Hello everyone! Yes: it’s been two months since my last/first post, but I am in fact still alive and well. I’m kicking myself a bit over the time it’s taken me to follow up, but there’s a lot more on my plate that takes precedence these days—namely, applying to jobs and interviewing for them (if you like what you see…)—so, as far as writing goes, most of my effort has been directed elsewhere. Anyhow, it’s still the case that I have been working on this blog in other ways: apart from continuously filling a Trello board with post ideas, notes, outlines, and research, I’ve diligently taken photos as I test various products for upcoming reviews (skincare never stops happening). There’s also one post—based on an idea I thought up a long, long time ago, before I even started building this blog—that I actually started putting together, and I’d hoped to publish it sooner; however, on top of it entailing reviews of about 20 products in one sitting, it also involves a bit more research, and I am serious about presenting that information responsibly. The types of products I’m going to discuss here require less (if any) scientific backing, though, so I can rattle off my thoughts based solely on my experience and let that be that.
Returning to the matter of skincare photography: in the past month or so, I’ve become a big fan of the Stories feature on Instagram, which I often use to document various skincare-related outings and mask sessions. If you follow me there, you’ll get a glimpse at what I’m up to every now and then, including plenty of mini-reviews before certain items get the long-form treatment. At the time of posting this, my story features some highlights from Glow Recipe’s March 2017 pop-up shop in Manhattan, Glow Studio. I’m going to start re-posting my stories to this page (the previous ones, and future ones as they expire) in those cases where I think they deserve to live on forever, or if I don’t plan on writing a full post about a certain product or topic. Additionally, I plan on using Instagram posts themselves for certain updates, which will just be cross-posted to this blog. This should make it easier for anyone who’s not a big Instagram user to follow along.
Now, to the substance. I’ve updated my skincare stash page once again, but there are plenty of other things I’ve acquired recently that don’t pertain directly to skincare yet still deserve a shout-out. I’ve been getting more into hair and makeup lately too (by which I mean: I’m trying to take better care of my hair and I dragged a box full of makeup my mother doesn’t want back to NY with me after my last visit home). I also finally—finally!—settled the organization of my belongings in a satisfying way, and I’d like to share how. So here we go.
I used a hairbrush for the first time in ten years.
Without any other context, that sentence makes it sound like I haven’t brushed my hair for a decade, a notion which would understandably leave you perplexed. What I mean, however, is that I have only owned a fine-tooth comb and a wide-tooth comb since the age of 13, and with these I thought I wasn’t missing out on anything—the wide-tooth comb did all the detangling on my fine-but-curly hair, while I could use the fine-tooth comb to part it and “brush” it out if I wanted to go for a softer look. I did buy cheap hairbrush-mirror compacts on more than one occasion, but even here I eventually opted to shove both combs into all of my backpacks and purses instead.
But one fateful day, I came across this Man Repeller article about a $150 hairbrush. The concept of a hairbrush being worth that sizable an investment was completely foreign to me, as someone who hasn’t even bothered to spend two bucks on a new wide-tooth comb since my mother passed this one down to me in middle school (how I haven’t managed to lose it yet is a mystery). As I read on, though, I was introduced to the idea that a good boar-bristle brush could help more equitably distribute the oil from your scalp throughout the rest of your hair, along with providing a pretty great scalp massage as you go. My hair tends to accumulate oil somewhat quickly, which is a problem because my hair is both fine and dark, meaning it’s especially obvious if I skip a day of washing it (and yes, I’ve already been through the whole “actually, your hair only produces excess oil because you wash it so much” etc. trial of washing my hair less to see if it balances itself out, and it doesn’t—and I still have yet to find a dry shampoo that does not disappoint me). I let the possibility of a new solution to this issue sit with me for a little bit, and eventually went on to research the best inexpensive Mason Pearson dupe (during the process, I found out there’s also a $200+ bristle-only version of the brush, which: really?). I landed on the Denman D81M, which turns out to be the same “$40” brush tested by Amelia Diamond for that MR article—though I paid only $15 for it on Amazon.
I’ve been using the brush for almost two months now, but I can say that I noticed a difference almost immediately. My hair feels so much smoother after I brush it out—and although nothing will ever change the fact that my sister and I have inherited a gene that causes our opposite types of hair to self-tangle under any conditions except maybe in an airless, frictionless vacuum (her hair was pin-straight when she was a kid, and STILL), this is a definite improvement. I can wash my hair, air-dry it, put no product in it whatsoever, and that still beats distributing any oil or other product into my hair with a comb. I paid $15 for this routine-altering experience. Why didn’t I do this earlier?
I bought a comb for my hairbrush.
