exorbitantly overpriced yet surprisingly efficacious product of the month

No, no. Not this guy. Well, wait. I don’t know how much he is, nor his degree of effectiveness.

That sleepy/stoned looking dude is Dr. Stuart Kaplan, another “celebrity dermatologist” who’s shit out a line of pricey products. I don’t know about anything about him, except there is another Dr. Stuart Kaplan who is a neurosurgeon in Vegas, which I’m sure is a pain in the ass for both of them. Dermatologist Dr. Kaplan has a small line of stuff, most of which seems somewhat uninteresting and predictable. Neurosurgeon Dr. Kaplan may have a line of products too, but I hope none of us have any need for those kinds of things.

Regardless, one of my recent Sephora impulse purchases included Dermatologist Dr. Kaplan’s cute little lip mask and balm duo. I’m not a fan of sugar scrubs for lips — I don’t feel like they do anything. And I seriously despise dry lips. Not only does it feel and look gross, it’s impossible to get those little shreds of dry skin off without drawing blood. All around not cute. So naturally, I had to try this enzyme based “lip mask” with its twee little matching SPF 20 balm. The balm wasn’t bad — sort of minty with a perfectly mellow sheen — but it suffered from that funky sunscreen taste that all those products seem to have. I really dug the mask, but I managed to lose the tiny vial pretty quickly. It’s probably in the same place as my Becca mattifying primer, the other small loaf pan, and all the lost socks.

Despite only having had it for a few weeks, I missed it. The full size mask is FORTY EIGHT DOLLARS. This is stupid. I put it off, put it off, and put it off until my peeling wanton lips cried for resuscitation. I fucking ordered it, feeling like the biggest sucker ever. Okay. First off, the container is HUGE — one full ounce. The container is made of heavy glass and feels all fancy and shit. The smell is vaguely minty and the texture just lovely, thick and velvety. I’ll glop it on a couple times a week when I first wake up, making sure to smear it all around well past the lip line, and let it work its magic for fifteen minutes or so. It’s not burny or tingly, just feels sort of cool and mentholy. Then, when I wash my face, I’ll use the wet washcloth to scrub off whatever is left (usually not much, as a lot of it seems to get absorbed or otherwise disappear). They say you can leave it on overnight too, which I have yet to try*. I always rub whatever’s left over on my fingers into my cuticles, because why not.

The “plumping” action could certainly be due to the irritative effect of the peppermint extract, so, okay fine. There certainly is a little plumping action but what blows me away is the complete painless obliteration of every tiny shred of dry nasty skin. Just glorious baby butt smoothness is left in its wake. Total love! Insert lots of heart eyed emojis here! So even though I am thoroughly embarrassed by the admission that a $48 lip mask has become a ride or die product, so be it.

Do you guys have any favorite products or methods to eradicate the dreaded dry lip? Or how about any new embarrassing product admissions we haven’t yet discussed? Come on, enable me.

*although I may try wearing it overnight this weekend, since there is a certain Halloween costume that is going to require a dark lip, which sort of makes me itch at the mere idea.

trend whore

Face oils, double-cleansing, cushion compacts, contouring, contouring and highlighting, strobing, Korean skincare, brows on fleek (shudder – I’m sorry). It used to take a solid year or two for trends to work their way from the coasts inward to middle America. It’s quite incredible how this has changed. (Get off my lawn!) We could blame the internet, but I think it’s her bratty little sister, social media, that’s truly responsible. It would suck to be a skincare and/or makeup manufacturer today. Not only do you have to watch emerging trends with an eagle eye, you’ve got to have the resources to concoct and shit out a competitive product in the blink of an eye. Then, you’ve got to make sure your production and ingredients can stand up to the inevitable dissection that will take place across multiple platforms by self-important, otherwise uneducated individuals with loud voices. Seriously, this sucks. But I digress.

This frantic pace has led to a lot of what I find really silly products and services. Take eyelash extensions. You have to go something like every two weeks, at $75 a pop. As extravagant and superfluous as I can be, even I say really? Nail art? Same deal — pricey, time consuming, will need to be redone before you get your next period. No. I realize this is probably a function of me being a) a busy professional who b) has very little tolerance for going out in public. But still! That’s crazy money and time for something that is so temporary and insignificant.

