The best product for very dry, irritated skin: Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion

I suppose two years into a pandemic isn’t really the ideal time to share my holy grail moisturiser for very dry skin – but better late than never, right? The thing is, this product was first recommended to me by my dad, who had the driest hands of anyone I’ve ever known, and every time I thought about writing about writing this blog post, I would think of him, feel sad and then not want to write anything anymore. Not sure what it is about today, but I finally feel like I can get it done – so if you’re currently suffering from unbearably dry hands, whether pandemic related or not, today is your lucky day.

Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion has completely saved my skin on more occasions than I can count. In harsh winters my hands would previously get to the point of splitting from being so dry, and ever since I was young I’ve been plagued by rough red patches on my skin all year long. I genuinely think at this point that I’ve tried every product in existence – from steroid creams to natural oils and prescription emollients, but the only thing that consistently gives me relief is this miracle product. An unassuming, medium-thickness, fragrance-free cream, it sinks in after just a few seconds of massaging – which is really impressive for a product as nourishing and moisturising as this one. When used on dry skin, it sinks in wonderfully well, and when used on irritated skin, the soothing power is simply incredible. While on the surface it might just look like any other body lotion, this one really is different, and that’s for a few reasons…

OAT-BASED PROTECTION

Firstly, let’s talk about the oat ingredients in the formulation – oat flour, oat extract and oat oil combine to help protect, soothe and calm the skin. Irritation is an immune response – it’s your body noticing that the skin has been compromised in some way, and increasing blood-flow to the area to supply white blood cells to fight off potential threats. Protective skincare products are applied at this stage because once the skin realises it is protected, it will send a message to the body that the immune system can stand down because things are under control – and then the skin’s incredible healing processes can get to work repairing the area, beneath the protective umbrella of the skincare product. The reason that oats are so effective at soothing dry skin is surprisingly simple – oat binds to the skin, creating a natural protective barrier. No product actually ‘heals’ the skin – all they do is create that protective barrier on the skin so that it can heal itself, and oat is one of the most effective ingredients for doing that. There are many different compounds in oat that help the skin, such as beta-glucan, fatty acids and avenanthramides, which are anti-inflammatory agents, and Aveeno’s combination of three different types of oat ingredients ensures that those compounds are delivered as effectively and in as high concentrations as possible.

MICROBIOME SUPPORT

The formulation also has a pre-biotic effect, meaning it supports a healthy bacterial ecosystem on the skin’s surface. Pre-biotics have been shown to help soothe and calm the skin by increasing the population of ‘good’ bacteria. Many of the cosmetic products we use daily – shower gels, serums, lotions and so on, can destroy the microbiome because they contain powerful preservatives to keep them stable once opened – but those preservatives also kill bacteria when applied to your skin, thus affecting your microbiome, and inhibiting your skin’s ability to protect itself, leading to dryness and irritation. It’s a bit like how when you take antibiotics you’re supposed to introduce a probiotic into your diet, because the bacterial imbalance created by the medicine can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to digest food. Aveeno Skin Relief uses potassium sorbate to keep the product safe and useable, which is a totally different kettle of fish to the cheaper, more mainstream preservatives – it’s actually food safe, and is used in all kinds of food and drink as well as high-quality, skin friendly cosmetic products. Several years ago I started using facial skincare products with potassium sorbate, and the difference it made was extraordinary, so it made sense that a hand and body product preserved in the same way would be just as good.

TAKE MY WORD FOR IT

It’s all well and good me explaining the science behind the product, but let me give you some examples of a few specific times when Aveeno Skin Relief has saved my skin.

My dad was admitted to a palliative care ward for two months in the middle of the pandemic, and while I was in and out of the hospital visiting him, my hand washing habit (which was already a bit over the top before the pandemic) reached a new level of extreme. But my hands didn’t just get dry – it got a bit scary to be honest. They’d do this thing where they turned bright red, the skin was stretched, my fingers would swell up, and my palms would get hot and itch. Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion was the only thing I tried that actually helped. I was getting so scared because I started to think my hands were beyond repair – they were so uncomfortable that it hurt to use them, an added stress that I could have really done without at the time. No other product worked – I tried so many different ones. And then I picked up the bottle of this miracle lotion – the instant soothing effect was incredible, and so I kept using it. Before long, the reaction totally stopped happening.

When I first started taking my antidepressant, I broke out in a rash. This is apparently normal as long as it doesn’t become too severe, but it was uncomfortable. Teeny tiny red bumps from my neck down to my belly button – hot, itchy and very annoying. I slathered myself in Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion, and while it’s impossible to say whether it was my body adjusting to the medicine, or the product getting to work, the rash was immediately soothed and gone the next day.

Sometimes, I get dermatitis around my eyes. This can be from using unsuitable skincare products, but it also happens when I’ve been crying. Yes, my ridiculously sensitive skin is allergic to my own tears – causing bumpy redness and irritation. A thin layer of Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion takes care of this very nicely – which I’ll be forever grateful for because, to be blunt, the last thing you need when someone you love dies is an allergic reaction to your own grief.

My last example is about a different product from the same range – Aveeno Skin Relief Cica Balm. I hadn’t found much use for the Balm before this happened because every other problem I’d had was solved with the Lotion, but my god did it save me from a situation here. A few weeks ago, I woke up with an absolutely horrible irritation under one of my breasts – bright red, unbearably itchy and really distressing because it felt like the skin was ripping – and when I looked closer, I was horrified to see tiny little tear wounds along the area of irritation. It must have been some kind of contact dermatitis from the bra I had been wearing, because it was in a crescent shape on my chest, directly underneath the breast. Anyway, after I was done staring at it in horror in the mirror, I realised the Aveeno Skin Relief Cica Balm was on my bathroom shelf so I grabbed it and applied a thin layer. The effect was so wonderfully soothing – the painful itch started to abate immediately, and within a couple of days it was totally back to normal. I wish I could remember which bra I had been wearing so I can set it on fire, but at least I know if it happens again I’ll have a solution!

Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion comes in two different sizes – a 300ml pump bottle which costs £7.99, and a 200ml tube for £5.99 on Boots.com – they seem to be more expensive on other websites which is strange, but I suppose it’s each website’s choice. The Cica Balm is £6.99 for 50ml (remember that it’s a more concentrated formula), and when I was on Boots getting the links to share I realised they also have a Shampoo and a Body Wash in the Skin Relief line too! I’ll definitely be trying both of those soon. The Body Wash is £9.99 for 500ml, and the Shampoo is £9.99 for 300ml. You can also shop the full range of Skin Relief products here. This range is in my opinion extremely well priced – for the quality of the products and how little you need to use, I’m consistently impressed by the incredible value. I hope you have as much luck with it as I have!

Prisons shouldn’t exist – here’s why

One thing most people may not know about me is that I have a LOT of opinions about the prison system. This is because I grew up around adults who worked in offender rehabilitation, and I considered it as a career for quite a while – pretty much until it became clear that the government had destroyed any chance of developing a restorative justice system in the UK. I ultimately decided that it wasn’t for me because I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a difference that way, and I didn’t have enough emotional energy to expend on a system that at best would be futile, and at worst could be actively harmful to the ex-offenders who are in it, and the communities they live in.

Photo by Xiaoyi on Pexels.com

Put simply, my belief about the prison system is as follows: Almost everyone who is in prison, shouldn’t be there. Sure, there are some people who are so dangerous that they need to be separated from society for everyone’s safety, but that is a very small fraction of the prison population, and a totally different kettle of fish in terms of management (and not a topic I’m going to discuss here). The thing is, punishment on its own simply does not work – there’s so much evidence for this I almost feel like it should be a complete sentence. But let me explain. If punishment worked, then why do a quarter of all convicted offenders go on to be convicted of further crimes? (Source) The vast majority of crimes are committed by people who’s lives have frankly sucked, including from mental health problems, drug problems, trauma, poverty and disabilities. If your life is already pretty punishing, why on earth would more punishment do anything to change things? It’s true that most of the people with these issues do not commit crimes against other people – but we’re all different, and we ALL make mistakes. Non-offenders like to think that the difference between them and an offender is much bigger than it really is. It’s shocking the things we are capable of justifying to ourselves – and that goes for behaviour that isn’t against the law too.

Fairness first

I mentioned above that many, if not most, prisoners have experienced societal disadvantages, so let me back that up with some facts:

  • Half of all UK prisoners are functionally illiterate. (Source)
  • It’s estimated that 30% of UK prisoners are Dyslexic. (Source)
  • 20-30% of UK prisoners have ADHD. (Source)
  • Rates of PTSD in prisoners are higher than the general population. (Source)
  • Almost 50% of prisoners were excluded from school as a child. (Source)
  • 24% of prisoners were in the care system as children. (Source)
  • 29% of prisoners were abused as children, and 41% witnessed violence in the home. (Source)
  • There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that heavily implies a link between childhood poverty and offending. (Source)

It is absolutely true that most people are able to overcome disadvantages like the ones above, living reasonably stable lives that don’t involve breaking the law. But that doesn’t change the fact that these disadvantages present in MUCH higher percentages in prison populations than in the general population. This strongly implies some causal relationship, although it’s important to acknowledge the complexity that goes into making the kinds of mistakes that offenders make.

