Sorry for the radio silence this week!

Lately I've been dealing with some serious skin woes that have been making me literally sick. Earlier this year I started getting a weird, dry, itchy patch of skin on my neck. It was inconvenient and unusual for me, but I tried to just adapt to it and cover/treat it as best I could. I couldn't figure out anything that could be causing it. I use a lot of products, but this patch persisted for months even after changing products around. I couldn't pinpoint anything I was using consistently for months that could cause it. Having grown up with very bad acne, I think part of my brain was trained to consider skin issues as just business as usual, to deal, and move on. It got more and more painful, however, alternating between red, itchy, and raw, to totally dried out and actually peeling off. Not pleasant, I know. 
I tried hydrocortisone creams, marula oil, tamanu oil, homemade masks of banana, oatmeal and honey, cucumber toner and chamomile tea compresses. I at first suspected psoriasis due to the peeling, tried a gel for that. No improvement. Then I started thinking it was more like eczema or dermatitis.

In recent weeks it started progressing to where it flared in spots on my lower face as well. The cycle of it drying up, peeling off and being red and raw left shiny patches that looked a lot like tight scar tissue, like I'd been burned. But nothing I used produced an instant burning or painful sensation that would tip me off. It was insane and increasingly hard to handle. Then this Tuesday when I got to work it suddenly started flaring painfully, without any warning or apparent reason. The red patches were more like raised, swollen welts, itching, with the skin breaking and weeping. I don't have many allergies that I know of, except mildly to bee stings and seriously to the antibiotic tetracycline. I was prescribed that by a dermatologist in high school for my acne and I responded very badly- my whole body would erupt in huge red welts if something as harsh as a bath towel would touch it. I spent about two sleepless, painfully itchy summer weeks before they finally realized I *might* be allergic to tetracycline. So I recognized the feeling of the allergic reaction, though it was confined to my face, it was incredibly painful. I tried keeping my hair pulled down so it wasn't as embarrassingly visible, but even my hair brushing up against it felt like a ton of tiny needles piercing my skin. I broke down and took a Benadryl even though they knock me out. I was getting worried and I had to do something. After work I went straight to the store and bought some Aveeno products for eczema, and took Wednesday off, slathering myself in lotion and trying to heal, sleeping for 12 hours. G begged me to see a doctor, he was really worried about me. The lotion was more soothing than anything else I'd tried, but I could tell it wasn't going to be strong enough to beat whatever was happening, and I finally had to admit I needed help.

I made an appointment with a dermatologist and was luckily able to get in on Friday morning. Thursday at work I felt sick, fatigued, like I had a lump in my throat (oh crap is my throat closing up?!), feeling like my heart was racing. And with painful, angry skin. I kept taking the Benadryl in order the keep the symptoms in check and just fought through the drowsiness.

So yesterday when I went in the doctor's first words were "Oh wow, that looks painful."

Well, duh.

Captain Obvious was actually really nice; she diagnosed it as dermatitis. It was kind of impossible to determine what exactly caused it. She told me to keep using the Aveeno if it seemed to help. I also got two cortisone shots-one in each hip. Those will stay in my system for weeks and fight the inflammation. I've never had one before but I'm hoping they may have the added benefit of easing my tendinitis/ fasciitis that I have in my left foot.  She also gave me some cream samples to use during the day and a heavy-duty hydrocortisone cream to use at night. Then I have to go back in six weeks for a checkup. The nurse told me I should see some improvement within 48 hours. Dudes, seriously, I feel so, so much better. I can tell I'm going to have some problems with pink hyper pigmentation for awhile after all the trauma, but the skin is starting to feel like actual skin again. It's a little dry/flaky still but not nearly as itchy or peeling. I'm amazed and relieved. Part of me felt like nothing was going to work. I just have my fingers crossed it continues to improve, and doesn't come back later on. They said I have to be careful with caffeine, follow any coffee with a glass of water because it could make my heart race, and I had a little nausea yesterday, but today I feel pretty damn good, and nearly human again. I'm using Maybelline's Dream Wonder Fluid Touch Foundation in Ivory, and I really like it. It's super light and liquid-y, but it's very concentrated, so a little goes a long way and I can cover everything without needing to pile it on, and I feel like my skin can still breathe.

I guess the lesson of the day is: why suffer needlessly? I've always been nervous about people seeing my skin, even when it improved as I've aged. I wanted to think I could just muddle through it on my own. It took hitting rock bottom for me to consider advocating for my health. But I am lucky enough to have insurance with an HRA that should probably cover everything without having to pay anything out of pocket, so why suffer? I'm a funny one, you guys. And I learned my lesson. I don't have to do everything on my own.

It's time for another Sweet Anthem SA list review! This is the fall installment, and while subscriptions have ended for this year, you can still get on the waiting list here for when new subscriptions start opening up for next year. 

I really like the new format for these: adorable, handy tins. The sample vials were all individually baggie-d, with zero leakage, and are the larger, 2 ml style in Eau de Parfum format, so they last a long while. 

This collection included two new fall scents, Petra and Ella, a sample of Owl, and a freebie solid scent in Walden. Walden is one of my all time favorite Sweet Anthem scents and I'm almost two-thirds of the way finished with a 10 ml perfume spray, so I was extra thrilled to get a freebie in a scent I already adore.

If you want my thoughts on previous boxes, please check out my posts HERE and HERE.

American teenage nostalgia. Lingering candle smoke, tart cherry, a powdery, vintage style floral center, and a dry-down of real vanilla and resinous myrrh.

I knew going in that the likelihood of me liking this one was extremely slim, even though I've been trying to keep a super open mind with scents. It was the cherry that seals the deal here: cherry either goes almond on me, or cough syrup. Petra opens for me with a strong, bitter cough syrup mixed with candle smoke. Which, I must admit, is certainly unique and not anything I've encountered before. Still, I really disliked it. It's also really potent so I wasn't brave enough to try it on for a while. I took it to work and let my 
smell-buddy P smell it, telling him how much I didn't care for it, and he didn't like the cold sniff either. But he got a little on his hand and a couple minutes later he told me "you might not want to write this one off just yet- it's really changing." So I tried it again at home, and he was right. The cherry fades and eventually I get a non-foodie vanilla and a kind of exotic, resinous myrrh. It's a real morpher. The dry down is much more palatable for me. I wouldn't say I like it, but it's an interesting transition.

A dream is a wish your heart makes. Aldehydic lavender, smoky black tea and agarwood, strewn with pumpkin spices. Simple and stunning.

Oh yes. This one here is brilliant, you guys. I already know what I'm spending my SA list voucher on. This little beauty. It's full of my all time favorite notes and combined they create a fall scent that doesn't necessarily scream fall- it's not like the ubiquitous Pumpkin Spice EVERYTHING that's about to blow up the scene any day now. It's a bit more subtle than that. I love the cool pumpkin/lavender combo, and with the refreshing, brisk tea on cold sniff, and the soft pumpkin spices and the vintage, mysterious dustiness of the agarwood: classy gorgeousness. P's assessment was simply "lovely", as it's not something he would wear, but he did appreciate the artistry. 

Tyto alba – essence of a barn owl. A spicy bird and a tale from the rafters. Indolic jasmine, softened by mimosa and black and white ambers, warmed with Chai spices and juniper berry, all on a base of earthy, grassy, vetiver.

This one really does bring to mind a white barn owl, hanging out in the rafters of a big hay-filled loft. It's very cozy and comforting- in the same realm as Haus of Gloi's Cozy Sweater- totally different scents, mind you, but a similar aura about them.
When P tried it, he declared it as smelling too much of gin, which I found odd. I didn't think it smelled boozy or like soap, which is what I think gin tastes like. Then I looked at the notes again and realized he must be smelling the juniper berry. G told me once that a friend described gin as tasting "like a pinecone." Smelling it again I could understand that assessment. I guess this is sort of common knowledge, but neither of us are super well-versed in the drink department. Anyway, to me mostly it smells like spicy chai and soft, earthy airiness. There might be some jasmine in there but it's not indolic enough to bother me. I like this one quite a bit, but Ella is definitely my pick of the three.

I will keep on recommending the SA List to anyone that will listen. If Meredith opens up subs and you are even slightly intrigued by her scents, join! It more than pays for itself with the $10.00 gift vouchers, and it's a great way to try new scents, learn about unfamiliar notes, and figure out what you like.

Have a great day everyone!

Recently it came to my attention that I have been subscribing to Birchbox for 40 boxes, which is...a really long time. I got my first box in April, 2011. Now that is devotion! I must say that even though some boxes excite me more than others, the points system is a huge, huge perk, and makes it worthwhile enough for me to stick with them. Speaking of perks, a few weeks back they emailed me a 40% off code for, 40 boxes and all. That is a really huge discount, and I had some points accumulated too, so I planned to take advantage of the code. The first time I tried to use it though, it would only take off 25%, so I wrote customer service and they got back with me quickly, and they realized there was a technical glitch with it that they needed to work on. They were super nice and helpful about it, and once I tried again a couple days later, the code worked properly.

