“C” a difference yet?

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

I started using PSF’s Vitamin C Serum recently, after much hesitation. (I had a bad experience with a MyChelle C serum breaking me out, so I’ve been more than a little paranoid!) While I know it can take up to six weeks to really see (“C”) any difference, I can tell that I’m already quite happy!

First of all, I haven’t had any breakouts or increases in blackheads. Many users on EDS have complained of an increase in blackheads after starting a C serum, and I think the generally accepted theory is that the vitamin C oxidizes the contents of pores, which is what makes them look black. Thankfully, my existing blackheads are no, um, blacker than before, and there don’t seem to be any armies of new ones. So that’s a real relief! And I haven’t had any changes in breakouts, either. Whew!

Second, this stuff doesn’t sting or itch, and it’s not too sticky. The PSF serum is in a hylauronic acid base, and I’ve been worried that HA stung my skin and caused some sensitivity in the past. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem — even when applying over broken skin, this stuff does no harm. And it doesn’t seem to react poorly with my Retin-A, either, which is another relief! The texture is ever so slightly sticky after I first put it on, but this goes away by the time I layer on another product.

Lastly, I’m thrilled to say that I’ve already seen some tangible benefits, and not just a lack of harm. This C serum seems (“Cms”? Too much?) to do a better job of exfoliating my already-flaky areas than Retin-A alone. Case in point: I have a pimple that was rather a pain, and had broken skin and developed into a scab. Using Retin-A around areas like that almost always results in some major drying and big, ugly, peely flakes. But once I started using the C serum, that area seemed less prone to major flaking, and it seemed calmed down and desensitized quite a bit, and seems to be healing faster.

All in all, I’m thrilled! I don’t love having to wait 30 minutes after applying this stuff before I can layer anything else, and I also don’t love how unstable topical C serums are known to be. But this stuff is packaged very well — both the sample and the full-size come in a dark amber glass bottle with a glass dropper, so very little light or moisture can enter the container to spoil the contents, and there’s no way toxins in plastic could leech in. So I think I chose a good C serum, at least for now — once I use up my (very generous, as it should be at $10!) sample, I will decide whether or not to repurchase. My gut is telling me I’m going to take the plunge, but who knows — we’ll have to wait and C! (C’mon, you saw it coming.)

No More Waxing

I’ve been holding off on getting my brows done for the past few months, ever since losing my job back in October. It just seemed like one of those expenses that I couldn’t justify, since theoretically I can maintain my brows pretty well on my own. It’s only when I get lazy and don’t pluck regularly that they get all messed up shape-wise — and I’ve learned that, while I *think* I’m good at re-shaping them myself, I actually tend to make them a bit uneven and over-pluck certain areas.

So I’ve been dying to get back to my brow gal, May — I don’t think I’ve seen her since last summer! But back when The Big Job Loss happened, I went to a dermatologist because I was maxing out our health care benefits before they expired. And my dear new derm (Paula Zook, whom I HIGHLY recommend for Seattle-area folks) chatted with me a bit about Retin-A, and convinced me to go back on it.

So I did, and I’ve been loving it — it’s definitely helped with some of the frustrating cystic acne I’ve experienced, and the new micro-gel formulation is indeed less irritating than the stuff I used in high school. But with Retin-A comes a big caveat: NO facial waxing is allowed. The skin gets too flaky and delicate, and you can actually rip off patches of skin if you wax while you’re on Retin-A treatment.

So what’s a gal to do? I’ve read about threading, but I haven’t been able to find any good threading referrals in Seattle, and besides — I’d miss my May! Luckily, it turns out May is game for plucking. I’ve always thought this was a smarter alternative, anyway — some salons in Barcelona refused to wax my pal’s eyebrows, because they said that it pulled too much at the skin and caused a loss of elasticity around the eyes. So I’ve always been a bit leery when I get my brows waxed, but it’s just so much FASTER. However, now that I’ve got a real reason to have to avoid it, I’m very excited to try plucking.

I’ll be making an appointment to get plucked by May sometime in March. I can’t wait — I’m not sure if the rate is different than for waxing, but I figure the process must be more precise, and I also think it’ll be less irritating to my skin. (Because I’m very fair and sensitive, I tend to have GIANT red blotches all around my eyebrows for a good two days. I even invested in some of those oversized sunglasses when that trend hit, even though I thought they were hideous, because they were the only thing that covered up my lobster brows!)

I’ll definitely update. But I just thought I’d stress this here — even though I myself have waxed my brows in the past, I really think plucking is a better solution. I’m happy to finally get the nudge I need to make the switch — I think the skin around my eye area will be that much happier when I’m in my sixties!

Swap-tastic

Makeup Alley is a skincare and makeup discussion board similar to the Essential Day Spa Forum, but because I discovered MUA second, I’ve never really participated in their forums.

However, they have a couple of fabulous features that EDS does not — namely, a wishlist function, and a swap function. These two work in conjunction with each other — you place items you’re yearning to try (or just stock up on) on your wishlist, and you also post items you’re happy to get rid of on your swap list. People take a look at your swap list, and offer to trade you for stuff they want and you don’t. And you can search other people’s swap lists for items on your wish list, and try and get them to trade.

Sure, the system has some flaws — many members have complained of “swap-lifters” who receive but never send, and you never know if the item you receive will be in the condition described. But there’s a pretty good system in place for rating users and giving feedback, kind of like eBay. And so far I’ve only had experiences ranging from medium to great — never overtly bad.

A couple times now, I’ve gotten ahold of items I was dying to try, but didn’t want to shell out money for. And my main goal was to pare down my excess surplus of beauty goods, which I’ve definitely been able to do. I’m still getting rid of things all the time, and the shipping cost is usually pretty nominal.

Swaps have been great for me, and I just wish I weren’t so insanely picky — but since certain ingredients always send my skin haywire, I’m fairly conservative about what I’ll swap for. A couple times I’ve just sent users items of mine without asking for anything in exchange, just to put some good swap vibes out there and to see products I never use go to a good home. When you’re as invested in products as I am, it’s nice to see them appreciated!

You do have to create an account to use Makeup Alley for these purposes, but accounts are free and totally private. Nothing but pluses in my book!

A Rainbow of Coverage

As some of you Imaginary Readers know, I’ve been on a major hunt for the right concealer solution. I think I may have finally found it — or rather, them.

I was poking around Sephora testing out all the different concealers, and nary a one really matched my skin tone. But I came across this 5 Camouflage Cream Palette No. 15 Camouflage Cream Palette, which is exactly like it sounds — five cream concealer shades that you can blend to create custom coverage.

This seriously seemed like the only option, since nothing was spot-on for my coloring (no pun intended). And it has the added benefit of letting me create a different shade for concealing acne on my chin, which for me is whitish, versus my cheek, which is very pink. And theoretically you can also use it for under your eyes, which is an area I rarely use concealer on — but when I do, I need a very different shade than the rest of my face — much yellower.

Sounds perfect, right? The problem is, I don’t love the ingredients. They’re honestly not THAT bad, but they’re not all-natural either. And they did seem to contain some potentially pore-clogging components, which sort of defeats the purpose of an acne concealer. And there are definitely a few other acne-safe concealer products on the market, but none with the color range this palette provided. What a dilemma!

So to solve this, I decided to create my own palette. I ordered a bunch of 2.5g mineral powder concealers from Everyday Minerals. (I would have ordered from Alima, as I’ve heard more positive reviews of them, but EM had corrective color concealers like green and yellow, whereas Alima did not — and I only wanted to pay one shipping charge!)

Grant and I are saving up to replace our broken digital cam, so it’s tough for me to take decent digital pics right now. But here’s a crappy cell-phone pic of my rainbow concealer palette, just to give an idea:

The Everyday Minerals solution has been GREAT so far! In typical EM fashion, they included a couple freebies, one of which was a lavender corrective concealer powder. So that’s one more shade to add to the spectrum. I also purchased mint green, sunshine yellow, and five of their six skin-toned concealers (all but the deepest). I’ve been applying them with synthetic-haired concealer brushes, and I even found that some areas were easier to cover with a big synthetic foundation brush.

I’ve applied colors directly onto problem areas in single layers, or multiple color layers, and I’ve also tried mixing custom blends in my palm first. It all just depends on how my skin is looking that day. But I LOVE that I can tweak it this way or that to make sure it’s a good match, and I’m actually finding that these powders look less, well, powdery than the Alima samples I’d tried in the past. I think it’s because they offer slightly less coverage, which in this case is a good thing — too much coverage means that concealed areas REALLY stand out, since I don’t normally use foundation and my skin has natural variations in tone that I actually like.

And of course, these don’t aggravate acne nearly as much as a cream concealer would. My breakouts seem to heal much faster now, as well as being better-covered, and they don’t wind up with that super-dry-and-flaky look that some powder concealers (ahem, Alima) were giving me. And most mineral concealers have pretty decent sun protection, too, which helps keep my healing blemishes from forming scars.

All in all, I think I may have finally found my concealer solution! The overall price was no more expensive than if I’d purchased the full Make Up For Ever palette, and I have a much greater variety of shades this way. I’ll update if my opinion of this custom palette changes over time.

I think the only real problem is figuring out how to travel with these, or create a purse-size version for touch-ups. (However, the coverage seems to last long enough that touching up isn’t as necessary as I’m used to.) This isn’t a huge hurdle for me — I already travel with a massive amount of cosmetics/toiletries, and hey — mineral powders don’t count toward the liquid limit for carry-on baggage, so that’s another plus!

With new territories come new… smells

Turns out, tagetes is STINKY! My package from Nature’s Gift arrived recently, and I mixed up a little vial of tagetes essential oil in a neem and avocado oil base. I started anointing dear Grant’s toes with it, and I was wowed by how smelly it is. Not like anything else I’ve smelled, and certainly not as offensive as neem, but very… strong.  It’s also a very bright yellow color, kind of like turmeric or saffron, and it does kinda stain the skin/nail bed.

I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of results we get. I specifically designed this toenail fungus treatment for Grant, because he can’t stand the smell of vinegar. So the normal vinegar bath method was kinda out of the question, if I wanted him to be a willing participant. Here’s hoping this vinegar-free method makes all the stink worth it!

Clarisonic fever

Lots of skincare-savvy gals have been gaga for the Clarisonic face brush for years. It’s from the same folks who make the Sonicare tooth brush, and Grant and I absolutely adore our shared Sonicare. I’ve been hearing more and more good stuff about the Clarisonic, so I started looking into at least trying one out.

Turns out EVERYONE heard about the Clarisonic from Oprah, and now they’re sold out everywhere! Couple that with the fact that there was a pretty major recall due to a manufacturing error that caused many brushes to overheat, and you’ve got a massive backlog of purchase orders. Nordstrom wasn’t even able to guarantee me one in time for my birthday in late March. (Not that I’d be ready to spend $200 on ANYTHING so soon, but I wanted to at least have the option!)

Normally, I’d be fine with waiting and really being sure. But I figured I might as well check out a tester model and just see how it felt and how it worked up close. Turns out all the testers are gone too — SAs from Nordies and Sephora revealed that fellow employees were the culprits! Apparently, since no one else can buy them, neither can they, so they just hijack the store ones to satisfy their Clarisonic cravings in the meantime.

I tell ya, I never knew something that expensive and creepy-looking could get so popular! Grant’s horrified at the idea, and keeps asking me not to buy the brush that “flays my skin”. (No matter how much I try to explain to him that it’s not actually very abrasive, he’s understandably freaked out — I’d be horrified, too, if someone tried to use an actual Sonicare on their face.)

