Saturday, November 29, 2014

Shake to Activate

Despite having about 10 bases open presently, I made sure during my trip to Japan to finally purchase a foundation that's been on my wishlist for literally years: Chanel Vitalumière Aqua. I have a pretty imprudent habit of never asking for samples and buying foundations blind (except replace "foundations" with "basically every makeup item ever"), so I wasn't quite sure how it would perform on my skin. I figured even if it were a complete flop, at least I'd never be left wondering whether such a popular, highly rated foundation worked for me or not.

l-r: Make Up For Ever HD Foundation in 118, Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua in B20, NARS Sheer Glow in Fiji

Straight off the bat, I love this foundation.

It's become my newest go-to base in the mornings, replacing NARS Sheer Glow. I find Sheer Glow provides more coverage and is more powerfully illuminating, but has a thicker consistency and gets oily faster. Sheer Glow has always been a foundation that I find more suitable for evenings or special occasions as the finish is so flattering and radiance-boosting. However, if not blended in perfectly or if you use a tad too much, it can be obvious you're wearing makeup.

Chanel Vitalumière Aqua is a foundation that is perfect for everyday wear. Granted, my skin has been cooperating recently after a long stretch of being awful, so my enthusiasm for Vitalumière Aqua may be in part due to not having any major skin issues at the moment. This past week, I've returned to using the luxuriously pampering Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm in the mornings, moisturising with one pump of Trilogy Balancing Face Lotion, then applying a smallish amount of Vitalumière Aqua (after at least 15 seconds of vigorous shaking) to my face with my Real Techniques Multi Task Brush.

The result is skin that is naturally perfected, but still looks like skin. The effect is almost undetectable but still transformative. I'd read reviews mentioning that this foundation might be problematic for dry skin, but I haven't had issues with it emphasising dry patches or being difficult to work with (unlike Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Aqua Foundation). The watery, ultra-light consistency spreads easily and blends seamlessly into the skin. The coverage isn't amazing (you will need to go in with a concealer to erase any blemishes or darkness under the eyes), but in a way, that's what I like about it. It's not a heavy duty foundation that you paint on. It's still slightly transparent but very effective for the coverage it does provide. The finish isn't exactly glowing or super illuminating, but it's soft focus and semi-matte.

Another aspect of Vitalumière Aqua that I was pleasantly surprised by is the oil control. Perhaps because it's water-based, it's impressively transfer-proof and keeps my T-zone more shine-free than most of my other foundations. I still regularly blot at about the 3 hour mark, but there definitely isn't as much oiliness coming through. Paired with a primer like Benefit POREfessional or Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer, there's even less. Lasting power does diminish during the day, but only in the sense that coverage fades slightly. It's not one of those foundations that just melts off your face at the end of the day and leaves it looking worse for wear.

B20 is more or less a spot on shade for me and very similar to Make Up For Ever HD Foundation in 118, probably the closest match to my skin tone I've found. I've read reviews that Vitalumière Aqua oxidises after a while, but thankfully I haven't experienced any issues with the shade match.

I haven't been this happy with a foundation for a very long time. If you're looking for an incredibly lightweight, natural-looking, daily base that wears well and doesn't devolve into an oily mess, Vitalumière Aqua ticks the boxes. Definitely worth the hype.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lips and Tips

Priceline had their legendary 40% off cosmetics sale last Tuesday and Wednesday. And you bet I ventured out in the morning to my local store to swatch, pick things up, put them down again, search for reviews on my phone and contemplate any purchases as if they were important life decisions. Aimless indecision made me almost want to walk out of the store empty-handed, but I finally committed to buying more lipstick and nail polish, the two things I have in greatest abundance. Even though this was the third time they've held such a sale (see here and here for previous hauls), somehow the prospect of scoring any cosmetics item for almost half price couldn't go ignored.

