Category Archives: Secret Weapon

Sigma Spa Brush Cleaning Mat

Secret Weapon – Sigma Brush Cleansing Mat

Can I just say whoever came up with this is a genius. So, so clever, and one of those why didn’t anyone think of this before items? It’s a palm-sized mat of corrugated rubber that you use when you wash your brushes, and it’s a life-changer (well it is if you wash about 500 brushes a week. You know who you are!)

Being a makeup artist, you get to clean brushes. A lot. As in, after every single job. We all have different ways to do it – using soaps or special alcohol cleansers, drying on radiators or in the sun, hanging off the edge of tables and using special organic shampoo or conditioner when you want to give them a bit of extra love. No matter how you do it, it always has to be done, and done well, since dirty brushes are a health hazard, make you want to gag, and as the French say, c’est pas possible.

So anything that makes your brush-washing life easier is PRETTY damn exciting let me tell you, and in hundreds of years of brush washing, nothing has come along to make it easier, apart from armies of assistants.

Basically you whack the Sigma mat in the bottom of the sink, wet your dirty brush and tromp your dirty brush down on it. Give it a 2 second wiggle and it’s clean. I’m not kidding. It leaves your brushes softer, cleaner and speeds up the process by I would say conservatively, about 30%. When you have 200 brushes to wash after a 14 hour day, they are precious seconds that could be spent sleeping! And you can use your usual shampoo or soap concoction on your brushes as normal. The mat has 7 different texture areas on it to get the dirt out of every brush, from synthetic to natural fibres, from big brushes to your tiniest detail or liner brushes.

And if you’re assisting right now and brush washing pretty much IS your life, you need to buy one of these before you finish this post. You can thank me later…

PS Holy crap! It costs $32 which is an awful lot for a piece of rubber. However if you valued out the time you save by shortening your brush washing time, it would quickly pay for itself. Just think of it as a yoga mat for your brushes.

Also strangely the only one I can find online is a large mat, whereas the one I have is a mini and is perfect for cleaning all my brushes. Let me know in the comments please if you find a link to where you can get the mini!

Sigma Spa® Brush Cleaning Mat

Lashing out - Vogue China

Secret Weapon: Max Factor 2000 Calorie Mascara

This has gone from being a really great mascara to a Secret Weapon in one fell swoop. Last week I was shooting a beauty story and for the second look we went for a clumpy lash, which is always a winner. So I reached for my now trusty companion, Max Factor 2000 Calorie mascara, and started to pile it on. Coat after coat after coat – it definitely added bulk, and the lashes were looking nice and big, but it was pretty much a clump-free zone. Incredible when it was only after about five coats on each eye that it started to really get cloggy. I had to go in with my CoverGirl Lash Blast to get the lashes nice and really mascara-saturated for that spiky 70’s feel. What that means for ordinary people who DON’T want to look like Liza Minelli on a daily basis, is that it’s pretty much lash perfection in a tube.

I started to use it on the recommendation from another makeup artist friend of mine, the fabulous Nicola Burford (who has done Cate Blanchett’s makeup as well as worked on Charlotte Tilbury and Tom Pecheux’s team at London Fashion Week, so she knows her stuff.) We met many years ago assisting Aussie makeup artist Kellie Stratton on an 80’s nightclub shoot. It was a bit of a baptism by fire for me as it was the first shoot I had ever done makeup on, and it was a riot of pseudo Adam Ants, 80’s Pierrots, black geisha brows, fuchsia contour and lacquer red mouths (and sometimes all at the same time). Let’s just say we got through a lot of white pancake makeup that day.

So when I was in the market for a new mascara, I asked Nicola and she said she swears by Max Factor 2000 Calorie – an oldie but a goodie. You can always rely on it – it doesn’t clump (until you seriously lay it on with a trowel – I can attest to that now) or smear or flake and just gives you lovely lashes quickly. You can dial it down for natural or up for a sexy lash so it’s a great one to have in your kit.

