Ethical Beauty Brand Overview: S.W. Basics

I discovered SW Basics because their products are featured on Petit Vour’s site and I subscribe to Petit Vour’s beauty box (it’s brilliant by the way, I highly recommend it). After buying (and falling in love with) the cleanser from Petit Vour’s site, I spent some time on S.W. Basics’ website, and fell in love with the brand’s philosophy. Founded by Adina Grigore in Brooklyn, S.W. Basics products are simple (from 5 ingredients or less) and hand-made using the best quality, ethically sourced ingredients. I have tried almost all the products and I can attest that the formulations are elegant and gentle. My skin has never felt so soft and smooth! Almost all SW Basics products are available in trial sizes so it’s fairly easy to give them a try. And they’re carried by Target! That means some of you will be able to find them on the shelves of your local Target… or at least on the website.

Cleanser – The cleanser was the first product from the line that I tried. It is a non-foaming, glycerin based cleanser. You apply it to your skin with a cotton round and then wash it off. At first, I was skeptical that such a simple product, with an almost water like consistency, could clean my face but it really did work. What I especially love about it is it never left my face feel stripped. As with most cleansers, when using this at night I usually needed a toner to remove the very last traces of makeup, ensuring a clean canvas for my active ingredient products.

Toner – This toner is light, refreshing and doesn’t sting or dry out my skin. It also works as a GREAT base for powdered clay masks (instead of water). Even though it is made with essential oils, I didn’t find them irritating to my allergies or my skin.

Cream – This cream does NOT mess around. It is VERY moisturizing. I have normal to dry skin and I only need to use a tiny amount to leave my skin feeling hydrated and looking dewy first thing in the morning. I bet in winter this will make a really soothing moisturizing mask. With jarred products, it’s really important NOT to use your fingers to scoop the product out – your fingers deposit bacteria, which can then lead to your skin breaking out. I always used a clean spoon, cotton swab or spatula to scoop product out of the jar. If you don’t have normal to dry skin, this cream might be a little too intense for you but it also works beautifully to soften cuticles and elbows.

Makeup Remover – This oil blend does a great job of removing every trace of eye makeup. I actually used it all over my face as a makeup remover using the oil cleansing method. It’s a really elegant oil blend but it is pretty pricey as an all over makeup remover considering I can get the same effect (if not the elegance) by using coconut oil or olive oil.

Exfoliant – I ordered this thinking oat flour and almond flour would make an excellent, gentle manual exfoliant. Unfortunately, the salt crystals were quite scratchy and I found this just a little harsher than expected. I’ve taken to using this mixed with oil as a body scrub for which job it is perfect. It would also make a really nice gentle hand scrub as part of manicure.

Oil Serum – I found *almost* every product made by SW Basics to be gentle to my dry skin AND my allergies. Except for this one. The Geranium oil irritates my skin, my eyes and my nose. NOT a keeper. At least not for me.

Hibiscus Mask – This is a lovely clay based mask that is a real keeper. Unlike most clay based masks, it doesn’t dry out my skin at all. However, it doesn’t do that drying tight and hard thing that most clay based masks do, either. I don’t need a mask to do that to feel like it’s working but if you do, then you might not be satisfied by this product.

Body Scrub – When I got this jar in the mail (I ordered it from Target), I was kind of shocked by how tiny it was. This is one of the few products I would suggest skipping. You can make your own version with sugar and coconut oil and even if you’re using the best quality ingredients it will still cost you pennies on the dollar compared to this.

Organic Lip Balm Flight – I’m a lip balm addict. I have lip balms stashed in every purse and in every room in my house. I just can’t not have a lip balm standing by! I love these lip balms – they feel so soft and silky on my lips. The flavors are not cloying or irritating. They just add another lovely note to the product. I bought the flight made with beeswax but luckily SW Basics makes a vegan version of each of these lip balms because they’re thoughtful like that!

Eco Cotton Rounds – I saved the best for last. These reusable cotton rounds are the most genius thing ever. Where have they been all my life?? They are made from organic cotton and have a texture similar to flannel. They are larger and thicker than disposable cotton rounds which means you can actually use one round for your makeup AND your toner (just flip it over and use the other side). I love that I will no longer be throwing cotton rounds in the trash every day! My one caveat is the wash bag they come in doesn’t stay closed. I have a lingerie wash bag that I throw them in but you could probably put a rubber band around the top of the little wash bag if you want to make sure the rounds don’t come out of the bag and get lost in your laundry.

Note: In order for a brand or product to be reviewed in an #EthicalBeauty blogpost, it has to be independently certified as cruelty free and made in Northern America. SW Basics has been certified by PETA and Logical Harmony.


Ethical Beauty Brand Overview: ColourPop

This week I’m reviewing one of my favorite cruelty free brands – ColourPop. Considering this brand has only been around for just over a year, it’s really impressive how quickly it has achieved dominance both in my personal collection and in the larger beauty blogger/vlogger community. A lot of that has to do with the affordability of the products (so far, everything is under $10), the unique formulas and the temptingly vast array of colors the products come in, including off-beat colors like green lipstick. They should just call it ColourCrack because once you Pop, you can’t stop.

Super Shock Shadow

ColourPop’s eye shadow formula is really one of a kind. Not quite a cream, not quite a powder, it has a mousse-y texture but looks like a powder on the lids. I think it’s my favorite of all of ColourPop’s products because the staying power, even without primer, is phenomenal. It does take some getting used to the texture of the product as it is slightly sticky meaning it can be a bit of a challenge to blend, but since the pay off is the wear, it’s worth it! I mean, the shadow has held up to a sweaty summer workout and a shower. The only finish I’m not crazy about is the metallic, which can be prone to fall out. It’s not a deal maker as for the most part I can work with it, but for this reason I tend to gravitate to the pearlized when I want a color with shimmer.