I was meant to stick to a list I made beforehand, but I only had one item on it: a base coat. I never believed in base coats before, but the absence of one has made me feel uneasy about my whole nail painting ritual. I was planning on picking up an el cheapo one but couldn't find one from Essence. I've tried the Sally Hansen Diamond Shine Base & Top Coat and was contemplating buying it again, but decided to go for something different with Essie First Base.

Speaking of Essie, can we take a moment to talk about the prices of their polishes in Australia? (OPI also isn't exempt from this conversation.) The First Base Base Coat retails for $17.95 when it's $8.50 in the US. The normal polishes are $16.95 each. Yes, products are marked up ridiculously in Australia and none of this is news, but still. I'm not understanding how there could be any justification. Rimmel, Maybelline, Max Factor and CoverGirl price their polishes around $5-$10 while brands like Essence and Ulta3 have polishes under $3. It's just nail polish.

The upside to Priceline stocking Essie is that you can occasionally take advantage of marked down stock being subject to further discounts. I spotted some polishes from the Encrusted Treasures Holiday 2013 Collection that were already discounted to $8.47. With a further 40% off, they were a bargain at $5.08 each. After much deliberation, I chose Hors D'oeuvres and Peak of Chic. Hors D'oeuvres could very well be the blingiest nail polish I've ever laid eyes on, while Peak of Chic has made me want to give up on bar glitter from here on out. Still, I love a challenge and am determined to try and make it work.

I also picked up Rimmel Salon Pro nail polish in Hip Hop, because my friend was wearing these juicy, slightly orange-leaning red nails the other day and it looked so classic and modern and Christmassy and feminine that I immediately set out to buy something similar. I almost never wear red nail polish, but Hip Hop looks like the kind of red I could get into.

Finally, the lip products. I felt out of the loop when it came to "drugstore" lip releases, especially whatever newfangled glosses or gloss/stain/balm/lipstick hybrids were being released, so I set to take a closer look. I wanted to purchase a Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet Lipstick but they didn't have the shade I was after, Pink Pong. I happened to come across a L'Oréal Colour Riche Extraordinaire stand and after swatching all the shades on display, decided Nude Vibrato (600) was the one for me. (I did briefly contemplate buying the lone Nude Ballet (601) left, said to be worn by none other than Kim K on her wedding day, but it was not a good look on me.) I was interested in buying a Maybelline Color Sensational Color Elixir simply because I'd seen them everywhere on blogs. It was next to impossible to pick one, but in the end I played it safe with Rose Redefined (090). The other shades seemed inappropriate for the office (not that I shy away from brights, I just prefer them to be strongly pigmented and ideally, matte) or way too pale.

l-r: L'Oréal Nude Vibrato (600), Maybelline Rose Redefined (090)

l-r: Maybelline Rose Redefined, L'Oréal Nude Vibrato

l-r: Revlon Elusive, Maybelline Rose Redefined, L'Oréal Nude Vibrato, MAC Patisserie

Maybelline Rose Redefined reminded me of Revlon ColorBurst Matte Balm in Elusive, and sure enough the two swatch similarly. Elusive is brighter in tone and obviously much more pigmented. I was trying to find the closest match I have to L'Oréal Nude Vibrato, but MAC Patisserie still has noticeable differences, mainly it's surprisingly sheerer, less peachy nude and more of a darker orange/redder in comparison. The L'Oréal can be very thick in terms of both texture and pigmentation, so I prefer to apply it to just my bottom lip then press my lips together to transfer it to my top lip and sheer it out. The Maybelline is a touch too glossy for my liking and the conservative rose colour doesn't excite me (no one to blame there but myself for that). It also seems to work better applied thinly with the fingers rather than layered with the applicator, which can cause unevenness on the lips. The texture however, is gloriously plush and cushiony, and almost redeems the ho-hum shade.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mint Condition

I love Lush. I just flipped through their Christmas catalogue and my eyes lit up browsing all their brightly coloured, festively packaged gift sets. There's something about how constantly inventive and appealing to the senses their products are that satisfies my love of novelty and a lil' self-pampering. And unlike cosmetics which take forever to be used up, I don't struggle to get through body products and skin care. Emptying a product I enjoyed using throughout gives me immense satisfaction, and the best part is being able to repurchase or try something different without guilt (not that I don't have backups of shower gels and random soaps lying around that I haven't touched). The latest product I've tried from Lush is the Mask of Magnaminty, my first experience with one of their "fresh" masks.

