Monday, 31 December 2007

#59 The Good Stuff

So, last time I took a poke at the CRAP TRAP pile. Now, for the GOOD STUFF:

1. First up, apologies are due. I didn't give Stella McCartney's CARE line much of a chance - well, actually I did, I just didn't use it properly. You see, I've never believed the regime nonsense i.e. that using all products from a single line is more beneficial than mixing and matching - but I often overlook the fact that within certain lines, the products are designed to be used together (especially if high in active ingredients). Such is the case with CARE. I added the elixirs and 5 Benefits Cream to my Spiezia/Dermalogica/Liz Earle-rich routine, and well, I was less than blown away. Well, last week, I went back to basics (again) - and started using the CARE cleanser, toner, elixir and moisturiser - morning and night. Well, would you believe it, I've not heard a peep out of my skin in 14 days. It's clear, hydrated, soft, unshiny, comfortable and even has a mid-summer glow to it. I'm converted and, tail between legs, apologetic. From my utterly subjective standpoint, I think I've found my new skin resolution.

2. Jurlique Intense Recovery Mask. Beauty eds are always questing after something - the perfect red lippy, the undereye concealer, the invisible base - but for me, the journey's been rather more specific. I've been searching for a mask that will simultaneously hydrate, purify, calm, clarify and revitalise. I've tried masks that meet all but one essential criterion (Dermalogica Multi-Vitamin Power Recovery Mask e.g. does a lot, but offers no purification/clarification benefits) - but never have I found a tube that multi-masks effectively. Then the lovely Purple PR ladies sent me this baby. Wowzer. It's chocka with everything from Carrot Root and Green Tea extract to Rose Hip and Evening Primrose Oil - but crucially, it's also rich in Green Clay - so while it's hydrating, it's also vaccuuming out pores and tackling imperfections. I had it on for ten minutes yesterday and massaged it off with a warm muslin cloth - skin was rosy, even and plump. Very impressed with this one.

3. Colgate Total Professional Weekly Clean. It looks like a toothpaste, it tastes like a toothpaste, it smells like a toothpaste. But for some reason (and the flashy lettering on the packet gives us a clue - 'with an ingredient that professional dentists use!!!'), a five minute scrub with this concoction leaves my mouth feeling like I've just had a clean and polish, minus the freaky rubber gloves and panic-inducing surroundings. There are no drastic changes in the appearance of the teeth - they just look very clean - but the sensation it produces is really rather good.

So, on this very last day of 2007, that is it from me.
What's coming in 2008 - hey, I'm a beauty editor, what do you think's coming....?
A........ makeover........... of course!

Friday, 28 December 2007

#58 Premature Resolution

Oh lordy it's happening again. First came the spring-cleaning (which began with the last spoonful of Xmas pud & cream being scraped into the dustbin), then came the wardrobe haulage (all unsuitable, unseasonable items are now zipped up in a John Lewis storage bag in the loft) and today, I waged war on the buckling shelves and burgeoning storage units in my study. There's something about the end of the year that sends me off into a bout of relentless navel gazing. I analyse my life, my home, my space, my skin. Then I start clearing out. Chucking bits of paper I've stashed safely all year, ripping apart magazines that have been stood in chronological order since time immemorial (otherwise known as the day I moved into my new flat) and sifting through boxes of beauty bumph that I've not yet had time to try, nor been able to offload on friends and family - trying to work out what on earth I'm supposed to do with it all. Here's an idea - if there is anyone out there who runs a legitimate charity and can make good use of unwanted, unused and unopened beauty products then please, drop me a line and fill me in on your proposal. Ta very much.

Whilst sifting - which took me the best part of 4 hours - I ended up with three distinct piles: The crap that no one would ever want; the stuff that I don't want, but someone else might love and the gems I'm saving for myself, just in case I ever manage to grow myself another face or five, and will thereby find good use for.

Tomorrow I shall regale you with the good stuff.
Tonight, I'll serve up the unsatisfactory:

I have a mate who loves J-Lo's, Paris', Coleen's and Gwen's scents. There's nowt snobby about her - and she always sniffs it like it is. But Alex by OK! Magazine sent her running for the nearest door. Words used? Sweet, cloying, air-freshener, headache-inducing - like one's first sniff of an early 90s incarnation of Impulse. The bottle's about as classy as Jordan on the pull too. Wrinkle-inducing grimaces abound.

The mineral foundation revolution. Anyone would think skincare companies had found a cure for cancer with all the harping on that's been done about these curious pots of powder. The fact is, the vast majority of the mineral formulas out there are sadly lacking in purity. Many of them (including L'Oreal's True Match Mineral Foundation) contain one or more dodgy additions, such as Diazolidinyl Urea (a common irritant) and Bismuth Oxychloride (neither of which are found in nature), so the 'go to sleep in it, wake up with better skin' myth, is in most cases just that - MYTH. Be wary and always check the labels before parting with your hard-earned cash.

My other peeve is that I've not yet tried a mineral powder that looked great on my skin. I'll start by saying that I've never ever worn face powder - hey, if my nose shines, so be it - so I'm not used to seeing a veil of dust on the skin, which tends to gather around my eyebrows and cheeks, where I have a wee bit of peach fuzz. But at least with face powder you can get away with just a swish over the T-Zone, but if you choose a mineral powder foundation, you're supposed to be able to use it everywhere - under eyes, over spots, atop chins - and it's often marketed as being a foundation-and-concealer-in-one too. Problem is, wherever you put it and however well you blend, it's always partially VISIBLE, which as far as I'm concerned, is cardinal base sin #1.

There may be others in the future that I love - I've saved a couple of pots for new year dalliances - but for the timebeing, at this stumped-out, fag-end of 2007, they're in the NOT HOT POT... going, going, gone.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

#57 Beauty Duty

It's late. It's been too long. I've missed this. I'm sorry for the silence.
Here, with no waffle - unheard of for me - is my current hit & miss list:


Uriage Stick Levres. Discovered at a French pharmacy - smells like a mix between Chapstick original and Chapstick Cherry, but with a far more moisturising, long-lasting, pleasing texture. Smiles.

Botanics Organics Jojoba Body Oil & Laidbare Body Oil. I've been putting on three coats a day - which you can, as they're both pleasingly inexpensive - the former has no scent (no essential oils) - just simple, fuss-free, skin-softening power; the latter is yummily-scented with essential oils, but also contains five EFA rich oils including Rosehip and Evening Primrose. This is the softest my skin's been in any winter in living memory.


Not loving the Liz Earle Brightening Mask. It might give an instant perk-up, but I always seem to look oilier the next day. Hmmmm.

Dermalogica Soothing Eye Make-Up Remover
Is it just me, or does this make anyone else's eyes sore? The viscousy gel always gets into my eyes - I prefer liquids - and I'm yet to be left with refreshed, soothed peepers.

And while we're on the subject of Dermalogica, I've also recently had a bad reaction to their Climate Control Lip Therapy. Lips felt more sore and became slightly swollen after repeated use. Uh Oh. This is the second bad reaction I've had to their products - the Body Cream brings me out in the most appalling, bumpy, red, raised angry rash - can't touch the stuff. It smells rather vile too. Despite this, several of their skincare products are eternal favourites (I heart Total Eye Care & Daily Microfoliant) - which has taught me never to expect great results from every product in a promising line.

You win some, you lose some.
You might get a bit messed up along the way (blotchy, rather than pillowy lips did not invite Mr M's late-night attentions), but hey, it's all the line of duty.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

#56 Eye Fidelity

Sometimes an email pinpoints the collective mood. For some reason, this month, it's been all about the eyes and I've had a slew of emails from Truth in Beauty readers, all of whom are seeking a solution to their shadowy lids and burgeoning bags. Most of whom, swapping and shifting from cream to gel, have been continually disheartened by the many ineffectual eye products on the market.

The truth? Open your eyes. Don't expect miracles. Dark circles will not disappear overnight - if ever! My response? Cast your eyes below...

"I don't believe that dark circles can be cured with an eye cream. For most people, dark circles are either a sign of lack of sleep, poor microcirculation or they are hereditary. If it's lack of sleep - there's only one way to cure it; if it's poor microcirculation, then it's the application of the product that is most beneficial - try a daily massage of the eye area, tapping along the brow bone from the inner to the outer corners of the eye with your ring fingers; and if it's hereditary, then you have two options - a great concealer or a cosmetic procedure, possibly one that involved fillers, which would temporarily plump up any undereye hollows and thereby reduce the appearance of dark circles. Some studies have also been done that link dark undereye cirlces to iron or vitamin K deficiencies.

To reduce puffiness, the key thing is the temperature of the product. Any eye cream or lotion - such as Liz Earle Eye Bright (a make-up remover and soothing liquid) - will work far more effectively if it's kept chilled. Alternatively, two cotton pads dipped in icy cold water and then placed over eyes, or two fridge-cold cucumber slices/used camomile teabags, will take down puffiness more effectively than a specific depuffing eye cream.

I've tried quite a few eye creams in my time but always come back to Dermalogica Total Eye Care. It's got an SPF of 15, so it's great for daily wear, but the zinc oxide in it also reflects light to some degree, so subtly lightens the undereye area, whilst smoothing, hydrating and protecting it.

As for concealers, I personally like an all-in-one concealing & light-reflecting wand such as Dior's Skinflash, but I am aware that light-reflecting formulas don't provide very heavy-duty coverage. I've got a cousin who has more pronounced dark circles under her eyes and she swears by Kanebo's creamy concealer. It comes in a rectangular cream-coloured palette, with a mirror in the lid, and goes on very smoothly - blending easily too. It also provides excellent coverage. The other two undereye concealers I would recommend are Laura Mercier's Secret Concealer - once again, creamy, blendable and high coverage - and Armani's High Precision Retouch - more of a liquid, but with excellent coverage."

