Beauty

The Beauty Bible’s August Picks

green clay

Now and again, as connoisseurs of all things gorgeousness-related, we like to share on VH a round-up of some of our recent faves which you can find right here, right now on the website. So: here’s what Beauty Bible’s been loving, lately…

Margaret Dabbs Fabulous Legs

We’d never really thought of giving our legs a ‘makeover’ before – but boy, does this collection do just that. Five products in all (obviously you needn’t use ALL of them, though we did). Before? Legs dull, flaky, generally meh-looking. Afterwards? Not only bareable but actually BARED, thanks to soaring weekend temperatures.

The regime starts with a scrub – Toning Leg Scrub. First, a little caveat: before you’ve used this, you need to stir it. And the pot’s full. And if you take the lid off in bed in your nightie (as Jo did), to sniff it, then you will also probably have to change said nightie. So: do this in the bathroom, and stir with the spatula. Scoop the scrub from the bottom of the pot onto legs, and massage well for three to five minutes. Legs will be unbelievably soft and smooth once you’ve showered this off. To be honest, this is a leg-makeover-in-a-pot, in itself.

Then, a leg mask. A LEG MASK? Yup. Choice of two. The Yellow Leg Masque is skin-brightening and radiance-boosting. You probably don’t need it all over right now, so we recommend slathering the mix – enriched with argan and sweet almond oil – from knees to ankles. If heavy legs are a problem, then go for the decongesting Black Leg Masque – we love the camphor-y, seriously aromatic scent of this, and it’s great for that tired-leg feeling.

We suggest following with either/or the following. We love the smoothing effect of Firming Leg Serum, which quenches skin with moisture, boosting circulation while it’s at it (a blend of ginger extract, argan and Abyssinia oil feature, among other ingredients).

Last step is Refining Glow Leg Spray, which brings a sense of lightness to legs (again, that ginger/oil blend, together with cypress, lavender, mint and lemon). It’d be a great leg reviver to use on-the-go. (Will it work through tights? We’re rather hoping we don’t have to find out.)

Transformative. Truly.

Thyme Out

This product has been a complete blockbuster since it landed at VH. Think of it as the skin equivalent of Ocean’s 8, or a Jojo Moyes novel, or a track from Beyoncé. Off-the-scale popular.

And its success is a reminder of just how many of us have niggly skin issues: rashes, eczema, prickly heat, psoriasis – not to mention acne and breakouts, as well as cuts and grazes. We’ve personally already used it on a really annoying persistent mystery itch, on insect bites (the British mosquito season has started early after the combo of sunshine/storms), nettle rash…

Thyme Out is organically-sourced, and water – not alcohol-based (so you can put it on skin you’ve scratched till it’s raw without any stinging). It smells so strongly of thyme (in a good way) that we’re almost tempted to sprinkle it on tomatoes before tucking them under a grill. (We won’t, of course – but we’ll make sure that there’s a bottle of this handy for coming in from the garden, as well as on the bedside table.)

Cleverly, the generously-sized bottle comes with a small spritzer that you can tuck in your handbag or washbag. (Be aware: this is a spray, not a rollerball; Jo took off the lid to roll it onto skin and deposited the thyme-fragranced contents all over her clean sheets. Which she didn’t really mind – and it doesn’t stain permanently – but isn’t what you really want.)

For annoying skin woes, we think it’ll swiftly become your No.1.

Temple Spa Trufflelixir

Fact: a tide of beauty products flows into Beauty Bible HQ. The process is: some of it goes into our ‘holding bay’ (affectionately known as ‘The Beauty Dungeon’), for us to look at later.

Some of it is just tagged ‘Get ten of these and listen to what a Beauty Bible tester panel has to say about its effectiveness’ – because we don’t have enough square footage of skin to put everything through its paces.

And just some of it – often when we’ve previously been impressed by a brand’s previous offering, or there’s something truly innovative about a product – gets fast-tracked for testing on our own faces. Straight away.

So, obviously, we were going to start immediately on Trufflelixir, with the astonishing results that previous Temple Spa Skin Truffle creams have notched up in our Beauty Bible Awards.

