CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM with SPF 30

I stumbled upon this excellent drugstore moisturizer on Beauty and the Feast's post on her skincare routine. Since I rarely come across strong drugstore skincare recommendations from the beauty blogging world, I decided this was a must-try. At the time, I had just finished 2 tubs and 1 tube of Nivea Soft. Although Nivea Soft served me well day and night when my skin was not at its best, and although I continue to love that cream and would recommend it to anyone for just about anything, it was time to return to a routine that included a daytime moisturizer with SPF and potentially a night cream.

Priced at about $17 in NYC, this moisturizer is more expensive than other drugstore brands but is clearly more affordable than higher-end skincare from Sephora and department stores. Given a rather high SPF of 30, I thought this made CeraVe an especially good value.

After several months of use, I can safely say that this moisturizer is one of the best I've ever tried. It is a slightly heavy and creamy lotion (not runny, and sits on your finger/palm when dispensed), which I prefer to thinner formulas. What I like most about the formula is that it spreads easily and absorbs well. Unlike heavier creams, it doesn't sit on top of your skin like a film or take too long to absorb. But unlike thinner lotions, it also doesn't seem to evaporate within minutes of applying. My face feels moisturized in the morning, but not greasy. I barely know I'm wearing it, but I love applying it in the morning. To me, that's perfect.

Two other qualities that make this work for me? No fragrance and the slim pump bottle. I know it looks kind of boring and clinical, but sometimes you just want something like that on your dresser, you know?

Initially, I had one very minor concern. Because of the SPF, there is definitely a distinct white cast when the lotion is first applied. It disappears immediately after blending and patting it in, and the SPF doesn't give it that greasy slip of regular sunscreen. It won't show up in photos and it doesn't affect makeup application. I wouldn't label the slight cast a flaw, as it's probably common with higher SPF moisturizers and doesn't affect the performance of the lotion overall.

Although I'm gradually trying to incorporate more natural products into my routine (ones that don't include parabens, for instance - this one does), I'm pretty sure I'll be buying this one again. I don't know if I can manage a natural, SPF moisturizer whose formula I love in a price range that I find affordable. I had one, short encounter with Aveeno's Smart Essentials SPF 30 moisturizer and wasn't impressed. And to tell you the truth, I don't feel the need to experiment too much more with this part of my routine - at least at the drugstore. Next time I try another daytime moisturizer SPF, it might be slightly higher end and from a brand that I've already had good experiences with, like Korres. For a daily essential that will need a refill, this is a terrific product.

$14-$17 @ drugstores


My Mascara Picks

The last time I fiddled with mascara and enjoyed it, it was with Korres Abyssinia Oil Volumizing Mascara. That was almost exactly a year to-date and since then, I've had the pleasure of getting to know 6 drugstore mascaras. Yes, 6. That might seem unimpressive to some, but I've never been picky with mascara, so to try more than 1 and moving onto others is new for me. Mascara is also just not one of those products I can't stand paying more than $7 for. Luckily, that left me with a number of very popular drugstore options. They were:

  • CoverGirl LashBlast Volume (chubby orange tube) - Let's just say, not impressed. It didn't really give me volume, and my lashes felt dry, spidery, and brittle. Not sure why this is a popular favorite. Also, the brush was just too big and oddly shaped. It looks like an inflated barrel. I think I actually poked myself in the eye once.
  • CoverGirl LashFusion (chubby purple tube) - Ditto. I didn't see much of a difference between the two, other than the color of the tube. Slightly better than the LashBlast, although I can't be sure why. The brush was slightly different and the effect a little nicer, but still uninspiring.
  • Maybelline Colossal Volume Express (chubby yellow tube) - Loved this one. The brush is large, but it's a traditional bristle brush and not a plastic one, which made all the difference. It just did what a mascara should do - coat the lushes well, little clumping, volumizing (my preference over length), and stayed put. A little drama, but not over the top, although you could go there if you wanted. I would have repurchased and continued to use, but read on...
  • Maybelline Volume Express One-By-One (chubby hot pink tube) - This one comes closest to the Korres mascara I like so much. Like the Korres, this gives a defined fullness to lashes. True to its name, the wand seems to catch every little lash and pull it apart from the others. As is the trend these days, the brush is large, and plastic rather than bristle. But unlike the CoverGirl LashBlast, the brush is well-designed - it tapers a bit at the end, the "barrel" is smaller, and the little combs longer. I also like the formula of the mascara itself - it is more fluid and inky than the others, but just dry enough to set quickly. I haven't experienced any clumping with this, and I rarely need to follow up with a tissue or lash comb. Plus, it stays all day and holds the shape of my lashes.
  • Maybelline TheFalsies (also a chubby purple tube!) - Ah, TheFalsies. People seem to have ridiculously high expectations of this mascara. My expectations of mascara are minimal and I don't really buy into all the crazy claims. In my experience, this is a very good mascara for a dramatic fringe, and a good combination of the Colossal and One-By-One mascaras. The brush is completely new, so hats off to Maybelline for that. It's sort of a flat, spoon shape. For some pictures, check out this review on NouveauCheap. Basically, imagine the head of a cotton swab/Q-tip. Now flatten and elongate it a bit, and add bristles. There you have it. I think the new shape is interesting and I do find application a little easier compared to other brushes because it sort of cups your lashes. The downside is the formula, which is on the thick side and prone to clumping. But this mascara is meant to amplify the lashes even more so than the Colossal or LashBlast, so you win some, you lose some. A good lash comb might be necessary for some after a coat or two. Like the One-By-One, it stays put all day and maintains the shape of my lashes. Perhaps a little bit on the stiff side, but that's expected for this mascara, and the feeling is nowhere as rough and dry as LashBlast.
  • Rimmel Sexy Curves (slim, teal, metallic tube - nice change) - This little-known mascara of the unique tube color worked rather well for me. The formula and consistency are just right - similar to the One-By-One but thinner, and also clump-free. The plastic brush is the skinniest of the bunch, which I prefer for getting all the little lashes. It also has an interesting shape - tapers in the middle but has is full on each end. Different, for sure, and it glides onto the lashes. This mascara definitely gives more length than volume. Although I prefer volume, I still liked the overall look because it wasn't too dramatic but still kind of - doll-like without being porn-star or Japanese anime. Its ability to produce sexy "curves" was not an issue for me (my lashes are curvy to begin with). I definitely would have repurchased this had I not continued to experiment.
*Note: All were waterproof versions and all stood up to my oily, watery eyes.

