Contouring Tips for a Natural Summer Look

A light, natural finish is the go to look for summer as makeup can get destroyed by sweat and oil. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up contouring and defining your proudest features! Here are some tips for light yet effective contouring for a natural summer look.

Why shouldn’t I contour as usual?

Conventional contouring requires another layer of product on your face – creating opportunities for caking and turning your face into a sweating palette of colours. It’s also important to understand that in most cases, contouring requires professional static lighting to work (read on to learn more about light theory!). This means in natural and changing light, when you’re enjoying the summer outdoors, conventional contouring will look awkward most of the time!

Celebrities have multiple lights and reflectors that follow them outside of the camera lens. And even they can get it wrong sometimes…

Choose a shade that represents a natural highlight or shadow

The shade and finish of the contour is critical to a flawless look because your features naturally attract light and cast shadows. Usually this means avoiding anything with shimmers (for the highlight) and warm tones (such as bronzers for the contour). Choose matte contour shades that is one shade lighter or darker, as close to the look of a natural light / shadow on your face as possible.

A good contour doesn’t even have to a dedicated contouring product!

MAC Eye Shadow (Wedge)

Even if you managed to choose the right shade, it’s still incredibly important to layer and blend! Less is more, slowly build the colours to get the desired effect and smooth out any rough edges.

Now some of you might ask:

But what is the desired effect? How to create highlights and shadows that complement my facial features?

Light Theory

Light theory is not complicated! Having a basic understanding of light theory can help you ditch the contouring guides and create your own customized look. The below materials are drawn from the Art Instruction Blog.

I’ve never quite figured these out! What if my face is half rectangle and half round?!

Chiaroscuro, the concept of light and darkness, is what light theory is all about. Light and shadows, and how the human eye conceives objects. Here are 2 concepts that are most useful for contouring.

Contrast

The same colour looks lighter or darker depending on the background it is set in.

It’s not just about the perfect highlight/contouring shade your favourite beauty blogger recommends, but what looks the best on YOUR skin.

Intuitive Space

Intuitive space refers to the ability of artists to create depth from 2D drawings. That’s how some sketches look deceivingly real and how you can create convincing features.

The key, is to study how light interact with objects and create shadows.

Obviously you won’t have to go take an art class for everyday contouring. But it’s beneficial to stress that shadows are different. Some are solid, others are fuzzier and have less defined edges. Think about what you want your features to look like and what type of shadows it will create.

Enough theory!

PONY is a korean professional makeup artist with amazing makeup tips. Check out her video on contouring and see all these tips in action!

Used in the video: Play 101 Stick.

5 Things You Need to Know About Curing Acne

Acne is one the most common skin problems faced by women. In fact, approximately 85 % of people between the ages of 12 and 24 have at least minor acne. [1] Acne conditions can be uncomfortable, leave the skin permanently damaged, and most importantly affects ones self image. This post will cover the basic types of acne and scientifically how to (and not to!) treat different acne conditions.

Let’s get started!

Types of acne

Acne can come in all shapes and forms. At the core, acne is caused by clogged pores (comedones) on the skin. This could be from dead skin cells, excess oil, hormones, bacteria, or other particles that physically blocks the pore.

The most mild form of acne is blackheads and whiteheads. Blackhead is an open comedo (an open pore) where the clogged materials oxidizes and becomes black. Where for a whitehead, the pore is closed so the comedo appears like a small white bump.

Once the comedo become infected by bacteria, or a papule, the inflammation causes the comedo to appear red. This is why it is never recommended to pop your blackheads and whiteheads with your fingers as you might cause unnecessary inflammation.

As the inflammation and pus start to go deeper into the skin, we get more severe forms of acne such as pustule and cyst. If you acne is severe, it is recommended to go see a doctor or dermatologist to determine the best treatment option!

Curing acne

With an understanding of the causes and physical characteristics of acne, we can talk about some steps to curing acne.

1. Hands off

I am personally guilty of touching and popping my acne all the time, especially when I am studying. But keeping your hands off the face will help your acne condition significantly. Remember the ugly inflammations above? Your hand is exposed to all sort of bacteria and dirt and touching your face is like depositing bacteria into your pores, not to mentioning spreading bacteria to healthy areas.

2. Keeping it clean

Your open pores are wounds, and you would want to treat them just like any other. Keep the area sanitized and use clean face cloths and pillow covers as much as possible. Acne patches are very useful as a “bandage” for your acne and some brands even absorbs pus and oil – helping the skin recover quickly.

To help with sanitation, use a cream with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial effects such as aloe vera.

3. Keeping the skin healthy

Keeping the skin healthy involves removing dead skin cells and letting the skin regenerate healthy cells. Exfoliation can happen physically or chemically. The St. Ives green tea scrub is a personal drugstore favoriate exfoliator – keeps the skin in good shape and gentle enough to use 3-4 times a week.

St. Ives Green Team Cleanser

Other common acne treatment cleansers or creams will contain salicylic acid [2], an ingredient that will soften the skin and loosen cells to help exfoliation. If you are using salicylic acid for the first time, make sure to start with a low concentration such as 1% or 2%.

4. Treating scars

Now that your acne has disappeared, it’s time to treat the scar. Scars are damaged skin – give them time to heal! Your skin is naturally designed to regenerate and heal itself, most scars will disappear over time. To speed the process, try using a product with Vitamin C or ingredients that will give the skin an extra boost.

