Thursday, October 20, 2016

PSA: Lookfantastic India slashes its delivery charges

We interrupt the highly interesting toner review series to bring you this public service announcement!

A couple of months ago, I compared the shopping websites Lookfantastic International and Lookfantastic India in this blog post. The bottom line being that the Indian site did not offer any more value over its international counterpart. I wasn't sure if the Lookfantastic guys realised this but it seems that they are doing something about it now.

In my comparison post, you'll see that I have griped about how "If you are spending less than INR 6,000, the tracked cost is INR 1,000. So, there’s no clear advantage over the international site."

Well, the good news is that the Indian site has now slashed its delivery charges by 50 per cent. Look at this!

You can now get tracked delivery for INR 500, no matter what the purchase amount is.

You're welcome! ;)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

REVIEW: Merumaya Gentle Exfoliating Toner

In my previous post, I spoke about the Clinique Mild Clarifying Lotion and what it did and did not do for my skin. Continuing with my toner review series, today, I want to talk about one of my favourite exfoliating toners. Tada!

In case you're new to exfoliating toners, here's a quick note on why they are useful. Exfoliating toners are called so because they contain exfoliating acids such as salicylic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, etc.

Exfoliating toners:
1) Lower the ph of the skin so that when a harsh cleanser is used on the skin, raising its ph value from a natural, healthy level of 5 to anywhere beyond level 6-7, the exfoliating acid brings down the ph back to its healthy level. A healthy ph level means that bad bacteria do not breed on the skin, thus reducing instances of acne.
2) Wipe away dead skin cells, which ordinary toners are not capable of. Removal of dead skin cells means the fresher skin cells underneath are more capable of taking in whatever skincare products you use next. In short, without exfoliation, you're just moisturising dead skin cells.
3) Tend to make the skin sensitive if they are overused. The visible results they give can tempt you to overuse them.

Why I purchased it
Merumaya came into my radar when I was researching into cleansing balms, which is a separate blog post in itself. Once on the Merumaya website, I noticed how passionately its creator, Maleka Dattu, described each product that she offered--the inspiration behind it, the need for it, the active ingredients, etc. And before I knew it, the product fell into my cart. Also, it helped to know that Maleka had Caroline Hirons' blog readers test out this product during the pre-manufacture phase. Caroline, being a proponent of exfoliating toners, asked her readers to test it out as most of them were used to exfoliating acids and obviously had high standards of a new exfoliating product. Long story short, the toner met their approval.

Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid, Polysorbate 20, Sodium Hydroxide, Betaine, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Leaf Extract, Lactic Acid, Maris Aqua, Chlorella Vulgaris Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Hydrolyzed Algin, Parfum (Fragrance), Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Limonene, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Cellulose Gum, Ethylhexylglycerin, Citronellol, Linalool, Geraniol, Benzyl Alcohol, Isoeugenol, Benzyl Benzoate

How much acid is in it?
The toner contains 15 per cent of ‘Natural AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) Complex’, which is the maximum permitted level of that ingredient and equates 10 per cent actual AHAs. From what I understand, this toner has a good percentage of lactic acid, citric acid and tartaric acid, although the latter two are also used as ph adjusters (to ensure the product isn't too acidic or basic), so I'm not sure about the concentration of each acid. But lactic acid, on its own, is a wonderful gentle exfoliant, which explains the name of the product.

Generally speaking, AHAs, like glycolic acid, are considered harsh, but Maleka says that if the product formulation is right, the harshness or the sting that acids give can be buffed. For this, she has included Hyaluronic Acid (for moisture and hydration), Betaine (an anti-irritant) and Glycerin in the toner.

Now for the test of any exfoliating product--out come the ph strips. As mentioned in my previous post, this toner records a solid 3 on the ph scale, making it perfect for exfoliation. In case you missed that post, here's the comparison shot with the Clinique toner. As you can see, the Merumaya patch is a bright yellow, indicating its acidic ph level.

Packaging and user experience
The toner's packaging is faultless. It comes in a 128 ml see-through plastic bottle. The lid is a press-down type, which is extremely convenient.
The first thing you notice on using this toner is that phenomenal Merumaya signature scent, which Maleka likes to include in all her products. So, while the toner and the cotton pad are buffing away dead skin cells on your face and neck, you can breathe in this lovely aroma. I'm not particularly good at describing fragrances but if I had to, I'd say that this has a light floral, spa-like scent.

