My Fragrance-Free/Low-Scent Skin Care Routine

Those of you who follow my Instagram may have noticed that once again, my skincare routine has decreased in complexity. Since my first trimester sensitivity to smells kicked in, I found that even my lightest-smelling products would sometimes bother me. I had to pare my routine down to simple basics that would provide hydration and nourishment, without aggravating my nose on a regular basis. Seriously, I thought I was sensitive before, since I’m prone to migraines, but it’s nothing compared to pregnancy nose.

So I thought I’d share what has been working for me, along with a bit about fragrance-free vs. scent-free. As usual, I focus my routine on proper cleansing, hydration, and nourishment, without too many frills. Since my scent-sensitivity has started calming down again in recent weeks, I’ve been able to add back in a few fun new products, although I still stick to pretty minimal, soothing products.

Cleansing: 

My superstar duo is the Alkimi Cleansing Melt and Jordan Samuel Matinee Gel Cleanser. I use them for a double-cleanse in the evenings and use the Matinee cleanser alone in the mornings. My scent aversions became so severe at one point that even the light rose scent of my previous go-to, Glossier Milky Jelly, was too much for me. I haven’t touched another water-based cleanser since trying the Matinee and I’m about to use up my first tube of it. Now that I’m less sensitive, I’ll probably switch back to use my last back-up of the Milky Jelly, but after that’s gone, I’m switching to Matinee permanently.

The Alkimi Cleansing Melt was less of a love-at-first-sight situation. It’s a perfect example of how “fragrance-free” does not mean “scent-free.” Some “unscented” products actually contain fragrances to mask the scent of the ingredients themselves. Synthetic ingredients sometimes have what people think are “chemical” or “plasticky” smells, and natural ingredients, of course, have their natural smells unless they’ve been heavily refined. The Alkimi cleansing melt is a perfect example of the latter category. The same natural, unrefined oils that give it its beautiful color also impart a mild, earthy smell. Luckily, I did not find it at all unpleasant. Again, I still have one back-up of my old balm cleanser, Clinique Take the Day Off Balm, but as soon as that’s gone, I’m switching over.

Hydration:

I’ve talked in the past about how much I love the Klairs Supple Preparation Toner, and the mild herbal scent from the essential oils isn’t terrible, but I was excited to hear that they released a totally-unscented version of the toner. Now, this is a great example of the first category of “fragrance-free does not equal scent-free” because the unscented toner is not scentless. It has a mild “chemical” scent from the components of the product. I think it smells a bit like treated water, but very, very mild. Plus, since it’s not a conscious fragrance, the scent fades very quickly during application. And the toner itself is just as hydrating and soothing as the original. I use a few layers of this in the morning to hydrate, and I use it as a toner step between cleansing and hydrating serum in the evenings.

For a hydrating serum, I still use the Jordan Samuel Hydrate serum. Have I mentioned lately how much I love this line? I love that the brand doesn’t put fragrance or essential oils in anything, which is probably why they feature heavily in my routine right now. The serum does have a light, natural scent from the natural aroma of the extracts used, but again, it neither offends my pregnant nose, nor lingers on the skin. And it provides a lovely dose of hydration that’s just a bit more substantial than the toner alone. I generally use two pumps of this after toning at night, but I’ve also been known to apply a pump in the daytime if I’m feeling particularly parched.

Nourishment:

For nourishment, I go for oils and emollients. Again, this category features an entry from Jordan Samuel Skin, plus another old favorite. Nothing in this category is anything but familiar to those who have read my most recent routine post, and followed my Instagram routine posts. My facial oil is the lovely Jordan Samuel Etoile oil and my moisturizer is a nice layer of CeraVe Baby Moisturizing Cream.

The Etoile facial oil is beautiful, not too lightweight but not too heavy. I use it pretty much only at night (although a pump of Hydrate and two drops of Etoile mixed together and patted on after morning cleansing give wonderful glow and I sometimes use that when I need to refresh before going out at night, since everyone expects me to be glowing now) after my other serums but before my final moisturizing step. In a pinch, I can use Matinee, Hydrate, and Etoile with nothing else as a simplified, “I’m too exhausted to do anything before falling into bed” routine. In fact, when I was at the height of first trimester sickness and exhaustion, I actually moved my Hydrate and Etoile upstairs to my bedside table so I could apply them after falling into bed in a bit of a stupor.

That said, my skin has been dry enough that, even in the humidity we’ve had recently, I’ve still been finishing my evening routine with a generous blob (maybe chickpea-sized) of CeraVe Baby Cream. I love this over the original because 1.) it comes in a tube, and 2.) it feels slightly less greasy on the skin. I also use a smaller dab (maybe pea- or lentil-sized) dab of this under my mineral sunscreen in the mornings. It’s soothing, protective, and the ceramides are supposed to be good for my skin. And it is utterly scentless.

Of course, I forgot to include my sunscreen in the photo above, but I’m still using and loving the Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Cream every day. It’s mineral and gentle and has a very, very light herbal scent and little white cast. I even have it on the word of a darker-skinned friend of mine on Instagram that she also doesn’t notice a white cast, since, at a NC-20, I’m not the best judge of sunscreen residue. A quick wash with Matinee, a few layers of Klairs, a dab of Cerave, and a slather of Prem sunscreen and I can be out the door double-quick, without offending my sensitive skin or my sensitive nose.

