The Beauty Cons: Facts and fallacies about staying beautiful

Beauty is a multi million pound industry.

Much of it is a con.

Lipsticks, eyeliner and nail varnish are great. They help a woman to look better and therefore feel better.

But many cosmetic products are sold to help women overcome health problems!

And most of those are built on fallacies and fake science.

Here are the facts about the ten commonest health problems that affect a woman's looks. Together with my advice on how to deal with these problems - without spending a fortune.

Every week millions of women spend millions of pounds on anti-wrinkle creams, anti-spot creams, especially formulated shampoos and skin creams designed to feed and nourish their skin!

The variety is immense. The cons seem endless.

Don't let yourself get ripped off trying to protect your good looks. Here are the simple answers that will save you a fortune and help you look - and feel - better!

Brittle Nails
Brittle nails - and split edges - are almost certainly caused by putting your hands in strong detergents or by using nail varnish solvents too often.

There are numerous branded products available for the treatment of brittle nails.

But the best solution is to take care of your nails more carefully!

* When washing up use rubber gloves. Modern chemicals are strong enough to strip metal - they'll ruin your skin and nails.

* Use a long-handled mop if you do any dishes without your rubber gloves

* Try not to change your nail varnish too often. If varnish gets scratched or chipped, touch-up rather than remove and repaint. Cleaning off nail varnish can weaken your nails.

While your nails recover keep them short - to minimise the risk of breaking them.

I don't think any products sold to harden or condition your nails are worth buying. But do use a moisturising cream around your nails.

Cellulite is a posh foreign word for `fat'.

People who believe it exists will tell you that it affects the thighs and buttocks and that it is more difficult to remove than ordinary fat.

They will then try to sell you a `magic' substance to get rid of your cellulite.

The magic substance will cost a fortune.

I don't think cellulite exists.

If you've got lumpy thighs or buttocks then you need to:

* Revise your eating habits and eat less
* Take up gentle but regular exercise

Dandruff is the commonest hair complaint. It affects just about everyone at one time or another. But it's NOT catching!

Most people feel embarrassed when they get dandruff.

TV adverts for anti-dandruff products don't help - they remind us that dandruff is anti-social!

But in fact dandruff is common, simple, harmless and relatively easy to treat.

Your skin is always being replaced. As new cells are produced so the old ones have to be shed.

Occasionally skin produces new cells too quickly and the older, discarded cells fall off like snowflakes.

For reasons which no one entirely understands this problem most commonly affects the scalp - dandruff!

Scientists and hair specialists have spent years trying to work out what causes it. Their best guess is stress. It seems that most people who are susceptible to dandruff get it worst when they are under pressure.

The good news is that it's fairly easy to treat.

There are dozens of anti-dandruff shampoos available. And you don't necessarily have to buy the most expensive.

Discoloured Teeth
Teeth can be discoloured by many types of food. But cigarettes are the commonest culprits.

You can buy abrasive toothpastes to remove stains. But if used too often these can damage your teeth.

My advice: visit your dentist to have you teeth cleaned thoroughly and professionally and then give up smoking.

Dry Hair
Dry hair is dull, brittle and difficult to manage. It breaks easily and the ends split.

The reason for dry hair is a lack of natural oil - probably because the oil producing cells aren't working properly.

If you suffer from dry hair you can help yourself by:

* Keeping out of the sun and avoiding electric hair dryers and sunlamps. Let your hair dry naturally or dry it carefully with a towel after washing. Too much heat will make the problem worse.

* Frequent brushing and combing may help - by stimulating the oil producing glands.

* Using a good conditioner. It will give your hair more bounce and make it easier to manage. But don't buy a shampoo that contains a conditioner. That's like trying to put your make-up on while washing your face! Always buy a separate conditioner and apply it after shampooing.

* Be especially careful when changing the shape or colour of your hair. Dry hair is very easily damaged so avoid home perms and only let skilled hairdressers handle your hair.

* You may be able to improve dry hair by rubbing an oil directly onto your hair and into your scalp.

Dry skin
If your skin's superficial cells are full of water they look plump and pink and feel smooth.

If your skin's cells are short of water your skin will feel hard and rough and look cracked and parched.

Dry skin is exactly what it says.

The cosmetics industry will try to sell you products designed to put the water back into your skin.

I think you can ignore them.

In my view the best way to deal with dry skin is not to try and push water back into the cells (nigh on impossible) but to try and stop the water that is there being lost!

