Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How the Sephora Skincare Challenge saved Christmas

We went to a party the night before Christmas Eve and I had one of those nights when you forget you're old and drink like you're still 22. Needless to say, I was sorry the next day. Actually, I got off lucky, because if I'd had any more to drink I probably would have gotten a migraine, and then my whole day would have been shot; instead, I was just headachy and hung over enough on Christmas Eve morning to worry that I'd spend the day on the couch. And I had things to do. Lesson: When you've started with champagne and moved on to good red wine, there is absolutely no reason to reach for an Alaskan Amber at the end of the evening. You'll just end up crossing a line you didn't even need to approach.

Another event I hadn't anticipated: I didn't plan to participate in the Sephora Skincare Challenge, but my fancy complicated (high maintenance) skin demands fancy complicated products, so I was halfway to my Skincare Challenge reward before I'd even realized what the program was. In short: Buy four qualifying skincare products at Sephora before the end of the year and receive a special gift (some small selection of items I hadn't really looked at because, again, I was participating completely by accident). I actually bought my fourth product on my trip to Las Vegas, but I wasn't interested in the only gift they had available in the store (some kind of mini eye kit? I don't remember. It wasn't exciting) so I took the certificate to redeem online later. Which I did, when I placed a mid-December birthday order for my sister-in-law. There were a couple of choices, but they looked kind of sample-sized and uninteresting -- until I read the fine print and realized the Philosophy shower gel option was actually a full-sized 16 oz. bottle. I hadn't smelled the scent, but free Philosophy is free Philosophy, you know? So this arrived:

and I gave it the sniff test (which it passed), tossed it in the shower and forgot about it.

Until the morning of Christmas Eve, when I stumbled into the shower in the hope that hot water would snap me out of my post-drink funk and reached for the closest bottle, which turned out to be that free Philosophy Bubbly.

And I kid you not: It turned my whole day around. I don't even know what it's supposed to smell like (Sephora describes it as "champagne inspired"), but it's got kind of a light, fruity scent (not girly pink fruity, but clean fresh fruity) that cut through my gunky feeling and cleared my head. Seriously, it was like rays of sunshine beamed down into my shower and cleared away the hangover fog. Forget that skincare line; they should have called this product the Miracle Worker.

In short: Endorse, endorse, endorse. I am a Bubbly convert. And will be as long as I keep drinking the thing they named it after.

Philosophy Bubbly Shampoo, Shower Gel & Bubble Bath
Bottom Line: Cures the common (mild) hangover and smells like sunshine.
Price: $$
Tip: Also good for clearing the head on those early mornings after you've been up too late watching old episodes of "Project Runway" and playing Angry Birds.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Come along as I cancel a BeautyFix order

I joined BeautyFix a little over a year ago when Daily Candy offered a half-off special. For $25, I was willing to give it a try. If you're not familiar with BeautyFix, here's the short version: Four times a year, you pay $50 to receive a makeup bag containing eight sample-to-full-size products to try. I thought the first kit was great, so I decided to stick with it.

It has not always been easy.

But more on that later. First, this: When my new time-to-pick-your-products e-mail arrived this week, I thought I'd take the opportunity to walk through it so the BeautyFix-curious could get a look inside the process before committing to the kit. Four times a year, BeautyFix members get an e-mail like this:

This is a change from the original BeautyFix -- it used to be you just paid them and got what you got. Now you go to the BeautyFix website and log in to your account, where you are asked to update your "beauty profile":

If you ask me, this is one of the program's flaws. It's great that it's easy to update your profile when you choose, but is there really any need to ask users to go through this process every single time they order? The profile is several pages long, and having to go through it four times a year seems unnecessary.

Next you get to pick your products. Here's the complete list of choices for the most recent kit:

So that's it -- you pick your products, click "Ship My Kit," and wait for your goodies to arrive. At least, that should be it -- but in the almost year-and-a-half I've been buying BeautyFix, I've encountered some hiccups and developed some concerns:

1. Technical issues. I've had an entire BeautyFix account just disappear. I joined last September. I got a kit right away, and then another one soon after... and then nothing. I didn't get e-mails. I couldn't log in to the website. I called customer service four or five times, and each time the people I spoke with were relatively pleasant and utterly ineffective. They kept telling me I needed to reset my password (doesn't work when the website doesn't recognize your account), and then it was that the website was under construction, and then they finally admitted that they just couldn't figure out why I couldn't access the website and wasn't receiving kits or correspondence, and they told me the only solution was to start a new account with a new e-mail address. It had to be a new e-mail address? I asked. Yes. So I set one up with my work address. Not impressed, but willing to give it another try.

2. Customer service is useless. Polite, yes, but not really effective at all. They don't understand how the website works. I have never gotten a useful answer to a question by calling customer service.

3. There tends to be a lot of repetition in the product selection. Looking over the selection of products above, I've already received more than two dozen of them in previous kits -- some of them three times. If you Google BeautyFix, Google offers you "BeautyFix scam" as a related search. I don't think it's a scam (although I do think it's incredibly poorly run), but it's clear there are companies with which BeautyFix has partnerships, along with its sister outlet, The first two kits I received were exciting because I was trying products I'd never heard of, but the excitement wore off when I started to receive product after product from the same brands. The point is to try new things, not get sold on the same stuff over and over.

