Monday, April 21, 2014

Birchbox April 2014 Review

My Birchbox finally showed up my my doorstep, despite the grammatically incorrect tracking information and the unreasonably long, five-day pit stop in Indiana.

Wrong "its", Birchbox!
(I am a pedant.)

In addition to their samples, Birchbox also send out little cards with rainy day ideas. Unfortunately, 100% of the tips that I have seen so far have been TERRIBLE. Two of the tips were "sleep longer" (if it's a weekend, I'm doing that anyways; if it's a weekday, that's not an option) and "wear a sweatshirt". Weirdly, they are trying to sell these... for money.

This month, my samples included:

Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel (0.085 oz), approximate retail value $6.68

If I am being honest here, I have never found a clear brow gel that is noticeably different from any other clear brow gel. They are all exactly the same to me. This is a clear brow gel and it works exactly like every other clear brow gel in the world.

With that said, I'm not disappointed that I got this, as I throw away clear brow gels pretty quickly, since they always get easily clogged up by yucky brown product. It also let me know that Anastasia Beverly Hills is in the Birchbox store, which is awesome news. I'll definitely be picking something up with my points next time I make a purchase from Birchbox. (No sign of the new Dipbrow Pomade, though, which is a bummer.)

Davines Oi Absolute Beautifying Shampoo (0.4 fl oz), approximate retail value $1.10
Davines Oi Absolute Beautifying Shampoo (0.4 fl oz), approximate retail value $1.51

You've heard me say it before: I have a lot of hair. I have hair that needs quite a bit more than 0.4 fl oz to shampoo and conditioner. Getting little packets of shampoo and conditioner is worthless for me, since it is less than a single use; I never get a good chance to try it. For the same reason, I am not going to spend $32 for 8.45 fl oz of conditioner, which would only give me about ten uses.

With that said, I did think these smelled really fabulous. It was a sandalwood-y smell that reminded me of a sexy perfume.

GUYandGIRL Shower Gel (1.01 fl oz), approximate retail value $2.49

There's sort of a distinct, nondescript smell that hotel body washes exude. This product smells so strongly of "generic hotel body wash" that it's no surprise that they are typically featured in hotels.

I also don't really understand the premise of the brand. Birchbox says, "For anyone who’s ever swiped their significant other’s bath products [raises hand], there’s a new way to avoid a potentially uncomfortable confrontation down the line: going Dutch on a single bottle of GUYandGIRL’s Shower Gel." My boyfriend already uses 90% of my bath products even though they do not contain the word "guy" on the packaging (my bath bombs are MINE, though), and I'm not sure I want to encourage him to steal more of my things.

I tried to find out a little bit more about the company by googling "guyandgirl bath", but all I got was porn.

KIND Healthy Grain Bar in Maple Pumpkin Seeds with Sea Salt (1.2 oz), approximate retail value $0.79

I know that people get all grumpy about getting food in their Birchbox, but this granola bar is fucking delicious. It's not very maple-y, but it's really salty, and salt is my soulmate. I have already bought a 15 pack on Amazon and I'm going to throw a few in my desk at work for snacks.

Color Club Gala Gem Collection in Gold Struck (0.25 fl oz), approximate retail value $3.25

Gold Struck is more of a super shiny champagne. I actually found it was opaque in a single coat, although brushstrokes are pretty hard to camouflage due to the slightly streaky formula.

Total Box Value: $15.82

The Kind granola bar was the only product in my Birchbox that I was really over the moon about. The brow gel and the nail polish were enjoyable, and the bath products didn't work well for me. I wish there had been at least one other product where I thought, "fuck yeah, I'm so excited about this!", but I wouldn't say the box was disappointing.

If you are interested in joining Birchbox, you are always welcome to use my referral link by clicking here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Is it Important to Get "Three Free" and "Five Free" Nail Polish?: The Science

I've had a few questions recently about two marketing buzzphrases in the nail polish business: "Three Free" and "Five Free".