Still human

It can be really difficult to absorb anti-prison ideas (better known as abolitionism), especially if you or a loved one have been a victim of a crime. But the important thing to remember is that this way of thinking isn’t about being ‘soft’ on people who hurt others, or ignoring the trauma that happens when you’re a victim of a crime. And to be clear, victims are not obliged to be involved in their offender’s rehabilitation either. Some may choose to be, but no one should ever feel morally obligated to have anything to do with them. Abolitionism is about doing what we need to do to protect us ALL (victims, offenders, and society as a whole) in the most effective way. It just so happens that the best way to prevent crime is to reduce the reasons people have to offend, and to treat those who do offend with empathy. I’m not saying that beneath the surface of every offender is a lovely person who just needs a hug and a square meal to reveal themselves as a wonderful example of humanity. Just like the rest of the population, some offenders are simply unpleasant. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t people. We all have flaws – greed, selfishness, bitterness, anger, intolerance are all very VERY common human personality traits and absolutely aren’t unique to people who break the law. One of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever met has, as far as I know, never broken the law in his life. And many offenders really ARE thoughtful, kind, empathetic people who have gone the wrong way at some point.

An anecdote: I used to volunteer at a foodbank in a town that was also home to a men’s prison. At Christmas, the residents of the prison FLOODED the foodbank with donations that they’d bought with the minuscule amounts of money they had, which is incredible but it doesn’t stop there – they’d gone one step further and created meal kits – for example one had wrapped lasagne sheets up with a jar of white and red sauce to create a lasagne meal kit.

What gives your life meaning? What gives you hope in the morning, what motivates you to get your laundry done or get on the bus to work every day? Maybe it’s your dog, a hobby or your kids, or maybe even your career. For a lot of people who wind up committing crimes, they have yet to find that motivation. I can sympathise, because I’m the same. I love my loved ones, I find enjoyment in some things, but I wouldn’t say I have much of a raison d’être. I can absolutely imagine that if I didn’t have the privileges I have in life, I could fall into making some less than ideal decisions. I mean, after all, I’ve totally broken the law before! I’ve watched TV without checking that there’s a TV license. I’ve watched pirated content online. I’ve brought my shopping home and realised that something in my bag isn’t on the receipt, and I didn’t take it back.

People who break the law are as diverse as everyone else – every single person has different needs and reacts differently to life. So why do we act like prison, an environment where everyone is treated exactly the same, is a suitable consequence? It might feel good to say that people should be banged up as punishment for their actions – but is it effective? Does it actually help the victim of a crime, or help to reduce the numbers of future victims? Or are we indulging base desires just because retribution feels good – desires that do nothing to help create a safer society?

You can’t reform a human by being inhumane

I honestly believe that a lot of people who think offenders ‘deserve to be locked up’ have never spent any time thinking about what it’s like to actually be in prison. To say that prison is a dangerous, dirty, lonely place is an understatement.

CW: self harm

Between 2019 and 2020 there were on average 777 incidents of self harm per 1000 prisoners. (Source) This average includes open prisons and category D prisons, both of which are very different environments to what you’d usually imagine when you think of a prison, and as such, have lower rates of self harm, such as 2.7 incidents per 1000 at HMP Hatfield, a cat D. At HMP Foston Hall, a women’s and young offenders prison, self harm rates during this period were sat outrageously high at 6887.1 incidents per 1000 prisoners, and at HMP Bristol, a cat B men’s prison, the rate was 2297.2 incidents per 1000 prisoners. While these statistics are a useful insight into understanding which prisons are the worst, it’s the total number of self harm incidents that chills me. In a UK prison population of 83,618, there were 63,328 incidents of self harm in that one year period. What. The. Hell.

Prisoners are also scared of each other, with good reason. The rate of violence between prisoners was 267 incidents per 1000 prisoners between 2019 and 2020. (Source) But that number, while unacceptable, simply pales in comparison to those self harm statistics, implying strongly that incarcerated individuals are more likely to be people suffering with mental health problems than they are to be mindlessly violent.

Out of the entire prison population, only 12,500 were in work between 2019 and 2020, meaning that just a small minority of prisoners are being given the opportunity to do anything meaningful with their time. And remember that a majority of prisoners struggle with literacy, so spending time alone with books is off the table for a LOT of people too. The government’s ‘purposeful activity’ inspection rated 35.6% of prisons as ‘not good enough’ and a further 15.3% as ‘poor’ when it comes to providing prisoners with beneficial stuff to do. (Source)

Sometimes ex-offenders do feel like prison benefitted them – and that’s understandable to a degree – if your life was spiralling out of control, you were illiterate, had no skills, and you were taken to a place where all of that changed, you would probably come out feeling like it helped. But why does that person need to go through the horror of our prison system to get what they needed? And why didn’t social care programmes intervene long before they point in the first place?

Why do we perpetuate a system created by our barbaric ancestors, the same ones that thought nothing of torturing, oppressing and enslaving anyone they could find? Prison is convenient, which is why it has somehow managed to slink by under the radar of progress. Capitalist societies are not cut out to deal with people who need massive, individualised investment in their wellbeing. It’s much easier to just lock them away and pretend they don’t exist.

People should be held responsible for their actions. But that’s only fair when we actively help each other to be the best we can be. We all talk about individual responsibility for doing our recycling, eating less meat, buying fairtrade bananas – but we have local, personal and social responsibility to each other too. If we focused more on lifting each other up rather than expecting everyone to just live up to our own standards, without recognising the privileges we’ve had to help us get there, I believe we could really help to empower people who may otherwise make some pretty significant mistakes.

Prison does not belong in a just and fair society, it doesn’t benefit the people who are in the system, and it doesn’t benefit the people who are victims of crime either.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, of which I have barely scratched the surface, here are some more resources.

What we’re getting wrong about nature and mental health

The May rain is warm, pattering gently on the roof of the nearby greenhouse. As I tip the seedling out of its pot and into my hand, small water droplets land on my skin, and the smell of wet ground fills my nose. Nothing else exists but me, this little marigold, and the freshly dug hole that is about to become its home. The usual cacophony of negative voices that live in my head – panicking, criticising, doubting, ruminating – they are silent, watching the plant as my hands tap it down and smooth out the soil around its stem.

There is so much discussion about the healing power of nature, how houseplants boost your mood, how gardening can help with depression, how nature walks can ease anxiety. I don’t disagree with any of it (obviously…) but I do think we’re missing some important issues in our conversations about nature, plants and mental health. Since it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought now would be the time to share some of these thoughts.

(Dressing up as Mother Nature to add authority to my point)

So, what is it that we’re getting ‘wrong’ exactly?

When you read articles about the impact that spending time in a forest has on your stress levels, there’s always something else lurking in the same sentence – the concept of productivity. Everything circles back to the idea that we are only worth what we produce, and what our money can buy. It’s not just workplaces that push this idea – so much advice I read, articles extolling the virtues of nature, they all seem to come back to this idea that the primary benefit of nature is that it makes us more productive. This couldn’t be more wrong. We should be looking after our mental health to become happier, calmer, more at ease, more joyful – not because these things make us more useful, but simply because that’s how everyone deserves to feel. Even when it isn’t mentioned explicitly, it’s almost always implied – employers don’t set up gardens for their employees for the sake of being nice – the expectation is that productivity will increase as a result. And if it doesn’t? That groundskeeping budget won’t be coming back next year! Not only is this a sign that our attitude towards mental health and nature is flawed, it’s also a sign that our understanding of nature itself is completely disconnected from reality. We’re ignoring the message that the natural world spells out for us every single time we engage with it – living things have needs, and if they’re failing to thrive, their needs aren’t being met.

Every single living organism experiences life differently. Some plants will grow anywhere, even literal concrete – others need special soil before they’ll even consider growing a millimetre. Some plants need protection from the wind, others will forget how to grow if you don’t expose them to a good breeze. It doesn’t matter what we think about their growing requirements – if we want to enjoy that plant, we have to respect its needs.

Put a plant in the wrong soil and the leaves will turn yellow. Don’t give it enough light and branches will die off. Forget to water it enough and it won’t flower. Neglect to give it the right company and won’t produce fruit. You mess with a plant, and it makes its dissatisfaction clear. That’s not to say that plants can’t be grown in inhospitable conditions, but if we want a plant to do something that it wouldn’t usually be able to, we have to put a LOT of effort into making it happen. The work that goes into forcing early rhubarb, or producing chrysanthemums for bouquets, or keeping desert plants happy in a dark home is enormous, and its necessary – a plant is a product of its environment, you get out what you put in. And this can be extended to larger natural examples too – gardens, forests, meadows and so on. You get the picture.

