Sunday, February 26, 2012

Covergirl Outlast Lipstain: Review

It should come as no surprise that, when I'm not concocting my own, I generally buy my cosmetics at the drugstore. Obviously, this is often a hit-or-miss scenario: sometimes you get exactly what you pay for with cheap makeup. There are times, however, when you come across something so good that you swear you'd keep using it if you won the lottery tomorrow.

For me, this product is Outlast All-Day Lipcolor by Covergirl. When my mother decided I should start wearing makeup, I remember this being the first product she gave me. The few times I've veered away, I've regretted it. When Covergirl claims it will last up to sixteen hours, they mean it. It withstands kisses, lip-biting, water bottles, intense exercise, and even coffee cups (though admittedly, a small amount comes off on my Starbucks lid). My adoration of Outlast All-Day Lipcolor prompted me to see what else Covergirl has to offer with their Outlast Collection.

Given my love affair with the All-Day Lipcolor, the idea of a lip stain from the same company obviously drew me in. According to Covergirl's website, "The water-based colorants of Outlast Lipstain give lips a beautiful, lightweight flush of color that won't come off, lasting for hours without the heavy look or feel of an ordinary lipstick. Its pen-like precision applicator makes it easy to define your lips — just draw on color without any hassle!" I admit that I still haven't perfected the  on-the-run application of lipstick, so for busy days the product seemed promising.

Before I even bought the product, I noticed the lack of color selections. Now, I realize All-Day Lipcolor has left me spoilt for choice (41 shades are available on Covergirl's site), so I shrugged off my disappointment and picked up the pretty "Wild Berry Wink". The color went on beautifully-- it definitely lives up to its namesake as a stain-- and the pen's design left for easy application. Strange as it sounds, it reminded me of an extremely effective highlighter with a soft, rounded tip. Like a highlighter, the product should only be applied to dry surfaces; even slightly wet lips will block color absorption. 

As far as lip color products go, Outlast Lip Stain stays on for a comparably long time. As far as something with the word "stain" in it goes, however, I expected the color to last longer. While it held up well against the dreaded coffee cup, the color faded after about four hours. Just a touch of moisture leaves it to virtually disappear, and as you go through your day, exposure to moisture is completely unavoidable. Obviously, most lipsticks aren't marketed as waterproof, yet even these manage to hold their own better than this supposed "lip stain". 

While I'm certainly not knocking the product-- I still use it for quick outings-- it will hardly hold a permanent place in my makeup bag. Admittedly, this is the first lip stain I've tried, so I can't compare it to others-- but I can only hope they prove to outlast Outlast.

  • Easy to apply with great precision
  • Rich color that maintains the texture of your lips
  • Lacks any sort of moisture-resistance
  • Wears off after a few hours

Price: 6/10 ($7.84 at Target)
Durability: 3/10
Appearance: 7/10
EWG Score: 7 (In Scarlet Pucker)
Overall: 5/10

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Baking Soda: The Best OTC Skin Care

If you've never been afflicted with acne, thank your lucky stars. Not only is it terribly frustrating to deal with all the misconceptions (I've met people in college who believe acne is caused by bad hygiene), the physical and emotional scars stay with you even longer than the bumps and redness. While it may sound dramatic, I can assure you that anyone with moderate to severe acne will tell you the same.  I personally have struggled with continuous acne and subsequent scarring since I was fifteen years old. It seemed there was nothing I could to cure it. Whether I was working out four hours a day in the pool during swim season or spending that time life guarding in the sun, it was there. Whether I was eating for wellness, weight loss, or to deal with my emotions, it was there. Stressed or relaxed, the acne never disappeared. I tried every combination of over-the-counter products and looked up every skin care ritual there was in hopes of helping myself. And, of course, I visited more than one doctor; I tried almost everything but Accutane, and the only thing that worked in the slightest was amoxicillin (for which it took three years to get prescribed). Even that did little good, and really, I didn't want to be taking it everyday for the rest of my life even if it did work.

Thankfully, almost six years later, my acne is beginning to clear up (for now). I'm well aware that a lot of this has to do with my body chemistry, but I'm definitely sure that changing my skin care regiment didn't hurt my progression. I had always believed that, besides prescription face wash, there was nothing more important than to wash your face with OTC products. My boyfriend, who washes his face in the shower with bar soap or only hot water, was convinced I was wrong. Now, obviously, acne is mostly correlated to your genetic makeup (check out this study for more information), so it was easy for me to brush off the advice of a guy whose entire family has super-clear skin. But in my quest to live a little more naturally (and a lot more cheaply), I finally decided to test out that theory.

