Thursday, March 27, 2014

March Birchbox Product Reviews and Google Drive

Hi everyone, so great news - I have discovered Google Drive. Hahahaha, I know, right?!

I went to download the iOS update for my phone, and of course there wasn't enough room on my phone for it, so I had to delete like half my photos (but I definitely uploaded them into iPhoto first...). Then, after uploading to my computer, my computer needed to be updated also, and then it started really screwing up and telling me there wasn't enough room on my startup disk and that it's running out of room to run things from and all of that - so I needed someplace to store all my photos that I don't have hard copies of yet...which is, like, almost all of them, haha. Lots of my photos I can delete after I use them, like the ones I take for the blog, and I obviously make CDs of the catalogues of photos from huge life events like graduation and wedding candids and stuff like that, but I had about a gazillion other photos that I couldn't bear to delete forever but also haven't found a "home" for yet. So I asked some friends what they recommend, and ended up trying out Google Drive. I installed in on my computer, and on my phone, so hopefully when I move photos into those folders they are stored someplace that's NOT my computer disk or my phone...right? Please, someone techy and smart out there, please please confirm this for me? I know I'm not tech savvy, but seriously I should at least be able to figure out if they're still taking up a bunch of disk space on my computer...right?

Anyway, I'm excited to have some form of cloud storage for all my photos because they sure do take up a LOT of memory on these new fangled tech gadgets we all have. Holy cannoli.

I'm assuming you probably didn't come here to read about my adventures with Google Drive, so I'll get to the reviews of my March Birchbox products. Below is a photo of my March Bb:

1. Air Repair Rescue Balm
2. COOLA Tinted Matte SPF 30 for Face
3. Curly Hair Solutions Curl Keeper
4. Vasanti Cosmetics BrightenUp! Enzymatic Face Rejuvenator
5. Mighty Leaf Tea Pouches (Organic Earl Grey, Green Tea Tropical, Chamomile Citrus)
BONUS! A treat from Ghirardelli: Cherry Tango Intense Dark Chocolate square

1. Air Repair Rescue Balm: "Balms away! This all-natural salve repairs dry, cracked skin anywhere on the body. Dab onto chapped lips, cuticles, hands, elbows, and knees."


This product feels really smooth and moisturizing, not too heavy although does feel like it can heal super dry areas. I used it on my cuticles and a couple areas on my face that had some dry patches forming. I did not use it on my lips because it's kind of funny smelling and I didn't want to have it right under my nose to have to smell it. I have only used it before going to bed because it doesn't really soak in like a lotion would, it's definitely a healing balm similar to Vaseline or something like that. I do like how it works, but I don't think it necessarily works BETTER than other similar products. I think I prefer Mary Kay's Extra Emollient Night Cream, it smells nicer and does the same thing.

2. COOLA Tinted Matte SPF 30 for Face: "Organic tinted moisturizer with lasting sun protection that evens tone and masks flaws. Smooth a thin layer onto clean skin."

When this first came, I totally thought it would be a horrible color because I'm SO fair. I don't use sunscreen a whole lot anymore because I really need the vitamin D for my mood and mental health (more on that in another post on stress management), so I kind of wish this was SPF 15 instead of 30 because I will more than likely be using up this whole thing in the next couple of weeks. It's super super light, has just enough tint to even my skin tone so it's not so pink-splotchy, and it doesn't smell funny like a lot of sunscreens do. It's touted as organic, and sure it has some organic ingredients, but let's be clear - chemical sunscreens are not exactly good for our bodies - there is evidence that these chemicals easily travel transdermally and can affect our endocrine systems (think: hormones...not something I want to screw with anymore). So, whether "organic" or not, I'm not a fan of sunscreens in general anymore. I do, however, need some sort of protection from long periods in the sun, because I am so fair and a bad sunburn is worse than the bad things about sunscreen, in my opinion. Anyway, I was pretty surprised this product doesn't feel greasy at all and it feels like it just soaks into the skin, leaving a very-well-blended, more even tone. It doesn't smear funny or anything either, which is great - it spreads out really nicely.