5. Staying healthy

None of the above tips 1-4 will work in the long term if you don’t stay healthy! Acne can be caused by lack of sleep, stress, and bad diet. Eat healthy, exercise often, get enough sleep, and be happy! Remember you can’t cure acne if new ones keep popping up. 🙂

References

[1] https://www.aad.org/media/stats/conditions

[2] http://www.allure.com/story/what-does-salicylic-acid-do

a person smiling

5 stages of getting braces – personal experiences and tips

Getting braces can be a big event for anyone.  The decision itself and the orthodontist procedures can be quite daunting, especially when there are so many unknowns. On the first day that I got braces last fall, I was hectically googling to understand what to expect. However, none of the articles had comprehensive information. If you are someone who is considering getting braces or just got them, I want to share my braces experience here step by step in hopes this will help you understand what to expect, tips on getting the best result from your investment, and most importantly bring some comfort.

Summary

Here is a quick run-down of my situation and braces:

  • Braces: clear metal wires with brackets on both top and bottom tooth, no springs
  • Adjustment: tooth alignment (no bite adjustment)
  • Duration: 8 months, with permanent retainers after treatment
  • Age: 23
  • Preparation: extracted all four wisdom tooth prior to getting braces

1. The decision

This is the only part of the process that I won’t go into too many detail. Because everyone will want to get braces for different reasons. Personally I’ve always wanted braces because my tooth are badly aligned. However, I never found a good time that worked until last fall to finally go ahead with braces.

2. Research and consultation

Research is very important, something I wished I did more of if I got another chance. Consult more than 1 orthodontist and do research on different types of braces and their pros and cons. A brief overview of the different types of braces:

TypeLookAdvantagesDisadvantages
Metal BracesLeast Expensive
Most effective
Allows kids expression
through coloured bands
Most noticeable
Limit you from eating hard
and sticky foods
Ceramic BracesLess noticeable than
metal
Most effective, like metal
More costly than metal
May stain more easily
Lingual BracesInvisible from outsideHarder to clean
More costly than other types
May be more uncomfortable
Less effective for severe cases
Routine adjustments take longer
than metal or ceramic braces
InvisalignNearly invisible
Allow you to eat and drink
anything (removable)
Only available for teens and adults
Less effective for severe cases
May be more costly than others
Treatment may take longer
Require brushing teeth after eating
to prevent staining

source: http://happytoothnc.com/types-of-braces/ 

I decided to get braces with the dentist office I do my checkups and cleanings so I am already familiar with the orthodontist. Still, I went in for a consultation where the doctor took some pictures of my tooth, gave me an analysis whether the 6-month braces procedure (ceramic type) was possible for my case. Because I didn’t have any major bite issues, I was eligible for the shorter treatment timelines (thank god!). And I was also happy to find out that I didn’t have to extract my canines (from my before picture you’ll see my canines protrude a lot!).

My before picture, some seriously misaligned teeth 

3. The big day

Getting braces is no simple procedure, here is a run-down of what happens before and on the day you actually get braces put in.

  • Appointment to take molds of your teeth (this will be fairly straightforward and painless, although the squishy material they use to make molds tastes pretty bad :P)
  • Eat all your nuts, crackers, apples, and hard foods before getting braces (I forgot this and even got Häagen-Dazs nut covered ice cream bars the day before and was unable to eat them!) Conversely, prepare some soups / soft food for the 2-3 days after the big day – your mouth will definitely be sour and you won’t be chewing on anything soon.

   vs.    

  • Getting braces put on was long but fairly painless. My appointment was ~1.5 hours. The orthodontist cleans your teeth, put glue onto the desired spots, and then glues brackets into place. Once the brackets are firm, the orthodontist will install wires which will apply pressure and serve to move your teeth into the right places.

  • Going home, it was very weird to have a layer of metal between my lips and my teeth but it didn’t hurt. However, I finally realized braces was no simple procedure when I had dinner. It was impossible to chew on anything because my teeth was sore and biting down hurts like crazy – so I literally broke food into pieces with utensils and swallowed.
  • Personally, the soreness and pain subdued after approximately a week and I was able to chew more properly. (I cut those Häagen-Dazs bars on the 3rd day with a knife and ate them though! Too much temptation.) For some people this recovery period can be longer so don’t get alarmed. If you’re worried, check with your orthodontist.

4. During the treatment

Some small items that helped me incredibly to prepare for yourself:

  • Dental wax – your orthodontist will give you a small box of wax and you can also purchase more from the drugs store if you run out. The idea is the soft interior of your lips will not like protruding metal – so putting on wax on the brackets can help ease the pain. Personally, I only used wax when the rubbing is really bad. Most often, you just have to wait it out until the blisters heal and your lips are used to the addition. T_T

  • Dental toothpicks – the thread-through floss that my orthodontist recommended for flossing actually didn’t work for me since my braces tightened the space between my teeth and it hurts like crazy to jam floss into those spaces. Instead, I bought some toothpicks to get to those areas and it’s also so much easier to use!

  • Mouth wash – the guideline is that you should brush your teeth after every meal while having braces. That may not be realistic in all situations. Personally at work, sometimes I just don’t have the time to brush after lunch and this is where mouth wash is a life saver. Using mouth wash gave me comfort that I’m taking care of my teeth while being also fairly convenient to use.

  • Lip balm – I can’t even start to count how many times I fell asleep with my mouth open, drooling, and woke up finding my lips totally dry. Frequent use of lip balm is recommended and this habit actually persisted with me even after braces removal. My favorite is Vaseline with aloe since this is a little thicker than normal lip balm and perfect for my situation.

