Sparkles and Cobwebs

So I’ve been very, very busy editing my next two books, which are coming out in quick succession this month by the publisher.  Titles and links and such shall be divulged once such things exist.  In the meantime, some photos:

Photography cobwebs photo rain invoke delight and inspire
Strands of cobweb supporting lots of sparkling droplets of water.
Photography cobwebs photo rain
Shifted the focus a bit and changed camera settings. Shot with Canon EOS 700D with 18-55mm (EF 3.5-5.6) lens (can you believe!)
water droplet photo photography invoke delight and inspire
A drop of drip. But not an April shower. Late May, actually.

Can you believe it’s June today???  It’s going to be my wedding anniversary in 3 weeks.  I swear it wasn’t 2 years since we got married!!!

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9 Lip Plumpers Reviewed: Get Bigger Lips

This is my ultimate guide to lip plumping: I’ve reviewed 9 lip plumpers to show you how to get bigger lips quickly, safely, and on the cheap!

If you’re anything like me, you wish you were born with plumper lips, like Kylie Jenner lips, or Angelina Jolie lips – those voluptuous levels of plump. I hear you. I’ve spent loads of time trying all those “natural” lip plumping ingredients such as mint and cinnamon, as well as store bought products. I didn’t have as much success as I could until I formulated a method to get bigger lips whenever I wanted them.

lips mother pucker b4 after

I found out after trying loads of different lip plumpers that it requires a bit of strategy to get bigger lips, you see – just putting plumpers on your lips and checking them in the mirror won’t actually help. In my experience (and I’ve been plumping my lips since 2005), the absolute best thing for lip plumping are two ingredients: Sodium Hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid, a natural substance that your body produces) and Maxi Lip (a peptide blend; peptides are naturally found in the body). Read on to find out how to use these for the very best results. After my lip plumping method, I’ve reviewed the 9 lip plumping products that I’ve tried and tested: Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Pucker Gloss; Collection (was Collection 2000) Plumping Lip Gloss;  Collection Volume Sensation Lipstick; Avon Anew Lip Plumping Conditioner; Lip Venom; Physician’s Formula Plump Potion Needle Free Plumping Cocktail; Boots 17 Volumizing Lip Gloss; Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Pucker XL and Rimmel Volume Booster Lip Gloss.  Then I share links to the evidence that lip plumpers can and do work. Who needs fillers when you can do this instead?

Contents (click to go straight there):

Method for Plumping Lips
My top picks for plumping
The “plumpers” that didn’t work
Products I want to try
What about natural lip plumpers?
How do lip plumpers claim to work?
Does lip plumping really work? The evidence.

Method for Plumping Lips:

Lip plumpers alone won’t give you bigger lips. Why? The skin on your lips needs to stretch and grow to accommodate more lip. We don’t live in a world of magic, and our bodies can only do so much. If you don’t let your lips gradually stretch, they won’t stay plumped, even with the best products. Not only that, but they’ll become incredibly uncomfortable and you’ll probably start getting dry crackly bits on them, and your lips will start splitting when you use plumping products. This isn’t a sign that the plumping products aren’t working, it’s a sign that you need a better lip care regime to enable your lips to plump to their largest.

How do you stretch them? If you’re totally new to lip plumping or you haven’t done it for a few months, start with using a lip plumping product once a day. What do you do the rest of the time? Lip balm. To get plump lips, you need to keep your lips moisturized with lip balm at all times. I take mine off only when I’m eating and drinking. Why? Because dry lips don’t stretch properly when you put a plumper on, they crack. You need to moisturize the lips with balms to get them to plump instead of cracking. By doing this, you are making sure there’s enough room inside the lip for them to get bigger. Additionally, many plumping products dry your lips out, so you need to keep them moisturized for that reason as well. I also recommend taking vitamin E supplements so your lips are well-conditioned inside and out (if you’re currently using vitamin K to banish blue circles, take the vitamin E and the vitamin K at least 4 hours apart; consult your physician before taking supplements).

On well-moisturized and cared for lips, increase the frequency of using the plumper to 3 times a day. You should be using it directly on the lips, not (like one confused customer on Amazon) over lipstick and lipliner. How is it going to get to the lips to give you a great result if there’s loads of lipstick in the way? That’s like trying to drink from a bottle with the cap on (obviously in this analogy, if the lipstick is a plumping lipstick, that’s like drinking from a bottle through a sports cap)!

Once your lips are as big as they’re going to get, you need to keep going with your lipcare routine, keeping them moisturized, and continue using the plumper once every day or two. Lip plumping requires a little bit of effort (if you can call it effort to use a plumping product and lipbalm regularly) to maintain bigger lips, but I think it’s worth it because I like how my lips look when they’re plumped.

To keep lips moisturized, I use Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Lip Balm because it’s the only one I’ve found that seems to moisturize the lips more deeply for a longer lasting result.

What’s the best product to use to plump lips? I’ve had a lot of disasters and a lot of success with a few different products. The best lip plumping products contained either Sodium Hyaluronate (which naturally occurs in the body and as an ingredient it is certified vegan and is gluten-free) or a patented ingredient called Maxi-Lip (a natural peptide blend; these peptides aren’t on any animal-derivative lists but I couldn’t 100% guarantee it’s vegan). The best strategy would be to use a product that contained both, or to alternate two separate products containing Sodium Hyaluronate and Maxi-Lip. Both Sodium Hyaluronate and Maxi-Lip are ones that tingle when you put them on.