Price and where to buy
The toner is priced at 15 GBP, which translates to 1200 INR. I know this is pricey as per Indian standards but there are hardly any exfoliating toners being sold in India. I can only think of Plum and its glycolic acid-based toner.
As far as buying Merumaya products is concerned, obviously, they can be purchased from the Merumaya website but the shipping fee to India is 15 GBP, which is extortionate. So, I didn't buy it immediately. I searched high and low for other sites that sold Merumaya products internationally. No luck! Eventually, I bit the bullet and placed a huge order to qualify for free shipping. Works out well, that way. On the one hand, I'm happy that Merumaya ships globally but I seriously hope that she and her team consider doing something about that horrendous shipping fee.

Worth the hype?
The Merumaya Gentle Exfoliating Toner is completely worth the hype. It is formulated at the right ph, does not sting the skin and is convenient as well as pleasurable to use. I highly recommend it if you don't mind the splurge, shipping fee included.

In my next post, I will talk about the Bravura Detoxifying Eucalyptus Astringent Toner with 15% AHA/BHA. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

REVIEW: Clinique Mild Clarifying Lotion

Continuing with my toner review series, today I want to talk about the Clinique Mild Clarifying Lotion, an exfoliating toner, which is currently discontinued and is now replaced by the Clinique Clarifying Lotion 1.0.

Exfoliating toners
These, according to me, are necessary evils in the world of toners. They are called 'exfoliating' because they contain exfoliating acids such as salicylic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, etc.

Exfoliating toners are necessary because:
1) Lower the ph of the skin so that when a harsh cleanser is used on the skin, raising its ph value from a natural, healthy level of 5 to anywhere beyond level 6-7, the exfoliating acid brings down the ph back to its healthy level. A healthy ph level means that bad bacteria do not breed on the skin, thus reducing instances of acne.
2) Exfoliating toners also remove dead skin cells, which ordinary toners are not capable of. Removal of dead skin cells means the fresher skin cells underneath are more capable of taking in whatever skincare products you use next. In short, without exfoliation, you're just moisturising dead skin cells.

Exfoliating toners are evil because they give typically give a 'zing' to the skin, and the effective results can make you want to overuse them.

Why I purchased it
This was one of the first exfoliating toners that I had purchased mainly because noted skincare guru and UK-based blogger/vlogger Caroline Hirons lists this as a mild exfoliating toner (it claims to contain 0.5 per cent salicylic acid at a ph of 2.9) that is free of alcohol and supposedly good for someone who is new to exfoliating acids. The toner is meant for those having sensitive skin.

Note: When I tested this on a ph strip, it did not register a ph of 2.9 or 3. My test indicated a level of 4. I tested for a second time, and this time, I poured the Clinique one and another exfoliating toner (by Merumaya) side by side.

You can see how the Clinique patch (on the left) indicates a ph of 4, while the Merumaya patch (on the right) is brighter and more acidic indicating a ph of 3.

Water, Butylene Glycol, Biosaccharide Gum-1, Hydroxypropyl, Cyclodextrin, Salicylic Acid, Aloe Leaf Powder, Arginine, Peg-10 Soya Sterol, Ceteth-20, Dimethicone, Ceteth-20, Panicum Miliaceum (Millet) Seed Extract, Dimethicone, Ceteth-2, BisPeg 18 Methy Ether DiMethyl Silane, Cetyl Alcohol, Phenoxy Ethanol, Green 5, Yellow 10

Note: Cetyl Alcohol is not alcohol in the traditional sense. It is a fatty alcohol derived from natural fats and oils originating from plants/animals. It is used in cosmetics to keep an emulsion's oil and liquid from separating. 

Packaging and user experience
The product comes in a frosty plastic bottle, which thankfully allows you to see how much product is remaining. But Clinique failed majorly on one basic aspect. The mouth of the bottle should ideally have had a pump or a drop-by-drop dispenser. This one pours product out without any stoppage, which is highly inconvenient.
On using this (poured onto a cotton pad), I felt my skin getting hydrated immediately. As for exfoliation, I need something more powerful for my combination, non-sensitive skin.

Price and where to buy
I bought this from a Clinique store here in Mumbai. But if you go looking for it now, keep in mind that Clinique has already replaced this with the newer 1.0 version, which has an even less amount of salicylic acid in a base of witch hazel.

Worth the hype?
For me, this product sadly did not live up to the hype. The advertised ph claim did not hold true, at least in my ph tests. Also, since I don't have sensitive skin, I wasn't able to appreciate its benefits--but that's not Clinique's fault. If you're interested in exploring the 1.0 version, I urge you to read as many reviews as you can online and then make a decision.

