Friday, September 30, 2016

2016 Skincare No Buy and Make-up Low Buy Update #3

These last three months have really flown by and I can't believe that a) I'm mere days away from my due date, b) summer is finally over, c) this is the last update before my final progress check for the end of the year. Do you guys know this quote from Gretchen Rubin that 'the days are short, but the years are short'? This is how I feel. Well, months maybe, not years - not yet.

I think this is going to be an interesting update for you because I have a big fat fail to report on both the skincare and make-up fronts, but you know what? I'm not even feeling very guilty. I guess my perspective on these shopping freeze challenges is changing as the time goes on; while I still believe they're wonderful tools for being more mindful about our purchasing habits, I've found that there comes a time when it's okay to free yourself from the self-imposed rules and just do what you feel is right for you at that particular moment. Hmm... does it sound like I'm excusing myself? Let me elaborate.

In terms of my make-up low buy (two product purchases allowed per month), I haven't purchased anything between April and July - which I gloated about in this post - but then in August, I bought... 6 things. Where they absolutely necessary purchases? No, of course not; it's not like I run out of mascara or some other staple, but they were not accidental impulse purchases either, well maybe with the exception of one thing. Before I go into the actual products, the chief reason I decided to buy these products all in one month instead of spacing them out a bit further is because of the finale of my latest Project Pan at the end of August and the imminent arrival of the baby bean. What I mean by this is I figured September was going to be the last month for me to play with new make-up shades or techniques - before I was ultra focused on only using products from my panning projects, and in October... well, let's just say I won't have a lot of free time on my hands for careful make-up application.

So I was placing an order on Ulta to repurchase some bodycare, and there were also two categories of make-up I really wanted to experiment with: nude or My Lips But Better lip liners and some very warm eyeshadow shades. These were both 'gaps' in my make-up collection, meaning that I didn't already own other things that could serve the same purpose. I ended up purchasing two nudey neutral lip liners - one with a warm and one with a cool undertone - and two NYX eyeshadow singles, one in a matte chestnut brown and one in a shimmery rusty red shade. I'm happy with all of these purchases and I can safely say they're different from everything else I own, but I think the NYX single eyeshadow purchase opened up a bit of a rabbit hole for me, because now I've noticed I don't own any berries, mauves, warm purples or plums in my collection either and I would really like to play with those shades again. I spent a few blissful hours online yesterday browsing all the beautiful single shadows from different brands but in the end, I talked myself out of another purchase and closed the browser tabs. I realized that even if I bought them right then and there, I would probably only have a handful occasions left this year to wear them, and I just bought other things I wanted to bond with, and lastly I would have really, really preferred to see and swatch them in person on the counter.

The last two make-up products that found their way into my shopping bag in August came by way of participating in the K-Beauty Peach & Lily sample sale in New York. Both were $3 each, so I'm sure my decision to get them was spurred by the bargain hunter mentality, but at least one of them I've wanted to try for a while and didn't have a functional dupe in my stash I was already using; after finishing the Pixi pencil eyeliner in Black Noir in my recent Project, I felt somewhat justified purchasing the Clio Gelpresso Eyeliner in Golden Black (matte black with fine gold shimmer). I didn't however need another base product - but I got the Mizon Correct Combo Pact, a sheer liquid foundation in a compact - which at the time seemed like an easy option to quickly get ready in the morning between feeding and shushing a hungry baby. Yeah, I'll let you know how that works out ;) So overall, this was a bit of an indulgent month for make-up purchases (more so in number of items though than actual spending total because everything I purchased was drugstore and/or heavily discounted), but not above my allowance for the entire quarter.

Now if my make-up purchases were kind of indulgent, kind of justified, I don't have a good reason why I purchased quite a few skincare products even though I'm on a complete skincare no buy for the year - well, other than... There was a SALE! I don't know you guys, you just gotta laugh at yourself sometimes. At that same K-Beauty Sample Sale where I purchased my black eyeliner and foundation compact, I also purchased a face cleanser, a spray toner and an essence. Nope, I was not out of, or even nearly out, any of these types of products, but I just wanted to try some new Korean skincare finds and I do feel like I'll be able to crack them open sooner than later after finishing what's currently in my medicine cabinet (I'm in fact already using the essence).

In September, I also placed an order from The Body Shop (again because there was a really good sale: 40% off entire website, high cashback on Ebates, and additional $15 off $50 cash back offer from AmEx) and I got some more necessary bodycare I'm already using, but also their Chamomile Silky Cleansing Oil because my current make-up remover is just way too ineffective, time-consuming and generally annoying. Again, that order wasn't absolutely necessary - I did have other things I could focus on finishing up instead - but I wanted to treat myself to products I knew I preferred, and instead decided to trash/ pass on three things I was unhappy with (which were all gifts/PR samples by the way, so I'm not beating myself up too much over sunk costs - it was not my decision to select them for myself in the first place).
Back-up drawer in June 2016.
So in general, two important lessons learnt: firstly, I am quite susceptible to sales tactics and I love a good deal (something to watch out for in the future), and secondly, I do feel much happier not forcing myself to use up products I dislike just because they're there. Life's too short for awful products, and it defeats the purpose to try to use them when you're devoting precious time to pampering yourself.
Back-up drawer in September 2016.
Last thing I wanted to touch on is the state of my skincare back-up drawer; as you may be able to see, it looks fuller than at the last update, but that's mostly because I condensed my storage space - again. I used to have another more shallow drawer in the same unit dedicated to nail polish storage, but after my last declutter (here) I decided to move the two remaining nail polish boxes into my skincare drawer and use the now empty drawer to store baby bean's blankets and swaddles. So in the space of about a year, I've gone from having a three drawer unit all to myself and my beauty stash, to having one drawer crammed full and the other two for two other members of the family (the third one houses my husband's off season shoes - he has a lot of shoes, you guys). You may have also noticed that the products inside my back-up drawers have mostly changed as well in the space of these past three months, and that's because I'm doing my best to actively finish skincare and move on to using the back-ups, as well as constantly reassessing and passing on things I'm not interested in or that haven't worked out for me.

