Why I Don’t Plan on Buying Anything From Michelle Phan’s Em Cosmetics

For those of you who missed the memo, Michelle Phan is a youtube beauty guru who generates more money making video makeup tutorials than I will ever see in my entire life. She is also the founder of Ipsy, which I diligently review every month. In August, she released her new makeup line, Em Cosmetics, which is owned by L’Oreal.

I love the idea of her products. Her concept appeals to me in theory. Unfortunately, I think her stuff is missing the mark in a lot of ways. To clarify, this isn’t a review, since I really have nothing to review. It’s more of a miscellaneous collection of thoughts.

Pricing- An Issue of Communication 
Em is definitely priced within the realm of mid-range makeup, which is what I tend to spend. Unfortunately, there are some issues with the pricing in terms of marketing. The most notable example is her crowning glory, the Life Palette, which is $75 for 0.948 ounces of eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick. That adds up to $79.11 per ounce. That’s not unreasonably expensive when you price it out by ounce, but $75 is too expensive for most of us to get over the “should I actually buy this” hump.

Layout of the Career Life Palette

It doesn’t help that she isn’t emphasizing the size of the products. The ounces are not available on the website– I had to glean them from reviewers. It’s the same issue, albeit less extreme, for her other products. Her lipsticks cost $16.50 for 0.123oz of product, putting them at only $134.15 per ounce. A MAC lipstick is more expensive, ounce per ounce, at $150 per ounce, but the absolute price is less expensive at $15. Because you can’t find that size on the website, she’s making it look more overpriced than it actually is.

I think Em Cosmetics would have garnered much less negative attention if they had produced smaller products that had a lower absolute price. People who are fans of Michelle Phan, I assume, already have lots of makeup. They don’t need a palette that has almost an ounce of product in it. They don’t need the lipsticks to be 20% larger than a MAC lipstick. What’s more, I don’t think most of Michelle Phan’s fans have the disposable income to spend $75 on a palette. If the Life Palettes had been a quarter of the size at 0.237 ounces for a third of the price at $25, they still would have been reasonably priced at $105.49 per ounce but they would be perceived as way more attainable.

Since these products will probably stay at their current size, I think it would be in the interest of the Em Cosmetics team to change the website to really play up the fact that you get a lot of product. Again, they are priced right where mid-range brands are priced, but they are being perceived as if they are priced like high-end brands.

Given the pricing, I brainstormed a list of five reasons that I purchase mid-range cosmetics as opposed to less expensive alternatives. I’m going to address them each separately. (I recognize that other reasons almost certainly exist, but these are the ones that were most salient to me.)

1. They work better than less expensive alternatives. 
2. There is some sort of innovation.
3. There are more options.
4. The packaging or product names are appealing. 
5. The brand has some degree of prestige.

Do they work better than less expensive alternatives?

I can only speak to the quality of Em Cosmetics in a very incomplete way, but I did get a cardboard sample of the Career Life palette in my last Ipsy bag. The 0.0014oz they sent me added up to a very generous 11 cents in value. (Insert eye roll here.) It wasn’t enough to apply to my face, but it was enough to swatch. Pigmentation was actually pretty good, but it didn’t convince me that I needed a full sized version.

Swatches of three eyeshadows and a blush.

Is there some sort of innovation?

This section is the biggest bummer to write abut because Michelle Phan did at least one brilliant thing in this makeup collection but then ruined it with the execution. She innovated, but it’s still going to be useless for many of us.

The innovative thing is the Shade Play Concealer Color Mixing Palette. The idea being, of course, that, no matter how diligent you are with sunscreen, your skin will almost certainly change colors throughout the year. The concept is that you can use the concealer palette to mix up the perfect shade for whatever color you are right now.

The problem is that you don’t change skin colors THAT MUCH.

This picture is the palette in the lightest color: “fair”. Look at that bottom right color. In what world am I ever going to be able to use that color? The other palettes are just are useless; no one is going to be able to use all of the shades.

