Hair Adventures in Koreatown – Just Ask for Hannah

Last weekend I got my hair cut and permed. Let’s pause for a silent, personal “hurrah!” for me, because it was long overdue! Several factors contributed to that.

Factor 1: I had my hair done just before moving to Canada (that’s right, I’m in Canada, but we’ll get to that in a second) so in the craziness of settling in a new place, the last thing on my mind was hair.

Factor 2: I’ve always had low-key hair. I’d simply focus on trying to get a stylish cut…and then depend on it for months on end. I used to happily brag about how I only cut my hair twice a year (I know, it sounds ridiculous to me now too).

I never got into coloring (although there was that one brief “red” period freshman year of college), and stopped entirely when Steve, my hairstylist in NY, said to me once, in a mildly threatening manner, “don’t you ever, ever dare color that hair.” He was a fabulous black man expertly wielding a pair of shears, so I guess I was a little scared.

The only time after that was during my internship with Redken a few years later when I caved to the promise of getting a free color treatment if I volunteered to be a model in a class for experts at the academy.

Anyways, that was the extent of my relationship with treatments until last fall when I conquered bad-perm-fear and decided, in determination to revive my lifeless locks, I’d give it a go. Loved it. Did it once more before leaving Hong Kong as I knew I’d be parting with the deft and able hands of Ray, my stylist in Hong Kong. Long story short, I suppose it was due to my limited experience with treatments that I just didn’t expect for it to get unruly so quickly.

Which brings us back to March in Canada.

I left Hong Kong mid-December and I moved to Toronto on January 3rd. I waited until Mid-March to do my hair. At which point, I realized, I had no idea where to even go. I wanted a place that understood Asian hair, and more importantly, knew how to perm it. On the other extreme, I also needed a place that wouldn’t give me a “trendy” Asian pop-star cut.

So, I turned to a fellow rep, who is not only Asian and beautiful, but also has fabulous hair, for advice. She had a few recos, and eventually, told me about her friend who, “had a great perm…in a basement in Koreatown…don’t know the name…the stylist’s name was Hannah.”

Somehow, I was sold.

I typed the keywords “Hannah,” “Koreatown,” “Toronto,” and found Goa Beauty Salon. Through my “extensive” research on community forums, I learned that Hannah was supposedly the only one in the salon that spoke English and that you had to book her way in advance. But you know what: the reviews were solid, all referred specifically to Hannah by name, and one of the girls in one of the online articles had a cute hairstyle.

Fast forward to last week. Hannah asks me a few questions about what I’m looking for, and very quickly just “gets” me. And I kid you not, I have never sat in a chair and seen my hair literally be transformed, in front of my eyes, inching closer to fabulousness with every snippy snip. I mean, I’ve had great cuts, but usually, the fabulousness is revealed after the blow-out. She put me in rollers for a digital perm and told me she was creating tighter curls than what I had before so they’d last a bit longer, but would still be medium-loose.

In all honesty, I didn’t love it at the reveal. The blow-out hid and took all definition out of both the curls and cut, and I was like, THIS is supposed to last me for the next few months? I would need to return NEXT WEEK! But all was redeemed when I waited to wash it out, ran some curling product through it, scrunched it up with my fingers, and left it to air-dry. The curls were indeed tighter than I had ever had them, and my cut was shorter than I had realized in the salon – but you know what, it looked amazing.

Verdict: While I’m not likely to go back for a blow-out, I’m certain I’ve found the perfect spot for everything else (at least until I’m gone in a few months), cut & perm included!

Goa Beauty Salon
Address: 714 Bloor Street West
Tel: (416) 516-9292

Ask for Hannah. Yes, she’s talented, but a real sweetheart too.

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Life Updates

Dear Friends and Readers,

It’s been a while since I last posted. My apologies for being so entirely absent and unreliable!

Truth is, I was completely immersed in a body-and-soul-absorbing job search…up until the point that I finally landed the opportunity I was pursuing. Amazing how quickly things can escalate sometimes. Since then, I’ve started in a new role in beauty.

My recent blogging hiatus was a result of taking the necessary time to wrestle with the decision of whether it made sense to continue to post with 1) the increased constraints on my time and 2) the potential (real or perceived) conflict of interest between my new role and objectivity as a beauty writer.

