I have my first holiday gift guide of the year today featuring some great discovery gift sets. Birchbox and Sephora each have their own curated box sets with hand-picked items. They’re often grouped and boxed by themes such as dry shampoos, berry lips, nude lips, sunscreen, skincare etc. They’ve basically taken their best sellers and packed them into sampler boxes with minis at a value price. I love these for myself because it allows me to try a lot of items without having to buy the individual full sizes I’m unsure about. Each store has their own exclusive selection which makes them unique.
There are tons of boxes and kits to choose from. Many are pretty affordable and tons at the $25 price point. This year I shopped sets early as I know there’s a good chance the value sets of them will sell out early. My friends this year are all about hair styling and highlighters. It seems like every single female friend I have doesn’t have time to wash and dry their hair on a daily basis. The good thing this year is that there are TONS of dry shampoo sets and holiday styling sets for all hair types. Highlighters are also as popular among my friends as they are on Instagram lol. Sets are great because even though I think I can find the perfect highlighter or dry shampoo for my close friends we all have different tastes and preferences.
Up first are some of the Birchbox Kits. Birchbox is known for their monthly subscription boxes and for the longest time I thought that was all that they offered. Not true. The Birchbox Collection has an entire shop of discovery kits, limited-edition box sets, and much more. If you visit their store you’ll see their products grouped by product type and then brand. An entire wall will be dedicated to suncare and they’ll split it by types of sunscreens. Their value sets are really cute and well put together. You can also buy individual full-sized items as well.
Up first is The Dry Shampoo Starter Kit for $32 ($74 value) you get an amika (Fort)Tress Shower Cap, amika Perk Up Dry-Shampoo, R+Co Death Valley Dry Shampoo (one of my favorites), Oribe Gold Lust Dry Shampoo, Living proof Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo, Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk.
To date the R+Co had been my favorite but has been replaced with the Oribe Dry Shampoo that just launched a couple months ago. Neither leave my hair looking dusty or matte and there is no white residue. One of my friends swears by the Living Proof one which I tried. It left my hair looking too matte. As this set is a gift I won’t be reviewing the other items but thought you would like a peek at this one.
Next is the one I’m just beyond obsessed with. In my What’s In My Bag post I mentioned this Birchbox + Oribe Styling Kit. It has five minis of Oribe – cute beyond words!! I ordered two of these, one for me, one for a friend. I suspect I will be ordering a few more as you just can’t go wrong with Oribe. It’s priced at $35, each bottle is tiny but if you’ve never tried Oribe before this is a great way to try out the line without having to buy individual bottles which are around $20 each for the minis.
One kit I received as a press sample was the Complete SPF Kit. When I visited the Birchbox Soho Store over the summer I was just blown away by the presentation and display of the store. If you’re in NYC definitely make a stop there. The bottom floor is for men’s grooming and skincare so bring your boyfriend, husband, brother or male friends with you. They can build their own Birchbox too!
This one is priced at $18 – you get mini sample sizes of Supergoop! Advanced SPF 37 Anti-Aging Eye Cream, MDSolarSciences Mineral Moisture Defense SPF 50, Dr. Jart+ Every Sun Day SPF 30 UV Sun Fluid, Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist SPF 50, COOLA Face SPF 30 Unscented, COOLA Daydream SPF 30 Mineral Makeup Primer. I have yet to try all of these but I’ve tried both the Coola ones and find them suitable for my sensitive skin.
Next are the Sephora Favorites. I think one could seriously get carried away with the sets because they have SO MANY good things in them! One of the complaints my friends have about makeup is that the size of some things are just too big and it take them forever to use something up. Minis are popular among friends who like to rotate items frequently because you can use them up faster.
