Saturday, February 17, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

Here are some great Saturday afternoon reads.

Beauty Hatchery reviews Product Body's Whipped Shea Butter and Crush on You, two products that are perfect for fighting winter dryness.

Still looking for the perfect winter coat? Gala Darling has a great guide on finding the right coat.

MAC's "Barbie Loves MAC" line is finally available! I'm going to check it out myself this weekend, but Temptalia has a detailed review of EVERY product in the collection.

Omiru breaks down the top five most wearable trends from fashion week and I can't wait to see how many people are sporting Marc Jacobs-inspired hats this fall.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Do You Trust Your Makeup?

The New York Times reported yesterday that California has recently decided to require cosmetic companies to report to health authorities if their products contain any chemicals that could possibly cause cancer or harm the reproductive system. Until now, there has been little government regulation of ingredients in cosmetics, and the industry is largely self-regulating. Unless a product contains an ingredient that has been proven to have an effect on the structure or function of skin or hair (in which case it would be prescription-only), the FDA stays out of it.

Environmentalists argue that there hasn't been enough study into cosmetic chemicals' long-term effects, but scientists are split on whether these ingredients are present in large enough qualities to actually affect the body. As consumers become more concerned about the chemicals they're putting in and on their bodies (think of the organic foods and household products movements), the cosmetics industry has responded with new brands and lines that are certified organic. So far, this trend has been limited to smaller, boutique brands, and it'll be interesting to see if the major companies respond by changing their formulas.

Call me naive, but I personally don't feel any safer knowing that the government (at least in California) has greater control over cosmetics products. The industry giants (Proctor and Gamble, L'Oreal, Estee Lauder, Johnson and Johnson and Revlon) control a very large portion of the $50 billion American cosmetics industry and have far too much at stake to take a chance on a potentially harmful ingredient. These companies pay multi-millions each year in research and development and their reputations are based on the safety and effectiveness of their products. And when every other week there's a new ingredient or food that "may" cause cancer or some other terrible disease, it's hard to believe what's a real danger and what's just a good story.

I think the most positive side effect of this law will be an increase in consumer awareness about specific ingredients that they may not want to expose themselves to, particularly those who have young children or are trying to get pregnant.

If you are concerned about chemicals in your products or want to learn more about organic beauty products, you should check out The Organic Beauty Expert, it's a great resource on chemical-free cosmetics.

But I'm really curious what you all think... do you already buy organic and avoid products with potentially dangerous ingredients? Do you think using regular products puts you at a greater risk for health problems? Or is this all just a political argument between different groups pushing their own agendas? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reader Question: Underwear

In one of the comments to my "The Case Against "Panties"" post last week, an anonymous reader asked for help finding underwear that fit three criteria:

1) eliminates VPL (visible panty line)
2) isn't a thong (nothing against thongs, I wear them, but want something different)
3) isn't low-rise. I'm fairly thin but I hate the idea of my little tummy hanging out over the top of a low-rise waistband.

After reading this, my first thought was, "this girl needs Spanx, stat!" But then I gave it a little more consideration and thought to myself, "Meg, you're like the Spanx evangelist; people are going to start to think you're getting paid for all this free advertising." (I'm not, I swear!) So I decided to look for underwear by other brands that fits the description the commenter is looking for.

I tried, dear readers, I really did. But when i found a pair that was seamless and mid-rise and the same price as Spanx, I couldn't justify recommending it when I knew that the Spanx version would make you look thinner and would last longer. What can I say? I'm a convert. I seriously think Spanx are the best thing to happen to women since, I don't know, the pill.

These Spanx Power Panties "have the comfort of underwear, the feel of hosiery and the power of a shaper- all in one." There is no possible way that you would have VPL in these, they'll keep your stomach, hips and thighs looking trim and they'll still fit under shorter skirts. In short, they're amazing.

I know these look a little granny-panty-ish, but since you asked for something that wasn't low rise, I though these would be a great choice. They're the closest thing Spanx makes to regular underwear.

I should mention that I've also had pretty good experiences with Nordstrom brand underwear, and the ladies in the lingerie department can point you to other brands that will meet your criteria. And if you don't want to go out and buy 10 new pairs of underwear, you can always just pick up a pair of the regular Spanx pantyhose, which will eliminate any VPL and come in a number of different "rises."

