4.19.2018

How to Learn Makeup from YouTube Gurus

I started watching YouTube makeup videos when the community was still a fragile baby bird. It was mostly awkward teenagers using their webcams to record ultra-grainy, unedited videos, sharing their genuine excitement in a brand-new medium. That time is past now, and I do sometimes miss the homegrown authenticity, but of course there are many more recent videos I enjoy for their crisp images and fantastic editing.

I learned a great deal of what I know about makeup from simply watching YouTube tutorials. But today's saturated YouTube beauty field is very confusing for new makeup lovers who don't know where to start.

How to Watch YouTube Videos as a Beginner


Just watching some videos is not going to magically make you better at makeup. Just like sitting through a semester of archaeology lectures won't make you Indiana Jones. You gotta get your hands dirty, practice, and actually walk the walk. Most people watch beauty YouTube videos for entertainment. But if your goal right now is to get better at makeup, here's how.

  • Watch beauty experts not just any pretty person with an eye-catching thumbnails. Your goal is to consume excellent material, because as a beginner, it can be hard to unlearn bad habits acquired from not so talented "gurus." There are various experts at different levels of professional development- but make sure not to stray too far into amateur pretty-19-year-old-lifestyle-vlogger territory. Beauty enthusiasts sharing their thoughts as a consumer are a valuable resource when you're more experienced in makeup- but for now they will be a distraction.
  • Stay away from review videos, haul videos, and favorites videos (for now!) These are fun to watch, but they are counterproductive to your learning journey. You don't yet know your own product tastes or even what all these products are meant for, so don't make the mistake of being seduced into hauling a bunch of stuff you'll never use. Trust me- in a few months, you will look  back at your early wishlist and wonder what the heck you were thinking.
  • Follow along with tutorials. When I started doing this, I saw my skills skyrocket much faster than I would have expected. Simply watching someone practice a motion while you follow along with your own tools and products is so helpful, it completely outranks practicing from your fuzzy memory of a tutorial you watched last night. I think most people don't do this- and its importance cannot be overstated. You can pause and rewind, so don't feel limited by the guru's speed or editing.
  • Watch with an eye for categories not products. If you end up watching 5 tutorials and thinking each time wow I really need a matte brown pencil for the looks I want to accomplish, then now is the time to shop for a matte brown pencil. Do not decide you need Tarte Shape Tape just because one pretty lady used it, and it looked really nice on her. Most YT gurus make money from promoting product- period- so you cannot rely on what they use as gospel for what you should buy. As a beginner, you will acquire a not-so-perfect makeup stash and that is how you learn what you love. Buy as little as you possibly can, and be open to the idea that you will outgrow products as your tastes and skillset grow.
  • Repetition is key. Practice from the same video or few videos for weeks at a time. Do not try a smoky eye on Monday, abandon it for the rest of the week, then try again next Monday and cry that your skills haven't evolved. You will build muscle memory and your own understanding of your face by doing the same techniques many days in a row. For now, you don't get to be Crazy Makeup Lady who wears a different look every day. You get to practice the same basic look for as many days in a row, from the same tutorials, as it takes to nail it down. Then you can use that acquired knowledge for the next look you tackle.

List of YouTubers to Trust


Okay, you're just taking one woman's opinion on this. But you gotta start somewhere! The whole point is to start with a basic, limited list, and as your tastes and skills develop, you don't have to take anybody's advice anymore- you can find what you love all on your own! This is a mix of professionals and amateurs- both have something to offer, but for the most part, seasoned professionals who have experience doing makeup on people other than themselves are your best bet.





Charlotte Tilbury (this is a brand channel, so ignore the products as best you can, just follow along with techniques, as hers are sound)




Karima McKimmie (an amateur who is extremely good at communicating techniques and concepts)

Jaclyn Hill

Samantha Ravndahl (although she's a generic vlogger now and skews more beauty guru than expert, she is another semi-amateur/semi-professional who is excellent at communicating technique)

My Favorite "Beginner Friendly" Videos


How to Apply Lipstick by Rebecca Shores




This is a pretty high-effort tutorial, considering lipstick can just be swiped on in 20 sec. But if you are new to lipcolor, struggling with application fundamentals, or trying to fix asymmetry, this will give you a flawless finish. And you can always tweak the techniques to suit your needs.

Natural Shimmery Summer Glow by Lisa Eldridge



Healthy, glowy, sunkissed- practically everyone wants to master this look.

In Depth Bridal Tutorial



You don't need to be planning a wedding to want a special-occasion, flawless, "glamorous natural" look in your pocket. Jaclyn Hill has a big personality, but it's her fundamental, careful technique and solid laymen's explanations that make her an excellent source.

Brows by Lisa Eldridge



There is no such thing as timeless- well- really natural makeup is probably timeless. But Lisa always balances trend and technique- she favors a brow look fixed more in personal flattery- not fixed to a specific dated trend (skinny 90s brows, bushy 80s brows, crisp 2010s brows etc.) For most people, brows are not an accent to be played with- they are more of a foundation piece. You want them to look basically the same most days, and you want them to be the best shape and color for your face. You might play with 10 different shadow placements and color schemes in a week, but it's likely your brow experimentation won't be a focus.


Mary Greenwell's Natural Makeup Masterclass




Again with natural makeup- don't roll your eyes at me! Great natural makeup skills underpin every single successful experimental/funky makeup style. If you don't know the rules of making makeup "pretty" you can never figure out the best ways to break those rules and create interesting makeup. Mary Greenwell has a no-nonsense style which relies a lot on hands, multi use products, and natural earth tones. Like all of the gurus I discussed, her videos are a wealth of information and you can't go wrong following along to any of her tutorials.


Sam Ravndahl's Halo Eye



A technique that is both intriguing and challenging to beginners, the halo eye is a high-impact eye looks that actually takes relatively little skill. However, it's a confusing placement and concept when you haven't tried it before- Sam's videos are excellent for shadow placement as she's very specific in her descriptions, and she zooms all the way in to show where and how she applies each color shadow.

Concluding Thoughts


Most people don't take advantage of the wondrous resource that is Beauty YouTube. They approach it as entertainment, and that's perfectly ok unless you're trying to improve your skills. If you are unhappy with your makeup skills, approach the project like a challenging class or subject in school. Use a variety of trusted resources, study and practice every day, and trust the process. You will not become an expert in a few weeks, but within a few months you can grow your knowledge a great deal. 



