Saturday, December 20, 2014

For Fellow Bookworms: My Favorite Books of 2014

I often casually mention here and there what a huge bookworm I am, but I'm quite non-commital when it comes to actually sharing what I've been reading, maybe except for some few and far between library hauls on Instagram. Well, I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and finally pass on some book recommendations - especially fitting now as it's the time of annual 'Best ofs' and some such lists (yes, there IS a beauty round-up coming soon, duh!). Anyway, lo and behold, in no particular order, my favorite books I've read in 2014:
Btw, these are not the books I'm recommending (I'm especially NOT recommending you read Regina Brett), it's just one of the shelves in our bookcase. All of the books I'm recommending (with the exception of one) were library finds, and on that note, New York Public Library is a favorite too, even if they only let me keep the books for 2 weeks at a time.
Kristin Cashore 'Graceling' and 'Fire', 2008 and 2009
Fantasy has always been one of my favorite genres in fiction, and these two first books from the Graceling Realm series cement my love and hope in its future. Why yes, these are children/ young adult books. And yes, contrary to many teen reads making the rounds these days, 'Graceling' and 'Fire' are mature both in subject matter and literary means, but more importantly, they're moving, thought-provoking, gripping and relatable. I found the emotional upheavals of the main characters very haunting, in a similar way I've always found Astrid Lindgren's Ronia the Robber's Daughter incredibly beautiful in its melancholy. I'm probably doing a very poor job of convincing you to read these right now, but I absolutely loved them, and I think you would too.

Isabel Allende 'Ripper', 2014
Wait, what? Isabel Allende of magical realism, The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna, has written a murder mystery? I was intrigued too. Both me and Mr read this one and had some bones to pick with the plot at times, but 'Ripper' also has elements I've loved in other mystery books: a precocious child/ teen sleuth character (similarly to the hilarious and lovable heroine of Alan Bradley Flavia de Luce series) and a serial killers' fanatics club who takes on solving the 'Who dunnit' (similarly to Charlaine Harris' Real Murders/ Aurora Teagarden series). In addition, Ripper also features multiple points of view and a curiously matter of fact style of narrative. Maybe not a 'must read', but an engrossing choice for crime novel (and San Fran!) lovers.

Neil Gaiman, 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane', William Morrow and Company, 2013
Am I totally late to the party? Or maybe you too haven't heard that there's a new(ish) Neil Gaiman book out now? Either way, go read it, it's everything we've come to expect from the author, maybe even in a slightly more unsettling atmosphere. 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' bridges the realms of a short story/ short novel, memories and dreams, the world of adults and the world of children. It paints a beautiful, menacing landscape where things don't always turn out alright in the end, not without grave consequences. Just read it already, you can thank me later.

Donna Tartt, 'The Goldfinch', Little, Brown and Company, 2013
Oooh, Pullitzer Prize winner and shortlisted as one of 10 Best Books of 2013 by New York Times Book Review - are you impressed already? I feel that The Goldfinch has become an Ulysses of the past year, where a lot of people attempt to read it only to get stuck in the first few chapters. I don't think it's entirely fair; not that this is an easy read, but the difficulty lies more in the subject matter than the style of writing for me personally. The Goldfinch features a tragic young hero whom we follow through his struggles and let's admit it, mostly lows, but also some fascinating insights on the art world and the personal meaning of art, similarly to the book I'm going to recommend next. Overall, it's somewhat of a daunting read, but well worth the effort in my opinion.

Susan Vreeland, 'Girl in Hyacinth Blue', Penguin Books, 2000
Not the latest release - but I've actually started with the newer (2012) Susan Vreeland historic art novel, 'Clara and Mr. Tiffany' (also lovely, especially if you're interested in Tiffany's stained glass, early feminist movements and New York City in the 1890s), and worked my way back to 'Girl in Hyacinth Blue' - of which I slightly prefer the latter. This is more of a collection of short stories centered around the common subject of an imaginary Vermeer painting, and the meaning of that work of art in the lives of different people spanning from its creation to modern times. It's not necessarily eye-opening, but I enjoyed the various glimpses into the past and multiple narratives.

