No matter how well you know your skin, your face and your features, I think it pays dividends occasionally to turn to professionals for advice.
Maybe you’ve never even had your make-up professionally done. Well, it’s about time – because it needn’t cost a penny. I’m very privileged: I’ve worked with some amazing make-up professionals, but there are talented make-up artists working in beauty halls up and down the country – particularly on the counters of big-name brands like M.A.C., Bobbi Brown and Chanel. It’s a really good idea to book in, once or twice a year (or more often if you feel like it) for a free makeover. (Some of the counters make a small charge for makeovers – though most don’t – but it’s always redeemable if you buy something.) You will definitely pick up a few tricks, especially if you ask the make-up artist to let you have a go, too.
As they work their brushes over your face, keep looking in the mirror from time to time, so you can take in what they’re doing. Let them do one eye and then try to copy it yourself using the same products and tools. Same for cheeks, or with foundation: they can do pretty much half the face and then you take over. (It’s easier to remember how to do it yourself, when you get home, if you’ve had a go in the store.) Some make-up counters have special drawing pads pre-printed with the features and shape of a face, and the make-up artist can smudge on the products to create a ‘blueprint’, so that you can see what shades go where, when you get home. Once when a make-up artist did my eyes, I had her draw a picture for me in a piece of paper. You think you’ll be able to remember, but it’s really hard.
I like having my make-up done by strangers because it can be really helpful to have an objective eye, assessing what might work for you – especially since lots of women get stuck in a make-up rut, after a certain age. And the great thing about make-up is that if you absolutely hate the results, you can go straight home and sweep the whole thing off. But I bet you won’t.
PS If you really want to splash out, I can also recommend a make-up session with the wonderful Jenny Jordan, who did my make-up for shows and for photo-shoots for years and years – until she opened her own Eyebrow and Make-up Studio and became too darned busy! Jenny’s studio in Belsize Park, in London, and she’ll go through your make-up kit, make recommendations and probably teach you a whole new way of doing your ‘face’, which will be a complete revelation and almost certainly inspire you to change the way you do your make-up forever.
In the same way, a great facial can teach you a lot about your skin, and how to care for it. (Not to mention melting away stress…) Personally, I learned a load about how to care for my complexion from my amazing skin guru, Countess Csasky. Once upon a time, what seems like a lifetime ago, Vogue Magazine published an occasional supplement called Beauty, Health & Slimming in Vogue, and I’d devour it hungrily when it came out, three or four times a year. I learned so much from that magazine: I read skincare tips, and about Yoga, and about places to go to get a facial, with names dropped by the great beauties featured in those pages: models like Ingrid Boulting and Jean Shrimpton, and actresses like the young Joanna Lumley. I realised very early on in my career that I didn’t have the amazing physical gifts that models and so many actresses did, and so I was going to have to learn to make the most of myself. And it was the Countess – who was more the ‘queen’ of London facialists, at that time – who taught me so much.
I was transfixed by watching her work, and by what she did to my face: she customised products for me and that’s where I got the idea of doing it for myself. The Countess really did have healing hands, and it kind of spoiled me for facials because I need to know that whoever is touching my skin really knows what she is doing. I’d arrive with my oily skin, which was always breaking out, and she’d get to work. She cleanse my face and apply hot towels to open the pores, and sometimes she’d apply neat honey to my face, because it has a strong antibacterial effect – so it worked wonders on my spots, even though I hated the suffocating feeling! She would customise a mask for my face using yoghurt, which I now know has lashings of lactic acid in it, delivering amazing, instant skin-brightening results. (I still sometimes do that, even now.) She’d add wheatgerm, and maybe a touch of clay, and on would go the mask. By the time she removed it, the mask had removed all the impurities and my skin was just gorgeous. (Till the travelling and the constant application of make-up for TV and stage shows clogged it all up again, anyway…)
What that time relaxing on her treatment couch also taught me, though, was that it is so important to take time for myself. And it’s the same for every woman: unless you care for yourself, how can you start to care for the other people around you? One thing I’ve learned, though, is that it’s so important to like and trust the person whose hands you’re placing your face in. It sometimes helps if you can meet them beforehand, so you can literally check them out: do I feel a rapport with this person? And personally, I’m always suspicious of those facials where they slather on 17 products and then give you an expensive ‘shopping list’ at the end of products you’ve just got to have, for perfect skin! I want a facial. Not a sales pitch.
So instead of going for facials, these days, I like to treat my skin to an occasional mask at home. I’ve tried them all, but I long ago gave up clay masks because they’re too drying for older skins. Nowadays the masks I use are made of cloth, and infused with relaxing and skin-reviving ingredients: I soak them in bowl of water, unfold and open them, apply to the face (making sure no bubbles are trapped and that the eye-holes and mouth-hole are strategically positioned!), and relax for 20-30 minutes in a hot bath (which as you’ll see in a minute is now a rare and special treat!) But I know that in a busy life, you haven’t always got 20-30 minutes – so even five minutes makes a difference. Slow down. Breathe. Relax. Enjoy. And if you haven’t got a face mask handy? Well, you’ve probably got a pot of yoghurt, so use a scoop of that, instead…
TIP: Countess Csasky taught me to start and end the day with hot water and lemon, which I do to this day. I used to tell my mother in detail all the apparently crazy and new tips I learned; she began to drink hot water and lemon, too, and really enjoyed the effect that this cleansing drink had. I swear it helps keep skin hydrated and helps flush toxins away…