About a year ago, Alexandra raved about Stark Skincare, and when a deal came up last summer, I could not resist. My son and I have been using Stark consistently ever since, and loving it! We are especially fond of the CYPRESS purity + defense oil, and he uses the toner regularly too. I’m particularly impressed with the flexibility of the line—if both I and my adolescent son can use the products, that’s pretty impressive. Plus, it’s gender neutral in terms of packaging and scents. Oh, the scents. Jessica Lafleur, its founder, really knows how to put together some unique combinations, and make all the products compliment each other.

I’ve tried all things Stark, and each product is quite special; they all pop up somewhere in my rotation. So when Jessica asked if I’d like to try a new addition to her line  I was all, “Duh. Yeah!” Here’s the review…

MEADOWFOAM the everybody oil: Until very recently, I wasn’t that into body oils. Since I’ve been dry brushing, I have less need for that sort of product. But I do enjoy a nice oil after a soak in a sea salt bath, so I have been trying a few brands and some DIY. As soon as I tried this one from Stark, it immediately went to the top of my list. I love it on my legs after a bath or shower, rubbed on my belly when I’m feeling crampy, and just a little bit smoothed in my hair.  It’s more substantial than some other body oils, so if you have need of serious moisture this is a great one to try—and yet, it sinks right in and leaves my skin incredibly soft with not even the slightest bit of greasiness. Really!

I had never heard of meadowfoam seed oil but it seems a great addition to skin and hair care (here’s what Mountain Rose Herbs has to say about it). The formula also includes some of my favorite skin care ingredients: sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, and shea butter.

So let’s talk about the scent. I often like unscented products because I’m incredibly picky and sensitive, so when I do choose to use a scent it has to be spectacular. Check! It’s quite complex and subtle, with the citrus popping first, then a hint of lavender, and as I rub it in I can catch the chocolate. Later, after it sits on my skin a while, coconut. I really like that the scent is right there for me while I rub the oil in, but then fades so as not to compete with any other fragrances I use that day. The only thing I’m not 100% in love with is the press/flip top. I find those a bit messy, so I’m on the lookout for a pump top that will fit the bottle.

I love the oil so much I purchased another bottle so I’ll be ready when skirt season hits. Come on, spring!  What do you love about Stark?

Dietary leanings: My leanings go through pretty rapid and widely swinging rotations, from fruit and veggie-focused to really budget-minded cooking, to rich comfort foods, to protein gluts, to emphatically locally-inspired. (The last part has meant a whole lot of root vegetables and soup lately.)  It definitely depends a lot on the weather.

Ingredient: Nettles.  Yep, stinging nettles.

Known health benefits: Widely used in various herbal healing traditions, the lowly nettle is extremely rich in iron, as well as vitamins A and C, potassium, phosphorus and sulfur. Among its most helpful properties, herbalists refer to it as a powerful “blood purifier” and recognize its use in generally stimulating organ function, as well as in balancing various conditions related to excess fluid, from nasal congestion to water retention to diarrhea.  Nettle tea, whether drunk or applied topically, is also an age-old remedy for rheumatism and for  skin conditions including acne and eczema.  Like the homeopathic remedy “Urtica” (made from nettles), the stingy plant is also used in traditional western herbalism to alleviate minor burns, usually in tea form.

More modern research (at places like UC Berkeley, Universita di Pisa, Baskent University, Universitaetsklinik Essen) has identified links between the compounds found in nettle plants and improved inflammation resistance, decreased blood pressure, diarrhea relief, strengthened defense against bacteria such as E. Coli and Streptococcus and prostate health.

My favorite way to eat it: Pesto! It never would have occurred to me to eat nettle leaves if I hadn’t done some volunteer work on a little farm in the lonely mountains of central France. There I quickly learned how to make “pesto a l’ortie” from the nettles that literally carpeted the surrounding meadows. It became my go-to condiment: instead of salting or buttering, I pestoed.  Crusty bread, pasta or rice dishes… buckwheat crepes!

