Happy New Year, everyone!

So it’s January and, from fingers to face, I’m feeling a bit chapped. It probably doesn’t help that this past week I put my skin through several flights and a 40-degree+ nose dive from So-Cal’s pretend winter into the real Canadian thing.

But this holiday season I came prepared. And there are some new stars in my arsenal of potent creams, balms and oils: namely this Kari Gran Lip Whip. It’s been a romance for months now between me and this stuff, so I feel confident that this is officially true love of the holy-grail-product variety.

Which is saying a lot. For moi, lip balms are not the most inspiring category. It takes a lot for me to even use them, let alone get effusive about one. I even think they should come with a warning: Often severely overused (I’m talking about obsessive several-times-an-hour application), even natural ones can create a dependency that inhibits your lips’ own capacity to hydrate themselves. Not cool. But in dry, winter weather few of us can go without the extra hydration. And now I don’t have to!

But to limit this little black pot of magic to “lip balm” doesn’t seem fair either. Not only does it hit my 3 required qualifications for a holy-grail product: look pretty, smell pretty, work. It also has multiple uses. Read on for a full dissection.

Why I love it.

1. Effectiveness and feel.

For starters, this stuff has an incredible texture. I’m guessing that’s the whipped-ness of it, making application a total delight. It feels incredibly hydrating and protective, and while the tint is almost imperceptible it does do something subtle and lovely. It’s just the right amount of gloss and shine that says “oh, hey lips” without screaming “LOOK AT MY OOEY-GOOEY-GLOSS MOUTH.” A perfect daytime lip!

2. Smell.

I have the peppermint one, and I lovelovelove the way it smells and tingles ever so slightly. Again, subtle, but it really adds to the whole pleasurable sensory experience of putting this stuff on.

3. Packaging.

A lot of our favorite brands use this same high-quality black glass. Kahina, Lotus Wei and May Lindstrom to name a few. I happen to know that this stuff is only made in one place and it doesn’t come cheap. Aside from its elegance though, this glass serves a very functional purpose: It protects natural products from damaging UV light. So for me it’s an indicator of care and thoughtfulness—the people who made this product believe it’s valuable enough to protect. As for this little black pot specifically, it  has a great hand-feel and weight to it. And these small things matter when you’re interacting with a product several times a day.

How I use it and why I will pay $15 for it.

1. On my lips.

The most obvious. Looks great, feels great, tingles great and keeps my lips hydrated and happy even in all weather.

2. On my cheekbones.

This is how I justify the price tag. We’re fanatical about multi-taskers here, and this lip balm is such a good highlighter that I think the ladies at Kari Gran should market it as such. When used in this way, it creates glistening cheek bones that people notice: I’ve had several your-skin-looks-great comments when I use it. (Even from straight guys! Ok, one straight guy. Once.) The best part is that it actually lasts too. Something in the oil-to-beeswax ratio means it’s not quickly absorbed into skin. Plus reapplication is a cinch. No mirror required.

3. On my knuckles.

Weird, but true. Because I always have this stuff with me, I’ve taken to rubbing a little bit into my knuckles when they’re noticeably dry. It really does the trick!

Now 3 questions for you: 1. How are your lips faring at this start of 2014? 2. What are you using to keep them happy and hydrated? 3. Has anyone tried this or other Kari Gran products? (Susannah, you may recall, loves the cleansing oil.)

You guys!! It’s finally happened. We’ve found a line that is clean, affordable, and totally man-friendly in the way it looks, smells, and feels. Heck, you could almost call it a men’s line—but  why limit something so awesome?

Like many brands I adore, my first intro to the Prada Lab line was from Evolue. I took one look at the ingredients on the moisturizer—basically argan oil, and a blend of my favorite bee-derived actives—and knew it would be love. The bottles are simple, with clean graphic design, and fresh pops of color. They feel modern and masculine, so I wasn’t surprised when Jean told me the founder and creative director was… get ready… a man!! (His name is Tony Prada, if you were wondering about the Prada thing.)

To our male readers—we know you’re out there, and we’re sorry we don’t serve you better. And to the women who have been forcing clean products on their sons, brothers and boyfriends, here is one without the lavenders and ylang ylangs (that we’ve grown to love, and they continue to hate).

The line has four products, but two of them are scrubs—one for face and one for hands. I have not opened the hand one, but I love the idea of it. I’m just not the kind of girl who pays much attention to my feet and hands (and it’s not pretty). Maybe this weekend I’ll give them a pamper with this stuff. As for the facial one, if I’m being honest—made from sugar, almonds, dates and honey—I have more interest in eating it than rubbing it on my face. But that’s just ’cause I don’t go in for face scrubs… The cleanser and lotion though, are a whole other story.

