ERMAHGHERD, PERFERM

 

ERMAGHERD PERFERM

Perhaps we should re-name our channel?

Our perfume review channel, Love to Smell is 11 episodes old today and we’ve had a lot of fun shooting the videos. We’ve also learned a lot on the way and there are many improvements yet to be made. Come along for the ride!

Next week we’ll be shooting September’s episodes (in my glamorous dining room, as always, ahem) and I’m excited about the selection already – it’ll feature some products other than fine fragrance again, too.

If you haven’t already, check out Love to Smell and subscribe! There are new episodes every Friday and today we look at Ruth’s trio of scents.

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The ULTIMATE French Pharmacy beauty product shopping list

French Pharmacy productsIt’s no secret that I have a French love affair. They really know how to create the perfect balance between function, design, effect and value in beauty products. A bit of background: I know a lot about skincare and cosmetics because unbeknownst to me, my lifelong career started by selling fragrance and cosmetics as a teenager (mumble-mumble years ago…ok, in the 80s. I walked to work at the beauty counter of a nearby hypermarket after school on Fridays and worked weekends and holidays). I say unbeknownst because 1) I love that word and 2) I really thought I would become a linguist or a writer – everyone else did, too. Of course I did actually become a writer, but very much as a twin to my fragrance and beauty career. You may have noticed I write about fragrance and beauty a lot.

So I’ve spent most of my life trying out products, being trained on them, selling them – later, training other people on them; writing training manuals and product copy – and eventually developing them and fragrances for them. Which means that when I test a new product (which I still love to do even though I’ve found my Holy Grail for almost every category – I think cosmetics are fun) – when I test a new product, I am a harsh judge. I won’t easily get seduced by pure marketing; I need the product to deliver on its promises, I need it to feel like good value for money (either because it’s so damn luxurious that it feels therapeutic just because of its “I’m-treating-myself-shush-now” value, or because the effect vs. its cost is just right).

What the French pharmacies offer me is a treasure trove. Swiss aren’t bad either – I love many Swiss products with almost equal passion, but nowhere do I feel more like a kid in a candy store than at a good French pharmacy.

French pharmacy beauty haulThe cult destination is, of course Citypharma in Paris (one can catch the Metro there very conveniently direct from Eurostar, but be warned – it’s better to drop your luggage off first because Citypharma is not a cult destination in name only; it is so in actuality, which means it is packed to the brim with shoppers and you will struggle to move among the aisles even without bags to drag around with you. Make sure to wear comfortable clothing, have a list ready and be prepared to queue).

Happily, almost every product I would normally have to hunt down from various retailers or haul over in person from Paris is now conveniently available online. I say almost every, because some of the best-kept secrets haven’t yet made it over, and one of them can’t because it’s classed as a pharmaceutical.

When I first discovered that Escentual.com in the UK has a ‘French Pharmacy Month’ every now and then, I was skeptical – but it turns out they have curated a great collection of products and during this recurring promo, sell them at 1/3 off retail price, making them cheaper than buying them in person from France (not taking your travel costs into account – I’m assuming that most people would go to France on holiday or to work and not to speficically to stock up on beauty products. But I know a few people who’d probably do the latter without batting an eyelid. Myself included). Therefore, below, I’ve linked to Escentual.com whenever I list a product they stock, because they tell me they’re about to run another 1/3 off French Pharmacy in July and it’s honestly the best place to just get it all in one go (I’ve been singing them praises long before I started talking to them about what they stock, so this is a genuine recommendation, not influenced by them in any way. I’m always grateful when someone makes it easier – and cheaper – to get hold of my favourites).

So what should you look out for? I’ve compiled a list based on products I’ve tried; friends and professional contacts of mine have tried and loved – and can now present you with the Ultimate French Pharmacy Beauty Product List:

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Anti-ageing products

Now, I have been told by a few people that I look younger than my age (on being told I’m 44, Anaïs Biguine recently called me Dorian Gray’s sister, which was a bit overkill, but an amusing compliment nevertheless) and that’s largely due to lucky genes, lack of drinking & smoking and a lifetime of hiding from the sun. However, I also know what to look for in an anti-ageing product. Sunscreen is the most anti-ageing product you can buy, so find a good one you can wear every day* and increase the SPF during summer (especially during holidays). Don’t forget to monitor your vitamin D levels (mine are naturally low so I have to take a daily supplement anyway).

