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?


  1. still in that food comma... might be a week or so before I'm out of it! Also, aren't rouge bunny rouge eyeshadows lovely??! I only have one but I'm already hooked! Definitely need to get more...and some of those pixi 'pens' (I agree, call it a damn pencil!)

  2. Great products you have here! I need to get some Shu products in my life! I've been really loving Sleek Face Contour Kit and the Balm's Hot Mama blush! It is fabulous!
    <3 Pauline, ­­Addicted to Makeup

  3. Excellent picks, Monika! I've heard great things about the exfoliating pads, and I am definitely intrigued! I do love Pixi liners and RBR eyeshadows as well: my family of RBR shadows just keeps growing :) I am sorta still in the post-Christmas food coma, but planning my NYE outfit really won't take that long! It's most probably one of my black dresses and the pieces I love a lot from the holiday season. Hope you're having a great time in Poland!

  4. Towards the end of this year, I've also become increasingly interested in Asian brands (my trip to Japan and Korea may have catalysed my intrigue...) and I've loved what I've tried (so far) from these brands! Those cream blushes from Canmake look so lovely, I was so close to buying one to try in Japan since they were SO cheap (less than $6 US). I'm a blush fiend and I don't know how I've neglected purchasing the Hourglass palette till now... It's on the list.

  5. I really want to try the Shu eyebrow pencil, sounds great! I might try it out after I've finished my Soap and Glory Archery and Illamasqua Brow Cake. That Hourglass blush palette couldn't get any dreamier, its so pretty! x

  6. Great products indeed! I am eyeing on those PIXI pencils. They seem like good ones to try out. I like the idea that they have a good formula and last long.

  7. Nice pics! I'm a total lover of the First Aid Beauty pads as well... can't live without them! I'll surely repurchase as soon as I run out of them. My skin truly loves them.

  8. I really do need to try that Dr. Wu product now! I don't think I saw much improvement from the Makeup Artist's Choice mandelic acid peel, but maybe a different formulation is the ticket. Where did you buy it?

    Weirdly, I didn't appreciate the one Canmake blush I tried (I admit I was partially turned off by the cheap plastic packaging), but I love - love love love - the Pixi, RBR, Nars concealer, and the Shu brow pencil, which I've been using since just before they pulled out of the US. Sigh. (I really enjoy reading blogs where people have similar taste to mine, because it makes their recommendations all the stronger!)

  9. Hi Monika! Love your picks I have the RBR eyeshadows and Pixi eye pencils on my list! Definitely giving them a go in 2015!


  10. I think I really need to pick up that shu pencil (it's strange that apparent the brow product works for you tend to match my brow as well, when our colorings are totally different), I was quite interesting after hearing about it from Kate and Sasaki Asahi already...

    I think my greatest find of the year would be facial oil (mainly Sukin rosehip and Jurlique skin balancing one), it's like I found the key to clear skin. Will definitely buy more next year, I mean the bottles are so fun to photograph and all that...

  11. Totally agree with some of your picks above! And you know, the other day, I went to ULTA to get a replacement of the RT sponge and they were out of it again, so I thought screw this, I'm going back to Beauty Blender... it's one thing that RT sponge is similar to BB, but if they continue to have distribution problem, and BB is soooo readily available (like at Sephora's check out line and such), I think BB is it for moi.

  12. I also included the NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in my 2014 favourites! Such a great product. I also put some on my hand first but rather than use a brush I just use my fingers to apply it to my face. Like you, I mainly use it to conceal spots rather than lighten up dark circles under the eyes. I'm also a fan of the FAB Facial Radiance Pads. Mine are almost out which is a bummer because they really do work!