Michelle Nevius and James Nevius, 'Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City', Free Press, 2009
Can you see that strangely meandering pattern in the choice of my reading material? I've always enjoyed reading books set in cities I lived in, and living in NYC definitely has the benefit of a lot of fictitious reading material ('Clara and Mr. Tiffany', 'The Goldfinch', and a notable mention of 'The Golem and the Jinni' by Helene Wecker). But sometimes it's a good idea to build a solid basis of hard facts about your city by way of a history book, especially if you get a lot of house guests who enjoy little anecdotes here and there, but would never actually research anything on their own - can you tell I'm speaking from personal experience of a not-always-willing amateur tour guide? I've paged through a couple different books on NYC history but 'Inside the Apple' was definitely a standout: clearly divided into little nuggets of information, interesting, cross-referencing and comes with several guided walk ideas at the end. If you're a fellow New Yorker or a lover of the city, Nevius' book may be worth looking into.

Jonathan Carroll 'Bathing the Lion', St. Martin's Press, 2014
Carroll is back, baby! If you grew up in Poland in the 90s, you're probably very familiar with this American writer and his books, especially the covers of editions published in the 'Salamandra' series. I was trying to explain to my husband how his books were my favorite growing up, and he didn't remember ever reading one, so I did some digging, and get this: his first book, 'The Land of Laughs', couldn't find a publisher for a long time and was finally published thanks to a famous Polish science fiction writer, Stanislaw Lem, whose son Carroll taught in Vienna. Since then, Carroll's books are published first in Poland and often reference elements of Polish culture, as is the case in 'Bathing the Lion'.

The cover of the American edition likens Carroll's writing to Philip K. Dick, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Kafka. I do agree that 'Bathing the Lion' starts in a magical realism fashion, but then quite unexpectedly takes off in several different directions. It's a bit of a mind bender, and after devouring it through the course of one fine Saturday, my thoughts keep returning to the plot and its possible meanings. I definitely recommend it. If it helps you decide, Neil Gaiman recommends it too.
Enough with the favorites, time for the one major unfavorite for this year: Allure 'The Beauty Expert' (quote unquote purely mine) magazine, and women's magazines in general. Here's a bit of background to my story: a while ago, I used to have a yearly subscription to Allure, which I enjoyed, and when that was up and I found a very inexpensive subscription option for six months, I went for it it again. I've always treated women's lifestyle magazines as a very frivolous, brain fart sort of reading material, but with this round of Allure, I've ceased to enjoy it even in that role. I find the topic selection quite boring, the quality of writing sub par, the product recommendations untrustworthy, and overall content light years behind blogs and online platforms.

But get this - Allure probably felt beauty blogs encrouching on their territory, and wanted to appear progressive and generous of spirit, so they launched their own best beauty blogs competition. I am aware that the contest helped some bloggers build their audience and brand relationships (good for them!), but I can't help but feel that Allure is somehow taking advantage of participants to promote their own magazine. In the time of widespread outrage at undisclosed sponsorships, PR samples and hidden commercial content, doesn't it seem kinda convoluted to you that bloggers would be pointing their readers in the direction of a magazine where those practices are everyday bread and butter? Maybe I'm taking quite a radical stance, but either way, I won't be subscribing to Allure any longer, and I'm switching my in-flight reading material to National Geographic these days. What do you guys think - do you still read beauty and fashion magazines?

That big rant aside, I do hope you enjoyed browsing through my favorite reads for this year and have found something that piqued your bookwormy interest. Let me know if you've read any of these and if so, what were your thoughts, but more importantly PLEASE share your book picks for 2014 - I'm forever looking for good recommendations!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Alternative to UD Naked Basics: My DIY Matte Eyeshadow Palette

