Thursday, May 21, 2015

One Out, One In: Lip Balms, Micellar Waters and Hand Creams

Like I said before, I still want to continue with "empties" to a degree but not be so freaking long-winded and boring about it. I think it got extra dull after I eliminated my monthly haul posts, so now I'm sort of merging the two together. Naturally I always have a new product ready to take the place of a finished one, so these are fairly easy to compile. And replacing one with another dedicated product ensures that I'll stay on track with a product and not open up like ten replacements all at once and drive myself mad.

Desk Lip Balms (I literally keep them on my desk at home where I work the most. And of course this means that I have a Nightstand Lip Balm as well as a Purse Lip Balm.)

OUT: Hurraw! Earl Grey Lip Balm - Accurate earl grey tea scent with a lovely coconut-based emollient balm. I just can't stand the weird oval shape that becomes super warped over time and doesn't glide well over the lip contours. Let me know when Hurraw! comes out with a regular shaped tube.

IN: Nivea Hydro Care Lip Balm - Because I am cheap but also because I have a weird affinity for Nivea and their lotion-y scent. These tubes go super quickly and I'm not overly particular about lip balm quality in spring/summer when lips aren't as dry.

Micellar Waters - Not a must-have in my routine. It's nice to have one around for the odd occasion though. I use them like toners rather than to remove facial or eye makeup.

OUT: L'Oreal Sublime Soft Gentle Micellar Solution - I think it's better than Bioderma and doesn't sting the eyes.

IN: Simple Cleansing Micellar Water (press sample) - Newly debuted in Canadian drugstores this year, it's better than the L'Oreal AND the Bioderma. If I have to repurchase micellar waters, I'll be looking for this. It's not often that the most economical ends up also being the best in quality, but Simple has done it.

Desk Hand Creams (So, obviously there's a Nightstand Hand Cream and a Purse Hand Cream.)

OUT: Nuxe Hand and Nail Cream - I really liked this and thought the light texture moisturized surprisingly well without leaving hands feeling greasy. The scent is honeyed flowers and really lovely. I'm just not sure that I'll still find it lovely if I have to work through a regular sized tube. I might repurchase some day.

IN: Avene Cold Cream Hand Cream - I wanted to try more Avene and caught this on sale. It has a weirdly thick and pasty appearance and texture that somehow turns into almost nothing by the time you finish working it into the skin. It does leave a strange protective layer that not everyone will be on board with, but as a frequent hand-washer, I like hand creams to leave a little something behind. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Beauty Shopping in Canada: Nordstrom Ottawa

I just finished reading this article on Canadian Business about Nordstrom's stellar customer service strategy and it's no wonder I had such a good time at their newly opened Ottawa location.

It seems that all roads in Ottawa lead to Rideau Centre, the main shopping destination. After a leisurely 30-minute stroll and speeding to a light sprint in anticipation through Confederation Park (...I couldn't help it), I saw the sign looming in the horizon. NORDSTROM. Beauty mecca. Mothership. ALL ABOARD!

For years we Canadians stared longingly across the border at the wealth of goods and deals to be had, wondering when such things would be within our grasp. Sure, we have the Shoppers Optimum program but sometimes you need something more than the dash-in-and-out drugstore treatment, ya know? The Bay aka Hudson's Bay is in the middle of rebranding, and while there are some rewards through their own points system and credit cards, their e-commerce site is a sorry mess and many of the stores are worn down and dingy, supplying not too many brands beyond the usual suspects like Chanel, Dior, Clarins, Shiseido, Lancome, Estee Lauder and Clinique. And Holt Renfrew -- dear, old, struggling Holts. Caught between old and new, never quite finding its balance. Doesn't even have an online shopping site nor does it make itself accessible to the average shopper. You have to spend an arm and a leg there to reap the benefits of their newly designed Icon Privilege program.

Nordstrom Ottawa is a breath of fresh air.

They have a large beauty section on the main floor, sharing a gigantic retail space with some menswear, shoes, accessories and a cafe. While the counters are nestled closer together, there's plenty of shopping space. I do think the beauty corner could afford to be much brighter, but lighting is generally a struggle no matter the retailer. In any case, Nordstrom Ottawa didn't have any frenetic BUY-KILL-BUY-KILL type of music which was a relief, and the staff are attentive but not overbearing, desperate or pushy. The vibe immediately says "Stay a while and enjoy yourself."

This says it all, don't you think?

