Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dehydrated Skin 101

For the longest time, I'd been convinced my skin was definitely oily; I always have to blot at least once throughout the day, my pores are enlarged and I'm very acne-prone - that points to oily, right? But then, a friendly esthetician at 'Quality' Perfumery in Warsaw suggested my skin was definitely severely dehydrated and out-of-balance, which is why I was mostly getting breakouts on my cheeks. The diagnosis was then confirmed by my dermatologist here in WA, so I started a hunt for new skincare products to cater to my newly discovered skin condition.

If you'd like to learn more about the difference between dry and dehydrated skin and see whether your skin might be dehydrated too, I highly recommend you take a peek at Beauty Mouth's blog, which explains everything far better than I could even attempt to. And don't forget to take part in her Clinics on Thursdays if you have any questions!

The first product I've tried to combat dehydration was Reviva Labs Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($22 for 1 0z./30ml). Hyaluronic acid has long been a favorite of many skincare brands, but I was interested in how this magic ingredient actually works. In fact, HA is the intercellular gel we humans all have in our skin that acts like a molecular sponge: it absorbs water from liquids we drink and then feeds the moisture to our cells. Applying HA topically helps the top layers of skin retain more moisture from the liquids we drink, not from moisture in the atmosphere, so it doesn't matter what climate you live in - it works anyway. Fascinating, huh? The Reviva Labs Hyaluronic Acid Serum is a light clear gel that soaks into the skin instantly, leaving it refreshed, hydrated and glowing. What I like most about this product apart from its effectiveness, is that the serum feels like nothing on the skin; it doesn't leave any residue at all. For someone who constantly suffers from oilies, this is a major plus! The serum is both great on its own, layered under a moisturizer or an oil (read below) as well as under make-up.

I then turned to Caudalie Vinosource Quenching Sorbet-Creme for Dehydrated and Sensitive Skin ($40 for 1.3 oz/40ml) as my hydrating moisturizer of choice. The Caudalie cream claims to 'restart internal hydrating mechanisms and restore water reserves' with grape seed polyphenols, organic grape water and fortifying and moisturizing Vinolevure. The product has a light, liquidy cream texture that absorbs quickly, but leaves a bit of a shiny/sticky residue on the skin. It's also very heavily perfumed, which is a bit counterproductive for a product aimed at sensitive skin. My biggest gripe with this Sorbet-Creme however is that I don't really think it provides any lasting hydration to the skin - so I wouldn't really recommend this one to be honest, despite many rave reviews around the blogosphere.

My last purchase was the Clarins Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil for Dehydrated Skin ($50 for 1 oz./30ml), following a glowing recommendation from Beauty Mouth herself. I will admit that I was very skeptical; I've tried using face oils before with no noticeable results, and then I didn't exactly have the best experience with Clarins products in the past. This little bottle of golden goodness has me converted though. It's a lovely, light oil with 100% natural plant extracts and a mostly patchouli scent - patchouli oil is actually the second ingredient! Speaking of ingredients, the list here is short and sweet: hazel seed oil, patchouli oil, fragrance, sunflower seed oil, tocopheryl acetate, blue orchid extract and fragrance compounds from the essential oils. It comes with a handy dropper that lets you dispense the exact amount of the product, which is just 2 drops for my whole face and neck. I love applying it at nighttime: I warm it a bit in my hands and lightly press into the skin to wake up with a hydrated, soft skin in the morning. It gives a very spa-like feel and I've been enjoying using it as a part of my 'unwind' routine in the evening. Highly recommended!

Other than the products discussed above, my other tips would be to find a really good, non-drying creamy cleanser (not foaming! Look out for the review of the cleanser I picked up recently), drink a lot of water and supplement with fish oil or flax oil/evening primrose oil. The supplements take about 3 months to kick in, so don't be discouraged! I also found that using a room humidifier at night helps a lot too, and my husband's allergies have definitely benefited from it as well. Similarly to the humidifier, spritzing your face once in a while with a moisturizing water (I use Mario Badescu's Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater) helps to relieve dehydration too.