4.13.2018

Favorite Eye Brushes





Today I'll discuss my absolute favorite eyeshadow brushes- the versatile and fabulous tools that enable me to create a wide range of shadow looks and effects. In my opinion, great tools make a huge difference for a beginner, not a complete newbie. If you have never applied eyeshadow- you do not need great brushes. If you have been working with eyeshadow for a few months, you grasp the basics, but your results aren't really satisfying, you will likely see a huge improvement to your technique when you upgrade to good brushes.

If I gave myself a letter grade, I went from a C- to a B- within just two or three eyeshadow applications when I upgraded from basic brushes to really good ones. And that quick boost in technique, from tools alone, bolstered my confidence and allowed me to jump up to a solid B+ to A- fairly quickly, a jump that I think would have taken much longer if I'd stuck with my drugstore brushes.


Why Are Your Faves Mostly Animal Hair?


For the looks I like to create, synthetic brushes typically do not provide the right amount of bend and sway. Synthetic bristles, as a matter of course, are stiffer and more bouncy in movement. Less floppy and yielding. This is fine for precision, but not so good for buffing soft clouds of color and applying with a whisper soft touch. Vegans or people who otherwise object to animal hair use in cosmetics will likely not find this guide useful. I do use synthetic small brushes- for specific and crisp placement, but not in general for blending.

Although squirrel hair is my favorite for face products, I find goat hair has the exact right balance for gripping and depositing powder eyeshadows. It doesn't take away from a powder's pigmentation, but it also doesn't throw a bunch of color down and lead to chunky opaque edges.

Another reason I favor the handmade Japanese animal hair brushes (aka fude brushes) is that those lines offer a wider range of sizes for brush heads. Most American and European brushes are, in my opinion, way too big to be useful to someone with my eye shape. Japanese lines like Hakuhodo and Chikuhodo offer fluffy but small brushes (a category that's sadly underdeveloped in the West) which enable soft and precise blending- the best of both worlds! There are many brands I won't be covering today- the two Japanese brands mentioned are among the most affordable fude brands available on the market, but you could easily spend $200 on a single shadow brush from a more expensive line. Check out the Reddit Fude sub for more discussion and information.


Precision vs. Flexibility


Having said my piece with regards to animal hair brushes, I do find synthetics useful for specific purposes. I mainly use synthetic brushes when it comes to flat, pointed, or compact/stiff brush shapes. Whenever I want to press or pat a patch of color without worrying about the edges or blending, I reach for synthetic bristles. The texture and stiffness allow for better color placement, all at once.

When you are choosing to create softer veils of color- say in the crease or when smoking out your lashline, you want the opposite of precision. I reach for longer bristles, natural fiber, and larger shapes whenever I want to blend anything.

These descriptions are not really weighted by value- simply they are what I've come to expect from a certain size/shape/texture! As a general rule, the shorter the bristles, the more "blocky" and precise an effect it gives. On the flipside, longer bristles usually provide more sway and splay action, which lends well to a blown-out effect.

My Favorites


Now for the meat of this post- my favorite brushes and their specific usages! I will start at the widest "base" and move into smaller and more precise shapes and movements. I've provided photos of the brushes next to a standard MAC lipstick, the most ubiquitous beauty object I could think for size comparison. I've also attempted to show the main placements these brushes work for. My apologies as I tried to make gifs to show movement/placement but I could not find a combination of filming and editing and compression that yielded anything but tragic gifs, so until I troubleshoot that, pics will have to do.

Hakuhodo J5522




The first brush we have to discuss is this huge, fluffy goat hair pointed dome brush. It is relatively stiff, but it's pointed shape and large size make it an ideal choice for swishing a VERY sheer and diffused veil of color in your crease area. If you have large, dynamic eyes and tend to not emphasize your crease a lot, you might not enjoy the effect of this brush. For me, it's indispensable when faking the high but multidimensional crease I love to do on myself.




I use windshield wiper motions with the J5522- it's too big to benefit from "swirling" as it will take over the eye area. It does best for laying down sheer tones in large swaths. I don't recommend using it with a shadow that's more than 2-3 shades deeper than your skintone.

Hakuhodo J5523




The second brush is a classic- or rather it's a near clone of a Western classic we all know and love- the MAC 217. This brush post would be half Hakuhodo, half MAC, were it not for MAC's recent overhaul of its entire brush line. I personally use and love decade-old goat hair MAC brushes made in France, but I can't get behind their new synthetics line. Since any MAC recommendations would be for discontinued brushes, I won't include them!

The Hakuhodo J5523 is slightly smaller and slightly more compact compared to the classic 217. It's a full oval shape, not flat but with a slightly pinched ferrule that gives you a lot of versatility. You can use this brush in several ways- it lays down a patch of lid color quickly, with an automatically diffused edge. You can accomplish this with short combination pat-swipe motions Or you can use it to apply a crease shade, working in small circular buffing motions and building color as desired.





If you could only afford one brush, make it this one. You can literally do a whole soft eye look using only the J5523- no you can't line your eyes with it. But you can do a lot.

Hakuhodo J5529




This brush completely changed my shadow game- it's the shape and size you can't find in any Western drugstore line, and not in most Western luxury brands either. This is like your classic domed blender brush, shrunk to 1/4 of the size. While you might use a large domed brush for your crease (if you haven't tried the awesomeness of a tapered dome like the one discussed above...) you would use the J5529 for more "precise blending." 

This is for depositing accent colors in your outer V and for blending those same colors. The small size is ideal for more detailed, gradient shadow looks as a larger brush would swallow the eye area and turn all the shadows into one color. I also use this on a daily basis to buff and blend smoky lower lashlines- a technique I've heard is challenging for many of you. Trust me when I say the effect eluded me too- until I got the J5529.







This brush is so compact that you can use it fairly lavishly in wide swiping motions- its small head size means it won't disrupt or muddy even if you use it in larger areas. I drag this brush over linear placements like my lower lashline, in a back and forth motion. I also use it in dotting motions to deposit small concentrated patches, and in tight circular motions to blend smaller precise areas like the outer V.

