Monday, 22 December 2008

#86 Best of 2008

Taking stock of the spare room, which is now a little sparser thanks to the annual clearout (AKA palming off products to friends & family, instead of buying gifts), has jogged the ol' memory and reminded me of the various things I have loved this year.

My most impressive find of 2008:

Illamasqua Eyelash Curlers
- I've used Shu, Mister Mascara, Suqqu, Shiseido... and they were all fine (Shu Uemura was probably the best out of the latter bunch) - but these babies make my lashes shoot for the stars in just a couple of seconds and without risk of wrist injury from repetitive compressing/depressing motion. A great find.

My favourite skincare launch of 2008:

Sarah Chapman Skinesis. I've been using it almost exclusively for the past four months and my skin is very soft, has been far less spotty than normal, and really does have a most un-winter-like glow. The Ultimate Cleanser isn't in the shops yet, but it's a winner. It melts into the skin just like soft butter and leaves it springy to the touch. I'm seriously impressed.

My favourite hair products of 2008:

KMS Makeover Spray
(grease? kapow!)has saved my life on more than one occasion

Kerastase Ciment Thermique for strengthening strands when they're feeling brittle

Redken Glass 01 before blow-drying, for when you want hair to look insanely shiny

And as far as failsafe hair-healing conditioners go, it's back to Aveda Damage Remedy Conditioner. A real star.

(p.s. I tried Shu Uemura Art of Hair Muroto Volume range yesterday and did not really like it. My hair was no bigger & the scent was too perfume-y. It did make my hair nice and shiny though - although a bit too static-prone. An overall thumbs down. Bah humbug, I know.)

My favourite body products of 2008:

I tried EVERYTHING this year and had short-lived love affairs with:
Yes to Carrots Body Butter (which I became less impressed with over time as it seemed to develop a knack of blocking pores on my arms and legs. Ick.)

Trilogy Everything Balm (lovely when skin is damp & hot e.g. after a sauna, as it sinks straight in and leaves you feeling like a basted chicken. In a really good way. Not so good at moisturising dry skin though.)

Then, I found my way back to Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse, and I'm very glad I did, because I'd almost forgotten how good this stuff is. And the scent - soft, powdery, chic with a hint of buttery honey - always makes me smile.

My favourite make-up of 2008:

Lipstick Queen in Medieval - makes skin look somehow brighter while never overpowering the face

Jemma Kidd new PRO line - just wait for 2009!

Ruby + Millie Lip Color in Orange 350C - the perfect pop of blood orange

Dior Addict High Shine Lipstick in 554 Backstage Pink - loved the fuchsia that Cheryl Cole kept sporting on X Factor? This is the closest I have come to finding it.

And, a surprise new entry in the long-lasting lippy category: TIGI Bedhead Lip Crayon in Perfect Pink - this stayed put through a 2-hour movie (+ popcorn & pick 'n' mix), followed by cocktails & dinner. Good stuff.

And my other big-thumbs-up beauty finds of 2008:

Origins Organics Totally Pure Deodorant
(antibacterial, refreshing & zingy on freshly shorn armpits)

Marc Jacobs Splash in Gardenia (granny in a really really good way)

Dr Weil for Origins Mega Mushroom Mask
(great for when skin is conjuring associations with Edward Munch's The Scream)

Dermalogica Stress Relief Candles (a smile-inducing scent even when unlit!)

NEOM Organic Luxury Unwind Skin Treatment Bath Oil
(the most perfect blend of lavender and patchouli)

And there you have it. What a cracker.

Monday, 8 December 2008

#85 Big Head

There's something happening with hair. Beeeg hair. The sort of hair that looks like you've held up a candyfloss man at a fair and woven his sugar confections into your own strands. Virginia Woolf sort of hair, that billows out from beneath a hat, streaks the forehead with nimbus fingers, catches the light as though it is a cocoon of woven silk. Diana Vickers was onto it. Amy W would've ended up there were it not for her mane's metamorphosis from beehive to egghead. Duffy has it a bit, and Blake Lively does it well, though where hair is concerned, she is at a genetic advantage. Growl.

Also catching on are the haircare brands, as the next few months see a spate of big hair launches (as in big hair, not big launches for hair).

There is Shu Uemura Art of Hair's new MUROTO VOLUME range; L'Oreal Volume Expand MINERAL CA and Age Densiforce lines and the launch of L'Oreal Professionnel's Texture Expert Expansion Mousse.

So far I have only tried the Volume Expand MINERAL CA range. I've used the shampoo and conditioner, minus the volumising styling mousse. The range is for fine hair - I have relatively fine strands, but lots of them - and yes, it did make a significant difference to the fatness of my head. It uses mineral calcium to bulk and stiffen strands. However, lathering it up felt incredibly bizarre, as though my hair were being rinsed with glue - there is no silkiness of slipperiness to be expected from this shampoo. After slowly rinsing it out (and being careful not to break strands with clumsy fingers which seemed to catch on my now-tacky, almost brittle, cuticles), I layered on the conditioner, left for a couple of minutes, rinsed. I could see that where my normal haircare duo keeps the damaged flyaways along my parting nice and flat, this lot made them stand up on end as though I were the lovechild of Mister Majeka. Combing through was tricky too - hair was far far knottier than normal. But, here is the genius part. Once hair was blowdried it just went 'pouff' (in a good way)- feeling thick, pliable, swishy, soft AND it didn't get greasy for 4 whole days, which I couldn't quite believe. I wouldn't recommend it for everyday use - my hair needs intensive conditioning at least twice a week - but for those times when you need a workable, grippable base - this will be just the ticket. All in all, this is a good bet for this season's big head. Not least of all because you'll develop a dangerous habit of catching your own reflection and double-taking at just how much hair you had all along, but just weren't making the most of. Swish.

Friday, 28 November 2008

#84 What Goes Up...

Here is what has got me impressed:

Nivea SOS Lip Balm - good stuff this. More of a cream than an oily balm, it glides on, stays put for hours and provides tangible protection on blustery days. I like it a lot more than the Blistex Intensive Moisturiser, as the Nivea version does away with the mentholy sting & medicinal pong (and opts for a candy-sweet (though not cloying) scent instead).

Jemma Kidd Professional Team Collection - this lady has really got her act together and come up with a brand new line-up that puts to rights the problems with the former products. It's slicker, smarter, formulas work a lot harder, the packaging looks better and it has the well-thought-out feel of a premium line - hence it's new position in Space.NK (it will have left Boots stores by the end of Jan 09). The big hitters? The I-Perfector Prep & Brighten Duo - a double-ended pencil with a flesh toned eyeliner and concealer, both of which effectively cancels out redness and the I-Rescue Bio-Complex Cover - a skin-tinted treatment, concealer & brightener, which has that rare quality of actually buffing away shadows minus chalky crepeiness. Very nice indeed.

NEOM Organic Bath Oil: RESTORE - Two of my favourite essential oils, Jasmine & Sandalwood, are combined in this cosseting blend that has thrice pulled off a rare feat: making me smile at the end of a really, really crappy day. Two small capfuls in a big hot bath fills the room with fragrance, unknots the head, nourishes the skin and makes everything a bit more bearable. A lot to ask from a bath oil, but I'll be darned if this doesn't pull it off.

Here is what has got me depressed:

Urban Retreat The Cleanser - this formula really upsets me. It smells lovely, feels good on the skin, contains lots of thumbs-up ingredients...yet...yet...after just a few days use, I tend towards breakouts (having been clear for months) AND my skin takes on a slightly sensitized, prone-to-stinging feel (with heightened redness around the t-zone). There is definitely something in this pot that is not my face's friend. I do not like you either.

Aveda Damage Remedy Restructuring Shampoo - I LOVE this. BUT (and it's a really big but), after constant use my hair starts to take on the look and feel of the bottom of a ne'er washed chip pan. I rinse and rinse and rinse, but to no avail. It's the Jekyll & Hyde of my bathroom - sometimes producing shiny and bouncy locks; other times leaving me looking like a bedraggled extra from a street-scene in Oliver. I've taken to using it every other wash (rotating with Bumble & Bumble Blue Sundays Shampoo, which gets hair really clean). It's too good to ditch entirely though. How good? I've not had a split end in years...

Monday, 24 November 2008

#83 Just for starters...

Has anyone seen the latest Just For Men advert? Good lord. Two little girls, who the audience must assume have recently lost their mother, run up to their father and beg him to dye his hair in order that he might be able to face the world afresh and hopefully find a new partner. Father dyes his hair and gets a first date, during which he takes a picture of himself with 'prospective new wife' on the old camera phone (too keen? surely not?) which he then sends to his children, who appear to be home alone while he is out schmoozing. The giggling girls then jump up and down, giving one another high fives, overjoyed at the image of their father hugging a strange woman. Based on a true story. Hmmm.