So what does this have to do with us?

Hopefully the analogy I’m making is clear. When you’re given an unrealistic deadline at work, and stress yourself out to meet it, what is your employer doing to help you to make that happen? When we grow plants, if we want to benefit from whatever it is that they produce, we have to take away every possible stressor so that the plant can do its thing. Why do we think we’re any different? We constantly expect ourselves to be up and about at the same time every day, as productive in the morning as we are in the afternoon, as energetic on Thursday in December as we are on Saturday in July. We’ll skip a meal and then be shocked when we can’t concentrate. What part of our bodies are so different to a plant’s that we can somehow pour from an empty cup, when we have endless examples of plants resolutely not being able to do that?

Capitalism is the reason that we constantly expect ourselves to be consistently over-productive. Our society is obsessed with more, more, more. Massive, endless productivity. The concept of ‘doing less’ is almost heretic. Employers will tell you they care about your mental health, but pay you a wage that means you can never truly feel secure. For those of us who are doing ok, the threat of poverty hangs over our heads as a stick that capitalism beats us with – but imagine if you told a plant “I’m not watering you unless you produce another flower”? And for those who are struggling, under or near the poverty line, capitalism tells them it’s their fault for not working hard enough – “If you’d made nicer flowers I would have given you more water”.

We need to take this into account when we talk about nature and mental health, because nothing will ever truly change if we don’t address the way society is currently set up. Being burned out and stressed, constantly being bombarded with advertising for things that will ‘make us happy’, being told over and over again that it’s individual, not corporate or governmental responsibility that will make a difference in the world. This is what needs to change for us to finally have a chance at realising our potential for love, happiness and satisfaction. Humans are resilient little plants, doing our best to grow in the wasteland of an unsustainably consumerist system, which tells us that because we’re just about managing to grow in their hellscape, we’re responsible for perpetuating it, and we’re responsible for how well we do in it. If one of us says “Actually, this wasteland is making things really hard for my roots to grow” the capitalist farmer will tell us “Well the plant next to you is fine, stop being pathetic.” Of course, we all know that the plant next to you is probably struggling just as much.

Humans are not here to be farmed for their productivity. We cannot repackage nature into a neat little ‘apply to the affected area’ salve for employers to use to make us work better. That is not what our existence is about. Let’s embrace more than just our ability to nurture, protect and grow plants, and apply that phenomenal human skill to ourselves too.

AD// Handmade gifts to spread joy this year

Well, it’s been quite the year. Whether your 2020 has been stressful, monotonous, emotionally devastating, or all of the above, we’re all in desperate need a bit of joy to lift our spirits. This gift guide is all about unique items that will surprise and uplift your loved ones – it’s an eclectic mix, for sure! But the idea is that when they open one of these gifts, they won’t be expecting what they find, and they really will be delighted.

This post contains affiliate links.
Adventurous foodie gifts

Anyone who loves to try new foods and explore different cuisines is bound to be taking 2020 pretty hard, with cancelled travel plans and closed restaurants. So give their palette the treat it deserves, with this glorious 9 World Spice Blends from Spice Kitchen (£24.95). Chilli honey is probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted, so this Welsh Hot Honey (£8) has truly got my mouth watering. This Ultimate Cheese Board (£45) contains deliciously unusual British Cheeses, including ash-rolled goat’s cheese and truffle cheddar. Lastly, for the plant-based foodies in your life, how about this gorgeous Vegan Chocolate Discovery Box (£14.99)? With unusual flavours like coffee & cardamom and almond & rosemary, this is guaranteed to delight anyone who loves gourmet chocolate, vegan or not!

Hugs in mugs

Did did you know that studies have shown that drinking hot drinks actually reduces stress and releases endorphins? Amazing right? Whatever their drink of choice, these selections are sure to delight. For coffee lovers, this Deathly Strong blend (£10) will undoubtedly raise a smile (and a heart-rate), or for something equally as impactful but substantially more mellow, what about this 5 Bag Organic Coffee Gift Box with personalisation options (£39.95)? I also love the idea of these Flavoured Sugar Spoons (£8.50), which I imagine you could use in tea and hot chocolate as well as coffee! For tea lovers, I think this blossoming tea (£9.99) is a fantastic idea, it’s so unusual, and so, so pretty! However, this Wild-crafted Tea Taster Set is also bound to astonish any tea-enthusiast. Using ingredients native to the Scottish Highlands, these teas also help support a woodland regeneration project.

A nature lover’s dream

So many of us have spent 2020 finding solace outdoors, surrounded by nature. Help your loved ones bring nature inside in a sustainable, effortless and beautiful way with a dried flower bouquet. I got a couple for my birthday this year and I’m honestly obsessed. They bring colour into your home without looking artificial, and it’s so easy to find dried flowers to fit in with any decor style! From left to right, shop these gorgeous bouquets here: rustic maroon and orange (£26.70), beautiful browns (£16), festive colours (£15.95) and pretty in pink (£15.95).

Gorgeous gifts for gardeners

Whether your loved one has a whole open space to grow plants in, or just a sunny windowsill, a gardener is a gardener, and these gifts will delight anyone with a passion for plants, nature and growing things. A Bug Hotel (£34) is essential for any garden. This one is particularly gorgeous, and can be personalised if you act fast! These Slate Plant Tags (£5.29+) are a fantastic gift because most gardeners will go for something much cheaper, much uglier for marking up their plants – treat them and make their garden that much prettier! When it comes to houseplants, air plants are some of the hardest to get right, so when one thrives, it needs to be celebrated. This Cork Panel (£15+) is a fantastic way to display air plants, and is a truly unique gift for anyone who likes to grow unusual plants. And here’s another brilliant gift for an indoor gardener – a Cactus Wax Burner (£10)! How adorable! Pair it with some all-natural, botanically scented Wax Melts, and you have a thoughtful gift for a plant lover, that doesn’t require you to actually know anything about plants!

The ultimate relaxing gift

Bloomtown are one of my favourite skincare brands, with absolutely wonderful, unique scents and incredible product formulations. Their products are vegan, natural and palm-oil free, and I can’t think of a more perfect gift for anyone who enjoys a good self-care sesh. These gift sets have different scent options, all of which smell wonderful – natural, subtle but really impactful. My personal recommendation would be The Meadow but you honestly can’t go wrong. These pictures are obviously quite ‘feminine’ looking, but if you’re buying for someone who wouldn’t like that, go for The Grove which is citrusy, or The Woods which is fresh and woodsy. Get the set on the left here, for £33.50, or go all out and really treat them, with the pamper box on the right here, for £70.

A crafty gift without the faff

Starting a new hobby is undoubtedly exciting – researching, buying all the bits, waiting for it all to arrive. But sometimes that part can be overwhelming and off-putting. So do your loved one a favour and cut out the prep with a craft kit! Etsy is full of options, from a lovely beginner’s embroidery kit (£19.95) to a brilliant DIY lipbalm kit (£25), or an absolutely adorable pottery kit (£30). I also love this polymer clay earring kit (£19.50+) and this macrame plant hanger kit (£15).

What about the kids?

One thing you may have noticed while browsing this post is that I haven’t really included anything for kids – and there’s a reason for that… I have no idea what they like! I don’t have kids, don’t know anyone who does (I know a few babies, but no one older than a year) so I decided to defer to the experts at Etsy for that side of gift buying – if you’re looking for gifts that will delight the children in your life – click here!

Wishing you a safe, calm and joyful time this festive season.

AD// A Gift Guide for New Gardeners

If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that a connection to the natural world is essential for our wellbeing. From the the satisfaction of weeding, the hard work of ground prep and the tenderness and attentiveness required when raising seedlings, gardening is such a perfectly human activity, allowing us to make a connection to the earth that benefits us in ways I don’t even have words for. If someone in your life has discovered a love for plants and growing things during the pandemic, this guide will help you find gifts that’ll delight, encourage and inspire them, even if you aren’t much of a green thumb yourself!

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The gift of essential reading

Every gardener should have a copy of the RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers and the Encyclopedia of Gardening. These reference books are incredibly helpful resources, providing more or less all of the information you need for a successful garden. However, they can be quite overwhelming for beginners, and personally I think they’re more helpful for established gardeners rather than people who are just starting out, so keep reading for the best suggestions for beginners!

