January 2016 Ipsy Review #1: City Color Cosmetics Eyeshadow Trio

Warmed toned eyeshadows are my jam.

Whenever I get eyeshadow quads or trios in my sample bags, I have mixed feelings. I love trying new eyeshadows from different brands, but I feel like the trios and quads we get in subscription bags don’t reflect the real quality of the full size products you can buy in stores. Most of the time, I can’t even find the shades or quads/trios for sale on their own.

This is an exception. City Color Cosmetics is a well known drugstore line that has some pretty great products. The Eyeshadow Trio in Falling Leaves (USD $5.99, full size) is the actual full size product that you’ll get if you buy it online. (It is an “online exclusive”, which is the one downside.) It comes in two color tones, Fall Leaves and Blooming Flowers. Falling Leaves is a warm toned peachy trio, while Blooming Flowers is cool toned purples. I love that this isn’t a lower quality sample, but the real thing.

Packaging is drug store quality, but well made. The eyeshadows are housed in a plastic case that has no mirror. But you know, I’m not mad about not having a mirror because I like being able to have the shadows visible. All in all, decent packaging for a $6 eyeshadow.

In the trio, you get one shimmery brown all-over shade, one matte peach shade, and a shimmery gold highlight shade. I love that there was a matte included so you could do a full look with just this trio. The colors, some of my favorite shades, are so every-day wearable that you could pop this in your travel bag for a trip instead of bringing multiple palettes.

These colors speak to me.

For a $6 trio, I’m incredibly impressed with the quality. Granted, these do contain talc and mica, cheap fillers, but I’m not very picky about that (still good to note if you’re allergic). I mean, most eyeshadows, even the “high end” ones, do have some fillers. In fact, for having talc these shadows have very little fallout. Again, I don’t hate on a brand for having fallout, but little fallout in drugstore shadows leaves is nice.

The formulation is actually very buttery and smooth. They apply and blend so effortlessly, I felt like I was using some of my Make Up Forever shadows. While it was really smooth, it wasn’t such a soft formula that the shadows creased and wore out easily. I’d still recommend using a shadow primer, but you should be using a primer regardless.

The inclusion of a matte color was a game changer. A lot of times, these trios and quads are all shimmers. While I love shimmers, I do think you need a matte color to help everything blend out nicely. This makes the trio even more usable, because you can really just throw this in your makeup bag (plus a single base/transition shade) if you’re traveling and only need casual makeup.


Overall, this is a really nice trio and makes me want to try more shadows from City Color. I’m also really happy they’ve made it available on their website and not just Ipsy subscribers. When the product is this good, everyone should have access to it.

Rating: 5/5. A trio that’s $6, has every day wearable shades (including a matte!), and is excellent quality. I have absolutely no reason not to recommend this. Because it has talc and mica, just be careful if you know you’re sensitive to these ingredients.

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January 2016 Birchbox Review #6: IPKN Flash Cream Radiant Primer

Get ready to get your glow on.

If you’ve been following the spring makeup launches, then you may have noticed that almost every single brand has launched a radiant finish primer. This isn’t a coincidence. K-Beauty has been offering these types of primers for several years. And what Korea does, we copy several years later. K-Beauty is all about having luminous skin, which is why they’ve been so innovative over here.

The matte finish has been the way to go in the US until very recently, when highlighting, strobing, cushion foundations, and the “dewy” look became all the rage. Granted, there is still definitely a place for the matte finish in makeup, but you can’t deny that dewy is where it’s at.

Birchbox’s Korean Beauty box wouldn’t have been the same without including one of these radiant primers: the IPKN New York Flash Cream Radiant Primer (USD $28.00, full size). The price point puts it in the mid range. It’s way more expensive than drugstore products, but not quite as expensive as the luxury makeup brands. For almost $30.00, I expect great results.

You can see how strong the glowing finish is just from a swatch.

