Beauty Tips

Jo’s Favourite UK Spa’s

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If I wanted to, I could probably swan from one spa to another, doing ‘research’ as a beauty editor. Irony is, much as I’d love to do that, I have precious little time for treatments of any kind (even though my shoulders need unkinking and my jaw de-stressing as much as the next person). So it really matters to me that a spa visit has to be exceptional – because otherwise, I can think of a gazillion things I’d rather be doing with my time. And indeed, I’ve been known to leap off the couch mid-way through an ineffectual massage or facial, make my apologies, and skidaddle. Life’s too short to lie with my face in a be-towelled couch-hole, festering at the therapist’s not-much-more-than-a-tickle effleurage.

At the following destinations, however, I’ve experienced the not-so-minor-miracle (for me) of truly switching off. They’re all places I’d be happy to return to – and for me, there’s no greater accolade.

Gaia Spa at Boringdon Hall (Devon). Gaia Spa opened last summer and is as modern as it gets – but at the same time, it’s a real nod to nature. I’d call the whole vibe ‘eco-glam’ – not a wind chime in sight. Instead, gorgeous fabrics, stunning artworks and sculpture, properly spa-like soothing sounds – and who isn’t going to fall in love with a spa that serves éclairs in its Spatisserie…? Everything is beautiful – not least the treatments themselves. Alongside ESPA treatments but also an entire programme of massages, facials etc. using Gaia Spa‘s own range of very impressive products. I enjoyed – truly enjoyed – the Gaia Spa Holistic Spa Ritual, which blends Balinese and Lomi Lomi techniques (long, smooth movements to release tension, as deep or as light as suits you). The body is exfoliated, followed by a not-too-messy application of re-mineralising Gaia mud, showered off before a choice of Gaia Spa oil blends – I went for Uplifting – is massaged into skin for what feels, blissfully, like ages. (This is a two-hour ritual.) There’s a facial as a finale but to be honest, I can’t remember a thing about that because by now I was away with the fairies who no doubt occupy nearby Dartmoor. There are lots of facilities and restful areas to take advantage of after a treatment – the salt crystal room, chill-out area around the pool (you can swim outside or in), etc. I took the cake option.
Gaia Spa at Boringdon Hall/01752-344455 gaiaboringdon.co.uk

Bodysgallen Hall (Wales). This isn’t on the way to anywhere – unless you’re touring Snowdonia or en route Holyhead for the ferry to Ireland. But it’s worth a pilgrimage. The multi-award-winning Spa itself is tucked away a couple of hundred yards’ walk from the historic National Trust hotel, in a low-built stone conversion. A crackling log fire flanked by inviting chairs greeted me on a winter’s day – and the welcome is equally warm. The spa changing room leads onto a long indoor heated swimming pool, where it’s also possible to lounge between treatments, though I didn’t have time to do much more than slip on a robe and head for a massage, alas. Darphin is the main brand featured on the treatment menu (along with Jessica manicures/pedicures, XEN-Tan and CACI if your face is in need of a bit of gravity-defiance). I often find spa rituals over-fussy when what we really want is someone’s fingers and thumbs working on ‘computer knots’, so I opted for a Deep Rebalancing Massage (which is a very reasonable £60). Mine was a true, gifted therapist rather than a beautician who’s turning her hand to occasional massages (which is the case in too many spas to mention). The hour in the treatment room, with its very comfortable bed, went all-too-quickly.
Bodysgallen Hall, The Royal Welsh Way, Llandudno, North Wales, LL30 1RS/01492-584466 bodysgallen.com

Uniquely Organic EcoSpa (Brighton). Organic spas are few and far between, but even if you’re not a card-carrying member of the Green party, this Hove-based spa is a wonderful place to chill. They stock only organic ranges: Balm Balm, Pinks Boutique and Living Nature feature. Furniture is Fairtrade, and eco-paints have been used in the decor. The staff are not only extremely competent, technically, but they really do tune into the treatment, rather than just going through the motions; founder Kirsty Taylor graduated with a BSc in cosmetic science but went down the natural beauty route after writing her final dissertation on organic cosmetics, and finding her passion in life. The particular treatment that I wallowed in was the fab Pinks Boutique Eco-Chic Facial, £60 for one hour, which incorporates this all-organic range’s cleanser, gentle exfoliator and and facial oil in a really hands-on treatment that totally zaps facial tension, but also gets right into those knotty bits in the shoulders. This is truly guilt-free pampering, and writing this has reminded me to check out the menu again, head to Brighton – just an hour along the coast from my house – and check in for the Muladara (Root Chakra) Ayurvedic treatment, designed to promote a sense of stillness, which I’d put on my spa wishlist.
Uniquely Organic EcoSpa, 40 Church Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 2FN/01273-726973 uoecospa.com

