Saturday, September 01, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

This week Forbes came out with their annual list of the world's 100 most powerful women. I found it really inspiring to read all their stories.

Bon Bons in the Bath
is the latest to rave about Boots No. 7's Restore and Renew Beauty Serum.

The Beauty Brains
debunks the marketing myth that charcoal masks and creams improve acne.

At Slate, Emily Yoffe bemoans sexualized pre-teen fashions (push-up bras for girls who don't have breasts, etc). I expressed a similar sentiment in my post on Victoria's Secret's Pink line.

Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Wearing White After Labor Day

It's the age-old fashion question- is it okay to wear white after Labor Day?

I don't believe in hard and fast rules for fashion, as it takes the fun out of dressing up and trying new things, but I tend to give up certain white pieces after labor day, as an acknowledgement of the end of summer. White dresses and skirts in lightweight, summery fabrics go back into the closet, as do shoes and handbags that aren't accented in darker colors. But white t-shirts, sweaters, tank tops and dress pants are fair game year round.

But I'm curious what your take is- can one wear white after Labor Day? Do you?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Review: Lush Sandstone Soap

For those of us with oily skin or who work up a sweat regularly, body scrubs are the enemy. While the thought of sugary scrubs chock full of natural butters and oils is a nice one, in reality it means oil-slicked skin and body breakouts. If your body is producing a lot of oils naturally or because of exercise, the last thing you need is an oil-based scrub, but a little exfoliation with cleansing is always nice.

I have the problem of skin that's dry in some places (my arms and legs) and oily in others (my torso), exacerbated by daily sweaty workouts. Of the wonderful scrubs I've reviewed in the past, I'd never think to put them on my chest or back, though they work beautifully for combating my dry, itchy legs and arms. For the last few weeks I've been on a quest to find a product that would both cleanse and exfoliate without adding any unneeded oils to my skin. Liquid body washes are worthless in this realm, while loofahs attract germs and bacteria that can lead to more body breakouts if you don't replace them frequently. Many bar soaps contain gentle exfoliants like fruit pieces, but I wanted something that really felt scrubby, on par with my normal scrubs.

I checked out a couple of drugstore products, including Neutrogena's Body Clear scrub with Salicylic acid and exfoliating beads, but the scent was so strongly medicinal that I couldn't bring myself to shower in it. At Sephora, I came across a similar product by Peter Thomas Roth, but decided that a body wash would go to waste if I didn't use it with a loofah or washcloth, and I don't want to spend the time washing those every few days.

Resigned, I went into the Lush store to refill my stock of Sexy Peel soap (you can read my review here) when I noticed a stack of soaps that looked promising. It was called Sandstone, and as the saleswoman explained excitedly, "It contains the same fine sand that Brazilian women use to keep their skin smooth and gorgeous year round. You have noticed that Brazilian women always have amazing skin, right? You've seen Giselle?" "Uh, sure," I stammered, hoping to get out of this silly conversation as soon as possible.

I hate when salespeople give ridiculous pitches like this, so I put thoughts of Giselle out of my mind and asked more about the product. She assured me that the layer of sand wouldn't disintegrate under water or separate from the rest of the bar, but would come off gradually, depending on how hard you scrub with it. She said it's not very moisturizing (which is what I wanted) but that the lemon scent wasn't very strong (a bummer, since I love citrus).

Lush Sandstone Soap
is pricier than the other Lush soaps I've tried, which she attributed to the high price of Brazilian sand (which sounds like BS to me). Still, I was interested to see how it performed, so I bought a 4 oz bar and tried it out that night after I came home from the gym. She was right about the weak scent and the fact that it cut oil and sweat and I found it to be seriously exfoliating. Not in a bad way, because that's what I was looking for, but I was surprised by the strength of the sand. I found it was best to use the bar on it's side, to get more soap than sand. It was sudsy and I didn't need much to get a full body lather, and the sand really felt great when I massaged my back and arms.

Because the Sandstone is pricey, and because I do miss the amazing scent of my beloved Sexy Peel, I'm saving the Sandstone for post-workout showers, and using the Sexy Peel the rest of the time. I'm sad to report that after a week of use, I do not resemble a Brazilian model in any way, but I'd definitely recommend it for anyone looking for body exfoliation without the oil.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

5 Trends to Avoid This Fall

Fall is the season of "must-have" lists in fashion magazines, compiled by editors who are itching to get women hooked on the "latest and greatest" trends, particularly trends with a short lifespan, just so they can get you back to the stores (their advertisers) next season. But browse through their pages or take a walk through your local mall and you'll likely encounter a whole lot of ugly, from unflattering cuts and eye-scorching colors and prints to strange historical references and cheap-looking fabrics.