What I want to share is something that worked for me while I transitioned off amoxicillin and continues to work for me today. I think it's worth trying for people with skin types that range from acne-free to moderately affected by acne, especially those who are currently using OTC products. I want to stress that I truly believe some people-- including members of my family-- need to use prescription face wash in addition to oral medication to keep their skin under control. If you have severe acne, a dermatologist is always the best way to go.

For the last month, I have been washing my face exclusively with baking soda and water. I've raved about baking soda before, but I truly believe this is the #1 greatest unconventional use of the product. Using it as a face wash is so simple: you just splash water on your face, pour about a teaspoon of baking soda into your hand, and (lightly) massage onto your face before rinsing! Not only does it work wonderfully as a cleanser, it doubles as a light exfoliator that does wonders for acne scars. It's also a lot cheaper than any other face wash you'll find out there.

Of course, it's not the perfect treatment-- there are some things to be aware of. The exfoliating nature of the product means that your skin will be left slightly red after use, with acne scars looking more visible than usual. This is especially true in the first few weeks of using the product, as your skin isn't used to it. Be sure to start slowly (once a day or every other day) so as not to irritate your skin. You can decide whether once or twice a day is best for your daily routine when you've completely adjusted. In addition, the alkaline nature of baking soda requires a toner be used to maintain your skin's proper pH. I love using the same apple cider vinegar/water mix I use in my hair to do the job! I've found that the smell is unnoticeable after a few minutes, but if you're convinced you smell like vinegar (or if your skin is super sensitive), just remove the toner with water after a few minutes. It's still way cheaper and easier than your normal skin care routine probably is! At night, I like to follow up with olive oil as a moisturizer, but during the day I use a store-bought moisturizer with SPF 15.

My skin's never been better since I began this regimen, and I didn't start it myself until I read a lot of positive experiences online. There are obviously no quick fixes, and I have indeed found OTC products that have some effectiveness in cleansing and exfoliating skin. In my experience, none of these OTC products have been any more useful than baking soda, and none have been comparable in price or purity. Obviously I think it's worth trying yourself; if you do, let me know how it went!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Queen Helene Mud Pack Masque: Review

If you aren't using a face mask weekly or biweekly (guilty as charged), you aren't doing your skin justice. While the idea of a face mask almost seems retro- think of how many times it has served as a device for humor or to symbolize "girl time" in cinema- I can assure you that the modern girl can and should reap the scientifically backed benefits of said masque. There's a type of facial mask to benefit every skin type, and as someone with oily, acne-prone skin I'm drawn to the purifying powers of clay and mud masks.

When I purchased the Queen Helene Mud Pack Masque at Marc's for $2.49, I certainly wasn't expecting much. After all, the typical 'mid-range' facial masque is priced at around $20-30 and it only gets more expensive from there (we're talking THOUSANDS of dollars). While I don't doubt that these more expensive treatments work (I admit, I'm a fan of GOOP), I have a hard time believing the price/effect trade off is worth while. Queen Helene's is not only dirt cheap, it provides the sort of instant results that even I would pay triple its current price for.

The 8 oz bottle boasts that it contains a "bonus 33% more", and believe me, every ounce is worthwhile. It has a thick, creamy consistency and a beige color that looks precisely like the "natural" English Clay it is made from. After washing my face, I applied the mask in a thin layer (less than 1/16 of the tube was sufficient) and waited for the mask to harden as instructed. It took slightly longer than the estimated 15 minutes, but I liked that the color lightened as it dried so I knew exactly when I could take it off. Clean up was easy- warm water did the trick without scrubbing, which is good since the color is likely to dirty a washcloth.

The results were, in a word, incredible. My skin looked significantly smoother and more radiant, an effect which lasted visibly throughout the day after the single use. I was thrilled with how much better it made my pores and forehead wrinkles look. This product is ideal for the lucky girls who don't have to wear foundation yet but still want a radiant shine, and just as useful for women looking for a relaxing and effective facial treatment to enhance their complexion. I have no doubt I will be using it as a biweekly treatment from now on.