Monday, 5 November 2007

#55 O is for Organic

Lordy lordy lordy. Organic, schmorganic. It's everywhere. I'm getting about 20 new emails a week, proclaiming the benefits of this new preservative potion, talc-free make-up, puritanical product. I'm tired. My eyes hurt. The BRANDwagon is at buckling point. Yes, the marketeers have caught on to the fact that green is good, green is big and boy oh boy, green is where the green is. Ker-ching. Which pretty much explains the stuffed inbox. So what have I been trying? As mentioned in my last entry - Origins Organics and Jurlique. Jurlique are not new - but they have ditched the white and blue glass packaging in favour of a cleaner, fresher, self-explantory mode of packaging and product. I've used the Balancing Day Care Cream. It gets the thumbs up. It didn't do anything miraculous - but it did soothe and hydrate well. A small amount satisfied the entire face - it sunk in cleanly and didn't produce an exceptionally oily mid-afternoon result (just a bit of shine, which given that my skin lives in an artificially ventilated environment, is to be expected). The Daily Exfoliating Cream is the range's big hitter. The thing that the PRs say that they themselves couldn't live without. It's rather like the Dr Hausckha one - grainy, wholemealy, porridgey. You don't rub it in, but rather press it over skin, creating a popping suction with fingertips which is meant to draw out impurities, without scouring the skin. Hmmmmm. I've always had a thing for homemade exfoliators - things that look and feel as though you could've whipped them up in the kitchen - but experience has taught me that nothing beats a finely milled powder or an exfoliating mask such as REN's Glycolactic Skin Renewal Peel. I'm not sold on this one. My skin still had a few flakes left around the chin, which I had to buff away with a warm muslin cloth. Then there's Origins Organics. A big, new, simply packaged line that promises to be straightforward. In an interesting twist, it's printed it's organic percentages right on the front of the packaging - and it ranges from 73% in the Foaming Face Wash up to 98% in the Conditioning Hair Oil. There's no reason that organics will be any better for sensitive skin - in fact, a lot of sensitive skins flare up at first contact with essential oils - which are so often the staple of organic lines. I'm seriously prone to eczema on my body and have been using the Cleansing Body Bar for several weeks (it lasts a satisfyingly long time) and haven't seen a peep from my usual patches. It feels great whilst it's on the skin, but leaves a slightly too super-squeaky-clean feel afterwards - great though for those who hate it when their body washes leave an oily residue behind. I've yet to try the skincare - I've promised my skin a break from persistent testing - but have been using the Silky Spray Body Spritz and Conditioning Hair Oil. The former is tricky. Essential oils of clove, lavender, patchouli and thyme means that it has a very distinctive, enduring scent. Some days I love the scent - taking me back to student sex sessions in a jostick haze, but other days it makes me feel more like I've found myself in a trunk in the back of my local Oxfam. Mood dictates. It does feel mighty good though - not greasy in the slightest - and the milky texture sinks in nice n deep in seconds. The hair oil is ostensibly nothing special. It mixes sunflower, sesame and olive oil with a smattering of essential oils - peppermint is the one that stands out - and yes, it does make hair lovely and soft and shiny. But then, so would a cup of olive oil. Another thing - I'm not sure about the packaging. It's self-consciously plain. As though it's parading it's openness - at the press day I asked the PR when they'd replace the prototypes with final packaging. She told me this was it. Well, it ain't pretty, but Isuppose it ain't ugly either. And for a company that has always prided itself on clever names and cute packaging, it's very possibly a step in the right direction.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

#54 Ace Base

Now that the mercury has plummeted from fine to freezing, my skin has already started to misbehave. I haven't yet had the dry cheeks, though my lips have been chapping more than usual, but I've noticed that my complexion tends towards blotchiness far more easily. I use base only when utterly necessary, but this week, it's been necessary twice. My staple favourite (which I stash in my wardrobe and only whip out on special occassions) is SK-II's Air Touch Foundation. I've raved about it before - yes it can take some getting used to and it's mightily expensive - but once you get the hang of how to mist evenly and lightly, you'll feel as though you have a mini make-up artist stashed away in your bag - skin looks unquestionably airbrushed and unreal. But it is inarguably a foundation - and despite the fact that it feels and looks untraceable, I cannot always overcome the mental awareness that my skin is coated in a thick layer of cosmetic colouring. Which is why I'm more of a tinted moisturiser sort of girl (even though, t.m's are of course just the same - lotions packed with cosmetic colouring). Logic, however, doesn't prevail here - I always have and always will feel more comfortable and confident in a tinted moisturiser, over a foundation. That's just me.

Clinque do tinted moisturisers well and their new Supermoisture Makeup has a pretty flawless formula. It blends like a face cream - sinking in, leaving skin plump and soft. The coverage can be anything from super-sheer to medium, depending on how much you use - I like to rub it over my nose and chin, when skin is still almost damp from my face cream and blend it all in together. Great for drier skins in winter too. I also love (and the Bliss girls are going to go crazy at this, because it's on constant back order and almost always sold out) Remede's Translucent UV Coat. It's about as watery and light as it's possible for a formula to be, but it leaves a sheeny soft-focus behind. While it won't cover your spots, it'll certainly lift grey and lacklustre complexions - and with an SPF30 built in, feel as though you're wearing nothing more than the lightest lotion. Which is why you can't get hold of it for love nor money. Groan.

Chapping lips call for a thicker formula in winter. The Sainsbury's Organic Softening Lip Balm (95% organic) was lovely in summer - peppermint scent, sheeny, light - but hasn't cut the mustard this October as it slides off rather than stays put - not the guard against the elements I was hoping for. I've therefore shifted back to a staple - Crabtree & Evelyn Jojoba Oil Conditioning Lip Balm (which I hasten to add is only £1.50) and the new Origins Organics Soothing Lip Balm (not launching till Jan 2008 - but I'll be pre- and re-viewing the new Origins Organics line and a couple of new Jurlique launches in my next blog), which have a pleasing cocoa butter base that feels nice and creamy on lips and stays put for at least an hour.

Winterproofing? So far, so good. If only I could apply the same logic to my cotton dress, mini-skirt and suede-shoe filled wardrobe...

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

#53 Mid-Week Delivery

Oh lord. Head. Ache. Muscles. Ouch. Soles. Sore.

So what does it take to get back on track? To obey the morning alarm call? Well, I couldn’t even muster the energy to shampoo my hair when I got in – gross but true – but last night’s hairspray had given it atypical thickness and the morning-after matte look was sort of working for me. So I went with it – just slapped a thick headband across the front – and focused on the face instead. Two slices of very cold cucumber helped take my eyes down a bit. Skin washed with Jurlique Replenishing Foaming Cleanser – which I’m using because the postal strike has meant that my Liz Earle goodies are being held at ransom at the local depot. In fact, the strike might have had an odd upside. It’s forced me to dig into the drawers again and, thankfully, skin is still looking as good as it has been and this non-drying, effective foaming cleanser hasn’t scuppered the spot-free run that I’ve had for over a month. I also recommend Jurlique’s Herbal Recovery Eye Gel – lovely, light, full of hydrating botanicals with none of the residual stickiness that lesser gels are prone to creating. Then a quick facial massage with Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant and a hop into the shower with a super thick layer of Laura Mercier Hydra Soothing Gel Mask still on skin (my current replacement for Dermalogica Skin Hydrating Masque, which is once again, still ‘in transit’) but which does pretty much the same job. A freezing water splash, a spray of Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic, a little pat of Darphin’s camomile oil and then a dab of Organic Glam’s new Antioxidant Foundation to even out the odd red patch and I was feeling not too bad. Until I turned around, lost my balance and head-butted the jutting partition wall in my bedroom. Cocktail complexions you can conceal. Heavy heads you cannot. Note to self: Tuesday nights are not the new Friday.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

#52 Time Management

Travelling, working late, planning a big event – the diary’s been jammed – which has led me to downsize almost all of my routines and focus on one simple and very effective skincare solution instead. I was on the Stella Care line for a month. Reviews are mixed. Textures are great and the scent is amazing. The 5 Benefits Moisturising Fluid and two elixirs always sank in without a trace, left my skin feeling very soft (minus oiliness – which I’m often prone to) and definitely boosted brightness and radiance. BUT, and it’s rather a big but, I also broke out a lot more during those four weeks than I normally do. Not angry, hormonal spots, but little, sensitized areas – blotches – which I’m unfamiliar with. I can only attribute it to the extremely high level of essential oils – it’s potent stuff this, and it would seem that my somewhat sensitive skin couldn’t quite cope. So the solution was to stop, pare down (again) and let things get back to normal. My new night treatment is as simple as can be – a thorough cleanse, steam and splash with icy cold water, followed by a massage with either Darphin’s Camomile Aromatic Care (which has done wonderful things for my wind-whipped cheeks) or the new Darphin 8 Flower Nectar over face, neck and eyes. That’s it. Nothing more. Good things have already happened in the last week – skin is calm, temperate and – I do not chuck this word around lightly – glowing. I’m using either Liz Earle’s Skin Repair Light or more of the camomile care during the day and that is it. It’s suiting me, suiting my skin and most importantly, suiting my schedule.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

#51 Because you're worth it

I’ve always felt bad for the models whose images adorn posters in tube stations – within days, they’re decorated with a variety of gum, graffiti and savoury slang. I don’t tend to notice the remarks – although, the ‘She was my first’ line I spotted a few weeks ago did get me giggling – but the Perfectil posters in Angel tube station were different. Across the faces of the airbrushed model were a series of stickers, reading, ‘For women who hate themselves.’ My first reaction was to snort, I’ll admit – somewhat derisively, at the extremist notion. On my way home, I spotted them again. During the short ride home, I couldn't help dwelling on it. The airbrushed model, the peachy lighting, the name of the product – ‘perfect’. Someone was sort of right – the idea and image grated and of course, there isn’t a pill out there that will promote flawlessness – but perhaps those that swallow it do so in the hope that they’ll edge that little bit closer to the unattainable. And that’s rather a sad thing. But it’s the same idea that feeds the entire vitamin and mineral supplement phenomenon – the belief that you are lacking something, and when you address it, you’ll be complete, healthy, at your best. When in truth, the tubs of tablets – be they for hair, skin, nails – that I have purchased in the midst of many a self-perfecting crusade, reveal far more about my mental state than they do about my physical one. During weeks when I’ve been feeling down, low, fat, unattractive, I’ve been known to spend a lunch hour amidst the aisles at Holland & Barrett, rooting out wild algae, aloe vera, co-enzyme Q10, coconut oil… trundling home with a bag of rattling goods that celebrate their use-by dates at the back of a dusty cupboard. Had I taken them (or had time to swallow the myriad pills), they might have made a difference. I started, but didn’t finish. Something happened – normally my mood shifting back to a more positive plane and deciding I’m fine, just as I am, without the help of agnus castus or acai berries. I could be healthier. I could be slimmer. I could be a veritable wonder woman of pink tongue, glowing organ and glossy mane – but I am normal. I am healthy. I am happy. It sunk in, eventually – there’s no miracle cure, there’s no holy grail. Don’t waste your time or hard-earned money on mysterious multivitamins. So I don’t. Have not – not for years. Perfectil may be the greatest supplement ever, it might make your nails stronger, hair thicker, skin clearer – but there is one thing of which I am utterly certain, it will not ‘perfect’ you. As a matter of fact – NOTHING will perfect you. You’ll always be flawed. Now, isn’t that liberating?