So there you have my basic, low-scent routine, which saved my skin while I was too sensitive to use a lot of products. I’m happy that I’ve become a little more tolerant to scent recently, so I can try a few new things, but I’m also glad to have such lovely products available to me so I can survive without the things that bother me. Now, if only I were able to start using my Le Labo perfumes again…

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Tea and Caffeine and my Delicate Condition

NB: I am not a medical doctor and am not making any recommendations for your personal caffeine consumption. If you have a health problem, of course, consult your doctor for advice. This is just how I’ve handled my personal caffeine consumption.

As I announced yesterday on my YouTube channel, there’s a reason I’ve been quiet on this blog and on social media: I am pregnant again. Now, I don’t want this to turn into a pregnancy blog — I’ve even created a separate blog for those who want to more closely follow my pregnancy and parenting updates — but I thought I’d talk about a pregnancy-related topic that is near and dear to my heart: how I’ve handled drinking tea while watching my caffeine intake.

Monitoring caffeine is not actually a new thing for me. I have another (minor) health issue that gets exacerbated when I have too much caffeine. But since it’s more uncomfortable than dangerous, I mostly just wing it, assuming I’m taking in less caffeine drinking tea regularly than when I was drinking coffee regularly. When I started trying for a baby, I realized that I should probably figure out how to keep a closer eye on things.

Of course, when you look up “caffeine in tea,” you generally get the information back that an 8-oz. cup of tea has 26 mg of caffeine (or maybe it’s 50 mg, depending on your source). And that green tea and white tea have less caffeine than black tea. But then, sometimes you can find sources claiming that green or white tea have more caffeine than black tea. And few sources mention oolong, but mostly assume it’s somewhere between black and green tea. And finally, most of these sources assume that you make a cup of tea by taking a tea bag and putting it in a mug of hot water for 2-5 minutes.

So what if you don’t make tea like that? What if you re-steep your leaves? What if you use more leaf than they put in the average tea bag? And what is the actual variation among different tea types? Well, it’s unclear. Oh, and to get this out of the way: You cannot “decaffeinate” tea at home by steeping it for thirty seconds and discarding the first steeping. There’s more information about it here, but suffice to say that caffeine is released at a relatively even rate for at least the first 10-20 minutes of steeping, so you’d have to throw away all the enjoyable tea to get “decaffeinated” tea from this method.

The first thing I did was to try to get some information about how tea is handled during pregnancy in countries where tea is consumed more widely than coffee. Generally, in the US, tea is lumped together with coffee and is consumed mostly as a drug, for the caffeine. Caffeine is considered a vice, and therefore something that might be dangerous in pregnancy. In other countries, tea is considered a healthy drink, consumed for its benefits rather than as a vice. I did find a few blog posts  and articles about women’s experiences with recommendations from doctors in Japan, and this video from Mei Leaf, but there’s not a lot of reliable information about how tea-loving countries handle advising pregnant women on drinking tea.

But I do know that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considered “moderate caffeine intake” below 200 mg per day to not increase risk of miscarriage or preterm birth. Most doctors stick to this number and say that it’s safe to have up to 200 mg of caffeine per day in pregnancy. So, armed with this number, I set out in search of a more accurate way to figure out how much caffeine I was getting from my tea.

From here, I decided I should probably consider how I brew tea. Since I generally tend to weigh my loose tea leaves, rather than using a tea bag, I knew I tended to use 3-6 grams of leaf per session. I’ll sometimes go as high as 8 g if I’m doing a flash-steeped gaiwan session. I also knew that brewing time was a factor, so I looked at the various ways I steep teas. Generally, I like to steep for 30 seconds to maybe a minute or two for each steeping, and I usually do maybe four steepings over the course of a day, so that’s definitely under five minutes of total steeping time. If I look at the white2tea steeping guidelines for a flash-steeping session, those times add up to 275 seconds for ten steepings, or just under five minutes. So I decided I would consider my brewing parameters to be somewhere between 3-5 g of tea steeped for five minutes.

Now, let’s talk about assumptions. I’m definitely making some assumptions here. First of all, I’m assuming that water quantity doesn’t really effect caffeine release. I mean, this may not be the best assumption, but at the very least, brewing more tea in the same amount of water shouldn’t make caffeine release more efficient, right? So at worst, my assumption is leading me to overestimate caffeine. Same with water temperature. The studies I found assume water temperature of 100 C, and I often use cooler water. There are studies of water temperature and caffeine release, though I didn’t look them up specifically for this project, but again, I’m assuming that, again, I’m likely overestimating caffeine by disregarding the effects of water temperature.

Okay, on to the studies. The first one looks at caffeine and theanine in standardized brews of 39 different teas, with the standard brewing method being to steep 1 g of tea in 100 ml of water for three minutes. For my purposes, I multiplied their caffeine numbers by two to account for my longer brewing time and then by 3-5 to account for my increased tea quantity. So if I wanted to steep 5 grams of tea, I assumed I would need to stick to teas with fewer than 20 mg of caffeine, as reported in Table 2. For 3 g of tea, I could go up to teas with about 30 mg of caffeine. Almost every tea in the study would fall under this amount.

I also looked at this post, which got some caffeine information from a couple studies, and expanded the range of tea types I for which I had data. The table in the post considers teas that are brewed with 1 g of tea in 100 ml of water for 30 minutes, which is pretty close to full extraction. So all I did in this case was to multiply the reported number by the amount of tea I would use, which is pretty convenient (and almost certainly exaggerating my caffeine consumption). I especially like this resource for when I want to do a special session with 8 g of a nice pu-erh and want to see just how excessive the caffeine would be.

