Tuesday, 15 December 2009

# 114 Embargo Off!

What's with all the bloody embargoes?

If you're a dedicated beauty editor keen to go after the strongest possible story, the suspicious spate of recent embargoes will have ticked you off too.

There's nothing more frustrating than being sent all the relevant information for a new launch only to have it chased with an email from the PR, stating that nothing is to be mentioned until a given date (which is several weeks later than the print date you're actually working towards).

I had my first embargo burn while working at an EMAP weekly - and a rival weekly at another publishing house ignored the embargo on a Dior palette, printing their exclusive the day after ours would have run. I could have foamed at the mouth. By obeying the embargo while the other journo ignored it, I essentially lost a bit of credibility with my editor.

The trend started with certain fragrance houses & new-to-the-UK lines, then moved towards prestige & premium cosmetics & face creams... but now it's running away with itself, and I've seen embargoes applied to D-list bath lines, a pair of tweezers and a self-published diet book.

The final straw came last week when the exclusive I'd been promised by a brand new British make-up line was overruled by a US PR, who took the brand's launch direct to a top US magazine (it launches in the UK and US simultaneously) - which then negated the story I'd sold into another US magazine. The UK PR was left playing catch-up (and apologising profusely), while I lost out on yet another stellar story courtesy of the last-minute embargo slap.

Then today, an email about 'The Big Green Boob Survey' - which involves an online magazine asking a series of women what they want from an 'ethical bra' and then challenging a manufacturer to come up with the goods. I've read the press release twice and I'm still confused about the premise. There are now so many fair-trade and ethical companies producing beautiful underwear... the idea feels rather defunct. Yet, it's also (apparently) a story worthy of a strict embargo. Tits!

It seems that brands have been misled into believing that embargoes generate BUZZ...

... in my experience, they only ever result in bored beauty editors. And the knowledge that if something is embargoed (and interesting), it's already being written about elsewhere, and earlier, which is reason enough for me to assign my page-space to something else entirely.

Embargo? I say No Go.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

# 113 Nice & Easy

The trials and tribulations have stacked up this month.

Here's the good stuff:

Phyto Phytomist Instant Hydrating Conditioner For Colour Treated Or Permed Hair

Lovely scent, non-sticky feel, leaves hair glossy & soft - great for taming winter frizzies and stealing away static. I have neither colour-treated no permed hair (just naturally curly locks that go 'pouf' in the night), and this has made a big difference to the calmness of said curlies. When MOP discontinued their C-System style and hydrate spray, I was bereft. Now, thanks to this, I feel a bit better.

Sisley Eye Contour Mask

I was sent this by the obliging PR some months ago now, and given how my eye-bags always seem overladen come Christmas, I thought I'd give it a whirl. I use it around my eye contour while using other masks on the rest of my face, so it's a nice staple for that reason alone. It's a thick gel texture which glides on and stays where you put it, and does a good job of hydrating and smoothing out dehydration lines. It also seems to lift shadows slightly - not very noticeably I hasten to add - but just makes the area look a wee bit more 'rested.' As far as eye masks go, it's a keeper - but I'll confess that I probably wouldn't pay £61 for a top-up when this one runs out. Not because it isn't a good product, but simply because I'm inherently cynical of just how much difference an eye mask can make... and how short-lived even the best results can be.

And here's the stuff that's been chucked back into the 'unconvinced' box:

Ole Henriksen African Red Tea Perfecting Mask

I really wanted to like this one because had it been brilliant it would've solved all of my skin woes in a single swoop. It professes to hydrate, brighten, lift and tone facial contours, purify and smooth. A big ask - and unfortunately a product that left me cold (literally - it cools down on contact with skin, which left me uncomfortable - and the winter wind seemed doubly ferocious once I finally made it out of the house). I didn't see any dramatic brightening effect, nor did I notice improved tone. I've used Ole's products in the past and there are a couple I like - but I have to say, I've never liked the African Red Tea body line either (the heating cream & mask made my skin a bit rashy)... red tea's just not my bag.

Nivea SOS Lip Care SPF 15

According to Mister M, this one tastes like coal tar (erm, any idea what coal tar tastes like?)... and it's overly scented too. If it worked, this would be a small price to pay... but, it doesn't - after a sub-zero Northern weekend my lips were flakier than a coconut snowball. It's also sticky, and wind-swept hair + gluey lips is not a good look. Nope, just don't like this one at all!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

#112 Feeling Green

Fact: Most British beauty editors live & work in London
Fact: Most British beauty editors get sent every product under the sun in the hope of achieving a single aim: perfect skin
Fact: London is the most polluted city in the UK; Londoners are the most stressed of all UK inhabitants; and (sorry, 'another pinch of salt in the wound' alert) Londoners are the unhappiest in their jobs of everyone living in the UK.
Fact: Stress, unhappiness, pollution, lack of exercise etc etc = bad skin. Like, derr. Oh, and weight gain apparently... not to mention heart attacks... and... and... and...

...the prescription for perfect skin seems to have far less to do with peptides and everything to do with peace... fresh air... happiness...

Now, I love London - I really love London. I was born here, grew up here, went to school here, all my friends still live here... but, well, I'm beginning to feel a bit jaded by the lemming-like allure of this big city of mine. It's undeniably fantastic in many many ways (like midnight movies & 24-hour breakfasts//spoilt-for-choice exhibitions/gigs/shows//the best & biggest libraries//thumping clubs & mindblowingly brilliant pubs/bars/restaurants/hotels//huge, sprawling parks & lots of fab things to do in them) and the fact that there's always, always, something really interesting to do, whatever time or day...

But (she coughs), having just spent the last three days in a remote part of the Cotswolds, where the air & water & sky & earth stoked something bizarrely primal in me that also made me lust for all that I don't have on my main-road facing flat in busy South London, I feel that my central city belief system has been shaken.

It just doesn't make sense. The 'GLOW' that is. And it wasn't a denying health-food fasting glow either - it was a huge desserts & steaks & roasts & beers glow, the glow of general contentedness & peacefulness (well, there was no mobile phone or email for an entire 72 hours) - and the relief of feeling left alone & unrushed was unspeakably, profoundly uplifting.

There was nothing much to do with my day other than take long morning walks, soak in the spa pool, and then just before bed, the huge tub, and indulge in lots of the aforementioned sticky dinners...and read & write & dream...

And then, on the way back to the local train station, the cabbie pulled to one side of the country road to allow a tractor to complete its maneouvre. We waited 10...15...20...30 seconds... and nothing. No cursing, blinding, huffing or puffing. The cabbie just looked out across the horizon and hummed a little tune. Eventually the tractor did what it had to do, and pulled to one side, letting us pass. A waved hand and smile, from both to one another, and that was it.

Then the station, where the ticket seller & collector was also the signalman and platform cleaner (oh, and he could conjure a sausage butty if your were hungry & didn't mind waiting a little bit...was there ever a better finale to an awaited train?...)

I cannot imagine how good it must feel to live in a place where the pace of life is not set by the yelling driver behind you, or elbowing 'gent' who spies the last seat on the tube and will walk through fire (and all of YOU) just to snag it.

So, the next time I feel my face burning red from all the indignities of the day, I'll take myself off to that little place, and pour my memento (a bottle of Green & Spring Light Relax Bath Oil from that perfect bathroom), into a running bath and dream of a place where it's okay to daydream.

Imagine that...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

#111 Loose Women

Loose ends are enough to drive me round the bend, so in a bid to polish my worktop and enter the weekend light of heart & mind, I'm rounding up all the nitty gritties in a single post, which I hope will help the many readers who've been emailing me this month. As ever, thank you so much for reading & reaching out & getting in touch & asking me lots of big, important and interesting questions.


" I'm 38 and recently I've noticed fine lines around my mouth. I've always just slapped on some moisturiser and headed out the door but I think more is needed these days. The woman at the Clinique counter said my skin was basically oily but dehydrated where the fine lines are. Now, what do you think about expensive anti ageing products? Should I go to Space NK and throw money at my lines or do cheaper products work just as well? And is it moisture that you need to plump up fine lines or should I be looking for retinol in a product?"

OKAY, so do you want the cold hard truth?

There isn't a cream on the market that will rid you entirely or permanently of a real wrinkle.

Some will make it look less noticeable; others will fade it away a little over time; the best might even plump it up a touch... but there is no topical high-street treatment that will erase your wrinkles ENTIRELY, FOREVER.

Pass the tissues!

Now, if you're happy with your skin in general then I'd suggest adding a moisture-boosting serum into your routine (use post-cleanse & before moisturising) to see if the increase in hydration will fill out those fine lines. I get them on my forehead & one by the side of my mouth when I've skipped my serum for a few weeks (I use ESPA Cellular Hydrating Complex), but once I go back to it, nada, nice & smooth again. At 29, however, I do not yet have any wrinkles (a microscope analysis confirmed this last week, phew!) so I don't want to recommend something that works for me which may not deliver for you.

There is a difference between a fine line and a dehydration line though - but if the latter is left untreated for long enough it will soon become the former.

I was once a big fan of Dermalogica's Hydrating Booster until I realised that it made no long term difference to the moisture levels in my skin. I've had this problem with other Hyaluronic Acid products too in the past - they get sucked up and you think your skin's drinking its daily dose only to wake up the next morning flaky & dry as ever. If you think of your skin as a rock formation, these lightweight serums are essentially a drip-feed of groundwater, but they're not penetrating the surface to reach the soil beneath. I know I bang on about ESPA all the bloody time (and am sorry that I do, because I hate to seem biased), but my skin's moisture levels were never truly balanced until I tried ESPA Cellular Hydrating Complex. Just love that stuff - if only it weren't so dastardly expensive!!

Anyway, back to you. If your lines do not disappear entirely when they're hydrated then you probably need something a bit more serious then a moisturising serum - and this is when companies want to sell you that special something to resurface and plump up the skin's collagen and elastin stores and restore that cushion-soft complexion of your youth.'


There are SO many products on the market nowadays that promise these sort of results (you know the ones; they come in syringe-shaped tubes with tag-lines that promise they're better than botox), but the results are rarely worth the price tag.

