Body Lotions I Love (And One I Don't)

I have far too many body care products - soaps, shower gels, shampoos, hand creams ... the list goes on and on. To give you some idea of what I mean, here's a summary of just what's in my body lotion rotation currently:

The Body Shop - Strawberry Body Butter
I often find that lotions and butters with fruit scents land to the side of cloying, too sweet, more like candy than anything natural. This strawberry body butter is an exception - it reminds me of a flat of fresh-picked strawberries straight from the field, the kind you'd find at the annual Strawberry Festival in Oxnard, California - or the Strawberry Social from 'To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar'.

Sabon - Delicate Jasmine Body Lotion
Sabon is a European body care chain with stores in New York City. I'm going to NYC next month, so I'll do a more complete review then. In the meantime, this is my favorite of their lines. It's much more aquatic than floral - in fact, it reminds me a lot of Philosophy's seasonal line Snow Angel, lots of fresh water with just a hint of jasmine at the end.

L'Occitane - Almond Milk Veil
What I like best about this lotion is that it's light and absorbs quickly. The scent is mild - it's a neutral sort of milky fragrance, making it a versatile base if you're layering moisturizer with perfumes.

Diptyque - Lait Frais Body Lotion
Diptyque Lait Frais translates to "Fresh Milk" but it's actually a light, refreshing citrus infused with orange blossom water. It's also very moisturizing without being greasy, with one of the best textures I've experienced in a body lotion - Diptyque never does anything by halves. I love layering this with their Eau Des Sens with its orange notes. The combination is so fresh and uplifting and lasts for hours.

Elizabeth Arden - Green Tea Honey Drops Body Cream
This cream has a really lemony citrus scent, with just a little bit of honey and some underlying musk to temper it. It's also really thick and rich. It feels so luxurious! My only complaint is that the fragrance doesn't last long, although that's not such a big concern since it's become my go-to for moisturizing right before bed.

Blue Haven Bee Company - Georgia Peach Nourishing Lotion
I found this local brand at a gift shop while I was on a trip last week (I went to a wedding in Savannah, Georgia). The peach scent is SO GOOD. Sadly, the fragrance doesn't last long, but the lotion is very good texture-wise (absorbs quickly and is non-greasy).

Sol Janeiro - Brazilian Bum Bum Cream
I got a sample of this one with a Sephora order a few weeks ago, and I have to say, I do not get what the big deal is. Did the formula change at some point? I've seen people raving about how good this cream smells. The lotion texture is fine, but it smelled really cheap to me. I'm glad I was able to sample it before I ordered a larger size.

On Finding Fragrances

finished bottle of Hedonist by Viktoria Minya

A bottle of Hedonist by Viktoria Minya, a birthday gift from my boyfriend a few years back. It's way too dramatic for daytime, but somehow I was still able to finish it. All that's left now are the sparkles, and I'm not really sure what to do with the bottle - I don't have room to keep empties hanging around, even the pretty ones like this. I probably won't repurchase - I'd like to make room for something new, perhaps a bottle of her Hedonist Cassis.

There once was a time when it was fashionable to adopt a "signature scent" - that one perfume that defines you and tells the world who you are. But in today's fragrance market, there are so many creative scents to choose from, it hardly makes sense to limit yourself.

I buy three or four full-sized bottles each year, and even that is probably too much. Although I wear fragrance daily, I still have a hard time getting through my collection - it's growing faster than I can deplete it. It's very rare for me to finish a bottle completely. How much harder would it be if I were a full-time fragrance reviewer?

Luckily, we live in an age with options. As much as I don't envy all the choices they have to make, I am so grateful for all of my favorite perfume bloggers. These writers have turned me on to houses and creators and whole artisanal movements in the fragrance world that I never would have known about if I'd just stuck to department store makeup counters. Here are my favorites:

That said, my skin is persnickety: a lot of scents that seem to wear well on others just turn to powder on me. So I never, ever buy anything that I haven't tested first (with a few exceptions, which I'll explain later).

