Holy Snails Shark Sauce

I had — have — a lot of bad acne scarring. I didn’t really realize how big of a difference a good niacinamide treatment could make the scars improve. Sure, I’d had a long run with Cerave PM, but within the past year, Cerave has changed their PM formulation, and it’s been rough on my skin since then. The Ordinary’s Niacinamide has a beautiful cast, until it shreds off my face like cheese in a cheese grater. So I bit the bullet and plopped down $30 for a 30 ml bottle of the Reddit-coveted Shark Sauce.

As you may have noticed this serum is a bit on the pricey side, but I can assure you that it will last a long time – one or two drops should be enough to cover your face. The serum comes out of the bottle completely clear, and dries down clear. It does feel a little tacky for the first five minutes of application so you might want to wait to add more products until then. Otherwise, other moisturizers and foundation will layer just fine over this product.

I immediately noticed my skin seemed a little brighter after the first day, which made my pores seem smaller and my pre-existing scars seem less obvious. The sheen isn’t quite as “glassy” as the Ordinary’s serum, but it still has a beautiful, silky finish once dried. And, on my four-month mark today, I can safely say this has either lightened or decreased the size of some of my worst scars.

For anyone with sensitive skin, I would be a little cautious using this product. I did experience some pore congestion and small breakouts in the first two weeks of using this (even though it was simultaneously making my skin quality appear overall better and brighter, somehow). I was somewhat taken aback by this since the formula isn’t particularly abrasive — it doesn’t sting while applying, or even create the “niacinamide flush”. Fortunately for me, the breakouts disappeared after those first few weeks, and haven’t resurfaced since then.

The ingredient list is tame, with no drying alcohols or added fragrances. Included is hyaluronic acid for moisture retention, as well as another brightening agent n-acetylglucosamine. (I am happy to report that the Shark Sauce ingredient listing is very transparent on the Holy Snail’s website, I love a good product listing that doesn’t make you scroll down for five minutes just find the ingredients in teeny-tiny print!). Oh, and, in case you were wondering: no actual sharks were harmed in the making of this product…

I’d say $30 for this niacinamide serum is money well spent. Not only is this serum great in the short-term with skin texture and discoloration, but it’ proves to be around for the long-haul as well in it’s ability to decrease the appearances of scarring. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 5/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 5/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes, although you may need to push through the first few weeks of use.

Noughty To The Rescue Conditioner

I’ve been on a hiatus since I’ve been curbing some of my cosmetic shopping over quarantine. I’ve been sticking to my tried-and-true skincare holy grails, and almost completely eschewing makeup since I don’t often leave the house. But I’m back to bring you beauty reviews of the best and worst of my limited number of quarantine purchases!

I grabbed Noughty’s To the Rescue while I was still bleaching my hair earlier this year. While I’m usually exclusive to Sauce’s Intense Repair Conditioner, I had a feeling my super-damaged bleach-blonde hair was picking up the yellow 5 and 6 dyes, making my hair look a little more yellow-brassy than it needed to be. This put me on the hunt for a white/dye-free conditioner, which I found in a pinch while I was out grocery shopping for $8.

To the Rescue has a good ingredient listing involving the usual hair hydrators of coconut oil, olive oil and shea butter, all of which show up close to the top the list. There aren’t any sulfates or drying alcohols in this conditioner. This product is vegan, and Noughty doesn’t test on animals, so those are nice bonuses, as well. The conditioner itself is a standard fare white cream with an equally generic soapy/shea butter scent (which, in my opinion, is a bit overbearing in this product, but it’s not a bad smell, per se…)

But for the contents being so good, this conditioner has terrible performance. I know what you’re thinking: “What do you expect from a $8 shampoo that you get at a grocery store?” — but I’d go as far as to say this conditioner made my hair quality worse. It feels as though the product already mostly absorbed by your skin before you can even make it to your hair! You can’t “pull” the product through your hair because of this aforementioned disappearing act. So your hair never actually feels moisturized during or after application.