"Three Free" nail polish is advertised as nail polish without Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, and Formaldehyde. "Five Free" nail polish is advertised as nail polish without Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, and Camphor.

There's a lot of scary shit written online about all of these chemicals, but without a lot of facts backing them up. So, what are these ingredients, and do you actually need to avoid them?

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Dibutyl Phthalate

Dibutyl Phthalate
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What Is It?
DBP and other phthalates are what is known as "plasticizers". These are additives that improve the plasticity of a substance.

Why Is It In Nail Polish?
What happens when your nail polish isn't flexible? It CHIPS. DBP in nail polish gives a longer wear-time.

Why Are People Freaked Out?
Phthalates are a controversial group as a whole, and DBP is probably one of the nastier versions. It affects testicular differentiation in frogs and fetal rats, and it has been hypothesized that it might have an effect on human fetal testicular development as well. There is also some evidence that it may disrupt thyroid receptor activity.

What Does the Science Say?
As with all things, the dose makes the poison. (As does the subject, since most of you are probably not male fetuses.) DBP exposure is considered to be acceptable at a rate of 0.01 mg per kg of body weight. I can't find any specific studies that look at he exposure you would face based on typical nail polish use, so it's not clear whether adults will hit that threshold.

Personally, if there is one nail polish ingredient on this list that I would skip, this is the one. Luckily, for many of you, you probably don't have to do a lot to escape it. The European Union has banned the substance in cosmetics, and the only American producer, Eastman Chemical Company, stopped manufacturing DBP in 2011 (although it is still imported by a few companies). I'm currently unable to find a single major nail polish brand that is still using the substance (although if you are aware of one, feel free to leave it in the comments below).

It's also worth noting that, given the research on fetal development, it is probably more important to avoid DBP if you are pregnant.

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What Is It?
Also referred to as phenylmethane, methylbenzene, or toluol, is what makes some nail polish smell like paint thinners. It is commonly used solvent.

Why Is It In Nail Polish?
Because toluene easily dissolves a wide variety of substances, using it as a nail polish solvent gives you a smooth, attractive application.

Why Are People Freaked Out?
Inhaling high doses of toluene results in headache, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion. It is also a minor skin irritant. Very high doses may harm the kidneys.

What Does the Science Say?
At the moment, concerns mostly center around inhalation of high doses. Solvent abuse ("huffing") or high levels of exposure in an industrial environment are the most significant concerns, rather than traditional nail polish use.


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What Is It?
Although nail polish companies commonly talk about "formaldehyde", formaldehyde is definitely not in your nail polish for one simple reason: formaldehyde is a gas. Formaldehyde definitely is toxic to all animals, causing death at high doses. It is also a known carcinogen, causing nasal cancer in rats.

If you are applying gas to your fingernails, we are not talking about the same products.

When we talk about "formaldehyde" in nail products, we're presumably talking about methanediol (also known as methylene glycol). When you add water to formaldehyde, you go from an aldehyde that is a gas to a diol (meaning there are two OH groups) that is a liquid. It is a completely different substance.

Why Is It In Nail Polish?
Formaldehyde has never been in nail polish. Methanediol is a cross-linking agent that stiffens and hardens nails. Thus, it is commonly used in nail hardeners.

Why Are People Freaked Out?
People have incorrectly conflated formaldehyde and methanediol due to cosmetic mislabeling.

What Does the Science Say?
It is completely incorrect to conflate the dangers associated with formaldehyde with methanediol. Methanediol is considered by the FDA to be safe up to 5% concentration. Most manufacturers use levels between 0.5% and 2%, well within the safe limits. Even at higher doses, the primary concerns are skin irritation and allergies.

Formaldehyde Resin (Tosylamide/Toluenesulfonamide/TSF Resin)

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What Is It?
Despite the scary-sounding name, formaldehyde resin is also not the same thing as formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is used during the production of the substance, but is completely consumed by the reaction. Formaldehyde resin is a polymer, meaning the molecules stack together to make a durable film.

