Skincare

Squee! Mini-Review: Clarins Instant Smooth Crystal Lip Balm in 04 Crystal Red

Call me Voxy. Some months ago – never mind how long precisely – having a bit of mad money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me at Sephora, I thought I would cruise about a little and see other parts of the world of cosmetics. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to buy a lipstick as soon as I can.

(Melville is giving me the stinkeye from his grave. I can feel it.)

So, last summer, feeling a little spleenish, I was looking around for summer collection items beyond what Sephora carries. And I found, on several beauty blogs, these delectable, lipsmacking photos of Clarins Crystal Lip Balms in red, orange, and pink. They were completely translucent and looked like they were made of some kind of ice or gel. Popsicle-like. Totally drool-worthy. I searched for them for months, but to no avail — because I didn’t know they weren’t released in the US. (Duh. I am such a dork sometimes.)

But this year they are being released in the US. At last! For years weeks days I stalked the Clarins website, pacing the deck, harpoon (in the form of a credit card) in hand. At last, the white whale — which is to say, the Crystal Lip Balm collection — was sighted! And, in an utterly undramatic fashion, I bought the one in Crystal Red.

I know. Anticlimactic.

But wait there’s more! It arrived today, and it is AMAZEBALLS. From the swatches I’ve seen on UK blogs, the versions put out in previous years were pretty much completely translucent. They looked gorge in the tube but on lips translated to only the slightest hint of color. This year’s version seems to be more pigmented — there’s a solid core of pigment surrounded by a very lightly tinted translucent balm. It’s so lightly tinted it’s effectively colorless. When I swatched it on my hand I was surprised.

Then I went ahead and put it on my lips. It is fabulous. It is a totally wearable not-too-intense shade of red. I can’t really call it a balm, though — the pigment makes it feel like a lipstick when it’s on your lips. It’s not drying but I didn’t think it was particularly moisturizing either. I didn’t do a wearlength test (hence why this is really only a mini-review), but it lasted a couple of hours for sure.

I immediately went back on the website and purchased two of the other three shades: Crystal Pink and Crystal Coral. I was wondering about the fourth shade, Crystal Violet, but based on how much pigment is in the Crystal Red, I suspect it would be way too purple for me. But we’ll see.

These should be on counters shortly but they are available now from clarins.com (limited edition) for $24.50. Through 4/24 you can get free shipping with code MOM.

UPDATE! The other two colors I ordered arrived today. The pink is much less pigmented than the red and does feel more like a balm (though still not entirely); the coral is almost as pigmented as the red and it is fairly bright. It is OK for my skin tone but going much brighter than that would be a bad idea.  I wore the red to school the other day, through one of my longest teaching days, and got about 3 hours’ wear out of it before I had to reapply. It stained a little bit, but less than I’d have anticipated. Still a win all around, though.

Close-up and hand swatch!

POPSICLE!

You can barely see that on either side of the red pigment there is a tiny bit of shiny balm, almost totally colorless.

Review: AmorePacific Moisture Bound Lip Treatment

Or, why I actually think you should consider spending $35 on a lip balm.

This is going to be the Winter In Which Voxy Finally Decides To Stop Ignoring Her Unattractively Dry Lips. No, for realz this time. Yes, I know I said that the last three years. But this year I really really mean it, pinky-swear.

To this end I have a variety of products winging their way to me, but this is one I discovered last spring that I think is fantastic. Yes, it is $35. Which means that if you apply that first, and then a Guerlain Rouge G lippie on top, you have an $82 lip.

I don’t know why I mentioned that.

Anyhoo, this product is the best lip balm I have ever tried, which given the price tag is a good thing. There are two great things about it: 1. it clings to lips like no other balm I’ve tried, and 2. it is just glossy enough to make it look like you’ve put something pretty on even if you haven’t. Of the two, #1 is the reason it’s worth the money. It feels like it just wraps itself around your lips. It’s not goopy, it’s not sticky, it’s not oily, and it’s not waxy. It’s perfect.

