Perfectly Content - The Haul Overall

These days the majority of my skincare and cosmetics are bought online so it's a rare treat when I can walk into a store and buy something straight off the shelf. On my most recent trip to London (makes it sound like I go there all the time, doesn't it?) I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to every natural beauty lover's haven: Content. Despite the fact that it was a Saturday afternoon and there were women of all ages lining up to sample and spend, the lovely Magda lent me her expertise in selecting a number of daily essentials. I felt like a kid in a candy store - an expression I'd never really understood until that very moment! My visit happened to coincide with Organic Beauty Week which might have accounted for the steady stream of shoppers in and out of this treasure trove of all things natural and organic.

I headed into Content with the intention of picking up a new cleanser, new foundation, new concealer, body brush, and my second bar of a certain soap, and that is exactly what I left with. For some reason (probably because it was proving awkward to fit in the photograph) the Hydrea London Natural Body Brush I picked up isn't included but the rest, from left to right, are: S5 Skincare Nourish Cleanser, Soapwalla Activated Charcoal Facial and Body Soap, Kjaer Weis Cream Foundation, RMS Beauty 'Un' Powder, and RMS Beauty 'Un' Cover-Up.

I'll be giving each product its own review so do check back in if you're interested. It's safe to say I'll be making another visit to Content the next time I'm in London but first I've got some serious saving to do.

Just To Clarify - Acure Organics Shampoo

There's more to life than hair, but it is a good place to start. As everyone with temperamental hair knows, how good your locks look can often mean the difference between a good day and a bad one. And I don't just mean a good or bad hair day; it is my firm belief that the appearance and condition of your hair can seriously affect how you feel about yourself on an ongoing basis.

When your hair looks (and feels) great, you feel like you could take on the world. Equally the reverse is true, on those days when you're battling a bad case of the frizzies or staring in total despair at your lank locks in the mirror, you just want to pull on a baseball cap and hide. If you don't believe me, think about the last time you left the hairdresser's (only if you left happy with your new do of course) and how amazing you felt as you pounded the pavement with your freshly-trimmed ends swishing in the breeze.

Those of you who read my Rahua review will know my last trip to the hair salon gave me the shock of my life as I discovered my hair had accumulated a shameful amount of product, despite the fact that I used none, bar shampoo and the occasional dollop of conditioner. Cue some frantic Googling as soon I got in the door in an attempt to find a natural alternative to the clarifying shampoo my hairdresser had proffered.

I was reluctant to fork out a fortune on what could have been yet another disappointment and truth be told, after my trip to the hairdresser's, I just didn't have the money to spend! Having seen rave reviews of Acure Organics Moroccan Argan Oil + Argan Stem Cell Shampoo throughout the beauty blogosphere, I decided to opt for another shampoo in their line - Lemongrass + Argan Stem Cell.

Both shampoos get great reviews and are a budget-friendly €6.78 (from iHerb which is where I got mine), but the Lemongrass version is described as "an everyday clarifying shampoo" which of course was exactly what I was looking for! I also threw in the matching conditioner while I was at it.

Vegan, sulfate-free, paraben-free and cruelty-free with no synthetic fragrance, this shampoo ticked all the boxes on paper but when it came to snapping the lid up and inhaling my first whiff, I'd be lying if I said it was love at first sniff. It's not that it smells bad or anything, I guess I just wasn't expecting my new shampoo to remind me of freshly-cut grass! Or lemons and limes for that matter. For a natural scent, it is quite strong and takes a bit of getting used to but I have honestly grown to love it.

Performance-wise, I couldn't ask for anything more from this shampoo. Described on the Acure site as "a clarifying shampoo...gentle enough for everyday use" which promotes "shiny, healthy, clean hair" I have to admit, this shampoo really delivers on all ends. It lathers nicely (which isn't always the case with natural shampoos) and leaves your scalp and hair feeling fresh and clean. I run a small amount of the conditioner through the length of my hair and it has definitely helped with detangling. There isn't any residue left behind to make my hair look greasy come 3pm and after months of use, my hair is touchably soft and noticeably stronger with a lot less breakage. As someone with hair so fine hairdressers feel the need to comment on it (grrr), the fact that after a rough blowdry I'm left with bouncy, shiny, reasonably frizz-free waves is something of a miracle. And the best part of all? Zero irritation to my ridiculously-sensitive scalp.

