Beauty Without Fuss

Monday 20 March 2017

#IncredibleMedicine on BBC2 this week! (9pm 22nd March)

Or: The story of how I accidentally became one of "The Most Extraordinary People In The World"*.

I got an email last July asking me if I wanted to take part in a documentary about my smell loss. I get quite a few emails regarding my anosmia every week (I write about it a lot, lets face it), so didn't particularly pay any special attention to this one.  I responded asked for more details, then found myself having a long, long conversation with a BBC researcher and got very, very excited about being on the telly, then heard nothing.  For AGES...

But before I get into the whys and hows of being featured (in a tiny way) on a major documentary series, let's back up a moment and talk about why the BBC wanted to feature me and my "story" at all.  I'm not one of the biggest or "best" bloggers, after all, so why me?

Well ... My name is Louise Woollam, and I'm "the perfume writer who lost their sense of smell" in what could be seen as a dumb cosmic joke.  It's funny, really, a person who writes gently-amusing (occasionally award-nominated)  prose about fragrance on the internet loses their sense of smell and then whines about it continually for several years. Let's make some telly about it! Yes, I'd be rolling my eyes about now if I were reading this too.  It's fine, get it out of your system. I'm going to tell you more about it regardless.

This time three years ago, in 2014, I had a perfectly normal sense of smell, and had just NOT WON a fragrance-writing award (it's fine, I'm genuinely not bitter - it was about fragrances from the pound shop. No one ever won a fancy-pants award writing about those), but I was just about to catch the cold that turned my life upside down.  That cold didn't feel much different to any other cold, but the after-effects still linger to this day. A life without smell, whether or not you relied upon your nose as much as I did back in the "before", is grey and dull and stressful, and is also one where the simplest of pleasures to distract yourself, such as a glass of wine, or a great meal, or even a cup of coffee or the smell of a hug from your loved ones, are denied to you. I spent the best part of a year getting used to my new smell-free life, which was surreal and bonkers and hugely isolating, but then things got worse, which lead me to another different life. 

This time two years ago, back in 2015, I was deep in the blackest pit of despair you can ever imagine. Life had segued from my anosmic "glass box" existence, to living in a surreal smell-landscape where every single item you encounter in life, from shower gel to toothpaste, takeaway curry to a supermarket sandwich (and let us not even mention the circle of hell that is a kitchen to parosmic) to even the smell of your own wet hair could make you throw up, no matter where you were.  When something as simple as a colleague accidentally making me some coffee instead of tea would mean that you might have to leave the office for the day, or just walking past someone smoking in the street would also mean puking and weeping.  The absolute worst day of my existence happened around this time, when, after a fight about perfume on facebook (where else?)  I found myself face down on the floor of the bathroom covered in puke because the smell of my hot, wet hair smelled so damn bad, and I realised I was wondering whether or not I could go on.  Anosmia may have ruined my life, but parosmia nearly killed me.

Nothing smelled good, nothing tasted good, nothing felt good, I couldn't get away from the smells, and I was crippled by them so much on a daily basis that there were days I could barely leave the house.  My ENT doctor told me two things during this time: "You know that Michael Hutchence? He lost his sense of smell, you know, and some people think that lead him to kill himself".  Well, to say I have some sympathy with Michael Hutchence on this one would be a mild understatement.  I have wondered at several points, if, possibly, Michael Hutchence and I shared the same ENT.  I was so damn angry at this idiot for saying this to me, I can't even begin to describe my feelings about it right now. At a different visit I was crippled, crying, and on my knees begging for help, thinking that I was insane in the face of these smells, when he delivered his real zinger:  "One day you'll back on this and laugh".   Essentially: "suck it up".  Suck. It. Up.  Can you imagine a doctor saying this if I'd gone blind from that cold.  Or deaf?  It'd be unacceptable.  But because it's "only smell" it's considered fine by the medical community to dismiss the problem.  Smell is the least of the senses, in that sense.  Well, bollocks to that thinking, say I. Smell is important, and medics dismiss it to the intense frustration of their smell-disabled patients, and doctors who tell patients to "get used to it" deserve scorn, not admiration.

Whilst I can, in fact, laugh about some of my experiences now, there was literally nothing funny about the situation I found myself in. Fearing insanity and completely unsupported by my specialist medical team, I was misunderstood generally. It was hell. The truth is that the sense of smell is a neglected one, and even in circles where people really appreciate "smells", there is a lot of mistruth spoken about anosmia and (to a much lesser extent) parosmia by people who rely on spreading fear about losing your sense of smell for their own living.  There are more than a couple of master perfumers who need to learn more about smell-loss, to be honest, but I shall mention no names here.  Anyway, I digress.