Ttoday, a collision of all three of these issues led me to cancel a BeautyFix order for the first time. I logged in and glanced over the list. I was disappointed, although not surprised, to see lots and lots of familiar selections. I'd been less than thrilled with my last kit, but I thought I'd give it one more chance. So I spent about 15 minutes deciding what I wanted (yes, at work...), looked at my selections all lined up on the top of the page, and clicked "Ship My Kit."

And then I saw a message confirming that my order for one product and one product only -- the makeup bag that's included in every order -- had been submitted.

I quickly clicked around the website trying to see my order, but there was no way to go back and review what I'd selected. I logged out and then back in. No luck. Finally I called customer service and gave the polite woman on the other end of the line my order number. She confirmed that I had, in fact, just placed a $49.99 order for a made-in-China makeup bag and no products at all. There was no way to modify the order, but she could cancel it and then I could resubmit it -- but there is no way to do this on the website. I would have to place my order over the phone. Did I remember the products I'd selected? No, of course I did not -- the website was supposed to do that for me. The only solution she could offer (bless her -- the website isn't her fault) was to read me the complete list of products over the phone and have me select them with her.

At this point I decided to cut my losses. I didn't have a half hour to spend on the phone dealing with this (again, at work -- my own fault), and I'd already been less than enthusiastic about placing the order at all, so I told her to just cancel it. (On a positive note, BeautyFix does allow you to to skip or cancel a shipment without penalty.) The website's shortcomings were probably just the universe telling me to hold on to that $50 for now.

I don't want to leave you thinking my experience has been all negative, because it certainly hasn't. I've discovered some products that I love and might not have tried otherwise -- like 3Lab's Perfect Cleansing Foam, which is wonderful, and Skindinavia finishing spray, which I use every single day. To me, though, the website glitches and ineffective customer service would only be worth putting up with if I were getting to discover exciting new things every time I get a package -- and that just isn't happening anymore. When my next BeautyFix order reminder comes along, I'll take a look at the selection -- but unless I see a whole bunch of new additions, it may be time for us to part ways.

Bottom Line: Great concept, but glitchy and not always satisfying.
Price: $$$
Tip: Worth a try if you can get a discount code -- and I've seen a lot of them bouncing around out there. Do some Googling before you buy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lush responds: Yes, we charge extra for gift sets

The other day I broke down the actual costs of a few Lush holiday gift sets. I mentioned I'd written to Lush to see how they explain the added expense. Here's the response I received today:
Thank you for writing to us. I apologize for your disappointment with the pricing of our wrapped gifts. We put a lot of work into designing and sourcing our gift wrapping materials- for example, we use some handmade, embossed papers for some of our gift sets that we source from a cooperative in Nepal which are more costly, as well as other special boxes and hand processed ribbons that are sourced ethically, and sustainable. Also, our packing materials (the packing peanuts) are 100% biodegradable, and are made of vegetable starches so that they will dissolve in water, but is a more costly choice than Styrofoam for example. We also must account of the labour that goes into the hand wrapping of each gift set by the staff in our facilities who assemble and wrap each gift set.

We do not advertise that our gift sets are more economical than purchasing the products individually, and we feel that giving a beautiful hand-wrapped gift made with hand embossed paper, and ethical ribbons, etc, is something that many of our customers are happy to pay a bit extra for.

We also make sure to offer an option for customers who’d prefer not to purchase a gift like this, and that is that products can be selected, and then our knot-wrap furoshiki scarves can be purchased to wrap the gift in for $6.95. The scarves are made of recycled materials, and can be reused again and again, making them a great value.

I hope this information is helpful for you. Please let me know if you have any further questions and I’d be happy to help.

Kind regards,

Customer Care Representative
So there you have it. Yes, Lush is charging you extra for that gift set, and no, they don't see any reason to apprise you of that fact when you buy it. (Although they're sure that, if you realized you were being charged extra for "hand embossed paper, and ethical ribbons, etc." you'd be "happy" about it.) If you have questions for Lush, you can e-mail or call toll-free: (800) 733-5874.

Time to stock up on Shadow Insurance

I’ve never really fallen in love with anything from Too Faced except Shadow Insurance (which I use every single day), and this sale gets it under $15, so if you haven’t tried it, now might be a good time. There don’t appear to be any exclusions on this, so if I were going to use it I might think about ordering a custom palette for my sister-in-law.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spendy little wonder crayon

Let me start by saying: $24 is an absofrackinglutely ridiculous amount of money to spend on a lip gloss. Criminal, almost. As I sit here and think about it, I actually feel horrifically guilty considering how many tubes of Blistex I could have bought and donated to the kids at Covenant House with the money I’d saved by not buying this lip tint.

That being said... I love this product. I love it. I loooooove it. I love the color (mine is Moody, a “deep berry” that looks scarily dark in the tube but goes on sheer and just pink enough to complement my pale Irish-Alaskan skin), I love the minty freshness, I love the gloss, I love that it lasts a long time and makes my lips feel all fresh and smooth and moisturized. Love love love.

