Belated September Birchbox

You know how sometimes you have a birthday party coming up, and a wedding, and an anniversary, and a brunch event, and someone has a baby, and your mom keeps calling you, and then it’s suddenly three weeks later?

Yeah, that happens to me a lot.  But here I am, back from God-knows-where, with a belated September Birchbox post.  In my defense, this box came super late in the month.. so late that my October box shipped less than two weeks after I got this one.

Again, I’m not super thrilled (as you can tell by the lagging post), but here’s what was inside:

SEPTEMBER BIRCHBOX

kate spade Twirl fragrance sample
I love the whole kate spade brand, but this doesn’t wow me.  It smells very “generic Elizabeth Arden grown-up perfume at JC Penney.” It’s nothing special, but I bet it’d make a little girl feel fancy as hell.

Color Club Birchbox Custom Polish in Insta-this
This polish is a gorgeous creamy opaque royal/indigo blue.  I gave away my last Color Club nail polish because it was too similar to my Essie Turquoise & Caicos, but it looked fantastic on my sister.  If “Insta-this” has the same kind of color intensity, it’s going to be a favorite in my collection.

Skin, An Apothecary Soy Body Whip in Poppy
I’d give the scent a 7/10.  It smells bright, soapy, and fresh, but there are manly, cologne-like undertones.  The texture is very fun – somewhere between whipped cream and pudding with a non-greasy, non-sticky feel.  It absorbs quickly and easily without leaving a trace (except for that overly strong scent.)  In a fragrance-free world, I’d be a fan.

twistband Birchbox custom hair tie
It was hard for me to leave this in the box long enough to take a picture.  I’ve heard so much about these non-crease comfy ties, and this one is fantastic.  No weird bumps when I take my hair down!  It looks cute on my wrist, too, unlike my standard black ouchless bands.  There are a few flaws, though – after wearing it daily for about a week, the lace print faded significantly, and the band stretched out.  It got really mangy really fast, and at a retail price of $11 for four ties, I couldn’t justify buying more.  It’s a knotted piece of elastic.  Luckily, my broke ass found a way to DIY these.  The material is called Fold Over Elastic, and it’s available in all kinds of colors and prints online.  I ordered a few yards (YARDS!) here for less than $10.

Jouer Matte Moisture Tint in hazel
I’ve never heard of Jouer, and this wimpy little sample (notice the tiny black tube next to a mini polish and a hair tie) doesn’t encourage me look the brand up.  I tried a little on my hand, and it’s too dark and orange for my NC35 skin.. so, essentially, useless.

Hollywood Fashion Secrets Fashion Tape
As thrilled as I am to be let in on these “Hollywood Fashion Secrets,”  I’m afraid they’re a little too covert.  In the fashion tape envelope, I received four small pieces of tape – a quarter-sized circle, a rounded arc, a 1/2″ strip, and a 3/4″ strip.  No instructions or anything.   There’s a subtle clue on the package, “Includes One of Each: Hollywood Fashion Tape, Special Occasion Tape, Accessory Dots, Temporary Hem Tape.”  The back of the envelope tells me I can use these to eliminate blouse gaps, hold accessories, adjust jean length and secure plunging necklines, and even with a bachelor’s degree in apparel design and years of sewing experience, I can’t visualize how this set works.  Hollywood Fashion Secrets are beyond my realm!

Birchbox offered two options for October’s box – the standard selection, or a goop-curated box.  I’m not especially a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, but I have no hard feelings toward her, and I’m inclined to think she can do better than a miniscule tube of dark orange Jouer.

I chose the goop.

M

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Butter at Coterie

I know I’m not the first blogger to rave about the new beauty flash sale site Coterie, but it’s rocking my world with a Butter London sale, so I need to share.

Coterie.com is a members only site that is currently running sales on Butter, Mor, and Kevyn Aucoin, but promises more brands like Stila and Perricone in the future.  I know I just hoarded a few Butter polishes for the holidays, but I couldn’t resist this sale (what buying ban??  Shameful.)  It’s never too early to get the gift list whittled down, though, and when the price is right I stock up.

Anyway, here’s the sweet deal on Butter London: 3 shades of polish (pick from Pillar Box Red, West End Wonderland, Wallis, All Hail The Queen, Bluey and Knackered)  plus their Hardwear top coat for $36.  Combined with a $25 off code (ZOEREPORT), you’ll get the set for $11 plus shipping.  Now you know why I broke the rules.

M

Alterna at Hautelook til Friday!

Hey friends: more beauty sales this week!

An Alterna hair care flash sale starts today on Hautelook (you have to be a member to shop, but membership is free and sign-up is way easy).  I picked a few things up at the last flash sale, and I’m loving them.  (You can click over to reviews of the Hemp Repair Gloss and Overnight Hair Rescue here.)

