Review: Floss Lip Advocate in Your Honor

What It Is: Hydrating Lip Tint

Distinguishing Factors: Vegan

Verdict: When I read the initial reviews for this colour (Your Honor), I wasn’t sure how I felt about it since it being advertised as a berry hue and usually that shade doesn’t compliment me that well. Those reviewers were mistaken as this shade can be best described as your lips only better. I absolutely LOVE this shade and the product itself is utterly soft and moisturizing but doesn’t feel oily. The packaging is very reminiscent of Glossier with their choice of millennial pink. Right now, this is my current face lip colour and I highly recommend it if you wish to have hydrated lips without cracks. You can layer this if you wish to have a brighter shade, but one layer will do you just fine if you want something more natural.

Price: $18

Where To Buy It: https://flossitup.com/

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Books to Read During Black History Month & Women in Horror Month

Since both Black History Month and Women in Horror Month coincide in February, I thought that I’d incorporate both in this blog post. I’ve decided to focus on these two authors because I haven’t seen them on any recent lists and I’ve made similar posts in the past and don’t wish to repeat myself in recommending the same books over and over.

These two novels in particular (but I totally recommend checking out their other books as well!) showcase creepy dread and extraordinary talent.

WHITE IS FOR WITCHING BY HELEN OYEYEMI

There’s something strange about the Silver family house in the closed-off town of Dover, England. Grand and cavernous with hidden passages and buried secrets, it’s been home to four generations of Silver women—Anna, Jennifer, Lily, and now Miranda, who has lived in the house with her twin brother, Eliot, ever since their father converted it to a bed-and-breakfast. The Silver women have always had a strong connection, a pull over one another that reaches across time and space, and when Lily, Miranda’s mother, passes away suddenly while on a trip abroad, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments. An eating disorder starves her. She begins hearing voices. When she brings a friend home, Dover’s hostility toward outsiders physically manifests within the four walls of the Silver house, and the lives of everyone inside are irrevocably changed. At once an unforgettable mystery and a meditation on race, nationality, and family legacies.

DEVIL INSIDE BY KENYA MOSS-DYME

Kenya Moss-Dyme presents a page-turner about a young woman’s harrowing journey through cancer treatment at the hands of a beguiling nurse who gives her more than the normal care. The tormented patient morphs into something unrecognizable, as the mystery unravels and she unleashes a surprise of her own for the twisted nurse upon her return.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE BLACK FEMALE HORROR AUTHORS? LET ME KNOW!

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Book Review: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Some ghosts simply cannot rest….

Pre-Order on Amazon!

Release Date: October 9, 2021

Publisher: Tor Nightfire

Price: $19.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.

A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.

But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Effortlessly taking the classic haunted house story and turning it on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions.

Grade: C-

Review:

I was truly anticipating this novella sine it has everything that I simply adore in horror, creepy vengeful ghosts, characters that love the macabre, and it was set in Japan, one of my fave countries. The premise of the novella was also intriguing, a girl Cat, reunites with her friends for a wedding that will take place in a haunted Heian-era mansion. And let’s not forget that with such an incredibly frightening book cover, who wouldn’t be expecting to be scared shitless, right?

Now, my issue with the novella is the excessive purple prose that was interjected throughout the whole novella. Some of the writing was beautiful, but some of it was simply too over the top that a lot of times I had to reread to know exactly what was going on, and therein lies the issue, in a horror novella you want the action to be evident, not up to interpretation!

My second issue with the novella was that all of the characters seemed to have had some past romantic connections to one another, and while that isn’t unusual is a group of young friends, it seemed really odd that every single dude had slept with one girl and so everyone had underlying resentment towards one another.

The ending was very B-rated horror movie and maybe I’d enjoy this novella more if it had been a B-rated horror movie (because I enjoy those as mindless entertainment) but what works as a bad horror movie usually doesn’t work for a book and that’s why I couldn’t enjoy it.

