In my quest for finding my perfect signature scent, see Frustrated Fragrance Fanatic,one incredibly discouraging phenomenon keeps thwarting me: The old, “Why does that fragrance smell so gorgeous on my friend/mom/woman-on-the-escalator but so terrible on me?” conundrum. So I did a little digging and the reasons actually abound. Fragrances, apparently, are super-sensitive creatures that can be completely transformed by everything from our skin types to our Starbucks runs. Here, some of the factors that may be altering our aura:
- Our skin texture: Some research has shown that fragrances last longer and smell closest to their intended scent on women with rough skin. Scientists theorize this is because uneven skin offers more open, flat areas between dry patches, enabling fragrance molecules to evaporate more readily.
- Our skin type: Fragrance thrives in moist environments, and so will become more intense and last longer on people with oily skin. Dry skin lacks the necessary oils to “hold” fragrance and can even distort the scent. To help fragrance go the distance, massage in a matching or unscented body lotion before spritzing.
- Our diets: Eating an abundance of spicy or high fat foods has been shown to amplify fragrance.
- Our body temperature: A scent will smell more intense but dissipate more quickly on people with higher body temperatures as heat helps to diffuse fragrance. The same goes for people who live in hotter climates. Scents will smell more subtle but last longer on people with lower body temperatures and/or live in colder climates, as cold subdues fragrance molecules yet keeps them more stationary.
- Our beauty regimens: Deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, powder, moisturizer and shower gels all contribute to our overall air and will affect the aroma of any additional fragrance we wear.
- The pills we pop: Other research indicates that certain medications, such as thyroid, birth control, and antibiotics can alter our body chemistry, therefore, the way a perfume performs.
- How much coffee we drink: Coffee contains sulfur compounds that, like spices, can emanate from us when we sweat. BTW, it’s these sulfur compounds that also create that sexy coffee breath.
Another bump in the road in my aromatic quest is that my husband’s and my tastes differ drastically. His lean toward the heady floral jasmine-based blends I find cloying, and mine lean toward the light, citrusy potions he finds sharp and all-pervasive. In fact, he calls them, “Pledge.” But these personal preferences may actually be based on the way we both perceive fragrances, rather than how they actually smell. Research shows that fragrance perception varies vastly based on:
- Our sex: According to many studies, women have a sharper sense of smell than men.
- Our age: Younger people are more likely to find fragrances more powerful than older peeps, since our sense of smell (and taste) declines with age. Will the indignities never stop?
- Our menstrual cycle: Our odor perception is sharpest during ovulation—perhaps, scientists theorize, to help “sniff out” the most genetically suitable mate.
- Whether we smoke or drink: Both can dull our sense of smell.
- The time of day: Our aroma awareness is the most acute in the morning, before we’ve eaten anything.
Making Scents of It All
Bearing all of these variables in mind, it is stunning to me that anyone can can actually succeed in finding a scent they love for a season or two, much less a lifetime. And I’m not just trying to make myself feel better--OK, maybe I am, just a little. But there are some pro tips and tricks that I’m sure make the process easier. I’ve never followed them myself, but it may be time to start putting some method into my madness. So if you should choose to accept the mission of finding a new fragrance, it may be wise to:
- Put it on paper: After sniffing a few bottles, narrow down your choices to a select few and spritz each one on a paper blotter that the fragrance counter supplies. After 10 minutes, sniff it again and see if it still speaks to you. If it does..
- Hit a pulse point: Spritz a tiny amount on the inside of a wrist or the crook of an elbow. The blood vessels in these “pulse points” are closest to the skin giving off heat to act like mini fragrance pumps helping to disperse the aroma into the air.
- Wait: Leave the counter and wander around the store for a good 15 minutes. It takes at least that long for a scent’s airy “top” notes to dissipate and for its gutsier “heart” to kick in—the part of the scent that will linger for an hour or two. Typically this part of the fragrance is close enough to the “dry down”—what sticks around beyond that—so you’ll have a decent idea of the entire fragrance.
- Be selective: No matter how many fragrances seem enticing, spread out your fragrance sampling to a couple of different trips to the store so you don’t get overwhelmed and overloaded. If sniff-with-abandon you must, many counters have coffee beans in candy dishes that you can inhale in between selections; they act as an olfactory cleanser, in much the same way sorbet refreshes your palette in between meal courses.
- Live with it: Truly the most fail-proof way of finding a scent you love is to take home a few samples and wear each one separately every day for a week. It’s less thrilling than the adrenaline rush one gets from making an immediate conquest, but far safer.
And if you have any favorites, be sure to let me know. I am still scentless in Seattle—I mean New York. Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.
So the thing I hate the most about being middle aged is not the lines, wrinkles, sagging, age spots, grey hair and cellulite—even though they are demoralizing. It’s the incessant talking about them. Lately, it seems all my women friends over the age of 45 are obsessing about all the cosmetic work they’d like to have done and embarking on in-depth and monotonous conversations about it. And these not-so little chats never turn out well.
Here’s the thing, when one woman starts talking about getting her eyes done, she will most likely be miffed if her friends don’t say something like, “But you have beautiful eyes and you look great.” But at least half of the room is thinking, “Well, if she thinks she needs to get her eyes done, I really need to get mine done. I look way worse than she does.” So there will certainly be no reassurances from that group that eye girl is just swell sans surgery. And now those girls think they need it too.
And another friend may be thinking, “If she really wants to get her eyes done, I should support her in this decision.” So she doesn’t reassure her friend wanting the eye surgery that she looks great the way she is, either.
And let’s just say, one friend does have the presence of mind to try and tell her friend she looks totally fabulous and to please not mess with her beautiful face since plastic surgery can be iffy. There’s no way in hell eye-girl will believe her.
To be honest with you, these conversations leave me feeling insecure, angry, and well… bored. And I can’t see how they make anyone else feel any better. They remind me of the ones I had with this exact same group when we were teenagers about acne, greasy hair, developing hips and non-existent or too-full boobs. We are all approaching 50 and it seems we haven’t grown up one single bit.
