Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Fall Color Palette: Eyes, Lips & Cheeks

Even though I'd been planning this post for about a month, there aren't really any totally unexpected product picks in here: just your usual berry, purple and plum shebang, with a couple warmer blushes and some greys thrown in for a good measure. What can I say? I like what I like.
I also haven't bought any make-up from fall/winter collections this year, so all of the products I'm featuring have been hiding in my stash and not getting the love they deserve - time to rectify the situation. In a way, think of this post as 'shopping my stash for fall'; let me know in the comments whether you're also sorting through your existing collection for seasonally appropriate hues, or if you've purchased some new products this month - I'd love to know!
Let's start with the eyes. While summer was all about wash of color on the lids with some smudgy eye pencils (read as 'couldn't be bothered to use more than one eyeshadow and be super precise with eyeliners'), I'm now craving some more put together looks. I haven't used my purples in a really long time and I like how they compliment my brown eyes, so I've unearthed a small GWP quad from Clinique with Frosted Blossom (light shimmery pink), Stone Violet (matte medium warm purple), a darker shade from Beach Plum duo (medium warm purple with gold shimmer) and Night Plum (matte aubergine). I'm wearing all four shades in the second FOTD below.
Illamasqua Powder Eyeshadow in Forgiveness is another matte purple (very similar to Stone Violet) I like to use in the crease to give my eye more definition. The texture of the Illmasqua matte is far superior to the dinky Clinique quad: smooth, creamy, more pigmented and blendable. On a cooler side of the color spectrum, I've been playing around with some greys from my collection: that's MAC Vex and MAC Hocus Pocus. Two of my cream eyeshadow sticks pair really well with both greys and purples: Avon Extra Lasting Eyeshadow Pencil in Amethyst and Laura Mercier Caviar Stick in Grey Pearl.
L-R: Clinique GWP quad, Illamasqua Forgiveness, MAC Vex, MAC Hocus Pocus, Avon Amethyst, Laura Mercier Grey Pearl.
I tried to reign in my lip product picks a little bit: that's usually the one element of my make-up routine I like to change out the most often. But here's an interesting detail: I haven't actually been that much into deep pinks and berries so far this fall (exhibit A: the first FOTD. Not digging that lip shade - it's Inglot Gel Lipstick no. 58 by the way, and as you can see, pointedly omitted from my lipstick picks). I'm all about the vampy blueberry shades, and deeper reds; and when I'm not feeling a dark lip, I reach for a sheer mauve gloss by way of Buxom Lip Polish in Dolly, which also pairs beautifully with those vampy lipsticks.
I like to wear all three of my deeper lipsticks either full strength or dabbed on as a stain: especially Revlon Superlustrous Lipstick in Black Cherry requires some careful layering and general cajoling to apply evenly - I'm wearing it as a stain in the second FOTD, with more product layered in the center of my lips. Maybelline Color Sensational in Plum Perfect has a lot more reddy brown tones, so if you're into the 90s trend but you're a bit more cool-toned like me, it's a very nice shade for the colder months. Both Clinique Chubby Stick Intense in Grandest Grape and fresh Sugar Lip Treatment in Passion are the most moisturizing of the bunch, so a more practical choice when the lips get chapped thanks to the freezing temperatures outside.
L-R: Clinique Grandest Grape, Buxom Dolly, fresh Sugar Passion, Maybelline Plum Perfect, Revlon Black Cherry
Lastly, blush: oh, how I love thee. The skin on my cheeks has finally started to clear up, so I can have more fun with cheek products again! All three of my picks have a sculpting effect on my face, but additionally I've been pairing them with Benefit's Hoola bronzer, used as a contouring powder. I am now the most tan I've been this whole year (despite daily SPF application), so I'm milking it by using some darker cheek products in my stash.
NARS Sin blush in particular gives my face a lot more definition thanks to the very fine gold sheen which highlights my cheekbones (second FOTD below), while NYX Powder Blush in Mauve and NARS Douceur warm up my coloring and will compliment my fading tan - yes, I'm giving it another month tops. A bronze goddess, I am NOT...
L-R: NARS Sin, NARS Douceur, NYX Mauve
I've also returned to liquid eyeliners and cat flicks - they just pair so well with a bold lip. In terms of foundation, I'm still trying to make a dent in my Estee Lauder Double Wear Light; having used it for a solid couple months non-stop now, I have to say I've grown quite tired of it, even though the shade Intensity 1 is my perfect match right now. Nails in the first photo are Zoya Payton, which will be featured in an upcoming fall nail polish picks post.
I rarely use pencils in my waterline or to tightline, but I've been experimenting with slightly lighter shades, like the shimmery taupe of Sephora Contour Eyeliner in Flirting Game, which you can see in the photo below. I'm also into bolder brows, making good use of my Shu Uemura Seal Brown pencil - but I'm thinking of investing in a tinted brow gel (Benefit Gimme Brow?), and maybe even a brow powder (Anastasia?). Do you have any favorites you could recommend?
And that's a wrap! I feel like this post is a bit all over the place, but hopefully you guys enjoyed it nonetheless. How do you change up your make-up for fall? Are there any specific shades, placements or techniques you like to use in the colder season?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Summer's Last Hurrah: Lunasol Cream Cheeks in EX04 Tender Glow Pink

