E.L.F. holiday gift sets, part 1: Twinkles in (and under) my eyes

I don’t like cheap makeup.

Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with inexpensive makeup. I prefer higher-end products, although if I find a drugstore item that works for me, I don’t have attitude about buying and using it. But I don’t like makeup that acts cheap, regardless of how little it costs. I don’t have room in my life for product that doesn’t perform. So I’d held off on trying E.L.F. for a long, long time. The rock-bottom prices seemed like a big red flag.

E.L.F. figured out how to get at me, though: I am a sucker for holiday gift sets. Take normal product, rearrange the colors and repackage it with some foil snowflakes, toss in some kind of sparkling exclusive item, slap the “limited edition” label on it, and I’m sold.

So when I wandered into Target and stumbled upon the E.L.F. holiday display, I suddenly found myself dropping $21 on a sackful of “gift” sets. In the car on the way home I managed to convince myself that since I hadn’t spent almost that much on a replacement Clinique Black Honey Almost Lipstick the day before, I could justify the purchase if I could find three worthwhile products among the E.L.F. haul.

I started out with a trial run of the E.L.F. Essentials Eyes Get the Look: Day to Night Limited Edition kit. In this kit: Two eye shadow trios, black eyeliner pencil, black liquid eyeliner, black mascara. Oh, and two sponge applicators to stick in a drawer somewhere.

On initial examination, the eye shadows were disappointing. I swatched them quickly on my hand and very little pigment seemed to stick to my skin — most of it blew away in a cloud of shimmering powder. So I tried again, this time starting with a layer of Too Faced Shadow Insurance, which seemed to help:

I still wasn’t terribly impressed, but I figured I’d give them a shot. I tried one look with each trio, one on each eye. First reaction: No way would either of these eyes have been possible without a generous application of Shadow Insurance.

As for color payoff and blendability, the teal/gray/white trio applied and blended in a fashion that I’d say was just OK. The gold and purple trio, though… well, you may have noticed in the photo above that, although the shadows are packed with glitter, there doesn’t appear to be very much glitter on my eye. That’s because it all ended up here:

The purple shadows, in fact, sort of separated themselves into glitter and pigment as they touched the brush (not that much pigment seems to have made it onto the eye). I tried applying them wet, too, but that just meant more glitter shedding onto my cheek. The glitter also left my eyelid feeling irritated after I removed it. The mascara performed exactly as you’d expect considering the price, as did the liquid eyeliner. I’ll admit I’m not brilliantly adept with liquid liner, but I’m fairly competent when I’m working with good product. This eyeliner was totally unforgiving, and bled like the dickens.

Still, I thought I’d give one of the sets a trial outing. So I did a look using the teal trio before going out on Saturday night. I kept it very, very simple, as I didn’t particularly trust these shadows to stay in place. The eye started out more or less satisfactory and stayed that way through dinner (forgive my badly-in-need-of-grooming eyebrows:

Maybelline The Falsies mascara; Stila Smudge Pot in Black

When we went out for drinks afterward, though, I excused myself to the ladies’ room and looked in the mirror to find two trails of gray-green sludge running down the inner corners of my eyes. Fortunately, I was wearing my glasses, so perhaps it wasn’t as noticeable to my dinner companions as it was to me. PERHAPS. By the time we got home, the teal was creasing, leaving white streaks across my eyelid.

One kit down and nothing to recommend it. Next time: Will E.L.F. redeem itself?

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