Fashion, style, beauty, hair, health, fitness, life issues, lifestyle, home, garden and anything else that matters to the woman in her prime of life.

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. 


Barefaced beauty

Heat magazine recently ran some pix of celebs without their makeup, but why all the furore?

blog imageThe article was also picked up by the Daily Mail's Femail pages, with a kind of shock-horror coverage. Zut alors, no airbrushing either.

In real life, of course, many women - perhaps most women - don't wear makeup on a daily basis. But women's magazines, and many other publications, make the majority of their money from product advertising, especially beauty products, so they're keen to pretend we're all mad makeup wearers.

I thought all the women featured looked younger without their slap, so out of interest I called the DH over. He said: "Mmn. All of these women look more interesting without makeup. Prettier with it, maybe, but more interesting without."

In my experience, that's quite a common reaction from the unfairer sex. Men who actually like women generally prefer them to look natural and although they may find made-up women attractive at a distance, few of them want to see a caked face in close-up. Most of all, they loathe getting lipstick or face powder smeared all over them in a clinch.

blog imageTwo things struck me about the article though. One was how some of the women clearly have such issues about their looks - one described herself as looking '72' without makeup, when in fact makeup made her look hard-faced. Meanwhile, Fearne Cotton described herself as looking 'like an egg' - being the youngest, she is probably the most impressionable. But the truth is, in makeup, she looks - well, like everyone else on television but without it, you see for the first time those huge Bette Davis eyes.

Makeup artists often don't serve their subjects well, but it makes you wonder what a Westmore might have made of her, in those great Hollywood days before beauty became identikit.


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

blog imageFor 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.

This is a mistake. As your lashes get thinner, they also get shorter, and a thickening mascara can give you a very clumpy look, like a teenager who's just learning. Far better is to switch to a lengthening mascara, with very very fine fibres in it, and apply two or three coats as needed. As with all mascara, open your eye wide and apply the product to the roots, then wiggle the brush up through your lashes. This way you get a natural look, and a strong eyeline. For daytime, stick to brown mascara unless you have jet-black hair, as anything else tends to look too harsh.

Personally I favour the Respectissime dual-end one by La Roche Posay, which has a conditioning wax at one end and the mascara at the other. The wax makes the mascara glide on really easily and stay put once it's there. Other manufacturers offer similar products.

For daytime, however, I recently also bought to their Definition mascara, which has a very fine wand and is perfect for building up exactly the coating you need without either lengthening or volumising your lashes. It's great if you have sensitive eyes, as it's fibre-free and hypoallergenic. In terms of how it looks once it's on, it reminds me of the old cake mascara from the 1960s, that you had to wet and then applied with a little stiff brush. This was time-consuming and fiddly, but the end result was very controllable and built up smoothly for a perfect result. Like that old kind of mascara, Definition is totally water soluble, so will streak your face at the slightest teardrop, but my eyes are so tender that I prefer this to a waterproof one.

Your 40s is also the time to think about false eyelashes for special occasions, and to practise in the bathroom (not five minutes before your wedding ceremony). The newer false lashes are a completely different animal from the spidery wings we all knew growing up (which went with purple, blue or green eyeshadow and frosted lipstick). They come in strips of varying lengths, look very natural, and you should just cut a few and apply them to the outer corner of your eye. Then curl your lashes as normal, then apply mascara as normal, and the whole lot should blend in nicely. For an idea of what's available, check out Ardell.

blog image

There are, of course, even newer options on the market, such as lash extensions, which are woven into your existing eyelashes just like hair extensions on your head. This, I feel, is going too far down the route of decadence at $300 a time (plus endless top-ups that cost nearly $100), but a woman's money is her own to spend after all. The results are spectacular and you can see them here. Once you have eyelash extensions, you can't use waterproof mascara or oil-based make-up removers, or you'll bring the bonded lashes off, and there is one other downside - some doctors believe their overuse can lead to you losing your eyelashes altogether, a condition known as traction alopecia.

For women who have lost their eyelashes altogether - a situation that is becoming sadly more common due to chemotherapy - you can have an eyelash transplant. It isn't cheap, coming in at about $6,000 and currently performed only by one doctor in Florida (though he is training others), but the results are permanent. The transplants aren't eyelash hair - they're normal hair taken from your own head, so you have to trim them, dye them and curl them in order for them to look like normal lashes. Only you can decide if this is worth it (and by the way, the surgery's performed under local, not general anaesthetic). For details, check out this YouTube video.


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.

Yes, lead is a neurotoxin, yes there is lead in lipstick, and no, the FDA does not set a safe level. That's very true. It does, however, set a safe level for lead in sweets, which is 0.1 part per million. Why? Because that's how good its measuring equipment is - lead in smaller concentrations can't currently be measured easily and cheaply. The guidelines on lead in drinking water are more stringent - 15 parts per billion. Why? Because it's generally assumed that you imbibe more water than you do sweeties, therefore the concentration needs to be lower.

The truth is, there's a trace amount of lead in virtually everything, and lead is a cumulative poison but the amount of lipstick you eat in a year is miniscule - only microns. Over a lifetime of constant lipstick wearing, you eat about five pounds of it. It would be extremely difficult to poison yourself with lipstick except by chomping it down in vast quantities - something the cosmetics companies don't generally recommend.

Obviously, if you're concerned about lead, then by all means seek out lead-free lipsticks. But be sure of what you're looking for. Water pipes containing less than 0.2 per cent lead are 'lead-free', and the source of the lead in lipsticks is generally the beeswax. Damn those toxic bees, huh? Apparently the little buggers are so polluted these days that almost no beeswax remains uncontaminated other than that from some African countries such as Zambia. Long way to go for your lipsalve...


Instant facelift

A new way to wear concealer that gives you a real lift

A lot of us birds over 40 use concealer to hide under-eye circles, and we normally choose yellow (the idea being that this covers the blue better). However, I've just come across a new colour that works - pale salmon pink.


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?