The Great Breakout Experiment

If you follow my Facebook, you’ll know that I’ve recently had a nasty bout of stress-related acne, the likes of which I haven’t dealt with in over a year. Rather than bemoan my spotty fate, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to use some skin care products I hadn’t had to use in a while.

All great experiments need a control – that is, a part of the experiment that’s either left alone or that you do what you’ve always done to it, so that you can compare the part you’re experimenting on to the control. Since I had at least six good-sized zits blooming on my chin, nose, and forehead (no I will not post photos, you’ll have to make do with my excellent descriptive writing skills), I had a pretty decent – and gross – sample size to work with. Time for some science!

Mythbusters Science

For the control pimples, I just popped them after I double-washed my face. I know, I know, it’s bad for your skin and you’re not supposed to, but dangit, they were Right. There. They needed to be popped, guys. I didn’t use my fingernails, because you damage your skin more if you do that, I just squeezed them with the pads of my fingers, cleaned off what came out, then dabbed a little tea tree oil on them to disinfect, because of course they were the kind that bleed a lot when you pop them. Sorry, did I warn you that there would be gross pimple-popping language in this post? Guess you know now!

For the other three, I applied three Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dots. I had snagged them before my wedding in case of last-minute skin emergencies, but I’d only used one so far, while I was in Hawaii and the humidity had caused a single pimple to crop up. Well, this round was different. I was going to see if these bastiges were worth the money. I know PTR is a good brand, as I’ve used some of their body wash and shampoo before – they’re solid, so I had confidence in this product already.

I applied them after I’d put on my essence and eye cream, but before my moisturizer, which I applied around the dots. They’re tiny clear dots that look like Scotch tape, but they’re infused with tea tree oil (told you that stuff is gold), alpha-hyaluronic acid, and other goodies to dry out those nasty bumps and get them cleared away. Let’s break down how they performed:

  • Staying Power: A+. They stuck right to my oily, oily face, and didn’t budge all night. And I’m a toss-and-turn kind of sleeper, guys. I had to make an effort to peel them off in the morning.
  • Weird Burning or Tingling: Nope! It just felt like I had some tape on my face, and they’re so clear it took me a second to find them again the next morning. There was a very mild tingly feeling I got about twenty minutes after I put them on, but it subsided quickly.
  • Redness or Irritation: Nope again! Once I peeled them off, the irritation that was already there from the pimples had actually subsided. Obviously, these things contain adhesive, so if you’re allergic to that, this is likely not the product for you, but barring that, these actually reduced the redness on my face where they were stuck.
  • What About the Pimples? Greatly reduced. Like, noticeably improved, literally overnight. I was impressed. They were flatter, less red, less painful, and they looked like they’d go ahead and heal up without me having to pop them! Greatness.
  • How Did They Compare to Just Popping Them? No contest, the dots were a much better idea. The ones I popped were scabbed over the next day, so they were extremely noticeable – moreso than when they were just red and swollen, for sure – whereas the ones I’d put the dots on looked flatter and less visible. It took a lot more TLC to get the scabbing to come off gently than it did to finish letting the pimples I’d put the dots on finish going away.

Conclusion: Invisible Dots for the WIN. They’re easy to use, and yeah, they absolutely work. As an acne-prone person, I’m going to keep these in my skin care arsenal from here on out, and I recommend you do the same, if you have similar skin needs.


Military Life Involves Ballgown Shopping: Who Knew?

For those just joining my bloggy adventure, some of my unique fashion opportunities stem from being married to a United States Airman. Until we got together, I had no idea how many social obligations military people had – holiday parties, a constant cycle of going-away and welcome-back parties, ‘dining-in’ events, and of course, military balls.

What’s a military ball, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like. It’s a formal event for all the members of a military branch (in my case, the Air Force) who are stationed at the same base. Think of it like prom: there are awards, you have to buy a ticket, the underclassmen do the decorating, everyone wears formal clothes. At an Air Force ball, though, the service members have to wear their dress uniforms, and their dates get to dress up all fancy.

If you’re thinking this sounds super cheesy, you would be correct. There’s even a photographer there, to get formal prom-style photos of whoever wants them. The military band plays after the dinner so people can dance. But it’s also very moving at times. There’s a ceremony for fallen service members before the meal, someone important or inspirational gives a speech, there’s just a lot of pomp and pageantry that makes everyone feel like they’re Part Of Something. In a job where you have to uproot your whole family, find a new place to live, and make your spouse job-hunt every few years, that feeling of togetherness is very, very helpful.