I have to say here, that I'm on the "lucky" anosmics.  I'm recovering.  Thanks to my own damn stubbornness in refusing to give up wearing, and writing about, perfume (yes, even with no sense of smell, and especially with a distorted sense of smell), it turns out I was unconsciously smell-training myself throughout this time.  I'd read about smell training back when I was deeply parosmic and just the thought of deliberately smelling aromatherapy oils (particularly given my deep antipathy towards "woo" medicine anyway) when I just knew that would make me sick, struck me as a terrible idea!  

Nonetheless, I doggedly wore a different perfume every day, smelled it deliberately regardless of the reaction, and wrote a line or two about it on Instagram even if what I wrote was mostly just a memory. There are now over 400 of my "mini-reviews" on Instagram via the hashtag #LipsNSpritz.  Through doing this, I discovered that there, in fact, were things I could smell "properly", and I have even, with the help of perfumer Sarah McCartney, created a couple of fragrances that smell good to me - and smell good to other people too! - which is an amazing thing to have been given the opportunity to do.  One of them donates funds to Fifth Sense, a pressure group that helps out other people with smell and taste disorders.  

Smell training (even in as haphazard a way as I discovered it)  has, for me, given me some of my life back.  There are still things I can't really smell - not being able to smell anything burning is a particular worry.  Not being able to smell farts, slightly less so - and trying to review perfumes is more akin to trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with my nose, than making up a story to go with a pretty smell which is basically what it used to be.  Nonetheless, I am persisting, and I will continue to do so - the three Jasmine awards I was nominated for by the Fragrance Foundation last year remain a huge point of pride (even though I didn't win.  Again), and I it remain an ambition of mine to be the first post-anosmic perfume writer ever to win a Jasmine Award.  One day.  I'm hoping to do more work in the smell-training arena in the coming months too.  I'm speaking at the Royal School of Medicine in a couple of months, and you can bet if I could remember my idiot-ENT's name, I'd be forcing him to listen to what I have to say about my "treatment" from him.  I will say this though: my GP was amazing, and I did get more help from him and support than I did from any "specialist" I saw during that time.  He was a lifesaver, literally.

So, er, yeah. That was a really long way of getting around to saying that the BBC eventually did get back to me and I spent two hugely amusing days last year being followed around by TV crews, doing deeply random things and I really hope the film gets across just some of the difficulties of being anosmic, and parosmic.  I'm terrified of watching it (the BBC haven't let me have an advance copy in spite of me begging for one on several occasions. Damn their eyes!), but I do know I'd have been hugely grateful if someone else with the condition had spoken out about it back when things were at their darkest for me. Life isn't dark any more, and I know I'm not alone in suffering these conditions, and that's a huge relief.  If my little film helps anyone else, then whatever kind of perfumed wanker I look like come Wednesday evening, it will have been worth it.

BBC2 9pm, Wednesday 22nd March.  Be there.  Me, I'll be cringing behind the sofa for several days afterward.  If you Tweet, I'm @Get_Lippie, and the hashtag is #IncredibleMedicine.

I'm hugely indebted to Linda Pilkington at Ormonde Jayne, and Navabi (as well as everyone else linked to in this article - such as Sarah McCartney, Smell Training and Fifth Sense) for their help and assistance in the making of this film.  Thank you.

* Stop laughing at the back! This was the working title of the show, and it's what it'll be transmitted as in international markets**

The Fine Print: SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

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Sunday 19 March 2017

Beauty Pie - the buyers club for beauty lovers(?)

So, Beauty Pie, then.  Launched with no little amount of hyperbole towards the end of last year by Marcia Kilgore, the founder of (amongst others): Soap & Glory and FitFlop.  Hyped as "makeup without the markup", the website boasts of "luxury" lipsticks from £2.84, eyeshadow palettes from £6.94, and foundations from £4.75.

Sounds amazing, right?  By cutting out the middleman, using generic packaging, and charging a £10 per month subscription fee, Beauty Pie acts like a "buyers club" for loyal beauty fans wanting bargains on high-end cosmetics.  I was sent a box of the hero products just before Christmas (alas, mostly unusable, because of the random - too brown and nude - colour selections), alongside a free 3 month membership, and I recently activated that membership and made some more suitable purchases to test out the service before I finished finalising my thoughts.  

Before I get into opinions though, here are some facts:

Each product description on Beauty Pie gives you the member price, and the non-member price.