After a couple of months of use, we can report: this is really impressive stuff. It’s a breeze to use – one pump, a few drops, and it glides smoothly all over skin, making it look instantly radiant. (We do love a bit of instant benefit, while waiting for long-term results.) Importantly, although it contains retinol, we had no reaction whatsoever – none of the flaking and redness sometimes experienced with retinol/vitamin A products, in the past, which have left us wary.

There are all the luxe ingredients in there we’ve come to expect from the Skin Truffle range – diamond powder, gold, silk peptides, a champagne extract and summer truffles! All of which deliver the luxurious texture that makes this really lovely to use.

Long-term, we look in the mirror and see: brighter skin, a more even skintone and fine lines that have become that bit finer. It’s a must for any Skin Truffle fan, to layer beneath that cream – but if you’re looking to add a fab serum offering visible benefits into your regime pretty much from the get-go, we suggest you truffle this out.

Because while truffles may famously like the dark, this ain’t going anywhere near that dungeon.

Ilapothecary

Some of you may be familiar with Ila? – luxuriously-priced natural treats for face and body, in a range created by natural wellbeing expert and visionary Denise Leicester. It’s amazing stuff – treats for face and body (and at treat-like prices). But now, it’s got a ‘little sister’ – actually, not so little, with ten or so products that pour Denise’s aromatherapeutic expertise into some seriously mind-shifting products.

They truly smell incredible. But more than that, they’re unbelievably effective – like a giant, aromatic ‘nudge’ into a different mindset. Slightly more affordable, the range offers several real innovations – and here’s the low-down on our faves so far.

Beat The Blues Room Spray: We think this is probably what heaven smells like. Setting out to bust negative energies, it does exactly that – which is why you’ll find us spritzing it around the office in the morning, and why we keep it firmly within reach by the computer, for a quick and joyous burst of clary sage, petitgrain, rose geranium and tuberose. According to Denise, it’s good for helping you listen to your intuition.

Speak Your Truth Aroma Roller: We adore this. It’s a big, fat rollerball of aromatherapeutic magic, incuding rose and sandalwood, polished and sweetened with nurturing vanilla. It’s not an actual truth serum, but as Denise says, ‘it helps connect our physical body with our meditative being’. Jo rolls it onto her pulse points before doing to her daily calm.com meditation; it is grounding, soothing, helps with focus – and honestly, could be worn as a fragrance in its own right.

Frankly, we are never NOT in the mood for this range.

This Works Evening Detox Mask

Remember Princess Fiona, from Shrek? Well, she’s who you will look like, in this mask.

Do not, however, let the fact that it is really, REALLY green put you off for a minute – because this is a fabulous, fabulous, FAH-BU-LOUS skin treat.

First off, though, we have to say that we think This Works got the positioning of this mask all wrong. We find it way too face-waking for evening use, enlivening both the skin and the senses, with a camphor-and-citrus-and-frankincense, pick-me-up scent.

So for heaven’s sake forget the name, and use it in the mornings. Twice a week, ideally – but we saw fantastic results after just one use, and are now using it regularly. It’s applied via a dispenser brush (you twist it 180º to unlock it), which you use to paint the green mask onto skin. (Incredibly satisfying and soothing feeling, BTW.)

The colour is from malachite – which works to detoxify and protect against pollution. Alongside that, there’s natural kaolin clay – but this doesn’t set super-hard (we’re not fans of many clay masks), or feel uncomfy. There are skin-brightening fruit acids (NB we experience absolutely no reaction to these) – and the whole thing has a great exfoliating action. From first use, skin appears brighter – and we feel really refreshed and ready for the day.

It’s gone straight to the top of our fave mask charts and can’t recommend too highly. Meanwhile, do have fun scaring the living daylights out of the postman, won’t you?

BetterYou Magnesium Sleep

The BetterYou range is all over this website like a rash. (That’s probably a slightly unfortunate turn of phrase, but they do crop up all over the place in the form of magnesium salts, butters etc.)

The whole range is wonderfully sleep-beckoning and muscle-relaxing – a go-to for us in the quest for better sleep for some years, now. But we’re really loving this new addition to the range: a nourishing body lotion rich in magnesium oil (proven to relax tired muscles, slow sensory activity and quieten the mind) – but the pleasure of which is now enhanced by a lovely soothing scent.

