Monday, 22 November 2010

How to Take Care of Your Skin

1. Eat a healthy diet
2. Don’t smoke
3. Use a mineral-based (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) sun screen
4. Drink plenty of water
5. Top up your antioxidants: green tea; berries; resveratrol supplements and cold pressed rose hip oil are all helpful
6. Get enough sleep
7. Keep your skin clean and supple with natural and organic moisturisers and cleansers

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Black Marketing

The more I have researched Chemo Chic cosmetics, the more I have cottoned on to the sly marketing dodges that big beauty companies use to push their overpriced, cheap, nasty products onto our bathroom shelves.

Here are a few of their sneaky tricks.


‘Natural’ does not have a legal definition. One may safely, and legally, say that crude oil is ‘natural’. After all it comes out of the earth – doesn’t it? But would you use it as a moisturiser? Come to think of it, you probably do. There are many well-known brands that cultivate an image of being ‘natural’ but it’s worth looking closely at the labels. My Aveda shampoo contains: undisclosed fragrance, PEG-7 Dimethicone C8-C18 Ester, Propylparaben, Methylparaben, Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone. Ooh! It’s just like a summer meadow. My Phyto Plage hair ‘protecting’ spray is pretty much a toxic soup of Parabens, PEGs and Octinoxate. The Body Shop’s Almond Body Butter contains the usual rubbish: Parabens; Fragrance; Benzyl Alcohol and so on, whilst their White Musk Bath & Shower Gel scores a perfect 10 on the Cosmetics Database (10 being the highest hazard).


A brand may trumpet one of its products as ‘Parabens Free’ – and that single item is indeed free of parabens. But then we make a mental leap and assume that all of their products are ‘Parabens Free.’ Wrong. We’ve been suckered again.

Trade secrets 

Fragrance may disguise a multitude of sins. Because perfume recipes are held to be trade secrets manufacturers can use hundreds of different ingredients in their formulations and not disclose a single one of them. Here is what the cosmetics database says: The word ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system. Choose products that declare that they contain ‘100% naturally derived fragrance’ or use unfragranced products.

Faux organic 

Anyone may use the word ‘organic’ on products. Check the label to see how many and what proportion of the ingredients are actually organic. For example ‘organic avocado moisturiser’ may contain a drop or two of organic avocado oil, along with several million drops of Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Propylene Glycol, Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Fragrance, Propylparaben, Methylparaben, Triethanolamine, Peg-40 Stearate and Benzyl Alcohol – to name but a few of the usual suspects. I don’t know if there is a marketing term for this practice. But its bollocks.

Selling the dream 

When it comes to beauty we all love to believe that price equals quality. Yes, I know that you weren’t born yesterday, neither was I. But after all, do I buy cosmetics simply because they work? No. If that were the case my entire beauty routine would consist of moisturising with coconut oil, brushing my teeth with baking soda, rinsing my hair with vinegar and washing my armpits with plain soap. I love coming home from Content Beauty (as Being Content is now called) or the Organic Pharmacy with another glamorously packaged product. But did you know that when the price of cosmetics is increased, the sales go up? The cost of a beauty product is dictated by the market at which it is targeted, not by the quality of its ingredients.

Blinded by science

The product is ‘scientifically tested’ – by who? The manufacturers, that’s who. Are the ‘scientific’ tests peer reviewed? No they are not. May we see them? No, we may not. ‘Dermatologist approved’ simply means that a moisturiser won’t instantly burn your face off or bring you out in a rash of suppurating pustules.

 “Better Than Botox”

Let’s get it right. A face cream cannot paralyse your muscles. If it could, and you put it all over your face, the result would be disastrous.


Pinkwashing is the practice of sticking a pink ribbon on product packaging. The aim is to make you feel good about supporting the 'fight against breast cancer’, regardless of whether or not the product itself contains ingredients that may contribute to giving you breast cancer.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Funny Face

My friend Minnie wants me to do a piece of work for her, only she doesn’t have any money to pay me. Poverty is relative. In the eyes of an everyday citizen of the Calcutta I am prosperous beyond imagining but I am feeling the pinch in every direction. In my eyes Minnie is more than comfortably wealthy. In Minnie’s eyes, she’s broke. I decide to embrace abundance: I’ve got a lovely home; my bills are paid; there’s food in my cupboards and petrol in my car. I’m rich!