  • Where the Light Is eye shadow set. Where the Light Is is a set created in conjunction with vlogger Kathleen Lights and it creates a gorgeous bronzey gold smokey eye that is beautiful for summer or daytime wear but can be amped up for a sexy evening look. I created a look with this set and the Brink lip liner that is easily my favorite of the looks I made with ColourPop products. The only thing I don’t love about the eye shadows in this set is the glitter fall out from Blaze. Apply that color with caution – using a dabbing motion rather than a swiping motion so that you apply the color precisely where you want it. I also apply the color a little at a time and build it up because if I put on too much it ends up in my eyes (which can really be a pain with my contact lenses) or on my face. The colors in the set are:  Glow (creamy vanilla/matte finish), Kathleenlights (bright golden copper/pearlized finish), Blaze (cocoa-bronze with multidimensional glitter/metallic finish), Cornelious (mid-tone warm caramel/matte finish). 
  • Shaaanxo x ColourPop. Seriously, ColourPop’s collabs are my favorites of ALL their products. Part of it is that the person who helps create the set usually does great tutorial videos that help you figure out how to use the colors together. I wish ALL eye shadow sets came with tutorial videos on YouTube! I honestly can’t pick a favorite of the sets – both Shaaanxo by ColourPop and Where The Light Is are soooo gorgeous. Shaaanxo by ColourPop comes with four colors: XO (light champagne/pearlized finish), Selfie (mid tone peachy brown/matte finish), Rebel (mid tone khaki green/matte finish), Deluxe (warm red bronze/pearlized finish). I’m obsessed with Rebel – even though it’s definitely green, it comes off as a neutral and really makes my hazel eyes pop. This is a really flattering color combination that is much easier to work with than Where the Light Is because it doesn’t have a glitter shadow in it. 
  • Hanky Panky (matte finish) – Hanky Panky is described as a soft, cool-toned taupe. I have visible blood vessels on my eyelids and Hanky Panky gives a great, even base of color on them. You can just barely see it – it looks very natural. So on days when I want to do a no make up look, I use this to even out my skin tone on my lid.
  • Truth (satin finish) – Truth is described as a neutral light beige. It doesn’t so much shimmer as glow, which makes it a great natural-looking color. It’s another option for a no makeup look as a lid color. Or if you want to do a more subtle light color around your tear ducts or on your brow bone.
  • On The Rocks (metallic finish) – On The Rocks is described as a vibrant true bronze with gold and violet glitter. I found that this metallic shadow did not have as much of a fall out problem as Blaze. I used this as a crease color in the look below.
  • Downtown (matte finish) – Downtown is described as a deep, cool-toned taupe. It’s one of those classic colors that is very versatile. You can use it on the outer v for a softer smokey eye, or in the crease. I find that the color is a touch green, which really brings out the green tones in my hazel eyes. 

Lippie Stix

ColourPop’s Lippie Stix seem to be by far their most popular products and I can understand why that is so. Although they only cost $5, the pigmentation and wear of the lipsticks easily rival the that of lipsticks that cost $20 or more. The Lippie Stix come in an impressively wide selection of colors from black (they actually have a couple of black lipsticks) to green to the more traditional reds, pinks and nudes. They also come in a variety of finishes (matte, satin, cream, glossy, sheer, glossy, hyper-glossy, pearlized). The most exciting thing about these lipsticks is that mattes are truly matte yet don’t dry lips out at all! And they wear really well – overall, I’d say ColourPop excels in creating products that are long-lasting. Unfortunately, the lipsticks are all formulated with ethyl vanillin, a synthetic vanilla flavor that is three times more potent than natural vanillin. Although I don’t normally care for flavors or fragrances in lipsticks, usually vanilla doesn’t bother me. However, to my palate the strength of ethyl vanillin in these products is intolerably unpleasant – it actually tastes a bit rancid or off to me. I can not bear to wear the lipsticks for this reason. Even though the scent wears away quickly, every time a bit of the lipstick gets in my mouth I taste it again. It actually makes me gag sometimes. HOWEVER, if scents or flavors never bother you, it’s definitely worth risking the $5 for these lippies because they are so fantastic. My favorite was probably Fighter, an absolutely perfect movie star matte red. (Jessica Chastain premiered it on the red carpet and it looked divine on her.)

Lip Pencils

Almost every ColourPop Lippie Stix has a matching lip pencil to go with it. Thankfully, their lip pencil formula does not contain ethyl vanillin so if you’re in love with a color but hate the flavor/scent of ethyl vanillin, this is a good alternative

Super Shock Cheek (Blushes)

I love ColourPop’s blushes, but there is a caveat. As with the eye shadows, they have that sticky, mousse-y texture that can be a bit of a challenge to blend. I find it best to apply the blushes with a stippling brush or a damp blending sponge (one of the rounded ones based on the Beauty Blender). However, once you make that adjustment in technique, this blush is fantastic! It has great wear and comes in a wide selection of colors and finishes.