Mostly my braces experience was quite smooth. I went back to the dentist office approximately every month to get my braces re-adjusted. After each adjustment I had to deal with soreness for a few days until the teeth get used to it but not too bad otherwise. Months 3-4 my teeth moved significantly and it was quite amazing to see the changes. In month 4, my orthodontist also prescribed elastics which ties my upper and lower teeth together and this was THE most painful part of my entire braces experience. Luckily, I only had to wear elastics for just over a month but I would never want to go back there. (Small tip: wear elastics as often as you can as instructed, do not think it’s okay to not wear for a couple of days. This will delay your treatment and only means you have to wear elastics even longer!)

5. The results!

The day I finally got my braces off was unbelievable. Honestly when I first got braces and when it was hurting I thought the end was so far. But it finally came, and with another long procedure, my braces came off. I stare at myself in the mirror, smiling, with nothing on my teeth and it feels unreal. Everything was worth it.

   My before and after comparison (8 months) 

That being said, I was still caught by surprise so that’s why it’s important to do research and ask your orthodontist lots of questions. So I knew that I would have to wear retainers at night, but I didn’t know my orthodontist planned to put in permanent retainers for me. To my dread, after removing the brackets on the front of my teeth, my orthodontist started gluing small brackets to the back of my 12 front teeth, 6 upper and 6 lower. My dream of being free of metal in my mouth was crushed. Googling as soon as I got home, I learned sometimes permanent retainers replace or are used in conjunction with removable retainers and they are kept in for as many years as possible. So this fact took some time to get used to, but at least I won’t have to worry about consistently wearing my clear removable retainers (which surprisingly hurts!).

 

I was hectically Googling during many stages of my orthodontist procedure and looking back I wished I had stumbled upon someone else’s brace journey and learned what to expect in advance. So I hope this help you whether you’re considering getting braces or is already in the process.

Good luck! Cheers to a beautiful smile. 🙂

bowl of supplements with sunflower in the back

3 tips to choosing quality nutritional supplements

Whether you are bothered by consistent head aches, always feeling tired, or completely healthy, supplements have the potential to drastically improve your life. Or, not do anything at all, if chosen incorrectly. With thousands of nutritional products, each claiming to work wonders for your body, here are some tips for choosing quality supplements.

1. Have reasonable expectations

Many people believe you don’t need supplements if you are not feeling any discomfort. However, even if you are young and healthy, it’s very hard to get all the nutrients you need from diet alone. There are almost 20 different vitamins and minerals that help your body functions properly. Supplements will help provide the nutrients that you’re not eating consistently.

At the same time, don’t expect supplements to be the magical healing pill. While in some cases, replenishing a deficient nutrient can make a huge difference, most often the effect is small and slow. Think of it as wearing sunscreen. You don’t see immediate results and the measure if mostly preventive, but committing consistently will give long term benefits.

2. Do your research

Research the company of the product and ensure it’s reputable. Information like how long the company has been operating, what products they sell, and what products they sold in the past are all good indicators.

The product label itself also gives tons of information. Check for proper product numbers and certifications. Also have a look at the ingredients list, does it really contain the nutrients promised in the marketing?

An article on HuffPost Living recommends checking if the ingredients are quality products by the way they are named [1] :

Poor quality, poor absorbability Choose instead
Calcium Carbonate MCHA, Calcium Citrate
Magnesium Oxide Magnesium Citrate, Magnesium (Bis)Glycinate
Zinc Oxide Zinc (Bis)Glycinate, Zinc Picolinate
Cyanocobalamin Methylcobalamin
Riboflavin HCl Riboflavin-5-Phosphate
Pyridoxine HCl Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate
Folic Acid Folate (L-5 MTHF)
Iron Sulphate Iron Citrate, Iron (Bis)Glycinate

3. Understand the science

Understand why you need a supplement and what it’s doing for your body. While you may not be a nutritionist, you understand your body the best and what it needs. So understanding the science behind supplements is the best way to choosing the most effective products.

Isotonic supplements became popular a few years ago and everyone jumped on board. But what’s the science behind isotonic products and why does it really work?

Taking you back to chemistry class, an isotonic solution is a solution with the same osmotic pressure as another solution. Meaning your solution has the same concentration of “things” dissolved in water as a “second liquid”. In the world of supplements, the “second liquid” is usually the human blood.

diagram of hypertonic versus hypertonic versus isotonic

Why is this important? Because when fluids flow across membranes (such as in your body), the difference in concentration determines the osmotic pressure which determines the direction fluid flows. In other words, concentration can determine how well or fast your supplements are absorbed by your body!

Of course, there are other factors that affect how well you absorb the nutrients you ingest. For example, vitamins can be either water soluble (water loving) or fat soluble (fat loving), and this affects how they are transported across membranes and stored in the body. We might cover this in another post.

One company that specialized in isotonic supplements is called Isotonix (surprise!). The entire product line of vitamins, minerals, and other health supplements are based on the idea of creating isotonic solutions to maximize absorption.

The flagship product is OPC-3. OPCs are oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes, naturally occurring plant metabolites widely available in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, flowers, and bark [2]. These complexes are known for their anti-oxidant activity but also demonstrates other effects which are said to be more powerful than Vitamin C or E. The Isotonix OPC-3 contains:

a combination of bilberry, grape seed, red wine, pine bark extracts and citrus extract bioflavonoids (and) isotonic-capable Pycnogenol, renowned for its extensive clinical research with more than 120 studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

bottle of Isotonix OPC-3

The Isotonix OPC-3 

This product also differs from other common supplements by coming in powdered form. The idea is to mix the powder with water according to guided amounts to create the isotonic solution. Powders also provide the added benefit of being easier for the stomach to break down. Sources suggests that pills can take 15 to 30 mins longer to break down in the stomach – which can be significant for some drugs and active ingredients.