Okay, I think I've talked your ears off on the topic of my purchasing habits - but I hope this was an enjoyable read and I know many of you visit the blog specifically to see how I'm doing because you're moving towards similar goals. This quarter I definitely gave myself some major leeway to buy and experiment with new things, and maybe I was a bit overindulgent; however I still don't think I've now gone off the deep end. I don't see myself purchasing anything else until the Sephora November sale, and the products I want to purchase then have been on my wishlist for a very long time. Now, how are you doing on your no buys, low buys and practising general consumerist mindfulness? Please share, we're all in this together!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

K-Beauty Cleopatra: Soo Ae Donkey Milk Skin Gel Healing & Aqua Sheet Masks

It finally happened - I worked through all of my back-up stash of sheet masks and actually needed to stock up on some new ones! My friend Kar Yi (look! She just reviewed these as well!) very kindly picked these up for me when the Club Clio store in NYC was doing their 50% off sale; there were lots of sheet masks to choose from but she had previously liked the Soo Ae Freeset Donkey Milk Skin Gel Mask Pack in the Healing variety ($30 for a box of 10 masks) and so she purchased them along with the Aqua variety, and we split the boxes between the two of us. Isn't it great to have a friend who shares your love of all things K-beauty? :)
If, like me, you've never heard about the Soo Ae brand, they're a Korean developer of sheet masks (at least according to their claims) for more than 80% of Korean brands. It seems that Soo Ae is gaining a lot of presence on the US market this year: their masks are available at Walmart and Club Clio stores, as well as online at Target, Memebox & Birchbox. From my understanding, they have several lines of sheet masks (as well as other skincare), and the Donkey Milk is part of the Freeset range. There's also one other Donkey Milk mask version in this range, the Brightening/ Whitening (pink accent color). If you wanted to try just one or two of these masks without committing to the full box of 10, the best price per mask I've found online is at Memebox ($2 each).
My husband actually lol'ed when he saw my box of these masks - 'Donkey milk?! Are you serious?', but it seems that donkey milk is currently one of the trendy ingredients on the K-beauty scene. Purpotedly used by Cleopatra for bathing, donkey milk is rich in vitamins and nutrients as well Omega 6, which help to prevent moisture loss from the skin. I'm not entirely convinced any one ingredient can perform absolute miracles on my face, but it's nice to know that in these Soo Ae Skin Gel Masks, this ingredient isn't just a gimmicky flourish but actually features quite high on the INCI list (the concetration listed states 0.5%). Both the Healing and Aqua variety contain 25ml of essence.
I first tried out the Healing version, aimed at sensitive, damaged and acne-prone skin. I was pleasantly surprised that the mask had a very light, 'skincare' scent as opposed to a strong fragrance that's prevalent in many Korean products. The mask itself is a textured/woven cotton material; I believe the 'gel' part refers to the consistency of the actual essence the sheet is generously soaked in, which is definitely thicker and helps to keep the mask better on the face without it slipping off. The Healing masks also come with a plastic backing to help position the sheet on your face; I found the fit to be a little off for my oval face (the mask is much more of a round shape) but definitely workable.

So far, I've tried this mask twice and both times wore it on the face in the evening for about 15-20 minutes. The sheet felt cooling and soothing on my face and I was happy that there was no dripping of the essence. After removal, I noticed my skin was definitely more plump, hydrated and even in tone (overall a lot less redness). The result wasn't anything spectacular and I didn't notice any change in pore size or healing of blemishes, but I don't expect that from a sheet mask anyway. The next morning (I patted the rest of the gel essence into my skin and left it on overnight), my face still felt very soft and hydrated and my foundation seemed to blend in a bit better. I did notice however that in some areas where not all of the gel have absorbed into my skin, it seemed to leave a bit of a residue that rolled into small clumps where I touched my face. But all in all, I like the performance of this mask, but I still like the Leaders Insolution Coconut Gel masks just a little bit better.
Compared to the Healing variety, I think I liked the Aqua version even better. Surprisingly, the Aqua masks don't have the plastic backing but are made out of the same thick woven material. They're nicely saturated in the same thicker consistency essence and the scent is light and fresh, definitely not overpowering. The mask felt cooling and soothing the whole time I've kept it on my face, and it seemed like the gel essence absorbed quite well into my skin with less residue than the Healing version. When I removed the sheet, my skin looked plump, hydrated and more even, and in the morning it was still glowing and less red/ irritated than normally. I give it two thumbs up.
Overall, I enjoy both of the Soo Ae Donkey Milk sheet masks, but I would repurchase the Aqua over the Healing variety. I do think they're good quality sheet masks and they're easier to keep on the face than most masks from other brands thanks to the thicker gel consistency of the essence. If you're looking for a new brand of sheet masks to try out, I'd definitely give them a go - especially the Aqua. Which sheet masks are you currently using? Anything you'd recommend to your fellow sheet mask fanatics?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Asian Beauty Sample Subscription: The 3B Box* Review

Today I'm coming to you with a short and sweet review of a new beauty sample subscription service that's going to interest all lovers of Asian skincare and make-up. As you may know, I'm a big fan of Japanese and Korean beauty products, so when I was contacted about trying out the 3B Box*, I was really excited to give it a go!
3B (Beauty Beyond Borders) is a beauty start-up from Seattle (Pacific Northwest FTW!) that offers a sample service program for Asian beauty products as well as an online shop where you can purchase full sizes of the goodies you trial in the box (the store is launching in a few weeks). The 3B Box* is $12/month and comes with 4-5 deluxe samples/ minis of skincare and/or make-up from both less expensive and more high end brands, so you can expect brands like SK-II or Sulwhasoo as well as Etude House or Skinfood. Each box also contains a description card detailing each product with its application tips, key ingredients and claims - that part is especially helpful since most of the writing on the products is not in English. Your credit card will be charged monthly after subscribing, and you can cancel any time by emailing the 3B customer service team.

