Stephy Loves…

My Favorite Holiday Gift Ideas for 2017

For those of us who are beauty nerds, the holidays are a lot of fun in terms of product releases. All the big brands seem to rush gift sets to market that may not be practical for everyone (seriously, ONE Urban Decay Naked palette is an investment, much less paying $185 for all four, and I don’t know anyone I love that much). For me, it’s more fun to give something that a person might not otherwise have tried than the thing everyone’s buying. Not going to lie, though, most of the products here are ones I’d love to receive myself.  As always, if a link is starred, that means it’s an affiliate link and that I’ll get a commission if you buy through my link, so thanks for keeping the lights on around here.

The Ten Duel Commandments Nail Color Set

Ten Duel Commandments Nail Polish set by CometVomit on Etsy, photo courtesy of CometVomit

I make no secret of my love of Hamilton: An American Musical. I know, I know, everyone loves Hamilton, and it’s not exactly a work of nonfiction. But Tiffany of Comet Vomit Polish on Etsy has created a line of nail polishes paying tribute to Hamilton, and this set (get it here for $95) includes full sizes of all ten:

  • Helpless, a rosy pink with blue shimmer and dark blue speckles
  • Burn, a thermal glitter polish that shows bright red when warm and a deep red when cold
  • Guns and Ships, a beautiful gunmetal gray shade–I’ve been looking everywhere for a color like this that performs well, so I’m super excited about this one!
  • What Did I Miss?, a purple with blue shimmer based on the outfit Jefferson wears in his first scene in Hamilton (which means nothing to those of us who can’t afford tickets, but totally gets the song stuck in our heads, and the color is gorgeous!)
  • The Park Long After Dark, a grass green with a glowy light green shimmer that I absolutely adore. There’s nothing quite like a good green polish for someone who lives in shades of blues and greens like I do.
  • Write Like You’re Running Out Of Time, an eggshell creme formula with flecks ranging from beige to brown to give the look of antique paper. I can totally picture this stamped with a black script design, if I could find a stamp in that style.
  • You’re My Favorite Subject, a gold metallic shimmer with assorted sizes of red and gold glitter that delights my Leo soul
  • Eye Of The Hurricane, a yellow jelly (read: relatively transparent, rather than the opacity of a creme) with hex-shaped brown and micro black glitter
  • Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story, a sky blue with pearl flaky shimmer
  • The Room Where It Happens, a rich brown that shimmers with silver and gold

Even if you’re not the Hamilton fan that I am, these colors are stunning, and there’s really something for everyone in this. The polishes are 10-free, not tested on animals, and some shades are vegan. There’s also a mini set here for $40 if you don’t want to shell out for the full size set, and all the colors are also available individually. Honestly, though, $9.50 each for a set of 15ml bottles ($10 each if purchased separately) isn’t bad, considering that Julep charges $14 each for bottles half that size. And y’all know how I feel about buying from individual artisans rather than major corporations.

Deconstructing Eden Theodora

Deconstructing Eden Theodora perfume, photo courtesy of Toni Sinclair/Deconstructing Eden

I don’t know anyone who’s tried Deconstructing Eden perfumes and doesn’t love them. Theodora ($45.10 for 30ml, Deconstructing Eden) is part of her Dangerous Women collection, a line of perfumes designed to pay tribute to badass women in history, whether their reputations were well-deserved or created by their enemies to bring them down. I’ve been fascinated by the story of the empress Theodora, wife of Justinian, since I read the novel Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay, in which the Sarantine empire was based on the Byzantine, and the empress was clearly modeled on Theodora, a former actress, comedienne, and sex worker of the Blue faction in Constantinople, daughter of a bear trainer and an actress/dancer, for whom the Emperor Justin repealed the law banning high-ranking men from marrying actresses so his heir Justinian could marry her in 525 AD. In 527 AD, Justinian took the throne, and Theodora became one of the most powerful empresses of the Byzantine empire.