I’m less wild about the delivery mechanism. I’m not quite sure why it needs to be packaged in a big fake plastic crayon. I’m all for less packaging (which is why I’ll never buy another Stila Lip Glaze even though I love the product; holy wasted plastic, Batman). I see no reason this couldn’t have come in a chic little tube like, say, Clinique’s Black Honey Almost Lipstick, which I also love love love, which also looks intimidatingly dark in the tube but goes on beautifully sheer and perfect, and which has the added benefit of being $10 less expensive than the Tarte lip tint. (Black Honey does lack Tarte’s added bonus of minty freshness, however, and it only comes in the one color, although Clinique claims Black Honey looks good on absolutely everyone.) Tarte has a respectable green initiative (including a customer recycling incentive program), so maybe they’ll at least consider facilitating recycling of the LipSurgence packaging. I e-mailed customer service to see if it’s in the works — if they respond, I’ll post an update.

UPDATE, 12/17/10: I got an e-mail from Jessica at Tarte this afternoon. She says "The LipSurgence components are plastic and can be recycled as well," although she didn't answer my question about whether they will be added to the recycling incentive program... so it sounds like they're recyclable, but Tarte isn't recycling them for you. Oh well.

Tarte LipSurgence natural lip tint
Bottom line: Pricey and overpackaged, but minty, glossy and beautiful.
Price: $$
Tip: If you want to save 10 bucks and don’t mind sacrificing mintiness and color selection, try Clinique’s Black Honey Almost Lipstick.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Buyer beware: Lush gift sets will cost you extra

’Tis the season for fun holiday gift sets that let you try a little bit of everything for a great price, right? Wrong — if you’re talking about Lush gift sets, that is.

It pains me to say this, because I really do adore Lush — great products, great philosophy — but at least some of their packaged gifts are not worth the price you pay. Literally. Let’s do the math:

The Chillin’ With My Gnomies gift set includes a 3.3 oz. Whoosh Shower Jelly and a 3.5 oz. Snow Globe Soap and costs $14.95. But if you bought the items separately, you’d only pay $11.90, and you’d actually get 0.2 oz. more shower jelly.

You could pay $28.95 for the Gingerbread House Tin, which comes with a 3.5 oz. Gingerbread House Bubble Bar, a 3.5 oz. Candy Cane Bubble Bar, a 3.1 oz. Cinders Bath Bomb, and a 3.1 oz. L’il Lush Pud Bath Bomb — or you could pay $6.25 and $5.95 for the bubble bar and $3.95 each for the bath bombs, for a total of $20.10, and use the $8.85 you saved to buy a cuter container. Or two more bath bombs.

What got me started adding up the Lush gift sets? My own folly. On my swing through Lush in Las Vegas last week, I picked up a couple of the cute boxed gifts thinking they would be a good way to try some new scents. I did the math in my head quickly and figured out I was paying about $5 per product in one set and a little less than $6 per product in the other, which seemed more or less right — until I got home, started poking around the website, and found out most of the products I’d bought in those gift sets actually retail for $3.95. I’d paid $1.60 per ounce for products that would have averaged $1.22 per ounce if I’d bought them individually. I was particularly offended when I realized that, in buying the Christmas Star gift set, I’d overpaid for my products by about $10, in return for which I got a cute but cheap star-shaped cardboard box and a frustrated headache.

There is a 25% off coupon inside each of the boxes I purchased, and I imagine some people would say that makes them worth the extra money. But I have a couple of responses to that:
  • The discount coupons are extremely limited. This isn’t a blanket 25% off your next purchase. You only get to use them on three products, and they must be skincare products (“cleansers, hand and body lotions, toners, shaving cream, serums, color supplements, fresh face masks and moisturizers”). Having overpaid by $10 for the Christmas Star gift set, my total for those three skincare products would have to be $40 before my 25% discount would start to pay for itself.  I shop at Lush for hair care and bath products, so these two coupons likely won’t get used.
  • Is it really a discount if you have to pay for it? If the discount is part of what you’re paying for, isn’t Lush just charging you now to give them more money later? That’s not a discount — it’s a down payment.
I sent an e-mail off to Lush asking for an explanation of the gift set overpricing. I don’t need to save gazillions of dollars on gift sets, and they’re certainly not billing them as value sets or special bargains — but I’m offended that I paid so much extra for no apparent reason. If I get an answer, I’ll post it. In the meantime, my recommendation is to do your homework before you buy a Lush gift set — you could save yourself some real money by buying individual products and wrapping them up yourself.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday gifts for him

Oh, the men and the beauty products. They won’t admit they want or need them, but if only they realized how much better their lives could be with them. Why, why, why is it manly to wash one’s face with, say, Irish Spring, but not with an actual face wash? Is it because they don’t care about getting wrinkles since wrinkles just make them look “worldly” and “seasoned” while ours make us look old?

The good news is the holidays are a great chance to sneak in some make-me-pretty presents (or, since we’re trying to operate with some finesse here, make-me-manly presents) among the snow tires and chainsaws and other burly gifts. I did some manly beauty shopping while we were in Las Vegas last weekend. Here are my picks for the menfolk in my life:

Anthony Logistics for Men A Clean Start Kit ($40 at Sephora)

Sephora calls this kit “Everything a man needs to start the day fresh and well groomed.” I’m flying blind here, as my fiancé hasn’t tried anything from Anthony, but considering this is a gift for a man who chooses to purchase $1 Suave shampoo and the Costco superpack of stinky green soap, I don’t think we can go too wrong. I wavered back and forth between this and the $35 Grab + Go Portables, but settled on A Clean Start mostly because the products came in larger sizes. This kit includes a 4 oz. Glycolic Facial Cleanser, 2 oz facial scrub, 2 oz. shave cream, 2.5 oz. aftershave balm and a lip balm. (The Grab + Go kit also didn’t come with a lip balm.) I’ll be interested to see what he thinks of the kit. Last year I got him a Jack Black gift set (facial scrub, Beard Lube, Hand Healer and moisturizer) that I don’t think he’s gotten much use out of, but I don’t know if that’s because he doesn’t love the products, because he’s too lazy to wash his face before he goes to bed, or because he just throws all his bathroom stuff in a basket on the counter and forgets about it. This year I’m going to insist he try everything for at least a week. I think that’s all it will take to get him on board.

