Birchbox Review | February 2015

Birchbox February_ATG FINAL v1_finished

#1. beautyblender + Mini Solid Cleanser | Finally receiving the famous beautyblender in a Birchbox was a total giddy, girl moment. I’ve been hearing the craze about these little pink sponges for some time, but happily pressed on with my good ol’ tried and true foundation brush. Given that these babies are also on the pricey side, I was happy to wait for the day Birchbox would bestow one upon me to try. Let’s just say, I can understand the craze. Simply dampen the sponge, squeeze out the excess water, dab just a bit of foundation onto it, and gently dabble onto the skin. Your make-up goes on evenly, creating an airbrushed-looking finish. Cleverly, the sample arrived with the mini solid cleanser – used to help clean your sponge between applications. My only complaint about this product (aside from the cost) is how turned-off I was by the amount of pink dye that comes out of the sponge when you wash it the first few times. Of course, they had to do something to get that vibrant, hot-pink look, but did they have to be so obvious about what I hope isn’t a sponge full of chemicals, that also happens to do a kick-ass job of making a gal feel pretty?

 Overall: A do.

#2. BeeKind Shower Gel | BeeKind’s shower gel is reminiscent of my love for Essentiel Elements. It’s distinct citrus-y scent makes showering an invigorating experience. I’m also a sucker for a nice lather and BeeKind doesn’t disappoint. It’s free of many of the harsh chemicals found in many gels these days and utilizes natural, organic ingredients. What has to make this a product extra special, outside of being a great shower gel, is that it’s also on a mission. BeeKind donates a portion of its profits to aid in honeybee research. As you know, these guys are having it pretty rough right now, and the continuing decline of the honeybee will have serious repercussions in the near future. Oh! And just to make themselves a little cooler? BeeKind’s packaging is recyclable.

Overall: A do…if not for you, for the honeybees.

#3. theBalm’s “Read My Lips” Lip Gloss | Read my lips: this stuff’s not bad! I was immediately struck by the scent of this lip gloss. The shade I received, BAM!, a very subtle pink hue, gives a nice shine to your lips, without overdoing it. I found the formula tolerable. Many glosses last exactly 10 minutes on my lips before I’m ready to wipe it off because of the unbearable sticky texture. I can’t say this was the case with this product. As far as longevity goes, this gloss hangs in there, too. However, given the highly saturated market for products like this – I’m usually a first impression kind of gal. If it doesn’t hook me right away, it likely won’t. I’ll gladly finish out the sample, but wasn’t impressed enough to buy a full-sized version of this product largely, due to the shade. Perhaps if they’d given me something with a little more color, I’d bite because $15 is more than reasonable for a lip gloss.

Overall: A do…if you can find the right shade for you.

#4. Atelier Cologne’s Vétiver | The moment you open the small vial, you realize you’re in for something special. You could tell the quality of the ingredients used in this fragrance is about as high-end as it gets. My suspicions were confirmed when I jumped on to learn more about this product and caught the whopping $195.00 price tag! Atelier’s Vétiver subtly alters from a citrus to a more woodsy note as it mixes with your body’s chemistry. I wasn’t a huge fan of the scent right off the bat, but I loved the way my skin felt as I dabbed the product on my wrist – it left a soft as powder finish wherever I applied it. As promised, if I smelled my wrist some time later, the scent had slightly changed. To say this stuff is long-lasting is an understatement. I couldn’t believe how long this fragrance stays with you. Yet, I remain on the fence about the scent itself. Though I can handle a bold fragrance, this erred a teeny tiny bit too masculine for me.

Overall: For $195, I should have everything I want in a fragrance. The scent just wasn’t for me.

#5. Davines MINU Shampoo | I’m a Davines fan when it comes to hair care, listing their Love Smoothing shampoo and conditioner as one of my all-time favorite Birchbox products. That being said, I was slightly disappointed to see not one but TWO products from their MINU line in my box. MINU specifically states that it’s for color-treated hair, and I specifically made it clear in the beauty profile you fill out when joining Birchbox, that I don’t color my hair. Now I realize that this doesn’t mean that I can’t use the product, but what a waste of a sample choice. I did lather up with this shampoo once in an effort to test it out, immediately liking the creamy formula and how lather rich it was. All this to say, while I didn’t hate it, it just wasn’t for me. My hair is extremely dry, so I need a shampoo that focuses more intensely on moisture.

Overall: I don’t color my hair. I’d suggest their  Love Smoothing Shampoo & Smoothing Conditioner instead.

#6. Davines MINU Hair Serum | I can’t say I was blown away by the MINU shampoo, but the hair serum was pretty impressive. I don’t know if it’s because I deep-conditioned my hair for an hour (using another product altogether) before applying this serum, but I won’t lie, I’m having a good hair day at the moment – subtle sheen, lots of bounce, and no frizziness. Life is good. Again, it’s designed for color-treated strands, but this leave-in treatment offers light-weight protection prior to heat styling. My hair felt and looked great after blow drying, and adequately prepped for my flat-iron. I’ll enjoy the rather small sample, but won’t continue with this product thereafter.

Overall: I still don’t color my hair, Birchbox.

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Birchbox Review | January 2015

Birchbox Review_January 2015_ATG FINAL
The first Birchbox of 2015 arrived a few weeks ago and it’s been quite the experimentation. My take on how January’s Birchbox products held up…

#1. Key West Aloe Gentle Aloe Cleanser | What is it about the word “aloe” that conjures up such feelings of calmness? Well, this facial cleanser from Key West Aloe lives up to that soothing feeling. (Ahh!) What makes this cleanser unique is that it contains 30% pure aloe vera, packing nutrient-rich power. It’s gentle enough for sensitive skin, smells wonderful, has a great texture, and compliments use with your Clarasonic device extremely well if you have one. Your skin leaves the bathroom feeling clean, soft, refreshed, and calm. At $16.50 full-sized (granted it’s only 6 ounces), it won’t break the bank either.

Overall: A do.

#2. Essentiel Elements Wake Up Rosemary Body Lotion | It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the shower gel version of this product. I use it when I’m looking for an especially indulgent showering session. This is in part because the scent is incredibly invigorating and instantly wakes up your senses, which is helpfully intensified by the steam. It should be no surprise then, that the body lotion equivalent packs that same Rosemary-scented punch. Admittedly, I went back and forth a lot with this lotion when deciding what my review would be. On the one hand, I loved the light texture and the way the product melts into your skin right away, without a trace of residue. On the other hand, though I enjoy the body wash immensely, having that same scent in lotion form isn’t really my cup of tea I found. I tend to prefer softer scents when it comes to lotions, usually, of the vanilla or floral variety. Add in the fact that there are entirely TOO MANY lotions in the world to not be fully satisfied (even if I am loyal to its counterpart), and I’ve made my decision. I’ll finish the sample, but my relationship with Essentiel Elements Rosemary products will likely stop with the shower gel.

 Overall:  A do…if the fragrance doesn’t bother you.

#3. Sweet Science Invisible Daily Tint  | I was pretty stoked to see this guy in my January box. I’m a huge stickler for having SPF on my face anytime I leave the house. Though my daily go-to moisturizer has sunscreen protection, my sometimes preferred heavier moisturizer for the winter months does not, essentially forcing me to use the product that does. It’s nice to have something that if you want more coverage to brave the colder months, you can still use it and slap on products like Sweet Science’s Invisible Daily Tint to help with the lack of sunscreen. This SPF 35 packed formula somehow mimics the coloring of your skin upon application, but invisibly settles in. This is because the tint is also designed to even skin tone, which you can see instantly. I’ve only used the sample on days when I didn’t want to wear make-up (though you certainly can use it with make-up) and I’m impressed. While the product is slightly gooey/messy to work with, I enjoyed the SPF protection and the light, even skin-toned coverage it provides, without the need for foundation. It also mattifies the skin, blocking out “shiny face syndrome.” I have to say, I’m not a fan of the $45 price tag for the full-sized version (at a mere 1 ounce!) – especially given how flooded the market is with products like this. That being said, this is a solid contender.

Overall: A do…if you can get behind the cost.

#4. REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask | This mask sure does make a girl feel special. It contains fruit acids and papaya enzymes that gently exfoliate the skin. It tingles for a few seconds after applying, but the feeling doesn’t last long and isn’t irritating in a way that makes you want to just give up and wash it off. It also smells wonderful. I’ve only used this product a few times and it would take consistent use to really see an overall improvement, I’m sure. I can say that 10 minutes after 1 use…your skin feels soft and refreshed; your complexion a little brighter. I hate to sound like a broken record (and trust me, I know beauty can be pricey) but again, $55 for 1.7 ounces is a stretch. Don’t get me wrong, if I find something I L.O.V.E. I’ll work with the cost, but glycol lactic masks are everywhere (though they do tend run on the pricier side, I know). I’m keeping my options open at the moment. I thoroughly enjoyed the sample and will certainly finish it out.

Overall:  A do (so far)….if you can get behind the cost.

#5. Katherine Cosmetics Everyday Eyeliner | I’ve sampled and reviewed A LOT of eyeliner over the years through Birchbox (and I mean a lot!) but this find one from a brand I’d never even heard of has to be my favorite yet. The “sample” was generous as you can tell – the liner arrived full-sized! I was immediately struck by the smudging brush located on the opposite end of the liner for your convenience. The pigment was rich, didn’t smear, was long-lasting, and flattering. I received the “Bonanza Black” shade (which to me channels more of a dark brown) and found it something that I could use day-to-day with no trouble. Perhaps if you’re fairer skinned the “Cessna Brown” might be more your speed. It’s little finds like this that make Birchbox fun! I highly recommend this liner if you’re in the market for something new and something that works.

Overall:  A do.

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Birchbox Review | December 2014

Birchbox December 2014 _ ATG FINAL 3

A little remaining 2014 business to take care of today. How the latest and greatest in beauty and lifestyle products made a gal feel a bit more gorgeous…or not so much. Let’s step back and get the skinny on the last Birchbox of the year.

#1. Acure Organics Sensitive Facial Cleanser  | Clearly, the probiotic trend is on the rise. I can personally attest that as supplements, they do wonders for the digestive system, but not until Acure’s product arrived in the mail, did I ever hear of probiotics in your facial cleanser!? Aside from being free of commonly found chemicals in your typical cleanser (think along the lines of parabens and phthalates), this organic cleanser does everything right. It’s gentle, creamy, non-scented, and moisturizing. This discovery has been an absolute dream to work with during the winter months. Admittedly, I usually like products that overdo it on the scent. It somehow makes me feel like it’s more of a treat to wash my face (than just a simple hygiene-based practice) when inhaling an invigorating fragrance, but I honestly didn’t mind here. I used this cleanser with my Clarasonic. Combined, it created something pretty special. I was actually surprised at the mere $14 price tag….until I realized that a “full-sized” product is only 4 ounces. Beware, you’re in for a treat, but you’ll pay for it.

Overall: A do. If you can get behind the cost.

#2. Beauty Protector Protect & Oil  | This discovery from Beauty Protector had all the right ingredients to impress me: a light-weight texture; a pleasing, subtle scent; and upon application, a nice sheen. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough moisture in this product to make me feel like my strands were consistently hydrated. I had to use quite a bit of oil once I gauged that might have something to do with it, defeating the “light-weight” factor some. I can imagine someone who simply needs a hint of moisture that would like this product. However, if like me, you have chronically dry hair (and prefer to spritz in moisture) – I’d skip this and recommend the Macadamia Professional Healing Oil Spray

 Overall: Pass.

