Monday, January 29, 2018

REVIEW: Favourite and not-so-favourite hydrating toners

After what seemed like an endless chain of reviews going over each and every toner I own—from the wiping-off-the-remnant-of-your-cleanser to the serious heavy-duty exfoliating toners, I want to put the spotlight on a recent favourite category within the toner family—the spray type hydrating ones.

Hydration is what keeps our skin soft, supple, elastic and young. Even if you have oily skin like I do, you need to keep it hydrated to avoid dehydration (duh!), a major cause of skin aging and other issues like acne. And I can say this without batting an eyelid that my skin has never looked this young, primarily because I keep it hydrated.

Hydration is also essential if you are using facial oils or facial balms in your skincare routine. Ever since I started incorporating specific oils and balms in my routine, hydrating toners have become a necessity. This is because oils do not readily get absorbed into the skin; they need a carrier to get absorbed completely. This carrier is water or other humectants like aloe vera. For more information on moisture and humectants, check out this blog post that I wrote last year.

The idea therefore is to spray a hydrating toner on clean damp skin or pat in an essence-like product (more common among Korean beauty fans) and then use a couple of drops of facial oil or a smidgen of a facial balm and massage it in. If you do this, there is no need for lotions and creams, which contain emulsifiers (emulsifiers are agents that mix oil and water in a product) and preservatives (necessary to prevent microbial growth since the product contains water). Since facial oils and balms typically don't contain any water, they don't require emulsifiers or preservatives and can give you potent, concentrated ingredients and the highest skincare benefit. This is also a reason why facial oils/balms are more expensive than lotions/creams as they don't contain fillers like emulsifiers and preservatives, which are inexpensive.

Sorry for that segue into why facial oils/balms are important—I might do a separate blog post on them. But moving on, I own several hydrating toners, and after a lot of trial and error, I'm ready to share my concrete thoughts on them. Needless to say, some of these are now my holy grail toners while a few were highly disappointing. If you have specific questions about any of these, please comment below the post and I'll be happy to answer them.

Bon Organics Jasmine Water:

A holy-grail toner for me, this 40 ml modestly packaged bottle may not impress you at first but it's chock-full of the most concentrated and all-organic ingredients. It contains essential oils of Jasmine and Wild Jasmine blended with the extract of distilled Jasmine petals, demineralised water, BON's pure aloe vera gel, essential oil of vanilla (which usually gives me a headache but it's used moderately here), sweet almond oil and vitamin E. The 40 ml size is perfect for taking along on travels or even in your daily handbag. I reach for this toner frequently for a mid-day boost to my skin and also to uplift my mood and shake off lethargy. Most of all, it's the most affordable toner I own. What more can you ask for? Get it stat!

Just Herbs Pomegranate and Mandarin Toner:

Another favourite of mine, this toner is equally good for spraying on a cotton pad and swiping over the face post cleansing as well as spritzing directly on the face. When used on a cotton pad, you'd be shocked to see how much dirt is left behind by cleansers. On a side note, almost all cleansers, no matter how highly raved or conceptually sound, leave behind smidgen of dirt, so this step is essential. This toner contains some of the best ingredients one can hope for: steam distilled orange blossom water (40%), steam distilled tulsi water (30%) -- that's 70% of two great ingredients, in addition to pomegranate extract, mandarin orange essential oil, bitter orange peel extract, aloe leaf juice, Indian senna (a botanical alternative to synthetically-made hyaluronic acid), and more. What I appreciate the most about this toner is its scent of bitter orange, which offsets the sweet scent of pomegranate.

Just Herbs Rose Water:

Contrary to my thoughts shared above, this toner from the same brand was a disappointment. It smells nothing like a rose. Now I'm not expecting it to smell like a bouquet of roses but this one smells downright like rice water. I'm not kidding!

Kama Ayurveda Mogra Water:

Another utter disappointment was this Mogra Water from Kama Ayurveda, which smells like the weakest mogra ever. Halfway through the bottle, there was no scent remaining. It appeared as if I was spraying plain water on my face.