What intrigues me most about the advert is the type of man it is supposed to appeal to. My husband, a modern (though not metrosexual) male, recoils each and every time it comes onto the TV and despite being beset by his first smattering of greys, the idea of besmirching his head with a product as out-of-touch as Just For Men (the Old Spice of the hair dye world) is far worse than a future of salt n pepper strands. I heartily agree with his logic. In fact, I'd be far less disturbed by the discovery of a hidden porn stash under the bed than I would be if I stumbled across a seedy (and heaven forbid, empty!) box of Just For Men.

As far as I can tell, the average man is far less likely to fall for inflated cosmetic claims than the average woman. The idea of precious diamond dust, amazonian plants, bio-chemical research, space-travel tests etc etc, might get women pulling out the platinum card (and sales statistics would seems to support this), but men, it seems, are not amused. They want high performance, yes, but minus hyperbole and gimmickry - and are suckers for slick, chic packaging that won't embarrass them should it fall out of the gym bag and into the middle of the men's locker room.

I canvassed a swathe of my most stylish male friends and here are the products that got their hearts-a-racing:

Shiseido Men Cleansing Foam
Clinique Pore Minimizer Oil Blotting Sheets
Lancome Men Ultimate Cleansing Gel
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant
Clarins Men Fatigue Fighter

What do they have in common? Simple, modern design; practical application and handling; effective formulas with visible results and, of course, not a single, empty 'love or your money back' promise hinted at on the pack (or in any of the campaigns). Even if Lancome hadn't roped Clive Owen into the advertising act (and according to the aforementioned menfolk) this just for men lot would still be just the ticket.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

#82 Music to make-up to...

Musico. Sometimes my alarm-clock-led life means that I can manage a week or more without listening to any music...not a note. When this happens, my mind and body begin to subconsciously crave a good song and the only antidote to my ensuing fidgety panic is an entire morning, hours on end, spent shuttling through my favourite tracks on my i-pod, filling my little flat with a pounding bass, transporting vocals and medicinal melodies. The day can be rainy, snowy, gusty or befogged, it doesn't matter... Midlake, Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys, Laura Marling and Vampire Weekend all have the power to coax me out of a stormy-weather or inner-storm-induced stupour. Music is my elixir and soul-saver, centering my head and heart once more, reminding me of what matters, how to smile, laugh and dance like Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club (I try my hardest, never quite pulled it off) and also helping me to forget that I'm old enough to know who Molly Ringwald is and how her Breakfast Club dance was literally the coolest thing I had ever seen. Like. Ever.

Then there's the way in which a good tune can verge on being alchemistic - banishing torpor, motivating me on the worst of days, instilling confidence even when I'm feeling self-conscious. Which is why I think the music you pick to make your face up to is just as important as the make-up itself. It helps to shape the face in the mirror long before you've rouged and contoured it, helps refocus the eyes, beckoning towards an inner Cyndi Lauper, Siouxsie Sioux, Blondie or Vanessa Paradis. For big nights out, my friends and I have a playlist - a set of cheeky tunes that often result in false lashes and glittery lids, other times in cherry lips and indigo liner... the tune, like a mystical snake charmer's melody, guiding the hand across the face in previously unstudied ways. I've made some regrettable mistakes and incredibly fun faux-pas over the years, all while listening to a battery of unsuitable tunes. Power ballads invariably coax out a Bonnie Tyler-esque 80s popstar; love songs a slightly too-powder-and-painted pretty girl; dance tracks an acid-trip teenager... but through trial and error I've honed a pretty perfect playlist - all the songs managing to achieve my main aim of a night out: feel good, feel like me, just a bit more adventurous, expressive, a bit braver...

The Arctic Monkeys: Fluorescent Adolescent - let your hair down, perfect a naughty smile

Muse: Supermassive Black Hole - sexy, bold and head held high

Justin Timberlake: What Goes Around - heroine (not heroin) chic with a dramatic dark eye

Anita Ward: Ring My Bell - Disco curls, ruby lips

A warm-up act to support the headliner, lipstick and lashes... and make your heart beat that little bit faster. Hey Mr DJ...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

#81 The Price is Right

I've never been an avid watcher of the news, but of late, I've been even less inclined to sit in front of the daily bulletins, so demoralised have I been with our current state of economy (credit crunch, credit crunch, credit crunch), society (I live in the South East, which the news reports would have me believe is the new South Central LA) and culture (AKA the Brand and Ross debacle). Where has all the good news gone? We know that times are tough, belts are tight, banks are to blame, the government's in a squeeze and our former empire of an economy is now looking green around the gills and weak in the knees, but, where possible, life must still go on.

I'm not a big spender - I punctuate months of abstinence with the occasional end-of-season sale treat from net-a-porter - but in order to part with money at this time I feel as though the purchase must be both affordable and high-quality - but most importantly, it needs to deliver real value for money and something above and beyond the basics embodied by the price tag.

With this in mind:

Ruby + Millie are selling their Make-Up On The Go Travel Case for £25, as opposed to the normal £50. I've always liked their eye shadows and brushes and with this kit, you'll walk away with (I now revert to the press release): 10 eye colours, 5 lip colours, 4 metallic colours, 2 cheek colours, a highlighter, 5 make-up brushes in their own case, a cosmetic purse and a mirror. This will be beauty utopia for some, hell for others who prefer chic, downsized palettes to large, paintbox style trays - but regardless of personal preference, quality and value are both ticked by this beauty box. The offer is only valid from Friday 31st October - Thursday 6th November, at Boots.

The other notable 'credit crunch' offer comes courtesy of London salon WINDLE. On Tue 11th and Tue 18th November, they'll be serving up 'recession days', where absolutely everything under their roof will be sold at 50% off. Alongside cuts, colouring and treatments, it also includes Bumble and Bumble products and the full range of WAM electricals. WAM tools are great, by the way, in particular the anodized curling irons which come in five different barrel sizes. WINDLE is based at 41 – 45 Shorts Gardens, in Covent Garden. The number, if you fancy a chat, is 020 7497 2393.

So, there you go - my two top credit crunch tip-offs. That's as close as I'll ever get to advertising, but in these thrifty times, it feels right to share the wealth. And as Jamie Oliver might say - PASS IT ON!

Friday, 24 October 2008

#80 Happy Highs and Extraordinary Lows...

Here's another round-up of the best beauty loot that won't break the bank:

Bourjois Rouge Hi-Tech Lip Tint in Rouge Futuriste
I adore orangey-red shades for lips - from peachy corals to blood orange - and the first time I tried this I was seriously impressed. The first coat leaves nothing other than a sheer stain - the sort of colour my lips go after sipping on orange & carrot juice! - but build it up and by the third layer, this stain leaves lips with the sort of high-fashion hue that chimes perfectly between red and orange. Current, flattering and cool. I've worn it with a tan and while being pale as blotting paper - both times with compliment-inducing effect. The one downside is that it can wear off unevenly, staining the inner, more porous part of my lips for longer than the outer, smoother edges - which is why I keep the portable little pot on hand for touch-ups.

Urban Decay Iconic Lipstick in 5150
The packaging aims for 'high-design' (cough 'gimmicky' cough), but unfortunately it translates as weighty and cumbersome... thankfully, the entire range makes up in colour and texture what it lacks in practicality. My chosen muted cherry pink shade is the sort of bright, without being bold, colour that always manages to perk up the complexion. The hint of glitter doesn't work for everyone, but in a dimly lit bar where the subtle sparkle looks immensely flattering, it is just the ticket.

And from atop the fence...then over the other side...

There are a few brands that fit into my 'I'm just not sure about them' category. The ideas are strong, but execution is somehow lacking. Be it the packaging, the textures, the shades or just simply that they do not deliver - the following brands have yet to hit my mark:

New id Cosmetics
I like the ideas behind a lot of these products. i-groom, for example, is an angled, triangular-tipped pencil, that is well-shaped to fill in patchy brows, and also comes with a pleasingly grippy-bristled brush at the other end. However, when I opened mine for the first time, the pencil lead flew out, followed by the spring mechanism, and subsequent models have also proven a bit flimsy. I've also tried i-blush (once again a clever concept of a trio of contouring and highlighting cheek colours), but despite the 'finely milled powder' and 'Ipanema' promise, found them all slightly chalky and the color choice not particularly flattering on my pale golden skin.

