On Pleasure

When I was in college, I dated a guy who explained why we were together using the concept of utility matrices from economics. This wasn’t a reference to any money either of us had, but rather he used the idea of maximizing the utility matrix and applied it to maximizing personal pleasure. Now, as a romantic 20-something, this sounded horribly dry and unappealing to me, and that relationship… didn’t last. But I suppose I owe him an apology because as I grow older, I somewhat understand what he meant.

Rather than seeing it as a dispassionate calculation, I realize that happiness and pleasure are in fact a balance of different options. And as I progress in my life, pleasure is one of the things that I strive to maximize. But what brings me pleasure and what brings others pleasure are going to be different. That balance and optimization are going to be different for everyone.

On its basest level, pleasure is the avoidance of discomfort. And on the base of my understanding of pleasure comes the experiences I’ve had that convince me that certain things, though I may enjoy them in the moment, will ultimately have displeasure that outweighs their pleasure. Coffee is one of those things. As I get older, my body increasingly shows its displeasure at being given coffee. So even though I actually adore the taste and experience of coffee, I’ve started largely limiting myself to enjoying the aroma when my spouse makes his morning cup.

On the flip side of that, sometimes something that seems unpleasant can yield more pleasure than the initial unpleasantness. Waking at 5:30 a.m. and exercising it not many people’s idea of a good time, but the endorphins from the exercise and the delicious experience of the still quiet of the early morning brings me more pleasure than lying in bed until noon ever did (with a few exceptions ;)). And I always choose exercise that I enjoy, so it’s not an ordeal to get through to get to the afterglow. By the time I have my workout clothes on and push the button to start my video, I’m excited, I’m anticipating the joy of this ritual.

But beyond the trade-off pleasures that I have, my routines are also maximized to deliver things that I solely enjoy. Like my morning croissant. The full sensory experience of my tea practice, calling on all of my senses to fully immerse myself in a practice of pleasure each day. The bright swipe of lipstick or the feel of my favorite skin care against my skin. Feeling the grass between my toes as I enjoy my yard or tend to the garden. The smell and flavor of fresh herbs.

The primary reason I do most of what I do is for pleasure. Yes, I still work, but I try to find the joy in it. And if you were to ask me why I do anything “unnecessary” in my life, the answer would be the same: for pleasure. There is no aspect of my personal hobbies that are done for anything other than the enjoyment they bring. While my historical studies of tea have taught me that medicinal qualities of teas have their place in tea culture, I drink tea because I enjoy it. It’s one of the reasons I can be so selective about the teas I accept as samples anymore, because it’s not worth it to me to drink a tea I don’t enjoy simply to build a brand relationship. I’d rather build a relationship with those whose teas I enjoy, even if they never decide to send me anything for free.

But that is my personal idea of pleasure. Everyone’s idea of pleasure and enjoyment will be different. In the same way that some people like bananas and I do not, some people enjoy being able to turn their passion for tea into a career by cultivating wide business networks. Or their passion for beauty, for skincare, for fashion. And that is their pleasure.

I think my favorite saying is “Don’t yuck someone’s yum.” It is a reminder to let people enjoy what they enjoy, whether it’s a 50-year-old, well-stored sheng puer from your favorite mountain, or a perfect red lip.

Brand Spotlight: Live Botanical (and some thoughts about “natural” skincare)

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I thought that today’s Mini Moon Challenge prompt required a bit of a longer post, and I wanted to talk about something I’ve noticed over the years in the beauty community: the science-vs.-nature false dichotomy. And this was an ideal place to discuss it because the prompt of “a full routine” not only brings up something I’ve talk about for years — the idea of a minimum acceptable routine — but also gives me a chance to highlight a brand that I think represents a balance between the ideas of “natural” products and “science-based” products.

I’ve written in the past about my previous insistence of “all-natural” products and how I no longer subscribe to that requirement, but anyone who reads this blog knows that I am still dedicated to the idea that botanicals can work with more recent compounds to make a truly holistic routine. And this isn’t just in my personal thoughts about herbalism and medicine, but also extends to beauty products. But so many of the brands that offer botanically-based products also perpetuate some of the most pernicious anti-science myths that plague the community, and so many of the brands that base their identity in scientific backing work to distance themselves from the botanical beauty concept to differentiate themselves from those myths. It becomes a kind of zero-sum game where you’re either nature or science, as though mankind doesn’t exist as a part of the global ecosystem.

The idea that science is at odds with nature, or vice versa, is artificial, since 1.) human beings are also a part of nature and the idea that nature is something you have to return to is based in the idea that man is “better” than nature, and 2.) all scientific progress at its core came from observations about nature, and was synthesized from or to replace specific natural products. So where are the brands that recognize this?

Enter Live Botanical. While this is not the only brand that manages to blend science and botanicals, it is the one that I’m most excited about right now. Not only are the products made with both botanical wisdom and scientific knowledge, but she also doesn’t engage in marketing based on myths. While her products happen to be paraben-free, she doesn’t market that loudly and doesn’t try to act like her products are somehow “safer” or “non-toxic” compared to others. What she does emphasize is how she sources ingredients, specifically how far they have to travel to get to her. Where she finds the most value in sourcing products from botanicals is in the fact that she can grow many of herself and distill extracts and hydrosols, or else source ingredients from close to her home, rather than focusing on “exotic” ingredients that not only travel great distances, but might also contribute to the othering of historically marginalized and oppressed cultures.

On each bottle, rather than stating the percentage of “natural” ingredients or claims about the safety of the products, she states the percentage of the product that is “regionally sourced,” as a way to think about the true meaning of sustainability when consuming beauty products. But these botanically-led products also contain ingredients with strong scientific backings like niacinamide, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, tremella mushroom extract, and more. She tests the pH of her cleanser and makes sure it is in an acid-mantle-friendly range. And she uses a clearly-stated preservative system that includes both ingredients as well as packaging. Plus, she acknowledges indigenous wisdom and donates to organizations that promote social justice.

But what about the products? Well, I’m a hair’s breadth from the classic three-step routine with her products. While my actual routine varies widely based on the weather, season, and my mood (or mental state), lately, they have been firmly based around these four products. In the morning, I cleanse with her cleansing gel, apply vitamin C if I feel like it, and then use the Radiance Elixir and Ambient Moisture Liquid. In the evening, I double cleanse with her cleansing oil and gel and then use an acid serum. From there, it’s the same Radiance Elixir and Ambient Moisture Liquid, plus a balm if I’m feeling extra dry, or an oil if I’m not. And on days or nights when I just can’t do anything more, I can always cleanse with her cleansing gel and apply a couple pumps of Ambient Moisture Liquid.

I love that I have been able to try minis of all her products. I’ve already rebought full-sized bottles of the cleansing oil, Radiance Elixir, and Ambient Moisture Liquid, but I’m trying to decide if I want to go back to my old cleanser to use up my current stock before repurchasing the cleansing gel. I probably won’t and will simply gift my unopened bottle of my previous favorite to a friend or family member because I seriously love the cleansing gel. My skin is extremely picky about water-based cleansers and this is literally only the second one that hasn’t eventually caused my skin or wonky eye to freak out. And this has the benefit of being made by a company of less dubious morality than my previous favorite.

So that’s my rant about natural beauty and how I base my routine largely around products from Live Botanical. I highly recommend you check them out. And if you have, please let me know what your favorite product is!

NB: I am not a medical professional or a licensed herbalist. None of this is intended to be taken as medical advice. Please consult your own treatment professionals for advice. No brand relationships or PR gifts to disclose. For more information about collaborating with me, see my contact and collaboration information.

Beauty Review: Florishe Camellia Full Blossom Serum

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A while ago, I wrote about how, despite largely dropping sheet masks from my routine for environmental reasons, I was enjoying the Florishe sheet masks I was sent for review while we were in lockdown. Well, we’re still at home and I’m still loving my Florishe products, but since I’ve been testing it for a few weeks, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the Camellia Full Blossom Serum that is their flagship product. This is a creamy lotion-serum that contains hydrating ingredients, their signature green tea extract from sustainably-produced green tea, and oils to create a thin emulsion. It also smells lightly of flowers and bergamot in a way that always reminds me of Earl Grey. The scent is very light and natural and even though I am prone to migraines, it is generally okay for me unless I’m deeply in the throes of one that is making me react to literally everything (like the one where I was being triggered by my own body odor the other day).

As with all long-term use skincare products that I share on this blog, I made a commitment to test this for at least two weeks without adding anything else that was new to my routine. I enjoyed it enough that I actually ended up testing it longer and have been using for about the last month. I did take pictures of my face before I started testing it and after three weeks, but as I’ve discussed before, I have pretty generally good skin, so the differences are not dramatic. I simply feel like my skin looks a little more even and luminous.

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It’s also a wonderful one-step product to use after washing and vitamin C in the morning before using sunscreen, rather than my typical custom potion of hydrating serums and oils as my fancy takes me. This was highly appreciated in the depths of lockdown, when I felt my mental health deteriorating, and was barely able to face washing up in the morning, let alone a complicated skin care routine. And one of my go-to steps for the most minimal presentable face is to add a few drops of Niod Photography Fluid 12% to some moisturizer or serum and this is perfect for that.

Now, I will say, I am likely not going to repurchase this. First of all, I have a lineup of products that I have used for years and know I love. Yes, it means a little bit of witchery at my vanity to get the perfect fit, but for me, it’s not worth spending the money on another product right now, particularly one that is scented, since as I mentioned before I would occasionally have to avoid it. But for those who are not as into puttering around with their skin care, this is a fantastic thing to consider as a one-step hydrating and nourishing moisturizer, particularly in the warmer months when you don’t need a heavier moisturizer. And I like the company’s ideals concerning sustainability and relationships with their tea farmers, particularly given the dark truths about tea farming that I touched on a few weeks ago.

Also, the set with the serum and five sheet masks comes with an adorable canvas bag that my spouse has already claimed for our collection of shopping bags. And since it’s cotton, we can toss it into the wash after taking it out, in case we’re worried about contamination! So check out Florishe and see if they have something you might enjoy, whether you’re a tea lover or a skin care lover (or both, like me!).

NB: The serum was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. Links are not affiliate links. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

The Virus Diaries: On Self-Care, Principles, and Extenuating Circumstances

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As you may know, it’s an odd time. We are most of us trying to navigate changing routines along with existential fears, which does not make for stabilest of times for most of us, mentally. I, for one, have certainly found myself drifting among various states of emotion through the last more than two months. And self care is starting to look very different for a lot of us.

For many of us, having family at home perpetually may interfere with the ability to do yoga or watch a relaxing show or any number of standard stress-relieving activities. Even if salons and spas were open, many of us would not feel comfortable going, particularly for something that feels indulgent and non-essential. But self-care, especially in times of perpetual low-level (or high-level) stress, can also mean not-doing — rather than taking a hot bath, perhaps forgiving yourself for not exercising or getting everything done on your to-do list.

And to that end, I have recently found myself struggling with a personal dilemma. Back in March, I was contacted by Florishe, a Korean skin care company that uses Korean green tea in their products. I let them know that, while I was happy to test their serum, I was no longer using sheet masks, due to my own efforts to generate less waste with my beauty routine. Well, when my box arrived, they had included the sheet masks as well as the serum (and a lovely canvas tote bag). And I had to decide 1.) if I was going to use the masks or gift them, and then 2.) if I would promote them.

But then I had a particularly stressful week. You have probably seen some allusions to as much on my Instagram stories, or perhaps gathered from my recent video where I sat and drank tea laced with bourbon rather than baking. But I’ve found things just a bit difficult lately. And I think what I really needed to cap a particularly rough week was to just relax with a lovely sheet mask and feel glowy and beautiful, even for just an hour.

Alright, the specifics: Florishe is proud to be a “non-toxic” and EWG-verified company, though that is not something that is particularly important to me. More importantly, however, is how they source their ingredients, particularly their teas. They source from small, sustainably-maintained farms and ensure ethical labor practices at their tea farms. This appeals to me as both a beauty-lover and a tea-drinker (and if they ever decided to offer tea as well as skin care, a la Sulwhasoo, I’d be intrigued!). Another thing that I found fascinating was that, when I got the masks, all of the packaging is marked with recycling symbols, so I could recycle basically everything except the mask sheet itself. Which at least soothes a little of that guilt (of course, releasing guilt is part of the self-care, so…).

The mask itself is very juicy, with a large amount of extra essence, which I like to apply to my skin before putting the mask sheet on, to help it be sealed in by the sheet. I do really like that the packaging itself specifically states that you shouldn’t save the essence to use later, which is something that worries me when I see people doing it, since sheet masks are intended to be one-shot products, and are preserved accordingly. The scent is lightly floral and bergamot-y, in a way that reminds me of nice Earl Grey tea. As a migraine sufferer, I found the scent non-cloying and unlikely to trigger a migraine for me (although that will obviously depend on your personal triggers).

The sheet material is a thicker, opaque, papery material, which is not my preference, and lacks the stretchiness of some of the Taiwanese silk sheet masks I used to love before giving them up, but a few strategic snips around the eyes helped it fit my rather large face. I put the mask on after cleansing and using a hydrating toner and oil, and left it on for about 20 minutes, at which point it felt like it was drying a bit around the edges, so I removed, massaged in the extra essence, and found my skin was calmed, plumped, and hydrated, with that typical sheet-mask glow.

And, perhaps most importantly, I felt relaxed. I cannot do much while sheet masking. I had finished working for the day. And my toddler turns out to be an adorable combination of intrigued and a bit frightened of me in a mask, so running after him wasn’t an issue. So I got to sit, mask, and unwind with a cup of green tea (gyokuro from Teaism, since I don’t have any Korean green tea in my stash right now).

The mask makes me curious to try their serum, which is similarly based around their high-quality green tea extract, and which I will write about once I’ve finished a full testing schedule (complete with before and after photos again!).

NB: The mask was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

My Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routines: Revisiting One of My First Post Series

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In the first week of writing this blog, I began a series of posts in which I describe my vintage-inspired beauty routines, discussing how I cared for my facial skin, body, nails, hair, etc. Since then, not only have my philosophy about what ingredients are good in personal care changed, but I’ve gone through some pretty extreme phases in terms of how much or how little I do to my skin. I’ve also gone through some pretty major life events that have affected both how my skin behaves, as well as how much time, energy, and money I have to devote to beauty.  So it seemed like a good time to revisit these posts and talk about my routines in detail again, starting with skin care and talking about all the different routines I mentioned back five years ago.

But before I start, I thought a little retrospective overview on my beauty philosophy over the last five years might be in order. When I started this blog, I was not only very inspired by Victorian and early-to-mid-20th-century beauty routines, I was also heavily influenced by “clean” beauty marketing. I have since then learned that science and natural products can coexist and have changed my ideas of what types of ingredients my skin likes. I no longer strive to make my routine one that is as much homemade products as possible as I don’t have the formulator chops of actual beauty brands. Of the things that I still blend myself, it’s pretty much just facial oils, though I still love my oils from actual beauty brands. From this phase of my life, I learned that paying attention to ingredients is good for my skin, though not because I ban anything as “dirty,” and more that I now know what I’m putting on my skin so I can notice patterns of either positive or negative reactions.

Since my early days of all-DIY, I went to the opposite extreme. I discovered Korean and Asian beauty brands and started designing my own ten-step routine. I had multiple steps of essence, ampoule, and serum, and spent much of my “me time” lovingly patting each step into my skin. I even wrote about how the new (at the time) Western trend of Asian-inspired skin care tracked with my historically-inspired beauty, as historical beauties have always looked for that new thing that will give them naturally beautiful skin. And at least my sheet masks weren’t made of raw meat, right? The top lessons I took away from my Asian skin care days was that sunscreen is the most important skin care product I use and that sunscreens formulated for the Korean and Japanese markets are often nicer to use, and also that my skin likes some light, hydrating layers over a rich cream.

Eventually, I started trimming my routine back down, mostly out of laziness, but also because sometimes my skin looked a little congested or overloaded. And then, the first time I got pregnant, my skin freaked out. Luckily, my interest in ingredients lists helped me find very simple products that didn’t irritate my skin, but it meant dropping a lot of steps. As my second pregnancy went on, I lacked the energy to do a complicated routine, and after the baby came, I didn’t really see that time or energy come back.

So where I am now is like an amalgamation of where I’ve been, as we all are. In the next several weeks, I hope to revisit each of my “Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routine” posts and talk about where I am now. Come join me at my vanity!

NB: Nothing to declare.

On Affiliate Links, Collaborations, Sponsorship, and Making Money as a Blogger

So this comes up more often in the beauty community, but every review blogging niche has some sort of relationship with brands and affiliate networks. While I’m a relatively small-time blogger, especially by beauty-and-lifestyle measures, I’ve accepted products in exchange for review and used referral links in the past. I’ve never done a fully sponsored post and video, but I would be open to it, and my contact information gives the guidelines I set out for such a collaboration. But I see people all the time either belittling bloggers and social media users who accept sponsorship or review samples, or else proudly proclaiming that they don’t accept products for review or sponsorship, and I thought I’d share some thoughts I have on the subject.

On the face of it, it seems like refusing to accept any compensation, whether in product or currency, for your blogging is admirable. You can’t be bought, and there’s no worry that you’ll give a product a good review because you feel bad criticizing it when you got it for free. Well, Tracy at Fanserviced talked about that a while ago, and, as she points out, concrete “stuff” is not the only “compensation” bloggers and social media users get for mentioning products in their spaces. It can feel warm and fuzzy when a seemingly-unapproachable brand notices you because you said something nice about their product. Getting mentioned by a brand can be a fantastic way to increase your visibility on some channels, and mentioning their products is a good way to do that.

But that discounts something even more insidious about blogging, particularly review blogging: it can be a really expensive hobby. I mean, if I still reviewed beauty products, how much readership would I still have, given that I haven’t really added a new product to my routine in months? I certainly wouldn’t be able to post every week, since I just don’t buy that much new product. And if I did, even if it were a moderately-priced range like The Ordinary, I would still probably be spending at least $100 per month to keep posting twice a week, if I were just reviewing products. Even as a tea blogger, I spend a lot of money on tea, but I’m fortunate enough to consider that “fun money” rather than something I need to do (I have plenty of fodder for Tasting Tuesday from my own stash and haven’t bought anything special for it yet). But someone who doesn’t have as much disposable income as I do wouldn’t necessarily be able to showcase as many things on a blog. And that means they wouldn’t get much traffic.

Now, as I said when I talked about switching from reviewing to tasting notes on teas, taste is subjective, just as beauty products are often intensely personal. So I’m not here to tell anyone they should or shouldn’t buy a specific tea. But because I spend my own money on tea, I’m looking at things like “value” from the perspective of my personal budget. So while I might not be willing to spend $150 on a cake of raw puerh, I would be perfectly willing to spend $65 on the same size cake of aged white tea. But let’s be honest with ourselves: these are luxuries. And $65 is solidly out of the budget of plenty of people. So me saying that a $65 cake is “worth the money” doesn’t mean much to someone with $5 a week to spend on nonessentials. And my honesty that I loved the $150 cake, but it’s too expensive to repurchase if I hadn’t gotten a sample for review, might actually be more applicable to more of my readers, especially since it leads me to talk about ways to try the tea for less money (i.e., samples).

So given that review blogging can be an expensive hobby, do we really want to make income a barrier to entry for the people we trust as “more authentic” sources of reviews? Would you rather read a review of a $100 face cream from someone who has hundreds of dollars of discretionary income to spend on luxuries each month, or a review of a sample of a $200 face cream that someone got for free and wouldn’t have been able to try otherwise? Do you want to limit blogging to a hobby for relatively wealthy people, or would you rather support bloggers who try to earn some income from their blogging so that there is more socioeconomic diversity in the field? These aren’t questions I can answer for anyone but myself, and it bears thinking about all sides of this. But, given that there is already a recognized correlation between financial wealth and good skin, I’m concerned that limiting beauty blogging, in particular, to those with the independent means to support it will limit reviews to those who might already have good skin to begin with (or at the very least, more access to other ways to improve their skin besides over-the-counter products).

