Want to transition to a natural beauty routine? 12 simple tips to get you started

With so much toxicity around us, we are all increasingly leaning towards natural and organic products. They keep us safe, protect the environment and in many cases work better than chemical-laden ones, which may irritate the skin and be counter-productive in the long term due to their aggressive action.

In fact, the sales of natural and organic cosmetics is now running upwards of $11 billion annually. And you can find giant stacks of them everywhere from high end beauty aisles to your local department store.

But then there are the increasingly worrying reports of leading organic beauty brands containing the very chemicals they claim to avoid like the plague. Or being completely ineffective. And if you’re going to be shelling out higher-than-average prices for going “clean”, you want the authentic product. Right?

Unfortunately, the field of organic beauty is a murky one and it’s easy to get misled.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to keep yourself safe and free of dupes.

Read on.

how to buy organic beautyLabels may mean nothing. At all.

Being labelled “natural” or “organic” or “made with organic ingredients” is no guarantee that everything in the bottle is sourced from nature. The problem is that the organic beauty industry has no set standards for these labels. For example, a moisturiser labelled “organic” may contain less than 1% organic ingredients. Yes, really!

And the certifications can mean nothing as well

Love it or hate it, the FDA is a standard, certified agency for classifying food products. In the case of processed foods, an organic stamp stipulates that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic. A beauty product, on the other hand, can contain less than 0.1% organic ingredients and still claim to be organic.

That’s because the beauty industry has absolutely no nationally or internationally recognised standards in place. This dearth of regulations, absence of legal definitions and a never-ending availability of self-appointed certification bodies – each with their own standards – can make that organic stamp totally worthless.

Take the two most popular certifying boards – the Soil Association and Ecocert – both of which have different requirements:

  • Soil Association certificate: 95% of plant-based ingredients must be organic and all other ingredients have to meet strict criteria. Overall, the product must be at least 20% organic.
  • Ecocert: 95% of plant-based ingredients must be organic but only 10% of the overall ingredients have to be organic.

While that may sound low, many beauty products are mostly composed of water, which cannot be organic or inorganic. Shampoo, for example, is 80% water, so if 20% of the remaining ingredients are organic, that’s about as good as it gets.

Plus, many certifying boards (like Ecocert) also certify individual ingredients, so the label you see might be for an individual component – say, organic lavender that’s been mixed into an otherwise chemical soup – rather than the whole product. So, always study the labels really carefully.

Looking forward to COSMOS

For a while now, there has been talk of Cosmetics Organic Standard – COSMOS – which is a confluence of five organic certification bodies in Europe to create a consensus on what constitutes ‘organic’ in cosmetics. However, the label still needs to show its teeth. And in any case, it will remain a voluntary certificate so can’t get everything under its purview.

In the meantime, learn the basic lingo

If the label says “natural”, the brand is indicating that the product contains a higher percentage of plants and minerals but they may not be derived from completely clean agricultural practises (think chemical fertilisers and pesticides).

If the product is billed as “organic”, the main ingredients are not only natural but also grown without chemicals, whether as fertilisers or pesticides.

Befriend the databases

When it starts getting murky, a ‘green’ database is a good bet. I personally run all new purchases through the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep ratings to find which beauty products are safe, and which don’t stand up to the test.

Avoid formaldehyde releasing preservatives

Commonly listed as as 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,2-Diol, Diazolidonyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea and Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, these are again carcinogens. Not great, right?

Avoid ingredients with the prefix PEG, DEA

These can also be carcinogenic.

Steer clear of anything with BHA or BHT

These are synthetic antioxidants used instead of vitamin E and are carcinogenic.

What is 3-Free?

There is a new label that’s increasingly been cropping up on nail polishes: 3-Free. This means the bottle is free of three controversial ingredients – dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and formaldehyde.

Extending this further are 5-Free nail polishes, which are free of formaldehyde resin and camphor along with the three ingredients mentioned above; and 7-Free, which also knock out  ethyl tosylamide and xylene.

organic beauty labelThe order of ingredients in the label is never random. And that’s important.

Beauty companies are required to list the ingredients in decreasing order of their percentage within the product. So, if the first five ingredients are naturally or organically derived, there’s definitely a great chance that you have a clean product on your hands. For an added bonus, choose a product with as few ingredients as possible. Fewer ingredients usually point towards a cleaner product.

Basically, oils make the cleanest cosmetics

Virgin olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, argan oil… these will usually do the job as effectively as a hundred-dollar chemical soup, while keeping you safe from toxicity.

If the brand is misleading, don’t let it go scot-free

Since the field of organic and natural cosmetics is constantly evolving, it’s really important for consumers to play a role and bring problems to the fore. If you find a beauty product has deliberately misleading claims, you can (and should!) take it to the Federal Trade CommissionTrading Standards or the Advertising Standards Authority. They will ask the brands to substantiate the claims and drop them if they are proven to be incorrect. Brands like Little Me Organics and Organix have, in the past, been forced to rebrand based on these dupes.

