Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Serious Skincare on a Budget

Getting old is a funny thing. You can, on a good day, feel just like you did at 18 - shiny of hair, taut of skin and bursting with energy. But on a bad day? Jeez. My son came into our room the other morning, just as I was getting out of bed, and asked if I'd been crying, I looked that creased and swollen of eye. I'm not vain, but it's a bit worrying that you should wake from a good 8 hours' kip looking like you've taken a few punches in a boxing ring rather than getting some quality shut-eye.

While I'm extremely sceptical about anti-ageing treatments, I do appreciate that at my stage of life a little bit of help might be required in the skin care department. The problem is, of course, that a lot of the products lauded by the trustworthy beauty journos don't come cheap - I simply can't part with the best part of £50 for a serum. 

Thankfully there is a brilliant alternative for helping with middle aged skin issues. The Ordinary is a brand that has been making a fair bit of noise with industry insiders for some time, including a positive review from my go-to skincare guru, Sali Hughes. I finally bought some products on a recent trip to London where I visited their Covent Garden shop as I'd been a bit confused by what did what when looking on their website - it's a bit of a minefield of scientific terminology and percentages. I was pleased to be able to get some proper advice from a store assistant before making a purchase, but if you know your retinols from your AHAs you should be okay deciding which products best service your needs.

The range is essentially made up of 'generic pharma' products in the same vein of unbranded paracetamol - unlike its prettier, branded packets, it does the same job but without the big marketing spend. The Ordinary takes a similar approach, using tried and tested ingredients in its products but leaving behind anything superfluous and swapping expensive packaging for pared-down bottles and boxes. Personally, I find the simplicity of it all very pleasing, though you could get annoyed by the overblown spiel in the 'About Us' page on their website. 

If their website mission statements leaves you confused, you can read a good review of the products by Sali Hughes here, while I found this article a helpful guide to which products work best for certain skin concerns. The products I'm currently using are the Hyaluronic Acid 2% +B5. Now I have overcome my fear of the word 'acid' in the context of skincare and get what this particular type of acid does (holds moisture to keep your skin looking plump, hydrated and youthful) I'm fully on board with it and this serum seems to be doing what it promises on the bottle. I'm using it just in the morning, on clean skin before my moisturiser. Just a few drops suffice to cover the face (I'm also using it on my neck as this area of my skin seems to have borne particular brunt of the ageing process.) It leaves skin a little bit tacky but I can live with that as I think it's definitely made my skin feel softer and smoother over the short time I've been using this product.

At night I'm using the most expensive product in the The Ordinary range (a still incredibly affordable £12.70); "Buffet" is a 'multi-technology peptide serum' which can be used both at night and in the morning too under other products and make-up. Again, it has a slightly sticky consistency but it's not unpleasant, particularly as I'm using it solely at night. It promises to tackle fine lines, wrinkles and 'textural irregularities'. Oh, and 'dynamic lines' - I don't know what these are but I'm pretty sure I've got them.

Having used the serum for just a few weeks now, and in conjunction with other night-time beauty staples (Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Serum and Wildsource Apothecary Miracle Skin Oil) I honestly feel my skin looks a bit more springy and youthful (either that or I really do need to follow up that annual eye appointment - getting old is all the fun!)

With most products in the range coming in at the £5 mark, The Ordinary is certainly revolutionary in offering targeted, clinical skincare solutions at inclusive price points - the products are cheaper than similar mass-market offerings from the likes of Olay and L'Oreal, plus the packaging is more aesthetically pleasing if things like that matter to you.

Nothing can truly eradicate decades-worth of sunbathing, wine drinking, child rearing and all the other stuff that shows on our faces when we reach a certain age. But The Ordinary serums go a little way to hiding the evidence for a bit longer...

Visit the The Ordinary website here to see the full range of products. 


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Why ‘Healthy School’ Policies May Not Always Be Healthy

Nine-year-old boys have a very strong sense of fairness.  When I pick my son up from school there’s rarely a day when some perceived injustice isn’t the first thing he wants to talk about. There’s a lot of “it’s not fair because” or “we’re not allowed to” punctuating the conversation but of course by the time we’ve arrived home, the challenges of his day are replaced with more pressing concerns – namely how many biscuits he can snaffle from the biscuit jar. 

