The Best Of 2013: Skincare

As 2013 is drawing to an end, I thought I'd put together a post detailing my favourite products of this year. In terms of skincare, I've had a pretty big revelation since beginning this blog back in February. My skin was near-perfect for months, and then in July, I took the decision to come off the antibiotics I had been taking. Since then my skin went from bad to worse, most likely a side effect of my hormones balancing themselves out again. I've had some real lows in terms of cystic blemishes, constant patches of nasty bumps, dryness.. Fortunately, it finally seems as though my skin is sort of back on the up and- other than drinking lots of water and keeping an eye on my diet- these are some of the products that are helping me through.

Kicking things off with cleansers, which I have in abundance, I've realised that cleansing gels and milks just don't cut the mustard with me.. particularly not in the winter. Instead, I've been turning to a duo that have really been a pretty perfect pairing. First up, Clinique's Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm is just a god-send for removing makeup, a hard balm that melts into a fluid-like oil upon application, this feels luxurious but has a complete no fuss approach. It's fragrance free and just gets the job done, working fantastically as a first cleanse. The main showstopper when it comes to cleansers has got to be REN's ClearCalm 3 Clarifying Clay Cleanser though- I must have repurchased this a good three times since first using it because there's just nothing wrong with this cleanser. It's creamy but also clay-based so it stays on the skin nicely, massages in well, feels very soothing, softens the skin immensely and just leaves my face feeling totally balanced, soft and clean without feeling remotely tight. I usually apply this by firstly wetting a flannel with hot water and holding it onto my face to prepare it to receive the product, then massaging the cleanser in with short gentle strokes, leaving it on for half a minute or so, and then carefully removing with the hot flannel- making sure not to rub or pull at the skin at all.

2013 will always be remembered as the year that I discovered exfoliating toners. The two that have battled for contention have been Pixi Glow Tonic and Clarins Gentle Exfoliating Toner, the latter a gentler, less punchy almost dupe of the former. Both contain acids that slough away dead skin cells and really help make the skin appear more radiant, I've been using these on any rough patches to help smooth over, reduce redness and generally improve skin texture and evenness.

I haven't really been very diligent at all with moisturisers. I know it's probably awful to say, but I've found that since rotating them out of my skincare routine my skin has improve massively. Once my skin gets back to normal, I'll start re-introducing moisturisers back into my routine, but for now, I'm mainly getting my hydration fix in terms of Aveda's Intensive Hydrating Masque, a perfect one for people that find their skin to get quite irritated by moisturisers, this cooling gel mask applies to the skin and literally feels completely weightless. I was initially worried that this would irritate my skin but I can't even feel it whilst it's on and it's so easy to remove, everyone should have this in their stash.

Masks are just some of my favourite products around. I usually apply them on a Sunday and perhaps on a Wednesday, and the one that's been getting the most attention from me is Aesop's Parsley Seed Cleansing Masque. It's just an all-round do-gooder that really does help sort out a whole host of problems plus it lasts for absolutely ages, the full ode to can be found here.

My favourite treatment has without a doubt got to be Mario Badescu's Buffering Lotion. I've only had this little bottle for a few months but it has become an absolute staple in my skincare routine so I've used up quite a lot of it- it's definitely something I'll be repurchasing though as I really don't think I can be without it next year. The bottle contains some liquid that you shake well before applying to cleansed skin- I found it best to apply neat, not sandwiched between toner and moisturiser- and it is just an absolute miracle worker at calming down cystic breakouts, along with any other raised bumps/sore spots. At first this was quite drying on my skin because I was using it constantly on quite a large surface area that didn't all need it, so I'm only using this exactly where I need it and it's just working absolute wonders on preventing cystic blemishes from causing havoc.

I know this was a lengthy post so thanks for sticking through to the end, my blog has slowly shaped itself around skincare, it's something that I've become really quite interested in so I doubt that the make up version will be anywhere near as long! Do you have a stand-out favourite skincare item for 2013?

A Few Christmas Bits...

I thought I'd post a few bits and pieces that I was tremendously lucky to receive from my parents this year. Despite having sent a Christmas wishlist to my mum a couple of months ago, I couldn't remember what I had asked for by the time the 25th came around. I was literally over the moon to open all of these bits, I think this year was generally quite successful present-wise as my parents also seemed to love theirs!