It features chamomile and lavender – we’re finding it relaxing from the very first sniff. The idea is to massage four pumps of Magnesium Sleep Mineral Lotion into skin 30 minutes before bedtime, ideally focusing on areas like shoulders, neck and legs. (We like to smooth at least one pump into feet, which are highly absorbent – and could always use some extra moisture!) It’s also safe for use in pregnancy, NB. Can you hear us snoring gently, from there…?

Funerals

weeping beech tree

We need to talk about my funeral. No, really, we do. I’m not expecting it to be imminent (I REALLY HOPE NOT!) – but I’m not burying my head (or any other part of me) in the sand, pretending it ain’t going to happen. As the old saying goes, ‘Nothing is certain but death and taxes.’ (And having just paid my half-year tax bill, as many self-employed people have, I know just how annoyingly unavoidable those are!)

Now, I want to stay positive, here. I spend as much of my time as I can possibly carve out of a busy life on what I like to think of as ‘life extension’. That’s why I diligently walk 10,000 steps a day, try to stay as unstressed as possible in a world in which Donald Trump is the unlikely-but-true President of the United States, take all the vitamins that Shabir tells me I need to, do yoga, and so on. All the things I’ve written about in this column at various times, basically. (Well, not Trump; he doesn’t deserve the airtime.) Bottom line: I’m planning to stay around for as long as I possibly can.

But over the years, I’ve had the experience of planning a few funerals for friends, and going to various ceremonies at crematoria and churchyards memorials, for others. To say they were a mixed bag is a vast understatement. Some were terrible (and I’m not just talking tragic loss here, but actually terrible, impersonal funerals where – on one occasion – the celebrant got our friend’s name wrong). And some were downright fabulous – the most recent of which was just a couple of weeks ago, in a sun-drenched garden where 150+ friends gathered to say goodbye to one of the most life-enhancing women I’ve ever known, who had died at the ridiculously young age of 62 of a super-speedy brain tumour. My friend Sarah Charles was the embodiment of hostess-with-the-mostest, with more style in her little finger than most of us have in our bodies – and without an unkind atom in her body (though nevertheless, an acid wit).

I have rarely seen more Champagne at a wedding than at Sarah’s send-off. There was delicious food, laughter, and we all wore the bright, colourful clothes that Sarah so loved. Although Craig and I had to leave early (to attend my very-much-alive brother’s 60th), I’m reliably informed she was ultimately sent off into space in a rocket (or at least, her ashes – which had been previously obtained via the local crematorium – were). But in the hours counting down to that firework finale, we all stood around sharing joyous memories of our friend – very much that ‘don’t mourn that I’m dead, celebrate the fact that I lived’ vibe. And that’s what I want, too.

Actually, I already know where I’m going to be buried. (No fireworks for me, thanks.) Craig already bought me the tree and planted it on a piece of land we have. Nice birthday present, darling! No, seriously: I don’t at all mind contemplating a long lie-down under the shade of a beautiful (and what I hope will by then be really large) weeping beech, just a pine-cone’s throw from his Cedar of Lebanon. (I like to think of future generations playing hide-and-seek under its canopy of copper-leaved branches.) For the actual burial, I’ve got my eye on a very fetching ‘Beauty Bible pink’ glitter cardboard coffin (though I might have to do a bit of research into the eco-friendliness of the glitter). Music-wise, I’m having Carly Simon, with one of my friends charged with picking the exact track (preferably not ‘You’re So Vain’, but I’ll be past caring) – and Pharrell Williams’s ‘Happy’, because really, who can be miserable to that track? And I really, really, really don’t want people to be miserable.

And this is the point: I really think we need to stop thinking about death and funerals as something ‘other’ – something we only address when it hits us in the face. Elsewhere in the world, death is much more a part of life – as in the Day of the Dead, when Mexicans remember friends and family who’ve died, decorating brightly-coloured altars and wearing equally eye-popping clothes. (So much nicer than funereal black.) I like the South African idea of the ‘after tears’ party, more like an Irish wake, involving a lot of drinking and joking and focusing on comforting the surviving and remembering the deceased in the fondest way – as we all, surely, want to be remembered. And then, of course, there are Irish wakes themselves – life-affirming, laughter-filled and very, very hangover-inducing.

