The vest season is almost upon us (and I don’t know about you, but I’m already encased in Wolford opaques…) Which means we’re entering a danger zone in terms of body neglect. It’s scarily easy not to give another thought about everything below chin-level until the spring equinox, but the simple truth is that maintaining good circulation from top-to-toe isn’t just cosmetic: it’s important for overall health and wellbeing (helping with blood flow to skin and organs, as well as lymph drainage).
What’s more, rich moisturisers and oils buffer skin from the drying effects of central heating – and of clothes themselves; cotton and wool both actually ‘wick’ moisture from skin. So forget about a ‘bikini blitz’, and instead, give your body an autumn blitz, getting into good bodycare habits now. Your skin will thank you for it – and think of how smug you’re going to feel when next spring, the first mentions of the word ‘swimwear’ start to appear in the glossies.
Start by body brushing. Every day. After a couple of minutes of body brushing, I promise you’ll feel the same sense of exhilaration as after a 20-minute walk. I swear by its power to slough away dead skin cells and boost circulation, and nobody I know who body-brushes regularly has a dimple of cellulite on their derrière, probably because it encourages elimination of toxins through the lymphatic system, helping to break down fatty pockets. Use a loofah or sisal mitt or a long-handled brush – make sure it’s firm-but-not-scratchy – and then with long, upward, sweeping movements, start at the feet and work up the legs and across the hips, bottom and tummy. Move to the arms: beginning at the hands, move up the arms towards the shoulders, always working towards the heart. Resist the temptation to pummel thighs hard, or you can break tiny blood vessels – and if you have sensitive skin, wet the mitt and use it in the bath or shower with a natural soap or soapless cleanser; the water decreases friction, minimising any damage. Try to get in the habit of body brushing every day: it’s doing it regularly – rather than in an occasional burst – which makes the difference…
Slather on a body mask! A body mask, I hear you chorus? Well, actually, yes; bodies respond to masks just as faces do (and this can double as a hair treatment if you follow the instructions below). What’s more, this recipe to make at home uses all that scooped-out pumpkin that some of us will have left over from Halloween…
PUMPKIN BODY QUENCHER
- 1 small pumpkin
- 250 ml. (8 fl. oz.) yoghurt
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 15 ml. (1/2 fl. oz.) sweet almond oil
Peel the pumpkin and scoop out the pulp; cut it into chunks and compost the seeds. Put the pumpkin in a saucepan with a small amount of water, and keep an eye on it to ensure that it doesn’t catch or boil dry. When it’s soft, remove from the heat and mash with a potato masher. While still warm (but not hot), add the almond oil, the yoghurt and the lemon juice. In a warm bathroom, sit in the bath or stand in the shower – don’t run the water yet – and slather yourself with the mixture. (Hair, too, if you like.) Sit for 10 minutes and then shower with warm water. Pat skin dry and apply moisturiser or body oil; shampoo and condition hair (if you used the ‘quencher’ on your hair, too). Pumpkin is a natural source of both fruit acids and vitamin A, which have a skin-brightening effect – and in addition to making skin glow silkily, pumpkin allows other ingredients to penetrate better.
Massage in an oil… I love body oils. Can almost hear my skin slurping them up. There are so many fabulous ready-made body oils – but I also like to concoct my own. And did you know that one of the best ways to harness the acknowledged plant power of herbs – which can deliver real skin benefits – is to macerate them in oil? Years ago, I went to interview Dr. Mariano Spiezia, creator of the Inlight range of all-organic cosmetics (find them here), and was fascinated to discover his technique for infusing oils with potent botanicals: Mariano puts the jars of herbal oils in sunlight (and moonlight!) for 2-3 weeks, before using the oils in his excellent beauty concoctions.
There is a long list of herbs that can be used for ‘maceration’, including chamomile, comfrey, dandelion, fennel seed, scented geranium, lavender, lemon balm, marigold (calendula officinalis), marjoram, peppermint, rosemary, sage, thyme and yarrow. It’s best to use dried herbs. Place four tablespoons of herbs or flowers in a clear glass jar. Cover with oil. You can use sweet almond, grapeseed or – my preference – extra virgin olive oil for this; be sure the herbs are completely submerged, or mould may occur. Make sure each jar has a cork or a screw-top to seal it and allow to sit in a warm, sunny place for 10-15 days, and shake daily. (The shaking increases the rate at which the active botanicals disperse into the oil.) Then filter the oil, pressing it through muslin to extract the last drops of goodness from the petals/leaves. Refilter, if required, and (I say this as a ‘greenie’ from way back) compost the herbs.
You are now ready to concoct your massage oil. For a relaxing blend, take four tablespoons of each of the following macerated oils, made via the technique above (bearing in mind this is for guidelines and you can use sixteen tablespoons of any of the oils, or any combination – just do the maths). But an ideal blend would be:
- 20 drops chamomile essential oil (optional)
- 20 drops lavender essential oil (optional – but again, you can concoct the fragrance using your own favourite essential oils)
Pour the macerated oils into a bottle to blend, then add the essential oils (if you’re going to use them) one drop at a time; shake very well and then allow the oil to settle again. This can be massaged into the body – your own, or someone else’s (they’ll love you for it), and is exquisitely, subtly aromatic, soothing and skin-replenishing.