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.

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!

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.

The Ordinary 100% Plant Derived Squalane

Ever feel like your moisturizing just isn’t, well, moisturizing enough? Put some squalane in it! Not only is squalane good on it’s own as a hydrating oil, I like to mix this stuff in with almost everything.

Like many other TO products, this serum comes in a dark glass bottle, to prevent oxidation. I did a little extra research on this, since I’ve bought squalane from other brands that did not have dark bottles. Apparently, the compound of squalEne is highly susceptible to breaking down when exposed to oxygen and light. It’s younger sister squalAne has a much longer shelf life, but is still subject to degradation over time, and the dark bottles will help to slow this down. In short: other companies who sell squalane in a clear glass bottle are doing it wrong (I’m looking at you, Peter Thomas Roth!)

TO has an excellent dropper, if a bit unwieldy, to take the squalane out of the bottle. Since it’s so thin, the squalane tends to spread quickly, and absorbs just as fast. Because it absorbs so fast and it’s hard to correct when i misapply the product, I always need justtt a little more product. But the droppers are easy to use and to manipulate pressure on so that you only get as much product as you need. Since a little goes a long way, and the dropper makes it easy to put excess product back in the bottle, this product tends to last me close to six months.

The squalane itself is clear, and incredibly thin — it’s almost like water. For some reason TO’s brand of squalane seems even thinner than any other squalane I’ve tried. Although you can use this as a stand-alone oil and apply this directly to your face, I typically like to use this as an additive with my moisturizers (especially Clinique’s Dramatically Different).This makes it far less likely to pill with any other skincare product you might be wearing underneath.

I used squalane at the height of my cystic acne, and never noticed it causing any break outs — I can say the same of it now, it’s definitely a great pick for anyone who has sensitive skin. It’s also great if you live in a colder climate, who doesn’t want the extra hydration when it’s 10 degrees outside? For $10, this is a long lasting staple I’d recommend for anyone’s skincare collection. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 5/5

Longevity: 4.5/5

How much I actually like this product: 5/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes

Bio-Oil Specialist Skin Care – Price Increase and Fakes, a 2020 Update

There’s been a recent uptick in Bio-Oil’s popularity, and I can’t help but wonder if some of the hub-bub is also related to their remarkably sharp price increase! Bio-Oil has been on the market for a little over thirty years, and remains a well known and liked skincare product because the stuff actually works. I reviewed Bio-Oil previously, in fact (link to original review here); while I don’t think it’s a miracle product for scarring, it is a great introduction into oils you can apply to your skin. It was worth $9, for sure. A quick walk into Walgreens last week, however, revealed the new price tag was $17 for the same amount of product.

I was a little peeved at the $17 price tag, but realizing the price was roughly the same as Amazon’s current going rate, I threw in the towel and purchased it. I do really like the stuff, after all, and sometimes a girl is too lazy to drive across town to Target/wait three days for shipping!

Foolishly, I also believed that Walgreens would pick from a relatively reputable stock for their beauty products, but I suppose to only reputable retailer would be Bio-Oil themselves. I should have opened the box in the store to inspect the product. But I didn’t. I got home and sure enough, upon opening the bottle, discovered that I may have had a dupe on my hands.

Sign 1 Fake: Super thin, almost water-like consistency. The real Bio-Oil is more like… oil. It slips and slides around your skin, and doesn’t immediately absorb, but the fake is much more thin. Upon further Googling for signs of a fake, I realized the fakes will also “bubble” if you shook them. Yep. It did that too.

Sign 2 of Fake: the smell. This had a faint whiff of like… antiseptic, kind of. Like the stuff they use to sterilie everything at the doctor’s office. Definitely not the light, faintly floral smell of Bio-Oil.

Sign 3 of Fake: A little more Googling informed me that the color will appear more pink than orange. This was definitely pink.

I didn’t even want to try putting this on my face for the sake of “science” and seeing what it would do. The antiseptic smell convinced me that I would more or less be putting mouthwash on my face.