Gardening crash course books

The Principles of Horticulture is a textbook for Horticulture students, and basically teaches everything a beginner could ever need to know about plants and gardening. It’s very easy to read, and sure, it’s not a pretty gift, but it’s undoubtedly incredibly useful for a new gardener. If your loved one is a bit more of a ‘chomping at the bit’ type person and just wants to dive in head first (are they me?) then the RHS Complete Gardener’s Manual, will do the trick. It isn’t as in-depth, but it’s gonna take them where they need to go. And if its a small space they’re working in (I personally love this book as I’m a balcony gardener) then the RHS Little Book of Small Space Gardening is perfect. If they’re keen on growing veg, yes, it’s yet another RHS recommendation, the RHS Grow Your Own Veg Year Planner!

The pretty coffee table books

To provide a bit of wow factor on Christmas morning, you can’t do better than this series of beautiful books from the RHS – Botany for Gardeners, Practical Latin for Gardeners, Genealogy for Gardeners and Secrets of Great Botanists. Although they all have a similar design, they focus on vastly different areas of our understanding of plants – science, latin, plant families and history, all geared towards the knowledge, priorities and interests of hobby and professional gardeners. These are the perfect gift for the lover of knowledge, the theorist, the person who wants to know everything.

Seeds, seeds, seeds

Raising plants from seed is one of the most satisfying aspects of gardening in my opinion. Planting something that someone has already grown is a joy, but planting your own babies, seeing them grow from a speck of dust into a stunning plant? It’s incredible. And a nicely gift-wrapped parcel of seeds is an absolute delight – it’s so exciting to see all that potential! Of course it can be tricky to choose seeds for someone else, but if you know that they have a favourite flower, specific interest, or a vegetable they’ve always wanted to grow, see if it’s available as a seed, otherwise, think about what colours they like, or buy them a selection of seeds like some of the wonderful Kew Gardens Seeds Series pictured above, from Thompson & Morgan.

If you’re really unsure on what kind of seeds, then go for one of Thompson & Morgan’s kits. They have a huge variety of options including an Exotic Fruit Growing Kit, Blooming Bouquet Growing Kit, Rainbow Veg Growing Kit, Hot Chilli and Sweet Pepper Growing Kit, a Sweet Pea Growing Kit, and more. Check out the whole list here.

A flower press to preserve their achievements

I mentioned this flower press in my Cottagecore Gift Guide too, but I think it’s a really lovely way to celebrate someone’s newfound passion for gardening – pressing flowers that you’ve grown yourself is one of the most wholesome activities imaginable, and it will allow your loved one to keep beautiful mementoes of their gardening journey.

You could also pair it with one of these clear glass hanging frames, so they can proudly display their homegrown pressed flowers! Get one here.

A cold frame to protect their plants

Ok I know this is a bit of a leap in the price-point stakes – but if the gardener in your life is someone you’d like to splash some cash on, this is the perfect thing to get for them. A cold frame is a place to put tender and half-hardy plants to ‘overwinter’. It protects them from frost and is essential for several different plants, who come from places with milder weather. It also allows a gardener to get certain flowers earlier in the year – lots of seeds that would need to be sown outside after the last frost can be started off indoors during the frosty season, and then once germinated, transferred to a cold frame until its safe to put them outside, meaning they will be ready to flower much sooner than if the plants were sown outside after the last frost. A cold frame is a brilliant investment in your gardener, and this one is small enough that it won’t intimidate a newbie, but big enough that they can grow whatever they like. Plus, at £125 it’s actually very reasonably priced for a structure like this. Get it here.

Personalised garden tools for a functional bit of beauty

I can’t think of a sweeter gift to be honest – these personalised garden tools are tasteful, simple, practical, and beautiful. Get them here.

I hope this helps inspire you!

AD// The Cottagecore Gift Guide

Not much good has come out of 2020, but the development of ‘cottagecore’ – a wholesome, whimsical aesthetic focusing on a romanticised ideal of a cottage garden lifestyle – has got to be a highlight. Cottagecore is floral skirts worn with walking boots and hand knitted cardigans, it’s pressing flowers you grew yourself, it’s embroidery on a Sunday afternoon, it’s foraging for mushrooms and baking them in a pie. It’s delightful, calm, simple. Everything that 2020 is not. If, like me, someone in your life has discovered this year that there’s a cottage-dwelling hedgewitch inside them, aching to be let out, then read on for some suggestions of gifts they’ll love this season. To be clear – this gift guide is just a bit of lighthearted fun… don’t take it too seriously, just enjoy the inspiration!

This post contains affiliate links.

There’s so mushroom for treats

Mushrooms and flowers will be a recurring theme throughout this gift guide, which makes sense, considering cottagecore is all about celebrating the beautiful world we live in. Here are a few irresistible fungi-themed items, all, naturally, created by small business owners…

I’m honestly squealing with how adorable these all are. Get the earrings here, the mugs here, the ornaments here, the British mushrooms print here, and the grow your own kit here.

Cosy up with a good book

Books are unmatched when it comes to their ability to transport you into another world or another life – essential escapism for these times. One particularly wonderful suggestion I have for you is Hag: Forgotten Folk Tales Retold, which is a collection of modernised retellings of British folklore. I recommend it because the short stories are not only absorbing, gripping and highly entertaining, they are all based on local folk tales that we don’t really hear about. We’re all familiar with many European folk stories, but ones from our own isles don’t usually make the cut, and it’s so interesting to learn about them.

And because, of course, cottagecore is all about embracing the nature in our own world, non-fiction needs a mention too. How about Wilding by Isabella Tree, in which the author shares the journey of her and her husband letting nature take over their farm. Or what about Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. This is a beautiful book in which she shares the importance of reconnecting with the natural world, and the lessons we learn when we do.

The links above will take you to Waterstones, but if you’d like to support independent bookshops instead, head to my Bookshop.org Nature and Folklore list, where you can find links to all of these and more.

Plus, if you’re buying a book, why not dial up the nature-factor with handmade pressed flower bookmarks? They are absolutely adorable, made from upcycled paper and only cost £2.50 for three! Get them here.

A floral embrace

As I mentioned above, the cottagecore aesthetic is all about flowers and fungi. So here are a few beautiful options for floral-inspired gifts, again, all created by independent makers and small businesses.

A beautiful flower press

My partner actually got this for me for my birthday, so you can thank him for this idea! If the person you’re buying for has taken up gardening during the pandemic, this is the perfect way to celebrate their newfound love for plants, because it will allow them to press the flowers they’ve grown themselves, and keep them for years to come! It was also a finalist in the 2019 Etsy Design Awards. Get it here.

Dried flower bouquet

Dried flowers are a lovely eco-friendly, sustainable option for bringing the joy of blooms into your home, especially during the winter months. I am obsessed with this like this absolutely beautiful one from BloomPost (which was another birthday present for me, thanks James!) Get it here for gorgeous florals all year round.

The most beautiful floral earrings

Sabi Studio creates these breathtakingly beautiful earrings, all hand painted on polymer clay. I simply cannot get over the stunning designs. Don’t hate me, but the designs you’re looking at are currently all sold out – that’s the nature of shopping small! BUT, on the 29th of November at 5pm she’ll be restocking with 200 more of these beautiful nature inspired designs, so be sure to set a reminder, because any flower lover will have their day made by a set of these beauties.

Resin flower earrings

Forget-me-nots are the perfect choice for pressed-flower earrings because they are tiny enough to make subtle pieces, but their rich purple colour makes them stand out. I love this set from Nordic Flowers on Etsy, and they do all kinds of other flowers too, take a look here!

Boldly adorable cottagecore wall art

Yes, I am so obsessed with this print that it got its whole section all on its own. Can you blame me? It’s gorgeous! I think it would transform even the most modern city apartment into a kitschy cottage. The price starts at £18 for a 30x42cm paper print, and there are three larger sizes to choose from, with the price going up to £61 for a 60x84cm cotton canvas print. Get it here.

Eco friendly whimsey

A key tenet of cottagecore is low-impact living. A lifestyle aesthetic that revolves around nature and slow living means time to embrace plastic free reusables, but giving them as gifts can often seem a little utilitarian, so I’ve hunted out an item that combines prettiness with eco-conscious practicality. It’s always been amazing to me how quickly handkerchiefs fell off the radar – when I was little, they were just going out of style. All of those beautifully embroidered hankies your granny had were slowly making their way to the back of the cupboard, to be replaced by plastic wrapped travel tissue packs. There’s a lovely seller on Not on the High Street who makes absolutely gorgeous hand-embroidered and printed hankies, every bit as delightful as the old-fashioned kind, but with a lovely modern twist. Check them out! Click here to take a look at the mushroom hankie and here for the set of three floral ones. Or you could just visit the shop, because there are all sorts of gorgeous hankies on there, these are just my personal favourites!

Eclectic handmade wearables

I haven’t included clothes in this list because honestly, I think clothes are tricky to buy as gifts and even tricker to recommend as them! But these gorgeous handmade items are sure to delight, without being reliant on sizing or fit.