I’ve decided to continue, but my postings will be more sparse and irregular. I apologize in advance. I also promise to be completely open about where my opinions are coming from and have no hidden agenda “pushing” any products over another. The purpose of my blogging is not to sell, but as before, to offer remarks and my perspective on beauty news and the fascinating idiosyncrasies of beauty culture, preferences and habits around the world.

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Review: Bobbi Brown Extra SPF 25 Tinted Moisturizing Balm

First, in my Line-up of Winter Saviour Products…

I’ve never been a big tinted moisturizer user, but last week, as my skin gradually started shriveling up in the winter dryness of London, and as I had only packed a mineral powder foundation, I figured it was a good time to try out a more moisturizing base.

The only question was which brand?

With the help of last month’s issue of Elle UK, I decided on Bobbi Brown.

Bobbi Brown has a standard SPF 15 tinted moisturizer, but I was more interested in the richer, more moisturizing tinted balm from Bobbi Brown’s Extra line (described as “a collection of super-luxurious balm-based products formulated with natural plant extracts such as pure orange, rosemary and olive oils”). I love stocking up on foreign magazines when I travel, and in Elle UK there was an article with skin/foundation tips recommended by Bobbi Brown herself. That’s when I decided I wanted to try Bobbi Brown’s Extra SPF 25 Tinted Moisturizing Balm. There are a few reviews already out there, including some of my fave beauty sites, i.e. makeupalley.com, Temptalia, and TotalBeauty.com. General consensus was that this was a light-coverage, rich formula (which was perfect for some, not ideal for others) and, well, that sounded good to me, so I decided to try it out for myself.

Overall Impression

I’m a fan. But it’s not for everyone. I have generally very clear skin so I prefer a light coverage product – check. I also have dry skin that started freaking out in the colder climate. Therefore, this product was a great solution for me. It may not be as suitable for women with oilier skin, or for those who are enjoying warmer, more humid winters (Ah, Christmas escape vacations, anyone?).

Here are some of my thoughts.

The Effect
As I said, I prefer sheer coverage. I wasn’t seeking a liquid foundation substitute… just a moisturizing product that would do the absolute bare minimum in evening out my skin-tone. It gave a nice, dewy glow, which is the kind of finish I prefer, as I have dry skin, and a finish like this infuses my skin with a bit of life.

The Feel
I think in my “winters” spent in Hong Kong, or even winters in New York, I would normally consider this formula too rich. But in the dry London weather, it’s what I needed. It instantly absorbed into and calmed my chapped skin and didn’t cake or simply sit atop the skin’s surface. Not all the areas of my face were equally dry, so I concentrated its use on my forehead and chin and very little around areas, like my eyes, that needed it less. I noticed that a few reviewers commented that the product was too greasy, but I personally didn’t get this at all, not even on the more oily parts of my face.

The Scent
I love the scent…in general. It’s aromatic, and citrusy with a spicy kick to it (ginger, perhaps?). I was initially a little put-off, and certainly surprised, by the intensity of the aroma as I’m not used to strong scents in my face products. I still prefer more mildly scented face products because I don’t like being aware of the make-up that I’m wearing – and a heady scent does give it away. But I do love that scent…and it’s growing on me.

My Recommendations
When I had the beauty advisor try this on me in-store, she used a foundation brush then switched to fingers. I, too, much prefer applying this with my fingers. With light application using the fingers, this seemingly small amount of pricey product really lasts and goes a long way. I apply over my regular moisturizer – I don’t think it’s moisturizing enough on its own to be used alone. I see it more as an opportunity to add extra moisture.

I treat this as a balm, not a cream or lotion – which is why I suspect I never found this to be greasy the way that many other reviewers had. So instead of taking a dollop, I swipe my finger around the jar and apply like a balm.

Finally, this product was a hit for me in London, but different formulas are necessary for different climates because our skin changes with the weather. I suspect that in Asia, I’ll be using this less.

Added perk: it has SPF 25. This may be interesting to some, but for me, I put on my regular SPF 50 Shu Uemura Sunblock regardless, because, well, I’ve just been trained that way.

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London Hates My Skin

Okay, I hate to admit it, but once again, my Mother was right.

She warned me as I packed for my trip to Europe that it was going to be dry and advised me to bring tons of moisturizer. That I did. But my coolly hydrating Biotherm moisturizers that more than do the trick and treat me oh-so-right in humid Asia just fell dramatically short of the task over here. And I realized very quickly that I needed something much richer.

