took this photo (faces blurred for privacy) at the MAC lipstick display at the Selfridges in Birmingham two weeks ago:

I lingered in the Selfridges makeup department for about 15 minutes, and the MAC section was like this the entire time. I’d occasionally try to approach and swatch Chili (still searching for that ’20s burnt orange), but the crowd was impenetrable. There wasn’t even a new collection to get excited over; it was just business as usual on a Saturday afternoon.

Oh, and here’s about 2/3 of the beauty selection at the Superdrug in the same mall:

The giant wall of makeup isn’t even all of it: there’s also a shelf of brushes and other beauty tools to the right, and a standalone display of theBalm, of all things. I’ve never seen theBalm in an American drugstore or anywhere else in the UK, yet there it is in a Superdrug in Birmingham.

My scattershot swatches have been mainly of the drugstore variety, since most of the mid- and high-end brands available here are also available for less money in the US. That’s not to say that I haven’t done my share of browsing on the makeup floor of Selfridges, though. It’s easier to find some high-end Japanese brands in the UK (Suqqu, RMK, and Shu Uemura come to mind), but their representatives in Selfridges were very attentive and I didn’t feel comfortable swatching freely in front of them. I also looked at some Charlotte Tilbury lipsticks (the brand is available in the US, but not super-widely), and I can’t say I was impressed. The shade range was kind of unadventurous and the formula didn’t seem like anything special, and I can’t un-read that Into the Gloss interview in which Tilbury revealed that her husband has never seen her without makeup.

I felt more comfortable playing at the Illamasqua counter, since I was there specifically to make a purchase (Facet nail varnish!). As usual, I made a beeline for the lipsticks:

The one that immediately caught my attention was that marbled fuchsia/teal lipstick, which turned out to be Lava Lips in Activist (£19.50), new for summer 2016. So far as I can tell, Activist is the only Lava Lips currently available, though I assume Illamasqua will bring out more eventually. The pink and turquoise are supposed to blend together on the lips to create a “deep purple,” though swatching told a different story. L-R: Illamasqua lipsticks in Underworld, Posture, ESP, and Activist (what, you thought I wouldn’t gravitate toward the purples?):

I mean, sure, Activist approximates a deep purple, but it looks awfully muddy to me. Maybe there’s a trick to applying it, but the real allure of this lipstick is obviously the gorgeous swirly bullet. The other lipsticks above felt dry and looked a bit patchy, though Underworld might make a beautiful opalescent topper for another lipstick. I was also tempted by the glosses in Stranger (left) and Opulent (with two pink Shu Uemura eyeshadows below):

Opulent in particular is stunning: fine pink and gold glitter in a sheer taupe base. But I know perfectly well that I don’t wear gloss enough to justify the purchase. Over the years, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s enough to be grateful for a product’s general existence.

Of course I can’t pass a NARS counter without having a look, though I don’t plan to buy any NARS in the UK. This time I wanted to see if I could find any burnt-orange lipsticks. The Audacious lipsticks in Jane and Marlene were close to what I was envisioning, but I don’t like the Audacious formula enough to pay $32 for another lipstick. L-R: Dominique, Belle de Jour (part of the original lipstick line), Jane, Marlene:

And while we’re back on the topic of Lili Elbe lipsticks, I returned to Selfridges on a weekday to try MAC Chili. The MAC area was still bustling, but at least I got to make physical contact with a lipstick. Here’s a weird lip swatch of Chili (don’t worry, I sanitized the lipstick obsessively and applied it with a Q-tip):

I’d forgotten how much I love MAC’s matte formula, and the color is just about perfect. I’m still looking for a cruelty-free alternative, though. Candidates include Marc Jacobs Rei of Light (but $$$), Kat Von D Chula (but KVD is kind of a shitty person), and Urban Decay Vice Lipstick in Hitch Hike (but it’s more brown than orange).

SPEAKING OF, the Urban Decay Vice lipsticks finally crossed the Atlantic! I left the US just before they launched, so I saw them for the first time yesterday. The feeling of encountering 100 almost-fresh lipstick testers…holy shit, you guys. I don’t plan to buy any of them in the UK, but it was nice to swatch the shades I’d had my eye on. Check out this insane leaflet the saleslady gave me (who decided that 69 was a “yellow-based red”?):

And some swatches! L-R: Wired (Cream), Perversion (Comfort Matte), Nighthawk (Cream), Hex (Mega Matte), Temper (Comfort Matte), Seismic (Sheer Shimmer), Heroine (Cream):

L-R: Firebird (Cream), Psycho (Comfort Matte), Alpha (Mega Matte), Hitch Hike (Comfort Matte), Twitch (Cream), Tryst (Cream):

Closeup of Firebird, Psycho (look at that sparkle!), Alpha, and Hitch Hike:

The quality seemed to vary from shade to shade, even within formula categories. Hex and Alpha are both Mega Mattes, but Alpha is smooth and opaque, while Hex is noticeably patchy. Wired and Twitch are both Creams, but Twitch seems streaky and slippery. The two shades that spoke to me were Alpha and Hitch Hike (dudes, IT’S ONE WORD), but Hitch Hike might be too close to Revlon Fierce. Psycho is beautiful as well, but the sparkles make it less suited to everyday wear.

