Moving 101: affordable finds at IKEA

Happy Friday! I’m usually not a morning person but I’m just happy we made it through another week. 😜

Those who follow me on Instagram know I’ve moved recently so I wanted to share some affordable finds we came across while trying to furnish our new home. I’m not an expert on home decor by any means, which you probably already know if we’ve talked about it, but it’s definitely something I’m curious and wanting to learn about (especially since moving). So far we’ve spent over $1000 in IKEA purchases over the past month and I figured at this point it’s worth a review 😅

1. TAGARP lamp: only $10.99 and it comes with a bulb inside. We replaced ours with a different bulb so it’s a softer, cooler light that also conserves a bit more energy. But the lamp itself does the job and it’s small so it would fit in compact spaces too. It’s also sturdier than I expected and much sturdier than another lamp we have that literally falls over if you walk past it 😂 (was also much pricier and bought elsewhere).

2. BUSA Tunnel: she loves this! Highly recommend for kids. And I’m not gonna lie, I’ve crawled inside it too LOL. It does take up a decent amount of space but it is also easy to fold up when needed. It can be used with the BUSA tent if you want a little extra. Only $14.99 for the tunnel which is cheaper than other brands I’ve seen. Check out my next Instagram post to see a photo of it folded up, which if you’ve seen my Instagram Stories, we occasionally use as a mini ball pit, lol.

3. LILL curtains: only $4.99! These are thin, sheer curtains but I love the lace look of them. Bought the rod, brackets and screws separately.

4. TIPHEDE rug: only $9.99. Recommended to use anti-slip layer underneath but they were OOS so we are using this in a carpeted room under the Nugget play set and slippage isn’t a problem so far. You can also see the “after” photo with this rug in the photo I mentioned above (https://www.instagram.com/p/CVDc9ymF9Nb/). The “before” photo of the Nugget just on our carpet without the rug is the cover photo of this post. I think the rug compliments it nicely; what about you?

5. BJÄRSEN (white) or NÄCKTEN (clear) shower curtain: only $1.99 and does the job. We’ve had similar curtains from elsewhere that ripped apart, but so far this one has been holding up okay. They have other shower curtains with designs that are affordable too, so we ended up using an ombré blue design for the outside and this clear curtain to line the inside of the tub. When my little one was smaller I preferred everything to be clear though, just so it’s easier to keep an eye out. The shower curtain rod we got at the same time kept falling at first so I probably wouldn’t repurchase here, but since then it’s holding up better. I also got a kneeling mat with storage that has been SO helpful for bath time but that’s from Amazon so let me know if you want to see that list. The main thing still missing in our guest bathroom (other than more storage/organization stuff) is nonslip tub stickers—we’ve gone through a few different kinds but can’t find one that the little one likes. Again I’ll save for the Amazon list though, lol.

6. ENUDDEN over the door hanger: Works great. Also better than similar hangers we got at Bed Bath & Beyond which was pricier and chipped the paint above our door so we ended up returning those for this.

7. GRUSNARV waterproof King mattress protector: it seems to do the job so far. We had issues with fit from other brands so I’m happy this one worked out. It’s a bargain at $24.99 for a King, and if you need a smaller size then the price goes down more. The kids size is $10 but kept going OOS (out of stock) locally and online.

Honorable mentions: $159 ALEX drawers (am I even a beauty blogger without one 😜) and $349 REGISSÖR cabinet (though I probably wouldn’t get this again since it’s high risk for a tip over—we secured it to the wall for this reason—and the wood was also damaged which staff later told me was common with this item). The cabinet ended up being a perfect way to store and display most of my crystals though. Lastly DRONA boxes: ended up returning these because of the smell. However for $3.99 a piece (might be a $1 less now too) they actually do work well IF you can get rid of the odor. Right now I’m looking for other storage cube options to put in our KALLAX shelves.

What do you think? Are there any others you would add? Would you like to see a list for other retailers like Target or Amazon? What about a holiday gift guide?

I’ve been asked for toy recommendations as well so I may put a list of that together too. Feel free to check out my Amazon lists (https://www.amazon.com/shop/explorebeautyxo) in the meantime, and message me on Instagram (https://instagram.com/ExploreBeautyXO) for any other requests!

I also have a new TikTok (https://vm.tiktok.com/ZM82UXfwD/) for more product reviews, unboxings, and sneak peeks for new launches! Speaking of which, there’s a ColourPop collection launching today so stay tuned for that.

Let me know what you would find helpful. Hope you’re having a fun October! 🎃🍁

One day itinerary in Chicago (& tips for traveling with a toddler!)

We are two and a half years into this pandemic, and travel is finally feeling more normal again.

I was nervous about flight delays and missing baggage being common nowadays but thankfully we didn’t have any of that. I think it helped to have an early flight because there were less people and less delayed flights before us. Adding AirTags to our luggage also helped.

This was my first time traveling by plane since the pandemic started, and my daughter’s first time ever on a plane. She was just a newborn when everything got shut down, and our travel plans for her first birthday (Turks and Caicos) ended up being cancelled. I was as excited as I was nervous about how flying with her for the first time would go. It definitely went better than I expected and I’ll share what worked for us in making it all go smoother.

We were in Chicago for a total of 4 days. The main reason we were going is for Lollapalooza, so we set aside one full day to see as much of Chicago as we could.

DAY 1

Boarding was at 4:30am so I left home to go to the airport with barely any sleep. Thankfully the little one slept longer which helped all of us. Happy baby, happy plane.

Our layover was in Vegas so our first flight only took an hour! I thought of booking direct flights at first but it ended up better to have shorter flights with layovers. Also I paid extra for early check-in, and we already had family boarding (priority boarding when traveling with a small child) so maybe it wasn’t really needed.

I packed a bag full of snacks and toys. The one she used the most was an activity book we got from Barnes and Noble, full of over 1000 stickers of Disney characters. She also played with fidget toys for a while, her favorite being a pink stretchy caterpillar that we got from the Target dollar section. Another Target dollar section find was Cocomelon play dough, which kept her amused way longer than I expected. It seems that sensory toys in general are best to take along. We also got “Wikki Stix” that she wasn’t as interested in, but might be an option if your kid is. Other toys I packed include Tegu magnetic blocks (their smallest set is perfectly travel sized), a small stuffed animal, and a matching card game from a Lovevery toy kit.

As a plan B, we also brought along an Amazon Fire tablet and downloaded offline games into it. Her favorite app is the PBS Kids Games since there are a ton of mini games you can pick from (we downloaded mostly the Sesame Street ones). She also played the Dentist game and the Doodle game for a while.

I had some kids shows/movies downloaded too as a plan C. Disney Plus and HBO Max had the best parental locks for a kids profile, while Netflix had no lock, and Hulu had no option of watching offline. Our plane had WiFi for watching free movies on a web browser but I couldn’t use it for other apps… it’s useful to check this ahead of time. I wanted to hold off on giving the tablet because once it was on, it can be hard to turn off without a meltdown at this age. At least it kept her busy while we spent the rest of the day waiting for the rental car… more on that in a bit.