Aromatherapy Associates Boutique & Treatment Rooms. I’ve said it before – and I’ll almost certainly say it again. (And again.) When it comes to mood-shifting, no oils have the power of Aromatherapy Associates to lift me up or waft me off to the land of Nod. (Fact: my No. 1 desert island must-have is Deep Relax Bath & Shower Oil.) Their treatments, of course, are widely available – but my favourite AA ‘branch’ is the flagship store and treatment destination in Knightsbridge. Upstairs, you’ll find the whole range of oils, skincare and bodycare, beautifully showcased. You can experience mini-treatments, or learn by smelling the essential oils in their ‘raw’ form. But downstairs, heaven truly beckons: boutique-hotel-style treatment rooms where you can enjoy facials or body treatments. My favourite is quite simple: a 90-minute City Stress Buster, which does just what it says on the tin (or rather, glass bottle), promising help with disturbed sleep and exhaustion. Therapists are world-class. And at this stage in my life, I’d rather pay a little extra and be assured of that.
Aromatherapy Associates Boutique & Treatment Rooms, 5 Montpelier Street, London SW7 1EZ/020-7838 1117

Margaret Dabbs Sole Spa at SpaceNK. This is one treatment that I do carve time out of my diary for once every four weeks or so, to have hooves shaved, nails buffed, calves massaged – and the finishing touch: a glossy, longlasting polish. (Although that’s booked separately: the podiatrists don’t varnish.) And the more comfy my feet are, the further I walk. Therefore: a medi-pedi isn’t an indulgence, it’s a health necessity. There’s a lovely new setting in which to enjoy these treatments – and the full range of Margaret Dabbs podiatry services, which also include lasering, orthotics and all the really serious foot stuff, tucked away at the back of the vast SpaceNK Apothecary on Westbourne Grove. All the podiatrists are fantastic at what they do – and treatment products came from Margaret’s fab, Beauty Bible Award-winning range which you can of course find on VH. I honestly can’t recommend too highly that if medical pedicures aren’t on your maintenance list, you experience one for yourself. I’d much rather spend money on my actual feet than on endless pairs of new shoes. I’ve said it before, we will definitely say it again: happy feet make a happy woman – which makes all of Margaret Dabbs‘s salons is positive temples to joy.
Margaret Dabbs Notting Hill 127-131 Westbourne Grove, W2 4UP/020-7486 0620 to book (NB this covers all the spas, so be sure to specify New Cavendish Street, Liberty or Westbourne Grove)

 

Teenage Skin

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I sometimes think mothers worry as much about teenage skin as girls do themselves. Will she develop bad beauty habits, will falling into bed with her make-up on damage her complexion – and above all, what to do about those spots…? No question: spots and breakouts can seriously zap confidence and self-esteem – I have many a young woman in my ‘circle’ who have been badly affected, not wanting to meet with friends, rock up for family get-togethers or take ‘selfies’ – and generally feeling very isolated despite this being an incredibly common problem. Read More…

Something In The Air

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There are green shoots out there. The light’s shifted, suddenly. And I don’t know about you, but at this time of year I begin – just begin – to think about changing the fragrance I wear.

Now, perfume, as many of you know, is hugely important to me. Life-enriching, For most of us, our sense of smell is akin to a seven-stone weakling; we drift through our days, barely using what Helen Keller referred to as ‘the fallen angel of our senses’, when there’s much, much more we can get out of our sense of smell. It was for that reason that almost three years ago, my friend and colleague Lorna McKay and I set up The Perfume Society (perfumesociety.org): an actual organisation whose mission is to help people improve their sense of smell via the medium of perfume. Read More…

And Just B-R-E-A-T-H-E

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I haven’t always breathed brilliantly. My overriding childhood memory is of a Wright’s Coal Tar Burner flickering in the corner of my bedroom, in an effort to ‘open up my passages’ (as my mother rather unglamorously put it). Heaven knows what the coal tar did to my lungs, long-term, but having coughed my way through childhood I’m one of those people who – when there’s a bug going round – will experience it going ‘straight to my chest’, if I succumb.

Or I did. In the past few years, things have improved enormously – and I think it’s down to several factors. Ah, those of you who know me might say: you moved to the brisk and breezy coast, 15 years ago. But actually, these past three years, I’ve been spending several nights a week in pollution-choked Central London, so that can’t be it. (Although I do always make a point of avoiding the city centre’s most clogged arteries, always walking on backstreets so I’m not breathing the diesel belching out of black cabs, in particular.)

I put it down to having written a book on yoga, a few years ago ­– Yoga for Life, which you can actually find on VH – which had me really thinking about breathing properly, for the first time in my life. As a bonus, what I also discovered is that right breathing does double-duty as a relaxing technique. (Always room for more of that, in our busy lives.)

