Sunday, 31 January 2010

Cosmetics Contemplations: The 'Coke Zero' of Beauty?

Men's makeup and skincare has long been on the rise; the days when your average modern man under the age of thirty would just run out of the door having only splashed his face with soap and water (soap - what's that?), or maybe even nothing at all, are arguably long gone. But as the male grooming market becomes more and more valuable, even in the midst of economic recession, one does wonder: is this just another way for companies to make money in times of feduciary hardship? Is "men's skincare" just the Coke Zero of beauty?

There are two schools of thought on this. One is the 'yes' camp, which states that men's products are exactly the same as women's products - just in different packaging. One product guilty of this is Liz Earle's Cleanse & Polish, which, when the ingredients are compared to the women's version, prove to be exactly the same. The proportions may be slightly different (said on the basis that the ingredients are presented in a marginally different order), but that's all. And I find it difficult to believe that the men's version of Yves St Laurent's Touche Eclat is really different to the original. The upshot of it is that men are simply often too embarrassed to buy a product that doesn't look manly enough, and maybe a shiny gold pen-like item just doesn't cut it in the masculine stakes.

However, there is plenty of credible evidence to suggest that men's skin really is different to women's and thus does need different care (meaning that men's skin care is not so much the Coke Zero to the female/original "Coke", but is more like Lucozade in comparison). Men's skin is 20-25% thicker than women's and is higher in collagen and elastin levels; it also has higher levels of sebum, and bigger pores. In addition to this, most men also have to shave daily, meaning that despite the tendency towards oily skin, they also have to regularly combat the perils of dry and dehydrated skin, which all means seeking out products that are tailored to these circumstances.

Naturally some of these concerns overlap between male and female skin; women suffer from dry skin too, and many also have oily skin and large pores. It's therefore only right that some products would be unisex, and that a separate male product should not be needed, with the only change being one of packaging. This is not to mention that it's just nice, sometimes, for men to have concealers and cleansers of their own and not to always feel like they're nicking our stuff: Baxter of California, Lab Series, and Nickel, along with websites such as Mankind and LookManTastic, all cater for men without giving women a look-in.

Marketing, then, should not be considered so superficial in this debate: the same is true of many other products, including, especially, books. If changing such things means that a company will sell more of a product, then it ends up being pretty important, even if it does make a subset of the market seem more like the Coke Zero of beauty.


Cosmetics & Beauty News January 2010

Simply essential
Liberty announced this month that at the end of March, they would become the first retail outlet for Parisian brand Anne Sémonin. On the 29th of March, the full range will be available in store, along with a trained expert to provide personal skin consultations and to show how products can be customised to create a bespoke skincare regime. The brand combines essential oils to cater for the demands of every skin type and already has a strong spa presence in venues such as Le Bristol in Paris and Lucknam Park in the UK.

Butter up your Valentine...
...with Palmer's new body butters, available in shea, olive, coconut and cocoa. Their rich formulas are designed to rescue dry winter skin and restore moisture, and all for only £5.86. Another Valentine's Day essential comes in the form of Miss Oops' Pucker Protector - a lip balm cleverly disguised as a gloss, priced at £10.99. Other to-die-for Valentine's treats include Korres' new Japanese Rose range (body milk, shower gel, body butter) or (if your better half is feeling flush) the bank-balance-breaking Diamond Face and Neck Crème from Crystalline (as well as the diamond crystals, it contains a long list of heavenly ingredients for your skin, including marine extracts, acai oil, black oak, and amber, which might explain why it costs 150 big ones). You can also carry on keeping skin looking soft with Jergens' new Ultra Healing Extra Dry Skin Moisturiser, which is packed with vitamins C, E and B5.

Fragrance news
Lots of fragrance news this month, from the fairly commonplace (Acqua di Parma's Bergamotto di Calabria; Eva Longoria Parker's new scent) to the more off-the-wall variants. One of these slightly more bizarre concepts comes from Lavanila, who have brought out an aphrodisiac perfume. The limited edition fragrance, Vanilla Passion Fruit, not only contains the two eponymous ingredients, but also has notes of guava, peach, sandalwood, and the aphrodisiacs blue lotus, juniper berry, and clary sage. It's also free of alcohol, phthalates, and petrochemicals. While not widely available yet, UK and European buyers can purchase it from (US site) for the moment, priced at the full RRP of $58 for 1.7oz; however, since it's also currently available on the US Sephora site, there's hope that it may appear more readily in mainland Europe too.