Why Is It In Nail Polish?
The resin helps the polish adhere to the nail, ensuring it won't peel or flake.

Why Are People Freaked Out?
Again, the word "formaldehyde" is scary.

What Does the Science Say?
Some research suggests that formaldehyde resin may be a concern for those who have significant levels of allergies or who are prone to contact dermatitis. Of course, all people should stick to painting their nails and not large chunks of their skin. Otherwise, despite the scary name, there is no evidence of harm.

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What Is It?
Camphor is a naturally-occurring chemical known for its strong scent. It has been used in European, Arabic, and Indian cuisine at various points in history. It gives a cooling feeling on the skin and is the active ingredient in Vick's VapoRub.

Why Is It In Nail Polish?
Camphor is another plasticizer, keeping your nails chip-free.

Why Are People Freaked Out?
Truly, I have no idea. Camphor is a poison when consumed in large doses. Adults typically see toxic effects after ingesting 2 g of pure camphor, with 4 g being the lethal dose.

What Does the Science Say?
Don't eat your nail polish.

What does it mean?

If you are buying standard nail polish brands in the United States or Europe and you are using them as intended (i.e. you are not eating or huffing them and you're putting them on your nail, rather than, say, your face), you're probably okay. If you have a tendency towards significant skin sensitivities (for example, if a nail polish has given you contact dermatitis in the past), you may want to be more careful around a few of these ingredients.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: theBalm BalmShelter Tinted Moisturizer in Lighter than Light

I like my foundation as thick and opaque as house paint. Ideally, I want it to be like scribbling on my face with a perfectly flesh-toned Sharpie.

My one exception is theBalm's BalmShelter Tinted Moisturizer in Lighter than Light.

Like most of theBalm's packaging, the box is adorned with a sexy white lady acting all sexy-like. The drawings on theBalm's packaging sometimes read as "tacky" to me, but I think this one is pretty cute, even if they did miss an opportunity to have different drawings on the different shades, reflecting the skin tone the product in question matches. (I concluded a while back that theBalm's packaging design team has never gone outside and noticed that not only do non-white people exist, the brand is presumably trying to sell things to them.)

The tube inside is a massive 2.15 fluid ounce squeeze tube with a handy cap that prevents too many microbes from migrating and having little microbe babies in my makeup.

I also have to give theBalm props for keeping their entire color range consistent across products. Their concealer, foundation, and tinted moisturizer all come in the same shades. As a primarily online makeup shopper, I find that so fucking convenient. It's very frustrating when brands decide that they're going to randomly completely change their available shades based on the product. I can't imagine the thought process: "Hm. People who need foundation are all pink-toned and need at least 15 shades to find a good match, but people who need concealer are all yellow-toned and only need four shades. Because of reasons."

Lighter than Light is a fair shade. It's much yellower than I am, but I am essentially the color of a pink oil pastel, so that's not super meaningful for the neutral-toned among you. (I suspect that it does lean warm-toned in general.) Still, when it's all blended out, it hardly makes me look jaundiced at all, so, in this sheer product, the yellow undertone is probably not going to be match-prohibitive for most.

TheBalm Lighter than Light in blended and unblended swatches. 
I find the texture of this product to be really pleasant and blendable. You can even build the coverage ever-so-slightly on particularly rough hunks of your face, which can be difficult with some tinted moisturizers.

The finish is on the dewey side of natural.

To give you a sense of the coverage, here's my face with only sunscreen on my skin:

And here's how I look post-tinted moisturizer (nothing else):

Throw a concealer on top and this works well for casual makeup days. It's the makeup equivalent of flip flops: comfy, easy, and low-maintenance.

I do have one last gripe: the SPF 18 seems like such an afterthought to me. First off, no one's applying enough tinted moisturizer to get even that paltry sun protection. Secondly... SPF EIGHTEEN? That's super low. Given that the active ingredients are chemical sunscreens (Octinoxate, Avobenzone, and Octisalate) which can be irritating for some, it seems that they're excluding those who have to stick to physical sunscreens in favor of what's essentially a marketing gimmick, rather than real protection.

