Fragrance: An Accidental Perfumier

I can't think of anything in my beauty collection that is more important to me than my perfume. Fragrance comes to define us, with long-lost and much loved relatives materialising in an instant when we catch the passing scent of their favourite perfume. The scent of lavender and white flowers reminds me instantly of my grandmother, Rive Gauche of my glamorous Mum in the 80s, Boss of my Dad, Giorgio Armani of my boyfriend, Bulgari Black of my friend Becca and Jean Paul Gaultier for men on practically every man I've ever had a crush on! I come from a long line of signature scent-wearers, and there's definitely one that I consider mine. My collection consists of four fragrances, the most beloved of which is almost empty and can't be replaced. That perfume is Marc Jacobs Blush, and I was devastated to learn earlier this year that it had been discontinued.

I always got the impression that Blush wasn't especially popular, but for me, it was my perfect fragrance. Jasmine, bergamot, freesia, orange blossom, honeysuckle and sandalwood combined to produce a scent reminiscent of a balmy night in a beautiful white flower garden. My boyfriend calls it simply 'your smell' and my friend Nadia said the start of spring to her was marked when I switched from the heavy, sensual Chanel Allure back to Blush. Living on the rations of my final bottle really isn't fun, and I've spent a summer in Diptyque's Vetyverio, and as much as I love it, it doesn't feel quite 'me'.

But last night, I made a discovery that was as suprising as it was exciting. As I'm staying at my parents' house at the moment, I don't have all of my usual products with me, so when it came to adding a moisturiser on top of my Sanctuary body oil, I reached for an unopened jar of The Sanctuary Bidadari Shimmering Body Souffle. The cream itself is thick and golden, and imparts a subtle lustre to skin, and like all their creams, it's left my skin silky smooth. What I wasn't expecting was the fragrance that enveloped my body: it was Blush! The souffle contains jasmine and ylang ylang, while the oil contains bergamot, sandalwood, more jasmine and citrus oils. I spent 10 minutes sniffing my arm to make sure I hadn't imagined it and then went to see my Mum. "What can you smell?" I asked, offering my arm. "Blush", she replied. Granted it doesn't last as long as the perfume does, but for those of us with an empty space in our hearts for a fragrance long since departed, this will go some way to filling the gap.


Skincare: Nubo

I got a very special package in the post today, one that's got me much more excited than usual. Say hello to Nubo's Cell Dynamic Stimulating Moisturiser SPF 15.

While doing some research on skin ageing a few weeks ago, I stumbled across Nubo's website and quickly found myself lost in the sleek and chic world of 'cosmeceuticals', the term coined for skincare products that blur the lines between cosmetics and pharmaceutical products (and hopefully, blur the lines on our faces, too!) Some of you may recall from past posts that I used to work for a world renowned dermatologist who specialises in anti-ageing research - oh, the samples he used to give us! Consequently, I have a great interest in the science of skin ageing and the products that have been developed to address our major age-related concerns, which in some cases, have been proven to reverse the signs of ageing. Yes, I'm talking about No. 7's Protect & Perfect serum...again!

Nubo's range starts at £30 and goes all the way up to an eye watering £200 (this product retails at £135). My project over the next month will be to test a range of cosmeceutical skincare products to see which of them live up to their promises, and which are a waste of money, whether they're reasonably priced chemist brands like the No.7 serum or the high end luxury of Nubo's range.

I'll be reporting back after 3-4 weeks so stay tuned!

What are your thoughts on cosmeceuticals? Are you attracted by skincare products that are developed on sound scientific research, or do you dismiss it as another marketing ploy to get us to spend yet more money?

Health: Winter

Hands up if you are prone to coughs, colds, sniffles and generally feeling a bit 'ick' in winter? *raises hand*

I love the colder months, but absolutely loathe the number of bugs that start to spread at this time of year. At the start of last winter, I was working for a big University and I seemed to be constantly fighting one bug or another, so this year, I'm taking action with Operation Zap that Cold! If your health suffers at the onset of winter, read on!

The reasons why we are more prone to infection in the winter are varied: we spend more time indoors where UV light is unable to kill some viruses, air conditioning units spread viruses across buildings, our diets change and often include less fruit and vegetables, and children returning to school is obviously a hotbed for bacteria spreading! All in all, making it through the winter without a sniffle is a tough challenge. My fight this year begins with taking a cocktail of supplements to give my body a much needed immunity boost.

I'm currently taking Vitamin C and a high dose of Echinancea to keep the bugs at bay. Vitamin C is an essential element for a healthy immune systems, and Echinacea is proven to reduce the risk of catching a cold by half. Bee Propolis and Blue Green Algae supplements are also excellent anti-viral supplements, but I stopped taking both given the high dosages required (bee propolis is taken up to 8 times a day!). Taking a daily zinc supplement helps the body to fight off rogue viruses, but you can also get zinc from your diet by eating lean meat, cereals and seafood. Bright coloured vegetables not only add a bit of vibrancy to your meals but give you a much-needed boost of essential vitamins: make sure to add red, orange and dark green vegetables to your daily diet.

Although they've been on sale in every chemist since the outbreak of swine flu, alcohol hand gels are not always recommended by medics on the grounds that they reduce our immunity to bacteria that the body can easily fight off. A very senior medical colleague of mine once said to me that we shouldn't even wash our hands that often, which really made me think twice about tucking into the sandwich platter he'd just unwrapped! They're also incredibly drying for skin, so if you can, avoid using them unless you have an immune deficiency that requires you to do so.

Finally, if you are a glasses or contact lens wearer, you can take comfort in knowing that you at a reduced risk of picking up bugs than those of us who don't wear them. The eyes are one of the easiest routes for infection into the body, so you have a handy first line of defence!

Image courtesy of listzblog.com


Loves and Loathes: October

I start my new job a week tomorrow and it's made me realise that I really need to get better organised when it comes to writing blog posts. At the moment, I am a freelance consultant, who works from home, which means that it's not difficult for me to spend an hour here and there writing whenever the mood takes me. But next week sees me return to office life full time, so it won't be quite as practical for me to spend a lunch hour photographing my latest beauty buys! For that reason, I'm going to try and get some regular themed posts, like this one: Loves and Loathes.


Shu Uemura Nourishing Hair Oil - I have never had a product that is more 'in' than this one, and I can honestly say I'd give up every single thing in my hair and beauty product collection to keep hold of this little beauty: it's THAT good. In the 6 weeks I've been using it, my hair has gone from quite dry, occasionally dull and unruly, to shiny, silky gorgeousness. Despite using it 3 times a week, I have used about a tenth of the bottle, making the £32.50 spent on it pretty good value.

Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye Recovery Complex - I have a love/hate relationship with eye creams. I have invested so much money in creams, gels and lotions that have done absolutely nothing to moisturise or brighten my under eye area and was starting to lose faith in ever finding anything that works. Then in steps this little miracle. I managed to get my hands on a month's supply of this product when it came out and it's done everything that I always hope an eye cream will do. Dark circles have been reduced, and my under eye skin looks radiant and plump with health. I will definitely be buying this when my supply runs out.

Lookbook.nu - I could quite easily lose myself in this website. I absolutely love style blogs and this website is almost like a speed style blogging experience! I have found so many fabulous bloggers since coming across this site, so to ensure my reading list doesn't expand to the realms of the ridiculous, I am really restricting the number of times I'm allowed to look at it!!


Chipped nail varnish - I ran out of my beloved Barry M 3 in 1 basecoat last week and haven't been able to get my hands on a replacement bottle yet. In the few days since it ran out, I have worn two different nail polishes, both of which have chipped within a day! I quite enjoy painting my nails, but having to touch them up every 24 hours is slightly ridiculous. I'm really lucky to have naturally strong nails that grow to a nice, elegant length, but I so often find myself wishing I had an excuse to get gel nails! The thought of ruining my natural nails really bothers me, so maybe I will look into having my nails Minxed to cut down on my home manicures. Either that or I'll just go and buy the Barry M basecoat!

Sugar - You may have read my post about cutting sugar out of my diet. I've managed to eliminate the vast majority of refined sugar from my diet and, although it's been tough, I'm really happy that I've made the decision to avoid it. Over the past 7 days, I've felt healthier and had more energy which has really boosted my commitment to stay away from it long term, so I hope I the resolve stays! I can't promise that as the night's draw in, I will be able to say no to the occasional hot chocolate, but the long term impacts of a sugary diet will hopefully be enough to help me resist temptation!

Barry M Instant Nail Effects giveaway winner

And the lucky winner is....


Congratulations, Claire! Your Barry M Instant Nail Effects is on its way to you. Can't wait to see what you create!

Thanks to everyone for entering and stay tuned for another giveaway soon :)



Body: Sugar

I'm sure you've all seen or heard about the reports published a few weeks ago on the effects of sugar in our diets. Most of us think of fat as our number one enemy to looking good and feeling healthy, but evidence shows that sugar in our diets will prematurely age skin, as well as contribute to causing other conditions such as tooth decay and diabetes. Sugar is proven to be as addictive as heroin, with tests showing withdrawal symptoms like headaches, cravings and forgetfulness when it's removed from the diet. Have you ever felt like that after a bowl full of broccoli?

So what happens when we consume sugar? The basic science is that sugar is energy in one of its simplest forms. This means that the body can instantly absorb it without having to convert it or break it down into a usable format, which is why we so often reach for a chocolate bar when we're tired or need an energy boost. But did you know that it takes only half a teaspoon of sugar to pick up our energy levels, when the average chocolate bar contains seven teaspoons? After eating such quantities of sugar, our bodies need to control this energy spike, so insulin is produced to regulate our blood sugar levels. Insulin promotes the storage of fat, so a diet high in simple sugars will mean that you're more prone to weight gain, putting you at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Is that chocolate bar sounding less appealing now?

If that wasn't enough to put you off, how about the fact that sugar contributes to skin ageing? According to Dr Frederic Brandt, "In a nutshell, sugar hastens the degradation of elastin and collagen, both key skin proteins. In other words, it actively ages you." This process occurs because sugar consumption triggers a process called glycation, where sugar binds to the collagen and elastin fibres in our skin, making them less elastic until they break. The collagen and elastin proteins then mutate, resulting in the formation of new molecules called Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) which destroy the stronger type II and type III collagens, leaving skin without its spring. What this basically means is that skin sags and wrinkles because there is reduced collagen and elastin to prevent this from happening. Estimates say that a diet without sugar helps people look up to 10 years younger!

I've always known about the health impacts of sugar, and thought that I had a fairly healthy diet (despite my love of white pasta). After researching the impact of sugar on the skin, I have to say, I was shocked to realise that my love of fruit, honey and even the occassional diet drink and glass of wine are all contributing to my continued cravings for the sweet stuff.
Consequently, I have cut down on all sugar sources over the past six days (although I am still keeping some fruit in my diet), and I have to say, I feel great. I am a big advocate of a balanced diet which in my opinion has to include carbohydrates (unless you have a medical reason to exclude them), so I have swapped refined white pasta and rice to the wholewheat 'as nature intended' versions, the teaspoon of honey I have in my daily berry smoothie has been replaced with a squeeze of agave nectar which tastes as delicious as it sounds, and the cans of Diet Coke I would treat myself to every now and again will be skipped to ensure that their artificial sweeteners don't continue to fuel my cravings for sugar.

Here are my top tips for cutting sugar out of your diet:

1. Even those of us who consume relatively little sugar will find this a struggle for the first few days. Headaches and cravings are all likely on days 1-3, and you may feel like crap by day 4. But by day 5, you'll have increased energy and will start to wonder what you ever saw in sugar!

2. If you already consume a lot of refined sugar, this is going to be a tough one. Instead of cutting it out completely and going cold turkey, do it stage by stage. For example, if you have more than one sugary snack per day, try replacing one of those snacks with a slice of wholemeal toast with a thick spread of humous, or a handful of unsalted brazil nuts or almonds, which are packed with good fats and will release energy slowly. If you have one sugary snack a day and don't want to stop straight away, buy a smaller version (i.e. swap a Mars bar for a KitKat - there's no way I'm recommending you eat half and store the rest of it for tomorrow as chocolate can speak to you from the fridge!) for the first few days and then switch over to the snacks suggested above. For sugary drink lovers, fill a two litre bottle of water and drink from that all day. When your energy dips, reach for nuts or seeds instead of the Coke.

3. Check the labels on EVERYTHING you buy, and avoid processed foods as much as you can. Any ingredient that ends is '-ose' is a sugar (i.e. glucose, fructose) and is therefore to be avoided. Fruit juices should be cut out wherever possible, and healthy looking snacks like dried fruit are one of the biggest sugar fiends, so avoid them if you're serious about this! Nothing is safe from sugar: check your 'healthy' breakfast cereals and even your loaf of bread. Sugar is added to so many more products than you would expect!

4. Get organised: plan your weekly meals (including lunches at work) and shop for ingredients at the beginning of the week, including buying a good stock of snacks. Knowing what you're going to eat for every meal and being prepared will mean that you are less likely to order a pizza because there's nothing to eat.

5. Swap refined, white carbs for their wholewheat equivalent. Yes, brown rice takes ages to cook, but some genius realised that it can be frozen, so buy yourself a bag and don't give me any excuses about not having time :) The texture and nutty taste can take a little adjustment at first, so plan meals with tasty sauces like a homemade chilli con carne with rice (or 'chilli con Quorn-ay' as the meat-free version is known in our house!) or a pasta bolognese. Remember, pre-prepared sauces will often contain sugars, so source some good recipes (I'm happy to help with this).

6. Cook with beans, lentils and pulses wherever possible, as they are a great source of energy and very filling. Lentil and vegetable soup, a bean stew or even a delicious cassoulet will be great, easy meal options. I tend to throw a tin of butter beans or a few handfuls of red lentils or barley into most of the soups I make, making them go a little further and giving a healthy boost at the same time.

7. Avoid everything with Nutrisweet, Xylitol and other artificial sweeteners like Canderel and Sweet & Low. Keeping those in your diet ensures you're still receptive to sweet tastes, and will consequently continue to crave them. Use agave nectar to sweeten yoghurt, herbal tea and smoothies.

8. Picking up on your snack supply, keep wholewheat crackers like Ryvita, humous, olives, unsalted nuts and seeds, vegetable sticks (carrots, celery and cucumber with humous makes a yummy snack) and cottage cheese at home and work so that you're always able to pick up a healthy snack wherever you are - remember what I said about dried fruit, so don't be tempted! Don't overdo the nuts. Although they contain good fats, fat is fat when consumed in large quantities. A handful counts as a portion, and you should avoid having more than that in a day. I have two snacks a day - one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon - between my three meals and this keeps me ticking over.

9. Most importantly, eat a healthy, balanced breakfast. I make my own oat and berry smoothies using frozen berries, a handful of oats, a tablespoon of natural Greek yoghurt, oat milk and a squirt of agave nectar to balance out the natural tartness of the ingredients. I'm happy to supply the recipe if you'd like it! Other good breakfasts would be a bowl of porridge, wholemeal toast with humous or scrambled eggs: basically anything that has a good balance of carbs and protein.

10. Take it as an excuse to cut out caffeine as well. You may lose the will to live after the first few hours without sugar and caffeine, but so many good things will be happening to your body alongside this natural energy boost that you may as well try and take advantage of this!

11. If you do get a hideous craving and can't escape it, put half a teaspoon of sugar under your tongue. This is enough to boost your energy without continuing the pleasure cycle of devouring your favourite choccy.

12. Cut down your alcohol intake as much as possible, particularly reducing consumption of beer and wine. I'm not saying rule it out: work, the boss, kids, telesales calls and our beloved partners all play their part in pushing us toward the Chablis, but keep it to a minimum, and save that glass of vino for special occasions. Weight loss will follow!

Finally, have a look at the following sugar contents and imagine what each of those teaspoons is doing to your skin and your body. Not so delicious, is it?

550ml bottle of Coke - 14 teaspoons of sugar
One slice of cheap white bread - up to 3 teaspoons of sugar
Average chocolate bar - 7 teaspoons of sugar
250ml shop-bought smoothies - often up to 7 teaspoons of sugar
Takeaway sweet and sour chicken - a whopping 19 teaspoons of sugar
I'm not saying that I'll manage to resist a nice square of chocolate every now and then, but I think knowing the facts will help me to keep to one square rather than a 1kg slab!!
Did you know about the ageing effects of sugar and will you be cutting it out of your diet? Would you like any more info on meal planning/recipes to help you in your sugar free quest?Image courtesy of 2dayblog.com


Winter Beauty Part One: Moisture

Following on from last week's post on winter beauty essentials, it's no surprise to discover that we all reach for the same products when the cold sets in: moisturisers. Cold weather combined with an increased use of central heating conspire to dry our skin, leaving many of us with parched, dull and greying complexions. Not the route to a glamorous winter!

So what happens to our skin when the cold of winter sets in? A lack of moisture in the environment means that skin is more susceptible to the drying effects of cold weather, central heating and air conditioning, so the key to happy winter skin is to ensure that it is well moisturised. However, slathering on any old cream is not always enough to seal in that precious moisture.

Moisturisers fall into two categories: humectants and occlusives. Humectants draw moisture from the lower to the upper layers of skin - moisture derived from the water we drink. Occlusives act as a barrier to lock existing moisture into the skin, and form a layer of defence against further dehydration of the skin. Occlusive ingredients include oils and petrolatum - products that form a physical barrier on the skin - and humectants are found in more standard moisturisers.

First and foremost, it's as important as ever to make sure you drink 2 litres of water a day to ensure that your body is hydrated and your skin is healthy, so that your skin has a water supply to draw on. Secondly, most people will benefit from using a heavier moisturiser for day than normal, and dependant on your skin type, a combination of humectant and occlusive moisturisers will help. As I am prone to dryer skin on my body, my top tip is to use a body oil like The Sanctuary Spa Essential Massage and Body Oil first and then top with a standard moisturiser like Vaseline Intensive Rescue. This combination forms a barrier to lock in the moisture so that the skin is able to absorb everything it needs. It works AMAZINGLY!

This routine also works well for lips, and I use Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream topped with a coating of Vaseline on particularly cold, windy days. The Eight Hour Cream moisturises and the Vaseline locks it in: perfect!

Finally, for my face, I tend to use a slightly heavier cream than normal on my cheeks, but stick to the same products on my oilier t-zone. This year, I'll be switching up to Liz Earle's Skin Repair moisturiser combined with my beloved No. 7 Protect and Perfect serum.

Hopefully this will help you choose your winter moisture products. Do you have any moisturising tips?

Finally, if you haven't done so already, enter my Barry M giveaway here!

Image courtesy of nordiclandscapes.com


Nails: Barry M Instant Nail Effects

As I'm giving away a bottle of Barry M Instant Nail Effects polish, I thought I'd better give you an idea of how the stuff looks on! As you can see from the below photo, I had great fun trying it with some of my favourite polishes....

Starting with my thumb and working across, the polishes are: Barry M Fuchsia, 17 Lasting Fix in Pink Grapefruit, Dolce & Gabbana Gold, Barry M Berry I/C, Barry M Navy.

As I'll be in the office this week, I decided on something a little more subtle than the above shades and plumped for Barry M Racing Green, one of my all time favourites. Here's the before shot...

...and now with Instant Nail Effects and a layer of topcoat (essential to brighten the chalky, matte finish the polish gives) on top...

I really love the effect it gives, although I think it's probably better with a colour that contrasts more with the black (i.e. not dark green!) Plus, because I love Racing Green so much, I keep looking at the 'before' photo and thinking how shiny and smooth my nails look! Saying that, I think this is a fantastic product, and great for creating fab nail art without having to spend hours in a salon. It's definitely something I will be playing with for the next few weeks to find the perfect partner for it.
Finally, if you haven't entered my competition to win a bottle of Instant Nail Effects, click here.


Giveaway: Barry M Instant Nail Effects! CLOSED

All across the land, run of the mill manicures are being transformed by Barry M Instant Nail Effects polish. After seeing Big Fashionista's fabulous nails yesterday, I knew that this was something I had to own. I dashed out this morning and snagged the last two bottles from my local Boots: one of which is for me, and the other is for one of you lucky people! Yes, it's competition time again!

To be in with a chance of winning, here's what to do:

1. Be a follower of my blog
2. Post a comment below telling me your favourite product, polish or treatment that keeps your hands and nails looking fabulous. Multiple entries won't be counted unless...

3. ...you write a blog post or include a sidebar link back to this competition on your blog. If you do this, include the link to your blog post about this competition in your comment below and then you may enter another 2 comments (meaning that you get 3 comments in total, thus 3 chances to win. Subsequent entry comments just need to say 'enter me' - I don't expect you to come up with multiple favourite products!) If you don't include the link, I won't count your additional comments as valid entries, so don't forget!

4. The competition will close on Sunday 17th October at 1800 GMT. The winner will be announced that evening and should contact me by email with their address details by Friday 22nd October. I am happy to post internationally so all entrants welcome! Remember, don't include your email or postal address in the comments section. I don't want any of you getting spammed!

And if you don't know how Instant Nail Effects works, check out this video and prepare to be amazed!


Beauty: Diane Von Furstenberg beauty

It was announced this week that Diane Von Furstenberg will soon launch a cosmetics collection, and I for one am very excited. I love everything about DVF's classically chic aesthetic: the wrap dresses, the leopard print and that incredible bone structure.

We don't know much about the range, other than that it will be developed with Chantal Roos, the former president of YSL Beaute, so I thought I'd pull together a few images that I hope will be reflected in her collection.

Beautifully feminine, yet strong and striking, I predict bold colours that allow the wearer to experiment with her look. Of course, grown up and super chic packaging will be a given.

Here's one of the fabulous rooms she created for Claridges. Achingly chic, and I am praying for a leopard or zebra print compact!

And finally, the stunningly beautiful woman herself. Let's hope the collection includes a contour powder that can create cheekbones like this.

What do you hope to see in the DVF beauty collection? Are you looking forward to the launch?

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