PiPOLL and a chat with the brilliant (I’m biased) women behind it

A few weeks ago,  I took an online test to determine whether I should support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the Democratic party nomination. It asked a series of 10 agree/disagree questions based on what issues are important to you (example: education, health care, foreign policy, etc.). It then computes for your compatibility with either candidate, based on their own positions on those issues. It thought it would be great if someone would come up with a similar test for our upcoming presidential elections. Lord knows we need something to filter out all bullsh*t that has become an even more prominent feature of our elections. Little did I know that we already had our own version of BernievsHillary.org.

PiPOLL made the rounds on my Facebook feed, appropriately enough, on the night of the 2nd Presidential Debates. It asks you where you stand on important socio-political issues and based on your answers, matches you with the candidate you agree with the most.   It forces you to leave your biases and preconceptions about each candidate at the door, leaving you with an objective match.

PiPoll

Imagine my surprise and pride when I find out that former elementary school classmates were behind the site, and one of them was one of my best friends. PiPOLL is a partnership between Ethel Francisco, who handles the research for the site, and Ish Gagno, who takes care of the technical side of things. And, naturally, I used my friendship card to get them to chat with me about PiPOLL for the blog.

How did you come up with the idea for PiPOLL?

Ethel Francisco: “So I’m a nerd and the selection matrix that was used as basic framework for the app, I created that using Excel and used it back in 2010 when I voted for Gibo. In the run-up to the 2016 elections, I really don’t want the wrong person (ed’s note: wrong person’s name redacted) to get elected and I couldn’t live with myself if I wouldn’t even try to do anything to stop that. Thus, a voter education site. I bunked with Ish back in Feb when I visited Singapore and thought that hey, she can help me make this happen.”

What do you want to achieve with PiPOLL?

EF: “I want people to THINK about their choices. With social media  and all the information just popping up everyday,  it’s so easy to get swept up by the noise and the drama. So hopefully the app is able to help people sift through the whole heap, challenge people to make a stand and help them choose.”

How did you go about choosing which issues/topics to include? 

EF: “I just did a simple crowdsourcing on Facebook and social messaging to get to the 20-point list.”

Some people would prefer to have an “undecided” option, but you decided against having one, why is that? 

EF: “If there’s an undecided option, and some people end up just hitting it on all the 20 questions, then what value would that bring about? We wanted to challenge people to make a stand on the issues. If you don’t know the topic, we’ve put references you can read up on. Just make a stand. You can decide that the issue is not important for you, and that affects the weight in the final tabulation. But be informed and make your stand.”

Ish Gagno: “Keeping the answers to only ‘Agree’ and ‘Disagree’ was a conscious decision. Our goal was to help as many Filipinos scrutinize their prospective choice, to go past choosing just based on high-level likeability and onto actually digging deeper to discover what they stand for and intend to do as President. We expect our President to make hard decisions; as voters, we should expect the same of ourselves.”

What was the hardest part about the entire process, from conceptualizing to finally launching PiPOLL? 

EF: “Ish and I are actually overseas, away from the Philippines and are in two separate countries. We also have day jobs and would just be able to squeeze in the research and the coding when we get to smuggle in free time. That’s not entirely hard or difficult, just challenging. What was difficult was when we launched the app, and it seemed to go viral with more than 5,000 unique clicks in less than 48 hours after launch and we realized we didn’t exactly prepare for virality. Haha.”

Speaking of going viral, were you surprised by the reaction to the site? 

EF: “We find it a blessing that the launch coincided with the 2nd Presidential Debates. It was not planned at all. We just wanted to launch before the Holy Week break. So we cleared the features, launch at around 6PM 10 March, the debates happened on 20 March then boom. We’re really happy with the response. Very glad to see people find the value of what we’ve created. Ish thought of turning it into a Buzzfeed-like quiz and I think that allowed people to suppose this was just a fun thing online but while they’re on it, they realize that, hey, they’re being challenged to THINK.”

IG: “Ethel and I are both overwhelmed and overjoyed by all the feedback. We’re happy to have been a force that made it possible for thousands of Filipinos to be more invested in thinking critically about the coming elections. It was definitely worth all the effort.”

What else can people look forward to with the site?

EF: “Immediately after we soft-launched the app, there was a lot of clamor to come up with a Tagalog version, and it is in the works. To me, this shows how people see the app as a useful tool for education and they want a larger audience to be able to understand it. That something very encouraging for me. Pero ang bobo ko sa Tagalog, hahahaha!”