Her ears hurt during takeoff and landing, so I made sure to offer a snack with water at those times. It also helped that we brought along her car seat (she sat on it on top of her plane seat). Even though it wasn’t convenient or easy to bring along, I think it was worth it to make her feel more secure. For reference we brought the Diono Radian and the travel bag made for it.

We landed around noon local time in Chicago and our car rental reservation was at 1pm so we went there right after. The place was packed with people not getting their car reservations and I spent hours standing in line to keep my spot. We were told to keep waiting and didn’t get the car until 5pm. Thankfully I packed food for the little one because at this point, it was past 12 hours since we got on the plane and I was starving.

We went straight to the hotel after getting the car because we needed to check in. It was outside the city, so we didn’t get in our room till around 6pm… the place we stayed at was another nightmare.

There were so many issues, from bugs to dirty linens to other things reminiscent of AHS: Hotel. The room was so tiny and so dirty. Even our toilet was messed up from the start, and we were told to wait while they sent someone to fix it. Two hours later, we told them we were going out for dinner and they could go into the room while we were out. They didn’t even try to fix it all night so in hindsight we should have left sooner for food.

We drove back to the city and spent the rest of the night at Navy Pier. Lots of food options to pick from, and on Saturdays they have fireworks too. That was really nice. We finally got to eat a little after 9pm, and decided to try Chicago-style hotdogs. The longest line was for Giordano’s (a franchise serving deep dish pizza) and thinking back I should have tried that too. We paid about $40 for parking a car, but if I came back I’d go during the day instead, possibly taking the bus/metro and walking. It was worth a visit though. Needless to say, Navy Pier was the highlight of our first day.

I couldn’t sleep at all that night because of how uncomfortable and dirty the room was. Thankfully we got clean (enough) sheets for the little one and she was able to fall asleep on the way back. We already prepaid for 4 days but it felt necessary to book another one for the rest of our stay.

DAY 2

Luckily after that first 24 hours, our trip got better! I was running on no sleep but I was hopeful for the new hotel. Got ready and wore our matching outfits. Stopped by Magnificent Mile so I could check us in, and we were finally headed to Lolla!

We had a stroller with us so walking into the festival was quicker than I expected! We waited in the Hulu popup line for a few hours, which in retrospect wasn’t too bad because it kept us mostly in the shade while the sun was out. Either way, make sure to stay hydrated! After, we made our way to the kids area called Kidzapalooza. My daughter got her first (airbrushed) tattoo and took some pictures before the kids section closed at 6pm. We even got to meet another mom and her son who was also an ARMY (BTS fan). It was so cute hearing him and my daughter talk about their favorites. After, we walked around the rest of the festival grounds and checked out all of the stages, then got some food before making our way back to the Bud Light stage near the entrance.

It was perfect timing. Around 9pm J-Hope (a member of BTS) was headlining and performing his solo album for the first time! We got there right before and laid a blanket down to watch. There was a lot of people near the front, so we stayed in the back just in case to keep the toddler safe. She was waving the light stick as if she was right in front of the stage. Also it was only 7pm in our usual time zone so she was wide awake and not cranky (adding this because people asked). Definitely helps to plan out schedules ahead of time when traveling with a kid.

We were happy to just be there in person. J-Hope is an amazing performer and that by itself was already worth the trip! As we were walking back to the car, we happened to see J-Hope and Jimin (another BTS member) on the other side of the gate leaving at the same time.

DAY 3

Sightseeing day!

After eating we made our way to Skydeck Chicago. It’s a glass balcony on top of the Willis Tower, offering amazing views of Chicago. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be! And my toddler was absolutely fearless, stepping out on the ledge and looking 103 floors down like it was nothing. You get to learn a bit about Chicago’s history as you make your way to the top and cute photo ops too, like a life-sized deep dish pizza you can lay down on! We got tickets ahead of time which I highly recommend; it was still busy on a Monday.

We got a bus pass for the day. It was great to explore and to avoid paying for parking at multiple places throughout the city. Public transportation seemed cleaner and fairly easy to take compared to Los Angeles. The only thing was that the schedule was inconsistent… we had 3 buses that didn’t show up at all towards the end of the day. So we ended up walking back to the hotel which luckily wasn’t too far from where we were at.

I only got the rental car for the trip because we originally planned to stay outside of the city, but if I could do it over, I would book a hotel in the city from the beginning and avoid a rental altogether. Also check if there’s a valet fee (per day) to park your car at the hotel if you do have one.

So back to the itinerary! It was a quick ride from Skydeck to the Bean aka The Cloud Gate. We walked around Millennium Park (there was a concert!) and Maggie Daley Park, where there is a ton of kids play areas. My daughter loved it there! This easily could take up your entire day, but we only stayed about an hour so we could leave around sunset.

We walked along the Chicago Riverwalk as we made our way back to the hotel. The last stop on the itinerary was a (free) nighttime Art show display at The Merchandise Mart, but we were exhausted at that point so we decided to skip it.

Instead we walked to get pizza near the hotel. Keep in mind that deep dish pizzas usually take at least an hour to make, so if I did it over I would just have gotten it delivered lol. The little one fell asleep in her stroller and was able to sleep through the night—running around that park definitely helped!

DAY 4

Our hotel came with free breakfast, so we went down to eat before checking out. Afterwards we drove around Magnificent Mile. We walked around the area the night before, but it was different during the day. It was nice seeing the stores open too!

For lunch we ate at Nutella Cafe. It’s located in The Loop, where we were the day before. Everything at the cafe was so delicious! We tried the Nutella croissant, Nutella waffle with hazelnuts and Nutella whipped cream, a double scoop of Nutella gelato, a Nutella popsicle, and Nutella creme brûlée. The Nutella biscuits were my favorite (should have gotten some to go!) but everything was really good. We waited about half an hour on a weekday.

After that we stopped by for some last minute shopping. We checked out the American Girl store and the Lego store next to it in the mall. My daughter got Gwynn, her first American Girl doll.

We headed to the airport after to return the rental and to check a bag with the stroller. I confirmed that everything was good with the car (made sure to return it at the same time we got it) and they assured me there wouldn’t be any extra charges. Surprise, surprise. They double charged me afterwards and now (two weeks later) I’m still disputing it with my credit card company. Lesson learned: don’t book a car with Budget. Anyway.

We had a layover in Denver so we didn’t get home until about 2 in the morning. My daughter played mostly with the activity/sticker book and the tablet on the plane rides home. I did have to hold her on the last flight when her ear was hurting but other than that, everything went really well and much better than I hoped. She loves flying now and is ready to travel more!

A few notes for making TSA checks easier. I packed the formula stuff (formula bottles, formula cans, bottle brush, and two water bottles) in a separate bag so it was easy for them to set aside and look over. There’s no limit on formula and baby food as those are considered medically necessary. I did email Lollapalooza ahead of time about formula and had her prescription ready to show. Be ready to take it out and be ready to take out the tablet if you bring one.