The winner in this year's unofficial Mascara Madness? Maybelline Volume Express One-By-One! Not only was I happy with the volume and definition, it's a breeze to use. No wiping excess mascara or lash comb necessary. It's hard to pick a few top choices. Overall, I'm comfortable with either One-By-One or TheFalsies, followed by the Colossal and then Rimmel's Sexy Curves. If I had to pick a combo of one day mascara and more dramatic, I'd go for Sexy Curves/Colossal and One-By-One/TheFalsies (my current combo).

Korres Ginger and Vitamins Foundation, SPF 10

In the continuous effort to edit my makeup collection, this past summer I decided to try light-coverage foundations instead of tinted moisturizers (TM). A couple of my previously-used TMs were collecting dust, and I didn't have any face makeup for special occasions. Other than a dusting of powder if I have the heart to do it, I don't usually wear face makeup. However, light foundations/tinted moisturizers do even out my skin and provide a good barrier for my sensitive skin. And when you're going for more makeup, you need a little something over that bare skin.

Ok, yeah, so the real reason I tried Korres Ginger and Vitamins Foundation is because I read about it on Kajal Couture and just had to have it! I get tired of hearing about the same products on every beauty blog - it is a bit uninspiring and it seems like everyone uses the same new products, or the same old, over-hyped products. So little true exploration left! But, that's another topic for another day. Point is, I was impressed by Kajal Couture's glowing review and I'm glad I took a chance on this little-known product.

This is one my few pricier purchases with which I haven't experienced any buyer's remorse. In terms of coverage, this is definitely light-to-barely-medium. While I don't have many blemishes and scars, my skin gets irritated and reddens easily. This helps to even things out a bit. For a little more coverage, I use some concealer and powder to set. The texture is also nice - it is very lightweight and a little on the runny side (the formula is water-based), almost like liquid out of the bottle rather than than a cream in a tube. It's still very easy to use and blend though, and you really only need a small amount (pea-sized or less). The overall finish is a soft satin that looks natural and never cakes or dries up. I use L5, the second to darkest shade, for my golden/tan skintone. It's a tad light going on, but it settles and blends in well. I'm not sure how the shade will change/suit my skin as I get more tan this season, but I'm willing to mix it with something darker if need be. LF6 is probably a good bet for summer, or to keep on hand to mix with LF5 depending on what shade my face decides to be on a given day.

The SPF 10 is an added bonus - I prefer the low number here, because it prevents that white cast which some SPF formulas can have. I also love the convenient tube packaging and the slim design. It looks more like a prescription tube of acne medication actually, or a mini toothpaste. Some might prefer prettier packaging, but not I. This works, and that's all that matters.

If you really want a drawback or two, here they are. First, sensitive noses, beware. While I'm typically not sensitive to smell and don't mind fragrance, I find that this foundation has some weird, "organic"-y funk going on. I've gotten used to the smell and it doesn't bother me now, but I definitely noticed it in the beginning. Second, there isn't a huge shade selection. That said, I find that the shades it does have are often hard to find, and they might work for people with in-between skintones. But if you're considered very fair or very dark, there won't be many options here.

As a side note, I did try a coordinating concealer and enjoyed that as well. If I had kept and used it, there would probably be a glowing review here. But I didn't need it at the moment, so back to the store it went.

In truth, this is more a TM than a foundation, but if you need either a light foundation or a TM that is mid-range price-wise, good quality, and natural, this is it. Quality-wise, I'd say it is comparable to Laura Mercier's TM ($42) and because it is natural, preferable over Clinique's ($27 - I don't have much luck with their products anyway, other than lipstick), although they are similarly-priced. As far as high-end/Sephora brands go, the price is reasonable, although I got mine on sale. $28 @ Sephora (There is currently a sale on limited shades on the Korres website, so scoop one up now if you can)

Burt's Bees Orange Essence Facial Cleanser

After a long while, the beauty blog bug bit me hard today. I've tried some new things during the last year, and am eager to share! Burt's Bees (BB) Orange Essence Facial Cleanser is a good place to start.

My skincare routine has not changed much since The Neverending Skincare Story II post in July 2010. I repurchased and continue to use Avene Cold Cream Emollient Soap-Free Cleansing Bar, Nivea Soft moisturizer, and Neutrogena Dry-Touch SPF 55 sunscreen. I did, however, move on from the oil-cleansing-method (OCM) with jojoba oil. No reason, other than the fact that I used up the whole bottle (good) but was ready to try something new (good and bad). I wanted something that would remove makeup well (since I try to make the most of my collection lately, and because the Avene bar isn't the best for this) and was as all-natural as possible. Since I had a good experience with 2 BB cleansers in the past (Soap Bark & Chamomile Cleansing Cream and Peach & Willowbark Deep Pore Scrub), I thought it would be fun to try a third.

I'm sure that if I suggested this orange-tinted, Vaseline-like cleansing balm, they would be pretty skeptical. But after Avene's cleansing bar, this has been my next-best find. In terms of texture, it is a happy medium between liquids, creams, and gels, both in terms of use and effect on the skin. For me, this is also a refined version of Vaseline in high school to remove makeup (mostly eye makeup at the time). Let's face it, we've all been there! I, for one, rather miss the simplicity of it. So while the Orange Essence Cleanser might seem scary to some, it is actually a treat to use.