#3. Laura Geller Beauty Spackle Supercharged Fortified Under Make-Up Primer | I’m a gal who appreciates a good primer before make-up use. I wasn’t always of this mindset, thinking that it was simply another expensive product that was ultimately unnecessary. When Birchbox introduced me to Lancôme’s La Base Pro Primer, I became a believer and haven’t looked back. The caveat is that Lancôme’s primer is expensive, and between you and me, I use the tiniest pump possible to stretch not having to buy it more than once or twice a year. This alternative from Laura Geller just might replace Lancôme on my counter-top vanity. It’s $12 cheaper and 2.5 times the size! The added benefits, outside of creative branding (I think calling this stuff “Spackle” is pure genius), this primer is infused with vitamins and anti-aging ingredients. As such, it can also be worn alone for a soft, make-up free, highlighting glow to the skin. It’s a win, win.

Overall: A do.

#4. Manna Kadar Lip Locked | When I hear that a lip product is “a primer, lip stain, and gloss in one,” I can’t help but get excited about the potential. If done right, it eliminates the need to have several different products in your make-up bag that can be achieved with just one. When I hear that a lip product is all-in-one AND long-lasting, I’m officially on-board. Unfortunately, Manna Kadar didn’t get the memo – their product is lacking. I’ll admit that my dissatisfaction was in large part because I received a shade that was too close to my natural lip color to really stand out. This may work for some ladies, but if I wanted to sport a look the same color as my lips – I’d just throw on some clear Chapstick and call it a day. What I really couldn’t understand was why this was considered “long-lasting?” I’d swear this stuff came off pretty quickly. Then again, seeing as how it was mere inches in difference from my natural color, perhaps my eyes deceived me? So, I tried again…and determined they weren’t. Bottom line, there are entirely way too many products on the market for all this guess-work. I expect to be impressed immediately when it comes to lip products.

Overall:  Pass.

#5. Lord & Berry Paillettes Eye Pencil | A little bit of sparkle and a whole lot of fun, just in time for the holidays. Lord & Berry’s glimmer-filled eye pencil was a festive addition to my make-up routine on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. I found the pencil to be long-lasting and the amount of glitter not too overwhelming. Unfortunately, unless you’re club-hopping every weekend after the holidays, or find yourself at a lot of parties throughout the year – there won’t be much use for it. I certainly plan to enjoy the sample as the appropriate occasions arise, but it’s not practical for everyday use.

Overall: Indifferent.

Birchbox Blue Gold Foil December 2014_ATG FINAL 2

{Side note: I would’ve paid $10 just for the stunning blue and gold foiled box! Well done, Birchbox.}

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Birchbox Review | November 2014

Birchbox November 2014 ATG FINAL (2)

A breakdown of how the latest and greatest in beauty and lifestyle products made a gal feel a bit more gorgeous…or not so much. Let’s step back to last month and get the skinny on November’s Birchbox…

#1. Gilchrist & Soames Spa Therapy Body Wash | This Gilchrist & Soames Body Wash was a total treat from my daily Caress-inspired bathing experiences. I absolutely loved the subtle marine and citrus scent. It instantly restores you, while equally making you feel fresh and clean. I certainly also welcome products that are crafted with care. I’m not one to personally go out of my way to use only organic and/or chemical-free formulas, but I don’t mind the added benefit. This body wash seems to make an effort to remove certain chemicals that tend to get a bad wrap. That being said, I realize the hypocrisy when I say that what usually drives my decisions when using products in general, is not only performance, but cost. It’s hard to get behind a $15 bottle of body wash when I get something for twice the size, 3 times less in cost. But I’m not a party-pooper either. I can see the benefit if you like to have something more luxurious and high-end in your shower too. I might splurge on a more expensive body wash to compliment those days when you just want a little something more. I’m a fan of this one from Gilchrist and Soames, as well as this great find from Essentiel Elements just a few months ago.

Overall: A do. If you can get behind the cost.

#2. Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Sensitive  |  I respect what Juice Beauty products aim to do, but once again I’m unimpressed when it comes to performance. I think the first two things that made me realize I wouldn’t care for this product before I even applied it to my face was the strange water-y consistency, and that I felt duped by the fact that this had no resemblance in scent to “green apples”…or anything. Ultimately, what I couldn’t get into was that I didn’t feel like it was strong enough to really make an impact on my skin. I’m not blaming this product entirely, because I can’t say for sure whether it was the cause – but it also didn’t help that I would notice a blemish or 2 after using it.

 Overall: Pass.

#3. theBalm Cosmetics Cindy Lou-Manizer | I might lose cool points for this but it took me a minute to figure out what this was! I thought it was just a simple peach-hued eye shadow sample. I had to physically read the instructions on it before I understood that the cleverly packaged powder pot is an all-in-one highlighter: for cheekbones, eyelids, or all over face application. I’ve used it mostly as that aforementioned eye shadow, which gives a subtle hint of color that brightens the eye area, but have experimented with it more loosely as a facial luminizer. Lo and behold it does add a very gentle glow to my face that’s appealing! And I have to say, I just love the packaging.

Overall: A do.

