face care

February 2016 Birchbox: the best yet

See what I got in my February 2016 Birchbox!

I kind of forgot my February 2016 Birchbox was coming last month. We had a lot going on, in between school, work, spring cleaning, and home remodeling (that unexpectedly took about two weeks to complete—not the promised four days). It was a busy month and so it was a real treat to find this cute little box in the mail one rainy day!

I’ve been decently pleased with Birchbox so far, but this box was easily the best yet. The theme this month was “What’s the occasion?” and these products are definitely perfect for getting you ultra-glam for a date night or just because you want to feel pampered. Read on for pics of what I got and my thoughts on the products!


Product review: Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes

(Disclosure: I received a sample of this product for honest review as a member of the Influenster community.)

How did my face feel after the Neutrogena #WipeForWater experiment?

Neutrogena Naturals and The Nature Conservancy launched a large campaign this spring to encourage consumers to reduce water usage in the U.S. The numbers on water waste are pretty shocking: the EPA estimates that the average American household uses 400+ gallons of water daily and wastes over 10,000 gallons of water per year. Obviously there are lots of things you can do to reduce your wastefulness–shorter showers, ensuring your pipes don’t leak, etc.–but for the #WipeForWater challenge Neutrogena asked consumers to replace their regular cleansers with cleansing towelettes, saving an average of five gallons of water per day.

That’s a lot of water, especially added up over the course of multiple days. However, I’ve always been a little leery of replacing a cleanser with a makeup wipe–I feel like they just don’t clean as effectively–so when I received these wipes in the mail with an invitation to go waterless for three days, I was hesitant. Neutrogena claims these wipes leave skin looking “purified, fresh and healthy-looking”, but would they really work on my temperamental skin?


Product review: Instanatural Pure Argan Oil and Pure Rosehip Seed Oil

(Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial.)


The product: Instanatural Pure Argan Oil, $49.95/four ounces (currently on sale for $21.95; available here), and Instanatural Pure Rosehip Seed Oil, $49.95/four ounces (currently on sale for $21.99; available here). Visit the company website here.

The claim: Touted as multi-use oils perfect for hair, skin, and nails. Softens and moisturizes.

Ingredients: Exactly what it says on the bottle; no added fillers, preservatives, fragrances, etc. Certified organic and suitable for vegans. Because these are preservative-free, they’re best stored in the fridge.

I tried it: The oils come in four ounce dark glass bottles with droppers attached inside the screw-on caps. I really love this packaging since it’s practical and sturdy. The dropper lets you dispense the product a few drops at a time, which is perfect, since a little goes a long way. It’s a myth that you can only use oils on very dry skin; as long as you’re only using a few drops, these oils work well even on combo skin like mine and won’t turn you greasy or make you break out.

The argan oil has a light amber color and a very faint nutty scent. This works great for moisturizing the cuticles or for softening dry, rough patches of skin. It’s a slightly “dry” oil, so it doesn’t leave the skin feeling super-slick. I also like using it on the ends of my hair, before applying a leave-in conditioner, to help tame any split ends or roughness. If you want a good makeup remover that won’t stink, sting or dry out the skin, try a few drops of this on a cotton pad before washing the face as usual. (Be careful around the eyes–anything stings once it’s in the eyes, natural or not.)

The rosehip seed oil has a darker amber color and a very strong, earthy scent; it makes me think of freshly brewed tea. I personally like this type of scent (I call them “hippie” scents), but if you prefer unfragranced products, it probably isn’t for you, just because it’s so strong. Note that it isn’t an artificially added fragrance, nor do I think it smells bad–it’s just something to keep in mind if you don’t like products with a distinct fragrance.

The rosehip seed oil is also slightly dry and works great on the face. It can also be used on hands, nails, feet, and body. This type of oil is supposed to help with scars, sunburns and sun damage, thanks to high levels of vitamins A and C, though I haven’t been using it long enough to say for sure if that’s the case. I do know that it’s an excellent day or night moisturizer, layers well under makeup, and leaves my face very soft and glowy without any shininess or grease. I felt like my face looked more refreshed after using this as an overnight moisturizer, like I’d gotten more sleep than I really had.

My final review: 10/10. These are a great value and are excellent multi-taskers to boot. I’m particularly fond of the rosehip seed oil, though if you dislike strong scents, the argan might be more up your alley. Either way, they do a great job of replacing a host of other less natural products, so they’re a great choice if you’re looking to “green” your beauty routine and don’t want to drop a lot of money on tons of different skin and hair care products.

(I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.)

