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

Beauty Tips: The Dirty (Baker's) Dozen

by Notorious NYCK May 28 Beauty

Over the years I have received a fair amount of beauty advice and information. And let me tell you, not all of it has been beneficial. In fact, sometimes well-intentioned counsel uttered with the utmost authority has left me with beauty dilemmas way more disastrous than the original problems I was hoping to solve. Granted, some of these dramas may have occurred due to my own ineptitude—I am not terribly handy or coordinated. But sometimes, free advice is worth exactly what it costs. So I’ve compiled a list of some of the doozies past and present in the hopes of sparing you the same agony.

The Notorious NYCK 13 Worst Beauty Tips Ever

  1. Brush your lips with a damp, old toothbrush to rid them of flakes. I really can’t tell you the origin of this tip. It’s certainly cost-effective, but can I just say, “Ouch”? A soft washcloth works just as well and is way less irritating. Or you can use my favorite lip slougher, Body Shop Lip Scuff, $12 (bodyshop.com).
  2. Apply moisturizer to damp skin. The theory is that the the lotion will seal the water into your skin for extra hydration. But in reality, the moisturizer just slides off my still-slick face, as does any makeup I apply on top of it. But there is also some solid science behind waiting a few minutes for skin to completely dry, post-cleansing, before applying moisturizer: lingering water droplets can prevent some active ingredients, like prescription Retinol and anti-acne medications, from being absorbed into skin.
  3. Wear matte and muted tones once you’re out of your 20s, since bright and dark colors can wash you out, and shimmer can emphasize lines and wrinkles. The second half of this statement is true for me. But the first half is a joke. Nothing, and I mean nothing, sucks the life out of my 46-year old face like drying matte textures and washed out neutrals. True, some shimmer can settle into lines and wrinkles causing them to stand out in bas relief, and super bright or intensely dark hues can look ghastly.  But removing all texture and color from my makeup kit yielded even more disturbing results. So I am all about velvet and satin textures, which are creamier than matte but without any sparkle,  in shades that can best described as “soft” and “fresh.” And note to us girls of a certain age: a subtle shimmer on cheek and brow-bones can still look really lovely.
  4. Lipstick and lipgloss can double as eyeshadow or blush: It’s very alluring to think that a few quick swipes of one product can make up your whole face. Think of the time and money you can save! But lipgloss and lipstick are specifically formulated for your lips (amazing, I know). They contain emollients that aren’t in blush and eyeshadow, since your lips are  prone to dryness due to their lack of oil glands. These added moisturizers make lip items way too greasy for cheeks and even more so for eyelids, which are replete with natural oils.
  5. You can mend split ends: No matter how luxe the product or extravagant the claims, it just ain’t true.   But this beauty rumor persists. In fact, I just read an ad that says its products, “Bind up to 92% of split ends back together in one use.” Save your money; the only surefire way to get rid of splits is to snip them off. I know, I know. It often means going shorter than we want to. And I’m not telling you, you have to. But I am telling you the truth.
  6. Use a big fluffy powder brush to apply blush and bronzer for the sheerest, most natural-looking effect: This idea has merit because big and fluffy brushes deposit a diffuse wash of color rather than a concentrated splotch like smaller tightly-packed ones. But the color can be so diffuse that you can barely see it. Or worse still is ending up with an overall too-pink or muddy-looking complexion, since the product gets spread out all over your face. I like to use a blush brush with densely-packed bristles that are just long enough to be flexible without being floppy. This way, I can control where I put the powder so I can define my cheekbones, highlight around my eyes and add an extra pop of color to the apples of my cheeks
  7. Preparation H is a miracle under eye de-puffer: I haven’t seen this tip around lately, thank God. But it was huge in the 90s through the early 2000s. But just in case you see it again, repeat after me, “There’s just one place Preparation H is meant to go and that’s not underneath the eyes.”  Yes,  this hemorrhoid remedy does contain ingredients that soothe inflammation, a key cause of puffy eyes. But bags are also caused by fluid retention, allergies and genetics, which this cream doesn’t address. Plus, other ingredients in Prep H are drying to the skin and could really sting if they migrate into your eyes. My favorite eye de-puffer du jour is MAC Fast Response Eye Cream, $30 (maccosmetics.com). It works almost immediately and makes the whole eye area look lighter, brighter and less swollen.
  8. Nails need to breathe, so go polish-free whenever possible: Since the nail is only alive at the part that is below the skin,  there is actually no living and breathing going on where you can see it. In fact, removing polish in the hopes of giving your tips oxygen to lengthen their lifespan will only hasten their demise, since they will be left unprotected from bangs and bumps.
  9. Apply Rogaine to Help Grow Back Over-Plucked Brows:  While its exact mechanism isn’t fully known, Rogaine is believed to work by enlarging the hair follicles on the scalp that can shrink with age, hormonal shifts and heredity, to help prolong the hair’s life cycle.  But Rogaine has neither been tested on nor is intended for usage on the eyebrows.  And it burns like hell if it gets into your eyes.  Besides, Rogaine doesn’t grow hair back uniformly, so you can end up with random bits of fuzz. That growth pattern isn’t tragic when it’s in your scalp, but it looks pretty strange when it’s in your eyebrows. A better bet?  Brow powders and pencils to fill in sparse areas. Some pros like to use both for added staying power. Use the pencil first and then retrace your steps with the powder. Try Dior Powder Eyebrow Pencil with Brush, $29 (dior.com) and Clinique Brow Shaper, $15 (clinique.com).
  10. Pop an Ibuprofen or two prior to waxing or laser hair removal: It may help deaden some of the pain, but since Advil thins the blood, it can increase your chances of bruising and redness. But I’m not suggesting you simply tough it out…I certainly don’t. Before I get my bikini line done,  I always spray on Gigi Anesthetic Numbing Spray, $10.99 (sallybeauty.com). Trust me, this spritz is life-changing.
  11. Flip your head over when you are blow drying for non-stop volume: This technique actually gives your hair width (think: Bride of Frankenstein) not height. For maximum oomph, start with a really good volumizing shampoo and conditioner.  I am simply mad for  Living Proof Full Shampoo, $24 and Full Conditioner, $24 (livingproof.com). They make hair beautifully shiny and bouncy without drying it out or stripping the color like most volumizing products do. To style, lift sections of hair toward the sky as you blow-dry, directing hot air toward your scalp. This dries the roots in an upright and lifted position.
  12. A drop of hand cream or facial moisturizer tames flyaway tresses in a pinch: Anytime I try this tip, I end up with greasy, matted down locks. These products are just too emollient for anything but desert-dry hair.  Hairspray seems better suited to emergency smoothing than either lotion. Spray a tiny bit into the palms of your hands and lightly pat the outer surface of your hair to calm any rebellious strands.  Nexxus Comb Thru, $9.96 (walmart.com) is a good one.
  13. For incredible shine and softness, brush your hair 100 strokes a day: This suggestion is ancient. Vigorous brushing was probably used as a way to remove the dulling residue that the overly alkaline cleansers of the distant past left in the hair and scalp. But today’s shampoos, for the most part, are designed to rinse out cleanly and completely. So this step is unnecessary.  Brushing the hair can be a  good way to help distribute the scalp’s natural oils throughout the length of the shaft, which can impart shine. But over-brushing (and anything more than 10 or so daily strokes falls into that category) actually stresses and weakens hair follicles, which leads to breakage, split ends and frizz.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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 (clarins.com) 
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 (dior.com)
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 (Neutrogena.com)
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 (nars.com)
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 (tahiti-iti.com, $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.