Once massaged onto the skin (with or without moistened fingertips/face), this cleanser softens and spreads smoothly into a thin layer. It's nowhere as thick and greasy as Vaseline, and washes off easily. This does not lather, so if you need something sudsy, you'll either be pleasantly surprised or just not into it. I don't have a problem with the lack of lather, because unlike many cleansing milks which also do not lather, this stays on my face before I wash it off. My skin feels moisturized and balanced, without an oily or waxy residue, and it is super soft in the morning. I think come summertime, I could get away without using moisturizer after. Many reviews on MakeupAlley suggested wiping this off with a washcloth, but I found that a water rinse works just fine. I imagine that this is what Clinique Take Off the Day Cleansing Balm is like, but I've never tried that and prefer the both price-tag and all-natural goodness of BB's version.

I'm a big advocate of this cleanser because the texture makes it versatile, regardless of skin type or purpose. For oily skin, this could replace oils for the OCM. Since the texture is thicker and doesn't absorb the same way an oil would, I actually find it easier to apply and remove than say, jojoba oil, especially if you prefer a water rinse afterwards (since the oil repels water). You could also try: 1) Removing it with a cleansing towelette like Yes to Cucumbers Facial Towelettes; water rinse optional 2) Rinsing with water, following-up with a toner to remove any residue if you feel it. For dry skin, this is a no-brainer. For basic cleansing, also a no-brainer. As a makeup remover, using the cleanser along with either of the 2 steps above is especially effective but still gentle. However, I wouldn't suggest using this as an eye makeup remover - the orange essence (acidic, although I'm not sure how strong) maybe not be a good idea in that area, and the company website warns against it. Removing very light eye makeup or just eye shadow is probably fine, but if you really need to get in there, try a separate remover. I haven't experienced any stinging or bad reactions myself when this came near my eyes, but it's better to be careful.

I'm usually a major skeptic when it comes to marketing claims that involve a "special" ingredient like orange oil. But I must say, my face looks fresher and brighter after using this. And not just because it's clean and dewy from water. I think the orange oil really does act like an exfoliator and makes a difference in the texture of my skin and complexion - a slight brightening effect and a noticeable smoothness. Not complaining!

Overall, this is an effective cleanser that does improve my skin, and fulfills my desire for new and interesting products. $12 @ drugstores and the like.


Sally Hansen Insta-Dry Fast Dry Nail Color

This line is such a keeper, and I'm not even picky when it comes to nail polishes. I usually buy whatever is on sale for under $3 and cannot fathom expending more than $5. Coming in at $4.95, this nail polish was almost a no-buy for me but I went for it because I had a coupon, and I'm very glad I did.

As promised, this really did dry within 1 minute and didn't even need a 2nd coat. A few minutes after drying, I though I had a potential smudge on my hands while opening a drawer, but it never happened. The best part is the brush, which I detested when I first opened the bottle, but it is actually a major improvement on nail polish brushes - no goops or blobs slowly trickling down the length of the brush, bristles, and then onto your nail to be spread out evenly. This brush allows for just 1 or two broad, even strokes (perfect for my freakishly broad nails). I didn't even bother with the usual top coat. I originally got this in Lively Lilac (the perfect light purple/lavender for darker skin if you can't pull off the pastel versions) and then purchased Quick Sand (shimmery beige), Mauve It (silvery, baby pink), Petal Pusher (blush pink), and Clearly Quick (clear) after the great results I had with it.

I get manicures/pedicures twice a year at the most - the rest of the time, it's just me pampering and grooming myself, so drying time matters. In addition to the formula, Sally Hansen has also done a great job with the color selection - they range from basics, to trendy blackened shades for fall and neons for summer. I plan to purchase a few more (a red and another mauve - one can never have too many pinks, after all) to round out my collection and actually use them all year-round. All I ask for is more shades (perhaps a gray that won't look like mud against my tan skin)! Worth a try, and worth the money. $4.95 @ drugstores


A Foxy Brown - NARS Coup de Coeur

This is a quick alert about NARS Lip Gloss in Coup De Couer, from the brand's Summer 2010 collection. I'm not sure why I haven't heard more about this in the beauty blogosphere, but it is the perfect brown shade for warm/tan complexions, any time of the year!

I sort of miss the age of brown lipstick. I think it's funny that I could wear Revlon's Toast of New York as a 13-year old but not at 27. During Summer 2001, I discovered Club Monoco's Nectar and Caramel lip glosses. I wore those beautiful brown glazes faithfully throughout my sister's wedding. It has since been discontinued and I've never been able to find a replacement.

Coup de Coeur has been described as a sheer, apple-brandy gloss. My only correction would be browned-apple, not a fresh apple. That's because Coup de Coeur is a lot less red than other similar shades in the red-brown category (think Clinique Color Surge Butter Shine Lipstick in, you guessed it, Apple Brandy). This shade looks Fall-perfect but isn't too dark that it can't be pulled off any other time of year - in fact, it is such a luscious shade that I'm willing to forgive NARS for the rather weak pigmentation (as is the case with most of its glosses). If the more formula were more of a liquid lipstick, it might have been a true coup de coeur for me.

$24 @ Sephora.com

Liner, Briefly

Since I've had an ongoing love-hate relationship with eyeliners for years (mostly pencil), my reviews of the products I've tried tend to be nothing less than novels. Last week, I stumbled a new formulation from Smashbox that promises to fulfill it's duties as a liner perfectly and keep such reviews brief.

Smashbox Limitless Eye Liner is supposed to be a waterproof, long-wearing liner. The 5 shades - Onyx (black), Java (dark brown), Indigo Ink (deep navy), Peacock (teal), and Black Violet (deep purple) - include all the basic and more fun shades the less-liner-saavy of us could ever want. While killing some time at Sephora one evening before meeting friends for dinner, I decided to give Java a try (because I'm basically obsessed with dark brown liners). I was prepared for another liner biting the dust, but there was not a smudge either on my lids or undereye after 5 hours or so. Pretty impressive for the near-tropical weather in NYC, my oily lids, and of course, the slippery lower rim/waterline.

In my brief experience, this formula went on very soft and smooth like many of the newest liner pencils out there these days, but wasn't too creamy. Basically, it felt like what many "kohl-waterproof" and other long-wearing formulas promise to do without sacrificing softness and pigment.