Unfortunately, all that tingles is not a plumper, and I’ve also had some bad results from a few products that claimed to be plumping but didn’t actually do anything apart from tingle a lot (I’ll name and shame them further down). There’s a lot of inflated claims on the market regarding lip plumping, and some companies choose their words very carefully to mislead customers. On the other hand, I’ve also had some really good results from some products that surprised me. I’ve reviewed 9 different lip plumpers, and unlike other articles where they have huge lists of these, I’ve actually personally tried all the ones I talk about, so I can say what actually worked instead of what the packaging claimed.

Reviewed!  Here’s my top picks for lip plumpers:

1. Soap and Glory Sexy Motherpucker plumping lip gloss. It now comes in a range of shades but I’ll always love the shade Half Naked because it was the original one and I think it’s the nicest, I’ve been using it on and off since late 2009. It contains sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid) and I’ve found it to be really effective. It costs $14-15 at Amazon where you can buy it direct from the manufacturer, and is also available in the UK at Boots for £9. I didn’t like the Silver Tubed XL version because it doesn’t work the same way and only produces a temporary plumping result. I liked this Soap and Glory Sexy Motherpucker plumping lip gloss because it’s easy to apply and in my experience one tube lasts a long time, as you don’t need to use much of this to get a plumping effect. Currently this Sexy Mother Pucker plumping lip gloss is my favourite plumping product. 9/10
Plumping ingredient: Sodium Hyaluronate. See it here

Plump lips
My bare lips after 3 days of following my lip plumping routine, using the Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Pucker Plumping Lip Gloss.
This was after 1 full week of using the Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Pucker gloss
This was after 1 full week of using the Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Pucker plumping lip gloss and following my lip plumping method. As you can see, the results speak for themselves.

2. Collection Plump Up The Volume Lip Gloss (aka Collection 2000). This was the first plumping product that I ever tried and I loved it so much! They discontinued it about 4 years ago, and I started buying their Volumizing Lipstick instead. 8.5/10 Plumping ingredient: Maxi-Lip.

3. Collection Volume Sensation Lipstick.  This lipstick was a bit less effective than the Collection lipgloss, but it gave a better result than the Rimmel Volume booster (below).  Collection changed the active ingredient in this lipstick from Maxi Lip (a peptide blend) to Sodium Hyaluronate, then they discontinued it completely 6 months ago as well! Now Collection don’t sell any products that contain Sodium Hyaluronate or Maxi Lip, or even anything that plumps lips.  You can still find an abundance of these on eBay, but I don’t know if I’d trust them to be sealed.  I’ve still got 2 tubes of this that I bought last summer.  I use it as a maintenance to keep my lips plump after they’re as plump as I like, and also as a gentle way to start plumping my lips when I haven’t plumped for a few months (steady does it).  Since it’s been discontinued, I’m looking at alternatives (see below). 7/10. Plumping ingredients: Maxi-Lip, then Sodium Hyaluronate.

Plumping Volume Sensation
I got this plumping result from the Collection Volume Sensation lipstick on lips that hadn’t been plumped for several months. If I use it more frequently, I get more of a result.  As you can see, I haven’t gone over the edges of my lips with the lipstick – this would get an even stronger plumping effect.
Collection Volume Lipstick
This is what my lips look like after using the Collection Volume plumping lipstick 3 times a day for 2 weeks.

4. Physician’s Formula Plump Potion Needle Free Lip Plumping Cocktail: This stuff was quite nice because it was fairly cheap and it contains a few different lip plumping ingredients for a show-stoppingly plump pout when you use it. I really liked how my lips looked with it on. I didn’t like the fact that it wasn’t a very long lasting result, however, and while it contained the all-important Sodium Hylauronate, I don’t think there was very much of it in there because the plumping result should have lasted longer. 6/10. Plumping ingredients: Caffeine, Hyalauronic Acid, Menthol. See it here.

Physicians formula lip plumping potion
This was the effect while I was using it, but my lips went back to their normal size within minutes of it coming off, so definitely not a long term fix but good for an extra boost for a special event.

5. Rimmel Volume Booster Lip Gloss: This stuff didn’t claim to work miracles – it says “up to 40% bigger” on the tube and I would agree that it didn’t go beyond this. If you’re looking for a subtle plump rather than a show-stopping plump, go for this one. If there were no other lip plumping glosses for sale for some reason, I’d buy it again, because it worked a little, but really I wasn’t that impressed. 4/10. Plumping Ingredients: Unknown. See it here

 

Reviewed:  Products that didn’t work for me:

6. Lip Venom: I used this in 2009 until it was empty. Absolutely terrible, it tingled and stung more than some other ones, and made my lips redder due to irritation, but it didn’t plump or increase my lip size at all. It probably works if you have poor circulation. It is a perfect example of a beauty product that got a lot of hype but didn’t deliver results. 2/10. Plumping Ingredients: Nothing.

7. Boots 17 Volumizing Lip Gloss: This did nothing, not even a tingle. I don’t think it even had any active ingredients in it to plump lips. 1/10. Plumping Ingredients: Nothing.

8. Sexy Mother Pucker XL (the silver tube): It does say to finish 2 tubes of the Sexy Mother Pucker lipgloss before using this, and while I had definitely done that in the past, I bought the XL in 2012 after I hadn’t used anything else for about 6 months, so perhaps that’s why it didn’t have much effect on my lips, but I found it to be like Lip Venom – all tingle and no plumping action! 3/10 (because it might work for someone else). Plumping ingredients: Collagen, Menthol. Warning: Contains Sodium Chondroitin Sulfate (shellfish).

