Quick question: When was the last time USPS delivered you something other than credit card bills and catalogs you never signed up for? We thought so. Which is why we want to introduce you to (or remind you about) our special little boxes from Quarterly: delightful surprises in the mail, chosen for you, by us.

Simply: Quarterly is a subscription service not unlike a magazine, except that instead of getting words and pictures printed on paper, you get awesome stuff.

And just like a magazine, you don’t know in advance exactly what’s going to be in each issue, but you subscribe because you like the people who put it together and/or you think you’re going to enjoy what you receive. That’s how the No More Dirty Looks Quarterly boxes work: 4 times a year (for $50/quarter), you get a box of goodies (and no, it’s not a pile of those tiny sample packets companies give away free) along with a letter from us explaining what’s so great about the products and why we chose them.

Above you can see what was in our last box: shampoo and conditioner from the insanely amazing Rahua (plus samples), a beautiful hair brush, our favorite dry shampoo of all time. What’s in NDL010? We’re not telling, but…

You can enter below for a chance to win a box for free because we’re doing a giveaway!

The details: From now until midnight on Thursday, April 10 (like when the clock changes over from the 9th to the 10th), you can enter to win your very own NMDL10 NMDL09 box from Quarterly Co.! Enter below with your Facebook account or email address. You’ve got a few options for how to enter, but the more that you complete, the more chances you’ll have to win. We’ll select one winner after the contest ends and we’ll notify you here on the blog so check back here on Thursday to see if you’re our lucky winner! (No purchase necessary, obvs.)

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Meow Meow Tweet Lip Balm, Deodorant Cream

You may remember a few weeks back when I lamented about my lip sensitivity. Before I go any further, I first must say the hugest of thank yous to all the readers who responded—reading your recommendations was like Christmas morning in beauty product land (man, who now wishes Beauty Product Land was a real place? And not just my bathroom cupboard overflowing with half-finished products?). You are all so thoughtful, kind and generous and I so appreciate you sharing your stories in order to help me with mine.

Back to business: Because of that post and because the clean, green beauty industry is full of amazing founders, I got a few emails and tweets from brands about trying out their lip products. I humbly accepted (after verifying that they meet my personal standards) and since then have found my new favorite, non-irritating lip balm: the vegan balms from Meow Meow Tweet.

Now, I’d been sort of online stalking MMT (can I call you that?) for a while because I’d heard and read great things (plus, look at the whimsy on their packaging! And in their name!), so I was thrilled to try out not just their balms, but their deodorant cream too. Natch deo has long evaded me because, much like lip balm, the ones I’d tried all gave me an angry red pit rash.

Though I wanted to obsessively slather them on when they arrived at my door, I was also a tad wary because of my history. So I calmly tried one at a time, in as controlled of an environment as I could, to ensure nothing else I was using would be a sensitivity trigger. Here are my results.

Vegan lip balm: These smell incredible (I have the Cocoa and the Tangerine Lime flavors) while also being the hardest working, longest lasting balms I’ve ever used. Not exaggerating even a little here, lovelies—when I wrote my original post asking for lip balm suggestions, it was because I couldn’t find anything that lasted overnight the way Aquaphor does (my last dirty product…). I can swipe my Meow Meow Tweet balm on before hitting the hay and when I wake up, my lips are calm, hydrated and happy. No other lip product in a twist up tube has ever done that for me, and I’m including Blistex, which I use to slather on. I even apply MMT’s balm to a little dry-skin crack I have in my nose, and it fixes that. Miracle, I tell you, people. Miracle.

(Oh, and sidenote: I’m 90% sure that my lips are sensitive to beeswax or at least the propolis that comes with bee-related products. Totally makes sense since propolis comes from botanical sources and I have seasonal allergies. Only 90% sure because some lip products I have that have beeswax, I don’t react to.)

Deodorant cream: Another clean product I’ve failed to find—until now. I thought I was sensitive to the baking soda in other deos, but this one contains it and I don’t react to it. I have the lavender scent and it’s so light and lovely that I’m happy to reapply when I get my sweatiest. On a day when I’m not running crazily around or having a random hot flash (yes, I’m only 27, but hormones are fickle), the MMT deo lasts through it all with no stinky-ness. Can’t really ask for more. Plus, it’s softer and more easily spreadable than others I’ve tried, which makes me waaaay more likely to apply it and not reach for my Dove twist up stick (yep, go ahead and shun me—I keep a Dove around in case irritation starts).

So there you have it: success on the lip balm and the pit balm front! Who could ask for more? I know MMT has a following so share what else you love from this line so I know what to snag when I repurchase these goodies! Has anyone tried the candles? Would I love them?

La Bella FiguraDull. Dry. Parched. Flaky. Un-luminous.

