Nearly Free Spa

Day spas are seriously expensive. In Australia you’re looking at a few hundred dollars each for a few hours of pampering. With huge financial outlay and dubious results, the luxury of a spa day can be pretty hard to justify.

But of course, there are always other ways. There is very little that a beauty therapist in a day spa can do that you can’t. You may not have the same equipment and finesse, but if you’re interested, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Home spa day is a routine I have with my best friend. Every second Tuesday we spend an evening in being fabulous. It’s cheaper than going out for dinner (that’s every other Tuesday), quieter and we get to see a movie.

Here are some basic DIY spa treatments, but remember, the internet has plenty more.

Mud pack:

Mud masks are based on kaolin, which is a fine white clay. It is highly absorbent and will draw oil out of the skin, in theory it should pull out oils deep in the pores (hence advertising hype like ‘deep cleansing’, ‘draws out impurities’ and ‘fights breakouts’). Mud packs can also contain all manner of other ingredients, fruits, minerals, vitamins, honey, fragrances, fillers, preservatives and even moisturisers. Choose a fairly simple, inexpensive one, organic products can be good, simply because a kaolin mask doesn’t really need any man made substances.

If you have oily skin, mud packs are a great little luxury that could help clear and prevent breakouts. If you have dry skin, kaolin is pretty much pointless, don’t let any marketing trick you into buying it.

Oat mask:

Oats contain slippery proteins which get into the epidermis and lubricate it, making it soft and supple. Milk contains fats that are naturally emulsified and lactic acid which gently exfoliates the epidermis. That is why porridge is great for your face. It’s a great way to moisturise after cleansing or a clay mask. Just mix some oats with some milk, mash it up and put it on your face, leave it for about five minutes (longer if you want more exfoliation or have very dry skin) then wash it off with warm water.

Pore strips:

Home made pore strips are far more effective that commercial ones, but they are also much messier. They are just casein glue, which is made from equal parts of milk and gelatine powder, heated. Spread the mixture on your nose, keep the layer thin, or it will take too long to dry. Cover the whole area with tissue and wait until it hardens. Gently pull it off from the sides. You’ll find that it sticks much more tightly than a commercial pore strip.

You can use the same method as an exfoliation peel-off mask. The thicker the layer, the less it will stick.

Hair masks:

There are many different types of hair mask which give different results to different hair types.

Warm olive oil is a great one for dry or frizzy hair. It simply gets in under the cuticle, lubricates and shines. It replaces the sebum you lack if you have a dry scalp. Just warm some oil, massage it into your hair, use enough to make your whole head gooy, wrap it up for at least 30 minutes then shampoo and condition. This is great for relaxing frizz or curls and will add lots of shine. It’s not good for hair that’s recently been dyed to a bright colour as it has a tendency to tone down fake hair colour. Obviously it’s fairly pointless for oily hair!

Surprisingly enough, normal conditioner can make a good hair mask. The richer it is, the more it will weigh down, relax and smooth you hair. Again, just massage in, keep warm, wait and rinse out. There are also commercial hair masks that are just very rich versions of normal conditioners. Pick one that says it meets your needs, but don’t pay too much, you don’t need to.

Vinegar is an interesting one. It contracts the hair cuticle making it shiny, without adding oil. So it’s good for folks who want volume but also shine. A word of warning though: it makes your hair feel less soft (in the short term).

Hand and foot masks:

These are fairly cheap to buy. They are basically a plastic glove or sock containing exfoliating and moisturising ingredients. A box of disposable gloves (or some cling film for feet) and a tube of hand, nail and cuticle cream will do exactly the same thing.

Professional services:

There are services that require professional equipment and expertise. Nail extensions, hair cuts, complex hair dye jobs, etc. however, gaining expertise and buying equipment can be surprisingly easy. If you want a service that you can’t afford to maintain, look into buying what you need, watch online videos, visit a few salons and ask questions while they do their thing. The fact that you can pay hundreds for a service does not automatically mean you are incapable of doing it better yourself. Although it does mean you’ll have to invest some time and enthusiasm.



