Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beauty Hack: The Aspirin Mask

Have you heard about the Aspirin Mask?

A while back I introduced you to the internet beauty underground.   A lot of people out there (in here?) are really into using very simple ingredients, and opting out of buying skincare products.  The beauty hack that people rave about the most is The Aspirin Mask.

Take anywhere from a few, to twenty, plain, un-coated aspirin, crush and dissolve them with a bit of liquid, and apply to the face.  Rinse after a few minutes.  Fans rave that this trick exfoliates, cures acne, smooths lines, fades marks, and always produces the much sought after glow.  On MakeupAlley, the aspirin mask is the highest rated facial treatment. The only mask reviewed more often is the vintage classic, Queen Helene's Mint Julep.

There are lots of variations.  Some people use a few drops of plain water to dissolve the pills, other prefer aloe gel, honey, or a cleanser like Cetaphil.  Some recipes include a drop or two of antiseptic tea tree oil.  Look for the cheapest bottle of aspirin on the shelf; generic brands are often the only ones left that offer un-coated tablets.

Of course I've tried it.  Like most experiments around here, the results were rather painful and inconclusive.  Rarely can I just try one thing and stop.  My skin was smooth and bright after the mask, but I followed up with a few irresistible French serums and such.  I'm an unreliable subject.

As you may know, aspirin is basically acetylsalicylic acid.  White willow bark, a source of this acid,  has been used since ancient times in herbal medicine as an an affective analgesic and anti-inflammatory.  I haven't found a reference to it's use in skin care in any of my old books, but I certainly don't rule it out.  The closely related salicylic acid is now widely used in lotions and toners to chemically exfoliate.  So it makes sense that applying aspirin directly to the face would have an effect.

Another related beauty hack is homemade "TendSkin."  Surely you know of this vital fluid if you've ever been waxed.  It feels like the devil licking you with his fiery, evil tongue, but it eliminates irritation and ingrown hairs.  It is not cheap, so people make their own by dissolving a bunch of aspirin in a bottle of rubbing alcohol or witch hazel.  I tried this as well, but couldn't get it to be not grainy.  

More beauty hacks soon...  and I am going to need your help with a little experiment.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Keep Your Clothes On, Plenty of Them

"You don't want an average, sensible, down-to-earth life any more than I do. You want something remarkable, vivacious, occasionally wicked. You want sometimes to be a temptress, a superior lady with her hair piled up, sometimes a hard-working woman of the world"

I recently posted about Jane Seymour's Guide to Romantic Living. A bunch of you wrote in, delighted by Jane's poses, gowns, and chutzpah. I'm not sure I was fair to Ms. Seymour; I implied the book was more a smug catalog of luxury, than an actual guide to romance. But there really are some tips in there, and I thought we'd go over them together today. After all, Jane is correct. I do indeed want something remarkable, vivacious, and occasionally wicked. Don't you? Come to think of it, that 's a pretty accurate description of Jane's above look. Please click to enlarge. Did you? Oh, good. Now let's get to it.

Jane Seymour's Top Three Tips on Dressing to Seduce:

1. "Women have become too lacking in mystery. Now is the time for romance and and its companion, mystery, to return to our lives. Try veils, hats, antique jewelry, lockets. Don't reveal too easily who is in the locket; just stare moodily into the distance and smile a tender tragic smile. Life is for fun, danger, romance: live it. Don't take your clothes off hours after meeting some man: keep them on, plenty of them, keep him guessing, keep him entranced."

No one needs to know that inside the locket is a charming snapshot of my clinically obese cat with the one rakishly clouded eye. Oh, like you have something better in your locket. Next up, in case you thought that Jane got wrapped in the plumage and hides of pheasant, beaver, peacock and perhaps, R.O.U.S., just to amuse herself, allow her to set you straight. She did it for you, for everyone:

2. "Remind everyone of what is good in life, wear what is good, wear a fresh flower instead of a brooch, silk stockings on your legs, lace in your hair. Be close to nature, textiles, the past, even while you are arranging multi-million dollar deals-- or perhaps especially then."

