Saturday, January 31, 2015

January 2015 Beauty Favorites

How long has it been since my last monthly favorites post? Too long, I guess - for some reason I don't often have a satisfactory line-up of products to present for your viewing pleasure without it becoming rather repetitive to my regularly scheduled reviews. But this month, I have a few 'shopping my stash' rediscoveries, as well as some new, previously unmentioned products that I preferred to cull together in the form of shorter reviewlets.
Let's start with not quite make-up, shall we? After deciding that TATCHA Gold Camellia Nourishing Lip Balm wasn't moisturizing enough as on overnight treatment for my cracked winter lips, I've gone back to an old inexpensive favorite, the Badger Cocoa Butter Lip Balm in the Vanilla Bean flavor. I don't taste much of anything in this, but the balm itself is properly thick, oily and longwearing, so that I still have a layer of product left on my lips come morning.
Similarly, Josie Maran Argan Infinity Intensive Creamy Oil is a welcome boost of nourishment for any area of dry skin: I use it mostly on my cuticles, and it has a delightful orange icing scent. My best friend must have been reading my mind because shortly after taking photos for this Favorites post, she sent me a package containing two shades of Josie's tinted Argan Infinity, which can be used on lips or cheeks. Can't wait to properly test them out!
Inglot's Duraline is one of those things I'd been meaning to pick up for months, but finally bit the bullet when I was visiting home over the Christmas break. In essence, it's a liquid silicone blend meant to be mixed in with powders to achieve an intense longwearing cream formula, but it can also be used to revive cream products. I've been using it with my nearly defunct pot of Maybelline Color Tattoo and it has worked wonders, turning it back into a smooth, creamy, soft consistency. If you own several cream eyeshadows on the brink of being completely dried out, do pick up a bottle of Duraline - it will save you some pennies in the long run!
I'm pretty sure both NYX Powder Blush in Taupe and the Boots No7 Blush in Soft Damson must have been mentioned in a past Favorites round-up. Both are the perfect shades for a cool winter complexion: NYX Taupe serves as an effortless contouring shade, No7 Soft Damson gives the prettiest subtle pink flush to the cheeks. You know, sometimes rummaging through your make-up drawers and bringing out forgotten favorites really is a pleasure!
This month I have also been experimenting with lining my eyes using a soft pencil and an angled brush, as demonstrated by the talented Karima in this tutorial. The brush makes it easy to deposit color exactly at the roots of your lashes and to find the perfect angle for your flick. For me, using an eyeliner pencil is also less messy and time-consuming than pulling out a pot of gel eyeliner, because, ekhm, lazy. I have also found that for some of my drier, harder formula eye pencils that tend to drag at the lashline, using the brush to place product instead is a much less frustrating experience. You already know my love for the Pixi Endless Silky Eye Pens, but I feel that I haven't mentioned my favorite angled brush in too long: it's the EcoTools Bamboo Flat Eyeliner Brush. I just ordered a new one from Ulta because mine, after five years of unfailing service, is finally ready to retire.

One product I forgot to take a close-up of is my mini bareMinerals Stroke of Light Eye Brightener; I think my shade is Luminous 1. For some mysterious reason, I've had some dry patches in the inner corners of my eyes this month, and my trusty Bobbi Brown Corrector just wasn't looking right. The lightweight, blendable formula of Stroke of Light however managed to disguise my blue undereye circles without catching on any flakes or creasing in the fine lines around the eye. In close-up photography, I can see that it has quite visible shimmer particles, but it's not very obvious to the naked eye. I'm really enjoying my little sample, and I think I should look for something with a similarly thin consistency once I'm done with the heavier Bobbi Brown.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my favorites; it's quite interesting to me that among so many new products I've been trying lately, I still turn to some older loves from my stash. What beauty products have you been enjoying recently? Are they new discoveries or have you been shopping your stash?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

