Howdy Friends!

The last couple of years have seen record stress for me & a disturbingly high percentage of the people I know - along with record quirks of nature: snow in summer, heat waves in winter... Something's awry in the atmosphere. Two & a half months ago in the midst of a long stretch of isolation focusing on renovating my house and writing, I caught my reflection in the mirror: I'd aged a decade appearance-wise in 3 weeks and LITERALLY forgotten how to smile.

I tried to smile to make sure that I still could, to no avail. I think the 'stress-induced acute aging' is common but the 'stress-induced expression amnesia' - Well, let's just say it was time to take serious self-reparation action!! I'm not a skin professional or anything like that so remember to exercise proper diligence to ensure you're not allergic to the products that proved effective for me, etc. (Legal counsel made me write that!) And for the record we don't have a business partnership with any of the following products.

Okay, I rarely wear makeup (which no matter what they say should never be left on your face while you sleep as it can dry out skin, irritate eyes...) but I've found several products & techniques that yield at least as much impact & for much longer than that instantly washable stuff anyway. So roll up your sleeves for some serious discipline & reward, based on my first-hand experience in rewinding the ravages of a stressful time.

High-Value Products:

Lancome mascara, Iman Lip Glaze, Sheiseido Powdery Foundation, Lipstique, KMS Trilogy Leave-In Spray Reconstructor, Sebastian Potion 9 Wearable Conditioner (9 nourishing oils), Aveda Purefume Anti-Humectant Pomade (to enhance straight locks), Aveda Purefume Humectant Pomade (to enhance curly and wavy locks), Blistex DCT with sunscreen (tiny pink jar) for daily lip moisture (a great buy at less than $2 USD), Lip Medex (tiny blue jar) for nightly lip moisture (another great buy at less than $2) - Brush lips beforehand gently with a toothbrush and apply petroleum jelly (great buy alert!) generously over the Lip Medex for SUPER-SOFT LIPS BY MORNING.

Also Neutrogena Moisture Face Lotion with SPF 15, Nivea Visage Q10 Eye Cream and Face Lotion, Oil of Olay Intensive Restoration Treatment, St. Ives Eye & Face Stress Gel (another great buy at ~ $3 for 4 oz), L'Oreal Wrinkle De-Crease, and generic CAFFEINATED tea bags (great buy alert)!

The tea bags are one of the most effective AND inexpensive ways to combat dark undereye circles BUT don't lay them over your lids without first laying single-ply tissue as a buffer. (I learned this the hard way: Went to sleep with one tea bag over each lid, woke up with tea-leaf particles in my eyes - STINGING!) There's no need to dampen the tea bags - In fact doing so is another way to experience the unconstructive misfortune of having the tea bag's stinging contents leak into your eyes! At least one scientific reason for caffeinated tea's stinging: Tannic acid, the same stuff however that increases circulation quickly & helps visibly REDUCE DARK CIRCLES (that are not due to heredity) BY MORNING. Skin tape (usually near to the Band-Aids) works well to tape the tea bags over the eyelids but don't tape lashes or brows!

Sweeping Statements:

The excellent: Have never gone wrong with any lipcolor by Chanel, Iman, Lancome, or Estee Lauder. :) Ditto any eyeliner and eyebrow-color by Charles of the Ritz or Cover Girl, any bronzer by Fashion Fair or Physician's Formula, and any nail polish by Wet & Wild (great buy at ~ $1).

The awful: Have never found an Estee Lauder nailcolor to last through the day. The only haircolors I had an allergic reaction (skin/scalp) to are Revlon High-Dimension and Revlon Colorsilk - a real shame since the price is low but Clairol Ultress recently reduced their pricing to under $5!

I've had good luck with Ultress, Miss Clairol Balsam Color (under $3), and Revitalique.

Herbal Essences, Hydrience, and Natural Instincts proved weak - although if you're seeking to darken rather than lighten hair, they might be strong enough. Why use harsher chemicals than necessary to accomplish your individual mission? The next time I darken my hair, I'm going to try a popular European demi-permanent haircolor that's supposed to be gentle: Herbavita (available to North American consumers online).

By the way, I've nothing against Revlon - besides memories of a peeling, burning, itchy scalp that is! Revlon does make the smoothly gliding Illuminance Creme eyeshadow sets - Naturally they've been marketing them 'temporarily' as "Limited Editions" though since it was released a couple of years ago!! Hmm, come to think of it my position is that I've nothing MAJOR against Revlon.

Money-Saving Tip when Promos Hit: Most of the prestige-lines aka guilty pleasures to be found at hi-tech counters in overpriced department stores such as Neiman Marcus (code for 'Needless Markup') sell their own brand of pencil-sharpeners. This is a well-guarded industry SECRET - So next time they lure you with a 'Buy $17, Get a $50 value free' promo when the first catch is they appear to have nothing priced less than $30, remember to inquire about those pencil-sharpeners which are typically less than $5 and then the promo just possibly might be worthwhile.

Once (Okay - More than once!) I bought 3 sharpeners at $6 each - beating the promoted minimum by a dollar to the salesperson's chagrin for my $50 bounty! ;) Dear Relatives, don't be disappointed by your upcoming holiday gifts: prestigious pencil sharpeners!

Some Notes on Haircolor:

At the beginning of this year people still thought I looked 18 then that acute stress hit (i.e. 2 dozen greys sprouted in a week, etc.) and people guessed my age to be 26 - 28. Now they're checking my i.d. again even at the long, last-minute movie line to make sure I'm at least 18. BUT actually I traveled through my 18th year long enough ago that I'll cop a Vicky Lawrence (whom I'm happy to report is still absolutely radiant after nearly 40 years of periodically entertaining us on Carol Burnett) and say 'I don't remember' how old - ahem, young I am!

I was allowed to start experimenting with hairdye when I was 11 - So I've tried 'em all! Hands down: L'Oreal Feria is the strongest over-the-counter colorant in mainstream stores (i.e professional beauty supply shops aside).

The good: Up to a full 2.5 to 3 shades, one can expect a near to perfect match with the color as pictured on the box! Most retail hairdyes provide true-to-box color only within 1 to 2 shades of the natural starting shade max.

The bad: You can literally feel the stuff burning your lungs in anything less than an extremely well-ventilated processing location. Open all the windows and tuck the children and pets elsewhere while applying Feria!!

Being child-free and adventurous, I'm a big fan of Feria's main line but have not tried their Power Reds subline as the shades within look too unnatural for my liking, and I've found their Hi-Lift Browns to not yet be as high-lift as they claim. L'Oreal Preference's Hi-Lift Brunettes subline uses the same technology so I recommend waiting for their R&D to catch up to their ads.

Currently I have the 'Beyonce Brunette' Feria #72 Caramel Kiss in my hair as the base color and Clairol Ultress' "Soft Black" which is actually a silver-sheened jet black as my lowlights - both of which I'm very happy with & receiving lots of compliments about. The black looks just like on the box, the caramel darker but bright & non-brassy.

Individually, THE MOST HELPFUL BOOST THAT HAIRCOLOR CAN PROVIDE IS TO YOUR EYECOLOR, indirectly of course! DON'T even think about getting this stuff anywhere near your eyes - Do NOT let anyone dye your eyebrows with hairdye that's not specifically formulated for eyebrows... Do NOT even think about having your eyelashes dyed, by any existing formula whatsoever. Period.

Hairdye can be extremely dangerous: all the way to breathing in a case of a severe allergic reaction for example. Hairdye can also burn skin permanently, cause hair loss, etc. The warnings in the paragraph above are because another potential hazard to hairdye is blindness. So I'm not a fan of paranoia and I AM a fan of hairdye but be especially careful when handling any chemicals this strong: Keep the phone # for Poison Control handy; Never use such products in a rush or without paying full attention to the instructions, etc.

On a much more fun note: I, having naturally darkest brown to blue-black hair, have also achieved brilliantly golden brunette shades in a single process (i.e. without bleaching first) using Feria's #64 Creme Brulee (which happens to be my favorite dessert!), #63 Sparkling Amber, and #62 Iced Mocha! Remember not to mix formulations. For example, L'Oreal Excellence's Light Reddish Brown could be mixed with the same exact line's Reddish Blonde but an Excellence product can not safely be mixed with a Feria product, and even within the Feria family a mainline product can NOT safely be mixed with a product from the Hi-Lift Browns line...

This brings us back to the serious side of haircolor: By 'safely' I'm not just referring to predictability (vs. the potential for surprise-greens, etc.) but to practical, physical safety as HAZARDOUS CHEMICAL REACTIONS, INCLUDING EXPLOSIONS, COULD OCCUR WHEN NON-COMPATIBLE PRODUCTS ARE MIXED.

A Note on First Lines & Wrinkles: Until recently, we were out of luck with regard to non-surgical options - Sure, retail products have been helping to prevent future damage e.g. sun-damage for a long time but THERE WAS NO MAGIC CREAM TO REPAIR FIRST LINES & WRINKLES. TODAY THERE ARE SEVERAL. What they have in common is acid: Alpha-hydroxy acid (e.g. glycolic) or beta-hydroxy acid (e.g. lactic) or citric acid (e.g. Vitamin C) or retinol...

The good: They exfoliate the outer layers of skin on a microscopic & fairly even level to reveal the younger skin beneath. The idea is to do so at the FIRST sign of lines/wrinkles so that the skin beneath is brought to the surface prior to its also having formed lines/wrinkles. So there's only a temporary window of opportunity before this process would no longer be a viable option. During this window, acid is generally less traumatic & less expensive than surgery and its results can be as long lasting.

The bad: Just like hair suffers from buildup after a while, SKIN BUILDS RESISTANCE TO REPETITIOUS USE OF A PRODUCT APPROXIMATELY EVERY 3 MONTHS. Personally I rotate when my L'Oreal Wrinkle De-Crease jar (Boswelox, TM) is empty to Oil of Olay Intensive Restoration Treatment (Retinol). When it's empty I switch to St. Ives Alpha-Hydroxy Facial Moisturizer. For approximately the last quarter of the year I use L'Oreal HydraFresh Toner (Beta-Hydroxy). Such acid-based products should be used ONLY AT NIGHT because they significantly increase skin's sensitivity to the sun. Other precautions should be taken as well - for example an SPF of 15+ during the day.

DON'T use a product that claims to both protect against sun-damage and exfoliate skin simultaneously - While skin is actively being exfoliated it is raw & vulnerable to the sun! However Pond's has a convenient egg-shaped package, the black half of which is their exfoliating night cream and the white half of which is their sun-barrier day cream.

Particular care should always be taken with harsh chemicals, and acid-based products are harsh! So it's important to gently & carefully experiment to find your proper balance, ideally with some guidance by your physician/dermatologist., a large site where consumers post their product experiences can also be helpful. In the case of acids, more is NOT always better - In fact, an important note on this category is not to touch a 'super-accelerated acid' (like that stuff that claims to banish crow's feet within minutes) with a 10-foot pole! (Anything really that strong should not be administered without professional supervision in the first place, and certainly not to the eye zone!..)

SAFETY ALERT: Fire has no place near alcohol, and alcohol is in many cosmetics - another reason to stay away from cigarettes and lighters!..

You've probably heard that you should avoid cosmetics with alcohol anyway because of its potentially drying effects (and mineral oil because of its comodogenic/pore-clogging effects). But you've probably also discovered that it's very difficult to find cosmetics without alcohol (and mineral oil) in North America. (Mineral oil has been banished from European cosmetics.) To complicate matters, alcohol has its place - For example, to vaporize sprays and shield against humidity in haircare or to dry out pimples and sometimes serve as a catalyst in skincare. (And mineral oil is a cost-effective way to soften lips, where it is not likely to clog pores.) So just pay attention to the balance of ingredients & have fun trying the vast products out there!

1 Year: Statistics support the scientific wisdom of avoiding sunlight, sleeping full nights, and minimizing expressions - but I say that SUCH WISDOM CAN WAIT to be followed in death, or else vampiric transformation!

Life wouldn't be much fun without laughter, late nights, and the beach - if you're lucky, oft rolled into one!!! So with a full year to whip hair & skin into shape, what else can we forego? How about alcohol? Say goodbye to it before having to say hello to beer bellies (and corresponding sagging skin, stretch marks, etc.)! Cigarettes. All the tea bags in the world won't prevent dark undereye circles in someone regularly exposed to cigarettes' ingredients.

Create a fun exercise routine so you'll stick to it. Ditto meals: 5 times a day can be great IF the last meal is still some hours before sleeping, each meal is accompanied by lots of DRINKING WATER, and fat grams are kept low.

Experiment with taking cat naps. LEARN TO DE-STRESS, OR YOU TOO COULD END UP WITH A SHOCK OF GREY IN ONE WEEK THAT RIVALS ROGUE'S HAIR FROM X-MEN! Avoid intake of crash & burn ingredients like caffeine and refined sugar. Avoid too much salt which causes water-retention/bloating. Maintain good posture.

Continually strive to be as healthy as possible on the inside, foremost emotionally. SEVER TIES WITH ANYONE WHO ABUSES YOU IN ANY WAY - Didn't see that coming in a beauty makeover segment, did you? But being abused (even if not physically) will undermine both your emotional & physical health - guaranteed. Under such circumstances, you can do 1,000 sit-ups a day and dance with Alvin Ailey's best as I did in my prime and still never exude the healthful radiance at the core of enduring beauty.

1 Quarter (3 Months): Deep-condition hair once every week or two. Use a hot oil hair treatment once or twice a month. Gently whiten teeth. An easy way is to temporarily replace your regular mouthwash such as Listerine with Rembrandt Dazzling White Mouthwash. Floss daily. (Its cumulative results are more substantial than most people think, foremost to protect your gums - the 'root' of tooth trouble. Of course you can hurt yourself by doing it wrong so have your dentist show you how if they haven't yet.) Minimize scars with generic scar gel e.g. Walgreens'.

Habitually nourish skin both every morning and every night by cleansing, toning, and moisturizing. Also exfoliate at night and screen against the sun during the day. SPF 4+ recommended. (SPF 15+ is ideal, which I use in my overall day lotion, but since my eyes are sensitive I've found it best to use a lower SPF in my daytime eye cream - alternating between SPF 4 and 6.)

EVERY TIME YOU STEP OUT OF THE SHOWER, MOISTURIZE your body. Once you have your ideal haircolor, use color-protective hair products especially shampoos and leave-in sprays. (Regular shampoos more so than regular conditioners strip artificial color, and the best defense against sun-faded haircolor is a leave-in UV filter.)

1 Month: One month is the perfect window to experiment with semi-permanent (e.g. L'Oreal Casting ColorSpa) or possibly even soft permanent (e.g. L'Oreal Open) haircolor. At your discretion, wash-out haircolor can either be repeated at the end of the month or replaced with permanent color. Open is permanent but can only alter haircolor by one shade max. The harsher chemicals in most permanent color typically provide a more intense color change.

1 Week: Tweeze eyebrows. Wax legs. Smooth away calluses and other rough spots with a pumice stone - according to the stone's directions. It is important for people with diabetes and other circulatory difficulties to consult their physician before using such a rigorous product!

1 Day: A one-day window to plan is the perfect time to coordinate a head-to-toe ensemble. No matter what was predicted by the forecasts, is it raining for real? If so, don't frustrate yourself trying to cop a stick-straight hairstyle unless born with stick-straight hair! Use a curl booster as it will work with the rain-related atmospheric ions & humidity to impart beautifully defined, springy curls or waves. And if it's raining, skip the stilettos and sheer blouses!! ;) If it's hot or humid, forego the sweaters and dark colors as dark colors retain more heat... You get the idea. :)

So let's skip to more easily overlooked parts of a pulled-together ensemble: Jewelry, shoes, hair accessories, coordinated (vs. clashing) makeup, and nylons/socks. The overall look should be consistent e.g. casual surfer babe or romantic flamenco aficionado... As a rule of thumb, large silk red roses adorning a formal uptwist don't go well with a necklace of uncultured pearls & seashells...

Tricks for complementary makeup: To play up the eyes, match eyeshadow to blouse/dress/scarf; To play up the lips, match lipcolor to those surrounding fabrics. For fresh-looking cheeks, apply a fruity, highlighting color to the apples; For more drama, use two earthy colors - The lighter on the apples, the darker on the diagonal just below the cheekbones, blending the two colors with a narrow/contouring blush-brush along the cheekbones. HARSH LIP LINES ARE OLD NEWS: If you use a liner (which would prolong lipcolor) then apply it gently and fill it in either instead of or prior to lipstick/lipgloss.

1 Hour: Blow-dry hair with high-speed COLD air - This avoids straightening & heat damage while locking in frizz-free shine. Run a laundry DRYER-SHEET over hair to eliminate/prevent static flyaways. Apply some water-free shine spray. (PRODUCTS WITH WATER WILL UNDO YOUR BLOW-DRYING!)

Like most hairsprays, it is not healthy to inhale - You may want to try some shine serum instead, although I personally avoid heavy & sticky products and thus prefer very liquid form. If hair is long enough, twist it tightly & secure to itself with a butterfly clip. Apply alcohol-free moisturizing facial toner with sterile cloth/cotton. (Try Neutrogena Alcohol-Free Toner.) Apply lipstick with a lipstick brush, and some mascara to lashes and eyebrows with an upward & outward motion. If you can't resist covering some of your now-vibrant skin with concealer, DermaBlend can cover virtually any perceived blemish. Release the butterfly clip and stride out!

1 Minute: Pray!

Just kidding. Praying won't hurt but you can also: Pull hair into a high ponytail; Apply bronzer/blusher sparingly with a big brush to temples, cheekbones, and the area between the chin & neck (referred to as "the waddle" in Ally McBeal); Brush eyebrows upward & outward with an eyebrow brush, and apply lip gloss with your finger. Oh, and one last thing... Smile!!!