And then, for me, there is the fact that not everyone who reads this blog has my exact tastes in tea, and I’m not only writing this blog for myself. Let’s be honest, if I were only writing for myself, I would keep it as a private journal, not a public blog. And as I dive deeper into the tea community, I’ve realized that the snobbery that sometimes underscores a lot of specialty tea writing doesn’t do us any favors. So why not feature some products that offer convenience or variety to those of my readers who aren’t looking for the funkiest puerh or the most obscure yancha? Which is part of the reason I accepted my recent review samples from Tea Sparrow — as a North American-based company that offers high-quality flavored teas, they’re poised to appeal to a larger variety of people and can help me bring quality loose leaf tea to more of my friends and family (I have already gotten my mother and my coworker hooked on their teas). Would I buy myself a box from them? No. I am not generally a fan of flavored teas. But was it probably helpful for some of my readers who enjoy flavored teas? Hopefully. And apart from that, I hope that sharing notes from teas like that helps foster a sense that there isn’t a hierarchy of tea purity where you’re not a “real tea lover” if you’re not drinking a specific level of tea. I’m not a fan of that attitude. If you want to drink pina colada tea with sugar and milk (coconut milk might be fun), you do you.

Plus, there is the idea of compensating creators for what they create. Apart from the monetary outlay of purchasing products for review posts, writing takes time. I’m fortunate to have a reasonable amount of free time and a talent for writing quickly, but I still probably spend at least a few hours every week writing content (and that’s not even getting into the time I spend on my YouTube channel) and promoting it on various social media channels so people actually see it. Yes, I write because I love it, but it still takes time, and I’m a firm believer that if you appreciate the work a creator makes, you should support it monetarily, either by donating to them (as I do to my favorite podcast and my favorite radio station) or by supporting their efforts to monetize their work through ads and affiliate links. You wouldn’t expect an artist to give you their art for free (don’t answer that; I know many people do), so why is a blogger less worthy of receiving compensation for their time, effort, and talent?

I suppose all of this rambling is also a bit of an introduction to my own affiliate practices. While I’ve used referral links in the past (for Glossier, most notably), I’ve recently decided to start using some affiliate links to see if I could offset a little of the cost of running this blog. I currently make exactly zero money from blogging, and even if I could start making enough money to support my half of the bread that I currently win for my family, I probably wouldn’t quit my job. I like my day job. But I still sometimes feel compelled to buy things specifically for a blog or YouTube idea I have, and this might help offset that (especially with my historical videos). And, at the end of the day, I don’t really think that having the money to spend on a blog should be a badge of honor.

Beauty Review: The TEA.L Ceremony Set

NB: I was sent the TEA.L Ceremony Set free of charge by TEA.L, in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. Also, TEA.L is currently offering an automatic 30% off from now until Christmas, with no code needed!

When I was a kid, my mother introduced me to afternoon tea, which we would have every afternoon when I came home from kindergarten. It was at that point that I developed a lifelong love of tea. Later on, I also developed a love of fantasy books, particularly those with dragons, so when my mother was looking for a gift for me at one point, she ended up buying me a tin of Dragonwell tea. This was my first experience with tea outside of British-style black tea with milk and sugar, and has remained a tea that is close to my heart (hence why I always have some on hand, as I mentioned in my Marie Antoinette video).

All of this is a convoluted way of explaining why, when I heard that a skincare brand was infusing their products with Dragonwell tea, I knew it might be meant to be. I first heard about the brand on Marco’s Instagram at Steap’d, and when I commented on his post, the brand reached out and offered to send me something to try. They ended up sending me their full set.

TEA.L is a skin care company whose star ingredient is Dragonwell green tea infused into the oils they use in their naturally-led products. A quick note about “green” or “clean” products: I no longer specifically seek out “natural” products, as I explain here, but I appreciate the brand’s transparency about why they choose the ingredients they do, particularly when they admit that the “paraben-free” hype is probably just marketing. And, as someone who has had a reaction to “natural” fragrance, I’m glad that they list their essential oils rather than using “fragrance” as a hide-all ingredient.

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The TEA.L Ceremony Set includes three products: the Green Tea + Guayusa Face Care, the Green Tea + Rooibos Body Care, and the Green Tea + Yerba Mate Eye Care. I started testing the Body Care and Eye Care on 11/2, and then added the Face Care a week later, just to make sure I didn’t have any reaction. At the time I’m writing this review, I’ve been using the Eye Care for four weeks and the Face Care for three weeks, morning and night. You can find my current skin care routine here; I apply the eye cream after hydrating serum but before oil, and I apply the cream after oil. I introduced each face product in complete isolation for one week at least, and I waited until after my period to make sure any breakouts were hormone-related.

