Scalp Respect

A curled hair snippet tied on yellow background

Why you should start treating your scalp with the same respect you treat your face.

Adequately covered but never blessed with an abundance of hair I was always conscious of what should have been my crowning glory. In my 20s others would blame my ‘over’ washing as I whinged about my thin and limp locks. In my 30s they blamed the kids instead.

But five days after my 36th birthday the thinning had become thinned and the attention was totally focused on one patch. As I got out the shower and combed through my hair, I felt that unexpected chill of air touching skin.

The size of a 20 pence piece it took centre stage about two inches back from my hairline. All I can say is thank the Lord alice bands were in fashion and I could be bald and stylish!

Once the drama had taken a back seat, I was able to think logically and booked an appointment to see a trichologist I’d been recommended by a male friend.

Whilst I do enjoy telling the story of how I came to own 30 hair bands and one wig (just in case) what’s more interesting are the three facts I uncovered.

Scalp care is set to take over from skin care and not before time. For too long now we have been fed with simple information whilst the professionals try to give us a one size fits all answer to that age-old question…How frequently should I wash my hair? It’s at this point I’m thankful I haven’t got much!

So, whilst many of you pride yourselves on the length of time you can stretch out a hair wash and revel in the magic of the latest advances in dry shampoo, are you doing yourselves a disservice?

Just as we understand the detriment clogged pores have on our complexion, the same is true of our scalp. An extension of our face, if left unwashed bacteria can grow. Where bacteria grows, healthy hair cannot.

Washing your hair and massaging your scalp at least every two to three days ensures the 100,000 or so hair follicles found on the average human head are kept clean and clear.

With the market flooded with shampoos and conditioners making larger than life claims it’s never been harder to commit. But I took the plunge and went for it landing on a range that has exceeded all expectations – The Fulvic Acid Hair Trio.

As the name would suggest each product contains Fulvic Acid – a mineral compound found in the earth’s soil which activates the nutrients that feed the plants. Hailed as natures ‘miracle molecule’ it was definitely worth a try and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Not only has my hair never looked or felt better but the smell of the conditioner actually turned what was once a chore into something I look forward to – relishing those seven minutes in the morning the family generously allow me to shower alone, I blissfully prepare for the day ahead as I breath in the relaxing manly scent.

So back to my seat opposite the trichologist, this was number one ticked off the checklist. To say I was relieved to hear I could continue the daily hair washing obsession is an understatement! Balding and greasy felt like a far worse fate than just bald.

Number two were my blood results. With one in five of us in the UK deficient in Vitamin D there was no surprise this would be my fate. With vitamin D being responsible for stimulating hair follicles I immediately prescribed myself a week away to sunnier climbs. My trichologist had other ideas and suggested a high strength vitamin D3 supplement.

My iron levels were next on her list of things I was lacking in. As a meat eater and keen green veg consumer, we looked elsewhere for my iron demons. Menstruation and heavy exercise looked to be behind this one. Unable and unprepared to give up either of these, another supplement was recommended. Iron supplements are notoriously difficult to stomach. Curing one ailment whilst creating another is a bitter pill so to avoid constipation I did my research and found Florisene  – an effective supplement without the usual associated problems.

Lastly, we discussed hormones. As we age our hormones levels begin to fall, alongside other things, and this imbalance is largely responsible for our thinning hair. I see my mother with her “I told you so face” when I sniggered at her pill box but alas another supplement had been added to my loot and this one’s a good ’un. Superior Hair is an all-round hair hero multivitamin, also containing my daily dose of biotin and zinc – two more minerals my blood work showed I was lacking in and crucial for optimal scalp health.

So…I have been following the good advice received; washing my hair, taking my daily supplements and throwing in the odd scalp mask for good measure when I find time on my self-care Sundays. I count myself lucky that the wig I purchased was never needed. As I try and take a more optimistic approach to life (apparently stress is a big contributor to hair loss) I imagine my patch was sent to me as an early warning sign to take better care of myself both internally and externally and suggest you do the same too. Perhaps it’s time we stopped wearing our 5-day dry shampoo hair as a badge of honour and start treating our scalp with the same respect we treat our face.

Blowing Hot and Cold 

Hot and Cold Tap heads cross design with chrome

“On the off-chance that anyone fancies a cold dip and hot sauna after, bring towel and swimmers” emailed my yoga instructor, two days before Christmas.

With cabin fever already beckoning,  I dug out my least awful swimsuit without giving the cold/hot message too much thought.  Until  I arrived at the local unheated lido to see that the water temperature was six degrees.

Exactly how cold is six degrees Celsius?

I know now that it’s colder than wading into the North Sea any time in March, when the temperature hovers around seven degrees.  I’d once swum off our eastern shoreline in December (when it’s weirdly a few degrees warmer) when I’d  been tasked by the Today newspaper in 1992 with finding Freddie the Dolphin. Injured and hanging out in Amble Harbour, north of Newcastle, he was apparently lonely and up for visitors.  I hired a boat whose skipper gave me a half wetsuit and pushed me into the freezing sea where the photographer kept me for 25 minutes,  first waiting for Freddie to appear from the inky depths (one of the scariest moments of my life) and then while he barked  “smile, smile, smile” while my shaking hands tried to stroke Freddie’s shammy leather back.

My only defence is that it was the Nineties.  Today’s millennials would have flatly refused, citing health and safety regulations. The whole extraordinary episode evidently sharpened my senses, a common side effect of cold water therapy,  because I  recall writing up the piece extremely quickly in a local pub and filing it over the phone.

Anyway, back to the waters of London’s Parliament Hill Lido which on that sunny December morning looked so very blue and so very freezing.  We followed the example of our north European cousins and went into its new sauna first for a quick warm-up, where the temperature was a cosy 80 degrees.  The bodies inside were as pink as newborns and one man was physically shaking, having  just completed twenty lengths in the icy waters of the 60 metre pool.  Mad.

I intended to do no more than jump in and scoot up a steps within seconds.

Geronimo!

The effect on the body of immersing it in freezing water is instantaneous, regardless of how much body fat you hold, and is one of the biggest jolts you can ever give it.   Otherwise known as the cold shock response, cold receptors in your skin are suddenly stimulated, causing an involuntary gasp, several in my case, followed usually by hyperventilation or very rapid breathing.  Your heart rate rapidly shoots up too – so step away anyone with high blood pressure or heart disease – as blood is diverted from extremities to your main internal organs.  Yet after less than ten minutes back in the sauna I wanted to repeat that surge of exhilaration.  So we plunged in one more time and then ran into the changing rooms, savouring that delicious feeling of your blood returning to the outer edges of your body as you warm up.

I felt invincible for the rest of the day and was back for more in the new year.  This time it was busier and everyone in the sauna seemed to be talking about cold water therapy.   Three young women were chatting to ‘James’ about their new addiction.  “I dreamt about it recently,” said one.  “It’s really helping me get over my broken relationship,” confessed another.  All three took cold showers at home (tap water comes out at around seven degrees) which prompted queries from  James about where they got their power showers, obvs, until the conversation switched to cold water therapy podcast recommendations.

I blame Gwyneth Paltrow and Hugh Fearnly-Wittingstall, both of whom have relayed  the wellness benefits of cold water in the last few weeks. Our favourite double-barrelled named chef tried it out on the TV show Easy Ways to Live Well  in a bid to tackle his anxiety.  He joined a group of cold water converts in a painful 4.3 degree lido and in between loud gasps for breath, was the only one screaming: “OH MY GOD this is so unbelievably cold, it’s SO cold”, while a gaggle of 60 year old matrons, casually treading water, giggled from afar.

There was less laughter but better swimwear on display when Gwyneth Paltrow sent her minions out to Lake Tahoe for The Goop Lab’s Cold Comfort episode on Netflix, which also aired in January (BTW you have to watch the one on female orgasms).  Could freezing  water stop their LA whining and general malaise?  With them to the lake went one of the world’s leading cold water protagonists, a Dane called Wim Hof, aka The Iceman.  He looks like the wild man of Borneo and has done some pretty wild things in his time, including running a half marathon on his bare feet in the snow and climbing Mount Everest in his shorts.  Within a few days, his deep breathing technique had turned a bunch of strung-out goopsters into hardy cold water swimmers who barely gasped as they came up from the freezing lake for air.

So how exactly does the cold-water therapy help? TV personality Dr Zoe Williams said on Fearnley-Whittingstall programme: “One way to think of it is that our stress ‘alert system’ has become over-sensitive in today’s world, and a short blast of freezing cold water every morning reminds it what a real threat feels like, and makes those everyday irritabilities less likely to trigger the full stress response.”

My second plunge into the lido, by now a balmy eight degrees in January, saw me jump into the middle of the pool and swim ten metres to the steps. Initially, all I could think of was that frozen water scene in the film Titantic. On the night of the real disaster, the water was something like minus two degrees and Kate Winslet’s Rose would have frozen solid alongside Jack with his memorably blue lips.  But puffing through that ten metre swim to the ladder felt totally doable. In fact I did the hot sauna/cold plunge routine three times and then strode across Hampstead Heath afterwards with wet hair plastered to my head, but feeling like I was luminous. That night I fell asleep instantly and woke up at 5 am instead of the usual 4 am. Result.

Apart from being mood-enhancing, cold water plunging can help achy joints by  constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation. It also releases brain positive endorphins,  which is good for depressives,  triggers the aforementioned sleep hormones, and there is even talk of it generally making you live longer.  Biologist and Harvard Professor David Sinclair, who looks a very young  51, explains that slowing down the ageing process may be connected with the cold turning bad white fat into good brown fat.

“Specifically, the sirtuin-3 gene gets activated by cold, which promotes the browning of fat, which we believe is good for us.  Brown fat is full of mitochondria that use energy and speeds up the metabolism.”

I am contemplating daily cold showers and in the meantime dunk my head into a sink of cold water after washing my hair in a bid to leave it super shiny. Add that to the cold pool therapy and I’m slowly getting there.

Wim Hof has said:  “At one point the cold will feel just as comfortable as wearing your favourite pyjamas.”

Well, maybe.  I’m just not sure Gill would ever agree.

An Apple (Or Rotten Tomato?) For The Teacher

A sliced and stacked red apple on white

There is a Japanese proverb that goes: ‘Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.’ I don’t think that I ever notched up 1,000 days of diligent study – but unfortunately, the greatest teachers in my life came long after the school bell had tolled its last; people like the spiritual guru Ram Dass (who taught me to meditate), Anita Roddick, my friend and mentor (who taught me about bringing your sense of humour to work, because you’re really going to need it) and even my husband, come to that, who taught me to keep the faith at all times. (Not religious faith. Just ‘the faith’, trusting to the universe.)

To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to my teachers in years – before last summer, when I was asked to appear as Lauren Laverne’s guest on Desert Island Discs. (I know I’ve written about this before, but forgive me: I AM still pinching myself, and it’s 100% relevant to what I’m about to share.)

I share with Lauren (and, um, 3 million listeners) a particular, negative experience I’d had with my Scripture teacher. For some reason, the aforementioned teacher was also our Careers teacher, and one day a lesson turned from the Bible to discussions about what we were going to do when we left school. Well, Jackie Chapman was going to study Medicine at Oxford. My friend Stephanie Dodsworth was headed for teacher-training. The gloriously-named Dorcas Bird was, as I remember, thinking of Law. And yours truly announced that she wanted to be a secretary – an actual careers ambition, in those days.

My teacher narrowed her eyes and glared at me. ‘Jo Fairley, if you make so much as a Girl Friday, I’ll eat my hat,’ said Mrs. Wootton. (For readers at the lower age of the age spectrum, a Girl Friday was essentially a PA and several rungs lower on the career ladder than a secretary, probably only good for fetching coffee/dry cleaning/walking the boss’s Chihuahua.)

And my life could have gone in two very different directions, at that point. What actually happened was that I basically heard a Saturn Five rocket ignite under my chair, firing me up with the determination to prove her wrong. (Weirdly, it still drives me decades later – but I realise that if I’d been a different sort of girl, or even feeling less confident, on a different day, I might have bought into her predictions and set my sights perhaps no higher than running the Pick ‘n’ Mix in our local Woolworths.)

And an extraordinary thing happened after the Desert Island Discs was broadcast. No less than seven of that teacher’s other pupils managed to find a way to get in touch and wrote to me of similar experiences they’d had. In five of the seven cases, the impact was the same: it made them utterly determined to show her what they could achieve. But I literally cried at two of the communications, from women who years afterwards revealed to me that they’d bought into her put-downs and – as one told me – ‘my self-esteem has never recovered.’ (Another of the correspondents, meanwhile, hadn’t just been told she was going to amount to nothing, but that she’d ‘burn in hell’ – because a) her parents were divorced, and b) she’d been spotted dancing in the audience of Ready, Steady, Go!, then the must-watch music programme of the week.)

Reading their letters was an amazing and somewhat liberating experience for me, because of course I’d thought it was just ME. I didn’t realise that she had it in for all sorts of other pupils, in other classes and other years. Fired-up as I was at the time, I was also somewhat embarrassed at being singled out. But now I’m just hopping mad – because what an unforgivable thing to do to any young person who you’re supposed to be nurturing, teaching and encouraging.

And it really got me thinking about teaching, and the difference between good and bad teachers, and what huge responsibility teachers have for the kids in their care. Back in those days, there wasn’t the constant dialogue between parents and teachers that there is now (a once-a-year PTA meeting was about it, for my mum and dad), so my family didn’t have a clue about what had happened, and probably wouldn’t have dreamed of questioning the way that we were being taught and cared-for (or not). Parents today are much more ‘on it’, holding teachers to account. But even now, I hear stories from other women (often those who’ve not long left school), who’ve endured similar – and I don’t think it’s going too far to label it as a form of child abuse.

I did get out of school being able to read, write (and speak French), but the handful of teachers whose classes I did well in, looking back, were the ones who encouraged and engaged me – and when that happened, I bloomed like a little flower. I’m reminded of another great quote, from Benjamin Franklin: ‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.’

Through my weird and wonderful parallel life as a public speaker, I am now sometimes invited by schools to share my story – and sometimes, I get to see how teachers should be. There was the prize-giving at the school in Hampstead where the most coveted honour in each class was the Kindness Prize, and the huge affection between the girls and their teachers was palpable, in the room. A few weeks ago, I was at a school in Guildford which was clearly working so hard to engage, involve and inspire its pupils. An evening there totally restored my faith in teachers – and made me completely rethink a phrase that I’d often repeated myself, that ‘Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.’ May I be forgiven for having bought into that, after some of my own school experiences. But after that night in Guildford, I came away thinking: actually, teachers are really cool.

So I apologise for the fact that it’s taken me till this late in life to grasp fully how hugely important teachers are. Underpaid, mostly, and under-appreciated. But how we turn out isn’t just nature, nurture or our DNA; it’s in part down to how good or bad a job our teachers did. I was unfortunate (if you don’t count Mrs. Wootton kindling my ambition to prove her wrong). I hope you fared better.

But to all the good (or even great) teachers out there, let this be by way of a shiny, polished apple – as a very belated thank you.

The Beauty Bible Awards 2020: Five Of The Best

Beauty Bible Awards 2020

We could be forgiven for having a bit of a lie-down at Beauty Bible – because we’ve just unveiled the winners across 100+ categories of product, trialled by REAL women in REAL time to help our readers find products that REALLY work. (Sorry for the shout-y capitals, but we’re feeling a bit over-excited!) It’s been our mission, for 24 years now, to help women take a short-cut to products that really work – and it comes as no surprise to us that many, many of the Award-winners can be found right here on VH, because Gill (like us) knows a good thing when she sees (and sniffs) something.

As a little taster of the results, we thought we’d share five of the top-scoring products – all of which feature on VH. And don’t take our word for their fabulousness – because the comments say everything.

Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Bath & Shower Oil

Here it is again! Our all-time favourite bath treat, one we give away to countless friends and colleagues, when challenged by sleep issues or having a tough time. We’ve lost count of how many times this extraordinary bath treat has floated to the top of our annual rounds of testing. It’s a legend in its own bathtime…

OUR TESTERS COMMENTS: ‘10/10. What can I say about this product other than WOW!? The fragrance is just beautiful and lifts my mood straight away, lasting a while after use. My skin was left feeling super soft and silky. It promises to be calming and promote good sleep and it exceeded the claims. It’s amazing. A little product goes such a long way’ • ‘I was tired before using this bath oil for the first time as we’d just travelled to America the day before. While running the bath I was a bit dubious if it would work or not, but I was blown away when I got in the bath, and relaxed that much I fell asleep!! My best bath ever’ • ‘Every time I use it, this trusty product deeply relaxes both body and mind, clearing worries and left my mood lifted and calm.’

Margaret Dabbs Foot Hygiene Cream

The cornerstone of award-winning foot expert Margaret Dabbs’ range, this is described as a ‘miracle in a jar’, whose effects go way beyond the cosmetic. In fact, it’s a semi-clinical formulation that targets athlete’s foot, food odour, painful and blistered skin and even verrucas. It doesn’t sound glam – but testers LOVED it!

OUR TESTERS COMMENTS: ‘My job entails me being on my feet much of the day and I have a baby. This left my feet feeling amazing after application, especially if they had a tough day; the main thing was how soft my skin was, refreshed and smelling lovely. One big thing was that the blistering on the sides/soles of my feet was greatly improved and overall I had much less dryness’ • ‘I’m a nurse and am on my feet a lot of the time; I also have children so am running around after them. I noticed the fresh feeling straight away – I felt like my feet were in a spa, they felt cool, swelling was reduced almost immediately.’

Temple Spa Sugar Buff

This has climbed the leader board to the top slot: Bronze two years ago, Silver last year and now (ta-dah!) in Gold position, with a fantastic score of 9.37/10 across our ten-tester panel. As the name implies, it’s a Mediterranean-inspired sugar exfoliator with a luscious texture, featuring moisturising and firming olive oil, grapeseed oil, fig and pomegranate extracts and vitamin C, with a wonderful, naturally relaxing aroma of lavender, patchouli, eucalyptus, rosemary, grapefruit and clove essential oils.

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS: ‘I absolutely loved this product. I never really bother with scrubs so this was a nice me-time product. My skin is normally quite dry and ashy-looking after a shower so this has really changed the game for me. Super-soft skin almost feels like velvet to the touch, and I don’t need to moisturise at all’ • ‘I was not wearing skirts or shorts because of the dry rough condition of my legs, and my elbows also looked and felt rough. After I started using this, my elbows felt so soft that a friend of mine felt the need to tell me so! I got tons of compliments on how my legs look; they are glowing, even without any other moisturiser. This product has transformed my skin.

Temple Spa Eye Truffle Complete Eye Rejuvenator

Altogether Temple Spa scooped an amazing 14 Awards this year, so we don’t feel bad about including a second Gold here… In previous years, Skin Truffle was our highest-ever scoring miracle treatment). This addition to the line-up is an eye care all-rounder, tackling dark circles and puffiness, frown lines and crow’s feet and pigmentation issues, while bringing radiance to the eye zone. Testers’ verdict? It works a treat.

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS: ‘The time of the miracle has not passed! I have some “expression” lines around my eyes, they are quite visible. Day 14 – I’m addicted! I look into mirror and cannot believe the improvement in texture, firmness and colour around the eye. I would not believe that just cream could do it, without actually trying it. Amazing product that has taken years off my face. I am still amazed when I look in the mirror. The best eye product I’ve used in years and believe me I’ve tried a lot at all price ranges’ • ‘By the end of testing my eye area looks brighter and smoother, with fine laughter lines significantly reduced. A luxurious product that does exactly as promised’ • ‘Absolutely in love with this rich but light eye cream. I’m a busy mum of three-year-old twins and unfortunately suffer with lack of sleep and not having enough time to introduce beauty regime in my life. After a couple of weeks of using this product, dark circles under my eyes are much less visible plus I don’t look so tired anymore. My work mates are asking if my kids have started to behave and I am finally getting enough sleep. Unfortunately not… but I have this miracle cream! It lives up to all the promises.’

GOLD (JOINT) AWARD Aurelia Refine & Polish Miracle Balm

One of the highest-scoring products we’ve ever had, in 24 years of Beauty Bible testing – a completely staggering 9.75 marks out of 10 (which basically means most testers did give it a 10), and something you’ll find on our own bathroom shelves, as it happens. In addition to gentle rice refining beads, there are enzymes to literally dissolve dead cells, in a balm-like base that you massage into skin, then emulsify with water to transform into a milk that can be swished away.

OUR TESTERS’ COMMENTS: ‘My skin now looks so much cleaner, brighter and more moisturised, younger and very healthy. After using the scrub over a period of time, small blackheads have become lighter and fewer which this scrub is really cleansing my skin from a deeper level than my cleanser is able to do.  I couldn’t believe how soft and plump skin felt, too. I hardly needed any moisturiser’ • ‘After using for the first time my skin looked great – noticeably brighter, fresher and glowing. After seven days it looked radiant. After 28 days I was hooked. It made a noticeable different to my skin’ • ‘Using the product is a lovely experience, with its beautiful spa-like scent. After the first week – during which I used it the recommended three times – my skin just felt better and better. My skin was much smoother and softer and make-up was sitting much better and lasting longer. The improvements continued. People have noticed my skin is looking smoother and less congested.’

Ditch The Guilt

Household cleaning tools on a blue wooden floor

During the same weekend that I grit my teeth when the Duchess of Cambridge spoke about mother’s guilt  ( I tried to imagine Prince William ‘fessing up to the same thing – no me neither ), I read another article in the Observer by the goddess, Mariella Frostrup about tackling her insomnia. I don’t suffer from insomnia but have many friends who do and go to incredible lengths to try and ‘fix it’.

The big reveal was on its way:  what was Mariella going to attribute it to?  Hormones, the menopause, too much sugar, not enough sex… I can’t lie, I felt deflated when her answer did come.   For while anxiety and regular insomnia are synonymous with hormonal change in a woman’s 50s, it didn’t explain the nocturnal struggles experienced by younger women. On closer inspection she discovered, a picture starts to form that’s recognisable to any women who is knee deep in the mothering, marriage and career years. Read More…

Lip Fillers In A Tube?

lip injection closeup

There aren’t many specific products I MUST have in my washbag at all times. Except one, and it’s a bizarre item to get so het up over on the few occasions it’s missing. It’s an antioxidant ‘lip complex’ by SkinCeuticals, and I’ve taken to using it as an antiageing lip cream overnight (which is technically incorrect, as antioxidants are primarily supposed to shield you from the day’s environmental attacks).

It’s been the last thing I’ve put on my face at night it for years, as it makes me wake up in the morning with full-looking lips. More importantly, the fine ‘lipstick’ line (there was one) that I spotted above my top lip 20 years ago is still, give or take, just one minor line. How could that be? Genes, perhaps, but I think it’s the ‘lip complex’. And so I’ve become devoted to it. What if it’s delivered me from aged lips all these years? I’m not prepared to give it up just to find out. Read More…