Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Calorie-free Chocolate Indulgence

I recently discovered the GlyMed Plus skincare line at the fab Sacramento salon, AJF.  The esthetician there, Heather, is spectacular by the way if you're in the Sacramento area.  In any case, they use GlyMed products exclusively.  I was a little suspicious because I'd never heard of the line, but it turns out that is because it's a professional-grade skincare line retailed primarily through medi-spas, estheticians, and dermatologists.  The line is known for high concentrations of active ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, Vitamin C, and many other active ingredients including acne-fighting goodies.

During my facial, I experienced a variety of great products, many of which smelled divine.  But one product in particular took the cake (so to speak).  If you're having a chocolate craving but trying to watch your calorie-intake, why not treat your skin instead?  GlyMed's Chocolate Power Skin Rescue Masque is the ultimate luxurious hydrating repairing mask.  It is packed with active naturals like resveratrol, acai berry, jojoba, and cocoa.  The ingredients are all designed to boost cell turnover, hydrate, and soften.  It's a great mask to use on a weekly or bi-weekly basis (if for no other reason than it smells yummy), but it would be particularly good to use to heal skin after an aggressive procedure like microdermabrasion or a sunburn or when your skin is just dehydrated or peeling. 

Needless to say, I'm hooked on the mask and bought it to use at home.  I'm going to explore the GlyMed line a bit further, so check back for updates. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Imported Beauty: An Introductory BB Cream

Beauty Balms (aka Blemish Balms or BB creams) have be en hot in Asia for years, but the American market has been behind the trend.  That is, until now.  Dr. Jart+ recently released two BB creams in the U.S., sold exclusively as Sephora.  BB creams vary from brand to brand, but the basic idea is skincare, sunscreen, and light makeup coverage in one product.  The advantages of BB creams is that most of them (including the Dr. Jart+ products) provide very high SPF, skin-brightening/lightening treatment (great for acne scars and sun spots), and medium to full coverage with a dewy natural ethereal finish, plus other skincare benefits one would typically find in a serum or moisturizer.

Sound too good to be true?  Well, it kind of is for people with medium to dark skintones.  Unfortunately, most BB creams are only available in one shade, which is supposed to "self-adjust" to match your skin, but there's only so much these types of creams can adjust.  I've done some research on other brands sold in South Korea, and most of the BB creams are good for only fair to light-medium skintones.  Some of them also have distinctively warm/yellow undertones or distinctively ashy gray undertones.  There are a couple of Korean BB creams that offer an extra shade or two in the medium range, but I haven't seen anything in the medium-dark to dark range.

But for those of us on the lighter side, Dr. Jart's new creams are heaven.  I chose the Premium Beauty Balm, which features an SPF 45 from minerals (primarily zinc oxide), a very natural and luminous light coverage, bio-peptides and antioxidants, and skin-brightening ingredients to treat those nasty dark spots and uneven skintone.  Dr. Jart+ also has a Water Fuse Beauty Balm at Sephora.  That BB cream has more hydration but only SPF 25 and no antioxidants or skin-brighteners.  It's a few bucks cheaper, but ultimately, I feel like the Premium BB has far more benefits for $7 more.

In short, I love it.  The color scared me a little at first since it comes out of the tube looking a bit gray, but it really does self-adjust (at least with my light skin) and looks absolutely wonderful.  The coverage is light and natural-looking, but also can be layered as a concealer for under the eyes.  I have had many complements on my skin since I've been using it.  Sometimes I want more coverage and use my Bare Minerals foundation, but this product is fabulous for everyday.  I love that it covers multiple steps of skincare and makeup in one, although I often use an eye cream and treatment serum under it anyway.  But that's a personal preference.  The moisture and anti-aging treatment in the Beauty Balm really make any additional skincare steps optional.  And it makes my skin feel dreamy.

I highly recommend this product, and now that I've done a test drive in the world of BB creams, I plan to get my paws on a few Korean imports, especially one with more coverage.  Check back for updates.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Winter Woes: Best Exfoliators

Exfoliation is especially important during the cold weather months, when the skin tends to get dry, build up layers of dead skin cells, and lose its glow.  Exfoliating at least twice a week, depending on your skin-type and sensitivity, will not only help deep-clean and smooth your skin, it will also unclog pores and accelerate the skin's natural shedding process.  This is key to your skincare routine because it allows your serums and moisturizer to penetrate your skin's layers to work their magic, rather then floating on the surface of dead skin cells.

I've tested a number of exfoliators lately looking for gentle, but effective scrubs for different skin types.  Here are my favorites:

St. Ives Apricot Scrub
An oldy, but a goody.  This classic affordable scrub is gentle and hydrating enough not to irritate dry skin, but still has enough scrubbing power to get rid of those dead skin cells.  Because the exfoliating pieces are larger, this is not the best for cleaning out clogged pores despite the fact that the label indicates that it eliminates blackheads.  If blackheads are a concern, I would recommend one of the exfoliators with finer particles.  Otherwise, this is a great gentle scrub that most people with oily to dry skin can use at least several times a week without causing irritation.  However, I would not recommend this scrub for extremely dry or extremely sensitive skin.

Lush Coalface
One of my all time favorites from my combination-skin days.  For oily to normal and combination skin, this bar-form scrub is ideal.  It will clean out your pores thoroughly and make your face truly squeaky clean. Seriously, very squeaky, try it.  This is not a scrub for the faint of heart, but it is also surprisingly non-irritating for its effectiveness.  Perhaps because it is all-natural, I can still use this scrub occasionally even though I have drier skin now, and it does not leave my face red or irritated.  This is not, however, a skin-softening exfoliator.  This is the best scrub for men too:  it will clean out the pores around hair follicles on the face, giving men a cleaner shave and preventing in-grown hairs.  My fiance's been diminishing my supply. 

Kate Somerville ExfoliKate
This exfoliator is the creme de la creme of exfoliators.  It's not cheap and it's not gentle, but it's so effective, all you have to do is apply it like a mask without rubbing it in and leave it on for no more than 30 seconds.  The enzymes do the work for me, and my skin feels soft as a baby's when I'm finished.  I can only leave it on for about 20 seconds before it starts to irritate, and I certainly can't use it more than twice a week, but it is the very best exfoliator in that my skin feels both clean and soft after use.  And I feel like I really get the most out of my serums after using ExfoliKate first. 

Cosmedicine Medi-Morphosis
This is a self-adjusting exfoliator with tiny scrubbing crystals that dissolve automatically when your skin's had enough.  Well, that's how it's supposed to work anyway.  I feel like this is THE BEST exfoliator by a landslide for those with severely clogged pores and stubborn blackheads because the crystals are so fine.  That said, I cannot use this exfoliator all over my face.  It's simply too irritating for my cheeks and forehead.  I occasionally use it around my nose and chin when I get clogged pores, and it is supremely effective.  I feel like this would be ideal for anyone with oily to combination skin no more than once or twice a week.  Also, I once used this product the morning after using an acne-spot treatment, and my skin peeled.  So this is simply too powerful of a scrub to mix with any acne treatments.  I suspect that it would probably not interact well with retinol-based products either.  This is very effective, but I would just caution to use it with care, and not at all if you have sensitive skin.

Ole Henriksen Sugar Glow Face Scrub
Alright, for those with dry and/or sensitive skin, this is the one you've been waiting for.  It's from my favorite active-natural skincare line, and it's very gentle and leaves the skin feeling soft and hydrated.  It just gets rid of those dead skin cells, which even dry skin needs, without irritating.  And it smells good enough to eat (like an orange dream bar). 

Homemade Oatmeal Scrub
For those with extremely dry or extremely sensitive skin or just a glamazon on a budget, a homemade oatmeal scrub is an easy, inexpensive treat that will still get rid of those pesky dead skin cells without drying or irritating your skin.  Simply take 2 generous tablespoons of oatmeal, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and add enough warm water to make a paste.  Then simply scrub your face in circular motions (concentrating on the T-Zone) and rinse with warm water.  Your skin will feel smooth and softened. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Winter Woes: Dry Flaky Scalp

Even those of us who don't have dandruff or psoriasis of the scalp can experience dryness, irritation, itchiness, and flakiness during the cold dry winter months.  And those who have had dandruff or psoriasis before know that it's hard to get rid of and most over-the-counter treatments and shampoos, if they work at all, are very damaging to the hair.