Now I know how my husband must feel when I ask him that horrible of all horrible questions: “Do these jeans make me look fat?” He is pretty much screwed no matter what he says. If he replies in the negative, no matter how resounding it is, I will mostly likely fly off to the bedroom in tears to change, because I can’t imagine that he is possibly telling me the truth. And if, heaven forbid, he says, “yes,” he will suffer unspeakable tortures.
And what kills me about these types of tète-a-tètes with my friends is that the women obsessing about their appearances are all accomplished, beautiful, brilliant, well-educated, kind, funny, loving, interesting and in solid relationships with good jobs. And why can’t we (myself included) just be content with all that we’ve achieved and experienced thus far and hopefully will continue to achieve and experience? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all just say, “So I don’t look like I did at 32 but I’m not 32 anymore.”
I wish I could. So I’m working on it. Having had surgery for breast cancer, I’m not all that keen about going under the knife again electively. But it doesn’t help that my social circle and apparently every last person on earth talks about getting cosmetic work done all the time. And what if my friends do get all of these surgeries and I don’t? They’ll be young and gorgeous looking and I’ll look, well, my age(?!!) And that feels terrible, though it really shouldn’t.
I am hoping one day (and make it soon, please) we will stop peering in the mirror and pulling our faces taut and grabbing handfuls of flesh at the backs of our thighs (real or imagined) and mentally calculating the costs of lipo and a facelift and start thinking and talking about things that are more interesting, productive and positive. Aren’t there people to help? Families to nurture? Friends to enjoy? Books to read? Films to see? Trails to traverse? Art to view? Music to hear? A whole world to travel and explore?
I am not against plastic surgery in principle. I know people who have gotten work done who look and feel great. The difference is that they don’t talk about it.
And if we can’t all stop this tedious moaning about Botox, facelifts, blepharoplasties and lipo, it would be really wonderful if those people who do that hovering squatty thing over a public toilet seat (and you know who you are) sat down so it’s clean and dry for the next person who uses it. Don’t you think it’s the very least we can do for one another? Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.
I first got bit by the exercise bug at 31 when I started working with a trainer for a fitness article I wrote for YM magazine. The story was called “Countdown to a Prom-Perfect Body,” which in retrospect is about the meanest and most sadistic promise you can make to anyone, especially to a teenage girl, since the end goal is impossible to achieve. But no matter, I gave it my all—despite the fact I hadn’t been to a prom or thought about one for over a decade. This trainer, an ex-marine, had a take-no-prisoners attitude toward fitness and put me on an intense six-day-a-week regimen of high-intensity interval cardio sessions alternating with two hours of brutal weight training. In three months I lost 13 pounds and actually liked my body for the first time ever. True, I missed the train nearly every day because my quadriceps screamed “NO!” as I tried to run down the hill to catch it. But I had abs…and I whittled myself down from a size 6 to a 2 (and briefly even a 0). Better still was how strong I felt after those years of being picked last for gym class and made fun of for being a total spaz. I did push-ups (the boys kind), pull-ups and at 100 pounds I could bench my own weight. I’ll just remind everyone here that I stand only 4’11”, so weighing 100 pounds wasn’t that scary…OK maybe a little.
Like a budding exercise-bulemic, I decided that if heavy duty training was good, more was better. So I kept at it seven days a week for two hours a stretch,even working with a posse of three different trainers for a few years. But I didn’t become an Olympian or a supermodel. After eight or years of going at it full throttle, I partially tore both rotator cuffs, developed arthritis in my feet and was perpetually exhausted and out of sorts all the time. I was also no closer to having my dream body. The scale mysteriously started creeping upward and my clothes started getting tight. But I kept right on going. I just needed a little more time and effort to achieve fitness nirvana, I “reasoned” with myself .
Until I woke up one morning with back spasms so excruciating I ended up in the emergency room. They were payback for pursuing my regular exercise routine, against my chiropractor’s advice, after I fell on a hike in Hawaii and injured my sacrum. For two months I could only take short walks interspersed with bed rest. I was petrified that “laying around” would make me “huge” and “squishy”, but oddly enough, it had the exact opposite effect, which you can read about in this month’s issue of Town & Country. Check out http://www.townandcountrymag.com/style/beauty-products/working-out-exercise-overdrive
Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.
I am not going to buy one more single solitary product from your Tom Ford Beauty line ever again! Not one. Two, maybe. Three, a distinct possibility. Four? Now we’re taking. But one? Impossible. Every time I promise myself that I will pick up just one TF lipstick, I walk out of the store with a bronzer, blush, concealer, lip gloss and not one, but two of said lipsticks—and my wallet $320 or so lighter. So the insanity must stop! I am actually thinking of starting a 12-step program for others like me (and I know a few) called Tom Ford Beautyholics Anonymous.
It all started with Indian Rose, a pink/ brown/rosy lipstick. But it might have been Casablanca, a pink/ mauve/nude with hints of lilac. I read about one or the other in Lucky (or Allure) as being the perfect lip color for all seasons, ages, occasions and skin tones. This is a rather tall order, so I hit the Neiman’s in San Francisco to check it out for myself and was completely and utterly blown away. Now, in my 20-some-odd years in the beauty industry I’ve run across thousands of lipsticks. And some of them were terrific. But I’ve never seen anything like a Tom Ford lipstick; they are positively thrilling.
The square-cut bronze-and-gold tube oozes chic and extravagance, and just feels so good in your hand. The bullet is perfectly shaped with just the right amount of firmness to hug the contours of your lips and give a flawless application without smooshing or breaking off. It is also emblazoned with a fabulous looking TF monogram. Then there’s the coverage-- just the right balance of natural looking sheen and dewy creaminess that somehow manages to be both fresh and glamorous simultaneously. And the shades? Perfect. So perfect that I bought Casablanca and Indian Rose, plus a to-die-for plummy/violet/burgundy lip gloss called Love Bruise. With each stick costing an unheard of $49 and the gloss a hefty $48, I congratulated myself that this would be the last time I visited a Tom Ford Beauty counter ever and made my way home with my treasures, vowing that they would sustain me for the rest of my life.