L'Oreal's Wrinkle Decrease Collagen Filler, for example, is consistently voted a top product by magazines, but it scored a poor 54% on the ever trustworthy WWW.MAKEUPALLEY.COM with half of 70 users saying they would not buy it again. Common complaints were 'the effect didn't last more than a couple of hours. I don't think it really plumps your skin, the way they claim' and 'it has more of a light-diffusing effect because it is semi-opaque than a wrinkle-filling effect. There are no active ingredients in this that could stimulate collagen production and the "boswelox" is a marketing thing.'

RoC's Wrinkle Correction Serum fared better, as did Olay's Regenerist Wrinkle Filler - and both are beloved by beauty eds for promising serious results, and carrying out exhaustive trial-and-testing on their new launches. In fact, a word to the wise - the affordable Olay has become something of a cult cosmetic surprise among the snobbier set - it's good, honest stuff, and from the Definity range to the Touch of Sun products, it's building an entirely new base of devoted followers. But - and this is where I get cuttingly REAL again, there were lots of users of both product who did not see as great an improvement as they had hoped. And this is where the old science comes in again - a craggy face will not turn cherubic overnight, and no pot will ever deliver on a line-less promise - [well, perhaps one of gold, if traded in for something far more invasive]. But, here's where I suggest that we ladies pay more attention to the fine print - do any face creams actually promise to eradicate our wrinkles forever? No, of course not. Improvements are not to be sniffed at though.

BUT, the fact remains that the serums and creams that sell themselves on an immediate filling or smoothing of lines will often make very little (if any) long-term difference. They're usually loaded with silicon & light diffusing particles (most often mica) - so the change is superficial, not structural. A good rule of thumb is to plump (excuse the pun) for products that don't purport to work overnight, and take as long as the skin cells' own cycle would take (which makes sense if you've been promised lots of spongy new cells from your latest serum)... rule of thumb, 6-8 weeks for a real visible difference.

But in my experience a great resurfacing peel followed by a regenerating mask (or a professional laser or intense pulsed light treatment) will make more difference to fine lines than a year's worth of shop-bought skin solutions. So sometimes it's worth paying to see a professional before you fork out on lots of broken promises in pots.

As an aside, I'm not a big fan of Clinique's cut & dry approach. They just don't understand skin in an holistic way. While they're regularly introducing more high-tech formulas & some great foundations, they're also pushing a 3-step-system that ignores all the new skincare breakthroughs & antioxidants across the rest of the line, and does not bother itself with protecting skin from the sun or pollution or stress; does not take into account age or race or lifestyle & the toner (which is actually an exfoliator) is my own personal bugbear because it gets women to slough away dead skin twice a day, but the moisturiser does not come with any sun protection. Any woman using this twice a day for ten years (and not having bought SPF on top) would be in for a unpleasant reflection come middle age. TRUE.

Then, onto retinol, which is another tricky issue...

Retinol is essentially an antioxidant (derived from Vitamin A) and, in layman's terms, helps the skin create healthier skin cells. It also helps shed the dead and regenerate the new, but it's not without its problems. Several of my beauty insiders have confided that their clients (who have been using retinol for upward of 10 years thanks to dermatologist prescriptions) now have very dry and thin skin - it may be clear and poreless and unlined, but it isn't very robust. Of course modern advancements in retinol production (including encapsulating it in non-irritating nano-sized ingredients that can penetrate the dermal layer) are steadily doing away with these issues - and new formulas are less likely to leave skin red-raw (skinceuticals and Medik8 are good examples of brands making smart upgrades to their formulas).

The problem for me remains that I'm a big believer in letting oily skin be oily - and would rather have a midday shine than retinol-regulated pore secretions which dry up by the time I hit 50. This thinking is unfortunately hugely at odds with a lot of leading dermatologists, many of whom think retinol is the Holy Grail of modern skincare. The Americans adore it too - and even women like Paula Begoun, who has made a living of telling the truth about what does & doesn't work, is a big fan (www.cosmeticscop.com).

If you're a retinol fan, bear in mind her interesting point though:

"Packaging is still a key issue [with retinol], so any container that lets in air (like jar packaging) or sunlight (clear containers) just won't cut it, something that applies to most state-of-the-art skin-care ingredients. Lots of retinol products come in unacceptable packaging."

And finally, you didn't mention slapping on SPF with your moisturiser? I have to say that I don't think it's worth spending a penny on anti-ageing unless you're protecting skin on top - and if you did ever start on the retinol that would have to become a key part of your regime.

I hope this has been of some help! The truth is so often painfully convoluted and when it comes to beauty, very very rarely black and white.

And in the end:

As a favour to my blogoshpere pals 'Anonymous' & 'Ellen' I wondered whether any MM readers had ever used Sjal products OR Erno Laszlo and if so, what's the consensus? Answers tagged onto this post would be greatly appreciated.

There! All tied up & somewhere to go.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

# 110 Count Me Out

I was going to begin this post by moaning about the winter bug that's still got me out for the count, but, well, I can't be bothered - and dredging up the gory details is not going to do much to improve my mood is it? Suffice it to say that my equation goes a bit like this:

A 7-day flu bug +
7 days of antibiotics to clear a chest infection that will linger for another 5 days +
All of this straight after coming off a 3 Day Superjuice Detox Diet
= Don't F**k About With Your Guts. If you do it'll come back to bite you in the ass. (No pun intended).

And don't forget to read the small print:

So, I thought I'd cheer myself up by dishing the dirt on some disappointing skin offerings instead. Well, my vitriol is one of the few things that isn't contagious...

I ran out of my beloved ESPA Gentle Deep Cleansing Balm last week and rooted a 'standby' Bobbi Brown Cleansing Oil, out of the drawer as I was too sick to travel to the shops. The first few times I used it it was fine - it emulsified well & rinsed cleanly. I did, however, notice that my skin didn't feel as soft as normal and on 3rd or possibly 4th employ, it began to sting - not severely, but in an 'I'm rather harsh and irritating against your oft-blown-nose skin' way. My chin and cheeks were also far drier after cleansing than I deem acceptable. In my experience, the mark of a good cleanser is that even dry skin can stand a few minutes after cleansing and before moisturising, without starting to !SCREAM! at you. Well, this one failed on that count. And I also started to notice blocked pores on my nose and forehead - something I haven't experienced during my entire 6 months with ESPA. As far as this product's concerned, I do not want to be Bobbi's girl ever again.

I ran out of Sisley Nutritive Lip Balm last week too (major bummer as it costs around £35 for a teeny pot), and trialled two other formulas that promised even better results (according to the PRs at any rate). The first was SUQQU Lip Essence Cream, which comes in a swanky and weighty white pot. I liked it at first because it was thick, waxy and unguent, so stayed put, but a couple of days in it became apparent that my lips were not convinced, and therein began the peeling and puckering. I also started to notice a chemical whiff after application which scared me, so I desisted and started on Prescriptives Lip Specialist Triple Action Lip Therapy instead. The latter is a much better bet & has sorted out soreness a treat. The only problem (and it's an insurmountable one) is that come the end of the year Prescriptives will be no longer. So, if you're a fan, it's worth stocking up while you still can. On my part, Sisley's still the best... and sometimes the best is worth the pay-day wait.

As for me, it's back to bed with a mug of tea... sniffle sniffle... and sweeter dreams.

DISCLAIMER: My Juice Detox did not make me sick. It just didn't help me shake my sickness. And it might even have made me sicker than I would have been without it. But I cannot prove it. But just in case it did make me sick, I won't be paying £300 to get knocked out again anytime soon.... Oh sod it. Just sue me.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

#109 Cold Comfort

It's day 3 of my Hydro Healing Classic Detox and yep, I've got a cold. No surprise really, given that Mr M has been an infection-incubus of late, and has been battling the snots for almost 3 weeks. Sympathy has worn off entirely - given that I've now caught his sore throat & bit of a cough (though nothing as severe as his 8-on-the-Richter scale shake)- and turned into frustration... because he's still smoking despite the infection... which is something I really cannot get my head around. Anyway, enough matrimony-acrimony.

When I'm ill I go into BATTLE mode. Out come the organic salads, shakes, juices, vitamins and 12-hour stretches of sleep - and I've yet to be out of commission for longer than 3 days with a single infection.

And given that day one of my sniffles coincided with day one of my detox, well, I had no choice but to suck it up and hope for the best.

So, there were 4 x 500ml bottles of fruit or vegetable juices each day, and the good news was that they were all mightily filling & tasty. There was no gagging or greenness (not even with the beetroot, carrot & ginger juice - which tasted like really zingy organic ginger beer - nice!), but the tummy did get a bit annoyed at having to drink everything cold and straight out of the fridge within 20 minutes of opening it (and downing 500ml in 20 mins is no mean feat - and puts a lot of pressure on the old bladder). There were also packs of linseed and cleansing clay mix, but because I was already sensitive of stomach, I ignored the clay stuff & did the linseed instead (a teaspoon left to soak in boiled water in a small beaker all day long & downed just before bed - not as gross as it sounds, and tasted rather like weak cod liver oil thanks to all the nourishing oil that seeps out of the seeds throughout the course of the day).

You're also allowed to drink vegetable broth, but because I did not feel well enough to chop, dice, boil or drain, I mixed Marigold Organic Vegetable Bouillon with boiling water instead (which is what they recommend for lazy cows like me) and it was nice to sup on something hot & steamy when feeling under the weather.

Biggest surprises: that I did not feel sick; that my digestive tract went from sluggish to regular in just 48 hours; that I did not feel too hungry (even if it was nigh on impossible to watch a TV chef baking a hot ginger cake without wanting to go on a rampage & hold up my local bakery), although I did feel really tired and a bit tender (but that was probably the cold rather than the detox... who knows?), but on the whole - far easier than one might have you believe. I could not do it for longer than 3 days though for fear of forgetting how to chew & swallow. God forbid.

I've come out of it with a feeling of energy and have been sleeping well... have also dropped about five pounds (but I always do when I have a cold as I never eat as much), and most importantly, feel as though I am well on the mend. As for when I'll schedule my colonic, well, there's something to be said for building one's strength... and I have had to tell my editor, that, cough cough, I'm afraid that may take some time...

N.B. The next post will dispel all of the above...