Soultree Pure Rose Toning Mist:

My search for a true rosewater toner led me to this one by Soultree. Again, not sure what's happening here but this toner smells spicy. How is that even possible? The inci list shows some great ingredients such as Rosa damascena (rose) water, Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) water, Glycerine, Aloe vera juice and more, but the formulation falls short in performance. I can hardly notice the toner doing anything for my skin, which proves that ingredients are not everything. Even if you source the highest quality ingredients, your formulation still needs to be effective to produce a positive and appealing result. Now, I mainly use this sprayed on a cotton pad to take away any leftover residue after cleansing.

Bon Organics Rose Gulkand:

With that said, I think my search for that perfect rose toner has come to an end. With two recent disappointments (Soultree and Just Herbs rose water toners), I had almost given up on Indian brands. Then, a comment on my Instagram by Nishantaini, the lovely owner of Auroville-based Bon Organics, gave me hope. When I expressed my disappointment with these toners, she asked me whether I have tried the rose water from her line. Her quiet confidence (in her product) was so refreshing, a far cry from most brands that don't bother to connect with customers or really care about meeting their needs. So, during a recent sale event on her webshop, I added the Rose Gulkand toner to my cart, along with a second bottle of the Jasmine Water. You guys know I love that one! When I finally had the rose toner in my hand, I uncapped the bottle and braced myself for the scent to hit me. After spicy and ricy, I did not know what to expect. But you guys...this is it! This is what I wanted. The product name is spot on. If you've ever had 'gulkand', you know what it smells like, a potent earthy rose that is sweet and cooling. This toner is that and more. It not only contains the most genuine and pleasing rose, it also shares many of its ingredients with the Jasmine Water. BON's pure aloe vera gel, demineralised water, essential oil of vanilla, sweet almond oil, and vitamin E in addition to distilled rose petals. I highly recommend you try this out if you are a fan of rose water toners.

Earthwise Beauty Aphrodite Steam:

This is technically not a toner. It's a mix of very specifically selected dried herbs, flowers and leaves which together when steamed help with infusing moisture into the skin while also soothing, nurturing, and repairing the skin tissue. Where the toner part comes in, is the leftover brew that I strain and bottle to be used as a spritz toner. The brew is as moisturising as the steam and is undoubtedly the most hydrating toner I own. Ava, the founder of Earthwise Beauty, is known for her flawless product formulations and deep knowledge about plants, flowers and herbs so I'm not surprised that she created such a potent product. I see this as a staple in my skincare routine.

Earthwise Beauty Cistus and Moonlight Face Mist:

Another gem from Earthwise Beauty, this mist has met with mixed reviews and I can understand why. Where majority of skincare users love scents of rose and jasmine in their toners, this one stumps you with its full-blown honey scent. When I smell this, I get a rich sweet honey scent with something at the back almost like a sharp green note. I cannot describe it clearly. Honey reminds me of medicines -- when I was a child, my folks used to mix honey with crushed pills/tablets to help me swallow the otherwise bitter mixture comfortably. Not a pleasant memory! Anyway, even after knowing about the toner's honey scent, I bought it for two specific reasons. One, the cistus flower, whose hydrosol makes up the majority of this toner is known to reduce signs of aging and is pore minimising, naturally antibacterial (also anti-viral and anti-fungal), anti-acne, and nurturing. I badly needed a toner with pore minimising and antibacterial properties, yet be non-drying and hydrating. If you look around the skincare market, you'd find toners aimed at acne-prone skin to be drying. Why?! Anyway, reason number two for getting this was the addition of flower and gem essences which turns this toner into an aura mist. Aura mists are an instant aromatherapy treatment that help shift your energy and mood. I highly recommend you read more about this on the Earthwise Beauty website because no matter how well I explain, it would be insufficient and better left to experts like Ava. Now coming to my own experience, despite the honey scent, I find myself drawn to this toner. I keep spritzing it several times a day and also over my head as suggested by Ava in order to benefit from it as an aura mist. It's too early to speak of its aura-repairing properties but I will report back soon. As a skin toner, it checks all the boxes. My skin is left hydrated and soothed. I have also observed subtle pore minimising effects.