I showed Casablanca (or was it Indian Rose?) to my sister-in-law, who has far more restraint and common sense than I do. After much oohing and ahhing, she promptly dismissed it for its hefty price tag, saying she just wasn’t the type of girl to shell out those kind of shekels for a lipstick. Famous last words. At a dinner party a few weeks later, my sensible sister-in-law who would never ever spend nearly $50 bucks on a lipstick, whipped out a tube of Indian Rose plus a Rose Crush lipgloss, and said with an emphatic nod of her head and a gravity she usually reserves for discussing environmental causes: “You have to see my new lipstick. It is fabulous.” The irony of this situation was not readily apparent to anyone but me, and unfortunately it triggered a craving—a habit far more extreme than chocolate or potato chips, because it’s a $49 per serving habit. It was the craving for more Tom Ford lipsticks. (At least they don’t make you fat).
My mounting obsession was further fueled by the email I received a few days later from my friend who hosted the dinner party, crowing with delight over her new Tom Ford lipsticks: Casablanca and Jasmine Rouge, a dramatic yet completely wearable red. She also bought two or three TF fragrances. This news pushed me over the edge. No longer able to control my TF jones, I headed back to Neiman’s with my pulse racing and picked up Pink Adobe and Pink Dusk, two pinky/brown/rosey/mauvey nude lip colors mystifyingly different enough from each other (and from Casablanca and Indian Rose) to justify my having to have them both. Then there was the rush I got from the TF Bronzing Powder in Gold Dust, a ridiculously gorgeous pressed bronzer infused with a stunning, just-right shot of shimmer. With the compact tallying an insane $95, I could no longer deny that my “problem” was now heart attack serious and in need of some form of intervention.
Further temptation appeared in the form of TF’s limited edition cream eyeshadows, lusciously satiny whipped creamy eye colors in Pink Haze, a coppery pink and Illicit, a golden bronze--$35 each. Now here’s the really scary part: If I am honest with myself and you, I would have to say that I never need to buy another eyeshadow again.Ever. I have drawers full of them. But I could not stop myself. And I could not listen to the little voice in my head admonishing me to just get “one.” So I got both.
I had a few really good TF-free months. The hubby and I were totally immersed in packing up our apartment in Oakland and making arrangements to move back to NYC. (Hooray!) Frankly, the excitement and insane amount of preparations necessary for the move were exhilarating enough to keep me away from TF. But one short month after we got here, I could no longer resist the siren’s song. I had strolled onto the beauty floor of Bergdorf Goodman on a sultry summer afternoon to use the Ladies to freshen up for a meeting across the street. And Jason the TF counter manager stopped me en route with a winning smile and a warm, “Hello. Welcome to Tom Ford.” I am proud to say I kept right on striding to the restrooms. However my walk back to the escalators didn’t go quite so well.
Did you know TF makes a glorious under eye brightener called Illuminating Highlight Pen and an exquisite shimmery pinky/coral cheekcolor irresistibly named Love/Lust? Oh and he’s recently introduced the most extraordinary eye makeup primer that looks so clean and fresh on its own and makes eye makeup last a lifetime. There’s also the divine limited edition In the Pink eyeshadow compact of sparkling pink and nude shadows that gleam and glimmer like an afternoon in St. Barth's. There’s also Pink Guilt lipgloss and Nubile lipstick, stunning tawny pink neutrals with knockout sex appeal.
I will not tell you how much this particularly elating Tom Ford trip cost me. Frankly, I am still reeling from the receipt. But I will tell you that first thing tomorrow morning I am calling Eric Clapton to beg him to add a Tom Ford Beauty wing onto his Crossroads facility. Hey, it’s in Antigua. Who’s in?
Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.
After two decades in the beauty industry, I’ve come to terms with the fact that the beauty truism: “There is a red lipstick for everyone” does not apply to me. And I have several barely used tubes of crimson lip rouge to prove it. Every few years, I think it’s time to start getting more sophisticated and wearing scarlet. I head to a store and scoop up a tube or two. I convince myself I love the way I look because “everyone can wear red lipstick” and whip out my credit card. I even wrote a blog post crowing with delight about finding “my perfect red” --false alarm folks.
The reality is that after wearing any shade of red out of the house once or twice, it collects dust in my drawer until I throw it out in a fit of pique. Because no matter how lovely it looks in the tube, red lipstick makes me feel so painfully self conscious that I am in utter agony the entire time I wear it.
The other beauty rule I seem to have broken is that old chestnut: “There is a signature scent for everyone”. Throughout the years I have fallen in love with some absolutely exquisite creations, including Coco and Allure by Chanel, A La Nuit and Douce Amer from Serge Lutens, Sung by Alfred Sung and J’Adore by Dior. But still I remain signature-scentless. After undergoing some serious fragrance analysis, I’ve found the deep and underlying cause: I am just fickle.
My first scent was a white musk oil called Golden Autumn by Prince Matchabelli. It was a 10th birthday gift from my Aunt Marion in 1976 when musk and oils were big. You are correct if the word “Matchabelli” conjures up the cheesy jingles “Your Wind Song stays on my mind” and “I’m going to have an Aviance night.” Cheese aside, I remember this scent as being quite lovely and adored it. No matter. The hippie musk oil era was drawing to a close, disco was king and so, cold-hearted tween that I was, I cast Golden Autumn aside in favor of Coty’s Smitty, a spicy, green, floral with the tagline: “When you’re staying out late and you’re feeling so great, Smitty did it.” The ads featured a blonde in a red Capezio leotard and wrap skirt whooping it up at a disco. At 11, I was too young to get into Studio 54, though I wanted to desperately; this fragrance was the best I could do. But as disco faded into oblivion, so did my attachment to Smitty. I am a rocker at heart.
