Review: Gypsy Juice Neroli Immortelle Eye Balm , 2 Comments

Here at SZL, we're always on the look-out for new, hand-crafted products with an impeccable roster of choice ingredients. When we received eye balms from up-and-coming brand Gypsy Juice this summer, we were immediately caught by the chic, simplistic, and nature-inspired packaging (and super excited to try them out!). But first things first: before we started cooing over the label designs, our initial comments were about the size of the jars. For the most part, organic or handmade concoctions come in diminutive containers and are often used up before you realize it. Not the case here! Gypsy Juice's eye balms come in generous 1-ounce containers, which are made of dark glass and convenient for taking along when traveling. And once you open up your jar, you realize just how much bang you'll be getting for your buck: the formula is a creamy, pale yellow paste that is thick at room temperature, but a little rub with the tip of your finger and it becomes easy to tap it onto the delicate eye area. What is incredible is how little goes a long way. I've barely used up a sixth of my jar, and I've had it for over 2 months! 

After you get over how long your product is going to last (trust me, my excitement still hasn't dissipated!), you'll notice the lovely scent. Not overpowering, but pleasantly present, it's soothing and has become one of the things I truly relish during my nighttime routine. This particular formula (Jasmine Rose Vetiver is the other) is made with only 4 ingredients: shea butter, essential oils of neroli and immortelle, and cold-pressed sea buckthorn oil. And, of course, all of the components are organic. Waking up in the mornings after using this eye balm, I notice less puffiness, and a marked decrease in the darkness of my under-eye circles. Also, the skin is perfectly moisturized, never dry but also not greasy. While it may feel a bit "goopy" the first time you apply it, the denser texture doesn't prevent the balm from really seeping in and doing its work while you sleep. With products like this in your cabinet, you'll start to understand why they call it beauty sleep. Plus, the entire line of Gypsy Juice items is made in the USA, so here's to supporting home-grown innovation!

- Maria Vasylivna

Low-Budget Organic Beauty Finds , 1 Comment

Living the organic life may not be the easiest on your bank account, but beauty products are certainly the last area where you'd want to skimp. Below, some of our favorite (affordable) finds that will keep you glowing.

1) Aura Cacia Nourishing Cocoa Butter ($7.49 for a 4 oz jar) - Fair Trade certified, this skin care oil is vegan and not tested on animals. Because it is solid at room temperature, I recommend keeping something on hand to scrape it out of the jar with (the end of a spoon or a pair of metal tweezers work just fine). It smells delectably of chocolate in the container, but leaves a barely-noticeable, anonymous, sweet scent on the skin. Use your tool of choice to shave thin pieces off the top, and then rub them between your palms to warm & melt them before using medium pressure and a slow, circular motion to apply the butter to your body. 
2) Evan Healy Whipped Shea Butter for Lips with Raspberry Seed ($7.95 for a 0.25 oz tube) - Before you say that eight dollars is way too much for lip balm, consider that this one is actually twice the size of normal tubes (which means it will last you twice as long). Delicately scented and effortlessly smooth in application, this has become a staple in my evening routine. A few swipes of this after brushing my teeth, and I awaken in the morning with a plump pucker and a barely-there sheen to my lips. Also, it's great for late-night smooching, as it doesn't go on too thick or have a noticeable taste!
3) Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps Unscented Baby-Mild Pure Castile Soap ($10.99 for a 16 oz bottle) - where do I even start with this? It's a god-send! The bottles are enormous, so they'd last you a long time even if the formula weren't so potent. It's billed as being 18-in-1, but my favorite use for it is as a daily body wash. A little drizzle of this on my shower pouf, and I can suds up my entire self with non-irritating, non-drying bubbles. After a good rinse, my skin emerges from the shower clean (but not dehydrated) and unscented. Delicate enough to use on your lovely lady bits, it is also perfectly suitable for men. 
4) Alteya Organics Melissa Water ($9.95 for a 3.4 oz bottle) - I have long been a fan of alcohol-free toners for the skin, and this flower water works perfectly as one. Melissa, more commonly known in the States as lemon balm, is revitalizing for the spirits and calming for the skin (especially if you are sensitive or have troublesome areas). Four or five spritzes on a cotton pad is enough to leave your entire face, neck, and decolletage area soothed and prepped for moisturizing. And if your skin is looking a little dull or feeling troublesome during the day, this is great to use as a facial spray as well! Simply mist over cheeks and forehead, breathe in the uplifting aroma, and continue conquering the world.
5) Physicians Formula Organic Wear Jumbo Lash Mascara ($9.99 for a 0.26 oz tube) - first of all, I love the packaging on this mascara! The metallic, green tube is curved and engraved to look like a leaf, and makes the prettiest addition to my makeup bag. The formula, like most organic ones, can go on a little wet (so keep your eyelash comb on hand and use it to separate your lashes and brush out any clumps between coats). I recommend curling your lashes before applying you first coat, and waiting at least one minute for the formula to really dry before applying a second (or third) layer. Since it isn't waterproof, touching your eyes at all while wearing this is a no-no, as it does smudge easily (especially in hot, humid weather). But it comes off easily with just water, so removing it at night is laughably simple, and it doesn't irritate even my sensitive, allergy-prone eyes.