I used to rely on the aforementioned department stores to inform all of my perfume choices. I still do, to some extent, but I've broadened my horizons beyond Macy's and Nordstrom. Whenever I travel, I look for higher end stores like Saks, Barneys, Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman, for some variety. I don't love the selection at Sephora, but I still check it often - every once in a while, a gem pops up. Diptyque has boutiques in major cities around the United States. Check some of these places out, let their experts guide you.

My favorite boutique is probably the Frederic Malle store on Greenwich Avenue in New York City. It's very small, very intimate, but every time I've been in, the staff there have been endlessly patient in helping me figure out what I like, and what works best on my skin and for my lifestyle. So whenever work takes me to NYC, I go back (for the record, my top pick is Lys Mediterranee, with Lipstick Rose running a close second).

If travel isn't an option, and you want to sample from an even broader selection, check out They have a couple of retail stores in the Los Angeles area, with scent bars I've yet to visit, but they also have a really generous online sampling program. Join their mailing list - they only send emails a few times a month, and some months they offer interesting sample packs: groups of samples from a specific perfume house, with a specific theme, or just a bunch of new releases.

Banana Vanille sample vial

A recent sample of Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Vanille Banane. I will definitely not be buying this for summer. I had high hopes of being spirited away to a tropical paradise with this one, but it has so many problems: sharp and alcoholic on the initial sniff, only the faintest hint of banana on the skin, then a drydown to vanilla that, while pleasant, lasted for less than half an hour. No orange, no rum. No throw whatsoever. There's just no 'there' there.

Luckyscent carries thousands of fragrances, from hundreds of brands, and I've found very few that they don't also sell samples for. Their sample vials are 0.7ml (enough for two test applications, unless you like to swim in fragrance, which I sometimes do), and they cost between $3-$5 each - more than reasonable if you want to check out a few perfumes before you invest in a full bottle. I sometimes wonder at the cost effectiveness of packaging and labeling all those samples, but then I realize that I wouldn't purchase nearly as many full-sized bottles if the samples weren't available. The Luckyscent site is also fun for exploring - I love looking at their bestseller and category lists.

Given all that, I'm still much more likely to buy if I have the option of getting a smaller bottle. It's a good thing we have options there, too: I'm talking about decants.

Decants are repackaged fragrances. The handful of decant services I shop with rely on a network of resellers who hand pour fragrances from their original bottles into anything from a 1ml sample vial to a 30ml spray bottle.

My two favorite decant sites are The Perfumed Court and Surrender to Chance. Both have good selections and turnaround times. I have a slight preference for STC because I find the site a little easier to navigate. Last year, their Retro section helped me find a few interesting things: Electric Youth Cologne by Debbie Gibson, from Revlon (which may just be awful because it's from a 20+ year old bottle, or maybe it was always that sour) and Laura Ashley No. 1.

decants photos

A few of the smaller bottles I've purchased, fragrances I like but not enough to go for the full monty: Guerlain Samsara, Hermes Equipage, and the more recent Jo Malone Poppy and Barley

The Laura Ashley was a pleasant surprise. It's probably what the kids today would call basic - nothing experimental about it, just a subtle floral with a base of sandalwood and musk. It might be the cinnamon and basil that take some of the sweetness out of what could otherwise be a cloying scent - it doesn't smell like your standard fruity floral. It's got a little bit of throw, but not enough to be obnoxious. If I worked in an office, this is what I'd wear every day. (Note: the sample I got last year from STC was from an original 1981 bottle; I purchased a full-sized bottle of the 2012 reformulation, but if there's a significant difference between the two, my nose cannot detect it.)

About those exceptions - there are a very few bottles that I re-purchase regularly, and they're from Guerlain.

Guerlain comes out with a new addition to their Aqua Allegoria line every (northern hemisphere) spring. My favorite is 2007's Mandarin Basilic - I wear it all summer long, so I end up going through a bottle every year. I'm familiar enough with the formula to know that I'll love anything with a citrus note, so I've also gotten Pamplelune and Limon Verde without testing beforehand. I'm less certain about their florals - I might take a pass on this year's Rosa Rossa.

