My first book: The Paris Bath & Beauty Book

A deliciously warm, sweet and slightly powdery mist rising from the cobblestones, flower stands spilling with freshly cut lilies, bustling cafés serving smoky teas, cozy boulangeries waking up the mornings with crusty baguettes, the rich wood and crystal interiors of Versailles, the endless eras of history peaking out of the Louvre, women dressed in red lipstick and a splash of No. 5… is there any wonder that I am totally and irrevocably in love with Paris?

And that I would choose the city of love, lovers and eternal seduction as the inspiration for my very first book?

So, presenting to you: The Paris Bath & Beauty Book. My very first book, co-authored with Chrissy Callahan and published by Cider Mill Press. A book that celebrates the beauty secrets of Parisian women, right from the regal Marie Antoinette face mask to a gorgeously aromatic jasmine hair mask and a luscious rose petal lip balm.

These are recipes gleaned from the pages of history, the dark libraries of musty chateaus and the annals of the Parisian oral tradition, where secrets are handed down through the generations till they almost become coded in the nation’s genetic memory.

paris-bath-and-beauty-bookTime then, to light a pretty candle, cuddle under the duvet, sip on some champagne and pick your favourite recipe. And pretty please do drop me a note, however short, to tell me what you think. Because, like all first loves, this book is the one that will always hold my heart within its pages. I am already working on another one but nothing will ever come close to the thrill I felt when holding this little creation in my hands. So, do let me know if you get your hands on one (it’s available on Amazon here and Barnes & Noble here).

Here are three of my personal favourite recipes to give you a little preview.

paris-bath-and-beauty-book-2Lavender and coconut milk hair mask

Both lavender oil and coconut milk are great at replenishing hydration without weighing down your strands. Bonus: they’ll make your hair smell amazing!

What makes it Parisian?

Because it’s lavender! And because French women love soft, naturally glossy hair that doesn’t need to be subjected to styling tools!

What does it do?

The lavender oil and coconut milk are perfect for softening and adding gloss to dry and brittle strands. This recipe makes enough for shoulder-length hair; there should be just enough to coat your strands lightly without dripping. If you have longer hair you may scale up the volume accordingly, maintaining the one-to-one ingredient ratio.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon lavender oil
1 teaspoon fresh (or canned) full-fat coconut milk

Method

1. Combine the lavender oil and coconut milk

2. Massage the mixture into dry hair before you hit the bed; leave the mask in your hair while you sleep

3. Simply wash and condition your hair as normal in the morning… you won’t believe the texture!

French milled soap

French milling creates the smoothest, most luxurious bar of soap in the world. No self-respecting Parisian would go for anything less!

What makes it Parisian?

This is an ancient soap making technique discovered by French soap makers in the 1700s.

What does it do?

Milling extracts excess water from the soap. This not only creates a longer lasting product but also ensures that the ingredients are well blended and that the soap bar’s texture is smoother and more uniform, sans impurities.

Ingredients

3 bars any unscented natural soap
1 cup warm water or coconut milk
Additives (choose from aromatic essential oils, herbs, colloidal oatmeal, flower petals etc.)
Cheese grater
Double boiler or non-reactive pot
Wooden spoon
Soap molds
Wax paper

Method

1. Grate soap bars into a double boiler or non-reactive pot, then add water or coconut milk; mix well

2. Heat on low, stirring often with a wooden spoon. If bubbles form, stop stirring until they cease; if soap starts drying out, add more water or coconut milk

3. When soap flakes melt, remove mixture from the heat and add additives (except essential oils)

4. Stir mixture until it’s cool but pourable, then add oils

5. Spoon mixture into molds, packing well to avoid air bubbles. Once molds are full, tap gently against counter to settle soap and remove air pockets; then set aside to dry

6. Once hard, remove soap from molds and set on wax paper in a cool, dark place to cure thoroughly (this may take a few weeks)

7. Turn soaps once weekly; they’re ready when you can press them with your finger and not leave an impression

8. Wrap soaps in fun paper of your choice to gift or store!

AlmondsAlmond paste for hands

This paste feels slightly coarse and you will need to really massage it into the skin – but it’s all worth the effort for perfectly smooth hands.