  • Sticky Sweet (pearlized finish) – Sticky Sweet is described as a deep violet with a pink duo chrome finish. Although I would categorize Sticky Sweet as a blush, it is actually the highlighter formula and is gorgeous as a highlighter on darker complexioned ladies. The highlighter formula is more forgiving and blendable than the regular blush formula but the trade off is that it is slightly sheerer. I say slightly because this color is still very pigmented! A little goes a loooong way. I actually love how using just a little bit of this gives me such a rich, just worked out glow. And the duo chrome is sooo pretty – it definitely catches the light. I am wearing Sticky Sweet in the picture of Fern above.
  • Jelly Fish (pearlized finish) –  Jelly Fish is described as a red-toned coral and it really does work beautifully with corals and warm-toned red lip colors. I am wearing Jelly Fish in the picture of Chi Chi above.
  • More, Please (pearlized finish) – vivid fuchsia with violet-blue duo chrome. I love my bright deeper-toned pink lipsticks and this pairs beautifully with them. The color is long-lasting and the duo chrome gives it a flash of dimensionality. 

Super Shock Cheek (Highlighters)

After the eye shadows, the highlighters are probably my favorite ColourPop products – I just can’t get over the variety of colors and finishes. I want them all!

Super Shock Cheek (Bronzer)

ColourPop has a really nice selection of bronzer colors in two finishes – satin and matte.

  • Skinny Dip (matte finish) – Although normally I prefer matte bronzers, I failed to take into account ColourPop’s signature mousse texture. The stickiness of the texture is more pronounced in the matte products so this one was a little challenging to blend. I recommend the satin finish bronzer, which I will review in a future post.

And there it is! My ColourPop brand overview. Because this brand is only available on the website and does not accept returns, I recommend being conservative with your first order. Luckily, there are LOADS of videos on YouTube with ColourPop products so you can see them in action. I found watching the videos really helpful in selecting products. It’s also a good idea to do a Google image search for the colors you’re interested in so you can see them on different skin tones and lighting scenarios. However, if you want to gamble and not bother with all that legwork, the good news is these products are so affordable that you can afford to gamble a bit.

Note: In order for a personal care brand or product to be written up in my #EthicalBeauty posts it has to be independently verified as cruelty-free and made in North America (where I live). ColourPop has been certified cruelty free by Logical Harmony.

Ethical Beauty Brand Overview: Milani Cosmetics

Although Milani Cosmetics advertise their products as influenced by Italian style, and many of their products are actually made in Italy, they do have a handful of products made in the US. I picked up a couple of their products in a recent sale.

  • Bella Gel Eye Shadow in Chiffon and Espresso – I’m not sure why Milani calls these products gel eye shadows because they look, feel and perform like powder eye shadows. I found these eye shadows to be very average. Not bad products – they were very soft and smooth, making them easy to apply. However, they were not very pigmented and didn’t build up much. These eye shadows retail for $4.49 and I found myself comparing them unfavorably to ColourPop’s $5 shadows. However, there are crucial differences – Milani products can be purchased at brick and mortar stores such as K-Mart or Fred Meyer and, depending on the store’s policy, can be returnable. They also are a little bit cheaper and go on sale. So these factors might ultimately make Milani’s shadows a more attractive prospect than ColourPop.
  • Color Statement Lipstick in Sweet Nectar and Hot Pink Rage. Milani’s lipstick line has a great range of colors and comes in two finishes – satin and matte. (Sadly, the matte lipsticks were sold out so I wasn’t able to try them this time.) The lipsticks are pigmented and wear really well. For one of the less expensive drugstore brands, I found the quality of Milani’s lipsticks really impressive. (Though, again, their $5.99 price tag makes them more expensive than ColourPop’s product offerings.) The lipsticks have a light fruit flavor/scent which luckily did not irritate my allergies. The flavor/scent is the one drawback of this product, since I do not prefer flavored/scented products. Sweet Nectar is a cool-toned orange. If you’re curious about the orange lipstick trend, this is a great one to try because it’s affordable and the color is not super bright. In the picture below, I am also wearing the two Bella Gel eye shadows on my eyes. 

    Hot Pink Rage was a really beautiful pink that managed to qualify as hot pink without being obnoxiously bright. Again, a great lipstick to try if you want to dip your toe into the hot pink lip trend I’ve seen everywhere this spring. I really love colors like this because they just brighten your whole face. I’m wearing it with very minimal makeup in the picture below and it makes me look done without being too made up for yoga class. 

Milani also has an eye primer that is made in the US but unfortunately, it was backordered when I made my purchase. I’ve looked at some other reviews online and it seems like it’s worth checking out, if you’re looking for a drugstore eye primer.

Even though Milani only had a handful of product offerings that were made in the US, I think they are definitely worth checking out if you are an ethical beauty on a budget! Hopefully at some point in the future I’ll get my hands on the matte lipstick and eye primer and will be able to review those for you guys as well!

Note: In order for a personal care brand or product to be written up in my #EthicalBeauty posts it has to be independently verified as cruelty-free and made in North America (where I live). Milani Cosmetics is certified cruelty free by Leaping Bunny, Logical Harmony AND Peta. I really love it when a company does the extra work to get certified by everyone, it shows a genuine commitment to offering animal friendly products. Please note also that Milani’s parent company also owns Jordana. I will be reviewing Jordana products in a future post.

Ethical Beauty Review: Butter London Moisture Matte Lipstick

On a recent visit to Ulta, I looked through the various makeup products that Butter London sells. Like most companies, Butter London uses manufacturers all over the world so you really have to read the label to figure out if the product is made in the US or not. Their Moisture Matte lipsticks are all made in the US so I road tested a couple of colors. Unlike many matte lipsticks, the Moisture Matte formula is really soft and comfortable on the lips. I wouldn’t say that it replaces a lip balm but it is very creamy. However, the trade off is that the lipstick doesn’t really look matte to me. Instead, I would say that it’s a satin finish. Not glossy, but not matte either. The lipsticks retail for $22 which is on the pricy side.

