3 Must-Have Products for Gentle Exfoliation

3 Must-Have Products for Gentle Exfoliation | Writing Between Pauses

As far as exfoliation goes, I think I’ve worked my way through all the stages.

Stage 1: This is where we all start. Our skin is relatively perfect, but maybe we’ve recently turned 13 and started reading Seventeen. Suddenly, we become aware that something is wrong with our skin and we need to scrub all the layers off. That ad for St. Ive’s Apricot Scrub starts looking mighty tempting and plus, it’s only like $5, so your mom will definitely buy it for you. Or maybe she still has a tube of it in the shower—bonus! You start using it religiously, even though it kind of hurts. It does smell good, at least.

Stage 2: we’ve grown, we’ve evolved, and yet that tube of St. Ive’s is still mocking us, calling our names. But it leaves our skin so smooth. We read blog posts about other things and have our doubts… but St. Ive’s… so smooth.

Stage 3: We throw away the St. Ives and try to find something else. It might the most expensive thing the sales associate at Sephora recommends to us. We aren’t sure if it is any better than St. Ive’s, but hey, it’s worth a shot.

Stage 4: We stop exfoliating because we read a bunch of scary articles about it. Microtears!? Advanced aging?! No thanks.

Stage 5: We accept exfoliating—a gentler, kinder form of exfoliating—back into our lives.


For years, I read things saying that exfoliating would make my acne worse, or better. That it would worsen my scarring, or make it better. I never felt like I had a straight answer.

If you’re looking for a straight answer, I’m not sure I can provide one. Here’s what I can say: if exfoliating in any way makes you feel like your skin is better, why not do it? If you don’t connect exfoliating to any ill effects, go for it. Some skin types will benefit more from exfoliating than others—and deciding if it is for you is entirely personal.

So, when it comes to gentle exfoliating, I’ve narrowed it down to 3 products that I can’t live without. If you’re looking to up your exfoliation routine, I recommend these. And the best part? They’re all highly affordable.

1. A Face Sponge or Brush

I use a charcoal konjac sponge I got at TJ Maxx to gently exfoliating with my favorite cleanser a few times a week. It was about $2.99 if I remember right, but you can find very similar products at Wal-mart, Ulta, Target, and much more—all for under $10, mostly under $5. I have used a face brush in the past (a $6 one from Sephora brand) and while I liked it, I found it was much more difficult to keep clean. No matter what, it should be something that’s not super harsh.

Exfoliating products for winter

2. A Gentle Exfoliating Product

I love my Holika Holika Pig Nose exfoliator; as I said when I reviewed it, it’s an acidic exfoliator that doesn’t require scrubbing, but rather helps to pull dead skin away. I use this a little less than once a week now—maybe once every 10 days or so—on my T-zone and chin. It has made a huge difference in the appearance of my acne scars, as well as my pores. It’s one of my favorite products of 2018! It only costs about $2.99 if you can find it at TJ Maxx or Marshalls, but you can also order it from Amazon quite affordably.

Other products might work better for you. I’m quite intrigued by the new L’Oreal Pure Sugar scrubs, so they’re on my list to try. One thing I do try to avoid is 1) plastic microbeads, as they are terrible for the environment and 2) anything with walnut shells, as they are too harsh to use on my skin.

3. A Great Cleanser

We tend of think of exfoliating as something we should do only once a week… because that’s what we’ve been told. But the truth is, when you wash your face, you exfoliate. It’s just a natural part of the process. We know now that that thing about hot water opening pores and cold water closing them is a myth (I know, that’s a hard one to shake!); and we also know that we don’t need to physically scrub our skin all the time for it to be properly exfoliating. A combination of good daily cleansing, acidic exfoliation, and using a sponge a few times a week can help us have great skin that doesn’t get dull due to congested or dead skin.

I really like Pure Clay cleansers, as well as the Body Shop’s Tea Tree Oil facial cleanser. One important thing I started doing in 2018? Washing my face for 60 seconds each night. Yes, that’s right: 60 seconds. On average, we tend to only wash our faces for 15 seconds, perhaps 20. But if you spend a little more time rubbing small circles with your fingers over you skin with your cleanser for 60 seconds, you’ll notice a huge difference in your skin’s texture. Trust me.

I Tried Personalized Shampoo from Formulate & It Changed My Life*

I Tried Personalized Shampoo from Formulate & It Changed My Life | Writing Between Pauses

When I first received an email from Formulate several weeks ago, I was immediately excited. I had been looking into the myriad of personalized shampoos available—I knew that my scalp issues meant I needed something personalized, but I was put off initially by the cost of other brands I found, as well as their often wishy-washy stance about being cruelty-free.

But from the moment Caroline from Formulate emailed me, Formulate felt different. Firstly, they’re very upfront about their cruelty-free and vegan stance, as well as being paraben free, sulfate free, dye free, and preservative free. I was really excited to try Formulate and I especially couldn’t wait to start washing my hair with the shampoo they sent me.

The process of creating my shampoo (and conditioner, of course) was really easy. I actually filmed it on Instagram (you can watch it in the Formulate highlight!). I love a good quiz, so walking through picking what I wanted from shampoo, telling them about my hair and scalp, and more was not only fun, but helped me think about what I want from a shampoo.

I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I get so caught up in wanting my hair to look a certain way that I forget other things—like nourishing my scalp, preventing split ends, and preventing breakage. It was nice to be able to pick 5 things for my shampoo and conditioner to really target. The quiz and sign up process took me maybe 15-20 minutes.

