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

What a Bargain!

by Notorious NYCK May 18 Beauty

Years ago, Marie Claire invented a fabulous column called Splurge vs. Steal that showed delicious, drool-worthy designer products paired with their far more realistically priced doppelgangers. And it was genius! Everyone and their brother knocked it off. (Lust vs. Must, anyone?) No one had ever had the balls to say, “There is cheap stuff that looks just like the expensive-as-hell-stuff. And here it is.”  Talk about pissing off high-end advertisers. But somehow it worked, and I don’t think there were too many casualties.  Some people, though, didn’t get it. I remember one grande dame in the PR industry saying to me, “I think that column is ridiculous, why would anyone buy the expensive version when they can have the cheaper one? They should call the column, Smart vs. Stupid. I mean, no one is that stupid.”

OK--truth time: I am that “stupid.”  I not only prefer to make the “stupid” choice, I revel in it. I just happen to like (ok love) designer and expensive. With beauty products (and don’t get me started on shoes and handbags), the packaging is always more gorgeous, the makeup pigment richer, the textures more luscious, the moisturizers more moisturizing, the fragrances finer and the effects more profound. I know these thoughts aren’t rational because there are tons of mass market beauty products that are really, really good—probably, great, even. I just don’t get the same rush slogging my way through poorly-stocked and disarrayed drugstore aisles or even Target (sacrilege I know)  as I do blissfully strolling the beauty floor of Bergdorf Goodman. And I have a love/hate relationship with Sephora. Even though it has fabulous products, the place is always a mess, badly-stocked, crowded, noisy and deplorably lit. I feel like I am doing battle every time I go in there, unless I am meeting my star beauty advisor Zoe at the Powell Street store in SF.

But my allegiance to all things expensive is no longer feasible now that the cosmetics companies aren’t sending me all of their latest and greatest products (and my daily staples) for free. So here Notorious NYCK sits—a girl with champagne tastes on a beer budget. But with a little digging and a whole lot of resolve, I’ve found a few reasonably priced versions of my extravagantly-priced addictions. And while they don’t elicit the same passion, these cheaper products do get the job done--and I am only suffering slightly as a result of the substitutions. I know, I know, everyone should have such problems!

Splurge: Clarins Water Comfort One-Step Cleanser with Peach Essential Water : $32.50 ( 
This is a beautiful cleanser. It’s fast, gentle, thorough and moisturizing. And Its heavenly peach fragrance makes it a pure pleasure to use.

Steal: Sephora Collection Triple Action Cleansing Water: $14
The only drawback to making this switch is missing out on the sublime scent of the Clarins version. This cleanser is every bit as good. Promise.

Splurge: Dior Snow UV Shield SPF 50: $50 (
I’d like to pause and just take a moment to worship at the temple of Dior. I am obsessed with its beauty products; they are just beyond gorgeous. This sunscreen is silky, moisturizing, non-irritating, applies like a dream and is completely imperceptible on skin. Plus, its sleek white tube with black accents is perfectly portable and incredibly chic. And while it does contain some chemical sunscreen, Snow UV Shield’s key defensive ingredient is zinc oxide, which is great for sensitive skin. An added bonus is that natural sunscreens like zinc and titanium dioxide provide immediate protection against the sun since, they are physical blocks. With chemical sunscreens, you need to wait at least 30 minutes before their protective powers kick in.

Steal: Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer Pure Screen SPF 50: $11.99 (
The tube is nothing to write home about and the consistency a little less velvety than Dior’s, but this product is a good, daily 100% natural sunscreen with moisturizing properties that blends well and doesn’t leave a preternaturally white sheen on skin like 100% natural sunscreens can.

Splurge: Nars Monoi Body Glow II: $59 (
God I love Nars. It is impossibly glamorous. If I could eat it, I would.  I first got turned on to the tinted version of this product (Body Glow) by this young gorgeous European couple who used to summer next door to us on Fire Island. Both he and she would frolic in the sand and surf in low SPFs and tiny bathing suits. At the end of the day, they would anoint each other’s sun-kissed skin with this divinely-scented, shimmery cocoa-colored oil. (This act was only a little less pornographic than it sounds.) They looked so golden and gleaming, I had to try this magic elixir myself. What I got for my efforts were brown streaks (I am glow-in-the-dark pale so the color didn’t blend) and stained clothes. I am also impatient and not interested in “drying time.” But I am obsessed with the clear version of this product. It makes skin crazy soft, lends a subtle shimmer and imparts a flowery coconutty scent. 

Steal: Monoi Tipanie (, $7.98):
I am pretty darn proud of myself for finding this bargain-priced version. It looks, smells and feels just as good as the Nars product.  And while the packaging is less chic, it’s sort of retro and kitschy with a Gauguin-style Tahitian woman on the label, so you can’t help but smile every time you use it. Monoi oil was originally created in Tahiti, BTW. It’s comprised of pure coconut extract macerated with the bud of the tiare flower (Tahitian gardenia), which supposedly infuses the oil with nutrients as well as a delicate, fragrance. The Tahiti-iti (God, don’t you just love that name?) website offers several different scents of Monoi oil, but the one that most closely resembles the Nars product is the Tipanie, or Frangipani variation.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.

Retinoids Redux

by Notorious NYCK April 10

After years of denim overload, the fashion media is proclaiming the “return of the trouser,” which I’m all for; there is nothing more flattering than a pair of well-fitting pants. But for my body, the new trouser trend is  problematic. The reason? All of today’s pants seem to be skinny and cropped. And since I’m 4ft11 with muscular calves, this style totally sucks for me. So I got to thinking about my favorite pants ever.

