Beauty potion breakdown: No hocus-pocus

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Beauty secrets

Beauty secrets (Elaine Melko/Tribune illustration / February 23, 2012)

My mailbox is brimming with your questions about beauty potions! Answer Angel is here for you with makeup, hair, scent solutions and more.

Dear Answer Angel: I have been a loyal trooper in the Answer Angel brigade ever since you wrote that valuable report from a cosmetics expert (I've forgotten her name) who recommended several inexpensive makeup products that, she said, were at least as good as far more costly ones. She was right. Now I need advice on skin care. I have tried some high-price anti-wrinkle eye creams and face-and-neck creams and moisturizers but they don't seem to help fine lines and wrinkles. Any advice?

— Needy

Dear Needy: The cosmetics expert whose name you forgot is Paula Begoun, the smart and sensible woman behind cosmeticscop.com. Begoun studies beauty products and what they're made of so we don't have to, and she gives great no-nonsense advice. Love that. I put your question (and a few others below) to her, and her answers are going to save you some major bucks.

"There is no research showing that expensive means better. There is nothing about the price tag that tells you anything about the value of the product," she says. Drugstore face creams can be every bit as good as the absurdly expensive stuff you buy at a fancy department store cosmetics counter or spa, Begoun says.

And she's emphatic that there is no need for separate eye and face creams. One product should work for everything. Eyes need no special stuff. When I asked her if she had drugstore favorites she suggested that you look at Olay and CeraVe brands.

Dear Answer Angel: How long can I keep using my makeup and face creams before I toss them?

— M.E.

Dear M.E.: "I'm more liberal than a lot of people on this one," Begoun says. "I think that a recommendation to throw out makeup and skin care (after a certain time period) is more helpful to the cosmetics industry than it is to the consumer. If it's going around the eye? After six months to a year. Skin products? Six months to a year. But if you haven't used it up in six months you don't like it anyhow, so throw it out. Hair care products should make it through a nuclear explosion. Powders and blushes last forever. Lipsticks get old and dried out. But no one is dying from their (old) skin care and makeup products."

One more piece of advice from Begoun: Don't buy skin products in jars. Sticking your fingers in the jar is unsanitary, and bacteria, along with air and sunlight, make the ingredients deteriorate. Pumps, tubes and thick plastic bottles are what to look for.

Dear Answer Angel: I am approaching my 46th birthday. Do I have to avoid shimmery eye shadow because it's too youthful? What about black eyeliner? And I'm wondering what are the best type of foundations and blushes? I've read that you shouldn't use powders of any type over 45. True or not?

— Makeup Challenged

Dear Challenged: Deftly applied, black eyeliner can look great at any age. You didn't ask, but the same is true of false eyelashes. Go for it. As for the shimmer shadow, both Begoun and I are throwing up a big "caution" sign, or even some yellow crime-scene tape. Do your own comparison. Put shiny eye shadow on one lid and matte on the other. "If you have any amount of crepe-ing or wrinkling … the shiny side will look wrinkled," Begoun says. I tried the test and Begoun is totally right. I'm sticking with matte. For sure.

We agreed you should pay no attention to anyone who tells you that women of some age or another should not use powders. "Age is not a skin type" Begoun says. "Young women can have dry skin and if you put powder on dry skin it will make your skin look drier." Generally speaking, she says, cream eye shadows and blush don't stay put, but powder blush and eye shadow "work brilliantly" — especially on moisturized skin.

— Sad Eyes

Dear Answer Angel: What to do about swimmer's hair? Specifically, are there any bathing caps that are worth a darn? How do you keep hair from getting dried out and frizzy from chlorine? Are there any specific shampoos and conditioners to recommend?

— In the Deep End

Dear Deep End: I've never found a swim cap that really keeps your hair dry if that's what you're asking. But a cap will prevent tangling and knotting, which can be harder on hair than chlorine. Begoun's tip is to apply silicone spray or serum to the hair, then put the swim cap on. Silicone is a drugstore product (without hair spray in it) sold to make hair shiny. Afterward, skip special "swimmers'" shampoo and conditioner which, she says, are no different from regular products. And go cheap. "There is no reason to spend more than $5, $6, $7 on hair care products." She especially likes the low-priced Tresemme brand.

Dear Answer Angel: I've looked everywhere for solid cologne or perfume because of the no-liquids-over-3-ounces airport carry-on rule. Any suggestions?

— Marg

Dear Marg: A 1/2-ounce perfume oil roll-on is what you need. It's perfect for purse or travel. Because it's concentrated you don't need much. Aromaworkshop.com carries 41 classic fragrances at $17 ($32 for one ounce). Owner Tedd Neenan also offers his own fragrances or will work with you to create your signature scent. He's my source for "Fendi," a scent that — tragically — was discontinued before I could stock up.



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Send your questions — on style, shopping, beauty and makeup — to answerangel@tribune.com.
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