As a response to the push by magazines and stores to buy more and more things you don't need and won't wear for long, I've complied my own list of trends that you can feel good about not spending your money on.

1. Baggy silk shift dresses

They're absolutely everywhere this season in all their 1970's glory. The shiny fabric looks thin and cheap even on designer pieces, and the shape flatters absolutely no one. I've spoken before about my theory that some clothes and trends are made only for the most gorgeous women who can get away with a hideous, unflattering dress or sweater and still look beautiful. When even the models can't pull it off, it's a safe assumption that you can't either.

2. Oxfords

There is nothing pretty about this shoe, and the open-toed versions are downright frightening. I'm all for stealing men's styles and feminizing them for women's fashions, but the men can keep their oxfords. Every time I see a woman walking down the street in them, I can't help but think that some poor history reenactor is walking around shoeless under her 12 petticoats.

3. 80's club scene neon

Blame Henry Holland and his ubiquitous rhyming t-shirts, neon is back in style. Hot pink and even bright turquoise I can deal with, but neon yellow and green make all but the darkest skin tones look sickly. They also look far too summery for colder months. On a side note- the above dress is by Diane von Furstenberg... scary, no?

4. High-waisted pants

We've seen starlet after size 0-drop-dead-dressed-by-a-stylist starlet attempt this look and fail. Visually, it widens and enlarges the hips and thighs, and there's nothing sexy about buttons stretching from your crotch to your bellybutton. Sure, a little extra pocket room is nice, but at the cost of looking like your mother (or grandmother), the high-waist styles are to be avoided.

5. Colored jeans
If it ain't broke, why fix it? The blue jean never has and never will go out of style, but I can promise that these colored jeans will be choking sales racks by Christmas. Colored jeans are simply unnecessary, not to mention difficult to match with tops and shoes. They also attract a lot of attention to an area of the body most of us are trying to minimize, and combined with an unflattering skinny cut, this is high-risk fashion. I'm counting down the days until I never have to see another skinny jean again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Review: Crest Whitestrips

For many years I had perfectly white teeth. They were so white that they were whiter than the lightest color on the little paper the dental hygienists used to determine teeth discoloration. The reason for my supernaturally white teeth had nothing to do with my genes or flossing habits, but because for 20 years I never drank pop, tea, coffee or red wine and never smoked, the products that have been shown to discolor teeth. In essence, my teeth were pearly white virgins.

But all that changed last year when I discovered just how much easier my life was with the addition of caffeine, when Earl Grey became my drug of choice. 9 AM classes were suddenly tolerable, while writing for 3 straight hours was almost a breeze with a never-ending cup of tea by my side. I'll start drinking tea when I wake up and just keep refilling the cup until lunch, not including the green tea I like to have after dinner. I'd guess I average between 4 and 8 cups of tea a day.

I hadn't thought about any negative side effects of my new habit until I had my annual checkup at the dentist, when the hygienist asked when I started drinking coffee once I'd settled in the chair. "Black tea," I replied. "You should think about whitening, you've got some overall discoloration and a few noticeable stains," she said. Unwilling to shell out a few hundred for professional whitening, I vowed to try the drugstore alternative.

When I came home, I found a box of unopened Crest Whitestrips hiding in the back of my cabinet. "Score!" I thought, "I've just saved $25." I began using the strips twice daily as directed, and didn't notice any of the gum or teeth discomfort that they'd warned about on the box. After about 3 days I was noticing a decrease in the staining and a general lightening effect, maybe half a shade or so. I should mention that my teeth weren't very stained or dark, they were just a couple shades darker than usual, and with my pale skin, it was becoming more visible.

After 5 days of using the strips, I accidentally knocked over the box and noticed the expiration date on the bottom of the package. For some reason, it never occurred to me to check for an expiration date, but there it was- 03/28/2004. "2004!" I thought, "These strips were probably produced before I started high school!" To assuage my fears that I could have been poisoning myself with peroxide gone bad, I did a Google search and found that expired Whitestrips are safe, just less effective as time goes on. God bless the internet.