Also no limits on meds as long as you mark it separately; I put in a separate labeled quart-sized ziplock. Meds for her that I packed include Maty’s all natural baby chest rub, Genexa kids’ tummy relief, children’s Zyrtec, FeverFrida cool pads, colorful band aids, first aid/burn cream, alcohol prep pads, hydrocortisone cream (for bug bites), and a Bugables citronella bracelet. For myself I also packed Earplanes plugs, Dramamine tablets, TUMS, Advil, lavender balm for my migraine, and cough drops. That last one helped a lot because the dry air in the plane was bothering my throat.

Back home it helps to have Covid tests ready too. I tested after coming home and 5 days after our last time on the plane just to be safe. We are vaccinated (even the little one) and wore a mask most of the time we were on the plane. It seemed to help because I know so many that got sick on the trip (we didn’t end up being able to meet up with them in person though) and thankfully we made it through everything okay. I also brought vitamins and elderberry during the trip for an immune boost. Probably not all necessary but I was just trying to be extra cautious.

Other useful things to pack are headphones, sunscreen, dry shampoo, lotion, etc. Also packing dish soap for the little one’s bottles and cups helped a lot.

Check out my Insta to see what beauty items I packed! I brought along travel-sized skincare and haircare in a ziplock. For makeup I separated my liquid foundation, setting spray, brow gel, mascara, and liquid eyeliner into a ziplock.

Summary of sights we saw: Navy Pier, Skydeck/Willis Tower, The Loop: Cloud Gate/Millennium Park & Maggie Daley Park & Nutella Cafe, Magnificent Mile: American Girl store & other shopping.

Have you been to Chicago and is there anything you’d like to add? Did you take a summer trip, and are there any trips that you have planned?

5 year blogversary!

Going to preface this by saying that I last worked on this 2 weeks ago… then things got busy… and uh, this is a very rough draft but hopefully still a good read. Thank you everyone for sticking with me!

***

Community over competition. Quality over quantity. Love over fear.

5 years of this blog and honestly I wouldn’t change a thing. I appreciate everyone who has come and gone because this continues to be a safe space for me (and hopefully, you too)!

I frequently get asked for advice for those just starting out on social media/influencing/content creating. I’ve been thinking about this and came up with three parts I’d tell myself if I went back in time.

#1 – enjoy it.

Back in 2017, I had a rough year with my health getting worse and my career inevitably following suit. I was so burnt out in my field and struggling to repair the damage it did to my health. I had invested so much time, pretty much my entire 20s, trying and being an attorney that I didn’t know who I was outside of that. I was scared to take a break knowing it might mean the end of my career. I was scared to pivot into something else but I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I tried all I could until I couldn’t.

With all the uncertainty before me I hoped to bring a smile on someone else’s face even if I struggled to do it for myself. Find something within yourself that you truly love, because when you share that, it radiates and attracts more love.

Don’t be too stressed on reaching milestones (for example: 1K, 5K, 10K, etc.) that you forget to enjoy the incredible experiences along the way. Goals are one thing and another is the discomfort when learning new things seemingly from scratch. You’ll be putting in more hours than people would guess. It may not always be easy but at the end of the day, it should still feel like it’s worth it. A balance. A happiness.

I think success happens when you realize that you never had to prove yourself because you were amazing all along. Just recently I realized that I didn’t take the time to save photos from past shoots and past features because I was so busy powering through to the next goal. So many things looking back that I wish I had enjoyed more at the time.

#2 – stay grounded.

Some brands and some people might not appreciate you. And that’s okay. Because when something you want isn’t for you, it usually means that something even better than you planned for is on the way. Block if you need to. Protect your peace.

Algorithms and numbers don’t define you. Easier said than done, I know. I have those days where it gets to me too. The worry of content not doing well. About what people may think. Negative interactions from brands and followers alike. The pressure of not being bigger, better, etc.

I know I could sacrifice more, chase bigger checks, do trendier things. But over the years I’ve learned to be picky with what I pour my time and energy into. Now I think I have a good balance going, where I actually enjoy what I post about, how I do it, and when (for the most part, because deadlines and aesthetics lol). Now I’m much more confident saying no to a brand that I don’t resonate with.

I actually love being a micro-influencer. It’s a tighter, closer knit community and it’s perfect for me right now. It gives me an outlet outside of motherhood to pour myself into but at the same time my time stays flexible enough for my daughter’s needs.

I never thought it would last this long for me. Things got really hazy around my pregnancy and postpartum to the point where I didn’t think I could keep all this up. The pressure to post constantly and crank out content. Tailor your content schedule to YOUR needs and not the other way around.

All this to say that I don’t want to take a day for granted and honestly even one follower is more than I expected to have when I started this account. I still don’t know what will happen in the future. At the moment I plan my feed monthly and focus on creator bonus programs that work with my schedule (I can elaborate more on this later). Do whatever works for you personally. Don’t forget your roots while you reach for the sky.

#3 – Just be you.

I felt criticized every time people put me in a box. That I’m “just” a SAHM as if that somehow doesn’t make me busy. That I must be cold-hearted if I became an Attorney not knowing my true motivations for wanting it in the first place and how my heart truly is like. It’s still hard talking about my cancer journey without feeling judged over it. I was an “overachiever” in my 20s and “lazy” as a mom in my 30s. Why does it have to be one or the other? Why do I have to have to justify these different pieces of me? We can exist with different contradictory, beautiful, messy parts. Accepting the chaos and the duality as part of the beauty is really important I think.

Don’t try to fit within the box of what you think a social media personality/influencer/content creator/whatever you want to call it should be like. Yes I know, easier said than done as with most things. But it’s worth trying. And mine is a work in progress too. Figure out who you are, what makes you unique. And own it.

***

Hopefully this all made sense. You’re amazing if you’re still reading this far. It’s now three in the morning and I’m just going to post this so I can try to get some sleep soon. The perfectionist side of me is cringing but I will deal, lol.

Check out my Instagram for more frequent updates and I’ll add my other social links below because it’s been a while since I’ve been on here. I have a TikTok now!

EBXO things to look forward to: my annual birthday giveaway should happen again next month! Sooner than that though is the Meet in Malibu event tomorrow (Thursday) so I’ll be prepping for that today. I originally was supposed to be in the fashion show and podcasts filming during the event, but things are still up in the air as of right now… *sighs*… should still be a fun event though. You can get tickets for free but definitely RSVP ahead of time. Here’s the link: https://buytickets.at/themoderndaywife/665588/r/anna-m

*updated links*

Instagram: https://instagram.com/ExploreBeautyXO

TikTok: https://vm.tiktok.com/TTPdkPcPSg/

Facebook Page: https://facebook.com/ExploreBeautyXO

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/ExploreBeautyXO

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/ExploreBeautyXO

Podcast (audio version of blog): https://anchor.fm/explorebeautyxo

Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/maryannaesq

THANK YOU FOR READING! ❤️

2021 Disneyland & California Adventure trip (2-day Park Hopper itinerary)

Virtual Queue: the new Fast Pass

There are 2 rides: Spider-Man WEB SLINGERS at California Adventure and Star Wars Rise of the Resistance in Disneyland. You can virtually “Join A Boarding Group” twice a day so make sure to download the Disneyland app and set two alarms at least a minute beforehand!

