My Current Beauty Product Favourites: they do what they claim

Top summer beauty product buysSo, I’m a beauty product junkie as well as perfume-obsessed. I trained as a make-up artist purely to justify having an enormous make-up and skincare collection.*

Over the years I’ve worked behind beauty counters, behind-the-scenes at brands and distributors; in product development and marketing. I love to try new products but there are some which I repurchase time and time again, and new discoveries which instantly go on my Top (uhh, 100?) Favourite Products Ever list.

Favourite products have to fulfil the following criteria: 1) Be reasonable value for money (nothing is priced based purely on the cost of ingredients, but I don’t look for prestige and status symbols, I look for good formulas, convenience and functional packaging), 2) Do what it claims, 3) Not aggravate my tendency for adult acne, 4) Smell mild or at least not obnoxious, 5) Have packaging which doensn’t leak, break or make the product annoying to use.

I am particularly picky about foundation products – they have to perform exceptionally well (I have ageing, very pale combination skin: foundation should not sit in pores, should not slip off, should not make my skin look old and flat and the product must not cause breakouts).

My current favourite products (from left to right, above):

1. Lily Lolo mineral foundation in Blondie (I use Porcelain Doll in the winter)
2. MAC Mineralize Skinfinish in Light
3. Vichy Aqualia Thermal SPF25
4. Bourjois Healthy Mix foundation in Light Vanilla
5. No7 Stay Perfect foundation in Calico
6. MAC Prep + Prime Transparent Finishing Powder
7. Clarins Baume Contour des Yeux Eue Contour Balm
8. Bourjois Happy Light Matte Serum Primer
9. Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye Serum Infusion
10. La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume B5
11. La Roche Posay Antihelios XL 50+ SPF
12. Vichy Idealia Smoothing and Illuminating Cream for Normal to Combination skin
13. Vichy Normaderm Anti-age
14. Bioderma Sensibio Micellar Water
15. MAC Studiofix NC15 (not pictured)
15. Bobbi Brown Creamy Concealer in Warm Ivory (not pictured)
16. Urban Decay Primer Potion (not pictured)

I switch my skincare and make-up products based on whether my skin is feeling oily, normal or dry. Even on my dry skin days, I avoid products too heavy in cocoa butter and silicone (the former seems to break me out every time and the latter when used in excess). During winter, I have a slightly different rotation (and for freezing weather absolutely swear by the rich creams for dry skin in the Swiss Louis Widmer range; available scentless or perfumed in old-fashioned Nivea-style).

Recipe for an oily skin day:

Clarins eye balm + Normaderm Anti Age face cream + a few drops of La Roche Posay SPF50 + Bourjois Happy Light Matte Serum Primer (to date the only primer which has actually minimised my pores, not interfered with my make-up and performed as promised).
Bobbi Brown concealer where needed. LilyLolo mineral make-up applied with a large kabuki brush (the one they stock is lovely) OR Bourjois Healthy Mix applied with fingers (Bourjois Healthy Mix is also fantastic on excessively humid days or when your skin is perspiring – ladies with hot flushes, take note – the water-based gel texture doesn’t crumble off and slide down your face if there is water on your skin). If using liquid foundation, finish off with the MAC prep + prime powder (roll and press down a powder-saturated puff on your face and buff off with a soft, large powder brush). If extra coverage is needed, a layer of MAC Mineralize Skinfinish, buffed on with a large kabuki brush will finish the job.

Recipe for a normal skin day:

Estee Lauder eye serum + Clarins eye balm + Vichy Aqualia SPF25 (with a few drops of the La Roche Posay SPF50 mixed in if going somewhere sunny). Concealer where needed + No7 Stay Perfect foundation applied with a beauty blender. Followed by MAC prep + prime powder (as above) and if extra coverage is needed, a layer of MAC Mineralize (as above).

Recipe for a dry/dull skin day:

Estee Lauder eye serum + Clarins eye balm + a face serum (here are the ones I like) + Idealia cream + La Roche Posay SPF50. Concealer where needed + No7 Stay Perfect foundation applied with a beauty blender. MAC powders as above. In addition, I might use some MAC Mineralize highlighter.