I can’t help but swoon a little when I read the listing for the notes of this perfume. Bulgarian rose, Indian jasmine, sandalwood, dragon’s blood (a resin that gives a distinct incense-y tinge), frankincense, plums, Madagascar ginger, and spices. It has everything I love in a perfume, all in one bottle! Even better, it’s a parfum concentration, meaning that it’s super concentrated, 50% fragrance instead of the roughly 15% in an eau de parfum or 10%-ish in an eau de toilette. In my experience, because of the lower alcohol content relative to the amount of fragrance, parfums don’t tend to project as far as an EDP or EDT, but the longevity is to die for. One thing I will say with a parfum is that while some fragrances do better when applied to clothing instead of skin (especially ones like the Hermessence line by Hermès), you don’t want to do that with a parfum, because the oils used in it can stain fabric. You really want to apply directly to skin and let it play out against your skin chemistry.

I’m loving the broad body of work that perfumer/owner Toni Sinclair has come out with. She really offers something for everyone, whether it’s rich, sumptuous scents like Theodora for me or delicate, serene blends like Saraswati for my friend A., a devotee of the goddess of the same name. If you’re wanting to get a feel for her range as a perfumer, another excellent choice would be to pick up this sampler of her limited edition seasonal scents.

Gift a Scentbird Subscription

A Scentbird vial of fragrance in its case. Photo by me.

There’s really something special about being able to customize one’s own gift, and that’s exactly what you’ll be giving with a gift subscription from Scentbird*, one of my very favorite subscription services. You can buy a gift subscription for 3, 6, or 12 months, allowing the recipient to pick out which fragrance to get each month. The recipient builds a queue and gets a new fragrance monthly. The first shipment also includes a refillable case that the vials drop into. The vials are 7ml/120 sprays, enough to last 30 days if worn daily. Personally, the only one that I have finished all the way was my vial of YSL Cinema, and I wish it hadn’t been discontinued, but I’ve gotten a number of truly fabulous scents that way. The reason I haven’t finished them is because I have such a collection of fragrances, not because they aren’t amazing.

They do ask that you choose whether the subscription is for a man or a woman, which may be awkward to give to nonbinary folks. However, the gender marked on the order form only determines which are the “recommended” scents for each month. Any customer can pick out any fragrance to add to their queue. That’s how I got Dale his starter vial of Tom Ford Noir, before I won him a full bottle in a drawing from Fragrancenet on Facebook. If your recipient decides to continue the subscription after the gift runs out, it’s only $14.95 a month.

Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing 2 Gift Set

Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing 2 gift set. Photo courtesy of W2Beauty.

I think every K-Beauty lover who has tried it is a little bit obsessed with Sulwhasoo. I picked up samples of the Essential Balancing Water EX, Essential Balancing Emulsion EX, and Essential Firming Cream EX a while back, and they were an absolute dream on my skin. This set ($130, W2Beauty*) has full sizes of the balancing water and the emulsion, along with trial sizes of both plus the cream, First Activating Serum EX, and Essential Firming Eye Cream EX. It’s a definite investment, the kind of gift that you want to give to someone who’s going to appreciate it, but it goes a very long way. I can get nearly a week out of one of the tiny sample sizes I have, and the trial sizes included in this set are significantly larger.

Sulwhasoo is an AmorePacific brand, and each of their brands is centered around one key set of ingredients. For AmorePacific, it’s various forms of tea. For Laneige, it’s spring water. But I can’t resist the ginseng in Sulwhasoo, with its sharp herbal scent and loads of antioxidants. It’s a traditional ingredient in Korean herbal medicine, also known as hanbang, and has a long tradition of use in beauty products. Much like Chinese herbal medicine traditions (which may or may not have influenced hanbang), many traditional Korean remedies have been found to contain effective phytochemicals that help to decrease skin damage from sun and aging. I’m not big on “traditional medicine” approaches, so I’m always interested to read the research on it. I found studies here, here, and here supporting the use of ginseng in skin care, especially once fermented, a common practice in hanbang-inspired skin care.

Laneige Water Pocket Sheet Mask Set

Laneige Water Pocket Sheet Mask Set. Photo courtesy of Laneige.

Laneige was my first introduction to mid-range Korean beauty brands, and I use their Power Essential toner on a regular basis even now. Their big focus is hydration, something that I struggle with even now that I’ve worked so hard on rebuilding my skin’s moisture barrier. The great thing about this set of sheet masks ($30, Laneige*) is that a sheet mask gives such a moment of relaxation. It’s not just good for your skin; it’s good for your soul. We all carry around so much stress in our daily lives, especially those of us who are fighting against our own bodies and minds as well as against outside factors. When I talk about having used skin care and self care as a means of dealing with anxiety and depression, sheet masking is a prime example. It’s a total pain in the butt to try to be up “getting things done,” as we’re always pressured to do, while wearing a sheet mask. It forces me to take a moment for myself, to lie back and do nothing but enjoy the cool, damp fabric of the mask against my face. When you give someone a set of sheet masks, you’re not just giving them something for their skin. You’re giving them a moment of peace.