One of the biggest regrets I have is succumbing to fashion peer pressure and ditching my Chaiken and Capone Maggie Boot Cut pants in 2000, right after I started at Elle as Beauty Director. They had been my and every other editor’s go-to pants in the mid-90s--a great cotton twill stretch with the perfect rise and a nice baby boot leg. But as with so many things, the fickle fashion industry turned on Chaiken & Capone and they became beyond “out”. High-end consignment stores actually posted signs: “No Chaikens” and an extremely fashionable industry friend harangued me to stop wearing them. So I bundled them up and brought them over to a women’s shelter. I’d kill to have them now. 

baguetteI was smarter about another high-fashion trend: The extraordinarily glamorous Fendi Baguette, which came and went in much the same manner. Vogue says it’s back and I am thrilled beyond. I kept mine when everyone else was letting theirs go. Of course I have no place to wear it out here in hippie and hiking country but I remain hopeful.

Retinoids’ Return?

retinaI’ve also been reading about the “Return of Retinoids,” which makes me smile. I wasn’t aware that Retinoids went anywhere, and if they did, they shouldn’t have. Studies have shown beyond a doubt that these vitamin A derivatives stimulate the production of new skin cells and inhibit collagen breakdown. Retinol is the non-prescription, less irritating and less potent wrinkle-fighting form. Prescription-strength tretinoin, which is the key ingredient in Retin-A and Renova, is a powerful line and wrinkle eraser but can cause inflammation and peeling.

Despite the great research behind Retinoids, in recent years other ingredients have been stealing the spotlight. Some of them have promising findings behind them, such as Lycopene, Green Tea Extract, Resveratrol, Genistein (from soy), Co-Enzyme Q-10,  Coffee Berry, Grape Seed Extract, Idebenone, and Copper Peptides. But the research isn’t as solid on any one of these puppies as it is for Retinoids and even for Vitamin C,  which has proven to be one of the strongest catalysts of collagen growth. C’s also a reliable antioxidant, can fade pigmentation spots and impart radiance. But like Retinoids, it can be irritating and increase sun sensitivity, both of which accelerate the signs of aging. So it’s a delicate balance to get the maximum benefits from these two ingredients with the least amount of irritation.

But Retinoids, for now, appear to be the hardest hitting weapon in the anti-aging arsenal. In fact, my new San Francisco derm, David MacGregor, said that along with daily use of an SPF 30 and some form of antioxidant protection, the single best thing that I could do to stop the clock was up my Renova usage from once a week to two or three times—even if it means backing off my Vitamin C, O.T.C. Retinol and exfoliating acid products to avoid irritation. It’s pricey ($210/tube) and my skin was a little angry the first week, but since then it seems to have calmed down. And I am seeing serious improvements plus I can now resume, what I and many experts believe, my killer regimen. Why is it killer?  It not only incorporates vitamin C and Retinoids but many of the other ingredients mentioned above. To me, using as many anti-aging ingredients as possible is like chicken soup for the skin: As long as I avoid irritation and wear sunscreen,  it’s unlikely those extras are going to hurt me and far, far more likely (as some research indicates) that they will help.

The Notorious NYCK Anti-Aging Night-Time Regimen

Dr. Dennis Gross Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peels
, $78 (multi-exfoliating acids, green tea extract, chamomile, anti-oxidant vitamins A, C, E, Co-Q10, retinol, genistein and resveratrol); Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Serum, $95 (18% Vitamin C Complex) and Dr. Dennis Gross Firming Serum, $95 (green tea extract, vitamins A, C, E, peptides, moisture power-house hyaluronic acid, genistein, lycopene and Co-Q10).

I use the peels as directed on clean, dry skin (water droplets can inhibit the absorption of active ingredients), wait a few minutes and then apply the two serums, after first mixing them together in the palms of my hands. I try to engage in this ritual at least one hour before bed so the serums don’t rub off on my pillow.

Tues-Thurs-Sat:  Renova. Again, apply to clean, dry skin, at least one hour before bedtime, you don’t want this cream to slide into your eyes when you lie down; it burns like hell.

Sunday: Rest! I just cleanse and slather on a basic moisturizer to let my skin recover from all of the active ingredients I use throughout the week.

By day, I  keep it simple to avoid stressing my skin: Aveeno Active Naturals Smart Essentials Daily Nourishing Moisturizer with vitamins A, C, & E, $12.47. If I’m going to be outside for an extended period of time, I’ll use Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 50 Purescreen, $11.19.

This is a pretty aggressive anti-aging regimen and sometimes my skin gets flaky,  dry and/or red from it, which means it's time to back off.  So then I use the Renova just around my eyes and on my lip lines, instead of all over my face and switch to Dr. Dennis Gross regular Alpha Beta Peels instead of the Extra-Strength variety.

For those seeking non-prescription strength Retinol products, I love Glow by Dr. Brandt Overnight Resurfacing Serum, $85. It contains 2% Retinol, which is high by over-the-counter standards and delivers really respectable results. I recently picked up Vichy Laboratories Reti-C Intensive Corrective Care SPF 15, $42 from the drugstore. To be honest with you, I’m not crazy about the smell and its moderate SPF 15 (I layered my Aveeno SPF 30 on top) but I love that it combines both C and Retinol to smooth wrinkles by “10% in 28 days.”

puma-californiaSo as far as Notorious is concerned, trends may come and go, but at least three things remain forever fashionable: Chaiken & Capone Maggie Bootcut pants, the Fendi Baguette and Retinoids. And Puma California's, which the company has somehow stopped making. So I am fiercely hanging onto mine. And hear this industry peeps: No amount of peer pressure is going to make me give them up!  Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.

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