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
 

How-to

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!

Beauty recipe: The Queen of Hungary’s Water (the world’s first cure-all skin tonic!)

You know the best part about travelling? About being a “gypsy” – beauty or otherwise? The friendships you develop with people from across the world. Unshakable, everlasting friendships. Because midnight conversations deep in the lush rainforests of Amazon and bone chilling treks up the fjords of Alaska have a way of forging bonds that withstand geographies and calendars.

And they pay the most beautiful dividends. Like the time Anna Csaszar, my pálinka-drinking-soul-baring-limbs-freezing buddy from Hungary introduced me to her country’s cult Queen of Hungary’s Water. I’ve often seen this beauty tonic in various forms on the shelves, from brands as varied as Omorovicza, Caudalie and Lush. But somehow, despite the “gypsy” antecedents, had never really investigated it. My bad.

Turns out Queen of Hungary’s Water (or Hungary water, as it’s known in short) was the world’s first distillable perfume – predating Eau de Cologne by almost five centuries.

And it wasn’t just a perfume either. Nope! Rather, it was a cure-all beauty tonic, bestowed with near-magical properties: the early recipes advise the user to drink the tonic, rub it on skin, bathe in it and inhale it in order to receive the most benefit. In fact, according to legend, it was so effective at reversing the old queen’s appearance that 25-year-old Grand Duke of Lithuania asked for her hand in marriage when she was 70!

Whether that’s true or not, fact is that the herbal composition of Hungary water is a wonderful astringent for all skin types. It gently tones, tightens pores, soothes itchy or acne-prone skin, normalizes the skin’s pH, smoothens the skin texture and protects it from bacteria and other infections.

The potent blend of volatile oils, flavonoids and phenolic acids, which are antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, also make it a superb hair rinse.

But Hungary water may also be one of the most controversial beauty products in history. Claims about its origins range from the perfume-tonic having been given to Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1305-1380), either by a monk, a court alchemist, or a band of roaming gypsies.

It’s believed that the recipe for Hungary water remains written by the queen’s own hand, in golden alphabet, in the Imperial Library at Vienna. And that’s what the people of Hungary, who call upon this tonic water for everything from acne and eczema to headaches and indigestion, base this easy home brew upon. Anna gave me my first bottle and since then, I’ve always had one sitting on my side table.

Thankfully, given the number of bottles I go through (it’s addictive in what it does to your skin!) Hungary water is easy to make and you can get the ingredients just about everywhere.

And even if you can’t find everything in this list, just use what you have (except for rosemary – that’s crucial). Also, you can opt for either dry or fresh herbs. Though I’ve found that the fresh ones tend to make the mixture a little more cloudy. Personally, I stick to dry herbs – making sure they are organic, though.

You will need

  • 6 tablespoons lemon balm
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 4 tablespoons rose petals
  • 3 tablespoons calendula or marigold
  • 3 tablespoons mint
  • 1 tablespoon lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon sage
  • 4 tablespoons chamomile (optional)
  • Cider vinegar to cover (preferably organic)
  • Rose water or witch hazel
  • Essential oil of lavender or rose (optional)

How to make Queen of Hungary’s Water

1. Pour all the herbs into a widemouthed glass jar

2. Add enough vinegar that it rises about two inches above the herbs; close the jar tight and let it sit in a warm or sunny spot for 2-3 weeks

3. Strain out the herbs with a fine mesh – try and get all the bits out as any fragments may turn rancid over time

4. Add either rose water or witch hazel in a ratio of 1:1 to the remaining liquid

5. Add the essential oils, if you so desire

6. Rebottle the mixture and store in a cool, dry place

Have you ever come across the Queen of Hungary’s Water? Tried it? Liked it?

Fatal attraction: The most terrifying beauty practices ever!

Normally, I love vintage beauty tips. After all, anything that’s stood the test of time for hundreds of years has to be pretty effective. And I like how most of them are all about natural and wholesome ingredients, most of which can be found right within my kitchen. However, sometimes, the really old beauty stuff can be quite… out there. I wouldn’t recommend trying any of these out (no, seriously. DO. NOT. TRY. THESE. OUT.) but they do make for a pretty interesting read.

Eat some… arsenic

In the 19th century, arsenic was a staple beauty food to “produce a blooming complexion, a brilliant eye, and an appearance of embonpoint (sexy stoutness)”. But wait, there was a downside: It also caused goiters. And death. Too high a price to pay for that blooming complexion?

arsenic skincareNever, ever wash your face

According to the 19th century Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information a “beautiful lady” is one who had “not washed her face for three years, yet it is always clean, rosy, sweet and kissable”. Simply rub the skin with “an ointment of glycerine” and “dry with a chamois or cotton flannel”. Kissable? Yuck.

