I will never abandon you again, The Body Shop’s Aloe Soothing Day Cream

Dear The Body Shop,

Thank you for inventing your little pot of Aloe Soothing Day Cream.  I strayed from using it when I became skeptical of its powers, but immediately regretted my decision.  Once I switched back to using your Aloe Soothing Day Cream, any damage that had been done to my skin by trying a drugstore brand – including hideous dry patches around my nose and cheeks – healed in days.  Days.  Within one week they were completely gone and you would never know my skin had been peeling horrendously from a bad decision.

Just a little dab erases any dryness or irritation on my sensitive skin.  When the redness on my cheeks flares up, your cream calms it down.  My skin is never greasy or oily.  A little bit goes a long way.  It is so light and absorbs so quickly, that it’s hard to believe it actually works.  It has never interfered with any makeup I’ve worn after applying it.  I don’t smell like an old perfume after putting it on, either.

The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetic database scores The Body Shop Aloe Soothing Day Cream as a 1 on its level of toxicity and danger.  A 1.  As in, it’s basically water and aloe and you can’t get much more natural than that.  Making your product baby friendly, pregnancy friendly, TTC-friendly, fertility-friendly, earth-friendly.  Awesome.

Oh, and your products are made from fair trade farmers, which doesn’t exploit workers in third world countries.  Thanks for that, too.

Click for enlarged view

Your price, at $15, doesn’t break the bank and your stores typically have great deals so that it’s even less expensive.

If I ever cheat on you again, The Body Shop Aloe Soothing Day Cream, it will be because I will need a moisturizer with an SPF if my makeup doesn’t have any.  But fortunately, I see you have an Aloe Soothing Moisture Lotion SPF 15.  That’s very good news.

Thank you for this all around awesome product.  I will never need to search for a moisturizer again.




No to Yes to Carrots Soothing Moisturizer

When I ran out of my last facial moisturizer, I decided to give a drugstore natural product a try.  Having sensitive skin with occasional redness, I looked for something that would help keep my skin calm and protected.  I read the labels for lots of different moisturizers and decided to try the Yes to Carrots Soothing Daily Calming Moisturizer.  It says its formulated for sensitive skin and, as it has natural ingredients, what could possibly cause a reaction?  Cucumbers, aloe vera, and almond oil… sounds good to me.

Except it wasn’t.  The first day I used it, I noticed an immediate burning sensation especially in the drier parts of my face on my cheeks and around my nose.  I brushed it off and thought that maybe I should let my skin get used to it, and vowed to try to use it for a few weeks before I criticized.  But day after day, the burning continued, followed by unusual red blotches all over my face that would eventually fade.  The blotches were in random places too, and not always in the same locations, and not always every day.  At the end of the night, after I would wash my face with my usual natural cleanser and makeup remover, my skin was tight and dry.  All of this was the opposite of “soothing,” “calming,” and “gentle.”

It’s been about a month and the symptoms have not gone away.  While they do fade within 10 minutes in the morning, my makeup has been caking in my drier parts of my skin and doesn’t blend as nicely.  It’s the end of the line for me and I’m finally giving up on it.

Yes to Carrots Soothing Daily Calming Moisturizer: retails for $14.99; EWG Skin Deep rating not available, but the regular daily moisturizer is rated a 5 (medium risk).

While it’s nice to have easy access to an over the counter moisturizer that’s natural, I’ve decided to return to the last moisturizer I used – The Body Shop’s Aloe Soothing Day Cream… arriving at my doorstep any day now.

Update to Natural Beauty Review: Almay’s Smart Shade Foundation

I’m getting to the bottom of the Almay Smart Shade Foundation.  I probably have about 1/4 of the container left, and, unfortunately, the color beads are getting a little funky.

