Friday, August 29, 2014

Soothing Spray Toner: Nature Republic Bee Venom Mist Essence

Bee VENOM for soothing sensitive skin? Sounds highly suspicious, if you ask me. But this Bee Venom Mist Essence from Nature Republic ($19.90 for 3.38 fl. oz/ 100ml) has some really interesting ingredients, and I'm always on the lookout for something to help calm down the redness in my skin.
This toning mist comes in a spray can, packaged in a lovely cardboard box with quite a bit of information in English for once (yay!). Now, the '98% bee venom complex' on the front of the box is a bit bogus, since the first couple ingredients are water and glacier water (so I'm guessing, tap water and fancy thermal spring water, right? ;), but the rest of the ingredients do sound very interesting:

- Phytosqualane (squalane): natural component of sebum, acts as a moisturizing emollient and carrier for active ingredients, helps increase skin's suppleness
- Bee venom: a blend of enzymes, peptides and aminoacids that supposedly can speed up the recovery of damaged skin cells and increase collagen production; also used by skincare brands such as Manuka Doctor and Wedderspoon
- Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP): a stable form of Vitamin C with antioxidant, hydrating, and skin brightening benefits
- Salicylic Acid: a BHA most commonly used in acne-fighting products, helps to increase the rate of cell turnover, unclog pores from inside out and prevent breakouts
- lots and lots of natural extracts, including rosemary, lavender, geranium and tea tree essential oils towards the end of INCI list.

Sounds like a bit of a multitasker, doesn't it? What I like the most about the ingredients in this Bee Venom Mist is a combination of natural extracts with scientifically proven components, something many brands calling themselves 'natural' rarely seem to be doing when formulating their products. By the way - judging from the products I've browsed in the Nature Republic store, the brand can only be described as aspiring to be natural, as most products contain alcohol and/or mineral oil. I don't really care how Nature Republic chooses to market itself; I always read ingredients anyway.

As far as the performance of the Bee Venom Mist Essence, let me start by saying that this is THE FINEST face mist I've ever had the pleasure of spraying on my face. When you press down the nozzle, it feels like walking into a soft, cool, humid cloud, fragrant with the energizing scent of candied ginger (I know it doesn't make sense, but that's what it smells like to me). The mist lightly settles on my face, and then I use my hands to gently press the moisture into my skin. The product doesn't feel sticky or heavy, aborbs quickly with no residue but does make my face feel instantly hydrated.

As for the irritation and redness reducing claims, I haven't noticed any results immediately after using the mist, like you would after a nice soothing sheet mask. I will admit that I was a bit disappointed, but in all honesty, I haven't yet found a spray that would instantly take down redness on contact. However, after using the mist for over two weeks, I've noticed that my skintone does look brighter and more even than before, and my face seems less aggravated by cleansing/ exfoliating. So overall, I do think the Bee Venom Mist Essence helps to soothe my sensitive skin, but it's not a miracle product. In comparison to another popular facial mist for sensitive skin, the Avene Thermal Spring Water spray, I like the performance of the Nature Republic product better.

All in all, this was a good buy, and I recommend you check out this Mist Essence if you're in the market for a soothing and hydrating spray toner. The Nature Republic Bee Venom range has a couple more products, and I think next time, I'd love to try out the sheet mask. What is your favorite facial mist or toner?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Birchbox Store BYOB Experience

BYOB, or Build Your Own Birchbox. When Birchbox's first store opened in SoHo back in July, I was instantly interested in coming down to pick out five mini beauty products of my choosing for $15 + tax, because a) I'm a control freak, b) minis are adorbs. Right?
I used to get my monthly boxes from Birchbox, a sample subscription service, back in 2011 - but after less than a year, I cancelled my subscription. While the boxes were fantastic for discovering new brands and products, and overall a good value for money with occasional full sizes thrown in, after a while I started amassing large quantities of deluxe samples I had no use for; some products just plain didn't interest me or weren't a good match for my skintone/ skin type/ hair type/grooming habits, while others I wanted to try, but couldn't keep up with the constant stream of new stuff. And so I cancelled.