I struggled with this one for a little bit. This is a sentence that, again, sounds quite absurd out of context. But once more, idly browsing that beauty mecca that is the Sephora website, I came across the Sephora Collection “Brush Meets Comb” Hair Brush Cleaner, which is basically a $10 rake for your hairbrush. Now, I’m someone who regularly cleans my hairbrush already, being used to the cleanness of combs, which need no more than a good rinse with some soap. I pull the hair out of the brush, I run it under the faucet, etc. and I figured that was good enough. As long as I didn’t inspect the surface with a microscope, I’d be fine.
But online reviewers were really raving about this little rake. Soon enough, one unusually warm February day, Sephora revealed a promo code for a free 5 ml sample of Drunk Elephant’s Babyfacial with a $25 purchase—and although I already own the full 50 ml size of that product, I’d forked over $80 from an auspiciously-timed Sephora gift card to get it, so I’d gladly take an extra supply valued at $8 ($1.60/ml) for free. So I decided it was finally a good time to hit the green light on the Sephora cart I’d filled with other cheap items a while ago (two more of those get a mention below), and I threw the hairbrush rake into the mix. And I don’t know why or how, but that thing works. Like nothing else. It pulls everything—and I mean everything—out of the hairbrush so quickly and easily, and it’s a cinch to clean it afterward, just like cleaning a comb. I still rinse off the brush afterward, but now I don’t have to worry that I’m just providing some leftover residue with water that will strengthen its adhesion. It’s also extremely satisfying to use this hair rake in a way that strategically pulling out the hair simply is not. Definitely ten bucks well-spent (I couldn’t find any cheaper dupe sold online, by the way).
I ditched my designated hair-drying t-shirt for a super-cozy towel.
This is another purchase that was facilitated by Sephora gift cards (I’m not sure I would have forked over $30 for a towel under any other circumstance). I first read about the Aquis Lisse Luxe Hair Towel on the blog Lab Muffin in November, where Michelle helpfully explains the science behind its design (I won’t belabor those details here). When it comes to hair care, we both self-describe our approach as “low-maintenance,” although she says she has “ridiculously thick” hair, while I possess the exact opposite. In any case, I trust her reviews, and a good number of customers online with hair types more similar to mine also rated the product highly. I always air-dry my hair, and I seek to minimize how much product I put into it, but I still want to be able to reduce the amount of time I spend getting ready. Previously, I would “towel”-dry my hair with the largest of the many free t-shirts I acquired during my time as a college student, since many other curly-haired people recommended using an old shirt instead of a regular towel. I still think that beats towel-drying, but not if the towel in question is from Aquis.
I bought this towel hoping that I could leave it on my hair after a post-shower detangling, and then (1) my hair would dry more quickly, (2) the result would be a smooth finish, (3) without my hair sticking closely to my head, (4) while causing less breakage. All of these expectations were fulfilled. I can’t maintain my curl shape while using this towel (again, my hair is very fine) but the goal was that I could use it on days when I just want a quickly-dried, smooth finish—without blow-drying, which I only do before straightening my hair with a flatiron, which I only do maybe once or twice a year now. Like I said, low-maintenance! A fifth benefit was also that the towel holds together well if I want to wrap it like a turban, even though I didn’t choose to buy the pre-stitched turban version. I could wrap my hair up, put on a sheet mask, and relax without constantly needing to adjust the towel to keep it from sliding off my head (a definite problem with the t-shirt-as-towel—and most sheet masks, on that note). What works for my weird, fine, tangly, wavy-curly hair may not work for yours, but I found this to be a worthwhile investment. Spending $15 on a headband is another thing I wouldn’t expect to do, but now I also really want this Aquis Lisse Luxe Headband I just discovered, as I can imagine it would be great at staying in place without leaving an indent in my hair.
I bought a random Sephora lip balm on sale, and it’s actually awesome.
One of the items in my aforementioned freebie-motivated Sephora order was the Sephora Collection Super Nourishing Lip Balm on sale for $4. As I’ve reached a plateau with regard to the level of skincare knowledge I can acquire without essentially studying for another degree, I’ve tried to learn more about taking care of other types of skin, like the scalp and lips. This purchase, however, wasn’t motivated by that kind of deeper research so much as a “what the hell, why not” attitude toward my lips’ ongoing fight against the icy gusts of winter. The pure lanolin and Neosporin overnight cream I’d been using were good for deep-moisturizing, but I needed something that would work as a quick fix right before/after I head out into the elements. This lip balm includes shea butter, grapeseed oil, meadowfoam seed oil, vitamin E, and beeswax, which don’t figure prominently in any lip product I already own, but—for once—I can’t tell you I was particularly motivated by the ingredients so much as by the reviews. Plenty were super positive, and again, it was only $4, so I didn’t have much to lose (I’d still be gaining that deluxe DE sample worth $8, right?). So far, I’ve had a positive experience with it. Besides that, I don’t have much more to say. It does taste really good, though.