  • Come to Bed Red – This color is a cool-toned classic red. It has a medium pigmentation which means that it’s a really wearable color, great for an everyday red. 
  • Ruby Murray – This is a cool-toned berry color. Again, it’s a great daytime shade, easy to wear and very pretty. 

If these lipsticks were sold at drugstore prices, I would unhesitatingly snap these up by the handful because the formula is really great – very soft and comfortable on the lips, easy to apply even without a mirror, decent staying power (the lipsticks are matte enough that they don’t smear all over the place, which is really nice) however for me the $22 price tag is just too steep. I’d rather spend a couple dollars more and get an Hourglass lippie. Or, you know, buy FOUR ColourPop lipsticks for $20! However, as always, your results may vary. What do you guys think? Are these lipsticks worth the money?

Note: In order for a personal care brand or product to be written up in my #EthicalBeauty posts it has to be independently verified as cruelty-free and made in North America (where I live). Butter London is certified as cruelty free by Logical Harmony.

Ethical Beauty Brand Overview: Hourglass Cosmetics

This week I’m going to be highlighting one of my favorite ethical beauty brands – Hourglass Cosmetics. Hourglass makes great quality products – and charges an arm and a leg for them! Despite the high price tag, I appreciate the company’s commitment to quality, making animal-friendly products and the fact that so many of their products are made in America. I have tried almost all the products the company makes, but I will not be reviewing any of the products that are made outside of the States. They’re particularly well loved by the beauty blogger set, however, so if you’re curious about the other products Hourglass makes, a google search will quickly reveal all the review posts you could possibly want!


Hourglass Cosmetics is the ONLY company I’ve found whose brushes are not only cruelty-free, they’re made in America (NOTE: I have just learned that these brushes are NOT made in America so they are NOT a good ethical option). Every other synthetic brush I’ve found is made in China. Because Hourglass’s brushes are so pricy, I will relax my made in America ban to write a future blog post on the various cruelty-free brushes I’ve found. Even though Hourglass’s brushes are expensive, they are so beautifully made that I’m actually quite happy to spend the money on them. Especially since they’re the only brushes that meet my high standards for ethical beauty products. Unfortunately, their selection of brushes isn’t very broad so I’ve had to fill the gaps in my collection with made in China brushes from other brands. Still, I regard Hourglass as my default brush company.

  • #2 blush brush – The #2 has a classic, domed-shaped brush head. The bristles are densely packed and smooth as silk! Because they’re not animal hair, at first the bristles are stiffer than an animal hair blush brush’s bristles. However, after you’ve washed and used the brush a few times, I’ve found that the bristles relax and now they are perfect for a smooth and even application of blush. In addition, because the bristles are synthetic, they are actually perfect for foundation so this brush does double duty. You can actually use it for your foundation, wipe it clean with a kleenex, and then dip it in your blush! When used with foundation the #2 gives a beautiful, air-brushed finish to the skin.
  • #7 finishing brush – The #7 kabuki brush is great for bronzer or finishing powder. It is super soft and feels absolutely luxurious on the skin. After using the #2 to apply blush to my cheeks, I like to buff the #7 in a circular motion over my cheeks to blur the edges and give an ultra-natural finish to my blush.


Hourglass is justifiably famous for their primers. I usually don’t use primers but I actually love to use both of their primers.

  • Veil Mineral Primer Broad Spectrum SPF 15 – This is the primer that gets the most press. On a day to day basis, I don’t wear primer, however if I was going to an event and wanted to make sure my makeup stayed looking fresh, I would definitely smooth this on as a base. I’ve discovered that this primer works great as a base for concealer. Using my ring finger, I gently dab a tiny dot of this primer under my eyes. It creates a smooth surface for my concealer and makes it last a little longer. Consequently, I really get my money’s worth out of this product! One travel-sized bottle can easily last me a year.
  • No. 28 Primer Serum – This silicone-based primer is very moisturizing and gives a gorgeous radiant glow to the skin. Again, I don’t use it all-over every day but I have found a brilliant daily use for it – as a lip primer. Instead of smoothing on a moisturizing lip balm and then wiping it off before I apply lipstick, I apply a bead of No. 28 to my lips before I start applying my makeup. By the time I get to my lips, they have completely absorbed the primer, leaving a plump, perfectly moisturized surface for my lipstick! Again, I only buy the travel-sized bottle of this and one bottle last me a really long time!

Complexion Makeup

Hourglass’s complexion makeup is where I really get sticker shock. The formulas of the two complexion products I tried were very good – they blended easily and came in a great range of natural-looking colors. No weird pink or overly yellow tones in the lot.

  • Illusion Hyaluronic Skin Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 15 tinted moisturizer – This product is gorgeous. Ivory is a perfect match for my skin and when I blend it in with my Beauty Blender sponge it looks like I’m not wearing any makeup at all. Yet is still manages to smooth over the appearance of my hyper pigmentation. But the $55/1 oz price tag means that I will be trying many other foundations this year in search of a more affordable option!
  • Hidden Concealer – Before I committed to buying ethical beauty products, my concealer of choice was the infamous Cle de Peau concealer – the cadillac of concealers. Compared to Cle de Peau, Hidden concealer, while very blendable (and coming in a wider range of colors than CdP) just doesn’t have that gorgeous buttery texture that just melts into the skin while giving full coverage. However, I absolutely love the range of colors this concealer came in – ten compared to Cle de Peau’s 6 and with some very deep tones represented, something that CdP lacks. The price is also half of CdP. This concealer is very well-pigmented while still being blendable and is great for covering up discoloration or blemishes. I’m less crazy about it as an under-eye concealer. The texture of this concealer is a bit thick, which means it’s challenging to thin it down enough in order to avoid creases. When applying under eyes, I usually apply it to the back of my hand, letting the warmth of my skin soften it before dabbing the tiniest, thinnest layer under my eyes. It’s workable for under the eyes, it’s just not my favorite.