Personally, have you answered the questions? Were you surprised by the results? 

EF: “I have taken the test a couple of times. And I still do flip flop on the issues. My last try was a shocker. I haven’t taken the test since because I didn’t like the result, hahahaha!”

IG: “Yes, I’ve taken the quiz several times, and I also do flip-flop in picking answers and the degree of importance. I think the important part though is not the end compatibility result, but the actual process of going through each issue and realizing where I stand. As a wise friend of ours said, you don’t actually HAVE to vote for whom the quiz tells you you’re compatible with. At the end of the day, when you’ve gone through all the thinking, researching, and evaluating, you’d know in your gut or in your heart whom you’d want to vote.”

You can visit PiPOLL at http://pipoll-alpha.appspot.com/. You can also follow PiPOLL on Twitter at @PiPOLL2016 for updates.

Q&A with The Skin Care Curator

Figuring that the small boutique brand was not locally available, I initially ordered my COSRX products via Amazon and had them brought home by family from the US. But I took a stab at Googling “COSRX Philippines” anyway, just on the off chance that some savvy Facebook/Instragram seller carried the brand. Through that search, I found this thread on the Asian Beauty sub-reddit and, eventually The Skin Care Curator.

I was beyond giddy to find out that COSRX was available locally. I was even happier to see that it was available from a clean, professional-looking, easy-to-use website. All my transactions (and yes, I’ve had many) have been easy, items were shipped immediately, and packages received promptly.

They’re also incredibly accommodating when it comes to answering questions from customers, even the more, annoying persistent ones like me. Whether it be on their Instagram or on Facebook message, they’ll gladly respond to your questions about product availability, order status, etc. They are so accommodating, in fact, that Dee and Mark, the couple behind the website, agreed to answer a few of my questions.

What made you start The Skin Care Curator? You initially only offered one brand, CosRx. What made you decide to launch with this specific brand?

Dee: I’ve always struggled with very oily skin with bouts of painful cystic hormonal acne since puberty and now in my late twenties it’s become increasingly frustrating to deal with my “acne beard” (it’s mostly concentrated on my chin and mouth). I was looking for a way to have better skin and wear less make-up, because it’s really hot in the Philippines and everything just melts right off and I end up feeling gross and uncomfortable with my own face.

I started reading a lot of books and researching on the internet and saw that finding a BHA would be really beneficial for my skin, but I couldn’t find a good one locally. There were a lot of products with BHA but they were either filled with denatured alcohol or badly formulated and too harsh for my skin.  I stumbled on CosRx, ordered some from Korea, and I was hooked.

I like trying out different products for fun, and to minimize on the shipping and customs costs I always tried to look for a sale and buy more than one and just sell the extras online or to friends. Mark, coming from a very business-oriented family, wanted to take it a step further and started getting in contact with the brands, registering a business name, making the website and it just kinda happened while I was on the sidelines putting things on my face. If there was anyone who needed convincing it was me, because suddenly my fun hobby was turned into this potential stress. My night time routine was suddenly haunted with the thought of paperwork. But he was having too much fun and I couldn’t stop him so now I guess it’s like a weird couple hobby. We both come from creative industries, he’s an animation/commercial director and I come from the world of art, this venture of ours is really out of our comfort zone but it has been a great way to learn about how to run a small business and also an excuse to keep coming back to Korea.

Mr CosRx

Mr. CosRx

Mark: To me it’s as a great way to think about other things besides videos which can be really hectic and stressful. A lot of my friends really don’t understand it. First being a guy and all, second it being so far from my field of expertise. But I really enjoy it, I like building things on my computer. Most of the time they’re cute animations, now it’s a website, it’s the same thing to me.

Why do you think Korean skincare has been so popular in the Philippines?

Dee: I think Korean skincare is popular in the Philippines because the cosmetics industry in Korea is very competitive and they come out with a lot of good products. You can only sell so much with cute packaging and things that smell nice, but in the end buyers will return because the product was effective, therefore they have to continue to innovate or go out of business.

You’ve already expanded your offerings to include Benton and Lee Ji Ham products. How do you decide what brands to make available on the site?

Dee: I like to put a lot of things on my face and if it works and I see a gap in the market here in the Philippines, we’ll try to contact the brand and see what we can work out. A lot of our customers also give us a little nudge or a suggestion now and then and we take note of that. I also like prioritizing things that help ease acne, because I know how frustrating it can be. There are so many products available for whitening and moisturizing but effective yet gentle anti-acne products are hard to come by.

