Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Cosmetics Contemplations: Skin Sob Story

Now, I know there are plenty of people in this world with far more pressing problems than acne, both skincare-related (disfiguring scars...) and otherwise (abuse, bereavement...). However, the permanent battle against acne, spots, zits, whatever you want to call it, is so pervasive and common with pre-teens, teens and twentysomething-plusses throughout the world that it seems impossible to ignore.

I first started seeing spots on my face when I was TEN. Yes, ten. My Year 6 class photo bears the evidence for all to see. It was embarrassing enough starting secondary school with this, being barely old enough to wear any makeup to cover it, but I could at least harbour the hope that I would grow out of it by the time I was fifteen and old enough for parties and boyfriends. It didn't happen. I then set my sights on being sixteen, in the sixth form, and spot-free. No such luck; in fact, my acneic skin dogged me through sixth form and university, and now, at the age of (nearly) 24, many of the students that I teach have better skin than I do.

I suppose the possibility that I might suffer acne into adulthood was always something that I knew about, at least in a very abstract way: at fourteen, I had a science teacher named Miss Marshall, who was probably about the same age then as I am now, and she had terrible acne. I remember thinking I would just die if I was in the same situation as her when I was grown up. Now I am, and I'm not dead, and nor do I wish to be, but that doesn't stop it from being demoralising. Equally, when I was 17, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. As well as potentially restricting fertility (though I won't know the effects of this until I try to have children), it can also send the amount of testosterone in a woman's body haywire, sometimes causing or aggravating hirsutism and acne. Trying to get my oily and acne-ridden skin under control has therefore been a constant battle.

The plan of attack for many sufferers is three-pronged: makeup, medication, and skincare. I feel sorry for the guys when it comes to point one, as the purchase of makeup can add further embarrassment to the whole problem. Mineral makeup can help matters, and a decent concealer (mineral or no) is my absolute, number one, indispensable item. Medication and skincare are trickier areas: skincare products can appear to make skin better, only for the effects to then plateau or tail off, and there's the risk, too, of your skin becoming dependent on a particular product in order to stay clear, meaning that you haven't really treated the problem. This is why some people turn to medication, but this again can present a similar conundrum: will it send the spots packing for good, or will your skin flare up again once you come off the medication?

There are several options with regards to medical treatments: they can be topical (applied directly to the skin in the form of a cream or gel, whether bought off the shelf or prescribed by a doctor) or oral (oxytetracycline, for instance, is one of the many tablets that a professional can prescribe to treat acne from the inside). The most potent and perhaps also most famous oral treatment for acne is the prescription-only Roaccutane, which for many people is a lifesaver, sending spots packing for good. However, for others it can be a nightmare, increasing mood swings and giving sufferers painfully dry skin (including nosebleeds due to dryness inside the nasal cavity). Perhaps worse, after all of that, for some users of Roaccutane, it doesn't actually work the first time and you need to go on it again. Use of Roaccutane also needs to be monitored by a doctor as it is really only for the most serious of cases, meaning that most autonomy in terms of how you pursue your treatment is removed.

Having tried many of the topical treatments on the market, as well as a lot of the oral treatments available (including homeopathic ones), you wouldn't be the first to ask if I had tried Roaccutane yet (and if not, why not). The reasons are manifold (although I do sometimes wonder the same myself): firstly, I teach, and I cannot be doing with constant nosebleeds; secondly, I worry about some of the drug's other side effects, such as mood swings; thirdly, when I suggested this to my fiancé a few years ago he sounded like he'd have been happier if I'd said I wanted to give cocaine a try; fourthly, I do not like the thought of putting myself through all of that only to have the drug fail and for me to be back at square one; and lastly, perhaps stupidly, my skin does ultimately seem to be improving with age. My back and arms used to be covered in spots, and now they no longer are; my face and chest, while not perfect by a long way, also seem to have improved greatly (though this varies according to the treatments that I use).

