Let Your Ingredients List Be Your Guide

Choosing the right product is rarely easy for me because I want the BEST one at the most reasonable price I can find. And that means research; lots and lots of research.

One thing that can really take the guesswork out of the buying process is skipping the claims the product makes and looking at the cold hard facts: What’s in this stuff? When you start paying attention to the list of ingredients, you put yourself in the driver’s seat.

Here’s a great example: I’ve been researching skin care like a madwoman lately as I am utterly envious of makeup artist Lisa Eldridge’s skin. It is so gorgeous, and she uses a wide range of products to cater to every whim of her epidermis.

One product on her list (and the lists of many, many other women) is the Eve Lom cleanser. This mythical creature will run you between about $66 and $140. That’s about $20.50 per ounce at its cheapest. “Sounds like spreadable gold! Where can I purchase this fine product?!” you might ask.


Well, if you have a wooden cutting board at home, you might already be using the main ingredient to treat the wood that you use to cleanse your face: Mineral oil. That’s right. Mineral oil. Here’s the complete ingredient list for this cleanser:


I was utterly shocked by the lack of ingredients that are actually good at nourishing the skin. Save your money, and find an oil that works best with your skin type instead.

Acne Flareup: How I Dealt with my Angry, Clogged Pores

It happens to all of us. Your skin is doing fine with no major problems and then… Well, I won’t lie. I got lazy. One night, I went to bed without washing my face, which means I still had the remains of my regular foundation, etc on my face for the whole night. Combine that with the stress of looking for work in a foreign country, add a big dose of hormones, and voil-AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

I had not had acne this bad since I was a first-year high school teacher. Scratch that. It had not been that bad since before I broke up with my big ex (you know the type). And that was several years ago.

The first thing I did right was that I didn’t freak out. I knew my skin was getting hit from all sides, so it was not that shocking that it should react this way. I kept cleansing gently and moisturizing. I used an exfoliating masque with 5% glycolic acid as a spot treatment, and once they came to a head, I popped my zits wisely (see former article).

In addition I used (what sounded to me at first like) a weird and crazy “trick” that I heard about on HudaBeauty.com: Peel a very ripe banana (it needs to be a bit brown and spotty or at least have no green left to the peel). Rub the inside of the peel on current breakouts. I found that this was soothing to my breakouts (especially since I kept the peel in the fridge), and it helped my acne to come to a head. Once they developed heads, I used the acne.org technique to gently eliminate their contents from my pores. Then I soaked part of a cotton pad with my Holy Grail toner: Michael Todd True Organics Blue Green Algae Toner. It is gentle and moisturizing but with anti-bacterial/inflammation/acneic ingredients like witch hazel, tea tree, and black willow bark. While my spots where still sealing themselves back up after I squeezed them, I dabbed the toner-soaked cotton pad on the spots, and I swear that they healed so well! No repeat head formation or anything. They healed, I would say about twice as fast as normal and in a very healthy way.

The banana peel trick also helped calm another breakout after I squeezed it. It tightened the skin and helped it to close. Rubbing the peel on the red marks from past breakouts also really helped them to calm down/ reduce the redness.

Finally, I’ve drastically cut my caffeine and alcohol consumption to try and keep my skin hydrated. At night, I mix a small amount of my moisturizer with my serum and massage it into my skin until it has been well absorbed. The moisturizer helps with the absorption, and the antioxidants from my serum “feed” my skin the good stuff it needs to heal and repair itself.

Please don’t buy into the idea that oil is bad for your skin. It’s not. Balance is always key, but stripping your face of its natural oils and not using any products containing good oils makes your skin overcompensate with a large sebum production; then it seems like you break out no matter what, and over time, your skin becomes more and more sensitive and unable to find its natural balance.


Not sure why I didn’t publish this when I originally wrote it 1.5 to 2 years ago… One thing that I do very differently now, is that I put rose water (just pure, distilled rose water) onto my zit and try and get it to go down on its own without squeezing.

If I do squeeze it, I do it at night with clean hands. And afterward, I spritz it with thermal water like Avene and then apply rose water to the spot with a cotton pad.

This brings down inflammation quickly and may also help to discourage bacteria.

You Need More: The Popular Lie


This used to be my life. Ok, so maybe it’s a tiny bit of an exaggeration, but I remember having more shampoos, moisturizers, pore-cleansing strips, lip glosses and eye shadows than you could shake a stick at. Slowly, I’m coming out of my addiction to more.

