Friday, October 24, 2008


I’m no stranger to spas. I visit them across the United States and throughout the world. As you can imagine, this is one of the more pleasurable parts of my job. I see how much the spa environment contributes to peoples’ lives – women and men. But spas could contribute so much more if they were allowed to advertise what they can do for our health.

Spa is a word going back to Roman times when water and its attendant services were accorded their rightful place in general wellbeing. In fact, they were first designed for tired and wounded soldiers coming back from the many wars. It’s thought that the word “spa” comes from sanus per aquam (health by or through water.) The problem now is that words that used to be used in association with spa such as heal and cure, can get you into a lot of trouble in the US if you put them in your advertising copy. (Only those in the medical profession and, of course, drug companies are allowed to use those hallowed words without repercussions.)

This is unfortunate. I was in a spa in Slovenia once where I saw people in wheelchairs, on crutches and being helped by nurses as they made their way down to the mineral baths. They carried prescriptions that entitled them to days or weeks at the spa for ailments as diverse as arthritis, cancer and broken bones. This is a common site throughout Europe where the medical profession isn’t threatened by an alternative process that helps the body to heal itself.

I’ve just returned from an experience that fits right in with that picture. No, I didn’t see people lined up with prescriptions in their hands because this piece of heaven is in Sonoma County, California. However, its healing powers (there I said it) can’t be denied. It’s the Osmosis Day-Spa Sanctuary created by Michael Stusser after he had an experience in Japan that changed his life.

Suffering from excruciating sciatica and having tried every traditional and untraditional method available, he was told about cedar enzyme baths. The baths look like a big pile of sawdust but they are actually a blend of finely ground cedar, rice bran, and plant enzymes that heat naturally, by fermentation up to 140 degrees. This biologically-generated warmth mimics the body's metabolic process and provides a heat that seems to go into your very core.

For 20 minutes Michael was submerged in the chips and eventually felt the sciatica leave his body. He was cured! (There I said the other word.) It was such an important experience that he vowed to bring cedar enzyme baths to the United States. Lucky Sonoma! And there followed another life changing experience.

In 1985, he purchased a 400ft chicken coop and recycled the wood to build his first baths. Such a success, he moved to a larger piece of land that had been used by locals to dump garbage – everything from mattresses to trucks. In true pioneer spirit, he built his five-acre slice of heaven complete with stunning Japanese gardens and pagodas.

Why am I writing about Osmosis? It isn’t because it has a unique atmosphere; it does. Or because it’s beautiful; it is. Or because it feels luxurious without being pretentious; it does. Or because it’s surrounded by redwoods and vineyards that produce pinot noirs to sell your soul for. It’s because this is an example of a place where you can come to heal and be cured and I think it’s a shame that people can’t be told that.

I understand the reasons for guarding those words. We don’t want to revert to the days of snake oil, but I think there has to be some relaxation of the boundaries as more and more people are looking for an alternative to endless amounts of drugs with their attendant side-effects. The irony of it all is that Western medicine is actually a new-comer to the world of healing. You’d never know it now.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Importance of Humor

I couldn't resist borrowing this blog about British humor from Dave Trott, Creative Director and the "T" in CST Advertising in London. It feels to me that with all the current rampant predictions of gloom and doom, we need good humor to help us get some perspective. As a Brit myself, I have no trouble admitting that the British are weird when it comes to the art of humor, ranging from the worst slapstick to the most sophisticated irony. But they have an uncanny ability to reduce serious and life-threatening situations to one-liners that make one laugh and/or cry – either way it diverts us and relieves the tension. Mark Twain believed that humor was the most powerful tool in the world when used appropriately. Nothing helps us to see ourselves the way good humor can. So enjoy Dave Trott’s take on it and let’s hope we can inject some of our own in the months to come.

I wrote recently that it’s difficult to be a writer in a foreign country. An example happened to me last week. I was at Hampstead tube, and the ticket collector had a new walkie-talkie. He was obviously very proud of it. He spoke into it loudly enough for us all to hear. He said: “Tango 1 calling Tango 2. Tango 1 calling Tango 2. Over.”

