Facial TLC, Part Deux

Two years of a full-time job and part-time degree program kept me from indulging in a lot of the kitchen beauty maintenance I grew up with. And I started to wonder if the annoying Indian auntie where I get my eyebrows threaded was right when she pointed out all the dark spots and clogged pores on my face. So after completing my degree 2 weeks ago and a lovely Sunday afternoon yesterday, I decided it was finally time for a little post-graduation skin TLC.

I take great pleasure in doing these little things for myself at home instead of paying for a service at a salon/spa, and I consider having the time, space, and freedom to do my nails or use facial masks a great luxury. More importantly, I really value my solitude - as in, the ability to walk around in my PJ's, watch my never-ending DVR queue of crime shows, fiddle around with my iTunes playlist, sip tea, and nibble on a snack. This makes me feel incredibly liberated, calm, refreshed, relaxed, and also relieved that I can do something to take care of my skin (and my self) without spending a fortune. My very lovely home-made facial on Sunday consisted of a quick oil massage, a sweet-smelling steam, and a scrub/mask. Just what my skin and spirit needed, and maybe yours does, too (I've refined this a bit since my last home-facial back in January 2009 - yes, believe it).

A few of the things you will need:
- A large mixing bowl
- 2 bath towels (1 large, 1 medium will do)
- Whatever contraptions that keep your hair back best
- Any natural oil that is safe for facial skin, such as sweet almond oil, olive oil, or jojoba oil (I use jojoba) - you can use a fragrant one (I used rose oil) for the steam
- Cotton balls
- Any facial scrub or exfoliating mask that you like (I used St. Ive's Apricot Scrub)
- A mild toner (optional)
- A light moisturizer or another natural face oil (optional)

*Quick note on oils - they are really not at all "out there" and are easier to find than you would think. Most natural-foods and organic stores keep them (Trader Joe's and Whole Foods), as do many drugstores and vitamin stores (Vitamin Shoppe). I keep a small bottle of jojoba oil (~$7.00 at Ricky's NYC) and sweet almond oil (~$7.00 at K-Mart, of all places!) for cleansing purposes and also to give my skin a break from chemical-laden moisturizers and zit fighters (none of which I overuse, but still, better to play it safe).

I would list out the steps for this low-key beauty routine, but I'm afraid that would make it seem much more cumbersome then it really is. So I'll keep it simple.

First, heat up about as much water as your bowl will hold (not to the brim; leave about 2 inches) in a kettle. While the water boils, pull your hair back and secure. I have wavy, frizz/curl-prone hair, so I'm extra careful about this to make sure that it doesn't curl up while my head is under the steam. After putting my hair in a bun, I secure with bobby pins, cover my hair with a thin, medium-sized towel, and secure it in the back with an elastic or big claw clip. Then I put on a headband. I look a little bit like a gypsy or a babuskha lady, but hey, you do what you gotta do.

Then, gently massage whatever facial oil you're using all over your face and neck for about 2 minutes. This helps to loosen dirt/grime, open up pores, and moisturize. Leave it on!

Once the water is boiling, turn off the stove and let the water cool for a few minutes. Very hot steam can actually be very damaging, so make sure to do this step. Pour into your mixing bowl, and give it another few minutes to cool. When you sit down for the steam, it should still be rising from the bowl - there just shouldn't be big, billowing clouds of it. Pour in a few drops of a fragrant oil like peppermint or rose oil.

Place the bowl on any table or counter, cover your head and the bowl with the other towel, and just let your face hang over this strange little tent. Keep the ends of the towel a bit free and your face several inches above the rim of the bowl in case the steam is too hot/forceful. This might get uncomfortable for some ofyou - keeping the eyes closed and allowing a little air to come in helps, but otherwise, this is one of the least painful ways to cleanse the skin. I usually get over the initial discomfort pretty fast. Once you start sweating all those impurities pour out, you'll feel why it's worth it.

After 10-15 minutes, uncover the little tent you've made around your face and the bowl and voila - you will be sweating like a pig and look like you've been in a sauna. Lightly wipe a cotton ball over your face and neck.

