2018 thoughts on self-care

I know it’s already 2019, I am catching up!

I compiled a list of my favorites… not just skincare!

Listen to your skin. It’s hard for me to tell the effect of one product, since I switch around and may add multiple new ones at one time. But, I will say that anyone that goes from using nothing to something will see a difference in your skin. Hydrating toners (not the stripping kind that you apply with a cotton pad), cleansers at a right ph, double cleansing, some exfoliating, or essences make a discernible difference. There are always affordable options for every product type.

Favorite Cleanser: Tatcha Cleansing Oil and Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser. I have tried other cleansing oils during the year (and will continue to) but my favorite is still the Tatcha. I’ve been using the Cerave as a first or second cleanser for a long time. These cleansers clean well and don’t strip the skin.

Favorite Watery Essence: The Amorepacific Vintage Single Extract Essence was on my waitlist for a while.This was a rare product that was sold out on the Lotte Duty Free app so I had to buy in person, but it worked out because I got a ton of gifts. It’s made of fermented green tea (yummy antioxidants!!).

Favorite Vitamin C: My face feels naked in daylight without a Vitamin C product and SPF. I have been using the Drunk Elephant C Firma Serum for 2+ years. I took a break from using this and switched to using the True Botanicals Vitamin C Booster. I can’t say I noticed any extraordinary results from the booster, but I also haven’t found the perfect serum to mix it with. Much later, I noticed that water actually works great as a base so I may find a watery essence to combine this with in the future. In the meantime, I’m back to using the C Firma Serum. This is one product that is very time sensitive and will oxidize over time. Once I start using a bottle, I feel the clock ticking.

Favorite Gentle Exfoliator: I don’t exfoliate daily. The Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser is a gritty cleanser of apricot seed powder, pomegranate enzyme, willow park, and French pink clay; can be layered with the Resurfacing Mask. Another option is the Amorepacific Treatment Enzyme Peel Exfoliator which consists of papaya enzyme powder. It is great for travel (not liquid) and a little goes a long way – I’m still using a deluxe sample, but did pick up the value set at Sephora after it went on double sale. Lastly, I got a fan favorite chemical exfoliant- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. It can be used daily, but I’m wary of overexfoliating. I use this at night as a toner once in a while. The results are immediate but don’t last long.

Favorite Exfoliating Mask: I love the Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask (BHA from white willow bark and pomegranate enzymes) but also quite like the new Peach and Lily Super Reboot Resurfacing Mask (10% AHA, 0.5% BHA, and Blue Agave). I like using one of these or the Amorepacific above before I use a sheet mask.

Favorite Sheet Mask for Glow: Papa Recipe, the original. I also bought the rose honey and black honey to try.

Favorite SPF: Shiseido – Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen Mild Milk SPF 50+ PA++++ (2018 Edition).  This is Japan’s top sunscreen and was reformulated this year. It is pricey but I find it so worth it. It leaves a matte finish and doesn’t dull the glow of my skincare products. Mild = free of alcohol and fragrance. I use SPF that I don’t love as much on the weekends or days I work from home. This includes the Chanel UV Essentiel SPF 50 with a hefty amount of Zinc Oxide.

Favorite Lip Product: The Sephora Lip Scrubber Brush comes with two sides of scrubbers to help make your lips super smooth. Has to be used with other lip products like French Girl Organics Rose Lip Scrub. Also love the Drunk Elephant Lippe lip balm.

Favorite Moisturizers, Serums, and Oils: I don’t have a favorite here, the verdict is out. Notable mentions: The Stratia Liquid Gold is an affordable, unscented lightweight moisturizer/serum. I love most COSRX items. The COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence is a skin multivitamin to build skin resiliency, repair it. It has a thicker, gel like texture (I use as a serum) and I’m too in a rush to wait for it to soak in in the morning, so I prefer to use this at night, especially after acids. The Sulwhasoo emulsions are a great light moisturizer that works even in the summer time.