So you can imagine how I feel about face masks. Not regular old, smear-on-allow-to-dry-wash-off masks, but those sheet masks, the ones that make you look like a serial killer, require at least twenty minutes of princess style inactivity, and are sold by the individual mask for upwards of four bucks apiece. I think they’re silly. Plus, most of the ones I’ve seen lean more towards the “moisturizing” end of the spectrum, which is horrifying to someone like me who naturally generates tidal waves of grease. So when I received a Dr Jart hydrating sheet mask in this month’s Birchbox, I sort of tucked it behind a bunch of sunscreen samples in the bathroom, not being real stoked about it. However, I must admit, there’s been some recent photos of me looking more on the haggard side, and the common denominator is that my skin looked sort of flat and dull, even in areas where I didn’t diligently apply my Becca mattifying primer. So when my SO ran out to do a couple errands this weekend (read: when I could be alone for half an hour to look stupid in peace and quiet), I thought, what the hell, Dr. Jart. Let’s give you a whirl.

I hated the way it felt, in my hands and on my face, slimy and goopy. The sheet was heavy and sticky and slid all over whenever I made a facial expression or talked. The product was everywhere, getting into my hair which I had just washed, virtually seeping out of the sheet, everywhere. The eye and mouth cutouts nowhere near matched my according anatomic features, making me wonder if my face was super fucked up or something. It was claustrophobic and cold, and that’s in a marginally well air conditioned house when the outdoor ambient temperature was at least 105 degrees. It basically drove me batty and when I saw my SO pull in the driveway ten or fifteen minutes later, I was happy to yank it off even though my time wasn’t up. I gladly dropped it in the trash can, where it landed with a wet plop, and I got to business rubbing the rest of the slimy shit into my face, neck, chest, and hands. Then my SO started making margaritas, so I forgot about it and went about my business.

When I looked in the mirror a few hours later, though, I got served a giant steaming plate of crow. My skin looked AH-mazing. Luminous, glowing, but not greasy. I couldn’t believe it. The few fine lines I have were practically unnoticeable. I almost hated to put my nighttime crap on top of it, lest I ruin the luminescence. This morning, I did my usual a.m. wash followed by P50, and somehow, through all that, my skin still looked better than usual. Unreal!

So, just what I needed — another step to add to my already convoluted and high-maintenance skin routine. What products/services have you poo-pooed and begrudgingly tried, only to end up surprised at how much you love it? 

barney’s beauty bag sept 2015 … tick, tock

Eeeeeeee!!!! It’s almost that time again. Barney’s fall beauty event is September 8-12, when a $200 purchase gets you a big bag chock full o’ high end samples (details to follow). Anything on the cosmetics floor counts — that means candles, home fragrances, etc. are included. (Perfect, since fall is the perfect time to reload on my very favorite home scent.)

In the meantime, what are you going to get? Lots of brands have really nice step up gifts with a purchase at a certain dollar amount — I’m looking forward to the details and will share when I learn more.

how it all began

My bathroom looks like a Sephora sample refugee camp. There is just no way around this. If I don’t put a sample out where I can see it, I forget about it and it languishes for all perpetuity, a wasted existence. Needless to say, the samples tend to accumulate faster than I can go through them, and like dust bunnies or cockroaches, they appear to multiply. My SO has wisely learned to just shut his mouth and look the other way, but the other day he just stopped and looked and said, “How exactly did you get so obsessed with your skin? I don’t remember you being this way [when we first dated back in college]”.

Well, no, in college I drove a Jeep with its top off for most of the year and mastered the art of driving a stick shift, maneuvering a beverage, and smoking at the same time. I had grown up rather isolated where my sole feminine role model was my mother, whose idea of skincare was a good tan, O.G. Oil of Olay, and regular enthusiastic use of a Buf Puf. She never wore much makeup to speak of and believed all hair issues could be solved with braids and/or a bandana. (Okay, I still subscribe to this.) I didn’t have sisters or cousins or girlfriends to teach me the art of makeup growing up, so I had catching up to do in college. (The catching up extended into medical school, wherein I had an extended phase of turquoise glitter eyeliner, something most women outgrow at age 17, not 27.) I learned a good deal of makeup skills in college from a girl from Texas, who espoused “the higher the hair, the closer to God” as she teased her ash-blond bob into frothy perfection. I could never tell if she was kidding about the God part. We would throw things (bras, eggs) off her 7th floor balcony at passersby and then go do our makeup. We even did one of our guy friends, just half his face, all blue eyeshadow and glossy red lips, and then took a ton of shitty pictures with a disposable camera after he agreed to the clip on earrings and feathered hat, making kissy duck faces 20 years before we had a name for it. Ah, the 90s.

