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.
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.