Empties: February to May 2018

Posted on June 20, 2018 under Empties

My empties posts are always at irregular intervals because that’s how using products up actually works in reality. Sometimes I’ll use up eight thousand products in the span of a month and sometimes three months will pass with my only empties being, like, a lip balm and brow gel. This post features a four-month accumulation because things were slow on the empties front around here; after my last empties post, I was left with a bunch of close-to-full products.

But I had a very convenient alibi for an empties post when it came to leaving the UK – although I’m getting this up nearly a month after returning home.

No press samples in this batch. Things I received for free through work are marked with an asterisk.

Skincare

A-Derma Soothing Foaming Gel*: This is a decent cleansing gel, though it’s nothing special. I prefer more hydrating cleansers, anyway.

Vichy Idélia Peeling*: I liked this! My skin responds well to glycolic acid and this was no exception. However, if Deciem can survive their CEO’s long-term public meltdown, the glycolic from The Ordinary is like $7 and just as good.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5: Speaking of The Ordinary! I’ve honestly lost count of how many bottles of this I’ve gone through. It’s just such an effective, low-cost serum. Will keep using.

Origins Drink Up! Overnight Intensive Mask: You can see that I’ve done a number on this tube in an attempt to get out every last drop. This is my favourite night cream for winter time, and I can say that for the second year in a row the dreaded nose flakies have failed to make an appearance thanks to this rich moisturizer. A tube conveniently lasts me November through March, which is the perfect amount of time.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Intense Soothing Care*: This is a really great daytime moisturizer. It’s rich enough to really hydrate dry skin, but thin enough to sit well under makeup. I’m working through some other things right now, but I’d happily go back to this. I went through a few tubes of the thicker, richer Toleriane Ultra, but I think this one is better-suited to daytime use.

Vaseline Lip Therapy + SPF 15: This was a decent lip balm that certainly got me through a dry winter. Nivea works better for me, though.

A forgotten empty, photographed later:

Bioderma Sensibio Eye Contour Gel*: A nice thin eye cream that delivers a medium amount of moisture. My undereyes have become quite dry lately, which I’m chalking up to age, so maybe I will buy another tube.

And while on vacation I used up a mini 100mL bottle of Bioderma Sensibio H2O which I forgot to photograph. The original Bioderma remains one of my favourite micellar solutions, alongside La Roche-Posay.

Hair

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Tone Correcting Shampoo: Oh wow, more of these? I can’t help it – it’s a good blonde shampoo and I would always buy it when Superdrug had it for £3.95. That’s a bargain!

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Shampoo (mini) x2: Went through two of these while travelling, only managed to photograph one. I’ve been using this shampoo on and off for over three years, so these travel minis are a no-brainer.

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Conditioner (mini): A solid conditioner, another tried and true product that rotates in and out of my haircare routine with regularity.

Toni and Guy Damage Repair Mask: I’ve used up a lot of deep conditioner in four years as a blonde, so I feel confident in saying that this one was average. I want to say it weighed my hair down a bit, but now that my hair is actually reasonably healthy it gets greasier a lot faster, so it’s hard to say accurately.

A straggler, photographed later:

Toni and Guy Instant Refresh Dry Shampoo: This dry shampoo worked well, but not as well as Batiste. It also had a very strong smell which I did not enjoy. The only reason I bought it was because I was one second away from fully succumbing to jetlag and could not for the life of me find the Batiste in the Superdrug I was in. You know that when I step off a plane my first priority is Batiste.

Bath and Body

A-Derma Exomega Emollient Balm*: I absolutely love this product. Despite the name “balm”, it’s not a super thick lotion, yet it delivers a lot of moisture, which is absolutely necessary for someone with KP. This can also be used on the face, so it’s a true multitasker. It’s right up there with La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP+.