So now that you know what I’ve gotten myself into, I know what you’re all wondering, because you requested it on the BirdFashion Facebook page: What did I wear to the Air Force Ball, and how did I find it?

First thing’s first: gotta get that budget in place. Mine was $300 or less – slightly more than I normally do, because we’ll be at a different base for next year’s ball, so I can wear the same dress again next year. If you think I could have worn the same dress two years in a row at the same base, let me tell you about the lady who showed up one year in the very dress I’d worn the previous year. Glad I chose to get a new one.

Secondly, these events have strict dress codes, and not just for the men and women in uniform: a military ball requires a floor-length formal gown for female guests, and it shouldn’t be anything risque or overtly sexy-looking. It also shouldn’t be too bright, as again, it’s a formal event, not a party. My husband’s coworkers, bosses, and bosses-of-bosses attend these things, so my main goal was to make all of those people think, ‘My my, that Airman makes good life decisions; look how refined and elegant his wife is.’ Is that a petty and shallow mindset? Yep! Welcome to military life, appearances are everything, please check your opinions at the door. That system has been in place for so long that you can only try to change it long after you’ve played along with it for a good while.

Okay, so I knew what I needed, but from there, I had every intention of branching out and looking as killer as possible – this is a big thing for my husband’s job, but for me? I wanted to make him look good because I’d made myself look good, and I had every intention of having fun with this process. How often do we get to style up formal outfits for ourselves? Once year, for me. Might as well make it count!

I sent my bestie my measurements and some ideas of what I was looking for, and we set to work looking up dresses that would be in-budget and also fit me. We went back and forth for a few days, running into the age-old Goldilocks conundrum: this dress is too expensive, this dress is too small, this dress is too ‘Mormon school-teacher.’ Turns out it’s really hard to find a formal dress that’s modest, but doesn’t age you by a decade or so.

Then my bestie was like, “IDEA.” And I was like, “TELL ME.” And she was like, “Rent The Runway.”

It’s the perfect option. You can rent all manner of clothing, from ballgowns to vacation clothes, for four or eight days, for pennies on the dollar compared to retail cost. They’ve got BRANDS too – Kate Spade, Diane von Furstenburg, Oscar de la Renta – names I’d actually heard of, is what I’m saying. You can rent clothes, jewelry, and purses, then you just send it all back at the end of the rental period and move on with your life, unencumbered by a really expensive dress you can’t wear again.

I ordered the below dress, with a duplicate dress in a size larger (you never know), a pair of earrings, and a clutch, for a whopping $130. Remember how my budget was $300 or less?

Nailed. It.

RTR’s app is fantastic too; you can filter by all kinds of factors like event type, specific aspects of the dress like length, or things like color and body type to find clothes that really work for you (again – I’m not being paid for this, I legitimately love this service). I’ve already sourced another outfit for a wedding in October, and that dress is renting for a whole $30. No, I didn’t leave off a zero – thirty dollars. Their sizes range from 0 – 22, based on what clothing sizes you normally wear, not those weird-ass formal sizes. There’s even a section for ‘bump-friendly’ outfits, for the fashionable mom-to-be!

So next time you have a one-off event that you need to look extra-special for, look at Rent The Runway. They’ve done everything they can to make it fool-proof, and I promise you’re going to save money and hassle by renting instead of buying.

Essential Oils for Skin Care

I’ve had skin problems for a long time, so over the years I’ve experimented with all kinds of treatments for my acne, clogged pores, and constant oily sheen. One of the skin treatments that has served me well since I started is essential oils.

When I first started researching them, I was torn between ‘this seems too easy and there must be something I’m missing,’ and ‘this has got to be really complicated for it to be effective.’ Turns out, no – it’s just easy and effective. Here are some oils I use for my skin, the benefits I’ve gotten from them, and things I’ve learned from research or, well, from making some kind of mistake and choosing to do something different next time. As always, learn from my mistakes.

