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This is the first in a series where I’ll be featuring interviews with some of my favourite bloggers – the ones who were nice enough to reply to my email anyway! 🙂 As you probably know, I love blogs that come at beauty from a scientific angle, and Of Faces and Fingers by Musical Houses is one of the best. Here’s the interview, which Ms Musical Houses was kind enough to complete in fantastic detail. Enjoy!
Tell me a bit about yourself and your blog.
I’ve been a beauty blogger for over 5 years (which feels like forever in Internet time). I started my blog in 2009 when I was in University doing my Masters, and I’ve been blogging ever since! My blog covers mainly skincare and makeup, and I do quite a few skincare science posts, as well as ingredients analysis of skincare and makeup products too!
What’s your daily skincare routine?
I review skincare a lot, so the exact products I use can change more often than is normal. But generally my routine has a similar structure, although the products may change.
1. Makeup remover (night only) and cleanser: In the mornings, I just use a gentle cleanser. At night, I use a makeup remover, followed by a cleanser. I like double-cleansing, so I normally use an oil-based makeup remover followed by a cleanser. Since cleansers don’t stay on the skin for very long, I don’t really think it’s necessary to spend a lot on them – anything that can remove the residue without being too drying will do the job just fine.
2. Lotion/toner (sometimes): The concept of applying a lotion or essence or similar product is a very “Asian” kind of concept, and I personally think this is more of a “nice to have” than a must-have. If I have a lotion or essence product I like I will use it at this stage, or sometimes I will use a toner instead. And at other times when I’m lazy, this is the step I will skip, haha.
3. Acne products: I’m a perpetual acne sufferer, so I always have acne products on hand. I haven’t really found a cure-all, so I just use whatever I have, as long as it seems to be working somewhat. I’ve had the most luck with products that have retinol, AHAs, BHAs, or tea tree oil, though, so I tend to gravitate to those.
4. Eye cream: I’m not too fussy when it comes to eye creams – as long as it’s not too drying or irritating, and doesn’t give me milia, I’ll take it. Bonus points if it has great antioxidant or antiaging ingredients!
5. Moisturizer: Moisturizer is a necessary step for me. Although I live in a hot and humid climate, I spend a lot of it indoors in air-conditioned rooms, which can be a bit drying for skin. I look for products that aren’t drying or irritating, don’t make me break out, are sensibly formulated, with bonus points for formulations that deliver something more.
6. Sunscreen (only for day): Sunscreen is also a must for me! I think the choice of sunscreen is a personal thing – I personally am fine with the thicker-textured European pharmacy brands, but lots of people prefer the more watery Asian brands as they are more aesthetically pleasing. I like my sunscreen to be affordable because you do end up applying a lot of sunscreen if you use the recommended 2 mg/cm2 amount (2 mg of sunscreen per cm2 of exposed skin), and I look at the ingredients to ensure that the formula provides both UVA and UVB broad spectrum protection, and is photostable. I will confess that while I wear my sunscreen when I go out 4 times out of 5, sometimes I also get lazy and skip this step, although I know I shouldn’t!
What’s your daily makeup routine?
Again, this changes because of products that I review, but also because I don’t do a full, all-out makeup look all the time. On rushed days, it’s just powder, blush and lipgloss or lipstick, but on days where I have more time or events where I have to look more presentable, then I will do the whole nine yards – primer, powder, concealer, blush, highlighter, eyeshadows, mascara, eyeliner, lips, everything! But generally my routine looks like this:
1. Concealer (sometimes) and powder: I use concealer to cover my undereye circles and blemishes if I need to look more presentable. Then I follow up with translucent powder. I actually mix my own translucent powder using silica spheres and other loose powders lying around – I add in the silica for better oil control and shine prevention.
2. Blush and highlighter (sometimes): I know people say blush should be the last step in your makeup routine so you don’t overapply. But I love my blush! I use both powder as well as cream blush over my powder base, too, which might surprise some people who aren’t used to applying cream products on top of powders. I find that if I use a skunk/stippling brush and stipple or tap on the product to blend, rather than swiping, it won’t streak or shift the powder underneath. So that’s my little makeup tip! For highlighter, I usually apply it after my blush. I don’t contour much (the super contoured Kim K look isn’t really popular in Asia where I am), so I usually skip any contouring.
3. Eyes: eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara (sometimes), brows (sometimes): I ideally use eyeshadow, even if it’s just a base all-over the lid shade. If I’ve got more time, I play around with another colour or two. Then I line my eyes, and if I have time, I add mascara. Normally people say you should apply mascara always, but I have naturally dark lashes (albeit short, stubbly and downward pointing), so I don’t think it looks disastrous if I don’t apply mascara. If I want to look better in photos, I also do my brows.
4. Lips: I usually do this while I’m in the car or on the train! I just swipe on lipgloss or lipstick and I’m ready to go. I love playing with lip colours, and it’s the easiest way to add a bit of zing to my look if I want. I can get two different looks by simply switching lip colour, so at any one point of time I have a few lip products in my bag to play with! Sometimes I go for brighter shades, but I usually go for work-appropriate mauves, roses and plums.