While the immaculately neat and clean space is probably due to the newness of the store and unusually polite population of the City of Ottawa, I don't doubt that the chain goes the extra mile to keep it looking that way. I was most gratified to see a full Burberry counter because although I have access to Burberry via the flagship store in Toronto (dismally lit and poorly stocked, probably due to demand over supply) and The Bay (crappy website and not available in-store), it's nice to get my hands dirty with swatches in person in a nice, wide, clean space with soothing music, gifts with purchase and TRIPLE THE POINTS DAYS.

I scoped out MAC despite the fact that Canada is overflowing with MAC counters and was surprised to see a set-up unlike any that I had seen before (see below pic). Then I wandered over to the bath & body/nail polish section and had a nice conversation with a SA who helped me unbox the crappily labeled MoroccanOil products to find the items with the Original Scent, not the orange blossom or the new rose. She and a MAC SA gave me their cards and said that all I had to do was call the store, ask for an item and that they would send anything I want with free delivery. "Even a $5 lip balm?" I asked in awe. The response was a "Yes!" with a smile. Non-fakey and genuine, as far as I could tell.

Other brands at Nordstrom Ottawa are fairly standard: Chanel in its own austere corner space, Guerlain, YSL, Armani, Lancome, Estee Lauder, Clinique, Shiseido, Clarins, Dior, NARS and Bobbi Brown. It's missing brands like Shu Uemura, Kevyn Aucoin, Laura Mercier, Chantecaille and Sisley, but I guess they have to leave some stuff for Saks Fifth Avenue which also enters the Canadian market in the next year or two. (No affiliation between the two chains, by the way. Saks is actually owned by the HBC group who owns The Bay.)

Unexpectedly, I ended up spending the most of my time at the AmorePacific counter, only because I was browsing for a Mother's Day gift and the mother in question is a patriotic Korean who favours Korean brands for skincare and cosmetics. I ended up sitting down for half an hour to chat with a regional trainer who was visiting that day and became completely entranced by an eye serum because it literally eradicated the appearance of my crow's feet and it's magic and OMG we all need it you guys.

AmorePacific Intensive Vitalizing Eye Essence, CAD$103-105/USD$95

I also fell in love with their Cushion Compact which every other brand in the world is now trying to copy. AmorePacific is apparently the originator of the cushion compact, and it's pretty funny that Lancome, the company who goes to such lengths as to trademark terms like "swan-neck" for their mascara is now blatantly copying another company's innovation. Previously, I thought that the cushion was highly unsanitary and messy but the AP trainer said their cushions are antibacterial in nature and that the cushion shouldn't ever be washed. Even if you drop it on the ground, it will remain sanitary...!!! If that's true, then good on AmorePacific because that cushion felt incredibly cooling and refreshing on the face and the whole antibacterial thing is what makes the cushion idea worthwhile. In any case, I ended up wandering the city all day long in summer temperature with this foundation on my face, and it literally did not budge except where my sunglasses made indents upon the cheeks. I have my reservations about some of the claims but I'm mostly convinced at this point that I need it.

The other thing that impressed me about Nordstrom is the centralized and digitized membership reward program. You don't need any dumb cards or coupons to earn points. Once a store enters your name and phone number into the system, every purchase record and points rewarded are retained and accessible from any Nordstrom store so that all you have to do is to give the cashier your name. The Bay and its multiple card system as well as Shoppers/Murale and their paper coupons are downright antiquated by comparison. I think that I was told each dollar spent translates into one point and that 2000 points leads to a $20 redemption. The US Nordstrom site says it's two points per dollar spent, which I hope is the case in Canada also. (Canada doesn't have a separate Nordstrom shopping site and redirects to the US site.) Anyway, I was lucky enough to have jogged over there when their triple points days were in effect and immediately decided to make some room in my budget for some unprepared purchases.

Point system clarified:

And finally because Louise asked, I made a purposeful stop at the cafe (called E-Bar in this location) where I enjoyed an excellent americano and a Suzy Q donut (Ottawa fave) to fuel up for more shopping walking. There's not much food there but the coffees are great and that's really all you need when the store is connected to a large mall with more than enough food options.

Suzy Q Donuts and that is all anyone will ever need.

I ended up hopping into a Bay nearby out of curiosity and a SA there outright told me that she really wants to jump ship to Nordstrom because working conditions are better there as well. I can't wait for the Toronto locations to open: Yorkdale and Eaton Centre in 2016 and Sherway Gardens in 2017. In the mean time, I'll definitely be taking advantage of the store's free shipping policy and fabulous customer service whenever Nordstrom presents a better deal than other retailers. As much as I'd like to patronize more independent stores and Canadian-owned businesses, the convenience of shopping in a near-perfect environment is difficult to resist. Well played, Nordstrom. Well played and welcome.