Cosmetics a la Carte
Here is a clear case of a cosmetics company with a big, faithful fanbase, that could very much benefit from a revamp. Bases come in a wide range of shades - the ethos is 'made to measure make-up' - and the concealers are bestsellers thanks to their longwearing, but nicely blendable, formulas. But here's the rub - the packaging is plasticky, design is dated and much of it looks, well, cheap. The silver silken bags (think party favours) within which products are packaged does not do much to redeem them either. An unfortunate case of sufficient substance, but not enough style.

Virgin Vie...
Oh dear. I'm afraid that VV has become shorthand in beauty ed world for brands that miss the mark by a mind-bogglingly long way. This brand has SO much potential. Many of the formulas are fab - I remember testing the Skin Dew Primer some years ago and being rather impressed - but the general look of the products (particularly the make-up), is dated, dull and often illogical. I might be sued for libel here, but I'll risk it by saying that it looks as though VV have attempted to copy Estee Lauder's packaging (think navy blue with gold insignia), but have somehow produced something that looks more like Marks & Spencer. Regardless, there are clearly lots of ladies who love the line (the online business is booming) - even if the unphotogenic products rarely make it onto the pages of glossy magazines (or into my evening bag).

Monday, 29 September 2008

#79 Dream Creme

Ah. So. Well. I'm struggling for a start. You see, I feel as though I've been wrong-footed. In the months that I've been writing my blog, a trend seems to have developed. More often than not, my blog has been about the very best 'little-known' products vs the worst 'big branded' products. You see, as much as I enjoy using (and abusing should they miss the mark) the Lauders and Neutrogenas of the world, I've been consistently more impressed by the more specialist, home-grown brands - the Korners, Omoroviczas and Sarah Chapmans out there. Well, a couple of weeks ago the Creme de la Mer Press Office saw fit to send out a big pot of their famous Creme to a bunch of beauty editors who had, perhaps, forgotten all about the miracle broth and its reputed benefits. The delivery coincided with the end of my regular night cream, so, I thought, why not give the famous formula a whirl?

I spatula'd a tiny bit out, rubbed it between my fingers as instructed on the pot, and massaged it all over my face. Ordinarily, I'd steer well clear of such a rich formula (which does not claim to be chemical or paraben free). My skin's on the oily side of normal - but with the onset of winter, I've been waking up to a more dry patches than normal and thought that this was probably as good a time as any to try the Creme.

First things first. I rather liked the smell.
Secondly, it's really, shockingly, unctuous and thick - like old-school Nivea - and the smallest amount (for me, a globule the size of a couple of peas) covered my face and neck.
Thirdly, it needs to be patted and rolled over skin - you can't simply rub it in like a lotion, but I found that my skin absorbed it easily, and felt spongy and soft just minutes later.
Lastly, I was afraid that the heavy formula might encourage breakouts so used it sparingly over my nose and chin.

As it turns out, it's been two weeks and my skin is entirely clear, soft and dry-patch free. The dehydration lines to which I'm so often prone, on my forehead and on the left hand side of my mouth, have all but disappeared - making my complexion look visibly younger.

Let me stress, however, that it has not been long enough to see any anti-ageing benefits (although, to be annoyingly truthful, I'm still wrinkle- and crow's feet-free), but as far as bright, luminous and even skin goes, this has done the trick. Of course, there are a lot of creams out there that can buy you similar results, but, not many that when accidentally smeared over a patch of eczema manage to shrink it overnight. Hmmm, miracle broth? Perhaps there's some promise in this pot after all.

Monday, 22 September 2008

#78 Skipping Breakfast...

I've spent almost 30 years of my life washing my face before bed, then again upon waking. This twice-a-day routine has served me well and it never occurred to me to stop. Then, on a recent holiday, I packed insufficient cleanser. I'm in love with my cleanser, so was loathe to stock up on local pharmacy goods. So, I had no choice but to skimp on what I had and out went the morning cleanse. I ensured that my night-time wash was thorough (I'm a disciple of the whole muslin cloth & cleansing balm school of cleansing)and did nothing other than splash my face with warm, then very cold water a few times in the morning. Psychologically, I wasn't a big fan. I couldn't get over the feeling that my skin wasn't 'clean' - but, logically, it's a perfect premise. You scrub and slough at night, apply a treatment, and unless you're planning on rolling down hillsides or digging ditches in your sleep, there's no reason to wonder why skin would 'dirty' itself overnight. There are some experts who claim that the skin purges itself of toxins while you sleep, so a morning cleanse is essential; others who argue that skin is in a constant state of flux and does not do any more purging at night than it does during the day. In any case, a good splash with warm water should be enough to rinse off the rubbish - right? Well, I don't have a conclusive answer - just my own experience, which showed me that there was no significant difference in my skin when it got demoted from a twice-daily to a once-daily cleanse. NO spottier. NO oilier. NO drier.

My little travel-sized pot of cleanser is still going strong... for once, saving my skin is also saving me money.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

#77 The Tan Plan

Having just returned from a long holiday in the sun, here's the Hot List:

I avoid the sun - always have, always will. But, despite wearing generous amounts of SPF50 every single day in the sun, reapplying every 30 minutes and avoiding the midday sun I have still developed a natural golden tan - minus burns, pinkness, freckles, sun spots, peeling or dry patches. I've been using Garnier Ambre Solaire Kids Rapido High SPF50 Fragrance-Free Spray and UV Sensitive Very High 50+ Protection Stick. They're great. No weird skin sensitivity or spottiness - plus they really stay put. Thumbs up.

For days when I've stayed in the shade, I've liked Sisley Sunleya Age Minimizing Sun Protection SPF15. It smells good, isn't greasy and feels lovely if you've got a chlorine-baked complexion.

Another valuable lesson I've learned is that my eyebrows always look weird on holiday. The mistake I made (and I confess, I think I do this every darn summer), however, was to pluck them thinner on my first day away as the guestroom mirror/lighting situation convinced me they needed a bit of threshing. Idiot. As my tan developed, my brows lightened, and the definition they ordinarily give my face faded. By the end of the week I looked bald of brow & perennially pissed off. Never again.

My holiday favourites?

My trusty Darphin Purifying Balm. To clear up spots, dry patches, uneven bits and to give you a clearer complexion by morning, I would never dream of travelling without it.

I'm also impressed with Essential Care Organic Mosimix. It did a grand job of warding off the winged beasties minus all the chemical chokeage. It's also extremely moisturising, so there's no need to use anything else after a bath at night.

All in all, not a bad haul.

Monday, 18 August 2008

#76 The Pretty Penny Drops...

Despite years of fingers in pots, there are a few beauty mistakes and misdemeanours that stand out... things I've done wrong, for too long, before realising the error of my ways.

My first confession comes in the form of Origins Incredible Spreadable Scrub. I've written about this before after a couple of uses and well, my skin never really saw the light. Recently, however, it occurred to me that I might simply smear the paste onto my arms, legs, bottom and thighs, once damp and hot from showering, leave it on for a few minutes, which is enough time for the scratchy salty granules to soften and begin to dissolve, and then rub, gently, until the formula disentegrates completely. The other thing I realised was that I didn't need to moisturise afterwards - the oils in the scrub do an admirable job. Bizarrely, ever since skipping the moisturiser and going easier on the scrub, my skin's been transformed - truly - and is as soft as it would be after a two week beach holiday. Happy days.

Other mistakes I've made in the past involve retinol. Where my skin has reacted (growing red, puffy or sore), I've felt assaulted and left the product well alone. As it turns out, anyone using retinol for the first time can expect a reaction - be it spottier skin than normal or a more delicate disposition. Bear with it, and reduce usage from every night to every other night (or 2/3 times a week) and things should improve. As the savvy facialist Sarah Chapman assured me - the moment she began using retinol, some ten years ago now, her skin went insane. But, once settled, she rarely suffered a breakout again - and her skin is even, clear and plump. That's proof enough for me. And with retinol usage of any kind, you must must must wear sunscreen every day afterwards.

Then there's mascara. I've lived the majority of my 30 years on earth convincing myself that I do not need it. I have dark lashes and big eyes and, well, mascara has just always been one of those things that seem too unnecessary a hassle to bother with in the morning. Then I learned that less is more. A great wand, jet black, rammed into the root of the lash and wiggled about before being drawn through upper lashes just once, is a real eye-opener. Since wearing mascara in this way, I've used far less make-up elsewhere - if the eyes are framed, everything else sort of falls into place. A great new wand that's got my vote is Lashfusion Pure Protein Lash Plump. Great non-cloggy formula. Thick, rich blackness. Lovely brush and impressive lash-fattening power. Chatecaille and No7 also make wonderful mascaras. I take a daily dose now and wouldn't dream of stopping.