I offer the best winter-scalp savior on the market: Ecco Bella Organic Hair and Scalp Intensive Therapy.  This wonder-oil improves the health of the scalp overnight, delivering results.  And with continued use, not only rids the scalp of symptoms of dandruff and psoriasis but also helps hair grow longer, faster.  It is available at www.eccobella.com as well as many health and natural food stores.  Locally in the Sacramento area, you can find this product and a host of other organic goodies at Sunshine Natural Foods in Fair Oaks.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Woes: Dryness Around the Eyes

Especially during the winter months, when skin is usually at its driest, eye makeup remover is rough and strips the delicate eye area of its moisture even more.  All that dryness and rubbing and tugging at the skin around the eyes to get that last bit of mascara off inevitably leads to unwanted lines and dark circles.  But a girl's gotta remove her eye makeup.  So might I suggest the ever-classic and ever-affordable Aquaphor ointment, which is available in the tube, the giant tub, and the tiny tube, which is wonderful for chapped lips or travel makeup-removal (the uber-serious TSA agent at the New Orleans airport confiscated my giant tub on my return-trip even though the S.F. TSA was cool about it because it only had a few ounces of product left, not that I'm bitter or anything).

Anyway, this ointment (and the generics at chain drugstores) will effectively remove all traces of your eye makeup without stripping the skin.  In fact, in leaves the eye area feeling moist without feeling greasy.  And unlike some eye makeup removers which are alcohol-based, this stuff won't irritate if it gets in your eyes.  It's also much more cost effective.  And highly useful for other purposes including its label-designated use: dry, chapped skin.  It's great for wintery elbows, knees, and feet (especially overnight with a pair of cotton socks).  And it makes a phenomenal lip balm for chapped lips.  Not to name names, but you'll never go back to $26 Bi-Facil again.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ole La

Ole Henriksen (pronounced "ooh-la") is one of the hottest new natural skincare lines from a dermatologist with a longtime celebrity cult following in Beverly Hills.  Together with Korres, Ole is one of my favorite "active naturals" skincare lines for three big reasons: the products do what they promise, make my skin feel soft and smooth, and smell fabulous.

I have only tried the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Ole's line of products, but I am very impressed with what I have tried.  The following is a breakdown of my 7 days of Ole experiment.

African Red Tea Foaming Cleanser
This is a very nice foaming cleanser that has a slightly herbal tea scent.  The luxurious foam is softening and non-irritating.  It's ideal for dry or sensitive skin.  I find the $35 price point too high for a cleanser, but this is certainly a nice one if you're willing to pay a bit more to get a good all-natural softening cleanser.

Sugar Glow Face Scrub
The product is designed to be used just 2 or 3 times a week, but I honestly think it's gentle enough to use every day for those who like the feeling of squeaky clean and soft skin after a good scrub.  It's made with pomegranate seeds and pumpkin for the scrubbing action, and African red tea, vitamin c, and rose hips impart gentle antioxidant benefits to keep your skin healthy while exfoliating away the dead skin cells.  All and all, I think that this exfoliator is a great value.  There are some exfoliators that I prefer (like Kate Somersville's ExfoliKate), but this is the best one I've tried under $50.  It is $38 for a generous 3.5 ounce size.  It smells like citrus and honey, which is a nice bonus.

Feel the Difference Perfecting Mask
This is the single best mask I have EVER tried by a landslide.  It smells delectable (like orange cream or 50/50 bar, a common scent among Ole products), and it leaves my skin feeling as soft and smooth as a baby's bottom after just 10 minutes.  What's more, it's so gentle that even when I accidentally left it on way too long (upward of 20 minutes), it did not irritate my skin at all.  It's designed to boost oxygen flow to the skin, and it leaves the skin feeling slightly tingly, not in an annoying menthol way, but like a refreshing breeze kissing your face.  My skin feels so soft afterward.  I will definitely continue to use it 2-3 times a week.  For $35, it's a bargain.

Blue/Black Berry Enzyme Mask
 I alternated this mask with the Feel the Difference and found that it delivered amazing results as well.  This one is designed to calm sensitive skin.  Since my skin is not really that sensitive, I did not get that benefit.  But it smells of relaxing lavender, so I still enjoyed my 20 minutes of mask time.  My skin did feel smoother after using this mask, but for my dry skin, I prefer the moisturizing results of the Feel the Difference mask.  I would recommend this for anyone with sensitive skin though.  It was definitely a very very mild tingle and did not leave a touch of redness or irritation on my skin.

African Red Tea Face Mist
This is one of the Ole products I got in my travel-size kit I can live without.  It's a spray-on toner of sorts, but without the alcohol.  It contains the African red tea and pomegranate to deliver antioxidants to the skin, which is all fine and good, but I feel that serums are more effective for that purpose than a mist. 

Truth Serum Collagen Booster
I wanted to love this serum.  After all, it's from one of my very favorite skincare lines, it's loaded with vitamin C and many other antioxidants, and it's supposed to boost collagen production.  But I cannot attest to whether it works because I gave up on it after two uses.  It's simply way too sticky.  I was hoping that if I let it dry for a good 20 minutes before applying moisturizer, that would help.  But much to my dismay, it still made my skin feel very sticky to the touch, even after moisturizer.  Needless to say, this does not work with makeup at all.  Even as a nighttime-only option, I feel that there are better serums out there that don't make my skin feel so sticky so I'll pass on this one.

Express the Truth (night moisturizer)
I can not say enough good things about this moisturizer.  It is VERY hydrating for thirsty skin, it's loaded with cutting edge active ingredients like hyaluronic acid, peptides, antioxidants, and macadamia nut oil.  My skin smells amazing and edible when I put this on (my fiance can smell that fabulous orange-cream scent from across the room), and it feels so soft and hydrated.  And even though I was a bit weary about the macadamia nut oil, I have had zero breakouts or skin irritations after using this cream for a week.  This is simply a fantastic nourishing night cream, and at $65, I think it's reasonably priced for all the benefits.  Note that you can also use this cream during the day with a separate SPF. I just generally prefer to use moisturizers that already have an SPF in them during the day, which is why I consider this one a night cream.

Sheer Transformation (night moisturizer) 
This one is designed to help fade age spots and repair sun damage in general.  It also protects the skin from free-radical damage, which would make it best for a day moisturizer.  However, I used it at night because the other two moisturizers I was testing had SPF.  This moisturizer, as all the other Ole moisturizers, did make my skin feel silky soft.  Unfortunately, my little sample has not allowed me to use it long enough to see if it really reverses sun damage.  Overall, if sun damage if your concern, this would be a good choice in that price range ($45), but I do wish that it had an SPF so you don't have the added step of putting on sunscreen.  Estee Lauder's Daywear is comparable in benefits and it has an SPF, so overall, I would recommend that over Sheer Transformation.

Truth Revealed Super Creme SPF 15 (day moisturizer) 
I love love love this moisturizer.  It has that same orange cream scent in other Ole products, makes my skin feel like silk, and has awesome anti-aging benefits including fatty acids, antioxidants, and Omega 3.  It firms and tightens my skin without causing any discomfort.  It also has an SPF 15.  If it was SPF 30, this would be my dream day moisturizer.  But I think it's a great product and a bargain at $65.

Herbal Day Creme SPF 15 (day moisturizer) 
Another fabulous-smelling Ole product.  This one smells more herbal as the name suggests, but not too strong.  The ingredients include Grape Seed Oil, Soybean Extract, Chamomile, Vitamins A and E, and other magical active naturals to protect and soothe the skin.  Again, I wish it was SPF 30 rather than SPF 15, but it makes my skin feel amazing, gives it a healthy glow, and smells amazing.

Truth is in the Eyes (eye serum)
This is a serum that you are supposed to wear under an eye cream (after waiting for the serum to dry).  It does tighten, firm, and diminish wrinkles as promised.  It's also the first eye area exfoliator that I am aware of.  Usually, we don't exfoliate the delicate eye area.  But this serum acts as a very gentle peel to firm, lift, and exfoliate the eye area all at the same time.  Fair warning: it is a peel, so even if you put eye cream over it (as you absolutely should), it tends to peel underneath concealer and face makeup, so I see this as more of a nighttime eye treatment.  I like this product, and I do think it works.  I would not use it with a very expensive eye cream though because I feel like it creates a barrier that sucks up some of the eye cream's moisture but not necessarily all the other benefits.  To me, this is a 2-3 times a week treatment.