So of course you are asking “if it’s so perfect, why do you still have a dry lip problem? Huh? HUH?” and the answer is that it’s my fault because I am very bad at proactive dry skin care. Instead, I wait until it’s an emergency and my lips are cracked and bleeding before I decide to do something about it. (See resolution, above.) Since the Sephora Friends & Family sale is still on until 11/2, if you want to give it a try, you can pick it up for 20% off, so it will only run you $28. If your lips are desperate for some help, and I mean threatening-to-go-on-strike-and-walk-off-your-face desperate, this is a lifesaver.

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AmorePacific Moisture Bound Lip Treatment: $35 at Sephora

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Come on. I have to say Poor, because even though it is an excellent product, it’s 35 frigging dollars.

Purchase again? I just did, since I thought I lost my original tube. Fortunately, I found it, so now I have one for home and one for the purse.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)


Review: Benefit Triple Performing Facial Emulsion SPF 15 PA++

You are not seeing things. I am actually reviewing a Benefit product, in spite of my professed boycott of the brand for overly aggressive guerrilla marketing techniques. (That’s probably redundant, huh? Do there exist guerrilla marketing techniques that are “appropriately aggressive”? I doubt it.)

That I would investigate a Benefit product after ranting about them just shows you how desperate I have been to fill this particular hole in my skincare regime. Desperation will make a girl do strange things.

The story of the hole in my skincare regime is this: several years ago, I had a spray container of an MMPi product by Patricia Wexler. I don’t remember what it was exactly, but it was very light and was like a toning emulsion: slightly thicker than plain water and milky in color. I loved this. It was the perfect thing for putting on post-cleansing to make my skin drink in the moisturizer I was getting ready to put on. After I ran out, I discovered that it had been discontinued (WHYYYYYYYYYY?????????) and I started desperately searching for a replacement.

[Author’s note: This space originally contained a film-noir style dramatization of my desperate search. It was gritty and highly dramatic, and involved a black 1947 Frazer Manhattan. You are better off without it.]

In the end, I picked up this new Benefit product because — and I am so embarrassed by this — the packaging is SO CUTE. Am I so frivolous that fanciful frippery can sway my resolve to not buy any of their products? Apparently, yes I am. This is depressing. I did also test it in-store, though, so I knew it was the kind of product I wanted. But I still yelled at myself all the way home.

Although not watery enough to put in a spray bottle, Benefit Triple Performing Facial Emulsion is a light cream that is just the kind of transition product I wanted. It is not thick or heavy enough to be a stand-alone moisturizer for me, but it works well as a preparatory cream. Why is that a good thing? Two reasons: it enhances whatever other moisturizer you put on top of it, and (more importantly) you will use less of your expensive luxe moisturizer when your skin has been properly prepared underneath. Also, it’s nice that this is SPF 15/PA++ — that’s not a huge amount of sun protection, but it’s a good way to get at least some sunscreen on the bottom layer of everything else you’re going to be putting on your face.

The packaging is, as previously stated, adorable. It’s real glass; very retro-pharmacy. I love it. The “cork” in the bottle top is not really cork, but rather a plastic cap that lifts off to reveal a little pump. How well will this pump work as I get down to the bottom of the container, I wonder? The cream has a light but noticeable fragrance — it smells like “spa.” A little aquatic, a little cucumber-y, a little floral. I want to listen to soothing music and drink a glass of lemon water while I’m applying it.

Do you need this product? That depends on whether you have a hole in your skincare regime that this could fit. Honestly, I don’t think it’s really practical as a stand-alone moisturizer; it’s so light that I don’t think it would cut the mustard on any serious dry skin. For layering under something else, though, I like it a lot. If you’re interested, it’s part of a suite of skincare products Benefit has recently released called “b.right!” that also includes an eye cream (which I have a sample of — meh), a regular moisturizer, and about five other products. Interestingly, there is something specifically called a Moisture Prep Toning Lotion, which you would think would be exactly what I would want. I haven’t come across it in stores yet to check the ingredients, and Benefit doesn’t do consumers the courtesy of listing their ingredients on their website (which is so often a sign that they would prefer you to believe their marketing language rather than their ingredient list) — but they do say that this product can’t be shipped internationally due to hazmat restrictions, which says to me that it must have alcohol in it. Definitely a no-no.