#4. Eslor Firming Collagen Day Cream | One of the things that I totally appreciate learning from my mom at a very early age, was taking care of my skin. This is not to brag, but I’m in a happy place at the moment, where I’m not too concerned or deal with wrinkles. Then I got to thinking as I first opened the jar to Eslor’s cream, that this probably means that in order to maintain that good skin care habit I’ve had since I was a teenager, that I probably should pay more attention to products designed to help keep my skin firm. Though it helps that I’m African-American (and the saying “black don’t crack” is true…to an extent), being in my early 30s is probably the right time to start using firming products to help keep me in my happy place as long as humanly possible. I realize it’s better to start early and prevent, rather than spend all of this time (and money) trying to correct and repair once those fine lines start to appear. Admittedly, I had a hard time gauging if this product was working for me since I’m in my wrinkle-free happy place and I’m sure I’d need prolonged use of it to see a noticeable difference. I will say that I can get behind the scent and the rich luxurious feel of this cream. It’s no joke at $85, but I suppose this is much more realistic (and healthier given it’s paraben-free formula) than a $10,000+ face-lift. However, I’m not a fan of the cost. Personally, I would find a more reasonable alternative.

Overall: Too soon to say, but I like it so far. Too expensive.

#5. Chuao Chocolatier | I’m not usually one to bash chocolate, but I’ll have to here. There aren’t too many ways to ruin chocolate, but Chuao Chocolatier certainly found a way. This treat is offered in a variety of flavors leading to me believe that perhaps it was just the flavor that I received that missed the mark. The Firecracker flavor, described as a “chipotle caramel fudge dotted with popping candy and salt in dark chocolate,” was so disturbing, I didn’t even finish it. At first bite, a rich dark chocolate taste hits your tongue in such a way that makes you smile, then the spiciness of the chipotle along with the tang of the salt complicate things immediately. Add in that the chocholate then starts to physically pop in your mouth (channeling Pop Rocks candy circa 30 years ago) and I was completely turned off. I like my chocolate rather simple: rich, sweet, perhaps with a bit of crunch from a nut or something – but never spicy, salty, or popping in my mouth. Yuck!

Overall: Pass.

#6. Harvey Prince Petaly Noir | Harvey Prince is quickly becoming my favorite fragrance line. They consistently do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. Their Hello scent is my signature go-to when I want to smell fun and flirty. Essentially, before you even open your mouth to speak, the fragrance does it for you. It aptly says, “Hello! I’m here.” Petaly Noir couldn’t be the opposite of traits. Reserved for when a gal wants to channel her inner seductress, this fragrance is bold and dark and demands the personality of a woman who can handle it. Its combination of jasmine, vanilla, orchid, and lily of the valley make it an intense statement fragrance. It might not be for everyone, but I adore it.

Overall: A do.

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Birchbox Review | October 2014

Birchbox Review October 2014 ATG FINAL
A breakdown of how the latest and greatest in beauty and lifestyle products made a gal feel a bit more gorgeous…or not so much. Product reviews are left to right, top to bottom. Here’s the scoop on October’s Birchbox…

ModelCo Power Lash Long Wear Black Mascara 

I might have found a contender to my beloved They’re Real! Mascara. ModelCo’s Power Lash Long Wear Black Mascara was a welcome sample to play with this month. The formula, which made me raise a brow in concern because it’s surprisingly thick and a bit messy as I pulled the wand from the tube, held its own. It didn’t clump, flake, and when wanting to create volume with multiple coats, it did so with ease. The strong jet black shade is also right up my alley. Aside from the thick formula (which ended up redeeming itself based on performance), my only other criticism was that I found the brush a little thick for me, which meant having to clean up my eyelids a bit once I’d finished application. Otherwise, I’m impressed. This is a great mascara that won’t break the bank.

Overall: A do.

Essentiel Elements Wake Up Rosemary Shower Gel

The moment you dispense this shower gel onto your loofah, you realize pretty quickly that you’re in for a treat. The smell that fills your shower is energizing and heavenly. Add in that this product has a luxurious texture, produced a rich lather (I’m sorry, I’m a sucker for suds), along with how soft my skin felt once I stepped out the shower and I’m sold…almost. Unfortunately, it’s hard to justify spending $19 on body wash, particularly when Caress does the job for $4 and gives you 10 more ounces of product per bottle – though I realize you’re getting a host of more natural ingredients and much sexier packaging (that glass jar is pretty cool, by the way). If I were to make a full-sized purchase of this, it would be a body wash I’d use a few times per week (as opposed to my daily go-to) to enjoy the spa-like experience at home to unwind after a stressful day. Either way, I enjoyed Essentiel Elements Wake Up Rosemary Shower Gel and I think you will, too….however, this would used more as a special indulgence to get some longevity out of it.

 Overall: A do. If you can get behind the cost.

Curlisto Deep Therapy Masque 

I’ll be honest, this is a product I want to use a few more times before making a firmer, concrete decision one way or the other. That being said, I’ll write my impressions after just one use. I appreciated the scent and creamy texture of Curlisto’s hair masque. My hair felt great as I worked the product in; instantly giving it a sleeker, more hydrated feel. One thing that comes to mind, however, is that this masque requires you to have already conditioned your hair prior to use, which I found unusual. Most masques go right on after shampooing in my experience. As such, I had a hard time gauging the performance of the masque in and of itself. Was my hair feeling great because I’d essentially already conditioned and then used this product? I suppose the best way to know would be to “break the rules” and just use this mask right after shampooing to really rate its merit. Suffice to say, I’m not praising the product or disregarding it altogether, because I’d like to use it a few more times. However, I’m big on first impressions and given the $36 price tag, this didn’t readily knock it out of the park for me.

Overall: Too soon to say, but it’s not looking great at the moment.

LuMESH Hydrating Lip Gloss 

This lip gloss didn’t do much for me. I’ll admit I enjoyed the slight tingle it gives your lips after application, but I always found myself somewhat eager to rub this off after a while (which is probably a good thing, meaning it has some staying-power). The shade I received, “Sadie,” wasn’t any different from the natural color of my lips, so it didn’t do much other than give a nice sheen to them. This is usually okay with me when wanting to keep my look natural and un-fussed looking, but I simply wasn’t blown away by this product – likely because of the shade, but also because I’m over lip gloss at the moment. I have no qualms with lip gloss, but I’m finding that I’m currently in more a lipstick with staying-power place in my life. I won’t pursue this product any further once (or if) I finish the sample.

