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.