beauty products that actually work

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I’m not a beauty-haul kind of girl.

My eyeliner is always wonky, my hair never looks like the YouTube girls. For a long time I thought this was because I lacked some essential talent, but I’ve since come to terms with the fact that I just don’t care. Not enough to spend twenty-five minutes on my hair each morning. Not enough to wipe the eyeliner off & start again.

Plus, I’m a minimalist at heart, and get no pleasure from a bathroom cabinet stocked full of products. I just want things that make me a bit prettier; stuff that does what it says. Beauty products that actually work.  In my experience, these are surprisingly hard to find, so when I eventually do, I remain fiercely loyal to them to the end of time.

Here is my list of beloveds.


1. Clarins instant concealer (for under eyes). (£22) I love this so much I actually own two tubes, because WHAT IF happens to the first?! Better than all the big names I’ve tried before, this concealer is literally the difference between people saying ‘oh, you look so tired!’ and ‘you’re looking well! have you been away?’

2. REN ‘Keep Young and Beautiful’ Instant Brightening Beauty Shot Eye Lift. On lazy days when I don’t want to wear the above, or for times when I want to look extra awake, this stuff is genius. It provides a temporary lift and lightening, with a tightening you can actually feel. 

3. Paula’s Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA. (£21.25) This is the product that prompted me to write this list, tbh – it’s been a total game changer for my skin! Within days of starting to use it there was a visible difference, and my skin is clearer, brighter and happier than it’s been in years. Considering it’s a chemical exfoliant, it’s ridiculously mild and gentle on sensitive skin. The only downside tbh is the extra time it takes up. Not to apply – I literally just splash it onto my face at night – but in the resulting minutes spent admiring the transformation in the mirror.

4. Kerastase elixir ultime hair oil. (£29, or £54 for two) I’ve been using this for a few years now, and still notice and love the difference it makes to my hair. Soft, silky, shiny, and not remotely heavy or greasy like other hair oils.

5. Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser (£15, or £22 for two). Keeps my sensitive skin clear and happy, pleasant to use and the double pack makes it good value for money. They also do a little travel size which I keep for London trips and overnights, because I’m lost without it.

6. Foreo Luna. (£149) Last time I wrote about my love/hate relationship with my Luna Mini, as the units kept breaking on me within weeks. Eventually I contacted Foreo who kindly sent me the full-size version, which is noticeably better quality, & I’ve used without problems for the last six months or so. It’s a pleasant part of my bedtime ritual combined with the cleanser above, and makes my skin feel clean and soft, plus a full charge lasts months at a time. I’m still not convinced that the ‘sonic pulses’ have any wonder-magic (if vibration is the secret to anti-aging, do we all have wonderfully youthful genitals? ?), but I can’t really argue with the results.

7. Urban Decay Naked Basics eyeshadow palette. (£23) I suspect everyone already owns and loves this, but it seemed remiss to leave it off. The only eyeshadows own – I threw everything else out after I got this.

8. Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner. (£14.50) I’ve been on the hunt for a decent all-day eyeliner for years since Benefit changed their BadGal liquid liner, and finally this is it. It isn’t actually all that waterproof, but it lasts all day, has a brilliant depth of pigment and doesn’t flake or smudge with my eye-rubbing. I’m on my second, and pray it’ll never be discontinued or changed!

9. NYX Wonder Pencil. (£4) A total bargain, & good for concealing and correcting little imperfections that you want to hide. I use it to line outside my lips too, which was a revelation, and to touch up my concealer without having to crack out the big guns. Mostly it’s just a useful little pencil to have in my handbag for emergency face moments.

10. Benefit boi-ing concealer. (£17.50) This was an emergency purchase a while back, and I stupidly settled for the medium because they were all out of light. As a result, it’s a little too dark for my winter skin (& I really need to get around to replacing it), but now that summer’s come around I’m remembering how brilliant it is again. Dense, creamy and light, it’s the only one I’ve tried that doesn’t cake into dried skin and make blemishes look worse.

11. Mac lip pencil in Dervish (£12.50). The HOLY GRAIL of lip liners, this matches my lip colour exactly so is perfect for lining, shaping & overdrawing without being obvious. I tried every makeup counter in the world looking for such a thing, to no avail. When I finally asked at MAC, the girl said ‘Dervish!’ right away, insisting it’s invisible on nearly everyone (Im assuming that’s a caucasian everyone), and she was right about me!

