Join the Cult? Bepanthen, Clarins, St. Ives, and Sudocrem

There are some products that feature frequently in magazines' "Best of" lists, then you try them for yourself and wonder how on Earth they ever got there...

I bought this ointment from Bepanthen after I saw a blogger recommending it for chapped lips, an affliction from which I constantly suffer, no matter how much water I guzzle. It's thick, white, and gloopy, so more of an overnight treatment than your everyday lip balm. Obviously the packaging (it's got a baby's bottom on it for crying out loud!) means it isn't exactly conducive to carrying it around in your handbag and whipping it out at lunch time, especially if you are currently without child, as I am. Aside from those issues, I just didn't find that it did anything for my lips. It kind of sat on top of them, like a barrier, and never actually sank in or had any real moisturising effect. At least the smell of this ointment was fairly inoffensive, slightly medicinal, and it's worth noting that it doesn't contain any fragrances, preservatives, or colourants. Bayer, the company behind Bepanthen, appears to engage in animal testing so even if I did like the product (I don't), I would not be repurchasing.

Oh boy, where to begin with this one. My mother warned me not to waste my money on it, but did I listen? Do we ever? Clarins' Beauty Flash Balm claims to do many things, mainly moisturise, brighten, and tighten. Most people seem to use it in place of a primer and that's how I tried it. While it definitely made my face feel tighter (uncomfortably so), I didn't witness the promised glow and it certainly didn't help my makeup go on any better; I actually think it had the opposite effect and left my foundation looking patchy. I had read several people's accounts of the balm "pilling" on them i.e. it formed small balls on the surface, so I knew it required a very light-handed application, but there were still days when I found myself peeling bits off my face. Yuck. I really didn't enjoy the strange synthetic scent and I'm pretty sure my skin had a reaction to it every single time I wore it, leaving me red and itchy, not surprising really considering the list of ingredients. I didn't even bother trying to finish the tube, something that is very rare for me. It would seem that mothers really do know best after all. I believe Clarins products are sold in China, therefore they are not considered to be a cruelty-free brand. 

St. Ives' Blemish Control Apricot Scrub is so harsh that I seriously feel like it would be more suited to scrubbing the sink than your face. I found it so abrasive that I ended up repurposing it to exfoliate my bikini line in an attempt to prevent ingrown hairs post-waxing. If you're looking for the beauty equivalent of sandpaper, this is it. The apricot scent is pleasant enough but quite strong and probably not for anyone sensitive to fragrance. As for this scrub's spot-fighting abilities, I felt it irritated my skin more than anything, actually causing more flare-ups. While investigating St. Ives' cruelty-free status, I was redirected from their site to that of Unilever, whose policy states: "We do not test our products on animals and are committed to ending animal testing ... Occasionally, when there are no suitable non-animal approaches available, some of the ingredients we use have to be tested; and some governments test our products on animals as part of their regulatory requirements." So even if St. Ives doesn't test the finished product on animals, countries where it's sold (like China) do, and its parent company does admit to sometimes testing ingredients on the furry ones.

Ah Sudocrem, the all-purpose wonder cream found tucked away in every bathroom cabinet in Ireland. A beloved zit zapper for many, a lavender-scented, sticky white mess for moi. It never helped to clear up my spots (no matter how thickly I layered it on!), although I do think it had a cooling effect on the more angry ones. Described as an "antiseptic healing cream", Sudocrem is still my number one choice when it comes to treating cuts and burns, but a cure for acne it is not. I was thrilled to find out that the cream was originally developed in Dublin and is still manufactured there to this day, as I love to support Irish businesses where possible. However, I was not so thrilled to discover the company's policy on animal testing. When I couldn't find any information on their various sites, I reached out to Sudocrem via Twitter and this was their response: "Sudocrem is not tested on animals but we cannot guarantee that individual ingredients have not been subjected to it, as they are from various suppliers." I'm not really sure what to make of that statement; the finished product is not tested but the ingredients might have been, not exactly what I would call cruelty-free. It's such a shame, I was really holding out hope for that one. If anyone can point me in the direction of a truly cruelty-free antiseptic cream, I'd be much obliged.

Lip Service - NUXE Rêve de Miel Lip Balm

I don't drink enough water. I drink very little (if any) on a daily basis. I do, however, drink a lot of tea. I've tried everything to get myself to up my water intake; I bought large two litre bottles hoping they'd encourage me to drink the recommended amount, I bought myself a nice refillable water bottle that I could take with me on the go, I tried flavouring the water with fruit and mixing it with squash, I even downloaded several apps which would track my progress and remind me when it was time to drink more. Even when I did manage to work my way up to eight glasses a day, I couldn't stick to it for more than a few weeks. This means that I am almost always dehydrated; my skin is dry, I have no energy, and I get terrible headaches. The area where this is most obvious is my mouth. No matter what I apply to my lips, they are forever dry and cracked, particularly in the corners; on a bad day, they bleed. Of course it doesn't help that I chew my bottom lip whenever I'm nervous or stressed.