Monday, 5 October 2009

#108 Kiddy Cake & Confessions

Two buttery white bread cheese sandwiches and a slice of Smarties cake for dinner (it was my little cousin's 4th birthday. Sweet!) don't really make for inner peace and my belly's still bloated 12 hours later. When I feel icky the temptation is to stay put on the sofa (and when it's raining, as it is now, the inclination is multiplied a million-fold) and indulge in dodgy box-set marathons as opposed to the 26-mile variant, which is really what I happen to need - and have needed for several months, having noticed that the photo on my gym membership card has faded almost entirely away thanks to being left on the sunny windowsill for the best part of the summer. I've grown lazy. Really lazy. SO lazy in fact, that last week my leg went to sleep during my five minute walk to the train station. That's not good.

So, how to motivate yourself when you're feeling distinctly... well... bleurgh?

I have a friend who forces herself to read Teen Vogue on a fat day, knowing that the sight of myriad stick-thin teens will ping her arse to the gym quicker than an email from her eagle-eyed editor. Not healthy, but, well, borderline dysmorphia and psychological torture are her Mr Motivator.

I have another friend who came up with the Slovenly Sunday - a day when she eats and drinks whatever she wants, without reason, and if she's unlucky enough not to throw up spends the next six days making up for it at the gym and with meagre diet dinners. Oh, and she's a health editor at a consumer glossy. Figures.

I also have a stick-thin gay male friend who thrives on Larabars and protein shakes and runs 2 marathons a week to make up for his sky-high alcohol consumption.

Well, needless to say I shan't be choosing any of the aforementioned routes (and if I ever did, would feel the need to chase them with a weekly psychotherapy session, or conversion followed by confession) and shall instead pull on my waterproof boots, trudge down to my local food market in order to refresh & reinvigorate my fridge, and then wander through the park in the rain.

And set my alarm for 7am tomorrow morning in a desperate attempt to get myself to Body Pump and melt away my latest fat deposits (that Charbonnel et Walker Chocolat Chaud was worth it though!) before my membership card melts down from misuse.

Oh, and prepare to laugh at me all next week as I trial the Hydro Healing Classic Detox... which I'm doing for work and involves just 3 juices a day for 3 days, a colonic and... well... I'm guessing a whole lot of tantrums and toilet trips too.

Happy Rebirthday to me.

I'll cry if I want to.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

# 107 Run Run Sleep

I've just spent the morning on Twitter and Bloglovin and Style and Susie Bubble and a million other sites that I dip in and out of every day, when I'm feeling a bit... twitchy... and now I'm very very tired.

And everyone everywhere is talking about fashion week, which was more enjoyable than it's ever been (4 blisters/1 stolen bag/2 spilled wines on suede/1 flash of knicker aside), and I've seen myriad marvellous things, but none as interesting as the looks sported by the queueing masses. Fashion has always been obscene, of course; it is nothing more than a giant sprawling auditorium of attention-seekers doing their best to shuffle onto the tiniest of stages, but by god it's such fun too. Getting to see the Christopher Kane show was a highlight (although I was a bit wary of the thin Gingham skirts with thigh-high splits - on the catwalk they looked rather flimsy), because the energy surrounding it was so insane. I got my call & show time muddled up (was supposed to be camped out backstage @ 11am watching the beauty magic happen), but only just made the show in time (@ 2.30pm). More fool me. The funniest moment was spotting my PR friend behind the velvet rope who ushered me into the inner echellons only to be grabbed by a frenzied fashion ed. who pretended to know her (she'd heard me say her name), in the hope that she too could be taken inside. 'I'm sorry,' I said, sincerely, 'I'm beauty, not fashion,' and the twitchy witch recoiled in horror and said, 'Eugh, I see,' before shuffling back to the front of the line in the hope of spotting a Fashion Proper PR. Jo & I giggled about that on the way in, and then I got sidetracked behind Susie Lau (of Susie Bubble) and the entire ELLE fashion team who took up almost 2 rows. No fair. And yes, there was Anna Wintour, and Donatella (looks just as odd in real life), Natalia Vodianova, who literally blew my socks off she was so darn beautiful (and 2 babies!! with the face & body of a nubile teenager!! gah!!) and big daddy Philip Green sat beside his daughter. It was London at its flashiest and despite being one of those no-bullsh*t types, even I felt a fluttering frenzy in the pit of the stomach as things began. When history's being made you can just feel it.

Anyway, I'm back on the sofa today, enamoured of my slippers and PJs, and just over the moon to get a day away from the big city.

On my way home after the end of the final day, I tallied up the 'street style' looks in my head. Purple nail polish and lips (the coolest girls wore Ribena shades); hair wrapped in ribbons (not bows) and pinned with pom-poms; imperfect fingernails (green & matt navy were a hit) and that's about it. I've never seen a season with so little eyeliner or shadow (and most women stuck with nude lips too). That's the funny thing about fashion types - they'll layer up the fur, skins, studs and rivets, and strap on the most horrifying shoes (horrifying from the point of view of the chiropodist; heavenly for anyone else), but a slick of a lip or smear of warpaint is a step too far.

As for me, I got street-snapped just twice, and both times I cringed like an amateur.

And back to bed now, with the laptop, and a week's worth of deadlines to meet.

p.s. Oh, and the title of this post comes courtesy of one of my favourite signed, but pretty much still undiscovered, bands MAUPA. You can pick up their beautiful new album here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Run-Sleep-Maupa/dp/B001G5V3CC

Friday, 11 September 2009

# 106 Oh No You Di'n't!

This recently landed in my inbox and necessitated a prompt response:


Hot on the heels of the hugely successful makeover show, How To Look Good Naked, comes a brand new fragrance and beauty range of the same name.

Perfect for much deserved pampering or as a Christmas gift for friends and relatives, the range includes luxury stocking fillers and head-to-toe gift sets. All presented in stunning lilac and cream bottles, they are almost too good to open!

Now, it might sell like Cream Egg McFlurries, but regardless of how well you're able to style up a bargain bin item, there's no dressing up an endorsement-whore after a quick cash-fix...

...and I've always thought the world of Gok - good and funny and sweet and sensible.... but a "beauty" range (stocked at Argos) is a monumental mis-step...

...and it really ain't his style.

# 105 Overrated and Out

I am a smiley and happy person. Always have been. I enjoy all the little things - movies, mornings, Dairy Milk and live music - and spend most days strolling around with a spring in my step. Venting spleen is not a regular part of my repertoire, or it wasn't until I set up this blog. And perhaps because I have this outlet for my secret frustration (The editor wants me to write about what?!! But it's crap!!! Please, can I not just say that it is CRAP!!!? I can't? Why not? I'm fired?! You can't do that!!!! - is how the scene would play out in the middle of an open office), I am far less inclined to gripe about the other stuff. Such as the fact that the only men who ever hit on me are of the unwashed and obnoxious variety; that my bus journey home takes 20 minutes on a good day and an hour and 20 minutes on the one Friday night when I'm making dinner for friends; that they've screwed up the X Factor format beyond repair and that James McAvoy is happily married (and in my world of fictional singledom, this troubles me: cue heart-string twinge).

So, to kick my weekend off in sunny style, I'm offloading a few of my beauty bugbears... in the hope that they might just put a conspiratorial smile on your face too.

Eve Lom Cleanser
Yes, yes, I know - it really does work miracles on some people. And I should know. I was one of the converted for two good skin years, when despite the occasional deep, cystic breakout (should have known!) I reached a pleasing plateau of glow and softness. Then, Eve forgive me, I quit (because I have a problem with how much money she charges for what is essentially a pot of dirt-cheap mineral oil)and my skin manifested itself into what could only be described as a plague upon my face. It took months for things to go back to normal and when I attempted to crawl back to this cleanser, tail between legs, it just wouldn't have me. Spot central. Oh, and don't like the smell either. Polite beauty editors call it 'medicinal' or 'herbal'... don't be fooled... it smells distinctly unnatural... a bit like grubby rubber. On another note, when I started using it (about 8 years ago now), the formula was creamier (and felt better on the skin) than it does now, when I've noticed that it's become grainier.

Salt Scrubs (in general)

Perhaps it's just me, but I've never found a salt scrub that actually does what it says on the packet. I've tried Elemis, The Sanctuary, The Body Shop, Bliss etc etc and the sensation is always distinctly uncomfortable and refuses to produce any ostensible difference (besides redness). Why are they so popular? In the most basic terms you are taking hundreds of shard-edged crystals and scratching them up and down your body and while the surrounding oils may do your skin some good, the salt seems like the obvious miscreant in the equation. Now I steer clear of scrubs altogether and load up my cheap-as-chips Superdrug Exfoliating Gloves with moisturising body wash and have a good rubdown.

Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream
I dislike this for all the same reasons that I dislike the Eve Lom cleanser. It's packed with mineral oil and lanolin (a common irritant) and has the sort of "herbal" (READ: petrol-chemical) smell that turns my stomach. It chapped my lips something chronic, scared the bejesus out of my husband (who said it tasted revolting; kisses off menu for about a month thereafter), and the more I used it, the worse things got. And just to clarify, once and for all, petrolatum cannot hydrate skin. It has no water in it, and as an oil is not refined enough to penetrate even the most superficial layers of skin. It sits atop of the surface, providing a barrier to foreign bodies/drying air currents etc etc certainly, but not doing anything more miraculous than that... which leads me onto...


A ha. Another one. So it looks cool slicked over eyelids and high on cheekbones (on the floodlit runway; in real life it just looks greasy), but it does nothing whatsoever to moisturise lips or any other part of the body. It can make a temporary difference to cracked heels and hands, when worn with conditioning gloves for example, but the results will be short-lived. It does not heal or repair or protect. It is the most basic and bog standard of products, with no beautifying power at its disposal. What-so-ever.

Eyeko Sparkly Eye Pencil

The little kid in me, who used to collect comic books, wear pink capes and sketch Manga-style heroines in Physics lessons, can still be drawn to the quirky beauty brands, but my run in with Eyeko's Sparkly Eye Pencil was far from comical. I foolishly opened it up and ran it along my lashline without testing it on my skin first. Christ, the pain. It's glass-hard, scratchy and uneven (thanks to all the real glitter particles in it...). If you've ever glitter & glued as a child and accidentally rubbed your eyes, you'll know how I felt. This one's a health hazard.