The fun and games continued into medical school and even slightly beyond. The glitter eyeliner, the rockabilly red lips, the swinging pendulum of hair color from blonde to red, red to blonde. It literally never occurred to me that these sorts of shenanigans might be not entirely appropriate for the professional workplace, OR that they might look silly on someone pushing 30. Hashtag arrested development, okay? I know. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I continued tanning through the first part of medical school. I KNOW! My first inkling that Father Time was not on my side was in a MAC store somewhere in LA, when I was an intern, so age 28, 29? I needed face wash, and asked for my usual green gel cleanser, which was supposed to be best for my oily, shiny, acne-prone skin. The salesgirl looked me up and down and said, maybe you’d be better off with something a little less drying and handed me a bottle of some creme cleanser. Of course this happened in LA, right? I was a little put off and a little offended, and remotely, a little concerned.

Around this time, my BFF and I were going to do an autopsy, and had the morgue camera out in case anything significant needed documentation. Mind you, this was before cell phones had cameras, and so it seemed perfectly novel and kitschy to take a morgue selfie all gowned and gloved before we got started. It looked really cute on the tiny digital camera screen and it made a super cute MySpace (!) profile pic. That is, until I saw it blown up on my computer screen. Warning!

M&C autopsy

PUMP. THE. BRAKES. What in the hell was going on? And I’m not even talking about the utterly tragic eyebrow situation that was happening*. The little swath of exposed skin that I had was…. spotty. Mottled. Wrinkles!? Dare I say… leathery. Seeing the forehead situation on my big computer screen was a giant slap across that hyperpigmented face. I was mortified. It was the first time when I realized all the total lack of concern for my skin was beginning to catch up to me.

Soon thereafter, I came across some ad for a Botox special in the freebie weekly newspaper where they advertise happy ending massages on the back page. It was something like $125, an unfathomable sum at that time. Seeing as I was still thoroughly traumatized by the morgue selfie (and outcome of a rudimentary photoshopping attempt), I was D-E-S-P-E-R-A-T-E. I was scared shitless, but I did it. The doctor was a bit of a jerk and didn’t have the best grasp of the English language, but I did it. The results with Botox, as we know, are impressive and quick. And so it began. Somewhere during this time, my dermatologist first tag teamed me with prescription retinol and hydroquinone. Knowing that the dermatology residents virtually slathered their entire bodies in retinol kept me using it, even though its results were less than dramatic.

I piddled around with that for a few years when the new, friendly, normal provider I’d began seeing for injections started raving about this crazy cream made of foreskins. She wouldn’t shut up about it. I think I eventually bought it hoping she would stop talking about it, even though it was stupidly, horrifyingly expensive. I wasn’t even through my first tube of it before shit got real. My skin changed. People I knew and people I didn’t know would comment on my skin and demand to know what products I used. (Wanting to just have a link to give people, as opposed to having to think and write shit down, was the main reason I wanted to have a TopShelfie on ITG: pure laziness.)

And then before I knew it, my bathroom looked like Sephora’s and Barney’s stockroom just vomited all over it.

And now it’s your turn: what was your gateway drug?

*Life lessons: any eyebrow worth Instagramming now is going to look STUPID in five years, and laughable in ten. So don’t. Just don’t.

there’s a fungus among us : biologique recherche masque vivant

Okay. I so badly wanted to find an image of the devil or some monster covered in snot or slime to start this post. While I am amused by the fact that Googling “Satan” returns images of Obama in a red robe, I am dismayed by the lack of realistic yet gory devil pictures. I then Googled “mucus”, but was inundated with colonoscopy photos of mucus-y poop riding in a colon. My last shot was “fungus ball”, which is a highly unfortunate medical condition in which an aggregate of mold grows within a body cavity. The resulting goopy mix of fungus and mucus is said to resemble, appetizingly, peanut butter. (Doctors, and especially pathologists, are notorious for ruining appetites with creative terms such as “chocolate cysts”, “nutmeg liver”, and “cottage cheese discharge”. Add peanut butter to the list. Go, team!) The fungus ball images are so vile I can’t even begin to comprehend using one in a blog post voluntarily. (If you’re feeling masochistic or need to kill your appetite, be my guest.)