At $19 and a built-in sharpener, I'd say that this eyeliner is a better deal compared to similar high-end products. I love Lancome Le Crayon Kohl-Black Coffee, but at a whopping $24.50, it's hard to sustain such a smudgy habit (thanks to Ebay for getting my hands on that one). Make Up Forever Aqua Eyes are $17 - I'd pay the extra $2 for a sharpener and a great dark brown like Java (MUFE doesn't have a good one). The list is endless with Urban Decay and some good drugstore alternatives, but Smashbox looks to be an even more solid investment.

This is my new and only makeup craving and I'm hoping to somehow snatch up as many as I can.


The French-girl Crushing Continues

Even the makeup world seems besotted by the French. Check out this recent post on Makeup.com about how effortlessly fabulous the French are. Well, judging from the number of products used in this supposedly "Natural Beauty" video by Michelle Phan for Lancome, there seems to be a lot of effort involved. Laughably, this video features 12 products (excluding brushes and tools). I say 'laughably' because while I love makeup, this just isn't my idea of looking nice and having fun, too. I'd rather pat on some powder, brush on some mascara, swipe on a great lipstick, and be done with it. Perhaps I'm not a genuine enough makeup junkie so for that, I must apologize since after all, that is what this blog is devoted to. Ah, well. At least I don't have a crush on the French.


Aging Gracefully, Your Way, My Way, Everyone's Way

Since convulsing over the NYT article "Aging the French Way, Gracefully" I've been trying to compose a calm and thoughtful response. Mostly, only one word kept running through my mind:


Maybe 3 words - total, utter BS.

As honest as this response is, I suppose I'm capable of expressing something more intelligently, so here is a contained ramble on what is wrong with this journalist's point of view. I could tear this article apart line-by-line, but I've highlighted the most ridiculous ones. If my critique isn't gratifying enough, or if you just want to read more, check out the Jezebel response - "Our Weird National Girl-Crush on French Women Continues."

"Looking attractive, at any age, is just what Frenchwomen do, especially the urban ones." Oh, is that what Frenchwomen do? Excuse me for not receiving this global memo. I'm not quite sure why the French have ever had a monopoly over being stylish and beautiful, let alone why anyone should emulate them. Is there some French Beauty Ideal I should know about? I thought we made fun of the French for not showering or shaving their armpits? Sure, they may have a certain knack for interesting style, but you could say the same for women in many a cosmopolitan city across the globe. As commentators in the Jezebel piece pointed out, the Parisian emphasis on being thin, fashionable, and fabulous is no different from a similar emphasis in New York City. Perhaps women around the globe have style that is a little more bold and colorful than Americans', but one can hard generalize such things.

"We look at actresses like Juliette Binoche, 46, or politicians like Ségolène Royal, 56, or superstars like Catherine Deneuve, 66, and figure that they must have special insights into the “maturation” process." Do we? I don't. When it comes to aging specifically, I don't think I see any more examples of aging well among the French compared to other countries/cultures and am confused as to why women elsewhere should strive to be like them. I'm also confused as to why French celebrities serve as good examples, since celebrities everywhere can afford to do a number of things that the average woman cannot. According to this article, Frenchwomen apparently prefer more natural, subtle results from cosmetic surgery and other enhancements than American women, but I'm not sure how much that matters when they are using the same tools.

"A survey by the market research company Mintel found that 33 percent of French girls between 15 and 19 are already using anti-aging or anti-wrinkle creams. " Frenchwomen really have something on everyone else because teenagers start early by using anti-aging skincare? Sounds like clever marketing to me - I don't see any culturally-specific traditions or conventions about good skincare and aging well here.

"The No. 1 response to my informal survey of Frenchwomen about the years of magical aging is not gaining weight. Ever." Isn't that lovely? If a culture truly accepts aging and women are encouraged to do so "gracefully," than I would think a little inevitable weight gain should be alright. It has always bothered me that maintaining some arbitrary weight from say, your 20s or 30s is what defines the right way to age. What about these things called genes and childbirth?

In any case, the issue isn't what the results of this informal survey were. The author's statements are so general and silly that no one can take them seriously, and the notion that the French have a uniquely healthy approach to aging is pretty far-fetched. Certainly, there are other cultures with similar attitudes (cultures that arguably age far better than the French and most of the Western cultures combined, but that is a whole other topic for discussion). Unfortunately, I don't think any culture has been able to establish a truly healthy approach to aging. Everywhere, there is a premium on looking young that is defined by the very phrase "aging gracefully," and the value placed on it. What else does this mean but to prolong youth and age at a snail's pace? This focus on the French also reflects a strong bias for Western ideals of beauty, and I'm surprised that she didn't even attempt a more multi-cultural perspective. Perhaps we could learn from some non-Western cultures where older women age not only gracefully, but maybe even fabulously and without medicine cabinets as chock full of products as the French.

To be fair, the author makes a feeble attempt at challenging the notion that Frenchwomen age more gracefully than American women. But it is based on rising obesity rates in France, 2 famous Frenchwomen who have not aged well, and 1 Frenchwoman's praise for Meryl Streep. And while the article does point out that the French (or at least, Parisian) don't seem to exercise, it also suggests that they simply don't have to because the streets of Paris are oh-so conducive to walking. So let me defend the American woman for a moment (and the non-walking cities of America), since everyone bashes our apparently unhealthy, ignorant, and unfashionable ways. Here's to high school sports, Jane Fonda videos, gym memberships, and strip-tease workout sessions. There is always an extreme and the American obsession with being fit and fab is not without fault, but at least we value the beauty benefits of a good jog just as much as being thin - score!

With a focus on beauty in such narrow, culturally-specific terms, broad generalizations, and a lack of nuance, this article comes off as extremely irrelevant and dated, a la a 1950s issue of Vogue or Redbook. Then it abruptly ends with a warm-fuzzy statement about mind over matter and completely ignores the last few paragraphs about haircuts, diet pills, skincare, and exercise. A poorer article from the NYT I could not have imagined.