The 411 on henna for hair.

How does it look? How do you do it? Is it a good idea? Why don’t salons do it? Is it permanent? Is it safe? Does it really make your hair healthier? Is it really incompatible with normal hair dyes?

The internet is packed with incorrect answers to all these fairly basic questions. So here’s the 411:

How does it look? Like natural red hair, far more natural than any modern dye. It dyes anywhere from strawberry blonde to chestnut, depending on the concentration, development time and your existing hair colour.

How do you do it? I’ll show you. If you have red or brown hair, look below. If you have blonde hair, you can mix a teaspoon of henna powder into a handful of conditioner, and use that as a toner to warm up your colour. If you have black hair, you can use the method below, but you won’t get a dramatic change. You will get red reflections and relaxed, shiny hair.

Is it a good idea? If you have dark or red hair, don’t mind extra weight and want to add some warmth and shine, it’s probably a good idea. If you have bright highlights, want more curl or volume, like to change your hair colour often or plan to bleach in future, it’s probably a bad idea.

Why don’t salons do it? It is really not a very saleable concept. It takes hours, it smells odd, it’s only suitable for a minority of customers and it’s difficult to reverse. High end salons will do it for you, but expect to pay a lot and be there for a long time.

Is it permanent? It is. It is far more permanent than most ‘permanent’ hair dyes. It is very difficult to remove. Hair dye remover works by shrinking the dye particles, thus allowing them to escape from the hair core, between the cuticles. Henna does not add coloured particles to the core, it stains the cuticle. Bleach will remove a lot of this stain, but not all, which is likely to give you a bizarre, bright orange result. So henna is a long term decision. If you think you might want to go for a blonde or cool tone in the future, do not use henna as you will have great trouble removing it.

Is it safe? Extremely. It is the ground leaf of a nontoxic plant. It contains none of the usual ammonia (that’s the smelly part that is bad for your respiratory tract) or peroxide (that’s the bit it irritates your scalp and can cause allergic reactions), or, in fact, anything other than what you add. The finished mixture, made the traditional way, is mildly acidic, but so is your scalp. The henna powder can even be mixed with plain water, if lemon juice irritates you.

Does it make your hair healthier? Hair is dead. You can’t have ‘healthy’ hair, there is really no such thing. What you can have is hair that shows (or fakes) signs of the good health of your body. Henna does give your hair features generally associated with health. It will make the hair shinier, thicken, soften and strengthen the hair shaft and relax the curl/wave pattern which gives the appearance of smoothness and general good health. Hair treated with henna is softer and thicker. That is good for some, but remember that thick hair is heavy, which will flatten it, and soft hair is flexible, it doesn’t hold teasing well and may require more product to curl or puff up.

Is it incompatible with normal hair dye? Only if you don’t know what you’re doing. ‘Lifting’ (bleaching) is generally a bad idea on henna treated hair, as the henna lifts less than natural hair pigmentation. So you may end up with a (nearly) white hair core, covered by an orange cuticle. The challenge here is that many (boxed) dark hair colours do lift your hair, then replace the colour with a new one. You can safely and predictably dye your hair after using henna, but you have to be careful to only ADD colour. You can do this by buying a tint of your choice and mixing it with a 10vol (3% peroxide) developer or buying a boxed colour marked ‘no lift’ (which will be the same thing, in a box). If you’re really careful, you can actually lift your henna dyed hair, giving you vibrant strawberry blonde highlights, it can work out very well, but be very, very cautious!

Here’s how it’s done:


Indian grocers are the best place to buy henna. It should be quite cheap, only around $3/100g. One treatment will be around 25g. I recommend only buying 100% pure henna. It doesn’t need any other ingredients, and they might lead to unpredictable results. Make up plenty of mixture, around twice what you would use in normal hair dye. You will get much better results this way and it will be easier. The mixture can be left to oxidise for a day before use, but I haven’t found this beneficial, and it stains to skin more.

