20 May 2015

Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash + Fortifying Face Balm

Ursa Major first launched as skincare for men, but they've recently rebranded to include us ladies too, and now market themselves as a unisex line.  The company's tagline is "super natural skincare," and under that ethos, each Ursa Major product must be effective, healthy, and sublime.   The entire range is 98-100% natural, as well as gluten-free, toxin-free, cruelty-free, and vegan.  I've been trying out the Fantastic Face Wash* and Fortifying Face Balm* for several weeks and I'm excited to share my thoughts on them.

Fantastic Face Wash
The green beauty world often shies away from foaming cleansers and I used to as well, but I've really come to appreciate them again these last six months or so, and the Fantastic Face Wash is a great option.  With a light gel texture that foams up well, rinses away clean, and does not leave your skin feeling dry, it really is everything you could want in a foaming cleanser.  I also love the scent, a blend with strong notes of black spruce, fir, cedarwood, and spearmint that has me envisioning walking through a lush, minty forest.  The spearmint is just enough to leave your skin feeling very clean and refreshed, but not so much as to cause extreme tingling or discomfort.  The formula also contains sugar cane and fruit extracts to clear pores and dissolve dead skin, and Ursa Major recommends letting the cleanser sit on the skin for 30-60 seconds to allow the acids time to complete this exfoliation. 

Fortifying Face Balm
The Fortifying Face Balm has an impressive ingredients list that includes hydrating aloe vera and sunflower oil, purifying witch hazel and willow bark extract, and anti-aging olive leaf, carrot seed oil, and frankincense resin.  In spite of its name, the Face Balm is closer to what I'd consider a gel moisturizer than a balm.  Packaged in a pump bottle, it has the consistency of a thick serum and absorbs into the skin quickly and with a matte finish.   My skin leans just slightly on the dry side, so while I feel moisturized right after I apply the Face Balm, my skin starts to feel a little dry towards the end of the day unless I combine it with another product.  If you have more normal/combination/oily skin, I think the Face Balm would work great on its own, and if your skin is drier like mine, it layers well with either a face oil or a cream moisturizer.  

In terms of scent, the Face Balm is infused with lavender, lime, spearmint, and rosemary and to me, is very reminiscent of the original Aveda line (way back in the day, before they were sold to Estée Lauder).  It's an herbal scent, but still fresh, and something that could easily suit both men and women.

The Bottom Line
I love Ursa Major's commitment to using high quality, natural ingredients to create products that not only compete with conventional skincare products, but outperform them.  There's also something really appealing about a small capsule collection, but the innate drawback of that is that not every skin type can always be accounted for. In Ursa Major's case, the current lineup is mainly geared towards normal/oily/combination skin, and while I do think the products could still work for anyone - except maybe the extremely dry - I'd love to see the range expanded to include products specifically for drier skinned folks too! 

Have you tried Ursa Major?  What's your favorite product from the line?

*Press sample

8 May 2015

Brand Focus: Mamma Oceania Handmade Soap

The first thing that stood out to me about Mamma Oceania Handmade Soap was their tag line.  After all, it doesn't get much better than "Mermaid Approved Clean," does it?  Add in a cute logo, great ingredients, minimal packaging, and the fact that the soaps are handmade in small batches here in Toronto, and I was sold.  

Anna Mattiuzzo, Mamma Oceania's founder and soaper-in-chief,  was working in fashion PR and publishing when she started making soap for her own personal use.  When she began sharing the soaps with friends and giving them as presents, people loved them and asked for more, and one thing led to another until Mamma Oceania was born.  

Anna was kind enough to send me all eight of her soaps to try and I've been having the best time testing everything out.  The soaps are made with USDA certified organic ingredients and are free of controversial palm and canola oils, as well as artificial colours, fragrances, and preservatives.  The entire line relies on a gentle, moisturizing base of olive oil, shea butter, coconut oil, sweet almond oil, colloidal oatmeal, and banana and Canadian kelp extracts, and each individual soap varies from that point on.  Soaps are cured for four to six weeks using the traditional, cold-process soap method, ensuring that you get a firm, solid, hefty bar of soap that really lasts and won't melt away in just a couple washes.  (Though you'll still want to keep your soap out of the direct shower spray and let it dry between uses to help it along!) 

Each soap produces a beautiful, rich lather that feels very soft and gentle on the skin.  I always keep bar soap at my bathroom sink and I've had several culprits over the years leave me with dry, papery hands, but I haven't had that problem with any of the Mamma Oceania soaps, even through colder weather.  Instead, my skin is consistently left feeling clean, soft, and touchable.  Without any added scent ingredients - either natural or synthetic - the soaps just have a very light, clean scent that's basically undetectable as soon as you rinse off.  