And the best way to do that is to use a moisturising cream.

Buy the cheapest and simplest moisturiser you can find. Ask your chemist to recommend a good, simple, very plain cream.

Buy several huge pots of it and put one by every sink in your house.

Then use it regularly - and always after washing your hands or getting them wet.

You can also help yourself by:

* Keeping in the shade in very sunny weather unless you're using a sunscreen cream

* Wearing rubber gloves when doing the washing up etc.

* Avoiding bubble baths etc - because they can make dry skin worse

* Using a bath oil. The oil will disperse in the bathwater and then stick to your skin to help protect it from drying out further

* Don't soak in the bath for more than 15 minutes. Too much bathing results in the loss of natural oils and water.

Excess Hair
Unwanted body hair is a major problem for thousands of women - particularly as summer approaches!

The growth of body hair is controlled by your hormones and your genes (neither of which you can change).

But there are several ways you can remove unwanted hair - different methods are best for different sites!

Cutting off excess hair with scissors or a razor is the simplest method.

It's not true that shaving will make hair grow faster or more bristly.

Electric razors are easy to use and you can't cut yourself.

But most women get a closer shave by using a blade. Always remember that wet hair is easier to cut than dry hair.

Chemical removal with special depilatory creams is most effective where hairs aren't too thick.

The big problem with them is that they can cause nasty allergy reactions. Always try them out first on a tiny piece of skin.

Waxing sounds horrific but is good for large areas - such as legs - which need rapid treatment.

Wax is put onto the skin and allowed to set. When the wax sets the hairs stuck in it are pulled out!

It can be as painful as it sounds if done by inexpert hands.

The big advantage with wax is that because the whole hair is pulled out the skin does feel smoother.

Electrolysis is the only method that will produce permanent hair removal.

It has to be done by a skilled operator - and can be expensive if you have a lot of hairs to remove.

A small electric current has to be passed into the root of each hair - which then dies.

Done well - by a good operator - it is remarkably effective. Done badly hairs often regrow.

Electrolysis is particularly useful for isolated and easily visible hairs - eg on your face.

Greasy Hair
If the oil producing cells on your scalp produce too much oil then you'll suffer from greasy hair.

It can be a nuisance - but one consolation should be the fact that greasy hair is stronger and tougher than ordinary or dry hair.

If you suffer from greasy hair you should:
* Avoid combing or brushing your hair too often - that can produce extra oil.
* Avoid wearing a hat if possible - that helps make things worse.
* Keep your hairstyle simple.
* Keep out of the direct sun and use warm rather than hot water when washing your hair.

Since long hair gets dirty easily, needs more attention and looks worse when greasy you may be better off with a shorter hairstyle.

Wash your hair every 2 or 3 days in warm water but don't scrub your scalp too much.

Buy a simple shampoo which contains few additives and no conditioner.

Conditioner will probably make greasy hair worse.

Acne is one of the commonest skin problems. It affects 9 out of 10 teenagers and thousands of people in their 20s, 30s and even 40s.

One in 20 people in their forties suffer from acne!

Acne is partly caused by the over-production of oil - stimulated by sex hormones.

That's why it starts during teenage years.

And why women taking the pill often suffer from it.

If you keep your pores clear you'll reduce your chances of getting acne.

* Wash regularly and use a clean face cloth or fairly soft brush. If you want to spend more money you can buy an abrasive cleaning paste to use instead of a roughish face flannel.
* Plenty of sunshine will help.
* Remove make-up thoroughly - otherwise it can clog the pores and make things worse.
* Ask your doctor for help if necessary. He can prescribe pills to help control your spots.

Your skin is full of elastic fibres which give it an ability to stretch and then return to its original position.

As you get older the elastic fibres break down and your skin becomes less elastic.

Combined with too much drying sunshine, chemical pollution of the atmosphere and a drop in circulating hormone levels that's what causes wrinkles.

Here are my quick tips for reducing your wrinkles:

1. Keep out of the sun as much as possible - or use an effective sunscreen cream. The sun is a giant wrinkle-making machine.
2. Use a simple moisturising cream regularly to protect your skin.
3. Keep away from cigarette smoke - if you smoke use a cigarette holder. Smoke will make you screw up your eyes - and that causes wrinkles.

You can buy dozens of anti-wrinkle creams but most of them work simply by filling in the wrinkles!

Once you wipe off the cream the wrinkles are still there.

In my opinion the only permanent way to eradicate wrinkles is to have plastic surgery.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2003