So if you're thinking about moving beyond your signature scent and trying something new, I hope this gives you some directions to look in. And I apologize in advance for all the too-many-wonderful-things you'll find.

Comparisons: Cleansing Balms

What is a cleansing balm and why would you use it?

A cleansing balm is a kind of cleanser that breaks down makeup and acts like a magnet for dirt, lifting both away without drying out your complexion. It has similar properties to a cleansing oil. In fact, a balm is basically an emulsion - oil and other liquids blended into a thick cream. When applied, a balm should break down into an oil.

Cleansing balms are appropriate for any age or skin type, but they can be especially useful for older skin during the winter when your complexion is likely to be dehydrated. They're less messy than oils, and frankly, I think they have a more luxurious feel.

Balms can be used on their own, simply massaged into the skin and then wiped away. They came to my attention, though, when I started reading about the Korean double cleanse.

What is a double cleanse and why should you do it?

Korean products have been flourishing in the skincare market for the last few years, and so have the stories about the famous (or infamous?) 10- and 12-step regimens. I'm not ready to commit that much time, but it has made me realize that I could have been doing more for my skin than I was.

My compromise has been to start doing the double cleanse - a two step process that involves using an oil-based product followed by a foam. The oil or balm locks onto anything oil-based - sebum, makeup, pollutants - and draws it out of your pores. Then the foam clears other debris such as sweat and dirt.

I've been doing it for about six months, and my pores look smaller, my skin is always radiant, and I made it through the winter without any noticeable dryness.

On that note, here are a few of the brands I've tried and what I thought about them:

Blood Orange Cleansing Balm
Brand: 100 Percent Pure
Price: $38.00 for 3 ounces / $12.66 per oz.

Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm
Brand: Clinique
Price: $29.50 for 3.8 ounces / $7.76 per oz.
Both of these products have been really effective. The Blood Orange balm is the best I've used, but it's a little spendy so I've only repurchased it once. It has a smooth texture and a very pleasant fragrance, though, so I think it's worth it if you're willing to pay the extra money. The Clinique balm is just as good, though. It costs slightly less and is unscented, so if fragrance bothers you, this is the one I'd recommend.

Cleansing Oil-in-Balm
Brand: Sephora
Price: $18.00 for 3.04 ounces / $5.92 per oz.
This Sephora brand balm is really just okay. The texture is waxy and thick, like a paste - it doesn't melt away into an oil as readily as some of the other balms I've tried. That said, it still gets the job done. Since it doesn't melt well, it doesn't rinse off that easily, but if you're doing a double cleanse and following up with a foam, that's not really an issue. It does certainly lift the grime away - I just finished a jar, and my skin has continued to look great. It did its job. The balm does smell slightly of baby powder, which I happened to like. So it's a good product for the price point.

Coconut Oil Cleansing Balm
Brand: YesTo
Price: $10.99 for 4 ounces / $2.74 per oz.
This YesTo balm is not something I could recommend. It has almost the consistency of straight-up coconut oil, but with a slightly gritty feel. I had a hard time rinsing the oil away, even with a foam cleanser follow-up - it just wanted to cling to my skin. I used it three or four times and then got rid of it. This is just speculation, but I think that if I had kept using it my pores would have gotten pretty clogged. I don't like to predict something like that without evidence, but I didn't want to risk a breakout.

A few other balms I'd like to try:

Nourishing Cleansing Balm for the Face
Brand: Diptyque
Price: $65.00 for 3.5 ounces / $18.57 per oz.

Green Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm
Brand: Farmacy
Price: $34.00 for 3.2 ounces / $10.63 per oz.

Refreshing Cleansing Oil Balm with Apple Seed
Brand: Innisfree
Price: $17.00 for 2.7 ounces / $6.30 per oz.