Glögg shower gel ($8.95-$24.95 at Lush)

This was a total impulse buy made possible by a post-dinner, beef-and-beer-induced haze and some good saleswomanship. We’d just finished dinner at Burger Bar, which is right across the way from a Lush, which, for me, was almost as big a draw as all-natural beef and jalapeño bacon (although those were good too). I’d gotten attached to one of those super-eager Lush girls who just wants you to try everything and smell this and feel that and check out this other thing and isn’t this a great deal? The sneaky friendly bitch sold me on everything she touched (but, to her credit, threw in a lot of free samples at the end). This was something I would have walked right by if she hadn’t thrust the tester under my nose. I knew the fiancé would love the spicy smell — he’s way into cinnamon — and he’s already copped to sneaking my fruity Philosophy shower gels, so he can’t feign total disinterest. I think this will be the surprise hit of the stocking.

L’Occitane Shea Embrace Set ($65 at L’Occitane)

We went into L’Occitane to buy something for my future mother-in-law but also ended up walking out with this boxed gift for my dad. Dad’s a retired firefighter/paramedic in his early 60s. He just had hip replacement surgery and I’m pretty sure I inherited my skin from him: pale, Irish and dry, dry, dry (except on the face. Hello, combination). Having dry skin in Alaska in the winter means moisturization is a must, and Dad is man enough to admit he’s happier when his skin is taken care of. (He’s also been known to enjoy a manicure.) This set includes a 2.5 oz. shea butter hand cream, a 2.5 oz. shea butter foot cream, a 7 oz. shea butter Ultra Rich Body Cream, a 3.5 oz. shea butter milk soap, and a 0.8 oz. Pure Shea Butter Mini Tin. Shea butter is crazy moisturizing and doesn’t have a strong or girly smell (it just kind of smells creamy), so it’s a good choice for a guy who doesn’t want to smell like a florist’s shop. Plus it does not need to be wrapped. Which is always a plus.

Prada Infusion d’Homme and Infusion d’Iris Duo ($10 at Sephora)

OK, fine, I’ll admit this one is really a gift for me. I was waiting on line at Sephora and you know how they put all those little bins of cute little gifts and travel size items along the checkout line? They get me every single time. Every single time! This is why it’s almost better there’s no Sephora store in Alaska. The website never lures me into walking out with something ridiculous I never intended to purchase but grabbed because it was cute! and little! and there! And this time it was this Prada duo, which includes a cute little bottle each of the Infusion d’Iris eau de parfum (for me) and the Infusion d’Homme eau de toilette (for him). According to Sephora, “Infusion d’Homme works closely with the body to create a subtle yet distinctive scent. This sensuously crafted essence blends intoxicating citrus and woody notes for an understated, but lasting, impression.” My take: It smells clean, not cologne-y. Will he wear it? I have no idea. I will, however, insist that he try. While living in New York in my 20s I once got a lesson from a cologne salesman at Bloomingdale’s in how to get my boyfriend to wear fragrance. The store was dead (why was I at Bloomingdale’s in the middle of the afternoon on a workday? I have no idea) and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t have a boyfriend, so I stood there and listened to his spiel. It’s been six or seven years, but I intend to put his advice to the test after Christmas. We’ll see how it goes. I figured this one was a win-win for me, though; it was only ten bucks, and either way, I end up with perfume.

Holiday deals and discounts for Dec. 10-13, 2010

Here’s what’s cooking (and discounting) today:
  • ULTA: Free shipping on orders over $25 through Dec. 17. Use coupon code 502213.
  • PHILOSOPHY: Friends and family sale — 30% off all orders through Dec. 13. Use promo code holidaysparkle.
  • TARTE: Friends and family sale — 40% off sitewide through Dec. 13. Use code FFDEC
  • NYX: Free ground shipping for all purchases over $60 through Dec. 31. (Doesn’t specify whether that includes Alaska, but since they specified ground shipping, my guess is no.)
  • COASTAL SCENTS: 20% off sitewide through Dec. 13.
  • LUSH: Through Dec. 13, spend $100, get free 2-day shipping (U.S. and Canada) and a $10 e-gift card good between Feb. 1 and May 30, 2011. Use code FREESHIPR3.
And if you’re looking for gifts for the men in your life, check out my finds for my fiancé and my dad.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday deals and discounts for Dec. 9, 2010

I'm back from Vegas with some finds to share, but first: It's sale season! Here are a few of the offers that dropped into my inbox this morning:
  • ULTA: $10 off any $50 purchase (today, Dec. 9, only!). Use coupon code 50710 OR Free shipping on orders over $25 through Dec. 17. Use coupon code 502213.
  • STILA: Free Lip Enamel Luxe gloss trio when you spend $20 or more (Dec. 9 only). Use code 9ENAMEL.
  • PHILOSOPHY: Friends and family sale! 30% off all orders through Dec. 13. Use promo code holidaysparkle.
  • TARTE: Friends and family sale! 40% off sitewide through Dec. 13. Use code FFDEC.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sephoric Serendipity

Well, well, well. Look what arrived in the mail today:

And we just happen to be headed to Las Vegas tonight. Isn't that terribly convenient? Sephora at the Venetian, here I come...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies mascara

Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies
I haven’t loved a Maybelline product since I was nine years old and I got a frosty pink lipstick as a party favor at the birthday party of a friend whose mother was out of town and whose father didn’t realize lipstick doesn’t come out in the wash.