Zoeva Luxe Smoky Shader 234




A natural/synthetic blend brush that I love for packing on lid shades. This is an exact dupe for the MAC 239 (old) and for the Hakuhodo J004G, but I find the 3 truly identical, so I'm going with the cheapest! I hate all the blending brushes I own from Zoeva (and I own them all) because the synthetic blend causes them to be too stiff. They don't have enough yield to really create a halo of softness- but with a shorter brush like this, this is when you stop having to worry so much about bristle quality, and you can find much cheaper items as long as the shape works.

If you are a relative newbie to eyeshadows and you find yourself constantly foiling shadows or using Fix+ to "intensify" your shadows, you may be overlooking a really simple fact: your flat shadow brush sucks at gripping and depositing color! A lot of flat shadow brushes found in American lines are too flat and they don't have enough er, girth, to properly dig into a shadow and pick up color. Slightly fuller and fluffier bristles on a short, flat brush head will also do a better job of laying down color vs a tight flat shape.




I use this brush especially for pressing color into the center of a halo eye or for the lid of a smokey eye...or just for allover shimmer! A very versatile brush that's necessary in any beginner's bag. If you really could only afford two brushes, it would be the Zoeva 234 and the Hakuhodo J5523 I'd recommend first.

Beauty Junkees Pro Pencil Brush




I guess I shouldn't have spent so much time disclaiming my snobbishness, because this is another cheap brush that really performs at the level of a more expensive one. I believe this is pony hair or goat hair- it's found on Amazon Prime and isn't a prestige brand, so I'm not 100% sure of the composition.

A good pencil brush has spring, softness, and precision all in harmony. This one from Beauty Junkees does the trick and doesn't scratch, but it still holds up without splaying its bristles. When you start narrowing the size of brushes, it means you are looking to create more dramatic dimension- deeper, smaller shadows and brighter, tighter highlights. At this point, we stop loving the softly bendy bristles of our earlier crease brushes, and want to focus on getting a stiffer brush head that still doesn't feel rough.

I use this brush every single day- in fact I own two- one for light shadows, one for darker ones. I use the former to apply and blend my inner corner/browbone highlight, to dot concentrated bright spots into a halo eye, and for blending out harsh edges on very graphic looks. The latter is used for adding definition to the corners of a halo eye and for smoking out both upper and lower lashlines.




Due to the pencil brush's stiffness, it works best for dotting motions and very short strokes. It will not hold up to movements that cover a large surface area. You can certainly apply a color in a line across your crease or lashline, but don't expect to get a refined blend- this blends better than applying color with a Q tip, but it is a placement brush not a finisher. For that you'd want to reach for the J5529 to smooth out and buff the edges.

One note is that I own 4 of these and 3 are almost identical, but the 4th is very flexible and flippy. There's variability/inconsistency but to be fair that exists on the handmade/fude side as well sometimes. 

EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo #2 Brush, Angled Side




Confusingly, this is just 1/4 of a single product- the EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo is my favorite drugstore brush "set" in existence. But I want to specifically discuss the angled liner brush head found on one of the dual ended brushes. It is the closest thing to EcoTool's long-discontinued angle liner brush- a brush that perfectly married precision and fullness. Most angled liner brushes are only good for two things- brows and gel liner. They are too stiff and too narrow/tight to ever properly deposit a smoky, smudgy, sexy line of shadow. The EcoTools version is just thick enough to soften while it lays down an opaque line. It's absolutely fine for use with a gel liner or brow product too- but I would highly suggest it if you struggle with your "defined lines" looking skippy or too crisp.



Because of the less skinny edge, this can be worked back and forth in a blending motion, but it will only go so far. I mainly use it in a "stamping" motion to press color in a precise line/at an angle when I need to create a very tightly lined eye or a graphic shape. I usually already laid out a base of softer smudginess, and adding a stamped line on top gives a gradually intensifying effect without having to move your brush around that much!


Brush Care



I'm often asked about my brush care routine. And here is my philosophy: I do not baby my fude brushes, as I consider them tools. For me, they are a means to an end, not collectibles or useful just by virtue of existing. To that end, I wash them as often as I need to to prevent muddied colors, and I recognize as a result they will have shorter lifetimes. Some fude collectors will be able to enjoy the same brush shape and fiber texture from their brushes in 30 years. I fully expect mine to be dead within 10 years, and I will repurchase at that time. You will hear from many Japanese brush lovers that a squirrel brush should only be washed once every few months- to me that would interfere with my ability to use the tool as I want to. I wash it as often as needed to clear old color and prevent breakouts.

If you want to wear a pair of shoes for 20 years, rotate it out, give it breaks, don't wear the pair in harsh weather. If you simply want to wear a pair of shoes everyday, well, ignore that, and buy a new pair when you wear yours out. I want to be able to use my brushes daily, which is why I approach brush care the way I do. Different philosophies for different lifestyles and preferences.

None of the brushes I use are so expensive that the though of repurchasing in a few years bothers me. I want to be able to switch frequently between colors (bronzey looks one day, blue the next, soft yellow the next) without buying endless duplicate brushes or risking a muddy unintentional color mix. All the brushes I discussed in today's post are less than $30 each, and getting 5-10 years' use from a $30 item is reasonable to me. I am being conservative- I have 12 year old goat hair brushes that still perform the same as they did when I got them. But just to satisfy my control freak- I accept that my everyday use brushes may shed or go frizzy within the decade.

I treat my brush hairs like I do the hair on my head. I shampoo with a mild, low-lather shampoo, I squeeze to release excess water, press with a towel, then air dry as long as it takes. I wash my face brushes once a week, and my eye brushes once every two weeks (all of them) and clean individual ones as necessary. Brush cleansers are plentiful and varied nowadays, but I prefer the price and convenience of a gentle shampoo for humans (my favorite is the Tea Tree Tingle from Trader Joe's.) You can also use a gentle low lather face wash, but shampoo is more economical.

1.05.2018

2017 Favorites: Makeup

If 2016 was my year of perfecting makeup techniques, 2017 was the year I really indulged in the products that elevated those techniques. I don't have a tiny collection, and I don't have a huge one. I am pleased to say I took great joy in the products I own this year, without having excess items that didn't get much love.