Visual Truth Eye Creme
This is an ok eye cream.  I don't love it, I don't hate it.  I just don't find it as impressive as many of the other Ole products I've tried.  It is very hydrating for dry skin around the eyes, but I haven't noticed any other major benefits (like helping with lines or dark circles).  I feel like this is a nice starter eye cream for teenage girls.  I'm starting to see some lines, so I'm looking to up the ante personally.  But this is a good one to use with the Truth is in the Eyes serum.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Dog Eat Dog Eyeshadow: Buxom Stay-There

Buxom (a Bare Escentuals derivative turned full cosmetics line) recently launched a new eyeshadow.  I'm not easily tempted by new eyeshadows since I'm very picky about texture, have pretty much every color I need, and I know the brands I like (MAC, Stila, and NARS).  However, this one promised something new, something different: an eyeshadow that actually stays put all day through sweat, tears, and rain.  And at the same time, an eyeshadow that is not quite a powder but not quite a cream.

Well, I took a chance and bought one of the eyeshadows (all named after dog breeds).  I tried Mutt, which is a lovely medium taupe shade with a bronze micro-shimmer (NOT glitter, which I hate since I am neither 14 nor Lady Gaga).  This shade is THE perfect shimmery taupe and it would easily suit any skintone.  I still can't figure out exactly what this shadow is, and the Buxom and Sephora web sites offer no clues except that it's formulated with Vitamin E.  It has a creamy/gel-like texture, but it is infinitely lighter and dryer than any cream eyeshadow I have ever tried.  Moreover, Buxom specifically says you can use it like a powder shadow with a dry brush.  Intriguing.  I'm determined to figure out what this stuff is.  But more important than what it is, is how well it works.  It goes on light and smooth and delivers a high payoff of color.  And unlike most cream shadows I've tried that promise not to crease and end up looking caked or greasy, it looks and feels light and airy on my skin, and it actually does stay all day.  I tested it out in New York humidity, and it survived a full day of heat, sweat, and even 20 minutes of waiting in a subway tunnel.  My eyeshadow was still in place at the end of the day. I only wish they had a greater color selection, but hey, it's new.

And for all you do-gooders out there, Buxom is making charitable contributions to Canine Companions with every purchase.

Sadly, ShopSense does not have a link to Buxom Stay-There to connect you directly to the shopping, so the picture above is not a link.  But you can find it exclusively at Sephora and www.sephora.com.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Style Icons: Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot was not only a fabulous French actress but also a fabulous style icon with enduring appeal.  This season, there have been countless fashion editorials paying homage to Bardot's elegant style, but her sultry makeup look is also imitable.

To create Bardot's look, start with flawlessly matte skin.  A good makeup primer that both smooths and mattifies like L'Oreal's Studio Secrets Magic Perfecting Base.  I like a matte finish foundation like a mineral powder or a liquid foundation with a matte finish.  If your foundation tends to be more dewy, just make sure to sweep some pressed powder across the face to get that matte finish.  Then sweep a soft layer of a sheer brighter tone blush across the apples of the cheeks.  I love a fabulous sheer fuchsia blush like NARS Mata Hari or a bright but sheer coral rose shade like NARS Taos. 

Next, groom the brows.  Bardot had that stronger full brow that is hot this season.  If your brows are sparse, use an angled brush with some powder brow filler like Anastasia's Brow Powder Duo.  The powder brow fillers are much softer and natural-looking than pencils.  Then apply a good eyeshadow primer to the entire lid and brow bone.  I like Benefit's Stay Don't Stray because it has more of a neutral cast and a nice liquid texture that doesn't feel too heavy or cakey.  Kat Von D also makes a good one, which has a slightly warmer cast.

Next use a big fluffy shadow brush to apply a matte light beige eyeshadow about one shade darker than your natural skintone.  For fair to medium complexions, Stila Dune is perfect.  Apply and blend the shadow from the lashline to the brow.  Next, you need another matte beige/taupe eyeshadow about another shade darker than your base for your contrast shade.  The key here is to keep the overall look very light.  Stila Puppy is a good one.  Then use a small stiff angled lining brush to line beneath the eye 3/4 around (just at the end of the iris is perfect) with a dark matte brown shade.  I suggest something in a warmer brown with some reddish undertones like NARS New York if you happen to have it, but sadly they don't make it anymore.  Illamasqua's Jules eyeshadow is very similar, and it has a rich velvety texture similar to NARS eyeshadows.  Use your brush to blend your line slightly to make it soft and smoky.

Next use a very thin and small liquid liner brush like MAC's #210 Precise Eye Liner Brush to apply a this black line of a gel eyeliner like Stila's Smudge Pot or MAC's Fluidline.  If you're squeamish about using black, then charcoal is a nice softer choice.  Using the small brush and pot of gel liner will be much easier to control than a traditional liquid liner, especially because you have control of how much product you put on the brush at once.  I suggest using a very tiny bit of gel at a time and connect the dots along the lash line instead of trying to create one straight line, which is almost impossible.  Bardot typically wore eyeliner in medium thickness with a slight curved wing at the corner.  The trick to doing the wing and making it look flawless and modern is to start with you brush slightly extended out and upward form the corner of the eye and draw the brush inward rather than outward.  It's much easier.  Also, if you can anchor your elbow against the mirror while you're applying liner, you'll have a steadier hand.  Finish with a good volumizing mascara.  Fusion Beauty's LashFusion XL is a good volumizing mascara that won't clump.

Finish your look with a matte honey/caramel lipstick.  First, line the lips with a nude lipliner like Hourglass Trace Lip Liner in Bare.  For warmer skintones like Bardot's, a medium caramel like MAKE UP FOR EVER's Rouge Artist Intense lipstick in #25 (satin caramel)  is perfect.  For cooler skintones, a more pinkish medium honey shade like NARS Blonde Venus is lovely.  And voila! 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Scent of a Woman's Products

I love trying new products.  And one of the biggest factors for me in deciding whether to buy a product is its scent.  Of course, I care about whether the product does what it says it will, but when something is on your face that close to the nostrils, certainly product aromas matter.  Here are some of the best and worst smelling products I've run across as well as reviews of their other vices and virtues.

The Worst

Perricone MD Cold Plasma Eye Cream
I was so excited to try this eye cream, which was praised by all the magazines as the ultimate eye cream for hydration, smoothness, and combating dark circles, puffiness, and fine lines: a true multi-tasker.  Since this miracle in a jar doesn't come cheap, I sought out a sample from the friendly staff at Sephora.  I eagerly cracked open my sample jar when I got home and applied.  The first thing I noticed was a slightly medicinal and marine smell, but as it dried the "marine" scent went from slightly sea-air to all out dead fish.  I thought that it would fade as it dried, but instead, it just got worse and more potent.  I could still smell it several hours later.  The final straw was that my fiance noticed it when he kissed me and commented on how bad my face smelled.  At that point, I gave up and washed it off.  But in fairness to the product, before I washed my face, I have to admit that my eye area looked noticeably smoother and brighter, and it felt soft and hydrated to the touch.  So the eye cream does work.  I went to sephora.com to read other user reviews to see if people encountered the same problem, and it was a mixed bag.  About half complained about the scent and the other half seemed to think it wasn't that bad.  Even though the eye cream gave great results, I'm not willing to suffer through smelling like day-old sushi.  I normally love Dr. Perricone products, but this one is definitely in my no-fly zone.

Pangea Organics Japanese Matcha Tea with Acai & Goji Berry Facial Mask
Besides being a mouthful, this mask is formulated with the hottest superberry: acai.  I guess it was only a matter of time before this antioxidant-laden berry made its way from our smoothies to our skincare products.  I'm a big fan of Pangea, a brand whose products boast "free of" lists that are longer than the ingredients lists, a sure sign of a true organic skincare line.  Their moisturizers, balancing oil, and eye cream are all fabulous organic products.  But this mask was a big disappointment.  Aside from the unattractive shade of brownish green, which is difficult to pinpoint without making a direct references to diapers, the first thing that I noticed about this mask was its potent smell.  Again, difficult to pinpoint, but it's something of a combination of rotting wood and wet dog.  And the scent is potent too, I tried to be a good sport and leave the sample on my face for the full 20 minutes, but I just couldn't take it.  Rinsing it off was something of an experience too, since it clung to my skin and would not come off with water and my fingertips, so I had to spoil my white washcloth with that horrid shade of acid green/brown.  I can only hope it will come out it the laundry.  This mask was very exfoliating, and my skin did feel smooth afterward, although I think I had a reaction to something in it since I woke up with several irritated-skin bumps the next morning.  Needless to say, I won't be trying this product again, and it gets the award for the most disgusting-smelling thing I have ever put on my face.  Consider yourself warned.

