Guest Appearances

The Bar Of Soap Is Back, And Here’s Why

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Despite having been around for centuries, traditional bar soap has had a rough ride in recent years, continually slipping down the popularity scale in the cleansing world thanks to the introduction of its liquid, foam, gel and waterless counterparts. However, according to research by consumer insights company, Kantar Worldpanel, sales of classic bar soap rose for the first time in years in 2018, with a three per cent increase nationally since 2017. That’s right, the OG cleansing method has come back into the limelight and back into our bathrooms.

Fortunately bar soaps have become a little more sophisticated while we’ve had our eye on the sparklier alternatives. Forget the shrivelled, unloved husks of the past, or the retro, shell-shaped cakes that seem to reside in the home of every grandmother. The new school of soaps offer a fresh upgrade on the musty-smelling, pastel bars of old. It’s out with filler ingredients and overly drying chemicals, and in with skin-loving oils, clarifying muds and heavenly-scented natural extracts.

Take Dead Sea Spa Magik’s Black Mud Soap, which owes its inky hue to pH-balancing mud sourced from the Dead Sea, making it perfect for sensitised skin on both face and body. Or Soapsmith’s delicious-smelling bars, each hand-made in London and inspired by the city’s streets and boroughs (Baker Street, with its almond, honey and goat’s milk blend, is particularly addictive). The scents are modern and fresh, the packaging is chic and they make perfect gifts – ones that will actually get used, rather than languishing in the back of a drawer like the soaps your distant relatives used to give you for Christmas. There’s something undeniably satisfying about the unwrapping of a smooth, box-fresh bar, and the fragrant, deep-cleansing lather it creates when it comes into contact with water.

But the prettier upgrade is not the only reason soap is back in the spotlight. With many of us keen to cut back on excess packaging, bar soaps offer a much more eco-friendly route to keeping ourselves clean. Instead of the bulky bottles and unrecyclable pumps of liquid soaps, the best bar soaps are made from naturally-sourced ingredients and packaged in no more than a printed paper wrap, cutting out unnecessary waste almost completely. Market intelligence agency Mintel highlighted plastic-free packaging as one of the key packaging trends for 2019, giving bar soap the upper hand in the world of bubbles and lather. And whilst hand and body soaps are perhaps the most ubiquitous, effective bar cleansers for face and even hair look set to trend too as we all wake up to the endless bottles, jars and tubes involved in our everyday beauty routines and consider where it’s possible to cut back.

And that more conscious approach goes for the formulations too. Those keen to remove potentially worrying chemicals and preservatives from their beauty routines might find solace in bar soaps, which use fats such as olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil as their base. These fats have the added benefit of providing excellent nourishment for the skin, cleansing gently and effectively as well as supporting skin’s natural oil barrier.

Which brings us to the power of soap as the ultimate all-rounder. Take Dr. Bronner’s All-One Pure-Castile Bar Soap, which is formulated with organic oils and comes in natural scents such as Hemp Rose, Hemp Almond and Hemp Peppermint. Packaged in recycled paper packaging in all colours of the rainbow, it is designed for use on face, hair and body, and is completely vegan. And it costs £4.99. Do you need any more convincing?

Everything You Need to Know About LED Light Therapy

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Light-emitting diode therapy (or LED for short) is nothing new. Having long been used in professional treatments, the benefits of LED for acne-prone, rosacea-ridden, discoloured, dull and ageing skin come with regular use. While this might deliver great results, it has previously been a costly and time-consuming approach in the pursuit for healthy skin.

And thus, the emergence of at-home skincare devices, led by LED treatments in the form of targeted on-the-spot gadgets and full face masks, are becoming popular for consumers who want to maintain the results of in-clinic treatments and the efficacy of carefully curated skincare routines. According to global market researcher Mintel, 41% of beauty consumers use skincare devices to prolong the effects of professional treatments. With better access to information, technological advancements and more transparency from brands, high-performance products are no longer exclusively available in costly facials and specialist clinics. Plus, LED light treatments are the most pain-free facial you can have, with no tingling, side effects or downtime needed. What more could you want?

Here are all your questions about LED light therapy answered:

What are the benefits of LED for the skin?

“LED light emits therapeutic wavelengths of light energy to energise cells,” explains Laura Ferguson and Hannah Measures, co-founders of The Light Salon. In doing so, the light energy stimulates the production of collagen, elastin and antioxidants while improving blood and lymphatic circulation. It’s a treatment that is suitable for all skin types and is designed to be used after cleansing and exfoliating, followed by your serums and moisturiser.

How many different types of LED lights are there and what is the difference between them?

“Different light spectrum penetrates the skin in different depths and has different effects. Red and blue LED light therapy combat numerous issues, including but not limited to, dullness, fine lines and wrinkles, inflammation, redness and swelling. They replenish dermal and epidermal cells, stimulate the natural production of collagen and elastin and speed up the recovery process,” explains Dr Dennis Gross, dermatologist, dermatologic surgeon and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Dermatology.

Near-infrared light is another option, suiting inflamed skin best as it stimulates the skin’s healing and regeneration process by delivering nutrients and oxygen to problem areas, leaving you with strengthened and brightened skin. If acne is a concern, Ferguson and Measures recommend red light as it has an antiseptic effect on blemishes and reduces inflammation and painful swelling within the spot to help speed up the healing of the area. Impressively, when used together near-infrared and red light are clinically proven to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

What’s the difference between an LED treatment in a clinic and an at home device?

At-home devices don’t have the power of the professional machines used in LED light therapy treatments, but Ferguson and Measures explain that if you use an LED light mask three times a week over a four week period, it delivers the equivalent cumulative dose of light as one salon treatment, if you went once a week for the same period. “Results are instant and long-term and because LED light therapy works on a cellular level, so you leave with a glow, which becomes more pronounced with each treatment. Think of it in terms of a workout – going once is better than not going at all, but if you make an effort to stick to regular sessions, you’ll get great cumulative benefits.”

Why This Technique Is The Best Medicine For New Mums

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As a beauty and wellness editor, I get inundated with hundreds of press releases titled ‘next big wellness trend’. That’s usually when I start to sigh or eye roll. Because, while some new wellness trends are backed by scientific and profound evidence, others, such as ‘weight loss teas’ and the celebrity endorsed ‘vagina steam cleaning’ are not only ludicrous and a waste of time, worryingly, they can negatively impact our health.

There is one wellness trend however, that I will preach about at any given opportunity. The Alexander Technique. Although fairly under the radar its been tried and tested for over a hundred years, and as a new mum, AT has neatly helped me to ride out the overwhelming physical and psychological changes that constantly ripple through me whilst trying to navigate motherhood. Now relentlessly time-poor soul-soothing self-care rituals seem a distant memory, and when a glass of red wine isn’t always a viable option (like at 11 am in the morning) this healing practice has been my one true saving grace.

First some background. Founded by actor Frederick Matthias Alexander in the 1890s, he devised the technique after suffering from vocal problems. He realised that when reciting he would strain his vocal organs and after observing himself in mirrors, he noticed he pulled his head back and down, depressed his larynx, and also gasped for air when trying to speak. While this was the root of the problem, he realised it this was part of a bigger pattern of tension involving the whole of his body, that manifested itself at the mere thought of reciting. To heal, he had to re-educate both body and mind, to resist his instincts and learn new behaviour.

Whilst I’m no singer, I benefit so well from AT because I to have developed tension patterns since having my daughter. A career sitting at desk meant that my posture was out of shape to begin with, so being held hostage on the sofa breast-feeding for hours on end, to pacing up down the living room trying to rock her to sleep at 3 am has only served to amplify it. These repetitive and often at times uncomfortable movements not only cause me physical pain in my neck and back, but also bear down on my mood, making me feel foggy, weary and irritable.

AT teacher Brita Forsstrom explains why: ‘The underlying coordination and freedom of movement in the natural balance of the head, neck and back works as an integrating principle in everything we do. If we disturb this balance with excessive and inappropriate tension we interfere with the most efficient use of our bodies.’ AT works by restoring natural balance in body. ‘In essence what you learn is a form of ‘embodied mindfulness’. Being more aware of how we react to the demands of motherhood we can learn to prevent excessive muscular tension and also feel calmer and clearer in our minds,’ adds Forsstrom.

Since having my daughter I have two sessions 2-3 times a month with my veteran teacher Jean. Well into her seventies, she is a complete powerhouse and her healing hands have on more than one occasion worked miracles on my malfunctioning lower back. The first part of the 45-minute session always involves a few minutes learning how to sit down and stand up from a chair with Jean helping me to realise how my habitual reactions contribute to my bad posture and pain. It sounds easy and simplistic and yet getting to grips with ‘unlearning’ 20 plus years of slouching, overusing some muscles and neglecting others, takes time. This is followed by hands on guidance where I lay on a table and so that Jean can loosen all the tension in every single muscle, allowing my back to lengthen and chest to open, which is turn helps my breathing to regulate and my mind to slow.

I often leave an AT lesson, feeling not only taller, (thanks to my spine being lengthened) but as if the mountainous problems I had prior to the session have suddenly shrunk down to nothing. Sleep deprivation seems less torturous and I’m less anxious about work deadlines. I have total emotional and physical equilibrium, and I savour every second of it while it lasts.

Kevyn Aucoin: The Face Painter

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‘I need you to go to Paris and shoot some beauty with Christy Turlington, Berry Smithers and a new girl we’re trying out called Kate Moss,’ said my Editor-in Chief, Liz Tilberis of Harper’s Bazaar US. I was up against it, having turned in some dud pictures from LA, where it had uncharacteristically rained buckets, the photographer had turned out to be a drug addict and the models, having sat in the Winnebago for two days eating donuts, had all broken out in spots. With that black mark against me I wasn’t exactly about to say no.

And besides, the chance to work with the legendary team of the world’s number one make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin, hair god Sam McKnight and photographic star Steven Klein was a thrill. The pictures and words from that two day shoot in Paris remain one of my favourite pieces of work.

Aucoin, McKnight and I quickly became friends, working together over the years on any number of shoots and with any number of ‘Supers’ – (it was the era Linda, Cindy, Naomi et al)- shrieking together over jokes, disasters and the rampant gossip that characterised New York fashion in the early nineties.

When Aucoin decided to write his first book The Art of Makeup, he invited me to co-author. I was delighted. I had never seen anyone paint faces like Kevyn. From Janet Jackson to Diana Ross, Isabella Rossellini, Uma Thurman and Barbara Streisand, he transformed them all with the painterly eye of a proper artist. If space was available Kevyn would lie them down on the floor (no matter who they were Janet Jackson included) because he believed the facial canvas was easier to work on that way.

In the absence of floor space he’d flip his make-up chair (and the unsuspecting model) backwards to lay them as flat as he could. And then, with forensic precision and a battery of sponges, brushes and mainly his fingers, he’d get to work. Sometimes he was so ‘in the flow’ he’d get carried away, like the time he plucked out Kate Moss’s eyebrows to within a whisper of nothing and taped Linda Evangelina’s face so tightly it made her feel nauseous.

Nothing Kevyn did to a face was without purpose. Today social media make-up mavens spew out hundreds of thousands of hours of make-up tutorials on contouring, brow shaping and false eyelash application. Back in the day, Kevyn was the man. She probably doesn’t even know it, but without him, Kim Kardashian would be, well Kim Kardashian without the 3D contouring, the lips and probably even the fake lashes. His influence reaches farther than that of any other make-up artist to date.

Kevyn is the star of a new documentary film about his life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story: Larger than life. Watching it took me back to the time when applying heavy make-up or rather painting faces was a rarity and not the norm. Those were the days when make-up artists were the only ones to spend hours making up their subjects, when ‘no make-up make-up’ really meant, barely any make-up. I know I’m from another era, but truly I find the time that teenagers – girls and boys- spend in their bedrooms applying their make-up utterly terrifying (what happened to reading a book or chatting to your friends?).

I’m not sure Kevyn, who died tragically young aged forty, in 2002, would approve either, but I am sure he’d  be happy for me to pass on to you some of his make-up tips. He thought make-up in the right context was empowering. And he wanted everyone to learn how to use it to its best advantage. So here readers, in no particular order are some of the things I learned from make-up legend and all round lovely guy, Kevyn Aucoin, both on shoots and whilst writing The Art of Makeup.

  1. Blend with your fingers and then blend some more – Kevyn was not a fan of sponges or brushes. Even when he used them he’d toss them aside at some point in the session and return to using his hands. He used to say that it was impossible to properly blend or contour without feeling the skin. He applied foundation, lipstick, blusher, concealer, eyeshadow with his fingers. Even eye pencils were ultimately  smudged and smoked by hand.
  2. Never apply a mascara wand to your lashes without first removing the excess on a tissue. I still do this. It prevents clogging and makes the mascara much more effective.
  3. Place the mascara wand under the root of the lash and move it gently back and forth to build up the depth of the lashes as you apply.
  4. Pale, frosted lips never go out of fashion and they flatter the face. Ditto caramel coloured lipstick, especially on darker skins
  5. Make the most of your assets. Kevyn loved to streamline Asian eyes, accentuate African American cheeks with strong blush and to increase the freckles on Anglo-Saxon skin. He loved working with models of different races and thought the beauty industry was way too ‘white’ – this was the early nineties. If he were still here he’d likely be saying that not enough has changed.
  6. Foundation – if you don’t have the right colour or texture mix two together or dilute with moisturiser. I often saw him mixing his own palate to achieve the dewy affect.
  7. If you are not a fan of lipstick, apply just onto your lip ‘bow’ with your fingers then pat over the top with lip balm to achieve a natural ‘pout’.
  8. Way before the recent Kardashian trend, Kevyn was using a browny blusher to deeply contour. He would continue the blush lightly down the centre of the forehead onto the bridge of the nose and continue onto the chin.
  9. Use the same brownish blend on your eye sockets for night time drama.
  10. Kevyn often wore make-up himself or tried out new looks on himself before applying it to the models. His favourite things for himself were eyeliner, concealer and Kiehl’s lip balm. He would have approved of the current trend for gender blurring make-up.

Endometriosis And Me

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You know that flutter of a feeling you get when something is wrong? An inkling deep down in the pit of your stomach that something isn’t all together copasetic? Groovy in the gastro? Positive in the pelvis? Call it intuition or what you will, there’s something to be said for “knowing” and listening to your own body, trusting your ahem, gut when it comes to your health.

In my case, my “gut feeling” presented itself in my teens. I was late-ish to get my period, at least compared to all my friends. So much so that aged 14 when Aunt Flow finally arrived at school, the boys in my class cheered! From that point on, my period was about as reliable as London’s transport system. Sometimes it would come, sometimes it would arrive twice in one month, and sometimes it would go on strike just for the hell of it.

Coupled with an unreliable period, I was dealt a case of crippling pain whenever said period decided to show up. Now I’ve had a kid, so I can wholeheartedly say, without any hesitation, that I’d rather give birth 10 times over than ever experience those period pains again. It got to the point I was petrified my period would come and worse, that I’d need a number two because boy oh boy, that’s when the sh*t really hit the fan. Oh, and sex a little later in my teens wasn’t much fun either. I mean it never is at that age, but every time it felt like I was losing my virginity all over again and quite frankly no one wants to relive that. Ever.

It’s the early 90s in South Africa and like every good girl I went to see our family gynaecologist – (they literally get passed down through two generations or so let’s just say he’d seen his fair share) and his recommendation was to put me on the contraceptive pill. “To control the periods and manage the pain.” That’s it. No further exploration, no possibility that it could’ve been anything untoward and certainly no mention of the word ‘Endometriosis’.

Fast forward to my early 20s (almost ten years living with chronic pain), I’m now making a life for myself in London with my boyfriend, who would go on to become my husband. It turns out that he doesn’t think holding me whilst I’m doubled over in pain on the toilet is the most romantic start to our relationship, so we started researching. And researching. Everything we read leads us to believe I’m suffering with Endometriosis, a condition in which the layer of tissue that normally covers the inside of the uterus grows outside of it.

But, getting a diagnosis or treatment in those days was incredibly hard. So off we trot to our local GP, armed with all our notes and most importantly, my personal experiences. After a few months, I’m finally diagnosed. “Apologies for the delay to your service, there’s an obstruction on the line”.

With one of the worst cases the consultant had ever seen, I spent the next few years undergoing numerous laparoscopy treatments (a procedure where a laser is inserted through your belly button to burn away scar tissue) having my internal organs separated from each other as a result of years of internal bleeding, which had caused them to fuse together. It turns out I was trying to poop with my bowel attached to my back. I don’t say this to gross you out but, so you understand what a mess it was in there.

At this point, my husband and I were told that the likelihood of me ever conceiving naturally were low. On the flip side, if we did manage to fall pregnant, it was highly likely that after giving birth my endometriosis symptoms would ease off, if not stop entirely.  I was in my mid-twenties, babies were not on the agenda yet, but to be told there’s every chance you may not fall pregnant, ever, is a sucker punch to an already wrecked stomach.

We tried of course. Valiantly took on the challenge until we eventually had to admit defeat a few years later and ask for medical intervention. Throughout the IVF process my thoughts were consumed by first and foremost, a happy, healthy baby and secondly, that this could (bonus) be the end of years and years of chronic pain. Almost eight years later, said baby is indeed happy and healthy and my endometriosis? Well it’s still there, albeit a duller, more bearable throb but enough to remind me of the surgeon’s words as I lay on the delivery table, during an emergency c-section “good grief, it’s a mess in here, a road map of scar tissue”.

Turns out my intuition was right all along and ultimately played itself out as our daughter arrived into the world to the dulcet tones of ACDC’s ‘Highway to Hell’.

Why Wild Swimming Is Worth Your Consideration

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There comes a time in every woman’s life where she needs to take her clothes off and get into the water.  I’m not talking about taking a bath, I’m talking about the invigorating thrill of slipping into the cool, dark water of a pond, a river or even, in my case at the moment, the icy grey North Sea.

There’s nothing more freeing than swimming in a place that was meant for ducks, seagulls, fish and in the case of Hampstead ponds where I often swim, the odd Heron. It probably helps that I was brought up in the land of the broads (Norfolk) where I spent a lot of my childhood falling out of boats into the river or off horses into the sea. Both venues had one thing in common: they were bloody cold.  They both also had the desired effect of waking me up and making me look at the world differently, more calmly and with a better perspective. Even aged ten I could see and feel the benefits – albeit that the dingy  had sailed off without me or the horse had cantered back to the stable.

These days I know when I need to get into the water – even if, during the coldest months it’s into my local chlorinated local pool. You’ll be familiar with the warning signs  – the creeping of the shoulders towards the ears, the aching back, the ragged temper and that most precious of human virtues – patience – disappearing down the plughole quicker than the dregs of last night’s wine bottle.

I’ll admit I’m not always in a position to down tools and pick up my swimmers, but sometimes just thinking about being in the water during the summer months, taking long, slow strokes in amongst the lily pads, the weeds and yes, the ducks, can begin to have the desired effect. There’s something almost primeval about returning to the water, especially the sea. To paraphrase John F Kennedy:  ‘When we go back to the sea..we are going back from whence we came’.

There’s also something a bit daring about plunging into an environment you have previously considered off limits. When Roger Deakin the grandfather of Wild Swimming, who lived around the corner from where I currently reside in Suffolk, wrote his bestselling 1999 book Waterlog – an account of swimming the lakes and waterways the breadth of Britain, most people thought he was mad. Well, ok he was a bit mad – he lived in a house with no central heating, swam daily in his moat and allowed swallows to live in his chimneys, but he was also a genius. A man who underlined the human race’s need for space, freedom to roam and appreciation for the natural world, to the extent that he founded the arts and environmental charity, Common Ground.

Deakin talked about the need for freedom from virtual reality long before most of us even knew it existed. “Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things.”

Blame the soaring temperatures for this season’s Wild Water craze, but Swim England says that ‘outdoor swimming’ continues to increase year on year.  Websites like Wildswimming.co.uk or Wildswim.com offer advice on your best local swim spots. Caveat: leaping into deep cold water is a bad idea. It can stop that thing called your heart.  Approach with caution.