Revlon Beyond Natural Skin Matching Foundation

'It goes on white and adjusts to match your exact skin tone.' Ha! My palest friend looked as though she had been tangoed and I took on a very scary tan shoe polish, with a lovely greasy tide mark around my chin for good measure. Fetching. Ladies, be very wary of anything that says it will change colour to match your complexion... which leads us to...

...Estee Lauder Daywear Plus Sheer Tint Release Formula
The exact same thing. I used it after a shower at the gym. It felt and smelt rather nice, blended easily (feeling much more like a day cream than foundation), and then I hopped on the tube and into town. Woe be-tide mark. The same greasy film of fake tan-ness over skin and when I blew my nose I left a Rorschach Test behind on the sheet. Ick.

Bliss Steep Clean Cleanser
I have a bit of a problem with Bliss in general really. The professional theory sounds enticingly strong (we're famed for our facials, get our skincare here &, voila, have a pro-style treatment at home), but I've never felt it delivers. Regardless of what beauty editors recommend on their pages, what they actually use is what really speaks volumes (and to discover that you have to trawl their cabinets just like every other nosey dinner guest), and I've never found a single one of my beauty ed friends who uses Bliss products themselves. Body, sure! But for face? The formulas all seem a bit too strong, harsh, drastic... take this cleanser for example. The website says: Steep Clean Cleansing Milk is the ultimate cleansing weapon for t-zones that are bogged down by clogging or worse, clad with acne. Formulated with smoothing salicylic acid and enzymes to digest dead cells and diminish inflammation. It's 'the bomb' on breakouts. My beauty ed hackles go up here, because I know that if you're using an enzymatic and salicylic acid formula twice a day, every day, it's more than likely that you'll get to a point where skin will sensitize, or be over-stripped, and then it will begin to play up again. Which is what happened to me. It might work for those with excessively greasy T-zones, but then again, I'm a staunch believer in treating oily skin conditions with oil-based products. 'The bomb' should've been warning enough really...

Embryolisse Cream
Every bloody year 'the models' rave on about this French pharmacy find, which apparently works all number of miracles 'eet's so sooooothing! eet's so caaaaaaalming, eet's soooooo gooooood!'. It's mineral oil is what it is. So, it's not really any better than E45 or any of the other bog standard emollient white creams you get from the chemist... and it absolutely won't work any miracles. Models look that way already. Sorry, but someone had to let you in on the secret.

Kate Somerville Gentle Daily Wash
I had heard and read so many wonderful things about this LA facialist to the stars that when the lovely Space NK PR sent half the line over for me to test, I was convinced I'd find my new favourite thing. What is it they say about great expectations? It left my skin with that horrible if-I-smile-I'm-sure-to-split feeling and a tingle that lasted over an hour. Thank the lord I didn't start with the Purify Cleanser. Ouch.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

# 104 Happy Addition

Apologies. I forgot the most important product of all. The product that my skin became infatuated with just 3 weeks ago on holiday (and which I believe I have had 10 dalliances with since): GUINOT MASQUE ESSENTIEL NUTRITION CONFORT

It's the first mention for Guinot on my blog which is a glaring oversight as I've had a couple of very good facials with them in the past (Hydradermie is of the deep-cleansing, purifying and hydrating variety - I've been consistently impressed).

I've also had my assumptions tested. This mask seems as though it will dry out the skin, but actually hydrates it, while also incorporating a more traditional purifying clay and brightening camphor base. Unlike some clay masks I do not break out after using it, and unlike some camphor masks, it doesn't sting or cause redness. It's a bit of an overachiever this one, and there is a marked difference in the before and afters. I've come to rely on it after my Origins Modern Friction session (1-2 times a week).

So, apologies for the oversight - this one was destined for my last post and as I stood staring at my face in the mirror just before my nightly bath I remembered all about it and had to dash back, log on and rectify my mistake.

Considering that I ought to be tucked up in bed now (and am still wrapped in a towel) this is probably the truest testament to the Guinot mask as the result itself.

Bon Nuit!

And p.s. The Shiseido eye cream (see post #103) just gets better and better... my peeper's say: it's a keeper.

Friday, 4 September 2009

# 103 Happy Happy Joy Joy

Enough griping. The sun's shining, I have the Nickelodeon theme tune (circa 1994) playing in my little ol' head again and I've surrounded myself with my latest list of favourite things. Here is what has kept me smiling this month:

1) Clarins After Sun Moisturizer Ultra-Hydrating

Just wonderful. Clarins do 'smell' very well, and this is no exception, but it also leaves skin feeling very silky (but not greasy), and noticeably smooth. It also contains cardamom which seems to boost existing tans, without actually self-tanning. I've been using it for a fortnight and think it's one of the best body creams I've ever tried. My post-holiday skin is still extremely peachy, despite waging daily bathing wars with London's hard water. Sold.

2) James Brown Scandalous Gorgeously Rich Moisturising Shampoo and Conditioner.

Yep, they have a very strong fragrance (a bit woody, a little honeyed, sweet but also slightly musky), but it's one that I rather like: it's sexy and womanly and gets the thumbs up from Mr Malcontent (no mean feat, I can tell you)... and the shampoo's packed with SLS, which I try to avoid, and therefore foams up in melodramatic style, but it's also rather splendid. It left my hair very bouncy, shiny and soft; four washes in there's no residue or itchy scalp or build-up; hair feels & smells expensive and the formula produces the impossible: smoothness & fullness. A new staple.

3) MAC Creme Blush in Laid Back

It's in a shade that I have searched high and low for for several years - a burgundy, which translates as a very real-looking flush on the skin (like a rush of blood to the face, but in a very fresh and flirty way); and it doesn't hurt that it looks just beautiful on the lips too.

4) Shiseido White Lucent Brightening Eye Treatment.

It's been a long time since I strayed from Dermalogica for my eye treatments, but when I turfed this up in a desk drawer last month (and I'd been lacking in sleep) I thought it begged a trial... and the results so far have beggared belief. You know when you've had a wonderful night's sleep and you wake up and your skin just looks very calm and clear and even, and your eyes seem to look wider and bigger than normal... it doesn't happen that often for most of us, but since using this I've been consistently impressed (and have had a bunch of lovely breakfast meetings to boot!). It's the whiteness of the formula itself that makes the biggest difference, I know that, as it provides an immediate superficial 'lift' to the area, but with continued use (I've been using a rice-grain sized amount both day and night), it has also started to fade shadows. Had I not tried this I probably would not have thought it possible... but there you go. Tried, and perpetual malcontentment duly tested...
I'm a believer!

Happy happy joy joy.... now all I need are a few episodes of Clarissa, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Kenan and Kel and I'll be the happiest lady in London...

Tuesday, 18 August 2009



Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Restructuring Treatment is the best. I walk away and end up running back every time. In fact I get a bit panicky when I run out. The shampoo and ordinary conditioner in the range are nice too, but the treatment is the clear winner. The best shampoo I’ve ever used for dry and splitting hair is Paul Labreque Restorative Hair Wash. I’ve mentioned it before, but it really is wonderful – but I swap it in and out with Kerastase Biotic Bain Recharge Shampoo to avoid getting a scaply build-up (which can happen with this). On the conditioning front, Redken UV Rescue After-Sun Conditioner is lovely and creamy too – I’ve been using it while away and it adds a nice sheen to sea-d out hair.

My hair has not been coloured for a long time but at the time, I remember rating Elvive and Redken. Zoe Irwin recommended the Kerastase Reflection Bain Miroir, but it wasn’t moisturising enough for my hair, which is also chemically straightened. That’s the thing with products for coloured hair – they’re so focused on boosting brightness that they sometimes feel as though they skimp on the nourishment front. Toni&Guy’s Label.m are particularly good on this front – the treatment shampoo and conditioner are the best in the range.

I’ve never seen the point in using a lightweight shampoo and conditioner. When I condition, I normally intensive condition (even if it’s just on the very ends), and when I shampoo, I like something that cleanses deeply but that cancels out dry bits and doesn’t leave me with static sections (a pet hate with bog standard shampoos). There are dozens of good shampoos & conditioners out there of course, and it’s certainly not the case that the more you spend the greater the benefits you see. Good, inexpensive formulas are made by MOP, VO5, Superdrug-own Coconut Intensive Conditioner and John Frieda. And, actually, the new Herbal Essences Hello Hydration range is rather nice too.

Despite mousse conjuring up images of St Elmo’s Fire-style hair, I think it’s great for adding oomph to strands. I like L’Oreal’s Hot Volume Mousse and Fructis Style XXL. Both are cheap but do the job well – although I’ve yet to find a mousse that really keeps hair bouncing until morning. Non-mousse nods go to Aveda’s Pure Abundance Hair Spray and the TIGI Superstar range – the latter builds quite astonishing volume into strands, but don’t be surprised if your brush gets lost in it – it’s not the easiest nest to comb out.

One thing works better than the rest: Redken Glass 01. Hair is supremely soft, smooth and shiny. I’ve got one in my gym bag & one in my bathroom.

The Kerastase Resistance range is great on this front – Ciment Thermique is my hands-down winner.

Schwarzkopf OSIS Dust It Mattifying Powder is a take on Aveda’s original Pure Abundance Powder. Both are great. Also along the same lines in label.m’s award winning Resurrection Dust. I find that all three work better on really light blond hair (think Duffy), but for brunettes looking to get the most out of them, style hair first, then tip head upside down and massage into roots. It takes the edge off of ‘perfect’ styling and leaves hair with a sexy, ruffled finish.

I recently tried Andrew Barton’s, from the Shiny, Happy Hair range, and it gets a thumbs up. It really does banish oily roots and add lift but the super-sweet pina colada scent is a bit much for most. KMS Makeover Spray is still scented, but a bit fresher, and does the same job (if slightly less volumising) than AB’s. I don’t like Batiste of the Klorane powder-formula for brown hair – or Bumble & Bumble’s either for that matter – they’re too messy, and the former two leave dandruff-style sprinkles behind. Ick.

Well, Redken Glass 01 is a winner in this category too. TIGI Spray Shine adds real glisten (but isn’t great for grease-prone hair), Paul Mitchell Gloss Drops and L’Oreal Playball Soda Sparkler.

I really like Frederic Fekkai Daily Protein Fortifier for the smoothness it restores (though temporarily) to splitting ends, and the milk-bottle sweetie scent.


