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!

La Roche-Posay Micellar Water

Disclaimer: I largely think micellar water is a marketing hoax. In my personal opinion, removing makeup and cleaning your face should be left to good ol’ fashioned face cleanser, possibly a splash of toner, and that thing that comes out of your sink… ah yes, water. But I do love trying out skincare products, so I will admit I’ve tried a few micellar waters in the past few years. And… this one ain’t it, for me.

I picked up the “sensitive skin” version of this instead of the effaclar version, which is more targeted toward oily skin. As with most micellar waters, it is basically… odorless, colorless, water. It’s best applied with a cotton ball or pad.

Did it remove my makeup? I hate comparing two items because there’s zillions of items on the market in general, but I actually sort of liked the Garnier Micellar water back in the day, when it was like the only one you could buy in the grocery store. Garnier’s formula was ridiculously oily, but man, did it take off makeup! One swipe and five layers of foundation were gone. That’s not the case with LRP’s version, here: on average I used up five cotton circles to take off my makeup, even on a “light foundation” day. So it does remove makeup, but it will waste your time in doing so.

Did it make my skin feel clean? After the aforementioned five cotton circles used up on my face, my skin was feeling a little raw. I guess it felt clean? There definitely isn’t an “oily” residue left over. However…

Is it good for sensitive skin? In my opinion, no. Sure, some of the abrasion can come from using a cotton circle or pad, but this product is impractical to use with just your hands. Once my makeup was removed, my face felt dry. Even after adding a layer of moisturizer, my skin was still more dry throughout the day than it would have been, had I just used a regular cleanser.

There are no drying alcohols, sulfates or parabens in this micellar water, so I don’t think that the ingredient listing is inherently evil. But the need to fight through your foundation removal causes more abrasion to your skin than it’s worth. Maybe it is better to use an oilier formulation, after all.

La Roche-Posay has a good name in skincare, sure, but I would personally pass on this $15 micellar water. There are better ways to cleanse and remove makeup than this! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 2/5

Longevity: n/a

How much I actually like this product: 1.75/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: No

Blonde Boosters to Avoid!

Summer’s coming, and, despite all the craziness that COVID-19 has caused, a few of us may be thinking that this is still the season to upgrade or maintain their blonde color. In your quest to achieving this, I wanted to namedrop a few dishonorable mentions to the purple-toning list.

Headwear Blondastic Leave-In: What is this leave-in conditioner even doing? Sure, you can’t expect miracles in brass-cancellation with just a leave-in, but this just… does… nothing. Find your brassiest section of hair, spray it on, and watch as the color stays exactly the same!

Not to mention this “conditioner” does anything but add moisture to hair. Of course, there will be some product limitations when the intent is to tone hair, which is naturally drying by itself. It’s not a guarantee that conditioner is going to cancel all of that damage out. But this just seems to add to the problem instead of keeping it, at minimum, the same.

There’s not a ton of product in here, although it is only $10, so I suppose that makes sense. Also, it smells nice. But that’s about the nicest thing I can say about it.

Redken Color Extend Blondage – Conditioner: Speaking of conditioners that don’t condition, here’s another one! Amazingly, this conditioner damages my hair more than a shampoo, or even toner itself. I don’t get it.

It is extremely concentrated with purple dye, which you would think helps lend to a more even spread. But the formulation is very slow-moving and seems to absorb very rapidly during application. This can cause some sections of hair to become bright-white, and other sections the same brass you had before. Not a great look. It’s an even worse look when you realize your hair is breaking at twice the rate it was than before you used it! (full disclosure: my hair is already fried. But still! This was bad.) For $20 — skip this one.

(Redken is notorious for having imitator products that sneak into the market — I picked this up at Ulta, so here’s to hoping this was the real deal).

That’s enough complaining from me — I’ll tell you what I think actually works! If your hair is strong and ready to withstand a little toughness of a super-concentrated formula, try One N Only’s conditioner. The formula is runny, which helps to give a more consistent color. And despite having a lukewarm start with Pravana’s purple conditioner, I’ve been loving it, these days. Subtle color boost without the extreme damage? I’ll take it! ~A

Catrice California in a Box

I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur of makeup palettes — I’m more of a “single color eyeshadow dish” kind of person. I know exactly what colors I want and need for my blush, bronzer, and eyeshadow and I am scared to deviate from that (although, I was obsessed with orange eyeshadow for awhile, and I kind of enjoyed it). But this palette really stood out to me while I was standing in Ulta — I realized I actually liked every color in it, and would probably actually use them!

