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Review AND GIVEAWAY!!!: Minerals Mate Makeup Mixing Tray

I think that with this post I am the rueful winner of the “(Barely) Better Late Than Never” award. My school lets out somewhat later than most others, and with finals and graduation and then suddenly being handed a project (what? for me? oh, no, you shouldn’t have, NO SERIOUSLY TAKE IT BACK), I am shamefully late with this post. And yes, this is all compounded by the annual “School just ended and it’s all I can do to get out of bed and make my way to the couch, where I stare listlessly into space and drool on my pajamas” business. I think that my contract should include a mandatory all-expenses-paid weeklong spa trip after every year’s graduation ceremony.

Anyway, I am genuinely sorry about that because I have had this terrific little product sitting around for a few weeks now and haven’t had the chance to sing its praises to you! This product is the Minerals Mate Makeup Mixing Marvel Tray.

About a month or two ago, I suddenly rediscovered an interest in loose mineral cosmetics. And when I say “interest,” I mean “obsession.” I walked into a Bare Minerals store (for I think the first time ever) and saw that they had giant rotating tiered lazy-susan kinds of things on which open pots of mineral eyeshadow were arranged in rows according to color and intensity, and I lost my head completely. You have to understand how I am about color. When I go to Macy’s, I inevitably spend five minutes staring longingly at the rainbow-organized spectrum of pashminas on display in the accessories section. I need another pashmina like I need a degree from the University of Phoenix, but oh! how I love to stare at the pretty colors. What is my favorite color, you ask? It is “every color.” Every color, all together. So the idea of having an every-color spectrum of eyeshadows (on display! on a rotating lazy susan!) made me so excited I could hardly contain myself.

So now I have a miniature version of their lazy susan display in my makeup area at home. No, seriously, I do. That is what I mean when I say “obsession.”

However.

There’s no getting around the fact that loose mineral makeup, for all its beauty, is a giant mess. The stuff gets everywhere. And it’s really hard to get the right amount on your brush, especially if you have decided to go to open storage like I have. You may not have a lid handy to tap the excess powder into — and then what are you supposed to do with the extra product? Try to put it back into the container? Yeah, you go ahead with that, and I’ll sit here with a glass of lemonade and snicker at you. No, take your time. I’ve got allllll day.

And this is why I’m so glad that someone thought of the idea of a mixing tray with multiple compartments (with lids!) for the purpose of mixing and managing mineral cosmetics. The Minerals Mate is a little godsend of a product. It has several wells of various sizes in which you can swirl, tap, and buff to your heart’s content. Want to mix two colors together? Plenty of room! Want to foil your loose shadows by mixing with water? Plenty of room for that too! Want to mix your foundations or blushes or things that require a larger mixing pan? You are covered! Want to clean your brush and need a textured surface to loosen pigment? Yep, you’re covered for that one as well.

Each tray has four smaller wells and three larger ones, and they all come with snap-on caps to prevent spillage or leakage. (I removed the lid from one large and one small well just for photographs.) Although the product packaging implies that its primary purpose is for use with mineral products, there’s no reason at all why you couldn’t use it for liquid foundations as well; the snap-on caps help keep any leftover product from drying out. If you have ever tried to mix product to get a custom shade (foundation, eyeshadow, concealer, blush), you know how difficult it can be, not least because of the logistics. With Minerals Mate, I could custom-blend foundation in about five seconds. It is easy to clean and best of all YOU CAN PUT IT IN THE DISHWASHER! (And, not for nothing, but I can see a whole range of uses for this little gizmo beyond makeup application. Next time I sit down to bead some jewelry I am so temporarily repurposing this as a bead holder.) They come in two colors: charcoal-and-black and the red-and-white one you see here.

The maker of Minerals Mate was kind enough to send me one product for review and another to GIVE AWAY TO YOU GUYS! If you’d like to win the Minerals Mate pictured above (unused and opened only to photograph), leave a comment on this post and I’ll pick a winner randomly. Deadline for comments: Thursday, June 7, at 11:59 pm Eastern time. 