What’s more, the four skin tones available are terribly done. As you can see, looking at the “fair” palette, there isn’t a single “fair” shade. The lightest shade is almost certainly too dark for my skin, and it’s still summer here. I’m kind of shocked that a team of product creators didn’t realize that a “fair” complexion palette that is explicitly made for mixing would need a shade that’s pure white. Because… of course we would. The color selection is just as poor on the other side of the spectrum. The darkest shade in the “dark” palette ain’t that dark. Instead of creating this convenient mixing palette, Em Cosmetics made four palettes where most people will only be able to use one or two shades and where all four are only appropriate for medium-toned skin.

Are there more options?

I’ve already mentioned that the concealer palettes rule out a large number of skin tones, particularly on the darker end, but on the fairer end as well. There are more options for her powder foundations, with a full 24 colors. This looks much more promising, although dark skin is not well represented and the shades don’t get as fair as I might have hoped. There are eight shades of concealer and six shades of concealer, which range from light medium to darker medium. Basically, if you have medium skin, Michelle Phan has your back. Unfortunately, these are the same people who can probably find their skin tone in a drugstore, or elsewhere. Furthermore, since there is no option to get color-matched before you make an order, it will probably be rough for anyone, regardless of skin color, to find the best match.

There are also a few options that are conspicuously missing. There doesn’t appear to be any full-coverage foundation, or any liquid foundation at all, which is a huge bummer.

Is the packaging or product name appealing?

I will say, there is one product name in this collection that hit it out of the park: the contour and highlighter stick is called Chiaroscuro, which is the perfect way to geek out Caravaggio-lovers. (Chiaoscuro is Italian for “light-dark” and it refers to an artistic style where light and dark are incredibly contrasted throughout the composition. It looks like this.) I must say, the colors look pretty decent on this product as well, making it by far the most tempting of her offerings. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the products look and sound pretty unappealing to me. The names are terrible. There is a lipstick called “Wow Pink”. Another lipstick is called “Love Me”. Although those are borderline laughable, most of the shade names are just banal, such as an eyeshadow called “Gold Divine”. 

The packaging looks like something that ELF might create, if I’m being honest. It looks inexpensive, which creates the perception of low-quality products. At worst, the products look like something you might find at the dollar store. At best, they look like a cheap Stila holiday palette. 

Even more egregious than tacky packaging is non-functional packaging, and the Life palette has several problems there. It’s sad because you can see where they really put thought into certain things. All the products are magnetic, for example, meaning you can pop them out and put them in a smaller palette to carry around, for example. Unfortunately, the product designers didn’t seem to foresee some pretty easily-apparent problems. The circular design of each color means that the Life palettes take up a LOT more space than they need to. I don’t need or want a product that’s going to take over my vanity. Worse is the way that cream lip products are interspersed with powder eyeshadows and blushes. Even small amounts of fallout will result in ruined lip products.

Does the brand have some degree of prestige?

Michelle Phan has definitely made a name for herself, but it’s not a name I associate with “worth $75 of my money”.

What’s more, nothing that she has done here has convinced me otherwise. The tacky white plastic packaging and the obviously photoshopped pictures (e.g. they did that thing that everyone hates where, instead of taking pictures of the actual product, they photoshopped what the makeup WOULD look like if Michelle Phan could be bothered to wear it) creates the impression that the products are lower-end than they probably are. It’s like anti-prestige.

Overall, I think there’s definitely some potential in this brand, but the execution is such that I can’t justify spending money on it. The only thing that gives me pause is the Chiaoscuro Highlight and Contour Stick. The other ideas that I liked (e.g. the concealer palette) are appealing, but I’m secretly hoping some other brand steals the concept and creates a better-executed version. 

Michelle Phan has done a lot of things right. Her life is way fancier and prettier and richer than mine. To me, though, what I am seeing demonstrates that this line wasn’t well executed.


1. I loved this post. I think there is so so so much hype around her brand. I cannot believe the price per ounce compared to Mac! It’s crazy. I think that palette idea of having the ability to interchange colours is good but the pigmentation of the colours (from what I’ve seen) isn’t there. I think she has done things I could only dream off but I honestly thought her line would’ve been of higher quality and blown more people away.

