Category Archives: beauty

Gray: the new hot neutral – for hair.

Good news! If you’re starting to see some gray hairs sprouting up and making panicked calls to your stylist, put down the phone. Gray hair is a growing trend.

Kate Moss sported gray streaks at an event in January.

The New York Times reported a wash of silver among the young and fashionable in April:

Also caught up in the silver rush were pop icons like Pink, who showed off gray-tipped strands at the Grammys, and Siobhan Magnus, the “American Idol” contestant, who accessorized recently with a skunk streak and spectacles.

In embracing a tint their mothers would have shunned, such role models are lending gray new cachet, giving shades from ash to ermine an unlikely fashion moment. Now, some say, the trend, which trickled down from the runways of Chanel, Giles Deacon and their rarefied ilk to fashion hot spots around the country, seems poised to go mainstream.

The UK picked up on the trend late last year.

Ironically, gray hair seems to mostly be in vogue among the young. It’s seen as sort of punky and subversive and the next logical step for young trendsetters who already have blonde and pink in their rear-view – while women whose hair has gone naturally gray are still spending money to color their locks. The grass is always greener on the other side. But even that may be beginning to change. Model Kristen McMenamy, a household name in the 1990s, has grown out her hair into flowing silver strands.

Kristen McMenamy in August's Vogue.

McMenamy says she stopped dyeing her hair six years ago:

“You can get older and still be rock ‘n’ roll. I thought all that gray hair would make a beautiful picture.” She added, “You’ve got to keep moving forward.”

Of course some people, like stylist Louis Licari, are bucking the trend. Licari says that gray hair “gray hair makes women look older and their complexions dull and drab…” Easy for him to say. On men gray hair is considered distinguished and handsome (see anyone nagging George Clooney to get a dye job lately?). He goes on to sat that the artificial grays being displayed by young women like Kelly Osbourne are attractive precisely because they are fake, and that natural gray is unflattering and “creates a huge burden for most people trying to look their best.” The point of which seems to be that your hair is only OK if it’s fake. But don’t worry; Licari ends his article by saying that you have to be comfortable with your appearance, even if it means he’ll tell you that you look old.

But in fact going too dark with hair color can create too high a contrast with skin that loses some of its luster with age, and that can make you look older unless you’re willing to cake yourself with makeup (which can in turn settle into fine lines and cake up). So maybe nature knows what it’s doing. To that end, StyleList has put together tips for making the most of your gray, from hair maintenance to makeup tips.

I think Licari has one thing right: you have to be comfortable. If you love the way you look, then who cares what anyone else thinks? Going gray can be tough on women when we’re constantly pressured by advertising and magazines to stay somehow perpetually young and supple, and those first strands of silver can deal a devastating blow to our self-image. (I say this out of personal experience; I’m currently in a constant state of worry over the increasing number of white hairs I’m finding mixed in with my natural red.) So if for whatever reason fashion has turned in such a way as to make one facet of aging acceptable, I say go with it if you want to. (And if it makes you happy, go with it no matter what fashion says. The best kind of beauty comes from being happy.)

Of course the weirdest part of the gray hair trend might be the fact that it has somehow made Lady Gaga’s current Vanity Fair cover seem almost mainstream:

Lady Gaga on the cover of August's Vanity Fair.

Who saw that coming?

Treats for summer hair

I have wavy hair that tends to be dry. Pair this with my sensitive, allergy-prone skin, and I’m constantly on the hunt for a new conditioner that will soften my hair without leaving my scalp itchy. I have a bathroom cabinet filled with past failures. But this time I think I’ve found a good one!

Image courtesy of TheBodyShop.com

The Body Shop’s Banana conditioner was discontinued for a long time, but they’ve brought it back. I heard nothing but good things about this mythic conditioner so I jumped on the chance to try it out (especially since it’s on sale right now – 2 full-size bottles for $10 instead of the usual full price of $8.99/bottle). I’m so glad I did! This is good stuff! It conditions really well without being heavy which is fantastic for the summertime. Also, while I usually go through conditioner by the gallon, I don’t need much of this to make my hair feel great. It detangles really well, too. There is a strong banana smell, but if you use any kind of styling products in your hair it’s easily covered.

If you want to go the real all-natural route, you can make your own banana and honey conditioner. You can add things like olive oil, an egg yolk, or avocado as well for a deeper conditioning treatment. (The recipe says you can keep this in a bottle, but I would recommend making it fresh every time you use it since it contains no preservatives.)

Once your hair is well-conditioned and feeling gorgeous, you might want to create the “beachy waves” that are always on-trend in the summer. Kate Hudson is known for this look.

Plenty of brands sell texturizing sprays designed to help create this look. Herbal Essences recently released the Tousle Me Softly line designed to create these loose waves (I occasionally use the mousse, but it doesn’t have the best hold. I haven’t tried the gel or the spray.) A lot of products, like Bumble & Bumble Surf Spray, use some form of salt to create waves. Want the waves without the $23 price tag? Try this DIY styling spray from NotMartha.org. With some hair gel, epsom salt, and water, you can make your own version of the B&B spray and enjoy your waves while you spend your cash on something else.

With any kind of wavy or curly hair it’s important to maintain moisture – frizz is caused by the hair’s cuticle expanding to grab moisture out of the air, which is why hair frizzes more in humid weather. If you keep your hair well-conditioned you can avoid a lot of frizz. Rinsing with cold water helps to seal the cuticle as well. And resist the urge to touch your hair while it’s drying! Ruffling the hair while it’s wet will make the cuticle stand up which creates more frizz. I haven’t used a salt spray myself, but I would recommend a little extra conditioning afterward since salt can dry out the hair. Though with all the chlorinated pool water and salty ocean water that come with summer, a little extra conditioning is never a bad idea anyway.

Quickie: Free Stuff from Allure!

August is Free Stuff month at Allure Magazine. Every day of the month they give away beauty products, clothes, and accessories. You can check their website every day to find out what’s up for grabs and sign up. Or if you have a smart phone you can sign up for reminders and auto-entries in a snap. You download the Microsoft tag-reading app, then scan the little tags in the pages of the magazine, and they’ll send you reminders for quick entry as items become available.

Make your own cooling skin mist

After an hour or two out in the hot sun, skin can become parched and starving for moisture. There are plenty of products on the market now to refresh your skin on the go: The Body Shop makes a facial mist with vitamin E, and Juice Beauty offers one with natural oils and extracts. Or if you want to just waste some money you can always buy an aerosol can of plain old water for $10.

Evian Mineral Water Spray, $10 at Sephora.com

But if you want a refreshing, cooling facial mist and cash in your pocket, make your own at home using this easy recipe from the July issue of InStyle:

Brew and steep plain green tea (you can find Bigelow tea bags in most grocery stores) and cool. Pour over ice in a spray bottle and voila! A cool, refreshing skin mist. And the antioxidants in the tea will help repair sun damage. You can make this in advance and keep it in the refrigerator, too. And if you make too much you can always drink what’s left over since green tea has plenty of health benefits. For extra cooling power, find a spray bottle with a fan like this one:

You can always experiment with adding extra components if you want, like aloe vera juice or vitamin e oil. Just keep in mind that once you get into mixing things you need to think about spoilage. So it’s probably safest to keep the tea on its own and mix in any additional ingredients on a per-use basis instead of storing it.

Freebie Quickies!

Today I’ve got a couple of freebies for you!

If you have curly hair, you can sign uphere to be a hair model for Ouidad. Ouidad salons and products are targeted to curly hair and they use models to train stylists in their cutting technique. That means there is a risk since you’ll be sort of a training model, but if you’re willing to try it out you get a consultation (which means you get a say in what they do!), a cut, and possibly a deep conditioning treatment. You can check the Salon Locator to see if there’s a Ouidad salon in your area.

Origins is offering free mini facials at their retail locations. (The online ad says 7/8-7/11, but I just got this promoted in an e-mail today, so call your store to find out if this is still a valid offer.)

I tried a “weird” beauty product.

It was only a few posts ago that I was ranting and raving about ridiculous and gross beauty treatments, and here I am about to tell you how I used something that sounds pretty weird and maybe a little gross. The irony is not lost on me.

I was in the drug store a few days ago desperately looking for some kind of treatment for my frizzy, dried-out locks. I’m way overdue for a haircut and my ends start to get tangly and frazzled after a while. I’m very particular about what I use in my hair – I follow a modified curly girl method, which basically means that I don’t use any products with sulfates or silicones in them. I also try to stick to organic-based products when I can. Because of this, looking for a new conditioner can be hard since silicones are a major component of most conditioning products.

Finally I picked up a packet of Hask Henna Placenta Hair Treatment. I was under $2 and had no silicones, so I figured why not?

I know what you’re probably thinking. Placenta? In your hair? Gross! I thought that too, but my hair was feeling desperate. I couldn’t run my fingers through it without painful tangles and the damage from constantly pulling it up to fight summer heat was getting bad.

And once I got passed the “ick” factor, I was blown away! The package recommends that you leave the treatment in for at least ten minutes and heat it with a blow dryer or wrap your head with a hot towel. I used a blow dryer before rinsing the conditioner out and letting my hair air-dry. My hair dried soft, frizz-free and with no tangles! I was made a believer.

BUT! Today I did a little Googling and found that the use of placenta in hair products has been linked to breast cancer or premature development in young girls. This site lists it as one of their top ten products to avoid. So now I’m torn. I think I’ll consider using the Hask conditioner as a once-in-a-while treatment when my hair is in dire straits and stick to more conventional products for more regular hair care.

The things we do for great hair…

Summer-proof your beauty routine

It’s hot out there!

Summer means a lot of time outdoors. And while I know plenty of women blessed with gorgeous skin and coloring that requires no makeup, I am not one of them. That means that when summer comes I start worrying about raccoon eyes from melted mascara, unintentional smokey eyes from smudged eyeliner, creasing shadow, and oily skin. That means adjusting my routine to accommodate the heat and humidity as well as the increased oil my skin produces when it’s warm. Continue reading

Quickie: The bracelet that tracks your sun exposure

So you’ve applied your sunscreen dutifully. Great! But what if it wears off? How will you know before it’s too late? Now there’s a way to tell: the UVSunSense bracelet:

Developed by a nuclear physicist, the UVSunSense wristband technology is similar in principle to monitoring devices used for personnel at nuclear power plants or in jobs dealing with nuclear medicine. But instead of measuring gamma rays, UVSunSense is calibrated for ultraviolet – or UV – radiation present in sunlight. The band’s four color stages indicate changing conditions and how a user should adapt to the sunlight. The wristband is orange when removed from the packaging. It becomes purple when exposed to the sun, indicating that it has been activated. When it transitions to a dark brown the wearer needs to immediately reapply their protective sunscreen. If the band turns a salmon color, the wearer should get out of the sun completely, having approached the recommended daily limit of UV radiation. Further exposure will likely result in painful sunburn and increase the risk of sun poisoning, also known as photodermatitis.

Here’s a diagram to illustrate the color changes:

Image courtesy of Amazon.com

The UVSunSense band is available in packs of 7 for $6.85 (plus shipping) at Amazon. Or you can check out the “Where To Buy” link on the UVSunSense website (linked above) for local retailers.

What price beauty?

Keep young and beautiful,
It’s your duty to be beautiful!
Keep young and beautiful,
if you want to be loved.

So says the Annie Lennox song:

But sometimes we get a little crazy in our quest for beauty. The search for that miracle cream that will sweep away blemishes and wrinkles, or the magical hair product that will give us luster and shine, can lead us to some outlandish places.

One salon in London is offering clients a protein treatment made from – wait for it – bull semen:


Touted as “Viagra for Hair,” this 45-minute treatment ranges from £55 to £85 ($90-$138 U.S.) and uses semen from Aberdeen Angus bulls. Hari’s combines the sperm with the root of the protein-rich plant Katera. The protein-enriched potion is massaged into the client’s hair after it has been shampooed. Then the client is put under heat so the treatment penetrates the hair. The final step is the blow out, which gives the hair an awful lot of body, as well as shine.

As someone who has spent plenty of cash on different conditioners and treatments in the pursuit of frizz-free, shiny hair, I can honestly say this is a bit much for me. But it’s nothing compared to using urine as a facial treatment. Urine! On your face! It seems to me that if your body had much use for what was in that urine, your body would have kept it in the first place. But don’t worry about that, because you can skip the urine and get a facial that uses synthesized human sperm or snail slime instead.

Total Beauty has a list of ten strange beauty treatments that includes the bull semen hair treatment as well as procedures involving live fish, the feces of nightingales and crocodiles, and placenta.

Vanity is a strong force, isn’t it? We spend so much of our lives being judged on how we look that it can make us crazy and the next thing we know we’re paying hundreds of dollars to have things smeared on us that we’d otherwise avoid in the hopes that it will make us beautiful or keep us young for a little longer. I certainly have nothing against natural remedies – I’m a fervent champion of honey and its many many uses. (I use it mixed with my conditioner and occasionally with crushed aspirin tablets as a facial mask.) But there’s a difference between embracing the idea of alternative methods and leaping into any unproven (and/or gross) new thing just because it’s trendy. A few years back Gwyneth Paltrow caused a stir when it was rumored she was using a facial moisturizer containing snake venom because the paralytic venom was believed to have a Botox-like effect on the face. Like a lot of these types of things, the claims were unproven and the side effects potentially dangerous. But tell women the stars are doing it (or just charge a lot of money) and we’ll line right up.

Some of these things do have a basis in science – the bull semen hair treatment is high in protein, for example. But you can get any number of protein-packed hair treatments without spending that much cash or drenching your head in bovine bodily fluids. In fact most of these trends have lower-priced and less insane counterparts. If you look at what’s supposed to make it work, it’s usually based on the ingredients and science already present in the beauty products you can get at any drug store. (Well, maybe not the live fish that eat the dead skin off your feet… but that’s another story.)

The Beauty Brains are a great resource for topics like this. The site, run by cosmetic scientists, explains the science behind beauty in terms anyone can understand and debunks a lot of the claims made by trendy beauty treatments.

It comes down to research. Before you try any new “miracle” treatment or product, do a little Googling and a little reading. It might save you some cash and some time.

Don’t believe what you see!

It used to be you could trust a photograph to show you a factual representation of a source or subject. But not anymore! Why? One word: Photoshop. I confess, I am a Photoshopper. Any photo of me that touches my computer gets “fixed:” teeth whitened, color corrected, blemishes banished. But magazines and advertisers go a lot further than that. They use Photoshop to take an existing image and turn it into something that not only doesn’t exist, but sometimes can’t possible exist.

For example, Ralph Lauren caused a controversy last year over this image of an impossibly proportioned model (her shoulders are wider than her hips!):

Image courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Before that, Redbook caused a stir with a heavily retouched cover shot of Faith Hill. More recently, ads featuring Demi Moore and Julia Roberts have been so heavily altered that it’s hard to tell that these already beautiful women are even human.

Not even Betty White is immune! She’s 88 years old and they’ve removed all her wrinkles. Is it no longer acceptable for an 88-year-old woman to have wrinkles?

In a world where women are expected to aspire to beauty ideals, these types of images create an even more unattainable idea of the beauty norm. (Though if you can find me an actual adult human woman whose shoulders are wider than her hips, I’ll consider a retraction.) We’re constantly bombarded with images of women who are impossibly thin, ageless, and devoid of imperfection. How can any woman feel comfortable in her own skin surrounded by this crap?

Fortunately, the wide exposure of recent years has started a backlash and is – slowly – beginning a movement in opposition. Jessica Simpson famously posed for the cover of Marie Claire with no makeup and no retouching a few months ago. (And if you ask me, she looks fantastic.) And now a UK department store is openly displaying before- and after-Photoshop shots of a swimsuit model in their stores:

Image courtesy of NYMag.com

It’s a refreshing move, but there’s still a long way to go. The truth is that Photoshop is never going away. It will always be used to clean up flyaway hairs and blemishes and correct color at the very least (and you can pry my copy from my cold, dead hands!). But until the fashion and beauty industries scale back the usage to those parameters we’re going to have to treat every image we see with skepticism. Jezebel has a really interesting gallery of Photoshopped images here. Check it out and see just how much you’re being fooled.