3. Curly Hair Solutions Curl Keeper: "This water-based, weightless styling lotion keeps curls shiny, defined, and frizz-free. Comb through wet hair from roots to ends."

This sample was HUGE...a tiny tiny bit of this serum goes a LONG way. I'll probably get at least 6 uses out of it, I've only used it twice so far and it still feels almost full. That said, I don't think this is like a super awesome product. It's just sort of...meh. Maybe it's meant for super curly hair that is frizzy, to help hold tighter curls in place without reacting to humidity; my hair isn't super curly but has some significant waves. It does tend to frizz a little bit, but maybe not enough to notice the effects of this product? I dunno, I'm not that impressed. Today I used it in combination with my Beauty Protect spray in conditioner (from my December Birchbox), and I'm pretty sure my hair only really feels the effects of the conditioner. Curly Hair Solutions: not for me.

4. Vasanti Cosmetics BrightenUp! Enzymatic Face Rejuvenator: "This powerful exfoliator mimics the results of professional microdermabrasion, minus the potential for redness and sensitivity. Three to five times a week, wet your face and massage a pea-sized amount into skin; rinse off."

I used to use the Mary Kay TimeWise Microdermabrasion set that had two steps: the microderm scrub, followed by the replenishing moisturizer designed to help skin heal from the microderm. Let's be real here, microdermabrasion is designed to remove the top layer of the skin, which is dead skin cells anyway, BUT they are protective. When we remove them, skin can be easily irritated. Yes, it makes your skin look new and fresh, but the potential for irritation is high. The Vasanti BrightenUp! is pretty great in my opinion. It's not as harsh as the Mary Kay MDA, but it also didn't come with a post-MDA moisturizer like MK does, so I still need to apply my normal moisturizer after using it. (They may make a moisturizer to use afterwards, I just don't have it since it didn't come in my Birchbox.) I use it in the shower so I'm not tempted to scrub harder by using a washcloth over the sink. My skin doesn't get as irritated with this as it used to with too-frequent of use of the Mary Kay kind. The Vasanti also smells pretty good. For a MDA product, I like this quite a bit.

5. Mighty Leaf Tea Pouches (Organic Earl Grey, Green Tea Tropical, Chamomile Citrus)

Mighty Leaf is pretty much whole leaf tea in separate bags so you don't need your own tea-steeping filter thing. I have only tried the Earl Grey so far, but it was pretty darn good. I like tea quite a bit, but I'm usually not a fan of Earl Grey. I prefer Irish Breakfast, Chai, or other black breakfast teas - normally Earl Grey doesn't brew strong enough for me. Mighty Leaf, though, was really delicious. I used a single teabag to brew my entire normal tea pot worth of tea, and I enjoyed it all morning with my half-almond-milk-half-heavy-cream mixture (I know, I'm weird about that, but it's how I like it). I'm looking forward to trying the energizing Green Tea Tropical and relaxing Chamomile Citrus flavors, given that I know they will brew nice and strong and flavorful. I may enjoy Mighty Leaf quite a bit, but on the Birchbox website this tea is $9.95 for only 15 teabags...!!! For those of you who know me, that's much too expensive when I can enjoy my standard Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast Tea for the discount price of $3 for 80 teabags...just saying. My other fave Irish Breakfast Tea is Barry's (actually an Irish company, makes it all that much better, too), which I believe is about $10 for 80 teabags on Amazon...? Also not a bad price considering it's ACTUALLY IRISH!

BONUS! A treat from Ghirardelli: Cherry Tango Intense Dark Chocolate square

This little morsel was delicious! The "intense dark" was the best part, I think, because it made it not too sweet, so it was definitely enjoyable with wine - those of you who have been to wine tastings or dinners with my mom, you'll know she LOVES to bring up the fact that wine and chocolate don't actually go together unless you've got either a SUPER sweet wine (generally not all that great...) or a VERY dark (and therefore, bitter) chocolate. This chocolate flavor was just the right amount of bitter to pair with the wine I happened to have open, and the sweetness I felt really just came from the bits of cherry, so it still went well with the wine. Pretty fantastic. The ingredients list was short and not full of chemicals, too, so yes, I might be inclined to purchase a box of these sometime in the future for a party or hostess gift. Probably not from Birchbox because let's face it, Target carries Ghirardelli and who can resist a trip to Target? NOT THIS GIRL!

