crumpets and tea, one of life's simple guilty pleasures

helping my girls find life's finer things affordably

Month: May, 2013

my favorite lip balm: smith’s rosebud salve

i’ve gone through a lot of lip balms in my time.  i’ve tried ones from more expensive brands like origins and kiehl’s (was even tempted to try la mer but decided against it) to the good ole cheapie brands like chapstick and vaseline.  i’ve found that many chapsticks underperform and have very little emollient quality to them…my lips end up more chapped!  after much searching, i have finally decided on my favorite: smith’s rosebud salve in the tube, cause the tin packaging gets reallllly dirty!

from the sephora website

from the sephora website

the tube costs $6 (0.5 oz.) while the tin, which carries 0.8 oz. of rosebud salve goodness, is also $6 at sephora.  but because i don’t like to stick my finger into a things, since in my mind i’m contaminating the salve with whatever in on my finger, i would rather buy the tube for ease of mind and take the 0.3 oz. hit.  the complete list of ingredients are proprietary, i guess, but what they do list is “cotton seed oil, aromol, essential oils, petrolatum base”.  i like that they use a petroleum jelly base because it actually coats my skin/lips really well and prevents moisture loss.  i’ve found through experience that the most effective salves are usually made from some sort of petroleum jelly base and this one smell wonderful, like roses!  additionally, i like that there is a hint of pink to the salve to tint your lips so it looks a little bit better than rubbing some vaseline all over your smoocher, haha.

i am also a big fan of the minted rose bud salve, but i have yet to find it a tube instead of a tin.  until then, i will continue to be a loyal fan of the original rosebud salve!

from the sephora website

from the sephora website


are parabens really dangerous to your health?

today’s topic is one that has sparked craaaaazy hysteria in the general public and is basically the idea that cosmetics containing parabens are going to give you cancer.  let’s take a look at this “claim” and see if it’s actually a genuine concern or a result of irresponsible science reporting/scientific journalism gone wrong!

what are parabens?  structurally, they look like this:

chemical structures of different parabens

chemical structures of commonly used parabens

their current use is mainly as a preservative in cosmetics, certain foods, and pharmaceutical drugs.  why do we need to use preservatives?  because many of the product we use day-to-day are made up of tons of organic (carbon-based, not the other meaning) molecules and these molecules decompose of time, faster if exposed to heat and/or light.  preservative like parabens help inhibit microbial and fungal growth in these products, making for longer shelf-lives.  parabens are types of molecules called esters, known to be hydrolyzed by esterases (enzymes) in human bodies to para-hydroxybenzoic acid which is excreted out of the body, and also metabolized via different pathways and then excreted out of the body like through urine.  let’s first take a look at the supposed paper that started to whole paraben-free craze: Darbre, P. D. et al. J. Appl. Toxicol. 2004, 24, 5-13.

in this paper, the data collected shows that in 20 human breast tumor samples, a mean of 20.6 ± 4.2 ng of parabens per gram of tissue sample was obtained.  no comparison was made for non-cancerous breast tissue, which would be the scientifically responsible thing to do if you’re going to publish something like this, instead of pushing it off to “future outlooks”.  they make claims like:

“It is therefore not inconceivable that the levels of parabens measured in this study could exert oestrogenic effects on epithelial cells in the human breast.”

let’s look at this statement.  according to routledge and coworkers (Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol. 1998, 153, 12-19), their finding showed that parabens were approximately 2,500,000 to 10,000 times (from methylparaben to butylparaben) less potent in producing an in vitro estrogenic response compared to 17-β-estradiol (subcutaneous administration of the paraben).  this means that the amount of paraben per volume needs to be 2,500,000 time more in the case of methylparaben, 150,000 times more in the case of ethylparaben, 30,000 times more in the case of propylparaben, and 10,000 times more in the case of butylparaben to have the same estrogenic response as one equivalent amount of 17-β-estradiol per volume.  so assuming that most of the parabens collected was methyparaben (they report over 60% to be), that mean you take 20.6 ng and (roughly) divide by 2,500,000 to get the amount of 17-β-estradiol that would was an estrogenic response.  that’s a crazy small number yo!  can you even measure an estrogenic response with a dose of 8.24 x 10^-15 g; if not, how can you claim that it’s “not inconceivable that the levels of parabens measure in this study could exert oestrogenic effects…”?

moreover, the journal that the Dabre data was published in is a journal with an impact factor (i.f.) of 2.478 compared to science (i.f. of 31.201 for 2011) or nature (i.f. of 36.280 for 2011)…if this research was so cutting edge and important (which it would be if the experiments were thoroughly done and data interpreted correctly), wouldn’t it have received critical acclaim from the scientific community and gone through the peer-review process in a high impact journal?  instead the Dabre paper received at least 3 different scathing responses from the scientific community raising questions about the thoroughness of the experiments and interpretation.  then some journalist who hadn’t really thought out the scientific interpretations decided to write an article disseminating the “dangers” of parabens and now we’re here…living in fear of parabens.