Then I made a desperate stop at Target the day of my brother’s wedding. (The same fateful trip to Target during which I let the spectre of Collier Strong sucker me into buying that silly L’Oréal roller foundation.) I’d been given a heads up by the officiant that I’d want waterproof mascara for the ceremony, so in my mad rush I grabbed the closest product on which I could make out the words “black” and “waterproof.”

And then I fell in love. I have never been able to manage false lashes. (I think that’s going to be one of my beauty new year’s resolutions.) This product doesn’t go all the way to making me look like I’m rocking actual falsies, but it comes just about as close as I think I’m going to get before I can learn to master that tube of Duo lash glue that mocks me from my vanity drawer. It lengthens, thickens, blackens, and stays on all day. (All day and into the next if I forget to take it off.)

They’re not kidding about the waterproof part, either. This mascara made it through my little brother’s wedding 100 percent intact. It stayed put through the weeping and the laughing and the dancing. Plus it’s handled the Alaska winter well -- my eyes seem to water nonstop, all day long, when it’s cold and dry (like it was all throughout December), and this stuff doesn’t go anywhere, no matter how leaky I happen to be. The downside is it’s a little hard to get off when I actually want it off, and I occasionally find myself getting a little overzealous with the eye makeup remover, which doesn’t help my eye watering problem.

Best of all: Since I started wearing this mascara, I have been accused of secretly using Latisse. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Maybelline Volum’ Express The Falsies mascara
Bottom Line: As close as you’re going to get to false lashes without learning to use lash glue.
Price: $
Tip: Invest in a good makeup remover that doesn’t irritate your eyes. The waterproof claim is legit.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Holiday wish lust

Oops. I’m sure I meant to type “wish list.” Close enough. Here are a few things I can’t quite justify buying for myself just now, but I would love to see turn up under my Christmas tree. Are you listening, Santa?

Illamasqua 4-Colour Liquid Metal Palette 02
I wanted it when I saw it on I wanted it more when I saw Belle Du Jour’s swatches. I have a feeling that when I get to Las Vegas in a few weeks and hit up the Sephora in the Venetian that seeing it in person may dazzle me enough to push me past the $42.50 price tag.

Bare Escentuals bareMinerals Kaleidoscope
I’m not a big mineral makeup fan, but I do love the bareMinerals eye shadows, particularly for foiling. And I just want to eat these 20 candy-colored shadows. At $89 for the set, that works out to $4.45 per “petite” eye shadow, which isn’t bad at all.

NARS single eye shadow in Étrusque
I’m constantly on the search for the Perfect Gold Eye Shadow, and I think this one is probably it. I choke on the idea of paying $23 for a single eye shadow, but I have yet to regret a NARS purchase. Hundreds of bottles later, I have yet to find a nail polish I love quite as much as the original Zulu.

Philosophy Have a Cherry Christmas products
I’m in love with Philosophy’s new holiday scent. In fact, I may even love it more than I love Candy Cane, which is saying something, because I really love Candy Cane. It’s not the price that puts me off with Have a Cherry Christmas... it’s the fact that I can’t really justify it. I’ve already got a massive stash of Philosophy three-in-ones... including at least one nearly-full bottle of Candy Cane from last year. If my fiancé sees one more show up... well, let’s just say I’d have to find a way to sneak it in. And maybe transfer it to an old empty bottle. And that’s a little more bath and body subterfuge than I’m really comfortable with.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

E.L.F. holiday gift sets, part 2: Pretty glitter, delicious parabens

We’ve established that I was not terribly impressed with the first E.L.F. eye set I tried out -- the shadows seemed to be imbued with an instinct driving them to find their way to my cheeks like elephants seeking out their traditional graveyard. But I’d told myself if I could find three products I liked among my E.L.F. purchases, the experience would have been worthwhile.

E.L.F. Glitz N’ Glam Limited Edition set
The E.L.F. Get the Look: Glitz N’ Glam set seemed promising: A sparkly pink lip gloss, a duo of shimmery pink blush and steel gray eye shadow, a mascara and an iridescent glitter liquid liner. Definitely not products you’d want to wear all together (unless you’re in middle school, in which case go for it now while you’re still young enough to get away with it), but some fun little items to use here and there.

First, the duo. I couldn’t get a great photo of the blush -- no matter the lighting, I couldn’t manage to get a photo (in focus) that accurately captured the way it looks. So let me just say this: It’s pretty and pink and sparkly, and no one over the age of 12 should be wearing it on her cheeks unless the circumstances involve some sort of dance recital or cheer competition. HOWEVER. A couple of days after I’d written off the blush, just for kicks, I tried it on as an eye shadow by itself with black gel liner. So pretty! It wore well and looked really nice with my skin (which, as you’ve seen, is Alaska wintertime pale). I’ll wear it again as an eye shadow, maybe over a NYX jumbo eye pencil.