In case you are interested, at the Benefit website you can also download wallpaper of the main ad for the line, which features a woman with a lampshade on her head. I have no comment. Oh, wait, yes I do. I hope that this means that Benefit employees will now be required to wear lampshades on their heads at all times, which will at least make them easier to spot as they rush at you in a department store and try to drag you to the Benefit counter.

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Benefit Triple Performing Facial Emulsion SPF 15 PA++: $28 for 1.7 oz.

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (mid-range: poor/fair/good/excellent): Fair to good.

Purchase again? Maybe. Something better might come along! If not, then yes, I’ll repurchase. Unless Benefit pisses me off again.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)

Review: Urban Decay Melt Down Makeup Remover

Things about which I am skeptical:

1. A picture is really “worth a thousand words.” Doesn’t it depend on what words they are?

2. Beyonce really had “one of the best videos of all time

3. Makeup removers are really a necessary part of everyone’s cleansing regimen

As fascinating as #1 and #2 are, and indeed they are nothing short of riveting, they are a) not the subject of this blog, and b) probably best discussed after a couple of martinis. So let us instead turn to #3, which (in case you have forgotten) is the one about makeup removers.

I’ve never been a believer in makeup removers — either their necessity or their effectiveness. It has always seemed to me that if your cleanser isn’t taking off your makeup, it’s not a very good cleanser. This has become even more true since I picked up a Clarisonic. I’ve tried many makeup removers over the years (mostly because they tend to come in gift-with-purchase kits whether you want them or not) and I haven’t found any that really changed my mind, including the cult favorite Lancome Bi-Facil. Many of them leave their own residue that’s as much trouble to remove as the makeup was in the first place, which seems like kind of a clever trick, if you ask me.

Sephora and ULTA have makeup removal stations for those of us who are avid in-store swatchers (ULTA is a little less conscientious about this, which is annoying when you have sixteen different long-wear eyeliner swatches on your hand and you don’t want to wear them for the next eight hours). Sephora uses their own brand eye makeup remover; I don’t know what ULTA uses because half the time they don’t have any. My local CCO, however, has a really very nice one that was a cream, not a liquid. Oho, said I, what a good idea. It’s like a hand cream that happens to dissolve makeup. You didn’t even need to tissue it off, really. (Note: this was for hand swatches, not makeup removal on the face!) I’m pretty sure that this was Estee Lauder’s Take It Away Total Makeup Remover, but since I wasn’t really in the market for a makeup remover and my visits to the CCO are fairly infrequent, it dropped off my radar pretty quickly.

Until I met Urban Decay’s new Melt Down Makeup Remover, that is. I’m a sucker for the word “melt” in conjunction with cleansing. I spent months mooning over an Adrien Arpel Coconut Makeup Melt cleanser just because it contained both the word “coconut” and the word “melt” in its title. So I couldn’t resist testing this UD product in-store, and when I realized how like the CCO’s Estee Lauder product it was, I had to pick it up and give it a try.

Result: I’m really pleasantly surprised by the performance of this product. I don’t use it every day, only when I’ve done something complicated with eye makeup or made several applications of mineral sunscreen during the day, but it works really well. It’s the texture of a hand cream, and has a scent I can’t quite identify. A little bit like anise, maybe, but it’s mild enough not to be an issue for me. I apply it to a dry face using my fingers, massage it in, and then tissue it off. I do always follow up with my regular cleanser and Clarisonic, but my skin is noticeably softer after cleansing on days I’ve used this as a remover beforehand. My only complaint is that I always underestimate how big of a dollop I need, and so I think I’ll probably run out sooner rather than later.

Is it really a necessary part of cleansing? Nah. I can get clean with my regular cleanser and a Clarisonic. But it does make the job a little easier when I’ve got heavy eye makeup on — or, as previously noted, that e.l.f. mineral sunscreen which is a pain in the neck to get off.

Swatch! (just so you can see the texture)

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Urban Decay Melt Down Makeup Remover: $24

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (mid-range: poor/fair/good/excellent): Poor. See below.

