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The Beauty Gypsy is back… and she has some steamy secrets up her sleeve. Come over and listen!

I still haven’t understood what’s it about a calendar change that brings about this inevitable audit-taking of our lives. Want to get healthier? You can just as easily start doing that from July 26th, rather than January 1st. Want to switch careers? Why not the middle of April (speaking randomly). Want to detox your social list? What’s wrong with (again randomly!) February to put it in action? What is it about January 1st that we seem to count our hopes and blessings and achievements and failures from this one day out of 365? But despite all my wonderings, the bottom-line remains that we do this. I do it. Every single year.

So, in that spirit, let me announce the new Beauty Gypsy. Worry not… not everything has changed. Like all of us, she’s just older by a year and is taking all the lessons learnt through 2013 to be prettier, shinier, more relevant and a tad bit more investigative (will come to that in a bit!).

To begin: as many of you have noticed, The Beauty Gypsy has a brand new look courtesy two utterly fabulous ladies: Brooke Hagel, who has distilled the very essence of this crazy, quirky, lover-of-everything-offbeat gypsy in a fabulous illustration that you see in the header; and April Durham, the madly chic graphic designer who has put together this fresh new layout and deserves all the credit for re-designing and re-coding this blog for the second time now! Huge, huge, huge thank you Brooke and April… you are simply the best!

the-beauty-gypsyLet’s talk about being a “gypsy”

And while we are talking about people and inspirations, a lot of people ask me why I chose to be a “gypsy”. Why not a Beauty Maverick? Or a Beauty Consultant? There is a reason for this choice… very many reasons, actually.

I am a beauty-aholic (or beauty-ista?), obsessed with everything skincare, haircare, perfume, makeup and spa. But even though I can (and do!) spend hours wandering aisles lined with the Clarins’ and La Mer’s of our world, it’s the off-the-beaten-path, inspired by indigenous treatments and beauty recipes that really captivate my heart. And brains. Because being indigenous or based on ancient traditions does not mean these beauty recipes are frivolous. Neither are they the stuff of magic. Most come with solid scientific backing… you just need to dig deep.

And that’s what I do: wander from place to place (I am on a rustic beach near Phuket, Thailand, as I write this), digging deep into local beauty traditions and piecing together half forgotten memories of secret recipes that have made women of the world gorgeous from times immemorial. From Yakumo in Japan to Siena in Italy, I am on the road at least 10 months a year. A traveler at heart, for me the journey is often more important than the destination, the secret lives of a city’s locals more interesting than the knowledge of guidebooks.

And that’s what the gypsies do, right? Going from place to place, translating and adapting myriad cultures and mixing them with each other. In my mind, they are like very beautiful, very colourful butterflies that flit from one source to another, cross-pollinating and becoming a repository of traditional knowledge. Plus, they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, believing in both indulgence and fun – two principles that I love to the core. After all, what’s life without a bit of enjoyment and aimless wandering through a journey of self discoveries?

Gypsy Girl with a Tambourine by Alois Hans Schram

Gypsy Girl with a Tambourine by Alois Hans Schram

I don’t walk this road alone. Call it genetic memory, if you will. After all, DNA research has firmly established that gypsies originally came from Northern India (like me!), travelling to Europe via Egypt and Bulgaria. They were goddess-worshippers, praying at the altar of Kali, the ferocious mother goddess of Hinduism; their language (Romany) is based on Sanskrit.

Today, a slew of myths and superstitions have led to wide scale persecution. But the gypsies have also made fabulous contributions. From violins in Hungary to flamenco dances in Spain, they have added laughter and music to our worlds. They have inspired the works of so many writers, including Shakespeare, whose Cleopatra and the dark lady are said to be modelled on a gypsy – fiery, intense and unfaithful.

So, to me, “gypsy” connotes fantasy, soul-wrenching violin music, brightly colored dresses, flowing hair, dark eyes, tempestuous dancing, ancient knowledge and freedom. Lots of freedom. Maybe it’s my destiny to be a gypsy. Maybe I was one in my past birth. Maybe I am one in this birth itself. And maybe the word “gypsy” is a racial slur – but if it is one, isn’t it better to obliterate its negative associations and restore its beauty, rather than try and erase the word itself from our language? It’s not words that are good are bad. Often, neither are the people to whom they are directed. To me, the people who load them with negativity are the ones we should worry about. I, for one, would rather be a free spirited, rootless gypsy than an imprisoned-in-conventions blowhard. What about you?

Some big changes to the blog

Ok, here’s backing away from the rant and back on to the blog itself. As I said, you will be seeing many changes out here in the coming months. One of the big ones: I have stopped accepting any products, spa treatments or anything else for review. Everything that appears in these pages will have been bought and tested on my own dime. Because that’s the only way to remain unbiased. To me, that’s the core function of a blog – to give absolutely honest and unbiased information. Otherwise what makes us different from a traditional magazine, which glorifies its “supporters”, shying away from any critique in the fear of losing out on advertising dollars (speaking from personal experience of more than a decade spent working with leading glossies).

And that brings me to another major addition: a column on beauty products and treatments that you shouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Surprisingly, given all the zillions of products that launch every month, not one of them seems to be ineffectual or a waste of money, if the media is to believed. They all work brilliantly, fullfill every promise made by the brand and are must, must, must, must-have if you want even a decent shot at glowing skin, shiny hair or a happy life. Sounds too far fetched? I think so too. And this is my way of sorting the truth from the superficialities.

But I can’t do any of this without you. We have come this far together and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for making The Beauty Gypsy – an ambitious little blog that was born on a frustrated night in my bedroom – reach the top echelons (600,000+ visitors in 2014!) sans having to go the corporate way or accepting outside funding. I have had two offers this past year by big media names who want to buy out or invest in this blog. But there’s nothing like a free meal and all such offers come with some very tangled strings attached. I would rather remain independent and able to speak my mind, even if it means living on toast and butter. And every time you send me a message, post a comment or share my post, it makes the toast seem so much sweeter – far more than a dish of caviar ever could.

So, now you need to help me more. Tell me what you want this blog to be about. Send me questions on your beauty dilemmas. Let me know which products you want reviewed. Shout out about what you don’t want to see here. It all helps. It really, really helps.

Of new year resolutions

Till then, what are you New Year resolutions? Mine are pretty precise.

1. Last month brought the revelation that I have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). Yay for that because it explains my sudden weight gain, acne, mood swings and general feeling of lacklustre-ness. Yikes for the fact that PCOS creates insulin resistance, which gives you diabetes. Resolution: cut out any extra sugars to help the treatment along and get back to the gym.

2. Have a social life. Because dashing like a runaway train through the continents is not really feasible for maintaining relationships. And I am learning that a friendless life is a lonely life. Travel can’t fill all the voids.

3. Sleeping more. I know that everyone who’s reading this is going to be laughing their guts out at the thought of me actually going to bed before 3 am but…. . Suffice to say, it will happen.

Over to you now!

The Beauty Gypsy is back!

And we are finally back up and running – bigger and better and faster, as promised! I still have to go through the painful process of manually re-inserting a zillion photos that have gone to blog heaven but still, will take my blessings as they are. So, thank you everyone for all the love and support… pls drop by and tell me if you notice any bugs!!!!

I can’t end this post without a big shoutout to, the Michigan-based web maintenance geniuses who sorted out my crisis across a couple of continents, with immense patience and in record time. And not only did they solve the problems but also came up with solutions to issues that I did not even know existed – thereby preventing mucho grief in the future! Thank you guys, this blog stands tall because of you…!

The Beauty Gypsy is back!

Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry for not having updated this blog in a week! A lot of you have been writing to ask if everything was all right – yes, it is and thanks so much for the concern. Blogging can be a lonely profession sometimes and it feels really good to hear from all of you, especially to know that there are people out there who would miss me if I was to suddenly drop off the face of this earth 🙂

Actually, I have been travelling like mad and have just about gotten my head back in order. The suitcases still need to be unpacked but am dying to share all my awesome beauty finds through these journeys with all of you. So, start checking back in a few hours! And keep those mails rolling in 🙂

Beauty recipes: Make your own under-eye mask (Time: 10 minutes)

Lately, a new category of beauty products has been taking over the skincare aisles: under-eye masks. They are literally everywhere, with super-cool brands like GlamGlow, Le Métier de Beauté and Bliss keeping the credit cards busy. A slew of spas, including Ananda in the Himalayas and the Waldorf, even have a full fledged roster of under-eye treatments on their menu.

Stands to reason. After all, our under-eye area has some of the most fragile skin anywhere on the body. And it’s seriously overworked. By the time you finish this post, you will have blinked more than 50 times. Those who suffer from eyestrain (if you work with computers, odds are you do) and have slept less than 7 hours last night, will blink twice as much. This stresses the delicate muscles under the eyes.

Add in years of sun exposure, pollutants, allergies, squinting (another computer side effect), stress… and it’s no wonder that your eyes are often rimmed with dark circles, puffiness, sagging skin or crow’s feet.

Yet, even as we get our backs massaged, our legs buffed smooth and our hands pampered, the eyes mostly get overlooked. Time to change that, I would say. Added bonus: why not do it with pure and fresh ingredients straight out of the refrigerator? After much testing, harrowing the experts and comparing treatments literally side-by-side (two eyes – one covered with white store-bought goo, the other covered with colorful homemade goo!), I have zeroed down on these 3 under-eye mask recipes that work just as well as – if not better than – the store-bought versions.

Destroy the dark circles under-eye mask

Why it works: All these ingredients are potent sources of Vitamin K, which heals damaged capillaries and minimises the pooling of blood under the eyes – the main causes of dark circles. Over time, it also thickens the skin around our eyes. And since thinner the skin, the more visible the dark circles, it’s a powerful 1-2-3 punch to make those racoon-like shadows go far, far away.

Ingredients: 2 cups water, 1 bunch basil, 1 bunch parsley leaves, 3 lettuce leaves, 3 cabbage florets

Method: Boil the water and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 20 minutes, then strain the liquid and pour it into a glass jar. Apply this liquid (once it’s absolutely cool) with a cotton ball under the eyes and leave on for 10 minutes. Finally, rinse and gently pat dry. Repeat daily.

Storage: This mixture must be refrigerated; discard if it smells rancid.

Banish the crow’s feet under-eye mask

Why it works: Chinese women have been using soybeans since antiquity to fight premature ageing. And today science is following suit, with soy appearing in several skincare products. That’s because soybeans contain powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents. They also have a collagen-stimulating effect, which boosts skin elasticity. Combined result: lesser fine lines and crow’s feet.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup soybeans that have been soaked overnight in a cup of water, 1 tablespoon whole milk

Method: Pour the soybeans into a blender and process till they reach a paste-like consistency. Add the milk and blend for another minute. Apply under the eyes and leave for 15 minutes, then rinse off.

Storage: This mixture must be refrigerated; discard if it smells rancid.

Pass on the puffiness under-eye mask

Why it works: Witch hazel has a refreshing, astringent action on the skin, thereby helping deflate under-eye circles. Similarly, celery is packed with over a dozen anti-inflammatory agents, including apigenin, which is an integral part of several anti-inflammatory drugs.

Ingredients: 2 celery stalks or 2 tablespoons celery juice, 1 green tea bag, 2 cups witch hazel, 1 tablespoon glycerin

Method: Puree the celery stalks in a food processor (or juicer) and strain the juice. Place the teabag in a glass beaker. Heat witch hazel until hot and pour it on top of the teabag. Let the tea infuse for 2-3 minutes, then remove the teabag. Add celery juice and glycerin. Saturate a gauze pad and place over the eyes for 15 minutes.

Storage: Can be kept refrigerated for up to 10 days; discard if the mixture becomes cloudy.

Have you been looking after the skin around your eyes? What’s your go-to strategy for dealing with dark circles, crow’s feet and puffiness? Tell us in the comments below.