When you can get it to “catch” in your hair, it tends to clump up once your hair is dry, even despite any rigorous rinsing attempts. I’ve never been able to describe my hair as both greasy-feeling and dry quite the way I can with this conditioner.

Most conditioners employ silicones that give your hair that “smooth” feeling, which this particular conditioner lacks as in it’s ingredient listing. That’s all well and good, but I suspect that the concentration of shea butter might be too high in relation to everything else, and might have benefited from a greater amount of linalool or seed extracts to make the product less chalky.

Of course, I have testing limitations with only having straight hair, and no product is ever a one-size-fits-all. But I can’t even see this being good for curly hair types, since the cream is too heavy for a “apply and rinse” conditioner. It’s not malleable enough to pull through the entire hair cuticle, which would make your hair texture a mixture of too heavy/greasy and not moisturized at all (frizzy) in other sections.

I can still get behind this company’s stance on natural ingredients and non-animal testing, though. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a product of theirs that works well for me in the future. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 1/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 1/5

Derma-E Vitamin C Concentrated Serum

I purchased this serum a bit by accident when I failed to differentiate between the words “serum” and “moisturizer” in the process of attempting to re-up my supply of Derma-E’s Vitamin C Moisturizer. I’m glad I didn’t return the serum upon realizing that it was the wrong product, because I ended up loving it!

Similar to the moisturizer, this serum smells distinctly like fruit loops. The serum comes out of the push-top bottle as a clear liquid, albeit with a faint cloudiness to it as most Vitamin C serums tend to have, but it otherwise dries down clear, and dries immediately. No drying alcohols like benzoyl alcohol in this product, nor do you get the grittiness that tends to be present in other Vit C serums.

Despite a tame ingredient listing and nothing else listed that would otherwise irritate your skin, this stuff is incredibly drying, and if it’s over-used, could most likely start to cause break-outs. Not only does it dry down quickly immediately application, but after a few hours, you’ll notice your skin starting to tighten up. Fortunately, this is a great feature for any extra layers of moisturizer and sunscreen — you’re definitely going to want to pack in as much skin protection as you can after using this.

Despite how drying this serum can be, I haven’t had any issues with stacking foundation over it, and the foundation subsequently “cracking” around dry spots. I do, however, tend to avoid night-time exfoliants after a day of using this serum — it’s way too much for my skin to handle. Derma-E doesn’t seem privy to disclosing the percentage of Vitamin C that’s in their products, so I’m wondering if this has a concentration that’s higher than 10% due to the effect it has on my skin.

The results from this serum are almost immediate, similar to the equally fast-acting moisturizer. It’s great at smoothing out textured areas of your skin, making it appear brighter, and I think it’s even reduced the size of a small, long-time scar on my chin!

For $20, I think this serum is definitely worth the buy if your skin has a high tolerance to acids. If you’re new to Vitamin C, I would still recommend the lower-intensity moisturizer by the same brand, but both products are phenomenal. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 4.5/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 4/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes — carefully!

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen

The skin on my face does not like American-made sunscreens, chemical or physical, for some reason. I’ve had much greater success using Asian beauty branded sunscreens like Rohto and It’s Skin. So I was initially pretty pleased that I had received this in a sample-sized bottle only at first, because I was convinced I was going to intensely dislike this product the same as my other US made sunscreens. But it turns out… that… I’m in love… and that I’d happily buy a few full-sized containers to last the summer ❤

First off, the ingredient listing: love it. No drying alcohols, and nothing else that you don’t usually see in other sunscreens, except Diatomaceous Earth. Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen DE in any of my beauty products. Normally this ingredient is used in gardens as a pesticide! A couple Google searches informed me that this is apparently safe for human use, and actually helps to shed dead skin cells. Weird.

The product itself is a lightweight, odorless clear gel. And just as the name claims, this sunscreen really is unseen once you apply it. In fact, you can’t even really feel it after two minutes of drying time! There’s absolutely no whitecast on this, not even in areas where the product might spread unevenly, and pool up. That said, it’s ridiculously easy to smoothly apply, and a little goes a long way.

