Witch hazel: Adding magic to your beauty routine

Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Witch hazel sounds like something that would be used in a potion or spell, right? But you probably didn’t realize that it’s actually a pretty common ingredient in skin care products ranging from Clarins’ Beauty Flash Balm to Clinique’s Clarifying Lotion… and for good reason.

What exactly is witch hazel?

witch-hazelWitch hazel is an ancient herb that has been used for medicinal purposes since centuries. It was first discovered by the Indians, who found a way to extract oils from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana – commonly known as the witch hazel shrub. Although the origins of its distinct name are unclear, it may have come from the Middle English word “wich”, which means “flexible”, in honor of the plant’s bendy branches.

Witch hazel contains tannin, flavonoids and strong anti-oxidants, which can help clear up a multitude of skin problems. Native Americans used the plant to ease swelling and treat minor wounds, abrasions and several other skin conditions. Today, herbalists consider it a powerful remedy for relieving muscle aches and pains, treating varicose veins, as well as to stem bleeding from cuts and scrapes.

However, it is as a beauty treatment that witch hazel keeps its mystique. And you don’t even have to wash your face with it from a silver bowl at full moon. It works quite simply and effectively at any time of day and the benefits are underlaid with solid scientific proof.

What to do with witch hazel

De-grease your hair: To reduce excessive oil, dampen a cotton ball with witch hazel and dab it along your hairline and parting. Leave on for 10 minutes, then rinse off with cool water.

Spot control: Witch hazel helps disinfect and reduce the inflammation on a pimple, which is why it can be found in many over-the-counter acne treatments. For maximum effectivity, try this potent mask: mix a teaspoon of witch hazel with two teaspoon of honey (for dry skin) or an egg white (oily skin). Apply this to the affected area and leave for 20 minutes; rinse off with cool water.

Soothe sunburns: Treating a sunburn with witch hazel will lessen healing time and prevent the infamous skin peeling and flaking. And it’s simple – just spread a thin coat of witch hazel on the ‘burn. It will both cool and soothe.

Treat dry skin: Apply witch hazel immediately after showering… it will “lock in” the moisture that has just soaked into your skin.

Pore perfecter: The high level of tannin content (which strengthens pore walls) in witch hazel makes it great for soothing and tightening large pores. Plus the herb is naturally antibacterial and effectively sucks out dirt and oil without over-drying. To use, simply soak a cotton pad in watch hazel and gently rub over cleansed skin twice a day.

A branch of witch hazel

A branch of witch hazel

Toner: Unlike many harsh toners that contain chemical ingredients, witch hazel naturally firms the skin without making your face feel too tight. It also helps reduce inflammation and redness, while having a cooling touch that leaves you feeling refreshed.

Anti-aging: Witch hazel is rich in antioxidants, which defend our skin against free radicals. Free radicals can damage skin, leading to premature skin aging. So, apply witch hazel regularly to clean skin when you want to slow down the clock.

Refresh tired eyes: NOT by squirting witch hazel in them, but by soaking a clean rag in witch hazel and cold water and placing the cold compress over your closed eyes for 10 minutes. The anti-inflammatory effects (which make witch hazel one of the magic ingredients in Preparation H) will help relieve strained, puffy or red eyes.

Heal a bruise faster: Been in a fight recently? Well, maybe not. But if you bang your leg or arm and are left with a nasty bruise, a thrice-daily dab of witch hazel can help speed up the healing time. It also works as a disinfectant for cuts, cracked skin and blisters.

Soothe (or prevent) razor burn: The anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel stop itchy bumps from forming around irritated hair follicles. Apply before or after shaving – this goes for both ladies and gentlemen.

Scars and age spots: Pour 2 tablespoons of witch hazel into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and mix well. Use a q-tip to dab the mixture onto the age spots before bed. Let dry and put on the night time moisturizer. Repeat process for 2 weeks to fade the spots.

Do a deo: The same antibacterial and astringent properties that make witch hazel so effective at reducing oiliness can also help your underarms. Simply saturate a cotton ball in the liquid, dab it on your underarms and let it dry. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to give it a nice scent.

Varicose vein relief: Soak wash cloths in witch hazel and lay on legs (which are propped straight out) to reduce pain and swelling from varicose veins. Witch hazel will help tighten the veins, relieving discomfort temporarily.

Soothe poison ivy and poison oak: Just like acne and blemishes, witch hazel reduces itching and relieves swelling. Something definitely worth packing on your next picnic or camping trip.