I was never really into lip balms growing up. Most girls I knew would have at least one tin of Vaseline or stick of Blistex to hand, but I absolutely hated the sticky feeling they left behind and the sickly sweet scents turned my stomach. I suppose my aversion to lip products didn't really become an issue till I underwent my first course of Roaccutane and a heavy-duty lip balm became as much a part of my routine as deodorant.

What first attracted me to NUXE's Rêve de Miel lip balm was its rather luxe-looking packaging, so different to the usual plasticky designs. The beautifully frosted glass jar, together with its French name (translating to Dream of Honey, I believe), makes this product seem much more expensive than the €12 many pharmacies charge for it. I enjoyed the scent of this balm so much that I found myself reaching for it often, if only to get a whiff of its pure lemony goodness, reminiscent of a zesty lemon curd. A pale creamy yellow, with a texture not unlike butter and sugar whipped together, this rich balm doesn't just sit atop your lips like a barrier, but melts into them instantly, soothing and nourishing as it goes.

This is the only lip balm (quite possibly the only lip product) that I have ever managed to use up and it's one that I have repurchased several times since. However, although I was under the impression that NUXE is a cruelty-free company, I have now come to believe otherwise, and thus will no longer be buying from them. 

According to the U.S. site, "NUXE do not test on animals neither its products nor the ingredients contained in its products, then respecting the European law that prohibits the use of such methods", while the UK site states, "In order to assess the performance of NUXE products, we resort to cruelty-free tests. Safety tests are performed according to alternative or substitution methods, sponsored by renowned experts and never resorting to animal testing." Strange that the policy is worded so differently on two sites for the same company.

Unfortunately, with all those claims in mind, NUXE has still chosen to sell in China where it is a legal requirement that all imported cosmetics be tested on animals. I'm now on the lookout for a cruelty-free alternative to Rêve de Miel, one that performs just as well and smells equally delicious. After all, what's the point in being a vegetarian if I'm not as conscious about what I put on my mouth as I am of what I put in it?

Blink And You'll Mess It - Kjaer Weis Mascara

Just like the foundation (review here), the Kjaer Weis Mascara arrived from Content housed in one of the brand's signature blood-red boxes.

Now, a bit of accidental wand to face contact is of course to be expected when applying mascara, unless you're a total pro (I'm not), but even if I do manage to get this stuff on my lashes (no mean feat considering how thick and wet the formula is) as soon as I blink, it transfers, above and below my eye. It doesn't matter how painstakingly you apply; I even tried that whole "hold a card behind your lashes" trick and I still managed to get it on my eyelid! Somehow it's even worse whenever I curl my lashes, which is most days.

After a lot of trial and error (mostly error), I got so fed up of having it smear across my eyelid, that I retired this mascara indefinitely. And there it languished at the back of my make-up drawer until quite recently. Weeks of non-use meant that the formula had dried out just enough to make application a bit easier so I decided to risk wearing it to college one particularly wet and windy winter's morning. You can see where this is going, can't you?

As I took my seat, I could tell that something was wrong. The two girls to the left of me were looking at me with rather strange expressions on their perfectly made-up faces (I later recognised this as pity) and when another girl sat on my right, she took one look at me and started fiddling with her own make-up. Immediately suspicious but with no pocket mirror to hand (and far too embarrassed to whip out my phone to use the front-facing camera in front of the whole class), I had to sit through the lecture in agony and rush to the bathroom as soon as it was over to survey the damage. Oh boy. It was EVERYWHERE. The mascara had smudged all around my eye area, leaving me with the very definition of "Panda Eyes". Now I feel it only fair to point out that Kjaer Weis do not actually market this mascara as waterproof (with good reason obviously) but not only had it smudged, it had flaked; I mean, there was more mascara on my face than there was left on my lashes.

And it's not just the formula I have a problem with. Part of the appeal of this product (and the entire Kjaer Weis brand) is the glamorous exterior, but in real life, the packaging isn't exactly practical. For one thing, the tube is quite small and not the most comfortable to hold given its unusual shape. The cap doesn't quite align with the bottom when you twist it shut, which takes away from the overall effect, and the finishing means that there is just no avoiding getting fingerprints all over it. Not what you want from a mascara that retails at £33.

I feel like I have to say something good about this product. If only because I spent my birthday money on it. So here it is: it's jet black. Not enough? Well, while it's not really any good at holding a curl or giving volume, it could definitely be described as lengthening. And, as with the foundation, you have the option of purchasing refills. It's also easy enough to remove with just your regular old cleanser.

So, to sum up, I'd rather go without mascara than wear this, which is what I have been doing lately. And coming from a girl who's worn mascara pretty much every day for the past ten years, I think that says quite a lot, don't you?