When I took a day trip to Champagne last month, I did not expect to come away with skincare recipes. Partaking of the world’s most divine beverage in its own homeland? Yes. Learning about grape varietals, soils, Champagne making secrets (did you know that smaller the bubbles, better the Champagne)? Bring it on. A case of the extreme hangover? Still on board. Knockout tipsiness? Absolutely.
And I did come away with all of these, along with a new respect for a very complex beverage. But what I also got was the secret to flawless skin. Because it turns out that Champagne (or sparkling wine) is extremely high in antioxidants due to the grape seed extract that packs more vitamin C and E than your average toning and anti-aging products. The result? Superb protection for the skin’s vital collagen and elastin from free radicals and oxidative stress. Or, in normal English, a halt to premature ageing and goodbye to wrinkles.
Plus, champagne’s tartaric acid content is a known skin lightener. So, if you have unwanted pigmentation or want to even out your skin tone, champagne is a wonderful solution. And that’s not all: tartaric acid also helps clear up blemishes (it has anti-bacterial properties) and detoxifies the complexion.
And the lovely bubbling action of champagne helps constrict the pores while stepping up micro-circulation, thereby making skin firmer and giving you a pretty, dewy glow. All these qualities make champagne one of the best toners for normal or oily skin (while it contains less alcohol than most store-bought toners, it’s still probably not hydrating enough for very dry skin). And women across France have been using it for zillions of years.
Ready to try it?
Just soak a cotton pad in chilled champagne (or sparkling wine) and wipe thoroughly across a cleansed face, neck and décolleté. It should feel incredibly light, cool and refreshing, and you can actually feel the bubbles fizzing! Don’t rinse off; follow with your regular moisturizer. And enjoy your new glow!
And now let’s take a trip to Champagne…
I went to Champagne on a day trip this time – it’s 90 miles from Paris – but the region is worth at least a long weekend. Ready to experience it? Take a trip down photographic lane here or read my more extensive Champagne travelogue on Shimmer Shine Sparkle – The Beauty Gypsy’s other blog – in a couple of weeks.
PS: Champagne isn’t the only beverage you can use as a beauty ingredient – CLICK HERE to learn what you can do with vodka!
Nine hours. That’s how long it took to apply the mehndi at the Indian part of my wedding, exactly 8 years back. I still remember waking up at 6 in the morning and sitting still for 9 full hours, while 4 women worked simultaneously on my hands and legs (so, that’s 36 woman-hours in total), sketching intricate designs from the tips of my fingers to the shoulders, and from the tips of my toes to the knees – both sides! And then waiting another 4 hours for it to dry, followed by the mandatory lemon-and-sugar rinse and leaving it overnight to assure a rich and dark colour. I think that’s when it finally dawned that I was about to get married – me, the girl who saw India as a cultural fantasy and had openly declared marriage to be the least sane of all institutions know to mankind. Well, love and all that… !!!!
Anyway, coming back to the mehndi (or henna), it’s so crucial to an Indian wedding that the two have become synonymous with one another. Mehndi brings luck to the new couple, while its colour is supposed to indicate the strength of the husband’s love: the deeper the hue, the stronger the love! And, most importantly, the bride is not allowed to work in her husband’s home until her mehndi fades completely (thereby making up for those 9 hours!).
And it’s not just about the mehndi, either. Today, it’s been 8 years since I got married and in true beauty junkie fashion, what I remember most about the wedding are those long, lush and totally indulgent hair and skincare rituals that I got to enjoy as a bride in a culture that elevates its beauty heritage to a ceremonial pedestal. My mother is still convinced that the only reason I traded my raggedy skinnies for a traditional Rajasthani lehenga (that weighed 41 pounds!) was to enjoy all the beauty goodies that hold ritualistic centre stage in an Indian wedding. She may well be right.
Thankfully, though, you don’t need to be a bride to enjoy some of these timeless beauty recipes that make you look good and feel good… the perfect combination, where I am concerned!
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.
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
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!