now the fda and the european medicines agency have both spoken on parabens.  the fda states that through the cosmetics ingredients review, the acceptable safe concentration of parabens in cosmetics is set as 25%.  currently, most cosmetics contain levels of parabens ranging from 0.01 to 0.3%.  what does that really mean though?  in a scientific review paper by golden and coworkers (Crit. Rev. Toxicol. 2005, 35, 435-458 [impact factor of 5.160]), they write that the estimated amount of parabens that an average woman (60 kg) comes into contact with/uses is 0.307–1.02 mg/kg/day through “bath products, colognes and toilet waters, powders, hairsprays, shampoos, tonics and other hair grooming aids, blushers, foundations, lipstick, makeup bases, bath soaps and detergents, deodorants, skin cleansers, depilatories, face preparations, body moisturizers, skin fresheners, and sun products”.  assuming that 40% (number taken from another paper) of the “worst paraben (butylparaben)” is absorbed through the skin, that her enzymes are faulty and cannot process parabens to the excretable para-hydroxybenzoic acid before absorption, and that the woman uses all her products every day, the dose of paraben per day would be 0.12–0.41 mg/kg/day.  compare this value to ones reported in another scientific study of parabens on rodents and adjusted for humans: the value would be 440 times less, according to cook et. al., than the value needed produce effects in humans similar to estrogen in rodents or 240-830 times less for adverse effects in offspring in utero (Toxicol. Sci. 1998, 44, 155-168).  the review (Crit. Rev. Toxicol. 2005, 35, 435-458) concludes that:

“Based on highly conservative assumptions (i.e., worst case) pertaining to total daily exposures to parabens and dose/potency comparisons with both human and animal NOELs and LOELs for estrogen, it is biologically implausible that parabens could increase the risk of any estrogen-mediated endpoints, including effects on the male reproductive tract or breast cancer. While not explicitly considered in these comparisons, an additional margin of safety is provided by the fact that potency differences between parabens and estrogen are even greater due to the inability of parabens to produce estrogen like effects comparable to estrogen, no matter what dose is employed[…]Based on the estrogenic potency differences between parabens and estrogens, there is no scientific basis for concluding that in utero exposure to parabens might cause adverse effects on a developing fetus. Similarly, given the large differences in potency between estrogen and the three parabens that have weakly estrogenic activity in vivo, there is no basis for hypothesizing that parabens play any role in the etiology of breast cancer. The implication of the Darbre et al. (2004) study that parabens might be causally associated with breast tumors is biologically implausible. It has now been established that studies with other weakly estrogen-active chemicals that may bioaccumulate in breast tissue do not provide credible evidence that they are etiologically associated with increased risk of breast cancer. Consequently, there is no scientific basis for hypothesizing or inferring that parabens are etiologically linked to the development of breast cancer[…]While there is no question that in utero or adult exposure to sufficient doses of estrogen can cause a number of adverse effects in humans, the presumption that exposure to chemicals that are many orders of magnitude less potent than estrogen will cause similar effects has never been demonstrated.”

so there you have it!  you can now use your beauty products (even ones with parabens) at ease…enjoy~

secret hair styling product: trader joe’s aloe vera gel

hope everyone had a great memorial day weekend!  both saturday and sunday were nice sunny days in cali and i got to spend them outside but today has been a bit rainy and dreary.  i’ve spent part of the day napping, watching my guilty pleasure tv shows, and did some more packing for berkeley.  not a bad way to spend a monday indoors!

today’s post is about a secret hair styling product that works surprisingly well to moisturize parched hair (read: crispy, crunchy hair ends).  i’ve been conditioner-free now for over 9 month since realizing that my hair was getting more unmanageable, frizzy, and crunchy WITH conditioner use instead of less.  weird no?  after i stopped using conditioner, for some unknown reason my hair quality turned better and became overall softer and more manageable.

i still obviously use shampoo and now have shortened my shower routine to face wash, shampoo, and body wash, but was still using leave-in products like phytodefrisant (which is quite expensive, $28 a tube!!! its my holy grail defrizz hair product though, with hair softening properties) and giovanni styling elixir on the ends (to stave off split ends and for the heavenly smell of the leave-in treatment).  i wanted to cut down on the overall cost of my hair care because 1) living off a post-doc salary in berkeley will be hard and 2) it would be nice in general to spend less on hair care so i can spend my money elsewhere (indulging in good books! and food of course haha).  i’ve been looking around for a replacement for phytodefrisant since it was the most expensive item in my haircare routine but couldn’t find a good replacement with similar ingredients.  sadness.  then i had an idea: instead of trying to look for a product with similar ingredients, why don’t i instead look for a product that has the same consistency as phytodefrisant and would provide similar moisturizing/softening properties as phyto.  and thus i came up with aloe vera gel from trader joes and have been loving it since i’ve started using it as a hair product!

