Skincare to Try 2018

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.

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My Sephora ~ H A U L ~ #notspon

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!!

Origins gift 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.

Sephora Favorites: Scouted by Sephora

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

Sephora Favorites: Soko to Tokyo

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…

Sephora Favorites: Skin Wonderland

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!

Soko Glam gift from Christine

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?

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CityPharma Haul + Tips

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.

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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?

The Comic Book Story of Video Games | review

The gaming industry produced over $100 billion in revenue this past year, and that number is only going to go up. Within any of our lifetimes, whether your first game was Angry Birds or Pong, the progression of video games has been astounding. The Comic Book Story of Video Games is an incredibly informative graphic novel that tells the incredible story of the electronic gaming revolution.

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This graphic novel starts with the history of video, which is the actual logical place to start the history of video games! Don’t be deceived by the fun drawings and the inclusion of video game characters through this history (it’s a fun Easter egg to spot them!), but this was actually a fairly technical background on the technology behind video and gaming! I loved learning so, so much about the technological innovation that went into bringing video games to life.

I also really loved learning about the context of some of the biggest games in history. What was the historical context for Pong and Pac-man and Pokemon? What technological advances were necessary for each of those games to come out? What made Microsoft come out with XBox? What is the highest-selling console of all time? How did console gaming finally take off to begin with?

These questions and more are answered in this fun read, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a tiny bit of interest in video games and technology.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

2018 Resolutions

It may be halfway through January already (?!) but it’s never too late to set resolutions and intentions for the year! My most cumbersome but most personally valuable posts on this blog are my beginning- and end-of-year blogs, with the resolutions post kicking off the year with ways I can bring myself closer to the person I want to be.

2018 Resolutions: photo featuring a hand holding a sparkler above water

Last year’s resolutions focused a lot around making concrete plans to do things that I’ve been making resolutions for over the past several years. I didn’t check all those boxes off, but I know that specific goals are easier for me to achieve than vague ones. By the end of 2017, I found myself formulating  new concrete goals, some of which were not even considerations at the beginning of the year. Here are the ways I aim to improve myself in 2018…Read More »

Looking Back on 2017

How is January already halfway through? I’m running behind on my year-end/new year blog posts, but let’s have a look at what 2017 looked like for me:

Fun fact: I began and ended 2017 in China!

  • Dyed my hair red – for real this time

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    January 1 from the glass bridge at Zhangjiajie
  • Walked across the tallest and longest glass-bottomed bridge in the world in Zhangjiajie
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  • Flew alone on an international flight for the first time
    • Which included my first ever visit – via layover – to the Middle East
  • Signed up for ClassPass
  • Attended my first-ever Washington Capitals game (and my first NHL game in well over a decade, if not my first NHL game ever)
  • Dined at a DC Michelin star restaurant for the first time – Rose’s Luxury
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  • Sent off our panda cub Bao Bao before she goes to China
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  • Presented to a class of new hires who are me from one year ago
  • Slept with a zillion wires for my first sleep study
  • Visited San Francisco to see friends and support Ben presenting at a conference while:
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  • Asked Danny Boyle about how his movies are interpreted by audiences at home and abroad
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  • Sipped on drinks out of a lucky cat cup at a cherry blossom + Super Mario-themed pop-up bar
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  • Watched The Little Mermaid ballet on my own
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  • Met Representative Maxine Waters at the US Botanic Garden
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  • Experienced the repetitive patterns of profound genius at Infinite Kusama, the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Hirshhorn
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  • Attended my first-ever Washington Wizards game (and my first NBA game ever)
  • Saw Chicago! at the Kennedy Center, starring Brandy (!!!)
  • Tried acro-yoga and a bit of aerial yoga
  • Danced the Charleston and put aside my aversion to flapper style for a Gatsby party
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  • Met Tim Gunn before hearing him speak about disco fashion at the Library of Congress
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  • Toured downtown DC while learning about the assassination of President Lincoln through an awesome immersive walking tour with the Ford’s Theatre18278381_10212917470155173_999720346742464472_o
  • Danced and sweated at 7AM on the Kennedy Center terrace
  • Down-dogged at cat yoga
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  • Learned loads at RevolutionConf during my first visit to Virginia Beach
  • Tasted samples prepared by 3 of the top Asian cuisine chefs in DC
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  • Asked Edgar Wright about the hidden details of his work
  • (Finally) Cosplayed at AwesomeCon, my first ever convention
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  • Attended the opening day preview of Ai Wei Wei’s new exhibit at the Hirshhorn19437142_2165047673721933_5763673148604022784_n
  • Showered my friend Gretchen with love and gifts for her soon-to-arrive baby
    Taylor, Jen, Gretchen, and her mom!
  • Danced at 7AM beneath the new National Building Museum’s summer installation, Hiv19764978_1700346696937905_1001085391261925376_n
    • Namaste’d beneath The Hive, too
  • Visited my brother while he was interning in Delaware
  • Cooked 9 Blue Apron mealsDSC03074
  • Slept through another sleep study, through the night and the day
  • Floated down the river during my first river-tubing trip
  • Witnessed the Great American Solar Eclipse in person with my family
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  • Returned to my home city of New York for Labor DayIMG_20170904_232418_746.jpg
  • Revisited Paris with Ben
    • Visited the LouvreEmpty Louvre hall
    • Visited VersaillesDSC04659
  • Pondered color and interactivity at Artechouse22351661_1442356609218754_1138615913436676096_n
  • Laughed watching Whoopi Goldberg do standup at the Kennedy Center
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  • Felt so many feelings watching Death of a Salesman at Ford’s Theatre
  • Cheered on knights at the Maryland Renaissance Festival
  • Nearly won a Disney trivia night with a 2nd place finish
  • Experienced my first omakase dinner at Sushi Hachi
  • Wore a week of Sailor Senshi-themed blazer-centric outfitsScreen Shot 2017-10-30 at 9.40.07 PM
  • Channeled Rey for Halloween as part of a Star Wars group at work20171031_115957
  • Saw Christopher Nolan speak at the Library of Congress
  • Partied at the National Air and Space Museum’s Found in Space
  • Visited New Orleans for the first time!
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    • Delivered a lightning talk about karaoke because it’s me
    • Received a chipped tooth courtesy of a drunk coworker (seriously)
  • Walked with locals at my first ever WalkWithLocals instameet
  • Watched another Washington Capitals game
  • Traveled to Buffalo for a business trip
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    • Saw Chad Michael Murray standing about 3 feet in front of me in the hotel lobby
  • Celebrated my birthday with hot pot and karaoke and friends
  • Flew to China to celebrate the holidays with my family
  • Rang in the new year with about a million people in the streets of Hong Kong

    December 31 from Victoria Peak

For better or worse, it has been a really eventful year. I feel super motivated to go into 2018 and achieve so many things. Stay tuned for my resolutions post to see what specific things I hope to achieve and how I plan to achieve them!

Previous years: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013