Thursday, 5 April 2018

The Ordinary: The results are in!

At the end of January, I wrote this post about a skincare range called The Ordinary. As you may remember, The Ordinary is a very reasonably priced skincare range which claims to value integrity and which uses sought out ingredients (such as  retinols and  hyaluronic acid) in surprisingly high concentrations, especially given the price point. Therefore, back in January, I decided to give The Ordinary a go. Now, a good two months later, I'd like to share with you the changes I've seen.

As a little recap, I have been on a hard fought uphill struggle with my skin ever since my teens where I had acne which left me with scars. As well as still getting a smattering of spots, I have the occasional overlarge pour and, now I've hit 25, am keen to start the anti-aging battle a little ahead of schedule. Therefore, I went all out and bought a rather large collection of products to tackle these areas and here is my stream of consciousness on them:

Before going in to detail about the various products, I'd like to say off the bat, my skin has most definitely improved. It's not like my scars have vanished or that no spots ever push their ugly heads through my precious visage, but overall, it looks more glowy, the spots have reduced and the overall texture seems better. My scars definitely still exist, but with the general overall improvement, they at least seem less obvious to me. You can make your own decision from the photos below, but I think the thing that really convinced me of the improvement was the number of comments friends and family made. Now, in the interest of honesty, I have to say my friends are aware of my skin battles, so usually are rather nice about this pesky epidermis of mine, but the compliments were much much more genuine and came in much greater frequency. One exchange between myself, my sister and her boyfriend went as such: 

Lulu: Kaaaatthhhh your skin looks so nice! And so smooth....kinda like you've had a facelift! 
Me: *Looks slightly shocked at the thought of a 25 year old having a facelift* 
Alex: Yeah, I thought the same! It's so tight looking! 
Me: *wondering whether tight is a good thing* Errrm, thanks guys!

(Sorry about the tan difference!)

So, as you can see, positive noises were made. With that in mind, lets get into the detail: 

AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution: A twice-weekly mask which aims to exfoliate the skin, de-congest pores and fight blemishes.
 - Now, I have to confess, I was not super religious at doing this twice a week. However, I did manage a fairly consistent weekly peel, sometime at the weekend and before whatever leisurely weekend shower I was about to take. The peel itself is an amazing red colour and tingles slightly as you apply it (I appreciate some people may find it 'burns' but due to my previously mentioned acne-battle, I do think my skin is perhaps a little tougher to these burning sensations than some other peoples - personally, I didn't find it at all uncomfortable). I'd then leave it on for the required 10mins (or a bit longer if I was being slow at my 'pre-shower' prep*). Once I'd washed off the product, I'd definitely notice that my face felt smoother to the touch, but I have to admit, I cannot swear to the peel's effectiveness at fighting blemishes. However, given my skin's overall improvement, I plan on keeping up the weekly peels.

Salicylic Acid 2% Solution: Salicylic acid is found in many spot-fighting treatments as it can sink into pores and exfoliates them from the inside. 
 - I loved this product and used it virtually every day. I'll expand on the routine I got into later on in this post, but this is a product I will 100% be buying again. It rubbed into and dried on my skin well and I noticed any spots which this was applied directly to seemed to be reduced by morning. One thing worth noting however was that if my skin was damp (or if I applied too much product), the acid would go white when I rubbed it in. I don't know if this is 'bad' or not, but once I noticed, I attempted to use less product and dried my skin carefully before use. 

Retinol 1% in Squalane: a vitamin A derivative which has been proven to boost collagen production and increase cell turnover.
 - I used this product three to four times a week before bed. As expected, after using the product consistently for a few days, my skin could get a bit irritated, at which point I'd usually dial down my usage a little. However, this irritation settled down with time I have noticed an improvement in my skin's texture, something I believe I can attribute to the retinol. The one downside to this product is that it can take a while to sink in to the skin and, for me, could feel a little 'greasy'  after application. I believe this is because of the squalane as I encountered a similar sensation when using the 100% squalane. However, despite not being the biggest fan of the texture, I didn't seem to have any of the adverse effects attributed with greasy products (breakouts etc...) and I was usually going pretty much straight to bed so again, I will continue using this product. 