Now that all the practical details are out of the way, shall we see what I received in my first 3B Box? I believe this was the August 2016 box, which is probably no longer available, but this still gives you a good idea of the type of goodies you may expect in future boxes.

The box was shipped via USPS First Class Parcel to me and delivered very quickly. It came packaged in a slim cardboard box, and inside I found a mesh bag containing most of my samples; the sheet mask was placed separately since it wouldn't fit in the pouch :)
I received: the Leaders Insolution 7 Wonders Amazonian Acai Anti-Pollution sheet mask ($6 each - I just purchased one from Ulta a few weeks ago because the Leaders coconut gel masks are some of my favorite sheet masks I've tried to date), Goodal Waterest Lotus Cleansing Tissue 20ct (the price online ranges a lot on this item but it's about $5 value), Etude House Age Defense Essential Softener deluxe sample (~$25 for full size 130ml; not sure of the volume of the sample but it's probably around 10-15ml), Tony Moly Floria Nutra-Energy Emulsion ($27 for full size 145ml; the sample is quite tiny, probably about 5ml), and lastly 5 foil packets of Hera Waterin Gel Serum (~$60 for 45ml, each sample packet is probably around 1ml). According to my super advanced math skills, the value of the box is roughly $20.
Overall, I'm happy with what I received in the box. First of all, I really enjoy Leaders masks, and you're getting one from their premium range in the box. The make-up remover wipes from Goodal will be super practical to pack in my hospital bag. I'll also happily test out the other skincare samples; yes, I do wish the Hera Waterin Serum was a deluxe sample instead of foils, but in my experience, having a few foil packets of a product is usually enough to give it a really good test run (at least a week of use for me). The service also promises between 4-5 deluxe samples, and this month's box had 2 full sizes, 2 minis and some foil samples - you could treat them as an 'extra'. I also noticed that with the samples provided in this box, you could even try out an entire new skincare routine: you have a product for cleansing, a moisturizing toner, a serum and a lightweight moisturizer. That's pretty neat, right?

You may remember that I've also tried a different K-Beauty subscription service in the past, the Beauteque BB Bag. The main difference between Beauteque and the 3B Box is the fact that BB Bags come with 7-8 full size items for $24/month. If you're looking for the best bang for your buck, the Beauteque is probably a better option; however, for me personally, it wouldn't work long-term as I would be simply inundated with more products than I would know what to do with. The 3B Box is more sustainable for how I use cosmetics; a few deluxe samples each month to trial and play with, which would then give me a good idea if I want to go ahead and purchase a full size.

There you go - a fun subscription service if you want to dip your toes in the world of Asian beauty products and familiarize yourself with new product types (sheet masks, essences, softeners, emulsions etc.) and brands (in case you didn't know, Hera is a popular high-end Korean brand under the AmorePacific umbrella, while Goodal is a more expensive skincare line available at Club Clio stores). What did you think of the contents of this 3B Box? Is this something you would like to try out?

Disclaimer: Product featured in this post is a press sample 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 product featured was purchased with my own money or provided free of charge. Thank you for reading! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

ILIA Fall 2016 Lipsticks* Review: The Brides, Madam Mina and Lucy's Party

I posted an Instagram sneak peak of these gorgeous lipsticks from Ilia Beauty's Fall 2016 Collection a while back and I know some of you have been impatiently waiting for the full review; I just wanted to, you know, have some alone time with them before sharing with the world wide web ;) But now that we're all more into the autumnal frame of mind, allow me to introduce the three beautiful sisters: The Brides*, Madam Mina* and Lucy's Party* ($26 for 0.14 oz/ 4g each, currently available at
Ilia's Lipsticks come packaged in their signature eggplant-colored carboard packaging, with the shade name indicated both on the outer box and the bottom label of the lipstick. I'm not a 100% sure on this, but I believe lipsticks from the same collection all share the same color of the bottom label - or at least these Fall 2016 ones have different color labels than the two other Ilia lipsticks I own from the permanent line. The bullet themselves are housed in simple but elegant aluminum cases with a lid that clicks on securely. These lipsticks are not scented, but to my nose smell similar to the brand's Multi-Sticks (here's my review of the shade A Fine Romance) or Illuminators (Polka Dots & Moonbeams reviewed here); meaning there's a subtle nutty rose fragrance there that doesn't linger or overpower.
Ilia Beauty describes their Lipsticks as having a 'creamy semi-matte finish' and feature a blend of organic ingredients such as castor, sesame and sunflower oils, beeswax, cocoa butter, rosehip oil and Vitamin E. Since I haven't talked about Ilia's Lipstick formula previously on the blog, let me touch on that first and then I'll show you the three shades in more detail.
L-R: Ilia Fall 2016 Lipsticks in The Brides, Madam Mina and Lucy's Party
Ilia Lipsticks have a thin, smooth consistency that reminds me the most of another natural lipstick I've reviewed recently, the Pacifica Devocean (here) - or something like the old elf Mineral Lipsticks. They're less creamy/ soft than most lipstick ranges on the market; to give you an idea, they are very different from buttery, high slip lipsticks such as Revlon Superlustrous range, NARS Audacious, YSL Rouge Pur Coutures or BITE High Pigment Lip Pencils. Ilia's Lipsticks are a lot more firm in the bullet and have a bit more tug on the lips when applied; nothing unpleasant but if you love a ton of pigment at the lightest swipe, these may not be for you. Personally, I find this type of thinner, more lightweight and somewhat less opaque lipstick formula a lot easier to wear and touch up throughout the day, and these Ilia lipsticks are also longer wearing and kinder on my vertical lip lines than those super creamy textures.
I also haven't noticed them drying out my lips, although the slight moisture they add right after application will absorb within a couple hours - so if you like the feel of a some kind of product on your lips at all times, top up with a lip balm or add another layer of the lipstick. I would describe all three of these lipsticks as having medium pigmentation and a natural satin finish, no shimmer whatsoever. Overall, I really enjoy this lipstick formula, and it's made its way to the front of my make-up drawer.
The three shades in the Fall 2016 line-up were all inspired by the various characters in the Francis Ford Coppola's movie 'Dracula'. To be completely honest, the first time I saw the name 'Madam Mina', I immediately thought of the Leslie Nielsen spoof movie 'Dracula: Dead and Loving It' and the hilarious hypnosis scene. Oh well - me and my pedestrian references ;) The lightest of the three shades, The Brides, is described as a 'pink tan', but I also saw on the brand's Instagram that it was being called a 'warm peachy nude'. What is it then - a pink, a peach, a pinky peach?
I guess that would depend mostly on your skintone; to my eye in the bullet, it's more of a warm peach, and on my lips it looks like a tan nude with a hint of peach. In case you're curious how it looks like on a completely different skintone than mine, check out Larie's review with swatches here. In terms of depth, this is somewhere between a wearable, darker nude and a My Lip But Better shade on my fair skintone.