And a special note to my academic readers: the maker of Minerals Mate is also a member of our tribe! In addition to her non-academic day job, she teaches part-time at a large university in the south. So support our peeps! Every Minerals Mate tray you buy is one less student paper she has to grade. (I totally made that last part up. But wouldn’t it be nice?) Seriously, you’ll be getting a super-useful little product and also supporting a fellow academic, who is also a lovely person you’d enjoy chatting with. She’s definitely one of the tribe.

The regular price for Minerals Mate trays is $19.95. If you’d like to pick one up, use the code 2468MineralsMate to get 25% off at mineralsmate.com! That code runs through … uh, today. (I am so sorry. I am so late. I blame work.)

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Provenance: Sent for consideration.

Price/Value Ratio (accessories: poor/fair/good/excellent): Excellent.

Purchase again? Absolutely. I can see it being useful in all sorts of ways beyond makeup.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Let us know in the comments!)

Review: Sigma Brushes

Before I even get started, let me make it clear that there are some drugstore brands of brushes that I really like, especially Ecotools and Essence of Beauty. That being said, sometimes you can’t find the brush you want in those lines, you want to expand the quantity or types of brushes you own, or you’d like to trade up to something that’s a little more professional. You could easily spend a week’s salary on brushes if you go truly high-end, but a really good-quality line of brushes that can be had for something less than a week’s salary is the Sigma line. They’re a great step up that won’t blow your budget.

Sigma brushes are well-made, with solid, weighty handles and good craftsmanship. I haven’t had any problem with shedding, and the fibers are soft and hold their shape well after cleaning. The two pictured here are the SS 188 skunk brush and the SS 275 angled contour eyeshadow brush; I also own the SS 190 foundation brush but didn’t photograph it for some reason. The skunk brush, in case you are wondering, is used to place product diffusely onto the skin. It’s particularly good for highly pigmented blushes or bronzers. The white hairs are longer than the black hairs; the white hairs pick up product and the black hairs provide the bulk and support for the brush head, which you use by tapping it against your skin. Because only the white hairs have product on them, and the white hairs are not densely packed, you get a more diffuse application, which can be really important when you’re working with very pigmented products or want to make a smooth gradation of color.

If you’re interested in trying out some new brushes, maybe some new shapes or some different fibers, then I really recommend looking into Sigmas. (The brand is also starting to put out makeup, so I’ll be interested to see how their non-brush products are.)

Sigma brushes can be bought directly from the Sigma website, but it’s always worth a spin by AllCosmeticsWholesale.com to see if they have the one you want in stock and if it’s cheaper. Some Sigma brushes are only available from the Sigma website as part of a set, but can be purchased piecemeal on AllCosmeticsWholesale, so it’s worth checking.

(Have you used these brushes? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Want ’em? Give a holler in the comments!)

Review: Zeno Hot Spot Blemish Clearing Device

What? A post on a skincare gadget that’s not listed in the Skeptic Files category? Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Indeed, Joe, it is so, because This. Gadget. Works.

I’ve been fortunate in that since I really started to pay attention to my skin cleansing routine, I’ve seen a big decrease in the number of acne blemishes I get. At this point I have maybe one or two a year. I still get whiteheads from clogged pores, but those are harmless and easily remedied. I’m talking here about the painful, red, swollen bumps caused by your bacterial friend and mine, P. acnes. On the one hand, this is great! On the other, it’s made it difficult for me to review this product, which I picked up several months ago on sale at CVS.

I think we’ve already had the “what causes acne?” discussion, but the Sparknotes version is this: oils and dead skin cells plug up a pore, and the sebum that collects behind the plug is like a big old Golden Corral buffet for P. acnes bacteria. They grow and multiply and secrete chemicals that stretch and damage the wall of the pore, all of which causes redness, inflammation, infection, and pain. Yay, Mother Nature. Thanks a lot for that one.

Getting rid of an acne blemish requires killing the bacteria that are happily noshing on your sebum. (Sorry, guys.) Benzoyl peroxide is the gold standard in terms of chemical weaponry, because it both kills the bacteria (by adding oxygen that disables the bacteria, which are anaerobic) and helps the surface layers of skin dry up and peel off, which makes it easier for the pore to open and stay open. Antibiotics can also be used, and recently there have been developments in using light in or near the ultraviolet spectrum to kill P. acnes.

Or, you can use this little gizmo and cook ’em.

