Discovering Queen Elizabeth (and Duchess Kate’s) Britain, one beauty recipe at a time!

So, did Queen Elizabeth wake up on her 90th birthday and have a nice laugh at Prince Charles’ expense? Hoo boy, doesn’t seem you’re going to be the king anytime in the near future. After all, the world’s oldest monarch isn’t going anywhere soon, considering her sprightly step and reigns-well-in-hand disposition.

And thank God for that! Because Elizabeth Alexandra Mary (as she was christened after her birth at 2:40 am on April 21, 1926) is one of the most iconic and stylish monarchs of our times. She has many a sartorial success to her name, not the least of all being those super-perky block colours that make sure she immediately stands out in any crowd.

And her style is truly global, replete with a wedding ring made from a nugget of Welsh gold and a coronation dress that was embroidered with English roses, Scottish thistles, Welsh leeks, Irish shamrocks and the national flowers of the Dominions. Her wedding cake was made using ingredients gifted by the Australian Girl Guides.

Queen Elizabeth II also has an abiding love for Scottish country dancing and once wore a stunning gown hand-sewn with 2,091 shamrocks during a State visit to Ireland. Her favourite indulgence is a collection of pretty, sheer umbrellas with different coloured bands to match her outfits.

Besides umbrellas, the queen has an extensive (to put it mildly) collection of jewellery that includes the largest pink diamond in the world. Plus, she owns 88 cygnet swans and all the dolphins, whales, porpoises and sturgeons caught within three miles of UK’s coast.She has launched 23 ships and socially hosts more than 50,000 people at Buckingham Palace in an average year (that has to be exhausting!).

Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) dances with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a square dance held in their honour in Ottawa, by Governor General Viscount Alexander, 17th October 1951. The dance was one of the events arranged during their Canadian tour. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) dances with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a square dance held in their honour in Ottawa, by Governor General Viscount Alexander, 17th October 1951. The dance was one of the events arranged during their Canadian tour. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But Queen Elizabeth II’s prowess goes much deeper: She trained as a mechanic during the second world war, collected rationing coupons for her wedding dress, has a long association with racing pigeons (such a thing exists?), has seen 12 US presidents and 12 UK prime ministers come and go during her reign (yes, you read that correctly), sent her first email in 1976 (again, yup!), bred a corgi with a dachshund to create the dorgi, was the first titular head of the Church of England to receive a Pope at the Buckingham Palace in 450 years (Pope John Paul II in 1982), has been a working mother to four children (and trust me, with them being brats so very often and her having a brutal schedule, it couldn’t be easy!) and her thoroughbreds have won virtually every major race in Britain.

WHEW!

No wonder the world is celebrating 90 years of this magnificent woman. Which set me to thinking: How do we pretty ladies, sitting thousands of miles from jolly Britain, join in the festivities? And being beauty-obsessed as I am, what could be better than digging out vintage English skincare recipes, going back to the 17th and 18th century world of Britain’s erstwhile royals? After all, the British love their traditions and their peaches-and-cream complexions have always been the stuff of legend. Just see Queen Elizabeth II – there is no way she looks 90!

Thankfully, I am blessed with quite a hefty lineage of Brit-born relatives, so an extensive hunt through old family hideaways has revealed a treasure trove of traditional English skincare secrets that can still hold their own on milady’s makeup table. You are welcome, Duchess Catherine.

British beauty recipe #1: Face saving lemonade

Make a hole in a lemon and fill it with granulated sugar. Then roast the lemon in hot ashes (or on a grill). When you want to use the juice, squeeze out a little through the hole and dab it on with a napkin. Leave on for a couple of hours before rinsing off with cold water. This is perfect for deep cleansing the skin and brightening the complexion.

Why it works: Lemon juice has tons of citric acid, which is a great antimicrobial and exfoliator. Sugar granules make for a perfect natural scrub. The original recipe also called for an application of gold leaf over the lemon rind but that’s (thankfully for everyone who’s not Kate Middleton!) superfluous.

British beauty recipe #2: Virgin’s milk

Pound a few leeks with a mortar and pestle, squeeze out the juice and pass it through a strainer. Just before using, pour a few drops of rubbing alcohol on the juice – it will instantly turn milky. This is a terrific treatment for acne, plus it also keeps the skin soft and smooth.

Why it works: Leeks are anti-inflammatory and contain tons of quercetin, which is one of the beauty industry’s top antioxidants. They have also long been used to reduce scarring and figure in several drugstore treatments.

British beauty recipe #3: Apple-honey face pack

Add a teaspoon of honey to one mashed apple and mix well. Put this mixture on your face and neck. Leave it on for half an hour, then rinse with whey or cold milk.