Lotion: If you, or the man/men in your life, hate greasy, heavy, scented lotions, this is anything but. Made from argan oil, white tea, bee pollen, royal jelly, propolis, and little else, this light lotion is hydrating and nourishing without all the weight and density. Don’t get me wrong, a love greasy and heavy some days here in So-Cal, and this is still oil based—it’s just lighter in feel due to the combination of ingredients. And I’m convinced it will make the perfect moisturizer for all of you gals running around New York, and other humid-as-heck cities, this summer.

Ingredients: Organic Argan Oil, Organic White Tea, Organic Calendula, Organic Shea Butter, Organic Bee Pollen, Royal Jelly, Propolis Extract & 100 % Pure Love.

Volcanic Ash Hydrating Facial Cleanser: As you might know, I like washing my face with things like dirt (aka clay) and honey—and this product contains both. It feels a lot like a simple honey cleanser, but it has a very subtle and fine grit to it that I love. That must be the volcanic ash, a type of clay that apparently dates back to Cleopatra’s beauty regimen. The other ingredients in here are either anti-bacterial, depuffing, or so-called anti-aging (ie. containing antioxidants). We like such things, especially in a product that is completely non-stripping. Booya.

Ingredients: Triple Purified Water, Volcanic Ash, Organic Dates, Organic Honey, Organic Fennel, Organic Myrrh, Organic Bee Pollen, Royal Jelly, Propolis Extract & 100% Pure Love.

Have you heard of this line or tried it?

Here’s the rub with natural face care lines: They can feel a bit samesame after a while. A non-foaming cleanser, an amazing oil, and maybe a lovely hydrosal toner or spray…

Don’t get me wrong, we love this formula—less is more, and it’s precisely this simple well-executed combination of pure ingredients that made us first fall for the likes of Kahina, Stark, and Evan Healy. But once you have your faves, it’s hard to justify trying 20 other brands that offer something similar. That’s why this May Lindstrom line jumped out at me on first use.

My intro to the line came from natch beauty glamour girl Spirit Beauty. “You have to try it,” she said in a Facebook message. And within a month of her sending it my way, I got an email from Evolue inviting me by for a facial with May. Hmm, a new line so quickly available at two of our favorite retailers? This was boding well.

The products are really special, in many ways. First the packaging: Done in a beautiful black glass with gold lettering, it brings all kinds of glamour to this line, that could easily have felt a bit crunchy given its ingredients. Instead, really beautiful. May herself is also a vision. At the risk of sounding like some silly magazine article about a celebrity, I will anyways: This woman is gorgeous, with the kind of skin so impeccable and glowy that it’s almost hard to look at. Like the sun!

But looks can be deceiving. When May and I met she described the horror stories of her various environmental sensitivities and the problem skin she had. A country girl at heart—who’s been mixing her own products since childhood—when she first came to LA (to be a chef) the city wreaked a debilitating havoc on her skin from head to toe. Through diet and natural products (and fewer products), she eventually found her way, and ended up reticently becoming a model. It was on set one day that she had her a-ha moment to start her own brand.

“I’d very quickly mixed an oil one morning to bring to the shoot,” she told me. And lo, everyone there was trying it and begging her to make them some.

So the line. I’ve tried everything at this point other than the body oil, and there’s nothing I don’t like. Her Youth Dew serum is a beautiful oil blend that competes with faves and smells amazing—I’m a sucker for geranium I’ve come to learn. Here are the ingredients:

persea americana (avocado) oil*, limnanthes alba (meadowfoam seed) oil*, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) oil*, olea europaea (olive) oil*, prunus spp (plum kernel) oil, hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn) oil*, rosa rubiginosa (rosehip seed) oil*, punica granatum (pomegranate) oil*, calophyllum inophyllum (tamanu) oil*, borago officinalis (borage seed) oil*, aleurites moluccans (kukui nut) oil, oenothera biennis (evening primrose) oil*, pelargonium graveolens (geranium rose) essential oil*, citrus paradisi (grapefruit) essential oil*, citrus sinensis (sweet orange) essential oil*, citrus limon (lemon) essential oil*, rosa damascena (rose absolute) essential oil*, rosa damascena (bulgarian rose) essential oil*, citrus aurantium (neroli) essential oil*, daucus carota (carrot seed) essential oil***, ubiquinone (coenzyme q10).

But for me the standouts are The Clean Dirt “cleanser” and The Problem Solver mask.