A couple of other things I want to add:

1. You don’t need any of this stuff to be beautiful. The kind of beauty that is achieved through products is a bullshit social construct and nothing to do with true human gorgeousness. But I’ve internalised it, so this stuff still makes me feel nice – you can read more of my rants thoughts on this subject here and here.

2. Everything featured – with the exception of the Luna – was bought by me. Nothing sponsored, just my honest opinions. Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means I get paid a small commission if lots of people click.

3. This list is an update to this post, from last year.

What are the beauty products that actually delivered for you? & what disappointed? Share below – I always want to know!

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  • laura

  • June 24, 2016

The Keratase hair oil is amazing..tried it based on your reccomendation a while ago! Saves so much straightening time with my crazy hair in the morning! 🙂

  • Julia Williams

  • June 21, 2016

Armani ‘Eyes to Kill’ mascara. All time fave x

  • Elaine (sunflowerof21)

  • June 17, 2016

Thanks. Just thanks! 🙂

  • Kirsteen Ormesher

  • June 15, 2016

Fab recommendations 🙂 I bought the concealer and hair oil after reading your earlier reccomendations and they are brilliant! x

  • Lindsay Eryn

  • June 15, 2016

Paula’s Choice exfoliators were my first leap into really trying to treat my skin well. I didn’t see any dramatic results, but I did learn a lot about chemical exfoliators being so helpful (and physical exfoliators being UNhelpful, actually).

I don’t see a moisturizer/cream on your list, so I’d also like to recommend you check out Cerave’s moisturizer cream that comes in a tub! It feels like you’re putting a blanket on your skin, and it helps your skin get moisture back, which keeps elasticity and all that good stuff.

P.s. While I have been winnowing down my possessions in almost every area of my life, my earring collection, my small lipstick collection, and my nail polish collections are the hardest to part with. They’re just so fun for me!

  • Jessica Rose

  • June 15, 2016

If my fringe is on point that I’m not too bothered about what the rest of the stuff is doing! 😉 Damn you Sara…I’m gonna have to try this Kerastase- I want in!

  • Charlotte {theteapotexplodes}

  • June 15, 2016

I bought the Naked basics palette on your recommendation last year Sarah and it is brilliant! I love Ren products too and my sister swears by the beauty shot for her eyes but I’ve yet to try it. I’ve been making a really conscious effort to rid my beauty bag/bathroom of products that are too chemically and full of nasties which has been surprisingly easy. x

  • Katie |

  • June 15, 2016

Love love love REN products. They really help with my sensitive, weirdo, acne-prone skin. Knowing the products are not stuffed with nasty ingredients is a bonus!

  • Nicole

  • June 15, 2016

This all makes me very glad that I’ve ditched the “beauty” thing on the whole.

I’m too utilitarian these days to want to cart a shed load of stuff around with me for away times and quite honestly really couldn’t care less if people think I haven’t made an effort or I’m not a proper girl/lady/woman/thing. I’m done with other peoples opinions (unless they are clients and paying me to listen to them).

Lip gloss or balm and at a push a smidgen of mascara is where I’m at these days and never happier oddly. My one indulgence is vampy painted toes (a nice deep red usually does the trick – currently loving Leighton Denny – Passion), which have pretty much always been a consistent thing for me, albeit in 20 different colours in my formative years…

I discovered a secret kind of skin magic too (which I’ll be blogging about soon) and it has been a complete game changer from sans make-up and stubborn about it to sans make-up and happy with it.

Kudos to anyone with the time/patience/skill for it all, theres a certain art and allurement about transforming into something you are not, but it’s just not for me.

  • Amanda @ Rhyme & Ribbons

  • June 15, 2016

I’m definitely going to look in to the REN product! x

  • Sara Tasker

  • June 15, 2016

Yes – it’s so freaking versatile! Oh, such a great shout on the waterline with the NYX pencil! I need to try that.

  • Alyssa

  • June 15, 2016

I do think that Naked basics palette is brilliant. All my colours except one have hit pan. I use the black with a wet angled brush as an eyeliner and it holds up 24+ hours. The NYX wonder pencil is great for brightening up your waterline as well!

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