Tip for using isotonic products: take product with empty stomach. You don’t want your carefully balanced solution to get diluted in the stomach!

 

Hope you enjoyed some of these tips for choosing and using nutritional supplements – and we can all work together on a journey for healthier living!

 

References

[1] “6 Tips For Choosing Quality Supplements”. The Huffington Post. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

[2] Fine, Anne Marie. Oligomeric Proanthocyanidin Complexes: History, Structure, And Phytopharmaceutical Applications. 1st ed. Alternative Medicine Review, 2000. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

5 scientific methods to waking up early for anyone

There are thousands of articles online that explain the benefit of waking up early. You can exercise, read, meditate, eat a proper breakfast, and perform work uninterrupted. Some articles go as far as saying waking up early is a trait of every successful individual. But if you are anything like me, despite knowing all the benefits of waking up early, actually doing it is quite another beast. So today, I want to share with you some scientific methods and tools that helped me to wake up earlier, and hopefully help you as well!

1. Monitor your sleep cycle

Humans sleep in cycles. This means while you sleep through the night, you actually go through cycles of “light” versus “deep” sleep. In scientific terms, these are REM (rapid eye movement) or NREM (none rapid eye movement) stages. REM corresponds to light sleep, when dreams typically visit you. And NREM corresponds to deep sleep, where you brain and body really gets refreshed. Looking at a sleeping cycle graph, we all cycle between REM and NREM several times a night.

sleep cycle graph

So how does understanding sleep cycle help you wake up earlier? Well, the trick is to wake up in on the top curve of your cycle and not when you are in deep sleep. If you ever have an alarm clock jolt you from slumber you know what I’m talking about. Personally, I started using an app called SleepTime that monitors my sleeping patterns using my phone’s accelerometer. Then within a period of time that I need to wake up, SleepTime rings the alarm when I’m in the lightest sleep. Usually, I find I’m already conscious by the time the alarm rings.

Although some guides will suggest sleep cycles are usually 90 mins so you can manually calculate your alarm. From looking at my own data over the past several months, I find my sleep cycles vary a lot, from 1 hour to 2.5 hours – so the realtime measurements does a way better job.

Try it! It’s not about sleeping more, but sleeping right!

2. Circadian (light based clock)

Similar to sleep cycles, this 2nd trick is also about waking up naturally, when your body is ready to get up. The circadian rhythm is the body’s biological clock. It controls various biological functions so your body revitalizes and repairs during the night and then is energized during the day. Light is an important stimulus to the circadian rhythm. Before humans had artificial light, we slept when the sun went down and rose when the sun came up. So exposure to light is very important to resetting to circadian rhythm and telling the body it’s time to wake up. That’s also why most often waking up to an alarm in the dark is veryyy painful.

Luckily for those who don’t have direct sunlight when they need to wake up, there are light alarm clocks. Instead of a musical alarm, these clocks gradually fill your bedroom with light around 30min before you need to wake up – naturally adjusting your body. No more snoozing!

Philips light alarm clock

3. Problem solving alarm clock

This is for anyone who loves hitting the snooze button and then falls right back to sleep. Creators have came up with various innovative and fun apps that gives you a mental challenge in order to silence that annoying alarm – making you wakeup in the process. These tasks range from puzzle solving, math questions, to mini-games. Perhaps you will make the challenge so hard to solve that you’ll wake up before the alarm just to disable it!

4. Sleep early

I had to mention this even though it’s not really a tip or trick. But honestly from many struggling mornings the best thing to wake up refreshed and happy is to sleep early. Some humans just need a certain number of hours of sleep per night. And those hours don’t just appear magically. So while you plan to wake up earlier, also plan to sleep earlier. That’s the only way to healthy, sustainable way to approach this.

5. Get someone to wake you up

Finally, if all the biological stimulus still can’t get you to wake up early, it’s time to put on some social pressure. Wakie is a service that connects people to wake up people. Instead of waking up to an alarm clock, some stranger (perhaps from the other side of the world) will give you a call to wake you up. Imagine all the interesting conversations you will have! And now instead of dreading the alarm clock, you may actually look forward to it. Find out more about Wakie on their website here https://wakie.com/how-it-works/.

 

Enjoy these tips? Try them out tomorrow and share this article with others who you think could use an extra hour in the morning!

hand holding DNA sequence

DNA personalization: the future of beauty and health products

DNA personalization of beauty and health treatments will be the future norm. Just like the internet changed our lives in the last 20 years, genomics, the science of studying DNA, will drastically change how we live in the future.

Lucas Wartman, doctor and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, provided a first glimpse of the benefit of DNA sequencing. Wartman has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) since his last year in medical school, where ALL is often fatal for adults. In 2011, Wartman relapsed for the second time and no one in the world has ever recovered from a second relapse of ALL. Running out of both treatment options and time, Wartman’s colleges at the Washington University suggested to try sequencing Wartman’s entire genome and see if they can pinpoint the cause of his cancer. The first human genome was sequenced in 2008, but sequencing an individual’s entire genome was still no easy feat. Luckily, Wartman had access to the university’s 26 sequencing machines. After several weeks, scientists was finally able to find the culprit. By another chance of luck, Pfizer, the drug giant, happened to have a drug that targeted this exact problem. After taking the drug, Wartman’s situation improved and the cancer has not returned since.

The benefits of DNA sequencing extends well beyond the treatment of cancer. Obviously not everyone have access to dozens of sequencing machines, but technology is advancing quickly and you will be surprised at what is already available for consumers. In this article, we will explore the use of DNA sequencing to personalize beauty and health treatments.