The first thing I opened- post stocking fillers of course, which were top notch this year- was this LED light for my camera. I saw Kate mention this in a post a few weeks back and just thought it would be a really handy thing to have. It's basically a smaller version (although it is actually huge compared to my camera haha) of studio lights so hopefully whilst using this, my photo quality will improve. Also, whenever I get home from work it's always pitch black so it'll be great to use as a daylight alternative for us night owls.

Figuier also made it onto the list, and I've been burning it all day. I expected this to have a cleaner burn but it's actually not as clean as some other candles I'm harbouring, but the scent is exquisite so I'm letting that one slide. Obviously the packaging is also to die for, I'd be lying if I said that the gorgeous trademark Diptyque votive wasn't one of the main reasons I wanted this!

I've mentioned Aveda's Hydrating Masque in a few posts, a moisture-boosting mask that you slather on for five to ten minutes before rinsing off. I've already used this twice since Wednesday and I've found the perfect pairing to it, which I'll be writing all about very soon. It's early days but for now, you just need to know that it's awesome. I usually have a problem with sodium hyaluronate in products, but this caused my skin absolutely no irritation at all, so thumbs up on that front.

My mum also picked up two more things that have been on my wishlist for quite some time now. MAC's Plumful is literally a 'my lips but better' shade for me, I have quite plummy toned lips naturally and this shade just completely enhances them and is a perfect one for lazing around the house in/wearing to work. The lustre formula is my favourite too, they are so creamy and they smell incredible! If you've been reading my blog for a while then you might recognise an obsession with the Hourglass Brow Arch pencil. Well, it's finally in my stash and I'll confirm, it's just as good as I expected. I was quite worried about 'Soft Brunette' being too light and ashy for my brows but the colour payoff is actually really great and very natural, I can see why this shade suits so many different skin tones.

Other presents have included books, pajamas, some stationary bits, board games, more candles and a partridge in a pear tree. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas! I may have done some boxing day sales shopping- online, of course, I don't have a death-by-stampede wish, but I'm sure you'll be hearing all about that soon...

The Sunday Post: Gingerbread People

I've been craving gingerbread biscuits for ages, I always make them around Christmas time but this year has definitely been the best. I used this recipe from Waitrose as it looked the least complicated of all, but I did have to tweak it a bit to get the right mix, and the end result was crisp on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside golden brown traditionally gingery gingerbread people/christmas trees/snowmen..

You will need:

- 125g unsalted butter
- 100g dark muscovado sugar
- 4 tbsp golden syrup
- 325g plain flour (sifted)
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 3.5 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon

1. Start off by mixing together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon in a bowl, making sure they're all well combined.

2. Gently melt the butter, sugar and syrup over a low heat in a saucepan, regularly stirring to ensure the mixture doesn't stick to the pan, until the ingredients resemble a smooth sauce- it looks a bit like barbecue sauce but bear with me on this one.. Once they're combined, take the saucepan off the heat and leave it to cool slightly, but continue stirring (I let it cool for a couple of minutes, you still want it to be warm).

3. Pour the sugar/syrup/butter sauce into the dry ingredients and mix together with a spoon, although you will probably need to get your hands in there to really get it all together. The dough should be smooth and quite stiff- wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for about 30 minutes to stiffen up further.

4. Flour the surface and turn out the dough, and then begin rolling. I found it easier to chop the dough into two and roll one half out at a time, as half of the dough will provide enough biscuits for one tray, and it's just a bit easier that way. At this stage, my dough was stiff but cracked around the edges, as long as you keep rolling, pushing the edges together, and rolling again, you'll be left with a nice flat dough- you want to roll it to about 3mm.

5. Using some cookie cutters, or if you don't have any then you could use the rim of a glass to make rounds, carefully cut out your shapes and place them onto a greased baking tray. Bake at 170 C on the middle shelf for about 13 minutes.

6. When the biscuits come out of the oven, they will probably still look slightly doughy- but resist putting them back in for any longer as they will harden up as they cool down. Pop them on a cooling rack and once they've cooled, feel free to eat them all up!