American Jellies: Josie Maran Coconut Watercolor Cheek Gelées

Last year, I tried for the first time and fell in love with jelly finish in cream cheek products. While it's more of an Asian beauty trend and not widely available among Western brands, there is a jelly product you can get easily if you live in the US: the Josie Maran Coconut Watercolor Cheek Gelées ($22 for 0.18 oz). I seem to have acquired two shades in very quick succession: Pink Escape, via Sephora's Beauty Insider perk (hence the dinky pot), and Getaway Red, because... strawberry jelly! I wish it smelt like berry gelée too, but, alas - absolutely no scent on these.
Here's the Sephora blurb for you, lifted from the website: 'This buildable, blendable blush hybrid provides the natural look of a cream blush with the long-lasting hydrating color of a gel stain. Infused with 50 percent pure coconut water, it instantly hydrates while nourishing with the powerful benefits of vitamin E-rich argan oil. Like a refreshing sip of coconut water for your skin, this moisture-packed blush instantly drenches cheeks in a cool veil of color'. End of blurb. There are eight colors in the line, ranging from sunny orange to deep wine.
A quick look at the ingredients proves that the Watercolor Gelées indeed contain quite a bit of coconut water (yum!), as well as moisturizing glycerin and argan oil. Josie Maran's product line could be described as 'aiming to be natural', and while there IS some lab-produced chemistry in there (shock horror! Nah, I don't care...), it's nice to know this blush is vegan, paraben, gluten and cruelty-free.
Can we contemplate the merry squishiness of the untouched product for a moment? Aaaah... Purdy. Now, when you touch your finger to the blush inside, it does indeed have a somewhat stiff gelatinous texture to it - interesting! Through a lot of trial and error, I've found that applying with a small duo fiber stippling brush dabbed straight into the jar works the best for me, because these are jelly STAINS, and they set incredibly quickly. I do a couple of very fast and vigorous blending motions with my brush to avoid concentrated patches of color. Trying to pick up color with your fingers results in most of the product staining your fingers, not your cheeks.
Those difficulties aside, I find these Watercolor Cheek Gelées to be a very cool (literally) and unique concept. They do feel nice and cooling on your skin, so they'd be perfect for hot summer months - also, they really are long-wearing. The pigmentation is on the sheer side (so they're not as scary as they look in the pot... Or who am I kidding, when am I ever scared by a bright blush?) but buildable, and the fun, punchy colors stand out on the skin and give it a natural, radiant flush. These Gelées also feel and look beautifully lightweight on the cheeks, there's literally no product feel to these, so if you like invisible blush that provides that glowing from within look, you need to give them a good swatch session.
Please don't be turned off by my swatches - I will admit that these are pants in arm swatches, they just don't lend themselves to being laid on thick; so if you want more opacity on your cheeks, I'd recommend thin layers rather than smacking half the jar on at once. For science, I did try these on the lips as well, and they're quite subtle and pretty when dabbed on; they don't even feel dry or tight, and that's a big achievement for a stain. I especially like to wear the Gelées under a sheer lipgloss to amp up the brightness a bit.
Compared to my favorite jellies of 2014, the Canmake Cream Cheeks in the clear finish, the Josie Maran Cheek Gelées are thinner in consistency and more sheer, and they almost have a bit of that dry silicone feel, although definitely less than the Revlon PhotoReady Cream Blush. The difference in textures of these three cheek products boils down to this, in my opinion: Canmake Cream Cheek is a cream jelly, Josie Maran is a gel jelly (wtf?), Revlon Photoready Cream Blush is a translucent cream to powder. As for the shades, Pink Escape is a cool toned/ just in from the cold pink (very similar to Revlon Flushed), while Getaway Red is a cool toned/ pinky red.
L-R: Josie Maran Pink Escape, Canmake Cream Cheek in CL04 Clear Pink Joy, Revlon PhotoReady Cream Blush in Flushed, Josie Maran Getaway Red, Canmake Cream Cheek in CL03 Clear Orange
Wearing Getaway Red on them apples. Also, wonky eyebrow -_-
All things considered, I'm having a lot of fun with these Watercolor Cheek Gelées; it's one of the more interesting formulations I've played around with in the recent months. I will say that they're not the easiest product to apply evenly, and they can cling to textural imperfections on the cheeks, but I feel that the same can be said about a lot of other stains - and the Gelées are way cooler than your average stain. So, yeah - go prod them at your local Sephora. What is your favorite cheek stain? Or do you skip creams and jellies altogether and simply prefer powder blushes?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lashes for Daaays: Tarte Lights, Camera, Flashes Mascara Review

Thank you to everyone who's been complimenting my lashes for the past couple of weeks - you guys make me blush :) More to the point, many of you have also asked which mascara I've been using recently, and here it is: the Tarte Lights, Camera, Flashes Statement Mascara in Black ($23 for 0.31 oz). I'm not one to splurge on a high-end mascara, but this was included in a press sample Glossybox a LONG while back, so once I was done with using up my mascara minis, I dug this out.
Oh, a 360° brush design? So... it's exactly like all the other mascara wands? How unique.
(As a side note, do you know how long it took me to finish most of my deluxe mascara sample stash? Somewhere in the proximity of two years. I don't know if the mini mascaras had got in on the action and sprouted babies when I wasn't looking, but man. That's crazy). I'm personally not in love with the obnoxious gold snakeskin tube, which I guess would work if you were groping for your mascara in the dark, and I find that Tarte is perhaps taking their Lights, Camera puns a bit too far, but whatever. It's what on the inside that counts, right?
This 'statement' version of Lights, Camera, Ashes to Ashes was made popular last year by some YouTube beauty gurus. Ironically, that made me less excited about this mascara - I will admit that my thoughts meandered into the 'I wonder how much Tarte has paid for that particular endorsement?' territory. I find that Tarte tends to hype up their new releases on social media a bit too much for my personal taste; they haven't reached Benefit's levels of 'Oh My F*cking God, this liner changed my life!', but they're getting close. That turns me off, my friends.
Anyway, the mascara. The rubber brush has two lenghts of bristles (shorter for depositing the product, longer for combing out clumps), but contrarily to what Tarte claims on the packaging, they're not set at 180 degree angle from each other - from what I can see, the long and short rows are interwoven, so rotating the wand, unless by maybe 20 degrees, doesn't change the performance at all. The Tarte's rubber bristles are quite soft, so if you're looking at the spikes on the tip and thinking it as pokey as Benefit's They're Real, rest assured, applying this mascara doesn't actually hurt the eyeballz.
It took me a solid three weeks to form my opinion on this mascara. At first, I did not like - the formula was a bit wet, the brush difficult to figure out, the end result kinda clumpy. But, like many mascaras, Tarte's Lights, Camera, Flashes benefits from a couple weeks of drying out - and experimenting with the best way of applying it. For me, it's two thin coats applied in quick succession, combing mascara from roots to tips of the lashes without wriggling, as that seems to produce more clumps at the ends than what I prefer. The overall effect is long, volumized, decently separated lashes, including the forever difficult outer corners. Exactly how I like my lashes.
My only other criticisms would be that Lights, Camera, Flashes transfers ever so slightly on the inner part of my browbone. As you can see in the photo below, my lashes, especially on my right eye, touch the skin right in that area when I'm looking straight on, and frankly, most mascaras end up transferring there. Darn you, LiLash! ;) The other downside is that this mascara is very hard to remove; even with a recommended oil-based make-up remover (I'm using the Shu Uemura Anti-Oxi Cleansing Oil). But, it IS very black and almost tar-like in consistency (which is a good thing...?), and never flakes under the eyes. I do not know yet how long a tube will last, as I've only tested it for about a month now - I shall update once I reach the end.
Wearing 2 pumps of Face Atelier Ultra foundation (which prompted a revelation that sometimes MOAR foundation is a good thing) and Inglot Gel Lipstick no. 58.
Tarte's Lights, Camera, Flashes has proved to be worth the hype for me; mind you, my post growth-enhancing-serum lashes are quite long, full, and naturally curly (no eyelash curlers in these shots), so maybe it wouldn't fare that great on shorter and sparser lashes - I can't vouch for that. What is your current favorite mascara? Do you tend to stick to the drugstore or like to splurge on a high-end one?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Skin But Better: Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation Review

The Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation SPF 15 PA++ ($62 for 30 ml/ 1.01 fl oz) is a prime example of my 'save it for later' attitude towards products I'm especially excited about; I've explained it in more detail in my last post here, in case you've missed it. After swatching it in Sephora and promptly falling in love, I was ecstatic to have scored it on Hautelook... back in late 2013. I then tucked it away in a drawer, promising myself to crack the bottle open once I used up 'some' of my older foundations.
I know, pretty bad. I'm looking for a delayed gratification support group as we speak. Anyway, as part of my resolution to enjoy my favoritest things, I finally started playing with the Aqua Foundation this month. Good news: I still love it! Bad news: I hear it's been reformulated - but I haven't tried the new version, so I'm hoping it's still just as good as this old one.
The Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation is packaged in a pretty frosted glass bottle with a controllable pump. I find the design pretty and functional, which is my favorite combo, although I'd be a touch apprehensive to travel with anything glass. I purchased the shade PK-0, which is the lightest pink/ cool-toned shade in the Aqua range (I believe the lightest cool shade for the Aqua Foundation is now called 012. The Moisture Foundation comes in an even lighter 001 shade).
'Created to mimic the optical reflectance of a post facial treatment, the new technically advanced Aqua Foundation series finishes the skin to look brighter and healthier for an ideal natural finish. With radiance in mind, the Aqua Foundation is infused with a RGB powder that enhances the natural tone of the complexion for a brighter and poreless skin texture (from Koh Gen Do's website)'. While normally the cosmetic marketing spiel drives me bonkers, this time the brand hasn't strayed too far from the truth. Brighter (less dull), more radiant and healthier looking skin? Check. Natural, lightweight, skin-like finish? Check. Poreless texture? Check - well, to an extent.
The Aqua Foundation has a thin, liquidy consistency, which makes it very easy to blend into the skin, be it by using fingers, a brush or a sponge. I find that one pump is enough to give my skin light coverage (I have a small face), but you could layer it on for medium coverage as well (two pumps + a buffing brush gives me medium coverage, but I prefer to really push it into the skin with fingers or a beautyblender). The foundation quickly melds into one with my skin, smoothing over enlarged pores, and setting to what I would call a comfortable luminous demi-matte finish. It virtually looks and feels like there's nothing on your face, while brightening, evening out the tone and perfecting the texture of your skin at the same time. Looks like my skin, but (much) better.
In the photo above, I smoothed on one pump with a sponge on top of a small amount of Lancome La Base Pro primer applied just to my T-zone. I did some light concealing on larger marks and blemishes but otherwise left my skin be, no powder, no highlighter. If you look close (you can enlarge the photo by clicking directly on it), you'll see that the appearance of the pores on my forehead, nose and the sides of my nose is definitely diminished, although it doesn't quite disguise the larger ones in the nasolabial fold area - but doesn't pool into them either. The one downside to this foundation is that it does catch on dry flakes slightly; you can see those on my nose and a bit on the forehead. Otherwise though, I'd say my skin looks pretty darn good with this stuff on. Like, better than any other foundation I've tried thus far.
I know I have a fair (har har) number of porcelain complected readers, so I thought a shade comparison with my other pale foundations may be helpful if you're contemplating an online order. I was quite shocked to see how dark PK-0 swatched on my wrist compared to how fair it looks on my face (maybe because my face isn't the same color as my wrist, duh). I will tell you this: it applies a lot lighter on the face, and because it's sheer coverage, you can expect some shade tolerance. In MAC terms, I'd gauge it at about NW10-15. If you're a lot lighter than that, it may be too dark for you - I'm sorry! If you're darker, I'd go a shade (or couple) up; I probably won't be able to wear this shade alone in the late summer/ early fall. For all my fair yellow toned ladies, there are pale warm/ ochre shades in the range as well (113, 123, 143, 213).
L-R: NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Chantilly, Revlon Colorstay in Ivory, Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation in PK-0, Face Atelier Ultra Foundation in Porcelain 1, and bonus Tarte Full Coverage Amazonian Clay in Fair Beige
As for longevity, it's currently one of the most long-wearing bases I own. It somehow manages to control the shine on my nose and forehead for about 9 hours; I'd say that some of the oil breaks through towards the end, but looks dewy rather than greasy (mind you, I have very oily skin in these two areas). It doesn't look dry, cakey, uneven or patchy on normal/dry areas of my face. Before removing it for the day, I noticed that the foundation gathered a bit more around the flaky bits, but not enough to be spotted by anyone other than myself, peering closely in the mirror. All in all, I'd say it should suit normal, combination and oily skin the most.