It’s tough to find a good source for Bio-Oil, since the regular consumer cannot buy directly from the manufacturer themselves. Bio-Oil is easy to find at almost any supermarket and drugstore, but again, even drugstores I view as reputable aren’t immune to buying bad stock. With that said, if you’re going to buy Bio-Oil, I highly recommend skipping Amazon altogether, since Amazon is the king of fake products. I’ve had more comfort and assurance of quality products from Ulta, Vitamin Shoppe and GNC.

I know the frustration of buying fake products, so I hope this will bring a level of awareness to new Bio-Oil converts! It’s a great product, so long as it’s the real product! ~A

(Don’t forget to check out my original review here!)

My Beauty Diary Face Masks

My Beauty Diary sheet masks are the best way to ease yourself into the sheet mask world. In fact, I’ve tried other brands of sheet masks, and always find myself wanting to go back to MBD. They’re cheap ($13 for a pack of eight), effective, and the masks fit and stay on my face better than any other. Because they fit better, they also seem to pick up grits off of my skin more effectively. And although all of the masks are lightly fragranced, they’re not overwhelming or head-ache inducing (with a few exceptions) — which is important, since these masks needs to stay on your face for twenty to thirty minutes.

There’s a lot of types of these masks, though. There’s also been a couple reformulations, and packaging changes, making it hard to discern which ones stand out more than the others. Usually I buy assorted packs on Amazon so that I can try them out to see which ones work for me, and which ones don’t. Here’s a short list of my personal favorites, and some of my not so favorites.

Like: Imperial Bird’s Nest Mask. This is probably the most hydrating sheet mask I’ve ever used across several sheet mask brands. Although the mask is goopy, and therefore a bit difficult to get out of the package and onto your face, the hydrating effect this has on the skin is totally worth it. The effects last throughout the day without being sticky. The ingredients might elicit an eyebrow raise (swiftlet nest extract, which implies, um, bird saliva), but visibly prove to be beneficial for the long-term health and hydration of the skin. My skin quality is fantastic when I use this twice a week. 5/5

Like: Natto Mask. Another mask where the ingredients are a little questionable (fermented soybeans), but the after-effects are indisputable: this sheet mask will make your skin super smooth, and incredibly hydrated. My only complaint is that the effects don’t seem to last as long as Imperial Bird’s Nest. 4.75/5

Like: Royal Pearl Mask. This mask is fantastic at skin brightening and evening out complexion. It’s purpose is not necessarily to be hydrating, so it won’t have as much of a long-term skin smoothing effect, but it really does noticeably illuminate your skin. I still wish it was a tad more hydrating, even though I know that’s not the point. But overall, Royal Pearl Mask is a great mask for my complexion. 4.5/5

Dislike: Aloe Vera Mask. Aloe Vera is typically used to diminish sun damage, and decrease redness caused by skin irritation. I used this on a “bad skin day”, hoping it would help to decrease some inflammation. I discovered that, not only is this mask not hydrating at all, but it doesn’t really do much in the way of easing skin irritation. Weirdly, I think this mask could even be described as “dry” (which might be caused by the aloe vera, since it’s cooling and tacky). 1/5

Dislike: Red Wine Mask. This mask just isn’t really for me. Red wine contains reservatrol, which is supposed to help with anti aging. Moisturizing and complexion evening is another key component of this mask. I… guess it’s a bit moisturizing, but doesn’t do anything at all for my complexion in the way of evening it out, or brightening. This mask is also more powerfully scented than the others. My biggest gripe with this is the fact that it’s sticky for a long time while drying, and still sticky even after it’s dried down — aka, doesn’t play well with other products over it. 2/5

Leave a comment if you have a favorite My Beauty Diary mask — or any mask at all! ~A

The Ordinary Buffet

I was contemplating going back to my review for the Ordinary’s niacinamide and copy-pasting the whole thing into this post, since the wear and the results have been roughly the same for me between the two products. But, alas, that would have been boring.

In TO’s usual style, this is a serum that you can apply directly to your face using a dropper. Buffet’s serum is clear, but extremely heavy. I usually apply one squeeze of the dropper to both sides of my face, and to my forehead. When spreading the serum, I have to be INCREDIBLY careful to not go over the same section more than once. Because it pills. Like crazy.