Now, one more note about caffeine in pregnancy: One of the books I got to prepare for pregnancy was called The Panic-Free Pregnancy, which specifically addresses concerns about caffeine in pregnancy. First of all, the author of that book looks at studies of pregnant women consuming caffeine and concludes that 200 mg per day is too conservative and it’s likely that up to 300 mg per day is probably safe. He also points out that, this is meant to be a limit on average consumption, so if you go nuts and have several espressos one day, you’re probably safe if you limit yourself to decaf the next day (fun fact: decaf coffee has a small amount of caffeine and I personally find that it’s enough to ward off the headaches I get when I have no caffeine at all). So I took this as permission to occasionally indulge in a long tea session, without worrying too much, as long as I was careful for a couple days after that. I particularly like Pique Tea tea crystals for the “careful” days because I can be more certain of how much caffeine I’m getting, and one serving of Pique Tea doesn’t seem to ever have more than 50 mg of caffeine. In addition to all of this, Emily Oster, author of Expecting Better, points out that there doesn’t seem to be the correlation between tea consumption and miscarriage the way that there seems to be a correlation between coffee consumption and miscarriage, which suggests that perhaps there is something else at work here besides caffeine affecting things. Take that as you will.

One last thing: there is another concern with tea in pregnancy. Apparently catechins, which are found in the highest levels in green tea, can bind with folate, which could potentially increase the risk of folate-related birth defects. While this study did conclude that high consumption of green tea did correlate with lower folate levels, this study concluded that, for women who were taking supplemental folate, increased tea consumption was not associated with an increased risk of spina bifida. Personally, I chose to deal with this by making sure to take a prenatal vitamin (which I started months before becoming pregnant anyway) and also to offset my tea consumption and my vitamin consumption. That is, I drink tea in the morning and take my vitamins in the evening. That way, the vitamins and the tea aren’t in my digestive system at the same time.

All in all, you can tell I’ve put a lot of thought into how my tea-drinking could affect my pregnancy. Possibly too much thought (after all, people have been drinking tea for centuries and we’ve managed to keep having babies). But it helped give me peace of mind, and I hope that aggregating some of the information I found helpful might help someone else, too. I’ll close by pointing out that a lot of this research ended up being moot, as my first trimester nausea ended up limiting the amount of tea I drank anyway, mostly because I felt too sick to really enjoy the good stuff.

My Current Skin Care Routine (Spring 2018) and Why I Don’t Focus on Anti-Aging

NB: All products mentioned here were bought with my own money, with the exception of Glossier Milky Jelly, which I often pay for, in part or in full, with affiliate credit, although I started using and loving it well before I ever had any store credit with Glossier. While the links in this post are non-affiliate, if you’re interested in supporting my blog by using my affiliate/referral links, they can all be found here.

Hello, lovely readers! I know I’ve been somewhat intermittent at updating this space, especially since I started making my YouTube tea sessions. Thank you to all of you who have checked out my videos and been so supportive. There is more tea to come. But, of course, I’m still interested in beauty and skin care, so I thought I’d share a bit about my current skin care (although most of it is based on old favorites) and somewhat about my beauty philosophy lately.

As some of you may know, I recently turned 35. While that doesn’t seem very old to me, it is the beginning of being considered a prime market for anti-aging products. And I certainly have some signs of aging. I have some lines across my forehead (one of them rather deep) and some fine lines around my eyes and upper lip. But I don’t focus specifically on “anti-aging” products in my routine. Honestly, I only use one proven anti-aging product and that’s sunscreen.

Basically, the first reason I don’t focus on anti-aging is that I’m not that old. I think I look my age (though others don’t always agree) and I think my skin looks great. Yes, my forehead wrinkles up a bit, especially when I talk, but that’s just because I’m an expressive person. Seriously, when I’m on stage, my eyebrows are like another character in the show. I don’t have any judgment of other people who pursue anti-aging in skincare; it’s just not a priority for me right now.

But the other reason I don’t use anti-aging products is that most products sold as “anti-aging” have limited science behind the claim except for retinoids and sunscreen. I currently use sunscreen because, c’mon, sunscreen. Use sunscreen. And I don’t use retinoids because I’m currently trying to conceive and previously had a miscarriage. Yes, I know that topical retinoids have zero evidence of issues in pregnancy, especially over-the-counter retinols. But guess what? It’s not worth it to me (see reason one) to use something that could make me mentally feel responsible if something happened to a future pregnancy again. It’s slightly irrational, but so are most fears (except spiders). I will probably start using a gentle retinol after pregnancy is no longer an issue for me.

So I don’t focus on anti-aging. So what *do* I focus on? Well, my number one focus is avoiding things to which my skin is sensitive. This means no high-pH cleansers (high pH for my picky skin is 5.5, but that’s just me), no butters or oils that have caused me a reaction, no fragrances, no essential oils that have caused me a reaction, no heavy-duty exfoliants. After that, I also focus on thorough cleansing, hydration, and protection. Some of my products do have incidental anti-aging ingredients in them, but my primary reason for using them is because of their hydrating or soothing qualities.