ALMAY Smart Shade  Makeup

Now the little blue beads which contain the brown color mixing are kind of taking over the foundation, so that I look either really tanned or bronzed whenever I wear it.  I don’t know if you’re supposed to shake up the container every time you use it – that’s what I’ve been doing lately to try to even out the color – but I try to wipe away the dark blue dots that I know will bronze my face with a tissue before I put it on.  At least it’s summertime and a darker complexion doesn’t look too suspicious… but there were a few days my face was more bronze than my neck.  This is not leaving me with a great impression of the product, and I’ve been switching back to the remainders of my Josie Maran Argan Oil makeup, at least until I figure out something else to try.  Anyone have any suggestions for a natural, shade-adjusting, spf foundation?  🙂

Natural Beauty Review – Josie Maran Argan Matchmaker Foundation vs. Almay Smart Shade Foundation

I can be a late-night tv infomercial sucker.  Friday Night Beauty on QVC always introduces me to new products I didn’t know I’d want or need – and let’s face it, there’s nothing else on tv on Friday nights anyway.  One Friday night I was drawn into the Josie Maran products, particularly watching a white product miraculously transform to perfect skin-tone matching shades, and for that foundation to also have lots of great properties for your skin while being natural, I was intrigued.  Intrigued enough to march straight to Sephora and get myself a sample to try for a few days.

Until that point I had been very happy with the medium and long-lasting coverage I got from my Estee Lauder Double Wear, but I wasn’t so thrilled with it being not-so-natural.  For one week I wore the Josie Maran Argan Oil Matchmaker Foundation on one side of my face and my regular Estee Lauder on the other.  At the end of the day, I couldn’t tell which makeup was on which side of my face.  And the Josie Maran side looked a little less shiny than the Estee Lauder side, which you wouldn’t expect from a foundation with “oil” in it’s name.

So for a few months I went along with the Josie Maran makeup.  What I really liked about having a “matchmaker” foundation was that it was a lifesaver during the early months of new motherhood, when I had a few precious moments to make myself look presentable (or at least look like myself) and not a lot of time to worry about blending in a lot of products.  But once I went back to work it was clear I was going to have to get a product with a little more durability and coverage. 

Josie Maran Argan Matchmaker Foundation Pros: Feels great on your face, like you’re not even wearing makeup.  A little goes a long way.  Makeup you don’t feel guilty about wearing. 
Cons: It does not have lasting power.  Often I’d wipe off the makeup around my nose within an hour if I had to blow my nose – which is the reddest part of my face and needs the most coverage.  No SPF.  The color tinting was a little bit more yellow/brown than my skin tone and often needed more blending around my neckline to look flawless.  You may have to get creative about using up what’s left in the jar because it’s a pump.  And I didn’t see any benefits from the foundation like anti-aging or flawless face perfecting.  But I also didn’t apply it with the foundation brush they recommend.

Hmm, bummer.  The late-night miracle product wasn’t perfect.  What to do?  Enter challenger Almay Smart Shade Foundation.  I had actually always wanted to try this foundation but I never thought the “smart sensing” technology would actually be able to get my skin tone right.  It seemed too good to be true.  But once my sister gave me her unused bottle, I had no excuse not to try it. 

At first I didn’t like it as much as the Josie Maran foundation because it was heavier, but that was due to its having SPF in it.  Once blended, it didn’t feel much heavier than other foundations and it didn’t leave my skin slick.  The shade was a little bit lighter and less yellow, which made it a more natural fit for my skin tone.  A little goes a long way as well, except the Almay doesn’t wipe off easily. 

Almay Smart Shade Foundation Pros: SPF 15 and more of a match for my fair skin (with redness but yellow undertones).  A slight more coverage than the Josie Maran foundation, but not as much as with a full-fledged department store foundation (such as my Estee Lauder Double Wear).  Drugstore prices and easily accessible.  No fragrances and formulated for sensitive skin.
Cons: Not as natural of a product but does limit toxins and other additives that are considered harmful.  I’m not sure how the heavier (initial) feeling of the foundation will react with hotter summer temperatures. 

