A Hair Above: Combs To Love

Last week, as I began paring down my belongings in preparation for an across-the-ocean move, I looked at my hairbrush with fresh scrutiny. The castoff of an egomaniacal, long-haired ex, it’s a hulking hot pink thing with lime green bristle tips. It's lasted through five moves and three states. While it does the job, the brush remains so profoundly ugly I’ve always hidden it in a drawer. And so, in a fit of de-cluttering, I tossed it.

But finding a sleek, smaller replacement wasn’t as easy as I expected. Every hairbrush at the drugstore promised something different—from a battery powered ionic generator (??) to patented frizzocontrol technology to obscenely high numbers of boar bristles. After considering Googling “how many boar bristles is too many?” I gave up and bought a comb.

My hair dries straight and relatively untangled, so a comb has never been part of my regimen. After handing over a Hamilton for my little Swissco number, I feel straight out of Little House on the Prairie, waiting for Pa to hitch up the wagon and make a Starbucks run. Sure, they didn’t have plastic then, but whatever. It’s a feeling.

A nice comb is the kind of thing our grandmothers had as younger women, and are probably still using; it’s an elevated essential worth investing in. Mason Pearson, makers of cult classic hairbrushes, also have a line of combs priced between $21 and $30. They're handcrafted in Switzerland and each tooth is cut one by one. On a 75 tooth comb, that's a lot of work.

For those who favor metal combs, the alliterative Chicago Comb Co. makes a number of luxe options ($35 to $55) that can be engraved—at no extra cost!!—with names, initials or short messages. Be warned, they use an antique engraving set lacking the number sign, so #badhairday is out. Aerin offers their golden comb in a handy travel size ($32), for those planning to ride off into the sunset in the back of an Uber with the hunky founder of a mattress startup...or something. Personally, I'm partial to the ivory-colored alternative.

Whenever I catch the newest member of my grooming crew sitting atop my dresser, I really do appreciate its simple beauty. Then I wonder why I kept that hideous pink monster around for so long.

Photos by Tom Newton

Put your new comb to good use with an extreme side part.

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Steam Your Way To Clearer Skin

Whenever I get an especially fat paycheck (happens almost never), I throw all financial prudence to the wind and buy myself a treat. I bought a boiled wool sleeveless coat in the dead of winter. This spring, I treated myself to a facial uptown. I went to the same place I'd been six years before—where I bowed prostrate before my mother, begging for a facial to combat my teenage acne. When I returned a few months ago, I just so happened to have the same aesthetician, Dasha.

Per usual, Dasha had me lie down and aimed an interrogation light at my face. But instead of examining my skin, she started texting. “My mother is here visiting me for the first time, and she’s lost in Brighton Beach,” she said apologetically. “She doesn’t speak a word of English. But somehow, she keeps calling from strangers' cell phones, and I try to direct her home. I think she'll figure it out this time, but I may have to take another call.” She gave my face a once over and turned on the steamer. Then her phone started ringing, and she scrambled up to answer it, the door clicking shut behind her. A minute passed, then a few more. After a while, I began to wonder if a layer of my face would just steam right off.

Finally, Dasha burst back in, yanked the steaming device away from my face and began giving me the latest update. The call had come from a concerned contractor, who was overseeing construction near her building and agreed to drop Dasha’s mom off at home. “This could be my future husband!” she sing-songed, explaining how she was going to drop off a bottle of vodka as a thank you/pretense to meet him. “And YOU can be the flower girl,” she said triumphantly, beginning to extract blackheads.

The rest of our time together was uneventful, but I’ve been thinking about the benefits of steaming ever since. Without a high-powered steaming device, it seemed like a boost was necessary. I found that boost in the way of floral facial steaming mixes, which you can buy from any brand with two natural sounding words connected by a conjunction or—more likely—a plus sign.

I tried Mullein & Sparrow’s mix first. I boiled a few cups of water and added a handful of flower petals, miniature sticks, and herb thingies. After it steeped for five minutes, I put the pot on the floor, wriggled myself into a modified child’s pose with a bath towel over my head and began to enjoy the benefits. For many beauty products that contain herbs and flower extracts, it’s less a case of seeing-is-believing and more one of fingers-crossed-there’s-actually-a-sufficient-amount-in-here. With facial steams, that’s not a problem, as you spend 10 minutes staring into a dense, petal-y mixture. Afterward, my skin felt dewy and clear.

