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Beauty Notebook: Daybreak Lavender Farm
by Dain

People who make fine food a habit, as I do, often have a companion-in-dining. Mine is Laura, whose exclamation, "You can tell it was made with love," so frequently follows our meals that I, by and large a much more judgmental person, will tease her, "Oh, I don't know. How can you tell?" She'll fix me with a retort, "You can always tell. Some food is made with anxiety."

For reasons difficult to fathom, my foremost fascination has always been skincare. It's not merely, as the above video suggests, that good skin, in combination with symmetry, is the most persistent fundamental parameter of a beautiful face in spite of millennia of shifting mores. (If I felt any deep-seated concern for the condition of my skin, I'd wear sunscreen.) My personal definition of luxury has nothing to do with big brands and directional trends—even rare, high-quality materials and thoughtful design are incidental to my enjoyment—but that wonderful knowledge, when I hold a beautiful object in my hands, that it has been crafted by human hands. In this age of mass production, artisanal products seem to be suffused, to the last scrap of cloth and last drop of parfum, with a kind of benediction, rare to find in beauty products; skincare proves to be the lone exception. It is for that reason that I tend to pursue more "natural" brands, not out of principle exactly, but because people who are more conscientious about ingredients and methods of production also tend to build better products, or, as Laura puts it, "You can tell it was made with love."

Unfortunately, skincare rarely lives up to that potential. Maybe it's a native perversity, but in the garden of unnecessary superlatives that is the beauty industry (after all, shoes, perfumes, and eyeshadows don't exactly constitute the earth-shattering moments of human history), it is immensely satisfying to deflate such pretenses. After all, now that "green" is so trendy, it has become increasingly crucial to determine the real thing from the sheer profusion of pretenders flooding the market. I am sorry to report, dear reader, that this morning brings you nothing but acclaim, no caveats whatsoever to blunt my enthusiasm for Daybreak Lavender Farm, a small, independent company based in Ohio, specializing in, somewhat inauspiciously for those interested in skincare, handmade soap. Their motto is simple enough to understand, "exquisite all natural ingredients lavishly used," and they "follow the Native-American 7th-generation farming philosophy... working [the] land so that in seven generations it will be better than it is today." While I am no expert on farming practices, I can't help but say that I find this kind of commitment impressive, especially after a rather underwhelming experience with the cult-brand Liz Earle.

Well, enough with my drivel. Onto the products!

Since I am new to Daybreak, I began with the Rhassoul Core 5-Piece All-Natural Skin Care System ($127.75). Don't balk at the price, though I can't help wishing for a sample kit. It is five products, and with the exception of the toner, they are extremely concentrated and will last you easily a year. The regime is quite unusual in its approach, one of the most unusual that I've ever encountered, and the steps can be adjusted according your skin's needs. Therefore, you need not follow the routine I've settled for myself; it's simply what my dry and sensitive skin demands.

Like many other reputable skincare brands, the focus falls on thorough and effective cleansing, in this case Daybreak's Rhassoul Original Complexion Polish & Almond Cream Bar Soap ($49.90). The rhassoul bar, with a full 1.5 ounces of the mineral-rich Moroccan clay and 33% unrefined Ghanian shea butter, is the most expensive product in the regime, but it should last at least a year. The bar is split into chunks of four or six (in my incomprehension, I did eight, but it doesn't really matter), and massaged directly onto damp skin. You have the choice between Strong Rhassoul, which is more exfoliating, and the Gentle Rhassoul; I went with the latter, since my skin is quite delicate. Daybreak recommends using it three times a week at first, but I had no difficulty with twice daily use; couched in a gentle olive-coconut-and-babassu-oil base, not to mention the high concentration of shea butter, this exfoliating and purifying bar is hardly abrasive, though once when I scrubbed hard out of curiosity (something Daybreak advises against) it did hurt. The scent is light, but very pleasing, a combination of lime, mandarin, and vetiver. Though I still plan to retain my DHC Deep Cleansing Oil for makeup removal, the Original Rhassoul Complexion Polish works much like powerful face mask, not only in exfoliating and purifying (the first product to ever do anything, though it's not a huge effect, to my clogged pores) capacities, but also in terms of overall glow, only more timely and user-friendly in its soap format. Indeed, you may leave the product on your skin as a mask, if you so desire, though I personally find it a little drying.