Shiseido Bio-Performance Advanced Super Revitalizer Cream
This moisturizer is lightweight, hydrating, and rich with antioxidants and other good-for-the-skin ingredients.  So what could be so bad?  Well, this one make the list not because it's unbearable like the previous two, but simply because it has that "old lady strong perfume" smell that all cosmetics used to have, and frankly, went out with the 80's.  In this time when there are so many ingredients (including and especially natural ingredients) that cosmetics companies can use to make products smell good or at least smell neutral, there is really no excuse for this heavy perfumey scent is so strong and unnatural that I can only assume that it was deliberately added to the product.  Why, I can't begin to fathom.

The Best

Super by Perricone Hyper Hydrator with Coconut Water
Perricone both made by top and worst list.  Super is a new line by Perricone that is marketed toward a younger, hipper, and more eco-friendly consumer.  But its products are simple and great for men and women of all ages.  I should note that even though this line is loaded with superfoods (hence, the name) and is formulated without a lot of the ingredients that natural-cosmetics connoisseurs avoid (phthalates, sulfates, parabens, etc.), it is not a truly natural line.  It is however cruelty-free (no animal testing and no animal byproducts) and the packaging is made with recycled and recyclable products at a low-carbon footprint factory.  With all that said, the Hyper Hydrator is a good and very hydrating moisturizer.  It leaves the skin feeling soft and moisturized yet non-greasy, and it has the light refreshing but very soft scent of genuine coconut water.  My soon-to-be sister-in-law recently introduced Josh and I to coconut water when we visited her in New York, just like coconut water works quickly and effectively to quench your thirst, this moisturizer makes my skin feel instantly hydrated without leaving it greasy as many moisturizers do.  And the scent is both light and delightful.  At $40, it's a reasonably-priced moisturizer too.

Ole Henriksen Truth Revealed Super Creme SPF 15
This is a fantastic day moisturizer, formulated with repairing ingredients like Omega 3 and other antioxidants, makes my skin glow while protecting it from sun damage.   Although it does feel a bit sticky at first, once it dried, my skin feels silky-soft and amazing.  Best of all, it smells like a 50/50 bar, a light creamy orange scent.  It doesn't get much better than this for yummy-smelling and feeling skin.  The anti-aging benefits are just a bonus.

Korres Raspberry Antioxidant Liquid Lipstick
So so many of the Korres homeopathic products smell heavenly that it's hard to pick just one for my list.  It's my favorite of the "active-naturals" cosmetics lines.  The products are great quality and they simply do what they say.  I've never met a Korres product I didn't like.  That said, their antioxidant liquid lipstick is AMAZING.  I can't say enough good things about it.  It has the color potency and coverage of a lipstick but it feels like a gloss and moisturizers my lips like a balm.  I only wish they made more colors.  But it's new, so I have high hopes.  It also smooths the lines on your lips, making them look younger and fuller, and it gives a nice cooling sensation.  I only have the Berry shade so far, but I'm thinking of getting the Natural, which is a gorgeous nude-pink.  As a bonus, it smells absolutely edible, like berry-vanilla ice cream.  Incidentally, it tastes like that too, which is nice because even though I hate to think about, the average woman consumes about 6 pounds of lipstick in her lifetime.  Disturbing, yes, but we may as well consume pleasant smelling/tasting lipstick. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trend Alert: Who's the Fairest?

The hotly-anticipated Venomous Villains line is coming to a MAC counter near you very soon, September 30 to be exact.  This is the fabulous Fall collection inspired by Disney's greatest (and most fabulously made up) villains.  I have it on good authority that MAC will be taking presales this coming week, so get there early because the good stuff (especially the two pigments) will go fast. 

The line up of fabulous villainesses includes Maleficent, the unnamed but well-groomed Evil Queen from "Snow White," and Cruella De Vil.  Noticeably absent is Ursula from "The Little Mermaid."  As I recall, she rocked a killer magenta-red lipstick. These evil divas may have been deranged, but they were also quite the fashionistas, which probably explains the immense popularity and interest surrounding this MAC collection.  So get to your local MAC counter soon to secure your presale.  It's wicked hot.

Back to School: A B Vitamin C's of Skincare

After an extended hiatus from blogging (summer vacay, catching up on work before and after vacay, and birthdays), I'm back!  And in spirit of the back to school season, I thought it would be fitting to do a little educational post on the skincare benefits of Vitamin C.  But first, here's a little guide to some of the skincare products I've been trying and trying to find lately, all of which I'll be blogging about as I try products.

I'm on the lookout for the best of the best products to update my skincare regimen.  Here's what I'm trying to find.  And if you readers out there have any favorites to suggest that I try, please let me know.

  • A creamy eye cream for day that combats dark circles and works under my eye makeup and undereye concealer (many eye creams make the undereye concealer run or crepe)
  • A Vitamin C serum for day that does not feel sticky and works underneath makeup 
  • A lightweight day moisturizer with a high SPF (30 or better)
  • An eye cream for night that combats fine lines and firms the eye area
  • A hydrating serum for night that firms skin and combats lines and hyper-pigmentation
  • A hydrating night moisturizer with anti-aging benefits
  • A spot treatment for hyper-pigmentation (sun spots)
  • A spot treatment for occasional breakouts that works quickly and effectively  
  • A weekly glycolic peel
  • A weekly moisturizing mask
First up for discussion: Vitamin C serums.  Until very recently, Vitamin C molecules were too large and unstable to be applied directly to the skin and would not penetrate the skin deeply enough to make any visible difference.  Now, thanks to skincare research geniuses, "they" have devised a way to break down the Vitamin C molecules and transport it deep below the skin's surface.  The result is serums that brighten the skin, combat sun spots, prevent sun damage, firm and boost collagen production, and increase cell renewal.  The increased cell turnover makes your skin more radiant, reduces pore size, and both prevents and corrects wrinkles.  If it sounds like a miracle serum, that's because it is.

To get the the maximum benefit, you want to use it just once a day during the a.m. only.  And you MUST use it with sunscreen of at least SPF 30 if you're just driving and outside for a few minutes here and there, and a higher SPF if you're in the sun for any extended period of time.  The SPF is essential because while the Vitamin C helps prevent and treat hyper-pigmentation, it also makes your skin more vulnerable to sun damage if you don't wear an SPF because of the increased cell turnover.  With that caveat out of the way, I give you the three Vitamin C serums I've tried to date and my thoughts:

Ole Henriksen Truth Serum
Ole Henriksen is one of the latest and greatest active naturals skincare lines.  It combines science with homeopathy for a truly great skincare line, free of harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, and sulfates.  This particular serum features 10% Vitamin C for the anti-aging benefits together with Vitamin E for hydration and other active naturals like green tea and grapefruit extracts.  The result is a serum that smells great, smooths the skin, and gives the complexion a radiant glow.  Overall, my skin looked healthier after about a week of consistent use.  On the downside, it's a little sticky, which does not work well underneath makeup.  I like the results of this serum, but I really want to find a Vitamin C serum that wears well underneath makeup since it's a daytime serum.

Murad Active Radiance Serum
This serum contains Vitamin C, AHA, and Myrtle extract to help improve the skin's texture and radiance, as well as to treat and prevent sun spots.  This serum is supposed to boost collagen production and guard the skin against damage from free radicals.  My skin definitely felt smoother to the touch and looked more radiant immediately after using the serum.  After a few days of consistent daily use (remember, use Vitamin C serums just once a day, a.m. only), my skin's texture and skin tone were noticeably improved.  This serum is not as sticky as the Truth Serum, but it's still a bit on the sticky side.  Not so much that I would be dissuaded if it was a serum that I could use at night, but since I wear makeup regularly, and the stickiness doesn't disappear even after 15 minutes or so, it's not the best choice for me.  I did try it once on a non-makeup day and after I let it dry for a good 20 minutes and then applied moisturizer and let that dry, my skin felt soft and non-sticky to the touch after another hour or so.  I did not attempt to apply makeup over it, but I think that if I had, it would have been alright. It's just quite a long wait before my skin is makeup-safe and not getting tacky clumps of makeup on my face (not a good look).  Overall, I like this serum and its effects very well.  I am just determined that there is another makeup-friendly Vitamin C serum out there.