Purchase again? Surprisingly, no, in spite of my favorable review. UD’s charging $24 for 2.5 oz, while the Estee Lauder I originally liked runs at $22 for a whopping 6.7 oz. Now that I’ve got the EL back on my radar, and it’s a considerably better bargain to boot, I’ll be picking up that one instead.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)

 

Review: Cosmedix Refine 4%

I know these aren’t the world’s most exciting photos to look at, but this has been a hugely exciting addition to my skincare routine, so if you want excitement and hoo-ha I suggest you wear a party hat and blow a noisemaker and throw confetti while reading this post.

I’ve talked about some of the other products in the Cosmedix line before, but Refine for me is the showcase item in the line: a non-prescription retinol treatment that has really worked for me and that produced a noticeable improvement in my skin from the very first use. Srsly. It was the awesomeness of this product that got me hooked on the rest of the line.

The retinol in Refine comes via something called AGP Complex, which is Cosmedix’s patented vitamin A delivery system. I’ve tried other non-prescription retinol products and this is the first one that’s actually had an effect, so whatever it is, it seems to work pretty darned well.

The product is a thin yellow liquid that you are to apply sparingly to a clean (and dry; wet skin + retinol can equal a burning sensation and greater irritation) face. It’s a night treatment; retinol does not withstand sunlight well, and since it also makes your skin photosensitive it’s important to use it at night and wear a sunscreen during the day. It comes in an airless pump and the dispensing system generally works well; the pump is a little sticky so you can occasionally get more than you bargained for if you were trying to finesse the pump into giving you only a small amount. Cosmedix says that a “pea-sized” amount is enough for the whole face. I have two problems with this: 1) it isn’t, quite, and b) pray tell, how does one measure a “pea-sized” amount of a liquid? Anyway, the point is that less is enough.

The first night I put it on, I waited expectantly for some sort of irritation, or redness, or my skin catching on fire, but none of those happened. It dries to a barely-noticeable finish. The next morning my skin looked … better. Hard to say how. A little more even in tone, a little clearer. Huh. Maybe I was imagining it. The container says to start using it every few days and work up to increased usage as your skin learns to tolerate it, so I didn’t apply the second night. The next morning, my skin still had that nice look. I applied again that night, and it looked even better the next morning!

Lest you think this is going to be a tale of uninterrupted bliss, the day after that my skin began to peel, and that’s when I knew that this product was definitely working. (The label does say you may experience mild peeling.) I also had some sensitivity where the top of the cheekbone meets the orbital area, and I had to be very gentle with skincare as I found most of my usual products to be slightly irritating. So I reduced my usage and tried it every 3 days or so, and that seemed to solve the problem. Sometimes I work up to every 2 days, but in general this is working just fine. My skin tone is much more even, I am starting to see slight but noticeable reduction in fine lines and sunspots, and my skin feels a little thicker and firmer (which is good). I use much less foundation since starting this, and often only apply foundation to the places that actually need it, leaving much of my face foundation-free. (I do use a setting powder, and I apply that all over, but foundation “coverage” for the whole face isn’t nearly as much of an issue anymore.)

Refine 4% also has a big brother called Refine 8%, but I will be sticking with the 4% to start with and if you are new to retinols I would advise you to do the same. Cosmedix also advises consultation with a physician if you want to use this product while pregnant or nursing.

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Cosmedix Refine 4%: $58

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Good. It’s pricey but it works, and it will save me a lot of money trying out other retinol products. It also lasts a reasonably long time, since you are only using a small amount and probably not every night.

Purchase again? Already did.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)

Review: LUSH Skin Nanny (and an update on Lovely Jubblies)

All right, I know you all want to know about the Lovely Jubblies first.

When I was picking up all my other LUSH goodies, a salesperson made me a large deluxe sample of Lovely Jubblies so I could try it out for a few weeks. It smells kind of herbal and is a sort of ecru color. Now let’s get one thing straight: I was not expecting this product to turn my decolletage into something that could rival Christina Hendricks. But I did hope it would make my skin feel nice — and it really disappointed me in that regard. Most of their other products have a much nicer body-feel than this one (and I’m really not a fan of herbal-scented creams).

