How To Avoid Buying The Snake Oil And Other Gimmicky Beauty Products

Learn from the mistakes resting in my product graveyard.
Publish date:
November 26, 2013
gimmicks, product advice

Looking for a new job is the suckiest feeling. Sometimes it feels like the job market is a bone-dry wasteland and you will never work again. Other times, an amazing job prospect appears out of nowhere, or someone emails you back after two months of radio silence and the world is suddenly your oyster in that interim period between interview scheduling and that ominous email of employment or rejection. I’ve been riding these waves for a while since I chose the most competitive, fickle and thankless field: advertising.

I often say that my experience as a beauty writer would translate very easily into the advertising world because all beauty articles have a product basis. The beauty industry is always selling all the time. No one is telling you that the secret to youth and beauty is washing your body once a week in a free-flowing river. Instead we have to perfume, cleanse, tone, moisturize, exfoliate, brighten, lighten and tighten. I realize that working for advertising can be selling your soul to the devil, but it’s also thrilling like being the The Great and Powerful Oz behind the heavy green curtain.

Half the fun of the beauty industry is the advertising. The glamorous packaging of a product can be just as effective at elevating my mood as the efficacy of the ingredients inside. We judge products on auxiliary attributes like the “skin feel,” fragrance, or color, all the time, and sometimes straight up reject products if they fall short in one of these unimportant divisions. The marketing geniuses responsible for selling us our beloved potions and make-up know that products are sold on the power of packaging, and the hope of all us suckers.

We have all fallen victim to buying a gimmicky product, because it looks super cute or it seems so soothing in the commercial, and instead we are left with a useless tube of gunk that only proves to make your eyes swell up, or dry out your lips beyond recognition. I have a drawer in my vanity that I refer to as my “product graveyard.” It’s where I chuck all of the products that I have moved out of my rotation, that don’t work for me, or that don’t work for anyone.

Somehow it’s so hard to actually throw away a barely-used product that I spend my well-earned money on, even if I think it’s horrible. At times, I’ll open the cosmetics coffin and re-inspect the corpses of makeup past with the hope of some voodoo resurrection.

Maybe I’ll swipe a little on my cheek just to reaffirm why I sent the offensive tube to its early death in the first place. Let’s take a look into my product graveyard so that I can stand as a warning to you all, so that I can protect you from empty promises and you can keep your wallets full.

I’ve come to the point in my life that I’ve realized that I can’t get everything I want from just a single mascara. On different days I want different lash looks from bare to full on Broadway musical status.

I have a few levels of criteria for my mascaras that include in order of importance: length, removal, wetness, wear, and volume. After polling many Sephora employees, I was wooed by the marketing pitch of Blinc, the tubing mascara that only needs water to remove! Since removal is way high on my priorities list I thought that this mascara could finally be my HG. I settled on the Blinc Amplified because it gave a more natural feathered look. What it lacked in length I was excited to experience in the ease of the removal.

Here’s the issue, if you ONLY wear mascara and NO OTHER MAKEUP, then this could be the product for you. I suspect a lot of make-up wearing people throw on at least a bit of concealer, and maybe a shadow or liner as well. When I went home to take off my makeup that night, I realized how dumb it is to wear a specialized makeup product that necessitates a particular removal process that differs from the rest of my face.

I had to spend extra time massaging warm water onto JUST my lashes first to remove the mascara, and then move on to my oil or balm cleanser method to work on the rest of my makeup. What I thought was a godsend was actually an annoying burden.

One of the most gimmick-filled product sectors is eye cream. Oh the false promises and statistics that eye creams throw at us in to fuel out desperate attempts to stave off the first place we start to show age: around our eyes. First let’s look at the number one offender in my opinion: the under eye roller. Companies just LOVE describing in detail the amazing cooling sensation that massaging a little metal roller ball under your eyeball can create.

If you are spending time massaging a roller ball under you eye for enough time to have any effect, you are wasting loads of product in the minutes that you spend rolling. With some anti-aging ingredients like glycolic acid, it is actually harmful to dispense too much product at a time because it can cause irritation and peeling. So using a rollerball product for facial massage is wasteful and potentially dangerous.

Let’s take a moment to think about how unhygienic rollerballs are in the scheme of skincare dispensers. People rant and rave all day about the horrors of the pot, but at least you can take measure to use a clean spatula. With a roller ball, from the first use you are not only rolling the product on your face, but also rolling your face back into the product. The ball is introducing your face skin cells and bacterial right back into the bottle as it circles inside to collect more product.

I accidentally bought a rollerball bottle of Tarte’s Maracuja Oil thinking that it was just a smaller travel size dropper. I practically shed a tear when I opened the top to find a little silver mound staring back at me. Dispensing the product was the biggest pain in the ass. I had to vigorously rub the roller ball on my palm for three minutes just so I could barely get enough oil to thinly cover my face. I guess I could have spent that time fake massaging my face all over with the roller ball but this seemed equally annoying, gross and impractical.

The last category of gimmicky products that really get my goat are “skin tone adapting” creams or makeup. C’mon guys, do you really believe all of these claims? We all know in our heart of hearts that BB creams probably just pick the most generally flattering yellow- toned color and use a translucent gel formula so that your natural skin color shows through the veil!

As many of us have figured out, this is only an effective product if your natural skin tone is within a few shades of the formula. I am way too fair-skinned for BB Cream, and many people (i.e. everyone who is who is not White or Asian) are too dark. There is no magical color adjusting… just magical marketing.

Falling into the cloying traps of talented advertisers and product developers is unavoidable. We all end up with a few products that just don’t work for us no matter how cute the package is. I still keep all my bogus cosmetics in my product graveyard because sometimes they come in handy.

You can reappropriate an ineffective dual under eye tube as a sleek hand sunscreen to throw into your purse. I also gift out products to my friends when they come over to my apartment if they have a different skin type or coloring than me. Crazy colors that I bought on a whim or got for free I keep around in case I have to do some wacky costume look that necessitates that neon orange lipstick I impulse bought over the summer when I was trying to be “trendy” or something. Makeup and skin care is a lot of trial and error, but hopefully my mistakes can help light the way to your next HG.

What’s in your cosmetics graveyard? Is there a make-up gimmick that you absolutely abhor? Are you going to kill me for hating on Blinc mascara? Tell me below my dears!

Follow Pia’s attempts to stay fresh on Instagram at @piabergman