Category Archives: Beauty


Allure magazine has recently reported that they’ll no longer use the term “anti-aging”. It’s about time.

Since we’ve only got two options — getting older or checking out — there’s not much point in fighting the inevitable. Instead, let’s embrace some of the positives and enjoy being our best selves.

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Antiques are so much more interesting than newbies!

The List

1. YOUR DOUBLE CHIN DISAPPEARS. With the passing years, fat pads under our chins usually get smaller as our faces become less round. (Bonus: more visible cheekbones!) So if you’re considering a fat removal procedure in your 20’s or 30’s, you should probably wait.

2. YOU’RE HAPPIER. According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, happiness steadily increases from your 20’s to your 90’s as anxiety, depression and stress levels tend to go down.

3. YOU CAN WAVE GOODBYE TO THE BAGS UNDER YOUR EYES. When we’re younger, these are often fatty deposits. In older women, they’re more likely caused by fluid retention, which decreases as we go about our day.

4. SEX IMPROVES. Caveat: The study they cite in the magazine contrasts higher levels of satisfaction for women in their 40’s and 50’s vs. women in their early 20’s. Older women know their bodies better, are more likely to ask for what they want, and may be more spontaneous. (Note: no mention of post-menopausal issues, though.)

5. YOUR SKIN IS GLOWIER. Again, they’re talking 30’s-50’s, when moisture levels are highest and problems such as acne tend to resolve themselves. Moisture levels drop as hormones and hydration decrease, so 60+ skin often needs extra help.

6. YOU’LL SAVE ON WAXING. As testosterone dips in your 40’s, body hair starts to be lighter and thinner. Post-menopause, skin becomes thinner and waxing may be more irritating than a gentler process such as sugaring. Or, fuhgeddaboudit.

7. YOU’RE MORE OPEN-MINDED. A University of Michigan study found that women in their 50’s were more empathetic than those who were younger. Mature people may have strong opinions but we’re also more likely to understand other points of view.

For more thoughts on aging, plus a delicious cocktail recipe, click here.



Delicious Wishes for the Holidays

To celebrate this season of giving and sharing, I’m passing along an old favorite.  May your holiday and New Year be filled with health, happiness, good cheer and everything you find meaningful. xo, Alisa

Focaccia with olives and rosemary

Bon Appétit |  May 1995

This recipe was inspired by one from olive oil expert Lidia Colavita. You can make a meal around the bread by offering it as an accompaniment to bean soup.

Serves 8.


2 cups warm water (105°F; to 115°F;)
2 teaspoons dry yeast
4 1/2 cups (about) all purpose flour
2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil
24 black or green brine-cured olives (such as Kalamata or Greek),
pitted, halved
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried


Place 2 cups warm water in large bowl. Sprinkle dry yeast over; stir with fork. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes.Add 4 1/4 cups flour and salt to yeast mixture and stir to blend well (dough will be sticky). Knead dough on floured surface until smooth and elastic, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is sticky, about 10 minutes. Form dough into ball. Oil large bowl; add dough, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough; knead into ball and return to same bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 45 minutes or less

Coat 15×10-inch baking sheet with 1 tablespoon oil. Punch down dough. Transfer to prepared sheet. Using fingertips, press out dough to 13×10-inch rectangle. Let dough rest 10 minutes. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over dough. Sprinkle olives and chopped rosemary evenly over. Let dough rise uncovered in warm area until puffy, about 25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 475°F. Press fingertips all over dough, forming indentations. Bake bread until brown and crusty, about 20 minutes. Serve bread warm or at room temperature.

Paint It Black

The Q Bar at the Empress Hotel in Victoria BC serves the most addictively delicious charcoal-spiced popcorn with their drinks. Inspired to recreate it, I was curious to see how else I might use food-grade activated charcoal.


First, though, I wanted to learn what it is and what it does. Activated charcoal – not to be confused with the chemical-laden stuff you use on the grill! – is made from a variety of sources such as hardwood and coconut shells and naturally traps toxins, chemicals, gases etc. in its porous surface.

Activated charcoal (AC) doesn’t absorb these toxins; instead, it works through the chemical process of adsorption. A quick refresher: In the body, absorption is the process that occurs when elements such as nutrients, chemicals and toxins are soaked up and assimilated into the bloodstream. Adsorption is a chemical reaction in which elements bind to a surface. The charcoal’s negative electric charge causes positively charged toxins and gas to attach to its tiny nooks and crannies, allowing them to be flushed out so the body doesn’t reabsorb them.

