Monday, 31 December 2012

Cosmetics and Beauty News (December 2012)

Santa baby, slip a spa day under the tree (belatedly)
Forgotten someone this Christmas? The Sanctuary Spa Day, £155, could be the answer to your prayers. Including full use of Covent Garden spa facilities for a day, the lucky recipient can also benefit from a 55-minute treatment of choice (including the Muscle Melt Massage and the Serenity Dreamtime Float, to name just a few of the options available). The gift card for the spa day also comes with the Sanctuary Ultimate Body Revival Gift Set, which is worth £20. And, what's more, the voucher can be sent straight to the receiver's inbox, meaning you needn't waste another second in making up for your slight lapse in organisation this Crimbo. Plus, it can be a great way to brighten up a dull January (the month of austerity and diets...ew).

Roq-ing around the Christmas tree?
Labs around the country are already beginning to surprise us with the latest developments for 2013. This particular new discovery, which comes from scientists working in Cambridge, could help with anti-ageing thanks to the anti-inflammatory qualities of a surprising food source: Roquefort. The cheese develops these anti-inflammatory factors during the ripening process, and these factors perform best in acidic environments, such as the skin surface. It is increasingly believed that sub-clinical inflammation is behind ageing, and the paper released by researchers suggests that regular consumption of Roquefort and other fermented cheeses like it (such as Camembert) could be behind the French population's low cardiovascular mortality rate, as the cheeses' anti-inflammatory properties can also have a positive effect on the buildup of plaque on arterial walls. Hopefully this means we'll all be roq-ing around the Christmas tree (groan) well into the new year. 

Witch skincare should I choose this year?
We all over-indulge at Christmas, and it's possible that this could take its toll on our skin, along with over-heated workplaces contrasted with cold weather outside. Witch wants to help with its range of products that could prep your face for the new year. Their Gentle Exfoliating Face Wash promises to help rejuvenate with natural exfoliants, while the classic Witch Blemish Stick uses pure witch hazel to try to kick blemishes into touch. Finish with Anti-Blemish Cream to care for your whole face, before using Witch's Anti-Blemish BB Cream afterwards in place of foundation (this one's already one of the range's top sellers despite only being out for three months). On the move? No problem: their Cleansing and Toning Wipes can pick up the pieces. And the best part? This shouldn't hit anyone's New Year budget too hard, with all products priced between £3.05 and £6.99. I'm trying to save up as much as anyone (aiming for 10k by the end of 2013!) and every little helps :-)

When the lights go out all over Europe
Cigarettes in 2014?
As per its decision on December 19th, the European Commission looks set to follow through on its promise to revise the Tobacco Products Directive, which involves strengthening and clarifying the rules regarding how tobacco is manufactured, presented and sold. Large pictorial health warnings will be mandatory on cigarette packets and roll-your-own products, and flavoured products may also face the axe. Internet and other cross-border sales will also see tougher regulations. My interest in this new legislation is something I've made clear in the past - not just due to history in my own family, but also as part of my role as teacher, where I regularly see students as young as 13 (and probably younger ones that I don't know about) taking up smoking. It is my fervent wish that one day it will become so unfashionable that I never see young people smoking again.


Comme des Garçons, comme des kaléidoscopes
A lot of culture these days seems to be all about multi-sensory experiences: think about Fabrice Hyber's lipstick sculpture (that of course, smells strongly of the stuff and had people's fingerprints all over it when I went to visit it) and dinner at Berlin's Unsicht-Bar, where you famously eat in the dark. Fragrance brand Comme des Garçons aims to do just that by extending its new perfume campaign with a kaleidoscopic display online. The new scent, called Amazinggreen, features wild leaves, coriander, and white musk, and is intended to be complemented by the display featured by iPad-exclusive magazine POST. Conceptualized as a 3D rainforest journey, the audience controls the display through their own computer cursor.

Healing our hair
My hair is really the bane of my beauty regime after my skin. Getting it cut and conditioned professionally is so expensive, and I'm constantly fighting between greasy roots and dry ends, with my hair never seeming to have the Pantene-style gloss that my sister-in-law seems to sport effortlessly. High-quality at-home products are therefore a must, and Unite's latest offerings, under the U LUXURY label, are definitely tempting. Its healing shampoos and conditioners contain argan oil, white honey, and crushed pearl, all of which are rich in regenerating calcium, magnesium, and amino acids. Many celebrities are already fans of the brand - including Victoria Beckham and Eva Longoria - and now you can get hold of it too, via several salons in London. The rest of the country is sure to follow once people realise that this is hopefully the hottest property for our hair this year.

Shower-time swirls
And finally, for a little more luxury this 2013 (you know I'm big on it), I present to you Dove's Crème Mousse Body Wash, which thanks to a series of cock-ups by the French postal service has not yet reached me in sample form. This sounds to die for thanks to its thick, non-drip formulation and luxurious feel, and a perfect addition to the Dove body creams that I've already had the pleasure of test-driving this winter. Even if I don't get to test it, I urge you to. 

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Philosophy Spiced Clementine Toddy Gift Set

RRP: £18 (currently £9 in the sale)

--What does the promo say?--
"Share seasonal spirit. Spiced clementine toddy shampoo, shower gel & bubble bath (240 ml.) and body lotion (240 ml.) warm your heart and soul during and after the shower or bath."

