Time to Pamper

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I think the end of the year is a great time to do some cleaning, both on a superficial and a deeper level. I tend to dedicate the last few days to week of the year to discarding unused items around the house, tidying things up, vacuuming floors and washing surfaces ... and then I sit down and do the heavier stuff, like reflecting upon the ups and downs of the past year, how I could've done better and where I succeeded, and how I've grown or not grown. And then the lists ... all the lists of things I'd like to accomplish in the coming year and areas where I'd like to improve.

And then, before the clock actually strikes twelve on New Year's Eve, I like to a do a more superficial type of cleaning -- I don't know if it's a widespread "habit" or tradition or if it's in any way linked to the Asian idea of starting a new year fresh (new clothes, new haircut, showered and all of that), but I like to wind down with a nice, cleansing shower or bath, freshly scrubbed so I'm as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as one can be expected to be following a raucous (or not so raucous) night out. I do tend to find that that cautionary (and alarming!) phrase uttered by some member of the first season of "The O.C." (probably Seth ... okay, apparently it was Hailey, Seth's aunt) about where and who you find yourself spending the first minutes of the new year with really sets the tone for the entire year. Leave it to me, she who has had to work New Year's Eve and New Year's Day (sometimes followed by a wild night out) to tell you ... having no distinct end or beginning to a year really throws you off!

Anyway, I want to share with you some of my newer pampering "tools" -- (what I consider luxurious) bath and beauty products I've discovered over the past year or so that I feel really make a difference. (And if there's any doubt, I was definitely not sent samples by any of these companies for review or compensated in any way. Oh how I wish!)

Vegetable wax candles

Something about winter just calls for cozy home scents. I've been using an oil warmer over the years, but this year I wanted to add a little ambience, so I've been using candles for that nice, comforting glow. I use vegetable wax-based candles to create a cleaner burn with less soot. I'm not sure what the exact benefits of using vegetable wax candles are, although I'd imagine using something natural is almost always better than using a synthetic product. I just picked up a few scents from Bath & Body Works, and White Barn No. 2 Chestnut and Clove is my current favorite. Over the years, I've grown less tolerant of overly sweet, foodie scents and have leaned more towards clean, light perfumy scents. This one, to me, doesn't smell anything like clove -- I smell cedar (one of the highlighted notes) and something a little sweet, which is probably the chestnut. Overall, it's quite mentholly/minty (from the cedar) and resembles a fresh and light men's cologne with a touch of sweetness. By the way, did you know there's a "right" way to burn candles? How I wish I had known this before I'd wasted all the candle wax I've burned in the past! As you might be able to tell from the photo, I'm still learning how to achieve the right kind of even burn.

Burt's Bees Intense Hydration Night Cream
$17.99 for 1.8 oz

Along with reading about petroleum in body products, I did a bit of reading on organic/green beauty products this year. I just thought, "If it's not good for us to ingest chemicals, shouldn't we be more careful about what we're putting on our skin and lips?" I was sent a generous sample size of this night cream with a Drugstore.com purchase, which lasted me 3 weeks! This product is 99% natural, which is awesome. It's heavy and definitely only suitable for nighttime use, but it was so hydrating (I don't have particularly dry skin on my face) and turned powdery smooth. I noticed a difference in my skin tone the next day. It has a bit of an odd scent, like garden herbs (it's infused with clary sage) and cucumbers or something, but nothing I couldn't get past. I haven't bought a full-sized jar of this year because I still have a pot of Oil of Olay night cream (which has served me very well over the years), but if you're looking for a natural alternative and don't have oily skin, I would give the Intense Hydration line a shot.

