My Shiseido Sunscreen Journey: A Story in Three Acts

As I’ve gotten older, my attitude toward beauty products has become more no-nonsense. Gone are the days where a magical origin story will cast a spell on me, “oh this mask was harvested by mermaids and mixed with unicorn tears, cool cool, but what will it do for me?” I call it my Janet Jackson ‘What have you done for me lately’ approach to beauty products. And I recently realized while examining my beauty purchases, that without realizing, I had become a total Shiseido sunscreen convert. So given that sunscreen recommendations are the most frequent questions I get in my email and DMs, I felt it was only fair to share how I too became a Shiseido sunscreen devotee.

For a few years, I had been happy with the green, clean Zinc Oxide “mineral” sunblocks. But my dermatologist told me that although Zinc Oxide works, its lab performance is hard to replicate in real world scenarios. Zinc Oxide, being a physical blocker, needs to be evenly applied and remain on the skin to be useful, and any missed spots are not protected. More importantly, he explained that a physical blocker like Zinc Oxide is prone to movement and hence displacement is likely to occur with the faintest thing including a gust of wind, hair getting on our face, accidental brushing on the skin, what have you. Added onto that is the fact that many of the clean and green sunblocks also don’t use ingredients such as silicones, which are commonly used in non-green mineral sunscreens to help the formula stay in place. So I decided to try something fully dermatologist approved, which meant a full dive into La Roche-Posay’s chemical sunscreens. And long story short, they’re a more forgiving lighter texture, but often make my skin look shiny, and would ALWAYS sting my eyes.

Out of good options between reliability and agreeability, I remembered the iconic blue Shiseido bottles of sunscreen that my fabulous Asian friends from college would ALWAYS have in their bag. Then I did some research. From just reading about the products, it was hard to decipher if Asian sunscreens would be better than the US/EU standard, because their ingredients seemed similar. But I also know that Asian skincare is meticulous, and so focused on sun protection. A population that large couldn’t be wrong. I finally bit the bullet when I happened upon a Macy’s sale and spotted the Shiseido Urban Environment SPF 42 on sale, and given that it appeared to be a gentler version of their classic blue bottle sunscreen, it was the perfect product to try in their sunscreen range. Suffice it to say, it worked out, and led me to try more of the range. Here’s my breakdown on how these three products worked for me, and my thoughts/recommendations.



Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector SPF 42

Actives:
OCTINOXATE 4.9%, OCTOCRYLENE 3%, AND ZINC OXIDE 12.5%

Who it’s for: I think this is the best option for anyone with any hesitations or concerns that non-green sunscreens might be irritating, as well as those with complexions that can get oily or grimy by the afternoon. This is the “ultra light” sunscreen in the Shiseido range, and some actives also help to balance over-active sebum. This milky sunscreen is oil-free, and while I’m not oil-phobic (hi face oils!), I feel that this is a worthwhile feature since many chemical sunscreens make my skin look oily. This does not, my skin looks very natural. And since it does also contain a 12.5% Zinc Oxide, you’ll also get a nice bit of pore blurring, oil absorbing benefit, while the overall milky fluid texture and two chemical sunscreens ensure you get more breathable, proper, even coverage.

Additional benefits: I like the Urban Environment approach which is targeted to address three factors that cause urban skin aging: UV rays, daily environmental aggressors, and over-production of sebum (sweat/grime in NYC). This also has plant extracts like Paeonia Albiflora Root Extract which actively helps reduce the look of visible pores, and Scutellaria Baicalensis Extract, an antioxidant-rich herb to help protect the skin against daily aggressors, which produced noticeable results as my skin really did look better when I was using this.

Performance: The milky fluid texture of this sunscreen is wonderful, it truly is feather weight, yet works like a skin milk that dry skin will enjoy as well. It is lightly fragranced in that subtle Japanese beauty product way that I prefer to European cosmetics. This sunscreen has 40 minutes of water resistance which is important to me because it means that it can withstand some sweat, and rain. Additionally, it rinses off easily at the end of the day with a gentle cleanser.

Who it’s not for: As the first product that I tried from the Shiseido range, this just made me curious about the other products. But in hindsight, I really do think this is quite close to perfection. There aren’t too many chemical actives in the sunscreen (just two), so chances are that you won’t get the eye stinging or irritation, the performance is reliable with many great considerations for city-living, and it actually makes my skin look and feel good. The only case where I might recommend another product over this is if you just absolutely need the highest SPF level, or you plan to be in the water for a few hours in which case Shiseido’s other two offerings are both SPF 50+ and have 80 minutes of water resistance.

Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+ Sunscreen

Actives:
AVOBENZONE 2.3%, HOMOSALATE 10.0%, OCTISALATE 5.0%, OCTOCRYLENE 5.0%

Who it’s for: This is the classic blue bottle Shiseido that is obviously meant for most people. That is important to note because it generally means most research money was spent getting this right, and it’s the core formula for the entire range. If you don’t actually experience any irritation from chemical sunscreens, there is no reason you shouldn’t try this first given it has better sun protection performance at SPF 50+ and provides 80 minutes of water resistance.

