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Advice & More July 2012

Timeless Tips

Cosmetic-Counter Junkie

By Suzanne Handler

This was not the first time I had scanned endless shelves overflowing with lotions, potions, and, most of all, promise. Every elixir sang out: “Buy me! Try me!” And, of course, I did just that.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess to an addiction with semi-serious consequences: I have become a cosmetic-counter junkie. My obsession: buy and try a multitude of so-called anti-aging miracles that promise the fabled fountain of youth in a jar, a bar, or a bottle. To illustrate my out-of-control behavior, I offer the following example.

On a recent excursion to a neighborhood drugstore, my intentions were honorable enough. My shopping list clearly listed toothpaste, shampoo, and birthday cards for two of my granddaughters. But the mere sight of the cosmetic aisle was intoxicating, and I found myself, once again, mesmerized by its allure. This was not the first time I had scanned endless shelves overflowing with lotions, potions, and, most of all, promise. Every elixir sang out: “Buy me! Try me!” And, of course, I did just that.

As a woman of a certain age, do you loiter around the beauty section of your nearby Walgreens, CVS, Target, or Walmart? Have you been known to race to your nearest health food store every time Dr. Oz (the daytime TV guru on all things related to self-improvement) mentions a supplement designed to dramatically improve your appearance in just a matter of days? I have. In fact, I walked into a local health food store just a few weeks ago and requested a Dr. Oz-sanctioned product for “miracle weight loss.” The saleswoman laughed and said, “By any chance were you watching Dr. Oz today? You are about the 100th women in the last hour wanting the same stuff.” She then led me to an entire section in the store devoted exclusively to his recommended products. I left that store with over $30 of wishful thinking in my plastic bag.

There is no doubt; I am hooked on the eternal quest for beauty, and apparently millions of other American women are, as well. The evidence of my folly is lined up along the back our bathroom counter like little toy soldiers ready to do battle. But there is more: bottles and jars fight with towels and sheets for space in my tiny linen cabinet -- with an occasional errant tube crashing to the floor reminiscent of Fibber McGee’s famous closet. The truth is, I am inundated with stuff. The time has come, or so my spouse often reminds me, to give this nonsense a rest.

Surely, I thought, there must be a better way to do the most with what I have, regardless of age. So, with all due respect to the many so-called “beauty experts” who reside in TV land and edit beauty columns in glossy women’s magazines, I made the decision to conduct a cosmetic-counter intervention on my own behalf. In doing so, I have turned my attention to those beauty products and procedures our mothers and grandmothers used in days gone by. They have been there all along, I just simply forgot to remember them.

When my mother-in-law passed at age 93, her only beauty companions were Jergen’s body lotion, a compact of loose face powder, and several tubes of pink lipstick. This dear lady knew nothing of sunscreen, rather she carried a dainty parasol to protect her face from the sun. The result: her skin was nearly wrinkle free and soft as a baby’s bottom. She was appalled at the idea of sunbathing in pursuit of a golden tan. How did she know that the sun, for all its wonderful attributes, was a danger to healthy skin? Answer: She practically oozed common sense.

Speaking of common sense, my own mother disdained the use of commercial beauty products. Coming of age in the Depression era, she understood the value of a dollar and the foolishness of hype. One of her pet peeves was toothpaste: she thought it a total waste of time and money. Instead, she kept a dish of Arm and Hammer baking soda next to her sink and brushed her teeth with a small amount of it every day of her adult life (warning: do not use if you have dentures or veneers). I also recall that my mother, ever the practical one, would soak cotton balls in whole milk or cream and then cleanse her face. Now there’s an inexpensive, all-American beauty tip to applaud.

It’s an unfortunate truth that as we age our skin and our hair has a tendency to become dry and dull. If you are like me, you have been persuaded by friends and hairstylists to buy products that promise to instantly shine your hair. Usually these products do work, but, they are often oily to the touch and pricey, as well. Go for the cheap and simply prepare a solution of one-half cup water to one-half cup apple cider vinegar. Following your shampoo rinse, pour on the vinegar solution, being careful to avoid contact with your eyes. Then do a final clear rinse to remove all trace of the vinegar and that’s it. Your hair will hold a shine. I promise.

I am happy to announce that I am recent convert to witch hazel (such a funny name) and will never buy another expensive skin toner product again. Here’s why. Available at grocery stores and drugstores for decades at a cost well under 4 dollars a bottle, you need only soak a cotton pad in this bargain-basement astringent to tone your skin. Witch hazel is also good for those annoying dark circles and puffiness under the eyes. I figured since this product worked so well on my face, it might work also work for my tired-looking eyes. Now my newest beauty routine each morning is to wet two cotton pads with witch hazel, lie down, close my peepers for 5 minutes, and relax. Surprise! It helps. Cucumber slices and chilled tea bags may also be used for the same purpose, but for me, the results are better with witch hazel.

Speaking of fruits and veggies -- and let’s face it who isn’t speaking of fruits and vegetables these days -- the produce aisle of your local groceries store is a treasure trove of natural beauty secrets. Every women wants to recapture the glow of her youth, right? Well, here is a dry skin facial mask recipe using fruits from the fridge that will bring back that dewy look -- if only for an evening. I don’t know about you, but I will take a dewy evening any time. In a small bowl, crush one-half cup each of ripe strawberries, pineapple, and peaches. Add the yolk of one egg. Mix and apply to your face for five minutes. And there you have it.

When all is said and done, staying ahead of the beauty game is a lot of work. I realize that in light of the monumental world problems that surround us, feeling and looking as good as possible pales in importance. However, I just function better when I make the effort. My promise to myself is to ignore the hype and search for beauty secrets that have worked for years. Won’t you join me in my fight to overcome cosmetic-counter addiction? Consider this a public service announcement.

Meet Suzanne