Saturday, 15 September 2007

#50 Hand Maiden

This is just a fleeting note, a midnight fancy - but it has occurred to me, that I spend more time inhaling the scent of my hand soap than I do sniffing the latest perfumes. I'm obsessively particular about my hands and pretty much anything that I touch results in a trip to the ladies for a scrub down, but lest I sound like Lady Macbeth, I'd like to say that this is because, as most of us know, our work spaces have been scientifically likened to (and in many cases are far filthier) than the crappiest of crappers. So, in an effort to purge the panic, I wash - over and over again. Waitrose make a very cheap, but yummy-smelling range of liquid handsoaps - perfect to be kept in the kitchen, by the sink; Molton Brown & Space NK do the best-looking stuff, to be kept in guest bathrooms and only ever used on special occasions (price being prohibitive and scent too strong for everyday use); Burt's Bees do a large, inexpensive pump that lasts a long time thanks to the natural foaming agents and Crabtree & Evelyn Naturals, have produced delicious Olive, Almond & Myrtle and my favourite, Pink Grapefruit & Cucumber, with which my hands are presently scented. Essentially, the C&E soaps never dry out the skin, they're sulfate-free and made with 25% nourishing coconut and olive oils. So, if your hygienic compulsions refuse to be checked, at least your mitts won't suffer. This one wins, well, hands down.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

#49 Get Fresh

There are two fantastic scent blogs on the net - and Both have highlighted the dearth of smart scents launching onto the fragrance market and mourned the new, easy, commercially-foolproof direction i.e. FRESH & LIGHT. So, we've got the new Dior Midnight Poison which bears no resemblance to the original ethos in that it's easy to wear and utterly inoffensive. We've also had Gwen's L.A.M.B offering and Kate's KATE - both of which are about as enigmatic as, well, Jordan - and her scent too for that matter. That's not to say that they're not wearable - personally I wouldn't, but it's your nose against mine - just that they're easy, but not in a chino and white shirt sort of way, nay, not in a breezy Sunday morning sort of way, but more in a sugary, foam shrimp sort of way. They're obvious, they're saccharin, they're... too tutti fruity. They're the equivalent of the Rosé wine that everyone and their aunt now seems to be drinking... rather than the smoky reds that will make you FEEL something. So, it's a good thing that Prada are taking the saccharin edge off the season with their Infusion D'Iris - a fat mix of earth, wood and flower that'll knock ten shades of crap out of the competition. Bravo Miuccia-cia-cia.

Friday, 31 August 2007

#48 GO-LD Figure

Fans of Benefit may have noticed a disconcerting new trend. The brand that used to launch the sporadic, niche innovation seems to have switched into top gear and is now peddling products faster than you can say the words 'Press Release'. Now, I'm hardly against new bootie - I mean, news is how I make my money - but it's always startling when a brand's inventory goes from selective, to exhaustive, in a matter of months.

Having launched the Love Your Look range - which is, in itself, a complete make-up capsule, the last six months have also seen the birth of That Gal - a primer; D'Finer, D'Liner - for lips; California Kissin' - teeth-whitening lipgloss; Cupid's Bow - a lip-shaping set; Gee That Was Quick - a speedy make-up remover and You Clean Up Nice - a face wash. That's a hell of a lot of loot.

Anyway, lest I get off the point, the latest newbie is 24K - a 'sexy gold lipgloss' and 'sexy gold lipstick'. Now, I love gold. There has not been a summer in living memory which has not involved, at some point, a golden, shimmering body oil - (Nuxe, Sisley, Nars) - but I've never ventured to wear the shade on my lips. The problem is often that gold 'shimmer' actually translates as a strong statement, that wears off to a patchy, glitter-stuck-on-dry-looking-lips result. This has happened in the past and I feared a foray into 24K would be no different. I was sort of right. The 24K lipstick feels good - it glides on and is pleasantly emollient BUT the colour itself is rather outweighed by the glitter content. So, in soft, flattering, evening lamp light, it looks pretty and shimmery, but in the cold light of day, the actual glitter particles are easily discernible whereas the sheer golden hue itself is not. The lipgloss fared slightly better because its viscosity makes lips look seductively 'wet shiny', rather than 'dry spangly', but as with all glosses, it lasts about as long as it takes to drink a cup of tea and then you're left with bits of glitter stuck to gloss-less lips. It's not a Benefit slur as such - it's a common problem with glitter-infused products.

In the same gilted vein, Guerlain (LVMH owns both Guerlain & Benefit, if anyone's interested....) has gone all out with a flurry of precious products, which include L'OR - 'a radiance concentrate with pure gold' - which acts as a make-up base and Forever Gold - a super spangly powder for face and body. L'OR will appeal to anyone living on credit and gagging for the new Chanel 2.55. In truth, it's a bit of a gimmick - the gold particles float enticingly in the clear liquid, but dissolve on contact with skin in much the same way as anything else - no trace is left behind - precious maybe, but lacking in mettle. The serum is also very heavily fragranced, which will put a lot of people off and having used it before a night out a couple of times, I'm not convinced by it's radiance-enhancing properties. I think the promise is bigger than the product. On the other hand - and at the opposite end of the shimmer scale - Forever Gold is a powder-filled atomiser, that you 'puff' onto your skin where it leaves a very sparkly veil. Mine half exploded in the box, so when I opened it for the first time it left layers of scented fairy dust over my new black pinafore, which have proven a bugger to get out. Now, it's certainly true that if you want to gleam and glitter your way into a room, you could do a lot worse than this. And I'm sure it'll go down a storm at Xmas, when everyone lets loose. BUT, I have to say, for me, if it's visible to the naked eye, leaves a Tinkerbell-esque trace in the air and doesn't resemble anything that Mother Nature intended, it's a trend that I'm likely to sidestep. Crazy colour is one thing, but glitter is quite another and, for now, I'm washing my hands, face, lips and eyes of it. Over and over and over again.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

#47 Who Cares?

The much-written about, hugely-hyped Stella McCartney Skincare Range, CARE, landed on the desk this week and it's already joined the regular rotation. I want to love it, because if 100% organic products (the range uses 100% organic active ingredients) can produce efficacy to rival the lab-lotions of the world, it'll make my green leanings so much easier. I'm not going to jump the gun here - I'm keeping schtum until I've given the products a few weeks to impress or disappoint. First impressions, however, are good. It's been two days and the ticked boxes include wonderful scent, great texture, no residue. I'm adding the 5 Benefits Moisturising Fluid and Calming & Soothing Elixir to my post-Spiezia cleansed skin, which now makes my skincare routine 100% chemical-free... until I cake myself in slap that is...

Thursday, 23 August 2007

#46 Return to Splendour

I've had a tropical couple of weeks in a country hotter than a body cavity and having flown out with a case, tagged with the dreaded 'Heavy' stickers, I returned a lot lighter (in luggage), calmer in mind and darker in skin. My stash did not let me down. Here's the verdict:

1. Liz Earle skincare - did the trick. In my opinion the Spiezia Organic Cleanser that I left behind still does the job better, but the Liz Earle combo certainly didn't let my sun/sea/pool-dried face down. Skin was soft, hydrated and clear all holiday.

2. The MOP stuff was hot too. The Conditioning Mist was particularly good - giving hair a simple dose of discipline - keeping it from puffing or frizzing in the heat. For days in the pool, the Styling Conditioner was a convenient choice. Combed through wet locks, it kept them in place, nourished and feeling softer when rinsed out later than night.

3. Aveda Damage Remedy. I used it every night - which is a bit OTT - but my hair never felt limp or greasy. Despite pool and sea marathons, the mane still feels silky and looked shiny every day.

4. Murad Oil-Free Sunblock Tinted SPF15. The hint of colour evened out imperfections whilst protecting me from the late afternoon sunlight. It felt nice and light, although as the mercury rose, it didn't stop me looking sweaty of shiny.

5. Derma Mum Stretch Mark Oil. This is even nicer than the cream. Every evening my limbs were soothed and left glistening with this nourishing blend of oils. I used it everywhere. It's fragrance-free too, so didn't compete with my choice of scent.

6. Sisley Phyto Touche Golden Oil. Used for one night only, on bronzed legs, whilst wearing a mini dress. Desired effect achieved. Wink wink.

7. Liz Earle Suncare. Hmmmm. Effective yes, attractive - h-Oh no. The face protector SPF 25, left a thick, bright, white layer on the skin - of course this is to be expected as it's a PHYSICAL suncreen - but even so, it wasn't sexy. I ended up using the body one a lot more (SPF 15) as it blended down to a less pallid finish and on my face I traded and pledged new allegience to Yon-Ka Ulta Protection Factor 40, which lasted very well, was waterproof and moisturised beautifully.

8. YSL Blush Variation in 16. Well, it ended up being just too pink. Once tanned, my skin longed for a hot red-pink or a golden apricot shade.

And, lest I provoke more wrath from the weather with my jealousy-inducing summer 'capades, I shall leave it there.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

#45 Hers & Hers

Packing for a summer holiday takes serious self-control. Or, if you're like me, you'll just nip out and buy a bigger suitcase and then go seriously nuts and cram in every last bottle, in the hope that you'll finally get around to using those summer goodies that the PRs have been sending over to you for the last four months. Hooray I say. It's been joyous. I've been rattling through my drawers and cupboards all week, pulling out saved sachets, myriad minis (I'm taking about 50 which'll take up legions more space than if I'd opted for full sizes) and best of all, make-up palettes with glittering ambers, bronzes, yellows, golds - colours I revel in wearing when I've got a bit of a tan. The entire bottom of my suitcase is now lined with various vessels and I'm all excited. I've got skimpy shorts, bright sundresses, three new bikinis and a product for every possible occassion. I've really given in to my inner beauty ed. this time and here's just a small selection of what I'm packing:

1. Liz Earle Skincare - Skin Repair Light, Cleanse + Polish, Instant Boost Skin Tonic. (I've actually been using Spiezia's Organic Cleanser of late - which I prefer as it's 100% chemical free - but I fear the oil blend would melt and leak all over the luggage if I were to take it with me on this particular escape. NOTE to Spiezia: please make a travel-sized tube!!)

2. MOP C System - Styling Conditioner, Conditioning Mist, Hydrating Shampoo and Conditioner. Nourishing, never strips and smells yu-hummy.

3. Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Restructuring Treatment. The BEST. No quibbles - works every time and smells wonderful. Bloody brilliant.