Bottom line: with a little bit going a long way, this extraordinarily affordable product gives results you can see immediately. No mater how economical you are, the Queen Helene Mud Pack Masque with Natural English Clay is an investment worth making in your skin care regimen.
Order it here for the best online prices:

Price: 10/10
Effectiveness: 7/10
EWG Score: 5 (With moderate concerns for allergies & immunotoxicity)
Overall: 8/10

Monday, February 13, 2012

SparkPeople: The Best Free Tool for Weight and Wellness Management

I am the sort of person absolutely loath to discuss my attempts at weight loss or wellness with others. It seems as though each time I have to announce my intentions, people are either immediately willing to offer advice (despite being often ill-informed themselves) or to disparage themselves ("I should be working out/dieting/etc. too... oh well"). I don't know about you, but neither of these make me feel any better. Perhaps worst of all is the common gem "you don't need to (insert wellness action here)". While it's said to boost your spirits, it ultimately serves to undermine your resolve or question your support system.

The truth is, almost every last one of us could do with adjusting our dietary plans to better meet our body's needs. Despite this post's title, weight has very little to do with wellness: it's just a number whose value is unique to every individual. However, the loss or gain of weight can be very important in the short term (vacations/weddings/general vanity) or the long term (avoiding diabetes, heart disease, etc). There are literally dozens of diet plans and paid programs that can support you in your weight loss goals, but a major problem still exists: most of us don't find it financially viable to continue these programs for wellness after we reach the "magic number". 

Here's where the most practical and extensive FREE product I have ever found on the internet comes into play. SparkPeople offers "nutrition, health, and fitness tools, support, and resources", as well as a supportive community active in blogging, forums, and non-weight related goal setting. Their success is astonishing, with almost 18.5 MILLION pounds lost as a community. 

So, what does it fail to offer that paid programs do? That's a good question-- and I can't seem to find a concrete answer. SparkPeople offers free diet plans with customization based on caloric needs, vegetarianism, lactose intolerance, and other food allergies. You needn't follow their suggestions to use their daily nutrition tracker, which boasts a huge database with complete nutritional facts for thousands of foods. SparkPeople allows you to track your weight, cardio, and water consumption goals each day. It even offers the option of adding non-health related goals to track (example: spend five minutes talking to a family member each day). There is even a selection of workout videos available for free! What I love most about SparkPeople, though, is its points system. It encourages you to go on daily, read health articles, and try Spark Recipes that are available online, creating a healthy reward system that ultimately makes you feel even better about losing weight or staying well.

While you can find health and wellness tips on hundreds of internet blogs (including this one), a site like SparkPeople hires only professionals to write their articles about fitness, health, and wellness. There are even specialized programs and affiliate sites for diabetics, teenagers, and pregnant women. Best of all, you can participate and communicate as anonymously or openly as you would like, which makes the process far less intimidating or frustrating than it can be with friends or loved ones. While not everyone is working toward a weight goal, everyone can use a helping hand when it comes to keeping wellness in check. Why not check it out and see how it works for you?

Physicians Formula Mineral Wear™ Talc-Free Mineral Liquid Foundation: Review

As someone with TERRIBLE acne that sprung up when I turned fifteen and hasn't slowed down since, foundation with great coverage is a must. Of course, the trade-off for great coverage-- a rarity in drugstore brands-- is usually a caked-on look that risks looking trashy and garish. Sure, there are probably expensive brands that do a great job of avoiding this (I adore Mary Kay's medium coverage liquid foundation), but no college girl wants to pay for that when there's an acceptable alternative.

In my search for a drugstore brand that balances low cost and excellent coverage, I decided to pick up a brand I had only a little experience with. Physicians Formula boasts that its products are excellent for sensitive skin, being hypoallergenic, oil free, and fragrance free. Titanium Dioxide and Iron Oxides contribute to the natural matte finish and the talc-free formula contains Vitamins A & E to protect and nourish the skin. Of course, sun protection is a must (especially when you spend so much time walking outside to classes), so the fact that the product was SPF 15 was the final selling point.

The product comes with a sponge-like anti-microbial applicator on its lid. This is a nice touch in theory, but I felt it was hard to obtain optimal coverage quickly enough while using it. In addition, it seemed as though a substantial amount of the foundation was doomed to be stuck in the sponge, a major "no" for those of us trying to get the most for our dollar! Luckily, the lid can be twisted off so you can squeeze the foundation right into your hand.