If anyone has any other suggestions of brands or styles that this reader might like, leave a comment below!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Urban Outfitters, It's Been Too Long

I have a love/hate relationship with Urban Outfitters. Like most people born in the 80's, I went through my Urban Outfitters phase (at the time they didn't have stores in malls, so my mom would have to drive me to the cool center of the universe, Ann Arbor). Let me tell you, it was not a pretty phase. I'm glad that Urban Outfitters has developed a more specific style than they used to, because I used to go in and pick up a ripped punk-inspired neon green skirt, a super-feminine black cotton eyelet top, a pair of surfer flip flops and a screenprinted tote bag and walk out convinced I had the world's chicest outfit.

Granted, this isn't Urban Outfitters's fault, it was my own confused 16 year old sense of style, but they really did offer sell just about everything in that store. I used to check out the tchochkes (a hot pink Jesus bobblehead? just what I need!) and try to act non-chalant as I browsed the dirty books section, pretending that I was seriously in the market for a "Position of the Day" calendar. I would dream about decorating my college dorm with the hippie tapestries and bonsai trees and imagine sitting on the giant pillows with my cool friends and hot boyfriend while we ate Ramen noodles and planned out which parties and concerts we'd hit that night.

As you can probably tell, I have a lot of memories linked to Urban Outfitters, because I associated it with my desperate desire to get out of high school and be a hip, worldly college student. Naturally, I also associate it with a lot of stupid logo t-shirts and horribly mismatched outfits, and neither of these things bring back particularly positive memories.

Urban Outfitters still sells a lot of stupid things that appeal to the inner high schooler in everyone, but they've developed a more specific aesthetic for their women's fashions that I'd describe as laid back hipster chic. Some items are a little more earthy hippie while others are more edgy and urban, but you can see how the same person could wear everything. In browsing through their website a couple days ago, I came across a lot of cute items, but it was their dresses that really took me.

I love how this dress is modest but still so feminine, and the gathered detail at the neck is really pretty. I'd wear it with a wide brown leather belt around the waist (to give it more shape), but it's still cute on it's own.

This dress is so light and summery, and it comes in 4 different colors.

Laid back and comfy, you could wear this with a cami and a pair of wedges or throw it over a swim suit for a day at the beach.

This dress is great for the spring or fall, when you could layer it with a cardigan and matte tights for colder days or wear it on it's own when it's warming up.

I love the shape of this poplin trapeze dress when it's paired with a belt, it's a modern take on a retro look.

Such a great color combination (it comes in two other colors as well) and the waistbelt and tulip hem are very flattering.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Holy Grail Moisturizer Found!

I have a tough time finding a moisturizer that fits my skin type. My skin is dry, acne prone and sensitive, all at once. When I find a product that keeps my skin moisturized, it's often too heavy to wear under makeup, and it makes my face shiny (if not breakout). If something is light enough to keep me from getting oily, it isn't strong enough to target the dry spots. And with my allergies and general sensitivity, anything that has a fragrance is out of the picture. On top of all of this, I prefer something with sunscreen, but it can't contain certain chemicals that irritate my skin. Yeah, I'm a skincare marketer's dream, ready to buy a new product each time my skin changes.

Here's a list of the face moisturizers I've gone through in the last 9 months alone: Cetaphil Lotion, Cetaphil Cream, Vichy Thermal S1, La Roche Posay Toleriane Fluide, Clinique CX Protective Base, La Roche Posay Toleriane Soothing Protective Lotion... and now, my search is over.

Yes, dear readers, I've found the holy grail of face moisturizers. It moisturizes dry areas! Leaves no shiny residue! Contains sunscreen! Fragrance free! Completely non-irritating! Improves the look of makeup! The list goes on and on.

AND it's available at a drugstore (though not at drugstore prices).

This magic moisturizer is Olay Total Effects Visible Anti-Aging Vitamin Complex. If it seems like I've been on an Olay kick lately, it's because before this year I'd never tried their products, but I've been incredibly impressed with the three I started using in the last few weeks.

The product isn't perfect; it doesn't have strong enough sunscreen ingredients for my taste (they're not photostable, either), and it's expensive. Well, relatively. It retails for around $18, but it's on sale sometimes, and Amazon offers it at a slight discount with free shipping. But honestly, these are small prices to pay for a product that has done what was previously thought of as impossible, drastically shortening my skincare routine. No need to apply a thicker cream to dry areas, a mattifyer to my t-zone, and sunscreen all over. Though I don't use primer, I think it prepares the skin so well for makeup that one wouldn't need primer.

