Cosmetic Products Sleuthing

After weeks of international bad news and difficult posts, I’ve decided to write about a  lighter and more fun subject.

For the last few years, I’ve been on the lookout for reasonably priced facial and body products which contain less harmful chemicals, yet work extremely well. (Yes, I’m a demanding consumer.)

My first information source was the EWG’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database. It’s American and consumers from other countries may not be able to find all the less chemically-based products it analyses. As well, even if a product is found in your country, it may not contain the same ingredients. Still, it’s a good place to start if you’re looking for information on a certain class of products, or if you’re considering buying a particular brand.

In addition, I look at Beautypedia. Created by Paula Begoun and her team, it gives access to a searchable database of products and, above what the EWG database offers, presents reviews on how they work and rates them based on efficacy. You will also see too Paula’s Choice brand products sold on her site but in spite of this, you can find amazingly helpful information on competing products.

I first encountered Ms. Begoun’s work by reading the book Don’t go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, now in its 9th Edition and offered for sale on her site as well as on Amazon US and Amazon CA. I learned from this book, as well as through her interviews, that more costly cosmetic and beauty products aren’t necessarily the best for your skin (most hold a lot of fragrance for instance) and that you can find similar quality in less known brands, which also often happen to be more reasonably priced.

Some of my great finds include my new favourite skin care brand — CeraVe®. I came across this brand as I was looking at reviews on different sites for a new night cream and kept seeing how cream X did not beat their CeraVe® product, so I got curious. Beautypedia gives the brand high marks all around.

My must haves now include the Hydrating Cleanser (I used the Foaming Facial Cleanser in the summer, but winter is harsh here so I switched), the Eye Repair Cream and the Moisturizing Lotion which I use on my face and body. Again in the summer, the Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM for normal to oily skin was great for my mixed skin, but didn’t cut it in winter.

Sleuthing for good cosmetic products takes enormous amounts of time. I’ve been doing this for many years, and hope to discuss here other of my reasonably priced and healthy great products in the coming months, which may, hopefully, answer one or more of your needs.


Changing Times and Women’s Marches

It’s the Women’s March day worldwide today. Theses marches were triggered by the inauguration, as President of the United States, of an over 40-year old white man. The norm for the greater majority of the past 241 years.

The major difference this time, is that the most underqualified male candidate ever, won over a superbly politically qualified woman.

Although other candidates in the past have been racists (hello slave owners!), misogynists and anti-gay men (e.g., President Obama only declared is support for same-sex marriage in 2012), this particular winning candidate enjoys fuelling hatred and violence against “others” in a way that weakens tolerance, collaboration, and understanding at all levels of society.

The Marches offer women (and the men who care for them) an opportunity to stand up and say, “we’ll fight for ourselves, our bodies, and our rights”.

This is nothing new, of course. I’ve always known, thanks to the stories in my family and my own experience, how different things were for women than men.

My paternal grandmother was forced by the church and her environment, to give birth to 21 children. Yes, twenty-one, this not a typo. She only learned to read and write in her fifties when her kids were all grown up.

She was forced again, by the state and the church, to take care of her violent and alcoholic ailing husband who had deserted her and her 12 living children. This, until he passed seven years later.

On the day my mom was born, neither her, nor her mom, had the right to vote in their home province. It would take another 5 years for that right to finally be bestowed.

Mom also had to leave school in the 6th grade to take care of her ailing mother, because that was what girls had to do in the late forties.

My aunt was raped and forced (should I mention the church again?) to carry to term her baby. All heart, her mom adopted the boy as her own, a pretty rare occurrence. Nonetheless, my aunt never recovered from the terrible way society viewed her.

Myself, I was followed, harassed and assaulted (I’ll leave the darkest parts for another day) and spent my whole working life being underestimated, patronized, and skipped over for opportunities and promotions.

In 2000, the avant-garde organisation I worked for did a salary review. The results gave me and my female colleague a lump sum of $21,000 to compensate for continuous, discriminatory under payment in salary.

I was 46 years old before I finally got to work for an organisation led by a woman. I had then been in the job market for 28 years. 28 years.

Through all of the memories of the past and the development of my personal situation, I never, ever thought that young women would still be fighting for themselves, their bodies, and their rights in 2017.

I am heartbroken.

All the talks, all the progress, all the advances (Canada now has a 50% female Cabinet for instance), mean so little in the end.

By the way this new President is normalized and presented by citizens and network media, the self-professed “greatest country in the world” (per Hillary Clinton, Barrack and Michelle Obama just a few months ago (!)) is telling women to go back to the kitchen, keep silent, condone sexual harassment and assault, and just smile and look pretty.

Marches like the ones of today, are loudly and clearly telling the world that engaged citizens will not stand for it.

So here’s hoping (once again) for a better future.

Lessons Learned in 2016

2016 was a trying year for many of us. Below are the few lessons I learned along the way. Hoping they may serve as a helpful, cautionary tale.

I had known for a while that the job I was in since 2014 was somewhat stifling. I had read the very inspirational The Encore Career Handbook by Marci Alboher (highly recommended and the Kindle version now only CA$1.99), and was looking forward to developing new skills and restoring old ones.