I arrived about 3 weeks ago in Zurich to visit my boyfriend after finally landing a job, and negotiating a start date for after New Year’s, freeing up some time to relax and spend quality moments with the BF and fam before I start. During week one in Zurich, my skin started protesting, but ultimately tolerated the dryness with the help of my regular products.

BUT THEN, I spent week two in London and arrived at one conclusion: London hates my skin.

Between the dryness of winter (to which my Southeast Asia-acclimated skin was not used to begin with) and the intensified dryness indoors generated by excessive, yet still necessary, artificial heat, my skin rebelled.

Hence, my resulting reliance on a few key products, a.k.a. my skin’s saving grace, during my week and half-long stay in not-so-skin-friendly London:

For my chapped lips
Vaseline “Rosy Lips” Lip Therapy Pot with Rose and Almond Oil Vaseline

For my hands
Cath Kidston Rose Hand Cream

For my body (in-shower)
L’Occitane Firming and Softening “Supple Skin Oil” with Almond Oil

For my body (post-shower)
Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula “Moisturizing Body Oil” with Vitamin E for shower and bath (Stealthily swiped from my cousin – thanks Christie!!)

Make-up
Bobbi Brown Tinted Moisturizing Balm in Light – Medium

Face
No new products, just my standard go-to Aqua Source Non-Stop moisturizer in exaggerated amounts

Of course, I always welcome an excuse to try new products, and in my upcoming posts I’ll tell you a little more about how I’m enjoying my new purchases/trials. So far, one thing is for certain, I’ve managed to temporarily appease my skin. Take that London!

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Yes, I Still Love Acqua Di Gio

I’m back! Apologies for the short hiatus. Job-hunting and travels took over my life  during the past few weeks. While I tidy up a new blog entry I’m working on for tomorrow, here’s one I had meant to put up two weeks ago. Yikes!

In anticipation of our (me + boyfriend) upcoming official anniversary,  exact date to be determined as soon as one of us stops being too lazy to actually figure it out, I’m doing a little spotlight on a product that has a soft spot in my heart: Acqua Di Gio. My boyfriend smells delicious in this, and just making a ballpark estimate, it is probably about 40% of the reason why I fell in love with him.

By virtue of its iconic status, Acqua di Gio has become a controversial fragrance. Launched in 1996 and topping the men’s fragrance charts in the US ever since then, it’s without a doubt one of the most ubiquitous scents out there.

I don’t think the criticisms are without some merit. I mean, it is a very real danger for guys who spritz on this stuff, that when they are with the lady they are trying to impress, she’ll get a whiff of the scent and think fondly of her father/brother/cousin/hot next-door neighbour (which is, presumably, not the desired effect). This is a particularly valid concern when it comes to fragrances since fragrance stimulates the olfactory sense, the sense most closely related to your brain’s memory function.

Critics might also suggest that the only reason this scent is still up there in the charts despite this risk is because it relies on its name, reputation, and the fact that male humans are notorious (well, historically, not all-inclusively) for not putting too much thought into their personal care and grooming products.

Instead, I dare posit that the fragrance remains up there because it’s damn good. Yes, there are other aquatic-woodsy scents out there, but this one really is special. It’s classic…because it is good. There’s an article on askmen.com from a while back that dismisses the scent as overpriced and overused…but there are plenty of comments in response to the article that are clearly written from a place of emotional loyalty to the scent.

My conclusion? If you want to be unique, then fine, this might not be the scent for you (unless you’re in Asia, a less mature fragrance market where you might still get away with it…oh, and btw, fragrances DO smell slightly different on every individual because scents react differently to every person’s unique body chemistry). But if your goal is just to smell good, well, this’ll do the trick.

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Pollution: How Bad Is It For Your Skin?

Every well-beauty-educated girl worth her salt knows that good beauty is built upon a regimen that puts skin first. And if she’s read a magazine or blog or two, she knows that a) impurities are bad and b) hydration is good. Therefore, she’s picked up good habits like drinking a lot of water, cleansing her face every night, etc.

So what’s a girl to do when she’s looking at the prospect of spending a lot of time in a place like Shanghai – notorious for its less-than-pure river water running through the taps and air that could clog loosely woven gauze?