I finally tried exfoliating my lips with an actual lip exfoliant.
I’m not sure how popular lip exfoliation actually is as a skincare practice, even though I see it come up a lot among the skincare obsessives I tend to follow. Just making your own DIY lip scrub with sugar and honey is a popular suggestion, but products aimed at this purpose are increasingly available for purchase too. For just $6, I threw the new Sephora Collection Lip
Balm & Scrub (only the “honey” flavor is a scrub; the rest are just balms) into that freebie-motivated order. Previously, if it seemed like my lips needed refreshing, I would just rub the relevant area with my finger; you could probably sort this act into the same category as other forms of skin-picking, as it’s a bit dangerous—but unlike with pimple-popping, the issue here is over-exfoliation, which is just as much possible on the skin of our lips as it is on skin elsewhere.
When you open this product, it looks like any other lip balm, but as you rub it on your lips, the topmost layer of emollient wears away to reveal the densely packed scrub inside (just a tip: take your pretty product photos immediately, because once you do this, there’s no making it look all smooth and new again). I definitely found that my lips were overall much smoother for a longer period of time after using this in lieu of manual exfoliation. A few days even passed where I neglected to use it after it got buried under the mess of my bedroom, and I saw a noticeable change in the condition of my lips as a result of going back to my old ways. I haven’t used this for that long just yet, but I’m optimistic about the results of continued use.
I tried a new, extremely inexpensive eyebrow pencil.
For over two years, the only eyebrow makeup I had ever tried was the Rimmel London Professional Eyebrow Pencil, which I think I just bought after trying the one my sister owned (such is my laissez-faire approach to makeup so far, generally). After some time where, I must admit, I used the pencil a bit too heavily, I eventually stopped reaching for it entirely. My brow hairs are long and thick, not fuzzy, and each one is essential to avoiding an awkward bare gap in its place; the brows they form are slender and already well-defined. Therefore, my main problem is keeping those long hairs from moving out of place, for which an eyebrow pencil is traditionally of little use. The e.l.f. Cosmetics Shape & Stay Wax Pencil is an exception. I only discovered this $2 treasure while looking for something cheap to add to my Ulta cart so that I could hit the $15 mark needed to activate a $5 coupon code and offset the cost of shipping for online orders (are you noticing a pattern here?). In all its minimalist glory, this does exactly what I need an eyebrow pencil to do, with no risk of flakiness or accidentally going overboard on color. I think I’m beginning to understand the e.l.f. hype among many makeup enthusiasts.
I didn’t actually buy my blush within the past two months, but it’s still worth mentioning now.
So there’s a bit of hype on the internet lately over a certain on-trend brand’s new cream blush, which markets at $18 a pop (I’m not here to criticize them, so I’ll just leave you to figure out whom I’m talking about). After paying far less for another cream blush that made me glow so hard I bought a back-up before making much of a dent in the original, I’m pretty skeptical of the idea of paying thrice as much for the same effect. Hence, I just want everyone (at least, everyone who shares my skin tone?) to know about Sephora Collection Blush Me in 01 “All Smiles” – coral, which has been on sale for $6 since at least last summer. To be fair, it’s the first blush I ever bought, but given that I liked it enough to secure a back-up, I probably won’t try anything else unless I acquire something for free. But I never understood the power of blush until I first applied this and discovered its “lit-from-within” magic. And now you know.
I bought a cake stand…for my skincare staples.
I forgot where I first saw someone suggest using a cake stand for anything other than a cake, but I’d like to thank them, because it turns out this is just what I needed. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a bit obsessed with organization, but I don’t think anyone appreciates having to rummage through drawers or tabletop piles when they’re trying to get ready in the morning. Last summer I bought two relatively inexpensive acrylic cosmetic organizers, one for skincare and one for makeup, and for a while I felt like my organizational needs were settled. I didn’t own that much makeup, and I had a lot of extra countertop and drawer space for my skincare. Once I moved to NY, the amount of space available to me obviously changed; further, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my makeup collection just doubled in size thanks to my mother, who had a box full of still-good items that she rarely or never used from which she was willing to let me “shop.” Also, the cosmetic organizer for skincare was just annoying in that it required me to distribute all of the bottles, tubes, droppers, etc. between divided compartments, while limiting the extent to which I could do so in any systematic way.