Essie make the best shades (particularly pinks & reds) and chip-proof formulas. MAC make good fashion-forward hues, and RMK’s pinks go on lovely and glossy (leaving you with nails like little seashells). For unusual ahead-of-the-trend colours cult brand USLU Airlines are a favourite (but are a bugger to buy – I get mine from Colette in Paris)

Avon Footworks Pedi-Brasion Scrub is AMAZING. I’ve never strayed.

Margaret Dabbs for regenerating knackered soles and Aveda for adding a minty & tingle freshness to tired feet.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


I’ve used so many over the years – and I’ve found good shades with MAC, Laura Mercier, The Organic Pharmacy, Stila, Bobbi Brown, Boots Natural Collection, Jelly Pong Pong, and Giorgio Armani (my favourite was a popsicle-bright peony. Then they discontinued it. I was inconsolable. The End.) Recently I discovered Jemma Kidd Blush Wear Creme Cheek Colour. It only comes in three shades – guava (bright pink), pawpaw (pale pink) and pomegranate (coral), but the formulation is beautiful. Many of the best cream blushers are not long-wearing enough to withstand blending, let alone a day’s work, but this one deposits high-pigment colour that blends down to a healthy-look powder finish – which also manages to look very natural. Best applied with fingers to the apples of the cheek and blended outwards.

Yes, I’m big on blusher. NARS, MAC, Shu Uemura, Revlon, Maybelline... raised cheeks to all. But the one I go back to, year after year, is Bobbi Brown Blusher in Pale Pink. It looks anything but pale in the pot – it’s a rather garish blue-based raspberry – but on cheeks, it looks effortlessly youthful & when taken up to the highest part of the apple of each cheek, does a darn good job of deflecting attention away from dark circles too.

As divisive as Marmite this one. I used to use Origins Pinch My Cheeks a lot as a teenager, but got bored of the panic-stricken ‘squeeze, dot, blend in under 3 seconds scenario’, and the semi-permanent cheek smears I was left with when it all went wrong. I tried Benefit’s best-selling Benetint too – but the colour just didn’t leave adequate pigment behind and after several applications I began to look like Mrs Klaus (much better on lips this one). Their Posietint was even worse – absolutely no visible colour left behind at all – so I assume this is for whiter-than-white skintones only? Then there was Revlon’s lip and cheek tint, and again, it fared well on lips, poorly on cheeks. The Body Shop’s scored a bit better, but became patchier as the day wore on. Then, MAC Just a Pinch Cheek Gel landed on my desk. A gorgeous glossy cherry red, good colour fidelity on skin, blendable (and non-staining formula), and though it didn’t finish the day, it did look good while it lasted. The low note? It’s part of the summer collection. Why is it that good things come in limited edition packages?

Liquid eyeliner is the mistress of many of my make-up fantasies, but it’s also one of the toughest techniques to master. Of course, the less efficient your tools, the trickier it will be. I’ve found over the years that gel eyeliners are easier to work with than liquid ones – and Bobbi Brown Gel Eyeliner wins out in the gel stakes. A great Jemma Kidd make-up artist coached me for an hour before I got the knack of it – and it involves getting the right amount on the right brush (Bobbi Brown, Make-Up Forever, The Body Shop & Shu Uemura make great brushes) – you’re looking for a brush that tapers to a very fine-tip – (although lipliner brushes can do the job well too), and you want to dash and dot the colour along the lashline, in short strokes, doing both eyes at the same time, going from one to the other, in order to work up a symmetrical shape. The Bobbi gel is great because it stays where you put it and won’t run or smudge. And if the line’s a bit too thick or wobbly or uneven, a fine-tipped cotton bud (from Muji) dipped in eye-make-up remover (use a non-oily one if possible, as oily ones can sit on the lid and ruin the rest of the make-up), will tidy it up in seconds.

And, for liquids, I’ve always loved Shu Uemura’s liquid eyeliner pen because it is just stiff and fine enough to give you precision, and the ink is thick enough to go on deeply, but thin enough to create an uncloggy line. Just remember to give it a good shake before you start and draw a line on the back of the hand to get it flowing freely... and, well, just take it really slowly, small dash after small dash, right up against the lash line, and do the same as above if you have any unfortunate mishaps. And remember, practice makes for perfect flicks.

For a long wear with lovely colour choices, Urban Decay’s 24/7 Eyeliners have paved the way for a whole host of imitators. They are still the best though – gel-like, but firm enough for a clean line, and with quite extraordinary pigment that looks as bright on the lid as it does in the nib.
For chalkier, smokier eyes, I love Estee Lauder’s Artist’s Eye Pencils. They used to do a lovely navy (I’m hanging onto my stub as though it’s worth its weight in gold), but the black is a great staple.

As a reader of the blog recently pointed out – you can get just as good (if not better) a result with an eyeliner pencil than you can with a brow-specific product. You want a stiff, sharp pencil (soft, smudgy kohl is a no-no), and you want to fill in gaps with short, hair-like jots. I’ve never found a powder or coloured gel that has done the job better than a simple pencil. Most days, however, I use nothing other than clear gel to keep my brow-bush in place. My favourites are made by The Body Shop, Shavata and Susan Posnick (which comes in a tube with black mascara at the other end).

I am not a gloss girl, but I’ve tried hundreds in the course of the day job. A good gloss for me is non-sticky, reasonably pigmented (I hate it when you pick up a vivid fuchsia only to have it translate to your lips as weak strawberry milkshake) and relatively long-lasting. Good ones are made by Daniel Sandler, MAC, By Terry, Lauder, Clinique, L’Oreal, NARS and Stila. My favourite, however, are PIXI’s Fluid Lip Crèmes. Garland is the most extraordinary hot pink and goes on as you see it, with vivid colour and a lovely sheen. The minty fresh waft they deposit on pouts is lovely too.

Once again, I’ve used many of these – and PIXI, Bourjois and Stila have been among my favourites. But, most days (including the ol’ wedding day), it is/was left to Urban Decay Lip Envy to deliver the goods. Layer it up four or five times for a deep lipstick richness that lasts all day, or stick with a single wash to give lips a natural flush that looks fresh and pretty.

I don’t do long-lasting because I am prone to dry lips and I do not believe there is a formula out there that can deliver upon its colour + comfort promise. SO, when I want a 24-hour lip, I use stain, or a long-lasting lip pencil (once again, Urban Decay 24/7 are the people to go see), and stain, then blot, and stain, then blot, then top it off with a coat of soothing lip balm. That’s me done for the night.

For under-eye bags and shadows, it’s Dior Skinflash and has been for five years. It’s one of the very few products I’ve tried that can be blended down to imperceptibility (I hate the dry lines you get with thicker concealers) and it reflects light beautifully. For red spots, I’ve been using Benefit You’re Bluffing a lot of late and it does do a good job, but I just wish it stayed put a little better (one for the handbag). For won’t shift coverage in a great putty-skin tone, you can’t do better than Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage. Invest in a little concealer brush though – this isn’t one to be dabbed on with a fingertip. I use this over the odd non-red spot, but never under the eyes as I do not believe it looks natural enough (regardless of how many pros have tried to convince me otherwise).

I like MAC Prep + Prime Transparent Finishing Powder (and use it if I’m on the old telly box), and Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder (once again, used on my wedding day & invisible to the naked eye – it’s definitely earned its ‘secret’ soubriquet). I’ve also used Bare Minerals Foundation over shiny bits while on holiday and that’s worked really well – adding a little bit more coverage, but evening out nicely too.

The cosmetic can of worms. Personally, I think if you’re young, or just have relatively good skin, then you really don’t need it. Today’s foundations are good enough to stay where they’re supposed to, and if you have a decent skincare regime, you shouldn’t need to fake a smooth base upon which to apply your make-up. But, for those with lines and wrinkles, I think a primer can be a good idea. Many swear by Laura Mercier’s, but I have never liked the slightly chemical smell, nor have I seen a great deal of improvement on days when I’ve used it. I think you have to be realistic with yourself and accept that you’re using a primer for a temporary smooth and even surface – and in that case, it’ll be packed with silicones – which are fine, as on the whole they’re inert and non-irritating. They are also responsible for that slightly oily-silky feeling you get in some creams, which leave skin with a velvet finish. Pro colleagues have recommended Smashbox Photo Finish Light Foundation Primer so many times now that I feel I ought to pass the best-buck onto you... it’s the classic silicon-based formula. If, however, you’re after something that skirts the line between primer & highlighter, I’d recommend By Terry Colour Skin Enhancer. They come in mauve, peach and rose shades, and add a spot-lit oomph to jaded faces. For best results, mix a small amount in with foundation.

My favourites were in the original Space NK make-up line (now discontinued) – they did a lovely minky brown that always looked great with black kohl. Ho-Hum. I’ve found lovely alternatives from The Body Shop, DuWop (these have a firming effect too), Lancome (the cooling gel shadows are wonderful summer staples) and Laura Mercier. My favourite: Clinique Quick Eyes. Just can’t go wrong.

It’s not the first time I’ve got forceful about Urban Decay’s eyeshadows. They’re just great – some of the best & most richly pigmented shades on the market. Too Faced are also good for bold & bright colours, and the powder’s nice and fine, but has good colour fidelity too. For chic and sophisticated, I adore Bobbi Brown (although she does some beautiful bright purples & foresty greens now too), Chanel and Dior (both make the best colour palettes on the market).

I’ve used Guerlain’s Terracotta Light Sheer Bronzing Powder for a long time. I like the pale pink and peach accents in it which keep the colour from looking muddy. Similarly, this summer Armani have brought out a bronzer with red flecks in it – a great idea given that any real sun exposure would also leave you looking a little flushed. I also like all-natural-mineral brand Lily Lolo’s Waikiki Bronzer. Less is more though.

I like Origins, Lauder and Guerlain. My favourite is Laura Mercier Bronzing Gel – because whenever I wear it people always say that I look well, and let’s face it, that’s all we’re hoping for when we paint our faces each morning. If I weren’t long married, it would be my first date secret weapon.

MAC’s crème colour bases are great (try Hush), but I like a powder highlighter because it lasts longer & stays where you put it. My favourite is the Laura Mercier Shimmer Block. It’s less glittery than Bobbi Brown’s Shimmer Brick and blends down to a more sophisticated finish.