But the other day, there was one subject that my son wouldn’t let drop. A new rule had come into place…and this time it really wasn’t fair at all.

Now, before I put forward my case, be assured that I’m fully signed up to the healthy eating ethos. My cupboards are filled with chia seeds, almond butter and coconut milk. Family meals are always cooked from scratch and rarely do we succumb to processed foods or takeaways. My kids are a healthy weight, have good teeth and regularly exercise. But – here’s the thing – I let them have sweet things on occasion (those aforementioned biscuits – I’m not going to lose sleep over them having a couple with a glass of water when they get home from school.)

My son’s school, however, doesn’t share my view of everything in moderation. It’s a ‘healthy school’, which, in principle is something I’m happy to support, but is rather contradictory and counterproductive when put into action. The injustice my son was feeling so unhappy about the other day was the latest addition to school policy: not allowing children to bring in a bag of sweets to share out amongst their classmates on their birthdays, something that – like dressing in mufti– helped to take the sting out of having to go to school on your special day.

I don’t know if this happens at other schools but it’s a tradition that is as old as the hills at my son’s school. The birthday child – standing proud at the classroom door – hands out a sweet, a fun size chocolate bar or a lollipop to their friends as they file out. We’re talking about each child having ONE treat. And if there are 30 kids in the class, that’s 30 sweets over a period of around 190 days across a school year.

But now this isn’t a thing anymore and parents are being asked to supply a book for the class library instead as a birthday ‘treat’. My son wasn’t too impressed with this suggestion. Nor was the mother of the child who came out of school upset on her birthday because she and her parents hadn’t been aware of the new policy. The ‘counterfeit’ sweets the little girl had innocently brought into school that day had been seized, she’d been embarrassed in front of her classmates and the end of the day passed without so much as a ‘happy birthday’ sing-song.

I’m obviously not saying that it’s okay to load children with sugar. It’s not. But muddled policies around healthy eating in schools– although perhaps inconsequential in the grand scheme of the current educational landscape, with its constant curriculum changes and crippling cuts – undermine parents’ abilities to instil balanced attitudes to eating in their children. 

And here’s the rub. Surely becoming a ‘healthy school’ has to come from the top? While I take a lot of what my son says with a liberal pinch of salt (“But the teachers are always eating biscuits!”), I’ve definitely seen a big tub of Celebrations in the staffroom and I honestly can’t believe that there’s not one teacher in the school who occasionally has a Hob Nob with their break time coffee. And then there are the after school cake and ice cream sales, lucrative money-spinners for the PTFA. Should they not be banned too, along with the ice cream man who sells 99s and ice lollies just outside the school gates?

There’s another rub too. While enforcing this policy on what passes the kids’ lips, they seem to be hell-bent on doing their best to limit their physical activity. While reduced hours of PE is perhaps a wider curriculum issue, I’m getting a bit fed up of hearing from my son about all of the things he’s not allowed to do at playtime. Playing football is the latest activity to be curbed, because a ball might hit a younger child. And so the state-of-the-art astro turf pitch remains a place for carefully walking upon (I wouldn’t be surprised if running has been banned), while my 9-year-old and his gaggle of footy-mad friends can only gaze at it longingly and look forward to a kick around after school.

It just all feels a bit muddled. It’s fine to pack a sugar-loaded cereal bar in their lunchbox but a slice of home-made Victoria Sponge is a no-no. Notoriously sugary fruit juice cartons are okay but the water in the water fountains comes out luke-warm and my son says he’s been refused getting a cup of water when he’s been thirsty in the classroom. His sandwiches are frequently only nibbled at due to the rush to get the dining hall cleaned and swept. He often emerges from school in a foul mood, starving hungry and with his blood sugar running at empty.

I certainly don’t expect schools to validate unhealthy eating habits and I’m shocked by the statistics on childhood obesity. But I worry that contradictory messages only confuse the issue, creating yet more complexity in the delicate area of children and food.  We need to nurture healthy attitudes towards food and be mindful that well-meaning but poorly executed policies to food in school may be paving the way to toxic relationships with food later in life – a study commissioned by Beat in 2015 estimated that more then 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.

I believe that schools have a duty to educate our children and young people about leading a healthy lifestyle and I’m happy that vending machines and tuck shops in schools are a thing of the past. But let’s keep a sense of balance and perspective – everything in moderation might not be such a bad message to share with our children.
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