eyeliner on a cat

eyeliner on a cat
beauty, scent & style scrutinized for pleasure

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Best of Beauty 2013!

My Best of Beauty 2013 list is being published a few days later than I had intended, but that's just because I had too much damned fun writing it. I'm a true "in no particular order" type of blogger when it comes to lists, but I had the most to say about Aurelia (spoiler: life-changer!), so they had to go first.

Best of Beauty 2013 Ambassadress

Aurelia Probiotic Skincare

I'm not being dramatic in the least when I tell you that Aurelia has solved my most stubborn, self-confidence-crushing, annoying day-to-day skin problems. It's true. Beauty Habit recently started carrying this UK brand, and when I studied the ingredients, I knew that these products would be something special. My skin was already used to the more exotic African ingredients like Kigelia, Mongongo and Baobab oils/extracts they contain because of my love for Shea Terra products. But Aurelia adds healthy doses of probiotics (always high up on the ingredient lists), coconut oil, shea butter and aloe, along with gorgeous, pure botanical oils like plumeria, jasmine, rose, neroli, mandarin, lavender and tuberose which act as powerful and effective aromatherapeutic agents. Skin care companies take note (big and small): when your customer cannot wait to use your products every day not only because they work, but because it's an experience filled with pleasure, you've hit the nail on the head.

With adult-onset hormonal acne and extreme sensitivity causing rashes, breakouts and puffy, itchy eyes over the past year or so, the pain and discomfort-- physical and emotional-- started to define my daily attitude. Skin care became more like medical trials than anything resembling vanity. I tried everything, including prescription medicines. I am so happy that my instincts about Aurelia were spot-on, because now my skin is completely clear and my skin tone and texture is starting to even out. All of the product formulations are light and non-greasy and my pores look twice as small as they used to. I guess this is how skin not overrun by inflammation is supposed to act.

One caveat: these products are on the pricier side of the spectrum, which further illustrates my leap of faith, but I'm able to buy them piece by piece as I run out- they are not all used up at the same rate. These products are well worth the money. The stars are, in my opinion, the Revitalise & Glow Serum and the Miracle Cleanser, which comes with a super-soft antibacterial bamboo cloth. This is a great place to start if you're considering diving into this line, especially if you're ready to ditch the toxic petrolatum in your Eve Lom cleansing balm. Here's your healthy, all-natural alternative.

[this adorable gift set w/ Miracle Cleanser is available at BeautyHabit.com now! There's also a set with the Cell Repair Night Oil]

Juniper Ridge Trail Crew Soap

Juniper Ridge keeps on cranking out one gem after another, and if you're already familiar with the brand from this blog or the many other beauty writers that hail them as genius (most recently, W Magazine!), you'll want a bottle of their Trail Crew Soap. Or seven. Made from simple ingredients: just palm, olive, jojoba and coconut oils (saponified), and natural essences from wildcrafted sap, moss, wood, etc, this decadent shower soap is good for your skin, the environment, and especially for your mental health.

I've always touted this brand's offerings as being the perfect gift for just about anyone in your life, and this is a gift that won't be forgotten. Every scent is fabulous, but Big Sur (pictured below) is my favorite at the moment. If you're a frustrated nature-lover stuck in the city like me, you will want to always have a bottle of Trail Crew Soap or two on hand. It's not a bathing ritual you'll ever want to go without.

[Big Sur Trail Crew Soap, 8oz]

Aftelier Ylang Face Elixir

Mandy Aftel's Face Elixirs have been recently revamped- the packaging has changed, the quantity has increased to 0.5 ounce, and the only blend remaining from the former line is the Rose Face Elixir. Joining the Rose is the recently launched Ylang Ylang Face Elixir. It's a very sophisticated blend of oils which is now reflected outwardly in the packaging upgrade. How beautiful is this bottle (picture below)? The oil base is comprised of rice bran, sweet almond, apricot kernel, camellia, grapeseed, squalene and rosehip, and the beautiful color and fragrance comes from blood orange, pink grapefruit, and of course, ylang ylang, It's a half-ounce of pure, unadulterated joy in a bottle, perfect for all types of skin- including sensitive. I like to use it in the morning because of its ultra-light texture. It sinks right into my skin and works extremely well underneath a tinted moisturizer or BB cream.

Mandy takes her face and body products just as seriously as her perfumes-- everything is composed thoughtfully and it's created using the best that nature has to offer. No shortcuts and no compromise. She's one of the few true gangstas in the fragrance world.

Koh Gen Doh Moisture Spa Gel

I'm dipping my toes in the world of Koh Gen Do whenever possible, and having a lot of fun doing it. My favorite product that I've used from them over the past year has without a doubt been their Moisture Spa Gel. It's able to calm inflammation and deeply moisturize, knocking out scaly patches, extreme dryness, rashes, blemishes and scores of other skin irritations quickly, then gets right to work on healing them. When your skin is inflamed for any reason, your first line of bodily defense is compromised, allowing further damage to take place. It's times like this when practically everything I use on my skin hurts it. This is one of the very few things I can rely on 100% of the time to not sting or irritate, never hurt or itch, and it has allowed me to toss my emergency stash of Aquaphor into the trash- which I really hated using because of the petrolatum in it.