The dotty bow decoration on the box is lovely for a gift (especially for anyone with a January birthday, as you can grab this for half price in the sale at the moment), and the bottles themselves are classic Philosophy: transparent, so you can always see how much is left, with black writing detailing yummy recipes for the foodstuff that inspired the product. The black fliptop plastic lid is stylish, practical and secure.

Lather up the 3-in-1 product in the shower, or pour under running water. Clean your hair with it as well if you like before rinsing off. As for the body lotion, rub into slightly damp or dry skin. Easy as pie (well, toddy).

The bright orange shower gel definitely doesn't stain or even create much colour, foaming to a white/light orange lather. The body lotion is just a creamy colour, leaving no residue on the skin.

I was a little disappointed with the bath and shower product, as it smelled a bit too masculine for me (although I can't find a specific ingredient causing this) and evoked bitter orange peel scents and general alcohol more than spice and the sweetness of orange juice. The body lotion was better for this, meaning you could even share this pack with your better half (you can swipe the body lotion, and he can have the shower romantic).

--Texture and consistency---
The gel is smooth and quite runny, without being watery or sticky. The body lotion does equally well in this regard, sinking in super-quickly and providing a luxurious experience.

--Effects on skin and hair--
Body skin and hair are left feeling amazingly smooth and soft, with hair feeling volumised and nourished. Definitely a top scorer.

--Value for money--
A little goes a long way with this stuff and you definitely get good results too. Even though it's a pain that you can't buy both products separately, they do represent good value, with this being even truer now that Philosophy's sale is on. Go and get it!

perfect partner
The Microdelivery Peel, £59

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Philosophy Hot Buttered Rum Shampoo/Shower Gel/Bubble Bath

RRP: £14 for 480ml

--What does the promo say?--
"Cozy up and share a sweet moment with hot buttered rum shampoo, shower gel & bubble bath, as it cleanses and conditions skin and hair."

The see-through plastic squeezy bottle lets you see the deep translucent brown colour of the gel in all its glory - the picture above really doesn't do justice to the gel's gorgeous caramel colour. This enables you to always see how much is left, and the real recipe for hot buttered rum printed on the front of the bottle in black lettering is also a bonus. My only criticism would be the distinctly un-ergonomic bottle design: at nearly half a litre, it is quite wide, meaning you can't get your hand all the way round and that this leaves you in danger of dropping the bottle in the shower. A more curved shape would therefore be more helpful.

Lather up and massage through hair or onto wet skin. Rinse out/off when done. Have not tested in the bath yet as sadly I don't own one. Should have access to one this Christmas, though, so watch this space.

Dark brown - just like freshly melted caramel. This doesn't leave any residue on the skin, however - the lather itself is white, in any case.

Does not smell distinctly alcoholic, which in some ways is a shame, as I was expecting something more complex and less sweet. However, I can't really complain about smelling like a freshly-made batch of butterscotch every time I shower (even though the scent sadly doesn't linger long). I'm a big baking fan, so this is still a perfect treat for me, making it a wonderful addition to the autumn and winter months.

--Texture and consistency--
The gel itself is runny but not sticky, with just the right amount of viscosity. The lather that builds up is silky and luxuriant, and washes off easily (but not before you're done). This applies to skin and hair.

--Effects on the skin and hair--
I had reservations about using this on my hair, having had poor results from a Philosophy 3-in-1 product in the past. However, this one does exactly as promised: skin is left smooth and soft, while hair is left clean, shiny and with long-lasting volume. Hair did not get greasy as quickly after using this product either, meaning hair looked good for a full extra day after use.

--Value for money--
While the initial outlay seems expensive, remember that you're getting a big bottle of a high-quality 3-in-1 product. I would definitely repurchase - although if you're looking for something with more of an alcoholic tinge to it, the offerings from Alba, Korres and Carolina Herrera all look promising.

perfect partner
Hot Buttered Rum Lip Shine, £10

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Neutrogena Nordic Berry Hand Cream

RRP: £3.30

--What does the promo say?--

"NEUTROGENA Nordic Berry hand-cream 75ml - the Norwegian recipe - provides immediate relief and protection even for very dry and fissured hands. The cream is concentrated, with a high content of glycerin, and therefore it is sufficient to apply a very small amount. Even in considerably unfavourable conditions, it leaves hands markedly softer and smoother.
Suitable for sensitive skin."

The white background, contrasted by the bright berries in the bottom corner, provides a feeling of brightness in conjunction with peace, and does a lot to evoke a wintry atmosphere. The squeezy tube is easy to use, posing no problems of wastage or leakage.

Massage into clean dry hands as needed.

A white cream that leaves no visible residue on the hands after use.

 Smells sweet, but not ostensibly of berry to most people, I would imagine. This is probably because the berry in question is the rather obscure cloudberry, rather than being a more obviously identifiable berry scent like strawberry or blueberry. Not unpleasant, however. Does not smell at all of the shea butter that the cream also contains.

--Texture and consistency--
I have read some reviews online which describe this cream as fast-absorbing, but I cannot agree - I find that it sits on the skin for quite a long time before finally sinking in, meaning that this is probably one best reserved for night-time use. While the cream is lots of things - luxurious, silky - fast-absorbing it ain't.

--Effects on the skin--
Does leave skin feeling softer than before, although you need to make sure you get it properly between your fingers to combat the full effects of winter.