Getting your Muji back
Japanese-inspired skincare has really been hot to trot over these past couple of years, with many high street brands such as Body Shop, L'Occitane, and Korres (see above) taking up the trend. Now, however, UK buyers will also have a chance to try a genuine Japanese range in the form of Muji, which hits shelves in March (London stores, and online). Starting at just £7.95, there should be something to suit all skins, whether you're a traditional cleansing gel kind of girl, or want to try the more new-fangled cleansing oil. Sweet.

Avoiding the congestion charge
Finally, back to what seems an eternal topic: getting rid of those damned spots. The latest company to offer a targeted solution is Elizabeth's Daughter, with its Purifying Mask. While it seems pricey at £26 for 100ml, it contains various spot-busting extracts, such as great burdock and erysiumum to regulate sebum production, Amazonian white clay to decongest and eliminate toxins, and lime seed oil to aid skin regeneration.

Liz Earle's Winter Skincare Tips
Thanks to Liz Earle, owner and founder of Britain's biggest independent beauty brand, Bianca's Beauty Blog can offer you some exclusive beauty tips from the lady herself this winter. For the face, exfoliation is recommended in order to keep skin glowing during the winter, and added radiance can also be achieved by the use of a mask. Liz also recommends that to avoid damage to the hands, a generous layer of moisturiser should be applied to the hands (not forgetting nails and cuticles) at least twice a day in order to counteract the harsh effects of winter weather and high central heating temperatures. They're sending me a sample of Liz Earle Superbalm soon in order to help me with this and so that I can report back on the results. With a bit of luck, the tips will work for me and for all of you too.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Yves Rocher Gestes d'Institut Radiant Complexion Treatment

RRP: £1

--What does the promo say?--
"Does your skin look dull? In 2 steps, this Radiant Complexion treatment session wakes up your skin and helps it to rediscover its beauty. The cereals with exfoliating properties, associated with quenching maple sugar, restores its visible freshness and radiance. Let your feelings guide you, and pamper your face. Your skin is awakened and deeply hydrated. It looks radiant …and so do you."

A simply-designed sachet, comprising two separate sachets joined together. The design is refined and places emphasis on the two brightly-coloured images; instructions for use are concise, and the sachets are easy to detach and open. The small size and convenient structure of the packaging makes this brilliant for travel, too.

With wet hands, rub a small amount of the top part (the exfoliant) onto a clean face. Massage into skin and then wash off. When skin is dry, apply the mask (bottom part) in a thin layer onto the skin. Leave for 15 minutes to dry, and then peel off and moisturise as normal. Nothing complicated about this.

The mask is fairly non-descript; as with many other mint masks, it's a transparent dark-green gel that dries clear on the skin. The exfoliant is more interesting, combining the simultaneous impressions of oatmeal, maple syrup, sugar and sand to create an attractive and effective-looking exfoliator. No visible residues are left on skin after use.

The mask smells very strongly of menthol; the exfoliant has no detectable scent.

--Texture and consistency--
As you would expect from an exfoliator, this one is satisfyingly scrubby without irritating the skin, while the mask adheres to the skin well and has no lumps. It's also not too sticky and is easy to wash off of your fingers after application. Both parts of the treatment wash/peel off well.

--Effects on the skin--
Skin definitely feels (and to an extent looks) softer and more refined after use of the treatment, even if the effects do not continue long term. Pores feel and look less clogged and the skin overall looks less shiny.

--Value for money--
I don't think you'll find anyone who will argue with that price tag. The price is fair and square: you're getting a good-quality treatment that not only serves as an affordable treat for you, but which is also ingenious when it comes to travel. Furthermore, you can buy both of the products in larger sizes (which admittedly are not as good value, but Yves Rocher often has sales or offers on) if you decide you really do like them, so it's a great opportunity to test the products, too (especially since this £1 spend gives you 2-3 applications for each product). A great buy.

perfect partners
Botanical Cleansing Skin Peel, £8.70
Botanical Hydration Moisture Mask, £10.20

Clinique Vitamin C Antioxidant Lip Smoothie Lip Colour

RRP: £13.50
# of shades available: 10

--What does the promo say?--
"We’ve squeezed in the best ingredients, like Vitamin C, and powered-up antioxidants so lips look feel their healthy best. Brushes on luscious colour, shine and moisture."

