Sunday, October 30, 2011

Swatches in the snow

We’ve had a nice long fall here in Anchorage, but we finally got our first real snowfall today, which finally prompted me to get my act together and photograph the nail polish swatches I spent all last week working on. The fresh snow ended up being the perfect backdrop for all those swatch wheels. Visit Swatches in the Snow to browse the Below Freezing Beauty nail polish library — and find it easily anytime you visit the site by clicking the “Swatches in the Snow” tab at the top of the page. I’ll update it periodically as I accumulate new colors (and track down a couple I know I’m missing... like where is my China Glaze Classic Camel?), although I suppose I’ll have to wait for fresh snow to take new photos!

Photographing nail polish is tricky... not all of the colors show up true to life, and some are a little overwhelming with or without the flash. (Like those China Glaze Poolside neons. Yeow.) If you have questions about any of the swatches, feel free to e-mail me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I went through a long, long anti-shimmer phase. I didn’t want it in my eye shadow, I didn’t want it in my bronzer, and I definitely didn’t want it in my nail polish. I was all creme, all the time. One fleck of microglitter and I was out.

What brought me back? Maybe it was Sally Hansen Hidden Treasure. Maybe flakies are a gateway drug... flakes lead to shimmer, shimmer leads to glitter... whatever happened, it happened, and now I’m a sucker for a great glitter polish — the chunkier, the better. I still wear primarily creme polishes (as you’ll see later this week when I post the results of my epic swatching project), but I have a great big soft spot for chunky glitter polishes.

Which is why I came home from the grocery store tonight with NINE new nail polishes. Fred Meyer is a mega-glitterfest right now, and I was suckered right in. Click on the photos to get a closer look.

Hello, darlings. (Three coats of each, because I really like to pack it on.)
They are...

1. Wet n Wild Tipsy on Bubbly, 99¢
Iridescent micro-glitter in a clear base. Thick, as polishes like this one usually are, but with a surprisingly smooth finish.

2. Wet n Wild I’m Seeing Double, 99¢
Small and micro silver holo glitter in a clear base. Another surprisingly smooth finish, and a very satisfyingly glittery surface. Even at three coats, there’s a lot of clear showing, so put it over a color you’d like to show through.

3. L.A. Girl Glitter Addict Celebrate, $3.49
I love this polish. Seriously. I gasped as it came out of the bottle. It’s large and micro magenta, silver and blue glitter. Almost opaque at three coats and seriously breathtaking. I love it.

4. Milani Jewel FX Gems, $4.49
I have almost bought this polish a hundred times, and then by the time I decided I really, really wanted it, it was nearly impossible to find. It was back today, though, in a freshly-restocked Milani glitters display, and I snapped it up. It’s everything I wanted Wet n Wild Party of Five Glitters to be — mixed large and small multi glitter that give a confetti effect on the nail. Wonderful.

5. Wet n Wild Pop the Cork, 99¢
This is maybe the least exciting polish I picked up. Pink and silver small glitter. Nothing wrong with it; it’s just that it’s not as exciting as the rest of the group. I think it would look great over China Glaze Good Witch?.

6. Milani One Coat Glitter Red Sparkle, $4.49
They say “one coat,” but I wasn’t satisfied until I’d gotten to three coats, at which point I had a solid field of thick, blemish-free ruby glitter. Definitely calls for a thick topcoat (I favor Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat), but very pretty and strictly glittery — no filler.

7. L.A. Girl Glitter Addict Purge, $3.49
I really like this mix of small and large glitter in Kelly green, although it is very similar to Orly Here Comes Trouble, which I already own. I think it will look great over China Glaze China Rouge for Christmas.

8. Revlon Blue Mosaic, $4.99
It was the big green glitter mixed into the background of large and micro blue and silver glitters that got me — it gives Blue Mosaic a nice ocean-y feel. I think I’d like to try it over OPI Jade is the New Black or Essie Pretty Edgy to bring out the green.