9. Avon Anew Plumping Tinted Lip Conditioner: This was basically a tinted lipbalm type product shaped, packaged and priced like a lipstick, that you spread on your lips and it’s supposed to make them bigger. I used it in 2014 for the three months leading up to my wedding and while it was very conditioning of the lips, it did nothing to make my lips bigger, so I didn’t care when I lost it at work. In hindsight I would have spent my money on a better product, especially since it was in the run-up to my wedding. 3/10 (because it was quite moisturizing but didn’t plump). Plumping ingredients: Nothing.

 

Plumping products that I plan to try (but haven’t tried yet):

1. Elizabeth Arden Plump Perfect Lipstick: I do like a good plumping lipstick; I’m hoping this one will be at least as good as the Collection Volumizing Lipstick because now that’s discontinued, I don’t have a go-to volumizing lipstick. I have ordered the Elizabeth Arden Plump Perfect so as soon as it arrives, I’ll add my review. Active ingredient: Maxi-Lip (a peptide blend).

2. Too Faced Lip Injection Power Plumping Lip Gloss: This looks like it’s got some really good reviews and it’s available on Amazon, so when I next have some money to spend on cosmetics, this is what I’m going to try out! Active Ingredient: Unknown.

What about natural plumpers?

Unfortunately, while I’d like to live in a universe where there’s a plant that plumps lips, I don’t, and neither do you. Here’s my thoughts on the main things being labelled “natural” plumpers:
Cinnamon: That tingling sensation is the cinnamon burning your skin. Avoid. It’s become trendy to tell people to use this as an all natural ingredient that magically re-grows lost unicorn horns, because the tingle makes people feel like it’s working, but it’s not. It is classified as an irritant for a reason, and it’s highly allergenic (i.e. that swelling is caused by histamines and can cause permanent disfigurement).
Peppermint/Mint Oil: Less allergenic and dangerous than cinnamon, it will cause a local reaction of swelling but it won’t provide any long term results.

The most natural lip plumper is sodium hyaluronate (aka hyaluronic acid, which naturally occurs in the body anyway), and you can find it along with menthol and some other natural ingredients in the Physician’s Formula Plumping Potion.

How do these plumpers work?

If it contains sodium hyaluronate (certified vegan hylauronic acid), it will have a similar effect to the hyaluronic acid fillers, but it will take time for this to happen, because you’re putting the plumping lip gloss on the outside of your lips, and the fillers go on the inside. They both do a similar job, though. An even better set of ingredients to use are the Maxi-Lip quartet: Ethylhexyl Palmitate (and) Tribehenin (and) Sorbitan Isostearate (and) Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1. These naturally occurring plumping peptides have been clinically proven to stimulate collagen growth and used to be available in the Collection Volumizing Lipstick. It is the best set of ingredients for long term lip enhancement. This ingredient is now available in Elizabeth Arden’s Plump Perfect Lipstick.

With Sodium Hylauronate, you get two results – there’s the short term when your lips get plumped for a couple of hours, but there’s also the long term – your lips will grow bigger over time as the skin stretches more.

For an even more long-lasting plump, when you use a product containing Maxi-Lip at least three times a day for 28 days, studies show your lips will become plumper longer term because it stimulates collagen growth. Obviously, if you completely stop using it after that, they will gradually go back to their normal size because it doesn’t change your DNA, and that’s what tells your body how plump your lips should normally be. But if you stop using fillers, your lips would eventually go back to their normal size anyway, so in my view the plumping lip glosses are preferable because they’re cheaper and you’re in control of them.

 

Where’s the evidence for these plumpers?

As a science teacher, I think evidence is pretty important. Luckily, patents can’t be awarded without evidence, so while there’s not much about plumpers in the published scientific literature, there’s plenty of evidence for plumping that’s been submitted to the patent office! A patent is given for a new invention (including a cosmetic formula) that does what it claims to do, when an application is filed. All applications have to be made public. This means some of the patent applications are a little vague but it’s easy to see which plumpers have been tested and shown to work, because patents aren’t issued for things that don’t work. Here’s some of the scientific evidence relating to lip plumping (click the links to read original reports):
Use of peptides (e.g. Maxi-Lip) for lip plumping using the collagen stimulation method. (L’Oreal parent company).
Patent for immediate effect lip plumper, 2007 (Arbonne parent company).
Patent for a temporary lip plumping gloss (one that plumps while product is applied) (JAFRA parent company).
A patent for a lip balm containing sodium hyaluronate (aka hyaluronic acid. This also contains other ingredients) which will plump lips and stimulate collagen production in the area for anti-ageing purposes (Supersmile parent company). This patent clearly states: “Hyaluronic acid maintains tissue hydration and helps retain water within the skin tissue…The swelling of the sodium hyaluronate particles increase the volume of the lip tissue, reducing wrinkles and plumping the lips.”
The first patent that was filed that applies to wonder plumping ingredient Maxi-Lip (Sederma Parent Company).
The patent that explains how Maxi-Lip can stimulate collagen production by using a very specific newly-invented (by Sederma) peptide chain to plump.
The most recent patent that was filed that relates to Maxi-Lip’s method of action (this isn’t the patent for Maxi-Lip, which is above, this is a patent that protects the method of action) (Sederma Parent Company).
As you can see there’s quite a body of evidence that, while it’s not easy to find, definitely exists and does show that some lip plumping serums, glosses and lipsticks really do work, if you choose the right one. As these patents show, sodium hyaluronate and Maxi-Lip are the two best plumping ingredients for long term lip plumping effects.

Future ingredients to look out for:
This patent has very recently been granted to use bee venom in a lip plumper, and the evidence is looking pretty exciting.

back to reviews of lip plumpers.

4 Exercises for the Eyes to Avoid Wrinkles

This is a set of 4 exercises to help avoid eye wrinkles.

