My Chemical Romance- Serums, Acids, and the Frontier of Antiaging

About a year ago, I decided to get a little more serious about skincare.  And by that I mean I detected a couple thin creases on my forehead, glared at myself in the mirror, and calmly, resolutely stated, “Negotiation’s over. Sentence is death.”

Okay, not really.  I mean, I haven’t exactly unleashed the wrath of Valhalla on my face since then, but I have done the following within this past year: purchased (and finished!) my first vitamin C serum, purchased my first chemical exfoliant, purchased my first night moisturizer specifically for its antiaging and brightening properties, and purchased my first retinol serum.

Now, you may think this all sounds like ten levels of Joan Crawford insanity but trust me- it’s not.  You should see the skincare routines people have out there.  I’ve seen bathroom shelves that look like a Pfizer lab, with upwards of ten products used both morning and night.  And I know comparing our own shortcomings to those of others is no way to properly gauge where we stand morally, but believe me when I say that this foray of mine into antiaging is really no big deal.  My main motivation for all this is the hope for beautiful skin when I’m 60+, so I’m playing a long game here.  I’m not toiling over today’s skin problems as much as looking to prevent the next decade’s.

So what exactly have I done and what exactly have I used?  And how do I use it?  Peek away, and learn a thing or two about acids while you’re at it:

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Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment – Remember this time last year when I wrote a post on dipping my toes in the antiaging pool and I mentioned receiving ExfoliKate as a gift?  And how I was scared to use it?  Well let me tell ya, I tried it, and that stuff is a game changer.  I’ve never seen such instant results from a single product.  The full size costs $175 for a reason (and I’ll probably continue purchasing the mini for $24 and just use it sparingly).

This is a physical exfoliant in that it has tiny granules that physically rub off dirt and dead skin cells from your face, but it is also a chemical exfoliant.  ExfoliKate contains lactic acid and fruit enzymes (pumpkin, in this case).  These are acids – also known as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) – that naturally, chemically exfoliate your face, revealing a brighter, smoother complexion with improved dark spots and skin tone.  One site described such acid exfoliants as capable of “removing the glue that holds dead skin cells together.”  Most exfoliants either are just physical (think St. Ives scrub) or just chemical/acid (think peel pads).  ExfoliKate is both physical and chemical in its exfoliating properties, and it’s incredible.  My face glows after using this stuff.

Ole Henriksen Truth Serum Collagen Booster – This is the first vitamin C serum that I’ve purchased.  It’s known for its great reviews and a yummy citrus scent.  Truth Serum is marketed as being able to brighten, help restore elasticity and firmness, and improve skin’s texture against hyperpigmentation and sun damage.

However, I have to admit that I didn’t really see noticeable results.  The serum hydrated my skin well, but I didn’t notice much of a reduction in small scars or dark spots on my face.  This may be partly my fault, however.  Vitamin C in skincare is sensitive to light and basically loses its effectiveness upon exposure, and I left my bottle of it in the car on a sunny day last summer.  There are a lot of biochemical factors that go into making an effective vitamin C serum, from the pH balance to environmental exposure to the serum’s ability to actually “deliver” the vitamin C into the skin.  Science, people!  It’s important to do your research and take proper care of your skincare products.  I have another vitamin C serum I’m using now so we’ll see how that goes.  It definitely hasn’t seen the light of day, you can be sure of that.

Korres Wild Rose + Vitamin C Advanced Brightening Sleeping Facial – Wow.  Wowowowowowowow.  This, by far, was my favorite skincare purchase of last year.  This night cream has a variety of rose extracts and oils in it so it may not be for everyone (some are sensitive to rose), but this cream has been like a big whoosh for my skin.  I love seeing my complexion in the morning after having worn it to bed; my skin always looks fantastic!  Everything from dullness, dryness, dark spots, and even fine lines seems to improve after wearing this overnight.  Of course, I believe the effects of most skincare routines are rather temporary so you have to keep using it, but this is one product I’ll probably continue to repurchase.

I’m not sure about the vitamin C in it though because as I mentioned earlier vitamin C has to remain fully shut away from air and, ideally, light.  This cream is in a jar so it’s constantly being exposed to air.  I’ve learned to be skeptical of vitamin C creams in jars because they just can’t be that effective with so much air exposure.  But aside from that, everything else in this cream has been doing wonders for me.