TheBalm's BalmShelter Tinted Moisturizer retails for $25 for 2.15 fl oz, putting it a budget-friendly $11.63 per ounce.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ipsy April 2014 Review

I am a big fan of routines. I pick less-than-desirable parking places just so I can park in the exact same spot every time I drive somewhere. I order the same thing every time I go to a restaurant. I have uttered the phrase "I hate everything new" on more than one occasion. As a result, it's bizarrely distressing to me that I am reviewing Ipsy before I review Birchbox this month BECAUSE THAT IS THE WRONG ORDER, YOU GUYS.

For some reason, though, according to my tracking information, my Birchbox has been hanging out in Indiana for five days, so that review's gonna have to wait on deck.

Here's what I got this month:

As always, Ipsy came in a makeup bag. It has a record player on it. I don't have strong feelings about the bag design.

Urban Decay 24/7 Velvet Glide-On Eye Pencil in Black Velvet (0.03oz), approximate retail value $15

I was pretty excited to receive the new Urban Decay eyeliner pencil, which was just released last month. It was made with smudging in mind, for maximum smokiness, like burning bacon in a small kitchen.

To be frank, I am not a big fan of the smudgy liner look most of the time. I prefer crisp and clean lines. Still, I have used this for both a smudgy look and for regular tightlining (my usual pencil liner look) and it holds up for both purposes.

I would agree that the formula is a little more slick than Urban Decay's traditional black liners in Perversion and Zero, making it easier to smoosh up your lines as desired. Still, if you hadn't told me that this was the function of this liner, I probably would not have noticed, as the formula feels much more similar than different. All Urban Decay 24/7 pencil liners apply smoothly with rich color and stay put once applied (even when smudgy).

In terms of color, Black Velvet is darker than Zero, but grayer than Perversion. Additionally, Perversion looks much cooler in comparison to the warmer-toned Black Velvet.

From left to right: Zero, Perversion, Black Velvet
If you already own either Zero or Perversion, I'm not going to necessarily recommend that you run out and grab this, too. However, if you know you want something smudge-able and you're shopping for a pencil liner, I do think that this one performs well.

Elizabeth Mott Pop! Goes the Shadow in Champagne (full size at 0.07oz), retail value $12.99

On the packaging, this shadow literally claims that it is going to change my life. That's a really high standard, especially given how much eyeshadow I own. Well... it didn't do that. But I did think it was perfectly nice!

The color is like a bronzed up version of Stila's Kitten (although it doesn't have Kitten's softness or pigmentation).

It swatches fine and is a very usable, practical color, even if it's neither life-changing nor particularly special.

Mary Kay At Play Jelly Lip Gloss in Teddy Bare (full size at 0.32oz), retail value $10

Good news, you guys! I found it! You can stop looking. This is officially the worst lip gloss of all time.

I have never tried Mary Kay products because I try not to buy from companies that could reasonably be mistaken for a pyramid scheme. Luckily, if this product is indicative of the brand's quality, I am definitely not missing anything.

Let's start with the packaging. This looks like something that a 12-year-old would have purchased in the mid-90s. What adult, modern woman wants to own something so visually wretched? From the white cap to the squeezy tip, this looks like something that the dollar store would throw away. Then, the name, "Teddy Bare" manages to turn this train wreck into something really creepy. Infantilization? Yuck.

In comparison to the product inside, though, the packaging may as well have been designed by Alexander McQueen. I would say that a lipgloss is sticky if it had 1/3 the tackiness of this terrible goop.  This is like putting half-dried Elmer's Glue on your mouth, but only it Elmer's Glue sunk into the lines of your lips.

To top it all off, the color is disgusting. When someone says the phrase "anal leakage", this is the color that comes to mind. A diluted, unflattering light brown.