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
This Vitamin C serum came highly recommended from my aestheticism, who offered me a sample.  I later learned that it's a three-time Allure Magazine best serum winner.  It's easy to see why.  This serum combines a very potent formulation of Vitamin C in the form of 15% pure L-ascorbic acid with the hydrating and reparative benefits of Vitamin E.  It has all the same antioxidant benefits as the other Vitamin C serums, but in a more aggressive dosage of Vitamin C, and with ferulic acid and Vitamin E for extra antioxidant power.  This serum feels like it's quenching the skin's thirst while leaving it soft and bright, not at all greasy and thankfully, not sticky.  Makeup goes on smoothly.  I suppose it was inevitable that the best Vitamin C serum I've tried to date would be about twice the price of the other two.  And yes, you get what you pay for in SkinCeuticals products, their quality is unrivaled.  However, as $141, it's still far more expensive than any other skincare product I've ever purchased.

I'm still milking my deluxe sample for now and using very sparingly.  I'm hoping to find another serum that works as well, but if I can't, here is my plan and some tips for you readers who might consider this purchase: you can get SkinCeuticals products on www.spalook.com, which is always on ebates (usually around 5-10% cash back -- check out ebates for Sephora and ULTA cash back as well -- http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=zblRc6RSUiGkpTMojoGM1g%3D%3D). Additionally, Spalook virtually always has coupon codes going to get $25 off of a $100 purchase or $50 off of $200 or 20% off or something like that.  Look for them in a general google search, although the codes are often on the main page of Spalook itself.  Further, SkinCeuticals does sell this serum in discounted kits with other full-sized serums, saving you some money collectively.  Finally, Spalook often has gifts with purchase for SkinCeuticals.

So, yes, I am considering making this obscene purchase given the aforementioned discounts and promos.  Vitamin C serums are the holy grail of anti-aging serums right now.  And the beauty of them is that they are ideal for women in my age group (20 and 30-somethings) looking to correct some early sun damage and prevent any further damage.  And the SkinCeuticals has been praised as the best of the best, so it is probably worth the investment.  Being the bargain huntress that I am, I am still going to hunt down samples and trial sizes of other Vitamin C serums and see if I can't find a better deal.  But at the end of the day, this is probably the single most important category of skincare product that I can buy for my skin, so I may just have to cut cost-corners elsewhere.  I will keep you posted on any other worthwhile Vitamin C serums I find.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Is Your Perfume Poisoning You?

Sometimes it takes the FDA years to catch up with the constant developments in cosmetics, and often, other countries ban the use of certain ingredients before we do.  Most of the ingredients on the danger list in Europe are not common in over-the-counter products (they're more common in injectable treatments you would get at a dermatologist's or plastic surgeon's office).  But frighteningly, one of those ingredients is quite common in perfumes and nail polishes to help them last longer: phthalates.  There are many different types of phthalates, and studies have linked all of them to cancer, liver damage, and reproductive harm.  The CDC recently found that five percent of all American women between the ages of 20 and 40 had 44 times more phthalates stored in their body than they should.  That is because phthalates accumulate and are stored in the tissues. 

In Europe, there is a ban on selling cosmetics that contain the phthalates DEHP and DBP, which has been in effect since 2003.  These are both legal to use in cosmetics in the United States.  However, some fragrance manufacturers still use another potentially harmful phthalate, DEP, which is currently legal for use in cosmetics in both the United States and Europe.  Interestingly, the U.S. has laws banning the use of phthalates in children's toys, but not cosmetics and fragrances. 

The lesson here is that we need to be educated consumers and do a little homework before we buy instead of assuming that just because it's available over the counter, it's safe.  You can start by checking the labels and look for phthalates, but since the U.S. does not even require fragrance companies to list phthalates on their ingredient lists, the best way to find out for sure is to directly ask the manufacturer.  I have an email in to Jo Malone right now in this issue since I use their fragrances, and I will post an update on this thread once I hear back. 

I'm also looking into OPI nail polish and LUSH Cosmetics' fragrances.  By all indication from the web page, the LUSH fragrances are safe and mostly natural but I'd like to get confirmation from the company.  Many of their fragrences are vegan as well, including the lovely Vanillary, which has an intoxicating but very light blend of vanilla, tonka absolute, and jasmine absolute. It's one of my all-time favorites scents, slightly sweet but much more sophisticated than the vanilla stuff we wore in junior high.  The jasmine and tonka give it some edge without making it too floral.

Another way to buy safe fragrances without doing extensive research is to buy European.  If the fragrance is manufactured in the E.U., then you can assume it doesn't have DEHP and DBP because of the E.U. regulations.  Remember that just because the brand is European, it doesn't automatically mean it's manufactured there.  Check the label and/or web site for manufacturing information.  Also, keep in mind that DEP is still used by some manufacturers there since it's not regulated yet.  DEP is not necessarily a carcinogen like the other phthalates, but there are studies linking it to reproductive harm. 

Spritz safely!

Get Buzzed!

Most people are familiar with Burt's Bees lip balm (the classic soothing balm is made with beeswax and honey, but there are other variations available now), but fewer have taken advantage of their wide range of natural homeopathic products.  You can find Burt's online at www.burtsbees.com and many other online retailers, but it's also commonly found at your neighborhood drugstore and Whole Foods.  Here are a few of my faves from Burt's:

Hand Salve:
This is one of the most universal and useful of Burt's products.  Although it's obvious use is as a salve for dry, rough, or cracked hands, I find it's also a universal salve for any dry patches.  It's particularly useful for knees, elbows, and heels.

Lemon Butter Cuticle Creme:
This is a really nice softening butter for the cuticles.  It's made with lemon oil, so it smells like fresh citrus, and it also has cocoa butter and vitamin E to moisturize those dry nail-beds.  It's also great to use around the toenails, particularly during sandal season, to keep your pedicure looking fresh.

Beeswax and Banana Hand Creme:
To be honest, I don't find that this one moisturizes and better than any other hand cream, but it smells delicious.  And the scent lasts throughout the day without being overwhelming.  The moisture stays with you pretty well too, although you do have to reapply after washing your hands like many hand creams.

Aloe and Buttermilk Body Lotion:
This one is fantastic after you get a sunburn.  Aloe is the best way to soothe and heal burned and blistered skin, but that green sticky formulation stains your clothes and doesn't smell that great.  This one still has that aloe scent, but it's much much softer than the green gels, and it's not sticky.  The buttermilk is another great natural remedy for irritated and burned skin, so the two ingredients working together in a softening lotion will have your skin feeling better in no time.

You can get a kit with trial sizes of all of the above plus more great Burt's Bees items for $13 at most drugstores, including their online counterparts and www.drugstore.com.  It's a great way to check out the brand.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Home Cookin: An Aspirin a Day

For the occasional blemish, here's a recipe for a quick homemade paste that will calm redness and swelling quickly.  Take a non-coated aspirin (or two baby aspirins), crush it with the back of a spoon or chop it with a knife, and then mix in a bit of water to form a paste. Apply to the affected area and leave on for about 15-20 minutes before washing with warm water and a washcloth.  This makes a great spot treatment, and it actually helps kill the bacteria to keep it from spreading and causing a full-fledged breakout.  It's a great quick-fix, and it's less drying than most store-bought spot treatments (and much more cost-effective too!).

You can also use aspirin to make a great purifying mask.  It will help clean and minimize pores, and it makes dull dry skin soft and luminous.  For the mask, take four non-coated aspirin tablets, crush or chop, add a few drops of water, and blend with a honey to form a paste.  Usually, about a 1/2 teaspoon of honey does the trick but add more if it looks dry or doesn't spread easily.  Apply to the full face (avoiding the eye area, just like any mask), and leave it on for about 10-15 minutes.  Then rinse the face with warm water.