Mark: Originally, I just wanted to sell CosRx, try to be exclusive and try to distribute it in stores and online. But after talking to them, CosRx suggested and we decided that we should test the market first by selling online. And as soon as we launched the website, people were really excited and bought stuff, which was great. Then came nonstop suggestions on what kind of brands they want to see on the site, this made me realize that they weren’t only excited to see CosRx sold locally. But they’re also really excited on the potential of the website, they’re hoping for Skin Care Curator to be a site where they can find all their hard to find brands. I wasn’t too hot on it at first. But this was an opportunity, and from what I’ve learned, you can’t really choose your clients, just cater to the business that comes your way. So here we are.

What’s been the best-selling product so far, and why do you think it’s been so popular?

Dee: Our bestseller by far is the CosRx Acne Pimple Master Patch, followed by the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid and the Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol. I think they’re popular because finding well-priced and well-formulated products for people struggling with acne that works is very hard.

Best Sellers

The Skin Care Curator’s bestselling products

If you would recommend just one product to your customers, what product would that be and why?

Dee: Oh, that’s haaaard. But I’m an AHA evangelist and preach the wonders of exfoliation. The AHA can help with a lot of skin concerns, from closed comedones to premature wrinkles, so if it was only one it would be that.

Exfoliants

Are you planning to expand your brand offerings further? Can we get a hint as to which brands you will be launching next?

Dee: Right now we’re just trying to stay afloat amidst the cost of shipping the products here and maintaining a competitive price. Haha! But seriously, I would like to see if we can bring OST to the market, we’re bringing in a few next week and see how it goes. It’s such a volatile product so we need to continue to bring it in fresh and it probably won’t fit in our fridge. J Also we’ll have more Taiwanese masks soon and the oil control line of Leejiham is coming in soon as well.

Mark: Yeah, OST is great. It was actually second on our list, I don’t know what happened, why we still don’t carry it (ed’s note: They now do, but it’s currently sold out). Right now though, we want to focus on our relationships with our current brands and letting more people know how great they are. We also need to focus on serving our current customers,  that means making sure everything is on-stock all the time. We also want to make these products more accessible. Like the Acne pimple patch, I would love to see those over the counter and in stores. But we’re learning that it takes a lot of time to get to that point. We’re still pretty new to this and there are a lot of things we need to learn but we’ll get there.

My Updated (again!) skin care and make-up routine

I know, I know, I just wrote about my updated skin care and makeup routine recently. How could I possibly have a new one three months after that post?

Well, for one thing, that routine wasn’t really “new.” It just took me a while to get to write about it. For another, I’ve since fallen into a K-beauty hole that’s resulted in new skin care steps and products being introduced into my routine.  While I was already quite happy with the improvement with my skin then, I’ve seen even more improvement now, that I thought it was worth another post.

New: Chemical Exfoliants

The idea of applying acid on my face conjures images of telenovela villainesses splashing acid on their enemies’ faces to disfigure them forever. But the more I read about exfoliation as part of my skincare overhaul research, I realized I had to give chemical exfoliants a try, flashbacks to Samantha’s chemical peel on Sex and the City notwithstanding. There were too many benefits to using AHAs and BHAs for me to ignore.

When it came to which specific AHA and BHA products to use, it was a no-brainer. Yes, part of it was because the other popular brands (Paula’s Choice, Stridex) were inaccessible and/or too pricey. But I chose COSRX’s AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid and, eventually, BHA Blackhead Power Liquid mostly because of their cult status in the world of K-Beauty. Yes, even the notorious, dumpster-adjacent scent of the AHA liquid has not put off its loyal fans.

All my researched advised that actives should be introduced one by one, and even then, gradually. I started with the AHA, using it once a week for the first two weeks, then slowly built up to twice, and then thrice a week. I then introduced the BHA via the same pattern. I now alternate the BHA and AHA daily.

My skin is now generally softer and smoother, and I’ve had fewer and less frequent blemishes appearing. I now also have fewer sebaceous filaments (commonly mistaken for blackheads) on my nose, and the pores around on and around my nose are less visible (i.e. less clogged). And that’s just with two months of using AHA and one of BHA. I’m so happy with the results that I actually look forward to this step in my skin routine, even with the notorious stench of the AHA.

