Sorry, But These 7 Makeup Products Are A Scam

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
Makeup embodies creativity and escapism, but it would be remiss not to acknowledge that the industry’s primary aim is to make money. In fact, it’s no secret that beauty conglomerates often use our insecurities to their advantage in a bid to sell us things that we don’t necessarily need. 
Of course, most makeup products are subjective, and one person’s hard pass could be another’s treasure. Take red lipstick, for example. Its ability to command a room and boost confidence is not to be sniffed at. But as beauty trends evolve and new brands emerge, a handful of questionable makeup products seem to be flooding the market. What exactly is the purpose of a mascara comb? And is lip primer just a souped-up lip balm
Sometimes we’re just as confused as you are. Ahead, we asked a handful of makeup artists to divulge the viral makeup products that you might want to reconsider, and their answers might surprise you. 

Color-adapting sunscreen and moisturizer

TikTok is awash with reviews for color-changing sunscreen, and even dermatologists are on board. The idea is that the “universal” pigment adjusts to your skin tone once you blend it in, providing protection against damaging UV rays and lending lightweight coverage to boot. On camera, the results are impressive, but don’t be swayed into thinking it’ll always work IRL. “Color-adapting sunscreen and moisturizers often result in mismatched tones or an ashy appearance,” says Saffron Hughes, makeup artist at This is particularly true for those with darker skin. “Instead, you’re best sticking to products that are specifically formulated for your own skin tone,” says Hughes, “which will ensure a more reliable outcome.” 
What’s more, dermatologists believe that tinted sunscreen, or makeup with SPF, provides less protection compared to a dedicated high-factor, broad-spectrum sunscreen. This is because most people won’t apply the correct amount (two finger-lengths worth — one down your index and another down your middle finger) to shield their skin against UV. Instead, consider applying sunscreen as usual, and if you want coverage, a featherweight skin tint on top, like e.l.f. Halo Glow Liquid Filter, Fenty Beauty Eaze Drop Blurring Skin Foundation, or U Beauty The Super Tinted Hydrator.
Makeup artist Scarlett Burton puts CC creams (color-correcting creams), especially the viral green-tinted versions, in the same category. They are intended to reduce redness in the skin but Burton says that she has never seen one done well. “When it comes to color theory, using green to counteract redness is great in pinpointed areas, but I’ve seen people use a green CC cream all over the face when it isn’t necessary, and they always look a bit grey and washed out.” 

Peel-off lip tints

Peel off lip tints do nothing more than help content creators to go viral, says Rose Gallagher, a makeup artist, columnist and beauty writer. “Every time I see one of these ridiculous tints on my TikTok FYP, it jolts me back into the real world and I stop scrolling,” she says. “No one in a rush in the morning is going to benefit from a peel-off tint, especially when we have sophisticated, easy alternatives that will do the same job,” — all without the mess and possibly the risk of taking your skin off with it. Good lip tints exist without the peel-off aspect, and Gallagher recommends Givenchy Rose Perfecto Tinted Liquid Lip Balm. “In just one swipe, this lip balm stains the lips and flushes to a bespoke shade of rose based on your skin’s pH.” Interested in pH-changing lip balm? Also try Huda Beauty Glowish Super Jelly Lip Balm or Tom Ford Soleil Lip Blush. If you’re after serious staying power, try YSL Tatouage Couture Matte Stain Liquid Lipstick or Benefit GoGo Tint Bright Cherry Tinted Lip & Cheek Stain.

Freckle pens

Faux freckles dominated beauty looks last year and they are enduring still. But Burton suggests swerving the freckle pens and utilizing what you might already have in your makeup bag. “Every time I've seen [freckle pens] used, they bleed into the skin and never stay defined like a real freckle,” says Burton. “They're always a bit smudged, and often, the color is more orange, which is a huge giveaway that they’re fake.” Make like Burton and defer to the Refy Brow Pencil. The nib is super thin, which makes it great for fashioning a convincing smattering of faux freckles. R29 beauty editors also recommend Kosas Brow Pop Dual-Action Defining Pencil and e.l.f. Ultra Precise Brow Pencil.