Glossier The Supers – I was gifted these three serums last September by Glossier and they have been lovely additions to my routine.  How timely!  You can read my early, full review of them here.

I have loved Super Bounce (and have since repurchased!) for its healthy dose of hyaluronic acid.  Hyaluronic acid is a natural substance that is excellent at retaining moisture within the skin, giving it that youthful plumpness that we naturally lose with age.  Super Bounce is great before makeup because it smooths and hydrates the skin so well.  I’ve also loved Super Glow as a stable vitamin C serum (using it now after having finished Truth Serum), and Super Pure has been great for any breakouts coupled with a blemish lotion like Mario Badescu’s.  And yes, I still get breakouts and have learned that most of us will continue to throughout adulthood.  The idea that you somehow graduate from them once you turn 21 is absolute crap.

I should also add that I consumed hyaluronic acid in supplements for about a month and had noticeably excellent skin for about 1-2 months thereafter.  No really, I got compliments in the dead of winter!  I took Olly’s Vibrant Skin Plump Berry Gummies with hyaluronic acid, collagen, and sea buckthorn.  My face was plump as a baby’s!

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Pixi Glow Peel Pads – These, sold at Target and much hyped all over social media, are little cotton pads soaked in glycolic acid and rose water.  They’re another example of a chemical exfoliant (or acid peel- the terms can be used interchangeably here), and they’ve been a good, quick solution for tackling dark spots, dullness, pore size, fine lines, and acne.  They are actually great for acne.  I had a breakout last week in a couple spots on my face and used these along with my Super Pure serum; I was zit free about 48 hours later.

Using an acid peel isn’t as intimidating as it sounds.  What I do is wipe my face and jawline with one or two pads and then wait three minutes; I then neutralize the peel with tepid water (as the instructions will tell you) and then continue with a regular facewash.  Your face will tingle a bit from the acid, and that’s normal.  And no, nothing physically peels off your face that you can see.  No Raiders of the Lost Ark reenactments here.

I love that these have been a nice one-step solution for tackling blemishes.  I don’t struggle with acne as much as I struggle with dryness and dullness, but there are millions out there who’ve battled acne as their complexion enemy-number-one.  If you’re looking for a whole systematic routine to combat acne that’s been plaguing you for a while, Reviews.com published an extensive, excellent research study on the best and most effective acne kits with their favorite four out of forty-two contenders.  I wasn’t too surprised at their choice for number one; I’ve yet to try anything from this brand but have heard nothing but rave reviews.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum – This retinol serum is the newest addition to my lineup, and I’m still trying to figure out the best way to include it in my routine.  Retinol is really just a science-y term for vitamin A, and while it can come in different forms (retinyl palmitate, etc), pure retinol is a powerhouse for minimizing wrinkles and fine lines, reducing the size of pores, and rebuilding firmness that has been lost.  Like vitamin C, retinol is also sensitive to air and light, so be skeptical of any clear packaging or jars that you have to open up.  Now, many with sensitive skin will find that they may peel a bit when using a retinol and that’s normal.  There are retinols of varying strengths out there so it’s important to gauge what’s right for your skin and start slowly and modestly.

Things get really tricky, however, when you try and determine where exactly to fit a retinol into your routine.  Can you pair it with a vitamin C serum?  Is it safe to use an AHA exfoliant with a retinol, too?  You always think of mixing chemicals and making things go boom, and your face isn’t the ideal place for that.  You want to use things the right way!  However, I’ve found that wading into the deep waters of advanced skincare is not unlike mathematics and the interpretation of the law- the theories are endless.  I washed my face in the evening and applied this retinol serum on top of my vitamin C serum for a few nights.  I noticed no results, and actually developed red blemishes in the exact spots where I’d applied the retinol.  One authority I consulted advised not using the two together, though paulaschoice.com states that you can for extra benefits.  I’m going to try alternating my vitamin C serum and retinol now and see how that works and if the blemishes continue.  Most sources I consulted did say that you need to be patient and consistent with retinol.  I’ll also add that most quality retinols are expensive- $100+.  Mine cost eighteen bucks.  Only time will tell if these fine lines on my forehead demand a greater investment.

Now that we’re days away from the beginning of spring, at least I can say that I powered through winter with good skincare.  I didn’t feel nearly as dry this winter as I did the last!  Well, that may have something to do with the weirdly and freakishly warm winter we’ve had here and of course that may ultimately have to do with global warming and the possibility that the world is dying.  But for now, I’ll keep my anxiety at bay and just focus on that little wrinkle.  xo, MR

 

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Current Faves In The Green Beauty World

When I was in my early twenties, I went through a period of time where I was very vigilant about the strict use of green skin care, hair care, and body care products.  I changed my whole routine around age 19 to reflect a more natural approach to self-care as the result of reading up on the pervasiveness of weird, unregulated petrochemicals in the things we slather on our bodies.  I feel like I tried to change nearly everything in my home, all the way down to what kind of toilet bowl cleaner I used (and the buck stopped there; I hate to say that natural is not the way to go when cleaning the porcelain throne).

However, please note that there are still plenty of non-natural products that I’ve tried, loved, and continued to use alongside my natural ones.  I’m never a fan of being pharisaical when it comes to “greenifying” your life.  You’re not a brainwashed sheep if use a drugstore shampoo and really love it, or if you eat a fast food cheeseburger and really love it.  There’s no need to condemn or talk down at others for the way they eat or clean their homes, or assume that you’ve done the “right research”, read the truly accurate websites, and have been given special revelation.  Simply educate yourself, encourage others in love to do the same, and understand that we’re all trying to do our best.

My hair and skin both benefitted greatly from a few years of dedicated green treatment.  The excellent condition my hair and skin were in on my wedding day was, for the most part, owed to a routine that consisted almost entirely of products found at Whole Foods or any other natural grocer found near by.  I still use many, many of these products today, years after initially having discovered them.  Below, I present you with a list of my very favorite green beauty products from almost ten years of trial and error (and the most expensive one is $32).

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Shampoo- Rahua shampoo

This product is expensive, but it lasts me a very long time and I admit that I’m willing to spend a bit more on my hair (and it ultimately helps preserve my color, which cuts down on salon expenses throughout the year).  This shampoo doesn’t lather the way most shampoos do, mostly because there’s really no detergent in it (and this is a good thing).  For the past five years I’ve used this shampoo for every other wash up until a couple months ago, and I’m excited to start using it again once I run out of my Alterna Caviar Moisture.  Read the ingredients list of Rahua- it’s packed with all kinds of amazing stuff, nothing petro-ish, and I think I’ve repurchased it about four times.  If you’ve liked the way my hair has looked over the years, you can at least attribute a small part of its condition to Rahua.  And bonus- it also looks like a fancy bottle of cognac in your shower.

Deodorant- Desert Essence Organics Tea Tree Deodorant

Now, will you still sweat if you use this deodorant?  Probably.  Will you still be a little damp at the end of the day?  Maybe (though I’m usually not; I find that when I wear this deodorant, my armpits are only damp when I wear a sensitive fabric or have been stressed).  Keep in mind that this is just a deodorant; it’s not an antiperspirant and I really don’t think there’s such a thing as a natural antiperspirant on the market.  Our bodies were made to excrete waste through sweat, so the idea of stopping that sweating process all together seems a bit alarming to me.  Attempting to neutralize odor is one thing; attempting to block and stop the natural excretion process of sweat is something entirely different.  So, this deodorant has been my tool to try and achieve a happy medium.

This deodorant does an excellent job of getting rid of odor, and I’ve been using it long enough that my body has adjusted quite well to it.  The one time I always, always use it instead of a conventional deo/antiperspirant is when I’ve just shaved in the shower.  I never put conventional deo/antiperspirant on my armpits when they’re freshly shaved and the pores are open from the steam of a shower.  That’s when your pores are most vulnerable and I don’t like the thought of rubbing an aluminum compound on open pores near my lymph nodes.  So, give it a shot.  I say it’s worth it.  Oh, and a word of advice- use this deodorant, and not Tom’s of Maine, if you’re shopping for a natural solution.  Tom’s contains propylene glycol as its first ingredient; I used it for about two years and then suddenly my armpits rashed over and felt like they were on fire one day.  They had become bright red and were peeling, as if they’d been scorched by the sun. After doing some forum research I found that the same thing happened to numerous folks and the effect is attributed to propylene glycol.  Desert Essence’s deodorant contains none of this.

Night creme- Acure Organics Night Cream

This might be a forever favorite.  I’ve repurchased this four times and I don’t really see much of a reason to look for anything else.  I love this stuff.  I love its ingredient list, I love its texture, I love its price, and I love how my skin looks in the morning after I’ve used it.  Think of it as giving your skin a ton of nourishing vitamins and oils to just work their magic while you sleep.  I find that if I have a bit of pore congestion or dullness in the evening that this stuff just really, really helps to clear and brighten things up overnight.  It also has the immediate payoff of being so moisturizing.  My skin feels cool to the touch after applying it, and the scent is very calming and very “bedtime”.  It does contain lavender and lemon oils, so beware in case you know if your skin is sensitive to one or the other.

I plan on using this for years, and I hope Acure never changes the formula!

Face wash- Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Cream Cleanser

I used this cleanser to combat the drying effects of another natural cleanser that I’d been using for a long time that had a lot of tea tree oil in it.  The tea tree oil formula had castile soap as its first ingredient, and over time it really stripped and dried out my face (as I’d been using it for half a decade by that point).  I chose this Burt’s Bees cleanser for its great ingredient list and just as something that wouldn’t try to “do too much” to my skin.  Sometimes it’s about meeting your skin’s basic needs rather than trying to “fix” things by going into overhaul mode.  You do not need some nuclear-strength regimen that is about assaulting your face from the outside-in!  I simply do not believe that’s the way our bodies were made to work in the long-run.  I’ve long been convinced that gentle and natural is the way to go when your skin is upset and showing signs of distress, along with a bit of patience and lifestyle assessment (i.e. assessing your sleep, level of activity, sun exposure, stress levels, food habits, and water intake).

This cleanser is so gentle, and the scent is soothing and relaxing (although I do like the scent of their Sensitive cleanser even more).  I’d recommend it for those with drier skin that are looking for something gentle and non-foaming.  Some folks may feel that this doesn’t “clean” the skin deeply enough, but this is actually a preference of mine.  You do not want your skin stripped dry.  I first used it one weekend up in the mountains back in California, where my skin would always get horribly dry and then kind of break out in response.  My skin was soft and moisturized all weekend, with none of the usual problems.  It’s a perfect choice for the dry winter climate out here in the Midwest, too.

Conditioner- Desert Essence Organics Moisturizing Coconut conditioner

I’ve used a lot of the shampoos and conditioners from this line because they’re very reasonably priced and have a decent ingredients list, but this particular product yielded the most noticeable results to me.  I am always looking for hair products that moisturize effectively, as dryness is my main problem when it comes to hair.  I tried the coconut conditioner on a whim, and it left my hair beautifully soft and pliable after rinsing.  I’ve now purchased it twice.  This stuff also manages to fully rinse out, which is more important than you may think.  There are those conditioners that just seem to stay on your hair like a film and weigh it down, but that’s not the case with this one.  Sometimes I’ll use it (or actual coconut oil!) as a pre-wash treatment, and the condition of my hair has been great.  I’m also addicted to the yummy scent.  Tropical scents have a special, transporting quality to me that put a smile on my face (especially out here in the Midwest).

This conditioner combined with the Rahua shampoo is my best natural hair solution.

Lip care- Burt’s Bees Beeswax lip balm

There’s no better lip balm on the market, in my opinion.  A good lip balm is one that doesn’t get you into the habit of needing to use it every hour- you shouldn’t have to; your lips should ultimately be able to bring forth their own moisture.  The menthol in this one is so soothing, works quickly to help lips replenish their own moisture, and brings forth the lips’ natural flush.  And the effects seem to last for hours!  I only find myself reapplying this balm maybe twice a day.  I also love the matte finish it gives; I never like shiny lip balm finishes (and the shine is usually a dead giveaway for petroleum, which you do not want on your lips).  I have a bajillion of these in the bottom of all my bags, but I somehow seem to go through them all.  It’s the best.

Body wash- Weleda Wild Rose Creamy Body Wash

This stuff is a bit of a splurge for the amount you get, but it’s pretty dreamy.  I love a luxurious body wash to look forward to in the shower, and this is one of the more high-end natural brands that I consider more of a treat than a staple.  There’s a pomegranate version that I’ve also tried and loved, but the rose fragrance just feels kind of clean and extra glamorous (and I’m not sure how those two marry, but they do in my mind).  My husband and I used Dr. Bronner’s soap for a long time as body wash, but it left our skin just so dry that we had to try different things (though the Dr. Bronner’s is great for just about any other household use).  When we’re not using Dove, I love to grab a tube of Weleda for some fancy Gwyneth Paltrow Goop-y vibes.

Face moisturizer- Weleda Skin Food

I have yet to find my holy grail daytime moisturizer- contains SPF, doesn’t rub off and pill to the touch, a natural formula, and a glow-giving finish, all in one.  I confess that I’m still looking for that perfect mix.  There are many moisturizers that can carry three of the four aforementioned qualities quite well, but I’ve never found one that hits all four.  Most natural formulas with SPF I’ve tried have the problem of rubbing off and pilling.  So, putting any makeup on top is out of the question, and most formulas like this also have the trouble of just sitting on top of your skin and never fully absorbing.

Weleda’s Skin Food does the following: it gives a beautiful glow, has a solid natural formula (packed with some seriously lovely fruit and botanical extracts), and doesn’t rub off (though I’d still give it a minute or two to absorb).  It is categorized under “hand and foot creams” on Weleda’s site, but I’ve read about many a makeup artist using it on the face (including me!).  If something is relatively natural and works great for the skin on the hands, chances are it’ll cause no different effect if applied to the skin on the face.  I love mixing this with liquid foundation, and the scent is kind of mellow and citrusy.  However, Skin Food contains no SPF and some may find it too heavy for everyday use.  It is very rich and can be used anywhere on the body, but those with oily skin will probably not enjoy it as a facial moisturizer.  I’ll keep you posted on if I find anything that fits all my ideal requirements, but for now, this is the one with the best ingredients list that I know of.

And there you have it!  But I’d like to offer an important sidenote- after perusing through these favorites of mine, you may have noticed that none of these products are labeled as “organic”.  That’s because none of them are.  In order for anything to truly qualify as USDA certified organic, every single ingredient within the finished product must also be USDA certified organic, and the finished product itself will be visibly labeled as “USDA Certified Organic”.  Within the realm of beauty, such a thing is still pretty difficult to find.  Now, one singular ingredient within a finished product may be organic, or the word “organic” may be used in the brand or product name, but that does not mean that the product you are using is organic.  And the use of the word “natural” in labeling and branding in beauty carries about as much weight as your body, on the moon.

So, with that having been said, you really have to just kind of learn to navigate an ingredients list.  It’s difficult to find any kind of beauty product that is entirely USDA certified organic, but it is easy to learn the difference between a list of petrochemical and synthetic ingredients as opposed to a list of easily-pronounced, familiar botanical extracts.  But again, just educate yourself, pay attention to the lists of ingredients you encounter, and keep doing your best.  I’m right there with you.  xo, MR

Chronicles of the Amazon Shampoo Hunter

I haven’t posted in well over one week.  That seems like forever ago.  A LOT has happened within this past week, but I’m feeling quite cozy and pleasant now that it’s Friday and the week has come to its end.  It was finals week for the kiddos at school and the Friday after is always a day off for them,  and therefore a day off for me too.  So what does one like me do on a rainy Friday off?

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DRIVE FAR TOO MANY MILES IN PURSUIT OF THE GREATEST NATURAL LUXURY SHAMPOO!!  DUH!  WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS IS? A BLOG ABOUT SPENDING TIME WISELY?!

No but really.  I don’t have kids yet, and I’m not the one grading the finals yet, so you can bet your mother’s rump that I’m going to suck the juice out of this free time while I can.  No excuses.

So I’ve been using my John Masters Organics Evening Primrose shampoo for quite some time now, and as happy as I’ve been to find a truly safe, plant-based shampoo for my precious locks, I’d been hearing through the grapevine that I could do even better.  It’s been particularly dry out lately (I mean like lips-cracked-and-bleeding-dry), and so while I know that dry scalp may be a consequence of this, I’ve been noticing that the John Masters has been leaving my own scalp feeling, um, stripped at times?  Of course, that’s nothing a healthy dose of conditioner can’t help, but you know me.  If I can do one better for my hair, you know I’ll try anything and you know by “anything”, that includes the possibility of going all Rambo on a few choice endangered plant and animal species.