trader joes aloe vera gel comes in a dark green bottle (12 oz. for $2.99) and is labelled as 99% pure aloe vera gel.  the gel itself is clear and i like that the bottle is dark and semi-opaque.  the ingredients listed as as follows (comments in parentheses mine, also some names shortened for simplicity’s sake): water, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, butylene glycol, calendula flower extract, arnica flower extract, tocophersolan, TEA-carbomer (thickener), methylparaben (preservative, more about parabens in a later post!  stay tuned), diazolidinyl urea (antimicrobial), DMDM hydantoin (antimicrobial), trisodium EDTA (metal chelator).


take a dollop and work it into the ends of your well towel-dried hair up to the roots.  detangle with widetooth comb.  add another leave-in product if necessary to the ends of your hair to prevent split ends (i plan on using the giovanni hair product listed above).  let your hair air dry or blow dry your hair–tada!

this will be my last full week of posting…i’m moving up to berkeley on saturday!  i’m SO excited to be starting labwork again and working on a methodology project which hopefully will turn into a synthesis project!  in the future, i’ll probably be writing once or twice a week since my schedule will be much more busy (hello 12 hour lab days!) and would love to get suggested topics to post on (i’ll be doing “parabens” and “non-comedogenic” very soon!).  let me know either through the blog or email me and i’ll try my best to work it into the lineup!

putting together a fabulous wardrobe, part 3

so today we will be tackling (3), which is future shopping maintenance of one’s wardrobe!

this step is just as important as the first two steps, if not even more important; after purging one’s closet, it doesn’t make sense to go and fill it again with things that will just need to be purged again at a later occasion.  thus, how can we establish good style boundaries and purchasing habits that will be sure to keep your wardrobe in tip-top shape?

when shopping (especially at sales), ask yourself:

a) does this piece fit me properly, or will it need to be altered (cost effectiveness)?

this question is directed more at clothing than accessories/shoes….ask if the piece fits you like a glove or gives you the look you want (some people want an over-sized look, so the fit aimed for would be different)…and don’t buy the item if it’s too SMALL.  if it fits well, great!  move on to the next question.  if the piece doesn’t fit the right way, look at the price tag and establish if it’s a worthwhile purchase when you include alterations into the price ($10-15 for hemming, $20 or more for taking in and other changes).  usually the answer is no for items with a >$20 alterations add-on…if that’s the case, PUT IT BACK!

with shoes, if the shoes in question are half a size too big, the pair might be salvageable but putting in some sort of insoles ($5-10 depending on which types).  if the shoes are too snug, DON’T even think about it 😉

b) does this fit into my desired/established style profile (look, color palette, etc.)?

always stick to the style you have already decided upon; the emotional surge that comes from a sale can leave you disoriented and illogical (been there, done that).  focus on the aesthetic look and color of the piece: is it a good fit for your style?  if yes, move on to the next question.  if no, put the item down and run, RUN away!

c) can i make at least 3-4 outfits with the current pieces in my wardrobe?

this last question is especially important because you want to get maximum utility out of your potential piece.  if you can’t think of at least 3 outfits with current items in your wardrobe with this new piece, DO NOT purchase the item!  yeah, it sucks, that feeling but believe me, it’s better than losing your money into the dark vortex of shopping.

with dresses, this may be a little different because it’s harder to go beyond 2 ways of wearing the same dress.  when you buy a dress, i would focus on the shoes or accessories in your wardrobe that already go with it, striving for 2 looks with different shoes/accessories.

if the final answer is YESSSSSS, BUY IT!  yay, finally!

you’re gonna hate this process but it will be for the best, i promise. one of my highschool friends who looked fabulous all the time told her secret to being stylish was that she NEVER bought anything that didn’t look amazing on her–she was super strict about her purchases and had really high standards of what looked good on her–which is why she looked great with such minimal effort everyday.

one of my fav dresses

one of my fav dresses

i buy 95% of my clothes on while they’re on sale. my jeans are typically citizens (off 5th, nordstrom’s rack) or uniqlo (korea, i guess now in SF and online) while i typically get tees, other tops, shorts, dresses, and such from c&c, club monaco, off fifth, jcrew, petit bateau, velvet, michael stars, ella moss, or some random korean brand (bought when i went to visit m. c. in seoul) or from the korean clothes-selling newbury st. boutique (korean styles tend to be more stylish/fashionable, less simple/basic).

if your style profile is similar to mine, you’re in luck!!!  i’ll be suggesting some of the brands i typically look at/love the style of:

  • basics:
    • everlane (good everyday value but they’re perpetually sold out of what i want!)
    • c&c (good everyday value)
    • jcrew (good everyday value for tees, buy everything else on sale with student discount)
    • club monaco (buy on sale but great for basics, tees (fitted or loose style))
    • petit bateau (buy when on sale)
    • ella moss (buy when on sale)
    • splendid (buy when on sale)
    • velvet (buy when on sale)
    • joie and soft joie (more on the expensive end even on sale)
    • vince (more on the expensive end even on sale)
    • i know people are a fan of james perse but i haven’t bought anything from his collection
  • formal dresses (buy on sale at bloomies, nordies, neiman during their semi-annual sales):
    • shoshanna
    • rebecca taylor
    • alice and olivia
    • marc by marc jacobs
one of my white coats that i wore to one of my girls' wedding

one of my white coats worn to my girl’s wedding

so where do *i* look for sales? for the brands i *know* my exact sizing for, i get online when there are amazing sales (≥60% off).  a lot of the time, if i’ve seen and have tried on certain pieces that i love but can’t swallow the price tag, i wait until it goes on sale online usually when they’re ≥50% off.  these places include nordstrom, bloomies, and macy’s or directly from the brand’s website.  other places that i frequent include off 5th, nordstrom’s rack, and of course the jcrew outlet.

for super basic basics (tees, tanks, cotton/viscose/jersey tops), my sale bar is set lower, so 25% to 30% off the retail price is okay by me.

lastly, take care of your items…i’ve had some items stay with me for over 8 years now.  i wash my clothes appropriately (with woolite when needed, in laundry mesh bags for delicate/easy-to-snag materials) and try not to dry my clothes on too high of heat to prevent the fabric from dying a premature death.

with this game plan in hand, you’ll be sure to have a fabulous wardrobe for years to come!

putting together a fabulous wardrobe, part 2

so on to accessories and shoes detox today!

in my opinion, shoes and accessories are just as important as clothing and actually, if i look back to my purchase history, the trend has been that i’m more willing to spend money on good pair of cute but comfortable shoes than on clothing.  typically, my cutoff of basics (tops, bottoms) is no more than $30-50 dollars (depending on the brand) and for formal items no more than $100, 150 depending on how fancy the item is.  but for shoes, i would spend more comfortably around $50-150 on a pair especially if it pays off in comfort (i’m looking at you, cole haan + nike air and stuart weitzman).  these prices of course are the sale prices and not the retail price.  with accessories, my main weaknesses are belts and scarves and since i don’t carry around handbags anymore and can’t really wear costume jewelry (sometimes i get a rash and my taste in jewelry is of the motto “the simpler, the better”), i only have three gold necklaces that i rotate around in addition to my belt and scarves collection.

so now, we tackle (2):

a) paring down one’s accessories:

think back to the style that you have now defined.  find all your accessories and place them on your working surface, be it bed, desk, or whatever.  which accessories that you currently have would go great with the outfits that you have now prepared with the clothes that survived the purge?  do you have scarves, belts, hats, etc. that would fit the color palette(s) you previously established?  do you have the appropriate jewelry that expresses the style that you would like to embody?  any accessories that you can’t answer “yes” for need to be left behind (gifted, donated, dumped, etc.).  don’t hold on to any items that would propel your style forward!

more concretely, for me this means that i only have five different colored spring/summer/fall scarves that enhance my outfits/keep my neck warm, that i’ve learned to wear/drape/tie appropriately with each outfit (i have two heavy duty cashmere scarves that is no longer in use for cali).  i like to wear contrasting colors together like a red dress with a vibrant purple scarf or a white tee with jeans and a grey cardigan with a light pink scarf.  play around with your options and figure out now which colors go well together so you’ll be able to grab-n-go later on.  with jewelry, i don’t wear bracelets because they’re a lab hazard (can be caught on things) and so wear only necklaces. i like really delicate pieces and usually don’t switch my necklaces around.  my current favorite piece is a look-alike of the tiffany’s elsa peretti diamonds by the yard piece (gah look at that pricetag!) which looks something like this:

from google

from google

i also have several belts (stretchy cinched waist belts, traditional thread-into-hole types, in vibrant colors, black, camel, etc.) that i’ve already identified for certain outfits.  do the same for your belts if applicable.  i especially like the patent belts at jcrew in fun colors which go on sale after the season and can be bought for around $8 to $15.  these are perfect for brightening up a dress, for example with color combos like neon poppy red with navy blue, or fuchsia with white, etc.

of course for summertime, sunglasses are a must so figure out what shape flatters your face the best (for me, only aviators) and purge your collection accordingly.

i have a collection of handbags that i don’t use since i’ve switched to wristlets (i have 3 i alternate)…i’m waiting to decide what to do with them.  if you are a handbags gal, be sure to include them in your assessment!

also take the time to identify what accessories may be missing for your collection.  write these things down so that later on when sale season comes, you can tailor your search just for those pieces and be focused (instead of buying indiscriminately).