Then came my big Estee Lauder phase. For a minute I loved Cinnabar, an exotic spicy elixir, only to go completely cuckoo for its polar opposite White Linen, a very clean, green scent. Both scents, however, sat unused on my shelf after my Sweet 16 party, where I received as gifts the two “it” fragrances of my high school years: Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel and Lauren by Ralph Lauren. Not being able to afford them myself, I was thrilled; I had finally made it into the inner sanctum of cool. And trust me: I could use any infusion of cool I could get. But in truth I gave up on both of them by senior year. Anaïs Anaïs felt too sweet and girly and Lauren felt too sporty.
I headed off to college in 1984 fragrance-less, and then something went terribly wrong. Embarrassingly enough, I fell prey to big 80s marketing and advertising. That winter, Calvin Klein started his steamy promotional radio ads for his upcoming Obsession scent (“ahhh…the smell of it”). The spots featured Kate Moss reading from Lady Chatterley’s Lover with a feverish intensity. As a freshman in college and a lit major, I fancied myself a tragic heroine along the lines of Chatterley, Bovary and Karenina and became obsessed with Obsession. It didn’t help matters that the Animotion synth pop song with the same name was pulsating ad nauseam on alternative radio stations at the time. Coincidence? I think not.
I saved up my meager salary from working at the Tufts Laundry Service, then queued up with the other hopeless (hopeful?) romantics the day Obsession launched in Bloomingdales at the Riverside Square Mall in Hackensack, NJ. The woman behind the counter spritzed me, but I scarcely inhaled before I plunked down the money for the potion that was no doubt going to change my life. Obsession and I were truly meant to be. Leaving the store, I caught a whiff and was horrified. Now this was a big-80s powerhouse--way bigger than I had anticipated. It was a true perpetrator in that fragrance movement that went way over the top and assaulted the senses. Remember, this was an era when restaurants not only banned dogs and cigar smoke, but also the pungent perfume Giorgio Beverly Hills.
Dejected beyond measure, I returned the offending bottle, and hoping to console myself headed over to Saks Fifth Avenue, which was also hosting a fragrance introduction. The scent was called Decadence. I don’t know how or why, but this equally potent perfume spoke to me in a way that Obsession didn’t. In retrospect I’m mortified by my choice, as are perfumers when they learn I chose Decadence over Obsession…these experts claim D. was pretty much just vile, while O. was a masterful creation that just came on too strong. No matter, I wore Decadence for years—my longest run ever-- until my boyfriend, now husband of 20 years, admitted to me he hated it. So I moved on and had a few short flings: Maxim de Paris, Emanuel Ungaro Diva and Prescriptives Calyx.
Then came a slew of airy, watery, “light” ‘90s scents that my husband described as “innocuous” when they didn’t bother him and “Pledge” when they did. The industry now categorizes these barely there yet somehow sharp fragrances as “hygienic.” Sexy, I know! So it’s not surprising that all of those fragrances are but distant memories. I won’t mention any names. Why create bad feelings? And besides, I know everyone meant well.
Next I fell hard for the incredibly sensual and sexy Narciso Rodriguez for Her, only to be completely overwhelmed by its heady amber, incense, musk and chypre composition when I got it home. Then there were Serge Lutens’ staggeringly beautiful creations, followed by Boucheron Trouble and Bulgari Omni. I also had a brief attachment to Dolce and Gabbana The One.
Each year a new crop of gorgeous elixirs blossom, and I am always tempted…yet I remain uncommitted. In fact, I just gave away a bunch of barely used fragrances (last year’s conquests) to a few lucky friends who were beyond thrilled. I just couldn’t take those nearly full bottles staring at me indignantly from my dresser chastising me for neglect.
But it appears that my quest hasn’t been entirely fruitless. On a recent trip back to NYC, I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while who said, “You smell just like you. Like summer. It’s wonderful.” She was referring to my Sugar Lemon Body Lotion by Fresh, a product I have worn faithfully every day for perhaps a decade. And even though it isn’t housed in an elegant glass flacon or positioned as “steamy,” “sophisticated” or “intensely romantic, ” it is in fact “me,” and we’ve stuck by each other all these years.
Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.
So I’ve been moonlighting for handfulofsalt.com. It’s the brain child of my incredibly chic and brilliant buddy Regina Connell, and features the last word on the most glamorous artisanal products and their creators.
For my virgin Handful of Salt voyage, I profiled indie fragrance artist Yosh Han, who creates exquisite, one-of-a-kind custom scents and the amazing Evanescent ready-to-wear line.
The goal of each of her creations isn’t to merely scent the wearer, but also to “Entice the senses, fascinate the mind and enchant the soul,” a process she calls, “Trans-aromation.” Each Yosh fragrance is vibrationally attuned and designed to resonate with the principles of Chakra energy and numerology. Pisces girl that I am, I just eat that stuff up.
For more on Yosh Han, check out http://www.handfulofsalt.com/noticed-olfactory-artist-yosh-han/ And stay tuned for a post detailing my personal fragrance consultation with Han, which included espresso, industry gossip and an enlightening aura reading.
Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes it takes several minutes of deep breathing and thinking happy thoughts to convince myself that Apple was not put on this earth to make my life a living, breathing hell. I Tunes Updates seem to screw me at every turn, making it progressively more complicated and frustrating to play, transfer and download music; and I can’t even begin describe the chaos that occurs every time I am prompted to update my IPHONE.
Lately, I am also peeved at retailers who seem to be making big deals out of so-called “gifts-with-purchase” promotions that in reality fall way short of anything remotely exciting or useful. In the last month two beauty behemoths were offering online gifts with purchases—12 and 16 product samples, respectively--if you spent a certain amount. The prospect of free products is as thrilling to me as it gets. So even though I really didn’t need anything, I made skincare purchases on both sites, just to receive my “free” gifts. I was thinking back to a similar Bergdorf Goodman promo several years ago. The prize? A super-cute beach tote filled with generous travel sizes and just a few not-so-generous samples of skincare and fragrance products. The “gift” offered just enough variety and substance to make me feel like I really scored! So I had high hopes for these other two promotion. Times, however, are a-changing; just about everyone seems to be cheaping out these days.