Perhaps this approach is naive, and perhaps I am dicing a bit with fate to really believe that my skin will be totally clear by the time I am 30. But I do wonder sometimes if I am not totally mad to say "no thanks" to a treatment that could, in making my skin better, also boost my self-esteem, and not make me resort to airbrushing my wedding photographs. You cannot blame me, as someone who has suffered with acne for over ten years now, for feeling a little bit cheated out of my youth.

Some claim one final approach: changes in diet. I do hate the assumptions that people make about people with acne (that we do not wash or that we eat badly), and I do not think I really believe that diet makes a significant difference to skin condition. Certainly eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, and drinking lots of water, won't do your skin any harm, but as someone who has gone through a range of diets (eating meat, to turning vegetarian, to going back again, to eating so badly that I piled on a couple of stone, to eating well/normally again and losing the weight) I cannot say that I have noticed any difference to my skin in any way that would correlate with a change in diet. Even though I have not tried cutting out dairy (an approach that some swear by), I eat so little dairy anyway (don't even have milk on my cereal; tend to eat dark chocolate; have no more than a yoghurt a day and a tiny amount of cheese at weekends; don't have milky coffee or tea) that this would seem like a lot of pointless aggro.

So, naive/stupid or not, I'll just stick with my current two-pronged attack (no medication as it often messes up the oral contraceptive that I take) and hope that in conjunction with age it will do the trick eventually. At least, too, I know that my friends are real friends, and don't just love me for being one of the beautiful (read: clear-skinned) people.

Treatments that I have found to be effective, in order of price:
-Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser, £3.99
-Liz Earle's cleanser, toner and Skin Repair Light, £21.75 for the travel kit or £40.25 for the three full-sized products
-Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions cleanser, toner and moisturiser, £30 for the travel kit or £44 for the three full-sized products

- Lily Lolo mineral foundation
- Bare Minerals mineral foundation
- Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions foundation
- L'Oreal Touche Magique concealer
- No7 Quick Cover Blemish Stick concealer

Try tackling your skin with regular skincare first (see above), as well as mass market topical treatments, such as masks or tea tree oil, which is targeted at oily or acne-prone skin, before seeing a doctor. You can also try homeopathic treatments. The doctor will likely prescribe two or three different types of oral medication, in addition to prescription-only topical treatments. Only if this does not work will you be referred to a dermatologist with reference to Roaccutane. Do not attempt to self-prescribe/buy the drug off the internet as you should be monitored by a health professional during its use.

Cosmetics & Beauty News March 2010

Wipe off that full-of-doubt look, slap on a happy grin...
Even easier this May, National Smile Month, with Lumineers, an appealing new type of tooth veneer. Non-invasive and pain-free, the porcelain veneers take only two dental visits to fit, and are as thin as contact lenses. Sounds good to me - especially as a long-term fluorosis sufferer. More information is available at,, and .

Make your own soap
Sandy Simmons, of, has just published her first ebook for interested soap makers, and while I find it a little difficult to trust a book that only references one external source (and that's Wikipedia), it certainly speaks candidly and honestly, covering all aspects of making soap whether you're a beginner or a pro. The methods, and the pros and cons of each, are clearly explained, and every possible topic is covered, from health and safety to different essential oils and increasingly complex soap designs. It really does contain everything that a person wanting to make enchanting and unique gifts for family and friends, or wanting to have fun with their kids, could possibly want or need to know. Available for purchase at the link above.

Become a Purity Organic Skincare ambassador
If you want to star in the Purity brand's first advertising campaign in Dare magazine, and win a £250 goody bag to boot, this star search is for you. To enter, buy a Purity skincare product of your choice from Superdrug, scan in your receipt, and send the image to purity[at]riverltd[dot]co[dot]uk, along with two photographs clearly showing your face (one should be natural and makeup free) and a paragraph explaining why you've got the beauty and brains to be an ambassador. The closing date is May 12 2010 and entrants must be 18 or over.