But regardless, do you know the best thing about it? Husband (unprompted!) said I looked well rested while I was wearing the Koh Gen Do Aqua. That seals the deal, folks - the man has spoken. Have you tried the Aqua Foundation? What is your current 'my skin but better' base?

Monday, January 19, 2015

This Make-up Wearer's Manifesto

I'm not sure what to call this round of random musings, and I'm not really sure how to begin - so I'm just going to start typing and see where we end up. This post is about me trying to change my attitude towards wearing make-up, and generally speaking, my lifelong habit of 'saving it for later'. Does this sound vague enough or should I muddle it even further in the preamble?

Well, here's the gist of it. As a stay-at-home wife who lives very far away from most of her friends and all of her family (husband excepted), I spend a lot of time alone, in our apartment. When we moved here to NYC from Bellevue, WA, and I transitioned from working part/full time to just hanging out at home, I decided it would surely be silly to get dolled up every day to do the dishes, read books and occasionally pop downstairs to pick up packages. It's just me, right? I don't need to prove anything or try to impress myself, so why bother?

It turned out to be a bit of a slippery slope. First, I decided against putting make-up on every day (I'm letting my skin breathe!), only reserving it for the times I was going out to run errands or having some sort of social obligations. Then, I couldn't get out of loungy pants (ok, pajama bottoms) and stretched out t-shirts, and often skipped brushing my hair in the morning. And then recently, I've noticed around lunch time that I forgot to eat breakfast that day, haven't touched some nicer pieces in my closet for well over a year, and haven't been to a hairdresser in a year and a half. Wait... what?!

Before you start judging along the lines of 'Wow, she really let herself go' - no, you wouldn't even notice my gradual decline if I didn't just tell you about. Because when I did go out, I still applied my make-up meticulously (come on, I'm a beauty blogger, remember?), spent some time putting together a nice outfit, or even attempted a hair style. I did not suddenly start looking like a bridge troll; I maintained a pulled-together exterior, just became very, very lazy when it was just myself I was keeping company.

What really got me thinking about my attitude towards my own appearance on my 'days off' was my mum, who's been retired for about two years now. I've noticed that she probably now takes MORE care in her make-up, hair and clothes than she used to when she had to get ready for work every morning. She's constantly experimenting with her fashion style, doesn't miss a hair appointment with her stylist, and she's even started to do her nails (big deal here, folks)! So... if she can look nice just for herself, why can't I?

Not an easy answer, that. But I guess what it boils down to is that I generally tend to think the person I am at the moment doesn't deserve the effort of making herself presentable just for her own enjoyment. That the current me isn't good enough to look and feel pretty just because - no, there has to be a reason for me to pull myself together, which usually involves being in the company of other people. So, other people (like, strangers in the street?) deserve not to be put off by an au naturel Monika, but Monika can absolutely make herself feel bad about her messy reflection in the mirror.

You may gather from this that I'm not a very self-loving person, and you're right, I know that, and I AM trying to work on it; I did go see a hair stylist this week, ok? I also realize that self-love extends beyond one's appearance, but since this is a beauty blog after all, I just thought I'd share this shallower aspect with you, hoping that some of you may have similar experiences, and even if you don't, knowing that you're sensitive, emphatic, amazing people and you feel me. But yeah; my first step towards accepting myself as I am now is making the effort to look and feel pretty on the regular.

This also includes (FINALLY!) not saving stuff for later (later, when what? I'm bigger and badder?). Just to clarify, this is not the good kind of delayed gratification like in the famous marshmallow experiment; what I do is more along the lines of: 'Let me torture myself with the crappy stuff right now, and then be so miserable that I won't even feel the gratification of enjoying my favorite products when the times comes to finally pull them out'. But - NO MORE!

So if I feel like slapping on my most expensive foundation to take out the trash, I'll do it, and even if I don't feel like doing it, I'll still make myself do it, just to prove a point. If I feel like wearing a cashmere sweater just to read my book, I'll put it on, and enjoy its warmth and fluffiness. If I crave the spicy scent of my newest Serge Lutens perfume, I'll spritz it on and sniff my wrist every couple minutes while I'm typing up a blog post. Because you know what, my 'good' stuff won't last forever, and I should enjoy it while I have it, and not make myself endure mediocre things in anticipation of using my favorites some day in the unforeseeable future. Right? Right.

