Review: Marks and Spencer beauty advent calendar

I decided to treat myself to a fancy advent calendar for the first time last Christmas. The previous year I had jealously watched as the internet showed off the beauty nuggets it had found behind the cardboard doors and I was determined not to be left out in 2017.

Come December, I had already planned to buy a duvet from Marks and Spencer so was already well over the “must spend over £35” threshold to qualify for purchasing the shop’s beauty calendar and cheerily added the extra £35 cost at the till to take it home with me.

Unlike my friend who two years before had impatiently opened all the boxes on 1 December, I had decided to stick to giving myself a daily treat by opening each one with my breakfast.

First up was the Rosie for Autograph Amazing Radiance Body Glow which for someone whose legs are naturally milk bottle white will be a necessity once the season’s 60 deniers are retired. Day 2’s offering was from a brand I’m not familiar with – Filorga – and as masks aren’t part of my regular skincare routine, I’ll be interested to see whether it makes a difference.

Days 3 to 5 started a trend for more products in tubes – Nuxe’s shower oil, Gatineau’s advanced rejuvinating cream and Rodial’s dragon’s blood sculpting gel, which if I’m honest, I don’t really know what to do with.

I was starting to get face cream fatigue by this point so was excited to finally get a makeup product on day 6 from Stila, only to be disappointed by the generic shade – it would have been nice to get a bold colour, but I accept it’s safer with these things to opt for an inoffensive nude.

Day 7 was a dreamy-smelling wild rose night cream from Korres – a brand I’m fond of – and I immediately slapped it on my face. Days 8 and 9 were similarly exciting – an Eyeko mascara and a Nails Inc nail varnish in copper, both of which were gratefully received, though the former lacks drama and is strictly for daytime.

Days 10 and 11 were firmly planted in exfoliation territory with Formula’s radiance peel and Alpha Skincare’s liquid rose gold, the latter of which was for me, the standout offering. I would never have bought a full size bottle without trying it first, which is what makes calendars like this so useful (and lucrative).

Day 12 was a sculpting sponge I will never use. Ever.

Shay and Blue’s blood orange perfume was in day 13’s box. Marketed as a “cult classic” by the M&S beauty PR team, it got mixed reaction from myself and my friends – too fruity for me, a winner with another, but a “meh” from the third. A nice, weighty addition to the calendar though.

I was looking forward to Emma Hardie’s cleansing balm, which came the day after.  It generally garners mixed reviews from beauty bloggers and I’m adding to that list. It removed my make-up well enough but the smell is a bit off-putting and the seedy texture is a bit like rubbing cat litter in your face. Still, it had been on my ‘to try’ list for a long time and will certainly be used down to the last scrape.

I had conflicting feelings about day 15 – it was undoubtedly nice to get a full-size product, but did I really need a Diego Dalla Palma mascara when I’d already had one from Eyeko? An eyeliner would have made a nice change, but that aside it’s a nice product and better than my current L’oreal mascara by miles.

I rolled my eyes hard at day 16’s hairspray offering and moved swiftly on to enjoying day 17’s Ren firming shot, which does what it says on the tin. I haven’t yet tried the following day’s Ameliorate body lotion which claims it will “transform” my skin. We shall see.

I actually shouted “yesssss” when day 19’s Leighton Denny glitter nail varnish rolled out of its tissue-paper. I promptly applied a layer over one of my gels and stared at it like a magpie for the rest of the day. But my beauty high was quashed by another nude lip gloss from Pixi on day 20, which brings me neatly to my main gripe about the calendar.

Regardless of the fact it was a poor choice of product from a brand far better known for its skincare range, it left me wondering – where’s the eyeshadow stick? Or the lip balm? If I’ve spent £35 on an advent calendar, I want something notably different every day. I for one would much rather get a smaller sample from one of the other lovely brands stocked by M&S, like Origins or Neom, than two products that are essentially the same.

Things were looking up on day 21 with a Balance Me facial oil – a product which I am a nightly user of – except for when I’m slathering my face in day 22’s Formula X night cream, which I am already a big fan of. But then days 23 and 24 were both primers which reignited my annoyance about duplication. The final day was a cute little polka dot bag needlessly ruined with some mumsy embroidery. Shame.

