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New Year, new makeup

It's January, so it's time to sort out the makeup stash.

Nivea BB Cream

Going through your makeup stash is something I recommend doing once or twice a year. Makeup has a way of proliferating and getting snarled up, and the simpler you can make your makeup application routine, the better. 

Go through your stash and throw away anything you never use, if it is opened (if it's never been used and still has the hygiene seals, give it to charity). Dried-out mascaras, crumbling eyeshadows, foundation that didn't quite suit you - you know the drill. 

Then check the use-by dates of what's left. Here, mascara is the most crucial - if you wear out-of-date foundation, you might give yourself spots, but wear old mascara and you could be looking at eye infections, which is much more serious. As a rule of thumb, if a product has been open for more than a year, throw it out.  

Another thing I recommend is sorting out the stuff you actually wear every day from the other stuff you wear only once in a while, and keeping your evening and morning cosmetics separate.

The easiest way to do this is to sit down one weekend morning and do your 'normal' slap, whatever that is. Personally I'm in favour of a lighter touch as time goes on - too much makeup on a woman over 40 is dragging and ageing, and much of your routine becomes simply about trying to look a bit healthier.

As you use each item on your face, place it to one side on a tray, and when you've finished, assess what you're looking at - these are the items that you really need every time you put your slap on, so you should keep them all to hand in one place.

My basic makeup tray (not that I wear makeup every day) contains:

* Lip brush, Nocibé.
* Lip salve.
* 'Nude' (ie: pink) lip pencil, Yves Rocher. 
* Red lipstick, Maybelline.

* Eyebrow scissors
* Eyebrow tweezers (Tweezerman).
* Taupe eyebrow pencil with brush, Ultima. 
* Brown eye pencil, Revlon. 
* Brown kohl pencil, Revlon. 
* Pale pink kohl pencil, Eyecare. 
* 12-colour eyeshadow palette in shades of brown (some cheap Eastern European brand from a discount store).
* Eyeshadow brush, Nocibé.
* Eyeliner brush, Nocibé.
* Eyelash curler.
* Cils de Cellophane waterproof mascara by Serge Lutens (for swimming days).
* A water soluble mascara for non-swimming days, currently Maybelline Colossal Volume, hopefully to be replaced with something better. (My favourite Respectissime mascara by La Roche-Posay has been discontinued.)  

* Touche Eclat concealer, Yves St Laurent. 
* Pressed powder, Yves Rocher.  

* Pencil sharpener, cotton buds, cotton-wool pads 

Written down as a list, that seems like quite a lot, but it doesn't take up much space, and this is the kit I keep on my desk. It enables me to quickly moisturise, line and fill in my lips, pluck out stray eyebrow hairs (best, and least painfully done on a daily basis), emphasise my eyes and take the shine off my face. Done. 

On a daily basis, I have little need for any other eyeshadow colour than some shade of brown, whether it's a rosy brown, a grey brown or a chocolate brown. Colours are best left for younger girls with smooth, unlined eyes. The pale pink eye pencil brightens the inner eyelid and the inner corners of your eyes where the skin can look sad and blue, and highlights the browbone. I don't need blusher because I have a pretty high colour anyway, though I do wear it sometimes in the evening. And the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed one big omission - there's no foundation.

This is because I recently gave up foundation in favour of a BB cream. My fave is the Rivoli Active Radiance Primer (see separate review), but I'm down to my last few mils of this, so I'm now keeping it for special occasions. For a more quotidian solution I'm trying out Nivea's new BB Cream, which isn't as good but isn't half bad either, especially for the very modest price of around 10.50 euros. 

With a BB cream, you get the effectiveness of a moisturiser with the coverage of a foundation - it's a more matt, less translucent version of the old tinted moisturiser and should effectively act as a foundation, reducing one step in your daily routine. You apply it like a moisturiser, not like makeup - squeeze out a small quantity (try less than you'd imagine, to start with), spread it between your hands and smooth it all over your face and down under your jawline. (On your neck, switch to your normal daytime moisturiser unless you want makeup all over your clothes.) You will, obviously, have to wash your hands afterwards. 

I haven't listed the BB cream in my makeup kit, because it's kept under my bathroom mirror with my skincare kit and not at my makeup station.