b) shoes re-vamp:

be honest with your shoe collection.  which ones don’t you wear at all?  which ones are your favorites?  identify the attributes and jot them down for future reference.  any shoes that are falling apart but you love need to go to a cobbler to be fixed.  can’t be fixed?  trash them and write down the type as a “future sale” purchase and actively look for a replacement pair.  identify which gaps you may have in your shoe collection.

i’ve whittled down my collection to 20 pairs (including winter shoes):

spring/summer/fall shoe collection:

  1. black leather flats from jcrew with small gold studds
  2. black leather flats with bows by coach
  3. black patent coach heels for formal business attire
  4. black leather wedges by cole haan (with nike air!!!!) for business attire
  5. black and gold flat coach slingbacks
  6. rose gold leather flip flop-style wrap around sandals (weird i know but prevents accidental loss of shoe when stepped on)
  7. nude bcbg sandals
  8. peach suede flats from jcrew (new unworn recent purchase =D)
  9. magenta criss-cross, peep toe flats from cole haan
  10. gold stuart weitzman flats (sporty look)
  11. two pairs of random brand prada-look-alike baby wedges in coral/blue/nude and also in blue/nude (bought when on vacation in taiwan)
  12. formal gold and crystal strappy stuart weitzman heels (my baby!)
  13. brown leather minnetonka mocassins (a gift from a. e. s.)
  14. running shoes

winter shoes (in storage):

  1. heavy duty cole haan waterproof/snow dark brown suede lace up (hidden zip) boots (bday gift from mom)
  2. brown leather cole haan riding boots
  3. dark brown leather cole haan low wedge heel, knee high boots
  4. black coach leather knee high boots
  5. black celine leather round toe, knee high, wooden stacked heel boots (so very sexy, my special splurge for my 25th birthday)

man i’ve accumulated many pairs of shoes over these past five years!!!!  the last five i don’t even really get to wear in california except for the brief november through january period…it’s definitely not cold enough to warrant wearing.  additionally, i have a pair of stuart weitzman formal crystal and black strappy heels and a pair of valentino pink satin heels that i’m trying to decided what to do with; i most likely will sell them at a consignment store.  as you can see from the list above, i should not buy any more black shoes (or shoes for that matter)!  usually for the more expensive pairs, i get soles put on the bottom to extend their wear.  so worth it!

alrighties, it’s time for me to head off to bed!  have a great night peeps and until tomorrow for part 3!

putting together a fabulous wardrobe, part 1

since i’m moving up to berkeley for my new job in june, i’ve been inspired lately to reassess my wardrobe because moving unnecessary things is always painful.  that and after reading about wardrobe rehab on this blog, i’m inspired to write a little about how to put together and maintain a FABULOUS wardrobe in which you can grab-n-go and look awesome (because YOU’RE awesome, HIMYM-style, lol).  sale season is also coming up and reevaluation of one’s wardrobe will prevent you from making that unwise extraneous purchase that you couldn’t stop yourself from buying because it was ON SALE (hahah been there, done that many times).  having a game plan will help you shop smartly and not waste your precious moolah on stuff that won’t make you absolutely gorgeous.

now your wardrobe is a reflection of your personal style and tastes and differs greatly from personal to person.  i know i tend to gravitate toward simple, clean lines, very few layers and accessories (fans of the sartorialist are gonna hate me!), great cut and fabric, and skin tone-enhancing colors.  over the years, i’ve figured out a few tricks that i will establish here as guidelines in three parts and will try to write as generally as possible, giving concrete examples where applicable.  the three parts are:

[specific aim] (1) defining one’s look/style and clothing purge

[specific aim] (2) accessories and shoes purge

                       (3) future outlook: future purchasing habits after the purge

(…sounds a bit NIH grant-like, no?  i couldn’t help it)

today, we will tackle (1)!

a) defining one’s style:

(a.1) pick a look

(a.2) pick your color palette(s)

why do we need to do this?  because it will prevent you lots of grief and crying over spilled money later on.  also, it will make your wardrobe more fluid and easy to put together so that you will match in a good way and look nice without spending tons of time.  i have decided that my “look” is very much like this except with less heels.

mind you, my “look” is also decided by what looks good on me.  i know that i look better in simpler styles that have great cut and shape.  i actually really love and appreciate the boxy, oversized look, the rich girl preppy look, and also the sensual, sexier look but don’t have the body type for any of those styles (i look swallowed up by my clothes or with the last two options, really, really awkward and out of place).  an example that i will give is that i don’t buy blazers, oxford shirts, etc. ever (except for one interview outfit) because they look HORRID on me.  but most people can work the oxford/blazer look and look amazing.  similarly, i can’t pull off the leather jacket/cool sexy look ’cause i just look stupid.  it’s taken some honest, self-evaluation to arrive here but now i know even when things of those type are on sale, i’m not tempted.