There are a couple of techniques which I honestly believe really work to keep my lungs strong and resilient. ‘Nad Shodhana’, or ‘sweet breath’, is alternate nostril breathing – which you do by pressing lightly on one nostril, breathing in with the other, holding, releasing the finger and exhaling through the opposite nostril. But the technique that I really treasure, and which I think has helped me is called ‘ocean breath’ – because it sounds a bit like the pull of a calm sea on a sandy beach. It’s technically known as ‘Ujjayi’ breathing (say it ‘ooh-jie’). Or, slightly more heretically, as the ‘Darth Vader’ breath, which is the best clue I can think of as to how this should sound when you do it right. It happens to be truly brilliant for focusing the mind: if you have a project to complete and you’re finding it hard to rein in your thoughts, do some ‘ocean breathing’. And – useful at this time of years – it’s also brilliant for building internal heat: on a cold day, ujjayi breath is wonderfully warming. And this is how you do it.

Start by…  Finding a comfortable seated position, or alternatively, lying on your back. Putting a bolster under your knees can be good.

  1. Start by taking long, deep, slow breaths through your nostrils.
  2. Slightly contract the back of your throat to make a hissing sound as you breathe steadily in and out. (It’s sort of en route for a snore, but not quite;  it shouldn’t be forced – but if someone came close, they should be able to hear this breathing.)
  3. Lengthen your inhalations and exhalations as much as you comfortably can, while still feeling relaxed and comfortable. While you’re doing it, listen to your breathing; just the sound can be as calming as one of those ‘ocean wave’ relaxation tapes.

To be sure you’re getting it ‘right’, hold your hand up to your mouth and breathe out as if you were trying to fog up a mirror or a windowpane. To get the ‘fog’, you have to constrict the back of your throat. Now close your mouth and do the same thing, but breathing through your nose. And that’s it: you’re ujjayi breathing. I think of it as Jane Fonda for my lungs, only a lot calmer. And no snazzy leotard required.

There are a couple of other things which I think have helped my ‘chestiness’. A practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine told me to eat an apple every day – rather in line with that ‘prescription’ to keep doctors like him at bay, but in TCM it transpires that apples are considered especially good for the lungs. In winter, I also often put a dab or two of frankincense essential oil on my chest – a tip from my beauty editor and This Works founder colleague Kathy Phillips, which I find very helpful.

And last but not least – because don’t we all love a great product? – I want to single out two aromatherapeutic treats which definitely have a place in my breathe-easy arsenal. First off, Temple Spa Breath of Life Aromatherapy Inhalation Essence, which packs a menthol-y punch, together with notes of lavender, eucalyptus and tea tree. (If this doesn’t clear your passages, nothing will! But great for a cold, because of that.)

The second must-have is yet another in the Aromatherapy Associates Bath & Shower Oil collection, which as many readers know features my ‘desert island’ must-haves, Inner Strength and Deep Relax. But when I’m feeling cold-y or just need to breathe more clearly, I turn to the fabulous Support Breathe Bath & Shower Oil: an absolute miracle worker with its eucalyptus, tea tree and pine blend. A capful in the bath, 15 minutes breathing the fragrant steam, and I’m a different woman. With different lungs.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d just finish with this wonderfully inspiring Swedish proverb, which seems really timely for a new year. ‘Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more – and all good things are yours.’ So here’s wishing you a wonderful 2017. (With clear passages…)

Good Vibrations

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I believe that every one of us is honour-bound to give ourselves plenty of TLC. And that means finding the right mix of exercise, supplements, foods and de-stressing techniques which keep us balanced and on top of life. I don’t think of it as ‘selfish’. On the contrary, I like to cite those in-flight oxygen mask instructions (which you really hope and pray you’re never actually going to have to remember) to put the mask on yourself, before you help anyone else. That’s why taking care of yourself isn’t selfish in the least; if we’re running on empty, we can’t look after our kids, parents, friends, colleagues to the best of our abilities. Read More…

Winter Feet

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We hear so much about getting feet ‘sandal-ready’ – but much less about getting them ‘slipper-ready’. Yet feet work just as hard (and have their own beauty and health challenges), during the colder months. Talk to any footcare professional and certainly, they’ll certainly tell you that it’s just as important to give them TLC during the chilly season as during summer – when we get to wiggle our toes, go without shoes and generally ‘air’ our feet.

Actually, feet take quite a beating during the colder months. We squeeze them into boots, sometimes layered over socks and/or tights – creating quite a dank, bacteria-friendly atmosphere in there. Occasionally, we beckon our toes out of hiding to slap on a coat of polish, then promptly expose feet to chilblain-inducing cold in a pair of impossibly teetering party heels. But generally, we adopt an out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude to them. If feet were dogs, plenty of us would find ourselves reported to the RSPCA! Read More…