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Henna

With all the different subjects out there that I could muse about, in the end I decided to continue on a bit more with the theme of natural health-natural cosmetics-natural beauty. So today let’s talk about hair!

I’d always wished I’d been blessed with gorgeous, shiny locks of brilliant spun gold, not only is golden hair beautiful, it also rejuvenates and endows the features with light, youth and grace. But I wasn’t so lucky, in fact Mother Nature decided that not only would I not enjoy a crowning glory of royal gold waves, she actually went ahead and weighed me down underneath sheets of heavy black.

Well you could go on and praise the magnificence of raven black locks. It was the colour that Anne of Green Gables daydreamed of so insistently that she actually went out and dyed her own carrot-red waves, against her strict adoptive mother’s will, with the unreliable concoctions that existed 100 years ago, when the story was written. With the unfortunate result that her hair turned a glorious dishwater, slimy green.

I’ve got the opposite problem of Anne, however, but unlike her I am able to fulfil my dreams of flaunting a head full of fiery red. Well maybe not that fiery, but in my books it’s certainly an improvement over jet.

Last post I recounted my secret for beautiful skin. Now I’m going to talk about my tips for lovely hair. Well, for lovely black, brown or brunette hair at least. In a future post (if I ever get around to it) I will, nonetheless, hopefully, explain how you can enhance your drop-dead to-die-for golden locks without laying your hands on a single chemical, as I did for my baby:

But today black or dark hair is the order of the day. So let’s go, talking about henna!

Henna is a plant, a small tree, whose unassuming leaves produce a belligerent red dye when crushed and mixed with liquid, preferably a slightly acidic one. I suppose everyone has heard about body art and temporary tattoos made with henna. However today’s post only deals with henna for hair.

Henna has traditionally been used for millennia to enhance women’s hair in lands where the plant grows and where, coincidentally, women also generally sport black or dark hair naturally.

I imagine that all this theory, however, probably doesn’t contribute tremendously to what women (and maybe the occasional man too!) really want to know, and that is, how do we use henna?

Well the internet is chock full of websites about henna and how you can prepare it. I’ll just explain what I personally do. It’s easy and quite effective, for me at least.

About a day before I want to put henna into my hair I prepare a henna concoction. I use 300 g. of henna and I have long hair. If you have shoulder-length hair I would recommend about 100 g. and 200 if you have mid-length (a bit below the shoulders) hair.

I mix the powdered henna (I just buy it from a local natural food shop, very lucky to have found it heehee!) with a large mug of lemon juice. Okay I’m lazy I buy lemon juice in a bottle from the store and it works just great. But of course real natural freshly-squeezed lemons is better!

After that I cook up a strong infusion of chamomile, chamomile seems to lighten black hair slightly and make the henna show up more, in addition to bestowing a splendid glow and shine to hair. Once the infusion is cooled (don’t put boiling infusion into the henna because it will cook the plant and cooked leaves won’t yield any dye) I mix as much liquid into the henna concoction as needed to form a thick paste, with the consistency of very thick yogurt.

Imagine that you will be putting this onto your head, so you don’t want something that drips. But if it is too solid it won’t spread well. Finding the perfect balance is simply a matter of practice. Since you get the best results if you apply henna once every month, you can acquire plenty of practice!

Once your concoction is all mixed up, let it sit for about 12 hours in a warm place. This stimulates the henna leaves to release their dye, dye which will later go onto your head and into your hair.

And now, when you’re all ready, let’s get into the shower. Keep in mind that you should set aside about 4-6 hours of uninterrupted time for this process, so a good moment to do it is when you don’t have to go to work. If you’re so lucky as to have light coloured hair, like mousey brown or blonde, you can take less time. If, however, like me, you have the deepest most impenetrable locks, then you must think that it will take a long time for that coveted auburn stain to take hold.

Step into the shower or bathtub with your large pot of mud, which is what henna looks like. Now you can have the time of your life smearing muddy henna all over your head in any order. Or you can smear it on in an orderly fashion, one lock at a time starting with the crown and working your way down to the ends, like professional hairdressers do. Any way you do it, the end result is a mass of tangled mud, which you pile onto the top of your head. Wrap saran wrap around it and you’re ready to face your day!

For me facing the day usually means tiresome tasks like cooking and washing. Yep, when you have a family you don’t get breaks so you can relax with your henna. As you’re scrubbing the pots you can daydream about all those lovely Middle Eastern misses who could permit themselves the luxury of lounging indulgently in public hammam with their hair up in a hennaed bun while professional masseurs gave them the full spa treatment.

If you’re lucky, however, maybe you can get in a chapter of CSI or Castle during breaks from the kitchen.

I leave henna on for at least 4 hours, but if you’re one of those fortunate ladies with pale hair you can get away perfectly with maybe just 2. When you’ve left it on long enough, it’s time to wash it out.

Easier said than done. Henna leaves your hair like a bird’s nest. Like the nest of a bird that just had a knock-down-drag-out battle with an eagle.