The most interesting part of the quiz was when it asked for my zip code. This was so they could pinpoint where I live and adjust my formulation to the humidity, average temperature, and climate of where I live.

You know what else was nice? Being able to pick from a bunch of beautiful scents—as well as the strength of the scent. How a shampoo smells is really important to me, but I always find myself disappointed when I use a shampoo that smells great, but it doesn’t make my hair smell like that later.

I picked the Verdant scent for my shampoo from Formulate; Verdant is a combination of lilies, grass, and Eucalyptus. It’s flowery and herby at the same time. I also picked Strong scent—hoping that it would make my hair smell 24/7 like lilies. (Spoiler alert: it totally does!)

It took about two weeks for my shampoo and conditioner to arrive from Formulate. In the age of Amazon 2-day shipping, that feels like a long time. However, it gives the scientists at Formulate time to look over your quiz, analyze where you live, and make the best possible shampoo and conditioner for you.

The box my shampoo arrived in was beautiful. The shampoo bottles themselves look really cute. There is something so shallow about aesthetic packaging, but I think we all prefer things that look good, right? They also came with two pumps to use, which is good, because I am not good at pouring shampoo! Another cool thing about the bottle design is that both shampoo and conditioner have Braille on the side. You so rarely see this in beauty products, so it is nice to see packaging being adjusted for those who require Braille in their daily lives.

From the first use, the thing I noticed the most was the smell! I’m so glad I went with Verdant; I absolutely love the smell of it. And the smell sticks around for a very long time. (I did, of course, pick Strong for a reason!)

The second thing I noticed was that this isn’t a shampoo that foams up. Like most sulfate free shampoos, it feels more like a thin conditioner. I’ll be sharing some tips next week about washing your hair with sulfate free shampoo, because, trust me, there is a small learning curve! If you’re used to standard shampoos, there is a period of time with sulfate free shampoos where your hair has to adjust to a new formula. I’ll talk about that in my blog post next week, so stay tuned!

(Don’t forget to sign up to win your own formulation! Click here to enter.)

Formulate shampoo review

The Benefits to My (Poor, Sensitive, Abused) Scalp

If you’ve read my blog for a long time, you know that I’ve really struggled with my scalp for the last year or so. It’s been a hell of a journey: I’ve tried just about every shampoo and conditioner under the sun. I spend more money on oils for my scalp than skincare. I’ve tried hyaluronic acid serums on my scalp (helped!), I’ve spent a small fortune on medicated shampoos, and my dermatologist is honestly really sick of looking at my scalp and saying, “I think it’s just dry.”

When I tell you that my shampoo from Formulate has fixed my scalp, it feels a little bit like an exaggeration, but it’s not. One of the big factors I selected for my shampoo was scalp health; I have a very sensitive, dry scalp that has gone through some trauma the last year and it needs healed. So Formulate chose vitamin E oil, along with other soothing ingredients, to help heal my scalp. And it did! From the very first wash, my scalp felt less tight and itchy. After about two weeks, my scalp wasn’t flaky anymore. I’ve had a few flairs, probably from dry weather and me deciding to use a hair mask that I knew would probably make my scalp itch, but nothing like the past. I can honestly say that that is life changing. Not having an itchy, flaky scalp all the time is a huge deal.

Aside from my beautiful scalp (prettiest scalp on the block, if you will!), I’ve also noticed a huge change in my hair texture. I’ve always had very silky, fine straight hair. It has a little bit of a wave to it in some spots; my hairdressers have always described this as “straight-relaxed” hair, meaning it basically conforms to the shape of my head. (A nice description, I think.)

Since I started using my shampoo from Formulate, I’ve noticed a major change in my hair texture. I’ve always had a lot of hair—like an absurd amount, despite how fine it is—but it was pretty lank and took a lot of effort for it to have volume. I’ve had a ton of volume since I started using Formulate and my hair feels a little more wavier—less pin straight and more relaxed, and it doesn’t conform to my head so much. (I know that’s a weird way to phrase that, but how else do I describe that!?) I can only speak for people who have straight hair, but this is a huge improvement for me.

Is Formulate Shampoo Good

Wash Less, With Better Hair

Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to reduce the number of times I wash my hair per week. I know it’s drilled into us that maximum cleanliness means showering (and washing your hair) every single day. However, that can often cause, or make worse, scalp problems, as well as dry out our hair. (And it goes without saying: this all totally depends on your hair type!) I have managed to get down to 3 washes a week, but I’d like to reduce to about 2 washes a week because I find that’s when my scalp and hair feels best.

The great thing about Formulate is I feel like it helps me stretch the time between washes. My hair stays shiny and clean feeling for a lot longer, because I don’t have that residue build up caused by sulfates in shampoo. My hair is generally less oily, but still moisturized and pretty for several days in a row. No oily hair days!

As I mentioned, there are definitely some growing pains associated with going sulfate-free. I read a lot of articles as I started using Formulate and I will share more about this in a follow up blog post, but the number one thing I learned is that it will take several washes (about 3-4 weeks worth) for your hair to feel “normal” again. Using sulfate-free shampoo isn’t like using regular shampoo, but it does leave your hair just as clean (promise).

I can honestly say that the improvement to my scalp has made me want to never switch from Formulate! That alone is enough, but the scent, the way my hair looks and feels, the vegan and cruelty-free stance… it all makes me want to support a great company like Formulate.

The Second Formulation

I loved my Formulate shampoo and conditioner from that first use (honestly, the scalp benefits alone! I know I keep mentioning it, but it really is so huge for me). However, there were a few things I wanted tweaked.

That’s what is so great about Formulate. They work with you really closely in the first few weeks to help ensure that the shampoo and conditioner you use is perfect for you. The more you pay for a shampoo, the better your results often are; as someone who loves saving money, I’ve realized over time that… you pay for what you get, especially if you have a sensitive scalp or difficult hair! Formulate really makes your money go far though.

My initial feedback for Formulate was that I felt like my conditioner weighed my hair down a little bit and left a residue, specifically on the back of my head, that was hard to rinse. I also felt like my shampoo was just a little too drying on my hair. I sent my feedback in and a few days later, a second set of shampoo and conditioner was on its way to me. And the changes were HUGE! No more residue from my conditioner and the shampoo left my hair feeling silky and hydrated again. I’m so happy with my results from Formulate. And I know that if i start noticing any other issues, I can send them a note and get my shampoo and conditioner tweaked to improve.

Personalized shampoo review

This all leads me to the most exciting part of this collaboration with Formulate: I have a giveaway going!

You can enter to win your own formulation by clicking the button below. You’ll be able to personalize your own shampoo and conditioner and get the hair you’ve always dreamed of!

Have you ever tried customized shampoo and conditioner? What did you think?

Disclaimer: As indicated by the asterisk (*) in the title of this post, this post is a collaboration between Formulate and myself. I received product free in exchange for an honest review and promotion on social media. However, all opinions remain my own! Posts like these help me keep the lights on here at Writing Between Pauses. To learn more about my disclosure policy, click here.

3 Tips for Using Sulfate-Free Shampoo

3 Tips for Using Sulfate-Free Shampoo | Writing Between Pauses

Sulfate-free shampoo is all the rage in beauty communities. Jonathan Van Ness, from Queer Eye, advocates using sulfate free shampoos, as sulfates are believed to coat and potentially damage our hair. I’ve written about going sulfate-free before, and a few things you need to know about going sulfate-free.

My perspective on sulfate-free shampoos is that there are going to be some people, and some hair types, that benefit from sulfates and some that don’t. For example. I think my hair actually thrives with shampoo with sulfates; I have pretty manageable, easy hair and I don’t use product very often, so I didn’t have to worry about build up. However, my scalp really hates sulfates because it’s incredibly sensitive, which is why I went sulfate-free about 6 months ago.

However, I don’t think going sulfate-free is right for everybody. If your shampoo works for you, then keep using it, honey!

But if you’re curious about trying sulfate-free shampoos, there is a bit of a learning curve to starting using them. The big difference between shampoos with sulfates and those without is that sulfate-free shampoos don’t foam. It’s more like using a thin conditioner. That first wash can be a little bit confusing if you’re not aware that your new shampoo won’t get sudsy. And for some people, that sudsy, squeaky clean feeling is really important to them! So, here are a few if my tips and advice for using sulfate-free shampoos.

1. You Need A Lot of Water (& Less Product)

We all have our own process for washing our hair. I know for me, I’ve been washing my hair a specific way for years and I rarely deviate from my routine. It’s something I don’t ever really even think about. I know how to rinse shampoo out of my hair, I know how to wash my hair, these are things I know. But once I started using sulfate-free shampoo, it felt like everything changed.

Here’s the thing about sulfate-free shampoo: like I said, it’s like using a thinner conditioner. It doesn’t foam up like soap does. So the process of washing my hair fundamentally changed and I had to change along with it!

One thing I learned, through a lot of trial and error, was that I needed a lot more water in my hair before I started washing it with sulfate-free shampoo. I also learned that I needed to spend a lot more time rinsing my hair, making sure I got all the shampoo out. If I don’t do these two very important steps, I end up having leftover product in my hair—which isn’t a great feeling.

As well, you need significantly less sulfate-free shampoo starting out than a standard shampoo. Just a single pump or dollop to start out, then working through your hair with plenty of water.

2. Growing Pains

The first few washes with sulfate-free shampoo often are what make people think sulfate-free shampoo isn’t for them. I know for a while I definitely thought I’d made a mistake; my hair no longer felt smoothy or silky, or even clean. It felt… weird. Dry, a little frizzy, and generally not as nice looking as I expect my hair to look. However, if you power through and keep on keeping on, eventually your hair will recover from the shock of not having sulfates anymore.

The thing about sulfates, for some hair types, is that they can coat the strands of your hair; when you stop using them, your hair has to shed all that built up product and residue. Some people can switch effortlessly, depending on their hair type, and others have a few days or weeks of growing pains.

So, with sulfate-free shampoos, remember: you’re going to have a period of adjustment.

3. Condition, Condition, Condition

Going sulfate-free means that your hair is more likely to get dry, especially if you use heat styling products or live in a climate that is hot and dry. Conditioning is a huge step. Using a matching conditioner to your shampoo will be important, plus adding a weekly hair mask to help keep your strands looking fresh. I like using the Shea Moisture Manuka Honey mask once a week after shampooing.


Next week, I’ll be sharing a review of Formulate, a sulfate-free customized shampoo system that I have been loving lately. I’ve shared some details in my Instagram stories and you can watch the highlight here. Until my blog post next week, you can sign up for my giveaway with Formulate here.