I know many reviewers DID enjoy this book and I’m not discouraging others from checking it out, but I must be honest about how I felt about it and for me it’s a pass.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor Nightfire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Excerpt: “Of Guys And Dolls” by Stella B. James From Tainted Love: Women in Horror Anthology

True to my word, I leave the closet alone. Despite the various hats that fall on me when I move a hanger, or a random photo box that spills out at my feet, I don’t rearrange anything. I tackle under the bed instead.

With my long hair braided to the side to keep it out of the way, I lay flat on my belly to army crawl half way under and pull everything out. Balled up dresses, scraps of torn paper, an old pair of sneakers, and about five shoe boxes full of cards and letters find their way to freedom.

I leave those alone, wondering why she would stash them instead of throwing them away. I find a bigger box last, one meant for boots maybe, and back away to pull it out.

Opening the top reveals a bunch of weird looking homemade dolls. Thirteen of them total. Each of them looks different, but familiar all the same. I run my fingers over their stiff hair and rough bodies, trying to place the name for these things. Turning them over, I notice they have names stitched to them. The red haired one I’m holding is named Carla.

Carla. Carla. Oh, her friend. I find the scrapbook and match each obituary to a doll. Maybe she made these of them? It’s kind of sweet to preserve their memory in this way. Strange, and sad, but sweet. Only one of them doesn’t have a name yet and it also lacks any personal touches.

“I see you found my dolls.” Katy doesn’t look mad, but not too pleased either.

“They match your friends. Did you make them?”

She shrugs, handing me a coffee. “Kind of. I buy them in the French Quarter and finish them up the way I like.”

“Who is this?” I ask, holding up the plain one.

“Not sure yet. Guess it will have to be a surprise.” She sits down beside me, picking up a random doll.

I try to listen to how she fixes up each one, but I can’t stop the cold chill setting in my bones at her last remark.

It’s the last week of July that Katy finds me at the kitchen table doing a crossword puzzle. Something plops on the paper before me, and I recognize it as one of her dolls. It’s wearing a red dress and has long blonde hair, braided to the side. I finger my own braid as I look down at it.

“Is that me?”

“Sure is. I worked on her all week. Figured it would be a nice surprise since you’re heading back to Baton Rouge next week.”

Her sad tone catches me off guard, and I hold the doll to my chest. “You know I have to go back. I have to get my classroom ready and my apartment’s renovations were finished days ago.”

“I know.” She huffs out in frustration and takes the doll back, smoothing out its silky dress. “I’ll just miss you is all. I’ll keep her safe until you leave.”

Ted slams the door upon arriving home, barking out Katy’s name, and I excuse myself for a walk. I’m not in the mood to hear them fight. I don’t think I can stomach the guilt I’ll feel. I wish Katy would just pack up and leave with me.

I like Ted. He’s a good man.

Just not for her.

***

Get your copy of TAINTED LOVE: WOMEN IN HORROR ANTHOLOGY today!

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Excerpt: “Chronic Chills” by Hudson Wilding from Tainted Love: Women in Horror Anthology

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Rumor had it that Oskar Abernathy rehearsed every week after choir practice, so Orchid lingered in the pews one evening after all her friends left. As Edinburgh’s meager light fell through the stained glass windows, Orchid tried to imitate the expression an older woman might take on while meditating on something holy and somber. Soon, the opening notes of “Lacrimosa” jolted her. She squeaked. The music stopped and Oskar rose to look at her from the organ bench at the front of the hall. He was wearing the same surprised expression one might have after seeing a mouse scamper up a curtain.

“Why, hello,” he said, smoothing his hands over the cufflinks on his tweed jacket. His conscientious way of dressing always gave her the impression he was waiting for a surprise visit from The Queen. Orchid could not escape the notion that he had arrived in the 1970s quite by mistake, belonging instead to an earlier time when his delicate complexion and precise mannerisms would have seemed less eccentric.

“You have the most beautiful handkerchiefs,” she told him, her high voice echoing across the large auditorium.

