Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reviews galore! N.Y.C., E.L.F., WnW, Quo, Bioderma & BH Cosmetics

Recently at my local Real Canadian Superstore, I stopped for a moment to linger at the NYC Cosmetics display. Sure enough, a few items jumped out and I decided to give this line another try.
I picked up this beautiful palette that has everything I wanted for fall, the IndividualEyes eyeshadow compact in Union Square.
A common complaint about eyeshadow palettes no matter the price point, is that too often, they lack the matte transitional shades (slightly darker than your natural skintone) that one needs to achieve a complete look. Well this affordable little palette contains four shadows, a nude primer plus a white cream highlighter; there isn't a single element that I would switch. See that third shade, the matte brown latte shade? It is my ideal crease colour, and now gets used often, no matter what else I'm applying. The light vanilla shade below it is a natural and effective highlight shade for browbones, in the center of the lid to brighten the eyes and add dimension, and in the inner eye's tear duct area to make everything pop. The shimmery copper just above it is a must-have fall staple and looks stunning on fair-skinned beauties who want to rock a smoky eye that isn't scary-dark. The burgundy shade at the top was what I was after when I was dreaming of lush autumnal colours. It is well-pigmented and vivid, properties I specifically look for in dark-toned eyeshadows, in deep burgundy satin. I've experienced minimal creasing with these shadows but I haven't yet tried it without my favourite lid primer (not the one in the palette, but the I <3 Stage Eyeshadow Base by Essence).

The problem with being darker-skinned in a beauty marketplace that caters mostly to those much lighter is that many (most) nudes are not so for us. The lighter nudes tend to look very chalky and darker ones usually look pink or coral-orange against my skin. I spotted this NYC In a Minute Nail Polish in Brown Stone and picked it up along with the Matte Me Crazy Mattifying Top Coat, which looked white and pasty around my cuticles when worn over the whole nail, so I guess I'll have to practice a bit more with this one. However, at $1.99 each, I'll find another way to use it for nail art or something, so I'm not upset I got it.
Brown Stone however? Look for yourself. It shows up as a true neutral/cool grey-brown, a shade I was craving this fall for my nails (and lips). When you have olive skin, many neutrals are too light as mentioned above, but they often show up with an orange or pink hue that isn't what I was going for. The colour selection was enormous, but the thing about this polish is that it lasts and lasts! For the price, I did not expect to go five days (as pictured here) before it started to look a bit less immaculate, but still had no major chipping! I will definitely look to NYC's nail polishes, which I like almost as much as Essence Cosmetics' nail polishes that is currently my favourite affordable brand,

Finally from this brand, I picked up NYC's Show Time Volumizing Waterproof Mascara in Black. I prefer tubing mascaras to any other, as I find they are the only kind that do not smudge, flake or smear, especially under my eyes. I have not yet found a drugstore mascara can replace my Blinc, Geisha or Fairy Drops mascaras. This version had a small-medium brush, applied without clumps, maintained lash separation, and I noted that it preserved the curl of my lashes very well, even after three coats. It has decent staying power and wasn't a pain to remove, but for my tiny Asian lashes, I want something that's more 'industrial-strength' volumizing and lengthening. If you already have long lashes and want an affordable waterproof mascara to darken and set your lashes, this may be a good affordable option for you.

Now to a pricier brand that made its name with the world's favourite micellar cleansing water, Bioderma. It seems that for my whole adult life, I've been looking for a face sunscreen that I love. I have SO MANY criteria that matter to me it's almost impossible that anything will ever fully satisfy everything I want. My sunscreen demands include: non-chemical/natural mineral protectants, paraben/sulfate/fragrance/irritant-free, moisturizing but non-greasy, SPF 50 or higher, non-chalky, lightweight enough to be worn under makeup comfortably, and I could go on nitpicking from there. Bioderma's Photoderm Cream SPF60 sunscreen is working nicely so far. My biggest problem in fitting this step into my routines, be they quick or more painstaking, is that I struggle to consistently remember to use it. I know that face products with SPF built-in do not provide adequate protection, so I will keep trying to change my habits for the better. Designed for sensitive skin, it is much less irritating than so many sunscreens I've put on my face, and after about 20 minutes, I felt like it had dried down and absorbed enough so that wearing makeup was not only viable but it acted like a primer - most high-protection sunscreens I've used cause makeup to slide around resulting in a patchy mess. Rated SPF 60/UVA 42, it is scentless, paraben-free, waterproof, photostable and won't clog pores and so far, hasn't burned my eyes, which is my #1 problem with face sunscreens. Fingers crossed it keeps performing, and we may just have a winner!
The Refreshing after-sun milk for body is a gentle moisturizer intended to soothe and cool hot, dry skin while adding back hydration. I didn't mind the light, fresh scent, and although my always-dry skin generally favours the thickest, richest emmolients it can get, I like how this milky lotion glides onto the skin. It makes sense as a summer moisture layering base, but once again, it's hard to fit a new product into my routines so I struggle to remember to apply this after I bathe or shower. It's in a generous 200mL tube and is available at Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall's in Canada.