The gray shadow is unremarkable, as is the mascara.

I love, love, love the glitter liner. I’m 31, so glitter isn’t something that has a place in my everyday makeup routine, but for parties, the holidays, nights out I do like a little sparkle now and then. And I liked the way the glitter (iridescent in a clear base) added some interest to the otherwise unremarkable eye that was the result of my first E.L.F. test:

The lip gloss was actually the first item I tried out of any of the kits. I ripped into it in the Target parking lot and tried it on right there in the car. My initial reaction: It tastes like strawberry Kool-Aid powder. I was surprised by the taste (most of the lip products I use don’t taste like soft drinks), but didn’t find it unpleasant. I liked the shimmer and the color, although I did notice the pigment sort of moving around my lips as I pressed them together. I’ve since learned not to apply this gloss generously.

I tossed the gloss in my purse and I’ve been carrying it around for a week now and using it throughout the day. I was just starting to really like it when I made the mistake of reading the ingredients and learned something I wasn’t too excited about: It’s chock full of parabens. While the FDA has said it feels parabens are safe for cosmetic use “at the present time,” I’m not really comfortable putting a chemical directly on my mouth that has been identified as a possible contributor to breast cancer. When there are lots of paraben-free lip products out there, why take the risk? So the lip gloss, sadly, is getting tossed.

So far, glitter liner and blush-as-eye-shadow are the only winners, but there are two more kits to get through. Liquid liners and eye shadow quads await review.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

E.L.F. holiday gift sets, part 1: Twinkles in (and under) my eyes

I don’t like cheap makeup.

Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with inexpensive makeup. I prefer higher-end products, although if I find a drugstore item that works for me, I don’t have attitude about buying and using it. But I don’t like makeup that acts cheap, regardless of how little it costs. I don’t have room in my life for product that doesn’t perform. So I’d held off on trying E.L.F. for a long, long time. The rock-bottom prices seemed like a big red flag.

E.L.F. figured out how to get at me, though: I am a sucker for holiday gift sets. Take normal product, rearrange the colors and repackage it with some foil snowflakes, toss in some kind of sparkling exclusive item, slap the “limited edition” label on it, and I’m sold.

So when I wandered into Target and stumbled upon the E.L.F. holiday display, I suddenly found myself dropping $21 on a sackful of “gift” sets. In the car on the way home I managed to convince myself that since I hadn’t spent almost that much on a replacement Clinique Black Honey Almost Lipstick the day before, I could justify the purchase if I could find three worthwhile products among the E.L.F. haul.

I started out with a trial run of the E.L.F. Essentials Eyes Get the Look: Day to Night Limited Edition kit. In this kit: Two eye shadow trios, black eyeliner pencil, black liquid eyeliner, black mascara. Oh, and two sponge applicators to stick in a drawer somewhere.

On initial examination, the eye shadows were disappointing. I swatched them quickly on my hand and very little pigment seemed to stick to my skin -- most of it blew away in a cloud of shimmering powder. So I tried again, this time starting with a layer of Too Faced Shadow Insurance, which seemed to help:

I still wasn’t terribly impressed, but I figured I’d give them a shot. I tried one look with each trio, one on each eye. First reaction: No way would either of these eyes have been possible without a generous application of Shadow Insurance.

As for color payoff and blendability, the teal/gray/white trio applied and blended in a fashion that I’d say was just OK. The gold and purple trio, though... well, you may have noticed in the photo above that, although the shadows are packed with glitter, there doesn’t appear to be very much glitter on my eye. That’s because it all ended up here:

The purple shadows, in fact, sort of separated themselves into glitter and pigment as they touched the brush (not that much pigment seems to have made it onto the eye). I tried applying them wet, too, but that just meant more glitter shedding onto my cheek. The glitter also left my eyelid feeling irritated after I removed it. The mascara performed exactly as you’d expect considering the price, as did the liquid eyeliner. I’ll admit I’m not brilliantly adept with liquid liner, but I’m fairly competent when I’m working with good product. This eyeliner was totally unforgiving, and bled like the dickens.

Still, I thought I’d give one of the sets a trial outing. So I did a look using the teal trio before going out on Saturday night. I kept it very, very simple, as I didn’t particularly trust these shadows to stay in place. The eye started out more or less satisfactory and stayed that way through dinner (forgive my badly-in-need-of-grooming eyebrows:

Maybelline The Falsies mascara; Stila Smudge Pot in Black

When we went out for drinks afterward, though, I excused myself to the ladies’ room and looked in the mirror to find two trails of gray-green sludge running down the inner corners of my eyes. Fortunately, I was wearing my glasses, so perhaps it wasn’t as noticeable to my dinner companions as it was to me. PERHAPS. By the time we got home, the teal was creasing, leaving white streaks across my eyelid.

One kit down and nothing to recommend it. Next time: Will E.L.F. redeem itself?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Conquer your brow hair removal fears

I didn’t start plucking my eyebrows until my mid-20s. I love having well-groomed eyebrows, but plucking could take over my whole life (how fast do those things grow, anyway? Why don’t the hairs on top of my head grow like that?), and quite honestly, I was too much of a baby to go into a salon and get my brows waxed by a professional. Then this tutorial popped up on YouTube:

I’m a big fan of YouTube guru SecretLifeofaBioNerd. She’s adorable, she’s fun to watch, she offers a wide variety of beauty and style videos... and she taught me how to sugar my eyebrows, which has totally changed my life.