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
Indian beauty recipe #3: Stop seeing spots
Masoor dal (whole brown lentils) is superb for lightening acne scars and hyper pigmentation, tightening the pores, nourishing the skin and bringing about a natural glow. Ghee (clarified butter) is an Ayurvedic staple used to deep cleanse and moisturise, while being one of nature’s most potent skin healers. In fact, Ayurveda calls upon ghee for everything from healing burns and tackling bruises or rashes to closing the skin post-surgery.
2. Throw away the water and grind the lentils and ghee together, till they reach a paste-like consistency
3. Apply this paste on freshly washed face; gently scrub off with wet fingers after half an hour
4. Repeat daily for a week and then once-weekly for best results
Indian beauty recipe #4: Traditional body polish
Used by women all over India, this gently body scrub literally shucks the dead cells and buffs skin to silky smoothness. How? Milk contains hefty amounts of lactic acid to loosen dead cells and grime; chickpea flour sloughs off dead skin; while turmeric is a natural cleanser and disinfectant.
2. Apply on slightly damp skin, then rub off in gentle, circular motions. Finally rinse skin clean with plain water
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. 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
Indian beauty recipe #6: Sexy strands
It’s a well accepted fact that there couldn’t be anything better for your strands than coconut oil (read more about the beauty benefits of coconut oil right here). Add in amla(Indian gooseberry), one of the highest natural sources of vitamin C and powerful antioxidants that can penetrate the scalp to strengthen hair follicles right at their roots, and you have a potent potion to stop hair loss and promote the growth of stronger, healthier strands.
1. Mix the coconut oil and amla juice; pour into a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil
2. Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes on a medium flame, till all the water has evaporated and you are left with a light brown paste
3. Take off the heat, cool and strain; store in a glass bottle
4. Massage well into your scalp, leave on for at least half an hour and then wash hair with a mild shampoo
Indian beauty recipe #7: Smooth & glossy hair oil
Every ingredient in this fragrant hair oil is chosen because of its blood-circulation-boosting and hair-root-nourishing properties. Try it once a week and you will see your strands getting thicker, smoother, stronger and way glossier than ever before.
3. Add the crushed garlic and ginger; let everything simmer together for a few seconds (the spices shouldn’t burn)
4. Let the oil cool and store it in a glass bottle
5. When you want to use the oil, warm it up to lukewarm (take care that it’s not hot enough to burn your skin) and massage it in your scalp. Let it soak for at least 15 minutes (an hour is ideal!), then wash it off with your regular shampoo
What’s a favourite memory from your wedding? Let’s share!
I’ve spent most of these last weeks wandering around the inner reaches of France, Germany and Italy, with one conclusion: while French women are the epitome of understated chic and the Germans have a robust constitution, it is the Italian bellisima who wins the complexion stakes. Seriously, have you ever seen their skin? How it’s taut and tight, literally hugging the bones and glowing with an inner radiance that can’t be replicated with any amount of foundation or highlighter? How it’s flawless, despite their spending hours in the sun and eating a diet rich in carbs and sugar-laden tiramisu?
It’s enough to give mere mortals like me a complex. So… time to dig! And after interviewing a whole clutch of women from Milan to Matera (it’s the most exquisite Basilicatan village – look it up!), there are a few ingredients that crop up time and again. Humble kitchen ingredients that make for the most potent beauty treatments: olive oil, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), eggs and lemons. And quite a few Italian mammas (all with the skin of a 25-year-old on an 80-year-olds body) offered up this one recipe that combines these beauty ingredients into one seriously potent face mask that soothes, nourishes, busts blemishes and leaves you glowing flawlessly.
Chickpeas are a potent source of skin nourishing and rejuvenating proteins, olive oil is packed with anti-aging antioxidants and hydrating squalene, egg yolks are full of vitamins (including vitamin A or retinol, which boosts cellular turnover and keeps pores unclogged) to maintain skin elasticity, while lemon juice takes care of any blemishes and minor skin infections.
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?