Tag along with Val, Jenny, and Alessandra, our intrepid beauty editors, as they test products, treatments, and trends.
Thin Blue Lines: Sclerotherapy
A solution for leg veins.
All in all, I made out okay in the legs department. They’re long and slender (okay, more like skinny), and they get me where I need to go. But there are the veins. Fine reddish tangles around my ankles. A purple squiggle behind my knee. And among several unpleasant mementos of pregnancy (not including my son, of course), blue bruise-like clusters on my thighs. Which finally brought me to dermatologist Anne Chapas, MD. Her solution: a series of injections called sclerotherapy. Chapas painlessly threaded a hair-thin needle into each tiny offending vein. As she injected a glycerin solution, the vein would disappear—instantly. After 15 minutes, we were finished. I pulled on a pair of thick compression stockings and was told to keep them on for two weeks—except when exercising, showering, or sleeping. “The glycerin irritated the walls of your veins and closed them down; wearing the tights helps keep them from reopening,” said Chapas. I obeyed for four days, until an unseasonable warm spell made the tights unbearable. Three months later, I had a second treatment (most patients need at least two to three, at about $300 each). This time I stuck with the tights for almost a week, and the majority of those bothersome lines are gone. The once-dense clusters look like faint smudges, easily concealed with self-tanner. Based on my profile—a pale-skinned estrogen producer with veiny forebears—I’ll have new blue lines to contend with in a few years. But until then, I’ll be showing some pretty okay leg. —Jenny Bailly
Dramatic Twist: The John Barrett Salon Braid Bar
A menu of intricate hairstyles.
Actual conversation that recently occurred in the O magazine beauty department:
Jenny: “For the adventures story, why don’t we try the Braid Bar at the John Barrett Salon? You can choose from a menu of braided styles, and they’ll do it right on the spot!”
Alessandra (tossing her long, lustrous black hair): “I’ll try it!”
Val (tugging on a particularly short strand of her medium-length layered cut): “Ale’s no challenge; let’s see what they can do for me. Mwahahahaha!”
I took my sinister self over to the salon, where Kayley Pak, my stylist, seemed completely undaunted by my hair’s length and layers. After trying a few cornrows at my suggestion (and then—at my more urgent suggestion—removing them), Kayley teased the hair at the crown of my head, pulled it back, along with the hair on the sides, and began weaving a loose French braid, layers and all. She worked so quickly and expertly that she fashioned the complicated-looking confection you see (in the photo at left) in ten minutes (using about 30 bobby pins). Admiring her creation in a hand mirror, I felt very Downton Abbey: I assumed my most regal posture, accompanied (I thought) by an aristocratic grace born entirely of my high-class hairdo.
Sadly, I soon discovered the Downton Abbey effect worked only from behind. The moment I caught a glimpse of myself from the side, the braid magic stopped. My complexion had not assumed the milky glow of a woman whose face had profited from a lifetime of parasols, nor had my expression the cool authority of wealth. But wearing the braid did inspire an abundance of lovely compliments—enriching enough, in its way. ($45; johnbarrett.com) —Valerie Monroe
Design Within Reach: Nail Stickers
Do-it-yourself manicure art.
New nail stickers made with fine layers of real polish and a film of flexible adhesive let you doll up your fingertips in minutes—with no dry time. (I did this manicure at my desk without attracting undue attention. Which is to say…it’s an easy process.) My three favorites: Sally Hansen Salon Effects Nail Polish Strips (shown here, $10; drugstores), Sephora Collection Nail Patch Art ($12; sephora.com), and Kiss Nail Dress Fashion Strips ($8; drugstores). Each kit includes either 16 or 28 nail polish strips—the Sally Hansen and Kiss sets also contain a mini nail file—and all work the same way. —Alessandra Foresto
Filler Up: Hyaluronic Acid Injections
Temporary wrinkle smoother.