Get the socks here, the choker here, and the beret here.

I hope you enjoyed this gift guide! The cottagecore aesthetic isn’t a serious thing or anything, it’s just a bit of whimsical fun, and I hope reading through these gave you a big of inspiration. Much love!

Olaplex 3 Curly Hair Review

If the first lockdown is anything to go by, I’m fairly certain that by now, half the population of the UK will have started eyeing up vibrant hair dyes on beauty websites, or googling ‘how to cut a fringe’. It’s irresistibly tempting to experiment with our hair when things get bad, and since no one will be seeing us for a good few weeks, what’s the harm?! Well, I have another suggestion. While I’m certainly not against dying your hair any number of vibrant, wild, brilliant colours or taking the plunge and giving yourself a chop (I did this myself in April!) I think it’s an even better idea to spend this lockdown giving our hair some love. Especially if, like me, your hair is naturally dry, and/or curly, or if it has heat or chemical damage. And there’s no better way than with the only home-treatment that actually repairs your hair. That’s right – the only one. I’m talking, of course, about Olaplex 3. In this review I’m going to talk about what Olaplex 3 is, how to use it, and share the results I got!

What is Olaplex 3?

Although there are all kinds of hair care products that claim to repair, restore, revive and even fix split ends, Olaplex 3 is the only product on the market that actually restores the bonds that hold a hair strand together. If you look at a single hair under the microscope, you’ll see that rather than a smooth strand, it’s made up of little scales, called keratinocytes. These are dead cells, and in a healthy hair strand, they sit more or less flat together. But for people with chemically treated, heat damaged, or naturally dry hair, the scales lift up, causing breakage, brittleness and split ends. Olaplex 3 works by rebonding these scales, so that they lie flat together again. No other product does this – other repairing products work by creating a layer over the hair strand. It’s the difference between plastering over a hole in a brick wall verses rebuilding the wall. And in fact they have similar benefits – plastering a hole in the wall is something you can do as often as you like, and will protect the wall from further damage. This is exactly what your everyday ‘repairing’, ‘restoring’ products like masques, serums and leave in conditioners will do. They protect your hair, help to prevent further damage. But Olaplex 3 requires more time investment, can’t be done as often, and is the only way to truly fix the damage.

How do you use Olaplex 3?

Olaplex 3 can be used up to three times a week, and can be left on for a very long time. I was really confused when I bought my bottle, because I couldn’t work out how long I was supposed to leave it on for. Olaplex simply say that the longer you leave it on, the better. I even read that it can be left on overnight, but I decided to go for 4 hours. I started by shampooing my hair, and detangling with my fingers. Olaplex 3 must be applied to wet hair or it won’t work, and if you have any leave-in products on, you should wash them out to make sure it can actually make contact with the hair. So, once my hair was clean, I took a palmful of the product and gently raked it through with my fingers. I decided to avoid my scalp, because I had read that some people had experienced scalp irritation from the product – and the hair at your scalp should be the healthiest part so it shouldn’t really be necessary anyway. I then took my Tangle Teezer and brushed my hair to ensure it was fully distributed. I have a lot of hair, so after I had brushed it through, I took another palmful and repeated this process to make sure my hair was well saturated. I used about a third of the bottle. After this, I took a spray bottle and sprayed water all over my hair, to the point where my hair was almost dripping. I wanted to make sure that my hair wouldn’t dry out during the treatment, because this would render the Olaplex 3 inactive. After that, I got some cling-film and wrapped my hair up in it, then took a microfibre towel, and wrapped that around the cling film. And then I waited! I stayed alert for any feelings of itchiness or irritation, but my scalp was absolutely fine the whole time.

How to rinse out Olaplex 3

After four hours, I unwrapped my hair and got into the shower. From the second I took the cling-film off I could see the difference, but it was when I started to rinse it out that I really saw what it had done to my hair. Usually, when I rinse a conditioner or masque out, my curls will start to fluff up immediately, but when I rinsed out the Olaplex 3, my hair looked like strands of seaweed. It was unbelievably silky and smooth. It’s very important that you use shampoo to get Olaplex 3 out of your hair and follow with conditioner, because it needs to be thoroughly removed and it isn’t a conditioning product. I did a good first rinse with water, then shampooed, rinsed, and followed with conditioner. I was kind of expecting my hair to look how it normally does once I’d finished shampooing and conditioning, but it didn’t. These perfectly soft, frizz-free, silky locks remained, and they felt strong. I was so excited to see what it would look like once it had dried. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Olaplex 3 results on curly hair

Because I have so much hair, and much of it is quite fine, I don’t like it to be frizzy (but to be clear, I don’t think frizz is automatically a bad thing, and isn’t necessarily a sign of unhealthy hair. The demonisation of frizz is actually a very Eurocentric beauty standard – personally I think it can be utterly beautiful on other people but I don’t like it for myself, because when my hair is frizzy it gets in my eyes and mouth and I can’t control it). Olaplex 3 completely eliminated the halo of frizz I used to struggle with, and every single curl lay perfectly in line. You can see from the pictures! It was mind-blowing! My hair feels so smooth and soft since I started using Olaplex 3, it doesn’t tangle as easily, my curls are more defined, and they stay hydrated for so much longer between washes.

Olaplex 3 also did something to my hair that I really didn’t expect. Because my hair is really heavy and thick, I don’t tend to get curls at the roots – the weight of the hair pulls them down. Olaplex 3, somehow, restored the curls all the way to the roots! And this has lasted for months between treatments. I think it must be because of the incredible strengthening effect – restoring the bonds has meant that my hair is strong enough to sit in its natural state, whereas before it was constantly undergoing a kind of gravity-based straightening!

I hope you found this useful and interesting, and maybe gave you some inspiration for a lockdown 2.0 activity! If you want to purchase your own bottle of Olaplex 3, you can get the 100ml here, and if you really wanna go for it, there’s also a supersize 250ml here! That’s definitely the size I’ll be getting next time.

Also, before I sign off, let me caution you against buying from Amazon – while it’s tempting because Look Fantastic and other retailers do sometimes sell out, the Amazon listing for Olaplex 3 is really dodgy. Sometimes people get the genuine product, but other times, because of the way that the warehouse system works, people end up with fakes that wreck their hair. Don’t risk it! Be safe, and buy from a certified seller like Look Fantastic.

How to get rid of maskne

Hello hello! Its been a while. This year has thrown a lot of unwanted surprises our way, and while it may not be the worst plot twist of 2020, we could all have done without a new skin problem cropping up on top of everything else. Maskne. A weird word for an unexpected problem. One of my favourite jobs back when I worked in skincare was helping people get to the root of their skin concerns. It was incredibly satisfying to work with customers to demystify their skin, and to see them reap the rewards. So when this issue started cropping up on faces all over the world, I couldn’t help myself from researching what maskne is, what causes it, and how we can get rid of it. Like with most skin concerns, it’s hard to find information that doesn’t have a skincare company’s spin on it (“only our product/treatment/service will cure you!”) and some of the advice I came across was genuinely horrific, so I thought I would put together what I learned, and eliminate anything I felt was ‘brandspeak’, in search of the best advice possible. So, here’s what I’ve got!

What is maskne?

To make matters more confusing, maskne isn’t just one thing. There are several different ways your skin might be reacting to your mask, but luckily none of them are particularly ‘new’ – they’re all well understood skin issues, it’s just that we’re experiencing them different ways and unexpected areas now. Even though it might not seem like it, most cases of maskne boil down to simple spots – it’s just that the causes and presentation might differ from what you’re used to. So let’s have a deep dive into what spots actually are, to help you understand what might be going on with your individual case of maskne.

Spots are caused by a combination of four things – dead skin cells and grime, sebum (the oil our skin naturally produces for protection), bacteria, and inflammation. Dead skin cells and grime (for most of us this ‘grime’ will be leftover makeup) get trapped on the skin by your sebum, and this gunky mixture settles into your pores. This is totally normal, but if your skin is struggling to shed dead skin cells, or it has more sebum than necessary, it gets worse, and the pore gets blocked. Some of the bacteria that naturally lives on your skin eats sebum, which means these pores are full of lovely food for them, so they chow down, and start reproducing (aka, infecting your skin). Your body notices this infection and sends the cavalry – your immune system – which increases blood flow to the area to fight the bacteria. This causes discolouration*, swelling, and everyone’s favourite thing, pus. Et voila, you have a spot!

It’s pretty common for dead skin cells and oil to settle and solidify in pores without the bacterial infection and immune response – that’s what blackheads are. It’s also possible for bacteria and immune responses to cause havoc on their own, without blocked pores – although this will look and feel different to a normal breakout, such as with folliculitis, which is a bacterial infection that causes itchy, burning, tender skin and blisters (more on that later), or eczema, which is a purely immune response. Wearing a face covering doesn’t do anything other than trigger these processes, it’s not a new or particularly surprising eventuality. And there are lots of ways you can combat it, so keep reading!

How to treat maskne

Now that we know what spots are and why we get them, all we need to do is think about what’s happening under that face mask to cause a breakout of maskne. I’ve broken it down into the four different causes of spots, and shared pandemic-specific solutions for all of them.

Dead skin cells

A buildup of dead skin cells and grime means more gunk in the pores. When wearing a mask, it’s possible that the protection it offers is preventing your skin from shedding skin cells like it usually would – the lack of moving air and higher humidity levels are perfect conditions for preventing airborne viruses from flying around, but it also means that your skin’s usual ‘sloughing’ process could be interrupted too. Masks can also create friction, which rubs dead cells and makeup into the skin, physically creating extra blocked pores for bacteria to flock to, causing a type of breakout known as acne mechanica. This is something that most commonly occurs on our backs, and other sebum-rich areas which have clothes rubbing against the skin a lot, like the chest or thighs. It wasn’t often seen on the face, until now of course!

Solution: exfoliation. Gentle, daily chemical exfoliation like Pixi Glow Tonic or Aesop Parsley Seed Cleanser should help your skin to catch up on its shedding schedule. But be careful – if you’re getting irritated rashes or blotches, but aren’t noticing an increase in blocked pores or spots with definite ‘heads’, you might actually have the opposite problem. Your skin could be being over-exfoliated by your mask! This is more likely to happen around the edges of your mask, particularly if you’re wearing an N95 or similar style. If you think that might be what’s happening, scroll down a bit and have a read of the immune response section. If you wear makeup under your mask, it’s also a good idea to use a lighter layer so that there’s less stuff on your skin to get compacted into your pores. I’ve been skipping makeup below the mask entirely, l but if I was going to wear some I wouldn’t bother buying a BB cream (if you have one already though, go ahead!) I would just use an ultra thin layer of my normal foundation.

Excess sebum

Your skin is covered by a very delicate layer of oil and water called the hydrolipidic film. When this layer becomes disrupted, your skin tends to react by producing more oil. Unfortunately, your skin doesn’t quite know when to stop, so it tends to produce an excessive amount of extra oil, leading to spots. In the case of maskne, if your mask is absorbing too much of your sebum, you might experience excess oiliness as your skin tries to compensate, and if your mask is causing friction, your skin might be producing oil for extra protection.

It’s a total myth that humidity and heat makes your skin oily – something that skincare companies and lifestyle websites love to peddle in order to get people to buy mattifying products in the summertime, but actually, when your face gets shiny in the warm weather, its sweat, and if it gets spotty, it’s probably a reaction to your SPF, a heat rash, or your skin over-producing oil in response to those mattifying products. Anyway, that’s a pet hate of mine, sorry to rant! My point is, you don’t need to worry about the humid climate inside your mask contributing to oiliness.

Lastly, it’s important to take into account the fact that oil levels are affected by hormones and stress. This is why so many people get acne when they’re going through a tough time, and let’s face it, who isn’t going through a tough time right now? Hormonal and stressed out skin is a whooole other topic that I can’t really cover in this already very long blog post, but rest assured, there is a lot you can do if that’s the cause of your skin issues!


Solution: balance. Choose daytime products that will intensely hydrate your skin without being too oily – Jordan Samuel Serum and Caudalie Moisturising Sorbet are great examples of this kind of product. Whatever you choose to buy, when shopping for daytime skincare, look for hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin and squalene. A few nights a week, use a replenishing oil like The Ordinary Squalane, or Trilogy Rosehip Seed Oil, which should soothe, help healing, and encourage your skin to slow down its own oil production. If your skin is naturally oily or combination, don’t use a face oil too often, make it a Sunday night treat and use a lighter oil like Weleda Almond Facial Oil. You could also try a silk mask, because silk doesn’t absorb oil like cotton and paper, so it shouldn’t kick your skin into oil-overdrive.

Bacteria

Of all the spot-causing issues, when it comes to maskne, bacteria is probably the least of your worries (ironic considering that this is all happening because of another microscopic menace). The only thing you need to be aware of is that bacteria can be transferred to the fabric of your mask and then back to your face, causing bacterial overgrowth. Make sure you wear a clean mask every day, but there shouldn’t be any need to change it throughout the day, unless you have very oily skin or you haven’t washed your face that day. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, you don’t need to worry about humidity or heat causing bacterial overgrowth, because Cutibacterium acnes (the bacteria that causes acne) doesn’t care about external humidity levels or air flow – it lives in your pores, it’s always wet and warm in there!

Solution: gentle cleansing. Your skin’s microbial ecosystem is delicate, and essential for maintaining skin health. The best thing you can do is keep up a regular, gentle cleansing routine to keep your bacteria nicely under control. My favourite cleanser for this is Aesop Parsley Seed Cleanser, but if you prefer non-foaming cleansers, I also love Fresh Soy Face Cleanser. Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea to use anti-bacterial agents daily (stuff like witch hazel or salicylic acid toners) because they can destroy the ecosystem on your skin, doing way more harm than good. If you want to use something with anti-bacterial properties on your face, make sure that a) it’s designed to be used on the face, and b) don’t use it daily. When my skin is acting up, I love to use Caudalie Vinopure Toner, which has salicylic acid, but it’s very astringent, so I only use it as an occasional treatment. Lastly, remember that severe acne can be treated with an antibiotic prescription, so keep that in mind if things are getting out of control.

Immune response

This one is a bit more complicated – I want to incorporate some stuff that I glossed over earlier, and mention types of maskne that are not necessarily ‘spots’, but may occur alongside them, and may be confused for them. All forms of skin irritation are immune responses – from swellings to rashes to cysts, the bit you notice is actually created by your body, not by whatever has irritated it. And there are a lot of different ways that wearing a face covering can trigger immune responses/skin reactions. It’s really important to look closely at your skin, and be aware of the symptoms of skin conditions. Although the environment under a mask isn’t particularly extreme, and is unlikely to cause anything serious, if you’re at all worried that it might be ‘more than maskne’, do try to see a doctor. Warning signs might include widespread discolouration* and soreness, itchiness, flaking, or painful rough patches. However, if you’re confident that it’s nothing serious, there are lots of things you can try.

Solution: calming, gentle products. I’m not above putting porridge on my face when it’s really irritated, as oats are fantastically calming, but it’s messy, and there are better recommendations. Avene Tolerance Extreme Emulsion is my holy grail skincare product – it’s the simplest moisturiser imaginable, and will hydrate and protect your skin without any potential irritants. If your skin is in need of extra protection, (if you’re suffering from over-exfoliation for example) then opt for Avene’s Skin Recovery Cream, which contains mineral oil to create an invisible protective layer over your skin. When it comes to calming the irritation of spots, simple is always best, so gently apply a warm compress on unbroken spots. I also sometimes use Caudalie Purifying Mask on unbroken spots, as I find it helps reduce swelling, but doesn’t dry out the swollen, irritated skin covering the spot (like every other mask or treatment that I’ve tried). While it’s usually best to leave open spots completely alone, I will sometimes apply a tiny amount of Germolene with a very clean fingertip, and I do find it really helps me.

I’ve seen some places recommend the use of barrier creams under masks – and while this may be a good idea for people wearing N95s, a barrier cream will present a whole new set of problems for the average mask-wearer, because non-prescription barrier products like nappy creams are extremely thick, pore clogging products. If your skin is getting very irritated and causing you discomfort, you could always ask a doctor for a medical grade barrier product, like Cavilon (which is used in incontinence care and for the prevention of pressure ulcers in bedbound patients).

Lastly, try a softer mask, like the silk masks as I suggested above. If you’re wearing paper masks a lot, perhaps you could put a thin, soft one underneath? Avoid masks with protruding seams, and while you should definitely make sure it’s secure along the edges, try to wear one that isn’t super tight all over your face (this is better for infection control too I believe, because it’s the layer of humidity inside the mask provides important protection from the virus).

To conclude…

I think one of the key things here is not to overdo anything in your quest to eliminate maskne. I’ve seen recommendations like “wash your face in the middle of the day!” and while I see the logic, overwashing your face can lead to an increase in oil production, as the skin barrier (that hydrolipidic film I mentioned) becomes compromised, and can also cause dermatitis and bacterial imbalance. Make slow, gradual changes to your skincare and focus on treating your skin gently – remember that just like you, it needs time to adapt to our new world, so treat it nicely.

*a note on discolouration – often in Western skincare we talk about ‘redness’ but the colour of a skin condition is completely dependent on melanin levels – for example, eczema resembles a kind of rough textured hyperpigmentation on some skin colours, and red blotches on other. The term ‘discolouration’ might not be perfect, but it’s better than just saying ‘red’.