Overall: Pass.

Miracle Skin Transformer Miracle Revival Mud 

While it should always be mask season, I notice that toward the later part of the year is when my skin needs extra TLC to keep hydrated, clear, and happy. As 2014 begins to wind down and the cooler temperatures join us, I was thrilled to see this product in my box. I don’t currently have a good go-to mask that I use with any sort of regularity (unless is comes in the form of a Birchbox sample). Miracle Skin Transformer’s Revival Mud Mask, therefore, came just in the nick of time. I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled with the smell of this product, but tried to keep my focus on how effective the product would hopefully be. 15 minutes later, the first few spent slightly uncomfortable as it burns upon application, and I was a fan. My skin felt soft, clean, and supple. The $38 price tag is discouraging to me, so I don’t know if I’d ever go full-sized, but I would save up Birchbox points toward the cost. This is a great mask if you’re in the market.

Overall: A do. If you can get behind the cost.

SeaRx Microdermabrasion Face and Body Scrub

SeaRx is quickly becoming one of my favorite brand discoveries through Birchbox. I still dream about their moisturizing lotion often since I ran out the sample last month. (Gosh, I loved that stuff.) Their scrub did an admirable job. While this can be used for the entire body, I kept usage to my face only. I think the reason why I’m not raving about this product was that I was expecting a more “harsh” scrub. The crystals used in this formula are very, very fine almost to the point that you don’t even feel like it’s giving your skin a thorough exfoliation. Rather than ding it for not being a “rougher” scrub, perhaps this makes it something pretty special to be able to effectively give you a smooth and fresh face after use? I mean, my skin looked and felt incredible so I guess that’s all that matters. Either way, I still personally like a deeper feeling exfoliation. I’m not planning to continue with this product after the sample runs out.

Overall: Indifferent.

Thanks for reading!

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With Gratitude…

make-a-wish-atg-final_With Gratitude

I’ve been feeling out of sorts as of late and though I’m pretty aware of the reasons for it, I’m also trying to remember that it goes with the ebb and flow of life. It’s only natural, apart of the ride. Much of what’s contributing to this feeling I realize is a signal that it’s time for a change. I’m trying to work out what I feel the next steps should be to bring me into better alignment with “what next?” but it’s producing a range of emotions that is another story altogether. Rather than dwell on it too much, I know the best way to deal with a flux in your mood as you work through anything in life is to continue to live in gratitude. It’s when you focus on the good, what brings you joy, however big or small, that makes the journey all the more meaningful…and a little easier.

I try to live by the philosophy of keeping your spirits in the right perspective, even as you progress through a range of emotions. Of course, this is a constant conversation I have to have with myself when dealing with the unknown. The interesting thing is that oftentimes whatever is nagging you tends to works itself out, or the right guidance will come just when you need it to. So though I’ve been in a pretty blah mood this week, I’m with gratitude for the small things, waiting until that ah-ha moment comes and I find my next step. These 11 come to mind:

  • As the weather continues to cool in LA (finally!) and it actually starts to feel like fall (finally!), my (very girly) addiction to candles is alive and well again. Nothing beats the warm glow and the heavenly scent that makes home feel all the more like my special refuge.
  • 7 words: Gilmore. Girls. Is. Now. Streaming. On. Netflix. (Amid the glow of those aforementioned candles, will be much “ass on couch time” re-living one of my favorite shows as a teen.)
  • I recently discovered Trader Joe’s Belgian Butter Almond Thins and I can already tell this is going to a be problem. I can’t put them down. Yum!
  • The one thing I never take for granted: being in good health.
  • The other thing I never take for granted: a good job and a paycheck.
  • The other, other thing I never take for granted: a warm place to sleep at night.
  • Iced vanilla lattes.
  • My Stinker – who makes me breakfast every weekend…and readily helps in my coffee addiction.
  • Along with the switch in seasons means (finally!) getting to rock scarves – the ultimate fall staple.
  • Birchbox makes me happy.
  • The smell of a Stargazer lily, arguably my favorite flower if I had to pick one.

I’m with gratitude…

What are you grateful for?

Happy hump day to you! x

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Birchbox Review | SEPTEMBER

Birchbox September ATG FINAL

September’s Birchbox ranks as one of my all-time favorites. I don’t really have a bad thing to say….well, maybe a little thing… or two.  Let’s break it down!

#1. Macadamia Professional Healing Oil Spray  | Coincidentally, about a week before this product arrived, I remember looking at myself in the mirror and flat out saying out loud (yes, I talk to myself…and often), “I wish I could just add a lightweight spritz of oil to my hair right now, to give it just a hint of shine and moisture in-between shampoo sessions.Of course, I already have an oil product that I use religiously for this purpose, but it involves distributing product the old-fashioned way: pouring a gooey substance into your hands, rubbing them together, and then applying to the hair. I was in the mood for something that I could just grab, spray, comb through and be out! Sometimes the Birchbox Gods, or rather Goddesses, hear your cry. This Macadamia Professional Healing Oil Spray satisfies all your hair moisturizing needs. It’s light, instantly gives your hair sheen, smells heavenly, requires no contact with gooey substances, and works great on wet or dry strands. It also didn’t hurt that someone walked over to me one day and said my hair looked fantastic! Outside of my stellar hair-dressing skills (I’m no José Eber but I do well), I’m giving this product part credit in keeping my hair happy and healthy as of late. I’m in LOVE. This will definitely become apart of my routine full-time. The great news is that it’s a steal on Amazon for twice the size.