Additional benefits: Instead of plant extracts like you’d find in Urban Environment SPF42, this formula is geared with technology like WetForce Technology and HeatForce Technology which sense areas of moisture and heat to form a stronger barrier. So it performs under pressure. Very cool.

Performance: This is also a milky texture, ever so slightly heavier than Urban Environment SPF42, but still fluid and silky. This does make my skin look a little bit oily, although not as much as La Roche Posay or Avene, so I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t quite as noticeable either. Not a deal breaker for me. The sunscreen has 80 minutes of water resistance, but rinsed off as easily as Urban Environment.

Who it’s not for: If you’re sensitive to chemical sunscreens, just take note of the actives in this one to see if it uses any of the sunscreens you have a sensitivity to. It’s also important to look at concentration because for me, the active that stings my eyes is Oxybenzone (used in many Western formulas, but thankfully not used in any Shiseido sunscreen products), and Avobenzone, which is used in slightly higher concentrations in Western formulas. And although this formula has 2.3% Avobenzone, it isn’t a problem for me unless I apply my sunscreen really heavily right around my brow line, and happen to sweat a lot later in the day. Otherwise, I rarely had issues with stinging, and found this to be quite agreeable as well as a reliable top performer that never left me worried about sun exposure.

Shiseido Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen Milk SPF50+/PA++++

Actives:
Zinc Oxide, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Titanium Dioxide, Uvinul A Plus and Tinosorb S Aqua

Who it’s for: Where do I start with this one? Firstly Anessa is Shiseido’s Japanese SPF-focused line. Second, this is not technically supposed to be in the US market because it uses more modern SPF actives like Uvinal A Plus and Tinosorb S Aqua which the FDA does not recognize since they have not updated their list of recognized SPF actives since the 1990s. So you have to get it from Amazon as a Japanese import. But the product itself is good, in fact, it’s more advanced than what you’ll otherwise get from any retailer that is selling sunscreen in the US. With that said, since it’s not officially sold in the US, details are hard to come by as there aren’t English product descriptions. So I can’t confirm things like what the actual water resistance time is, though I think it should be around 80 minutes.

This is a wonderful product if you’re willing to be a bit adventurous because the SPF actives are beyond what the US is ready for. You’ll be living in the future.

Additional benefits: I’m not too sure because again, everything is in Japanese. I know there is peony extract which has high antioxidant activity and protects against UV.

Performance: Milky texture as well. The mild version that I’ve linked above is basically unscented, and feels very light and lovely. Texture-wise, this might be tied with the Urban Environment sunscreen for wearability and comfort. It doesn’t take care of sheen/oiliness like the Urban Environment, but it is very neutral in this respect so my skin still looks nice. I notice that it does take a little more to fully rinse off, but it’s nothing that is too stubborn. Being a Japanese sunscreen, I appreciate that it also has a PA++++ rating which we don’t provide in the US. This denotes the protection grade of UVA, as SPF generally is a measure of only UVB radiation. Four plus marks mean “Extremely High UVA Protection.” However it’s worth noting that US sunscreens generally have UVA protection, it’s just that we don’t list them individually on the product.

Who it’s not for: Since there is no official market availability in the US, it’s a bit of a risk-reward to purchase from Amazon because the vendor changes frequently, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell if you’re getting a different version, etc. I went through six different product pages, to land at a reliable product page (linked above) sold directly from Shiseido Japan and confirmed as the mild/unscented version. If you don’t want that hassle, you have two good options from Shiseido that can be purchased in the US (above).


Final Thoughts: I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of these options. The safest bet in my opinion is Shiseido Urban Environmental SPF 42, which is a nice mix of performance and real world considerations for sensitive skin in city-life. If you’re looking for the most advanced formula, and don’t mind something not fully in sync with outdated US sunscreen standards, go full JBeauty with their Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen Milk SPF 50/PA+++, which I feel provides performance with good ingredients, and without the limitations of US sunscreens primarily as related to potential irritation. Of course the tried and true Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50, is the most tested for those looking for a reliable workhouse that happens to outclass similar US counterparts with a more silky feel, and nicer on-skin performance.

My Bedside Edit: Skincare and Wellness

Lately I’ve been centering my routine around restfulness and peacefulness. It feels like a lot of the uneasy energy from 2020 hasn’t quite dissipated, so I’m being more mindful in my routines to look at how I can promote a more conducive environment to unwind. My bedside is a place I spent some time editing. I first removed any gadgets that might blink their lights in the middle of the night. Then I reduced clutter until I just had a purposeful yet thoughtful selection of bedside essentials.

Skincare: Retinol, PM Serum, and Eye Mask

Let’s start with skincare! My PM routine is where I like to apply powerful products that can work on my skin overnight. Apparently night time is the best time for skin healing and repair, so reserved for this time is my current retinol of choice, the reintroduction of a holy grail PM serum, and gel eye patches which have become my new nighttime addiction.

