Monday, November 24, 2014

A Gift Guide I Can Vouch For

Have you noticed the extraordinary amount of pressure to shop recently? My inbox (both Messy Wands and personal) has been inundated by brands advertising holiday gifts and paraphernalia, all persistently nudging me to get them before it's "too late." Never mind the fact that it's still one whole month before Christmas! I always find the end of the year rushing toward me too quickly, maybe this is why.

That said, we are days away from Thanksgiving and the anxiety-inducing Black Friday – Racked has listed 150+ sales and counting on this handy page. Clearly, other publications/blogs will be much better resources for you in terms of scoring deals, so I will not attempt to replicate that. Instead, I created this little gift guide of products I've personally used and loved and would recommend to everyone I know. May it be a guide to you when thinking of gifts for the women in your life.

1. Tatcha Deep Hydration Lifting Mask, $28 each / $95 for a box of 4
What sort of praises have I not sung about this mask? If I had to choose one Tatcha product to gift, this spa-in-a-packet would be it. My general philosophy about gift giving is to buy things that others usually won't buy for themselves, and the mask's hefty price point is unfortunately a deterrent to most. However, if anything is well worth the splurge, this is.

Tatcha Friends & Family Sale: 20% off everything at with code FF2014, valid from 11/28-12/8.

2. Rituals Zensation Foaming Shower Gel Sensation, $15
My favorite part of showering is the suds. I remember spending ages in the bathroom as a child, with the door locked, mischievously soaping up every surface and sliding across them with glee. Needless to say, my mother was not amused. Rituals is a new-to-the-US Dutch brand that offers home and body cosmetics with beautiful packaging at a surprisingly low price point. This shower gel transforms into a rich foam when it comes into contact with water. I like it for the clean scent and ease of use, and for allowing me to indulge in my favorite childhood pastime as an adult.

Rituals Black Friday Sale: 50% off select products at, valid from 11/28-12/1.

3. Shu Uemura Art of Hair Cleansing Oil Shampoo, $57
I've been clamoring to repurchase this ever since I pumped out the last drop. This shampoo is particularly effective in removing product from hair, and the claim that it doesn't "strip the natural oils" of your scalp is true, since I occasionally skipped conditioning without ill effects. I was devastated to find that the brand no longer offered discounts during Black Friday. Instead, they bundled up complementary products into gift sets. I'm sorely tempted by the Cleansing Oil Gift Set (with shampoo and conditioner and a travel-sized Essence Absolue), but cannot justify it since I've cut down my hair washing to twice a week and still have multiple shampoo/conditioners to go through.

4. Alterna Bamboo Smooth Moisture Masque, $26
I'm always pleasantly surprised when hair treatments (shampoo and conditioner excluded) actually work. Many volumizing/smoothing/repairing treatments I've tried didn't make a difference, but I am happy to report that this Alterna mask bucks the norm. After suffering from severe tangling all week, I applied this mask during my last shower and emerged with hair that was so soft, my hair brush practically slipped through it.

5. L'Occitane 13 Desserts of Provence, $69
Here's an advent calendar that will make the ultimate stocking stuffer (or make it easy for you to stuff those stockings). The 13 products in this gift set reads like a L'Occitane "best hits" list. If nothing, it'll make your next trip very easy to pack for.

L'Occitane Black Friday deal: Receive a free gift of three 10ml hand creams with any purchase at on 11/28.

6. RMS Beauty Glowing Gift Set, $120
I have long held that RMS Beauty is superior to other natural brands when it comes to makeup. While most brands flounder by delivering products with subpar pigmentation, RMS Beauty shocks by serving up bright, nuanced shades. I swatched the whole collection a couple of years ago, but since then they've added a couple of products to their lineup. If you want to try the brand, I think this gift set is an excellent introduction. It features four of their bestsellers: Living Luminizer (one of the best highlighters I own), Un-Cover Up (I am shade #22), Lip2Cheek (Promise and Modest are my favorites) and Cream Eye Shadow. Bonus: you get to customize your own set with the shades you want.

7. Jo Malone Red Roses Scent Surround Diffuser, $85
It's a treat to return home to the scent of Jo Malone Red Roses ("a voluptuous blend of seven of the world's most exquisite roses"). This diffuser is strong enough to perfume my bedroom and then some, for I smell it even from the corridor of my apartment. It's been three months since I placed the reeds in and the bottle is still half full. This six-month investment is one that I'm very willing to make.

8. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis, $175
When my mother asked me to get her a "nice, light fragrance," I sent her a bottle of Aqua Universalis. I will not assault your imagination with my poor description of scent (objectively, the notes include bergamot and Sicilian lemon, lily of the valley and sweet mock orange, as well as musky wood) but as proof of endorsement, I've been wearing this nonstop for the past six months.

9. Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray, $42
I wish I could spray this on my hair everyday. Without fail, it gives my hair ridiculous volume and life and bounce. And the heavenly smell! It's no wonder that the brains behind Oribe decided to bottle their signature scent into perfume form.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

La Prairie Cellular Swiss Ice Crystal Dry Oil + Cream

Let my reflection be a testament to how shiny the packaging is

Earlier this week, I had an unfortunate reaction to a new face mist I was testing – the entire area under my mouth broke out in hives. I took some Claritin to mitigate the effects and laid off products for a few days so as not to enrage the beast, and it seems to have worked. The red splotches have disappeared, leaving in its wake scaly, itchy dry skin.

This lizard-y feeling is similar to my month-long sunburn from September (not a good year for skin, eh?), so as soon as my skin acted up again, I wasted no time in going the decadent route to speed up healing. The most intense moisturizers I have on my vanity are the La Prairie Cellular Swiss Ice Crystal Dry Oil and Cream. In fact, I take it one step further by combining the two: a dollop of cream with a couple of drops of dry oil adds up to a formidable hydrating duo. When I apply the concoction to my face, I literally sigh with relief.

I actually prefer the cream to the dry oil. The latter feels overly heavy to me, like it's sitting on instead of absorbing into skin. The cream, on the other hand, feels lighter than expected for such an intensive treatment. Both the dry oil and cream have a strong scent – I think of Enchanteur powders when I apply them to my face – which is not ideal, but I continue to use them since they obviously work.

At $300 each, I hesitate to exhort anyone to purchase these, even if they do work wonders for my dry skin. I will say, if your skin always had trouble with winter, maybe venture out to a counter for a sample.

La Prairie Cellular Swiss Ice Crystal Dry Oil and Cream are available at Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman, and

Full disclosure: This entry contains a gift from the brand. This entry also contains affiliate links.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

R29 + Rescue Beauty Lounge: Better Than Boyfriend Jeans

I'm a sucker for baby blues, so when Rescue Beauty Lounge unveiled its latest collaboration with Refinery29, I ordered Better Than Boyfriend Jeans without skipping a beat. It is such a pretty icy blue – it reminds me of Dior Glacier (less blue and more silver, shimmery) which I missed out on years ago. BTBJ is a different polish under varying light. It picks up more blue when indoors, and takes on a glacial quality when under sunlight. I needed three layers to get it to full opacity (apply with a light hand to avoid streaks). I think it'll be beautiful peeking out of gloves when the snow hits.

The only other color I purchased from the collection was another in-between shade, the green/blue called Sunny Skies.

It's a pity that my mind was an auto-mode when I ordered the two shades, because now I'm regretting not getting Pretty Gritty, a purple with fine gold shimmer. I own the original IKB, which is why I didn't spring for All About Yves, though I've heard that the latter has a superior formula. You can enjoy swatches of the rest of the collection at Makeup Withdrawal.

The R29 + Rescue Beauty Lounge collection is exclusively available on Each polish retails for $20.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beauty PSA: Shu Uemura VIP Sale

All my purchases have been on hold for the past month because I'm waiting for sale season to start, and Shu Uemura is one of the first to drop. Their VIP sale gives you 25% off everything! That's a little more than their traditional Black Friday offer (20% like most stores).

While I already have everything I want from Shu Uemura, I am sorely tempted to pick up another Kolinsky Brush 11. Even with 25% off it's still a hefty chunk of my paycheck, but that brush is unparalleled in my kit. I have eschewed most of my other brushes in favor of this, because it does the depositing, applying and blending better than anything I own.

The only reason I'm considering buying another (the one I own is pretty much still perfect) is because I currently switch between two apartments, and it would be nice to have one wherever I go.

Decisions! I have to make some...