Honestly, I could go on and on about how much better my skin looks after using this product. After I got that amazing facial a few weeks ago, I think this is what extended the results for so much longer than usual. If I wasn't self-conscious, I'd post a before and after photo and show how much better my skin looks after applying this: skin tone is far more even, no visible dryness and my skin just looks more radiant, but not in the typical "shine=radiance" way.

Okay, I swear I'm done. If you have similar skin problems and you're in the market for a new moisturizer, check out Olay 7x, it definitely lives up to the hype.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

2007 Grammys Best and Worst Dressed List

If you're looking for my post on the 2007 Oscars best and worst dressed list, click here.

I thought that the Golden Globes were a B-list awards show, but I had no idea how bad the Grammys would be. If you set aside the people who peaked about 20 years ago (the Stevie Wonder's and Sting's) and the quasi-celebs who seem to show up at the opening of an envelope (Brooke Hogan, Maria Menounos, Vanessa Minnillo), there were very few artists who I was actually excited to see. I don't know if this is a reflection of a boring year in music, or a lack of real superstars, but any event where the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls is treated like an A-lister is a very sad event.

If the celebrity turnout was a disappointment, the fashions were even worse. Nearly everyone wore a variation on the metallic minidress (some better than others), and even the catastrophes were more confusing and sad than laughable. It just felt like something had sapped all the energy associated with rock and pop stars out of the Grammys. Where was the sexiness? The attitude? The creativity? And why is Alyson Hannigan introducing Gnarls Barkley (and didn't they perform at least year's show too)?

Because the concept of "best dressed" is naturally problematic at a show with such a pathetic showing, I'm going to break this list into "acceptable" and "ugly". Without further ado...

The Acceptable

This is Nicole Scherzinger, the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls (thank you Wikipedia). You may not recognize her, as she's not dressed as a cheap hooker as she and the other Dolls usually are. While this outfit isn't perfect (I would have taken the fabric from the train and used it to cover up that too-high slit), the color combination is young and very "pop" and the draped, gauzy fabric adds the kind of glamour not normally seen at the Grammys.

This is Lara Spencer. I don't know who she is, but she should know that this dress is a little too similar to the dress Reese Witherspoon rocked at the Globes just a month ago. But aside from that, it's still a great dress. The bright yellow is refreshing, the length and neckline are modest and flattering and the belt is a nice, trendy way of showing off her curves and adding some sexiness to the outfit. While most women were either overdressed or underdressed, Lara hit the nail on the head.

The Ugly

Mandy Moore is such a gorgeous girl... so whose idea was it to throw her in a shapeless, floor-length orange and brown floral-printed dress, and tie it together with a grommeted belt? And while I appreciate an actress who's not made up to the point of looking plastic, looking like you just rolled out of bed (the hair) and put on a swipe of lip gloss is simply too low-maintenance for a major awards show. If the 70's are back, please shoot me now.

I understand that the Dixie Chicks aren't ready to make nice, but do they have to punish us with a trio of black sack dresses that look more than defeated than defiant? Natalie (in the center) only adds to the weight of her dress with layers of heavy gold necklaces, but sisters Emily and Martie were smart to avoid accessorizing gowns that appear to have been intended for pregnant women. For three women with talent to spare and no shortage of personality, I'm disappointed that they didn't choose outfits that reflected their strong, feminine sound.

While I was relieved to see that Brooke Hogan decided to wear an outfit with more fabric than she wore in total for 2006, she's still very confused about what it means for a dress to fit. For one, it shouldn't be so tight across your hips that it bunches and creates unflattering horizontal stripes that draw attention to your widest part. Secondly, if a fabric is both skin tight and shiny, it's going to add weight where you barely have any, as Brooke's belly shows. I do like the color and Brooke deserves props for trying to look older and more glamourous (even if it's imitating Xtina's latest look), but the heavy makeup and too-stiff hair only serve to age her in the worst way.

I'm convinced that Beyonce is furious over the fact that Jennifer Hudson has completely overshadowed her first foray into "serious acting" and I think her expression in this photo says it all. From the hair to the dress and accessories, the normally lovely Beyonce looks like she just gave up. Her hair is limp and lifeless and the dress has a nice shape and length but is ruined by an excess of fabric and beading with no purpose (a hallmark of her mother's designs). Where is the Beyonce who roared "RING THE ALARM" and through sheer force of her fabulousness, out-diva'd the best of them? J.Hud may have kicked ass in "Dreamgirls", but you're still the queen B.

