Friday, December 2nd, 2011

By Marcia, Skincare Contributor

Marcia is a former elementary school teacher. Teaching was her absolute passion, and she never thought she’d want to do anything else. She considered herself a creative teacher and poured her heart and soul into it. When the opportunity came up to retire at a young age, she took advantage of it, but she needed a new outlet for her creative abilities–enter in beauty.  She began writing reviews online and became a freelance makeup artist. She’s worked for lines like Paula Dorf and MAC as well as was a prestige makeup consultant at Ulta. At present, she enjoys her retirement while writing her beauty blog, Beauty Info Zone. Marcia is a married mom with adult children and the cutest grandson in the entire world (no prejudice!). She has a very close family and elderly mother she cares for–her extended family means the world to her.


An Introduction to Somme Institute

I have been like a butterfly with my skincare the last few years. I’d stop and drink the nectar from a few different brands but rarely getting to the heart of the flower. I’m taking a break from my fluttering and settling in with a complete regimen for now and using only the products from Somme Institute. Their basic system consists of five individual products; in addition they have three other products that are just as wonderful but not the mainstays of their routine.

Somme Institute uses something called Molecular Dispersion Technology 5 (MDT5) in all their products. This propriety system allows the five essential vitamins they use (A, B3, B5, C and E) to penetrate the inner skin layers in higher concentrations. The products work together to deliver the results they promise.

For the last five weeks I’ve used Somme Institute exclusively and for a change I have no inclination to move to another line.

  • Nourishing Cleanser ($40.00):  I use this twice a day. It’s a very mild creamy cleanser that doesn’t foam. My skin feels moisturized without any tautness plus it removes all of my face makeup easily. I either use a muslin cloth or The Body Shop’s Flannel Facial Washcloth to remove the cleanser.
  • Transport ($58.00):  Inside the jar you’ll find 50 amply soaked toning and exfoliating pads. I use this at night only since I don’t find my skin needs too much exfoliation. There is a definite tingle to this product but the rest of the products soothe that feeling. My skin is unquestionably clearer using this with less oil being produced.
  • Serum ($82.00):  The Serum is a vitamin C serum in a pump. I need just two drops to do my entire face and neck. I use this morning and night along with the following products.
  • A-Bomb ($70.00):  This is a vitamin infused moisturizer that is used immediately after the Serum. They two work together in synergy. It immediately re-moisturizes my skin from the exfoliation. My face and neck feel hydrated after applying this. When I apply the Serum and A-Bomb my skin is receiving all the vitamins and anti-oxidants that I believe in using.
  • Double Defense ($48.00):  DD is a lightweight water-resistant sun protection with SPF 30+ and Parsol 1789. Double Defense is quite moisturizing without being heavy. It helps with UVA/UVB protection during the day plus it hydrates and heals my skin both day and night.

My makeup goes on perfectly after using this Somme Institute regimen without balling up or disappearing. In addition to these products, I’m using their Eye Cream ($72.00) day and night. During the day, I’ll pat some on when I’m applying my makeup, I’ll use a drop to mix with concealer under my eyes. In the evening, I’ll even use a little on my eyelids. The dark circles under my eyes are diminishing and the thinner skin looks softer and less lined. I use a mask about twice a month and just started with Somme Institute’s Boost, Gentle Warming Mask ($40.00).

If you don’t want to get into an entire system, the products I don’t want to be without are Transport, Serum and A-Bomb. These three are the items that compose the heart of the regime. I haven’t been able to replicate the way these three work together with products from other skincare companies. It’s like a set of triplets that aren’t quite as magical without each other, and this trinity gives me smooth, unlined and moisturized skin.

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

By Kathy, Makeup Artist

Kathy was born a long, long time ago in the Sonoma Valley in California but grew up in the South, which is where she resides currently. Her passion for makeup goes back to when she taught her babysitter to curl her eyelashes at the ripe age of six! When Kathy was 13, she received her own makeup set–she says she looked like a cross between Stevie Nicks and Rocky Horror, but “it was the 1970s, so no one noticed.”


