Apr 9, 2014

The Five Things You Need to do in Paris (or Five Random Things I did in Paris)

Checking a big one off of my "To Do by 30" List -- Springtime in Paris. I'm back from my first visit to Paris, and have come up with a completely random but hopefully useful list of the five best things I did in Paris. I'm practically under moral obligation to share.  
Notre Dame Cathederal
Planning a trip to a “must see at least once in your life” location like Paris is basically impossible. Just don’t even try. Inevitably you’ll have spent months researching recommendations on Trip Advisor, getting obscure restaurant recommendations from friends, and consulting tour books lent to you by your boss titled “Romantic Paris”. When you get there you’ll be totally overwhelmed and a little loopy from taking the red eye, where you were too busy with your travel partner perfecting the art of synchronized movie-watching on your miniature television screens to get any sleep.
You’ll arrive and be forced to gallivant around the streets of Paris for six hours before you’re allowed to check into your hotel room. As you curse your travel outfit choice for being the fashion you’re forced to debut around the streets of Paris, then realize you’ve forgotten to learn how to say croissant in French, you will be saved and invigorated by the brisk early spring air. “So this is what air is like in Paris!” [or fill in the blank wherever I am traveling] is always one of my first thoughts when exploring a new city. As you breath the new air that thankfully works a lot like, perhaps even better than, the old air back home, it will dawn on you that while you have many locations starred as “must visit” you do not in fact have a working phone or map to let you know which way to go.   

This is the point where I can help you with real-life tips I learned from my first trip to Paris. Disclaimer: they may be horrible tips, but I happened to have a wonderful time in Paris so use at your discrection.  

1. Walk into every single Pharmacie: Just for the moment of bliss you will feel when you are surrounded by walls filled to the ceiling with French skincare brands. Some brands are available at cheaper prices than here in the US; one Pharmacie even had a Happy Hour where items were 20% off from 5-7pm. I swear the La Roche Posay moisturizer I purchased in Paris works much better than the one I bought in the US, though I could also just be delusional. Don't forget to pick up the Bioderma Crealine H2o cleansing water (aka a makeup remover) since it is hard to find in the US and it works.   
2. Shop at Monoprix: I've heard it referred to as a smaller version of Target, and while there I purchased a large amount of my gifts to take home, French candy and snacks, and for some strange reason I still haven’t figured out,  bought a bright red bathing suit from here. Also similar to the Target shopping experience, I spent about 10 times the amount I initially intended.

3. Eat at Pierre Herme and Laduree: The macarons you eat in Paris do not count. It is the law of nature, or perhaps just all of the walking you’ll be doing. Snack accordingly at these two macaron stores.

4.   Take the Batobus: It’s an affordable hop on/hop off boat tour that travels the Seine River, leaving you close to eight different tourist destinations. If you plan it right, you can take it at sunset and end your day by getting off of the boat near the Eiffel Tower. You then need to proceed straight to the carousel in front of the Eiffel Tower, ignore the fact that it is only you and a baby riding around while the baby's parents look on and seem concerned about their child's safety.   

5.  Starbucks is your new old best friend: As a New Yorker who has at least five amazing, independent coffee shops within five blocks of my apartment, I have eschewed most ties with the coffee chain giant. But I was surprised at how difficult it was to find the small, to go coffee shops I rely on to get my going in the morning and, well, I am sorry, but when you’re a busy gal who needs to get going, don’t be ashamed to get yourself to Starbucks, use a fake name since your 1980’s American name with the letter H in it is impossible for 9 out of 10 people globally to pronounce, use the free WiFi, and map out your day.  

I am positive there are a million other things I could share with you, but you’ll probably just forget them anyways. What seems to live on most intensely in my memory of this and any trip are those unexpected bursts of bliss, when you have the unshakeable feeling that at that exact moment in time you have somehow ended up exactly where you were meant to be. 

Jan 15, 2014

To Do by 30: Your Allergy Doctor, Your New Best Friend

2014 is it for me. My countdown to turning 30 can no longer be avoided, so instead I'm choosing to embrace the next four months and 9 days (but who’s counting?) by finally ending the procrastination of my 20's and getting isht done. Welcome to the new blog series "To Do by 30". First on my to-do list: allergy testing.

Pretty hurts. (If there's cat hair involved)
If you've experienced constant sinus issues, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, or any of the other host of glamorous symptoms faced by those with allergies, you've probably thought about getting allergy tested at some point. My allergy issues started when I moved from the West Coast, where it is not uncommon to grow your own oranges or avocados while palm trees and Eucalyptus leaves sway in the breeze to ... New Hampshire. To put it into perspective, I almost vomited one summer because I was nauseous at the sight of green foliage everywhere. And clearly angry at the world, as I recall internally screaming "So much green what is wrong with this place?!" Very different environments cued on decades of congestion, itchy eyes, and sudden pet allergies.