--Value for money--
Curiously, this doesn't seem to be widely available at the moment, even though it's been released by Neutrogena very recently and to great fanfare (mine arrived in a beautiful winter-themed box from their PR folks with another Neutrogena hand cream). However, if its RRP is really £3.30, this seems about right to me for this quality of cream. They would need to make it absorb faster (somehow) for me to consider paying much more, making the sub-£5 mark perfectly acceptable. Its dinky size also makes it an excellent stocking filler, ensuring that your hands will survive the winter.

perfect partner
Nordic Berry Cream for feet, £5.80

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dove Winter Care Nourishing Body Lotion

RRP: £3.99

--What does the promo say?--
"It's true that beauty starts from the inside. Dove Limited Edition Winter Care Nourishing Body Lotion works deep down. It not only moisturises the surface of your skin, but also delivers deep nourishment for long lasting beautifully soft and smooth skin. Its rich formula gives you the intensive care you need for the cold season. It treats dry skin so that it recovers, and the warm fragrance of Amber flower provides a pampering sensation. Now your skin can be beautiful, soft and smooth all winter long. The unique DeepCare Complex includes skin natural nutrients and rich essential oil to help gradually improve skin starting deep down."

The pink and white colour combination is creamy and feminine, with the white snowflake motif adding an extra festive feel. The bottle is curved into an ergonomic design and this, along with its flip-top lid, makes it convenient and pleasant to use.

Massage into clean dry skin just before bed or just after a shower. Leave to soak in, and enjoy. Nothing tricky about this.

A white lotion that leaves no visible residue on the skin.

Oddly, and slightly disappointingly, this smells more of coconut than amber, which reminds me more of summer holidays than of Christmas, so that was a slight let-down. However, I suspect that being evocative of the holiday season was not this cream's main aim, but that keeping skin protected throughout winter was - so if the oils they have included (shea and sunflower to name just a few) are the best ones to do this job, more power to them.

--Texture and consistency--
Perhaps not the fastest sinking-in lotion I've ever used, but it's not sticky or greasy. While slightly runny, it doesn't go all over the place while you're using it and it doesn't massage into skin badly overall.

--Effects on the skin--
Does leave skin smooth and soft, but as I don't have problems with dry body skin on the whole, I couldn't say how this worked for those who tend to have more difficulty. 

--Value for money--
At just under £4 this is in line with standard high street RRPs, and makes for a luxurious experience for the price. I do believe that it can help skin to stay protected in winter thanks to its essential oils, collagen and urea content. Its attractive packaging also means that in a box with some pink tissue paper and Dove's Winter Care Cream, it would make a lovely gift for any lady in your life this Christmas - whether it's your mum, grandma or teenage daughter.

 perfect partner
Dove Winter Care Cream, £3.29 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Nico Cosmetics Anti-Wrinkle Snake Serum (Maximum Strength 4%)

RRP: £95

--About the brand--
"Nico Cosmetics is a new cutting edge brand in skin and body care products. We are a team of knowledgeable and innovative professionals, who have worked with a preferred UK leading supplier, for the design and manufacture of our product range in specialist studio, laboratory and production facilities.
All our products have undergone extensive dermatological and clinical tests to deliver effective skin and body treatments.
We provide highly effective skincare treatments to people who are looking for result driven qualities from a company they can trust.
Our team are currently working on many more products and our range will quickly expand over the coming months... so keep up to date with the Nico Cosmetics range.
All our products are made in the UK."

--What does the promo say?--
"Nico Cosmetics Anti-Wrinkle Snake Serum is a light gel formulated with maximum strength 4% of the active ingredient SYN AKE, which is an anti-wrinkle compound inspired by the Temple Viper serum. The serum is moisturising and rejuvenating with anti oxidants that prevent free radical damage. The anti-wrinkle properties reduce persistent expression lines that tend to remain, providing a decrease or elimination of wrinkle size, achieving beauty spa standard results. With a smoothing effect, promoting a youth prolonging treatment, leaving your skin glowing and radiant.
  • Remarkable Age Killing Effect
  • Intervention against the first signs of ageing
  • Non invasive 
  • Decrease in wrinkle size
  • Smoothing
  • Anti-wrinkle breakthrough
  • 30ml"
I'm in two minds about the packaging of this serum (which was kindly sent to me by Nico's PR staff). On the one hand, the effort's clearly there with a sleek black, purple and silver colour scheme (my favourite colours - yay!). But on the other hand, it looks cheap - all of the elements are plastic and frankly this is just not what you expect for £95 (you want elegance and wow-factor for the money paid). I only hope that if they've skimped on packaging, it's because the ingredients inside the bottle are truly top dollar. Let's admit it - we'd all rather have a better product inside slightly naff packaging than an inferior one inside amazing packaging, wouldn't we?

This is a serum, so like all serums should be applied to the face after cleanser and toner, but before moisturiser. However, thanks to the super-smoothing effect described above, I've found that you can even replace your normal moisturiser with this serum and not suffer any ill effects. Hoorah :)

A translucent, cloudy white gel which fades into invisibility on the face.

Clean without being chemical or clinical.

--Texture and consistency--
A smooth, cooling gel that resembles many other serums on the market, including Lancôme's Génifique and No7's Protect and Perfect. Sinks into skin very easily without stickiness.

