Mall Makeovers: Going Cruelty-Free in Birmingham, Alabama

In Depth

Welcome back to Mall Makeovers where we send readers to, you guessed it, the mall for, you guessed it, a makeover. If you’d like to volunteer for an upcoming installment, send us an email.


Names: Carla Jean and Laurel

Carla Jean’s Beauty Routine: My daily routine combines a bit of Southern expectation with a more relaxed attitude toward appearances. I usually apply BB cream, mascara and lip gloss at a minimum. On days when my reporting job requires me to meet with prominent people, I usually go for a full—but natural-looking—face. I’ve also become comfortable walking around town in sweaty workout clothes and no makeup, in large part because I’m a yoga teacher on the side.

Lately, I’ve been revamping my style by eliminating from my routine products that are tested on animals. I’m a meat eater, but this seemed a simple step to reduce my impact on animals. I quickly found new skin care through The Body Shop, and I had tried a few cruelty-free drug store makeup brands (with limited success). I love Burt’s Bees lip shimmers. Why don’t they offer a full makeup line?

Process: Birmingham stores offer limited cruelty-free options, and so I opted for a Sephora makeover. I wasn’t sure how much their associates would know about those options, but I studied PETA’s 33-page PDF of companies that don’t test on animals and identified a few brands that would work.

That quickly proved unnecessary. When I told my makeup artist, Jennifer, that I was looking for a cruelty-free makeover, she lit up. It turns out Too Faced is one of her favorite brands, and so it figured prominently in my makeover.

I hadn’t had such a makeover since high school (nearly 20 years ago!), and so I wasn’t sure where to begin. Jennifer eased that uncertainty with a few questions. I asked for a look slightly more glam than what I would choose for everyday wear; after a nearly three-year relationship, I was newly single and trying to psych myself up for the dating game. I normally stick to shades of brown for my eyes, but I wanted to learn about color. Jennifer took that as license to have fun, and I couldn’t wait to see the results.

As she worked, she was also careful to offer Laurel and I instruction on each product. She dipped just the edge of her brush into BB cream before cross hatching and blending it across my face. Before pulling out Too Faced’s contour palette, Jennifer explained how she would create a wedge of color, then shade either side of it, to emphasize my cheekbones. At each stage, Laurel’s reaction left me confident that I’d like the end result.

Outcome: I was right. The products felt great on my skin, and when I finally looked in the mirror, I saw a more polished version of myself. My eyes were dramatic, but not so much so that I felt strange walking around the mall afterward. In fact, several of the other Sephora salespeople gathered around to comment on how Jennifer’s work brought out my green eyes (my favorite trait!).

I bought more than I planned to, opting for Too Faced’s Shadow Insurance in Champagne, Chocolate Bar eyeshadow palette, perfect brown eyeliner and Better Than Sex mascara. (And I’ll likely be back for many of the other products!) The only question that remained was whether I could recreate the look on my own.

By the next morning, buyer’s remorse threatened. But as I prepared for the day, I decided to embrace it: Although I was in a hurry, I applied each product, opting for a more subdued application of the eyeshadow. It didn’t take much to create a beautiful eye (and all I used for application was my ring finger!). After a full day of work, yoga and even an impromptu yoga photo shoot, I returned home to see my eye makeup was still as vibrant as when I applied it. Within weeks, I returned to Sephora to add Jennifer’s recommendations for BB cream and brow gel to my routine. I’m excited to play with other color combinations and looks—and eventually, use some of them for a big date night.

Laurel’s Beauty Routine: My daily routine is pretty short and sweet. I have a two-year-old, so most of my mornings involve a lot of bananas and Chuggington, but I also work with students, and there’s nothing like spending your day with 20-year-olds to remind you that you are not as young as you think you are, and yes, crow’s feet are real and they’re coming for you.

I usually default to Mac products because I like the price point and quality. I feel like I’m long past the Wet ‘n’ Wild and Cover Girl drugstore buys of my youth, but I’m also not breaking the bank at $15 per lipstick. I apply MAC Studio Sculpt SPF 15 Foundation (with a brush because my hairstylist assured me that if I didn’t use a foundation brush, those crow’s feet would eventually take over my face) and a MAC eye base before brushing on bareMinerals powder. If I tell you I’m not wearing makeup, I’m actually wearing these three things. I feel I look too red without anything on my face.

Next, I put on blush, eyeliner and lipstick. The Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil is the only eyeliner I can successfully apply. I tend to leave off the mascara because of how often I stab myself in the eye, but it often makes me sad because there are few things I love as much as some big old eyelashes – preferably fake.

When it comes to skincare, I do next to nothing except moisturizing in the winter. Most nights, I feel lucky that I remembered to brush my teeth, let alone washing my face or applying creams.

Trends: I know people think of the South as being full of heavy makeup, but Birmingham is a pretty casual town. Most people I know don’t wear a ton of makeup. We’re no Dallas.

Process: I opted for the big box store experience and went to Belk, a large department store than anchors the upscale mall in town. From there, I chose the Bobbi Brown counter at random. I explained to my makeup artist that I was starting a new job soon (true) and that I felt like I needed a makeup reboot (also true) because of how little I’d done for myself since giving birth.

I’d been carrying 20 pounds of unemployment weight before I got pregnant, so even though I lost my baby weight from the straight up stress of having a newborn, I still had those 20 pounds to contend with. Between baby and the extra weight, I’ve had a hard time feeling good about myself the last couple of years or taking any joy from clothes and makeup. I used to love shopping, but when everything stopped looking the way I wanted it to when I tried it on, I just stopped going to the mall. (In hindsight, this was probably good for my finances, even if it took a toll on my self-esteem.) Last fall, I decided to get serious about getting to a weight that makes me feel comfortable in my own skin, and I lost those 20 unemployment pounds. I’m having fun with clothes again, and a makeover seemed like a good idea.

I went in with nothing on my face (for real this time), but I did put a curling wand in my hair because I was aware that the before photo could end up on the Internet.

“You’ve got to do eye cream,” were practically the first words out of my makeup artist’s mouth. As you can see, I’m not exaggerating about this crow’s feet stuff.

Judy* began by slathering me in moisturizer because I was very dry and matching my skin tone to a foundation stick. From there, we went on to eyes, lips and face, but I don’t remember too much about the color.

“Brown eyeliner is OK for high school,” Judy said, “but we all need to move on to black after that.”

I’m sure Judy was trying to be helpful and prepare me for my new job, but after a comment about my pore size and need for brow maintenance, I felt kind of like she was mainly looking at the newly made-over (but with brown eyeliner) Carla Jean next to me thinking, “Thank goodness her friend who understands makeup brought her in.”

The lipstick was my favorite. My husband is not a fan of obvious lip color, so I’m always happy to find something that is pretty without being overly glossy or bright.

Outcome: I was happy with my makeover, but not blown away. I thought I looked pretty, but there was nothing about the process that was particularly revelatory or better than I’ve had before. I’ve been a bridesmaid 10 times, and my favorite part of that process – next to friendship and special moments and all – is having my hair and makeup done. I’m a fan of makeup artistry and tell everyone, “I’m not afraid of color.” (Also: see earlier comment about love of fake lashes.)

I came away with a couple of new cream eye shadows, and it’s not that there was anything wrong with my makeover. It was good. I just didn’t think it was great.

*not her real name

Contact the author at [email protected].

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