Henna smells quite strong. It’s a muddy, earthy, frog pondish smell. It will be in your hair for a few days. Adding an essential oil to the mixture can cover this a bit. Be careful though, allergies to essential oils are common.

Henna stains skin deeply, and stains on skin can last for weeks. Wear gloves and clean your hairline well. It doesn’t tend to stain your scalp if it’s not too clean, so I suggest leaving your hair a few days without washing before doing this.


Development time depends very much on the results you’re after. Always go for less rather than more, results are permanent!
Ten minutes – a subtle warm glow, visible only on blonde hair.
Thirty minutes – a gentle ginger tint, will turn blonde to strawberry blonde or brown to chestnut. Maybe a little extra condition and shine.
One hour – a fairly strong ginger tint, much like what you’d get from a modern hair dye. Will turn mid brown to natural red, dark brown to rich chestnut or blonde to bright ginger. Your hair will feel a little heavier and thicker and will have a bit of a shimmer.
Three hours – serious red. Good for natural redheads and folks with dark brown hair. You will get a bright, almost metallic shine and relaxed hair. Don’t do this first time.
Over night – This is good for folks with black hair, it will not lighten your hair at all, but the light reflecting from your hair will have a red/gold tint. This will hugely add to thickness, shine, smoothness and softness. Do not try this until you’ve gauged the results of much shorter development periods.


Upsetting misinterpretations that are far too common.

10 scientific ideas that scientists wish you would stop misusing:

Many ideas have left the world of science and made their way into everyday language — and unfortunately, they are almost always used incorrectly. We asked a group of scientists to tell us which scientific terms they believe are the most widely misunderstood. Here are ten of them.

1. Proof

Physicist Sean Carroll says:

I would say that “proof” is the most widely misunderstood concept in all of science. It has a technical definition (a logical demonstration that certain conclusions follow from certain assumptions) that is strongly at odds with how it is used in casual conversation, which is closer to simply “strong evidence for something.” There is a mismatch between how scientists talk and what people hear because scientists tend to have the stronger definition in mind. And by that definition, science never proves anything! So when we are asked “What is your proof that we evolved from other species?” or “Can you really prove that climate change is caused by human activity?” we tend to hem and haw rather than simply saying “Of course we can.” The fact that science never really proves anything, but simply creates more and more reliable and comprehensive theories of the world that nevertheless are always subject to update and improvement, is one of the key aspects of why science is so successful.

2. Theory

Astrophysicist Dave Goldberg has a theory about the word theory:

Members of the general public (along with people with an ideological axe to grind) hear the word “theory” and equate it with “idea” or “supposition.” We know better. Scientific theories are entire systems of testable ideas which are potentially refutable either by the evidence at hand or an experiment that somebody could perform. The best theories (in which I include special relativity, quantum mechanics, and evolution) have withstood a hundred years or more of challenges, either from people who want to prove themselves smarter than Einstein, or from people who don’t like metaphysical challenges to their world view. Finally, theories are malleable, but not infinitely so. Theories can be found to be incomplete or wrong in some particular detail without the entire edifice being torn down. Evolution has, itself, adapted a lot over the years, but not so much that it wouldn’t still be recognize it. The problem with the phrase “just a theory,” is that it implies a real scientific theory is a small thing, and it isn’t.

