Notorious NYCK
Earth Shattering Beauty, Style and Health News from a Neurotic New Yorker

Leaving Las Vegas

by Notorious NYCK April 4 Beauty

Welcome to Las VegasIf you’ve ever wanted to visit the inside of  a toilet bowl, simply hop the next flight to Vegas and check into the nearest casino. I recently spent three nights and four days on “The Strip”  and was truly traumatized as a result. Yes, the shopping is spectacular; the ceiling at Cesar’s Palace does look like the sky, there are some great restaurants, the fountains at the Bellagio put on one heck of a show, the pastrami at the Carnegie Deli is authentic and Cirque de Soleil is amazing—well Beatles Love is; Viva Elvis is a travesty (Our hotel sent us for free so I guess it wasn’t as bad as it could have been).

But the thing that made me the craziest, next to the sky-high prices, indoor smoking, the constant dinging of the slots and bumping and thumping of bad music, was how frigging life-sucking the air is there. True, Vegas is in the desert but there is something about the recycled overly air-conditioned air pumped into every room that literally steals years away from your life. Under these circumstances, my bags, wrinkles, lines, red splotches and puffy under eyes grew to epic proportions. And even my husband, who has none of these issues and looks like a kid, was starting to show signs of his age.  My skin was so dry and reactive that I couldn’t even use my regular vitamin C and retinol-based skin care products. In fact, it is so dry in Vegas, that I had to stand under the shower for a full 10-minutes before my body even remotely started to feel “wet.”

The Spa at the Aria Las VegasSo I did what any  New York Beauty Editor would do and checked myself into the Spa at our hotel, the Aria. And true to Vegas’ motto of “thou shalt be over-stimulated at all times”, the lounge wasn’t exactly Zen; it was outfitted with two blaring TVs set to different channels and a stereo blasting bad music. Yes, I am fully aware I am starting to sound like a grumpy old woman. Not attractive is it? But Vegas has that effect on me.

The services were God-awful expensive but very respectable and the amenities are just lovely. The salt room is pretty amazing.  I had an excellent massage ($245 for 80 minutes!) and a really good facial  ($225 for 80 minutes!) and a first class mani/pedi ($60/$95). The body scrub/wrap ($175 for 50 minutes) wasn’t the best ever, but it was fine. But pro-body scrubs are tough because somehow you always end up wet and shivering on the table as salt is rubbed into your shaving nicks and cuts. I am flummoxed that more spas don’t use sugar-based scrubs.

Claremont Resort and Spa, Berkeley, CABut for my money, I would rather go to the Claremont Spa in Berkeley any day of the week and twice on Sunday. It is less expensive ($200 for an 80-minute massage) and way quieter.  All of the services I have had there have been terrific—even the body scrub/wrap. And  FYI: Janvier is a spectacular massage therapist.

Excellent facial aside, what truly rescued me and my skin from Vegas fall-out was Clinique’s Comfort On Call, which really eased the dryness and irritation that the city of sin left me with for several days after my return to Oakland. This is a really nice cream for over-stressed skin. And so on that note, I am going to stop drinking the Vegas hater-ade and spread a little new-product love for some of the other “ah-ha” beauty solutions that I’ve recently come across.

Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Smooth Shave Gel: It really, really helps you to shave less often. I may be a little late to the party on this one but I am glad I’ve arrived. This is a great product. It minimizes shaving irritation and bumps and truly maximizes your time in between shaves. Target’s copycat  Up & Up Smoothing Shave Gel, btw, is just as good and a little bit cheaper.

Pacifica Body Butter in Malibu Lemon Blossom: Rich, thick, super emollient and absolutely delicious-smelling. It makes your skin feel heavenly. Love!

Brazilian Wax treatment at Completely Bare Salon, NYNYC’s Completely Bare Spa:  I’ve already written about how much I love Completely Bare for hair removal, but I have to mention it again. On a recent trip back East I stopped in at the Lower Fifth Avenue location for a Brazilian and an Intense Pulse Light Therapy (IPL) touch up of areas I had previously treated 10 years ago, and once again I was floored. Renata, who runs the place, is the most wonderful woman ever and Jen did a painless--and I mean painless--wax (no numbing spray required) and thorough IPL job. And since the hairs were so sparse and fine, the treatment didn’t hurt at all, and now those hairs are history. But even when IPL hurts, it’s so worth it. Completely Bare could be one of my favorite places on earth and at least for me, it definitely trumps Vegas. Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


Invasion of the Beauty Balms

by Notorious NYCK March 24

The fashion media seems to be obsessed and I mean obsessed with this new type of product category called  BB (Blemish or Beauty Balm) Creams. In fact, you can’t flip through any ‘zine or visit any site without running into a mention of one or more of these puppies. And it’s no wonder; these multi-faceted moisturizers of Asian descent purport to do everything under the sun. They can act as a makeup primer, tinted moisturizer, anti-aging serum and/or blemish blaster all at the same time. So how could you not get all sorts of excited about one small product capable of solving all of these beauty concerns? The idea was definitely blowing my skirts up.  So I put three popular brands to the test.

