Why Moroccan mint tea is your skin’s secret weapon!

It rarely gets hotter than summer in Morocco, where average temperatures cross the 40°C (104°F) mark with scorching regularity. Add in the dry, dusty desert winds and you have an oven of a country, where even the air conditioners struggle against the forces of nature. So how is it that you see people sitting and sipping HOT tea everywhere in Morocco, all through the day? Surely, no mere mortal could be that immune to the heat – even with some sizzling genetics thrown into the mix?

They are definitely not immune. It’s actually the tea itself that bolsters their body against the heat, packed as it is with lashings of mint.

Mint, you see, is something of a wonder herb. Not only is it superb at cooling down the body (menthol, a chemical in mint, binds with our body’s cold-sensitive receptors to trick our brain into actually feeling a cold sensation) and raising its defences against the heat, these green sprigs also act as a powerful antioxidant, soothe an upset stomach, relieve heartburn, boost mental performance, promote focus, loosen congestion, break up coughs, chase away bad breath, inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungus, help with nasal allergies, cleanse the blood and clear up skin disorders (like acne). Whew!

Add in all the already-established benefits of green tea and you have a potent blend that’s not only unusually cooling but also packed with enough health and beauty benefits to have me chasing up the best Moroccan mint tea recipe that can be recreated outside of Morocco.

Fortunately, it’s a pretty simple task. All you need is a handful of mint leaves (fresh spearmint works best but any garden variety will do the job), some green tea (again, gunpowder green tea holds up best against the assertive flavours of mint but any green tea will work) and the sweetener of your choice. All set? Here’s how you go about making the best Moroccan mint tea for your health, beauty and body temperature!

Moroccan mint tea: Ingredients

2 tbsp loose green tea (or 3 green tea bags)
3/4 cup mint leaves
sugar to taste (traditionally it’s sugar but you can use Stevia or honey)
6 cups water

Moroccan mint tea: How-to

1. Bring water to a boil. Turn off heat, add the mint and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

2. Return the water to a boil, turn heat to lowest setting, then add the tea and sweetener (I normally use 2 teaspoons of brown sugar). Allow everything to lightly simmer for no more than 3 minutes as green tea becomes bitter when steeped too long.

3. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the biggest leaves and check the sweetness – simply stir in more sweetener, if needed.

4. Serve into tall and narrow glasses (or short shot glasses) and garnish with a sprig of mint – then sip, repeat and chill out. If hot tea is not your thing, make iced Moroccan mint tea by refrigerating until cold or pouring cooled tea over ice.

PS: If you are feeling exceptionally Moroccan, pour the tea from as high as you can manage (I am currently topping 12 inches after a week’s practise!). This creates the characteristically frothy top you will spot in authentic Moroccan mint tea. It also aerates the tea, creating a richer palate.

Ever since I discovered Moroccan mint tea last month, there is always a huge pitcher in my fridge and you will find me sipping on its icy coolness every couple of hours. And this minted-and-sweetened brew has made me feel so good, it’s unbelievable. No stomach upsets for one thing and even my annual summer-heat-induced acne is staying at bay. Plus, it tastes delicious. Try it once – and tell me whether you fell in love with the refreshing mintiness as well!

Have you ever tried Moroccan mint tea?

Beauty DIY: How to remove turmeric stains from your skin

Turmeric is pretty much skincare’s magic elixir, tackling everything from acne and hyper-pigmentation to wrinkles and eczema. But many of us are super-wary of putting this bright yellow spice on our faces, since the Lisa Simpson look is not really too attractive on normal mortals.

So, how to reap this super-spice’s super complexion-saving benefits, sans the yellow after-effects?

It’s actually not that difficult, if you stick to a simple three-pronged approach that begins with using the right kind of turmeric.

Read on.

remove turmeric stainsStep 1: Choose the right kind of turmeric

Always try to opt for organic turmeric. While all turmeric contains curcumin – a natural dye – in small quantities (around 5%), the more generic ones will usually have a hefty dose of artificial colorants as well. Largely, it is these artificial dyes that are near-impossible to get off the skin, rather than natural curcumin, which is oil dissolvable and won’t be anywhere as tough to take off.

If you want to be extra careful, look for kasturi turmeric (curcuma aromatica), which is intrinsically almost non-staining and is superb at clearing acne, inhibiting facial hair growth and brightening the complexion. However, it is not edible and should only be used externally.

Bonus points if you find a whole turmeric root and grate it at home to get the juice for your face masks.

Step 2: Choose the right mixers

It’s easy to simply dunk some water in a couple of spoons of turmeric and apply it on your face. But it’s the worse thing you can do: Turmeric will leave a seriously heavy duty stain if you mix it with plain water.

Instead, try raw honey or milk to cancel out the staining. Make a thick paste with either of these and apply it to your face, then rinse off with some more milk. Finally, wash the face with a foaming cleanser.

Step 3: The finishing touches

Still look like you could walk on to the set of The Simpsons without rousing a trespasser alert? Scientists have discovered that curcumin is 2000 times more soluble in vegetable oil than it is in water. So, gently warm a bit of olive or coconut oil and massage it into your face for about a minute, then wipe away with a cotton pad.

Or you can try my favourite trick: mix some lemon with sugar and scrub your skin with the solution. Since lemon-and-sugar also make for a great exfoliator, this will leave your skin super-clean!

PS: As with everything that touches you skin, I would strongly suggest doing a patch test before embarking on a new ritual!

What’s been your experience with turmeric? Good? Bad? Yellow? And how do you deal with this super spice?

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.

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!