Monday, December 29, 2014

Project Make A Dent 2014 Finale

Oh the circle of life of these stash-reducing challenges (if you haven't been following my updates, see the inaugural post here): first you get super pumped about your new project, then you get increasingly bored using the same products over and over again and slowly fall off the wagon, and then suddenly, you realize it's almost the end of the year, and you need to get cracking! That's basically the gist of my experience with Project Make A Dent #1. Anyway, are you ready to see my progress from the entire year?
Products at the beginning of Project MAD #1, January 2014
Updated selection of products at a half year mark in June 2014 (Bourjois Healthy Mix Serum and the Annabelle eyeliner having been completely used up)
Let's start with the unrefutable success stories: I've completely used up one bottle of foundation (Bourjois Healthy Mix Serum in the shade 51), two eyeliner pencils (Annabelle Smudgeliner in Rich Chocolate and GOSH Waterproof liner in Black Ink) and one lipstick (Rimmel Moisture Renew in Soft Coral). That's four make-up empties! Verrry nice. Now, for the partial success: I've managed to put a noticeable dent in an eyeshadow (Annabelle Vanilla Chilla), another eyeliner (Urban Decay 24/7 in Whiskey), another lipstick (NYX Round Lipstick in Tea Rose), and another foundation (added later, Estee Lauder Double Wear Light in Intensity 1). Lastly, the womp womp of my project - the two neverending blushes, NYX Powder Blush in Angel and NYC Blushable Creme Stick in Plaza Pink. I promise, even though I've used them a lot, there's barely any product missing! I swear it's some kind of self-refilling make-up magic :/
Products in December 2014: GOSH Waterproof eyeliner in Black Ink (not pictured, already thrown away) and Rimmel Soft Coral lipstick completely used up
Overall, I'm very happy with the results of my first Project Make A Dent. I was kind of hoping to maybe use up one more eyeliner completely and hit pan on the NYX blush, but it is what it is and I'm feeling satisified. I definitely used my products as much as I possibly could, and given that I don't wear make-up everyday, I gave them a lot of attention without ignoring the rest of my collection. I will admit that at some point, the Project MAD got a little confusing - subconsciously, you strive to use up your selected items completely, but it's not in fact the goal of this challenge. I think that's usually the breaking point when you want to abandon the Project, but it's important to take a step back, maybe take a little break from your basket of products, and then return to it when you're feeling refreshed. That's the benefit of doing the project over the course of an entire year!

The lessons I learnt from this year's Project Make A Dent have definitely helped me to introduce some improvements for 2015 - yes, there's going to be a second edition next year! I'm already planning my challenge and selecting new products I want to focus on, but I'll talk more about the changes I've decided to make in the post dedicated to the new Project. How have you guys been doing with your stash-reducing projects? Are you happy with this year's achievements, are you already setting goals for next year?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Beauty Buys of 2014

'Tis the season for my beauty favorites of the entire year 2014! Are you as excited as I am? I've been jotting down ideas for my annual picks for a good month now, and I'm finally ready for a grand reveal. So... drumroll please! In no particular order, but starting with skincare:

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads (review & comparison with other exfoliating pads and acid toners here): I don't often woe seeing the bottom of a deluxe skincare sample, which is what happened when I first tried the FAB rounds last February. I promptly finished my other pads and repurchased the full size of lactic acid-based Facial Radiance Pads, and I'm definitely planning to pick up another tub once my current one runs out - I love them this much. I see a visible improvement in the clarity and texture of my skin, as well as better absorption of serums and moisturizers I layer over the top - all of that without any redness, stinging or peeling.
Dr. Wu Intense Renewal Serum with 18% Mandelic Acid (full review here): Another exfoliating favorite, but this time something I use weekly rather than daily. This clear, water-like, liquidy serum sinks in immediately, and does this magical thing where the morning after application, my skin is so soft, so bouncy, and a lot more even. I think it's good to mix up your acids for better efficacy and the Intense Renewal Serum does the trick for me.

Now, onto what you've surely been waiting for - make-up!
NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Chantilly (another mention here): I've been hearing that a lot of people had given in to the NARS concealer hype only to return it a couple days later because it looked too dry under their eyes. But for me, it's perfect, maybe because I don't ever use it to cover dark circles - I use it on spots and scars. It's very pigmented, very blendable and layerable, and never looks cakey on my 'problem areas', ha. I use it by swiping a tiny bit from the doe foot wand on the back of my hand, and then I pick up little by little with a small brush and spot conceal - not the most time-efficient method but looks supremely natural. Chantilly is a very light shade that oxidizes just a smidge to blend in with my skintone perfectly - a shade match and formula win-win.

