Monday, February 25, 2013

L.A. Girl Ombre Gradient Mini Polish Set Review

Well, this newborn blog has already been neglected due to an entire week of dreary Georgia weather.

THE PROBLEM:
If it's raining and your house is completely surrounded by trees and has limited windows, taking pictures is nearly possible both indoors and out.

THE SOLUTION:
A lightbox! Pinterest provides plenty of options. I'll be tackling my favorite this week and show you how I did it in the cheapest, easiest way possible.


In the meantime, a break in the storm allowed me to finally capture a few shots of one of my Valentine's Day gifts.

L.A. Girl Ombre Gradient Mini Nail Polish Set in "Midnight."

These polish kits contain six 0.15 fl oz (4.5ml) bottles which include for gradient creme shades, one glitter coat and a bonus top coat. There are five different sets available in stores and online at cherryculture.com

The set above came from my local Kroger grocery store for $5.99. I must have walked past these a hundred times but they remained out of my reach, placed high above the ever-tempting but overpriced OPI display. Luckily my 6'4" handyman scooped them up and collected them in a custom reclaimed gray wood box he made himself. I'll take nail polish over flowers any day.


The Cremes


Unfortunately the bottles are not individually named so I'll just refer to the corresponding finger.

Index:
This is the lightest of the creme shades. In the bottle this appears to be a very light gray, but this along with the other "grays" displayed significant blue undertones  This one had the worst formula. It streaked and showed fine lines of discoloration as if the bottle needed to be shaken, stirred or whathaveyou. It took three coats to reach full opacity and dried to a semi gloss finish.

Middle:
Unless you're looking at the bottle, this color looks like a dusty blue no matter light it is in. This formula was a smidgen better than its lighter counterpart, but not by much. At three coats, you can still see the odd streaking that almost looks like a different shade altogether. It also dried to a semi-gloss finish.

Ring:
This color is a few steps darker and many steps smoother and glossier than the previous two. I almost got away with one coat, but used two to cover minor thinness near the cuticle. In most lighting situations, this shade too exhibits that bluish tint, but in low or artificial lighting it can actually pass for a Payne's gray.

Pinkie:
This is a great black. It went on a bit thin with the first coat, but so smooth I couldn't believe it was part of the same collection. I used two coats for full opacity  and dried to a full gloss finish.


The Glitter


The glitter is definitely the shining star of the bunch (get it?). If there is a full size floating around somewhere I'd snatch it in a heartbeat. It is  a clear base with a mix of extremely small black and holographic specs along with small holographic hexes mixed in.

Doesn't seem special? It's the application of this particular glitter than makes it possibly one of the best glitter finishes I own. This polish brushes on like a creme, really. The glitter does not drag at all and applies evenly. It does however take twice as long as the cremes to dry, but considering the rest were pretty fast-drying it is nothing unbearable. Clean up and removal is the icing on the cake, leaving almost no stray glitter behind.

Pictured above (taken days later with cremes reapplied) is the glitter applied three different ways:

Thumb: Three coats applied over a clear base (pictured using Loreal's One Step Base)
Index: One coat applied over the lightest gray creme.
Pinkie: One coat applied over the black creme.

Personally, I prefer the glitter built up on it's own, rather than layering over a base color. Over a dark base you lose the black specs which give the glitter it's special something. When applied over a light color the glitter appears sparse and the hexes become nearly invisible.



The Top Coat



The top coat is the other unexpected wonder of the bunch. Extremely fast drying and silky smooth. The pictures above show two coats, and that's only because the size of the brush pulls out minimal product meaning the layers were so thin I opted for an additional layer.



Overall

In the end, I'm pleased with the set despite some concerns about the formula of the lighter shades. They're minis, so they won't be something I reach for as often anyway, but having the assurance of a perfectly matched ombre is definitely worth having around.

I emphasized the cremes being too blue for what appears to be a grayscale ombre collection...but to be fair, the packaging nor description of the item actually advertises this. Laying the matter to rest, I like the colors as they stand. Grays may be a tad more intimidating or sad for the casual nail painter.

Also, despite the horrible lighting and my "close, but no cigar" regrown nails, the gradient pictured on my thumb took little effort with this time saving set. Not only is it a time saver, but the price is right (I would pay full price for the top coat and glitter alone). If I can make it work, you most certainly can as well.

If you're on the fence about purchasing mini bottles or looking for a quick gift for a fellow nail junkie, this is a good starting point. In my desperation to take pictures of these babies in action, I must have repainted  the same manicure three or four times and yet I still have most of the bottle left including the top coat.