Why it works: Honey is one of nature’s best moisturisers, while apples are chockfull of vitamins A and C. These make the fruit great at repairing damaged skin cells and exfoliating the dead ones. Milk and whey, in the meantime, are great for strengthening skin tissues.

Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) driving an ambulance during her wartime service in the A.T.S. (Auxiliary Territorial Service), 10th April 1945. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) driving an ambulance during her wartime service in the A.T.S. (Auxiliary Territorial Service), 10th April 1945. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

British beauty recipe #5: Skin varnish

Taking equal parts of lemon juice and egg whites, beat them together in a glazed earthen pan till the mixture acquires the consistency of butter. Add a few drops of any essential oil (to mask the scent of egg whites). Then wash face with rice water and apply this face pack. Wash off after half an hour.

Why it works: The citric acid in lemon juice banishes dead skin cells, helping unclog pores and making skin look smooth and glow-y. Egg whites are loaded with protein and act as an astringent, while rice water is a great skin softener.

British beauty recipe #4: Feed your face some breakfast

Mix a handful of finely milled oatmeal with enough spring water (or bottled mineral water) to make a paste, then put this mixture on your face and neck. When it dries, rinse off with whey, then with water.

Why it works: Finely milled oatmeal sticks to skin’s surface irritants, which can then be gently rinsed away for thorough cleansing sans the dryness. Plus, it’s a great hydrator.

British beauty recipe #6: The wrinkle smoother

Apply barley water and a few drops of Balm of Gilead (plain ol’ balsam) on your face everyday.

Why it works: Barley water is an ancient remedy for wrinkles, since it nourishes the skin, boosts the growth of healthy tissues and keeps everything smooth, plumped up and unlined. Balsam is rich in vitamins E and C, which slow down skin ageing and protect against inflammation.

London, UNITED KINGDOM: Combo picture of various portraits of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II wearing hat on different occasions and dates. Royal protocol decrees that Her Majesty always wears a hat in public, while her face must be visible at all times. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Royal protocol decrees that Her Majesty always wears a hat in public, while her face must be visible at all times. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

British beauty recipe #7: A beautiful bath

Take 2 pounds of barley, 8 pounds of bran and a few handfuls of borage leaves. Boil them in a sufficient quantity of spring water, then pour the decoction into your bath. Nothing cleanses and softens the skin better!

Why it works: Barley is a great hydrator and anti-inflammatory, while borage contains tons of fatty acids – the perfect formula for soothing and moisturizing the skin.

British beauty recipe #8: The royal hand cream

Add half cup of glycerin, half cup of rose water and a quarter cup of witch hazel to a glass jar; shake well. Apply this to your hands 2-3 times daily.

Why it works: Rose water and glycerin are the classic combination used in hand creams for years. Glycerin is a terrific humectant (draws moisture from the air to hydrate skin); while rosewater conditions skin and reduces sun damage.

British beauty recipe #9: Aromatic foot bath

Take four handfuls of pennyroyal, sage and rosemary, three handfuls of angelica and four ounces of juniper berries. Boil these in a sufficient quantity of water, and drain off the liquor for use.

Why it works: Besides the fact that this herb bath smells gorgeous, angelica is anti-fungal and antibacterial. Result? It not only keeps feet free of infections but also dispels stink-producing bacteria. Juniper berries are also astringent and make feet feel nice, cool and fresh.

British beauty recipe #10: The prettiest perfume

Fill a jar with pressed rose petals (or any sweet-scented flowers), add as much glycerin as the container will hold, and cover it tightly. After 3 weeks, you can decant the perfume into a bottle.

Are you as bowled over by Queen Elizabeth II as me? Or not? And what’s YOUR secret homeland recipe?

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?

How to look expensive (without robbing the bank!)

Want to look fabulously high-end even when basic necessities (a tank of gas) often trump little luxuries (expensive eye cream)? It’s entirely possible with a little help from Andrea Pomerantz Lustig’s book – How to Look Expensive: A Beauty Editor’s Secrets to Getting Gorgeous Without Breaking the Bank, in which the beauty industry’s top insider (she’s a Contributing Editor at Glamour, was Editor-in-Chief of Sephora.com and Beauty & Fitness Director at Cosmopolitan) reveals secrets gleaned from the world’s most famed hair stylists, makeup artists and skin specialists for looking your best for less. Here are my top 10 how-to’s from the book.

look expensive1. Los Angeles celebrity facialist Stacy Cox’s DIY kitchen peel recipe mimics dermatologist-office results: Mix 3 tablespoons apple juice (contains malic acid, which is a gentle exfoliator) with 3 tablespoons milk (lactic acid, a more intense exfoliator) and 1 egg white (to firm the skin). Apply for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse with warm water.

2. Mammoth pores? Dr. Bobby Buka, the New York “skin star”, suggests soaking gauze in soy milk and applying it as a mask an hour before bed.

3. Dr. Buka also has a solution for puffy, baggy eyes: Make ice cubes out of green tea and massage one under each eye till it melts. No ice? This solution from Ole Henriksen will work just as well: Grate a cucumber, divide the flesh and juice evenly, then roll it up into two seperate strips of gauze to make a mask for each eye. This optimises the cucumber juice, allowing it to seep through for the greatest depuffing action.

4. Lustig’s own favourite trick is to use coconut milk as a body moisturiser. Open a can and let it solidify in the fridge. It will turn into a solid butter you can use on your skin to make it silky soft: “…you’ll be able to get just as much moisturiser out of that one can as a tube of expensive body cream… but it’s natural and smells beyond!”

5. Swap dry shampoo for corn starch baby powder, says hair supremo Creighton Bowman. Makes sense, since this ingredient makes up the base of many dry shampoos anyway. AND it comes in an easy-to-use sprinkle container. To apply, pour a little in your hands, clap palms and rub them together, then run through strands. Voila!

6. For eyes that look dramatic without the faux-lash effect (which is just tacky), makeup pro Vanessa Scali often applies a volumising mascara from the root to the centre of the lash and a lengthening formula from the centre to the tips. The result is “gorgeously lush and seductively lengthy” lashes.

look expensive 27. Sometimes, especially when you are wearing a strong lipstick, it’s best to leave eyes bare with nothing but a touch of mascara. Makeup artist Talia Shobrook likes to dip an eyeliner brush into a thin mascara and use it at the very base of the lids – like liner – to invisibly emphasise the eyes (not glossy or matte like eyeliner, it just looks like you are wearing mascara).

8. Looking for an air brushed effect? Makeup pro Bobby Wells suggests spritzing your foundation brush with Evian Facial spray or a moisturising mist before using it. This will thin out your makeup, make it blend in easier and look more diffused.

9. And that’s not all: celebrity makeup artist Paul Podlucky spritzes finished makeup with a hydrating mineral or vitamin-infused water spray (or even just tap water in a spray bottle!) like MAC Fix+, holding it about 10 inches from the face and then letting skin air-dry to give it a fresh, dewy radiance. It will also take away any chalkiness, smooth out foundation that’s crept into fine lines and thin down a too-heavy application.

10. Finally, who can resist perfume? Beauty heiress (and now creator of her own makeup range) Aerin Lauder, spills the secret she learnt from her grandmother, Estee Lauder: Spray the scent onto your hairbrush. It will cling to natural oils in your hair and make you smell delicious without becoming overpowering.

What are some of YOUR favourite tricks for looking expensive?

Sisi: Modern-day beauty tips from a 19th century Empress

I have been pretty much obsessed with Sisi – Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898) ever since I first saw her portrait in Vienna four years ago. Stunningly beautiful, with a tiny waist that even four pregnancies could not alter, a perfectly oval face, delicate features and sparkling eyes, it is not surprising that she was often compared to Titania, the fairy queen.

“How beautiful she is!” exclaimed the Shah of Persia when he first met her, abandoning all protocol. But then protocol was not something that ever bothered this non-conformist who was the most legendary beauty of her times and left a heritage of skincare and haircare that is indispensable even today. Actually, especially today.

sisi beauty secretsSisi’s sumptuous skincare secrets

Have I mentioned that Sisi was really, really beautiful? And that her skincare went from the romantic to the bizarre? Some of these recipes are simply decadent, like the strawberry face mask; while others are a bit gross, such as the raw veal she applied on her skin at night or the slug cream! For our purposes, we shall stick to the more can-do-in-the-21st-century-home stuff here.

Olive oil bath: Sisi took a warm olive oil bath every evening to keep her skin soft and smooth – a practise that’s lauded by spas till date. Olive oil contains vitamins A and E, which are intensely nourishing, along with a host of antioxidants that guard against environmental toxins. To make your own olive oil bath, simply pour a cup-full of virgin olive oil in the bathtub and fill with warm water. Or slather your body with warm (not hot) olive oil, leave it on for 5-10 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.

sisi beauty secrets 5Face mists: Sisi relied heavily on rose or lavender face mists to protect her skin against inflammation and infections. Her favorite was violet vinegar, made from freshly picked violet blossoms, cider vinegar and distilled water: Layer the violet blossoms (or rose petals) in bottle and douse them with cider vinegar. Shut tightly and allow to infuse for two days. Then strain away the flowers and use the liquid to spritz your face.

