FGW: Mo reviews the reviews

July 8, 2008 at 11:45 pm 5 comments

The amount of skin care and cosmetics products available is dizzying. New brands with new claims and new “miracle” products pop up every day. It would be great to know the true efficacy of all the products, the safety of all the ingredients, and the honesty of their “studies prove!” claims. That’s why Mythbuster Beauty came into being, to try and wade through the schlock and find the truth. After all, who wants to spend an obscene price for a big time moisturizer that amounts to nothing more than your average drugstore face cream?

Enter Paula Begoun’s ‘Don’t Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me’. This tome is often referred to as “the cosmetics bible”, and Paula labels herself “The Cosmetics Cop”. With names like that you’d expect a thorough, accurate detailing of products, ingredients, and results. On some points, it surely doesn’t disappoint. Now in its 7th edition, ‘Don’t Go’ covers most major prestige and mass market brands. With her easy to understand rating system, Paula details ingredients and efficacy for skin care products, with the additional details of color and coverage for cosmetic products.

Pointers for blemish prone skin are devoted their own section, and she covers the basics of skin care before launching into reviews. And reviews are what this book is all about. Covering 151 brands, the thick review section is organized alphabetically and covers everything from Banana Boat to Mary Kay and La Mer. A broad disclaimer about personal preference and skin type handily covers liability for adverse reactions, not to mention libel from some of the companies she ruthlessly tears apart in her pages. A “best of” section at the end highlights the best performing products in each category, meaning you don’t have to skim every brand to find what might work best for you. The detailed entries about ingredients and the revelations about their actual effects are worth the price of the book, since protecting your skin should be of the utmost importance. But I do have some issues with this book.

Paula Begoun is a proponent of certain cosmetic styles I believe to be outdated. Some of her phrasing about certain products is insulting to their users. One brand review in particular calls into question the consumers self esteem. Several products that we here at MBB adore were rated poorly, with reviews entirely contrary to ours. Other products that we’ve had less than lackluster results from were given high praise. One of the only mascaras I have that doesn’t flake or smear on me gets low marks from her for flaking and smearing, while a cheap and chalky eye shadow is highly recommended, so it’s hard to tell exactly how some products will work for you. Just take a peek at Urban Decay’s 24/7 Glide-on pencils(a product we love) to see what I mean: “…isn’t the best fit for anyone’s “on the go” lifestyle, and the colors are mostly clownish”. The clownish part isn’t terribly surprising, since Paula doesn’t recommend shades of blue, violet, green, or red, or shadows with any shine. As she says, “Makeup that speaks louder than you do may be kicky and fun, but it doesn’t help empower a woman or help her be taken seriously. But, if being taken seriously isn’t your goal in life, then feel free to ignore my color and shine recommendations” (passive aggressive much?). Wow, way to set women back 20 years. Let’s fit into that box ladies, don’t stand out or be different, the only way to be taken seriously is with your looks, not your poise, speech, or intelligence. I have issues with that statement and the “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude behind it on so many different levels.

Paula advocates a matte finish on skin as well as matte eye shadows. I personally feel that a dewy finish to your face looks much more like your natural skin than a matte finish, and with the advances in the staying power of foundations, there’s no reason to be stuck with an overly matte finish. Matte foundation, powder, eye shadow, and semi matte lipstick together create a terribly 80’s shoulder pad type of look, a time when women were struggling to be acknowledged as capable and powerful. We’re past that now, and our cosmetics should be too. Rather than saying something might not be suited for every skin tone or age range, we are counseled to altogether avoid the things she deems too garish or unsuitable. Discounting her color critiques, the formula and finish reviews are helpful and accurate for the most part. Different regions have such varying climates that products which work well in the Pacific Northwest simply might not have the same staying power in D.C., and I would have liked to see some recommendations that were geographically based. Also missing are some of our favorite brands that have recently made it to the big show, such as Tarte , Caudalie, Cargo, and Alison Raffaele.

I would take some of her reviews and motives with a grain of salt. Only one line manages to get all positive reviews, and it should come as no surprise that it is her own. While she likely wanted to simply formulate a line that met her standards, there is clearly a desire to sell something that makes oneself money. The glowing reviews reserved for her products put into question reviews of competing brands. Also, the end of each product section guides you to Beautypedia.com, a subscription service that charges $24.95 a year to access complete updated product and brand reviews. You can, however, access a more limited range of free information at Paula’s website, Cosmeticscop.com.

I had high hopes for this guide that sadly weren’t quite met. All in all, ‘Don’t Go’ is a comprehensive, helpful, and informative guide about ingredients and claims. I think it should be considered akin to parenting advice books, in that it’s a good place to start but don’t take it as concrete and immovable gospel.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. xinab  |  July 9, 2008 at 1:36 am

    “if being taken seriously isn’t your goal in life, then feel free to ignore my color and shine recommendations”

    Wow! I don’t have a problem with criticism as long as it’s constructive. She just seems to be spraying bullets in all directions. Very odd!

  • 2. tracy m  |  July 9, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Yeah, I have to agree with Mo’s review here. I was excited when I first opened the book, as I read, my excitement dwindled to confustion and even dismay. She is all over the place- and her freely-given opinions undermine her credibility.

  • 3. jen38  |  July 9, 2008 at 11:20 am

    I completely agree that women look best with a dewy, semi-matte foundation! Going too matte looks flat, chalky and lifeless, imho. However, the flipside is also true; too much shine isn’t a great look either. Sometimes I have to use two different types of foundations to achieve the optimum balance.

    No mention of tarte, Caudalie, Cargo or Alison Raffaele?! I must give Paula credit for covering even a decent fraction of the beauty market, it is incredibly ambitious, but to miss these brands is truly unfortunate. As always, awesome post Mo!

  • 4. Jami  |  July 10, 2008 at 7:55 am

    Hmmmm $25 for a subscription for up-to-date reviews? Why not just read blogs and get them for free?

    I bet Ms. Cosmetics Cop would’ve hated my blue hair. What do ya think MBB and Mo? Muuu-ahhhh-haaa-haaa. 🙂

  • […] FGW: Mo reviews the reviews […]


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