I have my own version of Christmas in July. Every year, as midsummer turns to late summer, the packages start arriving, usually by FedEx. Some are big, others are small, and there’s so much bubble wrap inside that shaking doesn’t do any good. Not that it matters. I already know what’s inside: cosmetics. And lots of them.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: One of the perks of this business is that PR companies send us the latest and greatest products. No, I don’t get free clothes, and there’s no “pay for play” here – for the most part, what you see in ShopGirl is what I actually buy, not what I would buy if I had more money than God. Which is why the pages of the Bangor Daily News don’t look like the pages of Vogue or Lucky (you’ll never see $400 boots or a $200 shirt in my column – that’s not how I roll). But I do get pretty much everything under the sun in terms of makeup. Then I give the stuff that doesn’t get all gummed up in our photo shoots to you, dear readers (see sidebar for this month’s grab bag giveaway, which is bigger and better than ever).

Because I am a product junkie, I’m willing to try almost any look (Remember last fall’s blue nail polish fiasco? I do). I also have ridiculously sensitive skin, so if I can use it, chances are you can, too. And I have very little interest in makeup that is funky, trendy or just plain weird, so if I write about it, it’s wearable. With those caveats, I present my favorite looks, products and palettes for fall 2008.

• Starry-eyed surprise: Sparkles are here to stay this season and N.Y.C.’s Sparklers ($3.99) are dramatic for evening. This loose powder eye glitter is just the thing for a night on the town. Available at drugstores and discount stores.

• Matte is where it’s at: On the other end of the shadow spectrum is Clinique’s Modern Matte collection for fall. I’m especially fond of Clinique’s shadows, which don’t crease, and if I had to choose one it would be the deep but wearable Midnight ($14, Macy’s).

• Give it a swirl: N.Y.C.’s “Metro Metals” collection looks downright planetary in the package, but the swirls of sparkly color come together for a soft, shimmering look. The $3.99-$4.99 price range will send you over the moon with joy, too. Available at drugstores and discount stores.

• Age before beauty: I can’t tell you how many anti-aging creams I’ve used, and I’m 33. I did indulge in a little too much sun when I was a teenager, so I am a bit of a freak about the fine lines around my eyes. But so far, I’ve been terribly underwhelmed with everything – including the $80-a-vial cosmeceuticals – I’ve tried. Neutrogena’s anti-aging line promises results without the pretty package or the insane price tag. I’m sold. Available at drugstores and discount stores.

• Best face forward: I’ve been using Philosophy’s Purity Made Simple foaming face wash for a few years now ($10, sephora.com), but it’s a little too moisturizing for this summer’s humidity. Enter Biore’s Refresh daily cleansing cloths ($5.99, available at drugstores and discount stores). They’re like a 60-second facial, and I love them. They’re part of Biore’s new Daily Recharging skincare collection, which also boasts an amazing cooling eye gel and a night serum that holds its own against far pricier contenders.

• It’s only natural: No, “natural beauty” is not an oxymoron. And the latest products have come a long way since that weird powdered terra cotta stuff from the 1970s. My all-time fave is Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer in Fig, a nice, berry-stained, peppermint-scented hue. For eyes, I recently gave Sally Hansen Natural Beauty a go. The shades, inspired by celebrity makeup artist Carmindy, are infinitely wearable, and my favorite is the Instant Definition Eye Shadow Palette in Storm ($5.99, at drugstores and discount stores).

• Deal of the century: For a limited time, visitors to Stila.com can grab the Fall Color Festival Set with shadow, smudge pot, convertible color (use it anywhere), lipstick and mascara for $34. That’s cheaper than drugstore brands for one of my favorite brands.

• Naughty and nice: Smashbox makes some of the best cosmetics out there, and this fall’s Wicked Lovely collection does not disappoint. Especially if you’re a Mainer: That’s “wicked lovely, deah.” This is makeup exactly the way I like it: dark, smoky eye; pale, shimmering lip. (Shadow duo, $24, lip gloss, $18, Sephora.com).

• Eye deal: Send your bags – and dark circles – packing with Mally Beauty’s liquid light eye brightener. It doesn’t give you the weird, too-pale look of a concealer. Rather, this powder-to-liquid concoction has just the right hint of yellow to look perfectly natural. ($25 – and worth every penny, QVC.com).

• Smells completely unlike teen spirit: I know, I know. Walking into Bath & Body Works is like walking into a bowl of fruit salad. Yes, everyone loves the sweet scents there – even me. But they’re not what one would call sophisticated. Until now. The sexy new Black Amethyst collection is nothing like its teenybopper cousins. I’m completely addicted to the body lotion ($12), and I don’t usually wear scented products.

• Nail it: I’m obsessed with dark nail polish, so imagine my thrill when I saw Lippmann Collection’s fall shades – Fade to Black from the Zac Posen fall show, Stop and Stare (a dangerously glossy red) and Pump Up the Jam, which is a rich, sparkly blackberry. They cost $15 at www.lippmanncollection.com. That’s a little rich for my blood, but I’m equally thrilled with the $6 Tracy Reese for Sally Hansen nail line – LOVE The Good Earth (sparkly brown), Raven’s Wing (a shimmery black) and, despite last fall’s blue experience, Stormy Blue. For sparkle, you can’t beat N.Y.C.’s Molten Metal ($2.99 at drugstores and discount stores). Want a preview of what they’ll look like in real life? Visit one of my favorite blogs, www.alllacqueredup.com.

Goodie grab bag!

Five lucky ShopGirl readers will each win a beauty grab bag filled with a selection of cosmetics and other beauty products. Each bag will have at least a $35 value, but some will be as high as $75 (that’s why it’s a grab bag – you never know what you’re going to get.) Enter online at my blog (www.bangornews.com/ shopgirl) or, if you don’t have Internet access, send your name and contact information to: ShopGirl Giveaway, Attn: Kristen Andresen, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04401. Winners will be chosen at random on Aug. 27 and announced in the ShopGirl Column on Aug. 30. Good luck, and as always, happy shopping!