So, would I buy it again? Looking over the items, I was really pleased with 10, had no use for 5, and ambivalent about the remainder, but will give them a try with a view to being pleasantly surprised. With those maths, come December I probably will buy another calendar but in the hopes the M&S team provides a more even split between skin care and make-up products and is perhaps a little braver with the latter.

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Is a Skin Laundry laser facial worth the hype?

Copyright: Skin Laundry


I’m a big fan of a facial but can only justify forking out for the pleasure of having nice oils massaged into my skin once in a blue moon.

So when I saw the words “free facial” in a Domestic Sluttery newsletter, I was in there quicker than you can open a hyperlink.
It was only after I booked that I realised this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill cleanse, tone and moisturise deal. I had made plans to have my face zapped with a scary-sounding laser.

After some nervous research I decided to man up and off I went to the new Skin Laundry outlet at Harvey Nichols in Leeds. On arrival, I filled in various medical forms and disclaimers, before being whisked off upstairs by my technician who explained the method on the way to the treatment rooms. 

The clinic, which started in LA (where else can you get that California glow?), promises to leave skin deep-cleaned “every time”. It boasts no down-time and claims to improve the skin’s smoothness, evenness and radiance over time.
I was told a laser would be passed over my face twice – “it might prickle, but won’t hurt” – before a short round of intense pulse light therapy (IPL), which might feel a bit “warm”.

Once in the room, she cleansed my skin – leaving my eye make-up and lipstick on – and gave me goggles to protect my eyes.

I barely noticed the laser during a test patch on my forehead so on she went, passing it over my forehead and on to my cheeks. It felt a bit unpleasant, akin to rapid-fire splatters of hot oil being splashed on your face, but was entirely bearable, though the “completely normal” burning smell of dirt being vaporised from my pores was a little gross.  

It wasn’t until the laser hit my old nose piercing and I shouted “ow ow OW!” that she had to pause, noting that she hadn’t noticed it and the laser shouldn’t have gone over it.
We resumed, me with sweaty palms, for the remainder of the laser treatment, which probably only amounted to three or four minutes.

She then applied a cooling gel – similar to that used in an ultrasound – before pressing the IPL wand on to my skin in short and very bright bursts, a process which took about a minute.

My skin was then toned and moisturised and that was that. I was handed a mirror to assess the results – my skin looked bright and shiny, particularly my nose, which has always been congested and so bore the brunt of the discomfort. 

There was no redness and I was told I could reapply make-up and go about my day, though I was advised to stay away from saunas and steam rooms for a couple of days – naturally, a major problem.

That evening I applied a hydrating sheet mask and the following morning, I noticed my skin felt a little tight after cleansing. But overall, my complexion looks more even and bright and a few people have remarked, unprompted, that my skin looks good today. 

At £60 a pop, it’s unlikely to be a regular occurrence. And there’s still something disconcertingly sci-fi about using a laser on something as important as the skin on your face. But the results were noticeable and as an occasional deep-clean, I am broadly on board.

Book your free trial here.

Smells like teen spirit: The beauty products that take me back

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I was standing in the toiletries aisle the other day looking for shampoo when a bottle of Herbal Essences caught my eye. I picked it up and opened the cap for a whiff, curious to see whether it smelled the way I remembered. Sure enough, the scent was as unchanged as the packaging – a reminder of the lingering floral fog that followed me, and countless other girls, around Sixth Form.

I bought it for nostalgia’s sake – the yellow chamomile variety, given my pink rosehip preference of yesteryear wasn’t available. The difference was barely discernible – it still had that overpoweringly sweet aroma that accompanied me through drama and English classes – though curiously, its scent has nothing of its original staying power.

Still, the trip down memory lane got me thinking about the other beauty products that made an impression on me way back when. Here’s a selection:

Matey


I was never one of those kids that threw a tantrum at bath time, in fact it was pretty much my favourite part of the day. The ticking of the two-bar gas fire as it heated up my grandma’s bathroom was the soundtrack to the tub filling up. I loved watching her tip the blue gel out of Sailor Matey’s head and seeing it hit the water, where it would bloom for a second before transforming into a rainbow of froth.  Long after I’d pruned and the foam had dissipated I’d beg for a top-up, coaxed out of the tepid water only by the promise of Ovaltine and a biscuit.

Bath pearls


Matey was obviously the start of my borderline obsession with bath products because as soon as I started to earn pocket money, I would trot down to the gift shop where the bath pearls were piled high in bowls like a sweet shop display. I later likened the way I approached that table to the scene in Amelie where she submerges her hand in the sack of grains; I liked the way the jelly-like orbs slipped between my fingers and how later, the silk of their skin would melt in the water.

Like a magpie, I’d buy them by the handful along with translucent, fruit-shaped soaps. I later graduated to buying them from the Body Shop cause, well, the 90s. Also, see Dewberry. 

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Cucumber skincare

Speaking of which, was there a teenage girl alive during the Britpop era that didn’t have some sort of cucumber-scented face product from the Body Shop or Boots? Fuck knows why we all wanted to smell like a salad; the same reason we all bathed in CK One I suppose – it was the done thing.

Still, whenever I get a whiff of artificial cucumber from an emergency pack of face wipes purchased at a train station, it make me slightly whimsical for the days of Sugar, Sun-in and chokers.

Impulse

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If ever there was a moment to borrow from the book of Kurt Cobain, it would be to honour Impulse. Every single girl aged between 11 and 16 had a can of Free Spirit or O2 rolling around the bottom of their Kickers satchel, ready to deploy post-netball. The genius of the teen body spray was in the candy-coloured packaging which made you want to collect them all. By the time GCSE year rolled round, many of my friends had graduated to So..? and by A Level it was a toss-up between Hugo Deep Red and Davidoff Cool Water. But for a time, Impulse really was the smell of teen spirit.

Juicy Tubes

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Juicy Tubes appeared around the same time I started sneaking into pubs and, at 16, wearing a shiny layer of sugary gloss seemed like a prerequisite to getting past the bouncers. Purchasing one however was a literal leap from the high street to high-end and cost a whole day’s wage from the Saturday job. Nevertheless, we all had a Juicy Tube – mine in Lychee – and would seemingly pull them out in sync and apply between nervous swigs of Smirnoff Ice. They were ultimately pointless; the colour was barely noticeable and their stickiness meant every rogue strand of hair found its way into your mouth. But for many girls, they marked that first step into luxury beauty and for me, a taste for expensive brands that has never really gone away.

What beauty product takes you back? Leave your comments below 💄

 

Does Lush Sleepy really cure insomnia?

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Anyone who knows me understands I have a fraught relationship with sleep. At best, I doze so lightly the merest creak wakes me. At worst, I get stuck in a weeks-long cycle of sitting bolt upright at 3am watching the clock until dawn. Basically, I’m always tired.

As a result, my sleep requirements are quite specific. For one,  I don’t go anywhere without my memory foam pillow. I have one in both my houses, it comes with me on weekends away – whether that be fancy hotels, my friend’s house or festivals – and I even bought a miniature version when I went on a three-week trip around America last year.

Before bed, I liberally spritz my side of the bed with This Works Deep Pillow Spray. Come 5am I usually put on my sleep mask (Aromatherapy Associates since you ask) to block out the offending morning light.

And yet, despite my routine (bed by 10, no caffeine after 4) and shelling out a small fortune on a new bed and admittedly, extremely comfy mattress to alleviate my Princess and the Pea needs, there are still periods in which I do nothing but toss and turn.

Bemoaning this to my equally bleary-eyed night shift colleague the other day, she suggested trying out the latest cult product lauded by insomniacs: Lush Sleepy. It’s been claimed the much-talked about body lotion is a sleep cure, a result of which means it’s nigh on impossible to buy in store.

God bless the internet though, because it is available online. Mine arrived this morning and not that I’m clock-watching, but in eight hours’ time I’ll be slathering myself in its sweet lavender promise and praying for some much-needed zzzs 😴

Have you tried Lush Sleepy? Let me know how you got on in the comments below! 

Let’s talk about Topshop’s sweetheart sandals

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To borrow a quote from my all-time favourite movie, I spent most of today breaking in my mustard clogs.

