Beauty Review: Florishe Camellia Full Blossom Serum

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A while ago, I wrote about how, despite largely dropping sheet masks from my routine for environmental reasons, I was enjoying the Florishe sheet masks I was sent for review while we were in lockdown. Well, we’re still at home and I’m still loving my Florishe products, but since I’ve been testing it for a few weeks, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the Camellia Full Blossom Serum that is their flagship product. This is a creamy lotion-serum that contains hydrating ingredients, their signature green tea extract from sustainably-produced green tea, and oils to create a thin emulsion. It also smells lightly of flowers and bergamot in a way that always reminds me of Earl Grey. The scent is very light and natural and even though I am prone to migraines, it is generally okay for me unless I’m deeply in the throes of one that is making me react to literally everything (like the one where I was being triggered by my own body odor the other day).

As with all long-term use skincare products that I share on this blog, I made a commitment to test this for at least two weeks without adding anything else that was new to my routine. I enjoyed it enough that I actually ended up testing it longer and have been using for about the last month. I did take pictures of my face before I started testing it and after three weeks, but as I’ve discussed before, I have pretty generally good skin, so the differences are not dramatic. I simply feel like my skin looks a little more even and luminous.

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It’s also a wonderful one-step product to use after washing and vitamin C in the morning before using sunscreen, rather than my typical custom potion of hydrating serums and oils as my fancy takes me. This was highly appreciated in the depths of lockdown, when I felt my mental health deteriorating, and was barely able to face washing up in the morning, let alone a complicated skin care routine. And one of my go-to steps for the most minimal presentable face is to add a few drops of Niod Photography Fluid 12% to some moisturizer or serum and this is perfect for that.

Now, I will say, I am likely not going to repurchase this. First of all, I have a lineup of products that I have used for years and know I love. Yes, it means a little bit of witchery at my vanity to get the perfect fit, but for me, it’s not worth spending the money on another product right now, particularly one that is scented, since as I mentioned before I would occasionally have to avoid it. But for those who are not as into puttering around with their skin care, this is a fantastic thing to consider as a one-step hydrating and nourishing moisturizer, particularly in the warmer months when you don’t need a heavier moisturizer. And I like the company’s ideals concerning sustainability and relationships with their tea farmers, particularly given the dark truths about tea farming that I touched on a few weeks ago.

Also, the set with the serum and five sheet masks comes with an adorable canvas bag that my spouse has already claimed for our collection of shopping bags. And since it’s cotton, we can toss it into the wash after taking it out, in case we’re worried about contamination! So check out Florishe and see if they have something you might enjoy, whether you’re a tea lover or a skin care lover (or both, like me!).

NB: The serum was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. Links are not affiliate links. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

My Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routines: Revisiting One of My First Post Series

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In the first week of writing this blog, I began a series of posts in which I describe my vintage-inspired beauty routines, discussing how I cared for my facial skin, body, nails, hair, etc. Since then, not only have my philosophy about what ingredients are good in personal care changed, but I’ve gone through some pretty extreme phases in terms of how much or how little I do to my skin. I’ve also gone through some pretty major life events that have affected both how my skin behaves, as well as how much time, energy, and money I have to devote to beauty.  So it seemed like a good time to revisit these posts and talk about my routines in detail again, starting with skin care and talking about all the different routines I mentioned back five years ago.

But before I start, I thought a little retrospective overview on my beauty philosophy over the last five years might be in order. When I started this blog, I was not only very inspired by Victorian and early-to-mid-20th-century beauty routines, I was also heavily influenced by “clean” beauty marketing. I have since then learned that science and natural products can coexist and have changed my ideas of what types of ingredients my skin likes. I no longer strive to make my routine one that is as much homemade products as possible as I don’t have the formulator chops of actual beauty brands. Of the things that I still blend myself, it’s pretty much just facial oils, though I still love my oils from actual beauty brands. From this phase of my life, I learned that paying attention to ingredients is good for my skin, though not because I ban anything as “dirty,” and more that I now know what I’m putting on my skin so I can notice patterns of either positive or negative reactions.

Since my early days of all-DIY, I went to the opposite extreme. I discovered Korean and Asian beauty brands and started designing my own ten-step routine. I had multiple steps of essence, ampoule, and serum, and spent much of my “me time” lovingly patting each step into my skin. I even wrote about how the new (at the time) Western trend of Asian-inspired skin care tracked with my historically-inspired beauty, as historical beauties have always looked for that new thing that will give them naturally beautiful skin. And at least my sheet masks weren’t made of raw meat, right? The top lessons I took away from my Asian skin care days was that sunscreen is the most important skin care product I use and that sunscreens formulated for the Korean and Japanese markets are often nicer to use, and also that my skin likes some light, hydrating layers over a rich cream.