*Although not French Pharmacy, my Holy Grail for this category comes from Shu Uemura – their underbase mousse is all my face sunscreen wishes come true in one product (high SPF, no irritation or allergy to it, smoother appearance of pores; a make-up base and skin tone corrector).

  1. Baume A313The first product I will recommend is one of the ones you will have to hunt down in person, have a kind friend send over to you, or find a reputable online stockist for. It is worth it. Every decent dermatologist swears by various vitamin-A based (retinol; tretinoid) treatments – when used together with a good sunscreen and moisturiser, these products can really reverse and hold back signs of ageing AND keep blemishes under control. The trouble with prescription-strength products is often that, well, a) you need a prescription, and b) they are harsh and can have side-effects. Not so with the wonder product that is A313 Vitamin Pommade (the closest replacement to the deservedly-cult-hit-among-those-in-the-know, Avibon). My special ‘sauce’ mix for A313 is this: take a small pea-size drop of the balm and blend it with an equal amount of a gentle moisturiser (I like to use La Roche Posay Baume B5 for this as it has a calming effect on skin). Blend to a paste, smooth over face at night, avoiding eye area – wake up to skin that looks like a baby’s bum. You can do these as treatments every now and then for a few days, or use mixed in with your night cream on an ongoing basis. Some peeling may occur if you do your retinol treatment on-off-on-off (your skin eventually builds a tolerance to it), but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend being on retinol if you’re about to go on a sunny holiday – soothing, calming creams at night and high SPF during the day work better in those circumstances. This is the best actual anti-ageing product I’ve ever tried and I love it.
  2. Vichy isn’t far behind as far as anti-ageing is concerned and their Vichy Liftactiv Advanced Filler is what I was using as an anti-ageing night treatment before I discovered A313. It is still a really good option, especially if you don’t feel like hunting down a specialist product and it really delivers – remember to wear a high SPF during the day and to soothe your skin with calming products while undergoing this kind of treatment (more about calming products below).
  3. Vichy Normaderm Anti-Age is my go-to everyday moisturiser because it is the perfect product for ageing combination skin – it keeps my skin clear, it doesn’t feel greasy during those times when almost everything else does, and it hydrates just enough (unlike many product designed to help with blemishes).
  4. Vitamin C is very difficult to keep stable (it breaks down in contact with air) and a lot of vitamin C treatments don’t really do a lot – however, Lierac has a wonderful, zesty vitamin C serum – Lierac Mesolift Serum, which I wrote about here.
  5. Another vitamin C hero is La Roche Posay Redermic C treatment – clarifying, tightening anti-ageing product that actually does something. You could alternate with retinol.
  6. La Roche Posay also has Redermic R for face and eyes – worth trying, especially the eye cream, as the eye area rarely gets such good anti-ageing treatment (the stronger products shouldn’t be used near the eyes).
  7. Clarins Lotus oilAnother special treatment that’s both wonderful for your skin and keeps blemishes in check is Clarins Lotus face oil – and this is one of those incredibly good value luxury products because you really only need a couple of drops to do your whole face. Our skin loves natural vegetable oils (which are the base of this product) because they are highly compatible with the oil our own skin produces. The Clarins face oils are a beauty classic worth exploring for every skin concern.