And those final few touches shall appear tomorrow... in HAIR and NAILS...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


This is a tricky subject. Personally, I like my lashes light, feathery and fluttery, with a deep inky blackness. I hate gloopy ones – likes spider’s legs dipped in tar and too-thick & dry ones which look like witchy split ends. So, bearing this in mind, I favour lengthening or tinting formulas. Here are the best: 51) No 7 Sensitive Eyes Mascara – not because it’s for sensitive eyes but because the neat little brush makes for lovely, clean definition and the formula is non-gloopy. 52) Jemma Kidd Semi-Permanent Lash Tint – the semi-perm promise is a bit overstated – it’s not a tint in the traditional sense, BUT it does last all day (I’ve worn it in the pool, in the sea, in the shower because I forgot I was wearing it) unless it happens to come into contact with oil and then, bye bye batting lashes. I like it because one coat makes a big difference, it inks up lashes beautifully and it never feels heavy. 53) Illegally expensive this one, but if PRs are sending, I’m requesting Chantecaille’s Mascara. It’s got a bunch of lovely things in it like Rosewater, vitamin E, Green Tea and Beeswax, BUT it’s the glide-on formula that picks up on each and every feathery little sucker and leaves you with a far fuller fringe than you had before that makes this a resolute favourite. En-chantecailled.

OK, another deep breath. There are so many brands that make great lipsticks now. Lancôme, YSL, Givenchy, Shu Uemura, Guerlain, No 7, Miners (honestly – try them – some really lovely shades) Paul & Joe, MAC (shades are second to none but the sugar sweet scent makes me queasy)... good stuff. I’ve gone with the brands I just feel really ‘get it’ and regularly make it into my make-up bag. 54) Urban Decay Lipstick. The dagger-stabbed pack is USP overkill BUT there are some seriously great shades in the line-up. Revolution is one of the truest reds I’ve found (Illamasqua’s Ignite & MAC’s Ruby Woo are fab too) while 5150 is a gorgeous, meaty coral. They pack some weight too – not just the packaging, which will add some clout to you clutch (all the better for striking exes around the head with), but also thanks to their vitamin & hylauronic acid rich formula. 55) Chanel. No surprises here. My first ‘real woman’ lipstick was Chanel’s Rose Baby & I’ve been having a lusty affair with them ever since. If you want a soft, moisturising formula go for Rouge Hydrabase, which does the sweetest, powdery pink (Coco Pink) or the Rouge Allure range, which has a sophisticated satin finish. You can’t beat the coral paunchiness of Vertige, or the tortured femme glam of Exquise. I smile just thinking about it. 56) RMK – for their glossy, candy pinks that always perk up the face. I pack two or three each time I go on holiday because they never fail to make me smile.

The list of things I expect to get from my foundation might come with a pinch of the Veruca Salts (I want! I want! I want!), but here it is: I want the sort of coverage that evens out, adds radiance (without ANY sparkle or glitter), is untraceable (even when you’re nose-close to the mirror) and does not settle unceremoniously in lines or over dry patches. I’d also like a bit of SPF if possible (but this isn’t a deal-breaker) and a formula that does not break me out in spots. I’ve found that it’s only possible to get the untraceable side of things from tinted moisturisers which are more about the moisture than they are about the pigment. More of this in a moment.

I am ALWAYS being told by PRs that their brand’s foundation looks totally natural, but I just find myself zooming in on their skin, which is more often than not screaming out with product and far from selling their point. My pet peeve: foundation that settles over peach fuzz and looks too powdery. Don’t believe the counter girls either. In my experience, at least half of them are wearing cheaper options from Boots as they get meagre discounts on their own products, so what you’re looking at probably isn’t the real deal anyway. In my extensive experience only ONE foundation has ever done all the above (minus SPF. Sob.) and that’s 56) SK-II’s Air Touch Foundation – and even then it doesn’t even do it every single time. Less is more with this one – if you overdo it skin will look masky and forehead lines will appear where you didn’t have any before. BUT, if you do it right – the right distance, moving across the face in smooth movements, just a few seconds for the entire face (it can take a bit of getting used to), you’ll get a fine mist that leaves skin looking like itself but far better – you’ll end up with glowy, poreless and bright skin. It’s bloody expensive though – even the refills for the fancy canister cost £40 for 2!

Now for tinted moisturisers AKA my complexion comfort zone. I’ve already waxed lyrical about Murad Sheer Tint which I use daily because it is traceless, but I’ll admit that I need a little more on special occasions. On holiday I took to pairing it with a tiny dusting of Bare Minerals foundation, just over the t-zone to take off shine, and that worked beautifully. I wouldn’t use Bare Minerals on skin with peach fuzz though – peach fuzz + powder = regrettable close encounters with the opposite sex. I’ve tried 57) Sue Devitt Tinted Moisturiser, and liked it a lot. It sinks in nicely and provides adequate coverage – nice on red patches and moisturising too – although I’ve never found a tinted moisturiser that provided skip-the-skincare levels of hydration and this is no exception. 58) Clinique Almost Makeup is nice over the t-zone and good at evening things out. Their Moisture Sheer Tint on the other hand is a bit too sparkly & made my skin look sweaty in photographs. 59) PIXI Illuminating Tint & Conceal is a tricky bugger because it does contain a glittery quotient and isn’t great on dry skin (once again, the 3-in-1 promise is overblown – it is not a proper moisturiser!) And if you use too much and all over the face you can look a bit like a mannequin BUT if you use just a small amount over necessary bits i.e. nose, forehead and chin, it’s rather wonderful. On bright days it does make skin look lovely & luminous thanks to its light-reflective properties.

And, now that I’ve covered the biggest bases, I’ll be back with the less ‘epic’ cosmetics in a day or two (sorry, I’m actually supposed to be on holiday!)...

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


As this is my 100th post - cheers! clink clink - I figured I'd ditch the bad-mouthing for a bit and list my TOP 100 BEAUTY TREATS. So, here is Part One of the good stuff...

But just in case the nods get too nauseating, for my 102nd post I'll be dishing the dirt on the MOST OVERRATED BEAUTY LAUNCHES OF ALL TIME... yep, a round-up of all those 'cult' beauty products that ought to have had their bubbles burst from day one. So stay tuned!!!

For the time being, however, here's the stuff that true beauty is made of:



The best-smelling pair in my bathroom; and they make a real difference to dry skin.

Suds up nicely without the sodium laureth sulfate - I like to load up 4) the £1.99 exfoliating gloves you find in Superdrug, and give the back of arms & thighs a good scrub with this. Soft soft soft!

Nowadays it's the Superdrug gloves (see above) 2/3 times a week, BUT if I still fancy a little luxury, this is the scrub I return to.

Thick, unctuous & a little bit sticky - but nothing's better for ever-flaky limbs.

Both smell fresh & herby & keep pongs at bay. They won't do a thing for sweaty pits though... sorry.

Great stay-put formula, light & unfussy, no suspicious pongs & true protection that kept every exposed part pink-free all holiday

11) FOR SPF: THE SANCTUARY HAND CREAM SPF15 (really yummy SPA smell)

Ain't cheap, but these leave a glossy film over skin & seem to depuff the entire body. For DIY treats, pour 14) Epsom salts into water and add two to three drops of pure Rose Essential Oil on top.

BEST CELLULITE PRODUCT: NUDE SMOOTHING BODY REFINER - if used daily for several weeks skin will take on a much smoother & even appearance. I got my thighs out for the first time in 6 months thanks to this serum - they felt far less jiggly too, thank god - but be warned, within days of giving it up the thighs went back to normal. Groan. It's an effective short-term fix though.


This baby wins out because it emulsifies with water, so rinses clean every time, and the blend has, finally!, balanced my skin out beautifully. 16) Spiezia Cleanser is lovely too, but is tougher to remove - best coupled with the brand's floral toner; 17) Saaf Cleanser is also luxurious, but I have found that it's best for drier skins. I'm also concerned that, over time, one or two of the oils in it make skin a little bit reactive... let me know what you've found though.

18) FOR COMBINATION/CONGESTED: ESPA 24 HOUR BALANCING CREAM - three months in, and my skin is calmer and less congested than ever.
19) FOR DRY: ELEMIS PRO-COLLAGEN MARINE CREAM - friends swear by the sink-straight-in texture and 24-hour benefits.

20) FOR COMBINATION: ESPA BALANCING FACE OIL - just 2 drops day & night have made a world of difference to my up-and-down skin.
21) FOR DRY: ILA GLOW OIL - one of the most nourishing formulas on the market & a real cult beauty favourite.
22) FOR SENSITIVE: DARPHIN CHAMOMILE OIL - I used this, and nothing else, after cleansing on the morning of my wedding and skin remained clear & calm all day.
23) FOR CONGESTED: DARPHIN PURIFYING BALM - great for healing post-extraction skin.

24) PURIFYING: OMOROVICZA PURIFYING MASK - a little dollop mixed in with their wonderful cleanser makes a fab deep-cleansing treat.
25) HYDRATING: JURLIQUE INTENSE RECOVERY MASK - this does it all: balances, purifies, brightens, but best of all, it packs botanical-rich moisture into parched skin - and the effects don't wear off overnight either.
26) CALMING: ALPHA-H CALMING & HYDRATING MASK - feels fresh & cool - takes down redness well, and is great for sunbaked skin.
27) NOURISHING: DERMALOGICA MULTI-VITAMIN POWER RECOVERY MASK - the high vit c levels give skin a real glow - it's also great for helping damaged skin to heal itself.
28) SOOTHING: ORIGINS DR WEIL MEGA-MUSHROOM SKIN CALMING MASK - the smell isn't for everyone - it actually makes me feel a bit nauseous - but it does restore comfort to skin that's prone to flare-ups.
29) BRIGHTENING: SK II FACIAL TREATMENT MASK - packs a nicely soothing punch & leaves skin looking clarified - BUT it can cause breakouts in those who are prone.
30) EXFOLIATING: ELEMIS TRI-ENZYME RESURFACING GEL MASK and KORNER SPARKLE BRIGHTLY RENEWAL MASK - both get rid of scaly patches gently, but make a visible difference.