I found these exercises in a book from 1972 called “Secrets of Natural Beauty” by Virginia Castleton Thomas. I think it’s a classic amongst my parents’ generation (my parents would have been 11 when this was published, so maybe a classic amongst people a bit older), because when I cleared their houses after their deaths last year, both my mother and my father had a copy of this book on their bookshelf. I have, however, re-written the description of these exercises so that this post is more readable as the phrasing was a bit old-fashioned.

1. To remove eye tension and strengthen the eye muscles: Sit upright and extend your right arm directly in front of you. Point forward with your index finger and focus on it with your eyes, then move the finger very slowly to the right, until your arm has moved so far that you can hardly focus on it any more, then bring the arm back to centre, slowly, still focusing on the finger. Repeat the exercise using your left arm, but this time, move the arm to the left instead of the right.

2. Keeping your head still, raise your arm upwards to the limit of your vision. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly drop your arm until it’s at the lower end of your vision range. Start by doing this once per day, but after you have done them for a few days, start building repetitions until you are doing a few reps each time.

3. Open your eyes wide and visualize a large-faced clock with the numbers painted just at the edge of your vision. Start at twelve o’clock and very slowly, without moving your head, move your eyes to one o’clock and on around in a clockwise direction, pausing briefly at each (visualized) number before moving onto the next one. After returning to twelve o’clock, repeat the exercise anticlockwise, moving the eyes from twelve to eleven, and so on.

4. Rolling the head without moving the shoulders is a good exercise for improved vision. This movement relaxes the eyes and reduces deepening wrinkles due to eye strain. Learning to do a loose head roll not only improves the vision by increasing circulation to the optic nerves, but can also relax the entire upper body. Personally I find the head roll very comforting and relaxing – it reminds me of yoga and gymnastics lessons at primary school. Do be aware that it’s best to avoid rolling your head backwards as this has been said to be dangerous (I’m not sure if this is a myth but I avoid it just in case, as I was told it during warm-ups by instructors of five or six different physical activities).

I tried these exercises out last night, and I don’t think I look any younger but the head roll was, as I predicted, very relaxing. The eye exercises made both my eyes ache slightly when I moved my eyes from 1 to 2 and from 11 to 10, so I think that might be an area of muscle weakness that I need to work on.

Virginia also writes:
“In addition to exercises for toning eye muscles, there are additional helps to control the marring of skin tissue by wrinkles, dark circles and frown lines. Learn to express your thought without grimacing. Many people are inclined to punctuate, describe or apologize for the contents of their speech by clown-like expressions.
The face should not be used to explain verbal expression. Well-chosen words will convey your meaning and be more appreciated without distracting facial expressions. Frowns, narrowing of the eyes and other manifestations of uncertainty do not present either a pretty or helpful picture. Use adequate speech and save your face.
That is not to say one should not have any expression at all. But these expressions should be relaxed, and show the more pleasant aspects of one’s personality. Laugh lines seldom seem to distress their owners as much as frown lines or wrinkles caused by squinting or habitually downturned lips. Laugh lines add animation to the face. However, the quick to laugh personality often pays for charm with crinkle lines around the lips.” (Secrets of Natural Beauty, 1972, page 133)

It sort of reads like she’s a slightly bossy teacher at a finishing-school trying to impress upon her charges the importance of understated expressions. I’m not sure I agree with the way she’s written it but the fact still remains that OTT expressions will age your face too soon, and apparently this has been known since at least the early 1970s. One thing I will point out is the women who were in their twenties in the 1960s and 1970s seem to have all stopped ageing around their late forties and early fifties, so they probably know what they’re talking about when it comes to beauty. While I couldn’t find any information on the internet about Virginia Castleton Thomas (and the book sadly appears to be out of print), it does say on the back cover that she was a beauty editor, and the introductory chapter shows that she has done a lot of research to find the beauty formulas she presents in this book, so I think she knows what she’s talking about. I will be writing more about this book, and the recipes for home-made cosmetics, as I try them out.

katie sun bathes
Katie had this natural beauty thing down so well that we didn’t know she was 7, we thought she was 2! Imma do what she did for my beauty routine – only use my paws to clean my face, eat everything in sight, especially if it is a plant, and spend lots of time in the sun with my Dearest.

What do you think of these facial exercises?  Would you do them?  Let me know in the comments!

Hair Trends for 2016: My Favourites

So there’s been enough fashion shows by now to be able to work out what’s trending and what’s over for 2016.  Here are my 5 favourite hair trends for 2016 (I don’t own any of the images in this article):

1. The very slightly off-centre parting: Of the 10 best trends chosen by Vogue, 5 of them incorporated a parting which was lined up with the center-tip of one eyebrow or other. I like the natural parting look because it looks so DIY and ‘normal’ compared to those unachievable looks of recent years, which were very contrived.

Natural hair
Image from: Buzzfeed.

2. Anachronistic accessories: Ok, so I’m not completely sold on this one, because the last time I put princess crap in my hair, I was probably 7, but I have a feeling this trend is going to grow on me. Fashion-wise, it’s being teamed with boyish clothes and wellies, to create a gender-bending look that I know is going to either be totes awesome or an utter disaster.

Accessory hair style trend
Image source: Harpers Bazaar

3. Big Fringes: I knew big fringes were going to be big news because there’s a lot of 70’s imagery in popular culture this year. The fringes I’ve seen coming from catwalks are all very 70’s-style, so I think this is a case of a back-door revival – nobody’s actually said “this season’s a 70’s revival” but when I look around at the designs people are using, the influence is very definitely there.