African Botanics Retinal Night Cream: I love African Botanics, and tend to have at least 2-3 products from them in my skincare rotation at any time. Many of you know I’ve been on a kick for high-performance retinols, and I knew that African Botanics Retinal Night Cream would not disappoint. Although called a ‘night cream,’ it really works as a retinol serum rather than as a moisturizer. It is described as an “ultra-strength Vitamin A,” and contains actual retinol in the form of 0.1% encapsulated retinaldehyde. Retinaldehyde only needs one conversion in the skin to retinoic acid, the active retinol, whereas traditional retinol needs two. This means faster and more effective results with less chance of redness and irritation. Further, because African Botanics is known to provide a buffet of beautiful actives, the Retinal Night Cream also contains Vitamin C, Peptides, Niacinimide, CoQ10 — all superstars in the skincare world in their own right, along with signature African Botanics oils like Marula, and Kalahari Melon oil that help to keep skin moisturized and soothed, especially from the effects of retinol.

I initially wondered if the powerful combination of actives might be too much for my skin, as Retinol, Vitamin C, Niacinimide are each active in their own right, though they’re also known to work well together. I was pleased to find that the formula, while impactful, did not cause irritation; it is totally a case of high performance with little to no down time (no redness, nor stinging). The light yellowish cream absorbs quickly and because it is feeding my skin so many great ingredients, I don’t really feel the need for face oils or other serums. I also like to have the retinol serums work more on their own any way for full impact. Unlike other African Botanics products that have the luxurious fragrance, this is fragrance-free because it is obvious that they just wanted to focus on the performance. It is still a luxurious feeling cream with amazing ingredients and results, but it’s clear that everything in this formula is made to make it a full-on performance beast. I currently use it every other night in my routine, not because it is sensitizing, but because I like to rotate my retinol for best results and give my skin an overall offering of diversified actives. On the other nights, I use…

YULI Cell Perfecto PM: My initial post about this product still remains my most read blog post (remember when I started back in the days on Tumblr?). Cell Perfecto PM will always reserve an indelible place in my skincare holy grail tier of products because it made such a significant impact on my skin, there is a line in my skincare history defined as pre-Cell Perfecto PM and post-Cell Perfecto PM. I had tried every product for acne scars but none come close to this in delivering such meaningful improvement, to a degree that I did not expect from a skincare product. I no longer need this as much because my skin has improved, which is really the best testament — but I still like the benefits that I get from this corrective serum. Even without apparent acne scars, I find that Cell Perfecto PM helps with areas of my skin that appear a blotchy or uneven, like a real life Photoshop airbrush tool.

If you’re familiar with the YULI approach, you’ll know they make the most advanced custom formulas with tailor-made, cutting-edge actives. I think what makes them standout next to super high performance lines is their approach which goes beyond putting in the standard actives. There is a whole lot of thought behind how the actives should be working, so you’ll see really interesting use of ingredients and unique formulas meant to almost reinvent the approach. The ingredients in Cell Perfecto PM for instance contains complexion actives like Vitamin C (in the potent THC form), Bearberry, and Liquorice, which brighten skin and repel accumulation of melanin; then there are unexpected highlights like Reishi, Pine Lignin, and Gotu Kola, which help with skin repair and healing from damage; where your head might start to spin is upon seeing their exclusives that go beyond anything in the market like their Sea Minerals and Renew Minerals Complex (a lot of science here but what you need to know is they have a mineral technology using actives like zinc that lock onto damaged tissues, primary scar tissue, to correct and rehabilitate them), along with L-Arginine, an amino acid that shortens healing time and repairs damaged collagen structures (scar tissue), and L-gluconic Acid which controls keratinization processes (most acne scars have improper keratinization) and restores damaged skin. This formula is super power-packed, and my skin often looks brighter and more even by the next morning. Also, speaking of nighttime, the formula is not photo-sensitizing, but is a PM serum because the formula works in synergy with the skin’s rejuvenation system that works mostly as we sleep helping to overturn skin damage and deliver those transformative results. Hands down, game-changing night worker.

Patchology Flashpatch Restoring Night Eye Gels: I’m at the age where an eye cream is a non-negotiable, and I’ve come to accept that. However, what I’m noticing is that there are times when I just feel like something more is necessary. And that is when I reach for these convenient eye gels from Patchology that seem to be made for exactly this situation. The eye gels are naturally very occlusive and provide a natural boost to the thin, delicate skin around the eyes. Besides a direct infusion of needed moisture to the tired and more frail under-eye area (one of the only places on the face that doesn’t produce its own sebum), these eye gels also contain power actives like Retinol and Peptides to help with cell turnover, fine lines, wrinkles at night; and Pine Leaf Extract and Purslane which are powerful antioxidants and can help reduce dark circles. You might also recognize Purslane as the signature ingredient in all of Dr. Barbara Sturm’s astronomically priced skincare formulas, so you know this Patchology formula is legit. These gels come with a scooper for hygiene and are inside two caps to help retain their moisture. Once I put them on, they have a nice immediate cooling and moisturizing feel on the skin, and the gel starts to feel like second skin as it dries. Based on the fact that the eye gels actually thin out, I think the eyes actually absorb a lot of the gel and serum, which means its working.

I use these about 2-3 times a week as a power up for my eyes. I’ll admit to leaving them on for longer than the recommended 15 minutes. I make sure the fluid is all absorbed, pat, then wait about 2 more minutes. I notice that my eyes feel better, and creeping fine lines fade substantially and remain gone for days after. This has become a go to when I just need that extra kick in my eye routine.