Your £10 subscription fee allows you to buy £100-worth (at the "non-member" prices) of products, which is realistically around three or four products, depending on what you buy.

Your minimum membership period is three months.  

Meaning that if you only find a single product or two that you fancy each month, then they will have cost you (using the example products above): £2.84 + £6.94 + £4.75 + Shipping (£5.22 x3) + handling (2% of order cost x3) + £30 Membership fee which is around £60.48, meaning that each product actually cost you £20.16.  Of course, if you ordered all three products at once, you'd save yourself £10.44 in postage fees (and I've used the minimum fee here - it's changeable depending on what you order), making each product cost £16.68. 

And, at present, it is definitely entirely possible that there is only one or two products that you'd feel like buying each month, because the selection is definitely limited.  It took me till March to activate my free membership, because when I first went to fill my basket back in December, there simply wasn't anything that I fancied buying. There were several things I stuck in my basket, I didn't particularly want them, and they were there just to make the most of actually placing an order, but I was ... underwhelmed.  Now, admittedly, I'm a beauty addict, and there isn't much I don't have (I could wear a different lipstick every day for at least the next 6 months without a repeat, probably), but even so, I found the pickings thin.

However, if you don't make a purchase in a particular month, your £100 allowance (or, any unspent allowance if you didn't fill your basket) rolls forward.  So, if you join and don't buy till your third month, you'd have a £300 allowance, and would make a saving on the postage costs.  It, kind of, evens out.

Selection-wise, things have definitely improved recently with the addition of the eyeshadow palettes (which I think have been well selected colourwise), and some accessories like a brush kit, but there is - for me - still not a huge amount to choose from. This will change throughout the year, as they add more and more lines, and I believe skincare launches in April.   But it's that element of picking and choosing that is problematic for me, because most of the pictures on the Beauty Pie website are CGI, and the colours are incredibly difficult to select, as a result.  There are no swatches, no natural light, no photographs of the products in use, and the descriptions are minimalistic at best.  

The website is great, however, for listing the breakdowns of the prices and for featuring complete lists of the ingredients - I noticed that practically everything is listed as paraben and fragrance-free (I'll come back to fragrance though), and the entire range is also cruelty-free, which is definitely something to be applauded.  

L-R Everyday Great Skin Foundation in Beige, Supercolour Kohl Eyeliner in Soft Black and Futurelipstick Matte in Red Light
Beauty Pie are pushing the idea that these are "luxury", and "high end" products very, very hard, which leads me to address the elephant in the room: are these products worth the "non-members" prices quoted?  Well, the short answer is: No.  Not really. There's nothing about the products you buy here that could possibly justify the "non-member prices" listed here, for a number of reasons.  But does this mean they are bad products?  No, actually, definitely not.

If I was asked "are they worth the prices you pay for them" though?  Then I'd reply that depending on how often you order, and how carefully you order, they might be.  

Let's take the Supercolour Kohl Eyeliner, for example.  The non-member price listed is £15.00, but you can buy it for £2.04.  At the £15 pricepoint, a good comparison might be the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide on liner which normally retails for £15.50. Ignoring the packaging, which is bound to differ, in consistency, Supercolour surprised me, actually.  It is good and black - blacker than expected given the name "soft black" and is soft and applies easily.  It doesn't last that long, but in a £2.04 eyeliner, this isn't so much of a problem.  However, in a £15 eyeliner masquerading as a £2.04 eyeliner, it is more of one.  Urban Decay lasts longer, and is better in the waterline too.  I would not, ever, pay £15 for the Supercolour Kohl Eyeliner, but if the "non-member price" was listed at around £6-8, I'd believe it.

Likewise the Futurelipstick Matte, which would ostensibly retail at £20.  Lipstick Queen Sinner lipsticks retail at around £22 and have better pigmentation, alongside a better texture and they smell better too; of nothing. For some reason all Beauty Pie lip products smell rather strongly of toffee - and I wonder how that has happened given all their products are ostensibly unfragranced.  Fututrelipstick Matte is a fine, nice lipstick.  Nice pigmentation, comfortable to wear.  If I'd spent £6.99 at Superdrug on it, I'd be very happy. at £2.84 + postage and handling and membership, it's fine.  If I'd spent £20 I'd be bitterly disappointed at the cheap smell, the cheap packaging, and the just average wear, however.