My Monthly Wrap Up: December 2018

My Monthly Wrap Up: December 2018 | Writing Between Pauses

December was quite the month, wasn’t it? It always is (what with Christmas and everything), but this year felt particularly… full.

Let’s see: Danny and I went to Idaho for Thanksgiving, so we got back home just in time to get ready for Christmas. I had a load of sponsored content in December, all with deadlines. Plus, I had work. Forrest got sick. Then I got sick for what felt like 2 entire weeks. My brother got married (and as his accidental wedding planner, I felt like I was the bride a bit with how much work I ended up doing at the wedding). Then we had my mom’s birthday. Then Christmas. Then the New Year.

Now, Forrest is sick again, I’ve got a sore throat, and I feel like I’m rushing 24/7 to get caught up on how frenzied everything was in December. I didn’t have much time to write blog content, or social content, or actually do any kind of work whatsoever, between sickness, family events, and more.

It’s nice to think of January as a time to just relax, but I feel like I’ve jumped right back into being super, super busy.

And it should be said: I loved every minute of December. I love being busy! I love having lots of things to do and not being able to sit still. When I get bored, I get anxious. So December was a lovely month, but I would like to have time to actually blog this month!

Let’s get into this wrap up, shall we?

December 2018 Empties

My Empties

I feel like I used up a lot of products this month, despite really falling off the bandwagon with my skincare. (That’s probably why addressing my routine is one of my New Year’s Resolutions.) Here’s everything I used up:

  • Lump of Coal Charcoal Face Mask from Bath & Body Works

  • Egg Essence Mask Sheet

  • Sephora Instant Nail Polish Remover Pad

  • Sephora Express Eye Make Up Removed Pad

  • Tarte Shape Tape Deluxe Sample

  • Clean & Clear Deep Action Cream Cleanser

  • Sephora Charcoal Nose Strip

  • Sephora Bath Fizzes

  • Sephora Overnight Mask in Pearl

A lot of these were things from my Sephora Advent Calendar that I was trying to use up! I also received the Bath & Body Works mask from my mother-in-law in my Christmas present. Everything else was just a matter of using up: the Sephora Overnight Mask was leftover from a while ago and I was tired of seeing it on my bathroom counter; the Clean & Clear Cleanser was a sample I needed to get rid of (and I love how it feels even though I know it is garbage); and the Shape Tape was from my October Ipsy bag.

I feel like it was a good month for using things up, clearing out my drawers, and making room for, of course, more stuff.

My December Highlights

Posting More Photos of Myself

It goes without saying that i’m never 100% happy with my appearance. (And if you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know this is a journey that I have been on for a while.) Being a mom is hard, but the hardest part about it is feeling this pressure to not fall into a specific stereotype of a mom. Even though I know it is garbage and I know I shouldn’t do things to suit what others think of me (we can never control anyone’s perception of ourselves, right?), and I know that I am kinder to others than I am to myself, it is still a huge challenge for me. So, my goal has been in the last few months to post more photos of myself and to taking the stupid photo for the content that I’m working on. I tend to want to stick to product shots—do I matter? I ask—but I know it hurts my blog to not have very much of my own face on here.

So, if you noticed more photos of my on my Instagram this past month, it’s true. There are more! And I have even more that I plan to post! So fancy.

Getting Professional Photos of Forrest

I’m a little embarrassed that, despite my status as a mom who is pretty obsessed with my own child, I’ve never gotten professional photos taken of him. I wanted to when he was a newborn, but he was so small, so fragile, I felt like it was a bit of a “playing with fire” thing. By the time he was big enough and sturdy enough, we were paying hospital bills and having enough disposal income for a photo shoot wasn’t a luxury.

So, in November, I paid for actual, real professional photos of him and, gosh, they turned out amazing. I’ve gifted them, made Christmas cards with them, and basically just stare at them constantly. We had our photos done by Angelique (AH Newborns) and she did such an amazing job. I cannot recommend her enough!

Working with Formulate

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being able to work with Formulate this month. I wouldn’t normally include this in a wrap up, but I’ve had so much fun taking photos, writing content, and testing out my personalized shampoo. Most importantly, I’m so excited to be able to host a giveaway with them. I love being able to provide something to my readers; without you guys, this blog wouldn’t really be anything! And you’re the ones who enable me to be able to work with cool companies like Formulate. If you would like to enter my giveaway, just click here. I’ll have a blog post about my experience in the next few weeks.

I Tried Noom Coach so You Don't Have To

I Tried Noom Coach So You Don't Have To | Writing Between Pauses

In the efforts to be fully transparent, and as body positive as I can be while also working on my physical weight for health reasons, I tried Noom for a variety of reasons, some of them weight-related and some of them not. I’m really excited to tell you how it went. However, I understand reviews like these can be really triggering, especially for those struggling with negative body image. As always, if you feel something like this will be hard for you to read, don’t hesitate to close the window.

I started using Noom, an app that divided food into Green, Yellow, and Red groups, at least 5 years ago. I remember signing up and having the app on my phone. I didn’t like the Red, Yellow, and Green designations; I totally “got” it, but it didn’t really help my issues with seeing foods as “bad” versus “good.”

And while Noom does subscribe to the idea that making foods taboo is bad, using Red, Yellow, and Green ascribes them to “Stop,” “Caution”, and “Go”, which still arranges them on a spectrum of Good to Bad. For all their dedication to terminology at Noom, I don’t know why they kept this designation system! They could have at least chosen different colors.