Some of the products I'll be talking about were purchased prior to 2017- they're not all new or new-to-me but they represent what I enjoyed most this year!

Stellar Limitless Foundation


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I can't believe I've only been using this product since June of 2017. It kind of feels like it's always been there for me. In any case, since I purchased this product, I have not found its equal within or without my existing collection. I usually wear a full face of makeup with powder, highlighter, and blush, but in the photo above I was only using the Stellar foundation for my base. This is a light-medium buildable to medium-full coverage foundation with a skinlike but not overly dewy finish. It's extremely longwearing on my oily skin when set with a powder, but I have spoken to many drier-skinned women who find it hydrating/wearable for them as well. 

To me this is a masterfully made formula, because of its versatility on different skin types, and the fact that it is such a "beautifying" foundation. Some foundation is just like paint- it covers your face in a uniform color, but it needs to be prodded, tweaked, spritzed, and buffed to actually improve your overall face. The Stellar Limitless Foundation is something that can be swiped on in a hurry, and it immediately makes you look like a better version of yourself. I can compare it in that way to the MAC Face & Body, although it is much less dewy, and has considerably more coverage. I never hear "Your foundation looks great" when I wear this, I hear "Wow your skin looks amazing!"

In addition to that rare beautifying quality that makes it so unique, the color range of Stellar's foundations is phenomenal for someone like me (neutral-warm olive) who doesn't like to use traditional yellow-toned foundation straight up. Their latest shade offering is S01, which is what I wear, and it's between an NC20 and NC25 in MAC terms, but it has a swampy yellow-green undertone, unlike the schoolbus yellow of some other companies' warm tones. This line in general caters toward the medium toned part of the spectrum, paying careful attention to the way real skintones work in real life, not just using a sliding scale and distributing 12 shades across a Pantone color gradient.

The last thing that I have to rave about is that the Stellar foundation is seamlessly skin-like. I usually dot my foundation on using fingers and then go back in to blend with a sponge, but if I get distracted in between those steps, I've actually forgotten to blend the Stellar because it meshes with my skin so beautifully. This is not just a colormatch issue, this happens because the texture is so fine and flattering on the surface of the skin. I find that it looks beautiful up-close in person but even nicer in photos, if possible. All around a truly stellar (heh heh) addition to the foundation market in 2017.

Tom Ford Eye Duo in Naked Bronze


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File this product under "worth the hype, and then some." Tom Ford makes several shades of this cream/powder duo, but this is the standout in my opinion. I purchased this because smoky bronze is my favorite flattering eyeshadow color. I am pretty faithful to Urban Decay Smog for a powder shadow look, but I wanted one cream to use as a single wash in case I was in a hurry or traveling.

I have tried and hated a lot of cream shadows. MAC Paint Pots, Maybelline Color Tattoos, Kiko Shadow Sticks- to me they all had one defect in common- they do not blend out seamlessly at the edges. For some people with very sculptural, dynamic eye shapes, this is not a problem. I personally have a plain-Jane eye area. It needs carving and smoking and swooping and sculpting to look really good and most cream shadows don't allow for that.

Tom Ford Naked Bronze however- it contains multitudes. It is a sheer neutral-warm satin brown when applied lightly, and it builds to a lustrous medium dirty bronze, and then finally to a metallic chocolate bronze with an even heavier hand. Because it can be blended out to create a soft, seamless crease, it doesn't require fussing or partner products. It just looks good. And I haven't even mentioned the pressed glitter half yet- it can be left off for a smokier look or popped on top for a burst of glittery sheen. This truly is the one eye look that I can't mess up, and the fact that it can be adjusted and worn at about 6 different levels of drama/formality makes it unique among other "single wash" products.

If you are cooler than me, try the single Cream Color shade Platinum. If you are significantly paler, try the Golden Peach duo.

Addiction Blushes

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Although my love affair with Surratt blushes continues, my wandering eyes landed on blushes made by the Japanese brand Addiction this year. My friend with impeccable blush taste compared the texture of these blushes to Surratt, so when I visited Japan in October I took the opportunity to pick some up. Since I got home, I've regretted only buying 2 shades.

These are powder blushes that have a feel in between a traditional soft powder and a powder-gelรฉe formula (like the Clinique Cheek Pops.) The color range is quite extensive with more than 20 available shades, but I think where they shine is their selection of nude blushes and more saturated scary-in-the-pan shades.

The two shades I first purchased are Revenge and Amazing. The former looks like a bright red in the pan, similar to NARS Exhibit A, and the second is a fuchsia-bubblegum on first glance. However, both apply so seamlessly and sheerly I have to wonder what kind of deal with the devil the formulators at Addiction have done to get this so right. When applying bright/intense blush I typically layer the most intense shade over a nude, soft one to diffuse the edges and aid blending. However, the Addiction blushes are so fine and sheer that they can be whacked on carelessly without looking streaky or patchy.



Stila Magnificent Metals Glitter & Glow Eyeshadows


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The Stila liquid glitter shadows were my gateway drug to all things glitter. In 2017, I went from owning almost nothing that could qualify even as high-shimmer to a collection that's heavily weighted in the fabulous direction. Partly through coaching by my glitter-obsessed friends, and partly just from my own experimentation, I learned how to wear glitter in a "casual" way. Although glitter is a shorthand for New Years Eve and nights out, I mostly wear glitter in the daytime to my office.

The Stila shadows made the transition from a satin/pearl dimension to the glitter life totally seamless. My favorite shades from the line are the ones with no base tone, as they make versatile toppers for any eye look. The Gold Goddess shade is a neutral, not-too-yellow gold, and Diamond Dust is an ultra-reflective silver with some holographic sparkle. I don't find too much extra utility in the shades with tinted bases, because I prefer to do 90% of my eye look with powders, and add sparkle as a final step. However I have seen many people wear the colored-base Stila shadows beautifully. My personal favorite ways to wear them are as a smattering on the inner eye corner, all along my lower lashline, and as the center "pop" in a halo eye.

These shadows make glitter application foolproof, as they require no special primer, they do not create excessive fallout, and the formula distributes glitter very evenly with no effort. I particularly enjoy that the pieces of glitter are quite flat, large, and irregular, which gives a broken-glass type effect. I find it to be more editorial and interesting compared to what I call "pinprick" glitter which often looks more like remnants of a kindergarten craft project.

