Why you should NEVER put pure lemon juice on your face. NEVER.

The internet is chock-a-block with beauty writers advising you to put lemon juice on your face. Why? The fruit’s high levels of vitamin C, citric acids and antioxidants are perfect for busting dead skin cells, lightening age spots, getting rid of unwanted freckles and clearing up a tan, among other things.

The evidence? Most beauty mavens will ask you to observe how a dash of lemon juice on apple slices prevent them from turning brown. The brown colour in cut apples is from oxidation (much like skin that’s exposed to atmospheric pollutants) and the vitamin C in lemon juice is what halts the process. Similarly, it seems, pure lemon juice on skin should slow down premature ageing and help stimulate collagen and elastin production, thereby reducing the appearance of wrinkles and reversing sun damage.

And because vitamin C is extremely unstable – easily broken down by exposure to air and sunlight – what better way than to have it than squeezed fresh?

There’s only one problem: We are humans and not fruit. Our skin is much more fragile and doesn’t react in exactly the same way to lemon juice as apple slices. So, while I am usually first in line to advocate the use of natural ingredients and DIY skincare recipes (heck, I almost wrote a whole blog post on how to use lemons for your skin myself, before studying the adverse reactions), this is one case where the cons clearly outweigh the pros.

How, you ask?

lemons-skincare-posterLemons are highly acidic

Human skin comes with an inbuilt protective acid mantle that maintains a pH of 4 to 5, which makes it inhospitable to unwanted bacteria while maintaining the good flora, thereby helping ward off acne and infections. Lemon juice, on the other hand, has a pH of 2, which makes it extremely acidic. Putting pure lemon juice on skin will disrupt the latter’s acid balance, destroying its immunity to environmental toxins and causing a significant amount of irritation on the cellular level.

Lemons can cause blistering burns

God save you if your idea of DIY skincare is to put on lemon juice and then step into even partial sunlight. Lemons contain fluranocourmarins and psoralens that react with sunlight to cause phytophotodermatitis (PPD). This photo-toxic reaction leads to nasty blisters and rashes, which can appropriate the level of a chemical burn.

So, if you are still tempted to put pure lemon juice on your skin, stay away from sunlight for at least a good 8-10 hours after you’ve washed it off!

To be yet safer, combine lemons with other ingredients, like olive oil or honey, to cut down on their acidity and restrict the amount of harmful chemicals your skin is receiving.

BOTTOMLINE: Never, ever apply pure lemon juice straight on your skin.

NEVER.

My first book: The Paris Bath & Beauty Book

A deliciously warm, sweet and slightly powdery mist rising from the cobblestones, flower stands spilling with freshly cut lilies, bustling cafés serving smoky teas, cozy boulangeries waking up the mornings with crusty baguettes, the rich wood and crystal interiors of Versailles, the endless eras of history peaking out of the Louvre, women dressed in red lipstick and a splash of No. 5… is there any wonder that I am totally and irrevocably in love with Paris?

And that I would choose the city of love, lovers and eternal seduction as the inspiration for my very first book?

So, presenting to you: The Paris Bath & Beauty Book. My very first book, co-authored with Chrissy Callahan and published by Cider Mill Press. A book that celebrates the beauty secrets of Parisian women, right from the regal Marie Antoinette face mask to a gorgeously aromatic jasmine hair mask and a luscious rose petal lip balm.

These are recipes gleaned from the pages of history, the dark libraries of musty chateaus and the annals of the Parisian oral tradition, where secrets are handed down through the generations till they almost become coded in the nation’s genetic memory.

paris-bath-and-beauty-bookTime then, to light a pretty candle, cuddle under the duvet, sip on some champagne and pick your favourite recipe. And pretty please do drop me a note, however short, to tell me what you think. Because, like all first loves, this book is the one that will always hold my heart within its pages. I am already working on another one but nothing will ever come close to the thrill I felt when holding this little creation in my hands. So, do let me know if you get your hands on one (it’s available on Amazon here and Barnes & Noble here).

Here are three of my personal favourite recipes to give you a little preview.

paris-bath-and-beauty-book-2Lavender and coconut milk hair mask

Both lavender oil and coconut milk are great at replenishing hydration without weighing down your strands. Bonus: they’ll make your hair smell amazing!

What makes it Parisian?

Because it’s lavender! And because French women love soft, naturally glossy hair that doesn’t need to be subjected to styling tools!

What does it do?

The lavender oil and coconut milk are perfect for softening and adding gloss to dry and brittle strands. This recipe makes enough for shoulder-length hair; there should be just enough to coat your strands lightly without dripping. If you have longer hair you may scale up the volume accordingly, maintaining the one-to-one ingredient ratio.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon lavender oil
1 teaspoon fresh (or canned) full-fat coconut milk

Method

1. Combine the lavender oil and coconut milk

2. Massage the mixture into dry hair before you hit the bed; leave the mask in your hair while you sleep

3. Simply wash and condition your hair as normal in the morning… you won’t believe the texture!

French milled soap

French milling creates the smoothest, most luxurious bar of soap in the world. No self-respecting Parisian would go for anything less!

