Japanese Sunscreens that Doubles as Makeup Primer for Wedding (Flash) Photography

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During this past Summer, I traveled to Asia to attend a few special functions: a day-time wedding in a resort and an unrelated formal banquet in an air-conditioned restaurant. Each time I travel to Asia, I am reminded of how unsuitable my current Western skin care is under the sweltering heat and humidity. To add to the complexity, I needed to look decent under flash photography.

I picked up these Japanese sunscreens before I left (they are all readily available from Amazon.com) to try and see how compatible they are under makeup. I read a few blogs here and there and found that, for example, the Biore one is almost a "dupe" for Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer that has been hailed as the best primer for photography/weddings.

Note all these sunscreens contain alcohol. Combined with film former, alcohol (mostly ethyl alcohol) simply help disperse the chemical sunscreens (and other ingredients) on the skin. As the sunscreen is applied, the film former creates a net over the skin and alcohol evaporates, which can leave the skin feeling dry. I do have dry skin, but I found this not to be an issue when worn in such humid climate, and with the addition of moisturizer underneath. YMMV, but when put under makeup, you'll have enough emollients pilled on the skin that the effect should be minimum.

Finally, for consistency, I applied a full teaspoon (5 mL) of sunscreen on each test. I am a preacher of wearing enough sunscreen: no matter how good is the sunscreen if you don't wear enough of it, you won't get a full protection. Five mL of sunscreen is quite a lot of sunscreen to pile on the face, so I made up the rule of "5-peas" : apply a pea-sized amount of sunscreen (approx 1 mL each) onto each areas: left cheek, right cheek, forehead, nose and chin, and neck. Rub them until all is gone. Easy, peasy!

Shiseido SENKA Mineral Water UV Essence Aging Care, SPF 50+, PA++++
Shiseido SENKA line has a few sunscreen offering, they all have different textures. The one I tried was the "Aging Care" one in the orange squeeze-tube above. The creamy-gel texture squeezes out as cream but melts like water when applied. It contains 100% chemical screens, unscented and a joy to use. It dries to slightly tacky, silicony-smooth finish. The tacky finish helped my foundation glides but I found that it perform somewhat mediocre as primer as I did notice breaking of coverage on fine-lines, around the nose and forehead areas. As it is a 100% chemical screen, I did not get any flashback on photography. I thought it was a decent sunscreen for everyday use, but it may not hold as makeup primer under very humid/very hot weather.

Biore UV-Perfect Face Milk, SPF, 50+ PA++++ (new formulation)
I had high hopes for this one: it is marketed as sebum and sweat resistant, and a makeup primer. I can tell you that it did deliver! In fact, it was the sunscreen that I brought and used to the events. This sunscreen contains physical block of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, along with other chemical screens. I can tell you right away that I did not get any flashback on photography, despite of the physical screens, but it does go on somewhat white initially.
It has the consistency of liquid silicone -- be sure to shake vigorously before use. Application can be a bit messy, since it is very fluid, and can be hard to apply a full 5 mL on face and neck without the greasy-silicone feeling. I waited a good 5-10 minutes before layering foundation on top. I did not experience any balling-up of foundation despite of the high amount of silicone in this sunscreen (I tested application with brush, fingers, and sponge), but I think it's safe, when wearing any sunscreen, to wait the sunscreen is set and dried well on the skin before applying makeup.
It performed beautifully: on the sweltering outdoor wedding (it was not as hot but the humidity was probably close to 100%), my foundation looked perfect with minimal powdering, and it didn't break as much around the nose and fine lines. For the indoor dinner, it kept my makeup pristine all night long. An overall winner, I highly recommend this for sunscreen as makeup primer.

Nivea Sun Protect Water Gel Super SPF50 PA+++
Among the three, I thought this Nivea sunscreen would perform best as makeup primer. It uses 100% chemical screen, marketed as a makeup base that is suitable for face and body.
It has the consistency of creamy gel, but more of a gel than a cream (not as creamy as the Shiseido one). It spreads nicely and dries beautifully to an even, smooth finish that I found drying. So drying, in fact, that I felt my skin taut even with the lotion and foundations I layered. As makeup primer, it does a great job preserving the longevity of my foundation. I found this as a great option for those with oily skins. Like all of the chemical sunscreen, I did not notice any flashback in photography.

