Beauty recipe: The Queen of Hungary’s Water (the world’s first cure-all skin tonic!)

You know the best part about travelling? About being a “gypsy” – beauty or otherwise? The friendships you develop with people from across the world. Unshakable, everlasting friendships. Because midnight conversations deep in the lush rainforests of Amazon and bone chilling treks up the fjords of Alaska have a way of forging bonds that withstand geographies and calendars.

And they pay the most beautiful dividends. Like the time Anna Csaszar, my pálinka-drinking-soul-baring-limbs-freezing buddy from Hungary introduced me to her country’s cult Queen of Hungary’s Water. I’ve often seen this beauty tonic in various forms on the shelves, from brands as varied as Omorovicza, Caudalie and Lush. But somehow, despite the “gypsy” antecedents, had never really investigated it. My bad.

Turns out Queen of Hungary’s Water (or Hungary water, as it’s known in short) was the world’s first distillable perfume – predating Eau de Cologne by almost five centuries.

And it wasn’t just a perfume either. Nope! Rather, it was a cure-all beauty tonic, bestowed with near-magical properties: the early recipes advise the user to drink the tonic, rub it on skin, bathe in it and inhale it in order to receive the most benefit. In fact, according to legend, it was so effective at reversing the old queen’s appearance that 25-year-old Grand Duke of Lithuania asked for her hand in marriage when she was 70!

Whether that’s true or not, fact is that the herbal composition of Hungary water is a wonderful astringent for all skin types. It gently tones, tightens pores, soothes itchy or acne-prone skin, normalizes the skin’s pH, smoothens the skin texture and protects it from bacteria and other infections.

The potent blend of volatile oils, flavonoids and phenolic acids, which are antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, also make it a superb hair rinse.

But Hungary water may also be one of the most controversial beauty products in history. Claims about its origins range from the perfume-tonic having been given to Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1305-1380), either by a monk, a court alchemist, or a band of roaming gypsies.

It’s believed that the recipe for Hungary water remains written by the queen’s own hand, in golden alphabet, in the Imperial Library at Vienna. And that’s what the people of Hungary, who call upon this tonic water for everything from acne and eczema to headaches and indigestion, base this easy home brew upon. Anna gave me my first bottle and since then, I’ve always had one sitting on my side table.

Thankfully, given the number of bottles I go through (it’s addictive in what it does to your skin!) Hungary water is easy to make and you can get the ingredients just about everywhere.

And even if you can’t find everything in this list, just use what you have (except for rosemary – that’s crucial). Also, you can opt for either dry or fresh herbs. Though I’ve found that the fresh ones tend to make the mixture a little more cloudy. Personally, I stick to dry herbs – making sure they are organic, though.

You will need

  • 6 tablespoons lemon balm
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 4 tablespoons rose petals
  • 3 tablespoons calendula or marigold
  • 3 tablespoons mint
  • 1 tablespoon lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon sage
  • 4 tablespoons chamomile (optional)
  • Cider vinegar to cover (preferably organic)
  • Rose water or witch hazel
  • Essential oil of lavender or rose (optional)

How to make Queen of Hungary’s Water

1. Pour all the herbs into a widemouthed glass jar

2. Add enough vinegar that it rises about two inches above the herbs; close the jar tight and let it sit in a warm or sunny spot for 2-3 weeks

3. Strain out the herbs with a fine mesh – try and get all the bits out as any fragments may turn rancid over time

4. Add either rose water or witch hazel in a ratio of 1:1 to the remaining liquid

5. Add the essential oils, if you so desire

6. Rebottle the mixture and store in a cool, dry place

Have you ever come across the Queen of Hungary’s Water? Tried it? Liked it?

16 hacks to make your sheet masks infinitely more effective!

Sheet masks. The breakthrough genre that has made #masking a verb comes with its own set of challenges.

When to use a sheet mask? Which one to use? How to make it stay on the face? Do I rinse afterwards or not? What about moisturising afterwards – yes or now? Should I really #sheetmask everyday? Is pricier always better? Can I skip all other skincare if I use sheet masks regularly? Are all sheet masks good? Are they for everybody?

So. Many. Questions.

Let’s start looking at the answers.

