Friday 23 February 2024

My MI-free and BoP-free make up wishlist

Okay, very niche post but I'm sure there will be other people stuck in the same position as me: just been diagnosed with weird allergies, not sure where to go from here, and feeling frustrated. I recently had some patch testing done on the NHS and it came up with two main allergies. These are methylisothiazolinone and Balsam of Peru, and these two pesky things are in a lot of make up and beauty/personal care products - and I mean a lot! I've been using the SkinSAFE app/site to scan and search products to see if they contain either of these allergens. The app is really useful and I will do a whole post about it at some point, but for now here's my MI-free and Balsam of Peru-free make up wishlist!

I've tried to put together a full face of make up for those with a methylisothiazolinone allergy, which encompasses a range of brands. So none of these products contain Balsam of Peru or methylisothiazolinone, meaning they are 'safe for me' and hopefully for those of you reading this blog post who share my silly little allergies!

MI-free face make up

For primer I opted for the NYX Angel Veil - the primer I was using isn't safe, but this one is. I've not heard much about it, but I'm definitely going to try it as I find primer to be an absolute necessity for wearing make up with my dry skin. It's more of a nice budget option too, as a lot of MI-free make up is from high end brands.

For foundation I've chosen the Clinique Beyond Perfection Foundation & Concealer, which I've heard very good things about. I don't think I've ever tried any Clinique make up before, not off the top of my head anyway, and this looks like a really lovely foundation. It's high end, but then again I've always found I get on better with more expensive foundations. Just the way it is!

I need a concealer too, and Bobbi Brown have quite a lot of MI-free make up including their Skin Full Cover Concealer - it's £30 which is a bit 'yikes' but they have loads of shades and also it's supposed to be really full coverage, as the name suggests.

For both bronzer and blusher I've opted for Charlotte Tilbury, which is a favourite brand of mine anyway. The bronzer looks a lovely cool tone, so it's perfect for contouring, and the blushers are just really nice - I do already have one of these, but it's a few years old so definitely needs replacing. Of course, they're on the pricier side: but they do last a long time!

I've popped in a really budget-friendly highlighter, which is this £4 Revolution 'highlight reloaded'. I adore this champagne shade, which (I've learned over time) this is definitely the highlight colour that tends to suit me best and work with my skin tone. Loveeeee.

MI-free eye & lip make up

I don't wear eyeliner and I've absolutely forgotten to include a brow product, but for mascara I've gone for the Benefit Bad Gal Bang Waterproof Mascara. Another higher end option, but I've heard great things about it and there aren't loads of MI-free mascaras available in the UK.

In terms of eyeshadow, I found that a few of the palettes I own are actually safe and MI-free, which is great! But I wanted to include one here, and I've opted for the Nude Mood palette from ColourPop - a brand I've used and enjoyed in the past. This is a nice small palette so it would be great for travel, too, and I like that there's a mix of mattes and shimmers. These are around £22 to buy in the UK but if you're planning a trip to the USA, you can grab them for about $14 over there.

Finally I've added in a lip product, and this is the the Fenty Beauty Stunna Lip Paint in the shade Uncuffed, which is definitely my kind of nudey pink shade. I've tried some Fenty products in the past and really liked them, although these lipsticks are £22 (!!) which is a bit pricey...

And there you have it - a full face of MI-free and Balsam of Peru (BOP)-free make up. If you've tried any of these products let me know, or if you have a BOP or methylisothiazolinone allergy then let me know *your* favourite products in the comments below.

Thursday 15 February 2024

Pod 39, New York City | Hotel Review

When it comes to hotels in New York, space is a premium - the bigger the room, the pricier it is to stay there and believe me, the prices shoot up quickly. We booked our NYC trip through LoveHolidays and I really wanted a fairly central location, especially one that would be easy to get to from the airport! After looking at a few different options and areas, we settled on Pod 39 Hotel New York, and I'll talk you through our thoughts today...

Where is Pod 39, New York?

Pod 39 is located on East 39th street, around a 5-7 minute walk from Grand Central Station New York. This is in Midtown Manhattan, and within easy-ish walking distance of Fifth Ave and Times Square, and all of the iconic landmarks/places within those areas. We genuinely couldn't have been happier with the location of the hotel, especially for the price.

