Why you should wash your face (and hair) with vodka

If you were in Russia, your day would probably begin and end with vodka, which is called upon for everything from rinsing the mouth to curing hair loss. Translating as “little water” or “dear water” in Russian, this crystal clear liquid was invented in 1503 by Kremlin monks who used it as a topical antiseptic and cure-all drink. The tradition continues till date – which can be a little weirdness-inducing at first glance. Then you see the zillion beauty benefits and figure that it’s simply like the French love for wine… cheers!

On this trip to Moscow and Samara, I pestered scores of women for traditional vodka-based beauty recipes. So, save a few sips of this potent alcohol for absolute (Absolut?) miracles on your face. And hair. And every other pore of your body. Salud!

Vodka’s beauty benefit #1: Astringent action

Mix equal amounts of vodka and water, then apply with a cotton ball to your face as an astringent. It will cleanse the skin and tighten pores.

Vodka’s beauty benefit #2: Ole’s firming ice cube treatment

This one comes straight from beauty guru Ole Henriksen and is perfect for tightening pores and firming the skin. All you need is equal amounts of fresh lemon juice, strongly brewed rose hips tea, strongly brewed mint tea and vodka. Blend all ingredients together and pour into an ice cube tray. When frozen, wrap an ice cube in a thin cotton handkerchief and rub across the entire face and throat for 2-5 minutes. Ice brings down the bloat, while vodka and lemon juice tighten pores and brighten the skin. Rose hip tea calms any inflammation and mint tea promotes micro-circulation to impart a healthy glow.

Vodka’s beauty benefit #3: Go frizz-free

Roughed up cuticles? Zero-shine strands? Add a shot of vodka to your deep conditioner. It will lower hair’s pH, helping the cuticles to close – and sealed cuticles mean reduced frizz and tons of shine.

Vodka’s beauty benefit #4: Clarifying rinse

Mix a mug of water with a tablespoon of vodka and use it as a final rinse after shampooing and conditioning. Perfect for removing product buildup from the scalp and strands, making hair lustrous and shiny!

Vodka’s beauty benefit #5: Diminish dandruff

Flaky scalp spoiling your beauty cred? Add three teaspoons of dried rosemary to a cup of vodka and leave overnight. Next day, strain the solution and massage it into your scalp. Leave for half an hour, then wash off with cold water.

vodka skincareVodka’s beauty benefit #6: Prevent hair loss

Mix a tablespoon of organic honey and onion juice in a jigger of vodka and apply on your scalp. Leave it on your hair overnight and wash off in the morning. Vodka cleanses the scalp, removes toxins from hair and stimulates the growth of healthy tresses.

Vodka’s beauty benefit #7: Bust foot odour

Simply rub each foot with a shot-worth of vodka. Goodbye, funky odour!

Vodka’s beauty benefit #8: Ban bad breath

Swish around half a shot’s worth of vodka in your mouth for a minute and your breath will go from poor to pleasant.

Vodka’s beauty benefit #9: Cold sores

Apply a dab of vodka on a cold sore to dry it out.

Vodka’s beauty benefit #10: Poison ivy

Pour a bit of vodka on a poison ivy rash to help relieve itching – it removes the urushiol oil that causes this problem.

Vodka’s beauty benefit #11: Smooth shave

An uber-smooth shave begins with an uber-clean razor. So, soak your blade in a cup of vodka after shaving. Vodka will prevent it from getting rusty and clear any bacterial buildup.

Clay 101: Which one’s best suited for your skin. And hair. (Because clay masks are everything!)

While I have yet to achieve Louis Litt’s levels of mudding (What? You don’t watch Suits? Why??!!), the lure of a simple clay mask that literally sucks out toxins and other accumulated grime from deep under your skin is massively ooh-worthy!

That’s why this innocuous ingredient, which literally comes from the earth and has been used by some of history’s most gorgeous women since ancient times, is fast becoming one of the trendiest staples in today’s beauty circles. From face masks and soaps to foundation sticks and hair conditioners, clay seems to be just everywhere.

And it’s one of the simplest face masks to put together: Mix with a liquid (plain water/milk/rose water/yogurt/aloe… the possibilities are endless) and apply. That’s all!

But which clay to choose? Bentonite? Kaolin? Fuller’s Earth? Which one will work with your skin type and sort your specific complexion or hair issues?