source: LushUSA.com

Lush's Volcano Foot Mask
$13.95 for 3.5 oz/$22.95 for 11.1 oz

I've tried a number of Lush items over the years, from the lauded Big shampoo (didn't make much of a difference) and the Pied de Piper foot lotion (same) while I was in England to the Fair Trade Foot Lotion (it's alright). Although it seems as if I may have always paid a lot of attention to my toes, it's really not true. I found towards the end of my time in Taiwan that my feet had grown a little callused and dry in spots and decided to try out the Volcano foot mask first thing upon my return. I was kind of skeptical, seeing as my previous Lush purchases hadn't stood out to me in any way, but this mask really works to soften feet and relax them. It's made with a lot of cinnamon and natural things that make your feet heat up and tingle. And if you wash the mask (which is admittedly quite messy) off with a pumice stone to your calluses, voila. My feet looked practically brand new after my first application. I really recommend this product, even if it isn't at all inexpensive. I'm nearly done with my first tub and am trying to pinch pennies and think of ways to squeeze out enough for a second. This is definitely my favorite discovery of the year, as I think it it is both effective and pampering.

source: Kiehls.com

Kiehl's Ultimate Strength Hand Salve
$11 for 2.5 oz

I've been wanting to try Kiehl's out for years. Years. I'd long been curious about its #1 lip balm, but I've just never shelled out the $7.50 or whatever the going rate is now for it because to me it just seemed like condensed Vaseline. This Black Friday, I thought of Kiehl's when I went to take advantage of sales while replenishing my moisturizer supply. I bought a gift set that included this hand salve, and though the product I really wanted to try was the Creme de Corps, the hand salve was the product that really impressed me. I have really dry hands that are oddly rough for the amount of sedentary work I do. I don't even have a hand washing problem, so I'm not really sure what the issue is -- but it's one that's been plaguing me since I was in preschool. Well this hand salve has really worked wonders for me. I'd been using Neutrogena's Norwegian Formula Hand Cream in times of need, but I've never liked how long it takes to absorb and the fact that it's petroleum-based (I discovered this year that petroleum works in the short-term but creates a sort of dependency on it to keep skin moisturized). The Kiehl's salve soaks in pretty much immediately, has a non-greasy feeling and a slight tingle. And best of all, it really "saves" the dry spots. Minutes after my very first application, I saw that what I thought had been permanent dry, white/ashy spots were skin-colored again. While the salve isn't a miracle worker in that it prevents dryness, one application lasts about half the day for me. The one downside is that the scent might not be for everyone -- it's got an herbal yet plasticky scent, but it fades rather quickly.

Aussie Heat Protecting Shine Spray
$3.99 for 8.5 fl oz

Following my fainting episode in September, I became really cautious of exposing myself to anything that might get me sick or affect my health. Some Asians have this theory about wet hair and how it'll cause you to either get sick or get sick when you grow old (through headaches is what I hear from my mother). Erring on the side of caution, I decided not to risk walking around with wet hair in the cooler months anyway and went to Target in search of the cheapest heat protectant spray I could find. I was torn between the Tresemme one and this, but this was a whole $0.50 or so cheaper and I hadn't had good experiences with Tresemme, so I went with this one. (I've since read great things about the Tresemme heat protectant, so I wouldn't rule that one out.) Aside from the odd spray nozzle (which shoots a stream if you hold it too close to your head), I love this product. I hold it a fair distance from my head and spray generously, allowing the mist to settle in my hair, and I blow dry as usual. The result is fabulously-scented (though some may find the tropical scent a little intense), soft, shiny and smooth hair. I don't know if it's actually protecting my hair from heat damage, but I'm almost up for a trim and my hair isn't looking ragged like it usually does at this point ... and the spray softens my hair, so that can only be a good thing, right? I've been discovering more and more Aussie products just out of sheer bargain hunting. I'd previously used its 3 Minute Miracle conditioner, which I didn't like and didn't find effective, but I've since also stumbled upon its Sun-Touched Shine Shampoo, which has really improved my hair's "cooperation" -- my hair is noticeably shinier and softer after I use that shampoo.