Mask of Magnaminty is an exfoliating, deep cleansing clay-based mask. It looks like choc mint ice cream with its green colour and crushed up aduki beans, and smells a bit like it too. It's a gritty, thick paste with ground up red beans that feels more like you're putting raw food on your face than something synthesised in a lab. When you're applying it to the skin with your fingers, there's not a whole lot of stickiness going on and I'm slightly concerned about bits of the mask falling off my face.

It's gently minty upon application, though nothing overpowering, and the minty sensation reduces with time. I usually leave it on for 15-20 minutes, during which the mask will slightly harden but remain mostly wet, depending on how thickly you've slathered it on. It definitely doesn't harden and tighten, uncomfortably/hilariously immobilising facial movement, like other clay masks. It's quite easily washed off with warm water. I like to massage it in with my fingers while washing it off to get in some extra manual exfoliation. Due to its coarse, granulated texture, and the presence of peppermint oil, it may be too abrasive and irritating on sensitive skin.

After it's washed off, my skin is left feeling refreshed, purified and scrubbed. While I don't really detect any instant glowing effect and it doesn't banish spots immediately after use, it's a mask I reach for when I need a good, minty deep cleanse and to slough away any dry, flaky bits. I'm a big fan of the unusually chunky composition and how much it reminds me of something edible, and who doesn't love a face mask for some welcome "me time"?

Ingredients: Bentonite Gel, Kaolin, Honey (Mel), Talc, Ground Aduki Beans (Phaseolus), Glycerine, Evening Primrose Seeds (Oenothera biennis), Peppermint Oil (Mentha piperita), African Marigold Oil (Tagetes erecta), Fair Trade Vanilla Absolute (Vanilla Planifolia), Limonene, Fragrance, Methylparaben, Chlorophyllin

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bounce and Dab

I've wanted to try a Beautyblender since pretty much the start of this blog, but only recently managed to actually order one. I'm content with my brush collection and my curiosity about elliptical-shaped sponges was temporarily satiated with the purchase of the Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge, so while I had always intended to eventually try the Beautyblender, there wasn't a pressing need. With a discount coupon in hand however, it was the perfect opportunity to finally try the iconic beauty tool.

Having used it a couple of times, a lot of my thoughts mirror those of the Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge. I think the two are fairly indistinguishable, except that the Beautyblender seems to be a bit more durable (but harder to clean) and I prefer the overall shape of the Beautyblender over the Miracle Complexion Sponge, which has the addition of a flat edge.

The most apparent thing about the Beautyblender is that it's a lot more work than a brush. Having to quickly stipple (bounce) the ball all over the face to evenly distribute, press and blend in foundation requires much more manual labour than anticipated. At some point, my arm started to tire. If only I were ambidextrous, then I would've switched hands to at least ensure an even workout.

I noticed that I use at least twice as much product, probably due to the sponge absorbing a lot of it. This doesn't overly concern me as I have a surplus of foundations, most of which I don't envisage finishing before they go off. But if you only have one or two treasured and expensive foundations that you want to stretch out for as long as possible, the amount of product that gets soaked up might be a concern.