5 Great Makeup Artist Tools You Can Use

I’ve decided that I have just one mission in my makeup writing life: to make makeup accessible. To do this, I’d like to start by giving everyone a list of handy tools. I use these every time that I do my own makeup or anyone else’s. I guarantee that everyone has some of them, though probably not all, so I’ll give some sources if you’d like to get them.

Baby Wipes

These are so useful that you’ll wonder how you got along without them. They can clean a work area, spot clean brushes, and even correct makeup mistakes. They don’t contain enough cleanser to remove more than a stray liner mark or tighten up an outer eye, but they also won’t bleed through your skin’s natural lines and destabilize what you want to keep while removing what you don’t. Get the ones for sensitive skin or the all-natural ones at your local grocery or drugstore.

Regular Tissues

Ever wonder why your makeup gets caked partway through your day? If you use foundation and concealer, you’ve added a lot of moisture to your face. This will combine with your natural facial oils and your setting powder to make a makeup mud pie. Try this instead: after you put on your concealer or color corrector, split a tissue into 2 plies and place one onto your face, folded in half, running your fingers out from nose to ear. Now, without removing it, take your hands away. If it’s still sticking to your face, flip it over and do the steps again. Don’t forget to separate the layers: most tissue is 2-ply and you only need one of them. Get these at any grocery or drugstore.

Small ELF Concealer/Detail Brushes

How can you not love something that does fine detail work, lines eyes, lines and fills in lips for $1? I’ve even used one to put glue onto a lash strip and cleaned it afterwards and it was still usable! Come to think of it, the one thing that I don’t use the ELF Concealer/Detail Brushes for is concealer.

Color Corrector

Have you ever tried to conceal under eye circles or a really vicious blemish only to have its color still show through? Put down the regular concealer and pick up the corrector! Makeup artists like them because it allows us to fix a problem instead of covering it up. You can get these anywhere from the mall to the drugstore. I got my Graftobian Color Wheel for $12.50, but the HD version is $23.99.

Spoolie Brushes

Have you ever been running late and, as you put on your mascara, your lashes gathered into thick clumps of lash unhappiness? Running your lashes again and again with the mascara wand will deposit more and more product, which only compounds the problem.  Instead, allow the humble spoolie brush to assist you.   Just pick it up and run it through the gloppy mascara and you, too, can get separated lashes.  Get these at anywhere from Sally’s to Sephora!

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

By Aleta, Fragrance Contributor

Aleta is the associate editor of a national history magazine (World War II), and an unapologetic fragrance nerd. Growing up on a farm west of Portland, Oregon, she spent many summer nights attempting to make perfume by soaking flowers in cups of water (if only her mother had let her use the vodka). Her most prized possessions include a bottle of French cologne brought home by an American GI after World War II (L’Ardent Nuit by Cotay), a signed copy of Perfume: The Guide, and a handwritten “enjoy your purchase” note from perfumer Mandy Aftel. Other obsessions include lipstick, Pellegrino, Adirondack chairs, and yoga. You can find her at worldwarII.com.


Fragrance is a State of Mind

Fragrance is usually treated as a part of one’s wardrobe, but for me it is an extension of my state of mind. When I feel gross I still may put on trousers and a crisp button-down to go to work, but you can bet my perfume will be the equivalent of a cashmere hoodie and Uggs. I can live without some perfect wardrobe items, like an Hermés Kelly bag or a pile of silk blouses, but I (have and) will structure my whole week around obtaining a bottle of Something Or Other if the mood strikes hard enough. A few things I always have on hand after years of self-discovery and playing the field:

Something cozy. I am often is a state of exhaustion, and it doesn’t help that my office is freezing. When I cannot climb into a pile of down comforters, a veil of Chanel No. 5 Eau Premier ($88.00) is the next best thing. I truly cannot live without this one. Its warm candied citrus, creamy sandalwood, and a bouquet of dreamy roses and jasmine are cozy but tailored. For me it’s the equivalent of wearing pearls with jeans; no shapeless sweatpants here.