Do you currently use witch hazel in your skincare regimen?

10 sneaky ways to drink more water (it’s the cheapest, quickest way to look AND feel great!)

I did a post on acne (What is your acne telling you?) and the role that various bits and bobs of our bodies play in its horrid takeover of our faces. Amongst the 24,36,987 visitors who stopped by this post in a week, over 40% wrote in to say that they have pinpointed much of their spottiness to a lack of adequate water.

Which makes sense. Water is not called the ‘source of life’ for nothing… it is crucial for every body function, right from metabolising fat and regulating temperature to facilitating important bio-chemical reactions, lubricating the joints and limbs, aiding digestion, hydrating the skin and helping the body flush out waste and toxins. So, it stands to reason that without regular top-ups, our skin (actually our whole body) will go into crisis mode. The simplest solution? DRINK MORE WATER!

Yet, 99% of us don’t heed this advice. H2O is bland, it’s boring, it’s always “just there”… maybe if water becomes more expensive, we will start paying more attention! But till then, I would be the first to admit that sometimes drinking the requisite “8 glasses” (find out exactly how much water you need HERE) can be a real challenge! So, after much interviewing, thinking, researching and experimenting, here are 10 tips to help you accomplish that feat (and I have personally tested every one of them – they work stupendously!). Click through, then tell us the sneaky ways you trick yourself into drinking more water in the comments. We could all use the help!

Drink your water! Stay well hydrated! Stay healthy! Stay pretty!

drink-waterIn case you can’t see the image above, here are the tips in text form

1. Add two glasses of drinking water to your daily skincare regimen: Drink, cleanse, moisturise, then drink again.

2. Don’t purchase any other drinks: let’s face it, if you have your favourite soda chilling in the fridge, are you honestly going to opt for water?

3. Drink at least one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you down. (It’s also a great way to prevent a hangover!)

4. Set an alarm to beep every hour – this is your reminder to down a glass of water. If you drink only small (6 ounce or 180 ml) cup per hour, you will consume 48 ounces (1.4 liters) in an 8-hour workday.

5. Eat water-rich foods, such as watermelons, which are 92% water. A tomato is 95% water, while an egg is 74% water.

6. Add ice or freeze water in a sports bottle before taking it with you. Tt will eventually melt and stay cold, thereby creating a pleasant frisson on a hot day.

7. Purchase a water bottle that holds the amount of water you need to drink each day, or use a combination of 1-liter and half-liter bottles. This will allow you to see exactly how much water you are consuming on a regular basis.

8. Fill a glass jar with water, pop in some fruit-infused tea bags in a glass jar and place it in the sun for naturally brewed tea that has an intense flavour. Drink it chilled for loads of flavour and antioxidant protection.

9. Prefer a sweet sip to plain ol’ water? Fill 1/4 of your glass with 100 percent fruit juice and top off with water or seltzer.

10. Bring a touch of the exotic: Add mint leaves, slices of apples, strawberries, lemons or limes to a pitcher of water; serve chilled. Keep a jug in the fridge so you always have great-tasting and great-looking H2O available. For an even greater kick, drink it out of champagne flutes!

How much water do you manage to drink on a daily basis?

Beauty recipe: Super-easy DIY detox juice from the Mandarin Oriental

Gooooood morning, ladies and gentlemen. Hope you had an awesome weekend! And if it was as full of boozy cocktails and stacks of greasy burgers, help is at hand in the form of this detox juice, which is a great way to rid your body of toxins while replenishing it with nutrients it needs. It’s been concocted by Chef Toni Robertson for The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, New York and he recommends drinking a glass whenever you need a refreshing pick-me-up.

Added bonus: it tasted delicious and takes about 10 minutes to make and gulp down… which is a definite blessing on hungover mornings!

Detox juice: Ingredients

2 green apples
2 large cucumbers
1/3 stalk lemongrass
1/3 small piece (thin slice) fresh ginger
1 freshly squeezed lime

Detox juice: How-to

1. Using a juicer, press the apples, ginger and lemongrass. Include the skin and stalks because these contain the highest concentration of antioxidants.

2. Add cucumbers with skins and strain the juice through a very fine sieve.

3. Mix with the freshly squeezed lime juice in a cocktail shaker; shake the juice with crushed ice and serve cold.

How was your weekend? And what’s your go-to detox remedy?

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?