3. Quantum Uncertainty and Quantum Weirdness

Goldberg adds that there’s another idea that has been misinterpreted even more perniciously than “theory.” It’s when people appropriate concepts from physics for new agey or spiritual purposes:

This misconception is an exploitation of quantum mechanics by a certain breed spiritualists and self-helpers, and epitomized by the abomination, [the movie] What the Bleep Do We Know? Quantum mechanics, famously, has measurement at its core. An observer measuring position or momentum or energy causes the “wavefunction to collapse,” non-deterministically. (Indeed, I did one of my first columns on “How smart do you need to collapse a wavefunction?”) But just because the universe isn’t deterministic doesn’t mean that you are the one controlling it. It is remarkable (and frankly, alarming) the degree to which quantum uncertainty and quantum weirdness get inextricably bound up in certain circles with the idea of a soul, or humans controlling the universe, or some other pseudoscience. In the end, we are made of quantum particles (protons, neutrons, electrons) and are part of the quantum universe. That is cool, of course, but only in the sense that all of physics is cool.
4. Learned vs. Innate

Evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk says:

One of my favorite [misuses] is the idea of behavior being “learned vs. innate” or any of the other nature-nurture versions of this. The first question I often get when I talk about a behavior is whether it’s “genetic” or not, which is a misunderstanding because ALL traits, all the time, are the result of input from the genes and input from the environment. Only a difference between traits, and not the trait itself, can be genetic or learned — like if you have identical twins reared in different environments and they do something different (like speak different languages), then that difference is learned. But speaking French or Italian or whatever isn’t totally learned in and of itself, because obviously one has to have a certain genetic background to be able to speak at all.

5. Natural

Synthetic biologist Terry Johnson is really, really tired of people misunderstanding what this word means:

“Natural” is a word that has been used in so many contexts with so many different meanings that it’s become almost impossible to parse. Its most basic usage, to distinguish phenomena that exist only because of humankind from phenomena that don’t, presumes that humans are somehow separate from nature, and our works are un- or non-natural when compared to, say, beavers or honeybees.

When speaking of food, “natural” is even slipperier. It has different meanings in different countries, and in the US, the FDA has given up on a meaningful definition of natural food (largely in favor of “organic”, another nebulous term). In Canada, I could market corn as “natural” if I avoid adding or subtracting various things before selling it, but the corn itself is the result of thousands of years of selection by humans, from a plant that wouldn’t exist without human intervention.
6. Gene

Johnson has an even bigger concern about how the word gene gets used, however:

It took 25 scientists two contentious days to come up with: “a locatable region of genomic sequence, corresponding to a unit of inheritance, which is associated with regulatory regions, transcribed regions and/or other functional sequence regions.” Meaning that a gene is a discrete bit of DNA that we can point to and say, “that makes something, or regulates the making of something”. The definition has a lot of wiggle room by design; it wasn’t long ago that we thought that most of our DNA didn’t do anything at all. We called it “junk DNA”, but we’re discovering that much of that junk has purposes that weren’t immediately obvious.

Typically “gene” is misused most when followed by “for”. There’s two problems with this. We all have genes for hemoglobin, but we don’t all have sickle cell anemia. Different people have different versions of the hemoglobin gene, called alleles. There are hemoglobin alleles which are associated with sickle cell diseases, and others that aren’t. So, a gene refers to a family of alleles, and only a few members of that family, if any, are associated with diseases or disorders. The gene isn’t bad – trust me, you won’t live long without hemoglobin – though the particular version of hemoglobin that you have could be problematic.

I worry most about the popularization of the idea that when a genetic variation is correlated with something, it is the “gene for” that something. The language suggests that “this gene causes heart disease”, when the reality is usually, “people that have this allele seem to have a slightly higher incidence of heart disease, but we don’t know why, and maybe there are compensating advantages to this allele that we didn’t notice because we weren’t looking for them”.
7. Statistically Significant

Mathematician Jordan Ellenberg wants to set the record straight about this idea:

“Statistically significant” is one of those phrases scientists would love to have a chance to take back and rename. “Significant” suggests importance; but the test of statistical significance, developed by the British statistician R.A. Fisher, doesn’t measure the importance or size of an effect; only whether we are able to distinguish it, using our keenest statistical tools, from zero. “Statistically noticeable” or “Statistically discernable” would be much better.

