Beauty Bible

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Chalk board graph with icons on an ascending rightward stepped graph

I was never one of those kids who was afraid of the dark. I loved the cloak of invisibility that it gave me. And while there is nothing I love more than a bright, sunny day, I have become pretty obsessed with darkness over the years – not in an ominous way (as in ‘going over to the dark side’), but in terms of the important role it plays in my wellness.

You really ought to stay in a hotel room with me, sometime, to fully understand my obsession with darkness. I travel with a roll of black gaffer tape, the better to ensure a good night’s sleep undisturbed by the cockpit’s-worth of blinking lights that many modern hotel rooms feature. My first task, on checking in (even before switching on the kettle and attacking the free shortbread), is to eliminate as many of those lights as possible with two neatly-snipped squares of gaffer tape. Message lights on phones. TV control lights. Aircon on/off lights. Charging electrical gadgets. And of course, the light ‘leaking’ through the edges of the curtains.

What I’ve discovered is that gaffer tape can also be lightly stuck to pretty much any wallpaper (well, I mightn’t try it on a gold hand-painted mural) without damaging it. So yes, I am that weird (maybe certifiable) creature who gaffer-tapes the edges of the curtains to the hotel room walls – the most extreme example of which was in a ‘presidential suite’ a hotel once upgraded me to when they’d lost my booking. Last done up in the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency, is my guess, it featured ‘shortie’ curtains that ran along the entire 10-metre window which I then taped every inch to the wall. Exactly what kind of bondage game housekeeping thought I’d been up to when the found the tape I’d peeled off in the morning and put it in the bin, I’ve no idea – but I did enjoy a really good night’s sleep. (Why don’t I just wear a sleep mask? Because – along with earplugs – I find them a bit claustrophobic. Fine on an aeroplane when there’s no alternative, but otherwise, a no-no for me.)

By now, you may well think I’m completely tonto. But in reality, light has a profound effect on sleep. I realise I’m an extreme example in terms of how even a small level of light affects me deeply, but it’s been scientifically observed that insufficient darkness throughout the night can lead to frequent, long periods of wakefulness. Of course, we’re increasingly aware of the impact of the blue light from our phones on sleep; I’ve written before about the fact that if I look at my phone (never mind computer) after about 8.30 pm, it’s the equivalent of drinking an espresso in terms of the effect on my slumber. But experts now agree that bedrooms should be as dark as possible – which includes (as we do at home) having blackout linings to curtains, and ensuring window coverings are fitted to avoid slivers of street light or early morning light from seeping in. (Ah, so that’s why the pelmet was invented…!)

According to Cheng Chi Lee, who studies circadian rhythms at University of Texas Medical School, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests we should seek out darkness for its surprising effects on health and behaviour. There’s one particularly fascinating study in which tamoxifen was used on cancer cells in mice. One control group was kept kept in cycles of 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of complete darkness, while another the dark stage of the experiment was replaced with roughly the amount of light that might sneak under a hospital door. Even in such low levels, the cancer cells became resistant to the drug. And although this medical research was carried out on mice (and no, I’m not thrilled about that either), the scientists from Tulane University in New Orleans believe it could have implications for how cancer patients receive their treatment.

It’s well known that interfering with workers’ body clocks, meanwhile, can seriously impact on health. My hunch is that the winking lights in bedrooms and sleep environments will eventually be revealed to be more damaging than we currently understand. (But if you must have a clock with the time on? Make sure it has red digits, rather than blue or green; it’s been found to have the least impact on sleep.)

We were never built to live in such light environments as we enjoy now. For millions of years, people went to bed when it got dark and woke when it was light. Even now, when we’re lucky enough to find ourselves in nature, somewhere truly dark – and I support the Dark Skies movement, a campaign to eliminate light pollution – we feel connected to the universe in a way that feels truly primitive and (for me, at least) very, very grounding.

So while I’m eternally grateful to Thomas Edison for the invention of the light bulb – just miraculous, eh?! –it doesn’t surprise me at all to find that these unnatural, albeit low levels of night-time light may have impact on our wellbeing. If asked to make a list of our basic survival needs, food and water of course come top. Warmth, too. But I certainly know that darkness is essential for my quality of sleep, and my overall equilibrium. So if the Gaffer Tape Marketing Board is looking for a new ‘face’, I’m your woman.