9. Revlon Starry Pink, $4.99
I spotted this on a nail polish blog last week and figured I’d never actually see it in person, so when I did, I snapped it up. This is one of the most unusual polishes I’ve seen lately — a sheer lavender base with silver micro and large glitter. I don’t know that it’s a fall polish, and I might not give it much play until after the holidays, but I find it really intriguing.

Here they are with the flash, just for good measure:

An observation from my glitter binge: I have not bought a Revlon nail polish in probably 15 or 20 years — seriously. Something about the Revlon bottle really turns me off, and I haven’t seen any colors compelling enough to get me over that. But I found Blue Mosaic and Starry Pink intriguing enough to get me past my general disinterest in the brand. Well played, Revlon. I’m looking forward to seeing how they wear.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October Birchbox: Korres, Stila, Blinc, Caudalie, and clean undies

Exciting day yesterday — very exciting day! I mean, of course, that there were new episodes of “Extreme Couponing” on TLC. 

OK, I kid. Although I do kind of love “Extreme Couponing.” I wish I were as dedicated as the couponers they feature, but I’m not. (Alaska grocery stores don’t really do double coupons and all the deals you get other places, so I’ll write it off to circumstance and not to my own laziness. I do use coupons... when I remember...) I love a great deal, though, and I love trying new things, and that’s really why yesterday was exciting. It was Birchbox day!

Birchbox is a subscription service that delivers a box of deluxe beauty samples to your door once a month. I’ve been subscribed to Birchbox since May. I canceled my BeautyFix subscription last winter because I just wasn’t impressed by the selection anymore, but I missed the quarterly shipments of beauty treats. For $10 a box, I figured Birchbox was worth a try.

Each month, Birchbox sends four to five beauty samples in a cute little box. I say “samples,” but some of the products are actually travel sized or larger.

As with Julep Maven, you get a nice little rundown of the products you’ve received, along with pricing information for the full-sized versions. (You can order the full-size versions from Birchbox, naturally.)

Each month has a theme, and this month’s was “prep and finish,” featuring “products designed to prep and polish skin, body and hair.” My box contained:

1.69 fl. oz. tube Korres Body Butter in Guava (full size retails for $29):

I have this body butter on my hands right now and I can’t stop smelling them. They smell like Hawaii.
0.141 oz. Blinc mascara (the kind that coats your lashes in little tubes). I actually used to use Blinc a few years ago but stopped because I felt like it was kind of hard on my eyelashes. I also don’t love that the tube comes packed in a totally unnecessary outside tube (that’s the purple thing):

We get it. It’s tubes. Where can I recycle this wasteful packaging? 
A full-size Blinc mascara is $24. I might actually give this another try, since it’s here. And it is the most waterproof mascara I’ve ever used. And the little tubes are kind of cool when you rub them off your eyes at the end of the day.

The box also contained a 0.13 fl. oz. Caudalie Vinoperfect Cell Renewal Night Cream (full size, 30 ml, is $68):

A full-size Stila eye shadow in Poppy (retail value $18):

And a sample packet of The Laundress Delicate Wash in Lady:

(Of course... because I just washed every single delicate item I own last weekend. Oh, well... something to save for later.)

Not a bad little haul for $10:

Like Julep Maven, Birchbox includes shipping in the monthly fee. You can also review the products in your box each month to earn Birchbox Points. Each review earns you 10 points; 100 points is worth $10 off your next purchase of a full-size product. You can also earn 110 bonus points by signing up for a yearlong subscription rather than paying month by month.

Overall, I’ve been thrilled with my Birchbox shipments so far. I’ve gotten to try some things I never would have sought out on my own, and I’ve gotten extras of some items I already know and love. This was my sixth shipment, and for the first time I saw some repeats. This was my second Stila eye shadow (although a different color) and my second Blinc product (August’s box contained the companion liquid liner). Since repetition was one of the reasons I left BeautyFix, I hope Birchbox maintains a variety of items. For me, the excitement of opening my Birchbox is getting to sample new products, so if I start to see repeats, a lot of the appeal will be gone.