But I still love getting minis and travel sizes, because they're a great (and cheaper) way to try new things without committing to the full bottle, on top of actually being useful for travel or carrying around in your purse. So for me, the Build Your Own Birchbox service is the best of both worlds: you're getting five deluxe samples to try out, but you get to choose what goes in your box. Perfect!
The area for making your own Birchboxes is located in the back of the store. There are glass top counters set up, displaying the samples available at the time. You choose one sample in each of the five categories: make-up, hair, fragrance, skincare and nails/ bodycare. In each category, there are three to five choices; I was hoping for even more products, but I'm guessing that the choices are a reflection of what's coming in Birchbox subscription boxes in a given month, and so the selection probably changes frequently. A sales associate helps you pick your samples by explaining the available choices (+ current deals and offers) and packing them all in a Birchbox  for you - you get to choose from a white, pink or brown box.
Here's what I picked for my own Birchbox: a Laura Geller Beauty GlamLASH Dramatic Volumizing Mascara in Black (the other choices were a MAKE Make-up Remover, Smashbox primer or Cynthia Rowley lip stain), Klorane Extra-gente Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk (from Amika Blowout Spray, Frederic Fekkai Glossing Conditioner, DevaCurl Flexible Hairspray, and Beauty Protector Protect & Detangle), Juliette Has a Gun Mad Madame perfume sample (from an MCMC sample and something else - sorry, I can't remember), a COOLA Natural BB Cream Unscented Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 Matte Tint (from Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel, Marcelle 8 in 1 Power Serum, Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser and Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish), and lastly a pot of Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream (from Ruffian nude nail polish + nail polish remover wipe, or Whish body scrub).
I'm actually really excited to try all the samples I picked out: I've wanted to try the COOLA matte sunscreen for ages, and Egyptian Magic always intrigued me. Both the Laura Geller mascara and Klorane dry shampoo are super handy for travel, and I was happy to find two niche choices in the perfume category - I've read lots of reviews on Juliette Has a Gun perfumes on various perfume blogs, but have never seen the brand in person.
As for the rest of the store, the first floor offers full-size 'star products' from brands that make appearances in Birchboxes, divided into make-up products (further categorized into lips, face, eyes etc) and skincare. It can be a bit difficult to find what you're looking for, as the Birchbox doesn't carry a full range of products from a given brand, and then all products from one brand are not shelved together, but divided into subcategories. However, there are many helpful sales associates close by, and you can even test and swatch products before deciding on the samples to go into your own Birchbox, like I did when I was unsure whether the tint in the COOLA sunscreen would match my fair skintone (it was a bit too dark, but so sheer it still blended in, so I went for it).
The lower level houses haircare, bodycare, nails, men's products and services: there are hair styling, make-up application and manicures available, but I haven't really looked into that (here's a link for the list of services and pricing, in case you're curious. You can also book services online).
The benefit of shopping in the Birchbox store is that it carries a lot of niche and not easily available brands, like Marcelle (Birchbox is the exclusive retailer in the US), Liz Earle, Cynthia Rowley Beauty, Jouer, Sunday Riley, Dermablend, Sachajuan, Davines and many, many more, and everything has testers so you can swatch to your heart's content. You can also earn and spend Birchbox points (the members rewards program for subscribing, shopping, reviewing and referring through Birchbox) in the SoHo store.

Overall, I was really happy with my Build Your Own Birchbox experience, and the store had a nice ambiance for browsing hard to find products. I would definitely recommend the BYOB service, and in fact, I'll probably do it again myself with my best friend when she comes to visit New York in October. New Yorkers, have you visited the Birchbox store already? What are your favorite beauty spots in SoHo?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Red Ochre Cheeks: Laura Geller Blush-n-Brighten in Boysenberry

The educational value of this post is that I had no idea what a boysenberry was, or what it looked like. According to Wiki, it's a cross of raspberry, blackberry, dewberry and loganberry - except now, I have no idea what dewberries and loganberries are, and what's worse, I'm getting hungrier by the minute, looking up photos of boysenberries on the vine, boysenberry jam and boysenberry pie. Which as it turns out, isn't even relevant, because the Laura Geller Blush-n-Brighten in Boysenberry ($27.50 for 0.176 oz/ 5 g, mine is a GWP mini size) is definitely NOT the color of a boysenberry (deliciously reddish maroon); it's the color of red ochre. Why so confusing, Laura?!
This Blush-n-Brighten in Boysenberry is an adorable mini I scored with a order. I've previously owned another shade of Laura Geller's Blush-n-Brighten, called Apricot Berry (is that a fruit as well? Some photos of that shade here and here), which I purged last year because of its similarity to a diferent blush I own; but I did enjoy the formula of the Blush-n-Brighten a lot, so I was happy to give another shade a go.
As you can see, this baked blush looks mighty interesting in the compact: there are marbelized veins of reddish brown, cool taupe, deeper berry and light pink. There are no shimmer particles visible, unlike the golden swirls in my Milani Baked Blush in Berry Amore. Boysenberry is, in fact, a smooth matte blush, and a very pigmented one at that - one swipe of my Hakuhodo cheek brush is enough to doll up a cheek. The matte formula of Boyseberry is creamy, not powdery, blends well, and lasts without fault throughout the day.
Are you already biting your fingernails in anticipation of the swatches? Well, I kind of gave it away in the title, because the way Boysenberry swatches on the skin is nothing like it looks in the pan. It's a red ochre shade, or a burnt orange - warm, earthy, with a tinge of brown. I tried swirling my fingers through the pink parts on the edges of the pan, but nope, there are no hints of coolness, no pink to be found.
Boysenberry is the warmest and most orange of my neutral blushes; Inglot Cream Blush no. 86 comes the closest but has more red tones, as does Milani Berry Amore, which is the only shimmery blush in this line-up. NYX Mauve leans the most cool/pink (mind you, on my cheeks it's still a warm neutral shade), while NARS Douceur has more muted brown and red tones than Boysenberry.
I'm going to freely admit that at first, I was quite disappointed at how orange Boysenberry swatched on my fingers - I was hoping for more of my typical peachy pink business. But after wearing it on the cheeks, I'm quire happy with this red ochre shade, especially for summer wear: it perks up and warms up the skin, giving me more of an outdoorsy sunburnt look and less that of a delicate porcelain doll. It's definitely somewhat unusual, and borderline clashy - and I'm cool with that.
Have you recently discovered any unusual blush shades that work well with your skintone? What are your favorite warm neutral blushes for the summer?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My 10 Most Worn Nail Polishes