Ironically, when my mother received her cancer diagnosis (and a six-month death sentence with it), she said it was one of the best things that ever happened to her – because she felt really alive for the first time. (And how many times have we heard that?) She appreciated in sharper focus every day, every rainstorm, every sunbeam, every morsel that she put in her mouth, every bark of the bloody dog, every conversation, every laugh, every rose and every courgette she picked in a way she’d never done before. She went on to defy her doctors’ prognosis and live for six years longer than they’d predicted.

But when she did finally succumb, we discovered that my mother had planned everything about her own funeral: the music, the poetry, the readings (maybe that’s at least partly where I’ve got it from) – though even my father didn’t have a clue she’d done so till afterwards. The great thing is that it completely spared him (and us) from having to second guess ‘what she would have wanted’ – and if nothing else, that’s a huge kindness to the traumatised bereaved. I’m fairly sure that if she’d hung on until more recently (she died when I was 27), Mum would have gone for a wicker coffin and asked us all to weave flowers through it, as we did for a friend recently. Or maybe a cardboard coffin on which we could all draw, paint and write (as someone else in my circle wanted, for her not-so-long-ago funeral).

I honestly believe that if we spend a bit more time thinking about our own funerals, and about death, then gradually it works to take some of the fear and panic away; that’s surely why the network of Death Cafés is flourishing (there’s probably one near you), at which people sit around and bust the taboo of talking about it.

But for me, the really great thing about thinking about death – about pink glitter coffins, weeping beeches, Carly Simon, or whatever YOU would like for your last, great party – is that it also makes you think about life, and how precious it is.

And we could all do a bit more of that.

Everything You Need To Know About Pigmentation

Wheat field

At last, we’re having a summer. Getting the limbs out. Firing up the barbecue. Turning our pale faces to the sun. Only – let’s stop right there. Because while getting some sunshine on your face and chest feels just sooooooo good, there’s a heavy price to pay not too far down the line. Not in terms of wrinkles – we know all about those – but pigmentation problems.

You can call them ‘age spots’ (although they tend to turn up way ahead of cashing in your pension). Your Great Aunt Dorothea probably referred to them as ‘liver spots’. But in fact, they should better be referred to as ‘sun spots’ – because they’re a direct result of accumulated sun damage, which triggers melanin-producing cells in the skin to lose control and produce too much pigment as a defence mechanism – on the face and chest, in particular, but also the arms and backs of the hands, where they’re harder to conceal.

Fairer skins are more susceptible – and against a paler background, age spots show up more, too. (Jo had one of those ‘oh s**t’ moments when a dermatologist told her that the dark patches on the side of her face were sun spots, not – as she’d thought, beauty marks. Which goes to show how easy it is to miss the edges of the face and the outer jaw-line when applying sunscreen. So be sure to smooth your a.m. SPF into the whole face.)

Many botanicals have proven pigment-lightening actions, including azelaic acid (from barley and wheat), kojic acid (from fermented mushrooms), retinoic acid and retinols (vitamin A derivatives which are also famously effective against lines), Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (a stabilised form of vitamin C) and licorice. (They all work by inhibiting the melanin-producing enzyme tyrosinase, if you really want the science bit.) But sun spots – as with almost everything to do with the body – are far easier to prevent than to cure. So here’s our suggested plan…

Never venture out without an SPF30 or over

Starting. Right. Now. This is non-negotiable  it should prevent the spots you have from getting any worse, and may actually go some way towards slightly fading them. If so far you aren’t affected by age spots? This daily SPF30 (or higher) will go a long way to preventing their future appearance. (We’re huge fans of This Works In Transit Skin Defence SPF30, which goes on really smoothly and is a great basis for make-up.)  Hand creams with a built-in SPF can be super-useful on the backs of hand/forearms, or if you tend to spend a lot of time outdoors, apply regular sunscreen to these vulnerable zones, and remember to repeat after hand-washing; Aurelia Aromatic Repair & Brighten Hand Cream is formulated specifically to diminish the signs of pigmentation – and just feels and smells so heavenly, it’s a positive treat to apply and reapply.

Wear a hat

If you have sun spots, or seek to avoid their appearance, we also advise: get yourself a fabulous, stylish collection of fairly tightly-woven straw hats, and keep on a peg near your door/s, for easy grabbing when you go out on a summer day (not a baseball cap because the brims aren’t big enough). Sometimes anti-ageing solutions can be wonderfully low-tech.  (Wide-armed, large-lensed sunspecs also help.)