In my next post, I will feature and review my current favourite exfoliating toner. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

REVIEW: Sidmool Skin Science Sparkle Toner

In my previous post, I spoke a bit about toners--whether you should even bother with one, what a noted skin doc had to say, and my own opinion. From this post onwards, I want to dig deep into each of the toners I use, and what makes or breaks the deal for me.

Cleansing toners
Cleansing toners my favourite type of toner as it takes off any leftover residue post cleansing. We all have post-cleansing residue, it's just that it's not very obvious on the skin, which is why I like to swipe across a cotton pad soaked in a cleansing toner, over the face and neck area. Sometimes, I even go further and swipe a fresh cotton pad on my arms. Try doing it, I bet you'd be surprised.

Sidmool is a Korean skincare brand that promises advanced and clinically-proven ingredients such as Saccharomyces Ferment Filtrate, Astaxanthin, Ginseng and Sea Buckthorn. The brand also promises high concentrations of active ingredients, which means they don't put in anything (like water, which is usually the first ingredient listed on a toner) that will dilute the efficacy of the product.

Just look at this inci list:Ingredients: Saccharomyces Ferment Filtrate, Saccharomyces Ferment, Saccharomyces/Astragalus Membranaceus Root Ferment Extract, Hippophae Rhamnoides Fruit Extract, Morus Alba Bark Extract, Magnolia Kobus Bark Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Leaf Extract, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract, Glycerin, Niacinamide, Betaine, Astaxanthin, Wild Ginseng Root Extract, RH-Oligopeptide-1(Human Oligopeptide-1), Copper Tripeptide-1, Lecithin, Zanthoxylum Piperitum Fruit Extract, Pulsatilla Koreana Extract, Usnea Barbata (Lichen) Extract, Water, 1,2 Hexanediol, Olibanum, Adenosine, Caprylyl/Capryl Wheat Bran/Straw Glycosides, Fusel Wheat Bran/Straw Glycosides, Polyglyceryl-5 Oleate, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Glyceryl Caprylate

Fermented skincare ingredients
You will see a lot of fermented ingredients on this list and for a good reason. Fermented skincare is a huge trend in Korean skincare, which is popular for its experimentation with strange-sounding ingredients (snail slime, donkey milk, bird's nest anyone?). Anyway, fermentation is a process by which yeast helps produce enzymes, amino acids and antioxidants, which by way of fermentation get super-charged and hence, are able to benefit the skin immensely.

This inci list promises Saccharomyces Ferment Filtrate, Saccharomyces Ferment and Saccharomyces/Astragalus Membranaceus Root Ferment Extract. 'Saccharomyces', which literally means 'sugar fungus' is the scientific name for the yeasts used in fermentation, specifically baker's yeast. The history of fermented skincare lies in the youthful hands of workers who were brewing sake for many years. The men were old but their hands were freakishly young, soft and wrinkle-free. The first product to use the fermentation technology in skincare was SKII in its Pitera essence.

Coming back to this inci list, you will also see that glycerin is the ninth ingredient on the list whereas in most toners, it's the first or the second. Suffice to say, the first eight ingredients were enough to make me click that Buy button.

Packaging and user experience
The toner comes in a pump style bottle. The packaging is faultless and I like how the bottle is clear so you can see how much product is remaining. The product has an earthy petrichor-like aroma, which I find pleasing. Sidmool recommends that you pour a little amount on your palms and rub it on the face. How incredibly impractical! I use it with a cotton pad. The toner cleans the skin really well but leaves it a bit tacky. The tackiness dissipates after a minute or so.  

Price and where to buy
Usually, I put in info about price and where to buy the product. But let me warn you, this product is incredibly difficult to source if you're living outside of Korea. Prices differ on where you buy it from. So, if you're considering getting it, please do a thorough research. I had purchased it via a third party called Avecko, who purchased it directly from Sidmool.

Worth the hype?
So, was this toner worth the hype? Nope, it wasn't. Even after using the bottle way past its halfway mark, I couldn't see any difference in my skin. With such classy ingredients and their supposedly high concentrations, I had expected a lot more out of this. At best, the Sidmool Skin Science Sparkle Toner is a maintenance product, so I had to demote it from the treatment toner to the cleansing toner category.
In my next post, I will talk about Clinique Mild Clarifying Lotion. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Is a toner really necessary?