Night, everyone. And lights out!

New Year’s Habits

a lit red candle surrounded by darkness

Have you ever, ever kept a New Year’s resolution beyond – oh, about 3rd January? Maybe 1st February, if you’re really pushing it? That’s because New Year’s resolutions are often completely unrealistic goals. Going to drop three dress sizes. Going to walk five miles a day. Going to give up chocolate completely. (Were we MAD???) 

 

But what actually works, we find, is to focus instead on getting into good habits. And when you sell it to yourself like that, there’s an implicit sense of forgiving. Fall off the wagon for a day, or eat a Twix, or forget to drink those two litres of water, and it doesn’t feel catastrophic at all. You can just gently nudge yourself to do better tomorrow, rather than feeling like you’ve blown it.

 

Good habits don’t happen overnight, of course. 21 days is often quoted as the minimum, but often it’s longer than that. The average is actually two months – 66 days, to be exact (according to the most famous study into the subject, by University College London health psychology researcher Philippa Lally). But don’t let that put you off. And don’t aim ridiculously high; honestly, it’s the small changes that can make the biggest difference, because they’re achievable. 

 

So, here are our top recommendations for little habit shifts that could pretty much change your life – and your wellbeing levels – by the time 2020 rolls around…

 

Eat every few hours. (Don’t wait till you’re ready to gnaw your arm off.) It’s such a common misconception that skipping meals helps you lose weight. In fact, that’s going to impact on your blood sugar levels, making you ravenously hungry – often turning to caffeine or a sugar hit, as an antidote, keeping you on that rollercoaster. Sometimes, we might feel we need to skip meals because we’re working to a deadline, or because we’ve got a big dinner coming up – but far better to snack healthily. Keep a power bar (not one of the sugary ones), a banana, some almonds or other nuts in your work bag, so that you’re never without something healthy to nibble on. 

 

Make enough dinner to take leftovers to work. It’s so easy to grab a sandwich (always unappetisingly chilled) for lunch, when we really could do better than that. We’re not sure about the concept of meal-prepping on the weekend for the week ahead that is sometimes suggested – we’d rather spend our weekends out there in the fresh air, yomping the hills or planting bulbs, thanks, but what is perfectly realistic is to cook a little more supper and bring the extra to work next day. (Team Beauty Bible does this and Jo’s fridge is home to many a healthy Tupperware-d leftover waiting to be re-heated for lunch!) 

 

Put your workouts in your diary. Think of them as an appointment with your healthier self. We are great believers in the power of self-care. It’s not selfish; whenever we have to take care of anyone else, we need to take care of ourselves, first. (The analogy is that in-flight message which tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself, before helping anyone else.) It can feel hard to squeeze in a workout, or a walk. But if that’s a fixed point in your diary, it’s easier to plan around it. (We generally find that our energy levels are boosted by a power-walk or a yoga class, and that work goes much more smoothly afterwards when we’re back at our desks. So it’s a win-win.)

 

Buy yourself a big water bottle, and keep it on your desk.It’s now possible to get very generously-proportioned water bottles to keep water cool and encourage day-long sipping. You probably wouldn’t want to carry this size around with you (we like the Chilly’s 750ml bottle, BTW), but get through one in the morning and one in the afternoon and you’re two-thirds of the way there with your daily water goals. And whenever you feel stressed, take a glug of water. It’s amazing how it cools the brain as well as the body.

 

Set a limit on social media. We find the new ScreenTime social media limiting app pretty scary, actually, in terms of how quickly we can ratchet up half an hour of scrolling through Instagram pics or watching daft Facebook videos. (We find it much easier to avoid Twitter. Fact: nobody is ever, ever going to go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter.) But for 2019, we’re really, really going to try to stick to our self-imposed limit – and maybe even reduce it over time. It’s way, way too easy to get lost in social media – so what we really find helps is having a book or a Kindle or a glossy magazine with us at all times, so there’s no risk of mindless scrolling because there’s nothing else to do. If it’s hard, switch your phone off. You really have to think twice about how important seeing someone’s latest ‘selfie’ is, before switching it on again just to look at that.