My boss announced her retirement in January 2016. I was on the Alboher encouraged “let’s try to develop new skills” beat so I offered to do an interview with her reflecting on her career, and post it on the organisation’s internal blog. It was a lot of work (the transcription alone!), but also a lot of fun.

Lesson Learned

No matter how grey or dark things are, keep learning, keep looking, keep trying new things. It will feed your soul.


As time went on, I felt more and more desperate to get out of my job, so I applied to everything I could find (14 hiring processes in total) to get out of there.

I failed most exams and when I passed the exams, I failed the interview. It was a vicious circle, I was drained and probably didn’t show myself in the best light, then failed and was even more discouraged.

In early summer, I went through one relatively “fun” interview, where I had to prepare a 20 min. presentation on any subject I chose (hadn’t prepared anything that length in 2 decades!) and answer questions in front of a 4-people panel. I liked the thought of doing something different and had just read the book Deep Work by Cal Newton, so I enjoyed using his ideas as a stepping stone. Doing this through work and other hiring processes though, I missed some important information on the job poster and in failing one answer, I was sure I would not get the job.

Lesson Learned

Concentrate only on applying to the jobs you really want. You’ll have more energy to pass exams and interviews while continuing to meet your daily work commitments.


The more time passed, the more desperate and drained I got. I was also going through some difficult experiences with my elderly parents, and in addition to my demanding day job and perimenopause symptoms, I lost myself and fell into a deep depression.

I tried to arrange for a mix of vacation and sick leave with my boss but due to work deadlines, it didn’t pan out. I took some vacation time, but it just wasn’t enough to recover enough to even see what I needed (medication and therapy).

A close colleague told me I should just take sick leave to take care of myself, but all I could think of was that leaving at that point would make me look unprofessional and damaged and that I needed to stay to support my staff and my new boss. I categorically and forcefully told her that I would be fine.

Lessons Learned

If you see yourself telling someone you care about that they are wrong about what you need, please step back and look at your motivations, they may not be in YOUR best interest. You may not be doing was is best for YOU.

Like in an airplanes, you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself before even thinking of helping anyone else – not wanting to take time to care for yourself, maybe deep down thinking that you don’t deserve that care, is a sign that you need to get help, pronto.


I was told in early July that I had actually gotten the “presentation” job. Due to bureaucratic hurdles however, it would take many weeks for me to actually be able to leave my current job. The more time passed, the more drained I was. At one point, I couldn’t even tell if taking the job would be a good thing (I would be losing job security, union benefits, etc.). I just could not think straight and felt I was jumping into total unknown.

What got me to finally stop and get help? I went for a routine medical appointment and just broke down. Not sure what opened the gate, but it was a good thing. The thought that I would fail at the new job, being in such a bad place, opened me up to try anything to help.

Lessons Learned

Not taking care of yourself early on will only lead to a longer recovery.

Taking medication to improve your health is a good thing; there is absolutely no difference between a physical affliction or a mental one.


Where am I now?

I started the new job a few months ago and I love it. I fit in much better with the culture there (people actually talking to each other and having coffee and lunch together while working super hard towards the same goals). I also enjoy the work I do, as well as the opportunity I have to learn new things in brand new (and some old) subjects.

I’m still on medication, still in therapy and monitoring myself and my dark thoughts carefully. My recovery is slow and not at all linear, but I am progressing.

Lesson Learned

Jumping into the unknown can often be your only chance of survival.

The End (for now).

Christmas Spirit… in Books

ChristmasA quick post reflecting on the season.

My favourite books with Christmas as a background theme:

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, set in New York City

Jerusalem Inn –  Richard Jury #5 by Martha Grimes set in the UK countryside. [My favourite UK detective series ever.]

Au bonheur des ogres de Daniel Pennac au coeur de Paris. Un auteur français fabuleux. Meilleur échange :

–   Ça vous plaît (ce travail) ?

–   C’est comme tout. Beaucoup trop payé pour ce que je fais, mais pas assez pour ce que je m’emmerde.

Honorable mentions

A Fatal Grace Chief Inspector Gamache #2 by Louise Penny set in the Quebec Easter Townships

Snowdrops by A. D. Miller, set in Moscow (how apropos)

The Private Patient by P.D. James (yep, I have a thing for UK’s countryside and police force)

Happy Holidays!! Joyeuses Fêtes !!

I got broken this year

I’ve been fighting anxiety and depression since I was nine years old. Through most of these years, of course, there were no official labels just very personal ones: “negative”, “moody”, “annoying”, “whiny”, “lazy”…

As I grew older, I kept within me the feeling of being utterly defective but was able to balance things out using my brain to perform tasks leading me on successful academic and professional paths.

