Saturday, 28 March 2015

Illamasqua Haul & Swatches

Ever since I became really interested in makeup, Illamasqua was a brand I wanted to try, but I was always put off by the higher price & the fact that it wasn't a brand I heard a lot of beauty bloggers talking about. So, when I saw they were having a sale, I jumped at the chance to try out a few products.

The first product I picked out was the Powder Eye Shadow in shade Dizzy (RRP £15.50, bought on sale for £6.20). 

The shadow comes in one of Illamasqua's traditional convex square compacts, with the clear panel on top making it super easy to pick out the correct shade at a glance. My only slightl complaint is that the catch requires you to slip your nail into the gap in order to prise the compact open which means pretty much instant nail chipping.

On the website, Dizzy is described as a warm dusty rose, but in person I think it's closer to a powder pink, & certainly not as dark as it appears online. This is a beautiful spring eyeshadows shade & it works both on the lid & blended into the crease. However, I've actually been using it most as a blush - it gives a perfect hint of colour while still looking super natural.


The second product I picked up was another of the Powder Eye Shadows, but this time in shade Hype (RRP £15.50, bought on sale for £6.20).

Hype is a bright, buttercup yellow & I basically bought it solely so I could recreate this look which I saw on Tumblr months ago, but which I still think about on a weekly basis. This shade is perfect if you're into bright colours, but it can also work well as a pop of colour in a more neutral look, & I personally find having something the colour of sunshine on my face a massive mood boost.

As you can see, both shades are relatively pigmented & they can easily be built up to give a more opaque look. I do find both shadows to be ever so slightly chalky, but this can easily be countered by making sure you tap off your brush before applying & blending well. I'm a big fan of these shadows & will definitely be picking up more in the future.

Next up was the Precision Ink Eyeliner in shade Havoc (RRP £20, bought for £8 in the sale). 

The packaging on this is fairly standard with a slim black tube unscrewing to reveal the applicator & product. I do like the added touch of having a colour swatch on the top, again making it easy to pick out the correct shade if you have multiple ones.

The applicator itself is nice & thin, making it easy to control even for someone who's more used to felt-tip style liners. There is a slight tendency to get too much product on the nib, but I find that by starting in the centre of the lash line it's still possible to get a thin, sharp line.

The shade Havoc is a deep, dark red. It's dark enough that - at a distance - it almost reads as black, but close up the colour adds an interesting twist to even a basic cat eye. I also can't fault the formula: it's super opaque - even with just one layer - & completely waterproof. I'm not convinced by the other shades currently listed, but if they bought this out in a dark green or navy, I would definitely snap it up.

The final product was a total impulse purchase & it's the Liquid Metal pigment in Solstice (RRP £17.50, bought in the sale for £7.00).

I feel like this bright gold cream pigment speaks for itself. It's super pigmented - you can see on my finger it literally looks like liquid gold - & when blended out gives a beautifully soft metallic shine. Because it's a cream, it also applies perfectly both with a brush & fingers.

My only complaint is that the cream formula makes it prone to creasing, particularly if you have oily lids, & setting it with a powder isn't really an option if you want to keep that metallic shine. That being said, with a primer this should stay put for at least a few hour, & I imagine most people would wear this at night, making longevity less of an issue.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with my haul & will definitely be revisiting Illamasqua soon. Let me know what you think of the products in the comments below & if you'd like to see any of the products in more detail, just let me know.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Face Off: Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow vs. Brow Wiz

At this point, I feel like Anastasia Beverly Hills requires no introduction, particularly when it comes to their brow products.

The ABH Dipbrow Pomade & Brow Wiz are firm favourites among beauty bloggers, but they're not cheap, so I decided to put them head-to-head to figure out which was most deserving of your money.

