For many years now, people have mentioned some form of lip balm addiction, usually Carmex addiction. There are valid reasons to believe lip balm is a bad idea, and Carmex in particular; furthermore, I don’t really care what you do to your own lips. But the “addiction” cycle people discuss is something of a misnomer.
Also, erm. So. I listen to this geeky wonderful podcast called Back to Work,* and in Episode 149 Merlin Mann stated that Carmex feels good when you put it on, because the active ingredient is acetylsalicylic acid, which is the same as aspirin. So you’re essentially balming your lips with aspirin. I’m here to correct that statement, and describe in too much detail what Carmex is actually made of and how it works. God I’m a pretentious asshole. Here goes!
Carmex, for the unfamiliar, is this gross terrible balm you can buy for super cheap in a white milk glass pot with a yellow painted metal lid. The old lid design (showing the old URL) is on the left; the new design is on the right. You can also get it in a tube but why would you, because why would you get it all? It sucks.
Carmex is made mostly of lanolin, otherwise known as the grease off a sheep’s back, and then a bunch of other crap including camphor, menthol, and salicylic acid.
Lanolin is the emollient agent which helps moisturize skin that has become dried or cracked usually from weather extremes. Moisturizes by coating your LIPS in a film of SHEEP SKIN GREASE. I cannot stress this part enough. Ew.
Menthol and camphor both provide that cooling, “aaah” feeling when you apply it. They create the illusion that a product is being deeply absorbed, when in fact it’s some weird aromatherapy trickery of bringing the blood closer to the skin. (Look, I’m a linguistics major, an online dating coach, and a hobbyist beauty blogger, OK? I’m no Dr. Drang. Go ask him why it makes your skin feel all cold and deeply-penetratey. Phrase it just like that. Come back and tell me how it went.)
Salicylic acid is where it gets interesting. This is somewhat similar to aspirin chemically, hence the somewhat similar names. (A Twitter pal with more chemistry knowledge than me said that aspirin is salicylic acid with an acetyl group, which is wholly different.) Despite not being a chemistry wizard, I do know that these chemicals confuse a lot of people linguistically, and they’re similar enough that people who are extremely allergic to aspirin sometimes have issues with products containing salicylic acid, and vice versa. BUT they’re not the same thing.
They’re both originally derived from a certain willow bark, though I’m pretty sure we synthesize them both now. Acetylsalicylic acid/aspirin is an analgesic we take orally, or I guess sometimes topically; salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid we usually use in skincare and beauty products to exfoliate the skin. Chemically. You know those creepy chemical peels you hear about celebrities or fancy people getting that give you face dandruff and then allegedly make you look prettier? Yeah, those are salicylic acid, but at mega-high percentages (like 30%; the most you’ll ever find in a consumer beauty product is 3-5%.) Carmex doesn’t list the percentage of salicylic acid, as I believe they are not required to do below 0.5% in the USA. But that quantity is not nominal; this stuff is strong.
Salicylic acid causes your skin to shed. That’s exactly what it’s designed to do. So why the heck is it in Carmex? A: To cut down the lifetime of cold sores by causing that skin to shed. Salicylic acid is a great cold sore and acne blemish treatment, because it forces exfoliation by making skin dry out and fall off, thus speeding up the life cycle of whatever unpleasant skin thing you’re trying to cure. (Don’t, uh, don’t go putting it willy-nilly on other types of herpes sores. Not a doctor.)
The problem most people have with Carmex is that the salicylic acid dries out more than just their cold sores, ya know? It has the effect of drying out their entire lips. So then they feel like they need more Carmex to soothe those dried out lips, thus the cycle of perceived Carmex addiction.
Carmex’s website states it like this:
SALICYLIC ACID — A mild exfoliant allows moisturizers to be better absorbed.
Sure, kinda. It’s an exfoliant, but its mildness varies from person to person, like any chemical exfoliant. The effect is also increased over time with repeated usage. And like any chemical exfoliant, it’s always going to have a certain amount of drying and shedding effect on the user, even when combined with a heavy greasy disgusting emollient like lanolin, which I’m under moral obligation to remind you is sebum from a goddamn sheep. Salicylic acid doesn’t actually help moisturizers be “absorbed” per se, especially in that you might not so desperately need said moisturizers if you weren’t applying an inherently chemical exfoliant to your delicate lip skin. I get that they need a perceived justification for what is usually an acne and cold sore drying-out skin-peeling ingredient, don’t you?
Anyway, there you have it. Carmex is not addictive, and it does not contain aspirin, but it can cause a cycle of perceived dependency because it’s designed to dry your skin out, and it tends to accomplish that task well, especially with repeated usage. If you like that menthol-cooling feeling but you don’t like the idea of chemical exfoliants or sheep grease, try using a lip balm that contains peppermint essential oil but doesn’t contain any salicylic acid or lanolin, respectively. (There are loads; poke around at your local hippie grocery.) You’re likely to suddenly realize you’re not, in fact, addicted to lip balm, and that you can stop using it whenever you choose. And you won’t be rubbing sheep grease all over your mouth like an animal, either! Yay! Everybody wins! Except for Carmex! Oh well!
*I doubt there’s much crossover between my beauty blog reading audience and my tech podcast consuming audience, but alas. I’m sticking this post here anyway, because it’s technically a beauty and skincare topic, ya know? Go visit my business site or my more techy blog if you like.
I’m coming to appreciate Davines hair products more and more lately. But we can all agree they’re tripping balls, right?
Also that’s totally not Italian for “oil;” just saying. :)
… it looks fantastic.
Seriously, I’m not trying to be vain or all poor-me humblebragging, but this happens to me ALL THE TIME. My hair looks SO BAD on the days when I wash it, and it often looks so fantastic when it’s been damn near a week and it’s not really acceptable hygiene-wise and I touch it and feel like I need to wash my hands and I can’t possibly leave the house like that. Sigh! I don’t know if it looks “fantastic” to you too, or if we really adequately captured it in this quick iPhone shot that I made my husband take. But it was like not too big on top, smooth flat bangs that weren’t tweaking out or flipping or curling in weird ways, no short scalp frizzybits, and long loose messy-yet-even curls throughout the rest. It blended my often-frizzy layers in perfectly, camouflaged split ends, and even had some shine going. DANGIT.
It just feels like such a shame to ruin a good thing, you know? (Don’t worry, I sucked it up and hopped in the shower. And now I look like crap.) In the past I’ve to reproduce a good dirty hair day, and it’s never been consistent. But I’m pretty sure this was a few days after I’d done a conditioner-only cleanse plus Moroccanoil, though, so it actually was a slightly different cocktail that might be possible to simulate. You can bet your tresses I’m gonna try to reproduce it again!
If I had to guess, I’d suspect the conditioner-only cleanse helped the top part chill out and added some weight, while the Moroccanoil shined/smoothed the longer layery bits. We shall see!
I don’t know why my hands look giant. I have normal hands.
I’m in Hair Crisis Mode! OK, not crisis, but possibly Professionalism Transition Urgency Status.
I’ve been growing my hair out basically ever since Halloween of 2008. Weirdly specific timing, but here’s why I know: Grant and I were planning on being Margot and Richie Tenenbaum for Halloween, and we really went overboard on selecting the perfect costume elements, but when I went to my hairdresser and told her to cut my hair just like a picture of Gwyneth as Margot so it was the right length when straightened, well, she kinda badgered me into getting a short stacked bob instead which kinda ruined the costume (as did the fact that we are each approximately double the body weight of the characters we were dressed as, but shut up, we know that).
Anyway, even though the stacked bob was NOT what I asked for or expected, I think I rocked it for a while. But then very shortly thereafter, Grant proposed to me (awww!), so THAT’s why I knew the time frame, and of course for the next year and a half I was diligently growing it out so that I could have Wedding Hair. You know, slightly curled, long, romantic, blah blah blah that is what wedding hair is, at least lately. (It sort of seems like these things are cyclical, which is a little ridiculous. I mean, of COURSE it would have looked awesome if I’d been married with shorter hair. But you just get up in your head about this stuff when the Bridezilla Bug bites you.)
Well, that wedding was in 2010, and I think I pulled Wedding Hair off quite well, thanks to Carina the Traveling Stylist. But I’ve been growing it out ever since then, mostly for lack of a better idea. It’s getting kind of crazy and scraggly-feeling and unmanageable. It never looks like that wedding pic; it mostly looks wild and unruly and kind of like I should be in some sort of late 60s-early 70s cover band. But I really love the look and feel of it on “good” days, and I’ve always wanted to try having it as long as I can get it until I simply must hack it off. I figure now’s my window, before we yet have hair-yanking children. So I keep leaving it long, and therefore sometimes scraggly.
Yet I’m doing more and more video work for my business, and while I can handle a podcast recording Skype session looking slightly less than perfect, I really hate doing a proper interview like this one or a polished advice video without looking like I’m bringing my A game. A combination of sanity, time, tendinitis, and just way too much hair means that I almost never bother taking the time to blow-dry and or straighten it these days, because I just can’t pull that off on a regular basis. It’s too much!
So I’ve decided that I’m going to shell out for a Swink blow-dry, and then pack as many different videos (including outfit, eyewear, jewelry, and bangs-management changes) into the same day, so it looks like it was spread out, haha. I’m also borrowing some professional floodlights from an artist friend, so I’ll be well lit in addition to being well coiffed, dressed, and generally groomed. (And lashed. I’m getting falsies put on too, since they help make your eyes pop on video. Although let’s hope they don’t come off halfway through! One time that happened to poor Rachel Maddow during her show and we could NOT LOOK AWAY.)
What do you think? Will it be super obvious that all of my videos were actually shot on the same day? With wildly vavoomier hair and lashes than usual? I mean, I don’t really care that much, to be honest… most of my clientele would totally “get” that I had to pack all my glam into Media Day, and be kinda charmed by it, I like to think. After all, I’m all about helping REAL people, the kind who don’t necessarily look like they’ve always just stepped out of a shampoo commercial when there isn’t a special occasion. I think it’s fair game to channel a bit more polish than usual when it’s for one of my red carpet moments! (Oh speaking of polish, I should probably slap some of that on too. You never know what might get me gesturing at the camera.)
Side note: I remembered hearing Melissa Rivers talk about her book Red Carpet Moments AGES ago on a podcast. Well, I looked up this little video-interview about it, and I was horrified. Both by Melissa’s looks (just because she seems like she’s had a lot of work done, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given her mother, but I sort of thought the apple had fallen farther from the Restylene tree) and because the audio quality is AWFUL, especially when the interviewer is asking questions. 5by5 has really spoiled me on audio! And my Retina MacBook Pro has spoiled me on image quality. That book cover image (generated from Amazon) is atrocious. I blame them/the publisher, though. I hope you can get past it. <3
Anyway, I’ll post a video here too so you can see how I did!
Have you guys noticed this ridiculous blingy brow trend/epidemic? I first spotted it a couple years ago in a Dior brow mascara that thankfully seems to have been discontinued. These copycat swatches are Anastasia x2 and Perfekt x2, respectively. The Sephora gal who caught me snapping these pics was totally into the glam brow look, and she tried to get me on board, haha. No dice! (To be fair, I realize that my arm hair is sort of weirdly glimmery in this shot, but let’s agree to pretend it’s not. We all know how weird their lighting can be, especially when taking covert cell phone pics to avoid Browfrontations.)
Here’s a closer look at the swatches. I’m OK with slightly shimmery eyelash mascara (but not full-on glitter mascara; that seems both tacky and painful), like the YSL gray stuff I tried before. But not brows. It’s just not OK, people! Noticeably made-up brows remind me of that terrible harsh grandma look where they’re totally plucked out and then drawn (or worse, tattooed) on, ya know? So even if it’s glimmer instead of thick black brow-polygons, I still don’t ever want to call attention to my eyebrows being made up. To me it’s kind of like those horrible and thankfully short-lived blingy clear bra straps that were meant to be displayed. Ew. It looks trashy and sticky and juvenile and fleeting and silly and incorrect.
God, I can’t get over how dumb these look to me. (The two Perfekt, or I guess Per-fekt [sic] swatches look the same and less sparkly, but you have to trust me that they’re a) different and b) totes sparkly.) These sorta reminds me of Sephora’s gag cat-brow spoof of 2010. If I try it just to amuse myself one of these days, I’ll post a picture (probably just on Twitter) but I won’t be shelling out my hard-earned VIB points to pick up an actual blingy brow gel product. I’ll fake it with hair spray and sparkly eye shadow, like a gentlewoman.
What sticks in my craw is that neither of these product lines has a non-shimmery alternative in the tinted brow mascara category. Nope, they assume that IF you are interested in pigmented brow groomitude via spooly brush, then you MUST also be interested in glamming up those brows. Which is a shame, because I literally cannot find any good solid neutral-looking brow mascara anymore. I used to have an amazing one by Chanel called “Le Forme Soucils” in Taupe and it was so subtle and lovely, I was so sad when I ran out right after they had discontinued it. Every brow mascara I’ve tried since then has either had the Shimmer of Death, or has been a weirdly reddish shade that doesn’t match my coloring. That Taupe was so perfect because it really was taupe, like a sort of ashy dark blonde that was just a hint of color to help define my brows. Le sigh, Chanel. Le sigh.