“They’re for my chronic chills,” Oskar replied as if her non sequitur was a completely ordinary attempt at conversation.

She walked closer to him, approximating the hip-sway of one of the older girls in the choir. “Your chronic chills?”

“Here,” he said, reaching out. “Feel my hand.”

She hesitated a moment before approaching the organ. Then she pressed two fingers gently into the skin of his outstretched palm. His fingers enveloped hers like a Venus flytrap closing around an insect at the Royal Botanic Gardens. The biting cold of his flesh shocked her. She’d heard rumors of his strange illness but had always assumed it was just town gossip.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

Only then did his grip relent. “I believe I was the one who interrupted you.”

***

Read this and other chilling tales in Tainted Love: Women in Horror Anthology! Check out the pre-order giveaway here!

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Flash Fiction: Two Words by Erica Ruhe

Photo by C Technical on Pexels.com

You used to laugh when I wrapped myself around you and tangled you in the sheets to keep you from work. The morning sunlight loved to ripple over your green eyes and sleepy smile. Ignoring the fourth snooze alarm, I’d bury my face in the soft skin of your stomach and hold you tighter. I had two words, two magic words that always made you giggle; two words that always stole a few more moments with you.

“Don’t go.”

You staged a brave pillow protest but I negotiated your surrender with the pinning weight of the comforter.

I remember the time you had to fly back to California for your great grandmother’s birthday. We were still a young a couple, not quite ready for the family introductions but too heady with the feel of each other’s touch to bear the time apart. I hugged your legs as you stood at my apartment door. You fought the grin on your lips. You wriggled your knees against my arms and begged me to end my guilt trip. But I held you ransom.

“Don’t go.”

You smiled down at me and ran your fingers through my hair. Departure time was tight. The cab was downstairs. But I pulled you to the floor, to me. I just needed to steal you for a few more moments, to find that sacred space of skin hidden beneath your scarf. That warm place at the base of your jaw that inebriated me with your scent. I can still feel your laughter in my chest. You loved my thievery. But I stole other moments, too, when you weren’t looking.

When the wind ruined your good hair day, I smoothed it behind your ear. When you scolded me for smudging your lipstick, I kissed it back in place. On that night of our last visit to London, when the heel on your favorite pair of boots caught in the cobblestones, I followed my hand down your calf and freed you from the rain-slicked street.

It was like the city even pleaded, “Don’t go.”

Now I have you tangled in the bed sheets once more. But it’s dark. There’s no smile on your parted mouth. It hurts to smile. I tell you not to worry. Don’t smile for me. Just breathe. You shiver. In this foreign bed, I wrap myself around you. My fingers find their way under the tubes and wires to touch the chill of your hollowed stomach. I want to squeeze tighter but I’m afraid I might break you. You’re so fragile now. And I can’t bear it. Not quite ready for the family goodbyes and too overwhelmed with the ache of holding the last embers of you to bear the coming time apart.

The naked nape of your neck is stripped of essence. Your scent is lost under the cocktail of rubbing alcohol and latex. Pressing my lips against that place where your hairline used to be, I exhale, hoping my breath might light you up again. That maybe, by some miracle, it will warm your spine, smolder through your veins, and reignite the dying star in your chest where your soul used to burn.

Two words try to rise up my swollen throat, but they’re stuck. There’s only the beep of the heart monitor, the gasp of the ventilator. I can’t make that magic work anymore. I try. God, I try. Somehow, I know I’m responsible for this. I must be. What a fool I am, to think I’d never have to pay back all those stolen moments.

I beg the universe for one last heist. Just a few more moments. My lips move against your frigid skin, but I can’t utter the words. They are forbidden to me now.

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Book Review & Author Interview: Children of Chicago by Cynthia Pelayo

Don’t forget to pay the Piper…”

Pre-Order on Amazon!