Replaced: Physical Exfoliant

I’ve finished the last of my St. Ives Apricot Scrub and will never look back. I was stubborn about it, as I loved the way my skin felt after a good scrubbing with it, but articles like this one have finally convinced me that there are better ways to work off my dead skin cells. Enter Skin Food Black Sugar Strawberry Mask Wash-Off. Not only is it gentler than the giant granules in the St. Ives, it also leaves my skin feeling so much softer and moisturized. It also smells very, very, very good, like a jam you’d want to spread over a bagel with cream cheese. Kerry of Skin and Tonics gives a comprehensive review of the product, if you need more convincing.

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The new guard

Replaced: Sunscreen

I still love the Clinique Even Better City Block Anti-Pollution SPF40 PA+++ and still reach out for it when I’m too lazy to apply foundation on top of my sunscreen. But given that I live in the tropics, SPF40 just won’t cut it for me. I discovered the Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50 PA++++ through milady Fiddy Snails, whose review of the product started with the announcement of her engagement to… the Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50 PA++++.

And, really, I can’t blame her. This creamy sunscreen lives up to its “Aqua Rich Water Essence” (Kao really wanted to get the “hydration” message across, no?) name. This is the most hydrated my skin has ever felt after applying sunscreen, probably thanks to the sodium hyaluronic (i.e. the salt version of hyaluronic acid) in it. It dries clear despite the slight white cast when initially applied. Another plus? It’s cheap! I can buy three 50ml bottles of the Biore with one small tube of the Clinique.

New: Foundation

As much as I loved my new Biore sunscreen and the extra protection it delivers, I also wanted the cosmetic benefits of the tint in the Clinique. I loved how it evened out my skin tone and made any blemishes or dark spots less prominent. The easy solution, of course, was foundation. After some research, I settled on NARS Sheer Glow Foundation in Punjab as my first ever (yeah, I know) bottle of foundation. I was happy with how it tested on my jawline at the counter and bought it, thinking I could try something else if I wasn’t happy with it in the long run. A few months in, though, I’m thinking I might never have to try any other foundation. For some reason (probably the 90s) I always associated foundation with cakey finishes; thick, gloopy liquids; and mismatched faces and necks. But then again they probably didn’t have NARS Sheer Glow in the 90s. The liquid is incredibly light, I don’t feel it at all on my face even when I’ve dispensed too much. It has a semi-matte finish and blends beautifully into my skin and with my skin tone.

The one annoying con I have for this product is that it comes with a screw-on cap by default. Not only do you have to buy the pump separately, the pump doesn’t come with a cover. The kind SA at the NARS boutique gave me a plastic cover (that they use for the counter samples) but it still had a small opening. So even with that cover, the foundation is still not entirely protected from the elements. Get it together, NARS.

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My growing COSRX family

Additional: Moisturizers/Overnight Masks

I love my SK-II Essential Power Cream, but I knew I needed something more substantial for my trip to the London and Paris in the middle of fall. And so began the frantic buying and testing of Korean moisturizers for my trip. I bought three in quick succession and all three made the 18-hour trip to Europe with me. I then purchased another one after the trip because I apparently have a problem.

First was the Benton High Content Snail Bee Steam Cream. I needed something lighter to wear under my sunscreen AND foundation for day. Given that the Benton Steam Cream was Lady Fiddy’s “summer” moisturizer, I figured it might fit the bill. And it sure did. It was occlusive enough to keep my skin soft an moisturized even in the cold and windy Parisian weather, but light and fast-drying enough to comfortably wear under two more layers of product. It didn’t leave an oily or greasy finish or cause my sunscreen or foundation to dry longer. It’s also a fantastic night moisturizer if you don’t have to deal with a radiator sucking the life out of your face. It’s chock full of ingredients that do wonders for your skin. For one thing, it’s 64% snail secretion filtrate (SSF). And if that wasn’t good enough, sodium hyaluronic, niacinamide, EGF, and bee venom are pretty high up in the ingredient list as well. All that good stuff comes together in a cream that is not only very hydrating, but is also great at calming down any redness/irritation, and keeping breakouts at bay.

The rest of my other new moisturizers are all from one brand, COSRX. I wasn’t able to purchase the  COSRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask in time for my trip, but in hindsight, it would not have made it with me anyway. Not because it’s not a good product, but because the light, golden gel was probably not the best option for my cold-weather needs. But despite its relative “lightweight” status, with 85% propolis extract (and, despite its name, no honey), this “honey” mask has a lot going for it. Its gel form and slight cooling effect makes it particularly suitable for humid, tropical climates and for people with oil-control issues.