Bottom line: A monthly visitor you’ll actually look forward to!
Price: $$
Tip: Review products and refer friends to earn Birchbox Points that can save you money on full-size product orders.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Julep Maven: First impressions

I had the loveliest surprise waiting for me when I got home yesterday:

My first Julep Maven shipment!

What’s Julep? Well, according to their website:
We are a hand, nail and foot care brand with four boutique nail parlors in the Seattle area. Founded on the belief that beauty is a connection, not a competition, Julep was created to celebrate the bond between girlfriends and the beauty of the human spirit. We have created a line of the most effective, toxin-free “Mani & Pedi Care” products and the latest runway-inspired nail colors.
The Julep Maven program is sort of like Birchbox, but strictly for Julep products:
We launched our new Julep Maven program to give all of our girlfriends access to the beauty editor Sneak Peek Box we create every month.  As a Julep Maven, you will have access to the hottest trends in nail color and the latest Mani Care and Pedi Care products - delivered right to your doorstep, just like the beauty editors do.  And you'll have access to these trends and products before anyone else.
Essentially, for $19.99 a month, you get a package with a selection of Julep products based on the results of your personal style quiz. I signed up a couple of weeks ago (my personal style is “classic with a twist”), and my first shipment arrived last night. Inside the black shipping box was this cute gift bag:

I’m a sucker for packaging. And Julep started off strong on that front. Along with a welcome letter (with my name filled in by hand! I did a smear test!) and an explanation of my Maven benefits, I found a card listing the contents of my box:

Inside the bag I found more cute packaging. Like Birchbox, Julep appears to favor pink tissue paper and custom seals:

My first Maven shipment included a 3 oz. tube of “Facial for Hands” Glycolic Hand Scrub, two polishes, a base coat, and samples of the hand scrub and Julep’s SPF 30 hand cream.

The hand scrub contains extracts of grapeseed, sage leaf and lavender, orange oil, and apricot seed powder. It’s nice and scrubby-feeling, but not at all harsh. The tube claims it’s “gentle enough to be used every time you wash your hands,” and while I don’t know that I’d want to use a scrub every single time I wash my hands (I wash my hands a lot, which is probably how I ended up with the nasty case of wedding ring rash I’m still treating), I can definitely see using this once a day. My hands still felt spectacular two hours after I scrubbed.

On to the polishes. As a “classic with a twist,” I received the “darling pink” Reese, a bright rosepetal creme. I found Reese a surprising selection for fall, especially after applying it to my toes. (I apologize for no toe shots, but I read something once about foot fetishists stalking beauty blogs, and that just really weirds me out for some reason.) It’s a pretty color, but feels like much more appropriate for summer than autumn. I was surprised by the application; in the bottle, Reese looked like it might go on sheer, but it was even and opaque in two coats. I think it might have some potential for Konad stamping.

And then there is Alfre.

Oh, Alfre.

Alfre is a brand-new Julep shade for fall 2011. And it is spectacular. The Julep website describes Alfre as “royal metropolitan purple with a hint of shimmer.” In person, it looks purple in some lights and pewter in others.

I love it.

Here’s the beauty of the Maven program: I never would have picked this polish for myself. I don’t tend to gravitate toward metallic or shimmery polishes, and I absolutely would not have gambled $14 on Alfre. But I love the way this polish looks on my nails. It’s sort of a grown-up version of China Glaze Grape Juice meets Sephora by OPI Metro Chic. But better.

In terms of formula, both Alfre and Reese applied nicely. They’re liquidy but not thin, and once I got a feel for the consistency, they went on smoothly. I did get a couple of bubbles with Alfre, but I’m fairly certain that’s because I was painting in semi-darkness (we really need another light in the living room) and slapping it on a bit too thick. There are a few visible brush strokes if you look closely, but as you can see from the photos, they’re not obvious from more than a few inches away. Julep polishes are 3-free, and $1 of every sale goes to organizations that empower women.

