Monday, 29 December 2014

Review: Real Techniques Brush Sets

I've spoken before about my love of Real Techniques' brushes - they're fantastic value for money - & today I'll be sharing my thoughts on a couple of new sets which I recently picked up.

Now, I won't lie, Zoeva's Rose Gold Brush Set did make it on to my Christmas wishlist, & when Santa didn't deliver I did contemplate buying them as a gift for myself, but I just couldn't justify the cost. I like to think I take pretty good care of my makeup brushes, but I'm definitely not as consistent as I should be with washing them, & with the Zoeva brushes I'd be so worried about ruining them that I'd end up never using them.

So, instead I picked up a couple of brush sets from Real Techniques & I thought I'd share my thoughts with you.

The first set is the Nic's Picks collection which contains 5 brushes & retails for £29.99. This is a limited edition set, & currently out of stock on the Boots website, although it does say that more stock is coming soon. Three of the brush shapes are exclusive to the kit, the exceptions being the Duo Fibre Powder Brush & the Base Shadow Brush.

However, the colouring is completely unique to the set: the usual Real Techniques orange & purple have been replaced with a metallic silver, which I actually really like - it definitely makes the brushes feel more expensive.

The set is also presented beautifully in a foam block with gap for each brush, covered in a colourful smoke design. The downside of this is that - realistically - you're probably not going to want to store your brushes in here permanently, but there's no carry case provided, which is a bit of a pain if you travel frequently.

As I said, there are five brushes in the set & front to back in the photo above they are:
  • Duo Fibre Powder Brush - This is super soft & fluffy, great for applying a light dusting of setting powder but could also work well as a blush brush.
  • Cheek Brush - This is a denser, oval shaped brush with slightly tapered bristles & I've been really enjoying using it to contour with; it's not as precise as a smaller brush but it's great for softly giving your face shape.
  • Angled Shadow Brush - This is a fantastic crease brush; nice & fluffy, but still dense enough to get good pigmentation & perfect for winging out colour.
  • Base Shadow Brush - This is designed for applying shadow all over the lid, but I also think it works well as a crease brush.
  • Eyeliner Brush - This is a small angled brush, & although I haven't used it for liner yet, I can confirm that it's great for applying colour along your lower lash line.

When I first bought this set I was a little unsure about the price, after all, for only another £20 I could get the Zoeva set which contained another three brushes. However, I've since been converted - this is one of the best brush sets I've ever bought, every brush is genuinely useful & great quality. Definitely pick this up if you have a chance.

The second set I bought was the Your Eyes Enhanced Starter Set, which again contains 5 brushes & retails for £21.99. This set is not limited edition, & is part of Real Techniques main range, meaning it shouldn't be hard to hunt down.

One of my favourite things about the Real Techniques sets - & why I think they're perfect for beginners - is that they list the uses for the brushes on the back of the pack, as well as having lots of video tutorials available online. This may sound silly, but when I was first getting into makeup I bought one of those huge brush kits off EBay & was completely bewildered by all the shapes & sizes, so having a guide is definitely handy.

Because this is a standard set, it comes with a little black carry case which also doubles as a stand. This may seem a bit OTT for eyeshadow brushes, but it's the best way to protect them while travelling & you can always switch out brushes you don't use as much to create your perfect on the go brush set.

The five brushes in this set are:
  • Base Shadow Brush - The same as in the Nic's Picks kit, although you can never have too many of these basic shadow brushes. I've also found this to be good for applying concealer around the eyes & on blemishes.
  • Deluxe Crease Brush - Another perfect crease brush, this one is more tapered than the angled brush making it better for precise application.
  • Accent Brush - This little nubby brush is perfect for applying highlight to the corner of your eye, but could also work well when applying touches of colour to a more complex eye look.
  • Pixel Point Eyeliner Brush - This is a super fine brush, & even though I'm not someone who uses gel eyeliner regularly, I also think this is great for applying pops of colour along the lash line.
  • Brow Brush - Although similar to the angled brush in the Nic's Pick's set, this one is slightly larger meaning it's better suited to applying product to the brows, whether it's powder or cream.

I think this is a great starter kit if - like me - you're moving on from cheap brushes to something a bit higher quality; it gives you everything you'll need to create most basic eye looks & can easily be supplemented by buying additional brushes like this Shading Brush. Like all the Real Techniques kits, this is great value for money, considering most of these brushes retail for around £8 individually & if you're wearing makeup regularly it shouldn't be hard to find a use for them.