Continuing on with my reviews of products which are obscure, seasonally inappropriate and generally difficult to get hold of... Although having said that, at the time of writing it's 82°F/ 28°C in New York City, and it definitely does not feel like fall yet; but worry not, after this review, I'll try to fall in normal beauty bloggers' footsteps and post something with a more autumnal color scheme. Ekhm.
This Kanebo Lunasol Cream Cheeks liquid blusher in EX04 Tender Glow Pink (~$40 for 12g) was a lovely gift from Jenni (thank you!) and a quick Google search tells me it was released as a part of Lunasol Limited Edition Christmas 2011 coffret (here's a review from BirkinBagBeauty). While it seems that this product is not available at this time, it may get re-released - and then this review might, just might, become even remotely helpful. Failing that, my hair looks really shiny in the FOTD shot at the end, so you can at least pretend to enjoy this post.
I don't have huge experience with Japanese cheek products; I've only tried the Canmake blushes so far (reviewed here) and still really enjoy them. From what I've gathered though, Asian blushes usually tend to be highly shimmery (unlike the Canmake Clear cream blushes), and this Lunasol Cream Cheeks is no different: it's a (surprise surprise!) peachy pink with lots of refined gold shimmer that gives an almost reflective glow on the skin, which you can see in the close-up shot of a blush dollop on my finger.
Compared to my other peachy pink blushes, Lunasol Tender Glow Pink is the closest to NYC Blushable Creme Stick in Plaza Pink, although a bit cooler and with a gold rather than silver sheen. Laura Mercier Second Skin Cheek Color in Lotus Pink is a bit redder and deeper in tone but also not too far off, while both The Face Shop Pastel Cushion in Coral Cushion and NYX Powder Blush in Peach are a lot lighter (more pastel) and more peachy.

L-R: Lunasol Cream Cheeks in Tender Glow Pink, NYC Blushable Creme Stick in Plaza Pink, Laura Mercier Lotus Pink, The Face Shop Coral Cushion, NYX Powder Blush in Peach
The consistency of the Lunasol blush is a bit more runny than I expected (I've seen this described as a liquid rather than a cream like the name suggests), and due to the squishiness of the tube, it's quite difficult to control the amount you squeeze out. The blush is pigmented, so a small dab is enough to cover both cheeks; the dollop you've seen in the second photo is perhaps too much already. While I'm usually not a fan of very shimmery blushes, I have to admit that I like the refined finish of Tender Glow Pink; I do however have some issues with the formula. For whatever reason, Lunasol Cream Cheeks goes a bit patchy on my skin and pools in my pores right from the application. I also find that it fades quite fast throughout the day, and I usually have no problem with cream blushes lasting on my skin.
All in all, a beautiful shade, but a somewhat underwhelming formula. I think I'll try to experiment with this one a bit more again in the spring, but for now, I'm putting it back in my blusher drawer. Have you started swapping out your make-up for fall already? I'm quite excited for the deeper shades again!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Beauty Product Empties: 3rd Quarter 2014