Try a specific ‘age spot’ treatment

A vast amount of cosmetic research dollars are currently being channeled into this area of skincare, blending tried and tested botanicals like kojic acid, mulberry and alpha arbutin, for instance, with whiz-bang skin delivery systems. (Alpha arbutin is the natural alternative to skin-bleaching hydroquinone.) Some super-high-tech options to try that you’ll find right here in VH’s edit included Sarah Chapman Skinesis Skin Tone Perfecting Booster, White Lightening Complex by iS Clinical and Garden of Wisdom Alpha Arbutin 2% and Kojic Acid 1% Serum.

Apply very carefully – don’t slap the treatment on

And be aware: most of these treatments take some time to kick in, and there are no overnight miracles here. (You may be looking at three months minimum, which is longer than most ‘miracle’ wrinkle treatments take.) Be aware, too, that some are for all-over skin application, and others are literally ‘spot-targeted’, requiring the use of a cotton bud to apply precisely. Get out your magnifying glasses and read the instructions before throwing out (or preferably recycling) the box. Actually, we suggest applying a thin amount to dark areas at least one hour before bedtime; this will let it fully absorb into the skin so it won’t slide into your eyes when you press your face into the pillow.’ (Albeit mild, these skin-lightening ingredients can still sting eyes.) And the usual advice applies: nothing works if it’s left sitting on the bathroom shelf in a jar or bottle. You’ve got to be religious about using treatment products to see effects. Once or twice a week when you can be bothered makes any investment you make in anti-age spot skincare completely worthless.

Use make-up to conceal the spot

Once you’ve got an age spot, what’s to do? After your primer or moisturiser in the morning, dot on a matte yellow- or peach-based corrector or concealer (deeper peach for women of colour), using a little brush. Then press it into skin with your finger – don’t sweep it on or it’ll sweep right off again. If needed, top up with foundation or concealer (again, dab and press rather than blend), or brush on a mineral powder base.

And be careful with fragrance

Certain perfume ingredients – particularly those derived from citrus (such as bergamot) – can interact with sunlight to cause permanent pigmentation problems, in the form of ‘staining’ of the skin, with dark streaks or patches – typically on the neck and chest, where perfume is spritzed or splashed. We counsel: in summer, it’s safest to apply skin to perfume for evening rather than daytime, or put it where the sun won’t strike directly. (So long as there’s no risk of staining your clothes, fabric is a wonderful ‘carrier’ for scent, too.)

 

What Is Earthing And Will It Reduce Your Stress Levels?

chinese bells

When (to paraphrase Carole King’s lyrics on ‘Tapestry’) did you last feel the earth move under your feet…? Maybe not move – unless you’re in an earthquake zone – but experience its grounding, balancing and (literally earthing) benefits? Well, if it’s been a while, can I recommend that this lunchtime, you get out there, lie down on some lawn or in a park, and soak up the soothing vibes?

Oh, this is going to sound all very woo-woo, no doubt. Perhaps you don’t feel that you need ‘grounding’. But in a world in which I spend most of my time ‘in my head’ – thinking, looking at a computer, and thinking some more – I know that there’s almost nothing that makes me feel better, quicker, than a bit of earth energy. Without it, I feel vulnerable and liable to be thrown off balance at any time. A bit like a leaf, fluttering in the wind, sometimes.

But give me a good grounding session, and I’m rooted – like a big tree. Resistant to the daily equivalent of strong winds – those inevitable events which can throw you off course. I sleep better. I’m more focused, have fewer scattered thoughts (and am less likely to pick up my phone every two minutes to check something or other completely irrelevant). I am also probably kinder to everyone around me. Less snarly, more smile-y.

If you’re feeling cynical, think back to the last time you were on a sandy beach. Wiggling your toes. Walking along the shoreline. You were connected to the earth’s powerful energy. (Let’s not argue about this: gravity is what stops us from floating off into the universe, weightless as astronauts. It’s powerful stuff.) Didn’t it feel good? I’ve a hunch, actually, that one of the reasons we feel so good after a seaside holiday isn’t just the sea itself, but the time we spend with our feet on the sand.