Product review: PureSol Konjac Sponge

(Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial. )
This konjac sponge is my new HG beauty buy!

The product: PureSol Konjac Facial Sponge with added Bamboo Charcoal; retails for $24.95 at Amazon.com (buy it here). Currently on sale for $10. Check out the company’s Facebook page here.

The claim: Cleanses, exfoliates and brightens skin. Because it’s so gentle, it’s perfect for even very sensitive or irritated skin. Can be used solo or with your favorite cleanser.

Ingredients: Made of vegetable fiber and lacking any processed ingredients or additives (fragrances, colorants, etc.), this is a 100% green and vegan product. When you’re done with it, it can be composted or even simply tossed in a flower pot rather than going in the garbage.

This konjac sponge is my new HG beauty buy!


I tried it: Every once in a while I come across a new product that truly earns the “holy grail” status in my beauty stash. I didn’t know what was so special about this sponge until I ordered it; within a week it shot to HG status and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

The picture above shows the sponge when dry; after about ten minutes soaking in a bowl of water, it expands by about 50% and becomes super-soft. There’s a little string so you can hang it up to dry in between uses (a suction cup hook is included in the package). The sponge can be easily sterilized every couple of weeks by popping it in the microwave or in some boiling water. When you’re done with the sponge (the company says each one lasts about two to three months), throw it in the compost pile or even in a flower pot–no waste left over for the trash!  I also love that it’s 100% chemical-free and has no scent.

This sponge exfoliates in the most oh-so-gentle way imaginable, making it excellent for anyone with hypersensitive skin or a condition like rosacea that can be irritated by exfoliating facial scrubs. You almost can’t tell that it’s exfoliating–it’s that gentle–but you can definitely see and feel the difference once you’re done. It’s much gentler than using a washcloth. I love using this with a basic foaming cleanser in the mornings–it’s a great way to get that “glow” without irritating my skin with a scrub (and you shouldn’t be using those scrubs every day anyway, as we all know!).

I’ve been using this every day for about a week or so now and my skin is positively glowing. The irritated red patches around my nose and jaw where over-exfoliation was irking my skin have disappeared. My pores look smaller, most noticeably in my T-zone, where it’s always been a battle between blackheads and over-exfoliation. My skin feels super-soft, too.

Adding this unassuming little sponge to my daily skin care routine has done more for my skin than any other product I’ve tried since Christine got me hooked on the Seventh Generation Boost serums last winter. I can now safely say this is one of those rare skin care products I’m not willing to live without!

My final review: 10/10. This is truly the best new facial product I’ve tried in a long time, and I would recommend it to anyone. Will definitely be repurchasing when I’m done with this one!

(Disclosure: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.)

Product review: Adovia Natural Dead Sea Mud Soap

(Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial.)


The product: Adovia Natural Dead Sea Mud Soap; $16/4.4-oz. bar. Available through Amazon.com.

The claim: Great for eczema, psoriasis or acne. Dead Sea mud minerals keep the skin hydrated while also cleansing to remove impurities. Made with natural and animal-friendly ingredients.

Ingredients: 80% Palm/ 20% Palm Kernel oil, Dead Sea Salts, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Deionized Water (Aqua), Natural extract (Fragrance).

My experience: I’m not a big fan of using bar soaps to wash my face. For the most part I find that they fall into one of several categories: too drying, too abrasive, doesn’t clean well enough, leaves a film, etc. In short, just not up to par for cleaning my sensitive, somewhat dry yet acne-prone skin.

This soap is really different from anything else I’ve tried. It does a wonderful job of cleaning my oily T-zone without over-drying, and it doesn’t leave my skin feeling scummy. My skin just feels super-clean and pleasant. I do think it’s helping reduce my breakouts, which is awesome, since I’ve been going through a period of stress-related breakouts recently and nothing else seems to be taming them. I don’t have eczema or psoriasis so I can’t say how it would help with those skin conditions.

This soap does have a very faint earthy smell, owing to the natural ingredients. Personally I’m fine with that, especially compared to harsh chemical fragrances (which my skin typically finds irritating). I don’t think the scent would be an issue for most users, since it isn’t overpowering.

My final review: 9/10. It’s a little pricey unless you snag it on sale, but overall I do think it’s a worthwhile investment for problem skin, and it’s a pretty generous size for a bar.

(I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.)

Product review: Beautisol Exscrub Me? Citrus Face Exfoliant

(Disclosure: I received the product(s) mentioned in this post in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any other way and as always all opinions are my own.)