It's hard to believe we're now almost into the last quarter of the year; I'm saying this not to bore you with the usual surprise at the inevitable passage of time, but rather the change of heart from when I first embarked on my stash downsizing project at the beginning of the year. In January, the challenge loomed ahead like a great commitment and immediately caused nervous doubts of the 'Can I do this?!' variety, but now it has come to feel almost like second nature; it feels good to throw away more than to buy. And it feels really, really good to enjoy using fantastic products I had stashed away as multiple back-ups, and then buy new things only when the old ones run out. Simple, right? ;)
The reason I'm doing the empties round-up a little bit early is because I've had so many that they started spilling from the bag and overtaking our apartment (well, that is a *slight* exaggerration, but I do dislike clutter). Because of the amount of products and your comments after my last empties post, I'm continuing with the same mini review format.
Bodycare and perfume. Some progress in using up my collection of bar soaps, and a big achievement by way of finishing a small bottle of L'Occitane Rose et Reines EDT. I'm hoping to use up one more full-sized bottle of perfume by the end of the year, and continue downsizing my collection of fragrance minis.
Products I disliked and wouldn't repurchase: The Body Shop Honeymania Bubble Bath Melt (scent was meh, not enough bubbles), Sande Cocoa Mint bar soap and Archipelago Pomegranate bar soap.
Products I enjoyed, but I'm trying out other things: Neom Three Nights of Peace Bath Oils (reviewed here, loved it but it's a bit pricey to indulge in on a regular basis), The Body Shop Coconut Shower Cream, L'Occitane Rose et Reines Eau de Toilette.
Products I would repurchase (but am probably trying out other things too): The Body Shop Body Butter in Brazilian Nut, Haus of Gloi Bubbling Scrub in Plotter's Breakfast (my HG body scrub formula but this scent wasn't my favorite).
Haircare - not a lot of progress for now, but I'm very nearly out of both shampoo and conditioner, as well as dry shampoo, all of which you'll see in my next empties post. I wouldn't repurchase either of these products, and while KMS Sea Salt Spray and Redken Powder Refresh Dry Shampoo were decent but not spectacular, I absolutely hated Pureology's Radiance Amplifier (a shine mist): it managed to be both greasy and drying at the same time, and smelt atrocious.
Skincare - so many things running out at the same time! But fear not, of course I had multiple back-ups waiting to be used, so no new purchases were made. I've linked reviews here for you in case you're curious, as most of these things deserved a post of their own.
Products I disliked and wouldn't repurchase: Kate Somerville ExfoliKate - tossed, check out Larie's mini review here; in short, it contains plastic micro beads that end up polluting the Great Lakes, and I have no interest in using or ever purchasing a scrub that's harmful to the environment.
Products I enjoyed, but I'm trying out other things: Wedderspoon Raw Manuka Honey (used as a cleanser and a mask, reviewed here), Avene Eau Thermale Thermal Spring Water, Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion (reviewed here), Murad Essential-C Night Moisture (mentioned here), Murad Renewing Eye Cream (review and comparison of different Murad eye creams here), Osmia Honey-Myrrh Lip Repair (reviewed here).
Products I would repurchase (but am probably trying out other things too): TATCHA One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil (reviewed here), Clarins Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil (mentioned here and here).
Make-up! Is this what you've all been waiting for?
Products I disliked and wouldn't repurchase: Everyday Minerals Jojoba Base (tossing, mentioned here), Benefit They're Real mascara, fresh Sugar Tinted Lip Treatment in Honey (tossing because it's turned, but the shade is also wrong on me. I do like Rose and Passion though), bareMinerals Original Foundation deluxe sample (I much prefer Laura Mercier's Mineral Powder SPF 15 for a mineral foundation).
Products I enjoyed, but I'm trying out other things: Benefit Creaseless Cream Eyeshadow in Slippin n' Dippin (dried out, I liked the shade okay), Gosh Waterproof Eye Liner Pencil in Black Ink (there are better black eyeliners out there).