My first “gift” was housed in an astoundingly unglamorous ziplock baggy and what was inside was even more depressing—a slim pile of those crummy paper packettes and one or two teeny fragrance vials. I recognize that these packettes are inexpensive and portable ways to deliver skin care samples. But they are so woefully inadequate in every way. First off, they never have enough product in them to help you judge if they are a good fit for you. Secondly, once you open them you have to throw them away, because any leftover product gets all over the place. But what really irritates me about these samples is that you can’t open them if they get wet because they become insanely slippery. And odds are you will get them wet, since, if you are like I am, you will use them at your sink.
So now I have all of these free paper samples lying around that I feel guilty about not using and, heaven forbid, throwing away because in reality, I paid for them, since I had to buy products to procure them. I thought about giving them to a less picky friend (and pretty much everyone is less picky than I am so it wouldn’t be hard to find someone). But then I’d be giving said friend useless crap that I don’t like, which doesn’t seem like a particularly friendly thing to do.
The second freebie was marginally better since it came with a pretty decent-sized makeup bag. Unfortunately it was a horrible teal color and made out of pleather. But still, it was way nicer than the other gift’s ziplock baggy. The second promotion also included decent-sized travel versions of products in real containers and far fewer packettes. Hooray! But, alas, these petite bottles and tubes mostly contained products that I had no interest in trying.
The upshot of these two freebie-induced skincare shopping sprees is that I am basically cured of my need to buy products to earn so-called gifts, unless they are true travel sizes (look for the words, “deluxe sample” in the description) and I know what the offerings are in advance. I realize I am pretty much doomed to disappointment when the wording on the website reads “samples may include products like” and “we reserve the right to substitute products at our discretion.” You may think I am crazy (and I can’t blame you if you do) because after all, this is free stuff. And free is free. But free is useless if it means getting stuff you don’t want—especially if it coerces you to buy products that you don’t really need.
Sometimes Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Murad and Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare give you realistically-sized samples when you shop online. Even at Sephora, king of the paper packettes, you can trade in some VIB points to get samples larger than a speck. The best freebies I’ve received are from actual cosmetics counters at retailers when I actually ask for them. I typically say something like, “Do you have any little gifts for me today since I am spending all of this money?” I am well aware this may mean I am becoming my mother--maybe even my grandmother, who took Sweet’N Low packets from the diner and put them in her purse. So this tactic does feel a little awkward; but it works. The wonderful Bobbi Brown associate at the Saks Fifth Avenue in Union Square in San Fran, for example, scooped out five-day supplies of foundation, eye cream and moisturizer into actual portable glass jars. And I’m pretty sure it worked out for the company, too, because after I ran out of the eye cream sample, I purchased the $68 full-sized version of Extra Eye Repair online. I know I need to get another hobby besides obsessing about skincare products and free gifts with purchases. But think of the invaluable information you’d miss out on if I took up another sport.
Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.
Another year, another 2000 or so points on my Sephora VIB rewards card. Product junkie that I am, I just cannot resist the lure of new products and their seductive claims. So yes, I buy a lot of them. You would think that after years of trying everything under the sun, I would be skeptical or at least circumspect about the capabilities of any given lotion, potion or makeup palette. But hope still springs eternal. I am, still, somehow convinced that every new product I try is going to be the one that makes me richer, smarter, prettier, taller, thinner and younger looking. With these incredibly lofty expectations, you can understand the massive disappointment that usually ensues. But all things considered, there were some pretty great product introductions last year. And while they may not have changed my life, they did go far in making it a little more glamorous. So, here, my 2012 favorites:
AmLactin Moisturizing Lotion ($11.99), drugstore.com
If you have keratosis pilaris (those red bumps that cluster on the backs of the arms and fronts of your legs), you may have tried OTC and prescription remedies, like Lac-Hydrin, that feature ammonium lactate, a combination of exfoliating lactic acid and ammonium hydroxide, an ammonia derivative that adjusts the pH of skin to facilitate the penetration of the lactic acid. Not to mince words, but these lotions smell like hell and feel just as bad; they sit on top of skin imparting a slimy residue. AmLactin, however, is the exception to the rule. While it does feature ammonium lactate, this lotion is mercifully odorless, absorbs beautifully, tackles the bumps and leaves skin looking and feeling just lovely.
Lancôme Génifique Eye Light-Pearl Eye-Illuminating Youth Activating Concentrate ($68), sephora.com
I have always have been skeptical of eye products with “cooling wands” and “massaging balls.” Did I really just use those two phrases consecutively in print? Crazy. But truly, I find products that feature them beyond flummoxing. First off, the hot puffiness (it is inflammation after all) under my eyes heats them up in a New York minute, so their “cooling” benefits, if there are such things, are rendered null and void almost instantly. Secondly, these products require several extra minutes every morning (on top of all my other myriad beauty rituals) to massage, roll, knead, and pummel my puffs into submission. And what’s to prevent all of that trapped fluid from re-collecting later in the day? Absolutely nothing, it seems. Because by noon I’m pretty much back to ground zero from a bags standpoint even, after all of that work.
But this product is brilliant. While it does involve several minutes with one of those applicators, the massage roller administers a truly effective bag-shrinking, caffeine-based, light-diffusing serum. The wand/serum combo actually do make my eyes look lighter, brighter, fresher and perhaps even a bit younger looking. It even improves the look of my now just-starting-to-sag (heaven help me) upper lids, and the results seem to last throughout the day.
Clarins UV Plus HP Day Screen High Protection Tint SPF 40 ($40), sephora.com
As I’ve written before, this is an absolutely fabulous tinted moisturizer. It’s like liquid silk—blurring my imperfections, easing dryness, providing a high SPF and giving my sallow complexion a healthy shot of color.
Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid & Retinol Brightening Solution ($85) and Dr. Dennis Gross Active Vitamin D Serum Oil ($65), dgskincare.com
I am writing about these two products together since I started using them at the same time. Both of them contain retinol and ferulic acid to help combat sun damage, including lines, wrinkles and loss of radiance. But they also serve separate functions. The Serum Oil also improves firmness with vitamin D and essential oils, plus boosts moisture with hyaluronic acid. The Brightening Solution tackles enlarged pores with salicylic acid and evens out redness and pigmentation issues with Azelaic Amino Acid and Bearberry.
In the morning, after cleansing, I apply the Brightening Solution followed by just 2-3 drops of the Serum-Oil. It’s pretty rich stuff, so it’s better to err on the side of having to add more than trying to blot the excess away. I wait several minutes for it to soak in, and then I follow up with a moisturizer with sunscreen. This probably sounds like a really high-maintenance routine for someone who is loathe to take a few extra minutes to massage in eye serum with a wand applicator. But the compliments on my “fresh, radiant complexion” from random strangers on the street, sales women in stores and the women who work in my dentist’s office have proven to me that the results I am getting from these products is worth the additional effort of using them. I also dab on the oil by itself at night if I choose to go out without makeup, or pat a tiny amount over my foundation for an added glow if I am going somewhere fancy.
Amazingly, there were relatively few casualties in terms of my beauty product purchases in 2012. TRESemme FreshStart Waterless Foam Shampoo, For Dry/Curly to Normal Hair was pretty bad. But I expected as much. Dry shampoo and curly hair don’t really mix. The only way to evenly distribute a foaming, waterless shampoo is to comb it completely through hair. But combing curly hair when it’s dry is a recipe for frizz, flyaways and separated curls. Not an attractive look by any stretch of the imagination. And not combing dry shampoo completely through hair is a recipe for flakes, clumps and random bits of things sticking to it. You see the dilemma. So I’m not really all that mad at this product because it was doomed from its inception.
But one purchase really, really disappointed me. I know it’s partly my fault because my expectations were so high. But still. Here it is. The Notorious NYCK 2012 Stinker of the Year Award goes to:
John Paul Mitchell The Truth About Curls
I cannot tell you how excited I was about this line after I read about it in umpteen magazines. The range, which includes a detangling shampoo, leave-in conditioner, styling cream/gel and wave texturizer, promises smooth, frizz-free, bouncy and defined curls—claims that held me in utter thrall. But there were absolutely no signs of the range here in the Bay Area, which seems to get new products practically a year behind markets on the East Coast. Spoiled Beauty Editor and New Yorker that I am, I’m used to trying everything first. So it frustrated me beyond the pale that I could not, for the life of me, procure these products. They finally rolled their way into San Francisco when I was about to abandon all hope of ever seeing them, so I eagerly shelled out $60+ for the shampoo, conditioner and styling gel/cream. But let me just tell you, John Paul Mitchell should be ashamed of himself. The products left my fine, curly hair flat, greasy and beyond listless. I now use the shampoo to hand-wash my sweaters and the conditioner as a pinch hitter for shaving cream in the shower. And as for the cream/gel, does anyone have Medusa’s mailing address? I hear she wants her styling product back.
Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.
Next month will mark two years since my doctor found a lump in my breast during a routine exam. Given that I had a clean mammogram and sonogram 9 months before, exercise vigorously nearly every day, am not overweight, eat tons of fruits and vegetables and have no family history of breast cancer, the revelation was stunning. Duh. When isn’t it?
I’ve since learned that my maternal grandfather’s prostate cancer (a form of hormonal cancer, like breast cancer) may have elevated my risk. Having particularly dense breast tissue, not having children and taking birth control pills also may have played a role. Other studies show that women with vitamin D and Folic acid deficiencies and women who drink more than 2-3 alcoholic drinks a week can also up their chances. But since it is estimated that one out of every 7 women will get breast cancer, pretty much just being a woman is a risk. Sorry to be such a downer. But there is good news, as I’m sure you’ve heard. There is a much higher success rate in detecting and treating the disease than ever before. And I know this is due in no small part to the magnificent (and I mean truly magnificent) Evelyn Lauder and her tireless and phenomenal work with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. And how's this for making lemonade out of lemons: With so many women experiencing it, there is now a treasure-trove of info. to help us get through the ordeal with more dignity, comfort, and peace of mind than was previously imaginable.
So in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are the tips, tricks and products that made breast cancer slightly less of a pain in the ass for me, plus one that didn’t.
Best Advice: Don’t surf the net after diagnosis
Boy, did my surgeon have my number (I guess I’m not all that unique). After we discussed my course of treatment and probable outcome, she strongly advised me to steer clear of the internet and most books written about breast cancer. The reason? Many sites and books paint the worst-case scenarios, which can provoke crippling fear and anxiety. Like I didn’t have enough already? She did give me a big binder of of explanations, resources and tips compiled by California Pacific Medical Center, where I got my treatment. I chose not to look at it. And I have to say, that as crazy, neurotic and anxious as I am, I experienced far less emotional turmoil than some of my more investigative friends. Granted, my diagnosis and proposed treatments were very straightforward—pretty much the norm for stage 1 breast cancer with a low risk of recurrence and negative tests for BRCA genes. My agreed plan of attack was a lumpectomy, sentinel lymph node biopsy, two months of five days a week radiation and a five-year course of Tamoxifen—standard operating procedure. If things had been more complicated and extreme, I would have definitely done more research and gotten second opinions.
Most Important Part of Recovery: Acupuncture
I’ve written before about how acupuncture gave me my life back in terms of helping me finally recover from the aftermath of radiation (extreme fatigue, lethargy, depression, pain and swelling (aka lymphedema) for over a year after I concluded treatment) and managing my side effects from Tamoxifen (extreme fatigue, lethargy, depression, leg and feet cramps, weight gain and insomnia, to name a few). Acupuncture helped with all these symptoms, even mitigating my advanced arthritis, and I think made me slightly less neurotic, though my husband might argue that point.