When it comes to value, I’m very pleased with Maven based on this first shipment. Each of the two polishes I received retail for $14 on, so right away I received $28 worth of polish for my $19.99. That doesn’t include the base coat, the scrub ($32), and shipping (included in the cost of membership). Plus, as a Maven subscriber, I get 20% off my purchases (which will come in handy when I decide I can’t live without the “Catherine and Pippa” set). And Alaskans (and probably Hawaiians, too): Julep lives in the real world, with no ridiculous freak-state shipping penalties. Their standard shipping is U.S.P.S. Parcel Post. (Yes, I’m serious.) You’ll pay the same $19.99 everyone else pays.

Bottom line? I’m impressed, and I’m looking forward to more. I’ve loved the surprises of Birchbox every month, and based on this first month, I am very excited to see what the future brings with Julep Maven.


Note: The links in this post to sign up for Julep are personalized referral links. If you click through and sign up for Julep Maven, I get a credit to spend at If you sign up for Julep Maven, you can get your own referral code to share with friends and family.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ulta Extreme Wear Gel Eyeliner: Don’t bother

I hit up Ulta like a fiend whenever I’m outside Alaska. I’ve planned entire driving routes around Ulta locations. I love Ulta.

I also love gel eyeliner. What I do not love is Ulta Extreme Wear Gel Eyeliner.

I was at Ulta in Oregon earlier this year and I spent a long time lingering over the Ulta brand gel eyeliners. I’d been longing for a green gel liner for a while, but I was hesitant to spend $20 on a Stila Smudge Pot in Jade because, while I love my Cobalt Smudge Pot, I don’t actually use it very much. What can I say? I mostly stick to black liner. For $10, I figured I could take a chance on Ulta Extreme Wear Gel Eyeliner in Dublin.

Here is why I love shopping in person more than online shopping: You can see things in real life. So you can, for example, look through all the testers of Ulta Extreme Wear Gel Eyeliner and notice that each one is dried out and cracked. You can also go through and open each container of Dublin until you find one that isn’t dried out and cracked. And then you can ignore all those big red flags waving at you from all those pots of dried-out, cracked gel liner and buy the un-dried one anyway.

And then, after only a few months and a handful of uses, you can open up your gel liner and find this:

Dry as dry can be, and crackly as a packet of Pop Rocks. No kidding, it’s straight-up Sahara in there. I tried wetting my brush to try to wring some effectiveness out of the dried-up cake of liner, but I ended up with only a faint wash of dark, gritty color.

I have to say, based on my in-store observations and the few times I did use the product, I’m not surprised. The color appeared green when I swatched it in the store, but it never looked anything but gritty and grey on my eyes. I should have gone for Mac Fluidline in Dark Envy... or just shelled out for the Smudge Pot. I’ve never had a Smudge Pot dry out on me, and I’ve forgotten to recap them on a couple of occasions.

I’m not sure if all Ulta Extreme Wear Gel Liners are similarly formulated, or if that store just got a bad batch, but after what I saw in the store and what I experienced at home, this will be my last Ulta brand gel liner. I’ll probably chip out the rest of the Dublin cake and reuse the jar — for something that doesn’t need an airtight environment, obviously.

Ulta Extreme Wear Gel Eyeliner
Bottom Line: Until Ulta rolls out a reformulation, avoid.
Price: $$
Tip: When it comes to affordable gel liner, I’ve had much better luck with Physician’s Formula Shimmer Strips Custom Eye Enhancing Gel Liner. For about a dollar more than the Ulta gel liner, you get three different colors, and the consistency is pretty nice.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September favorites

As we head into October (and it’s officially fall), here’s a quick look at the products I found myself falling in love with — for the first time, or all over again — during the month of September:

1. L’Oréal Paris MagicSmooth Soufflé Makeup

I have been on a long, long search for the perfect foundation. I used to swear by Clinique Superfit, which is now discontinued. I’d started using Superfit after Clinique discontinued another foundation I adored. (Lesson: Don’t fall in love with a Clinique foundation.) Since I’ve stopped being able to get my hands on my beloved Superfit, I’ve bounced around from makeup to makeup, trying just about anything and everything. There was an unfortunate Korres experiment (apparently now also discontinued; in this case, it was for the best), a massive waste of money on Laura Mercier Oil Free Foundation (for $42 yes that’s right I said forty-two dollars I expect a foundation to actually cover my skin evenly), and of course, my dalliance with the Collier Strong-recommended L’Oréal paint roller, which I knew on some level was doomed from the start. I was in like with L’Oréal True Match for a while, but I my skin fell exactly between two shades and I got tired of mixing all the time, and then it started to make my face too greasy. I was hesitant to try any more high-end brands after being burned by Korres and Laura Mercier, but after seeing MagicSmooth Soufflé demoed in a YouTube video I figured I could risk 14 bucks.

You guys, this is The Foundation. I’m serious. Perfect coverage — no, really, perfect — perfect color, perfect finish. I love, love, love my skin in this makeup. It’s blendable to a fault and looks so incredibly natural I could swear my skin became even and perfect overnight. Except that I know I just applied the perfection with a foundation brush. (Yeah, that’s the only downside — this is definitely a makeup that demands brush application. There have been a couple of mornings when, crunched for time, I’ve had to resort to my slap-it-on-with-fingers-and-go Sephora Collection backup foundation, and while it’s not a terrible option, it’s just not the same.) This is my new bestie. Which, with my track record, means it will probably be discontinued in a month or two... so if it does, I’m going to have to stock up.

2. Garnier Skin Renew Anti-Dark-Circle Roller

I mentioned this product in my workplace essentials post, but at that point it was a pretty new item for me and the jury was still out. The jury has returned a verdict, though, and the Garnier Skin Renew Anti-Dark-Circle Roller is guilty of being totally effective and satisfying to use. Consequently, it has been handed a lifetime sentence of hard labor in my daily makeup routine. I have very pale Northern European skin, so if I don’t get enough sleep (and adjusting to a new earlier schedule has meant my sleep patterns have been all messed up lately) I have very dark, very pronounced purple bags under my eyes. Not sexy. This roller conceals underneath my eyes beautifully — seriously, more smoothly than any undereye concealer I’ve ever used, including my beloved standby Benefit LemonAid — and feels nice and cool as I roll it on. More than that, though, I’m honestly convinced that my undereye area has looked smoother and younger in the month since I started using this product daily. I’m sold.

3. Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder-Gel

I know, I know, every beauty blogger in the whole world has written about what a wonder product this is, how it’s the same formula as Smashbox Photo Finish, etc. I used to swear by this as a face primer — went through several tubes of it — and then I started using some samples I’d accumulated from Sephora orders, and then I started foregoing primer at all, and then I pretty much forgot about Monistat. I picked up a new tube in September, though, and I’ve been using it every day. I’d forgotten how nice and smooth it makes my face and how satisfying it is to apply foundation over the top of that silky layer of primed skin. Bonus use: I developed a bad case of wedding ring rash recently (due, I’m fairly certain, to Boston humidity and then a long flight home, both of which caused my fingers to swell), and since my skin has started to heal and I’ve been wearing my rings again I’ve been putting this on my finger first to discourage irritation. (It turns out the only way to really cure wedding ring rash when it’s not caused by a metal allergy is to leave your rings off for a while and let the skin heal... which has been a real drag. I hate not wearing my rings.)

Downside: It’s not really a beauty product I want to leave lying around. Even if he knew I’m putting it on my face (or maybe especially because?), I think my husband would be a little weirded out by this one.

4. Jurlique Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer

I know anti-bacterial stuff is controversial (don’t ever get my mother started about how we humans are wearing down our resistance to microorganisms through our newfound cultural germophobia), but I like to keep some in my handbag because... well, sometimes you just want to kill some germs, you know? There was a little bottle of Jurlique Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer in this month’s Birchbox, and I’m loving it. It smells like an Aveda product, and it doesn’t leave my hands feeling dry or raw. Love.

What favorite products did you discover — or rediscover — in September?