Now, for a plethora of sample packets: you can read my detailed review of Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Ampoule and First Treatment Essence here, the various Asian sheet masks are reviewed here, and my overview of exfoliating pads can be found here. Most of these samples were pretty unremarkable, although I do have a full size of L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream - I'm quite unsure whether it's worth the rather high price tag, as it does very little when my hands are suffering from eczema flare-ups.

Well, that's a lot of empty containers headed for the trash can, which makes me quite happy indeed. Have you been using up or stocking up on more products recently?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Autumn Tag

Blogging is NOT coming easy this month for some reason - sorry, folks. Which is why I'm even happier to have been tagged by Marianna from Marianna's Beauty Room over in the land of YouTube to do the Autumn Tag, which will hopefully bring some of the mojo back. If you're looking for an honest, sweet and relatable beauty YouTuber to watch for a change from all the popular gurus, who are all currently whipped into frenzy over various Fashion Weeks (yawn), do check out Marianna's channel - she's great :)
1. OK, we're talking coffee's - what's your favorite seasonal drink from Starbucks or another coffee shop?
The only reason I now go to Starbucks is when I'm stuck in the airport; I don't rate their coffee at all and don't patronize any other big chain coffee shop, although I admit Pumpkin Spice Lattes have their own spicy sugary charm that's far removed from the taste of actual coffee. I make simple lattes in our Breville Espresso machine at home, using the Stumptown Coffee Roasters Holler Mountain whole beans, and I very much enjoy Stumptown's lattes in their NYC locations in the Ace Hotel and West Village. Other coffee shops that have recently impressed me: Toby's Estate Coffee in Brooklyn, where you can watch the roasting process, and Thinking Cup in Boston's Back Bay area - they have delicious almond croissants too.

2. Accessories - what do you opt for: scarf, boots, or gloves?
Scarves are my biggest love, and I have quite a collection - I just find them to be the easiest way to dress up a simple outfit of skinny jeans and a T-shirt. Here's a little unsolicited tip, in case you have limited closet space like me and you're looking for an idea to display your scarves: I attached a big 3M damage-free hook on the inside of our closet door and put a scarf hanger on it (like this one from The Container Store), looping my favorite pieces through for easier access, and to save some space on the closet rod. I have way more scarves than the ones you can see in the photo, so I store the rest of my collection folded on a shelf, and rotate the scarves seasonally.
3. Music - what's your favourite music to listen to during Autumn?
Strange question; do people really alter their music choices seasonally? I don't, but for the sake of answering the question, here's what I've been listening to recently: Sylvan Esso (I especially like 'Hey Mami'), Fleet Foxes (mostly their eponymous first album), Haim and St. Vincent.

4. Perfume - what's your favorite scent for this time of year?
The heavier fall/winter perfumes are actually my preference year round, and this season I'll mostly be wearing TokyoMilk by Margot Elena Dead Sexy No. 6, which is a 'romantic and ethereal' scent with notes of vanilla, exotic wood, white orchid and ebony. I don't find it ethereal in the least; to me, it's lingering, heady, sweet woods with a sexy cologne feel. I'm also working on finishing my bottle of Victoria's Secret Dream Angels Heavenly fragrance mist (better than expected), and when those two become too boring, I reach for a cute mini of Kenzo Amour, which is definitely worthy of a full-sized bottle purchase.
5. Candles - what scents will you be burning this season?
I haven't been massively into candles recently; I've started to find the usual Bath & Body Works offerings a bit too artificial-smelling, although I enjoyed burning Leaves and Marshmallow Fireside in the past. I still have a few candles left from last year so I'll try to satisfy myself with what I have - I'd love to explore other candle lines but I'm not looking forward to spending my money on home fragrance. In the meantime, I also like to burn essential oils in our wax warmer; my favorites for colder weather are orange & cardamom and vetiver.

