Favorite Lip Balm Stick

I rarely find something so good that I can call it the best of its kind, ever, but I've been through my fair share of lip balm sticks, and I think I've found "The One."

To be fair, I'm pickier than most - I ditched those Maybelline Babylips that everyone loves because I thought they tasted disgusting, and a lot of lip balm sticks just don't seem to hydrate as well as their potted relatives. I love the fresh Sugar Lip Treatment, but it's so soft/thick that it melts/disappears quickly, and at $20 a pop, it's a habit a little too pricey to sustain. I wear lipstick on an almost-daily basis, and I also have the very bad habit of pressing my lips together when I'm deep in thought. Given this, my lips should be horrendously chapped right now, but they're not thanks to the Dr. Hauschka Lip Care Stick. It contains an all-natural blend of moisturising ingredients like jojoba wax, shea butter, beeswax and sweet almond oil, plus carrot extract (hence the orange color, but it goes on sheer!) and anthyllis to soften the lips. It feels very concentrated, so I can apply it under lipstick and it's not too thick, but I can also use it at night and wake up in the morning with soft and smooth lips. I'm a big fan of the subtle, rosy smell and the practically non-existent taste. At $13.95, it's not the cheapest lip balm on the market, but it seems like a small price to pay to sustain my lipstick-wearing regimen. Plus, it's orange. Need I say more?

Orange Lips, Naturally: Atomic Cosmetics

Mission accomplished: I have found an all-natural, cruelty-free dupe for one of my all-time favorite YSL lipsticks.

Last week at Dr. Jen's House of Beauty, I was playing photographer when one of the staff members told me to put down the camera and try on some lipstick. From the array of bejewelled pink tubes in Dr. Jen's makeup line "Atomic Cosmetics," she suggested "Hot Tomata," a bright orange-red that instantly reminded me of YSL's "Le Orange." Sure enough, the color match was pretty spot-on. (If anything, it's just a hint more orange, but still redder than Hourglass's "Riviera.") The makeup snob in me thought, "Nothing beats YSL!", but my healthy conscience thought, "At the rate you're using 'Le Orange,' a natural alternative wouldn't hurt." So I decided to take one home with me.

In the world of lipsticks, YSL sets high standards. It's the brand I always trust for special occasions. So how does this little number from Atomic Cosmetics compare? It's just as pigmented, with the same semi-matte finish. From my experience with brands like Bite Beauty, natural lipsticks just aren't as long-wearing as their synthetically crafted alternatives. Given this, I was impressed that "Hot Tomata" stained my lips and stayed in place. It doesn't quite match the staying power of my YSL lipsticks, and it transfers more easily (i.e. you'll get more lipstick on your coffee cup). However, "Hot Tomata" passed a test-drive a couple of nights ago: I ate a giant veggie burger, drank prosecco and survived a four hour opera with no lipstick catastrophes. And unlike most of my bold lipsticks, this Atomic Cosmetics offering didn't dry out my lips, even when I reapplied it all night long. Most importantly, unlike YSL, Atomic Cosmetics is natural and cruelty-free. All things considered, for a day-to-day pop of color, I'm more than happy to make the trade.

Not your color? The lipsticks come in a wide range of shades, which you can shop on the Atomic Cosmetics website. They range from $16 to $20 and all have hilarious names. Dr. Jen also does custom lipstick blending, meaning that you can get a non-toxic dupe for just about any shade you want. Right now her cosmetics line is a local treasure, but she plans to expand, and when she does you won't want to miss it.

Dr. Jen's House of Beauty

Tomorrow one of my best and oldest friends is getting married! So this morning some friends and I swept her away for a little bachelorette party and bridal pamper. The top-secret destination was Dr. Jen's House of Beauty, a newly-opened shop and spa in Seattle's Capitol Hill where beauty meets geek. Dr. Jen Dietrich holds a PhD in biochemistry/biophysics with a specialization in the cellular mechanisms of aging. And in her spare time, the retro-glam research scientist whips up beauty products, drawing upon her knowledge of what makes skin look young... and what ingredients we should avoid for the sake of our health. Dr. Jen has developed her own natural, non-toxic and cruelty-free beauty lines, Xerion Skincare and Atomic Cosmetics. I volunteered to play photographer, so I thought I'd take you on a little tour inside!