Either way, I stopped using the app and promptly forgot about it until I heard an ad for that very same app on one of the many podcasts I listen to. “Huh?” I thought. “Noom costs MONEY now?!” I needed to know what the difference was.

Noom Coach is a program like the app I used way back when—that same structure of assigning food to categories and you eat a percentage of the category each day—with the added addition of a Goal Specialist, a Group function, and more. Basically, it became a support program to help you navigate both the physical aspects of weight loss and the emotional and psychological aspects as well. As someone who has struggled with my weight for a long time, I found this focus a little refreshing; there is a lot of psychology around the foods we eat and why (as well as the foods we don’t eat and why) and I’ve always been very interested in it.

As well, since one of my goals in 2019, is to have a second baby, I knew I needed to get to a starting point that would be less damaging to my body than last time. (Again, that disclaimer at the beginning of this post comes in). This is something I need to do for my long-term health, since having preeclampsia during a pregnancy massively increases my risk of heart disease. I thought Noom would be a great option for that, since it seems a little more gentle than, say, Weight Watchers.

What is Noom?

Ok, so first things first: what is Noom? Noom is, like a said, a weightloss app. But it’s design is not just like MyFitnessPal or Weight Watchers. It targets the psychological aspects of weight gain and loss as well. Like I said, they divide foods into Green, Yellow, and Red. Basically, Green foods are foods that are nutrient dense, but not calorie dense. Everything in Noom is based on caloric density. Green foods are things like fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread, leafy greens. Yellow foods are things like avocado and peanut butter; nutrient dense, but also kind of calorically dense. And Red foods, despite Noom’s insistence that no that’s not the case are the foods you expect: butter, oil, fast food, coffees.

But it’s more than just tracking food. I only signed up for a 2 week free trial (and spoiler alert, I did not spend the money for the first 3 months), but I still had access to the Goal Specialist you are assigned immediately. After a while, you’ll also be assigned a Group Coach, as well as a Support Team. That means within the app you have daily articles to read, quizzes to take, and more, as well as daily weigh ins, tracking your intake, and more. Plus, you’ll have support throughout the entire time.

In theory, this sounds like a great program. They set you up for success right from the beginning and just ask you to be more conscious of choosing nutrient dense foods. For me, that worked really well.

My Experience Using Noom

I’m an emotional eater. I know this. I know it! I also know that I love, love, love certain foods and viscerally hate others. I am a very picky eater. I don’t like most condiments. I don’t like anything mushy. I struggle with leafy greens because I find the texture really unpleasant in my mouth. In general, I’m just a picky eater. I am also extremely busy and very stressed. I have a 3-year-old, a full time job, and a lot going on in my life right now. When I originally started this review, my brother was about to get married—and if you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that this was a huge stressful event in my life. Well, a lot happened both before and after the wedding; so much so that I had to put this review aside to deal with it and not use this review as a place to unload.

I’ll just say: my experience with Noom did not help my stress levels.

Like I said, I think Noom’s setup is absolutely great; the app is lovely and easy to use. I loved the daily articles about psychology. I loved the quizzes. The separating of food into color groups made sense, but I still found it a little triggering to see that Red column. There was one thing I had a huge problem with. It was my Goal Specialist.

I want to preface this, again, with this: I know 100% that my experience is based entirely on the fact that one person messed up and it ruined the entire app for me. I know that. And I know that if I had gotten any other Goal Specialist, who was more of a match to me, i probably would have spent the money on Noom Coach to keep going for 3 months. I know those things.

Ok, so, it’s time to talk about what happened.

The purpose of the Goal Specialist is to walk you through the goals you set up in Noom. My goal was to have a baby in 2019 and to get to a happier, healthier point, both physically and mentally. I won’t say the name of the Goal Specialist I was assigned; we’ll call her S. The thing about the Goal Specialist was that she only really sent me one message per day—and in fact, for the first 4 days of the program, I only got 1 message from her asking me to think about things I wanted to work on, then message her on Wednesday after I signed up. That was easy enough.

Here’s roughly what I sent:

“Hi S! I’ve been thinking about things I want to work on and I definitely think preparing ahead is going to be a big one. I feel like I’m busy all the time and end up grabbing whatever is easiest to eat once I get to work. I have a toddler and getting him out the door is my number one priority in the morning, alongside making sure my husband gets to work on time. I feel like I don’t really have the time or energy to really food prep, so ideas for grab-and-go items I can have ready would be amazing!”

I got a reply from S nearly 24 hours after I sent that. Almost always, if she messaged me in the morning and I replied immediately, it would be 24 hours before she replied again. I don’t know if this was part of the program, but it made communicating really difficult. I unfortunately didn’t save her response when I deleted and unsubscribed from the program and app, but this is roughly what she said:

Michelle, it sounds to me like you’re making a lot of excuses. We all have the same time in the day.”

Firstly, categorically, no, we don’t all have the same time in the day. I work 65+ hours a week adding up all my various jobs and responsibilities, on top of having a toddler, cooking and cleaning, caring for a large dog, and taking time for myself. I work out 4 days a week already. The subtle implication that I’m lazy made me see absolute red. This reply was not helpful and did not answer my question or request whatsoever; it didn’t help me get to my goals. It was demotivating and damaging.