Wellness: Room Spray, Pillow Spray, and Throat Spray

Besides skincare, I also like to make sure my bedroom is conducive to rest, and recovery. Lately, I’ve found that fragrance has a deep connection to wellness.

The Nue Co Functional Fragrance – Home Room Spray: I’ve been raving about The Nue Co’s Functional Fragrance, and their room spray is just as good as the personal fragrance, if not better, because it works on such a larger area as a background character, which is how I prefer fragrances to work. I think if you’re the type that doesn’t love wearing fragrance, but can appreciate their therapeutic effects, The Nue Co’s Functional Fragrance room spray will be just the thing for you. The scent is similar to the personal fragrance: warm, calming, and cozy, and the big bottle feels grand to have around. The Functional Fragrance is an “anti-stress” supplement because the scent notes are scientifically associated with lowering stress and anxiety based on studies with the Brain and Behavioral Health team from the University of Geneva.

Unlike traditional room fragrances, the Functional Fragrance leans toward more of natural fragrance formula that uses genuine plant notes to deliver the connected anti-stress results, and the formula is designed by the same perfumer behind Le Labo’s Santal 33 and Glossier’s You, so trust me, it’s exquisite. I particularly love the notes of Green Cardamom, and Cedarwood which make the room and overall atmosphere feel relaxed and “lived in.” I like to spray the Functional Fragrance throughout the day especially if I end up writing or binging a show in bed, and I always do a few sprays 3 hours before bedtime so it leaves just the right crisp dry down as we prepare for bed as a subtle atmospheric scent to promote relaxation and lift away stress.

REN Skincare & Now To Sleep Pillow Spray: While The Nue Co’s Functional Fragrance is an anti-stress fragrance that relaxes and unwinds, this spray is an actual sleep aid that does the trick in delivering beauty sleep. When it comes time to drift off and catch my zzzzz’s, I spray my pillows with REN’s & Now to Sleep Pillow Spray, which is the perfect addition to any night routine. As a fragrance with an entirely natural essential oil composition, it won’t overwhelm. The spray is not designed like a fragrance, it won’t last and is more something that will gradually subside as it lulls you into deeper sleep. That is why it’s a pillow spray, meant for closer contact for aromatherapy benefits. Although I love fragrance, I am very much sensitive to smells, so I was conservative at first, but now spray about 5 times per pillow. It smells so relaxing, with a pleasing blend of hops, lavender, and frankincense, which combine to provide a sedative quality. This helps me drift off to sleep much quicker, and with better, deeper sleep quality. Also, bottle of this will last AGES.

Biocol Something for a Cactus Throat Spray: In college I took a class on evolutionary anthropology and learned that all species have a “weak point,” and for humans, it is the neck/throat. This might explain why if I’ve been more extroverted than usual (hello Zoom gatherings!), my throat easily feels a little raw, and also why sometimes I get that dreaded “morning cold” where it feels weird or even uncomfortable to swallow. I never really thought there was anything that could be done about it, but on a whim I decided to try Biocol’s Something for a Cactus Throat Spray, a plant-based fix made to address these exact issues. The formula contains propolis, lemon, Icelandic moss, and copper. It tastes exactly how the ingredients make it sound, sort of like a liquid Ricola. Unlike a lozenge, I can immediately feel the spray take effect. Biocol’s Something for a Cactus Throat Spray is anti-inflammatory and soothes my throat, I really feel it work right away. My partner even takes a few sprays if he’s on back to back work calls and it helps his vocal stamina so he doesn’t sound hoarse. Most importantly, I use it in the mornings if I’m feeling the ‘morning cold,’ and I find that it takes care of the ‘cactus throat’ feeling each time. Biocol is a pretty quirky line that is both fun and yet highly scientific. I recommend anyone looking for functional, well made, and amusing products to check this one out, Something for a Cactus Throat Spray might also be one of my favorite product names.


Drop me a comment if you’ve used any of these products, and let me know what your bedside essentials are!

The Nue Co’s The Pill REVIEW & 30% OFF CODE

The Topical Supplement

The Nue Co. landed on our radar in their first year of release as a brand to watch. Their combination of Doctor-meets-supermodel aesthetic, innovative products, and high quality formulas have won us over. The Pill is their latest product. It’s a topical supplement, designed as an all-in-one serum. While most supplement companies stick to ingestibles, The Nue Co. has ventured past those boundaries before to great results. Their anti-stress Functional Fragrance is one of our hands down favorite fragrances (and beauty product in general). Suffice it to say, our bottle of Functional Fragrance has not gone through a day without use in 2020. So we were excited to put The Pill through its paces.

Keep reading to find out more about this topical supplement approach. We also worked out a special for our readers as we’ve been encouraging everyone to try this line. From now until Thanksgiving, use the code BFGARCON30 to receive a whopping 30% off site wide on The Nue Co.

What does it do? What’s in it?