Here’s a quick rundown of my take on what’s in the box:

Pearly and dark blush: The darker colored blush surprisingly paints far lighter than I would expect it to. For some reason I anticipated a more mauve-y undertone, but I’d describe it more as deep pink. This has a fantastic pigment and would look beautiful on someone with a medium or darker skintone. Now, for me personally, the dark blush was a little bit heavy for my complexion, so this is where the pearly blush came into play for me. The peachy tones make for a very subtle color on my cheeks, with just a tiny bit of “pop” of pearl highlighter that slightly illuminates the look. Almost undetectable, otherwise — just the way I like it! (but it probably won’t be for you if you’re looking for a bolder look)

Light and dark bronzer: The bronzer is my only gripe about this product. It dark bronzer really skews orange, and I could only see this getting worse as time passes and more oxidizing occurs. The light bronzer is a lesser offender of turning orange, but it’s so light. I think it would be imperceptible on anyone, except possibly someone with an alabaster skin tone.

Highlighter: this is definitely not the most extreme of highlighters, which might be for the best since I’ve noticed the bright highlighter trend sort of winding down on Instagram. It’s very subtle; you might want to add a second layer if you really want it to stand out. The nude coloration of this highlighter makes it look far more natural looking than a pure white highlighter.

Overall one of my biggest issues with this palette is that the colors aren’t very malleable, and they’re unforgiving of user error. Usually if I’m a bit heavy-handed with blush, I can correct it without too many issues just by blending it in more with the brush. That’s a difficult ask with this product, though, so I recommend using a very fluffy brush for the bronzers and blushes.

I didn’t have any issues with the products losing efficacy over time, although perhaps the highlighter may have lost it’s shine after hour 4 since it’s already very subtle to begin with. Also, the bronzer made me want to wash my entire face after hour two when I realized that the orange was only getting worse. But I didn’t, and the bronzer sadly still persisted until past the eight hour mark.

For $12, this is not a bad product if you’re looking for something subtle! Despite the vacation vibes that the marketing of this product gives off, this palette is actually quite suitable for work — you’ll get the faintly sunkissed glow without looking overdone. Just make sure you go in with a very light hand! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 3.5/5

Longevity: 3.5/5

How much I actually like this product: 3.75/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes

Hada Labo Tokyo: Skin Plumping Gel Cream

I used this moisturizer a lot in my early skincare days, and I’m trying to remember why, exactly, I abandoned it. This gel cream is close to HG status for me, with maybe a few flaws that prevent it from ascending to that level. Oh, and if you ever wanted to live out the glory days of the old Clinique Moisture Surge (which, in my opinion, is now a shadow of it’s former self), this is the moisturizer to do it with.

The packaging of this white gel cream is a luxurious square-shaped glass jar, which admittedly, is a kind of awkward to fit in a standard-issue medicine cabinet. And while it definitely looks good for the camera, the packaging is unfortunately pretty wasteful. It really doesn’t hold much product at all, given how much room the jar could technically accomodate. Considering this is $23 out of the buyer’s pocket, I think they could have done with more product, or packaging the product more efficiently.

The gel cream is quite smooth and easy to spread. While I have my gripes about the amount of product in the package, you really don’t need too much to cover your entire face. The gel cream dries down clear. This leaves behind a bit of a residue, but it’s soft to the touch, not tacky, and intended to hold moisture in. Living up to it’s name, my skin looked plump, and seemed more hydrated even after a full day of wearing this.

Because of that remaining residue, this moisturizer doesn’t exactly play the best with foundation over top, or really any other product over top of it. But also not… the worst? A few times I noticed my makeup starting to pill around hour 2 of having both applied — not substantial enough to require re-applying, but enough to make me reconsider using this moisturizer for daytime use. The residue it leaves behind tends to hang onto your skin for dear life, making it difficult to fully wash off your face.

Besides some of it’s hang-ups, this moisturizer does a great job of hydrating your skin. This is oil-free, there are no drying alcohols or anything inherently terrible in the ingredient listing, save for the rampant polymers that are likely to blame for the skin smoothness and pilling alike. This also boasts collagen, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides. My favorite thing of all was that it never broke me out!

If you’re ok with splurging a bit, this is a nice face cream for night-time use, or bare-faced use, particularly for users with sensitive skin. Just be warned of this moisturizer’s long-term commitment — it’s clingy, and you’re going to have a hard time getting rid of it. 🙂 ~A

Perceived efficacy: 5/5

Longevity: 5/5

How much I actually like this product: 4.25/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes

Skincare During a Pandemic

I hope all of my readers are doing well and keeping healthy!

If I’m being honest, skincare has been the last thing on my mind as of late. I’m sticking to my routine still, but I haven’t been inspired to try anything new, despite having a long stretch of time to do so.

But I did share this long quarantine month with Derma-E Vitamin C cream. I had forgotten what a powerhouse this cream was, despite the Vitamin C being likely less concentrated in it’s moisturizer form. And I do have a little bit of beef with some of the end-of-day pilling I noticed, but my skin has been amazingly clear and bright for most of the month! I recommend this to sensitive-skin users, if you’re looking for an entry-level Vitamin C cream.

I also wanted to talk about a post I saw on Reddit. I can’t remember if it was a YSK (you should know) or a LPT (life pro tip)-type thread, or maybe it was just in the skincare subreddit! But the overall message was, “Just because I haven’t worn makeup in a few weeks, doesn’t mean my acne stopped”.

I love this message. I think a larger part of the population believe that, if you have acne, it’s because you are dirty, or it’s because you’re using too much makeup. This is not true at all! Hormones play a much larger part in causing acne, and it’s probably king among other acne triggers, like stress and the outside environment.

Sometimes we all stumble upon a product that makes us break out a little more, sure, and foundation can certainly be one of those products. But break outs can happen due to an allergy or a skin sensitivity as well, a very possible scenario given the amount of different ingredients packed into a tiny bottle of product. And who’s to say the breakouts can’t completely be chalked up to hormones, in the first place?

So yes, you may be spending your quarantine with no makeup and a perfect routine every day. But it’s not going to guarantee your skin will get betterand that’s ok!

Overall, I’ve seen a lot of positive messaging to encourage people that they don’t “need” to do everything right during this quarantine. You don’t need to use this time to change all of your imperfections. The only thing we need to worry about is just to get through the day, and never losing hope that we’re one day closer to “normal life” again! ~A

Pacifica Kale Luxe Oil-Free Cream

I feel like such a fool! I was lured in by the words “oil-free” on this moisturizer! But alas, Pacifica has sadly snuck denatured alcohol into this otherwise very short ingredient listing. While alcohol denat has it’s place in the beauty industry, such as industrial-strength stage makeup fixing spray, I certainly don’t think it should find it’s way into moisturizers. And there’s even a chance it’s presence would not have bothered me so much if it didn’t act like a moisturizer that had alcohol in it!

I had a bad couple of weeks in early winter where my skin became a veritable oil-slick, and my skin began to break out like crazy. My dermatologists words suddenly came rushing back to me: “Only use oil-free moisturizers!“, a ghostly, subtle reminder that maybe I was doing too much in my routine, and needed to go back to basics. Cue the purchase of Pacifica’s oil free cream.

There isn’t anything particularly noteworthy in this $16 cream except, um, kale, which I’m not convinced really does anything. Mostly I just purchased it because it was oil free, somehow glossing right over the ingredient listing for alcohol denat. So although this 1.7 oz bottle gives you quite a bit of product to hold you over for a few months, for the ingredients alone, I do not think this is worth $16.

The moisturizer is really luxurious and silky feeling as you apply, but it’s more likely the smell will distract you from how nice this feels. I think the idea is that it smells like kale, but is more akin to smelling like the place it grew from, which is wet dirt. It is a matte moisturizer so it dries down quickly — too quickly, in fact. You’ll start to feel your skin underneath it start to dry up as soon as the cream does.

It does play well with makeup over top of it initially, but because this is such a drying moisturizer (wow, those two words next to each other don’t really make any sense…), you’ll find your skin start to develop dry patches throughout the day, causing your makeup to crack or pill on it’s own. Guess who started to get a few breakouts after day three of using this? Yep, you got it — this girl.