My Current Routine:

My current routine has grown out of several years’ worth of following a variety of skin blogs and sites from around the world. Particular shout-out to Caroline Hirons who taught me that hydration was so important for acne-prone skin. I suppose I should say a little about my skin type: I have combination skin, though I’m becoming more “normal” as I persist with a decent skin care routine. I get a little oilier in the summer and a little drier in the winter, so it’s important to note that this is my spring routine, rather than my heavier winter routine. If I break out, it’s generally either hormonal or because of a few well-known triggers (shea butter, coconut oil, sometimes olive oil). My skin just drinks up hydration and occasionally hates organic sun filters. So on to the products:

Products:

Oil-based cleanser: Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm
Water-based cleanser: Glossier Milky Jelly (referral link above)
Vitamin C: COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid (referral link above)
Chemical exfoliant: Stratia Soft Touch AHA
Face mist: Heritage Store Lavender Water and Glycerin
Hydrating Serum: Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate
Facial Oil: Jordan Samuel Skin Etoile
Moisturizer: CeraVe Baby Moisturizing Cream
SPF: Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Cream (referral link above)
Clay mask: NOW European Green Clay mixed with water or mist
Sheet mask: Make P:rem Safe Relief Moisture Mask (referral link above)

Okay, so this is a lot of products, and I haven’t separated this out into AM and PM routines. That’s because I use basically the same products day and night. My routines generally have the format cleanse-active-nourish-protect. So my AM routine is:

  1. Water-based cleanser
  2. Vitamin C
  3. Face mist
  4. Hydrating serum
  5. Moisturizer
  6. SPF

and my PM routine is:

  1. Oil-based cleanser
  2. Water-based cleanser
  3. Exfoliant (three times a week)
  4. Face mist
  5. Hydrating serum
  6. Facial oil
  7. Moisturizer

and then once a week, on Sundays, I do a clay mask between my two evening cleanses and put a sheet mask on after my facial oil. So it’s not a 10-step routine, but it’s not 3-step either. BUT, I can use these products in a 3-step routine, if I really need to. If I really need to, and I’m not using waterproof eye makeup or sunscreen, I can do a PM routine of water-based cleanser, hydrating serum, and facial oil, or an AM routine of a splash with water, hydrating serum, and SPF. Because my skin is resilient enough not to need all the steps all the time. I’ve talked before about how it’s important to have a minimum acceptable routine so that you can do *something* rather than go to bed with makeup/sunscreen/city grime on your face just because you’re too tired/sick/hungover/drunk to face a seven-step routine.

So that’s how I currently treat my skin, for spring 2018. It’s a pretty stable routine, though I had some heavier moisturizers for winter that I’ve stopped using since it’s not frigid cold anymore. And I’ve recently bought a couple of things to test, so we’ll see how it shakes out in the future. But I think my skin is in a nice place. I’d love to hear about others’ routines!

NB: All products mentioned here were bought with my own money, with the exception of Glossier Milky Jelly, which I often pay for, in part or in full, with affiliate credit. While the above links are non-affiliate, if you’re interested in supporting my blog by using my affiliate/referral links, they can all be found here.

Brand Spotlight: Jordan Samuel Skin

So I’m doing something a bit different today, but I wanted to talk about a brand I’ve really been liking these days. Usually when I think about a brand I like, it’s mostly about the products, and since I have virtually no actual brand loyalty, that changes as often as my routine. But lately, I’ve settled into a kind of set routine, where I love all the products I’m currently using, and I don’t feel any need to explore for the time being. And two of those products (one of the two brands that boast two items in my routine from the same brand) come from Jordan Samuel Skin.

Jordan Samuel Skin is the labor of love of founder Jordan Pacitti, a former corps de ballet dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Now, if you’ve followed this blog for a while, though its various incarnations, you may remember that I returned to ballet at age 30 after not dancing since the age of 7. I’ve always loved ballet and part of me wonders what could have been if I’d had a more supportive teacher when I was a child. So of course, I was immediately drawn to the aesthetic of a brand developed by a ballet dancer for the challenges that a dancer faces. Incidentally, the issues of late nights, lots of makeup, and sweating under stage lights also apply to actors! I also found Jordan’s YouTube videos “Jordan Samuels Skin Talks” and found his personality engaging and fun. He just seems like such a nice guy (and he has cats, so how could that be bad?).

So I splurged and bought myself a bottle of his Etoile facial oil, a blend of luxurious plant oils with a price tag that is actually less than a lot of the blended facial oils on the market. He also doesn’t put any fragrance or essential oils in his products, which my finicky skin appreciates. From the time you receive your package, you feel the care that goes into each order. No, Jordan doesn’t personally write the note in each package, but the printed handwriting suggests a level of intimacy, like a friend just sent you a gift. The packaging is understated and elegant. The whole experience is highly Instagram-able, which I imagine is part of his strategy.

Oh, and he does social media so well. While I don’t flatter myself that Jordan himself responds to every YouTube comment and Instagram message, every comment and message does get a response. When I tag the brand on Instagram, I get a comment or a response (if it’s a Story). I even got a completely-unrelated compliment on my hair after tagging the brand in a Story! And they’re highly receptive to questions about products on Instagram messages. I feel a connection. They’re social media game is on point, which is so important, particularly when other brands can either feel disconnected or unwilling to engage constructively.

But what about the products? Well, I’ve tried two products from Jordan Samuel — the aforementioned Etoile Facial Oil, and his Hydrate Serum — and I love them both. They’re kind of like your favorite pair of ballet tights — a good pair should be almost unnoticeable, but they give your legs a smooth line and subtly lifted look to help you see your muscles work. In the same way, both of these products are go-to for one simple reason: my skin looks better when I use them than when I don’t.