Let’s start with the body cream. I only recently discovered I even like rooibos to drink after years of thinking I hated it, so I was worried I’d hate the scent of this, since Marco said it smells exactly like rooibos. And he’s not wrong, but it’s delicious. It’s a deep, earthy scent with that light bright woodiness that I get from good rooibos. My husband thinks it smells like shou puerh, but he also has the worst sense of smell. The one thing it doesn’t smell like is perfume, so I feel like I can use this even when I’m using other fragrance without it clashing. I mostly used it on my dry, dark elbows, and noticed that they got smoother, less itchy, and lighter colored.

Okay, now eyes. So first of all, I don’t use eye cream. It’s not some philosophical thing; I just don’t use it. But I tried really, really hard, and I did use my eye cream all but maybe one or two days of my testing for this. The eye cream has a rich texture, but it feels light on the skin, doesn’t irritate my eyes, and it absorbs very nicely. Also, despite being silicone-free, it spreads amazingly and I have to use an extremely small amount for both eyes — like the size of a grain of rice. It smells like cucumbers to me, which is odd given that it has no synthetic fragrance, but I like it. My absolute only complaint is that the formula does thicken in the pump head and will sometimes clog, but that’s going to happen with any cream with a high percentage of natural butters.

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Finally, the face cream. I loved the texture of the face cream. It was somehow buttery, yet light, and it almost had a sort of water-drop feeling on the skin. I used half a pump for daytime before sunscreen and a full pump at night before applying my face balm. I haven’t really used a cream regularly for a while, so I was fully prepared to feel kind of meh about it, but, honestly, I love it. Of the three products, this is the one I’m going to repurchase when I run out. I love the scent (I usually hate geranium and ylang-ylang, but the earthiness of the infused botanicals seem to ground it in a way I like). I love the texture. I love the effect on my skin. And I started using another product, the Deciem Photography Fluid, with it by adding a drop or two to my morning half-pump, and my skin looks truly stunning. Check out my Anji Bai Cha tasting video for it in action — it actually makes your skin look better under fluorescent lights.

And I actually remembered to take before and after photos! This is before starting testing on the left and after on the right (because I’m not a monster). I took the photos in the morning before putting anything on my face, or even washing it, so these are “I woke up like this” photos. So I obviously didn’t get the lighting exactly the same between them (in fact, I did try editing the “before” picture a bit to get the exposure a bit more similar), but two things immediately jumped out at me. One, my skin looks just generally evener, less red, and glowier in the after photo. And the second is that I actually notice that the crinkles at the corners of my eyes are noticeably less, well, noticeable in the after photo. Now, I’m not trying to stop the aging process, but perhaps these products are helping my skin be healthier and more elastic, which isn’t a bad thing. Of course, it’s possible that simply applying a separate eye cream is what’s doing it. But still. Color me impressed.

So those are my thoughts about the TEA.L products. I was actually really impressed, and at least one product is going to make it into my daily routine for good, which is high praise, given how much I’ve pared down my routine in recent years. Definitely check them out if you’re looking for a new cream.

Skin Care Update, Fall/Winter 2019

I have another beauty review in the works, so I thought I should write a current skin care update with my baseline favorite products right now. Of course, my skin had gone through some serious changes over the last two years, with my pregnancy and postpartum, and I’ve also made some choices in my personal consumption habits that have affected my skin care. The last time I wrote about my regular skin care routine, it was in the context of how I’ve had to change my habits as I balance parenting responsibilities and self-care. Before that, I wrote about my pregnancy skin care over a year ago.

Of course, nothing is constant in parenting, and I eventually had to change up my routine again because Elliot’s sleeping patterns changed. I could no longer count on any longer chunks of sleep at night, so I decided that getting to bed as soon as I could was more important than facial massage. I still have roughly the same routine of cleanse, hydrate, and nourish, but I’ve discovered some new favorite products.

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Last time I wrote, I had discovered the Voltaire and Chatelet oils from The Library Apothecary. Well, since then, I’ve fully become a Library girl (it’s like a Glossier girl, but with less pink and more amber glass). I’ve started using Mara’s Rose Oil at night after cleansing and hydrating, and following it with her Elder Balm, which is a wonderfully fragrant experience that also happens to both nourish and calm my skin. I even add a little dab in the mornings under my mineral sunscreen to prevent it from becoming too matte. If she came out with a cleanser and a hydrating serum, pretty much all of my routine would come from her, minus actives and sunscreen. And I promise this isn’t sponsored — The Library Apothecary is a one-person operation and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t exactly have an advertising budget.

The other major development is that I am no longer using Glossier Milky Jelly. In my efforts to create a more sustainable skin care routine, I decided to try the Trilogy Cream Cleanser, as it is packaged in a glass pump bottle, rather than plastic. It has a skin-friendly pH and doesn’t foam, and I’ve found it a reasonable swap for my skin. It is scented with essential oils, but I find the aroma strangely appealing now that I’ve been using it for a while, and it doesn’t irritate my eyes, which is why I had previous had to stop using every other cleanser I tried besides the Glossier. Do I wish it were unscented? Yes. Am I willing to try the unscented version that uses an oil that my skin has disliked in the past and is more expensive and hasn’t been explicitly pH tested by a blogger I trust? No.

