Samplepalooza: Day 2–Smashbox Photo Finish Lid Primer and Befine Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15

Sorry, sorry, I know I’ve been neglecting you.  Got all caught up in having fun and then time just got away from me.

On Day 2, R gave me her sample tube of Smashbox Photo Finish Lid Primer because it made her break out and she knew I was going on a beauty sampling bender.

Smashbox Photo Finish Lid Primer

Love it! I actually like this much more than the over-hyped Urban Decay Eden Primer Potion I bought earlier this year. Easier to apply thanks to its wand applicator, and smoother than the PP. I’m sold on the Smashbox lid primer!

My next sample was Befine Skin Care’s Daily Moisturizer with SPF15.

Befine food skincare Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15

Moisturizers with sunscreen and sunblock in them almost always make me break out in horrible zits, so I approached this product with some trepidation.  In the end, I found this was a little on the heavy side for me, especially since it was still summer at the time, but I can see myself using it in the winter when I need a more oomph in the moisturizing department. I like that it’s a natural, no added fragrance product.

I know I bitch about it all the time but I hate hate hate heavily perfumed facial products.  It’s one thing if a face product is lightly scented as a result of its ingredients but I don’t get why cosmetics companies continue to add perfume to already-scented lotions and potions. I’m looking at YOU, Garnier!

Anyhow, I’m impressed with both of today’s samples.


Clarisonic Mia: A Follow-Up and Rant

So an invisible friend asked about the Clarisonic skin cleansing system and it reminded me that I haven’t given an update on it in a while.

I like it. I admit I was ready to chuck it out the window because of how irritated my skin was getting after only a week. I broke out in bumps which I think was a mild case of folliculitis (inflamed hair follicles) and NOT pimples.

I’ll be frank: I think the salespeople at some of these cosmetics shops are either full of it or don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to the Clarisonic Mia; the term “breaking out” does not mean what they think it means. “Breaking out” refers to actual pimples, either the pustule or papule kind, not mere bumps on one’s skin.

It is NOT normal for one’s skin to do a 180 (e.g. going from freakishly oily to so painfully dry that I needed to buy extra-moisturizing creams that I’d ordinarily never buy because my skin is, you know, freakishly oily) and it is NOT normal for one to “break out” after using this product. It makes no sense to me that I suddenly “broke out” all over my face when I don’t normally get zits on my cheeks.

If I sound annoyed, it’s because I am annoyed. I hate that customers are being misled by sales staff.

I walked into Sephora a few weeks ago to buy replacement heads for my Clarisonic. The salesgirl was very enthusiastic and complimented me on my complexion, but only after she saw what I was buying. I mentioned the bumps I’d gotten and she was all, “Yeah, breakouts are perfectly normal!” I tried to explain that I hadn’t broken out, that my skin was actually really irritated until I changed to a gentler brush head, but I guess the KoolAid she’d had was pretty strong. I really wish companies trained their sales associates better on proper terminology and product knowledge.

Despite my angst, at the end of the day, I do like my Mia a lot. I use it at night with my facial cleanser to take off my makeup after I remove my eye makeup. Before I rinse my face, I gently massage the cleanser over my eyes to remove any lingering bits of liner or shadow, and then splash my face clean. Afterward, I either use glycolic toner and oil free moisturizer or just the ROC Retinol Correxion night cream I talked about a couple of months ago.

For you dry-skinned girls, I obviously can’t speak to your complexion plight, but if it helps, my cousin, who has skin so dry she slaps on alAquaphor or Vaseline as her winter moisturizer, also uses the Clarisonic Mia with Philosophy’s cleansing oil and adores it. Her skin really looks amazing!

DIY: Three-in-One Mosquito-Repelling Body Scrub

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

After I made the DIY: Mosquito Repellant, I discovered I’d run out of my homemade body scrub and was about to make some more when it hit me: why couldn’t I make this batch a three-fer? After all, I use the scrub all over my body, so why not make it an anti-mosquito one as well as exfoliating AND moisturizing?

My regular scrub is made with sugar and oil. In the winter, I use olive oil because it’s a more occlusive and protects my skin from the harsh winter weather; my skin just drinks it up in the winter. But olive oil is way too heavy to use during steamy NYC summers, so I switch to Neutrogena Fragrance-Free Light Sesame Body Oil. I love that it never feels greasy and I have my friend K to thank for suggesting it to me several years ago. Sometimes I’ll use Trader Joe’s Lavender Body Oil which is lighter than olive oil but a step heavier than the Neutrogena sesame oil. You can use antioxidant-rich grape seed or avocado oils, or another neutral oil of your choice. Jojoba oil is nice too. Just an FYI: if you make a huge batch at once, it’s going to be in your shower for a long while and edible oils could go rancid before you can use it all up.

As you may have inferred, this scrub is very easily customizable, which is why I decided I’d give it some anti-bug properties. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner! I use sugar because it’s a great exfoliant that dissolves easily in water, so you can just rinse it off without losing the moisturization of the oil. You can also use table salt.

You’ll need a canning jar, which you can buy at your local kitchenware shop, yard sales, The Container Store, farming supplies store, and of course, online. In NYC, you can buy these jars at the Broadway Panhandler. It can be hard to find them during canning season, so you may have to really look around depending on where you are. Be sure you get the right size rubber gasket for the lids! Whatever jar you use must have a very tight-fitting lid that you can easily remove and replace in the shower–you don’t want water getting into this scrub because the sugar will begin to dissolve.

I use this scrub in the shower and then spray myself down with the DIY: Mosquito Repellant in the same way people layer their perfumes, and so far so good! This scrub makes a nice I’m-broke-as-a-joke-but-donwanna-look-like-it gift. You can cover the lid with a pretty piece of fabric and tie around it with a ribbon threaded with a tag listing the ingredients (in case of allergies) and the recipient’s name.

Whoops, I forgot to include the bottle of citronella essential oil in the lineup!

a190de4e, Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

The oil seeping down into the sugar

Three-in-One Mosquito-Repelling Body Scrub (yields 16 oz)

  • One 0.5-liter (16-oz) hermetic jar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4-1/2 cup light, fragrance-free oil (you can use grapeseed, avocado or jojoba oil)
  • 15 drops lavender essential oil
  • 6 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
  • 5 drops citronella essential oil
  • 5 drops tea tree oil

Put the sugar into the jar. In a separate bowl, mix the oils and pour over the sugar. Mix with a disposable chopstick or plastic spoon. Use enough oil so the sugar is saturated but not so much that it puddles on top after it’s all been mixed in. Make sure the rubber gasket is on the inside of the lid, and clasp it shut.

DIY: Mosquito Repellant

Every Memorial Day weekend, my Aunt  C throws a birthday barbecue in honor of her twin sons’ birthday.  I love getting together with my family and catching up on all the gossip news.  And the yummy food!  I come from a huge family of good cooks and can always count on seriously good grub at these functions.

What I do not love are the bugs.  Sweet fancy Moses, I came home from the bbq with a dozen bites on my ankles and shoulders.  Not counting the ones on my scalp.  I HAD MOSQUITO BITES ON MY FRIGGIN’ SCALP, Y’ALL!!  Gah, my head is itching just thinking about it.

While I know DEET is the king of bug repellants, my inner hippie wanted a natural version.  In between scratching and whinging about my numerous bites, I turned to my online message board friends, whom I affectionately and ironically refer to as my invisible friends, for their sage advice.  D posted a recipe involving essential oils (EO) and distilled witch hazel that looked super easy and not too expensive.  Here it is:

1/2 teaspoon citronella essential oil
1/2 teaspoon eucalyptus essential oil
1/2 teaspoon lavender essential oil
4 ounces distilled witch hazel (Thayer’s makes an alcohol-free one that’s nice for those with more sensitive or dry skin)

Mix ingredients in a 4-ounce spray bottle. Shake well. Spray onto exposed skin, avoiding eyes and mucous membranes. Reapply every 2 hours, or as needed, shaking well before each use.

I substituted lemon eucalyptus for the regular eucalyptus because my local health food market was out of the latter. Fair warning: citronella EO is really strong-smelling, so much so that I was actually a bit nauseous when I first started using this bug repellant.

I’ve sprayed it on every morning from head to toe for the last two weeks and so far, I’m bite free!

Another friend warned that eucalyptus EO can be quite strong and some people can have a topical reaction to it, so if you’re a bit worried about an allergic reaction, use half the recommended amount at first.  It’s also really important to know that many essential oils are not meant to be applied directly to your skin, so please don’t put a random EO onto your skin without checking to see if it’s safe to do so; most have to be mixed with other ingredients. I believe lavender, tea trea, and peppermint EO are safe to apply undiluted to skin.

For more information on essential oils, take a look at the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy’s website or you can Google essential oil safety.

Edited to add:  This homemade spray is not meant to be effective in very bug-infested environments, so if you’re going to, say the Amazon, please do use DEET or whatever commercial product best suits you.

Imperial Health Spa–Garden Grove, Orange County, CA

After my indoctrination into the world of Korean scrubs at Yi Pak Spa, I was hooked.  Unfortunately, the spas that offer these scrubs are pretty pricy in New York CIty, about $100 or so for a basic scrub.  Plus tip. Ouch.

While doing research for my trip to Los Angeles, I decided to look up Korean spas on a whim.  Holy crap, there were several very highly rated places to go, and THEY COST HALF OF WHAT I PAY HERE IN NYC!!  There was one place in LA’s Koreatown/downtown that seemed very popular and I added that spa to my itinerary.  But once I landed and had time to relax with BFF, I decided I didn’t want to drive from Long Beach (where he lives and where I was staying) up to K-town JUST for a scrub, and I wasn’t looking forward to getting stuck in traffic.  I mean, if you’ve ever driven in LA or NYC traffic, you’ll understand precisely why I was suddenly hesitating to go.  So I looked online and found Imperial Health Spa in Garden Grove in Orange County.

One of the weirdest things about this place is how unassuming it is.  It’s in a nondescript strip mall on Garden Grove Boulevard and it’s in the middle of a huge Korean community.  The upside is there’s LOADS of parking, or at least there was the day I visited Imperial on a sunny Thursday afternoon.  I did not make an appointment, which is not required, though you might want to do so if you plan to visit on the weekend and get a scrub.

The men’s spa, by the way, is on the left at the end.  Don’t ask me how I figured this out.  Let it suffice to say that there are no signs to alert the innocent.

The lobby is clean, quiet, and houses a couch where one can wait for one’s party to finish their ablutions.  To the immediate left of the entrance is a counter where you tell the attendant whether you are there to use the hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms only, or if you are also interested in getting a scrub. Get this, folks:  it costs only $15 to use the facilities, and an additional $30 to add on a scrub.  Only $45 for WAY more than I can get at my beloved Yi Pak!  You pick a time for your scrub and assign you a numbered locker.  That’s also the number the ajumma will quietly call out when it’s your turn to get the crap scrubbed out of you. I scheduled mine for an hour into my visit so I’d have time to explore and try out the various rooms and pools, and walked away from the registration desk armed with a cotton robe, a toothbrush, the key to my assigned locker, and three towels.

As I walked into the nicely-but-not-luxuriously appointed locker room and after taking my shoes off at the door (it’s incredibly rude to walk into a Korean spa while wearing shoes, so be prepared to go barefoot), I noticed there was one smallish vanity nearest the locker door, and around the corner, a larger L-shaped one, both stocked with hair dryers, body lotion, tissues, cotton swabs, hairspray (Aquanet!), etc.  There were also some Korean facial products, but as I can’t read Korean and therefore had no way of knowing what was in these products, I decided to stick with the supplies I brought.  And yes, feel free to bring your own beauty products.

I must emphasize that Korean spas are NAKED spas.  Nude. Au naturel.  NAKIE.  If you’re not comfortable seeing other ladies’ bits and bobs or exposing yours to other women, a Korean spa is not the place for you.  Seriously.  It’s not like I dance around with jazz hands, but you really have to leave your modesty at the door when you go to these spas.  The provided robe is the only nod to modesty you’ll get, and it’s actually more of a hindrance than a boon in the wet zone because they have to come off before you walk into any of the rooms.  Wear the robe in the dry zone.

The wet zone is where the soaking tubs, steam room, and showers are located.  This is also where the scrub rooms are found, though those are through an inner doorway.  The soaking tubs are located to the left of the wet room entrance, with shower stations in the center and along the wall on the right.  Directly ahead is the entrance to the steam room.  The center shower stations are all equipped with hand-held shower heads and are set at about waist height.  Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner are provided, but again, if you have your favorite products, bring your own.

After I took a shower (you need to do this before getting into any of the tubs), I checked out the hot tub first.  This thing is big enough to float in, y’all, and HOT.  I’m a dumb ass and didn’t know how to turn on the jets or that it was even supposed to bubble until a couple other ladies got into the tub with me and one of them turned the jets on.  Derp.  As I soaked, I covertly and curiously watched as a younger woman scrubbed her mom’s back for her.  There was something so endearing and tender about this to me.  These two ladies quietly talked and acted as if this mutual grooming was something they did all the time, which I suspect they do.

I’m the quintessential New Yorker and felt compelled to rush to the next pool, this time the cold soaking tub.  I was in there for all of six seconds before I leaped out and nearly dove back into the hot tub.  I’m not too proud to admit I’m a wimp when it comes to the cold!

Next:  the salt room.  I didn’t actually see any salt; I read later that I was supposed to ask for a thing of salt, except I wouldn’t have known what to do with it.  Are you supposed to rub it on yourself?  Sniff it?  It was just a really hot and dry room with an LCD TV set in the wall.  Not sure what the benefit of a dry, salty sauna is supposed to provide but maybe I’m just a spa philistine.

You know what I did really enjoy?  The red clay ball room.  Also a dry sauna, it contains about a dozen shallow pits filled with red clay marble-sized balls that are heated from below with infrared (?) and are freaking amazing to lie in.  So much nicer than just sitting in a hot room!  I imagine this is sort of like hot stone massage, only without the massage.  The warmth these little balls imparted was super soothing and felt wonderful to my travel-weary muscles.   I could have fallen asleep in this room, and almost did.   They also made quite a bit of noise with every move I made.  Clack-clack-clack.


By this time, I was starting to feel a pang or two of hunger, no thanks to the snack bar that was serving yummy bulgogi and other meals.  Cash only for this part of the spa, and as usual, I had none on me, so all I could do was sniff the air longingly.

I headed back for another soak in the hot tub to get my skin soft again for my scrub.  Before I knew it, Ajumma called my number and off I went through the inner doorway and into the scrub area.  I actually felt a little nervous about this because something about the room, which had a half-dozen or so large cubicles sectioned off by six-foot high walls, reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for some reason; it was very utilitarian-looking with tiled walls and steel partitions.  I was a little terrified that Ajumma was really Nurse Ratched disguised as a Korean woman.   I got over the nervousness pretty fast after I reminded myself Korean spas are not meant to be like Dorit Baxter or Great Jones Day Spa.  Remember, no frills at a Korean spa!

At Imperial, there’s no towel across your face while you’re being skinned, so for the first time, I actually got to see what Ajumma was scrubbing off my body.  I can’t believe how gross it is to see rolls of gray skin go flying off in all directions.

I think maybe I prefer being blindfolded.

Scrubs are typically accompanied by little mini-massages, which really consist of a minute or two of flesh-smacking.  Not the kinky kind, you gutter-minds!  At one point, I was asked to sit up so Ajumma could rinse skin bits off my back and she gave my back a hearty smack.  So hearty, in fact, the Ajumma in the facing cubicle looked up in alarm.  There was something so absurd about my sitting there butt-naked and being smacked around by an ajumma of indeterminate age that I busted up laughing.  Both ajummas laughed too, and we all continued with our regularly scheduled program.

For obvious reasons I did not take any pictures.  The outer trappings aren’t what anyone would consider luxurious, but it’s clean, quiet, respectful (everyone keeps their eyes to themselves–no one is gawking or pointing and laughing), and you can spend the whole day there if you like.  The proprietors clearly put a lot of money into the amenities rather than sink money into the non-nakie areas and I’m okay with that.  If I hadn’t had plans for the evening, I would have hung out in the clay ball room all day!

Korean spas have this uncanny knack for reminding me that we ought to celebrate our bodies, not just with cleanliness but also by treating it and our spirits well.  I felt this more intensely at Imperial Health Spa than I do at Yi Pak, maybe because Yi Pak’s main focus is on the scrub and not on the other amenities, which they don’t provide.  You can’t spend all day indulging yourself at Yi Pak the way you can at Imperial.  For $45 plus tip, I walked out of Imperial feeling like a new woman with a newly rejuvenated spirit.  You will too.

Imperial Health Spa
8251 Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 530-0055

Yi Pak Spa: A Two Week Follow Up

More from my old beauty blog:

Nearly two weeks post-scrub (see my original post on Yi Pak)!

Day one: Admired my newly baby-soft skin. Even the stubborn chicken skin on my thighs was gone. After my first shower after being scrubbed down by Ajumma, I noticed that bits of skin were still rolling off as I applied lotion. I was grossly fascinated by this because if you remember, I didn’t actually get to see myself molt during my session at Yi Pak.

Day seven: Still smooth, still amazed. More bits of skin rolling off- AWESOME! I found myself feeling more confident about baring a little skin to celebrate the gorgeous weather we’ve been having. It paid off in the admiring glances my friend and I got from the hottie members of the FDNY who were lunching at the same restaurant.

Today: Legs show signs of dryness. Boo. I’m sure the two hours I spent in a swimming pool this morning didn’t help. The chicken skin is starting to come back, most likely due to the dryness. I’m slathering on both Neutrogena’s Body Oil and Eucerin Original Moisturizing Lotion to keep my super-soft skin momentum going.

I’m really impressed with the results of my visit to Yi Pak. I’m going to try Juvenex sometime to compare. I am officially a Korean-scrub fan!

Yi Pak Spa

For several years now, I’ve been making a point to pamper myself on/for my birthday because while I don’t enjoy huge birthday celebrations, I do want to celebrate my existence in some small but significant way that boosts my self-esteem and makes me feel pretty. As background, I have seriously dry body skin that doesn’t slough itself very well and I have chicken skin to boot. I was on a hunt for a good body scrub. For me, the ever-so-cheap, this meant taking advantage of Spa Week, and I enjoyed the beautiful, peaceful, and aromatherapeutic salt and sugar scrubs these lovely places offered for only $50 each. I’d walk out feeling pretty and soft, but I also secretly wished there were places where I could pay someone to give me a really good scrub-down. Like take-off-the-top-500-layers-of-my-skin good.

Enter the Korean body scrub. My cousin mentioned getting one in Koreatown and how invigorating it was for her. Intrigued, I read a little more about it and decided I’d found what I was looking for. So for my 37th birthday, I got my first Korean scrub at Yi Pak Spa and wrote about it in the online journal I was keeping at the time as well as on Yelp, which I’ll repost with some minor edits below. I’m also going to post the followups to this experience in separate entries. There’s a reason for this, I promise!

April 2, 2010

I popped my Korean bath-house cherry tonight.

I’d heard about Yi Pak while checking out reviews for Juvenex, which is just up the street from Yi Pak, and fought an internal battle over which to try out. Yi Pak won because it sounded more down-to-earth and I didn’t want to get distracted by all the fancies that Juvenex supposedly offers.

Yi Pak is located in a nondescript building on E32nd Street and 5th Avenue in K-town. The lobby felt a little claustrophobic while waiting for the elevator. When I got to the third floor, I was greeted by an older Korean woman. Paid $100 for their basic 1 hour package and was given a bottle of water before being shown to a little locker room where I stripped down and donned a robe that was ultimately worn for three minutes total during my whole visit.

Ladies, leave your prudishness at the door, for you will be mother-nekkid, and publicly so, for your whole visit. Also be aware that this is not the kind of spa that offers the kinds of dainties you might be accustomed to at swankier places. There are no spa slippers, no new-age music to calm you (though you do get to listen to some K-pop), no candles, no ambiance, and no snacks except for the water. You’re there for a scrub, and by golly, that’s exactly what you’re getting!

I was encouraged to use the restroom first, then led to the steam room where I got my schvitz on. Luckily for me, I had the whole (tiny) room to myself. Guess all the cool kids were out on dates. That’s okay though- more steam for me! The steam was lightly scented with the same kind of twigs and bark… er, I mean herbs my mom brews up when someone is ill. I lay down on the white towel and pillow that was put down on the floor of the steam room for my comfort. I never understood the allure of the steam room until tonight; my sinuses opened up, and I breathed better than I have for a long time. I think my snot may have melted but if it did, I sure didn’t care. The only thing that marred my steam time was the condensation that dripped onto me as I lay there; it felt a little like it was raining. However, not a big deal. I must have been in there for about 20 minutes before I decided I’d had enough. I popped my head out and my scrubbing lady, who shall henceforth be known as Ajumma (the Korean title for ladies of a certain age) immediately herded me into the scrub room where two other women were getting worked on.

I was led to the padded and plastic-covered table (there were three in total) on the far side of the room where I was to lie face-down. Ajumma covered my head with a towel (presumably to protect my face from the flying bits of skin she was soon to remove from my body, or maybe it was to keep me from getting grossed out by the sight).

And so my Korean scrub commenced. I think she was using scrubby gloves. Every so often, she poured very warm water over me, I guess to keep my skin nice and removable. Ladies, you know how, um, THOROUGH a Brazilian wax is? Yeah, Korean scrubs are kinda like that. Ajumma went where no man has gone in a long time; I think I can now consider my sexual dry spell to have been broken. Even my belly button got some lovin’.

The scrub was pleasant overall. Ajumma was silent for most of my time with her except when she quietly asked me to change positions, which is just how I like it. If I’m lying there naked and essentially blindfolded, I don’t want to chat with you about the weather.

I was kind of disappointed that thanks to my face being covered nearly the entire time, I didn’t get to actually see the top 6041 layers of my skin get kicked to the curb- the thought is both gross and oddly fascinating.

Once she was done ridding my body of its skin, Ajumma slathered me up with what I think was unscented baby oil, then gave me a facial. I can’t tell you what products she used (though I’m sure they were not fancy) and I was a bit concerned that she was applying stuff that was going to clog my pores but I was way too smoothed out from the scrub to care. I got a nice facial massage with emphasis on my sinus areas (yay!) and then my hair was washed. Again, no salon shampoos and conditioners here, just stuff you get at the drugstore, but you do get a nice scalp massage.

As for service, all the ajummas were sweet and very solicitous. I’m sure they would have tried to accommodate me if I were a more demanding client, but luckily I’m not that kind of customer. I got excellent value for my money. I would definitely go back for more!