So, even if change is a little slow paced and laborious, it’s out there and we should collectively help make it happen!

Sleep less, weigh more: 6 ways lack of sleep is making you pile on the weight. LOTS of weight.

What if I told you there’s a super-effective weight loss technique that costs nothing and doesn’t need a single change in your diet? Yes, it’s true. No, it’s not a magic potion.

It is – wait for it – SLEEP. Yes, saying that that people who sleep more end up eating less (and being less hungry) might be oversimplifying a little too much, but in essence, that’s what multiple studies have found. Along with a host of other facts that have a massive impact on your weight. Read on.

Sleep controls your hunger levels

Constantly feeling a niggling hunger? That doesn’t go away even with proper meals? It may be down to your sleep cycle. Cortisol levels start rising when you’re short on sleep. This shuts down the regions of your brain that make you feel satisfied after a meal, meaning you feel hungry all the time – even if you just ate mammoth portions.

And that’s not all. Cortisol doesn’t just make you crave any food – it specifically makes you crave high calorie foods, adding insult to injury. Research by the American Heart Association shows the sleep deprived usually end up gorging an extra 500 calories a day. This roughly translates to two pounds of weight gain over a month.

All because of simple lack of sleep.

sleep and weight2You can’t shift the weight

Working out, eating right and still can’t budge those pounds? Poor sleep literally changes your fat cells, making it near-impossible to lose weight. The American Health Association steps in again, with statistics that prove those on a sleep-deprived diet experience a 55% reduction in fat loss compared to their well rested counterparts.

How? Why?

According to researchers at the University of Chicago, when your body is sleep deprived, it suffers from “metabolic grogginess”. This basically means your fat cells become exhausted, dazed and confused when you’re short on sleep – just like the rest of your mind and body. Unfortunately, they can’t be revved up by multiple shots of espresso and within just four days of sleep deprivation, your body’s ability to properly use insulin drops by more than 30%.

Why’s that bad?

Insulin instructs fat cells to flush away the fatty acids and lipids from your blood stream. When it’s disrupted, these fats keep circulating in your blood, ultimately getting stored away in all the wrong places – such as your liver. And that is exactly how you become fat and suffer from diseases like diabetes.

You have inane food cravings

Contrary to popular belief, hunger and cravings are not a function of willpower. They are actually controlled by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you, “Put down the fork, I’m full”. So, high levels of leptin keep hunger at bay. Ghrelin, on the other hand, makes you feel hungry, while slowing down your metabolism (hence reducing your calorie-burn) and increasing the amount fat you store.

It’s a cinch to figure out why throwing leptin and ghrelin out of balance is the last thing you need. But sleeping less than 6 hours makes leptin levels plummet and ghrelin levels rise, setting the stage for high calorie feasting after a restless night. QED.

sleep weight lossSleep deprivation sabotages gym time

To make a bad situation worse, lack of sleep doesn’t just affect your diet – it also sabotages your workouts. And it’s not just that when you’re suffering from slept debt, everything you do feels tougher. Scientists from Brazil have found that sleep deprivation decreases your body’s protein synthesis, causing muscle loss and creating a higher potential for injuries.

Plus, lack of sleep also slows down the production of growth hormones, which makes it harder for your body to recover from exercise, lowers the fat burn and leads to premature ageing.

Sleep (literally) helps you burn more calories

Another inducement to sleep on time? Your body will burn more calories throughout the day. How? According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, normal sleepers’ resting energy expenditure (the amount of calories burned when you’re not moving) was 5% higher than their tired counterparts. Plus, the former also burned 20% more calories after a meal.

Sleeplessness leads you to poor decisions

Skimping on sleep dulls your brain’s frontal lobe – the region that controls decision-making and impulse control – thereby setting you up for bad decisions. Plus, when you’re overtired, your brain’s reward centers rev up, looking for something that feels good, aka energy-dense, high-carb junk foods. In short, while you might be able to squash comfort food cravings when you’re well-rested, your sleep deprived brain may have trouble saying no to that third doughnut.

What does your hair color reveal about your health? Turns out, a lot more than you can imagine

Seems that when we ponder the question of whether our inner diva is more saint vs sinner – aka Betty Cooper vs Veronica Lodge or Jackie O vs Marilyn Monroe – we also need to keep in mind that our natural hair color reveals a lot about our health. That’s because the same genes that determine whether you are blonde, brunette or a redhead also decide your medical profile. For instance, natural blondes are more susceptible to skin cancer, brunettes are more at risk for nicotine addiction and redheads have an increased sensitivity to pain. Which sounds mean and prejudiced but is actually your body’s way of protecting you by giving visible warnings of the dangers ahead. So, learn to listen and combat your color chart.

hair-colorIf you are a blonde…

Protect your eyes: The fairer your hair, the greater your risk of developing macular degeneration – an eye disease that can lead to blindness. So, protect those peepers with sunglasses, regular eye exams and an eye-healthy diet rich in dark green veggies like broccoli, spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts.