I'm In Love With A Sponge - Konjac Sponge

Purchased from Naturismo, The Konjac Sponge Company 100% Natural Vegetable Fibre Sponge with Bamboo Charcoal is the latest addition to my beauty arsenal in the seemingly never-ending fight against acne. Konjac (pronounced con-yak) sponges have taken the beauty world by storm in the last year or so but I was reluctant to jump on the bandwagon until I read about the Bamboo Charcoal version. Described as "a natural treatment for acne-sufferers", bamboo charcoal is known for both its antibacterial properties and its ability to absorb impurities from the skin.

Konjac itself is an edible plant native to Asia that has been used medicinally for centuries and more recently in weight-loss foods. I actually tried Konjac noodles (before I heard of the sponges) and hated them as I found they had an unpleasantly fishy taste and rubbery texture, maybe I should have tried them on my face instead of just chucking the packet in the bin! Cruelty-free, vegan, and biodegradable (as well as as chock-full of mineral goodness), what is essentially a potato makes a remarkably effective cleansing tool.

Let's get down to how it actually works then, shall we? At first touch, the sponge was not what I had expected, being ever so slightly crunchy - for lack of a better word. You're advised to rinse it well under warm water at which point it noticeably softens and expands. After gently squeezing out the excess water, you're now ready to begin your cleanse, with or without product.

In the morning I tend use it solo but in the evening I sometimes start with a balm cleanser and use the sponge to really work it in. The manufacturer claims that if used with a cleanser, it will help the product to "work harder" and "go further" but I'm not sure I can attest to that just yet. Either way, I move the sponge in circular motions across my face, gently massaging it into every nook and cranny. The result is that my face is left both looking and feeling incredibly fresh and clean. Any patches of dry skin have been gently buffed away with none of the aggravation to my sensitive skin I've come to expect from manual exfoliation. Somehow this miracle sponge even seems to calm the blemishes I already have. Another quick rinse and a squeeze and then it's off to its hook to dry (it comes with a little loop of white thread attached). Your sponge should last two to three months with proper care (which is more than I get out of most cleansers) and, considering it retails at just £7.99, seems like a bit of a bargain.

So there you have it, I really wasn't prepared to enjoy using my Konjac sponge as much as I do but now I really couldn't see myself cleansing without one. If nothing else, it's a great timesaver for those of us who struggle to make ourselves look halfway presentable at such an ungodly hour of the morning!

Glow With Goe - Jao Brand Goe Oil

Sometimes, just sometimes, an impulse buy pays off. Thankfully this was the case with the rather marvellous Jao Brand Goe Oil, something I picked up on a brief visit to London during the summer. I'd be lying if I said I'd heard of the brand before. What happened was that I made a beeline for the natural beauty lover's paradise that is Content Beauty and to my dismay realised that many of their lovely goodies were over the 100ml liquid limit allowed in my hand luggage. Some bright spark noticed however that since Goe Oil is semi-solid and measured in grams it technically didn't count as a liquid, yay! Nevertheless I had the poor girls in the shop's heads wrecked trying to convert the grams to millilitres just in case someone got fussy at the airport.

I had come to London without any kind of body moisturiser (silly me) and my legs in particular were extremely dry having been recently epilated. I knew I was going out that night and would need something to make my legs look/feel somewhat decent. I tried a little on the back of my hand and while I wasn't at first sold on the floral scent, I loved the way it immediately sank into my skin, leaving behind an oh-so-subtle sheen.

I liked it so much that when I was getting ready that night back in my hotel room, I used it pretty much all over, focusing on my arms, chest and legs. My skin soaked it right up and was left feeling thoroughly moisturised without any of the unpleasant greasiness I've come to associate with body butters and oils. The texture is unusual in that it's so thick it reminds me of applying an ointment.

I've found it hard in the past to find a completely natural body moisturiser, one so gentle I could use it on blemished or irritated skin (post-epilation), but its winning combination of 28 plant, fruit and flower oils and butters means Goe Oil really is 100% natural. The floral scent is due to Monoi from Tahiti apparently and it really does grow on you after a short period of adjustment; now I quite enjoy getting a whiff every time I wave my arms around! It's worth noting that I tend to be averse to heavy fragrances in general or anything with rose or lavender as an ingredient.

The Jao Brand website lists a number of uses for Goe Oil, most of which I've yet to try; these range from eye makeup remover to frizz tamer. I can confirm however that it can be used quite successfully as a lip balm in an emergency and leaves a nice shine behind!

Not only do I adore the product itself but can we talk about its packaging for a second? There's something so funky about the delightfully squeezy aluminium tube and its blue, white and silver colour scheme. I guess you could say I've gone gaga for Goe. Sorry. *hangs head in shame*

When Life Hands You Lemons - Avalon Organics Hand Soap

Since becoming a teacher, I've noticed I wash my hands more than I ever did while working in retail. It's a well-known fact that teachers, children and healthcare professionals are at greatest risk of picking up colds and flu. Regular old supermarket hand washes are just too harsh for my ridiculously sensitive skin, leaving it dry and itchy. It's important to me that a hand wash does more than just foam and smell nice, it needs to have antibacterial properties too as I can be a bit of a germophobe!

Avalon Organics Lemon Glycerin Hand Soap makes washing my hands a real treat. Easily worked into a rich lather, the lemon scent is truly invigorating and not all at synthetic. Hands are left feeling fresh and clean, slightly moisturised but with none of the sticky residue often left behind by cheaper hand washes. At €5.79 from Evergreen, it is slightly more than I would generally consider paying for a hand soap but a little goes a long way and after months of use, I'm still on my first bottle. A definite repurchase in the future, I'm tempted to try the peppermint version next.

Big Hair (Let-Down) - Rahua Voluminous Shampoo

After reading glowing reviews from beauty bloggers the world over, Rahua Voluminous Shampoo seemed like the logical next step in my natural shampoo journey. I agonised for days, hours, weeks, before eventually sucking it up and purchasing from SpaceNK. I've had bad experiences in the past with online shampoo purchases so decided not to risk the full-size bottle and went for the travel-size instead (and of course threw in the matching conditioner while I was at it). I hummed and hawed (again) over whether to go for the original version but seeing as my hair is ridiculously fine (read: flat), I decided a bit of bounce couldn't exactly hurt.

The famed ingredient of this product range is Rahua (pronounced ra-wa) oil, found in the Amazon rainforest. The shampoo itself is both vegan and SLS-free (yay) and has a lovely citrusy scent, sort of lemon and limey, reminiscent of those Twister ice pops you had when you were a kid. The scent is the best thing about it because it's all downhill from there.

I feel like at this point I should point out I live in a particularly hard water area, as commented on by every plumber I've ever had out to fix my washing machine (and usually followed by a hearty recommendation of Calgon tablets). I'm more than willing to believe that my shower water has a detrimental effect on my hair (and skin) and perhaps stops certain products from working as well as they would under other circumstances. Whenever I go abroad, I'm always curious to see how my hair reacts to the change.

Okay back to the shampoo. It's quite a thick gel and foams up nicely but, and this is a big but, it just doesn't leave my hair feeling clean. And I don't mean squeaky clean, I mean it leaves my hair feeling greasier than it was to start with. I tried shampooing more than once, and rinsing until others were banging on the bathroom door for their turn in the shower, nothing worked. I continued determinedly however until a recent visit to the hairdresser when I overheard the stylist telling the girl about to wash my hair that she needed to use a clarifying shampoo not once, not twice, but three times (and let it sit for a minute) because of all the product build-up in my hair.

I was shocked. Having suffered from bacne since I was a teenager, I'd stopped using any hair products (apart from shampoo and conditioner) about six months previously. I've never had to use a clarifying shampoo before in my entire life. As I sat in the backwash chair (a term I had learnt that very day!), I pondered the possible causes of such an extreme amount of build-up and came to the conclusion that it had to be *sob* my new shampoo.

And my sister, younger but wiser, completely agrees. In fact she said she had been meaning to tell me that my hair had been looking like I hadn't gotten all of the shampoo out lately. Cue major mortification on my part, I mean, what must people have been thinking? After the stylist had dried my hair, I could not believe the shine out of it; I think I actually did a double take in the mirror. And since I had requested no extra product, she said that shine was all mine. So it looks like its back to the drawing board (or should that be Google) again.

P.S. I didn't mention the conditioner because I didn't feel it was worth mentioning. I've never been much of a conditioner fan anyway but this one was seriously meh. Sad face.

Best Foot Forward - Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Creme

When I was younger, I hated my feet. And I mean hated them. Not because of how they looked or anything but purely because of their size. Try explaining to a child (and later teenager) that she can't wear the same pretty little shoes all her friends have because they just don't come in her size; I still feel sorry for my mother when I think back to our annual struggle to find suitable school shoes. So because someone somewhere decided that women's feet don't go past a (UK) size 8, every time I entered a shoe shop and asked the sales assistant, in hushed tones so as not to draw attention to my already highly embarrassing plight, if they carried any size 9's, I would be met with a look of scorn, pity or just plain disbelief.