6. What do you love most about Autumn?
Lots of things to love about fall: the colors, the air, the scents, the cozy-up-under-a-warm-blanket-with-a-good-book-and-a-cuppa weather. But if I had to choose just one thing, it'd be the quality of sunlight in early fall - the warm orange glow and slightly more diffused rays that make autumn walks the best in the whole year.
Wearing some greys and the light blue from Shiseido's Static eyeshadow trio on the eyes, NARS Sin on the cheeks and Buxom Dolly on the lips.
7. Favorite makeup look?
Nothing new here: vampy berries for the lips and tips, nudes and plums for the cheeks, and cool taupes and greys on the eyes. I'm actually planning a separate post with my fall make-up palette, so this general answer will have to suffice for now. Recently, I've also rediscovered neutral mauve shades for my lips; Buxom Lip Polish in Dolly has been a firm favorite.

8. What are you looking forward to most in Autumn?
We'll be entertaining a lot of house guests in the next month and a half, and I'm looking forward to enjoying the rest of September with my brother (especially our upcoming trip to Chicago!) and October with my best friend, Mariya. I'm also looking forward to leisurely walks in Central Park and watching the trees change colors from green to gold to copper. What more could you want?

Tell me - what are your favorite things about fall? Or maybe you hate the cold, the grey and the drizzle?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Spring in September: Shiseido Eye Color Trio in BL215 Static

It hasn't been very long since I reviewed my first Shiseido Luminizing Satin Eye Color Trio in BE213 Nude, and now, via a passed-on PR sample gifted by a blogging friend, I have a second one to show you: a delicate pastel trio in BL215 Static ($33 for 3g/0.1 oz), which is part of Shiseido's Fall/Winter 2014 Collection.
Yes, I know: pale pastels for Fall. I'm really not sure where Shiseido was going with this combo, as the rest of the collection is decidely more autumnal; check out Larie's review and swatches of the Floracouture trio here. Given their mostly Asian customer base and the usual cold season trends, I can't see Static being a huge hit at the counters - quite undeservedly so, as this trio is beautifully executed in its own right. Once you get over the dark A/W palette, Static shines with its understated elegance, evoking wispy, cotton candy clouds lit by a sunrise, or the polished mother of pearl glow on the inside of a seashell.
In terms of texture/formula of the eyeshadows in this trio, I find it very similar to Nude - meaning excellent: soft, dimensional, easily blendable. In my experience, pastel eyeshadows are tricky to get right: either sheer and patchy, or pigmented and chalky, looking forced and unflattering on the lids. Static somehow manages to meander these obstacles, adhering to the skin evenly, and giving eyes a subtly luminous, fresh quality; mind you, Shiseido's formula isn't the most pigmented, but I have no problems whatsoever getting these to show up on me. All three shades have a soft opalescence (mint green, pale violet and light purpley pink respectively) and a strong white base, which manages to cover my veiny lids without looking too heavy. I don't have any comparison swatches for you this time as I don't really own many comparable pastels, but for reference sake, the shades in Static remind me strongly of the Fyrinnae 'Ghost' eyeshadow series, only with less duochrome and sparkle.

I concocted a simple eye look using the light pink on the lid, the beige brown from the Nude trio in the crease, and the mint green in the inner corners and along the lower lashline. This is inadverently a very similar placement to the one suggested by Dick Page himself (here's a link to his 'Soft Look' tutorial using the Static trio), only substituting the light blue in/above the crease with a more neutral shade. I also used a warm blush on the cheeks (Laura Geller in Boysenberry) and the Shu Uemura Rouge Unlimited Supreme Shine in PK331 in on the lips - but I like the sheer mauve worn by Shiseido's model much better than this light pink.
Not much more to say about the awesomeness of Static; if you like pastel eyeshadows, I strongly recommend you check it out. I know that for some of you, especially of the darker and warmer complexions, pastels are extremely hard to work with; but for those who have similarly cool/neutral fair skin, the pastel shades in Static make for a beautiful accent on the eyes, in case you're not into using all three together. For some more ideas on using pastel eyeshadows, check out some of my other looks featuring Lancôme Color Design Infinité 24H Eyeshadow in Evermore Lilac here, bareMinerals Eyecolor in Celery here, and a general lower lashline accent placement here.
Have you picked anything up from the Shiseido Fall collection? Do you ever wear pastel shades on the eyes?

