professional beauty recommendations & comparison shopping

Sunday, July 26, 2015

splurge! (again)

I love doing my "splurge" posts (see splurge! and splurge! part deux).  They are so much fun, like little fantasies, and fond memories of things I could only ever really afford once. I always gush all over the place with my splurge posts, because really, these things may be expensive but with good reason.  I'm one of those people that likes to see what's out there and salivate over what can only be a dream.  Is that masochistic?  All I know is that I'm not alone like that, so keep on reading and enjoy!

SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum is the go-to anti-aging serum. It is a clinical brand that stacks up admirably with others in its category. Recommended by many dermatologists, it is packed with peptides to plump and firm, and eradicate wrinkles.  It has super power anti-oxidants for helping prevent further aging/damage, and alpha arbutin brightens up age spots.  Why is this anti-aging serum so much better than others?  Well, when I tried the one bottle (can't afford any more!) it truly did make my skin look younger.  It also reduced my redness/inflammation, and I felt like I was doing something really good for my skin.


Natural perfumes can be expensive because they often use precious oils and rare extracts.  They are nothing like the familiar, spritz-on, strident, commercial products.  They can be weird.  They can be magic.  They are opulent, many-layered, unique.  They are so special in fact, that many times I told myself "From now on I will only wear natural perfumes". 
Aftelier Perfumes Secret Garden is all of the above and more.  Mandy Aftel, the creator, is the cream-of-the-natural-perfume-crop.  She is an alchemical genius, and everything she puts out is a work of art.  My favorite of her creations is Secret Garden.  On me it is the scent of haphazard rows of lush flowers leading down a garden path; their petals warming in the late morning sun.  The path is still a bit damp from the morning dew, and furry little critters dart in and out of the bushes.  Then there is the undercurrent of sweet sap, amber drops on delicate limbs.  Notes of geranium, rose, blood orange, raspberry, lotus, jasmine, and castorium lure me in.  If the price is prohibitive, you can purchase samples of any of Mandy’s perfumes on the Aftelier website.

$180 for only a 1/4 oz

Pureology Hair Care Nano Works Shampoo and Conditioner are advertised for aging color-treated hair but the truth is, they are insanely good for anyone.  Ok, it's a tad bit on the heavy side so probably not for oily hair.  It is luxurious with a capital L.  Everyone I know who has used it, while not always able to justify the price, never-the-less fell madly deeply in love.  It has that certain je-ne-sais-quoi.  Maybe it's the sugar cane, or the mushrooms, or maybe even the wine extracts but something is working right.  It got rid of my frizzies without weighing my hair down, so if you can afford it, do it!  Oh and it's also vegan :-)

$54, 8.5 oz shampoo  $58, 8.5 oz conditioner

Dyptique Candles are the ultimate in French fare.  Smooth, sophisticated, they are only available at upscale venues.  Sure, there are more expensive candles out there, but I'm guessing the $60 price tag may seem exorbitant to some.  The unique spare designs and the slow burning wax make up some of the value, but it is the exquisite fragrances that really draw people in.  Their "roses" is real rose, "eucalyptus" is all warm Mediterranean, and one of my favorites "figuier", is redolent not just of the fig fruit, but the fig leaves and wood as well.  Oh and my other fave "oranger" is also fruit, leaves, and wood, but in addition has a hint of sharp spice so it almost - but not quite - smells like Christmas.  I really couldn't choose just one!


I WANT TO TRY:  Every single year Cle de Peau Concealer makes the fashion magazines' "best of" issue, winning the coveted "best concealer" title.  Supposedly it does it all, and I would love to find out for myself.  But the cost.....


Images stolen from Amazon, Aftelier Perfumes, Diptyque, Barney's

all products reviewed were either bought, researched, or sampled by me. I am not financially compensated for my reviews

Thursday, July 23, 2015

for treating sensitive skin

Sensitive skin is my bane.  What I thought was maybe rosacea years ago has now developed into the full blown thing.  Really I should go to a dermatologist but I am having too much fun experimenting with beauty products that reduce the redness.  There is also sensitive skin that is reactive, and there is psoriasis and eczema.  Either way, I think we can all agree that sensitive skin is very tricky and a total pain in the ass.  Over the years I have come up with some favorite, dependable products that I think would be good for you to try.