This recipe made about 22 medium sized biscuits (there are definitely not twenty two on the plate in the photo, that was taken the next day and I had already munched my way through loads- they're that tasty!). These would be perfect treats to eat on Christmas Eve whilst watching some festive movies, or equally perfect given as a gift to a loved one. You could also hang these on the tree as decorations if you wanted to, although I'm not sure mine would make it all the way to the tree without getting gobbled up!

The Body Shop Facial Massager

It's no secret that I've been lusting after the jade roller for quite some time, but when I heard that The Body Shop had produced their similar-ish dupe, I just had to give it a go. Using Caroline's tutorial-style video, I've been imitating her sweeping strokes along the jawline and neck, and things are feeling smoother already. This particular product differs from the jade roller in that it's not made of cooling jade, and it's not a smooth oval-shape.. alright, I'm still lusting a bit.. but essentially they do the same job.

Facial massagers like this one supposedly encourage and aid lymphatic drainage, so you're basically gently pushing the nasty bits underneath the skin away from your face. It's supposed to show visible results on under the skin bumps with continued use but my issue around my jawline was my complexion being slightly uneven and I would genuinely say that this has helped to patch things up. You could also take the massager further up onto the face- hell, go crazy with it- but that's something that I'm slightly wary of doing because most of my face is feeling really sensitive at the moment and I prefer to use it on tougher, normal skin.

If you're interested, this retails at £6 from TBS, but I picked it up at an absolute steal price of £3 on a 50% promotion that I'm not sure they're still running. That's about the same amount as a magazine, a coffee, that family-sized pack of M&Ms (I see you there).. you get the point. It's cheap, you need it- that's all.

The Sunday Post: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Things have been slightly slack on the Sunday front lately; I've just not really been in the house much so I've not had my camera around. A couple of weeks ago, Sunday involved a mass shopping trip with my best bud who was briefly home from uni, and last week included a cinema trip with my sister to see 'Frozen' (which was pretty good; me and Kate go and see the annual animated Christmas movie of the year and this was by far the best.. plus it was a musical!) followed by more shopping.. Christmas related this time. I'm currently relaxing on the sofa, indulging in tons of custard creams.. the pre-Christmas healthy diet starts tomorrow, honest! Is it really that obvious that I'm a festive fanatic? I thought I'd just use today's post as a way of showing you some of the home decor bits and pieces that I've been getting on with in my spare time to make the house feel just a little bit more.. what's that word?.. Right, festive.

1 // Christmas is clearly nothing without a good ol' tree 2 // There's a few little decorations on the mantlepiece lined with some tinsel, somehow my parents have made tinsel slightly less tacky! 3 // Second to Elf, The Polar Express is probably up there in my favourite Christmas movies of all time. I'm watching this whilst wrapping presents right now 4 // Lights around the window are such a pretty way of making things a little more festive in my bedroom 5 // I bought this bedding the other day at an absolutely steal price from ASDA (yep, I didn't know they did anything other than food either), it's out of stock though unfortunately!

What have you been up to today?

Beauty Haul #2: Christmas Buys

Guys, I know. Christmas shopping is supposed to involve buying presents for other people but I felt super spend-happy this month and ended up placing a pretty huge order on the Debenhams website after seeing that they were offering 15% off all beauty bits and pieces.

After surfing around the MAC section, I noticed that the Pro Palette Quad was only £5ish so I automatically threw it into my online basket without even thinking that I'd need to fill it up. I've been wanting to get into wearing eyeshadow for quite some time now but I've never really thought I suited it properly as my eyes always seemed to be too hooded- damn you DNA- for it to even show up, but a recent eyeshadow discovery led to a lusting for some proper experimental shades, so after much umm-ing and ahh-ing, I chose Club, All That Glitters, Sumptuous Olive and Cork. It was painstakingly difficult to choose a 'perfect four' and I'm not yet sure whether I've got the right combination, but time will tell- and I'm sure that there'll be a post coming your way soon. It's a bit pointless owning eyeshadows without a brush, and MAC's 217 brush is a pretty standard buy for anybody setting out into the world of eyeshadow. It's a do-it-all kind of 'pack it on, smudge it in, blend it out' kind of product that I'm so excited to start using!

