Clay 101: Which one’s best suited for your skin. And hair. (Because clay masks are everything!)

While I have yet to achieve Louis Litt’s levels of mudding (What? You don’t watch Suits? Why??!!), the lure of a simple clay mask that literally sucks out toxins and other accumulated grime from deep under your skin is massively ooh-worthy!

That’s why this innocuous ingredient, which literally comes from the earth and has been used by some of history’s most gorgeous women since ancient times, is fast becoming one of the trendiest staples in today’s beauty circles. From face masks and soaps to foundation sticks and hair conditioners, clay seems to be just everywhere.

And it’s one of the simplest face masks to put together: Mix with a liquid (plain water/milk/rose water/yogurt/aloe… the possibilities are endless) and apply. That’s all!

But which clay to choose? Bentonite? Kaolin? Fuller’s Earth? Which one will work with your skin type and sort your specific complexion or hair issues?

Let’s figure it all out.

Bentonite clay

This fine-particled, grey-green clay (avoid the white variety – it’s over processed) comes from volcanic regions and is rich in magnesium. Bentonite’s signature is its unique molecular structure, which develops an electrical charge and swells up like an open sponge when mixed with water. This makes it particularly great at sucking out toxins, bacteria, fungus, oils and even excess sodium (hello water retention and puffiness) from the skin’s very follicles.

All properties that make bentonite perfect for oily, acne-prone skin and complexions suffering from large pores, is subjected to pollution or has chronic infections. On the other hand, dryer skin types should try and avoid this particular clay – not using it more than once a week.

Fuller’s earth

This ancient volcanic ash sediment – also known as Multani mitti – is so absorbent that it’s even called upon to soak up small oil spills and draw out poisons from the body. It looks very similar to bentonite and is again great at drawing out toxins, excess oil and other impurities from the skin.

However, it has one additional property: This particular clay is great for treating hyper pigmentation, because of its mild bleaching action. It also boosts circulation but may be too drying for some complexions.

Kaolin clay

This finely milled clay is the gentlest of all and comes in many colours. White kaolin (which is also used to make porcelain) is the mildest. And rather than being absorbent, it’s a gentle exfoliant that’s great for softening the skin. This make white kaolin clay perfect for dry, sensitive complexions. Yellow kaolin is a little more absorbent and exfoliating, with the additional benefit of boosting skin circulation.

Red kaolin is the most absorbent, making it perfect for oily, congested and acne-prone skin. Pink kaolin is a mixture of red and white, which is great for oily yet sensitive skin that needs medium-level exfoliation and detoxification.

French green clay

Made of mineral-rich volcanic ash mined from the bedrock quarries of France, this green clay’s molecular structure helps pull out deeply seated toxins, bust blemishes, soak up excess oil, boost circulation and balance skin’s pH levels. It is also a great anti-ager, given its toning action, which boosts circulation to repair damaged skin, soothes out fine lines and tightens the pores.

French green clay is a boon for oily and acne-prone skin, though it may be too drying for those on the other end of the spectrum.

Rhassoul clay

Mined from Morocco’s lava fields, Rhassoul clay has a dual action: It contains a super-potent blend of minerals and is negatively charged. Since most skin toxins are positively charged, the latter quality literally helps suck out blackheads (it’s seriously the best treatment for blackheads!), excess sebum and other debris out of skin pores. The inherent minerals simultaneously tone, calm and soften the skin.

This means Rhassoul is not as drying as bentonite or Fuller’s earth, making it great for dry skin as well. This particular clay is also great for hair and scalp, since it sops up excessive oil, pollutant and product buildup.

Umbrian clay

Indigenous to the Umbrian region of Italy, this clay is super-loaded with minerals and is also highly absorbent. It’s not only great for detoxifying and de-greasing, Umbrian clay also helps maintain the skin’s pH levels, soothe irritations, calm inflammation and refine the pores.

Umbrian clay is best suited for normal to oily complexions, though drier ones that are tempted by its other benefits can also bring it out once a week. The trick is to not let it dry on your face completely; rinse off while the clay is still a bit wet to the touch, to stop it from dehydrating your skin.

Blue clay

One of the rarest cosmetic clays around, blue clay is found in Siberia and has an exceptionally high mineral content. Besides being super-absorbent and drawing out impurities, it also nourishes the skin, stimulates blood circulation and tones the complexion.

