What is life without a bit of stress? And we all know what stress does to skin. Acne, lack of radiance, dryness, dullness, wrinkles, rashes… it’s not a pretty sight. And nobody likes to battle with horrid skin.
While I can’t actually take away your stress (sorry!), here’s a solution to the skin woes at least.
Carrots are a terrific source of antioxidants, which neutralise the effect of stress and environment-induced free radicals. Their beta-carotene (which is often referred to as the “beauty vitamin” because of its importance in maintaining the skin’s health) boosts the renewal process of skin cells, besides helping to nourish, tighten, revitalize and rejuvenate the complexion. Add in their potent antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities, and you have the perfect base for a face mask that will reset your skin to its original sparkling, dewy self by negating the effects of pollution, sun damage, junk food, late nights and (at least in my case!) occasional bouts of pure skincare laziness.
The honey in this anti-stress face pack is super hydrating, to keep skin supple and glowy. Plus, its enzymes soften the skin, while antiseptic and anti-fungal elements penetrate clogged pores to draw out impurities, thus tackling breakouts, reducing redness and calming inflammation.
Baking soda (yes, simple baking soda!) is alkaline in nature and hence disrupts the growth of bacteria (without disrupting the pH balance of the skin) to help fight acne.
You will need
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon fresh carrot juice
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
How to make the anti-stress face mask
Pour all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir well.
Apply this paste all over your face and leave it on for 20 minutes.
After that, remove the mask with lukewarm water.
Finally, dip a cotton ball in rose water (or plain mineral water) and gently dab it all the face and neck.
How do you keep yourself sane when the world is spinning out of control?
Nine hours. That’s how long it took to apply the mehndi at the Indian part of my wedding, exactly 8 years back. I still remember waking up at 6 in the morning and sitting still for 9 full hours, while 4 women worked simultaneously on my hands and legs (so, that’s 36 woman-hours in total), sketching intricate designs from the tips of my fingers to the shoulders, and from the tips of my toes to the knees – both sides! And then waiting another 4 hours for it to dry, followed by the mandatory lemon-and-sugar rinse and leaving it overnight to assure a rich and dark colour. I think that’s when it finally dawned that I was about to get married – me, the girl who saw India as a cultural fantasy and had openly declared marriage to be the least sane of all institutions know to mankind. Well, love and all that… !!!!
Anyway, coming back to the mehndi (or henna), it’s so crucial to an Indian wedding that the two have become synonymous with one another. Mehndi brings luck to the new couple, while its colour is supposed to indicate the strength of the husband’s love: the deeper the hue, the stronger the love! And, most importantly, the bride is not allowed to work in her husband’s home until her mehndi fades completely (thereby making up for those 9 hours!).
And it’s not just about the mehndi, either. Today, it’s been 8 years since I got married and in true beauty junkie fashion, what I remember most about the wedding are those long, lush and totally indulgent hair and skincare rituals that I got to enjoy as a bride in a culture that elevates its beauty heritage to a ceremonial pedestal. My mother is still convinced that the only reason I traded my raggedy skinnies for a traditional Rajasthani lehenga (that weighed 41 pounds!) was to enjoy all the beauty goodies that hold ritualistic centre stage in an Indian wedding. She may well be right.
Thankfully, though, you don’t need to be a bride to enjoy some of these timeless beauty recipes that make you look good and feel good… the perfect combination, where I am concerned!
Indian beauty recipe #1: Sandalwood & almond face scrub
Rose water is purifying, while almonds and saffron represent fertility. But that’s just the ritualistic part. The reason Indian women have revered this scrub since the times of Ayurveda is because almonds contain essential fatty acids for smooth and super-supple skin. They are also packed with antioxidants, including vitamin E, to neutralise environmental toxins and keep skin healthy.
Rose water and saffron, in the meantime, are packed with skin soothing and complexion perfecting ingredients, like Vitamin C and polyphenols, which can erase fine lines, boost collagen, clear blocked pores, soften the complexion and hydrate cell tissues.
1. Rub the almonds on a coarse stone with rose water till you get a paste
2. Mix this paste with the saffron water
3. Apply the mask to your face; let it dry, then rub it off with wet hands. Weeks of accumulated grime and dead skin will come off with the paste
Indian beauty recipe #2: Heal chronic acne
Sandalwood has potent antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory and disinfectant properties that make it a treat for flawlessly glow-y complexions. It’s also superb at reducing skin scarring of all kinds. Vetiver is antiseptic and very effective in treating chronic acne. Added bonus: this paste smells divine!