Whatever put the image of a cake stand in my mind, I suddenly found myself compelled by the idea of just being able to place my primary skincare items on a flat surface, raised just slightly to distinguish from the rest of the countertop while almost serving as a display as well. I came across this white ceramic cake stand at Target on sale for $13.99 (it’s now $15.99), and although I was worried something would be horribly wrong with it—how could it be that pretty at that price point?—it’s exactly what I needed it to be. The acrylic organizer that used to hold my skincare now holds the rest of my makeup, and I can look at my vanity area while feeling ten times more zen. If you’ve got extra cash and want a cake stand that’s more Instagram-worthy, there are various white marble options too (still, most of these are not significantly more expensive than actual storage units/organizers).
I found the perfect storage solution for my ever-expanding sheet mask collection.
Once upon a time, I thought I could simply use one of those little plastic drawer organizers that I was used to seeing around my parents’ house to store my sheet masks, other masks, and product sample packets. Sheet masks are flat like envelopes, anyway, and I don’t like them enough to own boxes full of them, so this should work, right? Wrong. I underestimated what my stash needed and ran out of space quickly; additionally, I found that the overstuffed drawers were, just as a matter of design, closed-off to the point where I was less likely to remember the contents’ existence and therefore less likely to use them.
But, sheet masks—”flat like envelopes,” I said. For whatever reason, suddenly the idea dawned on me that a letter organizer could be a great solution to this problem—it allows for a little bit of sorting while keeping everything compact, while also leaving them open to view, almost on-display. I had a coupon code (I know, this is getting old) for The Container Store and I thought this white letter sorter would match the cake stand well. Now that it’s on the same side of my vanity as the next two organizational products I’m about to describe, I kind of wish I bought this gold one to match those instead. Regardless, I’m happy with this decision.
I finally found an earring organizer that is worthy.
I’ve had the same jewelry box as long as I haven’t had a hairbrush—probably longer, actually. It’s one of those organizers that looks like a mini armoire, with four drawers and two doors on the side with hooks for hanging necklaces. It was nice when I was in middle school, sure, but I’m an adult now, and I own so much more jewelry—throwing my earrings into one of four drawers just wasn’t cutting it, and the necklace hooks were getting crowded. It’s also huge, in terms of the space it occupies relative to the storage space it provides. The problem is, I’ve been looking for a better option pretty much throughout the past decade, and I just could never find one. I didn’t want a traditional jewelry box, because it wouldn’t work for my necklaces, even if it was better for my earrings; I didn’t want another mini armoire, because my earrings deserve better than piling up in drawers; I didn’t want one of those functional but aesthetically unappealing plastic options; I didn’t want anything that was too expensive, as most nice things tend to be. It also seemed like I was always finding cute, unique options for hanging necklaces, but with very few earring-related counterparts. I wanted them to match. I was picky as hell about it, but if I’m going to invest in my first new jewelry organizer in ten years, I think it makes sense to want something I won’t quickly wish to replace.
Last week, I came across the Umbra Prisma Jewelry Stand on ShopBop (coincidentally, the last time I thoroughly browsed that website was probably about the same time I got that jewelry armoire—during my fashion-obsessed middle school days). Its mechanism for storing earrings intrigued me, even if it wasn’t spacious enough to fit a decent number of mine. So I searched for the brand’s other offerings…and that’s when I found it. The One. An earring tree that was actually worthy. And right there with it was its sibling, for necklaces.
It functioned exactly how I wanted it to (like the earring portion of the Prisma stand), it had a matching necklace counterpart, but it was also pretty. Gold wire, “inspired by the shape of a trombone, forming elegant loops and curves.” I used to play the trombone, and I stopped in 7th grade—the same time that I got that jewelry organizer! It was obviously fate. I bought it, and it’s a little bit smaller than what I need—I later noticed the packaging said it should fit 32 pairs of earrings, and I managed to fit almost 70—but it’s still perfect to me. Maybe one day I’ll buy another. Alternatively, the necklace stand is way larger than I thought it would be, but it gives my necklaces and bracelets ample space that they didn’t have before.
So between these, the cake stand, and the letter holder, my vanity organization problems are essentially resolved. Or so, I hope. Please, god. Let it be over!
One more thing
A fabric shaver (also called a lint shaver, sweater shaver, etc.) seems like a basic purchase to me—my mom always had one of these in our home, and I just never got around to buying my own when living elsewhere. But I have to say: if you don’t own one of these, you really should. And apparently this does need saying, as evidenced by one Amazon reviewer with weirdly gendered apprehensions about it:
Most people use these to clean up sweaters, which is all I intended for mine, but then I realized my nicest coat needed a fuzz-cleansing that no lint-roller could achieve—and now, this coat I bought as a college freshman looks brand-new again. I feel strongly that the importance of this device has been reaffirmed. So, just a little PSA. ✦