Naturally my brows are a light taupe (making buying brow products a nightmare) & pretty unruly. I can just about be bothered to tweeze between my brows so any other stray hairs are a lost cause. I'm pretty chilled about this - I think especially as my brows are so light it's not particularly noticeable - although I have been considering getting them threaded at some point, purely to make filling them in easier.

The first product I picked out was the Dipbrow Pomade (RRP $18 or £12), mainly because I'm generally a fan of bolder brows, & wanted something that could give me a really defined shape.

The packaging feels fitting for the price: the black with gold accents looks luxurious without being over the top, and the glass container feels nice & weighty. At first I was taken aback by how little product you got (only 4g), but honestly the pomade is so pigmented that a tiny amount goes a long, long way.

I went for the shade Taupe, which is slightly cooler & darker than Blonde, but far more suited to my natural brow colour. As you can see from the swatches, this stuff is super pigmented & can easily be used to create really dramatic looks, but it's also super versatile, & when applied with a softer hand & blended in, it can look incredibly natural.

Without a doubt, the easiest way to apply the pomade is with an angled brush - this technique gives you the most control & enough precision to get a nice sharp line.

Honestly, because my brows lack natural definition, I did struggle applying this, particularly towards the end of my brow where I just have a collection of tiny hairs dotted around, seemingly at random (thanks mother nature). However, practice definitely makes perfect, & the more I've used the pomade since, the easier I've found it to get the defined yet natural look I like.

The key to getting the most out of the Dipbrow is being really reserved & building up the colour, rather than trying to go in & get a clean line straight away. Going back in with a spoolie afterwards can also help to eliminate any harsh lines, particularly around the front of the brow.

I'm a big fan of the Dipbrow, & it's particularly good if you have a job where you're working long hours or sweating because this stuff will not budge once applied. However, it can be difficult to get it looking natural, & it definitely takes time to apply it correctly - not ideal if you haven't got room for another five minutes in your morning beauty regime. That being said, I think the Dipbrow Pomade is perfect for nights out, where you've generally got a bit more time to invest in getting your look perfect, & where a bolder brow can really compliment a more dramatic makeup look.

After struggling a little with the Dipbrow Pomade, I went back & picked up the Brow Wiz pencil (RRP $21 or £14), in the hopes that it would be easier to use & would give a more natural-looking quick fix. I wasn't disappointed.

The Brow Wiz features a super thin mechanical pencil on one end, & a spoolie on the other - perfect if you're trying to do your brows on the go. The pencil is designed to be fine enough to simulate  individual hairs & I can honestly say it works: it's perfect for subtly adding definition throughout the brow & the look it gives is so natural that I very rarely find myself using the spoolie.

As with the Dipbrow, I went for the shade Taupe & it's a perfect match for my brows. Finding brow products which are both light & cool-toned can be near impossible, so if that's something you've been struggling with then I'd definitely recommend giving this a shot.

As you can see, the Brow Wiz gives a far more natural appearance, & that - combined with how easy it is to apply - has made it my go-to everyday brow product. 

My one complaint is in relation to the amount of product you get: despite this being $3 more expensive than the Dipbrow, you only receive 0.085g of product, which feels really stingy, & makes the pencil far worse value for money than the pomade.

Overall, I think both products are good but they serve different purposes. If you want something you can quickly slot into your beauty regime which will add a pop of natural definition to your brows then go with the Brow Wiz. If you've got a bit more time & want a bolder look, go for the Dipbrow. Either way, you're getting a product that genuinely lives up to the hype.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Review: Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Three-Step System

I've been dealing with acne pretty much ever since I hit puberty, and although it has got better as I've started investing more time in taking care of my skin, it's still disheartening to be dealing with a what feels like a teenage problem as I move towards my mid-twenties.

I know my acne is - to a certain extent, at least - hereditary, but I also know that my family aren't particularly big on skincare or beauty, so my plan for this year is to hunt down some products that can help keep my skin under control.

My first foray into the world of acne-fighting products is the Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Three-Step System (RRP £25). Clinique is consistently one of the highest-rated brands in the acne-solutions section of beauty websites, so it seemed like an excellent place to start, & the Three-Step System is a good way to try out their three core products without shelling out for the full-size versions.

The kit contains a Cleansing Foam, a Clarifying Lotion, & an All-Over Clearing Treatment.

My first impressions were largely positive. I liked how the three steps could act as a stand-alone skincare routine, or be slotted into a more extended process if necessary, & I was a big fan of how the packaging looked more mature than a lot of high street acne treatments, meaning I didn't mind having it out on display.

However, having now used the system for around three weeks, I'm not convinced it's for me.

Cleansing Foam

In my early teens, I swore by the Body Shop's Tea Tree Clearing Foam, but as I got older, I started to find foaming washes too drying, even on my oily skin, and this Clinique Foam was no different. Instead of leaving my face feeling clean, the Cleansing Foam made my skin feel tight & dehydrated, particularly in areas where I had a lot of acne already. I was also disappointed in the Foam's lack of real cleansing power: it couldn't even remove the lightest makeup residue, meaning I was having to use a baby wipe followed by my Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish to remove my makeup, before I could even start on the system, leaving the Foam feeling kind of superfluous.

Clarifying Lotion

The Clarifying Lotion is essentially a toner, designed to rebalance your skin after cleansing. This is probably the product I'm most ambivalent towards out of the system, but my biggest complaint is just how medicinal it feels. This is hard to quantify, but I think it's a combination of the scent which has a definite alcohol base, & the fact that it stings during application, particularly if it comes into contact with any fresh acne. I'm reluctant to buy into the whole "If it hurts then you know it's good for you!" narrative, & since I didn't see any massive improvements in my skin, I think I'll be sticking to my go-to Dr. Jart+ V7 Balancing Toner.

All-Over Clearing Treatment

This is probably the one element of the system that I would continue using. The All-Over Clearing Treatment is essentially a gel-based moisturiser which you apply all over your face at the end of your skincare routine. Although this doesn't smell particularly pleasant, it does sink into the skin quickly & doesn't leave any greasy residue behind. In the final week, I basically stopped using the Foam & the Lotion, & even with just my usual skincare routine plus the Clearing Treatment, the results were comparable with the period when I was using the whole system, suggesting that this is the real key to success. 

Overall, I wasn't massively impressed with the Clinique Anti-Blemish System. When used together, the products seem unnecessarily harsh, & the results I saw just didn't justify the price tag, particularly if you were to buy the three full-sized products.

However, I am a big fan of the All-Over Clearing Treatment. I genuinely feel as though my acne has been less severe since I started using it, & any blemishes which have come up have faded quicker & scarred less. My one complaint would be that, since using the Treatment, I've had some issues with blemishes sitting under the skin, particularly along my jaw-line, but ultimately these are less visible & far easier to disguise than actual breakouts, so I'm not complaining.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Clinique System, or any other acne-fighting products you think I should try - just let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Mini Lush Haul

I've never really been much of a Lush fan-girl. Don't get me wrong, teenage me definitely did her fair share of loitering among the bath bombs on a Saturday afternoon in Reading, but I was always more of a window shopper.

Fast forward five years to last week & I was having a bit of a crisis. Despite never really suffering from sensitive skin before, I'd had a pretty serious reaction to new deodorant which had left my underarms feeling super irritated. I ended up having to skip deodorant completely for a few days in order to let my skin heal (thank god I have a desk job) & by the end of the whole process I swore I would only use all-natural products from now on.

Turns out that's a little harder than you'd think. All the products I could find online were either really poorly rated, or ridiculously expensive so I ended up on Lush's website, & picked out their Aromaco deodorant bar (RRP £4.95).

At first I was impressed: the texture was smooth (something my still sensitive armpits were grateful for) & the scent was mild. My only complaint was that a block deodorant just isn't that convenient - it ends up all over your hands & acts as a magnet for fluff, but I was willing to deal with it if I could avoid a return to my itchy armpit nightmare.

However, having used it for just over a week now, I actually have a few more complaints. First up, while Aromaco is great at controlling odours, it seems to do nothing to prevent moisture, meaning that I was regularly left feeling clammy & I can imagine that someone who sweats more would end up with pretty noticeable sweat patches on their clothing. I also found that the block dried up incredibly quickly (maybe I should have kept it inside some tupperware?) meaning it lost that soft consistency & ended up actually feeling quite harsh to apply.

Overall, while this was a nice interim measure while my armpits were healing, I definitely can't see myself using it in the longer term, especially once we hit Summer - it just isn't effective enough for me. Luckily, I switched back to my faithful old Dove antiperspirant & don't seem to have had an issues so far (touch wood), so I'm hoping this was just a one off.

Obviously I couldn't place an order at Lush for only one product so I took the opportunity to try out a few other treats. 

Next up into my basket was the BB Seaweed Mask (RRP £6.50), which I chose mainly for it's antiseptic & oil-controlling qualities. 

I've been a big fan of seaweed in products since my early teens & I really enjoyed this mask. I don't think it's a miracle cure for acne, but it did leave my face feeling soft & soothed. Just a warning: do not ignore the "keep in the fridge" notice - I accidentally left mine out, thankfully with only a tiny amount left in the pot, & it grew some seriously impressive mould - you have been warned.

My third product choice was the Celestial moisturiser (RRP £12.50). I went back & forth on purchasing this a couple of times, mainly because that price tag is pretty unforgiving, but I've been looking for a nice, deep moisturiser for a while, so in the end I went for it.

In terms of application, Celestial is truly heavenly. It smells like vanilla frosting & the whipped texture means it feels rich without being heavy on the skin - I particularly love using this after a shower when my face is feeling dehydrated. You only need a small amount (thank god) so a tub should last a good while.

I haven't really been using it consistently enough to comment on any longer term effects but I'd definitely recommend checking it out if you're struggling with dry skin.

The final product I went for was one I'd heard a lot of beauty bloggers talk about, & it's the Mint Julips lip scrub (RRP £5.50). I'm pretty much convinced now that this is a must have if you're a fan of matte lipsticks - the problems I mentioned in my review of Kat Von D's Studded Kiss lipsticks? Gone, ever since I started using this scrub.

I love how easy this scrub is to use - I apply it when I first sit down at my dressing table, buff it in with a finger, let it sit while I brush my hair, & then lick it off - the all natural ingredients means there's no need to remove with a cloth (unless the thought of eating it makes you squeamish). The taste is quite strong, but the mint keeps it fresh, & it disappears quite quickly once you remove the scrub.

It is a little pricey but even this tiny pot should last a good while, & it's certainly more effective than previous lip scrubs I've tried.

I feel like this haul was kind of hit & miss, & I'm still not convinced that all these products are worth the slightly inflated price tag that comes with the Lush brand, but - excluding the deodorant - they're all solid picks. Are you a big fan of Lush? If so, let me know what your favourite products are in the comments below.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

March 2015 Birchbox Unboxing & Review

It feels like this month's box has come round super quickly, partly because I left my review for last month's so late, & partly because I've been so busy with work lately that time's just been flying by.

It probably won't come as much of a surprise to those of you who have been following my blog for a while that this will be my last Birchbox review because I have finally cancelled my subscription. It's not that this month's box is particularly bad, it's more just that Birchbox generally has stopped appealing to me, & at this point, I'd much rather save that £12 a month for investing in higher end products.

That being said, let's take a look at what Birchbox had to offer this month.