 

Above all, be kind to yourself. See above – but you should never, ever feel guilty about carving out time in a busy life just for you. Maybe for a massage. Or a class of some kind. Or even for a nap. We live in incredibly stressful, uncertain times and it’s only by charging up our batteries that we can be expected to cope – so never feel bad about doing the things that help you do just that. And above all, try really hard not to beat yourself up if habits do sometimes slip. Don’t throw your hands up and go, ‘Well, that’s that, then. I’ve failed.’ Just get back on the horse (as Sarah would definitely say), and re-establish your goal. No biggie. 

 

And have a wonderful, healthy 2019, won’t you?

The Beauty Bible’s Gift Edit

top down of a white present wrappe din gold ribbon on pink background

We do not want ornaments. We do not have room on our bedside tables for any more books (lovely as they are). We definitely don’t want ‘joke’ presents which sit around in a bag in the hall awaiting a trip to a nearby town, to drop them at a charity shop. (Lest the giver finds their singing bass –and yes, we got those – in a nearby Oxfam.) We’ve reached the point where what we really, really want (to quote the Spice Girls) is something that makes us feel pampered, or perks up our faces, or shifts our mood. And working on the basis that buying friends and family the things you rate so much you’d be thrilled to receive them yourself is a darned good place to start your shopping, here’s what we’re asking Santa for, for Christmas 2018 – from stocking fillers to splurges.

Margaret Dabbs Fabulous Cracker, £12. It’s a cracker! No, it really is – but it’s our kind of cracker, which pulls to reveal a 15 ml of her Nourishing Nail & Cuticle Serum, a cult favourite sized to slip perfectly in the handbag for on-the-go massaging into the nail area. (We like to do this whenever someone’s keeping us waiting. Much better for your nails and cuticles than scrolling through Instagram.)

Temple Spa Breath of Life Aromatherapy Inhalation Essence, £12. We’d rather find this in the toe of a stocking than a satsuma (and that’s saying something). A head-clearing ‘whoosh’!, it’s perfect for anyone who finds the festive season a bit stressful but is also very protective against winter bugs, via its uplifting but also antibacterial/antiviral essential oil blend of eucalyptus, menthol and tea tree.

Soapsmith Bloomsbury Bath Soak, £14 for 350ml. This water-softening soak is a rose bouquet garlanded by honeysuckle, primrose and peony (romantically designed to recreate the smell of flowerbeds in Bloomsbury Square gardens), infusing the water with a revitalising blend of Dead Sea salts, Epsom salts and cocoa butter. (Give it to a busy mum friend with a voucher for babysitting her kids while she takes a long, indulgent bath.)

This Works Sleep Power Nap Spray – Travel Duo, £15. The latest sleep-beckoning innovation from This Works is an aromatherapy-powered spritz to help you optimise even the most fleeting opportunities to snooze, with a clinically-proven blend of vetiver, lavender and chamomile. Can you hear us snoring from there?

Neom Organics Happiness Home Mist, £18. We all want our homes to be filled with the scent of happiness during the festive season – and this just is a ‘happy’ smell, with its positive, uplifting blend of white neroli, lemon and mimosa. (Sure beats Febreze.)

Biobelle My Diary Of Beauty Secrets Facial Mask Kit, £24. Oh, we love a face mask – that invitation to ‘relax for 15 minutes’ while it gets to work. (Oh, alright then!) We also love the design of this kit, like a secret diary that flips open to reveal six sheet masks for different skincare actions: soothing and hydrating, brightening, glow-boosting, age-prevention, firming, moisturising and more. That’s like giving someone six excuses to take time out and pamper themselves.

Hayo’u Beauty Restorer Lite, £35. We’re massive fans of facial massage, and these polished jade stones – from Chinese medical practitioner Katie Brindle – are just miraculous for draining lymph, eliminating puffiness, boosting glow and generally banishing tension in a clenched jaw at the end of a stressful day.

