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John’s Journey to Fight Acne

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! 

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Video Review: MAC for Gareth Pugh Collection First Impression & Swatches

Video Review: MAC for Gareth Pugh Collection First Impression & Swatches

Still waiting for those freakin’ eyeshadows! Last time I called my local store, they were speculating that customs was holding it up, but I have no idea what’s going on. Nonetheless, here are all the other products minus the beauty powder, which I’ll be reviewing soon!

Did you snag anything from this launch? I’d love to know!

Do you have a question idea? Submit yours here.

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The Importance of Moisture for Hair

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?

Guerlain Coque d’Or (120) Rouge Automatique

Guerlain Coque d'Or (120) Rouge Automatique
Guerlain Coque d’Or (120) Rouge Automatique

Guerlain Coque d’Or (120) Rouge Automatique

Guerlain Coque d’Or (120) Rouge Automatique ($35.00 for 0.12 oz.) is a vibrant coral-red with gold and copper micro-shimmer. It’s mostly opaque on lips, but you can see my lip freckle peeking through–from afar, it appears more opaque. I can see this working really well in the summer–so good thing this is part of the permanent range.  This particular formula is supposed to be semi-opaque to opaque in color, so Coque d’Or is right on target.

CoverGirl Enthrall is more like a red-orange (at best, orange-coral). MAC Hibiscus is more of an orange-coral (but not red like Enthrall). Guerlain Bal de Mai is almost like a more muted version of this, actually! Chanel Flamboyante is not as dark and doesn’t have the gold shimmer, but the color is similar. MAC Rose Maiden has a frostier finish and isn’t as dark, but it is also similar.

Rouge Automatique is very comparable to the Rouge G formula, and the differences are minute, though they are there. This is an excellent formula regardless of that comparison, though, because it’s creamy enough to glide on but not so creamy that the color slips around, comfortable to wear for the six hours this shade wears, and keeps lips feeling hydrated, too.  For more packaging photos, please see this post.

Estee Lauder Cyber Green Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow

Estee Lauder Cyber Green Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow
Estee Lauder Cyber Green Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow

Estee Lauder Cyber Green Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow

Estee Lauder Cyber Green Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow ($24.00 for 0.03 oz.) is a deep, dark blackened-brown olive green with forest green and olive green micro-shimmer. It’s blacker and sootier when it’s applied dry, and it takes on a more metallic finish with a stronger green tone when it is applied wet. The pigmentation is good dry but great wet. I couldn’t think of a dupe for it–it’s really, really dark but not quite black. Milani Melange is the closest, but it is is more like a blackened-brown with gold shimmer, rather than green. Always a bonus when I can’t think of a dupe!

Estee Lauder’s new Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadows are a highly metallic eyeshadow that fan be used wet or dry. It’s a “tri-blend” formula that’s gel, powder, and liquid all-in-one. It’s also supposed to be high in pigmentation, blend easily, and long-lasting without fading. The powder is soft, almost powdery, and feels very, very dry in a way. Like some eyeshadows are soft and buttery and more like a cream (but still a powder), but this feels almost dry, even though it’s not stiff or chalky. The texture is definitely interesting–it reminded me of baked/mineralize eyeshadows, actually, except super compacted.

I find it’s a little powdery when it’s used dry, so I prefer to use it wet to minimize fall out (if you use it dry, make sure to tap your brush handle against your fore arm to loosen excess powder). I’ve used it both ways, though, without a primer, and the results have been good. I find it wears dry for six hours well, but it looks a bit faded by eight hours. When I wore it wet (again, without primer or a base!), it lasted longer–eight hours and then some subtle fading after ten hours.

Though these are listed as 0.03 oz. a pop, it doesn’t seem that small in the pan. It seems about the same as your average eyeshadow or slightly bigger. You don’t need a lot of product to achieve opaque color either, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned with it running out quickly.

See more photos & swatches!