The pilling, actually, merits it’s own dang paragraph. I had almost the identical problem with The Ordinary’s niacinamide. As the instructions state, your face must be clean before applying. And they mean it, too: nothing can be on your face, or this product will pill. Don’t even think about putting foundation, or any other moisturizer on top of this, either! This product plays well with nothing, and will cause your face to become a huge, pilling mess if you try to introduce anything else for the next eight hours. The serum does leave behind a tacky feeling even after it’s dried, and the residue will peel off your skin if you push on it too hard.

All that said… even on it’s own, this serum has a really nice sheen to it that makes your skin glow. I noticed that it decreases redness and other discoloration, too, which evens out your skin tone. If you’re comfortable with going out into the world bare-faced (and without a lot of sun exposure, since the likelihood of you applying SPF over this are most likely nil), this product will make your skin look phenomenal.

Long-term results have been harder for me to track, because of the aforementioned pilling product: most days, I’d like to be able to use SPF, and a little bit of foundation. Peptides and their supporting amino acid actors are supposed to be helpful to reduce signs of aging, but I’m of the opinion that this product itself is a one-time shot only. Once the product has worn off (or pilled off!), my skin no longer looks bright. Similar to the niacinamide product, the serum has a certain tacky-ness created by the ingredients that contributes to the shine, but I’m not convinced that it’s being absorbed well by the skin since it pills off so quickly, thus making me question if it’s truly effective.

If you’re a lucky individual who can stack Buffet with other products, there’s a few counter-indications for using this with other ingredients. Vitamin C will nullify the effects of ‘Buffet, as will any other direct acid, such as lactic acid. In terms of comedogenicity, despite Buffet leaving behind a residue, this did not cause me to break out, or create any sort of irritation. Yay!

If you’re going bare-faced and are willing to forgo all of your other skincare products that day, Buffet is the way to go. You will be glow-y and bright! Otherwise, I’d skip this one in any routine. I’m hoping to find another peptide serum that plays better with others.

Happy 2020! May we have all have fantastic skin this year! ~A

Perceived efficacy: Short term, 5/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 2.5/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes

Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

Once again, I fell victim to cute packaging, and a couple good reviews on Reddit. You can’t just print cute fractal flowers on the box and expect me not to be interested! I mean, it’s not to say that this product was awful: I suspect it might work better on some skin types, but certainly not mine, and I’m not convinced it was worth the $25 price tag.

I mean, come on…. just look at that cute packaging!

This is a no-frills, odorless serum that you apply on your face using the dropper. Unlike a few other serums I’ve tried, this product seems to start off faintly orange colored instead of clear, but I don’t think at that point it’s considered oxidized enough to lose it’s efficacy. Of course, it absorbs clear so there’s no issue with cast. So long as you’ve waited a few minutes to let it dry, this plays very well with anything you layer over it.

It seems like there’s a lot of good things going on in the ingredient listing. Vitamin C at 10% concentration, ferulic and hyaluronic acid, and a few other plant extracts like aloe, grapefruit, and chamomile. No drying alcohols, which is preferential for me personally, unlike the very well-known Timeless Vitamin C, which sports benzyl alcohol in the 2nd line of ingredients.

After a day of use, this serum will usually cause me to break out, and dries out my skin, causing my skin and/or makeup to flake off my face. To some degree, I would expect that, it is an exfoliant after all! But over two months of trial and every other day of use, it never really got better. I continued to break out, and my skin tone never became brighter.

I also felt like this product oxidized REALLY quickly, despite being in an air-tight, dark-colored bottle. The faintly orange cast became true orange in a little over a month, and also started to smell slightly iron-y. There’s a few outside factors that might have happened to cause this — maybe I had picked up a product that had been on the store shelves for a little bit too long — but most serums I’ve tried will stray away from oxidation for 3 to 4 months, at least.

The Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum definitely won’t be a rebuy of mine since it doesn’t play well with my skin. I also don’t think it’s worth the money for the short shelf life of the product. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 1.5/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 1.5/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: No

Physicians Formula 24-Karat Gold Collagen Serum

I can imagine the Physican’s Formula marketing round-table at the Markwins Beauty Brands HQ for this serum, scrolling through Instagram, watching the myriad of videos of girls applying shimmery-colored serums out of droppers onto their face before they accomplish some glorious feat of makeup. “We’ll make a shiny serum with absolutely no benefit at all!”, said the marketers. “But we’ll say it boosts collagen and make them think it’s doing something.”

For $14, it’s a really cute and boujie-looking gold and glittery bottle, although the bottle itself is way too big for the amount of product it’s actually holding, 1 fl. oz. Points off for wasteful packaging. The pump itself is pretty efficient though, and gives you a consistent helping of the amount of product you’ll actually need to apply on your face. I’m not going to say “a little goes a long way” with this product, since it tends to dry up really quickly, but two full pumps should get you exactly what you’ll need.

Application of this is… smooth, but as I mentioned before, it dries up pretty fast. Ok, not dries up. It transfers immediately from your fingers to your face, and leaves a super tacky residue behind. But it doesn’t feel like you’ve delivered any moisture to your skin, so that’s… not great. And that tacky residue is uncomfortably long-lasting.

As you probably guessed, this contains gold. Not sure what I was expecting that to do — like, I’d apply it and it would make my skin like… automatic highlighter? Realistically, I’d get one giant chunk of a gold flake in the serum, and it would wind up somewhere inconvenient on my face.

Eh, ok, this has niacinamide in it, which is always good. Fine. That’s one redeeming quality. Collagen does make it’s way as well. But for short-term and long-term effects, this product doesn’t do much for me. My skin doesn’t feel hydrated — it just feels sticky. I don’t experience any collagen-boosting effect. Heck, I don’t even see any niacinamide pore-shrinking benefits, in fact, I’m pretty sure this serum breaks me out! Although I can’t pinpoint the exact ingredient that would cause that.

This is a lose for me, but a win for the Physicians Formula marketing team. I definitely judged a book by it’s cover in this case, and bought the sparkly thing instead of the plain-looking thing that actually worked. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 1/5

Longevity: 2/5

How much I actually like this product: 1/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: No

Rohto Melano CC Vitamin C

I was really excited to start this product. I was convinced it would be a miracle in a tube. R/skincareaddiction and R/asianbeauty had more or less given this Vitamin C serum Holy Grail status, and this serum uses the most-effective Vit C delivery method of ascorbic acid. What’s not to like? But it just didn’t do anything for me at all.

I will say I love the packaging. The tube packaging won’t allow for any light to come in to break down the Vitamin C. Just the very fact that it’s in a tube is great, I personally feel like that’s way more convenient than a dropper. For some reason, my first usage sort of surprised me: the clear liquid comes out of the tube very slowly when you push it out, but it is a serum, and is watery to the touch. Normally you don’t picture any serum to be physically slow-moving!

You only need a finger tip or two’s worth of product to cover your whole face in a layer of this. It does take a minute to dry, but once it does, it dries fully. It’s easy to put extra layers on over this (just don’t use niacinamide! It lessens Vitamin C’s efficacy). There’s a very faint copper-y smell that’s typical of Vitamin C products, but it goes away almost immediately upon application. Just wash your hands after you use it, so that smell does not persist.

I’ve been using this product for about 3 months, every other day in the mornings. Short-term, once this product dries, my face does seem pretty bright, but that could just be the sheen from the serum in general. Long-term, I just really don’t see any results whatsoever in my skin quality — I don’t notice overall brightening, fine line decreases, or noticeable acne prevention. On the plus side, I didn’t experience any negative effects, like breakouts. There was just… nothing. Nothing happened.

The price point on this tube is awesome: $10. I didn’t find that I was getting to the bottom of the tube until month three, so the amount of product is pretty impressive, particularly because it hadn’t broken down and turned orange (which is a sign that the product is starting to go bad). This product doesn’t oxidize nearly as quick as other Vit C products I’ve used in the past, so that’s another plus.

Even though it didn’t work for me personally, I would still recommend it. I would even recommend it to sensitive skin users to try out, as well. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 1.5/5

Longevity: 2/5

How much I actually like this product: 3/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes