Beauty recipe: The Italian secret to glow-y, flawless, PERFECT skin

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.

italian skincareThe secret?

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 will need

1/4 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 egg yolk


1. Mash the chickpeas and mix them with all the ingredients; blend till you get a smooth paste.

2. Spread this face over your; let dry for 20 minutes.

3. Rinse off with warm water followed by a blast of cold water. Pat skin dry and apply your usual moisturiser.

Which country do you think has the most beautiful women? C’mon peeps, time to put it to a vote!

Want to make your hair grow faster? It’s much easier than you think

Maybe you’ve had a bad haircut. Or are craving sexy, face framing tresses. Or are prepping for a big occasion. Or channeling Blake Lively’s cool-girl spirals. Or maybe you just want a change. Whatever the reason, these easy-to-do-at-home beauty recipes will speed up the rate of hair growth so that you get the long and luscious locks of your dreams. Do them twice  a week – I normally alternate all of them in turn. Which one will you try first?

make hair growHair growth mask #1: Pass the mayo please. And the mustard.

Put 1 tablespoon mayonnaise (preferably freshly made), 1 tablespoon mustard and a dash of cayenne pepper in a small bowl; stir well till everything is blended. Rub the mixture all over your scalp. Leave it on for 30 minutes, then was with your regular shampoo.

Hair growth mask #2: Drunk on length

Pour 2 tablespoons each of castor oil and cognac in a small bowl; mix well. Apply this all over your scalp, then wash out with shampoo after 25 minutes.

Hair growth mask #3: All for aloe

Mix together 2 tablespoons each of aloe vera juice and honey. Apply the mixture all over your scalp and let it sit for 20 minutes. Then rinse with warm water and shampoo.

Are you trying to grow out your hair? What are your secret tips for speeding up the process?

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?

Fatal attraction: The most terrifying beauty practices ever!

Normally, I love vintage beauty tips. After all, anything that’s stood the test of time for hundreds of years has to be pretty effective. And I like how most of them are all about natural and wholesome ingredients, most of which can be found right within my kitchen. However, sometimes, the really old beauty stuff can be quite… out there. I wouldn’t recommend trying any of these out (no, seriously. DO. NOT. TRY. THESE. OUT.) but they do make for a pretty interesting read.

Eat some… arsenic

In the 19th century, arsenic was a staple beauty food to “produce a blooming complexion, a brilliant eye, and an appearance of embonpoint (sexy stoutness)”. But wait, there was a downside: It also caused goiters. And death. Too high a price to pay for that blooming complexion?

arsenic skincareNever, ever wash your face

According to the 19th century Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information a “beautiful lady” is one who had “not washed her face for three years, yet it is always clean, rosy, sweet and kissable”. Simply rub the skin with “an ointment of glycerine” and “dry with a chamois or cotton flannel”. Kissable? Yuck.

Bathe in ammonia

Talking about the yuck factor, if you were particularly finicky about cleanliness, ammonia was the answer. All you had to do was pour a hefty amount into your bath and soak for an hour. Perfect, apparently, for cleansing the pores “as well as a bleach will do”. According to popular beauty tomes of the time, “Any lady who has once learned its value will never be without it.”

Hang out naked by the window

Or there’s always the vapour soak. Which can get pretty interesting, especially if you have exhibitionist tendencies. To do this, “the lady denudes herself, takes a seat near the window, and takes in the warm rays of the sun.” If you’re feeling particularly active, you can dance instead of just sitting still. Because if you’re going to give the neighbours a show, why not make it the best you can?

Radioactive cosmetics

In the 1930s, the French cosmetic line Flo-radia was the hottest thing in beauty circles. Laced with thorium chloride and radium bromide elements it would, “stimulate cellular vitality, activate circulation, firm skin, eliminate fats, stop enlarged pores forming, stop and cure boils, pimples, redness, pigmentation, protect from the elements, stop ageing and get rid of wrinkles, conserve the freshness and brightness of the complexion”. As a major selling point, it was created by Dr. Curie – not Marie or Pierre, who pioneered and then died from radioactive research – but Dr. Alfred Curie. No relationship. Let’s just call it the birth of modern (mis)advertising.

Wash your eyes… with whisky

While you are having that once-in-three-year bath, it also makes sense to give your eyes a seeing-to. How? By “dashing soapsuds into them”. Another alternative: perfume dropped into the eyes. Still not convinced? “Half a dozen drops of whisky and the same quantity of Eau de Cologne, eaten on a lump of sugar, is quite as effective.”

Lead face powder

The 1700s were rough on your complexion, what with all the filth and pox diseases (and not washing the face!) that beset even the richest of people. All these left spots and scars, which were best covered with lead face powder. And why not? Lead powder is inexpensive and easy to make, coats well, and has a silky finish. The fact that it also makes your brain swell, brought on paralysis and shut down pretty much every organ in the body is just an irksome side effect.

terrifying-beauty-practisesTrim those lashes

“Unruly” lashes? They were best “slightly trimmed every other day” with sharp, tiny scissors. Not dangerous at all, right? And we think society imposes strict beauty standards in the 21st century!

Heavy-metal eyes

To rock a cool cat’s eye, all that our great grandmas had to do was line their lids with “two drachms of nitric oxid of mercury mixed with one of leaf lard”. Too complicated? Try “a hairpin steeped in lampblack”.


Vintage Kylie Jenners would plump up their lips with some heavy duty suction, which “draws the blood to the surfaces” and over time provides a “permanent inflation.” Going in the opposite direction? Thick lips “may be reduced by compression.” Yup.

Tempted by any of these vintage beauty secrets? What’s the most scary or dangerous beauty advice you have ever received?