Up first is the Sephora Favorites Scouted by Sephora set which is $24 for five minis. This one features 5 up-and-coming brands at Sephora. I received this one as a gift and haven’t had a chance to try the items yet, but have been really curious about Milk Makeup so I’m eager to try the mascara. It has a Bésame Cosmetics Red Matchbook, GrandeLIPS Hydrating Plumper, Makeup Eraser Mini in Pink, MILK MAKEUP Ubame Mascara, Wander Beauty Lip and Cheek Mini in Pink City.
Next is the Sephora Favorites Glow for It. This one sold out online but I spotted it in store and picked up two. It’s since been restocked online and I can see why it’s been a popular one. For $30 you get minis of Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Liquid in Moonstone, Benefit Watt’s Up, Cover FX Custom Infusion Drops in C+ Lemongrass – Radiance, Hourglass Ambient® Strobe Lighting Powder in Incandescent Strobe Light, MILK MAKEUP Sunshine Oil and a full size Lancôme Glow Subtil Silky Crème Highlighter in Glowing Lights 06. The Lancome blush itself is $30 so the set is a steal.
I already have 3 of the items in the full size (Hourglass Strobe Powders swatched here) but almost want one for myself.
Another one is the Sephora Favorites Hair Rescue Masks on the Go ($25). This one is listed as being an $85 value. It has quite a lot of product to sample – to date I’ve tried three of the items from Ouai, Phyto and Christophe Robin and all three are great. This one has Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Balm-to-Oil Pre-Shampoo Masque, Phyto Phytokératine Extrême Exceptional Mask, Gloss Moderne High-Gloss Masque, Christophe Robin Regenerating Mask with Rare Prickly Pear Seed Oil
, Living Proof Perfect Hair Day® Night Cap Overnight Perfector, Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair!™ Deep Conditioning Mask, Ouai Treatment Masque, VERB Hydrating Mask, and two packet sets of Rita Hazan Weekly Remedy Treatment For Deep Hydration & Superior Shine Treatment Step 1 & 2.
I wish I had this set last year when I was traveling for a month. It would have been perfect as it has packets small enough to pack in a carry on. One of my friends is obsessed with masks – skincare and haircare. She is going to freak out when she gets this one.
Last but not least is the Sephora Favorites Ready, Set, Style! This one was a bit pricier at $29 but the sizes of each spray was pretty impressive. You get five sprays for hair refreshers, volumizers and texturizers. It includes Bumble and Bumble Thickening Dryspun Finish, Drybar Detox Dry Shampoo, IGK Down and Out Dirty Spray, Ouai Texturizing Hair Spray, Living Proof Flex Shaping Hairspray.
That wraps up my first holiday gift guide. I hope these give you a better idea of what the sets look like compared to stock photos although I do think that both Birchbox and Sephora do a really good job at giving us accurate stock images on their websites.
The Sephora VIB Rouge 20% off sale starts tomorrow November 4th and runs through November 7th. If you’re shopping online use code 20ROUGE. I received an early code from a Sephora employee so was able to shop the sale early. I’ll have my Sephora shopping recommendations roundup up later this afternoon for those who are trying to research early.
For now I hope this sets post give you some ideas for affordable gift options. The ones I featured are all very reasonable in price ranging from $18 to $35 which won’t break the bank if you buy multiples. They’re great for holiday gifts or to treat yourself. I’m seriously tempted to keep a few of these for myself – I may order one or two more once the Sephora sale starts.
The Birchbox Complete SPF Kit and Scouted By Sephora Set gifted as press samples. Remainder featured purchased by me.
Summer is just around the corner but it’s on my mind right now. For the beauty world, seasonal collections launch ahead of season so many of you have probably already started to update your makeup wardrobe for warm weather. For me – I love wearing summery bronze shades year round, it’s a color I like to incorporate in bits to add warmth and life. I’ve teamed up with Nordstrom to share some of my summer beauty favorites covering a bit of everything from lips, eyes, cheeks, skin and fragrance. They have an entire page dedicated to Sexy Summer Must-Haves if you’re looking for something new. Up first are fragrance and body must-haves.
Sunnies by Marc Jacobs here, hat from Nordstrom here
First up are items for the skin and body. In the summer I love a bright nail polish whether it’s bright coral, red, orange or pink. My current obsession of the moment is Chanel Espadrilles which is a bright orangey-red cream. Two coats give full coverage and the new formula is a huge improvement in terms of lasting power over the original (even though I was a fan of the original). For fragrance, Tom Ford Soleil Blanc is the perfect white floral for summer but if you want something lighter the new Neroli Portofino Acqua (c/o) is really quite amazing. I’ve been wearing this for a few months now but haven’t felt like I was ready to talk about it just yet – it’s one of the lightest Tom Ford scents to date but still has very good lasting power. If you found the original Neroli Portofino too strong, the new Acqua version is the best one yet.
For self tanners – I’ve tried quite a few and they either smell really bad or cause an allergic reaction on my skin. A long-time favorite for a very natural gradual glow is the Clarins Radiance Plus Golden Glow Booster which you mix in with moisturizer, but the effect is very natural. I read a ton of reviews online to find another one before deciding to cave and try the Soleil de La Mer Face and Body Gradual Tan. It’s quite pricey but worth every penny. I’ve only tried on the body so far, but it gives a nice golden tan and smells amazing for a self tanner. You can use until you get the color you want, I found it worked for me after 4 days of use. Color lasts several days while fading gradually afterwards. It’s streak free, didn’t stain white jean shorts and non-orangey.
Protecting your skin with sunscreen that lasts is important. I have very sensitive skin and most sunscreens cause tiny little bumps to form on my skin by the end of the day. Two that I swear by are the Supergoop! Sunscreen Oil with SPF 50 and Coola Sunscreen Sprays which range from SPF 30 to 50 and come in unscented or scented options. I like the Coola because I can apply to my back easily in harder to reach areas. It’s weightless so you don’t feel like it’s greasy or heavy on the skin. I ask my husband to try out sunscreens I use as well – he’s really particular about products having a non-greasy feel and he approves of the Coola line.
For the lips, even though many associate summer color with brights or bronze shades, I love pinks, nudes and corals for a softer look. The best nude I’ve tried in a long time is Tom Ford Ultra Rich Lip Color in Revolve Around Me (c/o). It looks boring in the tube but on the lips it’s so so good! The Tom Ford Moisturecore Lip Colors (c/o) are perfect color-wise and come in six options ranging from a soft gold nude, deep copper, berry, coral and a few neutrals. The one I’ve been reaching for the most is Pipa (I bought back ups of both shades).
Chanel launched new Glossimers in the summer collection. I’ll have a full review on all the shades soon, but they are a new formula called Aqua Glossimer which comes with a slightly different applicator and a sheerer almost jelly like finish.
In an attempt to find more affordable color options to the Tom Ford I picked up a few other formulas. The Bobbi Brown Sheer Lip Color has a similar finish and feel to the Moisturecore Lip Colors but feels so much smoother and glide on the lips. I picked up Boho Bronze which is similar to Cala di Volpe and is $27 vs the $55 price tag of the Tom Ford. MAC Huggable Lip Colors have been a favorite (Touche is a really good nude) for an effortless kind of lip color that adheres well to the lips and makes them glow with a natural hint of color. They launched a few more shades recently and I picked up Seoul-Ful, Bare Hug and Bonsai Bloom.
Last but not least I was really excited to see a new Kevyn Aucoin Lip Gloss in Sunlight. It’s one of the prettiest bronzey shades I’ve tried. However when I got home I found it really close to Chanel Unity Glossimer.
For eyes I love shimmer. Even neutral shimmers add a little something that’s fun but wearable for every day. I’ve been on the hunt for a good copper nude shimmer. Many coppers are too warm or red for my eyes/skintone. Bronze has been a go-to but I have been on the hunt for something a little different.
In terms of golden copper shades, Charlotte Tilbury Eyes to Mesmerize in Bette is one of my favorites. I know a few of you have mentioned you found it too emollient for your skin type in which case I’d recommend you try Tom Ford ones or the Burberry Eye Color Creams which has a harder stiffer texture and more suitable for oily lids.
My perfect copper shade is the Kevyn Aucoin Loose Shimmer Eyeshadow in Sunstone which comes with a rollerball applicator. Just glide them across the eyes and then blend with a finger or brush.
The hunt for the perfect bronze eyeliner ends with NARS Larger than Life Eyeliner in Via Appia for me. No matter what other colors or brands I try, this one is my tried and true.
For complexion I love glowing skin. I wear bronzer year round so when summer rolls around I’m happy that bronzer is “in.” I’ve already reviewed a number of these shown below on the blog – some of which are back-up worthy in my mind which is why I have pristine new ones featured below. I’ve added other swatch shades as well for reference.
If you ask me what one bronzer I would recommend – it would be a very tough choice for me to pick just one. If you like a luminous glow, the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Bronzing Powders are really good because they mix highlighter and bronzer in one. They can pull warm and if you are fair you may find them too dark or too warm in which case I’d recommend Tom Ford Bronzing Powder in Terra which is a cooler-toned matte. My personal favorite is Gold Dust (shown below) because it’s the perfect mix of tan and gold in one. Both are goof-proof – the texture is really smooth and easy to layer without overdoing it.
NARS Laguna Bronzer is always a classic staple you can’t go wrong with. They launched a Liquid Laguna Bronzer this year which is easier to control for a soft sheer warm glow. Also new is a Laguna-Tiare Bronzer in a scented option which smells heavenly!!
If you’re set on bronzer and just want something to add to your cheeks for a glow, Tom Ford Fire Lust is hands down the best liquid illuminator I’ve tried. It’s subtle but one of the prettiest I’ve tried. It’s steep in price but worth it. You get a lot of product so it will last a long time.
In terms of blush, two that I deem absolute must-haves are Tom Ford Cream Cheek Color in Pink Sand and NARS Dual Intensity Blush in Sexual Content (c/o). Pink Sand was limited-edition last year but brought back again this season. It’s a really special pink gold cream that is oh so pretty. NARS Dual Intensity Blushes aren’t new but there are two new shades for summer in Sexual Content (shown below) and Liberation. The best thing about these is they have a unique cream to powder texture which is good for warm weather – it holds up on my skin without getting greasy or oily looking.
Last but not least – for foundation, I think finding the right one depends on skin type, coverage preference, color options and humidity levels. I’ve been loving the NARS Velvet Matte Skin Tint (c/o) for months now – it offers natural medium coverage and blends perfectly into the skin. I wore this over the holiday weekend – we went to the desert in Borrego Springs and it was almost 90 degrees (it was dry vs humid). The foundation stayed put all day long without needing a single touch up. This is my foundation of choice right now and I will be taking it with me while I travel later this month.
Above: hat from Nordstrom here (I bought it in both colors because it’s a perfect fit)
I hope you enjoyed this summer beauty roundup! I tried to include swatches of multiple colors as a reference guide in case you’re looking for a specific color or formula. Sometimes you’ll find the perfect color in a lipstick or eyeshadow but want it in a different formula (ie powder vs cream). Or you may find a bronzer formula you like but want it in a matte version vs shimmer. I love mixing things up. Many of you have asked for a dedicated summer bronzer post so stay tuned for that one in the upcoming weeks. I’m still testing out a few to see if they will make the cut for what I would recommend.
As always please share your favorites for summer below. Especially if you have sensitive skin, would love to hear about what you’ve tried and love for sunscreen and self tanning! I’ve seen a few sunscreen sprays pop up that are new for the season but would love to hear about your favorites too.
Many thanks to Nordstrom for partnering to sponsor this post. Some items in the post were press samples marked with a c/o next to the product names. More information in my Disclosures.