I really fancied picking up a peachy pink shade to add to my lipstick collection, and I remembered Anna mentioning something about how Urban Decay's Revolution lipsticks were supposed to be pretty on-point so I picked up her favourite shade, Streak. It is the prettiest peachy-pink, and is the perfect start for steering me away from my beloved dark reds. Speaking of dark reds... I did also pick up Chanel's Rouge Coco lipstick in Rivoli, but I promise you I'm not contradicting myself, this one is actually a Christmas present for a friend of mine. Promise.

Moisturisers have been the floosiest part of my skincare routine for as long as I can remember, I've just never really found 'the one'. They're just all pretty average. Since suffering a mass breakout and using some drying products on my skin, I was in much need of hydration, so I really wanted a hardcore moisturiser.. Enter: Origins High Potency Night-A-Mins. I've got quite a few Origins' products in my stash and I've not really been let down by any of them so far, so this seemed like a good option.

My final, and most guilt/eye-wince inducing purchase was Estée Lauder's ANR II. In hindsight, I wish I hadn't picked this up now just due to the price, but I have other facial oils that last for bloody ages as you only need the tiniest amount, so I suppose longevity-wise it's works out to be not too bad (plus, 15% off made it more bearable). For winter, my skin has just been lacking in a whole bunch of areas; it's been dull and uneven and I'm looking forward to seeing whether this could help patch things up slightly. I'll keep you posted on that one...

Have you bought yourself a cheeky christmas present or two (or five) this year?

Home Fragrance Christmas Wishlist

Santa baby, please slip a candle under the tree.. for me.. Okay, so that's not how it goes. But how better to introduce you to part two of my Christmas wishlist/gift guide series, and this time I'm bringing you my picks of the home fragrance category. Candles are one of my favourite items, and I really don't think you can go wrong with a good candle- who wouldn't want to receive a beautiful votive for Christmas?

First up is a dupe for Diptyque's 'Figuier' candle- I slipped into & Other Stories a few weeks ago and stood in the bath and body section for a good ten minutes smelling the scents and their fig range was just bloomin' gorgeous, I've been obsessed with figgy fragrances ever since. This Muji candle in 'Green Fig' is a pretty good size for only a snip of 'Figuier' although as I understand it, the candle isn't quite as potent. Next up is Neom's 'Tranquility' offering, a soothing combination of lavender, basil and jasmine that is supposed to make for some heavenly relaxation. I've been pretty stressed out lately due to my busy schedule juggling three jobs plus studying for my exam retakes, so this seems absolutely perfect for helping me wind down in the evenings. Similarly, although This Works' 'Dream Team' duo isn't a candle or strictly a home fragrance, I've been struggling to get to sleep lately and think that this calming set of pillow spray and rollerball oil could help.

On the lustability factor, Diptyque will always be top of my list for fragrance. Their Classic Coffret contains three of their best-selling scents; Figuier, Baies and Roses. Diptyque have a lot of these coffret sets out at the moment (although I'm not sure how available they are.. it is Christmas!). Since I saw Anna mention Malin + Goetz's Dark Rum candle, I have just been in love with the idea of owning it. I'm not a drinker by any means, I can't stand wine/beer/champagne but pour me a very occasional glass of rum and I'm yours. Dark rum has a really distinct scent, and I can only imagine how gorgeous this smells combined with top notes of bergamot and plum, middle notes of leather and -you guessed it- rum, and base notes of amber-patchouli and vanilla...

I'm slightly cheating by mentioning Muji's 'Log Fire', a.k.a 'Feu de Bois' tin dupe in here as I picked one up a couple of weeks ago- review here- but I just couldn't not mention it, it's just the cosiest smokiest (in a good way) candle ever, evoking memories of snuggling up by a warm crackling fire on a crisp winter evening. Another candle that sounds like it would awaken similar memories is Laura Mercier's Warm Roasted Chestnuts Signature candle. Just the title has me doing some hardcore heart-eyed emoji faces. It just sounds perfect for Christmas. 