FOR CLEANSING:  REN Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk (formerly known as Hydra Calm) is soothing bliss.  I have tried many less expensive cleansers which were all pretty good but this REN all natural cleanser is to die for.  Well worth the little extra cost.  In fact, I can't wait to finish my drug store brands so I can get back to this. Sulphate, paraben, and phthalate free, it reduces redness from the very beginning.

Logically the next step would be a TONER but unless you are 100% sure it is an alcohol-free, and soothing (like rose) I would skip this step.  You don't want to do too much to your skin.

SPOT TREATING (OPTIONAL):  for tough cases Dermalogica Barrier Repair is great to apply to specific areas of redness and irritation.  It has a slick silicone type texture that protects you from aggravating external elements (wind, cold, heat, sun, pollution) and it also has redness fighting ingredients.  I like to use it in the daytime on my inner cheeks, forehead, and tip of my chin, then as it dries a bit I layer my regular moisturizer over it.

 DAYTIME MOISTURIZER:  First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream is a total cult favorite.  Specifically designed for eczema/psoriasis/reactive skin, it is nice and hydrating (sensitive skin tends to be dry) without being heavy or greasy.  And it is cheap!  $30 for a big 6 oz jar.

NIGHT CREAM:  L'Occitane 100 Percent Pure Shea Butter works better than anything for soothing my skin.  The one drawback is that it has an almost vaseline type texture so is best used as a night cream or even a day & night moisturizer during the dry winter months.  It eventually absorbs and is so hydrating your skin will look nice and plump.  A side note:  it is a very heavy consistency but it should not clog your pores.  In fact the company recommends it for acneic skin!

SERUM:  Phytomer OligoForce Soothing Enforcement Serum is my fave.  It smells so heavenly - just like a spa, and works like a charm.  The sea algae is the key.  Now, normally you would put the serum underneath your moisturizer but for sensitive skin it is best to apply serum on top of the moisturizer once the moisturizer has absorbed into the skin.  And please use sparingly: one or two drops is plenty for the whole face.

SUNSCREEN - A MUST:  People with sensitive skin need to use sunscreen more than anyone else.  The sun will totally inflame your skin and instantly damage the thin sensitive epidermis.  I know you'll say "But sunscreen makes me break out", and I have an answer for that:  use natural/mineral sunscreens.  This means titanium dioxide and preferably zinc oxide, which are less irritating than chemical sunscreens.  My two faves are:  Tartegaurd 30 Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum 30 SPF and Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral SPF 45.  Both are light and gentle and you won't even be able to tell you are wearing them.  Especially the PTR powder whose only draw back is that it is so light you have to be sure to carefully brush it on absolutely everywhere - double up even.

I WANT TO TRY:  Medicine Mama's Apothecary Sweet Bee Ultra Beauty Balm.  It is 100% natural made with royal jelly and bee pollen.  I'm not sure how my skin would react to those but it is supposedly very calming.  I am totally curious about the bee ingredients.  On the verge of buying it, but am trying to hold off for now because I already have a bazillion skincare items in my bathroom.  Why don't you buy it and let me know what it's like!

If you are interested in more skincare posts try: serums: bringing in the big guns, DERMAdoctor is the problem solver, a better way to exfoliate, lighten up - moisturizers for warm weather, yes, you need an eyecream

Images stolen from Sephora, Dermstore, Medicine Mama's Apothecary

all products reviewed were either bought, researched, or sampled by me. I am not financially compensated for my reviews

Friday, July 17, 2015

indispensable incense

Buying incense is hit or miss.  Even if you smell the box, you never really know how they will come out until you burn them.  And of course the various scents are totally subjective according to individual taste.  They can be used for anything from scenting a room, cleansing a space,  enhancing a spiritual practice, and more.  As much as I like the heavy burners, I'm afraid of getting smoke marks on my walls, so the ones I've listed here tend to be light burners safe for your walls.
I'm sure you have your favorites, but I thought I'd tell you about my favorites just incase you wanted to give something new a try.

What is lovelier than the scent of pink cherry blossoms in spring?  Maybe even drying after a refreshing rain shower?  Nippon Kodo Ka-fuh Daphne Incense is just that - with a faint wispy smoky base of course.  Nippon Kodu is a premier brand of Japanese incense (and who does incense better than the Japanese?!)  These sticks are the lightest scent imaginable - I burn three at a time - so they are perfect for the beginner or the tentative incense user.  My boyfriend is very sensitive to various incense but this one passes his test.  To sum it up:  floral, very pretty delicate floral.  You can't not like them.