6 Common Uses for Activated Charcoal

Having purchased a bag of the stuff from Amazon, it was time to figure out what to do with it besides making popcorn (stay tuned for recipe).

FullSizeRender 5Teeth Whitening Being a fan of coffee, tea and red wine, my teeth often look a bit dingy. AC is supposed to whiten teeth while promoting good oral health and it’s certainly cheaper than Opalescence or whitening strips so I figured I’d try it. My Internet search revealed that AC attaches to plaque and microscopic stains while changing the pH balance in the mouth to help prevent cavities, bad breath, and gum disease.

I spoon a small amount into a ramekin and tote it to the bathroom. Be warned, the fine powder can (and will) stain grout and fabrics. Protect counters, floors and clothing before using and lean way over the sink. And always avoid breathing it in (there’s a warning label about potential hazards).

Directions are simple: Wet a toothbrush and dip into the powdered AC. Brush teeth for about 2 minutes, paying special attention to areas showing the most staining. Your mouth will immediately turn black, and I looked like an extra in a road company production of Les Misérables; truly hideous. Then sip a bit of water, swish through mouth thoroughly and spit out. Continue rinsing until the water runs clear.

For best results, brush your teeth with activated charcoal two-three times per week.

Note: If you have crowns, caps or porcelain veneers, it’s possible that activated charcoal will stain them, although most users say this isn’t a problem since these are smooth, hard surfaces. Play it safe and just brush it on natural teeth. Of course, if your teeth become sensitive, quit using it.

Gas & Bloating AC has been found to alleviate discomfort by binding with gas-causing by-products in certain foods. Several brands of charcoal supplement tablets are available at pharmacies and drugstores, which has to be a lot neater and more appetizing than dumping black powder into a glass. Make sure to read the directions and drink plenty of water to get the charcoal into your system.

Incidentally, drinking 8-10 glasses of pure water every day helps to calm the digestive tract, fight fatigue, keep organs functioning, and lubricate joints and tissues.

Alcohol Poisoning & Preventing Hangovers While AC does not adsorb alcohol, it does help to quickly remove other substances from the body (such as artificial sweeteners) that contribute to symptoms.

When taken at the same time as alcohol, some studies show that AC can significantly reduce blood alcohol concentrations. Seems easier to just stop after the second margarita, no?

Bee stings This is a cool home remedy! Make a paste with powdered charcoal and water and put it on the painful area. Be sure to cover it with a bandage so you don’t stain your clothes. Again, a bit messy but if it works, why not?

Mold I’m diligent about spraying Tilex in the shower but never thought about mold living in people’s bodies (Ick!) Turns out, inhaling mold spores has been linked to eye irritation, headaches, respiratory and immune system issues, kidney and liver failure, decreased brain function and heart disease.

If you experience symptoms such as rashes, headaches, watery eyes, coughing or wheezing that aren’t explained in other ways (e.g., allergies), check your home for mold spore levels, even if you don’t see visible mold. It can develop behind drywall, under floors and in ventilation ducts, especially in homes that have flooded or have small leaks under a sub-floor or in the walls.

Poor ventilation exacerbates the problem, and damp, humid areas such as bathrooms, basements and laundry rooms are particularly prone to mold growth.

AC tablets can help flush out spores in your body; check with your doctor for dosing recommendations. And if there is visible mold in your home, natural remedies such as baking soda, apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil and borax will clean hard surfaces and help keep mold from growing back. Make sure to wear gloves and a protective mask during cleanup so you don’t inhale more spores.

Water Filtration Activated charcoal traps impurities in water including solvents, pesticides, industrial waste and other chemicals. (Hello, Brita!) Note that AC doesn’t trap viruses, bacteria or hard-water minerals.

Food Poisoning AC is also recommended for food poisoning accompanied by nausea and diarrhea. Check the dosage on your bottle of AC tablets and of course call 911 in severe cases of any type of poisoning.

Now, about that popcorn: Mix garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Add a tiny amount of powdered food grade charcoal and stir, being careful not to inhale the charcoal.

Charcoal powder won’t stain sinks and other hard surfaces but it could stain grout and WILL stain clothes. So use carefully!

Sprinkle a small amount on buttered popcorn and enjoy!


Beauty Adventure: Microneedling

Recently, my daughter met one of my cousins for the first time and commented, “She looks about 80.” Normally, this wouldn’t be a compliment, but my cousin is nearly 95!

One reason Helen looks so good is that she’s always taken care of her skin. In my own quest to keep blotches and wrinkles under control without going overboard, I keep exploring non-invasive procedures that deliver visible results to supplement my small arsenal of lotions, potions and sun block.