So, that's my review of these two brush sets from Real Techniques. I'd love to hear your thoughts on their products, & if you've tried more expensive brands, whether you think they're worth the money - leave me a comment below.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

YOU Beauty Advent: Days Twenty Two to Twenty Four

This is the last of my YOU Beauty advent calendar posts (for this year at least) - apologies it's a little late, Christmas (read, the constant supply of wine & food) kind of caught up with me, hence not being sure on the dates for these products.

True to form, the last three products in the calendar were solid picks which I've already been getting some use out of.

Rituals Fortune Scrub

I've used this scrub every other day since I received it & it's a real winner. The mandarin scent is comforting without being overwhelming, & it does a genuinely good job of exfoliating without irritating the skin (a problem I've experienced with some more aggressive scrubs in the past).

Maddi Alexander Rose Bath Oil

We actually don't have a bath in our flat (to my constant disappointment) so I'll be saving this until I either travel home or (touch wood) visit a hotel with a bath. It does smell beautiful though, not at all synthetic like some cheaper rose-scented products.

This Works Sleep Plus+ Pillow Spray

A couple of spritzes of this on your pillows at night is supposed to help you drift off into a deep & uninterrupted sleep. Personally I don't have a lot of trouble sleeping, but I did find the gentle lavender scent comforting as well as long-lasting, & I can see this being helpful for people who struggle with insomnia when combined with other relaxation techniques.

I know I did a mini summary of my feelings about the YOU Beauty advent calendar in my last post, but I just want to reiterate how much joy this calendar added to my December. It's the perfect pre-Christmas pamper gift for yourself, or for someone who loves discovering new beauty brands & products. I'll definitely be picking one up next year (unless something even better comes along) - will you?

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

December 2014 Birchbox Unboxing & Review

Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that I follow Birchbox on Instagram I probably would have completely forgotten about this month's box. December has just been so busy: I aced my probation at work; attended my first work Christmas party; travelled down South to see my Mum for the first time in months; & prepared to spend the holidays with my boyfriend & his family. So, it was a nice surprise to come home to a little box of festive treats.

That being said, I am a little disappointed in the general theme of this month's box. I get that some people just don't want to be reminded of the holidays, but the packaging - which I love - conjured up images of jewel-toned eyeshadows, bright lipsticks & lots of sparkle while the contents of the box fell a little flat.

This month's box is a collaboration with accessories designer Sophia Webster & while I love the design of the information cards & the hot pink accents on the drawstring bag, I would have liked some of the products to feel a bit more personal too.

 The first product is Elemental Herbology's Facial Glow Radiance Peel, which retails for £40. Now I'm super skeptical about at home peels. My general feeling is that either they're super powerful, in which case they should be applied by a professional who knows what they're doing, or they're so weak that they have zero impact. Having tried this on the back of my hand, I suspect this falls into the latter camp. The peel itself is a clear gel with a scent that falls somewhere between herbal & chemical which isn't necessarily unpleasant but I can see this sitting on my shelf & getting forgotten about.

The next product is the Perfect Balance Shampoo from BiOrganics, which retails for £9. I feel like I say this a lot, particularly when it comes to the haircare products I receive in these boxes, but this is probably just going to sit in my cupboard until I need some sample size products to travel with. The scent is inoffensive (although I'd be a lot happier if the beauty industry got over lavender) & really, shampoo is shampoo (which doesn't really help justify the price tag).

Third out of my box is this Eyeko Fat Eye Stick, which retails for £8. Although I'm a big fan of the soft, smooth texture of this cream shadow pencil I'm super bummed out by the colour I received. I have quite small eyes so tend to avoid dark smoky looks, instead sticking to taupes & mauves, meaning I just don't see myself getting much use out of this. That being said, I might pick up the pencil in shade Satin Taupe which looks like a lovely, sparkly nude.

Birchbox were hyping this exclusive Benefit Christmas cracker HARD on social media, but despite its cute festive charm, they literally could not have included a worse product from my perspective. High Beam is a liquid highlight which retails for £19.50 & in the tube it looks beautiful, slightly shimmery with a opalescent glow. However, whenever I've tried to apply it - over, under, or mixed in with my foundation - it sits strangely on my skin, so I've basically given up on it. That being said, if anyone has any tips on how to get the most out of High Beam then I'd definitely love to hear them.