Let’s figure it all out.

Bentonite clay

This fine-particled, grey-green clay (avoid the white variety – it’s over processed) comes from volcanic regions and is rich in magnesium. Bentonite’s signature is its unique molecular structure, which develops an electrical charge and swells up like an open sponge when mixed with water. This makes it particularly great at sucking out toxins, bacteria, fungus, oils and even excess sodium (hello water retention and puffiness) from the skin’s very follicles.

All properties that make bentonite perfect for oily, acne-prone skin and complexions suffering from large pores, is subjected to pollution or has chronic infections. On the other hand, dryer skin types should try and avoid this particular clay – not using it more than once a week.

Fuller’s earth

This ancient volcanic ash sediment – also known as Multani mitti – is so absorbent that it’s even called upon to soak up small oil spills and draw out poisons from the body. It looks very similar to bentonite and is again great at drawing out toxins, excess oil and other impurities from the skin.

However, it has one additional property: This particular clay is great for treating hyper pigmentation, because of its mild bleaching action. It also boosts circulation but may be too drying for some complexions.

Kaolin clay

This finely milled clay is the gentlest of all and comes in many colours. White kaolin (which is also used to make porcelain) is the mildest. And rather than being absorbent, it’s a gentle exfoliant that’s great for softening the skin. This make white kaolin clay perfect for dry, sensitive complexions. Yellow kaolin is a little more absorbent and exfoliating, with the additional benefit of boosting skin circulation.

Red kaolin is the most absorbent, making it perfect for oily, congested and acne-prone skin. Pink kaolin is a mixture of red and white, which is great for oily yet sensitive skin that needs medium-level exfoliation and detoxification.

French green clay

Made of mineral-rich volcanic ash mined from the bedrock quarries of France, this green clay’s molecular structure helps pull out deeply seated toxins, bust blemishes, soak up excess oil, boost circulation and balance skin’s pH levels. It is also a great anti-ager, given its toning action, which boosts circulation to repair damaged skin, soothes out fine lines and tightens the pores.

French green clay is a boon for oily and acne-prone skin, though it may be too drying for those on the other end of the spectrum.

Rhassoul clay

Mined from Morocco’s lava fields, Rhassoul clay has a dual action: It contains a super-potent blend of minerals and is negatively charged. Since most skin toxins are positively charged, the latter quality literally helps suck out blackheads (it’s seriously the best treatment for blackheads!), excess sebum and other debris out of skin pores. The inherent minerals simultaneously tone, calm and soften the skin.

This means Rhassoul is not as drying as bentonite or Fuller’s earth, making it great for dry skin as well. This particular clay is also great for hair and scalp, since it sops up excessive oil, pollutant and product buildup.

Umbrian clay

Indigenous to the Umbrian region of Italy, this clay is super-loaded with minerals and is also highly absorbent. It’s not only great for detoxifying and de-greasing, Umbrian clay also helps maintain the skin’s pH levels, soothe irritations, calm inflammation and refine the pores.

Umbrian clay is best suited for normal to oily complexions, though drier ones that are tempted by its other benefits can also bring it out once a week. The trick is to not let it dry on your face completely; rinse off while the clay is still a bit wet to the touch, to stop it from dehydrating your skin.

Blue clay

One of the rarest cosmetic clays around, blue clay is found in Siberia and has an exceptionally high mineral content. Besides being super-absorbent and drawing out impurities, it also nourishes the skin, stimulates blood circulation and tones the complexion.

This makes it perfect for mature skin, since it has a potent ant-ageing action, ironing away fine lines, stepping up cell metabolism to keep wrinkles at bay and restoring suppleness and elasticity.

Dead sea mudDead Sea mud

Though this is technically not clay – mud is a mixture of soil, silt, clay and water – the terms are often used interchangeably in the beauty industry. And Dead Sea mud (seen above in its natural habitat – the Dead Sea) is one of the most cult skincare ingredients out there, revered for its super-high concentrations of salts and minerals (specially magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium). This makes it a terrific deep cleanser and exfoliator, while killing acne, nourishing the skin, restoring pH levels, treating conditions like psoriasis and eczema, toning and clarifying the complexion, improving its texture and even smoothing out cellulite and stretch marks.