The Body Shop Coconut Body Butter x2: This is the only Body Butter I like, and I exclusively buy it in bulk during 3 for $30 sales. Because of the coconut oil, it has a thicker, semi-solid texture and it does absolute wonders on my perpetually-scaly, KP-ravaged limbs. Weirdly, the first of these tubs that I went through had the same texture as a regular Body Butter, which was a devastating blow. The second one had the texture I like, which was a lot better – but I’m still thinking they’ve reformulated to make the textures consistent across all scents, and I just ended up with an older tub. If this is the case I won’t keep buying it, since the texture was what I liked so much about it. (Okay, and it makes me smell like I live in a hut with a palm frond roof, which I love.)

L’Occitane Almond Shower Oil: You know I love this stuff. Is it absurdly expensive for something that is on my skin for like twenty seconds total? Yes! But it’s so luxurious, and I really cannot underestimate how dry my arms and legs are. They need every bit of moisture they can get.

The Body Shop Shea Butter Exfoliating Sugar Body Scrub: I am firmly a drugstore gal when it comes to body scrubs, but I picked this up during a 3 for $30 sale so I can’t be mad. It had a very interesting soufflé-like texture. Otherwise, it was a sugar scrub. It was fine, but if you pay full price for it you’re a fool. (Well, that goes for all products from The Body Shop, but especially sugar scrubs. Come on.)

Makeup

Benefit “That Gal” Primer (mini): Can we talk about the value of this mini? It contains 7.5mL of product, and the full size is a whopping 11mL. I mean. What. Strangely generous size aside, this is a pretty classic illuminating primer, though it has a thicker texture than others I’ve used and a very noticeable pink tinge. I enjoyed using it during the transition from winter to spring, when my skin decided to protest the change in seasons by being dry as a bone. Would not pay for the full size, but would probably spend Sephora points on another mini.

Marc Jacobs Le Marc Lip Crème in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (mini): I don’t know if it’s fair to feel this accomplished about using up a mini, but I do. I mean, this is only the third lipstick I’ve used up in my life, so it has to count for something! I really like the Le Marc Lip Crème formula and this was a very flattering neutral which I enjoyed wearing immensely.

Lancôme Hypnôse Mascara (mini): This used to be a favourite because it delivered volume and length without any clumps. Like, I dare you to try to make this mascara clumpy. It just doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, I have now discovered that it does not hold a curl at all, which is a dealbreaker for me. I don’t know if the mini just performs differently than the full size I had, but something is up here.

Lancôme Hypnôse Drama Mascara (mini): I don’t remember anything about this. The end.

Miscellaneous

Only one item in this category today, and a boring one at that. Tesco Beauty Nail Polish Remover was a nail polish remover. I got carded when I was buying it in September because I was also buying a knife and you’re not allowed to do that if you’re under eighteen. When the self checkout machine flagged me I totally thought it was because of the nail polish remover because I guess you can huff it or maybe make something explosive out of it. That story is not very interesting, but neither is nail polish remover.

The end! Now I’m back in Canada accumulating more empty things to show off at some random point down the line.

How I deal with Keratosis Pilaris

Posted on April 07, 2018 under Thoughts

I am twenty-three years into a battle against Keratosis Pilaris. For those who don’t know, KP is a super common skin condition involving little bumps on the skin caused by a buildup of keratin. (This is really gross, but sometimes you can pop KP bumps just like zits – that’s how much keratin we’re talking.) Usually it’s on the arms and legs, but it can appear anywhere except the palms. Some people’s KP appears quite red and inflamed. Some people have it on only some parts of their arms and legs and some people get it only seasonally. I am one of the super lucky people who has it all over my arms and legs all year round. Mine usually isn’t particularly red – the bumps themselves are obviously pink, but the skin around them doesn’t get inflamed. During the winter when my skin is very dry it can be more noticeably red, but the above picture is a good representation of how it normally appears.

KP is not painful (just itchy sometimes, when it’s really dry) and it isn’t indicative of any sort of serious medical condition. It’s literally just my stupid skin producing too much keratin. It’s totally genetic – my mom has had it for her whole life and I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. Apparently it’s common for it to spontaneously improve by about age 30, but I’m not holding out much hope. Mine has pretty much stayed the same throughout my life, and since my mom has had hers forever I assume mine will be much the same. It’s actually kind of nice that I have her to look to, because it means I’m not wasting any time waiting for my KP to clear up in the next few years.