Alright, so there you have it: my March Birchbox products and a little blurb about computer troubles, haha! Next up will be a discussion of some other products that I acquired via Sephora samplers and some other products I have used in the past. Also coming up: new job, less stress, managing stress, etc etc etc. Wow, so many changes have occurred in the last month or so, and they have been GREAT. So, my stress level has fallen SHARPLY. Always good. More on that in future posts!

Until then, friends, be well and take care! Oh, and feel free to share any info on your own Birchbox products, and check out my girl over at I'm Better In Real Life for some additional product reviews and general life banter that is fun to read!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

February Birchbox and Some Housekeeping/Announcements

Happy Sunday to you all! It has been a while since my last post, and also a while since I actually received my February Birchbox, but I couldn't write any reviews until I had actually used all the products, so here we are.

A few things to note/upcoming posts/random thoughts before I jump into Feb's Bb.
1.  I have managed to collect a bunch of additional cosmetics/skin care items that I've started trying in addition to my Bb stuff, and I will be reviewing several items in a couple more posts. I'm excited to share some great products I've found and my experience with a bunch of new products!
2.  I do have every intention of continuing posts about other things in life also, I just have been SUPER busy getting an additional part-time job! Woop! Predictable income that will help me fund my own slowly growing practice, and participate more predictably in funding our household as well. FINALLY something consistent.
3.  These next couple of weeks are going to be super crazy with starting the new consistent part-time job, so bear with me - I'll have some updates on stress management and how it's been affecting me.
4.  Speaking of stress management, other topics I'll be discussing in the near future include: sleep, acne, performance at the gym, food experiments, and some amazing podcasts I've been listening to lately - so, basically, my lifestyle, what I've been doing to try to improve it, and some good resources for you if you are so inclined to check them out.
5.  Also related to stress, I have gone to yoga several times in the last two months (if you know me, I'm NOT a yoga person at all, so this is a big deal), and it's been pretty awesome. I'll have a tidbit about that as well, if not on its own then with the stress management stuff.

I think that's about all of the random things I needed to say...without making this post FOREVER long, let's get to the Birchbox products!!! (below photo pulled from Birchbox)

The items I received were:
1.  Beauty Protector Protect & Oil hair oil
2.  Cynthia Rowley Liquid Eyeliner in Black Ink
3.  Harvey Prince Hello fragrance
4.  Previse HydroMilk moisturizer
5.  Ruby Wing Color Changing Nail Polish in Ride 'Em Cowgirl

1.  Beauty Protector hair oil: "This just-for-you hair oil defends against UV rays, heat, and breakage. Work 1-3 drops into damp hair, or to the ends of dry hair. Perfect for all hair types."

If you read the review of my December Birchbox items, you will know that I LOVE LOVE LOVE Beauty Protector products - my December box had the spray-in conditioner in the red bottle, and it's amazing. I still love it, though I have found I use significantly less than I did the first time I used it - I need my hair to go at least two days in between washings, so more than three spritzes of the conditioner was weighing my hair down too much. Anyway, this oil is pretty fantastic as well. It makes my hair feel awesomely soft and healthy. I like that a little bit goes a long way; I don't think I would purchase this product simply because I already have the spray-in conditioner which, as an added bonus, is actually a detangler, I prefer products that detangle in addition to protecting and making my hair feel soft and great. Beauty Protector products are reasonably priced in the $20-30 range depending on the product; if I did not already have the spray-in conditioner, $21.95 for this hair oil would not be unreasonable to me.

2.  Cynthia Rowley Liquid Eyeliner in Black Ink: "Ultraprecise, smudgeproof liner from the designer's just-launched makeup line. Gently trace upper lash line from inner to outer corner. Lightly stipple bottom lash line."