I am currently enjoying the clearest, healthiest skin of my life, and just a few years ago, I would have been skeptical that the products I’m using now could do it. I bought into the idea that I needed a lot of different kinds of cosmetics to look my best.

I used to use nearly 50% more skincare products than I do now:

  • A morning cleanser
  • An evening cleanser
  • A moisturizer
  • A serum
  • An under eye cream
  • A facial scrub
  • A mask
  • A toner, sometimes two

Now I use

  • Makeup remover
  • Facial soap
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Rose water
  • Mineral water that sprays in a fine mist

Part of this change is that I live in France, and I don’t want to ship my products across the Atlantic just so my pores can look a little smaller. I’m working toward buying local and reducing the number of ingredients on each of the products I do use.

I loved my Michael Todd products, but the simple fact is that I didn’t need all of that. And my skin has a lot less redness and tendency to break out than it did before. It’s even less dry, as long as I don’t let myself get dehydrated by skipping the water and going for too much alcohol or caffeinated drinks.

All of these makeup brands are trying to push products like primer. Now that my skin is in good balance, I can spritz my face with the mineral water and/ or put on some aloe vera gel. While my face is recently hydrated and maybe a little damp, I’ll put on my foundation with a brush.

Unless I’m really, really dry on my nose, it works great. Honestly.

I think that one of the reasons my face was out of balance was that I was using products that dried it out or gave it too much oil/ moisture. However, I also think that skincare starts with self-care (i.e. getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, eating fruits and veggies, getting exercise, not stressing yourself out and just generally being kind to yourself, and washing your face with water that isn’t too hot, etc).

It’s hard to pinpoint, really. If you’re caring for yourself well, I think that you naturally gravitate toward products that will be better for your body and your skin because you’re listening to yourself.

For example, I used my Michael Todd moisturizer recently and experienced a lot of oil production and redness on my face. Now, there are some different reasons for this, but in the past, I think I just blamed it on my “bad skin” and thought it was normal because it was already a big improvement from how dry and red my skin was from using Dove soap on my face and products with lots of preservatives, fragrances, and other nasties from Lush (don’t get me started on how they pretend to be organic-ish and totally are not).


I’m currrently debating whether to repurchase just one Michael Todd product, their Honey and Oat cleanser. This thing gets all my makeup off (except eye makeup) without drying my skin, and I can just wash it off. My current cleanser takes off makeup, but I have to use cotton pads with it, which is wasteful, and then I have to wash my face after.

Hmm, I may start the hunt for some soft, reusable cloths for removing my makeup…

I am thankful that I’m (finally!) using more natural products and seeing such great results for my skin. I’ll do another post where I tell you exactly which products I’m using and what kinds of things to look out for if you don’t have that exact product in your area.

My hair is another story… Fingers crossed that I find a shampoo that doesn’t irritate my scalp, has natural ingredients, and doesn’t give me a greasy mop instead of a shiny mane!

What I Learned from Dita Von Teese

Whether you agree with Dita’s work as a burlesque performer or not, she seems to have a good head on her shoulders and to understand who she is and what she wants and doesn’t want out of life. And she is very, very glamorous. I think she is beautiful and has something valuable to say about beauty.

Some pearls of wisdom that I gained:

  • You deserve to feel sexy, and you get to decide what that looks like for you.
  • Choose clothes, lingerie, and accessories that fit you, suit your ideal style, and that make you feel good and glamorous.
  • It’s okay to dress in an overtly sexy way.
  • Being sexy doesn’t have to mean being cheap or trampy, it mean being classic, chic, confident.

In her own words:

  • Glamor isn’t about how small you are or how young you are or any of those things.
  • It’s something you create and something you believe in for yourself.
  • You can’t dictate to a woman what should make her feel sexy.
  • Confidence is the important thing with beauty, mostly. It’s really about doing what you believe is beautiful. I feel most beautiful when I have my red lips on and when I have my cat eyeliner on and my hair curled—that’s what I feel good in, even though lots of people will see me with straight hair and no makeup on, and they’ll say I look so much younger. I don’t really care, though. I don’t care if they think I look prettier without the makeup and hair — it’s about what makes you feel good about yourself. I like having makeup on; I like the discipline it requires.

Though she falls into the realm of the alternative and even the controversial, Dita is alluring, glamorous, mysterious. She has inspired me to take charge of my own image, to play with it and create it as I like. I feel challenged to stop treating myself cheaply by neglecting little things that would make me feel fantastic: Taking a bubble bath, getting enough sleep, washing my delicates (and wearing the nice ones) regularly, or even organizing my desk and keeping track of my receipts.

