Beauty Review

Beauty Review: Birchbox June 2019 Review

Beauty Review: Birchbox June 2019 Review | Writing Between Pauses

This is my third Birchbox of a 6-month subscription I was gifted. To jump to the point right away, my overall impression has been a little… lackluster. I enjoyed my first box; last month’s box had 4/7 samples as hair products. And this month’s box is better, but I still don’t get that excitement I thought I would have. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either, you know?

In short: I don’t look forward to my Birchbox arriving quite as much as I do my Ipsy bag. (And even better, I have a very exciting Ipsy review this month. Stay tuned!)

You can read my past Birchbox reviews here. If you’re interested in a longer Birchbox vs. Ipsy blog post, I’m working on one that will be posted in 2-3 months. So stay tuned! As well, if you’d like to sign up for your own Birchbox subscription, click here!

Birchbox Branding

This month’s Birchbox theme was self-care, clearly. My box included a pamphlet about how Birchbox isn’t a “beauty box” (er) and it had a checklist of self-care suggestions that included, “take a walk around the block” and “actually SEE your friends”, as well as things like “Plan some time off for 3 months from now” (yes! I can afford that!) and “moisturize your hands.” My favorite is “get some actual sleep (7+ hours please!)”; what a privileged thing to send people! I’d love to get 7 hours of sleep per night… I simply can’t. I’d love to take a vacation or go on a nature walk; I have neither the money nor the time.

I find corporatized self-care extremely embarrassing and painful, because these self-care items are very much about pampering. Lots of people take part in self care that is along these lines, but self-care isn’t prescriptive. Self-care is very much about taking care of yourself and your mental health—and sometimes self-care isn’t cute stuff like taking vacations and going on nature walks. It is taking a shower when you have been so exhausted for 3 days that showering is insurmountable; it’s taking your medication even though you might not want to; it’s cutting off toxic people because they are making your mental health worse.

So anyway, I found this very annoying. At the end of the day, Birchbox is a beauty box that sends out a few samples to a lot of people every month and while I’m glad any large company supports mental health initiatives, I would like to see them reflect those ideals inward. How is their medical insurance for employees? Do they provide mental health support, life-work balance? Do they accommodate mothers? What is their family leave policy? And most importantly: are all their employees compensated fairly? It’s great to send out a checklist of potential self-care items, but are they supporting actual humans in their actual policies? (This goes for all companies that decide to use mental health in their marketing, not just Birchbox.)

I’m off my soapbox now. Let’s talk about the products.

Is Birthbox Worth It?

1. Wilma Shumann Skincare Hydrating Collagen Eye Pads, $7.20

These made my skin burn, which is often a problem I have with eye pads and eye masks. They also didn’t seem very wet, as to open the packaging, you have to slide out a plastic tray (a waste of packaging!!) and it makes all the serum spill out. Not only is that a waste, I had that these plastic masks aren’t actually soaked with product; it just sits on top. Give me a biodegradable eye mask over this. The value for these is quite low, as a “full size” includes 5 sets of masks for $18, making each set of eye pads worth about $3.60.

2. Too Cool for School All-in-One Egg Mellow Cream 5-in-1 Firming Moisturizer, $7

I love this K-beauty brand and I love this moisturizer. This is probably my favorite thing I received and one thing I will probably buy a full size of. I’ve been really struggling with extreme dry patches on my nose and cheeks, especially during my cycle, and this is one of the few moisturizers that has really helped. A full size is 1.76 ounces and costs $36 (which is pretty expensive). This sample is 0.35 oz, making it around $7.

3. Beauty Protector Protect & Detangle, $2.94

You can find this at Walgreens. Walgreens! It costs $23.50 for a full size, which is 8 ounces. This sample size is 1 ounce, making it worth less than $3. It’s a perfectly fine detangler, but I’m not exactly impressed. I don’t know why, but I don’t feel like getting sent things I can buy at Walgreens is really fair! I can go to my local Walgreens and find these things myself.