Friday, August 6, 2010

7 Days of Nude

In my quest to find the best of the best of skincare, I decided to try a week's worth of products by U.K. skincare line, Nude.  As you might suspect from the name of the line, this line is focused on bio-compatible and organic ingredients as well as recyclable packaging and fair trade sourcing (a cosmetics line first as far as I've heard).  The line uses a lot of pre- and probiotics and exotic botanical ingredients.  Their non-ingredient list is almost as exciting as their ingredient list.  I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that Nude's products are free of nearly all of the questionable stuff common in most skincare and makeup products: parabens, sulphates, DEA, and potential carcinogens to name a few.  Since I dig eco-friendly and good-for-you cosmetics lines, I was excited to give Nude a whirl.  If you're interested in trying Nude skincare before you buy, check out their Skincare Selections box exclusively on sephora.com for $18.  It's a great way to test-drive the products before you invest.  Here's what I tried:

Cleansing Facial Oil
I'll preface this with saying that I am a drugstore-cleanser girl.  I've just never understood why you would want to spend a lot of money on cleanser when there are so many great drugstore options like Cetaphil.  That said, this is by far the best and most moisturizing cleanser I've ever tried.  I'm still not sure if it's worth the hefty $36 price-tag, but I'd consider it.  It's interesting in texture because it's an oil that turns into a milky lightweight cream when you apply it to wet skin.  It smells fantastic.  I can't pinpoint the scent exactly, but it's light and fresh and very botanical-smelling.  Besides that minor detail, it feels like you're not just cleansing your skin, but nourishing it as well.  It has Omega 3 essential oils and vitamin E, which leave the skin feeling soft but clean, almost like you've cleansed and moisturized in one step.  Now you still need to use a moisturizer, but I'm very impressed that this cleans as well as it does without stripping the skin.  It even got off my liquid eyeliner without irritating the eye area.  Usually the "moisturizing" or "gentle" cleansers don't feel like they clean that well.  Overall, I'm still a little hung up on the price, but I think that I would consider it a few years down the road if my skin continues to dry out (as it seems to do each year).  This is definitely a godsend for dry skin, although I think it's suitable for normal and combination skin as well.

Miracle Mask
This is supposed to be a once-weekly mask, but I got a large supply so I decided to use it twice during my week-long experiment.  Honestly, this mask is so gentle, you could probably use it every day if you so desired.  It's a 5 minute mask, and it's supposed to firm and brighten the skin while increasing collagen production.   I did feel like my skin looked more luminous and even-toned after each use.  I'm not sure that it really helped with firmness or lines, but perhaps over a longer period of consistent use, it would be good.  Overall though, this is a gentle mask that does make your skin glow and eliminate redness/unevenness.  Again, it's a high price to pay at $62, but still a really solid product.

Advanced Eye Complex
As far as I'm concerned, the eye cream was the weak link in the Nude line.  It was difficult to blend in to the skin, and even though it eventually absorbed, it felt a bit tacky at first.  Now once it absorbed after a few minutes, it left my eye area feeling silky soft.  And it seemed to help reflect light to make the eye area look luminous and minimize dark circles.  But I didn't feel like it helped enough with firming and minimizing lines.  And at $88 for half an ounce, frankly, I expected it to do more for me.  After a week of use, my eye area felt very soft and soothed but I don't think it dramatically improved the look of the eye area.  It has some good ingredients like antioxidants and acacia, but I just don't feel like the results are worth the price.

Age Defense Moisturizer
This moisturizer feels very good on the skin.  It's softening and hydrating without leaving the skin feeling greasy or sticky.  I did feel like my skin felt a bit firmer and much more hydrated after a week of use. The long-term clinical results over a 6-week study showed some impressive anti-wrinkle results too.  My only complaint (besides the price, again) is that the smell is a bit overpowering at first.  It's not bad, just strong.  It smells very botanical, like some sort of tree.  It's not an unpleasant smell, but it's definitely noticeable while you're applying and for a few minutes before it absorbs.  It wouldn't dissuade me from using it, but I know some people are very sensitive to strong scents in cosmetics.  I don't think it's an added fragrance.  If I had to guess, I'd say it's probably from the combination of Cupuacu, Manketti, and orchid flower oils.  Overall, I liked the moisturizer and felt like it was the best-priced item in relationship to the quality of the product at $78.

Shine On: The Latest Glossing Cream for Hair

I recently scored a deluxe sample of Oscar Blandi's Pronto Gloss.  Blandi is a big name in hairstyling and luxe hair products alike, and even though I tend to prefer drugstore hair products, I've heard good things about this glossing cream.  It's supposed to smooth frizz and flyaway strands while giving that perfect magazine-woman sheen without weighing down the hair.  The directions say you can use it on either damp or dry hair. 

I used it on damp hair before blow-drying, and I must say, it delivered on the light-weight non-sticky texture.  I didn't feel like I had a ton of product in my hair (hate that feeling).  After blow-drying, I noticed my hair was definitely smoother than normal, but I still had a bit of frizz that had to be smoothed with a flat iron.  The best part of this product was definitely the added shine.  I have color-treated hair, and this cream left it looking glossy and fresh like it looks right after a fresh coloring.  It also felt very soft and silky.  It's a bit pricey at $19 for 4.2 oz, but a little goes a long way so it might be worth it.  I do wish that it gave you more anti-frizz bang for the buck, but considering it's truly weightless and left my hair feeling and looking more healthy and shiny, it's definitely a product worth buying.

Styling Products by Ulta at ShopStyle

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Kids on the Block

New makeup and skincare lines are popping up all the time.  Some go far and some fizzle quickly, but for you product-junkies out there looking for the next big thing, I thought I'd do a quick wrap-up of what's new.


What It's About:
This line is all about old-Hollywood glamour and luxury.  It does good-quality products with high-impact color.  Best feature?  The line is dedicated to paraben-free products, and most of the products are fragrance-free as well.  Downside?  The expense, luxury doesn't come cheap in this line.  It may be expensive, but Hourglass doesn't make a bad product.  You can certainly find products that are as good or better for less, but you know if it's got the Hourglass name on it, it's going to be solid and high-quality.

Who It's For:  
The woman who loves quality and predictable excellence.  You may be paying $26 for a lipgloss, but you know you're getting a moisturizing, non-sticky, pricey-ingredient-list lipgloss. 

What to Buy:
I'm a fan of the aforementioned $26 lipgloss.  I only have one shade, in part because of the expense and in part because of the limited selection.  Nevertheless, it's a good every-day shade, a medium peach-nude.  The best thing about this lipgloss is the moisturizing Vitamin E formula.  It's very silky and lightweight, and it leaves your lips feeling soft and hydrated for hours.

The Veil Mineral Primer is another standout product.  It's not cheap at $52 for an ounce, but it has SPF 15 and it leaves your skin feeling smooth and looking pore-free.  It also absorbs this excess oil in the skin, so you get a perfectly matte but still luminous base for applying makeup.  This is one of the best primers, if not the best, I've tried.  You can read more about it in my Prime Time article.

Where to Buy: 
Right now, Hourglass is available at Sephora stores and on their web site.  It's also available at www.hourglasscosmetics.com and www.dermstore.com


What It's About:
Buxom is a playful offshoot of Bare Escentuals.  It started as part of the Bare Escentuals line with a plumping lipgloss called the Big and Healthy Lip Polish.  From there, the line has expanded to include a plumping lipstick, lip balm, mascara, eyeshadow, and eyeliner.  And it's constantly growing.  Best feature?  Color selection.  There is truly something for everyone.  Downside?  VERY sticky lipgloss.

Who It's For:
The woman who loves bright colors and kitsch.  Buxom is full of kitsch from the scantily-clad Buxom characters who appear on the packaging to the creative marketing, including salacious stories about the Buxom girls' adventures.  (I recently bought the "Laura Does London" gift-set just because it boasted my name, so I guess I fell into the kitschy marketing gimmick).

What to Buy:
I'm just not a fan of the Big and Healthy Lip Polish.  I wanted to like it, and I particularly wanted to like the shade with my namesake, but it's just not working for me so back to the store it goes.  Even though I think that the colors are great, the names and packaging are cute, and the menthol-induced tingly plumping action is bearable, I just don't like the formula.  It's far too sticky.  Let's face it: it's silly to be walking around with sticky lips just because the package has a cute little cartoon character with your name in a pin-up costume.  So the lipgloss for me is more of a "what not to buy."

The lipstick on the other hand is a winner.  It gives a creamy matte finish, and it comes in a slender package, sort of half-way in shape and size between a lipstick and a lipliner.  And in fact, it does both.  It also comes with a detachable sharpener on the other end so that you can keep the tip sharp to line and then fill in the lips.  It gives the same menthol-plumping action of the lip polish (great as long as you don't mind a lot of minty tingle but not the best plumper I've ever tried.  The real benefit of the lipstick is not so much the plumping, but the smooth creamy staying power.  It's formulated with vitamins A, C, and E, so it leaves your lips feeling soft.  Also, a light application gives you a powerful punch of color, particularly in the bright shades.  I tried Monte Carlo, a bright fuchsia-magenta shade, and I loved it.  This is actually a very wearable shade for most-every skintone (I'm fair with auburn hair and green eyes), but I think it would look particularly amazing on medium tanned-to-olive skin.  I'm dying to try it on my lovely Lebanese friend.  She has warm medium-golden skin, and I think this shade would look amazing on her.