Don't you dare wash any remaining oil off your face. It's good for you and while it's there, massage the scrub over your face and neck for about 1-2 minutes and leave on for another 2. Wash off with lukewarm water - the scrub will take care of any remaining oil and of course, exfoliate. Pat your face and neck dry. Finish with your toner and a light moisturizer/facial oil. I skip both of these steps because I like leaving my skin alone after all that action and want to let it breathe. I do however, dot a little sweet almond oil under my eyes.

Last step - look in the mirror. Instant glow! Instant freshness! Soft and polished instead of dry and irritated! I'm serious - I wish my skin looked like that everyday.

I think this little routine is ideal once a week or every two weeks, and combined, I think they are more effective than using harsh scrubs and cleansers everyday. For more low-key kitchen beauty, check out my now ancient post on face masks here.


Clinique Butter Shine Lipstick - Pink Toffee

This lipstick has had a nearly permanent spot in my purse for the last few months – this is a major rarity for me. And more importantly, I never wish I had something else instead - I never doubt the shade or formula, and have already worn it down to a nub.

Clinique Butter Shine Lipstick in Pink Toffee is such a no-brainer that every girl under the sun could own it and it would serve a purpose. When they talk about "universal," this might be what they are referring to, and whatever brilliant marketing executive branded NARS Orgasm Blush as a universal shade obviously had not encountered Pink Toffee. Clinique shares some of the blame. They are forever pushing the over-hyped Black Honey - it really is much ado about nothing (I get the same effect with Cover Girl TruShine Lipstick in Berry Shine, and Lipstick Queen's Saint - Berry). Pink Toffee is one of those shades that suffers from a million, been-there, done-that descriptions - pinky-brown, neutral pink, My-Lips-But-Better, pink-nude, nude berry, mauvey-pink (but not mauve - or pink), dark rose with burnt-toffee undertones, reddish burgundy - the list seriously goes on.

I'm not saying that this is God's gift to lipstick-mankind or that it will complement every look (although it probably will). All I'm saying is that whether you are 20 or 50, you can keep this lipstick in your purse for weeks without replacement. Other shades that I've tried and loved do come very close to Pink Toffee, but the exact tone of this pink and the Butter Shine formula keep it fresh, versatile, and on the list of repurchases. This actually beats out my beloved Maybelline Moisture Extreme in Plum Sable (Revlon's Rum Raisin runs a close second), which could use some oomph with gloss or balm. The Butter Shine formula, a creamy gloss with the feel of a lip balm, takes care of that. It is the lipstick for non-lipstick wearers and the gloss for non-gloss wearers, which makes it particularly suitable for warm-weather wear. Quite a feat for this underrated, $14 tube of goodness. (Note to darker-skinned girls - if you choose Rum Kiss in favor of this, return it. Rum Kiss is certainly a neutral, but a rather drab one at that. Pink Toffee is the way to go).


NYC Smooth Skin Pressed Face Powder

The day is nearly over and the only way I'll make it is if I tell you about NYC Smooth Skin Pressed Face Powder in Translucent.

I honestly cannot remember why I decided to try this. Maybe it was reviews on MakeupAlley.com. Maybe it was the need to quench a makeup thirst without spending a lot of money. Maybe I was worried about color-matching issues once I tan up a bit. Who knows. But it works and I intend to keep it. Thought I'd share why.

A) At $1.99, It is dirt cheap. Really, do you want to spend $ on a translucent powder? A product with zero coverage and major uselessness potential? I didn't think so. And if you're worried about putting something that costs $1.99 on your face, well, don't. You're probably already slathering a whole lot of other junk all over it anyway. What's one more? Seriously speaking though, this is a fairly uncomplicated product - have no fear.

B) This works for a little shine control in your T-zone, setting other makeup, and somehow creating a more even complexion without a bit of actual coverage. It essentially does what a shaded pressed powder would do, except it makes you feel like you're wearing even less makeup than that and is even more fool-proof to use and touch-up. I've been alternating between this and my Sephora Mattifying Powder Foundation. It doesn't leave any noticeable white cast on me, although it might if I used a lot more. Depending on your skin tone, it's possible, so I reccomend using a big kabuki brush instead of a sponge. If you don't want the double coverage of a foundation and pressed powder, then dusting this over foundation will do just fine to "set" it.