It also broke me out. And if there is one place worse than your face to have pimples, well, there it is.

On to something that so far my skin is liking a lot better than Lovely Jubblies: Skin Nanny!

The same salesperson had also given me a sample of Skin Nanny to try, and I liked it so much that on a return visit I bought a container. (Dear stores that don’t give samples: See?) As I’ve said before, and as the above experience indicates, LUSH skincare tends to make me break out. I haven’t tried it yet as an all-over facial moisturizer — it’s still too hot and humid here for a cream that is as thick as this one — but it turns out to be a stellar eye cream.

LUSH is almost as bad as Tarte in their marketing language. Maybe they use the same professional writers? Here’s what LUSH has to say about Skin Nanny:

Skin Nanny is the natural way to protect your skin from wrinkles. If you are going out in the sun and want to look after your skin, you’ve got to choose a moisturizer with some protection. Skin Nanny has natural AHAs from the fresh apple juice, helping to combat free radicals. It’s all part of our holistic approach to keeping your skin bright by using the whole fruit.

Heavy duty moisture soak.

Starflower oil moisturizes and hydrates your skin. Skin Nanny’s C and E vitamins come naturally with almond and hibiscus oils to penetrate your skin and smooth wrinkles.

OK. First of all, I don’t know how much AHA apple juice provides, how much apple juice is in the product, what the concentrations of the AHAs are, and what the pH of the product is. But I do know that AHAs increase skin’s photosensitivity, so implying that an AHA cream will protect your skin from the sun seems problematic at best. Now it does have some sunscreen ingredients in it: ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (Parsol) and butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane (avobenzone). Older reviews of this product that I dredged up on the web say it’s SPF 30, and one even cites that as part of LUSH’s marketing language, but at this time they are no longer advertising it as SPF 30 on the lushusa.com website. And given that the cream is really thick, I doubt you’d be applying enough for this to be a real substitute for a sunscreen.

As for wrinkle-fighting, it doesn’t contain any fancy peptides or moon rocks or fairy dust. But it does contain a well-blended mix of shea butter and cold-pressed oils (almond, coconut, jojoba, starflower, hibiscus, and ylang-ylang). So it combats wrinkles by plumping the skin up with emollients. This is, of course, just a temporary fix, but if you had a serum or a lighter lotion with fancier ingredients that you liked and felt did a better job against fine lines, there’s no reason you couldn’t put that on underneath. I must say, though, that for my dry undereyes, it does an excellent job of moisturizing for most of the day (and it also works well as a night cream) without clogging pores. And though it’s not cheap, it will last ages (or until the expiration date has passed, anyway) — I’ve been using it twice a day and still haven’t finished my sample, which was much smaller than the Lovely Jubblies sample.

If you want to use it on the whole face, the consistency makes it hard to spread evenly if you start out with dry skin. Try using a toner or a serum first, then rub the cream between your fingers to warm and melt it a little before pressing it lightly onto your skin. This will help it spread more easily, but you’ll still only need a tiny amount.

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LUSH Skin Nanny: $48.95

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (mid-range: poor/fair/good/excellent): Fair. I think their products are overpriced and I hate the packaging. I also wish they made smaller-sized products and sold them for less (which, to be fair, they do; I bought a trio of small jars of other body creams for, I think, about $8 total).

Purchase again? Maybe. Depends on how it gets me through the winter.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)

Review: Kate Somerville Exfolikate

In accordance with the cult status of this product, you will not be able to read this review unless you know the secret handshake, can display the secret tattoo, can say the secret password three times backwards, or have otherwise proven yourselves worthy (which is to say, you have a credit or debit card).

Oh! Looks like we’re all here then.

I feel like I should speak the name of this product in hushed, reverent tones. From the amount of buzz it generates, you would think it was made up of shreds of the Shroud of Turin, the blood of Alexander the Great, and essences extracted from materials that the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and the Archbishop of Canterbury had all personally blessed and prayed over. It should glow. Choirs of angels should appear and sing every time the container is opened.

Sadly, none of that happens. But it is a pretty darn good product.

Exfolikate is, as you might have guessed, an exfoliant. It has some small gritty granules in it, but the primary exfoliating ingredient is fruit enzymes. I used to be terribly sensitive to fruit enzymes — there was a pumpkin papaya mask that came out several years ago that made my face burn for hours after I used it — so I was really leery of this. But, you know, blood of Alexander the Great and everything. So it came up on HauteLook and I decided to buy it (for a price that was considerably lower than the retail price I’ll be quoting at the end of the post).

To my distinct relief, Exfolikate treats my skin much more nicely than that other product. It does have fruit enzymes (papaya fruit extract and bromelain, which comes from pineapples and which is what makes your tongue hurt if you eat too much of it, as my friend Sarah found out to her great discomfort) as well as lactic acid, a gentle but effective exfoliant. Other ingredients include aloe, salicylic acid, and essential oils of bergamot, lavender, rosewood, orange, and cassia.

The product is dark green in color and has a noticeable herbal/grassy/wet-leaves scent. You are supposed to apply it in an even layer to clean, wet skin and DO NOT RUB. The directions say to leave it on only for 20 to 30 seconds and then rinse, but the label warns that redness may occur and persist for up to 20 minutes later due to increased circulation. The small polyethylene granules are not, I suspect, meant to function as a real mechanical exfoliant, but rather to help you know when you’ve completely rinsed the product off your face, as otherwise it might be hard to tell and you definitely don’t want to leave that stuff on there.

I’m pleased that I haven’t suffered any irritation from this. It is a little difficult to get the product on in an even layer, as it tends to glob up (especially on wet fingers), but overall it’s worked fine.

The big question is whether or not it’s worth the price tag, which is hefty. You need very little, so even the smaller-sized container will last for months. I will probably still not be finished with this tube by the time I’m ready for Social Security, if Social Security even exists then. I like that it’s effective and gentle. I’m not wild about the scent. I love that you only need to leave it on for 30 seconds. This makes it really easy to include in your everyday skincare regimen (not that you would use this every day, but I mean you don’t have to set aside a whole evening for a special facial treatment).

So if you want to splurge on something as a well-deserved reward, or if you come across it at a greatly reduced price, it’s worth picking up. Otherwise I can’t really justify the price tag.

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Kate Somerville Exfolikate: $85 for 2 oz., $175 for 5 oz.

Provenance: Purchased. (ON SALE. ON A BIG SALE.)

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): After a lot of flip-flopping, I have to go with Fair. It’s egregiously expensive, but it will last a long time.

Purchase again?
God forbid I ever need to.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)

Review: Cosmedix Reflect SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen Spray

What? A sunscreen that Voxy actually likes? Can’t be.

No, seriously, it’s true. (Actually, there have been a couple I’ve been liking lately. Someone better check the alignment of the planets, because this is very suspicious.)

The Reflect sunscreen spray is part of my general love affair with the Cosmedix line. Everyone should be wearing sunscreen, but this goes double — triple — for anyone who’s also using Retin-A, a retinol product, hydroquinone, or AHAs. These products increase your skin’s photosensitivity so it’s even more important that you slather on the SPF. The problem is that so much of the time, slathering on the SPF is so unpleasant that it almost guarantees noncompliance. (I am not immune to that either; I’ve been searching for a sunscreen that I didn’t resent wearing every day.)

I’m so happy that Reflect is a sunscreen that is actually a pleasure to wear. (See? Go check the planets, right now.)

Reflect uses micronized titanium dioxide to provide broad-spectrum UV protection, and manages to do it without that terrible Edward Cullen ghostly white cast that titanium dioxide sometimes evokes. Because this is a physical sunscreen, not a chemical one, you can put it on at the end of your moisturizing routine, before you apply makeup. It also contains antioxidants, which is a nice bonus.

It comes in a spray bottle, and in theory you could hold the bottle in front of your face, with your eyes squeezed shut, and spritz away. In practicality, however, the spray mechanism does not produce very fine droplets, so you will look like someone flicked a paintbrush covered in white paint in your general direction. If it didn’t extend to getting on clothes, I wouldn’t care so much, but at this price point you really don’t want to waste any. Instead, squirt two or three spritzes at a time into your hand, and apply with fingers. You can pat the remainder into your skin with your palm. Don’t be afraid of the white color; it melts into colorlessness a few seconds after application.

What I love about this is that you can apply it over moisturizer and it’s imperceptible under makeup. This is unusual. And — O frabjous day! — it doesn’t make me break out. Now, there are some drawbacks: it’s not waterproof, so you would need to reapply after any swimmy activities. If I were planning a day out in the sun doing summery outside things, this isn’t the sunscreen I’d turn to — I’d probably use the Neutrogena liquid sunblock. This is partially because the Neutrogena is more tenacious under extreme conditions like sweating glowing and swimming, and partially because the Reflect is too expensive to use in a situation where you would need to reapply it frequently. It’s a fabulous sunscreen for handling daily exposure in small amounts, but if you’re planning any extended activities in the sun, I’d go with something more powerful and cheaper.

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Cosmedix Reflect SPF 30 sunscreen spray: $44. Available in-store at some spas, or order online at DermStore, Skinstore, etc. (Cosmedix does not sell directly from their website.)

Provenance: Purchased

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Fair. I mean, come on, $42 for a sunscreen? But I actually use it (without complaining), so evidently it’s worth it for me.

Purchase again? Yes, but only on sale.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)

Review: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Liquid Daily Sunblock SPF 55

I mentioned this product in the course of my woe-is-me post about heat exhaustion at graduation, but I realized I never gave it a proper review. Since there’s still quite a bit of summer left, I thought I should remedy that.

You all know that I’ve never been a fan of Neutrogena sunscreens. They’ve either had a greasy texture, or caused breakouts, or looked at me funny, all of which are dealbreakers. But I am also a sucker for a new product, and the idea of a liquid sunblock that was actually imperceptible (or almost) under makeup made me get my Don Quixote on and venture forth with lance in hand to fight yet another windmill. Which is to say, I went to Target and bought some. (The other way is just so much more dramatic.)

Neutrogena makes this in SPF 55 and SPF 70. I bought the SPF 55, figuring that if I did turn out to be sensitive to the sunscreen, then having less of it in the product might reduce irritation or breakouts, and since there isn’t compelling evidence that sunscreen numbers over 50 provide a comparably significant uptick in protection, I decided it wasn’t worth the (possible) risk. The active sunscreen ingredient here is Helioplex, which is Neutrogena’s trademarked name for a combination of oxybenzone and avobenzone. It does provide broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection, but these are both chemical sunscreens, so if you’re looking for a physical sunscreen (titanium oxide, zinc oxide), this is not it.

The marketing gimmick of this particular product is that you can wear it over moisturizer and it will be virtually undetectable to either sight or touch under makeup. And it is! I was very impressed. It really is a liquid — and I’m mentioning that only because in spite of the fact that it’s clearly stated on the label, I’m so used to sunscreens in a lotion or cream that I’m still a tiny bit surprised that it’s the consistency and color of whole milk. It goes on extremely smoothly and is, exactly as advertised, almost imperceptible under makeup. Yes, if you’re really paying attention, you can feel a small difference in your skin after application. But it’s tons better than almost any other sunscreen I’ve used, and certainly better than any other Neutrogena sunscreen I’ve used. (I have another sunscreen review coming up that is even smoother than the Neutrogena, but it’s also almost 4x its price.)

I’ve worn this several times since my Extreme Graduation adventure, and it’s always performed excellently. It is not quite sweatproof (no sunscreen really is), but it’s very tenacious and hangs on well in heat and humidity. I didn’t have any irritation, itching, or breakouts. I was careful to wash it off when I was done with outside stuff for the day, though, so I didn’t let it sit on my skin for longer than necessary.

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Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Liquid Daily Sunblock SPF 55: $11.99

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (drugstore: poor/fair/good/excellent): Excellent. You can get sunscreens for less, but they don’t perform like this one.