And I know that, broke or not, Minnie is extremely well connected. “Ok Min, I’ll do it,” I say. “Could you arrange some free face injections for me?”

“Darling, of course I can.

So that is how I have come to be flicking through Vogue in the West End waiting room of Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh, face filler to the stars. I’m not seeing Dr Sebagh himself – he is booked up until sometime after the end of the Mayan calendar. Obviously I want to be looking my best when the apocalypse comes so I am to be treated by his sidekick, Dr Anne. Minnie is here to hold my hand.

On the outside I’m calmly perusing the latest handbags for winter. On the inside I’m suffering a paroxysm of moral turmoil. “Ha!” crowed Iris when I told her where I was going, so much for you and your organic rose oil.” “She’s right,” I admonish myself, “maybe I should just cut down my lentil consumption, save up a grand and buy myself a new handbag instead.”

But then again, Chemo Chic is not meant to be an alternative lifestyle campaign. It is a blog about surviving cancer with style. Here is how I view the situation. You may recall that for the first half of this year my psychiatrists in Sydney and London did not want me to take anti-depressants. “You need to feel your grief,” they said. But further down the road I received a revised analysis. When grief and depression go on for a long time one’s brain chemistry can be altered. At that point there is no way to take the first step on the ladder that leads back to the sunny side. No matter how much psychotherapy, hypnotherapy or manicure therapy one has, one cannot climb out of the hole one is in until one’s serotonin levels increase. So at that point I was advised to start taking anti-depressants. And, I have to say they have helped a great deal. I don’t regard anti-depressants as a cure all. I’m still seeing a psychotherapist, going to twelve step meetings and erratically practising ‘Lily’s Stress Reduction Programme.’ I’m glad that I didn’t take anti-depressants at the beginning. I’m glad that I’m taking them now.

With only a small amount of mental gymnastics I transpose the above logic to justify the current sitch. Here we go... The amount of weight I’ve lost and the amount of stress I’ve experienced have left my face looking drawn. I try to be cheery but every time I look in the mirror this miserable visage gazes back at me. Seeing my face looking so sad makes me feel sad, and so the downward spiral perpetuates. A spot of Restylane seems to be just what the doctor ordered.

To be fair, I have done some research. I spoke to an eminent dermatologist. “Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in your skin,” he said. “It’s harmless.” I googledhyaluronic acid side effectsandhyaluronic acid + cancer’ but found nothing alarming. I searched the Cosmetics Database. There was no information either way. So, two possibilities: either it is completely safe or there has been no research. With everything I’ve learned about the cosmetics industry so far I suspect that the latter scenario is the most likely. I cross my fingers and go with the former. Do I feel like a hypocrite? Of course I do.

I glance at the woman sitting opposite. She looks like a chipmunk that’s eaten a wasp. It’s not reassuring.

After a short wait of about an hour we are shown in to see Dr Madeleine. “She’s had a rough year,” Minnie tells Dr Madeleine, pointing at me, “we need to freshen her up.” Dr Madeleine takes my chin in her hand and tilts my face towards her. “Yes,” she says to Min, “she’s too thin. The volume has gone from her face.” It’s true. I weigh eight kilos less than I did at the beginning of this year. “Her bone structure is very good,” she tells Min, “but you see here,” she runs a finger diagonally down the centre of my cheek, “I think some filler in her cheeks will plump that out. And here...” Dr Madeleine traces the lines from my nose to the corners of my mouth.

I’m a little bit perturbed that Dr Madeleine and Min are having this conversation entirely above my head but they both have masses more experience in cosmetic therapies than I do, so I trust that they know what they’re talking about. I lie on the couch. It’s time for Minnie to hold my hand. Minnie spies someone outside the door that she urgently wants to talk to and skips. Dr Madeleine starts jabbing a needle into my forehead. “What’s that?” I ask. “Botox,” replies Dr Madeleine. Now, I have mentally prepared myself for the hyaluronic acid injections but Botox is another matter. I don’t know anything about it at all but the tox part of the name rouses my suspicions. My head is in a whirl, “Stop!” I want to shout but then I think better of it. I mean she’s already started it. If I stop this now I will be left with Botox in only half of my forehead. I bite my tongue.

“We won’t have time to do your cheeks today,” says Dr Madeleine. She injects some hyaluronic acid filler into the crease between my brows and then into the lines beside my nostrils. It hurts. “Oh my,” says Dr Madeleine, “you’re going to have a bruise. I’m so sorry”

I reel from the room. Minnie is still gossiping. I can see the bruise developing already. It looks as though I’ve been punched in the mouth. “I’m just going to run down to Ainsworth’s and get some arnica cream.” I mouth, pointing to the door.

The man behind the counter at Ainsworth’s gives me a knowing look. Harley Street is the Mecca for cosmetic surgery and facial procedures. I’m sure that well-heeled women of a certain age regularly stagger through their doors sporting bruised and swollen faces. Arnica cream on board I head back to the clinic. Minnie is ready to go.

To be honest I’ve found the last couple of hours less than relaxing. It’s now dark and pouring with rain. Minnie chats away to one of her friends as she drives, holding her phone in her left hand and reaching across to change gears with her right hand. Pretty soon we collide with a Mercedes. The whole street grinds to a standstill. I jump out and try to direct the traffic around the two scraped cars. Taxi drivers start yelling at me. “Don’t yell at me,” I yell. “I’m the passenger.” After Minnie and the other woman have exchanged numbers we crawl down Marylebone road and finally onto the White City roundabout. The roundabout is closed. Completely coned off. All the traffic is being forced in a nose-to-tail procession down towards Shepherd’s Bush. Minnie points her car at the orange cones and drives straight between them, scattering gravel left and right. With one hand I hold onto my hat and with the other I instinctively protect my black-and-blue face. We skitter through the road works and out the other side. We’re free.

I go straight home, knock back a cup of valerian tea and go to bed.

My verdict: having facial injections may be somewhat stressful, not to mention hypocritical. You might come home looking like you've been smacked round the chops. Is it worth it? Of course it is.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Tofu Fried Rice

This is a great way to use up any cooked brown rice that is hanging around in the fridge
As always, use everything organic if possible.

Cold pressed oil (olive or coconut)
A carrot
Two or three other vegetables: choose from zucchini; broccoli; fennel; cabbage; frozen peas; mooli; celery; leek
About an inch of ginger
A touch of chilli, to your taste (fresh or dried)
A large clove of garlic
Some silken tofu
Tamari sauce
Toasted sesame seeds
A big handful of flat-leaf parsley or coriander leaves (or both)

If you already stirred sesame seeds into your rice when you first cooked it, there’s no need to add any more. If not, dry toast a handful of dried sesame seeds.

Slice up the carrot and the other vegetables as thinly as you can.
Cut the ginger into matchstick slivers and thinly slice the garlic and chilli.

Chop the tofu into 1cm x 2cm chunks

Put a good splosh of the oil (count to three as you pour) into a heavy based pan on a medium heat. Fry all the vegetables together until they have softened but not browned. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli. Fry for a minute longer.

Add the cooked rice and sesame seeds. Keep stirring. Don’t let the rice stick to the bottom of the pan. Once the rice is hot, add several shakes of Tamari sauce (taste it as you go – you can always add more but you can’t take it out).

Pile in the silken tofu (if you stir it too much it will disintegrate) and the herbs. Turn the mixture a few times until the tofu is heated through.

That’s it!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A Gift for You

Chemo Brain strikes again. I was so excited about this and then I completely forgot to post it for four days...

As it’s my birthday, Imelda at Being Content is offering Chemo Chic readers 10% off all their safe and natural beauty products. Just enter the discount code CHIC at the checkout. And if you want to go to the shop for a beauty treatment, quote CHIC at the time of booking and you will get 20% off.

I really recommend a visit to the Being Content website or shop. I love all the products that I have bought there so far. If you’re totally obsessive you will be pleased to see that every ingredient of every product is listed on the website.