Beauty recipe: The Italian secret to glow-y, flawless, PERFECT skin

I’ve spent most of these last weeks wandering around the inner reaches of France, Germany and Italy, with one conclusion: while French women are the epitome of understated chic and the Germans have a robust constitution, it is the Italian bellisima who wins the complexion stakes. Seriously, have you ever seen their skin? How it’s taut and tight, literally hugging the bones and glowing with an inner radiance that can’t be replicated with any amount of foundation or highlighter? How it’s flawless, despite their spending hours in the sun and eating a diet rich in carbs and sugar-laden tiramisu?

It’s enough to give mere mortals like me a complex. So… time to dig! And after interviewing a whole clutch of women from Milan to Matera (it’s the most exquisite Basilicatan village – look it up!), there are a few ingredients that crop up time and again. Humble kitchen ingredients that make for the most potent beauty treatments: olive oil, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), eggs and lemons. And quite a few Italian mammas (all with the skin of a 25-year-old on an 80-year-olds body) offered up this one recipe that combines these beauty ingredients into one seriously potent face mask that soothes, nourishes, busts blemishes and leaves you glowing flawlessly.

italian skincareThe secret?

Chickpeas are a potent source of skin nourishing and rejuvenating proteins, olive oil is packed with anti-aging antioxidants and hydrating squalene, egg yolks are full of vitamins (including vitamin A or retinol, which boosts cellular turnover and keeps pores unclogged) to maintain skin elasticity, while lemon juice takes care of any blemishes and minor skin infections.

You will need

1/4 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 egg yolk


1. Mash the chickpeas and mix them with all the ingredients; blend till you get a smooth paste.

2. Spread this face over your; let dry for 20 minutes.

3. Rinse off with warm water followed by a blast of cold water. Pat skin dry and apply your usual moisturiser.

Which country do you think has the most beautiful women? C’mon peeps, time to put it to a vote!

Sleepytime Saturdays: Why sleep is THE new black and my experiments with insomnia

I come from a long line of insomniacs, so chronic sleeplessness has been a very normal way of life for me since, well, forever. In fact, I do my best work late at night – think post-1 am on a good day. After all, isn’t the world a much more productive place when everyone else has gone to sleep, silence reigns and there are no other demands on your time? It’s a running joke that I do often see sunrise, just from the wrong end of the night!

For over two decades, I have resisted every suggestion that this is an unhealthy way of living. Which says a lot for my stubbornness faith in my judgement, considering I am married to a man who promptly falls asleep as soon as the clock chimes 11 pm and then doesn’t stir for exactly 8 hours, at which point he wakes up, goes for a healthy morning walk, downs a litre of hot water and finishes his newspapers. While I am still moving around with foggy brain and groggy eyes, taking one tentative step at a time through the morning mess. Don’t remember the last time I woke up feeling fresh and ready to take on the world – even on those rare occasions when I’ve managed to put in 6-8 solid hours of sleep and gotten out of bed closer to lunchtime than breakfast.

sleep is the new black 2Lovely as this way of sleep walking through life may sound, sometimes it gets difficult to be so out of sync with the rest of the world. Like with work associates who insist on meeting before lunchtime, friends who want to “do brunch”, weddings and festivals that are scheduled at some insane hour in the morning, flights that take off with the rising sun, husbands who would like to have breakfast together… the list of annoyances is endless. I love kids but dread the extreme changes they would necessitate in my daily routine, since I believe little minds are most active during the morning hours? I don’t think mine will ever make it to school before the lunch bell, and even then the teachers might have to put up with a dishevelled mess since it’s tough enough to dress myself in the morning, without adding a toddler to the mix!

But as the years go by, this kind of sleepless routine is getting tougher and tougher to keep up. And you’ve got to be hiding under a VERY large rock to drown out all the health risks that being short on sleep puts you through. And the negative beauty consequences. And the productivity pitfalls. Seems even the simple act of driving to the local shop is laced with danger when you’ve fallen even 25% short of your daily sleep targets.

Time, then, to start making a change. Which has prompted this new column on The Beauty Gypsy, called Sleepytime Saturdays. Because, yes… superficial as it sounds, sleep (or rather sleep deprivation) is also THE most important topic in the health and beauty world right now. After all, sleep deprivation and insomnia aren’t just annoying – they’re huge roadblocks to good health, a calm mind and beautiful skin. And thanks to our hectic lifestyles we’re now more obsessed with sleep than ever before.

sleep is the new blackWhich is not surprising, given that four out of five people suffer from disturbed or inadequate – so-called ‘toxic’ – sleep in today’s age. And it’s not just about dark circles and premature ageing. Instead, think along the lines of more complex beauty benefits such as adequate sleep allowing the body to produce cortisol; stimulating the release of human growth hormone; reducing stress and internal inflammation; maintaining good water balance; and weight management.