The Zeno works by delivering concentrated heat to the pimple, thus killing the bacteria. Because the heat can penetrate only so far into the skin, it may not be able to kill all of the bacteria at once, so it may take multiple treatments (spaced several hours apart) to nuke the pimple completely. But if your experience is like mine, you will have immediate relief from pain and significant reduction in redness and swelling within the first hour after treatment.

In my particular case, the Zeno zapped my zit with one zot. (Sorry. Couldn’t help it.) One treatment was all it took. The blemish wasn’t large, and I caught it early, but one treatment did the job.

The Zeno Hot Spot is very simple to use — actually, a little too simple, because you can very easily accidentally turn it on without even realizing it. You turn it on by touching (or, apparently, waving your hand in the general vicinity of) the small flat rectangular plate on the front side. The four lights to the left of the plate blink to a) tell you it’s on, and 2) tell you how many charges your Zeno has remaining. It comes with 80, and then you have to buy a replacement pack. Press the metal tip lightly against your blemish (you’ll figure out the right amount of pressure to use), and you’ll feel it getting hot. It is totally silent other than a beep every 30 seconds, and a series of beeps at the end of the treatment cycle, which is 2 1/2 minutes.

Let me be very clear about something — it gets hot. HOT. I mean, you’re not going to burn your fingers on it or anything, but it’s uncomfortably warm. Plus, you’re holding it in one place on your face for 2 1/2 minutes, and that one place is already inflamed and painful. So yeah, not the most fun treatment ever. However, it works, so I’m willing to put up with the pain.

Plus, it kind of looks like one of the minions from Despicable Me, don’t you think? Cute.

(Minion photo from Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment.)

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Zeno Hot Spot Blemish Clearing Device: $39.99 (but is often on sale; I got mine for 20% off at CVS)

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (gadgets: poor/fair/good/excellent): Good, if you get it on sale. Otherwise, fair.

Purchase again? Yes, I’ll refill/recharge when necessary. Hopefully that won’t be for a long time!

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Let us know in the comments!)

Review: Beautyblender Sponge

Do you need, and I mean really need, a little neon-pink egg-shaped sponge to have in your makeup bag?

What a silly question. Of course you do. It’s pink and egg-shaped!

This little gizmo (if you can call something that’s pink and squishy a “gizmo”) is something about which I was originally a skeptic, but about which I have had a voxalicious change of heart. I will not be running through the streets bearing Beautyblender banners (ooh, alliteration), but I will quietly enjoy the Beautyblender in the privacy of my own home.

Oh, come on. It’s a sponge, for heaven’s sake. Get your minds out of the gutter.

Like other cosmetic sponges, the Beautyblender can be used to apply liquid and cream products such as foundations and cream blushes. I have not been quite brave enough to try it on eyeshadow, but they say it can be done. The Beautyblender has a face-friendly design and a texture that is almost like nubby silk — grippy but soft. It’s easy to clean and easy to control in terms of precise application of product.

Some people use the Beautyblender to apply foundation directly: they dampen the sponge (it works better when slightly wet; run under water and squeeze out), swirl it around in the foundation — or dunk it if it’s liquid — and apply directly to the forehead whole face. After some experimentation I have found that this isn’t quite the right approach for me. I still prefer to apply my cream foundation (MAC Mineralize Skinfinish) with a brush, and use the Beautyblender afterwards to help create the “airbrushed” effect that is All Teh Rage now on the cosmetics scene. I used to try to get this look with a skunk brush (MAC 187 or the like), but frankly, it took forever. My little paws were getting very tired. This way I can apply the foundation with a regular foundation brush (which also makes it easier for me to mix in some extra moisturizer with it), and then stipple afterwards with a slightly damp Beautyblender before setting with HD setting powder. This yields a result that is, for me, even better than stippling with the MAC 187, not to mention considerably less exhausting. Both the shape and the texture of the Beautyblender make it easier to get this effect with this product than it is with regular cosmetic sponge wedges.

The pointy end is very good at getting into corners and crevices of skin: around your nose, under the eye, in the inner eye, etc. The other end, which is round and squishy, is good at applying cream or gel blushes and blending them in a very natural-looking way. I have used other cosmetic sponges in the past, and of course I wondered whether it was really worth the price tag. But I think it is. It is intuitively designed to fit the contours of the face, it is easy to clean, and it dries quickly and retains its shape.

