Sunday, January 17, 2016

Beauty Favorites and Fails: December 2015 to January 2016 (Product Reviews incl. Korean Beauty)

 This month, my skin has been rather challenging. I've noticed new under-eye wrinkles that weren't there before, and also been having some more pimples (around my chin and jawline) than usual. I am not sure whether to attribute these things to being almost 51 now, and the hormonal challenges happening, or if adding several new things, like different face oils, Retin-A, and BHA to my routine have caused some upset. Aside from these challenges though, I have enjoyed some wonderful new products and of course, experienced some big time loser products. Let start with the good news:
Favorites of the Month


1. Happiness is ..... Real Art Moisture Cleansing Oil from Etude House! Oh how I love this oil cleanser!!! There are not superlatives enough in the world to describe my affection for it. First off, the light lemon scent is so lovely and soothing. I looked forward to using it every night, and found it very calming. The oil feels so good on my skin, and is great in removing all make-up, and giving enough slip for a gentle facial massage. Then when you add water to your face, it emulsifies perfectly and removes completely, leaving a soft and clean skin. Not to mention, the packaging is cute and the pump works really well. That is another thing I'm finding with Korean beauty products: the pumps on the containers always work great, which is so different from the American products, where 50% of the time, the pump is broken (I'm looking at you, Body Shop Grapefruit Shower Gel!). Also, this product did not sting my eyes, clog pores or cause breakouts. Love!

2. L'Oreal Voluminous Million Lashes Excess Mascara in Blackest Black. I really enjoyed this mascara. I think it lived up to its claims of volumizing lashes without big clumps. It was nice and wet and very black. I had no trouble with flaking, and it stays high-powered until I took it off at night. No fading during the day, or the need for reapplication. Note that I do use all mascaras with the Estee Lauder Little Black Primer now, because I have a big problem with mascara transferring under my eyes, due to the shape of my eyes/face. The wand on this mascara is good: big and fluffy but not so much that I poked myself or couldn't reach smaller lashes. I would definitely buy this mascara again, after I use up all the others in my stash.

3. Kings and Queens Chinese Princess Jasmine Shower Gel. If you like prettily scented shower gels that don't dry out your skin, and with a scent that stays with you for a few hours, then I can definitely recommend this one. I love the scent, and the way it left my skin feeling. I also love the packaging in the pretty pink bottle. Only downsides: the lid breaks easily, and this brand is hard to find in the U.S. I originally bought it at Target, but they stopped carrying it, so now I have to get it ordered from Europe, because it is made by Korres. Still, I think it's worth it for the lovely scent. A perennial favorite! (Postscript: This might be discontinued! Oh No!)

4. Rimmel Lash Accelerator Mascara. Although it probably can't live up to its claims to make your lashes grow, because it's not a medical product, this is a very nice mascara. It was nice and black and it did lengthen and volumize my lashes. I used this on my natural make-up or light make-up days, because it wasn't as volumizing as the other mascara I was using (see above). But it did seem to moisturize and condition my lashes, which I enjoyed. I experienced no flaking, clumping, or irritation. I would definitely buy this again. 

5. Pixi Glow Tonic toner. I think this really did work to make my skin look glowy, because when I visited my aunts in Florida, they remarked on my glowing skin. This toner has a nice moisturizing feeling, a pretty, girly, light fragrance, cute and efficient packaging, and is readily available at Target. It is a little higher priced than the typical Target product at $29 for 3.4 fl oz, but it seems to have a good complement of ingredients, like Witch Hazel, Aloe, Glycolic Acid, and Biotin, and there is no alcohol, so it is not drying. After using up my current toners that I am trying out, I will definitely purchase this one again.
Some okay products I tried.

Good, Nice, but Not Sure if  I Will Buy Again

1. Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum Fragrance Free. I liked this serum, mostly for the consistency, which is more like a light lotion, than a gooey gel or a liquid. It was very easy to apply and it didn't cause any irritation. But did it change my skin for the positive at all? I don't know. It has good ingredients like niacinamide, peptides, and silicone for a silky texture, but I'm not sure I saw any difference in my skin from using it. I can probably do better.