Honua Skincare Hawaiian Beauty Water:

This toner while fashioned to be a spritz toner is actually meant to be sprayed on a cotton pad and used as an exfoliant. The blend of hibiscus, coconut water, Hawaiian sugar, rose, witch hazel, willow bark and papaya enzymes exfoliates the skin in the most subtle and natural way. A great concept but my skin is akin to rhino skin. For some reason, I don't see much, if any, exfoliating effect. Another reason could be that I'm used to stronger exfoliants like glycolic acid and salicylic acid so natural exfoliants perhaps fall short. This isn't a negative comment for the toner itself. It's just that my needs are perhaps different from the others. Having said that, I have found a great way to use this to get some noticeable effect. I spritz this 4-5 times, letting each layer dry up before spritzing again. This gives me smooth and what I assume is exfoliated skin. I got this toner as part of the Art of Organics 'Fresh' beauty box back in July 2017 so it was a bargain considering the value for money part.

Friday, January 19, 2018

REVIEW: Earthwise Beauty Green Leaves and Co. Facial Oil

By now, my Instagram friends must be well aware of my love and devotion towards Earthwise Beauty, an organic, luxurious skincare brand based in the US. Ava, the brand's founder, is well-known for her vast knowledge, passion for herbs, flowers and gemstones, impeccable sourcing of ingredients, flawless formulations and the praiseworthy customer service. And all this is topped by truly unique, highly effective and sensuous products.

I was introduced to Earthwise Beauty through the Boxwalla June 2017 Beauty box which included three popular and truly unique products—Nap in the Meadow, Ruby Facial Oil and Farizad's Veil. Needless to say, I fell in love with these products as did almost every green beauty connoisseur out there. Which is why in this blog post, I want to focus on a different product from the Earthwise Beauty line-up, the Green Leaves and Co. Facial Oil, reviews of which are not so easy to find among the beauty blogging community. After using a sample of this, and while using a full-sized jar, I have come to some conclusions about this product and acne-prone skin in general.

My skin battles:
Before I tell you what this product did for me, I want to give you an idea of what my skin is like. I have acne-prone skin, but not in the conventional sense. I don't suffer from cystic or hormonal acne but I'm forever prone to clogged pores due to whiteheads and sebaceous filaments, and sometimes an odd pimple or two. Because of the clogged pore situation, I tend to have a gritty texture especially on my nose, sides of the nose and chin.

If you Google treatments for such skin type, you'd see salicylic acid as the number one solution, followed by glycolic acid. And trust me, I used both religiously for a couple of years. Bravura London was my brand of choice for these products. My skin, right after treatment with these products, would appear super smooth and almost poreless—a gratifying sight indeed. The salicylic acid seemed like a holy-grail product for me.

The side effects: 
Until I started noticing the side effects of using these chemical exfoliants. After the initial 'wonder' effect wore off in a day or two, I'd be left with a dull/gray complexion and even some form of hyperpigmentation, possibly because salicylic acid is known to increase the skin’s sun sensitivity by 50%, and if you're not careful/adequate about sun protection, you're inviting other harmful skin conditions. And I admit I wasn't adequate in the sun protection dept a couple of years ago because I hated using icky sunscreen creams living in a humid, tropical climate. Sunscreen gels, on the other hand, didn't feel adequate. Most of all, I was using chemicals to exfoliate my skin but not supplying enough hydration. A very well-known side effect of salicylic acid is skin dryness. Over-dry skin leads to overproduction of sebum, thus creating a vicious cycle.

The revelation:
After using the trio of Nap in the Meadow, Ruby Facial Oil and Farizad's Veil, my hydration, nourishment and sun protection issues were addressed immensely. But the acne situation was yet to be resolved. Until...I came across Green Leaves and Co. Facial Oil.

Green Leaves and Co. Facial Oil is an acne-healing facial oil described as "noncomedogenic, fully absorbent, refreshing, creamy-velvety, and antimicrobial in a virgin coconut–virgin jojoba oil base". Until this point, I had only heard about facial oils that targeted aging and wrinkles but this was the first time I heard about an oil blend targeted at acneic skin. Yes, we've all heard about tea tree oil spot treatments, but this promised so much more. I was immediately intrigued.

Consider this. What if your chemical exfoliant was replaced with herbs known for regulating  oil production so that you're not constantly oily and using blotting wipes all the time? What if you use a facial oil that not only purges acne but also nourishes the skin, thus eliminating the chance of excess oil production, a side effect of drying exfoliants? Green Leaves and Co. Facial Oil does all this and more.