Is anyone else finding that these are the adjectives they’re constantly using to describe their skin? It’s kind of starting to get old. And it’s making me want to give good ol’ Mother Nature a punch in the throat.

Since that’s not possible and since I’d probably feel bad gouging an old lady, I’m trying to remain calm and rely on things I know make my face a little less like sandpaper. Or a blemish-y paper bag. Drinking warm lemon water. Sleeping more. Sweating it out. Eating my leafy greens.

But, even though I know that in the long run all those habits will make my skin better, sometimes I need a little more control. Immediate control—and immediate results.

That’s when I turn to a tried and true brand, from whom I have not tried anything I didn’t love. The two powerhouse products pictured above are just a sample of the results-oriented brand La Bella Figura (remember when I raved about the Modern Radiance Concentrate?). In times of flaky dryness, LBF’s Organic Barbary Seed Fig Oil and the Bio Active Healing Mask have rescued my skin.

Consider this a dispatch from the Department of Heavy Lifting.

I’m going to be talking about the antiaging superstars retinoic acid, retinol, and other sources of Vitamin A. Judging from this post in July — and the zillion really smart comments (seriously, read them all—banana peel?!) — I can see I’m not the only one who has been curious about clean alternatives to Retin-A and its many over-the-counter cousins.

Retinoic acid, in case you’ve never read a beauty magazine, is the active ingredient in Retin-A. It’s derived from vitamin A and it’s a very effective antiager — one of the few with actual scientific studies to back it up — for a number of reasons. First, because it triggers your skin cells to turn over more rapidly, which is why it’s a reliable way to reverse UV damage like sun spots, freckles, and discoloration. It also helps your skin hold onto the collagen you have and it helps produce more of it. Since collagen is the structural support of your skin, keeping it elastic and firm, and since our supplies of it dwindle as we get older, this is where the ingredient really earns its stripes.

Of course, as anyone who’s tried the Rx formulas can attest, the stuff is intense.

I, like many other people, have used various prescription versions over the years  — this was before I switched to clean cosmetics — but I stopped after one particular formula burned off my face.* It was initially prescribed to me for acne. Let’s have a show of hands because if you break out and go to a regular derm, I bet some doctor prescribed it to you, too! Or tried to. The thing is, I was still really young at the time, and no wrinkles means no heavy lifting means I have no idea if the stuff actually worked as it was supposed to, and it definitely didn’t help my breakouts.

I knew at the time that retinol was a gentler version of the ingredient, and that in exchange for it not burning off my face it would just take a little longer to work (“work”). I also knew it was available in hundreds of OTC beauty products, but for whatever reason (probably because I was like 26) I never got around to trying one.

But in the back of my head, and because I’m 35 now, I’ve been wanting to find a clean retinol formula to test the promise. My first stop was vitamin A. I’d learned that rosehip oil contains high levels of the vitamin, and I’d heard anecdotally of people seeing amazing results. It seemed the gentler, more natural route but I used the stuff religiously for months and months and I can’t say I saw much of a difference at all. Maybe I was using a bogus product?

My next move was to investigate products by formulators who I know are serious about their science — because we all know that any old company can fairy-dust a little vitamin A into a product, call it an anti-ager, and then rip you off with a promise that doesn’t deliver. Which is why I was so excited to try Marie Veronique Organics’ Pacific Night Serum With Retinol. MVO, which was founded by a former chemistry teacher and chemist, doesn’t mess around when it comes to active formulas, and they do their own clinical trials to test results. (This is standard from the beauty giants but rare in the naturals category because it can cost a fortune in terms of manpower and money, and most companies are too small and/or don’t have the budgets for such things.) Anyway, I saw the clinicals and I was ready to try it.

I’ve been using it now for 7 weeks and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the lines around my mouth are less pronounced and the fan of wrinkles at the corner of my eyes has filled out a bit. Also, my skin tone is more even (though I’ve seen similar results from brightening treatments, so that wasn’t the big thing here). Obviously, I still have lines, and I always will, and I’m good with that!

I even kind of love the lines around my eyes, but I’m not going to lie and say I’d wouldn’t like to slow down the process of aging skin. That’s why my retinol experiment has been so wowing.

The downsides are that I find it a little drying, which really just means I  need a little more moisturizer, and unlike Retin-A, it’s not covered by insurance (god, imagine?). Which sucks because at $150, I know it’s not for everyone.

Has anyone else tried this puppy? Have you found another clean retinol product you like? How about successes with vitamin-A-rich oils? Share, share.

* I want to acknowledge that there are some really smart cookies in the clean beauty community who think that forcing skin cells to turn over more rapidly with topicals can produce problems in the long run, like rosacea and irritation. And while I have no doubt people have seen this happen in their skin, I personally have not, nor have I found research to support the idea. If you have, weigh in!