As a child, there was nothing I liked more than going out and lying in the garden, looking up at the sky. My mother accused me of being a daydreamer – but actually, on some level I’m sure I knew I was soaking up the earth vibes. Crammed into shoes, sitting at a desk for much of the day, rushing from A to B, it’s easy to lose touch with how that feels. For me, my love of deep, vibrational music (see my article ‘Good Vibrations’) is part of that need to feel grounded.

I am drawn to essential oils with a grounding effect, too – resinous and resonant oils like frankincense, sandalwood, vetiver and patchouli (old hippie that I am), which to me almost thrum. (Myrrh, cedarwood, benzoin, black spruce, petitgrain and rosewood are said to have a similar effect, though I don’t have them in my arsenal.) Inspired by my friend Kathy Phillips (creator of the This Works range), I often wear a drop of pure frankincense oil on my chest. I find this incredibly ‘tethering’, particularly on days when I have to take the Tube (which may actually be beneath the ground but definitely doesn’t have a de-stressing effect on me, anyway).

And I now discover there’s an actual ‘earthing’ movement going on, driven by the belief that being isolated from the Earth – by rubber and plastic (our shoes), wood, plastic, laminate and asphalt – creates a disconnection from the earth’s energy that can result in a feeling of fatigue. They go so far as to call the earth’s energy ‘Vitamin G’ (and even Shabir hasn’t managed to find a supplement which captures that, yet!) My husband, meanwhile, is a massive devotee of ‘earthing’. I always poked fun at him for getting out into our garden in the morning for his regular dew bath, and wearing Vivo Barefoot shoes – but now I totally get where he’s coming from. (NB I’ve come to realise it is usual for Craig – as the man who introduced us to brown rice, sesame, patchouli oil and even the Afghan coat, for his sins – to be about two decades in advance of the rest of the planet. And indeed his wife.)

Earthing, or grounding, works – so it’s believed – because the body is mostly water and minerals, and is a good conductor of electricity (electrons). There are gazillions of electrons on the Earth’s surface – but synthetically-soled shoes stop us receiving that energy. The idea is to get out there, shoe-less, and connect with it as often as we can. Not easy, in a city or for someone who lives in a flat. But definitely not impossible.

Having said that, when I’m feeling particularly frazzled, I still find that I can still effectively ‘ground’ myself, just sitting in my desk chair – so long as I’ve got bare feet. (And as long as the weather permits, I always go barefoot at home. Winter? You’ll find me in tights, socks and furry slippers – and definitely feeling way less grounded, as a result.) I place my feet flat on the floor and b-r-e-a-t-h-e for a couple of minutes – counting to ten, with one for in, two for the out-breath – imagining the feeling of rooting down into the floor. When life feels overwhelming, I find it an amazing quick fix.

It’s not the only weapon I have in my arsenal for dealing with a crazy-busy, too-fast-paced life. I meditate, do yoga – also wonderfully, famously grounding – and listen to Native American drumming music, as well as gongs and handpan music (which you can find on iTunes if you’re unfamiliar with it). But more and more, when life threatens to overwhelm, I just like to get out there and make like a kid, lying flat on my back and staring at the clouds, or walking barefoot in the dew.

Carole King was definitely onto something.

Natural Ways To Brighter Eyes

close up pink flower

You’ve probably noticed that D.I.Y beauty – whizzing up ingredients to make your own cosmetics – has become a bit of a trend. Well, with all respect to the millennials who are all over #Instagram with their home-made beauty treats, we’ve been doing it since we were teenagers ourselves. Here’s what we’ve always known: making your own beauty treats is fun. (Especially if you do it with a friend/child/goddaughter.) It’s easy. And because these little beauty treats are packed with lashings of botanical ingredients, they can  can be super-effective.

With hay fever a particular challenge right now (Sarah suffers terribly), puffy eyes are a particular problem. So this month, we thought we’d share with VH readers our top treatments for dealing with under-eye baggage and the eye zone generally. And, we thought we’d also share a little ‘beauty craft project’: making your own eye bags. Easy to do, even if your expertise generally doesn’t extend beyond sewing on a shirt button.

