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 deodorants 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?

Beauty recipes from my Indian wedding (that work EVERYWHERE in the world!)

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… !!!!

My wedding mehndi

My wedding mehndi

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.

4-5 almonds
3-4 strands of saffron, dissolved in a few drops of warm water
few drops of rose water

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!

1 small bunch vetiver
few drops of vetiver essential oil
2 tsp sandalwood powder
 

1. Soak the vetiver in a little water overnight

2. Next day, strain the water and mix it with the sandalwood powder

3. Add few drops of vetiver essential oil to the paste

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

This day, that year!

This day, that year!

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 tbsp masoor (whole black lentils)
1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
 

1. Soak the masoor in filtered water for an hour

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 tbsp chickpea flour
pinch of turmeric powder
enough milk to make a paste
 

1. Blend all the ingredients into a thick paste

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 cups besan (chickpea flour)
1 tbsp sandalwood powder
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp gur (sugar cane jaggery)
2 tbsp yogurt
2 tsp ghee (clarified butter)

1. Mix everything together to form a paste

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

Playing dress up

Playing dress up

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 cup amla juice
1 cup coconut oil
 

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.

half cup sesame oil
2 cloves garlic
small piece of dry ginger 
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp black pepper
 

1. Coarsely pound the garlic and ginger; you don’t need to crush it too fine, just a couple of whacks is enough to release their oils

2. Heat sesame oil in a small pan; once it’s hot, add the cumin and black pepper

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!

Why sugar hates your skin (and how to quit it without going crazy!)

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.

sugar-and-skinFirst, 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.

Fresh vegetables salad with croutons and chickenHorrified 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.

How much sugar are you consuming on a daily basis?

Witch hazel: Adding magic to your beauty routine

Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Witch hazel sounds like something that would be used in a potion or spell, right? But you probably didn’t realize that it’s actually a pretty common ingredient in skin care products ranging from Clarins’ Beauty Flash Balm to Clinique’s Clarifying Lotion… and for good reason.

What exactly is witch hazel?

witch-hazelWitch hazel is an ancient herb that has been used for medicinal purposes since centuries. It was first discovered by the Indians, who found a way to extract oils from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana – commonly known as the witch hazel shrub. Although the origins of its distinct name are unclear, it may have come from the Middle English word “wich”, which means “flexible”, in honor of the plant’s bendy branches.

Witch hazel contains tannin, flavonoids and strong anti-oxidants, which can help clear up a multitude of skin problems. Native Americans used the plant to ease swelling and treat minor wounds, abrasions and several other skin conditions. Today, herbalists consider it a powerful remedy for relieving muscle aches and pains, treating varicose veins, as well as to stem bleeding from cuts and scrapes.

However, it is as a beauty treatment that witch hazel keeps its mystique. And you don’t even have to wash your face with it from a silver bowl at full moon. It works quite simply and effectively at any time of day and the benefits are underlaid with solid scientific proof.

What to do with witch hazel

De-grease your hair: To reduce excessive oil, dampen a cotton ball with witch hazel and dab it along your hairline and parting. Leave on for 10 minutes, then rinse off with cool water.

Spot control: Witch hazel helps disinfect and reduce the inflammation on a pimple, which is why it can be found in many over-the-counter acne treatments. For maximum effectivity, try this potent mask: mix a teaspoon of witch hazel with two teaspoon of honey (for dry skin) or an egg white (oily skin). Apply this to the affected area and leave for 20 minutes; rinse off with cool water.

Soothe sunburns: Treating a sunburn with witch hazel will lessen healing time and prevent the infamous skin peeling and flaking. And it’s simple – just spread a thin coat of witch hazel on the ‘burn. It will both cool and soothe.

Treat dry skin: Apply witch hazel immediately after showering… it will “lock in” the moisture that has just soaked into your skin.

Pore perfecter: The high level of tannin content (which strengthens pore walls) in witch hazel makes it great for soothing and tightening large pores. Plus the herb is naturally antibacterial and effectively sucks out dirt and oil without over-drying. To use, simply soak a cotton pad in watch hazel and gently rub over cleansed skin twice a day.

A branch of witch hazel

A branch of witch hazel

Toner: Unlike many harsh toners that contain chemical ingredients, witch hazel naturally firms the skin without making your face feel too tight. It also helps reduce inflammation and redness, while having a cooling touch that leaves you feeling refreshed.

Anti-aging: Witch hazel is rich in antioxidants, which defend our skin against free radicals. Free radicals can damage skin, leading to premature skin aging. So, apply witch hazel regularly to clean skin when you want to slow down the clock.

Refresh tired eyes: NOT by squirting witch hazel in them, but by soaking a clean rag in witch hazel and cold water and placing the cold compress over your closed eyes for 10 minutes. The anti-inflammatory effects (which make witch hazel one of the magic ingredients in Preparation H) will help relieve strained, puffy or red eyes.

Heal a bruise faster: Been in a fight recently? Well, maybe not. But if you bang your leg or arm and are left with a nasty bruise, a thrice-daily dab of witch hazel can help speed up the healing time. It also works as a disinfectant for cuts, cracked skin and blisters.

Soothe (or prevent) razor burn: The anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel stop itchy bumps from forming around irritated hair follicles. Apply before or after shaving – this goes for both ladies and gentlemen.

Scars and age spots: Pour 2 tablespoons of witch hazel into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and mix well. Use a q-tip to dab the mixture onto the age spots before bed. Let dry and put on the night time moisturizer. Repeat process for 2 weeks to fade the spots.

Do a deo: The same antibacterial and astringent properties that make witch hazel so effective at reducing oiliness can also help your underarms. Simply saturate a cotton ball in the liquid, dab it on your underarms and let it dry. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to give it a nice scent.

Varicose vein relief: Soak wash cloths in witch hazel and lay on legs (which are propped straight out) to reduce pain and swelling from varicose veins. Witch hazel will help tighten the veins, relieving discomfort temporarily.

Soothe poison ivy and poison oak: Just like acne and blemishes, witch hazel reduces itching and relieves swelling. Something definitely worth packing on your next picnic or camping trip.

Do you currently use witch hazel in your skincare regimen?