A few years ago, when I was dealing with stressful situations at home and at work, it was relatively easy for me to engage in a dialogue with my doctor regarding reducing my anxiety symptoms. What I wasn’t ready to admit however, was my depression symptoms. I just hoped that in reducing anxiety, things would get better.  I tried four anti-depressants. Some drained me so much that I would spend my work day desperately wanting to lie down on the repulsive flooring to sleep. One finally made a positive difference and I spent the good part of a year taking it, then the side effects (major weight gain, loss of any sense of urgency, loss of interest in life) were no longer tolerable. Since my personal circumstances had changed for the better in the meantime too, I thought the worse was behind me.

It lasted less than three years.

I got broken again this year. I had spent months trying desperately to avoid the crash. Worked on getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, seeing friends, put some fun in my life. But I was fighting a losing battle. Again, work and life stresses, brain chemistry and perimenopause did me in. I showed up at a medical appointment for prescription renewals and I finally admitted I was broken and could not get the pieces back into place on my own.

I still needed to make a living so I was back on medication, now with two new anti-depressants to keep side effects in check. What changed however, is that this time, I was ok requesting help to alleviate my depression symptoms. Bully for me.

If I was listening to this story, I would be 100% behind the story teller, assuring them that mental health challenges happen to everyone, but that not everyone has the courage to get help, that he/she should be proud. That people suffering from a mental ailment deserve the same respect as individuals suffering from a physical ailment, that he/she, in no way, created this situation for themselves and that there is absolutely no shame in taking medication to become healthy may it be physical or mental health.

When it comes to me though, I’m not always this supportive. I’m working hard on being supportive and compassionate for myself. I thankfully have help from very good and wise friends. One I spoke to every day during my worst weeks. She finished our conversations with “talk to you tomorrow” and this lifeline was invaluable.

Why am I talking about this? Well, I need to for one, but mostly, if I want the stigma of mental health issues to be a thing of the past, I need to make the first step and admit to my challenges.

Some of you know me, but most don’t so it’s clearly not a true public confession, but it’s a start.

Give me time.

Still here…

I haven’t posted in quite a while. I needed to deal with a number of personal challenges. I’m trying to get back to a place where I can get excited about things again and want to share.

I’m not quite there yet.

Today is World Mental Health Day – as much as it is humanely possible, please be kind to each other.

Until next time.

Deep Work and Mindfulness

It seems that everything I read is telling me we all need to be more present, more focused, less distracted.

Over the past five years,  I’ve read Jon Kabat-Zin,  Mark Williams, Les Fehmi and pretty much everyone else under the sun to help me deal with constant and persistent work and life stresses. Bottom line: be in the moment, appreciate the gifts of boredom, avoid distractions whenever possible, and meditate every day. I haven’t been able to get fully there yet and don’t actually know anyone who has, but maybe I’m travelling in the wrong circles.

Then I came across Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, which demonstrates advice that I can actually put into my daily living. Deep work is essentially mindfulness you can bring to work. The book is separated into two parts. The first, “The Idea” espouses his theory and the second “The Rules” discusses his ideas in a practical way.

We are bombarded by statements from everywhere that workers in today’s world need to be great multi-taskers, agile, swimming beautifully through constant change, etc. Work environments are now open and collaborative to help foster creativity and innovation. But what if this was all a pipe dream?

Newport’s thesis is that you can only accomplish a high level of quality work if you deeply concentrate and focus on that work for prolonged periods of time, ideally for at least four (4) hours at a time. His idea is that in dividing focused work into smaller chunks (ex. one hour) you lose precious time and effort and will never achieve the amount of quality work you would in working four (4) straight hours. He states: “Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.”

He then moves to state that open-space offices do not increase communication,  collaboration and productivity but are actually “an absurd attack on concentration”. He lauds instead “soundproofed offices connected to large common areas” which he believes support  chance encounters and focused thinking. I agree.

Quoting Clifford Nass discussing his research on attention switching: “People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted (…) They’re pretty much mental wrecks.”

Feeling great yet?

He also discusses the overwhelming place social media takes up in many lives (both in personal and work lives) and how it destroys focus and is used to keep boredom at bay in a way that negates your capacity to focus – the more mental distractions you use, the more your mind is constantly looking for distractions. Having just finished Reclaiming Conversations by Sherry Turkle, I also see a number of links to her conclusions. Turkle studies younger adults and realizes that they cannot handle any boredom moments, and use their phones to avoid these moments at all cost. I would venture to say that adults of any age are in the same situation.

Newport is an academic and his work experience is not necessarily something that is scalable to other work environments, especially when he goes into his idea that you should only do “deep” work and never “shallow” work and that your boss will understand this or you’ll move to another job. As well, I see very few workers benefiting from his suggestion to use an automatic email reply that essentially states: “I will only respond if I see an inherent benefit in doing so”.

I also question the long term effects of his only do the work that is the deepest, foregoing any unnecessary meetings and tasks on his work relationships. Relationship building involves some give and take and also favour exchanges (ex. would you mind reviewing this for me, could you attend this meeting for me, etc.) for longer term benefits. What happens then if everyone is busy doing deep work that only benefits themselves?

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book and would wholeheartedly encourage you to reading it, if only to start overdue discussions on the state of work environments and how things could improve.

What are your thoughts?

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