That thought brings me to the Everyday Great Skin Foundation, which smells of nail varnish remover.  And disgustingly so. It may well be a great product, but I can't bring myself to put it on my face, to be honest.  I can't think of any "luxury" (or even high street) brand that would have allowed a product that smelled this bad to be sold, especially for £30! Even at £4.75, it's a little overpriced, to be honest. Especially when you add in the difficulty of selecting the correct shade in the first instance.  I am aware I have a smell disability, and I thought for a while that this might be my problem rather than a problem with the product itself, but I've read some other reviews with similar thoughts. So if you're not bothered by the smell of your products, then do crack on and let me know how wrong I am, but for a "luxury" product to smell this bad - and it is a bad smell, not merely "a smell I don't particularly care for" like with the toffee lip products above - is beyond the pale, to be honest.

And then there is my final thought, whilst everyone likes a bargain (and I LOVE a bargain, me), a beauty brand stands or falls on the value for money, whatever the price point. If I can tell, objectively, that a £20 lipstick lasts longer on the lips than a £6.99 lipstick, and won't leave my lips chapped and dry, then I'll probably buy the £20 lipstick, and yes, I know that the majority of that cost is on the packaging and the scent.  Here's the thing though, I LIKE fancy packaging, it turns out.  And I really don't like it when expenstive makeup has cheap packaging - I like the full package, and I don't really mind paying for it.  But also wanting value for money (and it is the consumer who decides this, according to their budget) is why independent beauty reviews are important, and this is why I'm still blogging about makeup, these days.  Colour selection from a brand will also have a part to play in making my selections too - if I need a specific shade, and the cheap one has it and the expensive range doesn't, I might make a different decision.  But with Beauty Pie, one can't make those decisions because you can't swatch, and the colour pictures on the website can't assist in those decisions.

Once you factor in all the on-costs these products aren't as cheap as they appear, and nor are they the great value I'd like them to be.  That your £2.04 eyeliner might end up costing more like £6-8 or even £17 by the time you get it into your grubby little paws doesn't bother me that much (though your mileage might, as they say, vary) it's still a "cheap" eyeliner. But will it be a great eyeliner?  For me, Urban Decay do GREAT eyeliners, even at £15 a pop.  The Beauty Pie liner is just an okay liner, at whatever price you ended up buying it for.  However, if you're happy with "okay" pretending to be "premium" albeit with the bells and whistles stripped out, then that's great too. I like the bells and whistles, personally. 

What really bothers me is that the website tell you that you're getting a £15 product, and, actually, the products don't measure up to the standards of "real" £15 products.  I like that my real luxury products smell better, and feel better, and look better in the packaging, however, I must add here, that I actually quite like the simple packaging of Beauty Pie products, they're nicely branded, visually striking, and look good together. That they don't look expensive isn't, particularly, a problem ... But there is an entire sensory element missing from Beauty Pie for a number of reasons.  If I buy an expensive product, I expect more from it.  If I buy a cheaper one, I have a different set of expectations.  If I buy an expensive product at a cheap price, I don't really expect a cheap product with a fake high price discounted to make it look like a bargain, and to me, that is what Beauty Pie looks like.   

In conclusion, I do actually think Beauty Pie is a great idea. But if you go in expecting Tom Ford/Charlotte Tilbury/Chantecaille/Chanel, or even Mac-level quality, you're going to be disappointed.  However, if you want a source of cheaper Rimmel/Revlon/No7/Gosh-level products quality-wise, then you might just have found the beauty retailer of your dreams.   I am disappointed Beauty Pie isn't real "buyers club", and only offers own-brand products, but maybe that might change in the future, and the membership fee will be really worth it if they expand in that way.

I still have two months left of my membership.  There's a brush set that I might invest in once I can purchase again, but beyond that ... I just don't know.  Beauty Pie might be cheap, but it's  .... complicated.

The Fine Print: PR samples and purchases

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Monday 6 March 2017

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Oil

Clinique Take the Day Off cleansing oil is a staple of my routine, and frankly, I'm really embarrassed that it's taken me till now to review this product!

I have sensitive skin, and this, coupled with a rather, um ... magpie-like ... approach to collecting skincare can cause occasional problems.  However, Clinique Take the Day Off oil has never, ever caused me a problem. Unencumbered by essential or mineral oils, or even, weirdly, any oils at all (the short ingredients list is full of oil-like ingredients, but of actual oil in the formulation; there is none), TTDO is a silky-feeling cleanser that removes every single scrap of makeup and sunscreen without ever stripping, or irritating the skin. And it is deliciously inert, unfragranced, and just a great choice for sensitive skins because of it.