First check the app at 7am (HACK: Load the page for the other theme park at 6:59am and watch the minute go by using another clock, preferably manual, then load the actual page as soon as 7:00am hits. This worked faster for me than refreshing the page!). Don’t worry if you don’t get it the first time. It’s near impossible to get a 7am time slot—I’m guessing those who book a Disney hotel have priority access—but do the same exact method at 11:59am and it’s much easier to get a spot. 

We had 2-day park hopper tickets so on the first day, I was able to book Star Wars at 12pm, and on the second day I booked SpiderMan at 12pm. We tried booking one of each ride on separate phones but it’s not allowed. If you made the reservations as a group, only one booking at a time is allowed on the app. So make sure your whole group is selected (it’s automatically checked for you) and click through as fast as you can. That means if you’re only there for 1 day, you may have to pick between the two rides so prioritize which one you want to go on more.

The Star Wars ride has a height requirement while the SpiderMan does not. If I had to pick one, I would say I like the Star Wars ride more. It lasts longer and it has more twists/turns with drops (think: Indiana Jones). I liked that the SpiderMan was baby-friendly though. It does turn quite a bit so make sure your baby or toddler is secure. They give you 3D glasses and you shoot webs from your arms—very similar set up to the Buzz Lightyear Astro blasters ride. It seats four to a pod so there are four competing scores as well as a team score.

Once you get a spot, you can check your boarding time under “My Queues” in the app. When your boarding group is called you have an hour to get in line. Yes, that’s right, you waited in a virtual line to get in another line. 😂 There’s no stand-by wait allowed for these rides so you can only ride them if you get a spot on the app.

The wait time for us on the Star Wars line was faster. It said 25 minutes once you get in line and show your entry passes. I don’t remember seeing a wait time for the Spider-Man line but we waited over an hour for that one. Overall I do think both rides are worth the wait, just make sure you plan your day around it so you don’t spend too much time waiting.

I’ll share our 2-day itinerary below. Our goal was to check out the new rides, mainly on Avengers Campus and Star Wars land, and to go on a few baby-friendly rides for the little one. My parents went with us so we could take turns watching her, and we went on the rides with a height requirement during her nap.

Day 1: Sunday June 20th (Father’s Day)

For the Park Hopper tickets, you get to choose which one you go to when the park first opens and at 1:00pm you get to go to the other park. We chose California Adventure first. 

On this day the parks were open from 9am to 9pm. They just stopped enforcing masks so most people were not wearing one, but a good amount of people still were. With the delta variant going around, we would get nervous while we were in lines so we packed a mask just in case.

We paid preferred parking both days, ended up at the Goofy lot. We got there around 8:30am. There are restrooms at the bottom of the parking lot. I suggest emptying bladders and putting whatever you need in a stroller since after you go through the metal detectors/bag checks, you will be in for quite a long walk. The trams aren’t running yet.

It was past 9am when we got inside California Adventure. The line going into the park was short at that time, and it was still pretty empty. Most people went into Disneyland first so those lines were longer. I highly recommend going to California Adventure first to maximize time. 

We went into Avengers Campus first. There was a line set up during the weekend which we didn’t see on our 2nd day (a weekday). I heard it was really difficult to get into Campus just a few weeks back, but it looks like the wait is already improving. 

Once you walk into the campus, there’s a free Spider-Man show right outside the Spider-Man ride. He does some pretty cool stunts and it’s outside so you don’t need to get into line for it. You can check show times on the app. 

We saw different Avengers characters waving from above. We saw Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Falcon/Captain America, and Thor. Would have been cool to see Bucky and Loki too (not sure if they make an appearance, it seemed a bit random). There are two shows outside like the Spider-Man one, with the Avengers and the Dora Milaje (check times on the app). You can take photos at the Ancient Sanctum but the Dr. Strange show—Thor made an appearance too—doesn’t start until later in the afternoon.

The Guardians of the Galaxy ride (previously Tower of Terror) was our last stop before leaving the Campus. The Fast Pass booths no longer work, some of the Fast Pass areas now have tables in their place. Other than the two Virtual Queue rides I mentioned earlier, everything else is stand-by wait only. Originally it was a 25-minute wait but it jumped up to an hour when we got in line. Most of wait was indoors though so the heat wasn’t a problem. You can check wait times on the app as well.

Food-wise we tried some shawarma on the Avengers Campus and also Terran Treats where they have the green churro. It was a pretty small portion and the food coloring will turn your whole mouth green. So unless you want to have green teeth, might be better to skip it. We didn’t like the shawarma either. The Pym Test Kitchen also had options but you can only order through the app. Try to do this ahead of time in case your reservation window ends up being an hour away.

We walked around Cars Land and towards Pacific Wharf where the Pixar rides are. There you’ll find Poultry Palace which has jumbo Turkey legs, chicken boxes, and corn on the cob. This place we liked. That area of the park has kid-friendly rides as well, like the Inside Out ride or Carousel. 

After checking out the Little Mermaid ride, we headed back towards the front and hopped over to Disneyland.

It was mid-afternoon at this point. We took the Disneyland railroad around the whole park so we could rest a little. You can bring strollers as long as you fold them up. We wanted to stay close to Star Wars land so we didn’t miss our boarding group. We walked over to Fantasyland (next to it) and Toontown next to that.

We prioritized Toontown because it used to closes early due to fireworks. But the fireworks still aren’t running (like the tram from the parking lot to the entrances isn’t running). So Toontown doesn’t close early anymore. We took a few pictures there.

Roger Rabbit is baby-friendly and had about a 20-minute wait which we decided against. Instead we went on It’s A Small World right next door which was only a 5-minute wait.

We headed to Star Wars land after to board the Rise of the Resistance ride. We tried the “blue milk” there—Ryan liked it but the rest of us didn’t, lol. For dinner we ate at Docking Bay 7 which was our favorite that day. Highly recommend! And that’s where we ended our day. 

To recap… California Adventure: Avengers Campus to Pixar Pier. Disneyland: Toontown to Fantasyland to Star Wars. Or even switch the last two. This route seemed like a good way to maximize time.

If you have kiddos and are looking to skip the Star Wars rides completely, there are a few baby-friendly rides in Tomorrowland on the other side of the park (go there after Toontown instead). So I recommend doing Toontown to Tomorrowland to Fantasyland in Disneyland instead. So you get to be in more air-conditioned areas when the sun’s out and wait times at Fantasyland seem to get shorter the later that it gets.

Day 2: Thursday July 1st 

The 2nd day had to be booked within 14 days, otherwise it was forfeited. You had to enter in the same order as the first one (California Adventure for us). Tried going into Disney first and it didn’t work, lol.