--Effects on the skin--
As noted above, the first and foremost thing that I noted was the smoothing effect: I'm not sure I've ever encountered a serum before that you could wear without moisturiser in the dead of winter and that would enable you to still come back home with baby-soft skin at the end of the day. I also noticed a small increase in radiance. At the age of 26, I'm not sure that I'm really this range's target audience, and after a week's use, I haven't noticed any wrinkle reduction (believe it or not I do have a few - mainly around my forehead area), so nothing miraculous is occurring here.

--Value for money--
In spite of the smoothing effect and the increase in radiance, I find it very hard to believe that this product is really worth £95. I didn"t look in the mirror and think "wow"; I didn't receive any compliments on my skin condition. For £95 I also expect greater transparency in terms of what the ingredients are and what they do: to me, "inspired by Temple Viper serum" means nothing (I don't want to know what it's inspired by; I want to know what's in it!). If it were my product, I'd be bigging up the soluble collagen it contains, rather than resorting to cryptic phrases. I would therefore be very hesitant in recommending it for now, but will be passing it on to someone in the target age range to elicit their views. Keep your money in your wallet for now.

perfect partners
Moisturising Day Cream, £75
Moisturising Night Cream, £85
Swiss Apple Stem Cell Serum with Collagen, £85
Nico Skin Structure Rejuvenation System, £150*

*contains both serums, the day cream, and jade rollers

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Lush Sandy Santa Sugar Scrub

RRP: £2.95

--What does the promo say?--
"Those great Christmas traditions of sun, surf and Santa! A sunny citrus body scrub with hints of floral, to perk up winter skin or get summer skin swimming-suit ready."

In traditional Lush style, packaging is limited to a yellow paper sleeve. However, I'd strongly advise the purchase of an additional tin for this product due to reasons stated below.

Rub gently over damp skin during a shower. Don't scrub too hard - the sugar particles will do all of the work. Then rinse off.

Despite the fire-engine red of Santa's hat, this doesn't leave any visible residue on the skin (although it might make your shower look like you've been filming a scene from Psycho for a few minutes). This is one of the reasons why you will need a tin with a lid for this product as the colour does leach out quite a bit on contact with water - a soap dish with no lid just doesn't cut it. The shape of the scrub bar is very definitely a Santa head with a hat on, so perfect for getting you into a festive mood.

The overriding smell is that of peppermint, which along with the product's red and white colours really helps to evoke seasonal images of candy canes. This doesn't last as long on the skin as it could, though, and is strange, as it appears to deliberately contradict the main scents actually featuring in the ingredients list: rosewood, sandalwood and orange!

--Texture and consistency--
Delightfully scrubby without being too abrasive. However, it does have a tendency to fall apart or dissolve on contact with water (another reason why a tin with a lid is needed) and some of the larger crystals don't actually break down, leading to a small amount of wastage.

--Effects on the skin--
The essential oils used, combined with the exfoliating properties of the sugar, lead to super smooth and soft skin. Definitely a must in these cold winter months while trying to dodge dry patches.

--Value for money--
At a mere £2.95 this makes a fun stocking filler and it actually lasts a few weeks too, making it great for making your bathroom look a lot like Christmas. Just make sure you get the tin with it, no matter who you're buying for.

perfect partners
Orange Blossom Perfume, £5.50
Melting Snowman Bath Melt, £1.95
North Pole Soap, £3.25/100g
Father Christmas Bath Bomb, £3.25
Bubblebeard Bubble Bar, £4.95

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Beauty Byte: Umberto Giannini Advent Calendar

Fancy winning some gorgeous hair goodies this Christmas? Look no further than Umberto Giannini's generous advent calendar, located here. Their generous haircare gifts up for grabs include shampoo and conditioner duos, hair accessories, and much much more. The prizes are only set to get bigger as the month goes on, but check in each day for your chance to win. Have a hair-raising Christmas!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Cosmetics and Beauty News (November 2012)

 OPI falls through the sky 
In celebration of new Bond release Skyfall, OPI have released a limited nail collection exclusive to shopping channel QVC. Comprising four limited edition shades plus the award-winning Nail Envy treatment, the kit represents excellent value at £28 (or under £6 per product). Perfect for creating bold statements and polished glamour this winter, I can't wait to try out the new shades, which are cleverly named after Bond films. You Only Live Twice is a pink/red concoction, while The Living Daylights allows you to add glitter to any shade. Casino Royale is a classic purple, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service should take you from work to nights out thanks to its cool blue/grey shimmer. A fabulous Christmas gift for the female Bond fan in your life!

Lift your life with Lebanon
If, like me, you're constantly on the look-out for the hottest new perfume on the block, look no further than Reem Acra's Eau de Parfum. Lebanese couturiere and bridal designer Reem has harnessed the powers of perfumer Pierre Negrin to create her signature scent, which includes ginger, peach and orange notes. The beautiful gold bottle is embellished with a dove pattern and would look lovely on any dressing table in 2013.   