I’ve been testing a number of sunscreens all summer long to see which ones hold up to heat, humidity and also are suitable for my ultra sensitive skin. I know a sunscreen roundup would have been more appropriate earlier in the summer – but it’s recommended you wear sunscreen all year round, not just in warm sunny weather. Here in Southern California we have sunny weather 90% of the year. I used to think sunscreen wasn’t necessary for everyday – especially for those who work indoors for the vast majority of the day. However, in a good portion of work places there are windows where your skin can still be exposed to sunlight. These days I’ve put extra effort on applying sunscreen regularly. I am not the most disciplined at re-applying but am trying to be better. I’ve split my testing into three categories: Face, Body and Men’s.
Face Sunscreens – Many of my moisturizers or foundations already have SPF in them so I used to not pay much attention to applying sunscreen as an additional step. These days I prefer moisturizers and foundations that don’t have SPF – it’s not something I actively look for, it’s just a coincidence that most of the foundations I really like do not have any SPF. The highest SPF foundation I own is the Chanel CC Cream (all shades swatched here) which comes with an SPF 50. For days where I don’t wear this I do layer on sunscreen over moisturizer.
Four I’ve tested over the summer:
Clarins UV Plus Anti-Pollution Multi-Protection Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen ($42 for 50 ml/1.7 fl oz) is a new formula that replaced the original UV Plus HP. I prefer the original version because it had a thinner formula and even though the liquid was white, it didn’t leave a noticeable white cast on the skin. The new one has a higher SPF of 50 versus 40. It’s also slightly thicker and more creamy – it does the job at covering the face and protecting it – I found it too heavy for my skin. It does have a lightweight feel but the formula covered so much of my skin it felt like it couldn’t breathe underneath. If you have dry skin this one will probably be ok for your skin type.
Tatcha Pore Perfecting Sunscreen ($68 for 60 ml/2 fl oz) was launched in August. I had been waiting for this one for months ever since a reader e-mailed me with news that she saw a preview of this. This one comes with SPF 35 and is the one facial sunscreen to rule them all (at least all the ones I’ve tried). It’s a pore perfecting formula which really does smooth and blur out imperfections without making the face look matte or white. Many blurring products have a white or pink cast which makes my olive skin look ashy, powdery or flat. The Tatcha sunscreen is white but it blends out to an invisible finish. It makes the perfect primer for foundation too. It is on the pricey side, they have a Travel Size option for $13 to try. It helps control oil, it doesn’t break out my face, it covers the skin completely but allows the skin to breathe. It doesn’t clog pores and it doesn’t feel greasy. (PS, there is a promo with code CLEAN20 to receive a complimentary travel-size Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil ($12 value) on any order over $20, offer expires 9/30/2015.)
Chanel UV Essentiel Anti-Pollution Broad Spectrum SPF 50 ($55 for 1 fl oz/30 ml) has been a go-to for years. It used to come in a more rectangular bottle with a different formula. I loved the original and love the new one. It’s an ultra lightweight formula that is a white liquid but disappears on the skin. What I love about this one is that it doesn’t break me out and also layers beautifully over moisturizer and under foundation (I’ve tried it with Chanel, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, By Terry, NARS, Laura Mercier to name a few). Many sunscreens have a heavy greasy feel and don’t work well with foundations, this is the one I’ve repurchased a number of times. My husband likes to use it for day. For working out or running though it’s not sweat proof. It runs into both of our eyes and stings. This one works for my sensitive skin but one of my friends found it created tiny little bumps on her cheeks.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Pure Mineral Sunscreen Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 40 ($30 for 2 oz) is one of the few moisturizer + sunscreen products that I like. It has a creamy texture and white color but doesn’t leave a white cast on the skin. This one is free of skin-irritating chemicals and has a soothing feel. It dries to a semi-matte finish and works really well alone or under makeup. For my ultra sensitive skin this is one of the most gentle sunscreens I’ve tried. I gave one tube to a friend (same one who broke out from Chanel) and she is completely obsessed with the First Aid Beauty sunscreen. It’s lightweight and has a silky finish.