Overall: It’s a do. Repeat: It’s a DO. Third time’s a charm: DO IT!

#2. TEMPTU S/B Highlighter  | I like make-up as much as the next girl, but unless I’m going to work or going out somewhere special, I don’t feel the need to have a full face of make-up on. And even then, I keep things pretty standard: a little concealer for under the eyes, foundation, mascara, and if I’m feeling especially in the mood, some blush on the cheeks. The point being that I’ve never used a highlighter. Thanks to Birchbox, I got my first taste using this “Champagne Shimmer” highlighter from Temptu, who I learned is also leading the at-home make-up airbrushing revolution (and now I kinda want one). While I don’t think a highlighter is an absolute necessity (because this becomes yet ANOTHER expense), I can certainly see how incorporating a good highlighter magically gives your skin a more polished, glowing look after you’ve applied your basics. I especially loved the effect you get when mixing the highlighter with your foundation for an all over radiant shimmer (a tip I learned from a fellow Birchboxer). Since I’m new to highlighters, I want to experiment with different shades and brands, but this one from Temptu is a great start. It’s seriously has me considering the idea of adding highlighters to my routine.

 Overall: A do.

#3. Yu-Be Moisturizing Skin Cream | Rumor has it that this has been Japan’s top-selling moisturizer for over 50 years…unfortunately, this would be the product where I have that aforementioned bad thing to say. While I appreciated this product’s aim – moisturizing everything from my heels to my lips (somehow that sounds weird as I type that, but that’s what this stuff does!), I couldn’t get past the Vicks Vapor Rub smell. I felt like I should be in bed with a cold just begging be to able to smell something, anything, so that I knew my clogged sinuses were only temporary and that relief was on the way. (In that moment, even catching a whiff of Vick’s is a godsend). I liked the product, but couldn’t get over the smell or the texture. It really just seems to be a high-end version of Vaseline if you ask me.

Overall: Eh.

#4. Laura Mercier Full Blown Volume Supreme Mascara | If you knew me, or read any of my beauty-related posts over the last year, you know that I’m loyal to Benefit’s They’re Real! Mascara. I’ve said it over, and over, and over….and over, again. I’m very happy in the mascara area at the moment, but if I were on the prowl for a new find, this gem from Laura Mercier might be a serious contender. It goes on smooth, welcomes multiple applications with ease to create volume-filled lashes to your liking that don’t clump, and it doesn’t flake. Here’s where my second bad thing to say comes into play: I’ve gotten so use to the ease and clean application with Benefit’s wand (I hardly ever have to use a Q-Tip afterward), that I have a hard time using the more traditional “bushy” mascara wands that get product all over the eyelid (yuck!). Otherwise, this is a great mascara if you want a more natural look. If you want intense volume and va-va-voom lashes, They’re Real! is your friend.

Overall: A do, but I’m still sticking with They’re Real! until they stop making the stuff. Best mascara. Ever.

#5. Dr. Brandt Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner | Luckily, I don’t really have much pore-related drama in my life. I may get a blemish here or there every so often, but I don’t personally battle blackheads or have large pores or anything. My skin concerns are almost always related to hydration and seeking a more even complexion (because on the rare occasion I do get a pimple, it almost always leaves a small mark behind). That being said, this mask from Dr. Brandt was impressive for me in that it didn’t make my skin feel dry after use. This is important given that its mission is to extract all the junk that’s lurking in your pores – and in my experience, products such as these have me begging for a moisturizer as soon I get the stuff off. I enjoyed sampling this mask. It’s quick and easy to use. I appreciated how it turns light blue as an indicator that it’s time to rinse off. The most heavenly part has to be the way your skin feels squeaky clean as you pat dry. The feel of the air on your skin is indescribable right after use. Magic!

Overall: A do. If you can get behind the cost.

#6. ChapStick Dual-Ended Hydration Lock | At the moment I’m crushing on Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm, but this Chapstick will go to good use. My relationship with Chapstick was re-invigorated by Birchbox last October when they introduced me to their Hydration Lock product line, which I adore. The twist on this particular Chapstick is the “Dual-Ended” feature. One side “Renews” while the other “Moisturizes” (yeah, I don’t get the difference either.) Upon further investigation, the “renew” end is great for use alone or as a primer for your lipstick during the day. The “Moisturize” side contains antioxidants more geared toward night use. The gimmick is apparent here, but I still like the product. Chapstick is Chapstick. I doubt I’ll be paying too much attention to what end I use. As long as my  lips feel nourished and it lasts longer than 10 minutes, I’m happy.

Overall: A Do.

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5 Reasons This Week Will Rock!

5 Reasons LogoHappy (almost) fall! As we gear up for another Monday, the first day of fall tomorrow, and a very busy week ahead, I’m particularly excited about a few things coming down the pipeline. Here are 5 reasons this week will rock…

1. Pumpkin spice everything.

1-New folder (2){Last year’s celebratory salute to all things pumpkin.}

You may have seen the article floating around about how Starbucks’ ever popular Pumpkin Spice Latte apparently has everything in it but actual pumpkin! It certainly is causing a pretty polarizing discussion around its supposed ingredients and its relationship to your health. Some are arguing that the original article is simply shedding light on what’s in our favorite fall beverage with the aim to help you make a more educated decision about what you put in your body, while others are touting that the article that caused a stir (no pun intended) is not “scientifically validated.” Look, I’m not going to get into whether one should or shouldn’t here. To each his own. What I will share is that seeing as how it’s Monday, that I’m going to need a pick me up (and hello, it’s fall!), I’m likely standing in line to grab my very first celebratory Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season as you read this. My motto: everything in moderation. (But yes, nothing probably beats real pumpkin.)