If there is something small or important that you could do that would bring you peace of mind and put a smile to your face, don’t put it off any longer. You’re worth the effort.

How to Effectively Treat a Pimple

No matter how well we do in our respective skincare routines, most of us are going to get a zit from time to time. When that happens, here are a few tips to help minimize the damage.

When to act:

Wait for the pimple to come to a head similar to the photo. If there is a clearly defined white head to the top, the blemish is ready to be released from under your skin.

Also, as much as I know you’re dying to, never pop your zit if you have to put on makeup later in the day. Your face will be red and irritated, the burst blemish will ooze making concealing the damn thing a nightmare, and your pimple will probably come back with a vengeance from being open and exposed to the makeup, dirt, and bacteria of the day. Another benefit of zapping your zit at night is that the red mark left behind won’t be in the sun for a good 10-12 hours. If you are sensitive to the sun, exposing red marks from previous breakouts to the light can lock them in for a long time.

Ok, so now that you’ve shown very admirable self-restraint and waited until you’re home for the night, and your pimple has reared its ugly head, you’re ready for action.

What to do:

First, gently wash your face with your normal face wash using warm water, and pat your face dry with a towel.

Next, follow the steps from this guide: How to Pop a Pimple

Damage control and healing:

Finally, soak part of a cotton ball or cotton pad in a toner that is formulated without alcohol but that has soothing and anti-bacterial properties, and occasionally dab it directly onto your healing zit wound. I absolutely love the Michael Todd True Organics Blue Green Algae Toner. If you only buy one product from them, I’d buy this. I can’t say enough good things about it (but I’ll try later when I review their line).

Keep dabbing the affected area for about 30-60 minutes after you’ve popped your pimple while the wound is oozing and the skin is working on closing itself back up. This will help soothe and clean your skin, keeping the zit from coming back worse than before and also preventing a hard, raised scab from forming (I’ve had way too many of those :P).

This method worked like an absolute charm for me this week. I had a nasty blemish on my chin caused by irritation from rubbing against my husband’s new beard. Thanks, honey! That night, I followed my regular routine and put on a combination of a little moisturizer (MTTO Citrus Cream Moisturizer) with an anti-oxidant-rich serum (Antiox Serum) that really softens and nourishes my skin. The former pimple was red but not at all scabby or inflamed the next morning, so I concealed the redness like crazy, and then the next day, I was delighted to discover that what had been a nasty, fairly painful zit looked like it had been gone a week. No joke.

The key is to be patient for it to come to a head and to pop it at a time when you can prevent as well as counteract further irritation.

Things to avoid: I don’t recommend drying a zit out out as this can cause flaking and irritation. Also, the skin can overproduce sebum and often holds on to clogs for longer when it is too dry. A little salicylic acid when you first feel like it’s forming might help prevent the pimple, but just keeping from touching it except when you’re (gently) washing your face should allow your foe to die out on its own. If it doesn’t, just ride it out. Concealing a non-irritated pimple really isn’t that bad. Dabbing on an extra bit of powder will mattify the area and make it appear smaller.

You know what isn’t easy to conceal? A red, swollen mass.  Unless you have severe or cystic acne, this reaction from a blemish usually occurs due to our impatience trying to pop it too early or when a pimple is handled with dirty hands or before the face was properly washed.

I’ve been there, and I’ve mangled my face and made it so much worse, created deep gashes in my face, and spent 30-45 minutes trying (and failing to conceal my destructive decision). Now that I’m a bit older, wiser, and willing to pick my time (get it?), my skin has never been happier.


Parabens: What’s the deal?



Many of you have probably read blurbs or articles or heard people talking about the evils of parabens, and I am not here to contradict them. However, it is worth knowing which ones to avoid like the plague and which ones are, though not great, not nearly as harmful to the health of your skin, hair, and body.

If you read my post on how to start reading your cosmetic ingredient lists, you’ve already heard me mention Skin Deep, which ranks cosmetic products and their ingredients by how toxic/non-toxic they are to your system. Basically 0-2 is Good, 4-6 is Fair, and 7-10 is Dangerous (see the detailed explanation here). I would like to pass along what I found out when I did a search for parabens in their database.