Glow and moisture

  1. Vichy is a real winner here again – they have several products which are real heroes in their category. My favourite is probably Vichy Lifactiv serum 10 supreme – it contains high amounts of the humectant ingredient hyaluronic acid and if you use it under a good moisturiser, it will plump up your skin and keep it really well hydrated. Don’t use hyaluronic acid products on their own in dry atmospheres because the ingredient is so good at finding and holding on to moisture that it might end up sucking the moisture out of your skin if it can’t find it somewhere else.
  2. Happily Vichy is also a good brand for moisturisers – and their Vichy Aqualia Thermal moisturiser for normal & combination skin is my go-to cream when my skin is feeling thirsty. It has a light, fresh scent, it absorbs perfectly, and doesn’t leave the skin feeling greasy. They also do a version for dry skin, which is richer for those who need it.
  3. Vichy idealiaVichy Idealia range is wonderful for when you’re looking a little sallow, or just want to have glowing skin that gets people telling you that you’re Dorian Gray’s sister. I wear the serum and the cream on days when I know I’ll be on camera or on days where I’ve not had enough sleep – it’s a little glowing secret which I guess is now not so secret any more.
  4. Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré is a cult product for a good reason – it is a fantastic all-round moisturiser; really hydrates, has a light floral scent and doesn’t irritate skin. It works beautifully on its own, over serums, or under SPF and make-up. When I worked as a make-up artist, it was important to have products in your kit that would be as universally suitable and safe as possible – this fits the bill. It is a pleasure to use, too, and treats skin gently but effectively.
  5. Nuxe products are pretty legendary and for a good reason – they are a sensual pleasure to use and do what they claim. My new favourite is the Nuxe Rêve de Miel Hand & Nail Cream which has a gorgeous lightly honeyed, slightly floral scent and which absorbs into painfully dry hands fast, meaning you can use it frequently until your hands feel soft and lovely again.
  6. I am also a fan of the Nuxe face masks – especially the Nuxe Crème Fraiche de Beaute Masque which is my favourite emergency moisture treatment to date.
  7. For dry, irritated skin, one of the best products you could try is Avène Cicalfate Repair cream which has a blend of micronized copper sulphate and zinc sulphate designed to soothe and repair. Its antibacterial action treats skin on face and body and it is suitable for adults and children. I have used it on irritated skin on the body and it works wonders. The texture is rich, so a little goes a long way. Many skin problems are due to disturbances in our skin’s natural barrier action (we have a protective layer of friendly microflora and sebum which can get disrupted when too many harsh products are used, when ill and so on).
  8. If your skin is dry, irritated and you needs an SPF product for the day, try the sunscreen version of La Roche Posay B5 balm – a rich, protective layer to help your skin heal and protect you from the sun at the same time.

Beauty sprays, removers and special treatments

  1. La Roche-Posay Serozinc Spray is a surprise skincare hero – it’s a zinc spray that calms down angry rashes, blemished skin and redness. It is an absolute staple here and it’s one of those products you can easily fill your suitcase with so leave room if you’re buying in person (I squished in two bottles on a recent trip).
  2. Caudalie Beauty Elixir is a wonderful addition to almost any beauty arsenal; it hydrates skin, boosts radiance and can be used to set make-up.
  3. Micellar waters became all the rage when the world at large realised it’s what all the French women in the know were using to remove their make-up. The idea is that while oil and water don’t normally mix, it is possible to create a solution where a little bit of oil is in suspension in the water-phase, and when you use them, there is no need to rinse unless you want to – making them perfect travel and late night companions. Not all micellar waters are created equal, alas. I’ve used one which was so poor at removing eye-make-up I threw it away. The best two I’ve tried are: Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micelle Solution and Vichy Purete Thermale One Step Cleansing Micellar Solution.
  4. RespectissimeBeauty blogger Get Lippie swears by La Roche Posay Respectissime waterproof eye-make-up remover and I trust her opinion on this (part of beauty blogging is endless make-up trials and that means a lot of removal, too).
  5. If you have a serious lip balm addiction, you may already have heard of Nuxe Rêve de Miel Honey Lip Balm. It’s a great treat for parched lips and the only issue is not trying to eat it all off.
  6. There are clearly more wonderful body lotions in France than you can shake a stick at, but one of the most tempting surely has to be Vichy Ideal Body Balm – that same kind of glowing, healthy skin for your body? Yes, please.
  7. Toleriane NuitOne of my favourite new discoveries has been La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Overnight – it actually helps repair your skin’s natural barrier which I talked about above; it moisturises just the right amount and calms down redness and irritation. If you’ve overdone other treatments, have been ill or under the weather, your skin is just acting up, or looking tired, this could be the answer. I have used this almost exclusively as a night cream while taking a break from retinol and it has made my skin more even-toned and healthy-looking.
  8. I’ve talked about a few SPF products here – but if you are looking for all-over suncare, do try La Roche Posay’s and Vichy’s ranges, both come in many convenient options from milky lightweight fluids to richer creams and are easy to wear.

