Me and my Santé magazine column

It must  be more than 10 years ago that I received a call from an editor at the French magazine Santé. I was on a train at the time, heading from our home in the south of France to London, and I remember the line being rather bad. The editor asked me if I would be interested in writing a beauty column for them entitled ‘Me and my…..’ I had to double check that I hadn’t misheard. “But I can’t write in French,” I protested. The editor suggested I find a translator. They wanted something with “typical British humour”. They had seen my column in the Sunday Times and decided I was the woman for the job. The Santé column is still going, with my lovely friend and translator Jacques Kuhnle translating every one. Over the next few months I am going to publish a selection here, starting with this one about Japanese skin care.

Me and my Japanese skin care regime 

It was at the Viva Mayr Clinic in Austria that I first heard about Japanese skin care. I was there to research a book about ageing the Viva Mayr way. The clinic, situated on the shores of an Austrian lake, is the go-to place for those who can afford the time and the cost of taking the “cure” as they call it, which basically means cleansing from the inside out. I have neither time nor money, but one of the perks f being a writer is that you get invited to all sorts of places you could never afford to go to in order to write about them.

These retreats make for interesting social dynamics. For a start you end up wearing nothing but your dressing gown in front of strangers. And the first topic of conversation is usually (at Viva Mayr anyway) about your digestive system. I met a lovely woman called Kendal on my visit there. Once we had compared our digestive systems we moved on to skincare. Kendal lives in Japan and told me how Japanese women look after their skin. This is something that has always fascinated me, as you don’t really see many Japs who have aged badly. I assumed it was due to all the fish they ate, and in part it may be, but they are also dedicated to caring for their skin extremely well. Kendal gave me some of her Japanese products to try, along with a sheet of instructions for the facial massage that is at the centre of any Japanese cleansing ritual. I have since run out of the lovely products she gave me but this is where my ‘layering’ method of skincare was born.

Scan 4It is more or less the same regime morning and evening, although in the morning I don’t remove my make-up and I use a day cream with SPF instead of a night cream.
It begins with removing my make-up. I use a lotion, usually Clarins Cleansing Milk with Alpine Herbs. If I have been wearing eye make-up I use an eye make-up remover too. Next it’s the deeper cleansing and massage stage. This is what the Japanese refer to as the ‘cleansing the pores’ stage, where you go beyond the superficial and get deep down into your skin. Here I use my favourite cleanser, Eve Lom Cleanser. You need a cleanser that is thick and creamy because this is also where the massaging comes in. The Japanese, as you would imagine, have an extremely precise set of instructions on the massage. I started by following them on the sheet of paper Kendal gave me, but now I just improvise. The idea of the facial massage is of course to deep cleanse, but also to relax the muscles, thus smoothing away wrinkles and eliminating toxins. Focus on your jawline, cheeks, forehead and the area around the eyes. I usually massage for between one and two minutes.

Once I have removed the cleanser, I tone. Following that I layer skincare products on my face and neck. I always start with a serum to nourish my skin; my advice pick one with active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or vitamin C. Following that is the oil, and finally a night cream at night or a day cream for the day. And don’t forget the eye cream, another good excuse to gently massage your eye area.

Email from Bea to her father

We were at the hairdresser’s yesterday reading short story entries for the magazine’s annual short story competition while Hassan transformed our lanky hair into luscious locks. Here is the outcome:

And here is an email Bea wrote to Rupert, it is vintage Bea….

Hey papa,I just got my nails plus toes done the colour is beautiful sparkly pink. I love you so much and soon I will be home say hi and how’s your work did you write a new piece in the paper ?Will you please call olivia’s phone when your on your way back home I <3 u (love you )sooooo much sorry to disturb you your probably in the middle of work right now did you know mummy had got a huge hat on her hair ? Well I better get going I have a lot to read so does mummy love you daddy and work hard quick question, r u gonna have your piece on the front page tomorrow? Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Baby Beauty…..

My step-daughter Julia was here last week for half term. She is fourteen and I thought that she was old enough to come along with me for a manicure and a pedicure. We eased into our comfy chairs feeling jolly pleased with ourselves. Then I spotted her. A girl who could have been no more than seven years old having her nails painted a glittering silver colour.

“What on earth is that child doing here?” I asked my manicurist.

“Oh her,” she said, glancing over her shoulder, “she comes every week.”

""Apparently lots of them come every week, especially when they have a party to go to at the weekend. They come with or without their mothers and they have their little fingers and their little toes done and then go off for more I assume; facials, hair extensions, belly-button piercing, massages…..

Is this normal behaviour I ask myself? I wasn’t allowed to have my ears pierced until I was sixteen. I didn’t even know about lip liner until last year. Call me old-fashioned, but does a seven-year-old really NEED perfect nails?

I am going to write a feature on the topic so would love your views, experiences, comments etc. Is it just harmless fun or is it deeply disturbing to see little girls dolled up? Is it industry driven or can we blame the likes of Hannah Montana? Should Olivia and Bea have a manicure and join the crowd, or should they remain natural?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Something to chew on….

Although I have at times been tempted to eat my lip-gloss due to extreme hunger pangs, I am really loving the Viva Mayr Clinic (www.viva-mayr.com). It is very different to Renew Retreats, much more medical and not a mention of matching underwear, but as I have found it’s a good place to have a sore neck (massages and relaxing treatments guaranteed to ease the pain). And despite the medical angle it still offers that essential element of time to be totally and utterly selfish and focused on one self, which is something I enjoy thoroughly.

There are of course tough decisions to be made; such as do I go to the sauna or the steam bath, but I’m learning to cope.

Actually I’m learning a lot of things. I am here as I explained to write The Viva Mayr Diet Book, a diet book based on the philosophy of the clinic and the man that runs it, Dr Harald Stossier. His theory is that not only what, but more importantly, how we eat is the key to a healthy life.

Get healthy the fun way...The more I learn, the more it makes sense. For example one of his big things is that we have to chew our food well. When he says well, he means around 40 to 50 times. Try it. It’s not easy, but I promise it gets easier. And when you look at the benefits, it’s worth it. It eases the pressure on your digestive system, giving you more energy and generally avoiding digestive problems. It means you get the best taste and the optimum nutrients out of your food. Dr Stossier told me that if you wolf down an organic salad and properly chew a Big Mac, you will get more nutrients from the latter. Most crucially it exercises your jaw muscles so is incredibly anti-ageing because you don’t end up with that jowly look. And on top of that it makes you lose weight because you are chewing more so sending signals to your brain which says you have had enough to eat. What’s not to like? Don’t wait for the book, get chewing…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Fat, fatter, fattest…..

Deep-fried Mars BarI admit it, I am a fattist. Every time I see a fat person I want to throw up. I can’t stand the sight of that blubber blubbering around. If I see a fat person walking into Burger King I am tempted to make a citizen’s arrest.

Now I see that Britain is officially the fattest nation in Europe with a shocking 59% of women judged overweight or obese. This is more than half the female population. What the hell are they thinking about? Chips and deep-fried Mars Bars? Obviously not their health or how to look good in skinny jeans.

OK, so I may care more than the average person about the way people look. But It’s not just the fact that I hate the idea of someone with so little will-power or care for themselves that they let themselves get into that state. There is the deadly serious side to obesity.

Do you know that being overweight knocks NINE YEARS off a person’s life? And how much is the medical care going to cost? And who pays for that?
We don’t mind looking after smokers on the NHS, after all they fund a large part of it, but how are you going to feel when you realise that a vast amount of your hard-earned money is going on treating people for this obesity epidemic? Reinforced beds don’t come cheap. Nor does the medical care to treat cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and a whole host of other effects of stuffing your face at every given opportunity. And before you all start writing telling me for most fat people it’s a medical condition, I sat next to two extremely experienced doctors at lunch yesterday and asked them how many people were fat due to a medical condtion. The both shook their heads.

“Hardly any at all,” said one, “the most common medical condition would be a mental disorder that leads to over-eating. Other than that it’s simply life-style. And eating too much.”

But being obese is no longer a personal lifestyle choice, it’s an issue we’re all going to have to deal with. And look at. And while I’m ranting; a friend of mine used to extremely thin, not through any eating disorder, she was just thin. People would often come up to her (even strangers in the street) and ask “do you ever eat?” How come you’re allowed to ask that of thin people but were you to ask a fat person if they ever stopped eating you would be judged incredibly rude?

Maybe it’s time we started asking them that question, it might make them stop and think before they stuff in that deep-fried Mars Bar.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Forever Zen

In To Hell in High Heels I say that if the book becomes a best-seller I will retire to the Clinique La Prairie in Switzerland. I have changed my mind. I will come to Renew Retreats instead.

""We are on day four and all is going swimmingly. The ladies are being constantly pampered, sleeping, chatting, or doing sun-salutes all over the place. Everyone seems incredibly happy and even my friend Carla likes them all, which is unusual for her as she normally loathes everyone. They are a great bunch; a mix of journalists (this being the first one) and real clients who couldn’t be nicer. It’s a little like a house party but with more yoga and massages than most.

I was extremely nervous before they all arrived. In fact I was nervous when they arrived and for the first few hours, but they settled in well (and I became calmer) and apart from signing one of my books to the wrong person I haven’t done anything too stupid. But there were many times when I wondered why on earth I ever thought I could run a spa retreat.

Now, seeing them glowing and relaxed after four days, I feel happy and proud. I am also glowing and relaxed and I have been wondering if it’s possible to live in this zen-like state at all times. I suppose without a cook, a yoga teacher, a beautician and a masseuse it would be tricky. But my hope is that I can take at least some of this feeling with me when I go back to real life tomorrow.

My friend and yogi Anna went to the chemist yesterday and said it felt odd carrying a handbag. Here all we carry are our yoga mats and cups of green tea. We are about to do the morning yoga session in the sun on the lawn. Then it’s time for breakfast and Tina’s talk on anti-ageing and nutrition. Julie my friend and cook will arrive to prepare a delicious lunch. This afternoon we will loll around the lawn in the sun. I feel rather like Emma in the Jane Austen book of the same name who “lived in the world with very little to distress or vex her”. It’s a very nice feeling.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Water, water everywhere….

The irony of returning from a trip to the French Lakes and find we have no water in the house was not lost on me. But what is surprising is how life drastically changes without running water. No lavender baths, no easy way to brush your teeth, no cleansing of grubby children after a four-hour car journey, no washing machine, dishwasher, no glass of water to take to bed, no running water for Max the cat to drink (he is furious).

Even Rupert, who has just written a book about water so is well aware of its importance, was amazed. “I feel terrible,” he declared this morning after an evening and night without water. “I can’t believe how not having water affects everything you do.”

It is horrible not to be able to wash rasberry jam off the children’s hands or wash your face before going to bed (not to mention horribly ageing, I read somewhere that if you sleep with your make-up on you age 10 days, luckily I had an alternative cleanser to hand).

We are back to normal now, except the dishwasher, which has packed up. I don’t blame it, after a day and a half of washing the dishes I know how it feels.

I am adopting a Zen attitude (partly as am very excited by the news that Amazon has sold out of To Hell in High Heels) and anyway I find that whenever I go away I come back to some slight problem, be it a nasty letter from the bank or a dead mouse in my sink, or possibly both.

We had a lovely time, as you will see from the pics, so it was worth it.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

AArrrrgggghhhhhh!!!

As I write the Daily Mail photographer is speeding his way through the Languedoc countryside to photograph me for the serialisation of my book on anti-ageing. And what do I have?

Grey hair, that’s what I have. Right at the front. You can’t miss it. And a spot on my chin. I suppose at least that makes me look young.

Now where's my shoe polish?I was meant to go to the hairdresser this morning. I thought they would come tomorrow. But no, they are here and will be with me by 10.30 am. When I say ‘they’ I mean the photographer, the make-up artist and my suitcase of designer clothes. It’s not a bad way to spend a Monday.

But back to the hair. I have already spoken to several friends about this, they both suggest shoe polish. Is this wise I ask myself? What if the shade is wrong and what about the smell? Another suggests mascara. But my mascara is black. I am hoping the make-up artist will have some ideas. Meanwhile I am looking for a brown felt-tip pen.

Wish me luck……

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Tweaks for a better life

So the international conspiracy to keep me awake goes on. The perpetrators will stop at nothing. Now they have a gang of highly-trained mice that at 5.30am every morning scuttle back and forth across the roof. It sounds like there are 50 of them racing to get to a big piece of Emmental.

Of course that hour when the rest of the house sleeps (damn them) is horribly lonely. I lie there worrying about everything and anything. This morning I worried about my new spa retreat. ‘What on earth do I know about spa retreats?’ I asked myself as the mice reached the finishing line. ‘Who do I think I am? I have been to plenty of spas, but what the hell do I know?’

""Unable to get back to sleep I got out of bed and into the tree pose. This is one of the poses our spa yogi Anna taught us on our dry-run a few days ago. Since then I have found it indispensable. First and foremost when you need calming down this is ideal. Got an email that makes you want to punch your computer? Stand up, lift one leg and balance against the other leg just below your groin. Stretch your arms up and breeeaaaaathe. Stand like this for a few seconds before doing the same on the other side. After that sit down and the email will seem irrelevant. The other thing the tree pose is excellent for is calming the children down.

Yesterday all three of them decided to start a fight (thankfully only with each other) in the supermarket. Did I yell and holler like every other mother in the middle of the school holidays? Nooooo. I did the tree pose. Right there, in the middle of the shop-floor. It sure as hell shut the children up.

So as I was standing there at 5.45 this morning in said tree pose I realised that my spa has already been a success. Among other things I have learnt how to relax when I most need to, I have learnt that eating Wild Alaskan Salmon makes my skin glow and I have learnt how to walk like a supermodel. And that was just after a day and a half. Now what I want to do is share all this and more with other women.

The other good thing about the spa retreat is that there will be no mice there to keep me awake. And even if the international conspiracy comes up with something else, I will be able to outwit it by standing on one leg and breathing serenely.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Naked (again) in the rain

Nudity seems to be a bit of a theme at the moment. Last night I was about to get in the bath when it started pouring with rain. Wearing nothing but flip-flops and some hair extensions I rush out to get the washing in. Wolfie the dog is more excited by the sight of me naked than anyone has been for about 10 years but I think he thought we were going for a walk.

Next I run to the convertible car. Needless to say the roof is down. I hop in and chuckle to myself as I press the button to bring it back up. “Who needs laughter yoga eh?” I think. “Life is pretty damn funny without it.”

Then I catch sight of my hairline in the rear-view mirror. There are a couple of grey hairs showing. I make a mental note to get my hair dyed. But as I sit there starkers waiting for the roof to close a horrific thought hits me with more force than the Green Goblin taking out Spider-man.

“What happens when your pubic hair goes grey?”

Is it a signal to officially give up on life, sex and happiness as you know it? To admit that for you the war is truly over and all you have to look forward to is an old people’s home with bad food and strange-smelling corridors?

Or can you dye your pubes? Is there such a thing as pubic hair dye? If not, this is surely a business opportunity waiting to happen. Or maybe you can just use normal hair dye? Perhaps a few highlights would look good? You could have a pubic-hair makeover. Maybe go for red just to surprise people.

Green means 'Go'

I am hoping I have a few years to go before I need to find out the answer to all these questions. I have no idea at what age one’s pubic hair goes grey but I do know one thing. I won’t be laughing about it.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007