What does your tongue say about your health? Prepare to be seriously surprised

Recently, my mother has been going to a Chinese acupuncturist and the first thing he does is make her stick out her tongue. Even though the problem is a slipped disc in her back, the treatment always begins with a visual examination of the tongue.

And that’s a trend I am increasingly seeing with most doctors, whether traditional or given to more modern medicinal practises. The reason? Your tongue gives out more clues about your health than one might ever imagine.

For example, a white coating on the tongue could tell the doctor to address your digestion, while one with a purple tinge could point towards circulation problems. Reading the tongue has always been a cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine, much like face mapping, and it’s now getting a standing ovation by modern science as well.

What’s the perfect tongue, then? One that’s uniformly pink, moist, plump and has a very thin white coating. It shouldn’t quiver when you stick it out and there should be no cracks, grooves or indentations.

Is that you? Congratulations, you seem in good health.

If not, stick out your tongue, look in the mirror and learn to read what your body is trying to tell you**.

Super smooth tongue

If you think having a smooth, moist tongue puts you in the clear, think again. According to Chinese medicine, an overtly smooth tongue could signify water retention, mucus buildup or reduced immunity.

Thick white coating on the tongue

According to Traditional Chinese medicine, a thick white coating indicates ‘stagnation’ or a ‘cold’ zheng. This leads to sluggish digestion, mucus buildup, candida, tendency towards back problems, lack of beneficial bacteria or excess fat in your diet.

Pale tongue

This could indicate poor circulation, mucus and fat accumulation or anaemia. You may feel low on energy and exhausted.

Red bumps on the tongue

Expect digestion problems, insomnia and symptoms of a stressful lifestyle.

Shades of red and yellow on the tongue

According to traditional Chinese medical practitioners, these are signs of a “hot” zheng, which may be manifested as an infection or inflammation in the body, especially the liver, gall bladder or intestines. It may also indicate high blood pressure, anaemia or another blood problem, and may be a sign that you need to cut down on excessive dairy products, eggs, meat, sugar, alcohol and spices.

Purple tongue

If your tongue is tinged purple, check for sluggish blood flow, high cholesterol and other circulation problems. It may also be a warning to cut down on sugar, alcohol and an intolerance to certain medications.

Green tongue

This may be the sign of a progressive infection in the body.

White or red spot on the tip of the tongue

While a white bump on the tip of your tongue may point to kidney problems, a red one could be the sign of emotional stress or allergies.

Cracked tongue

A cracked tongue could be a sign of dehydration or nutritional deficiencies (particularly vitamin B and C). A crack that runs down the centre of the tongue may speak of a bad stomach or indigestion.

Tooth indentations on the tongue

If your teeth leave indentations on the tongue, it could be because of low immunity, exhaustion, fluid retention, nutritional deficiency, digestive problems or the spleen.

Sore tongue

Check your nutritional levels as this may indicate a deficiency, particularly B6, B12 and iron. If you are getting a burning sensation on your tongue, it may be because of an upset stomach.

Wobbly tongue

A tongue that doesn’t stay still could be a sign of chronic exhaustion.

** Do remember that, as with all medical issues, you should see your doctor for a proper prognosis. This is just a general guide to head you off in the right investigative direction – just because you have a white bump on your tongue doesn’t always mean you have a bad liver!

Beauty DIY: Toning up with Champagne!

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.

champagne-beauty-benefitsAnd 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.

champagne travelogue 1
{Champagne is spread across 41,000 hectares. Each hectare yields 10,000 bottles annually. Do the maths.}
champagne travelogue 2
{Champagne is made mainly from three grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier (shown here) and Chardonnay}
champagne travelogue 3
{Grapes must have at least a sugar level of at least 9% to be eligible for blending into Champagne}
{Moet & Chandon: The grandaddy of them all}
{Moet & Chandon: The grandaddy of them all}
{Moet owns 3,000 hectares and sources 70% of its grapes from other producers}
{Moet owns 3,000 hectares and sources 70% of its grapes from other producers}
{Moet has 28 kilometres of Champagne cellars... the largest in the region}
{Moet has 28 kilometres of Champagne cellars… the largest in the region}
{It is a literally endless abyss of bottle upon bottle upon bottle. Upon bottle}
{It is a literally endless abyss of bottle upon bottle upon bottle. Upon bottle}
{See what I mean?}
{See what I mean?}
{Though once cleaned and polished they are totally va va voom! Especially in the 15 litre version – see the iPhone for relative size. The cost? Only 17000 Euro!}
{Though once cleaned and polished they are totally va va voom! Especially in the 15 litre version – see the iPhone for relative size. The cost? Only 17,000 Euro!}

PS: Champagne isn’t the only beverage you can use as a beauty ingredient – CLICK HERE to learn what you can do with vodka!

Beauty recipes: Make your own under-eye mask (Time: 10 minutes)

Lately, a new category of beauty products has been taking over the skincare aisles: under-eye masks. They are literally everywhere, with super-cool brands like GlamGlow, Le Métier de Beauté and Bliss keeping the credit cards busy. A slew of spas, including Ananda in the Himalayas and the Waldorf, even have a full fledged roster of under-eye treatments on their menu.

Stands to reason. After all, our under-eye area has some of the most fragile skin anywhere on the body. And it’s seriously overworked. By the time you finish this post, you will have blinked more than 50 times. Those who suffer from eyestrain (if you work with computers, odds are you do) and have slept less than 7 hours last night, will blink twice as much. This stresses the delicate muscles under the eyes.

Add in years of sun exposure, pollutants, allergies, squinting (another computer side effect), stress… and it’s no wonder that your eyes are often rimmed with dark circles, puffiness, sagging skin or crow’s feet.

Yet, even as we get our backs massaged, our legs buffed smooth and our hands pampered, the eyes mostly get overlooked. Time to change that, I would say. Added bonus: why not do it with pure and fresh ingredients straight out of the refrigerator? After much testing, harrowing the experts and comparing treatments literally side-by-side (two eyes – one covered with white store-bought goo, the other covered with colorful homemade goo!), I have zeroed down on these 3 under-eye mask recipes that work just as well as – if not better than – the store-bought versions.

Destroy the dark circles under-eye mask

Why it works: All these ingredients are potent sources of Vitamin K, which heals damaged capillaries and minimises the pooling of blood under the eyes – the main causes of dark circles. Over time, it also thickens the skin around our eyes. And since thinner the skin, the more visible the dark circles, it’s a powerful 1-2-3 punch to make those racoon-like shadows go far, far away.

Ingredients: 2 cups water, 1 bunch basil, 1 bunch parsley leaves, 3 lettuce leaves, 3 cabbage florets

Method: Boil the water and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 20 minutes, then strain the liquid and pour it into a glass jar. Apply this liquid (once it’s absolutely cool) with a cotton ball under the eyes and leave on for 10 minutes. Finally, rinse and gently pat dry. Repeat daily.

Storage: This mixture must be refrigerated; discard if it smells rancid.

Banish the crow’s feet under-eye mask

Why it works: Chinese women have been using soybeans since antiquity to fight premature ageing. And today science is following suit, with soy appearing in several skincare products. That’s because soybeans contain powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents. They also have a collagen-stimulating effect, which boosts skin elasticity. Combined result: lesser fine lines and crow’s feet.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup soybeans that have been soaked overnight in a cup of water, 1 tablespoon whole milk

Method: Pour the soybeans into a blender and process till they reach a paste-like consistency. Add the milk and blend for another minute. Apply under the eyes and leave for 15 minutes, then rinse off.

Storage: This mixture must be refrigerated; discard if it smells rancid.

Pass on the puffiness under-eye mask

Why it works: Witch hazel has a refreshing, astringent action on the skin, thereby helping deflate under-eye circles. Similarly, celery is packed with over a dozen anti-inflammatory agents, including apigenin, which is an integral part of several anti-inflammatory drugs.

Ingredients: 2 celery stalks or 2 tablespoons celery juice, 1 green tea bag, 2 cups witch hazel, 1 tablespoon glycerin

Method: Puree the celery stalks in a food processor (or juicer) and strain the juice. Place the teabag in a glass beaker. Heat witch hazel until hot and pour it on top of the teabag. Let the tea infuse for 2-3 minutes, then remove the teabag. Add celery juice and glycerin. Saturate a gauze pad and place over the eyes for 15 minutes.

Storage: Can be kept refrigerated for up to 10 days; discard if the mixture becomes cloudy.

Have you been looking after the skin around your eyes? What’s your go-to strategy for dealing with dark circles, crow’s feet and puffiness? Tell us in the comments below.

Save or toss? What really happens when a beauty product expires

As a compulsive beauty product hoarder (1,083 lipsticks and 479 perfumes at last count – so not kidding!), I am constantly faced with the battle between throwing out expired products (but that eyeshadow palette is sooooooooo pretty!!!!!!!) and not wanting to literally hurt my skin.

Confession: The former have once too often won over the latter, the lure of an expensive moisturiser that was left in the cupboard for a year too long winning over the potential ramifications of subjecting my skin to an expired product. Because honestly, which one of us hasn’t thought that throwing away a half full tube of mascara after three months is a bit too extreme? That lipsticks don’t expire… they just gently fade away, with no repercussions for our skin? And our health? That it’s all a marketing gimmick on the part of beauty brands to just make us buy more and more products in place of our perfectly fine ones?

Unfortunately, this is the equivalent of shoving your head in the sand, ostrich-style. Because all beauty products expire and using one that’s gone bad is doing some pretty serious damage to your skin. Which is something I learnt after a nasty set of breakouts on my forehead that simply wouldn’t go away. The culprit, as discovered by my dermatologist? A setting powder well past it’s date.

And that’s what led me to research this subject further. Exactly what happens when a beauty product expires? Why is it that old mascara is actually toxic and why you need to buy a new tube of sunscreen every year?

First… reading the label

Unfortunately, most cosmetics don’t come with an expiry date printed on the label – all due to lack of regulation on the subject. What you may find is something called Period After Opening (PAO) date, which is usually indicated by the illustration of a jar with a number written in it. So, a jar with “12” or “12M”, would mean the product is good for 12 months after opening.

I usually just jot down the date I bought the product as well as the date I opened it on the container itself, with a sharpie. If you want to be more sophisticated, look at Timestrips.

Also check the list of ingredients – if the first ingredient listed is water, understand that the product will have a short shelf life as this particular element encourages bacteria to grow the fastest. Organic and preservative-free products are also prone to short lives, as they have no protection against contaminants.

And when in doubt, err on the side of caution, since you really don’t know for how long the product was sitting in the warehouse before you even brought it home!

Case in point: The International Journal of Cosmetic Science published a study in 2013, which revealed that 70% women use at least one expired beauty product, especially eye makeup. And that a whopping 67% of this eye makeup was contaminated. Time, seriously, to rethink our beauty habits.

Moisturizers and eye creams: Nine months to one year

The longevity of creamy skincare formulations – whether moisturizers or eye creams – depends on their packaging. Pump bottles, ampoules or any kind of dispenser in which the product is not exposed to air or your hands will last up to one year. Jars, however, usually last for only 6-9 months. That’s because your hands can contaminate the product with bacteria, while exposure to air and sunlight makes it degrade faster.

In either case, moisturizers and eye creams start degrading and undergoing chemical changes past the one year mark. This happens in different ways: Ingredients like vitamin C and hydroquinone start losing their potency, while others like glycolic acid and retinol actually become more concentrated over time. The former means products lose their efficacy, and the latter leads to skin irritation. Plus, oil-based creams may become rancid, which will further inflame the skin.

Sunscreen: One year

Sunscreens are actually regulated by the FDA and usually come with a prescribed expiration date of one year. After that, the active ingredients start to break down, making the SPF weaker. The formula also starts becoming unstable when exposed to heat and the active ingredients become unequally distributed in the base – so, while with one pump you may get enough SPF, with another you may get none.

beauty-expiry-dateAnti-acne products: Six months

Most acne products are centred on salicylic acid and Benzoyl peroxide, which break down and lose their potency very quickly. Worse, they break down into other chemicals that can irritate and harm the skin.

Retinoid creams: Nine months

Vitamin A is another product that breaks down pretty rapidly, so you need to use it up within the year. Faster if its not packed in an opaque tube as exposure to light and air accelerates the process.

Grainy exfoliators: Two years

Scrubs of the grainy kind are a hardy lot but they are still prone to breeding bacteria that are passed on from your fingers. So, avoid contaminating the tub with dirty fingers and you’re pretty much set for a while.

Peels and masks: Three months

Peels and non-grainy masks, on the other hand, are creatures with short lives. Especially if they are anchored by fruit and glycolic acids. That’s because the buffering agents start evaporating after a while, making the acids more potent. Cue: Skin irritation and burns.

Soap: 18 months to three years

Yes, soap expires. And how fast it expires depends on the formulation. Commercial non-organic soap bars can usually last for about three years, given the added synthetic ingredients and preservatives. However, these very same synthetic ingredients and preservatives will change their chemical composition over time, leaving them skin-unfriendly. Organic, handmade soaps, on the other hand, usually contain high amounts of fat and no chemical preservatives. The fats start breaking down and becoming rancid, giving them a shelf life of 18-24 months. And once you add things such as flowers, fruits, herbs and essential oils, the longevity reduces even further as these organic ingredients decay pretty fast.

Bath oils and shower gels: Two years

Loaded as they are with oils, botanicals and other natural ingredients, bath oils and shower gels are prone to oxidation, which causes chemical changes in the formula. Over time, the consistency also changes, making the oils and water separate. Result: Not so effective, not so pretty.

Loofas and bath sponges: Three weeks for loofas, six weeks for sponges

According to dermatologists, loofahs and sponges are responsible for some of the worst skin infections they see on a regular basis. Loofahs contain proteins and carbohydrates, which become a feeding ground for bacteria. Both loofahs and sponges are also riddled with tiny holes that trap dead skin and harbour bacteria and molds when moist. So, air dry them thoroughly in between uses and toss out in a maximum of 3-6 weeks. Less if you notice any funkiness.

Shampoos and conditioners: Two years

Once water and air start getting into the bottles – as they invariably do – the formula starts breaking down or separating.

expired-beauty-productsDeodorant: Three years

Deodorants are usually loaded with anti-bacterial ingredients and come in an aerosol can, which limits the risk of contamination, so they run foul more slowly.

Liquid foundation and concealer: One year

With time, liquid makeup starts thickening and separating, making for a patchy finish. It also starts changing colour due to oxidation, all of which explains why old foundation does not sit as well on your complexion as a fresh one.

Eyeshadows, blush and other powder-based makeup: Three years

As long as you’re not touching powder-based makeup with dirty hands or brushes, it runs a lower risk of feeding bacteria as there is no water to aid their growth. However, with time, they start drying out, crumbling and become clumpy, making application difficult. Some also contain botanical ingredients, like aloe or essential oils, and these can harbour infections. So, keep an eye out for any kind of growth or change in consistency and toss out immediately if that happens.

Lipsticks and lip glosses: Two years

Lipsticks are loaded with wax, water and emollients, which literally draw in bacteria and become mini-reservoirs of infections. They also contain oils that go rancid with time. Plus, they start drying out as the water evaporates, causing a drag on lips, rather than the creamy or glossy effect you’re seeking.

PS: If you’ve had a cold sore, any lip products you use at the time have to go immediately. Apologies!

Lip and eye pencils: Three to five years

Pencils usually go very close to mucous membranes, thereby increasing the chances of both picking up bacteria and transmitting them back to your eyes and lips. However, every time you sharpen them, it gets rid of the contaminated layers and reveals a fresh, clean one. This extends their shelf life. Only caveat: Regularly sanitise your sharpener and toss out the pencil immediately if you have any cold sores or eye infections.

PS: Self-sharpening pencils don’t have the same benefits and need to be tossed out after 3-6 months.

Mascara and liquid eye liner: Three months

Wet cosmetics such as mascaras and liquid eye liners, which are packed in dark, narrow containers, are literally a petri dish for bacteria – and you’re going to use them next to your eyes! Plus, every time you pump the wand, it pushes air into the formula, drying it out and making for not-so-smooth application.

Nail polish: Two years

The formula will start separating, becoming stringy or gooey. This will start happening sooner if the nail polish is exposed to heat and humidity.

perfume-expiryPerfumes: 3 years to infinity

Do perfumes actually expire? Yes, they do. However, they don’t have a fixed expiry date and their longevity depends on a lot of factors – much like fine wine. Which is why some perfumes go “off” in a couple of years, while others are good for a couple of decades (my mother’s Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps, housed in the original crystal bottle and stored at the back of a very cool, very dark cupboard, smells great after 17 years!). That’s because alcohol is the perfect preservative. However, the ingredients inevitably do start oxidising and breaking down when exposed to the environment. Perfumes with heavy base notes, like woods and musks, last longer than light citrus or florals, which evaporate more quickly. Again, perfumes with a higher alcohol content last longer.

Next, comes the way you store your perfumes. Sunlight, heat and humidity are mortal enemies of fragrance, leading to chemical changes that alter the scent. When this happens, you will notice that the perfume starts changing colour – becoming darker or going milky – and starts smelling more like alcohol than a fragrance. The best way to increase your perfume’s shelf life is by storing them in a cool, dry place, like a drawer or wardrobe.