Arbonne makes the UK Beauty Awards shortlist - twice
Arbonne is still a relatively new and emerging brand, but it's already making a big splash, with two of its products having been nominated for UK Beauty Awards this year. The FC5 Moisturising Night Crème, £41, shortlisted for best new mass market skincare product, uses fresh cell technology from five different fruits and vegetables to nurture, soften and hydrate skin overnight. And on the bodycare side, the brand's SeaSource Detox Spa 5-in-1 Essential Massage Oil is an affordable treat at £29.50. Nominated for the best new mass market bodycare product, it contains such exotic elements as bladderwrack, sea kelp and sea fennel. Vote now for your favourite products at or until April 12.

Melvita comes to the help of young skin
While Melvita is already famed in France for its anti-ageing products (and these have been the products flogged recently in the UK too), young skin can now breathe a sigh of relief with the release of the brand's range for oily skin. Its Sebum Balancing Fluid, £16 for 50ml, promises to mattify skin and regulate oil production using zinc, yoghurt, rice powder and ginger, and its on-the-spot treatment, their £10 Anti-Blemish Roll-On, contains sage, lavender and propolis to send spots packing. The new range also features a cleansing foaming gel, a skin tonic, a face scrub, a clay mask, and a perfecting cream, with prices starting off at a reasonable £10. As long as these creams absorb better than Melvita's anti-ageing counterparts, there's no reason why they shouldn't be a hit. Available from .

Going au naturel with Bodyform
The Bodyform website is coming to the end of its campaign to promote natural beauty, where at, readers are invited to submit natural beauty tips to win Stella McCartney underwear. Some of the best current tips include bathing in camomile tea, using egg whites as a face mask, and washing your hair in vodka once a month. If you think you can do better (and would like to win some spanking new undies), get yourself to that website prontissimo.

Raise the roof and raise some cash with John Frieda's HAIRraising
John Frieda invites the hairdressing community to join together to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital, and while it isn't always easy to give to charity, this should make it as simple as can be. Salons will be running fundraising events, and until September, customers will be asked if they would like to add an extra £1 charity donation to their salon bill. Even non-salon visitors can help by texting in donations (text the word HAIR to 81400, and £1.50, minus text costs, will go to the appeal). A range of fabulous prizes will also be on offer at John Frieda, Andrew Collinge, Mascolo, Daniel Galvin, Daniel Hersheson, Errol Douglas, James Brown, Lee Stafford, Louise Galvin and Vidal Sassoon salons.

Change is in the air at Shu Uemura
Even though Shu Uemura is phasing out its stores and concessions, you will still be able to purchase online at, and new products will continue to be introduced there. Shu Uemura Art of Hair is unaffected by any changes, too, so never fear!

Joyeuses Pâques!
Happy Easter!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Snowberry Day Creme Lite

RRP: £46/15ml

--What does the promo say?--
"The perfect anti-ageing moisturising cream for everyday use on combination skin, the Lite Day Cream contains a rich blend of exotic oils, such as Strawberry seed, Cloudberry, and Pejibaye to provide active moisturisation, nourishment and protection. The natural biopolymer sodium hyaluronate, palmitoyl tripeptide-5, and Mikimoto pearl extract provide a powerful anti-aging and anti-inflammatory formula that work to rejuvenate skin, regenerate damaged tissue, and stimulate the skin's natural collagen production."

The brand's usual eye-catching and quirky packaging design this time takes on a cool blue, helping to distinguish this moisturiser well from its regular counterpart, Snowberry Day Creme, which has red packaging, and the Night Creme, whose packaging is purple.

After cleansing and toning as normal, apply this moisturiser in a thin layer over the entire face, and rub in until absorbed.

A pale yellow, creamy coloured lotion, which leaves no visible residue on the skin.

