This year, I was inspired by my friend Ben Hong (who himself got the idea from Jen Myers) to track nearly all of the media I consumed, as a supplement to my movies and books recap. As I’ll be resetting the Media Log page on this blog, here is what I logged in 2019.Read More »
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day! I have been away from the blog for a long while because of some health issues, but I wanted to come back and really re-focus on self-care and self-improvement. So, here’s a post that is related to one of my favorite ways to take care of myself for me: taking care of my skin!
In 2017, I tackled some new-to-me Skincare Products to Try thanks to a thoughtful gift from Christine and, my personal weakness, value gift sets.
Before I launch into the embarrassing number of mini skincare products I now own thanks to these value gift sets, I never reviewed the products I tried last year. Quick reviews on each set of products (check the original blog post for the specific brands and products included):
- The Tatcha Beauty Essentials Discovery set was really good for someone like me, who uses nicer skincare more sparingly than I ought to. The products felt great on my skin, although I don’t think I used them consistently/frequently enough to notice a difference attributable to them specifically. I used these products most when incorporated into the Fifty Shades of Snail pore minimizing routine, which requires a cleansing oil. (Definitely try this if you want to deep clean your face!) The powder cleanser is interesting (and, I believe, TSA-compliant, because it’s not a liquid) but more of a novelty to me. Still, this is a great introductory kit to the brand and really good if you like trying new products but not committing to them for the duration of however-long a full-length product lasts you.
- The 2016 Sephora Favorites: Scouted by Sephora set was really exciting to me but not only did I only end up liking products that I have substitutes for (the overnight water pack, the physical exfoliant) but I found some products just overwhelmingly mediocre? (Looking at the lip balm that sat there and didn’t do anything, the vitamin C serum that smells weird, and sorry but I never liked the smell of rosewater so that mist was doomed from the start). Also, I don’t know how to use the eyelash enhancer but if I’m using it right it’s not doing anything I think…
- My 2016 Sephora birthday gift was okay… but I don’t understand the hype around these fresh products. The soy cleanser is a holy grail around the internet but it dried my skin but didn’t seem to really clean it very well, while the mask just sat goopy on my face until I washed it off to no real positive effect?
- My darling Christine sent over some great Korean beauty items that I am still working through because, again, I am notoriously slow with using up my skincare items. But I do like the Skinfood mask/scrub as a replacement to my ol’ Freeman black sugar mask/scrub and have started incorporating that Missha essence in a modified 3-to-7 skin method to combat winter dryness. I’m not sure how well that’s working out… BUT the ampoule feels so lovely on my face and, while I never use it without the essence, I think that’s really kicking up my skincare efficacy.
Hmmm… maybe I should’ve made the reviews of last year’s skincare products its own post? If you want more in-depth reviews of the stuff I mentioned above, I can do that later, but let me introduce the products that I need to start using before I let myself try anything new.
So, I do have a bad habit of buying little gift sets of skincare for myself because they are a great value for a person like me, who uses products sparingly, infrequently, and inconsistently. (I have a bottle of face wash that I have been using for literally 6-7 years? It foams up a lot so I don’t need a lot per wash… that being said I definitely use it way less than daily.) As a result, I am not allowing myself to buy anything else until I have tried everything I introduce in this post and use up at least… 1/3? 1/2 of the products? (That I like. Of course, if I hate most of the products, I hope I won’t force myself to use them up.)
Shout-out to the Pike & Rose Sephora for the sweet, sweet friends & family event they held where I walked away with not one, not two, but four different skincare gift sets.
I’ve always gravitated towards the curated Sephora Favorites sets. Even the sets that I am not as interested in, like the makeup and fragrance ones, seem like great values and a good variety of products to try. In fact, one of my first purchases at Sephora was their Sephora Favorites Superstars gift set, which comprises their bestsellers from every year. (I haven’t repurchased this in the years since because a lot of products reappear from year to year and I use my products so sloooowly.) However, this year, not only did I walk around holding these 3 Sephora Favorites boxes, I also impulsively grabbed an Origins set, maybe because I had spent a lot of time at a local Origins store event right before this shopping one. (Sorry for not buying from the Origins store, kindly Origins staff. In my defense, you were not carrying this specific gift set.)
Anyway, let’s meet each set!!
This Origins set includes:
- Modern Friction dermabrasion exfoliant
- Ginzing scrub cleanser
- Ginzing eye cream
- Ginzing gel moisturizer
- High-Potency Night-a-Mins renewal cream
- Clear Improvement charcoal mask – single use pack x2
- Drink Up Intensive overnight mask – single use pack x2
I’m excited for this because I had a good experience trying out the Modern Friction in the store and have heard great things about Night-a-Mins. I had a not-so-great experience with the Ginzing eye cream several years ago but 2018 is about me giving brands new chances so… here we are.
This past year’s Sephora Favorites: Scouted by Sephora set is curated every year to feature popular indie brands (like the internet favorite, Drunk Elephant) and includes:
- Biossance squalane + vitamin C rose oil
- Herbivore Blue Tansy resurfacing clarity mask
- Cane + Austin Miracle Pad+ (back again from last year!)
- Farmacy Honey Potion mask
- Lancer The Method: Nourish moisturizer
- Youth to the People kale + green tea spinach vitamins cleanser
- Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial peel
- Drunk Elephant virgin marula facial oil
- Tata Harper repairative moisturizer
- Sol Janeiro Brazilian bum bum cream
- Rich Kid coconut oil gel
- Skin Laundry foaming face wash
There was an earlier iteration of the Sephora Favorites: Soko to Tokyo gift set, because I remember considering it heavily before Sephora started distributing Laneige. (I was wondering why Target stopped carrying them…) Anyway here’s what the box contains:
- belif Aqua Bomb moisturizer
- boscia sake cleansing water
- Laneige water sleeping mask
- Shiseido Benefiance eye cream
- AmorePacific Moisture Bound essence
- SK-II essence
- Laneige Water Bank moisturizer
- Tatcha Polished cleansing powder (as seen in my Tatcha Essentials kit from last time!)
- Too Cool for School egg cream mask
- Cicapair tiger grass cream
I love me my Asian beauty so I’m really excited to dig into this kit, even though I have used several of the products already. (That SK-II essence doe!)
And last but not least…
The Sephora Favorites: Skin Wonderland is a set of best sellers for those treat-yo-skin days and consists of:
- Foreo LUNA play
- Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta peel
- IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Makeup cleansing balm
- Ole Henriksen Truth Serum
- AmorePacific Essential Creme Fluid moisturizer
- Drunk Elephant Lala Retro whipped cream moisturizer
- First Aid Beauty coconut priming moisturizer
- fresh umbrian clay mask
- boscia white charcoal treatment primer
- Sunday Riley C.E.O moisturizer
- Kate Somerville ExfoliKate exfoliant
- tarte maracuja eye cream
- Josie Maran whipped argan oil
I’m super excited to start making my way through these little bottles and tubs of products! In the meantime, don’t anyone let me buy anything new, okay?
Also, Christine got me more great KBeauty products to try out this year!
Christine sent me a thoughtful package from Soko Glam, the curated Korean beauty marketplace, and I am super excited to try out:
- Missha The First Treatment essence mist (the mist version of the essence she gifted me last year!)
- Neogen Bio-Peel+ gauze peel in wine
- Missha Safe Block SPF 50+ facial sunscreen
I have been hoarding all of these brand-new products for a long time, so I’m working hard to make sure I do my routine a lot more regularly (versus once a week, on a good week), so that I can clear out my old products and start trying these new ones!
What were some of your favorite skincare products that you’d recommend?
Do you have any thoughts on any of the products I listed that I’m going to try? Love it? Hate it? Super meh on it?
Prior to visiting Paris, I got a lot of shopping suggestions. Since I am not quite with it on the French luxury brands game, I basically disregarded all advice to stock up on Chanel, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, etc. I don’t have much of a taste for luxury goods, just thinking about the potential prices (which I learned were still lower than the actual prices!)
What did I plan to purchase?
French skincare products.
I care about taking care of skin, and the French really set the bar for the quality with which people should be treating their skin. French skincare is part of the charm of the chic French woman, whose skin is so good that she is able to spend minimal time on her makeup routine and, instead, go for that je ne sais quoi look.
The number one spot recommended to me? CityPharma. I knew that all French pharmacies would carry a much wider range of French skincare products than American drugstores do, but CityPharma is the spot to get great deals on excellent products.
Confession? I was really scared to go here. I read a few testimonies online that the store would be overrun by tourists, a chaotic war scene where shelves would get cleared out before my eyes if I didn’t gird my loins and fight my way through.