This makes it perfect for mature skin, since it has a potent ant-ageing action, ironing away fine lines, stepping up cell metabolism to keep wrinkles at bay and restoring suppleness and elasticity.

Dead sea mudDead Sea mud

Though this is technically not clay – mud is a mixture of soil, silt, clay and water – the terms are often used interchangeably in the beauty industry. And Dead Sea mud (seen above in its natural habitat – the Dead Sea) is one of the most cult skincare ingredients out there, revered for its super-high concentrations of salts and minerals (specially magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium). This makes it a terrific deep cleanser and exfoliator, while killing acne, nourishing the skin, restoring pH levels, treating conditions like psoriasis and eczema, toning and clarifying the complexion, improving its texture and even smoothing out cellulite and stretch marks.

Dead Sea mud also has another huge benefit: It is great at easing out the pain of sore muscles, combatting inflammation and relaxing the mind and body, hence appearing in a lot of body masks and scrubs. It is good for all types of skin, including dry and sensitive ones.

European Moor mud

Also known as Balneoo Peat, European Moor mud actually contains almost no clay. Instead, it contains the organic residue of multifarious flowers, herbs and grasses, which make it rich in natural enzymes, minerals, amino acids and vitamins. Originating from Hungary and the Czech Republic, its high humic content makes it a potent anti-inflammatory and circulation booster, which helps detoxify the body, decongest the skin, soothe joint inflammation, ease achy muscles and smooth away cellulite. European Moor mud is highly soluble in water, so it won’t clog up your bath tub either.

Have you tried a clay product before? How was your experience?

12 seriously strange skincare secrets the experts swear by (I kid you not!)

Having beautiful, glowing, flawless skin is not always about rigorous dermatological treatments or expensive products. Sometimes, simple goes a longer way and every skincare pro I’ve ever spoken to has sworn by at least a couple of kitchen shelf DIYs they call upon in their own life. Some of these secret rituals are merely curious, while others are downright bizarre. But they are all underlined by serious doses of skincare science and the experts promise they perform miracles. So, here you go!

skincare tips1. Do shots… with chlorophyll: Don’t really relish those green juices and salads seem too much of a bother? Just stock up on liquid chlorophyll. This most essential of plant nutrients detoxifies the body, oxygenates the skin, boosts tissue repair, steps up digestion and restores our acid-alkaline ratio to keep the complexion clean, healthy and glowing from the inside out. Added bonus: It works fast and tastes like mint.

2. Order the guac: Or just go straight for the avocados, which are loaded with healthy fats and phytonutrients that nourish skin from the inside out and bring back your glow.

3. Bring on the beer: Beer isn’t just good for your hair, it’s also a powerful skin ally. All those B vitamins, hops, saccharides and yeast help dissolve dead cells, balance pH levels and bust acne-causing bacteria. Simply mix together half a cup of beer with one egg white and slather on your face. Let the mask dry for 20 minutes, then rinse off with warm water. Now say hello to radiant, fresh skin.

4. Freeze up: Late night? Crying bout? Sun scorched? Beauty pros always keep a few sheet of aluminium foil in the freezer. Simply take one of the chilled sheets and put them on your face for a few minutes to de-puff, tighten pores and bring back the glow.

5. Eye it: If it’s your eyes that need the de-puffing and redness relief, pop some eye cream in the  icebox and apply to lids for turbo-charged results.

6. Tea time: Skin more irritated than puffy? Chill some green tea bags and gently press them onto the inflamed areas – the antioxidants will soothe a sore complexion.

7. Tropical treat: Another refrigerated treat for your skin? Pineapple juice. Freeze some fresh pineapple juice and then rub this “ice cube” over clean skin. Let the liquid dry on your face for 5-10 minutes, then rinse away with plain water. Pineapple’s natural enzymes exfoliate, improve hydration and boost elasticity. Hello, luminous skin!

8. Dairy goodness: Swap the hot water with freshly boiled milk while steaming your face for the ultimate skin detox. Simply boil the milk, pour into a bowl and let the vapours float over your face as you lean in under a towel. Milk is full of lactic acid, which will decongest the pores, leaving your skin beautifully clear.

beauty hacks9.  Hydrate NOW: Dewy, glowing skin equals hydrated skin and when you’re sorely lacking in the latter department, whip together an egg yolk and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Apply a generous layer of this mixture all over your face and leave on for 20 minutes before rinsing off with lukewarm water.