The lighter half of Anastasia’s ash blonde brow powder duo (above right) mixed with hairspray is the closest thing I can pull off, which is a pain in the ass/brow, so I never bother even though I look way more polished when I do. So Anastasia, if you can make perfectly matte and taupe shades of brow powder that are appropriately conservative and subtle, why the hell can’t you make that same concept in another less powdery product? Please? I’ll stop publicly mocking your sparklebrows line if you do, promise. xoxo
I don’t always love what Sephora does, but I have to hand it to them. In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed some majorly awesome nerdy stuff they’ve done.
- Passbook win! They were the very first store or service to successfully implement Passbook support with iOS 6, notify me about it clearly, and make it simple to integrate. Even Starbucks’s effort was behind Sephora’s in this regard. (To date, these are my only two Passbook items.) The extra bonus is that I no longer have to explain to Sephora reps how to look up my complicated email domain in their system!
- Shopping by reviews. Seriously, guys, this one’s important for a couple reasons. I blathered about it here, but in a nutshell it allows customers to shop based entirely on the feedback of other users, with ZERO marketing input from Sephora. Seriously. Right now, it doesn’t even have a single image on the page view! And check out all that unused white space! I expect Sephora to tinker with this and probably ruin it in the coming weeks, so here’s my screencap for posterity:
Most online beauty presences aren’t into minimalism. This is definitely an anomaly even among Sephora’s other page views. Heck, I was badgered into adding as much noise as I have on this site because a professional beauty writer told me it looked boring and “needed more images”—and for her industry, I reluctantly admit she’s right. That’s why I find this so interesting. Amazon, for example, claims to be king of giving people data-based shopping, but they don’t allow one to simply search for things with a high review count until you’ve whittled down your results to a much narrower selection. If you trust the community of reviewers that a vendor has built, then being able to rely solely on them for shopping decisions is a stark contrast to most web storefront merchandising models.
So despite the fact that Sephora still uses Blogger for their professional company blog and that they create horrible Facebook-page-embedded auto-tweeting Flash-based clicky contests and that their “added item to basket” animation now takes a full fifteen seconds to trigger and their web text sometimes looks like this (right), they still win a pretty major tech award in my cold, geeky, stainless-steel-encased heart. Way to go, guys! Now let me search on active ingredient/ingredient category or on whether products have attractive and durable packaging that makes a satisfying click noise upon closure, and I will love you even more. <3
My sunscreen of choice has shifted a bit over the past couple of years. I’ve got some strong and updated opinions kicking around, so I figured I’d weigh in and give a little update since it’s just now FINALLY summer-like here in Seattle! (Apologies to any of you who could have used this info in, like, May, what with the heat wave and all. We write what we know, and all I know is that it’s totally cloudy and overcast where I live right now.)
DEVITA. I still love me some Devita body block, but my concerns remain about it being less apt at protecting (since the particles are soooo micronized and since the formulation is more like a lotion and doesn’t seem to stay on your skin in hot weather). So I like to mix this with other sunscreens, or use it when I know I won’t be out for long. What I still love is that it doesn’t make my pores feel clogged like many other mineral sunscreens do. It does still sting my eyes a tiny bit even if I just use it near but not right next to them—no one I’ve talked to knows why this happens, but it goes away after a bit so overall the benefits outweigh the ouch or inconvenience. Just wait a few minutes before you put on mascara! (Note: you’re welcome to spend too much on their facial formulation, but the body block is nearly identical and is much better value for your money.)
BURNOUT. The lovely ladies at EDS also turned me on to Burnout. I’ve tried their kids’ formulation. While it’s a bit dry, it doesn’t look as white as it comes out in the tube and its dryness is great at keeping oil at bay in the summer heat. I like to mix it with some Devita to thin it out and make it a bit more transparent. Sometimes I also mix in a little argan oil (I get mine from Garden of Wisdom, but this seems like a better deal) to try to make it more moisturizing. I recently used up the last of this tube (took me FOREVER, in a good way, and it stayed fresh ’til the end) so I’m about to order their sensitive formulation to see how that goes. I’ll update if there are any significant differences in how the sensitive stuff (blue writing and cap) seems in comparison.
O HUI. Back in the day I posted about O Hui’s compact powder sunblock, and I still love that stuff but only for REALLY intense sun days. The fancy little compact broke (waaah!) and the pale creamy off-white color does give me a very slight ghostly cast, so I only use it when I need extra protection and I also know my face will be sweaty/shiny—I brush this on instead of normal loose powder, and I use a short-handled very soft synthetic kabuki brush. Incidentally, O Hui seems like it’s getting a little easier to find online—but the only Amazon product I see that’s a powder sunblock is this one, which is described as being “white.” So no thanks. Still, seems like others will be able to share in my O Hui summer joy soon!