2. Redken Diamond Oil High Shine Gel Conditioner. This is a very lightweight conditioner. It did add some shine to my hair, and it did detangle it, but it doesn't work as well to keep it soft and easy to style (i.e. manageable) as some of the other conditioners I am currently using, so although it is not a "fail," I would not bother purchasing this again.

3. Etude House Collagen Moistfull Emulsion. Again, nothing wrong with this product: the smell is faint and delicate, the texture is nice, it didn't irritate my skin. But, it's not a must-have product for me. This is a very light lotion, so it did not deliver the moisture that I need on my skin, which is mostly dry, except for my T-zone. The website describes it as "rich" but I would disagree, and say it is very light hydration. Also, the bottle and cap design make it very hard to get the product out. You have to hold it upside down and tap it out, and it comes out slowly. Annoying!

4. The Body Shop Moisture White Shiso Foaming Facial Wash. I really enjoyed using this cleanser, but it is in my "just okay" pile because, contrary to what it says on the bottle, it did dry out my under-eye area. If your skin doesn't have dry patches, though, you might love this. The packaging is really nice in that it dispenses easily, and keeps the product from exposure to light, moisture and air. The foam is really soft and soothing to put on your face, and the scent is very mild. It felt very mild in general, with the licorice extract and the glycerin, but still did a good job in cleansing. I used this as my second step in my evening double-cleanse.

5. MAC Lightful C Marine-Bright Formula Softening Lotion. This is called a lotion but it's actually a toner. It has a watery consistency that make it easy to apply and spread with a cotton pad. I liked this, but again, not sure if I saw any difference on my skin while using it. It had no fragrance, that I could detect, did not irritate or cause redness, and it felt like a good final step in my cleansing routine, to make sure every last trace of dirt and make-up was removed. Aside from that though, it didn't seem particularly "Wow" and I feel like the Pixi toner was better.
Products I disliked.

Ugly Fails

1. Sephora Sheet Masks (including the Rose Eye Mask, the Lingzhi Mask, and  Lotus Mask). Wow, were these ever bad! Maybe I am so disappointed because my expectations were so high? I had heard that these were really popular and sold out frequently, and their packaging, though simple, was really appealing, arranged in the store in a rainbow of colors. But all of these failed me. I still have a few more that I've purchased to try, including the favorite Pearl variety, but so far, so bad. The Rose eye mask had an odd shape, like a checkmark, that didn't fit well under the curve of my eyes, and had a chilling sensation, rather than soothing. There was no noticeable scent, but after removal - horrors! - my under-eye area was reddened and saggier looking. It was wet, but not moisturized. The Lingzhi mask had a yucky smell, but it fit well. After removal, my face was flushed, which at my age, with broken capillaries galore, is not a good thing. Maybe if you are very young and very pale, you would appreciate a pink glow, but I do not. Also, any moisture was absorbed very quickly after removal of the mask, and I wasn't looking any more youthful. The smell, however, lingered. And the Lotus mask had a lingering, "off" odor as well. The fit was bad on my face: I had to cut it across the bridge of the nose to make it lay flat, but it did leave my face looking moisturized. All in all, these masks had very mediocre results, and were unpleasant to use.

2. S.W. Basics of Brooklyn Exfoliant. This is a product I picked up at Target from a line of beauty products that was new to me. They are all natural with simple ingredients. I love the concept, and the ingredients are only organic oat flour, organic almond flour and sea salt. So conceivably, you could eat this stuff. Unfortunately, it didn't do much for me as a beauty product. I followed the directions of wetting a small amount and rubbing it on my face, but it just kind of clumped up and dropped off into the sink in gobs. I also tried mixing it with a cleanser, but in the end, just decided it wasn't doing much for me, but make a big mess. I am going to throw it out in the garden, knowing it will decompose naturally. At least that part is nice! Also, you could just make this yourself at home, and save yourself a lot of money, because this was NOT cheap, at $24 for 3 oz.