I enjoy almost every single scent of Nippon Kodu Morning Star Incense and Amazon has a variety pack if you want to test them out.  The same quality brand as above, they are refined fragrances but are more heavily scented than the one listed above.  Also fairly inexpensive.
Just to pick a few favorites here....  cedarwood and sandalwood.  I prefer woodsy ambery scents, ever so faintly reminiscent of the stuff wafted about in church.  I have been dying to try their vanilla too because I figure it is a "safe" vanilla ie. not too cloying.

Shoyeido Incense Jewel Series is another line that has a variety of terrific smells.  I love that they are all named after precious gems and each gem is associated with a different enlightening vibe: amethyst=balance, emerald=awareness, ruby=strength and diamond=power.  If I want something darker and muskier I burn diamond.  If I want to take it easy I pick pretty ruby.  All in all, a quality line priced just right.

Escential Incense was my first love.  "Energy"!  "Mayan Temple Blend"!  "Kachina Dreams"!  When my local new age book store stopped carrying them I searched high and low to find them.  It's a bit heavier burning incense with a huge variety of fragrances, some kind of head shoppy but some very spiritual smelling - perfect for meditation.  There is no variety pack that I could find for you, and I know it's dicey to purchase untried incense on line, so I would either keep an eye out for them at your local shops, or on-line purchase ones labeled with a fairly straight forward smell like "patchouli".   Either way they are inexpensive so may just be worth the risk, after all they claim to have magical properties.

I WANT TO TRY:  Fornasetti Inscense.  The price is astronomical, so I haven't actually tried them but I had to list them here so you can be as shocked by the price tag as I was:  $245.  I imagine they are the best, ultimate incense in the whole wide world, and certainly they have to be the loveliest.  And they do come in deluxe packaging - a wood box with surrealist decorative ceramic top, but still does that justify the price?  Some would say yes because they are art.  What you are actually paying for is the brand name.  Fornasetti objects are works of art created by Italian painter, sculptor, and engraver Piero Fornasetti.   Hmmmm.... If you do end up splurging on these please let me know what they were like!

If you liked this post you may enjoy my fragrances for your home.

Pictures stolen from MiN New York, Amazon, Google images, and Barney's

all products reviewed were either bought, researched, or sampled by me. I am not financially compensated for my reviews

mid-summer perfumes 2015

How did the Summer go by so fast?  It is my favorite season and it is always so fleeting.  Sadly I already notice the evenings getting darker earlier.  But just to perk myself up I compiled a list of favorite summer perfumes and because it is already mid July I am calling it my mid-summer perfume recommendations.  Better late than never I say!

Etat Libre d'Orange Don't Get Me Wrong Baby is a happy perfume and light as a feather.  It wears close to the skin so only you will notice it.  It is actually called "Don't Get me Wrong Baby I Don't Swallow".  Pretty outrageous huh?  Well Etat Libre d'Orange is a niche brand that emerged bold and brash naming all their perfumes with promiscuous titles.  Too bad their titles lately have been fairly mundane in comparison.  But let's get on to what it actually smells like....  There is a faint white floral - lily of the valley and orange blossom - not obnoxious at all.  What keeps it from being heavy is that there is no incense or woody base notes.  In fact near the bottom is marshmallow, not in a cloying way.  It is a little bit powdery down there too.  It is a perfume that will leave you walking on air throughout your day.

available at Lucky Scent

Estee Lauder Modern Muse is easy to obtain and even though it kind of has a department store scent (which I personally find rather comforting), there is enough uniqueness to make it worth while.  I happen to really like it - my bottle is already half empty.  Besides having a really pretty bottle, there is the teensiest whiff of something anamalic (which saves it from the department store smell).  It is definitely a floral though, and my nose searches out the honeysuckle. Other notes of interest are mandarin orange, lily, Chinese jasmine, patchouli, and musk. As its title suggests it is for the modern woman - the career woman (it is unobtrusive enough to wear to work), the woman on the go.  