The product: Beautisol Exscrub Me? Citrus Face Exfoliant; $17 for a two ounce tube. Available through the Beautisol website. Purchase it here and be sure to use the coupon code “BOGO2014” to buy one, get one free through June 30, 2014.

The claim: A gentle yet effective scrub with jojoba beads that leaves skin smooth and prepped for a flawless self-tanning application. Paraben-free and vegan. (See a full ingredients list at the bottom of this review.)

My experience: Unlike some facial scrubs that feel dry and gritty, this one is creamy, so it feels much gentler on the skin. The jojoba beads do a nice job of exfoliating without over-drying. I feel like this did a much more thorough job of smoothing my skin that some other scrubs that I’ve tried; it left my face super-smooth and soft, with no leftover residue.

The scrub is labeled for all skin types, but I do think it would be better suited to those with normal to combo/oily skin. The drier parts of my face (along the jawline and chin) definitely felt a bit dry after use. If you have very dry skin, you could use a hydrating self-tanner and apply a thicker moisturizing cream later on to keep skin happy. I did test this as a starting point before using a self-tanning mousse and found it really helped improve my overall end result.

Based on the ingredients list, this isn’t the most natural product you can find on the shelf, but it is vegan and free of parabens, sulfates and propylene glycol.

Final review: 8/10. It’s a bit of a splurge for me, but if you’re a die-hard self-tanner, then it might be worth it to ensure even, glowing results. Just keep in mind that if your skin tends to be dry, you’ll want to slather on extra moisturizer after using to avoid ending up with unsightly dry patches.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Polyethylene (Beads), Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Jojoba Esters (Beads), Behenyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Dicaprylyl Ether, Glyceryl Stearate, Sucrose Stearate, Xanthan Gum, Titanium Dioxide, Sodium Stearoyl Glutamate, Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract, Squalane, Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine) Peel Oil, Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract, Citric Acid, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil*, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Potassium Sorbate, Carbomer, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Tocotrienols, Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Oil, Phytic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Alcohol, Tocopherol (D-alpha), Passiflora Incarnata (Passionflower) Flower Extract. (*Certified Organic)

(Disclosure: I received the product(s) mentioned in this post in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any other way and as always all opinions are my own.)

Product review: Acure Organics Mineral Protection Sunscreen SPF 30

I’ve got another suncare review for you today! I’ve been looking for a new facial sunscreen for awhile and just couldn’t find one I liked. The chemical sunscreens sting my eyes like no tomorrow but I’ve just had to make do! But the more I’ve learned about the toxic makeup of these sunscreens and how they affect the body and the environment, the more eager I’ve become to find a good natural sunscreen! And where better to start than with my face?

I decided to go check out the skincare aisle at my local health food store and with the the help of one of their awesome associates (they seriously have the nicest people there!) picked out this little tube to try out. Acure is already fast becoming one of my favorite skincare brands so I thought their sunscreen had to be worth trying!

The product: Acure Organics Mineral Protection Sunscreen SPF 30; $15.99/1 oz. at health food stores or through their website

The claim: Physical mineral sunscreens offer broad-spectrum sun protection while prickly pear extract fights free radicals.

Ingredients: Titanium dioxide9%, zinc oxide 3%, aqua, caprylic/capric triglyceride, carthamus tinctorius oleosomes, isopropyl jojobate, jojoba alcohol, jojoba esters, silica, benzyl alcohol, phenoxyethanol, polyhydroxystearic acid, opuntia ficus-indica stem, glycerin, tocopheryl acetate, bisabolol, isostearic acid.

Ingredient notes: Acure products are vegan and Leaping Bunny-certified (yay!). Paraben-free and free of harmful chemical sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone.

I tried it: I think it’s fantastic that Acure is vegan and natural, I love the higher SPF, and I love that they threw in some antioxidant action to help fight skin damage. Now, with all of those basics covered, I still needed to know how this sunscreen would perform “in the field” as it were, across my five main points of concern:

  • Does it leave a white cast? No! This sunscreen rubs in very well and doesn’t leave any whitish tint.
  • Is it greasy/slick? No! If anything, this sunscreen left me with a matte, velvety finish on the skin, much like a makeup primer. Surprised? I was too!
  • Does it sting or smell? Nope! The wonderful thing about mineral sunscreens is that they’re much less irritating, so no watery, burning eyes here!
  • Can it be layered with makeup? Yes! No slip and slide here.
  • Will it cause a breakout? This is a huge concern for me since I have combo-oily skin, but thankfully–no breakouts to report!