The texture (is that the right word) of this eyeliner is pretty great. It goes on really smooth, I wasn't fighting for the color to be consistent when I was making the line on my eyelid, like some pencils can be, and I wasn't really struggling much with the fact that it was liquid either - I'm notorious for sucking at applying liquid eyeliner. What I didn't really like so much about this was the applicator itself - did your mom ever have those, like, feather tipped markers to use on rubber stamps to color the stamp different colors before stamping on a card or whatever? Do you know what I'm talking about? Haha, anyway, the tip applicator for this eyeliner is really long and feather-like, so I had a hard time using it because it was too flimsy at the very end. Maybe if you're a pro at using liquid liner, you wouldn't have this problem. I am still searching for an eyeliner that is super easy to use (pencil OR liquid, don't care), doesn't smear all over my eyelid as soon as I open my eye, and doesn't scratch my eyelid during application (some of my pencils do that, and it's bugging me). Also, I'm moving more towards products without parabens and phthalates anyway, and this does not fall into that category. This product was "meh" for me, and not worth the $18 for a full sized package.

3.  Harvey Prince Hello fragrance: "Best-selling spritz that mingles cheerful citrus with floral notes. Well, hello there!"

Sorry the photo quality of this is not awesome (this goes for all the photos taken in my bathroom, actually...). So, this fragrance is pretty great! I like how it smells on me, it's citrus-y AND floral, without being sweet or overpowering, and the price for a full-sized bottle is really reasonable! Just $55. I likely won't be purchasing the full sized bottle, just because I have about a million fragrances (sample sized and full sized), so I don't see a need to additional bottles to continue cluttering my bathroom, but I do recommend this scent if these notes work well with your own skin. Unlike the sample I got in December's box, which was $180 for the full size bottle, and in my opinion wasn't even that awesome to begin with, this Harvey Prince option is pretty fantastic.

4.  Previse HydroMilk: "Lightweight hydrator that floods skin with antioxidants - but zero parabens or synthetics. Twice daily, smooth over clean face. The nongreasy formula is perfect for all skin types."

This is a very lightweight moisturizer, I like how it makes my skin feel. My skin is very easily irritated, and I have had some serious breakouts lately (will go into more detail on that, including products I have tried, dietary modifications I have tried, etc, in my post on stress management), and this product did NOT make things worse at all - in fact, I think it may be contributing to healing my painful, irritated, dry and cracked patches. I know that sounds graphic and horrible - it's not as visibly bad as it sounds, but it HURTS and ITCHES. So this product has been quite soothing, dare I say successful at helping along the healing process. I LOVE that it's paraben-free, because parabens in skin care and cosmetic products have been shown to affect hormone regulation (endocrine system), and acne/problem skin is, at its core, a hormone problem. More on that later in my stress management post...

So anyway, I quite enjoy this moisturizer. Although I'm not entirely sure if it's 100% free of the ingredients I'm trying to avoid in my daily routine, it IS proving to treat my skin very nicely. If you all remember my rave review for the Embryolisse 24-Hour Miracle Cream back from December, I think this Previse cream might be even better - it feels more lightweight, and the ingredients are pretty clean as well. What I don't like about the Previse, is that the full-size is $48 for 60ml...!!! Woa. I mean, I know it's important to invest in quality products for use on skin, but that's a bit much. The Embryolisse is $28 for 75ml.

I'm sure I'll come back to these reviews if in the future I need to purchase a new moisturizer from Birchbox rather than Sephora or Nordstrom, so hopefully this review will help jog my memory - Previse is so smooth and light; Embryolisse feels amazing but is a bit thicker on the skin.

5.  Red Wing Color Changing Nail Polish: "This color-changing polish morphs from a gold glitter into a sparkly berry hue in the sun."