MAC Next to Nothing Pressed Powder


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One of my greatest makeup challenges is achieving a dewy, glowy base while keeping my makeup in place for 10+ hours. It often feels like you have to pick one or the other as an oily-skinned person, but this year I tried the brand-new MAC Next to Nothing powder and all my satin-dew dreams came true. I was a devotee of the famous Laura Mercier translucent loose powder, but I always had a few complaints. It was just a hair too matte and quite inconvenient for travel. The MAC powder improves upon both of those issues- it has a beautiful "strong" setting power but it only barely mattifies the skin/foundation. It's travel-friendly and comes pressed in the standard MAC compact.

I use this powder in the shade Light Plus. It does not offer any coverage, but it is not a true translucent powder. It took me 6 months to fully use up a single compact, and I gladly repurchased it when I realized that all the other powders in my stash were seriously lacking. I prefer it to the sexier-looking Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Powder, which is ever so slightly too-mattifying, and on the flipside actually has worse oil control compared to the MAC.


Clinique Chubby Stick in Whole Lotta Honey


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When I first started wearing lipstick, it was always fully opaque, satin or matte formulas. I scoffed at the idea of sheer lipsticks, partly because I recalled trying crappy tinted balms in the past, and also because I doubted the impact and definition a sheer formula could offer. I actually received Whole Lotta Honey as a gift from a friend in 2016, but I really started rocking it often in this past calendar year. It's a semi-glossy sheer formula housed in a twist-up crayon format, and its magic lies in the exact balance of depth and pigmentation. Most sheer lipsticks are too weak to make a difference, or too pigmented to be considered low-key. I have crooked lip lines, which means most lipsticks require application with a lip brush to look decent. I can literally scribble Whole Lotta Honey on without a mirror and it looks good, no, great.

This swatches a muted orangey-brown but once applied to my lips, it manifests as a peachy nude. My natural lip tone is a pale, dead-looking cool pink, which doesn't harmonize well with the warmth in the rest of my features. Whole Lotta Honey goes with any subtle look, and most warm-toned dramatic looks. It even works well with some cooler eye looks, depending on what blush I pair with the look. It also works well to modify many of my other lipsticks. Layered over a too-stark or too-dry color, it can add plumpness and warmth where it's missing. Most of my lip products stay in my bookshelf where I can pick through them based on what my mood is that day, but Whole Lotta Honey literally lives on my vanity. I use it so often, alone or layered with other colors, that it doesn't make sense to ever put it away!

NARS Audrey


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On the heels of a rave for a super-subtle lipstick, let me rave a bit about one of my favorite dramatic lipsticks of the year. NARS Audrey is a satin-finish berry that has some magical undertone I cannot find a perfect dupe for. I actually avoided buying this lipstick for over a year because it seemed crazy to pay NARS Audacious prices for a berry shade, a lipstick category that is saturated at drugstore and high-end price points. But in this case, I ended up wasting more money on failed dupes than I would have if I'd just shelled out for Audrey from the beginning!

Audrey is uniquely flattering for my muted, yellowy skin. It's neither too bright nor too muted. Berry shades with too much brown tend to make my face look dull or dragged-down. Berry shades that lean pink turn neon on me, and that's just not the look I'm aiming for every day. Audrey is strangely muted without being brown or blackened. It is clearly cool (berry) and not a plain red lipstick. It brightens my face without screaming for attention. It just works. The lesson I learned from Audrey is that everyone can wear some version of a color category. You just have to be adventurous and willing to kiss a lot of lipstick frogs.

Conclusions


2017 was a great year for makeup, personally, and for the market as a whole. I learned a lot about my own face and preferences, and the fast-paced release schedule in 2017 meant that companies were constantly one-upping each other and improving their offerings. It can be dizzying to face the enormous variety on the cosmetic market today, but remember that you as the consumer can only benefit from increased competition. A competitive market economy propels technology and innovation forward, while putting a downward pressure on retail prices. The increased availability of different products should excite you, as it will allow for a collection more finely tuned to your exact preferences.

Don't ever feel that you as an individual must own all the exciting new things. Each of us can only take so much, financially and mentally. Stay focused on finding things that suit your face and your budget, and that bring you joy. I love to stay on top of new releases, but I also don't regard each new makeup collection as an opportunity to buy. If you ever feel stressed over the number of new releases, just return to what you enjoy about makeup- and focus on your own goals. Part of the reason I wrote this post is it makes me happy to use a single product to death. The more products I own, the less I can use my favorites. That's something I try to keep in mind, and it might help you if you are having doubts about your makeup collection. 

12.27.2017

What to Do with a Niacinamide Allergy

If you've spent any time perusing ingredients lists or learning about skincare science, you've come across niacinamide. Niacinamide is an antioxidant/vitamin (Vitamin B3) and it is a gold star ingredient for so many skin types and problems. From the title of this post you've probably guessed- but I have an unfortunate allergy to the ingredient. And I've met many others who share this problem. Usually an ingredient sensitivity is no big whoop- most ingredients have easy "dupes" which replicate the same effect. Not quite so with niacinamide- and that's because niacinamide does so many damn things, and it does them so well...

  • Repairs damaged moisture barrier
  • Soothes and relieves irritation and redness
  • Works well to diminish acne
  • Assists in fading hyperpigmentation

This wonder-ingredient does it all, and for the people who can happily use it, go away nobody likes you, but if you are allergic like me, here are some of the ingredients I've substituted in my routine in place of common niacinamide products. I will also list some great products I have successfully used that achieved for me what niacinamide does for others, but keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list. Since niacinamide is such a superstar, I am taking a multi-pronged approach to "duping" its presence in a routine- I will talk about both ingredients and delivery systems that can help with the same problems niacinamide addresses...

Barrier Repair


Those of you with dehydrated skin will be familiar with the concept of the skin's natural moisture barrier. The moisture barrier is the mechanism by which our skin protects itself and holds moisture. It is of utmost importance to skin health, function, and appearance. Dehydrated skin can be dull, flaky, painful, and prone to inflamed acne. Where niacinamide usually swoops in to help fix up a damaged moisture barrier, I substitute a few key elements...