The ingredients seem fine over all, but I would note that there is some fragrance and citric extract. If you have very sensitive skin or know you don’t react well to these ingredients, then be careful before using. I didn’t have any negative reactions to the primer, but it’s still worth pointing out.

Also, keep in mind that this primer does have SPF in it, so if you don’t react well to SPF or if you’re going to be photographed with flash photography this won’t work for you.

The primer itself comes out of the tube looking white and shiny. It’s a little intimidating, but trust me when I say this blends out onto the skin very well. In order to give you a face visual, I’ve taken some pictures before and after using the primer without any foundation.


This side of my face doesn’t have any primer on. (Feel free to ignore my eyebrows, which clearly needed some tweezing.)
This side shows the primer after blending.

You can tell in the pictures that the side with the primer has a slight glow to the skin that the other side does not. You can also tell that the primer does not have a pore minimizing or blurring effect. This is by no means a pore refining primer. For that, you’ll want something that’s silicone based. This “perfects” your skin by making it appear more hydrated and luminous. They’re two different techniques that give different, but beautiful, finishes.

Personally, I was really happy with the finish of this primer. This was great for my winter skin, which tends to be a lot drier. In the winter, I’m combination normal/dry (normal t-zone, dry everywhere else). It helped especially on the cheek and under eye area, where I tend to be dry. However, I can absolutely say that I wouldn’t be able to use this primer in the summer, when my skin is normal/oil (oily t-zone, normal everywhere else). It would emphasize my t-zone, plus the oil I produce would break down the primer. If you have very oily skin, you don’t want to use a luminous finish primer as it’ll just emphasize the oil in your skin and enlarged pores.

It did perform really well and helped keep my makeup in place. I combined this with the L’Oreal Lumi Cushion (I’m the shade N4), which is my favorite drugstore cushion foundation, and got a really beautiful glowing (without looking oily) finish. I would still recommend using powder to help lock in the foundation.

I went through this primer really quickly and was sad when it was gone. But, I do have two possible dupes. Both area cheaper than IPKN, so they make work for you if you want a luminous primer without the $30 price tag.

The first is NYX’s Born to Glow Illuminating Primer (USD $13.99). I haven’t used this but have seen other bloggers and vloggers pointing it out as a dupe. They did comparisons and it does have a very similar finish to IPKN, though I’d point out that it’s not quite as strong of a luminous finish. It also has more of a “pore blurring” effect, because NYX does use silicone, and contains no SPF, making it more photograph friendly. Still, it was a very close dupe.

The second is actually my everyday primer, Neutrogena’s Healthy Skin Primer (USD $13.99). It does contain silicone, though it’s not as heavy as pore blurring primers like Benefit’s Porefessional. I save those primers for special occasions. Neutrogena’s is very similar to IPKN (it also contains SPF), but it’s not quite as intense in its luminous finish. It’s like IPKN but taken down a notch. I don’t mind this, because I can always play up the luminosity with the right foundation or highlighter. Plus, it’s half the price.

So will I repurchase IPKN? I might, but not until the fall/winter when my skin begins to dry out. I don’t like blowing my money on primer, so I may just stick to Neutrogena. It’s a more luminous primer that I can use year-round.

Who should buy this? Probably people: 1) with normal/dry skin; 2) who want a very luminous look; 3) and are looking for an every-day primer that does not contain any silicone.

Rating: 5/5. Despite the high price point, this primer exceeded my expectations. It gave a beautiful, if intense, luminous finish to the skin and kept my makeup in place all day. Sensitive skin peeps should note the citric extract, fragrance, and SPF. Those with very oily skin will want to avoid this. However, this is a really nice welcome to the primers available in the US.

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January 2016 Birchbox Review #4: RE:P Bio Fresh Mask

I always enjoy a good mask.

Clay masks are my go-to whenever I feel the need to do a deep cleansing. I normally rely on them in the summer, when my oily t-zone is acting up, but in the cooler months I’ll occasionally use them if my skin feels especially icky.