The Clean Dirt: This cleansing clay comes dry, which I love because it never goes bad. You pour a little into the palm of your hand and add a few drops of water then begin mixing. You can also mix it with a brush, as May did when she gave me my facial. It’s hard to describe this stuff, it doesn’t actually foam but science happens and the mixture expands into an airy kind of paste. It’s consistency is definitely exfoliating by nature so you don’t need to scrub it too much. Just smooth it over your face, let it sit for a minute and then rinse. It feels great, and gives an instant glow.  Here are the ingredients:

white halloysite clay, red moroccan rhassoul clay,  red alaea sea salt, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), sodium bicarbonate, althaea officinalis (marshmallow) root*,rosa centifolia (pink rose)*, calendula officinalis (calendula) flower*, cinnamomum zeylanicum (cinnamon)*, myristica fragans (nutmeg)*, syzygium aromaticum (clove)*, curcuma longa (turmeric)*, zingiber officinale (ginger)*, vanilla planifolia bean*, theobroma cacao (raw cacao)**.

The Problem Solver: This product feels like the cleanser’s more intense cousin. The process is the same, but the idea is to leave on this jet-black clay mask for up to 45 minutes (I personally don’t go that long though, 15 is fine by me). Note: This product feels very active, and sting-tingles a little on the skin. But I’ve done it numerous times and the flush only lasts a few minutes for me, and it really feels like it’s jump-starting my circulation. I don’t use it that often, but when I do I feel like my skin has a new lease on life. I also use it to spot treat incoming pimples. Here are the ingredients:

fuller’s earth clay, red moroccan rhassoul clay, theobroma cacao (raw cacao)**, red alaea sea salt, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), sodium bicarbonate, bamboo carbon charcoal powder, vanilla planifolia bean*, lavandula angustifolia (lavender) flower*, althaea officinalis (marshmallow) root*, boswellia carteri (frankincense)***, centella asiatica (gotu kola)*, archangelica (angelica) root*, cinnamomum zeylanicum (cinnamon)*, myristica fragans (nutmeg)*, syzygium aromaticum (clove)*, curcuma longa (turmeric)*, capsicum annuum (cayenne) pepper*.

One note that I failed to mention in the first draft of this post: These two products come in HUGE containers. The cleanser is nearly 7 oz. and the mask is over 8 oz., which is about 4x the size of comparable products. Just wanted to clear that up since there have been many comments around price. At $60, the cleanser is actually on the more reasonable side at that size.

May herself is a major product minimalist, so she says some people use the cleanser every day, while others only use it a few times a week. I’m in the second camp, and I have a feeling she might be too. That’s another thing I really love about these two products: While they’re not inexpensive, they will probably last me for close to a year. And if there’s any confusion about how to use, you can watch May’s videos on her site and on the sites that carry the line.

Have you tried this line? What do you think??

In these parts we’ve long known that natural oils feed the skin—and they’ve even helped some of us with our breakouts, right? But a new group of natural oils have focused in on blemishes by including acne-fighting actives in the mix now too. Well+Good has reviewed some of their faves below. Has oil helped your acne?

It might sound contradictory (and maybe downright scary!), but one of the best things you can do for a bout of blemishes is to slick your skin with oils. Not with pore-clogging mineral oils, but with plant-based ones that can help balance and calm your adult skin.

“Treating oil with oil balances skin,” says Vered Back, an herbalist, facialist, and beauty-product formulator. “Drying it out with harsh ingredients just engages it in a battle.”

Back, who’s the founder of Vered Organic Botanicals, says her top seller is an acne treatment oil blend. “There are so many people with problem skin, and nobody really dared to think about making an oil for them.” But now, they are. Here are six oil blends for acne-prone skin we love…

1. Vered Therapeutic Balancing Face Oil

This handcrafted line is all about the love of oils. They’re handmade by organic-obsessed master herbologist and facialist, Vered Beck, who uses anti-inflammatory and anti-viral herbs (including rare ones like niaouli, chickweed, and speedwell) that vary with the available crops and promote deep healing.

$68, veredbotanicals.com

2. Marie Veronique Organics Treatment Oil

This is a perfectly balanced acne-fighting cocktail. Argan oil controls surface sebum, borage oil fights inflammation (thanks to its gamma-linolenic acid), and tea tree oil helps banish acne-causing bacteria. Use it alone or as part of the company’s Acne Relief Kit for even clearer skin.

$80, mvorganics.com

3. Susan Ciminelli Oil Control Formula

This word-of-mouth wonder helps clear pimples and blackheads. It contains thyme, which you want because it was found to be more effective against acne than benzoyl peroxide (the controversial main ingredient in Proactiv). And a trio of anti-bacterial extracts—lemongrass, lavender, and cajeput bark—gives it a sinus-clearing scent.  This simple blend of oils is actually super active, so it’s probably not a fit for super sensitive, inflamed skin.