This is the BEST I could POSSIBLY make it look. It took like ten minutes to make this picture from being nauseating.
I hate literally everything about this product. I hate the business model and the ethics of the company, which preys on women struggling to make ends meet and requires them to purchase products for a career that, statistically, is incredibly unlikely to be lucrative. I hate the color of the product. I hate the texture. I hate the packaging. I hate how it wears.

This is the worst lip gloss. It is Guinness Book of World Records-worthy.

Dr. Brandt Microdermabrasion Skin Exfoliant (0.25oz), approximate retail value $9.75

I cannot get over how ludicrously priced this product is. It's $78 for TWO OUNCES. I cannot imagine that the average Ipsy subscriber is fitting a cleanser this expensive into their budget.

There is absolutely nothing about this cleanser that is special or that justifies this price. It's simply using regular old aluminum oxide as an abrasive. You can buy the same sort of product from fucking Neutrogena. Why would you pay for this?

Also, for the record, it's really rough, and I say this as someone who generally doesn't have problems with physical exfoliants. It's not only overpriced, it's right out as an option for anyone with sensitive skin.

Big Sexy Hair Root Pump (1.6oz), approximate retail value $2.71

This is a traditional textural mousse in an aerosol can.

Here's my hair sans any sort of product:

Here's how I look with the Big Sexy Hair Mousse added:

I think it did a pretty decent job of holding together the sporadic waves that I do have in my hair, so I was pretty happy with the product.

Bonus: TokyoMilk Dark Femme Fatale Collection Lip Elixer Lip Balm in No. 42 La Vie en Rose (full size at 0.7oz), retail value $7.00

This was a bonus item for referring folks to Ipsy. It was advertised as "Salted Caramel", but I ended up receiving La Vie en Rose. I saw a few people got both, and I can only assume that they sold their souls to the devil to receive such special treatment.

The product is 0.7 oz, so it's just slightly smaller than a 0.8oz tin of Rosebud Salve. Like Rosebud Salve, it's a petroleum jelly-based product.

To me, the smell is a pleasant milk of florals and peaches. Those are two of my favorite things, so I'm quite pleased with it. Plus, the packaging is so dang cute. It also gave a nice relief for my lips after that sticky Mary Kay monstrosity.

Total Box Value (Without Bonus): $50.45
Total Box Value (With Bonus): $57.45

Here's how I look with everything from this bag piled on my face:

This is as smudge-y as my eyeliner gets. 
And here's a close-up of my eye:

Overall, I'm not disappointed in this bag. I think it is consistent with the quality I expect from Ipsy. Nothing transformed my life, but the only thing I won't use at all is the lip gloss.

If you suddenly feel the need to join Ipsy, you're always welcome to use my referral link by clicking here.

It Might Be Worth Going Back to High School for the KFC Chicken Drumstick Corsage

KFC is a contentious topic in my house. My boyfriend's mom gave up on frying chicken when she spent four hours making the perfect drumsticks for an event, only to be told by attendees that it was "almost as good as KFC". Now, my boyfriend resents the brand as a symbol of the end of homemade fried chicken in his childhood home.

Still, if any of y'all are in high school, you have my blessing in supporting the chicken behemoth because they brilliantly decided to PUT THEIR CHICKEN ON CORSAGES.

Really. Actually. In real life.

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Purchasers can spend $20 on a corsage kit from a Kentucky-based florist, which comes complete with $5 gift card for a drumstick of their choice. According to the site, choices include "Original Recipe, Extra Crispy or Kentucky Grilled Chicken. Whichever best matches her dress."

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This is both deeply hilarious and brilliant marketing by KFC, as their measly 100 limited edition corsages have captured media attention and made me want delicious chicken.

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The only downside? It's often suggested (note: very unsourced) that corsages were originally intended to 'ward off evil spirits'. If I were an evil spirit, I would definitely follow around the lady with a wrist covered in greasy food.

The full commercial is available here:

Also, just for fun, here's me getting my way less memorable corsage at my junior prom:

Happy prom season, young'uns! Now get off my lawn.
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