My decision: Well, I’ll be using my Josie Maran until it’s empty but only on days when I don’t care what my makeup looks like (aka, when I’m not going to work).  Every other day I’ll be using the Almay.  I’ll probably buy the Almay again and use it again, though I still wish I could find something more natural but with the SPF and matchmaking/time-saving/no-mirror-required-to-apply benefits. 

My next beauty review in a few weeks – The Body Shop’s Aloe Soothing Day Cream vs Clinique’s (aka better beauty through chemistry) Redness Solutions Day Creme.

Natural Beauty Review: Ole Henriksen Sheer Transformation

I am a sucker for freebies, an addiction gleefully enabled by Sephora.  I got a deluxe sample of the Ole Henriksen Sheer Transformation what I believed to be moisturizer around the same time I purchased the Ole Henriksen scrub.  I began using both at the same time, and I just ran out of both at the same time, which goes to show that a little goes a long way for both of these products.  Knowing the scrub was already approved for pregnancy, and needing a new lightweight moisturizer, I plunged right in to the Ole Sheer Transformation sampler.

Now, the Sheer Transformation product claims to perform several tasks such as provide anti-aging protection, fade discoloration such as age marks and sun spots, retexturize your complexion, and smooth fine lines.  In truth I don’t really have many of these problems, but I do tend to have the following: persistent redness in cheeks and nose, red spots and acne scars, combination skin with oily forehead and dry cheeks, and crow’s feet.  And I like my moisturizers to be light so that makeup doesn’t cake or react with them, to help emphasize my “natural” makeup look.

In the moisturizer department this product hit all of my requirements.  It was super light, not greasy, absorbed easily into skin, and kept my skin evenly balanced.  And a little goes a long way.

Is it a moisturizer? Is it a treatment cream?

But when it comes to delivering on its other promises, I didn’t notice any changes in my skin.  My acne spots are still there, my cheeks and nose are still red every morning, and there hasn’t been a change in the amount of clogged pores / acne / bumps I still get on my cheeks.  As for fine lines and wrinkles, I really wasn’t paying attention to that aspect and I don’t concentrate the moisturizer on those areas (like crow’s feet) to even know.

The bottom line: I grade this product a B-.  I probably wouldn’t buy this exact product again, especially if I found another moisturizer in the brand that was just as light.  While I didn’t see any “transformative” benefits, one little jar lasts a very long time and offers all around moisture that isn’t greasy and doesn’t aggravate my skin.  I’d definitely consider using other products from the brand.

You can buy this product now at Sephora here for $45.

Choosing a fertility clinic/doctor

I am fortunate enough to live in a metropolitan area where I actually had a choice in reproductive endocrinologist offices.  I realize not everyone has that kind of choice and that I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to seek assistance from both for different reasons.  But when it came down to choosing which one to stick with for my treatment, after some investigations it became pretty clear.

There are two clinics each within 25-30 minutes of my home, and the only ones available for a 50 mile radius.  Fertility Clinic A has been in the area for 25 years, has one doctor and two physician assistants.  Fertility Clinic B has been in the area for maybe 15 years and is one of three locations in the state.  Clinic B also has a spa associated with it that includes services such as acupuncture, yoga and other exercise programs, massage, nail care, waxing – basically the works.  My friend B. actually used Clinic B because of their suite of services and their locations, which allowed her to travel to her home and still receive the same level of care with familiar faces.  Clinic B was my first introduction to fertility clinics by way of B., who wanted to sign up for yoga classes together.