Sarah | More Than Adored

2. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t live up to expectations.

I feel like I must frequent the wrong makeup internet areas, though, since I haven’t seen a whole lot of positives! I’m guessing that youtube is probably the big promoter?

3. I loved the term chiaroscuro when I discovered it in art history class. Then years later a friend (who is no longer a friend) horrified me by repeatedly pronouncing it “cheero-skeero”. It’s hard to get over that.

4. That sounds like a cereal.

5. loop zoop. lol this comment made me laugh. i butcher words i dont know all the time though and i dont even care. actin like i give a fuk.

6. I’m an art history major, so my attention was peaked by the contour stick too! Itsjudytime did a review on it, and a few other products from the line in one of her first impression videos. Those girls are friends and Judy barely held back. She was clearly unimpressed. I’ve watched a few reviews, and none of them seem exactly blown away by the line. I’ll save my money for more setting spray and a replacement eyeliner.

7. I saw that review!

8. I agree that I like a lot of the concepts of Michelle’s line but not the execution. I think the Life Palette would be a great idea if done well, only because I’m the type of person who’s not coordinated enough to buy single shadows and I love big palettes. I would love to buy one palette that I could consistently use everyday. Even if they just would’ve removed the lip products from the palette (or protected them in some way), it would be a lot better.
Also, I had no idea that the cost of her products per ounce actually aren’t so bad. It doesn’t help that Michelle keeps justifying the high prices because the products are “luxury.” I feel like even she might not be aware of the cost per ounce either

9. I feel like her fans are very young, on average, so for most of them this is probably pretty high for them anyways.

10. I really like the idea of her life palette, but it’s something that you want to have when your just starting out with makeup. If I bought it I’d only use a handful of colours. And what you said about the concealer palette made me laugh to. Thats exactly what I thought when I saw it. But I think that a lot of companies don’t do these palettes in a light enough shade, if Michelle did she could have be on to a winner.

11. If the concealer palette would work for me, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

12. Any palette that puts creamy products (in this case the lip colours) anywhere near powder products immediately makes me cringe and puts me completely off buying the thing, regardless if I love the colours/formulas/brand or not. Bleck times a thousand.

Thanks for the price breakdown. A lot of people got up in arms when the price for the Life palette was set at $75, but you do in fact get a lot of product with it. But I agree, why not split it up? That palette looks huge. I would love to see a size comparison because in my head, I’m seriously picturing something as big as damn pizza box.

13. A lot of people on youtube got free ones to review, and they all show it. It’s pretty big!

14. My biggest beef with the Life Palette is that it’s so big. Just like you said, I might actually buy a quarter of that massive thing for $25, but I’m just not going to shell out $75 for a gigantic palette from a brand that I do not yet know the quality of.

15. I think she really only considered Asian skintones. All of her products down to the highlighter are yellow-toned. White and black people? Nope….

16. I hate to be the picky one about a random fact, but Giotto was considered the innovator of chiaroscuro, and Caravaggio began tenebrism, which is more what you were referring to with your definition and picture. Despite what wikipedia has to say about it, chiaroscuro is more about the tonality of lights and darks to give depth, rather than the high contrast. Tenebroso came a few hundred years later and was one of the main reasons Caravaggio was such an influential artist.


But I agree with you on the brand. I have yet to be wowed.

17. OMG so em cosmetics is having this huge black friday sale and my friend and i were seriously going to take advantage of it bc one of the deals were buy $100 worth of stuff and pay $50, that way my friend and i can pay $25 each. i wanted their concealer bc i heard some good reviews, but i decided to do some research just in case (mostly bc i wanted to know if the concealer is oil free) and while i was researching em cosmetics (and mostly reading negative reviews, cant trust the positive ones so much :D) my friend sent me your link to this page telling me she doesnt want to buy the cosmetics anymore. i read your review and i have to say, I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU. i swear, based on the reviews i read from doing research, em cosmetics, life palette and all isnt even worth it. they are so damn expensive, and when you mentioned about M.A.C being similarly expensive than em, i really cannot agree more. honestly, i would rather pay spend more money on M.A.C and be satisfied with my purchase rather than risking to buy it from em. Mostly bc of the concealer. i dont even know my skin color LOL and i dont even know how the color work at em, while at M.A.C, you could just go to one of their chain stores and sample it out. beside, M.A.C has a solid reputation with their cosmetics, far more better than EM Cosmetics, therefore i can trust M.A.C more than em. Em cosmetics just opened, so maybe things will get better, but really, i would just go to M.A.C for makeups. enough said.

BTW, I LOVE YOUR REVIEWS!!!!!!!!! They are so CRITICAL…I LOVE CRITICAL REVIEWS. GYAH!!! so happy, finally able to encounter a blogger who know how to give great concrete and critical reviews. im in love

18. I love this post, I was contemplating the concealer palette but may now hold off 🙂 Thanks!

19. Thanks for the review. I seriously don’t mind products that cost a bomb. $50++ is considered high price but in all seriousness, I will look at the brand, the packaging and the brand’s reputation first. Em Cosmetics is definitely not one of them and I will not splurge for this type of cosmetic. Oh, and it’s from Loreal. I already boycotted this brand too. 🙂

20. I found this review to be so helpful! Thank you!
Still, I am very stubborn and once I get my paycheck I think I will buy some em cosmetics… (that’s my shopaholic talking)

21. I know I am late to the game – but I just found your blog.. I hated her mascara that I received in my ipsy bag – It made all my eye lashes break off

22. I think that I would have trusted this review a bit more if you had actually used and owned any of the EM line. I was very skeptical at first but was happy that Michelle Phan was making her way in the world. However I got 2 life palettes, 2 lipsticks and highlighter/contour stick during her buy one get one event for cyber monday and honestly I have to say I was impressed with the quality and packaging of the makeup. I am a freelance makeup artist so I have a lot of makeup and I have to say I was impressed with all of the product packaging, and quality. I like her matt shadows much more then those in the Lorac Pro palette and I think that the products are well pigmented. I loved all the the lip products I tried including the two lipsticks and I thought they had great colors and pigmentation. I did not like that the lip products were in with the powder ones but I honestly haven’t had much of a problem as I keep all of my makeup very clean. I also loved travel sized palette! anyways I just wish that before people spent the time to write review about something they had at vey least touched the product. This review is very misleading and I think that it should be read with more then a grain of salt.

23. yup, well said.

24. I agree. So many of these negative reviews floating around the internet about the em cosmetic line are just impressions, but not real user reviews of those who tried and tested the product. Impressions are fine, but don’t say it’s poor or cheap quality when you haven’t even touched them yourself, or just because it’s colored white. Same goes with the product. How do you know it’s not good when you simply haven’t tried it on for yourself? There are other real user reviews on YouTube who say they love it but still find it expensive, etc. At least those ones are more credible. And I haven’t seen one real user who said that the packaging was flimsy or that the products were badly pigmented, mind you. FYI. Negative reviews like this aren’t always so accurate either.

25. Y’all know that this isn’t a review, no?

26. BTW Pati Dubroff did this palette in a palette thing on QVC and at Costco for $20 with plenty of product. Not that great in the ways of product…but still…be original. I just wrote a post about this today. Right on the money…Thanks!

27. I have read reviews where it was full on hate-post and where it was more like fan-gushing. Yours is the most researched, well balanced review I read regarding this controversial makeup line.. 🙂