  • Ceramides: Ceramides and niacinamide are best buddies, found in many formulations side-by-side. But you don't need niacinamide to have a party. Ceramides, paired with fatty acids and cholesterol are still great for topical use to bolster a damaged or weakened moisture barrier. They're common in creams, but you can also find some toners and serums that contain these powerhouses.
  • Facial oils: I neglected facial oils for a long time, thinking my oily skin didn't need them or wouldn't like them. I was incredibly wrong. I now think that basically everyone can benefit from some type of facial oil blend in their daily routine. Indeed, if you are suffering some type of dehydration in particular, you will probably find that the right mix of oils will help your skin recover some of its bounce and resilience.
  • Heavy petrolatum-based balms: Niacinamide helps fix your moisture barrier, actively. Occlusive agents, petrolatum being the best of the best, won't immediately "go to work" on your skin, but they protect it and bolster its ability to repair itself naturally. It's not like a surgery to reset a bone, but like a cast to protect it while it heals. Sensitivites to petrolatum occur, but they are incredibly rare. It's something any skincare beginner can adapt to their routine, as it's unlikely to cause breakouts, but will absolutely get your moisturizing routine off to a good start.
Recommendations:

Ceramides:
Cerave Moisturizing Cream
Meishoku Ceracolla Gel
Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid

Facial oils:
Stratia Fortify Oil
The Ordinary Squalane Oil
The Ordinary Marula Oil

Petrolatum-based occlusives:
Vaseline
Cerave Healing Ointment
Aquaphor



Anti-Inflammation


  • Copper Tripeptide: This is a bit of a hand-wavey next-gen antioxidant, but after using some copper products for a few months, I can see the redness reduction and pro-skin repair effects on my own face. I think that in the next 5 years, we will see more research and products with this ingredients, which encourages collagen production and reduces inflammation. Great for acneic and aging skin concerns.
  • Snail Mucin: There's a reason things like starfish and bee venom have somewhat faded in popularity, but snail remains a staple in so many Asian skincare lovers' routines. Products containing snail tend to be exceptionally good at relieving irritation, redness, and inflammation. Great for use if your skin is irritated by climate, excessive picking (hey you! Stop that!), or a breakout.
  • Madecassoside/Centella/Madecassic Acid: This ingredient can be found in a pure botanical extract form and some derivatives.
via LaRochePosay.us



Recommendations:

Copper:
NIOD Copper Amino Isolate
Skin Biology Super CP Serum

Snail:
Mizon All in One Snail Repair Cream
CosRX Snail 96 Essence

Madecassoside:
Klairs Supple Preparation Toner
La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume B5


Anti-Acne


Of course there are many treatments out there for acne, but what makes niacinamide so useful for an acneic person is its gentle nature. Many acne-focused ingredients are harsh, sensitizing, and can cause problems for beginners. I will not be talking about those obvious acne treatments, but the ones that fall in the same category as niacinamide- gentle, fairly foolproof, and supplemental to harsher steps you might already have.


  • Azelaic acid: I have personally found that AzA resolves my inflamed acne with fewer side effects and greater speed compared to BHA and retinoids. Read this excellent Snow White and the Asian Pear post for more AzA details. A great benefit of AzA is it works to relieve inflammation, redness, and rosacea as well as acne, so it's the antithesis of your average drying acne treatment. 
  • Honey: Raw honey will always have a special place in my heart. Its ability to repair and soothe skin while giving the effect of a more-drying clay mask makes it a no-brainer weekly treatment for acne-prone folks. Here is my method for creating mess-free DIY honey masks which you can use regularly- daily if you like. Honey is nourishing, gentle, and purifying for acne-riddled skin. It's something you can use alongside any acne regimen.
  • Tea Tree: I know, I know- so many people would call this "harsh" and unforgiving as far as acne treatments go. The problem most people have is they either use alcohol-laden formulas with a tiny hint of tea tree or they commit the mortal sin of applying tea tree oil straight up to their faces. This will give you horrible chemical burns eventually, and is not advisable under any conditions. However, I find TTO mixed at a 2% concentration into a gentle carrier oil (jojoba, argan, camellia, mineral, rosehip, squalane) makes for a lovely gentle allover treatment. I use a few drops mixed into my moisturizer nearly every day to incorporate this anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial ingredient without compromising my skin's moisture levels.
via Glowrecipe.com

Recommendations:

Azelaic Acid:
The Ordinary 10% Azelaic Acid Suspension
Melazepam 20% Cream

Honey:
Raw honey

Tea tree:
DIY 2% tea tree oil blend
LJH Tea Tree Essence

Fading Hyperpigmentation



  • Arbutin: Alpha-arbutin promotes skin brightening and fading of visible UV damage in the form of dark spots/post acne spots. It's rarer than niacinamide, but I've found it to be excellent for brightening, caring for PIH, and overall skin tone. 
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is definitely a little stronger/more intense than niacinamide, but it's not quite as tricky to introduce as an exfoliating acid. L-Ascorbic Acid is the form of Vitamin C that has the most proven efficacy for affecting skin tone and texture, and can be found in many serums. This is a great active to use, even if you are already using acids or retinoids.
  • Licorice root extract: Found in many Asian skincare products, licorice is an all-round great- not quite as multifunctional as niacinamide, but it comes close. Its main benefits are brightening and soothing for redness/irritation. 
via Amazon.com


Recommendations:

Arbutin: 
DHC Arbutin Masks
Hada Labo Shirojyun Line
Kikumasamune High Moist Lotion

Vitamin C:
Timeless Vitamin C Serum
Stratia Vitamin C (coming soon-
check the Stratia Instagram Page!)

Licorice Root:
Paula's Choice Redness Relief Toner
TonyMoly I'm Real Mask (Rice)
Naturie Hatomugi Skin Conditioner


12.20.2017

2017 Favorites: Skincare

Whamisa Green Tea Serum Toner


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2016 saw me raving about Klairs Supple Preparation Toner. It was the first Asian toner that didn't break me out and actually gave me visible hydration results. I recommended it to dozens of people, many who ended up loving it as much as me. Then I betrayed the happy little relationship and cheated with the brand-new Whamisa Green Tea Serum Toner.