C) It is dirt cheap.

D) Really simple (and obviously, cheap) packaging. I once tried the loose version from Jane Cosmetics and did not find it easy to use. I really do not appreciate any type of loose powder, and don't understand why drugstores still sell those big orange and green boxes of Coty loose powder (although they are a teeny bit charming). Just a personal preference - a slim, no-frills, old-school, plastic compact is so easy.


Queen of Lipsticks

You know how you tell yourself not to buy something that you will surely be able to find somewhere else, maybe even on sale? Even when it's not actually something you'll likely find elsewhere, and definitely not on sale? Well, I somehow triumphed over that feeling a couple of months ago when I found Lipstick Queen lipsticks on Gilt.com - who knew it was possible? I once tried on an LQ lipstick in Wine (Sinner formula) and it was so pretty, I don't know how I tore myself away from the $18 tube. I told myself it could be a splurge somewhere further down the line. Luckily, the three LQ lipsticks I received from Gilt weren't even a splurge. With $25 credit and a discounted price of $11, these lipsticks were a steal.

I have three lipsticks from the sheer version of LQ lipsticks, Saint, only because they didn't have any Sinners (ha). For those of you who don't know, all of the LQ lipstick shades came in both the Sinner (semi-matte and very pigmented) and Saint (sheer) versions. Think of them as the perfect solution for fall/winter and spring/summer lipstick changes. If there is a color you love, you can get it in Sinner for the colder season and Saint for summer makeup.

Saint Coral, Berry, and Rust are such easy and pretty lipsticks for this season, and they would suit almost any complexion. The great thing about all of the shades is that they are exactly what they sound like - Coral is coral, Berry is berry - you get the idea. A grown-up alternative to glosses (and longer lasting) and perfect for both office-wear and going out. There is a whole lipstick "stain" trend out there right now, but LQ Saints have been way ahead of the game (as have been Vincent Longo's lipstick stains).

If you want to know the truth, what I love most about these lipsticks is the unique packaging. I usually don't care about packaging - it doesn't make or break using the product in any way for me. But these brushed-gold metal tubes are so fun. If you ever get one, you'll know what I mean - the tubes don't have the slippery feel of metal or plastic. They are kind of velvety and soft - very cool, and I'd like to know why other high-end brands charge so much for very basic packaging. Why don't they have soft, velvety, brushed-gold materials at $20 or more a pop? The tubes also close shut with this velvety, soft click instead of that traditional metallic "click." I know this sounds really crazy - only those who have them will know what I mean. Trust me, it is sort of a nice bonus.

Much Ado About Brushes

So I saw this article on Sephora's new line of makeup brushes in the Times today and felt a little tug at my heart. They just looked so much prettier and glamorous all lined up in their color-coded fabulousness than they did in the Sephora mailer I received last week.

Courtesy of The New York Times

Of course, I have no need for more than a few makeup brushes and I certainly don't need anything color-coded. This is because I have some brilliant and wonderfully cheap makeup brushes from the e.l.f studio line. These are another one of my Fantastic-Finds-of-the-Year-That-I-Failed-To-Blog-About-Sooner.

My makeup brush collection is nothing to write home about. Spending money on brushes, although a decent investment for some I'm sure, just doesn't seem right to me and is completely unnecessary for my purposes. Also, I just don't get the same thrill out of buying an expensive brush. A retractable kabuki brush from Posh is about all I ever need. Prior to the e.l.f. brushes, my meager collection included a Posh travel-set of eye makeup brushes (which I never use) and a set of Ecotools (from which I occasionally use the powder brush and lash comb before it broke).

So why did I decide to try the e.l.f studio line of brushes? Well, they are about $3.00 each and there was a massive sale at the time - that was good enough reason for me. In truth, I wanted to know what the fuss about fan brushes was all about. I've read good things about e.lf. and decided it was worth spending $15 on 5 face makeup brushes to see what happened. These are the ones I have:

Powder Brush

Complexion Brush

Kabuki Brush

Blush Brush

Fan Brush

I have to say, some of these brushes made me a bit of a convert - at least for the quality and performance of e.l.f. studio brushes. The bristles are surprisingly soft and they definitely do a great job of blending. I also like how dense the bristles are and how well they are "packed" into the handle of the brush (I don't find this with my Ecotools brush, and find it harder to control).

The fan brush probably isn't the same quality as high-end brushes in terms of use, but I do see the difference in using this versus a regular powder or blush brush, especially for certain blushes. The look of NARS Taos blush (a very bright and pigmented blush) is definitely more natural with a fan brush versus any other kind of brush. In fact, the only brush I'm not terribly impressed with in this bunch is the blush brush, so I'm glad that I have this as well. The blush brush is rather small and narrow, and I think it works better for more natural and/or contouring blushes/bronzers/powders. I like using either this or the powder brush with more neutral blushes like NARS Lovejoy since they give more definition and can pack on more color.

I use the Kabuki brush all the time (more than my Posh kabuki) for both face powder and even blush. Since it's the biggest brush, I prefer it to the powder brush. I actually use the powder brush or complexion brush more for blending (i.e., when I'm wearing more makeup, which is rare). The complexion brush is rather neat for for this since it has a flat top - kind of cool. Makes you feel like you have some specially-designed, expensive brush that you can find creative uses for when otherwise, you would never think to use such a thing.

Overall, I'm happy enough with these brushes to get rid of the others, but I keep the Eco-Tools because it's still good quality, and the Posh retractable kabuki is good for the handbag. If you'd like to have some good brushes on hand, don't want to spend a lot of money, and don't wear too much makeup anyway, the e.l.f studio line is definitely the way to go.


Sephora Mattifying Powder Foundation

Recall how just yesterday I wrote that I have not blogged much this year due to reduced makeup experimentation? Apparently I'm a pathological liar, because that wasn't true either. Writing about Korres Abyssinia Voluminizing Mascara opened the floodgates that have been blocking my makeup stories all year. I would say that the biggest difference between two years ago and now is that my makeup trials are a little more focused and my collection rather well-edited. Oh, the dangers of satisfaction! It induces a non-blogging state of mind when there is actually lots to share.

Face powder is one of them. In case you haven't been able to tell, I'm rather inconsistent with my makeup use, and face makeup is no exception. I've looked for the right powders, foundations, concealers, and tinted moisturizers only to realize how infrequently I use them. That said, I still try to nail down some basics for myself. This past winter, I found a few products that suited me so well that I haven't had to throw them out and have not replaced them with anything else. The Sephora Collection Mattifying Powder Foundation is such a product.

Reason #1 - The color match. In my opinion, Sephora does a great job with shades for tan skin, ranging from olive/yellow complexions to more red/brown undertones. Even more high-end brands haven't achieved this. I have D32 (warm golden beige) for winter when my skin is paler, and it is perfect for my medium-tan (and rather yellow) Indian complexion. The Mineral Double Compact Foundation has a similar but slightly smaller range (for instance, it has D35-warm tan, but no D32). I tested it in the store but I find any sort of mineral makeup to be messy (even pressed powders) and it doesn't have my regular D32 shade (D35 is best only for summer).

Reason #2 - It meets my pretty basic expectations of a good pressed powder/foundation - mostly medium/sheer coverage, some oil control, and a polished look that isn't cakey or obvious. On bare skin, it's oil-controlling and non-drying, not even in winter (which is when I first started using this). I'm not sure how "mattifying" this would be for oilier skin since my skin has become drier over time but I imagine that someone with very oily skin is using some other oil-control product as well, so this would probably help things a long enough. I've worn this powder over foundation and/or concealer and it sets both well. Depending on my mood, I use either a big, fluffy powder/kabuki brush, or a round sponge (bought separately, not the one that comes with the compact).

Reason #3 - Blends easily and I can barely feel it. Very smooth, fine-milled formula that doesn't highlight any blemishes or imperfections by caking over them. Supposedly, this works dry or wet, but I prefer dry for now. Very simple application and worth the minimal effort.