Next we have three items from e.l.f. Cosmetics, starting with this High Definition Undereye Setting Powder. Although the lipbalm pot-sized jar is smaller than I expected, there is still plenty of product for the price. It is definitely an impressive setting powder; ultra-finely milled, it is brightening and crease-resistant. Even though it looks quite light in the container, it disappears on my skin when applied. The diminutive packaging would be improved by some kind of sifter or stopper top to prevent messy poofs of powder when I open the jar (and one clumsy drop will result in a 100% loss of product contents) and would make it a perfect item to take when traveling. At $4.99 CAD, it is well worth the price.
While I wait and wait to hopefully one day get my hands on e.l.f.'s Small Tapered Studio Brush, I decided to give this simple Studio Blush Brush a try to placate me in the meantime. I am delighted to say that I ended up with a dream of a beauty tool! I wanted that other brush specifically to apply setting powder (usually yellow) under my eyes. As it turns out, THIS is the brush I should have been shopping for all along. It is perfectly ideal with luxuriously soft bristles that don't shed, with a rounded head which is perfect for picking up and buffing in face powder, in a size that is better suited for the task than the original brush I sought.
Although originally labelled a blush brush, this one is just too perfect for setting your face powder, especially in targeting spots as when contouring.
The third item I bought is the Studio Powder Brush, a flat-topped synthetic face brush. This brush is really well-suited for a final overall layer of translucent setting powder all over the skin, as the bristles and shape make buffing and blending effortless. With a sturdy handle and well-constructed ferrule, it is hard to believe that this brush too will only set you back about $4.99 CAD.
The e.l.f. line is available in-store in Western Canada at London Drugs, Real Canadian Superstore and Walmart and online.
I could hardly do a faves post without including my current favourite brush from Quo, Shoppers Drug Mart's consistently excellent in-house brand. I've been a fan of their makeup brushes for many years, and I recently found this Quo Multipurpose Brush, an dense, angled synthetic kabuki-style brush with a comfortable, sturdy feel. I've been alternating between using it to apply (Quo's amaaazing!) CC cream and LeiLani's tinted moisturizer, and it results in an impeccable application of colour. The packed-in bristles do not absorb product unnecessarily but leave it on your skin instead. Although it cost a bit more than some drugstore brushes at around $22.00 CAD, the consistent high-quality of Quo's products as well as the variety of specialized brushes they offer make it totally worth the money.

I put in another order with BH Cosmetics - I was so happy with my first order that I decided to do it again! This time I wanted to try some of their brushes so I picked up their Brush 8 - Round Stippling Brush for face, pictured here. The bristles are stiffer than any of my other stippling brushes, and denser too. Neither of these are drawbacks however, since this brush is ideal to apply any face products that are thicker and require good blending, like cream foundations, concealers, blushes and contour/highlighters. At $4.50 USD, this brush is real a steal.

I added Brush 22 - All Over Brush and Brush 11 - Highlighter Brush to my order, with mixed results. I like the 22 brush much to set and blend my under-eye powder since it is just the right size to do so with just a couple quick swipes. The 11 brush however, is not my favourite. It left me wanting by not being as soft as I imagined, nor as tapered, so instead of being a brush that I reach for to highlight, it just seems like a big ol' crease blending brush on steroids. Both of these natural bristle brushes were only $3.50 USD each, and neither has shed any hairs, so I'll find a way to love them both.

The final brush I got was their Brush 16 - Deluxe Fan Brush. Sometimes, when something is really so difficult, I have to stop and ask myself if the struggle is really worth it. That is how it is for fan brushes and me. This one is too small, and that one is too large; one is too stiff, the other too flimsy; too sparse, too dense... arrrgh! Well, add another to the collection of "Fan Brushes that Got No Love". This one is massive and floofy and too hairy and it sheds. It would be effective to bronze/highlight all over the face or body, but since I wanted something that would pinpoint and target areas of dazzling fleekishness, my search will continue.

