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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 Webdigia.co, 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 🙂

The (surprising!) beauty benefits of green tea

In my recent quest to nullify months years of junk food, ultra-late nights, fizzy drinks and buckets-full of coffee, I recently came across some surprising information on green tea. Seems that you don’t always have to actually drink the stuff to reap its benefits. Green tea also works superbly as a topical beauty ingredient, with skincare benefits that range from busting hormonal acne to warding off wrinkles and saggy skin.

No wonder then that every major beauty brand, right from Estee Lauder to L’Occitane, is rushing to include this potent plant in their formulations. But what if we can just get the benefits straight from the source? After all, green tea is one of the most easily accessible products almost anywhere in the world. I have been trying these ancient beauty recipes (most come from 2,000-years-old Chinese and Japanese books of medicine, where green tea is known as “green jade”) for a fortnight now and can personally vouch for their effectiveness. My skin has never recovered so fast before and is thriving in an anti-ageing, zero-acne, pollution-free sanctuary. 

green tea beauty benefits 2Green tea: Anti-acne face mask

What it does: Flushes out toxins from the skin, helps heal blemishes and soothes the complexion.

The science: Green tea contains catechins, which are anti-bacterial agents that suppress acne-causing bacteria and help regulate hormonal imbalances. It also possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the redness and inflammation brought about by zits, thereby helping them heal sans the scars.

How to: Mix 1 tablespoon of powdered green tea with an egg white and 1 teaspoon of pure honey; whip everything together with a fork. Apply the mixture to your face and leave for about 30 minutes. Then rinse it off and apply a moisturizer.

Green tea: Anti-aging face mask

What it does: Stops the signs of premature aging – like loose skin, wrinkles, age spots and fine lines – while making the complexion more moist and supple.

The science: The EGCG compounds in green tea can actually reactivate skin cells that are dying due to poor lifestyle habits, exposure to sunlight and pollution. Plus, it contains high level of oligomeric proanthocyanidins – OPCs – some of the most powerful antioxidants known to scientists. These antioxidants help ward off premature aging by fighting free radicals and healing damaged cells. And that’s not all: OPCs also inhibit the enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, which are essential for skin’s strength and suppleness.

How to: Combine 3 tablespoons of full fat yogurt with 1 tablespoon of ground green tea leaves. Apply on the face for 20 minutes, then rinse well.

Green tea: Facial scrub

What it does: Removes dirt and impurities from your pores.

The science: The slightly abrasive texture of dry green tea leaves acts as a great exfoliator to banish dead skin cells and purge pollutants.

How to: Mix 1 tablespoon of dry ground green tea leaves with enough honey to make a thick paste. Apply this paste all over your face and leave it on the skin for 10-15 minutes. Then rub it off in circular motions with your fingertips, rinsing away the excess with warm water.

green-tea-beauty-2

Green tea: Facial steam

What it does: Moisturizes, relaxes muscles, plumps wrinkles, eliminates toxins, dislodges dirt from pores and boosts circulation.

The science: Green tea is rich in antioxidants and catechins, which are propelled into your pores by the action of steam, thereby detoxifying, cleansing, refreshing and hydrating the skin.

How to: Put 1/8 cup green tea, 1/4 cup dried organic lemon balm and 2 tablespoons dried organic peppermint (double the quantities if using fresh herbs) in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the mixture, immediately placing a towel or lid over the bowl so that the oils don’t escape. Place the bowl on a table and hold your face over it, covering your head and the bowl with a large towel to make sure that no steam can escape. Keep your eyes closed and breathe deeply to inhale the therapeutic properties of the herbs. Steam for 5-10 minutes, depending on your comfort factor.

Green tea: Toner

What it does: Soothes and calms the skin, reduces itching and inflammation, while simultaneously tackling cuts, scrapes and other blemishes.

The science: Green tea has substantial anti-inflammatory properties, which make it an ideal beauty ingredient for sensitive skins. Herbalists have used cooled it for years to reduce itching and inflammation, and as an emergency first aid treatment to ease bleeding from small cuts and grazes. People with skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, and dandruff, which are caused by inflammation, may benefit the most.

How to: Steep 5 teaspoons of green tea and 1 teaspoon of mint leaves in a cup of boiling water. Let the infusion stand for at least 10 minutes, then strain and allow to cool completely before pouring the water into a glass container. Now you can either soak cotton pads in this concoction or pour it into a spray bottle, from which you spritz your face 2-3 times a day.

Green tea: Relaxing bath soak

What it does: Soothes the body and clears the mind, making it perfect for a pre-bedtime ritual.

The science: There is a reason green tea appears as a key note in so many perfumes. Its fragrance has therapeutic values which create a feeling of balance, inner peace and serenity.

How to: Put some green tea leaves in a coffee filter (or a muslin handkerchief), gather the top, and tie it with a string. Drop it into your warm bathwater and chill out!

Green tea: Eye compress

What it does: Eases tired, puffy eyes and busts dark circles.

The science: Green tea contains vitamin K, which is a proven ingredient in the battle against dark circles and puffy eyes.

How to: Chill a cup of green tea in the refrigerator. Dip 2 cotton balls in the cool tea and place them on your closed eyelids. Sit back and relax for 10-15 minutes. As an alternative, you can swap the cotton balls for chilled, used tea bags.

green tea 3Green tea: Sunburn soother

What it does: Green tea can help soothe and heal sunburnt skin if applied directly to affected areas.

The science: Several scientific studies have proven green tea’s ability to neutralize the damage done by exposure to UV rays. This is a result of its high concentration of tannic acid, theobromine, and polyphenols – all of which ease inflammation and repair sun-damaged skin.

How to: Prepare a pot of green tea and chill it in the refrigerator. Use a cloth to apply the liquid to sunburnt areas – avoid rubbing; use the cloth as you would a cold compress.

Green tea: Mighty mouth

What it does: Green tea is also known for its ability to prevent bad breath – and it has the added advantage of tasting good if swallowed inadvertently.

The science: The natural fluorides in green tea curb mouth odor and help prevent plaque-forming microbes from attaching to the teeth.

How to: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 4 tablespoons of green tea and allow them to infuse for at least 30 minutes. Then strain out the leaves and make a paste using this liquid and one teaspoon of baking soda. Use this paste to brush your teeth as usual.

Green tea: Strengthening hair rinse

What it does: Protects hair from pollution and harsh products, while making it strong and shiny.

The science: Not only does green tea help ailments such as dandruff and psoriasis by reducing inflammation, it also stimulates hair growth and softens the strands. This happens due to high levels of panthenol, vitamin E and vitamin C, which are all well established hair conditioners.

How to: Steep 3-4 green tea bags in 1 liter of boiling water for about an hour. Let it cool and use the liquid as a final rinse after you’ve shampooed and conditioned.