I was inspired by an older post of Liz's to do a little round-up of my most worn nail polishes for your viewing pleasure. In my post, I'm actually guided more by the actual usage than instant likes or dislikes and chose bottles where the level of polish was the lowest, which is a combination of a couple factors: how long I've had the bottle, and how many times I've worn a particular shade.
I was quite surprised at some of these - off the top of my head, I didn't think they were my most worn polishes, and one of these I actually disliked quite a bit when I first got it; but anyway, let's get on with it. In no particular order:
Neutrals: OPI Don't Burst My Bubble (more photos here, swatch here) & Orly Rage (a close-up shot here, partial swatch here).
I don't really like nude and neutral nails - they just don't hold my interest for very long, on top of it being very difficult to find a nude that doesn't give me mannequin hands. But OPI Don't Burst My Bubble is such a very, very light pink that it does stand out against my fair skin, and gives a nice, semi-sheer, glossy nude look to my nails. I also like it as a base for a couple glitter toppers from my stash. I also don't wear metallics very often, but love the foiled rose gold of Orly Rage. Both of these have the added benefit on not showing tip wear too badly, so I especially like them for traveling.

Pastels: China Glaze Lemon Fizz (swatched here and here), Essie Bikini So Teeny (another swatch here), OPI You're Such A Budapest (swatched here), Essie Splash of Grenadine (swatched here and here).
Wearing two coats of Zoya Mosheen on top of Bikini So Teeny on the ring finger.
I didn't expect there to be so many pastels among my most worn shades, but I guess I really like pastels? Any shade with a white base looks good on my skintone, actually. I pull out China Glaze Lemon Fizz every year around Easter, which would have been the fourth time this April - I just can't think of a better early spring cheery manicure shade. I wear both Bikini So Teeny and OPI You're Such A Budapest from spring well into summer; you can see in the photos that they're not miles apart, but You're Such A Budapest pulls more lilac. I've had Essie's Splash of Grenadine for four years now too, long before it was made popular by Estee from Essie Button. It's a fantastic purple pink that's not too girly; the white base in this shade causes the shade to look more muted than pastel. A firm favorite for both fingers and toes.

Corals and Reds: Wibo Express Growth no. 328 (an older swatch here; the most similar shade that's readily available worldwide would be OPI Hot & Spicy), Essie Cute as a Button (more photos here), Barry M Raspberry (another photo here, used in a manicure here; the closest shade that's available in the US would be China Glaze Merry Berry, which I own as a back-up), New York Color Manhattan (I haven't seen this shade around in a while, so the closest match would be OPI In The Cable Car-Pool Lane).
Wearing two coats of Maybelline Color Show Jewels in Precious Pearl on the ring finger.
Ok, so the Polish brand Wibo no. 328 isn't exactly a coral: it's like a muted apricot cream. It looks a bit more orange in my swatches, but it's a bit more neutral, with a delightful dusky quality. When I first bought this (maybe three or four years ago in Poland), I absolutely hated the application and wasn't convinced about the shade. But I've since learnt not to keep it out when it's very hot, and I find myself craving this apricot every summer without fail. I was surprised not to find any swatches of Essie Cute as a Button on my blog, but it's another staple polish for spring and summer, and I love it for pedicures.
Wearing OPI glitter topcoat on the ring finger

Now, the Barry M Raspberry is possibly the oldest polish in my stash - I want to say it's 5+ years? And while it's still usable, especially with some nail polish thinner, I know it's nearing the end of its days. Raspberry is my favorite classic cool-toned berry red; not a terribly unique shade, but looks great on my skintone, and the formula is spot on. The same can be said about the New York Color Quick Dry Nail Polish in Manhattan; just the perfect balance of berry purple and red, vampy and dark, but not as dark as to look black on the nails.

What shades would make the cut in your most worn round-up?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Apocalypse-Proof Mauve: Mally Evercolor Shadow Stick in Dusk

My love of sticks and crayons, it is ever so strong. I've managed to rein in the 'MUST HAVE THEM ALL' attitude in the past couple of months, but not before securing another cream eyeshadow crayon for my stash: the Mally Beauty Evercolor Shadow Stick in Dusk ($25 for 0.06 oz/ 1.6g).
I'd never actually tried anything from Mally Beauty before buying this shadow crayon, which is one of the most beloved items from the brand. After my experience with the Evercolor Stick I'd be curious to try more things from Mally, although the higher price point and lack of counters anywhere near me dampens my spirit of brand adventure somewhat. But - back to Dusk.
The Evercolor Shadow Sticks have the standard twist-up eyeshadow crayon packaging; although I'm not so happy with the pretty but impractical white color of the stick (magnifies all the smudgy prints) or the fact that the shade name is printed on the side of the packaging without a colored tip indicating the actual shade. I only own this one Mally Shadow Stick, so it's not a huge deal, but I imagine if you have a few, finding the shade you're looking for in a drawer full of pencils is a bit of a pain in the backside.
Sorry for the phallic close-up.
And that's about it when it comes to my nit-picking about the product. There's nothing else to complain about - the Evercolor Shadow Stick in Dusk is simply a damn fine cream shadow crayon. It's smooth, soft, pigmented and blendable, and the shade Dusk is a beautiful medium mauve with complex shimmer (I spot silver, pink, orange and teal flecks) and an almost glossy wet finish on the eyes.
Compared to my other plums and warm taupes in the cream format, Mally's Dusk is the closest to Avon Extralasting Eyeshadow Pencil in Amethyst, but slightly lighter, rosier and more shimmery. Chanel Illusion d'Ombre in New Moon leans more burgundy, has less pigmentation but larger particles of shimmer/micro glitter. Both the Maybelline Color Tattoo in Bad to the Bronze and Benefit Creaseles Cream Shadow in No Pressure are more golden brown/taupe, and more of a pearl finish.
L-R: Mally Shadow Stick in Dusk, Chanel Illusion d'Ombre in New Moon, Maybelline Color Tattoo in Bad to the Bronze, Benefit Creaseless Cream in No Pressure, Avon Extralasting Pencil in Amethyst
Now here's what happened when I tried to remove these swatches with Avene Micellar Water, which I always use for blog-related swatching sessions. Chanel was gone in seconds, Maybelline Color Tattoo and Benefit Creaseless Cream resisted gentle swiping but started to give way to manic scrubbing, while Mally's Evercolor Shadow Stick and Avon Extralasting Pencil remained completely intact. How on Earth...?! I hasten to add that the Mally Shadow Stick lasts just as well on my actual (oily) lids. In the face shots, the photo on the left was taken about 5 hours into the wear, after taking two speedy and sweaty walks in Central Park, 2 miles each. You can see some slight unevenness in the photo, but to my naked eye, there was no creasing whatsoever. I tested it again a couple days later, this time carrying a mountain bike up and down subway stairs, and riding the hotter-than-hell subway with said bike (don't ask). Again, no creasing or budging without additional priming, until I took my make-up off with a cleansing oil at night.
In the photo on the left, I'm wearing Mally's Dusk all over the lid, with Rouge Bunny Rouge Delicate Hummingbird in the outer corner, blended up and out, and Too Faced Naked Beach in the inner corner to highlight. In the photo on the right, I have Dusk all over the lid and blended out into the crease, with Burberry Midnight Brown along the upper lashline, blended out in a wing shape at the outer corner. I definitely prefer the plummier look on the left as I felt that golden tones in Midnight Brown clashed a bit with the rosiness of Dusk, but overall, it's a very versatile shade, either on its own or for layering with powder shadows.
Have you tried anything from Mally Beauty? What are your favorites from this brand? And by the way - ready yourself for a mammoth of a post comparing all the cream shadow sticks in my posession, which I promised a while back (last year, more like). It's coming!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Korean Sheet Masks: Nature Republic Snail Therapy & Charcoal