We thought it would be less busy since we went on a weekday this time and it wasn’t a holiday, but it was about the same. Our goal for this day was to try the rides we didn’t have time for last time, mainly the other Star Wars ride: Millennium Falcon and other virtual queue for Spider-Man.

The parks both opened an hour earlier at 8am. California Adventure closed at 9pm while Disneyland closed at 10pm. I wasn’t feeling well so we ended up with a late start (around 11am) but still got on everything that we wanted to.

At 12pm I joined the virtual queue for the Spider-Man ride. For lunch we went back to Pixar Pier to eat at the Poultry Palace again. While we ate, my daughter watched the rollercoaster pass us in amazement.

We stopped by Hollywood Land first, inside the building where Turtle Talk with Crush is at. Took a few photos. There’s also a Monsters Inc. ride for all ages/no height requirement that we skipped. In hindsight we should have just gone on because our boarding group for Spider-Man kept getting delayed (originally was at 2:30pm and it got pushed to 4pm).

Back at Avengers Campus, we finally watched the Dr. Strange show, which started later at 2:20pm and repeated every hour. You have to wait in line to watch it inside the Sanctum where they need more shade! It was only 10 minutes but felt longer while we roasted in the heat. I doubt I would watch that again. Other than that though, Avengers Campus was my favorite part! Especially the Dora Milaje show. The little one loved seeing the different characters pop up, too.

We hopped over to Disneyland after. Took the Disneyland train one stop over from the entrance to the New Orleans station, where the French Market is for a mid-afternoon snack. Their clam chowder and the mint julep drink are both tasty. They had kid-friendly meals too.

Walked over to Star Wars land after. The stand-by wait for Millennium Falcon was only 25 minutes then. I volunteered to be a “pilot” for the ride because I thought it means that I get to sit in front. Little did I know, there’s actual steering involved! It was hilarious but also deeply embarrassing. I apologized to the strangers who ended up being on my team for repeatedly crashing our ship (oops).

My little one took a nap during the Millennium Falcon fiasco and woke up as we headed to Fantasyland for her. There’s a height requirement on the tea cups, but she was able to go on the rest of the rides there. She enjoyed going on Dumbo, King Arthur Carousel, Casey Jr. Train, Pinocchio’s, and Peter Pan’s Flight. Most of the rides were only a 5-minute wait, with the longest being 25 minutes so not bad at all. We went into the Bibbidi Bobbidi store where she got a Raya outfit before heading home.

It got pretty chilly at night so make sure to pack sweaters with leggings or pants, especially in Star Wars land where there are less people and everything is more spaced out. I didn’t get as cold on Day 2 where we ended in Fantasyland because it was more crowded in that area. 

Personally I didn’t think that Frontier Land, Adventureland, or Tomorrowland were worth walking to because there aren’t as many rides for her age right now. The Disneyland app also lets you filter the rides by height or age group which we found super useful.

We tried the PhotoPass ($20 for unlimited photos) on our first day but didn’t think it was worth it to get it again. There are only 5 PhotoPass locations and we had trouble finding them. My mom didn’t like the quality of the photos either. You also have to wait in line for each one and the photographers didn’t seem happy when I asked for multiple shots. Maybe it’s worth it if you’re going in a group and in the rides that take a photo because you can integrate the ride photos with the ones that the photographers take. We only went on one ride like this (the Guardians one) so it just wasn’t worth it for us.

What are your summer plans? Have you been to Disneyland lately or planning a trip? I’ll be posting Disney photos and videos on my Instagram soon. ❤️ 

It’s also my birthday month now, so we have a different family outing planned every week. Stay tuned on my Instagram for that and also check out my “Body Contourz” highlight to follow the weekly sessions I’m going through this month, plus keeping up a strict diet and being active daily.

Also my annual birthday giveaway is coming up, turn on Instagram notifications so you don’t miss it! Hope every one has a hot (insert however you identify) summer ☀️ you deserve it!

Cheers to 4 years! 🎉

How did your blog start? 

That’s a question I get asked frequently so I figured that it deserved an official post on here. ON THIS DAY four years ago, ExploreBeautyXO was born. First an Instagram account then other social media platforms and finally a blog.

Quick sidenote: it’s also Amazon Prime Day today so I’ve created my yearly shopping list here: https://www.amazon.com/shop/explorebeautyxo?listId=3IWTPNCF32IG7&ref=cm_sw_sm_r_inf_list_pub_explorebeautyxo__mw_0ILneasaXn3wS 🛍 I’m taking any requests or suggestions on my Instagram Stories.

Let’s go back now. Back to 2017. We traveled Asia for a month. Our main destination was the Philippines for my childhood best friend’s wedding. I booked our international flights by redeeming my credit card reward points, and for flights within Asia, I found a travel deal for $160 a person which covered all 4 countries! First stop was Phuket in Thailand, then Bali in Indonesia, then Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia before going to the Philippine islands. The photo featured in this post is from the skyscraper we stayed at while we were in Kuala Lumpur—they had an infinity pool and an incredible view of the Petronas towers. From exploring night market eats to drinks on a helicopter pad, it was truly a trip to remember. Best of all, it was the trip that inspired my next chapter—you guys!

I’ve always loved to travel so my friends used to tell me that I should have a travel blog. Problem was, I couldn’t pick just one interest. I had so many. Maybe we can blame my Gemini rising for that. At the time, I was subscribed to beauty boxes so I started posting about those first. I sought out real, honest product reviews and wanted to contribute by sharing my own.

One could say I used EBXO as a form of escape. I was struggling with health issues at the time; I had another biopsy for cancer (around the 5 year mark then) and an MRI for a suspected brain tumor that were waiting for me when I got back home. Part of me was scared that it would be the last time I’d be able to travel. The last time I would see my friends. The last time I could live life outside of hospital walls. 

It took me time to find healthy ways to cope with stress and with the curveballs that life threw my way. My health issues ultimately veered me off my full time job as an attorney. I worked until I literally no longer could. In hindsight I would have prioritized my health (both mental and physical) above all. I’m still a work in progress, but I like to think that I’ve faced and grown from every challenge.

ExploreBeautyXO has allowed me to have an outlet to express myself, even when things were too painful to say out loud. Starting out I knew that I was ready for the next chapter, but I was nervous about things changing and being uncertain of what my future would be like. I had zero expectations. I just wanted to provide an opinion that may help someone else, whether it’s saving versus spending money or putting a smile on another person’s face. I think it was my openheartedness that led to growth. 

Fast forward to now, most days I hesitate to post because I worry about whether it will be successful. About the algorithm. About what people and brands might think. That is important, yes, but I want to focus on enjoying the process instead. I want it to bring happiness not only to others, but myself as well. To worry less and open my heart more. Sometimes I get caught up in the competition mindset that pervades social media. But I still firmly believe in community over competition. Social media is supposed to be fun, right? Last week I pushed myself to try a daily posting schedule like I had before. It’s definitely tougher with a kid around, but it reminded me how much I love creating content and why I got into this before.