Purchase again? Surprisingly, yes. And that’s the first time I’ve said that about a Neutrogena sunscreen.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a shout-out in the comments!)

Review: Cosmedix Defy Age Management Exfoliator

I have become so in love with the Cosmedix line of skincare over the last few weeks that I am considering running away and eloping with it. I have several products from the line but will review them one at a time so as not to overwhelm you with a 20,000-word post.

The hook behind the Cosmedix skincare line is that it is “chirally correct.” For the non-scientists among us (and I include myself in this category, of course), this means the following: Many biologically important molecules exist in two mirror-image isomers, each containing the same atoms but arranged in a perfectly reversed, non-superimposable order. The most common example of chirality is human left and right hands — identical in composition, but reversed in structure, and no matter how you try to twist and turn them you cannot successfully superimpose one on top of the other. This concept was first explained to me by my GP when he was discussing why he wanted to switch me from one medication to a very similar one: he said that the left isomer of the active ingredient caused fewer side effects than the right isomer, so the meds made with the left isomer were a better choice. In skincare, you might have seen ingredients like L-ascorbic acid or D-alpha tocopherol; I won’t go into the naming of things but the letters L and D indicate that they are the left and right isomers, respectively, of whatever substance we’re talking about. As with the medication example above, one isomer might be helpful but the other might produce negative side effects, be ineffective, or damage the body. (Wearing a left glove on your left hand is useful. Wearing a left glove on your right hand impedes your ability to use your hand correctly.) The premise of “chirally correct” products is that they only include the helpful isomer of important or active ingredients.

I might have scoffed at this as yet another example of skincare companies touting a tenuous connection to vague scientific principles except that my GP was right — the second med, based on the other isomer, did work better than the first and had fewer side effects. So I was disposed to give it a shot.

Like Adam, who did not know he was naked until he had eaten of the forbidden fruit, I did not know my skin was not as nice-looking as it could be until I tried this line of products. Seriously, my skin is good. In polite company, it’s the thing I get complimented on. But now! Oh, the shame, the shame.

Defy is an exfoliating cream that I use at night in alternation with other Cosmedix products (which will be reviewed shortly). It is a rich, thick cream that is non-irritating but effective and that has a touch of a mild lemony scent. As with most of the other products in the line, it is so rich that you really need only a pea-size amount to cover the whole face. No, really.

Its claim to fame is that it has three chirally correct AHA exfoliating acids: L-lactic, L-malic, and L-tartaric, as well as some other chirally correct ingredients. It also has a lot of moisturizing ingredients: glyceryl stearate, glycerin, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid, olive oil, aloe leaf extract, sweet almond oil, lecithin (an emulsifier), grapefruit peel oil, ylang-ylang flower oil, and peach kernel oil.

The additional chirally-corrected ingredients are D-alpha-tocopherol (chirally correct Vitamin E isomer), and L-alpha-bisabolol (a chirally-correct anti-inflammatory ingredient derived from chamomile). I am not a skincare chemist, but there is nothing in this moisturizer that I can find that is not full of awesome. I’m using it in conjunction with other Cosmedix products, so it’s hard to tell exactly which product is responsible for what, but I’m really pleased with what’s happening with my skin — my pores are smaller, skin tone is more even, skin is firmer and more resilient and has more color.

The Cosmedix line used to be available only in spas, but has recently become available online. Let me warn you now that the line is not cheap. (However, it is also not insanely, outrageously, astronomically priced like La Prairie, La Mer, or SKII.) Defy is listed at $66 for 1 oz., but since you really do need such a tiny amount and probably will not use it every night, it should last quite awhile. (Skin-Etc. has it for $52.80, and I don’t think they are supposed to be doing that since the prices are fixed everywhere else.) If you buy through Dermstore, you can take advantage of Bing cashback savings through 7/31/10.

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Cosmedix Defy Age Management Exfoliator: $66

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Fair. It’s awesome, but I can’t imagine ever waving the “excellent” flag for a $66/oz. cream. I don’t know, maybe I’m being too harsh.

Purchase again? Yes.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)