The trick to this is making sure you get the consistency of the sugar mixture just right. It takes some trial and error to figure out exactly when to take the mixture out of the microwave. Err on the side of too soon -- you can always put it back in to boil a little bit more, but if you boil it too long you end up with hard candy. Make sure you let it sit for about 10 minutes, and test it on your hand to make sure it’s cooled enough before you spread it around your eyebrow. It’s all-natural (and edible!) and there’s a good chance you’ve already got everything you need right there in your kitchen. The only thing I had to buy the first time I tried it was Popsicle sticks.

As for the pain... well, I find it’s significantly less uncomfortable than plucking, mostly because everything comes out at once. And there’s something really satisfying about seeing all those little hairs come out in one quick pull. (Maybe that’s just me.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Don’t let ‘Project Runway’ make you buy this

Like lots of people, I looked at the L’Oréal True Match Roller foundation and laughed. Really? They want us to apply makeup with a tiny little paint roller? Ridiculous. I rolled my eyes (not my foundation) and moved on.
L’Oréal Paris True Match Roller

Then that sneaky Collier Strong got to me.

Fans of “Project Runway” are familiar with Strong, consulting makeup artist for L’Oréal, due to his many appearances on the show to consult with designers on sponsored challenges and runway looks. In the course of working with a designer on this season’s Studio Secrets eye shadow challenge, Strong busted out the True Match Roller and talked about what a great way it is to apply foundation. He may have used the word “ingenious”; I don’t exactly recall. At any rate, the bug was planted. Honestly, I should have known better. As far as I can tell, all the foundation used on “Project Runway” models is applied with an airbrush, not a funky little sponge roller. I don’t for a moment think L’Oréal would have been rollering makeup onto those models’ faces if they didn’t happen to have the True Match Roller to promote.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later. It was the day of my brother’s wedding and I was out of foundation, having run out of my usual makeup and thrown away a bottle of the Revlon Photo Finish, which everyone but me seems to be in love with. I didn’t have time to get downtown after helping set up for the reception to get to Nordstrom for some expensive-but-reliable Lancôme, so I swung by Target to see what I could come up with. On the L’Oréal aisle, I paused in front of the True Match Roller. Collier Strong seemed so excited about it... it couldn’t be too terrible, could it?

The silly little roller was red flag #1. Red flag #2 should have been the fact that the True Match Roller doesn’t come in my color. In L’Oréal’s terms, I’m smack between a C2 (Natural Ivory) and a C3 (Creamy Natural). The True Match Roller comes in either C1-C2 (Alabaster/Natural Ivory) or C3. I decided to default to the lighter shade, thinking I could make up the difference with bronzer if I had to.

When it came time to roller the foundation on to my face, I was horrified to find I was painting pale, streaky stripes all over my face. C1-C2 is not the right shade, it turns out, if you’re somewhere between a C2 and a C3.

Try.Believe.Love. kit
That was the first problem, and if the shade had been a better match for my skin, it wouldn’t have been a problem. The second problem, though, was this: A roller, which is a great device to use to paint a wall, is not the perfect way to paint a face. A wall is flat and has straight edges. A face -- well, a face is anything but. In order to get good, even coverage, I found I had to press much harder than I was comfortable with, especially around the eyes and nose. And then the product still required lots and lots of blending. On the day of the wedding, I warmed my entire face with my hands to melt the makeup a little bit, then blended with my fingertips. After all that, I still ended up going over it with some mineral makeup powder I had in a drawer (the remnants of the Bare Escentuals bareMinerals Try.Believe.Love. kit I picked up at Sephora last summer; I tried, but neither believed nor loved), which defeated the whole point of buying foundation in the first place. I knew I had the mineral makeup, but I specifically didn’t want to use it -- it’s not great for photos (too reflective).

Ultimately, if the shade had been a better match, I might have been happier with the product, although if I hadn’t been using the Clarisonic I probably would have been much less happy with the application (I wouldn’t recommend it for skin with any kind of uneven texture). The fact remains that a paint roller is not a great way to apply paint to a surface that isn’t relatively flat and rigid. I think it may be possible for some people to find happiness with the True Match Roller, but if you take it for a test drive, be prepared to spend a lot of time blending.

L’Oréal True Match Roller Foundation
Bottom Line: The makeup is decent, but the applicator leaves much to be desired.
Price: $$
Tip: If there isn’t a tone that’s a near-perfect match for your skin tone, this probably isn’t the product for you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I’m about to save you $8.95

Oh, Lush, you are so wonderful. Your delicious-smelling soaps... your all-natural facials... your super-helpful retail associates... your solid conditioner with the long-lasting aroma that makes me want to make out with my own hair. You’re worth the premium price.

Most of the time.

Here’s one Lush product you don’t need to buy: Mint Julips Lip Scrub. I’m sure it’s delicious and wonderful and does all the things it’s supposed to do. It also costs $8.95 for a 0.9 oz. container and contains essentially two ingredients: sugar and oil.