The discounts are pretty substantial, and I’d love to try more of their organic, sulfate-free products.  If I were in spending mode right now I’d go for the Caviar Brunette Conditioner, Life Solutions Volume Restore Conditioner, and the Hemp with Organics Volume Lock Hairspray.

If you decide to give Alterna a try, let me know how you like it!

M

Overnight Success

It’s great waking up to pretty skin.  Most days, it’s just my foggy vision blurring my face into evenly toned, pore-free gorgeousness – but I do have an arsenal of no-fail products for days I need to wake up looking like a Disney princess.


For smooth, ready-to-go morning hair, I start with a good blow dry (either left over from my day, or after a night shower).  Sleeping on wet hair has never done me any favors.  Before heading to bed, I rub a few pumps of Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Overnight Hair Rescue $38, on my palms and coat my hair from the middle to the ends.  A quick pass with a wide tooth comb, and it’s good to go.  In the morning, I have freshly conditioned, pretty-scented, silky hair that’s ready to walk out the door.  My only word of caution is to err on the side of too little product – too much looks greasy.


For my face, I can’t forsake my old stand-by: Alba Even Advanced Night Cream $15.  It really evens my skin tone and makes my pores less noticeable.. but for can’t-risk-it days (weddings, brunches, and DRIVER’S LICENSE PHOTOS) I turn to AMOREPACIFIC Moisture Bound Vitalizing Masque $60.  After cleansing with my Clarisonic brush and finishing off with Clinique Clarifying Lotion, I apply the “masque” generously all over my face and neck.  It feels like a moisturizer, but takes a little longer to soak in.  It’s miraculously not greasy, sticky, or chalky, so my compliments to the chef.
In the morning, my face is plump (in a good way), smooth, soft, and even.  After a quick rinse, I have the perfect canvas for Big Day makeup.


Lastly, there are the eyes.  One big problem with my “need to look good tomorrow” nights is that my sleep is often compromised, and the eye bags give it away.  I don’t typically have issues with redness or puffiness, but when I do, it’s on an important day.  I’ve found out, though, that I can usually nip the problem in the bud with Clinique All About Eyes Serum De-Puffing Eye Massage $28.  It’s an eye serum with a metal roller ball applicator – which I always found a little gimmicky until this.  I rub the cold metal under my eyes and over my lids before bed, and by morning – normal eyes with normal eyelids.  I couldn’t ask for more.  It doesn’t do the miracle work of my everyday eye cream, but I can easily tap that on in the morning to take care of fine lines, dryness and circles.
These three products are my best shot at overnight success.  But I’ve also heard amazing things about Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery and I’m kind of dying to try it when my buying ban is up.

Do you have a no-fail night routine?

M

August VIB Perks

Sephora VIB’s (and VIB-curious): Have you checked out the August promos?  Killer deals!

This weekend (Aug 17-19), Very Important Beauty Insiders have the hook-up with a sample-packed clutch with purchase.  Spend $35 in store or online (way, way too easy) and enter VIBCLUTCH at checkout.  If you bulk up your cart to $50, free shipping too!  Here’s what’s inside:

  • Benefit POREfessional (0.25 oz)
  • Lancome Hypnose Drama Mascara (0.14 oz)
  • Sephora Instant Moisturizer (1 oz.)
  • Smashbox Hydrating Primer (0.25 oz)
  • L’Occitane Shea Hand Cream (0.34 oz)
  • Murad Intensive-C Radiance Peel (0.33 oz)
  • Algenist Overnight Restorative Cream (0.5 oz)
  • Stella McCartney Stella (0.05 oz)

Promos like this are why I’m probably too spoiled for Birchbox.  Buy some thing(s) you know you love for $35, AND get a bunch of generously-portioned freebies, PLUS three free samples, AND a points perk, if you’re a frequent shopper.  Deal$.

Also, while I was in the store last week, I picked up a VIB August schedule flyer I hadn’t seen before.  I tucked it into my purse feeling sly as hell – insider info!  I’m sure they have these out all the time, but this is the first one I’ve noticed… so allow me to share, if you’re a little unaware, like I was:

Aug 17-19 VIB Event Weekend – Special events with complimentary express service looks for fall.  Exclusive gifts for VIBs with minimum $35 purchase.  I’m really DIY about my makeup, so I won’t be taking them up on the service – but hop in, if you’re into that!

Aug 20-26 VIB Double Points – Double Points on every merchandise purchase, online or in-store.  Now’s the time to splurge!  Picking up one Urban Decay Naked palette ($50) will get you 100 points – meaning an instant gift with purchase.

Aug 27-31 Free Shipping – Online orders ship for free with no minimum purchase, enter code VIBSHIP.  The bummer with this promo is that you have to use a code.  Sephora famously allows only one promo code per transaction, so you can’t cash in on any other freebie offers.