Nordstrom Ottawa
Rideau Centre
50 Rideau Street, Unit 500
Ottawa, ON K1N 9J7
1-613-567-7005 (Beauty & Fragrance)

* * *

Shop Nordstrom's Half-Yearly Sale! 
Up to 40% off select merchandise until May 31. 

(This post is not sponsored or compensated. I just shop a lot! Eeep.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Changing Stance on Eye Creams

The VICHYs are press samples. The Algenist is a Sephora points perk.

Me poor eyes. They're getting old.

I'm not so worried about sagging and wrinkling so much as having healthy eyeballs. I've worn glasses most of my life, and eye issues run through my paternal genes. Seriously don't need to be dealing with more eye problems as I age. Because I now regularly wear sunscreen and treat myself to frequent chemical exfoliation, I'm careful about the products patted around the eyes. (Non-waterproof sunscreen in eyes = agony!) And fine, I'll admit that firm, bouncy flesh as opposed to wrinkles will be nice, too. But when I go looking for eye creams, I tend to stay away from the kind that promises too much. When I asked a Sephora SA recently to recommend a basic, hydrating eye cream in tubes preferably over jars, not gels and not "lifting" or tinted, she scratched her head for a few moments and was like, "But they ALL say that!" (I ended up with a couple of Origins samples that turned out to be in the fuzzy zone between okay to good -- it's hard to tell based on a few squirts.)

The two VICHYs and the Algenist sample jar are the three I used up over winter/spring, and my favourite between the three is the VICHY Idealia for day (reviewed). LiftActiv was okay but not particularly outstanding, and while I like the Algenist, I'm not convinced that it's worth shelling out CAD$90 for.

And this is the current lineup plus two in reserve. I apply the VICHY ProEVEN all around the eyes in the morning and at night, and I apply the VICHY Ultra Protection Sunscreen Stick SPF 60 all around the eye area after ProEVEN in the morning. I love the light but hydrating feel of the ProEVEN although I haven't seen any brightening or dark spot correction in the month and a half of daily use (right now I'm halfway through the tube, so I guess one full tube will last about 3 months).

As for the two in reserve, I picked them at a steep discount with the idea of giving them to my mom or sisters if I ended up with something else in between or didn't want them later on. I've used the Shiseido before, back in the day when I wasn't an eye cream devotee but started to pay attention to sun protection. I really like the VICHY sunscreen stick but the cap isn't very secure which is annoying. (I noticed that they redesigned this particular product in a yellow tube -- hopefully the cap issue is resolved.) And the good news is that none of these products are irritating to the eyes and they all feel pretty good on the skin. While I still think that some facial moisturizers out there are perfectly suitable for using around the eyes as well, the stress of dealing with a miss makes me more cautious and instead reach for creams formulated specifically for delicate eyes.

Edited to add an eye visual. This is me when I smile/scowl. No makeup, stray hairs, lines, pores, the whole glamorous package. Just being human.

Where do you stand on eye creams? A must? A scam? What's good for women in their late 30s?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Last Empties Post of This Kind

I've been sitting on this post for months, trying to find a way to sound more enthused about the garbage I accrued throughout winter. But, no, it's impossible. Writing empties posts used to feel highly satisfying and helpful, but I'm pretty good at finishing things at a steady rate now and don't feel that a monthly/quarterly tally is necessary at this point. Still, I want the blog to feel like a beauty diary more than anything else, so I don't want to stop empties completely. It just needs a new format.

What I'm going to do with this post is throw it out there sort of Toya-style and then move on with the new format after I get a few review posts out of the way. I'm also going to drastically shave down dedicated review posts in the future because they have been painful to write as of late. (This also means I won't be accepting press samples to review for the blog anymore but more on that later. I'll still feature press samples that were received prior to this month until the products are no longer in circulation at House Reductionista.) If you have any questions about anything you see here, just leave a comment!

Without further ado:

Adios, Starbucks empties bag.

Skincare - All were press samples that I've already reviewed, with the exception of the reformulated LRP Effaclar Duo[+] which is coming up and the Lancome minis and the mini Algenist eye cream (also to be reviewed, along with the VICHY eye creams).

Miscellaneous Eyes/Lips/Face Products - The Simple wipes (awesome at makeup removal) and Kaia Juicy Bamboo wipes (eco-friendly toner wipes) were both press samples.

Sunscreens and Skin Care Samples - Both sunscreens were reviewed or mentioned previously. Some were reviewed in a sorry attempt to revive a retro "Sunday Sample" series. I realized after the second post that one post per sample sachet was a total waste of time and space.

Hair and Body - I'd repurchase the Nivea and MO Hand Cream again.