Aromatherapy Associates Miniature Bath & Shower Oil Collection, £40. This has probably appeared in every single gift guide we’ve ever collated – and it probably always will. There is literally nothing out there to rival the mood-shifting power of Aromatherapy Associates oils, which fill the entire house with fragrance via a single capful. (Too many of them to count have won Beauty Bible Awards, over the years.) Here’s the entire line-up, in 3 ml miniature form, all dressed up for Christmas this year with a stunning Maria Grachvogel print.

Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Refine & Glow Miracle Collection, £42. Aurelia’s products have done so well with Beauty Bible testers – again, pretty much everything in this generously-proportioned print bag has scooped one of our awards over the years: Miracle Cleanser (30 ml), Refine & Polish Miracle Balm (15 ml), a little 2ml size of the gloriously neroli-scented Cell Repair Night Oil, with a bamboo muslin cloth for every day (or more probably night) of the week.

And a stocking filler-y PS: Beauty Bible Lip Balm. Small blowing of own (angelic) trumpet here: our only ever beauty product, chunky and luscious and gloriously rich in shea butter, vitamin and E and aloe vera. We launched it quite simply because it’s the best balm Team Beauty Bible has ever, ever tried ourselves – and everyone whose stocking we tuck it into agrees. And let’s face it: when cold, Christmassy winds blow (actually infinitely preferable to grey, warm gloom), can you ever have too many lip balms?

Have a great one, with love from Jo, Sarah (and our elves).

The Joy Of Lists

paper aeroplanes with single pink

If you stand still for long enough around here, someone will put you on a Google spreadsheet. Well, I exaggerate – but only slightly. Because without my list-making apps and online spreadsheets – not to mention a fair amount of list-assisting stationery – I think my life would probably fall apart. Lists, I’m fairly sure, are the secret of true happiness.

This is, of course, the ultimate time of year for lists. Does anyone on earth go Christmas shopping without one? (With the exception of my beloved, anyway?) There is something incredibly comforting about the tick, tick, ticking of people on your Christmas present list – every tick taking you closer to what we always hope will be a wonderful day with family or friends, sometimes at what feels like breakneck speed but would be even scarier if our list wasn’t basically whispering, silently: ‘Don’t worry. You’ve got it all under control here.’

I absolutely believe that lists are good for mental health. In this too-much-to-do-in-too-little-time-world, we constantly run the risk of forgetting stuff – and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t stress out. We’re juggling work, friends, family and countless other To Dos. The counterpoint to an overcrowded mind, a list ensures you don’t forget something. I think it works two ways. First off, when you write it down, you can sort of relax a bit. But also, for me, the very gesture of writing it down somehow fixes whatever it is I need to buy/do/reply to/ask someone else to do in my brain so that I’m more likely to remember that ‘To Do’ spontaneously without even needing to refer to aforementioned list. (Though I do, of course.) The key is not to fall into the trap of believing that by writing someone on a list, it’s actually been DONE – and I do know people who are guilty of that. Lists must be referred to, ticked off, referenced. Preferably several times a day.

It’s slightly against the conventional wisdom but I always have several lists going on at the same time. First off, there’s the lives-up-to-its name app Wunderlist (which I wrote about here, in another editorial, if you want to explore it in depth). I know so many people who’ve downloaded this app now that I really ought to be on a hefty commission from them. (Are you reading this, Wunderlist???) But nobody I know has regretted it or found it anything but invaluable.

Secondly, I have my 5 Days A Week planner, which goes everywhere with me and tethers me to the work I have to do each day. As a stationery junkie, I get these from a very wonderful company called Kikki K. – whose graphics are so, so appealing. I recently met Kikki K.’s founder Kristina Karlsson, instantly lapsing embarrassingly into fangirl-mode. Honestly, I don’t think I’d have been more excited to meet one of my musical heroes – perhaps Joni Mitchell or Madonna or Carly Simon (come to think of it I did once meet Carly Simon and it was just a shade disappointing, I have to report.)