The Etoile Facial Oil is a blend of plant oils with a balanced fatty acid profile. It’s a beautiful amber color from the natural unrefined oils, and it has no scent. It goes on with a noticeable slip, and I find it a bit oily for daytime use, most of the time, but it’s lovely at night. I pat on 5-7 drops every night after my hydrating steps and before my final cream layer, and I find I wake up with a refreshed glow. When the weather is warmer, I can even use Etoile as my final nighttime step. When it’s very cold outside, I’ll use 3 drops of Etoile in the morning to supplement my daytime routine, or as a protective layer before exercising outside in the cold. There’s also a version with retinol, which I’m going to try once I’ve figured this whole conception/pregnancy thing out and don’t feel conflicted about retinol.

The Hydrate Serum is just that: a fairly basic hydrating serum. It has hyaluronic acid and glycerin, some soothing plant extracts, a touch of stable vitamin C (not enough to replace a dedicated antioxidant serum), and a peptide for skin health. It has no fragrance ingredients, but it does have a light powdery-natural scent from the plant extracts. It’s a thin gel that goes on very juicy onto the skin, and absorbs without stickiness. My skin drinks this up, morning and night, and looks plump and refreshed. Again, I feel like I have a glow with this serum that I don’t notice with other, supposedly similar, products. I’m about 3/4 of the way through my first bottle and I’m definitely springing for the 4-oz. bottle when I need a refill. I like to slather. I use about a pearl-sized amount in the morning before cream and sunscreen, and a slightly larger amount in the evening before facial oil and cream.

So I’ve definitely been enjoying these two products. Given that I’ve spent the last several months paring down my routine, keeping two things from the same brand is high praise. I hope you’ll check it out. I get nothing out of it, other than appreciating that a brand I like is doing well!

NB: This is not a sponsored post.

Quick Update: Something New

Hello! I just wanted to quickly post to let everyone know that I’ve decided to start trying out a new format. I made my first YouTube video this weekend. In it, I brew and taste a Silver Needle white tea at sunrise in my back yard. It was the first weekend of spring and the birds were chirping, even though it was cold and there was still some snow on the ground. Hopefully the weather gets a little warmer so I can continue sharing these tea sessions with you in person.

If you’d like to watch the video, here’s the link. I hope you enjoy it!

Tea Review: Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix Pearls

Earlier this month I had a birthday and one thing that people know I will always appreciate for my birthday is tea. Because my mother knows me very well, she got me a pack of jasmine tea because I love jasmine. I don’t tend to drink a lot of flavored teas, with the notable exception of traditional flavors — so Earl Grey, the occasional masala chai, and floral-scented green and oolong teas. And rolled jasmine green tea is a particular favorite.

Adagio Teas is probably the way I first got really into loose-leaf tea. I do remember visiting Teavana when one opened in a nearby shopping mall, but instead of buying there, I went home and opened up our newfangled internet machine to search “The ‘Web” for a way to find even more high-quality teas. I stumbled upon Adagio and first learned the joys of loose leaf tea. These Jasmine Phoenix-Dragon Pearls might have even been in my first order because I found the name romantic and lovely, and even as a teenager preferred deep floral scents to the typical light scents favored by my peers.

But since then, I’ve moved beyond the one-stop shopping experience of Adagio Teas, so they don’t often feature in my rotation when I decide what to review. So because it seems appropriate for early spring, I thought I’d add some florals to my tea reviews. You know, for spring.

The Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix (also called Dragon) Pearls are described as hand-rolled young tea leaves and buds, scented with jasmine. They are delicate and pretty to look at, with some variation in the color of the leaf, as well as a few white jasmine buds sprinkled in to enhance the look of the dry tea. When they steep, you can watch them unfurl into small leaves. The jasmine scent, particularly of the first infusion, is heady, and I find that it does best when it’s steeped for about a minute at first, and then as little as possible on subsequent infusions, until the strength of the tea settles down a bit.

The brewed tea, if not allowed to oversteep, is luscious and almost sweet-tasting. It smells heavily of jasmine, but also of the vegetal notes of good-quality Chinese green tea. While the first steeping will always have the strongest flavoring for any scented tea, this tea maintains a respectable jasmine punch for several steepings, although as you go on, you’ll find the qualities of the green tea coming through more and more. While Chinese green teas are not my favorite, this is a lovely example of one.

Adagio Teas is known in the tea community for being a bit overpriced for their quality, but there are a great place for someone who is new to tea to go and learn a bit about loose leaf teas before diving into sourcing teas more directly. Their website is visually pleasing and provides good information and reviews to help you choose a tea. And the fact that they offer small samples of almost all their teas is a fantastic bonus.

NB: I was not paid or encouraged to write this review. While the tea in question was a gift, it was not a gift from the company. All thoughts are my own. Read more about my sponsorship and review policies here.

Beauty Review: Products I Like More Than the Things from Deciem Brands that I Have Liked in the Past

So most of my traffic comes from a handful of posts, specifically my posts reviewing products from the brand Deciem. Unfortunately, in light of overwhelming evidence that the owner of the company is not someone I want to support, I’ve finally decided to stop patronizing the brand. But, honestly, I don’t really have any current favorites from Deciem anymore anyway, so it’s not such a hardship, so rather than just adding to the rhetoric against the brand (better writers than I have written about it), I’m going to share some of the products I’ve been using that are either replacements or even upgrades to previously-reviewed Deciem products.

Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate Serum:

The first post on Deciem I ever wrote was a review of their Hyaluronic Acid serum. A little while after that, I wrote a post called “Battle of the Deciem Brands” where I faced off The Ordinary’s Buffet serum with Hylamide’s SubQ Anti-Age serum, which are both ultimately hydrating serums with peptides added. I came out on the side of the Hylamide serum, but I haven’t actually used either of these in over a year.  Since then, I’ve discovered one of my favorite new-to-me brands: Jordan Samuel Skin. Jordan is a joy to watch on YouTube, and an absolute doll to interact with on social media. He’s responsive, supportive, and just plain nice. AND he has a small-but-thoughtful line of products that are natural-led without neglecting science, and free of fragrance and essential oils. I’ve been using his Hydrate serum, which is a hydrating serum with peptides and a bit of stable vitamin C, for over three weeks now and I’m reasonably certain I can give it credit for how amazing my skin looks lately.

Heritage Store Lavender Water and Glycerin Mist:

Another product I reviewed positively from Deciem is their Hylamide Hydra-Density Mist, which is hydrating and soothing, but is ultimately a hydration step. Since then, I’ve stopped spending money on in-between steps meant to either hydrate or seal in hydration. So instead of buying expensive watery toners or mists, I go between steps with several sprays of Heritage Store Lavender Water and Glycerin. It has water and glycerin to grab hydration, and a light lavender scent. They also make a rose version. If you absolutely cannot handle scent of any kind, this isn’t for you, but my fragrance-sensitive skin loves it and it’s cheap at my local natural foods store.

Stratia Liquid Gold:

This isn’t a straight replacement, but that first Deciem review also included a review of The Ordinary’s Niacinamide serum. I’ve since stopped focusing much on niacinamide as a mainstay of my routine, but the 4% niacinamide in my favorite midweight moisturizer is plenty to keep my skin happy. As a bonus, the Liquid Gold also has ceramides and some lovely plant oils. And Alli is just so sweet a person. She also has a small but thoughtful line of products that are firmly science-led, and is highly responsive on Instagram.

COSRX Triple C Lightening Liquid:

Another of my early reviews was the Hylamide C25 Booster vitamin C serum. I liked that it was easy to use, cosmetically elegant, and seemed to give my skin a nice glow while still being shelf-stable and free of worries about oxidation. Well, I’ve done some research and there’s not a whole lot of evidence that ethyl-ascorbic acid is as effective as l-ascorbic acid, so I started investigating L-AA serums. I settled on the COSRX collaboration with Charlotte Cho of Soko Glam. This serum is a 20.5% L-AA serum with black chokeberry to help prevent oxidation. I do keep mine in the fridge and check the color regularly, but after two to three months of use, I haven’t seen it turn more than a pale champagne color. And it feels like water on the face. It is acidic, so there is a slight sting if you apply it on broken skin (i.e., a spot that might have mysteriously popped while you were doing your routine), but other than that, it’s benign and just serves to keep my old hyperpigmentation fading and my skin bright. I’ve actually done a full review here.

Innersense Beauty Hydrating Hairbath:

I’ve spoken in the past about my hair care routine and how some of my favorite products were the Hair is Fabric foaming conditioners. They’re basically an upgraded version of conditioning shampoo. Well, although I liked the way they made my hair feel, they all have unbearably strong scents, even after a supposed reformulation a while back. So I started experimenting with hair care again. And I landed on a winner: Innersense Beauty. I’ve started using their Hydrating Hair Bath during the week in a similar way to the HIF cleansing conditioners — as a moisturizing one-step cleanse in the shower, with a leave-in conditioner for extra nourishment. I also use their Hydrating Cream Conditioner as a deep conditioner once a week after a more clarifying shampoo, and I love their Sweet Spirit Leave-In Conditioner and Quiet Calm Curl Control Creme as leave-in treatments. The scents are all natural and the perfect balance of a pleasant shower experience without a lasting cloud of scent on my person. Also, they sell minis so you can try the products without a huge initial financial outlay!

Bonus: Stratia Soft Touch AHA:

Just before the most recent stuff hit the most recent fan for Deciem, I was testing The Ordinary’s 10% Lactic Acid serum as my thrice weekly chemical exfoliant. It’s cheaper than my previous serum and a similar potency. When I decided I definitely needed to try to move away from Deciem, I brought out a bottle of Stratia Soft Touch AHA 10% mandelic acid gel that I had (probably unfairly) tested and abandoned around the time I was recovering from my miscarriage. As I love the Stratia brand and I wanted to give it a fair shake AND I didn’t want to buy a new product after developing uncomfortable feelings about my remaining half-bottle of The Ordinary LA, I decided to try it again. And I’m so glad I did. It does the same job of keeping clogs at bay on my chin, it’s a similar price point to The Ordinary (it’s 2/3 more product), and it’s in an airless pump instead of a fiddly dropper. If you’re looking for an inexpensive, gentle AHA, give it a try.

NB: I was not paid to review any of the products mentioned here and purchased all of them at full price with my own money. See more about my policy around accepting products for review here.

Tea Review: Brief Reviews of Everything Made by Pique Tea (plus a bonus recipe!)