This past month, I went on an international trip to the Motherland (Peru). There, it’s currently summer and the humidity is off the charts. Throw in long plane travel into the mix and I was dying for a deep cleansing clay mask by the time I got home.

This mask from re:p (real elemental practice) could not have come at a better time. The Bio Fresh Mask with Real Calming Herb (USD $41.00, full size) is a clay mask from South Korea. And boy, is this one pricey mask! Definitely not the most expensive I’ve received in a subscription (that goes to a $60 mask I got in a Boxycharm), but still expensive enough that this better have the power of unicorn tears to justify the price. Now, you do get 130 grams (4.5 oz) so there is quite a bit of product in the full size. Still, that’s a little under $10 an ounce.

The ingredients don’t look very problematic, except for one: the dreaded fragrance. Granted, it is super hard to find face masks that don’t have fragrance, but I really wish skincare companies wouldn’t put this in their products or at least have a fragrance-free option. My skin did not get irritated, so the amount is probably small, but if you’re particularly sensitive to fragrance you’ll want to be cautious and do a test strip first.

It does have a hefty amount of plant, flower, and seed extract, enough to justify it’s plant power claim. I like it when the ingredients match the product’s claims. There are a good amount of oils, which makes it a great clay mask for drier skin or for winter-time skin. But if you have very oily skin, you may need a clay mask that doesn’t contain so many oils. I don’t think it will make you break out, but you may be disappointed with the results.

Anyway, I’m not sure what fragrance was added because the clay mask still smells mostly like the herbs in it. It is very much a “I have plant paste on my face” scent. Not bad, but not the nicest scent. It didn’t bother me, though.

The kaolin clay base that’s used is really nice. It’s very much a soft clay in that it doesn’t dry down tight and tough like a traditional mask. Instead, you end up with a smooth, powdery finish where you can still move your face without breaking up the clay. It’s very comfortable to wear and doesn’t make your face feel like a sculpture.

I wanted to see just how much this mask had exfoliated, so ignoring the instructions, I used it after cleansing but before toning. And let me tell you, after toning I did notice some extra gunk being removed by my toner from the surface of my skin. I think it’s best to do it this way so you can make sure you’re getting rid of everything the mask has extracted.

My skin was left feeling soft, clean, and firm but without feeling tight and overly dry. I don’t think this mask will be enough to tackle my t-zone in the summer, but it should be good while the weather is dry. The sample size comes packed with a ton of uses, so it’ll keep me set until June.

Now, does this take care of zits and the like? No, it’s not going to. Why? Because once a breakout is there, it’s going to stay there and you just have to deal with it until it goes away. I do think the ingredients can help soothe the redness and inflammation, but isn’t going to make the breakout go away. Regularly using a clay mask like this can help to prevent breakouts by giving pores a deep cleanse. But sadly, once the break out is there you can’t “treat” it.

Rating: 4.5/5. This mask does deliver on its promises. I’ve used it a few times now and each time I get the same results: deeply cleansed skin that isn’t dried out. This mask should be good for people with normal/dry/combo skin, but those with oily skin may find it to be lacking. If you have sensitive skin, note that there is fragrance and some rose water so make sure to do a test strip before using it on your face. Is it a mask that’s worth the price? I think it can be. Am I going to repurchase it once my sample is gone? Mmm, probably not. I have other exfoliating masks that are fragrance free and less expensive that I prefer. But if you love splurging on skincare, this might be something nice to try.

If you’d like to try Birchbox, follow the link!

January 2016 Birchbox Review #4: Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling

Foil packets are the worst. Why do brands still use them?

Even though I love the current cleansers I’m using, I do like seeing what’s new on the market. I was stoked to see the results of this Yerba Mate Cleansing Foam from Goodal (USD $20.00, full size), but was disappointed to see the sample came in a foil packet. Typically, I can only get one use out of foil packets, and one use is simply not enough to do a proper review. I can say, though, from the ingredients that this does contain a hefty amount of oils, as it’s a hydrating cleanser. So I would be very careful to use this if you have oily skin.