8. Survival of the Fittest

Paleoecologist Jacquelyn Gill says that people misunderstand some of the basic tenets of evolutionary theory:

Topping my list would be “survival of the fittest.” First, these are not actually Darwin’s own words, and secondly, people have a misconception about what “fittest” means. Relatedly, there’s major confusion about evolution in general, including the persistent idea that evolution is progressive and directional (or even deliberate on the part of organisms; people don’t get the idea of natural selection), or that all traits must be adaptive (sexual selection is a thing! And so are random mutations!).
Fittest does not mean strongest, or smartest. It simply means an organism that fits best into its environment, which could mean anything from “smallest” or “squishiest” to “most poisonous” or “best able to live without water for weeks at a time.” Plus, creatures don’t always evolve in a way that we can explain as adaptations. Their evolutionary path may have more to do with random mutations, or traits that other members of their species find attractive.

9. Geologic Timescales

Gill, whose work centers on Pleistocene environments that existed over 15,000 years ago, says that she’s also dismayed by how little people seem to understand the Earth’s timescales:

One issue I often run into is that the public lacks an understanding of geologic timescales. Anything prehistoric gets compressed in peoples’s minds, and folks think that 20,000 years ago we had drastically different species (nope), or even dinosaurs (nope nope nope). It doesn’t help that those little tubes of plastic toy dinosaurs often include cave people or mammoths.
10. Organic

Entomologist Gwen Pearson says that there’s a constellation of terms that “travel together” with the word “organic,” such as “chemical-free,” and “natural.” And she’s tired of seeing how profoundly people misunderstand them:

I’m less upset about the way that they are technically incorrect [though of course all] food is all organic, because it contains carbon,etc. [My concern is] the way they are used to dismiss and minimize real differences in food and product production.

Things can be natural and “organic”, but still quite dangerous.

Things can be “synthetic” and manufactured, but safe. And sometimes better choices. If you are taking insulin, odds are it’s from GMO bacteria. And it’s saving lives.

Annalee Newitz, 109

Ultra Minimalist Manicure


The French manicure is one of the few things more versatile than the little black dress. The super fine French manicure competes with gaffer tape.

If you want something especially elegant, this is a chic, extremely minimalist, surprisingly practical look for a christening to a strip tease …Just in case you ever have to do both in one day.

I don’t think I need to tell you how to do this. There are plenty of ways to do French tips. This example is shellac, but gel would work just as well. Acrylic and nail polish could both be used to create this look, although possibly with more effort and less success.

Berry Red Wine Jelly

Imagine if jelly shots were classy. That’s this.

I really do not think you need instructions on this. Go and do it, now.

P.S. As you can see, I have not used top quality ingredients in this experiment. With decent wine and fresh fruit, this recipe would be much nicer.

Knit-free Knitted Leg Warmers


I’m not sure exactly how unfashionable leg warmers are right now, but if they suited you when they were in, they suit you now, if they look bad now, a change in fashions is not going to help!

I find that leg warmers flatter my chubby, muscly legs, hide waxing spots and make skirts viable in a greater variety of temperatures. They also go brilliantly with a newspaper boy cap, of which I have about ten.

These are amazingly simple to make, you only need whip stitch (the stitch you use to repair damaged socks, stockings and dog toys), which anyone can do. If you haven’t done it before, do a quick image search, then try to keep it small, neat and slow.

You will need:
– A scarf wide enough to encircle your calf and at least twice as long as your shin. Department stores sell everything from cashmere to acrylic and second hand shops are likely to have all sorts of interesting things. One with a chunky cable pattern works well, especially if it’s a subtle colour.
– Some cotton thread in a suitable colour, or you could use a chunky yarn for visible feature stitching
– A needle that fits your thread
– Sharp scissors
– Elastic
– Decorations such as ribbon, buttons, pom-poms, grub roses, etc.


These are my decorations. I also decided to leave a small split at the ankle.



P.S. Taking a spaniel-free photo in our house is impossible, these are the only ones in which the dogs were not DIRECTLY between the subject and the camera.