What comes in a Birchbox

4. Arrow BOOST Color Enhancing Lip Balm in Blush Hour, $15

They also sell this at Walgreens. This is the one product that really increased the value of this box and I’m not sure thats a good thing. $15 for one lip balm that turns a bright pink? I’ve seen reviews that say this is a really flattering color and it is supposed to change “just for you personally.” I don’t agree. This is really unflattering on me. I don’t mind the balm itself (even though I think lip balm is a bit of a scam even though I cannot stop using it), but I won’t be wearing it out of the house.

5. Amika Perk Up Dry Shampoo, $10

I don’t like Amika products generally and I get so many samples of them! I also don’t use dry shampoo as it makes my dry, itchy scalp 400 times worse. Also, dry shampoo has been linked to alopecia areata (when my alopecia was at its worst, I was in a dry shampoo phase, which is not a coincidence). A sample can costs $10 from Sephora. I won’t be using this product, so it is getting passed on to donate.

6. Eyeko Skinny Liquid Eyeliner, $11

Funny enough, I just bought (via Ipsy) another Eyeko liner. This one isn’t the same; it’s a felt tip pen, which is my absolute least favorite kind of eyeliner. I don’t know what monsters are using felt tip eyeliners still; they aren’t good, they don’t work well, and they don’t look good! End felt tip liner! Every brand needs to make a good brush tip, which makes a sharper line and a better wing. But no! Brush tips are hard to find and felt tips populate the world at astronomical rates. Anyway, this is about half the size of a full size, making it worth $11. I will not be using it.

New Birchbox Pricing

Final Thoughts

This box has a $53.14 value. The value lies almost entirely in the lip balm and eyeliner, with the dry shampoo coming in third. That isn’t exactly great; I don’t like when the value of my beauty boxes is bolstered by one or two products, because it means i’m getting sent filler usually. There are two things I will not use period in this box (the dry shampoo and the eyeliner), one thing I will use but not outside the house (the lip balm), one thing I’m indifferent on (the detangler), one thing I don’t like period (the eye masks), and one thing I love (the moisturizer).

This might just be an unlucky box. In fact, that’s really just the truth. I forgot to log in and choose my custom option this month, so I got a grab bag and it feels like this isn’t tailored to what I like at all. I wish there were some way for me to tell beauty subscriptions all the things I love, love, love and hate, hate, hate so they know not to send me color-changing lip balms (which never look good on me) or felt eyeliners or dry shampoo.

One thing about Birchbox is that their system for reviewing items is not good and last month, when I reviewed my items, I didn’t get my credits like I did the month before, as if the system wasn’t registering them. It was pretty annoying and it makes it hard to indicate that I don’t want certain items.

This is all to say: I found my Birchbox quite disappointing this month.

Beauty Review: L'Oreal Paris Rapid Reviver Conditioner*

Beauty Review: L'Oreal Paris Rapid Reviver Conditioner | Writing Between Pauses

My relationship with my hair is complicated.

For the last 12 years of my life, I’ve gone through a series of cut-into-pixie-and-grow-as-long-as-possible periods. I got my hair cut into a pixie just weeks before I had Forrest, then didn’t get a haircut for 3 years. (My hairdresser, as you can imagine, was as shocked as me. It really didn’t feel like 3 years, in my defense.)

In the last year and a half as well, I’ve developed an intensely dry scalp, that can be flaky, but mostly just deeply annoying. Sometimes, it’s tied to my cycle. Sometimes, it’s made worse or better by what I use in my hair. But the baseline for my scalp seems to be dry as hell, with a side of flakiness, and that’s just… my normal as an adult. It goes without saying: of all the terrible genetic traits to inherit, why this one (and my slow as heck metabolism)?