Hair

  1. Klorane is a great blend of natural and effective synthetic materials, plus attractive scents; all of their ranges are great. I love the Klorane Oatmilk Gentle Dry Shampoo Spray which suits my light hair in its original formula, but is also available in a tinted version for darker hair colours. It has a very subtle fragrance and works well as both a dry shampoo and a styling product. It’s one of the best dry shampoos on the market. I also adore the shampoos and conditioners – the Camomile Shampoo for Blonde Hair is an old favourite. At least half the reason I keep returning to it is the comforting camomile fragrance.
  2. Phyto is a great natural-based hair range and I especially love their masks such as the Phytokeratine Extreme Hair Mask – it’s not silicone-laden (which my hair does need, but not in excess, so this is a nice break from that), and it strengthens weak strands post-colour and heat damage.
  3. Nuxe huileAnother cult Nuxe product is, of course, the multipurpose hair and body oil – Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse Multi-Purpose Dry Oil Spray – one of the most fun products to try from this list and a treat for hair pre- or post-shampoo.
  4. For troubled hair and scalp, you could try another cult favourite – Rene Furterer Complexe 5 Essential Treatment – the whole range from Rene Furterer is worth exploring for serious hair care.

What are your French pharmacy favourites? Any that should have made the list?


Disclaimer: La Roche Posay Toleriane Night provided for review purposes by La Roche Posay UK. Nuxe hand cream, Avene repair cream, La Roche Posay B5 with SPF40, Bioderma Sensibio and Klorane Oatmilk shampoo provided for review purposes by Escentual.com. 

All other products blogger’s own. 

Review products do not influence content in any way.

Nothing in this blog post should be considered medical advice. 

Holy Grail Interlude – these are the beauty products I never want to run out of

Holy Grail must-have beauty products

There are a few hair and beauty products that I don’t like to run out of. In fact, I get so twitchy about the prospect of being without these that I have been known to buy back-ups. There are a couple of tubes of Vichy Normaderm and several bottles of Matrix Biolage Hydrating Shampoo ‘in stock’ in my bathroom cupboard at the moment.

I’ve spent most of my life involved in beauty some way – and it’s given me plenty of opportunities to try things out. One of the most frustrating things about searching for and then finding a so-called Holy Grail (the ultimate; the perfect match for you in its category) product is that it’s not immune from being discontinued.

I’m looking at you, Clinique Gentle Light loose powder and you, Chanel Pro Lumiere foundation and you, Maybelline Lash Stiletto, and you Chanel Incognito lipstick…

And let’s not get into discontinued fragrances or I might just break down.

Sometimes it’s possible to find a replacement for a discontinued favourite; sometimes not and you have to make do with what’s available. On the Clinique Gentle Light front, I’ve come up with my own blend 50% Bobbi Brown Pale Yellow Loose Powder + 50% No7 Perfect Light loose powder. Where Pale Yellow is too yellow and too flat on its own, and the No7 powder too pink and too sheer – together they form the HG loose powder I never want to go without. (I’m a stickler for trying to get as close to my real skin tone as possible when wearing make-up. That can be challenging, when doctors have been known to squint at me and say: “are you always this pale? Let’s test you for anaemia just in case.”)

Being Finnish, I’m not as pale as our Celtic cousins, so there are some warm yellow and neutral tones that need to be carefully matched. Too ‘ivory’ and I look like a freshly awoken vampire – too ‘neutral’ and I look like a waxwork doll. Too ‘warm’ and my face looks dirty. Enter Bobbi Brown Warm Ivory Creamy Concealer – the perfect shade and the perfect concealer. It’s a creamy fully pigmented product that glides on, stays on, and blends incredibly well. No cakey appearance, no bulk, no problem.

Unfortunately blemishes don’t always vanish when you get older – at 40-something I’d really have hoped to only have to worry about wrinkles and sunscreen. But no, that would be far too easy. I struggled to find a skincare product that would somehow, magically, take care of both problems and turns out Vichy had one. I couldn’t have created a better night cream for myself if I tried. Vichy Normaderm Anti-Age is a lightweight hydrating cream with glycolic acid and I use it as a night cream for about half of the time (at other times I either use a lightweight serum with a moisturiser on top, or am treating my face with a retinol product).