For evening, you might need a few more bits of makeup: blushers in peach (for summer) and rose (for winter); half a dozen shades of lipstick and gloss; loose powder and its attendant brush; Smashbox skin primer and foundation; and black kohl liner. But really, that's about it - no more green and blue shadows, lipsticks in weird colours, glitter to put all over yourself, etc. For evening, it's enough to recurl your eyelashes and apply a brighter shade of lipstick. 

By evaluating your makeup kit annually, or even twice a year, you can easily work out what's working for you and what's not, and make your life easier. Keep what works: jettison the rest.  


Fruity February Facial evening

What better way to banish the winter blues than to have a group facial and spa evening?

FruitForever rangeI had the girls over for a spa and facial evening last night, partly just as a get-together and partly to try out a new range of skincare products called Fruit Forever.

We tried out makeup remover, cleanser, two day moisturisers, a night cream, serum and an eye cream. Between the cleansing and moisturising stages, we also made up some fruit masks, using the leftover fruit to make a fruit salad, and also ate a great many chocolates and biscuits. 

The girls came over in dressing gowns and slippers, and I set up the living room as a bit of a spa, with Zen music on the player (quickly drowned out by the cacophony of screeching), white sheets on all the furniture, and scented candles everywhere. There were 12 testers, with ages ranging from 12 to 69, though most of us are in our 40s and 50s.

Fruit Forever

Fruit Forever is a range created by ID-Beauty, a French company that also produces the O2D-Biotic range of skincare, based on yoghurt ferments, and acts as a distributor for many leading brands such as Coty. 

The main premise behind the new range is a process the firm has invented called 'dispersion', whereby the ingredients are amalgamated at high speed in order to eliminate the need for emulsifiers and preservatives. That way, the idea is that the ingredients remain purer and therefore more effective, and also users have fewer adverse reactions - there are no parabens, for instance and all of the products have been dermatologically tested. However, although based on fruit, they are not organic and ID-Beauty hasn't sought Eco-cert certification or its like.

Fruit Forever, in France, is available exclusively in the perfumerie chain Nocibé and prices range from 21 euros for a cleanser to 45 euros for a night cream. The products are packaged in clean, simple, white, low-sheen cardboard, with an image of the relevant superfruit (cranberries, blueberries etc) on the pack (this kind of packaging is what the trade terms 'self selecting' because you can see easily what you're looking for).

Ranged on a shelf, as one tester remarked, they look very pretty, and she thought they would appeal to the teenage market. However, their price point is definitely that of a selective brand - another tester correctly guessed that prices would be about the same as Aderma.

Inside the outer pack, where the test group was expecting glass bottles, they were slightly disappointed to find white, pharmaceutical-looking plastic bottles, with various types of dispenser - pump, self-seal, etc, according to product. These don't carry the image of the fruit, so you have to look at them a little more closely to work out which one you're using - I, for one, would keep these bottles in their outer packaging on my bathroom shelf, as this looks not only looks far prettier, it also means I won't make a mistake when I've got my specs off! 

demaquillantThe first product we tried was the Tonique Démaquillant (Makeup Remover and Toner) (150ml, 21 euros), which can be used on both face and eyes. This contains goji berries, blackberries and cranberries and is a pleasant-smelling liquid (not a white lotion as I was expecting). Everyone liked the smell of this product, and it was certainly effective at removing makeup, including mascara, with no stinging, but it left a residue on the skin that several of us were keen to wash off. Over time, this is said to tighten the pores, so we will have to see what the longer-term test results conclude - I don't personally leave toners on my skin, as I suffer from rosacea. 

cleanserHaving removed our makeup, we then trooped into the kitchen to try out the Gel Perlé Nettoyant Moussant (Foaming and Cleansing Pearlescent Gel) (100ml, 21 euros). This is based on Jaboncillo berry, a natural soap-producing plant, as well as goji, cranberry and raspberry. This product met with universal approval - everyone was delighted with the raspberry smell and it left everyone's skin feeling extremely soft afterwards, with no trace of tightness, though one tester used quite a lot and found it difficult to rinse off. 

Home-made face masks

We then took a break from product testing to try out some masks, using ingredients that are readily to hand in most kitchens. Most of us chose a nourishing mask:

1 egg yolk, 1 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp honey, thoroughly blended.

Some chose a cooling, purifying mask:

2ins of cucumber, 1 lightly beaten egg white, white clay (actually cat litter, crushed in a mortar), blended until thick enough to apply.

And two chose a tightening mask:

Half a banana, mashed, and 1 firmly whipped egg white.

All the masks were applied for around 15 minutes, then rinsed off with warm water, and all of them left our skin feeling fantastically clean, soft and fresh. 


lotionAt this point, we split out test group according to our skin needs, with different people trying different products. The first group tried the Soin Hydratant Multi Vitaminé (Multivitamin Hydrating Lotion) (50ml, 35 euros), based on strawberries and other red fruits. This was declared to have a nice smell and a light, non-greasy texture. An older tester got a slight reaction from it, though this passed, and another used it on her hands and thought it would be a good hand cream and possibly body cream for those who prefer a heavier facial cream. Our youngest tester, who was 12, thought it was fantastic, and took the bottle home with her. 

antiwrinkledayThe second group tried the Soin Lumière Anti-Rides Jour (Radiance Anti-Wrinkle Day Cream) (50ml, 39 euros), based on citrus, green tea and sugar cane, along with acerola berries and orange pectin. This was pronounced to be 'really lovely' by one tester, who said it made her skin very smooth indeed. It also soaked in nicely and she said she felt she could probably wear makeup on top of it straight away.  

serumThe third group tried the Sérum Lumière Anti-Fatigue (Radiance Anti-Wrinkle Serum) (30ml, 39 euros), which is based on a citrus complex to brighten the skin, and Japanese satsuma to minimise age spots. Our next-to-oldest tester (age 68) didn't care for this product and felt that it dragged her skin, though I found it sank in very nicely and could, in fact, have been used alone as a moisturiser without a night cream.

eyecreamSeveral women also tried the Contour des Yeux (Anti Fatigue Eye Contour) (15ml, 29 euros), based on cocoa butter and grapeseed extract, along with lemon zest. One tester disliked the smell, but said it felt good on the skin; another, who was worried about her eczema, found it was fine; while two others were delighted with it, enjoying the cooling effect as it sank in and the smooth feel of their skin afterwards. 

nightcreamThe final group tried the Soin Anti-Rides Nuit (Radiance Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream) (50ml, 45 euros), containing noni, cranberry enzymes and orange pectin. Again, some testers found the smell of this product slightly offputting and medicinal (one described it as smelling like zinc and caster oil cream), but all the testers liked the non-greasy feel and the way it sank straight into the skin.

One person with very dry, eczema-prone skin found it very soothing, while I myself found it stung a little at first, but that this passed. I would generally expect a little stinging with a nightcream because of the fruit acid content, and in the morning, I definitely noticed that my skin looked much smoother and brighter. 

We finished up our evening with a good spritz of perfume, courtesy of Serge Lutens, with some enamoured of the leather and musk of Boxeuses, everyone hating my favourite 'toast' scent, Jeux de Peau, most eschewing another favourite of mine, the highly floral Bas de Soie, and most plumping for the extremely spa-like L'Eau Serge Lutens. 








The best of the best

The Observer's list of best beauty buys

Click here for the Observer's review of best beauty products, including anti-ageing creams, red lipsticks, foundations and eye products.

Many of them are from the smaller companies rather than the big names, and most of them are out of my price range (anyone for Creme de la Mer?) but a few are in the budget ranges, including Mac and Rimmel. If you fancy indulging yourself, this list is pretty long and comprehensive. 


Eco-friendly beauty

As times goes by, I realise I'm very much going back to basics with my beauty products

It made me smile recently to realise quite how much my bathroom is beginning to resemble my kitchen.

Partly it's to do with money - the desire to not keep sending it down the drain has sent me in search of cheaper, easier options for things like washing and cleaning. But it's also to do with not wanting to constantly surround myself with chemicals. Little by little, I am stripping chemicals out of the house and out of my beauty routine. 

Firstly, to cleaning. I now use only five things in the whole house: white vinegar, alcohol, washing soda, essential oils and detergent (basically washing up liquid). These five items can be used for every type of surface - loos, sinks, floors, work surfaces, windows etc. A quick spray of white vinegar works as well to clean the tub or the toilet as it does to neutralise cat odours or brighten up the windows, while washing soda will remove dirt and grease like nothing else in the world.

No more toxic soups under the sink - no more Dettols and Dettoxes, Zofloras and God knows what else, combining nastily together to fug up the house. In the flooding that Britain was subjected to last year, under-sink chemicals became a major health hazard and water polluter and I don't want to be responsible for anything like that. 

Even our air-freshener is eco. We gave up on commercial air fresheners many years ago, due to my asthma, but I forget sometimes how generally it isn't known that you can simply use essential oils. In each room, I have a small glass spray bottle with water containing about 10 drops of essential oil: shake it, spray it and Bob's your uncle. A recent visitor was incredibly impressed with how effective this is - he'd never come across anything like it. My favourite oils, personally, are clove, cinnamon, citronella and lavender, but this method means you can use whatever you want - in winter, it's quite nice to turn to eucalyptus or pine to help prevent colds.

I hadn't realised until last week quite how many of my beauty products I've also changed. The realisation came as the cat sat beside me on the edge of the bath and munched his way through my body scrub. I make this up every couple of weeks, from equal quantities of honey and almond flour, plus a few drops of lemon juice. Basically, as any cook might note, this is marzipan, and not only is it completely harmless and very cheap, it smells beautiful and leaves your skin delightfully soft. I can't imagine ever again buying a face or body scrub - they all smell disgustingly fake to me nowadays. 

Some months ago, too, I finally gave up on talcum powder altogether. I've known for a long time that you shouldn't use it because it's a suspected carcinogen, but a description I read of it being 'exactly like powdered asbestos' was what brought it home to me. Talc is a mineral, and it's not generally a good idea to grind up minerals and rub them all over yourself, especially if there's any danger of breathing them in.

I've switched instead to corn starch. Admittedly this has disadvantages - it has no perfume (though you can add some easily enough); it cakes, so you can't shake it; and it feels a bit squeaky on your skin. But lack of effectiveness isn't one of its drawbacks: corn starch is actually more absorbent than talcum powder ever was or could be. I keep mine in a nice old Edwardian era powder-puff container and apply it with a big fluffy puff but if you fancied something a tad more modern, Lush make body powders based on gram flour, and they're lovely to use, though you have to devote a bit of time to rubbing them in. 

When I ran out of conditioner recently, rather than shell out 5 euros for a new jar, I went back to an age-old method and simply made up some mayonnaise. It's not like commercial mayo, of course - it's simply an emulsion of egg yolks and olive oil without the vinegar or mustard. Apply it like any normal hair conditioner and leave for three minutes, then flush it down the drain as per. No parabens, no alpha-hyrdroxi-whatsits to bother the environment. It doesn't keep, though, so I only make up a small batch at a time, using a single egg. Between washes, I condition my hair with oil - any oil will do, but mine happens to be sweet almond. Just a drop on the palms of your hands, and combed in works well as a styling product and tames flyaway ends. 

On the side of the bath is also a bottle of cider vinegar. If you suffer from thrush, as I tend to, you really need cider vinegar in the bath, but even if you don't, a good splash of it helps to preserve the acid mantle on your skin. One friend, who is a roofer, uses it neat, rubbed into her hands and washed off, as a skin softener. You can also use it as a hair conditioner, rubbed well into the ends of your hair and rinsed out again. No, you don't end up smelling like a chip shop at all - it has a clean, pleasant smell that fades quickly in any case. 

And finally deoderant. I gave up anti-perspirants a long time ago, when I developed fibroid breast tumours. There's a suspected link, and it's only suspected, but why take the risk? So for a long time now, I've used a deoderant stone. This cost about 12 euros, and at the rate it's going, it will last a lot longer than I will. Mine is quite a sophisticated type, with a smooth top and you roll it on like any normal deoderant. I also made myself up a body freshener with witch hazel and essential oil of rosewood - a fresh-smelling oil that many of us associate with soap. And I also buy a commercial alum-only spray-on deoderant for days when I feel I need a bit more protection.

There's only one major snag to these kinds of natural deoderants - they don't work as well as anti-perspirants. So to be on the safe side, I always keep eau de cologne in the house, my handbag, and the car. A fantastic killer of bacteria (including the kind that breeds in your armpits), nothing kills pong faster than eau de cologne, liberally applied, as I learned when training as an aromatherapist. (It's required in French hospitals for bed-bathing and you have to bring it in yourself.)

Sadly, though, for those really anxiety-inducing days when you have to visit the ob-gyn or somesuch, I still haven't found a non-antiperspirant deoderant that can really cut the mustard, and I end up falling back on Dove or somesuch. So I'd be grateful for any tips if anyone else has found something that works. 




Making a cult out of beauty

If you're looking for the best make-up sponges, eyelash curlers, foundation or face cream, check out this new UK-based beauty site

Cult Beauty, a new beauty website and glossy magazine, is now online.

The site aims to be the online arbiter for the best cult hair, beauty and grooming products from around the world. In order to remain independent, it does not accept beauty advertising.

The website will champion cult products that each stand out as the 'hero' product in their respective fields - products will be sourced and suggested both by Cult Beauty's own experts and by users. In other words, it'll be the best place to find those one-off products that can't be sourced outside the major cities. This could be a godsend for people like me, who live 40 miles from the nearest beauty shop and have to order everything online.

"We want to do for beauty what Net-a-porter has done for fashion - bringing the once inaccessible, undiscovered and elite gems in beauty to everyone," said Jessica Moore, the firm's managing director.

To use Cult Beauty, just visit the site and register. It only takes a couple of minutes and you can then browse to your heart's content by new item, colour, type of product, etc. The icons tell you if the product is animal-friendly, and you're given directions on how to use it. You can also do an advanced search by your skin type, hair colour etc.

After logging on, within seconds I spotted a flesh-coloured kohl liner of the kind I've been searching for for years. It's the Clarifying Pencil by 3 Custom Color and I will be ordering it right away. I've used white and pale pink kohl liners for years as an eye brightener, and they work like a charm, but if you want to touch up and not have it noticeable, a flesh-toned pencil is the way to go - and you can also use it as a spot concealer.

Cult Beauty delivers throughout the UK and Europe for a flat rate (£4.95 UK, £14.95 Europe).


Thicker lashes, by nature or design

As you get older, you'll probably find your eyelashes aren't what they once were - here's some tips to restore the balance

For a lot of women, a side effect of ageing is that their lashes get thinner and sparser - and their immediate reaction is to switch to a volumising mascara.


Lead in lipstick - just another health scare?

A friend sent me an email recently about lead in lipstick causing health problems

Apparently, this information was all over the web in late 2007. I must say I hadn't seen it - the idea of lead in lipstick was new to me. So I checked it out. Fortunately, it turned out to be another health scare. This time, it's been put about by a pressure group run by roughly half the cosmetics industry, who are campaigning against the other half. Lead suspects in the lead scandal are named as companies like Chanel, Shiseido and Lancome - all at the high end of the market.

All-in-one makeup

My friend Susie put me onto this product the other day.

Go Natural is an all-in-one makeup. Basically it's a heat-activated bronzer: you just apply it to your face, adding a bit extra where you want more effect, such as lips, eyes and cheeks and voila, claim the manufacturers, you look healthier and fully made up.



Concealer is a girl's best friend

Once you hit your 40s and above, you'll really benefit if you learn how to use concealer. As you get older, your complexion becomes more uneven and concealer helps enormously to even it out. It's particularly useful under the eyes for making you look well-rested and if you learn to apply it properly, can even turn you away from surgery if you're considering it.

Concealers have also come a long way from the hideous, sticky products of the 1970s and 80s, so now's the time to try again if you have bad memories of your teenage years!

Practice makes perfect when it comes to makeup

Not sure about how to apply makeup? Or stuck in a rut? Practice is the key to perfection.

Until recently it hadn't occurred to me to practise applying makeup. It seemed a tad self-indulgent at my age, if not plain silly. After all, I'd been wearing makeup for 30-odd years, hadn't I? I knew what suited me, didn't I?