Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lush Cleanser, Sephora Serum, and a Skincare Update

Long time no skincare post! This is nominally a review of the two newest additions to my routine...


 ...but actually more of a ramble. Enjoy.

At the end of last year, in a stroke of exceptionally bad luck, I ran out of all of my skincare staples in the space of a month. Sunscreen, moisturizer, regular cleanser, exfoliating cleanser--everything. Most of those products weren't readily available to me except online, but I was about to leave for winter break, so I didn't have time to reorder them. I was also unusually broke. No problem, I thought; I'll just use whatever comes to hand for a few weeks. How bad could it be?

Pretty bad, as it turned out. I tried using some Walgreens sunscreen that my mom had lying around; it claimed to be non-comedogenic, but it broke me out within two days. I bought a tiny travel tube of St. Ives apricot scrub, i.e. Satan's exfoliator, and used it as gently as possible about once a week. I don't even remember what I relied on for night moisturizer--unscented Aveeno lotion, I think. The only decent substitution I made was CeraVe cleanser for my Lush 9 to 5. CeraVe is great! Bland, scentless, and capable of converting my mom to using cleanser on her face, which she hadn't before (yeah, I know). I didn't reassemble my usual skincare until I was back home in mid-January, and it's taken some time since then for my skin to return to normal. I've been unusually breakout-prone for the past couple of months, which I blame on my hiatus from my regular skincare routine, though I can't imagine that the extreme cold has helped matters. I feel a little betrayed, since my skin is usually so unproblematic. But let's face it, I'm the betrayer here, and I'm certainly not improving matters by picking at my skin when I'm stressed (i.e. very frequently). My breakouts are never major--one or two small spots, usually on my chin or forehead--but I exacerbate them for the same reason that I peel off my nail polish and pick at my cuticles: that undeniable masochistic pleasure.

I was actually peeling off my nail polish as I read over that paragraph. I have a problem.

You know what gives the same kind of pleasure, but with a positive impact? Exfoliation, provided you don't overdo it. Many people sing the praises of chemical exfoliants like First Aid Beauty's Facial Radiance Pads, but chemical exfoliation sort of creeps me out. If a product is sloughing off dead skin, I want to feel it happening, you know? My go-to exfoliant last year was Lush's Angels on Bare Skin, a kaolin-based exfoliating scrub with ground almonds and lavender. It produced great results, but it was just drying enough that I didn't feel comfortable using it more than twice a week, and it was so messy. In the interest of not clogging my bathroom sink with bits of clay and nut, I've recently begun using another Lush exfoliator: Let the Good Times Roll, a yellow paste with finely ground cornmeal as the exfoliating agent.

Because of my extreme distaste for Lush stores, I ordered the cleanser online. Lush employees must receive stern instructions to be as aggressive as possible: a simple "Just looking, thanks" or "It's fine, I know what I'm going to buy" has zero effect. Oh, you know what you're going to buy? What is it? Have you considered these three products to go with that one? Are you aware of our new massage bars? Feel this massage bar. FEEL IT! I suppose Lush wouldn't use these sales tactics if they didn't work on some people, but they certainly don't work on me. I'm introverted, and I like to browse in peace, and pushy salesmanship makes me far less likely to buy anything. Maybe Lush's master plan is to force all their customers to shop online and pay shipping fees, which is what I've taken to doing. At least the cleanser itself is reasonably priced at $12.

(The only Lush store where I didn't encounter overbearing salespeople was in Birmingham, England. Perhaps the British version of "aggressive" is what we Americans would call "discreet.")

Anyway, here's how Let the Good Times Roll looked when new:


It's supposed to smell like popcorn, which explains the popped kernels in the tub. You've got to admire Lush's commitment to verisimilitude, or at least to gimmickry. Personally, I think the fragrance is more reminiscent of corn muffins with vanilla buttercream frosting. I love gourmand scents, to which my large bottle of Philosophy Cinnamon Buns shower gel can attest, so it doesn't bother me at all that the scent lingers on my skin after I've washed off the cornmeal mush.


Texture-wise, Let the Good Times Roll is a good deal more user- and plumbing-friendly than Angels on Bare Skin. It has an appealingly squishy consistency, like thick cookie dough, which means that it won't crumble everywhere. You pinch off a little piece, mix it with water in your palm, and rub it onto your face. The cornmeal feels like very fine sand, and it's a good idea to designate one washcloth to use with this cleanser, since the granules will embed themselves in it. I've been using LGTR every other day for about two weeks now, and it seems to be working well, in that my skin hasn't gotten worse and feels smoother and softer overall. But really, I'm never sure what metric to use for evaluating skincare. So much of it is smoke and mirrors and confirmation bias.

Speaking of which, the second item I've added to my skincare regimen is Sephora's "super regenerating oil-serum," which I got last month as a 100-point perk. Yeah, you guys and your VIB Rouge status and your special VIB Rouge Bite lipsticks. I'm not even mad. I'll just be here in the corner clutching my tiny bottle of face oil. You know it's classy 'cause the French comes before the English.


This is a clear, light oil with a faint floral scent. Here's the blurb from Sephora's website:

"This powerful serum soothes the skin, giving it more suppleness and radiance, while supporting natural regeneration and making it visibly more beautiful. Enriched with Tiger nut oil, which contains essential fatty acids to nourish and reinforce the skin, the formula is also boosted with a collagen-friendly peptide and seaweed extract that energizes and makes skin feel awake. The non-greasy texture penetrates instantly."