With any kind of acid or retinol treatment (never mind with pale Nordic skin), you absolutely have to look after the sunscreen side of things. In fact, out of all the ‘anti-ageing’ products out there, sunscreen is the most effective. Yes, we need sunshine to be healthy and yes, a light tan can look attractive, but I don’t know a single skincare expert who doesn’t wear sunscreen on their face all year ’round and increase the SPF for holidays. With paler complexions, the SPF has to be quite high – I burn to a crisp in half an hour in full sun and even with a high SPF, I’ll get freckles no matter what. Finding a high SPF product that doesn’t turn any make-up you try to put on top into a gloopy mess – not so easy. Until you try Shu Uemura Underbase Mousse SPF35. I use the Beige one (there are shades for almost any skin tone). It’s the perfect base product  – it evens out skin tone,  makes my make-up last longer and takes care of the sunscreen problem. Now I just have to take vitamin D supplements to ward of deficiency.

There’s another primer I can’t be without – Urban Decay Primer Potion – the best eyeshadow primer in the world. One of the things they don’t tell you is that when you get a bit older, your eye make-up starts to misbehave. Eyeliner smudges. Eyeshadow gathers into creases. Not a good look. The UD Primer Potion stops this nonsense entirely. Your eye-make up will last until you’re ready to take it off.

Mascara can also run and smudge – even when it claims to be waterproof. Not so with the mascara that sounds like someone from the Fast Show invented the name of it for a Japanese sketch: Kiss Me Heroine Make Long & Curl mascara (try eBay and Amazon – I bought my first one in Tokyo a few years ago and have been schlepping it over by any means necessary ever since). It contains fibres and makes your lashes look like you’ve pinched them from an anime character. It does not smudge…or come off at all for that matter until you remove it with its special remover (which I suspect is mostly mineral oil in mascara packaging). Do not buy this mascara without getting the matching remover. Due to the difficult removal, this is not an everyday mascara (that discontinued Maybelline was… sigh), but for special occasions, it’s my HG product in this category.

Speaking of being Nordic, there’s the hair. Fine, mousey – high maintenance if you want to do anything adventurous with it. I’ve always been adventurous (even when I’m giving my hair a rest from colour and bleach, I still can’t resist getting highlights), so it requires a lot of looking after and well-chosen products. Matrix Biolage Hydrating shampoo is my Holy Grail shampoo, no doubt about it. There are others which are okay and I switch around sometimes (like the Klorane range, Redken and a few others), but I always have a bottle of the Biolage shampoo in my bathroom (and a back-up bottle or three in the cupboard). It leaves my hair feeling like hair. Like healthy, strong, clean, shiny hair. I know this sounds like it should be the basic function of all shampoos, but let me tell you – most shampoos leave my hair feeling like straw. Or stretchy plastic. Or fluff.

I use a number of ‘everyday’ conditioners which are fairly interchangeable (my shortlist of favourites: the matching Biolage conditioner, Matrix colour care conditioner, Redken, Klorane and Pureology), but when I feel my hair needs a treat or I want it to look as perfect as it can be, I reach for the Redken Heavy Cream hair mask. It might seem a little counter-intuitive to use such a product on fine hair, but a little goes a long way, and nothing makes my hair feel as healthy and soft as this product. I also have the matching leave-in conditioner for straw-hair bad hair day emergencies (though it’s easy to overdose, so go easy on it if your hair is fine like mine).

It’s not a good idea to wash your hair every day if you can at all avoid it – it’s one of the most damaging things you can do to your hair – so in-between washes, I like to use the Label M. Protein Spray to straighten out any kinks, refresh and protect in one go. Over-using a protein spray is not recommended because it’ll make your hair feel crisp and brittle, but moderate use every couple of days is just right. One of the bonus features of this product is its light and refreshing, herbal-style scent. It isn’t sickly or overwhelming like so many scents for these types of products (I don’t want my hair products to compete with my perfume and when working in the lab or evaluating other people’s scents, the last thing you want is for your hair to be a fragrant foghorn right near your nose).

I’m yet to find a replacement for the discontinued Chanel foundation (that’s a whole other blog post – I’ve spent a lot of time and money searching and tried dozens of foundations in the process), nor have I found a lip colour as perfect as Incognito (it was a mauve-y pink with gold shimmer). I’ll live.