So much has happened since that day in 2017. I’ve tried literally hundreds of products (to the point where I had to slow down on skincare because my skin needed a break 😅) and I had to be more selective of which brands I worked with, whether it’s an official sponsorship or receiving PR. I had to be mindful of how I was spending my time, whether I am creating content or engaging. I’ve met so many wonderful people throughout this journey that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I am truly grateful for every like, comment, message, share, and view. Thank you.

I’ve had the honor to attend so many amazing events. From launch parties to brand photoshoots, and everything in between! I’ve been a panelist at a beauty convention and a featured guest at another (Beautycon 2019, where I went into pre-term labor as I locked eyes with Ciara while she walked the red carpet but that’s a story for another day 😂). 

In some ways I feel at a crossroads again, where a new chapter is emerging. It’s been a wild ride kicking cancer’s butt and taking you guys along my motherhood journey. And all of us getting through this pandemic, too! Speaking of which, anyone else struggling with covid weight? It’s worse than the freshman 15. All the covid snacks just made my baby weight even harder to shed. But now things are opening back up and brighter days are ahead. When my mind takes me to a dark place, I try to remind myself of how much I’ve overcome. In the same way I hope I can inspire you to keep on pushing too.

I’m starting a weight loss program next week so my goal for the next month is to maintain a clean diet and a consistent exercise routine. My personal life has had a lot of struggles recently so I’m hoping I can channel the stress in a healthy way. Stay tuned on my Instagram http://Instagram.com/ExploreBeautyXO, (especially my daily Stories) to see that.

Thank you for taking a trip with me down memory lane. And thank you for sticking with me this far. Let me know what kind of content you’d like to see now—more fashion? New product launches? More family outings? Crystal related musings? All of the above mixed together?

Cheers to four amazing years together. And here’s to many more 🍻🎉 

Angels & Rainbows: Pregnancy after Loss 🌈

Do you know what a “rainbow baby” is? 

You might have heard me call my daughter a rainbow baby. 

I remember my Lamaze teacher as she went around the room and asked whether it was our first baby. I took a deep breath. “Well I had a miscarriage before… and now I’m pregnant again… hopefully this one will stick.” She looked at me and said “Oh, you have a rainbow baby!”

[FAIR WARNING: very long post below! If you were just curious about my book/toy/product recommendations, I will link my Amazon store here. I’m an affiliate so I could earn a very small commission should you choose to purchase anything. Keep reading if you want to hear more about my journey!]

You mean, there’s a term for pregnancy after loss? I no longer have to awkwardly explain my history as the painful memories rush back? It described her so perfectly too. My little rainbow.

“The beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravage of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn’t mean that the storm never happened or that we are still not dealing with the aftermath. It means that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may still hover, but the rainbow provides a counterbalance of color, energy, and hope.”

I love both my rainbow and angel babies dearly. 

My angel baby is named Melody. 

It happened a while ago but I still remember it vividly. I remember taking the pregnancy test. The joy. The excitement. All the new plans I started to make. I embraced being a mother wholeheartedly. 

Then I remember a stressful night with her paternal grandmother. She wanted her son to leave me. She had so many hurtful things to say about me. Upset, I internalized the stress.

It was light bleeding at first. I didn’t know I would be discharged from the ER and back again so soon. The second time I collapsed in a bathroom stall; there was so much blood. The bleeding wouldn’t stop. An ambulance came. The rest was a blur. I remember disbelief. Indescribable pain. 

In honor of October being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I’m sharing my story now in hopes that it will help someone else. It’s taken me a long time to process it. It still brings tears. 

One fear that I had was people nitpicking and comparing details. I didn’t want to be asked personal questions. Does it really matter how long I carried my child? Does it matter if someone has had kids before? It is still painful.

Another one is people comparing how long it takes to conceive. I have been told by a previous doctor that I may never have kids due to cancer cells. I grieved the inability to ever conceive again. For a very long time. When we were told by a different doctor that we might have a fleeting shot, we decided to try. And it happened!

My rainbow pregnancy didn’t come easy. Hyperemesis. Bedrest and pelvic rest. Cervical surveillance every 1-2 weeks. Preterm labor started around 24 weeks and continued every day, coming in waves, some days dilating me more than others. Steroid shots around 32 weeks. I spent more time at the hospital than I did at home. A silver lining was that the frequent checkups kept my anxiety at bay. 

Pregnancy after loss is filled with so much anxiety. Every step of the way. I was scared to get attached again and disappointed again, but I couldn’t help loving this baby wholeheartedly anyway. Drama happened with my daughter’s paternal side again. It felt like deja vu. I was so scared of losing another baby. And I still worry.

I’m sharing this in hopes that it makes another mom feel less alone. We may have different struggles but I truly believe we are all in this together.

You seriously rock if you have made it this far. Check out my giveaway page to win prizes for mom and/or kiddos for free. The handle is @secretsantamamas on Instagram. We recently gifted a Nugget!

Hugs and kisses,

ExploreBeautyXO 💋

From birthday parties to baby showers 🎉🍼

It’s July again. Which means my birthday is around the corner. The big 3-0. *gasp*

The photos above were taken at my 20th birthday party. Ten. Years. Ago. So I thought I’d take this moment to reflect back on the crazy roller coaster that has been my 20s.

20-year-old-me did it big. My birthday celebration wasn’t just one day. It was all month long baby.

“Part 1” was at my college apartment, where we celebrated with midnight shots to officially count down my birthday (it was a bigger holiday than New Year’s Eve after all 😜). Having a Criminal Justice paper deadline didn’t stop me—I typed whatever came to mind as my friends did my hair and took shots to celebrate. The paper seemed to turn out coherent enough to warrant an A-grade somehow. Disneyland had free birthday admission so that’s where we spent the actual day of.

That weekend was “Part 2”. At my parent’s house in Corona where there was a heated pool, water slide, jacuzzi, mini-golf, basketball court, and BBQ area outside. Inside there was a custom sushi bar, billiards, entertainment, seating, tons of Filipino food, and cake of course.

Fun fact: I wasn’t a fan of sushi back then so I didn’t fully appreciate the sushi bar, but now it’s my favorite food! Also the #1 thing I’ve been craving during my pregnancy, lol. Fun fact #2: the guy who DJ’d my party is actually my fiancé now and we are expecting a baby…

Which brings me to the present. You might have seen my pregnancy announcement on Instagram (https://instagram.com/p/BvPbgs-BKAb/) and if not, well now you know. There’s a chance that baby girl might come early so we are having the baby shower in mid-July on my 30th birthday weekend. It’ll be my birthday/baby shower rolled into one. After all, the only thing I want for my birthday is to be prepared with baby gear for her and make sure she has all she needs.

My focus has shifted so much throughout my 20s. From studying law, practicing law, battling chronic illnesses, to motherhood. Priorities and perspectives changed. Friendships lost along the way. Learning resiliency and real, reciprocated love so I can show my daughter the same values.

I’m really looking forward to this new chapter. My baby girl is a rainbow baby (which I might share more about later) so while I do feel overwhelmed at times, my gratitude is always much stronger.