28. I have bought a life palette recently and I agree. I bought the palette when it was on sale since I could not fork over that much money for a makeup line I have not tried before. After trying the palette, I was thoroughly disappointed because the pigmentation was not strong. It’s light, I had to layer on the color to get that desired color, and didn’t last through the day. It reminded me of maybeline about ten years ago when their products could barely be seen on the face and lasted three hrs. The powder for the sparkly shadows literally glitter bombed the palette and was harsh on the skin because it was clumpy(due to the glitter/sparkles). The matte eye shadow is much creamier and goes on well, but that’s the one where I have to layer it on. There was no way to protect the lip product since the shadows flake all the time. For storage, I keep it tucked in a drawer but it is still giant and takes up space. I do agree that the round shapes and white space is a lot of useless space. I have other palettes by other brands that have a lot more color options and take up about the same amount of space. The bubble shape makes it difficult to stack on top of each other too. In the end, her makeup line needs improvement, the quality is not there yet for the asking price for sure. I also purchased the cover up concealer in the tube…it’s not that great. The cream is not cakey by any means which is great, but the consistency is oily. It looks as though it’s ready to melt of anytime. Because of the cream base, even after I set it, it will effect my liners and mascara that would typically stay on with my other concealer. You may see some amusing of your liners with the concealer. Not waterproof and will come off easily. So that’s what my view on them was. Hope it helps.

29. I did alot of research myself on this brand, & came to the same conclusion, that I wouldn’t be buying it most likely. First off, the reviews are SO inconsistent that I don’t even know what to believe-like with the life palettes there are some saying the pigmentation isn’t very good at all & that BH or Coastal Scents are way better, but then there are some saying it’s great-one Youtuber that isn’t a ‘famous’ makeup guru that probably wasn’t sent it for free or anything even went as far as to say she thought it was comparable to Tom Ford eyeshadow. Then another youtuber I remember swatching the blush & it barely came up. This is what I’ve seen with basically all the products. Now of course no product is going to work for everyone, & you can’t please everyone, but I mean, I don’t recall ever seeing such inconsistent reviews on products, ever. But either way I cannot stand when cream products are next to powder products, & for $75 I don’t think I should have to find my own solution of keeping them from intermingling. I’m also not a fan of when the colors are all different sizes because how do they know which colors you’re going to use the most? I use alot of dark colors, so I’d probably go through all the little circles first, leaving me with a bunch of the big circles that are light & mid tone shades. And as of yet I don’t see them selling refill pans on the site. With the ‘waterliner’, I wish there was a white or nude & am surprised there isn’t (the closest to nude is a shade called ‘Ro’s Gold’, which is metallic & more gold than nude, like it’s namesake). If it was available at Ulta or Sephora & I could try it out first maybe, but I won’t be taking the chance ordering it-there’s nothing I’ve seen that’s really unique at all, so it doesn’t really tempt me to the point of taking a chance on it.

30. I agree that Em products are unreasonable priced. But I actually think Michelle isn’t aiming for the American suburban Caucasian girls’ market, no offense intended. Just the fact of the attainability, I believe Michelle is going more for the international Asian market. Right now though, she’s still building her brand’s prestige in the US. However, I think she’d later change her marketing tactics for the more appeasing Asian market.

31. I got a sheercover conceal and brighten trio in medium/fair.
My mom got two in her sheercover subscription so I got one. Shes a sunloving medium and I am a spf50 loving fair.
It works well, and the brighten part is a white “concealer” not as opaque though as the concealer parts.

32. Don’t knock it till you try it. Michelle is talented, and obviously has an extremely strong work ethic and vision. You commented a few times about how she makes more money than you do just “making tutorial videos”. I’m sensing that a bit of jealousy was in play when you wrote this review. This is the first season for em. Nothing is expected to be perfect on the first try. Also, many of these commenters have said that they wouldn’t spend the money on a brand that is “not trusted”. Don’t they realize that these products are made by loreal and Lancôme? Lastly, I can’t believe one of your qualms is that “Love Me” isn’t a clever enough name. I just think that you have come up with a list of very petty reasons to not buy a brand that you have never tried.

34. This is the best review yet! It’s so detailed. I’m definitely saving my money and taking it to mac. Lol.

35. Very good review – I agree on just about every point. Except, however, I really like the swing of shades on the Em concealer palette. People of Levantine heritage (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, etc) can be as milky pale as an Irish lass on Monday, and after a few days in the summer sun, be 6 or 7 shades darker by the weekend. You wouldn’t believe how many different colors of concealer, foundation, and powder I need over the course of 4 seasons. The Em concealer palette is an affordable godsend for people like me.

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