Dr. Jen (right) and staff greeted us with huge smiles and mimosas and invited us to have a look around.

Dr. Jen's "lab" is pink, diamante-studded and a little bit vintage: amidst the chandeliers and dressing tables, you'd never guess that science experiments occur in the same space. But Dr. Jen herself formulates every single lotion, potion and pigment inside. We got a chance to witness one such cosmetic mixology when Dr. Jen made a custom foundation for the bride-to-be. Customizing foundation means you can have the exact level of coverage you desire, and Dr. Jen adjusted the proportions of ingredients until it was, as requested, semi-sheer and hydrating. She also explained to us that she packages each foundation in a vacuum-sealed pump bottle so that no air enters the container; as a result, there's no need for preservatives as toxic as your typical parabens. 

What makes the cosmetics even more notable is that they come in a stunning variety of colors. Dr. Jen works with the Seattle burlesque community and other local show artists to provide a healthy alternative to stage makeup. If you've ever had to perform on stage you'll know that stage makeup can be one hot comedogenic mess; Atomic Cosmetics won't fill your skin with toxins, even when you layer up the intensity. Because Dr. Jen works with stage artists, her makeup seems much more long-wearing than most natural brands. 

Each of us bought a lipstick. I fell in love with the first one I tried, an orangey-red (surprise surprise!) called "Hot Tomata." It's a near-perfect dupe for YSL's "Le Orange," made from all-natural ingredients! I'll feature it here in a future post so you can see how pigmented it is. A couple of my friends also got adventurous and did a photo shoot with blue and green lipstick + matching glitter... the result was Illamasqua-worthy!

I was seriously tempted by the skincare items, but I promised myself I'd return another day when I actually had a legitimate need for more skincare products. I kind of regret not trying the Nudie Cutie Sheer Coverage Shimmer Body Lotion, which looked like a natural alternative to those spray-on airbrushed legs products. Alas, I don't foresee any more bachelorette parties in the immediate future, but I think healthy beauty is a good enough excuse to go back!

Dr. Jen's House of Beauty is located at 617 East Pike Street in Seattle. You can learn more about Dr. Jen and her products at the Xerion Skincare Science website. Also check out her interview on Beautylish.

Kari Gran Tinted Lip Whip

Kari Gran's Lip Whip has become one of my bedtime rituals: ever since I witnessed how much it soothed and healed my chapped lips, I slather it on before snoozing. What's left of my original, peppermint version lives on my nightstand, but now I have a fresh pot in a new flavor to sustain my addiction all day long: Kari Gran's Tinted Lip Whip in Cinnamon Pimenta Berry*. This buttery, rosy swirl has the same moisturizing properties as the original version, but it also delivers a tiny pinch of pink and a spicy, reviving aroma. 

Founded in 2011, Kari Gran is part of a growing niche called "eco-luxe," a label designating natural, organic products with the same luxurious feel as offerings from mainstream high-end brands but without any nasty chemicals. Kari herself was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disorder, and when she took a look at the products she was using, she realized just how many toxins they contained. After struggling to find healthy alternatives that fit a luxury aesthetic, she developed her own skincare line, which is all-natural, organic and non-GMO and incorporates plant and essential oils. The more I read about natural skincare, the more I'm convinced by the brand's philosophy: the long term benefits of nourishing your skin with safe, gentle ingredients outweigh the short term benefits of using harsh ingredients to get fast results.

I started using the original Lip Whip, a clear, minty balm, after a product that was too harsh left my skin (and especially my lips) extremely dry. When nothing else in my stash seemed to work, Lip Whip made a dramatic difference, and within a week my lips were restored. (Just goes to show that natural products can deliver immediate results!) I find that some lip balms are too thick to wear during the day or underneath lipstick, but Lip Whip is one of the smoothest balms I've tried; it looks just as lightweight as a gloss but hydrates for hours.