The latest rumors have it that the very best in natural hair care (and don’t get me wrong- John Masters is still up there) is a name called Rahua (pronounced RA-WA as far as I know).  The key to this line is a potent restorative oil previously known only to the women of the Quechua-Shuar tribe in Ecuador’s Amazonian rainforests.  CAN’T MAKE THAT UP.  A couple blogs that I keep up with every twenty minutes have frequently boasted the name of Rahua, and so my itchy scalp and I decided to get along down south to the only location I know of that carries the line- a Planet Beauty on Bristol and MacArthur just off the 405 freeway in Newport Beach (or am I in Irvine?  Where am I?  We’ll just say I’m in a rich peoples’ shopping center).

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This Planet Beauty is huge.  It’s a legitimate planet.  Apparently it’s the original location as well, and to my surprise it had no shortage of the rare, luxury brands that I’ve been reading about for years now.  Many of them I still cannot afford and dare not spend the tuppence on, but it was still weird finding them.  It was like meeting a celebrity, like running into Alan Arkin at a Souplantation or something.

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Rodin’s Olio Lusso is the stuff of the gods for celebrity skincare.  It is literally thee product that famed makeup artist Tom Pecheaux massages in Victoria’s Secret models’ faces before applying makeup for their annual fashion show (because I’m sure they all need more pampering … dem poor widdle models!).  Rodin’s site lists the special oils that the stuff is comprised of, but at $150 per 1 fluid-ounce bottle (make sure to clean up the floor now that you’ve spit up your lunch), I have a funny feeling that there’s some other ingredient Rodin ain’t letting us in on.  TINY BITS OF JERKED SNOW LEOPARD, RODIN?!  OR THE TEARS OF THE JOLIE-PITT TWINS?!  You can’t keep secrets from the American public for long!

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Here we have the full line of Tata Harper skincare, sitting right at the front entrance like it’s no big deal.  I once used a free sample of her Reparative Moisturizer and I have to say, I got a nice case of Doutzen Kroes face for the day.  It was great!  What was even better?  Wasting my Doutzen Kroes face on five classes of freshmen who literally could not care less because they’re too busy popping their own zits.  I’ll be saving that sample for when I do something swank next time, like when I go to Mother’s Market and order a juice.

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This Planet Beauty location also carries the full lines of Sonya Dakar and Dr. Hauschka skincare, with the latter known for being very natural and very potent.  Jennifer Aniston is known to use Dr. Hauschka’s products, along with various other celebrities that can do things like buy horses for fun (unlike us lay-folk, who buy horses for transportation).  Even Madonna itself uses Dr. Hauschka’s line, and look how well-preserved that thing is!

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And finally, I happened upon this- the full line of Kerastase hair products, save for the one product from the line that I use.  Of course!  But I was still quite overjoyed to see the rest of the full spread here, which is typically so hard to find.  And this photo doesn’t even cover the whole selection they had!  I will also say that I got to feel like quite a professional for one minute as I gave a customer the run-down on the whole line and what each color family is for.  But what product did I ultimately sell her on?  My amazing Rahua shampoo harvested straight out of the rainforest!  Let’s hear it for the natives!  Did I tell her I haven’t used the stuff yet?  No!  Did I tell her it’s awesome and she’ll be amazed by the glorious Kate Beckinsale-like results?  Yes!  Who loves lying?!  ME!

There were countless other luxury brands crammed into this tiny little gem of retail space- Philip B., Mustela (a line of great baby products that make Johnson & Johnson’s look like chemical waste), Kai, Juliette’s Got a Gun, the entire Davines line, Rene Furterer, and a billion more.  I would have to say that it’s been a Friday afternoon well-spent (and fear not- I’ve balanced out my super fun times by doing a little work and reading for my thesis). I’ll be letting you know how my Amazon shampoo turns out, and hopefully it’s a success and I don’t have to fear the wrath of that stranger I sold it to.  xo, MR