Finished Makeup - The tiny nub left in the By Terry lipstick totally counts as being finished when I've worked it for four years and no longer find any joy in the remains. The RT sponge was a press sample and discussed in a Sponge Smackdown post. I think it's pretty terrible in quality and that no one should buy it, even if it saves money. But I'd repurchase the Clinique Lash Power Feathering Mascara and Hourglass BOW, BITCHES liquid lipstick whatsits.

Expired/Unwanted Makeup - The Joe liquid lipsticks are actually pretty good but they smell rank after only a few months. I just can't with stuff like that.

Holy shit, this feels nice. Smell ya later, long-length empties posts!

For sneak peeks of the new empties format, you can check out my Instagram (@reductionista) and look for #oneoutonein. Sometimes I conduct mini reviews on there rather than sit in front of the laptop to pound out a post because it's easier. I know it sounds like I have a massive case of the blogging fatigue (which I do), but I'm also looking for ways to revitalize myself and the blog in meaningful ways. You're still stuck with me!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Newest Brow Solution in Town: SEPHORA COLLECTION Tinted Brow Freeze

Benefit Gimme Brow what? Move over.

Back in October, I raved about Gimme Brow and how easily it groomed my brows to today's stringent brow standards. My own standard being rather low, I like products that I can just swipe on and go at a moment's notice with little room for error so that I'm not accidentally drawing Angry Bird brows on under-caffeinated mornings. I know that some people have had trouble with Gimme Brow which works best if you have *some* brow hair to begin with, and it does give me a half-second of annoyance when I have to wipe off a bit of excess product from the brush so as not to glop it on stray hairs, etc.

I was casually strolling through Sephora the other day when I took an odd detour into the SEPHORA COLLECTION corner of the store which I ignore 99% of the time, whether I'm browsing online or in-store. I think that for about 2-3 years now I've completely ignored this in-house brand in favour of prestige brands due to a slight hike in price and less than joyful experiences in the past. But I felt strangely forgiving and took a careful browse -- looking for hidden treasures, I suppose. And then I found the SEPHORA COLLECTION Tinted Brow Freeze (CAD$15) and immediately reached for the darkest shade, #04 Dark.

As you can see, it's a short and stubby pencil, and the wax tip is soft with a nice give but not so soft that it can't hold the shape or point. It comes in four shades: 01 Clear, 02 Light, 03 Medium and 04 Dark. I didn't bother to swatch Light or Medium because they looked warmer in tone than I would like, and after taking the three seconds required to swipe on one brow with Dark, I was sold.

Here's the before and after. Now, I like the brows to look as natural as possible and just want to shape and fill in some sparse areas so as to appear groomed without bringing attention to the brows themselves. Honestly, this is good enough for me.

The shade can be a touch more cool and grey because you can detect the contrast of the brown wax against the black hairs, but who is going to judge my brows from this close anyway??? (If you are... BACK OFF.) Then I got into a conversation with a Sephora SA who has curly brow hairs and said this was awesome for locking the hairs into place and I nodded along and was just like, "Right on!" Now that it's at home with me and I've experimented, it takes a lot of product to work through the hairs to "set" them into place and that ends up with the brows looking too dark for me. But I'm easy and don't care much that the hairs are pointing in several different directions. What matters is that the brows go on quickly and I can move on to what's really important: BLUSH!

Here's a comparison of the Tinted Brow Freeze against my two other brow faves, Anastasia Brow Wiz in Ebony and Benefit Gimme Brow in Medium/Deep. Um, excuse the fact that I can't seem to draw a straight line. :s

As you can see, Sephora Tinted Brow Freeze is significantly warmer but it's passable for black haired brows. At CAD$15 per pencil versus Anastasia and Benefit's CAD$28, I can live with it. This is my second tube of Gimme Brow but once I'm done with it, I don't see a repurchase in the future now that I have the Tinted Brow Freeze. I'm still on the first Brow Wiz and have a backup of it which is fine -- I like the super narrow tip that is perfectly sized for faking individual hairs on bald spots. It adds refinement and is necessary for the more dedicated days.

Obviously, you can find the Tinted Brow Freeze at Sephora. I'm so happy that I took that weird detour at the store. I never would have paid attention to it online, and I hate the drugstore alternative that is Maybelline Brow Drama. If you're still keen on the drugstore though, Larie has a nice review of the L'Oreal Brow Stylist Plumper.

CAD$15, 0.089oz. Made in Germany.

Ingredients: Microcrystalline Wax, Polyisobutene, VP/Hexadecene Copolymer, Cetyl Palmitate, Talc, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Myristyl Lactate, Candelilla Wax, Octyldodecanol, Myristyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Propylene Carbonate, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-T-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate.