Dr. Murad: more contests and prizes for you! (enter by Friday)

Here are the prizes:
GRAND PRIZE (two winners!)
Receive a one-on-one telephone consultation with top dermatologist Dr. Murad and a basket containing all the products comprising the day and night Murad product regimen he recommends.
FIRST PRIZE (five winners!)
Receive a collection of free Murad products comprising a Murad regimen for the winner's skin type.
SECOND PRIZE (ten winners!)
Receive one full-size Murad Intensive Wrinkle Reducer, worth $150.
Receive a $50 gift certificate to Sephora.com.

hadaka no tsukiai: banishing winter skin blues with Eminence Organics

The Japanese have long-standing, deep cultural traditions surrounding health, healing, and hot springs. The term "hadaka no tsukiai" translates to "naked companionship" but refers to the bonding that happens between two people when they share in the ritual of submerging their worn injured bodies into to thermally heated water that erupts from the earth's surface. My in-house spa treatments this weekend called for another person. Luckily for me I have a dear friend who was a willing volunteer and I am happy to report that Japanese hot springs are not the only place where healing self care rituals invoke this kind of bonding refered to as "hadaka no tsukiai".

Tonight I am ready for summer to arrive. I spent parts of the day and evening walking around the new path cut by a lake in my neighborhood. The warmth was teasing me, whispering that summer is close but not here yet. Last year I was laying out by the pool in March. Then the terrifying thought came to me...."Oh god! Laying out - winter skin. I have winter skin” My skin needs a tune up badly. On returning home from my walk I dug through the growing pile of beauty products that crowd around my laptop like stuffed animals around a child’s bed pillows and found the perfect remedies. Eminence's Pear and Poppy Seed Microderm Polisher and Lime Stimulating Masque. I can not think of two better tonics for dreary winter skin. After applying both of these masques I am confident that if I were suddenly forced into a bikini, my skin does have the ability to go from winter blah to summer stunning in about 15 minutes. The wonderful ladies of Beauty Gone Green warned me that these two products act as intense exfoliating agents. This confirmed my hunch that I should try them out on my back before my face. I really still only trust Teri with my face. So products in hand, I wrangled Gigi out to my country abode for some Hadaka no tsukiai (John we are waiting for you and Alan to start Beast's Spot and tell us all about your male bonding adventures ;). With Gigi as my esthetician for the night we bravely set out to say goodbye to the winter skin blues. First she washed my back with Jason's Organic Citrus Soap. Then she applied the Pear and Poppy seed Microderm polisher. I could feel the dead skin being scrubbed away. The gel like substance is packed with actual pear and poppy seeds. After two minutes of scrubbing we put a hot towel on my back and left it in place for five minutes.

Beauty Gone Green accurately lists the benefits of the Pear and Poppy Seed Microderm Polisher as: • Natural microdermabrasion action • Perfectly exfoliates uneven, dry and rough skins • Minimizes fine lines and wrinkles • Relieves congested skins and prevents breakouts • Helps to increase micro-circulation and stimulates cell renewal • Supplies nutrition to the epidermis

The ingredients that make this incredible organic exfoliation possible are: • Pear: bioflavonoids, hydroxycinnamic acids (antioxidant) • Green Apple: Vitamin C, fruit flavonoids, quercetin (anti-inflammatory) • Poppy Seed: gentle exfoliation • Fine Walnut: Vitamin E, gentle exfoliation • Green Tea: antioxidant, phenol and Vitamin C rich • Apricot Kernel Oil: softening and soothing • Alfalfa: vitamin rich nutrition

Next Gigi applied the Lime Stimulating Masque. The label, not unlike infamous red chili based hot causes, cautions this product is hot. It's not heart attack warning label hot but it is in fact Vietnamese red chili sauce hot. It tingles and almost instantly turned my skin bright red but it is refreshing and I like instant gratification so for me this is a top notch product. You can actually see in this picture where the product was applied and as Gigi remarked as she left just now: It's incredible my skin really does feel like a baby's.

Benefits include: • Deep active stimulant for cellular renewal • Detoxifies the skin • Assists in increasing oxygenation in the skin • Clears blemished or acne skin • Reduces fatigue in the skin • Increases the absorption rate for other products

Ingredients include: • Lime & Lemon: supplies Vitamin C, antioxidant agent • Thermal Water: supplies minerals to the skin, softens and nourishes • Nettle: assists in increasing stimulation and oxygenation of skin • Biocomplex™: an antioxidant booster of Vitamins A, Ester-C, E, Coenzyme Q10, Alpha Lipoic Acid

The combination of the two has left my back shinny, bright, smooth, and suntan ready. Now I'll wait for the weather to catch up.