Pod 39, New York: first impressions

We arrived at the hotel at around 7.30pm after travelling all day, and checked in at the desk where we had to pay around $100 in fees/security deposit. We were told we would get some of this back as it was just a deposit, and as yet we haven't received it so I have chased the hotel on this. I wish I'd paid more attention to the breakdown of what was a resort fee and what was the deposit, but alas I was knackered. 

The foyer area was bright and modern with plenty of leaflets and info re: things to do in New York, sofas to sit on, a concierge desk, and iPads on the wall which were free to use. We could also see that there was a bar/lounge space with a pool table, but more on that later...

We were on the 5th floor, so we got in the lift and headed on up. I'd booked us a 'full room' and I was aware that it would be small... and boy, was it small. Inside there was a small desk along the wall with plug sockets, and opposite this was around 4 hooks for clothes/coats. There was a double bed, which did have drawer space underneath it, and a shelf next to the bed with a lamp on it. The bathroom was around 1ft away from the bed, with a frosted glass wall, and the bathroom itself was spacious enough with toilet, sink and shower as well as a long ledge to store cosmetics etc on. 

Now, when I say the room is basic it's BASIC - and on first impressions, I was a bit worried that we might have to book somewhere else as it just looked to tired and a bit grim. The door is made of a grey metal, which gives it a prison vibe and is notoriously hard to clean so it was covered in weird marks. The walls were a bit scruffy, too, and the heating (much needed) was SO loud. 

Pod 39 NYC: what did we really think?

So our first impressions of the room itself weren't the best. But we woke up feeling okay - the bed wasn't the comfiest and the window was right above our heads with a draught coming through; our room was right next to the lifts, so it was fairly noisy too. However, we then went out for the day and only came back to rest our feet for an hour then back again to sleep, and do it all over again. So we just weren't in the room that much, and that's the key thing about budget hotels in New York: you're only in the hotel to sleep as there is so much to see and do in the city.

Now, the good stuff: we had daily housekeeping, which is a rarity post-Covid, with the bed always made perfectly and fresh towels every day. The shower was really powerful and hot, and there was always enough loo roll - the bathroom had soap, shower gel and shampoo too. Storage might have seemed lacking at first but we had enough space to store our bags, so we just lived out of these for the 4 days.

There was heating and a TV in the room, and it felt perfectly safe. It wasn't overly dirty, just a bit tired and scruffy as many of the hotels in the city are. Yes it's small, but it was everything we needed for a busy American city break. In the warmer months you can take advantage of the rooftop bar, but it was closed because of the weather while we were there - understandably! We did go up and peek through the windows, and the view looks like it'd be great.

We did, however, get to experience the Allerton Club downstairs. In the morning, the lounge area has FREE tea, coffee, and iced water; you can purchase bagels, pastries, muffins and more. There are tables, chairs, comfy sofas, giant screens, and it is warm. This space also has the pool table, a foosball table, and other games. It also leads into the bar, which serves cocktails and beer and some really delicious food - we had the smash burgers, and they were lush; you get 25% off your bill here when you're staying at Pod 39 Manhattan, so we were thrilled with that.

All in all: the location is spot on, the rooms are basic but have everything you need, and at the end of the day we only paid £324 between the two of us for 4 nights. That's £40pppn, which is a bargain for anywhere let alone New York! So would we recommend it? Yes, I think we would, you just have to know that the rooms are not glamorous.

PS, apologies for the lack of photos of the room - with it being so small it just looked constantly messy. The below photo (stolen from Yelp) is the room we stayed in, and gives you an idea of the size...

Thursday 1 February 2024

My experience with allergy patch testing on the NHS

If you know me or were around during my frequent beauty blogging days then you might know I am a lifelong eczema sufferer. This year I was finally able to get some allergy patch testing done on the NHS, and I thought I'd share my experience with you in case it's something you have coming up or are curious about.

Appointment number 1!

How did I get patch testing on the NHS?

I have had several dermatology referrals over the years, but my most recent referral was around 2 years ago. I had been back and forth to the GP after regular flare ups, and was incredibly frustrated with the state of my red, itchy, dry and flaky skin. I had to wait until January 2024 for my appointment, which is a long time but not as long as others have had to wait. Small mercies!

When I visited the dermatologist, she prescribed a different steroid for my body eczema as well as a new emollient and also Protopic for my facial flares. She also told me to start taking vitamin D (as everyone in the UK should, especially during winter) and referred me for blood tests and patch testing. The bloods are to check my thyroid function, as this can impact your skin.

I then received three appointments for my patch testing at the hospital, spaced a couple of days apart.

Why do you have three appointments for patch testing?

Patch tests are split into three appointments - for me these were a Wednesday, Friday, and Monday. The first appointment is for the patches to be applied, all over your back and on the tops of your arms if need be, by a nurse. You then return to the second appointment where the nurse will remove the patches and make a note of which allergens you have reacted to - it's a complex grid system but they know exactly what they're doing! My first appointment lasted around 20 minutes, and I was out within about 10 minutes getting them taken off at my second patch testing appointment.

When they'd just been put on VS when they'd just been taken off

The letter had told me to bring the products I use with me, which I did (haircare, skincare, eczema creams etc) but at the appointments they didn't ask to see them or test them or anything.

Side note: I had roughly 141 allergens tested; I was told most people have around 54 common allergens tested, but they did a lot of cosmetics and medication for me on top of those.

The third appointment typically lasts a lot longer - this is when the dermatologist will 'read your back' and discuss with you what you have reacted to, what that means, how to avoid it and so on. They will give you printed information about each of your allergens which include common places they're found as well as other names for each one so you can be really informed of what to look for. At this appointment she did ask me about the products I use, but not in any great depth.

Is allergy patch testing painful?

The tests don't hurt at all, at least in my experience. They are, however, very annoying - mine covered my whole back and both arms, and they're stuck down with a tape which can be itchy/irritating even if you're not actually allergic to that. And then of course, if you have a reaction then that's likely to be annoying and itchy. I had four reactions, and one in particular was very red and angry looking as well as very itchy.

Side note: you're not allowed to get your back wet until your third appointment. This meant I showered Wednesday morning and then couldn't do so again 'til Monday evening when I got back from the hospital - which is gross and obviously uncomfortable, because a sink wash doesn't really cut it.

What were my allergens?

In case you're nosey like me, these were my allergens:

Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone (MI/MCI) - this is my most severe allergy!
Balsam of Peru - this is used in a lot of fragrances

MI and MCI have actually been banned in 'leave on' products such as moisturiser and sunscreen, as it is quite a common allergy found through patch tests. It is still found it cleansers, shampoos, shower gel and so on. Balsam of Peru, however, is in absolutely bloody everything. The other two are much less common.

An example of the print out you're given by the dermatologist

I have been using both the Yuka and SkinSAFE apps to scan and search products to see if they contain my allergens. Yuka definitely shows MI in the ingredients, but doesn't seem to show when BoP is present. SkinSAFE, however, has a BoP Free filter - but it is American, so I'm not 100% sure if the product ingredients are different in the UK. I'm erring on the side of caution, for sure...

I think that's everything I have to tell you about patch testing for allergies on the NHS but if you have any questions I will of course be more than happy to answer them! Stay tuned to see how I get on with cutting out all of the products in my life that have these allergens in.

Monday 29 January 2024

The best FREE things we did in NYC (January 2024)

We recently got back from New York City, where we spent 4 days having a blast and cramming as much in as possible. And a lot of what we did was actually completely FREE! We genuinely didn't spend a lot of money at all in NYC, so if you're looking for free things to do in New York then keep on reading...

The first *thing* we did was visit Times Square at night, just after we arrived. It was -8 and FREEEEZING but of course, an iconic place to visit with all the lights and billboards. We also went back during the day on our last day, when we managed to spot the famous Naked Cowboy! As it was January, the quietest time to visit apparently, we were really lucky that there were zero crowds here.