Whilst I don't use it every day, where it becomes invaluable in my collection is when I'm introducing new products into my routine.  As I have sensitive skin (I think I might have mentioned it once or twice over the years), introducing a new product into an established routine can be traumatic, so I have a couple of products that I fall back onto, ones that I know never irritate.  And I use those religiously alongside any new product to ensure that any results (good or bad) come directly from the product I've changed, rather than the routine itself.  I also have an SOS skincare routine for those times when my skin is just being irritable, and TTDO oil has made it into both those routines. Other products that I rely on for testing purposes include La Roche Posay Serozinc, and Murad Hydro-Dynamic Moisturiser, and the SOS routine is different again.  For a product to make both lists is very, very rare.

 Clinique Take the Day Off oil is both gentle on the skin, and a powerful cleanser. It takes off almost all makeup just in one cleanse, and emulsifies beautifully.  Also, it lasts almost forever, I've had a bottle on the go ever since the launch, and only recently had to buy a backup. I can't imagine life without it.  At around £19-£22 for a big 200ml bottle, it's a bit of a bargain too.

The Fine Print: PR samples and purchases

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Wednesday 1 March 2017

Aedes de Venustas Signature - Review


March has finally arrived, and in some books (okay, mine), that means spring is nearly here.  It has been a long, long winter for me, and I'm craving greenness, brightness and the smell of living things.  A bottle of Aedes de Venustas signature fragrances turned up on my desk quite unexpectedly last week, and it has fulfilled all my spring-y requirements beautifully.

I was reading recently, and some "science" reports popped up that stated that a marked preference for bitter tastes might mean you're a psychopath, and went on to extrapolate that a marked liking for black coffee, gin and tonic, or even dark chocolate (!) might be a pointer to your mental state. In that case, I found myself wondering if a marked preference for sour might be the sign of being a total misanthrope?  For my name is Get Lippie, and I love sour things and hate people.  The reason why I mention this will become clearer later.

Aedes de Venustas begins with vibrant rhubarb, nostril-tingling and mouth-puckering in the most delightful way. It invokes memories of me, as a child, with my parents digging around in the vegetable plot that we dug out in the back garden one summer.  That was the summer in which we simultaneously discovered that rhubarb was the only thing that would grow in our rocky, clay-heavy patch, and that the entire family hated gardening.  These days, I love rhubarb in any shape or form, whether raw with the fresh cut end dipped in sugar (a crunchy, textural magnificence), or cooked into a dessert item, or in a very specific chutney from Waitrose that was the only way I could eat many meats when my parosmia was its crippling worst.  I love it in soaps, hand lotions, candles, shower gel anything. I mean, who hasn't taken a 3 mile detour (on foot) during a trip to Paris to see if a particular shop has restocked a much-loved rhubarb shower-gel, hmn*? Just me?  Anyway, rhubarb is a wonderfully astringent scent, akin to lemon and grapefruit, but with a slightly greener, more vegetal aspect to it.  As rhubarb is technically a vegetable, this shouldn't really be a surprise, I guess.

Aedes de Venustas, in spite of pairing rhubarb with the soft green fuzziness of tomato leaf, the clean and flinty mineral tones of vetiver, alongside just a whisper of bright green apple, deftly avoids being a gourmand fragrance, in spite of its fruity star guest. By avoiding any sugar in the mixture whatsoever, and allowing the sharp green and pink stalks of rhubarb to take centre stage and dominate the scent throughout the wear, Aedes is a sour-fragrance lover's delight, a fruity fragrance for grownups, if you will. This is no "rhubarb and custard" confection and I, for one, am grateful for that.

 Aedes is a fairly linear fragrance, in that what you smell at the beginning is more or less what you will smell throughout, but the dry-down does pull a little sweetness through as the rhubarb fades, and some of the other fruits (berries, mostly, I think) in the composition begin to assert themselves.  It's fairly quiet, and I find I need to apply quite heavily to get the full effect (but please, of course, bear in mind that I have a compromised olfactory system), but this isn't a fragrance that is likely to offend in the office, as the sillage is quite low, even when application is a little heavy-handed.

All this said, Aedes de Venustas turns out to be a proper love-it or hate-it fragrance in the Lippie household. My "auxilliary nasal unit" (aka: MrLippie) properly hates this fragrance.  I mean, properly hates it.  He thinks it smells of something rotten - that'll be the unusual sourness - and refuses to come anywhere near it.  Which is a shame, as it's really quite beautiful, if a little strange at first smell, fragrances aren't often sour, which is a huge shame as there's a lot of beauty to be found in sourness, sometimes, you just have to be prepared to look for it.  Said the misanthrope ...

* On their honeymoon.
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