Hay wraps: The Austrian Empress also enjoyed full body wraps made out of hay. Ironically, a number of luxury spas are now offering this as a “brand new” and “innovative” ritual to that fortifies the immune system and boosts metabolism!

Egg white face mask: A really simple and effective way of toning the complexion, Sisi’s favorite face mask needs 2 oz rose water, 1 oz milk, ½ oz grape juice, 5 drops frankincense essential oil and 2 whipped egg whites. Combine all ingredients, except the egg whites. When everything is well mixed, fold in the egg whites and immediately apply the paste to your face. Go to bed and rinse off in the morning.

Honey & strawberry face pack: To keep her complexion soft, Sisi would slather her cheeks with pure honey and crushed strawberries – thereby calling upon the effects of modern fruit acids that cleanse, exfoliate and brighten the skin. And that’s not all: this face pack also reinforces the skin’s resistance to environmental stress and strengthens its immunity.

Rose cream (my personal favourite!): History says that Sisi never left home without this rosy moisturizer. To prepare, crush 20-25 rosebuds and simmer them in a covered pan filled with 1/8th litre distilled water for 45 minutes. Add 50g lanolin and 20g fresh, unsalted butter; then put everything in a high speed blender till it becomes creamy. Keep in the fridge and apply to your face every morning for glowing skin.

And the ones you might want to skip…

Veal face mask: Sisi applied slices of raw veal to her face during the night, binding it with a leather mask that kept the meat in constant contact with her skin while sleeping. Gross as this sounds, dermatologists say it’s “not half bad”. The high vitamin C content has an anti-inflammatory effect, while the protein element (keratin) acts against skin ageing. Moreover, the meat gives skin a fresh look and neutralises harmful metabolites (free radicals). Lady Gaga, are you listening?

Slug cream: Again gross but it’s already making a comeback, with celeb proponents swearing by its skin-smoothing benefits. I have even found the original recipe for you: Put ½ kilo lard into water-bath, add 2 quintchen (fifths) marshmallow roots and 70g ground slugs. Let it stand for four hours to cool off. And then hop in! Weird much?

Sisi’s crowning glory… in royal style

sisi beauty secrets 3Sisi’s ankle-length hair was her pride and joy, even though it was so long and heavy that the weight often gave her headaches. She would sit on a low chair and a silk cloth would be placed beneath her hair while it was brushed. After dressing, braiding and pinning for hours, each one of the fallen strands had to be presented in a silver bowl to the Empress for inspection. This would last almost three hours, during which time Sisi kept herself busy by learning languages such as Hungarian and Greek.

Next, the royal coiffure was sprinkled with jewels – the most famous of which are the diamond stars made by the court jeweller Koechert. Finally, Sisi’s tresses were sprayed with Creed’s Fantasia de Fleurs EDP – a heady floral fragrance created specially for the Empress, with a regal bouquet of the best Bulgarian roses and Florentine irises.

Washing the Empress’s hair was another very time consuming operation, performed every fortnight with a mixture of cognac and egg yolk. Considering the length and volume of her tresses, it’s no wonder this ritual took an entire day!

Of Sisi’s 19-inch waist…

Sisi had a tiny 19-inch waist (gulp!), maintained with extremely rigorous exercise. The Empress was obsessed with gymnastics, which attracted a lot of criticism as women of this era simply did not sweat. She even had a gymnastics room installed at her palace and could often be seen dangling from the rings!

The Austrian Empress also took up fencing in her 50s. A fervent horsewoman, she rode every day for hours on end, becoming the world’s best female equestrian at the time. When she could no longer endure hours in the saddle due to gout, Sisi went for very long walks that could last up to 10 hours!

sisi beauty secrets 4At night, she was heavily massaged and slept with cloths soaked in either violet or cider vinegar, while her neck was wrapped with cloths soaked in Kummerfeld-toned washing water. In the last years of her life, Sisi became even more obsessive, weighing herself up to thrice a day. She began to live on a diet of fresh milk, egg whites, steak juice and fruit sorbet (better than the caffeine-and-coke diet of today’s celebs, at least!).

However, Sisi did have one indulgence: The Empress would wander through to Demel for boxes of candied violets. Today, she’s still immortalized on many chocolate boxes in Vienna. And in our hearts. Beautiful, extravagant, sweet and gracious, she was a woman way ahead of her times who spent her life yearning for a measure of happiness but never found it. She would have been happier married to a minor princeling but it was her fate to be Empress of Austria.

Today, the world remembers her as one of history’s most fascinating and beautiful women. Her life story has been the subject of several books (and there’s been a whole new slew of them lately!), movies (including a hugely popular trilogy starring Romy Schneider), musicals and even Karl Lagerfeld’s recent fashion collection for Chanel.

But, I wonder, if that’s consolation enough for a life only half-lived?