We are not finished yet, however, because the cleansing process is actually two steps. While the rhassoul is still on your skin, you lather up one of Daybreak's complexion bars, either the Prairie Oat Mint Exfoliating Complexion Bar ($14.95) or the Almond Cream Daily Complexion Bar ($14.95), and apply it directly on top, mixing the two soaps together. This is, to say the least, a highly unusual strategy, but I really enjoy it. I chose the Almond Cream, which is targeted at more dry/sensitive skin types with its mixture of heavy cream, honey, oatmeal, cocoa butter, hemp seed oil, shea butter, almond meal, aloe oil, organic goat's milk, and olive oil—the closest thing that a detergent-based cleanser may come to your standard lotion cleanser. The scent is bitter almond. It is a far softer and creamier soap than the Rhassoul Complexion Polish, and can be used everyday without impunity. I very much enjoy it, but I think I prefer the Prairie Oat Mint (of which Daybreak sent me a generous sample) to the Almond Cream, though my preference is based largely on fragrance, because the Prairie Oat Mint smells absolutely divine.

One final word: don't get this stuff in your eyes! The cleansing routine is especially effective in the shower, when its mask-like capabilities can exercise full power, but it's soap, so if it runs in your eyes, it HURTS. A lot. If you wear stubborn eye makeup, do use a separate remover.

Like any sensible reviewer, I have always looked askance at toners. What's the point? If your cleanser doesn't work properly, and you need to follow it afterwards with a residue-removing toner, or if your moisturizer doesn't work properly, and you need to follow it afterwards with a priming-toner, then you are well advised to find better cleansers and moisturizers. Daybreak feels the same way, and recommends using the Rose Petal Toner ($22.95) before cleansing, to rid the skin of accumulated grime, so that the Rhassoul can get directly to work. While it's a nice idea in theory, in the first place, I don't see why water won't do just as well, and in the second place, this rose-infused spritz feels so marvelous on the skin that I end up using it before, after, and in the interim between cleansings.

It is simply pure rose—rose petal infusion, rose hydrosol, rose hydrosol, rose floral water—and if I'm not all inclined to wear the soliflore, I really enjoy such an accurate and total rose experience, garden fresh, as they say, in a skincare product. There are rose-and-witch-hazel toners in abundance out there, but this is so true to life, so refreshing, that I find myself tearing through the bottle. Perhaps the other products are extremely economical, but I find it so enjoyable it's almost instinct to spritz with abandon.

I do prefer using it after cleansing, because it keeps my skin moist for the next step, which is a face oil. On dry skin, oils can sometimes be difficult to spread, and the Rose Petal Toner really helps facilitate the application. In any case, I harbor a natural disinclination to cotton pads. My only reservation in getting another, and it's not much of one, is that I want to try the Rose Petal, Sencha Green Tea, & Jasmine Balancing Infusion ($24.95) next—it sounds just heavenly.

I've always looked on face oils with a favorable eye. Though fortune spared me the battles with acne and shine as a teenager, my skin becomes painfully dry by the tail end of winter. The more emollient, and buttery rich the cream, the better; it's almost impossible to overdo. But then, when the weather turns humid and warm, heavy moisturizers are overkill. I've simply had to face the fact that more than one more moisturizer is required. Hence, my attraction to face oils—from humble jojoba to the most expensive and highly perfumed blend of rare and exotic cold-pressed oils, many face oils claim to nourish the dry and balance the oily simultaneously, whilst keeping skin supple and thus preventing aging—a panacea for the anti-chemical crowd. They won't solve serious problems, but theoretically they are supposed work gently and organically with the skin, though in practice, results can be unpredictable or much too subtle. Regardless of skin type, the great drawback of face oils is that, because of the pure lipid content, they tend to sit atop the skin, substantially longer than your typical emulsifications, lotions and creams, before full absorption, though this effect tends to diminish with continued use. This is something of a problem for dehydrated skin, because oils, for all their protective virtues, provide no hydration at all; they cannot really be used alone.