Now, if you are lucky enough to have a choice in clinics or doctors, you can always start the decision making process by looking up the statistics on the Society for Artificial Reproductive Technology’s website, which publishes IVF success rates for every clinic in the country.  But numbers don’t always tell the whole story.  Some clinics might turn you away if they deem you too high risk, which might offset their numbers.  And personally I like percentages rather than wholesale figures.  For instance, Clinic B’s SART report shows over 1500 attempted IVF cycles in 2010 while Clinic A had about 200 IVF cycles reported in that same timeframe.  No doubt a lot of this is attributed to the largess of Clinic B, with three locations and at least one or two doctors at each.  Maybe the smaller number of Clinic A would make people feel nervous – do they have enough experience to really help me (even though they’ve been around for 25 years)?  So consider the percentages: of Clinic A’s 75 IVF cycles in women less than 35 years of age, 53% resulted in a pregnancy.  Clinic B had a whopping 652 IVF cycles for women younger than 35, but only a 36% pregnancy success rate.  There’s much more detailed information on the SART website about these numbers, so be sure to check it out.  Unfortunately, the numbers only detail IVF procedure success, not other therapies such as IUI or medicinal treatments.  It still left me with a little bit of uncertainty as to who to pick.

I decided to try some of the alternative medicine and spa services available through Clinic B, which by the way is a spa open to the public.  I signed up for a month of yoga for fertility classes last summer, took a free fertility nutrition workshop, and enrolled in a “ladies’ night” event where you could sample 4 different mini-spa services in one night.  The yoga was probably what you’d expect a yoga for fertility class to be – easy, relaxing, not very strenuous at all and probably couldn’t count as bona fide exercise.  The nutrition workshop was kind of interesting but a little too on the hippy-side for my taste (the instructor brought hemp pesto to try with almond flour crackers as an example of one of her recipes), and she kind of started by saying that while we could base our nutrition on the Chinese medicinal tables and our own idea of our symptoms, the better way is to meet with an acupuncturist to get an accurate idea of issues with your chi.  I get it, it was a free class, you’d probably expect them to sell you on something.  But it was the ladies’ night’s atmosphere that led me to really shy away from the place.  I paid $60 for what I thought was going to be 2 hours of services, and because of the disorganization turned into 3 hours.  The first part was meditation, where about 20 of us (there were about 60 women total) sat with a therapist who led us through guided meditation.  But then she asked us to share “Who came to meet you in the garden?”  I felt extremely uncomfortable sharing my personal experiences.  Next up was a chair massage, which I would do again with the same masseuse in a heartbeat, and was the most genuine part of the whole experience.  Then it was time for acupuncture – that was really the reason why I went, to see what it was all about.  The acupuncturist asked, “Any pain? What are you working on today?”  “Well, I’ve been trying to get pregnant…”  And after telling him an abbreviated story, he essentially said, “Clomid doesn’t work, acupuncture does, I’ll get you some handouts and my card.”  Having just started the clomid that left me with little hope and wasn’t the reaction I expected from someone who presumably gets his business from the clinic downstairs.  The night ended with a mini-facial (“I would recommend you make an appointment for the cranberry scrub”), a paraffin hand wax and “makeover” which was really just getting matched with a Jane Iredale (all natural) foundation and lipstick.

If you ever have the opportunity to sample services, even peripheral services like these that might be offered by your clinic, or a support group – go ahead and give them a shot before making your final decision.

While Clinic A has none of these fancy offerings, I was afraid of going to Clinic B and having them sell me on the services as part of my treatment plan.  The spa at Clinic B was already trying to sell me tons of products (they really looked at me funny when I didn’t buy anything in the gift shop); what would their medical staff be like?  I know B. saw an acupuncturist regularly, and at $60 a rip I felt like it would be a financial drain (“the more often you go, the better it works”).