Le Mystere Sale at RueLaLa.com

Who would have thought? I wrote about the importance of getting correctly fitted for a bra and investing in high-quality ones in Bras. They Do a Body Good. just the other day, and also about their sometimes high price. So I was pleased to see my daily email from RueLaLa.com, which featured a sale on the famed Le Mystere Dream Tisha Bra (Oprah's favorite) and others. Thought I would share the joy since it's rare to find plus-size lingerie at such a sale.

Skin Theories

While I'm no skin guru, I realized that there are some personal and rather unscientific skin theories related to The Neverending Skin Story II that I'd like to share. It is possible that some of these only work for me at this particular moment in my life (given low-stress levels for the first time ever, the warm weather, etc.) but I thought they were worth mentioning:

1) Cleansing is overrated. Seriously. Unless you wear makeup everyday (or heavier products like foundation that should be washed off at night), cleaning your skin like it is a rug isn't going to help matters. A little natural oils never hurt anybody, and I wouldn't stress too much about making sure your skin is uber-clean. I simply don't think it's meant to be completely dirt and impurity-free - nothing could be more unnatural if you think about it. I've found that rinsing my face just with water at the end of the day (I remove any eye makeup separately and my face powder has usually disappeared by the end of the day) seems to work. Obviously, I'm not advocating abandoning basic hygiene - but that usually doesn't require a cleansing routine that lasts more than oh, about 2 minutes, and certainly not everyday. I also think that it works to do a couple of simple things minimally during the week - like exfoliating once or twice, or just running a mild toner over the face and neck a couple of times, using the "Oil Cleansing Method" once or twice, or applying a face mask. In the long run, those steps seem to pay off more for me than rigorous, daily cleansing.

2) Sweating is good. I know we're all desperately trying to minimize the sweat with powders, oil-free products, and blotting mechanisms during the warm weather. But let me tell you, my skin practically shines during the summer after all the sweating naturally rids it of impurities. I have noticed this every summer since I was oh, about 10 years old. Winter skin isn't just dull because it gets dry. In my case, it seems to be because my pores don't have the chance to do a little self-cleaning through sweat (and I have very tiny pores, so they get clogged easily - cleansers don't really help with this). Sounds gross, I'm sure, but I swear by sweat. Sometimes I exercise just to work up a sweat and improve my skin - same idea as a sauna or a steam.

3) Heavier moisturizers are better than lighter, oil-free ones. Again, unless your skin is freakishly oily, I think it's better to stick with heavier moisturizers than lighter ones, particularly as we age and also because most people have combination skin that changes through the seasons. I'm only 27, but I have definitely noticed a change in my skin - mostly, it is a lot drier than at any other point in time. I used to think that oil-free moisturizers were the way to go, but well, they never really moisturized. It felt like I was slathering light goo all over my face - felt nice, but that's about all. I have convinced myself that a little grease and oil (sorry, no better words for those two) are better for anti-aging in the long-run. Although my mom is blessed with superhuman beauty genes, she has also maintained a skincare routine that includes a cold cream for extra-dry skin. The heaviest I've used so far is Nivea Soft (winter and summer!), but it's a great alternative to the traditional cold creams.

4) A spot treatment for blemishes is better than cleansers/toners/moisturizers/etc. that contain blemish-fighting ingredients. This is because those ingredients tend to strip the rest of your skin - a targeted effort is much better. Again, if you have more problem-skin over a larger area of the face (as I definitely have had in the past), this may not apply as well to you. Even then, I'm not sure anyone needs a targeted treatment, a targeted moisturizer, and a targeted whatever else. I know many acne systems are based on this seemingly holistic approach, but I suspect that these regimens are difficult to maintain in the long-run and harsh on the skin. I have found one great spot treatment that works for me (The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil Blemish Stick) and have one prescription cream (which doesn't work nearly as well as the Body Shop stick and leaves my skin feeling gross - basically, I never use it).

This might seem to negate our love for and use of product, product, product! But I don't think they necessarily keep anyone from experimenting and indulging their beauty and skincare cravings. Just a reminder that moderation is important and that realistic expectations might be the key to satisfaction - not unlike most things in life.


Berry Lips for Summer - Rimmel Moisture Renew Lipstick in Berry Rose

We all know every season requires a new lipstick shade - even if you already have several favorites for each season. And despite everyone's love for the neutral shades that are fabulous and safe, we all need a stronger punch of color every now and then. Because I've had a great experience with Rimmel Lasting Finish Intense Wear lipstick, I decided that the bright shades of the new Moisture Renew line deserved a shot as well.

I knew I would buy Moisture Renew again because I loved it so much, I had to buy two (with coupons, of course)! This lipstick is my current favorite for the summer, and my love for it will probably endure past the season. It is the perfect semi-deep, fuchsia-like pink that is not too plum or red, and not too 80s either - almost like a sheer, soft raspberry/watermelon with much more dimension. Great for my medium-tan Indian skin. For a swatch that doesn't do the color justice, checkout this Raging Rouge review. Berry Rose is fun and flirty but still sophisticated and kind of packs a punch on your lips.

The finish is what I'd call a sheer, satin shine, with maybe just the slightest touch of frost - just a touch! The pigmentation, though not exactly sheer, has a lightness which keeps it fresh and modern. The SPF 18 and balm-like, moisturizing formula does not slip and leaves a nice, even stain that doesn't leaving lips looking dry. I got mine with a $2 coupon that they have on displays right now but even if I hadn't, it would have been worth every penny. I've also used it as a blush (works for me, maybe not others). A great, youthful statement pink that is not nude, red, or brown and is easy on the wallet.


Bras. They Do A Body Good.

This novel is long overdue. Compared to my thoughts on lipstick and the like, the topic at hand is of a much more personal and important nature. Lipstick shades have certainly changed over time, but none have evolved as much as my bra choices. And no other aspect of personal care and grooming has contributed as much to my "evolution" as the bras I have chosen to wear.