Daybreak's Only Face Feed ($22.95) circumvents this problem by larding its blend lavishly with emu oil, and like the very commonly used and far cheaper caprylic/capric triglyceride (a coconut oil derivative) serves as a highly penetrative, fast absorbing carrier, but superior in nutritive, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties (my first time trying emu oil). It is also less likely to clog pores. As a result, though the Only Face Feed is rather thicker in texture than Liz Earle's sleek and silky Superskin Concentrate, it absorbs much better. It also boasts a roster of highly restorative oils, evident from its cloudy amber hue, sea buckthorn (very expensive stuff), avocado, rosehip, borage seed, sweet almond, vitamin E (doubling as a preservative, I imagine), as well as calendula, St. Johnswort, and frankincense extracts. Because the blend is highly concentrated, a very little is required: a generous spritz of the Rose Petal Toner, sparingly dotted on the face, then patted (not rubbed) over the skin with fingers. It smells unusually of frankincense, which is surprisingly (since I tend to dislike incense perfumes) very pleasant.

The final step, which may be skipped by the oily-skinned, is the Only Pore Seal & Protect ($29.95). At first glance, it seems like your standard lotion, more thick than fluid. Glycerin, a chamomile-calendula-comfrey infusion, and aloe vera gel is emulsified with the Only Face Feed blend (emu, sea buckthorn, rosehip, avocado, borage, etc.), old-comb beeswax and honey, wheat germ, jojoba, and sunflower oils, and shea butter. Like the Only Face Feed, it smells largely of frankincense, with its putative powers as a wrinkle inhibitor.

Highest-quality ingredients, name-dropped ever so casually, are all very well, but they hardly convey how unusual a specimen this is. The directions clearly state that a very little amount ("a very small pea") should be used, and indeed, a heavier application results in an uncomfortable degree of shine. No doubt, high quantities of beeswax and shea butter are responsible for this; think of it as a giant bottle of liquid lip balm. If you've ever toyed with pure shea butter, because few ingredients are so marvelously restorative, you'll soon have discovered that the stuff takes absolutely forever to absorb, leaving you with a nasty sticky texture for hours. There's so much of it in here that you can smell it. And beeswax (which I've found to have an oddly purifying effect on the skin) is only marginally more penetrative. It also tingles considerably on initial application, making it one of the more active moisturizers on the market. On dry skin, the face oil is not quite enough, especially since it's used more as a treatment than as a moisturizer, but if I may interrupt this train of acclaim, I am a little ambivalent about this particular moisturizer. Its texture works fine as a night cream, but for day, I find the best way to control the amount is to warm a tiny, tiny bit in the palm of my hands, pat it into my skin, and layer more as necessary. Though it is clear that Only Pore Seal & Protect is very good to the skin, still, I can't help expecting a more standard moisturizer. And yet I find myself continually reaching for it, because it does seem to treat my skin so nicely.

Great leave-in for hair, and lip balm under lipstick.

Daybreak also included some generous slivers of soap to sample. I've only gotten to a couple, but I've found them as enjoyable as the skincare: rich, creamy lather and fabulous scents. Their Fresh Lavender Aromasoap ($10.95) smells fresh and clean, without any obnoxious synthetic "laundry detergent" musks, and the luxury Aphrodisia ($21.95) artisanal bar is all about the patchouli, with a little sandalwood and clove as well—makes a great hand soap. And Old Fashioned Rose Bouquet Shea Butter Soap ($18.95) has the same rich, grassy-spicy rose aroma of the Rose Petal Toner and an especially rich lather. None are aromas I'd care to wear as perfume, but when relegated to the momentary pleasure of the bath, are intensely pleasurable.

Overall, I am deeply impressed by Daybreak Lavender Farms, and cannot recommend them on more glowing or approbative terms. In the wasteland of false claims that marks the skincare industry, it's such a delight to discover products that truly deliver. For all the brands and products I've tried, I had reconciled myself to the fact that the best one could hope for in skincare was sturdily built basics that did their job without getting above themselves. Next to Daybreak, however, it becomes apparent that even these brands skimp a little in terms of quality. As Jody herself explains: "I have sat through too many meetings where the chemists propose nice formulas and they get shot down because of a total which has to cover not only ingredients but advertising and packaging. Most mass products are WAY over-packaged. When I started DayBreak I was determined to do it backwards... to start with great ingredients, forget advertising, package for safety and no more so that the ingredients could work... It's really that simple." Everything is made with love.

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5/03/2009 [6]

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