Another awards show, another schizophrenic Nelly Furtado outfit. She makes me wonder whether Bravo has a new reality show titled "style Nelly Furtado" where the contestants are forced to work together to combine their individual aesthetics into one outfit, which Nelly will gladly wear to each major awards show. Honestly, what is up with this dress? The costumey combination of the gold braiding, blue and silver sequins and limp strings of feathers dangling from the skirt is just too much for one poor dress to handle. Add a permed 80's bob and gigantic dangly earrings and you have yet another Nelly Furtado red carpet catastrophe.

Well that's it for this year's Grammy's fashion rundown... be sure to check back for my Oscars best and worst dressed list, I promise that there will be far more interesting celebs and outfits to discuss!

Review: LUSH Sexy Peel soap and Each Peach massage bar

Last week I discussed my aversion to LUSH cosmetics due to their ugly website and logo, and how a trip to one of their stores only added to my confusion about the brand image. But marketing aside, LUSH is a company with a very devoted customer base (British fans threatened to protest when LUSH announced that it was discontinuing a product) and it can't be because they love hanging out in the stores or on the website.

I've been on a citrus kick lately (in my beauty products, not my food) and when I heard about LUSH's new Sexy Peel soap from Carla at Product Girl I couldn't wait to pick up a bar for myself. The soap is getting a lot of hype because of it's strong, true to life citrus scent, and all you have to do is unwrap the packaging to realize that this soap packs a punch. My bathroom now smells like grapefruits, lemons and limes all the time, whether I showered that day or not. One side of the bar is packed with citrus peels, and is great for exfoliation (though they're really not rough enough to use on elbows or feet), while the other side gives a nice, thick lather.

It's incredibly refreshing to use in the morning and after a workout, when the combination of steam and intense citrus scent is both soothing and energizing at once. Unfortunately, a fabulous in-shower experience is all you get with Sexy Peel, as the scent doesn't last and the soap adds little to no moisture to your skin (which is actually part of the reason why I like to use it after I get back from the gym, and why I'd recommend it for anyone who is prone to body breakouts). Because my legs, arms, feet and hands tend to get dry, I still have to apply my Olay Moisturinse, so if you've got dry skin and are short on time in the morning, this product wouldn't be good for you.

Because I loved the Sexy Peel scent so much, I went back to LUSH to check out some of their other citrus-scented products, and came across the Each Peach massage bar. While Sexy Peel just about hit you over the head with lemons, grapefruits and limes, the Each Peach (a deceptive and stupid name, since it doesn't contain peach products or scent) is much more subtle and layered, with oils of mandarin orange, Persian lime, red grapefruit and sweet orange melted into a cocoa, mango and shea butter base. While it's called a massage bar, it's essentially a solid lotion bar that you rub into your skin until your body heat warms the bar and you can massage it into your skin.

It's very relaxing to rub the bar into your body, and I can only imagine how much better it would feel to have someone else massage it on. As far as product effectiveness, Each Peach performs a lot better than Sexy Peel, though it's by no means great. I found it to be moisturizing, and the scent fairly long lasting (5-6 hours), but it just wasn't enough for driest areas. Again, this is a good moisturizer for someone with normal or mildly dry skin, but any more and you'll need to use multiple products.

Based on my experience with these two products, LUSH succeeds in creating products that are very enjoyable to use, but do little more beyond that. In addition, the unconventional packaging of the products (a solid lotion bar and a soap bar that doesn't have a standard size or shape) tend to cause some difficulties. For instance, after I use Each Peach, I don't really know what to do with it, because it will ruin the wood on my bedside table (and possibly melt, since it's near the heater) and I end up just putting it back in the bag it came from and stuffing it in a drawer. When I bought a 1/3 of a pound of the Sexy Peel soap, I didn't realize that the shape and size would make it impossible to fit in a soap dish, and it's a little awkward handling it in the shower (after a week of use it's gotten better, and I now know to only buy a very small size in the future). These aren't big issues, but they're slight annoyances that make you appreciate more traditionally packaged products. Still, they're fun to use, have fabulous scents and are relatively inexpensive for a specialty product, so I recommend them for anyone with low-maintenance skin.