The Pill is an all-in-one serum. Its texture is light and fast absorbing, and the semi-opaque gel sinks into the skin without any residue or stickiness. The formula contains 27 non-toxic ingredients ranging from the scientific (AHAs, Hyaluronic Acid, Sodium PCA) to the natural (Bilberry Extract, Tiger Grass, Kakadu Plum Extract).

The Pill offers many benefits. They’re focused in three main areas that are quite universal:

Hydration: Hyaluronic Acid, Glycerin, Sodium PCA, Water Lily Extract, and Galactoarabinan all boost the skin’s NMF (natural moisture factors), prevent TEWL (trans-epidermal water loss), and give skin that comfortable, plumped moisturized feeling.

Anti-inflammatory: Because it’s one of the key causes of all skin issues, The Nue Co. focused on targeting inflammation with topical CBD (the ingredient of the moment and a known anti-inflammation powerhouse), and plant-derived Isoamyl Laurate which actually creates a refined velvet-smooth skin texture.

Brighten and Exfoliate: Acid toning is in and The Pill uses a full spectrum of plant-derived AHAs and skin resurfacers like passion fruit, sugarcane, and pineapple derived Lactic, Glycolic, Citric, Malic, and Tartaric Acids which is one of the most complete offering of acids we’ve seen in a product. Each acid works in different ways, some are good for brightening, others for breaking through dead skin cells, so it’s good to have this diversity. While it might seem like The Pill contains acid overload, fret not — many of these fruit acids (like Citric, Malic, and Tartaric acid) are much gentler than their acid-toner counterparts, and are ideal for sensitive skin. Besides acids, there’s also Tiger Grass, which is used in Korean skincare for brightening and pigmentation.

We reserved The Pill for nighttime use, like we do with all products with AHAs. However you can absolutely use this serum in the day with a good SPF.

Results

Despite dropping temperatures, our skin always felt like they were hitting the KBeauty Glass Skin goals. Our skin feels bouncier and just healthier in general, while the complexion is more even and radiant.

We were initially skeptical that a single product could be so multifaceted. Yet The Pill‘s formula just works. The acids help brighten and refresh the skin, and we’ve noticed less “dry patches” and congestion even around T-zones. This work is all done subtly without the slightest of tingling nor redness, due to the presence of excellent anti-inflammatories and hydration powerhouses that calm, and strengthen the skin. The Nue Co. took the time to work out the layering in this formula to make this a streamlined one-step serum solution, and we agree that it works.

Because The Pill packs everything, there isn’t a need for acid toners, nor other serums. Just give it 2 minutes to work into the skin (perfect for brushing your teeth). If your skincare philosophy is more is more, this is gentle enough to play well with others including Vitamin C. The Pill will work with any skincare approach.

How to buy

A 30ml bottle of The Pill retails for $85 will last you for a while, probably 2-3 months. For a serum that ticks all the boxes, streamlines the routine, and does the job of many serums, this is a great value. We’d compare it to products like Vintner’s Daughter Active Treatment Essence and UBeauty Resurfacing Compound which retail for 2.5x-3x the price, without delivering the impressive real world benefits that The Pill has.

We’ve said before that The Nue Co. is a brand that makes incredibly innovative and interesting products that everyone should try. To make it easier, we’ve been in touch with The Nue Co. directly to offer you a special 30% off code: BFGARCON30.

Here’s our take: The Pill (and the Functional Fragrance) are no-brainers that should be added to cart immediately. For a full inner and outer skin duo, we’d also suggest adding Skin Filter, with beta carotene, Vitamin C, and minerals as an ingestible counterpart to The Pill. But even if you have your eyes on something else, our code, BFGARCON30 is not exclusive to The Pill, and works site wide!


$85 for 30ml at The Nue Co., use code BFGARCON30 for 30% off site wide until November 24th.

Paula’s Choice CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment and Super Antioxidant Serum REVIEW

Paula's Choice Retinol and Antioxidant Serum Review, Garcons World

Paula’s Choice is the original influencer brand before social media was even a thing. Paula Begoun, the founder of Paula’s Choice, started her career as a makeup artist, and then became an investigative journalist. She wrote books like Blue Eye Shadow Should be Illegal and Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, and even appeared on Oprah. In 2008, Paula launched Beautypedia, a massive platform where her followers hung on her every word about ingredients, and products. So it’s no surprise that in the 2000s, she launched her own skincare line called Paula’s Choice.

What I know about Paula is that she prefers everything to be incredibly clinical. She loves formulas that have the tried and true actives, like retinol, and vitamin c in actual meaningful concentrations. Perfect, because lately I’ve been tired of the parade of Rosehip and Bakuchiol serums masquerading as retinols. I also noticed a lack of good, proven actives that actually penetrate the skin and make a difference. Paula’s Choice is not a flashy nor luxury-driven line, but it has a solid reputation. So I decided to test it out.

Paula's Choice 1% Retinol Treatment, Garcons World

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment is the strongest retinol in the line. Not only does it contain encapsulated 1% retinol, but also peptides and Vitamin C. Basically, this retinol treatment is the most effective retinol you can purchase without a prescription. This serum also contains botanical ingredients like brightening licorice extract, and soothing oat extract.

The texture is a light lotion which absorbs quickly, and is excellent for all skin, even oily skin. I found it moisturizing enough during the summer that I don’t follow with any oils or moisturizers (thanks glycerin!).