It's doubtful that I've ever alluded to this in any of my beauty-related posts, but in short, I'm rather busty. That's an understatement because I'm writing this blog and trying to keep you entertained. Actually, I'm Very Busty. I'm usually the bustiest person in the room, and if there is another Very Busty female there, there is a good chance I'm related to her (although not one of my sisters or cousins is as busty as I am).

I don't say this with much pride, unfortunately. At an otherwise petite 5 feet 1 inch, I shop for and wear bras that are considered "plus-size," "full," or "full-figured." This whole blogger body often feels wacky and disproportionate, and there are significant physical side effects. But hey, that's my genes, that's my life. I have been forever considering have a breast reduction surgery but for now, the right bras will have to suffice.

My entry into the world of bras is due entirely to the Oprah effect (chronicled in this NYT article on bra sizing). In case you missed Oprah's groundbreaking 2005 episode on the United States of Poor Bra-Wearing in America, please visit her website on the Bra Revolution (a simple search for "bra" on the site also gives you this whole list of information and resources). While I'm no Oprah-phile or celebrity junkie, all the credit goes to her for shedding light on this largely ignored (and somewhat inaccessible) but very basic aspect of that one thing we all do everyday - wear clothes. Had it not been for that episode and the consequent focus on the importance of being in a good bra, I might still be suffering from the burden of bustiness.

In short, what this episode revealed to America is that:
1) Most women are wearing the wrong bra size and don't even know it
2) Every woman should be properly fitted for the correct size and should receive a true fitting from select bra specialists; if not, they should know what elements make a good fit
3) There is a whole range of cup sizes beyond the standard DD that you see in major department stores and the largely useless Victoria's Secret, sizes that are not just meant for "plus-size" women and nursing mothers

I took one look at my chest and thought - who am I kidding? I define one of those women! My breasts are screaming for a fitting! Why have I been trying to squeeze them into unfortunate disasters all these years! Why has no one ever suggested an alternative? Lucky for me, one of the boutiques featured on that episode (and subsequently, many others) happened to be right here in NYC. I visited it as soon as I could, and never looked back.

When I was first fitted for the correct size, I was astonished and somewhat embarrassed by the large cup size. At the same time, the amazing fit significantly changed my approach to general clothes-wearing and radically improved my self-image. Not to suggest that one's self-image should rest on appearance and clothing. Regardless of size, shape, and appearance of our bodies, I think we can all agree that ill-fitting underwear and clothes make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. Even more importantly, they put a strain on certain body parts (mostly the back and shoulders in the case of bras) and can lead to poor posture. If all it takes is a good bra, then by all means, I will have it.

The function of a bra is so basic and yet so elusive. But if you go for a fitting, you will notice the difference, especially if you have large breasts. The work of a good bra is immediately visible - the breasts lift a little, there is some separation and definition to them so that you don't feel like there is an extra butt on your chest, and they are held firmly but comfortably in place. Since there are so many good-bra-imposters out there and since there are so many more sizes than women realize, it's easy to forget that any bra should be doing all 3 of these things well. It's also mind-boggling than given the variety of breast shapes and sizes, so many different women try to fit into the same bras.

It is no exaggeration that if you wear the right bra, you may not need to go up a size in a dress or top. If you wear the right bra, you'll appear a bit slimmer and all the best parts of your body will be better accentuated. If you wear the right bra, you'll barely feel it (I'm sure women of all sizes look forward to taking it off at the end of the day). If you wear the right bra, carrying yourself well throughout the day will be easier and healthier for you.

It may sound like I'm buying into some ideal of what a woman's body should look like, but it's not about ideals or perky, cone-shaped breasts (although there was definitely something to the more "constructed" underwear of the past). The simple fact is that clothes don't always fit our bodies the way they need to in order for us to look our best. This goes for men and women of all shapes and sizes. But small changes due to the right underwear (and good tailoring) have had a huge impact on what clothes I purchase and wear, and how well I can maintain them.

For me, wearing a decent bra is no different from getting my pants hemmed (which, at my height, I have to do for nearly every pair). If the right bra and some lifting, separating, and holding make it easier for me to button a shirt or wear a wrap top, I'm in. If my breasts have better support and aren't running free and wildly away from me as I walk around this city all day, I'm in. I have enough going on in my head to be self-conscious about them. While I agree that improving your appearance needn't be an unhealthy obsession, it's important to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. For most of my life, my breasts ruled much of what I saw in the mirror and most of the wardrobe choices I made. I longed to wear a button-down shirt and other clothes in sizes that were still proportionate to the rest of the body, and now I know how. Call it maturity - I prefer to call it my bra.

You might be wondering what aspects of a high-quality bra lead to a good fit and improved performance over average bras. Usually, the band (fabric that stretches across the back) is where most of the support in a good bra should come from, and band-size is more important than cup-size. In high-quality bras, the band is usually better constructed and sturdier than average (and not necessarily wider or thicker). In the case of any good bra fit, regardless of the brand, the middle part of the bra should lie flat against your chest and breasts shouldn't spill out of cups. I like my plus-size bras for the fit and also the breathable, comfortable fabrics that seem more like underwear and less like Halloween costumes.

There is also something incredibly indulgent and yet so practical about going to a specialty lingerie shop and getting properly fitted. I'm not sure if women were ever meant to find something as intimate and functional as a bra in cardboard bins and flimsy fabrics, and without expert assistance. Specialty and high-quality bras are definitely an experience, but this leads me to the only sticky and somewhat unfortunate aspect of joining the Bra Revolution.

Cost. Particularly if you fall into the fuller bra category. The average price of a bra I try on in-store is $80, and most of them are European brands. While there are discounts and sales available through online retailers, they are never as frequent as one would like. The best way to go about this whole process is to get fitted in-store, make note of your size and the brands you tried on, and then search for them online. My first caveat is that manufacturers have differences in sizing and design, so the same size among various brands may not always be the right fit - try as many as the store has in your determined "size" and search only for the ones you have tried and like in those sizes/brands.