My reply was absolute shock that she would say something like that to me. It was not a supportive comment to make to someone who was asking for very specific suggestions. I replied and told her that absolutely was not something I was ok with her saying and I would be requesting a new Goal Specialist. Which I did.

It took 4-5 days for them to assign me a new Goal Specialist.

In that time, S messaged me again and apologized, then again implied that I don’t grocery shop! So great, another snide comment about being lazy. Nice!

When I was assigned my new Goal Specialist, I was close to the end of my free trial. I tried having a conversation with my Goal Specialist about how I was struggling to remain motivated to use the app after S’s messages and, again, it always took nearly 24 hours to receive a reply. When I expressed concern about the program when it took so damn long for anyone to reply to me, the new Goal Specialist (we’ll call her A) simply apologized. Finally, I realized I was done; it wasn’t working for me, despite the fact that it had everything I really wanted in a weight loss app. I told A I wanted to cancel my subscription before the end of my free trial so that I would not be charged for 3 months.

It took two days for that to happen, but I wasn’t surprised by that.

Final Thoughts

I know that’s a lot to read. And trust me, it took me an embarrassing amount of hours to write it in a way that wasn’t just emotional.

As someone who is incredibly Type A and fears being seen as lazy, being called lazy was a huge trigger for me. (And again, I realize this is the action of one person, but it is one person who represents Noom.) It made me immediately not want to even open the app, let alone follow what it told me. If the representative thought I was just lazy and making excuses, then what did it matter? The things I struggle with—taking time for myself, taking a break from working, not having to be perfect all the time—are very real, and yet, I felt like my Goal Specialist had completely devalued the things I struggle with. She acted like they weren’t real and that hurt a lot.

I think part of this issue is this: i was assigned a Goal Specialist that was 1) much younger than me and 2) not a parent. I don’t mean this as a way to talk down to young people (she was maybe 22 or 23) or people who aren’t parents. But fundamentally, the life experience between a fresh-out-of-college Gen Z and a 30-year-old millennial is monumental. The same as between a non-parent and a parent. I definitely feel sometimes that young people and non-parents look at parents and think we are just being lazy in regards to what we eat and our activity levels. But it’s not true. We know it’s not true, but it’s impossible to fight a stereotype, ultimately.

And beyond just that life experience level, what does a Goal Specialist who has never been overweight, never had to rush a toddler into the car to get to drop off on top, never had to walk around with the evidence of pregnancy on their body forever, know about my life? About my experience in this body? About the invisible sacrifices I make both at home and at work daily? The ways in which I have to choose between my health and the health of my family? How can they help me when they think I’m just making excuses? If you read even a single article about working mothers, you know that we perform massive amounts of emotional labor and make sacrifices every day. (And when I say working mothers, I mean mothers who stay home too. Taking care of a home and raising children full time is work, they just aren’t being compensated.) What can a Goal Specialist expect to motivate me when they only see my inability to remember breakfast as being lazy? When they don’t see that in the time I forgot to grab a healthy breakfast, I dropped off a toddler who cried and wanted to stay with me, made sure my husband had breakfast and lunch for work, cleaned up the living room, got to work, arranged my schedule for the day, started working, and made sure coffee was made for the office?

We all have things we struggle with, of course. This isn’t unique to parenthood or motherhood. But I definitely felt that Noom was missing that crucial element of assigning Goal Specialists based on experience. It felt incredibly random and S just wasn’t a good fit for me. In fact, she set me back in terms of my mental health and it took a long time for me to be able to talk about it. I haven’t even told Danny about my experience on Noom.

So, to summarize, here are my thoughts:

  • Noom is, in theory, a great program.

  • There are still some major issues with the way Noom assigns Goal Specialists, as well as their system for tracking.

I found the entire experience really disappointing and, frankly, disconcerting. It’s the New Year and Noom advertisements are everywhere. if you see one and it sparks in you to try it, I hope this review helps you better weigh whether the cost is worth it.

My 2019 Skincare Resolutions

My 2019 Skincare Resolutions | Writing Between Pauses

I am getting to that age where every single new year officially feels surreal. 2019? Really? Wasn’t it just 2002? 2007? No? It’s been over 10 years, over 15 years?! I need a hand to hold, this is too much.

I’m also getting to that age where New Years Resolutions just feel like a bit much. I’m a goal-oriented person, but I don’t think I’ve ever kept a New Years Resolution, except for perhaps reading more and having a baby. I tend to work better with shorter goals that add up to something bigger (I’ve written about this before). So, I’m not writing general resolutions for this year.

However, the past 3 months have taught me something really important: I’ve let my skincare routine become an absolute mess. A combination of trying lots of different things in a short amount of time, combined with constant events, a lot of stress, and letting some not-so-great-for-me foods back into my diet has led me to the worst skin I’ve had in about a year. So I wanted to share some of my skincare resolutions for this year.

1. Quit Dairy (Again)

In September 2017, I quit eating dairy to see if it helped my cystic acne. Surprise! It totally did! And yet, this year, around September, I got very tired of having to hunt down my favorite almond milk, as well as having two milks in my fridge, so I just started drinking cow’s milk again. (I only drink milk in my coffee and even though I knew, I still told myself, “it will be fine”.) (Narrator’s Voice: It was Not Fine.) Even as my skin started getting bad in October, I told myself it was unrelated. This was me:

My Skin is FINE

I know I need to quit dairy again. I know! I’ve known! But I’m finally ready to do it again.