And it’s not an awareness that’s going away anytime soon. If someone like me – who consciously and subconsciously resists sleep at all levels – can be made to rethink my entire lifestyle and make changes, maybe it’s time for you to catch on as well. This new column, which will run every Saturday, is borne out of my own personal experiments and experiences with the latest that science and traditional medicine have to offer on this challenging topic. These are not sleep remedies of the hot-milk-and-aromatherapy kind. Instead, these new investigations into the science of sleep have thrown up extremely innovative slumber solutions that range from “sleep schools” to “sleep spas”, sleeping aids (like sedative skincare, intelligent duvets, bio alarm clocks and hi-tech sleep regulators), best sleep practises and so on.

Does this sound up your alley? You might want to take a look, even if you think you are sleeping well.

So, join me here: what’s YOUR sleep quotient? Do you have trouble falling asleep? What’s your best sleep tip?

What does your hair color reveal about your health? Turns out, a lot more than you can imagine

Seems that when we ponder the question of whether our inner diva is more saint vs sinner – aka Betty Cooper vs Veronica Lodge or Jackie O vs Marilyn Monroe – we also need to keep in mind that our natural hair color reveals a lot about our health. That’s because the same genes that determine whether you are blonde, brunette or a redhead also decide your medical profile. For instance, natural blondes are more susceptible to skin cancer, brunettes are more at risk for nicotine addiction and redheads have an increased sensitivity to pain. Which sounds mean and prejudiced but is actually your body’s way of protecting you by giving visible warnings of the dangers ahead. So, learn to listen and combat your color chart.

hair-colorIf you are a blonde…

Protect your eyes: The fairer your hair, the greater your risk of developing macular degeneration – an eye disease that can lead to blindness. So, protect those peepers with sunglasses, regular eye exams and an eye-healthy diet rich in dark green veggies like broccoli, spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts.

Cover up your skin: We all know that a fair complexion ups your chances of skin cancer. But researchers at Harvard now say that fair hair is a high-risk factor as well. That’s because blondes produce less melanin – the stuff that gives skin its colour and helps shield it from harmful UV rays. This makes their skin (especially their scalps) more sensitive to sun burns, sun damage and melanoma. The preventive? Load up on sunscreens that shield against both UVA and UVB rays. And always wear a hat when you’re in direct sunlight.

If you are a brunette (or jet black)…

Hold on to your hair: Experts estimate that one in four women experience hair loss and a majority of them – more than 60% – are brunette. That’s because brown tresses tend to have fewer hair follicles and fewer hair follicles mean a greater risk of hair loss. As if that wasn’t enough, brown hair is also usually thicker and coarser than red or blonde strands. Which means that when brown hair follicles die, they leave behind more noticeable bald patches. You can’t change genetics but you can stave off hair thinning by eating right: load up on foods high in iron, like oatmeal, broccoli and raw spinach to help promote hair growth.

Stub out that cigarette: Excess melanin makes hair brown. It also prevents your liver from metabolising nicotine. And the longer nicotine in your system, the faster you become addicted. The fix? Don’t smoke! Need to boost your body’s ability to metabolise? Vitamin C-rich foods (like oranges, broccoli and peppers) help promote better liver function.

Mind the acne: “Brunettes tend to have oilier skin than blondes or redheads, which means they’re more prone to acne outbreaks,” says celebrity trichologist Philip Kingsley. But there is good news as well – oily complexions are generally slower to show signs of ageing. Keep those spots at bay by drinking plenty of water and having a healthy diet.

cheryl-blossom-hair-colourIf you are a redhead…

Prep for pain: Researchers have found that people with red hair are more sensitive to pain than blondes and brunettes, to the extent that they may need 20% more anesthetic during surgery. That’s because the “ginger gene” – known as MC1R – stimulates a brain receptor that’s related to pain sensitivity. But don’t let that keep you from getting good oral care or partaking of a bikini wax: talk to your doctor or technician about pain management or take 500 milligrams of ibuprofen an hour before the appointment.

Look out for Parkinson’s: A Harvard study concludes that redheads are nearly 90% more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. That’s because ruby hair is a result of a hereditary DNA mutation – and it’s the same gene mutation that causes this illness. On the plus side, research shows that folic acid may slow the progress of Parkinson’s. So, get yours from beans, nuts and lentils.

Be wary of blood pressure: The same MC1R gene can also cause faulty production of anti-stress hormones. And the inability to manage stress is a major cause of high blood pressure (seriously, how much mischief can a pesky little gene create?), so voila! The next time you feel like you’re going to lose your call, munch on an apple. German researchers recently discovered that the quercetin in apples can lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

What’s your hair color? Have you noticed a co-relation with any of these markers?

Beauty DIY: Good riddance to bad acne, the Ayurveda way

Tired of the regular zits that keep popping up ever so often? For me, the answer came in the form of Ayurveda – the ancient Indian discipline that believes in treating a problem at its core rather than covering it up with temporary quick fixes. Which means the results stick around for a really long time, sans both harsh chemicals or wallet-busting skincare rituals. And it’s all rooted in some very comprehensive science.

So, time to give some simple Ayurvedic home remedies a try?

ayurveda acneAyurveda and acne #1: Honey, I shrunk the pimples

Add enough honey (Manuka versions are most potent) to a tablespoon of cinnamon powder to make a paste. Apply a thin layer of this paste on your pimples before going to bed at night. Wash off with warm water in the morning; repeat for a fortnight.

Why does it work? Honey is antibacterial and anti-fungal, thus speeding up the healing process of acne. It also helps detox the skin by literally mopping up impurities from within your pores. Plus, it’s loaded with antioxidants and moisturisers to repair any damage and prevent scarring.

Cinnamon, in the meantime, is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-microbial. It’s also chockfull with powerful antioxidants that help prevent the premature destruction of healthy skin cells.

Ayurveda and acne #2: The deep cleanse

Grind 10-15 neem leaves (or buy the powdered version) and mix with a pinch of turmeric powder. Add enough raw milk or warm water to make a paste and apply this on your pimples; wash off after 20-30 minutes. Repeat as required.

We already know all about the anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antioxidant and detoxifying benefits of turmeric. Add in neem leaves, which contain quercetin – the power ingredient that reduces inflammation and redness, while cooling the skin, and you have a potent recipe against acne. Plus, neem also contains hefty doses of salicylic acid, which has a strong antibacterial effect against skin infections. So, you can imagine why Ayurveda loves it for tackling breakouts.

Ayurveda and acne #3: Try nutmeg

Take 2-3 pieces of nutmeg (jaiphal in Ayurvedic lingo) and grind into a paste with some raw milk. Apply this paste on the acne spots; wash it off after about two hours. Repeat as required.

Given nutmeg’s potent anti-inflammatory qualities, this paste is particularly good for those under-the-skin pimples that hurt like crazy and just refuse to subside!

nutmeg ayurveda acne


Ayurveda and acne #4: Make it minty

Soak a handful of mint leaves for 4-5 hours and then grind them into a paste. Apply this paste on your face for half an hour, before washing off with plain water.

Mint has a cooling, astringent and detoxing effect, which helps your skin counter stubborn acne and steer clear of scars.

Ayurveda and acne #5: Fine with fenugreek

Grind a handful of fenugreek (methi) leaves into a paste. If you can’t find the leaves, two tablespoons of fenugreek seeds, soaked for 4-5 hours and then ground into a paste, will have the same effect. Apply this paste on your acne every night, washing off after 15 minutes.

While some may find fenugreek stinky (I do!), there’s no denying that it’s an excellent skin healer. Not only is it antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, fenugreek also flushes out toxins accumulated underneath the epidermis and tones the outer layers of the skin. Plus, it helps combat free radicals, repairs damaged skin cells and boosts the regeneration of new ones, thus reducing cystic acne and preventing scars.

Ayurveda and acne #6: Heal your digestion

In Ayurveda, what you put into your body is just as important as what you put on it. And every single practitioner I’ve spoken to strongly recommends this simple detox tea to deep cleanse your insides while strengthening your digestion – both of which are vital for healing chronic acne. In fact, drink it regularly for 3 months and you’ll reap the rewards of much more than just beautiful skin!

Making it is simple: Boil 5 cups of water in a covered saucepan and add a half-teaspoon of whole cumin seeds, coriander seeds and fennel seeds to the liquid. Let the seeds steep for at least 10 minutes in the boiling water, with the lid on. Finally, strain out the seeds and bottle the liquid. Sip small quantities of this liquid through the day and watch your skin begin to glow.

For best results, make a fresh batch of tea every morning.

Have you ever tried Ayurveda? How was your experience?