I’ll be holding a giveaway this month to show my gratitude for all of you, too! Make sure to follow me on Instagram (https://instagram.com/ExploreBeautyXO) so you don’t miss it! Thinking about having another every month after that too.

What content (beauty/lifestyle/parenting) do you want to see more of? I’ll try my best to work on that for this following year!

Feel free to share how you feel (or felt) about your 20s or 30s, too! Any tips for the baby shower, registry, or mamahood in general?

Speaking of, here is my registry link in case you want to check it out: https://www.amazon.com/baby-reg/3O0HKSOGTY88A (or search Amazon Baby registry for “ExploreBeautyXO@gmail.com”)

Thank you for reading and drop a comment if you’ve made it this far!

Hugs and kisses,

ExploreBeautyXO

End of Summer 2018 Trip + Favorites

Are you sad that summer is ending or are you excited for fall? Maybe even both like I am? You probably already know that summer is my favorite season if you follow me on Instagram. I am a summer baby after all.

Up The Coast

My best friend since our preschool days just had her first baby. She lives near Seattle now so we visited her family out there. We went to Portland for two days then took the train up.

Portland was a breath of fresh air. All the locals we met were so friendly. Even walking along the street, people would say hi and offer to help. Everything and everyone was so chill.

We surprisingly fit a lot in 2 days!

-Voodoo Donuts (open 24/7)

-Sizzle Pie (open late)

-pizza food pyramid mural 

-Rose Garden/Hoyt Arboretum/Washington Park (Japanese Garden, Holocaust Memorial, Oregon Zoo, etc. are also located in the same park!) 

-Wasabi Sushi (sushi donut!)

-Coalition Brewing (CBD-infused beer)

-Pine Street Market (reminds me of The Packing District in California near Disneyland)

-Portland, OR white stag sign

-keep Portland weird mural

-Powell’s City of Books

-Alder Food Cart Pods

-Pioneer Courthouse Square

Getting around downtown Portland is so quick and easy. You could take their MAX train or walk like we did. I filmed a vlog which I’m still debating on whether I’ll post but if I do it’ll be up on my YouTube channel @ExploreBeautyXO and will add the link here.

I’d definitely go back to Portland again. Seattle, probably not. Most of the Portland attractions are free and easy to do on a budget so that’s a definite plus. I don’t want to offend any Seattle locals but let’s just say that ones we happened to meet there were more aggressive than friendly.

My friends live outside the city so we spent a few days in downtown Seattle and the rest of the trip at their house. It was nice getting away for a bit.

Beauty & Wellness Favorites

Bath & Body Works shower steamers: This is my newest obsession from B&BW. If you love their Aromatherapy lotions and candles, you will likely love this TOO! I got the “Energy” scent which is perfect when I have to get up early (and by early, I mean before noon 😂). I found that it helps with nausea too! This scent is made of orange and ginger. I purchased this myself. Would definitely repurchase this scent and try the other shower steamer scents too! Highly, highly recommend.

CBD for Life lavender roll-on: I use this mainly to help tone down my migraines, but it helps with other conditions like anxiety, nausea, muscle pain,  insomnia, etc. For more info, check out my YouTube video: https://youtu.be/vMN4t5wDcBs. I talk about how I met the brand and their products.

Sol de Janeiro Ipanema Sunset glow oil: this summer was all about dewy looks and I think this oil perfectly sums it up. First impression was that it smells AH-MAZING. Seriously. So. Good. I love how versatile it is too. You can use it in place of lotion (so hydrating!) or as a highlighter for the face/body. It’s long lasting and have I mentioned how amazing it smells?! I received this via Octoly where creators can get complimentary items in exchange for honest reviews (if you want to sign up: www.octoly.com/creators?cref=hbo10).

theBalm girls’ getaway trio: At first I thought this blush/contour set was too bronze-y for me, but as summer grew closer, I found myself reaching for it more and more. By summertime it was my go-to. It gives you the perfect sun-kissed look. Lasts all day and the packaging is perfect for traveling too!

L’Oreal sublime bronze tanning milk: Last but not least, this lotion. I’ll give you the pros and the cons. Pros: affordable, easy to apply, subtle tan,  appears fast, doesn’t streak when applied, buildable. Cons: fades fast if not applied daily, streaks badly as it is fading. Overall I would still recommend if you can keep up with the consistent application. Check out my Instagram if you’d like to see a photo of me wearing it. I received this complimentary via Influenster (http://www.influenster.com/r/3472314) in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Did you have any summer favorites? Want to share a fun trip? Any fall products you are excited about?! Let me know your thoughts! 

I have several giveaways planned so make sure to follow me on Instagram @ExploreBeautyXO too! I have a makeup giveaway starting on the 1st of every month (most recent one was $500 worth of YSL luxury makeup!) and I have an organizer giveaway coming up soon too. The holidays are coming up fast and I’d love to hear what is on your wish list!

xo, Anna

Twenty-Nine and Feeling Fine.

Warning: This is a long post. Probably because it’s been a while and I miss you guys.

Yesterday was my birthday. I spent the better part of it feeling sick and in a hospital, which has become like my second home over the past few years. My life has deviated from the picture perfect plan I had imagined when I was younger, but I’m grateful because it’s motivated me to improve my wellness and to really dive into learning more about self-care, which ultimately led to this blog.

New Adventures

Last weekend, I went on a hot air balloon adventure with some of my amazing friends. This is what I decided to focus on the day of my actual birthday. In all honesty, even that was a rough day. I barely made it out the door because I had a terrible migraine. We were all running on little to no sleep. We drove far and the hot air balloon company we picked was quite disappointing. It was 118 degrees outside and we were in a balloon filled with scorching hot air. But we made the most of it. And it turned out to be an amazing day. Probably one of the best days I’ve had in a while. Check out my personal Instagram (@xoxo__maryanna) for hot air balloon pictures if you’d like to check those out!

After hot air ballooning, we drove around the Temecula Valley in search of food. We found an amazing spot called Toast. It was hard ordering because everything sounded good! They had creme brûlée pancakes, sangria pancakes, and much more. I ended up going for the avocado toast because, well, avocado. Need I say more?

After breakfast we drove around Old Town Temecula where most of the restaurants were still closed. We stumbled upon a Farmer’s Market, where I got fresh juice made of strawberry, orange, and guava. Eventually we needed a break from the heat, and ended up in a small coffee shop with a big “Espresso” sign out front. They have a very comfortable couch that we lounged on for quite some time.

Lake Elsinore was the next stop. Mind you, we had none of this planned other than the hot air balloon. We were completely winging it. We drove around the perimeter of the lake for about an hour before we found an entrance. Along the way, we essentially got a self-guided mini tour of the city.  The shops. The houses. The roads. I’ve been to Lake Elsinore before, but this seemed so new to me.

We decided to drive to Corona to get mani-pedis after that. The girls got some spa time while the guys watched sports at an Islands close by. We all ended up going there after to get some food before we called it a night (we did start the day at 3 A.M. after all).