4. Murad Oil-Free Tinted Sun Block SPF 15. Have been using it every day - great healthy sheen, potent antioxidant protection.

5. Derma Mum Stretch Mark Oil. The bottle's smaller than the big mama tub of cream that I've been using, but with all the same skin-healing oils.

6. Sisley Phyto Touche Golden Oil. It's mini, looks precious and gives tanned limbs shimmer, without glitter.

7. Liz Earle Suncare. Never tried it, but the chemical-free, broad spectrum protection is just up my street. Let's see how it performs...

8. YSL Blush Variation in 16. A new, vibrant pink/peach shade that I've had stashed for weeks.

All packed. All excited. All done...

Thursday, 2 August 2007

#44 Keep Mum...

My friends and family are a curious bunch. Whilst stuck in the kitchen getting ready to serve tea to the Malcontent elders, my mother popped into the bedroom to have a nosey around - she's been dropping hints about throws and cushions for a while now, but I'm always too busy to invest time into a decorating 'scheme'. She would've been disappointed. The bedroom is pretty much in the same state as it was a year ago - a lovely bed, simple wardrobes and side tables and aside from the Calvin Klein bedwear which we got for a steal at our local TK Maxx, it's seriously lacking in homely, comforting touches. But hey, the Mr and I rather like it that way. Clean, fuss-free, airy.

No clutter, aside from a rather large pot of the new Derma Mum Stretch Mark Cream, nestled on the bedside table. It's fragrance free, fall of essential fatty acid-rich oils and helps to keep skin supple and moist. In other words, it's a perfect body cream - especially, if like me, you're prone to eczema on your body. What I was not expecting, was the assumption that, well, I was expecting. My mother, beside herself with excitement, whispered conspiratorially in my ear, 'Is there something you want to tell me darling?' Oh crap, I thought. She's finally found out about the flowers I killed off, having forgotten to water them when she went away on holiday. 'No,' I said confused. 'Are you?' she nodded, looking down at my belly, 'Are you trying?' Oh lord - Do I look pregnant? I thought, popping a Jaffa Cake back into the box. 'I saw the cream you're using - are you...?'

Mistake ironed out, and my mother visibly disappointed, the cream was popped back behind the cabinet doors - for fear of the same conclusion being reached by others. But, secretly, and between you and me, there might just be another, very tiny, practically insignificant reason for my choice. You see, the Mr and I are discussing the, ahem, possibilities of spawning a little Malcontent. It's certainly not something for the immediate present, but very possibly, we're hoping, something for the near future. And, having seen the stretch marks that my mother is burdened with, I've always been wary of how my own body will succumb to all of that scary 'swelling'. Fundamentally though, this cream has turned out to be a surprise cure for my recurrent patches of eczema, but, well, if pushed, I might also concede that alongside the curative, I'm also considering the preventative. Secretly of course... Derma Mum's the word.

Monday, 30 July 2007

#43 Magic Mask

I have a problem recalling products that I’ve used in the past. I rifle through thousands of packages a year and unless I make a note of each and every one, there’s the risk of dozens falling by the wayside and eventually dropping off my radar – into spare room, bottom drawer, kept out of sunlight oblivion. To combat this, several years ago I started carrying a notebook around with me and forced myself to write up the results of every product that I took the time to test – but the busier I became, the less I scribbled. The notebook – a pink Smythson one – reappeared last weekend during a belated spring-clean. I’d forgotten quite how disciplined I’d once been and was delighted to rediscover the skincare gems I’d discarded along the way. The eternal beauty ed. problem is that the minute a pot dries up or tube is sucked dry, there are twenty equivalent products on the desk to be tested – so it’s easier to swap old for new, rather than purchase another of the same. But, of course, it’s seriously flawed logic – if you find a great thing, you’re much better off sticking with it. So, scanning my scrawls, it cheered me to see a face mask I’d raved about, but had also managed to forget. Well, this is where I rectify the oversight. Körner Sparkle Brightly Renewal Mask. What a corker. I pulled this back out of the bag and have already used it twice – both after sleepless nights, when my skin had to look great. It really did the trick. It creates an evenness of tone, softness and brightness without any physical exfoliation being necessary – and despite having temperamental skin – the formula did not sting or irritate in the slightest. It’s as close to a ten as I’m ever going to give and, well, it feels good to have it back in my Körner.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

#42 Rose-Tinted Glass

I've always been a fan of the rose. From the water my mother rinsed her hands with to the syrup that my grandmother would use in her sponges, it fragrances some of my sweetest memories. Weleda Wild Rose Body Lotion landed on my desk today. It smelt the same as all the other natural/organic rose creams that I've smelt over the years (and there are several), but it was the texture that surprised me. It's thin and rather watery, but serves up deep, long-lasting hydration. A morning rubdown keeps skin soft till bedtime and it's particularly good on those back-of-arm bumps, that I ordinarily slather with buttery, gloopy creams - which I'll admit, tend to get rather sticky in the summer. There is, however, one big problem. The packaging is a complete pain in the arse (or arm, dependent on how long you have to carry it for). It's only 100ml, which for a body cream is pretty skimpy, but the thick, blue, glass bottle - recyclable though it may be - means you get little product with a lot of extraneous weight. Very frustrating as the product formula is ideal for holidays - combining as it does skin-healing rosehip, calendula and jojoba, but the packaging formula is a miscalculation - unless you'd like to stash a small, heavy and breakable bottle in your case? No, thought not. It's a shame and ultimately means that this summer-saviour will be left on the shelf and replaced with a larger, lighter and luggage-friendlier lotion. The search begins again.

Monday, 23 July 2007

#41 Cold Booster

When the sky’s starting to look like the coagulated skin on a cup of anaemic tea, it’s time to take action. Tongue-in-cheek, in the face of the rain, dancing in the streets type action – irrational and immature – and cheap drugstore make-up always does the trick. What caught my eye today? The Stargazer eyeshadows that have popped up in Urban Outfitters – it’s a cross between theatrical face paint and that plastic pretend make-up you could buy in kits in toyshops and fake-paint your doll’s face with. It’s great fun. Loud ‘n’ proud – but certainly not new. It’s been around since 1978, when it was first flogged on a market stall on the King’s Road and worn by all the secretly posh punks in the area. Nowadays, they’re based in Croydon – which, let’s face it – has scored more than its fair share of cool points over the years…

The colours are still hot and unapologetically synthetic – no bones, sandalwoods or whispers here – which, on a day like this, can’t help but make me smile. Other hot shots that have perked me up this week include Ruby + Millie Liquid Eye Colour in Metallic Gold, NARS Shimmer Eyeshadow in Party Monster and the beautylicious MAC Eyeshadow in Electric Eel – glory glory. They sure ain’t subtle, but then you can thank the black, boisterous heavens for that.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

#40 Sisley... Seriously?

A large part of my job is to attend press days, kiss the cheeks of PRs, nibble on crab cakes, sip champagne and nod my head enthusiastically when presented with the latest, groundbreaking, world-changing revolution in beauty... cue well-timed oohs and aahs and there we have it, job done. It's fantastic, it's fun and when it involves PRs with whom I have a real giggle, it doesn't feel like work at all.

Then, unfortunately, there are the events that leave a bitter taste in the mouth. The events where the presentations are embarassingly hyperbolic, insincere or at worst, factually incorrect. Now, you wouldn't expect this from the best brands. The brands that pride themselves on cutting edge research and consumer intelligence. There have been some howlers in the past, but none quite so insulting as the recent Sisley launch - for their new Sisleya Radiance Anti-Aging[sic] Concentrate. It all started well enough. It's another product that deals with pigmentation. It has had impressive results. A lot of research etc etc etc. Then my mind wandered. There were little sugary cupcakes on the table, each decorated with an icing 'S' - though no one actually ate any of them - but it was all very white and light and pretty. Then the problems started. The spiel was given - not by the wonderful PRs, of whom I think very highly - but by a lady within Sisley's own ranks, who is responsible for training or education or something along those lines. Now, this blog is not meant to shame or sully, so I shan't get into the particulars - but this lady's beliefs (which she stressed, were 100% scientifically proven) were, in the main, complete manure. She used an imprecise, unscientific and confused mix of terminology; she fluffed her explanation of SPF several times; she repeatedly stressed that an own-brand product provided 100% daily protection - and when probed, admitted, that didn't include protection from UVA or UVB and she finished on a glorious high note - by advising us to use the product for 'two entire months, TWO months, yes, 28 days - and you'll see a difference.'

The irony is that Sisley is a fine brand. It sells itself. It has thousands of faithful followers - many of whom are the savviest consumers on the planet - and they know a good thing when they see one... just as, it has to be said, beauty eds can sniff out a dud when they see it. The product? Great texture, nice smell, good ingredients. It's been handed over to Mama Malcontent and we'll see what the verdict is in, what? Two months? Two months - yes - 28 days time. What an education.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

#39 Clean Spleen

Not content with having jumpy hormones (yes, my blood test result showed a couple of anomalies), I found out yesterday that a couple of my other organs have also been plotting & picketing against me. A face reader looked deep into my eyes and told me that I was prone to a grumbling gut and sluggish spleen and told me to eat more hot food - with ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon - have a couple of colonics and start swallowing Psyllium husks every morning. Oh joy. Apparently this is the reason, once and for all, for my baffling breakouts. So not only am I taking pills to even out my hormones, along with wild blue/green algae for my skin, but now I also need to swap my morning cuppa for a couple of capsules chased with a pint of water. Even in summer, she said, it's essential for me to eat hot foods and to avoid too many salads, fresh fruits and uncooked vegetables. In one half-hour session, all that I held to be true about good nutrition was trashed by a woman with, it has to be said, skin so good that it was impossible to estimate her age.

I wanted to test the theory so consulted one of the many McKeith manuals. I bought them, like most people, when they were in a WH Smith's promotion and refer to them every now and again when I'm feeling a bit iffy. I don't subscribe to her 'miraculous' cure - I mean, she takes the most toxic living things in the country and makes them eat fruit & veg for two months and then... CAN YOU BELIEVE IT??... they manage to lose weight? I mean, it's hardly groundbreaking stuff, is it? Having said that, there's a lot of interesting information in her original book about the self-diagnosis of ailments and when I took a peek at the problems that had been pestering me... well, voila, there were the same words, clear as day. Forehead spots? Sluggish spleen and dodgy gut. Hot food and Psyllium husks. Well, that shut me up.

