5 Products for Your Cleanest Face Ever

My love of makeup has grown over the past few years. I went from wearing the same look every single day to now having a whole section in my makeup drawer dedicated to eyeshadow palettes. The more makeup you wear, the more makeup you've got to wash off, so I've put together some of my favorite products for cleaning it all off.

Too Faced Mascara Melt Off

I like to layer a LOT of mascara. And I've left last night's mascara on and layered it again the next morning more times than I'd like to admit. So I was excited to try Too Faced Mascara Melt Off, because I always felt like I was pulling and damaging my lashes when I tried to wash eye makeup off. You apply the cleansing oil with the wand to your lashes, let it sit for about a minute (I usually brush my teeth) and then wipe away with a damp cloth or cotton ball soaked in micellar water. It feels much less harsh than using a cotton ball with eye makeup remover, and I've seen fewer lashes in the sink since using the product.

Freeze 24/7 Skin Glacé

A lovely woman at Bloomingdale's sold me on this Cleanser-slash-Mask from Freeze 24/7 a few years ago after showing me how much brighter my skin looked when she tested it on my hand. It's a 2-in-1 kind of product: I use it daily as a cleanser, but if you apply to your face and leave 1-2 minutes before you wash, it'll foam up into a mask! I truly love this product and I'm panicking a little, because it's not easy to find online. With the right combo of store + coupons, you can usually get it for around $30.

dr. brandt PoreDermabrasion

I was sold on the dr. brandt PoreDermabrasion after one small sample from Birchbox. It's pricey, but a little goes a long way. I usually only use this one in the shower 1-2 times a week, but it leaves your skin feeling SUPER soft and buttery. 

Simple Cleansing Face Wipes

I like to keep face wipes on hand for those nights I just can't muster the energy to go through my entire routine. These are great for on the go, super mild, and do a good job of taking off every last bit of stubborn eyeliner. Plus, they're cheap - under $5 for a package of 25.

Tony Moly Kiss Kiss Lip Scrub

This Tony Moly lip scrub is great for smoothing dry, cracked lips, and gets every last bit of even the darkest lipstick off. Bonus: the case is just asking for a cute Instagram photo.

What are some of your favorites for keeping everything squeaky clean?

Battle of the Blenders

Earlier this year, I was introduced to the Beauty Blender at a Sephora class and I FINALLY got it. Before, it was just a sponge. After taking the class, I realized it was a great little tool for foundation, contouring and blending. However, at $20 a pop, the Beauty Blender is not exactly cheap, especially since you're supposed to change them out every 3 months or so. I'm doing the research so you don't have to - I tried five cheaper blending sponges to see if any of them lived up to the original.

I'm testing my Beauty Blender against Ulta, Sephora, Nanette Lepore, Studio Basics, and Real Techniques blenders.

Step one: Squeeziness. Compared to the Beauty Blender, none of the contenders felt quite as soft straight from the package. I can't quite remember if my BB was this firm, though, so we'll skip forward to the real test - how they felt after they were soaked in water. If you haven't used a Beauty Blender before, the secret sauce is that you soak it in water, it doubles in size, and becomes delightfully soft and squishy, perfect for an airbrush finish. Almost all of them became much, much softer. I'll be using terms like "Squish" and "Squeeziness" to describe how they size up to the BB. 

Step two: Coverage. I did a quick test of each sponge on a piece of paper to see how the coverage looked. Ulta's sponge did the best during the initial test with even, soft coverage.

Step Three: I tried it on my face. Here's how they all faired - in order of how much I liked (or hated) them.

Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge

The blender from Real Techniques (you can find their products at Ulta, Walgreens & Walmart) was my favorite. I thought the coverage was most like the original BB on the face, and the flat end was actually kind of nice for applying foundation. I think the flat end will be great for applying powder for baking as well! It feels very similar to the BB in squish factor and overall, was the closet comparison. At $6.99 for one, $10.99 for two, these are a great value against the BB (I love their brushes as well!). Bonus - it has 4.6 stars on Ulta from other big fans.

Ulta Super Blender Sponge

Ulta's Super Blender Sponge was a close second favorite. As far as feel, it felt the closest to the original Beauty Blender in sponginess after it was wet, and I felt the rounded end was most similar to the feel of the BB as well. I liked how easy it was to grip, but this one got barely edged out by the Real Techniques in the face coverage round. I felt like it absorbed a large amount of the product, so I'd be using a lot more overall. It has 4.4 stars on Ulta and only costs $5 though, so it's an admirable dupe.

Studio Basics Expert Complexion Sponge

I'd never used a Studio Basics product before this sponge, but I had high hopes based on the color and packaging. Overall squish was nice, but the shape is what really did this one in. I don't find it's good for foundation coverage at all. However, the shape lent itself nicely to contouring!

When I do a cream contour, I use the Tarte Rainforest of the Sea Color-Correct Palette, and this little sponge is PERFECT for sculpting. I'm planning to use one side for the contour, one for the highlight, so this wasn't a complete loss. It has 4.2 stars on Ulta and only costs $4.99.

Sephora "The Perfectionist" Airbrush Sponge

This was a disappointment to me. The Sephora Sponge is much denser than the first three I tried, and i didn't love the shape for applying foundation. However, because of how easy it is to hold, I found that it was handy for doing highlight under the eyes! 

The Sephora sponge is the most expensive at $12, and has 4 stars. I likely won't buy this one again.

Nanette Lepore Precision Makeup Blender

I don't even know why I included this blender. I picked it up at Marshall's for $3.99 and it's an absolutely disaster. While it LOOKS the most like the original BB, it's a lumpy mess. It's the most dense by far and didn't really grow or get any softer after it was wet. It just became kind of lumpy and weird and I suspect that any blender you'd pick up at a discount store would be similar. With so many good options from Ulta, I'd go with one that has proven reviews.

The Verdict?

There are some great affordable options out there, but I'm still a Beauty Blender girl in the end. While I'll be incorporating these sponges into my routine in other ways, and I will be happy to have the Ulta and Real Techniques sponges in a pinch, the Beauty Blender is still the OG for me. No matter which sponge you decide to go with, check out these Blender tips that will help you get the most from your sponge.

Also, non-sponsored plug? I used these Simple cleansing wipes in between each makeup application while I made this post, and they're fantastic.

Luxury Products Worth the Price

When 2016 began, I decided my word for the year was "Invest." It doesn't always involve money, of course, you can invest time, effort and other resources. In the case of this blog post however...it's money. It's hard to drop hard-earned dough on expensive products when you don't know if you'll love them or not, so I'm giving you my opinions on a few things I think are worth a little splurge.

Oribe Shampoo & Conditioner

I'm not saying you HAVE to spend a lot on your hair. My favorite product for natural curls is under $10 a jar.  But in an effort to invest in my best hair yet, I amassed a large collection of Birchbox points and decided to try Oribe's Gold Lust line (which is sulfate free!). Why is it worth the money? The smell alone is enough, but I also notice a huge difference in softness, shine and frizz when I stray. I'm still not completely comfortable with spending this kind of cash on shampoo and conditioner, but a little goes a long way. Since I only wash my hair every 5-7 days, the duo has lasted for a couple of months already.

Charlotte's Magic Cream

I was standing in the Charlotte Tilbury department at Nordstrom listening to the sales associate rave about this "Magic Cream." Amazing moisture? Secret formula used by the pros and models? He even claimed it evened out redness. I of course, had to have it. And here's where I'll admit - I had no idea how much it cost. After he rang me up I swiped my card and tried to forget about it, because I'm more the type to just continue with the charade than own up and say I don't want it anymore. Besides, he gave us an advance sample of an upcoming mascara (hated it) and a bunch of sample packets of the eye cream and night cream (those were great).

The end of the story is, I'm so glad I bit the bullet. I use it every day, and every day it feels like a little luxury. The cream is smooth and soft, smells amazing and works wonders as a primer. Dare I say my skin has never looked better and felt softer? Again, a little goes a long way - I only use a small dab into the pot for my entire face. Bonus: the packaging is absolutely gorgeous. A warning, though. If you can't swallow the price, this will never feel "worth it." If you're expecting magic, well, nothing is magic. But this is a solid, luxurious cream that makes me feel pampered every day, so if that's what you're looking for, Charlotte's Magic Cream will hit the spot.

My Two Favorite Hairsprays

Growing up a Texas gal, hairspray was for one thing - Texas hair. And we used one spray, too: Aqua Net (which I learned in college was also great for killing ants). Over the past few years, hairspray has evolved, and so have I. Both of these sprays were samples from Birchbox that I fell in love with and decided I needed the full size. 

I'm actually not sure I could live without the Serge Normant Dream Big spray. Not only does it give mad volume to even my flattest, grossest hair, it's somehow replaced my dry shampoo. I don't know how or why, but my hair doesn't show oil when I use this in the first few days of a wash. This gets the AJ two thumbs up, all the way. For what it's, I love his normal hairspray too.

After I cut my hair off, I needed a texture spray to keep my curls from looking too done, so I opted to try the Oribe Wave & Shine Spray. I swear, this stuff can turn around even the most terrible frizz bomb.  It makes it piece-y and and fabulous and you're gonna just have to trust me on this one. I hear amazing things about the Dry Texturizing Spray too.

Fancy Lipstick

You know the phrase, "Put on some lipstick and pull yourself together?" I will fully admit I've always had a weak spot for designer lipstick. Not all designer brand makeup is worth the hype (hello, Marc Jacobs), but I've had a little love affair with YSL lip colors. In particular, the Rogue Pur Couture is my favorite - Bois De Rose is a gorgeous natural pink that feels just dressy enough without going over the top. And you know what I'm going to say next...it smells amazing. I'm a big smell person, what can I say.

What are some of your favorite luxury products?