I find that the easiest way to disentangle bird’s-nest recently hennaed hair is by slathering conditioner on generously. Don’t leave a strand uncovered with the conditioner. Once you’ve straightened your hair out a bit with this conditioner you can then shampoo and condition as usual.

Lastly, dry and style as always and enjoy your cascade of ravishing, flaming waves.

One last note for healthy hair naturally. I always like to give hair a deep oil treatment once a week. Just rub oil all over your hair from root to ends and leave it on for an hour or 2. You can put it up in braids or a bun if you prefer, so it won’t rub off on everything. I like coconut oil (as you can easily discover by reading on to the next post) or olive oil. After normal shampooing and conditioning, both will leave your hair strong, super soft and shiny, healthy and moisturized. Now you can throw all your expensive salon formulas out the window and never look back again.

Coconut oil

Most unprofessional photo if I do say so myself, but that's what my humble little jar of coconut oil looks like.

Okay so this isn't coconut oil it's coconut milk, but my coconut oil is in an unmarked jar, and this pic has a photo of a coconut which sure looks yummy!

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All Natural Skincare

Well I’m thinking it’s about time I babbered on a bit about one of my favourite peeves: natural skincare and the people who don’t bother to take care of their skin.

I understand that there are lots and lots of reasons and excuses out there for people not to take care of their skin. The first one, one my sons always use: males don’t take care of their skin!

Well I’m not a male so I’ll pass on responding to that one. I can’t get into a man’s head (though maybe I can get into a little boy’s haha), so I really don’t know what a real-life man might have to say about that.

However for the other half of earth’s population, namely, women, well that’s another story. “I’m a man” is not a valid excuse for them to not take care of their skin.

One excuse I’ve heard is that vanity is a sin. Our lives shouldn’t revolve around our looks, people who judge us for our looks aren’t worth our bother anyways, they’re shallow and frivolous etc. etc.

Okay so maybe it’s a bit true, maybe we shouldn’t care that much about what other people think of us. I mean after all, you can take it from me who am pretty plain if I do say so myself. Aren’t the heroic princesses always flaunting their ravishing golden waves while the witch is burdened with heavy, raven black locks (just like black cats)? (That’s why I’ve always claimed I was a witch, but that’s for another post.) And I’ve got John Wayne’s strong, square jaw, which is okay if you’re John Wayne but……. I don’t think anyone has ever called me “John” yet.

But what about what we think about our own selves?

When you look in the mirror, wouldn’t you like to see something pleasant? Something that makes you feel good? Good looks aren’t just poreless skin, a salon hairdo and designer outfits. Good looks, more than anything else, reflect good health. And who doesn’t want to be (and feel and look) healthy? Even the plainest Jane can presume good health, and have it reflect on her face. You don’t need perfect bones to enjoy a radiant cutis. And you don’t have to have Cindy Crawford’s spectacular figure to impress people with the silkiness of your skin.

Which brings us (at last) to the subject of this post.

Many people say they don’t take care of their skin because creams are too expensive. Well, to them I can reply, I never buy expensive skincare creams myself. I never even buy cheap ones for that matter. I don’t buy creams at all.

All right I do make one exception. For daytime wear I do regularly use this brand called Olay that makes a very cheap little pink thing, it only costs me 6€ at my local drugstore and it lasts for many months. But that isn’t what this post is about.

What I felt like blogging about today is natural skincare. Skincare products and routines that don’t use any artificial chemicals, parabens, sodium laureth sulphate, formaldehyde (a common ingredient in many commercial products and also used for embalming, so if you’re putting that onto your skin then you’re literally embalming your skin too), alcohol, petroleum by-products or any other of these “nasties”.

Now, I personally do use makeup sometimes (yeah I know, so unnatural, the main reason I do so is precisely because I am vain and I don’t see myself as looking very nice au naturel, no skin problems but I’ve got the yuckiest bone structure you’ve ever seen…….). However, I don’t use chemicals to remove that very chemical and unnatural makeup afterwards.

I use oil.

And I recommend oil as a natural makeup remover to everyone.

The kind of oil, I’d say, is also fairly important. You don’t want to be smearing beef tallow or bacon fat all over your face, after all! I use natural plant oils, usually sweet almond oil or coconut oil, to remove makeup. It is so absolutely simple, effective and cheap. If you can’t come by these products which really don’t cost a lot you can always use the olive oil you cook with. I don’t use it even though I live in Spain so it’s everywhere, because it stings my eyes. However I know people that it doesn’t sting their eyes.

After that, I suppose you’ll be wanting to get all that grease off of your face, right? So you probably reach for that milky cleansing cream or that bi-phase gel.

Wait. Don’t do that.

There are more natural items out there that will clean your face just as fine as anything high-end and it will be much cheaper and much gentler and healthier on your skin. And unlike those chemicals it will actually be good for you and maybe in the process ward off some aging and maybe even prevent a bit of cancer.

I like to use all-natural, handmade soaps for cleaning. In the US it is so easy to find them. I’ve never tried any American-made natural soap but I’ve heard that Chagrin Valley makes a superb one. In fact they ship all around the world at very very reasonable prices, so one of my dreams, someday, when (as I wrote here in this post) I’m no longer living just hand to mouth, is to be able to order a bunch of soap from them.

If you don’t want to order soap online, however, or like me you can’t afford to, you can usually find some kind of natural soap in your local grocery store. I can find a few, and this is Spain that we’re talking about so it’s not like the stores are piled to the ceiling with 50 million national brands of anything. So if I can find them in my local supermarket here in Spain, you can find them too.

I have a few made of glycerine (and speaking of glycerine – oh were we speaking of glycerine? – well as I was saying, speaking of glycerine, a lot of glycerine soaps pretend to be all-natural just because they have glycerine in them well that is quite a silly idea, that would be like saying that plastic bottles are all-natural just because they have natural water inside them), some made of oatmeal and another one made of olive oil, all from my local supermarket. If you want to know if it’s true when they claim that their soap is “all-natural” you do have to read the ingredient list. All-natural soap shouldn’t have anything more than lye (sodium hydroxide), plant oils (usually coconut oil), water and maybe some essential oils. Artificial colorants are also okay for me in my book however. If they have things added to enhance them (like oatmeal, lemon peels, etc.), well obviously they should be things that are clearly natural, like oatmeal, lemon peels, etc.

Ayurveda recommends that you cleanse your skin with chickpea flour mixed with a little sweet almond oil, milk and turmeric. Rice meal is also fine. I used to do that but owing to the fact that here in Malaga they don’t sell chickpea flour, and also, why not admit it, to the bonanza that at the time I moved here there was this most awesome and heavenly store called “More Than Soap”, I gave up my chickpea flour and turned to a bevy of the most divine and exotic soaps from my favourite shop. Unfortunately they went out of business because, who can compete with dollar-store, chemical-laden, carcinogenic shower gels that only cost 60 cents (well 75 cents now, they upped the price of course)?

After you cleanse your skin, of course, it’s time to MOISTURIZE. That is so important. Cleaning your skin will undoubtedly keep it healthy, but if you want it to look good and defy the ravages of time, you must moisturize.

This is what happens if you don’t moisturize.

This is a person whom I know who proudly declares that she never moisturizes her skin. In that photo she’s younger than 40. (And to all the people who know me, please don’t ask me who this is, top secret! I will never reveal!)

Well I originally wrote a long spiel debunking the zillion excuses that she likes to resort to to explain why she prefers not to moisturize. But now I’ve changed my mind. I figure, it’s her skin, she can do what she wants with it. (As long as that doesn’t mean her complaining to me 5 years from now all perplexed as to where all those crows’ feet, sagging jowls and etched lines suddenly and mysteriously materialized from………)

Anyways, so I promised to tell you my secret to beautiful skin (or to beautiful, natural, healthy moisturizing at least), but I’ve already told it to you. It’s natural plant oils. Once again.

I alternate the oils I use every night, so I can receive their different benefits and also to prevent allergies (you can get allergies even to natural products). Here is a list of some of the oils that are out there, some of which I use (and some which I don’t because I don’t have that kind of skin):

  • sweet almond oil: good for all kinds of skin, a general, all-purpose moisturizing oil, I find it too heavy for the hot Mediterranean summers however (if you want to read just how hot we can get here you can do so at this post)
  • avocado oil: for drier skins, deeply nourishing, especially good because it purportedly encourages collagen production (don’t know if that’s true, I haven’t actually gone out and measured how much collagen I have), I like this oil very much and use it all year round, it gives very soft, beautiful, glowy skin
  • coconut oil: also another good, general, all-purpose oil, this is recommended for oily skins especially because it regulates oil production, if you have too much oil on your face coconut oil will actually dry it out a bit and keep the oil down, I like it for this reason in the summer as high temperatures make your skin go crazy pumping out oil day and night (skin probably thinks that you ought to be frying that egg on your face, and wants to make the task easier)
  • rosehip oil: excellent for mature skins, prevents wrinkles and deeply moisturizes and nourishes, also helps to attenuate light scars
  • vitamin E/wheat germ oil: another goody for mature or dry skins
  • extra virgin olive oil: a richer oil that nonetheless won’t make you oilier than usual, however because it is thick I’d recommend it only for night-time use, it makes all skins soft and supple and the vitamin E in it fights free radicals, which helps your skin stay youthful
  • hazelnut oil: an astringent oil, supposed to dry out oily skin big time but still leave you with a soft, smooth complexion, the only oil listed here which I’ve never tried

Well I’ve gotten tired of this topic so I suppose I will have to carry on another day. However all the oils that I personally use are on this list and they work stupendously for me.

This is all that I ever need for good, complete care of the complexion. Even sunscreen (as strongly recommended as it is and even more so here at these latitudes) is something I use sparingly. Some people allege that chemical sunscreens cause cancer. I won’t enter into that debate at this moment, but I do use sunscreen sparingly. I prefer to prevent sun damage the “natural” way: I stay out of the sun whenever my work permits it.