NB: I purchased everything reviewed here for full price with my own money directly from Pique Tea. Pique Tea did offer me a discount code after my initial post on Instagram about their Jasmine tea, but I had already ordered all of this and didn’t use it.

Pique Tea is an interesting company. They claim their product has the same health benefits as high-quality, brewed loose-leaf tea, but in a powdered product. I first saw them at a local herb store and was intrigued. I figured if it wasn’t terrible, it would be a great way to take tea to conferences without having to worry about bags and steeping times and water temperature. When I tried the flavor I first got (Jasmine), I was so impressed, I decided to buy everything and review it all in one go.

Since I love Tracy’s mega-review of Glossier over at Fanserviced-B, I thought I’d do my review in a similar style. I should probably give a little info about my likes and dislikes and how I do tea. First of all, I love the ritual of tea, so something like this is never going to fully replace my tea leaves. But two things have come up for me recently. First of all, I travel semi-regularly and never know what the situation is going to be in terms of tea availability at conferences. Since I’m supposed to be a representative of my organization, I strive not to appear too eccentric or high-maintenance when I travel, which means that loose-leaf tea is pretty much out. I’m stuck with tea bags, and I have to worry that I’ll get caught up in a conversation and forget how long I’ve steeped my tea. These tea crystals definitely work great for travel, and I even convinced a researcher at a recent conference to try them for her field expeditions!

Second is that my husband and I have been trying to have a baby, and one of the things to worry about is caffeine intake. Because most of the information about caffeine in tea out there is pretty much wrong, and it varies so much due to factors such as brewing parameters, using a product like Pique helps me get a better handle on how much caffeine I’m consuming. They not only test their products and post the caffeine range on each product’s page, they also report numbers that I find believable and not just taken from old estimates of caffeine in general tea types. For example, they report that their Jasmine Green Tea has a higher level of caffeine than their Earl Grey Black Tea, which goes contrary to the conventional thought that green tea has less caffeine than black tea, but is more in line with more accurate research that suggests that processing doesn’t affect caffeine levels as much as previously thought.

But how do they taste? I tested all of the flavors I received, using Pique’s preparation guidelines, and then tweaking it for myself, and I’ve come to a ranking of the Good, the Okay, and the Not-so-Good. Are these going to have the same delicate nuance as a session with a high-grade loose-leaf, carefully selected, and brewed precisely in the perfect teaware for the leaf? No. Do they offer oolong tea? No (darn). But compared to the kinds of mid-range teas you can get from companies like Teavana, Adagio, and Rishi Tea, they hold their own. Here are the details:

The Good:

Jasmine Green Tea: This was the first one I tried and I was impressed. This tastes exactly like a brewed cup of Rishi Tea full-leaf Jasmine Green Tea. Plus, I just love jasmine tea.

Sencha Green Tea: This has that classic Japanese restaurant tea taste. It doesn’t have the ocean notes of really good sencha tea, but it’s a solid Japanese green tea.

Mint Sencha Green Tea: This brings back memories of Teavana Moroccan Mint tea. I like it in the afternoons after a snack or right after lunch to cleanse my palate and keep me from snacking more.

Peach Ginger Black Tea: This is a weird choice for me to like, but it tastes like exactly what I wish Republic of Tea’s Peach Ginger Black Tea tasted like. A great ginger kick, subtly peachy, but not cloying. I haven’t tried this iced, but I imagine it will be great that way, too.

The Okay:

English Breakfast Black Tea: I find the other two Pique black teas to be a bit harsh drunk plain. So this is just okay, but it really makes a fantastic morning cuppa with a splash of milk and a spoonful of sugar or honey. I actually drink a sweet milky cup of this before going to the gym in the early morning.

Earl Grey Black Tea: Again, too harsh on its own, but it has some really interesting honey notes to it, if you can get past the bitterness. But it does make a really amazing Earl Grey Latte (recipe at the end of this post!)

Passion Fruit Green Tea: It isn’t really this tea’s fault that I don’t think it’s great. I really don’t prefer nontraditional fruity teas. But it’s a great representation of a not-too-cloying fruity green tea. Again, probably would be great iced.

The Pique Cup: I couldn’t call this great because, well, it’s just a cup. But it’s attractive, has a sort of millennial-minimalist flair, and the double-walled construction does a great job of insulating your hands from the hot beverage. It’s not my style, but if you’re into it, it’s sturdy but not clunky and holds the perfect cup of tea.

The Bad:

Hibiscus Mint Herbal Tea: I hate stevia. I hate all non-nutritive sweeteners, so I don’t really single out stevia. But stevia has crept into “healthy” foods and beverages and to my taste, has ruined them. And it’s a shame, because once my taste buds started saturating a little to the stevia taste, I could detect some really nice tart and herbal notes in this tea. But I haven’t had more than my first cup because I really hate stevia. If they ever decided to try a non-sweetened version of this, I’d be first in line to try it again.

So there are my thoughts. Most of the teas are not bad and worth buying again. I know I’ll almost certainly buy the three non-fruity green teas again, and possibly the English Breakfast, for the ease of my pre-gym cuppa (seriously, I go from bed to car in 15 minutes when I’m going to the gym, so five minutes to steep a cup of tea counts). And now, as promised, my recipe for a Lavender Honey Earl Grey Tea Latte:

Ingredients:

1 packet of Pique Earl Grey Black Tea
1 cup of milk (I used full-fat goat’s milk)
1 tsp. dried lavender buds
1-2 tsp. honey (to taste)

Add the packet of Earl Grey tea crystals to your cup. Add the lavender, honey, and milk to a small saucepan and put over medium-low heat. Heat over the course of 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the honey has dissolved and it reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (no more than 180 degrees). Strain into the cup with the tea crystals, making sure your strainer does not touch the surface of the liquid in the cup. Froth with an electric hand frother for a few seconds, until a little foam forms. Drink as soon as it’s cooled off enough.