I heard a muffled voice reply something. Then the ticket collector said testily into it: “No Chris: you’re Tango 3, Terry’s Tango 2.” I laughed to myself, and thought something that silly could only happen in this country. It makes you proud to be British. Then I thought, why is that? Why are we so proud of looking silly? Germans or Spanish or Chinese would die before they’d let anyone see them looking silly.

We revel in it.

Take the war in Afghanistan. The British and American forces were involved in really heavy fighting with the Taliban. The worst of the fighting was in and around the caves of Tora Bora. The American forces dubbed them, ‘The Caves of Death’. The British forces referred to them as, ‘Tora Bora Tomkinson’.

Later I read a report about the airborne tanker crews. The American pilots were flying missions from carriers in The Gulf. They didn’t have enough fuel to make the return trip unless they refueled at night, 30,000 feet up, from British airborne tankers. One American pilot said, “These guys flew missions that saved our lives. But when we linked up with them, they held signs up to the window saying, CASH ONLY, NO CHEQUES.”

The same thing happened in World War 2. It was 1940 and America wasn’t in the war. France had just fallen and everyone knew Britain was next. Ed Murrow, the famous American reporter, was doing a weekly radio broadcast back to the US from London. He said, “Sometimes it’s hard for an American to understand the British. Today the whole of Europe has fallen to Nazi Germany. Only the people of this small island are left, on their own against a mighty war machine. And yet as I went on the street this morning, the mood of the population seemed somehow lighter, more optimistic. It didn’t make any sense. Then I saw a newspaper seller with a placard in front of him that read, BRITAIN AND GERMANY IN THE FINAL.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

I just read this in the August edition of Allure.

Women can perform well in math – until they are reminded of the stereotype that men are better at it. At Dartmouth College, researchers led by psychologist Anne C. Krendl studied 28 college women who strongly agreed that it was important to them to be good at math. All had their brains scanned while they completed a variety of tasks, including two sets of difficult math problems. Before the second test, the investigators noted to some of the women that “research has shown gender differences in math ability and performance.” The subjects who had been reminded of this performed significantly worse the second time, whereas the others did significantly better. Also, the unprompted group showed activity in parts of the brain that are associated with math learning, but those reminded of the stereotype experienced activation of a brain area that processes negative social information, essentially distracting them from their task. Simply being aware of this effect can help women overcome it, Krendl says.

So, we really are what we think.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tennis Addict

French Open ball boy sheltering a junior player between games.

I’m an unabashed tennis addict. It’s my mother’s fault. She indoctrinated me at a very young age. Wimbledon was the highlight of our year. I remember my heart pounding when she would draw the curtains to keep the June light out of the living room so we could see the ball clearer. Our 9” television screen needed all the help it could get. And then the players would walk on…

Don’t tell her, but Wimbledon was the only thing for which I skipped school.

Once a year, she and I would make the pilgrimage to Wimbledon by bus, train and tube to line up all night so that we could get standing room “under the clock” on Centre Court. We’d camp out on the pavement with all the other addicts counting the hours until they let us in the grounds. We had to pass by the strawberries and cream that were offered in mouth-watering profusion, but we did have our own sandwiches and a flask of tea. It was the best of times.

Now I’m lucky enough to have gone to all the majors – Australia, France and, of course, the US. We even have a really large TV with high definition. My mother and I marvel at how clear the ball is. But along with a clear ball comes other surprises – skin tone. I’m shocked at the sun damage on the players’ faces. I know this may seem trivial in the light of perfecting the ultimate drop shot, but a tennis player’s professional life is a short one and then what? Brown spots forever. I wish some of these highly-paid coaches would throw in a little skincare advice for women and men alike. My ultimate tennis hero is Roger Federer but even he is getting some uneven pigmentation – on his right cheekbone, I believe.

If anyone knows him, please let him know that I’m available to tell him about the dangers of UVB and UVA rays – that’s if I could stop staring long enough to get my tongue moving.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I love gardening and I love the spring. I always think it’s worth battling through the winters to watch life returning in such an abundance of shapes, sizes and colors. I wait patiently guessing when the crab trees are going to bloom; watch carefully for the first sign of pink in the buds of the tree peonies knowing that they will burst overnight and produce a flower so exotic it takes your breath away, and I look anxiously for the first sign of the white narcissi I bought on the day my father died. I planted them under a tree so I could always say hello to him in the spring – a season he loved, too.