Something fierce. There are days when I do not have the patience. Or someone needs to realize that I am kind of a big deal. Or I am just more fabulous than usual. I usually keep a rollerball of Robert Piguet Fracas ($95.00) in my purse for these days. If you need to make yourself loud and clear, Fracas is your girl–the queen tuberose, brazen but with a buttery smooth purr. If Fracas had a soundtrack it would be Bowie’s “Queen Bitch,” or “All That Jazz” from Chicago.

Something green. Spices and resins really shine in cold weather, but so do imperishably verdant notes. In winter, Estee Lauder Private Collection Jasmin White Moss ($80.00) is like wearing an aura of greenhouse. No matter how bleak the weather, this one makes it impossible to forget the bliss of warm mossy earth and flowers. If it’s too green, Balenciaga Paris ($95.00) is also exceptional, as is Cartier Baiser Vole ($100.00)--the first is like a potted violet, the second a vase full of lilies.

Something refreshing. I love summer; I do not love Virginia humidity. Anything that takes the steaminess down a notch, especially before bed, is crucial. My favorite is Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia ($80.00), it’s like splashing on cool water with a bouquet of white flowers. Any body splash would do as well, though my pick would be the classic fresh-citrus-herbal 4711 ($38.25), which is a steal at fragrance discounters and on Amazon.

Something simple. Lately I have been prone to migraines, and when one strikes, most perfume becomes skeletal and synthetic in a way that I just cannot tolerate. Badger Headache Balm ($8.00) is my best friend during these times, a happy tin full of all-natural, icy, candy cane goodness that keeps the nausea at bay. And while I’m recovering, or when I need to relax, Lolablue Blackberry ($12.00) perfume oil takes me away to a lazy afternoon picking dusty sun-ripened berries. It’s the most effective aromatherapy I’ve found.

What are some of the scents you can’t live without? Other moods that strike often?

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

By John, Skincare Contributor

John describes himself as eccentric–you might find him having a conversation with himself or making “A Beautiful Mind”-like movements while doing so. He’s a stickler for accuracy, so you might find him correcting one thing or another! His goal is to answer questions and provide unbiased, meaningful, and insightful information.

At 21, he is an aspiring dermatologist and will return to school next fall to get those plans moving. John enjoys singing, playing piano, hitting volleyballs, playing video games, and chatting with friends. Some day, he’d love to try more adventurous activities, like skydiving and mountain climbing! Check out his blog, The Triple Helix Liaison!


2007 & 2008

John’s Journey to Fight Acne

I began following a regular skin care regimen about a year ago. At the time, I was experiencing quite resonating ideological and emotional shifts regarding school, my personal life, and relationships. They somewhat darkened my perspective and drove me to behave irrationally and impulsively, which lead of course to grave consequences and regrets. On top of all that, I had to handle my profusion of non-inflammatory and cystic acne. Consequently, I thought quite basely of myself.

The first photo was taken around 2007, when my acne was less cystic but still severe. The second photo was me in 12th grade (around 2008), when I started getting cystic acne. See how the right cheek and side of the nose folded as I winked? That’s because the cysts were so distended that they forced my skin to overlap. The camera’s flash does wash me out, so my condition appears better than it actually was.  To make an extremely long story short, three magical ingredients helped to rid my skin of acne. In order of discovery, they include:

  • Salicylic Acid:  I first encountered salicylic acid (SA), a lipid-soluble aromatic compound, in the form of Step 2 of the Clinique 3-Step system (skin type 4). I began with the Clinique 3-step because it was cost-effective, reputable among friends, and Blair Fowler loved it. The system helped somewhat, but after a few months, my skin worsened. From what I now know, repeated exposure of the alcohol content present in Step 2 had irritated my acne so intensely that it overshadowed the alleged effects of SA.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide:  I turned to other products to use in concurrence with the Clinique 3-step. First, I tried treatments from Neutrogena and Clean & Clear containing 10% benzoyl peroxide (BP), an antimicrobial ROS-generating compound, which should have improved my condition drastically, but due to the high amount of irritation involved, only improved my condition slightly. Since some studies suggest that lower concentrations of BP work just as effectively as higher ones, without the additional irritation, I next tried the Acne.org 2.5% BP product. Unfortunately, the reduced concentration had no positive effect on my skin.
  • Glycolic Acid: By this time, I was already familiar with Paula Begoun’s review website Beautypedia. However, I had never seriously considered using her products because one, the gaping conflict of interests was too impossible to ignore, and two, I hated that her products always received the highest rating possible. However, I was desperate. I purchased the 2% SA liquid treatment, as well as the 8% and 10% glycolic acid (GA) products.  Within two months, my acne had been reduced by at least 75%.

My postulations as to why the introduction of glycolic acid, which is typically better for dry and mature skin, worked so well for my adolescent and oily skin include the following:

  1. Due to the long-term damages of having severe cystic acne, my skin’s natural ability to exfoliate had been damaged,and therefore, functioned erroneously. This is evidenced by the daily buildup of gunk or sebum that would come off in thick layers when I gently scratched my face in the shower. I’d include a picture, but that would probably be gross. Its consistency is best described as a hybrid cream-wax that was sometimes bluish and other times yellowish.
  2. Partly due to its low molecular weight and water-soluble nature, GA is quite adept at exfoliating the surface of the skin. For my skin, this meant thinning of the statum corneum (SC), which had that excess “gunk,” which in turn allowed for the SA to actually penetrate into the pores and induce desquamation at those sites.
  3. Furthermore, the new Paula’s Choice (PC) SA product is a better formulation than the Clinique product mentioned above because of the vehicle and penetration enhancers used. The PC product employed methylpropanediol and butylene glycol to enhance penetration. The Clinique product employed denatured alcohol and butylene glycol. Although denatured alcohol is quite effective at enhancing penetration, it is too volatile, meaning that it evaporates quickly. Once the vehicle becomes volatile, SA becomes significantly less effective. Not to mention that in high amounts, denatured alcohol is irritating.
  4.  The GA, which reduced the excess sebum on the skin, also allowed for the BP to penetrate more deeply. As you can see, GA was the critical component necessary for effective treatment.

*Please note that though changes in stress level, diet, and exercise probably played major roles in the improvement of my condition, they are not addressed because they cannot be easily quantified and therefore, elucidated.

After my skin was basically clear, I set out to repair some of the damage done by my decade of untreated severe acne and lack of daily sunscreen use. There are two ingredients that have largely retextured, rebuilt, and refined my skin. In order of discovery, they are L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and retinol (vitamin A). Vitamin C stimulates collagen production while retinol, upon conversion to tretinoin—the active metabolite that the skin utilized, inhibits the expression of enzymes that break down collagen. So the therapy is two-folded. While these two fantastic ingredients exhibit several other beneficial properties, that’s for another time!

Check out John’s current skin care routine!  Continue reading →

Friday, November 25th, 2011

By Marla, Hair Care Contributor

Marla is based in Atlanta, Georiga. Having been on a healthy hair journey for the past few years, she has learned the ins and outs of hair care through research, product sampling, and trial and error. Marla is a recent graduate of Emory University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and minor in English. Her interests include spending time with family and friends, reading, volunteering, the arts, and cooking and baking. Since her family is originally from Ghana, West Africa, she hopes to take a much needed vacation to visit for the first time soon. And while in the midst of applying to medical school and working as a freelance writer, she is a beauty and fashion lover – simple, feminine, and sophisticated aesthetics – who won’t leave home without a good lip balm and mascara. Marla is also a writer for the beauty and fashion forums on AskMissA.com, an online women’s magazine where “charity meets style.”