On a quest for quality of life
As well as just being fun to use, evidence is emerging that cosmetic products and good physical appearance could even significantly improve your quality of life (or QOL). The authors of the study, which has been published in the Archives of Dermatology, have even developed a new QOL measuring instrument called BeautyQol, which has been tested on more than 3200 subjects across the world. The instrument is said to provide one overall QOL score as well as five sub-scores for social life, self-confidence, mood, energy and attractiveness, and allows the impact of cosmetics on QOL to be scientifically measured. This means that comparisons between populations, products and situations could now be possible, making for interesting developments in marketing and the genesis of new products. Pilot studies have already been carried out in relation to pigmentary disorders and oily skin, among other parameters. By measuring how much cosmetic products improve QOL, BeautyQol allows to evaluate how much they also improve general health, according to the World Health Organization definition of health: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". The BeautyQol instrument is also going to be adapted to more countries in order to better assess cultural differences in the use of cosmetic products. If this gets off the ground it could be fabulous in terms of helping people everywhere to balance their well-being; for the moment it does sound expensive, however.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Details of new Christmas collections have continued to flood my inbox this November. One thing to watch out for is Heyland & Whittle's Orange Spice Collection, which promises to spice up this festive season with all kinds of holiday accessories, including reed diffusers (from £16) and candles (from £12). The zesty orange scent, which contains cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, promises nothing but joy. For gifts for the younger members of your family, try looking to the iconic Pineapple Dance Studios, which have just launched three new fragrance gift set ranges at Boots. Try the Choose Dance scent for something fresh, the fruity and refreshing Studio 79, or the simply-named Pineapple for those who prefer the soft, floral and feminine. Containing 50ml of fragrance, 100ml of body lotion and 100ml of body wash, these are fab value at £13 each. At a similar price, Crabtree and Evelyn's sparkling Christmas choices would be perfect for anyone in their mid-twenties or older: their £9 shimmer lip gloss comes in three shades, and their Golden Petals Body Nectar and Bath & Body Wash start at £12.
And, for really lightning-speed Christmas gifts, the uber-time-pushed can always visit Harvey Nichols' beauty vending machine, which is part of their fourth-floor BeautyMART. With clever kits and quick picks just fingertips away, you can choose from over 100 iconic beauty brands as a gift to your loved ones - or yourself.

If you're looking to pep up your smartphone in preparation for the party season, look no further than Mobile Makeover, which offers access to over 50 step-by-step makeup and hair tutorials, each created by a professional makeup artist or hair stylist. These include photographs, instructions and recommended products, and cover everything from everyday looks to high-impact fashion. You can even search by occasion and skin tone, and check your final look using the mirror function, so that you can be confident in the results. While sadly not yet available for Blackberry (my phone of choice), if it were, I would definitely get one, as for £1.50 it sounds well worth the cash.tylist in your pocket, for less than a price of a lipstick.

Websites to watch
I'm always looking for innovative new beauty retailers, and Mumpreneur has just given its gold award to one that sounds like it fits the bill, with Cocktail Cosmetics being a one-stop shop for organic, natural, vegan, and niche beauty brands. Another one that I like the sound of comes in the form of Lucy Victoria, which specialises in products that aren't widely available in the UK, currently carrying products from Bath and Body Works mainly. However, they have plans to expand to include other popular brands, such as Victoria's Secret and CO Bigelow. I'm just waiting for them to start stocking Helena Rubinstein and Prescriptives: two of my faves that are no longer sold in Britain. However, being a big Bath and Body Works fan means they're already on my watch list - and they should be on yours too.

From spa to you
If you have serious money to burn, you could also consider investing in an Aureus luxury massage couch this season. A bespoke piece of furniture designed to complement the design of your home, but when I say serious money, I mean serious: prices start at £12,000, which I suspect is beyond the reach of most of this blog's readers (not to mention this writer!).

More affordable is the £60 Dream On massage, as recently launched by Spa & Massage to promote healthy sleep patterns. Integrating reflexology, Swedish massage and head massage, with the use of organic lavender oil, it promises to combat some of the most common contributors to a troubled night's sleep. Massage is proven to increase the body's production of serotonin, which in turn helps to stabilise melatonin levels and restore circadian rhythms to improve the length and quality of sleep. With just five clinics in the UK, though - and all of them in London - this will also only reach a fairly limited audience. However, as someone who regularly has trouble with sleep, just about anything appeals: even if I have to travel and/or spend in order to get it.

But even this is not always necessary to help calm anxiety and relax the muscles: sometimes all you need is a bottle of Palmer's, a willing helper, and one of these - a combination which really helped to relieve my twisted shoulder just the other night, and all for a darn sight less than £60.

We got retro style
Perhaps what the above shows is that sometimes the most traditional methods can be best, and it appears that this is something also espoused by Along Came Betty, which takes its inspiration from 1950s Hollywood stars. With luxurious ingredients that promise high-performance benefits, the recently-expanded range of products is sure to have something to help every starlet this season. I've personally got my eye on their Pore.fectly Clean range (from a mere £3.99), which would be perfect in helping me banish excess oil from my perpetually clogged skin. Another big plus is this range's antioxidant content: amazing for those who, like me, are trying to combat spots and ageing simultaneously. I also fancy testing their B Brilliant BB Cream (£5.99) and comparing it to the battalions of blemish balms that I've already tested this year. Given that it's available at Tesco, you can even pop it in with your weekly shop.

In an equally fun retro twist, Betty Boop has been chosen as the face of Lancôme's newest mascara, Hypnôse Star, which should make for some eye-catching ads on my commute. Build up the layers so that you can go from fresh and luminous in the daytime to glamorous and intense at night; Betty even shows you how to do it here. 

For your pre-tox
In the run-up to Christmas I try to "pre-tox", as a means of limiting the damage that the season will surely bring my way. This covers my diet, but also extends to my skin. One thing that could help is Aduna's baobab, brought from rural Africa to the shelves of Britain’s most prestigious department store, Harrods, as well as Planet Organic, Revital and Nutricentre. Baobab is a 100% natural, nutrient-dense raw wholefood with one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any fruit in the world - and Aduna has made this pure, nutritious supplement available in three different formats with its Feel Good Fruit range. As I'm feeling a little rough around the edges at the moment thanks to a sore throat, it sounds like it could be a welcome addition to my day on several fronts - and the African women who've used it to boost well-being and general health for centuries surely can't be wrong. With prices from £17.99, it's not cheap, but it's still affordable, and definitely not prohibitively out of reach for most.

Valentine's Day at Tesco
You wouldn't believe that the big firms are already dropping Valentine's Day press releases into my inbox, but they are. Tesco is already working on its range of beauty gifts for two months' time, releasing beautiful images of its Calcot Manor bath and body care ranges. With hand and body lotions promising the perfect day, and with prices from just £3.99, there's plenty to love about this Valentine's collection.

Boosting business in 2013
Also to look forward to in the new year is the opening of L'Oréal's largest factory to date. No matter what people say about L'Oréal, you can't accuse them of not boosing the economy with their 66000m² building in West Java, Indonesia. Having already invested €100m in the project, I hope that the high standards of investment will continue with L'Oréal paying their new employees correctly. The company's executive vice-president of operations hopes that it will be a new production hub for South-East Asia and to supply the region with "products with superior quality and value.”  The new facility means there are now 43 L'Oréal factories worldwide, with the Java factory alone set to produce 200 million units, with the hope of eventually producing 500 million units per year. The entire factory has been built according to US standards of excellence, sustainability, and safety, and will employ 450 people. The levels of poverty that exist in some areas of Indonesia are appalling - and I hope that L'Oréal's business projects in the country will also prompt other companies to invest, as this can be the first step in lifting poor countries to a better future.

Tis the season to be pale
The negative effects of sunbed use are already well-known, and a GP from the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors is now publicly supporting a ban on young people using them, following the publication of a new report that suggests that hundreds of thousands of skin cancer cases are caused by them every year. The review, entitled 'Indoor tanning and non-melanoma skin cancer' and published in the British Medical Journal, claims that each tanning session increases skin cancer risk by 1.8%, and adds that the risk increases for under-25s. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers the process "carcinogenic to humans", and Dr John Tanqueray agrees, stating that over recent years he has "noticed more skin cancers occurring at a younger age than before," and that "sunbeds are contributing to this." At least three of his patients have asked for laser treatment to remove a mark, which he has then had the unpleasant task of diagnosing as skin cancer. He goes on to state that anyone with concerns should visit their GP for a professional assessment. I say don't let the desire for a tan ruin your Christmas - or your life. Get yourself to the doctor if needed, and reduce your UV exposure from today in any event. Stay safe and enjoy December :)

Have yourself a floral little Christmas


We say it with flowers all year round, but it seems that we forget about flowers at Christmas once the rain and cold weather sets in. But this seems silly given all of the seasonal plants that are available to brighten those dull days: poinsettia, holly and mistletoe all feature, as do more unusual flowers like winter aconite, Christmas rose, and African violet. There's no reason to stop flowers being your gift of choice this winter, with Interflora offering a range of affordable combinations - such as one which uses holly, blue spruce, and snowed eryngium, to name just a few. 

But if you don't fancy purchasing actual plants, plenty of other ideal Christmas presents also contain winter flowers - particularly when it comes to beauty buys. Yves St Laurent's perfume, Cinema, contains amaryllis, which are very popular in winter due to their ability to bloom well indoors. Neal's Yard also makes a mahonia gel, which promises to clarify acne-prone skin thanks to mahonia's anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. The cold-tolerant witch hazel is also widely used for the same purpose. And the reed diffuser set made by Wax Lyrical not only uses holly and ivy, but also white jasmine and rose, to create a truly Christmassy feeling throughout your home.

Interflora is helping to spread the word about how flowers can be part of your home and beauty routine all year round - hence why Christmas gift hampers from Interflora, featuring more unusual seasonal fare, are also now available. The company is widening its market, no longer offering just flowers, so that you can please all your relatives from a one-stop shop. Try their Heavenly Scents Happy Box (£50), which contains frangipani shower gel, lavender hand lotion, and a Coeur de Fleur citrus candle. The Divine Elegance box (£80) does not focus entirely on beauty, but includes an evergreen reed diffuser alongside elderflower liqueur and other Christmas treats (Prestat truffles, anyone?). Finally, their A Little Life Happy Box (£100) also manages to sneak in a floral fancy: recipients can enjoy a geranium hand lotion after a green tea bath, as well as Belgian chocolate, an embossed journal, and a cashmere eye mask.

In short, saying it with flowers this Christmas couldn't be easier. And thanks to all the other gifts they've thrown in, I have a feeling that plenty of people will be sending a thank-you note to Interflora in January.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Avène Cleanance Soapless Gel Cleanser

RRP: £8.25/200ml

--What does the promo say?--
"Ultra mild cleansing gel for blemish-prone skin. Helps purify the skin and regulate oil secretion. Paraben-free."

I was sent a few mini samples of this from online pharmacy Farmaline, which came in a transparent squeezy tube with a screw top lid. However, other users on the web report that the full size has a twist-open lid which dispenses the product in a very controlled way and closes securely. No problems in any case.

Only a small amount of the product is needed - just a pea-sized amount is fine. Lather up, rub it onto the face, and rinse with a damp flannel. Job done.

The gel itself is pale blue, but lathers up to a white creamy foam. Rinses off with no visible residue.

Smells of soap even though it's soap-free. This seems to be thanks to an artificial fragrance used as part of the ingredients. Make of that what you will.

--Texture and consistency--
The gel itself is smooth, not sticky, and the lather that builds up with the addition of water is luxurious and plentiful. This washes off easily and makes for a pleasant experience.

--Effects on the skin--
Skin feels smooth and like oil production is under control. The effect is similar to having had a really nice facial! Over time, acne is reduced.

--Value for money--
With so little product needed each time, one bottle of this would last you ages. Avène is a cult brand in France and is stocked in every pharmacy and supermarket, and it seems that the French are onto something here for sure - I definitely noticed an improvement in my skin condition in just a few days of use. I would definitely purchase a full-size bottle.

perfect partners
Cleanance Anti-Shine Purifying Lotion, £8.75
Cleanance Anti-Shine Regulating Lotion, £10.50
Cleanance K, £10.50
Triacnéal Treatment Cream, £23

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Helpful Herbs for Health and Beauty (Barbara Griggs)

--The blurb--
"Herbs have a myriad of uses, and not just for cooking. Herbs are also incredibly useful for healing the minor medical miseries of life (and some of the major ones too) and in many cases, they are more effective than the pharmaceutical alternative.  Nothing zaps a sore throat faster than Propolis, sorts out a painful gum infection more efficiently than a shot of Marigold or takes the sting out of sunburn better than Aloe Vera.  For as long as people have been able to pick berries and forage for food, herbs have been used for medicinal purposes. There is even evidence to suggest that Neanderthal Man knew about and used herbs. Country people the world over have always relied on them, especially when no other doctoring was available.  And you don't need to be a trained herbalist to be able to use them. It’s simple. All that is needed is information, inspiration and a little savvy and that’s where Helpful herbs for health and beauty comes in! Discover the many medical uses of nature's bounty, and also find out the canny natural beauty tricks that really work."

--The review-- 
Homeopathy and herbal remedy garners a range of different views, from those who dismiss it all as sheer quackery to those who shun traditional medicine in its favour. Barbara Griggs, the author of Helpful Herbs for Health and Beauty, does not quite fall into this latter category, but offers us so many solutions for everyday illnesses and injuries that don't involve talking to someone in a white coat that it's hard to not sit up and listen.

Sensible and realistic, Helpful Herbs serves as a Bible for all ages and ailments, as well as seeming to cover every eventuality. Its many short chapters are easy and readable to consult, although the 'how did it go?' section is awkwardly named. It presents a good combination of familiar and new ideas, enabling readers to already feel slightly expert while learning new things.

Some of the recommended herbs are repeated often, but this is hardly Griggs' fault, as many of them have multiple uses, and this won't be so obvious if you are using the book encyclopaedically, rather than reading it chronologically. Some information is also covered less well, with more expansion being required: how are novice readers supposed to know, for instance, how often to use the greasy hair remedy, or whether to use this in place of shampoo or in addition to it, or what a 'reliable' brand of herb is? While it's refreshing to not see an author name-dropping, a little more guidance in this area would have been appreciated.

Nonetheless, the author is extremely informative and authoritative without being patronising, and gives plenty of useful information on incompatibilities between different herbs, as well as regularly advising readers to consult qualified herbalists if unsure and to continue to see traditional doctors for more serious illnesses. Griggs' advice is backed up with plenty of statistics and published research, and her own long publishing history is equally reassuring. At times contradictions are present: for instance, valerian is not to be used if the patient is depressed, but at the same time, it can be used to help sleeplessness caused by anxiety. The author indicates that she is aware of these contradictions, however (and there are not many of them in any case). There are also one or two omissions: chicory (which can help to treat sinus problems and gastroenteritis), for instance, is a commonly-used substitute for coffee, and while herbal tea is talked about a lot, no mention is made of this. A chart at the end of the book of ailments and solutions would have also been greatly prized, although the bibliography, suppliers list and list of herbalists is excellent.

Helpful Herbs is in the end an honest guide: magic is not promised, and caution is urged. There is plenty of food for thought here - far more than the "52 brilliant ideas" promised by the book series name. It utilises an international approach, with tips taken from around the world, and covers health, beauty and well-being, thus making it truly all-encompassing. Highly recommended.

other works by Barbara Griggs
Baby's Cook Book (1979)
Home Herbal: A Handbook of Simple Remedies (1983)
The Food Factor (1986) 
Superfoods (1990; with Michael van Straten)
The Superfoods Diet Book (1994; with von Straten, Mason, and David)
Green Pharmacy: The History and Evolution of Western Herbal Medicine (1997)
The Complete Woman's Herbal (1999; with Anne McIntyre)
The Green Witch: A Modern Woman's Herbal (2000)
Superfoods for Children (2001; with Michael van Straten)
Superfoods Super Fast (2006; with Michael von Straten)

(cross-posted to Bianca's Book Blog)

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Bianca's Beauty Blog's eyeliner test

Our Eye and Eye Makeup Correspondent, Gemma Summons, recently received a batch of 17 eyeliners to test. Let's see what she thought...