It turns out there were a few more philosophical and humbling differences between the two clinics as well.  Clinic B’s entire building smells good.  It smells like the spa, like sugar and flowers and fruit and all kinds of other yumminess.  The clinic’s waiting room has 12 inch travertine floor tiles (money!), a fireplace, leather couches and recliners, dim lighting, bookshelves and DVD racks (all available for purchase), and a K-cup machine for you to make a nice beverage.  Clinic A has tile floors and carpeting, two separate waiting areas (one for the lab and one for your appointments), innocuous magazines to read and tvs tuned to news stations, bright and sunny lighting, and a single-serve coffee maker (not a K-cup) available to use.  One significant difference – Clinic A has a fragrance-free philosophy.  As fragrances are the #1 cause of VOCs (volatile organic compounds – not good for anyone, especially infertilites and fetuses), no one in their office wears perfume or lotions with fragrance and they ask their patients to do the same.  There are no scented candles or air fresheners or nice smelling scrubs in the bathrooms, as there are in Clinic B.  For me that was a signal that this place was about business more than appearances, and helped make me feel confident in making that choice.

Sure, there’s lots to be said for patient-doctor relationships too – you just have to feel that it’s right for you, that you’re in good hands.  But I also urge you, if you have the capability to choose, to consider reading between the lines of the entire business model before committing yourself, your partner, and your future family to a clinic.

Natural Beauty Review: Ole Henriksen Walnut Complexion Scrub

I had lots of clogged pores and uneven skin texture on my face for a while – and by “a while” I mean a few years.  I exfoliated with an old drugstore apricot scrub maybe once a week if I remembered, thinking that would solve the trick though it never did.  Then I sampled a facial treatment at a spa night at a local spa and the specialist told me I should be exfoliating at least twice a week while in the shower to let the steam help open out the pores. She then recommended that I purchase the $70 exfoliating scrub available in the gift shop. No thanks! But my skin did feel and look amazing…

I scoured my endless supply of scrub samples, the kind you get with your Sephora purchases, and used them all up, comparing them in both outcome and ingredients.  The ones I liked the most (Kate Somerville’s Exfoli-Kate) had a lot of chemical ingredients in them; a bummer since I was trying to avoid those if at all possible.  After I had exhausted my samples, I headed to Sephora – online and in store – to find a good option.  I tend to have sensitive skin and wanted samples of the scrubs so that I would know if I would have a bad reaction or not.

Online I identified a few brands and scrubs I was willing to buy, based on ingredients and user reviews: Korres, Ole Henriksen, and Boscia.  While standing in that particular corner of the Sephora store I was approached by a beauty specialist and told her exactly my problem: “I’m looking for a natural exfoliator or scrub.  I tend to have sensitive skin and redness so I do want to try them before I buy.”  She immediately picked up the Ole Henriksen Walnut Complexion Scrub and began rattling off reasons why she loves it.  “I love it, it smells great, it makes your skin so soft, you don’t need a lot of it, a little goes a long way…” and then she said, “And it’s safe to use during pregnancy.”

Little jar but big results

Not sure what vibe I was giving off that made her mention that particular factoid (clomid weight gain, perhaps?) but I did appreciate it nonetheless.  It also made me think, “So that means other products aren’t save to use during pregnancy?”  I guess I never had it spelled out for me before. Anyway, back to the story: I tried the sample – which lasted over two weeks for me – and then purchased the product online.  (I don’t buy products from the Sephora stores because of the heat lamp issue I previously mentioned).

I use it every three days and I would say I am moderately satisfied with it.  It has helped with clogged pores and it has lessened oil production.  I don’t get the same kind of glow on my skin as I had from other products (like Exfoli-Kate).  My skin is very soft – usually just on the same day that I exfoliate, and it doesn’t last much longer than that.  I don’t get dry patches from using it and I have had a huge decrease in the amount of clogged pores on my face.  The scrub can be a little rough on your skin so be gentle when you’re rubbing it around, but I can’t see how anyone would cut their face open using it as some of the Sephora reviews had said.  The smell is unique – nutty – and a little dab on your finger will take care of your entire face.  Overall – probably 4 out of 5 stars; it gets the job done for a decent price, but I would like more enzyme-action or more to be done with oil production (though that may not be realistic from a natural product).

Click here to purchase this product at Sephora, currently selling for $24.