Madam Mina, described as a blush mauve, is a little darker and more cool-toned than The Brides. It definitely veers more into the My Lips But Better territory, but again, on my cool undertone complexion, it doesn't really look very mauve or blush and instead pulls more of a warm browny rose.
It's lighter and less pink than something like BITE Rhubarb or the YSL Rose Stiletto, reviewed here.  I don't think it's too warm on me, but be aware that if you have a light skintone with cool undertones, it probably won't be a mauve shade on you - which for me is actually the case with very many 'mauve' lipsticks.
Lastly, the vampy gloriousness of Lucy's Party, described as 'a deep, oxblood red' or 'bold pinot noir' shade. Now in her review, Larie said this was a neutral red shade on her; on me, as you can hopefully see in the face shot, it's a darker red that pulls just a bit cool, especially when blottted down or worn in a thinner layer. I think oxblood is a pretty good description; and would you know that my husband actually called this shade 'vampiric' when I put it on (uhm, excuse me, like that's a bad thing?). I think this just proves Ilia knew what they were doing when they formulated this shade :) Despite the boldness of Lucy's Party, I actually found this shade quite easy to wear - there was no bleeding or feathering and the lipstick faded evenly after eating, leaving behind a pretty red stain.
Here are all the three shades swatched next to each other so that you can see the shade difference between The Brides and Madam Mina more clearly. To be honest, if I were deliberating which shades to get from the Ilia Fall 2016 collection, I would pick up either The Brides or Madam Mina but not both - for whatever reason, on my lips they end up looking not too dissimilar. Also, in case you were wondering, there's no discernible difference in the performance or formula of these lipsticks across the three shades, which is sometimes the case with other brands. All three are the same level of lovely.
L-R: Ilia Lipsticks in The Brides, Madam Mina and Lucy's Party
In their Fall 2016 collection, Ilia also released a few new vegan make-up brushes, out of which I have the Defining Lip Brush* ($28 each, available here) to show you. It's a synthetic Taklon pencil shape brush with a cap that can be attached to the bottom of the brush to prolong the handle for ease of application on the go.
To be perfectly honest, I rarely reach for lip brushes and I certainly don't think you need one for Ilia's Lipstick formula (even for the face shot wearing the vampy Lucy's Party I just applied straight from the bullet). I was a little surprised by the shape of Ilia's brush - the ferrule is round and not pinched/ flat like for other lip brushes I've seen, but the pointy tip allows for a lot of precision in application and the bristles are soft and comfortable even on my dry and sensitive lips. I also really like this brush for highlighting the inner corners of my eyes with powder or cream shadow - obviously not right after I used it to apply my lipstick ;)

Whew, now that was a bit of a lengthy read, wasn't it? Hopefully this post satisfies your curiosity about Ilia's Fall 2016 shade line-up and their Lipstick formula in general. I have also received one of the brand's cult Tinted Lip Conditioners to review, so keep your eyes peeled for that in a couple weeks. Which shade speaks to you the most out of Ilia's Fall Collection?

Disclaimer:  Products featured in this post 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 product featured was purchased with my own money or provided free of charge. Thank you for reading!

Friday, September 16, 2016

For the Foodie: Degustabox September 2016* Unboxing & Easy Ratatouille

Time for another Degustabox unboxing! In case you haven't seen my previous posts, Degustabox is a monthly food subscription service featuring new brands and products just coming to our market. Each box is $19.99 (but you can get your first one for 50% off) and comes packed full with at least 10 different products. Let's see what I found in my September box!
Again, everything was packaged very securely in lots of bubble wrap, which I removed for the sake of taking photos. The September box came with 11 products - I divided them for the photos into three groups: salty snacks, sweet snacks and cooking ingredients/ condiments:
1 bag of popCORNers, $3.29 each:  air-popped vegan, non-GMO and gluten-free chips that we will enjoy with our homemade guac
2 packets of BustaNUT! peanuts in the Maple Bacon & Bourbon flavors, $1.49 ea: I like snacking on nuts although flavored varieties always contain more sodium and sugar
2 little boxes of Michel et Augustin Shortbread Cookies in the Pure Butter & Sea Salt and Pure Butter & Chocolate Chips flavors, $1.99 ea: shortbread cookies are some of my favorites for a quick sweet treat so I'm excited to give this brand a go!
1 bag of Entenmann's Little Bites mini chocolate chip muffins, $4.69 ea: I'm a little skeptical about pre-packaged muffins but at least these don't contain high fructose corn syrup or trans fat
1 large bag of Zollipops, sugar free & vegan hard fruit candies/ drops, $4.99: Apparently these candies are supposed to keep your teeth clean after meals?! Not sure how that's even possible but I'll give them a go!
1 bar of Toosum oatmeal bar, $1.79 ea (I got the Cranberry & Acai flavor): I don't eat granola bars very often but it's sometimes handy to keep one in your purse for emergency hunger pangs.
1 packet of Hak's One Pot Cooking Sauce in Rustic Ratatouille, $3.99 each: This is basically a ready-made tomato-based sauce to use with veggies or your choice of protein. We don't use premade sauces but this has very straightforward, natural ingredients, and I'll give it a go for a quick dinner!
1 bottle of Sparkling Bitters, $1.99 each: I quite like trying new drinks, and this sounds like it could be a good choice for cocktails (or mocktails) as well.
3 small jars of English Provender condiments in Caramelized Red Onion Chutney, Sweet Tomato & Chili Chutney and Luxury Lemon Curd, $2.45 ea: I love love love trying new condiments and having them on hand to pair with cheese or cold cuts, so I'm quite excited about these!
1 box of Sam Mills Gluten Free Corn Quinoa Fusilli Pasta, $2.39 ea: I've tried gluten-free pasta in the past and didn't like it, but maybe this will be different. We're not gluten-free in this house so it's not a huge selling point for me.
1 bottle of Nando's Peri-Peri Hot Sauce, $3.49 ea: My husband would have loved to try this as a big hot sauce fan but unfortunately it contains garlic :( I'm not into very spicy food at the moment so I may pass this bottle on to a friend.
Value of the September box: $40.93