I was scared. Why had I agreed to have filler injected into my face? Okay, full disclosure: I hadn’t just agreed. I’d actually suggested it. I disliked the fine lines around my lips (medical term: perioral wrinkles) and decided it was time to get rid of them, knowing that injections of a hyaluronic acid filler such as Restylane or Juvéderm can plump up fine lines with a risk only of minimal bruising. So one day when I was especially unfond of my perioral wrinkles (and feeling braver than usual), I phoned New York City plastic surgeon Haideh Hirmand, MD, for an appointment. Whip-smart, perfectionistic, and beautiful, the doctor parked me in a treatment room and began educating me on the mechanics of the procedure. She would use the filler Restylane because it has a high concentration of hyaluronic acid (which also helps the skin generate collagen) and because it’s the right consistency for the superfine needle she uses. (Average cost: $560.) The filler would work only on the deeper lines. Did I want her to fill them all? Yes, I said. But could she do that without making me look like a mallard? “We’ll start very conservatively,” she told me kindly. After numbing my upper lip with lidocaine cream and injecting the gums under my lip with novocaine (the lips, filled with nerve endings, are highly sensitive), Hirmand made the first injection. “See this?” she said encouragingly, pointing to the newly plumped-up line. “Almost no bruising and about a 70 percent improvement.” She filled in the other lines, showing me the results after each injection. Then she iced my lip and instructed me to keep icing it every half hour for several hours.
A week later, my upper lip—like a bumper that’s had the dings banged out of it—looks a lot smoother. The wrinkles will eventually deepen again, unless I stop kissing and slurping and pursing. Since there’s as much chance of that as there is the price of gasoline dropping to ten cents a gallon, I’ll probably be back for more filler in a year or so. —Valerie Monroe
Getting it Straight: Bumble and Bumble Concen-Straight Smoothing Treatment
An at-home de-frizzing system.
After tranquilizing my toddler one recent evening with seven readings of Good Night, Gorilla, I retired to my bathroom with Bumble and Bumble’s Concen-straight Smoothing Treatment ($45; bumbleandbumble.com), which claims to “smooth hair for manageability and frizz reduction for up to 30 shampoos.” Here’s how the night progressed:
7:30 Wash my hair. As directed, don’t condition.
7:40 Comb through my very tangled, unconditioned hair.
7:46 Saturate my wet hair with the straightening solution, from roots to ends. The smell—kind of sulfuric—isn’t pleasant, but it’s not totally noxious.
7:58 Start a 30-minute timer. I’m not supposed to touch my hair, pull it back, or tuck it behind my ears. (The straightener contains sodium metabisulfite, a chemical that breaks the bonds in the hair so it can be re-formed in a new shape—straight, if you keep it flat, or with weird kinks, if you pull it back.)
7:59 Try to ignore the nearly irresistible urge to tuck my hair behind my ears.
8:05 Inform my husband he’ll have to do the dishes because I can’t tuck my hair behind my ears.
8:20 Realize I was supposed to be combing my hair (to keep it straight) every five minutes. Comb my hair.
8:28 Get back in the shower to rinse out the solution.
8:45 Blow-dry my hair.
9:05 Start flatironing my hair, as directed, in one-inch sections.
9:25 Still flatironing. My hair is fine-ish, so the directions say I should go over each section two to three times (as opposed to seven to ten times for thicker, coarser hair).
9:45 Finally finished. Now I must wait at least 24 hours before shampooing and must not “pin, crimp, bind, or put behind ears until after first shampoo.”
Four weeks later: After that first shampoo, my hair was easier to style. It dried more quickly and smoothly. On rainy days, I didn’t have a halo of frizz. After the fifth wash, though, the results were wearing off. And after the tenth—about three weeks in—my hair was back to its old self. Would I do it again? In the hair-poofing dog days of summer—probably. The rest of the year? I’m not that patient. —Jenny Bailly
Lasting Impression: CryBaby
Mascara that stays put for two weeks.