MOAR sheet masks! Mask sheets! Shask meets! Yay! I know, so much enthusiasm - but they're really fun to try, and even though my skin's been going through a pretty rough patch lately, I still like to pamper it with a soothing, cooling mask once or twice a week. This fortnight, I've been trying two masks from the Korean brand Nature Republic, which focuses on natural ingredients: their Snail Therapy Mask Sheet ($17 for 5 masks on Korea Depart) and the Given by Nature Charcoal Mask Sheet ($6 for 5 masks on Korea Depart).
From what I understand, both of these masks have actually been discontinued, but you can still get them online. The Snail Therapy Mask Sheet has been replaced with the Snail Solution 1,000 Hydrogel Mask Sheet, reviewed by my friend Kar Yi here (the gist of her review is that she enjoyed it, but didn't notice enough results to justify the higher price tag of $6 per mask). So my review is for the older version, but I'm still hoping it can be somewhat useful.
Now, snail mucus filtrate has been one of the most popular ingredients in Korea for a couple years now. The alleged benefits of snail secretion in skincare include moisturization, skin renewal and regeneration, thanks to significant amounts of allantoin, collagen, elastin and glycolic acid in the secretion. I don't really buy into snail slime as a wonder ingredient a whole lot, but still it was nice to try out. The Nature Republic Snail Therapy mask is a generously sized paper mask, saturated in a thick, and dare I say, somewhat slimy essence. I had some issues fitting the mask on my nose, but thanks to the tacky feel of the essence, the mask stuck to my face really well, even when I was moving around the kitchen cooking and doing the dishes (yeah, I like to multitask). The mask felt cooling but a little tingly on my skin, and had a pleasant fresh scent. When I removed it after about 20-30 minutes, my skin looked hydrated and plump, but also quite red and aggravated, and the surface of my skin felt very, very sticky. I tried patting the rest of the essence in, which resulted in my hands also getting very tacky - I've waited for about 15 minutes, hoping for the sticky residue to absorb, but no such luck, so in the end I had to just rinse it off. I wasn't able to reuse this mask, which is just as well; I really didn't care for this one.
The Given By Nature Charcoal Mask is meant to mattify oily skin and balance out moisture levels. The key ingredients in this one are charcoal powder, grapefruit extract, green tea and peach tree leaf extracts. Unfortunately, alcohol is actually listed above all of these lovely natural ingredients, and you know I'm not a fan. In spite of that, I really, really enjoyed this mask. The paper on this was thinner and more see-through but still resilient, and the fit over the eyes/nose area was rather good. The essence itself had very little scent and was a lot thinner and more watery in consistency than all of the other sheet masks I've tried so far. The mask felt very refreshing and cooling on the skin, although once I removed it, my face felt warm; I'm guessing this was caused by the alcohol. After removing the mask, my skin was definitely less red and more even, and my breakouts and scars looked less noticeable. My face felt hydrated and soothed, and the remaining essence absorbed well with little residue and no tacky feeling - a huge plus! I wouldn't say my face looked mattified after using the Charcoal Mask (it still had that moisturized glow from the essence) but overall, I'd say it's a great mask for oily/combination skin, as it feels more lightweight and absorbs better than many other sheet masks.

And there you have it! After my first experience with Nature Republic sheet masks, I'm definitely curious to try a couple more next time I visit their store. Have you tried anything from Nature Republic? If so, what are your favorite products from the brand? I have two more skincare products from them that I'm currently testing - look out for my reviews in the upcoming weeks.

Monday, August 11, 2014

YouTube Celebrity Culture: Why I'm Not a Fan

Like many of you, I've been watching the YouTube beauty community for even longer than I've been blogging, which is over five years now. I've seen YouTube videos morph from poorly-lit phone camera clips shot in one's bedroom to professionally produced and edited short movies with sophisticated backgrounds and props, just as I've seen blogs go from simple online diaries with shaky shots and ernest ramblings to elaborate websites with magazine-style spreads and sentences fully resembling ad copy. That's the way of things: I know it, you know it, I've written about it before.

What I haven't written about before is the YouTube and blog celebrity culture that's quickly expanding beyond my wildest imagination. It's a lot more apparent on YouTube, where you can watch hundreds of vlogs from conventions like VidCon, BeautyCon or IMATS, in which half-crazed teens and pre-teens wait for hours in a line to catch a glimpse of their favorite vlogger, and who scream and cry with abandon when the moment comes. On Instagram and Twitter, fans fight for who can have the right to claim the first comment, or the first like. Young girls and boys follow their guru's every step, every word, every recommendation. Yes, my dear readers - YouTubers and beauty bloggers are veritable celebrities these days.

And I'm really not a fan of this new celebrity culture. Granted, that's something deeply ingrained in my personality; I've just never been much of a fan of anything or anyone (well, maybe with the exception of Spice Girls in elementary school), and the older I get, the more wicked pleasure I get from doing the exact opposite of what's currently trending. But I absolutely don't mind that there are people out there who enjoy being part of the fan club, and get some happiness and excitement from following their idol, of which I'm reminded every night, when I can hear cheers through our windows from people gathered around the actors' entrance at a Broadway theatre opposite our apartment building. What I do mind is the inherent hypocrisy of being part of the YouTube celebrity culture in particular.

Bloggers and vloggers are respected and trusted by the virtue of being just regular folk, exactly like you and me, only passionate to share their lives with other people out there. They're not royalty, they're not multimillionaires, they're not with the glamorous crowd. They're your everyman, or everywoman, and since they're just like you, they've become a good friend - someone to catch up with and spend some time every day, someone to listen to and someone to take advice from, someone who loves you and wants you to be happy. Right?