I think calling this a “drying moisturizer” should speak for itself. This cream flat out does not do it’s job at moisturizing, and if you have sensitive skin, you’ll almost definitely experience a break out from the sheer dryness alone, which isn’t cool since this cream specifically cites blemish-prone skin types as types that should use this product. Although I still love Pacifica as a brand, I think this was a huge miss on their part. Steer clear! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 1/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 1/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: No

JOAH Eye Candy Auto Eyeliner

Not bad for an impulse CVS buy! I actually had never even heard of JOAH, which would make sense because they’re a CVS-only brand and I very rarely step into CVS. Apparently inspired by Korean beauty, JOAH is made by the same people who make… um… press-on nails. Despite my misgivings about the latter piece of information, I’m really impressed with this eyeliner.

This $7 eyeliner doesn’t exactly have a robust color shade range to choose either in-store or online from at CVS itself (Black, Blackest Black, and Dark Brown were the only ones available in both cases), although their website, weirdly, has three more shades. In any case, I was in luck since dark brown is usually my go-to. The pencil itself feels somehow luxurious — it has fancy gold lettering, smooth and somewhat soft body that makes it easy to hold. You can “turn” the bottom of pencil when your liner tip runs low.

Application is smooth. Like, it’s alarmingly impossible for me to screw up lid-lining with this pencil. I think the only real annoying thing about this product is that the it depletes very rapidly, since it is so soft. While dark brown isn’t the most discernible of colors, the color is relatively accurate, without being too dark and muddy to confuse the shade with black. Did I mention it was smooth? No weird smudging going on, here. Usually my eyeliners are notorious for transferring the first time I blink after application, but I didn’t really notice any pigment transferring until about hour five or six, which is pretty good for an eyeliner (and it was light enough for me to just rub off).

Don’t tell anyone, but I still line my waterline, sometimes (I know, so nineties). This is also a phenomenal waterline pencil, since the waterproof aspect of it actually is waterproof, apparently, and won’t come crying off your lid twenty seconds in to application. Again, you might find some pigment transfer after hour five or six, but it’s not substantial. I also didn’t notice any eye sensitivity to this eyeliner — I didn’t experience any burning or irritation.

You can’t tell me Avril Lavigne’s eyeliner still isn’t a look!

Kudos to the people who make press-on nails for pulling this off! They’ve outdone what the bigger brands apparently can’t do very well, which is creating an eyeliner that actually sticks around for more than ten minutes! And, they’re cruelty free, which is awesome! I’ll be back into CVS to check out more of the JOAH brand very soon! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 5/5

Longevity: 4/5

How much I actually like this product: 4.75/5

Sephora’s Response to COVID-19

It’s no secret that every business is struggling right now in the wake of COVID-19. Furloughs and lay-offs are happening en masse, and will continue to happen in just about every business sector out there for the next few weeks or months, besides perhaps grocers and general merchandising big-box chain stores.

While lay offs and furloughs can absolutely tank morale for employees and those with interests in the business alike, these types of moves unfortunately make financial sense for companies who are preparing for an extended period of income loss. The (kind of) silver lining: Given the current unemployment offerings, in many cases, an individual will gain more from unemployment wages than they would have from working — at least for a few months.

Still, it’s a scary time for everyone. And how Sephora, somewhat coldly, responded to their employees in the wake of COVID-19 — by abruptly laying 3,000 employees off via a three-minute conference call — was unfortunately not terribly shocking to me after three or four years worth of their tone-deaf scandals. I mean… A phone call for 3,000 people?! Perhaps they should have tried something slightly more personal like having their district manager contact the worker directly…? I don’t know what else to suggest, but surely there was a better way than that.

Sure, Sephora did bump up the wages of their distribution workers, who are undoubtedly working under taxing circumstances now that the volume of ordering online has dramatically increased. And that’s a good thing. But so did Ulta. Not only that, but Ulta was evidently in a good enough financial position to make a commitment to continue paying all their workers their salary and healthcare benefits, at least until the middle of April.

Of course, Ulta could very well do the same thing as Sephora did, as the month progresses, and pull the rug out from under many of their employees. Again, in these times, it sadly makes financial sense to ensure that the company can return to operation after COVID-19 passes. But if this is the case, I hope that Ulta is not as tone-deaf as Sephora was in doing so. And I hope that both stores are ethical enough to recall most, or all, of these workers in this scenario, once the companies are once again financially solvent.

You can argue that Ulta and Sephora cannot be compared — they sell different types of products. But they are both nonetheless a beauty store, and, as should any good retailer, be concerned for their public image. Starting from the fake Sunday Riley reviews, to the racial profiling scandal, to their continued support of Kat Von D — adding a callous, impersonal mass-firing call to the mix doesn’t exactly help their reputation. ~A