A week later, I tried Fig + Yarrow’s Summer Herbal Steam after a really stressful day. It includes dried hibiscus, sunflower, and clover; doing something good for my skin that’s also de-stressing is a pretty winning combo in my book. FYI, whatever product you put on after a steam is able to penetrate much deeper. So after steaming, I used a clean makeup brush to apply moisturizer—a tip I picked up from none other than Dasha herself, who said it stimulates the skin, and you don’t lose any product to your fingers.

Since then, I’ve incorporated facial steams into my regular routine; I do one whenever my skin looks particularly dull or when a hormonal-induced breakout is imminent. When it gets colder, I imagine I might up the frequency to once a week or so. I found you need a bit less of Copper + Sage’s Ginger + Cornflower Facial Steam, so it works well for frequent use. As someone who detests potpourri, I was initially skeptical of these dried-flower mixes, but I’m now of the opinion that they rival a good face mask and smell nothing like my great aunt’s sweaters. The only problem is that you can’t take a cell phone into your steam tent, so no selfies allowed—but maybe that's also a good thing.

—Alex Ronan

Photographed by ITG.

Amy Sedaris swears by a laxative facial steam. Seriously. Read why in her Top ShelfRead more from Water Week here.

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What To Use When You Don’t Have AC

There are two kinds of New Yorkers: Those who flee with the first sign of summer and those who claim the empty—albeit muggy—season is the city’s best. The first group is lucky; the latter is lying. I work from home, where the dinner table is my desk. This arrangement was particularly advantageous during the polar vortex and the ensuing weeks of bone-chilling cold. My roommate would trudge off positively miserable, and I’d be sitting in my pajamas, smugly chomping on toast and checking Twitter. After a midday nap (a habit that got completely out of control and had to be curtailed), I’d luxuriate in the weather updates from beneath my quilt before heading back to my “office.”

The tables, as they say, have turned. There is no sweater tucked lovingly in my desk drawer, no commiserating about the corporate-induced cold with coworkers; it’s just me, compulsively watering my plants, beginning to melt. Watching my roommate head to her office/human freezer every day inspires nothing but jealously.

Even though it hasn’t even gotten that hot (yet), I’ve already ironed out my AC-free beauty routine. It’s the only comfort I take as I prepare for weeks of looking and feeling like a human slug.

When it comes to where to source your products, I’m more inclined to trust what’s coming out of places where it’s actually an issue. That’s what got me to try LA-based Odacité's Clair de Lune duo comprised of their Revitalizing Mist and Radiance Serum. I will not get out of bed before spraying the aloe and rose mist. OK, fine, that and checking my email.

The heat makes my non-morning-personhood even more pronounced, so I’ve switched to Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Bar Soap in the shower. It's quick, it's cooling, and it smells good—an important note when you want to avoid using too much deodorant (natural stuff doesn't always work, but antiperspirant just seems like a terrible idea most of the time). I’d rather sweat than feel like my pores are all blocked up.

Still damp from the shower, I massage a few drops of Odacité's Clair de Lune serum, skip moisturizing, and dab on Indie Lee’s Blemish Stick as needed. Next, I add a thin layer of Sunday Riley’s Effortless Breathable Tinted Primer. At this point, sunscreen is the most necessarily, but it's also the last thing I want to put on my face. That being said, I really do care about protecting my skin because I tend to burn easily. The Sulwhasoo Perfecting Cushion Foundation Compact feels like a good compromise. It’s super light but has SPF 50, so with a few swipes from the space-age sponge, I don’t feel the need to hold a magazine over my head as I sprint across the street from one shaded corner to another.

At night, I don’t really want much of anything on my face, but I do think the instinct to let it breathe needs to be tempered by the fact that humidity, sun exposure, and grime do a number on the skin. I’m all about being supportive without going to bed covered in goop. I soak two round cotton pads in Dr. Hauschka’s Eye Revive and let them sit on my eyes while my roommate gives me the update on her day. Once a week, I'll add Mario Badescu’s Silver Powder to combat subway air-clogged pores.

Nothing in my medicine cabinet makes me happier to see than Herbivore’s Lapis Facial Oil. I might be inclined to keep this beautifully bottled blue-green stuff for looks alone, but it also happens to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties thanks to the azulene.

Before bed, I track down my Odacité Aloe and Immortelle Refreshing Toner Mist, which has usually migrated from my bedside table to my workstation. I return the herbaceous spray to its rightful spot of honor next to my cell phone and whatever I’m reading. Then I hit the lights and dream about what it would be like to have my own AC.

—Alex Ronan

Photographed by Tom Newton. When you do sweat, make sure you have some wipes readily available.

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