Whenever I look for products for my hair and scalp now, I have to be really clear about what I’m looking for: my hair itself isn’t necessarily dry, but my scalp is; my hair handles sulfate-free shampoos well, but not sulfate-free conditioners; harsh dandruff ingredients irritate my scalp worse; I need moisturizing, but not too much or it weighs down my hair… the list goes on.

When I received this conditioner for review, I was convinced I was going to hate it. The L’Oréal Paris Elvive Extraordinary Oil Rapid Reviver Deep Conditioner has the longest product name in the world (I struggled to shorten it for this blog post) and promises to “provide 2X more nourishment than any leading conditioner” and to be “lightweight, hydrating and moisturizing.” Two of those words mean the same thing, so… we’ll see.

Extraordinary Oil sounds way, way too heavy, doesn’t it? However, despite being called “Extraordinary Oil” and “a hair treatment” in various places both on the L’Oreal website and the tube, it also says it’s for daily use. Now, I subscribe to the idea that you don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) wash your hair every single day. So using a heavy conditioner every day seems like a lot.

How good is L'Oreal Paris conditioner

I use a lot of hair masks, so I was fully prepared for this conditioner to have the texture of a hair mask. However, it doesn’t. It’s a fairly standard conditioner when you get down to it; it doesn’t feel heavy and it gives your hair that slippy feeling when you apply it. I’ll admit to being fairly addicted to conditioner; I never don’t use it, because my hair can be unmanageable without it. I love the slippy, smooth feeling and even though I know that’s sulfates, and the internet tells me that sulfates are bad for my hair, I also don’t like not using it… because then my hair turns into a single tangle that I can’t get out! Give me sulfates in my conditioner or give me death!

Did I like this conditioner? Yes! I did. It was hydrating for my scalp and didn’t weigh down my hair as much as I thought it would. However, do I think it is anything special? Not necessarily. Despite all the fancy names, it doesn’t really promise to be anything besides a hydrating conditioner—which is what all conditioners do. Whenever I’m testing a hair product, I have to ask myself, over and over again, if I’m noticing a difference in my scalp (better or worse); preferably, it’s actually best that a product has no effect on my scalp. This product is one of those where it didn’t make my scalp better or worse, which is often a solid win for me.

Is this a particularly special conditioner? Not really. It didn’t necessarily wow me in terms of making my hair look any different from any other conditioner. It should be said, again: I don’t really have dry hair, just a dry scalp, and my hair isn’t damaged from heat treatment or hair dye. The bonus is this is only around $4-6 depending on which drug store you go to. (The downside is that L’Oreal Paris tests on animals.) If you’re looking for a good, affordable conditioner, and you struggle with hair that is dry or damaged, this is a great option.

Would I repurchase? It depends. I think if I started heat treating my hair more, I would probably look for something similar (but cruelty free) to use, as it is really hydrating. But this specific product? Probably not.

Disclaimer: As denoted by the asterisk (*) in the title of this blog post, I received this product in exchange for review. If you’d like to learn more about my disclosure policy, click here.

Beauty Review: Sol de Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream

Beauty Review: Sol de Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream  | Writing Between Pauses

I love a gimmick. You guys know that. Holika Holika Piggy Nose? I’m there. I’m on it. I’m 100% for it.

I’ve been admiring the Sol de Janeiro Bum Bum Cream from afar for years; I’d heard rumors that people either absolutely loved the smell of it… or it made them want to puke. I’m not a believer in creams that “reduce cellulite” (cellulite is just how bodies are structured and made, especially bodies with estrogen, so you can’t really effect your body at that level with a cream), however, so I wasn’t really interested in buying it.

I did, however, receive a tube of Bum Bum Cream in my most recent Ipsy. (Yes, I’ve signed back up. No, I won’t be reviewing them for a while.) Which gave me the opportunity to use it and decide if it really is worth how gosh dang expensive it is.