The full list of ingredients is as follows:
Virgin cold-press unrefined Cocos nucifera (coconut) oil*†, virgin cold-press unrefined golden Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil*, Rosmarinus officinalis ct. verbenone (rosemary) oil*, Thymus vulgaris ct. linalool (thyme) oil*, hexane-free Viola odorata (violet) leaf absolute*, wildcrafted Lavandula angustifolia (high-altitude French lavender, from Haute Provence) oil, Citrus clementine leaf oil* (from Corsica), Ocimum sanctum (holy basil) oil* (India,), Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract.
*Certified organic.  †Certified Fair Trade

Green Leaves and Co. contains coconut oil, which typically clogs pores for many, including me. But this oil doesn't! I'm sharing an excerpt from Ava's recent interview with The Boxwalla, wherein she says this about coconut oil:

"A skincare myth you'd like to debunk?
Some will disagree, but I came to believe that cold-press unheated unrefined coconut oil is not pore-clogging. It is a highly cooling oil that has a detoxifying property, which in some cases means a customer may with initial use get breakouts that are impurities, toxins coming up to the surface. This type of detox reaction is more likely to happen if a customer has an acne tendency and has long used suppressing, strongly astringent anti-acne products. With customers who are just beginning to test different topical acne solutions, this reaction is usually brief, nondramatic, or nonexistent. I leave it up to customers to decide whether to hang in there and support the body’s detox through skin-care products and herbs (I often encourage customers to look into light yet effective herbal detoxes, such as Dr. Schulze’s 5-Day Liver Detox or classic Chinese formulas prescribed by an acupuncturist), or to return to skin care products without coconut oil."

What it did for me:
I'm sure you are most interested in reading this part of the blog post. So here's what it did for me:

1) The first thing you notice about this green-tinted oil is its scent. OMG! It smells like fresh green leaves but combined with the most sophisticated violet/lavender and the earthy aroma of petrichor, the smell of earth right after a rain shower, after a long dry period! I have been hunting for products with this kind of scent so I was pleasantly surprised with this discovery. Several Earthwise Beauty customers have also praised the scent, but you can't really know until you smell it yourself. I use it as an aromatherapy perfume, rubbed into my palms and breathed in deeply. It helps me center myself and lift my mood, especially when I'm feeling tired or sulky.

2) I noticed its purging properties when I had a particularly large pimple starting to surface on my chin. It hadn't fully formed so I thought it would be a good time to test this oil. I applied it as a spot treatment one night; by next morning, the spot stayed the same. By day 2 morning and regular spot application, the spot came to a surface. I could see the pus brought up to the surface of the skin. Sorry, gross I know! And by day 3 morning, the spot vanished completely. I'm not kidding. It's like the pus and impurities were pulled out without me touching the spot at all. The only thing I'll say is that for me, even after the pimple goes away, the scar remains for a long time. And this oil is not enough for scar reduction. However, the Ferns and Moss serum has been phenomenal for repairing scars, whatever little I have used of it as a sample.

3) When used as a facial oil all over the face, I notice that it regulates/balances the oil production (my skin is less oily now), while giving my face a hydrated yet velvety-matte look and feel. You don't know what a boon that is for combination skin types. We either get doled out icky/drying gels just because we have oily skin; on the other hand, heavy creams are just too heavy for us.

4) This oil also works great when used with Farizad's Veil. In fact, when I asked Ava, she said that all of her oils can be used during the day as well as night. Combination skin types will appreciate the hydrated yet matte look this oil gives when combined with Farizad's Veil sunscreen powder. I certainly appreciated it in hot weather.

Green Leaves and Co. is a keeper for me for its acne-purging, hydrating yet mattifying, and aromatherapy purposes. If any of these properties interest you and you have acne-prone skin, I urge you to look into it. Try a sample first as I did, especially if you're not confident about how it will benefit your skin.

I apologise for the very long review. I just had so many things to say about this product and I don't like writing just one paragraph about such a good product.

If you decide to get this, let me know how it goes, here or on my Instagram (@skinsleuth). Have a nice weekend! 😙

Sunday, January 7, 2018

REVIEW: Maya Chia Super Blend - Pressed Serum Brightening Moisture Concentrate

Maya Chia Super Blend...oh boy, do I have a story to tell!

Those of you who follow me on Instagram (@skinsleuth) must be wondering why I've never posted about the Maya Chia Super Blend pressed serum/balm before. I mean I purchased it back in April 2017 and yet not a single post about it? Well, let me tell you right away, the story is a bit complicated. Here's how it began:
  • I was searching high and low for a serum containing astaxanthin, because of its high antioxidant properties, a serum that I could apply before my sunscreen to boost its sun protective powers. I had already burnt my hands (figuratively) trying Sidmool's (a Korean Beauty brand) astaxanthin serum, which in my opinion was just orange-coloured water. Anyway, back in April 2017, Maya Chia was probably the only brand offering a product with astaxanthin. Since then, I've seen Mahalo re-formulating its popular Vitality Elixir by adding in astaxanthin. Natural astaxanthin (a key ingredient in the Super Blend), enhances the antioxidant actions of vitamin C and E, and is known to be 65X stronger than Vitamin C in combating free radicals.
  • I read and re-read a lot about this pressed serum from reviews to interviews with Maya Chia owner, Susanne, all sounding quite favourable. Okay, at this point, if you're wondering if this story has a bad ending, it doesn't. So rest assured, humour me, will you? 😜
  • The Super Blend seemed like the right choice for me, with its power-packed blend of "natural astaxanthin (one of nature’s most potent antioxidants), supercritical chia (one of nature’s most energy-dense superfoods), shelf stable vitamin C ester, coenzyme Q10, powerful active botanicals, and the most innovative natural anti-aging ingredients"? So, I bought it!

  • When I say this 50 ml jar of shimmering golden balm is like a pot of sunshine, I'm not kidding you. It smells of the finest quality of jasmine enveloped in other subtly fragranced botanicals. At the time, I had an angry allergy spot developing on my chest, which a very popular anti-inflammatory balm could not cure, much to my disappointment. So, I turned to the Super Blend. One-two dabs massaged in and the spot was almost gone overnight. Very few products can boast of such reparative qualities. That was my first tryst with the product's superlative powers.
  • So, as intended, I started applying it underneath my sunscreen in the AM. Sadly, it applied a bit oily. It could be that this was the peak of summer (the month of May) and Mumbai is known for its harsh scorching summers laced with high humidity. An oily layer of Super Blend and a sunscreen cream to top it made my face an unpleasant mess.
  • Somehow, I couldn't see this product working for the primary reason I bought it for. I was stumped. Applying it at night seemed like a better prospect but I couldn't keep up with the habit. So, the pot of sunshine was relegated to the back of my skincare shelf for the next few months, portending gloomy days ahead.
  • I would often open the jar and breathe deeply the gorgeous scent of the balm but I was too afraid to give it another try, except in the PM. Until...the arrival of Earthwise Beauty Farizad's Veil, the perfect companion for the Super Blend. When Ava (founder of Earthwise Beauty) announced that she was working on a balm that in addition to its acne-reducing and healing properties would also work well as a companion for Farizad's Veil, the penny dropped for me. I immediately pulled out my jar of the Super Blend and mixed a sprinkling of Farizad's Veil into a pearl-sized drop of the balm. Voila! It worked. The balm turned the mixture into a smooth cream, which applied beautifully to the face. At first, the look is still oily but you need to give it a few moments for the mixture to settle in. And after that, the look is that of 'velvet matte'.
Now, I know I can alternate my Earthwise Beauty Ruby Facial Oil with the Super Blend and take advantage of the ultimate antioxidant, astaxanthin, along with Vitamin C, CoQ10 and more. As intended! 😃 The balm packs in serious glow and as mentioned before, it aids the repair of skin in the most pleasurable manner. I'm now confident that I can use this super-balm any season of the year, when paired with my trusty Farizad's Veil sunscreen powder.

If you have stuck with me this far, thank you. And take this as a cue to snag the Super Blend, which is included in the January 2018 Beauty Heroes beauty box, while it's still available. Go for it! You won't be disappointed.