The product was easy to apply and feels surprisingly light for the heavy coverage it provides. Minor redness is amply covered, though concealer (I recommend their Conceal Rx™ Physicians Strength Concealer in Soft Green) is a must for particularly red blemishes.  I wouldn't say that a little bit goes a long way, but one relatively thin layer seems to be enough to achieve great coverage; 1 fluid ounce has lasted me well over a month of regular use. It definitely looks good for the cost, but the matte finish comes dangerously close to "caked-on" territory. At the end of the day, though, it's hard to find coverage this heavy without flirting with breakouts.

  • Heavy coverage that avoids looking caked-on
  • Great for sensitive and breakout-prone skin
  • SPF 15 (contains Titanium Dioxide)
  • Applicator is frustrating and unnecessary (but removable)
  • Tough to find an appropriate color for light olive skin
Price: 7/10
Coverage: 8/10
EWG Score: N/A

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Losing the Shampoo: How-To

One of the greatest things about knocking store bought shampoo off of your beauty supply list is the variety of choices you have when considering its replacement. There are four generally accepted methods to choose from to keep your hair clean. While I personally find some to be superior to others, all are superior to using store-bought shampoo.

1) Conditioner-Only (C/O)

This method is the only one that requires continued use of store-bought product. Simply put, the C/O approach requires you to use conditioner as a sort of two-in-one hair product. While I have never attempted this method personally, it is very popular in such online forums as the Long Hair Community (check out their C/O thread here). Apparently, scrubbing your hair with conditioner can be an effective way of keeping your hair clean and silky. Unfortunately, a lot of these conditioners have silicone in them, which builds up in your hair and locks out moisture. It's great if you can find a conditioner that has modified silicone (which cleans out of the hair easier) or has none in it at all. Some recommend periodical washings with clarifying shampoo; this will affect your results going 'poo-free, but hair care is all about what works for you.

2) Simple Ingredients/Homemade Concoctions
While sulfate-free shampoos do exist, they are generally one of two things: expensive or full of chemicals. If you aren't comfortable with the other methods, this one is great to try first, because it eliminates store-bought shampoo and conditioner without requiring a long transition time. And, by using ingredients you would find in your kitchen, the chemicals you put on your head are limited to those you would put in your body.

This method is also appealing because it offers so many safe and effective options. Indeed, entire blogs are devoted to DIY hair care products. I have only tried a handful myself, but the simplest and most effective one employed just three ingredients: baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and water. When using this method, I use a mix of 1 tbsp baking soda/8 fl.oz water as 'shampoo', making sure to carefully but vigorously massage my scalp  (A warning: if you dye your hair, baking soda may wash some of the color out. That's how well it cleans.) To close the cuticles of my hair, I use a 7:1 water:apple cider vinegar solution. While this isn't totally necessary, I find that my hair looks just a little better after using it. 

Admittedly, after rinsing, your hair is hardly as soft and smooth as it feels after a good store-bought conditioning. Luckily, it looks phenomenal once it dries, and you needn't shampoo nearly as frequently as you're probably used to.

3) Water-Only (W/O)

This is where it starts getting scary, and (admittedly) a little gross at first encounter. The W/O method is as simple as its name: using only water, you vigorously massage your scalp to achieve clean hair. After a rinse with cold water to close those cuticles, your hair regimen is done until your locks are dry. This is the method I chose to convert to when I realized I couldn't avoid coloring my hair forever (effectively ending my affair with baking soda, for the most part). Yes, it sounds disgusting, and yes, it really does work without making your hair stink to high heaven. People have explained it far more eloquently than I will be able to: read about it at the Long Hair Community.

4) Sebum-Only (No Water)

Can you wash your hair without water? Apparently, you can.  Using the boar bristle brush that any hair lover should already have in their beauty arsenal, you can lift away excess oil and debris from your hair just from brushing. I personally have never tried this method by itself, but while using a clean boar bristle brush in between W/O washes, I have never once noticed my hair to be greasy or foul-smelling (and neither has my boyfriend). I enjoy my daily showers too much for water-only washing to be inconvenient, but for backpackers or those without access to enough water, this alternative seems reasonable enough.