Besides being an extremely effective and gentle healer, Moisture Spa Gel is brilliant as a foundation primer- but it really needs to be a very thin layer of it going down under your foundation (liquid, cream, powder- doesn't matter). It acts like a sort of adhesive, but more importantly, like a barrier to protect your skin from environmental stressors. I like to think of it as a true skin fortifier.

And a little P.S.-- I have two Koh Gen Do lipsticks and they are To. Die. For. I can't wait to try more products from this brand.

HURRAW! lip balm

I know that virtually every reader of this blog knows about my passionate love affair with HURRAW!, purveyors of the finest natural lip balms I've ever tried. Therefore, I will keep this mention on this shorter side, since I've provided a link (above) to my review of the brand's offerings. HURRAW! is the perfect example of how micro-brands can get it exactly right, even when working on a small scale.

Their products appeal to the insatiable scent-hound in me, with their creatively blended high-quality essential oils, and they also appeal to the natural skin care freak in me as well. It's the little things that count, and when you add up all of those little things-- the special touches, the fragrance and the formulations, the honesty and transparency, the madly appealing visuals and copy on their website, the positivity and good energy they project; what that equals is the customer being so happy that they have to have at least one of everything. And at $3.79 - $4.29 a pop, that's totally doable.

[Earl Grey, a favorite of mine]

Garden Apothecary Bath Teas

Made with epsom salts mined in the USA and all kinds of botanical goodies from violet leaves to cardamom pods and beyond, these gorgeous bath teas are a real treat. Everybody knows of the therapeutic benefits of epsom salts for treating sore muscles, tiredness, achiness and spasms, so if you need to justify buying these bath teas in bulk, there you go. You're welcome. The fragrant steam that rises as you soak in the tub is unbelievably delicious, and you've got lovely bits of natural plants and flowers to incorporate into your bath-time skin scrubbing routine. In the very least, it will provide the release of more essential oils, and sometimes will even provide manual exfoliation of the skin (depending on which blend you've got and how big the pieces are).

For relaxing in the evening, I've been using the Rose Leaf Bath Tea, but there are other, equally tempting fragrances on offer: Cacao + Cardamom, Jasmine + Bergamot + Violet Leaf, Balsam + Lavender + Lotus, and Citrus. Proprietor, Founder, Globetrotter, Writer, Guerilla Gardener, Brunette Bombshell (and a whole lot of other things) Jennifer Lee Segale is an interesting woman with a gift for translating the language of plants so that the rest of us can understand it. She plays rap music while she gardens and is on a first name basis with all of the bees in her apiary. Her bath teas are a great example of her unique perspective and talent. They are available in two sizes, and make a very elegant gift presentation.

[Rose Leaf Bath Tea 13.5 oz]

[Cardamom + Cacao Bath Tea 13.5 oz]

Jiva-Apoha MUKTI (Freedom) Body Oil Blend

I've had a deep, enduring love for nag champa for a very long time, and I've always dreamed of having a really luxurious nag champa-scented body oil or perfume. This past summer, the body oil part of that dream finally came true, in the form of MUKTI (FREEDOM). I fully admit that I may have nudged Jiva founder/creator and friend Angela Shore a few times about it, I mean, I do work for her. Should anyone question my sincerity in including a brand I work for in my "Best of Beauty" list, know this: I fell in love with Jiva so hard that I approached Angela and asked her for the opportunity to work for her. And so it came to pass.

Pretty much everyone knows what nag champa smells like-- the first folks to put their brand stamp on the combination of champaca flower and sandalwood was Satya Sai Baba, who made it famous as incense. Now imagine... super luxe champaca and sandalwood oils from India, blended in a base of sunflower and sesame oils. Generously fragranced, balanced to tri-doshic Ayurvedic standards, emotionally uplifting and highly sunny in disposition, silky and light on the skin... so beautiful and sigh-inducing that it's like all of the best memories from my whole life come flooding back in one single breath. Yes, it's a very sentimental thing for me, and I am not ashamed to say that I have the urge to sleep at night clutching my bottle of it. I haven't yet given in to this urge, but I haven't totally ruled it out yet, either.

[Available in 3 sizes: 2, 4 and 8 ounces]

Twelve Beauty Ultra Revitalising Elixir

What I perceive to be Twelve Beauty's ethos is a good and a simple one: if you properly harness the powers of natural botanical elements and apply them to the accepted scientific truths of skin care, you will have a range that will be useful (and important) to many.

Twelve's Ultra Revitalising Elixir reminds me of the first time I used a similar type of toning lotion-- it was Shiseido's Softening Lotion- decades ago. Back then, I didn't quite understand the words "lotion" and "toner" sometimes being used interchangeably. There's an entire world of skin care rituals out there that remain largely foreign to Americans only because of the restraints and idiosyncracies of language. Anyhow, this is a product I used quite a bit during the summer. I would find that after cleansing, I could press this watery liquid into my skin, taking my time, and it's so hydrating that sometimes I wouldn't even need to use much else on top of it- just sunscreen. During hot summers, the less you can get away with using on your skin, the better.

