Category Archives: Beauty

Mozzies

“Have you been in a car crash?” one of my 147 (just on my mother’s side, and last counted in 1982, although that is first and second cousins) asked me.  My legs were covered in those circular cotton wool pads you get, and each disc was held on by a strip of American tan coloured Elastoplast.  Underneath each was a mosquito bite and I had 23 on my left calf alone.

Every year it was the same story. Every year I’d go to Italy and be told by alligator-skinned relatives that there were no mosquitoes. Every year, like an idiot, I’d believe them and until I woke up covered in bites like mini volcanos. I’m not allergic to mozzie bites, but I do react really badly to them, each one growing bigger by the day until it starts to ooze pus and get infected and I was effectively  house-bound.

It’s not surprising I didn’t lose my virginity til I was 22.

In 1996, after one famous holiday to the North when my dad told me there were, positively, no mosquitoes and that I was being a girl about it and I then got half eaten alive until I was just one big mound of bites and just to walk hurt…well after that I decided, rather belatedly, to never ever listen to anyone ever again on this subject.

Since then I have not been bitten in Italy, although of course, you get mozzies here now.

As I write I have a bite on my toe, right at the point, sustained last night, and three – THREE – on my bottom. Bastards. But so far anyway, the mozzies here are just nowhere near as bad as the ones in Italy (“you want parmesan with that madam, black pepper?”) and I can control the bites simply with an application of Germolene (it has a local anaesthetic). It’s so far never got so bad that I try to pull the poison out with one of those suction pens, which is what I’m reduced to in Italy. When this doesn’t work, and I burst all the blood vessels around the bite, I then try to squeeze the poison out using just my fingernails. I cannot imagine why my bites get infected and I then get paraded round the local farmacia like a freak. “Ma GUARDA!”

I have of course, become the world’s most annoying self-styled expert about mosquitoes so here’s what I’ve learned.

It’s the females what bite (they need the proteins from your blood, or mostly my blood, to lay eggs). There is no relevance to this other than to make women feel it’s their fault. If you get close enough to them the females have long proboscis, the male have shorter ones.

All but one species lays its eggs on standing water, so be aware if you have any outside your bedroom window. Left paddling pools, ponds, guttering, buckets. The bastards aren’t fussy.

They find you through the carbon dioxide you exhale. Again, this is of no help to you unless you plan on not breathing.

Mosquitoes don’t like ‘air currents’, so although it’s not a good idea to sleep with the window open, an electric fan, sleeping in the wake of a Jumbo Jet or having the air conditioning on may help, although I wouldn’t rely on those alone.

Never believe locals who tell you there are no mosquitoes.

Start your defence early. I use plug in mosquito repellent in the room I’ll be sleeping in and start plugging them in at about tea-time (4pm) and carry an Autan stick with me everywhere. I’m very partial to Autan, but I’m sure any old make will do. Use a stick or cream rather than a spray because it lasts longer, because you get more on your skin rather than it dispersing through the air. (I use a stick cos it’s easier to carry and apply, you don’t need to get your fingers all greasy.) That said, the ‘effective for’ times given on the packet are the maximum. Like suncream, they start to lose effectiveness as each hours passes so if in doubt, apply again.

The three main ingredients you will find in most commercially available, topically applied repellents are:

Deet (usually listed as dimethyl benzamide or diethyl toluamide)
KBR-3023 (more commonly known as picaridin or icaridin)
IR-3535 (listed on products as ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate or 3-ethyl aminoproprionate).

Deet is regarded as the most effective, because lower doses of it last longer. However, there have been rare cases of children reacting to it. Also, be aware that Deet can ruin synthetics, leather and hard plastic so be particularly careful when applying it near watch-faces, sunglasses or camera lenses.

Mosi-guard, (www.mosi-guard.com) is made from lemon eucalyptus and is suitable for babies from three months.

You may also want to consider a mosquito net. However, be aware that these are usually impregnated with insecticide. Unimpregnated nets are not recommended because you would have to be absolutely sure that there wasn’t an arm or leg touching the net, through which the mosquito could bite, or that the net wasn’t torn.

Although mosquitoes can and do bite through clothing, they tend to prefer bare skin if it’s available, so whatever product you go for, you need to apply it all over any exposed skin.

Products containing citronella have been shown to have some effect in tests, but don’t last long at all – approximately two hours and usually aren’t recommended for children under two.

Please note that if you are travelling somewhere where there is malaria, follow the instructions of your GP and never rely on a repellent alone.

Sun creams

When I was 18, I went to Spain for my first foreign holiday without adult supervision. I went with five girl-friends. Before our holiday, we set up a production line making bikinis. We were all, more or less, the same size then so one size sort-of fitted all. We made a pattern consisting of four triangles: two for the top half, two for the bottom.