10. Acne Rx: Need to bring down the redness and inflammation of a pimple right NOW? Dab a  bit of Visine on the blemish. This won’t make your pimple smaller, but it will definitely look less obvious for a few hours.

11. Scrub-a-dub: To banish dry, cracked heels, mix a handful of sea salt with enough almond oil to make a thick paste. Use this to exfoliate your feet and toes; say hello to smooth, sandal-ready summer feet!

12. Thigh high: For legs that tend to rub or chafe in summer, apply deodorant to the insides of your thighs… this sounds weird but it works!

What’s the strangest beauty tip you’ve ever heard? And how did it work out for you?

Beauty DIY: Toning up with Champagne!

When I took a day trip to Champagne last month, I did not expect to come away with skincare recipes. Partaking of the world’s most divine beverage in its own homeland? Yes. Learning about grape varietals, soils, Champagne making secrets (did you know that smaller the bubbles, better the Champagne)? Bring it on. A case of the extreme hangover? Still on board. Knockout tipsiness? Absolutely.

champagne-beauty-benefitsAnd I did come away with all of these, along with a new respect for a very complex beverage. But what I also got was the secret to flawless skin. Because it turns out that Champagne (or sparkling wine) is extremely high in antioxidants due to the grape seed extract that packs more vitamin C and E than your average toning and anti-aging products. The result? Superb protection for the skin’s vital collagen and elastin from free radicals and oxidative stress. Or, in normal English, a halt to premature ageing and goodbye to wrinkles.

Plus, champagne’s tar­taric acid content is a known skin lightener. So, if you have unwanted pig­men­ta­tion or want to even out your skin tone, cham­pagne is a won­der­ful solu­tion. And that’s not all: tar­taric acid also helps clear up blem­ishes (it has anti-bacterial proper­ties) and detoxifies the complexion.

And the lovely bubbling action of cham­pagne helps constrict the pores while stepping up micro-circulation, thereby making skin firmer and giving you a pretty, dewy glow. All these qualities make champagne one of the best toners for normal or oily skin (while it contains less alcohol than most store-bought toners, it’s still probably not hydrating enough for very dry skin). And women across France have been using it for zillions of years.

Ready to try it?

Just soak a cotton pad in chilled champagne (or sparkling wine) and wipe thoroughly across a cleansed face, neck and décolleté. It should feel incredibly light, cool and refreshing, and you can actually feel the bubbles fizzing! Don’t rinse off; follow with your regular mois­tur­izer. And enjoy your new glow!

And now let’s take a trip to Champagne…

I went to Champagne on a day trip this time – it’s 90 miles from Paris – but the region is worth at least a long weekend. Ready to experience it? Take a trip down photographic lane here or read my more extensive Champagne travelogue on Shimmer Shine Sparkle – The Beauty Gypsy’s other blog – in a couple of weeks.

champagne travelogue 1

{Champagne is spread across 41,000 hectares. Each hectare yields 10,000 bottles annually. Do the maths.}

champagne travelogue 2

{Champagne is made mainly from three grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier (shown here) and Chardonnay}

champagne travelogue 3

{Grapes must have at least a sugar level of at least 9% to be eligible for blending into Champagne}

{Moet & Chandon: The grandaddy of them all}

{Moet & Chandon: The grandaddy of them all}

{Moet owns 3,000 hectares and sources 70% of its grapes from other producers}

{Moet owns 3,000 hectares and sources 70% of its grapes from other producers}

{Moet has 28 kilometres of Champagne cellars... the largest in the region}

{Moet has 28 kilometres of Champagne cellars… the largest in the region}

{It is a literally endless abyss of bottle upon bottle upon bottle. Upon bottle}

{It is a literally endless abyss of bottle upon bottle upon bottle. Upon bottle}

{See what I mean?}

{See what I mean?}

{Though once cleaned and polished they are totally va va voom! Especially in the 15 litre version – see the iPhone for relative size. The cost? Only 17000 Euro!}

{Though once cleaned and polished they are totally va va voom! Especially in the 15 litre version – see the iPhone for relative size. The cost? Only 17,000 Euro!}

PS: Champagne isn’t the only beverage you can use as a beauty ingredient – CLICK HERE to learn what you can do with vodka!

Save or toss? What really happens when a beauty product expires

As a compulsive beauty product hoarder (1,083 lipsticks and 479 perfumes at last count – so not kidding!), I am constantly faced with the battle between throwing out expired products (but that eyeshadow palette is sooooooooo pretty!!!!!!!) and not wanting to literally hurt my skin.