What makes it Parisian?

This is an ancient soap making technique discovered by French soap makers in the 1700s.

What does it do?

Milling extracts excess water from the soap. This not only creates a longer lasting product but also ensures that the ingredients are well blended and that the soap bar’s texture is smoother and more uniform, sans impurities.

Ingredients

3 bars any unscented natural soap
1 cup warm water or coconut milk
Additives (choose from aromatic essential oils, herbs, colloidal oatmeal, flower petals etc.)
Cheese grater
Double boiler or non-reactive pot
Wooden spoon
Soap molds
Wax paper

Method

1. Grate soap bars into a double boiler or non-reactive pot, then add water or coconut milk; mix well

2. Heat on low, stirring often with a wooden spoon. If bubbles form, stop stirring until they cease; if soap starts drying out, add more water or coconut milk

3. When soap flakes melt, remove mixture from the heat and add additives (except essential oils)

4. Stir mixture until it’s cool but pourable, then add oils

5. Spoon mixture into molds, packing well to avoid air bubbles. Once molds are full, tap gently against counter to settle soap and remove air pockets; then set aside to dry

6. Once hard, remove soap from molds and set on wax paper in a cool, dark place to cure thoroughly (this may take a few weeks)

7. Turn soaps once weekly; they’re ready when you can press them with your finger and not leave an impression

8. Wrap soaps in fun paper of your choice to gift or store!

AlmondsAlmond paste for hands

This paste feels slightly coarse and you will need to really massage it into the skin – but it’s all worth the effort for perfectly smooth hands.

What makes it Parisian?

Almonds from the South of France have long been revered the world over for their skin-nourishing properties and robust scent.

What does it do?

Almonds are très rich in calcium and minerals and leave skin soft and smooth.

Ingredients

1 cup bitter almonds
3 cups whole milk
4-5 white bread crumbs
Mortar & pestle (or food processor, set on low)
Heavy bottomed kettle

Method

1. Blanch almonds in warm water and remove skins; Leave to dry out completely

2. Beat the almonds in the mortar or food processor, adding just enough milk to form a paste.

3. Soak bread crumbs in milk and add them to the almonds; beat together until everything is well mixed. Pour this mixture into the kettle

4. Add enough milk to completely cover the mixture and let simmer over low heat until it turns to the texture of a soft paste; keep adding more milk if the mixture starts to look dry

5. Scoop paste into a glass bottle and store in the fridge

Any thoughts on The Paris Bath & Beauty Book?

How to drop a dress size in 20 minutes

how to drop a dress sizeThe weekend begins and it’s time to get out that body hugging dress and paint the town red! Or is it? Unfortunately, life is rarely that perfect – especially for those of us whose days normally consist of rushed meals grabbed off fast food counters and late night spent chasing deadlines. The result? Bloated bodies that make you want to slip into a tent-shaped kaftan rather than risk the unforgiving cocktail number.

But despair not – there is help at hand, courtesy Thai damsels of centuries past, whose herbal wraps are superb at drawing out body impurities, banishing bloat and firming up the skin. No, you won’t lose 10 kilos in one session and the effects last only a few days, but if it gets me from a size 10 to a size 8 in time for Saturday’s bachelorette bash at the Four Seasons, it’s good enough for my needs! My personal favourite is this super-simple wrap recipe from the Six Senses Spa at the Evanson Hua Hun, which promises to rejuvenate even the most weary.

You will need

1 oz (20 gms) ginger
3 oz (80 gms) turmeric
Handful of rice
Warm water as required

How-to

1. Grind together the ginger and turmeric.

2. Powder the rice to a coarse, grainy texture.

3. Add everything to the warm water and mix till it makes a thick paste.

4. Massage the paste all over your body in circular motions, paying special attention to areas with fatty deposits such as thighs, stomach, hips and upper arms.

5. Leave the paste on for 20 minutes* and then rinse off with warm water. Follow with a moisturiser of your choice.

* You can increase the recipe’s potency by wrapping your body (or at least the problem areas) in plastic sheet or strips of cloth.

how to drop a dress size 2Why it works

This is a super-potent wrap as the ginger stimulates circulation and reduces water retention, turmeric acts as an anti-oxidant and detoxifier, while rice removes dead skin cells and drains impurities through the skin’s outermost layers. What’s your surefire way of losing those pesky pounds in an instant? Do share!

UPDATE: I have been getting a lot of messages from readers who are concerned that turmeric will stain their skin with yellow streaks. Actually, genuine turmeric does not stain the skin when used in face or body pack-appropriate quantities. The problem is we now have a lot of spices that use artificial dyes to give the impression of better quality and it’s these pigments that cause the stain. Just to be on the safe side, I would suggest doing a patch test on the back of your hand before using a turmeric-based skin treatment. And if you do get a stain, rub olive oil or castor oil into the skin and then wipe it off with a warm cloth. You might also try using a mild alcohol-based astringent on the stained area of skin. This should clear it up quickly!

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?