Every Friday night, the last thing I do before I leave the office is to fill in the bare bones of the following week’s To Do list, with work actions for each day. These are fleshed out (and added to) as the week progresses, and it’s fair to say that a number of arrows appear on the page, moving things from Monday to Wednesday or even bouncing them into next week. But it means that every morning, when I sit down at my desk (before I do my ten minute Calm app meditation), I know about all the important things I have to prioritise that day. There are stars. There are asterisks. There’s underlining. But I honestly feel it’s like the framework to my week. Without the list, I am sunk; on the rare occasions I leave for a few days on the road for work without taking it with me, I have to get someone to photograph it and send it to me – because there’s bound to be something I’d otherwise forget, and I truly hate that feeling. (Strong word. Entirely accurate, however.) And if it’s a really, really, really busy week, I’ll ALSO use a daily planner, where I can make even more notes in the margins!

According to David Allen, a time management expert whose book on list-making – Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity I have on my bedside table (yes, I am THAT sad), it’s not enough to scrawl ‘Mum’ or ‘Sainsburys’ on a Post-It note. He prescribes detail. Do you have to write an e-mail, run an errand, make a call – and what’s the purpose? Apparently, if the list isn’t clear, your tasks don’t get done. Which is why when I sometimes write a To Do in ink on my hand – like some kind of schoolgirl throwback – I can almost never remember it. I’m still staring at the ghost lettering ‘JS’ on my left hand, which I wrote yesterday and haven’t managed to remove despite several hand-washings, and can’t for the life of me remember what it means.

Of course I mentioned Google spreadsheets at the beginning of this editorial – only partly in jest. Because without them, Sarah and I, and Amy (our calm and patient Beauty Bible right-hand), and Jessie (who co-ordinates all our Beauty Bible testers and their scores/feedback) would be completely sunk. Ditto, me and my team at The Perfume Society. Different team, different Google.docs. But I am going to share a little tip that we’ve all found useful for fleshing out a Google.doc, which is to use a traffic-light colour system. Any ‘To Do’ action starts off in red. Then when the relevant e-mail’s been sent, or the call’s been made, it is turned to amber via the spreadsheet’s drop-down menu. When the action is satisfactorily concluded, it doesn’t get ticked off but is instead turned green. At a glance, everyone can look at a spreadsheet and see what still needs to be done.

Is my love of lists excessive control freakery? Am I wrong to map out my life to the enth degree, eliminating any possibility for spontaneity? I don’t think so. I like to be super-organised, sure. But personally, in what often feels like a very uncertain and scary world, lists somehow also make me feel a bit safer – even if it is a complete illusion. And if Google.docs are the equivalent of my comfort blanket, they’re probably more acceptable in an office environment than hiding in the corner with a threadbare soft toy.

Beneath The Layers: Winter Body Care

beauty-bible-feet

You know that saying, ‘Out of sight, out of mind?’ Well, that’s how an awful lot of women of our acquaintance regard the skin under their clothing, during the cold months. We pile on the vests, socks, gilets, gloves, scarves, tights – often all at once, resembling some kind of Michelin woman, when the weather’s bad enough. And unless we heat our houses to tropical levels (which at Beauty Bible we definitely don’t), there’s definitely no temptation to dance around naked, or even near-naked, at home.

All of which can be an excuse for not attending to the skin on our bodies. (At least until it’s time to start thinking about what it might actually feel like to be warm again, and want to peel off some layers – which usually happens around April, in our experience.) It’s easy to get lazy because that body skin is basically rarely on show except in the privacy of a steamy bathroom – because if you’re anything like us, you’re nipping into your flannelette PJs pronto, the minute you take your day clothes off.

Actually, those clothes themselves pose quite some challenges for body skin: fabric physically ‘wicks’ moisture from the body’s surface, drying it out. Thus the bottom line is that if you’re not lavishing lots of TLC from top-to-toe, you’re going to end up with skin that is dull, dry and flat-looking – and feels like nothing so much as sandpaper.

Aside from wanting skin that just plain feels nice to the touch – and isn’t tight or itchy – there’s another really good reason for continuing to give your body plenty of TLC, during the upcoming months. Well-moisturised cells allow for healthy ‘cellular communication’ – so your skin doesn’t just appear younger, when moisture levels are kept topped up; it actually behaves like younger skin, better able to renew itself. Our advice, then, is to turn on the heated towel rail, warm up the bathroom – and take a few minutes to nourish from neck-to-toe after showering or bathing each time, with the following favourite ‘finds’ of ours. They should transform caring for your body, year-round, from a beauty chore into a positive pleasure.