Confession: The former have once too often won over the latter, the lure of an expensive moisturiser that was left in the cupboard for a year too long winning over the potential ramifications of subjecting my skin to an expired product. Because honestly, which one of us hasn’t thought that throwing away a half full tube of mascara after three months is a bit too extreme? That lipsticks don’t expire… they just gently fade away, with no repercussions for our skin? And our health? That it’s all a marketing gimmick on the part of beauty brands to just make us buy more and more products in place of our perfectly fine ones?

Unfortunately, this is the equivalent of shoving your head in the sand, ostrich-style. Because all beauty products expire and using one that’s gone bad is doing some pretty serious damage to your skin. Which is something I learnt after a nasty set of breakouts on my forehead that simply wouldn’t go away. The culprit, as discovered by my dermatologist? A setting powder well past it’s date.

And that’s what led me to research this subject further. Exactly what happens when a beauty product expires? Why is it that old mascara is actually toxic and why you need to buy a new tube of sunscreen every year?

First… reading the label

Unfortunately, most cosmetics don’t come with an expiry date printed on the label – all due to lack of regulation on the subject. What you may find is something called Period After Opening (PAO) date, which is usually indicated by the illustration of a jar with a number written in it. So, a jar with “12” or “12M”, would mean the product is good for 12 months after opening.

I usually just jot down the date I bought the product as well as the date I opened it on the container itself, with a sharpie. If you want to be more sophisticated, look at Timestrips.

Also check the list of ingredients – if the first ingredient listed is water, understand that the product will have a short shelf life as this particular element encourages bacteria to grow the fastest. Organic and preservative-free products are also prone to short lives, as they have no protection against contaminants.

And when in doubt, err on the side of caution, since you really don’t know for how long the product was sitting in the warehouse before you even brought it home!

Case in point: The International Journal of Cosmetic Science published a study in 2013, which revealed that 70% women use at least one expired beauty product, especially eye makeup. And that a whopping 67% of this eye makeup was contaminated. Time, seriously, to rethink our beauty habits.

Moisturizers and eye creams: Nine months to one year

The longevity of creamy skincare formulations – whether moisturizers or eye creams – depends on their packaging. Pump bottles, ampoules or any kind of dispenser in which the product is not exposed to air or your hands will last up to one year. Jars, however, usually last for only 6-9 months. That’s because your hands can contaminate the product with bacteria, while exposure to air and sunlight makes it degrade faster.

In either case, moisturizers and eye creams start degrading and undergoing chemical changes past the one year mark. This happens in different ways: Ingredients like vitamin C and hydroquinone start losing their potency, while others like glycolic acid and retinol actually become more concentrated over time. The former means products lose their efficacy, and the latter leads to skin irritation. Plus, oil-based creams may become rancid, which will further inflame the skin.

Sunscreen: One year

Sunscreens are actually regulated by the FDA and usually come with a prescribed expiration date of one year. After that, the active ingredients start to break down, making the SPF weaker. The formula also starts becoming unstable when exposed to heat and the active ingredients become unequally distributed in the base – so, while with one pump you may get enough SPF, with another you may get none.

beauty-expiry-dateAnti-acne products: Six months

Most acne products are centred on salicylic acid and Benzoyl peroxide, which break down and lose their potency very quickly. Worse, they break down into other chemicals that can irritate and harm the skin.

Retinoid creams: Nine months

Vitamin A is another product that breaks down pretty rapidly, so you need to use it up within the year. Faster if its not packed in an opaque tube as exposure to light and air accelerates the process.

Grainy exfoliators: Two years

Scrubs of the grainy kind are a hardy lot but they are still prone to breeding bacteria that are passed on from your fingers. So, avoid contaminating the tub with dirty fingers and you’re pretty much set for a while.

Peels and masks: Three months

Peels and non-grainy masks, on the other hand, are creatures with short lives. Especially if they are anchored by fruit and glycolic acids. That’s because the buffering agents start evaporating after a while, making the acids more potent. Cue: Skin irritation and burns.

Soap: 18 months to three years

Yes, soap expires. And how fast it expires depends on the formulation. Commercial non-organic soap bars can usually last for about three years, given the added synthetic ingredients and preservatives. However, these very same synthetic ingredients and preservatives will change their chemical composition over time, leaving them skin-unfriendly. Organic, handmade soaps, on the other hand, usually contain high amounts of fat and no chemical preservatives. The fats start breaking down and becoming rancid, giving them a shelf life of 18-24 months. And once you add things such as flowers, fruits, herbs and essential oils, the longevity reduces even further as these organic ingredients decay pretty fast.

