#DontJustSignHere: Why women need to get savvy with their documents!

One of the first things our father taught my brother and me was the necessity of reading every single word of every single document that we sign. No exceptions. No excuses. Zilch. Nada.

The lesson was repeated in law school (yeah, I actually trained as a lawyer in an alternate lifetime – go figure!). Because whether it’s a mutual fund form or a lease agreement, ignorance is simply no defense in a court if you’ve signed on the dotted line and then things have gone sour.

And it was in law school that it really hit me how much could go wrong in the most innocuous looking documents: companies may shut down without paying a single dividend, houses could be abruptly stripped of all the fixtures that actually tempted you over at the viewing, credit card interest rates could be subject to unfair revisions at the sole discretion of the bank, employment contracts could have whole lot of hidden clauses, online agreements may give the provider access to all your personal information… I could go on and on. And on.

Which is why, on Women’s Day, I take a teeny break from beauty matters to look at L&T Mutual Fund’s #DontJustSignHere campaign. It’s a perception-altering project that reveals how many of us women simply sign away major chunks of our life, time and finances without ever reading the documents.

But why? Sometimes its because we do not understand the technicality of the matter, sometimes its because we have better things to worry about and more often than not, it’s just ignorance or laziness.

So, dusting off that legal degree, here’s my bit to get the ball rolling forwards. #DontJustSignHere. A pledge to never again sign a document without reading it properly. Remember, you wouldn’t buy that sparkly black dress unless you tried it on first. Nor would you bring home that mega-bucks red lipstick before checking whether it worked for your complexion.

So, why wouldn’t you put your financial outlook to the test before building it into your life? It’s important for us to get involved in our financial decisions if we are to become the masters of our destiny. Because nobody knows what we want, what we need, and what suits our personalities and circumstances as well as we do ourselves. The buck stops here.

As Suze Orman, one of America’s leading personal finance experts, puts it: “You have got to be the master of your own financial future. If you’re not staying on top of your money, you are putting your financial well-being at risk.”

8 Genius new skincare trends straight from Korea (your skin needs then NOW)

With so many beauty products to choose from, why are we so obsessed with the Korean skincare cannon?

Why are mainstream brands like Sephora, Urban Outfitters and Estée Lauder increasingly climbing on the Korean beauty bandwagon?

Why is that Korea seems to be about seven years ahead of every beauty curve, every single year?

Why is that beauty has become the second biggest industry after technology in Korea (last year, the country racked up $719.34 million in beauty exports alone)?

Why is it that it’s a beauty company (AmorePacific) that lists at number six in market capitalisation on the country’s stock exchange (KOSPI)? Something that would be unheard of anywhere else in the world?

The answers are simultaneously simple and complex: K-beauty, as it has come to be known, is the product of a country that takes its skincare very, very seriously. The emphasis here is on smooth, glowing, blemish-free skin, rather than layered on makeup or camouflage.

This has fuelled some of the most cutting edge R&D labs in the world, which combine traditional knowledge with pathbreaking innovations. 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 K-beauty products are priced well within our AND you can get them almost anywhere. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s see what’s in store for 2016.

Illustration by Kristina Hultkrantz
Illustration by Kristina Hultkrantz

15-second splash masks

Contrary to popular belief, not all Koreans have the time (or patience!) for the legendary 14-step skincare regimen. At least not every single day. So, the ever-ingenious K-beauty gurus have created a 15-second mask for when there is no time to put on a face mask, wait for it to dry, rinse and try to get all the residual bits and pieces out of your hair and eyes and nose (personal experience: don’t ask!).

Also known as ‘patting water packs’, this K-beauty innovation is inspired by old time rice water or milk masks. They come in liquid form and are a blend of high potency lactic acid (to exfoliate), botanicals (antioxidant) and glycerin (moisturising). Result: Smooth, supple, glow-y, sans the waiting time

To apply, you simply pour the liquid splash mask into a bowl of water, stir and pat the mixture onto your skin. An easier way that doesn’t involve doing additional dishes: pour the liquid into your palms, pat it onto the skin and follow with a splash of clear water. Easy, right?

TBG recommends: Blithe Patting Splash Mask, US$48

Fermented skincare

The land of kimchi obviously has to be way ahead on the trend for fermented-everything that’s sweeping over the world. It has, in fact, taken it from our plate to our faces, with fermented skincare becoming the latest buzzword.

And it works. In multiple ways: Fermenting breaks down the molecular structure of various ingredients into smaller particles, which allow them to be absorbed more easily by the skin, sans irritation. It also concentrates the active ingredients, making them more potent.

Plus, fermenting completely bypasses the heating process (hence higher efficacy) and does away with the need for parabens as fermented ingredients are inherently self-preserving. And as if that wasn’t enough, the metabolic process of fermenting produces hefty amounts of probiotics, B-vitamins, natural enzymes and amino acids… all of which make these products super-nutrient-dense.