Always glad to add a shortcut to my makeup routine, I was intrigued by CryBaby—a waterproof, semipermanent mascara that’s supposed to last at least 14 days. Roni Mallis-Forgione, a technician at Pipino 57 salon in New York City, curled my lashes with a heated curler before painting on a thick gel solution that builds volume, followed by a black paste (an adhesive base and tiny synthetic fibers). Then a small humidifier blew a cool mist over my lashes to set the mascara. Done! Perfectly separated, ultrablack fringe. What a humongous difference tinted lashes make! ($35 to $75; crybabymascara.com for salons) —Alessandra Foresto
A Flash of Lightening: Glo Brilliant Personal Teeth Whitening Device
A smile-brightening gadget.
When I noticed, one overcast Saturday morning, that the luster of my teeth had likewise dimmed, it seemed the right moment to try the Glo Brilliant Personal Teeth Whitening Device ($275; sephora.com). Along with a hydrogen peroxide gel, it uses a mouthpiece (which is hooked up to a control you can wear around your neck) that combines heat and light to hasten the whitening process. Warning: After you charge the device but before you paint your teeth with the gel and chomp on the plastic mouthpiece, clear the room of animals and small children, who might be permanently scarred by the sight of your contorted, eerily glowing mouth. I almost scared myself. But it was worth it. I did four applications of the gel followed by eight minutes of the heat and light (total 32 minutes) three days in a row. And if my smile wasn’t quite as dazzling as a summer sunrise, it was bright enough to light up the room when my son and daughter-in-law dropped by for an unexpected visit. —Valerie Monroe
Hair-Free: Threading and Comfort Wax
Two ways to get smooth.
The beauty adventure I eagerly suggested for this story? Bravely testing out various types of massage. The beauty adventure I was assigned? Having my body hair ripped out by the roots. My first stop: Shobha, a threading salon near our Manhattan offices. Shashi, my designated threader, learned the ancient South Asian technique in her native India and assured me that removing the hair from my upper lip wouldn’t hurt much. Then she applied a benzocaine numbing cream on the area. (Just in case you’re sensitive, she said. Uh, okay.) After five minutes, she wiped off the cream and got to work. Holding one end of a long cotton thread in her teeth, she used her hands to loop and twist the string into a sort of lasso—rolling it over my skin so the twisted part caught each tiny hair. It felt simultaneously like a tickle, a scrape, and a sharp tug. Not an altogether pleasant sensation, but less painful (at least with the numbing cream) than my usual wax. Unlike waxing, however, the process wasn’t over in one fell riiiip; Shashi zipped the taut thread across my lip many times before achieving total smoothness. Still, I’m a convert. Here’s why: My skin was pink only for about five minutes afterward (compared with at least 30 when I wax), and is still hairless weeks later. ($10; myshobha.com for salons)
Next I headed to European Wax Center, a nationwide chain that removes hair with what they call Comfort Wax—which sounded about as plausible to me as “Jolly Dirge.” So imagine my delight when the aesthetician pulled the first piece of wax from my shin and the sensation was…comfortable. She didn’t use muslin or paper strips—just spread the wax on with a spatula and peeled it off with her fingers. Unlike other stripless waxes I’ve tried, this one stayed pliable. When I left, my legs weren’t red or sticky. Just smooth. Not exactly a massage—but not the fist-clenching experience I’d anticipated, either. I’ll be back more than once before summer’s over. ($60 for full leg; waxcenter.com for locations) —Jenny Bailly
Glow for It: St. Tropez Dark Tan Bronzing Mist
A sunless tint for deeper skin tones.
The worst that could happen? I’d wind up looking orange, or splotchy, or both. The best? I’d get glowy and flawless skin—exactly what Sophie Evans, a tanning specialist with St. Tropez, promised to give me with just a few sprays of her tanning gun. Sophie used the brand’s new dark formula, a liquid sunless tanner especially designed to give olive-to-dark skin tones like mine a vibrant richness that looks neither orange nor fake. After she sprayed me with two light coats, my skin looked just a little bit darker, but a lot more even and smooth. Hyperpigmentation spots left by mosquito bites, a couple of small childhood scars on my legs, and the tan lines I got on my last vacation—all invisible. Is it worth the $65 to $95 price tag? If I were going to a summer wedding in a short, strapless dress and wanted my skin to look absolutely flawless, you bet. (sttropeztan.com for salons) —Alessandra Foresto