Have you seen or purchased any of these sets? How did they work for you? 
Let me know in the comments below.



Oh, and if you cats, coffee and quick updates/previews of future projects and products, you can now follow me on twitter, facebook and all that good stuff by clicking on the icons on the right hand side.
(My facebook is a little lonely as of now, but maybe one day that will change.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I'm now on Bloglovin!

Initial posting will be slow as I'm putting finishing touches on the design and navigation of this blog.



Bloglovin is a great website where you can see updates from of all of your favorite blog pages at once without having to visit each page one by one.

Maven Madness: In-Depth Review of the Julep Maven Program featuring the February 2013 Boho Glam Box




If you're in the United States and live in Washington or if you ever visited a Sephora, you have most likely seen these skinny and pretty nail varnish bottles on the shelves of the boutique or salon. While $14 is pretty steep for an 8mL (.27 fl oz) bottle of polish, the hype around this company only grows stronger with the introduction of their "Maven" subscription program.

What's a subscription service you may ask? In short, you pay x amount of money + shipping for what is usually claimed to be double or triple the value in a box containing specially curated or themed products. These products usually include sample sizes and discount codes with a couple of full size products thrown in.




Julep works a bit differently. The base price for the boxes are $19.99 a month + free shipping, always. However, instead of hoping and praying for something neat in the package, you get full previews of what's in each box along with multiple "style profiles to choose from." Your initial style profile is chosen based upon a short quiz taken when you enter the website. You may choose to take the box based upon your results, but you have the option to choose any of the following styles:

American Beauty
Boho Glam
Bombshell
Classic with a Twist
It Girl



(Occasionally Julep will offer a special option known as the "Maven's Choice" box. This is usually provided when there is enough feedback from Mavens who are not satisfied with the color/finish combinations in the other boxes.)



The Boxes



You receive an email on the 20th of each month notifying you that the profile selection window is open. You have until midnight on the 24th to finalize your order. During this time you may also choose to skip the month entirely if you are low on funds or just not crazy about any of the options for the month. You will not lose your account if you choose to skip a month. If you miss the window, you are automatically shipped the box associated with the profile you were first assigned. Shipping is normally very quick. I live in Georgia ALLLL THHHEE WAYY on the other side of the states, and I receive my box within three days at the most. However, if you live in Canada, I hear it takes a bit longer.

Each month promotes a special theme such as glitter polishes, matte finishes, pastel colors, etc.. Every box except for the "It Girl" profile generally comes with two nail polish colors based on your chosen profile, one beauty item or tool and some thrown in candy or other extras based upon the overall theme for the month. The "It Girl" box comes with three polishes as opposed to the usual two, but does NOT come with the extra beauty item or tool. Sometime when Julep releases a brand new item, they will include it in all boxes as a second extra for free.




When you first open up your Julep Maven box you will see two cards. One is a tiny square listing the month and a quote on the back. The larger (pictured above) will show the colors of the polish you have received on the front along with the style you chose. Usually the back would show a nail art inspiration to give you an idea about how you can wear your different colors together. However Julep has just changed a few details to the bottom of their bottles (as described in the bottom left), so this particular card explains the ID sticker.


The Polishes



Although my assigned profile is American Beauty, I change to another style almost every month. This month I went with Boho Glam because I was dying for Julianne, that beautiful dusty blue creme that is fully opaque in almost one coat. It really only needed a second to touch up a minor brush stroke. It's a bit darker when in an indoor setting, but is just as beautiful.

I love Ingrid too. Many are scared of orange polishes, but this darker burnt hue makes it much more wearable. It was also opaque is just one coat. Overall, Julep's formula is thicker compared to OPI, China Glaze, etc...but in the right way. It goes on smoothly and I personally tend to have less bubbling with this brand. So if you were wondering why the charge $14 retail? Welp, the formula would be my guess.

I'll be happy to update this post with swatches later, but I recently nubbed my nails down on the account of breakage during some heavy house cleaning. Ashamed by their current state, I'll wait a week for them to grow before exposing them to you.



Remember I mentioned the occasional extra polishes? To start out the new year Julep has introduced a new treatment and top coat to their line. The It Girl Mavens did not receive the Oxygen Nail Treatment, but everyone received the top coat regardless of profile.

The Freedom Polymer Top Coat so far seems pretty true to its name thus far. Polymer is a widely used carbon compound that you can find in anything from clay to plastics to plumbing sealants. 


I still need to do more long-wear testing, but the top coat has surpassed one of my personal favorite tests...dishwashing. Yes, I applied the top coat within the hour of taking on a sink full of grimy dishes left by my boyfriend and other roomate and suffered NO chipping whatsoever. Not even my Seche Vite has passed that test.

The Oxygen Nail Treatment sounds like a fancy base coat right? Wrong.


So what is Hexanal exactly? I did what anyone would think to do...I googled it. Hexanal is an organic compound of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Now...that's about as far as I'm going to get into the science of it. I mean I took AP Chemisty in high school and all...but that knowledge withered away shortly after graduation. Basically it's a compound that stems off of ingredients commonly found in the fragrance industry and is supposed to smell of freshly cut grass. Immediately after reading that I grabbed my bottle and took a whiff and you know what? It kind of does! That is...if you were stick a few blades of grass in acetone, but you get the idea.

This is the perfect time to test the claims of "restructure" within four weeks. As my nails regrow I will apply and update you all on whether or not I notice a difference.


 Beauty Extras

All Mavens receive a non nail-related Julep product each month. These can items can range from body products, cosmetics, beauty tools and even jewelry and accessories.

For February, all Mavens received this innovative little eyelash curler. I have yet to see it available for purchase on their website, but that could always change in the future.




As you can see it's significantly smaller than the average size curler. The one pictured to the right is a standard sized curler I got on sale at Forever 21 for less than a dollar. However Julep's curler will absolutely be my preferred curler for travel as its shape will not be troublesome or be demolished inside a cosmetics or travel bag.


Themed Extras

Every month usually has some sort of theme which will be complimented by candy, glitter, hair ties or whatever Julep can conjure up. And what better to include for the month of love?...



...chocolate of course!
(An allergy warning was included for anyone concerned.)


Add-Ons and UpgradesEveryone pays $19.99 for the box of their choosing, but as a Maven you also have the option to select up to three "add-ons" for an extra cost. You are given a menu with available add-ons during the same selection period as your box. The majority of the selection of add-ons usually consist of colors that were offered in the profile styles you did NOT choose. In addition to those you will often find a variety of other featured colors, curated sets of three polishes, and other beauty products and tools. Individual add-on polishes are priced at $4.99 each (a big drop from the $14 price, eh?), and the curated sets of three (which will count as ONE additional add-on) are usually set at an extra $19.99 each. Add-on prices of misc. beauty products and tools will vary.

You also may upgrade to the entire collection for the month, meaning you will receive the polishes for every style profile, along with the extras for an additional $30. This will bring the total cost to $49.99.



I myself have never upgraded to the full collection as Julep charges right around when bills are due. However when funds are available I'll sneak in an add-on or two. This month I chose two colors from other profiles.

The first is Sally, a pale buttery yellow from the American Beauty box. This one was a bit thick and streaky on the first coat, but with help of  an additional coat it was as smooth as well, butter. If you are afraid of the dreaded "lobster hands" I would be cautious with this color. I have pretty fair skin and this still managed to bring out the red undertones in my hands.

Bombshell's Ginger, on the other hand, is such a beautiful sandy colored shimmer that there is not a swatch in the world that can do it justice...but I'll update this post later with one anyway. In an outdoor setting, the micro shimmer is a lot more noticeable, but in an indoor setting you can barely see it. The formula is much thinner than other Julep polishes, but by some magic still managed to be completely opaque in just one coat. The biggest surprise is that it dries matte. It's only flaw is that it will flake immediately without top coat due to the layer or layers being so thin.


Maven Perks

If all the options and extras for the boxes were not enough, all Mavens also receive a 20% discount to their online store all year round. This brings the $14 price of an individual polish down to $11.20.

Soon after the boxes ship Julep opens the online "Secret Store" exclusively to its Mavens for three days. This area of the website can only be accessed once you have logged in to your Maven account. The selection and sale prices vary from month to month, but as an example I recently purchased a color via the secret store for somewhere around $4.20.  There is a tiny catch, if you chose to skip the current month's box altogether, you will not have access to the secret store for that month.

Julep frequently offers mystery boxes priced at $19.99 which may contain anywhere from $70-$200 worth of products, and not every mystery box is the same. A few lucky winners may also find very special surprise in their mystery box, usually in the form of high-value gift cards.

Speaking of very special surprises, each month all Mavens who do not skip the month are entered to win a "Golden Box." Golden boxes are similar to mystery boxes in the aspect that there are different sizes you may win. You are not notified beforehand, so if chosen you will still receive the box you paid for along with the golden box. This means you will most likely receive duplicates, but I don't know about the rest of you...but the more polish the better.