In terms of price, a great compromise between over-priced high-end products, and also over-priced drugstore products (think of the similar new product from Neutrogena which retails for about $15; the Sephora one is $20). I would stock up since earlier this fall, they were sold out of D35 (warm tan - my summer shade) for MONTHS (not just at stores, but from the manufacturer itself).

I do have one complaint about the compact, but it applies to many products of a similar design that are out there these days (my LORAC Blush/Bronzer duo is one of them). This flip-top compact has a compartment under the powder tray for a sponge and mirror. I know companies started doing this because it was supposedly more hygienic. Eh, hygiene-shmygiene (says the Master's of Public Health candidate). The design is inconvenient and bulky, and I would have preferred it if Sephora didn't bother to keep up with luxury brands in that respect. Plus, the price would have been a little cheaper, although the $20 is probably about the cheapest you will find with this quality.

I wore this today and happy to report that my face feels, well, nice. It's Friday and my skin doesn't look pathetic - I'd say that's a pretty good start to the weekend and a pretty good reason to continue using this perfect powder.


On the Mascara Bandwagon: Korres Abyssinia Oil Volumizing Mascara

Yeah, I lied again. Back in January, I decided it was about time I returned to some beauty blogging only to write 1 post before promptly falling off the face of the earth - again. This time, I can't say that I've been as busy as in the past - just wasn't feeling the makeup experimentation much.

But of course, I still like pretty things. I like things that appear to make me look a little prettier. I love deals and sales, and shiny, sparkly little things. And so when I tried Korres Abyssinia Oil Volumizing Mascara (Black), I knew I had to share it with anyone who will listen.

I first became a bit of a mascara convert when I started using Dior DiorShow several months ago. As much as I wanted to hold onto that tube, I knew it was time to move on to a fresh one. I happened to have the Korres mascara from a value set I got during the holiday season at Sephora, and thought, why not? I had originally gotten the set for the four pretty, pretty eyeshadows and liner that it came with and not surprisingly, neglected the mascara.

Too bad I didn't find out sooner that this completely surpasses Dior DiorShow. I mean, Completely. I did love the Dior, but it did leave a little bit of smudging beneath my eyes at the end of the day. This never bothered me too much (although I did wonder why this would happen on a dry, winter face and with a waterproof version), but now I see how clean and neat a good mascara can be.

The formula is a good balance between inky/wet and creamy and evenly coated my lashes. There was almost no clumping and a few swipes of a lash comb helped ensure that (although even this isn't always necessary). The medium-seized brush made combing out all the lashes much easier and most importantly, kept them sort of - proportional. You know how sometimes certain lashes will look impossibly longer than others and it just looks sort of scary and spidery? Well, this mascara actually achieves great volume and a balance between natural lushness and drama. And no spidery, brittle little things branching out over the rim of my eye. Stayed put all day - no flaking or smudging (unlike Dior Show), and didn't show any sign of removal until I actually washed my face with water - and this isn't even a waterproof formula. In short, this is as close to perfect as I think a mascara can get.

Unfortunately, it costs $20, is out of my budget, and has unleashed an evil that threatens to throw me into some sort of mascara madness. I tried a CoverGirl Lash Exact which I found on sale and with one use, was so unimpressed that it is going back to the store. That gave me the dreaded Spidey Lashes. Next on my list are the new CoverGirl LashFusion and the original CoverGirl LashBlast, but I have a feeling I'll find excuses to get another Korres somehow. If it came in a waterproof formula, I might be more tempted to do a little Sephora exchange and just get it for the summer weather. I should add that a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I used Maybelline Full 'n' Soft, L'Oreal Voluminous, and L'Oreal Featherlash mascaras - all of which I found to be pretty good at the time. If all else fails, they might be worth another try.

In the meantime, is there a drugstore mascara that has this strange and wonderful-sounding Abyssinia oil??? I wonder if the Neutrogena Healthy Volume mascara with olive oil might be a good substitute. Or maybe it's about time I tried some of those big, fat, purple and orange colored tubes that everyone else seems to love. Since I've hopped onto the mascara bandwagon, I will probably be sharing that experiment all too soon.

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