So it's only day two of this new regime. I've been skipping my customary cereal with ice-cold milk for breakfast and salad for lunch and already, I'm feeling, perhaps rather obviously, all warm inside. Hot porridge, hearty vegetable bake, carrot & coriander soup, chickpea curry... my meal planner is starting to resemble a McKeithathon. What's been most interesting is the fact that, because of my salad/fruit/veggie munching, I considered my diet to be the last possible cause of my problems. It took someone with far more insight and expertise to really make me see where I was going wrong and when I thought about it, yes, I did have a problem. I've always had a grumbly tumbly and suffered with various food intolerances. In reality, I wasn't regularly giving my body the correct, specific sustenance that it required. In just two days, things are feeling a lot better.

Now I'm going at it wholeheartedly, to see whether or not it's really my innards that are the problem and if, once they've had a good spring clean, the forehead spots will magically disappear - FOREVER. It's the ultimate test. It's not hormones (they've been dealt with), it's not skincare (Liz Earle is proving a treat) - it's, well, me. So, here's to a month of husks and hot food. Hopefully, it'll get to the, ahem, bottom of things and I won't even need those colonics... unlike those poor YAWYE participants who can't escape Gillian storming in to kick their butts into gear - or even worse, forcing a tube up it.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

#38 Spot the Difference

Your best friend will say things like, 'It's just a spot. I can't even see it. I promise you, if you hadn't pointed it out, I would never have noticed it.' So, how can it be the only thing that you are thinking about? You're supposed to be working and you're really torturing yourself with dark thoughts, such as, oh my god, I think it's growing. I can feel it. It's probably pulsating like a police siren. Why, why, why did I have to get a spot now - of all times - when I'm supposed to be photographed/go on a date/get married?!

I hear you. I've read your emails and sat, nodding, through most of them - those of you who have acne, those who simply suffer from the single beacon that pops up before the period and others who manage clear complexions for months at a time, only to be thwarted at the single most inopportune moment and retreat to their bedrooms for the rest of the week.

It's getting us down. It's enough to wreck our week. Serious enough to turn us from head-held-high-flyers into pavement-scanning lost souls. But, if there's one thing I've learnt about spots, it's that the less you worry about them, the better the situation gets. I get the odd rager on my forehead - almost always before my period - and have been reduced to tears in the past. The thing is, worrying, tapping, prodding, testing and attempting to squeeze these rude awakenings into oblivion is always the worst possible course of action. I've turned a tiny pinprick into a colossus in the past - simply because I could not bloody leave it alone.

I've learnt from my mistakes. I also decided, several months ago, to roadtest a few new skincare regimes in order to find one that nourished and calmed my changeable complexion. I was using spot-specific lines, having incorrectly surmised that, well, I get spots, so that's the main concern. An excellent Guinot facialist set me straight. My skin was not excessively oily - to the contrary - I had in fact been using products all over my face that my dry (and occassionally combination) skin was reacting badly to. I had tried Dr. Sebagh Breakout Foaming Cleanser - way too strong for me. Within three days, my skin was puckering from dryness as I just wasn't 'oily' enough to warrant the switch. I also used Bliss Steep Clean Cleansing Milk and Fabulous Foaming Face Wash. I liked them both - up to a point. After a couple of weeks, during which time I continued to get the odd spot - my skin became increasingly sensitive, as both formulas contain exfoliants (the former chemical, the latter mechanical) and I think a twice-a-day slough was, once again, too harsh a regime for my skin to take. The other odd thing was that, despite using an exfoliating cleanser twice a day, my skin didn't feel particularly smooth. In fact, I still felt that urge to exfoliate - with another product - at least twice a week in order to get a clear, smooth surface. I knew then, that nothing was working. I was dry, sometimes oily, occassionally spotty and my skin hadn't looked 'luminous' in weeks. So I went cold turkey. I cleared out the cabinet and started from scratch.

I felt, instinctively, as though my skin needed a break. As though it needed consistency. I knew it was time to stop chopping and changing the various components in my routine. So, I made the move to Liz Earle. I started using her famous Cleanse + Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser, followed with a dose of her Skin Repair Moisturiser for normal skin. Nothing else. I didn't even use the Instant Boost Skin Tonic at first, so determined was I to get back to basics. That first week my forehead and chin broke out with a vengeance. Angry, red, raised spots. I almost chucked the stuff into the bin. But I persevered - namely because the nourishing ingredients and essential oil-rich formulas began to make my skin feel far more comfortable. I'd been dodging oil for so long - convinced that it was the source of all my pimple problems - using oil-free moisturiser, cleanser and foundation, that nothing prepared me for my skin's eventual reaction. The first couple of days, yes, I looked a bit shiny. But then, things started to settle down. My dry hide drank up the cream and settled to calmness beneath the nourishing veil of cleanser I applied each morning and night. It felt good. I could cleanse and leave my skin for minutes before applying moisturiser - it wouldn't feel dry or irritated. As I'd assumed, the switch back to oil-containing, skin-hydrating formulas has made my skin settle. At present, I have one tiny spot - a pre-period one - on my forehead that didn't give me any bother at all. I have an action plan in place, of course, to deal with future twinges - here it is:

1. If I feel a painful throb beneath the skin's surface I roll on Liz Earle Spot On

2. If, by the next day, the throb has turned into a 'bump', I squeeze a thin layer of Dermalogica Medicated Clearing Gel onto it and leave overnight. This vacuums out any pore-clogs and reduces the life of the spot by a couple of days. It's also exfoliating - so if you're a resolute squeezer - it will help you pop the pimple with minimal effort.

3. I also keep Remede's Double Oxygenating Booster on standby. I've had some good results. Sometimes a dab of this has managed to stop a bump developing into a spot - but sometimes it hasn't. It's not the miracle cure it is marketed as, but as far as reducing the life of a spot goes, it's one of the best.

So there it is. Simple. Basic skincare routine. A spot-zapping strategy... oh, and lest I forget, a new gym regime that has taken my stress levels from sky-high to pelvic-floor low. Yes, my name is Miss Malcontent and I'm a gymgoer. I know, yaawwwwn. But, it's helping. Eyes brighter, skin clearer - all that feel-good malarkey. Simple, yes, but in this case, spot on.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

#37 Roses really smell like...

Last year I was sent a sample of the Sheerin O'Kho First Class Flight. Pleasing packaging, beautiful bottle, a slew of serious ingredients and a press release that wailed wonders about the all-natural scent - derived exclusively from essential oils. Now, the bottle sat in my samples drawer for upward of three months. Conditions were neither warm nor bright, so when I finally fished it out to give it a wee road test (before a week-long road trip), I almost gagged at the scent. There was something very very wrong. A sharp, sour smell - the sort that I associate with curdled milk. I sniffed again. I rubbed some on my hand to see if it dissipated on contact and quite the reverse happened. The smell lingered like (please forgive me), ahem, cat piss. I reached the only logical conclusion - the product must've gone off. Except, last week, I smelt a different product and had the exact same stomach lurching reaction. This time round, it came from Living Nature's Tinted Moisturiser. I've sniffed this product three times - three different bottles - and each time I'm overwhelmed by the smell. Cat piss. Cat piss. Cat piss. It's such a shame as I would happily have slathered this on - the colours and textures are beautiful. On the upside, the pong of the Living Nature product does fade with time - I subjected my right hand to it during this typing session, regularly re-sniffing to check for changes and by sniff 25, it had dramatically improved. But, I'm still averse to putting anything on my skin that smells bad, even for a second, as it has too dramatic, and negative, an effect on my mood.

These smells might be 'natural', stemming as they do from the innards of a variey of plants and flowers - but they are still unpleasant. Perhaps I've sniffed an odd batch, or I'm extraordinarily sensitive to the scent, but whatever the reason behind my reaction, their smells prohibit me from using them. Simple as.

Lest anyone has the same experience and decides to forgo the natural route in the future, I'd urge a bit of sniffing around first. is a good place to start, as all the skincare products on the site are naturally fragranced with essential oils and many of them smell sensational - Lavera and Trilogy are both nose- and skin-pleasing examples.

Monday, 2 July 2007

#36 Sister Act

I've just had the most self-indulgent weekend on record. I snoozed, watched movies, revisited my favourite novel, organised my magazines and managed to spend almost an entire 48 hours in just three rooms. Ordinarily, I'd have been climbing the walls, but there was something about the sodden streets and humid air that had me yearning for some quiet time – I think I uttered no more than twenty words in total as the hubby was work-tied all weekend. Last night's guilty pleasure was a re-run of Mean Girls – which, despite the tenth viewing, still has me howling with laughter in parts. It also got me thinking about The Plastics – the perfectly polished clique of girls at the movie's centre. Ironed hair, glossed pouts, airbrushed skin and hollow heads. It's hard to argue that the triumvirate's queen bee doesn't look good – even if she's full of matter so superficial (and artificial) that she'd give a bag of turkey twizzlers a run for their money. Her brand of beauty – the teen queen look – can be spotted every Saturday on most high streets around the country. I've always been intrigued by this look – knowing just how much intensive work goes into it. Clump-free lashes, flawless foundation (utterly unnecessary given their naturally peachy skin), pencilled arches and watermelon mouths… growing up, it was my sister, not me, who fitted into this category. She would set her alarm clock an hour before mine every morning, wash and blowdry her hair, spend thirty minutes perfecting her kohl-rimmed eyes and powdered face and skip breakfast as she was too busy tidying her brows. The routine gave her confidence – she was always a hit with the boys – whereas I found it irksome. I just wanted to roll out of bed, dab on some lip balm, pull my hair into a ponytail and go to school. The difference divided us for years. I could not see past her maquillage mask. She could not understand my naked face. At some point our paths crossed. I started to care about my skin. I read up on balms, creams, serums, gels and oils. I bought beauty magazines and earmarked the pages with good advice. Then, along with my first crush, came make-up – and, embarrassed as I am to admit it – it was my younger sister who guided my hand. She showed me how to pull an exaggerated smile and brush a pop of colour onto the part of the cheek that appears the most raised. She traced an expert line across my lids with Guerlain Terracotta Loose Powder Kohl Eyeliner – a seriously extravagant purchase for a 15 year old – but one that she uses to this day. She dabbed Shiseido Lipgloss in Champagne onto my lips and curled my lashes, before defining them with YSL mascara – I think it was Everlong. She introduced me to Juicy Tubes, Face Powder (jn a square box, decorated with the face of a geisha) and Bourjois blusher. As I evolved (or regressed – it is, I suppose, a judgement call) so too did our relationship. Funnily enough, the tables have now turned. She still knows her stuff, but with hundreds of new products launching every year, she loses track. I'm paid to be on the ball – and enjoy pointing her in the right direction and filling her bag with products whenever she pops over for a cuppa. She still pokes fun at me – the clueless, tomboyish, trainer-wearing big sister who has somehow managed to metamorphose into a 'real' girl… a real girl, who, occasionally, develops a penchant for the plastic.