Which led me to the SkinPen.FullSizeRender 13

Let me say at the outset that there are devices such as the Derma Roller you can use at home, and they seem to do a nice job of making the skin glow. However, they don’t penetrate as deeply as tools used by professionals so are less effective at treating fine lines.

The idea behind microneedling is to create thousands of micro-injuries (tiny vertical channels in the dermis) to initiate the body’s wound healing process. It sounds scary but is actually pretty cool, as the body responds by breaking down underlying damaged tissue and producing healthy new cells. These repair the injured tissue, creating more collagen and elastin.FullSizeRender 14

As a side note, Fraxel will do the same thing, although it’s more aggressive.

Lasers, chemical peels and other invasive methods are considered ablative, meaning that they remove tissue to start collagen production in your skin. Lasers such as Fraxel or CO2 fractional laser either remove the top layers of skin or remove only small parts/fractions of the skin. Your skin care professional will know what’s best for your particular situation.

Both microneedling and lasers result in collagen production that slowly continues months after treatment, but the lasers remove tissue. Microneedling creates micro-injuries without using heat and without removing layers of skin, so the skin heals more rapidly compared to the recovery time from lasers. It’s also much less prone to infection.

Sign me up.

Microneedling is a two-step process. During the 28-day remodeling period following treatment, specific nutrients such as Vitamins C, A, E and copper peptides are applied topically to ensure proper cell nutrition. The makers of SkinPen offer a full line of post-procedure products (surprise!) or ask your derm or facialist for other suggestions.

Stephanie, my skin whisperer, recommends a series of three treatments spaced a minimum of one month apart. I can continue treatments indefinitely if the budget allows; she has one well-heeled client who comes in every six weeks but at a couple hundred a pop that’s out of my league.

Here’s what the makers of SkinPen say:

  • A procedure that helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and smooth wrinkles, SkinPen® may be used on all skin types
  • A safe solution with little recovery time
  • Results from a minimally invasive procedure
  • A procedure for ongoing maintenance of healthy skin
  • The advantages of your SkinPen® microneedling procedure include:
    • SkinPen® microneedling is minimally invasive and a quick procedure, performed in-office
    • Little recovery downtime makes SkinPen® ideal for a busy lifestyle, and a great place to start for aesthetic procedures
    • Support of healthy skin
    • Skinfuse® post-procedure protocol by Bellus Medical ensures you receive all the right vitamins and minerals to your skin, with none of the wrong ingredients
    • Results are generated from your own skin’s natural collagen remodeling and elastin
    • SkinPen® may be used on all skin types
    • Ideal for assisting in reducing the signs of aging
    • A versatile, precision design for use on most all parts of the body including face, neck, and décolletage. The SkinPen® helps reduce fine lines and soften the signs of aging. By tightening pores, your skin will look refreshed and have a youthful glow!

It’s now about 3 months since my first treatment and the lines around my lips do seem to have diminished. It will probably take another 3 months to see the true results.


First, Stephanie applies a numbing cream and I wait 20 minutes for it to take effect. Perfect time to catch up on the office’s trashy celeb magazines! Using a gel for glide, she moves the little machine (which indeed looks like a pen) all over, avoiding moles. She goes over the worst areas (around mouth, chin) a couple of times. The SkinPen makes a fairly loud buzzing noise and doesn’t hurt, except for some slight pain in my lip and forehead areas. It certainly hurts a lot less than the IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) facials I get twice a year to zap brown spots. She then applies the company’s SkinFuse Rescue to protect the skin and begin restoring its moisture barrier. I leave with a tube of Rescue to use twice a day (or more as needed), a weekly collagen booster (Surge) and post-procedure instructions.  FullSizeRender 12

  • Day Of: After microneedling my face is dry, shiny, tight and blotchy, as if I have a sunburn. I go straight home, hoping I don’t run into anyone I know. The redness fades a bit after a few hours and I don’t look quite as horrible though it feels rather uncomfortable. Tonight I’m instructed to rinse my face with water only and apply Rescue cream before bed. I notice that the Rescue peels a bit (I’ve now applied it a few times) and resist the urge to poke at it.
  • Day 1: After 24 hours I use a mild cleanser, apply moisturizer and avoid the sun. Most of the redness has faded but my skin still feels very dry, tight and dehydrated. I have a few areas of tiny pinprick blood spots on my cheeks and apply some topical arnica. I would NOT want to socialize with my skin looking like this!
  • Day 2: Better but still dry. I continue putting arnica on the pinpricks.
  • Day 3: Much more hydrated. Pinpricks are fading. Using normal skincare products. By today I could go out in public wearing tinted sunblock.
  • Day 4-6: My skin now feels normal; I can cover the pinpricks with makeup.
  • Day 7 and once a week: Use the Surge collagen booster. IMG_1861

