Ah cornstarch, the Clark Kent of thickening agents. In the box, it’s quiet and unprepossessing. But sneak it into some mascara or nail polish (or a phone booth), and like THAT it starts exhibiting superpowers and wearing Speedos.
Now, from a distance it may seem silly to voluntarily mix any kind of “starch' with beauty products you actually like/want to use. But hear us out. To begin with, have you ever read the ingredient list on a tube of lipstick? Long story short, you're eating all kinds of carnauba wax. And 2) Cornstarch is a food-grade additive. Which means that unless you have a maize allergy—in which case you have our sympathies, because we live in a corn-filled world—this should actually make the products you're using marginally better for you. Kinda.
Anyway, cornstarch is especially handy in these matte-obsessed times, since dumping it onto nail polish, lipstick, mascara, your head, etc. tamps down on any shine. And did we mention that it's cheap? Like, insanely cheap? Well, it is. So pop over to the market, grab a box, and let's start improving our collective lives with the bulking power of cereal crops. Here's how:
In your mascara:
Mascara formulations vary primarily in terms of viscosity. The Penelope-Cruz-in- Broken-Embraces, Sophia-Loren-crying-in-the-rain look comes from thick, intentionally cake-y textures. Anything people describe as “subtle,” on the other hand, is probably a thinner composition. Cornstarch is a natural thickener, so it lets you build up to any kind of mascara you want—bespoke lashes, if you will. Add a tiny bit for New Wave ingenue oomph, or throw in an entire pinch and make scenery-chewing monster mascara that would do a Kardashian proud. The possibilities are only limited by your hand-eye coordination. Just use a toothpick (or something similar) to scrape a glob of mascara out onto a plate, add a dot of cornstarch, blend using the toothpick, then twirl your mascara brush in it to apply. Keep in mind that the optimal ratio is lots of mascara to barely any cornstarch.
In your nail polishes and lip colors:
Too lazy to buy matte versions of nail polish and lip color? You are in luck: an austere sprinkling—about one eighth of a teaspoon—blended into polish cuts shine completely. It also gives glitter lacquer a dirty, cloudy look ideal for taking glitzy manicures out of Legally Blonde territory and more into the realm of The Craft. With lip color and cornstarch, gloss becomes a hard-edged, buildable pigment paste and lipstick goes retro-matte (á la Riri Woo). Add even more cornstarch to soften pigmentation in a shade that's overly bright—this trick works for too-intense blush, eye shadow, and bronzer, as well.
In your hair:
Dry shampoo will make your life better (just ask Arizona Muse). This is an unequivocal fact, like pop groups producing just one bonafide star. All out of dry shampoo, though? That is A-ok, because you just bought a whole box of cornstarch! You're just going to want to put some on your head, the same way you would with a normal hair-refreshing powder. Seriously. Do it. It'll soak up all the sebum, and then you can brush it out. Will your hair smell like polenta? That's a risk you're gonna have to take (actually, the answer is no, it will not).
Photographed by Mathea Millman.