On Being a “Beauty Blogger” but Also Being Kind of Lucky

This is another of my random, slightly-rambly posts where I work through my thoughts on something that has been on my mind for a while. You see, I consider myself at least partially a “beauty blogger” because I do post about beauty products (mostly skincare). And since I review beauty products, there is an underlying assumption that I think of myself as some sort of authority, no matter how minor.

This train of thought started when I posted a selfie on Facebook and someone commented on my “lovely glow.” Now, I believe this was a pregnancy reference, and I played it off with a joke about being excited about food, but a small part of me wanted to point out that I do spend more time than the average person thinking about my skin and caring for my skin. I definitely have honed my personal routine to have the best effect on my skin that I can get.

But the fact is that I am also somewhat a lucky person. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had struggles and skin issues, but nothing major. And while I credit some of my current success in good skin to proper care, I’ve never had a major skin issue. In fact, if I tried to see a dermatologist in the US, even at my skin’s worst, they’d probably consider me silly. Don’t even get me started on my hair. No, I’m not model-gorgeous, but I have a perfectly acceptable face and figure, and I do have rather nice hair.

And my hair is a good place to start. You see, one of the reasons I have rather nice hair is that my hair is incredibly resilient. I have thick, straight, strong hair and quite a lot of it. It’s graying, but it a somewhat chic way, with a streak that comes through at my part in a kind of Lily Munster sort of way. I’ve even been asked if I dye it in. So when I talk about my hair care routine, yes, I use best practices, avoid heat, wash as little as I can get away with, and make sure to use gentle tools. But I also know that my hair didn’t become any more brittle that one time in high school when I dyed it with boxed dye twice in the space of 48 hours (I didn’t like the color the first time). My hair is a good example because I could probably heat-style almost every day and dye it every month and still have pretty nice hair. At the very least, I have so darn much of it, it would take a long time for the wear and tear to show. So if you have thin, dry, curly, delicate, damaged, easily-damage-able hair, your mileage is certainly going to vary. That’s not to say that I don’t want you reading my blog, but I’m not necessarily going to be as helpful to you as someone with more trouble with their hair.

The same is true for skin. I was blessed with trouble-free skin as a teenager, and had some hormonal issues pop up later in life. I managed to wreck my skin barrier with high-pH cleansers and a lack of proper moisturization, but even when I was “breaking out,” I generally got maybe 4 or 5 spots at a time. It wasn’t even on the same level as some of the truly amazing skin transformations I’ve seen among bloggers I follow. And it’s never been to the point where I would consider much in the way of strong prescription treatment really worth it (I did Curology for all of three months, I think). I will admit that my skin is pretty calm. And since my hormones stopped fluctuating on a monthly basis, it’s been even better (we’ll see how that goes in a few months…). Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t read this blog if you don’t have generally good skin, just that most of my beauty reviews aren’t going to feature drastic before-and-after results, but more a sense of how I like the feel of a product and whether I notice its subtle effects.

And I think that’s so important to admit as a person who reviews beauty. It seems like it’s going to damage your credibility to point out that you might not actually need some of the products you tout. But I would rather see a blogger be honest about the fact that their a bit genetically gifted than constantly compare myself to people who are always going to have better skin than I do. And I think it’s even more important to realize that the people who have the “bad” skin might actually be more informative in the long run if you’re actually looking for products that might make a difference in your skin. I’d rather see someone with a chin full of hormonal acne tell me what took them from cystic eruptions every month to just a few lingering clogged pores and residual pigmentation marks than listen to Regina George tell me what she uses on her nonexistent pimples.

It’s why I like to follow bloggers who are over 40 and bloggers who have made their struggles with acne public. No, I do not want to watch anyone squeeze anything on their face. But if I want to try a wrinkle cream, I’d rather see it reviewed by someone with actual wrinkles. And if you’re going to use Botox, yes, I’m thrilled that you’re going to tell me about it, rather than pretending that your flawlessness is entirely the work of your 12-step over-the-counter routine.

So that’s where I am with this right now. I hope my readers continue to enjoy the posts I post, but know that you’re probably never going to get a before and after photo from me because, frankly, the benefits I get from any given product don’t tend to be dramatic enough to show up on a photograph. But hopefully there is some merit to my opinion anyway.

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The Paradox of Long Hair Care

I don’t talk as much about hair care on this blog as I do about skin care or tea, but I do touch on it occasionally. The fact is that I’ve been obsessing about my hair care routine for much longer than I’ve really cared about my skin care. I actually found out about Korean skin care from a hair care forum to which I used to contribute. So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my hair care philosophy again, and give a little update about how I’ve been caring for my hair.

While I’ve had hair as short as a pixie and as long as mid-back, with every length in between, my hair care routine is always based on the care philosophy of people who are caring for ultra-long hair. Long hair is old hair, so the standard advice in the long hair community is to treat your hair like it is an antique lace table cloth. So, you want to handle your hair gently, keep it protected, wash it gently, and don’t wash it more than you have to.