Oh, the inner turmoil and third-guessing yourself when deciding whether to pull a trigger on another neutral eyeshadow palette... Remember my hesitation over the Urban Decay Naked Basics 2 palette? In the end, I didn't buy it. In fact, apart from the Limited Edition Rouge Bunny Rouge quint, I haven't bought another eyeshadow palette this year, the main reason being that I really, really want to avoid getting repeat shades I may already have as singles or in other compacts. So, I decided to bypass the whole palette issue by way of my handy dandy small Z Palette, and put together my own perfect matte eyeshadow set. Wanna see what's inside?
What we have here is a mix of drugstore, mid-end brands and one lonely MAC eyeshadow in Embark, a warm dark brown. The two largest rectangular pans are Inglot, which makes one of my all time favorite matte eyeshadow formulas - here's another post with other shades and swatches, but I reach for no. 337 and no. 344 the most. Conversely, my least favorite (and second to most expensive) matte formula in this palette is the MAC eyeshadow - I don't know what happened to my Embark, but it's rock hard, patchy and poorly pigmented. I thought that maybe it formed that hard layer on the surface like some older powders sometimes do (although it's been barely used and always stored in a MAC palette), so I tried to scratch it off, but it's pretty much the same underneath. What gives? I'll experiment with it a bit more but if I can't find a way to work with this texture, it's probably going to go in the trash.
The three smaller rectangular pans come from my new drugstore acquisition, the Physicians Formula Matte Collection Eye Shadow Quad in Canyon Classics - I think I paid about $8 for it on Amazon. I bought it precisely with the thought of depotting it into the Z Palette, and while that process wasn't entirely pleasant (see the damage from a pin in the corners? Yeah, spare yourself the trouble and just melt the plastic underneath straight away), I'm very happy with these shadows.
They may not be as creamy or opaque as Inglot, but they're still very, very good for an inexpensive, widely available option. I'm sorry I forgot to include swatches of these, they do however swatch true to pan, and yes, these two medium warm browns are very, very similar indeed - I wish they included something a bit different. Overall, it's a great neutral medium-depth quad that should suit a variety of skintones, and the ivory shade is even light enough to show up on my fair skin.
You may recognize the other, slightly deeper and more yellow ivory eyeshadow in the round pan from my Project Make A Dent - it's an Annabelle Eyeshadow in Vanilla Chilla. I'm a bit over it and actually, the Physicians Formula is way nicer both texture and shade-wise, but I'm still working on it! The last round pan is another new discovery, a Red Apple Lipstick Mineral Eyeshadow in Clean Slate* ($18.75 for 0.055 oz/ 1.5 g), a medium matte grey leaning purple.
Red Apple Lipstick eyeshadows are gluten-free, paraben-free and vegan, can be used both wet and dry, and already come in a single pan form to save you the trouble of depotting. You can also purchase their two eyeshadow compact called Twosie separately, and they also have small Z-Palettes with their own cute apple pattern available as well. I wasn't really expecting a whole lot from Clean Slate, assuming that lipstick was probably the star of the Red Apple Lipstick product line, but boy, was I pleasantly surprised.
Red Apple Lipstick Mineral Eyeshadow in Clean Slate definitely rivals my favorite Inglot mattes. It's incredibly smooth, buttery and beautifully pigmented, and blends like a dream - but doesn't blend into oblivion like some mattes are wont to do. It does have quite a bit of powder kick-up in the pan, just like the Inglot mattes, but that's probably the only downside to the formula (well, not really. I don't even mind it that much). It looks beautiful on the eyes and wears all day over eyeshadow primer. Yeah, I don't think I'll be buying any more MAC mattes any time in the future; give me Red Apple Lipstick's shadows over MAC any day. You can also catch RAL on their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram if you have any questions or like silent stalking like me.
L-R: Annabelle Vanilla Chilla, MAC Embark, Red Apple Lipstick Clean Slate, Inglot 344, Inglot 337, Too Faced Velvet Revolver
The last tiny pan in there that's super similar to one of the Canyon Classics shades is Too Faced Velvet Revolver, possibly my favorite shade depotted from the Natural Eye palette. I'm very happy with my Do It Yourself (more like Assemble it Yourself) matte eyeshadow palette, and I think it's an incredibly useful thing to keep on hand when you need some basic neutrals to create a complete eye look. A lot of smaller eyeshadow compacts (duos/ trios/ quads/ quints) often lack these basic highlighting and transitioning shades, so a staple little palette like this is indispensable for everyday usage.

What are your favorite neutral matte eyeshadows you reach for over and over again? Do you have a premade palette, keep your depotted shadows in a freeform palette, or do you use singles? I'd love to know!

