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Is Milk Makeup as Good as Its Marketing?

Here’s what you need to know about the buzzy one-year-old makeup brand.

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Photo: Milk Makeup

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Racked’s shopping editor Tiffany has asked me the question posed in this headline several times in a semi-anguished voice. Last week, she finally gave in to the siren call of Milk Makeup at Sephora, buying the Hero Salve, which she says she loves despite buying it drunk. (“This is how I do all my Sephora shopping!” she clarified to me on Slack.)

However, Milk Makeup is also compelling even if you’re stone cold sober. It’s one of those brands whose packaging just grabs you. I’ve heard this from beauty editors and consumers alike, from New York City millennials to 40-something moms. And everyone seems to have the same question: But is it good?

Photo: Milk Makeup

Before I answer that, some background on the brand is in order. Milk Makeup seems to have come out of nowhere, and it has had a charmed first year that other beauty company startups would kill for. It was started by the founders of Milk Studios, which has locations in Los Angeles and NYC. They work with the worlds of fashion, art, and other generally creative types, so “cool kid” is in its DNA. (It might seem weird for a studio to start a makeup brand, but that’s how Smashbox got its start, too.)

It could be easy to confuse Milk Makeup with Glossier, at least in terms of its coolness factor, but Milk is a lot more about hardcore makeup than Glossier. It also launched with a full collection, while Glossier does more of a drop model, releasing one category at a time. Glossier is still only sold on its own site, while Milk’s first retailer was Sephora.

Mazdack Rassi and his wife Zanna Roberts Rassi, who is also an editor at Marie Claire, launched the collection last January along with Georgie Greville, the creative director of Milk’s in-house production company, and Dianna Ruth, a product formulator who did stints at Hard Candy, Bliss, and Benefit. Greville told me last year that Milk had been doing creative work for some beauty brands and worked closely with MAC, so it seemed to make sense to launch its own brand.

The Milk team pitched it to Sephora before it even had products to show. The retailer was impressed when it actually saw the line and picked up the brand, according to Business of Fashion. It’s now in 150 stores, with an expansion to Canada and Europe planned for the near future. Milk Makeup is also sold at 50 Urban Outfitters stores. In January of this year, Milk landed its first outside investment from Main Post Partners, which was an investor in Too Faced and many non-beauty brands.

So who, exactly, is the Milk Makeup customer? Upon launch, the products, which mostly come in stick and tube form and are meant to be applied with the fingers, were intended for “girls who do their makeup quick.” That has evolved, according to Greville.

“What we’ve realized is that the people who are attracted to Milk are a very broad group of people. It’s not just the 18 to 24 [demographic], although we’re definitely resonating with that group,” she says. “It’s also moms and women in their 50s and 60s and a lot of boys. It’s been amazing to see the breadth of how it’s resonating.” A just-launched campaign called “Live Your Look” features a video that pretty much tells you visually what Milk is about.

Cooling Water Stick ($24), Sunshine Oil ($38), Ubame Mascara ($24), Lip Color ($22), and Holographic Stick ($28)

Now the important part: Yes, the products are good. As in sell-out good. There are 120 products in the collection, and the twist-up sticks, like the Cooling Water stick, Holographic stick, and Blur stick, have proven to be the standouts of the collection.

“We appeal to such a diverse audience because of the sticks, which are really intuitive. You know exactly what to do when you see it,” says Greville. “Sticks have existed in the world obviously, but there’s just something about our formulations and how modern the products are, like the silicone-free Blur stick.” Greville says that Milk’s ingredients are one of the things that sets the brand apart. While not a “natural” brand, per se, Ruth tries to use ingredients deemed “good for you.”

The Blur stick is a new launch that acts as a primer and makes pores and fine lines seemingly disappear. There are dozens of products on the market that claim to do it, but this one does it without dimethicone or other silicones, an ingredient used in tons of cosmetics that acts as an emollient and feels smooth and silky on the skin. It also gets a bad rap for clogging pores. (Spoiler: It really doesn’t, but some people — like me — hate that slippery feeling.) I loved the non-slippery texture of Blur, and it’s great as a primer under makeup or used alone just to cover up the large pores on my nose.

Other notable products include the Eye Pigment, which is creamy shadow in a tube; Sunshine Oil, which is face oil in a roller ball; and Blush Oil, a roller ball blush that gives you the freshest, dewiest look. Quirky things, like a temporary tattoo stamper or blotting papers that “can also be used as rolling papers,” are what set the brand apart.

Photo: Milk Makeup

Milk Makeup tries hard to be innovative and mostly succeeds, but Greville acknowledges that not every product works. Milk is phasing out its Lip Marker and Weekend Lash Stain, a product that in theory was meant to provide a bit of color to lashes for two or three days but in practice was just a mediocre mascara. Greville says that other products may show up in new iterations, with either improved packaging or formulations.

You can expect to see new products every quarter or so. While Milk said at the beginning that it wouldn’t offer full coverage foundation (too fussy), it’s since pivoted on that, thanks to what Greville calls the “full face crowd:” YouTubers and Instagrammers. “We felt like we didn’t want to do it unless we had a really cool angle on it. I will say that getting feedback from this year, it’s definitely in the cards. We’re working on more full face products, but they will have a unique aspect to them.”

Like many makeup brands, Milk is wise not to ignore the so-called influencers. Holographic stick got a huge bump in exposure and sales when YouTuber Jeffree Star featured it. Ditto with Thomas Halbert and the Blur stick.

And of course, expect more sticks. Greville says Milk is expanding on the success of its sticks and will release new forms of Holographic and Blur, among other things.

“We feel momentum out there,” she says. “It’s all about newness and amazing product offerings and connecting with our audience.” Which, let’s face it, will probably be you soon, because how much longer can you resist?

Take a look at some Milk products in action:

We're trying Milk Makeup to create a full face - from marshmallow concealer to face gloss, these products are next level pretty. Got questions? Ask away! ✨

Posted by Racked on Thursday, February 23, 2017

Racked occasionally accepts products for research and reviewing purposes. For more information, see our ethics policy here.