Honestly, I'm not sure what the point of this product is. The word "regenerating" makes me skeptical, because not even a serum concocted by Merlin beneath the full moon has the power to regenerate skin cells ex nihilo. I've been patting it across my undereye area before I go to sleep and, when I remember, before I put on my undereye concealer in the morning. When I use it overnight, it does seem to diminish the appearance of the fine lines around my eyes (granted, they're very fine indeed), and it provides a smooth base for my concealer (granted, this might not work for someone with oilier skin than mine). The serum smells nice and makes me feel fancy and, most importantly, was free. In the worst possible scenario, it's providing my skin with a little extra moisture. And if it's doing anything more, well and good. 

Can anyone out there provide a more educated opinion on the virtues of serum? I'm kind of at a loss.

P.S. Since we're on the subject of skincare, have you heard about Glossier's new masks? I have a love-hate relationship (entirely one-sided, mind you) with Into the Gloss, and the first Glossier launch didn't tempt me, but I'm really drawn to that moisturizing mask. Even if it means I'll have to start saying "Gloss-ee-YAY." Can we Americans stop trying to be French for, like, five minutes? It's been a national goal since the 1770s and it's never worked out for us. We're just too prudish and puritanical. Time to accept it and move on and leave the huile-sérum to our northern neighbors.

7 comments:

  1. I started reading beauty blogs because I realized I needed to overhaul my makeup routine to adjust for cough:ageing:cough. I'm good in that respect now. I will always be on the lookout for makeup products that will advance the state of my stash, but my purchases have focused on skincare lately. I'm finding the skincare marketplace just as confounding as the makeup one. I mean, there's too many products and so little time! I'm also kind of gun shy on skincare because trying new products could break me out or irritate my skin so there's that fear of damage reversal to overcome.

    Some skincare products have become my reliable basics. Hada Labo products (original Japanese formulation) form the backbone of my routine. I've realized that adequate moisture is key not only to keeping skin healthy but also in helping skin recover quickly from damage. This goes a long way in quieting my fear. In addition, now have a screening process for products to clear my "gate" - they have to be free of the ingredients that I know will irritate my skin and they have to have a favorable review in Caroline Hirons' (gold mine of useful info!) blog.

    As to your serum question, my understanding is they tend to have a good concentration of actives in a delivery medium that skin can more easily absorb? Which to me would justify a higher cost. (Joy)

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    1. I'm not at all adventurous with skincare, largely because, as you say, the skincare marketplace is huge and confusing. The prices and the stakes are both very high: I'd rather be disappointed by a $10 lipstick than by a $60 moisturizer, especially if that moisturizer ended up irritating my skin for a week. I'd like to try some fancier skincare when I have more money (Tatcha has always intrigued me because of their connection to geisha culture, which I've studied quite a bit), but for now I'll just stick to my Lush and First Aid Beauty.

      I have yet to isolate the ingredients that my skin doesn't like, but I should do that! At some point I might look at the ingredient lists of the products that haven't worked for me and figure out what the common denominators are. And that makes sense about serum. Makes me feel better that I remember to use it only a couple of times a week...

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  2. I avoid Lush store too. They didn't seem to be nearly as overbearing when I lived in Canada, but I also don't know if that's a Canadian thing or if they have ramped up the pressure in recently years. (I avoid Teavana for the same reason, despite liking their products).

    As for serum, I think it's all about the ingredients, and just putting them in a different format from, say, moisturizer, in case you don't also want moisturizer, or you use a different one, etc. That serum has "Tiger nut oil" in it, apparently - which doesn't exactly sound appealing! I've never heard of it. But it also has peptides, which are useful - and a shitload of pointless fragrance. I'm not opposed to fragrance per se, but it's high up on the ingredients list. As for skin regeneration, there are ingredients that supposedly stimulate cell metabolism and collagen synthesis, which is what I think that means. Generally I find Beautypedia to be a decent source for info about how skincare ingredients work, even if they are overly paranoid about fragrance and alcohol. They at least provide links to studies to back up their claims. (Personally, I don't trust Caroline Hirons. She doesn't seem to have a very strong basis for most of her advice, and she contradicts herself a lot - as people have pointed out on that nasty gossip forum you mentioned a while back!)

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    1. I've never been to a Lush store in Canada, but all the American ones I've visited have had extremely pushy salespeople. I assume that's a large part of their customer training, so it makes me feel bad to criticize them--they're trying to make a living like the rest of us. Still, Lush as a whole should rethink this strategy before they drive off more customers.

      Hmm, I'll check out Beautypedia! I find the world of skincare overwhelming--so many "miracle ingredients" and overblown fears--so I tend to assume that everything is snake oil unless proven otherwise. (I haven't studied cell growth since my biology class in my first year of college, but I'm pretty damn sure you can't improve your complexion by smearing plant stem cells on your face...) I'm not all that familiar with Caroline Hirons, but I've glanced at her website a few times and her strident tone has put me off a bit.

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    2. Yeah, that stem cell stuff is definitely bullshit. Your skin looks great, though, so you can probably just keep doing what you're doing!

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  3. And stop bastardizing French names and cities. Did you know there is a place in Pennsylvania called Ver-sAles (of coursed, spelled Versailles)??? S. got a good earful for that (he's from PA, LOL) even though he'd never even heard of it before. Don't even get me started on good ole Notre Dame.

    And oh yes, LUSH stores are the worst. So, so, SO pushy. I don't use much from there, though, except the occasional bathbomb. And their dry shampoo isn't bad.

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    1. Haha, I don't mind as much when it's a bastardized French name that's been in use for hundreds of years. I'm more annoyed by the "French girl" beauty that's become so ubiquitous on American beauty sites (cough ITG cough). "French girl" always seems to mean "skinny, white, and rich"--isn't it funny how that happens? But yeah, I'd shudder if I had to say "Ver-SALES" all the time.

      I love most of the Lush products I've tried, so it saddens me that I have to avoid the stores. I was always fond of their bathbombs, but I no longer live in an apartment with a bathtub. Sad times.

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