So why the need to find said image? Because today I want to talk about Biologique Recherché Masque Vivant, the “balancing mask par excellence”, which purportedly “Purifies, Brightens, Tones, and Refreshes the complexion”, benefiting those unfortunate souls with “oily, combination, dull and/or less toned skin”. The Internet is bursting forth with love and appreciation for this product as well as its sidekick P50 1970. So if the P50 1970 smells like pickled biology class frogs, this smells (and looks) like a fungus ball. How ironic, SINCE IT’S GOT YEAST SHIT IN IT.

I’d read the descriptions online. Someone thinks it smells like that funky spread Vegemite that I avoided all over Europe. It certainly looks just like it. Someone else said it smells like trash. Here I was, innocently thinking yeast? So, it smells like bread dough? Like a brewery? How bad can it be?



Hence my need to locate an image of the devil covered in snot. Because if Satan himself had a horrible fungus ball removed from his maxillary paranasal sinus, THIS IS WHAT IT WOULD LOOK AND SMELL LIKE.

It’s thick, viscous, and sticky, close to the color of poop or bloody mucus. The odor has a disturbing peanut butter side to it, but otherwise smells rank and organic and fascinating in the most vile way. Not in a farmer’s market way, but in a compost-heap-in-summer way. Have you ever smelled something decomposing? That scent hits you in the most primitive part of your brain that is on high alert and screams GET AWAY NOW because the instinct to avoid things that you make you sick is why you’re alive today. I’m not going to go so far as to say this product smells like a rotting corpse, but it does make those primitive instincts twinge just a tiny bit. When I put it on, I literally cannot wait to wash it off, until I remember that getting it wet reinvigorates the odor — it mercifully diminishes as the mask dries. I let the cats smell it, thinking they’d be skeeved out; one of them ignored me and the other one tried to lick it right off my face. I, bravely, let my SO smell it. He has a shitty sense of smell so it was no surprise when he sniffed and said, “Mmmmmm…… Chocolate?”

So, yeah. I consider this purchase as taking one for the team. I’ve tried it straight up, I’ve tried it mixed with a little baking soda as some suggest. Adding the baking soda adds a new dimension, because now you have not just a smelly sticky disgusting product, you have a FROTHING smelly sticky disgusting product. I actually prefer it with the baking soda and just a couple drops of water — it thins the whole mess out. This is preferable because a) it is expensive; anything to make it go further helps; and b) I would probably pass out if I gooped it on full strength. (My SO now can look at me through the window as he gets home from work and recognize instantly if I have it on based on my facial expression.)

The stoic face of a brave soldier.

By now you’re all wondering why the fuck I’m not talking about its effects, and here I am worried that I’ll need to turn in my skincare whore card if I admit anything less than elation. To be fair, I’ve only been using it for a couple weeks since I got my BR haul in from Rescue Spa. I’ve been using it at night, after removing makeup with the Lait VIP O2 cleanser and a nice burning swipe of P50. Its immediate effects (besides total relief from being able to wash it off) are similar to the Sunday Riley mask made of Good Genes + Ceramic Slip. You do get glowy, smooth, and radiant skin, minus the skin-burning-off sensation and tears of pain, with a few more dollars left over in your wallet (at $64, Masque Vivant is a bargain, comparatively) and a nice dose of the smug satisfaction that typically accompanies the use of cult products.

 said BR haul

The “good” news is that, thankfully, the smell is less of a punch in the face over time. It still doesn’t smell good, but now after a few weeks I can use it without being overtly grossed out. I’m going to commit to using this 3-4 times a week until that entire 3.4 oz of sticky poop is gone; updates to follow.

scratch that itch and save

Citrine Beauty Bar, which is just down the street from me, carries a bunch of all-natural, organic this, green smoothie that skincare products and makeup, including May Lindstrom, Tata Harper, Jane Iredale, RMS, and so on. I just got an email saying they are having a sale online as well as in store Saturday 7/25 and Sunday 7/26: 15% off $125+ (code: summer15) or 20% off $250+ (code: summer20). So in case you weren’t totally turned off by my reviews, you can now pick up a couple products for a little less cash. Just don’t use your nice white washcloths, for the love of God!

my dalliance with may lindstrom (round three)

 After sampling, sniffing, and dabbling with May Lindstrom’s product line (here and here), it’s time to chat about the oils. I, for one, am happy this is the last post about her; how many times have I typed her name and the MacBook tries to change it to May Windstorm. I am sick of clicking the little “x” to tell it no, because it’s not learning anyway.

To recap, I recently ordered five ML samples from Eco Diva Beauty. I think it is fabulous that a company is willing to sample these products, given that they are quite pricey and not widely distributed. Many kudos to them, although it backfired in my case because I won’t be ordering any of the full size products. The Problem Solver powder-to-mousse mask, The Clean Dirt powder-to-mousse cleanser, and The Honey Mud creme cleanser are remarkably similar to me. They all smell wonderful. They all contain clay. They all managed to irreparably stain white washcloths. They all left my skin dry, tight, and slightly irritated. Given that I have super oily, fairly hardy skin, this was quite a feat.

My last two samples were of The Youth Dew, $120/20 ml and The Good Stuff, $110/100 ml. The Good Stuff is described as a body oil that may by itself cause orgasm when applied. At least, that’s what one might take away from the description (“This total-body elixir will recharge your relationship with your skin. A rich and decadent marriage of cocoa, rose, lavender and ylang-ylang tantalizes your senses while enveloping your every inch in luxurious hydration. Pairing exquisite nourishment from a succulent blend of plant oils with an infusion of translucent golden minerals to release skin from years of dullness and reset your natural vitality for an unprecedented dewy glow.” This person should not be allowed to write.). Basically, it reminds me of really nice cocoa butter oil with a little shimmer in it (which comes from tiny particles of mica). The fragrance is lovely but doesn’t last. The oil itself is midweight, reminding me of almond oil or cocoa butter oil. It gets somewhat absorbed, but slowly — I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to apply a full pump or two, considering I was trying drops at a time. The shimmer is very fine, best visualized in the clear dropper vial the sample came in; I couldn’t discern any shimmer on the skin. Meh.

The Youth Dew, on the other hand, is the only product I would consider purchasing from the entire line. This is a product designed for the face, and is described as a “serum”, which I find wholly misleading given that its ingredient list is a complex mix of oils with some CoQ10 thrown in. Fucked up description aside, this is a lovely product. As in keeping with the rest of the line, it smells fantastic, although, for once, not like food. Its texture is a WIN. I am eternally picky about face oils; I use them only on my cheeks to moisturize and add a little luster, but the texture has to be just so. The product needs to absorb, not just lay there; it needs to add a glow without looking truly oily; it needs to last. For instance, Josie Maran’s argan oil is like motor oil, it’s so thick and sticky. There is no way that is going on my face. Rodin Olio Lusso is heralded as the end-all, be-all of face oils, which I kind of don’t understand. Don’t get me wrong, it literally smells like God, but I feel like it disappears soon after application, but without leaving the residual glow and moisture you’d expect. My very favorite oil is the original Sunday Riley Juno Transformative Lipid Serum— again with the “serum” thing, what gives. (I see they have also released something called Juno Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil, which is different.) Regardless, the original Juno (strangely described as a “dry oil”) is rich and easily absorbed, while leaving the perfect glow behind — no residue, no stickiness. Despite its icky pizza grease smell, it is a HG must have product for me. ML The Youth Dew most closely approximates Juno in texture and appearance on the skin, and gets bonus points for actually smelling good. Juno will run you $125 for 30 ml, or $4.17 per ml. ML The Youth Dew, coming out to $6.00 per ml, remains the pricier option, but is a viable alternative for those wanting to avoid smelling like a pizza street stand.

With that, I saved $460 by spending $10 on samples and not falling prey to the internet hype and seductive claims for the ML line. See? Genius. (I could say I would put that in the G wagon fund, but let’s get real. I just ordered a bunch of Biologique Recherché crap and then the Nordie’s Anniversary Sale happened. Sorry, UPS man.)