At Your Service

by Notorious NYCK April 23 Beauty * General

You know what really grinds my gears?  Those “helpful” suggestions in magazines like:  “Instead of eating pepperoni pizza, why not have a rice cake with string cheese, sliced tomato and one teaspoon of bacon bits? Why not? Because a rice cake, which is god awful in and of itself, topped with cheese that has the taste and consistency of plastic, is misery incarnate. Even with bacon bits(!) That’s why not.

Just the other day,  I found the mother suggestion of them all: Instead of French Fries, slice up some parsnips; spritz with non-stick cooking spray, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 30 minutes. Yup. That should do it. Craving quashed.

Hyperbole also gets my undies in a twist. I just read somewhere that hearts of romaine is “chock-full of vitamin C.” A quick internet search reveals that six leaves offer a mere 4% of the USRDA for vitamin C--not exactly “chock full of” proportions.

But what really chaps my rear is poor customer service. And in the last few weeks, I have run into some stunning examples of it. But rather than bitching about how mean everyone is to me, I am going to accentuate the positive. So here, the Notorious NYCK hit list of my best customer service experiences, ever. (Clearly, hyperbole is fine when it comes from me.)

murad.com: Your products arrive super fast— roughly three days--with free samples in mini- tubes or bottles instead of those creepy paper packettes that get all wet and slimy when you try to use them. Plus, there’s always gift-with-purchase and free-shipping offers depending on how much you spend and what products you buy.

nordstrom.com: I had been lusting over an Autumn Cashmere cropped cardigan since before Christmas and it finally went on sale last week. But the site no longer had my size. Bastards! The customer ratings all said that it “ran really small.” So against my better judgment, I ordered the medium. I am seldom, if ever, a medium.  When the sweater was delivered, I was so overjoyed at how freaking cute it was, I cut the tags off and threw out the prepaid return label even before I tried it on. I recognize this is not the behavior of a sane person. But awareness is the first step to recovery, right? Not surprisingly, the sweater was too big and had to go back. But the gracious customer service rep emailed me a new return label in a matter of minutes and assured me I could make the return without the tags attached. (I put them in the box.) BTW, all shipping and returns at nordstrom.com are free.

Tiffany in Union Square, San Francisco: The lovely salesgirl  let me return a necklace that was given to me a year ago without a gift receipt or any evidence of the sale in the system, since the item was still in “saleable condition”  and in the original blue box and shopping bag.

piperlime.com: Neurotic woman that I am, 30 minutes after I placed an order, I changed my mind about it. The website clearly states, however, that you cannot change or cancel an order once you hit the “confirm” button. But to my surprise and delight, the customer service rep on the phone gave me the jeans in question at 50% off  to “make it up to me.”

bluefly.com: Just one day after I ordered a sweater, it went on sale. Chalking it up to bad timing and not expecting much of anything, I called customer service and explained the situation. Lo and behold, Bluefly makes price adjustments up to 10 days after a transaction.

tweezerman.com:  Tweezerman amazingly sharpens any Tweezerman tweezers for free.  Just slip a clean pair into a padded envelope and mail to its New York headquarters. The site states that it takes six-to-eight weeks for the process. Unfortunately it took a good 10 weeks for me to get mine back, which is a dangerous thing for a girl on Tamoxifen since the always-glamorous chin hairs are a common side effect.  So I had to hit the Walgreens and purchase another Tweezerman tweezers in the interim. But my refurbished tweezers arrived this week, all four of them, beautifully sharpened and neatly lined up in a clear plastic case with their ends capped to preserve their points. The best part? The company picked up the tab for the return shipping and sent me a package of purple “itty bitty” nail files as a gift. All is forgiven Tweezerman! Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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.


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