Start with a clean canvas

It sounds like the most common of logic but I know at least two friends who regularly slap on sheet masks without washing their face first, unless they are wearing makeup. But makeup or not, you need to start with a squeaky clean canvas so that skin can best absorb all the active ingredients. Plus, without a good wash you also run the risk of trapping in impurities and forcing them deeper into the skin. So, at the very least wash with a gentle cleanser right before masking. And if you want to go the extra mile, use a toner to really mop up the grease and soften the skin to make it more receptive to the mask’s benefits.

One mask does not fit all

Like traditional masks, different varieties solve different skin issues. So take a look at the ingredients and pick out exactly what you need:

  • Dryness: The most hydrating masks are those that contain hyaluronic acid, which makes skin retain more moisture. And skip anything with alcohol or irritating fragrances, which will further dry out your skin.
  • Dullness: To bring back the glow, look for brightening ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide and pearl powder or extracts.
  • Sensitive or irritated skin: Anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe vera and other soothing botanicals will help calm down your skin.
  • Anti-aging: Opt for nutrient-rich masks, especially those which list collagen or vitamin B12 as a prime ingredient.

Look at the ingredients…

While sheet masks are a super-potent way of getting maximum skin benefits in minimum time, they are not perfect. Many of the generic versions contain chemicals that are damaging both for the skin and our overall health. Some to avoid: alcohol, parabens, synthetic dyes, mineral oil and preservatives such as ethylhexylglycerin and phenoxyethanol.

… and the sheet itself

Sheet masks come in all forms, from paper and fiber to tin foil and bio-cellulose. Those made from “clingy” ingredients like hydrogel, coconut, sea kelp and bio-cellulose adhere to the skin most tightly, forming a tight seal and delivering the ingredients most effectively. They are also the easiest to apply, as they don’t keep slipping off the skin like the fiber and foil versions. Even if you’re going for fiber, try and make sure it’s unbleached and 100% cotton, to minimise toxic materials from touching your skin and leading to toxic issues.

Super-charge your sheets

How and where you store and apply your sheet mask may double or triple its benefits. If your skin is irritated, inflamed, over-heated or simply needs a hefty pick-me-up, try to chill your mask in the refrigerator before applying. Or if you want to make it more hydrating, pop it on while you’re in the shower (or sauna). The water-charged steam particles will intensify the moisture plumping molecules.

Tweak your technique

To make the mask adhere most effectively and sans air pockets, start applying the sheet from the forehead, then line up with the eyes and work downwards towards the chin. But don’t stop there: for dull skin and anti-ageing benefits, lightly massage the sheet upwards to boost blood flow; for inflamed or irritated skin, go downwards and outwards to encourage lymphatic drainage.

A photo posted by Karlie Kloss (@karliekloss) on

Customise your sheet

How many times have you struggled with a sheet mask that simply refuses to conform to the contours of your face? Know that it’s perfectly fine to snip or tear off tiny bits to make it sit flush against your face. I usually end up enlarging the mouth area as sheet masks tend to irritate my lips, which have some of the most fragile skin anywhere on the body.

Max out the essence

It’s the fluid in a sheet mask that holds all the skin boosting goodness. So, don’t waste a drop of this precious essence! Scoop out any leftover essence in the packet (there’s always some!) and slather it all over your neck, chest, hands and feet to spread the love.

Longer is NOT better

Always, always check the instructions on the back of the pack. If it says you should apply the mask for 20 minutes, don’t assume that leaving it on for longer will increase the benefits. On the contrary, once the mask starts to dry, it will start sucking out moisture from your skin. And it will also increase skin temperature, which can increase the bacteria count, leading to acne and other skin issues. So, make sure you watch the clock!

Consider multi-masking

If one sheet mask is good, are two better? When paired prudently, most definitely. Experts advocate starting with a purifying clay or mud mask to open up the pores and cleanse them of debris; then rinse it off and follow with a sheet mask to flood the skin with beneficial ingredients. This will super-charge the efficacy of the sheet mask, while also purifying the skin, the latter being something that sheet masks rarely achieve (more on this in a bit).

Pair sheet masks with an eye mask

In a similar vein of multitasking, pop on an eye mask under your sheet mask. Not only will it cut your masking time by half, it will also super-charge your eye mask with some hefty hydration.