The other major downside is that it's a pain to clean. I'm lazy at the expense of stricter hygiene standards, so it's not uncommon for me to only wash my foundation brushes once every 3-4 weeks despite near daily use. I can't really do that with the Beautyblender because I'm paranoid remnants of foundation will solidify and dry within the sponge itself, making eventual cleaning much more difficult. It's also the fact that I feel the sponge won't work properly the next time I use it if it's dirty, unlike a makeup brush. So far, I've tried cleaning it with regular soap and a face cleanser, and both weren't entirely effective in that foundation stains were left on the sponge. The Beautyblender also leaked pink dye as I squeezed it under the tap which I prepared myself for having read previous reviews.

Despite all that extra time and effort, the tradeoff is a more natural, seamless finish that can't exactly be replicated with a makeup brush. I'm convinced that something happens as water from the damp sponge evaporates from your face along with the foundation it's mixed with. The result is that foundation seems to have been thoroughly worked into skin in an undetectable fashion. It's akin to really spending time to buff and stipple foundation all over with a fluffy or flat-top kabuki-style brush, except that the sponge gives a more close contact, skin-like result. Although you use more product than with a brush, it gives sheerer coverage because everything is blended and patted away with the damp, spongy surface. Sheering out foundation with water from the sponge and applying thin layers also seems to make foundation more transfer-proof and less prone to getting oily, especially around the T-zone.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Flashing Rainbows

I haven't been genuinely excited about a nail polish for a while, but my newest discovery has been a revelation. Models Own Northern Lights was another impulse buy that was part of my Luxola order. I was looking for something relatively inexpensive that would qualify me for free shipping, and naturally gravitated toward nail polishes and the Models Own page. The only other Models Own nail polish I had was the exquisite Indian Ocean, so I was hoping to find something equally unique and visually arresting.

I don't have any purely holographic polishes despite a strong interest in them, though I have a few glitter polishes that partially contain holographic glitter. Northern Lights is a dusty, blush pink glitter polish in a clear base, where the individual glitter particles have a strong holographic effect. It's quite a dense glitter polish and two coats sufficed to provide opaque coverage. I first used two coats of Savvy by DB Nude to provide a neutral, tinted base, followed with three coats of Northern Lights, then sealed everything with my trusty Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat. It's been six days and still not a chip in sight — a seriously impressive feat given glitter polishes are notorious for chipping quickly.

Northern Lights is absolutely dazzling in direct sunlight but still powerfully holographic under artificial or indirect light. Despite that, it doesn't seem gaudy or OTT, mainly due to the muted pink base and the small, uniform glitter particles. If it were made of chunky, differently sized glitter, and there was a stronger contrast between the holographic effect and the base colour, the whole character of the polish would change. Northern Lights manages to pull off a rare thing: elegance in a party varnish.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dark Flair

Sleek i-Divine Eyeshadow Palette in Arabian Nights was a complete impulse buy. I was freshly showered, in bed and casually browsing social media on my iPad before planning to nod off, when I saw a 30% off coupon at Luxola. Having never heard of the site before, I followed the link, looked through the brands they stocked, and the rest is history. I was debating between Arabian Nights and Garden of Eden and for a moment had both in my cart, but in the end, online swatches of Arabian Nights edged out Garden of Eden, which had about 3 too many green shades for my liking.

Top row: Scheherazade's Tale, Gold Souk, Aladdin's Lamp, Sultan's Garden, Hocus Pocus, Simbad's Seas
Bottom row: Genie, Black Magic, Stallion, Sorcerer, Valley of Diamonds, 1001 Nights

Scheherazade's Tale is a pink/peach shimmery highlight. Gold Souk is chunky foil gold. Aladdin's Lamp is a taupey dark bronze with a pewter undertone. Sultan's Garden is a patchy moss green with goldish emerald sparkles. Hocus Pocus is a vibrant, gleaming, jewel-tone emerald. Simbad's Seas is a concentrated, jewel-tone ultramarine/sapphire blue.

Genie is a cool-tone, dark bronze with purplish sparkles. Black Magic is a dark greenish gunmetal. Stallion is a deep matte aubergine. Sorcerer is a metallic dark moss green. Valley of Diamonds is a dark royal purple with a sprinkling of copper glitter. 1001 Nights is a blackish hunter green.

