June 2017 - Day Drag
Day Drag. The term – so perfectly coined by acerbic make-up artist Terry Barber over chips and a chat – that describes a social media spectacle I have become obsessed with.
Observe: On a long train journey recently I was joined by two teenagers - I'd guess around 14 judging by their allegiance to Justin Bieber - who spent the entire journey loudly discussing their make-up products (of which there were hundreds), then loudly applying each product. I love that my job has a tangible level of importance for these girls.
They love make-up, they have fun using it and they feel empowered by it (or they feel Justin Bieber will fall for them in it, but I'm going for the first one). A little too much maybe, since a two hour make-up routine can only involve layer upon layer of the stuff. But these girls don't need it. They are perfect, un-cracked, naturally glowing. Then again they aren't worth their teenage salt unless they can cut-crease like @nikkitutorials (check her out).
According to Terry, Day Drag is 'The brutal truth about what happens when you take all of those tips from an online make-up tutorial into the real world, with real light. You may look like a supermodel in that selfie but in daylight you look like you're crawling home from a hen night.'
Quite. It's such a definite look, it's the stuff that inspires millions of young women, has created lucrative careers for vloggers such as Nikki, and even catapulted little known beauty brands such as NYX and Melt Make-Up into the social-media stratosphere. But 'IRL', if you will?
It's a long time since I had the youthful kind of canvas that can carry off that much make-up, with not an open pore or fine line to blemish the perfect finish. Put a 37 year old beauty editor in 100 layers of make-up, then take me away from the ring flash or Insta-filters, and it's the opposite of pretty.
It took forty very long minutes (my usual routine is five, absolute max), and even before I'd finished, my under eyes had aged about ten years. There were lines I never knew I had straining through the heavily baked make-up. Imagine what they'll look like by the end of the day? In fact they were accompanied by bruise-like smudges (I kept smearing it down my face), a high-lit nose now pocked by protesting pores ('we're suffocating, woman') but my eyebrows still looked immaculate.
Should eyebrows even be that sharp?
I kind of don't care, I kind of like them. Until the resident male in the office tells me I look terrifying. The only positive response I got was from my friends' three year old daughter. Previously indifferent to me at best, suddenly she looked at me like I was a princess. Coincidence? The youngest ever subscriber to the Day Drag revolution? God help us all.
May 2017 - Home Hair Dye
Grey hairs happen to busy people. Specifically, me: a beauty professional who – wait for it – doesn't like hair salons.
I get bored easily. I feel pressure to make small talk and, sometimes, I'm grounded by how meaningless it all is. 'Yes, busy day today. Yes, I've heard of that brand of coconut oil. Holidays, weather, yes.' It probably contributes to the number of grey hairs I don't find time to cover.
What is a self-respecting beauty editor to do? I find myself grabbing a box of Garnier Nutrisse (Light Mahogany Chestnut 5.54, in case you're interested) while picking-up a prescription in my local pharmacy so I could do some damage limitation before New York Fashion Week.
I spend an untidy 15 minutes bent over the bath, splats of copper goo speckling every white surface. As is common practice with a boxed hair dye, I spend the processing time imagining Lily Aldridge levels of hair perfection (she is my Pinspiration).
When I wash it out, I can already see the reality. It's the one-dimensionality of it all. 'Good' hair – all the celebrity barnets we Pinterest on a regular basis – is multi-tonal. It's these shade nuances that make hair look more voluminous, youthful, and interesting. A single-process box colour (one tone, applied all over) is a little like caking your face in full-coverage foundation without any contouring. Natural human features are never so flat.
I decide I hate it.
But then weirdly, once it settles after a couple of extra panic washes, my own undertones show a little more without my greys reappearing, and people start saying my hair looks nice. This is how I gauge the success of any investment, from expensive shoes (one compliment is all it takes to justify any worrisome spend) to a £6.99 box of home hair-dye. This must mean it's an improvement.
And yes, it definitely is. I successfully avoided a two-hour (minimum) hair appointment, I youth-boosted myself and I found a subtle tone shift that works well for my colouring.
I went back to the professionals while I was in NYC, going for a lift and a tint (don't try to lift hair colour at home – if you're stripping any colour out, only let a professional do it). And I straight up adored it.
I swore off box dye – yes, it was good, but this is great.
So swishy, so shiny, so rich and so tonal. But then I washed it once and all the glossy colour came out. One wash. I'm left with all lift, and no tint. That means a kind of brassy and dull look, but am I going to book back into a salon and get it re-coloured? Am I hell. Ain't nothing for it but another date with my bath tub and some marigolds.
This time, I'll invest more care into the colour and embrace it from the first wash instead of trying to strip it out. That means following up with protective sulphate-free shampoos, colour-care conditioners and home hair-glazing (a glossy coating that sits atop the hair) to maintain the good tones. Score one to the low-maintenance me.
At least until I progress beyond mere 'maintenance', you understand. Then I'm booking straight back in with the professionals. I'll save up the small talk.
April 2017 - That Gut Feeling
Drinking is good for you. Not wine, gin and tonic or any of that fun family, of course, but still. The latest 'it' drink does great things for your skin. And your guts. And there is no alcohol involved – but keep reading…
It's Symprove; a probiotic, water-based supplement that contains four strains of live bacteria, all of which should be present in a healthy gut but, let's face it, is something many of us run-of-the-mill, ordinary eaters probably don't have.
As a cancer survivor with a new, let's-be-free approach to life, I crave perfect health, but I look for shortcuts to boost it. So I signed up for a 12-week programme of Symprove supplements to rebalance my gut bacteria, and while I waited for the energy boost, reduced bloating and, well, yes, regularity to kick in, I started to gain compliments. 'Your skin looks amazing.' 'Have you had something done?' 'It's fillers, isn't it? Definitely fillers.' It took me a while to realise that perhaps my gut was making my skin glow.
While an independent report by University College London confirms its effectiveness in maintaining gut health, Symprove doesn't list amazing skin as an expected outcome (and there appears to be little scientific research directly supporting the idea). Still, I am going to vouch for its efficacy.
Since most schools of thought say that gut health is responsible for all health, it's perhaps not surprising that I should look better. Biologically, the skin is an organ for detoxifying, as well as the gut, so with an excess of bad bacteria you can pretty much expect inflammatory skin issues. If you are looking to clear up your skin, you really should start with your insides, and I think I have found something legitimately great here. Bonus being shortcut to improved belly health!
Yes, it's somewhat piquant. But even if it tasted like the bottom of the bin (it's not that bad), I would still take it with a side of matcha – which I loathe – because of the boost it seems to give my reflection. And results you can see are responsible for 90% of all motivation. Alternative true fact.
As with all cult products, word of mouth is the best marketing strategy. This being the beauty industry, the rumour mill went into overdrive about Symprove, until everyone I know was knocking it back. But something went awry between its original advocate, my colleague Joely, and the make-up artist who relayed this to me months later: 'I've heard Symprove makes you dangerously skinny. Can you get it?'
It doesn't do that, people – Joely and I can confirm. Nor would anyone aspiring to good health want it to. Glowing skin, on the other hand… I know which one I'd rather have. (Stop guessing. It's the skin.)
March 2017 - Bad Habits
Bad habits. We've all got them. None more so than my ELLE team mate Joely Walker.
While she is a mine of beauty knowledge, always devising the next big editorial idea, and keeping my diary more organised than the National Archives, she is also splitting hairs. Literally splitting them, taking a blonde strand and then peeling the ends into oblivion. 'Joely, I need a gripping web piece,' I say. Joely sits back in chair, stares at her split ends, and splits them further. 'The 15 most-googled celebrity eyebrows?' The girl's a genius.
One with terribly ravaged ends, but a genius nonetheless.
My own beauty faux pas is chipped nail polish. By chipped, I mean only about 20% of the polish remains on each nails. Sometimes I apply long-wearing gels, but then I get impatient and pick them off, which is the nail equivalent of split ends, so I am not one to talk. I guess at least 78% of you are reading this with peeling polish and chewed hair too, so let me impart my knowledge (via Joely Walker, who knows the best split end deterrent but clearly doesn't use it).
First, let me explain the damage cycle. Our nails are made of layers or cells, like fish scales, so when you imagine putting polish on top, letting it dry, then peeling it off, you're going to take protective fish scales with it. For the more vulnerable lower-layers, this is disastrous. But I have an Essie cuticle-oil pen in my bag and I put it on whenever I don't have to type in the next ten minutes. Which actually is never, so my nails aren't in the best shape.
Sally Hansen has successfully saved my situation with Moisture Rehab Strengthener. It's a paint on product that works overnight – when all the best rejuvenating happens - so it dries, doesn't oil my keyboard and makes my nails look and feel a million times better.
When I go for gels nowadays the technician doesn't furrow her brows and look at me with disdain. Most importantly, I can post my DryBar glitter shellac on Instagram without fear of the not-so-photogenic flaky nail beds.
Hair-wise, I hate to tell you but it's true. You can't un-split a split end. You can make them appear less visible and you can stop the cycle of abuse Joely Walker, but you have to resist the urge and invest in some hardcore reinforcements.
Ghd Advanced Split End Therapy is like a salon treatment in that you blowdry it in after a shampoo, then pass your irons over the top to seal it in with heat. Your ends will appear visibly sealed, so hopefully you'll feel less urgency to scrutinise them and more to get your work done goddammit.