And now for some drugstore swatches!

I’d never paid much attention to Bourjois before this year, but I kept hearing great things about the Rouge Edition Velvet liquid lipsticks (£8.99), which are liquid-to-semi-matte lipsticks reminiscent of the NYX Liquid Suedes. (NYX just arrived in the UK, by the way, at a serious markup.) Bourjois also makes a range of 18 Rouge Edition bullet lipsticks (also £8.99), which have a satin finish with nearly opaque coverage and a slightly slippery formula. L-R: Rouge Edition lipsticks in 05 Brun Bohème, 02 Beige Trench (which I bought), 41 Pink Catwalk, and 03 Pêche Cosy; Rouge Edition Velvet in 10 Don’t Pink of It:

Top to bottom: Rimmel Kate Moss lipstick in (I think) 110 Vibrant Coral; Bourjois Rouge Allure Velvet liquid lipsticks in Peach Club, Hot Pepper, Olé Flamingo, and Frambourjoise:

L-R: Beige Trench again, some Rimmel coral whose name I forget, Rimmel Coffee Shimmer, and Bourjois Rouge Velvet in…ugh, sorry, I’m useless. Coffee Shimmer is apparently an iconic ’90s lipstick, the equivalent of Revlon Coffee Bean in the US. Lately I’ve been half-wanting a frosty nude lipstick, I think because of my recent viewing of the Kill Bill movies. Coffee Shimmer is too dark to qualify as a nude for me, but it’s a striking color nonetheless. I have mixed feelings about the imminent Return of the Frost.

Bourjois Rouge Edition in Brun Bohème again (left) and Rouge Edition Velvet in Beau Brun. I hoped that one of these might be my elusive burnt orange, but alas.

Barry M is a British drugstore brand best known for cheap nail polish (I’ve bought three Barry M polishes in the last two weeks, actually), but they also make lipstick, highlighters, and other affordable delights. Below we have Barry M Matte Lip Paints (lipsticks, they’re lipsticks) in 37 Black and 129 Palest Lavender (£4.49 each):

That black lipstick has impressive opacity, especially given its price—it seems every bit as pigmented as Urban Decay Perversion. I’m tempted to pick it up in case I ever need a black lipstick, but then I’ve
never needed a black lipstick in the past twenty-eight years, so I doubt I’ll need one in the future.

Barry M has also joined the rest of the world on the strobing train. The brand has just released two cream highlighters housed in chubby sticks: the Illuminating Strobe Creams in Frost Pink and Iced Bronze (£4.49). These highlighters apply smoothly but without much pigmentation (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing in a highlighter). Frost Pink is a cool-toned pink, but Iced Bronze is nowhere close to bronze—it’s a pale gold that reminds me of ColourPop Lunch Money. They seem decent, but not worth seeking out unless you own zero highlighters.

If you follow beauty YouTubers at all, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of another British drugstore highlighting product: the Sleek Solstice palette (£9.99). Hyped to high heaven recently by Jeffree Star and his ilk, Solstice comprises four highlighters in three different formulas: two baked powders in peach (Equinox) and lavender (Hemisphere), one finer powder in pale gold (Subsolar), and one cream in shimmery beige (Ecliptic). L-R: Equinox, Hemisphere, Subsolar, Ecliptic (which I keep mistyping as “Eclipstick”):

Honestly, this palette doesn’t strike me as anything special. The two baked powders, Ecliptic and Hemisphere, are too chunky and glittery for my tastes. Subsolar is a very generic color (yet another Lunch Money dupe). Ecliptic is nice enough, but keep creams out of my powders thx. If all four colors had come in Subsolar’s formula, though, I might well have bought Solstice.

And that’s it for now! Reviews of a couple of new purchases to come soonish, I hope. I’ve been posting some photos from my travels on Instagram, if you’re curious about the non-makeup aspects of my time in England!

19 thoughts on “Beauty Abroad, Part 17: The Great British Swatch-Off

  1. It's like you took me with you to UK's beauty section, and wow, MAC is selling like pancakes there! There's only a third left of my Chili, and since I recently decided to fully commit to going cruelty-free, I'm dreading the day that I run out of Chili. I'll make sure to check your blog in case you've found an alternative.