Disclaimer: The product marked with an asterix (*) is a press sample I received from Red Apple Lipstick for review consideration. I purchased all the other eyeshadows myself. All links are non-affiliate. All opinions are 100% honest and unbiased, no matter if the products featured were purchased with my own monies or provided as free press samples. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fake Tanning for the Bahamas with Cocoa Brown

Wait, what?! Tanning, Bahamas - what is all this nonsense about, and in the middle of December to boot, I hear you ask? Well, I kind of hinted here and there that we were going on a short tropical getaway over the Thanksgiving weekend, and it was Bahamas, baby - the Island of New Providence more specifically. But before I could transform myself into a true Bahama Mama (yes, my husband did call me that several times and yes, I did have a few of those cocktails while we were there), I needed some help in the tanning department, and Cocoa Brown kindly sent two of their products to the rescue.
You may remember from this ranty post that I am generally over self-tanning and mostly embrace my pale self. But there are just a few occasions when a warm glow, not even a tan per se, comes in handy - one of them being a beach vacay. What really convinced me to give Cocoa Brown a try was that the company hails from Ireland, the land of fair freckly beauties, and they have very light fake tan options for the palest of pale like me. My husband thought it was hilarious that I got some Irish self tanners to test out :) Cocoa Brown has also just launched on the US market, and their products are now available in Ricky's NYC beauty stores - if you live in New York, you know there's a Ricky in virtually every neighborhood. If you're not in the US or Ireland, you can also shop for Cocoa Brown products online at, which offers free worldwide delivery with a minium $15 order.
I decided to go for the big guns first and try the Cocoa Brown 1 Hour Tan Mousse* (can't find the official MSRP in the US, but it's $11.27 for 150ml on FeelUnique), which I applied with their Tanning Mitt* ($4.82 each). I'd never tried a self-tanning mousse before, so the experience was both terrifying and fun. The 1 Hour Tan Mousse comes out as an incredibly fluffy khaki-toned blob when you press down the nozzle, which I then tried to vigorously but evenly blend into my skin. It spreads easily but dries down rather quickly, so I'd recommend working in smaller sections. At this point, I panicked just a little bit, because it gives an instant olive tan to the skin and I was starting not to look myself, but it's just a guide color to help you apply evenly and not miss any spots. The guide sets on the skin and doesn't transfer or rub off, so no worries about getting the fake tan on your clothes or your bedsheets.
Since my skin is fair and I chickened out, I only kept the tan on my skin for an hour (you can also wait 2 hours for a medium tan or 3 for a dark tan - or opt for the Dark Mousse), which is when I rinsed it off under the shower. All of the dark olive guide color came right off with just running water, and when I stepped out and carefully toweled myself dry, I was left with just a hint of a peachy brown tan. Husband couldn't see anything at all, but to me, my skin had that pretty warm glow, no streaks, no dark patches, overall very natural looking and exactly what I was hoping for. While the mousse has a pleasant gardenia scent once it's on your skin, I did get a faint whiff of fake tan after I rinsed it off in the shower, but nothing that couldn't be masked with a fragranced body butter. Since the one hour application only gave me a very faint tan, I'd probably go for an hour and a half next time now that I've got my courage up.
Now, the Gentle Bronze Gradual Tan* ($9.66 for 200ml on FeelUnique) is definitely something I'm more familiar with, as gradual self-tanning lotions used to be my weapon of choice back when I was still reaching for a fake tan here and there. The gradual lotion has a nice light consistency that sinks right in and the same gardenia scent. Again, one application gives just a little bit of color that warms up my skintone from the plucked chicken into the 'we sometimes let her out of the cellar' territory. I will definitely reach for this one more often once the temperature rises and my legs are not always covered with pants or tights.

In terms of fading, the 1 Hour Tan Mousse washed away very gradually without me really noticing; with that little bit of sunshine in Nassau, it was almost as if my natural holiday tan blended in perfectly with the self-tan glow. I experienced no random pale patches for the five days or so when I still had some self-tanner on my skin and I was really happy with my more radiant, outdoorsy skin. With the help of Gentle Bronze, I'm now able to extend my holiday glow for an extra couple weeks; again, the effect is so subtle that it fades evenly and gradually.

If you've made it this far into this unseasonal review, here's a special bonus for you! I've decided to include a couple photos from our trip - not that you can see my tan in any of them - but rather to feast your eyes on some beautiful colors and hopefully warm up your day:

Overall, I'm very pleased with the results achieved with the two Cocoa Brown tans I've tried, especially the 1 Hour Tan - it was just so easy to use! At this price point, I can definitely see myself repurchasing. Do you guys use self-tanners? What is your favorite tanning product?

Disclaimer: Products featured in this post and marked with an asterix (*) are press samples I received from the brand's PR for review consideration. All links are non-affiliate. All opinions are 100% honest and unbiased, no matter if the products featured were purchased with my own monies or provided as free press samples. Thank you for reading!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cute Christmas Gift Idea: Korean Planners and Minted Custom Wall Art

I realize it's probably too late for most people to speak of any gift ideas, but these were just too cute not to share with you - and it's something a little different than beauty! So, even if these ideas are not entirely doable this year, you could keep them in mind for next Holiday season, or even a birthday or other special occasion.

One of the things I like to gift my friends and family for Christmas are cute calendars and planners. I feel that it's something almost everyone uses and needs (especially for the beginning of the new year) but maybe doesn't necessarily want to splurge on a really nice one themselves. In the past, I've gone the classic Moleskine route, but this year I thought I wanted something a little less run-of-the-mill. After a VERY long research session on various websites, Amazon and Etsy, I completely fell down the Korean stationery rabbit hole. I mean really - can you get ANY more adorable than this?!
2015 Gunmangzeung Simple Light Monthly Small Dated Planners in Circus and Bonjour patterns
2015 Gunmangzeung My Daily Life Dated Small Diary in Red, PlanD Matryoshka Index Sticky Note Set, Iconic Sticky Book in the Vintage pattern
I ordered all of the planners you see here from the Korean online store Fallindesign, but you can also search for the specific ones on eBay. The downside of ordering through Fallindesign was that I paid about $20 in shipping, while eBay shipping options are often free or very affordable, but the upside was that I was ordering from an established and trustworthy retailer, and my order was delivered within two weeks, everything inside packaged impeccably. The paper quality in all of these planners is great, and I love that they come with a plastic cover; however, please note that the patterned journals are not hard cover, which makes them less sturdy but not as heavy to carry around.
Gunmangzeung Monthly Simplanner Special Edition (undated) in the Apple pattern
2015 Indigo Willow Story Illustration Pattern Undated Monthly Scheduler in Yellow, Smile Sticky Memo Notes - Owl
Now, if you DON'T want to go through the hassle of ordering from the evil Bay or a store overseas, I have another option for you. Shortly after I placed my order for these Korean planners, I was contacted by the US-based custom paper goods retailer This was one of those times when I was genuinely happy to hear from a brand I hadn't known about beforehand, because I was sucked into Minted's offerings pretty much instantenously. is like a curated collection of beautiful things from graphic designers all over the world, which you can pick out and customize to fit your own needs. They have everything (do I sound like the Stefon character from SNL?): wall art in a variety of sizes and frames, customizable journals and notebooks, personal stationery, Holiday greeting cards, even fabrics and stickers. Not only are their adorable designs very hard to resist (I challenge you NOT to find something you like on their website!), it makes me feel good that I can contribute to the income of an actual living breathing designer. Here are some of my top picks with links:

I Love Baking and Math Art Print // Do Small Things with Great Love Customizable Planner, Address Book or Notebook // Read Textured Blocks Art Print // Blue Bird Personal Stationery // Hello Love Day Planner, Notebook or Address Book // New York City Map Foil Art Print // Classic Posy Personal Stationery // Mid-Century Moments Art Print
Again, it's probably a bit too late to use these ideas for this upcoming Holiday season, but how wonderful would be to pick out a custom gift for your loved one next year? Maybe a weekly planner with their photo and a meaningful quote on the inside cover, or an art print that relates to where they live or what their interests are, or even a personalized stationery for exchanging snail mail. I'm definitely storing these ideas for later.

Are you guys stationery-obsessed too? Do you like giving customized gifts? Let me know in the comments what your best Holiday gift ideas are this season!

Disclaimer: This post has been published in cooperation with I am receiving a store credit in exchange for featuring my top picks from Minted on my blog; this way I can also try out their services myself and let you know what I think of them. After I order and receive my goodies, you can expect an update with specifics on quality, turnaround time and delivery. I've purchased all the other products featured myself and they are actual presents I'm gifting some family members and friends this Holiday season. All links are non-affiliate. All opinions are 100% honest and unbiased, no matter if the products featured were purchased with my own monies or provided as (future) free press samples. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On My Skincare Shelf: Current Routine and Favorites