The quality of Arabian Nights is on par with previous Sleek eyeshadow palettes I've reviewed, including Storm, Bad Girl and Oh So Special, which is to say there's always 2-3 relatively underwhelming shades and 1-2 standouts. In Arabian Nights, Sultan's Garden is quite sheer and Gold Souk was surprisingly difficult to pick up pigment-wise, despite both being shimmery shades that Sleek generally excel at. The only matte shadow in the palette, Stallion, was slightly dry and chalky, but had good colour payoff. Hocus Pocus and Simbad's Seas, two intense, eye-catching shades that wouldn't look out of place in the Tom Ford Emerald Lust quad, are the stars of the palette. It's debatable how much wear I'd get out of them though, considering I rarely stray from the safety zone of my beloved neutrals.

The main selling point of these i-Divine Eyeshadow Palettes is how affordable they are (generally under $20 at full price) and the sheer variety of interesting, original shades on offer that would otherwise be difficult to track down in comparable palettes or as single eyeshadows. Even if I might not reach for them with any regularity, as an eyeshadow enthusiast, I like having the option there should I ever be in a more creative or experimental mood, or simply want to play around with colours and looks. The shade selection of Arabian Nights might not be the most daytime appropriate or office friendly, but it's precisely the dramatic and exotic character of the palette that drew me in. (Being limited edition never hurts either.) Having said that, given how close in appearance dark shades are when applied on the lid, and the fact I've basically never touched my Bad Girl palette which also consists mostly of intense, deep shades, it's debatable whether Arabian Nights really adds all that much to my existing options.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Is the SUQQU Cheek Brush Worth It?

Well, is it?

Before purchasing it, the most I'd spent on a brush was the Too Faced Powder Pouf for $35. The majority of my brushes are from Real Techniques or Ecotools and I had no complaints about their quality or performance. I certainly didn't feel like my collection was lacking and I didn't have any particular desire to venture into the world of premium makeup brushes.

But what set the SUQQU Cheek Brush apart was how darn frequently it appeared in my Queen Lisa Eldridge's makeup tutorials (she affectionately dubs it her "kitten paw" brush). Over the course of nearly three years, my position on the grey squirrel hair brush moved from "pffftt, I don't need anything that fancy or expensive", to "oh God, I really want it ... but admit me to a psychiatric ward should I seriously contemplate purchasing it" to "YOLO, I'm at a SUQQU counter in Japan, just take my $160".

Yes, it's soft. The top candidate for the softest brush that's made contact with my skin.

It manages to diffuse very pigmented blushes (like Sleek Rose Gold or Illamasqua Naked Rose) that ordinarily would be a challenge to apply, and sheer them out so they're actually wearable. In that sense, it does serve a useful and unique purpose.

Having said that, I find the softness and floppiness of it, and the fact it gives way when you press it into your skin, makes it harder to control if you want more pinpoint placement or strong colour payoff straight away, without having to build up the pigmentation in layers. The SUQQU gives a softened, well blended look, but I find myself reaching for a more firm, dense brush like the Ecotools by Alicia Silverstone Blush Brush if I want a more pronounced, contoured effect with a blush/bronze hybrid like NARS Luster.

For the price, it's about the same as the degustation menu at a nice restaurant or good tickets to a concert. If you're willing to part with your pennies, the SUQQU Cheek Brush may be a worthwhile investment. It's a well made, luxuriously soft brush that will effortlessly diffuse, soften and blend out your blushes (especially highly pigmented ones), highlighters and bronzers, and give you a subtle, natural flush. Otherwise, if the splurge still seems daunting, I don't feel this is a must-have or absolute game-changer. While undoubtedly nice to have, cheaper brushes will still do the trick.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dim Light in a Foundation

Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Aqua Foundation SPF25 PA++ is a timely reminder of the importance of not buying a new foundation in a rush and without any prior research. It was my last day in Japan and I had some cash to burn, so when I stumbled across a Koh Gen Do stand at some pharmacy looking shop, I immediately decided to buy one of their foundations. I'd heard of the brand before but didn't really have any detailed concept of their products or ethos, except that their foundations appeared to be well-received by beauty bloggers/vloggers, on the pricier side and not widely available. While there were testers available, it was next to impossible to accurately gauge what my colour match was in the shop, so I opted for the seemingly least problematic shade, 013.

l-r: NARS Sheer Glow in Fiji, Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation in 013, Make Up For Ever HD Foundation in 118

The main issue I have with Maifanshi Aqua Foundation is entirely my fault: I picked the wrong shade. As you can see in the above swatch, my two other most frequently used foundations, NARS Sheer Glow and Make Up For Ever HD Foundation, are considerably more yellow-toned. I would say that the MUFE is the best match for my skin tone (it has more neutral/beige undertones), while the NARS is close but sometimes too yellow and slightly dark. The Koh Gen Do in comparison, leans pink which is completely at odds with the natural undertone of my skin. Reading reviews after I'd already purchased the foundation, I think I should have picked 213. I did actually try 213 as well as 113 in the shop, but 113 seemed noticeably too light for me (though apparently it's meant to be the same lightness as 013, but just yellow-toned), and 213, although yellow-leaning, seemed a touch too dark.

Wearing NARS Luster blush

The first few times I tried Maifanshi Aqua Foundation, I applied it with my fingers and used at least 1.5-2 pumps, and I wasn't impressed with the result at all. Maybe it was because I'd just stepped off a plane (though I had washed my face and moisturised with a rich cream to prep), but contrary to claims of it being soft-focus and blurring imperfections, it seemed to accentuate every dry patch I had. The colour was also grotesquely off, much to my deep dismay. My face looked like I'd applied a liberal layer of Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder in Dim Light. It was that exact same undesired effect that I complained about when I reviewed Dim Light, in that my whole complexion seemed darker, warmer, more tan and peach/pink-toned. I wanted a foundation that matched my skin colour, gave me good coverage, provided a natural but illuminating finish and that made me look fresher and more alive. This foundation just made me stare in the mirror critically examining what a flop decision I'd made in purchasing it.

The only way I can make Aqua Foundation work is if I apply a very light layer (one pump or less for the whole face) with a fluffy brush like the Real Techniques Multi Task Brush on properly exfoliated/moisturised skin, and then spend time patiently concealing any marks, blemishes or areas of redness with my NARS Creamy Concealer in Custard. This method is a bit of a pain in the ass since I'd much rather have a foundation that already gives me adequate coverage rather than having to go in with a concealer to finish the job, but it's the only way to get around the unwanted pinkness.

The foundation itself has a light, watery texture and is scant on coverage unless built up, which I wouldn't recommend (at least if you're like me and have purchased the wrong shade). Somewhat ironically, a light-handed application gives me a more dewy, softly luminous finish than if I apply the foundation any heavier. Staying power is ordinary (it's definitely considerably faded by the end of the day, especially if not worn with a primer or set with a powder in the morning), and I found nothing of particular note in terms of oil control or how transfer-proof it is.

Another puzzling aspect of this foundation is that I can't seem to find any information about it being SPF25. The Sephora website and other US stockists list it as SPF15 but the packaging seems identical. I don't know if it's some geographical discrepancy or newer formulation, but some clarification on the issue would be helpful.

Overall, I'm not enthused with Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation despite high expectations (i.e. my brain attributing a general elevated quality standard to any cosmetic product made in Japan). I will continue to use it purely because it was expensive and it seems like a waste to neglect it entirely, and because it's an acceptable daily foundation so long as my skin's behaving and I can bothered to conceal afterwards. The whole experience has reinforced to me that buying the wrong shade foundation is akin to throwing your money in the bin.
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