Bathe in ammonia

Talking about the yuck factor, if you were particularly finicky about cleanliness, ammonia was the answer. All you had to do was pour a hefty amount into your bath and soak for an hour. Perfect, apparently, for cleansing the pores “as well as a bleach will do”. According to popular beauty tomes of the time, “Any lady who has once learned its value will never be without it.”

Hang out naked by the window

Or there’s always the vapour soak. Which can get pretty interesting, especially if you have exhibitionist tendencies. To do this, “the lady denudes herself, takes a seat near the window, and takes in the warm rays of the sun.” If you’re feeling particularly active, you can dance instead of just sitting still. Because if you’re going to give the neighbours a show, why not make it the best you can?

Radioactive cosmetics

In the 1930s, the French cosmetic line Flo-radia was the hottest thing in beauty circles. Laced with thorium chloride and radium bromide elements it would, “stimulate cellular vitality, activate circulation, firm skin, eliminate fats, stop enlarged pores forming, stop and cure boils, pimples, redness, pigmentation, protect from the elements, stop ageing and get rid of wrinkles, conserve the freshness and brightness of the complexion”. As a major selling point, it was created by Dr. Curie – not Marie or Pierre, who pioneered and then died from radioactive research – but Dr. Alfred Curie. No relationship. Let’s just call it the birth of modern (mis)advertising.

Wash your eyes… with whisky

While you are having that once-in-three-year bath, it also makes sense to give your eyes a seeing-to. How? By “dashing soapsuds into them”. Another alternative: perfume dropped into the eyes. Still not convinced? “Half a dozen drops of whisky and the same quantity of Eau de Cologne, eaten on a lump of sugar, is quite as effective.”

Lead face powder

The 1700s were rough on your complexion, what with all the filth and pox diseases (and not washing the face!) that beset even the richest of people. All these left spots and scars, which were best covered with lead face powder. And why not? Lead powder is inexpensive and easy to make, coats well, and has a silky finish. The fact that it also makes your brain swell, brought on paralysis and shut down pretty much every organ in the body is just an irksome side effect.

terrifying-beauty-practisesTrim those lashes

“Unruly” lashes? They were best “slightly trimmed every other day” with sharp, tiny scissors. Not dangerous at all, right? And we think society imposes strict beauty standards in the 21st century!

Heavy-metal eyes

To rock a cool cat’s eye, all that our great grandmas had to do was line their lids with “two drachms of nitric oxid of mercury mixed with one of leaf lard”. Too complicated? Try “a hairpin steeped in lampblack”.

Suction!

Vintage Kylie Jenners would plump up their lips with some heavy duty suction, which “draws the blood to the surfaces” and over time provides a “permanent inflation.” Going in the opposite direction? Thick lips “may be reduced by compression.” Yup.

Tempted by any of these vintage beauty secrets? What’s the most scary or dangerous beauty advice you have ever received?

16 hacks to make your sheet masks infinitely more effective!

Sheet masks. The breakthrough genre that has made #masking a verb comes with its own set of challenges.

When to use a sheet mask? Which one to use? How to make it stay on the face? Do I rinse afterwards or not? What about moisturising afterwards – yes or now? Should I really #sheetmask everyday? Is pricier always better? Can I skip all other skincare if I use sheet masks regularly? Are all sheet masks good? Are they for everybody?

So. Many. Questions.

Let’s start looking at the answers.

Start with a clean canvas

It sounds like the most common of logic but I know at least two friends who regularly slap on sheet masks without washing their face first, unless they are wearing makeup. But makeup or not, you need to start with a squeaky clean canvas so that skin can best absorb all the active ingredients. Plus, without a good wash you also run the risk of trapping in impurities and forcing them deeper into the skin. So, at the very least wash with a gentle cleanser right before masking. And if you want to go the extra mile, use a toner to really mop up the grease and soften the skin to make it more receptive to the mask’s benefits.

One mask does not fit all

Like traditional masks, different varieties solve different skin issues. So take a look at the ingredients and pick out exactly what you need:

  • Dryness: The most hydrating masks are those that contain hyaluronic acid, which makes skin retain more moisture. And skip anything with alcohol or irritating fragrances, which will further dry out your skin.
  • Dullness: To bring back the glow, look for brightening ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide and pearl powder or extracts.
  • Sensitive or irritated skin: Anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe vera and other soothing botanicals will help calm down your skin.
  • Anti-aging: Opt for nutrient-rich masks, especially those which list collagen or vitamin B12 as a prime ingredient.

Look at the ingredients…

While sheet masks are a super-potent way of getting maximum skin benefits in minimum time, they are not perfect. Many of the generic versions contain chemicals that are damaging both for the skin and our overall health. Some to avoid: alcohol, parabens, synthetic dyes, mineral oil and preservatives such as ethylhexylglycerin and phenoxyethanol.