Our tiny Manhattan bathroom has minimal storage, so we make as much use as we can out of our medicine cabinet, also known as Monika's Secret Skincare Stash (our family was beyond surprised to learn there's stuff hidden behind the mirror, lol - there's no such thing as medicine cabinets in Poland, folks!). I thought it'd be fun to share what I'm reaching for skincare-wise these days; there's a lot of products to get through so this is more of a show-and-tell than mini-reviews, but I've linked previous reviews where possible and if you have specific questions, just let me know in the comments. Alrighty then!
Are you surprised that my stuff occupies three out of four shelves in the medicine cabinet? I'm not showing you Mr's shelf because really, unused colognes and beard scissors aren't that exciting. I've also skipped a couple haircare products on the bottom shelf for the sake of brevity. Sorry these photos are all at an angle and thus in various stages of out-of-focus-ness; kinda hard to take shots of a mirrored cabinet without putting yourself in the frame. Anyway, let's work our way from the bottom to the top:
The bottom has some random things like cotton squares, my deodorant, contant lens case and a cup with q-tips, nail scissors, Tweezerman tweezers, spot treatments (Aesop Control and Paula's Choice BHA 9) and LiLash. Next to that from right to left, I have some more treatment skincare that I reach for a couple times a week rather than every day: Dr. Wu Intensive Renewal Mandelic Acid I use once a week at night, TATCHA Gold Camellia Beauty Oil* I sometimes layer under my night cream for added moisture, and Coral Actives 5% Benzoyl Peroxide serum for spots again. Also, an Epic Blend More Moisture Unflavored Lip Balm* - still really liking their balms!

On the middle shelf resides the bulk of my everyday skincare routine. I line it up sort of in the order of usage from left to right, starting with cleansing and toning products on the left. For my morning cleanse, I use the MyChelle Apple Brightening Cleanser, and for the evening cleanse, the Emma Hardie Amazing Face Moringa Cleansing Balm, preceded by the Avene Micellar Lotion if I'm wearing make-up that day. For acid toning, I use the First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads in the morning, the Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads in the evening and always follow both with a spritz of rose hydrosol, here decanted into a clear spray bottle.
I pat in my eye cream right after toning my face and before serums and moisturizers: right now I'm using the ever so popular Kiehl's Avocado Eye Treatment. At night, I like to go for a more targeted serum and apply Murad's Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lighening Serum, and in the morning, the more hydrating and soothing Jurlique Herbal Recovery Advanced Serum*; although I do find now that it tends to roll under my moisturizers. You probably know all about my thoughts on the Andalou Naturals Probiotic + C Renewal Cream if you've read my previous post, but if I need some added SPF protection, I've just started using the Canmake Easy & Fast Make Gel (sic), which is basically a moisturizer, sunscreen and make-up primer all in one.
I tend to keep things I only use occasionally on the very top shelf, like my collection of Aura Cacia essential oils, which I sometimes use in my bath or in DIY skincare, but mostly in a little oil burner for scenting our apartment. My favorites are Cardamom, Vetiver, Bergamot and Ylang-ylang, and for some reason, the Jasmine Absolute in jojoba oil turned out to be a complete let-down.
On the right of that same shelf I store my scrubs and masks. I only use a physical scrub about once a week, and I try to do my masks about twice a week - I'll often scrub first and then apply a clay mask or a moisturizing one for better performance. The two scrubs I'm rotating are the Reviva Microdermabrasion Pomegranate Scrub and Andalou Naturals Lemon Sugar Facial Scrub. For clay masks, I use either the Andalou Naturals Blue Geranium Creamy Clay Mask or a Ghassoul clay mask with rose oil my parents brought me from their trip to Morocco. I also still love the Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant and like to use it before applying the Dr. Wu Mandelic Acid serum, and when my skin is feeling dehydrated, I reach for the Avene Soothing Moisture Mask; unfortunately both of these are almost used up, so I'm on the lookout for some new replacements.

And there you have it! Pretty excessive, huh? My mum just recently told me she only washes her face at night and often doesn't apply even a moisturizer, much less two types of toners, serums, treatments and all that jazz. Is your medicine cabinet as filled with skincare as mine? Does your routine tend to be short and sweet or long and elaborate?