Finally, here is a list of foundations that I tested with these sunscreens, and my brief thoughts on them. They are not my everyday foundations: they are long-wearing and contains no SPF (for photography):

  • Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
    This foundation is supposedly a holy-grail for red carpet and such. It applied incredibly smoothly over all of the sunscreens I tested but but it broke around skin folds after a few hours. I was quite surprised by this as I have dry skin, but I figure, if the foundation broke during low-humidity Seattle summer weather, it probably wouldn't hold up in a sweltering Asian summer. It has a lovely satin finish with medium coverage (I did need to top-up coverage with concealer around the cheeks). I would use this for shorter, maybe indoor events, but the foundation I planed to bring on my trip has to perform well both indoor and outdoor.
  • Lancome Teint Idole Ultra 24 H (non-cushion version)
    This was my foundation of choice. It comes in a huge array of skin tone so you'll more likely to find your perfect match than the GA. It definitely lasted until the end of the outdoor wedding (a good 4-5 hours under intense humidity), and the indoor dinner. It leaves a satin finish that is not too matte, medium-heavy build-able coverage. I've forgotten how good Lancome foundation can be, do give this a try!
  • Too Faced Born This Way Foundation
    I would not have picked up this foundation had it not for the event: I have dry skin and this foundation is catered to oily skins. It has the most coverage of the foundations that I tested, so much so that I thought it went on quite chalky. I didn't find the finish to be radiant at all, but it stayed on quite well under the sunscreens I tested. The lack of color option steered me to another brands.
  • Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick
    BB Foundation sticks is the go-to foundation for weddings. It has high coverage and no SPF, so high, in fact, that I can buff a bit over areas I need more coverage instead of using concealer. Win-win? Although I love the versatility of it, on close-up view BB stick foundation tends to accentuate my fine-lines and pores. Granted, nobody will take a close-up picture of me during someone else's wedding, but still. Even with powder on top, it creased ever so slightly around my mouth and forehead, or wherever I have fine lines. 
Edited to add: honorable mention to Estee Lauder Double Wear foundation (the original, full-coverage formula). This foundation clung on all of the above-mentioned sunscreens like there's no tomorrow but I found no suitable color match for my skin (as many of EL foundations), so I fell back on the Teinte Idole.


DIY Natural Deodorant without Baking Soda

Freshly-concocted deodorant cooling in ex-Aesop jar. The carrot is the Tod's experiment.

I have been using natural deodorant for some time now, and I am a convert! As an added bonus, I can tell that I am less stinky than when I used anti-perspirant! Why? I really don't know, but maybe it is true that our body tends to regulate itself and the normal bacteria in my body got "flushed" out by the natural sweat... Totally my own conjecture, no scientific backing whatsoever.

Baking soda, which is a very common ingredient for natural deodorant, gives me burning 'pits (I'm talking to you Lush!). So, in the past, I've avoided them and to be frank, besides Tom's of Maine and LaVanilla, the choices are quite limited. Plus, my experiment with zero-waste household has pushed me toward making many of skincare products of my own. This recipe is the least greasy, least irritating, and easiest recipe I came up with. There are tweaks and suggestions below so you can make it to your own.

For a 2 oz (ex-Aesop) jar that usually lasts me a few months, you'll need:
  • 30 grams of solid-at-room-temperature butter/oils.
    I use a combination of coconut and shea butter. Coconut tends to be on the greasy side, but nicely absorbed, shea butter feels less greasy on, but lingers a while. You can also use cocoa butter, avocado butter, mango butter, or even stearic acid (which is the least greasy-feeling but has zero glide). Experiment with what you like/dislike or with whatever is available at your grocery store.
  • 5 grams beeswax.
    Beeswax is added for extra stiffness, you can certainly omit this and up your butter another 5 grams. 
  • 15 grams corn starch or arrowroot powder.
  • 15 grams diatomaceous earth, food grade.
    What is this and where the heck can I find it? DE and starch will help absorbed some of the sweat and stink (google DE and you'll find loads of info). DE is readily available at any pet store or grocery's pet section.
  • 10 drops of vitamin E.
    Be sure to get liquid vitamin E, which is readily available at grocery's vitamin/supplement section. You can use capsules of vitamin E supplements if you want. The amount does not matter that much. Vitamin E will prevent the butter/oils from turning rancid.
  • 20 drops of essential oil of choice.
Set aside EO. Dump the rest of the ingredients into a small ceramic/pyrex ramekin (the one used for making creme brulee works well). Mix gently over simmering water until all the butter melts and powder thoroughly combined. Pour into container of choice, mix in the EO, and cool.

Smear a small pinch on each armpits and enjoy your good-smelling self! Let me know if you try this recipe and how it works out for you.


Gâteau Basque

It goes without saying that having children takes a lot of sacrifice. One of them is financial. In our household, we loose one income to feed an extra mouth -- which I happily do, but still, the numbers do not lie. Finances do add up, and we could no longer spend any money buying pastries without some kind of planning, the way I usually would in a whim, without second thought, when we used to be DINKs.

That's what happened when I came across a glorious slice of Gâteau Basque at a beautiful place called The London Plane during an outing with the Tod. At $5.50 a piece, it was eye-wateringly expensive, at least for us. But that's when the adventure took a turn for the better.