I decided that if I wanted the real deal, I should just go out and buy a new box, which I did. Not surprisingly, the new strips were far more effective than the expired ones. One day of using them and I noticed more of a difference than the previous 5 days. Unfortunately, I could also feel them working, as they burned my gums and made them far more sensitive to brushing. Still, the pain was tolerable, and encouraged by the progress I'd made, I stuck with them for another week, taking a break once to let my gums heal. Crest recommends using them for 2 full weeks, but I was able to get rid of all my stains and discoloration after 7 days of use, so I decided to stop there.

Overall, I was very impressed by the results I saw, and I'd recommend the product to anyone who wants whiter teeth but doesn't need the full dentist whitening. After a couple days of not using the strips, my gums are healing and are becoming less sensitive. If you do experience sensitivity, I've read that it helps to stagger treatments (every other day instead of every day, etc) and to use a sensitive toothpaste like Sensodyne. Also, Crest offers a number of different strengths of Whitestrips, including Premium and Premium Plus, which are more expensive than the "Classic" formula and promise to work faster. I haven't tried them, but unless you've found the regular version to be too weak, I'd recommend skipping the pricier formulas.

Anyone else have experience with other whitening products? I've always been curious about the GoSmile kits at Sephora and the numerous whitening toothpastes on the market.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Great Product Purge

When I first read about the British woman who gave up bathing, beauty products and even teeth cleaning for 6 weeks as an experiment for a BBC documentary, my response was the same as many bloggers, "eww." The thought alone of going just 3 days without washing my hair or face gives me goosebumps. I've spent enough time around hippies (cough, Northampton, Massachusetts, cough) to know how gross it is to be around someone who refuses to bathe, so I really felt for this woman's friends and family.

But after reading the Daily Mail article in its entirety, I began to think that there was a lot more to this woman's story than most bloggers and writers were giving it credit for. The woman, Nicky Taylor, actually learned some valuable lessons from this unpleasant experiment, and it changed the way she viewed beauty and beauty products.

She described herself as a "beauty product glutton" prior to the experiment, spending about $4,000 a year on products and slathering multiple lotions and potions on her face and body every morning and night. Yet a few weeks into her product purge, she found that her skin began to look better than ever, even developing a glow that made her look younger and more revived. Some of her skin conditions even went away, while her general health improved.

She attributed this improvement to two things. First, that "less is more," and that we often do more harm than good for our skin by piling on tons of products, which may negatively interact with one another or otherwise irritate the skin. Second, she believes that it was the lack of chemicals being applied to her body that improved her health.

Another interesting thing Nicky noticed was that, until people found out about her experiment, they didn't look at her or treat her differently. While she was extremely self-conscious about her looks (not to mention her body odor), outside of her immediate family, no one else seemed to notice.

After the experiment ended, Nicky decided to drastically cut down on her product usage, limiting herself to a bar of soap, organic shampoo and conditioner and a basic moisturizer. She said she no longer washes her hair every single day (though she still showers) and she's stopped worrying so much about other people noticing her physical flaws. "If people didn't notice when they had me standing next to them during the experiment, I'm sure they won't be aware of small things that would once have got me down, such as a bad hair day or a minor skin outbreak."

I think there are a few good lessons to learn from Nicky's story. I do believe that when it comes to beauty products, less really is often more. My skin has never been better since I gave up using masks, serums, scrubs and toners and instead rely on gentle washing and an oil-free moisturizer with SPF as well as a prescription acne cream. Has anyone else noticed something similar?

Based on every reputable scientific study I've read, I don't believe that the chemicals in beauty products are harmful to my health. But I think it is possible that the chemicals in different products could have a negative effect on skin and maybe even general health due to their interaction with each other. Perhaps Nicky's health improvement was psychosomatic, or had nothing to do with the beauty products, I don't know. Until I see more scientific proof that beauty products cause health problems, I'm staying skeptical.

I also think she had a great point about other people being oblivious to her looks. I think most of us are motivated to look good because we feel better about ourselves, not because we're trying to gain attention or impress others, but I think it's very easy to freak out about other people noticing our physical flaws ("this zit is huge, I know everyone is staring at it"). The time we spend obsessing over this is wasted, not only because there's usually nothing we can do to change the offending zit or bad hair day, but even more because no one else notices or cares.