You may remember Irina— writer, fervent vintage/eBay shopper, Brooklynite— from her ITG profile, in which she admitted her love for cheap bronzer and CoverGirl eyeliner and also that she never washed her face (for this, she took a lashing in the comments). In the last installment of Drugstore Cowboy, she indulged her discount-beauty fantasies, to mixed results. When we finally found time to make another run for this column, Irina said she didn't have any specific needs. But the minute we walked into the Duane Reade, she rattled off a shopping list: a Nineties-style brick-red lipstick, shampoo, a razor...Were these just things she'd run out of? As it turns out, no. Below, we discuss her haul — including lipsticks, a razor, blonde-ing shampoo, and white eyeliner —after two weeks of trial and error.
— Nick Axelrod
Nick : Since we last did a Drugstore Cowboy run, how’s your beauty routine changed, or has it stayed the same? What are your new wants and desires?
Irina : As we discussed last time around, the upside of buying makeup at the drugstore is that the stakes are, generally, lower. You're investing less (time, money, commitment) and therefore have a greater incentive to experiment. If you need the perfect red lipstick, you go to Nars. If you don't know what you need, you go to the drugstore. I think of it like the impulse buy at the register—I don't NEED a pack of marshmallow Peeps, but there they are and I should probably have them. Which is all to say that I had no particular wants or desires preceding our trip, until I got there and certain questions arose: what is an eye highlighter and do I need it? Could a shampoo make me blonder? Should I upgrade my razor to something more…serious?
Nick: Walking into Duane Reade, you said you didn’t need anything in particular, but you gravitated to ‘90s-era raisin-colored lipsticks—why?
Irina : A starter lipstick is kind of like a starter car—you associate it with your first makeout session and always wish you still had it. The first lip color I ever bought was a reddish-brown Revlon, because my favorite movies at the time were Empire Records, Chasing Amy, Can't Hardly Wait, Scream, and Hackers. If Drew Barrymore or Liv Tyler wore it, I wanted it. So, in middle school I bought this lipstick the color of bricks at a drugstore in Coney Island, and applied it so often—I was 14—that I wore it down to its stem. Back then, the shade felt moody and cool and very grown up, and lately I’ve been wishing for an updated version of it. So when we walked into Duane Reade, I thought, ‘Of course! Of course it still lives in a cheap cosmetics aisle.’
Nick: Which of the four shades we bought were your favorites?
Irina : I don't understand the decision to name a lip color after the saddest of snack items: the raisin. That said, L'Oréal's Resilient Raisin and Revlon's Rum Raisin are tied for the win. I can't choose one because they are completely identical, which I didn’t think was possible until I applied them side by side— Resilient Raisin on the top lip and Rum Raisin on the bottom—and honestly couldn't tell the difference. Each one is rich and saturated. I also quite liked Revlon's Mink , which is a bit more understated and elegant and the perfect shade for daytime, I think. (I blame you, Nick and Emily, for making phrases like “the perfect shade for daytime” part of my vocabulary.) L'Oréal's Spice , however, was disappointing, since it made me look somewhat goth; it was less Katie Holmes in Go, and more Katie Holmes in Pieces of April.
Nick: Moving on, you switched to men’s shaving accouterments. How are they different fom the Venus' and Intuitions of the world? Always wondered. Do you get a closer shave?
Irina : A few years ago, I switched to men's razors and shaving creams for several reasons: they are cheaper, work better, and have less offensive scents than the women's ones. (Seriously, who wants their legs to smell like Kiwi fruit?) I usually use Schick Xtreme3 disposables for men, but at the drugstore, Emily handed me a Gillette Mach 3 and said, “This will change your life.” And it did. The blades are sharper, which means less work and no irritation, and it’s nice and heavy in the hand, which makes it feel like a Serious Shaving Instrument.
Nick: You made a big fuss about getting sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners, because you said the sulfates give you frizzy “Russian hair.” Can you explain?
Irina : I've always wanted to be one of those women who showers and leaves the house. You know the type? They get on the subway with wet hair, and in the afternoon, it looks flawless. My hair is wavy and frizzy, so if I do that, it gets really big and poofy. Like Grace Coddington’s hair but not nearly as cool because mine is long and dishwater blond. A few years ago, I learned that the culprit was sulfates. Sulfates! I don’t know what these are exactly, but any shampoo that has them makes my hair feel very ‘treated.’ When I switched to L’Oréal EverStrong Sulfate-Free Shampoo, my hair—always air-dried now—became light and silky. So, now I react to sulfates like a cat to water.
Nick: Good for you, but what about this John Frieda Go Blonder Shampoo we found… All of a sudden, we stopped worrying about the sulfates. This shit promised to make you blonder and perkier and happier. So, does it work? Is your hair any lighter/happier/frizzier?
Irina : I admit I was intrigued, but I’m sad to report that the marketing is beauty quackery. For starters, the color of the shampoo is a disturbing acid-yellow and it smells like bad perfume. But more importantly, my hair immediately became big, brittle, and heavy. Maybe it would have lightened in color eventually, but I quit after three washes. If you want your hair to be blonder, you should dye it. Duh, I know. But these products prey on the weak.
Nick: Another idea you had was that a white eyeliner would help “open up' your “small eyes.” i.e. make them look bigger. Who told that? Also, why do you want bigger eyes? They seem adequately sized.
Irina : My mom once declared one of my ex-boyfriends to be untrustworthy after seeing just a photo of him. “He has small eyes,” she said. This theory came up again a few weeks ago after watching the Oscars, when my boyfriend told me that actors must have big eyes or else the audience doesn’t believe them. (We were discussing Anne Hathaway, I think.) All of which made me nervous that my eyes are too small for anyone in the world to ever trust me. :-/
Nick: How did the Almay “Wake-Up” Eyeliner and Highlighter help in the eye-widening/trustworthiness department?
Irina : So, the liner, which has brown eyeliner on one end and white highlighting liner on the other, promised to open my eyes with “hydrating cucumber, anti-oxidant rich green tea, and energizing caffeine.” The packaging instructed me to “sweep cooling highlighter below the brow bone and in corners of eyes to instantly awaken tired eyes.” I was awoken—or alarmed, rather, to find that my eyes were essentially lined with white glittery smudge. Unless you worship at the beauty altar of an angsty tween, I don’t recommend it. Try it for yourself, if you don't believe your persistently-small-and-tired-eyed tester.
Irina Aleksander is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic , the New York Times , the New York Observer , and Elle , among other publications. She was photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on April 2, 2013.