31) ORIGINS MODERN FRICTION - use a small amount & lots of water for best results.
32) AGERA MICRODERMA CRYSTAL C SYSTEM - used once a week, nothing is better for fading pigmentation patches.
ALSO WORTH A NOD: SPIEZIA ORGANIC ROSE & CHAMOMILE FACE SCRUB - an old school granulated formula - but the nourishing rose oil keeps this feeling like a real treat. I mix a bit in with my ESPA Cleanser when I feel I need a bit of a slough.

33) FOR DAY: DERMALOGICA TOTAL EYE CARE SPF15 - brightens, smoothes & protects.
34) FOR NIGHT: CREME DE LA MER THE EYE BALM - the smallest amount depuffs & soothes.

35) BEST SUNSCREEN, FACE: LA ROCHE POSAY HELIOANTHOS SPF50+ (light & traceless) AND 36) BEST TINTED SUNSCREEN: MURAD SHEER TINT SPF15 SUNBLOCK (an old favourite that I wear most days instead of foundation - it's a foolproof staple)

BEST LIPBALM: 37) SISLEY NUTRITIVE LIPBALM (steep at almost £35!! BUT it really has transformed my lips and I now apply balm just 1 to 2 times day) & 38) YES TO CARROTS LIP BALMS (thick, stay-put, and non-drying thanks to no petroleum)

39) BEST SPOT CREAM: ESPA ESSENTIAL TEA TREE GEL - I have raved about this lots, sorry, but having tried absolutely everything, from acid-based gels to essential oil roll ons, this just seems to WORK. A tiny dot dabbed on 'almost but not quite yet' spots, has, more often than not, nipped the blemish right in the bud. Love love love it!

40) BEST CLEANSING WIPES: GOTCHA! THERE IS NO SUCH THING. You are never ever going to get an adequate clean by rubbing a chemical-laden wipe over your face. Just not possible. Sorry.

41) BOOTS EXPERT FACIAL HAIR LIGHTENER: Much less irritating and less pongy than Jolen - and cheaper too. For best results though, you might want to leave on for up to 10 mins (I do, and have never had an issue). Of course, if it stings or pops or burns at any time - WASH OFF straight away.
42) BOOTS EXPERT FACIAL HAIR REMOVAL CREAM: Purports to have no smell, but it does - pretty stinky too after a few minutes - but it does make light work of fuzzy bits.
43) VEET READY TO USE FACE WAX STRIPS: For speedy, unfussy waxing these have just the right amount of stick-to-rip ratio. The waxy paper is easy to position too. Avoid the strips that come on stiff plastic - they're hell to manoeuvre and seem to leave most of the wax behind on the skin.

44) BEST TWEEZERS: TWEEZERMAN SLANTED TWEEZERS - I've had mine for ten years!

45) BEST EYE MAKE-UP REMOVER: JOHNSON'S 3 IN 1 REMOVER - fab on waterproof mascara and 46) LIZ EARLE EYEBRIGHT SOOTHING EYE LOTION - will take off eyeshadow (struggles with liner & mascara). But as far as treats go, keep it in the fridge at all times for a soothing end to sore eyes.

47) BEST LINE ERASER: DERMALOGICA POWER FIRM LIP & EYE - the organic silicon base temporarily soothes out lines, so it's a great one to pat on before undereye concealer.

48)BEST SELF-TAN, FACE: OLAY TOUCH OF SUN - I'm not a big fan of self-tanning, but this deposits a kiss of colour that never settles in pores.

BEST TONER: 49) INA CRYSTALS WHITE GOLD RADIANT SKIN TONIC - refreshing, quenching & brightening. My favourite beach bag treat and 50) SPIEZIA FLORAL TONER WATER - great for taking off masks, cleanser or simply keeping in the fridge, soaking through a muslin cloth, and using as a Sunday night treat.


Sunday, 19 July 2009

#99 I'm Sticking With You

I'm a fan of the exfoliant - mechanical or chemical - and have a list of firm favourites I return to 2-3 times a week. There's the Vit C System from Agera and the Elemis Tri-Enzyme Resurfacing Gel Mask (both mentioned in other posts too) plus Korner Sparkle Brightly Renewal Mask which is a skin staple.

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant is extremely good at creating an even surface and instant brightening boost, but DO NOT buy into the DAILY part. When used every morning (as recommended) my skin started to feel a little wind-whipped and thin around the cheeks, nose and chin. Save it for special occasions - although, I've also noticed that if I've used it in the morning, I'm more prone to a shiny t-zone throughout the day.

Then, last week I found myself at Energy Bodies, atop John Tsagaris' Treatment Bed, having 80 fine acupuncture needles placed in my face in a bid to fade pigmentation marks, even out pores and address the hormonal blips I'm prone to in the week prior to my period. There were a lot of pluses on the day, not least that he's intuitive, nurturing, kind and puts you at ease. On the down side, he is rather a bit too keen on talking about himself and sharing the miracles he's worked on other clients. He is 40 years old and looks good on it, but is not the boy-child other beauty editors would have you believe he is: he has strong, smooth skin, but it is far from flawless. Nor is the treatment painless (which appears to be the experience most reviewers have had at his hands) - there were at least 5 yelps as needles went into sore spots (when pressed through old scar tissue it really stung), but for the most part it was bearable. In fact, for me, the worst bit was the perfunctory cleanse (with a 2-in-1 cleanser/toner cloth) and speedy slap of moisturiser post-treatment. When he showed me my treated face in a mirror, in bright daylight, I could have cried. My skin was flushed and flaky and all I wanted to do was run home, give my complexion a loving cleanse + steam, chased with a generous massage with ESPA's Balancing Face Treatment Oil (I have been using it morning & night for 6 weeks & it's RIP oily t-zone! Hooray!).

But, the next day, the most bizarre thing. The old forehead patches that marked faded spots had almost disappeared, a looming blemish on my chin had bitten the dust and my brows seemed raised, eyes wider and brighter, and cheeks more chiselled. It was not a 'wow, have you just come back from holiday' style change, more of a subtle 'salad for lunch' shift... for which I was thankful, and retrospectively impressed.

Oh, and there is another thing I ought to thank Mr Tsagaris for: his recommendation of Origin's Modern Friction. You see, while working on my face he felt that my skin was slightly sensitized and asked if I used a scrub that contained Salicylic Acid. I nodded - that morning, I had used Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant. He suggested I try this instead. A call to the lovely PR later and I'm four uses in. I've noticed that 1) less is more - I've had better results from thin layers (which emulsify nicely when water is added as directed) than thick layers which over-scrubbed certain areas; 2) it's great before a moisturising mask (I have just discovered Nude Intense Moisture Mask - very very good at getting rid of dehydration lines on the forehead) and 3) it did not irritate my skin even the least bit.

So, though I may not return to Energy Bodies for another sticking (or getting stuck with a plus-£100-a-pop bill), I'm more than happy to stick to a regular installment of Modern Friction.

Monday, 29 June 2009

#98 Burney's Night

All-round gorgeous ELLE girl, Ellen Burney, left a well-worth-reading comment on my last post, so thought I'd reproduce, with an extra shot of skin wisdom.... enjoy:

" I've discovered – never mind rediscovered – Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Oil. I've tried all sorts of shaving gels and always find that for the money they run out so fast and so, with a plethora of hair conditioners sitting at the side of the bath (I only really use intensive conditioner on my hair which leaves all the others useless beside them) I've often used conditioner instead. Good, but not always top marks. I also went through a phase of a bar of Dove being the shaving option of choice but for the last few weeks I've been using J&J Baby Oil and it's the smoothest for longest and softest my legs have ever been. What else? Parissa Home Bikini Hot Wax - amazing... and fun - oh god and Nivea. Just a slab of Nivea Cream over freshly washed skin. On the luxe side of things though I am dousing my 60p cotton wool balls from Tesco with Pure Rosewater from Chantecaille. Everything in moderation.

And, why have I ventured back to Nivea & J&J? Because I have to abstain from all the harmful anti-ageing style products during pregnancy... and so many other things that I found myself wrapped in a towel for hours in the early days panicking as to what I could and couldn't put on my skin. But then I found that REN – already one of my skin creams of choice – was in fact entirely pregnant-woman-friendly (one of the founder's partners was pregnant and having the same skin scares as me) ... add to this Frederic Fekkai's sulphate-free range of shampoos and conditioners etc, Weleda's hair care range and, well, Nivea and J&J Baby Oil and I'm very happy. Plus I get to slip them into my boyfriend's shopping basket with a murmur of 'for the baby'... "

To follow Ellen's entertaining escapades, read her blog here: http://vagabondiana.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

#97 Cheap Stakes

No recession talk. Promise. But it just so happens that I've stumbled across some extraordinary econo-buys of late, and if it's a toss between penny pinching and sharing the wealth, I'm all for the latter. So, here my dears:

1) Johnson and Johnson 3 in 1 Make-up Remover
A big swig, soaked on a cotton pad, pressed over the eye, then swept to the side, removes heavy eye make-up far better than some far steeper alternatives. Yep, it's oily, but for heavy duty make-up that's always good thing (it means less mechanical force is needed!). Despite the fact that I would only use it on my eyes and not as an all-over cleanser, it does have several plus points: it doesn't sting, it isn't heavy, it isn't fragranced. It's my first step every night now, before I go over my skin with Spiezia or Sarah Chapman Cleanser for a proper clean. Weirdly, I swear it's made my eyelashes grow a bit too.

2) Dr Organic Aloe Vera Skin Lotion (available at Holland & Barrett). Now, this is no better than several other cheap, cheerful & almost all-natural formulas (I like J.R.Watkins more than Jergens, but both do the job), but it has one advantage over the competition. It really does soothe sore skin - as I found when I had a bad reaction to a spot of epilation. A layer of this took away the sting almost immediately and within a couple of hours, skin looked far calmer. It also feels nice after a day in the sun. A little also goes a long way.

In the mid-range, I really like Jemma Kidd's Semi-Permanent Lash Tint because it doesn't budge and goes on deeply, inkily black - like the gravy-thick ink that spurts out of printer cartridges. It does take some getting used to, and if caught on lids will need to be removed straight away with an oil-based eye make-up remover, BUT swept over the very ends of lashes, it gives a lovely natural feathery finish, which fakes length far better than any of the lengthening formula mascaras I've tried. Plus, on sweat-prone summer days, it's good to know your eyes ain't going nowhere.