As you know I'm a complete eyeliner fiend - wear it every single day (probably more than I should), and I've tried a fair few over the years. I'm pretty made up (HAHAHA geddit) about these eyeliners as I'm used to paying the same amount of money (~£5) or even more for what are, frankly, inferior products to these.

I'll be commenting on these in order of preference (lowest to highest).
High Drama Intense Liquid Eyeliner 
The press release says: "17 High Drama Intense Liquid Eyeliner is a smooth and intense liquid eyeliner with a precise and easy to use applicator. Perfect for creating a 'high drama' effect!" £3.99 
I'd say this is a solid 'entry level' eyeliner. It's very, very similar to the Rimmel Exaggerate Eyeliner (to which I was a devotee for years) in pretty much all respects - the packaging, the shape of the bottle, the price, even the brush (very sturdy - more like a felt-pen tip than a brush) and the look you get - a matte finish, with the claim that it lasts up to 25 hours. However, I reckon if you got it wet - rain, tears, sweat after a gig/rave/club, any other liquid (don't really want to know, to be honest), it wouldn't live up to this claim. It is a lot more watery than the other two eyeliners. This does mean that it's so much easier to remove, which is crucial if you're just getting the hang of liquid eyeliner. The tip makes it easier to get the shape you want if you're unpractised, and because it's easier to remove, it's easier to touch up any mistakes. Especially if you sneeze just after applying it, which, by the way, happens to me on at least a twice weekly basis and is infuriating. But, for me, it's a bit too... meek. If you can call liquid eyeliner meek.

Wet Look Lacquer Eyeliner
The press release says: "17 Wet Look Lacquer Eye Liner gives a wet look shine once dry, giving a lacquered edge to any eye look." £3.99

I really like this one. It's got a thinner 'handle' which makes it look that bit more slinky than the High Drama eyeliner, and sits in your hand more like a pen. This has an actual brush - not too thick and not too thin, meaning that you can go for the sleek, classy 'barely there' eyeliner flicks, or you can build it up if you want to. Because it's a brush it's more flexible, so it's better if you're a bit more confident with eyeliner in the first place. This is also because it is pretty sturdy - you will need a decent eye make-up remover for this one. It will stick around all day and all evening, providing you're not, I don't know, swimming or something. And even then I reckon it would stand a good chance. One really good thing about this eyeliner is the look - like it says, it does have a wet finish. It looks shinier than the High Drama eyeliner, and is much thicker when you put it on. I reckon this would be best for a glam, glossy look, whereas the High Drama eyeliner might be better if you want a smudgier, smokier look.

Tattoo Me 
The press release says: "New 17 Semi Permanent Liquid Eyeliner, for up to 48 hours' wear." £4.99
I am speaking as a hardened addict of eyeliner. I LOVE THIS. It is so flipping resilient. AND CHEAP. The packaging is a lot chunkier than the others - it is effectively a normal tube (so in that respect I think I'd prefer it if the lid was more pen like and a little longer, to help you when applying it). The look of it is similar to the Wet Look eyeliner, which I like, but the brush is slightly longer and the eyeliner itself is thick and slightly sticky looking, but don't let this put you off. They aren't lying when they say it lasts 48 hours. It does. It IS semi-permanent. They tell you to use an oil-based eye makeup remover to budge it, and you will need to. I wore this and had run out of make-up remover, and despite washing my face several times with cleanser, it was still there. And the morning after. And for the rest of the next day. Given that it's taken me years to find an eyeliner that would actually stay where it is supposed to without having to fork out about £15 for the privilege, this is a revelation. This is perfect for if you can't bear to be seen without eyeliner - not that I'm advocating this, but it will survive the gym, gigs, clubbing, rain, kneading dough (see below... not that you'll be doing this with your face on a regular basis but you never know), FESTIVALS (an actual godsend) and, y'know, the morning after (wink). What a glory to wake up with your eyeliner still in place and not smeared halfway across your face like you've taken part in some bizarre tribal ink ritual rather than a night of passion. I think you could go swimming in this, if you really wanted to. Actually brilliant.

I tested each out on my finger (top left: Wet Look Lacquer Liner, top right: High Drama Intense Liquid Eyeliner, bottom: Tattoo Me semi permanent liquid eyeliner) and wore them all day - doing day to day activities. Washing my hands, rubbing my hands, even KNEADING DOUGH (yeah that's right, bread baking) to compare them and to see how much wear and tear they would realistically withstand. 
Wet Look Lacquer Liner: a pretty tough cookie, surviving repeated hand washings. Didn't survive the baking session, as it flaked off (but that's fair enough).
High Drama: is really for 'light users' as opposed to the 'hardened addicts' of eyeliner. It washes off fairly easily - which is good if you're a no-fuss girl and just want your make-up to wipe off easily - maybe less so if you want staying power. Or indeed, live in Wales, like I do, where it feels like it rains 98% of the time.
Tattoo Me: oh my god, THE COCKROACH of the eyeliner world. It is bulletproof. It survived everything, including the dough kneading (I gave it a fairly good bashing too - was unleashing female wrath on the bread that day) and was still on my finger 48 hours later. It really, really does what it says on the tin.