2. About That Routine

I’m a little embarrassed by how often I’ve washed my face and gone right to bed. No serum, no moisturizer, nothing. This is embarrassing because I know it’s so important to at least moisturize, especially in the winter! No wonder my textured skin is going absolutely crazy right now. So, getting back into a routine (that is, generally and for my skincare) is really important to me.

For those curious, this is my typical routine (when I’m not lazy):

  • AM: Wash face (L’Oreal Foaming Clay Cleanser), hyaluronic acid serum, Yes To Blueberries Anti-Aging moisturizer mixed with a pump of Aveena Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15

  • PM: Dissolve makeup with jojoba oil; wash face with Body Shop Tea Tree Cleanser; apply vitamin C cream around eyes & mouth; use Meriance Rejuvenating serum; use Meriance Night Cream.

We’ll see if those stay the same this year.

3. Up My Sun Protection

Protecting my skin from the sun is a minor obsession. I subscribe to the “cover up” routine: if your skin has a physical barrier, that’s the best protection. I use a daily SPF, but I admit it’s a really low amount, especially for my face. So one of my big goals this year is to find a new moisturizer with a higher SPF that doesn’t make me break out, as well as to start using sunscreen every day on my body, especially my arms and chest (aka the spots where we are all most likely to get accidental sun damage).

What are your skincare resolutions for this year? Anything you specifically want to fix or try?

Beauty Review: My December 2018 Ipsy Bag

Beauty Review: My December 2018 Ipsy Bag | Writing Between Pauses

I’m so glad I stuck it out for Ipsy because in December, everyone got 6 items instead of 5. I’m always here for a little bonus! Funny enough, last December, I wrote something like “the December Ipsy should have an extra little gift!” Now, I’m not crediting myself with this 6-item Ipsy, but I do think it’s funny that they decided this year was the year to do it.

The last few months of Ipsy have been a little ho-hum for me. So I’m really excited that I’m finally excited about a bag again! This month’s bag was really, really good minus one item—and considering it is a 6 item bag, that’s pretty good.

As always, you can read my past Ipsy bag reviews here. And don’t forget, if you want to try Ipsy, you can sign up using my code here.

December 2018 Ipsy Bag Value

1. Ciate London Glitter Flip Lipstick in Infamous, $9.50

This is a half-size lipstick (a deluxe sample). It’s 1.5 ml, as opposed to the full size 3 ml. Therefore, i priced it as half the usual price. I’ve been receiving a lot of Ciate London stuff, which is fine because I love their packaging! And I love this lip; it’s a fairly standard berry-toned red lipstick, that when you rub your lips together goes glittery. It’s an interesting lipstick and the glitter isn’t chunky or anything (shout out to the glitter balms I wore in middle school that had literal craft glitter in them). It will be gorgeous for a holiday party!

2. F.A.R.A.H 35E Tapered Blending Brush, $10

You can really never go wrong with a brush! I feel like I’m always reaching for a new blending brush, so adding another one to my collection is absolutely no problem. This one is especially pretty. The standard 35E brush with a non-decorative handle is priced at $10, so I kept this one at that value. It is a lovely brush though—very soft—and I’ve had good luck with the F.A.R.A.H brushes I’ve received in the past.

3. Dr. Lipp Moisturizing Colour Tint in Sweet Potato, $8.80

When I first saw I was getting a tinted lip balm, I was a little annoyed. But I ate that annoyance because this balm is, well, bomb. It’s tinted using sweet potato dye, which means it’s all natural. I also found that the brand Dr. Lipp makes a lanolin nipple balm, so to the nursing or pregnant women out there—might be worth a gander! Their prices are really affordable (once I ran them through conversion from pounds to dollars). And this tint is lovely; my lips feel moisturized and the tint isn’t too much. Just a nice natural color.

Is Ipsy Worth It December 2018 Bag

4. Steve Laurant Loose Powder Pigment in Antique Olive, $18.00

I love Steve Laurant products—I’m on record saying the blush I have from them is my favorite blush of all time. It’s so gorgeous. I was excited to receive a loose powder pigment, which isn’t something I use a lot, but I was so disappointed when my bag arrived and I saw I got… antique olive. What a shade! It’s like a shimmery khaki green. I will probably never wear it, but at least the packaging is pretty.

5. Tinct Nail Polish in Aarhus, $10.50

I can’t find this color on their website. As well, they seem to have completely different packaging. And the mL to oz measurements on the packaging I received from Ipsy do not 1) match the same size nail polishes on their website or 2) make sense. This nail polish is sketch. Also their website’s heading is “Mysite 1.” My SEO brain itches.

Either way, I don’t wear nail polish and I have NO idea why I received this. The color is pretty ugly too.

6. Kiss & Smink The Everything in Tulum, $20

This product is a great idea in thought, but in execution, it’s… questionable. It is a lovely product and I will use it, but the color I received is just a little too shimmery for me. This is an all-purpose stick: blush, eyeshadow, lips. It’s the color Tulum, which is a shimmery, light pink. It does look lovely as a blush, but it’s so shimmery. It looks almost like a highlight-blush combination on the skin, which is fine—except I stopped wearing highlighter, so…

What's In an Ipsy Bag?