I hope this post was helpful to some of you battling dehydrated skin, or at least you've had a little sneak peek into my skincare routine. Have you ever suffered from dehydrated skin? What are your favorite products for hydration?

Disclaimer: The Reviva Labs Hyaluronic Acid Serum was provided to me for review consideration by Reviva Labs. I am not compensated to feature it on my blog nor am I affiliated with the brand. All other products featured were purchased by me with my own money. All opinions are my own and 100% honest, as always!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Heads Up: theBalm Essentials at TJMaxx!

Good evening, my lovelies - I feel like I haven't talked to you in ages! As some of you may know, I've recently started a new job and while I've been trying to figure out my work-life balance anew, the posts have become a little sparse; which is why I'm feeling kind of sheepish...

I'm a little bit too disheveled right now to sit down and write a proper skincare post I've been promising for ages (that one will have to wait a couple more days), but I figured I could give you a little heads up on an amazing deal I scored at TJMaxx, which is also a review preview of make-up posts to come.

I'm sure most of you already known that you can find a lot of theBalm products for a very discounted price in your local TJMaxx and Marshall's stores - I love shopping at both of them, I got some lovely spring clothes there as well! Anyway, I found this set of theBalm Essentials recently for $12.99 and just couldn't resist snatching such a great deal. It comes with a variety of make-up products to suit most skin tones, with the exception of the BalmShelter Tinted Moisturizer, which is in Medium and thus way too dark for me at the moment; I'm still keeping it though for warmer weather to mix in with other foundations.

I've already started using some of the products and for now, I can say thay I really enjoy both the Hot Mama! blush and the Bahama Mama bronzer, while the Cheater mascara is very nice, if a bit flaky (as most mascaras tend to fare on my lashes). I think that for under $15, it's a great introduction to the brand and actually, I already got one more product by theBalm... more details coming soon.

Have you found any amazing beauty deals lately? What is your favorite theBalm product?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rocaille Raves: NYX Slide On Pencils in Pretty Violet and Esmeralda

If I had to pick one type of product that I use most for lining my eyes, I'd definitely have to go with eye pencils - I just find them the easiest, the fastest and the most versatile. I was craving some brighter colors in my pencil stash just in time for Spring, so when I found about the new NYX Slide On Pencils, I just had to get at least two shades: Pretty Violet (SL 03), a true violet, and Esmeralda (SL 06), a kelly green, retailing for $8 each.

As you already know from the title of this post, I simply love them! Both colors are beautiful, vibrant and pigmented, they do "slide on" the eye but they do not "slide off" - the formula is soft, smooth and creamy, but once it sets it stays on just as when you put it on until you take it off. I think it's amazing that a drugstore brand decided to come out with not only excellent quality product that rivals much more expensive options (*cough cough Urban Decay), but also such an amazing range of shades, from neutral (black, brown, gunmetal, olive) to bright (greens, blues, purples). It actually took me a good month to find a green that I deemed satisfactory; turns out, not many brands branch out to bright greens!

The packaging is a standard pencil that fits into a normal sharpener, and I like how the color of the packaging reflects the shade inside; makes it much easier to find what you are looking for in the morning.

The shade comparison reveals that Pretty Violet is a spot-on dupe for Urban Decay Ransom, one of my favorite eyeliner shades ever made - and I think the NYX is actually a better formula! And just for reference, something like UD Mildew is much darker and more muted than Esmeralda.

You can use these pencils to line the upper and lower lashlines, as an eye base for your eyeshadows, or in the waterline - I did find however that they are not as vibrant there as on the lids, maybe because my eyes tend to be a little watery from contact lenses. My absolute favorite way of wearing those brighter colors is to do a very fine line of black pencil eyeliner smooshed into the top lashes and then put a thicker line of the bright pencil above it; I also almost always go for the cat eye flick at the end, just because I think that suits my eye shape best (pictured above). The black helps the lashes to stand out a bit more against the bright color.

My only complaint about these pencils is that I find the price a bit on the high end of drugstore make-up; remember those days when NYX Round Lipsticks retailed for a dollar? Those are long gone and it seems that NYX is moving away from that most affordable price range it was known for in the beginning. However, to be honest, as long as the quality is on par with the price, I cannot really complain - and these Slide On Pencils are definitely worth their price tag.

What are your favorite inexpensive eyeliners? Have you picked up any bright make-up shades recently?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New Box on the Block: Sample Society March 2012

Since I first heard about (and subscribed to) Birchbox last year, there's been a flurry of new beauty boxes continuously appearing on the market: MyGlam, Beauty Army, and even GlossyBox is soon to be launched in the US! To be completely honest, I was a bit disillusioned about beauty boxes after my experience with Birchbox (but of course now after a spell of bad boxes they're back on top of their game), so I wasn't really looking for a new subscription. However, when I heard that Beauty Bar was launching a new sample scheme in cooperation with Allure, I thought it sounded promising and signed up for the service. The first Sample Society box just landed on my door step last Wednesday, and here are the products I received together with my initial impressions.

First of all, I like the sleek black box, which is approximately the same size as the Birchbox one. Inside, I found 5 deluxe samples wrapped in a silver tissue paper along with a leaflet, which is a bit of a different approach than other beauty boxes seem to have taken: instead of some general blurb about the products you receive, they give you tips on issues these products are designed to address, e.g. the de-puffing Skyn Iceland eye pen - some advice on how to avoid puffy eyes. I like that; the tips are nothing revolutionary, but it was still interesting to read. The leaflet also comes with a $15 off $50 purchase coupon code for, which you can redeem if you buy one of the products included in the box, which would basically return the price of the box itself. Sample Society was also having a promotion when I was subscribing where you get an entire year subscription to Allure magazine for free, which is also quite cool.

Now onto some things that didn't impress me about the service this month: firstly, the boxes shipped out 2 days later than it was stated on the Sample Society website, but they did apologize about the delay when they emailed the shipping confirmation. Also, before I got my shipping confirmation, I received a random automated email listing all the samples I was going to get - what a spoiler! Fortunately, I averted my eyes just in time and still had my element of surprise when I was unboxing the package. Thirdly, the Dermalogica sample spilt all over my box and the powder got everywhere; but I guess those things happen. And lastly, I believe WA residents actually have to pay another dollar for sales tax, which is a bit unfair.

Negative remarks aside, I am really enjoying my box. In terms of value, you're definitely getting your money's worth: those really are deluxe-size samples, no little foil packets or other such nonsense. Also, all the brands are of the high-end spectrum: Dermalogica, Fekkai, REN, Oscar de la Renta and Skyn Iceland, which is a brand I've never heard about before. Actually, the Skyn Iceland Icelandic Relief Eye Pen is a full size product, the only difference from regular retail being that this was unboxed. So far, I've tried the eye pen, which is great (I might do a separate review) and the Fekkai Glossing Cream, which I quite like as well. I like that there is such a good variety of brands and products (skin, hair, perfume); I was secretly wishing for a make-up item in there, but maybe next month... If I was really splitting hairs, I'd say that two exfoliating products is a bit much, but then the REN is more like a mask, so that's ok.

I'm quite excited to see how this sample service develops over time and to hopefully discover some more new brands and products! Are you currently subscribed to any beauty boxes? What are your experiences?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Becoming a Perfumista

Until a mere couple months ago, I did not get perfume, not really. Obviously, I loved perfume and had a growing collection of several bottles I liked using, some of which I liked, some I was ambivalent about, some I vaguely disliked, not ever taking a pause to ponder about their secrets. I thought: how do you even describe something so fleeting? how do you compare something so subjective? how do you know the good ones if everyone's tastes are so different? I had no idea where to start, so I just relegated perfume to the 'Mysteries of the Universe' category in my mind and peacefully went on spritzing a little every morning.

That was until I was offered a further glimpse into the realm of perfume by means of an internship - and to prepare myself a bit for the job, I started researching. I first turned to my local library and borrowed a couple books, and then I bought a few more. Then I started reading more perfume blogs and forums. I felt a whole new world unravel before me: science, craft, art - it was simply engrossing. The ingredients, the notes, the accords, the finished perfumes: I wanted to experience it all. The more I read, the hungrier for smell I became... and of course I started to look for my first true perfume, the first true love.

I already knew from wise people's experience not to buy a full bottle unsniffed; even more, not to buy a full bottle without having tested the fragrance for at least a day, if not more. I began stalking Sephora, local counters, perfumeries in search of something different, wonderful, puzzlying, something to call my own. I started with the classics, the problem being the ones I wanted to smell the most were nowhere to be found. I moved on to mainstream gems, but nothing caught my heart. And then, out of all places, I found it in a niche perfumery in Warsaw - it beckoned me with a scent somewhere from my childhood (of course!), somewhere from my dreams. I had it on my mind for days before venturing out to Nordstrom to grab a sample; and then it was just a couple of days more until I was ordering a full bottle all for myself.

I don't have to tell you what it was: by now I'm sure you can all see from the photos. At this point, a review would also be rather pointless since you know that I love it, but let me profess my adoration for one more paragraph. Inspired by the Garden of Ninfa in Italy, Annick Goutal's Ninfeo Mio consists of notes of Italian lemon, citron, pettigrain, bitter orange, galbanum, lentisque, fig leaf and lemon tree wood and is an olofactory interpretation of the mythic Garden of Hesperides. Given that I'd been convinced I disliked citrus and felt quite snobbish about fruit, it seems an unlikely choice - but Lord, is this a beauty. At first sharp, bracing, cool, green and bitter, it settles into a wonderfully dry, dusty but creamy warmth on the skin. A lot of the time, fig smells very much like blackcurrant to me, one of the fruits of my childhood; and beyond that, Ninfeo Mio feels like The Secret Garden out of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, which is one of my all-time favorite books. So there it is: an embodiment of something out of my past and something out of my dreams.

Thus, I've become a beginner perfumista, eager to discover more beauty in the fragrance world. I already have a list of perfumes to sample longer than my arm, and I'm afraid you will have to occasionally bear with me as I compliment or criticize. Tell me, are you a perfumista too? What perfume has started it all for you?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review & Swatches: YSL Rouge Pur in Pink Grenadine

My precious... who could resist the siren call of a new Yves Saint Laurent lipstick? Certainly not me.

While December and January have been all about dark fuschias, cool reds and pinks here at Rocaille Writes, I've been slowly making the transition into warmer colors, and YSL Rouge Pur/ Pure Lipstick in Pink Grenadine (no. 152) has been one of my favorites of late. Originally part of their 2009 End of Year collection, I've recently managed to snag it at a great price in the clearance section; just the name itself was enough for me to put it in my shopping cart.

I have to admit that esthetically, I'm a big fan of the packaging and much prefer it to the raved-about Rouge Volupté; this geometrical golden tube reminds of the Art Deco era. Practically, it's not the best however - it just shows every fingerprint and is rather bulky, but well... I'm willing to look over those minor considerations.

In terms of formula, Rouge Purs are supposed to be 'the perfect alliance between color and care'; they are full-coverage lipsticks with nourishing ingredients such as Vitamin A&E and Carrot Root extract and a satin finish. I'd say the formula is nothing to write home about - the color stays vibrant but the satin finish fades to a more matte texture as it wears, and it's neither drying nor moisturizing. It is also perfumed with a fruity-floral fragrance that is quite strong in the tube but not on the lips.

To be honest, I've actually expected Pink Grenadine to be... well, much more pink. In reality, it's more of a vibrant watermelon coral that pulls somewhat orange on me, but remains flattering, which is no easy feat for such a warm color against my cool complexion!

As always, the top swatch is the lipstick worked into the lip as a stain, and bottom is a full opaque application.

