I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: one of the best parts of a career in beauty is getting the opportunity to test a whack of different products every month. (It’s a trade-off, of course. While I rarely need to visit Sephora, my landlady—for some reason—STILL won’t accept lip gloss in lieu of rent cheques. Strange!)
So let’s get started. This month, I…
- dabbled with a number of natural lines: Rare El’ements (for hair), The Soap Girl (for the body) and Zuii Organics (for makeup);
- finally got to try e.l.f. Cosmetics, which until now was only available in the U.S.;
- discovered a NeoStrata hydroxy-acid peel that’s on par with the Dermaglow one I wrote about a few months back; and
- gave Balmshell—recently of Dragon’s Den fame—a test drive.
And here’s my 100 percent honest, no B.S. review of each:
Balmshell Lip Gloss ($20 each, available at balmshell.com): This line is the brainchild of two Canadian identical twin sisters who are quite bombshell-like themselves (seriously—check out this photo). I think in the extremely crowded cosmetics sphere, it makes sense for a new line to focus on doing one thing right—think of Smythe and jackets—and in this case, it’s lip gloss. (At least they started out that way—I understand they also make cheek stains now, although I haven’t tried them.) But back to gloss. The idea is that it’s the “perfect lip gloss”: moisturizing, high-shine and in cute packaging. One side of the gloss—the side with the kitschy floating artwork—actually unscrews to make a key chain.
My thoughts? It IS a pretty great lip gloss. You get shine without that goopy feeling, and I love how moisturized my lips feel. The fact that it’s paraben-free is another bonus. My only hesitation is the gimmicky, almost Sex And The City-style branding, packaging and product names. It all feels a bit dated—like it could be straight outta 2004—but maybe that’s because I’m so beyond over that TV show! One TV show I’m not over, however, is Dragon’s Den—LOVE. IT. I missed the Balmshell episode where the founders pitched their business to get more money for marketing and advertising… but it sounds like the dragons had similar feedback about the brand messaging.
e.l.f. Cosmetics ($4.99-12.99, at Zellers stores across Canada): Hurrah! I’d always been curious about e.l.f., and finally it’s available in Canada. I interviewed the founder, Scott Vincent Borba, a few years back, and was extremely impressed by his savvy way of coming out with products women want before they even know they want them… if that makes any sense. (He also founded Borba, a clever line of beauty supplements that’s I think is so far only sold in the U.S.)
Anyway, let’s talk about e.l.f. Can you believe the prices? Everything is under $12.99. I think that’s incredible value—and the packaging looks great too. I love the liquid eyeshadows (not that much different from ones YSL came out with a few years ago), mascara, and eyeshadow. Skip the eyelash curler though—that’s one beauty tool you should never skimp on. (Shu Uemura’s version is the original cult favourite and still the best.)
NeoStrata Skin Renewal Peel Solution (at drugstores): A few months ago I wrote about Dermaglow’s Radiance Glycolic 10% Gentle Peel Solution, saying that it was even stronger than (what I thought at the time) was NeoStrata’s comparative offering. Well, let me take that back. The lovely P., publicist for NeoStrata, kindly pointed out that NeoStrata DOES have a peel on par with Dermaglow’s: it’s called the Skin Renewal Peel Solution, and it contains 10 percent each of glycolic acid and gluconolactone (both hydroxy acids).
If you’re in the market for a gentle peel (something you could use once or twice a week, as I mentioned here), this is a good choice. I found it slightly more tingly than Dermaglow’s version, but it didn’t leave my skin red or irritated. In fact, it was baby soft!
Rare El’ements (US$34-44, at Lilou Organics, LuckyScent and The Nature of Beauty): This Beverly Hills-based hair line launched in 2008 and sits nicely in the relatively new category of “natural luxury.” The products are made with natural and organic ingredients, including pure essential plant and nut oils, exotic rainforest butters and other botanicals. But there’s also technology behind it, so you don’t have to worry about fading colour or not getting enough protection from the effects of styling or chemical treatments.
There are three products: a shampoo, conditioner and a “pre-shampoo treatment.” I didn’t try the latter, but I did use the shampoo and conditioner. Both were fantastically luxurious and extremely moisturizing. In fact, they were so moisturizing that they just didn’t work for my hair type—as much as I REALLY, REALLY wanted them to. I love this line, but it’s not for people with stick-straight hair—normally, I can get away with washing my hair every other day, but with this line, I needed a shampoo the very next day. I’d recommend it for anyone with dry, curly and/or coarse hair. You’ll have MUCH better luck with it than I did.
The Soap Girl Cranberry Citrus Sugar Scrub and Solid Body Butter (at thesoapgirl.ca): Sarah Crawley is a Maritime “mompreneur” who’s been producing her all-natural line, The Soap Girl, for the past 10 years. The products are infused with organic ingredients, are ethically-produced right here in Canada, and free of parabens, phthalates, SLS and dyes.
I tried a couple of products from the Cranberry Citrus line: the Solid Body Butter ($15) and the Sugar Scrub ($28). First, the good things: I love the texture of this scrub. It’s not too oily and doesn’t leave an oil slick behind in the tub. It melts into your skin after a minute or so of scrubbing, so you’re left beautifully moisturized—you could even skip lotion. I also love the packaging—simple but pretty. What I didn’t like so much? The Body Butter comes in a tube just like a deodorant stick… and while I appreciate the idea, it’s still an odd feeling trying to coat your body with moisture that way. And finally, the scent: I didn’t love it. (Too sweet, almost chemical-smelling… although I know this is a natural line.) I prefer more botanical scents, so maybe Sarah will be inspired to create something a bit more authentic in a future product batch.
Zuii Organics (at The Big Carrot in Toronto and select health stores across Canada): As you may know, I’m a BIG fan of anything natural or organic, so I was super excited to try this organic makeup line, which comes from Australia and is produced from flowers. That’s right—FLOWERS. They somehow transform rose petals, jasmine and chamomile flowers into makeup. (Oh—and add in minerals, essential oils and plant extracts too.) The idea is that the makeup actually improves the health of your skin while you wear it.
After testing a number of the products, I think this is a range that I’d cherry-pick from. The Powder Foundation is great—although it’s not high coverage, it’s natural-looking and I felt quite secure in the knowledge that it wouldn’t clog my pores! I also liked the Lip Tint: nice and shiny, with organic rose, beeswax and aloe vera for moisture. The Blush is highly pigmented so you need to be very light-handed, but it’s a good, talc-free option. Biggest disappointments were the Liquid Foundation and the Lipstick. With the former, I loved the texture and coverage, but the scent was just odd, and I wouldn’t use it for that reason alone. And the Lipstick, while a pretty colour, was incredibly drying—not at all like the “creamy formula” that’s promised.
What do you think? Have you tried any of the brands I reviewed this month?