I got:

Paula’s Choice RESIST Barrier Repair Moisturizer with Retinol
theBalm® cosmetics Cindy-Lou Manizer
Sumita Color Contrast Eyeliner Exclusive Set in
Metallic Black, Brown, Olive, Gold
It's a 10® Miracle Leave-In Product Lite
Hollywood Fashion Secrets® Hollywood Fashion Tape

My total before discounts came to $99.98. After the 40% off coupon and redeeming 300 reward points, I paid just $29.99 for everything!

Unfortunately when I received my order, it was missing the Sumita eyeliner set. I contacted CS again and they credited my account 100 points (or the equivalent of ten dollars in the shop) without me even asking, and shipped the set the next day via two day shipping. 

I got the moisturizer in one of my boxes and really liked it. I try to only use it at night as the retinol can make my skin more sun-sensitive.

The Balm CIndy-Lou Manizer is the peachy-pink counterpart to their champagne tinted Mary Lou Manizer, which was one of my all-time favorite brow highlighters, until G accidentally dropped it in the toilet. I decided to try this one as a potential substitute for my favorite all-over face highlighter, Bare Minerals Clear Radiance. When I got this it had a small chunk broken out of the compact, and now I have to be extra careful because it breaks up and gets messy very, very easily. It's not a dupe for Clear Radiance, it has more of a frosty peachy-pink sheen, with no sparkles. It's pigmented, so I can only use it all over if I apply it very lightly. I like it and it will hold me over until I can get Clear Radiance again.

I've never tried the It's a 10 brand, but I needed a leave-in conditioner to use after swimming that would help detangle and not weigh my hair down. I really like this! It smells strongly of lilac at first, but it fades quickly. It does make my wet hair easier to comb out and I haven't noticed my hair feeling greasier or flatter than usual. 

I bought the fashion tape to use with this wrap dress I have that gapes far too much in the front. These are really handy (portable tin) and they work great. I've tried using plain double sided tape before and I've always ended up re-adjusting them several times during the day when they come loose, which always keeps me feeling self-conscious. These babies stick on and do not budge all day. I don't even have to think about it. But then at the end of the day they peel off easily. A couple times I forgot to take the tape off when I washed the dress, but the tape came off after with no residue or stickiness. I would buy these again, but this tin holds 30 so they will last me awhile.

The eyeliner set is great-all perfect colors for fall and my green eyes. They're nicely pigmented and long-lasting on my lash line. I had hoped to be able to use them for my waterline, but they are just too creamy for that and I blink the liner off before it can dry. 

A very successful haul here, it was great to be able to pick up some new products at such a great price!

Recently I decided to try new-ish indie company Alchimia Apothecary, as I had been wanting to a do a particular type of custom scent utilizing notes that Haus of Gloi didn't have in their catalog. I ventured into the company with a very tiny order, one custom scent, and ordered during a 20% off sale. They have an extensive line of general catalog  scents and a cosmetics and skincare line that is being phased out because the owner, Erin, is taking her business on the road. I knew it was a little risky buying a custom blend (or Choose Your Own Adventure) from a company that was totally new to me, having never smelled their notes before. But at a reasonable $15.00 a bottle plus the 20% off, I thought it was worth a gamble.

The scent I had in mind was inspired by the memory of my grandma, Evelyn June. I was especially close to her growing up because we lived in a "double," meaning one house, one porch, but two separate entrances and living spaces. She lived on one side and my parents and I lived on the other. So her backyard was literally my backyard. I was always able to escape to her place when things got rough at home. She was a classic, soft, squishy grandma type, but also sassy and funny and silly. One of her favorite groan-worthy jokes to play on me was to whisper conspiratorially, "hey, want to hear a dirty story? 
Once upon a time there was a little boy who fell out of a window into a mud puddle.
 The end."
She thought that was hilarious. 
We loved to watch The Golden Girls and Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman together when I would visit, and I would prop my feet up on her easy chair and she would give me the best foot rubs ever, and I don't remember her ever refusing, even when her hands must have hurt. I miss those foot rubs, let me tell you.