MYCHELLE (BOO!). I was on a recent trip to Dallas when I was forced to pick up a tube of MyChelle’s facial sunblock at Whole Foods. They’ve reformulated this at least once (and probably more like 3x; WTF) since I last tried it, and it’s much worse now—it clogs my pores horrendously. I’ve been using it up anyway, but this blog post has finally inspired me to click through to check out on my Amazon order so I can get some better sun care reinforcements in, stat. The new(est) MyChelle is dry, chalky, and generally sticky-feeling without being sufficiently moisturizing. Like Burnout but without the benefits. It seems to protect well, but yech—I plan to use this as a body block and/or husband block (he won’t know better unless he reads this post, heh—the proof is in the comment, honey!) to use it up since it’s also quite pricey. Weirdly, this actually looks cheaper on MyChelle’s site than on Amazon’s. Either way, avoid!
Upcoming: ELTA & NIA24. Lastly (I swear), I recently received some exciting sunscreen samples. My awesome mother-in-law stayed with us for the past week, and she brought me a sample of Elta sunscreen that her fancy DC dermatologist swears by. The stuff is nice and chemical-free just like I like, but it’s also tinted so it hopefully doesn’t give that chalky cast (or WAY too dark and orange a cast, *ahem, Dr. Perricone*). So I’m excited to try that out soon! I also got a small vial of NIA 24′s sunscreen from the Amazon vendor who sold me my magical Peter Thomas Roth pads. I’ve heard good things about NIA24′s sun formulation but I keep giving away my samples to more excited skincare nerds—no longer! This one’s mine! (And I promise to tell you all about it soon.)
Aaaanyway, I hope you lovelies are all surviving the heat wave one way or another. Stay protected out there!
I’m a big Sephora fan, no doubt. I’ve also enjoyed shopping for beauty products at Nordstrom, and of course I get some of my stuff from EDS and my hippie-dippier ingredients from Mountain Rose and Nature’s Gift. But lately I’ve found that shopping at bigger retailers is surprisingly un-scary! I was eyeing my go-to eye cream online, and there were no good shipping deals from the manufacturer’s site or QVC where they often sell their stuff. But Amazon had a great deal! I emailed the seller just to be sure, and they confirmed that it was a fresh shipment, too. So I went for it and was very pleased with the price point. (Go here if you want a similarly great deal.)
And just last month, on a trip to Texas, I lent a friend some Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction pads to calm her breakout—her skin had freaked out in the humid Dallas climate. She loved them so much she asked me for a referral, and when I Googled them, the Amazon price was way lower than the Sephora price! AND the Amazon shipping was free.
Look, some of you lovelies know I used to work for Amazon. But I worked in Kindle, and thought of them primarily as a tech company plus a place to, like, research for the best headphones and flash drives. I don’t actually order through them all that often for more “normal” items. But I’m totally going to start checking them for skincare deals, and I’ll be watching my lil’ widget to see what kinds of products it starts suggesting. (If it doesn’t get smarter soon I’ll have to hard-code it to offer y’all up beauty deals.) I think as my tastes mainstream a bit more, I’ll start to find better and better deals from the big A.
And lest it not be said, those complexion pads are GREAT for acne, and also help with wrinkles and age spots! Just be careful not to overdo it, or you’ll get mad flaky and dry—you may wanna start with the sensitive formula and work your way up to the full thing.
EDITED TO ADD: I actually received a totally gross-looking shipment of these pads. The top foil was punctured and the product was clearly contaminated, even though it’s largely alcohol based. However, I wrote the seller to complain and they immediately refunded my money, without me having to harass them or send the product back or anything. I was then able to salvage what seems to be clean and safe to use product—it really was just the top seal that was disgusting. So overall, even though I wouldn’t expect it to show up like that from Sephora, I had a good skincare shopping experience with this Amazon seller, so I’ll be trying that out again soon for sunblock.
Mountain Rose Herbs, my favorite hippie skincare and herb supplier is doing a very cool giveaway for the best herbal recipes of 2011. Check ‘em out — not only do they have great ideas there and a killer prize, but these guys sell extremely high-quality, well-priced DIY skincare items. I use them to purchase all my butters and almost all of my oils, and they have some terrific tea blends too. Plus hardish to find items like Fuller’s Earth clay. Kicking myself for forgetting about an argan oil refill on my last order — ah well, at least I have an excuse to load up on some more fun stuff soon!