I’ve went through a full bottle of this retinol treatment, and loved it. My skin was never irritated by the active retinol and vitamin c because they’re both encapsulated. The retinol converts in the skin, so you’re not going to feel any stinging nor irritation. I’m at the age where lines form with repeated movements like when I smile, floss my teeth, put in contacts. These lines and creases served as the litmus test for the retinol.

In 2 months, Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment has softened, and faded the lines. My entire forehead and mouth area feel much more firm and lifted. I had felt that I was losing some volume by a specific area of my cheeks, but this has noticeably increased the area’s density and firmness.

Paula’s Choice CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment is one of the best non-prescription retinols. It is powerful, effective, without being irresponsibly irritating. There are so many retinols on the market, and so much confusing verbiage. Paula’s Choice CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment is a clinical (thoroughly scientifically vetted), high-quality retinol that will do exactly what it’s supposed to do with great ingredients, in meaningful concentrations, all at a reasonable price of $49.30 for a full ounce. I already have another bottle on the way.

Texture photo of Paula's Choice 1% Retinol Treatment, Paula's Choice Super Antioxidant Serum; Garcons World
(L) 1% Retinol Treatment; (R) Super Antioxidant Serum
Paula's Choice Super Antioxidant Serum, Garcons World

Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Serum


As I was purchasing the retinol, I couldn’t help but also test the Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Serum. I really like the idea of a very strong, clinical antioxidant serum as I know antioxidants are good actives. However, I wanted to see what a “clinical strength” one could do that botanicals perhaps could not.

The Super Antioxidant Serum felt almost like a syrup-gel that melts into something resembling a face oil. The texture is very unique, instead of a sticky syrup feel, there’s a nice smooth slip quality before the whole thing melts into an oil as it absorbs. The way the Super Antioxidant Serum feels on the skin, I felt like no oxidative molecules, nor free radicals, were going to get through my skin. It’s not suffocating, but rather very nourishing, like slathering your skin in a hefty layer of protection. No wonder it is recommend for normal/dry skin. However, if you’re good with face oils, chances are your skin will like this too even if you’re on the oilier side.

The ingredients are phenomenal. Being a clinical line, there aren’t many plant ingredients. What we do have are incredible actives like 2 forms of Vitamin C, Tripeptides, CoQ10, Ferulic Acid, Beta Glucan, Superoxide Dismutase. The Vitamin C combo is potent, and high in the ingredients list. Fret not, it’s buffered with ceramide and Vitamin E oil which are soothing lipids, so you shouldn’t experience sensitivity issues. There are some plant ingredients including Turmeric Extract which is highly antioxidative.

I was pleasantly surprised at the level of actives in the Super Antioxidant Serum, which really is a double Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Ferulic Acid serum with peptides, CoQ10, and Beta Glucan all added in (amongst many other antioxidants). This really feels like if it could easily be a Skinceuticals serum, that could cost over $100. But it’s just $39 for a full 1 oz. My skin felt soooo buttery soft, and smooth using this. If I used Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Serum overnight, it felt like instant beauty rest in a bottle because my skin would noticeably appear more even toned, moisturized, and rested.

Results & Conclusion


I purchased the Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment and Super Antioxidant Serum together in case my skin needed a break from the retinol serum, in which case I’d turn to the antioxidant serum. However, both worked so well in different ways that I ended up just using them some days with the Antioxidant Serum in the morning and Retinol at night, or Retinol for 2 days straight, then the Antioxidant Serum to give my skin a change.

While my skin responded well, sometimes with results noticed overnight, I think the products really show their benefits with regular, ongoing use. Going through both of the serums together, they’ve provided a major anti-aging kick in making my skin just feel more more firm and defined, with a nicer tone and smoother texture to my complexion. It’s amazing how much performance is packed in for the price point as together, you’d get a really wonderful serum combo of powerful actives for under $100 (Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment is $49.30 and Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Serum is $39). I definitely urge you to try this because I feel like retinols and antioxidants are two of the most universal, top line actives, and in this time when we’re really searching for value, Paula’s Choice offers such a good value for well made, clinical performance products.

 

A Skincare Update: All Green Beauty July 2020

Lately the idea of semantics has been weighing on my mind. The term Green Beauty, which to me started as a movement for empowerment in knowledge of the ingredients we were buying in our personal care products, has shifted into becoming the equivalent an eye roll synonymous with Gwyneth Paltrow jade vagina eggs and frou-frou rituals of the rich and bored. If you came here through my Instagram, I go into it a bit more on just how the industry is actually quite toxic from the people behind it to how it got this way.

While I think our green beauty community now has all but dispersed, I do believe in many of the products we championed. Here is my all green routine.

I know it’s odd to see an oil cleanser as a morning cleanse, but these days I’ve just been at home and it’s hard to justify a full cleansing experience sometimes when I barely want to even do a morning routine. I tried to go through with just water but notice it does a terrible job of penetrating the film of oils my skin seems to secrete overnight. One morning I reached for Pai Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil out of sheer laziness, and found this to do a good job of getting rid of that oil film as oil binds oil (some of you with drier skin might like the film and refuse to cleanse in the morning, but you should especially if you use serums as they need to actually penetrate). It’s gentle and works in a breeze without any fuss, and because I only use half a pump, it rinses off quickly (*yes it does emulsify with water, hurrah!) and my skin feels clean and ready for the next steps without feeling like I had to do a whole production with my cleansing.  I first got into cleansing oils with Shu Uemura but the ingredients kind of turned me off (in addition to the fact that it doesn’t rinse off with water very well), it wasn’t until One Love Organics came along with their oil cleanser that I absolutely loved it. But the Pai Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil in my opinion, has better ingredients (a lot more plant oils) and feels nicer.

I follow with Yuli’s Panacea Elixir. If I do a full cleansing routine, I like to mist it on my skin as I feel that hydrates my skin more (this is what I tend to do at night), but if I do an oil cleanse, I like to apply this like a traditional toner with a cotton round. When used this way, it works like an organic Biologique P50 without the harsh acids that seemed to make everyone’s skin red, blotchy and angry. Panacea uses enzymes and ionized minerals instead that break away dead skin, oxidized pore clogging sebum, etc., and keeps my skin clear of congestion and any general griminess. It’s described as a juice fast for the skin, and feels to me like the skincare version of a herbal tonic you’d drink from a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner to leave skin fresh, hydrated, and clear of breakouts or congestion.


Next I use Agent Nateur’s Holi(oil) as my face oil. I loved this oil from first use. The texture is beautifully plush as it uses rice bran which is nourishing but also easily absorbed. There are only 7 ingredients in here, which isn’t bad because some of the most beautiful creations only have a handful of ingredients, and these ingredients are all top of the line in quality as we know Jena prides herself on sourcing. Standouts include a French patented Calcium Ketogluconate, and Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate) which work with each other to increase the efficacy of Vitamin C in building collagen and brightening the skin. Now.. the smell. It’s beautiful and was something that stuck with me from first use. The more I used it, the more I thought “wow this is divine but also.. familiar?” It was only after reading the Garcon’s World review of Saint Jane Beauty’s CBD Face Oil where they compared the smell of rose and sandalwood as being extremely similar to Agent Nateur AND Ila that I figured it out. Remember Ila? I forgot until I read that review from GW who always manages to be on the mark and are friggin beauty archivists. I remember using their oil YEARS ago, and thats when the lightbulb went off that the Agent Nateur oil isn’t just similar in smell, upon some digging (going to their websites lol) their formulas are like copies. Where Agent Nateur uses a base of rice bran, Ila uses argan, and Agent uses the calcium+vitamin c, but other than that you can see for yourself:

Ila Formula
Wild-Grown Argan Oil (Argania Spinosa Kernal), Rosehip Seed Oil (Rosa Canina), Sandalwood (Santalam Spicatum), Rose Otto Oil (Rose Damascena Flower Oil), Vitamin E Oil (Tocopherol Extract)

Agent Nateur Formula
organic oryza sativa (rice bran), organic rosa mosqueta (rosehip) oil, calcium ketogluconate, wildcrafted rosa damascena oil, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, organic helichrysum gymnocephalum oil, wildcrafted santalum album (sandalwood) oil.

Not to take away from the brilliance of the Agent Nateur face oil which is one of the nicest I’ve used, I just have to wonder how much Ila’s oil that came before might have informed the formulation of the Agent Nateur oil. **As an aside, I’ve been reticent to talk about Agent Nateur on my blog because as many of you may be aware, the founder has some fringe beliefs that I think are harmful. She’s also treated a fellow blogger (who I consider to be a genuine friend in the space) in a very ugly and hurtful manner. I stand by my review of this product, but I don’t think I will be purchasing from the Agent Nateur line in the future.**

Following face oil, I make sure I get my eye serum in. Kahina’s Eye Serum is a favorite. I’ve used many, and it’s a category I obsess over. What I’ve learned is that creams are for dry skin (if your skin is more oily, it could lead to milia which has to be extracted via surgical instruments), serums with a lighter gel texture tend to be more for active benefits, which is the camp I’m in right now. Kahina’s Eye Serum is a gel texture but it doesn’t have alcohol and doesn’t have that “evaporating” feel that dries your skin out. There are peptides and good plant extracts that are brightening and boost microcirculation. I think of it as my anti-aging serum for the eyes.

So in the serum step we’ve done the face and the eyes, I finish with my lips. I’m very hot and cold when it comes to my lips. Sometimes I fall behind on taking care of them and they easily get chapped. But I was watching Blackpink on Youtube and noticed how ALL the girls are religious about applying their lip products before every interview, performance and photoshoot. Like they didn’t care about touching up lipstick, but if their lips were chapped, oh no! I also know that not taking care of the lips can really mess up the plumpness and lose volume as we get older. My main problem is that I like to drink my wellness tonics, eat food, etc. and I know half the ingredients in most lip products are not ones I want to ingest so it’s hard to space it out. This is why I use Yuli’s Cellular Lip Conditioner which is 100% food grade. It’s not a balm, think of it like a face oil but for your lips. How is it different? The lips don’t have sebum glands, there is more collagen, and they’re more exposed (that’s also why the lips are more pigmented).  The Cellular Lip Conditioner helps to nourish the skin, and their plants offer a degree of protection from exposure, and it helps to keep lips plumped. I consider this an insurance to keep my lips as healthy as voluminous as I can.