If you’re not a Sephora Beauty Insider, definitely consider signing up!  If you spend $350 in a year (again, TOO easy), you’re automatically upgraded to Very Important Beauty Insider (VIB) status, which gives you access to crazy events and deals like these.

I realize I probably sound like a Sephora corporate drone sometimes, but I promise you, I’ve got no affiliations with the company (aside from being a die-hard fan for life).  I’m an avid shopaholic across the board, and this store has the greatest customer loyalty program I’ve ever seen.  Aside from the freebie offers, points with every purchase, birthday gifts, and in-store events, their return policy is simply the best.  I may spend a lot at Sephora, but I know that if I don’t love a product, I’ll absolutely get my money back.  Even if I’ve tried it on.  Even if I’ve just changed my mind.

But I’ll end my enthusiastic love letter now.  Enjoy your August perks!

M

Essie Mirror Metallics

I posted my polish picks for August yesterday, and mentioned Essie’s Penny Talk from the Mirror Metallic collection.  This is a great color, and no photos can do it justice.  The finish is uniquely metallic – the most mirror-like lacquer I’ve ever tried!  But it took me some serious trial and error to get a good mani, this is a really different formula than most.

The mirror metallics are super tricky, because they dry really quickly, and they show every imperfection on your nail surface.  It’s a very unforgiving polish, and I had to restart three times to get a finish I was happy wearing.  It’s a daunting task, but hopefully I can help you out with my experience.

  • First, start with squeaky clean, absolutely polish-free nails.  Any residue will show up as bumps and bubbles.
  • Buff the surface of your nails with a very fine buffer block.. the smoother, the better.
  • Start with a good base coat (or a top coat AS a base coat – more on that later), painted on as evenly as possible.  I used Essie’s Feed Me, after Orly Bonder caused problems.  (I think the sticky base was holding the polish too strongly.)
  • Paint from one edge to the next, with full strokes from the cuticle to the tip.  I normally polish in little half-strokes, starting in the middle and working outward.  This polish will SHOW if you have any short strokes.  It dries so quickly, there’s very little time to blend brush strokes together.. so they build up into unsightly little dunes.
  • Be FAST!  If you hesitate or go back to the bottle for a dip, your brush will pull at the existing polish and leave gaps.
  • Don’t use a top coat.  As soon as I added Polishield (usually a lifesaver) to my manicure, I knew it was a mistake.  It somehow deflected the light, and rather than blending the polish, it emphasized brush strokes and imperfections.  BUT Polishield smoothes surfaces like a dream – which gave me the perfect canvas for one last layer of Penny Talk.

All-in-all, one layer of basecoat (although next time I’ll probably start with Polishield), two coats of Penny Talk.. and if there are any uglies, another coat of Polishield followed by polish.  It sounds like a hassle, but the finished look is totally awesome – and worth it.

M

August Polish Picks

August Polish Picks

Left to Right:

August is a tricky summer/fall month – I can’t get into jewel tones and dark polishes just yet, but neons don’t seem right either.  Right now, I’m totally feeling neutral blush and copper colors.. rich, grown-up and unbeatably easy to wear.  I also love a matte finish (especially over a metallic polish) – it’s unexpected but not outrageous.   And if I start feeling old and boring, I stick on a couple of back-to-school decals.  Nerdy cute, these look great over clear polish or Decades of Dysfunction.  (And for my noncommittal ladies, they peel right off for unexpected business meetings.)  The Hello Kitty nail stickers aren’t the highest quality I’ve used – they tear pretty easily – but use tweezers and some extra caution, and you’ll be fine.

M

Frizz Fighters

My hair is not especially dry or damaged, but I’m addicted to blow outs and it shows.  Even with ceramic, tourmaline, ion blah blah blah, I get little flyaway frizzies around my part and hair line.  I’ve been through a few products to keep my hair polished and smooth – and these are my favorites:

Bumble & Bumble Defrizz

Softness: 4/5
Shine: 5/5
Frizz Protection: 5/5
Hold: 4/5
Next-Day Texture: 2.5/5
Price: $15 for 2 oz. or $26 for 4 oz, at Bumble and Bumble
Value: 3/5

Overall:  Defrizz is one of those “use very carefully” products.  Too much will flatten any volume you’ve built up and add greasy patches of sheen.  It’s VERY shiny, which is lovely when done right.  I rub a very small amount between my palms (all over my palms) and then carefully rake my fingers through the ends, then middle, then over the top surface of my hair.  The secret is dispensing it as lightly and evenly as possible (combing it through helps).  Once it’s in, it offers a little bit of hold and a super-smooth high shine finish.
The real bummer with Defrizz is its high maintenance.  It’s a great one-day product – meaning when I go to sleep with it on, I know I won’t be leaving the house in the morning without a thorough wash and dry.  The next-day texture is greasy, a little stiff, and totally unattractive.