Times Square

On our first full day, we kicked things off with a visit to the Rockerfeller and NBC studios to see them record the Kelly Clarkson Show - wow, what an experience. I had requested tickets in advance online through and was over the moon to be successful. I believe you can get them on the day as well, but I didn't want to risk it... honestly this was amazing, seeing the behind the scenes of how a talk show is filmed, and of course seeing Kelly Clarkson up close. What a babe she is.

The Rockerfeller Center & Kelly Clarkson Show

New York Public Library is somewhere I've always wanted to visit, and they currently have a Treasures exhibition on which includes things like an original copy of Shakespeare's First Folio (and you know how much I love Shakespeare...) as well as Christopher Robin's actual teddies AND the Declaration of Independence, which if course I wanted to see thanks to my obsession with National Treasure. This was truly fantastic and I'd definitely recommend if you're looking for free NYC activities.

The free Treasures exhibit at the library

Following on in terms of National Treasure, we also visited Trinity Church - this is the church where they find the treasure in the film, and I was thrilled to see it IRL and head inside to pretend to be Ben Gates. It's in the Wall Street area, and the graveyard attached is where Alexander Hamilton is buried. Unfortunately we couldn't see it because of all the snow, but I believe you're allowed into the area when the weather is better.

Trinity Church and the 9/11 Memorial

The 9/11 memorial is completely free, but it's worth noting that it was mostly cordoned off when we were there due to bad weather. This is definitely something to bear in mind, as we could only access a small portion of it. But it's of course very worth seeing!

We visited two parks - Bryant Park, and of course Central Park. Bryant Park was underwhelming because it was mostly covered by the Winter Village and ice rink, but I loved it when I visited in the Spring with my family. Central Park, however, was wonderful because it was snowinggg. We had a lovely long walk and saw both the Friends fountain and the John Lennon 'Imagine' mosaic, as well as the lake and some other beautiful landmarks.

Central Park and Bryant Park

Of course we wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, and we opted for the FREE Staten Island Ferry - you don't need to book in advance, just turn up and avoid the people in blue jackets trying to sell you a sightseeing cruise who will tell you that you can't see the statue from the ferry. You absolutely can, with great views, and there's plenty of indoor seating. Hands down this is one of the best free things to do in New York City, as it's so famous.

The FREE Staten Island Ferry

We also went to Brooklyn on our last day, by which point our subway rides were free (the cost is capped at $34 in a 7 day period and we definitely got our money's worth!!) - we didn't walk across the bridge but instead went to Dumbo for that iconic view, and a wander 'round the Time Out Market.

Dumbo & Grand Central Terminal

Macy's Wooden Elevator and the Roosevelt Island Tram

Some other free highlights included Macy's and the wooden elevator, mooching around Target, Grand Central Terminal and the Roosevelt Island tram, which again is included in your subway rides so is kind of free but only $2.90 otherwise! You really don't have to spend a lot, as there so many free things to do in New York.

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Everywhere we travelled to in 2023

2023 was a great year for travel, both in the UK and abroad, and I couldn't resist putting together a round up of everywhere we visited - where we stayed, what we'd recommend, and so on! Without further ado, let's go...

Kraków and Zakopane, Poland

I absolutely adore Poland, as you might know if you're a regular blog reader, and I was so excited to visit with Kate (my now-fiancée!) in January. It was cold but not too cold, and I didn't think it was super busy either. Kraków is definitely a lot more expensive than it was when I first started travelling to Poland, as it's much more of a tourist destination now, but you can still have a brilliant time without spending a lot. We stayed in the Podgórze area, and it only took a few minutes by tram to reach the old square.

Our highlights from Kraków itself on this trip included the Be Happy Museum, visiting the Salt Mines, our date night dinner at the beautiful Nova in the Jewish Quarter, and for me just being back in Poland! I also enjoyed just really taking it slow, as I've been so many times I didn't feel the need to cram everything in. 