The Buxom eyeshadow is also surprisingly good.  It's very silky and lightweight in texture.  It blends easily and stays well without creasing.  This is a new product for Buxom and it's still very limited in shade-selection, but I'm hoping it will expand because this has a very similar texture to NARS eyeshadow, but it's less expensive at $17.

Where to Buy:
Right now, you can find the full collection of Buxom products at Sephora exclusively, but the Bare Escentuals and ULTA web sites also have a limited selection of the lipglosses.

Josie Maran

What It's About:
Josie Maran is all about eco-friendly, organic, recyclable, and biodegradable packaging and products.  The entire line of skincare and cosmetics is green, nontoxic, and free of animal-testing.

Who It's For:
The environmentally-conscious eco-chic woman who wants simple, high-quality products.  All the products are made with high-quality organic ingredients, most famously, Argan oil, which is a famous beauty-secret for literally everything from skin to fingernails to hair to eyelashes.

What to Buy:
Definitely get at least a little bottle of the Argan Oil to try it.  A half-ounce is only $14, and it's a great introduction to the line as Argan Oil is a star ingredient in almost all of Maran's products.  But it's also a great cure-all on its own.  It's rich in antioxidants and good-for-you fatty acids.  It's an all-in-one skin treatment and moisturizer.  It's great and very gentle around the eyes.  It helps with fine lines and firming, but it also nourishes dry skin.  I love to rub a tiny bit into the ends of my hair after washing and before drying to moisturize and ward off split ends.  You can also use it pretty much anywhere that could use some softening and hyrdration, especially the nailbeds and lips.

I'm also a fan of the mascara.  It has the Argan oil, and it also has jojoba oil, which nourish the lashes to prevent lash-fallout.  If you tend to lose lashes when you remove your mascara, this one's for you.  It's a lash treatment in addition to being a good basic mascara.  The wand is nothing fancy, just simple and classic, but it gives good clean coverage and lengthening without clumping.  This is no revolution in mascara, but it's gentle and good for the lashes, and of course, eco-friendly.

Sephora also has a great introductory Josie Maran kit with a small Argan Oil, a full-size mascara, a full-size eyeliner, a full-size lipgloss, and a cream blush for a great price, $24, which is how I got acquainted with the line.  I have a link to the kit below.

Where to Buy:
You can find Josie Maran products at www.josiemarancosmetics.com, and of course, Sephora.


What It's About:
This U.K. brand was designed to be an edgy nighttime line, inspired by 1920's Berlin nightclubs.  The colors are highly-pigmented and dramatic.  It's a high-quality and long-lasting color makeup line, meaning no skincare.  If I was Lady Gaga's makeup artist, I'd use this line.  Best feature?  Quality product in sleek and chic packaging.  Downside?  Limited color-selection for the faint of heart, many of the shades are highly pigmented, dark, bright, or some combination thereof.  Then again, this is only a downside for me because I'm fair-skinned and work in a conservative office environment.  This would be a definite plus for many women of color who feel washed out in standard-fare lipsticks. 

Who It's For:
The edgy, trendy makeup connoisseur.  Also excellent for the woman of color who is looking for a selection of highly-pigmented brighter/darker lipsticks and eyeshadows that don't wash her out.  But even though many of the colors are daring, Illamasqua makes one of my favorite day-time lipsticks as well. 

What to Buy:
Definitely get one of the lipsticks.  They're all matte in formula and very rich in pigment.  They go on smooth and creamy and they stay put all day.  Illamasqua has some truly gorgeous bright reds, magentas, oranges, eggplants, and even a black lipstick (not my cup of tea, but certainly hard to find for those in need of a black lipstick).  For daytime, I love Scandal, a pretty medium-toned warm coral-pink.  For a bit more evening drama, I think that Illamasqua makes two of the best of-the-moment orange-red lipsticks, Blaze (a true matte tangerine) and Ignite (a more reddish orange).

Check out Illamasqua's Liquid Metal eyeshadows is you like metallics on the eye. They're a light-as-air whipped cream in highly-pigmented metallic colors.  It blends easily and stays well without creasing.  It also makes a great base for other powder eyeshadow shades if you just want to add some soft shimmer that glows underneath your eyeshadow and helps it to stay in place all day.  I tend to wear more matte eye-shades than shimmer or metallic, so I'd love it if they brought out this formula for matte eyeshadow shades. 

Where to Buy:
You can find Illamasqua at Sephora and www.illamasqua.com

Makeup Don't: Shimmery Beige Lipstick/Gloss

This is one of my personal pet peeves, and I remember it being big in the grungy 90's era of my junior high days, but it seems that it has made a BIG comeback lately: shimmery beige-tan lipstick and/or gloss.  It's particularly bad on women with tanned skin, where the lip color blends in with the skintone, creating a washed out effect.  Tragically, this lip color has become popular among many Hollywood actresses who are self-proclaimed "cougars."  Many women in the general populace have followed suit, and the result is not good.  

It's not that shimmery beige lipstick doesn't have its place, it does.  Depending one one's own skintone and the undertones of the lipstick itself (some are more cool/pink based and others are more warm/yellow based), a golden-toned beige can be a very nice shade on African American women (particularly with medium skintones, like Oprah) and on the other end of the spectrum, very pale but golden skintones and light hair color, as seen with many natural blonds (think Renee Zellweger).  And even then, it looks better in a creamy formula than a shimmery formula.  However, as a general rule, beige lipstick (especially shimmery beige) is the most unnatural looking lip color.  And it looks terrible on women with tanned skin.  It is much better to go with a sheer pink, berry, plum, coral, or something with at least a hint of color similar to the natural lip than a beige/tan/light brown shade.  And shimmer just adds a layer of unsophistication to an already unflattering lipcolor.  I don't tend to like shimmery lipsticks and glosses in general because they tend to look dated, but with beige or tan, it looks particularly unattractive. 

Although there are many many Hollywood offenders, I offer for your consideration Teri Hatcher and Lisa Rinna, two beautiful forty-something actresses that have an unfortunate tendency to over-tan and wear a coordinating beige-tan lipstick that blends in with their skin. To her credit, Hatcher is not tanning in the photograph below, but note that the beige lipstick still looks awful.

Yet when these same women wear a more natural and flattering pink or berry shade, they look so much better (and alive!).

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Runway Alert: Natural and Fresh

The so-called "natural" look is always a runway favorite for Summer. It's hot and balmy, so who wants colorful eye makeup melting all over the place? But often this look requires more product and precision than the more dramatic looks like the smoky eye. The runway makeup artists NEVER send a model down the runway with just some moisturizer and chap-stick. People look at these models and think that they must just be naturally perfect, and though they are admittedly gorgeous women, even they need a lot of prep to look "naturally" perfect. Case in point was the Spring 2010 Gucci show. Famed runway makeup artist Pat McGrath did the girls' makeup for the show.

Here's how you can recreate this look at home:  Start with a good mattifying foundation primer like one of the ones I suggest in my Prime Time article (Korres, Smashbox, Arbonne, Loreal, and Hourglass all make good ones).  Then apply your foundation of choice.

Next, groom and define the eyebrows with a little brow gel.  I like the tinted brow gel from Anastasia, but Anastasia also makes a clear brow gel if you prefer.  To get the Gucci look shown above, try brushing your brows upward a bit with the gel brush.  You want your brows to look full and defined, but natural.  So avoid dark brow gels or heavy brow pencils and powders.

For the cheeks, dust a sheer fuchsia (trust me on this one) blush lightly and high on the cheekbones (this is the technique McGrath used at Gucci and it gives a more modern youthful look than applying the blush to the apples).  My favorite fuchsia blush from Anna Sui has tragically been discontinued, so I suggest using MAKE UP FOR EVER's blush powder in No. 26, a very sheer bright pinkish fuchsia.  You could also use a hot pink/raspberry shade like MAC's Dollymix powder blush.  I promise that this will look natural.  The key is to use very sparingly by patting your brush just once in the blush and tapping off all excess.  Then use a very light hand to apply the blush to the high cheekbones in a slow circular motion.  You don't want any defined edges, so if you get too much blush on or find that it's looking striped, use a clean blush brush to blend as much as possible and then use a powder brush to apply loose powder over the blush, blending it.  Once you get used to using just a tiny amount of product and a very light hand, this fuchsia blush trick will become a fast favorite.