That aside, I also received a foil packet of Goodal’s Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling (USD $33.00, full size). I have no problem reviewing peels after a one time use, as by then I can judge effectiveness and any bad reactions. Still, it would have been nice to get more than a single use foil packet.

Birchbox doesn’t list the ingredients, but I tracked them down on Amazon. I can definitely say that this exfoliator is definitely very natural. Most of the ingredients are derived from plants, seeds, fruits, and flowers. This is great, as I love it when natural products are truly all natural. But again, I have to repeat that natural does not mean non irritating. It’s very important to keep this in mind, as I found some skin irritants in the ingredients. Be wary of  several citric fruit and lavender extracts. Most of the time, these don’t do too much harm, but they can set off some people’s skin. Also, there are a good amount of oils, so be careful if you have a very oily complexion.

To its credit, this exfoliator does contain salicylic acid, which is a phenomenal exfoliant. It’s nice to have it in a cleanser, but I do prefer using products that stay on the skin. Those, I’ve found, are the most effective. Still, it was pretty up there on the ingredient list, which was appreciated.

All the oil extracts are also great for people with dry skin who want to exfoliate but don’t want to be left with parched skin.

This “peel” foams up, much like Dr. Brandt’s oxygen mask, which I really enjoyed. I used it after washing to make sure it exfoliated all the dead skin instead of just makeup residue. I couldn’t really feel it removing the dead skin as I rubbed in the product, so I wasn’t expecting the best results.

But in the end, I did notice that my skin felt softer and smoother. I also noticed less residue on my cotton pad after toning, so it did do its job. Granted, you don’t get the polished skin feeling that you would with a scrub or a traditional peel. I think this could be good for people who want to exfoliate but don’t like that super polished result from more abrasive products.

None of the ingredients broke me out or dried out my skin, but I still think you should be careful of the potential irritants that I noted above.

From this single use, I can’t say with confidence whether this exfoliator is worth the $33 price point. That is really pricey, but it does contain a lot of all natural ingredients and not too many fillers. This is why I don’t like single use samples. I think that in order to get a solid idea of whether or not something is worth the price, you need at least 3 to 5 uses.

Rating: 4/5. Based solely on this one-time use, this was a very gentle yet effective exfoliator. It didn’t leave my skin overly dry, which is good if you have dry skin. However, you need to watch out for the citric fruits and lavender as they can be potentially irritating to some.

If you’d like to try out Birchbox, follow the link!

January 2016 Birchbox Review #3: TONYMOLY Delight Tony Tint

Love me some Tony Moly

TonyMoly has quickly become one of my favorite K-Beauty brands. It’s more on the affordable side, but they still offer some great products. My personal favorite is the Wonder Honey Cream, which is my day time body lotion. It’s like bathing in honey without feeling sticky.

Birchbox included one of their makeup items, the Delight Tony Tint in Red (USD $6.00, full size). Six bucks for a lip product definitely puts it in drugstore prices, which is awesome. I like using liquid lip tints when I want a “naturally flushed” look on my no-makeup or “no-makeup makeup” days. Right now, I’m using one from PeriPera, another K-Beauty brand. I do love that one, but it’s twice as expensive. I’m always down for finding a more affordable alternative.

This tint is suppose to be super pigmented, and long-lasting with a matte finish. I can definitely get on board with that.

The baby sample size is adorable, but has more than enough product. Honestly, I can never fully finish one of these without it drying out first. It was also well made, so I got a good feel for the product. Like the full size, this tint comes in a tub with a doe-foot applicator. Most tints do, though it’s not necessarily the best tool to use when applying something that sets so quickly. I opted to dip my lip brush in the applicator to get a more even application of color.

This formula is really wet and dries crazy fast, so you better be ready to spread out the color quickly, less you end up with splotches. But if you get it on quickly enough, the color does set beautifully and is very build-able.


For that “I just ate a lollipop look”.

The picture above is the look I achieved after two coats. It was super cute and natural looking.