4. Apply this paste on your face, paying special attention to the affected areas; wash it off once dry. Repeat daily till for 2-4 weeks; the left over paste should be kept refrigerated
Indian beauty recipe #3: Stop seeing spots
Masoor dal (whole brown lentils) is superb for lightening acne scars and hyper pigmentation, tightening the pores, nourishing the skin and bringing about a natural glow. Ghee (clarified butter) is an Ayurvedic staple used to deep cleanse and moisturise, while being one of nature’s most potent skin healers. In fact, Ayurveda calls upon ghee for everything from healing burns and tackling bruises or rashes to closing the skin post-surgery.
2. Throw away the water and grind the lentils and ghee together, till they reach a paste-like consistency
3. Apply this paste on freshly washed face; gently scrub off with wet fingers after half an hour
4. Repeat daily for a week and then once-weekly for best results
Indian beauty recipe #4: Traditional body polish
Used by women all over India, this gently body scrub literally shucks the dead cells and buffs skin to silky smoothness. How? Milk contains hefty amounts of lactic acid to loosen dead cells and grime; chickpea flour sloughs off dead skin; while turmeric is a natural cleanser and disinfectant.
2. Apply on slightly damp skin, then rub off in gentle, circular motions. Finally rinse skin clean with plain water
Indian beauty recipe #5: Whole body mask
This traditional body mask (called an ubtan) is applied to both bride and groom for seven days before the wedding. It’s messy but superb for making skin smooth, flawless and glow-y. Turmeric cleanses, disinfects and glosses; sandalwood is antiseptic, astringent and anti-inflammatory; gur(jaggery) is packed with glycolic acid for exfoliation and humectants to keep everything moisturised; yogurt’s lactic acid helps slough off dead skin cells; chickpea flour busts grime and toxins; and ghee deep cleanses, moisturise and heals.
2. Apply the paste to clean skin; wait till it dries (approximately 15 minutes), then rub it away with wet fingers. Finally, rinse clean with lukewarm water
Indian beauty recipe #6: Sexy strands
It’s a well accepted fact that there couldn’t be anything better for your strands than coconut oil (read more about the beauty benefits of coconut oil right here). Add in amla(Indian gooseberry), one of the highest natural sources of vitamin C and powerful antioxidants that can penetrate the scalp to strengthen hair follicles right at their roots, and you have a potent potion to stop hair loss and promote the growth of stronger, healthier strands.
1. Mix the coconut oil and amla juice; pour into a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil
2. Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes on a medium flame, till all the water has evaporated and you are left with a light brown paste
3. Take off the heat, cool and strain; store in a glass bottle
4. Massage well into your scalp, leave on for at least half an hour and then wash hair with a mild shampoo
Indian beauty recipe #7: Smooth & glossy hair oil
Every ingredient in this fragrant hair oil is chosen because of its blood-circulation-boosting and hair-root-nourishing properties. Try it once a week and you will see your strands getting thicker, smoother, stronger and way glossier than ever before.
3. Add the crushed garlic and ginger; let everything simmer together for a few seconds (the spices shouldn’t burn)
4. Let the oil cool and store it in a glass bottle
5. When you want to use the oil, warm it up to lukewarm (take care that it’s not hot enough to burn your skin) and massage it in your scalp. Let it soak for at least 15 minutes (an hour is ideal!), then wash it off with your regular shampoo
What’s a favourite memory from your wedding? Let’s share!
It’s happened to all of us. We drink loads of water, wash our face religiously, take off every speck of makeup at night, keep our health in check, sleep for 8 hours, take our vitamin and mineral supplements… basically, do every single thing to prevent acne. Yet, those horrid zits keep cropping up over our faces, back and other assorted body parts. So, what’s a woman to do? A lot, it seems, as experts identify powerful hidden culprits that wreak havoc on our skin while seeming absolutely harmless.
The acne trigger: Your man
His stubble may look hot but it causes serious friction that can inflame skin, leading to a breakout. Your man is smooth faced? Then check for fragrance-heavy aftershaves or colognes.
What to do: Gift him a nice razor and a fragrance-free aftershave.
The acne trigger: Water
Dehydration is bad for skin but in a Catch-22, so is the wrong kind of water. Hard water, which has a high concentration of minerals, doesn’t rinse away soap effectively. And the leftover residue can clog pores, leading to acne bumps.