Well that’s what I was looking at when I spent a month in Shanghai and thought about whether I could picture myself living there. I’m not suggesting that air/water was a make-or-break factor for me, but I won’t lie – the environment I’d be living in was something that crossed my mind!

I mean, take, for example, a leisurely run outdoors…are the health benefits cancelled out by the air I take in? If you think I’m being melodramatic, then you haven’t seen a picture of Shanghai recently. And if you have, then you’ve probably spent more time in Beijing and it’s just that in comparison, Shanghai doesn’t look too bad.

Okay, but in all seriousness, it’s entirely livable. But yet, the question remains: are there any adverse effects, in the long-term, if you are living in an environment that’s not pure vs. one that is? And zooming out, I’m now referring to any big, bustling, relatively polluted city with the modern-day products of technology and cosmopolitan-living floating through the air vs. any picturesque location pulled from Nat Geo.

There’s been plenty of debate about the impact of the environment on general health – and consensus is stretched between conclusions of “nominal” and “dramatically adverse.” But what about beauty, specifically? Is my skin going to suffer in the long-term if I were to spend the rest of my life in Shanghai or Beijing?

Kristen on TotalBeauty.com posted an article last month called “Anti-Aging Skincare Advice: Become a Country Bumpkin that purported that living in a city ages you by as much as 20%. It’s actually a fantastic little article, but I must admit I scoffed a little bit when I first read the headline because, well, moving out of a city to avoid wrinkles? Silliest thing I ever heard. Hell, if you’ve moved to the middle of nowhere to achieve perfect skin, how many people are going to see the fabulous results you’ve sacrificed so much to achieve anyways?

But then I thought about it: moving is a little dramatic, yes, but if the danger is real, then maybe precautions ought to be taken.

Total Beauty cites a study in Germany that has found that exposure to air pollution may cause an increase of red and brown spots on the forehead and cheeks by 20%.

The scientists from the study hypothesize that components of pollution found in cities may “directly stimulate proliferation of pigment cells in the skin” from “pollution induced oxidative damage.” That is nerd speak for: despite the fact that you slather on sunscreen everyday like it’s your job, you’ll still get age spots on your face because you live near too many people.

 

While I’m not sure how willing I am to accept a figure like that at face value without learning a little bit more about the actual study, it’s still a scary thought.

But as a born-and-bred city girl, I will eagerly accept advice on how to protect myself from the negative impact of city-living. Dr. Chapas, the quoted dermatologist in the above article, suggests using products with an antioxidant like Vitamin C to lighten pollution-induced pigmentation, and recommends Clinique Even Better Skin Tone Corrector , $49.50 to her patients because it “incorporates antioxidants plus skin lighteners.

Fancl , a Japanese skincare brand, unveiled what I thought was a pretty brilliant ad about a year ago (I think?). It focused on this concern exactly. It was the first ad I’d seen address this issue and thought it was quite an effective ad because it tied in the product directly with a relevant and relatable skin concern. In the ad, she battles away impurities and this product promises “pollution-free skin.” I love it, see it here.

At the end of the day, prevention is way better than relying on correcting serums and laser-treatments at the dermatologist to fix the damage. So if you’re not ready to move out of the city for the sake of your skin quite yet, it’s all the more important that you’re extra-diligent about cleansing your skin. Even boil the water if you know it’s not the purest (we can’t all afford to splurge on mineral water for face-washing after all!). Pick-up a brightening/skin-tone correcting product, like Clinique’s, while you’re at it and use it on a regular basis anyways. I slather Lancome’s Bright Expert Intense Brightening Spot Correcting Serum, $90, all over my face and not just on existing/emerging spots.

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Why Sephora China Can Learn A Thing Or Two From Sephora US


YIKES! I called it first! Sephora US has just launched Beauty Talk – the social community for beauty lovers everywhere. And I love it! I pitched a near identical idea to Sephora China a month ago, and now, I may or may not have the words “I told you so!” ringing inside my head.

Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of bringing up the topic of Sephora, particularly in relation to China and/or interactive marketing, with me knows that I am passionately, borderline obsessively, revved up by the potential the retailer has in China. Hell, I even went in for an interview for a completely different role and insisted on presenting my thoughts anyways. But if you haven’t heard me preach yet (and if you have, again, I am sorry) then hear me out when I propose to you this: Sephora is uniquely poised to conquer the online beauty world in China. (It’s up to them to act on it.)