Just after last month's box arrived we were asked to select which Models Own nail polish shade we'd like to receive in December's box & I'm so happy with my pick. Obsidian (which retails for £5 - very reasonable) is a matte black polish containing varying sizes of silver glitter & I think it's what I'll be putting on my nails for Christmas day (although possibly with a top coat for extra shine). The only thing I'm not a fan of is the velvet lid - it just feels bulky & a bit tacky.

The final beauty product this month is the Trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil, which retails for £16.50. In the past I've been wary of adding extra oil to my already oily skin, but recently I've been enjoying the instant hydration an oil can give. I don't really suffer from dry skin, which is what this oil is targeted at, but because it's basically scentless it's a great multi-purpose product & the dropper makes it easy to apply on the go.

Sophia Webster's main contribution to this month's box is this small purse, with leopard print & baby blue on the front, & black & white stripes on the back. Little bags are always useful, but I honestly can't imagine anyone using this as a purse on a night out - it's tiny (only just larger than a credit card) & the Birchbox logo is so prominent, it would just be a bit weird.

Honestly, there have been better boxes this year but the overall quality has definitely been good enough to keep me subscribed into the new year. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts - both on this box & Birchbox more generally - leave me a comment below.

Monday, 22 December 2014

YOU Beauty Advent: Days Thirteen to Twenty One

As I mentioned in my last advent post, I recently headed down South for a week to see my family before Christmas & since there was no way I was lugging my YOU Beauty advent calendar with me on the train, it meant I had a bumper haul waiting for me when I got back.

Now, I'm going to be honest & say I have no idea which days I received these products, but I'm going to go ahead & do my usual mini reviews anyway.
Radial Stemcell Super-Food Glam Balm

I'm not usually one to be sketched out by science but the idea of stem cells in lip balm is pretty weird. On the bright side this seems like a fairly average lip balm; it's got a soft texture - great for easy application - & the rose scent is a nice break from the usual mint & vanilla varieties.

Sally Hansen Nail Rehab

I wouldn't say my nails are "severely damaged" but I have been finding lately that my tips are super flexible meaning that polish chips really quickly, so I'm hopeful that this might help combat that. I was also pleasantly surprised to see this could be worn under other polish, like a base coat or primer, meaning there's no need for your nails to be bare while you're treating them.

John Frieda Luxurious Volume Blow Dry Lotion

I've mentioned my thick hair battles before & maybe this product will help give my roots a bit of a boost. You're supposed to spritz it on towel dried hair, before blow drying, which seems reasonable - although the scent & the high alcohol content would suggest that this is basically just liquid hair spray so I'm not sure it's something I'll be using regularly.

Eyeko London Alexa Chung Lash Curler

I actually already own a set of eyelash curlers but they rarely get any use - in the morning I'm in such a rush that I keep my beauty routine to a minimum. That being said, these look really great quality & like anyone who grew up in the late '90s & early '00s I have a not so secret crush on Alexa Chung, so the endorsement (however meaningless) is an added bonus.

Roger & Gallet Fleur de Figuier Fragrant Water

My main exposure to Roger & Gallet up to this point was the soaps that my Gran would put out for guests, so I didn't have high hopes for this perfume, but I was pleasantly surprised. This is a really fresh & crisp scent, perfect for Spring, with notes of grapefruit & fig. I'm not sure how long-lasting the fragrance will be, but since it's much cheaper than most perfumes I might pick up a full-size bottle for special occasions.

Bioeffect EGF Serum

I've never really tried any serums before & the packaging on this tiny sample isn't exactly informative - the text simply reads "For improved appearance of skin". Then again, who doesn't want that? This serum is scentless & the super light gel formula blends into the skin almost instantly. If I see some real effects from this it could definitely be a keeper.

John Masters Organics Shampoo & Detangler

I'm super ambivalent to these two products; the shampoo smells almost medicinal (I'm not a big fan of lavender or rosemary) while the detangler is basically scent-free. I'll probably end up taking these with me on a trip when I don't have room for full size shower products but I can't imagine I'll particularly enjoy using them. 

Benefit's The Porefessional Primer

This is one of my favourite ever primers & I finished my previous sample a couple of months ago, so I'm definitely thanking the Benefit gods for sending me this in my calendar. For those who haven't experienced it, The Porefessional is a silicone-based primer that creates a smooth, matte finish which is perfect for applying foundation on top of - definitely recommended for those with oily skin or larger pores.