One of the things that did surprise me about this product was its diminutive size. This is no ostrich egg, nor goose egg. It is, at best, the egg of a slightly anemic Cornish hen. Most pictures of this product on the web show it out of context, so you don’t realize its size. The picture at right shows the Beautyblender in comparison to a standard-sized Clinique lipstick. It is horrendously overpackaged: I can’t think of any reason at all that there needs to be that much plastic and wasted space around the product.

The Beautyblender comes with a small packet of its own cleanser (to wash the sponge itself, not your face), but your regular facial cleanser should work just fine, provided it’s of a non-scrubby variety. The Blendercleanser (and by the way, someone should tell the folks over at Beautyblender that this is not German and you can’t just shove words together, wrap some duct tape around them, and hope they stick) retails for the astonishing price of $17.95 for a 6-oz. bottle. That’s more than my facial cleanser, so in the end using my facial cleanser is not just easier but cheaper.

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Beautyblender: $19.95 at Sephora and other retailers

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (poor/fair/good/excellent): Fair. It’s a really nice product, but $20 is a lot. Plus it’s overpackaged.

Purchase again? Probably, though I’ll certainly look for a coupon or sale.

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

Review: Ecotools Retractable Kabuki Brush

Short and sweet: If you are looking for a kabuki brush, buy this one now.

Oh. Huh. Maybe I should have saved that bit for the end. The problem is that I don’t have much to say about this brush because it is pretty much perfect, and you know the saying: If you can’t say anything not-nice, don’t say anything at all.

Whaddya mean, that’s not how it goes?

This is a great kabuki for a couple of reasons: 1) price, b) quality, and iii) retractability. Ecotools are available online and at some retailers, although selection will vary; my Target doesn’t have this brush, for example, but my ULTA did. Secret tip: Ecotools brushes are packaged in firm plastic sleeves with ziptop closures, which you can actually open in-store and feel the brush head. After some costly disappointments some years ago, I no longer buy any brushes I can’t at least grope ahead of time.

The brush head is smooth and exceptionally soft, the bristles are densely packed but not stiff, and the retracting mechanism seems pretty reliable, at least once you realize it’s a simple plunger mechanism and you stop trying to twist it. (See? I just saved you 10 minutes in your morning routine!)

Seriously, if you’re in the market for a kabuki for the application of mineral foundation, blush, or finishing powder, you can’t go wrong with this one, and it’s travel-friendly to boot. You will want to be sure to dry it upside down and fully extended after washing — which you would do anyway, right? — since you want to be really sure that water doesn’t sit at the base of the bristles and loosen the glue in there.

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Ecotools Retractable Kabuki Brush: $10.99 at ULTA (I used my 20% off coupon and so I got it for about $8.79; you may also be able to pick it up for less via a drugstore sale or BOGO)

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (drugstore: poor/fair/good/excellent): Excellent.

Purchase again? Yes, absolutely.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Let us know in the comments!)

Foxalicious Fundamentals: Brushes 101

Why on Kitchen role? by Mini OzzY.There’s this funny thing that happens when you start a new habit or activity — you get a little ways into the activity and then all of a sudden you get the impression that you’re also supposed to go out and buy a ton of activity-related accessories and paraphernalia and doodads… at which point carrying on starts to seem frustrating and fussy, especially if you’re not really confident about how to use the doodads in question.

If you’re just starting to explore makeup, or deciding to be a little more adventurous or explore more products, one of these daunting doodad categories is brushes. So let’s get this one out of the way right now:

Q. Do I really need all those fancy brushes?

A. No. No, you do not.

If you’re just starting out with makeup, there are only three brushes I think you need to own:

1. Blush/powder brush

2. Concealer brush

3. Eyeshadow brush

If I could throw a fourth in there, I’d say a brow/lash brush, because I think brows should be groomed even if you’re not applying any product to them. But really, I’m good with the first three. Here’s why:

Any tinted moisturizer or cream, stick, or liquid foundation can be applied and blended with the fingers. (Could you use a brush, or a sponge? Sure. Is it absolutely necessary? Nope.) Same goes for cream blushes.