So far, this was the largest and best value box we have received. Compared to last month, I like the product selection a lot more, and I'm excited to have lots of new snacks to try out. If you'd like to try this subscription for yourself, you can use my affiliate link here for 50% off your first box.

As for the recipe using products from the September box, to be honest I wasn't massively inspired - but being this pregnant has made me a lot less excited to spend time in the kitchen cooking elaborate meals. Which is why I decided to take the simple route and just try the recipe featured on the little description sheet that came in my Degustabox; I made a veggie & chicken version of the Hak's Rustic Ratatouille and served it first over some brown rice and then the Sam Mills Gluten Free pasta.
On the packaging, the cooking suggestion is to combine one packet with one pound of protein or veggies; I think I've had slightly more than that and I do wish there was more sauce in my dish. I diced half a medium onion and one chicken breast, browned them a little in olive oil, and then added 1 chopped zucchini, half of a red bell pepper, and half of a can of drained chickpeas. I poured in the contents of my Hak's sachet and simmered for about 20 minutes. I did enjoy the taste of this dish but the sauce was a bit too liquidy, perhaps because of the moisture from my vegetables. I like how this premade sauce doesn't contain any nasty ingredients or fillers, although to be completely honest, I don't see it as massively easier than just adding some tomato paste into my saucepan along with flavorful herbs de provence, salt and pepper and maybe some garlic. But overall it was tasty and saved me some time in the hot kitchen, so I'm not complaining :)

Just a heads up, I won't be reviewing any more Degustaboxes for a while now - not because I'm not happy with the subscription but for the simple reason of having a lot less time to do so as baby bean is going to be here next month already. If you enjoy food posts from me, please let me know and I'll do my best to feature more snacks and meals on the blog in the future; for now you can always check out my Instagram for food p0rn pics. Have you tried any new snacks this month? I'd love to know what you've been cooking up lately!

Disclaimer: Product marked with an asterix (*) is a press sample I received from the brand's PR for review consideration. The post contains an affiliate link, which means I'll earn a commission if you decide to sign up to Degustabox after clicking. All opinions are 100% honest and unbiased, no matter if the product featured was purchased with my own money or provided free of charge. Thank you for reading and supporting my blog! 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Affordable Travel Brushes: DUcare 10 Piece Makeup Brushes Essential Kit*