Release Date: February 9, 2021

Publisher: Agora Books

Price: $26 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

When Detective Lauren Medina sees the calling card at a murder scene in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, she knows the Pied Piper has returned. When another teenager is brutally murdered at the same lagoon where her sister’s body was found floating years before, she is certain that the Pied Piper is not just back, he’s looking for payment he’s owed from her. Lauren’s torn between protecting the city she has sworn to keep safe, and keeping a promise she made long ago with her sister’s murderer. She may have to ruin her life by exposing her secrets and lies to stop the Pied Piper before he collects.

Grade: A

Review:

I decided to dive into Cynthia Pelayo’s Children of Chicago with no notion of the plot summary. I recently had read her harrowing true-crime poetry collection, Into the Forest and All the Way Through, as well as her short stories featured in the female driven anthology she edited with Gemma Amour and Laurel Hightower, We Are Wolves, and decided that I would take a leap of faith. I never could’ve been happier with my choice. I’m an avid reader of fairytales and the fact that Children of Chicago expertly weaves the fairytale of The Pied Piper and giving it a Candyman angle, made it a very intriguing read. The writing is both lush and concise, allowing the reader to be emerged in the Chicagoan city life as well as the dark realms of the fairytale forest. It’s a deep dive into darkness and for readers of horror, you will love this.

We follow homicide detective Lauren Medina who’s tasked with trying to figure out who is killing the teens of Chicago, in a city, notorious for its bloody past and violent present. Reality fuses with the supernatural and the reader is never certain if we’re witnessing true events or if the characters are simply victims of a mass hysteria.

The novel is part police procedural and part supernatural horror with hints of magical realism all coming to head with a very explosive truth about the protagonist that will leave readers reevaluating everything that’s happened throughout the novel. Fast-paced and eerily dark, Children of Chicago is the perfect winter read.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Agora Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

SHORT Q & A WITH AUTHOR:

I’m a huge fan of fairytales so reading the novel, this really drew me in. There are so many fairytales to choose from, and of course the Brother Grimms are the most popular, but what exactly drew you to the tale of the Pied Piper and why is he the bad guy in the novel?

It’s very odd, but I usually get an image for my stories before I start writing them and I had an image of a man in a black suit and a black top hat standing outside of a hospital waiting to whisk a small child away. That was all I had. Ultimately that image didn’t make it into the novel, but that’s where his story started. Then I started thinking about who he was. Why was he dressed in such old-fashioned clothes and why did he want to take a child? For a long time I thought maybe he was Slenderman, but that wasn’t quite right. Then the Slenderman stabbing happened in Wisconsin in 2014 and I put the story away in my head, because it just felt like it was in bad taste to continue on with the story during that tragedy.

I had taken courses in my MFA in Writing specifically on fairy tales, and so I have a lot of fairy tale books, and just a fascination with them and their history. It probably was not until I started going back to those books and reading them to my children that I found the Pied Piper again and it clicked. The man in the black suit was the Pied Piper and he wanted to lure the children of Chicago away. Then from there, it was just a manic rush to write the story while it was fresh in my head.

There are some accounts that claim that part of the Pied Piper story is true, to an extent, that children were led away from the town of Hamelin and they never returned. So, I wanted to speak to that tragedy, of this mysterious figure with only ill intent to destroy a society by taking away what was most precious to them, their children.

I also discovered that it wasn’t just the Pied Piper that needed to be weaved into the story, but much of the foundation of fairy tale lore, and other fairy tales, because so many fairy tales are based on some small, and gruesome, truth.

Chicago is as much a character in the novel as also the setting. What made you pick Chicago as the setting as opposed to any other big city instead?

I live in inner city Chicago. Not in the suburbs. Not in a fancy neighborhood in the city, but in a regular working class neighborhood in the city, with a high immigrant population, and a high poverty rate. I went to college, have a great professional career, but it was important for me to stay in the community that raised me, and what I later discovered was that Walt Disney was born just a few blocks away from me in a wooden house. L. Frank Baum who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz wrote parts of that legendary book at the park that I have frequented my entire life. So, it was magical to learn that in my neighborhood, comprised of regular people, that magic was made here.

In addition to that, I can’t ignore the violence of the city that I grew up with, and that I live with still. So, there’s this strange dichotomy, a city that was founded on a lake and that has been home to creative legends that gifted us wonderful works of art, but a city that is plagued by violence, and historically has been plagued by violence – its founding was based on violence.

I wanted to then showcase this place where I live and love and to tell people that Chicago is the prime location for a dark fairy tale.

I feel that Children of Chicago can be read as a fairytale, meaning that most original fairytales served as cautionary tales. I feel that in the novel, we’re cautioned not to put our faith in supernatural entities because the price you have to pay may be bigger than you expect. And yet, I feel like humans tend to lean towards the supernatural if even on a low-key base such as sharing chainletters or keeping lucky charms or totems to ward off evil. Why is that?

Yes, I really would love if people read it as a fairy tale about fairy tales. There’s a lot that I was hoping to accomplish that I hope the careful reader catches on to, like my mentions of other fairy tales, and fairy tale devices, Chicago history and how I tried to hold a mirror up to the city and show the city its beauty, but its cruelty as well.

What I was hoping to communicate with the payment is due aspect of the story is that whatever energy you put out into the universe is the type of energy you are going to receive. If you are putting out negative energy, that is the energy that will return to you and serve you. I’m pretty spiritual and part of my path teaches me that we are all one consciousness, you, me, everyone. So, if I do or wish harm to someone else then I am doing or wishing harm to myself.

We turn to the supernatural for protections for a variety of reasons, religion, faith, but ultimately for the belief that the supernatural can shift our experiences and reality. For example, with regards to violence and harm, these things can sometimes be random, or there are people who just live in toxic situations or places. They turn to these things for the hope that the supernatural can guide them to a safer position.

I believe people need to do what gives them comfort, as long as it is not harming anyone, with regards to owning supernatural devices. However, I want to stress to anyone reading that if you are in a violent or harmful environment then please seek help and do so in a safe manner.

I also believe our words and actions are spells. I believe in being positive and speaking positively so that this is the type of energy we are granted.

This is a loaded question, but what is your favorite fairytale and why?

I love this question.

I love so many of them, but the one that I think about often and have written about is Hansel and Gretel.

It’s about the cruelty that can be done to us by those that are meant to love and protect us, and the tragedy of even when you find what you think is safety you aren’t really safe. There is betrayal. Ultimately, it shows that the only person you can trust is really and truly yourself, or in this case little brother and little sister who trust and save each other in the fairy tale. Hansel and Gretel teaches us that no one in the outside world can ever truly be trusted.

Humans often have motives that are beyond cruel, they are deadly.

What are you currently working on and do you have any other releases on the horizon?

I’m working on a middle grade novel I’m hoping to finish and get to my agent in a few days. I’m also working on a novella I hope to deliver in June. I’m not sure when that will be published but I will announce that soon. Then, I am working on the sequel to the “Chicago fairy tale series” which is not really a sequel to Children of Chicago but another fairy tale that takes place in the city. I also have a few short stories I’m working on. I’ve been very busy but it’s a great kind of busy and I am grateful for all of these creative opportunities.

AUTHOR BIO:

Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo is the author of LOTERIA, SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, and POEMS OF MY NIGHT, all of which have been nominated for International Latino Book Awards. POEMS OF MY NIGHT was also nominated for an Elgin Award. Her recent collection of poetry, INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH explores true crime, that of the epidemic of missing and murdered women in the United States. Her modern day horror retelling of the Pied Piper fairy tale, CHILDREN OF CHICAGO will be released by Agora Books on 2/9/21. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, a Master of Science in Marketing, a Master of Fine Arts in Writing, and is a Doctoral Candidate in Business Psychology. Cina was raised in inner city Chicago, where she lives with her husband and children. Find her online at www.cinapelayo.com and on Twitter @cinapelayo.