The other product I've recently fallen for is hair removal cream. I know - hardly glamourous. For years, however, I was a waxer. I've always been fairly peach-fuzzy of face and like a clean jaw and top lip (despite hair being fair) and have discovered that by removing hair entirely from these areas, my face is immediately given a more chiselled appearance - the planes of the cheek and jawbones reflecting light in a seriously flattering way. Then 6 months ago, I decided to try IPL. Which was brilliant. Fabulous. Didn't hurt, hairs started falling out of their own accord, growing back lighter bla bla bla. The only problem was that regrowth could not be bleached or waxed in between - it had to be shaved (as if!!) or removed with cream. The latter was initially disgusting - it smelt bad, stung a little and didn't remove the hair entirely - leaving little burnt down stubs that looked like I'd leaned too close to a struck match. Then, for some reason, the second time I tried it, it worked brilliantly. I used Boots Facial Hair Removal Cream - left a thick layer on for about 10 minutes (well, it didn't sting, so figured that was okay - despite on-pack instructions) - then swept it all away et voila. All gone, all clear, all smooth. And, best bit, nothing grew back for over a month and what did was light and sparse.

Not groundbreaking life lessons I grant you, but, I'll admit, they were still enough to make my day.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

#75 By my skinny skin skin...

Ok, so I've spent three weeks trialling two different body creams - one faired well, initially, then faded into uselessness, and the other, well, the other has already been restocked and is a new favourite...

1) Garnier Bodysensitive Anti-Dryness Restorative Moisturiser - at first it feels lovely and promisingly thick. Then it is absorbed and skin feels soothed - though no more than when I've used any other creamy concoction. The problem comes after a few days - legs were still scaly, arms still bumpy. It just wasn't good enough to shift winter's leftovers or make me feel confident about returning to my short shorts and minis. In fact, even after using it for two weeks, I needed to top up my legs with body oil before going out as they weren't soft, shiny or smooth enough for my liking. It's fragrance free though, which I prefer in my body creams.

2) Yes To Carrots Body Butter for Dry Skin - seriously dodgy brand name, but seriously effective formula. After just two days the thighs were silky and arms looking better. After a week, there had been real improvement. The scent will not suit everyone - it's a mix of cocoa butter, Johnsons Baby Wipes and nappy cream - it smells clean, a bit like a just-bathed baby and slightly sweet. I love it. Best of all, it manages to be very thick and nourishing without being sticky or unctuous. Skin absorbs it well too, so you don't get that skiddy sensation that makes you feel you'll slide off your seat on the tube, which you can get with body oil...

3) On another note, prior to trialling the duo above, I was using REN's Moroccan Rose Otto Body Oil. Lovely. Great smell. But what a tiny bottle. If, like me, you moisturise twice, sometimes three, times a day, this will only last you a fortnight. Shame.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

#74 Back to Black

I’m ashamed of myself. It’s been weeks and weeks. I have a valid excuse, I promise. Well, almost. Glasto was one of the best experiences of my life – despite a spate of malodorous moments that will continue to haunt me until the end of my days – and taught me some extremely important beauty lessons.
Namely, that...

- no matter what you put on, through or over your hair, if you have no access to water, you’re buggered.
- that you can still remain relatively sweet-smelling without washing if you’re eating well (vegan and veggie food galore!!), not getting pissed (yep, I sorta forgot to drink a single drop for four whole days and nights…?!) and are stashing a massive bounty of baby wipes. Really. I got home, stripped off and had a good ol’ sniff and it wasn’t half bad. Apologies if that’s the most disturbing thing you’ve ever read, but, well, it is true…

The other thing I learned is that if you are going to spend over 12 hours a day out of doors (I’m a city girl, I’ve never done that in my life!) that permanent rain and an entirely grey sky will not protect you. You still need a hell of a lot of sunscreen. My skin, which in ten years has not left home without an SPF15 veil, really really suffered. The worst thing? My hands. I’ve got a massive spray of dark spots – or funky freckles, as my husband kindly described them – across the back of my right hand and they’ve yet to fade. It’s rather upsetting to know that just four days in the great outdoors might have resulted in mottled hands that last a lifetime. I’m using Clarins best-selling Hand and Nail Treatment Cream, which claims to reduce discolouration – we shall see. I promise to report back. The other problem I encountered – alongside sleeping for 3 days straight on my return – was with my complexion. Despite tons of fresh air, lots of water, walking and healthy food, I seriously broke out – simply because I could not adequately clean my skin. I packed Olay’s Daily Facials – for combination skin – which contain Beta Hydroxy Acids. I’d packed high sunscreen too, so didn’t think it’d be a problem (acid exfoliation + sun = AGEING ALERT!), but had to eventually accept that I had been wrong. Basically, my skin burnt – even under regular SPF40 applications – and I never ever burn. I woke up with a slightly pink nose and hairline – hardly devastating damage, but still damage nonetheless – which caused me to ditch the wipes from day two onwards. On returning, my skin was bumpy and uneven in colour – spots had developed beneath the surface on my forehead, around the hairline and across my nose and chin. Luckily I had 5 days before I needed to be back at work, so I took it easy and focused on exfoliating to get my skin back to smooth, even normality – I’m currently loving Agera’s Microderma Crystal C Activator, which is one of the best exfoliants that I have ever used in my life – and the gentle, calming products from Omorovicza, which I’m remaining loyal to until further notice. I also packed Dermalogica’s Hydrating Mask on for three days in a row and my skin drank it up like Amy W on the vodka (that’s not me being bitchy – I was there and saw her…) So now, spots cleared up, skin evened out, dry patches disappeared and I’m almost back to my old self. Almost…

Monday, 2 June 2008

#73 Cheap Dates

I've made the move from snobby skincare buff to beauty bargain hunter over the course of the last couple of weeks, in a bid to ascertain whether or not the amount of spondoolees spent is directly proportional to the sparkliness of the skin. To be honest, after years of sticking with bargain beauty hits from...

The Body Shop (Brow Gel; Lip and Cheek Stain; Complexion Enhancer)
No7 (some of the best mascaras on the market)
Rimmel (great nail polish & on-trend lippy)
Neal's Yard Remedies (amazing masks and brilliant aromatherapy bath oils)
Superdrug (the massive tub of Intensive Coconut Conditioner is amazing and so cheap)
Olay (Daily Facials are a must-have when I'm away or at the gym)

... I'm already aware of the fact that you don't need to fork out fifties to get great results.

Well, now I've got some more goodies to gab about...

E45 - the new Endless Moisture Replenishing Care Body Cream is brilliant. Go for the fragrance-free option for a buttery cream that sinks straight in and leaves limbs silky. It's my everyday gym essential and really helps alleviate stubborn back-of-arm bumps.

Miners - their Dream Eyes eyeliners come in at less than £2 each, but serve up swell colours in a surprisingly soft texture.

Eucerin - the Intensive Foot Cream with 10% Urea is great for calloused, hard-soled feet. A week's use and you'll notice a big difference.

There are more bargain beauty recommendations to come next time I blog, as I've been bitten and am now smitten with cheap-as-chips cosmetics. It gives a whole new meaning to the oft-mimicked and maligned catchphrase, 'You're worth it.'

Friday, 9 May 2008

#72 Tears in Heaven

It was an odd reaction. A spritz of Miller Harris' Jasmine Vert onto the wrist, a deep inhalation, and before I knew it I had tears in my eyes. I was back, in the Mediterranean, the site of so many soil-baked summer holidays with my family, a hand-picked mound of jasmine blossoms cupped between my hands, some in my hair and a small bunch scattered across my pillow... summer for me, will always be linked to the smell of jasmine. Within seconds, I was crying - like a fool, in the middle of the Bruton Street store - and apologising, dashing tears away through a dazed, peaceful smile. Despite that day's rain and the biting wind, for a few seconds in the middle of London, I was back, my toes dipped in my parents' swimming pool, scattering blossoms onto the water. So yes, Jasmine Vert is absolutely a signature scent - significant, evocative and loaded with precious memories.

It was also the last scent I sniffed after an hour-long introduction to the Miller Harris library - to which I am no stranger - that yielded an array of surprises:

L'air de Rien - Jane Birkin's signature scent that was rude, musky, intimate, corporeal and redolent of, in my mind, a long night's lovemaking. Divine - but dangerous.

The exquisite Coeur d'été , created by Lyn Harris during her first pregnancy - a fresh, sunny and enlivening scent that also conjured up whispers of the sea.

Finally, Geranium Bourbon - a confident, colourful, nostril-filling bouquet that tirelessly metamorphoses, all day long. By the evening, it was all damp stems with a hint of dried rose petals.

In a world of overnight stars with their accompanying celeb scents, Miller Harris stand guard over the art of the Parfumer, yes, but they also create magnetic, magical experiences that chime beautifully with modern life. And if it's a toss up between a little-researched bottle of crowd-pleasing notes and a dash through a maze of memorable, challenging accords, I know where I'm headed. For me, it's always been Miller time.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

#71 Alley Up

There's nothing novel about - but that doesn't alter just how wonderful a site it is. Millions of product reviews, millions of worldwide readers and writers and the biggest cross-section of tried-and-testeds anywhere on the web. I've come to double-check it everytime I write a product review... and the truth always speaks volumes.

Before logging on and reading up, ensure that you always check the number of reviewers against the percentage of people who would buy again. The higher the percentage AND number of reviewers, the closer you'll get to finding a great product.

It's also worth checking MUA's Top Picks from time to time, to get an idea of which products are being consistently praised. Two of my favourites - MAC Fluidline and SK-II Air Touch Foundation - do very well indeed, despite the latter being expensive.

It's reassuring, in a very basic, humanistic way, to read reviews that reiterate your personal opinions and, even more so, to try something that has been proclaimed an 'HG' (that's Holy Grail in Makeup Alley speak) by the press, try it for yourself and hate it and then log on to see it denounced by hundreds of users too.

It's also fascinating for another reason. When something is really good, it's often universally acknowledged to be so. There are of course users on the site who get miffed when a recommendation doesn't work for them - again, proving that there are always exceptions - but on the whole, when a product lives up to its promises, the praise it attracts borders on fervent.

And given the amount of poorly performing products out there, that's just the way it should be.

Monday, 21 April 2008

#70 In Yer Face

Want a good facial? Here's a bit of advice...

- A good facial should never, ever leave you blotchy or sore (of course, I'm not talking about deep peels or laser treatments here - this is, for the moment, all about SKINCARE treatments). I once experienced an overzealous facial that was pure agony - a girl who literally dug into my pores for 30 minutes straight, as though panning for gold - I left with a swollen, stinging nose and her words ringing in my ears, 'It was tough this time, but it will get easier with each visit.' Needless to say, there was never a strike two.

- Even great facials can result in breakouts - but, in my experience, the better the facialist, the fewer the post-treatment spots you will have. I believe that this is linked to how rough and inexperienced some therapists can be - the tougher the skin is treated, the more the sebaceous glands are stimulated... et voila.

- The best facials should involve some serious massage, perhaps an electrical device or two, at least one spa-strength treatment and savvy, sensible advice. It should not simply be an hour of spritzing, patting, rubbing, washing and layering on of products. Well, we can all do that at home can't we?

- The best facialists can carry out extractions - even deep ones - without so much as a flushing of the skin. The best pair of hands that I have ever come across belong to Sarah Chapman ( - who repeatedly steams and massages skin with oil until it is calm, pliable and readily purged without trauma. She is a master of extraction.

- The best facialists probably won't stick to a single skincare brand. There are some brands who are said to carry out good facials - Dermalogica, Natura Bisse, Yon-Ka etc, but, end up with an inexperienced therapist and you will not see impressive benefits. It's therefore far better to find yourself a therapist whom you trust - regardless of the products used. Believe me, a skincare expert can work wonders; a skincare line used for an hour once a month will not.

That, my facial-seeking friends, is my short, shortlist...

Monday, 7 April 2008

#69 Snow Angels...

So, it snowed. In April. In Spring. Rather than analyse the disturbing significance of the current climate, I've chosen to counteract the cold snaps with cosmetics instead. So, this weekend, I spent a couple of hours going through my goody drawers and made notes of all the beauty buys currently floating my boat and brightening my day:

1) Essential Care Organic Herbal Shampoo
This feels very, very strange while you are using it and you'll be convinced that it isn't actually cleaning your hair - it's hard to massage in and makes hair feel a bit 'squeaky', BUT once rubbed into the scalp and left on for 3-4 minutes, it gets to work cleansing the hair and hydrating the scalp and rinses away easily to leave hair that is glossy, gleaming and feels very clean. In fact, since using it, my grease-prone roots have needed fewer washes - every 2/3 days instead of 1/2 as normal. As far as my mane is concerned, it's a bona fide hair hit.

2) Darphin Lipid-Enriched Soothing Cleansing Cream for The Body
I was a bit concerned that my sensitive eczema-prone skin wouldn't like this, as it does have a strong scent (albeit a gorgeous, powdery one that will make you think either of baby's bottoms or vintage florals). I needn't have worried. It's the creamiest and most moisturising body wash that I have ever used and has had wonderful effects on my put-upon (i.e. eternally sat-upon) bottom.

3) Eucerin Q10 Active Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream
Finding a good eye product is tricky. I've tried super-steep ones and cheap ones - gels, masks, serums and creams - and rarely feel that something is both simple and effective. This breaks the rule. It's not fussy, smelly or fancy - it just makes skin feel soft and smooth and is never oily. I can't vouch for it's anti-wrinkle effects as it's only been a few days, but can simply say that it feels good and performs well as a pre-make-up base and that's enough for me.

4) Omorovicza Thermal Cleansing Balm, Queen of Hungary Mist and Refining Moisturiser
So, I've been lucky enough to get onto the books of uber-facialist Sarah Chapman - more on her in the next blog - and we've both agreed that this wondrous Hungarian skincare line is doing, well, wonders for my skin. The balm - a thermal mud-rich, oil-based formula that is massaged into skin to remove make-up (in the same way that Eve Lom and Amanda Lacey's cleansing pomades are used), is pretty special. It has an uncanny way of 'hoovering' out pores and is quite possibly the most perfect cleanser that I have ever tried. It leaves skin silky smooth, nourished and calm - something that is often written about other cleansers, but which in my experience is very rarely true!

The Refining Moisturiser
, is one of those rare formulas that truly hydrates and treats combination skin - leaving the T-zone moist, but not oily, and drier cheeks spongy and soft. Hyperbolic this may all sound... but it has proven true for me. The Queen of Hungary Mist too, is a wonderful, calming post-cleansing elixir, that I press into my skin with the palms of my hands, and even use around my eyes to erase little dry patches.

The problem with the range (well, there had to be a downer, right?) is that it's extremely expensive and, with the cleanser in particular, only comes in a teeny 50ml pot. This makes me rather angry and wary of using too much - in fact, I've even taken to using a different cleanser in the morning in order to make the pot go as far as possible. I truly believe that any good skincare company should invest in generous sizes for all consumers - thereby encouraging them to invest in a longer-term routine. If you want your consumers to remain loyal, they'll need to see results - so give them a pot big enough to last for two washes a day over the course of at least 4 months. If only this would become the standard for all skincare companies!

I have to say, despite the price tag, it's good enough to ensure my loyalty... but only just...

Thursday, 27 March 2008

#68 Mineral Fake-Up

I'm wary of even mentioning the word 'mineral' now, as I know just how aggressively consumers are being bombarded with new launches - and yes, it is all a bit much. Particularly when you actually break down what's going on. Mineral make-up is being lauded as the answer to women's prayers - a sheer, flattering veil of cover that simultaneously heals and protects skin - pure enough to sleep in! (Multiple exclamation marks punctuated with rolling of eyes and yawns from the Beauty Ed's desk). Fact is, it ain't that sheer, it doesn't really protect (unless you wear potloads) and you don't EVER want to sleep in it.

OK, so most of it certainly isn't any worse than what we're already putting on our skin - and most of it doesn't contain preservatives, artificial dyes and animal byproducts etc - BUT it's still not pure or beneficial enough to warrant the fanfare. At best, it's full of metal oxides and mica - but as the acne-prone will vouch for - zinc, aluminium and iron oxides are occlusive - we're talking about the same stuff that is found in mineral sunblocks after all. They do not let 'skin breathe' - another mineral make-up myth - they're heavy metals and all they really do is just sit there, reflecting away the sun's light. On the upside, they're stable compounds which are unlikely to cause allergic reactions - hence why mineral make-up is often recommended to sensitive and rosacea-prone skin types AND there is a smattering of research that suggest zinc oxide can help damaged skin heal itself - but only in so far as it provides a barrier that sits atop the wound, thereby keeping out foreign bodies. Not particularly miraculous.