This toner is a product of the collaboration between the Korean brand Whamisa and the USA-based KBeauty shop Glow Recipe. It contains alcohol, making it unsuitable for some sensitive skins, but perfect for my oily, dehydration-prone face. This toner gives me a bounce and radiance I don't get from the Klairs. It absorbs quickly and gets the job done, making it ideal for quick routines and long luxurious ones alike.

I think of this as the little sister of the (original) Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid. Though she be watery, yea she is mighty. I can apply multiple layers of this for the "7 Skin Method" or just a single layer, and my skin immediately looks smoother and more hydrated.

I purchase this product from Target.com where it runs between $15 and $22 depending on current coupons and sales.

Stratia Velvet Cleansing Milk


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First cleansers came and went this year- I've bounced between oils, balms, and micellar waters. But the one thing that remained constant is the Velvet Cleansing Milk. This cleanser is stickier to the touch compared to something like Ponds Cold Cream. You'd never mistake it for a leave-on lotion, it's undoubtedly a cleanser. It's texture makes it luxurious and oh-so-gentle when applied to a damp or dry face and massaged. It glides over the skin but latches onto dirt and grime, whisking it away without leaving a trace.

National Parks/Forests here in the USA often have signs which instruct you to Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories from protected wildlife areas (i.e. don't throw garbage on the ground, don't kidnap squirrels.) That's the sentiment that I always recall when talking about the Velvet Cleansing Milk. It somehow leaves zero residue, yet it doesn't strip anything away that shouldn't be removed.

I purchase this product from StratiaSkin.com where it is $15 full price, but I wait for the occasional 20% off sales that Stratia holds for major holiday weekends.

Whamisa Organic Flowers & Aloe Mask


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I bought this mask as kind of a joke- har har let's see what these suckers paying $9.00 per mask are wasting their time on- and I ended up pranking myself, bro. Because this $9.00 slippery gel mask has become indispensable in my routine. I actually rearranged my skincare budget simply to allow for at least a once per week use of this mask.

The effects I notice cannot be overstated. When my skin is stressed out, either because I myself am stressed, or because I touched it, picked it, flew on an airplane, wore my makeup for too long...this stops the skin stress in its tracks and actually reverses it. It produces a pure and beaming glow on my face that looks like I've applied an expensive illuminating primer. It smooths the rough edges on healing acne. It flattens cysts in their tracks. It restores a firm plump texture to deflated, dehydrated skin.

I love having a stash of these bad boys because it I ever have a desperate SOS (Save our Skin) week when everything seems to be going up in flames, I will apply one mask at night, follow with a simple nighttime routine, and then apply one  more mask the next morning, and it is a guarantee that my bad skin week will be dead in the water.

The only complaint I have for this mask, and it's minor, is that the jelly residue it leaves on the skin is unwearable under makeup and does not fully absorb. It does not leave a heavy sensation, but if you rub anything on top- oil, cream, foundation, it will get streaky and pilly. So it's best to use at nighttime, or when you use in the daytime, rinse briefly with water. That sounds horrible, like you're wasting the precious essence, but my skin still looks just as incredible when I wear this as a morning mask and then rinse gently with water only.

I purchase these from Glow Recipe when there is a 25% off discount, or through Amazon Prime when I'm in a rush at $9/each.


Stratia Fortify Oil


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Another Stratia rave- I can't help it! Fortify is an oil blend that made me believe in oils again. It's composed of camellia, borage, perilla, squalane, marula, jojoba, cranberry, and tamanu oils, and the ratio is just-right for restoring, soothing, and protecting the skin. The name Fortify is apt-  I feel that this has strengthened my skin barrier and allowed it to take a bit more abuse without falling back into its old ways. It heals irritation and gives a bouncy, pliable texture to my skin.

In the past, a few major events would trigger a full-on skin meltdown. These include the transition from Fall to Winter and airplane travel. I traveled internationally this fall and my skin got a double wallop, yet it remained perfectly in balance, and actually continued to improve during my trip and after I got home. I attribute a large chunk of the credit to Fortify, as it's the one item I didn't skip in a single morning or nighttime routine during my travels. Between jet lag and general fatigue, I admit that I had a hard time completing my usual 10 step night routine. But I always applied a puddle of Fortify, sometimes mixed with essence, sometimes mixed with my night cream, sometimes just used alone after washing my face. And my skin was happy as a clam.

There are so many options for facial oils nowadays- you can purchase raw ingredients or buy from a number of brands who make their own. I think that the Stratia Fortify is a must-have for any facial oil lover, and a great beginner oil due to the versatile texture (neither too light nor too heavy) and the reasonable price point.

This product is $18 on StratiaSkin.com but again, I usually stock up during sales.

SNP Bird's Nest Aqua Ampoule Mask


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This humble cotton sheet mask has beaten out the dozens of masks I tried in 2016 and 2017 to win my heart. One thing first off- it is much cheaper than the Whamisa, but it does not have quite the miraculous all-round effects of that one. What it does is drench my skin in moisture and fix any tightness, flaking, or dehydration issues that come with hormonal swings, travel, and climate changes.

My skin responds very poorly to indoor heating and A/C, so it's at war with my office climate during the summers and winters especially. My occlusive morning routine is usually enough to prevent any major damage, but when I feel parched, I slather on Stratia Fortify and slap on the SNP mask, and all is right in the world. There are dozens of "types" of sheet masks out there, but nearly every one of them provides a basic level of hydration. The SNP destroys every other sheet mask I've sampled as far as hydration goes. It absorbs into my skin completely and the effects last for days. It also gives me a great radiance boost, which only lasts about 24 hours (compared to the multiple-days glow I get from the Whamisa) but it's lighter texture makes it an exceptional special event/morning mask.

I purchase these through eBay and Amazon where a 10-pack runs between $14 and $16.

NIOD SDSM2


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Oh Deciem, you science-washing, pretentious, crap-at-logistics company, you. I've expressed what I find distasteful about the Deciem umbrella of brands as a whole, but I do believe they offer quite a few quality products. NIOD is the expensive and elegant member of the Deciem family, and the products in their range often boast very odd and next-gen ingredients. SDSM2 is one such product. Its full name is the Superoxide Dismutase Saccharide Mist 2 (the first version was reformulated and improved upon this year.)