Quarantine has me in the habit of not wearing foundation, so I’ve only had a chance to try layering makeup over this product once or twice. But I had no issue applying makeup over this as long as I had waited the fully time to let the sunscreen dry down. By the end of the day, there was a little bit of increased pilling, but it’s nothing that’s unmanageable, and won’t cause any patchiness as a result of fusing with your makeup.

This sunscreen is phenomenal for anyone with sensitive skin. I didn’t experience the avobenozene-burning-sensation or any subsequent redness after applying. And, this product has not caused any breakouts for me!

The only thing on my wishlist for this product is that the SPF was 50, and not 40. I can definitely see a little bit of redness if I’m outside for too long, and/or forget to reapply. Supergoop has a 50 spf sunscreen, but a few reviews are telling me it’s heavy and oily, which I’m not a huge fan of.

But I’m still really pleased with Unseen, and I plan to tote this around with me everywhere I go this summer. The full sized product is a bit pricy for $30 and only 1.7oz, but again, you don’t need very much product to cover your whole face. This sunscreen is a definite buy, for me! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 3.8/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 4.7/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes

Castor Oil

Castor oil has recently been a hot topic in the skincare community since the big eyebrow trend is still hanging around, albeit evolving. Everyone wants fuller eyebrows! Castor oil is like the 2020 version of biotin, except it’s a topical oil instead of an ingestable supplement. It claims to make your hair grow faster and will help to moisturizer your skin, so I tried it out for two months to see if it lived up to the hype.

Isn’t Castor Oil Toxic? Unless you’re allergic to castor oil, the answer is no, on two fronts. Growing up I remember hearing the reference to castor oil as being used as a laxative. Yup, gross. But there is a distinction between food-grade castor oil and skincare castor oil, so if your bottle says “not safe for consumption” then… you probably shouldn’t consume it. But that’s not because of the ricin! Yep, another unpleasant word to throw into a paragraph. Ricin is not contained in the actual oil itself. Ricin is the result of the seeds being mashed together after the oil has been extracted. Long story short, your skincare castor oil isn’t poisonous, but if you’re looking for a laxative, you should probably go find yourself a food-grade bottle!

Does it make your eyebrows or eyelashes grow faster? In my experience, no. I can see where it would give the appearance of your eyebrows seeming darker since the oil clumps all the hairs together, but if you’re missing certain patches of your eyebrow, this oil will not help to stimulate skin cells in helping the hair grow. Ditto for the eyelashes. It’s kind of a daunting task to Q-tip this in the eyelash area to begin with, but again, besides the oil making them darker, I didn’t feel that my eyelashes grew any faster or more voluminously.

I will say, however, one of my nervous tics is to pull my eyebrows when I’m stressed out, and putting castor oil almost completely put an end to this habit, solely because that oil is so… unruly, to deal with. Turns out, not pulling your eyebrows out lets them grow! Who would have thought… For anyone who suffers trichotillomania, I highly recommend you pick up a bottle and give it a try. You can even use it for your hair. Which brings me to…

Does it make your hair grow faster? Again, no. But it is, in small doses, it is a good “mask” to help keep some moisture in. Since castor oil is so sticky, I would recommend that anyone with fine hair use this as a day-mask or wash it out before you go to bed.

Also, for all you bleach blondes out there, have you ever had the burning desire to speed up the shedding process in one fell swoop? Look no further than a bottle of castor oil… place it on your most broken hair follicles and watch allllll the hair fall out! (I’d like to think that this happened for the better…)

What about your skin? I don’t really recommend it. Again, this oil is just so heavy and sticky that it’s very difficult to remove or absorb, which, in my opinion, also makes it a bad candidate for oil-cleansing (OCM). Despite this oil being non-comedogenic, I noticed a lot more redness in my skin than usual when using it as a “only step) in my routine.