What to Do: Install a water softener at home (there are excellent ones for under $30). And when you are out and about, use pre-moistened cloths instead of a rinse-off cleanser.
The Trigger: Toothpaste
Those small, red bumps around your mouth may not be acne at all. Rather, it could be perioral dermatitis – a skin condition that comes about as a reaction to certain ingredients in toothpaste. Fluoride and whitening agents are the most common offenders.
What to do: Switch to a fluoride-free, non-whitening paste and avoid acne products – they can be too harsh on irritated skin.
The acne trigger: Your latte
While the medical community remains divided over the dairy-acne connection, research does suggest that the proteins and peptides in cow’s milk increase the production of an acne-promoting hormone called IGF-1. It also increases the production of insulin, which further works on androgens to increase oil and plug pores.
What to do: To find out if dairy is the culprit, quit cold turkey for 3-6 months. Try soy latte instead (it’s yummy!).
The acne trigger: Your hair
Do you use any products to keep your hair frizz-free, voluminous and healthy? Most of these contain silicone-based polymers that are good for your strands but bad for your skin. And when you sweat, wash your hair or have it brush against the skin, small amounts of these polymers can be transferred from strands to skin, acting like shrink wrap to block the pores. Result? Breakouts – particularly on your forehead and back. An oily scalp makes matters worse. Oil glands feed acne-causing bacteria, which then end up on your neck and forehead.
What to do: Rinse your hair and then put it up in a clip while you wash your back; on extra-warm days, keep hair up and out of your face with a headband; tie hair in a loose bun or pony while sleeping; and swipe skin near the hairline with a salicylic acid pad twice a day to keep pores clear.
The acne trigger: Your pillowcase
Your pillowcase collects all kinds of crud – from conditioner residue and hair oils to sweat and body grime – that can clog the pores on your face over time.
What to do: Dermatologists recommend changing your pillowcase at least once a week, or more if you’re acne-prone.
The acne trigger: Your birth control
Uh, doesn’t the pill clear up skin? Oftentimes, yes. But everyone’s estrogen and progesterone balance is unique, which means hormonal birth control affects different women in different ways. Unfortunately, for a fair proportion, it brings on some nasty acne instead.
What to do: Ask your gyno for a new pill. And since everyone’s different, you will have to experiment. But give it a few cycles: switching too soon puts you back at square one.
The acne trigger: Sun exposure
It’s generally believed that sun exposure dries up oil and makes zits less noticeable but it’s really a deal with the devil. That’s because when skin tans, it also thickens to protect itself. Consequence? Blocked pores, which are the forerunners to acne.
People with acne tend to skip the moisturiser, thinking it will make skin greasy and have them breaking out even more. In fact, it’s the opposite: when skin becomes too parched, it kicks into oil-production overdrive to compensate for surface dryness.
It’s not just tight fitting clothes and sweat that clog pores and bring on the acne; your workout routine itself may be the problem. Dr. Nicholas Perricone, New York based dermatologist and author of The Clear Skin Prescription, explains that lifting weights causes the body to release more testosterone, which can also contribute to breakouts.
What to do: Switch to yoga and other forms of moderate exercise. Plus, load up on an anti-inflammatory diet heavy on cold water fish, beans and low glycemic fruits and vegetables.
Sometimes, your body can misread even excitement (vacation! graduation! promotion!) for stress and affect skin the same way: pores clog, your immune system freaks out and you get a mammoth pimple.
What to do: Pop 200 milligrams of ibuprofen to help calm inflammation. Take another dose in 6-8 hours, then one more the next day. But that’s it: over-use can be dangerous.
The acne trigger: Your cellphone
Think about it: your phones go everywhere with you. Literally, everywhere. Then think about where all you put them down and all the germs they accumulate. Add in the fact that you use your hands to operate them all the time. One big, nasty germ-fest, anyone? Now think about how every time you talk on one of them, you’re pressing all this grime and germs against your skin? Basically, you’ve just applied a film of filth on your face. Yuck!
Every time you apply makeup on your face and then dip fingers or brushes back in the pot to pick up more product, bacteria are transferred to-and-fro. Over a few days, this makes your powders and paints a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria.
If it wasn’t bad enough that sugar wreaks horrors on our health (diabetes, Alzheimer’s, mood swings, candida, hormonal balances, cholesterol… anyone?) research now shows that it’s terrible for our skin as well. An excessive intake of processed sugars can fast track the aging process, leading to dark circles, wrinkles, fine lines and loss of radiance.
Don’t believe me? Read on.