Final Thoughts

The total value of this bag is $76.80. I’d say this is the best bag I’ve received int he last few months—I love just about everything in it minus the nail polish and the loose powder (which I don’t hate, I just don’t like the color at all). I feel like Ipsy is pulling out all the stops because they know I’m getting ready to cancel! That’s still my plan, but if this bag isn’t making me have my doubts… I do think it will be good to take a break though. This bag was definitely worth the $10 and I’m so excited to play with everything I got!

Beauty Review: The Sephora Once Upon a Castle Advent Calendar

Beauty Review: the Sephora Once Upon a Castle Advent Calendar | Writing Between Pauses

A very funny thing happened to me a week ago. It was a typical Monday. Actually, scratch that: it was not a typical Monday. Forrest had slept until well past 6am, which is very weird for him; when I finally woke him up, he was grumpy and just not his normal self. When I dropped him at my mom’s, he didn’t want to eat, he just wanted to lie on my mom’s couch. I arrived at work worried about him and a little flustered. And what did I find at work?

Advent Tweet
All my Advent Calendars

In October, I had tweeted about a dream I had where I received 10 Advent Calendars in PR. It was a silly dream and a silly tweet and I had kind of forgotten about it. Clearly, my coworker had not! This is one of the funniest jokes I’ve ever had played on me. She really committed! It was not what I expected to happen that morning, but alas, it did.

And even better, one of the Advent Calendars she got me was the Sephora Once Upon a Castle advent calendar. Last year, I dutifully reviewed the Ulta Beauty 12 Days of Beauty Advent Calendar to great success, but had passed on getting another one this year; I just wasn’t feeling it and I hadn’t had time to check for sales on beauty advent calendars.

This review, for that reason, is brought to you by my dutiful, lovely coworker who knows how to pull off a good joke!

The Sephora Once Upon a Castle Advent Calendar Value

(And yes, before you ask, I opened everything when I was bored while Forrest was sick. He’s better now, but I am barely able to speak I’m so sick!)

Here’s everything that came in the calendar, as well as the value:

  1. Peony Fizzing Cube - $1.44

  2. Eye Pencil to Go in Intense Black - $6

  3. Universal Brow Freeze - $12 normally (currently $5 on sale)

  4. Color High Nail Polish Mini in It Girl - $5

  5. Lip Liner to Go in Classic Red - $6

  6. Cotton Flower Fizzing Cube - $1.44

  7. Cream Lip Stain in 01 Always Red - $14

  8. Express Eye Make Up Wipes (2) - $1

  9. Blueberry Cream Body Wash - $1

  10. Instant Nail Polish Remover Wipes (2) - $1-2

  11. Color Hit Nail Polish Mini in Sugar Coated - $5

  12. 1 Small Nail File - $1

  13. 4 Stickers - $0.50

  14. Spiral Hair Tie - $0.50

  15. Small Owl Post Its - $0.50

  16. Flat Make Up Sponge - $2

  17. Charcoal Nose Strip - $3

  18. Colorful eyeshadow in Lazy Afternoon - $8

  19. Blush in Shame On You - $14

  20. Small Mirror - $1

  21. Cherry Fizz Cube - $1.44

  22. #LIPSTORIES in Labyrinth City - $8

  23. Express Eye Make Up Wipes (2) - $1

  24. Spiral Hair Tie - $0.50

All in all, not bad! Sephora originally listed the value of this advent calendars as $95; it’s no longer listed on the Sephora website because it’s sold out. When I calculated the value, even with my guesses for the smaller items (which, I’ll admit, are a bit generous), I got a total of $96.32. So, $1.32 off, which feels like a weird amount to be off!

A few items I could not find on the U.S. Sephora website. These include the Fizzing Cubes, which I found on the Australian Sephora website for $2 AUS; that’s about $1.44 US, so it was an easy conversion. This is actually where the extra $1.32 comes from exactly. It feels so weird that I estimated everything else correctly—the stickers, the mirror, the nail polish wipes—but an actual price calculated from one of their websites was wrong! So, they’re putting the value of the Fizzing Cubes at $1 even, even though they sell them for way more than that in Australia. Interesting, huh?

So what are the highlights of this advent calendar? Are there any really good items?

Short answer, yes. There are some duds, but I’ll get to those.

The Universal Brow Freeze, Lip Liner in Classic Red, Cream Lip Stain, Blush, and #LIPSTORIES Lipstick are all absolutely amazing products. I would say those 5 products alone make this calendar worth it. The Cream Lip Stain is in one of the most perfect red shades I’ve ever found; it is both blue-toned and firetruck-y, so it’s nice and bright without being orangey. I’m a little obsessed with it. I also love the #LIPSTORIES lipstick, as it is so smooth to apply and feels wonderful.

However, I do think the items need to be divided up a little more evenly: the item for door 24, the last day before Christmas, is a little hair tie! I feel like that should be one of the lipsticks, at least, or a bigger item. The last two items are repeats in general, so again, just a bit disappointing! I think that’s one of the things that makes this calendar feel a big wonky is that there are big stretches where you get a bunch of little things: the first doors open to such great items, then suddenly you get a nail file, stickers, a hair tie, and tiny post its… all in a row!

This is such a lovely calendar though and I’ve already repurposed the box into a toy for Forrest when he’s hanging out in my room. Pop a few small toys behind the doors and bingo, fun for kids!

While at the mall over the weekend (I know, sick and inexplicably at the mall? Sounds fun) I saw that my local Sephora still had a few of these in stock, marked down to a really decent price. So if you’re in need of a treat for yourself (or want to play a last minute joke on your coworker), now is probably the time to grab one!