Baddies >:-0


10 PROPYLparaben is the big bad daddy paraben ranking a 10, or a high health hazard.

7 ISOBUTYLparaben,  BUTYLparaben, ISOPROPYLparaben these three were all rated at 7 and definitely to be avoided as they are also high health hazards.

Skin Deep talks about different kinds of hazards from cancer to allergies. These parabens pose a threat to reproduction and development, so you especially don’t want a build-up of these in your system if you are trying to get pregnant or are currently pregnant or nursing. Also, I would seriously avoid putting these on young children or even teens.

Creepers >;-*


These parabens are a bit friendlier and commonly-used but still not 100% trustworthy:

4 Ethylparaben, Methylparaben

3 Undecylenoyl PEG 5 Paraben, 4-Hydrobenzoic Acid

Good guys O:-)


2 Benzylparaben

1 Isodecylparaben, Hexamidine Diparaben, Phenoxyethlparaben, Phenylparaben, Calcium Paraben, Potassium paraben, Sodium paraben

Parabens are in a LOT of products, and unfortunately, hand and eye creams, sunscreens, face washes, foundations and many, many other products use the baddies in addition to two or three other parabens, which is a bad combo. It’s all well and good for products to say they are paraben-free, but they may contain other objectionable ingredients. For example, my new deodorant doesn’t have any Aluminum, parabens, alcohol, OR fragrance, but it does have BHT, boooo!

*A quick side note: to reduce your vulnerability to undesirable ingredients in your deodorant/ antiperspirant, shave your underarms at night so your skin doesn’t have any small cuts or irritations that might make you more likely to absorb the harmful ingredients or get it into your bloodstream directly. Read more about deodorant ingredients and the debate about their side-effects here.

If you look in your medicine cabinet or makeup bag and discover a few products with Ethyl and/or Methylparabens, personally, I’d use them up and then find an alternative for next time, but I take the baddies seriously, especially when they are paired with BHT, which is a synthetic anti-oxidant and preservative that has been linked with cancer (read this article, and this description for more details).

So remember to read the list of ingredients for your cosmetics before you buy them as much as possible. Personally, I like to check them out online before I go to the store, and I refuse to buy anything for which I cannot find the complete list of ingredients. There are plenty of fish in the sea. An effective and safe product is out there, waiting for you to find it or make it!


Become BFFs with your Ingredients Label: Ground Rules

One of the most important life lessons I have learned has been to question everything and to doubt the “experts.” At the end of the day the best thing to do is to trust yourself and investigate first hand.

Here are a few tips to help you begin decoding ingredients lists:

  1. The higher it is on the list, the more of that substance is in the product, so the top three ingredients should be ones that you think are worth paying for.
  2. The longer the list, the more likely you will react to something negatively (especially if it has added fragrance).
  3. The more ingredients that don’t have easily recognizable or short names, the less natural it is, and the more time it will take you to decode it all and decide if it’s worth putting on your body.
  4. If it has parabens or lauryl/laureth sulfate in it, it AIN’T organic!
  5. Reading the list is the BEST way to know what your product can really do. For example, if it claims to be anti-aging but has no SPF or antioxidants and contains drying ingredients, then it’s just a claim.

Even experts such as dermatologists and cosmetic researchers will tell you that many ingredients like parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, and phthalates are “safe in low levels.” Please don’t believe this. Here is why: Take a moment and mentally walk into your bathroom and take out every single product that you put on your face, hair, or body or use to clean your mouth. How many are there? How many times a week or even a day do you use them? How many cups or pounds of the “safe-in-low-levels” ingredients do you think you use over the course of a year? All of that is being absorbed into your body through your hair, skin or mouth, affecting your body chemistry.

I’m not telling you to start washing your hair with baking soda or to only buy “all natural” or “organic” brands. They sometimes contain just as much crap. What I am saying is that now, you have the keys to the kingdom, so start using them!

This website is very helpful: Skin Deep. Even if your product or brand has not been rated, you can examine each ingredient that you’re not familiar with and learn about what it is used for and its level of toxicity. Here’s an article that really helped me: Learn How to Read Cosmetic Labels

Knowledge is power. Challenge and investigate anything and everything that doesn’t seem quite right to you. At the very least, you’ll learn something new. At most, you could save yourself anxiety and protect your well-being.

If you’re like me, you worry all the time about seeming rude, impertinent, or paranoid if you speak up, but enough of all that! Remember what is at stake: your health, your peace of mind, and your self-respect. Don’t these things merit ruffling some feathers, altering your habits, cutting out products, or even changing doctors? You are worth it.