Last year, I was pretty obsessed with finding the perfect make-up brushes to fill in the gaps in my existing collection. I've been buying brushes for years now and after a lot of trial and error, I do feel now that I know exactly which shapes and types of brushes are essential for my make-up routine. Which is why I'm not hugely interested in brush sets anymore; although I will say that I often wish I had the ideal kit on hand for travel so that I wouldn't have to worry about washing and drying my pretties in time for the trip. Well then, DUcare was probably listening when they offered to send me their 10 Piece Makeup Brushes Essential Kit Travel Collection* ($22.49 on Amazon here, available for Prime members with Free One-Day Shipping).
Before we dive right into the review, let me point something out: yes, these brushes are made in China. I realize some people have a problem with that, and often equal products made in China with bad quality. However, the reality is that a vast majority of make-up brushes on our market from well-known and respected brands are manufactured in China as well, for example the Real Techniques, Crown (and most likely Morphe), Coastal Scents, EcoTools - this list is not complete by any means, but man, it's so hard to find the country of manufacture for most popular make-up lines. What I'm trying to say is that I completely respect anyone's decision not to purchase products made in China, but before you automatically turn your nose up at something from a Chinese manufacturer, just be aware how much of the stuff you're already using comes from factories located there. Okay, I'm getting off my soap box now.
The DUcare 10 Piece Essential Kit comes very nicely packaged in a carboard box, and the set includes a quilted faux leather brush case. I've had a different pleather brush case in the past that I bought specifically for travel, and to be honest, the DUcare one is much nicer quality than that one, and I like how the quilted design provides more padding around your brushes. There's also a little pamphlet explaining the function of each brush included in the box as well.
Inside, there are 10 separate slots for each brush - 4 slots on the left side for the larger face brushes and 6 slots on the right for the 6 eye brushes. As you can see, all the brushes inside came individually wrapped in a plastic sleeve, while the tiniest eyeliner brush additionally had a hard clear cap on to protect the bristles.
The 10 Piece Makeup Brushes Essential Kit Travel Collection consists of 100% synthetic duo-fiber bristle brushes with tapered wooden handles. The set includes a flat top foundation brush, a domed powder brush, a paddle-shaped and an angled cheek brushes for blush and bronzer, two eyeshadow brushes for packing on the shadow and blending in the crease, a straight edge eyeliner brush, a wispy 'script' type gel eyeliner brush, an angled brow (or eyeliner) brush, and a lip brush. Overall, the set does include enough brushes for a basic full make-up application; I will admit though that I often end up using more than 10 brushes in my routine or at least some of my brushes are different shape/ purpose than those included in this kit. But let's take a closer look at each brush:
I think a good foundation brush is an absolute must for any brush set, and DUcare's flat top performs its function very, very well. The bristles are soft and flexible enough to allow for both a stippling and buffing motion without leaving streaks on the face. It's a little less dense than my favorite Real Techniques Buffing Brush and a lot less dense than the Zoeva 102 Silk Finish (reviewed here - but in short, I find that brush too dense to comfortably use for blending out foundation). As far as the tapered powder brush in this set, I can't find any fault with it either; it's fluffy but picks up both pressed and loose powders very well and I like the smaller size for setting specific areas of the face. It's a similar shape but smaller and less dense than the Zoeva 101 Luxe Face Definer (here).
I also really enjoy both of the cheek brushes included in this set. You can obviously use either one interchangeably for bronzer/ contour and blush, according to whichever shape you prefer for those purposes. I've been using the angled brush for my bronzer for the past three weeks and I like that its smaller size allows me to control the shape of the areas I wish to bronze up a little better; I have to be a bit careful though because it tends to pick up more product than what I'm used to. The pinched paddle brush works great for my blush; in this case, I really like that it picks up enough product from the pan without having to go back and forth, and blends everything out seamlessly. It is better suited though to sheerer or more hard pressed blushes, if you're using something with a lot of pigment I'd probably recommend you tap off the excess on your hand before applying the blush to your cheeks.
Now when it comes to DUcare's eye brushes from this kit, I'm not quite as impressed as with the face ones. The pinched eyeshadow brush and the domed crease are my favorite of the bunch: the former reminds me of my favorite Real Techniques domed shadow/ crease brush because just like the RT, it can be used both to lay down the color on the lid and blend it out into the crease. It can also be used as an undereye concealer brush. The round crease blending brush works well for more defined crease looks or the outer corner as it's not super flexible and tends to pick up quite a bit of product - if you like a very subtle transition or work with a lot of pigmented shadows, it can be a bit tricky to achieve a seamless diffused look with this one.
The tiny eyeliner brush works very well with my Clinique Cream Eyeliner; the point is small and very precise and it's easy to draw even lines with it as long as you're used to working with this brush shape. As for the lip brush, I have to admit I haven't actually tried it on my lips; I very rarely reach for a lip brush so I've been using it for spot concealing instead, and I enjoy working with it. I don't see why it wouldn't be a good lip brush though because again, it's very precise with a nice sharp edge.
Now, the two eyeliner/ brow brushes are my least favorite of the whole set. The flat edge brush is just way too stiff for both my brows or to line my eyes with; it feels too firm and pokey on the skin and I find that when used with gel or pencil eyeliners, it drags the product too much, creating gaps. The angled brush is a little better: I like the smaller width because it's easier to maneuver, and it's a little less stiff than its straight edge cousin. Still, it doesn't come close to the performance of my favorite Zoeva 317 Wing Liner (here).

To sum up this rather lengthy review, I'm happy with this travel set from DUcare. I find the quality of these brushes to be very much on par with my Real Techniques or EcoTools synthetic brushes, and the length of the handles is much more comfortable than most other travel brushes on the market - in fact this 10 piece set would also make a good gift for a make-up brush noob. In addition, I have washed these brushes a few times already and haven't noticed any shedding, misshaping or bleeding of the dye, and there's no suspicious smell to the bristles either. Are all the brushes included in the kit my absolute favorite for their assumed function? No, but then again I wasn't really expecting them to be - I have specific preference for the types of brushes I use in my daily routine and have yet to come across a premade set that would do it all. So overall, I think the DUcare 10 Piece Makeup Brushes Essential Kit is a really solid option and I would recommend it if you're looking for an affordable travel or make-up beginner set.

Do you use a separate set of brushes for travel? Which one is your favorite?

Disclaimer: Product featured in this post is a press sample 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 product featured was purchased with my own money or provided free of charge. Thank you for reading!

Friday, September 9, 2016

I Turned 30 This Week & This Is How I Celebrated

That's right, the big 3-0! Happy birthday to me! This post is going to be a bit of a departure from all the recent product reviews; something more along the lines of 'A Week in Photos' series I once wanted to do on the blog so you could get to know me a little better on a personal level. As you may know from this ramble, or may have realized along the way, I don't post hauls here anymore. I know that 'What I Got for My Birthday' posts or videos are always click-worthy (and certainly a great way for the birthday person to look back on their special day), but I wanted to share something different instead: all the fun and extraordinary experiences I've had this week to celebrate the occasion. This is not to say that I haven't received (or bought for myself) any gifts - it's just to shift the focus a little bit from 'having' to 'doing'. I hope you enjoy!
On Labor Day (Monday), my husband and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. In general, we're not big on anniversary presents but we like treating ourselves to a fun night out together. This year we've been going to quite a few concerts; not those crowd-packed dancing by the stage type rowdy affairs because we're much too introverted for that, but more of a 'seated at the table, enjoying cocktails/ snacks and listening to live music' type of events. So for our anniversary, we booked a table at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola to listen to Robin Eubanks & the Mass Line Big Band. We love going to jazz concerts but it just so happens that we've never seen a big band performance before, so it was a very memorable experience. We were seated right by the window (the venue is located in Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle) so we could also enjoy the view of the park and shimmering lights of the city in the distance. Since cocktails are out at the moment (I'm 8 months pregnant and Mr is taking antibiotics), we decided to order dinner, and I was very pleasantly surprised by my vegan 'risotto cake' entree. Even though the dish was a simple combination of rice and veggies, it packed a ton of flavor from heirloom tomato sauce and firm, lightly sauteed pieces of squash and green beans. If you're a fellow New Yorker - or visiting - and you like jazz music, I definitely recommend Dizzy's.
On Tuesday, I relaxed at home and tried not to get too caught up on my regular to-do list. I didn't do anything special, but I wanted to take some time to pamper myself in the evening. I redid my badly chipped manicure - I opted for a never before worn bottle of Zoya Toni, a dark blackberry plum shade. I love those vampy shades on the nails but then I sort of ruined the mani by applying an old and gloopy top coat, which now - 48 hours later - is still not completely hardened and causing bed sheet creases and the like. Lesson learnt; and needless to say the top coat went straight into the empties bag. In the evening, I took a soothing cool shower using some new products I recently ordered from Ulta (even though I still think body scrubs are not absolutely necessary in my routine, I really enjoy my repurchase of Tree Hut Shea Sugar Scrub), and applied a luxuriously hydrating face mask from Laneige (reviewed here). I currently tend to get very tired at night and can't get out of the bathroom fast enough before I fall asleep, but I really wanted to do a little something for myself and loved looking at my freshly polished nails.

On Wednesday (my actual birthday) I had a doctor's appointment in the morning to check up on the baby bean. You guys may think it was silly of me to go to the doctor on my birthday - I mean, people generally don't find doctor's visits very alluring - but I quite like going to my obstetrician. The entire office is friendly and efficient, but most of all, I get to hear baby's heartbeat and feel reassured that he's doing just fine in there. I also learnt that his head is very low now, so that's probably the reason right there why I have to get up every 2 hours at night for a trip to the bathroom, lol. On my way back, I stopped at a Sephora store to redeem my free birthday gift and have a little look around. I purchased Sephora brand Coconut Water Cleansing Wipes to pack in my hospital bag, and was seriously tempted by Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Lovesick, but decided to put it on my wishlist for the November VIB sale instead. My cashier that day was genuinely kind as well - we had a nice chat about Zoya polishes, and she assured me the make-up wipes were really good :)
On my walk home from the subway station, I went into Sugarcube Patisserie in Long Island City for a decadent sweet treat. I opted for their tasting menu of handmade gelato + pastry, and I ordered a small latte to balance out the sweetness. I've had their gelato before and thought it was excellent - this time I got hazelnut as well as mango & passionfruit sorbet - and the Middle Eastern-inspired cheesecake I chose for my pairing didn't disappoint either. I'd definitely recommend Sugarcube for a sweet treat if you're ever in the area; but mind you, the pairing is a very large dessert and I kinda wished I could share it with someone :)

When I got home I had some PR packages waiting for me, and it just never gets old for me you guys - opening those up always feels like Christmas. But I satisfied myself with a quick peek and turned on the laptop to Skype with my parents, who wanted to wish me happy birthday 'in person'. In general, it was a day of long-distance video calls: later on I also FaceTimed with my brother, and then with my best friend late in the evening. I felt touched that they all remembered and wanted to chat on the day. I also received lots of birthday emails, and again really appreciated the thought - lots of people prefer now to write something quick on your Facebook wall and while that's nice, I don't really use Facebook anymore so I was doubly thankful a lot of people remembered that and chose to send an email instead. Other than that, I relaxed, watched some YouTube, and did a quick spot of blogging - I guess the latter was the most productive part of my day.
After my husband came back home from work in the late evening, he surprised me with an entire cake from one of my favorite French bakeries in the city, and he also bought 30 candles for me to blow out. I'm obviously not telling you my birthday wish - but I did manage to blow out all thirty in one go :) He also gave me a gift certificate to a nail salon in our neighborhood, which I was super happy to receive - while I still enjoy doing my own manis, at-home pedicures are nigh on impossible with my very large watermelon belly, and I would definitely like to squeeze one more in before I deliver. Apparently the certificate is also only part of the gift; he wanted to give me something while we're waiting for the other part to come in the mail. It's all very mysterious and I love the anticipation - it makes the present that much more exciting :)

Overall, I had a perfectly beautiful, peaceful and happy birthday. I felt pampered and cherished and even though we did not have some huge celebration, it was exactly how I wanted it. Early in the week, I also indulged in some online shopping: I ordered two make-up bags from Korean brands in incredibly cute patterns (I'll definitely show them to you once they get here, but as they're being shipped from South Korea, it will take a few weeks), and placed an order at The Body Shop for some bath and body products - I have been missing having their body butter in my stash, and I'm really unhappy with my current make-up remover so I got their Silky Cleansing Oil among other things. Oh - and I also bought lots of new knickers from Aerie. My current underwear is a state - and mostly too small to boot.

There you have it - I hope you enjoyed this glance into my birthday week. In case you're wondering if I feel any different or perhaps a little sad not to be 20-something anymore, than my answer would be no: I guess to me it doesn't feel like a milestone, it just feels like another date. I enjoyed my twenties, but I think my thirties are going to bring even better and bigger things; you know, what with the arrival of a new family member and taking on a whole new role in my life. Also thank you to everyone who wished me happy birthday on Instagram/ Twitter - I never cease to appreciate your guys' support and kind words. Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

New Staple: Kat Von D Lock-it Concealer Crème* & Edge Concealer Brush* Review

It's been so nice this month to have a few brand new products to play with in my everyday make-up routine, especially after reaching for the same old, same old from my 4 months-long Project Pan. While making a concentrated effort to use up older concealers in my stash, I came to the conclusion that I was no longer happy with how they were performing on my skin and I was more than ready to find a new staple for my daily make-up bag. Lo and behold, my wishes have been answered when I was selected to review the new Kat Von D Beauty Lock-it Concealer Crème* in the shades L3 Warm and L5 Neutral ($26 for 0.22 oz, available at Sephora and, together with the brand's Edge Concealer Brush* ($24 each).
You may find this hard to believe but these are my first products I've ever tried from Kat Von D Beauty. I was strongly tempted by a few other items in the past (in fact, I gifted my BFF her Shade & Light Eye Palette for Christmas and she really loves it!) but never actually pulled the trigger. The brand has been generating a lot of buzz for the past few years and it's easy to see why: great shade range and broad availability, staying on top of the trends and building customer loyalty through consistently high quality products (ekhm - maybe with the exception of those now discontinued blush duos). So yeah, I don't really know why I never purchased anything from the brand, especially that it has a major plus for me personally - it caters to a wide range of skintones including very, very fair, and I mean even fairer than me in the middle of the winter.
In the past I wasn't feeling very inspired by KVD's design aesthetic but I have to say that once I unpacked my new goodies, I found myself really drawn to the look of these products. I like the black and silver color scheme, the Gothic lettering, the wax seals for the logo on the boxes and the ink drop on the actual concealer tubes (all of those things combined remind me of the World of Darkness role-playing games I used to play, especially Vampire: The Masquerade).
But the designs are also practical; the concealers have labels on the bottom indicating the shades, and most of the tube's been kept clear to allow you to see the shade inside at a glance. Moreover, these Lock-it Concealer Crèmes have very good stoppers that dispense just the right amount of product onto the applicator and prevent any messes or spilling at the neck of the bottle. I'm also quite fond of the shape of the doe foot itself: it tapers down towards the tip, allowing for a more precise application.
The product claims for the Lock-it Concealer Crème include 24-hour wear, instant full coverage, smooth, even finish, and a crease-proof but hydrating formula (it does contain glycerin and hyaluronic acid). It is meant to be used for all areas of the face (and body): under the eyes, on blemishes and discoloration, and even to contour and bake (huh?!). These sound like rather lofty goals to me, so obviously I was very curious to see if the concealer actually performs to such a high standard.
After 3 weeks of testing this concealer in different conditions, I now feel I have a pretty good grasp of how it works on my skin and for my individual needs. I have worn it under the eyes, on blemishes and hyperpigmented/ red areas of the face, alone and layered with other concealers, on top of two different eye creams, on its own as well as set with powder. The final verdict is that I really like it, although it's not my Holy Grail (still remains to be found). My review is pretty much a comparison to my previous staple, the NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer, which is also a high coverage cream concealer with a doe foot that can be used for under the eyes as well as spot concealing.
Between the NARS RCC and the Lock-It, I do prefer the Kat Von D. It has a slightly thinner texture with maybe a touch less coverage that I personally find much more flattering on the skin. With the NARS concealer, I had to be very mindful of the amount I was using because anything more than a tiny dot would result in a cakey, dry, aged-looking under eye area, and it would also crease and gather in my fine lines quite a bit by the end of the day. I liked the NARS a lot more on hyperpigmented spots and blemishes, but again had to be careful because it had a tendency to look heavy and textured. The Kat Von D Lock-It Concealer Crème looks a lot more natural and seamless on my skin and I do find my under eyes look more rested & hydrated after application than with the NARS. However, it performs slightly worse on blemishes than the NARS RCC; it seems a little too emollient and can slide off the area if not applied properly; I like best to quickly dot it around my problem spots, wait for a few minutes, and then come back and blend it into my foundation. The Concealer Crème also definitely benefits from setting with powder (I've tested it with both MAC Blotting Powder and the Kat Von D Lock-it Setting Powder*, review coming soon), both on the face and under the eyes, where it unfortunately still creases for me - but I have yet to find an under eye concealer that doesn't crease.
L-R: KVD Lock-It Concealer in L5 Neutral, KVD Lock-It Concealer in L3 Warm, NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Chantilly, Surratt Beauty Concealer in no.2
As for the shade match, both Light 3 Warm and Light 5 Neutral are currently great matches for my very slightly darker summer skin tone. In theory, depending on your undertones, one shade should work better for the under eyes and the other for elsewhere on the face, but in practice, I have found very little difference in how L3 Warm and L5 Neutral look once blended in. As you can see from my arm swatch, both are definitely darker than my NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Chantilly (but both of them are the same depth, regardless of the L-number); if you're looking for something truly fair, KVD also offers the shade Light 1 (Neutral) as well as a pure white shade (White Out).
I have also been very pleasantly surprised by the KVD Edge Concealer Brush*, and it has quickly become my favorite tool to blend out concealer on larger areas of the face (under the eyes, around the nose).
It's a dense duo-fiber synthetic brush with a pinched ferrule but a cut tapered edge; hopefully you can see what I mean in the close-up photo. When I first saw the shape, I thought it was a little gimmicky - I remember when Sigma first came out with their 3DHD brushes, which for the most part weren't reviewed very favorably. However, in the case of the KVD Edge Concealer Brush, I do think this design works very well - the sharper edge allows you to get very close to the contours of your eye/ nose without sacrificing softness or blendability.
I also enjoy the larger size of this concealer brush; compared to my other concealer blending brushes, you can see that the head of the KVD one is much wider, which allows it to cover a larger area quickly. The bristles are not as dense as to drag the product around (as is the case with my Zoeva Concealer Buffer) and the brush can be used both with a stippling and a buffing motion. Overall, I find the quality of this brush to be very good - I've washed it several times since receiving it and there's been no shedding nor any other issues. One thing that takes some getting used to is the length of the handle - most brushes I own are much shorter so I sometimes find myself hitting my mirror with the brush's end. But the elongated, narrowing shape certainly looks very cool... or even slightly lethal :)

I hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy review of these new products from Kat Von D; I realize they're gathering a lot of interest at the moment so I wanted to cover most potential questions. If there's anything else you'd like to know about these, please ask in the comments, and stay tuned for my review of the Lock-it Setting Powder* and Lock-it Setting Powder Brush*. Thank you for reading!

Disclaimer: Products marked with an asterix (*) are press samples I received for free from Influenster for testing purposes. 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 free of charge. Thank you for reading!