Cover up your skin: We all know that a fair complexion ups your chances of skin cancer. But researchers at Harvard now say that fair hair is a high-risk factor as well. That’s because blondes produce less melanin – the stuff that gives skin its colour and helps shield it from harmful UV rays. This makes their skin (especially their scalps) more sensitive to sun burns, sun damage and melanoma. The preventive? Load up on sunscreens that shield against both UVA and UVB rays. And always wear a hat when you’re in direct sunlight.

If you are a brunette (or jet black)…

Hold on to your hair: Experts estimate that one in four women experience hair loss and a majority of them – more than 60% – are brunette. That’s because brown tresses tend to have fewer hair follicles and fewer hair follicles mean a greater risk of hair loss. As if that wasn’t enough, brown hair is also usually thicker and coarser than red or blonde strands. Which means that when brown hair follicles die, they leave behind more noticeable bald patches. You can’t change genetics but you can stave off hair thinning by eating right: load up on foods high in iron, like oatmeal, broccoli and raw spinach to help promote hair growth.

Stub out that cigarette: Excess melanin makes hair brown. It also prevents your liver from metabolising nicotine. And the longer nicotine in your system, the faster you become addicted. The fix? Don’t smoke! Need to boost your body’s ability to metabolise? Vitamin C-rich foods (like oranges, broccoli and peppers) help promote better liver function.

Mind the acne: “Brunettes tend to have oilier skin than blondes or redheads, which means they’re more prone to acne outbreaks,” says celebrity trichologist Philip Kingsley. But there is good news as well – oily complexions are generally slower to show signs of ageing. Keep those spots at bay by drinking plenty of water and having a healthy diet.

cheryl-blossom-hair-colourIf you are a redhead…

Prep for pain: Researchers have found that people with red hair are more sensitive to pain than blondes and brunettes, to the extent that they may need 20% more anesthetic during surgery. That’s because the “ginger gene” – known as MC1R – stimulates a brain receptor that’s related to pain sensitivity. But don’t let that keep you from getting good oral care or partaking of a bikini wax: talk to your doctor or technician about pain management or take 500 milligrams of ibuprofen an hour before the appointment.

Look out for Parkinson’s: A Harvard study concludes that redheads are nearly 90% more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. That’s because ruby hair is a result of a hereditary DNA mutation – and it’s the same gene mutation that causes this illness. On the plus side, research shows that folic acid may slow the progress of Parkinson’s. So, get yours from beans, nuts and lentils.

Be wary of blood pressure: The same MC1R gene can also cause faulty production of anti-stress hormones. And the inability to manage stress is a major cause of high blood pressure (seriously, how much mischief can a pesky little gene create?), so voila! The next time you feel like you’re going to lose your call, munch on an apple. German researchers recently discovered that the quercetin in apples can lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

What’s your hair color? Have you noticed a co-relation with any of these markers?

Your skin NEEDS these 11 brand new Korean beauty innovations. Right NOW.

Yes, the French pharmacy occupies cult status in the world of skincare. But have you ever stepped into an Asian pharmacy? Especially in Korea, where hi-tech skincare goes hand-in-hand with traditional knowledge? Add in chic packaging along with the glowing, über-moisturized, babylike skin that’s become the hallmark of Korean beauty and you have some of the most potent skincare products available to humankind.

Which is not surprising, since skincare is almost a culture in Korea – the complexion is a treasured possession and beauty routines focus on prevention and skin fortification, rather than spot treatments and camouflage. This kind of intense demand has fuelled some of the most cutting edge R&D labs in the world, which work with innovative elements like maple water and starfish extract, alongside traditional processes like fermentation. And amidst their biggest benefactors is the Korean government itself, which regularly funds cosmetic companies and flies researchers abroad to pick up fresh knowledge.

Added bonus: Most of these adorably packaged K-beauty products are priced well within reach of slim wallets. AND you can get them almost anywhere, given the way they are popping up in beauty aisles across the world.

In fact, so enamoured is the world with Korean skincare that the country is poised to export more beauty products than it imports this year. And since it’s not a country that’s known for resting on one’s laurels – or konjac sponges and BB creams – it’s pretty much like beauty-junkie heaven.

Time then for you to incorporate these products into your beauty routine… below are 11 of the top noteworthy must-haves.

korean skincareTonic essences

These watery solutions – which fall somewhere between a toner and a serum – are my favourite bits from the current crop of Korean skincare. And they are all over the beauty space right now. Loaded with fruit extracts for gentle exfoliation, witch hazel to clean out pores, and moisturizers for hydration, they tackle skin problems on a cellular level. Plus, they are super-light so you can layer on serums and moisturisers over them with impunity.