James Read Sleep Mask Tan

I wrote last time about my fear of tanning, & honestly the thought of applying something on my face which would then develop into a tan while I slept just sounds like a nightmare. That being said, maybe come Summer when I'm feeling a bit braver - & the results might be a bit less obvious - I'll give this & the previous tanning product a shot. 

Since there's only three days left, the next advent calendar post will be the last, so I'd love to hear your thoughts on the whole thing - has it convinced to shell out for a beauty advent calendar next year or are you still unconvinced? & as always, if there are any products you'd like a full review of, just let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Winter Wonderland: Wrapping Gifts

As previously discussed, I love Christmas & one of my favourite pre-Christmas rituals is wrapping up all the gifts I've bought & making them look as tempting as possible. So, for this instalment of Winter Wonderland I thought I'd share my Christmas wrapping tips & tricks with you.

I purchased most of my items on Etsy (because supporting small retailers is cooool) but since Etsy items ship from around the world they can take a little while to arrive, so if you need wrapping tools for this Christmas I'd suggest checking out places like Hobbycraft, Amazon, or independent stationary stores.

I think the first step in beautiful wrapping is a solid base material. Each year I use a combination of plain brown paper (great for personalising & super cheap), some pricier but more quirky papers (this year I went with these triangle & tree print papers from Bright Stem), & tissue paper (great for smaller gifts).

The next step is some classic ribbon choices. I love these chunkier ribbons from Ginger Ray, but I also picked up this more delicate red ribbon set, & this gold set from Hobbycraft. Ribbon can get pricey though, especially if you want to do the traditional cross plus bow on every present, so try experimenting with things like wool, twine & scraps of tissue paper.

As a kid, it was always my job to go to the tree & bring people their presents to be unwrapped & I always loved the anticipation of flipping over the tag on a really big gift to see who it was for. This year I bought this uber cool tag set from Carta Papirea on Etsy, but I like to mix things up so I also used some plain brown luggage labels I had left over from last year, as well as the tags I received in last month's Happy Mail package from A Beautiful Mess. If you have a chunky pen you can also write directly onto the wrapping paper & I tend to do this on bigger gifts where I think the tag may get knocked off.

I love adding little personalised touches to my parcels, & one way to do that is with stickers. I picked up these gold arrow stickers from Carta Papirea (they have loads of super cool designs including mini banners & diamonds) & I really enjoyed finding creative ways to include them in my wrapping.

Another way to give your parcels a personalised feel is with washi tape. I went with this 6 pack of tapes in various designs off Amazon & while they're not all particularly festive, washi tape is one of those items you'll get use out of throughout the year. I think the key with decorative tapes like these is understanding their limits: they can't be used in place of sellotape, particularly not over large areas, as they just don't have the stickiness to hold paper in place; instead use them to break up the expanse of paper on larger items - I created simple shapes & used the tape to attach labels.

My big wrapping discovery this year was stamps & I'm completely obsessed. I bought a few different designs from both The Petite Package & Nora Jane on Etsy - some festive, some just generally cute - along with 4 different coloured ink pads from Hobbycraft (I'd definitely recommend the gold & the burgundy ones). Not only are stamps great if you're a bit creatively challenged but they're also pretty cost efficient - ink pads are £2 each but should last a while if you take care of them, & the same goes for the stamps. I stamped everything, from wrapping paper to gift cards to Christmas cards, & not only does it add a bit of interest but it also tells people that you took a little extra time on their gift.

I couldn't talk about Christmas wrapping without giving a shout out to the incredible Christmas postcards I picked up from Clap Clap Designs. Yes, they're a little pricier than just buying a set in Tesco but they're absolutely stunning & there are lots of people in my life who I'll probably never send a gift to but I want them to know I'm thinking of them, so for me it's a worthwhile cost.

I've only got a few last minute gifts to wrap (& am feeling ridiculously smug about it) but I'd love to hear about any wrapping tips or tricks you have which I can use next year - let me know in the comments.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

YOU Beauty Advent: Days Ten to Twelve

This will be my last advent calendar post for a while as I'm heading home for the week before Christmas, but there'll be a bumper post when I get back!