While I ponder, don't miss out on this once-in-a-year chance! If nothing, you can always stock up on eyelash curlers. Visit and use code SHUVIP at checkout for the 25% discount.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

OCC Lip Tar in Lydia

Confession: I haven't figured out a shooting setup at my new apartment, which is why the pictures you've been seeing have been more, uh, guerrila. The good thing is I scrambled to get the new iPhone when it came out, so my on-the-go snaps enjoy a (hopefully) crisper quality. Some pictures are better than no pictures, right?

Anyway, I seem to be very very late jumping on the bandwagon that is Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics. Considering my penchant for mixing colors, this is very surprising. The first Lip Tar I had the pleasure to try is the one photographed above – Lydia. A darkroom plum according to OCC, a pinky mauve according to me. The formula is incredibly light, non-sticky, and fragrance free.

OCC Lip Tar comes in deceptively small tubes, as in you might think you got the short end of the stick until you realize that a little product truly goes a very long way. These things are pure pigment – I never apply anything more than a dab of color to my lips, otherwise I'll find very quickly that I've squeezed out too much.

Although each tube comes with a short-handled lip brush, I prefer to spread the color on my lips with a finger (produces a more natural finish) and then use the excess on my cheeks. This way, I get rosy blush and have a fuss-free way to clean my fingers (I had to say it!).

Without careful prep (primer + primer pencil), the darker OCC shades usually feather on me, but I'm happy to report that Lydia doesn't have the same effect. That said, while OCC is known for long-lasting color, Lydia fades within 3-4 hours on me. I suspect it's due to my application method more than anything.

OCC Lip Tar - Matte: Lydia retails for $18 and is available at Sephora and

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The holidays are out to get us

I always approach the end of the year with a mixture of excitement of trepidation. On one hand, it's Thanksgiving! Christmas! I get to go home and spend two whole weeks with my family! On the other, one whole year just whooshed by and another is looming.

Seriousness aside, the holidays are a great time for beauty lovers! As you probably know, the Sephora VIB/VIB Rouge sale is well underway and there are excellent holiday-only sets to be purchased. Now, I have been on a beauty cleanse for over six months now (my last actual beauty purchase was the Dior Addict Fluid Stick in April), and while my mind knows I clearly do not need more stuff, my heart says gimme gimme gimme.

For example, this Benefit Box O' Blushes. I already own Coralista and Dandelion separately, and I've never wanted any of the other shades even after swatching them countless times. What is it about putting them together in a cute bigger box (that's probably even less travel friendly) that makes them so much more appealing? I've been thinking about this for weeks.

And then, yesterday while walking through Macy's to pass time, I paused by the Jo Malone counter. My eyes were involuntarily drawn to the boxes of holiday gift sets stacked up at the corner and I slunk over for a closer look (instead of joining my friend, who dutifully sniffed at scents). Again, rationally I know that these candles are not my cup of tea (too incense-y), but because they're wrapped up in a pretty box with a pretty bow, I want them.

Don't get me started on advent calendars. Just a couple months ago, I gave away over 50% of my nail polish collection in an effort to downsize for my move. I was feeling pretty great about myself. My friends had new polishes to play with (and liked me a lot more) and I had more space in my room. And yet I did not hesitate to say I wanted one of these Ciaté Mini Mani Manor Advent Calendars. Is it the box again? Is it the perception of great value? What is it about giving me 24 random shades that makes this all the more enticing?

Lastly, Tatcha just unveiled nine holiday sets for easy gifting. They range from über luxe (the Kaiseki Complete Travel-Sized Assortment) to very simple and functional (the Kokoro Indigo Travel Duo). The two sets I'm most tempted by are pictured here (top: Nagomi Luminosity Set, bottom: Miyabi Golden Glow Beauty Set). Both feature some of my absolute must-have products from the brand, and the Miyabi set comes with the extra Obon tray and mirror, which I unabashedly covet.

At time of writing, a few of the Tatcha sets are already down to single digit stock, so if you want them, better scoot on over now! They're all exclusively available at

That said, if you've always wanted to try out Tatcha but have been hesitant because of price, it delights me to inform you that their annual Friends & Family sale will commence November 28 through December 8. It's a once in a year opportunity and everything will be 20% off with code FF2014. These sets will probably be long gone by then, but you will still be able to purchase individual products!

What holiday sets have you been eyeing/have already purchased? I can't be the only one!