Unfortunately castor oil misses the mark on skincare and hair growth panacea status. However I think it’s been a great alternative to coconut oil for masking my hair and helping to keep it hydrated. There are a lot of masks on the market that boast castor oil as the main product, but I think it’s best to go straight to the source and just grab a bottle from a reputable skincare or holistic company business. ~A

TL;DR:

Will it definitively make your hair/eyebrows/eyelashes grow super fast? Probably not.

Is it good for your skin? Not the worst, but there are better alternatives.

Is it good for overall hair health? When used sporadically, yes.

Black Owned Beauty Brands

I found this awesome infographic that lists black owned cosmetic brands from @nyjats Twitter. A great way to support the Black Lives Matter movement right now is to shop at black owned businesses.

Two of my favorites in this list: Mielle Organics for natural hair products, they don’t generally include drying alcohol or SLS ingredients! Then there’s Pat McGrath — I have a powder eyeshadow from this brand that I LOVE but I’m terrified of using because it’s, well, it’s that good, it never rubs off and the color payout is fantastic — so I’ll probably cry if and when it runs out.

I hope that everyone finds peace and safety in this time, and remember to amplify black voices! ~A

Clinique Dramatically Different Hydrating Jelly

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile now, you have probably realized that I never stop talking about Clinique’s Dramatically Different Gel. It is just the most reliable, versatile, lightweight and foolproof gel, and I’ve never found anything like it.

Except, oops, I forgot that Clinique had a few more things in their Dramatically Different line-up. I had a little inspiration after reading a great write-up on this product over at V’s Beauty Talk blog, which kickstarted me into grabbing a 1.7oz trial size for $15 ($30 for full-size) to see if this lived up to my extremely high expectations.

Although Clinique tends to be heavy on the ingredients-you-cant-pronounce-the-names-of, this line generally leaves out drying alcohols and comdeogenic oils, which I like. The product itself is closer to a liqui-gel than a jelly, but this makes it easy to get out of the bottle. If you have dry skin, prepare for this stuff to dry down extremely fast. You would think this would be “a little goes a long way” spreadable, but it’s not.

Unfortunately the review mostly goes downhill from here. Immediately after I applied this, my skin felt sticky. After six hours, my skin still felt sticky and… dry, again. Products are impossible to stack over this, because it will pill. Scrubbing the product off the next morning also ends in a gigantic, pilling mess.

So… what is this? I can’t use it as a moisturizer, because it doesn’t hydrate my skin for long enough, and I also can’t stack anything else over top of it if I wanted to. I can’t use it as a one-step emolliant either, or even consider it a humectant, because it, again, is not hydrating.

Based on the ingredient listing, and for the sole fact I love the gel version so much, I would be inclined to recommend this to sensitive-skin users, but honestly I suspect the uncomfortable sensation this moisturizer leaves behind actually did cause some irritation to my skin, and ultimately caused me to break out a few times after using this.

I was hugely disappointed by this product, but, for some perspective, there are three different types of moisturizers in this series, and more suited for different skin types than the other. Maybe the gel version is my one-and-only, and you know what they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 2/5

Longevity: 2/5

How much I actually like this product: 1.75/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: No

The Death of the Department Store

First, on a lighter note, happy Memorial Day to all my American readers, and happy Monday to everyone else! I’m taking a slight detour from talking about skincare today to talk about a subject that’s near and dear to me: malls, shopping for clothes, and the closure of long-time retailers. It is safe to say that if I was close to you in any way in the first twenty-five years of my life, I have probably gone to a mall with you. I spent a lot of time there with my grandma and my mom, especially. Out of all the department stores available, JCPenney was surely my mom and I’s favorite.

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 set off a chain of bankruptcies and store closures, since the physical locations are now closed, and the spending that may have occured online is partially curtailed from those who lost their income. Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, my beloved JcPenney, and now Lord & Taylor have joined the ranks of the, well, fallen, along with their dearly departed relatives, BonTon, Sears and Toys R Us.

Let’s be real, though, these stores have been struggling for years. Of course, the failings are largely in part to bad or poorly executed business moves Failure to boost their online presence, failing to adapt their physical locations into the strip malls or smaller storefronts that are now gaining in popularity, poor labor conditions, failure to secure on-trend and relevant suppliers, siphoning 90% of the company’s income to a few choice CEO’s (ok, I might be exaggerating just a little), just to name a few.

What I’m here to talk about today are the issues I had as a consumer. Obviously, my complaints as an individual are not, and never will be, what sunk these companies ships. But I can’t help but feel I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Get a couple thousand of us who have similar sentiments, and you, as a company, have lost just a tiny piece of your income over the next few years.

Design – No shade if you own any of these shirts. But does anyone look at these shirts and think, “this is an inspiring, long-lasting staple in my closet”? To me, it looks like the end result of a K-Mart shopping spree in 1998. I wouldn’t personally market these in the 25-45 year old woman demographic, but JcPenney seems to think that’s the way to go.

On the flip side, we have companies like J. Crew who have tasked themselves with selling more fashion forward pieces. Sure, this dress looks cool right now, but is it worth the pricetag if you’re only going to wear once, maybe twice, if you’re lucky? Is this going to be cool in a year? And that type of fabric/material… don’t you break out into hives just by looking at it? (I know I do!)

Price and Quality – As a business, your end game is to buy a product from a supplier or a wholesaler on the cheap, sell it at a little bit of markup, and viola, there’s your profit. But as someone who’s been shopping for, well, their entire life, I am now mostly able to determine bad from good quality. If you’re trying to sell me a tank top for even as cheap as $11, and I pick it up and realize it feels like it’s a stiff paper bag and that the hems will roll up after one wash, I’m not going to buy it, even if it is only $11. And if you, a store, tells me that you bought it from your supplier for $9 — then you better drop your supplier, fast!

This was J. Crew and Gap’s biggest undoing, in my opinion. I don’t want to walk into a store that’s trying to sell me a “high-end” lifestyle, and pick up a skirt or a shirt that’s displayed on the rack that already has wrinkles in it’s short-longevity fabric, all while boasting a $50 price tag. Especially when a company had been known in the past to only provide well-made items (I’m looking at you, Gap!)

Contending with the Internet – have you ever gone onto Walmart’s online site and noticed how slow it is, no matter how fast your internet connection is? that’s because it’s bogged down with zillions of items. It makes the online shopping experience with them really unpleasant. Macy’s and Kohl’s are also notorious for having websites with heavy-load times. I’m no master website designer or server administrator, but in the year 2020, there has to be a way to somehow circumvent this.

And sure, having an online presence is big. But just because you went online and made the shopping experience more convenient, isn’t going to stop the consumer from comparison shopping. Case in point:

What a cute Nike hoodie from Kohl’s! I don’t know about $45 for it, though. Let’s see what else is out there.
oh what do you know, this is $9 cheaper on EBay, new with tags and has another color option! Just need to check out the seller and make sure they’re legit. See ya Kohl’s!

Inclusivity – For the most part, department stores haven’t really changed their approach to modeling clothes. And I get it, to some extent — using a thin model to show off an item would, in theory, bring attention to the item itself instead of the models’ typically static features. But not everyone has a 25 inch waist or thin thighs.

I think a sign of a good clothier, or someone who has invested in good suppliers and designers, is a company that sells clothes that conceivably look good on most people. An arduous task, I’m sure — everyone’s bodies are different!

Now, American Eagle and Aerie are no saints in the industry. Their sweaters still pill in the wash. But I love seeing the models on their website. They’re just so much more realistic. Sometimes I even see models who have the exact same features as me, and it makes me feel more inclined to buy the clothes, since it’s proof to me that, I too, an average person, can look good in these outfits.

In short, I’m sure no big-box retailer is going to stumble across my post and have some great revelation over how they’ve been “doing it all wrong”, according to one girl who lives in a little city. I am really going to miss the exciting aspect of stepping into a mall and wondering what you were going to see that day. But writing this post was a reminder to myself that, in a way, some of these retailers dug their own grave. ~A

Mediheal NMF Intensive Hydrating Mask

Lately, the weather around here has been anywhere between 25° and 70°, and my skin is suffering for it. Even my coveted My Beauty Diary masks don’t seem to be doing much in the way of re-introducing moisture back into my skin. So I decided to look for a sheet mask that was a little more heavy duty in hydration.

This mask is a pain to get out of the packaging and unfold since it is over-saturated (in the best way possible, of course) in product. That said, the fact that the linen is already soaked through makes it a lot easier to contour to your face, making this one of the better-fitting masks I’ve tried in my lifetime.

Right away, I loved the way this mask felt on. It was immediately relieving, and refreshing! Since it’s over-saturated in product, the overall effect is cooling. But I just felt like the tightness and irritation were going away in real time.

Unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of the tacky residue the mask leaves behind. As with most other masks, you can’t really stack other skincare or product over this for at least 30 minutes to an hour, or else it will pill. But this stuff is really sticky. Sure, that probably means that it’s better at retaining moisture, but it’s just a little bit too uncomfortable, for too long.

The long-term effects, however, are amazing! My skin has been brighter and clearer since I started to use it. It doesn’t aggravate my skin, and I haven’t experienced any breakouts from using it, despite the obnoxious pore-clogging texture that the mask seems to leave behind after use.

I think for how much improvement in quality my skin seemed to experience, $11 for a box of five masks was more than worth my money. Despite my complaints about the immediate after-effects of this mask, this is a great pick for anyone with sensitive skin and enough time to spare for this product to fully sink in. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 4.5/5

Longevity: 4.5/5

How much I actually like this product: 3.75/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes

After a little Googling, I just saw that Mediheal has BTS special edition versions of some of their masks. I wish I had seen this before, how freakin cool!

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Paula’s Choice BHA, your day of reckoning is finally here. Sort of. I’ve been experimenting with this product for close to a year now, and I’m actually still not quite sure where I stand on it.

The first thing I wanted to say is that this BHA was actually way more effective before they reformulated and chucked it in new packaging. Back then, I felt like I actually saw my pores shrinking in almost real-time. I think this is why it achieved holy grail status on a lot of blogs and subreddits. Back then, it was certainly worth it’s $24 retail value.

This exfoliant comes out of the bottle in liquid form — only a few drops will come out of the bottle at a time, which is really all you need for either your whole face, or any trouble areas that might be in need of it. It leaves a very slight oily residue behind, but nothing that will deter you from the rest of your skin routine.

The purpose of BHA (which is usually found in the form salicyclic acid) is to break through the oil and dead skin on your face and fight any acne-causing bacteria underneath, so the thought is that it’s good for both fighting and pre-empting acne. It can clear clogged pores, and help them to shrink. But this product does this in a very… hit or miss manner. On some sections of my face it seemed to smooth out my pores, and sometimes stop acne before it got any worse. On other sections, it was like I had never applied anything at all. My skin was either the same, or worse, by the next day.

I can chalk some of the skin-worsening up to the typical exfoliant “worse-before-it-gets-better” cell turnover, sure. But I never felt like certain sections of my skin got any better, even after long-term and careful use. I say careful because it is tempting and easy to want to go overboard with this liquid, but buyer beware: this stuff is crazy drying. You might not notice it until the end of the day, but be prepared for some skin pilling and cracking, particularly around your chin and lips.

What I liked about the old formulation was that it was fantastically effective against sebaceous filaments which a lot of people have trouble with on or around their nose. Actually, that was the only reason I ever bought this pricey BHA in the first place! But the new formulation doesn’t seem to address this problem.

This review probably seemed all over the place — there really were small sections of my face that showed a positive difference after using this, but overall, this wasn’t a good product for me. Different people have different reactions of exfoliants, so it’s possible this BHA is still worthy of the $24 spend for some people. For me personally, I think I’ll need to rely on AHA’s to keep my skin under control. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 1.5/5

Longevity: n/a

How much I actually like this product: 2/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: No. Or maybe yes? Who knows!