"Jules" and the Maven Rewards Program 

While the rewards program alone could be a post by itself, it works basically the same as any other. For each person that becomes a Maven under your referral code, you earn "Jules" which can be put towards free products and monthly boxes. There are multiple ways to earn Jules as stated on the Reward Program FAQ page:

"Earn 1,000 Jules for referring a friend to Julep Maven, 

300 Jules for each full priced Maven box you are billed for, 
200 Jules on your Birthday, 
500 Jules during your Anniversary month,
750 Jules when you pay for the monthly upgrade box. 

You even get Jules just for becoming a Maven!"

As of right now there are limits on what Jules can applied to and what they cannot be, mostly when it comes to certain sales. Julep is pretty up front about their policies and ensure to keep their Mavens informed.

I have used Jules towards free add-ons and such, but until now haven't really taken the path of spamming my referral code in order to receive free Jules. If you are interested in becoming a Maven, you may click my special link by clicking on the pretty little button on the right side of the page that says "Become a Maven Today!"

Still on the fence? 

The next thing I am about to tell you is exactly what got me started with the Maven program almost one year ago.

YOU CAN GET YOUR FIRST BOX FOR A PENNY!

Yeah, in that case...why not?!

If you are a mobile/tablet user or otherwise unavailable to see the widget on the right hand side of my page, you may visit Julep's sign up page through my personal refferal link as follows:

http://www.julep.com/rewardsref/index/refer/id/45305/
(If the code is not automatically entered for you, enter code "3488485" where it asks for the invitation code.)

Once you have followed my referral link to Julep's website, you can enter code "PENNY" or "JULEPVIP" at checkout and receive your first box $0.01 and free shipping. This is for new customers only.

Although the code was different, I did the same thing almost a year ago and never looked back. You may choose to cancel after you receive your intro box, but in the end you are paying drugstore prices for high-end polishes.

My overall experience with Julep has been amazing. As with any company, their will always be a few sour apples to say that the customer service is terrible. However most, including myself, will tell you that both their customer service and social networking team are incredible. They are constantly listening to feedback from their Mavens to improve the program and are quick as possible to respond to any questions.  I belong to other subscription programs and none of them have the variety of benefits along with the incredible level of communication that Julep has.

So if you're undecided and have a penny in your pocket, I say fancy up those fingers and give Julep a try.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

By an amateur, for an amateur.

In this day and age there are so many beauty gurus, extreme couponers, YouTube phenomenons and DIY trends it makes my head spin. Yet, a small detail that seems to be overlooked is that most of these characters seem to already be a "professional" in whatever they are trying to communicate to us little people. It's one thing to read a blog, watch a video and look at some pictures by, and for, people that seem to have a bottomless pit of money and supplies...but when the rest of us take on the same projects we end up with "pin"strocities, numerous tickets from the beauty and fashion police, and the classic DON'T-do-it-yourselves.


"So how will this be different?" 

I'm reaching out to my fellow amateurs as we will TOGETHER tackle crafts, coupons and couture as far as our "monkey see, monkey do" attitude can take us. I've taken in the best tips and techniques from the pros and worked into my "clearance couture" lifestyle.




"What can I expect?"


Too scared to try that new nail art look? Show me a picture!
Afraid that delicious recipe is too good to be true? Send me the recipe!
Think that DIY bookcase isn't worth all the work? Link me the tutorial!

I am always up to try anything and hope anyone will find a reason to follow along. whether you're into nail art, home decor, general crafting, or just trying to make the most out of a limited budget.

That being said, frequent posts will most likely consist of the following:

- Nail Art Tutorials, nail care techniques, swatches, reviews and current deals.
- DIY skincare tips and tricks, makeup tips, trends, and reviews of each season's "must haves."
- Craft/food/home improvement DIY hits and misses from our favorites sites such as Pinterest, Craftgawker, and a little of my own creations thrown in.
- Unboxing of subscription services with inital reactions and full reviews.
- Occasional non beauty/diy related product reviews for testing purposes via BzzAgent, Smiley360, Vocalpoint, reviews of the programs and how you can "get it free."

Also: Frequent mentions of cats and my crafty boyfriend who has a few ideas of his own.



If that sounds like a lot, then I'm on the right track. Each post will be as detailed, illustrated and informative as possible, but most importantly it's about trying something new and having fun doing it!


Don't be afraid to leave me your comments, questions, or project suggestions below!

-Melody
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