As an added benefit, pesto means you don’t have to cook the leaves, as you would for most other preparations, so no nutrients are lost in the heating process.  For my simple take on pesto, just chop the nettle leaves as finely as you like (while wear gloves), add salt to taste and cover with plenty of olive oil. To add interest, blend the nettles with other aromatics or leafy veggies – arugula, spinach, basil or mint go very nicely. If you’re into home canning and preserving, the pesto comes as welcome fresh flavor during the winter months, especially yummy for accenting soups and stews. You can easily dry the whole leaves, too, and then crumble them into an herbal tea.

Besides pesto, nettle leaves can be cooked and incorporated into recipes more or less wherever you would use spinach or other dark greens.  I’ve done quiches, casseroles, pastas and pizzas.  For a zippy cold beverage, you can make an unusual twist on sun tea by submerging whole leaves in glass jars and letting the brew “steep” in the sunshine. Pour it over ice and punch up the flavor with some lemon or your favorite sweetener.

Of course, the only “catch” is that, for city-dwellers, coming up with a bunch of nettles can be peculiarly challenging, given what hardy and adaptable plants they are.  If you’re comfortable doing a little foraging, you can usually find nettles growing in iron-rich soil. (Apparently, this is why they can regularly be found lining railroad tracks and disused structures, where iron has leeched into the soil.  By all means, avoid any foraging in areas near man-made structures where you suspect anything else has been leeching!)  If you do pick or grow your own nettles, pluck only the uppermost four leaves – and remember your gloves.

Next week marks for the first day of spring, but last night the new season was alive and well in a suddenly balmy Los Angeles. Those who don’t live here tend to think that we’re all running around in tank tops in February—but it is so not so. These last few days however, have given us a taste of what’s to come—which means I’ve been thinking about spring makeovers.

It’s completely Pavlovian for me. The temperature rises a few degrees and I start dreaming of new hairstyles, clothes, makeup. I even had a fantasy about gel nails the other day. (Someone please remind me how that’s a horrible idea, k?)

I’m the sucker they write magazines for. Luckily, right now I have two newish products in my roster that are helping me refresh my look for spring—and that don’t involve me doing anything too silly.

Have you tried either of these products?

1. Studio 78 Paris, Bronzing Powder Me love a good bronzer, and this is the best one I’ve tried in a while. It does exactly what it should: enhance your natural skin tone, define your face structure, and give you a glow. It should not look like you stepped off one of the Housewives of somewhere sets. Siobhan reviewed this line a little while back, and was crushing hard on the under eye concealer and blush. I too tried three (different) products and the bronzer was the standout for me. (Note: The eye shadow is also really special, the eyeliner notsomuch. There’s something I don’t love about the way it applies.) It’s a bit too bad re the liner because I specifically like wearing bronzer when I’m doing more of an eye thing, but I have other ones.

Now, you might be wondering if a bronzer is worth $43 and I can’t answer that question for you. What I will say is that I’ve never in my life finished a bronzer—it is a product that lasts as long as you’re willing not to throw it out. I don’t worry a whole lot about germs and such, so I’m guessing I will be whipping this out every spring for the next several years unless I lose it.

2. Vapour’s Multi-Use Stain / 209 Impulse This product is killing it for me right now. It was actually part of our Quarterly package last time, so I’m curious to know if those who got it are loving it as much as I am. I’ve had several days now where I wear nothing else on my face. This long-lasting stain is the perfect color for lips and cheeks, and perfect too for most skin tones. You can control how intense it is by how much you use—it can look as subtle a post-romp flush (sorry! blame spring!), or as dramatic as a true red lip. The tube is huge, which thrills me for two reasons: 1. There’s lots of product in there. 2. It’s easy to find in my purse! And when you’re only using one product, that’s kind of a boon.

So, what spring makeover fantasies are you having? Have you tried any great new products for the season?

Shiny hair for spring? Yes please! We’re loving this shine-boosting list from team Well+Good—which have you tried?

Even those of us who trim our split ends regularly and sleep with a humidifier on can see frizz and flyaways in the mirror this time of year. That’s because winter elements (and your adorable wool hat) can poach moisture from your hair and scalp, making you look less coiffed than you’d care to.

How to restore or add shine? These new, natural, and noteworthy shampoos, masks, and finishing serums will do your ‘do justice. All of them add life and luster to your locks—and in just one moisture-boosting use.

1. Yarok Feed Your Shine Hair Serum, $24

This is a luminizer for your locks. The editorial hair stylist and formulator, Mordechai Alvow, gets amazing results with this blend of sesame, coconut, Roman chamomile, and other light oils. You warm up a few drops in your hands and run them over your pre- or post-styled hair. You’ll get gloss, dimensionality, and total polish with zero buildup, and seriously wonder how you lived without it.

2. Intelligent Nutrients Hair Shine, $29

It’s great for those days when you know if you touch your hair, it’ll all go to hell. Instead, this skinny pump dispenses a fine mist of USDA-organic finishing gloss over your damp or almost dry hair. And because it’s made by the fastidious Horst Rechelbacher (formerly of Aveda), it uses lemongrass, black cumin, pumpkin seed, and other antioxidant oils for its finishing touch of conditioning sheen.

3. Rahua Omega 9 Hair Mask, $58

If you suspect your hair is one flyaway from getting you a finger-wagging from your stylist (or mother), this uber-nourishing hair mask is for you. It taps the restorative power of rahua nut oil (loaded with omega-9 that your hair will drink in), as well as quinoa protein (it’s the year for it, after all) to strengthen and protect your hair. Use it once to see a difference, and weekly for better behaving hair on an on-going basis.

4. Original Mineral Frizzy Logic Shine Serum, $25

This super-chic, non-toxic company made a behind-the-scenes debut at New York Fashion Week. It hails from Australia where the line’s a hit with natural-leaning types. We fell hard for the packaging and the ingredients, starting with the ones in this frizz-fighter, like organic argan and macadamia oil, which can get hair runway (or workday) ready.

5. John Masters Organics Lavender & Avocado Intensive Conditioner, $22

Healthy hair that’s fallen off the wagon—like with too many hair-breaking blowouts or ponytails—can benefit from this treatment conditioner. Its fortifying soy proteins make your hair heartier and the replenishing babassu seed and avocado oils will allow you to comb hair out, and blow it out, and flatten it out without worrying if you’re also ruining it.

See the other products here.

Meet Alex, a young teacher trying to make a clean routine work on her teacher’s salary. Sounds like she’s doing awesome. Thanks for this super candid and awesome routine!

Name: Alex

Age: 26

Profession: Teacher (Fourth grade…an awesome age but not easy!)

Weather: Hot, humid Central Florida. We do experience a nice cold front or two in the winter.

Hair: Long, fairly thick, wavy…straight…wavy, depends on the day! Oh, and very oily.  The humidity is not my friend but what can you do?

Skin: Fair and pinkish, on the oily side. I tend to break out occasionally in random areas (usually stress-related). These breakouts have diminished since I’ve cleaned up my routine. I still tend to get your standard tiny blemishes in and around my t-zone and anywhere I consistently touch my face (horrible, very bad, no-good habit!)

Favorite Star: Meryl Streep.  She has such an interesting beauty and way about her!

In the shower…

I start my morning with a nice slathering of raw organic honey on my face. I started using it about six months ago and it has surpassed any store-bought face wash I’ve used! I’ll occasionally mix in a bit of turmeric for some extra anti-bacterial and skin-brightening oomph. I know there are many amazing natural face washes out there but I’m loving the honey a little too much to venture just yet. Whole Foods sells their own awesome organic Wildflower honey for a very reasonable price. I let it sit on my face for a bit and then hop in the shower (if I remember and have a dose of patience, I’ll dry brush as well).  I am currently washing my hair about every other day with Aubrey Organics Blue Chamomile shampoo and Honeysuckle Rose conditioner (conditioner first, then shampoo).  I’m trying to scale it down to once or twice a week but I’m struggling! The grease-ball feeling is holding me back. That and my inability to create a halfway neat-looking updo (any tips for the uncoordinated?)  I’m really wanting to try the Yarok shampoos and conditioners but the price tag is slowing the process…oh, teacher’s salary! I soap up with a Zum Bar…frankincense and myrrh is daydream-inducing but I really enjoy most of their scents.  I’ve yet to try them all. When I shave, I’ll spread some conditioner on my legs. I like coconut oil for shaving but do not love rinsing my razor constantly. If I’m feeling crafty and self-indulgent, I’ll use a homemade coconut oil (virgin and organic) brown sugar, and lemon essential oil scrub. It smells like cake and leaves my skin pretty soft! I love a nice, long shower but do feel guilty about wasting water…such problems I have ;) I usually keep it under ten minutes but I give myself a reprieve on the weekends…ya gotta live!

Outside the shower…

For my face, I moisturize with pure organic rosehip seed oil that I get from a shop back home and a drop or two of essential oil. The rosehip seed oil is great for healing some signs of aging (forehead wrinkles, anyone?) and leaves my skin soft and a little glowy. Depending on my mood, I might use a drop of lavender, pine, rosemary, or tea tree essential oil.  They pretty much all have skin-clearing, anti-bacterial properties so I usually choose based on what I feel like breathing in that morning. Pine should be used very carefully (it needs to be very diluted) as it is very strong. I love the scent, though! It makes me think of living in a charming treehouse in the middle of a redwood forest (my little tree-hugging, hippie fantasy). In fact, I recommend researching any essential oils before they’re used on your skin or taken internally. They can be extremely powerful (I liken them to any topical or ingested medication). Again, if I have the patience, I’ll slather on some coconut oil but I’ve started to look for some clean body lotions that might make that part of my routine more enjoyable. Any suggestions for a truly clean and affordable brand? As you can tell, patience is not a virtue that I’ve yet to possess…I’m hoping a little bit of yoga and meditation might help but I don’t have the patience to start! ;) I’m in the market for a sunscreen…because I don’t use one…because I’m lazy! I want to break the cycle, so all recommendations are welcome. I’m willing to pay a decent price, I just worry about residue and pore-clogging. However, I’m ready to get serious about protection!

Finishing Touches…

About a year ago, I noticed how dependent I was on make-up. I felt so incredibly insecure and unattractive when I didn’t wear it. After some self-reflection, I realized that this was unhealthy and decided to challenge myself to get the heck over it. So, I stopped wearing make-up…sorta. I continued to wear concealer to cover up blemishes and any darkness under my eyes. While I did feel a bit guilty about not fully going for the gold, I knew I was heading in the right direction. Eventually, I ran out of concealer and didn’t buy another! It’s been extremely liberating. I still love make-up but now I use it when I want something a little extra. I love a good cheek stain (I do not know of a clean one) and tinted lip balm! I currently use Burt’s Bees in Red Dahlia for a pop of color or Sprout’s peppermint balm for a bit of shine (it does not have a color). I’m looking forward to trying other tinted balms like Alima’s and Badger’s in the future.  I’ll also get around to purchasing the RMS Living Luminizer (how could I not? You all rave!).  I run a brush through my hair and walk out the door. Right now, I spritz on a bit of Lotus Wei’s Infinite Love before I get to work.  I can’t say I always look put together but I also can’t say that I look too shabby!  My students don’t seem to mind either way so, that’s a plus! It’s taken a while to accept my body and face as they are. Being kind to myself and discovering truly healthy and nurturing food, drink, and beauty care products brings me closer every day. I can’t say that I don’t want to crack my mirror in half on some mornings but, overall, I try to focus on all of the god-given beauty both inside and outside of me. There’s a lot to admire on this big, old planet and there’s nothing more gorgeous than a man, woman, or child who appreciates that with a big smile, a hearty laugh, and a good dose of compassion.