Clinque continues to cash in on the fashionable click-pen, as they did with their concealer. This uses a silvery colour scheme, distinguishing between shades with a coloured band at the click wheel end. Looks modern and sophisticated overall.

In theory this should be easy: twist the click wheel until the product appears at the pen end and paint onto lips.
However, it's a bit more complicated than that as it appears very difficult to get the right amount of product into the brush, leading to wastage. Literally as soon as you see *any* trace of the product in the bristles, stop twisting: it WILL be enough, even if it doesn't look like it will be.

None; the good news is that this means no slightly-dubious Playdoh smell. The bad news is that this doesn't actually remind you of a fruit smoothie.

The colour I was sent (Berry Boost) seemed a bit too bright or strong on the lips for me, but I'd be more likely to put that down to my hair colour and skin tone, and a therefore unfortunate choice of shade, than to any inherent fault in the product. The shininess was certainly impressive, however, and when applied very sparingly, the colour does too.

A little bit sticky, I found to my regret.


--Value for money--
The lack of control in the click wheel and the stickiness of the product lead me to feel that this product is perhaps a little expensive (especially considering that you only get 1.5ml for your money). If these things were improved, and if Clinique also played more on the smoothie theme in the scent, the product would be greatly ameliorated overall. It being as it is, however, for now I'd advise (for the same money, or thereabouts) going for lip glosses by Estée Lauder or Too Faced.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Lush Veganese

RRP: from £3.50 (100g) up to £11.50 (500g)

--What does the promo say?--
"Lavender and lemon all-round conditioner for all hair types. Our vegan customers have quite enough to put up with without having rough, dull, tangled hair. The majority of Lush products are vegan, but making a vegan conditioner without lanolin (from sheared sheep's wool) took us a few years. Absolutely refusing to be beaten, Helen Ambrosen finally found a formula that reached her high standards, using agar seaweed gel as a hair softener with lavender and lemons for shine. It's an effective conditioner for you to use. Vegans and everyone with fine hair should choose this one and stick with it."

As with all Lush packaging, it's minimalist and recyclable, bearing a unisex black and white label. The black flip top lid makes it easy to use in the shower, and the transparent plastic bottle means you can always see how much you have left. No problems here.

After shampooing, slick this through wet hair. Leave to do its work for a couple of minutes and then rinse off. You may have to use a fair amount each time, though, even for shoulder-length hair.

A light brown, sludge-coloured, slightly lumpy-looking lotion. Mmmm.

Quite masculine-smelling; similar to the Grundy soap from Villainess that I reviewed in 2009. It's almost bitter-smelling, so the most likely culprits are the lavender along with the citrus oils. It's not a horrible smell, but it wouldn't be my first choice either.

Runs through hair easily, and washes out well. It's not fabulously luxurious, but there are certainly no problems with it.

--Effects on the hair--
It didn't ruin it, but there was no wow-factor for me either. It made my hair clean, but I sadly didn't see the shine that's talked about in the promotional materials.

--Value for money--
Again, this is an interesting conundrum. At first sight it seems rather expensive: many other high-quality 'salon' brands (such as Tigi, Charles Worthington, Mod's Hair, and Lee Stafford) have conditioners available for less than the price of the medium-sized bottle of Veganese (£6.95/250ml), as do other more 'ethical' or 'natural' brands such as Tommy Guns, Le Petit Marseillais, and Klorane. However, one medium-sized bottle will last months, whereas the brands listed above might not. The only serious threat to Lush's products perhaps comes in the form of the Green People (whose organic children's shampoo, crucially, is not only the same price as Veganese for the same amount of product, but also does not contain the irritating-to-some sodium laureth sulphate, or SLS, which Veganese does). However, ultimately it comes down to the choice you make: if you want a special treatment for your hair, to restore some quality that it lacks or has lost, then go for the cheaper salon treatment, as I found that Veganese did not do anything special for my hair. However, if the ethics of it is what you're after, Veganese is certainly an adequate, ethical, and long-lasting product that will go down well with most.

Oral-B Triumph 5000 Wireless Smartguide

RRP: £160, but can be found online from £64.70
Other information: used to be known as the Oral-B 9900; note that this is different to the 5000 Professional, which contains 6 heads (not 3) and a DVD

--What does the promo say?--
" * Oral-B's best rechargeable toothbrush with wireless digital SmartGuide to provide dentist inspired feedback during brushing, including monitoring time and pressure
* The only toothbrush to be approved by the British Dental Health Foundation
* 5 different brushing modes: daily clean, sensitive for gentler cleaning, polish to remove stains, massage and deep clean
* 3D technology pulsates 40,000, rotates 8,800 per minute and also oscillates to remove 2 X as much plaque as an ordinary manual toothbrush
* Includes 3 interchangeable heads, Smartplug and travel case for easy travelling; Single charge lasts 10 days"

All very modern and impressive: the box uses shiny metallic silvers, reds and blues, and there is a hole cut out of the box so that you can see the wireless SmartGuide. They don't make enough of the British Dental Foundation endorsement, though (although it appears that the 9900 box did, in the form of a big gold sticker). The main selling points of the brush are listed in bullet points on the front, sides and back of the box in an uncluttered and unconfusing manner. Not only comes with a plug-in charger, but also comes with a blue plastic travelling case for the brush and its heads, as well as a separate white case to keep the heads in while you're at home (which can also be linked up to the charger). The setup of this (and the wireless smartguide) is generally uncomplicated (a hint: make sure the charger is grey side down). On first reading of the instructions it all seems a little overwhelming, but it quickly makes sense from the first use.

As hinted above, this product is easy to set up and use. Once you've decided whether you want 24-hour or 12-hour clock on your Smartguide, and actually programmed the time in, there is no more configuration to do: the brush and the Smartguide make immediate connection with each other as soon as you switch the brush on, at which point the Smartguide starts timing your brushing cycle (when not in use, it just displays the time). All you have to do is choose your brush head (more of which later) and follow the instructions on the screen: as well as counting how many seconds have passed, the screen also shows you which quadrant of your mouth you should be brushing, and as well as showing on the screen when to change quadrant, the brush itself also pulsates double at the given moment in case you weren't watching. When you're done, the quadrant circle changes into a smiley face (after 2 minutes; 3 minutes if you've chosen the deep clean mode). What could be easier?

This brush comes with five settings: regular (2 minutes), regular (3 minutes/deep clean mode), sensitive, massage, and polish. I definitely noticed the difference between the regular and sensitive settings, and while there are detectable differences between these and the massage and polish settings (in terms of pulsation), I'm not sure that I saw much difference in the overall results compared to other settings on the toothbrush.

--Other options and special features--
As well as timing you, allowing you to see what setting you've chosen, and telling you the time whenever you're not using the toothbrush, the Smartguide also tells you when you're brushing too hard, and when the brush head you're using needs to be replaced. Not sure how it does that, but it's pretty cool, and should please any gadget lover.

The range of brush heads available in the box should also serve everyone's needs: while the regular brush head (Floss Action) is perhaps a little aggressive, the sensitive head is excellent for everyday use, as is the ProBright head if that's your main aim.

--The challenge and its results--
Oral-B promises that if you are not satisfied with this product after 30 days, you can have your money back. It also says that you will experience superior whitening in 3 weeks (when compared to Oral-B Professional Care - a previously released electric toothbrush model). The results are easily superior to use of a manual toothbrush: I definitely felt that a deeper clean was achieved from the very first use and that my teeth and particularly my gums were being taken better care of. As for the whitening aspect, I knew from the off that as a fluorosis sufferer I was unlikely to experience any significant whitening of the teeth. However, I definitely saw an improvement in the evenness of tone (my teeth were previously very blotchy due to the combination of fluorosis and the fact that I had to wear train-track braces on my teeth for a few years), which was more than I had expected. While the colour is still not right, the results in tone alone are pleasing.