Alpha Lipoic Acid 5%: A high concentrate of ALA which is known for evening out skin tone. It's an antioxidant which is easily absorbed by the skin and can help combat signs of aging and help with the appearance of scar tissue. 
 - This product, as warned on the bottle, is quite harsh. Persistent use with no breaks does result in irritation, as I found out the hard way. However, once I'd followed the bottle's instructions and used it just a few times a week, I found I could put it on before bed and when I woke up in the morning, my skin just looked... better. It was noticeable. Weirdly enough, my sister (who also bought a couple of The Ordinary products), also mentioned the same in passing. It smells a little chemically, but personally this doesn't bother me. 

Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5: Hyaluronic acid attracts up to 1,000 times it weight in water which makes it an excellent hydrator.
- Yup, this works. I could even put it around my eyes and my skin felt soft and well moisturized. 'Nuff said.

100% Plant-Derived Squalane: Squalane is another hydrator which can also be used on your hair to protect from heat. 
- This was my least favourite product. Admittedly I didn't  use it on my hair or anything like that, but for me, on my skin the slightly greasy feeling was not to my liking. However, it did seem good at locking in moisture, I guess in the same way as baby oil is! It just wasn't the texture for me.

Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%: This is another one for blemishes and congestion and pops up quite a few times as a bit of a 'miracle cure' for spots. 
- This was another favourite which I used every day. My skin is pretty much blemish free which I believe this product definitely helped achieve. Only downside - don't go layering this on top of too many other products, especially if they haven't dried. Otherwise, the Niacinamide seems to 'pill' or crumble under your fingertips as you attempt to rub it in. However, if I used it first or second (on a dry face) I didn't experience this issue. 

One more product I actually went back and bought mid-way through my experiment (yes, I know, not very scientific, I apologise) was the Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone. I don't believe I have been using it long enough yet to judge any difference it has or hasn't made, but I will say that it feels amazing on my skin and for that reason alone, currently I love it. 

So there we go, that's my thoughts on the individual products. Here is how I ended up combined them in my consistent daily routine: 

Salicylic Acid or Niacinamide - originally I started off by using both, but this got too time consuming for the mad dash of my morning routine, so I cut down to one
- Followed by Hyaluronic Acid
- Then, a Nivea day cream with SFP

- Which ever one of the Salicylic Acid or Niacinamide I hadn't used in the morning 
-  Followed by the Retinol 1% 
-  A few times a week, this was then followed by the Alpha Lipoic Acid
- If not using the Alpha Lipoic Acid, I've now added in using the Vitamin C Suspension last
- Again, once everything had sunk in, I'd add some Nivea night cream

Then, as I mentioned, I'd use the skin peel once a week or so. I'd keep to this routine most days, however there would usually be two days a week which would be essentially product free as on these nights I'd be at my boyfriend's. I'm not sure how beneficial these breaks were, but they did give my skin some time to 'calm down' if any minor irritation had arisen. 

It's hard to attribute any one product to the overall improvement I've seen in my skin which I realise is completely and utterly frustrating from your, as the reader, point of view. However, I can confidently say I have definitely seen a noticeable improvement and, based on that, will be continuing with my routine. Personally, I am very happy. 

Have you tried the products? How did you get on? Do you hate them with a passion or have you jumped on board The Ordinary train with the rest of us converts? Please do let me know in the comments! 


*Brushing my hair very thoroughly, laying out towels, finding my toothbrush (yes, I'm one of those people...).

<Please note, this post has NOT been written in affiliation with The Ordinary - all views are very much my own!> 

Friday, 2 March 2018

Orchid Festival at Kew Gardens

With the torrential snow which has hit the UK in the last few days, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has found themselves dreaming of warmer climates. However, if a holiday to Australia (or the fiery pits of Hell - honestly, I'd take either right now!) isn't on the cards, I may have the next best thing for you - a trip to the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in West London.

