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.


Recipe: Strawberry Rose Milk

Step one: find a rose that is lactating. Wait. No.


This is a subtle, luxurious caffeine-free hot drink. It’s great for just before bed and unlike most pre-bed beverages, is fairly low energy and very low carbohydrate. Organic versions of all these ingredients are readily available.


A mug of hot milk
Two drops of pure strawberry essence
Two drops of pure rose water or about five fresh rose petals (remove after steeping)
One drop of cochineal extract (optional, it just makes the milk a pretty colour)
Open fire
Small spaniels
Letters from admirers

Little Luxuries For All


If you’re reading this, you can afford a few luxuries (the internet, a screen, literacy, basic optometry), but if you ‘re like most of us, you ignore those so you can get on with the really important stuff: stressing over all the money you lack and the job you hate that you have to do to pay for the car that gets you to the job that exhausts you and the house that you sleep in for six hours before doing it all again.

Stop. Hammer time.

Actually this time is in no way hammer related, but I now have voice to text software and it doesn’t like the backspace concept. Who knew I said such crap? Well, obviously everyone I know, but not me. I also seem to speak in paragraph long sentences, I’m not sure how I breathe.

Anyway this is not another post about being thankful for what you have by worshipping the moon goddess, this is a post about ENJOYING what you have. Mostly by using it to buy better stuff.

A cup of just acceptable tea (Lipton, in this particular calculation) is worth about five cents in actual tea. Snazzy supermarket tea is about ten cents a cup (say, Twinings). I’ve never found tea, from anywhere in the world, more than triple that price (I’m sure it exists and it’s made from wild ocelot poo blended on human skin matts by Russian virgins in provincial France), so you could have the world’s best tea for easily under a dollar a cup. Imagine how much swanky posh tea you could have for the price of one pair of Bonds trackies.

The same principle applies to coffee, sweets, chocolate and all manner of other small gastronomic pleasures.

Melbourne has several boutique chocolatiers, each charging around $100/kg. That sounds like a lot, because it is, but no one should ever need a kilo of chocolate, that’s also a lot. 50g of excellent chocolate and some carefully chosen tea or coffee provides a really luxurious little treat for about six dollars, six-fifty if you splurge and buy organic un-homogenised milk, which I, the elitist bitch I am, highly recommend.

P.S. When I found the picture I put above, I couldn’t actually explain due to fits of giggling, I just handed it to my husband saying ‘physics!’ between delicate, flattering snorts of poorly concealed laughter.