Eventually, I started trimming my routine back down, mostly out of laziness, but also because sometimes my skin looked a little congested or overloaded. And then, the first time I got pregnant, my skin freaked out. Luckily, my interest in ingredients lists helped me find very simple products that didn’t irritate my skin, but it meant dropping a lot of steps. As my second pregnancy went on, I lacked the energy to do a complicated routine, and after the baby came, I didn’t really see that time or energy come back.

So where I am now is like an amalgamation of where I’ve been, as we all are. In the next several weeks, I hope to revisit each of my “Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routine” posts and talk about where I am now. Come join me at my vanity!

NB: Nothing to declare.

Beauty Review: The TEA.L Ceremony Set

NB: I was sent the TEA.L Ceremony Set free of charge by TEA.L, in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. Also, TEA.L is currently offering an automatic 30% off from now until Christmas, with no code needed!

When I was a kid, my mother introduced me to afternoon tea, which we would have every afternoon when I came home from kindergarten. It was at that point that I developed a lifelong love of tea. Later on, I also developed a love of fantasy books, particularly those with dragons, so when my mother was looking for a gift for me at one point, she ended up buying me a tin of Dragonwell tea. This was my first experience with tea outside of British-style black tea with milk and sugar, and has remained a tea that is close to my heart (hence why I always have some on hand, as I mentioned in my Marie Antoinette video).

All of this is a convoluted way of explaining why, when I heard that a skincare brand was infusing their products with Dragonwell tea, I knew it might be meant to be. I first heard about the brand on Marco’s Instagram at Steap’d, and when I commented on his post, the brand reached out and offered to send me something to try. They ended up sending me their full set.

TEA.L is a skin care company whose star ingredient is Dragonwell green tea infused into the oils they use in their naturally-led products. A quick note about “green” or “clean” products: I no longer specifically seek out “natural” products, as I explain here, but I appreciate the brand’s transparency about why they choose the ingredients they do, particularly when they admit that the “paraben-free” hype is probably just marketing. And, as someone who has had a reaction to “natural” fragrance, I’m glad that they list their essential oils rather than using “fragrance” as a hide-all ingredient.

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The TEA.L Ceremony Set includes three products: the Green Tea + Guayusa Face Care, the Green Tea + Rooibos Body Care, and the Green Tea + Yerba Mate Eye Care. I started testing the Body Care and Eye Care on 11/2, and then added the Face Care a week later, just to make sure I didn’t have any reaction. At the time I’m writing this review, I’ve been using the Eye Care for four weeks and the Face Care for three weeks, morning and night. You can find my current skin care routine here; I apply the eye cream after hydrating serum but before oil, and I apply the cream after oil. I introduced each face product in complete isolation for one week at least, and I waited until after my period to make sure any breakouts were hormone-related.

Let’s start with the body cream. I only recently discovered I even like rooibos to drink after years of thinking I hated it, so I was worried I’d hate the scent of this, since Marco said it smells exactly like rooibos. And he’s not wrong, but it’s delicious. It’s a deep, earthy scent with that light bright woodiness that I get from good rooibos. My husband thinks it smells like shou puerh, but he also has the worst sense of smell. The one thing it doesn’t smell like is perfume, so I feel like I can use this even when I’m using other fragrance without it clashing. I mostly used it on my dry, dark elbows, and noticed that they got smoother, less itchy, and lighter colored.

Okay, now eyes. So first of all, I don’t use eye cream. It’s not some philosophical thing; I just don’t use it. But I tried really, really hard, and I did use my eye cream all but maybe one or two days of my testing for this. The eye cream has a rich texture, but it feels light on the skin, doesn’t irritate my eyes, and it absorbs very nicely. Also, despite being silicone-free, it spreads amazingly and I have to use an extremely small amount for both eyes — like the size of a grain of rice. It smells like cucumbers to me, which is odd given that it has no synthetic fragrance, but I like it. My absolute only complaint is that the formula does thicken in the pump head and will sometimes clog, but that’s going to happen with any cream with a high percentage of natural butters.

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Finally, the face cream. I loved the texture of the face cream. It was somehow buttery, yet light, and it almost had a sort of water-drop feeling on the skin. I used half a pump for daytime before sunscreen and a full pump at night before applying my face balm. I haven’t really used a cream regularly for a while, so I was fully prepared to feel kind of meh about it, but, honestly, I love it. Of the three products, this is the one I’m going to repurchase when I run out. I love the scent (I usually hate geranium and ylang-ylang, but the earthiness of the infused botanicals seem to ground it in a way I like). I love the texture. I love the effect on my skin. And I started using another product, the Deciem Photography Fluid, with it by adding a drop or two to my morning half-pump, and my skin looks truly stunning. Check out my Anji Bai Cha tasting video for it in action — it actually makes your skin look better under fluorescent lights.