--Value for money--
Now, this is an interesting one. As I mentioned at the start, the RRP is roughly £160. This is what it retails at in Argos, Boots etc., and is fairly steep by many people's standards. However, a quick search of Google shopping reveals that many retailers are selling the product for between £60 and £100, which I feel is a fairer price that resonates more with the general public: such a price tag says "Yes, I am good quality, but I won't make your credit card cry." Nevertheless, the sophistication of the wireless technology and the fact that the toothbrush charges at the mains rather than eating batteries for breakfast probably justifies the full RRP alone - especially if, judging by the evening of tone on my own teeth, people also experience the promised whitening effect. This is ultimately a seriously advanced piece of equipment that can genuinely change your brushing habits and thus perhaps reduce your bills at the dentist, so it's easy to think of it as an ongoing investment. However, as a bargain hunter at heart, I'd still advise you to shop around to get the best possible deal.

perfect partners
Braun Oral-B Extra Soft Sensitive Replacement Toothbrush Heads 2 Pack, £7.77 from Amazon
Braun Oral-B ProBright Replacement Toothbrush Heads 2 Pack, £5.00 from
Braun Oral-B FlossAction Replacement Toothbrush Heads 4 Pack, £10.43 from Amazon

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Clarins Instant Light Eye Perfecting Base

RRP: £20
# of shades available: 2

--What does the promo say?--
"The invisible and lightweight texture gently evens and smoothes the eyelids, for easy make-up application and more youthful-looking eyes. Eyeshadow colour is more beautiful, more intense and very long-lasting. For a flawless, long-wearing make-up result."

An attractive and fashionable pen applicator, where the white tube is contrasted by the silver pull-off lid and red writing. You don't have to twist the end of the pen too long for the product to appear in the brush tip, but make sure you stop twisting as soon as you see any shadow of the product in the bristles: you only need the tiniest amount of this, so make sure you stop so that you can avoid wastage.

Clarins recommends application of the product using fingers or a foundation brush, going all the way from the base of the eyelashes right up to the brow bone. This is to an extent accurate, but don't take them too literally at their word: as I mentioned above, you only need to be very sparing with this product. I set about it by lining the top lashes with the product, and then blending upwards and outwards using my finger, rather than covering the whole eyelid with the product.

To my mind, this product promises two things in terms of appearance: one is a natural-looking base for eye makeup, and the other is radiance (as implied by the 'instant light' in the product name). I personally didn't find it did either of these things on me (although perhaps strangely, despite the colours appearing to be for Caucasian skin, the makeup artist in the video on the Clarins website seemed more able to make this product look natural on a Chinese person and on a black person than I was able to make it look on my own pale skin). I didn't notice any difference in radiance, but this is not disastrous. The colour, however, was disastrous. I didn't realise initially that there were two shades available (00, and the one I ended up with, 01), so my commentary will obviously not be a full one. However, the shade I had was terrible: it seemed like it was more for people with olivey complexions rather than with skin tones like mine (think English rose), so what I got was more like a reverse tan-line effect: the product made my eyelids and under-eye area look yellower than the rest of my face. Whether I would achieve a more favourable result with shade 00 remains to be seen; however, I get the impression that 01 would only suit a fairly narrow range of skin tones.

Very smooth; quite blendable, too, although the problems delineated above concerning colour perhaps didn't make blending the easiest thing in the world on this occasion.

This product at least comes through on one of its promised aspects: it certainly does hold your eye makeup well, preventing creases and fading from occurring. However, I wouldn't say that it does this any better or worse than the other two eye primers I have used in the past (Benefit's Lemon Aid, and Fyrinnae's Shadow Primer, both of which are cheaper than Clarins' primer).

--Value for money--
You can probably already guess that on this point the Eye Perfecting Base does not fare fantastically. The price cannot be justified due to the difficulty in colour matching and the apparent lack of radiance provided, even if it is ultimately a reliable primer. For radiance, instead opt for Yves St Laurent's Touche Eclat, and for an equally reliable primer at a less bank-busting price, go for either of the two I mentioned above.

perfect partners
Instant Light Perfecting Touch, £22.99
Concealer Stick, £16
Eyebrow Kit 'Pro' Palette, £29.50