How DNA tests work

DNA is the underlying molecular code of human beings. It controls everything from your hair colour, talents, and immunity to diseases. While environmental factors also contribute to your physical and internal characteristics, for example exercising to gain muscle strength, your DNA still determines how effective exercising might be. Because each individual is unique, understanding their DNA means we can personalize products and routines to get the most effective and efficient results.

Many companies are already jumping on board this trend to provide personalized beauty and fitness products. They offer a simple DNA test where:

  1. A test kit is sent to the individual
  2. A saliva sample is collected by the individual (using a swab)
  3. The saliva sample is sent back to the analysis lab of the company
  4. Company does analysis of the DNA sample, usually only for a few select genes
  5. A report (and sometimes customized products) is sent back

picture of mouth swab for dna testing

These tests are not as expensive as you think, most kits range from $100 to a few hundred dollars depending on the complexity of the analysis.

In the below sections, we give a few example companies that are already on the market. Keep in mind that since these products are still in early stages, make sure to research in advance on the services they offer before committing and remain critical of the results. Happy DNA testing!

Personalized skincare example

GENEU

Background: UK based company that is one of the early adaptors of DNA testing for skincare

Focus: DNA test and products focus on protection against skin aging

What: DNA test complemented by a lifestyle profile, only looks at 2 genes that contribute to:

  1. antioxidant protection
  2. collagen breakdown

Product: personalized serums based on DNA results and lifestyle profile with varying concentrations and active ingredients

Cost: £89.00

Website: www.geneu.com

 

Personalized weight loss and fitness example

DNA Testing Canada

Background: Canadian company that provides comprehensive testing and results for diet and fitness

What: Diet and Fitness Optimization Testing. Through saliva swab DNA test, testing through unconventional samples available for additional cost.

Product: Comprehensive report on diet and fitness related genes, what they mean, and relevant advice. A sample report is available on their website here. Quite an interesting read.

sample DNA testing result

Cost: $669.00

Website: dnatestingcanada.com/product/diet-and-fitness-optimization-testing/

bottles of essential oils

Why you should start using tea tree oil in your skin care routine today

Always on the hunt for acne treatments, this week I will explore tea tree oil, why it works, how to use it, and review some products that I’ve experienced so far.

What is tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil (TTO) is the essential oil obtained from the leaves and branches of the Australian narrow leaved paperbark (Melaleuca alternifolia). Numerous studies have been done on the effects of tea tree oil, largely on its antiseptic effects. In other words, tea tree oil is used to treat wounds and skin conditions, preventing microbial infections. [1]

Due to the antiseptic effects, tea tree oil is most commonly used to treat skin disorders such as acne. [2] Other uses include skin inflammation, wounds, athlete’s foot, lice, mouth odour, cold sores – all because of TTO’s ability to kill bacteria and disinfect.

Treating acne with tea tree oil

Clinical studies found that the same concentration (5%) of tea tree oil is less effective than benzoyl peroxide (BP), a compound commonly found in counter medication for acne treatment. However, tea tree oil resulted in significantly less side effects such as scaling and dryness. [3] So if you are someone with a light acne condition or have sensitive skin, TTO might be for you.

How to use TTO? Tea tree oil can be found in many skincare / makeup products today – I will review some of the tea tree products from Body Shop below. You can also make a simple skin mask by mixing a few drops of tea tree oil with honey.

Read the labels. Check the labels for any tea tree oil product you use. The concentration of tea tree varies even in clinical studies. A 5% concentration is used in the study above for acne treatment, higher concentrations may be used for other conditions. Never ingest TTO!

Body shop tea tree oil products review

I heard of the Body Shop tea tree oil line even before I got into skincare. So during the sale season, I decided to pick up the tea tree targeted gel, the night lotion, and the drops of youth sleeping mask.

Body Shop Tea Tree Night Lotion Bottle

Tea tree blemish fade night lotion – I have been using this consistently for a month now. I like the packaging and the lotion is fairly hydrating which I love. This product does have a distinct smell, which some might not like, but I actually don’t mind because it feels like I’m doing something useful. My acne condition seems to be getting better with this product, and I definitely haven’t had any adverse effects. So I will continue using it hoping to completely calm down my face.

bottle of tea-tree-blemish-gel

Tea tree targeted gel – a concentrated gel for blemished skin. Comes in a mascara like packaging with an applicator tip. It’s very convenient to carry around and easy to apply. However, for $12 you only get 2.5 ml of product. Personally, I felt I was running out of product quickly and the gel was watery. Not recommended unless you are looking for something super portable.

For both of these products, the actual tea tree oil (written as Melaleuca alternifolia oil) is only the 8th ingredient listed. More prominent ingredients include calophyllum inophyllum (or Tamanu) seed oil, willow bark extract, honey. While tea tree oil is definitely present in the formula, in the future it will be interesting to explore the exact concentration.

drops-of-youth-bouncy-sleeping-mask

Drops of youth bouncy sleeping mask – A product that ABSOLUTELY surprised me that I LOVE. Although reading the ingredients list while writing this post I realized this product totally isn’t part of the tea tree line. I was just naive enough to assume because they all have green packaging. T_T Anyways, the marketed ingredient is actually stem cells from edelweiss, a scarce flower found in high altitude mountain ranges.

2 edelweiss flowers on mountain sooo pretty…

The product is a white gel of heavy consistency and smells amazing. I cover my face with this mask as the last step of the night routine and my skin feels completely hydrated. The best part, I wake up in the morning with fresh, radiant skin that is not dry or oily. If that’s not enough, the product comes in a heavy glass container which feels super great to hold – I’m definitely keeping it after I’m done with the mask.