The Tinted Lip Whip in Cinnamon-Pimenta Berry is just as nourishing as the original, but it also imparts a barely-there boost of color as well as a slight shimmer. Its warm, spicy scent of cinnamon & allspice (pimenta) reminds me of my favorite cup of chai tea. Lately I've been keeping the sleek black pot on my desk, and whenever I apply it I feel like I'm getting a mini whiff of aromatherapy. It's quite a seductive fragrance too, so if you're looking for a lip balm that won't be off-putting to a significant other who tries to steal a smooch... this is it.

Kari Gran Lip Whip is $15 for a 7ml pot. You can find more information about Kari Gran and shop the brand's skincare and makeup products on the Kari Gran website.

*PR Sample

PS... Ingredients: organic castor seed oil, organic beeswax, organic sunflower oil, organic camellia seed oil, organic olive, sunflower & calendula oil, mica, titanium dioxide, carmine, tocopherol (non GMO vitamin E from sunflower), wildharvested pimenta berry oil and organic cinnamon bark oil. 

Lavera Volume Mascara

I have a hard time wearing mascara on its own: I wear it with eyeliner and/or eyesahdow, or I forgo all eye makeup. I've read it time after time: just a sweep of mascara on an otherwise bare face can make you look more awake, but I always think that mascara alone makes my eyes look alienesque, so if I have to choose just one makeup product to brighten my appearance, it's usually a bold lip. But I've found a mascara that might make me change my mind: Lavera's Volume Mascara in Black. This is my newest addition to my small but growing collection of natural makeup, and it's the first natural mascara I've tried. 

Lavera is a natural, vegan, cruelty-free brand that meets the guidelines for Certified Natural Cosmetics set by the BDIH, a German non-profit with a strict list of standards that all qualifying brands must meet. These standards include: no animal testing, no synthetic dies, fragrances, silicones, paraffin or petroleum products and no ingredients from genetically modified sources.  

Lavera's Volume Mascara comes in slim silver packaging with a skinny, synthetic bristle wand. Although this mascara targets volume, I didn't think volumizing was one of its strengths. However, it did subtly lengthen, define and separate my lashes without leaving them overdone, clumpy or "spidery" (a word I cringe at, but it gets the point across!). It isn't particularly good at holding a curl, though that was no surprise to me because my lashes are quite straight and don't curl easily. On a related note, it's not waterproof (I learned this the hard way when I wore it to hot yoga); I don't use waterproof mascara on a daily basis, but for certain occasions it's the safer option, and it's generally better at holding a curl. The upside is that it's easy to remove at the end of the day. It's also suitable for sensitive eyes.

If you prefer your mascara to give a feathery, natural effect, you might enjoy this. It's the closest I've come to "my lashes but better" in a tube. One tube costs about the same as most high-end mascaras, and for that price I think a lot of people would be a little disappointed in how much (little) this mascara transforms your lashes. While it's not nearly as dramatic as my beloved Bobbi Brown Lash Glamour Extreme, the ingredients list is a good trade-off, and I do prefer the look this mascara gives for "no-makeup makeup" days. Heavy waterproof mascara can make your lashes brittle, but this mascara actually conditions your lashes with ingredients like jojoba seed oil and rose water.

You can find Lavera Volume Mascara on Amazon for $16. I'm definitely interested in trying other natural mascaras... if you have suggestions, please let me know!

Ingredients: Water, Grain Alcohol, Castor Seed Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sorbitol, Tricaprylin, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Sodium Cetearyl Sulfate, Hectorite, Jojoba Seed Oil, Jojoba Seed Wax, Lysolecithin, Xanthan Gum, Jojoba Esters, Rosa Damascena Flower Water, Vitamin E, Sunflower Seed Oil, Vitamin C, Fragrance (from Natural Essential Oils). May contain: Iron Oxides, Ultramarines.