KP used to be something I was pretty self-conscious about – in a world that pushes absolute smoothness as the pinnacle of leg beauty, I will never achieve that. But when I was a teenager I looked into KP and realized how prevalent it is – it’s seen in approximately 30-50% of the adult population. You’d never know that, though, because the arms and legs we see in ads and on TV are always nice and smooth, blurred and Photoshopped to perfection. I’ve talked to so many people who are really self-conscious about their KP. It seems nonsensical to me that so many of us have insecurities about something that is incredibly prevalent. Gradually I began to notice just how many people have it, and I stopped caring as much. (Like, a few weeks ago I was with a group of eight people and I could see that at least three of them had it…) A good amount of people I pass on the street deal with the exact same thing, and those who don’t have definitely seen KP skin before and will not be shocked when confronted with my arms. I don’t really care about it from an aesthetic standpoint anymore; I wear shorts in the summer with absolutely zero thought about my KP. I mean, if I woke up with nice smooth legs I wouldn’t be mad, but I’ve long since accepted that I have visible bumps all over my arms and legs.

I could shave my legs ten times a day and they will still never look like this. Although she is most definitely receiving help from Sally Hansen and good old Photoshop…

Really the concern for me is managing how dry and itchy my KP can make my skin. I don’t think that having super dry skin is necessarily an inborn feature of KP – I’m just lucky enough to have year-round KP all over my arms and legs and the driest skin in the world. Like I cannot overstate how dry my arms and legs are at all times. The dryness totally exacerbates the KP and makes it uncomfortable instead of just a bit ugly.

Now, if you have KP you have no doubt furiously Googled cures for it. You have probably read many stories about people curing theirs. I don’t doubt that that’s possible – but I really think that some of us just have lifelong cases that can never be fully cured. However, it can be managed and mitigated. The frustrating thing is that not everything works for everybody. Care of KP-ravaged skin seems to be very much in the “your mileage may vary” category – so what works for me may not work for you. Regardless, here’s what helps keep mine at bay.

Moisture

No surprise – moisture is the most important factor for me. This is primarily about feeling (since dry skin is way more likely to feel itchy and scaly), but I do think it makes a visible difference as well. The added shine of body cream makes the skin look smoother and more uniform than it actually is.

I only used body cream on the right leg – you can see what a difference it makes!

So, I basically take moisture wherever I can get it. Thick body creams are obviously the primary moisture vehicle, but I’m also a big fan of using shower oils instead of shaving cream in order to really maintain the moisture of my skin. There are a lot of shaving creams on the market that claim to be moisturizing, but I’ve never found them to do anything for me. Oils are where it’s at! I really like the L’Occitane Almond Shower Oil, but La Roche-Posay and Bioderma both make more budget-friendly versions.

I absolutely love The Body Shop’s Coconut Body Butter – because of the coconut oil it has a semi-solid consistency that my skin responds to well. I’ve heard of a lot of people who found that coconut oil actually completely cleared up their KP. I can confidently say that is not true for me (and yes, I have tried pure coconut oil as well), but I do think it helps. Otherwise, I absolutely love the A-Derma Exomega Emollient Balm. It’s not a very thick cream at all, but it delivers so much rich hydration and I’m always amazed at how (relatively) smooth my skin feels after I use it. La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP+ has a similar effect, but A-Derma edges it out just slightly for me.

Body oils work really well for me, too, and sometimes I’ll layer them. I’ve used argan and rosehip as well as squalane and they’ve all worked really nicely. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive: $6 bottles from The Ordinary work well, so do off-brand oils from Winners. I just recommend applying body oils in the bathroom and waiting a few minutes for them to sink in, because they can get a bit messy.