On my way to an event about 'laser treatment for skin' conducted by a few of Mumbai's renowned aesthetic medical practitioners, I was debating about which toner to buy next. Toners serve a variety of purposes, from taking off any leftover residue (even after you have had a go with your cleanser), exfoliating the skin, calming sensitive skin to leaving a layer of hydration on the skin. I have all four varieties and a couple of favourites in that, but the one I find indispensable is the first type--the skin cleansing one. Let me clarify, I love cleansing and I love my cleansers, but my pores behave like a deep cave with dark recesses that house gunk, which can only be pulled out by a cleansing toner.

I had reached the venue, and the skin docs began talking about general skincare, giving tips and busting misconceptions. While I was enjoying all that, the subject of toner came up, especially for oily skin. My ears perked up and I was eager to hear what the expert had to say.

Avoid toners, he said! Shattering the long-held belief of the holy grail of skincare--Cleanse, Tone and Moisture--he silenced the audience but went on to explain how toners are unnecessary imports from the western world and we Indians do not need them, including oily skin types. What he meant was that we don't need the traditional alcohol-based toners that used to wipe away cleansing creams of the yore. Yes, before face washes came into the picture, women used to use cleansing creams, which were greasy and hence needed an alcohol-y toner to take it all off.

While I wouldn't degrade all toners (like I mentioned above, a few of them have something extra to offer), I agree with the skin doc in that I absolutely hate toners with alcohol. Any self-respecting beauty company ought to throw out such toners because in today's age, cleansers have become advanced thus eliminating the need for a strong-burn-your-skin alcohol-based toner. India is also catching up to the alcohol-free toner trend, with Plum being one of the early adopters.

In my next post, I will share a bit about my current toners, why and how I use them, and a few that are on my wishlist.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Why the PH value of your cleanser matters!

As much as I love Clinique and its bestselling Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm (one of my favourite cleansers), their other cleansers do not make the cut. All because of ingredients that raise the PH level of the product. A recent example was this cleanser, given to me as a sample.
PH value of 7-8 indicated by the strip turning blue
One of the things you need to be careful about when putting a cleanser on your face is its PH level. PH (stands for potential for hydrogen) is a "figure expressing the acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a logarithmic scale". If you put that down on a simple scale, it would look something like this:


Our skin is slightly acidic by nature, with a PH of 5.5.

This PH of 5.5 is necessary for the skin to maintain its healthy state. A disruption in this level can cause the skin to either burn (if it goes to the acidic level of 4 or lower) or be vulnerable to infection (if it goes to the alkaline level of 7 or above). Did you know that there are microorganisms on the skin that protect it from skin infections and serious skin conditions like acne and rosacea?

When you use conventional soap or face washes with a high PH (anything above 5 is potentially damaging), you're getting rid of the healthy microorganisms that are keeping the skin healthy and immune to infections.

Harsh cleansers may give you that squeaky clean feeling that immediately feels fresh, but that's actually a warning sign that you have gone too far. What these cleansers are really doing is stripping the face of its natural moisture barrier and healthy microorganisms along with the dirt and grime, making you feel "clean".

On the other hand, if you use a cleanser with an optimum PH (5.5), it still removes the dirt and grime but does not disturb the moisture barrier.

I'll be honest and say that not all cleansers are created equally. The majority of cleansers on the market, irrespective of how big a brand is, are high in PH. Which is a shame because they mess up the skin, cause acne and other conditions and then make you buy another product to deal with that condition. A vicious cycle that must stop!

Using harsh cleansers also strip away more oil than is necessary, leaving the skin dry and irritated, and then causing it to produce more oil (sebum) to compensate for the loss. This, in turn, makes the skin more oily, which makes you think that you need an even stronger cleanser. Another vicious cycle that must stop.

So, treat your skin wisely.

1) As a rule of thumb, avoid cleansers that create a supreme lather. 9 out of 10 times, they are loaded with harsh detergents, which help create that rich lather.

2) If you have to use a face wash that lathers, try to find a cleanser that has the right PH value, although such cleansers are rare. In Indian brands, Just Herbs is on the right track with its Silksplash face wash. I have tested its PH more than once. (A thorough review coming up soon)
PH of 5 indicated by the strip turning yellow

3) Cleansing oils and balms are much better to clean the skin with as they are essentially oils, so you're using oil to remove dirt and grime, and not harsh detergents. This takes some time to getting used to but your skin will thank you for it. If you're in India, The Body Shop's Camomile Cleansing Oil is a great cleanser to try out.

Overseas, there are plenty of cleansers (face washes, oils and balms) that are made keeping the right PH value in mind but here in India, such cleansers are hard to find. I have listed two good ones above, and I will update this post as and when I find more.

Lastly, remember that PH is not the be all and end all of great skin as there are several factors at play, but if you are having skin troubles and were wondering how to deal with them, this is a good place to start at.