Eminence Stone Crop Gel Wash at Beauty Gone Green

I got a free sample of this from http://www.beautygonegreen.com/ and now I want so much more! The smell is intoxicating. The gentle organic bubbles are more than refreshing. My normal face wash, which I have been more than happy with for two years, is now like a boyfriend who has suddenly lost his luster. If you can imagine a face wash that left your face feeling as refreshed as a mouth stuffed with altoids, this is it. It leaves my skin feeling as soft as a stone smoothed over by the ocean's relentless cleansing. In fact the whole experience of using this is like a brief but intense 30 second visit to the beaches of the outerbanks, all within the confines of the my own little day spa, otherwise known as my bathroom.

Some more helpful information from Beauty Gone Green:

Hydrates while perfectly cleanses
Helps to lighten pigmentation
Removes dry, dehydrated layers from the skin surface
Assists in promoting skin smoothness and comfort
Helps to relieve tightness and irritation

Active Ingredients:
Stone Crop Juice and Pulp: lightens, heals, hydrates
Soap Base (free of Sodium Lauryl Sulphate): cleanses and softens
Shea Butter: antiseptic, calming and restorative agent

Totalbeauty.com prizes - free stuff for you!

My girlfriends have brought it to my attention that my blog, while entertaining and distracting at work, is not good for their pocket books. So I am going to be facilitating some giveaways and opportunities to win free stuff!!!! Yay!

Here is the first:

Totalbeauty.com is giving away a luxurious trip to NYC for three (ah-hem, yes that is me kicking your foot under the table ;) -- bring your two best friends and you'll all get makeovers courtesy of TotalBeauty.com, plus $1,000 in beauty products. You get one contest entry for every three beauty product reviews you write at TotalBeauty.com. (Also feel free to post links to your reviews here on my blog!) The more you review, the more entries you get. No need to fill out any forms -- totalbeauty.com enters you automatically.

Eminence Organics at Beauty Gone Green: Cucumber Eye Gel

My dear friend Teri Exum of Spa Physiog has gone and made every "green" beauty product I adore available for purchase online at any hour of the day. Beauty Gone Green is her latest venture and it’s brilliant. Accordingly, I have developed a minor obsession with a million and two of her products. So I've decided to take them one at a time and tell you why they are now indispensable. We’ll start with Eminence Organics' Cucumber Eye Gel. First, I am tempted to eat the cucumber eye gel every time I open the cap because the smell is peculiarly pleasant. If nymphs or fairies or any other sublimely beautiful creatures are real I am certain they smell like this romaine-lettuce colored gel. I am also investigating the possibility that a five-star Parisian chef has created this concoction and, wanting to keep its exquisite taste all to him self, pawned it off as beauty product. It just feels and smells too good to not be edible. In fact most of its ingredients are edible: Cucumber Juice, Wild Hops, Bearberry, Ginseng, Vitamin A, E, B, K, and Zinc. Unfortunately for those of us with inquisitive appetites, it also counts Shea Butter, Eyebright, Evening Primrose Oil & Almond Oil, Atlas Cedar and Co-Enzyme Q10 as ingredients. Bad news for the taste buds - good news for our eyes, ladies. I may be 27 but my eyes are now only 17. The embryonic wrinkles that were gestating beside my eye sockets are now ironed out. Morning puffiness and computer eye disappear almost instantaneously upon application and I think my eyes may actually be starting to have a healthy glow all their own. All in all, this gel is as comfortable as Christmas morning.

Anastasia Brow Studio at Nordstrom's: I'll never get my brows done anywhere else.

I found gold and I looted the treasure chest. Unlike real pirates though I walked away with treasure I had to pay for. The Anastasia Brow Studio at Nordstrom is staffed by an adorable skilled young woman named Stephanie. She is an absolute doll and the most knowledgeable eyebrow expert I have ever met. She even stayed late for my appointment despite feeling slightly sick. (Thanks Stephanie!) After she sat me down in the Studio, which strictly provides waxing services (brow, lip, chin, and face); she marked each brown with three individual points. The high point, end point, and beginning point on each brow noted the location of where my eyebrows would reach if they were sculpted by a master architect to compliment my face. My question is, if Anastasia could figure this out, why isn't everyone just born this way? But I am reminded again that I'm not god and apparently there is some greater plan in the universe which involves me having mal-formed eyebrows. (If god ever asks me for suggestions on how to run things, I'll be sure and note this.) Any how, once the three markings were drawn Stephanie picked the medium arch stencil to shape my brow. She placed the stencil on my forehead and colored inside the hollowed-out medium-arch brow shape with medium ash-colored brow powder to create a dark crescent moon shape over each eye. Then she applied four separate small strips of wax on each brow and voila. I have the fullest, longest, best shaped brows I have ever had. She cleverly sold me Anastasia's brow kit which allowed me to repeat the whole process this morning. My usual Saturday morning beauty routine includes piling mounds of unwashed, curly hair on top of my head and putting on my favorite pullover. This morning I also used the brow kit and was told by many more people than usual that I looked beautiful. I know it was the eyebrows but I also think it's the confidence that comes from knowing Anastasia shaped them. This is the "after" photograph.

Anastasia's Eyebrows: Nordstrom's Beauty Booty

I was wandering around Nordstrom's the other day waiting for my nails to dry when I noticed a small, unassuming room in the back of the cosmetics department labeled "studio". "This is it!" I thought. I heard a myth years ago that there is eyebrow waxing at Nordstrom's but whenever I asked various store employees they stared blankly at me as if to say 'um this is a department store'. I would apologize profusely and say "I know it sounds weird that you would have brow waxing but..." - and then stop short of explaining that I had a hunch and I was on a treasure hunt. Not unlike real seafaring buccaneers who had gone before me, someone had promised me there was eyebrow gold here and I wasn’t going to let protective, illusive natives deter my expedition. (Don’t they understand? I've been living here for four years and not one superb brow shape yet!) In fact until the moment I stumbled upon this small unassuming door I thought maybe Nordstrom’s brow waxing was a myth created out of pure desperation by women like me who have been unable to find a good dependable eyebrow waxer. But on this day the stars aligned and I found a knowledgeable employee who had the missing piece of the treasure map, The Anastasia’s Brow Waxing Appointment Book. She booked my first appointment. It is tomorrow at 5:30. I'll let you know if I've found gold.

Like any good treasure hunter, I’ve done my research. I found nothing but promising information. Everyone from Oprah to Elle Macpherson swears by this woman, who has syndicated her method to Nordstrom's department stores across the country. (Her actual store is in L.A.) She sells an inordinate amount of brow products, most of which I have never even imagined existed; brow scissors, brow stencils, after-tweezing cream, and brow pomade, to name a few. Also here is why I am really in love with this woman: she studied Architecture and grew up as the daughter of a tailor.

"Anastasia grew up in Constanta, Romania, on the banks of the Black Sea where her mother owned a tailor shop. Her mother's sense of style and esthetics influenced a young Anastasia who pursued interests in drawing and design. She later enhanced this inherited talent while attending the Romania College of Architecture, and her skills ultimately led her into a career in beauty."

She is an artist whose medium happens to be women. This to me is the ultimate attraction of the beauty industry. I have always been hypnotized by beautiful things: men, flowers, sculpture, painting, my mother’s photographs, butterflies, oceans, mountains. There is something fascinating to me about offering my body to the artist’s pallet. Also, a bad brow wax can turn me from a Helen Hunt look-a-like into an Angelica Huston look-a-like in about 2 seconds. I'm desperate for a good professional. If Nordstrom's has syndicated this eyebrow sorceress's recipe for beauty (and it includes the use of error proof stencils) then maybe I'll get eyebrows just as nice as Oprah's even though I'm not the world's first black female billionaire.

For good measure, here is a before picture:

Schick Intuition: A smorgasbord of women delight in this popular instrument.

At the age of 23 my intuition, nudged by kismet, led me to move to North Carolina. I was considering leaving behind my nascent but promising professional career, and in an instant an episode of Dawson’s creek and a James Taylor song came together and I just knew: North Carolina (which up until that point had only been my vacation state) was to become my home state. Following my intuition turned out to be the best decision I have ever made. A few months later (while digging myself out the hole of my quarter-life crisis) I found myself working with Nancy, an adorable hippy child who surprisingly enough introduced to one of my favorite beauty secrets – Intuition the non-disposable razor. Nancy was the kind of fun loving hippie girl with long blond curly hair who often picked up and moved to the islands, or Florida, and who often spent four day weekends following various grateful dead mutations around the country. I was complaining to Nancy one day how nothing compared to getting my legs waxed. I hadn’t shaved my legs since college started five years earlier because I was so dedicated to just having my long oddly shaped legs waxed. My parents believed in a good education and at the time I believed those expenses included bi-weekly trips to a fairly expensive day spa. I never had to shave. And I just couldn’t get into it even thought my budget now required me to learn to shave my legs. Nancy told me that all I’d ever need was the intuition razor. She said she couldn’t get through “shows” with out it. Her shows lasted three days, had no running water, and the tent community living quarters resembled African refugee camps. If she was getting smooth legs in the middle of all this I knew she had the beauty secret equivalent of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. That was 4 years ago and I haven’t had stubbly legs since. In fact using intuition takes less than four minutes. No cuts - and with legs like mine that is miraculous. I think god was imagining curvy long country roads when he made my legs. In fact I often ponder the architectural stability of such curvy legs. Like the leaning tower of Pisa, they truly look as if they should have collapsed long ago. But this razor has lovely colored blue rubber grips and all of the moisturizer included. In four years I’ve had maybe 7 cuts. Hippie girls and professional girls alike can all get down with this razor. It’s better for the environment because you don’t throw away the whole thing (just replace the soap/razor cartridge) and it’s so much less expensive than waxing, at about $20 a month. Nancy still goes to shows. I have moved on but I think of her almost every night while shaving my legs and I’m so glad my intuition led me to her and to, well, Intuition.

Someone loves me! (totalbeauty.com)


Total Beauty.com has decided to love me.

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An inexpensive manicure/pedicure

I'm frustrated and I'm not sure what to do about it. Yesterday was Sunday and I spent the morning with my adorably quirky friend Betty. When she asked me what I was going to do to celebrate February 4th (one of my favorite days of the year) I suddenly realized I had been too busy to schedule any sort of celebration. For the past four years I have gotten a mani/pedi to celebrate but hadn't even thought about where to go on a Sunday. Then she said something that I should have taken much more seriously, "Well all the good places are closed on Sundays." I can now promise you this is true, at least in the state of North Carolina. My usual spot for a mani/pedi in this area is Bella Trio. It's absolutely lovely. Calming, serene, Grecian in architecture and atmosphere - and closed on Sundays. I promised myself when I started this blog that I would never write badly of any establishment at which I had a bad experience. You can never judge a whole day spa by one bad experience. I can just bring you the best and leave the rest. If my present pedicure didn’t chip so easily I'd be kicking myself for that decision right now. But, frustrating as it is, and trust me it's frustrating, I have decided to listen to my elders lately. They tell me, if you don't have anything nice to say than don't say anything at all. On the other hand, don't I have a responsibility to warn people? Ok enough mental masturbation. Sufficed to say North Carolina has a miraculous ability to put almost any good or service into a mall, and do so tastefully. Art galleries, outdoor stores, gourmet restaurants, and local theaters can all call the mall home in North Carolina and not loose any value or appeal as a result. In fact many of my favorite beauty haunts are in mall-like structures: Mina's, Caju, Bella Trio, Blu Icon. But this place I went to, it felt like the mall in middle school. Like I could have just as easily been watching my best friend Kerry getting her ears pieced at Claire’s boutique in Towson Town Shopping Center all over again. Except I'm 27 and the only time I like to go into Claire's boutique is when my little sister needs Hannah Montana accessories.

Here's what went wrong. First, I spent the entire time breathing through my scarf. The instant I walked in I felt like I was breathing in lung cancer because of an extraordinarily heavy layer of chemicals sitting in the air waiting for fresh lungs to prey upon. I briefly considered walking out, but I had heard good things about this place. I told myself 'it's very inexpensive for a mani/pedi and well, everywhere else is closed'. The products were also packed with pungent chemicals. Even today as I was eating my warm freshly baked blueberry muffin for breakfast I got a nasty whiff of the plastic-like polish. The lotion they rubbed on my legs stung me like sea salt on freshly shaved legs. I almost volunteered to pull my own EO Grapefruit and Mint lotion out of my purse for them to use instead but then I realized I already had my face wrapped up in a scarf and I might start alarming other customers. Aside from another crazed customer who hijacked my polish mid-pedicure, I would have at that point gotten the craziest customer of the day award. Ok so now I’m done complaining. The truth is I'm grateful to be able to get so many day spa visits in and even if this one was disappointing it made me all the more grateful for the good services I get on fairly regular basis. Yes it's true February fourth for me is about what is good in my life. So, what was good about this place? It was inexpensive. It got the job done. My toes look nice even thought my nails are already messed up. My manicurist was incredibly detail oriented and the pedicure chair gave me the best massage I've had in a long time. So maybe it was just a bad day for this place or maybe their ventilation system was broken or perhaps I have inadvertently given myself super-hero like ol’ factory senses by Netting Potting too much. If you do find yourself at the only place open on Sundays for a mani/pedi just BYOLotion. Thanks for listening to me rant and from now on I promise I'll stick to the good stuff.