Wrong. These days, the assumption that popular bloggers and vloggers are just like you couldn't be further from the truth. Their lives have ceased to be normal the moment they stepped on that stage to wave to thousands of ecstatic fans, the moment they got a manager, the moment they sat on a plane to Ibiza/Dubai/Los Angeles to take part in a brand's newest ad campaign, the moment they're sent expensive gifts just to consider endorsing a certain product. Again, I don't begrudge any of their success or their life choices, just like it doesn't bother me which Hollywood couple just got a divorce, or how much Tom Cruise has spent on his mansion. It's just something that goes on somewhere in the world, and I'm so far removed from it that it's not even a part of my 'normal' life.

So while I do understand that celebrities, be it YouTube or otherwise, are not just like you and me and really are not my friends, I'm really not sure the teenage crowd is even remotely aware of the fact. It struck me especially hard recently as I was watching a successful YouTuber's fashion and beauty video for back to school. Really, doesn't it seem odd to take tips on how to get ready for school from someone who's been out of school for probably over five years now, earns her own very good money, and uses the video as an opportunity to promote a certain brand?

But that's not even the gist of it - it's the skewed image of reality that these bloggers and vloggers picture in their videos and blog posts. The reality in which you need a 20-minute make-up and hair routine to get ready for high school, the reality in which you do a full Kim Kardashian contouring and false lash application for a movie date with your boyfriend, the reality in which your morning consists of pressing a button on a Keurig to make a cup of coffee in your spotless expensive kitchen, prancing around in cute pjs and taking at least an hour to get ready for a brunch with friends. I'm sorry, but it is not MY reality, or even the reality of 98% of people out there, including these innocent kids watching on their laptop screens, pinning for the day they're all grown up and perfect like their idols.

You may say that watching YouTube videos and reading blog posts is pure escapism, it's just a way to forget about your own troubled life for a little while, to feast your eyes on things that are flawless, happy, and beautiful, and just right. But coming from bloggers and vloggers who used to be just like you, I feel that the line between reality and make belief is especially blurry, and maybe even invisible to the ever younger audiences.

I don't know - maybe not. Maybe I'm just getting old, and I find the 'things the kids are up to these days' increasingly annoying. What really gets me going is being told by a successful, popular, fully made-up adult businesswoman pulling cutesy faces and pretending to be awkward but adorable at the same time that it's a-okay to be 'a weirdo' like she is - just be yourself! I guess I find it especially infuriating to be fed such trivial bullshit in a phony, saccharine, fakely friendly fashion. Or maybe I've just outgrown YouTube?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sampling the Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence and Night Repair Ampoule

A couple months ago, Missha, a Korean skincare and make-up brand most renowned for their BB creams, opened its first store in the US in the New York Flushing area. I had the pleasure of shopping in the store with Kar Yi, and was happy not only to find the entire Missha range with testers, but also many other popular Asian brands: My Scheming, HABA, My Beauty Diary, Dollywink and more. Another bonus of shopping in store was that the sales associates were very generous with free samples, and as I was interested in trying the Missha Time Revolution range, they provided me with enough packets to sample the range over the course of 3-4 weeks.
I was mostly interested in trying the Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence ($49 for 150ml), which is the brand's version of the vastly popular, and painfully expensive at $105 per 2.5 oz bottle, SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. There's no way I'd spend over $100 to try the SK-II, which is why I've been looking into options from other brands, like the IOPE Bio Essence, The Nature Republic The First Number One Essence, or this one from Missha. All of these clear watery toner/serum products are formulated with high percentages of different yeast ferment filtrates, and promise to enhance the skin's hydration, firmness, radiance and tone. Missha's First Treatment Essence contains 80% of proprietary fermented yeast concentrate called Fissione, rich in B Vitamines, as well as Niacinamide (Vitamin B3).
I received seven foil packets of the First Treatment Essence, and found that I was able to get 3-4 uses out of each, as you only need 5-6 drops for the entire face. I've been using the Missha Essence in place of my regular hydrating toner both in the morning and at night. After nearly a month of sampling the essence, I found that my skin feels nicely hydrated and supple, and the serums I layer over the essence absorb a lot better into my skin. In fact, what I liked the most about the Time Revolution Essence, is that it absorbs immediately into the skin without any product feel - just like water, only more moisturizing. Since Asian 'essences' are a cross between toners and serums, I think they're a fantastic option for oily skin types, or to use in the summer; they feel extremely lightweight, yet still give your skin a nourishing boost.