Photo by Dionysius Burton

The Importance of Moisture for Hair

The difference between healthy hair and not-so-healthy hair can be as simple as moisture retention. All hair types, especially curly/coily/kinky textures, thrive off moisture. Without it, hair won’t only experience dryness, brittleness, and dullness, it also becomes highly susceptible to one of the most dreaded hair-related problems of all: breakage. If retaining hair moisture has been difficult for you, there are a few things to look out for (and even more to stay far far away from).

The #1 hair care moisture product of all time is none other than water. Just like the rest of your body, hair constantly needs water as it helps to maintain its elasticity, softness, natural shine, and strength. So after shampooing, which can be drying, following up with a moisturizing conditioner and a leave-in can help your hair retain the water it needs. So how do you know what’s good? The ingredients list is a reliable source. Water-based products are the way to go. If water is listed as the first ingredient, that’s a good sign. Moisturizing extracts and humectants – aloe vera, glycerin, sorbitol and other sugars, and more – can act to attract moisture from the air, further helping to retain moisture.

As for the rest of the ingredients found in moisturizers, it’s much easier to note what you don’t want to find on the list: petroleum jelly, mineral oil, and lanolin. Petrolatum- or mineral oil-based products are not your friends when it comes to moisture retention. While they do seal moisture in after the initial wash, they also prevent any more moisture from entering by coating the hair shaft. Lanolin, aka wool wax, has similar effects. Some more no-nos are silicones, sulfates, and certain alcohols. Silicones can coat hair which leads to build up, which leads to dullness, which leads to using harsh shampoos to remove it, which leads to a never-ending hair horror cycle. You get my point. And the last thing you want to do is use a shampoo with harsh sulfates that can further strip the hair of what little moisture it may have. As for alcohols, some of them can be very drying as well.

I know. I’ve named just about every ingredient found in all hair care products and there’s nothing left to use. Not quite. I’m merely pointing out common ingredients that have been known to cause hair trouble. At the end of the day, what may work wonders on your hair may be the nemesis of another’s. The best thing to do is to “listen” to your hair. If it’s constantly screaming “I’m thirsty!” or it’s breaking off at the ends as fast as (or even faster than) it’s growing at the roots, it could be time to go product hunting. Take a look at your current hair care products; see where on the list the not-so-great ingredients show up (if at all). If any are listed first or second, and dryness has been a problem, that product probably isn’t a keeper.

A promising “cheap” conditioner line for everyday use or conditioner washes (co-washes) is Suave Naturals ($3.49). Not only is water listed as its first ingredient, it’s pH balanced – less frizzies and more shine! Also pH balanced, Giovanni 50:50 Hydrating-Calming Conditioner ($7.99) works to replenish moisture in dry to normal hair.

As for leave-in conditioners, I’ve been as faithful to Herbal Essences Long Term Relationship Leave-In Split End Protector ($3.99) as it’s been to me. Perfect product line name. On top of moisturizing hair, it leaves great slip for easy combing on wet hair. For curly heads, Kinky Curly Knot Today ($12.00) is a natural leave-in detangler. As a girl with every kind of curly in her head, I know the value of a good detangler.

Tips on Avoiding Dryness

  1. Wash your hair with cold water. It closes the cuticle allowing water to stay in and dirt to stay out. Closed cuticles leave hair shinier, too.
  2. Like water-based products, pH optimized products (pH of 3.5-6) add elasticity and shine. They also help in detangling and maintaining moisture/protein balance.
  3. Always follow a shampoo with a conditioner. Shampoos (especially those with sulfates) can be very drying, but conditioners help to add moisture back. If dryness continues to be an issue, consider washing with shampoo less often or doing co-washes (just washing with conditioner) more often.
  4. Spritzing daily with rose water or water mixed with aloe vera juice (for optimal pH) and then sealing with a little hair oil (no mineral oil!) can add much needed moisture to dry hair.
  5. No heat (or at least minimize your usage).

How do your current conditioners) and leave-ins fair–any no-no ingredients? What moisturizing products are working for you?

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

By Christina, Skincare Contributor

Christina is a professed skincare and makeup junkie living in La Belle Province (aka Quebec, Canada). When not reading beauty blogs and magazines, stalking the beauty aisle of her local pharmacy fawning over new products or making her girlfriends spend way too much money at the beauty counter, Christina is studying full-time to obtain a masters degree in marketing, with a research focus on multicultural marketing and advertising strategies in the beauty industry. You can follow her on Twitter @cbellevue25.


Christina’s Cold-Weather Holy Grails + Daily Skincare Routine

This year, du jour au lendemain, the weather in Montreal became very cold all of a sudden. As a result, I’m quickly stashing away my summer products and winterizing my beauty routine for the coming months. I have combination skin on the sensitive side, therefore it is important that all year round, my skin stays matte, acne-free and properly hydrated especially the skin on my cheeks and around my mouth, which tends to become very dry or dehydrated. For the longest time, I felt those objectives were contradictory, although with time and experience, I have finally been able to develop a solid skincare routine that has allowed me to reach all three of these goals simultaneously, much to my (skin’s) relief.

Here is my updated Fall/almost-Winter daily skincare routine with some of my colder-weather holy grail products that you might also want to look into if you share some of the same skin concerns as I do:

In the AM: Keeping my skin moisturized is key (face & body)

In the morning, I wash my face in the shower with a pea-size amount of AmorePacific Treatment Cleansing Foam ($50.00) to remove any leftover night cream or sebum. This foam cleanser smells delightful, is gentler than any of the other foam cleansers I’ve tried in the past and the tube lasts forever it is a definite must-have for me.

To hydrate my face, I like using La Roche-Posay Tolériane Fluide ($26.95) mixed in with a small scoop of Philosophy Turbo Boost Vitamin C Powder ($35.00) for antioxidant action. I swear by this La Roche-Posay moisturizer, simply because I find it is the perfect moisturizer for combination to oily skin with sensitivities: it’s light, oil-free, fragrance-free, and it sinks right into your skin. For sensitive skin on the drier side, another good option in the Tolériane range is La Roche-Posay Tolériane Ultra Intense Soothing Care ($34.95). I also use this cream whenever I feel my skin is very dehydrated. What I like about this product is that it has a thicker consistency and offers excellent long-lasting hydration, yet it doesn’t leave your skin feeling greasy after applying.

Before applying my powder foundation, I prep my skin with a dab of Nurturing Force Blot Out Offensive Mattifying Cream + HD Primer ($24.00) applied with a foundation brush for an even application. I discovered the Nurturing Force brand when I attended The Makeup Show in NYC this summer, and it turned out to be one my favourite skincare products ever. This cream is made with aloe vera and is silicone-, paraben- and alcohol-free which is great news for any skin that is sensitive or that cannot tolerate silicone-based primers very well. It is a wonderful product for any skin type, and it does an excellent job of keeping your face fresh all day, not causing any breakouts and increasing your makeup’s staying power like nobody’s business.

To keep my body moisturized, I will usually wash with a body cleansing oil in the shower. I love La Roche-Posay Lipikar Lipid-Replenishing Anti-Irritation Cleansing Oil ($14.00) because you get to wash and oil it up at the same time, how amazing is that?! I also keep my favourite body butter, Belle Butters Orange Dream Cream Butter ($12.50), in the bathroom and apply it on my knees and elbows right after the shower. Little tip for all the natural hair ladies and gentlemen out there, this shea and orange butter cream is a fantastic multi-tasker, because you can also use it on your hair for twist-outs/braid-outs with great definition (especially on type 4a and 4b hair), or to seal in the moisture.

Anywhere I go, I always carry a tube of my favourite hand cream, L’Occitane en Provence Shea Butter Hand Cream ($10.00), because ashy is to-tal-ly unsexy!

Check out Christina’s evening and night time routine!  Continue reading →