Foundation/Blush Brushes

If you have a powder foundation or a powder blush, then you’ll need a brush. It is perfectly OK to use the same brush for these when you’re starting out. Powder mineral foundations work best with kabuki brushes, so if you plan to use a mineral foundation, get one of these; with a light touch you can use this for blush as well. If you’re not going to get a mineral foundation, a puffy powder brush is fine, and is easier to adapt to both foundation and blush. If you buy drugstore makeup (which I am not dissing, as there are many good brands), chances are that the brush that comes in the makeup compact is not worth the cost of the plastic used to make it. Unless you are Bobbi Brown, you cannot apply blush in a subtle and sophisticated manner with a two-inch brush with a head that would be better suited to applying war paint.

Concealer Brushes

There are good concealers out there in all shapes and forms: liquids, powders, sticks, creams. While you will use your fingers a lot of the time to blend a liquid, stick, or cream concealer into your skin, a brush is really useful for precise placement. This is particularly true if you’re using concealer over blemishes or in the eye area, because often your fingers are too big and round to put the product where you want it and nowhere else. A concealer brush will have a flat head (not poofy like a powder brush) and the bristles will be trimmed into a round or elliptical shape. Think of the end of a popsicle stick; that’s the shape you want for an all-purpose concealer brush.

Eyeshadow Brushes

Those spongy applicators that come with eyeshadow palettes are the little evil cousins of the compact blush brushes. They are not doing you any favors. If you are only going to get one eyeshadow brush, I highly recommend a slanted crease eyeshadow brush, because it’s easier to make this brush also double as a lid or highlight shadow brush than it is to get one of those brushes to double as a crease eyeshadow brush.

Most people who are starting out with makeup routines will probably be using pressed eyeshadow rather than loose mineral eyeshadow (it’s just easier). If you do find yourself wanting to try a loose mineral eyeshadow, you are likely to find that a brush made for those products works a little better.

How to Use

A common misconception that people have about brushes (not unreasonably) is that they are meant to place product on top of the skin. For most cream and liquid products, and for some powders like eyeshadows and mineral makeup, they are instead meant to press or work the product into the skin. This will be true of liquid and cream concealers — except when you are trying to cover up a blemish, in which case you want to get the product on the skin with the minimum amount of poking around at it — and if you decide to try a brush or sponge for liquid or cream foundation it will be true of that as well. Try a stippling or dotting motion rather than a gliding motion to apply and blend these products. Mineral powders are best when pressed gently into the skin using a buffing motion.

Care and Feeding

OK, no feeding required. But brushes do have to be washed regularly. Once a week is great for starting out, but you can probably get away with 2-3 times a month. You can buy special brush cleaners, but you don’t need to; your facial cleanser will work just fine. I usually put a squirt of facial cleanser into a drinking glass, add about 3/4″ of warm water (not more!), swish it around, and throw in two or three drops of tea tree oil, which is a natural antibacterial agent and which helps dissolve gunk on the brushes. I put all the brushes in to soak for about 5 minutes; keeping the water level in the glass low helps minimize the amount of water that gets into the metal ferrule. Over time, too much water in the ferrule can dissolve the glue that holds the bristles in the brush, so you want to minimize this.

After the brushes have soaked for just a few minutes, swirl each around in your palm with a little bit of cleanser. Swish until no more color comes out. Rinse well, pat dry with a towel, and lay them down to dry with the brush head over the edge of the sink or counter. If possible, position them so that the brush head tilts down; again, this helps get water out of the ferrule. An easy way to do this is to put a piece of non-slip drawer liner over an empty three-ring binder and lay the brushes on the sloped surface with the brush heads hanging over the edge. Let them dry overnight.

Cost

There is no need to spend a ton of money on brushes, particularly when you’re starting out. I recommend the following:

Ecotools makes really excellent brushes for next-to-nothing. They’re available at many stores, including Target and ULTA, and on drugstore.com. They offer both individual brushes and inexpensive brush sets; selection will vary depending on where you’re shopping. A good starter package is the Ecotools 5-piece brush set (which is really four brushes plus the bag, but whatever): $10.99. This contains a fluffy brush that can be used for powder foundation or blush, a concealer brush, a mineral eyeshadow brush (which could also be used to apply regular eyeshadow), and a small kabuki brush. I’m not really wild about the small kabuki brush (it’s too loose), but all the other brushes are excellent. The powder brush and a “deluxe” version of the concealer brush (I’m not sure what the difference is except that the handle is longer) are also sold separately for $8.99 and $3.99 respectively.