Look for: ISOI Bulgarian Rose Pore Tightening Tonic EssenceSK-II Facial Treatment Essence, Estée Lauder Micro Essence Skin Activating Treatment Lotion

Shape shifters

I’ve noticed that so many Korean beauty products are shape-shifters. That is, they change texture after you apply them. There are face masks that go on as a lotion, then foam up as you rub them in and finally rinse off like water. Then there are cleansers that start out solid but liquefy upon hitting warm water. There are even “Complexion Coordinating” creams that start out white, then change into a fleshy tone as you blend them into your skin, thanks to “color capsules”. Magic? Who knows.

Look for: Missha Complexion Coordinating BB CreamCremorlab O2 Bubble Energizing MaskAromatica Orange Cleansing Sherbet


Serums are so yesterday. Now, it’s all about these super-tiny bottles containing super-concentrated versions of essences that work even more efficiently to tackle whatever skincare problem you may conceivably have. And they are light-as-water so you can layer on as many treatments as you want, for multiple issues. Plus, the individually packaged portions means there is no guesswork with how much or how little to apply.

Look for: Etre Belle Detox-Anti Stress 10 Ampoules Pack, Donginbi Red Ginseng Aqua Ampoules

Foot masks

A mask for your feet? Yes, it’s an essential in Korea. And once I tried it on, there was no going back. Even though the process is not so pretty: You slather them all over your feet and then the dead skin starts molting for 2 days. Molting as in literally peeling off in sheets. But wait it out for 48 hours and you’ll be rewarded with baby-skin soft that even the toughest pumice stones can’t rival?

Look for: The Face Shop Smile Foot Peeling MaskEtude House BeBe Foot Mask

korean starfish skincareStarfish extract

Yes, Korea is putting starfish extract in its skincare. Actual starfish extract. Because this sea echinoderm is known to rejuvenate lost limbs, the logic is these formulas can similarly restore your skin to its original gorgeousness. The cream itself has the texture and consistency of hair paste but absorbs into skin pretty easily. Total. Awesomeness.

Look out for: Mizon Returning Starfish Cream

Maple water

Maple water (or maple tree sap) is EVERYWHERE right now. The reason? Its hydrating, nutrient-rich, antibacterial and acne-busting molecules are the ideal size for penetrating the skin, leading to ultra-quick absorption. Plus, it’s odourless and non-sticky. In short, think of it as the new coconut oil, sans the greasiness.

Look for: May Coop Cleansing Mousse

Peeling gels

These gel-like exfoliators seem like standard stuff but as you massage them into your skin, the product starts to pill, suctioning out dirt and dead skin cells as it goes along. Peeling gels are anchored by fruit extracts that exfoliate without putting skin through the trauma of rough, bead-based scrubs. Now, who wouldn’t want that?

Look for: Missha Super Aqua D-tox Peeling Gel

Acne stickers

Tired of gooey acne creams smearing all over your face and pillows? These small, transparent stickers are impregnated with various combinations of salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and grape seed extract to dry up individual zits. Though I would skip them during the daytime, since even though the stickers are transparent, they still show up as a shiny circle under lights.

Look for: Missha Speedy Solution Anti Trouble Patch SetNexcare Acne Dressings

Skin finishers

Designed to be the last step in a skincare routine (over serum, moisturiser and sunscreen), skin finishers “seal in” the effects of other products and add a subtle glow under makeup. The formula contains fatty acids that create a physical barrier over the rest of your skincare, making it work better; while micronized pearl particles make skin look more even and radiant. Bottom line: Seriously, gorgeously glow-y skin.

Look for: Sulwhasoo Luminate Essential FinisherLG Su:m 37 Water Full Skin Refresher

Air-cushion compacts

This seems to be THE makeup base to have right now and I am addicted. Air-cushion compacts contain a lighter, dewier version of BB or CC creams packed into a sponge for a consistency that doesn’t create harsh lines or a cake-y finish. Plus, since you apply them with a sponge, there are lesser chances of getting carried away and slathering on too much. Perfect for creating that luminous, no-makeup look we all crave, especially during the daytime.

Look for: IOPE Air Cushion XPAmore Pacific Color Control Cushion Compact SPF 50, Laneige BB Cushion SPF 50

Powder buffers

Think of these as the Clarisonics of face powders. You dip the puff into the well, filled with pressed mineral powder, then press the button to apply. According to the company, the puff vibrates at a rate of 13,000 pats per minute, assuring that not a single pore will be missed. Not exactly subtle enough for touchups on the go, it does a phenomenal job of creating an even, flawless foundation.

Look for: Missha M Prism Bright On Auto Powder

Is there a Korean beauty product you think I should try?