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning MAC Studiofix in NC15 which has been my trusty touch-up companion since it was first introduced in the 90s. I used to use it as an all-over foundation with just some concealer underneath, but with older skin, powder foundation starts to look ageing and flat, so this product has now taken a secondary role.

I have to mention some fragrances, too, or this just wouldn’t be a representative list – the three scents I have gone through several bottles of in the last few years are: Mandragore by Annick Goutal, Daim Blond by Serge Lutens and Alien by Mugler. Considering that my ‘regular rotation’ has 40 or so scents in it, and that I own over 80, going through a single bottle of anything is close to miraculous, never mind several.

What about you? Any products you simply *can’t live without?

 

 

[*clearly I don’t mean this literally. It’s good to acknowledge the fact that some of us are so privileged that a discontinued lippie can count as a ‘problem’. On the days when things seem gloomy, it’s good to remember how lucky we really are to get to play with beauty products and obsess over the perfect hair conditioner. ]

 

 

Horse’s Neck Candle Review – Illumens Candles

Horses neck candle review There’s a thing about living in a small country village; at first the surrounding fields are idyllic, but at certain times of the year one finds them a little pungent. I’ve been living in the middle of prime Northamptonshire countryside for the last six months, and some mornings it’s better not to open the window. Manure is good for the crops, but doesn’t go with one’s morning porridge.

(Okay, I’ll admit, I’m putting on airs and graces for comedy value. In actual fact, I spent all my childhood summers on the Finnish countryside, and much of that time at a farmhouse near our summer cottage, making hay, mucking out stables, learning how to milk a cow, and collecting eggs from what would now be called ‘free range’ chickens. Country smells don’t bother me in the least, and, in fact, I’ve recently developed quite an interest in animalic fragrance materials, much to the horror of my colleagues who find my reaction to sniffing ‘barnyard smells’, as they call them, a source of endless mirth).

When Illumens Candles sent me this intriguingly-named candle to review, I was very curious. Would it smell of a stable, manure and all? Would it smell of skin rather than leather?

I was partly right – my first impression was not so much of a horse’s neck as a ‘stable with leather saddles and tar on the walls’. The cade (tar; leather) note is quite strong (perhaps even a tad overpowering), so I would suggest this is a good one to burn in a large room.

The leather and tar hide many softer aspects of the scent which unfold as you burn the candle.

Stable with saddlesFirst impressions…

Tar on the wallsOur horse grazed free that day, and found its way to a nice, mucky patch to roll around in…

Horse rolling aroundThen he romped through a hedge and the farmhouse herb garden…

Horse close-up…and the scent we’re left with is a tarry, leathery, warm, barnyard-y concoction with hints of tarragon.

I absolutely adore it. I know many other people who would.

It would make a great present for equestrian friends; a corporate gift from eventing companies, and create an interesting ambience in, say, a large barn which had been converted to selling equestrian equipment and clothing.

The hardest thing about unusual room fragrances is that even if we like a slightly off-the-wall scent, thinking of situations in which we’d want our home to smell like that can be a little bit tricky. I know just the setting for this. Once we’ve moved to our bigger place at the end of the month, we will have a study/library – this scent belongs there.

My only complaint comes from the Inner Pedant (I tried to shut her up for this review, but couldn’t).

Correcting the apostropheCorrected apostropheCorrected apostropheThe lack of an apostrophe in Horse’s Neck was causing me distress, so I fixed it.

Horse’s Neck is part of Illumens Candles ‘Times and Places’ collection which includes other intriguing scents such as Gentleman’s Shed and Poodle Coiffure. I could totally see these at a quirky perfumery, or a design-led interiors shop.

Horse’s Neck costs £20 and is available directly from the Illumens shop.

 

Horse’s Neck product shot via Illumens. Product shots on table; blogger’s own. Other photos via MorgueFile.

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.