Unfortunately, the Tamoxifen is so toxic to my system, I need to be stuck with needles every other week to maintain and hopefully advance acupuncture’s salubrious effects. And I simply loathe it. The other patients are on beds in other parts of the room thinking serene thoughts or blissfully snoring away. Meanwhile, I’m lying on the table hating their guts trying to soothe myself with the Allman Brothers Band on my IPOD so I don’t jump off the table and murder at least one of them. How Zen. But believe it or not, my one regret is that I didn’t start treatment sooner. A friend of mine who basically sailed through radiation did acupuncture concurrently. She might have had that outcome anyway—everyone responds differently to cancer and cancer treatments. And this is a great tidbit so I’ll repeat it, “Everyone responds differently to cancer and cancer treatments.” But given the myriad benefits acupuncture seems to impart, I can’t help but believe it might have made radiation a less grueling experience.
Most Flattering Sports Bra: Anita Maximum Control Momentum Wire-Free Sports Bra, $69 (barenecessities.com).
Typically, I’m a Champion Powersleek Sportsbra girl, $46 (champion.com). It’s a heavy duty number that can withstand high-impact activity with an adjustable back and straps —crucial features for small-across-the-back, large-across-the-front me. And these bras, which are rather roomy and customizable, were fabulous post-surgery at accommodating my dressing and swelling without adding to my discomfort. They’re also great at fitting compression pads, which I need at night as a result of the lymphedema. But these bras are completely unglamorous and bulky under clothes. So when the swelling went down and the dressing was gone, but the prospect of my regular underwire bras sent waves of terror down my spine, I switched to the more streamlined, also adjustable Anita style. It’s sleek, virtually invisible and gives a terrific shape.
Magic Tricks: Coping With Needles
Given how traumatized I am by acupuncture, it probably won’t surprise you that getting my blood drawn used to totally freak me out. And it doesn’t help that I have crappy veins. (I know. I know. I am such a baby!) Now that I am an old hat at it, it’s certainly less scary than it used to be, and I credit a super-kind phlebotomist for making the process almost a snap. He suggested drinking a lot of water and staying really warm prior to the test to help optimize circulation. Dehydration and being cold can all impede it. He noted that the better circulation is, the easier it is to find a vein and actually get blood from it. He also introduced me to the Butterfly Needle, a smaller, thinner number that works better on veins that like to roll over when they’re poked than the standard variety. When he’s not my guy, I always ask for that needle specifically and it makes a huge difference.
Dumbest Move: Hopping on the Lifecycle two days post surgery
A well-meaning friend told my husband that it was really important that I get moving as soon as possible after surgery. And exercise bulimic that I am (“I’m not going to lie around and get fat just because I’m recovering from breast cancer surgery”), I seized upon this advice and went to the gym to peddle furiously on the bike for 45 minutes. The result? I felt faint, nauseous and experienced excruciating pain in my breast. I actually almost passed out in the shower afterwards. From what I understand, there are several types of surgeries where the experts like you to walk and maybe even get on a treadmill almost immediately following surgery. Walking, not intense cycling, being the operative directive here. But breast cancer surgery, at least in my case, is not one of those instances. In fact, when my surgeon called me later that day to check in and deliver my pathology report and I told her of my athletic adventures, her response was, “Really, Cara? I mean, really? I think I’ve been crediting you with having far more IQ points than you actually have.” Ouch.
Not to sound superficia, but what the heck? To me, one of the biggest bummers about cancer is that you just don’t look like yourself for what seems like an interminable amount of time. And I didn’t even have chemo so I can only imagine how one feels going through those dramatic changes and acute side-effects, which are typically far more extreme than anything I experienced. I realize what a lucky girl I am. But even without it, I was just shocked to see the reflection staring back at me in the mirror. And even two years later, I don’t really feel like I’m “back.” Perhaps, because of the Tamoxifen? No one can really ‘splain it to me. Anyhow, here are some products that really seem to make a difference.
Aveeno Skin Relief Moisturizing Lotion, Fragrance Free, $9.49 (ulta.com): I found it to be the least greasy, fastest absorbing, least stinky and most comfortable lotion to combat the “sunburn,” and extreme flaking from radiation. My radiologist recommend Aquaphor, which I love for my lips but it was just too unctuous for such a large area and under clothes.
Vaniqa, $90 (by prescription): A godsend for Tamoxifen-induced chin hairs, http://www.carakagan.com/post/2012/07/10/Vaniqa-It-isnt-sexy-But-it-works.aspx
Nioxin Hair System: Successfully manages Tamoxifen-caused hair-thinning, $37.50,(sleekhair.com), http://www.carakagan.com/post/2012/04/16/Hair-There-and-Everywhere.aspx.
Bobbi Brown Extra SPF 25 Tinted Moisturizing Balm, $52 (bobbibrowncosmetics.com): Lightweight yet luscious and emollient, this imperceptible cream foundation evens out skin tone and adds just a little bit of a glow.
MAC Fast Response Eye Cream, $30, (nordstrom.com): The only de-puffing eye cream I know that doesn’t dehydrate skin and emphasize crows’ feet.
Nars Bronzer in Laguna, $34; Nars Blush in Amour, $28 (sephora.com): This brownish bronzer shot with gold shimmer topped with the peachy pink blush really enliven the complexion, imparting a fresh, healthy color and radiance.
Nars Matte Velvet Lip Pencil, $24 and Nars Lip Gloss, $24, both in Dolce Vida (sephora.com): The pencil delivers a precise, comfortable application of stay-put color with just the right amount of coverage—not too sheer, not too opaque. The gloss lends extra moisture and a sexy sheen. Dolce Vida, a medium-bright dusty rose, looks like my natural lip color turned up a notch or too. Pretty.
Dr. Dennis Gross Age Erase Recovery Mask, $48 (dgskincare.com): This mask is messy, drips and tastes terrible when it gets into your mouth, which it almost always does. But it’s well worth it. No matter how drawn, pale, exhausted and miserable I look, this mask always makes me look better. Always.
Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy and get your mammogram!
Anyone who knows me even a little, will undoubtedly notice that I have pretty strong opinions and I’m not afraid to express them when asked. OK, you don’t even have to ask. One of the phrases I am unfortunately best known for is, “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.” This is my retort to anyone who suggests that I do something that I’m not in favor of, which can be anything from eating salmon, sushi, and asparagus, to trying an outdoor sport, learning to drive, letting my hair go grey, wearing the color brown and listening to music from this century. I know this trait of mine is just as obnoxious as it sounds, so I am trying to become a kinder, gentler, more patient, tolerant version of myself. It is slow going. But I have further impetus to be less vociferously opinionated because recently I have found myself doing things that I swore, for the life of me, would only happen, “when hell froze over.” Apparently, it has. I don’t know if I’ve had these astonishing changes of heart because I am now middle-aged, have moved from NYC to California, had breast cancer or have been worn-down by well-meaning friends. But Hades is felling pretty icy these days. It’s completely crazy but now, against all odds, I:
Hike: I don’t do it regularly and probably never will. But in the two years I’ve lived in the East Bay I have walked up a mountain with a group of nature lovers on several occasions. As a kid in sleep away camp in Maine, I hated hiking. It was hot, buggy, boring and my feet always hurt. But It’s what people do here. In fact, some of my friends actually leave their gear in their cars just in case they can “sneak a hike in.” I find this practice completely and utterly baffling. To me, if you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all.
I am what I like to call “Urban Fit”. I love the gym and go there pretty much every day for the sake of being in the gym—not to get fit for my sport, which is shopping and requires no other gear than a 0% interest, no annual-free credit card. I have no issue with spending an hour or so “going nowhere” on the treadmill and striving to do more pull-ups just for the sake of doing more pull-ups. In fact, I love it! When I lived in NYC, there were hundreds just like me who hung out at the gym for the greater part of the weekend. It’s easy to do since many of the fitness clubs there have DJs, bars, laundry service, restaurants and high end boutiques. The gyms here? Not so much. Most of them are dark, dingy, poorly-equipped and don’t even have towels. It took me months to realize that this sorry state of affairs was because most people here prefer to climb in Yosemite rather than on a StairMaster in a gym. In the East Bay, these institutions are viewed as necessary evils for staying in shape if the weather is bad, or you can’t get a lift to the nearest state park. Personally, I’d take the StairMaster. But never say never, right?
Own a fleece: It’s hard to feel cozy and warm in leather or denim. And because it’s frequently chilly in the East Bay and the buildings aren’t particularly well-insulated or heated, some days feeling cozy seems more important than looking chic.On most cool days, I try to fight the good fight and wear cashmere; fur is not an option here—it’s way, way, way frowned upon. So sometimes you just can’t beat a fleece, though it pains me deeply to say that. And trust me, there is really no place for fine fabrics when you’re um hiking; leather, satin, brocade and chiffon are all quite constricting and not especially breathable. Meanwhile, cashmere and silk are impractical for outdoor sports, unless they’re a “base layer”, from a snagging (low hanging branches, etc) stand point. Not to mention the dry cleaning involved.
Have Entered REI More than Once: This is Bergdorf Goodman to the action adventure set. It features over-priced, high-end outdoor athletic wear. And though it is not even in the top 1000 places that I would ever choose to shop, if I am going to buy fleece or outdoor wear of any kind, it is certainly going to be from an exclusive emporium. I have standards.
Feel “Off” when I Wear all Black: Let me just say right here, right now, that I have 7 pairs of black dress pants, 2 pairs of black corduroys, 2 pairs of black skinny cargoes, 5 black cashmere sweaters, 7 black camisoles, 3 black cashmere cardigans and six black t-shirts. Not to mention several black belts, jackets, dresses, skirts and pairs of shoes. These items, worn in some combination, were the mainstays of my New York City beauty editor wardrobe. Most of the girls I ran with dressed similarly. But out here in the East Bay that look feels all wrong—like I’m somehow trying too hard. Undoubtedly it’s because most people, except for the hipsters (a group I do not want to be associated with) do not wear head-to-toe black. I am not sure why. It’s impractical to hike and bike in? But perhaps more to the point is that now that I am in my forties, my skin is sallower than it used to be, so frankly, wearing all-black washes the hell out of it.
Keep My Nails Short and Clean: In my 20s and 30s I was a total slave to my nails. I wore them longish, filed in perfect squovals and obsessed about polish chips, snags and breaks. Without fail I kept my standing weekly manicure appointments and did touch-ups in between to keep my tips in tip top shape. My waste baskets over flowed with polish-stained, acetone-soaked cotton pads and their accompanying noxious smell. But in my Forties, I decided to learn to play guitar, which is not conducive to long or painted nails. So I cut them super short and keep them lacquer-free. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to have one less thing to worry about. Exfoliation alone eats up hours of my week.
Juice for Breakfast: In NYC it’s pretty common for people to go on detoxes and cleanses with horrible-tasting shakes or juice fasts to lose weight or atone for too many nights of drinking, smoking and over-eating. I’ve participated in a few of those programs and other than feeling weak, light-headed, crabby, lethargic and starving, and having to stay close to a bathroom at all times, I’ve found them to be mad fun. Not. But out here, fit, healthy, vegans who never smoke and drink, periodically do juice fasts or drink “green” and other vegetable juices to “feel even better.” Astounding, I know. So even though my hubby and I eat a fair amount of fruits and vegetables every day, we thought, well, why not load up on even more? And so far so good. We pulverize carrots, beets, parsley, kale, apples and ginger for breakfast every morning and I think we are feeling more energetic and peppier as a result. Of course it would probably be even more beneficial if I didn’t chase my 16-oz. glass of “healthy” juice with three cups of coffee with cream. But there is such a thing as taking this health stuff too far. I am, after all, an urban warrior at heart; I don’t want to lose my edge.
Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.