- Maria Vasylivna

Review: Uma Ultimate Brightening Face Oil , 2 Comments

When it comes to face oils, we here at SZL are notoriously picky (and as far as we're concerned, that's a good thing!). Some of the things we don't like to see on the ingredient labels: mineral oils (hello, clogged pores and patches of inflammation!), artificial fragrances (disastrous for those with sensitive skin and/or allergies), and anything synthetic (organic and all-natural is the way to go). So when we received samples of face oils from a company whose core principles were Ayurveda and aromatherapy, and whose principles of health and beauty seemed perfectly aligned with ours, we were certainly intrigued! Uma Oils are formulated with the highest attention to quality, always handcrafted in small batches from the purest essential oils from family farms in India. The company has two lines of oils, one for the face and one for wellness, and they are made to work synergistically. As their site says,"the health of your skin and mind are deeply interconnected. This is why Uma is rooted in the philosophy that beauty, wellness, and a fulfilled life go hand in hand." And that sounds right up our alley!

Our anticipation was rewarded, and our expectations exceeded, with the trial of Uma's Ultimate Brightening Face Oil. As someone who has sensitive combination skin, I'm always a bit hesitant when it comes to using facial oils. But the blend of oils, including rose, neroli, and sandalwood, among others, smelled so scrumptious that I didn't even hesitate. And it certainly paid off! Especially in the summer, dull skin can be a nuisance. Exposure to the sun can cause dark spots or patches to appear, and exfoliation alone might not correct the hyper-pigmentation. Enter Uma's miracle-worker: the small glass vial I received in the mail lasted me over 2 weeks, and the improvement in my skin was noticeable within 48 hours. My naturally-sensitive skin seemed calmer and certainly looked smoother, and little patches of discoloration that I had noticed around the mouth and jawline faded and disappeared within another few days. Needless to say, at that point I became a complete convert!

I like to apply the oil straight onto my face after cleansing in the evening. After patting my skin dry (gently, and without any harsh rubbing!), I put about 5-6 drops of the oil onto my fingertips and immediately pat it all over my cheeks, forehead, nose, and around the mouth. I've found that rubbing the oil into the skin (as you normally would rub moisturizer on) ends up pulling too much at my face, and so I have perfected the patting method. After that is done, I apply my nightly eye treatment and wait at least 5 minutes before following with my moisturizer and spot treatment. Then, I lie down for 8 hours of well-deserved rest, secure in the knowledge that I will wake up with a glowing complexion!

- Maria Vasylivna

Golden Goddess: Coconut Oil for Tanning , 0 Comments

By now, we all know the cardinal rules of safe sun-bathing: wear toxin-free sunscreen, limit exposure during peak hours, and properly treat your skin pre- and post-tanning (exfoliate beforehand, moisturize afterwards). But while there are plenty of options for organic sunscreens these days (COOLA, Badger, and Raw Elements, to name a few), I have been itching for something to replace my once-beloved Maui Babe Browning Lotion (mineral oil is the first ingredient, and I eventually made the connection between that and my irritated skin). After a prompt from a vegan friend of mine, I decided to try something so simple, I was surprised I hadn't thought of it before... coconut oil.

I apply the oil directly to my skin, and only use it when I am outdoors before 11 AM and after 4 PM. My fair, sensitive skin doesn't break out, turn blotchy, or burn! In fact, I have achieved a gorgeously bronzed tone of skin that has hitherto never been seen on my body. And as it turns out, coconut oil has been used for centuries by islanders and those living in tropical climates. Coconut oil has a naturally-occurring SPF factor (though it is not very high, which is why I don't use it when the sun is at its strongest), and emollient and healing properties to benefit the skin. It also helps to repel insects, so mosquitoes and pesky horse flies won't be a bother on the beach this year. While I have long used coconut oil as a moisturizer (especially for pampering my feet while I sleep), I never before thought to use it when I'm lounging poolside. This is also a great option for those looking to save some money, as a jar of coconut oil can cost as little as $5, and easily last you through the summer season.