Guess what you probably have in your kitchen? That’s right. Get ready to soften your lips and save some money.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your own peppermint sugar lip scrub and free yourself of the desire to spend $9.94 per ounce on Lush’s version:

-- A little bit of sugar (I use Wholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Organic Sugar, which we buy in a 10-pound bag at Costco. It’s vegan, halal, kosher, karmically balanced, etc., and it costs a little more than regular sugar, but you can use any old granulated sugar).
-- A few drops of peppermint oil (I buy the organic kind at my local grocery store. Look on the baking aisle; depending on the quality available, you’ll spend between $7 and $15 for a 2 oz. bottle).

That’s it.

Now, pour that little bit of sugar into the hollow of your hand. Oh, you want a measurement? Fine... use about an eighth of a teaspoon. Then add a few drops of peppermint oil. Your ratio should be roughly two parts sugar to one part oil. Now use your finger to mix it up, and then rub it all over your lips.

In Lush stores the associate will tell you to lick the scrub off your lips, and you can do that with this scrub, too. If you’re like me, though, and you’ve colored outside the lines a bit and don’t like the idea of saliva all over your face, you can rinse it off with water. I like to finish up by applying lip balm, or just another dab of plain peppermint oil.

If you like the idea of having a little jar of lip scrub, just mix up a batch using that two-to-one sugar-to-oil ratio and store it in one of those little clean empty jars you’ve been saving (or a little plastic container). You can also substitute different edible oils (olive, almond, etc.) for the peppermint oil.

For a rough cost comparison, let’s say you’re using sugar that costs $1.25 a pound (which is more than most sugar actually costs), or about eight cents per ounce, and peppermint oil that costs $6 per ounce. At a two-to-one sugar-to-oil ratio, three ounces of lip scrub (which is approximately one gazillion applications) will cost you about $6.16, or a little over $2 per ounce. Or, if you’re like me and you already have sugar and peppermint oil in your baking cupboard... free.

There you go. I just saved you nine bucks. If I were you, I’d spend it on nail polish.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Clarisonic: My new best friend

How much did buying a Clarisonic change my life? Oh, where to start...
Clarisonic Plus Sonic Skin Cleansing System

I had perfect skin when I was a teenager. PERFECT. One pimple every now and then, easily zapped with a few days’ application of Campho-Phenique (thanks for that tip, Mom), but for the most part I just splashed off a little Noxzema most nights and was good to go. That’s right, most nights. Sometimes I just rinsed with water. Sometimes I didn’t wash my face at all.

I should have known karma would even things out someday.

My mid-20s hit, and all of the sudden my skin was unmanageable. Blackheads. Pimples. The kind of red, bumpy acne other people struggled with 10 years earlier -- mostly on my chin. I naïvely thought my problems could be solved with Noxzema. They couldn’t. I tried a bunch of other drugstore products. Fail. I moved on to more expensive stuff. I wiped the handset of my office phone with Oxy pads. I tried washing my face more. I tried Proactiv. I tried Murad. I tried Philosophy. I tried washing my face less. I went back to Proactiv. I went back to Murad. Sometimes it got better. It never got great. Most recently, I’d settled on a routine made up mostly of products from Sally Beauty Supply’s Beyond Belief line and was getting the most satisfactory results I’d seen in a long time, though I still wasn’t trouble-free.

I’d been looking at the Clarisonic brush since it first rolled out, but I couldn’t get over the price. That’s the real drawback: This thing is not cheap. I thought about settling for the more bare-bones Clarisonic Mia, but if I was going to lay down triple digit dollars for a gadget just to wash my face, I wanted to do it right and have all the bells and whistles.

What finally pushed me over the edge? A sunburn. I kid you not. I burned my décolleté pretty badly on the East Coast in August, and when the burned layer of skin started to peel away I was amazed at how smooth and baby-soft the skin was underneath. I wanted my face to feel like that. So I cashed in some Amazon credit to ease the sting somewhat and ordered the Clarisonic Plus. In pink.

The Clarisonic was developed by a team that included one of the lead inventors of the Sonicare toothbrush. If you’ve made the switch from a regular toothbrush (or even another vibrating brush) to Sonicare, you probably have some idea of what it’s like to wash your face with the Clarisonic brush in comparison with a standard face washing routine, and you’ll be able to understand why I could not stop touching my face after using the Clarisonic for the first time. Or the second time. Or any time since. I’ve been using it daily for two months now, and I still can’t stop touching my soft, soft, beautiful, soft face.

Now, the real question: Did it resolve my -- ahem -- blemish issues? Well, yes and no. I still have some blemishes (which is particularly annoying because I’m 31 and I feel like I’m also starting to see signs of wrinkles, and it is JUST NOT FAIR to have both at the same time), but their numbers have been greatly reduced. They also tend to have shorter life spans -- individual zits go away much more quickly than they used to. I’ve also been under a lot of stress at work, and my nutrition, sleep and hydration all got screwed up over the past couple of months, so I know those are all part of the problem.

Beyond reduced pimples, my skin is glowing. GLOWING. It looks better than it has since I was a kid. It’s so soft (did I mention it’s soft? It’s so soft), and it feels cleaner than it ever has. (And it’s supposed to reduce the appearance of fine lines, too.) My products absorb better, my skin is better moisturized, and I feel great about my face.

Clarisonic Plus Skin Cleansing System
Bottom Line: Spendy, but worth it
Price: $$$$$
Tip: The Mia is temptingly less expensive, but spring for the Plus with its wider variety of settings and options for personalization.