First, let’s look at the way sugar wrongs our skin
Sugar leads to premature ageing: When sugar enters your blood stream, it binds to proteins in a process called glycation. Glycation destroys the flexibility and density of collagen and elastin (skin’s protein-based building blocks), thereby leading to wrinkles and sagging.
Sugar breaks down antioxidants: This breakdown in proteins and collagen also weakens the body’s natural antioxidants, leaving it vulnerable to all kinds of environmental damage.
Sugar increases dark circles: The process of glycation produces toxic compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products (commonly shortened, appropriately, to AGEs) that are directly responsible for dark under-eye circles, yellowing of skin and dullness.
Sugar suppresses the Human Growth Hormone (HGH): HGH helps regulate body composition, muscle and bone growth, fat metabolism and even the heart function; low levels make you look and feel older.
Sugar leads to chronic inflammation: A diet high in sugars is associated with inflammation, which leads to all sorts of skin and health issues (like loss of skin elasticity, broken capillaries and breakdown of cells). The result? Fast track ageing.
Sugar decreases the lifespan of skin cells: The sudden spikes in energy intensify the activities of cells and tissues, making them divide more rapidly and thereby decreasing their lifespan.
Sugar causes acne: Finally, sugar can also contribute to acne flare-ups, since they rev up all the body’s functions, including oil production.
How much is too much?
Ideally we should eat no processed sugars at all. Instead, sugar should come from a wholefood diet such as grains, fruit and natural food. The American Heart Association recommends most women get no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day. That’s about 6 teaspoons (or 100 calories) – a little less than the amount in one can of soda. However, the average American woman eats more than 18 teaspoons of sugar every single day.
And exercise? Sorry to break the news but current medical opinion stresses that unless the exercise is extreme and the food is eaten directly afterwards, it is has little effect on blood sugar.
Horrified about the thought of giving up the sweet stuff? There is good news on this front. Forsaking sugar doesn’t have to be a miserable and tasteless existence. Neither should it give you the shakes, destroy all hopes of comfort food or take away the promise of chocolate. Rather, kicking the sugar habit should kick your mood and energy through the roof. So here are my tips to kick sugar without hating your life!
Drink water:Sometimes those sweet cravings are actually a sign of dehydration. So, instead of the sugar-laden beverages, opt for filtered water, coconut water or green tea.
Read the ingredient labels: Sugar is hidden in unlikely foods, from salad dressing to deli meats. Do a quick scan of the the ingredients and don’t just look for sugar – it’s often disguised as glucose, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, fructose, dextrose, caramel or syrup.
Switch to low GI foods: Low GI (Glycemic Index) foods like whole grains and nuts, release glucose more slowly and steadily. This avoids the drastic spike and crash normally associated with sugary ingredients. The crash makes you crave even more sugar, thereby creating a vicious cycle.
Have a pre-meal: Eat a protein-based snack like hard boiled eggs, or an apple with a dash of almond butter, before hitting a party. This will keep you from making bad choices later in the night.
Experiment with spices: Not all spices are hot. Many – like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves – will add natural sweetness to your food. Certain spices, such as cinnamon, will also help to lower the blood sugar.
Eat every 4 hours: Fill up on healthy foods at periodic intervals so you are able to maintain stable blood glucose levels and don’t get have sugar-rich cravings. The more you eat sugar, the more you’ll crave sweet stuff.
Go easy on the booze: Alcohol is metabolized as pure sugar. Plus it makes you hungry, likely to overeat and prone to making poor choices. So, try to cap it at 2 drinks and drink water between refills.
Rid your kitchen of sugar: Throw out or give away any foods in your kitchen that contain added sugar. Out of sight, out of mind!
Relax: Because when you’re exhausted or sleep deprived, the body craves sugar-laden carbohydrates.
Slow down: For many of us, sugar has become an emotional crutch, a comfort zone, a reward or a way to relax. Instead of falling upon this sweet poison, slow down and decode your cravings. Identifying the real need behind the sugar is the key to kicking your sugar habit for good.
Go gourmet: If you simply have to indulge, stick to dark chocolate or truffles over high sugar candies. When baking, use unrefined sweeteners such as natural honey, molasses or maple syrup.
You slipped up… now what?
However, if you are like me and are reduced to tears with the mere thought of a life lived without chocolates and cupcakes, there is still some hope. What we need is moderation in our diet along with products that can neutralize sugar’s damaging effects on the skin. And the beauty industry is fast coming up with solutions.