Saturday, May 2, 2015

Holy Grail Products of the Last (Teacher) Year

Well, hello there, lovelies!  It's been a while, I know, but I'm back and ready to share my yearly favorites with you. "Yearly?  Doesn't she know it's May??"  you must be saying to yourselves.  But over here in Teacherville, a year ends in May (and a week ends on Sunday).  A new calendar year for us simply means two weeks to decompress in December, and then January brings a second semester in which we hit the ground running full speed ahead and don't stop until exams are complete, rooms are cleaned up, and our little (or big) lambs go home for the summer.  So, with that said, I wanted to share with you some of my tried-and-true favorite makeup and skincare products of the last *teacher* year...

First up, skincare.  A multi-tasking, powerhouse of a moisturizer that I have grown to love is CeraVe Moisturizing Cream.  A great bargain at about $12 for a huge container, this cream is surprisingly lightweight and absorbs into the skin quickly without leaving any greasy residue whatsoever.  It contains ceramides, which are lipids (fats) that are used to retain moisture in the skin.  I used it on my face all winter, and as I have started doing more freelance makeup artistry in recent months, I have found that it's the perfect pre-makeup moisturizer to use on clients with normal to dry skin.  (CeraVe PM, by the way, is a great option for combo/oily skin.  It has a gel-lotion like texture that also absorbs into the skin quickly and leaves it fresh and hydrated.)  I even put it on my elbows, knees, hands, and feet sometimes at night.  This just might be the moist perfect, multi-tasking moisturizer of LIFE...

My favorite warmer-weather facial moisturizer for daytime is the Garnier Nutritioniste Skin Renew Anti-Sun Damage Daily Moisture Lotion ($11).  I'm not so sure about the anti-sun damage properties (other than the fact that it has an SPF of 28...which is a little annoying...can you not just throw in an extra 2 SPF's, Garnier?!), but this lotion has the most perfect, lightweight texture that feels wonderful on the skin and under makeup during the spring and summer months.  It does have a light fragrance (which I love), though, so it may not be best for the die-hard fragrance-free crowd.  I am currently on my 4th bottle of this moisturizer.  
This year I finally branched out and tried a new toner.  I have been loyal to Clinique's Clarifying Lotion #3 for YEARS, but I have started trying some different retinol and Vitamin C products and the Clinique toner had just become too strong for my sometimes-sensitive skin (but I do think it is a great toner that provides excellent daily exfoliation for normal-to-combo/oily skin that is not being treated with any "serious" anti-aging products).  When I used to work for Clinique years ago, my counter was across from the Clarins counter, and I grew to LOVE so many of their products.  While a bit pricey, Clarins toners, moisturizers, masks, and self-tanning products are such a treat for the skin, and I almost always have one or two Clarins products in my rotation.  My new favorite toner from Clarins is their Toning Lotion for Combination/Oily Skin.  Nordstrom often has special deals on the larger sizes of their cleansers and toners around Christmas, and I snagged this big pump bottle in December for about $30.  With heavenly ingredients such as iris, sage, and guava extract,  it is gentle and effective at doing just what a toner should do - removing any remaining traces of makeup or cleanser and leaving the skin feeling fresh and clean.  An added bonus of this toner is its is DIVINE and to me it smells just like my favorite perfume of all time - Chanel Allure.