Beauty Talk, according to the e-mail from Sephora US that I just received, is “Sephora’s new community created for social beauties”. Key features include:

  • Question and Answers: Get 24/7 real-time answers and advice from fans, Sephora experts and brand founders on all things beauty
  • Inspiration: Topic boards and top-10 must-have lists full of fresh ideas
  • Video Tutorials: Professional tips and tricks from the talented PRO Beauty Team and brand founders

This is very exciting for beauty bloggers everywhere, but first things first: why do I think something like this is even more important for China than anywhere else?

Reason 1:
Digital is the way global brands can “win” China

The Chinese beauty market is a messy, fragmented, thrilling world of beauty potential. It’s a market where you have an entire generation of women who didn’t inherit beauty rituals from their mothers. And despite this fact, each city is unique in its preferences and behaviors. Read: the key to unlocking this market bursting with latent, untapped, sales potential is different in every part of the country. This fragmentation means that digital is the best way for a brand to take a leadership position in the Chinese market. It’s the way a brand can penetrate the entire nation while remaining locally relevant at ground level.

Reason 2:
Chinese consumers are incredibly reliant on peer and expert opinions when making purchase decisions

Enovate.com describes the Chinese buying cycle in the following way:

Step #1: The typical Chinese consumer, wherever she may be, goes online to research. Consumers rely heavily on online expert and peer opinions. She will first go to peer networks to find out what’s hot.
Step #2: She goes in-store to seek personal, customized advice and guidance from beauty counselors, and to test the product(s) out herself.
Step #3: She returns online to make the purchase through sites like Sephora and Taobao…seeking the lowest price.

The Opportunity: Sephora is uniquely positioned to play an influential role at every stage of that cycle. Thus, Sephora should aim to make the transition from each stage as seamless as possible so that the consumer will stay with Sephora from start to finish.

How does creating an online community achieve this?

In Step #1, the online community creates a platform where consumers can engage with the brand and with each other – connecting around the shared interest of beauty and the shared purpose of seeking beauty knowledge. Plenty of social networking sites already exist, such as Renren, P1, and Kaixin, but there are no social networks of that magnitude dedicated solely to beauty.

In creating a must-visit social networking site, functionality is key. Sephora China should have the site functionality to create wish-lists. But even beyond that, functionality should allow friends to see their friends’ wish-lists and comment on them.

There are many other ways to create peer engagement and increase conversation volume:

  • Create forums,
  • Allow users to create personal pages,
  • Allow users to “clip” products from participating brand sites (so they’re still drawn back to Sephora platform even when they’re away!),
  • Allow users to create style-boards around beauty “looks” or hot trends (aaaand…competitions for best style-boards…voted on by community members)
  • Etc. (yes, I saved my favorite ideas for the pitch.)

In Step #2, the consumer has a way to get customized, personal beauty advice from Sephora, brand experts, and celeb reviewers. Sephora US has a blog…Sephora China ought to create one too. Again, I won’t bore you with my other ideas for functionality.

Finally, in Step #3, the conversation seamlessly connects to a convenient way for the consumer to purchase the product she learned and received customized advice about.

Reason 3:
Chinese consumers purchase based on value and price incentives

A digital platform allows for creative incentive-schemes. Let’s say, for instance, Sephora creates the functionality of rating and reviewing a hot new product. And let’s say you have a list of friends who can all view your reviews. Now, let’s say a buddy of yours trusts your opinion, you are her friend after all, and is inspired to actually purchase the product you raved about. If she clicks to buy through a unique link in your review…let’s say Sephora gives you points that go towards your point bank, which then leads to your eventual discount on great products as a top-sales-producing member.

A fantastic way for a company known for high-quality, yet pricey, products to generate sales in a market made up of price-driven beauty consumers? Yes, I think so! Even if discounts aren’t given, what if top-sales-producing members get thank you gifts…straight off of their wish-lists?

I have to say, it’s exciting that the US is moving in that direction – but I still think China’s market would be particularly receptive to this kind of initiative. The US is taking the lead, and that’s a start…but my mind is blown every time I contemplate the potential sales China would generate even by adopting just some of the ideas that US has already so successfully executed. So, shouldn’t they start running in that direction?

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