  2. MAC Chili is lovely. I might add to my wishlist (which is surprisingly very small right now). I've never actually paid much attention to Bourjois – it's sold in Canadian drugstores – but I keep seeing really nice colours so maybe I should at some point.


  3. I'm reeling from just reading that Charlotte Tilbury interview… \”I have large boobs and a small waist…One time I didn't wear heels and it was terrifying…I take my makeup off (because it's important to let the skin breathe) and then put it right back on…\” It reminds me of every interview Gwyneth Paltrow gives. Completely surreal.


  4. OMFG, OPULENT. I have 2 Illamasqua glosses, Iridesce and Exquisite. Both are very duochromey and pretty, and I've just started wearing them. The formula is super thick and gloops up at the corners if you apply too much, but applied very lightly and patted in it's very pretty and moisturizing. I considered buying Stranger before but I think there is not a lot of time I need a super opaque gold gloss. Butbutbut OPULENT.


  5. MAC Chili looks great on you. I know you're looking for a cruelty-free option but Eva's True Red lipstick from L'Oreal is an excellent budget option. Does the UK carry Addiction from Japan? I love their Paprika lip crayon.Thank you for swatching NARS' Marlene — what a gorgeous color! I'm definitely going to try it when I'm the USA this September.


  6. Longtime reader, first time commenter. Love your witty blog. Thanks a lot for making me want Illamasqua Opulent more than I already did, sob! I wish it was available in the US. Regarding burnt orange, have you looked at Ofra's Miami Fever? I recently got this from HauteLook, and \”burnt orange\” is the perfect descriptor. The formula is more like Nyx Soft Matte Lip Cream than, say, ColourPop. It doesn't dry down completely, but it also doesn't feel or look flat or dry. So far it seems nice.


  7. I'm surprised at how hard it is to find Chili-like colors, given how popular brownish lipsticks have become. I'd rather not buy from MAC, but then I've bent my anti-MAC rule twice in the past year, so…eh, I might allow myself to get the lipstick I really want instead of trying out unsatisfactory dupes.


  8. It's taken me a long time to fully accept that! I have quite a few items (lip colors in particular) that I bought because I loved looking at them, not because I thought they'd fill a real space in my collection.


  9. Why is it that so many personality-centric beauty brands are centered on…not-great personalities? That interview is basically a laundry list of bad reasons to wear makeup (I felt less pretty than my classmates, I want my husband to find me more attractive…). I don't want to patronize a beauty brand whose founder has so many bizarre, unhealthy neuroses about her own appearance.


  10. I haven't seen Addiction yet, but I'll keep an eye out! I really don't like L'Oreal lipsticks, though: my mom bought me some when I was just starting to wear makeup, and I didn't like the formula or the smell. I'd rather just spend $7-ish more for MAC.I'm simultaneously bitter and grateful that my lips don't get along with the Audacious formula. There are so many stunning colors in that line, but I'd be a lot poorer if I could wear them! If you like Marlene, Sandra is similar (a bit browner), but it's exclusive to Barneys and NARS stores.


  11. I'm so sad that Illamasqua pulled out of the US! Opulent is truly a fairytale color.Actually, someone recommended Miami Fever to me two posts ago! It's definitely the color I'm looking for, but I much prefer bullet lipsticks to liquid matte ones. It's good to hear that it's not too drying, though–I'll keep it in mind.


  12. The Barry M black lipstick is actually pretty good! It was one of my first purchases in the UK pretty much for the same reason you're considering it, and I've managed to use it (as in, wearing it out of the house) a solid three or four times, which seems reasonable to me for the price. Barry M in general is an underrated brand – the nail polishes were A Thing circa 2013, but nobody really talks about the other products. The UK drugstore brands interest me more than anything else (except Illamasqua) because the markup on mid-range to high-end brands is just too much.The UD lipstick line is crazy! I've never been particularly interested in buying any of their lip products, but it's good to know they're out there for pretty much any possible need. I swatched Heroine the other day and thought it was gorgeous, not that I would ever need such a colour. Are you thinking to buy any of them when you get back to the US?


  13. The only products I've bought from Barry M so far have been nail polishes, which really aren't bad. I'm less impressed with their core line, but their Gelly Hi-Shine collection is great! I own Damson, Butterscotch Sundae, and Sugar Apple and like them all. Maybe I'll pick up the black lipstick after all. Now that I've worn NYX Stone Fox out of the house, I feel like black lipstick is my final frontier.I'd really like to buy Alpha! I've been looking for a matte raspberry pink for a while. Hitch Hike is beautiful as well.


  14. I adore those Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvets, I've used them for such a long time and love how they wear on my lips. I wish the whole colour range was available here in Australia though!


  15. That's one of my considerations, too. Maybe consuming less can also be considered support for the cruelty-free movement. Rather than trying out 10 different burnt orange lipsticks, why not buy just one that I'm sure I will like.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s