Disappointingly unfruity despite all of the berries that it contains.

A wonderfully luxurious cream that fulfils my idea of a near-perfect product (a product which is both useful and divine to use). It absorbs quite quickly and is gentle on the skin, as well as being free of lumps.

--Effects on the skin--
Lamentably, none. Shine was not reduced especially, and while it didn't inflame my acne further, I did not witness any incredible improvements. Softness was the mainly notable factor, but you would expect this from any moisturiser.

--Value for money--
While this product is lovely to use, it just comes in below par. Only tiny amounts are needed each time, so 15ml would go quite a long way, but the 50ml version of this is truly bank-balance-busting, coming in at over £100. This pricing does not compare favourably with the high street, with Estée Lauder and Clarins both offering 50ml of moisturiser for roughly the same price as 15ml by Snowberry, and for a more natural alternative, Kiehl's, This Works and Caudalie all also come in at considerably less than Snowberry's pricing. My recommendation as far as Snowberry products go would be to opt for their cleanser, which is a really zingy, original and effective product (even if it means putting it onto your Christmas/if-only wishlist), and going to other brands for the rest.

Arbonne NutriMinC REgain Illuminating Enzyme Peel

RRP: £24/30ml

--What does the promo say?--
"Illuminate your skin with an exotic cocktail of natural fruit enzymes from African papaya and Far East pineapple that gently exfoliate, revealing a more even complexion and noticeably smoother-looking skin. In just 10 minutes the peel purifies and revitalises the look of tired skin for a more youthful, radiant appearance."

While I cannot comment on usability given the sample nature of my trial, I do love the bright orange colour of this bottle, which is pretty unusual not just for anti-ageing products but in the field of women's skincare generally.

There are two ways with this - you can either apply it in a thicker layer to your face and wash it off after 15 minutes, like a face mask, or you can apply it at night using a smaller amount in place of your usual night cream, washing it off with cleanser in the morning. Do whatever suits you.

None in particular, which is slightly incongruous given the presence of papaya and pineapple.

A pale orange-yellow cream.

Smooth, luxurious, and easy for skin to absorb and rinse off.

--Effects on the skin--
I'm not much of a fan of anti-ageing products generally, so cannot say I was feeling positive before the initial use of this product. However, my inner cynic was forced to shut up: after the night-time version of the treatment, skin looked visibly retextured, calmer, less red, and more even in tone, which is an effect that easily lasts during the day.

--Value for money--
A tiny sachet containing just a few millilitres of product will provide at least five treatments, so 30ml should go a long way. Given that the effects of the product are comparable to Crème de La Mer's Refining Facial (which is closer to £60), the price is even more reasonable than it first appears. I would definitely recommend this product for women age 17 and up: even if it doesn't act as an anti-ageing agent (and who really knows?), it is still a wonderful and affordable luxury from an up-and-coming brand that could even replace your trips to the beauty salon.

perfect partners
RETreatment Set, £112.50
REversing Gelée Transforming Lift, £31.00
RElease Deep Pore Cleansing Masque, £25.50
REtaliate Wrinkle Filler, £32.00
REveal Facial Scrub, £23.00

Liz Earle Botanical Essence Eau de Parfum No. 1

RRP: £39.50/50ml

--What does the promo say?--
"For our first ever bespoke fragrance, we’ve used the finest natural botanical ingredients from around the world and the expert skills of a distinguished perfumer from Grasse, France. We gave him the time to indulge in this age-old art, skilfully hand-crafting this complex scent with true passion to create a vibrant, sparkling fragrance translating into warmth and sensuality – and it’s just won its first award, in the Grazia Beauty Awards.

Over 98% directly derived from natural ingredients, this sensuous fragrance can be worn every day. Spritz generously all over any time your spirits need a boost."