Kao Essence Rich Premier Ultra Honey and Shea Butter Hair Mask
$8 for 200g (in Taiwan)

For some reason, it didn't strike me to try out hair products in Taiwan until I was about to leave. My hair is one of my most problematic areas, in my opinion. I have extremely dry, thick, wavy-straight hair (it's a hybrid) that becomes puffy when not properly seen to. In the U.S., I enjoy trying out different products and switching back and forth, but most conditioners stop working their magic after some time. I've tried all kinds of deep conditioners and leave-in treatments, from Garnier Fructis' hair masks and leave-in conditioners (which work, but are quite greasy) to high-end products like Biolage's Hydratherapie mask (did nothing for me) and Moroccanoil treatment (worked for a while before my hair seemed to become immune to it). This Kao Essence mask was definitely a miracle worker. By the end of my shower (after having left the mask in for 5 minutes), I could tell that my hair's texture had been tamed. My hair dries smooth, shiny, straight! after using this product, and the results last for as long as one shampoo after the treatment. It also smells absolutely amazing, like peaches and muscat grapes. I hoarded 3 jars of this stuff and hope it'll last me for at least a year or two before I need to replenish my supply ... which I'll figure out later.

Green by Nature Lip Butters

I think I may have mentioned this product in passing once. This is by far the best lip balm I have ever used, and it took going away to Taiwan to realize that (mostly because I ran out while I was in Taiwan). I got this at Target a handful of years ago, in a 3-pack for something like $2.99 or $3.99. It seems the company is no longer (it has zero online presence), but you can find lip butters on eBay and other resellers. It is, first of all, something like 98% natural and 100% paraben-free. But what I like the most about it is that it doesn't just sit atop your lips; it sinks in and actually moisturizes and doesn't require you to reapply every 2 hours. Other benefits: it's light and pretty emollient, so it leaves a nice gloss on your lips while maintaining a really light, non-sticky texture. It came in really wonderful flavors, my favorite ones being the beeswax flavor (non-flavored with a slight tingle) and the coconut flavor. I spent the first month upon my return doing research on other organic lip balm brands (hoping the organic part was what was making the formula so amazing) and tried out both Love & Toast and Crazy Rumors. (Don't even try suggesting Burt's Bees to me ... I find their lip balms extremely drying and aside from the minty feeling, I don't know what all the fuss is about!) Love & Toast did not perform any better than your average Chapstick, and Crazy Rumors is as close as I've ever come to Green by Nature. I don't like, however, that Crazy Rumors uses Stevia, as I dislike sweeteners and would prefer the product have scent but no flavoring. Also, the Crazy Rumors flavor I own (Raspberry Sorbet) has a slightly gritty texture that I find off-putting.

So in the meantime, I've been experimenting on my own with lip balms! I ordered a bunch of organic supplies (wax, fruit and nut oils, etc) and have come up with a formula I really like. I might even sell the product on Etsy in 2013 ... we'll see.

What are some bath and beauty products you love or can't go without? Any organic/natural recommendations? What about non-greasy moisturizers with SPF? I'm always on the hunt for that and haven't found a happy balance yet.

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  1. I like to start afresh too when it comes to welcoming the new year. An excuse to buy a new dress to wear and get a hair cut.
    Lucas papaw ointment is a product I have been using for years. On chapped lips, dry skin, rashes, bites etc. I use it a lot during winter on my lips.
    I have yet to find the perfect moisturiser especially for my skin type which is bordering oily. For sunscreen I tend to use Neutrogena Ultra Sheer on my face. It works well against the Australian sun.
    ps: Happy New Year! Here's to a great 2013 for you and your family.

    1. I bought a tube of Lucas papaw while I was out there! It was fantastic for my hands but didn't help my lips too much. I too use Neutrogena sunscreen, directly on my face sometimes in lieu of moisturizer in the summer if I'm going to be under the sun. I use the Dry Touch one, which I love because it turns powdery/velvety instead of sticky or shiny/greasy. I guess that might be the way to go, instead of looking for a moisturizer with SPF, since I heard that it's the combination that makes moisturizers kind of greasy. Happy New Year!

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