I was exhausted and knew it’ll take time to recover, but it was completely worth it. My summer has been filled with doctors appointments, medical procedures, and lab work. It’s hard to remember what it’s like to have fun sometimes. So what I’m really saying is…

I strongly urge you to explore. Even if it’s just your city. Even if you’re short on time or money. Even if you aren’t feeling your best. Just do it. Do something fun.

New Beauty Finds

Retail therapy. On my actual birthday, as soon as I got out of the hospital, we drove straight to the mall. Adding to my beauty collection cheers me up and I love having more beauty tips to share with you.

If your birthday is coming up, here are some beauty products you can score for free this year: (1) Sephora lets you pick between a GlamGlow skincare set, Bite Beauty makeup set, or Bumble & Bumble haircare set; (2) Victoria’s Secret gives you a $10 coupon which I used towards a lip scrub and a lollipop shaped bath bomb; (3) NYX gives you a $5 coupon which I used towards a lip color remover; and (4) Kiehl’s gives you a free Lip Balm #1 with any purchase and I bought a travel sized toner. 

There are a ton more freebies available. I’ll be claiming more online and there are some I chose not to do this year (for example, I called Urban Decay and they have the same gift this year). Keep in mind that you may have to sign up for a rewards program and/or online newsletter which is free, but will require some advance planning to get your coupons on time. Speaking of which, still waiting to hear from Ulta about that…

I’m really excited to try the GlamGlow skincare set from Sephora because I’ve been obsessed with the GlamGlow InstaMud Mask lately. It literally only takes seconds to do, which is super convenient if you have a busy day (which is even more reason to mask and pamper your skin)! I was able to see a difference with my pores right away. The formula is purple and bubbly and so fun to use! Check out pictures on my Instagram feed and videos on my Instagram Stories today to see it in action. Disclaimer: The InstaMud Mask was sent to me by GlamGlow complimentary for sampling purposes. All opinions are 100% my own.

My Instagram is where I post many of my first impression reviews and updates, so make sure to follow me there (@ExploreBeautyXO) if you haven’t already!

Let me know what’s new with you! Any beauty finds you want to share? Anything you’re excited for this summer?

Thank you so much for reading and let me know if you have any questions! Leave me a comment below and you can also DM me on Instagram 😘

Brandbacker Review: MD Complete Acne-Clearing System

Teenage acne sucks.  Adult acne sucks even MORE.
I tend to break out during that oh-so-special time of the month and also when I am stressed out (so pretty much all the time, lol).  If you follow me on Instagram you may know that I have been trying skin resurfacing treatments to help reduce my acne scars.  During my last session, they also gave me a skincare set to compliment the treatments so my acne scars would fade faster.  I was seeing results, but I was still breaking out.  As old scars started to fade, new ones would form in their place.  I knew I had to change things up and address my recurring breakouts.
I paused my normal regimen to try MD Complete’s Acne Clearing System.  It is meant to be used for 60 days and changes should be visible within just a few weeks.  I was asked to review this a week after receiving it, so that’s how long I have tested it for, so far.  I wasn’t expecting much to happen over the course of just one week but it surprisingly made a huge difference!  Not only did it clear my current breakout but also kept new ones at bay.
So how does it work exactly?
Step 1: Cleanse
The clarifying cleanser contains salicylic acid and natural botanicals including green tea, ginkgo biloba, and ginseng.  It is effective in removing makeup as well as unclogging pores.  It’s not harsh or drying like other cleansers.  It is meant to be used just once daily in the PM.  For testing purposes though, I tried using it twice a day to see if it would cause any drying and it did not.  I’m happy to report that it is indeed a gentle, effective cleanser.
Step 2: Clear
The acne breakout treatment contains benzoyl peroxide which is a common ingredient in acne products.  Other ingredients include allantoin and chamomile to sooth the skin, lentil seed and algae extract to strengthen the skin, and bisabolol to reduce irritation.  It can be used all over the face or in targeted areas as a spot treatment for pimples.  Use two pumps once to twice a day depending on how well your skin can tolerate it.
For sensitive skin like mine, I would recommend using only once daily at night.  My cheeks (where most of my breakouts happen) turned red right after I applied this which alarmed me at first.  There was NO burning sensation though and it did eventually go away.  For this reason I wouldn’t apply it during the day.  However, it’s perfect when applied before bed and then waking up to clearer skin.
Step 3: Correct
The Citrus-C healthy complexion correcting serum is for diminishing post-acne dark marks.  It has retinol to refine skin texture, niacinamide to even skin tone, ceramides to strengthen the skin barrier, and vitamins (A, B, C, and E) along with fruit seed extracts to moisturize skin.
It’s dermatologist-tested, paraben-free, and cruelty-free like the other steps before it!  I was actually surprised at how well this serum helped even my skin tone and fade my acne marks.  It took me weeks to see the same results from my previous regimen while it only took a few days with this one.  My skin has responded to this one the BEST out of all the acne clearing systems I’ve tried over the years.
Step 4: Supplement
The healthy skin probiotic is a nutritional supplement that restores the balance of good bacteria in the belly, which combats stress and in turn, combats acne also.  This helps me out even more as stress is a major factor leading to my breakouts.  I try my best to manage stress so probiotics are a regular part of my wellness routine.
Drinking this probiotic can be a bit tricky.  At first, I thought I just had to break the seal from the top of the cap and drink from the bottle.  However, it has to be mixed before drinking.  The cap contains the probiotic powder (so don’t break the seal until you separate the cap from the bottle) and the powder inside the cap is then poured into the fluid inside the bottle.  Shake the bottle and then drink immediately.
PRO TIP: Can be used in anticipation of stressful event. Simply begin using 2 days in advance of the event, through the event and for 3 days after to help maintain a healthy complexion.
The flavor is wild berry, which is more of an acquired taste.  Key ingredients include niacin, a form of Vitamin B, which is dermatologist-recommended for acne-prone skin.  It also has lactoferrin, a prebiotic, and lactobacillus rhamnosus, a probiotic.  Recommended dosage is once daily or every other day depending on your stress level.
Brand Information
You may have heard of MD Complete Skincare (website: https://www.mdcomplete.com/) during media coverage in daytime television recently.  The brand believes in taking time to celebrate skin.  They are committed to bringing skincare that is simple, effective, and complete.
My first impression of this brand is extremely positive and it is officially #ExploreBeautyXO approved!  The packaging is very nice too.  I love that they included a booklet with additional skincare tips like don’t over scrub, change your pillowcases, and eat healthy.
How do you handle acne?  Do you use probiotics to supplement your skincare? 
Which reminds me, I have an amazing beauty/wellness giveaway going on right now on my Instagram!  I’m giving away nutritional supplements that have amazing beauty benefits including skincare.
Let me know what you think and if any of these tips was helpful!
Disclaimer: I tried MD Complete Acne Clearing system free through BrandBacker for testing purposes and for my honest review.  All opinions are 100% my own.