In the morning, I've been layering the Missha Time Revolution Night Repair New Science Activator Ampoule ($49 for 50ml) over the First Treatment Essence - I know it sounds very counterintuitive as the ampoule is meant to be mostly an overnight treatment, but you can in fact use it day and/or night, and I'll get to my reasons for doing so in a moment. I was excited to learn the Night Ampoule contains a lot of probiotics: fermented Bifida, Lactobaccilus and Lactococcus, as well as niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and a whole host of natural plant extracts, and promises to moisturize, energize, repair, improve elasticity and even out skintone.
The first few times, I applied the Time Revolution Ampoule at night, and woke up to my skin feeling quite hydrated and plump, but unfortunately, not very even in tone or texture, which is why I returned to using my Murad hydroquinone serum at night, and started using the ampoule in the mornings. After testing it for nearly a month, I have to say that it doesn't work well with my skin; while I can see that my skin remains quite hydrated, I've unfortunately started experiencing a lot more redness and sensitivity in my skin as the weeks went on. I've also been noticing a lot more clogged pores, but I can't pinpoint that down to just this product - my skin has just been a lot more oily recently, probably due to the hot and humid weather. What I do like about the Ampoule is that it's quite a liquidy gel consistency, and it absorbs quickly into the skin with no residue, although it does feel a bit tacky - but once you layer a moisturizer over it, the sticky feeling is gone.

I'm not completely head over heels for the Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence or the Night Repair Ampoule, although I quite enjoyed using the Essence; I just haven't seen enough of a result to rush out and buy the full bottle - at least not without trying the IOPE Essence first. If you're interested in sampling the range, the Missha website offers a small Time Revolution kit with both the Essence and the Ampoule for $19 - very reasonable, and the minis should last you a couple months as you only need a few drops of each product. Have you tried any skincare products from Missha? Are you interested in trying any of the Asian essences?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cult Classics: Shu Uemura Hard Formula 9 Eyebrow Pencil in Seal Brown

I haven't had the best of luck with eyebrow pencils lately: the oft-recommended drugstore option, Revlon Brow Fantasy duo, turned out to be quite a major let down, and when I decided to give the high-end Kevyn Aucoin Precision Brow a go, I disliked the shade and how scratchy it felt on the skin. Looking back though, maybe I should have given it another chance, because welcome to my current rotation, the hardest of hard eyebrow pencils - the Shu Uemura Hard Formula 9 in the shade Seal Brown 02 ($23 for 4g/ 0.14 oz). Have you heard the raves about this one way back in the day and always been curious? Yeah, me too.
The Shu Hard Formula 9 Eyebrow Pencils are long pencils made of wood with a simple clear plastic cap - the design certainly does not look very luxurious, but I don't mind. I vaguely remember some claims that these have to be sharpened a certain way at Shu counters, but a) no Shu counters in the US, b) it came sharpened just like any other pencil in the world, c) I don't see how special sharpening would change the performace, and really, who has time for that?
The Hard Formula 9 pencil is also the singular worst swatching product I have ever had the displeasure to use. I'm sorry you can't see anything in the arm swatch - I really tried, so much so that I actually scratched my skin pretty bad in the process and had a scab to show for it. To be perfectly honest, at this point I was ready to throw in the towel and I frantically started to look for my online invoice to return the bastard to the make-up torture chamber that it clearly came from. But! something urged me to still try it on my actual eyebrows, and boy I'm glad I did.
When used through the brows, the Shu Uemura Hard Formula pencil doesn't necessarily glide on the skin, but it does transfer color quite easily, both on the more and the less bushy areas. Because the formula of this pencil is so, so firm, it's easier to control and draw in the shape with more precision, which is especially nice for the arches and tails of my brows. When the pencil is sharpened to a nice point, you can also draw in very fine lines to mimick the actual brow hairs - and the pencil looks pretty much invisible, unlike the Revlon duo. I also find that the hard consistency of the Shu brow pencil translated into better longevity; while creamier pencils tend to slip and slide and fade more throughout the day, the waxy feel of Hard Formula 9 really does not budge.
L-R: Shu Uemura Seal Brown, Revlon Brow Fantasy in Dark Blonde, Annabelle So Foxy Eyeshadow (dupe for MAC Charcoal Brown which I sometimes use as an eyebrow powder. Also, poor inner arm)
Ingredients: Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Stearic Acid, Cera Microcristallina/ Micocrystalline Wax, Candelilla Cera/ Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Carnauba/ Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Rhus Succedanea/ Rhus Succedanea Fruit Wax, Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Hydrogenated Palm Oil [+/- May Contain: Mica, CI 77492, CI 77491, CI 77499/ Iron Oxides, CI 77891/ Titanium Dioxide].