What’s your favourite bargain product?
Oh, there are so many! Much as I love to splurge, I’ve always been a firm believer in the “you don’t have to spend a lot to get good quality products” school of thought, and this has really been borne out by the ingredients analyses and product reviews I do on my blog. Often a cheaper product can be better formulated or be just as effective as a more expensive one, while some expensive products are kinda “meh” in formulation for the prices they charge. That said, I think drugstore products have really “upped their game”, so to speak, over the past few years, so I personally believe that it’s entirely possible to construct a good skincare and makeup routine out of drugstore products alone.
For skincare, I generally like Cetaphil and CeraVe for simple but great basics. I also like Alpha Hydrox for cheap and good skincare – I like their Retinol ResQ and their Glycolic Acid creams. They are effectively formulated and cheap, which stands out to me because most retinol and glycolic acid products can be pretty pricey, or not very well formulated or packaged, or both. I also like some Olay products – in terms of being value-for-money while having sensible formulas, I think their pretty solid. I’m not sure if this counts as “bargain”, but I like Vichy quite a bit as well – they have great sunscreens with the L’Oreal-patented Mexoryl SX and and Mexoryl XL, which are great filters and unique to the brands in the L’Oreal group. I also like Avene, as it is quite value for money with generally good formulas, and their sunscreen is one of my favourites.
For makeup, I like Revlon for their lip products – their lip crayons, lip stains, and lipglosses are amazing, and I like their nail polish formula, even if the shade range is rather limited in this part of the world. I also like L’Oreal for lip products and foundation/base products. I also like NYX as a whole – I love their eyeshadows, palettes, lipsticks, lipglosses and blushes, and I also have seen some great offerings from Milani, with those gorgeous rose blushes, and Covergirl, with their lip products.
In Asia too, we also have brands that have nice products that don’t cost a bomb, and come with a dose of cuteness. I’m personally a big fan of Etude House for makeup and colour items (and the cute packaging!), but I also like The Face Shop, Tony Moly, Majolica Majorca, KATE, Tony Moly, and Missha, which are also not that expensive, depending on what you buy.
I could name a lot more, but this is just what first comes to mind!
What’s your favourite splurge?
Again, soooo many! I’m really horrible at restraining my spending when it comes to makeup and skincare! While it’s not necessary to spend so much, as a beauty junkie it’s difficult to not give into temptation!
I’m not sure if this counts as a splurge, but I do like Kiehl’s for skincare products – I’m partial to their Ultra Facial Cream and Skin Rescuer, as they are quite solidly formulated moisturizers. I also think the Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Capsules are expensive but great in terms of formulas.
For makeup, one of my personal favourite brands is Make Up For Ever. I think they’re one of the few brands that excels at everything – I’ve tried much from the brand over the years – primers, foundation, eyeshadows, lipsticks, lipgloss, cream eyeshadows, cream blushes, glitter powders, face powders, brushes, and so on, and I’ve yet to try a MUFE product that I thought was bad. Another brand that generally impresses me with its quality all around is Laura Mercier – I’ve tried their eyeshadows, blush, powders, foundation, eye base, lipgloss, lipsticks, and I’ve liked them all. I also like Shu Uemura and Illamasqua products in general, too. I also like Lancome for base products, like foundation, face powders and blush, and I like Urban Decay for colour makeup. I also drool over the high-end brands, like YSL, Hourglass, Marc Jacobs, Guerlain, Becca, and so on, but I rarely buy those products because of the price, so I mostly just ogle them! I did splurge on a couple of Marc Jacobs eyeshadow palettes and a few YSL lip and cheek products as well as Shu Uemura products, and have a couple of Becca, Illamasqua, and Guerlain items, so while I try to exert some self-control (especially because I already have a huge makeup and skincare stash as is), I do buy expensive things sometimes!
Lastly, in Asia, you also have the expensive Asian brands to further ding your wallet – SK-II, Sulwhasoo, and Tatcha on the higher end; Laneige, Kanebo, RMK and Lunasol at the upper-middle price point. I do own skincare and makeup items from SK-II and Laneige, and recently bought some eyeshadow and blush from RMK and Lunasol. So I guess being in Asia hasn’t helped my wallet, haha!
What are your top 3 beauty tips?
1. Pick colours that suit your colouring.
Of course sometimes you’ll want to deliberately step outside the box colour-wise, especially for more artistic looks, but the average user that just wants to look put-together for work or social situations generally would do better with colours that suit her undertone, level of contrast and so on.
2. Less is more, especially when it comes to base products like foundation, concealers and contouring products.
I’ve seen many many girls apply a lot of foundation and powder because they feel like they need to perfect their base, and while it can look nice in photos, in real life it can be rather obvious and look “makeup-y”. As someone with acne and blemishes, I’ve learned that it’s generally better to cover my blemishes by 70% and keep the finish natural, rather then cake it on to try to cover them 100% and end up looking unnatural. A good concealer with lots of pigment helps, too, and I think the right product can really work wonders, but I think it’s generally better to under-apply than over-apply. The same goes for contouring. I know the super-contoured look is really popular right now, especially in some parts of the West (thanks, Kim K), but for everyday wear, it’s probably better to err on the side of caution and blend well!