11 things you need to know before going to Iceland

James and I went to Iceland for my 30th birthday, and wow. What a place. Nowhere will ever top the Amazon Rainforest as my favourite place I’ve ever been, but after spending a week there, Iceland has firmly taken the no.2 spot! I couldn’t let that wonderful holiday pass without writing a blog post on it, so I thought I would share the learnings and recommendations we have, in the hopes that if you’re visiting, we’ll be able to help you make the most out of this wonderful country!

Part 1 – Preparing for your trip to Iceland

Go for AirBnbs.

Obviously this is up to you and how you travel, but when I hear how much people who stay in hotels have paid, not only for accommodation, but for eating out, I shudder. I genuinely couldn’t have afforded to go to Iceland if I’d done that! Eating out in Iceland is infamously expensive. Instead of that, we stayed in two lovely AirBnbs, and bought all our own food – we made cheese sandwiches for lunches, and warming soup/pasta sauces in the evenings. On days where we would be out late, we simply made dinner the night before and kept it in the fridge. This saved us so much money, as the supermarket wasn’t that much more expensive than in the UK (I’d say it’s comparable to buying fancy stuff in Waitrose) and the choice is… incredible. They have everything we do, plus their own Icelandic brands, and loads of European and North American stuff that you can’t get here!

Get the bells and whistles car insurance.

You’ll probably balk when you see the price (our insurance alone was about £400 in total) but I would strongly suggest going all-out on your insurance. For Avis, it was called a Super Collision Damage Waiver, but it will vary depending on the company you go for. Anyway, why am I suggesting you splash so much of your holiday budget on car insurance? Because when we were driving along the road to visit the magical Reynisfjara black sand beach, a lorry came steaming past us on the other side of the road, kicked up a gigantic stone, and took a huge chunk out of our windscreen, which then cracked to about 50cm. We were going below the speed limit, on a regularly used road, and driving a HUGE car. So if it happened to us in those conditions… imagine how common it is. It was covered by our insurance with no problems, but guess how much it would have cost if we hadn’t gotten that full coverage insurance? £4,000. Yup. If you want to try and limit potential cost without the best coverage insurance, you can get a small car instead (ours was an absolute beast which made the windscreen very pricey) but do be aware that smaller cars can be more challenging to drive in stormy weather.

Don’t skimp on your winter clothes.

If you’re travelling during the wintertime (which is November to February) then don’t mess around, bring the right gear. People say Iceland isn’t that much colder than Western Europe, but I don’t buy it. When we were there in November it was incredibly cold, icy and windy! However, it is also the most beautiful country you will ever visit – you WANT to be out in that weather! So be prepared. Bring cleats, snowshoes, a WARM hat (my normal bobble hat was utterly useless), and thermal layers (I recommenced OEX and Tog24 brand base layers, but Icewear, an Icelandic brand you’ll find everywhere in the country, sell a brilliant line too. In fact you could get everything I mention here from them to be honest). I also strongly suggest you get a good pair of mountaineering gloves, and a thinner wool pair to go under them. My gloves have smartphone touch fingers, which was lifechanging when we went to Goðafoss waterfall – we don’t know how cold it was exactly but I have truly never felt a temperature like it, and I know I’ve been in -20 before. Winter gear might seem OTT when you’re packing it, but trust me, not being prepared for the weather will genuinely ruin your trip.

Budget for guided trips, especially in winter.

If you’re used to going it alone like I am, this is something you might initially cringe at. But I didn’t realise how extreme the landscape is – there are areas like the glaciers that you literally cannot access without a giant 4×4 monster truck. It’s different in the summer, but with all that ice, hail, snow and stormy weather, you simply cannot be safe out there on your own. Plus, the guides are LOVELY and really enrich your experience of the incredible country. I recommend Arctic Adventures and Icelandic Mountain Guides.

Be prepared for it, but don’t focus too much on seeing the Aurora.

If you aren’t going to see it, you just aren’t going to see it. No amount of staying up all night looking at gaps in the cloud is going to change how much solar activity there is! Download the app ‘Aurora’ and check it before the sun goes down to see if you have a chance. Iceland is not the best part of the world to see the lights, and although they can be spectacular up there, this country has so much to offer so you’re better off saving your energy for the daytime!

Part 2 – Recommendations for when you’re there

Sampling the local food.

Now, to be honest, we did not try that much food. I have so many food hangups, that it makes it really difficult for me and is something I have to overcome every time I travel. But here are the things we really loved:

  • Dairy products – I don’t know what they do to their cows up in Iceland but their dairy products were on another level. The milk, butter, cheese and Skyr yoghurt were all noticeably more delicious than any dairy product I’ve consumed before or since. Also, Skyr is a must have – we ate it almost every day for breakfast and it would genuinely keep us going until lunch! The raspberry flavour was my favourite.
  • Sandholt Bakery – This is genuinely the best bakery either of us have ever been to. I cannot recommend it highly enough, the pastries and bread were UNBELIEVABLE. I was messaging friends back home and they were like “You’re in Iceland, is this really the thing you need to be telling us about?” but seriously, they do this brown sugar iced bun that I’m still dreaming about. We even got up extra early on the day of our flight so we could come back down from the north to stop in before going to the airport. Our theory is that it’s the Icelandic butter that makes their pastries so good. Their sourdough loaf was also incredible – we ate it with local cheese and butter for lunches. Divine.
  • Bakaríið við brúna – This is the bakery we went to when we were up north in Akureyri and it was also excellent. Get the farmer’s loaf if you’re buying bread.
  • Fresh produce – Because of the geothermal activity, heating and energy is extremely cheap in Iceland, so they are able to grow just about anything there, using artificially heated polytunnels. This means that the fruit and veg is really amazing quality – we were blown away by the freshness and taste of just about everything we bought.
  • Reykjavik Chips – This is a funny little place, which sells fresh, made to order chips – sweet potato or normal, and a variety of dips like vegan mayo, sweet chilli, barbecue etc. The chips were absolutely delicious and well worth a stop for a snack when you have a museum/shopping day in the city!

Shopping

This is the only holiday I’ve ever been on where I was genuinely excited to go shopping. Plus, shoppers in the UK are eligible for tax refunds! Make sure you ask for the tax receipts! Iceland has an incredible community of makers and creators, and in recent years there has been a huge resurgence of traditional woollen goods – James and I both invested in a handknitted, 100% Icelandic wool jumper, and I mean it when I say, these things are built to last.

They are so warm, comfy and well-made, it’s insane. You can expect to be tempted by woollen blankets, Icelandic-made homewares and clothing, and of course, lots of touristy stuff, mostly featuring vikings or puffins. Most of the good shops are on a street called Laugaveger, which makes things easy, but be aware there’s another street called Skólavörðustígur which branches off from it and has some great stuff too. I particularly recommend the shops Farmers and Friends (aka Farmers Market) and Icewear, but there are so many places selling cool stuff! Just outside the city, in a shopping centre called Smaralind, there a European chain shop I’m now 100% obsessed with: Søstrene Grene, which is like a crafty, sustainable version of Tiger. The Smaralind shopping centre is a brilliant place to stop at to do your shopping when you arrive too – it’s halfway between Keflavik (where you’ll land) and Reykjavik. There’s a Hagkaup supermarket, a pharmacy, all manner of outdoor clothing, fashion and homewares, and plenty of junky food outlets and coffee places.

Hot springs/nature baths

We visited two of Iceland’s world famous geothermal baths, and no, neither of them were the Blue Lagoon. I’d seen instagram stories of it that made it look really busy and touristy, which I just didn’t fancy. I’m sure it’s great, but I wanted to relax and savour the experience. So we went to Secret Lagoon, which was the most relaxing experience of my entire life, especially when it started gently raining into the perfectly warm water. And for the ‘blue water’ experience, we went to the far north Myvatn Nature Baths – located in the middle of a lava field, we were surrounded by snowy plains, which wafted into view whenever the steam lifted. It was utter magic. The serenity of being cosy and warm in a bright blue, hot pool, in the middle of a desolate snow-covered lava field, is just… incomparable. They also have a geothermal sauna there, with a window to look out onto the landscape. There was another one we wanted to visit called Geosea, which uses geothermal seawater – but that will have to wait until next time!