December 10th: Burt's Bees Almond & Milk Hand Cream

This is probably one of the smallest samples I've received so far in the calendar but since I'm not fussed about the product I won't be losing too much sleep over it. The texture is just a little too thick for me, almost like a butter & it leaves a greasy residue on my skin - not great as I generally use handcream at work where I want to get straight back to typing. The scent is also a bit overwhelming, but that might just be because I'm not a huge fan of almonds.

December 11th: Vita Liberata Self Tan & Mini Mitt

Honestly I'm a bit bemused by this one. I've never fake tanned (way too many opportunities for it to go horribly wrong) & even if I had, what exactly am I supposed to tan using my sample (since it's clearly not enough for my whole body)? Should I go arms or legs? Surely one without the other would look weird, but if I did my arms I'd have to do my chest too, & there's definitely not enough product for that. Basically, I'm going to leave this until summer when I'm not quite so ghostly pale & the risk of disaster is minimised slightly, but I'll make sure to keep you updated...

December 12th: Glam Glow YouthMud Tinglexfoliate Mask

I love a good face mask, so even though I'm not really interested in the anti-aging claims, I'm definitely excited to give it a go. I'm also interested to see that this claims to have instant results, leaving you with glowing skin the second you buff it off - I like using a face mask as part of a pamper session before a big night out, but most masks leave skin less than photo-ready so I'll be curious to see how this one goes.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Winter Wonderland: Christmas Decorating

Apologies in advance for such a photo-heavy post but I just really love Christmas, ok? 

This is the first year that my partner & I have lived together just the two of us, & as a big Christmas fan I was dying to start decorating, even though we're actually spending Christmas Day at his parents'. So, I figured why not share my decorations with all of you, & hopefully spread a bit of Christmas spirit.

The first thing I picked out was this Christmas garland. I wasn't really sure where it was going to go, but I've watched enough American Christmas films to know we had to have one, & in the end it's settled under the TV. I really love how realistic it looks with bushy branches of silvery leaves, sprinkles of snow, & little pine cones. I added in some of these obscenely cheap fake red berries to brighten it up a bit & I think it looks beautiful. I ordered a matching wreath for our door, but unfortunately there were delivery issues so we ended up cancelling our order - I definitely want one for next year though.

Apologies for the lack of full-length tree photos but in a moment of Christmas delirium I picked out this 7ft monster, & getting it all in one shot is basically impossible. It turned out that picking a Christmas tree was harder that I thought, as almost all of the trees under £100 had terrible ratings & who the hell is paying over £100 for a Christmas tree. I'm pretty happy with our choice though - it's certainly majestic as it attempts to break through our ceiling, plus it's nice & bushy. 

I grabbed some reasonably priced lights, some gold tinsel, & - as per the bfs request - some purple baubles. I also picked up these cute wooden snowflake decorations to make the whole thing feel a bit more personal. For a tree topper, I originally picked out this little feathery robin from Hobbycraft but it looks a bit ridiculous perching lopsidedly on the tree so we might need something else next year.

During my Etsy browsing I became obsessed with the idea of having a banner or garland up on the wall behind our sofa, but in the end all the options were too expensive & I just didn't have the time to make anything (although I'm definitely going to give it a shot next year). Instead I picked up a couple of packs of these paper snowflake string decorations & I really like them - I think they look especially pretty hung up on the back of doors - plus, because they're on string you can cut them up in whatever combinations suit you.

I wanted our flat to feel really cosy so I also bought a set of star fairy lights to string along the wall behind our TV (I would 100% recommend these, they're super sturdy & have a nice warm glow), as well as a Yankee Candles Christmas sampler.

On a bit of a whim, I also grabbed a couple of packs of these snowflake window stickers. During the day they do look a bit tacky but at night I think they're really beautiful when combined with the lights outside & the reflections from inside.

As well as the big things like a tree, lights & a garland, I'm a huge fan of adding in little festive touches like this adorable miniature reindeer. I originally bought a pack of ten or so to place in the centre of some festive soaps I made a couple of years ago but I had one too many, so now this little guy is on our bookshelf.

The final Christmas touch is our advent calendars. As you'll have seen, I got the You Beauty calendar which I'm loving, my boyfriend has the Lego Star Wars calendar which is hilarious, & we're sharing a Hotel Chocolat couples' (ew, I know) calendar. I was keen to start up some festive traditions for our little family & sneaking over to the calendars at ten past midnight & seeing what we've got is definitely one of them.

So that's us all ready for Christmas - I'd love to hear your Christmas decorating stories & ideas in the comments below (no really, I fucking love Christmas).
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