If you can't find a better value online, my advice is to go ahead and make the investment in-store. It is the closest thing to your body and the most influential in how certain clothes fit. Beyond that, it can be a major source of physical distress if you are particularly large-breasted. And think about it - you probably spend just as much or more on clothes, accessories, makeup, and skincare. Save and plan for one, and start with that. I promise that you will reach for it more than the other unfortunate pieces you have called bras. Then, slowly work a couple more into the bra rotation (convention is to give a bra a day's rest before wearing it again) until you have about as many as you personally need for a week.

My second caveat is that high-quality bras should be taken care of and need their "rest," so avoid wearing them out too quickly. While they defy gravity and all, they are still rather delicate and should be handled and cleaned with care (gently hand-wash and hang-dry only!). Trust me, I know. When I first got fitted, I could only afford one bra and was luckily able to purchase a second using a gift card. I wore those two bras to death, and didn't take good care of them. They can still do a decent job, but they have definitely seen their day. So while you may start out with 1 or 2, it is worth building the bra wardrobe.

If, of course, your new size-adjustment still allows you to buy bras at the standard major retailers, be my guest. But having one or two specialty brands might help for special clothes or occasions.

Note: Like women, pretty bras come in all sizes. Don't shy away from the right bra for fear that it will look like grandma underwear or maternity wear. I would put form and function above design, but we all do need a little color and sizzle. I assure you that you can find it even in the plus-size range. It just takes a little searching and perhaps a little more saving to splurge on something special. If it is difficult to find your plus-size bra and you find yourself searching through surgical/specialty/maternity/nursing retailers, onward ho! Plenty of women do it. But the issue has motivated me to take on a personal mission and see how these sizes can become more widely available.

For those of you interested in getting fitted in New York City, I recommend the My Intimacy boutique (which was featured on Oprah and has stores in several other cities), but there are a few others, including Bra Smyth. I've compiled a list of some of the best available brands that carry cup sizes A-H, and some of the best online retailers for them (my favorites are starred):

Specialty Brands:
*1) Anita (their Rosa Faia line has beautiful and comfortable designs - the Daytona Underwire is my favorite)
2) Aviana
*3) Chantelle Paris (Best for Small, Medium, and Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
4) Conturelle (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
5) Edith Lances
6) Elixir (
Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
7) Empriente (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
*8) Fantasie of England (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
9) Fauve (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
10) Freya (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
11) Glamorise
12) Le Mystere (their Dream Tisha T-Shirt bra is apparently Oprah's favorite and a best-seller, but I have yet to try it)
13) Natori
14) Panache (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy)
*15) Prima Donna (Best for Full sizes according to My Intimacy; my favorite is the Satin Underwire Bra)
16) Wacoal (I didn't have a good experience with these for some reason, although it is another Oprah-favorite line)

Available at:
1) Athleta (mostly sports bras)
*2) Bare Necessities
*3) Bigger Bras
4) Fig Leaves
5) Fresh Pair
6) Her Room
*7) My Intimacy (in-store only)
8) Nordstrom's (in-store and online)
9) The Bra Factory
10) The Lingerie Store USA
11) The Pink Bra
*12) Bra Smyth (in-store and online)
13) Bits of Lace
14) Essential Apparel
15) Bra Boutique
16) Treasure Lingerie
17) Linda's Bra Salon (in-store and online)
18) Ruth Lingerie
19) Loretta's Intimates
20) Lingerie Lingerie
21) Underwear24
22) La Petite Coquette (in-store and online)
23) Lauren Silva
24) Lady Grace Intimate Apparel
25) La Mode Lingerie
26) Claire De Lune
27) Bust Stop
28) Bra Experience
29) Corset Corner
30) A La Mode Lingerie
31) Bra Shop
32) Bedroom I's Boutique
33) Wizard of Bras
34) A Brief Affair

The Vicco Glow

If you are of Indian descent and as a child, watched either Indian programming on American television stations or in India, then tell me you're not smiling fondly at the memory of a fair-skinned, wavy-haired Indian women frolicking in a motorboat with her boyfriend, biting into a crunchy piece of fruit, and grinning enthusiastically (watch it here). If you're not, you probably never saw this hilarious and ubiquitous 80s commercial for Vicco Turmeric Toothpaste. It might be my most favorite work of Indian television art. Check out Youtube for other similarly awesome Vicco commercials.

I've always perceived the Vicco brand to be a questionable line of ayurvedic personal hygiene and skincare products based on the benefits of turmeric (although my uncle swears that the toothpaste cured all his dental woes). So imagine my surprise when I encountered positive reviews for Vicco Turmeric facial cream on MakeupAlley.com. I'm not kidding when I say I nearly jumped out of my chair. Beyond the instant brand recognition and flash of nostalgia, I was surprised that the brand had persisted through this generation, and that its products were still sold in the U.S. But I thought - why not? Who cares if some con artist of a yogi is perhaps manufacturing it in a makeshift factory in remote India? It is quite possible that I have used worse without knowing it. Since I use a lot of natural ingredients for face masks and such (turmeric, yogurt, honey, etc.), I wasn't opposed to trying Vicco. Clearly, someone out there (even if it is a gullible follower of the con artist-yogi) has kept this brand alive for a reason, right...?

The Vicco Turmeric facial cream is a multi-purpose treatment and not just a moisturizer. There are 2 versions of this cream - with and without sandalwood oil. I have the one with sandalwood oil, and in my opinion, it works just fine since this cream is on the dry side. Apparently, you can use it for healing purposes (one MUA review said it worked for mild burns), to fade scars/dark marks, and to generally brighten the complexion. At the time I became obsessed with finding it, I was doubtful that this is sold in the U.S. (turns out it is) and so asked a friend visiting India (who swears by its mosquito-bite healing properties) to pick up a tube for me.

A pale-yellow cream with a kind of pearly sheen, Vicco is a sort of "dry" cream - completely non-greasy, although it will appear to have the consistency of cold cream. Once you rub it into the skin, it has the light consistency and smoothing effect of a primer. I love how completely it disappears into my skin - it doesn't add a layer of cream/moisture/grease/oil which needs time to sink in.