Beauty/cosmetics – Now I definitely didn’t set out intending to buy any skincare products while in Iceland, but as it turns out they have two amazing brands that you will definitely want to sample. The first we discovered because the cold air was leaving my skin feeling a bit tight. Although the water is amazing for your skin, the weather isn’t, and I needed a slightly richer moisturiser. I bought one by a brand called Sóley – their Dögg Moisturiser, and it’s incredible! I’ve been using it twice daily ever since. Then when we went to the Myvatn Nature Baths they had Soley hair and body products in the showers, which we both LOVED. We bought a big bottle of the Varmi shampoo and body wash when we were at the airport. They do free shipping on orders over £100… and the terrible thing is… I know I’m gonna do it. Anyway. The second brand is called Angan, and is a higher-end, luxurious brand. I bought their Volcanic Glow Body Oil, which smells delightfully herbal, feels gorgeous, and has lovely golden shimmer in it. We also bought a gift set of their bath salts, which all use sustainably harvested, natural Icelandic plants. And they smell… unbelievable. Again we got this at the airport to save a bit of cash.

Southern Iceland – this is where we spent most of the first half of our trip (apart from a day shopping in Reyjyavik) and I’ve just written out a list of what we did, because it was all brilliant!

  • Hiking on Skaftafell glacier. We went with Icelandic Mountain Guides for this tour, and loved every moment. After a drive to the glacier, we were taken up into an ice cave, which was amazing, and then up for a short walk over a literal, real glacier. The guide gave loads of fascinating info about the glacier, and it was absolutely beautiful. We also met a friendly crow!
  • Snowmobiling over Langjökul glacier. We kicked off my 30th birthday bouncing over mountainous terrain in a 4×4 van, then got on a snowmobile and sped across a glacier, looking out at the awe-inspiring Icelandic landscape. I mean… can you name a better way to kick off your 30’s? It was perfect for me. We were then given a tour of a really cool ice cave, before getting back on the snowmobile. Oh god it was just so much fun! I cannot recommend it highly enough. Again, the guides were fantastic, such lovely people – this time we went with Arctic Adventures.
  • Visiting the Eyjafjallajökull visitor centre. There is a Geologist-in-residence here who will show you a film about the 2010 eruption film and talk you through it, so you can understand more about the science, as well as the myths and legends around Iceland’s volcanoes, and also discover how volcanically active the island is! It was really interesting, and I highly recommend it. My Geologist husband was beside himself with glee (and so was the Geologist who worked there when he found out he could have a proper conversation with James, haha).
  • Walking on Reynisfjara beach. Surreal, beautiful, ethereal, but get there early before the tour buses show up, because otherwise you’ll be constantly distracted by people not paying attention to the deadly waves.
  • Exploring the Eldhraun moss covered lava field. This was one one of those moments where you really feel you could be on an alien planet.
  • Soaking in the Secret Lagoon. As I’ve mentioned, heaven on earth.
  • Finally, we paid a visit to Gulfoss and Skogafoss. These are two of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls, and really don’t disappoint. I do love a good waterfall, and these are just stunning. And hey, I’ve been to Niagara Falls so I know a good waterfall when I see one 😉 We also spent a little time just driving and wandering around some little towns and things – it’s nice to meander a little I think.

Northern Iceland – this is where we spent the second part of our trip, and WOW. Nothing compares to this incredible landscape. We stayed in Akureyri, and didn’t actually do that many things because we were only there for a couple of days, but we really want to return as we were blown away by how stunning it was. Here’s what we did:

  • Visting the serene, icy Goðafoss. While we were there, this beautiful waterfall was half frozen over and absolutely magical. It was so cold that my fingers went numb despite being in my thermal-lined mountaineering gloves, and my phone turned itself off, so be prepared! But it was so worth it, you won’t see anything like that anywhere else. It’s one of my favourite memories.
  • Soaking in Myvatn Nature Baths. The memory of floating in that blue water, in the BITING cold, is one of my favourite memories, not just of this holiday, but of my entire life.
  • Walking (and gagging) around Námaskarð geothermal area. Just to prepare you, this STANK. The sulphur smell coming out of the hot taps in Iceland is completely bearable, and you get used to it right away, but this smell? It had LAYERS. I was totally unprepared, it even made me lightheaded! I’ve been to Yellowstone National Park which has similar geothermal vents and the smell was NOTHING in comparison. But still, it’s always cool to see the ground steaming and mud bubbling away.

And that’s it! Obviously this isn’t supposd to be a ‘guide to Iceland’ or anything like that, it’s just our recommendations and suggestions, based on one, incredible holiday. I really was not prepared to love Iceland as much as I did, it truly was the most wonderful place to spend my birthday, and we both loved every moment of it.

The Harris Tweed Gift Guide

The Isle of Harris is one of my favourite places in the world. Although during my lifetime my family lived on the neighbouring Isle of Lewis, Harris is where my Granny grew up. So I’ve been lucky to have received more than my fair share of Harris Tweed gifts in my lifetime (and have furnished my home with plenty of my own purchases too). I thought I’d share a few ideas for high quality, long lasting and thoughtful gifts made from this historic, sustainable fabric.

Before we begin, I just wanted to point something out – Harris Tweed is the name of the fabric, not the brand that makes the product you’re buying. You’ll know that the product is made with genuine Harris Tweed fabric because of the logo on it, so look out for orb logo, and you’ll know you’re getting the real deal. The great thing about Harris Tweed is that it’s available to anyone, from big brands like Nike to old ladies on the island who only sell at craft fairs, so you can support small businesses and independent makers, with the guarantee that you’re buying a super high quality product. Because of the cost of the fabric, you don’t get people buying it and making rubbish out of it. Harris Tweed products are made with serious love and care. I’ve bought from many, many makers and all of the products have been amazing quality!

Harris Tweed Weekender/luggage/holdall bag – £150

This is one of the first Harris Tweed items I was ever given, and it’s been going strong since I was 17. You can get one in just about every colour under the sun, to suit your loved one’s personal style. Get one here for £150 – there are many places you can buy one of these bags but this is the place I got mine from (you can see it in the first image, it’s the exact same make, just 13 years old!) and has a MASSIVE array of colours to choose from!

Harris Tweed Cushion Cover – £29+

There are some absolutely brilliant makers on Etsy who have really lovely cushion covers, depending on the style and the colour scheme of your recipient’s home. The first I’ve chosen is CoverandShade, who make a range of gorgeous front fold cushions for £29, and the second is TillyTreeMouse who makes ones with zips across the seam, for £29.99+, depending on the size you want. Both come in a variety of colours. But the third… oh my god I can only dream of these. Hand embroidered thistle and Highland coo (cow) authentic Harris Tweed cushions by TallaTweed. How delightful are they?! Shop here.

Harris Tweed Teddy Bear £58

There are lots of teddy bears out there made purely from Harris Tweed, but I do wonder if the hardy fabric would be a bit too scratchy to cuddle with. I think much better is a normal fluffy teddy with a Harris Tweed jacket – it also means that the parents of the kid you’re buying it for can protect the pricy fabric on days spent playing in the mud! And again, this one comes in loads of colours. See the range here.

Harris Tweed Tea Cosy – £28.50

I couldn’t find the exact version of the blue tea cosy that you’ll see in the photo at the very top of this post – but such is life, we’ve had it for years so hardly surprising! Here is a similar version, with an infamous Scottish midgie on it (be sure to check the dimensions for your teapot). But I also wanted to share this very lovely patchwork number from Etsy seller PoppyMallow. It might not be as whimsical, but it’s nice and tasteful, and guaranteed to keep a teapot warm until the end of time. Get it here!

Harris Tweed Dog Collar – £10+

Etsy is definitely the place for Harris Tweed dog accessories, and there’s a shop called Itsallaboutdog, who have leashes, bows and collars in pretty much every colour you could ever want! The gorgeous colour collection I’ve shared in the photo can be found here.

Harris Tweed Tie – £29.95

This tie makes me wish I was the kind of person who had to wear a suit to work. I love it. Nevermind your friends and family, buy this for me!!

Harris Tweed Coin Purse – £14

This is a lovely small gift, great for a friend or colleague. I have one and actually I’ve started using it as my normal purse, as I love how simple it is! It’s also great because this one comes in a million different colours, so no matter what their style, you can find one for them.

Harris Tweed Washbag – £34 – £41

These absolutely gorgeous washbags from Etsy seller faithmonsoon are the perfect example of a Harris Tweed toiletry bag if you ask me. I’ve wanted a tweed washbag like this for ages and haven’t found one in a colour I like, but my eye is firmly on the herringbone pink one! Get one here.

Harris Tweed Slippers – £49

A pair of slippers is always a safe bet for a gift if you ask me. Unfortunately, the pink ones in the first photo, which we bought in Sainsbury’s and are by a brand called Totes, are already sold out on Sainsbury’s website (though you could have a look in store!) so I thought I’d put up a different recommendation, which are these gorgeous £50 ones from House or Bruar. I love the thick lining and proper soles, you just know those are going to be amazing slippers.

I hope you found something you like in this list! There’s an almost unlimited amount of stuff that can be made with Harris Tweed, but these are some that I either really love for myself, or firmly have my eye on for the future…