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 clich├ęd 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.