Then there's Bismuth Oxychloride - a few other beauty editors have clocked onto this recently, and it's about time, because this compound is actually a man-made one, formed from an industrial chemical process and is the byproduct of lead and copper refining. It's found in lots of different mineral make-up brands and new research suggests that it might also cause sensitivity reactions. So... you start to get the scary picture...

But it gets even worse. Quite apart from the mineral make-up that is in fact 100% mineral make-up (and can therefore only contain a combination of metal oxides and mica - a naturally occuring mineral, that gives products 'shimmer') - there are now the new breed of products that proclaim amazing skin benefits - 'good enough to sleep in, promotes skin health, great for acne-prone complexions as it lets skin 'breathe'' - and are simply lying. Glance at the label of any of the new big brand launches and you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be a long list of unidentifiable, and often chemical, components in there too - hardly the pure as air formula being spouted by the marketing material.

My advice?
- Read every label. The fewer ingredients the better.
- Don't automatically assume that mineral is better. Drier skins often experience a chalky finish as the powder is prone to settling on flake-prone areas.
- If you love your mineral make-up, remember that although the formula may not harbour bacteria (being physically inert and unable to degrade) the brush used to deposit it will not be exempt. Wash it regularly!
- Don't rely on mineral make-up to give you your sun protection. It's immensely difficult to get a handle on how much needs to be applied in order to obtain the protection given on the packet. You're far better off applying a moisturiser with built-in sunscreen, before applying make-up.
- And, never go to sleep in it. Skin detoxes and repairs itself at night and a mineral coating sitting within and atop pores will not do your face any favours.

It would seem that when it comes to mineral make-up, the only thing that does seem clear is that nothing should be taken at face value...

Monday, 17 March 2008

#67 Cut Your Nose Off...

Any beautiful person will tell you that the problem with chasing perfection is that you'll never be satisfied. If you make a living from your face, your eyes become magnifying instruments - honing in on every pore, blemish, discolouration and fine line. We all want that preternaturally airbrushed look - a complexion that can withstand analysis in blaring sunlight sans maquillage - but how realistic is this wish? The fact is, perfect skin is achievable. You just need a lot of money, a lot of expert attention and a lot of time. The downside is that you'll become so impossibly anal about your skin that it may well begin to dominate your every waking thought. If you rise with a clear complexion, it is as though a minor miracle has occurred. All is good, the world is benevolent, the skincare range you are using is magnificent. If, however, a pre-period pimple appears, or you get a patch of stubborn, subcutaneous lumps and bumps along the chin, life stands still. Your mood falls. Your regime is crap and you are already on the look out again for another miracle cure. So, when does it become time to break the cycle - to step away from the mirror and accept that we are all human and will all have good and bad skin days?

In my case, the penny has yet to drop. I have always had calm, clear skin. The odd spot throughout my school years, the odd rash from a heavily fragranced product. Then I became a beauty writer. Every time I met with a PR or an industry expert, I felt as though my skin was in the spotlight. Luckily, most of the time it withstood the attention. I was told I had the skin of an 18 year old. That my skin would age well - it's olive and slightly oily, for which I thank the genetic lottery - and that in general, everything was A-OK.

However, recently, the playing field has become more competitive. I met one of the world's leading cosmetic dermatologists yesterday in a dark, dusky back room in a hotel as he was in town to launch a new product. Nothing prepared me for the surprise of meeting this lauded and legendary man face-to-face. I loathe bitchy blogs, so I am not disparaging this premiere facemaker for the sake of venting spleen - I am merely remarking on how difficult it seems to be to find a sane, sober, sensible solution to skincare in this bizarre beauty world of mine... and this is made plain as day when faced with an 'expert' who is playing god, perhaps a little too freely, with his own face.

My other pet peeve? When an 'expert' takes a cursory glance at your skin and announces that s/he has precisely the solution for your blocked pores/shiny nose/circled eyes... et VOILA!.. here it is, 'My new skincare launch!' Puh-lease. Not only will I pay no heed to a nano-second consultation held in a candlelit, cavernous room, but I'm telling you now, that attitude won't have me spending a penny on your products either. I am, for example, extremely allergic to retinol. I break out in rashes whenever it goes anywhere near my skin - yet I have, in the past, been blindly prescribed several retinol-rich products, without so much as a question as to my skin's history or common reactions. These short-cut, and scrappy, skincare analyses - very common for Beauty Eds who are always dashing from press event to expert's office and are always having products recommended (i.e. HARD-SOLD) to them - really get my goat.

I propose something radical. An industry of skincare experts who tell it like it is. Someone who says, 'This may not work for you - it doesn't for everyone - but try it and see.' Or, 'I think your skin's just fine - stick with what you're already doing.' At the very least, have the professional courtesy to take a good look at my skin before sending me off with the entire product range and promises of an epidermal epiphany. I'm tired of this over-sell, over-kill, over-exaggerated attitude. As ever, I would like a little truth served alongside my beauty...even if it hurts.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

#66 Blue Thursdays...

A Thursday evening quickie. Here’s what’s UP:

Stella McCartney Purifying Face Wash – if you’re oil-prone, this surprisingly foamy and deep-cleaning concoction has an uncanny way of stripping away shine, but not moisture – and with repeated use, it does help to refine blemish-prone complexions. However, do not take results for granted (as I did) and think it’s then OK to eat fish & chips, pizza and ice-cream for a week and expect your face to remain radiant. I blame the crappy weather too mind.

Bobbi Brown Blush in Pale Pink. Ghastly (in a great way) in the pot – a garish, blueish, cold pink – but works wonders on all skins, including olive. Mental, but true.

Hope’s Relief Eczema and Dermatitis Cream – after years of always reverting back to my (ick!) steroid ceream – this has finally kept things under control. It stopped the cracky patches between my fingers and most importantly, really calms itching. Like it a lot. Even if it does leave your skin smelling like it’s been basted with a honeyed-meat sort of glaze.

Kérastase Ciment Thermique – Really does protect hair from the ceramics and dryers. BUT (see downs below)…

Here’s what’s DOWN:

Kérastase Ciment Thermique - … it’s just TOO fragranced. Kérastase (and TIGI for that matter) are naughty naughty. There is no need to pack so much parfum into products. Not only can it be a bit sickly after a while (especially TIGI’s S-Factor range, which smells like bubblegum), but I’ve found that I’m also a lot more prone to allergic reactions to Kérastase and TIGI products than anything else. When using Kérastase Shampoos and Conditioners, my scalp tends to itchiness and it’s even flared up eczema around my ears.

White Eyeliner – in winter. In summer, it’s all nice and soft and glides on without flakes. In winter, hard as graphite in the morning, it’ll leave you looking like you’ve got conjunctivitis.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

#65 Elementary, My Dear

So as not to prematurely write off Elemental Herbology (see post #64), I gave the Cool & Clear Cleanser and Soothing Oil Free Moisturiser another shot. BAD IDEA. My skin went insane again. So, this time round it wasn't actually a result of my perennial mixing and matching, so much as the direct result of using this new range - which my skin absolutely cannot tolerate. Complexions of a sensitive disposition, you have been warned (and if the manufacturers get heed of this, I would suggest they either re-test or re-label these formulas ASAP). This stuff snubs chemical-laden ingredients, looks the business and smells good, but it's left me looking like a blowfish twice in two weeks. Of course, this is all about my skin, so it's perfectly plausible that others (particularly non-sensitive, oily skins) will have better luck. The BIG problem, however, is that these particular products are being marketed as great for sensitive, irritable and spot-prone skin. Hmmmmm. As Sherlock Holmes may well have said to his dear friend, Watson, 'Put that in your pipe and smoke it.'

Saturday, 23 February 2008

#64 Diminished Responsibility

It was bound to happen. After years of using my complexion as a testing ground for cosmetics, I finally suffered an allergic reaction that left my skin eczema-ridden, swollen, sore, itchy and bumpy for the best part of a week. The culprit? There are several.

First up, is a product that is part of a soon-to-be launched skincare line Elemental Herbology. Not wanting to jump to any erroneous conclusions, it should be said that on the day in question I also used the Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel, which I have used several times before and with no ill effects, followed by the Dermalogica Hydrating Mask (ditto).

I chased these treatments with a layer of Elemental's Oil-Free Moisturiser, having used their Purify & Soothe Cleanser earlier that same day. The moment I applied the cleanser to my skin I felt an unusual tingling - and retrospectively checking the ingredients list, I was suprised to see that it contained Bitter Orange Peel Powder, a fruit-acid rich addition with exfoliating properties that I can only assume was the initial root of the problem. Add to this a further fruit-enzyme-based peel and then a layer of Retinol-rich face cream and there you have it - a riddled complexion that felt as though I had broken out in goosebumps, but rather than subside in minutes, the irritable sensation and swollen appearance (my face looked discernibly chubby and puffy) stayed put for four days - during which time I was also obliged to neck regular anti-histamines to calm the burning and itching sensation.