Disclaimer: Products marked with an asterix (*) are press samples I received from the brands' PRs for review consideration. I purchased all the other products myself, or they were a kind gift from friends/family or a Gift With Purchase. All links are non-affiliate. All opinions are 100% honest and unbiased, no matter if the products featured were purchased with my own monies or provided as free press samples. Clearly, this post shows exactly what I am using myself in my everyday skincare routine, which means I like all of these products enough to keep reaching for them. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jewel Tones and Metallics: Holiday Glamour Make-up Look

Since I always complain how boring my everyday looks are, why not have some fun at least for the Holidays? I haven't done a true smokey eyes in so long that I thought it fitting to return to this true make-up classic and put a glamorous Holiday spin on it with rich jewel shades and sparkling metallics. It's a good look to try if you prefer to play up your eyes rather than your lips, or have a long night of eating and drinking and would rather not risk a Christmassy red lip. Here's how I did it:
I'm not sure how much you can tell from the photos but the eyes are very heavy in this look; in fact, I don't remember the last time I wore this much make-up on my eyeballs. Because the eyes are so dramatic, I've kept my cheeks and lips more on the neutral mauvey side, but made sure to carefully define and fill in my brows to balance and frame the bold eyes.
And yes, this is a pretty literal interpretation of the Holiday color theme: a burgundy matte in the crease and a shimmery emerald green along the lower lashline, with a an antique gold metallic taupe on the mobile lid and in the inner corners. I've also used a matte midtone neutral brown to transition the burgundy in the crease, and a matte cream shade under the browbone to help tie the whole look together. I lined my upper lashline with a black eyeliner pen, extending it out only a little bit at the outer corner, tightlined with a black pencil liner, and applied a dark teal in the bottom waterline.
This bold eye look wouldn't be complete without a pair of false lashes, and I chose a pair of Esqido Mink Lashes in the 'Oh So Sweet' style*. This is my second pair of Esqido's beautiful, fluttery falsies and I have to say that Oh So Sweets blend in with my natural lashes even better than the Unforgettable pair, reviewed here. I still struggle a bit with properly applying these in the inner corners of my eyes, but I think we're getting there. The Esqido Oh So Sweet give just the right amount of drama and definition to the look without overwhelming my eyes - and you can now get them for 20% off, AND there's a 12-days giveaway going on until December 12th too! If you're not sure which style would suit you, Esqido just came out with an interactive Holiday Lash Guide to help you choose the perfect pair to suit your look and eye shape. It's a lot of fun to try out and actually, the Oh So Sweet pair turned out to be my match!
Here's the product breakdown with reviews linked where possible, in case you're curious:
Base: Face Atelier Ultra Foundation in Porcelain, Bobbi Brown Corrector in Porcelain Bisque under the eyes, NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Chantilly on spots and scars, MUFE HD loose powder to set
Cheeks: Too Faced Milk Chocolate Soleil bronzer for a very light contour, NARS blush in Sin on the apples and blended back into the hairline, Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder in Luminous Light to highlight
Brows: Shu Uemura Hard Formula 9 eyebrow pencil in Seal Brown, Benefit Gimme Brow fiber gel in Light/Medium
Eyes: NARS Pro Prime Smudgeproof Eyeshadow Base, antique taupe from the L'Oreal HiP Duo in Electrified on the lid and inner corner, theBalm 'Sexy' matte burgundy shade from the Nude'Tude palette, a matte light brown from the Physicians Formula Canyon Classics quad to blend out, Too Faced Heaven matte cream eyeshadow on the browbone (from the Natural Eye palette), Inglot no. 414 Pearl emerald green eyeshadow along the lower lashline;
Physicians Formula Eye Booster thick eyeliner pen in Black, Pixi Endless Silky Eyeliner in Black Noir to tightline, Sephora Contour Waterproof Liner in Surfer Babe on the lower waterline, YSL Faux Cils mascara, Esqido 'Oh So Sweet' Mink Lashes*
Lips: TATCHA Gold Camellia Nourishing Lip Balm*, Maybelline Color Sensational Lipstick in Warm Me Up, patted in along the lip lines
I hope this gives you some inspiration for the upcoming season of parties and family gatherings; I'm defnitely going to do something similar for our Christmas Eve dinner or maybe Christmas Day! Do you plan your Holiday party looks in advance? What are you intending to wear this year?