Lip products

Hourglass has a really well-edited collection of beautiful lipstick colors, available in two different textures and one fantastically luxurious lip treatment.

  • No. 28 Lip Treatment Oil has many of the same ingredients as the primer above but in an oil base rather than a silicone base. I use it twice a day as an intensive moisturizing lip treatment replacement for Aquaphor which is neither animal-friendly nor eco-friendly. This product is very rich and can easily be worn as a pigment-free lip gloss since it makes your lips very shiny! The unique applicator has a pump so you can dispense just the right amount of product and a 24-karat gold plated tip which supposedly ensures that the product stays sanitary. So far I’ve had mine for six months and I will buy it again without hesitation when I run out. The lip treatment oil has a faint botanical scent which luckily does not irritate my allergies although I could see it bothering someone else.
  • Opaque Rouge Liquid Lipstick – This lipstick is kind of like a more natural take on the longwear liquid lipsticks that other brands have. Unlike those longwear liquid lipsticks, this formula does not have the same toxic chemical ingredients or drying texture. Unfortunately, that means that it doesn’t last as long, either. This lipstick comes in a tube like a lip gloss and the wand has a proprietary doe foot sponge applicator with a flexible tip so once you get the hang of it, it’s actually fairly easy to get the perfect line with this very pigmented lip product. It definitely took me a few tries before I felt comfortable applying this because the texture is a little different from what I’m used to. And I wouldn’t apply it without a mirror because the intense pigmentation means that an uneven lip line really stands out. Unlike wax-based lipsticks, you can’t smack your lips together while it’s drying because that can lift the pigment off your lips leaving you with an uneven mess of balled up pigment on one lip, and bald patches on the other. But once you get into the habit of NOT rubbing your lips together, two coats gives you pigmented, matte lips that holds up really well to drinking glasses. (It’s not transfer-proof but it is transfer resistant.) If you’re one of those women who can eat without touching food to her lips, then one application of this could last you all day but I prefer to reapply it after a meal. That’s a little bit of a pain because if you apply wet product on top of dry, it balls up. So I usually end up wiping off my lips and reapplying after a meal. Because of this, I’m a little on the fence with this product. When I run out of my favorite colors, I may get them in the more forgiving Femme Rouge formula below. The formula has no discernible taste or scent which is a HUGE plus for me since scents and flavors can irritate my allergies. I tried this in the following colors:
    • Icon – a gorgeous, classic cool-toned red. This is, without a doubt, my holy grail shade of red lipstick. I am *definitely* going to buy it again, I’m just not sure if I’ll buy it in this formula. This is NOT a color for the faint of heart as it is very pigmented.
  • Raven – a warm-toned red that can lean slightly orange, depending on your skin tone.

Another look at the #FOTD.

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  • Riviera – a sister color to Raven, Riviera is a red leaning orange (rather than an orange leaning red). It’s a bright, fun color to wear.

Orange lipstick. Yay or nay?

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  • Ballet – a sweet, bright, blue-based pink

  • Empress – a moody burgundy

  • Femme Rouge Velvet Crème Lipstick – at $30 this is one of the most expensive lipsticks I’ve ever purchased HOWEVER it is refillable! I love that! I hate throwing away expensive lipstick tubes, don’t you? This lipstick is richly pigmented and feels very comfortable on the lips. I wouldn’t call it moisturizing, per se, but it definitely is soft and doesn’t dry lips out. Like the Opaque Rouge lipstick, the Femme Rouge doesn’t have a scent. I tried this in two colors:
    • Fever – a cool-toned vibrant fuchsia that brightens my whole face. I *adore* this color and plan to never be without it!
    • Embrace – Hourglass’s website description for this is a “bronzed, plum burgundy”. It’s a really unique color – when I wear it, it makes my lips look like they’re wearing molten metal. It’s a very warm color, which ordinarily I would steer away from, but I love it with bronzer and a smokey eye.


Extreme Sheen High Shine Lip Gloss – this lip gloss is soft, not sticky and the pigmentation varies wildly from color to color. Some of the colors are sheer whereas others are so deeply pigmented you need to wear them with a lip liner to prevent bleeding. I’m not really a lip gloss person so I didn’t end up buying any of these but I have to say the bright metallic red of Siren looked really unique – a gorgeous look to wear for the holidays if your skin is warm-toned. Of course the color I was drawn to most was Icon. If I were going to a big event, I think I would consider layering Icon lip gloss over Icon Opaque Rouge for high impact classic Hollywood glamour.


I got a sample of Hourglass’s Film Noir Full Spectrum Mascara as a gift with purchase and I have to say it’s a fantastic mascara. Even though it’s not waterproof, it holds up really well to my constantly watering eyes and unlike many mascaras does a good job of holding a curl. The brush clings to my lashes, coating each one evenly. And because it’s not waterproof, it’s so easy to wash off at the end of the day. I’m hoping that FLOWER Beauty’s mascara is even better because it bothers me to spend so much money on a product that I have to throw away every three months!

NOTE: In order for a personal care brand or product to be written up in my #EthicalBeauty posts it has to be independently verified as cruelty-free and made in North America (where I live). Hourglass Cosmetics is certified cruelty-free by Logical Harmony and PETA.