Not fun, but lord knows, it was an important and sobering wake-up call. I had - unforgiveably given my job title - tried these products without so much as a glance at the ingredients lists. Had I noticed the fruit enzymes within the Elemental Herbology cleanser, I would certainly have steered clear of the Peel as I am well aware of just how badly my skin reacts when it is over-exfoliated. On the same note, had I realised just how much I'd been stripping away at my skin, I would've avoided chasing my treatments with a cream containing retinol - simply because, as many other members of the population can testify, it is an ingredient to which many people's skins react badly. The fact is, that morning I wanted my skin to look brighter than normal and spent half an hour mixing and matching products - essentially (and unwittingly) brewing a powerful, and dangerous, cosmetics cocktail in the comfort of my own bathroom. I did not for one moment consider the fact that my actions might have unexpected consequences and when they did, I was so shocked that I had absolutely no idea what to do.

What I learned was that if you suffer an allergic reaction to a skincare product, an anti-histamine will be your best friend. It will dull itching and soreness to a point where you can continue with your day as normal - even if your skin looks far from normal. I dug out a few back-up cosmetics - things I'd been told were great for allergic and sensitized skintypes. First up, I used Embryolisse (a cream available from French pharmacies that the model types seem to swear by). Horrible! Full of mineral oil, it sat greasily atop my skin and did nothing to mollify or calm the dry patches around my cheeks and chin. I then tried Avene - the Skin Recovery Cream felt good when first applied, but the same thing - it's full of mineral oil so after a few hours it felt sticky, rather than soothing and wasn't up to much when it came to moisturising power either. The chin flakes stayed put and as expected, after two days of Embryolisse and Avene moisturisers coupled with the inability to properly cleanse my skin due to its fragility, I had six spots on my chin, one on my upper lip and three on my forehead. That's a year's worth of spots in four days - well, that's mineral oil for you!

So, last night, out of sheer desperation and because my skin had almost returned to feeling normal, I layered Liz Earle's Cleanse & Polish over my skin, steamed with a warm and clean face cloth and very very gently buffed away at my skin, removing all the mineral grime and pore clogs that had taken root over the week. My god. It felt amazing. As though my face was doing the breathing for my entire body. Yes, I was spotty, but that was the least of my concerns - my skin felt soft and unsticky for the first time in days. Not wanting to overload my face with anything else, I melted a tiny amount of Darphin's Purifying Balm between my palms and patted it onto my cheeks, chin and forehead - pressing it onto my skin instead of rubbing. Thank goodness, no allergic reaction happened overnight and I woke up to a much improved reflection - spots less angry, skin rosier and, hooray, no flakes or oily patches anywhere to be seen. The relief was immense - I could venture out again, go into meetings confidently, return to my skin-friendly make-up (I've been bare and thunder-faced all week) - my skin was mine again.

So, at the end of the day, it would seem that there is only one suspect involved in my complexion crime - ME - or more precisely, my lack of attention to what I was applying to my skin. If an allergic reaction on this scale can happen to someone who knows their stuff, then what sort of minefields can women who never ever read their labels fall into? Not only has this debacle highlighted my own laziness and ignorance - but it's also shown up a flaw in the cosmetics labelling system. Getting great skin isn't about buying and trying all of the most potent products out there - that's just the quickest route to a raging complexion and quite possibly, sensitized skin that will be far more susceptible to premature ageing. It's essential to know your stuff. To have some basic idea of which ingredients complement or fight against one another and, if possible, to get expert advice before embarking on a new skincare regime.

In a bid to keep my skin healthy I've sworn off all future epidermal experiments - for good. I shall now only try things on the advice of my new dermatologist and facialist - yes, I've caved in and sought professional advice, which I shall of course be sharing and passing onto you over the coming months. As far as breakthroughs go, it's a small one for mankind, but hey, it's a pretty big one for my long-suffering skin.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

#63 Backstage Whispers...

I'm not a 'fashionista' - lord, I hate that word - nor am I a gossip. But I have been backstage at London Fashion Week this week, jotting down what the top make-up artists have had sprawled across their work spaces and peeking in model's handbags for some insight into their beauty routines. It's been a long time since I was naive enough to assume that the products mentioned by the 'beautiful people' would be the holy grail of great skin - after all, this beauty biz is nothing if not entirely subjective. I know women who rave about Eve Lom and have not strayed from her pricey cleansing pot for years - and others for whom it is devil's juice - packed as it is with mineral oil, which can play havoc with blemish-prone skin.

Anyway, back to my i-Spying, where after five seconds witnessing the work of the backstage pros, one thing struck me more acutely than anything else - just how YOUNG the models were. You know their faces, you've seen their smiles, pouts and heavy-lidded winks - but until you've stood a centimetre away from Agyness or Bette Franke - all angular cheeks, velvet skin and licorice-lace legs - you really have no understanding of just how precious and cute these kiddies actually are. They are not powdered and painted to look so - they just ARE. Their skin, then, is hardly a product of expert handling - more a genetic wish granted and yes, wasted on the young. They're models for a reason - they walk in looking this good and were born to be beautiful. You might be able to pick up their favourite lipgloss or share their cleansing ritual, but it won't get you any closer to their look. Fact is, for the most part, the artists I shadowed did little more than blend a bit of concealer over circles (where there were circles), dabbed Vaseline over lids and brows, tapped cream blusher onto cheeks and etched in arches (most models have their brows dyed lighter which gives them a chameleon-like quality - want dark? Pencil 'em in. Want light? Et voila). Hardly taxing.

In the kits of three top artists, I spied Estee Lauder Maximum Coverage Lightweight Make-Up, MAC Face & Body Paint, MAC Cream Colour Base in Fabulush (patted onto lips and cheeks), Vaseline, Johnson's Baby Wipes, YSL Touche Eclat and Guerlain Issima Precious Light.

There wasn't a single girl who needed much work and most were in and out of the chair in ten minutes. It seems that if you are blessed with a canvas this clear, it's a case of child's play, all the way to the runway.

Monday, 28 January 2008

#62 Join the Line

Something odd's happening. For years and years, the only girls I ever spied wearing inky eyeliner were either channelling a goth, punk or retro aesthetic - oh, and then there was my mum, who hasn't left the house without her customary slash of molten kohl, for, gosh, I'd say coming up to thirty years. But, all of a sudden, it's everywhere. I've seen lid-flicks on so many different women in the last month (none of whom are Amy Winehouse), that I have no choice but to assume we're in the midst of a full-fledged frenzy - hell, even my make-up shunning mate turned up to an East London gig wearing nothing but electric blue ticks - and no, they weren't on her trainers. It's easy to see the attraction. A well-lined upper lid does something extraordinary to eyes - it's like wearing a thick rack of false lashes, except you don't have to worry about them falling off or getting a globule of glue in the eye. Focus is immediately shifted to the peepers and even the least likely to flutter take on a doe-eyed quality - something that Lily Allen (who, let's face it, looks a stone's throw away from ordinary without it) has mastered well. Add an inky line and eyes are immediately more intense, flirtier, sexier - get the line right and even piggy eyes can be transformed into Pocahontas style slits.

The problem is, the trend has stolen my thunder. I've always loved a good flick. So much so, in fact, that I've spent the best part of the decade trying to settle on the single most foolproof way to cultivate a precise, symmetrical set of lines. There are several additions to the market this month that promise to make the enterprise easier. Bad news is that most of them are TERRIBLE. They promise foolproof application and long-wearing colour, when in truth, they dribble on and rub off at the first sign of a sweat.

First up, Estee Lauder Double Wear Zero Smudge Liquid Eyeliner in After Hours. It's limited edition this one, which is no bad thing, as it's really rather dire. Even after giving it a good shake, the consistency borders on fountain pen ink - watery, imprecise, lacking in definition. The brush isn't terrible - it's a sort of hard, pointy felt tip - but the wand is too long, making it difficult to manoeuvre it along the eyelid. The long-lasting formula also flakes, rather than wipes, away - annoying when you're trying to correct the line with a cotton bud dipped in make-up remover.