Chamomile Eye Bag Blitzer

  • 10g. (1/2  oz) dried chamomile flowers
  • Mineral, purified tap or rainwater

Chamomile has a near-miraculous effect on tired and puffy eyes. If you know you’re heading for a morning-after-the-night-before, make this chamomile infusion before you go out and it’ll be ice-cold and ready for bag-blitzing the next day. (It keeps for just a few days in the fridge.)

Place the flowers in the bottom of a mug and fill with boiling water; allow to cool and strain into a sterilised jar, which you should pop in the fridge. Soak cotton wool pads in the cold tea and place over the eyes. (Pads are better than cotton balls because they cover more of the eye zone.)

Relax for 15-20 minutes (we always love being told to do that!). During this time, use the pads of your fingers to tap outwards along the ‘orbital bone’ above and below the eye, to help the de-puffing action. (At a pinch, you can also use a cold chamomile tea bag as an eye compress; stew and cool in the fridge before use.)

Potato De-Bagger

  • 1/4 potato

Slice the potato in 5-to-10 very thin slices that can easily be moulded to the skin, rather than a couple of thick slices (which is the traditional advice).  I’ve found the thin slices are much more effective because they’re in contact with the skin. Simply spritz the eye area with plain water and arrange the potato around the eyes; leave in place for 10-15 minutes – and see that puffiness disappear, thanks to the potato’s decongesting action.

TIP: If eyes are puffy in the morning, take a leaf out of supermodel Linda Evangelista’s book and reach for a cube of ice. Wrap it in Clingfilm and use it to ‘massage away’ eye bags, working in an outward direction. The cold will reduce the swelling.

Eyebright Eye Brightener

  • 10g (1/2  oz) dried eyebright flowers
  • 225ml. water

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) is the eye-friendly herb; it grows in natural grassland. You might be able to introduce seeds of this dainty, blueish-white flower into a wild, grassy corner of the garden, if you don’t pamper it too much – but if not, the dried herb just as effective.

Eyebright’s power was first recorded in the 14th century, when it was deemed useful for ‘all evils of the eye’. It’s rich in the mineral zinc, which helps repair skin tissues – probably explaining why it’s good at caring for the fragile skin around the eyes. Eyebright’s also a good skin disinfectant. (But be super-aware that natural cosmetics – made without synthetic preservatives – can become contaminated; immediately ditch any eye preparation that you make using eyebright if it starts to smell different or if you get any kind of eye infection – and always ensure your hands are clean when you use any kind of home-made eye treat. Never use a homemade infusion of eyebright directly in the eyes; it may not be sufficiently sterile.)

So: the how-to. Put the flowers in the bottom of a saucepan and add the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Cool and strain, then pour into a sterile jar. Store the eyebright infusion in the fridge, where it will keep for three or four days. (Don’t keep it longer than that.) When your eyes feel tired, soak a cotton pad in the mixture, squeeze to remove almost all the liquid and place the damp pad on the eyelids for 5-to-10 minutes.

Herbal Eye Pillows

  • 25cm/ 1/yard of silky or natural fabric (cotton or linen)
  • 150g (5 oz) dried lavender flowers
  • 6 drops lavender essential oil (optional)

Cut two rectangles of fabric, around 22 cm. by 13 cm. With right sides together stitch a 11/4cm/ 1/2inch seam around the two long sides and one end of the pillow, either by hand or using a sewing machine. Turn the right side out. Put the flaxseed and the lavender flowers in a bowl, add the lavender essential oil, drop-by-drop, swirl to mix – and (using using a funnel) pour the mixture into the bag. With a hand stitch, neatly sew the remaining side closed.

These eye bags are wonderfully relaxing – helpful for getting to sleep, during an at-home spa treatment or any time you need to relax;  the weight of the grains seems to quiet the eyes – and in turn, the mind.  These make wonderful gifts, too. Your herb pillow should last for about a year;  when the next lavender harvest is in, renew it. The herbal eye pillows page can be made of almost any natural material, but silk is particularly soothing and gentle on the skin.

Why We All Need A Telescope And A Microscope

pink pencils

We all need heroes in this world, and one of mine – notwithstanding the fact that she went to jail for insider trading – is Martha Stewart, creator of a homewares and mega-media empire in the States. It’s not because of her gorgeous floral arrangements, or her gardening tips, or the drool-worthy recipes in Martha Stewart Living, her glossy lifestyle magazine. (Sad but true: being a great believer in the power of home-making – as a solace not just for self, but for the family and much-loved friends who gravitate to ours – I still have every issue ever published, which means over 20 years’ worth!)