Ethical Beauty Review: Paula’s Choice

For my first ethical beauty company review, I had to pick Paula’s Choice! Paula Begoun and I go way back. Long before the internet became a useful source of product reviews, Begoun’s Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me was my beauty bible. She did a great job of piercing the veil of hype surrounding each product and discussing the performance and benefits of various cosmetics and skincare products. (Since that time, I’ve discovered the reviewers at Makeup Alley and I never buy a product without checking the site to see what consumers like me think of it. The seeds of this blog are really born in my product review profile at MUA.) In the 90s, Begoun started developing her own skincare line. Every product in her line is formulated using ingredients that are proven to be safe and gentle and that have excellent research supporting their claims. I started using Paula’s Choice skincare products just over a year ago because I was frustrated by the hyper pigmentation on my face which is a side effect of the hormones I take to treat my endometriosis and the improvement in my skin’s texture and appearance is extraordinary. I used to have to wear full-coverage foundation AND concealer to hide the brown spots. (They really stood out since I am otherwise very very pale.) Now, I can wear tinted moisturizer and sometimes even go without makeup and still I get compliments on my skin! I sent a friend who suffers from cystic acne Paula’s Choice’s acne starter kit and she reported that it has done more for her skin than the expensive department store products and prescription drugs that she was using. These products are just really well-formulated. One of the things I love about Paula’s Choice is that there is a lot of diversity in the product options. Instead of just offering one or two retinol products, she offers several, each with a slightly different product base, so you can find exactly the right formula for you skin. Another wonderful thing is that you can buy samples of every product on the site. This enables you to try all those retinol formulas until you find the one you like the best. The samples are not only great for trying out new products, they are also FANTASTIC for traveling! Since the samples come in sealed packets you don’t have to worry about anything getting confiscated and you can just take exactly how much you need for your trip. There are some duds in the line, just as there are in every line, but they are few and far between. And if you do happen to end up with a dud, Paula’s Choice products are 100% guaranteed so you can return them even if you’ve used half the bottle!

Top tip: every month Paula’s Choice has some kind of sale on their website. So I always wait until the product I use is on sale before I stock up! In the last year I don’t think I’ve paid full price once for a PC product. Right now it’s 15% off everything on the site so it’s a great time to try the brand! Also, if you use this link when ordering, you’ll get $10 off your first order!

Below is a list of the products I’ve used and a short review of them:

AHA & BHA Exfoliants

One of the best tools for keeping your skin in its best condition is gentle daily exfoliation. Paula’s Choice doesn’t make any manual exfoliants (other than their lip scrub) because chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs tend to be more gentle for daily use. Because AHAs and BHAs are acids, in order for them to work properly, the product formulations must have the right pH. Strangely enough, quite a lot of products that advertise themselves as containing AHAs or BHAs have an incorrect pH which nullifies the exfoliating properties of the product. The basic difference between AHAs and BHAs is that AHAs make your skin better at retaining moisture and BHAs help clear pores for those prone to blackheads. For that reason, Paula’s Choice’s AHA formulations are designed for normal to dry skin types whereas her BHA formulas are designed for normal to oily. Some notes on using chemical exfoliants: be careful when you’re layering different products as they can interfere with one another. I usually wait 10-20 minutes after applying an AHA or BHA before putting on another product so that the pH of the second product doesn’t negate the exfoliant benefits.

  • RESIST Daily Pore Refining Treatment 2% BHA This product is great to use as an exfoliating toner after washing your face. Even though my skin is dry, I did not find it drying.
  • RESIST Daily Smoothing Treatment 5% AHA This is my favorite of Paula’s Choice exfoliant products because my skin gets painfully dry in the winter. Although I’ve strayed and tried the other exfoliant products in her line, this is the one I keep coming back to. For those of you with normal to dry (rather than dry to very dry) skin, this could be all your need for a moisturizer. I put this all over my face, neck, décolleté and on my hands leaving my nose alone for the BHA 9 treatment below.
  • RESIST Weekly Resurfacing Treatment 10% AHA This product is formulated to give a deeper exfoliant effect. I use it in place of the 5% AHA treatment above one day a week.
  • RESIST BHA 9 Treatment Even though I have super dry skin, I still get blackheads on my nose. I use this treatment nightly just on my nose and I’ve noticed a huge difference in the appearance of my blackheads. (Update: I’ve noticed my skin has started peeling so I’m not using this every night anymore. I’ve switched to using the 2% BHA above just on my nose.) I also use this as a spot treatment for any pimples I get – it really speeds up the healing process! The nice thing about this gel is that unlike most acne products it doesn’t dry out my skin. The only downside is the pump – it almost always squirts out too much product for my needs.
  • RESIST Dark Spot Eraser 2% BHA This is a hydroquinone product designed to reduce dark spots and it is one of the few duds I mentioned before. I really dislike this product. Since it is formulated for oily or acne prone skin, it comes in a gel, rather than a lotion. You are supposed to dab (NOT RUB) a small amount of this product on your dark spots. The only problem is the runny formula squirts out a huge glob of product which means that I always end up putting too much and because of that, the product balls up on my skin. (If you have a problem with any product balling up, it’s because of your application technique – you must dab those products and only use a small amount to cover the area you’re treating.)
  • RESIST Dark Spot Erase 7% AHA As much as I hate the product above, I LOVE this one! I have tried almost every hydroquinone product on the market and this one is not only more effective, it’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than, say, Murad’s hyper pigmentation treatment. It’s an AHA lotion rather than a BHA gel so the formula is much more forgiving to work with. This product was sold out for months this last year so now I stockpile it!