Bumble & Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil

Softness: 5/5
Shine: 5/5
Frizz Protection: 5/5
Hold: 2/5
Next-Day Texture: 5/5
Price: $38 at Bumble and Bumble
Value: 5/5

Overall:  BEST STUFF alert!  I scored a free sample from Sephora, and prepared myself to be creeped out.  I’m usually pretty oil-averse, but this is one product that’s completely won me over.  After a blow dry, I put a dime size drop in my palms, rub it together, and carefully coat the surface and ends of my hair.  It’s super soft, naturally shiny (unlike the shampoo-commercial-shine of B&B Defrizz) and controls my flyaway hairs completely.  It doesn’t hold, which is fine since I wouldn’t use a frizz product for that anyway.  The next-day texture is a dream, too – I wake up with perfect hair – smooth, soft and pretty.  I only wish they offered it in a smaller size, since it takes so little for each use.

Alterna Hemp Repair Gloss

Softness: 5/5
Shine: 4/5
Frizz Protection: 3.5/5
Hold: 3/5
Next-Day Texture: 5/5
Price: $19 at beautybar.com
Value: 3.5/5

Overall:  This is a very subtle gloss – I use it for softness and a little extra texture (and it’s fresh, healthy hair scent).  It’s intended to repair split ends and damage, so I think of it as a leave-in conditioner.  It seems to keep my hair moisturized, and the ends soft.  While I wouldn’t use this on its own to tame frizz, I love it mixed in with a styling cream or lotion before a blow dry.

These three products have been lifesavers in the frizz department, so if you’re looking a little mangy, give them a try!

M

Battle of the Topcoats: Kensington Caviar vs. Polishield

It’s no secret that I’m faithfully committed to Orly Polishield top coat ($10), but I recently caught wind of an intriguing new neighbor in the polish department.  Nails Inc. Kensington Caviar top coat (also $10) has a solid 5-star rating on Sephora, and I had to see if I was missing out.

I gave into temptation and Kensington Caviar came home with me.  We had a few good runs, but it just wasn’t the same.  It didn’t last as long as Polishield, and while it’s a decent contender, it just doesn’t wow me.

Here’s how I’d rate these two:

Nails Inc. Kensington Caviar
Packaging: 5/5
Consistency: 4/5
Strength: 3/5
Shine: 5/5
Durability: 4/5
Value: 3/5

Overall: Kensington Caviar is the same price as Polishield, but the bottle is smaller.  The plus is that the brush reaches close to the bottom, and I’d be able to use more of the product.  By contrast, Polishield’s big bottle usually means I can’t use the last 1/3 without some serious bottle and brush maneuvers.  K.C. isn’t as strong as Polishield, though – I had surface chips and scratches the day after my manicure – seriously disappointing.  It’s also not too durable, and my tips had chipped off completely in about three days.

Orly Polishield
Packaging: 3/5
Consistency: 5/5
Strength: 5/5
Shine: 5/5
Durability: 5/5
Value: 4/5

Overall: Polishield is my main squeeze (I’m so sorry I strayed!)  It’s magical melding formula can’t be matched and it lasts a good 5-6 days without chipping.  My only gripe is that the big bottle combined with the thick, syrupy formula, makes it impossible to use all of the product.  For $10, though, I get months of flawless manicures, and I’m totally satisfied with that.  U + Me = Us.


M

10-second review: Too Faced Powder Puff Brush

Not too long ago, I picked up the Too Faced Powder Puff Brush ($32) to replace my struggling old powder brush.  It’s deceptively cute – and by that I mean, it’s a great brush despite looking like it came with a My Little Pony gift set.  I’m not a huge fan of its over-the-top cutesy appearance, but I can deal.

Too Faced is one of those brands I had looked at as an outsider.  Much like Kat Von D and  Tokidoki, I saw it as an overpriced novelty line, and not an everyday standard.  (Too harsh?)  But after discovering Starry-Eyed glitter liner and this brush, I know I’ll be keeping an eye on this brand in the future.

These bristles are super-soft “teddy bear hair” and surprisingly dense.  It’s really one of the softest brushes I’ve ever used, and I love that.  The densely packed bristles, however, throw me for a loop.  I’m still getting used to the heavier application, but it looks great – very smooth and even.  It’s decent with pressed powders, but amazing with loose ones (like MUFE’s HD Microfinish powder).  And I’m not a mineral makeup girl (yet), but I imagine it’d be perfect for that too.

Pick one of these up next time you’re at Sephora… even if it’s just to feel the teddy bear hair.

M