  • Lavender – This is one of my favorite smells, so sometimes I’ll just use it instead of perfume. No regrets here. Lavender is purported to have a calming effect, and I can safely say that when I’m feeling tense, a hot bath with some lavender oil in it does the trick. I’m sure you’ve seen piles and piles of bath salts, lotions, and candles that are lavender-scented and marketed for people who need to Calm The Eff Down, but save yourself some money and just buy the oil straight-up. You can put it in a carrier oil or unscented lotion (just a drop!) and have your own, way cheaper, scented lotion. Lavender oil on a cotton pad under your pillow will give you a lovely night’s sleep. You can also put a drop onto a pimple to dry it out – and to help you not stress about your stress-breakout, because let’s face it, stress is like a human centipede in that it’s gross and we can’t forget about it.
  • Peppermint – Yet another great smell, peppermint has an energizing and uplifting effect when you smell it, and it increases circulation to your skin – hence why most sports creams for joint pain smell minty. I like to mix a few drops of peppermint oil with a handful of coconut oil and massage my scalp with it once a week before I shower. The increased circulation from the peppermint, plus the cleansing properties of both oils, make it great for keeping your scalp and hair in good shape, and it might even help your hair grow out longer and healthier.
  • Eucalyptus – Who doesn’t want to smell like a koala bear, right? J/K, I doubt koalas smell all that pleasant. But eucalyptus oil really does smell great – I put some in an oil burner or in a shallow dish in a hot shower when I’ve got a cold or allergies, and it acts just like that vapor rub your mom put on your chest as a kid. Speaking of which, you can do that with plain eucalyptus oil too! You can put it in a carrier oil if it’s too strong for your nose or skin – anything without a strong scent will do the trick. A trick I learned when I was acting at a Renaissance festival and needed to push through a bad cold was to tie a knotted piece of leather cord around my neck or wrist and drip some eucalyptus oil onto the leather knots. It let me breathe the aromatic oil as I walked around, keeping my head clear until I could go home and rest.
  • Tea Tree – This stuff is the rock star of my essential oil shelf. It’s got antibacterial and antifungal properties, it has a drawing/drying effect on the skin, and it smells woodsy and herbaceous and awesome. This is another one that you can put on a pimple to dry it out. I’ve also used it in a homemade deodorant I used for a long time (sounds weird but it really worked!), but the best trick I’ve used tea tree oil for is getting rid of skin tags. You heard me. When I took up running on a regular basis, I had this cluster of swollen skin tags crop up on my upper thigh where it rubs against, y’know, my other thigh (hence the ‘taking up running’ thing), and they’d get tugged around and irritated. Not sexy. After a lengthy research sesh on the internet, I discovered that the commercial ‘tag remover’ products are mostly tea tree oil, so I thought, “Well hell, I’ve got that in my cabinet right now!” Sure enough, I put a dab of the undiluted oil directly on the skin tags a couple times a day – especially at night, so it could soak in – and they would slowly dry up and recede into my skin. They didn’t ‘fall off,’ they just dried up a little and went back into the skin, leaving smooth skin behind it! Great stuff, man. I’m treating one as I write this, and it was hella stubborn at first. I had to tape a cotton pad with tea tree oil on it to my leg at night (pro tip: use medical tape or it’ll just come off). It felt pretty tingly when I did that, but it got the stupid thing on the road to being gone!
    • SAFETY NOTE: Tea tree oil is VERY potent. You don’t need much at all to do the trick as far as clearing up a pimple or skin tag, so make sure to not overdo it! Just put a tiny amount directly on the offending spot, and don’t spread it around your skin too much. If you’re using it on a larger skin area, you’ll want to dilute it with a neutral carrier oil. With the deodorant I made, I put several drops in the first batch I tried, and it made my skin break out – I should have used two drops in the whole batch, that’s how strong this stuff is. As always, if any of this stuff irritates your skin or gives you a rash, quit using it immediately. Not all things are good for all people!

As far as sourcing goes, make sure you’re getting good-quality, organic oils, and that they’re not mixed with anything else. You want 100% oil in there. Usually your local natural foods store carries good essential oils, as do a lot of major grocery-store chains that tout a big organic section. Check the ‘health and beauty’ section for a little shelf of oils, often stored near the vitamins and supplements. For carrier oils if you’re wanting to massage the oil onto your skin or dilute it a little, coconut oil is great, as is grapeseed, jojoba, or olive oil, though the olive and coconut oils already have their own scent, so that might interfere with the scent of the oils you’re using. Play around with it and see what works best for you!