Speaking of the f-word, also from BH is this perfect little 3-in-1 eyebrow kit appropriately named the Flawless Brow Trio in Dark. For me it is the quickest, most fail-proof option for any complete brow look. The consistency of the tinted wax on the left is ideal to colour in sparse brows and then set them in place for the day, and I seem to favour it to pencils. I think pencils deposit too much product on the brow hairs whereas this wax, applied with a stiff angled brush allow you to wiggle the wax into the base of the hairs instead, which is neater and feels less heavy. The complementary brow powders can be used alone, which I've been doing almost every day since I received it, or with the wax, for dramatic, long-wearing eyebrow fleekness. Changing the combination and placement of these three products results in many different brow looks. Wax over powder makes the darkest, boldest brow, best suited to pair with evening or glam looks where that intensity won't look overdone. Powder over wax can be used for a more natural effect, especially if you place the lighter shade in the center and inner edge of the brows with the darker powder filling out the rest, adding depth and realism. I can't believe this palette was only $4.00 USD and it is now a staple product in my beauty routine.

I spotted the Wet n Wild Color Icon Eyeshadow Palette in Comfort Zone when I was grocery shopping at my neighbourhood Real Canadian Superstore and I had to grab it. It has been about a decade since I last ventured into WnW eye makeup, but tales of the legendary dupe in the bottom right corner and the ridiculously low price made this a no-brainer. Named "Definer" in the pan, it's a true duochrome shadow, with a chocolatey-taupe base and a metallic teal-reflecting overlay and it is gorgeous. It's a great substitute for pricier versions from MAC or ColourPop, but what makes this even better is that there are seven other shadow shades along with it, all surprisingly well-pigmented and totally wearable. If only there was a matte transition shade and a matte black shadow to use as eyeliner, you would have all you need to achieve endless eye looks for just a few bucks.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sweet LeiLani Cosmetics: my HOLY GRAIL, must-have products list (Part 2 of 2)

For me, it all started with just one eyeshadow many years ago. I spotted a big, beautiful shadow pot from a cosmetics line I had never seen before in the most gorgeous shimmery olive/khaki colour, at a Save-On Foods (a retail grocery chain here in B.C.). Intrigued, I had to buy it. To my delight, the buttery-smooth shadow glided onto my lids, leaving behind exactly the brilliant hue I was looking for, a terrific alternative to a heavy, dark smoky eye (particularly true for those with fair skin).  The Seaside Mineral Jewels Eye Shadow in Seaweed continues to be one of my favourite shadows, applied wet or dry for different effects. Delving deeper into Sweet LeiLani's cosmetics formulations, one quickly learns why the products cause no irritation. I discovered that her complexion products are so purposefully formulated with skin-healing ingredients that some people use them to treat scarred or damaged skin overnight while they sleep, with dramatic results!
Naturally this sounded preposterous to me at first. Sure the Purely Tinted Moisturizer that the in-house makeup artist colour-matched for me immediately made all my existing face products obsolete. Not only was the shade perfect, but it left my skin feeling hydrated with a glowy finish that I love. As I age, I'm steering clear of overly drying/mattifying formulas that suck the moisture from my face and enhance dry patches and fine wrinkles. It's also increasingly important that I pay attention that face products match my current skin tone. Wearing makeup several shades too light makes my ever-darkening under-eye circles and skin discolourations elsewhere on my face even more noticeable. But never did I expect an all-natural tinted moisturizer to be long-wearing and so wonderful to wear on my skin that I was actually sad to have to wash it off at the end of the day! After two weeks of wearing this tinted moisturizer almost daily, my sun-parched skin was not only much less dry, but I see less dark spots and no bumps or texture whatsoever since I began using it. This product delivers much more coverage than your average tinted moisturizer, and includes a non-chemical sunscreen, so it perfects and protects the skin; the older I get, the more I appreciate face products that provide built-in SPF protection.

When the in-house makeup artist told me that some people are drawn to the healing and treatment aspects of the face products and wear the line's mainstay Skin Care Camouflage Cover to bed at night, I was skeptical. I picked up the Camouflage Cover in the shade Brown Beauty. This all-in-one skin treatment/complexion perfector is now one of my top 3 'desert island' products; I could survive with only this, a tinted lipbalm and a tubing mascara if I had to, the perfect under-5-minute routine that can be done in the car, at the office, and on mornings when you've slept through your alarm (again). The rich creamy product comes potted in a tin so there's no mess and is ideal for travel. Chosen in your exact shade, this is both a layerable foundation and a mid to full-coverage concealer. Pick a few shades lighter or darker if you're looking for smoothly-blendable products to use to highlight and contour.

