Category Archives: Health

Avoiding Brain Drain

In hopes of staving off cognitive decline, I’ve been refreshing my French with the help of the free online language courses on DuoLingo. Next up: brushing up on my minimal Italian (one college semester) in preparation for our trip to Sicily, Milan and Florence in October.flag-2292679_640Younger readers may think this is an issue that only affects their parents or grandparents. Not so fast: apparently the seeds of dementia can be sewn in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s — up to three decades before the disease appears full-blown. Yowza.

Nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s sufferers are women. But the good news is that there’s a lot we can do to protect ourselves – at every age. Reducing inflammation, insulin resistance, blood sugar, high LDL cholesterol and vascular problems lowers our risk, and current research now focuses as much on causes as on cures.

The Big Three: Eating, Exercise and Engagement.

EATING

The Mediterranean Diet won’t just keep you slim; it’s literally brain food. Eating veggies, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry and olive oil boosts brain health. And don’t forget the wine: the resveratrol in red wine has many benefits.

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  • Protects the lining of our arteries so blood can flow freely
  • Improves the body’s ability to repair damage caused by free radicals, which helps prevent premature aging of cells
  • Blocks the production of inflammatory agents

What to avoid? Sugar. Too much can lead to obesity and diabetes, both of which increase the risk of dementia. So swap that margarita for cabernet! And watch your cholesterol: high levels can cause plaque buildup in blood vessels and keep blood from effectively reaching all parts of your brain.

EXERCISE

It’s as good for your brain as it is for your butt.

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  • Aerobic exercise builds up grey matter in the cerebral cortex (where memories live), releases chemicals thought to affect learning and memory, and delivers oxygen to your brain.
  • Regular exercise sharpens focus and stimulates nerve cells and blood vessel formation in the hippocampus, another part of the brain associated with memory. Don’t you love the word hippocampus, which sounds like a university for, you know, hippos? (I threw that in to see if you’re paying attention.) hippo-783522_640
  • Studies have shown that strength training improves blood flow to areas of the brain associated with executive function and memory. So pump that iron!
  • Stress busters such as yoga help reduce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that can go into overdrive, impairing memory and causing neuron-damaging inflammation.

ENGAGEMENT 

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  • Learn something new and keep doing new things (at least an hour each day).
  • Spend time socializing; it helps build new brain cells.
  • Protect your heart (and not just romantically!) The better it pumps, the more blood can circulate throughout your body, nourishing the neurons and blood vessels in your brain.
  • Feeling bored at work or in a social situation? Wiggle your toes — it snaps you back to the moment.
  • Hit the sheets for at least seven hours. The slow-wave stage before REM sleep is thought to be the time when cognitive function strengthens and consolidates.
  • Take time to relax. It lowers blood pressure to help reduce strain on blood vessels.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my new fitness regimen: lifting several heavy glasses of wine while reading Italian travel guides and researching restaurants. Gotta start someplace, right? Salute e ciao!

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.

TREATMENT #1

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?
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Bwaahaha!

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 Pixabay.com)

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

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“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.

A Day in Hospital

Yesterday my husband had surgery and everything went well, for which I am truly and profoundly grateful.

Many people have been asking how he is (“Fine”) but I realized that nobody has been asking how MY day was. What’s up with that?

Since I’m sure my experience is AT LEAST as fascinating as any surgical patient’s, I thought I would share every detail of my incredibly long and stultifying day with you, my favorite people. I just know you’ll hang on every word!

6-8 AM

  1. We wake up bright and early and zip over to the medical center, arriving promptly at 7:30 for R’s 10 AM surgery.
  2. Shortly after we arrive in the reception area, R gets a special one-on-one interview. It’s almost as though they were waiting for him! The interviewer is obviously really interested in getting to know him because he asks all kinds of personal questions, such as, “Who is going to pay for this?”
  3. Then he gives R a nifty personalized bracelet with his name on it and everything! Meanwhile, does anybody want to know MY name? What am I, chopped liver??