In the photo, the cap for the bottle of polish shows gold glitter on one half ("inside"), and red glitter on the other half ("outside"). My first thought was, "ya right, this doesn't work." I did mention previously that I like Birchbox nail polish samples because the bottles are a reasonable size for a nail polish - who uses a whole bottle of nail polish before it gets all goopy?! Not I like the size of the bottle, and the fact that it's free, so I can try different colors and stuff and not worry about buying a full size bottle for $8 or $10 and then never using the entire bottle, ever (the full sized bottle of this polish happens to be $10).

So, I tried this polish out. I painted two layers - the glitter flakes are kind of big so instead of thinning the applicator brush of the polish, I found myself trying to keep as much polish on the brush as possible to make sure I had a fairly even amount of glitter on my nails. The polish itself is clear with gold glitter. Because the glitter was kind of large, I followed my manicure with a nice coat of the Orly No-Chip clear top coat to fill in the uneven surface of the glitter polish. Some of the Birchbox reviewers complained about the finished uneven surface of glitter polish. The way I feel about it is: if it's got glitter in it, of course it's going to be uneven. Be realistic. Plus, in my opinion, you should always apply a top coat of some sort after a manicure. Just saying. Anyway, even after I had set the bottle of polish on my west-facing windowsill and held my hand up to the window, my polish didn't change color. I thought that, if it was going to change color at all, it would surely happen if it was on the windowsill, right? Wrong...sort of.

BUT! Then I was walking outside the day after I did my manicure, AND IT CHANGED COLOR! The glitter stayed gold, but the clear polish TURNED PINK. To say "berry" colored would be accurate, like the description from Birchbox. So, what I'm thinking is that the color shift only really occurs when exposed to direct sunlight for a sufficient length of time. It's not particularly fast, and it does require a pretty good dose of UV, but it happens. And it looks cool! While I don't ultimately care whether my manicure changes colors, it was neat to see it actually happen. This polish is true to its claims.

Here's probably the best part about this some of the reviews on Birchbox said that it was hard to remove with nail polish remover, because the glitter shreds cotton balls and it's hard to really get all the glitter flakes off...about five days after I initially did this manicure, I noticed a chip on my pointer fingernail, so I sort of slipped another fingernail under the corner of the rest of it just to see if it was likely to keep chipping, and THE ENTIRE NAIL POLISH CAME OFF IN ONE PIECE! One whole flake, and my fingernail was bare again. So, to remove it, I didn't even both making a shredded-cotton mess and stinking up the bathroom with my acetone - I just slipped my fingernail under an edge of each painted nail, and the polish just flaked off in one piece, off of every single fingernail. It was awesome.

What's next?
After Christmas, I bought a couple of gift sets on sale at Sephora (bareMinerals and Urban Decay products) to try out, got several samples from them as well, and have since also acquired some Tarte products and even more samples of random products. I have also gone back to using some of the Mary Kay products I have used in the past, since I actually still have them in my closet and I'm not selling anymore - I figure I might as well use it because I like it and I already have it. However, keep in mind that this does not follow with my goal of "cleaning up" the products I use by avoiding certain ingredients - MK definitely contains ingredients that I ultimately am going to be avoiding in the future. However, MK products do work well with my skin (for the most part, with the exception of two specific products), and like I said, they're already in my closet. So, they will get used.

I'll be writing a few more posts that will have multiple product reviews in them, to get through the new products I've tried and some of the products I was already using and have gone back to using, too. Just to give you TONS of info about what's out there!

In addition, I'll be addressing stress management, sleep, my attempts at yoga, some of our recent happenings (dance lessons and date nights at local restaurants), and whatever other topics I decide to discuss on tangents :)

Thanks for reading today, I hope you'll come back next time! If you haven't already, check out I'm Better in Real Life's review of her February Birchbox, and note that she's going to be doing a GIVEAWAY later on as well. If you get Birchbox, and got different products than me, PLEASE SHARE!! I'd love to hear about YOUR products, and I'd also love to hear whether you have a different opinion on products we both got in our Birchboxes :)

If you don't get Birchbox, but would like to start, click here to check it out!!!

Enjoy your Sunday, friends!