Body Sunscreens are something I test with dread. I get irritation and red blotches from so many it’s really quite ridiculous. My husband can use any body sunscreen without any issues. His main concern is about texture. If it feels greasy or oily and doesn’t dry down then he doesn’t like it. Four we’ve tested over the summer below that passed my sensitivity test.
Supergoop! Sun Defying Sunscreen Oil with Meadowfoam SPF 50 ($34 for 5 oz) is something I’ve been obsessed with all summer long. I bought in the mini size and brought with me to Europe in June. It’s an oil that absorbs quickly into the skin and makes the body glow but doesn’t feel greasy. If you’re not a fan of thick cream sunscreens this is a great alternative. It does a good job at preventing burns and when I use this I don’t get much of a tan. This is for face and body but I wasn’t brave enough to try it on my face.
Supergoop! Everyday SPF 50 with Cellular Response Technology is something I received from Birchbox ($32 for 7.5 oz). I didn’t think I would like it because it has a white cream lotion texture. This one is even better than the oil and even though I have sensitive skin and both work for me, I think this has a more gentle feel. I tried this on the face and it stayed put, didn’t sting my eyes with sweat and didn’t get oily. This is hands down one of the best body sunscreens I’ve tried. It’s easy to apply and absorbs quickly into the skin. It has a lightweight non-sunscreen scent that fades after a few minutes. One of my biggest gripes about body sunscreen is the sunscreen smell. This one doesn’t smell like the usual.
Coola Sport Continuous Sunscreen Spray SPF 30 in Tropical Coconut ($30 for the small 3 oz size) smells so amazing. I couldn’t find this one instores (my local stores had the unscented versions). It does have alcohol in it and you can smell it when you spray it on the skin, but the scent disappears and you’re left with the coconut scent. It’s lightweight and gives an even spritz of mist in a continuous spray. I like this one because it’s easy to apply all over – you can sunscreen your back easily and reapply quickly. It’s non-drying and non-irritating. I love that it’s not messy like creams or oils can be.
Korres Sunscreen Face and Body with SPF 50 is made with Greek Yogurt. You can’t find this one in the US unfortunately – we bought this in Athens and loved it. It’s a liquid spray but applies like a lotion. It’s creamy and soothing and completely covered the skin. There were a couple times we saw a dramatic difference on our skin on spots we missed. Areas covered with this sunscreen didn’t get dark or tan.
Last but not least, three men’s sunscreens my husband has liked enough to repurchase. He’s been a long-time Jack Black user. The one facial moisturizer he uses regularly is the Double Duty Face Moisturizer with SPF 20. He uses this almost daily – if he’s going to be indoors at his office most of the day he will use this alone. He likes the lightweight texture and it keeps his skin soft and prevents it from getting oily. On days he think he will be on the road or outdoors, he will layer on the Jack Black Sun Guard Very Water Resistant SPF 45 on top. This one is light enough that it doesn’t feel heavy. With sweat or water it doesn’t sting his eyes. He likes this for the body as well – it prevents burns when he’s been at the beach. Another one he likes is the Kiehl’s Facial Fuel UV Guard Sunscreen with SPF 50. This is his preference for high SPF – it’s lightweight and doesn’t leave a white cast on the skin. It’s similar to the Chanel UV Essentiel in terms of texture, but this one works better for his skin. It doesn’t bead up when he sweats.
I hope you found this roundup helpful. My top picks: Tatcha and First Aid Beauty for the face, Supergoop! Everyday Sunscreen (white tube) and Korres for the body. What are your favorite sunscreens? I’m always open to recommendations – I often learn about awesome skincare items from my readers.
Press samples include items from Clarins, Tatcha, First Aid Beauty and Supergoop! Everyday SPF50. All others purchased by me.