Dead Sea mud also has another huge benefit: It is great at easing out the pain of sore muscles, combatting inflammation and relaxing the mind and body, hence appearing in a lot of body masks and scrubs. It is good for all types of skin, including dry and sensitive ones.

European Moor mud

Also known as Balneoo Peat, European Moor mud actually contains almost no clay. Instead, it contains the organic residue of multifarious flowers, herbs and grasses, which make it rich in natural enzymes, minerals, amino acids and vitamins. Originating from Hungary and the Czech Republic, its high humic content makes it a potent anti-inflammatory and circulation booster, which helps detoxify the body, decongest the skin, soothe joint inflammation, ease achy muscles and smooth away cellulite. European Moor mud is highly soluble in water, so it won’t clog up your bath tub either.

Have you tried a clay product before? How was your experience?

Hair oils: Exactly which one is right for you?

With benefits ranging from conditioning and adding shine to treating dandruff and stimulating growth, hair oil has become like liquid gold for our tresses. And forget all those drippy, sloppy, sticky after-effects: the big beauty players are creating a completely new generation of oils for the hair. They’ve swapped sachets for sleek pumps, heavy textures for featherweight silkiness and potent blends that do a zillion things at the same time. In fact, I would contend that hair oil is the new hair serum.

choose-hair-oil4How? While it creates a glossy, swishy shine, the humble hair oil also provides protection and nourishment for your strands. And where serums simply coat tresses with silicone, oils add shine in a far more hair-friendly manner by calling on essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants that penetrate the follicles to treat and condition simultaneously.

And that’s not all: hair oil tames frizz and leaves strands manageable, while also protecting against the harshness of heat styling. Plus, it speeds up drying time as the oil reacts with heat to repel water from the hair. And the good ones even create a barrier against the environment: slip some on to protect your hair from sun, salt water and chlorine, or use it as a mini-shield against the effects of pollution.

However, before you dive into the world of hair oil, it’s vital to know exactly which one will work for your strands. There is a hair oil for all textures and types – including the most baby-fine heads of hair. You just need to pinpoint your best fit!

Hair oil for coarse, dry or chemically processed tresses

Hair becomes coarse and dry when it’s damaged, hence you need nourishing oils to repair its structure. One of the top hair oil choices here is virgin coconut oil, which penetrates the hair shaft to patch and protect it from the inside-out. Besides this, it is also lightweight, non-greasy (making it great for fine hair) and helps prevent dandruff.

Then there is avocado oil, which is rich in proteins and amino acids, along with high levels of vitamins A, D and E. All these are vital for hair’s health: for instance, proteins help fill in the cracks in the cuticle, so each strand becomes stronger. However, since avocado is a heavier oil, it works best on medium to thick hair.

Argan fruit and oil
Argan fruit and oil

Argan oil is loaded with vitamin E, omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids that provide rich nutrition for your hair. It also contains linoleic and oleic acid to moisturise the strands. Plus, argan oil’s small molecular structure allows it to penetrate the hair shaft, repair damaged hair follicles and restore lost moisture. Using it as a hair oil puts back lost lustre from hair straightening and other chemical treatments, helps keep colour vibrant, prevents dryness and acts as a shield against harmful UV rays and environmental pollution.

Hair oil for dull tresses

Sweet almond oil has high amounts of vitamins A, B, and E. As a hair oil, it heals split ends, improves scalp circulation and adds shine to dull hair. The fatty acids provide UV protection by reflecting harmful rays, while vitamin E makes strands grow longer and stronger.

Or try pomegranate seed oil, which contains punicic acid to revitalise dull strands and increase flexibility. It also safeguards your tresses against environmental pollutants, thereby helping keep them in optimal condition.

Hair oil for thick tresses

While everyone is reaching for argan oil these days, the exotically fragrant oil is more suited to thicker heads of hair. It is sticky and can be hard to get out of fine hair – you’ll need to shampoo two or three times to fully rinse it out, or else you’ll get build-up. Yet for richer locks, argan oil can strike the perfect balance of shine, scent and manageability.

Hair oil for fine tresses

Thin or fine strands get weighed down very easily, so look for a light oil that can give them some texture. The structure of jojoba oil is closest to that of our scalp’s natural oils. This allows it to absorb immediately, making it the lightest and most non-sticky of all hair oils. Yet it also packs a hefty nutrient punch with anti-bacterial properties to keep the scalp healthy, stimulate hair growth and moisturise the strands.

choose-hair-oil2Oil for hair loss

Extra virgin olive oil is rich in high levels of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are terrific for moisturising, protecting and nourishing the hair. It also has B vitamins (niacin and biotin), vitamin D and vitamin E to help banish bald patches. If that’s not enough, olive oil helps in battling dandruff, which can be one of the reasons for hair loss. Other benefits include deep conditioning, sealing split ends and strengthening hair from the inside out. However, because of its heavier texture, olive oil is more suited to thicker hair.

For fine hair, there is coconut oil. This is made up of saturated fatty acids that soothe the scalp and keep it hydrated. A hydrated scalp promotes hair growth because there are no dead or dry skin cells to clog the hair follicle. Coconut oil also helps reduce hair breakage by strengthening the hair shaft.

Or try out rosemary essential oil. It contains over a dozen antioxidants, vitamin B, iron and calcium, so its application works to strengthen brittle hair and treat scalp problems that hinder hair growth. At the same time, it easily penetrates follicles and delivers the essential nutrients, thereby making hair grow faster and thicker.

Hair oil for dandruff & itchy scalp

Thyme essential oil is antimicrobial, so its usage as a hair oil can help treat itchy scalps plagued by bacteria and fungus. It is best used with grape seed oil as a carrier, since the former also contains Vitamin E and linoleic acid to nourish the scalp and help prevent dandruff.

Thyme oil
Thyme oil

Oil for ALL hair types

Still a bit puzzled? You won’t go wrong with rice bran and hemp seed oils, which suit all types of hair. Rice bran contains vitamin E and creates a harder shell around the cuticle so your strands suffer less breakage; while hemp seed oil is packed with amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and minerals that make hair stronger and healthier.

Mix-and-match your hair oils

You can also custom-blend various hair oils according to your needs. For example, if you have coarse hair that’s also afflicted with dandruff, mix coconut oil and thyme essential oil. Similarly, you can use a nourishing oil for scalp and a light oil for hair strands. So, use your own experience of your hair and create a personalised oil blend for yourself. Or pick a blend off the store shelves – just read the ingredient list to know whether it suits your strands.

Do you use a hair oil? Which one? And will you be making any changes after reading this post?

Beauty DIY: A hair mask that will make your strands feel like spun silk. Guaranteed.

There are few things I love more than the scent of jasmine flowers. It’s soft and sensuous in equal measures… heady and soothing, intoxicating and purifying, soulful and exotic… so many contradictions, all bundled into tiny white buds that have the power to evoke cooling summer breezes and languorous, chilled out afternoons with a single whiff.

In fact, my first blog was called Sandalwood & Jasmine, and I am a sucker for any fragrance with these two ingredients. Which has a bonus effect on many, many days, since science has proved that the aroma of jasmine flowers is as calming as Valium. Seriously.

So, imagine my happiness at stumbling upon this jasmine-based hair mask while visiting Grasse – the jasmine capital of France, where legendary perfumes like Chanel’s No. 5 and Jean Patou’s Joy get their notes. My hair has never looked so soft and… so… swishy, I may say… and the beautiful scent lingers long after the mask is washed away.

No wonder this hair mask is a cult favourite amidst those chic French women, who would rather take care of the basics – like the health of their hair – than resort to measures such as complicated blow dries and chemical-laden styling products.

How does it work?

The natural oils in this hair mask will relax and purify the scalp, along with stimulating blood circulation and encouraging hair growth. They are also great for nourishing dry and frizzy strands, turning them smooth, sleek, and glossy with regular use.

jasmine-hair-maskIngredients

1 cup fresh jasmine flowers
1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon coconut oil

How to make the jasmine hair mask

1. Crush the jasmine flowers to release the oils

2. Add the yogurt and coconut oil; and mix well

3. Apply this paste to dry hair, pre-shampoo

4. Put on a tight bathing cap (or wrap your head with plastic film) and cover with a hot towel; let this remain for half an hour, then shampoo as usual

PS: You can enjoy more French beauty recipes in The Paris Bath & Beauty Book, which is a distillation of everything I’ve learned in this glorious country!

Do you love jasmine as much as I do?