Clarisonic cleansing brush…

It’s no secret that I’m big on exfoliation. Read a previous post about this where I bang on about it here.

It’s also no secret that I’m not really big on fancy products, labels and product hype. However, a friend loves this little gizmo so much that her enthusiasm made me try it.

I have to say right here and now though, that I started discussing products initially on this site but some people cynically assumed that I was being paid or bribed in some way to include these products (don’t judge me by your standards I say to them) SO, I feel I should reiterate that I talk about specific products and brands that I like and do so for that simple reason alone. I like ’em, I use ’em and I write about ’em. End of.


The item in question is from the Clarisonic (Pacific Bioscience Laboratories, Inc.) company as part of their ‘Sonic Cleansing Range’. They’re the same chaps that brought you the sonic toothbrush. The one I use is called the ‘Mia’. Mia is the small ‘travel’ size option and is a pared down device but completely enough for my needs. I’ve had it for a while now so it’s been superseded by other versions etc. (usual story) but the general idea is still the same.

The brand and its devices are, they say, all developed by scientists. Check out the website here Clarisonic for all the technical stuff and current versions available.

Essentially the manufacturers say the difference here is that their brush goes back and forth to flex and work with the skin’s natural elasticity, it sweeps away dead skin cells and the sonic vibrations ensure a deeper and more thorough cleanse and unclogging of pores. As I say check out the technical stuff on their website, but whatever the science the proof is ultimately in the results, right?

I am convinced that the regular use of this sonic brush has benefited my skin hugely. Now, I use the Mia in conjunction with a few other things (which are discussed in related posts) so I accept that it’s a combo thing but nonetheless the Mia is an integral part of the process.

The version of the Mia that I bought came with  mini tube of Clarisonic branded ‘gentle hydro cleanser’ which I have never used simply because I have my favourite face cleansers already and being a creature of some habit…and also I forgot all about it until I came to write this post! The provided cleanser was developed by Robb Akridge phd who was also the co-founder of the company. I feel I must therefore add at this point that Clarisonic was sold to L’Oreal in 2011 so if you have issues with L’Oreal (and there are plenty you could have – not least their animal testing decisions. Although they claim to be ‘cruelty free’ (that doesn’t include their prices and chemical usage I’m assuming…!) they say this: ‘L’Oréal no longer tests on animals any of its products or any of its ingredients, anywhere in the world. Nor does L’Oréal delegate this task to others. An exception could only be made if regulatory authorities demanded it for safety or regulatory purposes’ (my italics). It’s this final line that gives them away because, for instance, the lucrative Chinese market demands by Chinese law that before products can be sold there  products are tested on animals by Chinese testing facilities within China. As ever we must make informed and personal choices…right?

Anyhoo…the cleanser…maybe the shift to L’Oreal explains this but there was a major reformulation of many Clarisonic products according to a bunch of disgruntled fans of the previous formulas (can’t please everyone..?) but the consensus seems to be that natural has been replaced by synthetic. The upshot is I tried a little of it and I don’t like it. And I certainly don’t think that using every product from a brand’s range is a good way to go. Find specific things that work for you and don’t be swayed by a load of old rhetoric. Often brands have a fab product and then build a load of other stuff around it to complete a ‘range’…but the initial item is the best. Maybe this is so here…

Previously noticeable pores have been significantly reduced and other blockages that sometimes cropped up linked to heat, hair products or general abuse from the elements are now a rarity. Using this as a pre-shave preparation also allows for a closer and smoother shave. As the device is water proof it can be used in the shower as part of any routine to keep your daily ablutions time efficient!

A word about pores though…the size of them is largely hereditary (another thing to blame your parents for) or related to the oil gland within or the hair follicle, so the only way to minimise them is to minimise how noticeable they are. They become evident because they are blocked (and I’m afraid age is a factor too…they sag eventually like everything else) so having a regular exfoliating regime is important. Incidentally, blackheads aren’t dirt as some people suspect but the result of an oxidisation process within an excessively clogged pore and should be extracted by a professional ideally (also prevented by careful and regular exfoliation…it’s all about exfoliation!)

So ultimately I could argue, if I were being contrary (moi?!), that a flannel or any type of face cloth (or even these hands looking at the state of them – where is my Weleda Skin Food when I need it?!?) could do the job also and cost a zillionth of the price. True…but I think cost aside the convenience, clean efficiency and ease of this brush makes it a worthwhile investment…definitely add it to your birthday/Christmas wish list!

Part 5 – so which brands/products…?

So, what do we know? Perhaps everything, but more likely bog all…

We’ve thought about individual ingredients that might be contentious, we’ve deliberated over the use of products –  those that stay on the skin, those that get rinsed off. We’ve explored the actual and the practical and studied the science. We’ve learned that skin is an awesome barrier and that the strongly regulated EU ingredients can only do so much, and only on the surface, without the help of (my schoolboy humour’s favourite phrase) penetration enhancers. We have seen that some words like ‘natural’ are at best vague and at worst misleading. We’ve factored in those who use multi products and we’ve given passing wonderment to the men who use the shampoo from their heads to lather and cleanse their multitudinous hairy bits!

SO…let’s dispense with the theory and get to the practical. Who are the brands we should go for? Which are the products? The following are brands that I feel are worth exploring after loads of trawling through websites and following up recommendations. They largely or completely fit the various parameters laid out previously of actually being properly ‘natural’ and having a good company ethos or are harnessing the latest tested science or both.

And, of course, there’s been weeks of testing…on me! Tough gig…and the long term benefits cannot be truly revealed for another ten years or so!

As of the date this is published I’ve only tried the individual products I say I have and I’ve prioritised the anti-ageing stuff as a starting point and cross brand point of reference, but I intend to try other products in the ranges, you can be sure of that! (A separate post is forming regarding shaving and deodorants so more on that anon). If you have recommendations please let me (and the rest of us) know and then between us we can search out the best products. I’m kind of prioritising products for men (as this is how this whole exploration started) but as many brands don’t develop to gender specifics (products for skin not gender) there will be cross over. Differences between men’s skin and women’s are explored here…and here. If the packaging is the issue then guys you’ll have to stick to the men’s ranges or decant the product into something you don’t feel deflates your masculinity…or hide it, or pretend it’s your partner’s or…just deal with it.

Also, bear in mind what we’ve learned that skincare can do little, if anything at all, to change the skin at a structural level, especially in the EU where cosmetic ingredients are regulated to such an extent that if they did make any further alterations, they would be prescription medicines (even in unregulated countries, an ingredient can only penetrate so far). So you could argue that if you want skin plumped up with collagen or hyaluronic acid, go to a cosmetic surgeon and get injections, don’t spend a fortune on a cream that promises the world! After all, if creams alone worked then would we be seeing such a parade of pulled, plumped, filled and stretched types on our televisions…?


If I may be contentious for a moment…I cannot allow a subject like this to be published without a comment on what this says about our society. Surely it’s high time we allowed ourselves and each other to age naturally. Let me be clear this does not mean we shouldn’t make the best of things and protect and even pamper (we absolutely should!) to maintain ourselves in the best condition possible both inside and out. Youth is beautiful and vibrant but it’s not better. It just a stage of our lives. We are all beautiful in our own right until someone else points a finger and says we are not. Just consider cases like Nicole Kidman and Madonna and where do they go from here…

Just for the record I do not use gender specific products and I only go for products that offer a result that I think is a logical probability and not some super power miracle working mumbo jumbo. That’s the beauty industry technical term I gather…! So the following has a slant towards men’s skincare but also includes brands that are trying to give you high quality and effective products with minimal harm to the world and maximum benefit to you.

Green People

This brand have a product for your every male need (skin care that is…!) so I figure try it all. I can vouch for the ‘Active Fix – Repair Serum’ as I absolutely love it. Unlike some serums it spreads and covers really easily and although it goes a little sticky as it settles in (just press it into your face) it then disappears and leaves your skin feeling really good. Smells nice too. Blokey even. I use the ‘Cool Down Moisturiser” too after shaving, again a little goes a long way and it soothes the skin (pressing gently into the skin) and maybe if I catch the sun a little then it’s good for that too…although I never go out with out suncream of course! And they have set me the challenge of trying the ‘natural’ deodorant. Not, I hasten to add, because I’m a big sweaty mess but because I, like many, have come to rely on the usual chemical laden versions and don’t really have a grip on the way the natural works or if it even does. Properly I mean. I haven’t had the nerve to wave a crystal under my arm and set off on a day of meetings yet…so, more on this anon. I love this company’s ethos, I love their attitude and energy. Don’t just take my word for it loads of award giving types agree too.

To quote their website – ‘products are not tested on animals and never contain: Sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate, parabens, lanolin, phthalates, propylene glycol, alcohol (ethyl alcohol, ethanol), harsh foaming agents, synthetic fragrances, irritating emulsifiers, PABA-sunscreen, petrochemicals, colourants, urea, DEA, TEA or PEG’S.

The lovely people at Green People have provided this rather good document of FAQ’s for our general education –

Explore and buy at or follow them on twitter here.


Another must try. Weleda have been around for a long old time (since 1921) and have always had a passion for the organic and natural ethos. Theirs is a philosophy based on the anthroposophic medicine principles (a mix of conventional, homeopathic and naturopathic treatments) and aims to work in harmony with the bodies natural processes. The company’s motto is ‘in harmony with nature and the human being’. The company produces skin care ranges for body, face and babies as well as their range of homeopathic medicines. Their men’s range is small and centered around shaving and moisturising. They also have a deodorant. I’ll be doing a review of ‘natural’ deodorants very soon.

I started using the pomegranate range recently and love it. There are  just a few straight forward ingredients in their products and no fancy additives wielding fancy promises and even the packaging is simple and straight forward. Add to this that the Weleda ranges are seriously affordable, especially when compared to some of the other brands offering similar products (usually not even as good).

Their products for the face, for instance, are grouped into age targeted sets. The pomegranate range is for the over 40’s apparently (!) but I like to get ahead of the game…

Check out the whole Weleda glory at and buy men’s stuff here (or in bigger Boots and Waitrose!) Or follow the UK lot on twitter here.

Weleda, like Pai Skincare (see below), seem to have ended up in the lower price bracket and in ‘whole foods’ type stores, compared to newer brands that have been able to capitalise on the trend for ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ (and we all know now that can be a load of old boll…er…smoke and mirrors) and place themselves in more ‘up market’ establishments. Don’t be drawn in by the price tag, price tag (sing it with me)…Weleda is probably better!


Skinesis was founded by Sarah Chapman and what she doesn’t know about skincare and facials is not worth knowing. All pampering aside the key thing is that Sarah bases her products on science. Her lifelong research and trials, and working with her huge client base, has led to the development of a set of multi award winning products. The Age Repair Serum is a light easy single hit product to swipe on and go. This light silky serum is a heavy hitter with concentrated doses of everything you need to protect against environmental damage and dramatically improve the skin. It is designed to boost collagen production, help fight the signs of ageing (fine lines and wrinkles) and even target uneven dark pigmentation!! All this to reveal a firmer, brighter, younger skin (but Sarah expressly recommends a SPF as well…good general advice, I say, or choose a product that has it included like her Dynamic Defence and Dynamic Defence Concentrate. The eye recovery is pretty lush too, smoothing away fine lines and disguising tired eyes with some cutting edge cosmeceutical action! Always a welcome addition to a stressful week! But Overnight Facial is my top pick of her products. ‘A potent cocktail of antioxidants, vitamins, anti-inflammatory omega oils, firming Dermaxyl peptide, our skin-brightening complex, and jasmine and rose’. For any guys put off by scents in products let me tell you that these products settle and the scent isn’t that strong that it detracts from your machismo, and remember, the Overnight Facial is a night time product and I guarantee your partner won’t mind you hopping into bed smelling this divine…! I even believe it’ll have fringe benefits…!

Buy, explore and pamper at or follow Sarah and Skinesis on twitter here.

Pai Skincare

Sarah Brown launched London based Pai in 2007 after her own journey to stop her skin issues led her to research, formulate and create her own products. She says, ‘my goal was to create the cleanest plant-based skin care on the market, with a range of products formulated for people with very sensitive skin.’

The company has a loyal following and is much praised in the press. It is an affordable product range of honest, quality ingredients with minimal processing and no outlandish claims and that’s worth a lot in this business! The products contain no alcohol, artificial fragrances, beeswax, parabens, SLS, phthalates, formaldehyde, phenoxyethanol or petrochemicals and are created, blended and tested in their own lab premises.

I’ve got the Echinus and Amaranth Age Confidence Facial Oil. At £46 it’s one of their more expensive items but, depending on your skin type, you only use it a couple of times a week. Containing Squalene (from Amaranth/plants not shark’s livers!) which is championed as a major moisturiser, anti-inflammatory and skin cell regenerative and with a 30 money back guarantee it’s really a no brainer…!

Pai, like Weleda (see above), seem to have ended up in the lower price bracket and in ‘whole foods’ stores, compared to newer brands that have been able to parade themselves in more ‘up market’ establishments. The lesson is clearly one we must learn from Jessie J and don’t get in a schizzle over the price tag! ‘When the sale comes first and the truth comes second…’ Read the labels and do some research!! Okay, Sing it with me people…cha-ching, ba-bling…innit…

Check it out, read Sarah’s ‘Skin Solutions’ blog and buy Pai stuff at or follow Sarah and Pai on twitter here.

Neal’s Yard Remedies (NYR)

Anyone roaming around the London’s 80’s scene would have come across Neal’s Yard Remedies in Covent Garden. Along with the original Body Shop it was the pioneer, in my memory, for natural concoctions and made the hitherto available world of Oil of Ulay and Pond’s cold cream seem very boring! (Although cold cream has a long, long standing reputation for being a brilliant and gentle cleanser, encapsulating what the oil dissolves oil cleansing lobbyists would swear by – and Kylie loves it so…) NYR had healthy herbs and teas in jars, like a sweetie shop, and shelves of eye-catching blue bottles filled with wondrous unknown things with gorgeous fragrances. Not much has changed except the expansion and constant innovating and adding to the products.

Like Pai Skincare (see above) they have their own lab in the UK where they develop and concoct their ranges using the latest ‘green-chemistry’ and traditional organic ingredients which they choose because they will not do us or the planet ‘any harm’.

NYR have a men’s range and it is designed to cover all areas of your life. There’s a tincture for increasing your vigour (let’s not be shy lads!) and ways of giving you a glorious shave and keeping your skin in good nick. Nice smells and even a powder to keep any sweaty bits from causing a stink!

I’m a fan of the Invigorating Body Wash, a gentle yet effective all over body wash that smells amazing and doesn’t dry my skin (I’ve got the skin equivalent of a wadi so this is important!) and a little goes a long way. Hoorah. Same with the Calming Aftershave Balm which seems to calm the razor burn and refresh the skin quickly leaving it soft and soothed…smells good too.

Explore their holistic world and buy stuff at or follow them on twitter here.


Another British company where everything is developed and made in this country. Sisters-in-law Tina Steadman and Susannah Jenkins have a unique take on the usual ‘natural’ etc approach as they tie their products into the healing energy of Reiki, Clear Quartz Crystal and the cycles of the moon. Stay with me on this. I’ll admit this isn’t very blokey (although men have cycles too…no, not folding ones, I mean hormonal but that’s another story) but there’s such adoration for the rejuvenating oil that I figure let’s get down with our softer side, smear on some heavenly smelling oils and wake up looking fabulous whatever the moon is or isn’t up to. That’s a step over the gender line anyone can learn to live with surely!

When I first tried the oil in a Whole Foods store I sniffed it first – I always smell things first (make of that what you will) and I recoiled a little because it smelled ‘off’. That smell oil gets when it’s heated and then sits. Well, the shop was red hot under the lights and the product is in clear glass bottles that don’t protect it from such abuse. Irregardless, in the spirit of investigation, I slung some on. I fear I didn’t get the full thrust of the olfactory element – the intended ‘vibrant, mood lifting blend of Neroli and zesty Tangerine’ – but the oil sunk in immediately and really made my skin supple and perky. I now love it…the proper version, not the rancid one…

They have an inexpensive and nifty idea of a trial pack which allows you to test the products for suitability to your skin and whether you even like ’em. I have a feeling you will…

The products each have their own ‘Energy Intention’ so pick a mood and go explore and shop at or follow them on twitter here.

Balance Me

Another multi award winning British brand Balance Me started out on the kitchen table of two sisters, Clare and Rebecca Hopkins, and now along with their third musketeer, Sian Jones, has grown into a beauty product lovers hot favourite.

Like many wholly natural concept brands the access to high quality ingredients, the innovations and technical possibilities now available to them are so hugely improved in recent years and so allows them to employ this cutting edge research and chemistry to its greatest effectiveness to bring a wide range of options for all skin types. Their desire is to restore balance to your skin with their completely naturally active products. They say the following:

‘Our modern products combine high grade essential oils, powerful natural actives and extracts plus sophisticated naturally-derived formulations to ensure we can offer the very best natural skincare solutions to benefit and protect your skin each day.’

…and on the all important issue of preservatives in water based products:

‘The preservative system we use in our 100% natural products is natural source vitamin E and rosemary extract. Our water-based products such as our creams and washes contain Ecocert-approved (a natural and organic certification body) identikit preservative blend of benzyl alcohol and dehydroacetic acid.’

Obviously, as this is largely an anti-ageing exploration I tried the Radiance face Oil (with the same ‘gone off’ issues at the same store as mentioned above – blurgh!). You’re noticing a theme here, I’m sure, and might be concerned about the use of oil on your skin but it is in fact a surprisingly nourishing thing to smooth on and this one sinks in beautifully and stayed ‘present’ and ‘active’ the whole day. There are no elaborate claims of time freezing just lovingly made, easy and affordable ways to treat your skin well.

Explore and buy stuff at and follow them on twitter here.

Dr Hauschka

I’ll admit this is a less guy orientated brand, well, it’s just not that inspiring for blokes, to be honest, but the range is good and their commitment to bio-dynamic farming and new and unique ways of preserving flower oils etc is commendable!! The lady at the head office recommends Radiant You starer kits and a relevant moisturiser for blokes. They don’t think it possible to recommend a single product as their products are all designed to work together and use the traditional cleanse, tone and moisturise system. I don’t really hold with this to be frank as I think toning is over rated (well, my skin isn’t keen to be honest…! Also their products might just have a tad too much alcohol in for my skin hence the drying…) The Rose Day cream is the famous one but the initial rose smell is a bit girly for most men (apparently) and so the Melissa and the Quince might suit better depending on skin type. The people who are at the concession stands in the department stores are there to advise and the Dr Hauschka (Elysia) contact help line is available for advice and information.

Explore and buy stuff at on follow the UK gang on twitter here or call them for advice on 01386791022.


Fundamentally I’m a fan of the Aveda products and their unisex approach (their products are not gender specific) since I worked in an Aveda concept salon years ago. The products are labelled as 98% natural and 2% preservatives. I find that too many essential oils and botanicals break my skin out though (my skin is so common really – it loves chemicals) and although the ethos of Aveda is generally sound (check out their ‘green’ policies here) they are one of the global brands that test on animals ‘when required by law’ so if that is a deal breaker for you then I’m afraid you have to stear clear. The bottom line is they are now owned and operated by Estée Lauder. I have mentioned this kind of situation before when a proudly independent and natural brand is sold on to a global marketing group (one that happens to own some skin care brands) it no longer becomes as appealing to me. The Aveda brilliance that Estée Lauder are now just promoting wasn’t theirs to begin with it, it was developed by an amazing guy called Horst Rechelbacher. He now has a new company called Intelligent Nutrients.

However, the Estée Lauder wrangle aside, the most popular and recommended product for you guys is the Botanical Kinetics range (and cleanser and moisturiser…er..sorry a hydrator. The gel texture of this gives it a less greasy feeling and it absorbs really well) But I’m going to go with the whole unisex product thing and also mention the Tourmaline Exfoliant Cleanser here. It has little exfoliating beads in it which feel really gentle and a little goes a long way which is always nice. The best thing I found was that it didn’t dry my skin out. I find that many times after a cleanse or exfoliate my skin is over dry but this product did not do that. The staff at any of their outlets are hugely knowledgeable and can recommend to you ideal products.

Check it out here and buy stuff at and follow them on twitter in the UK here.

Intelligent Nutrients

Horst’s new products are largely based on a product he developed called Intellimune. It’s a powerful concentrated antioxidant seed blend,cold pressed and used at full potency either in his products or sold as an oral supplement. The company claims that the product is anti-inflammatory, fights free radicals and promotes cellular growth and captivity, all this will definitely help us age beautifully!

Check it out here and buy stuff at and follow the parent company on twitter in the USA (as the UK link doesn’t work!) here.

And finally here’s the beginning of a list (that I hope you all add to) of general sites that stock the kind of stuff that we are discussing in these posts and try to make available as big a range as possible of products free from as many harmful or controversial ingredients as they can: – general site and for the men’s ranges. ‘Conventional toiletries contain a potentially toxic cocktail of sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), parabens, petroleum and synthetic fragrance. The organic men products we have are all free from SLS, parabens, mineral oil, propylene glycol, synthetic colour and fragrance and are not tested on animals, so you can feel confident in choosing anything from our range, including men’s skin care.’ – general site and for the men’s ranges ‘At Love Lula we look for natural products that really are that. Beauty products that embrace the spirit of organic and natural living rather than simply play lip service to it. This means that you won’t find any products in our organic apothecary that contain parabens, artificial colours or fragrance, sodium lauryl sulphate or propylene glycol.’ Also vegan approved products. – general site and for the men’s ranges. ‘Opened in 2008, Content is a boutique organic skincare store, naturopathic clinic, beauty salon and website at the forefront of the move towards natural and organic skincare and complementary therapies. Specialising in emerging results-driven niche brands, Content is regarded as London’s leading organic and natural apothecary.’

Part 4 – just two more things…I promise!

I’m just going to quickly mention these next two issues then leave this line of investigation to the super bloggers. There are lots of other ingredients still to investigate like DEA, MEA, PEG’s, PAH’s and colourants (I may well come back to these!) but I must finish creating a select list of products (or Glynis Barber ( will be after me with a big stick…)

If you have any good information blogs etc that you think we should all get reading then let me know and I’ll add the links too. Thank you!

Nanomaterials (and Titanium dioxide)

Words that keep cropping up these days everywhere I look are nanomaterials and nanotechnology. Certain ingredients used in cosmetics are now be defined as nanomaterials. Some are recently formulated as the drive for ever smaller versions of things are required for maximum impact, and some ingredients have been safely used for many years. The scale of ‘nano-ness’ is amazing with particles 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The concerns that have been raised are due to the potential for the properties of the ever decreasing particles to change and no longer be as beneficial, or indeed, as safe when they are nano, and that the super minute size means that there is a greater absorption and intake into the body. Again, the EU rulings and safety standards are high and at least we can say that to the best of their knowledge (and rules) these products are individually considered to be safe…thus far…they say.

As we have discussed a few times in these posts the skin is an amazing barrier – it is built to prevent anything getting in. The nanoparticles are still not as small as the molecules that make up the every substance of us and studies have shown that the current nanoparticles used in skin care cannot get through the skin’s barrier. Whether these studies included the by now infamous, at least in these posts, ‘penetration enhancers’ (I just can’t stop writing those words!) I don’t know. I’d hazard a guess that they didn’t though, wouldn’t you?

One of the most used nanomaterials in cosmetics is titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is a mineral that is present in nature and it can be mined or synthesised. It is used (like zinc oxide) in many products to thicken, whiten, increase opacity, reflect and scatter light, absorb etc. but the controversy started over their use as nanoparticles in sunscreen. The smaller particles make the sunscreen look less white and help it smooth on better. If you use a high SPF sunscreen and it is transparent then you know it’s using nano technology. They form a physical barrier that reflects and scatters the harmful UVB away from your skin*.

Liposomes, or nanosomes as they often are called now, are used in many products (such as moisturisers) to deliver the active ingredients to the skin. They are like mini bubbles that hold the ingredient until contact with the skin when they release it. Similarly there are nano emulsions which just like regular emulsifiers keep two naturally separating elements bound (like oil and water) but the nano version is of course much smaller so it can be delivered (even sprayed) in higher concentrations etc. and then, technically, deliver the active element better. That’s the theory as I see it.

The CPTA says this about the safety of nanotechnology and specifically titanium dioxide and zinc:

The technology, and its safe use in consumer products, is constantly under review by regulatory bodies worldwide, including the European Commission’s independent advisory body, the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety (SCCS, formerly the SCCNFP). This committee evaluated micro-crystalline (nano-sized) titanium dioxide in October 2000 and concluded that it was safe as a UV filter for use in cosmetic products. The SCCS has since asked for more information to be able to look further at certain aspects of the safety assessment and the cosmetics industry has provided this information, which, it is confident, will answer any concerns. Similar information was also provided for zinc oxide, which also has UV filtering properties.

Recent rulings in the EU now regulate nano separately from regular sized particles (concern had been that the usual risk assessment methods were not suitable for testing the safety of nanomaterials and the laws previously treated the two as exactly the same) and state that all nanomaterials must now be clearly listed on the product labels (bear in mind that some ingredients that you might think of in connection with nanotechnology might be included in the list but with no mention of ‘nano’ – such as when the larger version of titanium dioxide is being used as a colourant).

There are many uses for nanotechnology that we benefit from everyday. Just as with many of these things let’s not let the media reports damn everything with the same sweeping statements and let’s consider exactly what we are applying to our bodies. Research, read and reason.

*Just an added note about UV’s, sunscreens, sunblocks and SPF just in case you don’t know this stuff, and as we are talking anti-ageing on this site specifically…

…sunscreens and sunblocks are now inter mingled terms but they refer to different things in fact. A sunscreen absorbs and negates the harmful rays through a chemical reaction and a sunblock literally blocks it by reflecting it or absorbing it to prevent it reaching your skin. This used to be the ‘white’ film that sat on your skin but this is exactly what nanotechnology has changed. Also, here’s the important bit, SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor which actually refers to what degree a product prevents sunburn. Sunburn is caused by the UVB part of the sun’s rays, so a SPF rating doesn’t tell you how well a product will protect you from the UVA part of the sun’s rays, and this is the bit that causes more skin ageing specifically. UVA penetrates deeper and causes skin damage, ages the skin and can damage your eyes. Incidentally, normal glass (like your house windows) filters the UVB out (which is why you don’t tan) but lets the UVA through. Although UVB is largely responsible for skin cancers they are both dangerous to us in their own way. (Don’t even start me on UVC! This part of the sun’s rays is filtered out by the ozone, but if the ozone is destroyed or weakened…we fry!) For protection against both UVA and UVB rays you will need a ‘broad spectrum’ product. Look for this on the packaging to be sure you are getting full spectrum protection.

Animal testing

Animal testing seems like a thing of the past. An 80’s throwback like shoulder pads. Right?

Yes. But only just. This March marked the end of a long road to a complete ban in the EU that started in 2003 and, through stages, has been fully implemented this year. First, over the years between 2003 – 2009, introducing a ban on animal testing for cosmetics and toiletries inside the EU – not just for finished products but, critically, for their ingredients too. This meant that companies just had to switch any animal testing to outside the EU, so a final part of the ruling banned the sale in the EU of any cosmetic or toiletry that had been tested on animals anywhere. This only leaves  the issue of what to do about the companies that continue testing on animals to enable them to sell those products to other markets – the huge Chinese market for instance. A market that actually demands animal testing on the products to be conducted inside China itself (although changes are starting they are a long way from banning it). So then your conundrum is whether to banish those companies from your regime because they are testing on animals still (and just to break a lucrative market) even if the UK bought product your sloshing on your face hasn’t been anywhere near an animal….

Many people recommend we stick to our home grown UK companies as they cannot develop a product with any animal testing involved. Most cosmetic developers/scientists agree that there is very little to be gained form testing on animals in the first place and the only reason any company does it is to comply with the regulations of the country they are selling in. Others disagree claiming this will hold the EU companies back from keeping up with the latest technologies and staying ahead in the world market (the cosmetic industry is worth 50 billion in Europe alone, so there’s a lot at stake).

Ultimately, the big test will come when the companies we favour now are given the opportunity to be global and expand into these super lucrative markets that demand animal testing. Will they comply or boycott? What would you do?

As the legislation changes it is going to be even more important that you check carefully who the parent company is that owns the product you wish to use. A recent much lamented such situation is the buying of Liz Earle by Avon. Avon are one of the big four companies that many anti-testing groups challenge for their continued use of animal testing (for foreign markets ‘when the law requires it’) – along with Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and L’Oreal. Liz Earle built her reputation on being ‘natural’ and had loads of fluffy pictures of herself taken with indigenous peoples around the globe and many of her staunch supporters were much aggrieved when she sold the company to Avon. Obviously, Liz Earle products were developed cruelty free (‘animal testing – we never do’ the brochure says) as they were developed here but what’s the story with Avon? I wonder what the new legislation will change in that household-name’s position on testing for the global market?

Companies like Boots, Clarins, Clinique, Revlon, Tresemme and Estee Lauder were being vilified for their use of ingredients that had been recently tested on animals but the new raft of legislation should prevent this. It seems to change every minute and the brands are changing too so I’d just keep your eye on these big companies to make sure they are offering you not just a product never tested in any way on animals, but an ethos where they are against it globally and do not try to benefit from it in any way in other markets…

Incidentally, when checking with some of these companies their official line is they only test ‘when required by law’. This is the law of the country they’re are wishing to sell in. So are they are really saying that they’re not that bothered and only comply in the UK because we force them to? But as an American pharmaceutical product retailer I know said, rather candidly, ‘in actual, factual truth many people aren’t that bothered about animal testing especially if it’s a choice between their skin or an animals.’ ‘After all’, she continued, ‘many pharmaceuticals and chemicals used by everyone in everyday life are tested, by law, on animals…’


Check out sites like this for information:

Remember though that legislation has literally just changed a couple of months ago so these companies may well be falling in line with that as we speak (benefit of the doubt)…it’s the global market that we are then turning our concerns towards.

Or, if you want to be absolutely sure, you’ll need to just go with the small UK brands that are still privately owned and operated (like Green People of whom there shall be much more in the next post).

Right that’s it for now! I shall add and subtract as and when things are brought to my attention and shall let you all know, of course!

Stay safe.


A couple of interesting reads:

in particular:
Groups like PETA are always happy to guide you in your quest to be animal cruelty free:
Article discussing the bigger picture and a few counter arguments from those who are against the ban:

Part 3 – more contested dodgy stuff…

There’s more…!

We are discussing the potential or possible dangers inherent in the skin care products we use. Protesters claim that on average a person may use 9 or 10 products in a day and often more. This ‘bioaccumulation’ of potential threat is the subject of these posts, and the puzzle of what is really to fear in these products…if anything…

These are a few of the ingredients people have asked me about since the last post…


Some people may want their products to be ‘fragrance-free’, ‘unscented’ or ‘unperfumed’. They may want the product but not like the chosen smell, or simply not want the scent to clash with their preferred signature perfume, but more often than not it is due to concerns regarding allergies. Many people think of their skin as sensitive (reacting as itchy, flaky or reddening) but it may well be the perfume in the products (both natural and synthetic) they use that is actually the problem. Brands add perfume, not only for the point of sale benefit (they know people often buy with their noses as-it-were), but to mask the smell of the base ingredients (both natural and synthetic) which might not be conducive in quite the same way! So, be aware that there is a possibility that those products marketed as unperfumed or unscented are not actually free of the fragrance compounds that may be be causing an allergy.

Any added fragrances are found in the ingredient list and identified by the inclusion of the word ‘parfum’. The warnings can also be applied to essential oils as they can be equally strong smelling but also contain the same natural constituents as the fragrances which would therefore trigger the same allergies if you are prone.

Bergamot oil is a case in point as it can react with sunlight and irritate skin.


There are phthalates in literally thousands of products. They are essentially a group of esters that are used to increase the flexibility, transparency and durability of another substance and are used a lot in conjunction with plastics. Obviously, not all phthalates are the same but the general grievance against them is that in laboratory tests they are thought to mimic hormones when they enter the body and disrupt the nervous and reproductive systems and recent research has suggested a link to an increase in diabetes in women and a general link to increased obesity. There are too many variations and purposes to list here as the area we are interested in is their use in cosmetic and personal care products.

Phthalates are often used in the packaging of products but the most common use is as part of a ‘fragrance’ and so it is not necessarily listed on the packaging as it is a component. If you see the word ‘fragrance’ then it’s likely that phthalates are in the mix (they’re actually there to render the alcohol undrinkable (!) as well and prolong the smell). It’s not easy to know which products contain it and, of course, they are not listed as ‘phthalates on the packaging but as their compound names. DEP (diethyl phthalate) is the only one actually allowed by the EU…but (there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there?!?) the SCCS has acknowledged that there migh be traces of the other types of phthalate in a product cross contaminated from it’s packaging…and adds that, although these other phthalates are banned due to their confirmed dangers, up to some unfathomably blah blah parts per million it’s peachy. That’s not the technical term but pretty much what they are implying…

You’ll find DEP in deodorants, hair products, perfumes, after shaves, skin care products and make-up. The SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) considers it totally safe (it’s reviewed it twice due to pressure about concerns but each time been convinced it is safe), but there are many groups seriously concerned about it’s bioaccumulation in our bodies especially as it is in so many different products (entering the skin joined to penetration enhancers (I know, I know…) like propylene glycol for example or inhalation – no, not like glue sniffing but just as a by-product of spraying your fave perfume for example and wafting through it as you’re supposed to…) It may well be safe in tests on a single product with a moderate use but what about multiple products used by the same person on a daily basis…?

A criticism of the brands is that they just use words like ‘fragrance’ and ‘parfum’ to indicate the presence of some form of scent but ‘hide’ that fact there are phthalates within this cover all wording. This umbrella term is sanctioned by the EU and is not therefore considered to be sneaky. Brands that do not include phthalates like to list everything on their ingredients list…just to prove a point. That’s fine with me, I like the extra assurance…


I must confess that I have seen the word sulphates (or sulfates as our America cousins insist) loads of times and never really paid it much mind except to caution those who colour treat their hair (or chemically straighten) against shampoos with it in. I blithely extol the dangers of using these shampoos waxing lyrical about how they strip the hair and so on (actually very useful if you’ve had a home dye disaster and need to take the shade down a few notches…), but never wondered about any further dangers. I suppose I have always assumed that with the correct formulation (added humectants to counteract the drying and over efficient cleansing ability of sulphates) then there’s nothing to concern myself about. My hair is very forgiving (for a dead thing) and so…

Then I suddenly see now that there are a gajillion articles damning sulphate to hell and beyond. Yikes. So what’s the crack? Technically a sulphate is a salt of sulphuric acid (like plaster of Paris – stay with me on this) but it’s used in the beauty industry (!) is as a ‘surface active agent’ or surfactant. They essentially dissolve dirt, create a right crazy foam-on (no one loves rich lathers more than the product buying public), and prevent oils and dirt from doing anything but being washed away. It is two specific sulphates that are under attack. SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulphate) – there is an actual coconut derived version (sodium coco sulphate) that is often used by ‘natural’ brands but although SLS originates from coconuts it’s anything but natural. The plot thickens when it is revealed that often two different chemicals are added to the ingredients which when combined in water are effectively SLS but can allow the product to be labelled ‘free from…’ etc. Oh, the sneaky beggars…!

Much sulphate bashing seems to stem from an email and subsequent rumour that has grown to urban myth proportions, but has never been substantiated, and that is that these sulphates cause cancer. I’ve found nothing in any research showing any link to cancer but there are a number of studies that show at high concentrations those with sensitive skin may find them to be a mild irritant. Again the bioaccumulation is the concern. They are aggressive cleansers though so if there is a warning then that’s clearly it. Go gentle if you’ve got sensitive skin and avoid it if you colour or chemically straighten your hair. It is also in toothpaste and, as a known skin irritant, that’s maybe not such a good look for the inside of your mouth, plus advice is against ingesting it so I guess don’t swallow it…?!

The only other issue I can turn up is that the sulphates effect the way the skin naturally sloughs off its dead skin cells meaning that they may fall of in clumps (not like a zombie…!) It’s still minuscule but not the natural process so maybe the bioaccumulation over years means there’s an issue?


The other issue seems to be fears over cross contamination of the SLS and SLES with 1,4-dioxane…


1,4-dioxane is a chemical that is a by-product made during the process that creates SLES, for instance, (also ALS and various PEG’s, ‘-eth’s’ and ‘oxynol’s’) and is left behind in the product (cannot be ‘reasonably removed’…well, most is but some remains basically…) In tests it is shown to be a skin irritant, cause damage to the liver and kidney and cause some types of cancer. Although I should stress that it seems this is only at levels that we wouldn’t be exposed to in our daily routines…except for bioaccumulation?!? Anyhoo…actually, both UK and EU regulations do not allow the use of this substance. It cannot be knowingly added (it never is as it’s a by-product), it can be if unavoidable though (i.e. allowed to be left in) or as the CTPA (Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfume Association) puts it:

However, unavoidable traces, even of banned substances, that cannot reasonably be removed during the manufacture of ingredients or the cosmetic product itself, are allowed as long as there is no risk to health.



Also known as wool wax or wool fat, this soft yellow substance is secreted by the skin of the sheep to waterproof and protect their wool. It is used in moisturising and barrier creams. It is well established for its emollient properties. The issue as far as I can see is not the lanolin itself but the source of it. Commercial grade lanolin can often be from sheep that have been treated with pesticides such as DDT and lindane and these contaminate the lanolin.


Our skin contains natural moisturising elements and urea is one of these. The most effective natural humectant and is found in the epidermis (surface layer of the skin), and plays a vital role in maintaining the skin’s suppleness and moisture balance. Urea is listed as non-toxic, non-allergenic, colourless and odourless. Urea is actually the primary organic compound of urine. Mmmm. but that’s nothing to do with this as obviously a synthetic version is used in cosmetics…I hope…

When good levels of urea are present in skin it looks healthy and is supple, but when the skin is dry (and in some skin conditions such as eczema) the level of urea is reduced and this means less moisture is held to the skin and as a result it is dry, flaky and tight.

It is used often in dry skin products due to its strong moisture retaining properties but also to react with the skin’s barrier to help strengthen it, however, this process also allows other ingredients to penetrate the skin better. Urea is usually mixed with emollients and they work together to penetrate the skin and create the smooth and softness. Synthetic urea is recognised by the skin as if it were a natural version. Claims are made that the inclusion of urea means that continued use of the product will make the skin soft and have an improved texture but I see these products also tend to warn against use on acne prone skin, sensitive skin and any damaged areas…

The NHS say this about it:

‘Urea is not suitable for everyone and some people should never use it. Other people should only use it with special care. It is important that the person prescribing this medicine knows your full medical history.

Your prescriber may only prescribe this medicine with special care or may not prescribe it at all if you:

  • are allergic or sensitive to or have had a reaction to any of the ingredients in the medicine
  • have moist or broken skin in the area where you are planning to use Urea

Over time it is possible that Urea can become unsuitable for some people, or they may become unsuitable for it. If at any time it appears that Urea has become unsuitable, it is important that the prescriber is contacted immediately.’

Propylene Glycol (PG)

Propylene glycol is a much touted baddie in the ingredients list. Conversely it is also praised as having a long history of safe use. It is used in skin care products as a humectant (to hold water to the skin) and skin conditioning agent in a very wide range of products. ‘Its use in such products is without risk of harm to human health’ according to the CTPA. They go on to say, ‘It is often quoted that this is an ingredient used in antifreeze. This may or may not be true, but water too is a component of antifreeze. Neither fact is relevant to cosmetic safety, just as the corrosive nature of acetic acid is not relevant in its use as the food ‘vinegar’. In fact this claim about propylene glycol is often confused with ethylene glycol, which is the main constituent of common anti-freeze mixtures for motor cars.’


PG is a form of mineral oil (see previous post) and comes in various grades formulated for various uses in many different products from foods, through paint and varnish to skin care. Added to its humectant strengths it is also useful as a solvent and surfactant (for foaming, keeping oils and water together etc). The issue that is raging on is that it is toxic at high levels when ingested especially and is used in many products to increase their dissolving ability, The EU is quite strict about the uses and the grade that can be allowed in food and skin care products.

Another aspect of propylene glycol that I have encountered is its use as a penetration enhancer (see previous posts about this and all previous jokes…) and the inherent dangers. I cant find any research that shows that propylene glycol at the levels it is used in products that shows it as an effective penetrator of the skin’s barrier. It seems it would have to be used over the 10% amount at which is becomes in irritant to the skin. So it would never really be practical for this use and is better by far at bonding to water to keep it on the skin.

Until this argument is lost or won the advice is to go for products with alternative ingredients, one being glycerol which is considered better as it is a natural component of the skin. Why use a foreign molecule when a more natural one (and a better hydrator) would d?…is the thought behind this recommendation.

PG is hugely researched and yet there is no conclusive, definitive, independent advice. As soon as I hear anything I’ll let you know, of course…!

Well, that’s it for now. Let me know your thoughts and ideas or any changes, further information you think is needed. Let’s go forward together and sort this puzzle out! Keep reading labels…!

And it’s always worth questioning things (isn’t it?!?) so here’s today’s conundrum…as we know that anything sold over the counter will have very little effect on the skin in the quantities allowed, will the rubbing of ‘penetration enhancers’ into our skin at least twice a day, over time, do permanent damage? After all, it is their purpose to break down the skin to allow stuff in, stuff that the skin is trying to keep out, even?


To be continued…

What’s all this natural product business…?

As I have confessed before (without pride) I could be perceived as a tad cavalier in my attitude to the products I use on my skin. This is partly because I cannot bear to throw things away and, unless it’s utterly repellent, I will use it till it is done…although more liberally! But with all this recent posting regarding men’s skin, and its differences from women’s and subsequent possible need for special attention, I thought perhaps I should consider the facts and rethink my so-called regime. I say facts because I know that there are strong arguments in many directions that counter attack, discount and sneer at whatever ‘truth’ might be proclaimed. After all, the beauty business is mega and worth a kingly sum to those that corner it.

We’ve all seen the bold exclamations emblazoned across a myriad of products (gifted to us by Hathor and Aphrodite themselves you’d have thought by the adverts accompanying them) announcing the lack of something or other that is therefore apparently better for us. Now you may be savvy in the world of product ingredients and read the packaging and nod sagely at the inclusions or exclusions boasted there. I, I’m not embarrassed to admit, have not a flipping clue. Paraben? Er… Glycol…? Erm… Well, I can have a pretty standard guess at what these things are and I’ve definitely heard of mineral oil but what’s the fuss?! In the name of Venus will someone please just tell me what the deal is?!? But can I find a straight forward answer?? Can I peptide!! Maybe there isn’t one…

I took a quick poll of my friends (all skin types, ages and both sexes) and discovered that the range of knowledge and the divide between the attitudes to synthetic lab created products and natural was quite a spectrum. Also in the understanding of what actually constitutes either of these and how much they might overlap in any single product etc. There were those who almost shrieked at the mention of a high street product, wailing and keening about the chemical toxins contained therein and really sticking the boot into those brands for their lack of humanitarian and environmental care. Their arguments were so convincing that I totally believed them and wanted to instantly change my ideas. I vowed to whip up a batch of home made organic herbal cleanser the minute I’d finished my goats milk latte with hand ground ‘chicory coffee’. Then I spoke to the other end of the spectrum, to those who literally swear by the big name brands anti-ageing products, have no beef whatsoever about synthetic (‘it wouldn’t be allowed if it wasn’t safe!” they’d exclaim), as long as they see results (immediate gratification!) and apply them like a religion and with the strictest of regularity. Such is their belief in the brilliance of the scientists behind these skin regenerating products that I believed them too! So, I immediately vowed to rush out and buy every chemical laden, lab created masterpiece product irregardless of my future or the planet’s – I knocked back my bourbon and thumbed my nose at the crunchy granola naturals. Argh…I’m swinging wildly between the two sides!! But I also encountered those who don’t even sling anything on their skins…at all…and thoroughly poo-poo the exorbitant weekly changing claims of the beauty industry (‘well, they would say that wouldn’t they!’ kinda reaction) and only daub a bit of ‘own brand’ moisturiser on when absolutely necessary – usually literally a minute before their skin cracks open! And when I say ‘moisturiser’ I mean it in the loosest way…

So the truth is in the middle somewhere isn’t it? Has to be! I hope…

As I am particularly exploring the skin care and product possibilities for men I thought it best to ask their thoughts – on specific products, beauty regimes, the outlook for the future of their skin etc. I tried to be as inclusive as possible and asked a range of chaps of all ages, colours and sexuality (genetics, lifestyle, stress etc are factors too, of course). The obvious stereotypes didn’t really play out and it seemed the men that used the most products were usually those with the most awareness or, at least, contact those others who used products! Men with partners that are using products tended to use some too (often the exact same product and usually purchased by that partner also). Most men felt they ‘should’ be using something but many felt it was a palaver at best and certainly weren’t about to begin some three step pre-bedtime regime! The willingness to ‘put up with’ something was greater than I had anticipated. For instance shaving rash was just accepted as part of it all and, even though they admitted they’d like to not have the rash, didn’t take steps of prevent it. Those who used products confessed that vanity played a significant part (therefore a sudden urge to moisturise after the wrinkles began…or a divorce…) or being nagged by a partner who was, after all, the one who had to look at the dry, flaky or rash-y skin! Interestingly very few were bothered about the ingredients, again faith and an  assumption of safety, but when pressed did think that natural would be better. Why?! I challenge…just to earn my investigative journalist stripes (I know, it’s hardly gonna challenge Donal McIntyre but stay with me). ‘Dunno really…’ was the usual reply and further questioning revealed that the definition of natural wasn’t remotely clear either. Oh, and it wasn’t to be prohibitively expensive (they’re happy to spend £50 on a liquid night out that’ll rinse straight through them but not on a product that might save their skin…literally). All of them, however, were clear on one thing, they wanted speed and a single procedure – a wonder product that did everything. Oh like self polishing shoes or a pill to create a six-pack, I enquire? No answer was the firm reply…

I’ll level with you, but don’t you dare tell them…if I were to be mean (oh go on then…) the ones who do bog-all (the same ones who apply shampoo and then use the lather on ALL areas of themselves…) looked rougher (but hot in that Hans Solo kinda way) and, at the other extreme, the blokes who spend endless hours smearing some unguent or other on every mentionable and unmentionable part of themselves, looked better (but in a Luke Skywalker kinda way…almost bordering on Princess Leia actually in some cases!) We could spend a good few posts on the psychology of that alone but let’s return to the investigation of the products themselves…shall we?!?

OK, we know we are looking for a product with the least confirmed nasties, that will perhaps do the job of a couple of separate ones and won’t break the bank. Hmmm…

So, the ultimate question we need to answer first is: ‘What’s it to be? Natural or…’…er…hold on what’s the opposite? Not unnatural obviously so…synthetic? Science based? Lab created…? Well, you get the idea…! I’ll run with ‘synthetic’ and you’ll know what I mean. Come to think of it what does ‘natural’ even mean? Well, apparently, a natural product is deemed to be something that has been derived from its organic form without any synthetic additions and then suspended in ‘neutrally occurring medium’ (eh?) to preserve and emulsify it. A ‘natural’ product of one sort or another has been used on the skin for thousands of years. There is abundant evidence the prosecution for the defence could quote to show this. For example, the ancient Egyptians used all sorts of potions derived from all sorts of natural sources (if a little unnerving – crocodile dung and donkey milk as a body wash anyone…no? Just Cleopatra then…awkward…) in an effort to cure all sorts of skin issues. However, I’ve discovered there is currently no official international standard for cosmetics as to what is natural (or organic) and the criteria for natural (and organic) are not legally defined. Hmmm…

To be fair, people aren’t dropping dead from using synthetic hand creams or wiping their faces with lab made cleansers but it does seem logical, at least, to err on the side of caution bearing in mind how much of the many elements that make up a product could potentially enter our bodies, from the lipstick that gets eaten to the nanomaterials (micro particles that can be naturally occurring or synthesised as such) that penetrate your skin’s barrier. Skin largely acts as a waterproof, protective, temperature regulating wrapping but it does absorb substances too (consider nicotine and contraceptive patches). However, more about the truth behind this in a later post…

A word about chemicals though. Everyone is bandying about words like chemicals as if the devil himself has possessed them but don’t be fooled into thinking that a product that says ‘chemical free’ and ‘all natural’ all over the packaging doesn’t contain chemicals – it has to – everything is made up of chemicals technically so it’s just divisive semantics drawing your attention away from where your eye should be – on that ingredient list. Another very important similarity with food consumption! There are rogue chemicals of course but the mere presence of them does not definitively signal something bad. Think on…

Let’s be systematic about this and start with the products that are synthetic – pretty much, at least. Synthetic, by the way, is interestingly defined as ‘made by chemical synthesis especially to imitate a natural product.’  There are, of course, many products on the market that use organically derived plant elements as their base but it is the added supporting ingredients that are the ones the critics are potentially against. We are asked by these companies to bear in mind that many beauty products are very complex and difficult to make and each of these extra ingredients have very specific roles to play and they are all tested and passed as safe. Also, the reputation of these companies is on the line and with over £500 million at stake (and that’s just the estimated yearly spend in the UK on moisturisers alone!) you can imagine they don’t particularly want to put a foot wrong! Just look at the horse meat scandal and the damage it caused to the reputation of many household names and the trust of their buyers…

All cosmetic, toiletry and perfumery products placed on the market in the UK (and throughout the EU) are regulated by European legislation – it’s called the Cosmetics Directive. The purpose of these laws is to protect us and make the manufacturer or supplier of the cosmetic product responsible for ensuring that their products are safe for us to use. The Cosmetics Directive controls what may or may not be put in a cosmetic and only items pre-approved may be used. The controls in the EU are much tighter than the USA (where the industry largely self regulates) and there are over 1100 ingredients banned from use in beauty products by the EU, compared to only 10 banned substances in America.

There is a three tiered process in place in the EU designed to regulate the industry and set the buying public’s mind at ease. The initial multi-level laws and legislation (Cosmetic Directive) followed by rigorous safety assessments. These safety assessments are only allowed to be done by qualified professionals and must assess not only the finished product and all of the ingredients, but also how the product will be used. The criteria and knowledge base these professionals must meet to become assessors are so stringent that there are only around 400 in the the UK. They must be medically qualified, registered pharmacists, Chartered Biologists or Chartered Chemists. And finally, the Trading Standards people can assess the assessors at any moment potentially forcing the cosmetic industry to be accountable for every decision it makes and at every stage. In addition, there is an independent expert scientific committee (SCCS – Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) that advises the European authorities on safety assessment and the safety of individual ingredients…

..AND there is a EU law (REACH) that governs all chemicals made in or imported into the EU as well as many natural substances used in beauty products, which evaluates and registers them all and records all data regarding their safety in regard to us and the environment.


It is law that all ingredients used in a product must be listed on the ingredients list for our benefit. This list uses a common naming system so that it can be recognised worldwide, especially for those with specific allergies. I bet very few people do actually read them though…! It’s hardly surprising when the items listed are as unknown and unpronounceable to us as a foreign language.

Synthetic creations are the product of science and new things are constantly being created. Innovations and new technologies have transformed our every day lives and will undoubtedly continue to do so – some great, some arguably not. The benefit of synthetic compounds is found in the stabilisation of some compounds that would ordinarily just deteriorate, or in the reliability of quality and effectiveness and in the ability to use a synthetic version of a compound that would ordinarily be derived from animal sources. Science can replicate some elements perfectly well and the controlled conditions under which they are made can ensure a purer more reliable source. However, as with all these aspects the careful selection and sifting of the truth from the rhetoric is vital.

Natural is still considered better though by the brands that celebrate these sources due to the fact that even though science can replicate some things perfectly well it cannot quite always capture the complexity of nature’s molecules. The scent of a flower in the wild is often sited as an example of this as it is always better (more multi dimensional depth and subtlety) than the lab created version. Some of nature’s compounds used in products have complex multi functions allowing them to have two or more benefits at once – a natural synergy that is hard to replicate.

The sustainability of an ingredient and the environmental issues surrounding this are becoming more high profile. The aggressive harvesting of a certain plant (palm oil is a key example – see following posts) can have dramatic and irreversible consequences on the biodiversity of a natural habitat. Quality control to ensure a reliable source of an ingredient (i.e. from nature or from a laboratory) which does not get produced in a damaging or exploitative way is a factor we all must take some responsibility for.

I asked the most noticeable names on the high street L’Oréal, Clarins, Clinique, Dove, Nivea and Boots No.7 what their position is on these arguments for or against natural and lab created ingredients and, even after lovely chats and positive discussions, not one of them actually answered the questions. The PR departments all just sent me product details and ingredients (which I could get from the Internet anyway so they’re really earning their money aren’t they?!?) but no stance or defence for their products, no supportive evidence of what they are doing, testing, or their ethos/attitude, in any way shape or form, to the actual human element of the business. Why not? Is it because they just think this is small fry and they are far too busy to bother? Maybe. Is it because they simply don’t know or perhaps care? Maybe. Is it because they are in a business to make money and most certainly are and will continue to do so regardless of what I say? Most definitely…

As always and ever the staff at the front line are the most useful. They are always willing to discuss their products but of course can only serve me the party line. I understand this completely and see that their sales, and therefore their jobs, depend on it. Whatever their personal opinions they give me the full pitch. Some frankly admitted they didn’t know the pluses or minuses of the ingredients (outside of the designed product use) and spent time instead describing the way the company plows back into the communities. You know, the usual things, fair-trade programmes, sustainable plantations etc. but all this is harder to investigate because we are not always aware of the complexities of the trade world that brings our desired ingredients to our shopping baskets. (Questions like exactly what have these proudly sustainable plantations replaced? Whose and what’s habitat has been stripped and destroyed?) These salespeople  assumed that all the used ingredients are safe (well, the EU says so…), well tested and brilliant to keep us ageless and glowing until death us do part…which is of course exactly what we do isn’t it?

But what if you don’t trust them and the possibilities of rhetoric over substance concern you then you will be looking for the more ‘natural’ brands OR you may well be asking why should I use natural products at all then, when the tests are so rigid and thorough? OR maybe like me you are thinking there is a middle ground here where these two worlds collide and the ideal product is created (this does seem the most logical..captain…)? Perhaps as this question is huge and difficult to answer without emotion and the bias of opinion it’s best to look first at the substances that the pro-natural lobbyists are the most keen to avoid. The natural based brands are the ones who make a concerted effort to support and validate their choices and reasons for excluding certain ingredients. The most denounced are investigated next, in Part 2…

See you then…

Stop smoking…

I, like many people in my generation, grew up with the fug of adults smoking. I don’t remember hating it at the time but I certainly don’t remember loving it either. I remember brown teeth and stale breath, the grainy dankness of the rooms the following day. Anyone who has gone into a pub in the first light of day will completely relate.

Yes I hear people say ‘well, my Uncle Cyril lived till he was a thousand and he smoked sixty a day…’. Yes, but it’s not as easy to cling to false hope when you hear the stories from the sadly more than equal amount of people who have a completely different experience of their loved ones.

When I am taking people through my nutrition programme it is the first thing that I ask about. Smoking simply doesn’t give you a fighting chance to be healthy or fight the ageing process. Fact. So, although I completely subscribe to the right of people to live their lives as they see fit I have to always recommend the stopping of smoking.

Health reasons are the top of most people’s list of why they quit. It should be. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. Lung cancer is the most known but mouth, nose, throat, kidney, stomach etc have all been connected to smoking too, along with leukaemia, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These latter two making your breathing difficult and increasing over time until they are fatal. But the list certainly doesn’t end there. There is the very real likelihood of heart attack. Smokers are twice as likely to die of a heart attack than non-smokers and smoking weakens and narrows the blood vessels to the brain and limbs adding stroke to the increased potential risks.

Enough to convince you? No? Well, there’s the increased risk of macular degeneration and cataracts and do you really want to live with the gum disease and tooth loss or the bad breath and stinky hair and clothes, premature wrinkles, or the yellow teeth and fingernails?!?

Okay, you may dismiss the latter as vanity but primarily smoking will  kill you. It strikes me that the current way of things in the world is putting the body under attack from so many sides and as no one truly knows how the complexities of the foods and nutrients we eat react with the complexities of the body, why interrupt and damage that fragile system any more than necessary? Processed foods, sugar, additives and lab created chemicals replacing organic processes are elements already triggering dangerous reactions in our bodies and so it’s mad to add smoking to the mix, especially as smoking is a known killer.

Plus, did I mention  it ages you?!?  So if you want to look like yoda when you are a hundredth of his age…

Women have some extra risks linked to smoking. Women over 35 who smoke and use birth control pills have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots in the legs. Women who smoke are more likely to miscarry or have a lower birth-weight baby. Low birth-weight babies are more likely to die or have learning and physical problems. It’s a serious business…

I can also understand that you might be thinking why stop now? Often there is an inertia to quitting that comes from a denial and a belief that the damage is done, perhaps, or that you’ve come this far…but no matter how old you are you will benefit from stopping smoking with a greater quality of health and life. Weight gain that is feared after quitting is of much less risk than smoking that’s for certain fact.

So the big question is: How to stop?

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive one right way to stop, but there are four stages of the process to consider :

  1. Making the decision to stop
  2. Choose a date to stop and a plan of action
  3. Coping with the withdrawal
  4. Remaining a non-smoker

Making the decision to stop has to come from you. Sounds obvious but a directive led by a friend who wants to stop and is getting you to ‘have a go’ too will lack commitment or focus from you. You yourself must be ready to stop and ready to make a serious commitment.

Selecting a date to stop is a time honoured way to begin, choosing a date not too far in the future so you don’t have time to talk yourself out of it and stand by the commitment. If you are using a prescription drug to assist you then this needs to be factored in so take advice from the health care professional you are consulting.

Another preferred action is to stop cold turkey and with no assistance from nicotine replacement products. Not necessarily recommended by experts as it is a tough road to take but for some it is the only way to tackle it psychologically as the idea of slowly reducing the cigarettes smoked to reduce withdrawal symptoms etc can be equally hard to stick to and much easier to dismiss along the way. But sadly the cold hard truth is there is no miracle way to achieve the breaking of the addiction. It’s like weight loss in that it requires a lifestyle and mental attitude change and a life long commitment to be successful. Just in the way a bolted on diet will NEVER work, attempting some half thought through, half hearted stopping smoking plan will NEVER work either.

Plan the event of stopping properly. If you’re going to use replacement to roducts, prescription drugs or join support groups, get all that arranged before hand. Ask for support from friends and family that are still smoking to not do so around you and to keep temptation from your sight! Chuck out all the cigarettes, ashtrays etc from all areas of your life – home and work.

So, the day of reckoning arrives and you are stopping. First of all, well done by the way! You should always praise yourself for every tiny step of the way. This initial period is the toughest and you should be proud of your achievements accordingly. On the day you stop smoking, literally stop. Completely. Not even a whiff of smoke and certainly not the odd puff! Avoid people who are smoking and situations where you would ordinarily have smoked. This may well mean changing your routine and avoiding things like coffee and alcohol that you associate with a cigarette. Exercise and drink lots of water to help your body cope with the withdrawal.

If you feel an urge to light up, wait. Tell yourself to wait ten or fifteen minutes for the urge to pass. Baby steps…

Nicotine replacement products will help you with the physical withdrawal but those symptoms pass soon enough. Other oral fixations are needed to replace the smoking one – that sounds ruder than I intended but I think you know what I mean! Try to avoid too many sweets or gum as these have the equally poisonous sugar in them but that’s a different soapbox elsewhere on this site! Chew on vegetables, seeds and fruit instead or get up and go for a walk, breathe deeply and fight the drug withdrawal with everything you’ve got.

The mental withdrawal is tougher for many as smoking is linked to so many aspects of daily life. You may find that even when using nicotine replacement products you still have the urge to smoke. This psychological impulse is hard to fight. Recognise it for what it is and attempt to disassociate yourself from it – realise it is a ‘rationalisation’. These thoughts are sneaky ways the old smoking you tries to fool you into doing something that will undo your hard work and make you smoke again. Thoughts like:

  • you have to die of something and how bad is smoking really?
  • I’ll just have the one to get me through this rough spot
  • I like it and it is my only vice!
  • The air pollution is probably worse actually…
  • I won’t stop today actually because it’s so and so’s party on Friday…so next week is better…
And so on…
Be ready to recognise them and block them from doing any damage with some kind of distraction or change of thought direction. Remind yourself why you are doing this in the first place and the huge, huge benefits.

Remaining a non-smoker is the challenge. Remembering why you stopped and focussing on the benefits you feel will help and when the urge comes just sit it out for a while first and use the techniques you used then you were stopping in the first place. Those sneaky rationalisations can strike at any time and can be many months after you’ve stopped. Be aware!

Many worry about weight gain but eating a varied, balanced diet and doing a modicum of exercise will take care of that…which goes for everyone in truth.

If you do slip and smoke a cigarette then rather than allow it to be an excuse to start smoking again see it as a one time mistake and look at why it happened and renew your commitment to stopping and remaining smoke free. Either way don’t be too hard on yourself as many people cannot quit first time, but it is imperative the reasons for relapsing are studied and used to create a stronger future attempt.

This is by no means a definitive or exhaustive look into the why’s, how’s and what’s of stopping smoking and there are loads of great sites, groups and books to help.
sSpport, kits, websites and apps:

Create a quit-plan, get support and information on Champix, NRT, patches, lozenges, nasal sprays, gum, Microtab, inhalator and Zyban.

NHS Quit Smoking app (for the iPhone or iPod) and NHS Quit Smoking Widget:

Receive daily support on your computer to help you successfully stop smoking. It offers motivational support, instant tips, benefits and facts with links to relevant features and videos, tracks the days you are smoke-free and the money you are saving and links to Stop Smoking Services.

Some people find success through hypnotherapy. To find a hypnotherapist to help you quit:


Day vs Night face creams…?

Asking around I see that this is a dividing issue. Firstly, a division between those that don’t use anything (usually blokes) who think it’s all a load of mumbo jumbo and sneer at the question, let alone the idea. However, their faces have an advantage (see the posts about men’s skin vs women’s skin) so I’ll ignore them (until later when they look like a rat catcher’s kit bag and then, oh then, how I will laugh…) The remaining group are those that do apply some kind of unguents to themselves but the amount, the dedication and the differing products is astounding. They do pretty much divide into two groups, however, the ones who sling a single or maybe two products on, and those of you to whom there can never be too many lotions and potions…oh that’s me too! But, of course, I do it for research purposes you understand…

There’s a cream for this and a cream for that…my bathroom cabinet looks like a low rent boutique! So, are these specific creams and potions really worth their price tag and marketing budget or is it all a load of old manufacturers hype?

During the day your face is subjected to UV, pollution, weather and perhaps make-up too (even your stress levels affect your skin), so day creams are designed to combat this, giving protection and support. They are light and easily absorbed and contain SPF, some kind of antioxidant usually, and then a host of possible extra items to add a host of possible extra benefits. It is this latter part that is the questionable one. There is no doubt that SPF and antioxidants (like vitamin C and E) are useful in these creams but beware the hype on the other stuff. It’s best, as ever, to look into the claims and cross check them as much as you can. A good example of this is the inclusion of AHA (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids) as this can, as with retinoids, make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Some would then recommend a sunscreen to counteract it, but the combination of these products with others makes them far less effective. A day cream loaded with things that you would be better off using at night isn’t really worth the extra cash is it?

When you’re asleep the body takes the opportunity to do some work it has not had time for whilst you’ve been awake and demanding it’s attention. Regeneration and repair is on the agenda and the night cream you use should reflect this. Night creams should be loaded with heavier, slow absorbing moisturisers and the additives that are unsuitable for daylight exposure like the glycolic acid and retinoids mentioned. Then these moisturising and anti-ageing compounds have the uninterrupted hours of sleep to get to work and do their thing.

What happens if you only use one? Or you get confused and use the wrong cream at the wrong time of the day (we’ve all been there…darn those work’s parties)? Well, not much actually. Night creams will make you feel greasier during the day (you can always wash it off and start again, right?) and day creams might not give your skin the full pampering during the night…maybe you have oilier skin and don’t need it…! The key thing is to be protected from the sun during the day (although read the post about vitamin D) and allow the weather, your skin type and your budget to decide the product.

I’d say the day cream is ultimately more important than the night cream if you don’t want, or can’t afford, both OR find an all-round product. This may not have SPF so you may need to use some sunscreen additionally, or perhaps it’s in the foundation you use etc. Factor all these elements in, research a bit (especially your skin type) and ask around your friends. Go to the local main purveyors of these dream creams and ask questions – anyone who follows my ramblings will know I’m a bugger for a department store and this is when they are most useful! Ask the lovelies on the counters and do not just go with the first pitch of rhetoric! Play them off and find the one that sounds right for you, but most importantly, get samples! Try stuff! It’s an important purchase so get the right one for you. Nothing worse than splashing out on something and then hating it…!

I think we had better look into eye creams too, huh? And the sticky question of creams vs serums…

That’s next…so see you soon.

Stay moisturised!

Beauty sleep…

Sleep is defined as ‘the natural periodic suspension of consciousnesses’ or ‘a condition of body and mind such as that which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is relatively inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended’. Crikey…

It is a part of your daily routine but why we actually sleep is still largely a mystery. It is generally thought to be the time when the body repairs, rejuvenates and rebuilds all its major systems and, it is obvious to anyone who loses a nights sleep that we wont last long without it! We are said to be the only mammals that purposely delay sleeping! People claim to need more or less than others but the necessary cycles are the key factor rather than specific time by-the-hour calculations. Sleep is divided into two main groups. REM and NREM. (Rapid Eye Movement and Non Rapid Eye Movement). The NREM stages (light, true and deep sleep) proceed the REM stage (also when you dream) and the whole cycle takes about 90 minutes. The scientists say that the amount of sleep you need is just whatever it takes to mean you can function through the day…! Hell’s teeth don’t tell my teenage godson – I’ll never get the beggar out of bed!

I’m writing about sleep because I have been reading recently how it can affect your health and bodily functions. So from a nutrition and anti-ageing perspective this is key. Sleep is known to be as important as diet and exercise. Studies are showing that people are sleeping increasingly either less, more erratically or, usually, both. Sleep loss in this way is linked to evident things that we’ve all experienced like mood, brain function (learning and memory) and even our safety during the day as we attempt things like driving (as the motorway signs say, ‘tiredness kills’). However, linked also linked to three key health elements:

  1. Metabolism. Lack of sleep is being linked to fluctuations in the hormones that control appetite (or rather fail to therefore) and effects the way the body processes carbs which may lead to weight gain.
  2. Hypertension. Sleep loss has be shown to increase blood pressure and activate stress hormones. When denied the sleep cycles it needs, the body goes into alert mode which begins a cycle of stress and tension which in turn make it harder to sleep. As the stress hormones in your body also cause inflammation they need to be regulated by activities such as sleep. Inflammation is a major contributor to the deterioration of our bodies, so sleep is a vital part of our healthy ageing process.
  3. Immune system. During sleep it is thought that the body regulates and mends any problems, focusing energy on this task while the body rests. Disrupting this has obvious consequences.
Serotonin, melatonin and sleep:
Serotonin controls heaps of things in our bodies such as our gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and immune systems, sexual function, mood and, notably, sleep cycles by powering the synthesis of melatonin in the pineal gland. Light increases the production of serotonin and darkness encourages the synthesis of melatonin – the two then work in tandem and this is key to maintaining the sleep cycle. Anything that disrupts this pairing and the cycles they go through will result in poor sleep and the subsequent problems such as insomnia, anxiety, stress or depression. Sleep regulates all this and more. Melatonin is not only a sleep regulator it is also an extremely potent antioxidant and sweeps through the body mopping up disease causing free radicals.
So, even though we don’t really know why we sleep we do see that we need to sleep. The expression beauty sleep is no cliché. It’s the opportunity the body has to rejuvenate and it is the time when growth hormones are triggered and go about their rebuilding and beautifications! Very importantly, recent studies have shown that the brain uses sleep as its chance make decisions, cement ‘knowledge’ and to chuck out all the stuff it doesn’t really need to keep. Hoorah! Now we just need to make sure that we do sleep…
  • The ‘experts’ agree that a regular sleeping pattern is key. Going to bed at similar times and getting up at a set time, regardless of the day of the week or holidays, sets your body clock to a healthy sleeping attitude. However, if you’re not asleep in say 15 minutes then the advice is to get up and do something  else and return only when you’re tired and feel like sleeping.
  • Smoking and caffeinated products before sleep can disrupt a true nights sleep as their effects don’t leave your system for a considerable time. Alcohol may make you feel like sleeping but it too can prevent good sleep and, of course, like any liquids before bedtime, may mean an unscheduled trip to the toilet, again breaking your sleep cycles.
  • Lulling your mind and body and preparing them for rest is a stage before sleep that most people skip, but it is very important. Winding down and relaxing before bed is a great way to tell you body to get ready for sleep. Relaxing things are more of the reading, having a bath kind of ilk rather than the watching TV kind. The bright screen (and this includes reading from a kindle/iPad) is not soothing to the eyes and brain at this time of the day and won’t necessarily have the desired effect.
  • Bear in mind that melatonin likes darkness so, as sleep whisperers will tell you, your bedroom should be cool and dark and as quiet as possible.
  • The actual bed you lie on and the pillows are important factors too. You will have a preference to the firmness of your mattress but buy the best you can afford and don’t be shy about throwing yourself down on the beds in the shops to  try them out…after all you will be spending a third of your life on it! Osteopaths will tell you that supporting the neck with good pillows is vital. As one of the most vulnerable parts of the body our necks need good loving and attention! I was told recently by the physio that a good gauge for the ‘amount’ of pillow you need is to stand with your shoulder against a wall and your head held straight. The distance between the wall and the side of your head is the pillow(s) you need.
  • I know it’s nice to snuggle up with a loved one but ask any long time partnered people and they’ll agree that space in a bed is bliss…it is also better for you, so make sure there’s enough room for you both and if you have pets or kids that muscle in on the bed space then, I’m afraid its better to limit their access. I know a few dogs that certainly won’t agree!!  Also, consider that we often have learnt terrible sleeping habits so some of these elements might not feel comfortable or be harder to implement at first.
  • Stress and anxiety are major reasons why many people sleep badly. The mind whirring and worrying. Please consider tackling this. There are millions of books and websites etc. to guide and suggest ways to get down to the basics and begin to sort out the issues. Try some of them and give yourself a break! Taking time for yourself to explore and solve these things is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Exercise will help with stress too and generally is a brilliant way to ensure a good nights sleep, although beware of this too close to bed time because you might be too energised to sleep.
A word about napping. A well placed nap is generally accepted to be a good thing as long as you limit it to 10 – 30 minutes and have it mid-afternoon. Anything else is considered to be bad. If you suffer from insomnia then naps can interfere with your possibility of a nighttime sleep even further.
Of course, you can’t always control all the factors that could prevent you sleeping properly but adopting good habits to encourage good sleep has to be the best way forward. Just think of the health benefits as you slip into bed ready to sleep. Positive and beauteous thoughts about your inner and outer health will be a perfect subject to be holding in your mind as you drift into sleep…


I read words on ingredient lists of a product sometimes and although I take in the name I actually have no idea what it is. Some words are familiar and I suppose subconsciously I think I know what it is…?! Well, ‘peptides’ is one such word. So it’s high time for an education…

Peptides are a key weapon in the latest fight against skin ageing and especially the war on wrinkles. A peptide is essentially a short compound made up of amino acids that have bonded (ahh). Longer versions are called proteins…that’s so much clearer isn’t it? I’m thinking that we don’t really need to know about polymers, covalent bonds, carboxl groups and all the stuff that gets the dander of a molecular biologist well and truly up…do we?!?

However, we do need to know that the peptide flag wavers say that these mini amino acid chains are the exact thing that the skin needs to help it generate collagen and repair skin damage. Collagen is the element of the skin that keeps it taught and smooth, giving it support and thickness too. Our collagen depletes and is destroyed with time and does not get replaced as quickly, if at all, but the skin never loses its ability to create it. As the much longer and complex protein chains of collagen break down the short segments that are breaking off are peptides. These peptides in turn tell the skin that it needs to generate more collagen. With me so far? So…the theory is that applying these peptides to the skin topically tricks your skin, by their increased presence, into thinking that it needs to make some collagen, lots more, and so you can, also in theory, minimise your wrinkles and smooth out fine lines.

Peptides are minute so they can penetrate the skin (actually this is also not really true – it’s the medium they are suspended in that creates the ability to go into the skin. This is alarmingly called a ‘penetration enhancer…’ – I say…) but this means that the medium that they are transported to your skin in is the vital bit (see post ‘Part 2 – some contested ingredients…). They are fragile so need to be treated with a stabilising version of kid gloves and thicker creams may well just sit on the skin and prevent the peptides accessing the skin properly and so just get washed away without any advantage. Think on…

The most common peptide used seems to be Matrixyl – a peptide created and bonded to a fatty acid to help absorption. Other peptides include copper peptides as copper is known to heal skin and is an antioxidant. The peptide carries the copper into the skin to help it heal and regenerate.

There are neuropeptides too which are believed to block the transmission of the nerves to the facial muscles. A sort of peptide Botox. Hmmm, I’m not sure about the logic of this I have to say. It would have to travel right through the skin layers to the muscle below to do this and is that really likely?! Something topical that does this would have to be legally classed as a medicine too, so it’s highly unlikely…frankly. I shall await a definitive, scientific report on this…

So while the peptide war wages on, and the companies that make and sell the products rave about them, there are also a huge amount of people claiming that they do nothing of the sort. It was ever thus. You must decide for yourself as per…but it’s a toughie isn’t it? I mean, if I don’t use it and it does work then I’ll be leaving it too late to start!! If I use it and it’s a load of old knackers then I’ve flushed a heap of cash down the Swanee. Sigh…

Meanwhile, everyone seems to agree that sunscreen and products with antioxidants in – specifically vitamin C – are useful topically and living a healthy lifestyle (and specifically not smoking) are great internally…so lets start with that…!

Men’s skin vs women’s skin…part 2

Ok, I went to ask them, that is, my usual first point of contact, the fabulous ladies in John Lewis manning (ladying?) the concession stands there representing the major producers of skin care stuff and hugely knowledgeable and passionate about their products.
But…after hours of chatting and discussing and exploring with a few of them I am, I think along with all these lovely ladies, caught between a couple of concepts that I find troubling and contradictory. I’m so keen to get blokes to use products that it’s almost a sickness. But I want them to use the right ones! Yes, it’s easier for men and the rugged look is hot (I’m not helping my own argument here am I?!) and their skin is more resistant to ageing blah blah but why not protect and maintain what you have and keep it in tip top condition?
As the Lush Ladies at the John Lewis Aveda Counter (LL@JLAC) point out, they sell heaps of men specific hair products as men clearly like to keep their hair in texturised and glossy condition so why not their skin? Is it up to the partners of these wily skin product resistant chaps to slowly break them into submission, or, the responsibility of the product manufacturers to break down the barriers and educate and liberate the inner vanity of men? I was labouring under the false opinion that if a bloke wanted to moisturise or cleanse he’d just go to the relevant store and buy the relevant products and hey pongo he’d be cleansed, toned and moisturised in no time. But oh no…not the case. The John Lewis crowd uniformly said that men make up a tiny percent of their clientele but they love it when a man comes in and they get to work on him. There was a slightly unnerving glint in their eyes when they said this…
It seems that men largely rely on the contents of their girlfriends cabinets (not a euphemism) and that’s great in the sense that at least they are taking care of themselves but not so great as it’s unlikely their skin is the same type and so it might not be the right product for them. I mean this in the sense that although many ranges are designed to be unisex there might be a discrepancy between skin types – oily or dry or combination.
It’s simply not in the realms of sanity for a company, that has spent a gazillion pounds packaging and marketing a ‘men’s skincare range’, to suddenly say its all spin and discontinue it amidst a torrent of ‘they’re all the same’ commentary. But are they? Well, some say yes and some say no and some don’t even differentiate.
Eve Lom, for instance, does not even claim their range is unisex, however, the lady at the Eve Lom counter points out that individual products like the Dynaspot and Rescue Mask are good for men too but they often find them through their partners. Déclor has a small men’s range but it seems to be of limited use (i.e for normal skin only) but if you ask them then they’ll recommend other products especially for sensitive or oilier skins but from the women’s range. The bronze packaging has a look of suntan lotion, I think, but masculine enough for the male, one product fits all, market. Shiseido is ‘engineered’ for the different skin of men, it’s not just a fragrance or packaging change, I’m firmly told. Like a lot of brands that promote the different women’s and men’s ranges the reasons given are the same. Thicker, oilier skin and the effects of shaving. I point out that most men only shave a third of their faces so what about the rest of their face? I got that ‘hmmm he’s got troublemaker written all over his face’ kinda vibe from the staff so I smiled wanly and swept out. The non differentiaters like Aveda promote a lifestyle and environmental outlook.
A word of warning for those completely against animal testing: AVEDA is now owned by Estee Lauder and although claims it isn’t available in countries where testing is required by law, Estee Lauder has the usual caveat these mega companies have stating: “We do not conduct animal testing on our products or ingredients, nor ask others to test on our behalf, except when required by law (my italics).”
Products for the world not genders. With the afore mentioned exception of hair products (formulated to tackle the thicker scalps of men…well, that’s no surprise to hear is it? Men have thicker heads…no brainer!) they make their products for everyone. Like all the staff at these concessions in John Lewis (beware the agency fill-in staff…surly and less knowledgeable #justsaying) they actively encourage (plead) that men come in to see them (they’re all naughty, naughty girls) and discuss their needs and then the girls can chose and create the ideal regime for the individual. So if you’re a one product guy with dry skin then boom! Sorted. A guy that wants a bit of a pamper process then boom! Sorted. See? Now we just have to get the blokes in there…! How do we do this? James Bond product placement? George Clooney in residence on a leather chaise? Beer? Pole dancers…? Hmmm…
Ok once they’re in (let’s follow through with this fantasy skin care world for a moment) what’s the benefit of being there?
This reminds me of my recent promenade near the Biotherm counter. Although I love the Blue Therapy Serum (Algae and plankton) I was staggered that the staff immediately pointed me to the men’s range!! They claim to have the most popular men’s range in the world and I’m delighted for them but quite apart from the fact I might be looking for a present etc where’s the sense?! Duh! Also, nothing makes me feel a tad vomity more than a display that announces the offer, ‘live like a man!’ With pictures of randoms playing snooker(!) and generally stood about doing manly things but with perfect bodies and perfectly hydrated skin. Sheesh…! Who really falls for this stuff?!?! And I really want to like Biotherm as they’ve been running a men’s range for over twenty-five years and I love their Mission: Skin Rescue – it’s a great bit of design.
As the lovely Liz Earle rep pointed out, many ranges (like theirs) are designed for skin. All skin. Yes, they have a men’s range but it’s very similar, with fragrance and packaging changed to appease the males maleness. BUT she uses the man’s body wash as it’s the same lovely natural base but with a more spicy smell (it is a sexy mix of bergamot, patchouli, vetiver and aloe…ding dong. It’s like their Botanical Essence de Parfam with the girly bits taken out! The women’s washes do smell a tad less delicious – more floral – but there are more options…) and if a man came to see them she would recommend according to his needs and skin type. She would cross-recommend definitely and even, more unusually, recommend the men’s range for a women! The lightness of the men’s moisturiser is often perfect for ladies with oiler skin…#toplizearletip. Liz Earle benefits from having a colour scheme that isn’t particularly gender associated (it’s actually based on the colours of the sands on the Isle of Wight)
So the non-man’s range isn’t too girly – it’s pretty uni-sexy in its aesthetics. It employs the same basic ingredients and ethos even down to the hot cloth action that is required with the cleansers etc. but the cloth has been man-ed up with a brown overlocked edge (so gay, even know it’s called that!) instead of a sea green one. This hot cloth malarkey is clearly the flannel for the twenty first century.
Can’t help thinking we are just going back in time. Whatever next? Crinolin? The snood? Shaving with a piece of sharpened flint? Lord they’ll be asking kids to read books next…anyhoo…I digress.
Liz (I feel I’m on first name terms with her now) doesn’t promote anti-ageing – the products are designed to make the best of what you’ve got. Calm down in the cheap seats it’s good sound advice actually. If you start early and use good, nourishing and correct-for-your-skin products you can keep the beautiful skin you were born into and keep it lush and vibrant. It’s proageing at its best. But they readily admit that a majority of men prefer the packaging of the men’s range and opt for it over anything else.
A word of warning for those completely against animal testing: Liz Earle is now owned by AVON – again the usual caveat: “We do not conduct animal testing on our products or ingredients, nor ask others to test on our behalf, except when required by law (my italics).”
So, is it easier for men (and women – after all not all women have the time or energy to mooch about the department stores either) just to pick up the products during the weekly shop (again wise words from the LL@ JLAC)? What we don’t want here is to have persuaded a man to brave the world of skin care and come away with the wrong product and be put off forever. Get him in, get him hooked, remove any ridiculous and pointless stigma and then we have a groomed and glowing man to swoon over for the rest of our lives. Dreamy.
But does it really make a difference (please answer the question, Mathew!) Well, I don’t bloody well know do I?!? …you’ll have to decide!! Is it as simple, yet annoyingly time consuming, as trying a load of stuff till you find the ones you like and then just using them?!? But skin changes as time wears relentlessly on so that means changing them to suit…but hey we do that with our clothes, hair and partners don’t we?!?
However, this is all very well BUT…the other thing we have to work on is the terrorising and confidence obliterating attitudes towards getting and looking older (your actual age). When this isn’t a crime, and youth isn’t prized above water, then we might have a world where grey and brown packaging isn’t needed to persuade a man to do something he should desire to do simply because it’s a good idea, and women won’t need to buy into a dream to achieve an impossible…or otherwise we are simply all going to end up looking like the love child of Joan Rivers and Dolly Parton (no I don’t mean Nicole Kidman) and thems our choices folks. I know which I’d rather be…!
(Presses publish and reaches for the telephone…’Hello? Dr Face von Liftingstein?’…)
I’m KIDDING…! It’s the peer pressure…it’s getting to me…