References

[1] TEA TREE OIL: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions And Warnings – Webmd“. Webmd.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

[2] WHO Monographs On Selected Medicinal Plants – Volume 2: Aetheroleum Melaleucae Alternifoliae“. Apps.who.int. N.p., 2017. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

[3] Carson, C. F., K. A. Hammer, and T. V. Riley. “Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews 19.1 (2006): 50–62. PMC. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.

 

splashing water

Types of toning water and the science behind them

Toning water is a skincare product that is both simple and mysterious. It’s also the first makeup/skincare product that I’ve used a complete bottle of since my immersion into beauty. In this post, I will share some of the different toning waters I’ve tried, what they are, what effects they have, and why they make (or doesn’t make) a difference to your skin.

collection of toning waters

1. Avene thermal spring water

avene thermal spring water bottle

The all star product of the Avene family. Recommended by a drug store beauty staff  to my mother and ended in my hands. Honestly this was one of my first skincare products and I had NO IDEA how to use it. So I just sprayed it on my face after wiping my face and expected it would hydrate my skin. Instead, my skin felt even drier and it soon found a spot on the counter that I never touched. Awhile later feeling the need to investigate, I read the label more closely and realized you are actually supposed to “wait a few minutes, and then pat dray“. As a proud scientist, I was very ashamed of myself for neglecting a simple natural process – evaporation.

graphic on evaporation of water molecules

Water evaporates from the skin. In the same way that sweat evaporates from the skin, leaving you feeling a little cooler. So spraying water onto the skin, no matter how great the product is, will not hydrate the skin. From my personal experience, use a cotton pad to apply toning water for deeper hydration and use your cream or next product quickly to prevent evaporation loss. (This is also why you never want to leave a mask on your face until it’s dry!)

Final note, and this is true for most toning waters, toning water is simply – well – water. So don’t expect it to do anything magical. It’s also only good for short term hydration and will not make your skin more hydrated naturally. But if you just enjoy using the product, like me, go ahead!

2. MUJI toning water for sensitive skin

MUJI is a Japanese home goods and fashion chain that started making it’s way to North America. MUJI brand is “no brand” and focuses on quality and simplicity of their products. I am a huge fan of their stationary and home goods, but I digress. The MUJI skincare line is actually very good for the price range, and they have an especially good line for sensitive skin type

bottle of MUJI toning water

I am so strangely in love with the feel of this plastic bottle…

The toning water for sensitive skin is one of the first MUJI skincare products I bought last summer while in Beijing (also loveee their face cleanser!). Compared to other toners, for example, the Avene thermal spring water, the MUJI water feels a little thicker and therefore stays on the skin longer. Personally I like gently patting it on my face at night or making a quick and cheap water mask. If you have sensitive skin, you have absolutely nothing to worry about with this product.

3. Medicated Sekkisei (by Kose)

Another Japanese brand, and very very popular product. (I will save the background for another post, because these brands are quite complicated.) The medicated sekkisei series is renowned for it’s whitening effect on the skin and has won numerous awards in Japanese beauty. Although some have critiqued it’s higher alcohol content. Sekkisei roughly translates to snowy skin, so medicated sekkisei is essentially a product that gives you clear, white, moist skin with medicinal ingredients.

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS. If Avene and MUJI are 7/10s on my toning water list, this is 9.5/10 – only because scientists don’t like to be 100% sure. Use this water and lotion combination put my acne situation in control within 3 months. My face felt clearer. And this is the only product, so far, that makes my skin feel totally different after application. AND LASTS! OMG!

The only downside, it’s hard to get in North America (in Canada especially) and that hikes the price tag up. I bought both the toner and the lotion together for <$60 in Japan, and on Amazon it’s $50+ for just the toner alone. T_T

5. Skin Intelligence pH skin normalizer

First of all, you are probably wondering what pH skin normalizer is, and what it actually does. Back in grade 7 chemistry class, you might remember dipping small strips of litmus paper that turns blue or red when you dip it into liquid solutions to measure the pH. The skin also has an optimal pH level, around 5, which is slightly acidic. This slight acidity helps protect the skin and being way off can cause serious damage overtime.

graphic of healthy pH level of skin at around 5

This particular pH skin normalizer I use from Skin Intelligence* was a travel sized spray that I tried out a while ago. It’s marketed to contain herbal ingredients to help maintain a healthy pH.

I didn’t notice any immediate effects, however, I was not using it consistently and my skin was in okay condition. That being said, I really liked the feel of product, lighter than the MUJI toner but heavier than the Avene one. The mist is also very fine, which makes the application process super enjoyable and fast.

6. Caudalie micellar cleansing water

This product is not really a toning water. As the name suggests, it actually a cleanser, and a makeup remover, and a moisturizer, all in one. Sounds too good to be true. So I decided to try it out.

Micellar water has actually been around for awhile. Initially invented to help the French avoid their harsh water supply. Micellar water contains micelles, a aggregate of amphiphiles, or a cluster of molecules that are both water loving and fat loving. This means micelles are dissolved in water, but attracts oil and dirt from the skin. The product should remove makeup, clean the face, and also leave the skin hydrated at the same time. Perfect for traveling.

Personally after a couple of uses of the Caudalie micellar cleansing water, I have no doubts its makeup removing abilities. Foundation and eyebrow products come off easily with a quick wipe so that’s pretty amazing. Although my skin don’t feel dry after using the product, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of no rinsing though – since I’m so in love with my current cleanser. So my next goal will be testing with just the micellar for a night and see what happens! Stay tuned.