The concept here of dressing for others, to entertain or inspire, is one I've been meaning to bring up here. In New York City, this is a very real and palpable thing. We're all supposed to do our part creating the scenery. By no means am I always up for it, but when I'm not, I'm well-aware that I'm slacking.

The third tip is a well-known classic that I completely endorse, and that Jane credits for launching her career. Jane figured out this little trick right before she met with a producer, in hopes of becoming the next Bond girl.

3. "I took off my hat, quite nervously, and my hair all came tumbling down over my shoulders.
He was entranced, amazed, delighted...
I was trying, I suppose, to show him what I looked like without hair, with a 'clean' face, and with long hair. And I didn't want to put my hair up in his office and then take it down...
That maneuver alone is something anyone with long hair should occasionally delight men with. There is nothing more ravishing than a stern creature with hair up in a bun becoming, in just a moment, someone sensual and indulgently feminine.
How boring life will be if women continue to be severe on themselves, to stride up and down corridors like men, never to stoop to such tricks as my hair trick."

And... success!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not Sure How I Should Take This

Frequent Peculiar Beauty tipster and gift-giver, Chris W., writes:

"Hurry!  Only five days left!"

I'll just assume that Chris has somehow sensed my interest in vintage beauty and fashion, and thought I'd be amused by the particular "fashion color" these are "ablaze with."  And not that he thinks I need to get myself into this "underwear panty that slims you."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Linda Stasi Suggests You Take To Your Bed

"The worst job I ever had was beauty editor of Elle Magazine.
Never have I been around so many nasty French people and nastier fake French people. There were more accents - real and pretend - around that office than on Ellis Island in 1910."

That's Linda Stasi in today's New York Post, in a review of the reality series Stylista. As Linda points out above, before she was a TV critic, she wrote about beauty. Her 1984 Looking Good Is The Best Revenge is unique in my collection. It's the only book I own written specifically for post-breakup makeovers.

"And that's what this book is all about; feeling awful and looking wonderful! They really aren't mutually exclusive, you know! In fact it is possible to feel like two cents and look like a million. It's all a matter of what you do to and with yourself after you have decided to take to your bed.
So you see, this is a beauty book, and a feel better book, but it's main purpose is to give you what you really want-- revenge. In it you will find lots of ways to get gorgeous, get thin, and get even!! "

Linda repeats that soothing phrase, take to your bed, take to your bed, throughout the book. It's a phrase that's underused these days, gone the way of "nervous breakdown," replaced by more clinical labels. And Linda further soothes with low expectations; she expects you to stay in that bed for at least a couple weeks, and up to a year. She just gently suggests that you use that sad regrouping time for DIY beauty. One of my favorite things about this book are chapter titles like: Exercises to Do When You Can't Bare to Leave Your Bed. No naughty innuendo here; Linda means it literally and suggests a few easy isometrics, including the breast firming grimace featured in my last post, I Am Screaming Inside.

In Hair Raisers: A Bunch of Wonderful Things to Do to Your Hair When You're Miserable, she advises:

"Yes, yes I know everyone is always saying how attractive salt and pepper and prematurely gray hair is. Attractive is not gorgeous and it's not the same as sexy. Salt-and-pepper attractive is for Mrs. Father Knows Best and pot weavers who live in communes (that haven't been told the war is over.) Aside from women who are trying to look sexless, I can't think why anyone would add years to their looks with gray and dull hair. Now, don't start screaming and saying that I'm not a feminist (let's call me an individualist)."

A friend of mine once told me that yet another of her relationships had, "Hit the stage where you're carrying a bottle of Visine and a roll of toilet paper in your bag." I didn't have the heart to suggest she splurge on an actual box of tissues. Seems Linda included a chapter just for her: Eye-Dos for When He Didn't-- How to Cry Without Wrecking Your Eyes. All of the remedies Linda suggests can be put together with things you already have around the house-- teabags, cotton balls, baking soda and such. This is a low-pressure makeover. You don't have to go shopping, but when you're up to it, play around in your closet a little for fresh combinations to wear when you finally venture out. Linda understands, she comforts, and finally, she rebuilds:

"Unless you let yourself go into all the unhappiness that you are feeling, you won't emerge in a few weeks or months, a happier, more vibrant lady. You must, of course, feel the pain before you can feel the anger. And then the anger, too, will go. And it will be replaced by a smarter, savvier ego to go along with your new look."