3. SkinFood Rose Essence Soft Cream Blusher. I received this as part of a gift set from Beautique, during their Black Friday sale. I love the pretty, retro, feminine packaging with the nice mirror, and the soft rose scent that smells like a child's perfume. The color is also pretty: a delicate, girly pink. However, the formulation of this did not work for me. It is a very soft cream, but when you apply it to your cheeks, it is matte and opaque, unless you rub it in. When you rub it in, it virtually disappears from your skin, except to settle into any fine lines or large pores you may have. So either way, rubbed in or not, it is not flattering on the skin. Really bummed about this one because I wanted to love it, and I'm trying to think of some way to keep it and make it work, but I'm at a loss. I wish I knew a little girl who likes to play with make-up, because it would be nice for playing dress-up.

4. L'Oreal Magic Lumi Highlighter. This is a cream highlighter that comes in a wand and looks like a concealer. It claims to lighten dark circles, but I found it was too transparent to achieve that. The packaging is attractive with a slim, gold metallic wand. It looks a lot like the YSL Touche Eclat concealer. However, the twist mechanism that oozes the product up onto the attached brush is messy and frequently dispenses too much product. This stuff has a blech chemical odor. It is very pinky in tone, and there is a subtle sparkle to it, but it doesn't compare to the wonderful Hourglass Ambient highlighters in quality, or the glow that it adds to your face. For me, there were not enough pluses to warrant keeping it in my collection, especially since the odor made it unpleasant for me to use.

5. It's a 10 Miracle Leave-In Product. No miracles here. I got this deluxe sample free as a gift with purchase from Ulta, and am very glad I didn't actually buy it. It is a light spray in conditioner that did detangle my hair, however, it didn't add any shine, bounce, repair damaged hair, or prevent breakage, as it claims to do. And my hair needed washing after day two instead of day three, like usual. And, no, I didn't apply too much. It was just kind of gunky in my hair.

That's it for this month's beauty round-up of favorites and fails. I hope this was helpful to you. Please leave a comment with your recent favs and fails. xo

Sunday, January 10, 2016

New Year's Eve in Sarasota (For Grown-ups)

Happy 2016, everybody!

I hope everyone spent New Year's Eve in just the way they wanted to. I was fortunate enough to travel to visit my Dad in his condo in Sarasota again this year, so I thought I would do a post on a great way to spend the Eve, if you find yourself in that part of the country.
A typical Sarasota Bay sunset
This post is marked "for grown-ups" because this is not a typical travel itinerary that assumes you are a 20- or 30-something that wants to party hard and kiss that special new person at the stroke of midnight. But it is a fun and relaxing list of how we spent our New Year's Eve, both this year and last.
January breezes
Start the morning off with a delicious breakfast at C'est La Vie bakery and cafe in downtown Sarasota. This is a real French bakery run by actual people from France. It is so cool to hear everyone speaking French, and the croissants and crepes are beyond delicious. They serve full American style breakfasts, as well as fantastic French bakery items. You can sit indoors in the bustling little cafe or outside on the sidewalk, if the weather allows, just like they do in Paris.
Interior of C'est La Vie bakery (photo from their website)
After breakfast, enjoy a leisurely stroll among the cute shops along Main Street. Two of my favorites are the toy store Toy Lab, recently under new ownership, and chock-full of a huge variety of playthings, and the serenely beautiful Mercantile Home & Apparel, a clothing and home goods store with a carefully curated selection of gorgeous items that look to be right out of the pages of the most stylish lifestyle magazines. (Hint: they have fantastic sales). When I was there, I bought a beautiful wine-colored cotton gauze and sweater knit maxi skirt with gored panels and a beautiful drape. Perfect winter skirt!
Red cotton skirt from Mercantile
The downtown shopping area now has plenty of parking, due to some new garages, in addition to the street parking, but be aware that on New Year's Eve, they will start to cordon off some of the streets in preparation for the street festival that evening (more on that later). So plan to walk a bit from the parking space to the shops/restaurants.
An historic facade in downtown Sarasota
While downtown, you can pick up any groceries you may need for the evening at the really nice and large Whole Foods market there. This is a particularly good one with a big selection and a free parking garage. And after your shopping is complete, you may be ready for a quick bite for lunch. I recommend an authentic New York-style slice of pizza from Il Panificio. This is my (authentic Italian) family's favorite pizza joint in the area. We've never been disappointed by the pizza here, which features a just-crispy-enough-but-not-too-thin crust, as sauce that is a perfect balance between sweet and acid, and good cheese. They even offer gluten-free (although I haven't tried that one!). Come pick up a pie, and check out this little pizza joint, that also sells sandwiches and salads.

