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Belated beauty box time!

Birchbox November 2013

Before I start the product reviews, I have to show you my terribly professional new small product photography setup:


As a photographer, I'm normally all about the natural light, and my bathroom has this beautiful frosted window that faces southwestish that provides almost exactly what I wanted. (See photo at the top of this post.) But I bought a new camera and am trying to get myself out of a photographic rut... so, after recommending this setup to my sister I thought I was overdue to try it myself. My room is not nearly as dark as that photo implies, I just didn't bother to balance it because I liked the spotlit effect.

Incidentally, you can see my sister's use of a similar setup here on her latest makeup box review. She's going with a much more neutral white backdrop which probably is better for this sort of thing, but Birchbox so kindly sent me pink tissue paper with this month's box (that's January's, not November's... I'm terribly behind) and I thought it was more fun. I expect I'm going to start developing a coloured paper collection now...

So! Photographic digressions aside, let's talk products.

Color Club® Cocktail Hour Collection

Colour: "Top Shelf"
Size: 7ml / 0.25 fl oz

Color club professional nail laquer "Top Shelf"

This is one of those things I would never have bought myself because I didn't think the colour would work on me. So even though it wasn't a likely fave, it was fun to get it in the box, because it matches nothing I've ever owned nailpolish-wise and now I'd find out if it worked without being sad that I'd made a poor choice. Here I am wearing it as part of the "scientists participate in #manicuremonday" fun:

Computer scientist #ManicureMonday inspired by the #Science salamanicure. This is what I’m reading for work! pic.twitter.com/rqSsr2sZdI - @terriko

Overall, it's a decent but not amazing nailpolish. It's not one of the nicer new "low-solvent" (aka less volatile and smelly) formulas, but it's not nasty cheap stuff either. It chips a bit, but is reasonably manageable with a top coat. It's sufficiently opaque with a single coat, but I'd recommend two plus stop because of the chipping.

It's lovely, but as I expected, it's a bit too neutral for my tastes: I wear nailpolish to add colour and sparkle to my life, and I didn't find this eyecatching enough. The champagne-like colour was too close to my skin tone and I found it odd when I noticed it but mostly I just didn't notice it. Still, it might be fun paired up for nail art (I think it might look striking with black or darker blue) or used on those rare days when I actually do need to be subtle. So a useful part of my arsenal, but not a product that wows me.

Vasanti BrightenUp! Enzymatic Face Rejuvenator

Vasanti BrightenUp! Enzymatic Face Rejuvenator

Size: 20ml

Let's start this review by saying I'm pretty sure that there aren't any enzymes for face rejuvenation. So I was suspicious of this whole thing, especially given the info on the sample...

Vasanti's product page says:

Key Ingredients:

Papaya Enzyme (Papain) - natural enzyme gently dissolves dead skin cells and debris, helping to fade dark marks, and even out skin tone. Also, Papaya naturally has acne treatment properties.
Micro Crystals (Aluminum Oxide) - second hardest mineral next to diamonds. Its exfoliation properties will not cause allergic reactions and are incredible for skin stimulation and removal of dead cells.
Aloe Vera -incredible healing & soothing properties and is used to balance the exfoliation process leaving the skin smooth and soft
Panthenol - is a form of vitamin B which will help keep your skin smooth by helping to maintain its natural moisture balance and counteracting surface bacteria. Also reduces inflammation, soothes irritation and leaves skin soft and supple
Coconut – in this format has good antiseptic properties and hydrating properties
Tocopherol Acetate – Vitamin E that has anti-oxidant properties

Ingredient Listing:

Aqua (Water), Aluminum Oxide, Cetyl Alcohol, Decyl Glucoside, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Propanediol, Panthenol, Emulsifying Wax NF, Glyceryl Stearate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice, Tocopheryl Acetate, Papain, Parfum, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol

Ok, so we've got papain (papaya extract), which as I well know is mostly known as a meat tenderizer. There's your "enzymatic rejvenator" right there. It's tenderizing your face. Yum. After my experience with the "Karuna Clarifying Treatment Mask" that appeared to be made out of facehugger digestive juices, I was a little worried about putting this on my face.

That question answered, let's talk briefly about the rest:
Aluminum Oxide: an industrial abrasive with a bunch of other uses, including cosmetics.
Aloe vera: a delicious plant used in a variety of herbal medicines, but wikipedia claims there's not a whole lot of convincing evidence of its actual effect (or even safety)
Panthenol which, most interestingly, is used to promote skin healing, so probably not a bad idea after you scrape off bits of your face and pour meat tenderizer in the (micro) wounds. It does absorb through skin.
Coconut: They claim it has antisceptic properties, but the wikipedia page has no reference to this except for a story of it being convenient clean water for use in wound treatment in world war II... which is antiseptic but totally irrelevant in this use case. I do wonder if there's a mismatch of information here or they've got some other study to back this up. If reading Beauty BS posts has taught me anything, it's that they probably have no clue and this is the supposed antiseptic property. Incidentally, it's also known to cause contact dermatitis in some people, but not apparently me.
Tocopherol acetate: wikipedia tells me that this is antioxidant vitamin E that absorbs through the skin, which is what Vasanti tells us too so that's always promising.

