Photo: Courtesy of Carolyn Hsu
What do real brides have to say about the wedding planning experience? Well, it's not all happy tears at the bridal boutique and indulgent cake tastings. Over the next two months, guest blogger Carolyn Hsu, Founder of The Hsu Closet and Managing Editor at Makeup.com, will share the ins and outs of planning a New York City wedding, picking the perfect venue, crafting a day-of beauty look and finding inspiration in the strangest of places.
When I first started planning my wedding, I, like most brides, quickly realized there was a lot to learn about the world of weddings! For example, what's the difference between a florist and a floral designer? (More on that in a future post!) As a long time beauty editor, however, I knew that there was at least one place where I had a head start—my years and years of interviewing makeup artists, hair dressers and dermatologists, trying products, and advising others on how to look their best was about to pay off in a really big way. I had amassed a fair amount of beauty knowledge already, but whatever I didn't know, I had access to some of the best expert resources around to ask (all in the name of work research, of course). Here is what I discovered:
1. Know your skin.
I really can't stress this enough—in order to look your best on your big day, you have to know what works and doesn't work for you so you don't accidentally use a product that causes you to break out or have other adverse reactions. Through my years of trying beauty products, I've too often experienced the "but I reallllllyyyy want to like this" feeling, followed by "if I try this again, maybe it'll start working for me" thought. The lesson, as I learned is just "no." If you know a particular brand, or ingredient, or texture doesn't jive with your skin, do not be swayed into trying it before your wedding—it will still not work and it will give you extra hassles to worry about.
My advice is to find out as early on as possible what works for your skin and stick to it.
If you have sensitive skin, steer clear of anything with fragrances or harsh ingredients—I'm a big fan of products from Dermalogica, Simple Skincare, and La Roche Posay. If you have dry skin or are getting married in the cooler months, look for products that contain ceramide, an ingredient that helps your skin to keep moisture from escaping—I love Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream, CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion, and Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Capsules. For oilier or combination skin (that's me!), stick to a lighter product and don't be afraid to use two different products—one for oilier parts and one for dryer parts. I love Kiehl's Skin Rescuer, which has an added benefit of helping reduce visible signs of stress on skin. If you have more delicate or mature skin, go for a really high tech product, such ones from Algenist, La Prairie, or Skinceuticals, which have potent anti-aging ingredients. And if you prefer green or natural products, check out the products from Joanna Vargas—they are some of the best that I've ever tried.
2. Sunscreen all day, every day + Antioxidants.
The number one piece of advice from every dermatologist I've ever talked to is that applying sunscreen that protects both against UVA and UVB rays daily is the best thing you can do for your skin. You probably already know that...but if you really want to get serious about your skincare for the ultimate glowing complexion, also add an antioxidant serum into your regime. Not only will antioxidants boost the effectiveness of your sunscreen, it protects skin in other ways and helps to reverse damage that has already been done. Two common forms of antioxidants are Vitamin C and Vitamin E and as it turns out, they're even more effective when used together. My favorite antioxidant products are Skinceuticals CE Ferulic and Dr. Dennis Gross Hydra-Pure Antioxidant Firming Serum.
3. Exfoliate, but not too much.
Exfoliating is the one thing that I know I should do, but that I don't always make the time. Leading up to your wedding however, proper exfoliation is key to keeping skin looking youthful and radiant. Don't overdo it by going for a harsh scrub—keep it to something gentle such as Pro Therapy MD Gentle Skin Polishing Exfoliator or Peter Thomas Roth Peeling Gel Exfoliant and use it a few times a week. Results from using an exfoliator regularly is cumulative and you'll see the pay off in the long run.
When it comes to body exfoliation (my backless wedding dress makes it a necessity)—I don't know about you, but scrubbing my own back in the shower is not my forte. This beauty treatment is best left to the pros. You have two options here—you can go to a spa that offers a body polish or you can get a little adventurous and go for a full on Korean body scrub. I tried both. A few months before my wedding, I went to the Cornelia Spa at The Surrey for a purifying back treatment that included full on pore extractions and a soothing back masque. A pampering treatment like this one is a good option if you want to relax before your big day. However, being the curious beauty explorer that I am, I also booked myself a traditional Korean body scrub (offered at most Asian day spas), which involved laying completely naked on a treatment bed and getting every square inch of your body scrubbed with a mitt until no more dead skin comes off. Sound intense? It is—and not the best option for the shy, but the results—baby soft, glowing skin from top to bottom—are completely worth it. Whichever option you choose, book your final body exfoliation treatment about a week in advance of your wedding so your skin has time to recover from any irritation or redness but the results are still at their peak.
