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Your tried and true beauty fix

Ellen Warren

Shopping Adviser

March 25, 2011

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Of course we all want to look fantastic. For most of us, that takes some serious effort — and an alarming number of beauty products.

But what if you could have only one of those items? Uno. A single, measly beautifier to make you look good, or at least better than your unadorned self. What would it be? Which one can't you live without?

I'm embarrassed to report that getting ready for work this morning, I used 18 hair and makeup products,* not counting the perfume I spritzed on the way out the door.

And if I had to pick just one? After much deliberation, I voted for eyeliner. What about you?

To find out others' must-haves, I stopped 100 women (and one young man) shopping at Sephora — a chain that carries a head-spinning 200-plus brands of beauty aids at more than 250 locations across the country.

By far the most frequent choice of those I talked to was mascara, picked nearly twice as often as the closest contenders (eyeliner and foundation).

And almost everyone's favorite mascara color — this was true of women of every age, race and hair color — was blackest black.

"Mascara is everything to me. Everybody knows me as the mascara queen," said Haley Rolf, 18, a college student from Minnesota. "I couldn't go anywhere without my mascara. In between classes I just whip it out. It's fun to put on. It soothes me," she says. And, no, she doesn't even need a mirror to apply it.

Asked to pick a single product, Rolf's friend Alisha Magee, 17, said, "Oh, that's hard!" leaning toward mascara but finally voting for eyeliner.

Lacey Moak, 19, loves pear-flavored lip balm that she buys at Gap but her No. 1 choice is NARS blush in "orgasm," a best-seller at Sephora.

Many of the women I talked to were extremely loyal to their brands, ranging from drugstore staples like Maybelline, Neutrogena, CoverGirl and L'Oreal, to high-end labels such as Dior, Make Up Forever, MAC, Smashbox and Chanel.

"DiorShow," proclaimed Chicagoan Jennifer Baker, 27, when asked her mascara choice. "I have to have my lashes — or else. It gives you the drama!"

No women under 40 cited moisturizer as their go-to product. But many in their 50s, 60s and 70s said that moisturizer would be their first choice.

"My mother used Pacquin (moisturizer) every day. She's 91 and she does not have wrinkles," said Jeannie Thompson, 63, a nurse from Muncie, Ind. who moisturizes with Clinique.

The only man I saw make a purchase at Sephora was Simon Bigant, 17, who was visiting from Le Havre, France. He was buying Diesel's Only the Brave men's cologne because it was cheaper here than in Europe.

But when I asked if he had preferences about any other grooming products, he shrugged and shook his head no. "Whatever," he said.

What's the single beauty product you can't live without? Tell me at shopellen@tribune.com.

*Ellen's 18 must-have beauty essentials:

skin cleanser

hair conditioner and gel

moisturizer

tweezers

liquid foundation and powder foundation

blush

eyebrow pencil

eyeliner and mascara

four shades of eye shadow

lip liner, lipstick, lip gloss

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