Shu Uemura Hard Formula 9 Brow Pencil in Seal Brown (full review here): Since my initial review, I've stared to appreciate this cult eyebrow pencil even more - it's quick, precise, looks natural on the brows and lasts all day. The shade Seal Brown is spot on too, the best color match I've ever found for my brows. I've recently tried the popular Benefit Gimme Brow gel too, but nothing beats the Shu pencil for me!
Pixi Endless Silky Eye Pens (review and swatches of all the shades shown here): Last year I was all about the Sephora Contour 12 HR Wear eyeliner pencils, but this year Pixi Eye Pens (pencils, dammit!) have surpassed them: on top of just as creamy and pigmented formula, they seem to last better on my waterline, and they don't even transfer from top to bottom waterline. If you've still not tried them, you're missing out!
Rouge Bunny Rouge When Birds Are Singing Long Lasting Eyeshadows (review and swatchathon of four of the shades here, and look - are there three more pans in the photo...?): To be honest, I like all of the RBR eyeshadows I've tried, but the original 'When Birds Are Singing' formula slightly more than the Limited Edition mineral wet/dry formula of the Chronos palette (click!). There's something very special and sophisticated about Rouge Bunny Rouge shimmers, and the newer to me mattes are simply dreamy. I fell down the bunny hole of these eyeshadows, no doubt about it.
Shiseido Luminizing Satin Eye Color Trios (review & swatches of the neutral Nude here, and the pastel Static here): Since we're already talking about sophisticated shimmers, I'd be remiss not to mention the Shiseido Luminizing formula. While their trios are not the most pigmented shadows I've ever encountered, the subtle, glowy, perfecting finish they impart on your lids is hard to come by in other brands. The color combinations in these trios are very interesting too, and I already have my beady eye on a couple more. I definitely recommend you swatch these next time you're near a Shiseido counter!
Canmake Cream Cheeks in the Clear finish (review & swatches of the pink CL04 Clear Pink Joy and the apricot CL03 Clear Orange here): This year was also the first time I've tried a cheek product with a jelly finish, and now I'm completely hooked (more jelly reviews to come next year!). If you're looking for an inexpensive, radiant, lightweight but pigmented cream blush, the Canmake Cream Cheeks are simply beautiful. While they're not easily accessible in the US without shopping on eBay or a dedicated Japanese cosmetics website, these little gems are well worth the trouble.
Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush Palette (full review & swatches here): Again with the glowy but not sparkly finish (can you see a pattern here?) - I really, really like this year's Hourglass blush palette. But my love of this blush formula goes beyond the palette, so if you skipped out on that one, I would still give their regular Ambient blush line-up a good swatchathon next time you're in Sephora. Beautiful, easily buildable shades in a formula that melds into your skin and lasts an entire day.
Shu Uemura Unlimited Shine Supreme Lipstick (full review & swatches of the shade I have here): Quite surprisingly, I only have one favorite lip product for the entire year, and it's this Shu Uemura sheer number. I simply haven't bought (and tried) very many new to me lipsticks this year, but from what I've sampled, this one was a clear standout: lightweight, decently hydrating, and beautifully cushiony on the lips, the light pink PK331 leaves me wanting more Shu Uemura lipsticks.

Original Beautyblender (another mention here): I know I've said there's no reason to buy the Beautyblender if one already has the less expensive Real Techniques sponge, but in the end, the Beautyblender seems to have gained an edge over the RT thanks to its better durability and bounciness. The reason I'm including the famous pink egg in my round-up is the fact that I've been working with some less than perfect foundations this year, and the only reason they look decently natural and even on my skin is down to the application with a damp Beautyblender. So, if you have any bases in your stash that drive you absolutely nuts and you're thinking of throwing them in the trash, give them one last chance with this - I find that it really makes a difference.

And a first for my annual beauty favorites, a couple haircare picks - because now that I have long and somewhat damaged locks, I need a bit more TLC.

Batiste Dry Shampoo: I've tried a good number of different dry shampoos in the past couple years, both on the drugstore and salon end of the spectrum, and good ol' Batiste may just be my favorite of all. It soaks up the oils effectively without making your hair stiff, sticky or dirty-feeling, gives a little bit of texture and volume, costs under $8 and comes in a variety of scents and shades. What's not to love? I'll be repurchasing.
Enjoy Leave-in Conditioning Spray: My favorite story about how effective this leave-in conditioner really is dates back to when I worked in a hair salon, and one of the stylists got a little girl in her chair whose hair was literally so matted that it looked like one giant dreadlock (which is what happens when your mummy indulges the 'I don't like brushing!' exclamations). The stylist, having washed the brat's hair, applied copious amounts of the Enjoy spray and somewhat, little by little, managed to get all the tangles out. My hair is not as bad on a daily basis, but it often resembles a rat's nest after washing - this drastically cuts down my brushing out time, while keeping my flowing locks (har har) hydrated and glossy to boot.