Of course, not just any old coconut oil will do. To reap the benefits of the fatty acids that are responsible for moisturizing and protecting the skin, your coconut oil must not have been heated during processing. Look for words like 'unrefined,' 'raw', 'pure,' and 'virgin' to make sure that you're getting the proper sort. As always, we recommend going the organic route. Here's to beautifully browned skin, the natural way! (Oh, and if you didn't know, the coconut oil will also make you smell delicious. Now excuse us while we get somebody handsome to help us out with applying ours...)

- Maria Vasylivna

Review: RMS "Un" Cover-Up , 0 Comments

When it comes to natural beauty regimens, nothing is quite as difficult to find as the perfect concealer. Between awkward consistencies, foreign scents and irregular pigmentation, the search for the ideal product can seem daunting. And how disappointing is it to lose time researching brands, checking ingredients, picking from a slew of shades, and spending your money only to be disappointed with an item that doesn’t suit? Luckily for you, that’s where we come in! All of the products on the site have been sampled by someone at SZL, so you know you’re getting a bonafide keeper. One of our favorite brands, RMS, just happens to make, in my opinion, the most adaptable and luxurious concealer of all time!

It is called “un” cover-up, and it is fantastic. Most of the goodies from RMS are created with a base of coconut oil, which happens to be one of the most versatile oils. It is emollient without being greasy, and has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties (read: great for your skin). This establishes a lovely base for the product, which comes in a chic little glass pot. The texture is unlike any other cover-up I have ever used: it is silky and glides onto the skin, depositing rich, but not excessive, pigment that blends with just a few taps of the finger. I’ve found that one of the best ways to achieve precise application, especially for spots, is to use the RMS brightening brush. It was created for use with RMS living luminizer, but is an excellent tool for the “un” cover-up as well, given its small, tapered shape and closely-clustered bristles. I have separate brightening brushes for both products.

Often what happens with concealers that blend seamlessly is that they fade quickly. Not the case here! I used to dread using concealer on my under-eye circles: because they’re rather dark, I’d have to use a thicker formula to get the coverage I wanted. That meant crayon-like sticks that took a lot of blending, involving pulling and tugging on the delicate skin of the eye area. But with RMS “un” cover-up, I simply swipe it on (I cannot state enough how lovely the texture is) and pat it gently. Viola! My circles have disappeared, and they stay hidden all day. No need for touch-ups, the long-lasting formula keeps the pigment where it was originally deposited, keeping you looking fabulous. But why simply take my word for it? Pick up a jar today, and discover for yourself the joy of finally having the perfect product!

- Maria Vasylivna

DIY Beach Hair - Volume + Texture , 0 Comments

There are plenty of reasons to envy surfer girls. They get to spend their days at the beach, they're perpetually tan, have flawless skin without a touch of makeup, and an entire wardrobe composed of bathing suits, just to name a few reasons. But you too can have the sumptuously wind-swept locks that are a trademark of these beach bums, and without all the effort of spending a day in the waves. While we love the convenience of buying beach sprays (like our favorite at SZL, pictured above), they are one of the easiest beauty products to make on your own. What makes them so perfect for creating this easy-breezy style are the main ingredients: salt, and a conditioning agent. The salt helps boost your hair's volume, propping it up and giving it hold, while the conditioning agent keeps your strands from becoming dried out. On days when you're running low on time, or don't want to bother with mixing up your own, Sachajuan's Ocean Mist is a great option. But if you're feeling adventurous, or thrifty, see our own combination for voluminous, tousled manes of glory below!

What you'll need:

  • 1 spray bottle
  • 1 cup of warm water (not boiling!)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of salt (Epsom salt is less drying on the hair, but traditional sea salt will add more hold. Experiment based on your hair type)
  • 1 teaspoon of leave-in conditioner (I'm partial to Lush's R&B Hair Moisturizer)
  • 2-5 drops of argan oil (2 for fine, thin hair, 3-4 for normal or thick tresses, 5 for dry, mature, or ethnic coifs)

Pour all the ingredients into your spray bottle, and give it a vigorous shaking! I mix mine fiercely for at least 30 seconds (I like to imagine I'm doing one of those insane arm workouts). You want to make sure that all of the salt has dissolved, and that your conditioner is not just sitting in a little lump at the bottom of the bottle. Even distribution is key. Once you've achieved complete integration, turn your head upside down and mist away! I prefer to wait until my hair has dried fully before applying this product, but it can be used on damp hair as well. Spritz enough to moisten, and then scrunch, bunch, and squeeze until you have reached your desired texture. For extra waves, you can twist your hair into a bun or French braid after misting, and take it down half an hour later.