I am a big believer in using an eye cream day (plumps up fine lines and gives a smoother canvas for a concealer) and night (usually a heavier one for some anti-wrinkle action).  Up until now, I have rarely actually purchased any sort of eye cream because my "extras" drawer in my vanity is filled with so many GWP samples from Lancome, Estee Lauder, and Clinique.  But this year I discovered a fabulous, reasonably-priced eye cream that absorbs quickly, moisturizes well, and comes in a hygienic pump that is especially good for using on clients (though I also use it every morning myself), Olay Regenerous Luminous Dark Circle Correcting Hydraswirl (about $25 at mass retailers, but I usually wait until I have CVS bucks or a coupon and get it for much less).  As for its anti-dark circle properties, it does give a nice "glow" when applied, but dark circles are for the most part hereditary and can't be "erased" with anything but concealer.  (For this, I love MAC's Prolongwear, Illuminare Concealing Mineral Foundation, or Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer).  
My last skincare item may seem a bit unnecessary, but trust me...ask ANYONE who has ever tried these, and they will tell you that they are WORTH EVERY PENNY.  Shiseido Facial Cotton feels like fairy/unicorn kisses on your face, girls.  So soft, so gentle, and such a superior cotton to any of the "premium" cotton rounds you will find in the drugstore.  You actually get 165 of these heavenly squares for about $10, and they are bigger, thicker, and more absorbent than drugstore cotton as well.  While I don't use them for removing nail polish, of course, they are absolutely divine for taking off eye makeup (they absorb so much eye makeup remover that you can use one pad for both eyes!) and smoothing on toner because they are not only soft but have no sharp or rough "edges" that drugstore cotton rounds have.  See the pictures below for a comparison between a Shiseido Cotton Square and a CVS Premium Cotton Round. 
Look how much thicker the Shiseido cotton is with
no rough, "sealed" edge that will scratch your face..ouch!
Now on to makeup, which is a really hard category for me to choose my "holy grails" of because I have SO MUCH OF IT.  It takes me forever to use up a product since I am always rotating among so many different ones, and there are few that I repurchase or would repurchase if I ran out of them. But I do have a few makeup stars from this past year that I would not be without, so let's start with one favorite that I realized was a favorite when I broke my original one and after only a couple of weeks realized that I had to have another one, Lancome Color Design Shadow and Liner Palette in Kissed by Gold.  ($50) The bronzey-gold shade (the largest one) is absolute heaven (I have a bajillion shadows in this family, and this one is one of my favorites), and the matte medium warm brown is perfect for the crease.  I'll usually pat a little of the rosey shade on the center or inner corner of my lid, highlight the browbone with the non-disco-ball shimmery ivory shade, and smudge out my liner with the rich, dark shimmery brown liner shade.  This is travel eyeshadow palette perfection for me, and these Color Design shadows are so creamy, smooth, and pigmented.  

 Another Lancome love is this Absolue Powder in Absolute Golden.  ($57) This was a total random, impulse splurge during a Lancome event that I attended at Belk earlier in the year, and when the makeup artist pulled out this powder to highlight my cheekbones, I thought "What are you doing putting this pinkish-brown way-too-dark-for-my-pale-skin doesn't-even-look-like-a-highlighter business on my face, woman??!!"  And what would you know...I LOVED IT.  It gives the most beautiful, natural-looking sheen to the tops of the cheekbones, and it is not the least bit glittery or frosty whatsoever like some highlighters are.  It's like "highlighter for ladies," I have decided.  It's so subtle that I couldn't even capture its beauty in a swatch, but I am wearing it in a picture later in this post (will let you know in the caption).

Next up, a gorgeous cheek palette from Urban Decay.  Their Naked Flushed Palette in Streak ($32) is another example of palette fabulousness.  The blush is a beautiful, highly pigmented bright coral.  The highlighter is a pretty standard one (a little bit peachy)but very pretty as well, but the bronzer is the star for me - matte and light and perfect for pale girls like me.  This gem is also perfect for travel.

 Moving on to more peachy/coral/rosey goodness, I finally gave in to the hype and bought myself the much-loved MAC Stereo Rose Mineralize Skinfinish Powder in 2014.  A re-release of an uber-popular product from 2012, fans of the original version (which I never had) were up in arms about this newer version, which is apparently lighter and not as rich of a pinky-coral than the original.  On me, however, this new version is beautiful and I love to use it as both a blush and a highlighter and then put a pop of a pinker blush on top (such as Dior's Rosy Glow in Petal or my new favorite bright pink - Makeup Geek's Head Over Heels).  I don't think it is available currently at MAC counters, but I'm sure you can find it on Amazon or Ebay, and I wouldn't be surprised if they re-released it again in the future.