Friday, 29 June 2007

#35 Living Colour

Contrary character that I am, the greyer it gets out there, the brighter my wardrobe becomes. Sartorial and cosmetic. My current addiction? Urban Decay 24/7 Eyeliners in Deviant, Lust, Electric and Covet, £9. I’ve not worn this much colour since my sixth-form days – when I discovered MAC eye paints on an illicit trip to Selfridges. It’s remarkable the effect a slick of poster paint pigment can have on the psyche. Problem is, you start to develop a superiority complex – pitying those poor souls who stick with their beige-on-beige, blonde-on-blonde shades – living a life that borders on the monochromatic. You also have the opportunity to be mistaken for a college kid – which happened to me during a semi-embarrassing Q&A session with my pharmacist. She asked me if I was above the legal age of consent. Really. I produced my driving license and, needless to say, her reaction was legendary. She squealed. She choked. She went all goggle-eyed. Yes, I do look young for my age, but I’m far more inclined to thank the Crayola colours at my disposal, than my genetic heritage… after all, there aren’t many thirty-something women who’d sport shocks of slick liner or gloss on a working day – admittedly, probably for fear of being mistaken for the office junior. I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing… most might lean towards the latter. But I figure, we’re all ageing. All of us. Every second. So rather than waste our years trying to look the part or grow into our shoes or fill the uniform etc etc, why not just be utterly indulgent and play painted faces on a daily basis. I promise, it’ll put a smile on your face… and if you’re a cack-handed cosmetician, well, at least it’ll put a smile on the faces of others.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

#34 Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

I've just fallen victim to a secret party that left me 1) shaking and scanning the room for the closest bottle of champagne; 2) simultaneously self-conscious and giddily excited and 3) astonished by the skilled subterfuge that had taken place around me during the last two months. My partner, my mother, my sister, my work colleagues and my closest friends have all managed to lie to me at some point within these past weeks in order to create a single moment when I would return home to the heart-stopping shock of having a dozen people pop up in my tiny apartment kitchen, shouting the word 'SURPRISE!' Well, congrats, you got me.

Heart-warming though it was, I couldn't help but fear how easily I fell for all the lies and how naive I must be to not have realised for a single second that my very own husband was planning an evening that was so well-oiled that most of my friends thought he'd also been hiding a secret sideline as a premiere party planner.

The only problem was that I'd spent the day out with the family, being dragged from destination A to Z before being allowed to return home... I was looking far from my best. So after the initial 'Wahey' moment, I retreated to my bedroom where I gave myself five minutes to throw on a party dress and sling suitable slap at my fraught face. Any longer and the search party would've arrived - poking fun at my vanity and ogling my cabinets of cosmetics. Nope, couldn't have that.

When in a rush, I play it safe. SK-II Airbrush Foundation makes my skin look sheeny and uniform, even when it's veering towards tired and temperamental. I spray the first squirt onto a paper tissue as the initial discharge can be oilier and less fine than the 'mist' that appears afterwards. It's a quick spray back and forth, from left to right, over my entire face, with eyes closed. If you're doing it right, from the correct distance and the dispenser is working without a hitch, absolutely no blending will be necessary. You just let it be. Brilliant. I then dusted Bobbi Brown Blush in Soft Pink onto the apples of my cheeks and swiped Dior Skinflash across my sleep-deficient circles. Three easy pieces... and the result? A graceful reemergence (no one noticed the difference, but simply commented on how 'well' I looked), which coupled with several glasses of champagne and home-made cocktails later, meant I still looked good, even after I'd behaved disgracefully.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

#33 Hey Shorty

Short hair has long been stigmatised - less feminine, less sexy, less desirable - which is probably why I've had waist-length hair for the last ten years of my life. I loved swishing it, loved men commenting on it, loved piling it up into a Hepburn-style knot and tonging it into a sleek wave worthy of Veronica Lake. Then I changed. I looked at my face, saw my long hair - just... hanging there - wig-like and inanimate and I thought, I want hair that does something. Hair that sticks up a bit, gets ruffled, can look messy and shaggy and textured. Unkempt and lived in - rather than... cultivated.

There's no style in particular that I like. Not for me a 'POB' or the new 'Rhianna' or the Kate Bosworth style of blunt bob - I lack the facial structure & chin-jutting confidence to pull any of them off. I want a real style, for my real, kinky-malinky hair and I don't want it to involve hours with ceramics and constant hairspray top-ups.

So, I went to Mathew Alexander and asked him for the hack. 'Take it all off!' I cried - drama drama drama. He wasn't sure. He liked my long hair. He flattered me. I had to convince him that there was a young girl with rather a lot of attitude hidden beneath the Alice In Wonderland hair. He bought it. He saw it. He cut it. I LOVED it. It's just hair, but ridiculously, I felt brand new & looked at myself anew. Carried myself differently. It bounced when I walked. It got messed up but still looked great. My long hair would get tangled so easily - catching on bag chains, in zippers, getting knotted into hairbands - my new, chin-length hair was foolproof. Five minutes to wash, five to dry, a quick whip of the ceramics and ta-da. Mum said it looked 'French' - always a good thing. I know it looks like me. For the first time, I'm not hiding behind my keratin-curtains. My hair is just hair and it needn't be fiddled with, refreshed or restyled. What a weight off.

My hair styling routine has now been significantly reduced. The one product that's my new staple? Kerastase Ciment Thermique. It gives hair 'guts' - something hairdressers love to say - by plumping up frizzy, weak and flyaway bits and giving it improved shine and strength. It's not silicone-y either - so hair stills feels exactly like hair - just easier to style. The perfect product for low mane-tenance girls like (FINALLY) me!

Friday, 15 June 2007

#32 Stress Test

STRESS. That overused, overheard, overexcused phenomenon. Well, I've got it. I've been keeping a skin diary. Yes, self-indulgent I know, but on the advice of a leading dermatologist I have been recording the multitudinous fluctuations in my skin and it's been, well, illuminating. There's me thinking it's the product formulas, the clashing experimentation, the air-conditioning, the pollution. Well, it's probably a bit of all of those, but more than anything, it's my own, uncontrollable blood-bubbling. Yesterday I had several melt-downs. I had four hefty deadlines in one week and as I'm going away for the weekend, I was working 15 hour days in order to get everything done. I was as tightly coiled as an 80s bubble perm and despite the fact that I have not had a single blemish for over a month, I woke up this morning to a landmine of a forehead and dotty, angry cheeks. This is no coincidence. My skin diary last showed similar activity after a series of hair-pulling, heart-aching arguments with the hubby. My skin has become a map of my emotional misdemeanours - spots flagging up the pain or panic I've gone through the day before. I've long known that my hormones are at the bottom of this pimply pile and that their misbehaviour is provoked by my inability to control my reaction to the 'stress' in my everyday life. The thing is, I hardly ever get stressed, but when I do, it's an insane, heart-pounding, dry-throat, hair-pulling sort of feeling. It might only last a couple of hours, but it's something that I really can't control. Something that I've had to accept as a part of my modern, manic, deadline-driven life. Something that gets cortisol - that maligned 'stress' hormone - flying around the bloodstream. The same hormone that is often found in heightened levels within the bloodstreams of acne sufferers... and so the vicious circle goes round and round and round, because if you have acne, you're likely to be pretty damn stressed about it.

So, what's the answer? Ignore it? Hope for the best? Seek more medical advice? For me, I'm trying all of the above. I'm popping pills to calm, eating things to strengthen and have also been 'stuck' a couple of times in the hope that something interesting will show up in a bloodtest and explain why I've been having my mood and skin yo-yos for the last six months. I'm lucky though. I have a lovely, young, smiling GP who listens sympathetically and agrees with my stress/cortisol/hormone/spots theory. She doesn't think 'stress' is a dirty word. In fact, she's even prone to it herself. A simple admission, but one that took the weight out of the word and left me feeling a lot better about everything. Which, as us stress-sufferers know, is a strong start indeed.

Monday, 11 June 2007

#31 Skins

As much as I would like to think of my beauty quest as being utterly just – blind and impartial – the truth of the matter is, looks count. Take the new cosmetics range from Korres. It’s beautiful – inspiringly ripe colours, familiar coarse & earthy packaging, bright visuals – I want it all. I’ve sketched and rubbed a good deal of it over the backs of my hands, across lids and into cheeks already and am impressed with the easygoing textures… but I imagined good things from the moment I opened the envelope. Great expectations – that were not dashed at the first sniff or swipe. Then you have the products at the other, unfortunate, embarrassing, ‘editorially-unfit’ end of the spectrum. Such as Montagne Jeunesse’s horrifically frightening face masks. Just how this company expects to elicit a sense of excitement with their shots of heads and bodies bedecked in fruit flurries and plant pot pourri is a mystery to me. The packaging is HIDEOUS. But, unfairly, the products are rather good. The bust firming gel is a decent, tightening brew that really does get your boobies tingling and most importantly, wobbling far less than before. Yes, the results are temporary – but then, aren’t they all? Likewise, the marine mineral mask is very hydrating, even if it isn’t ideal for sensitive skins and it’s too heavily perfumed. All in all – not too bad – yet the packaging is fit only for practical jokes and ironic birthday gifts.

Perhaps it shouldn’t matter. Perhaps, that exhausted maxim ‘Beauty is only skin-deep’ should apply to our cosmetic quests too… but then, we are talking about cosmetics. It’s as superficial as it gets – we want to look good – so it makes sense that we expect the same of the products we choose. There are the Chanels, Korners, Stellas, Stilas and Paul & Joes of this world – and then there are the Virgin Vies, Collection 2000, Colorsports and fake nail companies. Yes, yes, yes – they might be GOOD, but they’re just too darned ugly.

And lest I be labelled a, well, ‘label’ whore – I’d also like to big up the little winners too. Barbara Daly, Bourjois, Mister Mascara, Rimmel, Urban Decay and No 7. And that’s just for starters. No, it has nothing to do with price – just plain beauty. Inside and out.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

#30 Passages of time...

As crazy as those fictional Kellogg’s Crunchy Nutters are about their cereal, I am about my body cream. I douse, slather, baste, steep and mask myself in the stuff at least twice a day. I've unearthed some fab finds - the Brown Earth will always be a favourite, but, yes, I've raved on about it enough – but come summer, I’m a rotten changeling - eternally drawn to new scents and textures.