Hair fringe trend 2016
Source: Harper’s Bazaar

4. Braids and Cornrows: The thing I’m most excited about for the coming year are the braids and cornrows. My stepdad had dreads when I was growing up (after he got rid of the mohican lol) and I always loved getting the chance to spend hours plaiting my hair into different styles, but I had to take them out for school because braids and cornrows were NOT what the cool kids did in my all-white village school (later I realized they weren’t so much cool kids as narrow-minded insular bullies, and that it wouldn’t have mattered whether I’d had the same hair as them or turned up with a pink clown wig, they were going to bully me regardless as I was different). I can’t wait to do my hair in some of these styles again. If you teamed this up with number 2, you could put beads and stuff in your braids and it would be da bomb. Both Valentino and Chanel showcased models who rocked cornrow braids on the catwalk.

Cornrows example
Source: Listaddicts.com

5. Bleach blonde: The platinum blonde trend of 2015, which reached its zenith in Autumn/Winter 2015 with silver hair being the biggest trend of the year (I should know, I’ve made loads of tutorials on how to achieve silver hair on my Youtube channel), has turned it down a notch. Now that silver hair is starting to look a bit shit, because there’s people wearing it when it a) doesn’t suit their complexion, general skincare routine or clothing choices, and b) not looking after their hair so it looks scabby rather than deconstructed and c) People are doing it in a half-assed kinda way so I’ve seen quite a lot of skanks whose silver colour is literally sitting on top of their hair instead of shining out of it, it really just looks terrible. It’s put me right off wanting to be silver again for a long while because there’s just too many people who are doing it badly. Like Lycra leggings in the early 90’s were ruined for a whole generation by fat women with bad pantylines, this silver hair trend has gotta die! If you’re wondering where to go next with your hair colour, block colours are still really big, and bleach blonde is still the base colour that celebs are choosing this year. If you are still tempted to go silver, check out my silver, platinum and white hair tutorials on my Youtube channel (scroll to “popular uploads” and take your pick) so you can do it right and rock it like you got it done in a salon (or at least like you didn’t just wash out some greeny-blue).

zig zag parting
Source: Harper’s Bazaar
freckles makeup 16 1
Source: Harper’s Bazaar.

So that’s the top 5 hair trends of 2016, of course I couldn’t wear all of them together, and I can’t wait to maybe do some tutorials on some of these styles, although, oddly enough, I’m considering keeping my hair dark for the time being because after hating my colour all my life, I’ve started to like it.  There are several other trends I haven’t mentioned here, chiefly the “lob” (long bob) which is a stupid name for a nice hairstyle, and the “bronde” (light brown/dark blonde hair colour) which is another stupid name for a nice but utterly unremarkable hair colour.

Have you seen any of these trends out and about yet? What do you think of them? Let me know in the comments!

Images are attributed to their owners in the captions.  All interpretations and explanations are my own.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Time

Last year's cherry blossom (aka May blossom), taken with last year's camera. It has been long gone for 10 months now, after these petals tumbled to the floor in a blushing snowdrift. How differently will the blossom be that grows this year?
Last year’s cherry blossom (aka May blossom), taken with last year’s camera. It has been long gone for 10 months now, after these petals tumbled to the floor in a blushing snowdrift. How differently will the blossom be that grows this year?
Last year's cherry blossom, taken with last year's camera. How differently will the blossom be that grows this year?
More pink, less focus.  Hmm…

This is my first weekly photo challenge from here, the theme was time.

I am still a bit new to all this photography stuff so feedback would be appreciated!

No-One Wants To Know The Real Truth About Parabens

Parabens. It’s seen as a dirty word amongst the “natural beauty” movement and the “mainstream” cosmetics industry is trying its best to ignore it, right? Because of parabens, many people are spending more money than ever on cosmetics and personal care products to avoid those scary-sounding paraben ingredients.

Today I want to step (mostly) aside from the quibble over whose scientific paraben research was more inaccurate, to examine the bigger question; who really benefits from the fears surrounding parabens?

To get at the answer, we need to do some digging. You may have noticed the unbelievable number of very expensive “natural beauty” paraben-free organic natural companies that have sprung up over the past couple of years. They charge you an arm and a leg for beautifully coloured, luxuriously scented containers of goop with names such as “thermal spa minerals bath elixir” “cleansing water mist” and “nourishing body souffle.”

Paraben free products are not necessarily being marketed by ethical companies.

Okay, so some of you are thinking “what is going on? Has she been paid to say this?”

I am an independent researcher, sitting at home writing this, and I look at all the information I can get my hands on and I base my conclusion on the information I find.

Here’s some things you need to know about the people telling you to avoid parabens:

1. The “natural beauty” companies who are selling the paraben free products are operating on a much higher profit margin than conventional companies. It doesn’t cost them more money to avoid putting an ingredient in a product because they’re not replacing parabens with something else that costs more. Here’s an analogy: Think of a cake, if you made a cake without chocolate powder, so it was a plain flavoured cake, would it cost you more to make that cake, or a cake which used chocolate powder? When all the other ingredients stayed the same, the chocolate cake would cost more to make. So why is the plain cake costing so much more to buy? Why are the paraben free products costing up to ten times more than their paraben-containing counterparts? It’s very profitable to make paraben-free products.

2. The “big beauty companies” that some sensationalist self-styled “health journalists” are criticizing? Most of them are benefiting from the paraben myth in some way. Here’s a list of well-known beauty companies who have at least one product that they’re marketing as paraben free:

Clarins, Clinique, Ojon, Pureology (and by extension, L’Oreal), Dead Sea Spa, Aveda, Morrocan Oil, Vaseline, Revlon, Dr Organic, Physician’s Formula, Burt’s Bees, Bare Escentuals (and Bare Minerals), L’Occitane, Origins.

This is where the biggest money behind the anti-paraben hype is overtly coming from, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only people making megabucks from scaring you away from parabens.

3. A lot of the smaller start-up companies (such as all the new startup sellers of natural, paraben-free, organic, very expensive products) don’t have to list their board of directors or key shareholders, particularly if they’re not floated on the stock exchange or aren’t incorporated. This means that, to start a smaller start-up company that makes big bucks from the current “natural beauty” craze, a larger company can finance it for a share of the profits, guide product development and marketing, then step back and let the smaller company turn a profit – who then repay a percentage of that to the larger company. We’ve seen this time and again on Dragon’s Den, you think they’re the only people doing it? Everyone in business with investment capital is doing it! If the smaller company goes bankrupt (such as “organic skincare” company Davina Peace… they had a waiting list of clients when they launched in 2010. You can find Davina Peace halfway down this list of insolvent companies in administration in 2012, along with the date of insolvency), the larger company washes their hands of the whole thing because it was nothing to do with them. If anything, they end up on the list of creditors (people owed money). If and when the current “natural skincare” craze ends, and the consumers start looking for something else, the larger company comes out of this beauty trend totally unscathed, with their reputation in tact when everyone goes back to buying “normal” stuff again. It is impossible to know behind the scenes who is financing and guiding these companies. It is impossible to know if any company is truly independent because corporate accounting strategies are inscrutable. Smaller companies are less accountable than larger ones.

4. You know whose products still contain parabens? The Body Shop! They’re an independent company not affiliated to any others, they are all about “natural” skincare and beauty, but their products are still packed with parabens. Why? Because they want to kill you? Uh, reality check, if cosmetics companies kill their customers, who’s going to be left alive to buy cosmetics? They use parabens because the evidence for the current paraben-noia is flimsy, it all comes from studies where at least one of the same people were involved, they all use very small sample sizes (the latest one, the one that “proves” parabens are dangerous? 40 participants.  All in Britain. That’s 0.0000000006% of the world’s population (or 0.000000012% of the population of America). And the researcher was forced to conclude that parabens are “only part of the bigger picture” which is scientist speak for “I’ve spent nearly a decade of my life barking up the wrong tree.” Why was this conclusion made? Well 7 of the 40 participants didn’t even use any cosmetics in the underarm area, so they weren’t getting any parabens from those products and yet the tissue samples still contained parabens. No deodorant, no body lotion… do you know anyone who doesn’t use any deodorant, any lotion, anything at all under their arms, who ALSO wears face cream or make-up? Who bathes regularly?? I don’t. These things tend to come in groups – people who don’t use deodorant (including natural ones) or body lotion tend not to use other products. Such as shower gel. And that’s if we totally ignore her first study on the effect of parabens, published in January 2004, which had a sample of twenty participants (also in Britain) and didn’t have a control group (a group of people who didn’t have cancer, or who didn’t use parabens, for example, to check if their paraben level was the same), which is the study everyone keeps misquoting.

5. Research is driven by funding.  Without funding, people don’t research things.  Every job in science has to be paid for and accounted for.  Researchers have to justify why they need money in most fields.  By studying parabens, an oncologist (for example) would no longer need to depend on funding from public health bodies (such as the nearly-bankrupt British NHS, Britain being the country where all of the research on parabens was carried out by the same lead author) or charities specialising in cancer research, and instead, that researcher could open up a huge avenue of funding for the university they work for, from cosmetics companies (or subsidiary research institutes funded by straw-man companies funded by cosmetics companies) who stand to gain from the results – if those results mean they can sell more paraben-free products.  Additionally, these big companies don’t require the results to be very rigorous (unlike health organizations) as long as they’re sensational.  Just like the beauty blogger who sells her scruples for a free mascara, the researcher claims that “all opinions are my own” although in science-speak, that’s “the research method was robust.”  For good measure, the researcher could get other people they know to peer-review it (everyone in the same field knows each other).  This is sadly how a lot of corporate-relevant scientific research is being done nowadays – fund a university, they can claim they’re independent, the company might even guide the university’s researchers about sharing the results with the world to get maximum impact but because it came from a university lab, we believe every word as infallible.  This is how many people get a PhD these days!  It all depends how financially malleable the researchers are, but there are hints that this happens all over academia, especially in the research areas most relevant to the pharmaceutical, nutritional and cosmetics industries.  If the research had showed parabens were not implicated in cancer, the cosmetics companies would gain less overall.  When was the last time a newspaper ran a story that said “fresh broccoli doesn’t cause cancer” (for example)?  It doesn’t sell products.

Cashing In

So what, exactly am I trying to say, and who do I think I am that I can say this? Just like animal testing, the truth behind these “natural beauty” companies is surrounded by a mystique of obfuscation, corporate financial backing and bad science… which makes them no better than the regular cosmetics companies. I wrote this because I value honesty and I was compelled to show that you don’t need to spend large amounts of money on “paraben free” products. These companies are cashing in on our biggest fears.

I think that in order to really get to the heart of the paraben issue, we’ve got to examine why we react so strongly to allegations that products are dangerous: Fear.

The Role Of Fear

We fear cancer more than anything else because we feel powerless, most of us know someone who has died of cancer. Breast cancer is terrifying because we don’t know why some people get it and others don’t. We don’t know why cancer seems to be getting more common than ever before. Personally, I believe it’s down to processed food; I think there’s something about all those condiments, sauces, ready meals and so on. But that doesn’t net an attention grabbing headline, that’s never going to produce viral content, so nobody writes about it or researches it for long because they can’t get funding.  Research is driven by funding – especially at universities.  Who funds research?  Companies who stand to gain from it!

Look at the recent evidence linking bacon to cancer. What was the public’s response? Oh, I love bacon, I’m never going to stop eating bacon! It hardly made the news for a week before disappearing! These are the same people avoiding cigarettes and parabens! The reason I wanted the world to know what fuels the paraben myth is because people think that if they avoid parabens they get some kind of points, that they can then use to smoke, drink and eat bacon. It doesn’t work like that. The things you eat, drink and smoke are the real culprits here.

Japanese women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than anyone else in the world because of their diet. Tokyo is a very polluted urban environment; have you ever been there? Huge skyscrapers, people’s living space is tiny, ventilation is complicated, and yet those women are getting breast cancer less often than women living in the Great Plains. Do Japanese women use parabens? Of course they do! They may use some “traditional Japanese” products, but when was the last time you used a “traditional” product of your own nationality? The only traditional English beauty product I use is rosewater from the supermarket (the stuff in the beauty shop is full of alcohol – which DOES cause cancer when ingested), and if I’m honest, I don’t use it as often as I should.

By avoiding parabens, consumers are being given a false sense of control, a false sense of security, a false sense of everything’s fine. Clearly, everything is not fine. Vegetarians and meat eaters are getting cancer at similar rates. Natural organic homeopaths are getting cancer at the same rate as people using branded products full of parabens and “chemicals.” The lie is that we are safe if we avoid parabens and other molecules labeled as “nasties.” We are not safe. None of us are. That’s the truth about parabens: You can avoid any ingredient with more than ten letters in the name as much as you like, it’s not going to help you. All this is doing is letting the real culprits get away with murder for longer while the cosmetics companies get even richer than ever from people’s fear.

Cosmetics companies are experts in using fear to sell products – fear of looking old, fear of really being old… those anti-ageing creams are cashing in on people’s fear of mortality. Fear of being ugly, of not looking attractive… make-up cashes in on people’s fear of being alone, people’s fear of rejection. The cosmetics industry has a long track record of subtly using fear to motivate women to buy their products. I’m not telling you to start buying products full of parabens, or to stop buying cosmetics; you should look how you want to, but you need to be aware of the truth about parabens. Avoiding parabens is not going to save you. We will all get old. We will all be alone sometimes. We will all die one day. And that’s the real truth about parabens.  It’s a shame everyone’s so busy being scared of parabens to understand what’s really at play here.

Can a whitening toothpaste really whiten your teeth?

After being ill for so long, my teeth were in serious need of some whitening. Lack of nutrients coupled with vomiting millions of times a day means I look and feel like a train wreck at the moment (actually I’ve visually improved a lot over the last fortnight but I’m still not my usual self), and I’m trying to attack my problem areas head on.

Tooth whitening is one of those tricky spots in beauty, because one one hand you’ve got every sixteen year old on Youtube telling you that they’ve found the perfect homemade tooth whitening formula and on the other hand you’ve got cosmetic dentists who claim that the only way to get whiter teeth is to pay them large amounts of money for an in-office or take-home whitening treatment. Both in-office and homemade tooth whitening remedies can be extremely damaging to the teeth if you just blindly follow them, so I decided to do some research before I put anything in my mouth.

I researched exactly what these whitening products did, then tried one out myself to find out if the middle ground – store bought whitening products, such as whitening toothpastes – were really worth the money.

How whitening works:

There are a lot of scam whitening products on the market that don’t really work, and a lot of “home whitening” recipes that are complete and utter bullshit. All of the whitening products that actually work contain peroxide in one of two forms – hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) or carbamide peroxide (CH6N2O3). Carbamide peroxide is an unstable molecule made of urea and hydrogen peroxide, and when it comes into contact with water or certain types of light, it breaks down into urea and hydrogen peroxide. Urea, in case you missed it at school, is the concentrated waste product that combines with water to form urine. In beauty products, it usually comes from animals because, while it can be synthesized in a lab, it’s easier to get it from pig urine.

For the purposes of whitening, your teeth have two layers; enamel and dentine. Your natural tooth colour comes from the dentine which is slightly yellow and which shines through the enamel. This is genetic. When staining occurs, it affects the enamel on the outside. This is environmental. Both genetic and environmental tooth colour can be changed by whitening products.

Professional whitening products tend to use carbamide peroxide, where shop-bought (or Amazon bought) whitening products tend to go straight for the hydrogen peroxide. How are they different? Well they’re really not. And here’s why: When the carbamide peroxide is put on the teeth and exposed to light (water isn’t used because it would wash the gel off the teeth), the carbamide peroxide breaks down into its component parts (urea and hydrogen peroxide). The hydrogen peroxide whitens the enamel which removes staining, then it penetrates into the dentine layer to change your natural shade. This double-action is why products which don’t contain hydrogen peroxide just don’t work very well – other ingredients can only affect the enamel (and some products such as salt or lemon juice can cause serious abrasion or acid erosion). If the enamel gets damaged by inappropriate whitening ingredients, it doesn’t grow back and in spite of what it says on all those “enamel repair” products, all they do is patch the holes, they can’t grow back tooth enamel, so it’s really important to avoid using abrasive products that will damage the tooth surface. That’s why I’d prefer to use hydrogen peroxide, which has been proven safe in the concentrations found in tooth whitening products, than any of those “home remedies” or other ingredients that haven’t been tested to find out whether they damage tooth enamel – enamel damage isn’t immediately obvious and I’m not going to risk my future tooth health because once you’ve ruined your teeth, you’ve only got a turd to polish.