And there you have it! You may have noticed a prevalence of high-end brands here, as well as a respectful nod towards Asian brands, especially in my make-up favorites. The simple reason for that is that those products are genuinely what I've been interested in trying this year compared to last year for example, which featured a lot more easily accessible American brands. I have also tried and fallen in love with some cult classics this year, like the Shu eyebrow pencil or the Beautyblender. What can I say, I like to mix up more niche brands with old favorites!

I hope you enjoyed this round-up of my favorite beauty products for this year, and please let me know in the comments what your picks are for this year, so I can try them out in 2015! Can you believe how fast 2014 has gone by? Are you already planning your New Year's Eve party outfit and make-up or are you still in the post-Christmas food coma?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Last Empties of 2014 and Capsule Collection Update

Prepare yourself for a long, looong post chock-full of my empty beauty products from the fourth quarter of 2014! I'll also update you on my progress in editing my skinare and make-up collection towards the end, so feel free to skedaddle to the bottom of the page if you don't care for my beauty trash. Right, let's pull everything out from the empties bag!
Clearly, that's not everything that was in the bag - I had so many things that they just wouldn't fit in the frame. For some reason, I think I had more empties in that last quarter of 2014 than I had in any of the previous updates, which makes me pretty happy! Anyway, what should we start with? Maybe skincare...
Products I disliked and wouldn't repurchase: Murad Essential-C Day Moisture SPF 30 (heavy, greasy, strange consistency that tended to roll under foundation), Arcona Raspberry toner (awful artificial scent, sticky on the skin), Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (works reasonably well but leaves a greasy film).
Products I enjoyed, but I'm trying out other things: fresh LotusYouth Preserve cream (keeps skin supple and moisturized without being heavy, but weird scent and my new Andalou Naturals Probiotic + C Renewal Cream works even better), Sisley Hydra-Global Intensive Anti-Aging Hydration (also a great moisturizer, but the price! No, thank you), Dermalogica Age Smart Overnight Repair Serum (good anti-aging oil serum, a touch heavy for my combination skin), St. Ives Daily Exfoliating Pads (okay but not as good as First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads), Avene Soothing Moisture Mask (effective but still looking for my perfect hydrating mask), Vichy Eau Thermale Water Spray, Nature Republic Bee Venom Mist Essence (really enjoyed this soothing and hydrating toner but for the price, it run out quite quickly).
Products I would repurchase (but am probably trying out other things too): Bioderma Hydrabio Serum (absorbs quickly, lightweight, effective at hydrating, good for sensitive skin), Mountain Rose Herbs 100% Rose Hydrosol (I may be getting some new hydrosols under the tree - I'm excited!).
Bodycare! Lots of soaps, deodorants and bath oils/ salts, but no body lotions? Hmmm, I may have been slacking on the body moisturizing front...
Products I disliked and wouldn't repurchase: Crystal Essence Natural Deodorant in Pomegranate (didn't de-stink and the rollerball was quite drippy)
Products I enjoyed, but I'm trying out other things: Zum Tub Sandalwood Citrus Bath Salts (to be completely honest, husband used up all of these when he had a cold), Aura Cacia Rose Otto in Jojoba oil (used in the bath as well but a bit expensive for this little bottle), Purell hand sanitizer, Black Olive Oil Soap from Morocco (again, used up by husband, we both liked the cleansing power but not having to scoop it out of the tub), Prada Candy Shower Gel (an indulgent gift with purchase of Candy perfume), Rose bar soap from Bulgaria, and the Neom bath oils were covered in my last empties post, I'm not sure why I still had them in my bag :/
Products I would repurchase (but am probably trying out other things too): Mitchum Power Gel Unscented Antiperspirant
Onto haircare! Only four products here, no styling treatments this time.
Products I enjoyed, but I'm trying out other things: The Body Shop Banana Conditioner (conditions well without weighting down my hair but not a fan of the banana scent), Alterna Bamboo Abundant Volume Shampoo (enjoyed it but too pricey to purchase regularly), Dove Hair Therapy Dry Shampoo, Phyto Hydrating Hair Oil deluxe sample (didn't make it to the photo, it was nice but nothing special)
Products I would repurchase: Batiste Dry Shampoo (much better than Dove, I really, really like the results it gives me!)
Hand and nailcare - a new subcategory especially for this round of empties since I had quite a few products in the bag:
Products I disliked and wouldn't repurchase: Boscia Purifying Cleansing Gel x 2 (it's a facial cleanser btw, but I disliked it on the face and used up the rest as a hand soap).
Products I enjoyed, but I'm trying out other things: OPI Original Polish Remover (works well except for glitter nail polish, I ordered Zoya's Remove + to try next), Trind Nailpolish Remover* (ditto).
Products I would repurchase (but am probably trying out other things too): Barry M Nail Paint in Raspberry (I have a China Glaze polish in Merry Berry that's extremely similar, but I love the Barry M shade and formula! My bottle is 5 years old though and unfortunately, no amount of nail polish thinner is capable of reviving it now), Neosalus Cream (prescription moisturizer, too expensive to repurchase but works very well - I still have one tube left for this winter!
Exciting times, make-up empties! Lots and lots of mascara samples - I only have a couple of those left so I can finally start using my full size mascara back-ups!
Products I disliked and wouldn't repurchase: Clinique Lash Doubling Mascara (gives no volume whatsoever), Revlon Brow Fantasy Duo (pencil side is passable, but the gel is awful! Crispy and visible on the brow hairs), Physicians Formula Eye Booster Eyeliner + Serum (felt tip is way too big, liner isn't pigmented enough and tends to feather), bareMinerals Lash Domination Mascara (scratchy brush a la benefit They're Real, smudged and flaked on me), Skindinavia No More Shine Make-up Setting Spray (did nothing to stop shine or mattify my face), Osmia Lip Luster is a repeat from last empties, sorry!
Products I enjoyed, but I'm trying out other things: benefit BADgal Lash (decent but not oustanding), YSL Mascara Volume Effet Faux Cils (I quite like it but definitely don't want to pay the full price), BECCA Dual Coverage Compact Concealer (works well but there are better products for concealing imperfections on the market), Laura Mercier Full Blown Volume Mascara (again, I'd rather not pay high-end mascara prices with so many good options at the drugstore!).
As you can see, I also used up a few fragrance samples, my stand-outs being Lubin Black Jade and Menard Eau de Kasaneka - you can find full reviews of these perfumes in this post.
And lastly a couple foil samples; no immediate loves here, but I was pleasantly surprised by The Face Shop Face It Make-up Primer.