I have gotten it to a much bolder red color, but I prefer the two-coat look.

The finish is matte and not tacky, which I definitely appreciate. I felt like I could press my lips together and not have the color transfer to random spots on my lips. However, being matte does have its downside: it is drying. I highly recommend prepping with a lip scrub and moisturizer or else the color will settle in the lip lines.

The smell is incredible. It reminds me of cherry candy from childhood, which I appreciate. If you’re sensitive to smell, don’t worry. This fades away after a few minutes.

As for longevity, eh. It’s nothing special. Just like I expect from any lip tint, it lost a few hours, but was virtually destroyed by eating and drinking. I could reapply, but again, you’ll definitely want to use a lip balm first.

One problem all lip tints have are the patches of color flakes as the day wears on. TonyMoly, unfortunately, was no exception. However, it did not flake to badly and using a lip balm definitely helped cut down on this problem. It’s not really a deal breaker for me, because literally every lip tint has this problem.

Rating: 4/5. This is a great lip tint option if you want something affordable. For a beautiful flush that wears relatively well, you can’t beat this. I would love to try out other shades!

If you’d like to subscribe to Birchbox, follow the link!

January 2016 Birchbox Review #2: Goodal Waterest First Essence

Teeny tiny serum sample

Serums have been a part of skin care for a long time, but ever since K-Beauty arrived they have exploded onto the scene. Serums are having a moment and we need to acknowledge.

What exactly do serums do? I think of them as a compliment to your moisturizing routine. Have dry skin? There’s a serum for that. Concerned with aging? There’s a serum to help. Breakouts? Yup. It’s a little booster to help with problems.

My personal favorite K-beauty serum is the Dr. Jart+Ceramidin Liquid, which I use as part of my nighttime routine. It’s been helping restore some moisture to my skin in this dry weather without making my t-zone so greasy.

Birchbox has added the Goodal Waterest First Essence (USD $30.00, full size) to their serum offerings. Per their website, this is suppose to be a moisturizer that purifies and hydrates skin. The secret ingredient? Double-fermented lotus flower extract and hyaluronic acid. Now, I know hyaluronic acid is tried and try in helping skin repair itself. It acts as a cell communicator. I’ve seen this lotus flower ingredient boasted over in other Far East beauty products. I’m not sure about its effectiveness, but an eye cream I use in the morning has it, and it does help hydrate under my eyes and brighten.

The ingredients seem legitimate. The first ones listed are the extracts from lotus flower. If they’re listing in keeping with FDA rules, this should mean that these are the most prominent ingredients. Fillers, like alcohol, are closer to the bottom. However, the last ingredient is hyaluronic acid. I do wish there was a higher concentration of it, in order to claim it as a star ingredient. Worth noting: this product does have fragrance, so sensitive skin should be careful. It didn’t irritate my skin, but this is disappointing because I really prefer my skincare products to be fragrance free.

In order to get the hydrating benefits of the serum, you’re suppose to press it into the skin. Honestly, this really the only way you’re going to get this stuff on your skin, because the texture is very gooey and sticky if you try to rub it into the skin. It is a really refreshing serum, though it starts out on the tacky side. That goes away pretty quickly, though. I used this after toning, before my morning moisturizer.

Now, did it do anything for my skin? It did feel slightly more hydrated, but it wasn’t anything out of this world spectacular. I actually think it wasn’t moisturizing enough for my skin to see any significant benefit. But because it’s so light, it makes it ideal for daytime use, especially for oily skin people who want to provide their skin some hydration without leaving their skin looking and feeling greasy.

But other than that, I’m having some trouble seeing where the $30 price tag comes in. Yes, it does have all that lotus flower, but I just didn’t see any real benefit. I’ve been using this stuff for about a month now, but maybe the benefits are VERY long term.

I will give Goodal this: the sample looks ridiculously tiny, but you only need a small amount of product, so a full size bottle should last you a long time.