Incidentally, this product was made in Canada, which means that the Canadian rules for natural products apply: one of the ingredients actually has to have some sort of proven effectiveness for the claims, but not all of them do. (I suspect this is also true in the US, but alas I have not gotten around to confirming this. It's possible US natural products can be total nonsense.) It looks like enough of these are legit that the others may be useless.

With a bit of trepidation, I tried this product out on my face as directed. It feels pretty much like applying sunscreen with some fine sand mixed into it. I didn't like the feeling much on my face, which is pretty full of nerve endings and thin skin, but it wasn't unbearable. It smells ok, feels weird, and does seem to scrape some surface skin off my face. I find the brightening claims a bit suspect, but I suppose it would have gotten rid of some surface tan if I'd been willing to apply this to my face more than once.

As it happens, though, I have absolutely no need to scrape bits off my face right now. (I guess if I got sunburnt, maybe? That's happened twice in my life, though, being not white, and all.). However, I did have some patches of dry skin elsewhere (due to winter dryness) that I didn't mind hastening to their inevitable shedding period. This is where the product really shone: the little teensy particles were great on the back of my hands, and easy to rinse off. (Ditto for other dry patches I tried it on.) Since the skin of my hands is much less sensitive than my facial skin, the sandy-sunscreen texture was interesting rather than slightly too abrasive.

The only downside is that having found this non-facial use, I actually like this enough to be tempted to buy more. I'd been looking for a lighter exfoliant that didn't use nut husks (my boyfriend is allergic), and this seems actually pretty decent as an exfoliant, despite my distaste for the whole "scrape tiny wounds into your face and apply meat tenderizer" thing.

Chella Highlighter Pencil

Size: 1.4g

This is a nice enough highlighter pencil. It's buttery and easy to blend, leaving basically a very faint light spot with some sparkle. I haven't managed to capture the sparkle in a still shot, but here's what it looks like unblended on my hand:

Chella Ivory Lace Higlighter, unblended

What gets me about it, though, is the way Birchbox introduced it.

What they advertised: "Go to our website to see how to use this to create great looks!"
What I saw: "Go to our website and photographic wizardry that makes the after photo look great, but tells you nothing about how to use the product!"

Seriously, while they do actually show some of how to apply the product, the before and after is a blatant example of how photography can be used to make a subject look better (or worse). Let's just show the before/after here:

Before/after shot for the Chella highlighter pencil

In the before:

  • she's looking straight into the camera (if there was a "worst angle for most humans" this would be it)
  • the lighting is very flat (washing out her skin and features)
  • her hair is pulled behind her very white shirt on white background, making it look more mugshot than glamour shot.

In the after:

  • she's got a nice 3/4 turn to her head, giving you nicer lines, especially along her chin
  • the lighting is slightly to the right of her, giving you increased definition for her features, particularly the smile lines in her face making her look more natural and less forced
  • her hair goes over her shoulder in a nice wave. This is especially important because it's a very high key image (aka: white on white) so the waves are very prominent and help draw attention
  • she's actually wearing more than just the highlighter: note the increased definition in her eyebrows and lips
  • and oh yeah, they might have done something with the highlighter pencil.

What irks me about this isn't just the standard trickery, though, it's that by changing the lighting, they made it pretty much impossible to see what the highlighter did for her, if anything. I realize, the highlighter is probably a bit subtle on its own, but this utterly fails as a tutorial as a result and instead is in the same vein as the mascara ads that show women with false eyelashes (+mascara) rather than showing what the mascara itself does.

So +1 to the product (very subtle sparkle is useful for me work; I can have crazy nails but don't like heavier face makeup) but -1 to Birchbox's attempt to help me use it.

Chuao Chocolatier Chocolate Bars

Size: 11g

Yum! I got the honeycomb flavour, which was most excellent and had little bits of solid honey stuck in it for a bit of a texture variety. It was super delicious, and I'd probably buy more if I could justify $6 chocolate bars in a house that's always filled with chocolate we got on sale after $insert_holiday_here.

TOCCA Crema da Mano Luxe

Size: 30ml / 1 fl oz

Tocca Crema Da Mano: Cleopatra (grapefruit * cucumber)

The packaging has a kind of cute vintage vibe, it's the right size for keeping at work, and the scent included cucumber, which is usually code for "this scent won't knock you over and offend your co-workers."

Alas, while I like the scent ok, I deem it too strong for use around other people. I grew up with very scent-sensitive parents and have allergic reactions to the occasional perfume myself, so I try to be careful about the scents in public-ish spaces. So it's currently sitting by my gaming machine at home so I can smell pretty while I beat up zombies.

Birchbox November 2013

Overall? Nailpolish I don't love but will use, hand cream that's at least nice at home if no good for work/travel, a highly entertaining abrasive/meat tenderizer/healing agent combo that's actually good at getting rid of flaky skin and not killing my boyfriend, an overly subtle sparkle pencil with a bad tutorial, and delicious delicious honey chocolate. Not bad. I am pleased although not amazed with November's selections.


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