I also like the Clarins and Decleor face oils (as special treats – have to be careful with face oils or I get breakouts), but used instead of nightcream they work really well. I often use the Vichy Normaderm Anti-age at night. Vichy also does a fantastic retinol treatment product (Vichy Liftactiv Advanced Filler Cream), which I use about once every two months for a week (and then the following week the top layer of your skin rolls off – not attractive). Which brings me to my new top hero product: La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume B5.

It’s an anti-bacterial skin repairing cream and it is so good I’m on my second tube and have ordered one for my husband, too. What I’ve used it for: 1) on that post-retinol treatment week when your face is peeling off; it soothes the reddened skin and moisturises the dry bits so you can apply make-up and not look like a decaying zombie (I carry the tube in my handbag for touch-ups during the day when I’m using it for this). 2) As a hand-cream (I wash my hands so much that my hands are sore – this is wonderful on them), 3) on my husband’s excema (it’s the only product to date that has cleared it), 4) on post-folliculitis skin on my arm (I had a long bout of sore skin on my right arm which is finally healing because of this product). This stuff is fan-tas-tic.

I’m 42 and don’t look bad for my age. I have fine lines around my eyes and on the forehead, my skin is starting to sag and I definitely look older than I feel I ought to (when you get older and look in the mirror, there’s a little double-take sometimes – this isn’t me…). My genes in this respect are good; my mother looked young for her age until cigarettes destroyed her looks and I’ve avoided excessive sunbathing all my life. However, I like to think (partly to justify my product obsession) that using good products and having a skincare regime from an early age has done something to help, too.

Top left: No make-up; straight after a Finnish sauna. Top right: Full make-up using a 50/50 mix of Chanel Pro Lumiere and Revlon Photoready. Bottom left: Soft make-up, using Shu Uemura Skin Architect. Bottom right: Everyday make-up using No7 Stay Perfect.

Selfies with and without make-up

*There may have been other reasons, such as creativity, travel, behind-the-scenes excitement and the ability to work freelance.

Pia’s (almost) annual perfume tour, 2014 edition

This has become an almost accidental tradition. I helped arrange the first ever Basenotes UK meetup (back in, uhh, 2008? 2009?) and since then, I’ve arranged an annual perfume tour for nose-nerd friends. I’m fortunate to know a lovely bunch of people who not only don’t mind, but positively relish spending the whole day talking about perfume, sniffing them, sniffing each other, and eating delicious things (sometimes all at once). I’ve also got to meet new people because  friends bring other friends. There are usually 8-12 of us and we tend to include a lunch or afternoon tea reservation into the day (somewhere decadent).

4160 Tuesdays before we trashed the place

4160 Tuesdays before we trashed the place

This year our group (Nick, Tara, Irum, Sarah, Ella + my husband Timo until his Arsenal match started + me) started at Sarah McCartney’s 4160 Tuesdays perfume studio and spent a couple of wonderful hours there, sniffing her new releases (absolutely adorable vintage-inspired scents and a completely bonkers bubblegum-ice cream-cola-mint bespoke perfume she made for a wedding recently); choice delights from her Wall of Scent (I feel like that should have a little tm after it); her latest Guerlain acquisitions (Sarah’s enviable lifestyle has recently taken her to Paris again; to the Friedemodin launch at Sens Unique; to the flat of Michael Edwards to deliver her fragrances; to the Guerlain boutique). Sarah served us some L’Heure Bleue tea (which tasted like a nice cup of tea with some animalic notes), chocolate caramel popcorn and boozy chocolates.

Sarah recently created a wonderful vintage-style perfume, “Goodbye Piccadilly” for an event at the London Transport Museum. I left the studio with a 30ml bottle of it – instant love. I’ve come to realise I have somewhat of a suede and leather fragrance fetish (only in dry, powdery, fruity, iris and tobacco contexts. The overly animalic leathers and ones with a sweet, honeyed, herbacious tones cross the line from expensive-perfume-spilled-inside-a-leather-handbag to unwashed leather jacket). I like Daim Blond, Tabac Blond, Cuir Beluga (which is really a tarted up vanilla) and Iris Prima. In fact, I was going to buy Cuir Beluga yesterday but decided to spread my treat budget instead of blowing it on one purchase.