Serums I have known and loved – the best serums for ageing combination skin

Best serums for ageing combination skinI’ve worked in the cosmetics industry for most of my life and although I’m not currently directly involved in it, I do still enjoy having a selection of products around. Over the years I’ve tried most of the popular (and some lesser known) face serums and I decided it was time to share my current favourites with you. I have pale, thin, ageing combination skin but I don’t have many lines or wrinkles. There’s a bit of creasiness around the eyes and a few blotches but my skin looks younger than I am. I owe most of that to my natural aversion towards sunbathing and fastidious use of sunscreen but I’ve also learned what my skin loves – and change my routine depending on the time of the month, season and other factors. I tend to have two or three serums in use (not all at once but on rotation) and a choice of day creams and cleansing products, plus emergency items such as salicylic acid for breakouts or the calming lavender, neroli and almond oil blend I made for myself.

Overall, what I look for in a serum (just to help you understand why I like these over some others):

  • Must not irritate the skin
  • Must have a pleasant or tolerable fragrance
  • Must not feel too silicone-laden
  • Must not cause breakouts
  • Must be able to see a visible improvement in whatever issue I am targeting

My current favourites are:

1. L’Oreal Age Perfect Cell Renew. This surprised me. I was expecting a L’Oreal serum to be a silicone-slick and obnoxiously scented and this was neither. The scent is a tad stronger than I’d like but fades fast (it smells rosy) and the serum, whilst having some slip, isn’t like trying to rub grease on your face. It’s lightweight, sinks right in, hydrates the skin immediately and adds a very subtle golden glow which is absolutely perfect for days you need a bit of help in that department. When I was planning this post I originally thought Advanced Night Repair must be my top favourite because I’ve had several bottles over the years but then I realised I’m on my third bottle of this serum in under six months which means I’ve been reaching for it more often than any other serum before. Wow. I love it as a daytime serum in particular because of the cosmetic effect it gives. It works really well when my skin is good enough to go with just a few dabs of concealer and a dusting of translucent powder – but it’s also brilliant under foundation.

2. Vichy Liftactiv Serum 10. This is another floral fragrance which could be a bit milder but fades fast and doesn’t bother me. The serum is fairly watery (which is a bonus if you’re feeling dehydrated but also a bit oily – a horrible situation which can happen when someone with combination skin suddenly realises they’re 40…). A good all-rounder, day and night. Sinks in, really hydrates the skin and is a fraction of the cost of some high-end serums. I really love this as a go-to product and it would be my top choice if I’d have to pick just one. Very versatile and a fantastic formula.

3. Advanced Night Repair 2. Something I always come back to. It’s a skincare staple for a lot of women for a reason – there’s hardly any scent (it smells somewhat functional rather than perfumed), it works well on its own for combination skin or under a night cream for dry skin types, and it seems to suit practically everyone. I’ve sometimes added a few drops to a moisturiser to make it less greasy and it’s actually a product I would recommend for men who are feeling that their face could do with a bit of a boost but don’t want an overly girly product. Use it at night for best results.

4. Lierac Mesolift Serum. This smells of orange juice and has the same effect on your skin as a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice has on your constitution – it perks you up and refreshes. Absolutely delightful if you’re under the weather or recovering from a cold; brilliant when combined with Lierac’s Mesolift cream (which is similarly orange-juice scented). The main problem is that if you’re as pale as I am (or have a tendency to look sallow), these products do leave a very faint yellowish tint behind – so I tend to use them on days I’m not planning on going out or at night.

5. Vichy Idealia Life Serum. Noticeably perfected skin after just one use – instant new favourite. This has just been added to my favourites (despite the somewhat overwhelming scent) as it really does perk your skin up and thankfully lacks the excess silicone-itis that so many serums suffer from. I would suggest night-time use purely because of the scent but if that doesn’t bother you, it would also make a great all-rounder.

I hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any serums you’ve known and loved, do tell me in the comments!

Nostalgic Cosmetics

A selection of nostalgia-inducing cosmetics that are popular in Finland

Lately I’ve been feeling a little home-sick for Finland and nostalgic for childhood summers spent frolicking on fields and swimming in lakes. Ignoring the part where a large proportion of my childhood summer holidays were spent sitting under the shade reading, I did genuinely have a great time at my grandparents’ summer cottage in Jaala. In my late teens it was also a welcome break from my part-time job behind the beauty counter.

There are a few products and brands I remember very fondly from Finland. Even now, in the big wide world, surrounded by all the choice of an over-saturated cosmetics market (or perhaps because of it), I get a lot of joy and comfort from using some things from way back when. I’ve gathered a little selection of products that I use or stock up on when in Finland.