Within 24 hours of using this, my skin was substantially clearer than usual. While I don't have raging acne, I usually have lots of tiny bumps and am prone to whiteheads. My forehead gets especially dotted with bumps and whiteheads year-round. I'm never really impressed with blemish-clearing or fighting skincare and treatments, but this is the only cream that dried up those blemishes without drying out the rest of my skin.

Due to cold weather in the Northeast at the time I first tried this, I used it sparingly (once a day or every other day), and mostly on oilier and problem-prone areas. Although the cream won't leave your skin peeling and dry, I just think too much of any good thing is a bad thing. It can leave a bit of a dry, tight feeling depending on your skin type and probably shouldn't be used with too many other drying products unless your skin is an oil rig. I would still highly recommend it for problem skin that isn't nearly bad enough for medication or stronger topical treatments but is blemish-prone and could use some improvement. I would also recommend this to people who prefer natural ingredients. The only thing to keep in mind is that the moisturizing factor of this cream depends on your skin's condition and weather at the time of use, and that you may not want to use it as your primary moisturizer.

Personally, I enjoy this cream more for its smoothing effect and because it really seems to even out my complexion. I want to attribute this to the magical powers of turmeric so I will, but who really knows. It definitely gives my skin more of a "glow" after repeated use, and I have yet to find a product that does anything similar without using harsh chemicals that are marketed as "lightening" or "brightening" or even the dreaded "whitening" commonly seen in Asia (to be fair, I never looked at the ingredients in this product, but I'm leaning towards a don't ask, don't tell policy on that right now).

Sensitive noses, beware - this cream has a strong smell to it (which my friend San couldn't stand). To me, it is no different from that very strong Noxema fragrance, or perhaps I've just gotten used to it.

In the current summer weather, this cream is perfect because it dries up oil without stripping your skin and is just moisturizing enough. It is definitely more of a summer staple, and works brilliantly with my Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, SPF 55. In fact, the Vicco is kind of its own ultra sheer, dry-touch moisturizer.

Like every product out there though, Vicco may not work for everyone. So if it doesn't work for you, don't blame it on the con artist yogi. In case you don't have massive numbers of friends and family traveling between India and the U.S., Vicco turmeric facial cream can also be found online and at stores like Butala Emporium in New York City. If anyone out there has experienced the Vicco Glow (or not), do share.


The Neverending Skin Story II

I thought I had it all figured out when I talked about products for the late-20-something in Skin Story last year, but alas, all is never well in the beauty/skincare world. Since then, I have changed up my skincare routine considerably. I've never been one to use too many products but for the last 6 to 8 months, I've found a couple of products/techniques that have kept my face remarkably clearer than usual. The essentials of what has been working for me thus far:

1) My Non-Cleansing Cleansing - My hands-off approach to cleansing still involves a few products, but I don't use them regularly and because I don't wear much makeup on a daily basis, I can get away with it. In the cleanser rotation, I have 4 very gentle products:

- Pure jojoba oil (Desert Essences brand) - To gently cleanse (Oil Cleansing Method) every couple of weeks. Also use to remove eyeliner or mascara.
- St. Ive's Apricot Scrub - To exfoliate once a week (no more).
- Burt's Bees Soap Bark and Chamomile Cleansing Cream - To use once in a while or about once a week because it feels refreshing and soothing, especially during summer. This made it onto my list of Things I Bought That I Continue To Love.
- Avene Soap-Free Emollient Cleansing Bar - Use about 1-2 times a week just for gentle cleansing.

With minimal use, these 4 work for me namely because they cleanse and exfoliate gently. If I had to pare this down, it would be the Avene cleansing bar and the St. Ive's scrub.

2) My Special Pomegranate Green Tea Non-Toner Toner - I think used an astringent when I was like 14, and last year, I discovered Dickenson's witch hazel. I don't even bother with that anymore, because I still find it drying. Instead, I brewed 2 parts Bigelow Green Tea (Pomegranate flavor, and widely available), mixed it 1 part rose water (Dabur, an Indian brand but also widely available), and put it in an empty squirt bottle from the drugstore. Voila, instant "toner." I don't use this every time I wash my face, but it removes any makeup if I've been wearing more than usual and it is a refreshing and quick pick-me-up for your face. Plus, it is completely natural and cost me practically nothing.

3) Moisturizer - Day or night, it is no-frills Nivea Soft moisturizer for me. This tub is sort of the younger woman's Pond's Cold Cream, and a much lighter version of both that and the original, blue-tin Nivea cream. Nivea Soft is non-greasy but completely moisturizing, and I use it day and night. I have no problems with it. The soft, whipped texture might be comparable to Pond's Extra Dry Skin Cold Cream (although far less greasy) and the First Aid Beauty creams (from what I've read online).


4) Sunscreen - I've tried a couple of SPF-moisturizers (Biore and L'Oreal) that I liked and one that didn't work for me (Eucerin), but now prefer the combination of a regular, simple moisturizer like Nivea Soft and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock-SPF 55. This is largely because the Neutrogena is a great value - higher SPF, great formula, and better performance than the standard SPF-moisturizer.

I had searched high and low for a good SPF-moisturizer that is also a good value, but at nearly $16 for a small amount (1.5 oz), the Biore didn't seem worth it, and the L'Oreal is only SPF 15 (not a major fault, but I thought I could do better). The Neutrogena is about $11 for a huge tube (3.0 oz) of SPF 55, and works just fine with a regular moisturizer or even alone. The truly non-greasy and "dry-touch" formula actually seems to make my skin smoother with an almost primer-like effect. For once, I agree with everything the tube states - "lightweight clean feel," "fast-absorbing," "leaves skin soft and smooth," "waterproof." It should also include "Leaves no embarrassing white cast." Most importantly, it really seems to work in terms of its SPF properties - if this means anything, I've been walking to and from work everyday in the relentless NYC heat, and have just a touch of warmth to my skin and not a crazy tan (sorry, I admit that I don't like getting tanned, and since it's not great for your skin anyway, I'll continue to avoid it). Love it.

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