Then there are the two premium products I've tried this week, which are getting two thumbs down. The first is Clinique Self Sun Face Bronzing Gel Tint. In the time it took me to squeeze a small blob out of the tube and decide where to apply it, it stained my finger. I rinsed the product off, then used soap & water, then scrubbed with a brush. The stain didn't budge. Now, this could just have been a particularly pigment-rich bit of cream caught in the first squeeze, but, well, who wants to risk a brown splodge on their face for the remainder of the day? Not me.

Next, Kate Somerville's Exfoli-Kate. Anyone who reads up on potential purchases on makeupalley.com (you should, by the way, it's a goldmine of objective advice) will already be familiar with the Jekyll/Hyde reactions to this range. Some claim it's their HG (that's 'holy grail' - LOL), whereas others feel it's overpriced, overrated, and massively under-performing. Well, having already tried some of the best exfoliants on the market (courtesy of Agera and Dermalogica and Elemis), this one had a lot to live up to. It did not. Firstly, it was immensely hard to spread over the skin. Secondly, the dispenser, though theoretically impressive, really only dispensed the smallest amount, which covered barely half a cheek, so I kept pumping away, unsure of how much I needed/if I was overdoing it/whether or not I just wasn't spreading it properly/if there was a chance I might end up in the Accident & Emergency with second-degree burns; thirdly, after using it, my skin tingled (and not in a good way)for about an hour, looked red (which is to be expected, if one heeds the pack) and the next day my chin was still a bit flaky. Hmmmm. If at first you don't succeed... it goes back on the shelf, and we'll see if I have better luck next time.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

#96 Then I Don't Feel So Bad

Must remember that a late night snack of Bailey's Haagen Dazs and chocolate sprinkles chased with a glass or two of champagne is never going to result in bushy tails or bright eyes. Feel distinctly.... bleurgh.

So, there's no better time for a few of my favourite things...

Thankfully I finally made it across the other side of town to Harrods where I refuelled my empty SK-II Airtouch Foundation canister and boy, I'd forgotten just how bloody brilliant it is. When you're using the wrong foundation it's easy to think that great skin cannot be faked, however hard you try; when you're using the right foundation, you stop wondering why you need perfect skin anyway. Which for a sometime slattern like me, is a rather comforting thought.

I'm also enamoured of the new Paul & Joe Autumn Breathless Collection (not launching until August 1st 2009). Inspired by one of my favourite French movies, A bout de souffle, I slicked lipstick in RECKLESS over my mouth last night, after being told by the brand's brilliant make-up artist, Craig Ryan-French, that it would suit me. In truth, it is the sort of brown-based Merlot that I would normally avoid like the plague, so imagine my surprise when it looked pretty darn great. What I learned: bright, orange-based reds (my staple) are great with a tan, and when you're feeling young and flirty. Brown-based reds look less proclamatory, chicer, grown-up... perhaps Bobbi Brown's been right all along...?

And, I really cannot rave enough about my new product paramour: ESPA Essential Tea Tree Gel. Twice this week I have felt a niggling bump beneath the skin and tapped this on and both times the bump has all but disappeared within hours. It's also wonderful at taking down redness while never causing flakiness and my go-to treatment for spots, in-growns, blisters or bites from now until the end of time. I just wish I'd paid more attention when a close PR friend of mine who left ESPA to go off into sunset, told me that the only thing she'd miss would be the free consignments of this gel. I've used Liz Earle Spot On, Australian Tea Tree, Superdrug's Tea Tree roll-on and blends from various pharmacies over the years, but this baby takes the biscuit.

And on that note, I'm off for a healing cup of herbal tea...

Friday, 29 May 2009

#95 The Magic Number

Amidst the frenetic meanderings of mind and body, there is occasionally opportunity for the elusive 'down time' - during which I schedule all the beauty appointments that I've failed to stick to over the course of the previous few months. So, this May I have managed three facials - which I would not recommend for anyone with a sensitive disposition or complexion - but which allowed me to put to task the therapists and brands who claim to work minor miracles in the space of one's lunch break.

So, to begin, I visited Vanda Serrador at Urban Skin, Neville's, in Knightsbridge. She's a lovely ball-of-sunshine woman, very warm and nurturing, who also proved that she has great instincts when it comes to treating skin. She used mostly Yon-Ka products, of which I have always been a fan, and did a seriously thorough, if slightly painful, extraction. I yelped a bit as she worked and she apologised (I have to say that Sarah Chapman's extractions are a lot more comfortable, as she spends a good 15 minutes warming, steaming & massaging skin with oils before she gets down to business). Vanda read my skin well - seeing that it needed calming, soothing & serious hydration. She began with a thorough cleanse, then an exfoliation with a grainy scrub that smelt like marzipan, a peel, then several massages with several nourishing oils - one of which was very rich in vitamin C and left my skin looking decidedly tanned - and several hydrating masks, including Yon-Ka Masque 103. My skin did feel impossibly plump and pillowy by the time she was done and she had improved the state of several bumps on my forehead, BUT my skin also looked flushed and a bit discoloured too - certainly not ready for a night out. As for brows, well, I feel that she did thread mine a little bit too thin - I have very large eyes and a roundish face, so would have benefited from a fuller final shape, but they were perfectly symmetrical for the first time in my life, which is no mean feat. All in all, I'd give her a 7 out of 10. Not bad at all.

The following week I booked in for a CACI Ultimate Facial. This was at the C2 Clinic in Hampstead. The main focus of this facial is microdermabrasion, followed by a soothing moisturising mask that is rich in Hyalauronic Acid. I have to say, first impressions weren't good. The staff were all very young and several looked scarily orange - one sporting a tan that was bright as a bottle of Orangina - and the atmosphere was a little bit curt - no smile on arrival, which I found rather offputting. Then to the treatment... it was very 'facial by numbers' and my therapist barely said a word to me throughout, which was a bit scary given that I did not always know what she was doing. I asked several questions all of which she answered brusquely, a little evasively, and when I told her that I did not think the microdermabrasion part of the facial need be as thorough as perhaps it might be for other clients (given that I had had a peel & exfoliation with Vanda a few days earlier), she simply responded that that didn't matter and that all facials involved microdermabrasion. She used two hand-held CACI devices - a blue-and-red-light pulsing probe, which acted on my skin to kill bacteria (blue) and encourage collagen production (red), while the microdermabrasion took place. Next, an odd sucking and vibrating device, which she called the 'microcurrent facial toning' system. Then, she placed a heavy gel mask (one of those ones with eye and mouth slots cut out) onto my skin and went over it with an electrical device to help penetrate the HA into my skin (but which set my teeth on edge once or twice & gave me a couple of little electric shocks). She then patted a nondescript sun factor cream over my skin which left it feeling a bit sticky, and that was it, all done. Looking in the mirror was a bit of a fright - my skin was a bit red and blotchy and a little patch of eczema under my left eye had been exacerbated. It was, however, smooth and soft. That night my skin did look calmer and I was able to go out to a party after a bit of cover-up and foundation evened things out. Oddly, my t-zone was shinier than normal and my forehead and eyes were drier than normal, and I came home to a face that looked a lot worse for wear. I have also had several spots since the treatment (so much for the blue light) and would not be keen on repeating the experience. All in all, 4 out of 10.

SO, we save the best for last. I am not sure how I have managed to go the best part of a decade as a beauty editor without ever using ESPA skincare. I have dabbled and tapped fingers in pots, sniffed and approved, and been offered ESPA facials at least once every few months, but for some reason fate has never delivered me into their hands - until my recent foray to their newest spa in Latvia, which has left me a bit of a convert. My skin, as has been well-documented in this blog, is tempestuous. It can be utterly bright, beautiful and clear OR it can be dull, congested and break-out prone. It is rarely in the middle. I have found that my beloved Sarah Chapman Skinesis line is just too rich for summer skin, so switched back to an old favourite: Dermalogica Active Moist, for a couple of days until I could find a better summer alternative. Unfortunately, my skin is more prone to upsets at present, and it did seem to leave my complexion feeling 'stung' and irritable, even though my skin itself looked fine. My ESPA facial began with a seriously horrendous consultation beneath the Woods lamp - which highlighted extreme dehydration (well, I had just been on an plane), scar tissue from old blemishes and localised oily patches. My therapist's conclusion: your skincare ain't doing squat for you sweetheart. She planned a balancing, plus rehydrating, facial with extra eye work to counteract the dark circles I'd developed after three days sans sleep (don't ask). Now, the main reason that I have always been suspicious of ESPA (and for that matter Elemis & Aromatherapy Associates) facials, is because they tend to take place within dark rooms and do not involve extraction. For me, the mark of a good facial has always been how closely and carefully the skin is analysed, and how gently impurities are removed. The fact that ESPA involved a thorough evaluation BEFORE the facial, however, was a smart move - it meant that the therapist had decided precisely what my skin needed and had it all ready prepared by the time I was ushered into the room, where I promptly fell asleep as she massaged, soothed, rubbed and patted me down. On waking, a fluttering hand reached for the face - soft, spongy and a little bit sticky, but a look in the mirror proved she was the best of the bunch - my skin was already showing signs of improvement and looked calmer and less blotchy. So, how did she do it? She cleansed twice - first with the ESPA Facial Foaming Cleanser, to purify - this crackled and felt a little bit astringent on my skin - then with the Hydrating Cleanser, blended with a dash of the Refining Skin Polish, which felt lovely and soothing. Then the Essential Mineral Mask - which purifies, but did not sting or leave my skin feeling tight - followed by several treatment oils and serums, including the Balancing Face Treatment Oil & 24 Hour Balancing Skin Cream, plus the new Super Active Cellular Hydration Concentrate - a big fan. The next day, skin was absolutely back on track and I have now used the Balancing Oil + 24 hour Cream morning and night for 3 days and everything is evening out - still very soft & hydrated, but less shiny and eruptive. I've promised the PR I'll stick with the line for at least 4 weeks & shall continue to report back on my ESPAcades.

So, final scores on the doors? 8.5 out of 10 (well, I am a sucker for excellent extractions) - but given that it's for a branded facial (of which I have never been a fan, preferring instead to see specific therapists over skincare affiliates), that's pretty darn impressive. Oh, and my skin seems to think so too.