Here’s what the Bum Bum Cream promises:

Our award-winning, cult favorite Brazilian Bum Bum Cream is a luxurious all-over body cream that absorbs quickly to help visibly tighten the appearance of skin. Infused with all-powerful caffeine-rich Guaraná extract and a cocktail of Cupuaçu Butter, Açaí Oil, and Coconut Oil, this fast-absorbing cream with our addictive Pistachio and Salted Caramel fragrance will bring out your most radiant skin ever. Try it and see what the “Bum Bum” effect is all about.

Let’s break that down.

“All-over body cream that absorbs quickly to help visibly tighten the appearance of skin”: (emphasis mine, obviously). “Visibly tighten” your skin? I’m not sure about that one, although I did spend a stupid amount of time asking Danny, “does any part of my skin look tighter?” (Danny: “What does that even mean? No? Are you ok?”)

“This fast-absorbing cream with our addictive Pistachio and Salted Caramel fragrance will bring out your most radiant skin ever”: I skipped the part with the ingredients, because that often means nothing to me. (Although I do have a note about it!) Is this fast-absorbing? Yes, actually it is. That’s one of the things I really liked about it. It’s kind of the perfect hand lotion to keep by my computer so I can still type without feeling like I’m making a mess. However, I want to talk about the fragrance.

Every time I put this lotion on in the past week or so, I’ve said, “I love this old school coconut smell!” And Danny agreed with me; it smells like old school sunscreen without the chemical sunscreen component. It is pure coconut.

So… Salted Caramel and Pistachio?! I don’t see that, although i guess it smells sweet and nutty. But I swear, I was more surprised reading this scent description than anything else. I’m usually pretty good with smells, but maybe not. I will die on this hill though; I’m 90% sure this is coconut-scented and they just don’t want to admit it!

Does Bum Bum Cream Work?

I liked a lot of things about Bum Bum Cream: the scent, the fast-drying aspect. I’m unconvinced that it does anything to your skin other than moisturize it (which is does quite well).

However, there are a few things I don’t like. The name, of course, sounds really stupid to say out loud, but as I said, I love a gimmick. Is it any worse than “Piggy Nose Peeling Gel”? Nah.

I also don’t like that if you use it on certain areas of your body, it doesn’t just tingle: it burns.

The first time I put it on, I just put it on my hands and I noticed it had a slight warming effect; I’ve noticed that with lots of lotions that use caffeine in them, so I wasn’t concerned. However, the first time I put it on my legs—and specifically, my thighs—it wasn’t just warming. It was like a burning tingle. Not entirely unpleasant—it didn’t hurt at all and didn’t turn me red or give me a rash—but kind of shocking if you aren’t expecting it. I have relatively sensitive skin and the tingling went away within 15-20 minutes… but if you’re skin is highly sensitive, this might be a huge issue.

That’s really the only big downside to me: that tingle can sometimes be light, but sometimes, it’s like a freight train. It just totally depends on where you apply it. And the thing is, I think it’s totally worthless; I don’t think it changes how my skin looks whatsoever, so it’s just needless pain!

Will I buy a whole tub of this? Maybe. I don’t think I’ll ever use it as a full-body lotion, but I do like it for my hands while I’m working or just around the house. I might buy a small travel size tube similar to the size I have for my purse.

Have you ever used Bum Bum Cream? What did you think?

Beauty Review: Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Collection*

Beauty Review: Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Collection | Writing Between Pauses

I love trying new skincare products. In fact, it’s one of my favorite parts about having my blog; getting the opportunity to try new things and see what works for my skin is just one of the many perks of blogging.

As an example: a few weeks ago, I received the Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Collection to review. (I received this product from Influenster, not Peter Thomas Roth directly.*) Peter Thomas Roth is a brand I would never actually buy myself—even though I’ve heard great things about them—because it’s just a little out of my price range.

So, we’ve come to the downside of being sent products to review: sometimes you find stuff you really, really love that is way more money than you would ever spend on a product.