Tea and a Story: Floods

I’m back again! I’ve resolved to try to post at least once a week for a while. And I thought, since I’m still recovering after my own personal hardship, I would offer something a bit more uplifting: A “Tea and a Story” post about natural disasters!

Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown. NZ

Seriously though, I have always been fascinated by the prevalence of flood stories across cultures. Whether this is some primordial memory of a great global flood, or simply a disaster that a lot of locations have in common, stories about the floods are always stories of renewal and transition. So that’s how stories about natural disasters and the near-elimination of humans as a whole count as uplifting.

Of course, the story that those of us in the Christian world grew up with was the story of Noah and his ark. In that story, God (the god of the Abrahamic religions) decides that human beings are too wicked and he’s going to destroy them all in a flood. All except for Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” So God instructs Noah to build an ark and take a mating pair of every animal and his family and ride out the flood. Eventually, the flood waters recede enough that the ark comes to rest on the top of a mountain and Noah sends out birds to see if the waters have receded, with the final sign of land being the dove returning with an olive leaf.

The most fascinating thing about this story, to me, is that is is actually incredibly similar to an ancient Babylonian story, one version of which is recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh, even down to the birds and the fact that the Hebrew Bible uses a similar word for “pitch” to the original Babylonian story. It’s widely accepted that the Noah story is actually based on the older story from Babylonian mythology.

The most famous version of the Babylonian myth is actually the one from Gilgamesh. In the story, Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim, who is the survivor of this ancient great flood. Utnapishtim recounts his experience of the great flood. In it, the gods decide to destroy humanity, but because the god of wisdom, Ea, likes Utnapishtim, he finds a way to tell the man about the impending flood and instruct him on how to build an ark and save his life and the lives of his family members, along with animals, craftsmen, and grains. After riding out the flood, he comes to rest on a mountain, and like Noah, sends out birds to check if the waters have receded. First he sends out a dove, which returns because it has found nowhere to alight, then a swallow, which also returns. Finally, he sends out a raven, which finds dry land and doesn’t return. After that, he sets everyone free and sacrifices to the gods. After discovering that a mortal survived, the gods discover Ea’s betrayal and are angry, but ultimately decide to bestow immortality upon Utnapishtim and his wife and have them live far away from humanity.

Of course, this isn’t the only flood narrative. My favorite of the narratives comes from Greek mythology and is the story of Deucalion, the son of Prometheus. Once again, Zeus decides that humans have become too wicked. This may or may not have something to do with the woman bearing a jar full of evils that he sent down in a fit of pique after Prometheus not only steals fire, but also teaches men how to cheat the gods when choosing sacrifices. But never mind that. Ultimately, Zeus decides to drown everyone in a great flood. Prometheus tells his son, Deucalion, how to save himself and his wife, Pyrrha, by building a “chest” and provisioning it (in this story, there’s no mention of saving animals, so presumably ancient Greek animals were all strong swimmers) to ride out the deluge.

Once the flood recedes, Deucalion and Pyrrha make a sacrifice and ask the goddess Themis (or Zeus, depending on the story) how to repopulate the earth. They are told to cover their heads and cast behind them the stones of their mother. Naturally, good Greeks that they are, they’re aghast at such desecration of an ancestor. But eventually, they figure out that the “mother” Themis means is the great mother of all life, Gaia, and her bones are stones. So they cover their heads and cast stones behind them. The stones that Deucalion throws become men and the stones Pyrrha throws become women.

I liked this myth growing up for two reasons: one, I loved Greek mythology and for some reason I found it easier to swallow a capricious god like Zeus because his overall characterization is not an omnipotent, infallible deity; and two, I liked the detail at the end of repopulating the earth from the original creative matter of life, Gaia (plus, as I got older, I realized it helped do away with some of the weird, incestuous overtones of stories that just have a family do all the repopulating). But now, the most striking part of this set of stories is how the stories that include a pantheon of gods include some dissent, whereas the Judeo-Christian story has god make a decision and then second-guess himself by finding someone he wants to save. Instances like these in the Bible intrigue me because they show the complex nature of God and suggest that he is perhaps an amalgamation of past pantheons.

Theological discussions aside, it’s interesting that the idea of a great, world-ending flood has persisted throughout so many cultures’ folklores. Stories of great floods exist in stories from the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Oceanic islands, and are generally among the oldest stories from those traditions. Whether this is because of some collectively remembered event in prehistoric times, or for thematic reasons, something about this story seems to speak to all of us, as humans. Water is an interesting thing in human history, as it is both vital for life and extremely dangerous. The idea of a hero triumphing over the elements itself is kind of an analogy for much of human existence in general.

So that’s my discussion of uplifting, hopeful floods. I find these stories fascinating and would love to hear about any of your favorite folk tales of great floods.

Sources:

The King James Bible, Genesis 6-9 (link)

The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Gerald J. Davis, Tablet XI (link)

Ovid, The Metamorphoses, translated by Henry T. Riley, Book I (link)

Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard (link)

[Image Source]