 She passed away when I was 18 after a very difficult struggle with Alzheimer's. My parents and I cared for her at home, and I would say it was one of the more trying experiences of my life. It was hard seeing her change, physically and mentally, and the isolation was hard as well. Other family seemed to scatter, and we were on our own. I remember we could never really go anywhere as a family, because someone always had to be with her, and there weren't as many resources for help at that time. She died when I was on my senior class trip to Washington D.C., so I missed her funeral, but I had been expecting it so I said my good-byes before I left. So, I prefer to think of her as she was, before all of that.

When I tried to conjure her up in scent, my mind kept thinking of the peony bushes she grew in the backyard. I knew I wanted the scent to be centered on the peony, then as I puzzled over the huge note list, researching how they might play together, I narrowed it down to English Ivy, Pink Peppercorn, Clover, and Rosewood. Something sweet and gentle, cool and green but with a pink flush to it. And just a hint of spicy sass. That was her. I wasn't sure if my vision would translate, so I cold-emailed Erin, told her some of the stories I just shared here, and also sent this picture of my grandma circa 1922: a little cutesy, and a little snarky. I love the quizzical expression on her face, which I imagine to be utter disdain for that horrific bow. I asked Erin what she thought, and if she had any other suggestions. 

Don't ask- When I scanned this pic years ago I went a little effect-happy and I think my parents have the original, so...

Less than an hour later she had responded with a very thoughtful email, and luckily she seemed to know exactly where I was coming from (and didn't seem to find my out-of-the-blue email weird). She suggested a new "behind the scenes" note, flower stems, which had that green I was looking for, but also a touch of the milkiness you would find literally inside broken flower stems. She thought that would blend better than straight-up green clover. She also suggested supplementing the lighter Rosewood with Black Agar for the base, which I thought was a stroke of genius. I've always liked agarwood ever since trying Solstice Scents Manor, and I immediately wrote back and enthusiastically agreed to her suggestions. That made six notes instead of the five listed on the website, but she said that was not a problem and creating the scent I had in mind was more important than keeping to a rigid limit.

I ordered on July 19th, and even though there was a sale and a CYOA contest going on at the time, my perfume still shipped very quickly, on July 24th, and I received it on the 28th. It was securely wrapped in bubble wrap, tucked inside a little bag, and Erin also included a sweet note:

My order also included a sample of a new scent, Escape. 
I love these wee vials! They have orifice reducers in them too so they really help conserve the product. The scent description for that one includes: "Juicy peaches, mouth watering red plums, dewfruit, and acacia surrounded by puakenikeni, plumaria, gardenia, hawthorn, and purple flowers mixed with nuances of saffrin, wine, and just a touch of sweet tobacco." 

I knew going in that it would likely not be for me; peach is a really tricky note for me, and it is pretty peach-centric. It's more like a tropical peach drink, with a bit of a boozy, slightly smokey edge underneath the fruity-florals. It's quite heady, and has some impressive sillage. It's well blended, but just not really for me. Maybe if it was something other than peach...

But. But! My CYOA is for me. I am really pleased with this.
I think it turned out even better than I imagined it.
On cold sniff there is a sharp, almost astringent, citrusy note. I'm not sure where it's coming from- the way the greens and the peony meld, perhaps? There is something incredibly nostalgic about it, and I haven't been able to quite put my finger on it. It reminds me of my childhood home, but other things too, hazy and far back in my memory, too distant to pin down. Vague impressions. Sitting on the backyard grass as a child, breaking open dandelion stems to see the milk inside. Watching busy ants scurry over the peony buds. It's sunny yet cool, morning dew on the grass. Rummaging through the products on grandma's vanity- her powder puff, her vintage Avon perfume decanters , her antique brush with the tarnished silver handle. The dry down is a morpher-this is where the black agar comes into play, and for me, the scent would not be complete without it. It's got that stunningly mysterious, antique "sweet-dust" smell, along with some very soft hints of rosewood.

 Since you might not relate to my grandma inspiration- I would also say this scent reminds me of the book The Secret Garden. It fascinated me as a child, the idea of locked rooms and overgrown gardens, bittersweet and left to the ravages of time, waiting to be opened up and brought back to life. That is absolutely what I get from this. Sillage is intimate, it hugs close to my skin, and doesn't take very long for the florals and greens to fade and the woods to take center stage. It's a really interesting transition. I pretty much want to try anything with agarwood in it now. It's always been in my top notes, but now I'm officially obsessed.

So, all in all I would say this was a very successful venture. I feel like Erin put a lot of thought and effort into my blend so I would definitely be open to trying another one in the future.

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