My final thoughts: A definite winner! I do wish the tube were a little bigger but since I’m only using it on my face (I’ll use a separate sunscreen for my body), that’s okay. I don’t mind paying a little more for a nice facial sunscreen since, after all–if it isn’t nice, I won’t want to put it on my face–and if I don’t ever use it, then it does me no good!

Product review: Hydroxatone AM/PM Anti-Wrinkle Complex SPF 15

Disclosure: I received this product complimentary of iFabbo for testing purposes. I did not receive compensation for writing a review and as always all opinions are my own.

Here’s another product that I received for consideration courtesy of iFabbo. Unfortunately when the box arrived I saw that it had literally expired just a few weeks prior, so I figured I could do a short test to see how the product works, but it isn’t something I’ll keep on hand for longer use–there’s no point applying an SPF product if it’s no longer good!

The product: Hydroxatone AM/PM Anti-Wrinkle Complex SPF 15; $69/1 oz. through Ulta.com

The claim: “A unique moisturizer specifically designed to increase skin hydration and soften the appearance of visible wrinkles by helping the skin stimulate the production of collagen. Increased collagen produces a long-term reduction in visible wrinkles, crow’s feet, and facial lines.” Designed for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

Ingredients: Octinoxate 7.5%, octocrylene 4.5%, oxybenzone 3.5 %; water (Aqua), C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Sweet Almond (Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis) Oil, Sesame (Sesamum Indicum) Oil, Glycerin, Dimethicone, Sorbitan Stearate, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Shea Butter (Butyrospermum Parkii), Stearic Acid, Butylene Glycol, Acetyl Hexapeptide-8, Sodium Hyaluronate, Panthenol, Cocoa Butter (Theobroma Cacao), Carbomer, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Tetrasodium EDTA, Triethanolamine, BHT, Polysorbate-20, DMDM Hydantoin, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Propylene Glycol, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Sorbic Acid, Pomegranate (Punica Granatum) Extract, Grape (Vitis Vinifera) Seed Extract, White Pine (Pinus Strobus) Bark Extract, Green Tea (Camellia Sinensis) Leaf Extract, Ginseng (Panax Ginseng) Extract, Chamomile (Matricaria Recutita) Flower Extract, Algae Extract, Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi) Extract, Coneflower (Echinacea Angustifolia) Extract, Licorice (Glycyrrhiza Glabra) Root Extract

Ingredient notes: Hydroxatone lists their products as not tested on animals, and I don’t see any ingredients here that should be of alarm to vegetarians or vegans. Skin Deep rates this product a 7 out of 10 for potential toxicity and irritants, which raises my eyebrows. If you click the highlighted link you can see the full breakdown of ingredients and their individual ratings; just a few standouts include retinol, chamomile, and oxybenzone. Given the data, it makes it hard to understand how Hydroxatone can call this “a more natural alternative” and “gentle and non-irritating” on the product packaging.

I tried it: This cream has a thick consistency and a yellowish tint, and combined with the smell of sunscreen, it’s kind of alarming. Luckily, it spreads on well and does not leave a cast behind.

The SPF confuses me. If this is a day/night cream, why include SPF? I would only use an SPF product during the day. However, when I reach for SPF, I want something higher–say, 30 (or even 50). It’s kind of like they got stuck halfway between day and night cream and couldn’t decide. Of course, this is coming from a very picky SPF freak, so take it with a grain of salt!

I do feel like this gives skin a velvety, slightly blurred finish that helps mask the appearance of pores and fine lines. It doesn’t cause my skin to turn super-shiny in a hurry–always a concern with heavy moisturizers–and I think it would work okay either alone or under makeup. This didn’t seem to clog my pores. I can’t say how well it works at reducing the appearance of wrinkles in the long-term, since I only used it for a few days–and here’s why…

On the Hydroxatone website the product is touted as erasing the appearance of crow’s feet and fine lines around the eyes, but on the product packaging it says to apply “away from eyes”. Well…which is it? I’ll tell you what: even if you avoid the eye area (as I did), this product somehow finds its way into your eyes and when it does, it stings like crazy. I just can’t use a product that’s going to end up irritating my eyes; sooner or later I’ll just have to run to the bathroom to wash it out and then all my makeup goes down the drain, too.

My final thoughts: I hate to be all Debbie Downer about a product but between the ingredients, the high price, and the stinging–this is not a product I would ever recommend. I just feel like I’ve tried creams that have better ingredients, cost less, and work so much better!

Disclosure: I received this product complimentary of iFabbo for testing purposes. I did not receive compensation for writing a review and as always all opinions are my own.