 

*FYI, we may get a small benefit from the sale of this product. Love Wendy. Get more details here.

many question marks

9 essential products to buy as a makeup newbie

Are you a makeup newbie getting dizzy at the thousands of items at Sephora and the drug store? Are you trying to learn makeup but have no idea which products to start? Look no further. In this post, I summarized the top 9 must have items, in order of purchase, and the most useful tips for beginners. Basically, if you only have budget for 1 item, buy #1 from this list, and so on! All the tips come from my own experience of successes and failures so enjoy!

1. Makeup remover

Before you even start putting product on your face, get a makeup remover. Don’t worry too much about the kind of remover since you won’t be doing any heavy makeup yet so just pick a brand and type that you like. I cannot emphasize how important this is. Taking care of your skin from the beginning and not leaving residue on your face will save SO MUCH pain later on.

2. BB cream or foundation

The first product I would recommend any makeup newbie is a BB cream or foundation, depending on their skin condition. The reason is having flawless, radiant skin will make the MOST observable and natural impact to your look. Just think of photo editing apps. If your skin condition is good, go for a BB cream that will even, smooth, and brighten your skin tone. Choose a shade close to your natural skin tone and no one will even notice you have makeup on. Otherwise if you have a lot of acne or blemishes, you might want to get straight to the foundation. The tradeoff is there are usually many more shades for foundations, and you will have to go to a counter to try out before buying anything. I repeat, go and try it. Or you will end up with a whole tube of stuff you will never use.

A personal tip is to get liquid foundation instead of powder. 1) Liquid products can be applied with fingers when you have zero tools as a newbie, and 2) they are usually more hydrating and easier to apply evenly for a mistake free finish.

3. Eye brow pencil

Unless you have naturally perfect eyebrows, an eye brow pencil will be something you will not regret purchasing. They are cheap, hard to go wrong on the colour, and also experience the least variation from brand to brand. Especially for people like me who are missing part of their brow, an eye brow pencil will offer a super high return on investment. Choose a pencil in black or dark brown that blends into your natural brow colour. And remember to buy pencils that doesn’t need sharpening. (Again remembering we don’t have any tools yet!)

A small tip for beginners is to shade with small strokes as if you are drawing in individual hairs. The last thing you want is a solid block of colour. Blur the edges slightly with your fingers or a small brush to create a natural look.

4. Lipstick

Next, adding a little colour will also help really improve your look.  A lipstick (or many) is an essential component of a women’s purse. Choose a colour that suits your style, and you can always layer lightly or fully to achieve different shades and effects with the same lipstick. Personally, I like to use a light prune shade only on my inner lips and add colour to my face with blush instead. Start subtle in your colour selection and application, and you can’t go wrong.

5. Mascara

For both the eye lash rich individuals and the lash-less individuals. Mascara is another product that is easy to apply but will give you immediate effects. Make sure the mascara you buy is waterproof, or you will look like a panda in no time. However, waterproof mascara can be hard to take off, so that’s where #1 in this list comes in. The trick to smooth mascara application is practice and finding the method that works best for you. In general, start at the bottom of the lashes and move the brush head up in a zig zag fashion. Put something between your eyelids and your lashes to prevent excess mascara from sticking to the skin. And oh, try to avoid clumps of product on your eye lashes – it’s possible to take out clumps sometimes by applying a 2nd layer or gently brushing the lashes out.

6. Eyeshadow

More specifically, neutral eye shadow. Eye shadow is probably another item that there could be whole blogs about so I’m going to focus on makeup newbies. The safest but nevertheless stunning option is to get a 2 shade neutral eye shadow. By neutral think of skin and earthy toned colours. AVOID buying shadows in your favourite bright colour! I brought a smoky eye palette with various shades of blues, black, and sparkling grey as a naive makeup newbie and that palette is… untouched.

The most basic trick is to cover your eye socket with the light shade, and then go up to the crease line with the darker shade. To create more definition, make sure the end of the eye is darker than the front. The tip that applies to any good look is to blend relentlessly, no awkward lines!

 

For complete newbies, the above six items are probably a good place to start. Experiment and get comfortable and you can already create a glamorous look. But if you are more adventurous, there are a few more products that can really enhance the quality of your makeup:

7. Highlight

If you already know a bit about makeup, you are asking what about contour? Contour and highlight goes hand-in-hand to provide better definition to the face and its features. Especially in the west, contouring can probably become an art of its own. However, from my own experience I find it is easier to not make a mistake with highlight versus contour for newbies. I could easily lighten up my nose bridge, my jaw…etc. without too much risk of going overboard. As beginners who doesn’t have a good understanding of the face or the desired effect, the advice is to go for products that doesn’t have strong colouration and to go light on the face.

8. Powder

A good powder will help set your makeup and make it last. I used to go to an event with makeup and come homes to a mess. And I thought that was normal, until I came across powder. Just dust it lightly (both pressed powder or loose powder work) on your entire face as a final step and you’re good to go for a long time! Powder is also useful for absorbing excess oil off the face. So if  your face becomes oily and reflective after awhile, just dust some powder, and voila, beautiful polished makeup again.

9. Eyeliner pencil

Eyeliner probably deserves a higher spot on this list. But it is also something that takes time and practice to perfect and personally something that always went wrong in my early days. For starters, buy a black eyeliner pencil that doesn’t require sharpening (because it’s a pain and hard to get right). And PRACTICE. Whether it’s the inner eye line or the outer, practice drawing clean lines and not cringing. The result is totally worth it.

Hope this was help to you. Obviously there are many other products such as primers, concealers, fake eye lashes, various forms of the above mentioned products that didn’t make it to this list. These are my best recommendations and tips from my own struggles as a makeup newbie. But always remember to choose wisely based on your own needs and don’t be scared!