Dr. Jart Premium Beauty Balm SPF 45, $39
Claim to fame: A moisturizer, sunscreen, treatment serum with “natural-look” coverage that minimizes the appearance of imperfections and evens skin tone, while restoring firmness and elasticity.

The drill:
I love that this product has an SPF45 and it feels really nice, like it’s wholesome and good for your skin. It also does a good job of blotting out imperfections and evening out skin tone. However this balm also sucks up any naturally occurring radiance and rosiness in the process. The result is ghastly. Seriously. I am pretty sure this phenomenon is due to the copious amounts of zinc and titanium dioxide the product is formulated with ( 6.35% and 9.015% respectively.) Another minus? When you blow your nose, this tinted balm rubs off on your tissue. Yes, that is as revolting as it sounds.

So I headed back into the Sephora at Union Square in San Francisco, where I had bought the balm, hoping to inject a little life into my corpse-like complexion. The lighting in all Sephora stores is so deplorable that I looked even worse there than I did in my sunny apartment. And trust me, I looked horrifying there. So I was feeling really, really good about myself…not! But Zoe, a simply adorable and knowledgeable sales associate, took pity on my intense pallor and was somehow not surprised that Dr. Jart was the root cause. She set to work swirling Nars Laguna bronzing powder across my cheekbones, the bridge of my nose, forehead and neck. Next, came the blush in Amour, a pretty, deep rose. Considering I had just bought Oasis blush the week before I was not happy; the Amour looked way better. So wonderful Zoe said I could return Oasis for a full refund even though I had already used it and thrown out the box.  How much do we love Zoe?

The verdict:
After Zoe worked her magic, I really did look lovely. But it seems like a whole lot of work to make this product, um, work. I never wear bronzer—ever—and this beauty balm demands it. So, in total, I not only shelled out $39 for the Beauty Balm, but also $28 for the blush and $34 for the bronzer—all for the privilege of using a multi-purpose product. And despite the tissue incident, this balm is a total bitch to remove at night—it positively adheres to the skin when you try to take it off. Go figure.

Garnier B.B. Cream Skin Renew Moisture Skin Perfector Light/Medium, $12.99
Claim to fame
: “Immediately and effectively fulfills your skincare expectations with just one multi-benefit product that combines intense moisturizing skincare + immediate skin-perfecting coverage for skin that looks naturally more even, radiant and smooth.”

The drill: This SPF 15 product is lightweight, moisturizes nicely and has a pretty natural-looking tint.  It does soften splotches but not in a truly meaningful way. But maybe that’s a good thing, since it also doesn’t rob your complexion completely of all signs of life. I’m assuming that’s because it gets most of its sun protection from a chemical source and doesn’t contain zinc oxide, just titanium dioxide(percentages are not listed on the label). Even so, it still required Zoe’s two-step dance of bronzer and blusher to help prevent people from asking me if I were “OK”—always such a confidence-booster.

The verdict: I really wanted to like this item.  (I love it when I love drugstore products.) But I just can’t seem to work up a head of steam over it. First off, I find SPF 15 way too wimpy for every day use, and secondly, this balm doesn’t seem to do anything more than what an average drugstore tinted moisturizer can do, which costs on average a buck less and doesn’t require bronzer and blush. Garnier’s formulation also flunked the tissue test, but it was easier to remove at night than Dr. Jart’s version.

Clinique Age Defense BB Cream SPF 30 (Shade 02), $37
Claim to fame: “This instant morning routine gives skin just about everything it needs for a quick start. SPF protection, antioxidants for prevention, plus enough coverage to banish imperfections. “

The drill: Available in three light tints, this balm is geared toward people with fair complexions. The shade range didn’t quite grab me, though: 01 was too light and too pink; 02 was a tad too dark and a hair too yellow. (Zoe told me me my complexion is “neutral” so I need to find shades that contain the right balance of pink and of gold; this balm did not, at least for me.) But it did a pretty decent job of blurring redness and pigmentation splotches without totally obliterating my complexion’s vital signs, and I only needed a dusting of blush on top versus the bronzer/blush combo the other two products required. It is formulated with 3.5% zinc oxide and 1.10% titanium dioxide and thus is far less complexion-dulling than Dr. Jart’s product.

The verdict: All in all, the Clinique balm wins out in this dubious product category contest.  An SPF 30 is great for daily use, the formula was comfortably moisturizing and it left the most life in my face of the three entries. Still, it did not quite pass the tissue test and was also incredibly difficult to completely remove come bedtime. This paradox is killing me. Why do these balms come off so readily when I sneeze, yet cling so tenaciously when I cleanse?

So not to pee on anybody’s parade, but Notorious just can’t jump on the Beauty Balm bandwagon. A tinted moisturizer (and you know I’m on the fence about most of those) or foundation with effective skincare ingredients seem to deliver better results without imparting that disturbing preternatural paleness. This is one beauty obsession you can let pass you by. Call me old fashioned, but I’ll stick with my tried and true Bobbi Brown Extra SPF 25 Tinted Moisturizing Balm (a foundation/moisturizer hybrid that leaves a dewy finish). It’s not a trendy “beauty balm” per se and it’s been around for several years, but it is the bomb. The reason?  It actually makes me look better instead of worse when I wear it.  Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


My Name is Mud

by Notorious NYCK March 14

I am not sure how or why ultra-urban and spoiled me thought going to the mud baths in Calistoga was good idea—mud has never even been my milieu. When I was a kid, I always went for the Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask over its decidedly plainer and dirtier-looking rival, Mudd.  Both drugstore skincare preparations treated oily and acne-prone skin but walking around the house in a robe with green gook on my face and my hair up in a towel turban-style felt impossibly glamorous. A face smeared with brown gunk, instead of green? Not so much. And while I snuck into my mom’s bathroom and tried every single one of her products, I wouldn’t go near her big jar of Borghese Montecatini mud, which quite honestly, I still have reservations about, though she swears by it.

Yet, somehow one day my wonderful friend ESD, a laidback and lovely native Californian, and I found ourselves making the trip from Oakland to the Roman Hot Springs Resort in Calistoga for her birthday at my behest. New York snob me had visions of an elegant spa day dancing in my head. I was certain we’d be sitting outside in the sunshine in a lovely pool of cool, moisture--rich mud, sipping some kind of infused water with cucumber slices over our eyes. I think a string quartet was playing off in the distance and handsome men were fanning us. Dream big, I always say. But had I checked the resort’s website prior to our arrival, I would have known better.

First off, the Roman Hot Springs Resort is not posh. It is quaint and it is clean and it may even have what some would classify as a certain “rustic charm,” but the experience it offers is not elegant. It was, however, pleasant enough so I promptly downshifted, readjusted my expectations and was shown into a massage room, where I had a pretty good rub down. A word to the wise, however: a 50-minute massage is really just a tease. While the masseuse was skilled, somehow he neglected entire parts of my body (like my arms and the fronts of my legs). I assume it was because time was a factor.

Next it was onto the mud baths, which were housed in a dreary gray stone-walled and floored room that reeked of sulfur. The tubs themselves were churning and steaming with a gray-brown sludge of peat and volcanic ash mixed with “mineral water” to create the mud.  “This is so not OK,” ESD said, when we realized our fate. And it wasn’t. The mud is extraordinarily hot, stinky and heavy; it pretty much pins you down. I  think it could have been relaxing and dare I say, even comforting, had my blood pressure not plummeted from the extreme heat. The spa tries to prevent this phenomenon by having lovely therapists apply icy towels to your neck and forehead, while giving you cold water to sip. Still,  I lasted  for only about seven minutes before I had to slooowly and extremely carefully extricate myself from the scalding muck and mire. And I had to hang on for dear life in the shower for fear I would pass out. (ESD did too and she’s not even a New Yorker.) And let me tell you, you have to stay in that shower for a long time to thoroughly rinse off; that mud hangs on for dear life and lodges into your most top-secret places.

Somehow, I made it out of the shower unscathed and moved into the “geothermal mineral bath,” which had jets and bubbles and was perfectly affable. But my skin was already dried out from the mud, which seemed to have sucked out its nutrients rather than imparted any. The mud, it seems, is highly acidic, which is great news from a hygiene and skin-purification stand point but not fab from a moisturization one. So sitting in a tub of hot water was about the last thing I wanted to do.

Next we were shown into a a “cool-down” room where we lay pruny-skinned, exhausted and dehydrated on massage tables. That mud is just too fargin’ hot. Some dreams do come true, though; while we were lying there, our therapist placed cucumber slices over our eyes. But all in all, Notorious and ESD are not big fans of the mud. For a fraction of the price, we are going to pick up a jar of Queen Helene at the Walgreens.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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Original Skin

by Notorious NYCK March 6

I am going to have to beg your indulgence. My editor a.k.a., my wonderful husband, is back in our native New York dealing with a family emergency so I have to wing it for my next couple of entries. Sure, I could wait until he gets back before I post anything, but then you might miss me too much!  (Or is the expression out of sight, out of mind?) So please excuse any run-on sentences, bad grammar and typos. I am a total dyslexic and the suckiest proof-reader on record. But on to the matter at hand…skin.

Until my mid-forties I could get away with not wearing foundation at all. I’d slather on a little moisturizer and be good to go. In times of stress, insomnia and frigid weather,  I simply “spot-concealed” areas of redness around my nose and mouth, under eye circles and the occasional zit with Prescriptives Foundation. I loved how it was custom-blended to exactly match my skin tone and that I could add extra luminosity to the formulation in the form of a beautifully lustrous pearly liquid that the beauty advisor lovingly mixed up in a test tube.  I’m just gaga over luminosity, especially in the form of a lustrous pearly liquid mixed up in a test tube.

But the times, they are a changing. First of all, Prescriptives went belly up about three-fours years ago so my go-to cover-up has been reduced to a few dried-up drops in my lone commemorative bottle. And unfortunately now I need it more than ever. Despite my scrupulous avoidance of the sun and stellar skin care routine, my complexion is now somewhat blotchy and uneven. And while I’ve always been lighter-skinned, sometimes I am so pale now I scare myself. (Must be all of that sun avoidance.)

I’ve never been a big fan of a full-on face of foundation but these days conventional tinted moisturizers just aren’t gutsy enough to tackle all of my issues and they all just seem to be so yellow.  But I am truly happy with Bobbi Brown’s Extra Tinted Moisturizing Balm. Though I am not crazy about the scent, this lightweight whipped gel-cream keeps my drier skin dewy and gives great, flexible, long-wearing, natural-looking coverage, plus SPF 25 protection. And the light/medium tint has a fairly neutral undertone so I don’t feel like I am making myself look jaundiced.

For that glamorous glow I can’t just can’t seem to get enough of, I combine a few drops of Benefit High Beam or Nars Illuminator in Orgasm with the balm in the palm of my hands before smoothing it on. And while I used to be oily enough to merit a dusting of loose powder all over my face, these days, it’s best to skip that step (even in the T-Zone) so I don’t emphasize my lines and rob my skin of radiance. But I do sweep a tiny bit of powder over the puffs underneath my eyes, being sure to steer clear of my crow’s feet. In my experience, matte eye bags look way better than shiny ones, especially in photos—damn I-Phones.

Next comes the blush, once merely an added enhancement, now an absolute necessity.Since I have broken capillaries across my cheeks, I find it more flattering to stick to neutral or slightly warmer (gold-based) tones rather than blue-based ones, which emphasize facial redness. For added oomph in the healthy-looking department, I now sweep my blush not only across the apples of my cheeks, but in a v-shape around my eyes blended into my temples, across my forehead and the bridge of my nose, and down my neck. I like Nars blushes the best. They don’t streak, fade, or change color throughout the day, which can be downright embarrassing.  Many experts say that girls of a certain age can’t handle shimmer on the face but I love it, especially across the cheekbones. So often times, I choose sparkling blushes. Nars Oasis is a good one. It’s a nice neutral rose. I thumb my nose at the shimmer critics by making sure to dust glimmering powders around (not in) any fine lines or across any splotches.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the recent spate of new BB (Beauty or Blemish Balm) Creams. All of the magazine editors are mad for them. These ingenious hybrids can act as a makeup primer, tinted moisturizer, anti-aging serum, sunscreen and/or blemish blaster all at the same time. It’s hard not to get a hard on over a product that purports to do so much. Will let you know once I’ve tried them out.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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Lip Tricks

by Notorious NYCK February 27

I have found it!!!! Finally. The perfect red lipstick. And it’s been no easy feat. In fact, I had pretty much given up on the idea of wearing it, despite the oft-quoted aphorism that “there is a red lipstick for everyone.”  Red has always made me feel like I am trying too hard, like I am somehow not chic enough to wear it. So any time I attempt to venture out of the house with a crimson pout, I am a puddle of self-conscious insecurity.

My go-to hues have always been in the plum family. But lately, these shades seem too dark and life-draining for my increasingly sallow complexion. So I traded in the gorgeous MAC Amorous’s deep violet,  for the slightly brighter and less brown Capricious and Fast Play. Both are beautiful and infinitely wearable. Midi Mauve is a divine neutral with just the right amount of brown, pink, and well, mauve. As you can probably tell, I just worship MAC lipsticks. Its glosses are heaven, too. So are Dior’s, btw. But I digress. Anyhow, with so many delicious pinky browns and mauves to choose from, the idea of “red” was pretty much dead in the water. Until a few weeks ago.

I was in the MAC store on Fourth Street in  Berkeley buying a lipstick and gloss for a friend, who I knew would look gorgeous in a red/brown, somewhat deeper and redder than the brick and copper shades she’d been sporting, and I happened upon the glorious Dubonnet, the perfect red. It’s not too blue, not too orange, not too brown and not too red. To top it off, I selected its gloss equivalent, Lustreglass in Ornamental. I wrapped them up for my friend, feeling fabulous that I had selected the perfect gift for her…until I became obsessed. These colors were so beautiful, I had to see what they looked like on me. And when I say had to, I mean, HAD to. Lipstick just has that effect on me.

I am ashamed to admit, dear readers, that I unwrapped said birthday presents and guiltily applied them to my own mouth. And I loved, loved, loved the results. But here’s the scoop with reds, you can’t just apply them any old way and they really emphasize chapped, cracked and peeling lips, so you have to do a little damage control before and after painting them on.  I’ve mentioned before how much I loved Body Shop Lip Scuff--using it once or twice a week is pretty much non-negotiable to ditch those unappealing patches of dry skin that red shines on like a spotlight. To ease lips lines and prevent dryness, I am a huge fan of Aquaphor.  I slather it on my lips and all around my mouth (yes it’s messy and kind of gross looking) a few times a day while I am working at my computer. Everything just seems to look fresher and dewier for the effort .

Red lipstick looks its best when it is precisely painted on, so yes, I am actually using a lip brush to apply it. I am sure that lining and filling in my lips with a lip pencil beforehand would really help make my lips look even better and the color last longer. But I am the worst lip liner on record. If you’re good at it, use a lip liner that matches your lip color, not your lipstick. This way, when the stick wear’s off, you’re not left with a crazy looking dark ring around your mouth.

To prevent my lipstick and gloss from bleeding around my lip lines and migrating up into my nostrils, I take a Q-Tip dipped in pressed powder that matches my skin tone and trace it around the contours of my mouth after I am done applying everything. And I always check for lipstick on my teeth. Nothing, I mean, nothing, is less chic than that, except for maybe when you unwittingly tuck your skirt into your tights or walk around with a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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Secrets and Eyes

by Notorious NYCK February 21

I started my love affair with makeup when I was about 13. As I pored over the pages of Seventeen and Teen, I realized immediately that since I wasn’t tall and skinny like the models, most of the clothes they wore wouldn’t work for me. Makeup, however, was the great equalizer; anyone could  wear it and look the better for it. So I started spending every penny I had at the CVS on Cedar Lane in Teaneck, New Jersey. My most memorable purchases of that era were two Flame Glo blush trios (to blush, contour and highlight) and Blooming Eye Trios from Maybelline in blue, green and brown. Trios were really big back then. My older brother’s girlfriend taught me how to use these products in such a way that I could get bartenders to serve me at the Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties we all went to.  All of a sudden, unpopular me became very popular. Hooray for makeup!

A few years later I graduated to Stagelight and Madeleine Mono—two disco brands with neon colors and loads of iridescence.  In the Nineties, the fashion media made me repent my Eighties’ excesses, beating me over the head with terms like “neutral” and “minimal.’’ So I worshipped at the feet of The Nakeds, Ultima II’s color collection based on a palette of putty, fawn, beige, and taupe that I believe actually sucked the life out of your face. I say this because from 1990-1992 every time I saw my father for dinner he would ask me if I had “been to see a doctor yet.” 

Now that I am  in my mid-forties, my makeup aesthetic has changed yet again, but it has nothing to do with the trends at hand. I have learned that less is not only more, but crucial to not looking washed-out, tired and older than I’d like. And taking the extra time to perfectly place products with the appropriate tools makes all the difference in the world. So here are my favorite face-saving solutions. We’ll start with the eyes today and work our way down.  Be on the look out for skin and lips in subsequent entries.

Eyeshadow:
I wear two eyeshadows max (one all-over lid color in some version of plum, or brown and a light, bright, neutral underneath the brow bone).And while I hate to admit this because I love sparkle, glitter and shimmer, these days my eyelids look way better with matte and velvet-textured shadows.

When I use a flat “eyeshadow” brush to apply it, the shadow plops down in a huge splotch of color that won’t budge no matter how much I sweep the brush across the skin. Recently I’ve enlisted the aid of the Bare Escentuals Quick Color & Crease Brush. Through trial and error I have found that by using it in the opposite way it’s intended, I get a really smooth and even application. I apply my lid color with the “crease” end (it’s kind of long and pointy like a paint brush) in small circular motions from the outer to inner corners. Since eyes look bigger and wider set apart if you have a darker wash of color on the outer corners,I start my shadow application there when I have the most shadow on my brush and work my way inward. I use the flat “shadow” end to sweep color underneath my brow bones. The skin is smoother there so it’s easier to get a clean application without too much muss and fuss. Dior, Bobbi Brown and MAC make the best shadows. They don’t skip or streak, blend seamlessly, and don’t “fall” off the brush down your cheek as you apply them.

Concealer
I used to be able just to slap a little cover up on in the general direction of my under eyes but this has become a tricky product for me lately.  If I use the wrong type and/or don’t place it carefully, I look far the worse for wear, as it can settle into my lines and accentuate my bags. So I now dab on my camouflage cream with a brush and apply it sparingly only to the inner eye sockets closest to my nose where the skin gets the darkest. I leave my puffs and crow’s feet completely concealer-less and look the better for it. MAC Select Cover-Up brightens and gives great coverage, while being thin and flexible so it doesn’t crease or settle into indentations.

Liner: 
Not to draw too fine a point on this, but, I totally suck at lining my eyes. No matter what pro-tip I try (and I’ve tried ’em all), it just never seems to work out for me. But if you love liner and it doesn’t seem to be loving you these days, I am going to hand you off to Bobbi Brown. To me, she really gives the clearest lining tips based on your eye shape, which does tend to change with age as our faces lose fat, collagen and elasticity. Check out her “Living Beauty” book for simple step-by-steps.

Lashes:
Now that my lashes are somewhat sparser than they were in my thirties, “lengthening”  formulas can make them look spikey and spindly. So I am all about “thickening” or combination formulas. My favorite mascara hands down is Cover Girl Lash Blast Fusion. With just one quick coat it makes my lashes look long and lush in a beautifully natural way. I should probably also talk to you about the myriad benefits of curling your eyelashes. Anytime a pro does this for me, I am delighted at how happy and peppy my eyes look. But I am absolutely terrified of doing it myself. And quite honestly,  I just can’t get all hot and bothered about curling mascaras.  The ones I’ve tried haven’t done much of anything. But if you can fearlessly wield an eyelash curler, I encourage you to take that extra time to do so before you apply your mascara. Shu Uemura’s eyelash curler is still the darling of the industry.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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It's a Wash

by Notorious NYCK February 15

I feel like I am in a Seinfeld episode. It seems as though every time I get a piece of clothing dry cleaned in the East Bay, it comes back in worse shape than when I dropped it off. Black sweaters are covered in lint that wasn’t there before, shell buttons are broken off cardigans and stains on silk blouses are more vivid than ever. Sure, dry cleaning isn’t as big a thing out here as in NYC, because people wear more casual clothes here. But come on, really? I used to worship my New York dry cleaner, who was just the loveliest woman and a truly talented tailor with an incredible eye. In fact, I spent a fortune with her.  (New Yorkers willing make to make the trek to Riverdale can see Lucy Lugar at Churchill Valet, she is worth the trip.)

Though he is no Lucy,  I am totally happy with the tailor Zoltan (handsome, charming, stylish man who knows his way around a sewing machine and thread) at Advanced European Tailoring on Addison in Berkeley. But I am simply not finding dry cleaning satisfaction on this coast. Plus, I am seriously short on funds. So, I decided to attempt the previously unthinkable—hand washing. I figured I’d start with sweaters, since blouses need ironing. The last time I tried to iron was in college and I ended up setting off the smoke alarm.

I did not fare much better with hand washing. No matter how carefully I tried to smooth out the sweaters to let them dry, they came out wrinkly and stretched out in some places, shrunken in others. One sleeve almost always ended up longer than the other, and both arms were baggy at the shoulders, wrists and elbows. Plus, I gotta say, almost all of my sweaters have seen better days, so I couldn’t really get a hard-on about trying to take such good care of them. I love cashmere, but it sure loves to pill.

So I’m just tickled to have discovered thelaundress.com, a website chock full of hand washing and garment-saving tips that sells the company’s eponymous line of gentle, great-smelling and super- effective products.

Here are the company’s tips for hand-washing sweaters that have saved my bacon, my cashmere and hundreds of dollars. I’ve pretty much lifted them word for word since I don’t trust my editing instincts in this instance. When it comes to hand washing, I leave it to the masters. And please forgive all of the shameless product plugs. I left them in because I am completely infatuated with this line.

Pre-treat:
• De-pill first if the item has heaving pilling. Brush the pilled areas with The Laundress Sweater Stone and shake out. [The Stone, so you know, works way better than those battery-powered sweater shavers, which to me, don’t do jack.]
• Examine for stains: pre-treat with The Laundress Stain Solution [Painlessly removed smeared chocolate from my gray cashmere cardigan] .
• Do not mix colors, wash with like colors only.

Hand washing:
• Turn item inside out to wash the fabric where stains and odors build up on the inside closest to your body and underarms.
• Prepare a “bath” –basin of cool/tepid water with 2 capfuls of The Laundress Wool and Cashmere Shampoo.
• Submerge item(s) in bath using your hands to agitate the water and detergent.
• Soak for at least ½ hour. It is harmless to leave soaking for longer unless you are washing silk.
*DO NOT PANIC if you see color in the water. This is normal and it is simply the yarn dye releasing color. You will not notice any loss of color at the end.
• Rinse well - running room temperature water until soapy water is gone.
• Do not wring; press the water out of the item instead. [Key to preventing wrinkles.]

Dry/Finish:
• To dry - place item on top of a towel making sure the towel and item is flat and in its original shape, then roll up in the towel (like a rolling pin) to remove excess water. [I found this step the single most important one in terms of helping my sweaters keep keep their shape.]
*To speed up the drying process, use more than one towel and repeat several times.
• To finish drying - lay item flat in its natural shape on a drying rack or towel. Hang, if item will not stretch or deform.
• When dry - finish removing any extra pills as noted above.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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Best-Ever Body Products

by Notorious NYCK February 9

So, I have to admit, I’m making myself (and my sweet husband) crazy today. I just read in my friend’s blog (my favorite writer of all times and just a downright amazing human being. Check out momover.net) that she weighs 106 pounds. F$#%&!!! Just one pound less than what I used to weigh during my thirties and early forties before I went on the anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen (I am only 4ft11 and my friend is tiny too, so these weights are not as ridiculous as they seem).  Now it seems no matter what I do (and remember, I’ve written about health and fitness for two decades, so I have a lot of available resources) I am carrying 6-7 extra pounds, which is a lot on an under-five-foot frame.

No one can seem to give us women taking Tamoxifen a straight answer on why it causes weight gain and what to do about it. Because I will tell you, the vigorous exercise and dieting I am doing doesn’t help, unless of course I’d weigh more if I didn’t knock myself out and starve myself every day. Some professionals deign to say there is no scientific proof that Tamoxifen actually causes weight gain (my oncologist is in this camp).  But tell that to the women I know taking the drug who are 20 pounds heavier.

My kindly gynecologist urges me to not dwell on numbers and just do the best that I can to stay really active, eat well and take care of my health. Easy for her to say, she is thin as a pin! But I know she is probably right, and it would be so nice to give myself a break for a change.  Anyhow, I am a big believer in taking control over what I can and trying not to dwell on what I can’t. So if I can’t get my weight back to where I want it for the five years that I am on the drug, I am sure as hell going to make sure my body looks the best it possibly can. So here, my all-time favorite products designed to do just that.

The Best of the Best
Body Lotion:
Fresh Sugar Lemon Body Lotion, Fresh Seaberry Emollient Body Cream.
The lotion is the best-smelling thing I have ever come across in my life, but it’s not really emollient enough for me. When I have time and I am inclined, I layer Fresh Sugar Bath Oil underneath it. The oil smells even better than the moisturizer and makes skin gleam. And then I kinda feel all sybaritic and decadent. For no muss, no fuss, intense moisturizeation and skin nourishment,  I use the cream. It makes my skin feel like buttah, and I love the pump bottle for extra-fast and easy application. This is a great product!

Bikini Wax: Lauren at Cocoon (San Francisco) and Merritt at Cocoon Bare (Oakland).
Both ladies are super fast, professional and gentle. It’s a toss up between who gives the more painless, thorough wax, because Lauren and Merritt are both spectacular, and both spas are really, really lovely.

Invention: GiGi Anesthetic Numbing Spray
Lauren and Merritt are fantastic, but I still like to hedge my bets with this super easy-to-use little miracle worker. It’s formulated with 4% Lidocaine, can be used on any and all body parts and makes waxing more comfortable.

Treatment: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peels for Body
These two-step pads really, really, really work on the bumps on the backs of my arms and legs (Keratosis Pilaris a.k.a KP). They also fade discolorations and stretch marks, have a firming effect and give skin an all-over glow. They just make my body skin look “younger” overall, the way the facial peels work on my complexion. I try to use them twice a week for noticeable results.

Investment: Intense Pulse Light Therapy (IPL) Permanent Hair Reduction at NYC’s Completely Bare
This procedure is truly God’s gift to women. Ten years ago I had my underarms and bikini line done and I have never had to shave since. Granted, a few stray hairs have sprung up over the years but they are thin, light and spindly. There are truly not enough good things to say about Completely Bare and IPL, even though the treatment is ungodly expensive and hurts like hell. (I’ve read that IPL feels like a rubber band snapping against your skin; I wish it felt that good.)  Meanwhile, CB owner Cindy Barshop is a total rockstar. You will love her. When I win the lottery, I am going to have all of my body parts done. It is even worth the expense of flying back to NYC.

Razor: Gillette Mach 3
The Venus may be “for women” but it can’t hold a candle to the Mach 3. Once I served on a panel for a beauty products manufacturer, and each and every editor they polled picked the Mach 3 over its feminine counterpart. It’s just that good.

Shaving Cream: Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel
I get razor burn and bumps like nobody’s business, and this gel really seems to help. It makes the razor glide across the skin and is super conditioning. The best part? Target frequently runs specials on this product. I’ve also heard great things about the Positively Smooth version. I am totally going to check it out and see if it “makes you shave less often.”

Scrub: Dermadoctor KP Duty Scrub, Fresh Brown Sugar Body Polish.
Here’s the thing--I am not 100% happy with either product, but these two come the closest in terms of meeting my skin-smoothing needs. First off, they’re both in jars which makes me crazy—so cumbersome in the shower--you have to find some place to put the lid and then hold the tub, while scooping out product, which in turn lodges under your fingernails. Plus, the container almost always fills up with water and thins out your scrub no matter what damage control you do. Dermadoctor really works on my KP (amazing!) and is white so it doesn’t muck up my shower but it’s not very luxurious to use.The Fresh scrub smells divine and is super emollient, but that makes it really slippery in the shower. Meanwhile, the granules are brown so they stain my white tiles. So I am sending an appeal out to product manufacturers: Please invent an uber-luxurious body scrub in a tube that works on KP that won’t mess up my tub.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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The Notorious NYCK Hit Parade of the Best Above-the-Neck Beauty Products

by Notorious NYCK February 7

So you may be wondering why you would ever care in a million years about my favorite beauty products. Well, I’ll tell you. For most of my 23-year career, I’ve worked as a beauty and fitness editor or director at women’s magazines—WWD, YM, Mode and Elle. And when I stopped doing that, I wrote a book on skincare with NYC’s Dr. Dennis Gross, as well as beauty and fitness articles for Town & Country, Harper’s Bazaar, Self, Glamour, Fitness and Shape. So I’ve definitely come across my fair share of products and treatments.

The thing of it is, I don’t work for magazines right now, (more on what I do later) so I have to pay for all of this stuff, just like you. So I am really learning when it’s worth shelling out the cash for “goods” and services.

I took on the NYCK handle because last year, the hubby and I uprooted ourselves from our 40-year plus existences in NYC and relocated to San Francisco for “the job my dreams.” Things didn’t exactly turn out as planned. I was diagnosed with breast cancer three months after we moved and the job fell through. So here I am, in the East Bay, recovering from breast cancer and trying to stem the downward appearance- spiral caused by middle age and the anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen. The worst part? I am away from the posse of Big Apple beauty pros who held me together for over two decades and without all of the luxury products and spa treatments that spoiled me rotten and gave me a leg up in the anti-aging department.

But this is not a pity party. Life is good. I have made beautiful friends in the East Bay, live on a gorgeous lake, have an amazing husband of nearly 20 years and actually survived breast cancer. Not to mention years and years of knowledge about how I can make myself look and feel better. And I hope I can help you too! This blog takes on my favorite above-the-neck beauty skincare products. Subsequent entries will address makeup and body care. And then we will start tackling beauty, health and fitness issues—I’ve amassed some great tips and tricks over the years. So here goes…

The Best of the Best:

Lip Treatment: Fresh Sugar Advanced Therapy
Really moisturizing and soothing. It may even be plumping up my lips and easing lip lines. I’ll have to get back to you on that. For day, I like the Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment SPF 15. It doesn’t have a de-aging effect but it smells great, moisturizes, protects from the sun and gives a sexy sheen.

Anti-Aging Treatments: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peels, Vitamin C Brightening Serum and Firming Serum.
I use the peels every other night and combine both serums in the palms of my hands before applying to my face morning and night. I top with a moisturizer with SPF in the a.m. and a cream at night. These are amazingly effective products in terms of imparting radiance and a fresh rosy glow, diminishing lines and wrinkles and firming. I've been using this combo since my early thirties and couldn't be happier with the results.

Facial Moisturizers: Still searching.
Nothing has blown my skirts up for either day or night yet. But I am eagerly awaiting my delivery of Bobbi Brown Extra Moisturizing Balm SPF 25 for day and Dr. Dennis Gross Age Erase Moisture with Mega 10 for Face for night. Will keep you posted and your suggestions are welcome.

Eyecreams: TBD
Anything that is moisturizing enough for my lines and wrinkles makes my bags puff  out  worse and irritates my eyes. Anything that shrinks the bags makes my lines and wrinkles stand out in bas relief and dries out my skin. I am definitely going to be devoting a full blog entry to tackling this contradiction in beauty terms.

Blemish Beater: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
This potion truly is “hope in a bottle.” Just dab it on before bed and you always wake up zit-free, or at the very least with a pimple of way-less-epic proportions than the one you had the night before.

Whitening Toothpaste: Plus White
My dentist always thinks I am sneaking off to someone else to get pro-bleaching treatments. Since I can’t afford them, I am addicted to this paste.

Cleanser: Vichy 3 in 1 Cleansing Micellar Solution
Neither my grandmother nor my mother cleansed with water and their skin was and is impeccable. So I’ve adopted that philosophy even though I know that water is perfectly salubrious to skin. This non-sudsing, clear liquid completely removes makeup and cleanses without stripping or leaving behind any kind of residue in just a swipe or two and doesn’t sting the eyes.  It’s a great value and fairly easy to find in drugstores.

Lip Exfoliant: Body Shop Lip Scuff
It’s so great that it’s in a tube. I absolutely hate, just hate, dipping my fingers into jars, getting product underneath my fingernails and then smearing all of that bacteria over my face. Lip Scuff gently gets rid of all of those white, crusty, scabby patches without ripping up the rest of your skin.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy!


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