There’s such an enormous sense of satisfaction when I see the Monarch butterflies feasting on the flowers. I feel truly honored that they think my flowers are good enough for them. I don’t feel the same way about some of the other creepy crawlies but when I see how many birds there are in the garden, I know they’re there because we’re offering them a truly varied and tasty menu. When things get a bit hot and heavy with work, I walk in the garden and see what’s new, what needs dividing, what needs moving to a better spot. It’s always a work in progress. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t and sometimes there are fabulous surprises. Nature takes over and does something incredible. You learn patience and trust as a gardener.

I’ve always marveled how in nature colors never clash. I suppose it’s because nothing is ever just one color but a blend of many shades of intensity. A good lesson for makeup!

Spring is such a busy time of the year for me that I usually forget to do one very important thing which is to remember my friend Daisy’s birthday. She lives in England and reads my blog. So I’m saying Happy Birthday to her now and hoping that she’s winning lots of riding ribbons and doing well at school. Perhaps I should plant something in the garden to remind me when it’s time to look for a birthday card!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I’ve just come back from Israel where we opened a new distributorship. I have to admit that I didn’t want to go. The media is always full of the bad things and none of the good. It took exactly five minutes for my distributor to persuade me. Looking back, I don’t know what I expected - perhaps a tent in the middle of the desert. What I found was that some parts of Israel look like Provence – lush and green with vineyards covering the hills. It also has wide beaches, white villages, ancient ruins, fabulous restaurants and a warm welcome wherever we went.

I had a unique experience in the Negev desert near the Dead Sea where we picked up sand of almost every color in the rainbow – ochre, red, green, blue, lilac. There I was looking at mineral powders millions of years old and still full of color. Cleopatra makeup! However, the FDA would have had a fit if we put it anywhere near our faces because of all the impurities the minerals must have contained.

Of course, we had to take a dip in the Dead Sea and slather ourselves in the black mud that stands in tubs along the beach. It felt wonderful going on and I must say that my skin felt smooth and alive afterwards. It seemed to take all the winter dullness away.

So I suppose this blog is to say thank you to all my new friends in Israel and to say how excited I was to see your excitement at discovering mineral powders that were pure enough to put on your faces. Don’t forget Powder-Me SPF, you’re going to need its easy protection as you get closer to those hot, steamy months.

Friday, April 04, 2008


My beloved Labrador just sliced her ear. She loves to make snow angels and we’ve had plenty of snow this year for her to indulge her passion. This time there was a piece of glass.

When she came back from her run with her other Labrador friends, she greeted me as always by picking up the nearest stuffed thing – this time a walrus – and wagged her way towards me.

Then I saw this nasty flap hanging off her ear. Intent on greeting me as if she hadn’t seen me for six years, she was immensely surprised when I insisted she stop the celebration to let me examine her ear – the indignity of it all. I could practically hear her saying, “What’s all the fuss about?” A quick trip to the vet and several stitches later she was safely ensconced on her chaise longue and wondering when the next adventure was going to happen.

I, of course, was consumed with worry – the ear is an extremity, infection, losing her ear, death – hmmm! Then I remembered reading these words, “Don’t believe your thoughts.” This phrase comes from a book by Marci Shimoff called Happy for No Reason. She was the keynote speaker at our recent Sales Conference and changed our lives. I’m offering Marci’s book to you now as a way to raise the happiness level of your life.

My dog, by the way, is always happy for no reason. Oh, her name is Ceilidh which is the Gaelic word for celebration and pronounced kay-lee. In case you think that’s awfully fancy, it’s a word that’s used often in Scotland like this, “Let’s have a bonnie wee ceilidh.” Translation, “Let’s kick up our heels.” The name really suits her.

Her ear is healing nicely, incidentally. She was never worried about it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Our Green Team

Here is a picture of our Green Team. These wonderful women come from all areas of our company – Customer Service, Marketing, Warehouse, Administration and my assistant. They are looking into all corners of our business to see where we can improve our environmental consciousness.