In about the time it would normally take to apply your moisturizer and sunscreen, these face products can be used together for a picture-perfect, long-wearing makeup application (Tinted Moisturizer on clean skin, Camouflage Cover to spot correct and define eye area, set and perfect with the powder), separately or in any combination (except powder first, obvs), to achieve varying levels of coverage that still allows your natural skin to show through. It's only a matter of adding light layers and blending out visible lines with a brush, damp makeup sponge or clean fingers for your desired level of opacity.
The immediate difference I noticed with Leilani's face products is how perfect they make my skin tone. Since I have naturally olive tanned skin that becomes much darker in the summer with visible areas of discoloration and hyperpigmentation (that are unfortunately becoming more pronounced as I barrel through my 40s!), combined with a yellow undertone, many foundations, concealers and powders just bring a grey pallor to my face. I'm guessing that LeiLani's background in film and TV makeup is responsible for these realistic, completely comfortable-to-wear, perfectly-pigmented formulas. I can't describe how shocking it is that they actually have shades dark enough for me, in such perfect tones that I don't need to 'add colour back' once applied.
Now, after a full month of wearing all three of these products almost daily (and sometimes nightly!), I can tell you that I have found my ultimate perfect complexion products. More than once this summer when my skin was irritated and dry, I put aside my doubts and applied either the Tinted Moisturizer and on occasion the Skin Care Camouflage Cover and was absolutely amazed to realize that yes, they both in fact do, calm my skin down and restore moisture to flaky-dry areas and even sunburned skin.
It happened mid-summer that the skin on my nose received an overdose of sun and was red and sore for a few days before becoming discoloured and flaking for several more, my first such experience. I now feel immense sympathy for my fair friends who burn at the (literal) drop of a hat and need to safeguard daily against UVA and UVB exposure. Imagine my surprise when these formulas made my first sunburn ever feel less raw and painful, while providing immediate sun protection to prevent any further damage.  I haven't wrapped my mind around the idea of wearing these complexion products to bed at night, but with the surge of sleeping masks and overnight treatments on the beauty market lately, it no longer sounds weird to me. I'm also now less concerned about staining to my bedlinens since I've found these products to be transfer-resistant on clothing and such, but still easily dissolve with makeup remover or my cleanser of choice.

Reading more about how this line was created, it all begins to make sense. As a Cosmetic Designer and Certified Paramedical Makeup and Tattoo Specialist in Canada, LeiLani's professional expertise combined with her desire to help patients deal with skin problems and hyper-sensitivity in the creation of this line. 

To set and perfect my face, I'm now hooked on this powder compact, the Island Radiance Bronzer Powder in the shade Sun. Although packaged as a bronzer, I use this as a pressed powder and it's another can't-live-without product that I reach for almost every day. My ultra-dry skin really agrees with this unscented, perfectly matte powder, which is a rarity that I attribute to the stringent choice of ingredients. This is an ideal product to use to contour fairer skin, and to my surprise there is even a darker shade in the line. The Camera Ready pressed powder compact provides the same perfecting, oil-absorbing finish for those with fair skin. The main reason I'm loving this powder is that it resists settling into my fine lines and pores. Too many powders and mattifying products highlight my increasingly obvious dryness and wrinkles. It is most pronounced under my eyes, where creams and powders quickly begin to look crepe-ey, where products slide and bunch together, at which point the purple hue I was trying to conceal shows through. Then I can choose to add more product in an attempt to remedy the bare patches (this rarely works BTW) or I can try and smear the existing mess back into place. If any eye makeup is already applied, this becomes an increasingly risky manoeuvre. All of this is to say that for a flawless face, it's best to avoid overly-mobile products, and once I set these three products, I don't need to re-apply or touch-up - they stay in place without fading, creasing or oxidizing.

The blush you see here is the Colour Tides Blusher in Hibiscus. While it may look dramatic in the pan, the product is the perfect shade of flushed cheeks on natural skin. Finely-milled like all of LeiLani's powders, it glides onto the face but doesn't streak or look harsh and gives a healthy glow to the face, minus juvenile-looking sparkles and messy bits of glitter all over. Lately I find it is all I need to warm up and add depth to my face, another instant favourite, here in an ideal fall shade suited to a wide range of skin tones.