The Indie Lee Daily Skin Nutrition is the moisturizer I’ve been using daily. It is light enough that it can be dispensed from a pump and is not too flashy. But it contains all the right ingredients that a dream moisturizer should have like squalane, avocado oil, hyaluronic acid, and even rosemary extract (good for environmental stressors) and Vitamin C. It melts into skin without any heaviness or greasiness, yet is substantial enough that you’ll miss it if you forgot to apply it. I think of moisturizers as more of the defensive line meant to keep the moisture from escaping, adding some of that creamier heft, and if good active ingredients are there, all the better, and this ticks all the boxes.


Before we’re done there’s one more thing I do in the morning. My wellness tonic! Let’s be honest here, everything we can perceive from our skin and hair, to our digestion, and how we feel is rooted within our inner wellness. I’m not going to do elaborate multi-step skincare routines, invest in expensive products, and then ignore what’s going on inside where everything is actually going on. MIJA Superstar is one that I talked about before. I love that it’s made by a board certified nutritionist and dietitian who is very acclaimed, as most are not. And I love their approach of filling the universal gaps we all have with one comprehensive supplement that can align all of our systems. Their approach is to balance and optimize the body where it needs it, rather than other brand approaches where you’re asked to take something for your mood, something else for your immune system, another thing for your digestion, without any clinical evidence what taking them together will do, and no concern for what individual supplements might imbalance in other areas. Beyond their approach, this just works for me on all fronts (for me it is most noticeable in my digestive regularity, metabolism, and energy level, but it will be different for everyone, my sister who is usually sick about 2-3 times a year has not been sick since she started taking it in October 2019). Unlike skincare that has steps, you don’t need bundles of supplements to be healthy, Mija’s Superstar has replaced jars of other stuff I was taking before, effectively cutting down on both time and cost, as well as always feeling like I wasn’t getting everything out of my supplements. I’ve never been more satisfied.


I love hearing from you, whether in the comments section here or on my Instagram. Reach out!

ROSE, ROSE, ROSE: African Botanics, MV Organics, YÜLI


We’ve all used products that can only be described as beautiful. They’re the ones that just feel like heaven from the fragrance down to the way they feel, where every time you just feel uplifted, calmed and transported. I’ve noticed that mine all revolve around roses. There are so many roses on the cosmetics market, the majority are synthetic and those can be cloying and overly sweet. But with the rise of green beauty and the demand for authentic ingredients – we’ve been exceptionally fortunate that real, high quality, organic roses are now used in skincare. These are on another level because when done well, they are the most majestic, clean, and luxurious ingredients that really elevate a product into an experience. I’ve been feeling especially in need of pampering but with a simple routine in mid-summer, so this beautifully minimal 3-step rose centered routine has been making me feel like I’ve treated myself to the spa every time.

Cleanse – YÜLI Halcyon Cleanser – Limited Rose Edition: I’ve been using YÜLI’s limited-edition drop for the past two weeks and it has been nothing short of heavenly, especially when the rose gel combines with a cool splash of water on a summer day. Only 500 units of the cleanser were made which sold out after 1 day. The limited quantity was due to the sourcing of roses from private rose gardens that are untouched by any form of commercial harvesting. The OG Halcyon is a staple in my routine, so I knew I’d love this one – I just didn’t realize it would completely take it to another level of luxuriousness of the most pristine roses. It is decadent and like wrapping your face in a hug from roses as impurities are gently lifted from the gel every morning and night. Absolute perfection. *Update: YÜLI just launched at AYLA! And they’re the only place in the US that has this stocked as of this afternoon! Shop here.

Tone – African Botanics Rose Treatment Essence: This has been in my routine for a while and the reason it has lasted this long is that it feels so special that I save it for times when I really want to slow it down and savor a product. The essence is like a buttery-gel that melts into skin and works like it’s part toner, part serum. Sometimes I put it on before an oil, other times I use only the essence which does wonderfully on its own due to a heavy roster of hard-hitting actives and lets me experience the sensorial pleasure of the roses as it hydrates and tones my skin. At this point in the routine, I’ve cupped my hands over my nose and done enough inhales to relieve any stress. I linger in the bathroom for a bit, organizing my shelf, texting friends back, etc. as the humectants and emollients in this essence soak in moisture for my skin.

Moisturize – MV Organics Rose Soothing Protective Moisturizer: To close out the routine is this incredible moisturizer. The price point is high but I need like 1/5 of one pump, basically a tiny string of product for my whole face so it will last and last. What impresses me is that the cream is so rich, yet I’ve never broken out because it just lands on the skin perfectly, with a nice smooth texture that can work as a primer. I read a lot of reviews on Detox Market that said the same thing, saying the cream is thick and rich yet soaks in and doesn’t cause breakouts. The rose in here is full-bodied but not cloying and provides a good cap to my 3-step skincare routine or the olfactive feast of roses.