How to get the most out of Aloe Vera

As a child, my family had an aloe plant in our balcony and my parents taught me that rubbing aloe on my skin will make it softer and more beautiful. Today, aloe vera is found commonly in skin care products and is often marketed to have a myriad of effects. In this article, I set out to explore what exactly is aloe vera, it’s scientifically proven effects, and how to use it properly for the desired benefits.

What is aloe vera

Aloe vera (L) Burm. f. (Liliaceae) is a plant with long, thick leaves. When the leaves are cut apart, a clear, almost gooey flesh is revealed. This clear gel from the leaves of the aloe vera plant is harvested, processed, and added into most aloe products today.

 

Aloe vera gel is not to be confused from aloe vera juice, usually a brown-yellow liquid excreted from the leaves and is used in drugs that treat occasional constipation. [1]

Claimed benefits of aloe vera gel

Anti-inflammatory and treatment of burns

Clinical cases of aloe vera gel exist to treat 1st and 2nd degree thermal and radiation burns. Aloe vera has been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity in a number of studies due to the presence of several plant sterols. For everyday use, aloe vera gel is also used to treat minor wounds. As aloe gel is also found to help accelerate tissue healing and wound repair. [2,3] It is worthwhile to note however, that most studies used fresh aloe gel as opposed to creams or powders. We will discuss more about this.

Reduce Acne

There are no definite claims of the effect of aloe vera against acne. However, aloe vera gel does have some anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. This helps to improve the general skin condition and reduce acne caused by infection or contamination. Take this claim with a grain of salt though as most studies are in vitro and examines different anti-bacterial properties. [4,5]

Moisturizer

Nature aloe vera gel contains 99.5% water. The other 0.5% contains polysaccharides, amino acids, lipids, sterols, tannins, and enzymes. [3] Of the various polysaccharides, mucopolysaccharides helps retain moisture in the skin by creating a protective barrier. So aloe vera gel can be an effective moisturizer, however, it needs to be used correctly.

Using aloe vera

So you’re sold on aloe vera. There are several things you should look for when choosing and using an aloe vera product.

First, studies suggest that aloe vera gel is the most effective when used fresh. So if you are looking to reap the full benefits of aloe vera, get an aloe vera plant and cut off a leaf whenever you’re looking for some gel. From personal experience, these plants are no hassle and quite fun to have! Quoting the World Health Organization:

At present no commercial preparation has been proved to be stable. Because many of the active ingredients in the gel appear to deteriorate on storage, the use of fresh gel is recommended.

Preparation of fresh gel: harvest leaves and wash them with water and a mild chlorine solution. Remove the outer layers of the leaf including the pericyclic cells, leaving a “fillet” of gel. Care should be taken not to tear the green rind which can contaminate the fillet with leaf exudate.

For example, I am currently using the Vaseline Lip Therapy – Aloe at night to help prevent my lips from drying out. The ingredient list is only 3 items: petrolatum, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, and aroma. While the aloe smells nice (or is it the aroma?!), I know that I can’t rely on the aloe extract as a lip moisturizer and all the magic happens due to petrolatum.

Aloe products

If you’re too lazy (like me!) or doesn’t use aloe often to justify an entire plant, you can look for pure aloe products to maximize your chances of getting the proper benefits.

Jason Soothing Aloe Vera 98% Gel – this product is mentioned in several articles on aloe vera. Since natural aloe vera is 99.5% water, having a 98% gel is a good bet that you will get as much as of beneficial ingredients as you can. However, the ingredient list does list Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice which makes me question whether it’s just fuzzy nomenclature or if they are actually referring to the real juice…

 

Ultimate Aloe Gel* – a product that I am using currently. Contains 100% whole leaf aloe vera concentrate. I have used it as a moisturizer for a long time and it really stabilized my skin. Right now it’s still my first treatment for acne when I scratch my face to make sure nothing is infected and the acne heals quickly.

 

Soothing & cooling after sun moisturizer – I wish I knew about this earlier. This summer I went biking for 6 hours without applying sunscreen wearing only a t-shirt and shorts. After a day, my entire arms, legs, and neck was red from sun burnt. To alleviate the pain, I picked up an aloe gel from the local drugstore and it was amazing! The gel feels cool and moisturizing on the skin and just disappears when I massage it in. I can’t find the exact product I bought in China, so I am linking the Banana Boat gel that looks similar but I have not used.

Another popular product is the Nature Republic, Soothing & Moisture Aloe Vera 92% Soothing Gel, you have probably heard or read a lot of it on other blogs already. Because I haven’t used this product personally, I won’t cover it here.

Final tip

It is not safe to orally ingest aloe vera gel! Do not confuse it with aloe vera juice.

References

[1] “WHO Monographs On Selected Medicinal Plants – Volume 1: Aloe”. Apps.who.int. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 Jan. 2017.

[2] Maenthaisong, Ratree et al. “The Efficacy Of Aloe Vera Used For Burn Wound Healing: A Systematic Review”. Burns 33.6 (2007): 713-718. Web.

[3] “WHO Monographs On Selected Medicinal Plants – Volume 1: Aloe Vera Gel”. Apps.who.int. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 Jan. 2017.

[4] Nejatzadeh-Barandozi, Fatemeh. “Antibacterial Activities And Antioxidant Capacity Of Aloe Vera”. N.p., 2017. Print.

[5] Athiban, PrakashP et al. “Evaluation Of Antimicrobial Efficacy Of Aloe Vera And Its Effectiveness In Decontaminating Gutta Percha Cones”. Journal of Conservative Dentistry 15.3 (2012): 246. Web.

 

*FYI, we may get a small benefit from the sale of this product. Love Wendy. Get more details here.