So that's my home fragrance wishlist/gift guide sorted! Are any of these on your wishlist?

Clarins Gentle Exfoliating Toner vs. Pixi Glow Tonic

It's pretty well known by now that Pixi's Glow Tonic is one of my all time favourite skincare products, and rules the roost when it comes to exfoliating toners, but a couple of months ago it's last drop was lovingly eeked out onto a cotton round, so with the knowledge that Glow Tonic is a pain to get, I thought I'd shop around for an alternative. Enter: Clarins' Gentle Exfoliating Toner.

In terms of product comparisons, I think Pixi wins hands down. The Clarins offering has a slightly tackier almost gel-like texture and is only recommended to be used a couple of times a week (although Caroline puts this down to the fact that bigger beauty houses tend to play things safe) whilst Glow Tonic is an simple liquid tonic, and works well when used most nights in my opinion. The Glow Tonic is much stronger and you can really feel and see results- both contain salicylic and glycolic acid, although the Gentle Exfoliating toner doesn't have nearly as much- from first use, continually. My skin is always so much smoother, brighter and just feels more revitalised with Pixi (plus it's one of the only products I've found to active work on resurfacing the skin and tackling those nasty scars), and it just packs much more of a punch, which I prefer, despite the fact that I have slightly sensitive skin.

Packaging-wise... I'll give you that one Clarins. The pump can get a bit annoying but it seems that Pixi have taken notice of this and are changing it for the online release- seriously Pixi, how 'soon' is 'coming soon'?!. For the price points, you can pick up the Clarins for about £25ish/150ml whilst Pixi offer up the Glow Tonic at a mere £16 for a whopping 250ml. I would definitely say that if you've been using the Clarins number for a while and either aren't seeing great results/want to step it up a level, then maybe integrate some Glow Tonic into your routine.

So which one will I be repurchasing? Sorry Clarins, I'm with Pixi on this one. Hands down.I can't even believe I've not repurchased already, I'm just waiting for Pixi to hurry up with that online release.. hint hint

The Christmas Tag

Since venturing out into the world of tags with my 'Skincare Tag' post, I'm a little bit hooked. They're a really fun way to find out more about the people behind the blogs, and I think they make for interesting reading (props to Georgina for creating this one)! As Christmas is right around the corner, I thought I'd hop on board the Christmas tag.. Just spreadin' the cheer.

1.  Do you prefer a real Christmas tree or synthetic?
Unfortunately I'm actually allergic to most evergreen conifers- Christmas trees included, which sucks as they always look so much better when they're real buuuut it's all about the synthetics in our house. 

2.  You're in a coffee shop, it's December, what do you pick?
When it comes to drinks, I'm probably the least interesting person ever. It's all about the water, all year round- I'm not a huge fan of anything else really, but my Costa-obsessed brother has a penchant for frosted peppermint hot chocolates.

3.  Whats your favourite colour scheme for decorating the tree?
It's all about the red, orange and greens- keeping it traditional over here! I'm also quite the stickler about not having homemade ornaments on the tree, it can just take a tree from looking quite elegant and classic to a tacky mess within minutes... (speaking from experience, having once tried to put a school-made clay dinosaur as the tree topper one year..)

4.  Giving or receiving?
I'm really not a huge receiver, it's wonderful when people put the time and effort into picking a lovely present out for you and I appreciate that massively, but I just love giving- without sounding too 'Miss World'. I'll keep a list stashed away under my bed to make notes on any time somebody mentions something that they need/want throughout the year so that there's not a mad rush to find out in December, and that way people can usually tell that you've really paid attention to what they said months ago, it's just quite nice.

5.  To mince pie or not to?
Mince pies go down an absolute treat in this house, we'll usually bulk buy a few packs at a go and they'll all be gobbled up by everybody that very same evening, but I've never had one. Raisins are a no-go area.

6.  What's your traditional sunday lunch?
Some form of Quorn with all of the usual trimmings, vegetarian Christmas dinners aren't massively different to carnivorous ones!

7.  Christmas day fashion
I'll usual laze about the house in my comfiest Christmassy pajamas until 10am-ish before changing into something a little bit nicer for dinner, and by the end of the evening I'll be in a festive jumper of some kind watching the special festive TV shows; Downton Abbey, I am ready.