This month's box is a collaboration with trendy homewares retailer Habitat meaning there are lots of house-dressing tips on the Birchbox website. I actually quite like this collab - it fits in well with the whole beauty as lifestyle thing that's big at the moment - & Habitat is a brand that feels like a good fit with Birchbox's values & customers. That being said, as with a lot of these brand pairings, the whole thing feels a bit superficial & I would have liked to see more attempts to include Habitat into the box itself, rather than just the marketing.

I'm a fan of the box design though - the bright colours feel suitably spring-like without being loud or overbearing.

First up in my box & - let's be honest, the star of the show - is a sample of Benefit's new Roller Lash mascara (RRP £17.50). It seems kind of fitting to be reviewing a Benefit product in my final Birchbox, since the fact that the two brands work so closely was one of the big selling points for me when I first signed up. 

Benefit's They're Real is my go-to mascara although I'm proud to say I've never had to actually purchase it thanks to numerous samples & one very generous Christmas present, so it's hardly surprising that I'm a big fan of Roller Lash too. The curved wand does take a bit of getting used to, but it's perfect for getting a full coating of mascara, something that's particularly important to me as someone with blonde lashes.

I'm still not convinced I would spend £17.50 on a mascara, but if you're up for it, then Roller Lash is a great pick.

Next up is this perfume sample from Catherine Malandrino. I'm not a huge fan of receiving perfume samples in beauty boxes, just because I tend to find the fragrances they choose are super middle-of-the-road, presumably to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, & this is no different. I honestly couldn't tell you what it smells like (warm? citrus? who knows) & although I don't hate it, I definitely wouldn't pay the RRP of £50.

The third product in my box is this Phillip Kingsley Elasticizer (RRP £27.50). Now, I actually received a - far more generous - sample of this in my beauty advent calendar & really enjoyed it. I wouldn't say it's a miracle product, & honestly I'm not sure I'd ever buy a full-size version, but it definitely adds volume & I love using it when I'm getting ready for a night out as part of a pamper session.

The next product is a classic case of beauty boxes needing to go more in-depth with their customer profiles because we don't actually have a bath in our flat so these bath salts - however nice - are just going to go to waste. Technically the packaging on the Serenity Skincare Dead Sea Bath Salts (RRP £9.50) does say you can use them as an exfoliant too, but that seems like it could be quite harsh so I'm not sure I'll be giving that a shot. On another note, I'm pretty unimpressed with this packaging. I know £9.50 isn't a huge amount to some people, but I still expect something a little bit more fancy that a sandwich bag #justsaying.

The final beauty product this month is TanOrganic's Self Tanning Oil (RRP £24.99). I know I've been pretty down on tanning products in the past but with our holiday to Malta coming up I have actually been contemplating pre-tanning to avoid being quite so blindingly white when I step off the plane. I'm not sure about using this oil - it has a bit of a weird scent - but if I do take the leap I'll definitely let you know how it goes.

There are two "lifestyle" products in this month's box, & first up is a sample chapter from Penny Vincenzi's book A Perfect Heritage. I've spoken before about my frustration with these book samples: I love the idea of highlighting women authors but the samples they provide always end up falling flat. There are so many incredible women out there who are writing about the reality of their own diverse lives - I'm currently reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie & finding it simultaneously challenging & super enjoyable - that it's just disappointing that Birchbox instead choose to feature what is essentially chick-lit.

The final product, & the only one that has any relation to Habitat is this TINY notebook. Honestly, it's so small I don't even really understand what I'm supposed to write in it - I would have much rather received something with an actual connection to Habitat like a small candle or maybe even a mini catalogue of their beauty storage products. Whatever.

Like I said in my introduction, it's not that this month's box is particularly bad, I just think it's quite representative of the low quality of products that are generally included, & at this point I'd much rather save my money to spend on products I actually want to own. Beauty boxes can be great for people who are just getting into makeup & skincare, but after a couple of years the excitement definitely wears off, especially when it feels like you're just getting the same old products again & again.

If any of you are or have been subscribed to beauty boxes then I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - leave me a comment below.
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