"What?! Are you mad?! The whole nature of gardens is that they're outside!!"

Well thankfully not at Kew. In fact, Kew is home to some rather large, wonderfully temperature controlled, tropical greenhouses. Not only that, but currently their yearly orchid festival is on, so one greenhouse in particular is a riot of beautiful colours and smells.

Kew's orchid festival has been running for 23 years and this year, there's a particular focus on Thailand (which apparently is home to 1,100 species of orchid and to 10% of the world's flowering plants!).

Wandering around the greenhouse is a spectacular experience. Everywhere you look, beautiful flowers are there. Arches drip with orchid blooms and other plants whilst living pillars rise up, some even supporting mini pineapple plants! The smell is just incredible too.

The exhibition is very well put together - winding paths take you in all directions through the greenhouse so I felt a bit like an explorer, waiting to see what was around the next bend.

The center piece of the exhibition is a magnificent model of a Thai palace in the middle of a pond. The roof's covered with flowers and blooms burst through the palace arches!

Whilst walking around, I liked how the more 'permanent' exhibits hadn't been removed for the festival - before reaching the orchids, you wind your way through a cactus garden and inside the main exhibition, small side doors take you off to oggle carnivorous plants in all their boggy glory.

(Tangent alert: when I was little, I used to keep different kinds of plants in my windowsill. I started off with cacti - supposedly the easiest plants to look after. I killed them. Weirdly, some were over-watered, others dried out... My next obsession was carnivorous plants - I had a Venus fly trap, a sundew plant and two different types of pitcher plants. These boggy little terrors also met unfortunate ends. Next up was an orchid - this rotted in its pot! Safe to say, I am not at all green fingered, but you can definitely see why a greenhouse full of orchids, cacti and carnivorous plants appealed to me!) 

Eventually, I'd seen just about everything in the greenhouse (and taken enough photos to last me a life time) so I ventured back out into the cold... before quickly heading back inside another tropical haven - the Palm greenhouse.

This glasshouse was more interesting than I was expecting, especially considering everything in it was 'just green' - it housed different kinds of palms from all over the world and it made you feel like you were in the middle of the jungle! I especially enjoyed climbing the wrought iron staircase to gaze over the tree canopy. (plus, it was warmer up there!)

For me, visiting Kew was a pretty magical experience and it's definitely a resource I plan to make more use of going forwards. Visiting at Christmas for their light show was one thing, but it was another to see what they're best at - growing spectacular plants. If you want to visit, the Orchid Festival happens for just one month (Feb - March) while these beautiful flowers are in bloom and it really does have to be seen to be believed. Entry to the orchids is included with your day ticket (and it's cheaper to buy your tickets on line in advanced!). I think the festival ends on March 11th so there's just a week left to go see it but I would thoroughly recommend making the time.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Ordinary: a skincare revolution?

Recently, I've become very interested in the skincare range called 'The Ordinary'. I firstly heard about it from my friend Frankie and then, after a bit of a google, found out that it seems to have a very loyal following of people looking for affordable yet effective skincare.

The Ordinary states it values integrity, providing skincare that works without the enormous markup seen on the majority of brands. This seems like quite a high bar to live up to, but after having read through just about every page in their website, I can see how they're planning to achieve this. Each product description clearly states what is in the bottle and how exactly those ingredients will help you, along with how to use it. I was quite excited as I could quickly see a number of ingredients (such as retinols and  hyaluronic acid) in relatively high concentrations which aren't usually available in cheaper skincare ranges.

SO. I may have gone a tiny bit overboard and ordered a lot of their products. Oops.

My skin has always been my biggest 'problem'. Growing up, I had fairly resistant acne which refused to budge. Although the spots were never as terrible as some poor peoples', every one I had left a nasty little scar. Nowadays, it has mostly cleared up, but I definitely am prone to outbreaks and I really dislike all those little scars. Therefore, I'm very much hoping that these concentrated products from The Ordinary could work towards resurfacing my skin without stripping it of all its moisture, whilst combating those mid-twenties signs of aging to boot. (God. Mid-twenties. I feel old!)

 I've worked out a new regime just using these products and am keen to see if they live up to the hype. The plan is to report back here in about a months time and see whether I can see a difference. But firstly, what did I buy and what do they supposedly do?

AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution: A twice-weekly mask which aims to exfoliate the skin, de-congest pores and fight blemishes.

Salicylic Acid 2% Solution: Salicylic acid is found in many spot-fighting treatments as it can sink into pores and exfoliates them from the inside. This is just a slightly more concentrated solution to do just that.

Retinol 1% in Squalane: Now, retinol is a vitamin A derivative which has been proven to boost collagen production and increase cell turnover. It's quite often found in acne creams to try and force your skin to regenerate and can also be found in very low quantities (more like 0.2%) in commercial skincare. Therefore, this product really excited me, although I am aware it may initially irritate my skin.

Alpha Lipoic Acid 5%: A high concentrate of ALA which is known for evening out skin tone. It's an antioxidant which is easily absorbed by the skin and can help combat signs of aging and help with the appearance of scar tissue. 

Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5: Hyaluronic acid attracts up to 1,000 times it weight in water which makes it an excellent hydrator.

100% Plant-Derived Squalane: Squalane is another hydrator which can also be used on your hair to protect from heat. Importantly for me, it's not greasy unlike other oils!

Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%: This is another one for blemishes and congestion and pops up quite a few times as a bit of a 'miracle cure' for spots. I actually went back and ordered this after my original delivery as it came up so much in skincare reviews of the brand. So, I'm very hopeful it will do what it says on the tin! 

Below, you can see my skin now, first thing in the morning. I have no skin products on bar a little fake tan - please excuse the scraped back hair and awkward face expressions! (You can tell my dedication to this trial as I'm posting such unflattering photos on the internet!) To summarise, I have large pores on my nose, scaring on my cheeks, along with a scattering of spots.

I plan on using these above products every day - the morning and evening for some, others I will spread out throughout the week as directed.

Hopefully in a month's time I'll take some more photos and we'll be able to see an improvement! I will also let you know the routine I ended up settling on.

Have you used these products before? If so, which were your favourites? (Did you actually hate them?) Or have you found something that does the job better? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Cinematic Dining: Lunch at Olympic Studios, Barnes

Whenever my mother comes up to town, we tend to end up exploring areas that perhaps I wouldn't usually venture out to. (In part, this may be because she tends to bring a car, whereas usually I rely on public transport.) This weekend, we headed out to Barnes which, admittedly, is really just a stone's throw from my doorstep. Since the weather was down-right grotty, we found ourselves taking refuge in Olympic Studios - a local cinema and (it seemed) a rather popular restaurant.

A little research post meal lead me to understand one thing - Olympic Studios is rather a big deal. Back in its hey day, Olympic Studios was a recording studio where some of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll history came to record their latest tracks. Artists included the Rolling Stones (who recorded six albums there!), The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin and even Queen! Later on, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Oasis and my personal favourite, The Spice Girls, all paid the studio a visit. It seems the studio wasn't just a rock and pop haven however - film soundtracks (The Italian Job, The Rocky Horror Picture Show...) were also recorded there. Personally, I found all this quite astounding given Barnes to me seemed like a lovely but quiet end of London!

Anyway, back to lunch.

You wouldn't maybe thing that a recording studio-cum-cinema would have a particularly good restaurant attached. However, in this case, you'd be wrong - we had some wholly unexpected excellent food!

As the rain poured outside, we settled down to a starter of a large ball of burrata on a bed of beetroot, pomegranate and pistachio served with bruschetta. We also ordered some tasty pineapple based smoothies which were delicious and came beautifully presented!