4. Find a makeup artist who understands what "natural but better" means for you.
Every bride wants to look like the best version of herself on her wedding day, and the trick is to find a makeup artist who understands your facial structure and how to highlight your best features. I decided to go with a former colleague and friend of mine, Margaux Zion, who is also a phenomenal makeup artist. Since we worked together daily for almost a year, she was already familiar with how I liked to wear my makeup. She's also very passionate about makeup and knows her products inside and out which is a huge plus. When you're interviewing makeup artists, be sure to ask them what they think your best features are and how to highlight them as well as bring a few photos of how you usually do your makeup to go to work or go out so they can get a sense of your natural style. If there's anything you want "corrected"—for me, it was contouring to slim my face—let them know and ask to see previous work where they've done that particular technique. Clear communication and visuals are key.
While you should be very clear with what you want, also be open to listening to the artist's expertise. For example, I absolutely love a red lipstick and how glamorous the perfect crimson can look. Margaux, however, deterred me from going down that route—not good for eating or kissing, she advised. "Your wedding is not the time to go for high maintenance makeup."
5. Know what you want but be open to change.
For as long as I can remember, I've been convinced that my hair looks better down with romantic waves as opposed to an updo. So when it came to wedding hair, I knew that's how I was going to wear it—down with loose curls. After I picked my dress however, I realized that the intricate and somewhat unusual neckline required that my hair be pulled back in order to properly show it off. In fact, my ideal down-do just looked completely wrong with the gown! Needless to say, some flexibility was needed on my part to part with my dream hair. In the end, I decided to go with a low chignon that still give a little bit of length to the updo but opened up the neck and shoulder area. I realized that what I liked about that whole loose 'do was the natural volume and the way hair softly framed my face. Knowing that, I was able to have my talented stylist at the John Barret Salon recreate the effect by not pulling the hair too tight to the scalp and leaving a couple soft waves out to frame the face.
6. Time your treatments.
Most brides will want to invest in some professional treatments right before their wedding whether it's brow shaping, waxing, facial, teeth whitening, etc. In addition to the body scrub, I had three other big ones: hair removal, facial for some last minute skin help, and teeth whitening. As you know from my exfoliation experience, I'm pretty adventurous when it comes to beauty, so I used my wedding as an excuse to invest in some treatments that I always wanted to get.
First up, laser hair removal. After countless waxes, I decided that it was time to rid my body of those pesky hairs once and for all (or at least for a few years at a time). Turns out, many brides opt to laser their underarms before their big day for smooth, worry-free skin. My go-to place in the city is Beam Laser Spa, a boutique spa run by two Brazilian sisters, whom I became friends with during the course of my treatments. While I love a deal as much as the next person, laser hair removal is not the place for that. Make sure you find a place that has state-of-the-art facilities and modern technology, and knowledgeable specialists that you trust and feel comfortable around. My specialist, Andrea Young, recommends starting underarm sessions about six to eight months before the wedding date to get full results which takes about six to twelve sessions. She also recommends doing the last session roughly two weeks before the wedding in case to give time for any redness to disappear. Didn't plan enough time for all those sessions? No worries—Young says that even if you do just one session 2 weeks before your wedding, you would still be completely hairless and smooth on the big day (it takes about 6 weeks for hair that hasn't been killed from the treatment to grow back).
Next, teeth whitening. Once again, I preferred a more permanent solution so I opted for an in-office Philips Zoom treatment which can drastically whiten teeth in just 45 minutes. Unlike laser hair removal treatments, this procedure should be scheduled a bit closer to your wedding day recommends Dr. Jeffrey Rappaport of Lavaan Dental Spa, where I went to get my treatment. "The ideal time is about one week before your wedding so that any sensitivity you may experience has completely disappeared and your smile is still at its brightest post treatment." If you're concerned about sensitivity, make sure you brush with a sensitive toothpaste starting about two weeks before your treatment.
Finally, the facial. This was one place where I was not willing to get too risky and I would recommend not trying anything new or extreme before your wedding. I went to Joanna Vargas, an aesthetician in the city who is known for her holistic approach to skincare for a maintenance facial—some extractions, a generous application of serum, and an oxygen mask can do wonders for your skin even if it's just a week out.
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