I cannot stress enough the strength that the correct scent has had on my wellbeing. I must have very finely tuned passages as I map out the majority of my life with my nose. I still remember one torrid summer when I’d been advised to try a Brazilian bikini wax and fallen narcissistically in love with my newfound smoothness… as had my new boyfriend. We were abroad and temperatures rose to beyond 40 degrees. We spent hours in cold baths, fingering ice cubes – or pouring chilled water over our poolside bodies.

This summer, we escape to similarly sweaty climes for another week. I am not sure, but I think that perhaps I have found my new companion. The Hei Poa Baume Au Monoi. I scanned the ingredients list and was disappointed to see several ‘ates’ and ‘yls’ – when it comes to bodycare, I strongly believe the shorter the ingredients list, the better – but last night I rubbed a thick layer onto the back of my left arm (I used Liz Earle Nourishing Botanical Body Cream on my right) and compared them in the morning. Hei Poa won by a mile. My skin was silky, soft, back-of-arms bumped reduced and retained the appealing scent. I shall continue to use it for a week without interruption and am interested to see whether or not my skin continues to react so positively – as positively as my husband, who last night held me tightly, inhaled deeply and said that I reminded him of that heated holiday, years ago. His nose had led him back to summer. In a clichéd coconut sense, Hei Poa smells like ‘summer’… yes… and summer, for us both, will always be that single, sweltering season. It might have been London and we had no sea to cool off in, but that scent took us back. Nasal passages indeed.

Friday, 1 June 2007

#29 The Goody Bag #2

The bag has now evolved into a 60 cm deep drawer. What am I loving?

The brand new Organic Home Treatment Mists from Natural Magic. Sicilian Lemon & Fresh Basil is a favourite. It’s unusual – the basil could be too strong for some (in fact, it’s not dissimilar to the strength of the basil within MOP’s Mint & Basil range) – but the citrus sharpness just about cuts through it. It is labelled ‘Refresh: Energy Boost’ and doesn’t disappoint.

Essie Nail Polish in Fifth Avenue. I’m sort of annoyed that orange is apparently the colour of the season – lord, I hate those temporal tags - when it’s always been my lacquer of choice and I’ve been wearing it with my summer sandals for over five years. It’s fresher than red, picks up a tan like no other hue and makes me smile whenever my eyes catch sight of my toes. This shade is a beauty. Fittingly, the brighter the day, the more orange it seems and likewise, the duskier it is, the more it veers towards redness. And, of course, because it’s Essie, it’s been on my feet for a full week, in boots, flip-flops, shoes, socks and slippers (such is the odd weather week we’ve been having) – and there isn’t a snag or chip in sight. While we’re on the subject of top talons, MAC’s new Nail Lacquer in Kid Orange – which MAC have adroitly described as ‘unpretentious coral cream’ - is another killer colour that you really can’t miss the mark with.

The Body Shop Lip Colour in Bare. Not really a nudist myself – I like a perky peach, modish coral or vinyl red – this surprised me. It’s a scary toffee/peanut butter sort of colour, but on the lips, it manages to pick out pink and golden colouring – blending to a sophisticated, caramel sheen. I’ve seen it against black, olive and white complexions and it worked well on all. A pretty smart shade-shifter.

And....what am I ditching?

Revlon Pinch Me Cheek Blush. It’s very wet and watery, which feels rather nice, but then you blend it into the skin and watch in bemusement as it disappears completely, leaving no trace of colour or sheen behind. I suggest they go back to the drawing board with this one… au naturel is one thing, but paying for a product that is essentially invisible is quite another.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

#28 Tom-Boy-Foolery

Growing up, I had several idols. All heroines, all ballsy belles, all... I suppose, 'tomboys'. Calamity Jane - she was SO cool (until she ditched her gun-slinging in favour of camel-coloured suede and a double-wedding.... ick!!); Wonder Woman; Little Women's Jo and my absolute favourite - George, from Enid Blyton's Famous Five... I loved them all. They made me climb trees, challenge the boys to fisticuffs, scare the 'delicate' girls in my year with vile ghost stories (I even made one girl throw up after a particularly gruesome tale), strut about in oversized tracksuits, with oversized trainers and a baseball cap to match. I was ten years old, and by god, I thought I was cool. I was a tomboy, through and through - but I never wanted to be a 'boy'. I could outrun them, outplay them, outwit them and outfight them. I hated dolls and dressing up. Having my hair plaited. I wanted an action man and a Ghostbusters car and a subscription to a bunch of macabre comics at my local store. I liked my hair cut short, with a 'boy' style fringe at the front (that I was convinced looked like 'curtains' - the coolest boy's look EVER when I hit secondary school). But I soon learned that arm wrestling boys and wearing baggy hoodies wasn't really going to snag me a man. And yes, I liked boys. No, LOVED boys. Perverse really, as being a tomboy meant I was always surrounded by them, but none of them ever fancied me because I'd kick their behinds during lunchtime footie games. Not very sexy.

A lot's changed since then. I still can't resist the odd kickabout. I wear flat shoes everyday as I abhorr that totty 'totter' you develop with stilettos and you'll never ever find me wearing pink (well, George would be disgusted) - but there are more than enough items of powder and paint to cater for a modern, rather glam girl, who still likes to give off a bit of attitude without ever looking cutesy or pouty.

My favourite tomboy trinkets?

Revlon Just Bitten Lip Stain - No need to pack a mirror + gloss for retouching as this liquid is satisfyingly and highly pigmented. It therefore stays put for longer and won't wash off with the first sip of wine. Leaves behind a deeper pink than the competitors, in an 'I've just eaten a punnet of raspberries' sort of way.

MAC Creme Colour in Hush - Multi-purpose - good for tomboys. A slash across eyelids, browbones and the top of cheekbones gives a nice, outdoorsy highlight to the face.

Shiseido Accentuating Colour Stick in Rouge Flush - a great, genuinely 'flushed' colour that you flick on without the hassle of brushes. Even the hamfisted can't go wrong as the colour is never overpowering and the creamy formula blends well.

17 Lash & Brow Mascara - big of brow as I am, I'm always careful to keep my caterpillars in check - with this. It's cheap, but very effective. I've tried almost everything else and nothing's as good - including the Giorgio Armani Eyebrow Gel that gave me a serious case of brow dandruff within hours. Flaky formulas are the WORST. This one is firm, but never rigid.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

#27 Witchcraft and the Wardrobe

I used to watch MTV’s Cribs for one specific reason – to get a look at just how large some of those walk-in closets were. Most of them were bigger than my bedroom. Some outsized my garden. A handful even surpassed the entire top floor of my house. My sister would get shoe envy; my brother, trainer rage… me? I’d be bedazzled, but never jealous, and after sitting goggle-eyed through the fiftieth or so show, I actually began to feel relief… relieved that my pedestrian, self-assembled cupboard (it really isn’t even glam enough to be classified as a wardrobe) was a normal ‘mortal’ size and therefore the perfect form of contraception – against ill-advised credit-card blowouts. I’ve never been able to go too loopy with the card in Zara – I mean, I’ve got nowhere to put any new purchases, so why buy them? The fact is, seeing all those rows, pegs, drawers, shelves and rails of shimmering, glittering, blinding pieces of leather and fabric, I’d be struck with one thought and one thought only – how on earth do these people choose what to wear in the morning?

That was several years ago and now, ironically, I face a similar dilemma on a daily basis. Not what to wear – I’m a simple dress & trench kinda girl – but what to put on my face and body. It’s ever-changing – it has to be, or I’d have nothing valid to write. At the moment I’m doing an oil-free thing. So I’m using Avene’s new Soothing Hydrating Serum, which I adore, followed by Clinique Moisture Surge. I am using Bliss Steep Clean Cleanser (not oil-free) – which I really like because it provides me with a thorough cleanse (to the point where my nose looked like a polished coin), but then I got a spot on my forehead and a couple of little bumps on my cheeks and had a beauty-ed-style panic, so decided to try Vaishaly Facial Wash in the morning (as it has an anti-bacterial action, but isn’t drying) and stick with Bliss at night (because it makes light work of daily grime and make-up). I had been using The Sanctuary Perfectly Polished Hot Cloth Cleanser. It made my skin feel lovely and soft, but unfortunately, as someone who’s prone to the odd spot and some serious oiliness, it wasn’t doing the trick. Too many oils and emollients in there for my liking – but working wonders on my mum’s dry, mature complexion.

Base-wise, I’m now rotating Clinique Moisture Sheer Tint with Murad Sunblock Sheer Tint during the day – both give a very subtle, but healthy, pinch of colour and are oil-free + SPF. Good news for me and my ever-shiny skin. At night, when I know I should be packing more anti-oxidants onto my skin, well, I’m not. I’m simply sticking with the same Avene + Clinique combo. I’m tempted to start using DCL’s C-Scape Serum. Or go back to Estee Lauder’s Night Repair. Or try Chantecaille Vital Essence. There’s something that lands on the desk everyday, that in truth, I’m tempted to pat onto my long-suffering, testing ground of a visage. Ooh, this will alleviate dark circles. This will give me even, ivory, yes I could be Mischa Barton’s sister type skin. That will hoover out the contents of any unsightly pores and leave me glowing like a scrubbed peach. Except, I’m not me of yesteryear – or of ten years ago. Now I know that there is no point in ‘the claim’. The proof is in the product. Yes, the item behind door number one might make my nose less shiny, but it won’t make me any less hardnosed. Skin saviours are not unearthed overnight. It takes weeks to work out what’s working and what isn’t. The cosmetic closet might be bursting at the seams – those Cribs hoochies ain’t got nothing on me – but I’m taking my time. And taking my regime one step at a time. Just as the dermatologist intended.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

#26 Touche-y Subject

The statistic - one Touche Eclat wand is sold every twenty seconds. I can see why. I used to love this little lightning rod - I'd swipe it everywhere - over eye bags, red patches, cheekbones, browbones, down the side of the nose. I went through one a month. Then, out of nowhere, I started to get red, itchy, swollen patches under my eyes and the minute I tried to cover the rashes up with more Touche Eclat - Kapow! Ouch ouch ouch. It stung like hell. So, I cut out the T.E. and within a week the eczema had cleared up completely. I asked around. I didn't want to think that I was the only person out there who had an allergic reaction, so I went on the search for kindred spirits. And there they were. A cousin. A work colleague. Another beauty editor. I certainly wasn't the first and I won't be the last. All of us, grouped together by our unfortunate sensitivity, had been brought out in eczema (most commonly around the eyes) after using the wand and, bizarrely, most of us had experienced the reaction after several hiccup-free months of faithful fellowship.