2. More radiant skin arrives in the mail.


When I learned Birchbox sold the highly-acclaimed and universally loved Clarasonic Mia, I immediately started saving my Birchbox points to join the legion of worshipers. Nine long months of reviewing products (oh, the agony of playing with make-up!) to save up points, along with a sexy $10 off coupon and I finally placed my order over the weekend! I can’t wait to join the Clarasonic family to see what all the fuss is about. It arrives in a few short days. I’ll keep you posted on if this thing is worth the hype, but I already suspect it is. More radiant skin is on the way!

3. Date night with a twist.


What would typically be another uneventful Wednesday night probably settling in for a solo evening of homemade pasta and my Kindle, has me excited to see the usually more prim and proper Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey fame) in the well-received new thriller/mystery film, The Guest. Fans of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, are apparently in for a treat. The Guest is at an uber impressive 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Sometimes a gal just needs her guy, a good thriller, and some sort of sugary candy fix to look forward to. Uneventful Wednesday night plans, cancelled.

4. One more dose of David.


I’ve spoken much love toward my yoga instructor, David. Needless to say that when he announced he was leaving for Nepal for one month I was selfishly not a happy camper. It’s like discovering national treasure itself when you find an instructor that equally challenges and pushes you, but always makes you feel okay with listening to your body and doing what’s best for you. The good news is that I get one more dose of David in class tonight before he leaves. I plan to take it all in, be present, and get my yoga on with my favorite instructor. Once I’ve had my last dose and roll up my mat tonight in a more calm, focused space, I’ll do the “yogic” thing and wish him well on his travels…but not a minute before. Nepal is very lucky to have him.

5. “It’s handled.”1-Fullscreen capture 9302013 122013 PM

Don’t bother me this Thursday night. I’m unavailable. Scandal is back! Who-hoo! And now that my beloved Kerry Washington has popped, we get more Olivia Pope and less awkward framing and camera work to hide the baby bump. The icing on the cake? I’m super excited to see Viola Davis in the equally anticipated new drama How to Get Away with MurderLet me re-iterate: no phone calls, texts, Facebook comments, Instagram likes, or unexpected visits at my front door this Thursday night… and every other Thursday night until further notice. I’m busy. 🙂

I hope this Monday finds you looking forward to a rockin’ week, too!

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Birchbox Review | AUGUST

Birchbox August ATG FINAL

Happy September! Let’s take a quick step back and explore last month’s Birchbox.

Here’s how the latest and greatest in beauty made August feel a little bit more gorgeous…or not so much.

#1. Neil George Shampoo | I’m pretty much at a place where I wish Birchbox would stop sending me shampoo and conditioner samples altogether. With the exception of the Davines line, I’m consistently disappointed by the shampoo and conditioner products. What’s worse is when so-called celebrated “top Hollywood hair stylists” create product lines for us regular folk that channel nothing more than what you’d find stocked standard in a hotel bathroom at the Marriott. (I can’t take full credit for this analogy, I read something similar when researching the product, but I couldn’t agree more with that description.) Unfortunately, what Birchbox seems to be missing (though I’m sure they’re aware of it per the meticulously detailed profile they have you fill out when signing up) is that I am African-American, and therefore, require tons of moisture in both a shampoo and conditioner. Thick, creamy, lather-rich shampoos are my go-to. Neil George couldn’t be more opposite of this. It has the consistency of a step above water, and barely lathered after using half the sample (I’m sorry, I like a lathering shampoo). Perhaps this works better on a different hair type from mine (though this product is not highly reviewed overall on I ended up giving this to my boyfriend (whose hair texture is the complete contrast of mine) so as to not waste it, and even he thought it was “just fine.”

Overall: Pass.

#2. Neil George Conditioner | See above and insert said comment here.

Overall: Pass.

#3. SeaRX Birch Sap Moisturizing Lotion | This product was the star of my August Birchbox, a surprisingly refreshing and effective moisturizing lotion. I absolutely LOVED the smell and the lightweight texture. Enhanced with minerals from the ocean, birch sap, and sugar – there was something non-threatening about applying it on my face. It’s as if you could almost feel nature melt seamlessly into the skin. I actually looked forward to using this product, and appreciated the way my skin looked and felt after each usage. The downside, which is uber important to me, is that there is no SPF protection included in this product – a necessity for me when thinking about a facial moisturizer. The good news is that this product can be used all over the body, which I do like when it comes to versatility. If I were to proceed with this gem full-time, I’d either only use it at night, or supplement a sunscreen for day use (which drives the cost up more, not making me happy given that this product is already $28 full-sized).

Overall: A do, though disappointed in the no SPF factor.

#4. Dr. Jart+ PORE MEDIC Pore Minish Primer | It took me awhile to even warm up to the idea of a primer. I always thought if you bought the right make up this step was unnecessary. I came to the conclusion after being introduced to Lancome’s La Base Pro Face Primer in one of my early Birchbox’s that a primer is, in fact, a good idea and now I’m hooked. Primers smooth the skin, helps prevent makeup from seeping into pores (and clogging them), as well as keep your makeup looking as is of you’d just applied it. I’m especially a fan of primers during the summer to help maintain application as much as possible during the warmer (read: sweaty) months of the year. This one by Dr. Jart did an admirable job. I can’t say that my pores looked tightened, because in general my pores look just fine if you ask me. Dr. Jart’s primer also claims to improve complexion. I can’t vouch for that either given the short time I’ve been using the sample. What it does (and did well) is create a the perfect canvas for make up application. Kudos to them for removing a lot of the no-no chemicals found in products (i.e. parabens, sulfates, etc.). I also like the more reasonable price point. The Lancome primer I use is smaller at .8oz and costs $10 more.

Overall: A do.