Anti-Aging Boosters

  • RESIST C15 Super Booster This dropper bottle of vitamin C is fantastic. I add 3 drops of it into my antioxidant serum to supercharge it. It’s pricey, but a little goes a long way.
  • RESIST Moisture Renewal Oil Booster If you love a product, but occasionally need it to be a little more moisturizing, three drops of this product will give you just the boost you need. If you’re sensitive to retinol products, 3 drops of this can make retinol more tolerable for your skin. If you prefer oils to creams, you can also use this as a moisturizer on its own.

Antioxidant Products:

  • RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum This is one of the antioxidant serums formulated for dry or mature skin. It’s made with a silicone base so it feels oily but it’s non-comedogenic. The rich silicone base gives my face a beautiful, radiant glow however my skin is VERY dry, especially in the winter. If your skin is combination or oily this is NOT the serum for you!
  • RESIST Ultra-Light Antioxidant Serum If you have combination or oily skin, this is the serum for you. It’s got a gel texture rather than an “oily” texture and is formulated with hyaluronic acid to give the face a radiant glow without the (for oily skinned types) greasy finish of the Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum.
  • Skin Recovery Antioxidant with Retinol I’ve used almost all the retinol products in the Paula’s Choice line and ultimately have decided that the right formula for me is layering this under my sunscreen in the morning and using the moisture rich retinol cream at night. If you don’t want to layer a lot of products, this is a great “does it all” with the two best anti-aging ingredients (after sunscreen) – antioxidants and retinol.

Retinol Treatments

  • Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment This is the most powerful retinol treatment in the Paula’s Choice line. If you have a tendency to be sensitive to retinol, they recommend that you mix a few drops of the Oil Booster into the product before applying it. You should also start by only applying it twice a week. Once it’s clear that your skin has adjusted to it, then you can up to 3 times a week, then every other day, then every day. If you have any reactions, then step back the frequency of application. This product was a great instance of why I love Paula’s Choice’s generous return policy. My skin is fairly sensitive and I found that I just did not tolerate this well, not even with the oil booster. However, your results may vary!
  • RESIST Retinol Serum Until Paula’s Choice released the Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment above, this was the product with the most retinol in the line. I was able to use this product every day with no problems. I really like the product itself. However, I’ve had a lot of problems with the pump mechanism breaking and it got really annoying having to return partially full bottles so instead of using this as a night treatment, I use lighter retinol treatments twice a day.
  • RESIST Intensive Repair Cream If it were legal, my very dry skin would marry this cream. My skin loves this product soooo much. I use this as a night cream (I layer the antioxidant retinol above under my sunscreen for day). Even in the depths of winter this cream comforts my skin and when I wake up in the morning, my skin has a gorgeous glow!
  • RESIST Retinol Body Treatment The skin on our face isn’t the only skin that ages – the skin on our body needs exfoliation and retinol (contrary to popular belief, retinol is NOT an exfoliant) to keep it firm and supple. I use this product about twice a week. I smooth it on to my wet skin after a shower and then blot with a towel. (If you have problems with dry skin, the best way to maximize your moisturizer is to apply to wet skin BEFORE you towel dry. It should feel yucky and slimy. That’s when you know you’re going to get the maximum effect of your moisturizer. This trick works for *any* moisturizer.) Since I’ve started using this product my skin is ridiculously soft and smooth – even my elbows made it through this winter without getting chapped!


  • RESIST Hydrating Cleanser So far, this is the only cleanser I’ve tried in the line. It never ever dries my skin out and it does a really good job of removing makeup (although I usually use the oil cleansing method with coconut oil to remove makeup, this’ll do when I’m feeling lazy).
  • Lip Exfoliant Ugh, another dud. This product is supposed to be more gentle than sugar scrubs for removing dry flaky skin from lips. Unfortunately, that means that it really doesn’t do much for me. Also, it is formulated with micro beads which are polluting the great lakes.
  • RESIST 25% Vitamin C Spot Treatment My preciousssssss. Along with the Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA this is my holy grail dark spot treatment. I apply both morning and night and my dark spots are practically invisible. This product is a dry cream (I suspect she added cornstarch to the formula to give it a matte texture) that you dab onto dark spots. Just a little bit is all you need, which is good because this stuff is HELLA pricey (although WAY more affordable than any luxury brand product with bogus beauty claims).
  • Suncare Extra Care Non-Greasy Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 When I was in high school I started developing sun rashes and ever since then I’ve been religious about applying sunscreen every day to any skin part that isn’t covered by clothes. Even in winter in Chicago. Whenever this sunscreen goes on sale, I stock up because it’s such a great product. It doesn’t leave my skin greasy yet it’s easy to rub on so it doesn’t leave a weird white cast on my skin. And it has never, ever irritated my sensitive skin.

That’s it for my Paula’s Choice reviews! In the coming months as I try other products in the line, I will write reviews for them. Thanks for reading!

NOTE: In order for a personal care brand or product to be written up in my #EthicalBeauty posts it has to be independently verified as cruelty-free and made in North America (where I live). Paula’s Choice is one of the few companies that makes the effort to be certified as cruelty-free by all the different organizations that assess a company’s animal testing policy. Their cruelty-free status has been verified by the Leaping Bunny, PETA and my favorite blogger Logical Harmony.

Beauty Products for the Ethical Consumer

A few months ago, I was shocked to discover that the cruelty-free brands I’d been using for years were no longer cruelty-free. This is because China, one of the largest markets in the world, particularly for beauty products, requires products sold in China to be tested on animals. Coming at a time when I was reading Naomi Wolf and thinking about how unsustainable our current globalized, unregulated capitalist system was, this made me really start to think about my choices as a consumer. As I was thinking more deeply on what goes into making the products I use every day, I started to look at labels to see where products are made. A lot of our makeup (a lot of our EVERYTHING) is made in China. This has implications both for our economy and for our planet. These products have a higher carbon footprint than products that are made in America and China does not have the worker protections or minimum wage policies that the USA has (even though our worker protections and minimum wage leave a lot to be desired, some protection is better than none at all). Reasoning that voting with my dollars is the most powerful act I can do in order to get the corporations that make personal care products take notice, I decided to start trying to invest in products that are both cruelty free and made in America. When I mentioned this to my friends on Facebook a lot of them asked me to keep them up to date on good cruelty-free brands and a blog feature idea was born! Over the coming months, I’ll be reviewing the different products I try here. Today I’m just going to go over my criteria for selecting which products to review.

It may surprise you to learn there are as many ways to be a cruelty-free, environmentally-conscious consumer as there are ways to eat animal-friendly (i.e. vegan, vegetarian, flexatarian). Some people trust the company, some like to use PETA’s cruelty-free list, others prefer the Leaping Bunny’s list and now there are quite a lot of bloggers that use their own criterion to determine whether or not a company is cruelty-free and do their own certification research before listing a brand on their blog (my favorite is Logical Harmony – although I check PETA & the Leaping Bunny, I use Logical Harmony’s list as my default list since she is very rigorous about her criteria for what constitutes a cruelty-free brand and she continually keeps in touch with brands to make sure that they remain cruelty-free). Since quite a lot of beauty brands are owned by parent companies, some consumers will only buy products whose parent company has a all-brand ban on animal-testing, whereas others are comfortable with buying from a cruelty-free brand whose parent company tests on animals. It’s up to each individual to determine what criteria they’re comfortable using in determining whether or not they want to support a brand. Personally, I prefer to purchase brands whose parent company does not test on animals and products which are made in America, so these will be the brands and products I will review here. All of the lists above do a good job of listing individual brands who maintain a cruelty-free policy even if their parent company tests (some of these brands include Urban Decay and The Body Shop). And there are quite a few cruelty-free brands whose products are made in China (including e.l.f., Wet ‘n Wild, Too Faced, some of Anastasia Beverly Hills). I will not be reviewing these brands but all of them make fantastic products so if you don’t think it’s fair for an individual brand to lose your business because of their parent company’s policies or you don’t mind that the products are made in China, that will considerably expand your available options. The good news is that even with the limits I have imposed upon myself, there’s a variety of great brands at all price points so you and I *will* be able to get all our beauty needs met by shopping cruelty-free and American-made. I’ve already made some great discoveries that I can’t wait to share with you guys.

I thought it would be helpful to get you started with a list of brands that I’ve vetted which are both cruelty-free and made in America. Please note that you should ALWAYS check the label before you buy a products. Something that was made in America the last time you shopped may no longer be made in the same factory or country. So even though it’s listed on this blog as made in America, it’s still on you to double check. Also, even brands like Jordana and FLOWER Beauty which heavily advertise their products are made in USA still have some items that are not made here. Some e-tailers (like Nordstrom) will add “Made in USA” to the product description (unfortunately, Nordstrom’s country of origin labeling is haphazard so only some products made in America are labelled). Unfortunately, most sites share even less information than Nordstrom. Hopefully the more people ask these questions, the more transparency there will be for consumers. If everybody who reads this blog consistently asks where an item is made, perhaps we’ll start to see more companies sharing this information!

A little side note: I’m not a purist about this. I’m a disabled woman of limited means living in a capitalist world and that means that a lot of my choices are constricted. I’m not here to judge anyone for making different choices from me because like everyone I have to pick my battles. For now, the made in America ban is limited to beauty and personal care. Although I am checking labels for any other items I buy, I’ve accepted that some things are going to be made in China (like most of my shoes!). My goal is to make more informed choices as a consumer and to be conscious of the impact my choices make on my planet.

Here’s my preliminary list of cruelty-free, made in USA products:

  • Butter London (their polishes are definitely made in the US but I don’t know about their makeup products)
  • Colourpop (all products made in L.A.)
  • FLOWER Beauty (FLOWER Beauty advertises that it is “proudly made in America” however, I still recommend checking labels. Also, this brand’s products are sold exclusively at Wal-mart which for some of you may be a deal breaker. FLOWER Beauty products are one of two things I buy at Wal-mart – a perfect example of a compromise I’m willing to make.)
  • Hourglass (some products are made in USA – sadly, the powder products that come in compacts are made in Italy)
  • Jordana Cosmetics (not ALL products are made in USA – check the label)
  • Makeup Geek (note: they sell other brands in addition to Makeup Geek on their site – only Makeup Geek has been vetted as cruelty-free and made in America)
  • Milani Cosmetics (again, not ALL their products are made in the USA – check the label)
  • Paula’s Choice (GREAT reasonably priced skincare – I believe everything made by this company is made in America and they have a 100% guarantee so if you don’t love a product you can return it no questions asked)
  • Sonia Kashuk (not all products are made in the USA)
  • TheBalm (tip: once or twice a year, TheBalm products show up on Hautelook at 50% off – sadly their most recent sale was this week so it’ll be a while before they do it again but in the meantime I’ll be writing my reviews of my sale haul and you guys can make your wishlists for the next sale!)
  • Trader Joe’s (as far as I know, all their personal care products are cruelty-free and made in the US but, again, double check the bottles before you buy!)

I’m not including all my nail polish brands on this list but if you know me, you know how much I love my polish so trust that I will be devoting many blog posts to nail polish this year!

Hope this list helps you guys start out! If you know of a great cruelty-free brand that is made in the US please share it in the comments! Thanks!