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Fortnight in Beauty

Hello, stranger! I haven't actually sat down to write in quite a while; the posts you've been reading in August were all pre-scheduled for the time I was entertaining the family, and then on top of that, we had another house guest shortly after, and THEN it was my wedding anniversary/birthday weekend, and the idea of being glued to my laptop didn't quite appeal - or maybe I've just gotten out of practice. But I'm back!
To ease my way back into the swing of things, I've decided to share two weeks from my beauty diary - not that I actually keep one, it's just to sum up what has been going on with me and the products I've been using. If you like this type of posts, please check out Kar Yi's 'The Fortnight Face' and Liz's 'Makeup Diary', which inspired me to pour my oh-so-deep skincare and make-up thoughts out on these pages.

Let's start with the skin. In short, it's been shitty. The nearly three weeks that my in-laws stayed with us, my skin's been really bothering me: oily and dehydrated, with lots of larger breakouts, mostly on both cheeks - and when the first wave had finally healed, new ones popped up in the exact same area. Why?! I'm still nursing my face back to an acceptable state, but I think what helped to stop the constant crop of pimples was my previously underrated tube of Coral Actives 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Penetrating Acne Serum Gel. BP usually doesn't work great on my skin, but this time, it seems to have done the trick; lesson learnt that hoarding various acne treatments in the skincare drawer for desperate times can actually be a pretty good idea.
I've also been working my way through Murad's Essential-C range of moisturizers; when I first tried these I liked the Day Moisture SPF 30 more than the Night Moisture, which seemed too heavy and sticky, but I've since changed my mind. In fact, it's the daytime cream that's now too greasy and never seems to fully absorb into my skin, while the night cream, especially when applied on top of Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle, sinks in nicely and feels comfortable. But I wouldn't actually repurchase either; what I am considering buying in the full size is the Ole Henriksen Ultimate Lift Eye Gel. Lightweight but hydrating, non-tacky and perfect for both mornings under make-up and overnight.
For the base make-up, I've been sticking to a long-lasting foundation by way of Estee Lauder Double Wear Light, and setting it with both Make Up For Ever HD Powder and Skindinavia No More Shine Makeup Finish (I remain unconvinced whether the latter does anything to keep my skin matte, but I'm desparate to use it up). For concealing those pesky spots, I just can't quit Becca's Dual Coverage Compact Concealer - can someone please tell me to finally throw it out?! I guess I really like the convenience of a cream concealer in a pot.
Cheeks are the area where I mixed the old with the new: still trying to make a more significant dent in both NYC Blushable Creme Stick in Plaza Pink and the NYX Powder Blush in Angel. I've been really enjoying using the Too Faced Milk Chocolate Soleil bronzer this summer, and for a warmer cheek, I've been pairing it with Tarte Amazonian Clay Blush in Dazzled. Over the years, I've noticed that I get into real phases with blushes, where I fall in love with a particular shade and reach for it over and over again, until I finally make myself swap it out for something else from my collection. I've also put on some Canmake Cream Cheek in Clear Pink Joy here and there, but it failed to hold my attention away from the Tarte Dazzled.
I've been all about quick and boring eye make-up, with cream eyeshadow sticks and smudgy eyeliner being my preferred eye make-up routine. Firm favorites: Clinique Chubby Stick For Eyes in Ample Amber and Mally Evercolor Shadow Stick in Dusk, paired with Urban Decay 24/7 liner in Whiskey and copious layers of Benefit BADgal Lash. Contrarily to 95% of the Internetz (the percentage has been scientifically eyeballed by yours truly), I much prefer Benefit's BADgal to They're Real, and the big bonus is that it doesn't smudge or transfer on me.
So here's my ultra boring, neutral warm face, abundant in enlarged pores, spots, acne scars and summer freckles. The only area where I experimented on a nearly daily basis for the past 2-3 weeks was my lipstick; I frequently swapped out formulas and shades to suit my mood or sometimes even my outfit - I know, FANCY. The experience of having very limited access to my vanity (which is awkwardly situated in our apartment hallway, so for the comfort of my guests I just piled up my makeup essentials into a basket, grabbed my mirror and brush cup and moved all that to our bedroom) hasn't been as tedious as expected; since I was pressed for time to get ready in the mornings, I enjoyed the smaller selection of products. Now that I can use all of my collection again, I feel that I already have a lot of fantastic products in my stash that I missed using, and I don't feel the need to buy any new make-up for the time being - but I'm already planning my wishlist for the Sephora VIB sale in late October :)

So how have you been, my lovely readers? I missed talking to you! And by the way, thank you so much for all of your happy birthday wishes on Twitter - it made my day that much happier.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In My Skincare Routine: Acid Toners & Exfoliating Pads Overview

Exfoliating toners or pads with AHAs and/or BHAs are one step in my skincare routine that I make sure not to skip. My combination skin gets clogged very easily, and at any given time I'm fighting both active breakouts, blackheads, various lumps and bumps as well as hyperpigmentation from past imperfections AND sun damage. I've been trying different products for the 'acid tone' stage of my routine for over a year now, and I thought I'd share my thoughts on the strength and effectiveness of the ones I tested, so you can navigate the choices a bit more easily if you're new to the daily exfoliating game.
First off, let's start with exfoliating pads. Remember the alcohol-laden drugstore pads from your teenage years of fighting acne? These are not very different in principle, but much kinder for your skin; I try to look for alcohol-free, fragrance-free pads with a short and sweet ingredients list whenever possible. In the order from the most gentle to the strongest:

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads ($30 for 60 pads, contain lactic & glycolic acids, as well as cucumber, Indian gooseberry, lemon peel and licorice extracts, suitable for sensitive skin): If I had to choose my absolute favorite from the all the pads I tested, these would be it. These pads do exactly what it says on the packaging: smooth skin's texture, brighten its tone, tighten the pores, all in a non-drying, gentle, lightweight formula. The FAB Facial Radiance Pads are my favorite to use in the morning, because they don't aggravate my skin, and the actual liquid the pads are soaked in has a clear, fragrance-free, non-sticky and non-greasy formula. I do cut the pads in half, so I consider spending $30 every four months to be a reasonable price for happy, glowy skin. Will repurchase.

St. Ives Scrub-Free Exfoliating Pads ($5.99 for 60 pads, contain lactic acid, fruit extracts and Vitamin E, suitable for daily use and sensitive skin). I know - St. Ives of the peach kernels?! This is one of the very few alcohol-free drugstore options I was able to find, however scented with a fruit punch fragrance. In short, they're not bad: gentle, non-sticky, non-drying. However, they're not as effective as the First Aid Beauty Pads; I just don't feel that they keep clogs and breakouts at bay as well as the FAB ones. So yeah, I cheaped out, but they're just not as good. Still a good option if you're on a budget or deciding whether exfoliating pads are something you'd like to try.

Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads ($45 for 60 pads, contain glycolic, lactic, salicylic and linolenic acids, as well as aminoacids, Vitamins A, D, E, C and F, green tea, chamomile and aloe vera, suitable for daily use and all skintypes). Uhm, yeah, these are gooood - although better for evening use due to some reddening tingling and a somewhat greasier formula. Depending on your skintype, the brand suggests different frequency of usage, but I've gone with daily on my combination but sensitive skin and they've been working great. The instructions say to let the solution sit on the skin for a couple minutes and then rinse with water, but honestly, I just spritzed some hydrating toner on top and let it be. These unscented, alcohol-free Un-Wrinkle pads claim to minimize the pores, clarify the skin, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and even out skintone. I can't vouch for fine lines, but my pores do seem tightened, the texture of my skin is smoother after use, and serums and moisturizers absorb better on top. I really like these pads, I just wish they were cheaper - and don't try to save by getting the less expensive PTR Max Complexion Correction Pads, as those contain both alcohol and fragrance.

