American Beauty is a series written by an American beauty writer temporarily marooned in Japan, where, like everywhere else, it is the hottest it has ever been.
I’m visiting a friend in Tokyo. Heard of it? It’s a city of bewildering largeness. At a certain time of night, many of its busier avenues deploy lights that give off miles of aggressive glitter. I think they are to keep exhausted drivers from falling asleep, but I am not sure. My point is that the whole city shimmers at your feet, even when you are standing at street level. It is also the rainy season in Japan, and it is also as hot as the obsidian shores of hell.
I was just embarking on a full day of shopping for trompe l’oeil clothing when it hit me: a wall of moisture that infiltrated my hotel’s air conditioning perimeter. I withered, like an orchid. Sweat immediately began to pool in the deepest recesses of my being. Like an absolute fool, I had attempted easy breezy off-duty model beauty by mixing my foundation (Dior Backstage Face and Body in 2CR) with my moisturizer (Shiseido Ihada Medicated Emulsion)(!). But the fluffy Tokyo morning said I don’t think so, honey! And condensed every molecule of product into a medicated emulsion cascading off of my face.
Luckily, parts of the city have urbanized to the point where you can scurry underground like a little rat person and avoid the burning light of day — I was fortunate enough to be temporarily staying in one such part. Even so, the 10-minute walk from the train station to the trompe l’oeil clothing store absolutely soaked me. I adjusted my schedule right then and there: two hours of trompe l’oeil clothing shopping, four to seven hours of TBD air-conditioned activity museum movie etc, and at least two hours of building a suitable cosmetic defense against the elements. Let’s become as matte as climatically impossible!
Have you had enough descriptions of my sweat situation — or would you like more, filthy piggy? Are we ready to move on to talking about products, foul little dirt worm? I thought you’d never ask, because I’m dying to tell you! But first, I feel the need to wonder aloud if the culture isn’t slouching away from the “dewy,” “glazed,” and “wet” looks that have previously defined our beauty epoch and indeed paid my salary for several years. Then I realize, with some embarrassment, that we are nearly 400 words into this without any chemicals present. Time to rip and dip — the 95 degree-75 percent humidity-6,000 persons per square kilometer matte face routine!
First, I did make the brave decision to switch my moisturizer from a cream to a gel, and this seems to be working spectacularly. My cheeks drink VT Cosmetics Cica Cream right in, though it does have a fragrance that is almost antiseptically strong — online reviewers more generously praise the product’s “medicinal, herbal” scent, but to me, smells like it could cut through shower scum in one scrub. But it doesn’t bug my face, which is pretty sensitive, and it dries down to a perfectly nonsticky finish. I go over that with my Skin Aqua Tone Up sunscreen in the sickly green color, and I am primed and ready to be painted.
My friend and I were between four and six drinks into the night when I brought up the topic of base makeup that could withstand Japan’s relentless rainy season, which spans from June to July. We were in Golden Gai, a crowded alley of tiny bars that webs out from Shinjuku Station. She told me about a cushion compact from Tirtir, a Japanese brand, that is marketed to provide full coverage that doesn’t rub off on your face mask. (Masks are still required in most places in Japan. I hear things are different in America!) Just after 2 AM, we went to the store Don Quixote around the corner and bought it. It comes in what I think are three intensities — the classic Black, a lighter Pink, and heavier Red, and I deluded myself into getting the Pink. It really spackles on! [Editor’s note: this cushion, like many cushions in Eastern markets, has a very limited shade range. This foundation from CoverFX seems promising and has a wider offering!]
Then I apply—say it with me now!—the Tom Ford powder bronzer dinner plate that I have been using for an embarrassingly long amount of time. I go to the peaks of my face with half a brushful, approximating the pressure of an angel giving a kiss. But if matters aggravate, I am prepared with a sealed compact of Yojiya face powder that I bought at an airport. It’s the brand that invented the blotting paper, on the recommendation of a kabuki performer.
But recently, I heard the best mattifying advice I have heard recently, from the very good Very Good Light email newsletter and the fingertips of one Or Gotham: Priming skin with milk of magnesia deodorant. I wish I could simply mattify my face with the Kryolan spray that clowns use, but milk of magnesia is much gentler, and doesn’t feel the need to be marketed as “dangerous goods” on their website. I’m looking forward to trying it before I go outside next — I’m thinking early August.
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