Sure there are over the counter allergy medications I've dabbled with over the years, but I've always planned on going to see a specialist and figuring out something that actually deals with your allergies instead of just putting you to sleep. I needed more than just a Benadryl-induced coma to help me forget about my nose feeling like it is being tickled with millions of miniscule feathers and my throat being scraped with a fine toothed comb made up of needles. But like many other things you will soon read about on here, it’s just something I never got around to. One particular sinus infection brought me in to an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) specialist who then gave me that final push needed to get to an allergist. 

There are Four Important Things I learned from going to see an allergy specialist.

1. Trust them when they say it won't hurt. As a serial doctor procrastinator/avoider, one of the things that has kept me away from medical facilities is their proclivity for poking me with sharp things. To test you for allergies, you will be poked with a range of sharp things but it really will not hurt. The skin tests are simply tiny pricks and do not draw any blood. Much worse however is the itchiness, swelling, and red splotches that occur when you have a reaction to certain allergens. If you see this as a challenge to your self-control and good practice for using the power of mind over matter rather than torture, you'll make it out alive.

2. It's a good place to meet new friends. After your arms have been pricked with over 30 plus tiny needles to see which environmental allergens you'll react to, you have to sit for about ten minutes so that your body has time to react. While you're sitting, there may be someone next to you, awkwardly holding their arms out like you're both carrying an imaginary box. It's a fun game to see which allergies you have in common with this new friend, and to read through the allergy pamphlet with helpful suggestions like "avoid musty hotel rooms". That's just good advice for life really.

3. You probably already know what you're allergic to. Really, it isn't rocket science -- if your eyes itch around your friend's kitten, you're likely allergic to cats. But the point for me of going to see an allergist was to learn more about how allergies work and tips on managing my environment when an allergen is present. My biggest takeaway was that allergies are your body over-responding to things that an average immune system can handle. Learning this made me feel a little bit of pride to be allergic to so many things, knowing my body really, really cares, even if it is fighting off things unnecessarily. I'm really giving 110%; that's what I like to see.

4. And of course, the beauty benefits. Chronic allergies or sinus issues can create puffiness and even dark circles under the eyes, not to mention dry and red skin around the nose. Maybe now that I've been tested and am starting on an allergy medicine, I'll be able to stop using concealer. Yeah, probably not but it will be interesting to watch what physical changes occur now that I'm treating my allergies.

On a perfect note to wrap up my first To Do by 30 post , after finding out that I was 29, my doctor looked at me dead in the eyes and said "Oh that's why you're having these problems. You're getting a lot older." Then she laughed and said no I'm joking, its probably just dust mites.

Image: My cat-niece Juliette, who I cannot pet but loves me from afar

Dec 17, 2013

All I Want for Christmas Is a Really Nice Tan

The California girl in me still appreciates a Christmas spent in short sleeves, a Santa in a hideous Hawaiian print shirt, and a nice little tan. Maybe thinking about a tan around the holidays is just a longing for the unique joys only contained in the memories of Christmas past. Or perhaps I'm just feeling excited about finding a self-tanner that not only works to create a bronze glow instead of a Cheeto-glow but is also specially formulated for sensitive skin. Either way, I plan to take on this holiday season glowing by a fireplace.

The Product 

St. Tropez Sensitive Bronzing Mousse and applicator mitt. Trust me, you'll want to pay the extra $6.50 for the tan applicator mitt which makes tanning application at least 75% easier.

What Makes it Special? 

According to St. Tropez, the dermatologically tested formula includes naturally derived tanning ingredient Vegetan as well as Melanobronze from berries of the chaste tree which support natural melanin in the skin. What it doesn't have are parabens, sulfates, or phthalates and creates 'no tell-tale self-tan aroma'.  

The Verdict

This is hands down the simplest way to I've ever applied self tanner, especially when using the tan applicator mitt. The mousse spreads smoothly and easily on the skin and quickly absorbs. While there may not be the typical self-tan aroma, there is a slight fragrance after application that hints you've used a self-tanner, though it does not linger for long.

Happy holidays! May all of your childhood wishes come true -- even if that includes a holiday tan.