I will note for posterity that the best body cream I ever found for KP was by long-dead Canadian brand Dermaglow. Me and my mom were both obsessed with it because it actually seemed to make a huge difference in clearing up our skin. But the brand went under years ago and we just haven’t found anything as good. Part of me is still hoping for a resurrection even though it’s been the better part of a decade.

Exfoliation

Exfoliation is my second weapon against KP. This is another pretty obvious one – when you’ve got bumpy, textured skin, exfoliation is a good way to smooth things out. It helps to unclog the keratin-filled hair follicles and can slough off any flaky, dry patches. I use a body scrub every time I shower. Currently I’m using one from The Body Shop (obviously purchased during a promotion…), but usually I use whatever is cheap and cheerful from the drugstore since at the end of the day they’re all just sugar scrubs.

I also use chemical exfoliants about once a week. I’ve found that glycolic acid works best for me. There are a lot of body creams with 5% or 8% glycolic (and, indeed, the Dermaglow cream I mourn had 8%), but sometimes they don’t quite pack in the amount of moisture I want. I prefer to separate out those functions so I can get exactly what I want. I use glycolic acid on my face every day, so I just use whatever I have open at the time. Currently it’s by Vichy, but I’ve also used NeoStrata and The Ordinary with the same results.

I don’t overdo the chemical exfoliation because I really don’t want to dry out my arms and legs. It’s just a nice weekly treatment to help speed things along.

Sunlight

This is a bit of a controversial one, since some sources say that exposure to sunlight actually worsens KP. In general I would agree that sun exposure worsens most skin conditions, and it seems logical that sunlight would darken KP bumps. But my actual life experience begs to differ! I am all for sun protection and I don’t think anybody should be roasting out in the sun for hours a day to improve their KP. But my skin is never better than immediately after a cottage vacation where I’m outside all day. Look, I’m not the only one! This obviously isn’t a long-term fix or anything… but I had to mention it since it’s 100% the thing that makes the most difference. (My mom has had this experience too, so there are at least three of us!)

Things I haven’t tried

I’ve never used a steroid cream on my KP (though I’d be open to trying it). I’ve also never had laser treatment – that was something I used to long for, but the expense just doesn’t seem worth it to me anymore. If I’m going to get something lasered it’s going to be my eyeballs because I am too vain for glasses and too lazy for contacts (except for special occasions). And I haven’t tried making any dietary changes. It’s not that I don’t believe that might make a difference, it’s just that making noticeable lifestyle changes for the sake of something that I’m not even that insecure about anymore seems like an unbalanced tradeoff. Like, I can commit to three minutes a day putting on body lotion. Cutting out food I like eating long-term? Nah. It’s just not that important to me!

The unfortunate thing about all of these solutions is that progress is dependent on absolute rigid consistency. I can improve the look and feel of my KP as long as I’m vigilant about treating it. If I stop, I go right back to square one. I think that’s true for those who “cure” theirs, too – stop with the coconut oil or start eating dairy again and your perfectly smooth legs vanish. (Wait… you still have legs. They’re just not smooth.) I try to build these things into my regular routines, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen. When I’m travelling, stressed, or busy, these things fall by the wayside – it’s never a linear path. KP is never going to be my top priority, and that’s not only okay, it’s healthy. Some bumps on my skin should not be taking up that much mental energy when I can be focusing on school, my relationships with my friends and family, my hobbies, my health, learning new things, travelling… Obviously, when it comes to things we’re insecure about, that’s easier said than done. But it’s all about perspective, and some less-than-beautiful bumps on my arms and legs are so much less important than basically everything else going on in my life.

My AM and PM skincare routine, winter 2018

Posted on February 06, 2018 under Lists

It’s been quite some time since I shared what skincare I’m using, so I thought I’d do a bit of a skincare update. I’m still working my way through the backlog of gratis from my days working in cosmetics; as a result, there are some items in this post that aren’t utter favourites. But I think lukewarm to negative reviews are very useful, so why not include them?