Moving on to more face products, I found a new foundation love and am currently on my second bottle of this fabulous, long-wearing liquid foundation, Estee Lauder's classic Double Wear Foundation.  ($37) This is my "school day" foundation, and it will make through a full day of teaching like a champ. When applied with another favorite from this past year, the Original Beautyblender, it leaves a flawless, smooth finish that doesn't cake or oxidize as the day goes on.  Sometimes I look in my rearview mirror when I get in my car after a long day at work and am shocked at how good my foundation still looks!
Another product that withstands a long day of work (or a night out) and that has been a total eyebrow game-changer for me is Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Pomade Waterproof Brow Color.  ($18) I still use her Brow Wiz to create a "shape" along the top and bottom of my patchy, crazy, over-waxed-and-plucked-in-the-90s unruly brows, but I then fill them in with this super-pigmented budgeproof pomade (sort of a dryish-cream texture) for precise, defined brows that don't smudge or fade whatsoever over the course of the day.
Moving on to skin, nails, and fragrance, a duo that I discovered last summer and just brought back into my rotation for the upcoming warm months is the Neutrogena Light Sesame Formula Body Lotion ($5) and Light Sesame Formula Body Oil ($8).  These two are summer body moisturizer heaven, and my "formula" is to use one pump of the oil for every three pumps of the lotion.  (Every once in a while I just do the oil after the shower when my skin is still damp and then pat it dry, but for  rushed mornings the lotion with just a tad of the oil is perfect).  The regular size of the oil doesn't come with a pump, but I just saved the pump when I used up the first bottle of the lotion and purchased a second (and I'm now on my 3rd bottle of the lotion!).

And when wintertime rolled around, I discovered this super-emollient, non-greasy body lotion that I ended up loving just as much as the Neutrogena - Lubriderm Intense Skin Repair.  It kept my skin, especially dry elbows and knees, super-soft all throughout the colder months.
I also started taking better care of my nails last summer, and two products that I have already repurchased many times are Zoya Remove nail polish remover (perfect for nail polish removal AND as a pre-manicure nail prep to clean the nail bed of any residual oils, lotion, etc.):
And a product that my good friend told me about after we went shopping at Nordstrom and I stood at the Dior counter ogling at how beautiful just one coat of their Nail Glow made my thumbnail look - Pink Armor Nail Gel.  ($12 at most Walgreens and CVS stores)  A coat of my old favorite Nailtiques Formula 2 plus a coat or two of the Pink Armor is my go-to "clean" manicure that I wear at least 3 or 4 days out of the week (and it will last 3 or 4 days without peeling or chipping).  It gives nails such a subtle pink glow and makes the tips of the nails appear super-white, and after a few days of this combination my nails have always grown a good bit and are strong and healthy and ready for a more "serious" manicure.
To keep my nails and cuticles healthy and give them a good overnight treatment, I came up with my own "concoction" this year of almond oil and this yummy-smelling Monoi Tiki Tahiti Vanilla Coconut Oil ($7 at Vitacost). I mix the two together and put them in this pretty cobalt blue glass dropper bottle that I picked up at Whole Foods, and I massage it into my hands and cuticles every night.  
I think that's a tiare (Tahitian gardenia) flower floating
in the bottom of the Monoi oil?...
Another great line of oils that I discovered this year are Nemat Perfume Oils ($12.99 for 1/3 oz).  I use their Amber, Sandalwood, and Vanilla Musk oils in the winter by themselves, mixed, or under some of my favorite cold weather fragrances (Chanel Allure and Allure Sensuelle, especially), and for cleaner, lighter scents that I want to give extra staying power to, I LOVE their Egyptian Musk oil.  Adding a dab of a perfume oil to wrists, behind ears, and d├ęcolletage before spraying on an eau de toilette or eau de parfum really gives your favorite fragrance much more longevity and more depth.  (You can find the "notes"of your favorite perfumes on sites like Fragrantica, and I usually try to pick a single-note oil that matches one of the base notes of my perfumes.  Read all about notes and other "perfume basics" in this previous blog post from 2013).  
As for fragrances, one perfume made it into my "holy grail" category this past year, and I'm sure it will come as no surprise that it is from Chanel.  Just like the Estee Lauder Double Wear and the Beauty Blender, everybody and their mother has loved and used this for years, but I am just now falling in love with it - Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Eau de Parfum.  (I rarely wore it even when I worked for Chanel back in 2008)  This crisp, gorgeous chypre floral contains notes of mandarin orange, orange blossom, bergamot, jasmine, turkish rose, ylang-ylang, tonka bean, patchouli, and vetiver.  I call it my "power perfume," and I usually wear it to work in cooler months.  This long-lasting, elegant fragrance makes me feel like I can take on the day, and I especially love it in the twist-and-spray packing, which is what I currently own:
On the left is the eau de toilette version, which I purchased to try
out for summertime just the other day.  Will update when
I have worn it enough to see how it compares to the edp!
The only haircare products that really rocked my socks this year are also classic, longtime loves for many women that I have only recently discovered - Biolage shampoo and conditioner.  They smell divine, have a nice lather, and leave my hair soft but not flat.  I also found a new WONDERFUL hairstylist this year (Atlanta girls - Image Salon in John's Creek is fabulous if you live near there.  Chris, the owner, is one of the best hairstylists I have ever had!), and he uses these products on my hair.  I usually buy the big pump bottles from his salon as well (which gives me just as good a price as Ulta).
These are the shampoo and conditioner for color-treated
hair, but I also love the moisturizing formula
And now....I've saved the best for last.  I am a complete and total lipstick addict, and I am always looking for the "perfect" shade of nude, pink, red, coral, etc.  And let me tell you...I found not one, but TWO perfect nude lipsticks this past year.  They are both pricey, but if spending a ton of money on these two gems is wrong...I don't wanna be right...  