I'm slightly worried that while first, Pink Grenadine is definitely not my last venture into the world of YSL lip products; have you seen the newly-released Rouge Pur Couture Vernis À Lèvres Glossy Stains? They're gorgeous and I'm itching to get my hands on one... Have you tried YSL lip products? Which one should I swatch on my next trip to the counter?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dermatologic Treatment: My Experience and Tips

Remember how I asked whether you wanted to hear about my experience at a dermatologist? It seems that you were generally interested, and on top of that, I've been getting a lot of wonderful comments asking about my skincare and the foundation I'm using, so I've felt it's only appropriate to try and explain what's been going on with my skin recently. Fetch yourselves a cup of tea (non-caffeinated, of course!), it's going to be a long and rambly one.

I visited my dermatologist's office in mid-January, following more and more serious flare-ups of eczema on my hands (btw, I'm not going to mention the names of my doctor or the specific medications I was prescribed; but if you're local, shoot me an email and I'd be happy to recommend her practice). I was treated for the same problem before but my condition worsened a lot this year, so I was looking for some advice and also thought I could just ask about the acne on my face; at least I'd be able to hear another point of view. In this post, I'm going to discuss the treatment I was prescribed for acne, but if you still want to hear about how I'm dealing with eczema, I can write a separate post about that too :)

To give you more background information, my current doctor is the third dermatologist that has treated me for acne. When I was a teenager, my aunt who is a dermatologist prescribed me different things over the course of a couple years that generally did not work and that I wouldn't touch with a pole right now. Then as a student, I visited another doctor and that treatment didn't do a whole lot of good for me either: I was put on oral antibiotic (tetracycline) that didn't work and had a bunch of topical creams that left me red, peeling and with the same breakouts as before. At this point, I vowed never to go back to a dermatologist again and try to get a handle on my acne on my own; but to be honest, that wasn't working either. Ok, back to the story!

First of all, my dermatologist's office feels very inviting: all the front desk staff and nurses are friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, and the space has a nice vibe to it as well. The doctor herself is efficient, energetic and all her suggestions seem thought-out and reasonable. When I asked about the acne on my face, her first reaction was: 'Oh really, but your acne is so mild!'. She wasn't dismissing my problem, that was her honest evaluation; it made me really happy to hear that, because I had often felt in the past that I was exaggerating the problem in my head. Following that, she decided on putting me on a very low dose of a different oral antibiotic (minocycline) that she said could also help with my eczema. She also gave me two topical creams: a combination antibiotic (clindamycin) and tretinoin (form of vit. A, a retinoid) for the evening and an antibacterial cream containing dapsone for the morning. The nurse gave me little samples of all the medication to start me on the treatment right away, as well as an acne information sheet and a lot of coupons to take with me to the pharmacy.

In all honesty, boy I'm glad she gave me those coupons - I had no idea prescription medication could be so expensive! I have a pretty good insurance, but let's just say that if I didn't have neither the insurance nor the coupons, one of the topical creams would have cost me $500. What?! Even the pharmacist commented they gave me really expensive stuff.

I started using my medications right away and... I noticed IMMEDIATE results. I was trying not to expect much, but the effect was just miraculous! I stopped breaking out instantly and the breakouts I had started to heal very fast. The first two weeks, I used the gel with tretinoin every three nights, then every two nights, and then every night - I had very bad experiences with tretinoin before so I wanted to make sure I gave my skin some time to get used to it. This time, I only experienced very minimal peeling around my nose and on my chin, and that was it.

I'm over 6 weeks into the treatment and MY. SKIN. IS. CLEAR. I cannot believe it myself! I'm still dealing with hyperpigmentation and scarring, and as of right now, I have ONE small red bump on my chin that's disappearing already. The texture of my skin is a lot better too - I only have very few tiny bumps/clogged pores left and my pores are tighter/cleaner overall. I'm jumping for joy, ladies! I haven't had such good skin since I was 13 - I've had to deal with acne half of my life! I went in for a check-up 4 weeks into the treatment (more for eczema than acne, but obviously they still had a look at my face) and the doctor was very happy with the results too.

You might be thinking 'Yeah, Monika, I'm happy for you, but how does all of this help my skin?'. Well, here's a couple things I've learnt through my acne struggle and treatment that you may want to know if you're considering giving a dermatologic treatment a try.

1. The first treatment plan may not work. I've tried a fair share of prescription acne medication before having a lot of success with the current ones - so it might take time before you find medication that's effective for YOU. It's important to have a doctor who's willing to experiment and change the treatment according to your body's response. The cheat sheet I was given stated: 'There's a lot of different acne medications on the market so it might be a while before we try something that works for you but we will find it and your acne WILL get better! Don't give up hope!'. I think it's a very important message that none of my previous doctors thought of conveying to me. Practically, it means that after initial 12 weeks of treatment, you should go for a follow-up visit, and if your medication is not working, the doctor should suggest a new course of treatment.

2. If you're prescribed a retinoid, start small. The concentration of tretinoin in my medication is 0.025% - a miniscule amount! But it works, and it works without making my skin angry, red and flaky. Also, start by using it only couple times a week; remember to use a very small amount, just a dab whenever you need and spread evenly. I was also told to wait 10-15 minutes before the application and after I cleanse my face to avoid irritation and not to use the cream for about a week if I plan on having my brows waxed or a laser treatment, as it could simply rip the skin. Retinoids work as exfoliating agents, so make sure you're not overexfoliating, for example by using your Clarisonic/PMD/physical scrubs too often on top of the medication. If you're still peeling badly, ask the doctor about switching to a lower concentration.

3. Wear sunscreen! Both retinoids and oral antibiotics increase your skin's photosensitivity, so don't even think about going out without a layer of sun protection! Also, sun rays make hyperpigmentation marks even worse, so really, you'd be shooting yourself in the foot.

4. Hydrate your skin. Both antibiotics and retinoids can dehydrate your skin pretty badly - and mine was dehydrated to start with. Drink a lot of water, use hydrating skincare products, maybe even invest in an air humidifier; I'll be writing a separate post on how I combat dehydration, so stay tuned.

5. Supplement your diet. One of the drawbacks of oral antibiotics is that they often kill the good bacteria as well as the bad bacteria, so supplement with probiotics pills - or eat a lot of yoghurt, or even drink kombucha! Also, try to get into the habit of taking fish oil/ evening primrose oil capsules, as they help the skin from the inside a lot as well.

Pfff, I think that's it for now! I hope this post has been at least somewhat helpful - please leave your experiences and any questions you might have in the comments below, I'd love to know what you think!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Three Everyday Looks for Spring

The weather in the Evergreen State is still rather wintery, but occassionally sun beams burst through the heavy grey clouds, making me search frantically for my sunglasses, long buried in the back of the drawer. The feeling of spring edging closer every day fills me with warm fuziness and I start digging through my collection for those brighter, more vivid, more... alive shades - just a small pick-me-up, really. Here are three different looks I came up with in the last couple of weeks for your enjoyment.

In the photo below, on the eyes I'm wearing Sleek's Oh So Special palette, a gorgeous mix of warm neutrals and corals & peaches, on the lips and cheeks an old favorite, The Body Shop Lip & Cheek Stain in Rose Pink. I got some rather condenscending remarks on it from a sales associate at Neiman Marcus ('What an INTERESTING eye look you're wearing...), but I still really like it, to be honest.

This is what I call my warm neutral look - one warm brown/copper eyeshadow all over the lid, darker brown at the lashline (Wet'n'Wild eyeshadow trios I have depotted into one palette), NYX blush in Peach on the cheeks and Stila Guava lipgloss on the lips; I hate that formulation, by the way.

Lastly, I've been enjoying wearing a bright colored eyeliner a lot recently, this kelly green is a NYX Slide On pencil in Esmeralda (review coming soon!) paired with Too Faced Natural Palette; I think the gold shade I used in the inner corner is called Honey Pot. I also applied The Body Shop Honey bronzer to warm up my deathly complexion.

What everyday looks have you been rocking recently? What are your favorite (early) Spring products?