My absolute favorite of the bunch has been the Baby Clean Soap, made with chamomile extract.  It has a slightly creamier scent than some of the others and feels extra soft and almost buttery on the skin.  Other favorites have been the Skin Nourishing Soap with rosehip, and the Gentle Exfoliating Soap with pomegranate and coconut milk.  Regular readers may recall that I don't generally enjoy exfoliating bits in my bar soap, but the Gentle Exfoliating Soap is, as the name suggests, extremely gentle and actually feels basically smooth to the touch.  If you like your soaps extra gritty, this isn't the one for you, but if you prefer a creamy lather with just a hint of exfoliation, it's just the ticket.  Mamma Oceania also makes two face-specific soaps, the Brightening Facial Soap and the Pore Saver Facial Soap, but the entire line is so gentle that I would honestly feel okay using any of them on my face.

Photo Credit
The Bottom Line
Mamma Oceania soaps are especially wonderful for those of us with sensitive skin and noses, but I really think they'd be a treat for any soap lover.  With a rich, creamy lather, an abundance of organic ingredients, small batch manufacturing, and no animal testing, Mamma Oceania is beautiful traditional handmade soap at its best!

The Mamma Oceania website will be set up for transactions very soon, but in the meantime orders can be placed by contacting the company through the websiteFacebook page, and by email.  

For Torontonians, the soaps can regularly be found at Nepal Pari Salon on Front St. W., and Anna will also be at the following markets this Spring:
May 10 - Parkdale Flea
May 23 - Barns Art Market 
May 24 - Echo Beach Flea Market 
June 6 - DuWest Market 
June 13 - Barns Art Market 
June 14 - Annex Family Festival
*Press sample

4 May 2015

April Empties / Products I've Used Up

April was another good month for empties.  I'm still keeping to a low-buy and working to finish things I already have in the hopes of (at least somewhat) streamlining my products, so it's nice to actually see some progress.  This latest batch includes staple products that I've featured many times before, some new things I've never written about, and even a few makeup items!

Kinky-Curly Spiral Spritz   [Review]
Kinky-Curly's Spiral Spritz is great lightweight gel.  I think this is the fourth or fifth bottle I've gone through, and while I sometime need something with a little more hold to get me through the summer humidity, it's fantastic the rest of the year.
Repurchase? If you saw last month's iHerb Haul, you'll know I already did!

Acure Organics Moroccan Argan Stem Cell + Argan Oil Conditioner   [Review]
This conditioner - and it's matching shampoo - are firm favorites of mine.  My hair needs a good amount of moisture and the Argan Stem Cell + Argan Oil Conditioner does the trick with just a small amount of product.
Repurchase? Yes, I already have.

Earthpaste Wintergreen Toothpaste   [Review]
I've been experimenting with other glycerin-free toothpaste options, but Earthpaste is still always on hand as my fallback.  I've tried all the flavours now, and the Wintergreen is my favorite.
Repurchase? Yes, I already have.

Trilogy Line Smoothing Day Cream
Every since finding this $50 moisturizer for a steal at $12.99, I've been periodically stalking Winners for more Trilogy products.  No luck so far, but I'm still optimistic.  The day cream boasts a lot of great ingredients and I enjoyed using it, but it didn't have the magical line smoothing properties I was hoping for.  It's a great moisturizer, but I didn't notice a difference in my fine lines in the three months it took to go through this tube.
Repurchase? Maybe.

Odylique Lemon Butter Hand Smoothie*   [Review]
This is a nice hand cream.  It has a rich, buttery consistency right out of the tube, but easily melts into the skin and is absorbed quickly.  Ingredients like calendula and aloe vera feel very soothing, while avocado oil, cocoa butter, and sea buckthorn extract deeply nourish the skin.  I liked the lemongrass scent initially, but it did wear on me a little towards the end of the tube.
Repurchase? Probably not.  I'm pretty smitten with Andalou's hand creams right now.

Body Lotion Minis
With the intention of not hoarding samples, I used up all my lotion minis this month.  The Honest Face + Body Lotion is unscented and very fast-absorbing, making it the perfect purse hand lotion, but it's not something I'd want in a larger size to use at home or all over my body.  Weleda's lotions are pretty thin in consistency, but they do a great job moisturizing nonetheless and I love the scent of the Sea Buckthorn range.  Nourish Organics' Coconut & Argan Body Lotion isn't available anymore, which is a shame as I really enjoyed it.  Nourish's other lotions - from what I've tried - are a lot less rich and really don't compare.
Repurchase? Maybe the Weleda Sea Buckthorn.  The other three, I don't think so.

Bare English & Co. Vanilla Almond Lip Balm
Bare English have become one of my favorite lip balms these last several months.  The Vanilla Almond scent reminds me of marzipan and was just okay, but the actual lip balm formula was great, as always.
Repurchase? Other flavours, yes.  This particular one, probably not.

Young Living Tranquil
Tranquil is a mix of lavender, cedarwood, and roman chamomile essential oils that smells just incredible.  If you have any trouble falling asleep or turning your mind off, it's a great blend to have on hand.  The rollerball also makes for very easy application.
Repurchase? Yes, I already have.

Acure Organic Argan Oil
I always run a small amount of oil through the ends of my hair after washing and pure argan oil is one of my favorites.  Acure's, which is both high quality and affordable, is great not only for hair, but also face and body.  I like to mix a pump or two into face masks, and also sometimes use it on my cuticles or other dry spots.
Repurchase? Yes, after I work through a few other oils.

John Masters Organics Citrus & Neroli Detangler (sample)
John Masters' detanglers are lighter conditioners and they just don't do a whole lot for my hair.  The Citrus & Neroli did smell good though.
Repurchase? No.

Revolution Organics Freedom Lip Gloss in Innocent
Revolution Organics' lip glosses are like a lip treatment and gloss in one.  They aren't the absolute glossiest product out there, but they're completely non-sticky and give a lot of moisture and a sheer wash of color.
Repurchase? Not currently available, but if the glosses are re-released, I definitely would.

Alima Pure Satin Matte Foundation in Neutral 1 and Beige 1 (samples)
Alima Pure is the mineral foundation of the green beauty world, but I have to say, I wasn't overly impressed.  Both colours were a fine match for my skin - especially Neutral 1 - and the foundation looked good when I first applied it, but it disappeared off my face very quickly.  By lunchtime, my skin was shiny and I could see a good amount of redness coming through on my nose and cheeks, and by about 3PM, I might as well not have been wearing foundation at all.  I don't have oily skin and foundations lasting throughout the day is not something I usually have a problem with, so it was surprising.
Repurchase? No.

Vapour Organic Beauty Concealer in 010*   [Review]
Vapour's concealer is brightening, but has pretty sheer coverage.  The sheerness means you often need to build up a few layers to get decent coverage, but it layers nicely without getting cakey.  It does have a tendency to settle into lines under the eyes, but the luminosity is great in that area, so as long as you don't mind minor touch ups throughout the day, it does the job.
Repurchase? Maybe.

Cheeky Cosmetics Eye Shadow in Pink Champagne and Moonlit Rose (samples)  [Review]
Cheeky Cosmetics is a lovely Canadian mineral makeup company and their eye shadows are both smooth and pigmented.  I used Pink Champagne as an inner corner - and sometimes even face - highlight and Moonlit Rose was a great mauvey-pink lid and crease shade.
Repurchase? No, but only because I have other similar colours in my stash.

Earth's Beauty Satin Rose Blush (sample)
Earth's Beauty was one of the first companies I tried when making the switch to natural makeup, but it's not one that's ever impressed me very much.  Satin Rose is a pretty pale pink, but the blushes have an arrowroot base that makes them sheer and slightly chalky.  They also only last a few hours on the cheeks.
Repurchase? No.

Darling Girl Cosmetics Hope Blush (sample)
Darling Girl's eye shadows have been favorites for years, but this was my first time using one of their blushes.  Hope was a beautiful bronzy-peach that gave the skin a very natural, luminous, sun-kissed look.  It looks like it's been discontinued, but if you're looking for something along the same lines, Ecco Bella's Bronzer in Hibiscus gives a very similar effect.
Repurchase? No longer available.

Total Products Used Up in April
Skincare: 2 (Lip Balms: 1)
Bodycare: 3

Haircare:  3
Makeup: 2
Skin/Body/Hair Samples: 5
Makeup Samples: 6

Total Products Used Up in 2015
Skincare: 13 (Lip Balms: 5)
Bodycare: 15

Haircare:  4
Makeup: 7
Skin/Body/Hair Samples: 29 

Makeup Samples: 8

*Press sample
Contains affiliate links

30 April 2015

Petit Vour Spring Forward (April 2015)

This month's Petit Vour box is all about spring and building the perfect cruelty-free beauty arsenal.  The April Collection* was curated to include natural and progressive innovations, hand-selected for the spring season.  As always, everything is 100% vegan and cruelty-free.  

The Konjac Sponge Co. Pink Clay Konjac Sponge ($12)
I've never tried the Konjac Sponge Co., but I do like using konjac sponges.  Made from Japanese konjac root, the sponges are fully compostable and offer a deep cleanse and gentle exfoliation.  The biggest difference I notice with konjac sponges - versus cleansing with my hands or a washcloth - is just how clean my pores stay.  I opened a new sponge from another brand just a couple days before this box arrived, but I'm happy to have a backup and will make use of this one in a couple months.  

Box Naturals Lavender/Rosewater Luxe Towelettes (Sample Value ±$1.50)
Box Naturals towelettes are biodegradable, lightly scented with essential oils, and specifically made for hands, faces and special places (*wink*).  I like individually wrapped wipes like this for toting in my purse, but these ones are preserved with phenoxyethanol, so I'll be passing them on to someone else.   

Suntegrity 5 in 1 Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen ($5)
Suntegrity's sunscreen is a 5 in 1 product that claims to treat, hydrate, protect, prime, and cover the skin.  This is a well-loved sunscreen/tinted moisturizer in the green beauty world, but not one I've tried before.  The sun protection (SPF 30) comes from non-nano zinc oxide and the formula also contains a whole host of great ingredients including hyaluronic acid, astaxanthin, red algae, aloe vera, and cucumber and green tea extracts.  One ingredient I'm not so crazy about is cetyl dimethicone, although Suntegrity states it is mineral-derived, rather than synthetic.  

Lauren B. Beauty Nail Polish ($18)
Petit Vour has introduced me to some great nail polish brands in past and I don't have anything similar to #I'mSoLA, the beautiful raspberry pink that came in this month's box.  Lauren B. polishes are made in the USA, 5-free (no formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, DBP, toluene, or camphor), and claim to be quick-drying, long-lasting and chip-resistant, with a mirror-like, glossy finish.  I can't wait to get this on my toes!  

The Bottom Line
I wouldn't say this month is the most exciting box I've ever gotten from Petit Vour, but there were some great items included.   I'm a little more neutral on the Box Naturals towelettes and Suntegrity sunscreen - purely for ingredients reasons - but I'm excited about the nail polish, and the konjac sponge will definitely be put to good use too.  And, as always, you do get your money's worth.  The April box value comes out at around $36.50.  

Petit Vour boxes retail for $15 (US) / $23 (Canada) and individual products can also be bought in the Petit Vour shop  The limited edition Spring Luxury Box was also recently released for $55 ($123 value!)  and includes some great products too.

Have you tried Petit Vour or used any of these products?  What do you think of subscription boxes?

*Press sample
Contains affiliate links

28 April 2015

Brand Focus + Review: Holiskin

I had a bit of an unplanned blog hiatus this past week, but I'm back today with a long overdue review of Holiskin.  I'd seen a few positive reviews, so I was über-excited when Joshua, Holiskin's formulator in chief, contacted me a few months ago about trying some products.  Holiskin is a unisex line handmade in New York City with great, predominantly organic ingredients and completely free of preservatives, synthetics, emulsifiers, thickeners, and fillers.  I've been putting three products to the test: the Chamomile ACV Facial Toner*, Revitalize Eye Serum*, and Citrus Passion Body Oil*.  

Chamomile ACV Facial Toner
The toner is a simple blend of just two ingredients: roman chamomile distillate and raw, unfiltered, organic apple cider vinegar.  It does smell pretty strongly of vinegar initially, but it's not a scent that lingers on the skin.  Chamomile is an excellent soothing ingredient, great for minimizing skin redness and inflammation, and apple cider vinegar purifies and kills bacteria, while restoring a healthy skin pH and helping to maintain the skin's acid mantle.  Apple cider vinegar also contains malic acid, so the toner has gentle exfoliating properties and boosts healthy cell turnover.  My skin can be sensitive, so some days I like to dilute the toner with a little plain water, but other times I will use it at full strength.

Revitalize Eye Serum
The Eye Serum is a blend of apricot kernel, evening primrose, rosehip and camellia oils, infused with calendula extract and boosted with vitamin E and lavender, helichrysum and geranium essential oils.  The blend is housed in a convenient rollerball and is light enough that it sinks right in upon application.  I mentioned the serum briefly in my Evening Skincare Routine, and my opinion, with longer use, has stayed pretty true to those first impressions.  It's very soothing and hydrating and I notice less puffiness in the morning when I've used the serum the previous night, but it hasn't made much difference to the darkness under my eyes. 

Citrus Passion Body Oil
Saving my favorite for last, I'm completely smitten with this body oil.  The Citrus Passion scent is a fresh, uplifting blend of lime, bergamot and litsea cubeba that's spot on for spring.  Jojoba, rice bran, apricot kernel and grapeseed oils make a great base that hits that perfect balance between fast absorption and good hydration.  The oil leaves my skin feeling silky and soft, and very delicately scented.  It's even lightweight enough that I can use it on dry skin without feeling greasy or slippery!  

The Bottom Line
Holiskin products are simple but very well-thought out formulations of high quality, plant oils and botanicals.  The Citrus Passion Body Oil was the clear standout favorite for me, but I think all three products are great within their own right.  If you have more acne-prone skin than me, I've also read more than one rave review of the Intensive Repair Acne Scar Treatment.  

*Press sample
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