Mid-afternoon means it's time for a siesta by the pool. If you are staying at a hotel, I'm sure your hotel has a pool. It might not be warm enough for an outdoor swim (although it was the last two years I've been there), but it will be at least warm enough to lounge around outdoors. If it happens to be raining, just wait a bit because it usually doesn't last. In any case, grab a magazine or book, and just relax for a bit, so you have the energy to stay up to see the pineapple drop. Yes, I said pineapple! (More on that ahead).
The awesome pool at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota
After naptime, it's time to get all dolled up (but not too dolled up that you can't walk in those heels), and head out to an early dinner at Inkanto. This is a little authentic Peruvian restaurant, run by actual Peruvians, and it is fantastic. It is regularly on the best restaurants of Sarasota list, and for good reason. The food is so delicious and fresh tasting. Their specialty is the ceviches. These are cold seafood soups, and though that may not sound good to you at first, please, please give them a try. They are really good. I am not really a seafood or a cold soup lover, and I am a very picky eater, but I tried them and I love them. Inkanto also has a fantastic wine selection, so make sure you order some.

(photo from their website)
After dinner, you need to make a choice based on your feelings about very crowded places. My intinerary for the evening included a walk on the beach, a visit to the street fair, and then back to the condo to watch the fireworks off the balcony. If you dislike shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, I suggest you go to the street fair early, because the closer you get to midnight, the more crowded it will get. To the point that it's really hard to move among all the people and you might find it suffocating. If crowds don't bother you and you want a really party atmosphere, save the street fair for later.

We decided to go to the street fair early, and be home when midnight actually struck. So from Inkanto, we drove back to the downtown/Main Street area and parked in one of the free garages. This street party is good for all ages. Several blocks are roped off so that it becomes a pedestrian-only space. There are food stalls, souvenir stalls selling all sorts of tchochkes and party favors, (like light-up 2016 glasses), some live bands, some carnival rides, and some games. We enjoyed a cotton candy, and walking around people watching and getting in the celebratory spirit. Here is a slightly scary photo of one of the carnival games, where all the prizes were staring at me! Creepy!
Crreepy clowns!!

 After you get your fill of the street fair, I suggest you drive out to Lido Key, and go to the beach, (Lido Key beach), not to swim, just for a moonlit stroll. Bring a cardigan in case it's chilly, and prepare to kick off your shoes, and enjoy the sand in your toes. Although Siesta Key beach gets all the publicity around here for it's baby-powder-like sand, Lido Key beach is my personal favorite. I'm almost afraid to talk about it because I feel it's a little underrated and a bit of a hidden gem. But I love it because it is very easy to get to and park at, and once you park, boom! The beach is right there: no walking for yards and yards to get through a parking lot to the actual beach. It is a lovely one. There are usually not too many people there on New Year's eve, but there are some small groups of like-minded folks. This year, I purchased some of those pretty Chinese Lanterns ahead of my trip, from Sky Lanterns and they were very economical and good quality. It is fun to set them off over the water (they are biodegradable so no worries). Several other people were doing it, too, and they look so pretty glowing over the darkened water. By the way, in case you were wondering, it feels very safe at this beach and there is a quiet spirit of camaraderie with those who walk along the shore on New Year's Eve. It feels meaningful!
Setting off the lanterns at the beach.
After the stroll along this magical shore, head back to wherever your home base is, hopefully somewhere with a upper storey view of Sarasota Bay. At midnight, the town puts on a fantastic fireworks show over the bay that is not to be missed. From our balcony, we watched the fireworks, toasted with champagne, and some fancy chocolates (I recommend these deliciously fresh ones), and gave each other kisses and good wishes hugs for the new Year!

Fireworks over the bay.

All content and photos are my own unless otherwise mentioned and are copyrighted 2016 and can not be used without permission.