Translated to hair care, that means that, in the long hair care world, people try to stretch out washing as long as possible, and use very gentle tools and styling. Which is what leads me to my title about the paradox of long hair care. You see, a lot of people consider long hair to be a lot of maintenance. I mean, you have a lot of hair, it’s going to take a lot of time to wash and dry. You’re going to need more product to coat it. And you need to spend time to style it.

But at the same time, I actually spend a pretty small amount of time on my hair on a daily basis. My current hair care routine is to wash it three times a week. On Sundays, I wash it with a more cleansing shampoo (Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat) and do a deep conditioning treatment by leaving an unscented condition on my hair for 5-10 minutes while I shave my legs. On Tuesday and Friday mornings, I only wash my hair, using a moisturizing shampoo (Innersense Hydrating Cream Hairbath), and then towel-dry it and apply a mixture of hair cream (Phyto 9) and hair oil (Oshima Tsubaki Oil). Other than that, I will occasionally rinse my hair if I get particularly sweaty or dirty, but mostly I just braid or put it up in a bun. Yes, it would take a long time to blow-dry my hair, but I don’t blow dry my hair very often. Most of the time, I let my hair air-dry as much as possible, and then style it gently. The biggest hardship is that sometimes my cat decides that my loose, drying hair is the best toy in the world.

Since getting pregnant, I’ve actually put some thought into whether or not I should cut my hair. But I’ve realized that short hair can have just as much upkeep as longer hair, and since I mostly keep my long hair up in a bun, I don’t think there’s much risk of getting it caught in things.

As far as styling goes, I generally stick to two basic styles these days. Either I braid it and fasten it with a metal-free band, or I put it into a bun and secure it with a hair pin or clip. Both of these styles are relatively quick and can be done with damp hair, as long as I’m careful not to pull damp hair too tight, since it is more delicate than dry hair. So on a normal day, I’ll spend maybe 5 minutes washing my hair, let it dry while I take care of the rest of my morning routine, and then less than 5 minutes to put it into a bun or braid.

But at the same time, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about my hair care routine. I have a similar sense of what my hair likes and dislikes as I do with my skin. So it has taken a lot of effort, if not a lot of day-to-day time. But since I generally prefer my overall “look” with longer hair, and don’t really like to wear my hair loose, I find the effort worth it.

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…

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.

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.

Beauty Round-up: Inorganic Sunscreens

So I mentioned a few months ago that when I first found out I was pregnant, my first sign that something was up was that my skin freaked out. Now, so much skincare advice for pregnant women suggests using “mineral” sunscreen filters instead of organic “chemical” filters for various reasons, of varying levels of validity. But the primary reason I decided was because of the increased risk of skin sensitivity. And when my skin broke out in a rash, I decided to go to only inorganic filters (i.e., zinc oxide or titanium dioxide). But inorganic filters come with drawbacks: a thick feel, white cast, etc.

So anyway, I started looking for inorganic sunscreens. There are plenty of recommendations out there. In fact, one of my favorite YouTubers, Renee at Gothamista, did a video about her favorite ones recently. And they’re also pretty easy to find at the store where we shop. After a few months of trial and error, I thought I’d share some of the formulations that I found myself reaching for over and over again.

Now, one of the main issues I’ve had with inorganic sunscreens is that the formulations are not usually very cosmetically elegant. A lot of companies that make them focus on “natural” ingredient standards, which means they use a lot of plant oils and butters, leading to a thick product. Ironically, because the inorganic filters ingredients themselves are white powders, they can also make a product drying or mattifying. So plenty of the products I tried were too thick or too drying or both. And some products were great in the summer but to dry for winter. I’ve put together some of my favorites for both situations.

Avene Mineral Ultra-light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion: This was the first suggestion from Renee that I tried. And, wow, is it hydrating. Unfortunately, this was a bit too much for me in the summer when I first tried it, but I found it was great for the weekend when we went up to the Pocanos for the weekend in the early fall. It does leave a bit of white residue, but it’s great for lazy days. Just cleanse and slap it on. So this isn’t my favorite, but I do use it regularly.

Mychelle Unscented Sun Shield: This is one I used frequently when I still sought out natural skin care products. It’s thick and white, but still manages to dry down to a nice texture. It does leave a little white residue in my eyebrows. And it’s dry in the winter. But for summer? Love it.

Mychelle Sun Shield Liquid Tint: This was an impulse buy at the natural foods store, but I still use it every week. It’s tinted, but sheer enough that I can use a lot of it without looking like a mask. It just gives a little light coverage. This pretty much stays in my gym bag and I use it as a one-step sunscreen and makeup step when I’m rushing to get ready after barre class.

Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Cream: This is an interesting one. I don’t love this sunscreen, but I love the fact that I get only minimal white residue around my eyebrows even though it has SPF50. It’s a bit dry of a finish for winter, but I can see myself reaching for it more when the weather warms up.

Mychelle Replenishing Solar Defense: And this is my current favorite. It’s lightweight, spreads easily, doesn’t leave a white cast on my skin, and feels lightly moisturizing (over a serum and cream, but hey, the East Coast has been going through some rough weather). I hope this will still work in the summer with fewer moisturizing layers underneath, but even if it doesn’t, it’s a great winter sunscreen for me.