TBG recommends: Sooryehan Hyo Fermented Oil Cream, US$67.90

Waterless products

There is a reason purified water is the first (and most voluminous) ingredient listed on most skincare products. For centuries, we’ve thought of it as the best medium for delivering other active ingredients to the skin. Plus, it’s cheap, making it a great way to bring down costs for the brand.

Unfortunately, science shows that water may not be the best thing for your skin – at least when applied topically. That’s because plain H2O evaporates quickly, taking with it skin’s natural oils and moisture via osmosis. This leaves skin even more dehydrated.

Since dewy, super-smooth skin is the holy grail of Korean beauty, we now have a move towards waterless skincare products. These swap the more economical H2O for potent actives, like botanical extracts, natural oils and hyaluronic acids to keep skin hydrated while providing additional nutrients as well. Win-win, right?

TBG recommends: One Love Organics Skin Savior Waterless Beauty Balm, US$49

Lindsay Modelling Rubber Masks
Lindsay Modelling Rubber Masks

Modeling masks (aka the next-generation sheet masks)

As if you needed further proof that Koreans are about seven years ahead of us mere mortals where skincare is concerned, let me introduce you to #rubbermasking. The first beauty trend that comes with its own hashtag, these modeling masks start off as a powder that solidifies into a rubbery coating when mixed with water and allowed to dry on your face. This transformation happens due to the presence of a kelp extract called alginate.

Why is it a step up from normal sheet masks? Modeling masks adhere super-closely to the contours of your face. This ensures the active ingredients (which could be anything from antioxidant green tea to detoxifying charcoal) remain in constant contact with the skin and not even are wasted. Plus, when you peel off the mask, it lifts away dead skin and impurities as well.

Special bonus: Peeling away a modeling mask from your skin is the most fun, gratifying experience EVER!

TBG recommends: Lindsay Modelling Rubber Mask, US$11

Carbonated face masks

Washing the face with sparkling water has long been a beauty practise in Japan and Korea, due to the bubbly’s super pore cleansing, toning and firming abilities. Carbonated face masks take this multiple steps further with carbonic acid, which draws out all impurities from the skin, leaving it feeling fresh, toned and detoxed.

The carbonic acid is usually blended into a spongy paste with mineral-rich glacial mud from Canada. When massaged into the skin, this paste starts bubbling up (which is loads of fun in its own right!). Wash it off and you have some seriously, seriously clean skin.

TBG recommends: Elizavecca Milky Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask, US$11

Cleansing sticks

This one’s my personal favourite: Solid oil-based cleansing sticks that melt on contact with the skin and rinse off as easily as soap. Because they’re solid, you won’t find them spilling all over your bag, making for easy portability. And the action of rubbing one into your skin also makes for an effortlessly luscious face massage, which is something we could all have more of in our lives!

TBG recommends: SU:M37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick, US$26

Yoon Dermaline Marine Complex Exfoliator
Yoon Dermaline Marine Complex Exfoliator

Aqua peels

Two words that I never thought would go together: Moisturising peels. Because peels don’t moisturise. They are a necessary evil that lift away deep seated impurities and dead cells but leave you with dry, sting-y, flakey skin.

Unless you are in Korea, where dermatologists have long been doing an in-office treatment where a machine exfoliates the skin, while simultaneously providing a hefty surge of moisture.

The at-home version looks like a giant Q-tip, which is pre-soaked with a blend of glycol acid to exfoliate and concentrated botanicals to hydrate. You snap open the package and run the Q-tip all over your face, concentrating on the problem areas, like the T-zone. And that’s it: You don’t have to wash it off. Just go on with your regular skincare regimen.

TBG recommends: Yoon Dermaline Marine Complex Exfoliator, US$6

Pressed serum

Waterless skincare + fermentation = Pressed serums

Pressed serums = Beauty’s ultimate multitasker

What if you could combine your serum and moisturiser and face mask into one easy product? Yes, that’s the genius of K-beauty. Pressed serums have all the potency of a serum, along with the serious boost of hydration that only a moisturiser could provide till now. They have a lightweight, jelly-like texture that literally melts into the skin.

These pressed serums have an active ingredient concentration of at least 60%, which brings them to the level of serum potency. Plus, the ingredients are processed via slow cooling, rather than heat, to retain maximum efficacy.

Along with pressed serums use fermented oils in the base (instead of purified water), which help boost absorbency and moisture, minus any greasiness. So yes, you can skip an additional layer of moisturiser altogether. And you can even use a thick layer at night as a sleeping mask, making these skincare’s ultimate multitasker.

TBG recommends: Blithe Crystal Iceplant Pressed Serum, US$49

Tried any Korean skincare product lately? Have any recommendations for us?

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.