so far we have “defining one’s style”…now we need to consider color palette.  i wear a lot of grey shades as well as purple/navy shades (no bright blues for me), white/creams, and pops of reds/pinks.  even though these colors are not my favorite colors (except for grey, but that’s more of a lack of color), i know that i look best in these colors so i buy my clothes in these colors.  i don’t own any green because i look awful in green, even though i actually really like green…my bathroom and kitchen would totally channel fresh green tones!  i also try not to wear too much black because i tend to look bony and anorexic in black, even though i know that black is a holy grail color for most.  figure out which colors you always get complimented on when you’re sporting it and that should say something.  i know a lot of fashion experts say stay with neutral colors in your wardrobe (black, grey, camel, navy, white, etc.) for ease of wear but i think that it tends to be boring and drab.  if you look good in a certain color, buy different items in different shades of that color so they would automatically look good when worn together.

trendy colors i sometimes buy but at h&m and sometimes zara only because it’s cheap and it won’t wear well for very long.  as for color pairings, i strongly agree with what aspairandaspare has said about 3 colors per outfit (*SUCH* great advice!).

b) clothing purge!

pretty self-explanatory for this sub-heading.  when you have a free few hours, buddy up (or if you prefer to do this alone, it’s cool too) and try on allllllll your clothes.  be honest.  anything that doesn’t fit anymore [too small, too big], not the right color on you, not fixable by hemming/alterations, or just doesn’t make you look awesome NEEDS TO GO.  ever seen “what not to wear?”  your ill-fitting, unbecoming (on you) clothes *need* to be thrown out/donated/gifted to a friend.  we’re gonna do this clinton and stacy style!  also make sure your bras and underwear fit you properly and don’t make you lumpy because if they do, no amount of beautiful clothing will save you.  after all this, put/hang/fold all the clothing that you will be keeping in your closet again.

SOOOOOO…what happened with my closet?

yay!  all my clothes fit into these two pictures

IMG_0637 yay! all my clothes fit into these two pictures

my summer basics are now whittled down to:

  • darkwash jeans (in skinny and bootcut)
  • fitted scoopneck tees (black, peach-ish pink, and grey)
  • loose scoopneck tees in multiple styles (mostly in white, and some in peach/pink and purple)
  • cotton tanks in white, oatmeal, black, pink
  • printed silk skorts in navy with white polka dots and pink floral print on black (actually looks like a skirt but are really shorts)
  • white and ombre dolman sleeve short sleeve shirts
  • mesh slightly oversized knit pieces in oatmeal and black to go with the corresponding tanks
  • shorts in white, pink with small purple flowers, vibrant chambray blue, dark grey, and jean
  • tank dress (white and black)
  • grey maxi dress kind of like this with the draping but mine is racerback and has more coverage in the front
  • many different dresses in white, chambray, various purple tones, peach-ish nude, cream,  orange-red, and navy in various materials and prints (cotton, silk, eyelet, lace, viscose, with crochet detailing, etc.)
  • light merino wool v-neck cardigans in grey, red, and white
  • navy cotton cardigan

in part 3, i’ll let you know where i shop/which brands i look for.  hopefully this gives you a sense of my style and the process i go through to revamp/reevaluate my wardrobe.  until tomorrow for part 2~

how to choose the best vitamin C “anti-aging” skincare product

hi guys!  hope everyone had a great weekend.  today’s topic is of interest to the older folk (including late twenties and up i guess, lol)…anti-aging skincare!  i know that there’s A LOT of hype out there with “our product will revolutionize wrinkle prevention” etc. etc. and it’s hard to really figure out what is really true and what is just aggressive advertising.  many companies that sell over-the-counter (OTC) potions make all sorts of claims for anti-wrinkle, anti-aging but are not backed up by the fda.  only fda backed products (prescription-based products) are forced to provide scientific proof of their claims that that the products are efficacious.  therefore, we should always approach OTC product claims with caution and really think about whether buying the item is analogous to flushing money down the toilet.

we will learn today about how to look at vitamin C anti-aging products; once again, i will be giving a chemistry (not medical) perspective of how to choose a vitamin c product that won’t lose efficacy/degrade before you get to use it.

so we all know that vitamin c, also know as ascorbic acid, has great health benefits (see here for a general audience tutorial) when ingested.  vitamin c has also been used as a topical agent in cream, lotions, gels, serums, etc. because of its reputed ability to lessen/prevent sun spots and skin discolorations and also stimulate collagen production (for what collagen is, click here).  additionally, vitamin C can act as an antioxidant, as shown in the browning of apples experiment where the sprinkling of vit. c on apples slows down browning,  so logically, all vitamin c skincare products must be good…bring it on, right?