I've also been thinking that lately, I want to wear my make-up pretties more often precisely because I don't have to. What I mean by this is that for years, I'd been mostly wearing base make-up to conceal breakouts and hyperpigmentation scars. But in the past couple of months, I've been getting a lot less pimples and clogged pores, the texture and tone of my skin looks more even, and I'm not even as incredibly oily on my nose and forehead as I used to be (have I just jinxed myself? Will report back!). So now that my skin looks alright - not flawless by any stretch of imagination, but really good for me - and I don't need to hide as much, I can enjoy make-up just for the fun of it: the beauty of the products themselves, the variety of textures and colors, the tactile pleasure of putting it on, the experimentation with different placements and shapes. Not that I didn't enjoy all of it before, but without the stressful element of 'Holy crap, pizza face, where's my concealer?!', wearing make-up makes me even happier.

Tell me, do you also struggle with the 'save it for later' attitude towards your clothes and beauty products? I sometimes feel that my stash-reducing projects like empties and Project Make A Dent make it even harder for me to enjoy my bestest things, forcing me to reach for blah products over and over again, while in the meantime, my favorites just sit there gathering dust at best, or even expire and have to be tossed at worst. I also recently realized that my beauty and fashion needs and preferences really change quite often - or, uhm, I'm growing and becoming more discerning, I hope? Either way, this means that something I've just bought thinking it the best thing ever may turn out to no longer hold my attention when I finally start using it couple years down the line, because I'd been so focused on using up other stuff first. Oh, first world problems...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Healthy and Beautiful Lips: Red Apple Lipstick in Audrey

So many products still to be reviewed in my incoming basket, so little time! I first heard about the brand Red Apple Lipstick via some of my favorite green beauty YouTubers, mostly Ashley from That Is All, previously mentioned here. She was recommending one product in particular: the Mineral Lipstick in Audrey* ($23.50 for 4.5 g/0.158 oz). So when the opportunity arose to try it out for myself (by which I mean that the brand kindly sent it for review - as always, full disclosure people!), I jumped at the chance.
Last month I also reviewed another product by Red Apple Lipstick, their matte Mineral Eyeshadow in Clean Slate, which (as you may remember) really exceeded my expectations. One of the big selling points of the RAL products is that they're vegan, non-GMO, cruelty-free and free from harmful chemicals, as well as parabens and gluten. While it may seem like a completely unimportant detail to someone who's not sensitive to these ingredients, I have friends and family members who are allergic to parabens and gluten intolerant, and let me tell you, it can be not only a huge pain the butt, but also uncomfortable and at times painful. So I do appreciate that there's a make-up line out there that caters to people with allergies and sensitivities (you can catch RAL on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram if you want to stay in touch!). And I do think my lipstick should be non-toxic, since I probably end up licking most of it off my lips. Anyway.
The lipstick comes in a rather sleek round plastic tube with a textured/ nubbly bottom part. I really like this design, and it definitely feels well made. There's a standard label with the name of the shade stuck on the bottom, so if you had a couple of these, it'd still be easy to find the color you were looking for.
The shade Audrey is described as a 'beautiful, pink-based neutral', with 'amazing shine' but no sparkle. It is a true description, if a bit vague for a true lipstick junkie. I would describe Audrey as a natural rosey pink leaning warm, with a glossy cream finish. It's the perfect shade of pink for everyday wear (school, office, running errands, meeting with friends), and I can see it suiting a variety of skintones.
In my shade comparison, you can see it's the closest to Maybelline Color Sensational Lipstick in Warm Me Up, but slightly lighter and warmer. When I was taking the photos, I did not think to compare it to another lipstick I'd been wearing frequently last year, which was NYX Round Lipstick in Tea Rose. It's a pretty much spot-on dupe, with one major difference: the formula of the Red Apple Lipstick is roughly 100 times better than the NYX. Like the NYX, it's incredibly soft, creamy and glossy, unlike the NYX, it doesn't just sit and slide on top of your lips, but almost melds in, slightly filling in vertical lip lines and plumping the surface.
It also does actually moisturize my lips, which is not something that often happens for me with lip products. While I normally prefer my opaque lipsticks to have a bit less slip for better longevity and more precision, it wasn't a huge issue with Audrey, I guess partly because it is a more neutral shade - but if you wanted a razor sharp lip contour, I'd suggest pairing it with a lip liner. Also, as expected, the color did wear off through eating, but when I pressed my lips together and moved the product around a bit, I still had enough pigment and slip left to give me a hint of color all over.
L-R: Red Apple Lipstick in Audrey, Maybelline Warm Me Up, Elf Mineral Lipstick in Rosy Raisin, MAC Viva Glam V
The Red Apple Lipstick in Audrey gets two thumbs up from me - so much so that I promptly tossed NYX Tea Rose in the trash. There's just no way I would reach for Tea Rose over Audrey if I wanted that neutral warm pink lip! There are only two downsides to Red Apple Lipsticks for me: one, I find the fruity scent somewhat similar to the toy make-up I used to have as a little girl, and two, there just aren't enough shimmer-free shades in the range for me. I do know however that they're coming out with new collections constantly, and there are even blushes and foundation in the works this year!
Have you guys ever tried anything from Red Apple Lipstick? Are you concerned with the safety of ingredients in your lip products, and if so, what are your favorite brands?