Don’t wash it off!

Unless you have super-acne prone skin or have to head out of the house (that’s why I usually apply a sheet mask right before bedtime), don’t wash off the residue after lifting away the sheet. It may seem a little sticky at first but the leftover fluid is potent with beneficial nutrients and is meant to be absorbed into the skin. And for maximum benefit, don’t just pat it into the skin. Instead, use this as an opportunity to give yourself a mini facial massage – the creaminess of the serum will help the massage, while the massage will help the serum sink deeper into the skin. Double whammy!

What comes after a sheet mask?

Remember that a sheet mask is serum based. So, follow it up with a moisturiser to seal in the treatment and multi-charge the benefits.

A photo posted by Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) on

But… remember that sheet masks can’t replace traditional masks

While sheet masks are the current super-heroes of skincare, there’s one thing that they can’t do well: deep cleansing or purifying the skin. That’s because they are loaded with serums that sink into the skin rather than, say a clay-based mask, that draws impurities out of the skin.

But… they can’t replace your daily serum

Unless you’re using a sheet mask twice a day, every single day – and not only will that get seriously expensive, you’re at risk of overloading your skin and clogging your pores by doing this – you still need your daily serums. So, think of sheet masks as more of a booster rather than a replacement for your daily skincare rituals.

But… remember that sheet masks may not be great for acne-prone skin

Sheet masks are loaded with sticky fluids, they may not be the best idea for acne-prone skin. Plus, the occlusion raises skin temperature (on an average, from 89.6 to 98.6 degrees), which boosts the growth of acne-causing bacteria. So, if you’re prone to pimples, first do a patch test and wait a couple of days to see if it aggravates the condition before going full steam with a sheet mask. And whenever you do use a mask, try and opt for a gel-based one rather than a cloth-based formula as that’s less likely to cause breakouts.

Which is your favourite sheet mask?

Beauty DIY: How to make lotion bars (the perfect gift for yourself or someone else!)

As summer transitions into Fall and we enter gift giving season, the mind turns to… lotion bars.

Yes, simple but utterly scrumptious lotion bars that literally caress the skin to buttery smoothness and leave behind the most beautiful glow.

And you can so easily make them at home, customised to your own specific tastes. Plus, unlike the store-bought versions, there are no added chemicals, making them beyond perfect for your skin.

Handmade lavender soapYou will need

1 cup beeswax pellets
1 cup grated shea butter, kokum butter or cocoa butter
1 cup almond oil or extra virgin olive oil
25-30 drops essential oil of your choice
A collection of molds (empty Altoids tins are just the perfect size but cupcake molds, cookie cutters and yogurt containers work just as well)

How to make the lotion bar

1. Assuming you don’t have a double boiler (I don’t!) rig up your own by boiling water in a large pot and rest another pot over the same. I place a thin sieve over the large pot and place the small pot on top of the sieve.

2. Pour the beeswax into the small point and stir till it begins to melt.

3. Add the oil; continue stirring till the beeswax is completely melted.

4. Add the butter of your choice; stir till everything is melted then quickly remove from the heat.

5. Pour the mixture into the moulds while it’s still of liquid consistency.

6. Add the essential oil (before it sets) and stir it in using something super-slim, like a knitting needle.

7. Leave the moulds in a dry, cool place to set – this can take from a few hours to a day.

8. Once the mixture is set, pop it out of the mould.

9. Wrap in plain butter paper or baking pan liner paper. Or add some pretty bows and sparkles to make them look as pretty as they are functional.

And you are done!

Royal fables: A tryst with Udaipur and its cult skincare recipes

The city: Udaipur, India. The most legendary of towns in Rajasthan, known as the “Venice of the East” due to its stunning lakeside location, rambling old palaces and stunning architecture painted in every shade of white known to mankind.

The quest: Soaking in the ancient beauty of the landscape and going to the very roots of the glorious indigenous beauty recipes that have originated in this land and been adopted by literally every brand, from Aveda to Estee Lauder.

The quandary: A missing camera that’s left sitting on my desk approximately 7,467 miles away. In a land that begs a photo at literally every turn of its winding paths.