What makes it Parisian?

Almonds from the South of France have long been revered the world over for their skin-nourishing properties and robust scent.

What does it do?

Almonds are très rich in calcium and minerals and leave skin soft and smooth.

Ingredients

1 cup bitter almonds
3 cups whole milk
4-5 white bread crumbs
Mortar & pestle (or food processor, set on low)
Heavy bottomed kettle

Method

1. Blanch almonds in warm water and remove skins; Leave to dry out completely

2. Beat the almonds in the mortar or food processor, adding just enough milk to form a paste.

3. Soak bread crumbs in milk and add them to the almonds; beat together until everything is well mixed. Pour this mixture into the kettle

4. Add enough milk to completely cover the mixture and let simmer over low heat until it turns to the texture of a soft paste; keep adding more milk if the mixture starts to look dry

5. Scoop paste into a glass bottle and store in the fridge

Any thoughts on The Paris Bath & Beauty Book?

WTF of the week: Beauty spells. As in spells to make you more beautiful. Yes, really!

Want to look prettier? Want to banish acne? Or maybe chase away those fine lines that are slowly creeping up under your eyes? Or turn your tresses blonde? Try a beauty spell, the coolest or craziest (depends on your perspective!) beauty trend to hit our shores this season. Beauty spells? As in one of those Double, double toil and trouble things? To make you look prettier in some form or manner? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

beauty-spellA beauty spell? That would be $900. Only.

Apparently, yes. Seems that beauty spells are not just amusing quirks but big business. Some go for as much as $900, like this Cleopatra spell “…based on ancient Egyptian lore that was used by sorcerers and priests to the great Pharaohs thousands of years ago.”

It involves 113 batches of rare ingredients and materials, a hex eradicator and  a 14 layer spiritual shield. Much? Don’t worry, everything is arranged by the spell caster and managed online (eMagic? iMagic?). You only need to send in 3 pubic hairs (!!), 14 hairs from your head or eyebrows, 7 tears dropped on a paper napkin and one small piece of toe nail from your right foot.

Oh! And the $900.

We accept credit card and PayPal.

beauty-spell-3Save money, go DIY

If $900 seems a little steep, you can go the budget route and pay under $10 to buy a beauty spell “to become more attractive, more beautiful or to cause someone else to become more attractive and beautiful”.

Stingy, much? Just opt for DIY, as there is no dearth of information on beauty spells that can be done at home. No fairies or witches required.

I stumbled across one that promises to change the colour of your hair. This is how it goes: On a Friday during the waxing moon, go to a place where you can be alone for at least 15 minutes. Light 3 orange or red candles and place them in a triangle on a flat surface. Visualize the color of your hair fading and becoming white as the color drains from it. ‘Hold’ the color within your hands. Slowly lower your hands above the candles and focus on the flames. Raise your hands above your head and imagine the colour you desire pouring into your hair and turning into that colour. After all of this say the following:

Fire warm and fire red
Charm the hair upon my head
Fire dance and fire shine
From [the current colour of your hair] to [the colour you want it to be] this wish is mine.
As I will, it now shall be
By fire, water, wind and tree.

While I haven’t personally tested it out, sure seems to be a neat way to save salon fees! But what would one do if you also wanted highlights? Or maybe an ombre effect? Sigh… the Egyptians were obviously content with much less.

There is another one for acne. It goes hence: Get an apple and cut it in half horizontally across the middle. Once you cut it you will see a 5-pointed star. Rub one half of the apple over your face while saying: “Apple, sacred fruit of the Goddess; with this gift, I do caress; The pimple that brought me shame; I banish this zit in your name.” Get another apple and cut it vertically from top to bottom. Rub one half over your face as well. Say this: “I love and accept myself as I am today; clear skin I summon to come my way; By my will so mote it be three times three times three.” Bury the first apple by a tree, bush or flower that is outside. Bury the second apple by water. If you can’t find a place like this, just bury it anywhere and pour water over it.

Well, doesn’t sound much more bizarre than the claims of some skincare companies nowadays.

And like all witchy matters, you can curse someone else into losing their beauty prowess. There is one for hair loss and another for premature ageing that would be perfect for at least 17 people in my life right now.

beauty-spells-2History? Magic? Science? Balderdash?

Kidding aside, my digging throws up another interesting fact: Beauty spells are historically some of the oldest charms known to mankind. They are scattered through scores of papyri and clay fragments dating to ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. Incantations and charms for looking more beautiful are also found throughout literature, going back to the Middle Ages. And every major world religion has prayers and rituals for increasing one’s attractiveness.

Not surprising actually, considering how the human desire to look prettier, glossier and thinner is all-encompassing. After all, that’s how we developed eye makeup and body butters and nail colour – all those ancient Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Arab and American women experimenting with pots and potions of indigenous ingredients.

So, do I believe in beauty spells? No. Not because I don’t believe in ancient rituals and recipes. This blog is inspired by gypsy wanderings, after all. And natural ingredients are often more powerful than anything that Lancome or La Mer could bottle into $500 glossiness.

It’s just that I like my rituals and recipes underlined by reasoning and rationale. Witch hazel tightens pores because of its tannin content. Apples clear out acne because they have high levels of immunity-boosting pectin. Turmeric tackles premature ageing because it is a strong antioxidant. Basically, show me the underpinnings and I will follow you to the cauldron. Till then, let’s just have some fun.

What’s your take? Do you believe in beauty spells? In witchcraft? In magic? Will you be trying any of these charms and incantations?

OMG, OMG, OMG! This has to be the coolest ever use of a lipstick EVER

Paul & Joe sculpted them into awwwww-inducing cat’s faces and YSL fashioned them into a 330 pound cube but Chinese artist May Sum wins the cool stakes by hand sculpting individual lipsticks into mini-likenesses of famous people!

lipstick carving 2 lipstick carvingAnd while her focus is usually on celebrities, May will do a custom commission for you from photographs. It works like this: you mail her a photograph, choose from between 5 lipstick brands, pick your color and then wait 2 weeks. The former beauty reporter, make up maven and multimedia artist will do the sculpting, then pack and ship it to you anywhere in the world via Speedpost or DHL. Each piece costs between US$450-650, depending on the intricacy of carving required.

lipstick anna wintour lipstick carving chanel lipstick lady gaga

Interested? What is the most bizarre way in which you have ever seen a lipstick being used?

April 2016: The 9 beauty products I’m seriously in love with this month

While working for the glossies, I was never popular with the sales and marketing teams as a beauty and fashion commentator. The print media is heavily dependant on advertising dollars, making it no place for someone who calls a spade a spade.

That’s why telling your readers that a brand’s super-new, super-miraculous, super-magical cellulite cream can really come nowhere near replicating laser-level results or that there is no potion in the world that can help you shed 20 pounds in a month (at least without some seriously dangerous side effects) was definitely not a feasible option where the company bottomline was concerned.

But it’s also a fact that not all beauty brands are tricking us all the time. So, here is an actual no-bullshit, no-paid-for-by-the-brands curation of what’s worth putting on your dressing table this month. It’s a new column that I’m starting with this edition… would love to know your thoughts!

lancome juicy shaker newLancôme Juicy Shakers, $21

This is seriously the most awaited launch of the year. The full name is Lancôme Juicy Shaker Biphasic Colour Infusion Lip Oil and the they are super fun. And functional… but also FUN. The cheery little cocktail-shaker style pots, with the utterly joyous fat little applicator, combine some of the most nourishing oils (peach kernel, sweet almond, cranberry, omega 3 & 6 and sweet rose musk) with pigment. The pigment sinks to the bottom, while the oils float up top. You’ve got to shake everything up till you the perfect blend of oil and pigment (hence the name!).