Favorite Brand: No surprise that it’s Sulwhasoo! I wouldn’t have gotten so many products had I not gone to Seoul and discovered how much cheaper it is through the Lotte Duty Free app and the various promos. I am currently using daily (or almost daily): First Care Activating Serum in limited edition Plum Blossom*, Bloomstay Vitalizing Water*, Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Emulsion, Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Serum*. Periodic use: Overnight Vitalizing Mask, Radiance Energy MaskSnowise Brightening Exfoliating Mask*. I also got sheet masks and other products on deck. The packaging is very luxurious and durable (some glass bottles have slipped from wet hands and survived), but not travel friendly unless you like to check-in bags. The minis that come as a gift with purchase are great for travel.
(* – not sold in US retail)

Favorite Scent: The Sulwhasoo plum blossom scent, which can be found in the Bloomstay* line and any of the limited edition plum blossom items, is heavenly. I don’t wear any perfume.

Favorite Eyelash Curler: Surratt Beauty. The thing with eyelash curlers is that there is no curler that will last forever. The metal may bend out of shape over time. I have tried Shu Uemura and Shiseido. The latter fit my eye better of the two, but the Surratt is even better.

Favorite Eyebrow Pencil: Shu Uemura Hard Formula in Seal Brown. I do bring my pencils on international travels for sharpening once a year. I got microblading done many years ago and regretted it. I prefer the natural look of the pencil.

Favorite Tweezers: Rubis slanted tip tweezers, ever since Tweezerman stopped making theirs in Switzerland. I have been through at least 7 pairs over the years (the slant does not survive falls) and still go back to them when I need a replacement. I prefer the one that reminds me of Swiss cheese, but am currently using a gold pair.

Favorite Hand Cream: L’Occitane’s original shea butter hand cream is still the best. I prefer the non-scented version. They recently introduced an intensive version which I am testing. Also love Deborah Lippmann’s cuticle cream.

Favorite Hair Products: Uka is a Japanese salon brand. It’s not easily found in the US, I discovered them through Peach & Lily. I like the ‘Wake Up’ products for volume and the refreshing scent. There is a ‘Wake Up Up Up’ line for even more volume but it is much harder to find here. I found it at the Tokyo Ginza Duty Free store. I also like the Shu Uemura Muroto Volume line, which had an amazing BOGO sale of their holiday sets. The conditioner does go way faster than I’d like though. I also like the Oribe Matte Waves Texture Lotion for air drying, but will use it to semi heat dry at times. But, most importantly, a good haircut goes a long way. I go to Dlala in the East Village.

Favorite Towel: I like lightweight towels that dry fast, but don’t feel like a quick dry towel, is lint-free, and is large enough as a bath towel. I really like the Aquis waffle body towel. The waffle texture helps it feel less thin, the normal towel got a bit ratty after a while. I want to try the Onsen or Parachute towels next.

Favorite Massagers: I’m a huge fan of massages. There is an affordable, no frills place near me, but I don’t go as often as I’d like and it’s still an indulgence. My aunt introduced me to Trumedic electronic shiatsu massage devices (previously mentioned). I have the InstaShiatsu+ Neck, Shoulder & Full Body Massager with Heat (IS-3000PRO) and the InstaShiatsu Foot Massager with Air Compression & Heat (IS-4000). I recommend both if you like more intense massages.

I know self-care is so much more than skincare and massages. There is more to add to here for 2019.


to pamper / tata harper concentrated brightening serum & huxley brightly ever after essence

Like many other Asians, my skin is prone to hyperpigmentation, freckles, sun spots, etc. It’s not just about sun exposure, it’s also about temperature. I regularly use brightening products to keep the spots at bay.

I’m reviewing two empties today: Tata Harper Concentrated Brightening Serum and Huxley Secret of Sahara Brightly Ever After

(1) Tata Harper Concentrated Brightening Serum

Tata Harper is an American natural beauty brand and I love the concept of clean, natural beauty, but it’s pretty expensive. Products in green colored packaging are her standard line (previously mentioned). Products in yellow colored packaging are pricier and not sold as pervasively as the green line, but has a wider distribution than it used to.

What’s In It? I don’t really read ingredients as my skin is not sensitive, but I looked for reviews (there weren’t that many useful ones). I regularly use Tata products and know that she would never put silicones into her products. From her website: A blend of targeted technology takes a triple-action approach to fighting and minimizing the appearance of dark spots. Brassica Napus and Sea Fern Extract helps to minimize the appearance of dark spots. Colorless Carotenoids help prevent the appearance of dark spots, and Norwegian Kelp boosts glow and helps reduce the look of dark spots.