And I actually remembered to take before and after photos! This is before starting testing on the left and after on the right (because I’m not a monster). I took the photos in the morning before putting anything on my face, or even washing it, so these are “I woke up like this” photos. So I obviously didn’t get the lighting exactly the same between them (in fact, I did try editing the “before” picture a bit to get the exposure a bit more similar), but two things immediately jumped out at me. One, my skin looks just generally evener, less red, and glowier in the after photo. And the second is that I actually notice that the crinkles at the corners of my eyes are noticeably less, well, noticeable in the after photo. Now, I’m not trying to stop the aging process, but perhaps these products are helping my skin be healthier and more elastic, which isn’t a bad thing. Of course, it’s possible that simply applying a separate eye cream is what’s doing it. But still. Color me impressed.

So those are my thoughts about the TEA.L products. I was actually really impressed, and at least one product is going to make it into my daily routine for good, which is high praise, given how much I’ve pared down my routine in recent years. Definitely check them out if you’re looking for a new cream.

Skin Care Update, Fall/Winter 2019

I have another beauty review in the works, so I thought I should write a current skin care update with my baseline favorite products right now. Of course, my skin had gone through some serious changes over the last two years, with my pregnancy and postpartum, and I’ve also made some choices in my personal consumption habits that have affected my skin care. The last time I wrote about my regular skin care routine, it was in the context of how I’ve had to change my habits as I balance parenting responsibilities and self-care. Before that, I wrote about my pregnancy skin care over a year ago.

Of course, nothing is constant in parenting, and I eventually had to change up my routine again because Elliot’s sleeping patterns changed. I could no longer count on any longer chunks of sleep at night, so I decided that getting to bed as soon as I could was more important than facial massage. I still have roughly the same routine of cleanse, hydrate, and nourish, but I’ve discovered some new favorite products.

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Last time I wrote, I had discovered the Voltaire and Chatelet oils from The Library Apothecary. Well, since then, I’ve fully become a Library girl (it’s like a Glossier girl, but with less pink and more amber glass). I’ve started using Mara’s Rose Oil at night after cleansing and hydrating, and following it with her Elder Balm, which is a wonderfully fragrant experience that also happens to both nourish and calm my skin. I even add a little dab in the mornings under my mineral sunscreen to prevent it from becoming too matte. If she came out with a cleanser and a hydrating serum, pretty much all of my routine would come from her, minus actives and sunscreen. And I promise this isn’t sponsored — The Library Apothecary is a one-person operation and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t exactly have an advertising budget.

The other major development is that I am no longer using Glossier Milky Jelly. In my efforts to create a more sustainable skin care routine, I decided to try the Trilogy Cream Cleanser, as it is packaged in a glass pump bottle, rather than plastic. It has a skin-friendly pH and doesn’t foam, and I’ve found it a reasonable swap for my skin. It is scented with essential oils, but I find the aroma strangely appealing now that I’ve been using it for a while, and it doesn’t irritate my eyes, which is why I had previous had to stop using every other cleanser I tried besides the Glossier. Do I wish it were unscented? Yes. Am I willing to try the unscented version that uses an oil that my skin has disliked in the past and is more expensive and hasn’t been explicitly pH tested by a blogger I trust? No.

I’ve also switched to a very bare-bones hydrating serum from Timeless Skin Care, as well as using their pure squalane oil for my first cleanse (I’m using it up after buying a giant pump bottle for Elliot’s cradle cap, which went away after one treatment). I apply three pumps of squalane to dry skin and massage to break up sunscreen and lipstick. Then I remove it with a flannel soaked in warm water and follow with the Trilogy cleanser. Three times a week, I use my Bell-Evolve Lac-Luronic serum (I’ve also been using it as a deodorant — thanks, Tracy!), and then apply hyaluronic acid and Rose Oil, followed with a pea-sized amount of the Elder Balm. I use a tiny silver vintage spoon that my mother gave me as part of a set to use with my vintage Brambly Hedge teaset, but since Elliot is still a few years away from enjoying tea time with the good china, I don’t think he’ll mind if I borrow this little choking hazard to scoop my fancy skin balm. I’ve been told that it’s a “dupe” for the May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon, despite clearly being superior because it’s purple and also doesn’t contain the one ingredient that always causes me to break out.

In the morning, I cleanse with a half a pump of the Trilogy cleanser, and then apply some vitamin C serum. I’m currently using Mad Hippie‘s because I can buy it locally. After that, I hydrate and apply one pump of Chatelet oil, followed with a lentil-sized amount of Elder Balm if it’s a dry day. Then I apply my sunscreen, which is currently the Marie Veronique Everyday Coverage in Extra Light Tint, which isn’t my favorite, but it ticks the boxes I need for now, but it’s oddly gritty, so I’m still looking. Unfortunately, every time I try to return to an organic sun filter, my skin freaks out, so I’m sticking with inorganic right now. I have a new one on the way, though.

I’ve actually stopped wearing pretty much any other makeup other than tinted sunscreen and lipstick, unless I’m doing photos or a video, so my routine is quite minimal indeed. And my biggest sustainability habit has been to stop buying sheet masks. I still have a few left in my mask drawer, but for the most part, the only mask I do is a weekly clay mask that I mix myself from bulk purchased green clay mixed with matcha. And my regular daily routines seem to provide enough hydration so that I don’t need anything else.

So it is from this baseline that I will be testing some new products. Right now my skin is the calmest and clearest it’s been in my adult memory, so I’m hesitant to shake things up, but I do have a few review products that I’ve been sent, so stay tuned for that.

NB: All products were purchased with my own money and I was not given any incentive to feature them here. All thoughts are my own. None of the links are affiliate.

Treating Myself: A Brightening and Hydrating Facial from Silver Mirror Facial Bar

NB: I was given a 20% discount on this service when I offered to review it. All opinions are my own.

When I was in my last few months of pregnancy, walking from the gym to work in the mornings, I noticed a new facial bar along the way. It opened recently, and I finally remembered to jot down the name of it when I was walking from my favorite pastry shop, and emailed them for information. Silver Mirror Facial Bar was originally opened in New York City by co-owners Cindy Kim and Matt Maroone with the mission of making regular facials more available to US women. Kim was also a co-founder of Korean Beauty retailer Peach and Lily and was inspired by the skin clinic culture in Korea.

The bar offers just facials, with 30-minute and 50-minute offerings, as well as extras and add-ons. I received a 50-minute Brightening/Dryness Facial, in part because of some rough dryness I’d had around my jawline, and just a general desire to look a little more awake after months of an uncertain sleep schedule. Walking into the facial bar reminds me a bit of a mix between a fancy salon and a minimalist doctor’s office, with a white reception desk, a minimalist shelf displaying the products they sell, and a small waiting area. I checked in on an iPad and the receptionist offered me a drink (it was one of the hottest days this year), which I accepted gladly. I spent just long enough in the waiting area to finish my cup of watermelon water before my aesthetician Olga met me and showed me back to the treatment area.

True to their minimalist, clinical aesthetic, the treatment area is just one large room with curtains to separate different clients’ beds during facials, somewhat like a chic emergency room. There was a bin for my purse, a charger for my devices, a mirror, and a bed. I did not have to remove anything (although I did remove my shoes), but simply lay on the bed in my clothes. Olga covered my legs and feet with a blanket, my neckline with a towel, and wrapped my hair out of the way, and then began.

The facial began with the typical steam and cleansing. She did a double-cleanse using a brightening facial cleanser with vitamin C and lactic acid. This was followed with an enzyme mask, a delicious-smelling lavender toner, and then extractions. After extractions, she used some high frequency to zap bacteria. I’d had this done before years ago, but somehow it was less zappy than I remembered.

Up until this point, the facial was like virtually every other facial I’d had and I wondered if I would be disappointed. Then, she brought out the derma roller.

Derma rolling uses a wheel of tiny needles to make micro punctures in the skin to increase product absorption and improve collagen production. It feels a bit like someone is rolling a miniature version of those “bed of nails” mats all over your face. Not painful, but not what I’m into. She applied a hydrating serum over most of my face, skipping over the more sensitive areas, and then applied a hydrating sheet mask under a warm towel for a few minutes to hydrate my skin deeply.

After that, she used the bar’s signature vitamin-and-oxygen mist, which felt incredibly soothing after my derma rolling experience, and then set me up with eye protection so I could rest under LED to help with anti-aging and brightening (red light). An application of SPF finished off the facial. I looked in the mirror and found myself pink-cheeked and fresh looking, and then went back to the office. The whole experience was exactly 50 minutes, though it packed more in than many 1-hour facials I’ve had in the past.

Of course, as with any facial at a salon that sells product, there was a bit of a sales pitch at the end. Olga brought a package of the lavender toner, the delicious scent of which I’d commented on during the facial, and offered it, though without any pressure. When I said “not today,” the subject was dropped.

Over the course of the day, I noticed that my skin felt the ambient heat a little more, and I had a bit of sensitivity on my walk home. But when I woke up the next morning and washed my face, I was amazed at how smooth my skin looked. While I have pretty good skin to begin with, the facial brought it to the next level. And my normal forehead wrinkle has remained much softer in appearance. I’m rather impressed the results of this facial, and I’ve already made an appointment to return for a 30-minute facial entirely on my own dime so that I can see if the shorter facial is similarly impressive. Perhaps I will become one of those women who gets a monthly facial.

On Self-Care, Skin Care, and the Changes of Motherhood

I like to keep up with Stephen Alain Ko’s Beauty Recap each week (especially now that he has made it easier by posting swipe-up links in his Instagram Stories). And the other day, he linked a great article in Verily Magazine about the distinction between self-care and skin care. I’ve already been thinking a lot about beauty standards, skin care, and how capitalist colonial ideals inform our standards of beauty, but this was a fresh look at the fine line between encouragement and marketing when discussing self/skin care. Of course, skin care can be immensely powerful, as evidenced by my introduction to Korean beauty, Jude Chao’s seminal work on skin care and depression, so I thought a little about how skin care has fit into my ideas of self care and how that is distinct from buying product.

I happen to be undergoing a period of rapid change and, often, stress in my life. I had my first child and have been working to rebuild the shaken foundations of my self image while also existing on not much sleep and even less free time. Oh, and I’m now back at work full-time, too. So it’s been difficult sometimes to find time just for myself. I always have my tea and I’ve been making time for crafts, but both of those things are often things I do while I’m with Elliot and Dan, so beauty has become my true private time during the day.

When we met with our doula, her most important postpartum recovery tip was to have a morning routine and an evening routine that is simple enough that you can do it every day. She wasn’t talking about skin care; she literally meant that you should have something to separate day from night during those first few weeks when you’re awake basically around the clock. Because I’d had a c-section, I was supposed to limit my time walking up and down the stairs, so my main morning and evening routines were transitioning from upstairs to downstairs, and vice versa, but my skin care routine added an important element of reconnecting with myself. Each morning, Dan would give me at least five minutes to wash my face and put on moisturizer, and then in the evening, he would take Elliot for an hour or so, which gave me time to do a full skin care routine and take a nap before he brought Elliot up.

In the early days, when I could barely stand long enough to shower, this often involved a lot of shortcuts, like cleansing water and toner pads, and has evolved nearly back to my full, complicated routine. Contrary to the consumerist ideal of shelfie skin care, I’ve discovered a profound comfort in stripping my skin care routine to its core and using the same products over and over again. It does not make for good Instagram photos, but when I never know what my life will look like on a given day, it’s nice to know that my cleanser is an old standby. I haven’t felt nearly as much need to experiment with products, despite the importance of my skin care routine in maintaining my sense of normalcy postpartum.

But the one thing I have added to my routine is a nightly facial massage with my stone gua sha. I use this video tutorial from Sandra Lanshin Chiu to inform my routine. Each night, after I’ve fed Elliot and put him in his crib, I sit at my vanity and perform this nightly ritual. With most of the lights in the bedroom off to allow Elliot to sleep, I often do my massage by the light of a lavender-scented candle. I start with a few sprays of pure rosewater for some hydration, and then press in a generous amount of rose hip oil, but it’s not about product. You can use whatever you fancy and have on hand. I don’t use anything particularly expensive for this because I use a lot and apply it to my face, neck, and shoulders. Then, I begin smoothing my gua sha tool over my skin, feeling the coolness of the stone, and the pressure when it encounters a knot in my muscles. I can feel it help relax my neck, shoulder, and face muscles, relieve mild headaches, relax stress and worry that I’m holding in my face and neck, and stimulate blood flow.

Usually, Elliot is sleeping while I do this, but every once in a while, he doesn’t fall asleep during his feeding, and he will stay awake in his crib, watching me from across the room. I like the idea that he will grow up with memories of his mother caring for herself, although at this point it must be pretty boring because he is usually asleep by the time I finish. Other than an occasional silent observer, I am alone for this ritual while Dan finishes the washing up. There are no demands on my attention other than what I am paying to myself. And when I finish my massage, I apply my moisturizing lotion and get into bed.

I have other forms of self care, but so much has changed since becoming a mother. I can no longer make as much time to go to the gym or do theater. But my skin care routine is still there, even without any shiny new products, and it has helped me maintain a connection to my sense of self, as well as take time to center as I enter motherhood.

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.

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 Glossier habit, you can access my referral link 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.