What’s the Deal with Pigments?

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Day 1
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The Tools
Make Up For Ever Pigment
MAC Pigment
Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Pigment
The Extras

You know those incredibly colorful, fun-times-y bottles of powder that are prominently displayed in MAC stores? They look so pretty, but more or less impossible to wear in a non-crazy person way? They’re called pigments. I’ve always wanted to try them out, but I don’t—or rather, didn’t—know how without crossing into the aforementioned danger zone. Sure, there are Halloween nights, ‘80s parties, or other costume-required events for which such neon powders work wonderfully, but surely makeup companies such as MAC, Make Up For Ever, and Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics are not producing these items solely for ironic moments. So how am I (are we) supposed to wear bold makeup pots IRL? I went to Lollapallooza to find out. But before I left, I decided to get some inspo from a woman who knows a thing or two about makeup: Jeanine Lobell.

“A pigment is basically the ingredient in eye shadow without what’s called ‘the binder,’ some talc, and pressing it into the pan. This makes for more vibrant color, as binder can be dulling, but it doesn’t stay on as well.” Hmm, ok… But, Jeanine, how do we use them? “Both MAC and Make Up For Ever have a special liquid you use with the pigment to help it stay on; it’s basically binder. You can use pigment so many ways: mix into a lotion to make body shimmer; mix into clear polish to create your own nail look; mix as liquid liner; dampen with binder as eye shadow; add to clear gloss or liquid lip balm to make your own color; or apply with water in center of lipstick to create dimension.” As I was heading off to Chicago for Lollapallooza Music Festival in a couple of days, I figured there was no better time to experiment.

The secret to music festivals, if you haven’t already experienced one for yourself, is to try as hard as you can to closely resemble a unicorn (perhaps one that regularly shops at Urban Outfitters and/or American Apparel). Even the lead singer of Father John Misty (a featured band) went as far as to “thank unicorns for making all this happen,” while on stage. He then proceeded to make out with a stuffed unicorn given him by a fan in the crowd—so, you know, take that with a grain of salt, but you catch my drift.

Anyway, with Jeanine’s advice on my brain, I unloaded a slew of MAC, Make Up For Ever, and OCC products onto my hotel-room desk and began to apply away (perhaps a little more enthusiastically than I would in “real life”)...

I went full eye-force on day one, wearing a combination of MAC and Make Up For Ever in varying shades of neon pink and orange to create a winged cat-eye à la Aline. Taking a cue from Jeanine, I applied the pigment over a nude Paint Pot to help fix it to my skin and keep it on throughout my day of raging. I added a bit of brown eyeliner and mascara to make me look less like “I’m coming down from a drug binge” and bring me closer to “I’m adventurous.” A touch of the ever-important glitter at the corners of my eyes (thank you, Amy Odell), and voilà!

Step two: lip adventure! After a light coat of Clinique’s Black Honey, a dab of fuchsia and a tinge of Barney-esque purple pigment, I was beginning to look festi-ready. To top off my day-one look: shimmery rose pigment around the brow bone to act as highlighter, and some blue through the tips of my hair. Looking good, not too insane, and even compliment-worthy (thank you, girl at Crystal Castles!).

Day two, I went for a slightly more 'normal' eye, going over some more traditional kohl pigments with a hint of ultra marine at my waterline and, of course, a touch of glitter. One thing to note about the truly bold-hued pigments is that they are very messy and tend to fall below your eye during application. Perhaps a more trained hand would have done a better job, but practice makes perfect, a bit of water on the brush, and a good amount of makeup remover and Q-Tips will help. With MAC’s Tan pigment added to the tips of my Essie No Chips Ahead topcoat, I'd given myself a very easy professional-looking manicure. Note to all you non-professional nail painters: pigments are very easy to apply and even easier to correct if you make a mistake.

My last, and perhaps most time-consuming, foray into the pigment arena this past weekend involved my hair. While I'm partial to a color-filled mane, the range of possibilities in pigment world really let me transform into my greatest version of a unicorn to date. Adding some powder to a dollop of Nivea Creme (the secret to perfectly dirty hair) and rubbing it through my tresses lead me to a rainbow look. I fishtail-braided my hair, and that was that. I figured I looked wild enough for the day.

If I learned one thing this past weekend it was: be not afraid of pigments! In hundred-degree weather, amid sweating hordes of Vampire Weekend fans, I made the colorful powders my bish. Sure, it took a few extra Neutrogena makeup wipes to get clean at the end of the day, and several bouts of shampooing to (mostly) get the color out of my hair, but I can confidently say I've got pigments figured out.

—Elizabeth Brockway

*A tip to all you glitterers: apply sparkles sparingly to avoid what should henceforth be referred to as the "glitter dandruff" look. It’s not hot.

Photos by Elizabeth Brockway and David Sabshon.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Chantel

    I love pigments.

  • Lana

    I wish she took more pictures of her face, so we could actually see it...and so we could see the application process! Pictures would definitely help!

  • Alissa from ChicPeek

    This article was absolutely hilarious! I just went to the HARD Summer concert and definitely felt the unicorn vibe. Who knew pigments could be used in so many different ways? I was so surprised when you put it in your hair! Loved the winged liner look though it was super fun and funky!

    I love concerts because you can literally do whatever you want with your makeup and outfits. Dark smokey eye, glitter crazy, spray painted shirts, rips, tears, fringe, short shorts, flower crowns, anything goes and I always love that, gives me so much freedom.

  • Allison

    Nivea Creme for perfectly "dirty" hair??! Can we get some more on this please?

  • jas

    thanks for the tips. pigments scare me - i like to keep things simple with makeup.

    also, love the line about looking like a unicorn at a music festival. i'm going to try that one next time.

    reckless abandon blog

  • Harmony

    Pigments in the hair ? what a great idea !!!

  • Cay

    This is funny. But there definitely was no hundred degree weather at Lolla this time around--it was actually chilly.

  • Erin Jaine

    More on this nivea creme in the hair?! Enlighten me pleaseee!


  • Maddie

    yeah I want more info on HOW - like does she actually just mix it all together in her hands?? and what about her nails does she pour clear nail polish into a little bowl and then add pigment etc? I need details. face pics would be nice too

  • rjt

    Definitely going to need some more info on the cream in the hair thing- I am intrigued!


MAC Pigment Magenta Madness
MAKE UP FOR EVER Pure Pigments No. 12
MAKE UP FOR EVER Pure Pigments No. 4
Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics
Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Pure Pigment in Magenta
MAC Pigment Melon (P)
Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics
Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Pure Pigment in Black
MAC Pigment Dark Soul (F)
Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics
Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Pure Pigment in Royal Blue
MAC Glitter
MAC 266 Small Angle Brush
MAC Pigment Tan
Essie No Chips Ahead Top Coat
Nivea Creme
Neutrogena Makeup Remover
Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes