Beauty recipe: How to make virgin coconut oil at home (effort level: easy)

We already know that coconut oil is one of the most versatile beauty ingredients, tackling everything from cellulite and dark patches to frizzy hair and eczema.

However, after reading about how so-called ‘virgin’ oils, like coconut and olive, are amongst the most faked products in the food world, I started exploring the process of making virgin coconut oil right at home.

Turns out, it’s pretty simple. And you don’t need any fancy machinery – just what you have right in your kitchen already. It does require a bit of patience in parts but to me that’s a small price to pay for getting coconut oil that I unequivocally know to be fresh, pure and virgin.

Ready to try it out?

Making virgin coconut oil with fresh coconuts

You will need

2-3 mature coconuts (the brown-husked ones – they have the maximum oil content)
blender (optional)
cloth strainer
small saucepan
glass jar

How to

1. Split open the coconut and pour the water in a bowl

2. Scoop out the flesh using a sharp knife or a spoon

3. Roughly grate or shred the coconut flesh

4. Add the coconut water to the flesh and let it marinate for an hour (some recipes call for plain drinking water here but I prefer using the coconut water itself for two reasons: if any plain water is left over in the final coconut oil, it shall turn the oil rancid pretty fast; and the coconut water is itself a nutrient-rich oil base, so shouldn’t be wasted)

5. Pour everything into a blender and process till you get a paste-like consistency (if you don’t have a blender, skip this step)

6. Strain the paste (or the coconut-flesh-and-water marinade) through a thin cotton cloth to get rid of any residual solids; squeeze 2-3 times to get the maximum liquid out of the marinade

make coconut oil7. Now you have coconut milk (which has it’s own uses – more on that later!)

8. Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan and simmer on medium heat till you see it granulating and the oil separating from the solids. This can take up to an hour; stir frequently and hold on to your patience at this point!

9. Once the oil has visibly separated and risen to the top, remove it carefully with a spoon and pour into a glass jar

10. Let the oil cool for a couple of hours and then place the jar in the refrigerator overnight. This will make the oil solidify and completely detach itself from any residual water or milk solids

11. Scoop out the pure coconut oil and use it for any of these fantabulous skin and hair recipes!

Have you ever tried making coconut oil at home? How was your experience?

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?

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?

What stress (or anger!) does to your face… and how to fix it!

Lately, despite the twice daily cleansing and moisturising, an hour at the gym, weekly scrubs and face packs, adequate beauty sleep and copious amounts of water, I have been noticing that my skin has never ever looked this terrible. It’s reached a point where strangers at the malls are asking me if I am sick and need help… not kidding!

stress-and-skinTime to visit the dermatologist – who takes one look at my blotchy complexion, flaking chin, dark circles and the monstrous zit on my forehead and decides what I need is a “life questionnaire” rather than a session of Blue Light. And through gradual prodding and poking, we arrive at the root cause – stress (and a lot of being pissed off, to boot), which is literally killing my skin cells.

I have always known that stress leads to high blood pressure, depression, migraines, heart disease, obesity… yada yada yada! But honestly, it never bothered me because all that’s in the future. Skin problems, however, are in the here and now! Hence, this required some serious research. And what I found is that given our increasingly crazy lifestyles, there is actually a new field of medicine called psychodermatology, which focuses on the mind-beauty connection. Experts of psychodermatology treat skin problems that are caused or worsened by stress and here I am summarising what they say happens to our complexions when we are emotionally troubled.

But remember, these “quick fixes” are just that – quick fixes. To actually reverse the beauty (and overall health!) effects of stress, you need to go much deeper than lotions and potions!

Stress and skin #1: Dullness

Stress triggers a hormone called cortisol (a stress hormone), which slows down skin cells, making them take longer to reach the surface and flake off. Hence, dead skin cells build up, making your face look dull and lifeless.

Quick fix: Drink more water and exfoliate regularly.

Stress and skin #2: Sagging

Furthermore, prolonged cortisol production leads to loss of collagen and elastin, resulting in slackness, sagging and loss of elasticity. Not a good beauty look at all!

Quick fix: Consume foods that increase collagen production and benefit the skin. For example, soy products help block enzymes that break down and age the skin. Also, try topical beauty products containing Vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid) or hyaluronic acid (sometimes listed as sodium hyaluronate). Skip the retinoids though – they will further irritate stressed skin.

stress-and-skin-3Stress and skin #3: Dryness

Stressed skin has a very low lipid (protective) barrier, so fluids evaporate more easily. In addition, cortisol also reduces the skin’s ability to retain water, leading to excessive dryness.

Quick fix: Try a weekly moisture mask and apply a hydrating serum along with moisturiser. Also, avoid using toners and cleansers that contain harsh ingredients such as Ammonium Laurenth Sulphate, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate, which can dehydrate and irritate the skin.

Stress and skin #4: Skin infections

The epidermal skin cells are packed tightly together, forming a strong barrier that blocks the entry of bacteria and other toxins. When you are under stress, this protective layer becomes less effective, allowing harmful bacteria to reach the deeper layers of skin.

Quick fix: Keep skin scrupulously clean with a mild soap. Use warm, not hot water, and pat skin dry instead of rubbing; put moisturiser on immediately.

Stress and skin #5: Itchy rashes

Stress decreases skin’s self-repairing abilities, while also releasing histamines (which create allergic reactions) into the bloodstream. The result? Flareups of immunity-related conditions such as hives, rashes, cold sores, psoriasis and eczema.

Quick fix: Look for beauty products that contain soothing ingredients like avocado oil, almond oil, aloe vera, Shea butter, sunflower oil and chamomile. Also, cut down on the number of skincare products you use –  fewer products means lesser ingredients and hence a lower risk of an allergic reaction.

Stress and skin #6: Blemishes

Stress increases oil production, which blocks the pores and results in breakouts.

Quick fix: Keep skin clear of surface dirt, oil and dead cells. Use oil-free beauty products and wash your face gently with a soft cloth. Don’t scrub, as this can further irritate acne and make it worse.

stress-and-skin-2

Stress and skin #7: Premature ageing

During times of crisis, our body redirects the flow of blood to areas that are vital for reacting to stress – such as lungs and heart. This leaves skin without essential blood and oxygen. The result? Increased production of free radicals and tissue-damaging oxidants, which speed up wrinkles, lines and other signs of premature ageing.

Quick fix: Try some facial exercises and massage. These help release tension along with increasing oxygen-rich blood flow to muscles, tissue and skin, making the complexion look vibrant and healthier.

Stress and skin #8: Sallowness

Stress hurts the digestive system. This means essential nutrients are not digested properly, allowing build up of impurities. As a result, stressed skin looks dull, lifeless and sallow.

Quick fix: Step up intake of leafy greens, fruit and high protein grains and lentils as well as healthy fats like those found in avocados and olive oil; cut down on caffeine. Skipping meals is a complete no-no!

Stress and skin #9: Inflammation

Prolonged stress creates chronic internal inflammation, which leads to premature ageing, uneven skin tone and texture, lack of radiance and hyperpigmentation.

Quick fix: Sleep is anti-inflammatory – a time of healing, when cortisol levels are at their lowest. Getting enough will keep your body’s best coping skills at hand.

Stress and skin #10: Skin cancers

In a study at Yale University, it was found that people with melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – were more likely to have gone through stressful life events during the years leading up to their diagnosis than people who did not have skin cancer.

Quick fix: Remember to not skip the sunscreen – even if you are indoors. Rule of thumb is that if the natural light is bright enough to read, it’s bright enough to damage your skin.

Have you ever felt your skin take a nosedive in the face of stress? Or anger? Or anxiety? Or depression?