8.  What's your favourite Christmas song?
Just one? Nope, nuh-uh, not going to happen. I love them ALL. (Does anybody else know the entire Mean Girls dance to Jingle Bell Rock?... yes I am legally an adult.. promise!) 

9.  What's your favourite Christmas film?
Elf is bloody brilliant, the Home Alone franchise is great, the Nativity films are a must-watch and I'm also a fan of the annual animated ones- Polar Express, Arthur Christmas-  but I just don't think you can beat Love Actually.. (well, maybe it's a tie between that and Elf).

10.  Open presents before or after lunch?
We open our presents before breakfast, let alone lunch! We usually see other family members throughout the day so it's nice to spend some traditional family time in the morning, with my elflike sister Squidge as the designated 'present-giver-outer' of the morning.

I tag everybody to do this tag, and then comment below when you have done because I would love to give them a read! 

Muji 'Log Fire' Tin Candle

I've heard quite a bit about this candle lately after seeing many posts heralding it as the dupe for Diptyque's 'Feu De Bois'- something that I heard Jen going on about, but was unsure whether I'd like, so I was massively happy to pick up this little Muji offering at £3.50, a snip of Diptyque's £20-40 price tag.

Firstly, I have to say I wasn't a huge fan of the scent pre-burn, it was really smoky in quite an heady kind of way, but once I started to burn it, it just gradually filled my room with a subtle warm, woody aroma, very reminiscent of sitting by my grandmother's log fire on Christmas Eve, and perfect for snuggling up on a cold winter's night with a film and some friends. The eighteen hours of burn time that this little tin offers is plenty- and although I'm now more certain that I'd like 'Feu De Bois', I've grown slightly attached to this number, so I might have to pick up a different one from Diptque (I've got my eye on Figuier, as you might find out in my next Christmas Gift Guide post). Muji do offer a surprising range of candles though if you're into something a little sweeter, but for this season, I think they're onto a winner with this one.

Also, some people aren't a fan of the packaging but I quite like it, it's simple and self-explanatory. Fair enough, you probably won't be using the tin as a fanciful brush holder but as a way of trying out scents, I really think this is great, and it's probably going to be an evening staple in the lead up to Christmas. 

Have you tried/would you like to try any candles from Muji?

The Wonders of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil- that's the proper organic, raw, virgin, non-GM, cold-processed sort of course- is one of the strangest things I own, beauty-wise. The oil is hard and white at room temperature, but turns into an actual clear oil once melted, no microwaves needed, just the magic of hand warmth.

The main reason why I wanted to try coconut oil is for the hair benefits; using this one the ends of your hair pre-shower gives an extra nourishing boost post-rinse.. not unlike that of Philip Kingsley's beloved Elasticizer, so I was massively sold on that point alone. After a quick check online, I discovered the many wonders of coconut oil, and naturally gave them all a go. As a moisturiser, I'll throw this on any dry patches of skin, making sure it's really rubbed it quite well (for any massage lovers out there- and let's face it who isn't?- this is a little pot of heaven) and I'll wake up in the morning with baby soft, smooth skin. Mmm. I've even been known to apply a smidge of this to my cheeks when they start to feel a bit chapped, so it's a multi-use moisturiser really. Oils are also always going to be pretty good at removing eye makeup- I usually turn to my trusty Clinique TTDO balm for this but when time is short (read: bedtime laziness sets in), a teensy bit of this warmed up between the fingers and smoothed over the eyes will de-slap your eyes in a jiffy.

Mix a spoonful of the stuff into your bath for a gorgeous coconut-scented soak as it works nicely as a bath oil, or use it as a cuticle oil, leave it on for ten minutes or so as a hydrating mask, or just as a general facial moisturiser- it's a bit too heavy for my personal tastes but I've heard that it's supposed to be good stuff for a bunch of facial issues, helping everything from acne to eczema. Oh, and it's obvious use is for cooking. But I'm definitely not up to culinary scratch so elaborating on that one is out of the question, there are instructions on the tin if you want to go there.

Do you know of any other uses for coconut oil?