The solution: Yes, thankfully there is one. In the form of the ubiquitous smartphone that’s almost surgically attached to my hand 24 x 7. Which is a blessing, it turns out, in more ways than one. Not only do today’s smartphones almost rival DSLRs in their photo quality (the Coolpad Note 5 comes with a 13 MP rear camera) but it’s also small and inconspicuous enough to get into tight spaces to capture a micro-detail, take candid shots without making people feel too self conscious and light enough to take literally everywhere without yoour shoulder falling off. And, of course, then there is the fact that I have yet to meet a camera that lets you take the perfect selfie, complete with a forward facing lens AND night mode to chase away the darkness (hello again, Coolpad Note 5, with your 8 MP front facing camera with flash!).

The result: A wealth of traditional beauty recipes that have made Rajasthani women some of the most revered in the world, along with a treasure trove of photographs that will make for the memories of a lifetime.

Enjoy them both here!

tbg15

Playing princess for a night 🙂 #CoolPadNote5

Indian beauty recipe #1: Sandalwood & almond face scrub

Rose water is purifying, while almonds and saffron represent fertility. But that’s just the ritualistic part. The reason Indian women have revered this scrub since the times of Ayurveda is because almonds contain essential fatty acids for smooth and super-supple skin. They are also packed with antioxidants, including vitamin E, to neutralise environmental toxins and keep skin healthy.

Rose water and saffron, in the meantime, are packed with skin soothing and complexion perfecting ingredients, like Vitamin C and polyphenols, which can erase fine lines, boost collagen, clear blocked pores, soften the complexion and hydrate cell tissues.

4-5 almonds
3-4 strands of saffron, dissolved in a few drops of warm water
few drops of rose water

1. Rub the almonds on a coarse stone with rose water till you get a paste

2. Mix this paste with the saffron water

3. Apply the mask to your face; let it dry, then rub it off with wet hands. Weeks of accumulated grime and dead skin will come off with the paste

tbg4

…. but simply can’t compete with the originals painted on the walls of the City Palace #CoolPadNote5

Indian beauty recipe #2: Heal chronic acne

Sandalwood has potent antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory and disinfectant properties that make it a treat for flawlessly glow-y complexions. It’s also superb at reducing skin scarring of all kinds. Vetiver is antiseptic and very effective in treating chronic acne. Added bonus: this paste smells divine!

1 small bunch vetiver
few drops of vetiver essential oil
2 tsp sandalwood powder 

1. Soak the vetiver in a little water overnight

2. Next day, strain the water and mix it with the sandalwood powder

3. Add few drops of vetiver essential oil to the paste

4. Apply this paste on your face, paying special attention to the affected areas; wash it off once dry. Repeat daily till for 2-4 weeks; the left over paste should be kept refrigerated

Falling in love with the fabrics of the region

Falling in love with the fabrics of the region #CoolPadNote5

Indian beauty recipe #5: Whole body mask

This traditional body mask (called an ubtan) is applied to both bride and groom for seven days before the wedding. It’s messy but superb for making skin smooth, flawless and glow-y. Turmeric cleanses, disinfects and glosses; sandalwood is antiseptic, astringent and anti-inflammatory; gur (jaggery) is packed with glycolic acid for exfoliation and humectants to keep everything moisturised; yogurt’s lactic acid helps slough off dead skin cells; chickpea flour busts grime and toxins; and ghee deep cleanses, moisturise and heals.

2 cups besan (chickpea flour)
1 tbsp sandalwood powder
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp gur (sugar cane jaggery)
2 tbsp yogurt
2 tsp ghee (clarified butter)

1. Mix everything together to form a paste

2. Apply the paste to clean skin; wait till it dries (approximately 15 minutes), then rub it away with wet fingers. Finally, rinse clean with lukewarm water

No wonder they call it the Venice of the East

No wonder they call it the Venice of the East #CoolPadNote5

A room with a view... at the Fatehprakash palace

A room with a view… at the Fatehprakash palace #CoolPadNote5

A peep through the arches

A peep through the arches #CoolPadNote5

Touched by the hand of God

Touched by the hand of God #CoolPadNote5

The beauty lies in the details... often made up of millions of glass mosaics

The beauty lies in the details… often made up of millions of glass mosaics #CoolPadNote5