available at any department store

Now here is something exotic and so outrageously expensive all you will probably be able to afford is a miniscule little sample, but it is oh so worth it.  JAR Bolt Of Lightening was created by the famous jewelry designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal and is so exclusive that he keeps all the notes of his perfumes a big secret.  And the notes are strong here.  When I first got my sample I hated it.  It was too much.  But after a few tentative tries it has become an absolute favorite (never throw out a hated perfume, save it for later because your tastes in perfume evolve and change).  So here is what is so special about it:  it is the wet green scents that sharply present themselves after a thunder storm.  Not just a rain storm but a thunder storm - it is that much more complex.  What the exact notes are is a mystery but many people pick up a tuberose.  And on me the dry down is the teeniest bit sweet.  Everything is intrinsically interwoven and if you want to be totally cool and totally unique, join the cult.  This is the perfume to wear.

samples available at Surrender To Chance

I am going to suggest something outrageous here:  Prada Candy.  It is not light.  It is not a summer floral.  You almost have to be a diva (or else it will make you feel like a diva) to pull this off during the summer.  Why?  Because it is caramel and it is musk - the ultimate sweet gourmand.  Some people might consider it on the heavy side but I love it for summer.  I say be unexpected, the notes will bloom in the heat.  Wear it with confidence, it is sexy! There is a school of thought that richer notes like orientals and musks are totally appropriate in warmer weather, and I absolutely agree. I love this stuff. It is feminine with a capital F!  

available at Sephora and department sores

Theirry Mugler Cologne is fresh fresh fresh and differs from all these others in that it is a tad more masculine.  In fact I would say it is distinctly unisex. Yes there is a hint of white floral but mostly it is greens, and fizzy citrus.  A white musk (light soapy musk) anchors it all.  I'm telling you I could bathe in this stuff.  Unfortunately it doesn't wear all that long so I keep a small spray bottle decant (available at The Perfumed Court) in my makeup bag to liberally reapply throughout the day.

available at fragrancenet and select Macy's Men's department

Want to try:  Lady Gaga Eau De Gaga.  I wasn't a fan of her Fame but I keep hearing good things about this one - supposedly a nice unisex tea fragrance.  Have you tried it?  Let me know what you think!

pictures stolen from fragrantica

all products reviewed were either bought, researched, or sampled by me. I am not financially compensated for my reviews

Saturday, December 28, 2013

5 New Year's Eve essentials

There's still time to shop for an eye-popping product that'll make you stand out among all the glitz and glam that is New Year's Eve.  I recommend these essentials - try one or try them all....

SPARKLE:  A touch of shimmery highlighter on the cheek bones and brow bones is a subtle way to go, but for a special night out turn it up a notch and add some glitter to the equation.  Stila Magnificent Metals Foil Finish Eyeshadows are gorgeous sparkly eye shadows that embody both sass and class.  I can barely begin to describe how pretty these are.

SPRAY:  You're going to want your fancy do to last all night, so I suggest going with the hair spray that all the beauty editors rave about - L'Oreal Elnett Satin Hairspray Extra Strong Hold. This stuff locks things into place without creating a helmet head.  It's cheap, it's easy to find at any drug store, it is a must have.

SEDUCTIVE: You've got to use false eyelashes.  Even if you have to go to Sephora, buy a pair there and have the sales assistant apply them for you, it'll add a certain something that nothing else can match.  Of course lashes are available anywhere and they are all pretty good as long as you use DUO eyelash glue, but Make Up Forever makes the most dramatic party-girl lashes out there.

SULTRY:  Nothing else will do but a sultry fragrance: deep, smoky, oriental and musk perfumes reminiscent of a Great Gatsby style New Years bash.  They will ensure you stand out and have people following your trail of scent.  Some of my faves in this category are:
Gucci Rush, Juliette Has A Gun Midnight Oud, Jean Desprez Bal A Versailles, or Dior Pure Poison.

STAIN:  You'll definitely need a lip color that lasts through canap├ęs and champagne.  There are many fantastic lip stains out there but for NYE I prefer something with shine.  Bite Beauty Honey Lip Lacquer is a glossy lacquer that endures.  Not only that but it is made with all natural ingredients which are actually edible, and fortified with super antioxidants like resveratrol.  What could be better than totally natural AND totally glam?