Beautiful in their simplicity, the white box and the clear glass bottle are uncluttered and peaceful-looking, bearing only the most essential information and the gentlest touches of colour and illustration. There is a blue fabric tag with which to pull out the inner box from the outer one, and it is easy enough once you've got the knack to very lightly grasp the top and bottom edges of the inner box and shake the bottle out into your waiting hand. The classic spray top is adorned with a satisfyingly heavy silvery lid.

Spray onto pulse points, or spray into the air and then walk into the fragrance so that you are covered in a light mist of it.

The liquid in the bottle appears dark yellow to light green, but there are no visible traces left on the skin.

No irritation was experienced during the use of this product.

Possibly slightly off-putting, as the bitter orange combined with bergamot makes for a rather masculine and arresting start. However, it settles into something more subtle, yet complex, as its different flavours come to the fore. I'm no botanist, so could not say which was the most prominent, but can confirm that even once the heart notes are in session, the scent is still on the masculine side, meaning that some die-hard girly scent fans might be eliminated at this stage. Nevertheless, despite the fragrance's unisex nature, don't worry that men will be put off: my fiancé loves this on me and comments on it every time I wear it.

Most long-lasting scent ever: my fiancé commented on the smell one MORNING and it was the same spritz that I'd applied the previous afternoon. Most impressive.

--Value for money--
Given the high percentage of natural content, the unusual scent and the longevity factor, this scent has a lot going for it. Buying a scent without being able to smell it is always a gamble, though, so like many Liz Earle products, you're relying on word of mouth to help you decide whether or not to buy. If your perfume collection is almost exclusively girly and sweet (like YSL's Parisienne) then you may not like this one; however, if you like musks and peppery scents just as much as the ones that remind you of sweetshops, then give this a go: at just under £40 for 50ml its value for money equals or surpasses many high street fragrances, especially when you consider how long it lasts on the skin. Not least, this multitudinal perfume is an absolute pleasure to unwrap as you try to decipher its scent, and is a sure coup for Liz Earle.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Dead Sea Source Invigorating Coffee Body Scrub

RRP: £8.99/575g
retails at Boots

--What does the promo say?--
"The waters of the Dead Sea are rich with minerals and help benefit almost every skin ailment, from spots to psoriasis. The Dead Sea Source™ Invigorating Coffee Body Scrub contains marine extracts combined with Fairtrade coffee and lemongrass, basil and black pepper. The scrub leaves your skin soft to the touch and revived."

Comes in an attractive kiln jar (it's kind of heavy, though, so is probably not suitable for travelling) with a warming brown and gold label that proves extraordinarily resistant to shower water (even though the jar itself isn't 100% watertight, with small amounts of water being let in - possibly from steam). Is easy to open and close, and the opening to the jar is quite big, so you can easily get your hand in there and scoop out as much as you like.

While in the shower, scrub on to wet skin. Use on shoulders, bust, stomach, thighs and bottom. Rinse off. This is relatively easy, though if any water gets into the jar you also get a second product in the form of a sort of shower oil, which can also be rubbed onto the skin but doesn't rinse off as easily as the scrub.

Overwhelmingly of coffee. Basil, lemongrass, black pepper - you would never guess that all that stuff was in there. If anything, there's more of a chocolate undertone once you've got past the coffee. Yum. Definitely not for people who don't like coffee though.

Pleasantly scrubby; not abrasive. Don't use on your face, though.

Dark, chocolatey, coffee brown; granules are quite large and visible.

--Effects on the skin--
Skin appears smoother and less cellulitey; however, around the chest area I can't say that I saw any improvement in my acne as a result. Shame.

--Value for money--
At nearly £10 this might seem initially a bit steep; however, the pot is huge and will last you literally for months. While the therapeutic value of the product is perhaps disputable, as a luxury it is simply delightful. Would definitely buy this or any other Dead Sea Source product again.

perfect partners
Invigorating Coffee Body Butter, £6.99/350ml
Invigorating Coffee Body Wash, £5.49/300ml