Rating: 3/5. This product is…ok. It didn’t hurt my skin, but it also didn’t provide the hydrating boost I expected. Kudos on them for actually having lotus flower extract as the main ingredient, but I’m also disappointed to see fragrance included and hyaluronic acid so low on the list. However, this may be worth a shot for oily skin people looking for lightweight hydration.

If you’d like to subscribe to Birchbox, follow the link!

January 2016 Birchbox Review 1: Manefit Beauty Planner Cucumber Sheet Mask

I have so many good things to say about this sheet mask.

When Korean beauty became all the rage here in the past two years, sheet masks started popping up everywhere. These masks are really convenient for travel, since you don’t have to take a whole tube with you, which is why I was excited to see them in American stores.

But since their arrival, I have yet to find one that I like and feel is effective. They were definitely fun to try out on Treat Yo Self home spa days, but I didn’t really feel they delivered on their promises. Plus, I’ve found that a lot of these masks are loaded with fragrance, something I try to avoid as much as possible when it comes to skincare.

So when Birchbox included this Cucumber Soothing + Moisturizing Mask from Manefit (USD $10.00 for 5 masks), I was really hoping I’d hit the jackpot of sheet masks. Winter had been drying out my skin with the reduced humidity outside and the heat being on all the time inside. Plus, I’ve been traveling like a maniac every week which never helps. It needed a moisture boost stat.

Manefit says this mask should soothe, hydrate, even out skin tone, and reduce puffiness. Puffiness isn’t really an issue with me. Plus, we all know that there is no such thing as a magical skin product that will take care of puffiness. The solution for a long term decrease in puffiness is: get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, and keep your skin well moisturized. You know, all those things we never have time for. But my skin definitely needed some hydration and was looking a little lackluster because of it.

After my weekly trip out of town, I decided to put this to the test. Following the instructions, I washed my face and applied toner before using this mask. Like all sheet masks, it takes a little work to unfold because it comes soaked in serum. But once I got it unfolded and placed on my face like a Jason mask, I just sat back and let it do the work.

Another issue I have with sheet masks is that they come packed in so much serum that the stuff ends up running all over your neck and into your hairline. This mask was no different, which was a little annoying. But knowing this I just made sure to do the mask on a night when I hadn’t washed my hair. That way, the extra could seep all around my hairline and I could just wash it out later. I know manufacturers don’t want to risk masks drying out, but I do wish they could find a better mask to serum ratio.

The mask itself didn’t have a noticeable scent, which was appreciated. But looking at the ingredients, fragrance is listed though it is at the bottom of the list. Granted, I don’t think Korean products have to adhere to the same packaging regulations as the US and list ingredients from most to least prominent. All this to say, I have no clue how much fragrance there is. I’m hoping since it was the second to last ingredient, there wasn’t much at all. But this is important to mention for sensitive skin people.

Also, I should note that there is a lot of citrus fruit extract. This is what gives these products the “brightening” effect on the skin. While it didn’t irritate my skin, I think those who are very sensitive to grapefruit, lemon, and lime extract (all in there!) should avoid this mask. I don’t think the cucumber and hyaluronic acid in there will be enough to counteract the irritating effects of these particular ingredients.

After 20 minutes, I removed the mask and rubbed the excess serum into my skin before finishing up with my nighttime routine.

I’m not going to lie. There was a noticeable difference in my skin. Post mask, my skin looked plump from being rehydrated and those citric extracts did bring back some brightness. I looked and felt luminous without being left feeling overly greasy. In fact, this mask could actually work on oily skin without being overly hydrating.

The effects carried over into the next day. It was like the shot of espresso my skin needed to get back on track.

All in all, I was impressed.

Rating: 4/5. This sheet mask actually delivered on its promises. It provided a lightweight, yet significant hydration for my skin. I’m still a little hesitant about all the citric extracts in the ingredients and the unknown amount of fragrance, so I can’t recommend this for sensitive. But I think this mask is fine to use in moderation and spaced out over time whenever you need a hydration pick-me-up.

If you’d like to try out Birchbox, follow the link!