So gear up, go out there, and buy yourself a little something to celebrate the new year with style.

all products reviewed were either bought, researched, or sampled by me. And product pictures were stolen from the link's websites. I am not financially compensated for my reviews

Friday, December 20, 2013

great last-minute gifts at the drugstore

It was a running joke when I was younger that my dad did all his Christmas shopping on Christmas eve.  At the drugstore.  Needless to say we all usually ended up disappointed.  But when I was at Walgreens the other day picking up a prescription there were a few gems that caught my eye, and I thought "Hey, why not"?  With a little thought the drugstore can provide heart-felt gifts, that people would actually like and appreciate.  All with out having to fight long lines and parking lot road rage.  Here are some ideas that I wouldn't mind receiving myself:

Olay  ProX Microdermabrasion Cleansing System is one of the best things you can do for your skin.  It gets rave reviews and from what I hear, everyone has been wanting to try it.

RoC Retinol Correction Max Wrinkle Resurfacing System is another "must have" skincare item.  RoC is one of my all time favorite drugstore brands and this skincare kit not only helps with wrinkles but reduces uneven skin tone (hyperpigmentation) as well.

You can actually find some good perfumes at the drug store.  Brands like Burberry, Gucci, and Dolce and Gabana.  It is also a cornucopia of celebrity fragrances - my favorite being Britney Spears Fantasy which by now has become a classic.

Everyone's feet need help at this time of year and the PedEgg is an amazing do-it-yourself pedicure tool that banishes dry calloused skin.  Pair it with a super nourishing foot cream like Burt's Bees Peppermint Foot Lotion and you have a luxurious gift indeed.

For a splurge Phillips Sonicare electric toothbrushes are the way to go.  My dentist is a huge fan of these because the sonic technology gives a much deeper clean helping to prevent cavities and gum decay.

e.l.f makes a variety of fun holiday makeup pallets.  They have great colors and are inexpensive - perfect for the makeup maven in your life.

So if you haven't finished your holiday shopping yet, just make a quick trip to CVS and you'll be all set!

all products reviewed were either bought, researched, or sampled by me. And product pictures were stolen from the link's websites. I am not financially compensated for my reviews

Monday, December 16, 2013

perfect Winter perfumes

As light catches the snow, sparkling on the bough, and spiced eggnog lures everyone round the fire, it is time to break out my Dior and Chanel.  Not clothes but perfumes.  Winter fragrances need to be lavish, luxuriant. They compliment brocades, furs, and ball gowns. With an abundance of such fragrances out there,  a few of my seasonal favorites are:

Tom Ford Black Orchid - you either love it or hate it.  At my work the camps are pretty much split down the middle, but I myself am firmly in the "love it" group.  This is an opulent oriental that actually contains the strange and rare black orchid note.  With additional notes of black current, black truffle, dark chocolate, and incense, it is completely unique.  A spritz of citrus and a whiff of white floral keep this perfume from being too dark.  Whether you end up loving it or hating it, you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try.

Chanel Cuir de Russie is definitely one I turn to when the weather gets cold.  The name means "Russian Leather" and the tang of fur pelts in a horse drawn sleigh is an image that immediately springs to mind.  Significant jasmine and rose add to the romance of it all, and like many Chanel perfumes it contains some powdery notes too.  Cuir was created in 1924 to celebrate the emancipation of women, allowing them to smoke in public with class.  And this is certainly one classy perfume!

Oud Ispahan from the Dior Collection Privee is a unisex fragrance reminiscent of the lands of Arabia.  In fact it smells very much like a few obscure perfumes I ordered directly from Kuwait.  Sexy.  Exotic.  Erotic.  Like many Middle Eastern perfumes it uses rose as a base note, along with sandalwood of course.  However the oud is the superstar here and if you aren't sure what oud is; think incense, think resin, think woods of the Far East.  But most of all with this perfume, think out side the box.

Versace Bright Crystal is the wild card.  Neither heavy nor rich, it embodies the effervescence of the season.  Most people probably think of this as a Summer fragrance but it reminds me of the holidays. To me it is tinkling silver bells, tinsel on the tree, and champagne flutes clinking in a toast.  Bright Crystal is a citrusy floral, even with some aquatic notes, but amber extracted from redwood anchors the fragrance preventing it from being too flighty.

Caron Bellodgia Eau de Parfum is a mostly floral (with my fave carnation) slightly oriental perfume, grounded with base notes of musk, clove, vanilla, and sandalwood.  Created in 1927 it carries the vibe of flappers and philosophers.  Despite being a formal fragrance, I still think it is girlishly pretty.   As always Caron is meant to be worn with elan, just like Dita Von Teese does.

all products reviewed were either bought, researched, or sampled by me. And product pictures were stolen from the link's websites. I am not financially compensated for my reviews