So that’s my roundup. If anyone has any other suggestions, let me know in the comments.

Beauty Review: Neocell Collagen serum and mask

NB: These products were sent to me free of charge in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. For more information, click here.

A little while ago, I was contacted by a rep from the company Neocell about trying some of their products. Looking up the company, I found that they primarily market collagen and other dietary supplements, so I politely declined, as I already have a supplement regimen in place and am not in the market for others. When she mentioned that they also sell topical products, I was intrigued, and agreed to test out a serum and a wash-off mask.

A couple weeks later, I opened my box to find a bottle of Collagen+C Liposome Serum and a jar of the Collagen Moisturizing Treatment Masque. The serum was in an airless pump, similar to the type of pump used by Makeup Artist’s Choice for their serums, while the mask came in a small jar. I tested the serum for a few weeks, while I only tried the mask once. Unfortunately, my (unrelated) skin freak out happened toward the tail end of testing these products, but I still feel like I’ve gotten a sense of how I like them.

The Collagen+C Liposome Serum is a translucent gel serum that contains soluble collagen, vitamin C (in the form of ascorbyl palmitate), amino acids, and vitamin E. While the exact percentage of ascorbyl palmitate is not stated, there is research that ascorbyl palmitate in topical preparations can have some of the same benefits of ascorbic acid, while being less sensitive to pH. Therefore, I do not worry about a wait time after this serum. There is actually limited evidence that collagen in topical preparations has much benefit beyond retaining hydration. So I did not go into this test with high hopes, to be honest. But I found that after replacing my COSRX Triple-C serum with this for two weeks, I did not notice new breakouts, and noticed my existing lingering marks fading nearly as quickly as they had been. While I would not buy this again for myself, it is a simple serum, containing a potentially-effective form of vitamin C, and that doesn’t require worry about pH, all at a very reasonable price, so I might consider suggesting this to a friend or family member who wanted to improve their skin routine without going all-in the way I have.

The Collagen Moisturizing Treatment Mask was different. It contains moisturizers and collagen, as well as several essential oils and plant extracts. I personally found the scent a bit strong for me — it smells fairly strongly of sandalwood and patchouli, which are not scents I’m fond of. I also don’t tend to use moisturizing wash-off masks, so I think I applied it a bit too thickly and had trouble washing it off. That said, despite the strong essential oils, this mask did not irritate my skin at all, and I did notice a moisturizing effect after leaving it on for half an hour. So if it were reformulated to reduce the scent, I would consider buying it again. And if you like sandalwood and patchouli, definitely give it a try.

Matcha Week! Matcha Face and Hair Masks

This week, I’m celebrating Matcha Week to highlight all the ways I use matcha besides in my morning bowl of traditional thin matcha. I’m promoting my Volition Beauty campaign for a matcha-infused dual-targeted hair mask, which has just over a month longer to get all the votes it needs to go into production. Help me out by voting here, and maybe share my campaign with your friends and followers to help make this product a reality.

Today, I’m talking about the homemade ways I use matcha in my beauty routines by talking about recipes for a matcha face mask and a matcha hair mask. Anyone who follows my Instagram Story might have caught me a few weeks ago being silly with a very green face mask. Spending 10-20 minutes with green goo on my face gave me a lot of time to make copious references to Kermit the Frog and the Incredible Hulk. But matcha face masks are not just for nerdy references and Instagram photo ops. I found that my matcha face mask helps keep my skin soft and clear. I already use a weekly clay mask, but adding some extra goodies just amps up the effect on my skin.

My go-to recipe is more semi-homemade than a real DIY. I take about a 1/2 tsp. of matcha and 1/2-1 tsp. of raw honey and add it to my favorite clay mask (the Cattier green clay). I mix that up, adding a few drops of my favorite hydrating toner (Klairs) if it’s a bit dry, until it’s about the consistency of frosting. I brush that onto dry skin after oil cleansing and leave it on for 10-20 minutes. Then, I rinse it off and wash with my second cleanser to remove bits of mask. The matcha I use is just a cheap culinary-grade powder from Amazon and it’s not the finest grind, so I get a bit of physical exfoliation when I rinse, so I avoid chemical exfoliants when I use this mask. And I always use a hydrating sheet mask afterwards, as is my custom when I use a clay mask.

For my hair, I like to add the matcha and honey to my favorite clarifying shampoo, which is currently the HiF Intensive Detox. This is technically a cleansing conditioner, but it cleanses well and its thick consistency makes it nice for a hair mask. I apply the mask to the roots of wet hair and let it sit for 3-5 minutes while I do other shower things. I usually apply a moisturizing mask to my ends while I’m masking my roots. Then, I rinse everything out really, really thoroughly. Of course, if you’re interested in matcha hair masking but don’t want to mess around with mixing your own, you can always support my Volition campaign (hint).

So that’s yet another way I add matcha to my life each week, other than just drinking it traditionally. I hope I can inspire you to experiment with adding tea to your beauty routine.