Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyAugust 3, 2021

The pain and poetry of online beauty reviews

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Alix Higby was just looking for a new cleanser. What she found was something much more powerful. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one skincare or makeup routine fits all. Particularly if you have sensitive skin and the kind of allergies that, in Jane Austen’s world, would see you lucky to survive childhood, let alone win the affections of a conceited Mr Darcy. 

This was my internal monologue one very ordinary Saturday night in, as I split my attention between two screens. On my laptop, Pride and Prejudice (2005). On my phone, the website for beauty store Mecca, where I was weighing up two pricey cream cleansers designed for pathetic skin.

It is my firm belief that the only way to know if a new product is worth the investment is by reading reviews from someone with similar woes who has already given it a test run. Not just on one website either – you have to cross-reference with other outlets to ensure the $200 you’re about to literally wash down the drain feels justified. Necessary, even.

Most beauty reviews are lukewarm and weak on detail…

… but every now and then you find something insightful. And then, when you least expect it, you read something real. It’s personal, nuanced. A work of art, like a special kind of capitalist flash nonfiction, where people mine their personal lives just to tell you how amazing this primer they bought really is!! Girl, add to cart right now, you NEED THIS. 

To show you what I mean, I’ve collected some of my most recent favourite pieces from a selection of online beauty outlets.

How to know when a Mascara is the GOAT

Glossier Lash Slick – Glossier

There is no higher accolade for a mascara than surviving a deluge, and cult beauty brand Glossier frequently attracts this kind of poetry and prose for Lash Slick. Many women have praised this product by citing the tears brought on by a break up, so head here if you’re going through it and your friends are sick of hearing about it. You’ll find the solidarity you seek.

‘The perfect lipstick does not exist’

Tom Ford Lip Color – MECCA

From this day on we will refer to this as the Vom Test, where legally a company cannot include “long-lasting” in a product description until they certify it reaches this very gross standard. 

The true test of liquid eyeliner

Stila Stay All Day® Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner – Sephora

Is this what Shakespeare meant when he wrote “Now is the winter of our discontent”? 

Conceal those emotions

Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer – Nars

Therapists often hand you a box of tissues when you arrive for a session, but if you suffer from ugly crying face you’ll know that alone is not enough. Also, seems “good ol fashion trauma cry” is just part of our lexicon now?

Putting a setting spray through its paces

Urban Decay All Nighter Setting Spray (Travel Size) – ASOS

Much like mascara and eyeliner, it’s the longevity you’re looking for in a setting spray. The sign of a good buy used to be getting home after a night out with everything exactly where you left it. You’d stare into the bathroom mirror at how hot you were, maybe take a couple of selfies that will bring you shame in the morning… but now, if your makeup lasts a pub crawl in the middle of the day in FACE MASKS, you’re onto a winner. 

Capturing a perfume’s scent in 300 words or less

Like the taste of Proust’s tea-soaked madeleine, certain smells can also transport us to another time and place. 

Here we have a fragrance that conjures a summer barbecue for one reviewer, and criminal activity for the other. As Sara Bareilles in Girls5Eva says, “women are an ocean of secrets”.

“All that changed was my perfume.” This novella seems better suited to, otherwise what are we talking here, witchcraft? I do not want to believe.

The lengths people will go to for a good cleanser

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm 125ml – Adore Beauty

Oh, the tedium of removing the cake from your face! Lazy makeup removers are everywhere because we hate this part of looking good. A cleansing balm that whips your eyes clean but makes you blind? 4 stars. 

Points for honesty

Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Makeup – Mecca

Sephora Collection Color Hit Nail Polish – Sephora

These people took time out of their days to leave reviews acknowledging they have no authority to be leaving reviews. I like to think of these as periodic “reality checks”. After 2.75 hours scrolling endlessly through products you patently do not need, you tend to forget that almost no one here knows what they’re talking about. Time to log off.

Keep going!