I've used myriad undereye concealers since - my eyes certainly know a good concealer when they see one. My test? An inadvisable look into the magnifying mirror - if lines, flakes, cracks, ridges form after application, it's binned. I found Laura Mericer's Secret Concealer too heavy; Estee Lauder's Ideal Light too 'silicone-y'; Jane Iredale's Active Light was a pain in the a*** to blend and Pout's Eyewander was not discernible enough for my liking (though, in fairness, it does not parade itself as a 'concealer', but as an 'illuminator'). Dior's Skinflash is my new staple. It brightens and blends beautifully. Plus, it's a handsome little devil that lasts all night and won't leave you with a rash in the morning... swoon.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

#25 Trip Up

There have been several short travels of late – yep, I know, can’t complain – that have helped me hone the art of packing. Current affairs shy as I am, I was unaware that you’re still not allowed to fly with liquids over 100ml, unless they’re in a clear, sealable plastic bag. It’s a tough choice – check the suitcase (along with the washbag) or compromise on the washbag, shift all it’s contents to an unattractive ‘freezer’ bag and carry on – which allows you to skip the frustrating baggage reclaim wait at the other end. This time, I was determined to do the latter, so I spent a week rifling through the best minis out there and because this is high-season in beauty journalism, there are legions to choose from. What did I like most?

Trilogy Everything Balm. It’s not a unique concept – there are lots of balms out there that are popular for the same reason e.g. Nuxe Reve de Miel Family Balm; Eight Hour Cream; The Sanctuary Skin Comforting Balm; Liz Earle Superbalm – but this one comes in a humungous 95ml pot that really allows you to scoop it up and rub it all over the body, without running out just two days into the holiday. It also smells good, is 100% natural and botanical and there are no mineral nasties anywhere is sight.

The REN Travel Set. As far as carrying on is concerned the slick black pouch is useless. Nice though. Products – some of which I’d never used before – were good too. It’s a handy, hassle-omitting selection – face cream, wash, serum, nourisher and body wash and cream.

Korres Little Natural Products (from London Flagship Store). I was lucky enough to get a batch of these for free and fell hard for the Citrus Body Milk. You know the sort of thing – it’s sunny, you’ve had a pedicure, you take a fresh, invigorating shower and then you coat yourself in a layer of light, but very hydrating, silky cream that leaves you smelling like fresh lemonade. Smile.

Clinique Moisture Surge Extra Thirsty Skin Relief. I had cabin-face (pruney, patchy, overly sensitive) – but I’m prone to oiliness too (just for fun). So, this baby is my little saviour. It’s oil-free and packs water into the skin instead, which after a few hours of recycled tumbleweed waftage, is a very welcome tonic.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

#24 Miss Misinformation...

If only this world of ours traded in fact. The blacks and the whites - the truth, without falsification, misinformation or exaggeration. I get that voice in my head - the Big Daddy voice from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - 'Mendacity!' - about a hundred times a day. Overhearing conversations, watching the news, scouring websites and yes, reading magazines. Fashion's one thing - I'm sick to the back teeth of misshaped morsels of fur, plastic, feather or leather being proclaimed 'IT' or 'MUST-HAVE' - but it's the beauty pages that really rub me up the wrong way. I read an article last week with so many horrendous howlers in it that I assumed it was a case of the editor-in-chief filling in the product 'blanks' - with little, or no, research (but a lot of ad. revenue) behind the choices. An oil-free foundation was recommended - except, it wasn't oil-free; an oil-free concealer was mentioned - except, ahem, once again, it had an oil-rich formula and the article even stated that one should 'use a tinted moisturiser as they all contain oil to leave a dewy glow.' Er, hello? I can name at least three tinted moisturisers that do not contain oil - including Clinique's fabulous Moisture Sheer Tints. Perhaps it's unfair to zoom in on this one article, but I'm simply using it as a case in point. I know the beauty ed. who wrote the piece (she's wonderful and one of the best in the biz) which is why it got me thinking about all the recycled misinformation that passes through the beauty pages every year. It also gets me angry as it's letting the readers down. Plain and simple. I used to scour the beauty pages as a teenager, hungry for the thing to fix my spots, brighten my complexion, erase my dark circles... did I ever find the answer I was looking for? Occassionally, rarely. Admittedly, a cream that works wonders on one complexion might be disastrous on another and there's no denying that this beauty biz of mine is deeply objective and therefore trades in inherently unreliable information. But, there are a lot of facts out there. Not spouted, spin-doctored statistics, but real, true hard ingredient lists and test results, alongside reliable recommendations and expert advice. So, why do we still find ourselves with magazines that miss the mark? Because, unfortunately, the truth is in the eye of the advertiser - and though the halls of magazine houses may be filled with the scent of perfume, there's also the unmistakable 'powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in the room' too, with the big bucks behind the entire operation shifting the focus from fact, to fact-imitating fiction. Ain't that right Big Daddy?

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

#23 In Pulchra Veritas...

Having been suckered into the Facebook boom several months ago, I have to say it's put more than a few smiles on my face. Old school mates, uni friends, work colleagues and long-lost acquaintances all in one bustling, social cyberspace that's far more fun than the clinical climate of Friends Reunited. Poking, gifting, messaging and scrawling overly emotional messages on a sibling's wall space are what it's all about and I check in at least once a week to see what's going on. My favourite bit so far? The inexplicable popularity of the cult community Caecilius est in horto, which not only reminded me of my wonderful, inimitable Latin teacher, but also the doomed lives of the Pompeian family, Metella, Quintus, Clemens, Grumio and the mischievous little dog, Cerberus, painted so vividly by the Cambridge Latin Course. Ah, it's nice to reminisce. But once you begin, you just can't stop, which is where I currently find myself...

The first item of make-up I bought? A clear, colourless mascara from Boots 17. Then a shimmering, nude pink from Boots Natural Collection and a little bottle of scent - once again from Boots - in a triangular bottle, with a black plastic lid, that was called something like Infinity, or Inspiration, or my sister thinks it might even have been called Atmosphere. I can't remember the name because it rubbed off within months of my buying it, but whatever it was called, it was fresh and icy with a sweet heart and I loved it so much that it went through three house moves with me - until I finally lost it about five years ago. Boots was my teenage make-up Mecca. I remember the slightly breathless feeling I would get on reaching the top of the escalator. My cousin and I would spend hours, utterly engrossed, smelling, testing, pouting and preening into the distorted foil mirrors that used to be stuck on the in-store display units and blow the majority of our pocket money there every Saturday afternoon.

A year later and I'd graduated onto eyeliner. Rimmel was my first - an unflattering minky brown that was too light for my complexion - followed by bronzing pearls from The Body Shop - a real extravagance at the time. The Body Shop was also where I had my first skincare experience. My mum noticed that I'd started to get spots - on the nose and forehead - so she coerced me into my nearest store, where I sat atop a stool, and had astringent, stinging solutions tried out on my pimples. I remember a brown, watery emulsion - with oats in it – with which I was advised to wash my face every morning, but it brought my skin out in heat rashes. I tried Clearasil too and used it for a month or so, before graduating onto a fruity, fragrance-free face wash from Holland & Barrett, followed by Oil of Ulay - as it was known back then. Eventually, I was a fully-fledged face painter and I wouldn't leave the house without painted nails, mascara, a white shimmery eyeshadow from Rimmel, a dusting of bronzer and a slick of edible strawberry lipgloss. I even had a set of brassy highlights put in by a family friend - how I loved them! - until a boy I fancied told me I looked much better without them and should consider prosecuting my hairdresser. First love snuck even more tricks up the sleeve - peppermint scented balm, tinted moisturiser (I used Botanics, which was an utterly fantastic formula, but sadly discontinued) and enough kohl to sketch canvases with. The joy of those first buys and the communal cosmetic summits we'd have in the school bathroom, exchanging face scrubs, lipsticks, mascara - dreading the end-of-lunch bell, when we'd have to run back to our form rooms for afternoon registration - once with a stubborn wax strip still stuck to my thigh.

That's what school was all about. Laughing till my sides split, experimenting on our faces until detention struck and (secretly) loving to learn about everything from Grumio's kitchen to Lady Macbeth's lost child. The classical crossed with the cosmetic. Aw, memories....

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

#22 Head Mistress

I’ve been trialling a couple of new Shampoo/Conditioner combos of late. The first is the new Frederic Fekkai offering – the Ageless range. First things first – the shampoo and conditioner are VERY pricey. That’s the biggest problem with Fekkai – his entire range comes with a premium – often prohibitive – tag. On the merits of this particular product though, I feel that it’s almost worth it. But £56 for both… mmm?…. Nah…forgeddaboutit. The upside? The shampoo is thick and nourishing. It lathers well and rinses clean away. Limp hair feels instantly fuller to the touch – even when wet. It also cleanses very thoroughly, despite having a nourishing formula. That’s my pet peeve with shampoos – formulas for dry or coarse hair tend to leave the strands with a residual, silicone sensation. This one doesn’t. The conditioner is good too. It’s creamy and strengthening, as opposed to heavy and softening – an unusual feat. My hair always feels very clean, strong and bouncy afterwards. The other combo is the new Crabtree & Evelyn La Source products. The Volumising Seaweed Shampoo is a bit of a Jekyll&Hyde. On first usage, it did give my barnet a noticeable boost, but on repeated use, it started to flounder as my hair became progressively flatter. Having said that, for those who want a daily hydrating shampoo this would score better. I could feel the avocado oil and shea butter in it – my hair and scalp loved it – but after a couple of days, it failed to create billowing bounce. The PRO column does, however, get a tick for smell. Not fruity or cutesy or sweet. It has a men’s-deodorant, salty sea freshness and keeps hair clean-scented for days. The Revitalizing Conditioner is nothing special. It’s a passable bog-standard texture that can be used every day, but it is neither particularly nourishing nor especially rejuvenating. As a buffer and to prevent the flatness brought on by the C&E Shampoo, I often went back to Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo as it always leaves my hair thick and residue-free. I therefore rotate C&E with FF and B&B and also use Kevin Murphy Born.Again, Label M Repairing Conditioner and Phytojoba when my ends are feeling brittle. It’s a complex equation, yes, and it hasn’t given me hair that’s swishy enough for a shampoo ad, but it has kept it shiny, healthy and strong for some time. Which is just about good enough for me and my mane… until, that is, something else comes along and turns my head...