TREATMENT #2 (5 weeks later)

  • Day Of: After I comment that I haven’t seen any improvement yet, Stephanie suggests using PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma; also known as the “vampire facial”). PRP involves extracting a small amount of a patient’s blood from their arm and spinning it in a centrifuge to separate the plasma – the fluid part – from the red and white blood cells. Sounds creepy but is supposed to speed healing. Hey, why not?


Stephanie is more aggressive with the SkinPen than last time but only my lip area is briefly painful. The plasma drips more than the gel so it’s messier but it only stains the headband she’d applied. After treatment Stephanie uses a new product from Alastin. Their recovery product is a whopping $195 for 1 ounce so, guess what, I don’t buy it.

At home I do some online research and find that the company (founded by 2 guys who used to work for SkinMedica) doesn’t disclose much about their ingredients or amounts so reviewers are skeptical. The products are meant to produce both elastin (hence the name) and collagen but doctors question how much a topical can really do. I’ve also read that it’s difficult to regenerate elastin in mid-to-older skin. Before I spring for the big bucks I’d want to learn a whole lot more.

  • Day 1 (24 hrs later): The redness is fading and my skin is taut but less so than the first time. I have fewer pinpricks but in the same (left cheek) area. Apply arnica.
  • Day 2: Notably more hydrated. My skin is too blotchy to go out in public without makeup (I use tinted Elta MD sunblock) and there’s some peeling from the products but it feels way better.
  • Day 3: Almost 100% normal. Still applying arnica to red spots and using normal skincare.
  • Day 4: Totally healed and my skin feels hydrated and supple. I’ve added Elta MD Barrier Cream to my skincare ritual (as of Day 1 night), which may be helping.
  • Day 8: Add Surge to my nighttime ritual (and will continue to use once a week).

TREATMENT #3 (after 4 weeks)

  • Day Of: PRP again. Nurse draws blood and spins to extract platelets. The SkinPen is painful around my lips, ok on my forehead/neck. I notice more redness/blotchiness/ blood spots than the previous two sessions. Stephanie applies Alastin and Rescue before I leave.
  • Day 1: Today the redness is like a fading sunburn and my skin is taut. I only need Rescue twice (afternoon and at night). I apply arnica to blood spots (left cheek), take oral arnica 3x and add Elta barrier cream to my night ritual.
  • Day 2: I use a hyaluronic acid mask, which adds moisture, and I can go out in public if I cover spots with Elta tinted sunblock. My skin feels slightly dryer than normal but not taut. I add vitamin C to my daytime ritual after applying Rescue.
  • Day 3: Back to normal. I still have faint red spots on my left cheek and continue to use arnica.
  • Day 7: Spots are finally gone.

One final note: The less you’ve cared for your skin, the more dramatic the results will be. If you’ve been diligent about sun block and retinol or use professional-level skin care products with good concentrations of vitamin C, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid etc., the results will be more subtle: smoother skin, less blotchiness and a softening of fine lines.

So far, I think it’s worth it.

(Note: Not a sponsored post — I wish!; sunrise image from

Absent Friends

A dear friend died suddenly last week.  A kind, gentle man with a keen intellect, life hadn’t always been kind to him.  He struggled with his weight, his sexuality, and a singing career that didn’t go the way we’d all predicted when we’d first heard his glorious voice.

Despite — or maybe because of —  these challenges, he retained a vivid sense of humor and appreciation of the unexpected. A new message in my inbox always promised something witty, intriguing or surprising.

Below is the content of one of his last e-mails to me.  It’s a fitting reminder that what’s on the surface often doesn’t tell the whole story.

The Parrot


“This is not a bird. The parrot is actually a female model who posed for Johannes Stötter, a fine art body painter who used breathable paint to create the image of a parrot, brushstroke by brushstroke.  The model’s arm forms the parrot’s beak and head, and her legs form the wing and tail feathers.

Remember: always take a closer look, as things aren’t always what they appear to be. Once you see the woman, the bird disappears.”

Either way, both images are beautiful. As was my friend.

Beauty Adventure: Lash Lift

Ladies, if you are spending way too much time curling your lashes — or avoiding it because you’re worried you’ll pinch your lids or yank out your eyelashes — let me introduce you to the “lash lift”.

My brow guru, April, started offering this service last year and says it has really taken off, so to speak.  Her clients love it and I can see why. (Man, it’s hard to avoid those puns today!)

Curled eyelashes open up your eyes and help you look younger and more alert, especially if you have short, skimpy, or thinning lashes like mine. But many of us don’t have the patience to do it on a regular basis. Which is where this semi-permanent solution comes in.

After tinting/shaping my brows and darkening my invisibly blond eyelashes, April puts protective pads under my eyes to begin the process. First, your lashes are wrapped around soft silicone rods and coated with a light adhesive to lift them just at the root and keep them in place. This is the most time-consuming part because your aesthetician needs to comb out each lash to minimize any overlap and make sure each is as long as possible. You’ll feel a little tightness and pressure from the weight of the rods but relax, it will be over soon!

Once the lashes are positioned, a gentle curling solution (think “perm” but totally eye-safe, of course) is applied to the roots and timed to suit your own amount of natural curl. After that, a neutralizer is applied and allowed to set.

That’s it! The whole process takes about 45 minutes, and your lashes will stay lifted for about 6-8 weeks. Because only the roots are processed, I haven’t experienced any lash dryness or breakage.

It’s a little too expensive for me to indulge every time I get my brows done but it’s great for vacations when I don’t want to be fussing with complicated makeup rituals, and doing it just a few times a year is enough for now.

Have you tried it? Let me know!

(Below: After 5 weeks, no makeup)

Beauty Round-Up

As a public service to those of you who don’t have the time, inclination, or mind-numbingly long plane flights to read magazines, here are seven items that caught my eye recently.

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  • A hot bath burns as many calories as a 30-minute walk. This one really resonates with my inner sloth.
  • Cure for cellulite? The BelleCore Body Buffer, $149, is said to reduce water retention while buffing the skin to release tension and stretch the tough tissue that holds fat cells in place, creating that dreaded dimpled effect. I’d try it myself except that 1) I’ve spent far too much money this month, and 2) my butt and thighs are already flawless. Yeah, right.
  • The Big Five ingredients we need to improve our skin:
    1. Vitamin C, the powerful antioxidant that supports healthy collagen and fights free radicals that break it down. Check the concentration; anything cheap probably has too little to be effective.
    2. Retinol, the “miracle” ingredient that fights acne, smooths and reduces wrinkles and works wonders on sun-damaged skin. Best used at night and be sure to use sunscreen daily.
    3. Hyaluronic Acid (HA), which acts like a sponge to pull moisture from the air into the skin. Caveat: In a really dry climate, it can work in reverse, so slather on a rich moisturizer on top to prevent water loss.
    4. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid increase cell turnover and inhibit enzymes that destroy collagen and elastin to treat fine lines, dullness and blackheads. Without SkinMedica’s GlyPro line, I’d probably look about 80.
    5. It may seem counterintuitive but oils work on both oily and dry skin. On oily complexions, face oil can signal the skin to stop overproducing sebum. For dry skin, layer oil over your HA serum and massage it in. Look for one that’s cold pressed (like a good olive oil) because heat can destroy its active properties.
  • A cluttered environment decreases self-control, increasing the likelihood of impulsive spending, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research. I’m cleaning up my desk RIGHT THIS MINUTE.
  • More vitamin D correlates with longer telomeres, the protective DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes. Shortened/broken telomeres are linked to blotchy skin, grey or thinning hair, deep wrinkles and other age-related consequences. Salmon, anyone??
  • Layer skin care products in order of “heaviness”. After cleansing and drying your skin (to reduce potential irritation), pat on your serum and let it dry before you layer on anything else. Next, massage in your facial oil. Then apply a rich moisturizer to lock in hydration. Sunscreen is your final product during the day, of course.
  • Tips for growing stronger nails:
  1. File in one direction from the outside to the center on both sides, using a file with 240 to 600 grit. Never metal.
  2. Don’t peel off your gel manicure or chipped polish. But you already knew that.
  3. Dry nails are more likely to break. Rub lotion and cuticle oil in throughout the day to get blood flowing and help stimulate cell regeneration.
  4. An almond shape is the strongest.
  5. According to dermatologists, the only supplement proven to work is biotin (2.5 mg/day, but check with your own doctor). Some recommend MSM, a form of sulphur, to help bind keratin in hair and nails.
  6. It takes six months for a nail to regrow.

By the way, people who make their bed in the morning are 19% more likely to get a good night’s beauty sleep.

Stay gorgeous! xx