For the eyes, apply a good eyeshadow base (Benefit's Stay Don't Stray in my favorite) to the entire lid.  Then apply a light matte skintone shade to the lid and browbone.  I use MAC's Orb personally, which is a pale bone color.  You want to use something just one shade lighter than your skin to add some brightness and definition to the eye area.  Next, use a dark brown liquid liner like Loreal's Lineur Intense in Earthen Rock Brown.  To keep the line very fine, either wipe the excess off the liner brush or better yet, use a separate clean liner brush to apply as little product as possible.  The easiest way to get a clean straight line is to take your liquid liner brush and point it directly at the eye and make tiny dots right in between the lashes.  Then slowly and precisely connect the dots.  Next, sweep a medium matte taupe eyeshadow across the crease and under the lower lashline to add subtle contour.  NARS eyeshadow single in Blondie is a great medium taupe shade for this look.  Finally, add a coat of a lengthening dark brown mascara like Covergirl's Lashblast Length mascara in Black Brown.

The final touch for this look is a light pink lip balm like Korres's lip butter in Plum, which gives he lips a really sheer moist lavender-berry finish, or the same formula in Jasmine, which is a very sheer natural pink.  The shea butter in the Korres lip butters will give your lips a healthy moist look and feel, like that achieved in the pictures of the Gucci show above.  You could also line your lips with a very light nude lip pencil for extra definition.  Josie Maran makes a good one called Natural.  I'm also a fan of the smooth lip pencils from NARS, and NARS makes a nude lip pencil called Morocco. 

Those are the steps to the natural look.  Once you do it once or twice, it's a breeze to get ready in the morning.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Like Buttuh!

I am a longtime fan of LUSH Cosmetics, a fabulous skin and body care line that prides itself on natural ingredients, eco-friendly packaging, no animal testing, and many vegan products.  Additionally, they just make plain good quality bath and body goodies.  Everything smells wonderful because LUSH uses natural ingredients and essential oils, from yummy honey, chocolate, and cocoa butter to pretty jasmine oil and rose absolute.  Best of all, after using their products, your skin will feel soft and smooth.  Two of my favorite categories of LUSH products, which are related, are the Massage Bars and Body Butters.  These are solid cocoa and shea butter based bars that replace a body lotion.  The Massage Bars are designed to be applied to dry skin and the Body Butters are designed to be applied to wet skin in the shower.

The Massage Bars are fabulous for their titled use, but because they are made with cocoa butter, shea butter, and essential oils, they are intensely softening and hydrating, leaving the skin with a gorgeous scent that lingers throughout the day.  So in addition to using them for massage, I think they make a great substitute for body lotion.  They are more moisturizing than lotion, their scents have more staying power than lotion, and your skin will feel incredibly soft.  My favorite scents are the Heavanilli, which is made with vanilla, jasmine, and tonka.  It smells soft and beautiful but more sophisticated than the vanilla scents we bought at the drug store back in junior high school.  For a lighter fruity scent, try the Each Peach bar, which has lime and mandarin oils and mango butter.  As an added benefit, the mango butter helps repair sun-damaged skin.

LUSH also makes a fabulous scalp massage bar called Snake Oil that is designed to treat scalp dryness and irritation, and in particular, dandruff.  It is the single best dandruff remedy that I have heard of, and it is extremely gentle and good for your hair, unlike most dandruff shampoos.  And despite the name, it leaves your hair smelling good as well with essential oils like lavender, tea tree, and peppermint.  Sadly, this product was discontinued in the U.S. LUSH stores, although I understand that you can still get it in the U.K. and you can order it online at the LUSH web site under the LUSH Retro list.  If you are prone to seasonal or occasional dandruff or other types of scalp irritation and itching (like eczema), you should stock up on a few of these bars while they're still available online and keep them in the fridge.  Most LUSH products have minimal to no preservatives, but I've found that they'll keep quite well in tupperware in the fridge.  All the massage bars run $10 to $12 except for Snake Oil, which is a bargain at $8.

LUSH's Body Butters are similar but they're designed to be used on wet skin, which makes them perfect for the bath or shower.  Some of them are both exfoliating and softening, like the aptly-named Buffy the Backside Slayer, which combines shea butter with ground rice, almonds, and beans to exfoliate.  Many LUSH fans swear by this one to reduce the appearance of cellulite.  I love it to scrub away the rough skin on my knees and elbows.  Buffy leaves them feeling soft.  Running to the Embassy is a body butter designed to replace your pumice stone in the shower.  Like Buffy, it exfoliates, but it also adds spearmint and peppermint oils to refresh and soften tired feet.  But my favorite Body Butter has to be Soft Touch, which is non-exfoliating.  This one is all about the soft nourishing shower butter.  It has good-for-you wheatgerm oil, cocoa butter, mango, and beeswax.  Think of it as a solid body lotion that you apply in the shower or bath.  The moisture and scent stays with you throughout the day, even after you towel dry.  The body butters are $12 to $15.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Home Cookin: The Oatmeal Mask

Oatmeal is a classic home remedy for all kinds of skin woes, particularly poison ivy, bug bites, rashes, eczema, sunburns, chicken pox, and general skin irritation and redness.  Aveeno makes many soothing skin-care products with an oatmeal base, but you can easily make an oatmeal paste at home that you can use to soothe irritated skin.  You can use this paste as a spot-treatment for bug bites, which will reduce swelling and redness, and help keep itching at bay.  You can add a half-cup of the paste to a warm bath for a rash on the body or to sooth a sunburn.  You can also use the paste as a facial mask to help soothe redness and irritation and give your skin a healthy refreshed glow.  The paste even makes a great spot treatment for an annoying red pimple underneath the surface of the skin.  It won't treat a pimple as effectively as salicylic acid, but it works well to treat redness and inflammation for those pimples that haven't quit hit the skin's surface.  You can also use the paste as a refreshing mask for the feet, which helps soften callouses and soothe blisters. 

Start with 1/2 cup milk and microwave it for one minute on medium-high power.  Then dissolve two tablespoons of honey in the warm milk, stirring well.  Next, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup oatmeal to make a paste.  You want it to be thick enough that it is sticking together and all the liquid is absorbed, but not at all dry.  How much oatmeal you will ultimately use can vary depending on the type of oatmeal you use (old-fashioned, 5-minute, instant) and what type of milk you use (fat-free, whole, soy, almond).  I prefer to use a milk with at least a little milk-fat like a 2% and a stove-top oatmeal rather than the instant stuff.  But you can use anything you have on hand.  Just add more oatmeal by the spoon-full if it's too wet or more milk by the spoon-full if it's too dry.  It should have the texture of a moist somewhat sticky paste, definitely thicker than a bowl of oatmeal for eating.  You can use it as is or at a teaspoon of an oil like lavender oil for extra soothing or tea tree oil for acne.  Olive oil is a good one for the feet.

For a spot treatment for bug bites or acne, simple apply a liberal amount of the paste to the affected area and let it dry for 45 minutes.  As a mask for the face or feet, apply generously and allow to dry for 45 minutes.  If you're applying it to the feet, I would suggest pulling on some cotton socks so you can be mobile while the mask dries.  Then rinse with warm water and a washcloth, no soap necessary.  Your skin will be soft and smooth, and it should feel a lot less irritated.

If you have a larger affected area, like a sunburn or poison oak or a rash on a large portion of your body, it's best to use this in the bath.  Simply take a 1/2 to 3/4 cups of the paste and run it under warm bath water.  Soak for at least a half-hour.  This will require some clean-up afterward, so even though I like to have the loose oatmeal so I can rub it into any particularly bad spots while I bathe, it is a chore to clean up.  Especially if you're already sore with a sunburn, etc.  To avoid clean-up, simply take the paste and put it into a sachet bag to hang on your faucet and let the water run over it. You'll get most of the same benefits.  If you don't have a sachet bag handy, you can make one at home with a coffee filter and just use a rubber band to tie it closed and a second rubber band to hang it on the faucet.  A little sieve from the kitchen would also do the trick.

This little home-remedy may not work the same miracles as the latest $75 anti-aging serum, but it's a great easy-to-make concoction that is affordable and effective, particularly for irritated and/or inflamed skin.  If you prefer to purchase the pre-made oatmeal treatments, check out Aveeno's long list of oatmeal and milk-based products.