$105, susanciminelli.com

4. In Fiore Pur Face Oil Concentré

Sometimes the best solution comes from old-world practices. Like this apothecary-style blend of wild-crafted oils. It’s a beautiful skin-balancer powered by neroli, nature’s stress-buster. On breakout-prone skin it brings down redness, eases congestion, and slows the pimple-making process to a halt. And a dash of rosehip-seed oil helps give skin back it’s healthy, even glow.

$30-$60, infiore.net

Keep reading about the last two here.

Oh, snap. Don’t hate me, pals. I am in love with this stuff and it ain’t exactly cheap. But it’s worth it. Hear me out.

You know those fancy shoes in your closet that you pull out on the days when you feel like garbage? Or that lipstick that—natural or not—never fails you? Or that cute top your boyfriend bought you that you wore three times in one week because, well, it that kind of week and it’s just that kind of shirt?

This is the shampoo and conditioner version of all of the above.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. The shampoo and conditioner are $26 apiece for 8.5 oz (which is what I’d call a “regular” size bottle). I got sample sizes of the shampoo and conditioner for free, and quickly bought full sizes when I ran out. (Transparency! See below*) Money well spent, in my opinion. Here’s why.

I haven’t smelled a shampoo or conditioner with a scent this aromatic and interesting in a long time. It isn’t sweet, it isn’t musky, it isn’t too herbal, it isn’t too…anything. It’s fresh and invigorating, a curious blend of lavender, cedar, mandarin, orange, and rosemary that smells like all of those and none of them at the same time. And most important, the scent doesn’t alter strangely as the day goes on.

I still adore my Acure, don’t get me wrong. It’s my go-to for everyday washing. But the smell on Acure morphs for me. (More transparency! See below. **) It doesn’t go off, per se, but it doesn’t smell as great as when I first step out of the shower or dry. This bums me out slightly, because I have a weird nervous tick where I pull my hair in front of my nose and smell it when I’m anxious. (I’ve also been known to do this when I’m flirting, which is awkward.) I do this many times every day! When the smell isn’t as good, I’m bound to notice. That said, I still use it every day and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better value out there.

Still, it’s nice to use something sort of luxe, and something that offers different results entirely.

I used this several days in a row last weekend and air-dried every time. As a frequent air-dryer in the summer, I have to say I noticed a major difference in how my hair looked and felt (and smelled—did I mention the smell?). It’s a volumizing line, and my waves were left sort of perfectly beachy, but with no frizz whatever and they felt really, really silky. Not oily. Not coated in sillicone. Just, well, touchable and soft. The marshmallow root is probably one of the reasons. It’s a slippery substance, and often used in shampoo and conditioner to help detangle and smooth the hair. It’s also used by herbalists for eczema, psoriasis and other skin irritations, which might explain why the rash on the nape of my neck, which comes and goes, and which I sometimes don’t mind and sometimes drives me completely insane, went away with a few days of use.

Also in there, calendula and chamomile, both of which my skin happens to love.

Finally, Yarok is one of those givey companies, donating 3% of annual sales to The Pachamama Alliance, a nonprofit devoted to helping land preservation in the Amazon.

Have you tried Yarok? Did you love it? Try anything else new for hair lately?

Shampoo ingredients: Purified Water, Decyl Glucose and Lauryl Glucose, Coco Protein, Seaweed Extract, Organic Herbal Infusions of Coltsfoot and Marshmallow Root, Calendula Blossoms and Chamomile Flowers, Chickweed, Horsetail, Slippery Elm, Comfrey Root and Sea Buckthorn CO2, Nettles and Oatstraw, Organic and Wildcrafted Essential Oils of Lavender, Atlas Cedar, Red Mandarin, Sweet Orange & Rosemary, Grapefruit Seed Extract

Conditioner ingredients: Purified Water, Vegetable Emulsifying Wax, Organic Herbal Infusions of Coltsfoot, Chickweed, Nettles, Horsetail, Slippery Elm, Marshmallow Root, Comfrey Root, Calendula Blossoms, Chamomile Flowers & Oatstraw, Organic Jojoba Seed Oil, Macadamia Nut Oil, Seaweed Extract, Organic Aloe Vera Gel, Calendula CO2, Organic and Wildcrafted Essential Oils of Sweet Orange, Rosemary & Vetiver, Vitamin C, Sage & Rosemary, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Organic and Wildcrafted Essential Oils of Geranium, Tea Tree, Lavender, Ravensara Aromatica, Rosemary & Lemon, Sage & Rosemary Antioxidants, Grapefruit Seed Extract

* See what we did there?

** Since so many of you want to know the negatives, here you go! The stuff smells weird on my a few hours later. Sniff!