of course, things are not always so simple.  as it turns out, vitamin c degrades, like any other organic molecule, over time and exposure to light (UV usually) or heat.  the time frame in which this degradation happens is accelerated when vitamin c is put into a solution (liquid) versus when vitamin c is stored in its solid form.  many companies, in efforts to market and sell their vitamin c creams/lotions/potions, use chemical “stabilizers” to slow down vitamin c decomposition.  however, usually once you open your cream/lotion jar/bottle and expose the product to air, the decomposition pathway has started and your cream/lotion is losing its vitamin c efficacy.  other companies like nv perricone have used other approaches like chemically joining vitamin c with a fatty acid via an ester bond (it’s okay if you don’t understand the nomeclature) thereby changing the behavioral properties of the new vitamin c-derived compound, but this may not actually make the vitamin c derivative better (see bioavailability of different vitamin c compounds if you’re interested).  i personally never by creams/lotions/gels/etc. with vitamin c mixed in already with the product in mainly because you don’t really know how much you end up really using on your face (is it all decomposed?  partially decomposed?  degraded material that i’m slathering on?  who know?)

if you do want to jump on the anti-aging moisturizers bandwagon and want to use a vitamin c-based product, here is what i would recommend:  a solid form of vitamin c that you can mix into your lotion/cream/gel right before you use it.  that way you know exactly how much your putting on, what you’re putting on, and that you’ve avoided, as much as you can, the decomposition of your vitamin c before use.  philosophy make something called “turbo booster c powder” which is solid vitamin c that you scoop out with the scooper they’ve provided and mix into your moisturizer.  the ingredients are: (comments in parentheses mine) “ascorbic acid (vitamin c), panthenol (provitamin B5), zinc pca (humectant), copper pca (humectant), camellia oleifera leaf juice, dipotassium glycyrrhizinate (licorice extract), arginine (amino acid), cysteine (amino acid), aloe barbadensis leaf juice” in solid form.  the bottle looks like this:

from the sephora website

from the sephora website

i would store this bottle away from heat and light and cap tightly to avoid moisture from getting in.  hopefully this tutorial has been helpful and has taught you a little more about this tricky molecule.  may you be successful in your search for vitamin c skincare products!

do you like french macarons? try the “trader jacques” version

look what i found while browsing barnes and noble!  =)

look what i found while browsing barnes and noble! =)

one of my favorite treats while i was a grad student in boston was the occasional indulgence in french macarons.  they’re not cheap mind you, especially on a graduate student stipend,  at usually $1.50 (crema cafe) or even $2.50 (thinking cup) a piece for the good ones.  thus,  i would only get them when i was having an especially bad day in lab and needed a pick-me-up, savoring the two bites of deliciousness, so that i could plow on in lab.

fear no more poor grad students (or people who think paying $2.50 for two bites is ridiculous),  i have found a great substitute such that you can get your french macaron fix without a guilty conscience!  enter “trader jacques” who at $4.99 a box will give you 12 scrumptious, nearly identical to cafe-quality petit sandwiches, which can be easily found at your friendly neighborhood trader joe’s.  they’re typically in the frozen foods/desserts section and all you have to do before eating them is let them defrost for 30 minutes at room temperature.

there apparently are multiple varieties, from vanilla/chocolate to pumpkin (whaaaaa?) to peppermint to variety pack (picture below).  i had seen and eaten the vanilla/chocolate ones in boston but have never seen other flavors while i was there or when i came back to california.  of course when i was getting orange juice from trader joe’s the other day, i casually glanced at the frozen dessert section and what do i see?  the VARIETY PACK *fist pump*  i had never seen it before in my neighborhood trader joe’s and was elated to find four boxes left (i bought three boxes).  TJs did an awesome job with the variety pack with flavors such as pistachio, salted caramel, raspberry, orange, chai, and one last one which i can’t remember now…anyhoo, next time you need to get groceries, i would head out to the TJs in your area and take a look!  bonne chance mes petites choux!

two are missing 'cause i ate them...sigh

two are missing ’cause i ate them…sigh

my most recommended gel eyeliner

so as promised, today i will be writing about my favorite gel eyeliner that is a bit of a splurge but totally worth it.  if you are looking for a gel eyeliner, which i think is much more controllable and easier to work with than liquid, i would recommend bobbi brown’s long-wear gel eyeliner. it is $23 at sephora (you can also find it at macy’s, nordstrom, neiman, bloomies, etc.) and comes in a variety of colors from black, brown, and grey to purple, blue, and green.

(from sephora)

(from sephora)

i personally use the color “violet ink” which looks really purple in the container but wears beautifully as a dark blackish purple and feels less harsh against fairer skin tones than jet black.  i would apply it with an eyeliner brush (see here and here for recs) so that you can draw a thin fluid line close to your lash line.  it builds easily in color intensity and once you let the gel dry, it’s pretty much smudge-proof.  the pot-o-gel eyeliner lasts at least 6 months if you wear it everyday and take care to tighten the lid such that the gel doesn’t dry out prematurely.    once you add some mascara, voila! you have pretty, well-defined eyes.  i’ll be back tomorrow to post (even though i usually don’t write on fridays) since i didn’t get to post on monday (my NIH proposal revisions are done though yay!).