Nick and his G&T float at Fortnum & Mason

Nick and his G&T float at Fortnum & Mason

We had a lunch reservation at The Parlour restaurant at Fortnum & Mason and had savoury snacks, ice cream sundaes and alcoholic ice cream floats (the gin & tonic float was a huge hit. Try this at home: make a large G&T, drop in a lemon slice and a scoop of lemon sorbet – and enjoy!). The savoury snacks were nothing to wax lyrical about (small and overpriced for what they were, though tasty), but we were so hungry at that point that an ice cream on its own would not have been enough.

Sarah decided to try the most outrageous ice cream sundae on offer – the “Ultimate White Chocolate Gold” with salted caramel and white chocolate ice cream, honeycomb, dark chocolate sauce, gold leaf and Sevruga caviar.

The Ultimate Ice Cream at Fortnums

Caviar on ice cream? Yes, really.

I think Mugler missed a trick with Womanity marketing there; a caviar ice cream? Ok. The portion did look wonderful, with rose petals, gold leaf and a myriad of colours and textures. Sarah says she may be inspired to create a perfume based on it.

We had a lovely surprise at Fortnum’s perfume hall – the lovely Amanda Brooke from Grossmith was there in person. We had just met at the BSP functional fragrance evening two days ago, but it was great to see her in action and animatedly describing the perfumes.

After Fortnum’s, we headed to Selfridges and I splurged on Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Nerolia Bianca – a fresh neroli-orange-petitgrain citrus floral which is not too unlike Dior’s Escale a Portofino, minus the almond aspect. Nerolia Bianca fulfils my current everyday perfume criteria by being fresh, subtle, and luxurious. When working with fragrance materials during the week, I rarely get days when I can wear perfume to work (it would interfere with quality control and perfumery), and after work, I tend to be nose-fatigued and not in the mood for perfume anyway. On the days I am doing something else at work, or at weekends, I love to shop my perfume collection for something to cover myself in. With summer threatening to arrive in Britain, what better way to celebrate it than a scent bursting with every aspect of the orange tree.

My plan was to replace some favourite make-up items while we were at the Selfridges beauty hall but all three items I had hoped to buy had been discontinued! Distraught, I sought solace at the Shu Uemura counter and was served by a competend and friendly member of staff who managed to find replacements for two out of my three previously beloved products. Some of the other counter staff were either overly eager (thereby losing the sale by pushing too hard) or completely disengaged (one of the products which had been discontinued could perhaps have been replaced by another product from the same brand, but the sales assistant just stood there and didn’t even try).

Guerlain_Aqua_Allegoria_Nerolia_Bianca_and_4160Tuesdays_Goodbye_PiccadillyI also explored the express version of the Fragrance Lab, which probably wasn’t a good representation of the whole experience in which you’re taken through a sort of perfume exploration tunnel of love. In the express version, you do a personality test on an iPad by choosing one of three pictures presented and choosing one of three options shown (there are a couple of dozen questions in total); then you queue for a sales assistant in a lab coat to tell you what your personality is like and which scent matches it. They’ve developed scents specifically for the lab and mine was 267. Alas, the trouble about prescribing a scent without involving the sense of smell is that it’s quite hard to get it right. There were people ahead of me in the queue, absolutely delighted at their result and eagerly lapping up every word – so I am sure this will work for many, and it’s yet another way to push the boundaries of how perfume is sold and marketed.

On the other hand, a perfumista is going to be a nightmare customer for such an experiment – with my 70+ fragrances, each of them could be seen as representing an aspect of my personality but I wouldn’t say any are “it”. If pushed, I’d probably pick Mitsouko as a signature scent, but I feel it’s much nicer to choose a fragrance based on mood and circumstance rather than as a rigid representation of an image.

We’ve already decided on the main venues for next outing and the plans do seem just as fun as this year’s. Thank you to everyone who came this year for a wonderful day out in great company!