Healthy hair menu: The foods you should be eating for gorgeous, shiny hair

If nutritionists and trichologists are to be believed, your daily haircare regime should start at the breakfast table and not in the bathroom. That’s because hair, like skin, needs to be nurtured from the inside in order to look its best. Here is an expert-approved list of foods that will help you achieve happy, healthy, heavenly hair. So, stock up the pantry and get ready to say goodbye to dull, drab strands…!

healthy hair menuHealthy hair menu: Carrots (+ kale, asparagus & pumpkin)

Healthy hair needs vitamin A… lots of it. And the best natural source of vitamin A are carrots, followed by kale, asparagus and pumpkin. All these vegetables not only nourish your hair and skin (remember, healthy scalp = soft, supple hair), they also prevent dandruff. Salad, anyone?

Healthy hair menu: Salmon & flaxseed

When it comes to beauty foods, it’s hard to beat salmon, which is loaded with vitamin B-12, iron and Omega-3 fatty acids. The latter are crucial for scalp health and a deficiency can lead to dull, brittle strands. Other good options? Mackerel, sardines and herring.

Vegetarian? Include 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed (or 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil) in your daily diet for plant-based Omega-3 fats.

Healthy hair menu: Citrus fruits

Glossy hair needs optimum levels of sebum – an oily substance in your follicles that acts as a natural conditioner. Fruits high in vitamin C help your body to produce sebum, so load up on those strawberries, oranges and grapefruits.

Healthy hair menu: Spinach

Popeye didn’t eat all that spinach for healthy hair but he could well have. It’s another great source for that much-coveted sebum, while also packing in powerful punches of iron and calcium for hair health.

Healthy hair menu: Beans & legumes

Legumes (like kidney beans and lentils) provide plentiful protein to boost the thickness and length of your hair. Plus, beans also have iron, zinc, and biotin, which prevent hair breakage. And while rare, biotin deficiencies can result in brittle hair. The American Dietetic Association recommends 3 or more cups of lentils or beans each week.

Healthy hair menu: Nuts

Do you go nuts for thick, shiny hair? You should. Brazil nuts are one of nature’s best sources of selenium, an important mineral for the health of your scalp. Walnuts, in the meantime, contain zinc to prevent hair shedding. Cashews, pecans and almonds are terrific sources of these minerals as well, so keep them around for those mid-day munchies!

happy-hair-diet-2

Healthy hair menu: Whole grains

Whole grains – including wholewheat bread and fortified whole grain breakfast cereals – are another heavy hitter on the Healthy Hair Menu. They provide the body with B vitamins, which promote happy tresses by boosting your red blood cell count. Red blood cells carry oxygen to hair strands and therefore increase their growth rate.

Healthy hair menu: Low fat dairy

Calcium is a very important mineral for hair growth and it can be found in low fat dairy products such as skim milk, fresh cheese and yoghurt. Plus, these foods also contain whey and casein – two major sources of protein. Yoghurt also contains cysteine – an amino acid that detoxes your body and promotes hair growth by actually increasing the thickness of each individual strand. For some healthy hair foods “to-go”, throw a yoghurt pot or cheese wedges in your bag to snack on later in the day.

Healthy hair menu: Poultry

When it comes to healthy hair, it doesn’t matter whether you like your eggs boiled, scrambled or fried. In either case, they are one of the best sources of protein you can find. And inadequate protein levels lead to weak and brittle hair, while a profound protein deficiency can even result in loss of hair colour. Besides protein, eggs also contain biotin and vitamin B-12, both of which are important hair nutrients.

Healthy hair menu: Oysters

Oysters may be better known as aphrodisiacs but they can also lead to healthy hair. They regulate the production of androgens, a hormone whose low levels are associated with hair loss. Plus, there is zinc, a powerful antioxidant that supports the growth of strong, thick hair.

Which hair food is your favorite? Do you have any other “happy hair” recipes?

5 (super-easy!) ways to care for your skin when you are sick

For everyone who’s been asking, thebeautygypsy.com was not updated quite as frequently last week as I’ve come down with the worst cold and flu of my entire life. Not kidding. A hacking cough, watery eyes, running nose, aching muscles, horrible headache and high fever have made getting out of bed seem like scaling the Himalayas.

Today, however, I had to drag myself up for a simply-can’t-be-missed meeting, only to realise that even my skin has been paying the price of this horrid bug. And now my dermatologist says I should look after my skin while I am sick in order to stave off the super-deep acne, extreme dullness and flaky patches that take weeks to go away otherwise. Thankfully, her suggestions are super-simple, ‘coz much as I love my beauty stuff, doing anything more complicated than blowing my nose is rather impossible between medications, itchy throats and fevers.

flu-and-skincareTurn to mint

There is nothing like an infection to make the skin look dull and completely lacklustre. Plus, the congestion is a terrific breeding ground for zit-causing bacteria. So, think mint. Copious amounts of mint, in every form possible. Tea, face pack, face wash, moisturiser… not only will natural mint-infused oils and creams open up a stuffy nose, they also help the skin breathe and detoxify. Not up to brewing up your own just yet? Aveda has some terrific options that will soothe both body and mind.

Use a humidifier

I know, I know… this can be a pain but remember that decongestants dehydrate the skin, leaving it dry and flaky. Using a humidifier – especially at night – keeps moisture in the air, which maintains hydration levels in the skin and leaves it feeling supple (and comfortable!).

Apply a plain honey mask

Slathering on a bit of plain old honey is a terrific way of replacing the skin’s moisture and decongesting the face (while alleviating a pounding head for bonus brownie points).

Keep your nose moisturised

Blowing your nose repeatedly? Stay prepared for red, dry and irritated skin around your nostrils, even with moisturised tissues. Unless (and I learnt this too late) you dab on a bit of cream on your nose after every blow. Creams that contain lipid-rich oils and ceramides are the best bet, like Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer. Or just dab on a bit of coconut oil.

Drink lots of water

And by “water“, I refer to the multitude of hydrating liquids out there – including green tea, iced tea, fresh juice etc etc etc. These will flush away the toxins, flush out the germs and stop your body (and hence skin) from overheating. For an added cold-busting kick, opt for drinks infused with fresh ginger and honey.

There, that’s all my energy used up for the day. I really need to get rid of this bug fast now… what’s your secret get-over-the-flu remedy? HELP!

Beauty recipe: How a simple, single ingredient DIY face mask healed my skin overnight

Sometimes, in skincare, you really need to pare down to the very basics. Because when your skin is super-reactive or seriously dry and flaky or plagued with a chronic overload of acne, the worst thing you can do is burden it with lotions and potions, whether homemade or store bought.

And I speak from personal experience, having just gone through a hellish 3 weeks where it seemed nothing could tackle the glorious mess that’s my face – with a combination of flaky patches, cystic zits (who knew that severe dryness and acne worked so well together!) and a spotty rash-like redness that defied even the heaviest foundations and the mildest face masks. In my case, this was the aftermath of weeks spent travelling, not sleeping and living off a combination of junk food and much-o alcohol. Similar situations have been known to crop up after periods of high stress, weather changes, starting a new skincare regimen, dehydration, allergies, sickness… the reasons are myriad.

After it seemed I’d run out of all options (and that’s a lot of options, considering the blog I write!) a friend suggested going back to the very basics with honey. This is literally as simple as you can get – open a jar of honey, scoop out a dollop and slather it on your face, then wait a half hour and wash it off with plain water.

And guess what? It worked. I did the honey face mask just before bedtime and my skin was at least 60% better next morning. Now, with consistent use, skin feels much softer, far less sensitive and more resilient. Even for someone who firmly believes in the miracle of natural beauty products, this was a revelation. And all revelations are worth exploring further. Which is what I’ve been doing – and here are the results.

honey face maskWhy does honey work so well for skincare?

The use of honey for skincare goes back to the medical texts of Egyptian, Greek, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, more than thousands of years back. This is why:

Honey mops up skin toxins: I mean this literally, since the enzymes in raw honey soak up impurities from skin’s pores, leaving them clean, clear and clog-free. Plus, honey also contains amino acids that slough away dead skin cells for a double whammy.

Honey stops acne in its tracks: Combine the mop-up-toxins and slough-off-dead-cells bits with honey’s super-potent antibacterial, antiseptic and anti-fungal properties (in fact, raw honey never spoils, even out of the refrigerator, since bacteria simply can’t survive in it), and you’ll understand why it’s such a superb zit-destroyer. Add in that it also helps balance the skin’s pH and is full of anti-inflammatory ingredients, and you may never reach for another acne-buster.

Honey helps lighten scars and deflate bumps: Not only will honey stop acne from getting worse, it also lightens pre-existing scars and bumps by boosting skin’s healing and regenerating capabilities. Plus, it prevents the stringy kind of collagen that creates scar tissue.

Honey heals EVERYTHING: Besides acne, honey also heals cuts, burns and wounds. The science? When this sticky-sweet ingredient comes in contact with fluids (including those that seep from a wound or sore), it produces hydrogen peroxide. This hydrogen peroxide works as an antibacterial to thwart infections and speed up healing.

Honey is nature’s best moisturiser: This amber substance is an excellent humectant (an element that attracts moisture and locks it into skin), which restores hydration and elasticity to the deepest layers of your skin.

Honey prevents environmental skin damage: Honey is a natural antioxidant that protects skin against environmental damage (think sun damage, smoke, pollution… !).

Honey keeps skin smooth and supple: Honey is packed with MG, which promotes the growth of collagen. Healthy collagen means healthy, firm, youthful-looking skin. It all adds up.

Does it matter which kind of honey I use?

honey 5Yes, it matters. A lot. In fact, the difference between raw honey and the highly processed version is the defining difference between good and bad skin. The latter resembles high fructose corn syrup more than anything the bees have produced – and is more likely to increase acne and other infection.

That’s because a huge part of honey’s benefits come from its enzymatic components. When it’s processed or pasteurised, many of these enzymes are destroyed. Unfortunately, there aren’t any set standards for labeling honey. However, these are the loose guidelines followed by manufacturers:

Completely raw honey: Appears chunky or crystallised, with bits of wax, pollen, propolis and honeycomb. Rather than being harmful, these are packed with the good stuff.

Unfiltered raw (or strained) honey: The most easily available kind of raw honey and the best for skincare. Processing is limited to a simple filtering that removes the larger bits of wax and pollen, so enzymes remain intact.

Filtered raw honey: If you really can’t stand bits floating around in your honey, this is your best bet. The honey is heated slightly, then passed through a fine filter to remove all pollen and propolis, leaving behind a much cleaner liquid. However, “cleaner” doesn’t mean “better”, because it’s lower on the nutrition scale.

Pasteurised honey: Definitely not honey as the bees know it, after being heated to a very high temperature, processed and packed with fillers like corn syrup. Unfortunately, this is what you’re most likely to get in a generic grocery store, as it’s inexpensive and doesn’t crystallise half as quickly.

PS: Since there is no mandate for companies to put the word “pasteurised” or “processed” on the bottle, your best bet it to simply stay away from honey that isn’t labeled as “raw”. Oh, and “pure” means nothing!

What about the source?

Next, take a good look at your source – you obviously don’t want a bottle that’s chock-full of antibiotics and pesticides. So, buying organic and from small retailers or farmer’s markets is your best bet.

Then, of course, there’s the question of species and geography. Honey can be named for the primary type of flowers the bees were feeding on – for example, clover honey is made by bees feeding on clover blossoms. Floral honeys include some of the plant’s properties, so if lavender works well for your skin, try lavender honey. You can also find infused honeys, where something (like cinnamon) is combined with honey once the bees have finished their job.

Your unqualified best bet, however, is to opt for Manuka honey. It can cost a pretty penny but the results speak for themselves and a bottle will last you ages.

What’s so special about Manuka honey?

honey 4Manuka honey is made by bees feeding on New Zealand’s manuka bushes (also known as tea tree plants) and has fantastic anti-bacterial properties. This thick, opaque and caramel coloured honey contains a natural chemical called methylglyoxal, which has been clinically proven to destroy more than 250 strains of bacteria, including resistant varieties.

However, given the high demand for Manuka honey, it’s often counterfeited. Here’s how to protect yourself:

1. Manuka honey never comes from China. Or India. Or USA. Or France. Real manuka honey only comes from New Zealand and southeastern Australia.

2. Look beyond the manuka label: To be considered therapeutic, manuka honey needs a minimum rating of 10 UMF (Unique Manuka Factor, which indicates levels of antibacterial potency). A UMF between 14 and 16 is ideal for skincare, while 20+ is used for surgical dressings.

3.  Sometimes, manuka honey is labeled in terms of “total activity” but it’s better to buy brands labeled with an UMF. “Total activity” is a measure of antioxidant activity that begins to degrade immediately after opening the bottle. UMF actually increases after opening the bottle.

4. Make sure it says “active” or “bio-active” on the label.

Absolutely can’t get your hands on some manuka honey? Greek and Turkish honey is usually excellent for acne, while almost any kind of raw honey will help fight redness, inflammation and infections.

Finally, what to do with the honey… !

I simply use a dollop every night as a face mask. It couldn’t be simpler: Wash face with your regular cleanser and pat dry. Then spread a thin layer of honey over your entire face (and neck, if you don’t mind smudged clothes). Let it sit for half an hour, then rinse off thoroughly with warm water.

If it’s raw honey, you’ll be surprised how easily it emulsifies and slips off with just a bit of water, sans any stickiness or residue.

Once, when faced with a particularly nasty blemish, I tried a prepackaged Manuka bandage on the area overnight – it worked wonders. But don’t use honey under regular Bandaids as the cotton and adhesive can clog pores.

Honey is also supposed to be great for removing makeup but I still haven’t warmed to this one – I’d rather let it sit on clean skin and do its thing.

PS: Resist the impulse to chatter while slathered with honey, because muscle movement will make it run.

Have you ever tried honey for your skin? How did it work out for you?

Beauty recipe: This DIY face pack wants to protect your skin from air pollution

While focusing on sun protection, we usually forget another major skin culprit: Pollution. Think smog. Dirt. Dust. Car exhaust. Industrial emissions. Heavy metals. Household vapours. Cigarette smoke. And so much more that doesn’t just damage the ozone layer but also wreaks havoc on our complexions, along with being practically impossible to avoid. In fact, science reveals that pollution is the second most harmful element for skin, after the sun.

pollution face mask 2How exactly does pollution wreck our skin?

1. Pollutants play a double whammy by depleting our skin’s protective antioxidants and increasing the number of free radicals in the air. This makes skin at least thrice more vulnerable to damage, peppering it with premature fine lines and wrinkles, acne, rashes, eczema, discolouration and dullness.

2. Pollution also dehydrates the skin and depletes its natural oils. When this happens, our skin cells contract and lose shape, so they can no longer create a strong protective barrier. A weak barrier causes increased skin sensitivity, chronic inflammation and vulnerability to infections, allergies and acne.

3. Besides this, pollution decreases the production of collagen, causing skin to lose elasticity. This leads to sagging, a rough texture, fine lines and premature ageing.

Doesn’t cleansing help?

While washing your face at night is sacrosanct, simply fingers and soap may not get the job done. Most common pollutants are made up of particles that are 20 times smaller than a pore, so they lodge deep within the skin. Harsher soaps and exfoliators may do more harm than good by throwing off pH levels and compromising skin’s natural barrier.

So, how do we deal with the damage?

Short of living in a bubble, there isn’t much you can do to prevent pollutants from invading your skin. However, with the proper routine, you can mitigate its effects and keep your skin glowing through the haze.

And all you need is some spirulina, which is easily and cheaply available at most local food stores. This blue-green algae is a skin (and body) superfood that can help rejuvenate and repair damaged skin because:

  • It is one of the richest sources of antioxidants
  • It helps the skin retain moisture
  • It’s high chlorophyll content helps deep cleanse the skin, while also strengthening tissues
  • It destroys acne-causing bacteria
  • It soothes and calms the skin, dialling down on sensitivity and inflammation

pollution face maskYou will need

1/2 teaspoon spirulina powder (or 1 crushed spirulina tablet)

enough filtered water to make a paste

How-to

1. Mix together the sprirulina powder and water till you have a paste

2. Apply this paste to freshly washed skin; leave on for 20 minutes, then wash away with warm water

3. Follow with your regular moisturiser

Try and do this 2-3 times a week, for optimum effects

How’s your daily battle with pollution? Good, bad or downright ugly?