Dr. Denis Gross Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peel Packettes ($145 for 60 two-step packettes, contain glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic, citric and salicylic acids in the first step, retinol, phospholipids, yarrow extract and various antioxidants in the second step; stronger version of their regular Alpha Beta Peel, suitable for all skin types). I looked high and low for information on how often you're supposed to use these pads (the regular strength ones can supposedly be used daily), and couldn't find anything - but in my experience, these are too strong to be used every day. Unfortunately, the first (exfoliating) step contains alcohol, and it does feel stingy and makes my face more red, but the whole routine isn't overly drying or harsh if used with caution. I whip these out once in a while at night, when my regular exfoliating pads/ toners are not quite cutting it in unclogging my pores. I think these packettes are effective, but the price point is a bit prohibitive; I'd rather spend less money on a good exfoliating mask that can be used many more times than these packettes.

Cane + Austin Retexturizing Treatment Pads 10% Glycolic ($60 for 60 pads, contain Vitamins A, C & E, coenzyme Q10, phospholipids, antioxidants, witch hazel, recommended for daily use and all skintypes). So I've only had a one-time use sample of these Cane + Austin pads, so I can't vouch for longterm results. While these pads have a simple enough ingredients list and contain no alcohol, they do contain ACETONE (and ammonia. Oh, and some menthol). Wait. WHAT?! The pad smelt like nail polish remover, stung my face and made me look red and sore. Pass.

Alpha-H Liquid Gold Power Peeling Pads (~$60 for 30 pads, unavailable in the US and possibly discontinued, contain 5% glycolic acid, glycerin, licorice extract and hydrolized silk, to be used every other night on the T-zone and problem areas). These are supposed to be soaked in the famous Alpha-H Liquid Gold exfoliant, and if that's the case, I'd better stay away. These do contain alcohol, and they sting and sensitize my skin. They did help to get rid of some flakes, but did nothing for my clogged pores and breakouts; well, maybe not nothing, actually made them look more red and angry. If Liquid Gold works for you, then great, but I wouldn't exactly recommend these for sensitive skin.

Now, acid toners! I've only tried two so far, and still have a couple more on my radar, so I'm sure I'll churn out an addendum to this overview once I test out more liquid stuff. Again, from the most gentle to the strongest:

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($23 for 4 oz/118 ml, frequently available on sale for $18, contains salicylic acid, hydrating and absorption-enhancing methylpropanediol and green tea extract, fragrance and colorant-free, recommended for all skin types but especially combination/oily, to be used once or twice a day). I'm on the fence about the famous 2% BHA Liquid - on one hand, it's easy to use, non-irritating and non-drying, but on the other, it has a strange consistency that's slippy to the point of oily, and it doesn't seem as effective as First Aid Beauty or Peter Thomas Roth pads. I think this Paula's Choice exfoliant is a decent, gentle acid toner, but I wouldn't count on any miraculous results. Also, way better than Paula's gel BHA exfoliant.

Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner ($18 for 8 oz, contains 2% glycolic acid, aloe vera and grapefruit extract, recommended for combination/dry skin types to be used twice a day). This alcohol-free but not fragrance or colorant-free toner worked very well for me in the beginning, but as the time went on, it started irritating my skin until I broke out in an itchy rash on my cheeks. Here's my full review in case you're curious about this product, but in short, I wouldn't recommend it for anyone with sensitive skin, and even if your skin isn't sensitive, please be cautious and don't use it more than once a day - it can definitely be drying if used more often.

Phew, that was a lot of information! I hope this comparison was helpful if you're looking into trying a daily exfoliant. My plan for tweaking the exfoliating step in my skincare routine is to repurchase the First Aid Beauty pads for use in the mornings, and look for another acid toner to alternate with Un-Wrinkle pads in the evenings - maybe the Pixi Glow Tonic, or the REN Clarimatte. What are your favorite exfoliating products?