Making Friends as a Grownup

Remember making friends in college, Fledglings? It was so easy. You’d literally just walk into the dorm-hall lobby or the cafeteria and sit down next to someone, and you’d make a friend. Forging new friendships in college required nothing more than physically leaving your room.

Well, thirteen years on from starting college, I’m here to tell you that that will be the absolute easiest time you will EVER have making new friends. Making friends as a grownup with a full-time job and relatives that need your time and attention and a partner you want to spend alone time with, is ridiculously hard to pull off. This is mainly because all the people you could be friends with right now – they also have all those demands on their time. It’s not easy out there, guys.

When I moved to west Texas from the DFW Metroplex, I knew I was leaving behind friends I’d had for at least a decade. I was sad about that, but I was also excited for a new adventure, and let’s face it, the whole ‘too many time constraints to hang with your friends’ thing was absolutely still a factor in my life in DFW. We just didn’t hang out as often as we had when I was 22, single, and functionally unemployed.

So what’s a busy birdie to do when she finds herself in a new place and in need of people to hang out with? I’ve lived here about a year and a half, and I think I’m getting the hang of it now. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Be Where The People Are. Yes, just like Ariel, you wanna be where the people are. If you’re looking for new friends to do things with, it behooves you to show up to places where people are already doing things you like. That way, even if you don’t make new friends, at least you’re getting out and doing something you think is fun. If you enjoy yoga, sign up for a yoga class – other people who like yoga take yoga classes! If you’re an artist, see what the local museums are up to and set yourself up to run into other art-lovers! If you love animals, see if your shelter takes volunteers for adoption events and hang out with other people who love animals! Going through something with other people is how friendships are forged – it’s why college is so great for forming friendships. But taking the same class or volunteering for the same organization can have a similar effect on people.
  2. Be Forthcoming. If you’re new in town and want to make friends, tell people that. I know it feels like you’re coming off as a giant dork, but it’s so easy for grownups to assume that people they meet already have social lives, and we forget to initiate those friendship-having things we all want to do together. If you’re the one wanting friends, you’ll have to speak up. Ask someone if they want to grab dinner, or share a ride to the next cat-adoption event – after you get to know them a little, obviously. They probably didn’t even know you’re short on socializing, so you suggesting something is the best way to make it happen.
  3. Be Patient. This is a big one: remember how I mentioned all those obligations we have now? Remember how I also mentioned that the people we want to be friends with also have those obligations? Yeah, scheduling a meetup is going to be hard. Schedules change, nobody has the same free evenings, last-minute work/child/home situations happen to scupper best-laid plans. Don’t get disappointed or assume people don’t like you because they keep having to reschedule – just keep trying. Give it some down-time in between, so you’re not annoying people, but if something fell through, try and reschedule as soon as you can. If you don’t put the effort in to make it happen, it becomes all to easy to end up at home every night for weeks on end. I wish events and happenings would just materialize like they did back in college, but I’ve found that it’s not nearly that easy anymore. The only way I’ve been able to make it work is to keep scheduling things, and then scheduling them again when they fall through. It gets tedious and frustrating sometimes, but so does sitting at home all the time, and at least rescheduling gives you a chance of doing something fun with your day.
  4. Be Flexible. Your hangouts may not look like you’re used to them looking, and it’s important to roll with it and focus on having fun. Your friend might need to bring their kid along on your Starbucks date. You might need your friends to come to you because you’re waiting on a delivery. Your friend’s wife might be switching to a night shift, so they can’t hang out before 7PM. These things happen, and it’s important to adjust your expectations so you can still get your social on, rather than canceling because it’s not going to be the exact hangout you wanted to have. Don’t pass up on seeing friends just because the venue/guest list/activities have changed – your friends are still there, right? Go to the thing to see them and to catch up on their lives. If you’re with good people, you’ll probably end up having fun anyway.

It’s so easy to get used to our socializing being an epic event where everyone can do whatever they want for however long they want, and all that fun is just free for the taking. The reality of being out of college and in the whole employed/partnered/responsible world has been a big change for me, and it probably is for you too, because we all have SO MUCH going on. Fun is still necessary, but now it has to be scheduled, and everyone is going to need to compromise at least a little, and it might not work out the first time you try and get together. That’s okay, I promise. When the stars align and you do end up having a fantastic time with your friends, you’ll remember why you put in all that effort, because it will be 100% worth it.