A quick note though – I didn’t love the waterproof version. The formula is a bit grabby and crunchy, and it just doesn’t go on smoothly like other waterproof classics like L’Oreal Voluminous or Full n’ Soft.

Lashing out - Vogue China Lashing out - Vogue China

The gorgeous pictures above are by photographer Nicholas Moore for Chinese Vogue, on a day I was assisting Kay Montano in London a few years ago. That was such a fun day – piles of fake lashes and the fabulous Neil Moodie on hair who (as usual) had me in stitches laughing. Neil also has a fabulous blog that you should check out – it’s got hair! It’s got dogs wearing wigs! It’s got French and Saunders! It’s my kind of website!


* NB I checked that Nicola didn’t mind me putting her beauty secrets on the internet first. Mine I’m happy to throw out there on a regular basis, but other peoples are their own to keep unless they say I can do the big reveal.

MAC Silver Dusk

Secret Weapon – MAC Iridescent Powder in Silver Dusk

With New York Fashion Week just gone and London Fashion Week about to kick off it seems only fitting to pay homage to one of my favourite products, MAC Silver Dusk powder. This one is an oldie but a goodie and it can come out to play on so many occasions that it’s always in my kit. On the face it gives that perfect hit of illumination to all the high points you might want to emphasise, such as the browbone, cheekbone or Cupid’s bow of the lips, and it’s lovely with a big brush along the clavicles and shoulders as well.

Principally I like to have it for editorial work as it provides eye popping highlights exactly where you want, yet the shimmer is so fine that it doesn’t look jarring or OTT. It’s like moonlight in a jar, perfect for a soft, ethereal romantic finish or you can build it when you want to do full-on disco strobe highlights (I think we all have those days sometimes).

I haven’t covered many luminisers on MM in the past, which isn’t because I don’t like them. I use a highlighter of some description on pretty much every makeup I do as it just adds such beautiful dimension to the face, but I think I MIGHT have overdosed on them a few years ago. Not literally of course – imagine that, glowing like a light bulb from too much highlighter! But I fell in love with them in the early 2000’s (well hello MAC Strobe Cream and NARS Copacabana) and just kept adding to my collection – Becca and Benefit, Illamasqua Gleam Cream and Revlon Skinlights… the list, and my collection, just went on and on. Since even as a makeup artist it takes half a century to get through even one of those sparkly little tubes and pots, I never really felt like writing about them.

But I was going through my kit again the other day, doing yet another decanting session, and I wanted to start covering some of my hero products that I use job in and job out. Not everything has to be new to be wonderful! Silver Dusk also feeds in perfectly with the metallic trend that’s coming out of NY this week – silvery glitter eyes at Donna Karan, gold highlighter at Sass and Bide (both courtesy of Charlotte Tilbury) and even pink glitter lips from James Kaliardos at Rodarte.

Black skins needn’t feel left out either (as Silver Dusk is quite a wintry, pale colour and better on paler skin tones) since MAC Mineralize Skinfinishes shimmer powders are divine as a highlight on black skin. My classic go-to highlighter for darker skins in the Mineralize Skinfinish is Shooting Star.  For olive skins I’m very partial to NARS Gold Rush powder. Judicious highlighting never goes out of style!


Secret Weapon: Batiste Dry Shampoo in Cherry

I call this wonder product “time in a can”. I’ve blogged before about how “special” my hair is (Read – needs hours of blowdrying to not look like Worzel Gummidge’s sister), so anything I can find to make the annoying and time consuming task of taming my barnet easier is a bonafide secret weapon in my books. And I’m constantly amazed by how many people don’t use dry shampoo, or even know it exists. For me it’s right up there with oxygen – a necessity for sustaining life itself.

I first came across it years ago on a shoot and seen it many hairdressers’ kits since. Dry shampoo basically soaks up any oil on your scalp and gives a denseness to the hair shafts, making lank hair look healthy again, and keeping a blowdry going for a good 4-5 days. You just spray it in your hair at the roots, shake it out and go. No torturous hairwashing and blowdrying required (and if you had my hair, you would know it is torture.)