Here is what’s special about the Peptide 21 Collection:

Peptide 21™ proves there is strength in numbers—and diversity! An unprecedented amount and array of 21 Peptides and Neuropeptides allows the multi-action serum and moisturizer to effectively treat every area of the face and neck. Enhanced by cutting-edge Gamma Proteins, these formulas help improve the look of fine lines, wrinkles, elasticity, radiance, uneven skin tone and texture. Peptide-building Amino Acid peel pads complete the collection, providing powerful exfoliation while optimizing results.

I received all three products from the collection to review: the Peptide 21 Wrinkle Resist Serum; the Peptide 21 Lift & Firm Moisturizer; and the Peptide 21 Amino Acid Exfoliating Peel Pads. All three products focus on the main task of anti-aging using peptides. Funny enough, I think they are using “peptides” as a clever stand-in for “collagen.” As most of us know, topically applying collagen isn’t super effective when it comes to skincare; our skin can’t absorb it in a way it can be used for anti-aging. They claim these peptides “support” collagen proteins that already exist in our skin, but I’m not too sure on all that. (Science is not my strong suit!)

However, I will say this to start this review: I like every single one of these products. However, there is something a little gimmicky about the peptides stuff—I don’t know enough about it to know for sure, but I know enough about marketing to know when a gimmick is a gimmick.

That being said, again, I really like all these products. Do I think the peptides do anything? Not really.

Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Collection

What I Like

My favorite part of the collection are the Exfoliating Peel Pads; they are a quick, easy swipe part of a routine and I’ve noticed the biggest difference in my skin just from them. (When trying new products, I usually add just one at a time.) They really are the stand out product from the collection, as they contain more than “peptides”. Here’s what they promise: “Packed with peptide-building Amino Acids, these exfoliating peel pads help reduce the look of pores, uneven skin tone, texture, fine lines and wrinkles while prepping skin for peptide treatment products.” It goes without saying, they don’t only contain peptides, but also Phytic Acid, Salicylic Acid and Sodium Lactate, as well as vitamins A and E.

I noticed a huge difference in my skin’s texture just from these pads alone. Usually, I try not to use anything that makes garbage pile up, however, and using a peel pad every single day (or twice a day) creates a lot of garbage at the end of the day. If this was a toner in a bottle, I’d absolutely be head-over-heels in love with it.

I did like the serum and the moisturizer as well. The moisturizer was probably my second favorite item, as I use moisturizer more than anything else (if I’m too tired to do my entire routine, a makeup wipe and moisturizer is as good as it gets). I am not big on serums generally; sometimes, I feel like they just add steps to a routine when that same thing could be added to a moisturizer. (I know there are many great serums out there. I’m just lazy, let’s be honest.)

Skincare for anti-aging

What I Don’t Like

It took so much self control not to say this in the above section, but: the serum feels gross. It makes my skin feel so sticky and slimy, no matter how long I let it sink it. I’m still using it, but I cannot wait to get to the moisturizer step of my routine purely to rid myself of the feeling. However, even after moisturizer, my skin still always feels a little gross, so I find myself skipping the serum more-and-more. And to be honest, I don’t notice a huge difference without the serum.

Here’s another thing about the serum: it’s $110!!!!!! I would say it’s the worst product of the collection, and the most useless, and it costs nearly DOUBLE the price of the peel pads! That’s outrageous and I absolutely do not love that. The peel pads cost $52, which isn’t a great price, but also isn’t bad as I really do like them. The moisturizer is $78, which is another yikes; I like it, but it’s not any better than a Pacifica moisturizer, which you can get for less than $15 at Target.

As always, for most skincare products, what it comes down to is price for me. You can find lots of things that give you the same or similar results to these products. Is this a nice collection? Sure. Is it way out of my price range? Yes. Will I be repurchasing anything from it? I may repurchase the peel pads if I can’t find a good dupe, but it’s definitely a long shot.