- Maria Vasylivna

Summer Skin Saviour , 0 Comments

The temperatures are rising, and that means that it's officially summer! But beach time can wreck havoc on your skin (hours in the sun, the rough wind off the ocean, abrasion from the sand), and one of the best remedies for sunburnt, wind-chapped, or just plain irritated skin is also the simplest: pure aloe vera. You might have noticed tubes of aloe vera gel in pharmacies before (more often than not, tinged a phosphorescent green), but nothing can compare to the raw deal. I'm talking about those long, spindly stalks that you see in the produce section of your market. What makes pure, raw aloe vera gel so great for summer skin? For starters, aloe vera is vulnerary, which means that it is used in the healing of wounds. It is also naturally astringent and analgesic, as well as being an all-natural emollient. What it comes down to is multi-tasking: fresh aloe vera gel will heal, cleanse, soothe and moisturize, all at once. Not to mention that it's antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal, germicidal, and a fantastic disinfectant!

And getting at the gooey goodness inside those cactus-like leaves is easier than you might think. Start by purchasing a leaf that is completely green. Make sure that the ends of the spikes haven't started to dry up and turn brown (a sign that the aloe leaf has been separated from its mother plant for quite some time). Rinse it with a solution that is one part apple cider vinegar to three parts water (this is my preferred method for cleansing fruits and vegetables too!). Pat dry, and lay it down on a sheet of paper towels or wax paper. Using a cutting board is an option, but not one that I favor, since you'll have to really scrub at it to get the bitter taste of the aloe leaf off after you're done. Starting at the base of the leaf, cut it crosswise to remove the bottom half-inch of the plant (the part that is thinner and not filled with clear gel). Adjust your knife, and cut lengthwise down the side of the leaf, just enough so that you remove the thorny bits. Next, cut crosswise to give yourself at least five one-inch-thick pieces of the aloe leaf. 

Once you have your slices, cut them lengthwise through the clear gel center, separating the pieces into two. The clear gel on the inside is quite slippery, so be careful! Now that you have 10 pieces, lay them skin-side down on the paper towels and make little notched cuts in the clear gel of each piece (I like to do at least 3). This allows more of the liquid from the gel to be released when  you rub the pieces on your skin. Start by rubbing the slices on your face, neck, and decolletage, making sure to get a thorough layer onto the skin. Continue down your body, alternating slices as they dry out. You can also re-notch pieces in the opposite direction to really get your money's worth from the leaf. Once your face and body have been covered in the gel (be sure not to get it into your eyes or mouth, raw aloe vera gel has an extremely bitter taste!), allow yourself to dry for at least 10 minutes before putting on clothing, sitting, or laying down. 

- Maria Vasylivna

Review: RGB Five-Free Nail Polish , 1 Comment

Let me start out by saying that I had a few reservations before trying RGB. Yes, it's five free (see our previous article HERE to get a little more in-depth as to what that means), but would it really work? Would I need 7 coats to get the desired look I achieved with 2 coats of regular, health-hazardous polish? What was the consistency going to be like? How long would it take to dry? With all these pesky questions buzzing about in my head, I finally reached for the polish remover and got to work on prepping my nail beds, armed with 2 bottles of RGB polish (in Minty & Coral). 

Once I was done shaping my nails and cleaning my cuticles, I applied base coat and then held my breath as I stroked the first drop of RGB polish in Coral across my index finger's nail. I immediately loved the color on my skin. Slightly reassured, I pressed on, applying a paper-thin first coat, and then a thicker second coat (a method that I picked up from one of my old nail technician friends, which keeps the polish from getting too chunky and never drying properly). After that, a swipe of clear top coat and a few drops of quick-drying potion sealed the deal. My nails looked fabulous, and I hadn't had any issues!

