Monday, July 9, 2012

Lessons from my skin care quest

Even though my primary interest in fashion and style is clothing, accessories, jewelry and shoes, I have always had a strong interest in the skin care and cosmetics industry. From a business perspective, cosmetics and toiletries are huge - 2010 sales in the U.S. alone were $36.5 billion - and many fortunes have been made (think Mary Kay, Avon, Revlon, Estee Lauder...) selling potions and lotions to make us look younger and prettier. The profit margins and the market are so big that it seems like anyone can sell you something out of their kitchen with fancy marketing and bold claims. And it always seems there are people willing to buy.

I want to share with you the story of my own skin care quest. Like many people, I have had a long term problem with acne. Now that I’m in my thirties, my acne problem has been joined by a wrinkle problem. Call it the onset of a midlife crisis or just part of getting older, but a few years back I went on a frantic search for the ideal products that could cure my acne and prevent me from getting wrinkles.

My quest led me to try many, many brands, from the least expensive things I could find at the drugstore to the extreme high end. While I poured a lot of cosmetics onto my face, I also poured a lot of money into the hands of those cosmetics companies! One thing that should have helped was the fact that my job at a major luxury retailer gave me access to many samples. This led not only to temptation but also potentially to conflict, as I was not only expected to try products but to recommend them to my customers.

In 2010, we started introducing the La Mer skin care brand to our customers. If you’re not familiar, this so-called “Miracle Skincare” product is very expensive - a 3.4-ounce jar of moisturizing cream sells for $395.00. Our La Mer salespeople were very friendly, and provided me with a lot of samples to use as well as brochures to pass on to my clients. Because they were so nice, they ended up selling me La Mer as well.
Unfortunately, the La Mer products I bought did not work for me - in fact, my acne got worse. This led me to wonder what was actually in La Mer. When I asked my colleagues why La Mer was so expensive, I was told it was because one of the ingredients was seaweed extract, and was so rare that humans could only harvest it twice a year. This claim made me very suspicious. If seaweed was so rare, how could Japanese and Korean people eat it as a main part of their diet? Why aren’t sushi rolls ten times more expensive?

I had to do some more research. As part of the research process, a client and a friend of mine recommended the book “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me” by Paula Begoun, who calls herself “The Cosmetics Cop” and has done in-depth research on cosmetics ingredients for decades. I downloaded this book on my iPad and started reading it. I was surprised to learn many interesting facts about La Mer, and I learned why it would never work for me. With more reading, I learned what kind of ingredients would help clear acne, prevent aging, and what kind of packaging will best preserve the ingredients etc. I became a self-appointed deputy cosmetics cop in our store. I used my iPad book often to guide my clients what kind of products should they buy throughout our store. And I recommended Paula’s book to my family, friends and clients.

What I like most about the book is the fact that there are references for virtually every claim made. You can go to the exact page of the academic dermatology journals to learn more details of what the author says. And Paula also has a website,, that provides very detailed reviews of over 45,000 cosmetics products on the market. Her reviews are unbiased and science-based. (She has a university degree in science, which may be more than many cosmetics moguls can say.)

After many years of research, Paula started producing her own line of skin care products, branded as Paula’s Choice. I decided to give some of her products a try. They tend to be reasonably priced, and of course they follow scientific sense to attain the desired result. Her products don’t contain alcohol (which dries the skin) or fragrance (which can overstimulate the skin and cause breakouts). There was definitely a trial-and-error period for me to get my own product combination right, but I got a lot of help from the company’s customer service team. They are very knowledgeable, and they make doing returns and exchanges easy.

It has been two years since I started using Paula’s Choice, and my breakouts are few, far between, and quick to clear up. My wrinkle situation is also under control. I feel very good about how my skin looks these days, and I think between using Paula’s Choice products and following Beautypedia’s recommendations for other products, I should be able to maintain it.

Whomever you are reading this, your situation will be different than mine. Even if your complaints are similar, your age, skin type, and the products you currently will use will be different, as will your goals. I cannot urge you enough to educate yourself objectively before spending more money on skin care that doesn’t work or makes your problems worse. A paper or e-book copy of Paula Begoun’s book, or a quick trip over to, is a small investment for a bit of knowledge that could save you thousands of dollars over a lifetime, and bring you better results.

If you’d like to ask me questions here, please do! I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments section.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Professional summer style

Summer is my favoriate season of the year.  The Texas heat does not bother me much.  I love the slower pace, more relaxed attitude and of course more swimming time!  I love the fact it is practically effortless to get dressed, a white top with a skirt or denim shorts, a pair of flat sandals, and a hat, or an easy dress. 

But, what about dressing for professional business enviornment? How can you be office-appropriate, stay cool, and still enjoy the best of summer style? 

Read on for some helpful tips from my teacher Carol Davidson from Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. 

Crack the code. What's considered to be appropriate business attire varies by geography, industry, company, and corporate culture. That said, you should always remember that business comes first in any business casual equation. For clarification, consult your official company dress code if you have one. If not, take some visual cues from what your company's authority figures are wearing. When in doubt about a particular item, ask yourself the following question: "Would this clothing item be worn at the beach, park, or pool?" If the answer is yes, you should probably not wear it to work.

Too much of a good thing? In general, exposed skin sends a less-than business-like message, so avoid showing too much. If you decide to go sleeveless, avoid tank tops, halters, and camisoles. Instead, opt for a sleeveless style with more coverage and a modest neckline. Be sure you have a jacket or cardigan at the ready, in case you're called into an unexpected meeting. Remember that balance is the key to coverage.If you are wearing a skirt, pair it with a ¾ or long sleeve blouse. Similarly, if you are wearing a sleeveless top, opt for pants.

Lighten up. When it comes to keeping cool, it's all about the fabric.  Natural fibers pull heat away from your body, keeping you happily air conditioned.  A dress made of rayon may appear lightweight and floaty, but it will do nothing other than trap heat.  Look for clothing contents that include cotton, linen, and hemp, and avoid high percentages of rayon, polyester and nylon. Color also plays an important role in beating the heat.  The darker values attract high temperatures, so opt for lighter ones which actually deflect the sun and are more relevant for the season.  As a side note, lighter fabrics are sometimes sheer.  Remember to check your reflection under bright lighting to make sure your undergarments don't show under that pesky fluorescent office lighting.  Very often a little cami can go a long way.

Say "yes" to the dress. Dresses are the easiest way to look effortlessly chic in warm weather. With so many shapes and styles to choose from, there's something for everyone. For work, considering keeping the silhouette simple, but opt for a pop of color or one of the tribal, tropical, or floral patterns that are so strong this season. With your legs on display, attention to grooming is a must. In addition to shaving, waxing, self-tanning and the like, you can also apply a bit of concealer to cover bites, bruises, or cuts. BTW, in case you are wondering... dresses and skirts worn to the office should be long enough that they reach the top of your knees when standing.

Put your best foot forward. I hate to break the news, but not only are flip flops never appropriate for the office, they're not even suitable for the commute.  (You never know who you might run into on the street or in the elevator.)  Instead, opt for a more office-appropriate peep-toe pump or slingback. A dressy sandal can also do the trick, provided that there's a fair amount of coverage. A great pedicure not only completes your look, but is also soothing to hot and tired feet.

In general, as temperatures rise and dress codes relax, you'll want to pay extra attention to the finishing touches such as grooming and accessories. Ditto for clothing maintenance. Remember, when it comes to summer office attire, no need to sweat it! With these few simple tips, you can keep it cool, casual, and professional...and embrace summer in style!


Taipei - you touched my heart! - Chinese culture fun facts

Quick note: click on photos to enlarge.

It was surprising to see at this site where the Xin Yi subway line was being built, that the construction company put apology signs and small plants along the construction site.  I've never seen that anywhere else.   

During my trip to Taipei, I found wearing eyeglass frames without any lenses is a trend there.  According to the local people, wearing these frame will make their faces look smaller, make their slender eyes less obvious and that glass would add reflection and detract from the look. 

A girl at a teppanyaki place

A male shop owner

This was an oddity - a restaurant run by a company whose main business appears to be making airline food!  We saw this at the Taipei 101 food court.  I guess they should be reasonably good, as hard as it is to survive in the super competitive food business in Taipei.

This is a fortune telling "mall" in the basement shopping mall below the main train station.  During the operation hours, it is super busy.   I think it is really good business though.  "Hmmm.... let me tell you, you look stressed, is there anything going on at home, or work, or life...?"  I bet I could be a good fortune teller too, but I could not bring myself to do so.

Night market facial spa.  He is performing eyebrow threading for the women.  They are busy.

In many Asian countries, people have obsessions with cartoon characters, even after they grow up.  Hello Kitty is a huge success.  Here is a cartoon character based restaurant.

Cartoon paintings in subway hallway.

Old Chinese people don't go to the gym.  They do group exercise everywhere - parks, subway tunnels. 

Very early one morning at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, we saw a group of women doing modern dance

Elsewhere on the grounds, other groups were practicing Taichi

Lady Gaga is big in Taipei too!

I found the English words in this tea advertisement were funny.

A steak house named Mr Onion?