Good serum for anti-aging and acne

Final Thoughts

I’m glad I got to try this new collection; the peel pads, honestly, are the best part of it. But as I said, the price point is just a little high for products that I don’t feel deliver (at least on my skin). A lot of that price is clearly the name, which is all well and good—but who wants to spend $200+ for products that don’t make a $200 difference to your skin?

Disclaimer: As noted by the asterisk (*) in the title of this post, I received these products free in exchange for review. However, all opinions remain my own! Click here to read more about my disclosure policy.

Beauty Review: Maple Holistics Silk18 Shampoo*

Beauty Review: Maple Holistics Silk18 Shampoo* | Writing Between Pauses

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a review of Maple Holistic’s Tea Tree Shampoo (one of my favorites). You can read that here.

As you all surely know by now, shampoo is one of my bugbears. I have a very sensitive, dry scalp; shampoos will work for a little while to relieve the dryness, then stop. I have reviewed so many shampoos and while they all worked for a while, eventually, my scalp went back to its usual: dry, flaky, itchy, sensitive.

When Maple Holistics reached out to me about reviewing their Silk18 Shampoo*, I was excited… but aware that like most shampoos, my dry scalp will probably acclimate to it. I’ve started to realize that I need to focus more on nourishing my scalp between washes, instead of expecting the shampoo to do all of the world.

My review of this was slightly complicated by the power outage at the end of February. I wasn’t able to shower for the first 4 days, by which time I was on day 7 with no washing. My scalp felt great and I realized I needed to start giving myself more time between washes. I used the Silk18 Shampoo for that first shower and oh my gosh… it felt amazing.

I really like Maple Holistics for a lot of reasons; the first one is that all of their products are cruelty free and ethically sourced. This helps me feel a lot better about the products I use, even if I can’t guarantee it for everything that works me & my hair! I also like that their products contain natural, soothing ingredients that are low on a toxicity scale, which helps keep our waterways clean.

Maple Holistics shampoo

The Silk18 Shampoo from Maple Holistics promises the following:

Achieve stronger, smoother, more luscious hair with silk18 shampoo. Infused with a rejuvenating blend of 18 silk amino acids which help fortify hair follicles and strengthen strands to protect hair from dryness, breakage, damage, split ends, and hair fall. The nourishing formula gently cleanses dandruff, excess sebum, and impurities to leave your hair and scalp feeling fresh but not stripped. Enriched with argan and jojoba oil to add supreme softness and a luminous shine. Our shampoo is sulfate and paraben-free making it great for all hair types, color treated hair, and sensitive skin.

All of those things are definitely true. I have slightly drier-than-average hair (although not bad compared to my scalp) that can get slightly frizzy and ugly after a few days (usually if I wear it in a bun too much). However, this shampoo definitely gave my hair most luster and shine than any other shampoo I’ve used recently, which is a definite plus. I used it in combination with my Formulate conditioner, which was really, really lovely.

Good shampoo for oily scalps

You might be wondering, what about your scalp? Well, it didn’t help my dry scalp as much as I would like—but it didn’t make it worse. When it comes to shampoo, that’s really all I can ask for! Some shampoos definitely make my scalp feel awful and this isn’t one of them.

So what’s my final verdict?

I love this shampoo for my hair. I like it for my scalp. I have found that using it in combination with my blend of half Head & Shoulders and half my Formulate shampoo on my scalp, then this on my ends… I get the absolute best wash I’ve gotten in a while. I’m currently working on washing my hair much, much less often to see if that will help my scalp health overtime. (I’m talking… like washing my hair every 10 days here, which seems like so long!) If you have drier hair, this is a great shampoo to try for a little extra moisture here at the tail end of a very, very cold winter season.

You can try the Maple Holistics Silk 18 Shampoo yourself by purchasing here.

Disclaimer: As always, as asterisk (*) in the title of this post denotes that I received this product in exchange for review. However, all opinions remain my own! Posts like this help me keep the lights on at Writing Between Pauses. To learn more about my disclosure policy, click here.