Texture: It has a consistency of a light lotion unlike what you think of as a serum. For the summer, I used it with the True Botanicals Vitamin C Booster powder mixed in. It mixed really well. I use it after any liquid products, like the Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum and Water. Even in the hot summer days, it never felt heavy.

Smell: Nothing memorable. I think it smells floral/natural?

How Long It Lasts: I used about 1-2 pumps in the morning. I don’t remember when I started using it (I hate breaking into expensive products and sometimes do it slowly), but I would guess late winter through early October. That’s over half a year for the 1 fl oz and there was a scant amount left after the pump stopped working.

Does It Work? Yes, it does brighten. I noticed it one day after a month of almost daily usage. I have some old, dark spots that didn’t budge, not that I expected them to.

Packaging: Externally, Tata’s products are 5 stars. Internally, it’s also 5 stars. The airless pump works perfectly to deposit the right amount and to keep it hygienic. Glass bottle bottom, but not a deterrent for traveling light.

Pricing: Tata Harper is by no means budget-friendly. Let alone the yellow line. I got it for 30% off (US sales tax included in calculation) by purchasing it from the UK site Cult Beauty during their 20% off Black Friday sale stacked with cashback from another site. Also, there was a very nice Tata Harper gift with purchase, which I placed value on. Purchasing from Cult Beauty means that VAT is removed for US orders and you are also not charged duty tax.

Note on Cult Beauty: I think they send US-bound packages in bulk from the UK to a US third party, aircitypost, which then mails it out. It took 5 weeks(!) for me to get my package. Aircitypost messed up my address (what happened to copy and paste?). Cult Beauty service was 3 stars out of 5. My order also came with a time sensitive coupon. Needless to say, I didn’t shop from them again, but may consider it in the future. Also, the plastic on the inside of the glass container has been warped since I got it – mystery solved after I pulled the top off of the empty bottle.

Would I Buy It Again? Maybe, but I rather try other products first. There are so many.

Where to Buy (available at more stockists than last year):
Tata Harper (especially if want Tata samples)
Nordstrom (sometimes great with stackable gifts with purchase)
NET-A-PORTER (also on their global sites)
Neiman Marcus
Cult Beauty

(2) Huxley Secret of Sahara Brightly Ever After Essence

Huxley is a mid-range Korean brand. I first heard of Huxley on Glow Recipe, but pretty much everything on that site can be found for a cheaper price elsewhere.

This is called an essence, but I treat it like a serum. The terms essence, ampoule, serum, and water can be confuing. I layer from light to heavy texture.

What’s In It? From Glow Recipe: Huxley’s star ingredient, the antioxidant-rich Prickly Pear Cactus Seed, is still present in the new line to protect and strengthen skin, while new players such as Niacinamide and Mulberry work overtime to supercharge and brighten the complexion. Even better, the milky texture quickly absorbs (seriously, so quickly) to keep your skin slick-free and ready for your moisturizer. It also has glutathione, bisabol, and silicone but I can’t tell for the latter.

Texture: It is heavier than water, but very runny. It’s strange to put an essence in a serum bottle, but this is when the strict definitions of Asian skincare items don’t apply. It spreads and absorbs easily. I also mixed the True Botanicals powder above with this one. It works better with a heavier formula, so I don’t recommend it.

Smell: All of their products have a clean, cactus smell. I love it.

How Long It Lasts: It lasted a while because I didn’t use it consistently. It got to a point where I was determined to finish it, so left it on my vanity to force myself to use it.

Does It Work? It makes my skin feel moisturized and there is some brightening effect, but nothing drastic. It is very easy to layer, despite the silicone ingredient.

Packaging: Huxley uses the same dropper bottle for other essences. The dropper bottle works better than it does on the Oil Essence, but the last bits get stuck and you have to shake it out. Overall, all their products have glass packaging that has a solid feel.

Pricing: Retails for $58 in the US, I got it for $20 + intl shipping from SweetCorea in Korea. I think it’s great for the latter price.

Would I Buy It Again? Maybe, for the same reason as above. I want to try other products.

Where to Buy
SweetCorea (cheapest but shipping from Korea is added later, great for a haul)
Harvey Nichols