La Bella Figura Modern Radiance Concentrate

For most of my adult life, my skincare regime has been about keeping my sensitive skin calm and strong-arming my acne into submission. My redness-prone face and its propensity for blemishes kept me busy enough to not give much thought to anything anti-aging or skintone evening (my bad).

Then I realized that about half of the “redness” I was laboriously concealing on my face every day was actually acne scars—and not just from picking, though I will say I’m as guilty as the next broad of picking at a juicy whitehead. Even the bumps I’d successfully coaxed into reabsorbing left dark spots on my cheeks, chin and forehead. Not pretty. And not fair, may I say.

Thus began my timid quest for a spot lightener. I knew I wanted something with Vitamin C, but the debate of the quality of Vitamin C ingredients kind of made my head ache. I read Rebecca’s Skin Brightening 101 post and decided her easy, step-by-step regime would be my first venture into brightening territory.

But before I could embark on such a DIY journey, I scored a deluxe sample of La Bella Figura’s Modern Radiance Concentrate. Since I had such an exciting product on my hands, I postponed my plan and added the cream into my skincare routine. It’s formulated with an extremely high, very concentrated form of Vitamin C harvested from Australian kakadu plums. Instead of the Vitamin C known as ascorbic acid found in most products, LBF’s contains the whole and natural Vitamin C, cellularly extracted from the wild-harvested plums.

That whole and natural Vitamin C makes this product so unique—and extremely effective. One week after twice-daily applications to only the dark spots on my face, I saw a radical difference in my skintone. My spots were a shade lighter and my overall complexion was more even.

One week seems like a crazy-short amount of time to see results, so I was floored. I kept up my application for six weeks and by the time my sample had run out, I had kissed most of my dark spots goodbye. Each week, they’d lightened a little more, until the only one left was an almost eight-year-old red mark from a repeated acne cyst. And even that was four shades lighter than it used to be, making it much easier to cover up with just a swipe of mineral powder.

The additional ingredients of coconut water, seabuckthorn oil, pumpkin seed oil, barbary fig seed oil, licorice root, aloe vera and (many) more give this cream a silky, restorative feel. My reactive skin didn’t have any issues with it either, much to my surprise, but that’s a testament to the skin-boosting ingredients as well.

The only thing I wasn’t in love with was the smell. All of the other LBF products I’ve tried have luxurious, lasting scents that I want to wear as perfumes. This one didn’t sit as well with me, as my nose detected a flat odor that I attribute to the aloe (I kind of can’t stand the scent of pure aloe vera—it makes me a little nauseous, which is weird). But, thankfully, the scent doesn’t last and because you layer it underneath your moisturizer, it dissipates almost immediately.

Can we also quickly talk about how lovely the creators of LBF are? Not only are they sweet, generous founders who host Twitter parties and engage on social media with flair, they know their stuff. They travel around the world routinely, searching for the best ingredients for their products (follow them on Instagram to see what I mean).

What LBF products have you tried and loved?

Disclaimer: As a former NMDL community reader, I know that posts about high-end skincare can be frustrating and I empathize with those trying to find the most effective skincare for the most cost-effective price. I think this post conveys how much I love this serum and the sample I received. But, as a just-starting-out, full-time freelancer with a nonprofit-employed husband, my budget doesn’t currently allow for me to splurge on this decadent treatment. I am, however, saving my pennies to indulge soon—this little baby is worth it.

Ingredients: Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice*, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut Fruit) Juice*, Opuntia Ficus (Barbary Fig) Seed oil*, Theobroma Grandiflorum (Cupuacu) Butter, Terminalia Ferdinandiana (Kakadu Plum) Cell Extract, Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola) Extract*, Aronia Melanocarpa (Aronia Berry) Extract*, Hippophae Rhamnoides (Seabuckthorn Fruit) Oil CO2*, Ferulic Acid (Acid Derived From Plants), Glycrrhiza Glabra (Licorice Root) Extract*, Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin Seed) Extract, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose Flower) Extract, Olea Europea (Olive) Leaf Extract*, Helichrysum Stoechas Extract*, Malva Sylvestris (Mallow) Extract*, Bambusa Vulgaris (Bamboo) Extract, Persea Gratissima (Avocado Fruit) Extract*, Coffea Arabica (Green Coffee) Bean Oil, Jasminum Officinale (Jasmine Flower) Oil, Leuconostoc Ferment Filtrate (Radish Root) Extract, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Seed Oil CO2*, Daucus Carota Sativa (Cold Pressed Virgin Carrot) Seed Oil*, Zingiber Officinale (Fresh Ginger Root) Oil, Cymbopogan Martinii Motia (Palmarosa) Oil, Salix Alba (White Willow) Bark Extract*, Xanthan Gum (Non-GMO)*, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (Derived From Coconut), Vegetable Gylcerin (Non-GMO), Ethyl Alcohol (Derived From Non-GMO Corn)*

*Certified Organic