Anyway, I guess I’ll have to wait in line like all the other good girls, which is just as well since I haven’t actually landed that new job yet. Rather than hunting it down from some random store that still has a few in stock, I’m determined to get it from somewhere like Nordie’s that has a really good return policy, just in case I hate it. Or in case it flays my skin. ;)

Search for the Perfect C Serum

I’ve been wanting to try a vitamin C serum ever since I read about people’s glorious results on EDS.  But it’s a tricky substance: most C serums apparently oxidize really quickly, which means the highly unstable C “turns” and can actually do your skin more harm than good.  It can be really hard to find a C serum that’s stable enough to last through the whole bottle.

To complicate matters further, the base ingredients that help keep C stable are exactly the sort of thing I hate to put on my face.  (Petrochemicals and/or potentially irritating acids, to name a couple.)  One solution is to try making your own C serum in small batches, so you can control how fresh it stays.

This is above and beyond my normal level of DIY crafting, but I think I’m up to the challenge.  Thankfully, C is a little more forgiving than some other DIY actives, and I’m not that invested if it doesn’t work out.  This may be my first leap into varsity-level DIY, which should be fun!  I wonder if Maggie Bullock will seek me out again. :)

Tagetes to the rescue?

I’ve always considered myself fairly savvy with essential oils, but I’m learning more and more as I go. I had the basics down, but now I’m delving into some lesser-known oils, like manuka (below) and, this time, tagetes.

Tagetes is the oil from a type of marigold, and it has powerful anti-fungal properties. I’ve been trying to come up with an effective essential oil blend for toenail fungus for a while now, so that people can avoid taking those awful and side-effect-riddled oral medications. I had a mix of neem and tea tree, which is great for some other fungus-type problems, but which never seemed to do the trick for toenails.

But I was turned on to tagetes oil thanks to a couple of EDS members, and I started looking into it more. This stuff is renowned for killing fungi! Bye-bye, sad toenails. (Not my own, thankfully, but those of a certain someone close to me who was reluctant to wear sandals all last summer.) I’m hoping by this summer, that certain someone’s tootsies will be good to go, thanks to tagetes.

The Magic Formula

I’ve been working on my homemade deodorant for several months now, and I think I finally hit the jackpot with today’s batch. I made a couple of targeted adjustments that really improved the overall product.

I cut out the neem oil entirely, because even though neem is great for antibacterial and antifungal purposes, it’s too stinky! I also switched from tea tree to manuka oil, which has a slightly less over-the-top smell. And lastly, I added a lovely fragrant EO blend that doesn’t have any beneficial purpose in a deodorant, but that helps it smell nice (and masks the smell of other ingredients).

Combine that with better ratios of ingredients, a more finely-milled version of an herb powder I wanted to use, and a general better hand at blending all this stuff in the right order, and presto! I’m very excited by my new recipe, and I think it’s going to become my standard. Never again will I have to suffer underarm irritation, not to mention the potential risks of Alzheimer’s and breast cancer. I’m so pleased!

Mission for manuka

I’ve been hearing more and more about “manuka” lately, and I finally figured out what’s going on. The Wikipedia entry claims that manuka is the same plant species as tea tree, which I’ve since learned isn’t the case. (When I know more I’ll go back and update that!)

Manuka is a very *similar* plant to tea tree, but it’s more common in New Zealand, whereas tea tree is native to Australia. And while tea tree smells very strong and medicinal and a bit eucalyptus-y, manuka smells like… honey. Sweet, delicious, benign honey. A MUCH nicer fragrance!

This is great news for me, because I’ve been working on a natural deodorant formula that uses antibacterial essential oils as the main funk-busting agent. The most effective oils I’ve tried to date have been tea tree and neem, but the problem is that these are both kind of stinky. Tea tree I can handle, as I enjoy weirdly medicinal cough-drop-like scents. But neem is BAAAD — the smell of neem is almost worse than the smell of BO, so it’s kind of counter-productive.

But now that I’m getting my manuka info straightened out, I think I’m going to try a manuka-only version of my deodorant, and see how it holds up to the funk test (of moving furniture). I have high hopes for this stuff — I may finally be able to perfect my natural, homemade, absorbent, funk-busting, non-irritating, and above all else, pleasant-smelling deodorant. Now THAT’S a good product!