Hope this was a helpful post. :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Lookfantastic launches its Indian site--but wait, is that really good news?

Being a skin sleuth, I'm always on the lookout for great value in skincare/makeup, especially when I'm stalking browsing online shopping destinations for beauty products. A discovery I made yesterday was the Indian site of, a UK-based shopping site for hair and beauty products.

Now, you'd imagine me squealing in delight when I chanced upon the Indian counterpart of the popular website. My initial thought was that finally, we Indians can now access some of the most coveted beauty brands like Alpha H, Aromatherapy Associates, Eve Lom, Elemis, Omorovicza and others right here in India. No more stalking the international site.

The Indian website also says this proudly, "Bringing Lookfantastic to India'. Surely, this must be a godsend to us.

Sadly, not all things that appear promising in the beginning turn out so. And here's where I got down to some serious sleuthing. A comparison between the two sites. Warning: nerdiness ahead!

Lookfantastic UK
Lookfantastic India
Free worldwide delivery if you make a purchase over GBP 50, which thanks to Brexit is now INR 4518.

Free worldwide delivery if you make a purchase over INR 6,000. So, wouldn’t it make more sense to purchase from the international site? Just saying…

If you are spending less than GBP 50, the tracked cost for India is GBP 9.99, translating to INR 902.

If you are spending less than INR 6,000, the tracked cost is INR 1,000. So, there’s no clear advantage over the international site.
Prices are listed as prescribed by the brands
Same here, except that in some of the large-format Indian departmental stores like Lifestyle, Shoppers Stop etc., you’d find the same products for a lesser price! For instance, the Elizabeth Arden Eight-Hour Skin Protectant is priced on this website for INR 2,592 whereas the last time I checked in Sephora, Mumbai, it was priced at INR 1,800 or thereabouts. How is that even possible?!

Delivery times are listed as per UK delivery timelines

Same here, which baffles me because international delivery to India takes much longer, and longer still if the order gets stuck in customs. However, the wording on the Indian site regarding shipping/delivery is identical to the international site.

Which brings me to the false impression one gets that when you are shopping from the Indian site, you are getting the product from within India, hence, in a quicker timeframe. Not true! Your order will still be delivered to you from the UK, which beats the purpose of the Indian site.

Reviews—the all-important factor, next to price, that makes a buyer click ‘Add to Cart’. The reviews are left by international buyers, naturally as it is an international site.
Same here, which is logical to an extent, except that when buyers comment on shipping/delivery times, they are talking about their own countries.  
Indian buyers need to take this into account when reading the reviews that are automatically replicated from the international site onto the Indian site.

You get almost any brand that you can think of here, especially convenient when you are looking for specific products that are not yet released in India. For instance, the Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Oil, which I have had my eyes on for a very long time.

You don’t see all of the brands listed on the international site here. I was so hoping to see the Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Oil on the Indian site.

You can buy fragrances from the UK site. I had my eyes on the much-talked about Chloe.
No mention of fragrances here

The only good part about this whole branching out initiative is that your orders, be it on the international site or the Indian one, are synchronised so you can have a uniform record of everything that you do. If anyone can give me a valid reason as to why I should buy from Lookfantastic India, as opposed to Lookfantastic International, I'm all ears! For now, I'll stick to the international site, thank you!

Thanks for making it this far.

Have a lovely day!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Do you really need sunscreen on a cloudy day?


Ah, the relief that monsoon brings—cool rainy days to beat the harsh summer heat, especially in a hot, humid city like Mumbai. While I know that friends in UK, US and other places are enjoying their summer and clear skies, for a change, we Mumbaikars are rejoicing the refreshing monsoon.

A change in the season usually indicates a change in skincare too. So, while I’m ditching the cooling ingredients that were my go-to in the summer, talked about in detail here, I’m more careful than ever about continuing using sunscreen.

Many people, including my beloved husband, believe that ‘no sun = no sunscreen’. Not true! Just because you cannot see the sun does not mean its rays don’t reach you.

UVB rays (which cause burning/tanning) and UVA rays (which cause ageing) are nasty things that must be avoided, not because you care about vanity but to prevent skin cancer.

On cloudy/rainy days, you may not get burned by the UVB rays as the clouds block them, UVA rays still manage to get through the cloud cover and cause skin damage. Experts even say that if the UVA rays bounce off the edge of certain clouds, their intensity increases. Furthermore, if the cloud cover is thin, they may not be able to block even the UVB rays.

Bottom line is ‘don’t forget your sunscreen’.

Enjoy your monsoon!