I like the way Martha’s made a business out of style, and taste, and reassured me that just because I may want to decompress from a week of 18 hour days by organising my linen closet or my gift-wrapping supplies, that’s OK; it doesn’t mean I’m not intelligent, and it doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. It means I just like things to be nice, too.

But what I really admire Martha for is an excellent book that she wrote called The Martha Rules. It’s a brilliant how-to book for women, in particular, setting out on an entrepreneurial journey – so good, in fact, that I’ve gifted it to lots of young women embarking on start-ups. But the lesson I really took away from it is the importance of having two tools: a microscope and a telescope. Martha was referring to business – and how important it is to step back from working on the detail, to look at the bigger picture and how your business sits in the wider landscape. But what I took away from that book – and what I try to apply to my life, not just my ventures – is the telescope lesson.

Today, all of us spend our lives fixated on tiny screens, on problem-solving, on figuring out a way to deal with one crisis after another, whether it’s a sick kid who unexpectedly throws a spanner in the works (or rather the working week), a broken dishwasher (my current domestic status update), a lost bank card (er, actually also my current status update), whatever. Entire days – no weeks! – can disappear, simply dealing with everyday life, without us ever taking a moment to stand back and look at that bigger picture.

And it’s just so, so vital to do that – because it’s only by looking at things from afar that we realise a) what’s really important in life, and b) what needs changing. Fact: life is short. Way too short to spend it mindlessly dealing with trivia (trust me, nobody’s going to go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter), or lurching from one crisis to another, or generally watching the days slip between our fingers. And this isn’t just about stopping to smell the roses (or right now, the lily of the valley which are flourishing near my back gate and I’m spending too little time up-close-and-personal with). How often have you read about someone with a life-threatening illness talk about how it was such a wake-up call, and it made them realise what really mattered (whether that was spending time with family or a partner, or quitting a job they didn’t enjoy, or maybe even ticking that climb up Kilimanjaro off the bucket list)? Answer: all too often, because for many of us it’s only when something dramatic happens that we get to look down that telescope.

So: how to do that more often? Well, one way is meditating. I’ve written about that before – and personally, I now swear by an app called Calm (check it out at calm.com). For ‘big picture’ stuff, perhaps think about taking an actual course in meditation – not just because it’s a great way to learn to focus, but because there’s something about signing up to learn anything that can make us think: ‘Shouldn’t I be finding time to do more of this, in my life…?’ Which can perhaps nudge us to do more new things, rather than just more of the same.

Holidays are great for ‘big picture’ stuff, too. (As in, perhaps: ‘Do I really want to be doing this stressful/unenjoyable/dull job that I am going back to next week/in a fortnight – or should I be thinking about looking for other challenges and new opportunities?’) For me, though, it’s daily walking that helps me with the big picture stuff. Almost as if I’ve got an invisible telescope packed in my pocket, alongside my phone and house keys.

Recently, I had a big challenge with one of my ventures. A tricky conundrum that nobody could seem to solve – not business-threatening, but something that needed a new approach so we could move forward when we’d been going round in circles. One morning, partly because it was just gloriously sunny, I absented myself from the office and my team and took myself off for a long, blustery, blue-skied seaside walk. A few miles. Instead of whiling away my morning answering what always feels like a deluge of e-mails, I chewed on my metaphoric pencil, as I put one foot in front of the other – and hey, presto: after a mile or so, I had the required brainwave. Ta-dah! I took the solution back to the team, we actioned it – and could move forward again. But I absolutely, 100% know that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been at my desk, sweating the small stuff and dealing with detail.

So I invite you: make this the month you invest in yourself – and your life – by trying to spend time looking at things from afar. After all, if Galileo could discover the moons of Jupiter (and more) by staring down his telescope, what heavenly future can you make for yourself, just by spending a little time standing back from the world…?

PS. In her intro to The Martha Rules, my hero Martha does acknowledge the jail term and the lessons it taught her – so it’s not like she’s brushing that under the carpet with some posh broom! She’s clearly not proud of what happened. But I also admire that she didn’t let a huge, image-damaging incident hold her back. Which might just be fodder for a future editorial, I suspect…