… and the sheet itself

Sheet masks come in all forms, from paper and fiber to tin foil and bio-cellulose. Those made from “clingy” ingredients like hydrogel, coconut, sea kelp and bio-cellulose adhere to the skin most tightly, forming a tight seal and delivering the ingredients most effectively. They are also the easiest to apply, as they don’t keep slipping off the skin like the fiber and foil versions. Even if you’re going for fiber, try and make sure it’s unbleached and 100% cotton, to minimise toxic materials from touching your skin and leading to toxic issues.

Super-charge your sheets

How and where you store and apply your sheet mask may double or triple its benefits. If your skin is irritated, inflamed, over-heated or simply needs a hefty pick-me-up, try to chill your mask in the refrigerator before applying. Or if you want to make it more hydrating, pop it on while you’re in the shower (or sauna). The water-charged steam particles will intensify the moisture plumping molecules.

Tweak your technique

To make the mask adhere most effectively and sans air pockets, start applying the sheet from the forehead, then line up with the eyes and work downwards towards the chin. But don’t stop there: for dull skin and anti-ageing benefits, lightly massage the sheet upwards to boost blood flow; for inflamed or irritated skin, go downwards and outwards to encourage lymphatic drainage.

A photo posted by Karlie Kloss (@karliekloss) on

Customise your sheet

How many times have you struggled with a sheet mask that simply refuses to conform to the contours of your face? Know that it’s perfectly fine to snip or tear off tiny bits to make it sit flush against your face. I usually end up enlarging the mouth area as sheet masks tend to irritate my lips, which have some of the most fragile skin anywhere on the body.

Max out the essence

It’s the fluid in a sheet mask that holds all the skin boosting goodness. So, don’t waste a drop of this precious essence! Scoop out any leftover essence in the packet (there’s always some!) and slather it all over your neck, chest, hands and feet to spread the love.

Longer is NOT better

Always, always check the instructions on the back of the pack. If it says you should apply the mask for 20 minutes, don’t assume that leaving it on for longer will increase the benefits. On the contrary, once the mask starts to dry, it will start sucking out moisture from your skin. And it will also increase skin temperature, which can increase the bacteria count, leading to acne and other skin issues. So, make sure you watch the clock!

Consider multi-masking

If one sheet mask is good, are two better? When paired prudently, most definitely. Experts advocate starting with a purifying clay or mud mask to open up the pores and cleanse them of debris; then rinse it off and follow with a sheet mask to flood the skin with beneficial ingredients. This will super-charge the efficacy of the sheet mask, while also purifying the skin, the latter being something that sheet masks rarely achieve (more on this in a bit).

Pair sheet masks with an eye mask

In a similar vein of multitasking, pop on an eye mask under your sheet mask. Not only will it cut your masking time by half, it will also super-charge your eye mask with some hefty hydration.

Don’t wash it off!

Unless you have super-acne prone skin or have to head out of the house (that’s why I usually apply a sheet mask right before bedtime), don’t wash off the residue after lifting away the sheet. It may seem a little sticky at first but the leftover fluid is potent with beneficial nutrients and is meant to be absorbed into the skin. And for maximum benefit, don’t just pat it into the skin. Instead, use this as an opportunity to give yourself a mini facial massage – the creaminess of the serum will help the massage, while the massage will help the serum sink deeper into the skin. Double whammy!

What comes after a sheet mask?

Remember that a sheet mask is serum based. So, follow it up with a moisturiser to seal in the treatment and multi-charge the benefits.

A photo posted by Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) on

But… remember that sheet masks can’t replace traditional masks

While sheet masks are the current super-heroes of skincare, there’s one thing that they can’t do well: deep cleansing or purifying the skin. That’s because they are loaded with serums that sink into the skin rather than, say a clay-based mask, that draws impurities out of the skin.

But… they can’t replace your daily serum

Unless you’re using a sheet mask twice a day, every single day – and not only will that get seriously expensive, you’re at risk of overloading your skin and clogging your pores by doing this – you still need your daily serums. So, think of sheet masks as more of a booster rather than a replacement for your daily skincare rituals.

But… remember that sheet masks may not be great for acne-prone skin

Sheet masks are loaded with sticky fluids, they may not be the best idea for acne-prone skin. Plus, the occlusion raises skin temperature (on an average, from 89.6 to 98.6 degrees), which boosts the growth of acne-causing bacteria. So, if you’re prone to pimples, first do a patch test and wait a couple of days to see if it aggravates the condition before going full steam with a sheet mask. And whenever you do use a mask, try and opt for a gel-based one rather than a cloth-based formula as that’s less likely to cause breakouts.

Which is your favourite sheet mask?