I’ve also switched to a very bare-bones hydrating serum from Timeless Skin Care, as well as using their pure squalane oil for my first cleanse (I’m using it up after buying a giant pump bottle for Elliot’s cradle cap, which went away after one treatment). I apply three pumps of squalane to dry skin and massage to break up sunscreen and lipstick. Then I remove it with a flannel soaked in warm water and follow with the Trilogy cleanser. Three times a week, I use my Bell-Evolve Lac-Luronic serum (I’ve also been using it as a deodorant — thanks, Tracy!), and then apply hyaluronic acid and Rose Oil, followed with a pea-sized amount of the Elder Balm. I use a tiny silver vintage spoon that my mother gave me as part of a set to use with my vintage Brambly Hedge teaset, but since Elliot is still a few years away from enjoying tea time with the good china, I don’t think he’ll mind if I borrow this little choking hazard to scoop my fancy skin balm. I’ve been told that it’s a “dupe” for the May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon, despite clearly being superior because it’s purple and also doesn’t contain the one ingredient that always causes me to break out.

In the morning, I cleanse with a half a pump of the Trilogy cleanser, and then apply some vitamin C serum. I’m currently using Mad Hippie‘s because I can buy it locally. After that, I hydrate and apply one pump of Chatelet oil, followed with a lentil-sized amount of Elder Balm if it’s a dry day. Then I apply my sunscreen, which is currently the Marie Veronique Everyday Coverage in Extra Light Tint, which isn’t my favorite, but it ticks the boxes I need for now, but it’s oddly gritty, so I’m still looking. Unfortunately, every time I try to return to an organic sun filter, my skin freaks out, so I’m sticking with inorganic right now. I have a new one on the way, though.

I’ve actually stopped wearing pretty much any other makeup other than tinted sunscreen and lipstick, unless I’m doing photos or a video, so my routine is quite minimal indeed. And my biggest sustainability habit has been to stop buying sheet masks. I still have a few left in my mask drawer, but for the most part, the only mask I do is a weekly clay mask that I mix myself from bulk purchased green clay mixed with matcha. And my regular daily routines seem to provide enough hydration so that I don’t need anything else.

So it is from this baseline that I will be testing some new products. Right now my skin is the calmest and clearest it’s been in my adult memory, so I’m hesitant to shake things up, but I do have a few review products that I’ve been sent, so stay tuned for that.

NB: All products were purchased with my own money and I was not given any incentive to feature them here. All thoughts are my own. None of the links are affiliate.

The Red Lipstick Diaries: My New Everyday Red Lip

Years ago, I challenged myself to wear all my red lipsticks and tried to cultivate a “signature red” for everyday wear. In the intervening years, much has changed. Not only has my personal style moved from the mid-20th-century to a more late-19th/early-20th-century aesthetic, but I fell out of the habit of wearing lipstick altogether when I was pregnant last year (as well as really any makeup at all). But lately, I’ve felt the pull of the bold lip once more.

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And, in my exploration of early-20th-century beauty, I’ve discovered that it’s not entirely surprising. Apparently, the women’s suffrage movement used red lipstick as a symbol of women’s power in the 1910’s. So perhaps red lipstick isn’t entirely out of line with my aesthetic.

One thing that has always been out of line with my aesthetic were liquid lipsticks. I just preferred the experience of applying and reapplying lipstick from the tube, as well as the look of the tube on my vanity. But as I haven’t bought lipstick in a long while, most of my old lipsticks are either gone, or gone bad, so I had to replenish my collection. At first, I looked at some favorite bullet formulas, but when I started looking to reduce my plastic waste, I started exploring other options. And managed to stumble upon the liquid lipsticks from Beauty Bakerie.

Of course, I do not, in fact, live under a rock (and even confirmed hobbit Rachel Maksy has reviewed them), so I had heard of Beauty Bakerie, mostly through their unbelievable social media ads that show how tough their lipsticks wear. But I was intrigued by the idea of a lipstick that I wouldn’t have to faff around with, and that wouldn’t leave marks on my tea cups. So I spent my $20 plus shipping and waited.

And I’m definitely impressed. I got the shade Mon Cheri, which is a gorgeous bright true red on me. It has become my everyday red lip. I’ve been slightly tempted to try some of the other shades, but really, Mon Cheri is such a perfect red on me (if you want to see it in action, check out this video), I don’t really need to branch out. And I’m glad I can get them at Ulta because my only complaint is that the single tube of lipstick came with an amount of packaging that would make Amazon blush. So I will be strictly be buying this locally from now on.

But the formula is gorgeous (and it doesn’t have any scent, despite the sweets-themed branding). Yes, you have to prep your lips. I always apply a thick lip balm over night (Aquaphor or Base for Lips from The Library Apothecary) and then in the morning, after I’ve had tea and brushed my teeth, I apply another layer of lip balm. I let that set while I put on sunscreen, and then wipe it off with a damp washcloth for a little exfoliation, and blot dry with a towel. Thus, are my lips prepped.

It is a little fiddly to apply, but only because it stays so well. I usually apply to the center of my lips and then work it outward, using the tip of the applicator to line my lips. If I catch any mistakes in the first few seconds, I can wipe them with a careful finger, but otherwise, your mistakes will stay until you remove the lipstick. I will say, I did not experience having to go back for more dips of product while applying. I use the amount of lipstick that coats the front and back of the applicator, and it’s the perfect amount to cover my lips in a thin, even layer, that doesn’t get flaky or gummy.

Yes, it dries down, and no, you can’t put on lip balm over it if you want to preserve the transfer-proof finish, but it’s not unbearable. I think having a decent lip care routine outside of your lipstick-wearing hours helps. And it wears all day without the need for one touchup. I wear this all day at work, through several meals and many, many cups of tea, and I’ve never had scary lips (or lipstick on my chin). And the glass tube is so pretty, I can forgive it for not being a vintage-y gold bullet. Plus, the tube is glass, which is more recyclable than plastics.

So there you have it: what might be the last lipstick review I ever post (doubtful). But for now, this is the only lipstick I feel the need to wear most days.

NB: I purchased this lipstick with my own money and was not provided any incentive to review.

Treating Myself: A Brightening and Hydrating Facial from Silver Mirror Facial Bar

NB: I was given a 20% discount on this service when I offered to review it. All opinions are my own.

When I was in my last few months of pregnancy, walking from the gym to work in the mornings, I noticed a new facial bar along the way. It opened recently, and I finally remembered to jot down the name of it when I was walking from my favorite pastry shop, and emailed them for information. Silver Mirror Facial Bar was originally opened in New York City by co-owners Cindy Kim and Matt Maroone with the mission of making regular facials more available to US women. Kim was also a co-founder of Korean Beauty retailer Peach and Lily and was inspired by the skin clinic culture in Korea.

The bar offers just facials, with 30-minute and 50-minute offerings, as well as extras and add-ons. I received a 50-minute Brightening/Dryness Facial, in part because of some rough dryness I’d had around my jawline, and just a general desire to look a little more awake after months of an uncertain sleep schedule. Walking into the facial bar reminds me a bit of a mix between a fancy salon and a minimalist doctor’s office, with a white reception desk, a minimalist shelf displaying the products they sell, and a small waiting area. I checked in on an iPad and the receptionist offered me a drink (it was one of the hottest days this year), which I accepted gladly. I spent just long enough in the waiting area to finish my cup of watermelon water before my aesthetician Olga met me and showed me back to the treatment area.

True to their minimalist, clinical aesthetic, the treatment area is just one large room with curtains to separate different clients’ beds during facials, somewhat like a chic emergency room. There was a bin for my purse, a charger for my devices, a mirror, and a bed. I did not have to remove anything (although I did remove my shoes), but simply lay on the bed in my clothes. Olga covered my legs and feet with a blanket, my neckline with a towel, and wrapped my hair out of the way, and then began.

The facial began with the typical steam and cleansing. She did a double-cleanse using a brightening facial cleanser with vitamin C and lactic acid. This was followed with an enzyme mask, a delicious-smelling lavender toner, and then extractions. After extractions, she used some high frequency to zap bacteria. I’d had this done before years ago, but somehow it was less zappy than I remembered.

Up until this point, the facial was like virtually every other facial I’d had and I wondered if I would be disappointed. Then, she brought out the derma roller.

Derma rolling uses a wheel of tiny needles to make micro punctures in the skin to increase product absorption and improve collagen production. It feels a bit like someone is rolling a miniature version of those “bed of nails” mats all over your face. Not painful, but not what I’m into. She applied a hydrating serum over most of my face, skipping over the more sensitive areas, and then applied a hydrating sheet mask under a warm towel for a few minutes to hydrate my skin deeply.

After that, she used the bar’s signature vitamin-and-oxygen mist, which felt incredibly soothing after my derma rolling experience, and then set me up with eye protection so I could rest under LED to help with anti-aging and brightening (red light). An application of SPF finished off the facial. I looked in the mirror and found myself pink-cheeked and fresh looking, and then went back to the office. The whole experience was exactly 50 minutes, though it packed more in than many 1-hour facials I’ve had in the past.

Of course, as with any facial at a salon that sells product, there was a bit of a sales pitch at the end. Olga brought a package of the lavender toner, the delicious scent of which I’d commented on during the facial, and offered it, though without any pressure. When I said “not today,” the subject was dropped.

Over the course of the day, I noticed that my skin felt the ambient heat a little more, and I had a bit of sensitivity on my walk home. But when I woke up the next morning and washed my face, I was amazed at how smooth my skin looked. While I have pretty good skin to begin with, the facial brought it to the next level. And my normal forehead wrinkle has remained much softer in appearance. I’m rather impressed the results of this facial, and I’ve already made an appointment to return for a 30-minute facial entirely on my own dime so that I can see if the shorter facial is similarly impressive. Perhaps I will become one of those women who gets a monthly facial.