Beauty Review: Holika Holika Piggy Nose Pore Strips

Beauty Review: Holika Holika Piggy Nose Pore Strips | Writing Between Pauses

I feel a little out of practice writing blog posts! If you’ve followed me on Instagram, you know we were out of power in the last week of February. The Willamette Valley got hit by a huge snowstorm—and by huge, I mean, I had about 16-18 inches of snow at my house, and in the town and city, it was 6-8 inches. That’s a lot for this area! We had thousands of people without power. Our Governor even declared a state of emergency!

Our power was thankfully restored on March 3, after 7 days without, but we had to have our internet repaired as well—and that didn’t happen until Friday! Talk about having a rough two weeks.

I wanted to write about these Holika Holika Piggy Nose Pore Strips. I’ve written before about the same brands, similarly named peeling gel. Which I love, of course; it leaves my skin so smooth.

I’m naturally suspicious of pore strips, because I know they don’t work. The dots we often see on our skin are actually sebaceous filaments, a natural part of our skin that we can’t get rid of; because of how common air brushing is, however, we think they are blackheads. But they’re not!

That being said… clearing that oil can help us reduce our pore size. It’s a double edged sword: it’s very cathartic to rip out those little oil plugs; but once you know that they’re always going to be there, you start feeling a bit… bad about it, for a lack of better term!

Let’s get on with the review.

Holika Holika Piggy Nose Pore Strips

I found these at TJ Maxx (of course) for $3. For 5 sheets, that actually is quite steep—it’s only 5 pore strips! However, they technically have 3 strips per sheet, that you do in a specific order, so… I’ll take it.

These are very similar to the Tony Moly 3-step pore strips as well.

Here’s the instructions as they read on the packet: “1. After cleansing, place step 1 on nose for 15-20 minutes. Remove slowly and wipe off any blackhead or impurities in pores. 2. Wet nose with water and place step 2 on nose. After 10-15 minutes, remove slowly from the edge. 3. After step 1 & 2, place step 3 on nose. Remove after 10-15 minutes and gently tap for better absorption.”

Even if you stay in the bare minimum time, these pore strips take 35 minutes total! That’s a lot!

The first step smells a lot like the Clean & Clear salicylic acid toner I used to use in high school. It also smelled slightly sweet, almost artificially, beneath the very sharp, chemical smell. I’m not sure what to make of that. It seemed to be designed to “bring up” the oil in your pores and open your pores a bit more. Without knowing based on the instructions, that’s my best guess. It didn’t burn my skin or feel any which way in particular.

Step 2 is the step where you actually “cleanse” the pores: aka, you rip that shit out. This step is so reminiscent of other pore strips; you wet your nose and apply the dry strip, adhering it to your skin; it dries; and then you peel it up, revealing a little teeny, tiny forest of oil plugs. This strip worked… I would say better than the Tony Moly strips and not as good as the tried-and-true Biore Pore Strips.

The third step seems to be a toner; I think it’s designed to further cleanse your pores, as the packet mentions “absorption”. This one smelled very similar to the first one, but was very dry. Step 1 is a very wet packet (almost like a face mask with a serum), Step 2 is dry, obviously, and Step 3 was, surprise, also dry.

Do pore strips work

So, did I like these pore strips? They’re a K-beauty brand, so I really like them as an alternative to Biore Pore Strips. I know I shouldn’t, but I really do love using pore strips every few weeks to help with my pore size (and congestion). Since they work about the same (if slightly less well) as Biore, I’m willing to make the switch to them.

My one concern really is with the amount. In a box, you only get 5 sets… which may last a while, but since they are $14 on Amazon for a box of 5, that is quite expensive, comparative to other brands. However, I did really like them and you really can’t beat cute packaging.

If you’re a pore strip user, this is a definitely a great, fun option to try. If not, I wouldn’t say, you need to go buy this; it’s definitely a novelty, purely for people who already love a good, guilty pore strip.

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.