8 AM  We are ushered to a private room where we wait. And wait. And wait some more.

10 AM  Discover that surgery is going to be delayed. A lot.

Apparently, the patient scheduled for the first slot didn’t bother to find out her arrival time and waltzed in two hours late. (This must be a person who has never attended a meeting, gotten a haircut, or flown on an airplane.) Consequently, everyone else’s surgery has been pushed back two hours.

Still, the day is young and the procedure should only take an hour and a half so no big deal.

11 AM Suddenly there is a flurry of activity and R is whisked off to do all kinds of interesting things: Get stuck with IV! Have catheter inserted! Gag while tube is pushed down throat! Breathe into nasty mask! Get pumped full of drugs! Sleep!!!!

Here’s what I get to do:

11AM-12 PM

  1. Walk down corridor through swinging doors to reception area and buy overpriced bottle of water from vending machine.
  2. Discover that no one is at the reception desk to buzz me back into the surgical area.
  3. Drink water and pace until Doogie Howser lookalike takes pity and lets me go through.

Once back in the room, I peruse e-mail, browse some online shopping sites without buying anything and drink more water.

12 PM

  1. Answer call from surgical nurse who says things are going well (See what I mean? It’s all about HIM.) I will hear more when they finish in another hour or so.
  2. Go down to cafeteria to buy overpriced hospital food for lunch.
  3. Return to room.
  4. Eat half of flavor-challenged lunch.

12-2 PM

  1. Peruse e-mail.
  2. Browse online shopping without buying anything.
  3. Watch Amazon Prime movie (“The Dressmaker” with Kate Winslet as glamorous seamstress returning to wreak havoc on the dusty Australian town which labeled her a murderer when she was a child.) Pretty good.
  4. Buy second bottle of water. Prop door open to avoid lockout.

2 PM

  1. Surgical nurse says R is now in recovery and should be there for “about an hour”.
  2. The day is almost over. Breathe sigh of relief.
  3. Eat mini Toblerone as reward for all my efforts.

4 PM

  1. R arrives back in the room, cheerful and groggy from medication.
  2. New nurse says he needs to rest for an hour and as soon as he can pee he will be discharged.

4–6 PM Wait for R to pee.

7-8 PM Continue waiting for R to pee. Show R pictures of waterfalls on iPad and run water in sink hoping his insides will get the message. They don’t.

8:30 PM

  1. Doctor recommends inserting temporary catheter so R can go home. (Hey, what about ME???? My contacts are burning holes in my eyes, I’m hungry enough to eat more hospital food, and I can’t read with all these people hopping in and out!)
  2. Watch catheter insertion. Try not to hurl.
  3. Pack up rubber gloves, alcohol wipes, portable urinal, discharge papers etc.

9 PM

  1. R is ensconced in special chair and escorted to my car by attentive nurse. Me? I get to walk by myself, thankyouverymuch.
  2. Realize my monovision is terrible at night. Can barely see road signs but luckily have a general idea where I am and R is alert enough to navigate.
  3. Arrive home without hitting family of deer strolling through neighborhood. Whew.

10 PM

  1. Dose R with meds and tuck him in.
  2. Have teeny tiny vodka. After all, I worked hard today!
  3. Zzzzz

2 AM

  1. Get up to empty the catheter. Was this a glamorous day or what?!?
  2. Say silent prayer to all the Carl and Clara Bartons out there. God knows, R has stepped up enough times to take care of me – it’s only fair I take my turn in the barrel.
  3. Zzzzz… until 6 AM.

A Sleep Trick

I just read about a brilliant way to lull yourself to sleep — or back to sleep if, like me, you tend to wake up in the middle of the night.

  1. Think of a letter — either at random or start at the beginning of the alphabet.
  2. Visualize a word beginning with that letter, e.g. “apple” for A.  Don’t choose anything you’re phobic about, such as clowns, heights or spiders.
  3. Keep thinking of new words beginning with the same letter (“avocado”, “armadillo”…) and take time to picture each one.
  4. When you run out of images, move on to a new letter.
  5. Keep going until you nod off.

I tried this in the middle of the night and bored myself back to sleep in record time!

Have a great, sleep-filled weekend, and Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are mothers, about-to-be mothers, or have ever had a mother.

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

 

 

 

Old Before Your Time?

They say, “You’re only as young as you feel”.  Is the opposite, “You’re only as old as you look”? While aging is inevitable, some little things we do every day can make us look older than we have to. Luckily, they’re easily avoided; no medical intervention necessary!

Commuting. If you spend a lot of time in the car, the left side of your face gets extra sun exposure – the #1 cause of old-looking skin. Slather on the sunscreen, and don’t neglect the backs of your hands.

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Stress. Whether from road rage or other causes, chronic stress accelerates premature aging by shortening telomeres, the specialized DNA sequences and associated proteins that maintain the integrity of our chromosomes. Whole books have now been written about harnessing the power of telomerase, the enzyme that protects telomeres. If you don’t feel like reading all that, meditation, deep breathing, exercise, vodka and Xanax are also highly effective.

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Tech neck. Did you know that constantly looking down at our devices and computers encourages slackening of our jaw and neck muscles? Obviously we’re not about to give them up but people who care about these things suggest we keep them at eye level whenever possible.

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Sleep. Sleeping is good. Smooshing our face into the pillow is not so good, leading to additional wrinkling. If you can’t sleep on your back – and many can’t – try a silk or satin pillowcase, or use a sleep mask.

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Dry Climate. Dryness saps moisture from your skin. Use a humidifier, especially during the night. If you live in Texas, buy two.

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Straws. I was all about drinking my coffee through a straw to minimize staining my teeth until I realized that pursed lips accelerate wrinkles around the mouth. (Look at any chronic smoker.) And if you drink a lot of bottled water, you might want to pour it into a glass with a wider opening.

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Inactivity. According to a 2010 Australian study, every hour spent watching TV after age 25 cuts almost 22 minutes off the viewer’s lifespan. Yikes. Does my pounding heartbeat when I watch a show like The Americans or Man in The High Castle count as exercise, though?

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City Living. Here’s something interesting from a Harvard School of Public Health study: Women living in the greenest areas, as measured by satellite, were 34 percent less likely to die from a respiratory illness than women living in the most paved-over areas. And women living amidst greenery were 13 percent less likely to die of cancer. If you live in a city, get some houseplants!

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Sugar. Really want to wreck your skin? Eat sugar! It causes inflammation, which breaks down collagen and elastin, the building blocks of healthy, plump skin.

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Heavy makeup. Kind of a no-brainer, but wearing more makeup as we age is actually, well, aging. Go easy on foundation, substituting a tinted moisturizer with a broad-spectrum sunblock, dab a little concealer only where you need it, and skip under-eye liner and mascara, which cast a shadow and make older eyes look tired.

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How about a quick way to look younger? Every year our skin and hair tones change subtly, so what used to be flattering may not look as good now. Color experts recommend wearing one of these four universally flattering shades.

NEW BLACK Black is my go-to. But I admit it’s often too severe for mature skin, making fine lines, under-eye circles and wrinkles more obvious. Much more flattering are softer shades like charcoal grey and navy. And when you do wear black, consider adding a scarf to bring color near your face.

PERIWINKLE Even the name is charming! Hair and skin tones become “cooler” as we age, so one color that looks pretty on most women is this medium blue with a touch of violet or purple.

TURQUOISE Turquoise looks great against every skin tone. To figure out whether to go bluer or greener, one color expert suggests looking at the veins in your wrist and choosing a shade that leans in that direction. On medium to darker skin, either will be beautiful.

RED VIOLET This vibrant color is more flattering than pastel pink, especially on lighter skin. Fuchsia, raspberry and magenta can brighten your face and still look sophisticated.