The liquid itself doesn't have that in-your-face acridness that is common of regular nail polish, and it applies just as evenly and easily as the traditional kind. It dried to a glossy hardness in about 25 minutes, and since then, I've had the barista at the adorable bakery across the street ask me where I found such a fabulous color! Not to mention that, as I sit typing this article, I'm constantly distracted by the flash of my brilliantly-painted nails. But for those of you who have yet to try RGB, and have been hesitant because you worry about its performance and how it stacks up the competition, I have only this to say... what competition? It functions just like traditional polish, but doesn't contain the nasty chemicals. In my opinion, that's a clear win-win! So find a color that you like (I pictured Coral, the one I used, at the top of this post), and get painting!

- Maria Vasylivna

All-Natural How To: Damage-Free Summer Highlights , 1 Comment

We all know that SPF (whether it comes in a wash, spray, or powder) is essential for maintaining the color of your locks throughout the summer. But what if you're one of those people (like myself) who loves the sun-bleached look? Who doesn't want to pay for expensive (and chemical-ridden) highlights? Who loves to spend time outdoors, but isn't necessarily a fan of enormous sun hats? Ladies, you're in luck! I am one of you, and I have found 3 simple, DIY highlighting processes that will get your hair goddess-quality color!

OPTION 1: This is my "cop-out" option. When I don't have the (insignificant) amount of time to conjure up the 2 selections below, I go for this one. And it's as simple as opening up your fridge! Grab a chilled pale lager, pour it over your strands, and step outside for 20 minutes of sunshine. I'm particular to Corona (it's probably the scent that reminds me of college summers at the beach), but an organic beer is your best bet. Beer is made with hops & malt (aka protein), which is great for rebuilding your strands. Not only that, the B vitamins found in beer are also engineered for boosting shine. Hello, beautiful!

OPTION 2: This is my particular favorite of all my highlighting tricks. Put a kettle on the stove, heat up enough water to thoroughly drench your mane (this will vary depending on length & thickness), and then drop 2-4 tablespoons of dried chamomile flowers in once it's boiling. Allow it to steep for at least 10 minutes (I usually do 15), then scoop out the flowers and allow the tincture to reach room temperature. Pour over your hair, and get 20 minutes of sunlight. Chamomile tea is full of antioxidants, and will also soothe itchy scalps. 

OPTION 3: Scrounge up a clean spray bottle (airport-approved, 3-ounce containers are ideal), and fill it with a mixture that is one part fresh-squeezed lemon juice, one part sweet almond oil, and one part water. Shake it up, spray it on until your hair is well-saturated, and get outside for the next 20 minutes! It's as simple as that! The lemon juice works to cleanse your hair & scalp of product build-up, and the sweet almond oil nourishes and helps repair damage. Win-win!

No matter which of the choices above you decide to try, you will end up with beautiful, naturally-highlighted hair! After the requisite 20 minutes of sun exposure, use a sulfate-free shampoo (like ILĀ SHAMPOO FOR REVITALIZING HAIR) to clean your strands, then get ready to turn heads!

Oh, and by the way, those are my sunny locks on vacation in Spain!

- Maria Vasylivna

An Overnight Cure for Dry Skin , 0 Comments

No, the title is not a gimmick. There really is a way to combat dryness, and all it takes is a little preparation before you get into bed at night! 

To let a moisturizer penetrate deeply into the skin, where it can do the best job at nourishing and healing, at least a few hours must be allotted to the process. Moisturizing before bed allows you to wake up with buttery-soft skin, and the process is quite pleasant as well. I've come to love the ritual, and enjoy being able to take a few minutes just to myself at night, gently massaging my body to relax and unwind after the day. Once I'm done slathering myself with my oil of choice, I wrap my greased-up self in full-body cotton pajamas, and hop under the sheets!

But what is it that I use to keep my sensitive skin delicately dewy, you ask? The secret is sweet almond oil. Chock-full of lipids and fatty acids to nurture your body back to enviable smoothness, this particular oil is ideal for anyone, especially those trying this method for the first time. The scent is barely noticeable, and fades after the initial application. For those who would prefer more of an olfactory experience, you can mix in a few drops of your favorite essential oils (I'm partial to the combination of frankincense & clary sage). For the entire body, I use about 1/8 cup of sweet almond oil. The bottles I find a health food stores usually cost around $15 for 16 fluid ounces, and they last a long time!

Be sure to look for oils that come in a dark bottle, which will block sunlight. Store all oils in a nice, dry cabinet or drawer, and if you're looking for some extra pampering, start your morning off right with simple Ayurvedic practices, found HERE.  

- Maria Vasylivna