Here are some of the things they’ve accomplished so far:

Sourced compact fluorescent light bulbs at .75c – the company is offering these to its employees for home use at 50% discount
Eliminated plastic cups, plates and utensils
Installed timers in bathrooms and kitchen that automatically switch off the lights
Instituted a policy to turn off all computers at night
Sourced 100% recycled paper for our fax and copying machines
Instituted a policy of double-sided copies
Switched to “green” cleaning products
Placed recycling bins at every desk

They are now looking at ways to encourage car-pooling, eliminate plastic wrap from our warehouse, installing a water filter to take care of the whole building, and putting pressure on our CFO to replace our boiler so we have efficient heat. (I think they’re winning.)

What all this shows me is that small things add up to big things. We’re going to do a study to show what our savings have been but more important than that is the good feeling it’s giving us all. We’re making a contribution not just in the products we produce but how we conduct ourselves. It isn’t that we haven’t thought of these things in the past but time is always the enemy.

It took the formation of the Green Team to put energy behind the idea and get it done. Sitting around the table with these young women as they explore ideas and make decisions (not always convenient or comfortable ones), inspires me do more and more.

We’re in the process of designing a new office building. It’s going to be a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building with roofs that don’t have shingles but grow plants instead. I’M EXCITED!!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Vitamin D

Have you ever wondered why we have such a range of skin colors in the world? Our African ancestors had dark skins because the melanin helped to protect them from ultraviolet light – up to an SPF 15. This UV protection, however, meant that it slowed down vitamin D synthesis. Not a problem when you live in an area that has so much sunshine.

But, as humans migrated northwards, exposure to the sun diminished. Skins became lighter because protection wasn’t as important as being able to synthesize vitamin D. (The lighter the skin the more efficient is the chemical reaction between the skin and UVB.) White skin synthesizes vitamin D six times faster than dark skin. This is why I found my sun-phobic dermatologist the other day standing in the parking lot wearing his ski jacket and holding his face to the sun.

How important is vitamin D? For years, we have known about its role in bone building and how it acts in the kidneys, intestines and the skeleton to help control the flow of calcium into and out of bones from the bloodstream. However, in an article entitled Sunshine Vitamin by Luz E. Tavera-Mendoza and John H. Shite for Scientific American, they point out that studies of vitamin D’s function have broadened, revealing that the so-called sunshine vitamin does far more than build bones. Extensive evidence now shows that D has potent anticancer actions and also serves as an important regulator of immune system responses. Moreover, many of D’s newly recognized benefits are maximized when it is present in the bloodstream at levels considerably higher than those found in many populations. These findings, together with epidemiological data linking low vitamin D levels to disease, support the possibility that widespread vitamin D deficiency is contributing to a number of serious illnesses.

The other source of vitamin D is through food, but food provides relatively small doses of D compared with amounts made by the skin. For example, one of the higher sources, cod-liver oil provides 1,360 IU in one tablespoon, whereas full-body exposure to UVB for 15 to 20 minutes at midday in summer provides 10,000 IU.

So, where are we with all this? Clearly some sun exposure is necessary. No more than 20 minutes though because UVB light will end up degrading vitamin D to prevent too much of it from building up in the skin. (Don’t get confused with exposure in tanning beds. This does not synthesize vitamin D. Tanning beds emit UVA rays which go deeper into the skin and destroy our collagen and elastin. No one has yet found anything good to say about UVA!)

If you don’t see the sun for weeks, then make sure you incorporate food sources of vitamin D such as cod-liver oil, cooked tuna, sardines, mackerel or salmon, shiitake mushrooms and organic eggs.

I’ve always noticed that my nails grow longer and stronger when I’m in the sun for a while, so I know there must be something to this!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SPF Rating.

When you’re looking for a mineral powder with sun protection, choose one that has an SPF rating on the label. If there is no SPF rating, the product has not been tested in an accredited laboratory. The FDA does not allow you to assume sun protection even though there may be titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in the formula. Much depends on the type, quantity and quality of minerals used and how they are blended.

All of our bases have an SPF 20 and have gone through the 20-subject testing required by the FDA. As you’ll have seen in my previous blog, an SPF rating only refers to the UVB ray; the ray that causes sunburn. It doesn’t indicate protection from the more damaging ray, UVA. However, we may be getting closer to the FDA approving the Japanese method for testing UVA protection. Then, we’ll have a symbol that we’ll be able to put on our labels and you will know to what degree your sunscreen helps protect you from UVA rays.