Now for my overall progress in editing down my beauty stash this year: I'm really proud of my progress, you guys! I know many of you have been rooting for me and thank you for that, it has definitely given me a boost of motivation. Between my empties posts, general decluttering and purging of the stash, including both products I've given away to family and friends as well as products I threw in the trash (latest round-up here), and my Project Make A Dent (the finale is coming!!!), my attempts at the capsule collection have been a big success. I have not only downsized my back-up drawer tremendously and managed to finish older products lingering in my collection, but I now also feel that my stash is more edited and contains only products I enjoy reaching for on a regular basis. I no longer feel a twinge of anxiety when I think about products I've kept for years that are probably already expired or nearing expiry, and I'm more ruthless in getting rid of products that don't work for me.

I have also gotten better at controlling my lemmings and those sudden urges to immediately go online beauty shopping because I spotted something I'm really interested in trying. I've found that when a desire to shop RIGHT NOW makes your mouth go dry and you feel your willpower crumbling, it's best to step away from the online checkout, maybe go make yourself a cup of tea and re-evaluate why you feel the need to buy right this instant (there's usually no good reason and even significant discounts are not always the best excuse to shop). I personally make a deal with myself where I'll put my latest obsessions on a wishlist, and if I feel like I still really need the new goodies in a month or so, I can get them within my 2 products per month allowance.

Now, speaking of my beauty allowance - I've also been generally doing well with it and although I cheated quite a bit in the month of November with all the sales and discounts going on, there were also months where I purchased less than 2 beauty products, or nothing. I've now also come to the point where I do need to repurchase certain skincare items because I have no back-ups left to use, and I think those necessary purchases should be exempt from my limit. I will be talking about these new caveats and updating some of my goals early next year, so stay tuned for that!

Extra brownie points if you got this far! Thank you so much for reading and please let me know in the comments how you're doing in trying to edit down your beauty stash - let's all motivate each other for even more downsizing progress next year! And... Merry Christmas!!!

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 and Miami beauty stores - if you live in New York, you know there's a Ricky in virtually every neighborhood. (Update: you can now also shop for Cocoa Brown products at Ricky's online store here.) 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!