Then, Mum opted for a lovely looking salad and I (feeling slightly unadventurous) went for the cheese burger. The burger was definitely tasty, but I have to say the chips were fantastic! I'm not normally a big chip person, but each one of these was crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, without being too thick or thin. The texture on the outside almost looked 'bubbly' so I wonder if they had been double fried? Anyway, they were great!

We finished the meal with an absolutely stunning little pudding (a mille-feuille filled with baby rhubarb and pistachios) and just about felt ready to face the very British weather outside.

All in all, the Olympic was a completely unexpected and enjoyable surprise. Not only was the food good, we also had an excellent waitress - attentive, friendly and generally helpful. I can definitely see myself venturing out to Barnes to go again, although I may wait for a slightly less-wet day!

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Easy Steps to Saving the World

It's amazing how much a simple image can change the attitude of an entire country. However, that's exactly what BBC's 'Blue Planet II' managed to do with a shot of a whale carrying its dead calf in its mouth. The calf likely died of plastic poisoning and so this image has spurned a countrywide movement to cut the plastic.

Now, I know I'm not the most environmentally friendly person in the world. I don't always recycle - my flat is tiny and really does only have room for one bin - and my washing machine doesn't even have a 30 setting. However, the Post Blue Planet Guilt has set in and consequently, I've adopted a couple of simple steps which, with very little thought, make it easy to cut my plastic consumption.

(No whale photos I'm afraid, but here's a shot of a beautiful Costa Rican beach. Note the lack of dead sea life.)

1) Make the bag for life your new companion for life. I have a durable, reusable, (admittedly plastic) bag in my handbag at all times. This way, it's always on you and you don't even have to think before popping down to the shops. Sounds obvious, but it took me a surprising number of 'damn I forgot bags again' at supermarket checkouts before I trained myself to keep one in my handbag.

2) Get a travel mug! Again, sounds obvious but this one will go a long way towards making you an environmental friendly pro. For example, did you know that there are only three places in the UK where coffee cups can be recycled? So all that effort you've expended into putting them into recycling bins was probably wasted as most cups never make it to one of these three recycling plants. Initially, I 'tried to be good' by reusing my coffee cup and trying to keep to one throwaway a day. But in the end I realised this was just a bit ridiculous and popped into a TK Maxx on the way home and picked up a travel mug for a fiver. I could have spent even less, but I wanted a pink one. Now, I get to sit at my desk feeling smug, judging all the disposable cup using people. It's a good feeling.

3) Back to the supermarkets - y'know the fruit and veg sections? Forgo the little flimsy plastic bags you can pack your veg into and just stick it straight in your basket. If you're anything like me, those bags go straight in the bin when you get home anyway! If you have too much veg and you don't want it rolling around everywhere, try and hunt down those bags for loose mushrooms. For some strange reason, those bags seem to be made of predominantly paper. Not a perfect solution, but definitely a step in the right direction!

4) My forth and last tip is stop using plastic straws. Just sip your cocktail (or drink Champagne - no one does that with a straw!). Fine, it's a pain in the arse if you've freshly done your lipstick, but on the plus side, at least you can admire the colour if it's stuck on the side of a glass...

So those are four (hopefully super easy) steps to reduce your plastic waste. No need to be a complete hippy-eco-warrior, but little changes to our lifestyle can add up and make a big difference.

What tips do you have? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, 15 January 2018

What January Blues? Lima and a Little Dose of Childhood

For most, January can be a pretty dreary month - the festivity of Christmas is over, the new year has been waved in and the January diet has started. However for me, the month is just one big count down to my birthday! So, with the aim of kicking off the new year in the right way, here are a couple of little recommendations to perk you  up!

To kick us off, this month my friends and I finally had the chance to eat at Lima Fitzrovia, a Michelin starred Peruvian restaurant. We chose food from two set menus - the Andes menu or the Amazon menu - whilst sipping on the restaurant's signature Pisco Sour cocktail. I was very excited as my last experience of Peruvian food (at Pachamama) had been excellent!

