Separating the OK from the OH WOW.


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“Can I just run my Cult Beauty basket by you?” my friend asked casually. I was astonished, because filled with peel pads, moisture masks, an eyebrow gel and cleanser, it was just short of £400. They were all excellent products – she’d done her research, though I suppose you would if you were dropping half of next month’s rent on what could be considered extraneous. She’s sensible in that she saves money, files her utility bills and would never reheat rice, so it threw me a little. Of course, I know how much beauty means to people, me included, and her especially, but £400! I surveyed other friends expecting them to share my reaction, but they didn't balk at all. Quite the opposite, and "especially in times like these,” one said. 

During the 2001 recession Leonard Lauder (chairman of Estée Lauder Companies) hypothesised that lipstick sales spiked because people were willing to shell out on little luxuries in times of crisis. This is that, right? Lipstick itself might be redundant during a pandemic that requires us to cover our mouths, but the point still stands that beauty makes people feel orderly, happy, and whole. And in the midst of lockdown number two, like they can get through yet another week. But there's so much out there. So many brands and even more lofty promises, which is why it's more important than ever that what we recommend is the real deal. Stuff that's honest in its claims and hardworking in its pursuit. Enter, the below. 

Earl of East Onsen Bath Salts, £24

Showering at the moment is dull and perfunctory and dull. Baths are much more fun, not to mention the fact that they're an exemplary form of self-care. Especially when you're reminded of and transported to an onsen in Kurama, a mountain village in Kyoto. With eucalyptus, peppermint and mandarin this took me right there, back to that serene, restorative three hours.


Summer Fridays Cloud Dew Oil-Free Gel Cream Moisturiser, £39

Cult skincare is all very well until people who are serious about skincare sideline it because it's cult, and therefore, doesn't hold much scientific cache. This is a grave shame for brands like Summer Fridays who straddle both camps with relative ease. Ceramides and amino acids sit alongside three different types of hyaluronic acid, to scaffold skin and bestow a glow.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Exfoliating Body Treatment, £15

Finally, a body version of the transformative acid treatment that beauty editors know and adore. For spotty chests and bacne but also just to pep up your vitamin-D deprived, swaddled in layers, assaulted by the clanking central heating skin.

Superdose™ C C- Suite Rapid Action Power Brightener, £12.48 for members, £80 for non

Vitamin C is a wonder ingredient, protecting skin against pollution and free radical damage, evening out dark spots, and kickstarting collagen production. My only qualm about this decent potency (15%) serum, is that it's got a slightly funny smell, but you can easily get over that when your skin is noticeably brighter, and your mask-induced spot scars are reduced. Use in the morning, on cleansed skin, before moisturiser.

Pat McGrath MTHRSHP MEGA Eyeshadow Palette in Celestial Divinity, £60

Pat McGrath – arguably the most mega make-up artist in the world – knows how to do grown-up colour. Even purples and pinks, which I get you might think, are categorically not for you. But dip your brush in and prove yourself wrong. They're pigmented, so go easy. But ah, they're like velvet. And with sparkle, so enchanting on eyes – the facial feature that will be getting the most airtime this festive season. 

Paula's Choice Niacinimide Treatment, £45

I put this on my Instagram stories with a comment about how it made the pores on my nose vanish, and I've never had so many responses. Pores on noses are devastatingly common, apparently. Specifically giant pores that magnetise muck. I noticed them shrinking after using this just twice. If there was a hyperlapse video, like on wildlife television programmes, it'd be well worth a watch. Niacinimide by the way, is known for its ability to reduce blemishes and congestion. 

Bella Freud Ceramic 1970 Diffuser, £155

If you wish to forget about the past year, then allow this to transport you to a different decade altogether. Serving as a visual - garish, golden and gorgeous - and olfactive - patchouli, musk and moss - reminder of the 70s, ah, just ahhhhh! 

Byredo Eyeshadow in Corporate Colours, £56

With connoisseur of cool Ben Gorham and make-up artist Isamaya Ffrench as parents, it was never not going to be standout, was it? Pebble shaped, with a dimpled gold shell, it's weighty and art-like. Inside five earthy shadows, that glide on and blend beautifully.

Ren ClearCalm Clarifying Clay Cleanser, £24

Contrary to the connotations that the name of this might conjure, it is not remotely drying, and does not need to be peeled off. It's got the consistency of a regular cleanser, but does a more thorough job. Skin feels and looks clean and clear, and miraculously, my pores look smaller, which I'm told is thanks to willow bark extract. Thank you, willow bark extract! 

LeapFrog IMMUNE, £34.99

I am on the fence about supplements. I don't know what to take, when to take it or what anything is for. In 2020, however, I can get on board with something promising to bolster my immune system. I'd usually be harbouring a sniffy nose at this time of year, but at present, it's nowhere to be seen, which probably has something to do with lactoferrin, a protein that's part of our innate immune defence system, and is in these chewy citrus tablets in droves.

Teoxane AHA Cleansing Gel, £35

If you're not familiar, alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble acids made from sugary fruits. Despite having the word acid in their name, they're nothing to be wary of. Liquid exfoliants, they enliven skin and improve its clarity. This one is gentle and foamy and a mainstay by my sink.

Náu Powdery Cream Deodorant £15

Impressive be the brand that makes deodorant sexy. Malin + Goetz did it a few years back with a natural, deliciously smelling jel-like one that's still available today. This cream is thick, and sinks in quick, leaving a nostalgic talcum powdery smell in its wake. Although it's yet to be tested outside the house, it's held up well against full blast heating. 

Caudalie Reservatrol Lift Firming Cashmere Cream, £42

They had me at patented collagen booster. Is it the Zoom effect or is my once pert skin inching south every day? Either way, I need peace of mind, and some brightening botanicals. Bonus points for Caudalie too, because both the plastic and glass of this pot are recyclable.

Jo by Jo Loves Candle, £55

If you listen very, very carefully, among the deluge of dreadful news, you can hear a cold wind and a crackling fire. The signs of a season that's punctuated by candles, light this up for a waft of bitter orange, lime and earthy cedarwood and vetiver. 

Kérastase Chronologiste Pre-Cleanse Régénérant, £34

Asking someone who rarely double cleanses to pre-shampoo before they proper shampoo is a tall order. And so this bottle sat on the sidelines of my shower for a long while. That was until my boyfriend who knows nothing about hair, began speaking of his feeling “clean” (what has he been using up until now, I wonder?) “healthy” and “light”. Running my fingers through it, I wholeheartedly agreed and promptly Googled. The brand says it gets rid of up to 96% of pollution particles, and with hyaluronic acid, it hydrates too. I'll make a beauty editor of him yet. 

Chanel Coco Mademoiselle L’eau Privee, £67

Oriental with orange and bergamot, ah, it’s good - and sexy, but not overtly so. An update on the update of the original, it’s less woodsy, more fresh because it’s designed to be worn in bed, just like, oh, who was it that wore Chanel in bed? The name escapes me, but it sounds like a deliciously decadent, no? 

Bobbi Brown Real Nudes Eyeshadow Palette in Stonewashed Nudes, £34

An assuring set of colours that really do (no, really!) work on every skin tone. A typically safe feast of mushroom, beige and brown - two metallic shades and three matte. Blend and buff and soft smokey eye or swipe a single colour with your finger. It feels very now, and at the going rate of socialising, will last for forever.

Olaplex No.0 Intensive Bonding Treatment Launch Kit, £26

I think there are lots of people who still don’t know what Olaplex is, which is a crying shame, because it can enhance the health of all hair, no matter how dry or damaged. A six step range, it includes at-home and in-salon treatments that work to repair broken bonds. Of all the products, the new No.0 contains the most potent concentration of Olaplex’s patented molecule. Designed to be used in conjunction with No.3, to strengthen hair after heat or chemical damage, apply No.0 onto damp hair first, then a liberal slathering of No.3. Leave for 10 minutes and rinse as usual. Hair will instantly feel and look more supple and shiny. 

Isle of Paradise Hyglo Body Self Tan Serum, £19.95

I’ve used the original spray of this on my face for years. Most nights before bed, actually. It doesn’t leave incriminating marks on my PJs or pillows and I wake looking infinitely better than I would have done otherwise. Sun-kissed not sallow, fresh not fatigued. I’ve had horror stories with overnight fake tan that make me feel 15 again, and although I don’t think any body tan without guide colour is a doddle, this is as easy as it’s going to get. No glaring streaks, and because of hyaluronic, coconut and avocado oil, skin feels hydrated and quenched too. 

Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder in Honey, £30

I’ve never been a fan of powder, because I'm under the impression it’s going to make me look baked or contoured or caked or whatever. I know it sets your concealer, but I often skip that step, too. But there must be a reason why so many who like the same find of make-up as me wax so lyrical about this? And why the original iteration has spawned three different versions: Glow for radiance; Deep for darker skins and now this - Honey. It’s finely milled, sinks in like a liquid, and with a golden yellow undertone, there’s no chalkiness. I’ve been wearing it under and around my eyes to keep everything in place.

Kankan Starter Set 1, £24

I’ve recently started refilling my cleaning products - Cif for example, has a great initiative whereby you're sent concentrated shots to dilute with water and decant into the original bottle. It’s a bit fiddly, but for sustainability's sake, very necessary. Applying the same logic to my shower therefore, where I’m not dealing with corrosive bleach but sweet smelling body wash is a no-brainer. This clever set from Kankan is self explanatory. The bottle is glass and the refill's aluminium, and scents range from Lemongrass & Juniper to Camomile & Lavender. Fill your bottles and boots. 

Kiehl’s Super Multi-Corrective Cream, £68.50

This Kiehl’s cream actually does what it says it’s going to do. Correcting things like patchy tone and uneven textures, sallowness and fine lines. I was sceptical at first too. Like, c’mon, really? All that? But dark spots around my lips have lessened, and under the skin bumps are less obvious too. An update on a classic, it benefits from vitamin A and antioxidant-rich chaga mushroom.

It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation + Skincare, £32

"By virtue of it being a foundation it’ll bear no resemblance to the light, sheer and shiny CC original", I thought. Yes, I wanted to hate it, but reader, I liked, nay, loved it! It’s distilled the original but given it more coverage and staying power, and without being heavy or cakey. In fact, somehow, it feels lighter than the CC? Bonkers.

Gucci Bloom Profumo Di Fiori EDP, £103 for 100ml

Like all the scents in this family, this is a riotous floral, but it’s creamier and more interesting than its predecessors. There’s jasmine and tuberose, some woodsy, earthiness and all in a happiness-inducing orange-yellow bottle.

Ouai x Byredo Super Dry Shampoo Mojave Ghost, £20

The latest in a string of Byredo excitingness, the cult Scandi fragrance brand has collaborated with the cult celeb hair brand Ouai, to deliver a hip and heady dry shampoo. All the grease-absorbing goodness of Ouai’s original formula, laced with that desert-y, boho-y intoxication of Mojave Ghost.

Aurelia CBD Super Serum Probiotics, £64

CBD has commandeered civilisation, and no more so than in the beauty industry. Believed to reduce inflammation (i.e. the core of all skin conditions and diseases), it exists in serums, masks, lotions and sprays. This particular product uses crystallised CBD (sounds a bit Breaking Bad) suspended in hyaluronic acid to soothe and plump out fine lines.

Frank Body Charcoal Body Scrub & Mask £14.95

If you’d like to bicker with your partner about how the shower is a shared spaced that must be respected and left with remnants of coffee-laced black sludge, you must buy this, because all will be forgiven when they stroke your baby-soft, spot-free skin and realise that you really are always right.

Living Proof No Frizz Vanishing Oil £31

I find hair oils to be the biggest offenders when it comes to overpromising and underdelivering. It’s probably because they have words like ‘vanishing’ in their name so you expect them to make your hair as smooth as silk. So when it does you have to eat your words, stroke your hair and write about it here. Use on damp hair, before heat styling. 

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