Nov 25, 2013

Five Reasons Why Rihanna's Hair at the AMA's is Relevant & Fantastic

It is very rare that I have someone else write for Beauty Unbiased, but when my friend @SoVeryAshleigh and I started talking about Rihanna's attention grabbing hair at the American Music Awards, two things became obvious: 1. the subject was an important conversation to have, and 2. I needed more education about the cultural significance and even explanation of Rihanna's hairstyle. Ashleigh agreed to share the five reasons why she thinks RiRi's hair is relevant and fantastic with us. 
Photo from eonline.com
Guest Post By: Ashleigh Washington, @SoVeryAshleigh

There is not a whole lot to be said about last night's American Music Awards, but one of the most memorable and relevant subjects is Rihanna's seemingly unusual, hair -- pinned, adorned, slicked down hairstyle, better know as a "doobie". The moment she appeared on the stage to accept the first-ever American Music Awards Icon Award, me and my friends gasped and applauded, simultaneously confused trying to resolve our disbelief while celebrating Rihanna's glory. We all shouted, laughed admirably in unison, while high-fiving - "This chick wore a doobie to the AMAs and still slayed!" Translation: Rihanna rocked her hair wrapped, a form commonly worn routinely by Black women, meant to preserve a straight hairdo during sleep and sometimes during exercise, in public and looked more amazing than everyone while doing so. 

You see, a doobie is not meant to be worn in public let alone as a real hairstyle; they're only meant for transition to bed and perhaps your walk from the salon to your car. Even in these instances,  women usually cover their doobies with a hat or scarf as not to be seen looking unpresentable. It is a common technique performed nightly by Black women (and among other ethnicities of women), by combing/brushing their hair around their head as a way to preserve newly straightened or styled hair.

Doobies were an unacceptable hairstyle until last night! Rihanna made it hot and exposed the world to the complexity and lifestyle of black hair. Twitter and even my phone were immediately flooded with criticism of Rihanna's so-called "ratchetness", "classlessness", and unacceptable behavior. Despite the fact that MANY Black women of all classes, socio-economic status, and backgrounds wear them, many consider Rihanna's bold hair choice taboo. How dare she expose the unflattering side of black hair?! Well, I fully support and love her hair statement and here are five reasons why:

1.) It's real and for many women, a necessary component of a hair routine (e.g., Black, Dominican, and other women who have naturally curly hair). However, it's something we hide and have never even considered glamourous. Rihanna told the truth last night. Rocking her wrap to the AMA's should not be seen as attention-seeking or laziness, but a metaphor for being real and genuine about everything that may not be all roses. As women we go through some stages and phases before achieving the picture perfect look yet we only see the significance in the end result and deny all the unprettiness that goes into the journey. 

2.) It's creative. Many women spend hundreds, or even thousands of dollars on weaves and other hair treatments only to have the same hairstyle as everyone else. What Rihanna did was take something common, made it her own and made it great. We all could learn something from her and should consider ways to do our own thing while keeping it simple and classic.

3.) It breaks the rules. Rihanna proved again that she is the Queen of Rebellion. Her hairstyle says to the world, I can do whatever I want and your opinion of my choice is inconsequential to my happiness, confidence, and success! She refuses to live inside the box and inside the beauty norms imposed upon women. That's what makes her successful, resilient, and in this way a role model for young women. I think even Queen Bey could learn a thing or two from RiRi in this regard. (Editor's note: Ashleigh is the biggest Beyonce fan I know, so this sentence is pretty serious.)

4.) It exposes the world to the intricate, unique beauty of Black hair. Black hair is something that has it's own lane and while it is a very lucrative and thriving beauty market and topic, seldom is Black hair given a second thought among the mainstream. Rihanna's hair statement is sure to initiate conversations among non-Black men and women who may be curious about the hype or maybe even the look. In short, the world is becoming more and more diverse and knowledge is power.

5.) It exudes confidence. Rihanna is sure to have considered the backlash she would get about her hair choice but she just didn't care. That didn't stop her from proceeding flawlessly and fabulously to the AMA's with her gorgeous head held high. What a message to us women who run shamefully, head down, avoiding eye contact to our cars from the salon hoping that no one will see us in "rare" form. Rihanna taught us to embrace this look and to wear it with pride. Just because your hair is in a doobie doesn't mean you don't look beautiful. There is nothing to be ashamed of.and we should accept ourselves in all forms. 

So, for this I say thank you, Rihanna, Supreme Bad Mamma Jamma of the Universe for reminding us all of what it means to accept ourselves, to take risks, and to share the reality of life and beauty, and how that makes us unique.

Nov 20, 2013

You're Invited: Join me at the Extended Moisture Twitter Party with Nivea

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but I hereby declare that it is officially time to switch up your skincare routine for winter. Don't worry, it is a lot easier to do than you think, I promise. Pull up your Twitter account and get cozy with Nivea and me to talk all about moisturizing in the colder months at our Twitter Party on November 20, 2013 at 2pm EDT.

Join the conversation on Twitter by following me at @BeautyUnbiased, Nivea at @NIVEAUSA and using the hashtag #ExtendedMoisture. Not only do I have a few of my own favorite winter skincare tricks to share, but I'd also love to hear how you keep your skin looking and feeling good in the colder months. I'll be giving away Nivea's 48 Hour Extended Moisture Lotion to select participants and announcing the winners right here on Beauty Unbiased so get your winter skincare questions and tips ready.