7 Awesomely Nerdy Beauty Buys That Are Actually Kind Of Great

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in adulthood, it’s that you should never be afraid to let your geek flag fly. Even — nay, especially — if it means rocking sci-fi-themed eye makeup or Lovecraft-inspired perfume. These days, more and more indie makeup brands are thinking outside the (big) box, offering awesomely quirky tributes to fantasy and fandoms in the form of handmade beauty products.

Ahead, prepare to nerd out over all sorts of beauty geekery, from World of Warcraft-inspired eyeshadow to perfumes that recreate your favorite literary heroines. 
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
The Brand: Shiro Cosmetics

New to the geek-cosmetics world? Start with Shiro. The Portland-based brand is arguably one of the most well-established and trusted purveyors of indie makeup. It’s all vegan, all handmade, and deliciously nerdy. Like any good artist, founder Caitlin Johnstone (who started the company as an intrepid 19-year-old) looks to the things she’s most passionate about for her inspiration. In her case, said inspiration is the likes of Game of Thrones, Pokemon, and The Hobbit, to name a few.
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The Goods: “Cheekbones” Contouring Set

Between the Tolkien-inspired eyeshadows and the Nicolas Cage lip gloss tributes, it’s hard to pinpoint just one Shiro product worth geeking out over. But, a contouring set inspired by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch’s sharp-enough-to-kill-a-man cheekbones might take the cake. (Nic Cage Churning Butter on a Crisp Thanksgiving Morn is a close second, though.) Caitlin tells us that Cheekbones came about as a lighthearted suggestion from a fan on Facebook — and she immediately recognized the brilliance in the idea. Seven months later, after tweaking the formula and developing hues for a diverse range of skin tones, the collection debuted. The lightweight, blendable powders include one highlighter and six contours, ranging from a warm tan to cool-toned taupe (all named, of course, after choice zingers from the BBC’s Sherlock).
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
The Brand: Hello Waffle Cosmetics

This Canadian brand specializes in collections based on fantasy and fairy tales because, as founder Christine describes it, “everyone loves a great story.” Especially if those stories lead to gorgeous, multifaceted hues like these. Though Hello Waffle Cosmetics got its start with tinted lip balms, its blushes and eyeshadows are now considered Holy Grail material among indie fans. Cult favorites include 23, a warm and glitzy rose-gold shadow, June Bug, a coral-hued blush, and Lavender Cream, an ethereal highlighter.
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The Goods: Catssic Literature Eyeshadows

Rose-gold shadows and lavender highlighters aside, we can’t say we wouldn’t feel a little disappointed if Hello Waffle, a company with its very own feline mascot, didn’t have a couple cat-related goods. Luckily, the Catssic Literature collection, a set of eyeshadows littered with literary references, delivers — thanks to Edgar Allen Prrr, Jane Pawsten, Hisster Prynne, and more. Each shadow is even kitted out with cover art illustrated by a friend of Christine’s (in fact, it was her original illustrations, posted on Reddit, that gave birth to the whole idea of the collection). A mere few months later, Catticus Finch and Call Me Ishmeow were in our shopping carts, and English majors and cat ladies were collectively rejoicing.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
The Brand: Femme Fatale Cosmetics

What began as a self-taught DIY operation is now one of the primary Australian distributors for indie cosmetics. Sophie, a 28-year-old from Brisbane, started Femme Fatale in 2011 when she decided to teach herself how to make her own eyeshadows and facial products, particularly after learning that some alternative cosmetics brands were simply repackaging materials like mica and oxide and selling them at fat markups. So, Sophie took matters into her own hands. Four years later, Femme Fatale is known and loved for its color-shifting duochrome blends and creative, unexpected hues. It’s also an e-commerce platform for over a thousand products made by other beauty artisans.
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The Goods: World of Warcraft-inspired Eyeshadows

At a glance, you may not instantly equate Femme Fatale’s gorgeous, prismatic shadows with video games — or dragons, for that matter. But, that’s exactly what inspired creations like Femme Fatale’s Spellweaver Collection, Worldbreaker Collection, and Queen of Life Collection, all thanks to Sophie’s love for World of Warcraft. “The amount of work put into that game is absolutely staggering,” Sophie tells us. “It’s a world you can easily lose yourself in, and it’s hard not to be inspired by something that is very often visually stunning.” How does one create a range of IRL hues based on a virtual world? Sophie says she tries to imagine herself in the game, picking up on every visual cue. “I basically just work from my imagination; from how I would imagine those characters or places if I were literally right there, able to run my eyes over the finer details of things like plants, surfaces, creatures’ skin, spells, or even the shadows.”
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
The Brand: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Ever wondered what your favorite Lovecraftian monster, Shakespearean villain, or Neil Gaiman character might smell like? (Real talk: Who hasn’t?) Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab might just have the answer. Elizabeth Barrial and Brian Constantine, the alchemists behind this West-Coast artisan perfume house, find their inspiration in all things dark, spooky, and romantic, from science fiction to fairy tales. “There was never a specific intention to focus our scents on pop culture,” says Barrial. “Everything that we create is an extension of my interests and everything I’m passionate about. My fears, my anger, my joy, everything I am, really — it’s all expressed through Black Phoenix.” Fans are particularly smitten with Snake Oil, the shop’s best-selling fragrance. We love its packaging, its creepy aesthetic, and its seemingly endless well of creativity when it comes to blending scents you definitely can’t find at your average department-store fragrance counter.
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The Goods: Fragrances inspired by Labyrinth