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Series Review: Firefly Lane

Recently, I was asked to view an advanced screening of Firefly Lane, the newest series to hit Netflix in February, based off of the New York Times best-selling author Kristin Hannah’s 2008 novel of the same name. I purposely didn’t read a plot summary before diving in, but I did decide to watch it based off of the fact that Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy fame and early aughts rom-com queen) and Sarah Chalke (Scrubs and Rick & Morty) star as the two best friends, Tully Hart and Kate Mularkey.

The show is split in three time frames, present 2007, past 1982, and childhood past 1974. The show, like the novel, shows the spanning of a 30-years-old friendship between two best friends who first met at the pivotal age of 14 when living on the same street, Firefly Lane.

Tully Hart has always been ambitious and beautiful, the stark contrast of Kate Mularkey who’s intelligent but mousy. The two have always envied the life of the other. Tully envies Kate’s family, while Kate envies Tully’s beauty and charisma.

I only got to view the first two episodes, but episode one shows us meeting the protagonists at their lowest points. Tully is a successful talkshow host but is worried that her beauty is diminishing and feels like her talent is wasted on the talkshow, while Kate is trying to deal with a divorce and trying to navigate work again after being out of the workforce for the past fourteen years.

FIREFLY LANE (L to R) ALI SKOVBYE as YOUNG TULLY and ROAN CURTIS as YOUNG KATE in episode 102 of FIREFLY LANE. Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

Both actresses excel in their roles and compliment one another. My favourite aspect about this show is the enduring friendship between the two protagonists and how even the possibility of a love triangle doesn’t seem to derail how they feel about each other. If anything, this series focuses on how maybe your soulmate is your best friend and not your romantic partner, and that the greatest love story you’ll ever live is the one you have with your childhood best friend. At a time when women are always seen competing against one another on shows or movies, this is refreshing. Again, I’ve only viewed the first two episodes, so I ope that they continue on this course and don’t derail into the normal tropes that I despise about female friendships.

One of the moments I loved best about the show is when Tully, noticing that Kate is feeling frumpy, decides to swap dresses with her so that her best friend can feel beautiful in a more attention-seeking dress. Or when Tully is speaking with Kate’s daughter, and Kate’s daughter is complaining about her mom and calls her a bitch and Tully stops her and says, “Hey, don’t talk about my best friend like that. Your mom is nice, she was nice at 14 and no one is nice at that age.”

If you’re someone who loves friendship stories, I think you’re really going to love this series and you should definitely check it out.

*Thank you to Netflix for advance screening!

Watch Firefly Lane starting February 3, Netflix.

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Pre-Order Giveaway For Tainted Love!

Pre-Order Tainted Love: Women in Horror Anthology in ebook or paperback format from Amazon before February 16, submit an image of your receipt with the date and email it to: azzurranox (@) yahoo.com Then you’ll receive a gift pack that includes:

An exclusive never released before short story from Azzurr Nox

An exclusive high-res digital poster of the book cover

An ebook copy of My American Nightmare: Women in Horror Anthology

A chance to win even bigger prizes, including swag & signed books because your name will be put in a raffle ( one winner will be selected at random).

So what are you waiting for? Pre-order your copy of Tainted Girls: Women in Horror Anthology today!

PRE-ORDER HERE

Review: Caudelie Vinosource S.O.S. Thirst-Quenching Serum

What It Is: A moisturizing serum

What It Does: Restores suppleness and freshness to dehydrated skin.

Active Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid and Vinolevure

Verdict: Whenever I receive anything from this company, I’m super thrilled. I’ve loved all of their products I’ve been sent so far, and am currently loving this serum I found in the Allure Beauty Box. It is both light but effective in minimizing fine lines and leaving your skin feeling soft and glowing. I love that it doesn’t feel slimy nor oily. Once it’s applied it’s quickly absorbed by the skin so it can be used beneath your normal moisturizer even during the day or applied before makeup. Another key thing that I love is that it’s vegan, so if you choose your products based on that, this one you can check out.

Price: $49

Where To Buy It: https://us.caudalie.com/

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