Bath oils and shower gels: Two years

Loaded as they are with oils, botanicals and other natural ingredients, bath oils and shower gels are prone to oxidation, which causes chemical changes in the formula. Over time, the consistency also changes, making the oils and water separate. Result: Not so effective, not so pretty.

Loofas and bath sponges: Three weeks for loofas, six weeks for sponges

According to dermatologists, loofahs and sponges are responsible for some of the worst skin infections they see on a regular basis. Loofahs contain proteins and carbohydrates, which become a feeding ground for bacteria. Both loofahs and sponges are also riddled with tiny holes that trap dead skin and harbour bacteria and molds when moist. So, air dry them thoroughly in between uses and toss out in a maximum of 3-6 weeks. Less if you notice any funkiness.

Shampoos and conditioners: Two years

Once water and air start getting into the bottles – as they invariably do – the formula starts breaking down or separating.

expired-beauty-productsDeodorant: Three years

Deodorants are usually loaded with anti-bacterial ingredients and come in an aerosol can, which limits the risk of contamination, so they run foul more slowly.

Liquid foundation and concealer: One year

With time, liquid makeup starts thickening and separating, making for a patchy finish. It also starts changing colour due to oxidation, all of which explains why old foundation does not sit as well on your complexion as a fresh one.

Eyeshadows, blush and other powder-based makeup: Three years

As long as you’re not touching powder-based makeup with dirty hands or brushes, it runs a lower risk of feeding bacteria as there is no water to aid their growth. However, with time, they start drying out, crumbling and become clumpy, making application difficult. Some also contain botanical ingredients, like aloe or essential oils, and these can harbour infections. So, keep an eye out for any kind of growth or change in consistency and toss out immediately if that happens.

Lipsticks and lip glosses: Two years

Lipsticks are loaded with wax, water and emollients, which literally draw in bacteria and become mini-reservoirs of infections. They also contain oils that go rancid with time. Plus, they start drying out as the water evaporates, causing a drag on lips, rather than the creamy or glossy effect you’re seeking.

PS: If you’ve had a cold sore, any lip products you use at the time have to go immediately. Apologies!

Lip and eye pencils: Three to five years

Pencils usually go very close to mucous membranes, thereby increasing the chances of both picking up bacteria and transmitting them back to your eyes and lips. However, every time you sharpen them, it gets rid of the contaminated layers and reveals a fresh, clean one. This extends their shelf life. Only caveat: Regularly sanitise your sharpener and toss out the pencil immediately if you have any cold sores or eye infections.

PS: Self-sharpening pencils don’t have the same benefits and need to be tossed out after 3-6 months.

Mascara and liquid eye liner: Three months

Wet cosmetics such as mascaras and liquid eye liners, which are packed in dark, narrow containers, are literally a petri dish for bacteria – and you’re going to use them next to your eyes! Plus, every time you pump the wand, it pushes air into the formula, drying it out and making for not-so-smooth application.

Nail polish: Two years

The formula will start separating, becoming stringy or gooey. This will start happening sooner if the nail polish is exposed to heat and humidity.

perfume-expiryPerfumes: 3 years to infinity

Do perfumes actually expire? Yes, they do. However, they don’t have a fixed expiry date and their longevity depends on a lot of factors – much like fine wine. Which is why some perfumes go “off” in a couple of years, while others are good for a couple of decades (my mother’s Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps, housed in the original crystal bottle and stored at the back of a very cool, very dark cupboard, smells great after 17 years!). That’s because alcohol is the perfect preservative. However, the ingredients inevitably do start oxidising and breaking down when exposed to the environment. Perfumes with heavy base notes, like woods and musks, last longer than light citrus or florals, which evaporate more quickly. Again, perfumes with a higher alcohol content last longer.

Next, comes the way you store your perfumes. Sunlight, heat and humidity are mortal enemies of fragrance, leading to chemical changes that alter the scent. When this happens, you will notice that the perfume starts changing colour – becoming darker or going milky – and starts smelling more like alcohol than a fragrance. The best way to increase your perfume’s shelf life is by storing them in a cool, dry place, like a drawer or wardrobe.