We also took a day trip to Zakopane (on a Flixbus, which as always I highly recommend) which was a brilliant day. Zakopane itself doesn't have tons to do if you're just visiting as a DIY trip but I know you can do excellent organised excursions (like this one) which involve tastings, guided tours, thermal spas and more. I had instead opted for us to just go it alone and booked a cable car up Kasprowy Wierch, which is a beautifully snowy mountain in a gorgeous ski resort. We had to get a taxi from Zakopane to the resort (and back) which was a bit confusing as we couldn't find any on the way back, at first, but otherwise it was an INCREDIBLE experience and one I'd highly recommend.

Sarandë, Albania

When Kate told me she'd seen some gorgeous footage of Albania on TikTok and could we go, my first thought was "yeah, right, absolutely not" because up until now, it's never been somewhere you associate with going on holiday. But the more I looked into it, the more I thought now is the time to go before the boom - and before the price shoots up. So we did.

We travelled via Corfu, getting a ferry across to Sarandë itself, and stayed in a little apartment up approximately 4 million steps. It was gorgeous; we had good weather, incredible food, beautiful days out... everyone we met was charming, friendly, helpful and just so lovely. I'd definitely add it to your to-visit list.

Personal highlights include the Blue Eye and Gjirokaster (both of which we visited on a tour with Albania Minivans Tours, who are amazing) as well as Butrint National Park. Kate would also give a shout out to how good the seafood is in this part of Albania!

Corfu Town, Greece

We tacked a couple of days in Corfu Town onto our Albania trip, on the way home, to celebrate Kate's birthday. We stayed in a sweet little apartment around a 10 minute walk from the old town area, and we just did plenty of chilling and a bit of exploring - we went to the old fortress, walked along the promenade area, and wandered through the beautiful little streets. It was HOT and this was only May, so bear that one in mind...

Llangollen, Wales

What a special trip this was - we absolutely love Llangollen anyway, but we got engaged during this trip so it was even more magical. Especially when all our family & friends were there to meet us! We stayed at the Hand Hotel which we didn't love but certainly isn't a bad option, and we of course ate at the Corn Mill which was absolutely incredible as always. Highly recommend a trip on the steam train, obviously, with afternoon tea if you fancy it.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Last year I won a £500 easyJet voucher, and I couldn't decide where to go with it - we eventually settled on Copenhagen, given that it can be a really expensive place to visit. So with the bulk of the holiday itself paid for by the voucher, it made sense! We really liked Copenhagen, a lot more than I was expecting actually. We missed out on Tivoli Gardens by a day, so definitely check the opening dates for that, but we absolutely loved walking the beautiful streets, seeing Nyhavn, visiting the pandas in the zoo and of course, my sea plane ride. top tip is to take advantage of the 7/11 or street food to really bring the cost of this trip down. Also, their public transport system is incredible!

Malmö, Sweden

In my bid to tick off 30 countries before I turn 30, we decided to do a day trip to Malmö in Sweden during our time in Copenhagen. I'd read plenty of people say it wasn't worth it, but I wanted to decide for myself... and sadly, they were right. We just felt like there was very little to actually see or do, but we did have some amazing Swedish meatballs so it wasn't all bad! And crossing Europe's second longest road-and-rail-combined bridge was a pretty cool experience... PS, we used Flixbus again.

Mallorca, Spain

We booked this all inclusive as a chance to literally do nothing for a week, but we quickly realised that 'doing nothing' isn't really for us. It was nice to relax but we did find ourselves a bit bored, and there were way too many kids for our liking. Also, it was very clearly a budget hotel - watered down drinks, really not very nice food, tired surroundings and so on. But we had decent weather overall, and did a nice little trip to Porto Cristo as well as a trip on the mini tourist train.

Stratford-upon-Avon, England

Our last trip of the year was a UK-mini break to the gorgeous Stratford-upon-Avon. I'd been invited to a review the Indigo Hotel there, and as it's somewhere I've always wanted to go I literally jumped at the chance. It's such a stunning location and we found there was loads to do, especially if (like me) you're into Shakespeare. Really easy to get to by train, too, and just overall a wonderful way to wrap up an amazing year of travels. Highly recommend the gin distillery, the RSC, the butterfly farm and the Woodsman restaurant as well as the Shakespeare walking tour.

What a year of travels! Let me know in the comments the best place you visited this year...