Eyeshadow primer

From smoky liner to a subtle cut creases, we’re experimenting with eye makeup a lot more, so it makes sense that we’re keen to invest in products that can help preserve our creations, namely eyeshadow primer. But the truth is, the majority of face primers work just as effectively around the eyes, says Hughes. “There’s a common misconception that face primers can’t be used around the eye,” says Hughes. “Unless explicitly mentioned, face primers are safe for the eye area as they have to go through rigorous testing before production.” The dual functionality of face primers make them a more cost-effective option, says Hughes. “After all, face primers typically contain ingredients that smooth the skin, blur [texture], and enhance makeup longevity — all beneficial qualities for the eye area.”
Try e.l.f. Power Grip Primer, The Ordinary High-Adherence Silicone Primer, or NYX Professional Makeup Smoothing Marshmellow Face Primer. If in doubt, look out for the “ophthalmologist tested” label, which suggests that the product is safe for use around the eyes.
Makeup artist Mira Parmar believes lip primer is just as questionable. "These claim to prep your lips, making lipstick application easier and boosting the staying power, too," says Parmar, but she adds that none of these assertions tend to be proven. "An easy alternative is to use your concealer or foundation as a base layer and then your lip liner and lipstick over the top," says Parmar. She finds this far more effective.

Makeup sponges

Depending on the type of makeup you’re using, a sponge could quite literally be drinking it all up — and wasting your money, says Gallagher. “When you use a sponge with fuller coverage, densely pigmented foundation or concealer, it helps to soften the finish of the makeup and create a flawless complexion. But since the turn of the 2020s, lightweight skincare and makeup hybrid formulas have become more popular.” Think skin tints and tinted moisturizers, says Gallagher. “When you use a sponge with something so skincare based, it absorbs the product a lot more easily, meaning that you need to buy it quicker,” adds Gallagher. She recommends using your fingers to apply softer-finish complexion products: “You’ll find that your tube of product lasts for many more weeks, if not months.” 

White mascara primer

If you have very fine lashes, mascara primer may be beneficial for lengthening and thickening. But on most people, they’re more likely to create a clumpy or unnatural-looking lash, says Hughes. Especially if they’re a different color, like white, which you have to work hard to cover with your actual mascara. This tends to be wasteful. Thanks to advances in beauty, most mascaras nowadays will provide length and volume as well as separate and condition lashes in one go, essentially rendering mascara primer useless. Hughes’ personal favorite mascaras are Lancôme Lash Idôle Mascara, Benefit They're Real! Lengthening Mascara, and Maybelline Lash Sensational Sky High Mascara. Also try L’Oréal Paris Paradise Castor Oil-Enriched Volumizing Mascara, with castor oil to condition lashes and Benefit Fan Fest Fanning Volumizing Mascara, which boasts a curved brush to capture corner lashes easily. 

Expensive setting sprays

If you’re using a setting spray, Hughes suggests being mindful of the ingredients list, particularly if you have sensitive, reactive or dehydrated skin, the latter of which can present as tightness, itchiness and dullness to name a few symptoms. “Most setting sprays, especially those marketed as ‘matte finish’ sprays contain high alcohol content, excessively drying the skin and potentially compromising its natural hydration,” says Hughes. That’s not all, though. “The price often doesn’t justify its primary ingredient — water — which can ironically lead to makeup slippage,” especially if you touch your face before the spray has dried down. Instead, Hughes suggests choosing a high-quality face powder like Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder or Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Finish Powder, to keep makeup in place for longer. “These alternatives effectively set makeup without dehydrating the skin,” adds Hughes. If you’d rather spend less, try e.l.f. Halo Glow Setting Powder
This story was originally published on Refinery29UK.
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