Next up, the new L'Oreal Superliner Carbon Gloss. The formula's better with this one - you get a TRUE, inky, deep pigment, but once again, the wand's not up to much. The 'precision tip' liner is basically a pliable piece of skinny sponge that does not have anywhere near enough firmness to create a neat line. I've used it about 3 times now and the result has steadily improved, but it's another example of a design that's making an already-tricky technique even trickier. It's got the same flake-away formula as the Estee Lauder wand too (although not quite as bad), which means that if you want to neaten up the flicks afterwards, you're invariably taking away an entire clump of the stuff, rather than leaving a neat, precise line behind.

Then there's MAC Liquidlast Liner. It has the best formula of the lot, but still, application ain't child's play. You've already got to be pretty savvy with a stick to get the line of your dreams - but at least it comes in a dazzling array of colours and the formula doesn't flake away when approached by make-up remover.

My favourites? I have two. One is Shu Uemura Liquid Eyeliner. It's an exquisitely crafted brush pen - press lightly against the eyelid and you'll get a thin line, press harder and the line will widen, but it won't wobble or look uneven. The ink dispenser button at the bottom also means that it lasts an eternity without drying out or up - something that can happen a lot faster with pot-style liners.

But, you still need a steady hand for the Shu (and yes, some practice). The real foolproof option (and one that I go back to when I'm in a rush in the morning), is a flat liner brush (the Ruby + Millie Eyeliner Brush is cheap and also, the best I've ever tried), dipped in water and then pressed into a jet black shadow. Tap off the excess and then, looking into the mirror, simply line the brush up with lashline on the upper lid and press down onto skin. It will leave a neat black dash behind, and work steadily across the lid, wetting and dipping the brush again if colour starts to weaken, until you have a neat line running all the way across the lid. For a flick at the outer corner of the eye, simply angle the brush slightly upwards and away from the lashline and press against skin - it will leave a short, neat flick behind that you'd struggle to get first time with an inky liner - and unlike inky formulas, it can easily be neatened up with make-up remover.

Go on, catch a flick. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

#61 Premature Estimation

To understand just how little guidance real women get when questing after skincare solutions, one need only recall the recent frenzy for Boots No 7 Protect & Perfect - with thousands of people (the men all apparently buying for partners) diving to get their hands on the latest 'elixir of youth.' What this serum had, that far fewer anti-ageing counterparts have been subject to, was some TV time behind it - forming part of a much-watched Horizon documentary shown late last year. So, can anyone even remember the facts behind the product? Or has hype overtaken sense yet again?

To recap, laboratory tests were headed up by an expert dermatologist - who tested No 7 Protect & Perfect and deemed it to be effective at combating sun damage.

Ah. If only it were that simple. The fact is, the test was a very small one involving just 9 volunteers... oh, and it was carried out on their forearms - not their faces.

Following the results of the initial 'HORIZON' experiment, the dermatologist (Professor Chris Griffiths), has since initiated a six-month double-blind clinical trial, involving 60 volunteers: “We are giving the cream to 30 people to use on their faces and a normal moisturiser to 30 more as a placebo. At present we are about halfway through the trial, although we have not started assessing the results yet.”

So, this is the real test. I mean, it involves actual people's faces, which is a good place to start when trying to assess whether or not a face cream works...

Of course, cosmetics companies aren't stupid. If they are to claim significant 'skin-healing' benefits that border on pharmaceutical, it would then be necessary to subject said products to an enormous battery of expensive tests that could take years. Our governing bodies might allow cosmetics companies free reign over their own research (which is not to say that most companies don't carry out impressive, stringent and exhaustive tests - well, would you risk the lawsuit?!) but pharmaceutical companies do not get the same grace - which is why we now have the frustratingly wooly term, cosmeceutical, being used to describe cosmetics with 'pseudo-pharmaceutical' benefits - a word which has, of course, been invented by the cosmetics companies themselves.

The galling thing about the No7 debacle is not that it isn't a good product. It might well be - and yes, the forearm cells of those 9 volunteers did show elevated levels of two proteins within the skin that ensure its elasticity - but we're talking about 9 people, 9 forearms - and this is all it takes to spark a 6million-&-counting shopping frenzy?

Perhaps it's got something to do with the number 7? The latest craze? The Athena 7 Minute Face Lift (currently being snatched from Harvey Nick's shelves faster than I can type the word 'HYPE') - which contains nothing more than a blend of organic essential oils (although, there are 12 of these, not 7 - that would've been freaky).

I have a pot here and will happily send it to the first person who emails in and is interested in testing it. Why haven't I bothered myself? Because I don't need my reflection to tell me that a pot of cream cannot make me look 18 again. It might be wonderful, it might be the holy grail of face masks, it might take my mug from corned beef to fillet steak, but it will most certainly not make me look as though I have had a facelift. My omniscient beauty ed's ego might be a bit inflated, I'll admit that - but I guarantee it won't be anywhere near as inflated as these readily proliferated product claims. So there.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

#60 Helping Husband

I attended a wedding last month, where my friend's husband - extremely cute in a Mark Owen/Richard Hammond/James McAvoy sort of way - looked utterly dreadful. Bless him. Red eyes, dark circles, patchy skin and a little breakout on the chin. The couple spent several hours on the night regaling guests with stories of just how insomniac, anxious, busy and run down they'd become in the run up... she on the other hand looked flawless, because, as is a bride's right, she'd chosen to have a professional hair and make-up artist transform her from under-fed and hollow-eyed, to glistening cheekboned and ruby-lipped. She might have missed a few winks, but there were no missed opportunities amidst the menfolk, who flocked to her like moths to Greta Garbo's ember-tipped cigarette - she'd never looked better. A few weeks later, I quizzed her on the routine and it came as no surprise that on the morning of the wedding she'd used a cleanser, exfoliator, two masks, eye patches, a calming oil and massage technique (borrowed from her facialist) and then had several primers, highlighters and bases expertly blended and applied by her premier artist. As for her hubby - who's since bounced back to his charming ways - he rolled out of bed after a mere 25 minutes sleep, washed, shaved and patted on moisturiser - hoping for the best, but feeling somewhat hollow and harrowed by the puffy-eyed man looking back at him in the mirror.

This is where I become exasperated. Had he known just three or four simple tricks (his wife was in no position to help, sleeping as they did in separate parts of the country the night before) - he could have fixed his face with minimal fuss and spent the night with chest puffed out, rather than deflated in self-conscious apology.

Having chatted to several of my best-looking and well kempt colleagues, I feel the need to share the following...

1) If you have had no sleep the night before and need to look your best, be gentle with your skin. Overzealous cleansing, exfoliating and shaving will leave your complexion looking as you feel: irritable.

2) A few basics: if your skin is calm, but just looks dull and tired, invest in an enlivening, radiance-enhancing product, such as Nickel Morning After Rescue Gel, £24 ( - do not use immediately after shaving.

3) If your skin looks dry and patchy, after cleansing try a mask that will even out skintone such as Dermalogica Multi-Vitamin Power Recovery Mask, £21.35 (

4) If you have dark circles around your eyes, couple an eye gel or cream with light-reflective properties (my brother loves Lab Series Age Rescue Eye Therapy, £25 ( ) with a concealer. Many will know that I'm not a big fan of YSL's Touche Eclat - and on men in particular, it's very easily spotted (especially when looking back at photographs!). I therefore recommend Laura Mercier Secret Concealer, £18, because it comes in three SKIN-like colours and blends in seamlessly. For best results, apply eye cream and while skin is still the tiniest bit spongey with moisture, tap the concealer all along the orbital bone (the hollowest part of the undereye) with a little finger. When blended, stop.

5) There is no treatment on earth that will get rid of spots instantly. If you are well-off and well-connected, you can book in for an emergency spot shot from a reputable dermatologist(otherwise known as a cortisone injection), but for mere mortals, DIY methods must suffice. I don't rate toothpaste at all - I've seen girls with red rashes after regular zit attacks with the stuff.

If you have no time to spare, my best advice is to take a teeny bit of aspirin, grind it up and add a bit of water to make a paste and dab it directly onto the spot. Leave for a a couple of minutes then rinse away with ice cold water. This will take down some swelling and redness. Another great option is to pop eye whitening drops, which constrict blood vessels thereby reducing blood flow (and redness), directly onto the spot. My current favourite blemish cover-up is Avene Couvrance Concealer Brush, £11 ( It is a pen-style applicator and comes in a beige and a green shade. If you can afford both, I'd recommend using the green concealer on red areas first, before blending, and then brushing the beige colour over that. Faffy it may be, but the formula blends down to utter invisibility and has never once felt heavy on my cake-prone skin.

Poor guys. I may not be receptive to the ongoing male battle to keep tools in trousers, but I'm certainly more than sympathetic should they choose to whip the odd trick out of their sleeves.