The result is a light, translucent, non-sticky lip oil that looks like a gloss. The finish is light and glossy (this is not the place to look for deep, opaque shades), though the more you shake, the more pigmented they become, so you can play around with intensity to an extent.

clarisonic foundationClinique Sonic System Airbrushed Finish Liquid Foundation Applicator, $89

Once Clinique realised it couldn’t beat Clarisonic in the cleansing market, it turned its sonic technology to better uses – applying makeup, rather than taking it off. And this bit of practicality has given us an awesome product that’s all set to be as big as Clarisonic in its own genre. Dab on some foundation and run the vibrating sponge head over your face for the most flawlessly buffed finish you could ever dream of achieving. Genius, right?

the body shop shade adjusting dropsThe Body Shop Shade Adjusting Drops, $20

This is for everyone who’s either sick of throwing out their still-not-empty foundation bottles when the seasons change their skin tone; or those who can never get a shade that’s just right (ME!). Simply add one drop of the white liquid and your foundation will go almost half a shade lighter. Or add a drop of the dark one to make it more tan.

shiseido paletteSophia Webster Shiseido Palette, $169

Oh my God. Oh my God! OH MY GOD! Words cannot do justice to this makeup palette, which is the 10th Anniversary Sophia Webster Dramatic High Heel Compact by Shiseido. The front of the toe holds a drawer, and in the drawer is a face highlighter, brush and eye sponge. The little red and white split compact is in fact two solid fragrances that smell of rose, and the heel is comprises Lady Redy lipstick.

As I said, words can’t do justice to this little beauty, so just gaze at it instead. With eyes full of wonder.

ULTRAHDMake Up Forever Ultra HD Stick Foundation, $37

Make Up Forever’s Ultra HD Foundation has long been the gold standard in this genre. Now, the stick version is set to once again up the ante, with the most perfectly blendable and buildable texture known to foundation-land. However, though the brand promises a ‘radiant’ finish, it definitely looks more like matte to me.

body peelStacked Skincare TCA Multi-Acid Body Peel, $195

While beauty aisles are currently groaning under the weight of facial peels, full body versions are virtually non-existent. Which is strange, since there is nothing I need more in bare skin season than a fuss-free product that will dissolve away dullness and leave limbs and décolletage pretty and sparkling. The TCA Multi-Acid Body Peel will make your skin flake for a few days but the end results are definitely worth it!

mer seaMer-Sea & Co. Salt Scrub in Saltaire, $28

This one’s pure indulgence. While there are many salt scrubs in the market, Mer-Sea’s version is the perfect antidote to seaside cravings. Crafted as part of a capsule collection for Anthropologie, it smells of pure ocean, with notes of jasmine, citrus and sweet wood underlining the summer fantasy. Perfect for using and gifting!

Tata Harper Purifying MaskTata Harper Purifying Mask, $65

The K-beauty craze is super-fantabulous, with one exception. Nobody seems to be doing rinse-away face masks any longer. And sometimes, I just want to detox my skin quickly and then apply makeup or stack up my usual serums and creams afterwards. And sometimes, leaving on an overnight mask to soak in through the night is just not an option. Voila, Tata Harper (and thank you!).

Her new Purifying Mask is chock full of yogurt probiotics, broccoli extract, prickly pear seed oil, sandalwood oil, white clay, turmeric, fennel, ginger, clove and silver fir essential oils to remove product buildup, deep cleanse, tone and blast the complexion with age-defying antioxidants. And you can rinse it away after 20 minutes to get on with your day!

Plaque HD - Fresh MintPlaque HD Toothpaste, $15

If you’re anything like me and brushing during full-on grogginess, there is a very good chance your teeth are not getting all the attention they deserve. Plaque HD will help you out by (very temporarily) staining plaque-heavy areas blue, showing the bits of your mouth that you keep missing. And it will make your teeth look whiter. How could one not use this?

What’s your favourite beauty find?