The ‘80s film that may still haunt your memory can now haunt your dressing table, too. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Labyrinth collection consists of five concentrated perfume-oil blends paying homage to Jim Henson’s psychedelic and possibly childhood-scarring fantasy film, from goblin cider (an earthy ginger scent) to fairy bites (honey, lavender, chamomile, and other sweet trappings). And, before you ask: According to these alchemists, Jareth the Goblin King himself smells like “ethereal lilac fougère and gleaming leather with ti leaf, tonka absolute, white musk, and oudh.” This fragrance also ranks among Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s overall best-sellers. We wouldn’t expect anything less from Bowie circa 1986.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
The Brand: Sweet Tea Apothecary

Is it possible to create a portrait of a person’s scent, even if that person is a fictional character or has been dead for centuries? J.T. Siems, owner and founder of Sweet Tea Apothecary, has spent a lot of time pondering this very question. This fascination with history, memory, and fragrance led her to create her own line of oil-based perfumes that attempt to recreate the scents of famous historical figures, both real and fictional. It all came about with a trip to Versailles, where she found herself noting her surroundings and wondering how one might use scent to recreate a person (in this case, Marie Antoinette). Now, J.T. has developed fragrances that attempt to tell the stories of historical legends like Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII, and of course, La Reine Antoinette herself.
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The Goods: Jane Austen Perfume

If you find yourself daydreaming of traipsing through manicured rose gardens, bedecked in your best Regency finery, perhaps with a handsome fellow whispering sweet nothings into your ear, take note: Pemberley may just be the closest you’ll get to living out your Pride and Prejudice dreams. The fragrance was inspired by the palatial Pemberley estate featured in the novel. To recreate the aroma of Mr. Darcy’s country home, J.T. looked to the gardens of Chatsworth House, an estate in Derbyshire that many believe to be the inspiration behind Austen’s fictional setting. According to Sweet Tea Apothecary, each ingredient in the perfume (rosewood, coriander, cedarwood, honeysuckle, hyacinth, peony, and vetiver) is found in Chatsworth’s gardens.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
The Brand: Geek Chic Cosmetics

Before Geek Chic Cosmetics was born, co-founder Deb barely even wore makeup at all. “Makeup ads weren’t really directed at me, and I didn’t wear much beyond basic foundation,” she tells us. “But, I am a huge nerd. Make it a Lord of the Rings eyeshadow collection, and you have my attention.” Thus, out of this curious little niche, Geek Chic was born as a fun side project in 2010 (“mostly on a whim,” Deb adds). Cut to present day, and both Deb and her co-founder, Chantel, are working on Geek Chic Cosmetics full-time, drumming up collections that pay homage to everything from Harry Potter to Dr. Who.
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The Goods: The Hunger Games Eye Makeup

Deb and Chantel specialize in crafting collections with a certain nerd appeal — which makes it hard to choose just one. But, we think even Katniss herself would fall for Ever In Your Favor, Geek Chic’s set of shadows inspired by The Hunger Games. Deb tells us she wanted to offer more neutral and wearable colors than her usual bright, eye-catching fare, and she figured Panem — Suzanne Collins’s dark, dystopian world — would be perfect fodder. (Also, she just really, really likes The Hunger Games — after all, in her words, what’s the point of creating a collection based on something if you don’t absolutely love it?) Deb says she creates her ideas for colors by “pull[ing] inspiration from the source and twist[ing] it to how it would best translate, makeup-wise.” Case in point: Girl on Fire, a pale, mauve eyeshadow that transforms into an unexpectedly intense, vibrant purple-red when applied.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
The Brand: Life’s Entropy Cosmetics

Products with names like Enzyme, Synapse, and Apoptosis, packaged in centrifuge tubes? Lab geeks, this one’s for you. One may not think of beauty and the hard sciences as going hand-in-hand, but if you think about it, makeup is just that: chemistry. That’s why Jane, the mathematician and makeup whiz behind Life’s Entropy Cosmetics, decided to channel her love for science (and her chemistry chops) into her own line of handmade makeup. “I’ve loved science all my life, and I wanted to combine my two greatest passions: science and cosmetics,” Jane tells us. While finishing her mathematics degree in college, Jane ran a beauty blog that reviewed makeup, analyzed ingredients, and eventually led her to create her own formulas. “One day, it hit me,” she says. “I thought it’d be cool to create my own cosmetic line, where I can control the ingredients and the quality of all the products.” A year of planning and tinkering later, Life’s Entropy launched (in July of 2014). “I used my chemistry knowledge to analyze the chemical compositions and structures of each ingredient that I choose to use in my formulas,” Jane says, explaining that the entire line is free from fillers (in addition to being vegan, paraben-free and gluten-free).
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The Goods: Lip Theories

Though Life’s Entropy does offer lovely eyeshadows and lipsticks, these unique lip pigments are truly cult favorites. Similar in texture and pigmentation to Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics’ Lip Tars, these supercharged lip colors are made for experimentation. “You can combine multiple colors to create new colors, similar to how multiple scientific theories are used to create new theories,” Jane says. Whether you decide to tinker with them or not, we love the Lip Theories for their range of eye-popping hues, their packaging (centrifuge tubes, a cheeky shout-out to Jane’s days spent in the lab as a genetic researcher), and their nerdy names — what’s not to love about a bright, coral-hued lip color called Coralation? Scientific punnery + insane color pay-off = a cosmetics formula we can’t live without. That’s our hypothesis, anyway.
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