3. Learn about skincare science and about the ingredients in your products.
I’ve always been into skincare, but when I started making an effort to learn more about skincare science and read up on ingredients, I found that this really helped me in so many ways. I am less susceptible to the marketing spiel and hype surrounding a product, which cuts down on a lot of my “I’m not sure if this works for me but the description looks good so I’ll just buy first and see how it goes”-guesswork, because I am much better able to assess if a product is going to work for me or not before buying it. I am also able to find similar products with similar ingredients and functions for much less, which helps me save money and find alternatives to discontinued products. I am also much better at figuring out why a product didn’t work for me and avoiding similar products in future. Conversely, when something really works for me, I also can make a much more intelligent guess as to what made it work. So this definitely is my biggest tip, and in my blog posts I try to do as much of the ingredients analysis and science-based stuff as possible.
That said, I think the biggest challenge with reading up on skincare science is the sheer volume of misleading, fear-mongering and downright wrong information out there. For example, if you don’t know anything about parabens and you google “parabens”, most of the hits are from sites like EWG and other less-than-accurate resources proclaiming that parabens cause cancer, even though all the science available has shown they are safe as used in cosmetics and skincare today. In part this is because, for better or worse, search engines tend to give greater visibility to sites that are popular even if they are misleading (like scaremongering alarmist sites), and not necessarily sites that are accurate but unpopular (like the science-based sites). So finding and looking up the right sources, like PubMed and the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) is also important to ensure that you avoid the inaccurate and misleading information and utilize the best science-based resources.
What are you currently obsessed with?
This changes pretty often, but right now, it’s lip products, blushes, and highlighters!
What’s your favourite blog post(s) that you’ve done?
For me personally, my favourite type of posts are the ones where I get to really be more analytical and look at a particular topic of interest in a more in-depth way, distilling what the published science research says, and cutting through the hype. I think those are my favourites because I have the most fun doing them: I love the intellectual challenge of reading up on the scientific material and assessing and synthesizing it, and also the challenge of communicating in a way that is clear and entertaining to the average reader who may not necessarily have any technical background. Here are my favourite 5 posts in that respect:
1. Parabens, Skincare, Safety, and Cancer: What does the Science say?
This post looks at parabens and what the science really says about their safety and role in causing cancer. I wrote this because there is so much misinformation and fearmongering on this topic – like I mentioned earlier, a cursory Google throws up 9 inaccurate sources for every 1 decent source. The misinformation is so pervasive that I found myself repetitively explaining to both real-life friends and blog readers who contacted me, that parabens aren’t actually going to give them cancer. As a result, I decided to just write this post, to summarize all the science and evidence neatly in one place, and explain what it all really means.
2. Creme De La Mer Dupes: Ingredients Analysis and Similar Products
This post analyzing the famed Creme de La Mer and exploring potential dupes was one I’ve wanted to write for so long, but just never got around to doing so until recently! There’s a lot of hype surrounding the La Mer product, to say nothing of the price, so I’ve always wanted to really analyze the product and see whether all the hype was justified.
3. BB/CC Creams Hype vs Ingredients
This post on ingredients in BB creams is an older post from 2012, and was written at the height of the hype surrounding BB creams. It was a fairly controversial post at the time, and I got a bunch of flak on some online forums at the time because some people believed very strongly that BB creams were “better” for skin than traditional base products from Western brands, and they disagreed very strongly with my post. But I still stand by everything I wrote – it’s an ingredients analysis post, and all I’m doing is just analyzing and assessing the product, like I do for most of my reviews.
4.Sunscreen: 5 Overlooked Tips You Need To Know
I wrote this post on sunscreen tips because I felt that a lot of the tips I was seeing at the time were somewhat banal, like “don’t forget to apply everywhere”, “reapply every X hours”, and there wasn’t much said about the UV filters in the sunscreen, how they work or what’s the difference. I’m happy that it’s also a fairly (I think) entertaining post, too.
5. Undertones for Asians: How to tell if your skintone is Cool, Warm, Neutral, or Olive
This is probably my most popular post of all time, and I still get lots of interest in this post! I wrote it out of personal experience – I’m an Asian girl and generally look better in cool tones, but I was always being recommended colours that looked weird on me, because most of the sales associates I encountered assumed I could only wear warm shades. After wasting a bunch of money on colours that didn’t suit me and realizing that I wasn’t really the stereotypical “warm yellow Asian” because I looked better in cooler shades, a lightbulb went off in my head, and a couple of years later, I wrote this post. When I wrote it 5 years ago, the prevailing view was that “Asians are yellow and therefore they are warm” and “olives are tanned and warm”, so some people couldn’t always understand the post, and I always had to explain the concepts that “Asians are not always warm” and “a person can be cool and olive”. But over time, I got less of the “no you’re wrong and you’re so confused – Asians are warm, and olives are like Eva Longoria!” kind of responses, so I take this to mean that there is now greater acknowledgement and understanding of the diversity of Asian and olive undertones, and I’m glad for that!
Check out Of Faces and Fingers here for more sciencey goodness!