This light hydrating elixir was formulated for sensitive skin, which partially explains why it's so calming and cooling, and also why I love it so much. It contains intriguing ingredients such as Artemisia and Buddleja extracts, in addition to their special antioxidant blend that can be found in every Twelve Beauty product: extracts of White Genepi, Imperatoria Leaf, Mallow Flower and Butterfly Bush Leaf. And I can't forget to mention one far less exotic-sounding yet extremely important ingredient-- glycerin. The Ultra Revitalising Elixir is the type of product that seems to be common everywhere but North America, kind of like the balm and hot cloth method of cleansing. I hope both catch on here in the US eventually, because there is a lot for us to learn in order to shed our over-scrubbing ways!

Urban Decay Shattered Face Case, Revolution Lipsticks, Naked Skin Liquid Foundation

Oh, Urban Decay! I've been using this brand since its inception, back when they were super-edgy and I was working at Urban Outfitters back when they were super-edgy. And me? Yeah, I was super-edgy too. I still sort of am, but now that I'm a bit older, I've got nothing to prove. Anyway, I've followed the ups-and-downs of the brand over time, and am so happy to say that they have hit their stride once again, and hopefully for good.

Their palettes are spot-on and nothing is wasted. Their new lipsticks are better than a $60 Tom Ford or Cle de Peau lipstick. Color options are broader than ever-- but somehow not overwhelming for it. The formulations are top-notch and are improved whenever it's called for. The fairly recently launched Naked Skin Foundation is incredible, and easily the best match to my natural skin tone than anything I've ever used before. It's so elegant and beautiful with its super-light texture and undetectable finish that once again, it's easy to say that it's a better product than something that costs three times as much. Urban Decay has really brought the excitement of makeup back for me. For years, I went practically bare-faced every single day, because all I really cared about was perfume and skin care.

Now that makeup is back in the mix, I'm obsessing over every Revolution lipstick shade that I need, cooing over every new product launch and ooh-ing and aah-ing over the ad campaigns and models. I get the brand. I get what they're doing, and why. Give me 90 seconds, my foundation and a blue-based fuchsia lipstick (Jilted, preferably) and I'll pose for a thousand photographs.

The Shattered Face Case (pictured directly below) is currently on sale at UrbanDecay.com for $29, which is a huge steal. Also, they've got some great classic nude 24/7 lip pencils for half price. Just sayin'.

Secret Cheapie, unleashed! Everyday Coconut

For those times when funds are low, it's nice to know that you can get really good quality skin care products on the cheap without compromising the kind of ingredients and performance you're looking for. I've got big bottles of almost every Everyday Coconut product, which boast not only coconut water and oil as ingredients, but also neem, papaya extract, aloe and lavender. With this one-off range of products from Alaffia and Everyday Shea, true lovers of the miracle that is coconut will really appreciate the simplicity and efficacy of Everyday Coconut, and also the mild coconut and lavender scent of most of the products. The line includes shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, daily face lotion (with spf 15), night face cream, facial cleanser and toner. All products range from about $9 to $14 retail, but I like to order from Lucky Vitamin because their prices are usually quite a bit lower.

I hope you've enjoyed reading my Best of Beauty 2013 list, because I certainly had fun compiling it! Cheers to all of you, and I sincerely hope that 2014 will be a fabulous, beauty-full year for everyone. Stay tuned for my final Best of 2013 list-- home fragrance!

[disclosure: some companies on this list sent me samples, others did not-- I bought the products myself. In no way was I compensated--monetarily or otherwise-- by any parties for my reviews or opinions. As stated above, I do work for Jiva-Apoha and have always been open about this fact. This blog remains ad-free and unaffiliated. All photos belong to each corresponding company, all rights reserved.]


  1. Thank you so much Carrie for including my new face elixir in this precious list. I so admire you and your taste and will be doing some serious shopping off this list. I would not have changed the face elixir to a dropper if you hadn't suggested it and I, myself, really like it so much better. Thank you for this and everything else. x mandy

  2. Hey Carrie, thanks for reminding me that I have to give Aurelia a go at some point! I was intrigued when the line was launched, but thought I'd wait for some reviews. Now I'm definitely going to look into it!

  3. What an elegant list and the cutest Ambassadress I've ever seen.

  4. What a wonderful list, Carrie! I absolutely agree with your inclusion of Mandy's Ylang Face Elixir-- I covet mine!!!!!!!

  5. Would you mind further elaborating on why the eve lom cleanser is bad for you? I used the one love organics skin savior balm for a little over a year and just recently switched to eve lom (about 2 months ago) and my skin looks great, but I don't want to be using a product that could be considered "toxic." Thank you =)

    1. Hi Rachel, thanks for stopping by-- I welcome any and all questions! Eve Lom cleanser has mineral oil (paraffinum liquidum) as their first ingredient, which I consider to be toxic to people, animals and the environment (many others feel this way also, but I don't put words in people's mouths). Here's a good link that explains what I mean pretty well, from LiveStrong: