Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Chasing Snow White's Beauty

Note: I realise that the word ‘Oriental’ used as a noun may be deemed offensive and politically incorrect in some parts of the world. I, for one, have never found it derogatory at all and have always thought it a very succinct way of referring to someone from the Far East or someone of such background. So, since I do not wish to risk being bashed to pulp by my dear readers, I will only be using ‘Oriental’ as an adjective.

Perhaps you can already tell that yours truly is of Oriental background. I grew up in Asia surrounded by women who drummed into my head that a woman of Oriental origins was beautiful if she had fair skin, big round eyes and a high narrow nose. Even today, this idea of Oriental beauty is still prevalent in many parts of Asia. Different theories have been proposed to explain the psychology behind this. Some say that these beauty ideals revolve around Caucasian characteristics but there are those who say that it goes way back to when skin tone denoted one’s social status. This originates from the days of old when the pampered ladies of aristocracy in the Far East were fair-skinned due to being indoors most of the time. In contrast, their lesser fortunate lower-class counterparts had to labour outside in the fields under the sun, thus resulting in a tanner complexion.

Personally, I think this second line of thought is the better explanation of the two for this ‘fixation’ handed down from generation to generation but it still doesn’t really explain for the wish for big round eyes and a high narrow nose, does it?! Now, that’s a whole different discussion altogether!

Today, I’d like to talk about skin shades, just an observation of the funny and the not so funny side of things.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother, my mother and my aunt were always reminding me not to play long in the sun. “You won’t look beautiful if you become dark, child!” I am quite fair but I tan very easily. One year in school, I had to practise for sports in the hot afternoon sun for several weeks and I must have tanned more than ten shades as a result. My grandmother was aghast!

So, I remained quite tanned throughout my school-going years but in my adulthood, I gradually became fairer, eventually returning to my natural skin shade. You see, I’m more of an indoor type of girl than an outdoorsy girl, a pen-and-mouse-pusher is how I like to jokingly call it.

I am speaking in general of course (because there are always exceptions) but women in Asia, especially in the Far East, aren’t terribly fond of the sun. No, no tanning please. I know of women there who would only ever walk out in the sun if they had an umbrella over their heads. In extreme cases, some women even don gloves and socks to protect their hands and feet from the sun (that’s in addition to the long sleeves and long trousers). Check out the tourist attractions in your city. If you see a group of tourists from the Far East, you’re bound to spot at least one lady in the group walking under the shade of an umbrella and, maybe, if you’re lucky, also wearing a pair of gloves. I once saw a lady doing just that outside Buckingham Palace on a beautiful sunny summer day. Oh, she was attracting a lot of stares, all right. Some Westerners were even looking up in the sky wondering if it was raining!

In the Far East, when someone says to a female that she is fair, that’s meant to be a compliment. Is it any wonder then that skin-whitening creams, lotions and masks sell like hot cakes in that part of the world?! In a beauty store in Asia, you are far less likely to come across self-tanning lotions than whitening creams. The opposite is true in the West, as you might already know.

Cosmetic brands from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan wouldn’t do their brandname any justice if they didn’t have at least one whitening product range. Call it anything, but you must have at least the word ‘white’ or ‘whitening’ or ‘brightening’ in the name of the product. So, take your pick: ‘White Cleansing Oil’, ‘Medicated Whitening Mask’, ‘Instant White Cleansing Gel’, ‘Whitening Serum’, ‘Clear White Radiance Renewal Mask’, ‘Brightening Moisturizing Emulsion’.....you get the idea (it seems there is a difference between whitening products and brightening products too!).

Image source: Google Images

Demand is so great in Asia that even the western brands have jumped in to cash in on the lucrative pie. Neutrogena has the Fine Fairness range, Garnier has its Light range, Olay calls it White Radiance, Lancôme has the Blanc Expert range, Estée Lauder the Cyber White EX range and Dior has Diorsnow Sublissime. I think I would be hard-pressed to find the whitening range of some of these brands here in Europe. They are after all mainly produced to cater to the needs of women in Asia.

Image source: Google Images

For fun, I checked out the webstore of Sasa, an established Hong Kong-based cosmetic retailing group with many retail stores throughout Asia. I ran a search for “tanning” and I got a list of 5 self-tanner products. On the sidebar under the skincare section was a ‘whitening’ category with 259 products!

The contrast is also reflected on Youtube. Except for one, all the videos on self-tanning lotions feature Caucasians while the videos on whitening products were mostly made by those of Oriental origins.

Over in South Asia, there is a fairness cream called Fair & Lovely and it has been in the market since the late 70’s. I remember watching the advertisement in the 90’s and thinking, “What an interesting advertisement!” Interesting in a discomforting way, I mean. In the ad, you see a girl taking an interest in a boy in college but the boy never notices her because she is ‘dark’ and therefore ‘not pretty’. She’s depressed and she confides in her girlfriend who, surprise surprise, is fair-skinned. Her friend then reveals her secret to looking beautiful and (yes, you’ve guessed it) whips out her tube of Fair & Lovely. The ‘dark’ girl starts using the cream and you see a shade graduation of her face from dark to light. The final scene shows her back in college, a fairer radiating beauty and yes, yes, the boy whom she fancied suddenly takes notice of her and even asks her out on a date! Happy ending! Right?

It is beyond comprehension how such advertisements ever get approved by the authorities. What values are they trying to inculcate in impressionable young people? Check out the Fair & Lovely advertisements on Youtube. You could watch, for example, the one from Nepal. There are several different versions but they all revolve around the same theme: Being fairer-skinned gets you further in life.

You must be wondering if I have ever used whitening products before. The answer is no. Despite all the “fair is beautiful” indoctrination by the women elders during my formative years, I’d never ever felt any inclination to try them out. If you know my history, you’d know that I was too busy battling my own skin demons to be thinking about emulating Snow White. While I do question the principles behind the aforementioned advertisement, I pass no judgement on anyone for using whitening products or for using self-tanners. To each his own, I always say. You may think I have a very simplistic point of view, but trust me, having gone through what I’ve gone through, I’d say having clear healthy skin is way, way higher up on my agenda than worrying about my skin shade. And oh, never forget sun protection!

A penny for your thoughts? It doesn’t matter if you’re in the whitening camp, the tanning camp or, like me, in neither camp. Pray tell.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Rituals - More Acquisitions

I am slowly but surely encroaching into the realm called makeup addiction (cue: Twilight Zone theme music). I feel torn. On one hand I feel guilty, but on the other hand, I feel like a gleeful little girl with brand new toys. Lately, buying new makeup and even new lotions (!!!) has been giving me a high of the same magnitude as buying new shoes, new accessories and new clothes, all three already my long-time addictions. Hah, funny.

I was out window shopping (that’s always the original intention, isn’t it?) last weekend and I couldn’t resist walking into another Rituals store. It was a smaller outlet than the previous one I visited but it was doing brisk business. The sale was still on. I headed determinedly towards the makeup section like a missile homing in on a locked target. Even my husband had to dodge this missile with a mission!

So, yes, just a few more Rituals products to try out. I got more Pure Beauty gemstone makeup:

L: Lip Jewel No. 7164 (fuschia)
R: Lip Jewel No. 7104 (light coral brown)
Bottom: Open Up eyeliner No. 7057 (khaki green)

While waiting to pay, my eyes rested on two body care products that were strategically placed near the counter, not unlike confectionery enticing impulse purchasers at supermarket checkout counters. Of course, the weakling succumbed to the temptation:

L: Hand Therapy – scrubs & nourishes & softens (with ginseng & ginkgo biloba)
R: Eve’s Kiss – silkening lip treatment SPF 8 (with apple & karité a.k.a. shea butter)

I’m still trying out the products bought previously. Collective reviews for its makeup and body care products will be coming up in due course.

I leave you with a line borrowed from the Rituals website, on a page about making makeup application more of a conscientious ritual than just a hurried routine:

…And if you apply your makeup in the spirit of awareness and with positive intentions, you don’t just look beautiful, you radiate beauty!

That got me wondering. If all makeup addicts could see makeup in this light, perhaps, just perhaps, they could then expunge any guilt that they harbour about their addiction! Mwahaha!!! Agreed?

Friday, 17 July 2009


I’m the New Kid On The Blog. I have openly admitted that I’m a makeup late bloomer, so I might as well fess up and say that I’ve been quite a makeup jargon dummy too. Everybody has to start somewhere! Trying to guess the meanings of abbreviations and acronyms in the early days was like a fun sport for me, a kind of mental jogging.

One of the first abbreviations that I came across when I was researching makeup for problem skin last year was MMU. Since the topic was on makeup and not on a university in Manchester, I quickly realised that it stood for mineral makeup. And while on the subject of MMU, have you ever tried EDM? I have bought several products from Everyday Minerals, including its flat top brush which has received very good reviews. It’s really a great face brush……but I digress.

Well, there was also MUA. After circling the internet block quite a bit, I found out that MUA could mean Makeup Alley, the popular beauty community website, and it could also stand for makeup artist, though the latter is sometimes also represented by MA, I think.

“I have yet to find my HG foundation.”

When I first read that in a blog written by this very anxious girl, I didn’t have a clue as to what HG meant. “Is that a brand?” I wondered. “Does it stand for High Grade, a product of superior quality?”

On another blog written by a very enthusiastic female: “MAC MSF is my HG highlighter!!”

[Eyes glazed over]

Thankfully, I came across a forum where someone, unaware that she was doing me a great favour, kindly typed out the full words ‘Holy Grail’. Enlightenment!

I had to Google for MSF though because my guesses were associated with:

(a) Doctors Without Borders, and
(b) Microsoft

neither of which made any sense in this context, of course. Yes, ladies, I now know what MSF means but I still haven’t got a clue as to what it actually does for the face. [Shrug]

While we’re on MAC, itself an acronym (and it’s a good thing that I never once thought it was a computer!), how about PP? I keep reading great reviews on these Paint Pots. Many ladies out there are saying that it’s a better e/s primer than UDPP and TFSI. Is that true? I don’t own any of these three, but up till recently, from watching all those videos on Youtube, all I noticed was that the Urban Decay one seemed to have a bigger following than the one by Two Faced. Oops, Too Faced, I mean.

Oh, I musn’t forget MUFE! My initial thought when I saw MUFE was that it was probably a Japanese brand, pronounced ‘meeoof’. Think a little deeper, I said to myself. It can’t possibly be meeoof, stewpid!

[Contemplative silence]

Why, of course! Make Up For Ever! The French brand that has stores with shelves and display areas on wheels, fashioned to look like huge makeup train cases. I had walked past one such store hundreds of times before in my pre-beauty awakening era, but of course, back then, that meant nothing to me.

So, I've read that MUFE has an HD Foundation. I can guess what HD means, thanks to the parallel advancement in television technology, but there was also MUFE F&B. Right, it’s got nothing to do with the catering business, I’m sure. A check on Google tells me that it’s some kind of foundation for the face and body. O-kay.

This last one is the one I find funniest. It’s neither an abbreviation nor an acronym. It’s just a word. Lemming.

“I am so lemming MAC’s new Colour Craft Collection!”
“This blusher is on my Christmas lemming list.”

A lemming is a small type of rodent that lives in and around the Arctic and it’s also known for periodic mass migrations that sometimes result in mass drownings. Metaphorically, it refers to the act of following the crowd without thinking on a course towards disaster.

So, in the makeup context, I kind of guessed it had something to do with ‘a crave’. To be sure, I went back to trusty Google and found this definition on Urban Dictionary:

A lemming refers to a purchase/wished-for item which results from reading an enthusiastic post about a new fabulous product. Overcome by compulsion, readers follow like lemmings diving off a cliff. Originally coined in the alt.fashion newsgroup in the late 90s, the term has permeated numerous beauty boards/forums/sites. May be used as a noun or verb. May apply to the buyer but more commonly to the item of desire.”

Anyway, I’m lemming the NARS (that’s not an acronym, btw) lipstick in Belle de Jour. What are you lemming these days?

Friday, 10 July 2009


The brand, that is.

Rituals is the brainchild of Raymond Cloosterman, a former bigwig in Unilever. Founded in 1998, it is a Dutch brand offering a wide range of luxurious products for the home and for personal care. Quality and luxury without the high price tag, I would say. The premise of this brand is to transform everyday routines into little self-pampering rituals. It has looked mostly to the East to learn about ancient traditional rituals such as bathing, washing, massage, grooming and tea drinking, and it then developed products revolving around these rituals.

As a result, Rituals products contain all sorts of natural ingredients, some exotic, such as ginseng, rice milk, China clay, sweet almond oil, Himalayan crystal salt and lotus flower, just to name a few. It doesn’t claim that its products are made from 100% natural ingredients though. On its website, it states that it strives to use natural, renewable and preferably organic ingredients and where nature can’t provide, they use safe synthetic alternatives developed through state-of-the-art technology and research. There is also a big emphasis on fragrance in Rituals and the company has worked with world reknowned perfumers to develop the perfect mix of fragrances for its products.

The reason I’m writing about Rituals today is because I was out shopping earlier this week and decided on a whim to visit the Rituals shop. I had only ever been in a Rituals shop once before a few years ago, but it was only for a casual browse. This time, I thought I would take a closer look at the brand and its products. Rituals reminds me a little bit of The Body Shop, only sleeker and having a more extensive concept and philosophy. I’m a sucker for interesting marketing concepts and I believe Rituals has a great unique selling proposition. Impressed, that’s what I am.

I found the interior of the shop very inviting. With the simple, dark furnishings and the back-lighting, there was a calming, warm and cosy atmosphere in the shop. I was quite overwhelmed at first seeing the wide range of products and even the men are not forgotten. There were hand creams, body lotions, shower gels, body scrubs, shampoos and conditioners, hair masks, shaving creams, deodorants, massage oils, lip balms and even bathrobes and wardrobe refreshers, all presented in very sleek and simple packaging. Rituals also has a facial care range and of course, makeup!

It was really the makeup that piqued my interest. In a brochure that I picked up from the shop, Rituals claims to be the first brand in the world to offer cosmetics that incorporates gemstones in its formula. The Pure Beauty cosmetics contain gemstones: sapphire for eye makeup products, ruby for its lip products and nailpolishes, amethyst in its foundations and powders and tourmaline in its foundations. It is said that these gemstones radiate energy and each has a unique effect on the skin such as promoting dermal circulation and improving skin elasticity. I had a look at the list of ingredients for the eyeshadows and indeed, sapphire powder was on the list!

Without any further ado, let me share with you my acquisitions. Call it a haul if you like, but here they are:

L: Pure Color No. 7157 (turquoise)
R: Pure Color No. 7158 (medium pink)

L: Lip Jewel No. 7163 (light pink/purple)
R: Ruby Lips No. 7174 Sheer (orange/brown)

Star Secret No. 7217 scuba (deep turquoise)

Body care
Mandarin Shake – energising shower gel (with sweet mandarin & fresh mint)
Massage From Heaven – hydrating & nourishing bodymilk for dry skin (with ginkgo biloba & frangipani)
Gingko’s Secret – extra rich & repairing hand balm (with ginseng & ginkgo biloba)

Your Mini Hammam giftbox comprising:
Hammam Body Mud – nourishing shower mud (with purifying China clay & fresh eucalyptus)
Hammam Olive Secret – ultra nourishing shower paste (with fresh eucalyptus & pure olive)
A Scrub glove
Touch of Hammam – whipped body cream, ultra rich (with fresh fig & rice milk)

I thought the prices were quite reasonable. The products that I bought were in the €6 to €20 retail price range. There was a sale going on, so I did end up paying less for some of the products.

I have been testing out some of the items and I hope to do a review on them in a few weeks.

In the meantime, do have a look at the Rituals website if you're curious to learn more. Besides the Netherlands, Rituals also has a retail presence in the UK, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal and several other European countries. Mr Cloosterman has ambitious plans for Rituals, so I think it would only be a matter of time before Rituals reaches US shores, if not already!

Well, please excuse me, I’m off now to enjoy an energising shower with the Mandarin Shake!

Note: For the benefit of readers in the UK, besides having several stores in England and N. Ireland, Rituals UK also has an online store that you can check out here.

Friday, 3 July 2009

My Adventures With Pim

I have a friend. We have this love-hate relationship. She loves me but I hate her.

I call her Pim Pel but her proper name is Ac Nee. I first got to know her when I was about fifteen. A seemingly innocent little pest, she was. At different times, she brought along some of her friends: the Head sisters – Black and White, and Pa Pule. I knew of other people who had such friends too but they had cooler names, like Zit. Why did I get Pim?

Anyway, Pim was a real pain. She often showed up at the most (mis)opportune time. She was there for my exams, birthday parties and during Christmas. She also came along for my holidays, always the uninvited guest. Worst of all, she was always fighting to be noticed in photos!

It irked me when people started asking me about my friend. A little child with the most angelic eyes asking, “Wha’s dat on yer face?” Or a well-meaning school-mate asking, “Hey, why are you breaking out? You should eat oranges, you know. Do you drink enough water?” The fact was, I did drink lots of water and at that time, I was actually taking two oranges per day (because it was good for bowel movement)!

Pim wasn’t overly dominant, but she was around often enough to bother a self-conscious 17 year old. So, my mother took me to see a dermatologist. You know how doctors are. They see patients and hear their complaints the whole day. It’s business as usual for them. She took one look at my skin with that huge magnifying glass and pronounced, “Small matter, girl. I’m sure it will pass. You’re only 17. I’ll start you on antibiotics. Come back and see me in two weeks.”

And so began my relationship with Tetra Cycline. Good friend, she was. Tetra stayed with me for three months. Pim wasn’t fond of Tetra, so Pim grew more and more distant, much to my delight. Problem was, when I stopped seeing Tetra, Pim slowly crept her way back into my life.

So, back to the dermatologist I went. I was 18. She basically told me the same thing and put me on antibiotics again. Aah, hello, Tetra! Will you stay with me again for three months?

With Tetra around, Pim left, but only to return yet again when Tetra went away. It was a vicious cycle. I don’t remember now, but I might have gone on a total of three or four courses of antibiotics before deciding to give up on the dermatologist.

In my early adult years, I started going for beauty facials. The owner of the beauty salon, Grace, was a tall lady who always wore very fierce (translated: inches and inches of) makeup. She had a whole facial ritual: Cleansing, steaming my face to open up the pores, clearing the skin of impurities (to put it mildly), applying electrical pulses on the skin to stimulate the nerves, facial massage and finally a very soothing mask (during which I would doze off peacefully). I visited her salon loyally every month for three years but still my problem persisted.

I toyed around a bit with foundations too which only worsened my facial problems. By this time, I was catching glimpses of Ac Nee. I stopped my appointments with Grace. I had to admit to myself that her facials weren’t helping much.

One fateful day, I was out and about with a girlfriend in London and, in a sudden wave of reckless vanity, I asked her to guide me with choosing a foundation. I wanted so badly to see how I would look with flawless skin. We ended up at a Bobbi Brown counter. I got a little makeover and for the first time in a long, long time, my skin looked flawless. No pimple scars. I was sold and promptly bought the pressed foundation for use on special occasions.

But guess what, Ms Bobbi Brown? I broke out like crazy after that! Major! Pim had fully morphed into the very very evil Ac Nee and I found out that Ac actually had a proper surname – Vulgaris. It was a big rave party with other friends like Pus Tule and No Dule. It was the most horrifying, traumatising, depressing time of my life. I guess the worst feeling of all was that of helplessness. How do you stop it?!?

I sought the help of another dermatologist and he prescribed me a very potent drug which made Tetra seem like candy. Enter Accu Tane a.k.a. Ro Accu Tane. Accu stayed with me for a couple of months. Accu was able to tame Ac Nee but it was a good six months before my face fully cleared. The dermatologist also did chemical peels on me to help expose the fresh layers of skin. In those six months, I became a recluse and I never left the house except to see the dermatologist. I emerged from that experience a broken spirit and the scars remind me every day of those awful six months. Now do you see why I was so paranoid about applying foundation and blusher on my face for my wedding?

I do still have breakouts, but only occasionally (touch wood!). I know there are much worse problems in this world, mine pales in comparison, but please allow me to indulge in a moment of self-absorption. Suffering from severe acne does destroy one’s self-confidence. All those years of suffering have made me into a very self-conscious, shy and sometimes withdrawn person.

Self-conscious: “She’s talking to me, but her eyes are on my pimples.”

Shy: “Please don’t look at me.” “Oh, I just want to melt into the wall!”

Withdrawn: “Don’t come near me. I prefer my own company.”

Everyday it’s a slow climb getting out of this abyss called insecurity. On good days, I climb up four steps, but on bad days when I wake up and see Pim on my face, I slide back two.

When I was younger, I had secretly wished I could be a model or a flight stewardess, living the glamorous life and travelling all over the world. Of course, I never pursued those paths nor did I take the initiative to pursue those paths. I always saw my bad complexion as an obstacle. Simply put, I blamed it all on Pim.

I remember reading a woman’s magazine years ago. It featured this young pretty model-cum-flight stewardess on the cover. In it, there was a short interview with her and one of the questions posed was, “Do you ever have pimples?” Her reply: “Pimple? What is a pimple?”

The cheek! Such arrogance! I hated her!

Well, a few years later, she got married to this filthy-rich retired politician who was a quarter of a century older than her. Last I checked, they’re still happily married and living the glamorous life. Hmm, some people just have all the luck.

Argh, life is so unfair!