I bought them on a whim, which is unusual for me because I have a tortured relationship with shoes. I don’t, as a rule, buy fast fashion footwear because they usually cut my toes to shreds. I buy from Clarks, where the shoes are wide and made from leather.

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However, I broke my rules for Topshop’s sweetheart sandals. Made from scalloped suede with stud detailing to the sides, they have have a solid 2.5 inch block heel which is reasonably comfortable to walk in even on their first outing. They can also be styled with almost everything I wear, i.e. jeans and Breton stripes.

If that’s not a good enough reason to be sucked in by yellow shoes, I don’t know what is. If you’re tempted, the red ones have already gone in the sale, am just waiting for the tan ones to follow suit.

I broke in my purple clogs.

 

The quest for the perfect long-wear eye shadow crayon

crayonsThe first time I tried eyeshadow was with a sweep of pearlescent blue from a pot of Bourjois (no.17, I believe), which resulted in me being shamed by my year nine English teacher who suggested I wash it off at break time.

In my late teenage years, I tried out the smokey eye only to be likened by my father to a raccoon. Then at university, I adopted the nu-rave look with zeal, applying loose Barry M shadows in neon shades with matching glitter, which I set – to my lasting horror – with a liberal layer of Elnet.

Thankfully, those days are behind me and I’ve come to appreciate the brightening effect of a low-key shimmery wash across the lids – a particularly easy look to pull off at 6am when one cannot reasonably be expected to master winged eyeliner.

My shadow of choice for a long time was Benefit’s creaseless cream formulas – my favourite shade being R.S.V.P. – which can be applied with your finger even when you’re going over potholes on the bus. I’ve since moved on to long-wear crayons, which remove the need for hands-on application and get deeper into the eye socket.

Bobbi Brown’s twist-up stick in Golden Pink is the one I return to most often – a summery retro shade which stays well put in conjunction with Urban Decay’s Primer Potion. For everyday wear, I’m a huge covert to NYX’s jumbo eye crayon in Yoghurt, though it is mildly annoying that there is no twist-up function and what you see of the product is what you get.

A surprise bargain was Rosie for Autograph’s cream eyeshadow stick in Sparkle and Magic. Cringe-worthy name aside, it’s a dead ringer for Bobbi Brown’s Goldstone version, offering the same shade and density with the added bonus that it’s half the price. At the lower end of the price range is GOSH’s Forever eye shadow crayons, which do sound a little teenage, but go on smoothly and refuse to budge. I have it in Silver Rose and Light Cooper and can’t fault either.

The only real disappointment I’ve thus far come across is No.7’s Stay Perfect Shade and Define which failed to do any of those things. Even on primed lids, it went on patchy and refused to layer up, acting cheaper than its price tag would suggest. I had a similar issue with Charlotte Tilbury’s much-hyped eyeshadow pencil, the formula for which left my lids feeling oddly stiff.

Tell me about your favourite long-wear crayons in the comments below 👇

Aldi’s Jo Malone-style candles are back

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🔊 CANDLE KLAXON 🔊

The two-wick burners that disappeared off Aldi’s shelves last year quicker than you can say ‘Jo Malone’ are back in stock.

This means that, obviously, I stockpiled my allotted two per person then sent my boyfriend into our nearest shop to do the same again.

At £3.99 each –  a far cry from the average £40 one might spend on a fancy candle – and with approximately 20 hours of burning times by my nightly calculations, these really are worth sending your money up in smoke.

No.1’s lime, basil and mandarin is unashamedly similar to the signature scent of an, ahem, rather more famous brand. So much so that my friend recently told me how a relative who is an employee of said brand followed her nose to the source of the aroma and couldn’t believe the supermarket knock-off wasn’t the real deal.

I wasn’t expecting to like No.2’s blackberry and bay, not being a fan of overly sweet smells, but this one fills the room with a scent that is fruity without being cloying. However, the berry notes overpower the freshness of the herb, which is virtually undetectable. But who’s complaining with that price tag?

No.3’s pomegranate noir is by far the candle with the best throw, lingering in the air long after it’s blown out. It’s a rich, woody scent with a somewhat Christmassy note, meaning it will really come into its own when the nights draw in.

Crossing fingers for some new additions to the range – an autumnal pumpkin spice number wouldn’t go amiss.

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