It claims to prevent water loss, reduce oxidative/environmental stress, and improve skin's ability to repair. I did not want to love this product, due to the price and my lukewarm feelings toward the company that makes it. However, I can say in the month and a half since I began using it, I notice my skin having that tiny bit more resilience to dehydration. The week before I started SDSM2, I felt the creeping tightness usually associated with winter right after washing my face, and after 4 days of using the mist, that was gone (without additional tweaks to my routine.)

After blowing through a third of my bottle, as the fine mist feels luxurious spritzed 10-12 times per use, I saw someone on Instagram suggest to dispense it into your palm and press it on like a first essence. That works like gangbusters, has the same effects as a more liberal mist, and stretches this bottle of liquid money much further. When I repurchase this, I plan to decant it into a dropper bottle which allows for even greater control over the portion size.

Melazepam



After struggling with beastly hormonal acne for years, I have found a miracle cure in Azelaic Acid. I began my current treatment plan of 20% azelaic acid the first week of December 2016, and while I saw dramatic results within the first few weeks, the gains have only snowballed since then.

Azelaic acid addresses redness and acne but it is not a traditional exfoliating acid like BHA or AHA, so it can be used in an acid-heavy routine without the same risk of dehydration that you get with layering multiple AHAs or BHA. For me, it was much more effective and gentle compared to prescription tretinoin.

I currently use the Melazepam treatment cream, which can be purchased over the counter in the USA via several online sources. It feels like the average prescription acne topical, which is to say it's quite clunky, thick, and drags on the skin. It's not cosmetically elegant, but if you saw results like my before and after...would you care?

I purchase this from Amazon Prime for around $13, and it can also be purchased on VitaminShoppe.com.

Heritage Lavender Spray


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This is the simplest product on my favorites list, and also wins the title of "most ridiculous ingredients list," as it claims to contain specially-magnetized water that benefits the skin. I just want to make it clear that that is pure distilled magnetized stupid, and the reason this spray is a favorite is that it's simple, soothing, and hydrating. You cannot get more basic than a glycerin-in-water mist, which is what the Heritage spray is.

You can easily DIY your own mist if you are confident, own a kitchen scale, and understand the important of preservatives. If not, or you're just lazy like me- this is a wonderful inexpensive option. My skin actually prefers glycerin mists to any mists containing hyaluronic acid, so I'm not bothered by the simplicity. I can tell a huge difference in my skin's moisture levels especially during the winter if I spritz this on between applying my skincare steps.

It smells beautifully of light, non-soapy lavender, and the rosewater version has an equally enchanting smell. If you are not sensitive to or allergic to rosewater, I definitely suggest picking that one up as well.

I buy this on Amazon Prime for between $7 and $9.

Cerave Healing Ointment


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The Cerave Healing Ointment is a hero product that's been featured in many posts of mine. If you're new to skincare, I will always advise you purchase a petrolatum-based ointment to use over your skincare at night. It locks in the moisture, prevents dehydration, and acts as a "crutch" for damaged moisture barriers. Vaseline is the beginner-friendly option due to the price and the simple ingredients list, but if you're ready to level up your #sluglife game, pick up a jar of the Healing Ointment.

I have to note the cost (which ranges from $10 to $20) is extremely reasonable considering I've used it once daily for 13 months and I'm only halfway done with my jar. The product features the all-powerful petrolatum, the single most effective barrier against transepidermal water loss, but it also boasts hyaluronic acid, ceramides, along with fatty ingredients like cholesterol and phytosphingosine. This all-star cast of protective, skin-repairing ingredients are so helpful for repairing dehydration and preventing it in the first place.

I love to mix this with another product to use as a final layer at night, but on lazy days I just use it on its own. It doubles as a "lip sleeping mask" (if you're extra like me) or a plain protective balm. This is one of the best products you can buy in the drugstore, especially if you suffer from tightness, flakiness under makeup, or aggravated breakouts combined with dry-feeling skin (all signs you're dehydrated, by the way, you're welcome.)

I purchase this product from local drugstores and the large jar costs between $10 and $20 depending on coupons and promotions.

La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume B5


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I already can tell 2018 will be the year of the cica-product. These products (usually featuring a mix of madeccasoside, madecassic acid, and zinc) have been common to French pharmacy lines like Avene, Bioderma, and La Roche Posay for many years, but Korean brands are catching on and releasing entire lines based around healing, soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients.

La Roche Posay's version is my favorite of the ones I've tried. I find its blend of madecassic acid, zinc, and panthenol to be exceptionally soothing for anything from an allergic reaction to a painful breakout. Its sticky texture and brief white cast make it more suitable for nighttime used, but honestly I have used it under sunscreen in the morning and it was not the worst.

I always see people mistaking this for a moisturizer- it's not truly a moisturizing product (although it does contain emollient and hydrating ingredients.) Due to the inclusion of zinc, this product has a neutral to net-drying effect. That is to say, for most people, if they attempted to use this as a sole moisturizer, they would probably find themselves drying out within a week. Think of it as you would any drying product- a spot treatment or an exfoliating acid- and baby your skin with extra moisture when you use it. Nothing beats this cream for instant redness and burning/itching relief. I brought this with me on vacation just in case, and I got a horrible allergic reaction rash on my forehead the first morning I arrived- slapped on the Cicaplast when I returned to the hotel and it was gone within a few hours.

If you have a great deal of acne (similar to my Before picture above) and find your pimples are painful or itchy then the Cicaplast Baume will be very useful to you. When you are using something like tretinoin or benzoyl peroxide, and you can't stand the drying nature of additional acids or spot treatments, Cicaplast spread over your affected acne will soothe without overloading your skin.

I purchase this from Amazon Prime for $14.

Honorable Mentions/Farewells


This was the year that all my favorite shit was reformulated or discontinued, because the world is unfair. I want to rave about them but I don't want to make anybody feel sad for missing out so I will simply list them for posterity and as a final goodbye...

  • Dr. Jart Ceramidin Liquid
  • Dr. Jart Ceramidin Cream
  • Innisfree It's Real Squeeze Mask Bija
  • Benton Snail Bee Essence

All products mentioned in this post were purchased by me, with no affiliate discounts or gifting involved. Stay tuned for my 2017 MAKEUP Favorites Post, coming up very soon!