The other thing I appreciate about mixed mask sets like this one is that skin’s needs are not perfectly consistent all the time. Health, hormone levels, diet, sleep patterns, etc., all play a role in the state of a person’s skin. Having a variety of different masks allows the opportunity to adjust one’s routine to the immediate need.

Besame Cosmetics Mini Lipstick Set

Besame Cosmetics Mini Lipstick Set. Photo courtesy of Besame Cosmetics.

Besame Cosmetics came onto my radar a couple of years ago with the too-soon-canceled TV show Agent Carter, in which Hayley Atwell reprised her role as Peggy Carter from Captain America: The First Avenger. After the fans spent months asking, Atwell revealed that the iconic red lipstick she wore in the role was Besame’s Red Velvet, a shade that was a replica of one from 1946. Since then, it’s become clear that the brand does vintage-inspired glamour like none other.

This set of mini lipsticks ($25, Besame Cosmetics) includes 5 of their bestsellers in a gorgeous creamy formula that has won raves from bloggers and celebrity makeup artists alike. They’re cruelty free and include squalene, vitamin E, and aloe for a lipstick that conditions as it colors. The colors included are:

  • 1930 Noir Red, a deep plum red that shows up as a berry shade on darker skin tones
  • 1935 Cherry Red, which looks exactly like it sounds when worn as a full coverage lipstick, but can be blotted to a rose stain
  • The famous 1946 Red Velvet, a rich neutral red that goes with everything
  • 1969 Dusty Rose, a natural everyday shade for light-to-medium skin tones
  • 1970 Chocolate Kiss, a “neutral milk chocolate brown” that shows up nude on dark skin tones or dramatic on lighter skin

Each of the lipsticks is a little smaller than the Little MAC minis that MAC sells for $10 each, so this is an excellent deal for the amount of lipstick you get. It’s especially exciting for those who only shop cruelty-free, because MAC sells in mainland China, where they are required by law to submit animal testing results. Besame Cosmetics does not test on animals and does not sell where animal testing is required.

If you’re a Disney fan, there’s also this set, part of their Snow White collection. Does it get any cuter than a set of 7 lipsticks named after the 7 dwarves?

Rtisan 6 Mini Hand Creams Set

Set of 6 Mini Hand Creams by Rtisan Skincare. Photo courtesy of Rtisan Skincare.

Okay, so check out how incredibly cute this packaging is! I’m always a sucker for a pretty packaging, especially if it’s vintage inspired, and I can never get enough hand cream. And this set ($30, Rtisan Skincare) comes in 6 different natural scents, in a formula made with four different moisturizing oils. The description is pretty ridiculous with the greenwashing (buying into the paranoia about parabens despite the repeated research showing that there’s not enough in skin care to hurt anyone, completely misunderstanding the concept of fatty alcohols, etc), but the ingredients are solid. Using vitamin E as a preservative instead of something more stable makes for a short shelf life (about 6 months), but if you’re anything like me, that is absolutely not a problem with hand cream.

Each of the creams in the set is a different scent, and they’re definitely on the soft, sweet side, to match the feminine packaging. The one that sounds most appealing to me is the White Ginger Flower, a lightly musky floral scent, but also…Honeysuckle, y’all. You know I go through hand cream like it’s water, with as rough as I am on my hands, and the oils in this, especially rice bran and macadamia, are carefully selected to absorb well without leaving skin greasy. Worth noting that like most hand creams, these are strictly for indoor use, as they do not contain any SPF. The only creams I’ve found that do are either hard to find or expensive–the Supergoop hand cream is fabulous, but I can’t afford to use that on a regular basis.

Not that I don’t love my trips to Sephora and all, but there are so many gorgeous gift options that don’t involve braving the mall. I’m so excited to try some of these out for myself. Comment below and tell me what you’re shopping for this holiday season–I’d love to hear your ideas!

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