I’ve tried lots of dry shampoos but I keep coming back to Batiste as it’s so effective and best of all it’s CHEAP. Not as cheap in Australia as the UK (which does make me feel gruff when I think about it, but it’s still a good deal cheaper than Klorane or Bumble and Bumble). And cheap is good when you use it 365 days a year. It gives the hair a heft as well which makes it perfect for styling (and why it is so beloved by hairdressers).

One warning – the standard Batiste is definitely better for blondes as the white of the powder can look ashy on some darker hair tones. However Batiste do a darker version for darker hair colours (which I always keep in my hair kit, as well as the standard one). Bumble & Bumble also make a range of dry shampoos for all hair tones including redheads, but that will set you back considerably more than the Batiste.

And best of all at the moment is that the new flavor is out, Cherry. I’ve always been a sucker for Cherry products (for eating, cooking, wearing – and did I mention eating?) and this one is no exception. The scent isn’t overpowering either which is important for me given that most scents make me feel sick (a weird thing which started happening when I was pregnant years ago, and very annoyingly has never gone away.)

It makes me feel like Spring is in the air!

mac matte

Secret Weapon: MAC Matte

I have had this incredible mattifying gel in my kit for about a decade now, and it’s what I rely on for clients with oily skin. It’s the best product I’ve ever used for eliminating shine (and believe me, I’ve tried a few). It’s a clear gel in a small tube that you pat onto the skin either over moisturiser or instead of (for very oily clients) through the T-zone. Voila! No more shine.

It’s a must have for makeup artists for male grooming as well (or for male MM readers who struggle with shine). For women it’s great to throw in your handbag for those hot summer afternoons when your forehead looks like a disco ball. Foundation then goes on like a dream as this primer seals the surface without looking fake or heavy, and it means you can use a lot less powder. No more afternoon cake face!

Mac Cosmetics UK
Mac Cosmetics Australia



Secret Weapon – Homeoplasmine Lip Treatment

Regular readers will know I’m a bit of a lip balm hoochie mama, swapping and changing what lip balms I use in my kit and on myself, as there are just so many good ones. One I do keep coming back to that not many people have heard of, is Homeoplasmine ointment. It’s one of those rare Parisian chemist finds (and you all know how much I love those! An hour in a French pharmacy going through all their gorgeous potions is my idea of heaven, I tell you).

I have to say I didn’t find it on my own though – I first discovered it when I was assisting in Paris, namely through makeup artist Alex Box. (Although since then I’ve seen it turn up time and again in makeup artists kits). It’s a homeopathic cream, which was originally created to heal the nasal passages from colds, allergies, and general freezing temperatures, which is why it’s just so fabulous on lips when the temperatures plunge, like in Europe in present – I think we need an emergency air drop of Homeoplasmine to every country in the EU, stat!

So it’s amazing for the upcoming show season where the models are all turning up windchapped, wind blown and jetlagged with their skin peeling off from the cold, and in 45 minutes you have to make them look hydrated, glowing and the picture of health, ready for the runway. I liberally slather on lips and around nostrils where constant sneezing and blowing make the area red and chapped, and let it sit for a few minutes as a healing treatment, before wiping off and doing foundation.

Homeoplasmine deals with flaky skin and provides moisture, protection and an undisclosed French homeopathic concoction (it sounds good, doesn’t it?) to heal and soften lips, ready to be made up in the colours of the season. It also has a matte finish to it which is a nice alternative to the shiny finish of Lanolips, Vaseline or Paw Paw ointment. So I like to carry both in my kit – it’s also fantastic if you’re doing men’s grooming (for all those makeup artists out there). It’s inexpensive, and a tube should last you, oooh roughly forever.

If you’re not planning to hit a Parisian pharmacy soon, I found a website that stocks it.