1. My grandmother’s favourite hand cream – Lemon Juice & Glycerine (and that’s pretty much all there is to the formula). It’s inexpensive, widely available in Finnish supermarkets, smells delicious and a little goes a long way. My gran had not just a green thumb but ten green fingers. Her cottage garden was magnificent. She would use this cream after a day’s hard work outdoors and her hands were always soft.

2. Berner’s XZ-shampoos and conditioners are some of the best mass-market products you can get for your hair. The formulas are decent, as are the scents and if I forget to pack shampoo when I travel to Finland (as I did last time), this is the brand I look out for at the supermarket or chemist. I’ve tried a few of them now; the sea buckthorn range was a particular favourite.

3. When did I start using these? Late 80s, I think. The Deborah Hydracolor tinted lip balms are probably my favourite tinted lip balms, ever. I did stop using them when I came to the UK (as they don’t seem to be available here) but I bought four different shades on our last trip to Finland and they are all lovely. The flavour alone takes me back.

4. Louis Widmer, how do I love thee? There’s an interesting element to the Finnish cosmetics market. The Boots-type pharmacy/drugstore doesn’t exist; instead you have very sterile and serious pharmacies in which you can find a (growing) selection of (usually quite) earnest cosmetics. Hypo-allergenic, cosmeseutical; as long as it could be marketed by a man in a white lab coat, it gets in. The self-selection drugstore cosmetics are found in supermarkets, department stores, Anttila stores and standalone cosmetic stores (of which there are now many, many more than 20 years ago).The Swiss Louis Widmer brand has been a staple in Finnish pharmacies for decades. I first tried the products when I was working in one of the first standalone cosmetic stores in Finland and on my last few trips back I’ve been stocking up on the eye cream and vitalising night cream; the textures are rich and soothing (I use them in winter or at night if my skin feels very dry) and the scent is Nivea-like, comforting and old-fashioned.

5.Ô de Lancôme was one of my go-to summer scents 20 years ago. I first learned of it when working in that cosmetics store and I fell hard for that 70s-style cologne and for Givenchy III, a bitter citrus chypre that I couldn’t get enough of. If you think these are odd choices for a teen, it may be comforting to know I also adored Balahe (an oriental spicebomb with a boozy vanilla and eugenol accord), Jardins de Bagatelle (a sugary tuberose garden writ large which could give today’s fruity florals a run for their money) and even Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door. Ô de Lancôme was a great summer scent, though, and smelling it now takes me back to those days.

6. Yves Rocher was and still is popular in Finland. I mentioned the Chevrefeuille products I’ve been using recently and the Hamamelis-range is something we always seemed to have in our bathroom when I was growing up.

7. I wonder if there is a single Finnish cosmetics-using female who doesn’t own at least one Lumene product? A home-grown brand owned and manufactured by a pharmaceutical company, Lumene caters for the needs of Nordic women and uses some interesting local materials from arctic berries to peat. I’ve never visited Finland without buying at least one Lumene lipstick. There are many really flattering shades for pale complexions and the formulas are easy to wear – they don’t tend to feel heavy, drying or sticky.

8. 4711 was one of my gran’s staples along with the lemon hand cream and a touch of face powder. The cologne was more of a summer cottage thing; in town she preferred Arden’s Blue Grass. The smell of 4711 is very nostalgic; I love cologne, full stop – and it’s a great product to carry with you on summer travels. Something to rinse your hands with instead of alcohol gel, or to splash on after a shower. It’s nostalgic but still relevant.

9. I told you Lumene uses peat – here it is in all its glory; a deep-cleansing peat mask. I find this absolutely marvellous for my awkward ageing combination skin. I use this on my t-zone and buy two or three tubes to take home when I visit Finland.

10. Lumene Hydra Drops is a very lightweight foundation made with oatmilk and fluffy clouds. At least that’s how it feels on your skin. It’s one of the few liquid foundations that comes in a shade light enough for my winter skin and doesn’t settle into pores. I tend to prefer powder foundation overall, but when my skin is feeling dry, dehydrated or a bit cranky, this stuff is magic.

A Finnish lake view