Reality? It was so calm and quiet and orderly. I’ll be really honest with you: I’ve never seen a place with so many Asian tourists carrying so much merchandise to bring home be so quiet and orderly, real talk. There were so many staff members answering questions, not rushing people, taking time to explain what products are best for what skin, not pushing to try to make a commission because it’s a pharmacy and not that kind of retailer. Honestly, this was still the most stunning thing about this place, even more stunning to me than the prices.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the products that I panicked and threw into my basket. I didn’t want to come away with so much, and definitely didn’t think I would quality for a VAT refund (more on that later), but Ben was enabling me once he learned what the discount was compared to back in the States.
Tip: Go to the checkout area for a basket, since all the baskets wind up there and NOT at the little basket area near the entrance. You will need a basket. Don’t fool yourself. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll just be casually walking around this store with an armful of products.
HAIR // I had been meaning to try the Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk for a while, so when I saw this 2-pack for less than one bottle would cost back home, I snatched it up. I don’t exactly need more dry shampoo (I have a dry shampoo round-up coming at you soon though!) but it doesn’t go bad and I will need it eventually.
Also, since I have colored hair and was already in the Klorane section, I picked up the Klorane Color-Safe Shampoo + Conditioner + Leave-In Cream with Pomegranate to round out my hair-care routine. I don’t love these, as I find my hair doesn’t feel as clean when I rinse them out as with my other color-safe stuff, but my color has been holding on.
FACIAL SPRAYS // I can’t believe this is its own category. You know, a year ago, I thought face mists were a scam. Do people really need to be misting their faces? Can’t you just splash water on and then apply more moisturizer? Well, I’m not really sure what changed between then and September, because I left Paris with not one, not two, but THREE different kinds of face mists, most of which are small enough for me to carry on planes so I can, in theory, mist mid-flight. (In practice, I feel a little too obnoxious to spray my face while sitting next to someone.)
The Caudalie Beauty Elixir is something I already have a sample of from the location in DC and enjoy using, and may be the product that led to me having so many face sprays in my arsenal now. The Caudalie Grape Water was a special deal because it’s a limited edition bottle? (I don’t believe the usual bottle design is that fuschia color.) So I wound up with a few of those to give as gifts. And the Avène Thermal Spring Water has such clout that I found it necessary to buy travel-sized and full-sized bottles of it. This is just who I am now, apparently. I just have to get over the perceived weirdness of spraying my face around other people because it’s winter and my face is dry, folks!
OTHER FACE PRODUCTS // I started panicking as I realized how heavy my basket was getting, but I wanted a La Roche-Posay sunscreen. I wound up with one that was a lot heavier than I was hoping, even for the winter, but may be a good option as a heavy-duty sunscreen when I do things in the summer? I also picked up a teeny travel-sized bottle of the famous Bioderma Micellar Water because the giant bottles intimidated me and I don’t use micellar water that frequently. (That being said, there was an insane deal for 2 big bottles of Bioderma for folks that are fans!)
POCKET-SIZED PRODUCTS // As I was leaving, there were these little shelves of products that were bundled for easy gifting and just to get you to buy more products, to be honest, because as I later looked they weren’t buy-one get-one free, more like buy-one get-one 50% sometimes. I got a Nuxe Lip Balm Stick, which is apparently not as good as the potted lip balm and I can see how, and the Caudalie Hand Cream, which smells kind of strange and has a texture I don’t love.
What would I do differently?
I think I would research more products and be more prepared going in. I didn’t know about a lot of these products so I panicked and grabbed things I recognized and ran. But that evening I thought about how I’ve been looking for an eye cream and something with more retinol for anti-wrinkle or just some other serums. I wish I had known about the Nuxe lip balm, for example. It helps to be prepared, especially if you don’t want to have one of the store assistants hold your hand through the entire process. (Which they would still be happy to do!)
Tip: One thing to make sure you do is bring your passport! A lot of other blogs and websites have talked about this at length, but if you spend over €175 you qualify for a VAT tax refund. This was so easy to do at CityPharma. When you are checking out, you just ask if you can apply for the tax refund. They pull out the forms, start filing for you, ask for your passport. Then, you can either have your refund applied to your credit card, if you used one, or you can get a thing to take to the airport when you go back home. I opted to have my refund applied to my credit card, minus the processing fee, because it wasn’t going to be big enough for me to justify waiting in a line at the airport. (The lines can get long, so make sure the factor time for that if this is your plan.)
All in all, we had a really positive experience at CityPharma and will definitely go back to load up on French skincare for ourselves and for others.
What are your favorite French pharmacy products? I love Caudalie as a brand and am glad I have great access to them because they have one of their spa locations in DC. I do like the Klorane dry shampoo, so I have to explore their other products.
Where do you like to shop in Paris?
(Note: I am working on a slightly different format for my New Orleans recap but in the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of gift curating lately and wanted to share some guides in a timely manner while we’re all scrambling to find presents for the holiday season!)
Happy Chanukah! Are you remembering that Chanukah involves gift-giving and you are scrambling? Do you have a White Elephant gift exchange coming up? Maybe you need to find something for a Secret Santa you don’t know very well?
I was recently tasked with finding some fun gifts to raffle off at a holiday event, with my only real constraint being that it had to come with Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping. While I am conflicted about using free 2-day shipping when it’s not necessary, the holiday season is one of the better times to use it for those of us who procrastinate or haven’t found the right thing in stores.
Without further ado, a list of gifts that were available on Amazon Prime for no more than $20, whittled down from perusing a lot of other online gift guides.
Note: Some of these items may no longer be in stock by the time you go to purchase them. The links included below are affiliate links.
For the doughnut lover: Set of 6 doughnut candles (also comes in a few other varieties!) $14
For the skincare fan who sends you silly face selfies: Elizavecca Milky Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask (super fun and effective face mask I personally love!): $11.80
For the low-maintenance self-care fiend: Set of 16 Korean face masks (enough to last a few weeks or throw a spa party) $11.99
For the land-locked mermaid: Mermaid tail blanket $14.99
For the cat + food lover: Pusheen plushie! (this one is holding an ice cream but there are other variations of food for this lil’ cat to hold at different prices!) $19.15
For the taco lover: Dinosaur taco holder, ’nuff said! $8.64
For the adventurous eater: Miracle berry tablets (you eat them and sour food tastes sweet!) $14.99
For the on-the-go audiophile: Super highly reviewed earbuds (almost 52,000 reviews and a nearly 5-star rating!) $7.99
For the chef with a naughty sense of humor: Fifty Shades of Chicken parody cookbook $15.99
For the seasonally-appropriate sweet tooth: Bag of “reindeer farts” (cotton candy) $10.95
For the plant parent: Set of 5 succulent plants! $13.99
Let me know if you buy any of these gifts and what the reaction is!
Do you have any requests for gift guides? It is late in the year to be asking but I’ll do what I can for you! (And if all else fails, I’ll have it ready for you by next year, or at the next gift-giving holiday of your choice…)
Last year was one of the first years I managed to keep my meager reading resolution! I had to face the hard truth and be realistic with my goal of one book per month, which was very achievable given that I either didn’t read at all in a month or would go on a streak and read many books.
One of the biggest challenges was dedicated reading time. As I mentioned in my 2016 resolutions post, dedicated reading time is key to achieving a certain quantity of books read. For most of my post-grade school life, my dedicated reading time has been on my commute. This meant a lot of reading during my painful 2-hours-each-way days, but not as much reading at my significantly more comfortable 20-minutes-door-to-door job. I also have been reading less on my morning commute, specifically, since we got an Express hawker at my metro stop, which means I will opt to read that morning’s paper instead of my book in the morning. Before committing to reading, I would read the paper in the morning and do the crossword and/or Sudoku puzzles in the afternoon. Now, I try to just read as much as I can in the morning, and then recycle the paper as soon as I get off the train. (I miss my puzzles, though.)
As listed in my 2017 resolutions post, here are some contributing factors for how I was able to achieve my modest reading goal this year:
- The Blogging for Books program gave me fresh reading material and motivation to complete books so I could review them.
- I invested in an eReader, after years of hardcore resisting, because it really is very convenient to be able to carry so many books so easily.
- There was extensive work on the metro that led to some severe delays during my commute, so I tried to make lemonade from that lemon and would read during these hour-long delays. Ah, it was almost like the olden days of my commute, except instead of traveling several miles, I was just sitting underground waiting for 5 trains to pass. Good reading was done, and it kept me calm.
I reviewed the books I received through Blogging for Books here, but I wanted to just give a shoutout to my favorite reads of the year and put together a little cover-collage like I do with my annual movie round-up.