Disclaimer: The product marked with an asterix (*) is a press sample I received from Red Apple Lipstick 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!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A 1000 Roses: Andalou Naturals Sensitive Skin Starter Kit Review

After my irrefutable success with the Andalou Naturals Probiotic + C Renewal Cream (click!), I became slightly obsessed with the brand and wanted to try every single product; especially some of the ones from the newer 1000 Roses range aimed at sensitive, dry and more mature skin. While my skin isn't mature or particularly dry (but gets dehydrated easily), it is quite sensitive, and I absolutely love rosewater and rose oil in skincare - which is why I was excited to find a 1000 Roses Starter Kit ($19.99 for 5 pieces, $30 value, I got mine for $15.99 on Vitacost), containing five deluxe samples to try before you buy the full sizes.
I decided on the risky business of taking the whole kit with me when I traveled to Poland over the holidays; you know, if the products turned out not to suit my skin, it could have ended pretty badly. Luckily, Andalou Naturals did not disappoint, and while I liked some products in the kit more than the others, there wasn't really a dud to be found.
The kit comes with the Pearl Exfoliator, Floral Toner, Rosewater Mask, Beautiful Day Cream and Heavenly Night Cream, all in generous trial sizes that should last for about a month of daily usage (obviously, the scrub and mask would in fact last you longer). I will say that I wish this set also came with a cleanser - I would have preferred a cleanser over the exfoliator for a more complete skincare routine, but I guess you can't have everything.
I was looking forward the most to trying the Rosewater Mask and the Floral Toner, both meant to hydrate, soothe and revitalize dry sensitive skin. Both products contain aloe vera juice, rosewater (true rose hydrosol, not rose-scented purified water), hyaluronic acid, Vitamin E and rose oil. Both matched my pretty high expectations: they smell heavenly of tart fresh roses, feel cooling and soothing on the skin and absorb nicely, making my face feel soft, refreshed and hydrated.

The Rosewater Mask has a creamy gel consistency but looks clear on the skin (so you could use it in a more public setting without scaring small children), feels quite light on and mostly sinks in, which makes it my favorite hydrating mask I've tried so far (better than Origins Drink Up Overnight and Avene Soothing Moisture Mask - I've yet to test it against Peter Thomas Roth Rose Stem Cell mask). I will say that if you have serious dry patches or incredibly parched skin, it won't miraculously get rid of those in one go, but it should help, and for my combination skin, the lighter consistency is pretty ideal. I'll most likely repurchase once my sample runs out.

The Pearl Exfoliator was my least favorite product in the whole kit, but even so it's not a bad product per se. It's a clear gel with quite sparse, large exfoliatng beads that mosty dissolve when you rub the product on your skin. Not the most effective scrub I've ever tried (I do prefer the Andalou Naturals Lemon Sugar Scrub, but it's more intense and a bit more drying than the Pearl Exfoliator), but it gets one plus for not containing polluting plastic microbeads, and another plus for being very gentle on sensitive skin - no redness in sight!
Lastly, we have day and night moisturizers. Both have the same delightful rose scent and a pretty baby pink color to them, but the formula and consistency differs quite a bit. The Beautiful Day Cream has a light gel consistency reminiscent of my favorite Renewal Cream that absorbs very quickly into the skin and wears very nicely under make-up. I was actually surprised at how lightweight it was and thought it may not be enough for the freezing Polish winter (especially that I hated the serum I took with me and so had to go without), but I didn't develop any flakes or dry patches, so I guess it's a bit more nourishing than the consistency would suggest.

The Heavenly Night Cream definitely feels heavier and thicker than the day version. It contains a more substantial, moisturizing sunflower oil and shea butter versus olive squalane in the Day Cream (both moisturizers also contain rosehip and pomegranate oils), as well as MAP (Vitamin C), panthenol (pro-vitamin B5) and tocopherol (Vitamin E). Even though the Night Cream formula felt more moisturizing (as opposed to the hydrating feel of the Day Cream), it still absorbed easily, even on top of a facial oil. I actually thought it suited my skin very nicely, and it's probably not entirely due to this night moisturizer, but my skin feels the most balanced and even it's been in months. I realize some say shea butter may clog pores and cause breakouts in acne-prone skin types, but I haven't noticed it causing any problems on my skin.
All in all, I'm very happy with this 1000 Roses Starter Kit, and it only further cemented my love for Andalou Naturals. I'm not quite sure if the Beautiful Day Cream eclipsed the Probiotic + C Renewal Cream I've been using, but if I was feeling bored with the latter, I would definitely feel happy with the 1000 Roses daytime moisturizer as a replacement. I will also most likely repurchase both the Rosewater Mask and Floral Toner once I run out of my current line-up, and I'm considering the Heavenly Night Cream - although knowing myself, I'd probably want to try another Andalou moisturizer instead, you know, just for science.