I'd like to say that a decade on things had changed for the better, but the truth is many high street stores still don't cater to women with smaller or larger than average feet. Online shopping has made my life somewhat easier in that you know immediately whether a site stocks your size or not and since you try in the comfort of your own home and have the option of returning by post, the whole experience is made a lot more enjoyable. Do I wish I could wander into my favourite clothes stores and find shoes in my size, something most people take for granted, of course I do. But really I'm just so grateful that I no longer have to drag my poor mother all over the country in search of just one pair of size 9 heels (that don't scream granny chic) every time I have a special occasion.

It's taken me a long time but I've come to love my feet and appreciate them for all the wonderful things they allow me to do. I haven't always taken the best care of them, and after years of desperately trying to squeeze them into shoes that were much too narrow and at least a size too small, the effects were starting to show. That's why in recent years I've come to the decision that no matter how amazing something looks, if it's not comfortable to wear then it's just not worth it. Trying to reverse some of the damage I'd done, I hit up my local healthfood shop in search of a foot cream that would hopefully take years off my tootsies.

Despite my love/hate relationship with all things Burt's Bees, I decided to give their Coconut Foot Creme the benefit of the doubt. Touted as a "pampering natural foot cream" that will "revive and rejuvenate even the driest, most neglected feet", I was expecting a lot from this product. Boy was I wrong. Now I wouldn't go so far as to say I hated it, but it did leave me feeling distinctly underwhelmed.

My first issue is the smell; yes there is a slight coconutty scent but it is completely overpowered by the supposed "hint" of rosemary and peppermint. Then there's the texture; in no way could this be described as a cream, it's a thick, gloopy gel which is nearly impossible to rub in. I made the mistake of applying it once before work and I slipped and slid in my gladiator sandals all the way to work, and all the way home. I tried using it only at bedtime, putting on cotton socks so the heat would help it to absorb, but my feet just felt sticky and gross all night and weren't even particularly moisturised the following morning. If anything, I couldn't wait to hop in the shower to rinse the damn thing off.

I think it's safe to say the quest for my Holy Grail foot cream continues.

Minty Fresh - Soapwalla's Deodorant Cream

The weather around these parts has been unnaturally humid of late. I wake up in the morning, the sun is shining, and I go for a run. By the time I get back to the house, it's already started to rain. The walk from my car to work usually leaves me looking like I showered with my clothes on. Then the sun decides to show its face again leaving me to bake inside for the rest of the day behind glass walls and windows. All this means that it's nearly impossible to dress appropriately for the weather and more often than not I end up a sweaty mess. Sexy.

I've tried all kinds of deodorants and antiperspirants (stick, roll-on, and spray) over the years but most of them were so heavily fragranced that a mere whiff was enough to turn my stomach; others were either overpriced or ineffective, sometimes both! My first foray into the world of natural deodorants was less than successful but seeing as how I've slowly been converting the rest of my toiletries to less toxic (and more animal-friendly) alternatives, I decided to give them another go. After hours trawling the internet and poring over reviews, one deodorant in particular stood out - Soapwalla's Deodorant Cream.

Described on the Soapwalla site as "all natural and uniquely powerful, utilizing superfine vegetable powders and clays, as well as lavender, peppermint and tea tree essential oils to absorb moisture, inhibit bacteria, and ensure a long-lasting and highly effective experience. The frosting-like consistency allows for easy manual application and rapid absorption, and is ideal for all skin types." What particularly drew me to the product was the fact that it's vegan, not tested on animals and is free from Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, parabens and all those other nasties.

I'll admit I was more than slightly hesitant when I spotted lavender on the ingredient list (because I hate lavender) but there's really just a hint of it; the peppermint and tea tree scents win out and for some reason the combination just works. In fact I'd go so far as to say I wish there were more products in this line with a similar fragrance, like a shower gel perhaps. From the moment you unscrew the lid of the adorable little navy pot, it all just smells so fresh and clean.

Soapwalla are quick to point out that this product is not intended to be an antiperspirant and while it's true that it doesn't stop you sweating, I never got to that unpleasantly wet, slightly sticky underarm stage as I have done with other deodorants. Its butter-and-sugar-creamed-together consistency means you can just scoop some out with your fingers and reapply whenever necessary.

So I say kudos to you, Soapwalla, for successfully restoring my faith in natural deodorants and making it a joy to sniff one's armpits, should one ever wish to do such a thing.

P.S. I got mine from the lovely people at Content Beauty.

Reading Between The Lines

So my first post was way back when in 2011. A lot has happened since then. Too much to cover in one little blog post. Having said that, I've decided to steer my blog in an entirely new direction; not only will this blog be a glimpse into the everyday dramas of my life but I'll also (hopefully) be posting product reviews - specifically of the beauty variety.

The road ahead might be bumpy but I welcome everyone along for the ride!