I read up all I could about Gâteau Basque: how it is a cake, a pie, and a cookie rolled in one, how the pattern on the top crust gives a hint to the filling inside, where there is a museum dedicated entirely to Gâteau Basque. I even read about the whole history of the Basque region, the nationalism, the language, the people. After much reading, I came out feeling somewhat smarter than shelling out the $5.50.

Far from the smug-sounding name, making Gâteau Basque is really quite easy and fool-proof. All one need is two components: the crust (which is a version of pâte sablée) and the filling (which can be frangipane/almond pastry cream, plain pastry cream, black cherry jam, or combination of the above).

I happened to have a handful of overripe black cherries at home (about 2 cups), which I turned into jam by adding sugar (about 80% of weight) and the juice of one lemon. I pitted the cherries using the chopstick method and cooked until the jam reduces down to about half. Easy peasy. Next, I prepared the pastry cream, perhaps the most complicated component of the gâteau. If one fancies frangipane, all one needs to do is to add ground almond. Finally, the crust was the easiest. I didn't even have to use the mixer. I simply beat the butter and sugar by hand, added the rest of the ingredients, and rolled it into disks. The next day, I assembled all the components (the top crust actually broke apart, but in the picture you really can't tell, because the dough was so soft and easy to pinch together).

So forgiving, so humble, so satisfyingly delicious. I hope you will give this a try!

Gâteau Basque 

(recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan, who seems to know everything there is to know about this cake)

1 8-inch round cake pan with 2-inch side, buttered generously (I made this using a springform pan, but if you have regular pan, line it with parchment and butter it generously).

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Beat butter, light brown sugar and sugar until pale and fluffy, a good 5 minutes or so, by hand or with mixer. Add egg and beat some more. It will look quite lumpy but that's ok.
Add the sifted flour mixture into the butter mixture, drizzle in the vanilla. I found using wooden spoon is the best at this point. Mix just enough until a soft, cookie-like dough forms.
Divide the dough in half. Roll each into slightly larger than 8-inch disk in diameter, in between two sheets of parchment papers (or cling wrap). Chill the dough at least 3 hours or overnight. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead).

Pastry Cream Filling:
(this recipe makes 2 cups, you only need one cup for the cake, save the rest for another cake or better yet, eat them as pudding)

2 cups whole milk
1 plump, moist vanilla bean, split lengthwise, pulp scraped out
6 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup cornstarch, sifted
3 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

Whisk yolk, sugar, and sifted corn starch. Set aside.
Scald the milk over medium-high heat until little bubbles start to form.
Take the pot off the stove. Ladle a bit of the hot milk into the yolk mixture and stir. Add more milk, bit by bit (a process called tempering) until the yolk mixture feels warm to the touch. When that happen, it is safe to add the yolk mixture into the rest of the scalding milk in a thin, steady stream, stirring the milk constantly.
Put the mixture back onto the stove. Switch to a whisk, over medium heat, whisk the mixture until it boils and thickens. It will really thicken to the consistency of pudding. When that happens, I'd back off from stirring for a second and see if there's a puff of steam coming out from the "pudding," which means the whole thing is really boiling.
Take off from heat, and plunk the cold butter onto the hot mixture. Stir quickly until all the butter is melted and incorporated. Cool the pastry cream down completely before using.

Cherry Jam Filling:
(my own rendition, feel free to use store-bought)

2 cups of pitted black cherries or other ripe cherries
1 cup of sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
A splash of almond extract (optional)

Cut cherries in half or quarter, if they are big. Put cherries and lemon juice into a pan and set them into boiling over medium-high heat. When the cherries are wilted and juice starts to come out, add sugar. Continue cooking until the mixture bubbles big bubbles (rather than small, frothy bubbles), and reduced to about 1/2, stirring occasionally. The big bubbles signifies that the mixture has cooked down enough to the gelling point (you can do the frozen-plate testing at this point: drizzle some jam onto frozen plate, and stick into the fridge for a few minutes. Then the jam looks like jello, the jam is done). Pour into container and cool down completely before using.

1 egg beaten with a bit of water, for glazing

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Set crusts aside on the kitchen countertop for a few minutes until it is pliable but still cold.
Put one crust on the bottom of the pan. Make a plate-shape with the dough with the sides about 1 1/2 inches high.

Pile in pastry cream and/or jam, as much as it can fit. I started with pastry cream on the bottom and simply dotted the top with a few chunky cherries from the jam here and there.

Top the cake with another piece of dough, pinch the sides together and make it as nice as you could (I promise, it will look good no matter what). Score the crust or decorate as you wish, and glaze it with egg.

Bake about 40-45 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Cool completely in a rack before attempting to dismount, least the whole thing cracked.
Nurse a slice with a cup of tea or coffee.