Is peroxide safe on teeth?

Yes and no. It is safe in the small quantities you can find it in EU approved products. Not so much if you buy a bottle of hair bleach and apply it liberally – this is NOT safe. This sort of silliness causes tooth loss, gum damage, whatever. You MUST use a product that is SPECIFICALLY for teeth. If you swallow a little bit of it, don’t worry because the hydrochloric acid will neutralize it in this reaction:

2HCl (stomach acid) + H2O2 (peroxide) –>> 2H2O (water) + Cl2 (chlorine).

As the chlorine gas gets produced, however (such as in the event of ingesting a fair amount of H2O2), the chlorine reacts with the unreacted hydrogen peroxide (remember, it doesn’t all react at once, reactions take time):

H2O2 (peroxide) + Cl2 (chlorine) –>> O2 (oxygen) + 2H+ (hydrogen-plus ions) + 2Cl- (chlorine-minus ions)

The + and – signs denote ions, which means they behave differently. This is a free radical reaction that you don’t want running round your body because it can cause cancer and premature ageing.

The concentration in tooth products is 0.1% (UK) up to 3% (US). A few molecules of chlorine won’t kill you. HOWEVER, it IS a poisonous gas, so if you swallow a tablespoon or more of 3% hydrogen peroxide, take the container and get yourself straight to the ER (or A + E) at the hospital.

Safety is a sliding scale, and on it, we can put Hydrogen Peroxide between Coca Cola (not great for you but won’t kill you for a long time) and House Bleach (contains peroxide and other active ingredients such as anionic surfactants). As an aside, all those things that say “uses pure oxygen to clean” contain peroxide. That’s where they get the oxygen from. Hydrogen peroxide is just water with an extra oxygen atom attached, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to drink it, and I’m mentioning this because it concerns me that some “health nuts” are drinking hydrogen peroxide for it’s alleged (read: none) health benefits. One day, the damage will catch up with them in the form of cancer (peroxide will release free radicals if you drink it) or loss of function of their digestive system (chemical burns, yum). I suppose that’s why the posthumous Darwin Awards were invented. So don’t drink it, that’s stupid, but using small amounts to whiten your teeth then rinsing your mouth with water is fairly harmless in the grand scheme of things.

What about gum damage? And other problems with the red squishy tissue in your mouth? Small amounts of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide don’t seem to damage the red stuff (gums, tongue etc), whereas there are a lot of reviews of “peroxide free” whiteners (usually these come with a snazzy blue LED to make you think you’re shining a UV light on the gel, which ALWAYS contains some chemical that will cause irritation) which state these have burnt people’s mouths. When that happens, people are duped into thinking the product is working, but you know what? Vindaloo curry burns your mouth and THAT doesn’t whiten your teeth. However, in high concentrations of peroxide, or if you leave the peroxide in your mouth for too long, you will end up with sensitivity in your mouth area.

Which products did I use to whiten my teeth?

I took a two pronged approach – I used two different whitening toothpastes. I started with the Arm and Hammer Truly Radiant toothpaste, which contains Hydrogen Peroxide. It claimed that it would give a “radiant smile in 5 days” and I wanted to test that. What exactly is a radiant smile? No idea. For the purposes of research (to find out if this stuff really worked), I brushed my teeth 10 times in the same day. This lifted a lot of the surface staining but I’m not sure it had as much of an effect as I would like. Also brushing my teeth so many times in one day made my mouth very sore and irritated because the toothbrush abraded the gums and the toothpaste dried out my lips. I liked the idea of using a toothpaste to whiten, but I disliked the idea of not being able to just put the stuff in my teeth, wait 20 minutes then get white teeth. In the past I’ve used Rapid White and that worked faster, but you can only use it once per day and it left my teeth feeling very sensitive so I haven’t used it for several years. I also hated having two trays in my mouth because it stopped me swallowing my saliva, meaning I had to use huge quantities of tissue to stop that saliva from interfering with the gel on my teeth.

Here is the Youtube video showing me brushing my teeth a lot to test the Arm and Hammer Truly Radiant Whitening Toothpaste:

I would recommend this for a couple of quid if you need a quick fix but it’s not the sort of results I could get from painting white nail varnish over my teeth going to the dentist, but then, I could buy 1000 tubes of Arm and Hammer for the cost of one whitening treatment at the dentist (I was quoted £500, and I was told I’d have to do the actual treatment myself at home as my dentist said that dentists aren’t allowed to whiten in the UK any more). Once some of the stains had lifted a bit from using the Arm and Hammer, I tried out the Blanx White Shock Toothpaste (with a special blue light) which cost about £10. I first tried this in January 2015 and wasn’t too impressed, but thought I’d try it again for comparison with the Arm and Hammer. It claims to be peroxide free. I tried it again this time, making sure I kept my teeth under the light for half an hour, and it STILL did nothing.

In conclusion, the toothpaste containing peroxide worked MUCH better than the “whitening treatment” with a scientific-looking blue light which did absolutely nothing to change the colour of my teeth. However, neither of them gave me the sort of results I was looking for, and I am still looking for my perfect tooth whitening product. I looked into whitening strips but all the ones for sale in the UK sound like crap.

Looking for a more natural alternative, I tried an experimental coconut oil rinse this morning. I rinsed for two separate sets of 5 minutes, which was very boring, but my teeth looked shiny afterwards. I’m not sure they’re any whiter, but I’m going to try it out over the course of a few days just to see, because oil pulling with coconut is totally harmless (unless you choke on it or something). I’ll write a new article if it works out, but I’m still on the look out for a good chemical whitener.

Have you tried any tooth whitening products? What did you think of them?