As for the shade Seal Brown, it's a very ashy, cool-toned brown that's a touch lighter than the color of my brow hairs, which is exactly what I was aiming for. While the warmer tones in Revlon Brow Fantasy in Dark Blonde matched my hair quite well when I had it foiled, my natural hair color at the roots is darker and more ashy, and Shu's Seal Brown blends in much better now.
Looking majorly unimpressed here, but you can see not only my brows, but also my 'ombre' (root grow-out) situation.
I really enjoy using the Hard Formula 9 Seal Brown pencil - it's a great staple brow product to have on hand, and the pencil goes down so slowly that I can see it lasting for years to come. However, I find that when I'm in a hurry, the process of filling in with this firm pencil can get a bit time-consuming - so now, I'm on the hunt for something quick & easy; maybe the new Benefit Gimme Brow gel? Have you tried the famous Shu Eyebrow Pencil? What's your favorite brow product to use when you're pressed for time?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

At the Breaking Point: TRIND Keratin Treatment for Nails

The last you've seen my nails, I (and they) were literally at the breaking point; first, I noticed tiny little cracks at the sides of my thumb, index and middle fingers, then there were bigger cracks, annoyingly starting to catch in my hair and on every item of clothing, and then one day, I was opening a tricky cupboard and SNAP! One of my nails completely broke off, and I'm not gonna lie, it did really hurt - and not just my vanity.
I'm not exactly sure what did my nails in this time: in the past, my nails would break a lot from doing housework (soaking in water), but since a big eczema flare-up on my hands a couple years ago, I don't touch any dishes or damp sponges without my trusty rubber gloves. My mom thinks the breakage comes from wearing nail polish all the time, even though I always, always apply nail strenghtener as my base coat. I think that maybe my attempts at an almond shape, coupled with the length of my nails at the time, caused them to be more fragile over time. At any rate, the opportunity to road test the new TRIND Keratin Treatment for Nails* ($45.95 for 2 x 0.3 fl. oz/ 9 ml) could not have come at a better time - so thank you, Trind!
The Keratin Treatment is a duo of Keratin Nail Restorer and Keratin Nail Protector (also available separately) in a handy little kit: 'With the Trind Keratin Nail Treatment kit we provide a chemical free solution for thin, brittle and chipped nails. It is a mild solution that treats the most sensitive nails that have been damaged by wearing artificial nails or from the use of medicines or other environmental influences.' (from the brand's website)

The Keratin Nail Restorer, which is the first step of the treatment, is a baby pink-tinged thin gel you apply directly on the nails, and wait for it to absorb/dry before the next step. The Nail Restorer is quite a watery product with a pleasant fresh scent that reminds me of a serum for your nails - it hydrates the nails and strenghtens with the keratin, and it can be reapplied as often as needed on bare nails. In fact, Trind recommends using the Restorer daily, sealing it in with the Protector, and then removing everything and repeating the process the next day, however my favorite way of using the Keratin Nail Restorer was to apply it at bedtime, and then again before doing a weekly manicure.

The second step, the Keratin Nail Protector, is more like your standard nail strenghtener; it aims to seal in the moisture from the Nail Restorer and protect your nails against damage. I've used it both on its own (it goes on clear and gives the nails a nice glossy sheen) and as a base coat for my nail polish.
I've been testing the TRIND Keratin Treatment Kit for two months now, and I'm happy to say that my nails are back to their regular strong selves - no breakage in sight! Since I started using the system, I haven't experienced any new cracks on the sides of my nails, and I've also had less peeling on the tips as well. I can't say that I've noticed my nails getting any thicker, but my nails are naturally quite thick, strong and not very flexible (kind of like claws - you get the picture).

While I can definitely say that the Keratin Nail Protector stops any discoloration or stains from nail polishes, it unfortunately does not protect from mild peeling on the surface on the nails that I always get from wearing glitter nail polishes - but I honestly haven't found anything that does.  In terms of how the Trind kit fares compared to OPI Nail Envy and Nail Tek Hydration Therapy III, my other strenghteners of choice, I feel that the Trind duo keeps my nails more hydrated than both, thus preventing painful breakage. I've used the kit both with Trind Caring Colors as well as nail polishes from other brands, and the results are pretty much the same.
Along the Keratin Treatment, I also received a bottle of Trind's Extra Mild Nail Polish Remover* ($9 for 4.23 fl. oz/ 125 ml). Its gentle formula feels more moisturizing than my regular green OPI nail polish remover and removes cream and shimmer formulas without a problem, but it's definitely not strong enough to tackle glitter, which is expected in an acetone-free formula. While I like this remover, I'm not as impressed with it as with the Keratin Treatment.

All in all, I think the TRIND Keratin Treatment for Nails is a very effective strenghtener, although I do wish the price point wasn't as high - especially as the bottles only contain 0.3 fl. oz/9 ml of product versus the usual 0.5 fl. oz/15 ml. What is your favorite nail treatment? Do you use it as base coat or only wear it on manicure breaks?

*Disclaimer: The products 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!