We’ve just brought out an all-over body powder called Powder-Me SPF which has an SPF 30. We also asked the lab to test for UVA under the Japanese method. We found that Powder-Me SPF was rated as “High.” So for now you will see this designation on our packaging: UVA/UVB Sunscreen, SPF 30.

Powder-Me SPF works as an all-over body protection for women, men and children. There are two colors. One is a translucent powder and the other gives the look of a golden tan. It was tested on one hundred women last summer to rave reviews. Let me know how you like it.

Of course, there’s always another side to every issue and this one has to do with vitamin D. The more we find out about this vitamin, the more important it appears to be. Since we get our largest does of vitamin D from the sun, is avoiding the sun good for us? But that’s the topic of another blog.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I have a healthVest™ which is an exercise harness that travels everywhere with me. It allows me to do resistance and aerobic training simultaneously – right in the heart of Shanghai if I want to. The resistance is provided by rubber tubing which I pull when I walk. If it’s nice out, I attach my dog’s lead to the belt and we walk together. Every once in a while, one of the tubes snaps and I have to replace it. I asked the inventor why the tubes snap more in the summer than the winter. His answer was ultraviolet light which degrades the tubing.

Oh, my! If UV can do that to rubber tubing what does it do to our skins? Now that’s a scary thought. Enter sunscreens! Unfortunately, no sunscreen can protect you from all the photons that bombard us daily, but some can do more than others. I’m amazed how much confusion there is around sunscreens these days. It’s something the FDA is working to unravel.

In its most simplistic form your SPF helps to protect you from UVB rays. These are short rays that enter the top layer of your skin and burn you. That is all the SPF protection is required to do.

There’s another more dangerous ray called UVA which is a longer ray and goes deeper into the skin. This is the ray that causes tanning – the body’s response to injury. In the industry we call UVB the burning ray and UVA the aging ray because it destroys the mattress of the skin the collagen and elastic layers. It also does a lot more than that, such as weakening your immune system. This is the ray tanning beds use. These beds are often referred to as time machines on fast forward!

It doesn’t matter how high the SPF rating is; it does not protect you from UVA rays. Presently, the FDA has not approved a method for testing UVA protection. Europe, Japan, Australia and some other countries have had established testing for years. The FDA now has the Japanese method under consideration to approve for the US. We’re hoping that something will happen this year on that.

In the meantime, the best you can do is to look for a “broad spectrum” designation which indicates some UVA protection but doesn’t tell you how much. Alternatively, you may see something like this: UVA/UVB Sunscreen, SPF 30 which also indicates UVA protection. You’ll see this designation on our latest product Powder-Me SPF.

To be continued………….

Friday, February 08, 2008

Green Team

We’ve recently instituted a Green Team at our company whose job it is to look to see how we can control the waste we generate and how we can lessen our carbon footprint. Amazing things have happened. First of all, when I asked for volunteers eight women immediately applied soon to be joined by another two. They have thrown themselves into this task with enthusiasm and creativity. We have one woman on the team who grew up without electricity, so she isn’t daunted by anything.

Secondly, we found that we could do simple things quickly that really make a difference. For example, we discovered that we were using 50 disposable cups a day. That’s 250 a week and that’s 13,000 a year! It makes me ashamed when I think of how long we’ve been doing this.

We’ve found a local company who for $6 a mug will make them with individual names printed on them. This means that the mugs will always find the right owner and we’ll know if anyone leaves dirty ones in the sink! (That won’t happen in our company, of course.)

Some of the most hazardous materials we use every day are cleaning products. (Ask anyone with chemical sensitivities.) We spoke to our cleaning company to find that it’s no more expensive to use environmentally friendly products, easier on his cleaning staff and certainly better for our collective health.

Little things do matter – just like the makeup you wear. We’re bombarded with so many toxic chemicals that it becomes more and more important to eliminate as many as possible. Your skin is the largest organ you have. It’s often called the body’s third lung or the third kidney. It takes things in and it lets things out all day long. In other words, it breathes. Make sure you know what you’re putting on your skin. Read the labels.