#5. Noir Cosmetics Long-Wear Eyeliner | Overall, I found this to be an effective eyeliner. It glides on about as smoothly as a pencil eyeliner can, and does so with a rich jet black pigmentation. I didn’t test its “water-proof” claim personally, but can attest to its wear. I won’t say that this liner doesn’t smudge (because it did some) but given the opaqueness, and the fact that this is not a gel or liquid liner, it performed well. I am especially impressed with its vitamin E and jojoba oil ingredients – making it more appealing for such a sensitive area (and those of us who wear contacts!). I don’t find this to be unreasonably priced at $15 either. Win, win.

Overall: A do.

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Birchbox Review | July 2014

How the latest and greatest in beauty and lifestyle products made me feel a little bit more gorgeous this month…or not so much. Here’s the skinny…

Birchbox Review July ATG FINAL

#1.  Harvey Prince Hello Body Cream | It’s no secret that thanks to Birchbox, I’m a fan of Harvey Prince. If I had to pick my signature scent right now, Hello is my near daily go-to perfume choice (which I’ve gushed about before here and here.). In a nutshell, the Hello Body Cream is the icing on the cake! The formula is infused with my beloved Hello perfume, along with sweet almond oil, citrus botanicals, and shea butter to give it a bright scent, and light moisturizing feel. The texture is silky and the product blends into the skin almost instantly. Your hands (which is where I opted to use this product) feel saturated and soft, without a greasy residue. As much as I love the cream, I’ll stick to their perfume as my Harvey Prince indulgence of choice. Though I do adore this product, I can’t see myself spending $22 on a 12 ounce bottle of lotion at this time. I’d rather save up and invest in the fragrance.

Overall: A do…if you can get behind the cost.

#2.  Ruffian Nail Lacquer – Ambrosia | I’ve received a Ruffian nail polish sample from Birchbox before. I won’t go into much further detail from my previous review last September, but I will say that I loved this color much better than the one I got last year. I do think this was largely why I was so unimpressed at the time. There’s nothing worse than a “blah” shade in any beauty product. The Ambrosia color has a unique metallic lavender finish that sparkles subtly in the sunshine. And even better, you really only need one coat. Where Ruffian does excel is in the design of the bottle. I do appreciate the ball shape on the cap. It allows for a good grip and gives you more control during application.

 Overall: Perhaps I misjudged Ruffian the first time around. Relationship status, pending.

#3.  Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair Moisturizer  | Like most skin care products designed to help with fine lines and wrinkles, this gel serum from Juice Beauty (cool name!) would take time and repeated usage to see any real results. I’ve only used this product a few times and would need to continue use for a while to form an opinion (and I don’t know if the size of the sample would give me enough product to form one anyway!). I don’t really have anything to say other than I wasn’t a fan of how it made my skin feel pretty dry after application. I was always desperate to get to my moisturizer after using it. Admittedly, I happen to be in the category right now of not really having aging concerns when it comes to my skin. This likely due to my age, my race (African-Americans tend to age well), and the fact that my mom looks more like my sister (so I have good genes!). That being said, I’ve always been one for good skin care (also thanks to my mom) and probably do need to start thinking more seriously about using something like this product on a more regular basis to get an early start at warding off signs of aging. Unfortunately, I don’t think it would be with this product anyway.

Overall: Eh.

#4.  Ruffian Dressing Room Nail Lacquer Remover Towelettes | I have a confession to make and I may lose cool points for it. I typically resort to maximum strength acetone-based nail polish remover when it’s time for a polish change. And while I know this stuff is known to wreak havoc on nails, I like the ease of a quick swipe, swipe, swipe, and the polish is gone. Though I think these towelettes are a pretty genius idea, I wasn’t thrilled that it took 3 times as long for me to remove my polish. It’s not like I was in any big rush or anything, I just hate rubbing the same nail over…and over…and over…times 10 (it’s my A.D.D. nature, I’m sure). However, these perfume scented towelettes are winners in and of themselves. Each wipe is enough to remove the polish of an entire mani or pedi. They are acetone-free, and therefore, naturally much less harsh on nails. Add in the fact that they smell wonderful, and are infused with vitamin E – which leaves the nail bed area all the more moisturized – and this is something I could buy into, despite the longer removal time. Where these fall short is being able to really reach toward the sides of the nail bed nearest the skin in the deeper crevices. You’ll still need the aid of a Q-tip, which is slightly disappointing given that a box of 10 towelettes costs $12.

Overall: A do…if you don’t mind a longer removal time…and the cost.

#5.  100% Pure Gingerade Shower Gel (Honey Cream Wash) | This was a case of I just couldn’t tell. I couldn’t tell if this all-natural (a plus!) ginger-inspired body wash was a scent I could get behind because I didn’t hate it, but I couldn’t say I loved it either. I really couldn’t tell much about its performance from the pathetic-sized samples I got where one packet barely did anything on my loofah. I actually had to add my go-to Caress body wash to it to finish my shower. This has all the ingredients for a terrible first impression. It might help if Birchbox sent a larger sample to really get a sense of the product, but this was disappointing. I just gave up and denounced this altogether. There are too many products on the market to experiment with. Neeeext!

Overall: Pass.

#6. Ofra Universal Eyebrow Pencil | I don’t personally use eyebrow pencils. If I ever feel the need to define them on a rare given day, I usually just add a few swipes over my brow bone using a brown eyeliner pencil applied with a light hand. That said, this eyebrow pencil by Ofra is a good option if you don’t like the all-in-one convenience of just using your eyeliner. What makes this particular pencil stand-out, is that it’s designed to work on any gals brows, from blondes to brunettes. Obviously, I can’t speak to its universality, but as a brunette with a darker (honey) complexion this pencil works well. You really only need just a few strokes and you’re set. The pencil is long-lasting and fills nicely.

Overall:  A do… if you’d rather not just use an eyeliner.

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