Here’s the problem with a lot of “minimalist” or no-makeup makeup brands: They appear to have been made for bright-eyed 20-somethings whose faces have never been displayed a dark circle or wrinkle or sun spot or the myriad other fun surprises you wake up to find in your 30s and onward. What’s worse is because the natural “effortless” esthetic has emerged as the current measure of cool, any makeup offering any real coverage is now viewed as gauche — as distasteful as an Hermès-orange fake tan or flowery toe nail art.
Enter a different kind of “less is more.” Launched this week, Merit Beauty is the brainchild of Katherine Power, founder of Who What Wear and serial entrepreneur (she created Versed skin care and started “clean wine” brand Avaline with her pal Cameron Diaz). I would describe it as the grown woman’s Glossier (the It brand of cool girls). The packaging is sleek, elegant. There’s no Millennial pink in sight. Instead, it’s all slate grey, black and white with occasional glints of gold. And the formulas? The formulas get it all right.
That’s because they were informed by real life — Power’s life to be exact. As a busy executive and mom, she often only had about five minutes to do her makeup. “Mostly, I would do it in the car quite honestly,” she says. “So I needed a really pared-down routine of really efficient products.”
So speed and simplicity were definitely a must, but another huge priority for Power was making the line as clean as possible. “I was never someone who ran over to the clean aisle first, whether that was for my household cleaning products or makeup,” she says. “I really changed my outlook when I became pregnant.”
About four years ago, when Power was expecting her son, she began searching for safer, more natural alternatives to everyday necessities, but nothing seemed to be hitting the mark. “I didn’t find myself connecting to any of the clean brands in the way that I had connected to the legacy of luxury or prestige brands. I didn’t feel the same way I felt when I would buy that YSL lip oil or that Clinique Chubby Stick; that excitement and emotional connection to the brand. I thought there’s got to be this opportunity for a brand to take over where the luxury brands have experience in formulations, but just happen to be clean.”
All of Merit’s products are EU-compliant, meaning they are free of 1,328 potentially harmful ingredients, including parabens and sulphates. And yet they look and feel like the height of luxury, all the while being priced 30 per cent below traditional prestige brands. (In that sense, Merit could also be dubbed a more affordable Westman Atelier).
Currently, the line includes six products, which together garner a fresh, glowing look in less than five minutes. First up is probably my favourite from the line: The Minimalist. It’s not a foundation, not a concealer yet replaces both in your makeup bag. I’ve tried similar products in the past and they never packed enough coverage to tackle my hyperpigmentation, which felt a bit like being denied entry in the cool-girl makeup club. This one welcomes everyone with open arms. There are 20 shades to choose from and each offers buildable, undetectable coverage.
Merit The Minimalist Perfection Complexion Stick, $49, meritbeauty.com
“It came from a technique that I use when I do my makeup; some makeup artists call it micro-concealing. It’s basically applying the makeup only where you need it and leaving bare the areas where you don’t.” You simply dot the formula over anything you want to camouflage (dark circles, redness, blemishes, hyperpigmentation — you name it) and then blend it using Brush No. 1, which is super dense and soft and also cruelty-free. “You really can’t tell where the makeup starts and the skin begins,” says Power. “It creates a really seamless transition.”
Merit Brush No. 1 Blending Brush, $39, meritbeauty.com
Next up is Flush Balm, a blush that’s halfway between a cream and a stain. It leaves no noticeable texture on skin. Instead all you see is a gorgeous flush. “It soaks right into your skin texture; it doesn’t sit on top, which is really nice,” explains Power. I also quite enjoy it as a lip tint.
Merit Flush Balm Cheek Color in Cheeky, $36, meritbeauty.com
Another personal favourite is the Day Glow Highlighting Balm. I’d say the large majority of celebrity makeup artists I’ve interviewed (Mario Dedivanovic, Gucci Westman, Daniel Martin) have vouched for an emollient-type luminizer rather than a powder one. Some pros even smear straight Vaseline, which might look great on camera but makes for a greasy mess IRL. This little stick yields the same effect without the stickiness and throws in a faint hint of colour (either champagne or rose gold) to bathe skin in light. It’s absolutely stunning. Power even slicks it on her eyelids, which I’ve now taken to doing as well.
Merit Day Glow Highlighting Balm in Cava, $39, meritbeauty.com
Speaking of eyes, Merit currently counts two products in the category. The first is a tinted brow gel. As the name — Brow 1980 — suggests, it’s all about creating a bushy, Brooke Shields circa “My Calvins” look. There’s kaolin clay and mineral pigments in there to tint and bulk up arches. I especially like the large tapered brush, which really grabs ahold of every last little hair.
Merit Brow 1980 Volumizing Pomade, $31, meritbeauty.com
Second for eyes is the mascara. It’s called Clean Lash and it’s my favourite kind of formula, a tubing one. It lifts, separates and lengthens beautifully without looking too makeup-y and, best of all, because of that aforementioned tubing technology, it does not smudge or move around at all. Anyone who’s ever looked for a clean mascara knows that’s a real challenge and this tube passes with flying colours. On the topic of colours, it’s only available in black at the moment, but I’m crossing my fingers a brown one will be added in the future. I just love how soft brown looks versus black, which can be a bit severe on some.
Merit Clean Lash Lengthening Mascara, $34, meritbeauty.com
That brings us to the last item from the line, a little lip tint that goes by the name of Shade Slick. As someone whose lips are perpetually parched (especially in these wintery months), it is a godsend. It’s got the slip and moisture of an oil but with just enough pigment and opacity to feel like an actual lip colour. It’s also forgiving enough to be applied mirror-free.
Merit Shade Slick Tinted Lip Oil in Pink Beet, $31, meritbeauty.com
I’ve often imagined what my fantasy makeup line would be like and, honestly, it looked a lot like this. Quick, easy and understatedly chic while still addressing the concerns of mortal women over 23. So I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Katherine Power for making the dream a reality and rendering my morning makeup routine infinitely breezier.
Merit launched this week on meritbeauty.com and will be hitting the Sephora website in February.
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