The first I bought for myself back in August as a birthday present - Tom Ford Spanish Pink ($50).  Yes, you read that right - $50.  One of my fellow and absolute favorite bloggers Tracy at Beauty Reflections blogged about this a few months before, and when I saw how gorgeous it was on her, I knew I had to have it.  One of my 11th grade classes asked me in August what I had done for my birthday, and I whipped out this tube of awesomeness and said, "This right here, folks.  Tom Ford lipstick.  $50.  That was my birthday."  I don't now if they quite "got" who Tom Ford was, but one boy exclaimed, "DAAAANG, Ms. Clark...that thing come with a warranty??!!"  Well, yes, you could say it does, because I would be inclined to b$*#h-slap anyone who tried to steal this perfect peachy-pinky-nude lipstick from me...

A recent face-of-the-day featuring MAC's Stereo Rose,
Lancome Absolue Powder in Absolute Golden,Tom Ford Spanish Pink,
and one of my favorite shadows - Laura Mercier African Violet.
Necklace from Target.(Is that even normal when
your lipstick costs 4 times what your necklace costs?!!)
And speaking of b$* other favorite nude lipstick from this year is Charlotte Tilbury's much-raved-about Bitch Perfect. ($32..not as pricey, but I will still hurt you if you try to take it from me)   A little deeper and a bit more rosy than the Spanish Pink, this lipstick is complete and total neutral lip perfection on my skin tone.  If I had to pick between the two (though I wouldn't want to), this one would win by a slight margin.

Looking totally bitchy in Bitch Perfect...
And I have to mention my absolute favorite bargain lip pencil that I love to wear with both of these (and just about every other peachy/nude/pink lipstick and lipgloss that I has become a serious obsession...I have about 5 of them!), Avon's Glimmersticks Lipliner in Peach Envy.  ($7 regular price, but currently on sale for $2.99 as I type this!) This was an absolute random purchase that I made to reach a free shipping limit on an Avon purchase last year, and it has become possibly the most perfect nude lip liner I have ever found.  

And I will let those perfect nude lips conclude this long list of favorites from this past year!  

Thank you so much for reading, and I would love to hear some of your favorites from the last year as well!  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Lipstick Monologues & Consciously Beautiful - Empowering Young Girls & Women

Have you ever had the experience of encountering a stranger in an everyday place - shopping in a store, getting your hair done, sitting in a waiting room at the doctor's office - and somehow, almost instantly, the two of you connect as if you had known each other your entire lives?  And, have you ever wondered why this person's path crossed yours?  Was there a higher purpose for this chance encounter?   Did the two of you have a path to travel together?  Over the past few months, my path has joined that of a phenomenal, generous, determined, and compassionate woman whose presence in my life has opened doors both in my work as a beauty blogger and teacher and some long-ago-shut doors inside of my own heart - Ardre Orie.

When I first started this blog in the summer of 2013 and was just making Put On Your Big Girl Lipstick's presence known on social media, an Atlanta-based cosmetics company called I Love Me Glam was one of the first official "beauty" businesses to show me a little Insta-love and follow me.  I followed their page as well, and soon I started to see posts by its owner, Ardre, for a new organization, Consciously Beautiful.  I grew to love its daily posts promoting the idea of beauty and self-esteem for all women and young girls, and she, too, often would comment on my posts, which also included my favorite quotes and inspirational images or messages.  She would even occasionally re-post my "food for thought" posts and tag me in Consciously Beautiful's and I Love Me Glam's photos.  In the months that followed, we became quick "Insta-friends."

Though delighted to have connected with someone who was both a cosmetics expert and an advocate for a social cause that is very dear to my heart, I wondered to myself "Why does she follow me, just a sporadic, beauty-blogging, high school Language Arts teacher with about 300 followers who posts amateur photos of mascara and lipstick taken with her iPhone, the occasional meme or funny school picture of bad student grammar, and pictures of my much-missed life in Ecuador?"  But at the same time, another voice inside of me said, "Elizabeth...these messages are for YOU.  Not only for the Elizabeth of the past, who remembers comparing herself to her thinner classmates and hating her own tall, curvy body as early as 3rd grade, but also for the Elizabeth of today, who has spent 20 years as a high school teacher and has the eyes and ears of teenage girls upon her almost every single day."

And then, I saw this post:

Ardre was about to publish her first book, Consciously Beautiful: I Am Enough, and I would have a chance to meet her at a book-signing she was doing that following summer here in Atlanta.  I commented on her book announcement post and told her how excited I was to meet her and to buy a copy for my classroom, and she commented back almost immediately, saying how excited she was to meet me as well.

At the signing this past July, I had the chance to meet Ardre in person and also to meet some of the women who are the subjects of this moving and powerful book.  The book tells the stories of 21 women who, each in their own chapter, recount their stories of their battles with low self-esteem, poverty, depression, loneliness, discrimination, and a myriad of other struggles that so many women and young girls face each and every day.  The common thread among them, though, is that through one path or another, they each rose above these situations and learned to love themselves and not only survive but truly thrive in spite of their difficulties to become women who are now confident and successful and who embrace and celebrate their lives and love themselves unconditionally in a world that pummels us with unrealistic and distorted images of "beauty."  It is truly a must-read for all women and young girls.  At this very signing I also had a chance to sign up for her next event, The Lipstick Monologues, which was happening that following September here in Atlanta.  I filled out my application and left with my book, eager and hopeful to be a part of Ardre's next event.

Ardre and her daughter at the Consciously Beautiful:  I Am Enough book signing in Atlanta

About a month later, Ardre contacted me and offered me my first "big" opportunity as a blogger - the chance to attend The Lipstick Monologues as a guest blogger.   I was so thrilled at the chance to be a part of this production!

On the night of the event, I arrived at the venue early and got a chance to see all of the exciting backstage preparations including the hair, makeup, and wardrobe specialists as they worked to prepare both the actresses who would perform in the production and the models who would be a part of the fashion show that would also take place that night.
Ardre Orie  - this lovely woman is a powerhouse of productivity!

The night began with a fashion show that highlighted some of Atlanta's premiere designers, many of whom had created collections specifically for Ardre and The Lipstick Monologues.
Ardre opens the show wearing an original design by L. Collins,
one of the women featured in Consciously Beautiful

Christopher Macken - an Atlanta-based radio and
TV personality and celebrity fashion, beauty,
and lifestyle expert.  Mr. M was the evening's wonderfully
talented and witty MC and one of the funniest, warmest, and
most delightful people whom I had the pleasure of meeting that night!  

L. Collins - one of the featured designers of the evening and
more importantly one of the women featured in Ardre's first
book, Consciously Beautiful.
Her story of her journey from a painful and violent
childhood to teenage motherhood to successful
fashion designer is incredibly powerful and moving and
one of my favorite stories in the book.
Then came the monologues, each based loosely on the stories portrayed in the book Consciously Beautiful.  The performances told the stories of women who have found their voices, their beauty, and their power in the midst of heart-wrenching circumstances that they have survived including violence, sexual assault, debilitating illness, and abandonment.  Every performance was unique and rich in emotion, wisdom, and introspection and left the audience in either laughter or tears (or both) and filled with the energy and joy that abounds when women share their struggles and triumphs with one another.

The night ended with an energy-filled and exciting performance by Eshe, Grammy Award-winning artist and one of the original members of Arrested Development.

Eshe and Lipstick Monologues cast member Candice Rene
As I watched these women perform, I was in awe of their ability to so poignantly portray the raw emotion of each story and more importantly, to share each story with such confidence and dignity.  It occurred to me that it is not the act of "moving on" from our struggles, our grief, and our lowest moments that gives us healing, but the sharing of these stories with others and the connections we make with other women when we open up our lives to them that truly provide peace and resolution for us.  And, this sharing is not only a necessary healing for our own hearts, but it is a powerful "medicine" for others.  I spend each day with teenage girls, some of whom I know already have heartbreaking stories similar to these to tell, and I wonder if and when they will have an opportunity to share these stories with others.   No matter what dark corners exist in our own pasts - heartache, abuse, poverty, self-loathing, violence - don't we owe it to our young girls and fellow women and to ourselves to stop carrying these struggles around with us as if they are shameful secrets or excess baggage that make us feel ugly and worthless?  Isn't it time to bring light to these dark places and use our stories to heal and inspire others?  And isn't it time we give them the opportunity to share their stories as well and to experience the empowerment and joy that this sharing brings?  This is the mission of my friend Ardre Orie and Consciously Beautiful, and it is a mission that I am so proud to be a part of.

For everyone who attended and was involved, The Lipstick Monologues was a triumphant success and an absolute thrill and honor to participate in.  Ardre Orie is truly an inspiration and a woman on a journey -  a journey to empower women and young girls to find their true beauty and strength not just in spite of but even as a result of the struggles that they face and the messages and stereotypes aimed at women that are so engrained in our culture today.  

Visit this page for more information on the next Atlanta production, Love and War, which will take place in March 2015.  Also, be sure to follow both Consciously Beautiful and The Lipstick Monologues on Facebook to be the first to know about upcoming events and publications.  And, follow Ardre and Consciously Beautiful on Instagram for daily empowerment and inspiration!  

Stay tuned for my next blog post on Consciously Beautiful's Day of Glamour, an event that followed The Lipstick Monologues and brought together a very special group of women (including me!) and young girls for a day of beauty, pampering, most importantly connecting and sharing with each other in order to further Consciously Beautiful's message and mission.  

Thank you for reading, beautiful friends, and remember to be CONSCIOUSLY BEAUTIFUL.

Me with Consciously Beautiful founder Ardre Orie at The Lipstick Monologues