As always, my skin is normal to dry, leaning dryer at this time of year. (Actually, most of my face has settled down from the transition in seasons – it’s only my nose that is still parched.) I usually only break out hormonally, and I do have fairly persistent hyperpigmentation which follows blemishes long after they die. I focus on hydration and acid toning in my skincare. I probably do my full skincare routine about 95% of the time. I never go to bed without washing my face and slapping on some night cream or an oil, but I can’t think of the last time I skipped a step – maybe in somewhere in the Christmas madness.

Here’s what my skin looks like without makeup. These pictures were taken at the end of January, when I was recovering from a stress breakout. (80% healed now, I’d say.)

I sometimes have closed comedones on my forehead and I get the occasionally random zit there, but it’s usually clear. It’s hard to tell in this picture but at this time a rare blemish was in the final stages of healing.

It can be hard to tell the difference between freckles and hyperpigmentation, but there are a few healing blemishes around the centre of my face here, which is rare for me. The ones on the left side of my chin are more standard – I always have either an active breakout or hyperpigmentation there. Despite the fact that my most recent breakout was larger than normal, this is pretty much the best my skin will be: by the time the hyperpigmentation starts to fade, a new zit will find a home on my face. Skincare really helps mitigate the length and scope of my breakouts, but, like 99% of people on this planet, my skin will never be totally blemish-free.

By the way, usually my zits aren’t too bad, but I do have the really bad habit of picking them, and sometimes they’re monsters to begin with, and the combination sometimes results in disasters.

I also occasionally have a bit of blotchy redness at the bottom of my cheeks. This tends to be more pronounced in hotter weather, so it’s not very noticeable right now at all. I don’t generally have very sensitive skin, but some skincare also exacerbates this redness.

Finally, I think it’s essential to note that, while skincare is a really great tool to address various concerns, a lot of “good skin” is genetic. I’ve never had particularly problematic skin; even at the peak of my teenage breakouts (age 14-15) I was doing okay. I hope it’s obvious that I’m not saying this to brag, just to be realistic about the results my skincare routine can actually achieve.

Gratis received through work will be marked with an asterisk, as always.

AM Routine

In the morning, I like to keep things pretty simple – I prefer not to rush through my morning routine but also like to maximize on my sleep, so there’s a delicate balancing act! If my face feels quite dry I don’t bother washing it; if not, I use a light cream or gel cleanser. Currently I’m using the Avène 3-in-1 makeup remover*, which does an okay job at gentle cleansing but which I do find leaves a sticky residue if I don’t wash it off vigilantly. My favourite cleanser for this purpose is the Marcelle Ultra Gentle Cleansing Gel. It’s gentle but efficient and doesn’t strip the skin or leave a residue. And it’s only $12.95! I’ll go back to it when I finish the Avène.

Unlike every other surface of my body, my undereyes are not horribly dry, so in the morning I’ve been really enjoying the Biotherm Homme Aquapower Eye Depuffer*. It’s a light, cooling gel that is perfect first thing in the morning when I’m trying to do my makeup despite the fact that it’s pitch black.

Lately I’ve been starting my skincare with The Ordinary EUK 134 0.1%, which is an antioxidant with an oily texture. I love using antioxidants if I’m going outside – living in a city I’m exposed to lots of free radicals in the forms of pollution, car exhaust, etc. For this time of year the oily texture of the EUK has been working quite well for me, but I’m not sure if I’ll love it so much in the summer. I find it layers well under other products but I’ll have to see if it’s too heavy in the warmer months, when my skin is pretty much normal.

For moisturizer I’ve been using La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra*. I’m a longtime fan of LRP’s Toleriane Riche, which is a thicker cream great for dry, sensitive skin. However, Toleriane Ultra is thinner and layers better with other skincare and makeup. It isn’t as fluid as some moisturizers and does deliver enough hydration for my day-to-day needs – it helps that I pack on a lot of hydration in my nighttime routine so that I can use lighter products under my makeup.

Sunscreen is Vichy Ideal Soleil SPF50* – I find this one and the LRP Anthelios fluid basically interchangeable. Both are lightweight, non-greasy facial sunscreens that layer well. When I run out, I’m interested in trying some Japanese sunscreens since I hear great things about them and they seem to be a bit more cost-effective than Vichy or LRP.