Friday, October 17, 2008

I Am Screaming Inside

To get things rolling after a small and unplanned absence, I would like to share with you a few quotes which fall into a category I call, I'm Screaming Inside. These will serve to let you know how my week has been, to illuminate one of many reasons I love good auto-beauty-ographies, and to introduce you to a special book I'll write about in more depth tomorrow. Pardon the non-obscurity of the Janet Leigh photo. I'm tired.

"Learn to smile with your mouth closed. Work until you can do it in such a convincing manner that you are sure you're laughing with your mouth wide open."
--Wendy Ward Charm Book (1972)

"What I do is just get in the shower with all my make-up on and let it run all over my face. And when the mascara smears and the black starts smearing over your cheeks, you just take all that off and look incredible. Or take a shower and let the mirror frost up and look at yourself that way, if you're really hopeless."
--Patti D'Arbanville, interviewed by Francesco Scavullo, Scavullo on Beauty (1976)

"To firm up the muscles that support the breasts (not the breasts themselves), smile as widely as you can (until it turns into a grimace), hold for a count of ten, and release. Repeat five times."

That one is from a unique 1980s book I'll tell you all about tomorrow... And here is one of my favorite silent screams ever:

"First the Morning Face. This is the face that the homemaker must show to her family. It should look fresh, unworried, and composed. Your whole appearance must be as shining and as fresh as your will power and determination can make it. It will mean, perhaps, rising a bit earlier in the morning, using a few precious minutes for quickly cleansing the face, and applying a quick morning makeup. You can then face your family and your day with new courage. If there is no family, you will have to face yourself."
--Edith Thornton McLeod, Lady, Be Lovely (1955)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Black Dust-Up With Sun-In

Awww, my very own spam.  I'm set up to get Google alerts about "Peculiar Beauty."  I have just been alerted to one of those spammy, nonsense sites that exist to collect clicks.  This is my first opportunity to read about myself or my work in spam language.  Apparently, my bemused little beauty book is a bracing admonisher to the United States of America and the World Health Organization.  See?  I've been trying to tell you that I am a serious person.

Bonnie Downing has amassed these and hundreds of else absurdly foolish real-life beauty secrets into a laughable solicitation aimed atomic number 85 all female world health organization has knowledgeable about the episodic discompose and suffering of nerve-racking to visual aspect her top-grade. Filled not but with screaming beauty advice, simply perceptive glances into beauty zeitgeists end-to-end the ages, Peculiar Beauty is a bracing admonisher to united states of america complete that dislike continuous claims to the oppositeness, on that point is nobelium light way to the outflow of time of life .. Culled from over fifty antithetic manuals chemical analysis from territorial dominion utmost cloth covering territorial dominion 1890 to Morgan Fairchild's modern steer Super Looks, Peculiar Beauty is for anyone world health organization's ever been subjected to the dictatorship of an Epilady or had an black dustup with Sun-In

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Not Recommended

Today I went to three hardware stores in search of a plain, untreated, microfiber cloth with which to dust and clean various things around the house.  Often, I don't even need to add any sort of cleaning fluid to the cloth; they work on everything.  When I finally found one and got home, I decided to look online and see if I was missing out on other things to clean with my wonder cloth.  Perhaps because I am who I am and Google knows what I generally enjoy, one of the first things to pop up was a bunch of raves from women who use these very same cloths to wash their faces.
Microfiber clothes feel like extra-soft washcloths, so it seemed an okay idea.  Fans of the method swore they no longer needed soap or fancy cleanser.  This appealed to me.  Though I enjoy beauty products, I have very sensitive skin, and more often than not, soaps and creams cause my skin to recoil and splotch.  Also, what with The Great Depression II (Electric Boogaloo) upon us, my well of expensive beauty swag from writing reviews and a sister in the business, is likely to dry up, right along with our livelihoods.  In the End Times, I'll need to travel light.  One cloth for all my facial and household needs seemed a frugal bet.
So I tried it.  While it did feel soft, it managed to treat my face roughly.  I felt like all the moisture in my head was being sucked out into the microfibers.  It almost hurt.  I had been wearing mineral-based face powder (see post below).  The cloth definitely removed all traces, but I am not sure a normal washcloth wouldn't have done the same. 
Tonight's groundbreaking advice:  using things you found at the hardware store on your face is not always a good idea.  
I am going back to the plans I had in mind when I bought it: dusting my radiators and cleaning all my shoes.  

The Lady Doctor Weighs In On Mineral Makeup

Do you use mineral makeup?  Following Bare Essentuals' great infomercial success, dozens of new brands were created, and now even mainstream drugstore brands have "mineral" products.  I'm sure you've read that mineral makeup had been around since the 1970s, favored by hippies and by people with unusually sensitive skin.  It was also used by plastic surgery patients because of its reputation for not causing irritation.  The B.E. site has this to say about their product:
"This extraordinary beauty innovation is composed of 100% pure bareMinerals with no additives and zero irritants whatsoever."

But mineral makeup is nothing new.  Powdered minerals like zinc oxide and bismuth have been used to powder faces for hundreds of years.  The Lady Doctor I introduced you to yesterday recommends face powders that are not very different at all from modern mineral makeup:

She points out that bismuth can be irritating when overused.  That is a current point of controversy in the mineral makeup world.  Some brands do include it and some users enjoy the subtle pink, iridescent glow it gives to powdered skin.  Other brands make a point to come out against it's use.  Talc is another iffy ingredient.  It is used in almost all face powders, but most mineral brands differentiate their product by the absence of talc.  The explanation I've found is that talc particles are extra-tiny, thus they can sink deeper into skin and irritate.  This makes sense, especially in light of recent studies  showing women who use talc-based body powders daily, on private regions, are more prone to ovarian cancer.  The particles get in!  
But some mineral brands pride themselves on micronizing their minerals into extra fine particles.   I wonder if other minerals, made tiny, could also irritate.
The Beauty Brains are putting together a report on mineral makeup.  I expect they'll be able to clear up the confusion I've caused in the above paragraph.

The picture above is an ad for a "cocktail shaker" set, made so that ladies could mix vials of colored powder to create a custom blend.  Looks fun.  Actress Kirsten Dunst was so impressed with the innovative product that she agreed to travel back in time to act as spokesperson. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I Have Died of Cuteness

This is a copper muff warmer.  It is four inches wide and two tall.  It was probably made in the 1850s.  A lady was meant to fill it with hot water and tuck it into the fur muff in which she warmed her hands.  My grandmother told me about these a thousand years ago, but I had forgotten until now.  It would make a charming flask.  Here is where you can buy it for me.  Thank you in advance.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fat Acceptance Vs. The Don't Kid Yourself Diet

Fat Acceptance is everywhere this week.  The Times did a story and I keep running into responses. The movement asserts that fat doesn't necessarily mean unhealthy, that diet and exercise don't work for everyone, and that size is determined by genetics.  
I don't quite buy it.  I read a lot of medical studies in my spare time, and it seems to me that being fat does indicate poorer health.  As far as diet and exercise go, it irks me when I read about people who get gastric bypass or similar operations, and who say they needed it because "dieting didn't work."  Surgery that prevents a person from eating has the same physical effect as eating a lot less.  So it's not that a diet didn't work, it's that for complicated emotional, chemical, hormonal, or genetic reasons, the person in question couldn't stop eating.  I don't mean to argue semantics; I think it's interesting to address why so many Americans can't stop eating.  
Most of what I think on the topic of Fat Acceptance is based on the many years I have spent  listening to friends of all sizes talk about their weight.  I've never heard anyone I know say they felt great overweight.  Personally I get supercranky when I gain ten pounds, and know that my mood would deteriorate exponentially if I became obese.  And not at all because of society's expectations.  I know I am probably not allowed to have opinions on this if I've never been obese, but the subject of weight fascinates me.
I write a lot here about the Don't Kid Yourself Diet, which is what I call the harsh standards, blunt talk, and crazy plans featured in old diet books.  I find it very entertaining.  But to be honest, most of the diet and fitness advice in my old books is reasonable and moderate.  
I also haven't found a lot of evidence that wildly different body types have been "in," during different time periods.  Yes, models used in ads and in art fluctuate, but I feel the books give me a more realistic view about what actual women looked like and tried to achieve.  For example, throughout modern history, people of my height and frame, who were not seeking work as actresses or models, tend to want to weigh about 120 to about 140 pounds.  When my old books use medical or insurance charts, thats's mid-range for my height.  And it would put me somewhere between a size four and a ten.  In other words, a medium.  In decades in which plump roundness was the ideal, that only meant beauties gravitated toward the higher end of that range.  And vice versa.  
 Stella Reichman aside, my beauty authors are not much for accepting things just as they are, but much more apt to make a project out of striving for what one wanted.  Two hundred years ago, one hundred years ago, twenty years ago, my authors thought obesity was problematic for the health and the looks, and needed to be addressed at once.  
Before Atkins, before low-fat, or low-carb, before prepacked, processed frozen meals stamped with the names of weight loss gurus, the large part of diet advice has been to get up early, go for a walk in the fresh air, eat whole natural foods like vegetables, and eschew pastry and excess butter, alcohol, and treats. 
I found the full text of Health, Beauty and the Toilet: Letters to Ladies from a Lady Doctor by Anna Kingsford, published in 1886, online at Google Books.  Lady Doctor Kingsford shapes each chapter in the form of a response to a letter from a real or imagined questioner.  
I have pasted the first page of the chapter, On Obesity, below.  After you enjoy the charming and quirky tone, I invite you to click over to read the whole chapter.  You'll notice how logical most of her advice is.  One minor point of interest (to me and possibly to reader and loved one, Lu), the Lady Doctor recommends reducing fluids for weight loss, rather than the modern notion of drowning oneself in water for fitness.  There is also a lot written about massaging and pounding away at the fat, which was widely believed to be helpful.  More on that soon.  Anyway, enjoy.  The rest of the book is here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

All Is Not Dull and Unisex Yet: Jane Seymour's Guide to Romantic Living

Okay, Jane Seymour. Fine with me if you want to bathe your cover photo in such rosy, romantic light that the whites of your eyes indicate you are high as a kite (click to enlarge). Fine with me if you want to ramble on about the particulars of your luxurious lifestyle while suggesting it's all a matter of attitude. Even if you want to writhe around on the grounds of your castle in ludicrous outfits, I say go for it, Jane Seymour. Just don't call it a Kosher cookbook.
And she doesn't-- she calls it a Guide to Romantic Living. Of course this 1986 essential is not really a guide to anything; it is an auto-beauty-ography, a showcase of wealth, a demonstration that Ms. Seymour is Her Own Grandchild, and it is awesome:

"In many ways I seem to live a life out of a romantic novel: handsome husband, two lovely children, marvelous Los Angeles house, magical stately home in England, a good career as an actress. But of course the reality is much of the time anyone's reality, the problems ordinary problems. Sometimes I'm so caught up in planning and juggling and worrying that I lose all sense of how lucky I am. And this is the point: romance doesn't come automatically to someone with long hair or a stately home."

It doesn't? Not even to someone with really long hair?

Before Jane continues, allow me to back her assertions that her home is magical and stately. At left, she poses casually in her back yard.

"Romance is an attitude, a state of mind. Like all best qualities, it comes from within; you just have to look for it and know how to develop it...
It's wearing silky underwear beneath an executive suit. It's swimming at night in a warm pool. It's realizing that life is there to be altered, to be made more interesting, to be lived the way you want and dare to live it.
...Life is not a fairy tale-- even my life is not a fairy tale-- but at times, if I try hard enough, I believe I can turn it into one."

I think the mention of lingerie under the suit is a half-baked attempt to relate to her readers the power -career gals of the 1980s. It is clear that Jane is not in the habit of wearing business attire.

While most pages are taken up by namedrops of her mansion, St. Catherine's, and with outfit descriptions, Jane also dares to share her dark side:

"Flirting isn't just sexual behavior: it's part of a sensual and romantic way of behaving toward other people that flatters and interests them. It's a way of reminding him that all is not dull and standardized and unisex yet. Fluttering your eyelashes isn't good flirting: listening with intelligence and interest is the way that romantic, twentieth-century women flirt.
Of course, flirting has to be handled with care. Inspired by the example of Scarlett O'Hara, I used to test my ability to flirt, and once, on holiday with some friends, I flirted with my best friend's boyfriend. I learned the power I had. She never quite forgave me. To this day I am not proud of that action."

The similarities between this book and Stacy Cohen's book are striking. Perhaps, just like me, Ms, Cohen found a copy of Guide to Romantic Living at a thrift store and thought she was the only one who knew it existed?

Here, Jane lies arched in a mermaid-ish outfit, on a stone staircase. Counterpoint: Stacy Cohen, in lavender, also lounging on stone.

In a section of Jane's book, she pretty much announces, "Now, I'll play dress up for you". A series of photos follows that are not stills from her films, but simply her fantasy outfits. In one shot, quite inexplicably, Jane plays Statue of Liberty. Again, please do not neglect to click and enlarge, or you'll really miss out. And as you look, think about how many people are involved in the production of this book: editors, agent, makeup artist, photographer, stylist, husband even. And all of them nodding grimly as Jane chortles, "Wrap me in ivy and rope, and I'll gesture toward the sky!"
Twenty years later, a likely even larger crowd yesses Stacy as she poses for this crime against nature, "Bring me a wee step ladder! I'll draw attention to my ass with a bunch of grapes! WHO IS LAUGHING? You're fired!"

I know I harp on this but it is photo shoots like these that forces me to call people Their Own Grandchild (tm?). People dress their grandchildren up in adorable outfits and take pictures and distribute the photos to everyone in their path. They find their grandchildren so precious and endlessly fascinating that every pose is charming, every conceivable outfit in need of documentation.

Jane lived with her third husband, David Flynn, in the magic castle, and the book is filled with references to the romance in their relationship. A few things struck me as hints of trouble, like all the stories about romance in the past with other husbands and boyfriends, and this:

"Another major fault of mine is to talk about myself too much. David teases me about this. 'Yes darling,' he says, 'I'd love to know more about your career.'
I try not to behave like this. But it keeps happening."

Oh I know, hard to picture her as self-absorbed, right? I looked her up on Wikipedia to find out if the marriage lasted. Sadly, no. Jane is on to husband number four, James Keach, the director of her show Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. After her third marriage ended, it seems she spent less time at St. Catherine's. At one point she rented it out to Radiohead, and it they recorded OK Computer there. Jane sold the house just a year ago.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bad Things Happening to Hair

There is a certain level of humidity that does not cause my hair to frizz, but rather restyles it into something I used to refer to as Charlie's Angels. It looks like I've spent time with hot rollers and hairspray. Just now when I looked in the mirror I realized the pop-culture reference I'd been using wasn't quite accurate. The photo at left, of Blair from The Facts of Life, nails it.

In worse hair news, a friend, who I am sure would prefer to remain anonymous, called last night to say that she and her toddler have somehow picked up lice. My friend panicked and let her husband give her an emergency haircut that makes her, "look like an elderly Southern woman." (She does not happen to be an elderly Southern woman, so.) She was calling for styling help. I of course assured her that she could pull it off and we would make it work, but added that if she thinks I'm coming over any time soon for a consult, she is sorely mistaken. I say that with love.
They are on the road to recovery after a visit from a peculiar creature I have read about several times recently: the hair fairy. I first heard of this job when an employment-seeking friend laughingly alerted me to a Craigslist ad for the position. They were hiring people to visit the lice-afflicted at home, and carefully comb out the lice. I'm sure I have lost at least half of you by now, but if anyone is still reading, I have to say I am fascinated (at a distance!) by these people. My friend said the lady who came to help her was soothing and relaxed. She did indeed find the job on Cragslist. These hair fairies also showed up in a short story or essay, set in Manhattan, that I read recently. Apparently the treatments they use are all natural. Because I am me, I know that in the past, people combatted lice with essential oils of eucalyptus, peppermint, and hyssop. Castor oil, Vaseline, and tobacco juice are often recommended in beauty books from times when lice were nearly ubiquitous. In ancient Greece, bathing the hair and scalp in "viper broth" was prescribed. Obviously, one had to go to the witches for the broth, which they ladled out of a cauldron swimming with live snakes.