The meal started off with a small amuse-bouche and large hunks of brown bread. This was then followed by the black bream ceviche, thinly sliced beef in a yellow aji sauce, beef pachamanca (which literally means 'cooked underground with hot stones') with Andean roots and finished off with a dulce de leche cream and port pudding, dotted with shards of meringue.

Personally, I found the food absolutely delicious! Around the table, we'd all chosen slightly different dishes and (after nabbing a couple of bites off my boyfriend's and friend's plate) I can safely say the octopus starter off the Andes menu and the lamb off of the Amazon menu were also fabulous. The only dish which slightly let the meal down was the pudding - the dulce de leche port mix didn't go down so well with the group of us. However, we thoroughly enjoyed the majority of the food! Not only that, but the waitstaff were attentive, friendly and knowledgeable (without being overbearing), which definitely added to the experience. I would most definitely recommend heading there for a taste of Peruvian cuisine.

This month I also finally got a chance to potter down to the V&A to see the 'Winnie the Pooh' exhibition and the 'Opera: Passion, Power and Politics' exhibition.

Now, I know I bang on about the V&A a fair amount on this blog. But this is because I honestly believe it is an absolutely brilliant institution.  We are very lucky in London that so many amazing resources are open and free to the public: the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the  British Library (and of course the Victoria and Albert!) to name just a few. Special exhibitions like the above you do have to pay to enter, but the ticket cost helps support the thousands of other exhibits on show. I've chosen to buy an under-26 V&A membership (which allows me free entry into the special exhibitions) and I have to say I'm so glad I have - I have 'earned back' the cost of the membership many times over and I'm more than happy to support the museum!

ANYWAY. The Winnie the Pooh exhibition was just adorable and surprisingly interesting. I just had no idea that the little portly bear had captured the hearts of so many people all the way around the world. Not only that, but learning about how the illustrations and the words came together to bring the stories to life was really insightful.

As you went around, there were original sketches everywhere and little corners where you could sit and listen to extracts from the books, along with tiny doors and cupboards of 'hunny' to open. The curators had managed to make the exhibition really rather magical.

'Opera: Passion, Power and Politics' was quite a different kettle of fish. On entering the exhibition, I was given a headset which, rather like the Pink Floyd exhibition, cleverly played the relevant soundtrack as I moved around the cases. The exhibition walks you through the (often quite dark) history of opera and the influence it's had on the masses by taking you on a journey through a number of  cities where prominent operas were first performed. Not only used to provide entertainment, the opera was an opportunity to socialise, display your status or even spread social change or political ideas - the independence of Milan from Spanish rule, the social recognition of the 'lower classes' and the independence of women for example.

I thought the exhibition was very cleverly put together - the different music complimented what you were seeing and the undercurrent of gunfire, dock workers' clatter and city life hubber brought the history to life. I had been unsure whether I was going to particularly enjoy the exhibition (mainly as I have no real interest in opera) but it definitely left me wanting to learn more!

So that's it from me for now, but let me know how your new year is going! What places would you recommend to visit over the next month?

Friday, 5 January 2018

New Year, New Me?

Firstly, happy new year! I hope you all had wonderful times over the Christmas period and said farewell to 2017 with a bang!

Now that January has well and truly started in the only way it knows how (queue drizzle, wind and general murkiness) I found myself thinking about the concept of new year's resolutions and whether or not it was particularly worth creating any. Throughout January, the phrase 'New Year, New Me!' gets tossed around more than avocados in a salad bar, but it had me wondering 'was there really that much wrong with the old me?!'.  Well, the answer I've come to is 'no. Not really.'

I mean, there are definitely things I could improve on (do more exercise, cook more, sort out my flat, donate to charity, get promoted, meet more people, make more of an effort with existing friends etc...), but on reflection I realised these were things I should think about everyday. The arbitrary marker of time slipping from one round dozen months into another shouldn't be the only thing that kick starts me into action.

So, bin the over-inflated #goals and the resolution-breaking guilt - here's to doing our best every day.

(...I may have just booked my first ever spin class, but hey, I could have chosen to do that ANY month of the year...)

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