One person cut, one person sewed a thick seam, through which another threaded cord with which to tie up the bottoms, or hold up the tops. We had all manner of lovely fabrics, but it was the gingham I remember the most.

We were tremendously pleased with ourselves, until we got to the beach and realised that swimwear is not made out of cotton for a very good reason. It sags. After one friend went into the sea and came out carrying a litre of water in her pants, we relegated the home-made bikinis to sun-worshipping duties only.

Because I was a right little miss I had the entire Lancome suncare collection with me. This was in part because I adored Isabella Rossellini, who was then the face of Lancome. But also I liked a bit of luxe and, importantly, I had been working every weekend since I was fourteen; so my pocket money situation was fairly buoyant. I have so many happy memories of that holiday, but the smell of the Lancome sun oil (in particular) stays with me.

(I need to pause here whilst I have a little reminisce.)

Whilst I adore Natura Bissé and Sisley and their sun products are excellent (and expensive), the Lancome sun oil factor 6 is still what I reach for if I’m just going to be out in the sun for half an hour or so. I love an oil. Obviously if you are in the sun all day then you need something a little more robust and remember to re-apply often. You don’t really need me to tell you that (note: this is why I avoid really high protection creams cos I think they give you a false sense of security).

Sun protection basically comes in two types: chemical or physical. The easier to put on ones tend to be chemical sunscreens. That is, they contain chemical ingredients (usually one or more of these: benzophenone-3, homosalate, 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC), octyl-methoxycinnamate, octyl-dimethyl-PABA, isotridecyl salicylate, octyl salicylate and octocrylene) that protect against the sun. There is some controversy around these: some studies have shown some of these ingredients to be oestrogenic or to double the uterine growth rates in rats before puberty. Some research also links chemical sunscreen with an increase in skin damage/cancer as the chemicals absorb the UV rays and keep them close to the skin.

Physical sunscreens contain either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide which reflect the sun’s rays. These are greasier to put on and can look ‘white’.  The more ‘child friendly versions are usually physical sunscreens although (of course) there is also some controversy over the use of nanotechnology both in physical and chemical sunscreens. But look, this isn’t a science blog, I’m not a trained scientist (I am a trained shopper however) so if this concerns you and you want to read more, I’m sure you know what to do.

Next: mozzie repellent.

Chilly children’s cheeks

I’ve written about beauty products for fifteen years. I’ve always been fascinated by them; where this comes from, I don’t know since my mother (a Napolitan) has never used face cream, even when I’ve given her some. I once gave her something for tired legs which had something in it which was stimulating and reviving, when she still worked in my father’s cafe and after a while she said to me “Annalisa, thata creama you gavea mea, it stingsa my facea.” Then again, I’ve given her a pot of £180 cream for her face that she’s put on her knees. I kinda love that.

Since I had children, and I’ve had two particularly buttery specimens, I’ve realised that although babies are like big balls of juicy fat, as they grow up into little children they get chapped cheeks and lips. The latter especially bad since they constantly lick and bite at their lips.

As this is my first blog about skincare stuff, I need to put in a rider here. No-one is telling you to spend your week’s food shopping budget on a cream, unless YOU want to. Some creams out there are silly money. If you can’t afford them, if you’ve found something that works just as well for less: great. Buy it. But I think you get what you pay for, and this is more or less my whole ethos on spending (not just skincare). I believe in buying well and buying less. I’ve spent more money on various cheap alternatives only to be disappointed. I hate cheap crap.

So. Yes I know. You can’t beat Vaseline, but whilst I find it protective on lips, it’s not particularly restorative. Jo Malone does one of the best lip balms. It’s not cheap, but I’ve had mine for years and as it costs you’re more likely to keep track of it and not lose it. If you think that’s expensive, I’d best not tell you about Sisley’s Nutritive Lip Balm.

This is thick, and works better if you warm it in a pocket before application.

Knowing what to put on a child’s face is a harder option.

Weleda’s Dr Greenfingers used to do a fantastic product called Nose and Cheek Soother that came in a little tube which you could slip into your pocket and apply as you were walking out of the door. Perfect. Why don’t they make it anymore? Who knows.

There is Mama Mio’s Wonder-Full Balm, now renamed with the prefix of OMega. Again it’s not cheap, but nothing I’ve ever found that is, works anywhere near as well and/or smells horrible.

Talking of Vaseline, in a cupboard in northern Italy there is still a round glass jar from my childhood of the stuff. On it there are various glorious illustrations of what you can and can’t do with it, all shown to you by a 1950’s looking housewife.