The Tsar of Love and Techno is, by far, one of my favorite fiction novels. I’ve been recommending it left and right for Anthony Marra’s devastatingly gorgeous prose and insights into Russia through the ages. I don’t often reread books, but I get the feeling I’ll be revisiting it soon. Even though I finished the book a year ago, now, I still remember lines and characters and storylines really vividly. It’s a book that will stick with me for a long time.
The Street of Eternal Happiness was a better read than I was expecting. Written by an outsider journalist, this book and its narrative style taught me a lot more about China and its different generations of people than I think I would have learned organically. If you enjoyed Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, another book written with several non-fiction narratives that paint a telling portrait of a city and a country (Mumbai, India vs. Shanghai, China), you’ll like this one. I would recommend both of these books to anyone interested in people, anthropology, history, and how narratives emerge from the three.
The Martian had a lot of hype to live up to, since I watched the stellar movie before reading Andy Weir’s original book, but it exceeded the hype. It was so smartly-written, so well-researched, and didn’t fall victim to the little things that Hollywood did to the story to try to, well, Hollywood it. (Looking at the erasure of Asian characters and that absurd Iron Man scene at the end…) I laughed out loud, I anxiously sat at the edge of my seat, I found myself so disappointed when the book came to an end. All the hype about Weir’s intense research for the science of the book couldn’t prepare me for how real it all felt. So worthy of a film adaptation that helped me visualize things that were harder to conceptualize in the novel (like where things on Mars were respective of each other) but both media are both consuming for this story.
Weapons of Math Destruction first came across my radar when author Cathy O’Neil came to DC for a reading and signing. I didn’t go and I regret it now, because she really nailed how shifting to a data-driven world without considering the consequences of doing so sloppily is hurting those who are already disadvantaged. Read this if you care about data, how it’s used, and how it can affect you, but also because the style of writing is simple, straight-forward, informative without being dry, and keeps you wanting more.
Crazy Rich Asians popped up on my radar when it was published by Kevin Kwan over a year ago, and I absolutely devoured it – start to finish – during my train ride from Beijing to Changde. First of all, it’s going to make you want to go to Singapore ASAP to eat. Second of all, it provides a look at the people who are part of the statistic of Singapore being home to the most millionaires in the world. The Western world doesn’t really hear much about the rich Asians that are quietly buying up companies and running the world, but even more interesting than this look at the upper echelons of life was the characters. They are full of depth, their Asian-ness is both a big part of their identities and not a defining characteristic. What would I give to be in the film adaptation of this movie, which I hear will be casting Chinese and Asian actors.
Those are my stand-outs from this year. Some notes I have for books I haven’t reviewed on this blog:
- As much as I like the KonMari method and the idea of it, I am such a sentimental hoarder that it causes me a lot of pain to think about throwing away my stuff when all my junk does, in fact, “spark joy”. I may have to reevaluate how much joy and if it’s worth it, but I hated how she suggested just throwing out bags of stuff. There has to be a better way.
- Aziz Ansari is underrated for how astute his observations about modern romance are. The characters he portrays on TV and on stage seem very silly, but he seems like a very observant, empathetic guy who really understands people’s motivations and thoughts.
- The Book Thief was so hyped up for me and I was on the waitlist for it so many times but I just didn’t feel it. (I did cry when one of the characters died, though.)
- I really love the Game of Thrones books, they are much better than I was expecting them to be. I haven’t read fiction at this epic level in a long while, and boy, is it a treat. The books are so long but I am enjoying them a lot.
- Unfortunately, I really didn’t like Between the World and Me. Something about Ta-Nehisis Coates’s writing style just isn’t my cup of tea, as I felt similarly reading his write-up in The Atlantic about President Obama.
What books would you recommend I read in 2017? There are a lot of classics I’m thinking about reading, including books everyone read in high school but my class, apparently. (Sorry Harper Lee fans.) I don’t even know how to find new books now. I get really scared when I start a new fiction since one of my biggest busts this year was a work of fiction by an author I am unfamiliar with. It’s been so long that I just read and read and read, and I feel like now I feel the stakes are higher since my reading time is more precious.
Right now, I finally have my hands on Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words so I’ll be starting the year with that, if I like it enough to finish it!
… and I believe that should be the last of my 2016 recaps! I am back from China and will be putting up some recaps and thoughts from that trip shortly.