And that’s it for my morning routine – I don’t use actives or do too much product layering.

PM Routine

My nighttime skincare routine is one of my favourite rituals, and washing my face is the best part. There’s something so satisfying about taking off broken down, hours-old makeup. I always really like the way my skin looks when I’m freshly-cleansed, too. My cleansing routine could be described as “extra”, but I like to be really thorough and make sure my face is spotless. I’ve been a devoted user of oil cleansers for about five years now; I find they’re great at breaking down makeup, and they do my dry skin a big favour. Currently I’m using the Biotherm Total Renew Oil Cleanser*. It has a very pleasant texture – not greasy, and without any residue. Though it’s effective and nice to use, I think it’s too expensive for what it is. The Body Shop Camomile Silky Cleansing Oil is half the price (and as we all know The Body Shop constantly has deals) and I like that it emulsifies more.

I find that no cleanser ever gets all my makeup off, even if my skin looks bare to the naked eye. I always do a second pass with a gentle gel cleanser, so the Avène cleanser comes into play here. On no-makeup days (which are pretty frequent, actually; I’m only on campus three days a week and don’t normally put on makeup to run errands) I just use the Avène cleanser.

I will always love the La Roche-Posay Respectissime Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover, which gets absolutely everything off without any tugging or rubbing. It’s as good as Lancôme Bi-Facil and half the price.

I follow all of that up with some micellar water; these days I’m using La Roche-Posay Ultra Micellar Water*. This one and Bioderma Sensibio are tied for my favourite. I know most people use micellar water as a first step to remove makeup, but I prefer to use it at the very end. When using an oil-based eye makeup remover it’s essential to remove the residue to avoid milia, and a micellar solution helps balance the pH of the skin prior to acid steps.

Which, of course, brings me to the second-best part of my skincare routine. I use a chemical exfoliant every day; I know that’s too much for a lot of people, but my skin tolerates it well. Generally, I get on best with AHAs. Right now I’m using the Vichy Idealia Peeling*, which is glycolic acid. It’s great, but now that we have The Ordinary there’s no reason to spend $40 on an AHA. I’ve gone through an entire bottle of The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%, which my skin really liked. I’ve also tried The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, which is cheap as chips and just as effective as the expensive stuff. Occasionally I use The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2% (now discontinued) instead of an acid. I always leave my acids on my face for 20-30 minutes before moving on to other steps, because acids require a specific pH to work properly and layering other products negates the effects.

For my eyes, I’ve been layering The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + ECGC and Bioderma Sensibio Eye*. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not convinced that the Caffeine Solution actually does anything for dark circles, but I’ll use it up since it’s not like it hurts. The Bioderma eye cream is a very thin gel-cream hybrid that adds a little moisture and not much else. It’s nothing special, really.

To give my skin the moisture it needs, I use The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 as a serum step. This is my fourth bottle; it’s so inexpensive and it really does make a huge difference in my skin. My night cream these days is Origins Drink Up Intensive Overnight Mask, which is an incredibly rich cream that I swear by in the winter. This is my second winter using it and I haven’t had any nose flakes since before I discovered it. About once a week, if my skin is especially dry, I use The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane. Of all the oils I’ve tried I like squalane the best – it delivers moisture but isn’t too greasy. It’s also nice on my arms and legs and on the fried, burnt ends of my hair. (Just kidding, I haven’t bleached my hair in 11 months and it’s so much healthier!)

My final step is always Nuxe Rêve de Miel Lip Balm, which truly is the most nourishing, effective lip treatment I’ve found. It does have a pretty thick, waxy texture, so it’s a nighttime-exclusive kind of product for me.

And… that is it! I would guess that this is a pretty extensive routine compared to the average, but it doesn’t take me all that long and it addresses all my skin concerns. I hate being away from all my skincare products – that’s the worst part about travelling for me. Anyway – there’s a (far too detailed) breakdown of what I’m currently using.