Do you ever bring a premade skincare kit with you when traveling? What has been your favorite skincare product discovery of the past couple months?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Liz Made Me Do It: Pixi Shea Butter Lip Balm in Ripe Raspberry

As a beauty blogger and regular blog reader, 99.9% of my purchases are inspired by fellow bloggers. I've also noticed that because of the current move towards sponsored and ad content on YouTube as well as more popular beauty pages, I'm becoming increasingly distrustful towards their recommendations, turning instead towards my b-blogging friends and more niche blogs. That was precisely the case with this Beauty Reductionista's influenced purchase: Liz blogged about the Pixi Shea Butter Lip Balms ($8 for 4g/ 0.141 oz) about a month or so ago, and as I was stocking up on their Glow Tonic anyway, I promptly plopped the shade Ripe Raspberry in my basket.
The final nail in the lemming coffin was Liz stating that she preferred the Pixi Shea Butter balm formulation over the pricey Fresh Sugar Lip Treatments. The Fresh lip balms are some of my absolute favorite tinted lip products on the market, and one of the very few balms I keep using up and repurchasing. Any time my lips are feeling particularly dry and flakey (which is 90% of the time), I put one on and it not only doesn't exacerbate the dryness, but in fact also helps to heal it. But anyway, this is not a review of the Fresh Sugar products (there's one coming later on), I just wanted to explain why Liz's statement made me so excited - could I really get the same Holy Grail results from a product that's almost $15 cheaper?
Well, spoiler alert: no, I can't. Not even close. What makes the Fresh Sugar Lip Treatments so unique in my book is their thick, unctuous, slippery, balmy texture that covers the lips in a cushiony layer of moisture (or grease, however you want to look at it). When my lips are dry, I NEED that heavy, oily layer of product to fix and smooth over the texture underneath, seal in the moisture, and prevent me from trying to bite off the flakes (sorry, TMI).
The Pixi Shea Butter Lip Balm doesn't have that - you can even see the textural difference between it and the Fresh Treatment in the arm swatch photo. That is not to say it's not a nice tinted lip balm in its own right: somewhat hydrating, pigmented, with a thinner consistency and more long lasting color than the Fresh balms, so much so that I even found the shade Ripe Raspberry to stain my lips a bit. But a Sugar Lip Treatment it ain't.

L-R: Pixi Shea Butter Lip Balm in Ripe Raspberry, Chanel Rouge Coco Shine in Monte Carlo, Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment in Passion, L'Oreal Caresee in Blushing Sequin
Ripe Raspberry is more of a berry fuschia shade than a pinky red I was expecting (so, coupled with the difference in texture, it didn't turn out to be a good replacement for my now defunct tube of Fresh Sugar Treatment in Passion). Because of its thin but harder waxy texture, it takes a bit of work to get on the lips, but like I said above, once you do it stays on very well, even through a meal. The closest shade dupe in a sheer formula that I have in my collection would be the L'Oreal Caresse lipstick in Blushing Sequin, swatched on the far right. There's no shimmer or glitter in Ripe Raspberry, which is my preference for a tinted balm, and it has that delightful vanilla scent reminiscent of MAC lipsticks.
Two layers of Ripe Raspberry applied on freshly exfoliated lips: you can still see it clinging to some pesky flakes. It also doesn't do much for vertical lip lines. However, it looks perfectly smooth on Liz's lips. My conclusion is that I must have much, much drier, and much more puckered lips than she does :(
You can probably tell that I can't help but feel a trifle disappointed with this Pixi Shea Butter Lip Balm; well, the expectations were certainly running high (though I still love you, Liz. We're good). I'll dig it out again once the weather starts warming up, but for now, I'm sticking to the Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment - fortunately, I just purchased a new tube; not because I was expecting the Pixi to fail, but rather because I have no self-control. Tell me, what is your favorite tinted lip balm? Do you prefer thick, heavy formulas like the Fresh or something more lightweight like the Pixi?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Project Make A Dent 2015 Intro: Use It or Lose It

New year, new Project Make A Dent! I will admit that reading about other bloggers' make-up collection resolutions and watching Project Pan videos has got me pretty excited to start the second volume of my Project Make A Dent as soon as possible. After looking through my collection, this year I've decided to really focus on some of the oldest products in my stash that I want to enjoy before they expire; hence I'm calling it the 'Use It or Lose It' edition.
For convenience sake, I've chosen 10 products ranging from face make-up to eyes and lips. For my base, I will continue working on the Face Atelier Ultra Foundation in Porcelain - the heavier formula means I can only use this in the colder months, but with only 1/2 of the bottle left to go, I'm confident I can use it up completely. To set my foundation, I want to finish up this deluxe sample of Make Up For Ever HD Loose Powder; there's only 1/4 remaining in the jar. My one cheek product in this Project is the old mini of Stila Convertible Color in Lillium; hopefully you can see that little bit of pan in the middle, so that should make it easier to track my progress.