The COSRX Ultimate Nourishing Rice Overnight Spa Mask did make the trip with me, literally. It was with me on my carry-on bag as part of my in-flight skincare arsenal. Because a sheet mask was too scary/creepy/weird, I had to rely on this cream to protect my face from the drying cabin air. And that it did. Even a thin layer of this velvety cream was enough to keep my skin hydrated over my 11-hour flight. It also leaves my skin supple and bouncy even after I’ve wiped (in-flight) or rinsed (on land) the cream off.

The last cream that made it with me to France and the UK was the COSRX Honey Ceramide Full Moisture Cream. It was the richest and thickest of all them, so I used it exclusively for nighttime. Unlike the honey mask, this product actually has honey in it, and as the first thing on the list, it’s the most concentrated ingredient in the cream. And as I’ve found with the Etude House I Need You, Honey! mask, my face loves the moisturizing qualities of the sweet stuff, and this is no exception. It was the perfect thing to nourish my skin with after a day of exposure to the stiff fall breeze outdoors and the drying, heated air of indoors. And while it is the heaviest of all the moisturizers in my collection, it’s still comfortable enough to wear at night back home. It’s my go-to when my face feels even a little tight and dry, like on days I end up sitting right under the air conditioning vents at work.

I’m still new to the world of Korean/Asian beauty products so my skincare regimen could still change as I discovered even more new, fantastic products. I already have products that I’ve either just started or will be using soon, and I’ll definitely keep you posted on the ones I really like!

I got my CosRx products from either Amazon or locally (hooray!) via The Skincare Curator.

The Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50 PA++++ I also got via Amazon, but is apparently available in the new and improved beauty section of SM Department Stores. I’ve yet to see this specific product personally, but the rest of Biore’s sunscreen lines were there (Perfect Milk, etc.) with this product out of stock, according to the saleslady. 

The Benton Steam Cream was purchased via Amazon as well. 

My K-Beauty Gateway Drug: Sheet Masks

In case it wasn’t obvious in my last post, I am obsessed with sheet masks. Sheet masks were my gateway drug into my budding Korean skincare addiction, and while I have since expanded my interests, I still get as giddy trying out a new one as I when I tried my first.

What’s not to love? First, they’re cheap. Most sheet masks range from PHP 60-120. Second, they’re really, really, really good for your face. Sheet masks are soaked in concentrated essences infused with skin care favorites like hyarulonic acid, fermented honey extract, propolis, or snail secretion filtrate (SSF). The cloth mask helps ensure that the essence does not evaporate into thin air and is instead absorbed by your skin. And the last reason to love sheet masks is that there’s something for everyone and every skin complaint. One brand alone has probably two or three dozen kinds, so everyone will definitely find one to address every skin situation and a few that their skin will absolutely love.

Which brings me to my favorite masks from the variety I’ve tried so far. These masks are now part of my regular rotation and are the constants in my ever expanding mask pile.

Benton Snail Bee High Content Mask Pack
This might be my favorite mask of them all, in terms of immediately obvious results. When I took off the first one I tried, I actually went “Ooooooooooohh!” My skin was noticeably brighter, more even, and, if this makes any sense at all, calmer. That’s likely to do with the high concentration of SSF, the second ingredient in the list. It’s followed by a host of other things good for your skin like hyarulonic acid, arbutin, and aloe leaf extract. I got my box of 10 via Amazon, but the masks are now locally available from The Skincare Curator.

Etude House I Need You, Honey! Mask Sheet
First of all, I feel the need to clarify that I am NOT Etude House’s target customer. It still freaks me out when I get greeted with “Welcome, princess!” every time I step into a store. But my dearest Lady Snails convinced me to give their masks a try. I chose their honey mask since it was labeled as “Richly Moisturizing” and I needed to amp up my moisture for the cold weather for my trip to Europe. I knew it was risky trying something for the first time while I was out of town, not the ideal time and place for a possible allergic reaction, but my stubbornness paid off. The mask delivered on its promise to “richly moisturize” my mug. It didn’t come with the usual clear essence, but with a thick, white cream. It was a little sticky on the mask, but didn’t leave my face icky. Instead, it left my skin smooth and very, very moisturized up until the next morning. I actually felt bad  washing off any residual goodness from the mask when I cleansed.

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Tony Moly Pureness 100 Hyarulonic Acid Mask Sheet
When I was still new to all these “exotic” ingredients (I still am, actually), I was confused as to how an acid could provide hydration. I’ve since educated myself on the matter, of course, and slap on this mask whenever I feel that my skin needs a boost of moisture. The first few times I’ve used this mask, I could still feel the effects of it two days after I’ve applied it.

Tony Moly Pureness 100 Snail Mask Sheet
Now what’s a list of sheet masks without a snail one? If I had to pick one specific sheet mask that opened up the world of Korean beauty products to me, it would be this one. There are probably better snail masks out there (the Benton one, for instance), but this was the product that got me over my intial “ewwwwww, snails, yuck!” reaction to the use of SSF. It’s pushed me headlong into the world of Korean skin care with its snails, bees, rice, and donkey milk (although I haven’t taken the plunge with that last one), to the infinite improvement of my skin, so it will always hold a special place in my sheet mask pile. As for the mask itself, my skin feels soothed and calmed after application.

I may well find better versions of these masks as I keep hoarding and trying sheet masks that tickle my fancy. But for now, these are my go-to masks, the ones that helped improved my skin since I decided to take my skincare seriously.

And I really, really, REALLY want to know. What are your favorite sheet masks? Any ones I should track down like a crazy person and try? 

 

My updated skincare and makeup (what?!) routine

It’s been almost two years since I was featured as one of divasoria’s Glossy girls. While the core of my beauty/grooming regimen has stayed the same, there’s been a lot of changes and additions to it, too.

The changes were mainly driven by a promise I made to myself years ago that when I turn the big three-oh, I would really start taking skincare seriously. I’m not entirely sure why I chose to wait until I turned 30, but considering how my beauty routine somehow expanded to makeup, maybe it was good call, budget-wise. The, errrrrm, “investment” seems to be paying off, though, as I’ve received compliments about the improvement on my skin. It only became “official” to me, though, when even my dermatologist took note of the change while examining my bare face through her giant magnifying glass-slash-light. If my skin held up through that level of scrutiny, then I must be doing something right, no?

My cleansing routine is still the same. I use my Clarisonic most days, scrub with St. Ives once a week, and I give my skin a break by just cleansing with my hands once or twice a week. It’s what happens after that’s gotten a bit more complicated.

I started using MAC’s Lightful C Marine-Bright Formula Softening Lotion as a toner about a month ago. But within a few days of use I could already feel the difference on my skin. It feels softer, and I’ve been less prone to dry patches on my t-zone since.

I follow this up with my trusty Dark Spot Corrector from Clinique. After that comes another newcomer to my routine, SK-II’s Essential Power Cream. It’s pricey, but it only takes a little for it to do the job. It’s firmed up my skin over time, although I’m not sure it will hold up in very cold weather. If I haven’t nodded off immediately after applying the SK-II, then I’ll spray Clinique’s Moisture Surge Face Spray Thirsty Skin Relief just to up the hydration. For day, I’ll swap out the SK-II with Clinique’s Even Better City Block Anti-Pollution SPF 40 sunscreen, which replaced my old Neutrogena standby. This lightly-tinted sunscreen is non-sticky, leaves no white cast, evens out my skin tone, and reduces redness. I used to wear a CC cream on top of it but tried it out on its own one day and never looked back. My only complaint is that I wish it were SPF50, and not 40.

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Once a week I apply a DIY SK-II Facial Treatment Essence mask, by dampening cotton pads with the essence and covering my face with them. I’ll keep them on my face until the pads dry out and start falling off my face. The essence leaves my face feeling smooth and hydrated.

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I also apply a Tony Moly sheet mask once a week. I’ll stick one in the freezer for a few minutes while I cleanse, then apply the cold mask. I don’t throw out the packaging and apply the left over essence to my face once the mask starts feeling a little dry. I also squeeze out the essence from the mask for one final lather on my face before I finally throw the mask out. The Hyaluronic Acid mask sheet leaves my skin so hydrated, that I can feel the difference even days after I used the mask. Meanwhile my skin feels so soft after the Snail mask sheet that I tend to forget where all that essence comes from. My sheet mask obsession is slowly building, so I have a few other masks that I’ll be trying soon and am excited about. But these two are on regular rotation with me.

Along with my skin care routine, my make up ritual has also expanded. Of course, I had nowhere to go but up, given that my previous “routine” probably doesn’t qualify as one. The one big change was lipstick. Whereas I used to dislike lipstick and how heavy it was, I now almost never leave the house without it. From owning one measly lipstick that was a gift, I now own nine. Not a lot compared to girls who seem to own the entire MAC display rack, but given that I only owned the one a year ago, it’s significant..

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I apply MAC’s Prep + Prime Lip before application. It prevents feathering and flaking, which has always been a problem with my chappy lips. It does give lipstick a slightly pinker tone, though.

My lipsticks from left to right: NARS Audacious in Barbara, a light pink nude; MAC Pro Longwear in ‘Till Tomorrow, my perfect match MLBB; MAC Taupe, a brownish nude; MAC Retro, a darker, pinkish brown and probably my favorite; MAC Dangerous, to me, the perfect red-orange shade (sorry, Lady Danger); MAC Russian Red, my original red; NARS Audacious Sandra, a muted brick-red; MAC Diva, a deep wine; and finally MAC Sin, an even darker, deeper burgundy. I swear these shades are prettier than my poorly-lit photo suggests.

I do love my MACs, but I will say that the NARS Audacious line is fantastic. The payoff is great, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are actually hydrating, they are definitely not drying, even without primer. They also last the longest of all my lipsticks and withstand a work day’s worth of meals and drinks.

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I’m not really faithful to mascaras, I don’t actually remember buying the same tube twice. My current Tony Moly Double Needs Pang Pang Mascara (yes, that’s what it’s really called) is a little prone to clumping. Although I will say that it definitely delivers on its promise of “no panda eyes!” Even through the longest of work days, my mascara never ends up in a semi-circle under my eyes.

I’ve switched from old eyebrow pencil to MAC’s Lingering, and now also apply MAC’s Brow Set in Beguile.

Blush was the last thing I wanted to use. But my sister had other ideas and gave me MAC’s Pink Swoon for Christmas, knowing full well that I would feel guilty about letting her present go to waste unused. So now I use blush.

I spritz the Clnique Moisture Surge spray on top of everything, and then I’m good to go.

While my current skincare and makeup routine is still probably in the “simple” end of the spectrum, I still find it to be a huge change versus a year ago, when I just applied one thing on my face before going to bed. Now it takes a little more time between bath and bedtime or me rushing out the door for work. But as my burgeoning sheet mask addiction suggests, I am quite enjoying discovering new products, learning about ingredients and formulations, etc. Though plunking down the cash for something un-tested (boooo for no testers and samples!) does stress me out sometimes.

Hopefully I’ll get to write more about any new favorites (did I mention sheet masks?) soon, and maybe you’ll share yours, too (what’s your favorite sheet mask and why?)!

Book Review: The Royal We

I can’t remember the last time I read new fiction. Between my penchant for rereading my favorites and more fact-based royal stories,  I haven’t had time to explore. But I am a huge fan of Go Fug Yourself, the hilarious, witty, and smart celebrity fashion blog by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (aka the Fug Girls), so when they announced their first adult novel, I knew it was time for something new.

I will admit that I was a little hesitant. The Royal We isn’t the type of fiction that I’m usually inclined towards, I even cancelled my Kindle store pre-order. But the Fug Girls make me laugh online more than any other bloggers do, and I do have more than a passing interest in Will and Kate. So I finally clicked on “buy” a couple of days after it was released and promptly synced my Kindle.

It took all my self-control to save The Royal We for my one and only beach trip of the summer. When I finally tore into it, I couldn’t stop. I giggled, gasped, cried, and laughed out loud through it, sometimes so loudly that I got weird looks from people.

Yes, The Royal We is loosely based on the love story, or, more accurately, on the public details of the love story of Prince William and Kate Middleton, but a couple of chapters in, Nick Lyons and Bex Porter become less Will and Kate stand-ins and more their own persons. Bex (or “Rebecca”, for those who refer to Kate as “Catherine”) is funnier, sharper, and more flawed than we would ever know Kate to be, and through her we get an idea of what it might be like to fall in love with a boy blessed and burdened by the world’s most famous inheritance.

As expected, The Royal We is filled with the details of the glamorous trappings of royal life. There are tiaras and designer gowns, parties in palaces and country houses, appearances at Royal Ascot, ski trips to Klosters. But as we know, all the glitz comes at a price. As with the real British Royal Family, Nick and Bex have to deal with the unwanted media scrutiny and the pressures of royal duty. With the fictional Lyons, there’s also a heartbreaking family secret that threatens to break Nick and Bex apart.

If you’re even just mildly interested in William and Kate, then you should obviously read The Royal We, like, YESTERDAY. If you don’t care for the Cambridges and are more of a Prince Harry fan, you still need to pick it up because of Freddie, Nick’s scene-stealing, cheeky, ginger-haired scamp of a younger brother (he’s probably tied as my favorite character with Gaz, the other lovable ginger in the book). If you care more for the royals of yore, then you might still want to give it a shot, as The Fug Girls have a very well-thought out revised history of the British Royal Family that eventually resulted in the fictional Lyons, instead of the current Windsors. If you don’t care for the royals at all (what, not even adorable Prince George?) then you should still give it a shot if you’re in the market for a story that is sharp, funny, heartbreaking, romantic, and endearing.

The Book Depository ships The Royal We to most countries for free! The e-book is also available via Kindle, iBooks, or Kobo. For other sources and a sneak peek of the first seven chapters (!!!) you can click on to Heather and Jessica’s book blog

Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

I have always wanted to read about The Wars of the Roses, but I’ve never been able to find a book on the period locally. I purchased Helen Castor’s Blood and Roses  thinking it was about that period in English history. It was, but it wasn’t the direct telling of the events of The Wars of the Roses that I wanted (I have since learned to research a book before buying it). I finally found one in the UK (well, duh), in the Westminster Abbey shop (of course). I have read three of Alison Weir’s books before and did not feel strongly about any of them so it was with some reluctance that I picked up Lancaster and York: The Wars of the RosesHowever, the three Weir books I read were either about a figure I already disliked (Mary, Queen of Scots), a group of women I turned out to be indifferent to (Henry VIII’s wives), and a Queen I already had a favorite book on (Elizabeth I). Considering that I was possibly biased in my three prior encounters with Ms. Weir’s writing, I bit the bullet and hoped that fourth time’s the charm.

The Wars of the Roses technically started in 1455 but Weir starts her novel at an earlier point in England’s history. She starts off almost a century back, briefly introducing us to the prolific Edward III, who had five surviving sons. It would be the descendants of these five sons that would comprise the cast of characters of The Wars of the Roses.

At first, I didn’t understand this story-telling decision. But the more I read, the harder it got to remember everyone, the varying strengths of their claims to the English throne, and their shifting (and re-shifting) loyalties. It was helpful to have someone to trace everyone back to, a point of reference that you could always rely on, in Edward III.

Even with Edward III, though, it was still a tall task to keep track of everyone. Cousins married each other, shifting the line of succession. Male lines died out, transferring inheritances (titles and assets) to daughters and their husband’s families, or nephews and nieces. Magnates changed loyalties as they see fit, blurring bloodlines. I had to create my own annotated family tree just to help me keep track of the quarrelsome Plantagenets.

Weir’s surprising and admirable feat with this book is that, despite the dizzying number of people in it, she makes them all fully-formed characters with real motivations, weaknesses, and passions. While the never-ending plotting and occasional murder of one’s kinsmen is hardly relatable (maybe it is to you, I don’t know your life), the reasons behind them are. With Weir’s expert story-telling, I found myself frequently groaning in frustration (I’m looking at you Margaret of Anjou), holding my breath with suspense, or mentally cheering a side on. Considering that these people have been dead for almost six hundred years, that’s quite a feat.

Even more so when I consider that Weir wasn’t able to stir the same intensity of feeling about Henry VIII’s unfortunate spouses. Although I am now inclined to think that was more an issue of the subject matter than the writers. As frustrating and, ultimately, annoying she turned out to be, Margaret of Anjou makes for more fascinating reading than, say, Catherine Howard.

It did take a while for those feelings to stir in me. As noted, the book starts almost a century before open hostilities between the Yorks and Lancasters break out. But Weir carefully builds up to the central conflict, lining up her stories and sub-stories like soldiers on a battlefield, preparing for the moment where everything comes to a head. By the First Battle of St. Albans, all the motivations and tensions painstakingly laid out and explained by Weird come to fore. And with that first battle, I could hardly put down the book.

I didn’t want to put down the book even after I finished, as Weir ends her novel at the (spoiler alert?) the restoration of Edward VI to the throne. The few paragraphs on the events after the restoration was enough to whet my appetite for the rest of the story. Good thing that Weir has a book precisely about that one that I full intend to read now that I’ve come around on Weir’s writing. Fourth time’s the charm, indeed.