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: 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.

My Current Skin Care Routine (Spring 2018) and Why I Don’t Focus on Anti-Aging

NB: All products mentioned here were bought with my own money, with the exception of Glossier Milky Jelly, which I often pay for, in part or in full, with affiliate credit, although I started using and loving it well before I ever had any store credit with Glossier. While the links in this post are non-affiliate, if you’re interested in supporting my Glossier habit, you can access my referral link here.

Hello, lovely readers! I know I’ve been somewhat intermittent at updating this space, especially since I started making my YouTube tea sessions. Thank you to all of you who have checked out my videos and been so supportive. There is more tea to come. But, of course, I’m still interested in beauty and skin care, so I thought I’d share a bit about my current skin care (although most of it is based on old favorites) and somewhat about my beauty philosophy lately.

As some of you may know, I recently turned 35. While that doesn’t seem very old to me, it is the beginning of being considered a prime market for anti-aging products. And I certainly have some signs of aging. I have some lines across my forehead (one of them rather deep) and some fine lines around my eyes and upper lip. But I don’t focus specifically on “anti-aging” products in my routine. Honestly, I only use one proven anti-aging product and that’s sunscreen.

Basically, the first reason I don’t focus on anti-aging is that I’m not that old. I think I look my age (though others don’t always agree) and I think my skin looks great. Yes, my forehead wrinkles up a bit, especially when I talk, but that’s just because I’m an expressive person. Seriously, when I’m on stage, my eyebrows are like another character in the show. I don’t have any judgment of other people who pursue anti-aging in skincare; it’s just not a priority for me right now.

But the other reason I don’t use anti-aging products is that most products sold as “anti-aging” have limited science behind the claim except for retinoids and sunscreen. I currently use sunscreen because, c’mon, sunscreen. Use sunscreen. And I don’t use retinoids because I’m currently trying to conceive and previously had a miscarriage. Yes, I know that topical retinoids have zero evidence of issues in pregnancy, especially over-the-counter retinols. But guess what? It’s not worth it to me (see reason one) to use something that could make me mentally feel responsible if something happened to a future pregnancy again. It’s slightly irrational, but so are most fears (except spiders). I will probably start using a gentle retinol after pregnancy is no longer an issue for me.

So I don’t focus on anti-aging. So what *do* I focus on? Well, my number one focus is avoiding things to which my skin is sensitive. This means no high-pH cleansers (high pH for my picky skin is 5.5, but that’s just me), no butters or oils that have caused me a reaction, no fragrances, no essential oils that have caused me a reaction, no heavy-duty exfoliants. After that, I also focus on thorough cleansing, hydration, and protection. Some of my products do have incidental anti-aging ingredients in them, but my primary reason for using them is because of their hydrating or soothing qualities.

My Current Routine:

My current routine has grown out of several years’ worth of following a variety of skin blogs and sites from around the world. Particular shout-out to Caroline Hirons who taught me that hydration was so important for acne-prone skin. I suppose I should say a little about my skin type: I have combination skin, though I’m becoming more “normal” as I persist with a decent skin care routine. I get a little oilier in the summer and a little drier in the winter, so it’s important to note that this is my spring routine, rather than my heavier winter routine. If I break out, it’s generally either hormonal or because of a few well-known triggers (shea butter, coconut oil, sometimes olive oil). My skin just drinks up hydration and occasionally hates organic sun filters. So on to the products:

Products:

Oil-based cleanser: Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm
Water-based cleanser: Glossier Milky Jelly (referral link above)
Vitamin C: COSRX Triple C Lightning Liquid (referral link above)
Chemical exfoliant: Stratia Soft Touch AHA
Face mist: Heritage Store Lavender Water and Glycerin
Hydrating Serum: Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate
Facial Oil: Jordan Samuel Skin Etoile
Moisturizer: CeraVe Baby Moisturizing Cream
SPF: Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Cream (referral link above)
Clay mask: NOW European Green Clay mixed with water or mist
Sheet mask: Make P:rem Safe Relief Moisture Mask (referral link above)

Okay, so this is a lot of products, and I haven’t separated this out into AM and PM routines. That’s because I use basically the same products day and night. My routines generally have the format cleanse-active-nourish-protect. So my AM routine is:

  1. Water-based cleanser
  2. Vitamin C
  3. Face mist
  4. Hydrating serum
  5. Moisturizer
  6. SPF

and my PM routine is:

  1. Oil-based cleanser
  2. Water-based cleanser
  3. Exfoliant (three times a week)
  4. Face mist
  5. Hydrating serum
  6. Facial oil
  7. Moisturizer

and then once a week, on Sundays, I do a clay mask between my two evening cleanses and put a sheet mask on after my facial oil. So it’s not a 10-step routine, but it’s not 3-step either. BUT, I can use these products in a 3-step routine, if I really need to. If I really need to, and I’m not using waterproof eye makeup or sunscreen, I can do a PM routine of water-based cleanser, hydrating serum, and facial oil, or an AM routine of a splash with water, hydrating serum, and SPF. Because my skin is resilient enough not to need all the steps all the time. I’ve talked before about how it’s important to have a minimum acceptable routine so that you can do *something* rather than go to bed with makeup/sunscreen/city grime on your face just because you’re too tired/sick/hungover/drunk to face a seven-step routine.

So that’s how I currently treat my skin, for spring 2018. It’s a pretty stable routine, though I had some heavier moisturizers for winter that I’ve stopped using since it’s not frigid cold anymore. And I’ve recently bought a couple of things to test, so we’ll see how it shakes out in the future. But I think my skin is in a nice place. I’d love to hear about others’ routines!

NB: All products mentioned here were bought with my own money, with the exception of Glossier Milky Jelly, which I often pay for, in part or in full, with affiliate credit. While the above links are non-affiliate, if you’re interested in supporting my blog by using my affiliate/referral links, they can all be found here.