EDIT: just found out today that there apparently is a problem with the formulation of the gel eyeliner right now and the BB headquarters are aware and remedying it…please hold off purchasing until the problem is resolved! i just bought one from nordstrom and it’s the real deal!  i think the sephora stock is much older and thus the quality is questionable.  if you want to buy it, go to nordstrom!

so…what’s really in my acne cream/lotion?

soooo i was going to write about favorite, highly recommended gel eyeliner today (put off until tomorrow) but i thought i’d do a little chemistry demystifying of acne cream and lotions. i think most people don’t really know what active ingredients are in their pimple stuff and it would benefit the average consumer to be aware of what s/he is really slathering onto her/himself. note that i will only be giving chemical analysis NOT medical analysis, so gather ’round kids and let’s begin!

the two most commonly used active ingredients in over-the-counter (OTC) acne medication (meaning non-prescription) are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. each of these act as acne medication in different ways, meaning each lessens acne lesions via different chemical mechanisms. let’s first look at the chemical structures (pictures, figure 1 and later 2) of each to see and understand more of how these chemicals work:

figure 1

figure 1

so in figure 1, i’ve shown salicylic acid with three other well known compounds wintergreen oil (mmm minty), aspirin, and sodium benzoate.  it’s quite cool to take a look at how the ingredients look like structurally to see why they might behave similarly.  as you can see salicylic acid looks very similar to wintergreen oil and they differ only by the blue parts of the molecule (OH vs OMe).  you don’t need to know what these letter combinations mean but it makes sense that both of these molecules when rubbed on skin give a burning sensation (a little different between the ouch burning of salicylic acid versus the tingly burning of wintergreen oil).  similarly if you take a look at salicylic acid and aspirin, you see that the blue parts are the same (both OH) but the bottom right parts in green are different.  this similarity gives them properties/modes of actions that react with the human body as an anti-inflammatory.  although the biological pathways of these two molecules as an anti-inflammatory is complex, one of the modes is via acting as a proton (via the carboxylic acid group) shuttle in the mitochondria (remember high school bio?).  pretty nifty, no?  lastly, sodium benzoate differs the most from salicylic acid.  it is the sodium salt of the acid (see blue part) with no OH group (see green part).  it is often used as a food preservative or cosmetics preservative.  while we’re on the topic of sodium benzoate, i want to clarify the “scare” that sodium benzoate turns into benzene (a known carcinogen) when mixed with vitamin c (ascorbic acid).  while the fda article is talking about the scare of sodium benzoate in soft drinks turning to benzene in the presence of vit. C, which in my book i have much beef with if you look at the data but more another day,  i want to say that sodium benzoate in your cosmetics will not turn into benzene to kill you/cause you harm even if your moisturizer/makeup product contains vitamin c.  i’ve seen on too many “health/natural living” beauty blogs give ABSOLUTELY wrong information about this (about how sodium benzoate will decompose to benzene in the presence of vitamin c) and this claim is chemically craaaaazy.  if you can really prove that, let me know and we’ll write a jacs/nature/science paper together!

figure 2

figure 2

in figure 2, we see that benzoyl peroxide looks completely different than salicylic acid.  it has in the middle two oxygen atoms that are connected by a line (a bond) and these types of molecules are known as peroxides.  now certain peroxides can explode because that line in between the oxygens (the bond) can break apart too quickly/too much at once.  with benzoyl peroxide and hydrogen peroxide they are relatively stable than other peroxides, especially because they are often formulated in some sort of liquid (as a solution or a lotion/cream/gel).  these two peroxides are used often as disinfectants for the human body and react primarily through breaking of that bond to generate what are called free radicals.  thus these radicals kill off bacteria by reacting with the bacteria’s survival machinery (cell wall, organelles, etc.).  unfortunately, because the radicals generated aren’t specified to only attack the molecules in bacteria, it may also react with other things like cloth (causing bleaching) or yikes, the person’s cells leading in some cases to an adverse reaction (swelling, burning, allergy).  although people can also be sensitive/allergic to salicylic acid, it makes sense that the reactive nature of benzoyl peroxide would cause more of a reaction than the acid acne ingredient.

most sensibly, start off using salicylic acid in your acne medication (careful not to use too much as it can cause a chemical burn) and if your doctor tells you to use benzoyl peroxide products, use carefully (don’t over medicate!) and with caution.  benzoyl peroxide, while is okay to use in controlled amounts as directed by a physician, is not a compound/chemical to be trifled with and carelessly slathered on.

hope this helps clarify what’s in your jar of acne cream and may you have clear skin in the days to come!