This year, I'd like to downsize my collection of cream eyeshadow pots, so I've pulled one of the oldest and most loved jars in my stash, the Maybelline Color Tattoo in Bad to the Bronze. It is definitely a lot drier and harder than when I first got it, but if it dries out too much to use, I'm hoping to revive it with some Inglot Duraline and see how that goes. Seeing as I made good progress on using up some of my pencil eyeliners last year, I chose two more pencils: the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide On in Rockstar and the Sephora Nano Eyeliner in Nuage.
I've made marks with a sharpie on the glosses and foundation bottle to be able to judge my progress more easily.
Lastly, I thought long and hard about my lip product picks for this challenge. I chose four lip products in total in a variety of shades and finishes: from bold to neutral, opaque to sheer, cream to shimmer. This way, I'll have all my bases covered with items from the challenge, so I'll hopefully reach for these products quite often. The Revlon Super Lustrous Lip Gloss in Coral Reef has about 3/5 left in the tube, while the Michael Todd Creme Glace in Natural is a bit more than half used up. The Chanel Rouge Coco Shine in Monte Carlo and the Inglot Gel Lipstick no. 58 both seem to have roughly the same amount left, as the Inglot lipstick is longer but a much skinnier bullet than the Chanel.

Now that I've listed all the denting victims, here are some changes from last year's project. I chose more products this time around, and pretty much all of them had already seen some substantial usage in the past. The aim of this is to have more variety, and also to feel less pressured to completely use up products; I know some of these items like the pencil liners and glosses should get finished easily, but if I don't completely scrape out that blush or bold lipstick, I'm cool with that too. I also mostly picked out products I like and enjoy using, so again, reaching for them shouldn't feel as forced as it sometimes did in the past year's Project MAD.
In terms of blog-friendly practices, I'm also going to keep all of the empty containers as the products are being finished and only toss them at the end of the year for the sake of photo continuity. For the same reason, I'm also NOT going to introduce new items when these products get used up - I thought that last year, the changing products were probably quite confusing to you. If I make fabulous progress quicker than anticipated (say, most products finished by June rather than December), I'll just start a separate Project Pan with new items to keep challenging myself to use my stash.

And that's about it! I'm feeling quite motivated to start this new challenge and I believe I should see a lot make-up empties by the time December 2015 rolls around (well, even if I don't, they're going in the trash anyway ;). Are you guys participating in any stash-reducing projects this year? Please let me know if you're participating in a Project Make A Dent this year too, I love seeing everyone's picks and progress!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Universally... Peachy? So Susan Universal Blush

Just when you thought the 'self-adjusting' make-up trend was well on its way out, another company comes out with a Universal Blush* ($27.95 for 4g/ 0.14 oz) this time around. You know, I've never much bought into these claims nor have that Unique Selling Point seemed very attractive to me personally, but I could see the appeal if you were just starting your make-up adventure and wanted some products to take the shade guesswork out of the equation. However, being a make-up veteran, I don't need or want that, and generally don't think these products actually have any magical self-adjusting properties at all.
So there's that. But let's forget about the whole universal thing for now and review this So Susan blush like any other powder blush, wild claims or no wild claims. I actually wasn't even aware or the So Susan brand before receiving this blush as part of November GlossyBox. From their website, it turns out that it's a company dedicated to manufacturing make-up products with skincare benefits: they offer serum-based foundations (in two shades?!), pore-minimizing blushes, plumping lip tints and more.
I don't see any particular skincare ingredients in the Universal Blush ingredients list apart from maybe kaolin (clay) and Brazilian buriti oil, but many powder products are formulated with some sort of moisturizing/ binding ingredient, most commonly glycerin. I guess it's nice to have a natural oil in the formula instead, but it doesn't make a huge difference to me personally.
In the pan, the shade looks like a rather shimmery muted warm rose, but as you can see in the arm swatches, it appears a lot more pinky peach on the skin than my usual browny rose selection. It is also very shimmery, almost pearlescent in the heavy swatch, but some of the shimmer can be softened when buffing onto the cheeks. Still not a great choice if you prefer matte and satin finishes, but not a discoball territory.
Clockwise: NARS Blush in Douceur, So Susan Universal Blush, Tarte Amazonian Clay Blush in Dazzled, Stila Convertible Color in Lillium
The texture of the So Susan Universal Blush is soft, smooth and a bit powdery, and the pigmentation is very good, so I'd recommend caution when applying. I feel that on my cool-toned skin, it leans quite a bit more pink than what I expected just from looking at the pan. It wears well all day, although I have to admit I'm quite scared to wear it more often because I feel that the profusion of shimmer accentuates all the usual lumps, bumps and texture imperfections on my cheeks.
L-R: So Susan Universal Blush, Tarte Dazzled, Stila Lillium, NARS Douceur
Would I buy the So Susan Universal Blush if it wasn't included in a Glossybox? Highly unlikely. It's very average, decent but average, to begin with, and the nearly $30 price tag for a blush from brand I'd never heard about before probably wouldn't make me more inclined to try it out. I also feel that the packaging, while functional, isn't exactly in line with the price - looking at the compact I was expecting this product to be more along the 10-15 dollars price range.
Well, I'm sorry for this rather unethusiastic review. Maybe it's silly to be feeling so blah about this perfectly nice blush, like I always need to feel a thrill from using my make-up products, lol. But I do! I kinda have a feeling this Universal Blush will end up in the giveaway pile - I'll give it a couple more tries, but if I still can't get myself more interested in using this product, it will have to go away. Do you also sometimes feel so wishy-washy over certain make-up products?

*Disclaimer: The So Susan Universal Blush was part of a complimentary Glossybox 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!