Start by using an oil scrub on knees, elbows, feet and shins, each time you bathe. The great thing about oil-based scrubs is that they literally leave a ‘slick’ of oil on the skin’s surface. (Often, a gorgeously fragrant one.) Work gently into areas that are particularly prone to roughness, in circular movements. Salt or sugar scrubs will dissolve in the water, leaving a fine layer on the surface that clings to skin as you get out of the water; we still like to moisturise afterwards, but this thin veil on the skin is a great ‘base coat’ for a rich cream. Our favourites include NEOM Organics Real Luxury Body Scrub, £34, with its divine scent of jasmine, lavender and rosewood; upliftingly-fragranced Temple Spa Sugar Buff, £23; and Green People Sugar Scrub, which nourishes with a blend of shea butter, rosehip, pomegranate and coconut oils.

If you skin is really bumpy and ‘chicken skin’-like, meanwhile, it may be Keratosis Pilaris (KP). Shabir writes very well about this here, – it’s a problem which affects nearly 40% of the population – but our go-to topical product for this is always Ameliorate Transforming Body Lotion, £22.50, a great treatment for rough, bumpy skin, featuring a combination of Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and a special hydration complex. Impressive stuff.

The cold weather watchword, pretty much regardless of skin type, is:  ‘more’. More moisturising, more often. We actually like to double-moisturise, applying first a body lotion, then maybe an oil or a richer butter to ‘lock in’ that moisture. Our faves include the incredible Aromatherapy Associates Nourishing Enrich Body Butter (this jasmine-scented mega-treat seems expensive at £55 for 200ml, but we suggest you put it top of your ‘Dear Santa’ list right now); Soapsmith Bloomsbury Body Butter Melt, £12, and the super-affordable Jason Nourishing Cocoa Butter Cream, £6.99.

If you prefer an oil, or want to add another layer of skin TLC over your body butter, we’re fond of Weleda Pomegranate Regenerating Body Oil, £24.95 (to Jo, it smells a little like Guerlain Shalimar!); Ilapothecary Feminine Happy Oil, £40, which has a mood-balancing blend of essential oils including heavenly rose – and again, there’s a bargain option in the form of good old Jason Vitamin E Oil 5000iu, £6.99.

Pay special attention to elbows, heels, cuticles. These can get actively scaly and flaky during winter. DO NOT PICK! That’s rule number one. Secondly, after you’ve scrubbed (see above), apply an ointment-style balm and work in circular movements to get under every raised cell. If you keep this on your bedside table, it will remind you to do this every night. Lanolips 101 Ointment Multi-purpose Superbalm Lips + Hands + All Over, £10.99, is terrific for the task, while we’re also big fans of Pommade Divine, £14, with its wonderfully camphoraceous scent.

Be nice to your feet. You have pedicures in summer – why not winter? We almost make ourselves yawn afresh by repeating the mantra (yet again) that happy feet make a happy woman, but we believe in having year-round medical pedicures (from the wonderful Margaret Dabbs), to remove hard skin build-up and check in with foot health generally. In summer, we book in once a month – but once every six weeks minimum in autumn, winter and early spring, too. Because feet are closeted in lots of layers, inside shoes and boots, they can get sweaty – leading to problems of athlete’s foot. There will also be times – party nights, yoga classes – when your feet will emerge from those opaques and go on show. And how much nicer to be able to look at glamorously painted toenails and well-tended cuticles than feel embarrassed about getting your hooves out?

So: stay warm, stay snuggly – but underneath those cosy layers, be sure to stay smooth and soft, too!

On Not Giving A Damn What People Think

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I grew up with a grandmother who cared a lot about what people thought of her. She was a wonderful woman – incredibly generous, pillar of the various communities where she lived, from India to Malaya to New York and finally, the Cotswolds. But in all the years I knew her, I don’t think she ever truly relaxed – to the point I’m not sure I actually did know the ‘real’ her. Read More…