Disclaimer: Products marked with an asterix (*) are press samples I received from the brands for review consideration. All links are non-affiliate. All opinions are 100% honest and unbiased, no matter if the products featured were purchased with my own monies or provided as free press samples. Thank you for reading!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Green Beauty: Andalou Naturals Probiotic + C Cream and Lemon Sugar Scrub

I wasn't really planning to give these two a separate review, but my skin's been doing so well and I've been liking them so much that I just had to put my two new skincare loves in the spotlight: the Andalou Naturals Brightening Probiotic + C Renewal Cream ($19.99 for 1.7 oz/ 50 ml), and the included gift with purchase, the Clarifying Lemon Sugar Facial Scrub (regular size is $11.99 for 1.7 oz/ 50 ml on Vitacost, if you use my referral link you can get both for $21 - pretty nice, huh?).
Here's the reason I bought the Probiotic + C Renewal Cream in the first place: as you may remember, I had the Kate Somerville Goat Milk moisturizer on my wishlist instead. Well, I was contemplating that purchase, but I really wasn't very happy about the recent price increase (to a hefty $65), but also about the fact that the brand uses pollutant plastic microbreads in their products. I had tried a mask from Andalou in the past, and as I was browsing their product line, the word 'probiotic' jumped out: Aurelia Skincare, another natural brand, also makes probiotic products but at a much higher pricetag, and if probiotics can restore healthy bacteria in your gut, maybe they could also do it on your face? You know, like conquer all the bad acne bacteria and overall strengthen the skin's defense mechanisms?
So while I do buy into the probiotics and maybe more importantly, the high Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (form of Vitamin C) content, I'm not so convinced about the whole 'fruit stem cells' technology, for various reasons. But hey - if you can at least give some antioxidant power harnessed from apples, grapes and berries, as well as hyaluronic acid, manuka honey, peptides, resveratrol, coenzyme Q10, allantoin and Vitamin E all in one moisturizer, who am I to complain? I also had no idea my Renewal Cream would come with a free Facial Scrub, so bonus points for that.
But sometimes even the best ingredients list doesn't guarantee good product performance. This is NOT the case with the Brightening Probiotics + C Renewal Cream: it's probably the BEST moisturizer I've used in a really long time, surpassing the Fresh Lotus Youth Preserve, my former favorite. Both Andalou products come in sturdy plastic jars, the full size having a nicer brushed metal lid (the deluxe sample's lid is just plastic) - nothing groundbreaking here, but aesthetically pleasing and functional.

The Probiotics + C Renewal Cream has a beautiful, fresh tangerine scent that feels refreshing and energizing as you're applying the moisturizer to your skin. It has a very lightweight, almost gel-like texture that spreads easily and absorbs quickly into the skin. It definitely feels more hydrating than moisturizing (as in more water than oil content) and while I've been using it at night, the weightless formula would be perfect to wear as a day cream under make-up. As a night cream, it acts as a seal to my serums and treatments, and layers well with a facial oil for the added boost of moisture in the winter.
I've only been using it for a couple weeks (so I can't vouch for long-term results) but here are my thoughts so far: the Andalou Renewal Cream makes my face feel velvety soft, hydrated and balanced. By balanced, I mean that I now rarely get dry flakes around my face, but it also seems to help minimize oil production a bit. I've also noticed fewer large breakouts and less congestion, and my post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is fading faster. Can you tell how happy I am to have this in my routine?
The Clarifying Lemon Sugar Facial Scrub was also a very nice surprise. I generally prefer chemical to physical exfoliation, but sometimes the only way to get rid of some pesky dry patches is to incorporate a gentle scrub once a week. The Lemon Sugar Scrub is maybe a bit coarser than I would like (the sugar crystals are larger than what I'm used to), but with the right amount of water, they dissolve easily, forming a thick, creamy, slightly foamy layer on the face. Because the sugar dissolves in water, the scrub is easy to rinse off, and leaves my skin quite matte but not dry or tight. I did get some redness on my sensitive skin, though it disappeared quickly, and after usage my face was smooth and perfectly prepped for further steps in my routine - everything seemed to absorb that much better! Again, I can't vouch for long-term results, but so far I'm really liking it, and I'm happy to see aloe vera, sunflower, coconut and olive oils, manuka honey and MAP in the ingredients. And it smells heavenly of Meyer lemon and ylang ylang :)

So finally, after a long period of putting up with mediocre moisturizers, it seems that I have found my match. I'm really glad I gave Andalou Naturals a chance, and I'll be definitely trying more products from the brand; in fact, I also bought the 1000 Roses Sensitive Skincare Kit to try over the Holidays. Andalou Naturals is carried in Whole Foods in the US, and from my experience, the employees are happy to make a sample if you want to try before you buy. Have you ever tried anything from Andalou Naturals? What is your current favorite moisturizer?