Finally, let me tell you a bit about these lip products. I sampled many of the shades in-store and settled on three to take home, two lipsticks and a lipgloss. The larger photo is of my most-beloved everyday lipstick, the Hawaiian Petals Lip Shade in Macadamia Nut, a rich satin lipstick that was exactly what I wanted when I was shopping for a new fall lippie. It's not quite matte, is long-wearing and isn't glossy or glittery. It's an almost nude brown with a brick hue, absolutely perfect, and unscented too.
The smaller photo is the same product in the shade Sea Urchin, and was a surprise to me. While it wasn't the first shade I gravitated towards in the tube, once applied, it shows up as a beautiful duochromatic, almost metallic purple-mauve. The Lip Splash lip gloss in the shade Snorkel (pictured below) is simply perfect; it's a natural formula so I don't cringe knowing I ingest most of it, in a sheer, hydrating gloss that has just the right amount of sparkle with particles that are small enough to not feel gritty on the lips. It's so comfortable and not sticky to wear that I've put aside my NYX Butter Gloss in favour of this unscented version.  In a final twist of lip heaven, I found that wearing the Sea Urchin Lip Shade under a layer of Snorkel Lip Splash combines to create a stunning metallic purple-tinged lip colour that I've had people stop and ask me about.

The photo on the right is swatches of my Sweet LeiLani Cosmetics lip products on my hand. TOP: Lip Splash lip gloss in Snorkel; MIDDLE: Lip Shade in Sea Urchin; BOTTOM: Lip Shade in Macadamia Nut

With more and more cosmetics lines vying for our money, it's easy to become jaded and lose that sense of excitement over a new line or natural products. But every once in a while you find something made with such consistent attention to detail and stringent quality standards that it stands out. This is definitely one of those lines. It is by far and away higher-quality than anything I've seen for the price, and besides, I think that the number of medical patients who use and rave about her products to treat and conceal is more convincing than any airbrushed photo of a model could ever be. I feel like right now there is a bourgeoning of 'all-natural' cosmetics (some fraudulently so) and indie makeup lines. While it may be fun to play with new products and ideas, at my age (45) I'm not willing to compromise the health or safety of my skin. Knowing that a long-time makeup industry professional is responsible for every aspect from formulation, packaging and sales of these cosmetics means I'm confident about the integrity and the quality of the products. Honestly, just give this line a try, I really do think you're likely to find several 'can't-live-without' items, and if you do, please let me know what you got and how you like it - I'm planning on ordering more and can't decide what to get next!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sweet LeiLani - BC's hidden beauty gem goes nation-wide! (Part 1 of 2)

I've wanted to spread the word about this wonderful brand of makeup that's made right here in BC's Lower Mainland for a long time (now available across Canada and internationally online. I stumbled across it several years ago at a local Save-On Foods and discovered a wonderful company story in the process. Sweet LeiLani Cosmetics was created by a professional film/tv makeup artist named Leilani, the line was initially developed to treat and cover skin conditions and discolouration resulting from illness or surgery. She used her experience and expertise to address the hyper-sensitivity of patients' skin with full-coverage, easy-to-use products that assist skin healing. This paraben-free, vegan, gluten-free line of unfragranced products is also cruelty-free, something that matters to more and more beauty buffs, especially out here on the Wet Coast.


It's no wonder that creator/owner Leilani's namesake brand of makeup and skincare feels different; everything is made with unique attention to ingredients and it translates into the quality of the finished product. Understated packaging reveals painstakingly formulated cosmetics that give maximum natural-looking coverage (for males too!) with no adverse skin reaction. The line's foundation and powders rival the priciest versions you can buy, but at your local grocery or drug store!

Since I've developed low expectations for natural complexion products, I was surprised to learn how different this line aims to be; products require minimal amounts to get perfect results since everything is formulated to industry standards by a seasoned professional artist. Her emphasis is to care for skin that may be healing, while seamlessly covering and evening out one's tone so those with skin problems can feel confident about their looks while not compromising skin health. This line is full of good stuff like rosehip oil, green tea and grapeseed extract, the kinds of ingredients I would use if I had the wherewithal to make my own.

LeiLani Cosmetics products are available at Rexall and Pharmasave drugstores, Save on Foods locations, in the BC Ferries on-board stores and at select salons & boutiques, as well as online. However, since the line's complexion products are so heavily pigmented, if you are able to make it to their sales boutique in Langley, BC to be properly colour-matched, you are certain to leave with the perfect shade for your skin tone. Since I am rarely able to find shades of complexion products that suit me well, I will admit that I was more than surprised when the in-house artist matched me with foundation, concealer and powder that are the best I've ever worn.

(Part 2 will contain the products I hauled on two visits to their boutique and my in-depth reviews after several weeks of using them.)