For a better kabuki, try the Ecotools Retractable Kabuki ($8.99). Not only is it firmer to start out with, but if you want it to be a little firmer still, you can retract the brush a tiny bit back into the holder and it will compact the fibers a little bit more. Also, it’s travel-friendly.

On the slanted crease eyeshadow front, I use a Sephora Professionel brush that appears to no longer be available; this brush from Avon’s Mark line looks like a comparable product, and will only set you back $7.00. A lot of the crease brushes made today are smaller and thinner than I would recommend for a beginner; a brush that’s closer to 1/2″ than 1/4″ wide is easier to get started with.

Beyond the Basics

There are tons of other brushes available, and they’re each designed to do specific things. As you become more comfortable using these basics, you might want to try out some of these other brushes. I’d say the next set of brushes to explore would include the following: brow brush, eyeliner brush (or small tapered eyeshadow brush; either can be used for applying gel eyeliners), lip brush, contour blush brush, non-tapered eyeshadow brush for color application and blending.

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Provenance: I do not own the Avon eyeshadow brush; all other brushes were purchased.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miniozzy/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Review: Clarisonic Skin Cleansing Brush

clarisonic 1The holidays are coming up, and I can’t think of a single better beauty purchase to find sitting under the tree, stuffed in your stocking, wrapped in gold foil, pinned to your Yule log, or tied up with a “Happy Winter Solstice!” bow on it than a Clarisonic. I bought mine last year around this time and it is still the best beauty purchase I’ve ever made. Yes, it cost me $200, but I haven’t regretted one copper penny of it. Not one.

The Clarisonic is the equivalent of a sonic toothbrush for your skin. It uses sonic vibrations to help loosen and remove dirt, makeup, and surface oils from your face. The inside of the brush (inside the black circle) rotates back and forth, very very fast, in tiny arcs. The bristles do not actually scrub your face (more on this in a minute); the sound waves loosen the debris and the bristles of the brush help sweep them away.

When the Clarisonic first came out, many people were upset because it didn’t seem to exfoliate as well as they had expected. This is because that’s not what it’s for. That’s what I meant when I said the bristles do not scrub your skin. This is not like taking a carpet cleaner to your face, which a) is good, and b) is what some people evidently expected from looking at the product. You are not supposed to scrub at your face with this piece of equipment; you move it around your face slowly with very-light-to-no pressure and it does all the work.

It comes from the factory with some pre-set timings; the default is a one-minute cleansing cycle in which 20 seconds are spent on the forehead, 20 seconds on the nose and chin, and 10 on each cheek. The handset beeps to tell you when it’s time to move on to the next area. You can change these settings, although I’ve seen tax forms that were more intuitive than the directions for this process. It comes with one of three different brush heads: normal, sensitive (what I use), and delicate (which the company says is safe for people with rosacea, but I’ll let someone else talk about that!). The brush heads should be replaced every 3 months. They cost $25 each, but now these are starting to be marketed in multi-packs at a discount, so that’s all to the good.

The box includes some sample size cleansers, but I wasn’t a fan of them so I use it with my regular cleanser and it works just fine. From the first time I used it, I was really taken aback by how clean my skin looked. I mean, I had thought my skin was clean before, but it reached heights of cleanliness that may even have transcended godliness, not just been next to it. I use it either once or twice a day; overuse makes my skin a little sensitive, so every now and again I give it a rest.

Since I bought mine, they have come out with some smaller models that run about $150, so you can get one for slightly less than I paid, but there’s no question that this is a significant outlay of funds. However, think of the two or three facials you won’t be needing, and it suddenly becomes a good investment. If you ask Santa for one, tell him he should get it at a store with a good return policy (like Sephora) so that you won’t have any trouble taking it back if you find it’s not for you.

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Clarisonic Skin Cleansing Brush: $145-$225

Provenance: Purchased

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Excellent (albeit spendy).

Purchase again? Absolutely, though I hope I never need to!

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Let us know in the comments!)