Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Seven Traditional Soaps From Around The World Reviewed By A Soap Maker

   Soaps are making a huge comeback in skin care, and for good reasons: they are much more eco-friendly than liquid body washes, and some of the traditional soaps contain ingredients that can work wonders for the skin. Today Amalia from Amalia's Log talks in-depth about the making of and her experiences with the different traditional soaps of the Mediterranean and middle-east cultures.

   I got talking to Eternal Voyageur when I first contacted her for the beauty around the world series, and to my surprise the thing that excited her the most, was what I took for granted; soap.
   Or soap making to be specific. You see I had parents from different areas of the world, and the one common factor between both was how "mum" for one, and how "dad" for the other made soap at home. Hence why it was 'no big deal' for me. Just a labour of love for those who have the patience to make it.
When I got into the world of cosmetic making, first because I realised the truth behind the false marketing about the dangers of some products and benefits of others. And later simply because I realised that true knowledge is what will save our skin and health, and soap making was a natural follow up. After all it runs in the family.

   After years of making and knowing about the traditional soaps of some areas of the world, thanks to parents that also travelled and lived all over the place, I am convinced soap making is what unites the world. And who knows, keeping people occupied with this hobby does seem a more peaceful use of time than other things.
    Now here are some of the soaps of the world I had the pleasure of trying, and the laundry one simply seeing but not trying ...yet.

Castille Soap:

   My absolute favourite of the lot. No it doesn't foam as much as others, and if you are a new soap maker that tried your hand at 100% olive oil soap after hearing about the benefits of olive oil to the skin, you may be feeling cheated that I listed this as my favourite.
    But then if you only tried this as a new soap maker you probably did the hasty thing of using this soap before 6 months have passed, and ended up with one slimy mess.
   Now, traditional cold pressed soap (the process of making soap without heat) needs 4-6 weeks to be ready depending on the oil mix in them, but the best Castille soaps are those which have been left to cure and the water evaporated of them the longest.
   I was one of these new soap makers years ago, and luckily I didn't throw my batch. So when I found a few bars of it some 3 years later, I could not stop using it. The initial slimy bar had turned into a solid block, that was the most conditioning soap I had ever used.
   Of course the old soap makers of Spain never measured their lye content properly and a few of their new made bars used to be sold right away, not for skin cleaning, but to wash clothes and the like. Then the older bars were sold for human consumption, after it was a given that the lye content had neutralised to the right PH to make it safe for use on skin (that is a year or two... or three later)
    One more thing, though this soap is credited to Spain, hence the name, a lot of Mediterranean countries had their own version of 100% olive oil soaps. Italy's "white soap" does come to mind.

Marseille Soap

   A very popular soap for good reason. Traditionally, it was made of olive oil and sea water from the Mediterranean sea, along with ashes and lye. These days the oils can vary. However that this soap is usually cooked and stirred for days was reason enough to why these soap makers in this city thrived faster than other soap makers. The long cooking time simply meant the soap would be ready and safe to use faster than other soaps. A month was enough usually, while other soap makers were still waiting for their soaps to be less caustic in a few months time.
   You can use this for everything from body washing to stain removal on your laundry. And thanks to shops like L'occitane, Marseilles soap is easier to find than some of the other soaps listed here.

  Moroccan soap paste

   Now this wins for soap that gives you the most "soap using experience" than anything else, as it is used in the traditional Moroccan bath.
   More a paste than anything else, it is easy to make for the experienced soap maker who happens to have an old crock-pot, some old pitted olives and some potassium hydroxide lye, rather than the sodium hydroxide. That is the lye used in cream and liquid soap making too.
   As you noticed from the above this soap is unique, in that it is made from the crushed black olives themselves, not any oil.
   Also you don't use this like traditional soap, instead you steam yourself for a bit, apply this soap on your damp body. It will be like spreading a jelly (that you then realise is more of a butter more than a jelly) on yourself. Then you just sit in the steam again for a few minutes, and only after some ten minutes, do you wash it off well. Wait another five minutes, then use the Moroccan bath mitt known as a Kissa to scrub off the dead skin which is now easy to scrub away. I have to credit the Moroccans for knowing how to turn a bath into a real fun and relaxing and still functional experience.

Aleppo Soap

   This wins for the most intriguing soap I have ever used, and just one more reason to wish and pray for peace in the country it came from.
This soap is unique among all Mediterranean soaps in that it doesn't settle for just olive oil. No, someone a few thousand years ago decided to add laurel berry oil to it, and what a clever addition it was. You must also love any soap made in a big black cauldron, and then left to cure and dry for at least eight months.

   The soap is bemusing to use. It is brown on the outside, then as you keep using it you find it green on the inside. And as time passes the green just becomes greener and brighter.
  When I found it and used it, what was surprising, is I did use it as a mask like the seller recommended, and yes it made my skin squeaky clean, yet not tight. Something most oil drawing masks fail to achieve.
But where this soap really shone, was when using it as a shampoo. My hair was clean manageable and conditioned! No mean feat for hair as thick and as rebellious as mine. Anyone I know who bought this soap also started their addiction to it, the moment they used it to wash their hair. Sadly this old soap is becoming harder and harder to find, as I cannot imagine a single sector of an economy that doesn't get destroyed in a war like that. But you could try looking online and may find a reputable source for it.

* The laurel oil content of Aleppo soaps varies, if your skin is oily or impure pick one with up to 40% laurel oil.

Nablus Soap 

   For some reason this soap from the West Bank is much easier to find in the middle east during church bazaars around Christmas time, than any other time. An incentive to buy it is knowing that it gives the people something to do that helps them economically and keeps them busy with a good thing, it is a step forward towards peace. I had also been told the money mostly goes to women who make it rather than anyone else.
   Like most soaps from around the Mediterranean countries, olive oil makes up the bulk of this soap. The unique thing about this soap, which dates back to the tenth century, is the lye used. The ashes of a saltwort plant, which grows along the banks of the river Jordan, are mixed with lime and salt, and the lye this produces is added to the olive oil. Again this is left to cure for a few more months despite it being made via the hot process method; that is heat is used while mixing the oils and lye to speed up the saponification process.
   The result is an extremely gentle bar that  is great for cleansing the whole body from head to toe. And while all the soaps I listed so far, have the strange smell of a newly opened can of poster or liquid paints, this one is completely scent free... or at least the single bar I tried was.

African Black Soap 

    And now we head towards one of the most mysterious soaps out there; African black soap.
  But first let me tell you there is no single item which is African black soap, and what we refer to when we say this, is the many soaps that mostly come from West African countries. Each one uses a different name and slightly different ingredients to make their soap.
   And whether you call it Dudu Osun or Anago or Alata or Simena soap, I love this stuff.
   Made with the most ancient technique in which we know soap was made; that is the seeds and pods and skins of beneficial plants are burnt into ashes and added to a mixture of heated oils and hard oils, the results are spectacular.
The soap is more of a kneadable material than a hard bar, and with common ingredients being burnt plantain skins, coco pods, cocoa seeds, (activated charcoal anyone?) along with shea  and cocoa butter, and sometimes locally sourced palm oil, the benefits to oily skin are unquestionable.
   It has a lovely creamy foam, but also an odd scent if it is fragrance free.
   I do find it a bemusing mystery how unmeasured amounts of oils and lye (as this is what the ashes produce when mixed with the oils and beat) can end up making a product with such beneficial results. If you or someone you know has acne and everything else has failed let them give this soap a try. Mind you though this is not the soap to use if you have dry skin!

Kabakrou Soap 

 Now I know many may have heard about all the aforementioned soaps, but may be scratching their heads on this one. This soap comes from the Ivory Coast, and is used for laundry. It totally deserved a mention here, as the young people of some villages in The Ivory Coast have taken to making this soap from their self made lye and adding it to palm kernel oil, to earn their own livelihood. The makers range from old woman to young girls and men, all determined to move forward in life and past the challenging past few years their country had gone through. The palm oil, comes from sustainable sources.
The soap is made, then less than a day later before it has hardened and before it is even safe for a human to touch it, the soap is shaped into balls and then left to cure after that till it is safe to be sold. When people want to progress in life through their own efforts, I think it is cool to support them, so I mentioned this soap here, despite never having used it... not yet anyway.

  Now keep in mind the PH of these soaps is usually high, anywhere from 8.5-10,  so if you use them to clean your face, always follow up with a toner, whether it is store bought or just unprocessed apple cider vinegar.

  To end this post here are some fun tidbits for you as I had not mentioned any American Soaps.
    What did the Native American tribes use before the settlers arrived? You may find it fascinating to know some plants naturally contain saponins inside them and will foam when added to water and agitated. For the longest time after the white settlers arrived to California, the natives refused to use their soap, and instead continued using the crushed bulb of the California Soaproot (always making sure to leave the bottom part of the root to make sure the plant sprouts again) to wash everything from their clothes to hair.
   Yucca roots, cleaned chopped and blended, were the other 'soap plants' people all over the Americas and West Indies also used.

   If you are in Europe, you are due to have a grandma or grandpa who may have mentioned the benefits of soapwort as a cleansing agent to you.

   And this isn't a country, but more about cleansing soap plants from around the world -- due to its fragile nature, historic material in museums is cleaned with only one thing... soap nuts!

   I hope this was an interesting read, and do wish to learn more about the many traditional soaps which I am sure I have missed out on here, but do hope that I have also managed to wet someone’s appetite to learn more about soap and the soap making  traditions from around the world!

PS if you want more, Amalia has written about soaps of northern Europe over on her blog. Check it out if you want to know what does soap have to do with seduction and Nordic men.

Photo credit: Alain

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Beauty Around The World: The Middle East

Middle Eastern Beauty Tips

     As a kid I had neighbours from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and I was always fascinated at how beautiful and well-groomed the women were, with their gorgeous hair and lashes, amazing skin and beautiful outfits. So I always perk up my ears when I hear about the beauty routines of women from the Levant. Amalia from Amalias Log has been living in the Middle East for quite a while, and today she will share with you all the beauty tips that she has picked up from the local women. Enjoy!

   Can I tell you a secret today? There is more to the Middle East than the sounds of bombs and war. I have been there, and I can tell you for a fact that there are beauty secrets that are the basis to a lot of today’s modern products. Cleopatra and her famous goat milk bath, started from here after all.

Here I’m going to share the tips and secrets I learnt, and how they work:

* In most of the Arab Gulf countries, ladies apply castor oil on their eyelashes with a cotton pad. The results are strong long lashes that rarely fall down.

* Also in the Arab Gulf, woman usually gently heat oil (Castor again, but olive oil is extremely popular, and so is coconut oil of late), then add rosemary and mint to the mix. They then apply this to the hair, wrap it around or use a shower cap. They then wash it off a few hours later to reveal shiny lustrous hair. I have seen some people use dish washing soap*  to remove the oil when stuck. But I do not recommend that at all. Applying the shampoo straight onto dry hair will help remove the oil faster. Oil on hair goes a long way and you may need no more than a table-spoon or two. Mint and rosemary stimulate hair growth but boosting the circulation near the scalp. I think adding rosemary and peppermint essential oil, just a drop or two each, would give and even more potent mix.

* Aleppo Soap, is no longer a middle eastern secret, (and sadly, not that easily available any more either) but worth listing here, as people there use it not only as a shower and hair washing soap, but apply it to their face and leave it for ten minutes or so, for a wonderful cleansing mask, thanks to its high laurel oil content.

* Woman of the Levant, have long known how taking fenugreek would boost milk production for breast feeding. But did you know that applying fenugreek extract straight on your breasts and massaging each breast in an outer to inner movement, will increase your breast size by one whole cup size within six months to a year? The reason for this is that fenugreek increases the progesterone levels in the body… a hormone vital for breast enhancement, among many other things.

* The benefits of a Moroccan bath to glowing skin, are almost second to none. The real secrets to this are two items. “Beldi soap” a soap paste, made from the whole olive and potassium hydroxide. And a kissa, or a bath mitt. To repeat the process at home, simply do this:
    Turn the hot water on, and into any basin, but don’t use it, we just want to fill the bathroom with steam. Sit in the steam. When your skin is damp enough, but not wet, apply the soap paste all over. Now sit in the steam for a further ten minutes or so. In summary the soap paste, is acting as an enzyme peel, softening the skin, as it preps for a thorough exfoliation. Next, take your DRY kissa mitt, and start sloughing away the dead skin in a circular motion. Preferably do this in the bath tub. Once you're done, if you want simply use your normal shower gel or soap, and take a quick shower. Or wash the dead skin off with water, then apply a body mask made of rhassoul clay powder (also easily found online) and yogurt. Wait ten minutes, and wash this off well. Moisturize as you please, or just simply enjoy your now softer, lighter super cleaner skin!

* Another little trick I found was using alum crystals. Alum crystals are usually found in spice shops, or next to spices on a spice rack, however they are not used in cooking! Simply take the crystal, and either dissolve it in ethyl alcohol**, or use the crystal itself after rounding its edges, and apply it to your under arms. You may need to this for 5-10 minutes. But the result is the absence of body odor even of skin that has been sweating so badly! People who live in really hot weather most of the year do know these tricks!

* And finally petrol. This is not a ‘crude’ joke, pun intended. But the scare from petroleum jelly products of the past few years is no more than a marketing gimmick. The way it is used in beauty products, has been safe for centuries and still is today. Vaseline is ‘big’ in the middle east, and is the cliché go to product for moisturized lips. But did you know applying ichthammol ointment onto some gauze and then applying that onto any painful spot, will draw the pus out, and cause it to heal within 3 to 7 days? Simply apply it at night before going to bed, place a band-aid to be extra secure. Then the next morning remove it to see how the most potent products are usually cheaply available at the local chemist, not the posh department store. Repeat the process every night till you get rid of it!
   And there you go, now you know how these ladies, who have to tolerate harsh weather and at times living condition, manage to keep their skin glowing, and looking as if they have never seen a stressful day of their lives.

* If you can't get the oil off, try using conditioner -- that really works!

** I have had success dissolving it in just water and using that as a spray.
And if you're interested in participating in the Beauty Around The World Series, drop me a line at eternalvoyageur (at) gmail (dot) com. - See more at: http://www.venusianglow.com/2012/08/beauty-around-world-greece.html#sthash.5VZ18IFq.dpuf
And if you're interested in participating in the Beauty Around The World Series, drop me a line at eternalvoyageur (at) gmail (dot) com. - See more at: http://www.venusianglow.com/2012/08/beauty-around-world-greece.html#sthash.5VZ18IFq.dpuf

For more beauty inspirations from all over the globe, check out the Beauty Around The World Series. And if you're interested in writing a guest post for the series, drop me a line at eternalvoyageur (at) gmail (dot) com.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Weekend Reads 08-09-2015

      Hi everyone, I have been spending as much time as possible by the water. My favourite is the Eis Canal, which is as icy cold as the name suggests. It's exhilarating to swim with the fast current in water that is 4°C on a really hot day, dodging the kids jumping off the bridges, then falling asleep on the bank.

On to the interesting links that I found this week:

* Why you should never use anything with microbeads.

* Adblock is being paid to show ads. I switched to Adblock edge.

* Beautiful photos of the American summer in the 70s.

* Breathtaking photos of the polish summer

* And for my polish readers, I loved this charming piece about Warsaw's swimming pools in the 70s.

* Iconic movie scenes that were improvised.

* This coconut-mango-chia pudding is delicious.

One my favourite summer songs / videos:

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Friday, August 7, 2015

My Favourite Green Home Cleaning Products

   I love cleaning products, and I enjoy hanging out in the household cleaners section of stores, hoping to spot some nifty new product that I'll fall in love with. However I have pretty high standards -- my cleaning products must be non-toxic, and I really prefer multi-purpose cleaners because I just don't have the space to store hundreds of specialised products.
   In the past years I have been testing out many household cleaning products in hope of finding something that is both non-toxic and actually works. Here are my favourite products:

Orange oil

   Orange oil cuts through grease like a knife, plus it leaves everything smelling divine. Undiluted it can remove even really stubborn glue from labels, for everything else you dilute it with water. I use it to clean the floors and the surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. The good stuff (oil without additives) it a tad pricier but is really worth it, one bottle lasts for a really really long time. The original one is the Oranex from Hobbythek, I also use the one from AlmaWin.

Coir scrubbie

    This little scrubbie beats almost all brushes that I have owned. I have several and use them to clean vegetables, pots, awkward bathroom corners, and my bike. They are surprisingly durable, don't get mildewy and almost completely biodegradable (except the wire). I originally discovered them through Kaufmann Mercantile (a store full of amazing but ridiculously overpriced products), but found much more affordable ones on Ebay directly from Sri Lankan sellers. A few days back I found one for less than 3€ in my local Denns (organic supermarket).

Magic erasers for everything

    This magically clean the dirt from everything, from sport sneakers to the fridge -- everything except really soft surfaces. Really magic. They

Microfiber cloths for everything

   Do a really good job of picking up dirt, and you can use them solo (just wet) on everything. I especially love them for cleaning windows and mirrors.

Vinegar + Cornstarch for cleaning windows

    Cleaning windows and mirrors with vinegar is old news, but adding cornstarch to the mix that makes the glass really sparkly and streak-free. This works really well for me, even though my windows are always extra dirty because of sticky little hand prints and fruit-fly poo. Here is the recipe.

Astonish Oven and Cookware Cleaner for everything in the kitchen and bathroom

    Based on silica clay, it does an amazing job of cleaning tiles, the ceramic and the steel sinks, the bathtub, it also removes rust. The brand is from the UK and I bought it from a local construction market, but I never found it there again. Now I get them off Amazon.

Natural hand cleaning paste to clean really greasy hands

    You know the times where your hands are smeared with machine grease and you try to clean them with dish washing detergent? At a house that I visited I spotted this hand cleaning paste which was basically made out of sawdust + clay, and it got rid of even the most stubborn grease. Since then I have been looking for that product and the closest I got to it is the Profiline Bio Handwaschpaste which has just three ingredients: sawdust, clay and glycerine. Ecover also offers a nice hand cleaning paste. If you have access to sawdust, it is pretty easy to DIY such a paste, I have seen several tutorials on the internet.

Gall soap to remove stains from clothes

    It does an amazing job at removing stains from clothes. I still have the bar I bought seven years ago. Frosch came out with a vegan alternative.

Soap nuts for the laundry

   I love them, and they love my clothes back. They are extremely eco-friendly, perfect for babies or anyone with sensitive skin, and they make an amazing shampoo that is acidic and leaves the hair extremely soft and shiny. They are also anti-fungal, repel insects and are very gentle to fabrics. The downside is that they work only with warm water, so if you want to run your load with cooler water you need to pre-soak the nuts in hot water to release the saponin. Here is some great info on soap nuts, including a cost breakdown.

Molto Fügen Versieglung grout sealer

    It was really really hard to find a grout sealer that wasn't full of very toxic chemicals, and the one from Molto has pretty good ingredients. I cleaned my bathroom and kitchen grout really well and used this to seal it. The grout stays clean for a really long time, until the seal wears off.

Mellerud Schimmel Entferner mildew spray

   According the Öko Test, this was the only product that worked against mould and mildew and was not hazardous to health. It is basically Hydrogen peroxide with surfactants, you just spray, leave on for a few minutes, then wipe off. I recommend using gloves because the H2O2 can lightly irritate the skin. This product is also great for the weird black stain that you get on grout in the bathroom.
  You could also use up to 10% strength hydrogen peroxide, however I find that the surfactants make the mildew easier to remove.

That's all from me! What are your favourite household cleaning products?

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How To Stay Cool In Hot Temperatures And Enjoy Really Hot Days

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    With the heat wave sweeping over Europe I wanted to talk about surviving the heat without looking and feeling gross. However as I started writing this post I realised that the key to a great summer is not just surviving, it's about slipping in things that make the summer feel amazing. A friend told me that summer feels endless when she spends time by the water, even if it is a quick dip the river after work. So here are my tips: a mix of

Hand fans
    This old-fashioned quirky accessory is extremely practical. I love slipping a hand-fan out of my bag and feeling a small breeze on my face when I'm stuck in a hot bus. I also get a giggle out of my friends borrowing them and then struggling to keep up a steady fanning rhythm with their wrists.
    Fans can be are so pretty -- I love the Japanese ones, but you can pick souvenir ones from many places in the world. I prefer ones that are small, light and not too delicate. Did you know that in Victorian times fans were a way to communicate discreetly, or that they could be used as ball books?

Mineral Makeup
    Nothing is as sweat-proof as minerals! I also switch up mascara for kajal because kajal is the only bit of makeup that actually looks better when it's slightly melted.

Thermal face water
  I picked up a small spray bottle of water at a clothing swap, and was surprised that my skin liked it more than regular water. It leaves my skin a bit tighter and the tone is more even. I like to spray it on my face and hair after a workout and when I'm sweating. I think that it cuts down on the sweating since it cools the skin in the same way that sweat would. Girl with curls and waves can revive their hair by spritzing it and scrunching it with their hands.
   A cheaper and eco-friendlier alternative to thermal water from the store is  a hydrolate (like rose water) in a small misting bottle.

Cool your strategic points:
  If you are really hot, spritz the back of your neck, wrists or (my favourite) the feet to cool down the body. The veins there are very close to the skin and the blood cools faster.
  You can put a body lotion into the fridge and apply it on one body part -- it feels amazing. Don't apply it on the entire body, as it might cool you down too much.
Being barefoot also feels cooler, even on a carpeted floor!

A good hat
   A hat with a big brim that protects me from the sun and is my biggest must-have in the summer. Hats are often seen as difficult to wear, but believe me when I say that there is a hat for every woman. The most common mistake is that women plonk the hat on the head from above. The correct way is slightly from behind. Try that, it will make most hats (and cap)s look much better! I love hats with brims that can be moulded and shaped with to make it more flattering to my face type. TkMaxx is my go-to for great affordable hats.

   This is something I picked up from India and can't believe that I haven't seen in Europe yet. Basically, everyone carries a simple old-fashioned fabric handkerchief and uses it to pat the parts of the face where sweat collects. This  prevents it from dripping down the nose and chin which is so disgusting!

I never got around to do an actual review, so in short: it works, it's comfortable, and totally worth the €€. For best results wear it in a way that the clip is positioned on the inside of the thigh.

Bike everywhere
     The breeze in your face, you can slip through the traffic and get a workout. My bicycling essentials for the summer include a good hat, my BirdIndustries skirt garter clip to keep skirts and dresses in place -- I also love the long peg-shaped trousers clips for this -- I gather my maxi skirts and clip them, and off I go.

Dress right
    I think that everyone has a different body part which overheats! Butt? Wear floaty skirts. Boobs and arms?  Go sleeveless. Feet? Choose sandals or espadrilles.
    Of course natural fabrics are the way to go. However there is a huge difference between  different types of cotton -- typical soft and heavy T-shirt knits end to be clingy and hot, the best ones are light airy weaves because they are super light and don't cling to the body.
    Loose, light-coloured natural fabrics will keep you cooler than skimpy, tight synthetics.

Drink, especially water
    I talk about the importance of staying hydrated in every other posts, so I'll skip to this tip:  a warm (not hot) drink can be much more refreshing on a hot day -- a tip from the middle east (relevant study). Water is best, coconut water is also amazing.
    I like Sigg bottles for hydrating on the go because they don't leach into the water, are light and very robust. I use a small one on regular days because it fits into my purse and I can always refill it in most places (tap water is of excellent quality here), but I have a couple of bigger ones for family outings.

 Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially seasonal ones
    Someone once told me that seasonal produce gives the body all that it needs to survive the season. Water melon helps you stay hydrated. In India, mangoes are said to help the body survive the heat.

Go outside and do something in the nature
   Go to a park and dip your feet in a fountain. Take a bicycle trip. Pick your own strawberries. Join a walking tour -- I love the ones about wild herbs.Read under a tree. Drink tea on your balcony.

Over to you: what are your tips for surviving high temperatures?

Photo credit: Deania

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Is Your Sunscreen Giving You Enough UVA Protection?

   UVA rays is what causes ageing and skin cancer, yet many sunscreens don't provide any protection against it. Here I explain how to find out how much UVA protection a product offers.

   Basically, the sunlight that reaches the skin is made up of UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays burn the skin and the UVA rays age, tan the skin and cause cancer. UVB light is strongest at midday during summer, UVA rays are present equally all day, all year, and can penetrate clouds and glass. Tanning booths use mainly UVA light, that is why they are more harmful than tanning outdoors.
   The SPF label on the packaging only refers to the protection against UVB rays. In the EU a UVA symbol with a circle around it means that the product provides UVA protection that is at least one third of that of the UVB protection; however it is not specified whether the product protects from both UVA1 and UVA2. Some products are labelled as "full-spectrum protection". The UVA logo means that the product offers UVA protection that is at least one-third of its SPF. The "broad spectrum" label means that the product offers some UVA protection, but it can often be misleading.

   Japanese and Korean brands use the PA+, PA+++, PA+++ and PA++++to indicate how much UVA protection a product offers.This label says nothing about the UVB protection.

   Often  UVA protection is not mentioned on the label at all. If you are serious about protecting your skin from sun damage, you need to know whether your product protects you from the UVA rays. It's actually not that hard to find out, you just need to peek into the ingredient list.
    There are only a couple of sunscreen ingredients that protect the skin from UVA rays: Zinc oxide reflects the full range of UVA rays (UVA1 and UVA2) as well as UVB rays. It's the only true full-spectrum sunscreen ingredient, all the rest provide protection against only a part of the UV spectrum and need to be mixed and matched. Titanium oxide only protects from UVA2 and all UVB rays. Both the above mineral (physical) filters. Out of chemical filters, Avobenzone offers only UVA1 protection, while Dioxybenzone, Mexoryl XL, Meradimate (Menthyl Anthranilate), Trolamine Salicylate offer only UVA2 protection, and Trolamine Salicylate and ecamsule (Mexoryl SX) offer UVA2 and UVB protection. Bizoctrisole (Tinosorb M) which is both physical and chemical protects against the full range of UVA and UVB, however it is almost always nano-sized.

   So as you see, zinc oxide is the only ingredient that reflects the whole range of UVA and UVB rays. It is anti-bacterial (good for acne) and doesn't cause allergies. It is effective immediately and doesn't need to be reapplied if it's not rubbed off. It would be the magical wonder ingredient, however it is notoriously white, so it is usually mixed with other anti-UV ingredients. The more zinc oxide you have in a product, the better UVA protection you get. 15% is really good, but most products contain 5-7%. Out of chemical filters Avobenzone is the most commonly used; with concentrations of up to 3%.

  Finally I'd like to say that from what I have read there is still not enough research and studies about sunscreen ingredients and in a decade many of the "facts" of today will be replaced by completely different information. Our generation is in a way the sunscreen guinea pig.

   Do you have a favourite sunscreen that provides good protection against UVA? Do share!

Photo credit: Andreas Moller

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Friday, July 24, 2015

When Self-Objectification Gets In The Way Of Living Life Fully

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     I have a simple rule in life: look your best, as long as it doesn't get in the way of living.
     This means I take a few minutes to put on concealer and mascara on most days. It also means I don't have problems in going out completely barefaced if I'm in a rush (or lazy).
    It means that I wear pretty dresses everywhere, but I don't wear heels because I hate it when my feet are tired before the rest of me is.
     It means that I end up donating clothes that I can't move in comfortably.
    It means buying flattering workout clothes, but not wearing makeup to the gym and not caring about looking sweaty.
    I means that I invest quite a bit in a good hairdresser so that I can have a haircut that looks good when it's left to its own devices.
  It means saying "yes" to a spontaneous evening out even if I'm completely under-dressed. It also means always having an eyeliner pencil stub and facial blotting paper in my handbag for such moments.
    It means that I never let my nail polish stand between me and what I want to do.
    It means that I carefully choose the most flattering swimsuit in the store. But when my friend spontaneously invited me to jump into a deliciously cold river on a hot day and offered to lend me her very low-cut bikini, it took me just a moment to contemplate on displaying my postpartum lower belly and then to say "yes". And actually having fun and not caring, to my own surprise.
    It means appreciating a well though-out outfit, a good hair day or a good makeup look; but also being able to say "I'm not here to decorate the world" when I can't be bothered to do anything more than put on the first thing I see in my closet.
    It also means purging my closet so that the first thing I see is never looks too bad.

    I was a bit of a tomboy when growing up, I wore trousers and didn't brush my hair and I enjoyed wrestling with my brother's friends just as much as sewing clothes for my Barbie dolls. For many years, well into my teens, I didn't give much thought into what I looked like while doing stuff. I think that this means I never really minded getting my hands dirty and my hair messy, and doing stuff was usually more important than looking good.

   It breaks my heart when I see people (no, not just women), denying themselves experiences because of their insecurity about their looks. Like not going to swim because they put on weight. It's not your job to be decorative! I want to scream.
   This video gave me a word to use for this attitude -- self-objectification:

     It's saying "I can't (...) because I look (...)". In the west it is the norm to talk about how women look when doing stuff, even if the stuff they are doing is so awesome that nothing else should matter, like winning the Nobel Prize or the Olympics or running for office. A lot of money can be made off teaching women to self-objectify and to fix their appearance. I still remember as a teen reading in a fashion magazine that "all women hate their hips"; until then I had never given a thought to how my hips look like. After that I spent too much time scrutinising and criticising bits of myself, until I stumbled onto the positive body-image movement that helped me to turn this around.

    It's not like I don't have insecurities and issues with my body image any more, I definitely do. I just make sure those voices don't dominate the conversations inside my head. I try to keep things in perspective, that my looks are by far not the most important thing about me or my life. Down the line it's experiences that are the most precious things in life, and I don't want anything getting between them and me.

   The next time you are in a situation where your body-image is getting in the way of an experience, take a moment to ask yourself: this time next year, what will I remember about this experience -- how amazing it was or what I looked like? Whose judgement am I afraid of anyway, and why? Will I regret not looking my best as much as I will regret missing out on this experience altogether?

Photo credit: KayVee.INC

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Found: Great Tweezers For Next To Nothing

   If you tweeze your own brows or upper lips, you know how hard it is to find really good tweezers that grab even the shortest hair the first time around. I can't understand why so many brands make tweezers with thick edges that don't really fit smoothly together. Of course there are some good ones around: the famous Tweezermann and the less pricey Mörser that I use (I get them at the Reformhaus). However they are all rather pricey, especially if you keep on loosing them like I do.
    The last time I couldn't find my Mörser tweezers, I grabbed the ones in my Swiss army Victorinox penknife. I had always thought they looked primitive, but I was desperate. To my surprise, they are actually really good! It is really easy to grap even small hairs, and the grip is tight. And best of all, they are ridiculously cheap! The small one that fits into my penknife cost me 0,50€ (I lost the first one so I had to replace it). It is tiny though, so you might prefer to get the larger size. They are slightly less comfortable to use than regular tweezers because they are so thin and light, but you can't beat them at price vs quality

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Nifty Manicure Tool: Rossman Ideenwelt Manicure-Pedicure-Set Review

    More than a year ago I bought this little gadget from Rossmann and it has served me well. If you have nails that need more than just a nail file and a cuticle stick, you will find that a pedicure gadget like this one is very helpful. While my fingernails are relatively unproblematic with perfectly-behaved cuticles, my toenails are complicated: layers and layers of cuticle, uneven nail surface, hard and snagged skin around the nail and weird hard edges below the toes. So I decided to try out an electric pedicure tool.
    The one from Rossmann is a mini-sized one, and not as powerful as a professional tool. It is also much cheaper, it cost me around 5€.

   The machine is not very powerful, which also means that you can't harm yourself even if you are a total newbie at pedicures. But if you do your nails regularly and are looking for a powerful tool, you'll be disappointed.
   You get seven attachments, a nail clipper and a cuticle stick. The attachments are pretty intuitive to use, don't worry too much what is meant for what. I didn't get much use out of the flatter plate-shaped ones, which are supposed to be for shortening acrylic nails (and not filing the heels). The rest of them are pretty nifty though. I really like the brush, it is great as the last step to get rid of any remaining dust and skin flakes.

  Filing your nails with this manicure machine is as easy as with a glass file, but additionally you can easily reach the sides of the nails. It makes removing the cuticles in my toes a breeze, even in areas where they are thick and attached to the nail. I also use the attachments to file down the skin on the sides of the nail which is weirdly thick. This works much better than cutting it off.
   The machine has a little lamp which lights up the area you are working on.

   Unfortunately, while looking through reviews I found several that said that the product didn't work at all -- assuming this isn't a case of the user doing something wrong, I assume that they chanced upon a faulty piece. In this case hang on to your receipt and exchange the gadget. Mine works without problems.

   Bottom line: if you are a nail novice, you should definitely get this little gadget! More experienced users might want to look for something more powerful. As I just do a very basic manicure once in a while, this little electric tool is perfect for my needs, plus it is really affordable.

   Have you ever used an electric manicure set? What do you recommend? Or do you prefer do do it the regular way? Let me know!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sunshine Body Oil : DIY Recipe For A Tinted Body Oil With SPF

Sunshine Body Oil : DIY Recipe For A Tinted Body Oil With SPF

   I massage in this body oil before a warm shower several times a week, and it keeps my skin smooth and moisturised. I have used body oils since years, but this mix is my favourite because of the carrot oil and berry seed oil.

You need:
Raspberry seed oil
Carrot oil
Carrier oil(s) of your choice
Essential oil of your choice
    I basically eye-balled the proportions. The carrier oil is the base and you'll want to use a lot of it. Then, add as much raspberry seed oil as you can afford. You need to experiment a bit with the carrot see oil to see how much of it makes your skin golden but not orange -- this will depend on your own skin tone. Then add a couple of drops of essential oil, shake, and you're done!
   If you have some sparkly mineral make-up lying around, like a highlighter that is too much for your face, you could add it to the oil to transform this into a shimmer body oil. Do experiment on a small quantity first, as every mineral highlighter has a different formula and might interact differently with oil.

   Raspberry seed oil provides sun protection as high as that of Titanium Dioxide, so it's perfect for adding into everything in the summer. It is rather pricey, otherwise I'd have used much more of it and skipped the carrier oils. Obviously when it's diluted it doesn't provide that much sun protection and you need to use a sunscreen on top, but hey, every bit of extra SPF helps.
   The carrot oil was something I bought on the recommendation of a blogger, and when it arrived I realised that it's bright orange so I can't apply it solo. When thinned with other oils it gives a nice warm tint to the skin, and it also provides some sun protection.Alternatively you could also use red palm oil.
  For carrier oil I used sesame oil which is grounding for Vata types (knowing my Ayurvedic dosha is helping me very much to balance my skin and my life). Since it is heavy and sticky I mixed it with the light jojoba oil, threw in some grape seed oil which I want to use up and a bit of wheat-germ oil which provides quite a bit of sun protection. You could also use sunflower oil, almond oil, avocado oil, coconut oil or even a ready-made plant oil mix like Babydream from Rossman or Alverde from DM. Also: a single carrier oil is fine, you don't have to mix several like I did.
  Essential oils are nice if you want your oil mix to smell good. I added a bit of rose, patchouli and sandalwood, which are my favourite scents at the moment. Avoid anything from the citrus family since it will make your skin sensitive to sunlight.

   So there you go, and quick and easy body oil, perfect for the summer! I found the cute bottle at a flea market, but you could also use a squeeze bottle from a shampoo (not so pretty but very practical) or even a condiment bottle. Keep the oil mix away from strong light.
  This oil mix paired with exfoliation (dry brushing or Kessa glove) and the Lavera tanning lotion is my go-to body routine for the summer.

   What is your summer go-to body routine? Let me know in the comments.

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