Monday, 7 February 2011

You Win Again

You Win Again..

I can remember the very first time I walked into the Urban Retreat spa in Harrods. At the time, I was living the uber-stressful life of a busy style & grooming editor for one of Europe's top lifestyle publications. I'd been invited to meet legendary make-up artist Daniel Sandler, whose genius mineral cosmetics are sold at the spa. Daniel had been on my radar for a few years, as my friend Alessandra Steinherr, Beauty Director at Glamour magazine, had waxed lyrical about Daniel's Watercolour Blusher when we worked together at Cosmopolitan magazine. So avid a fan was she of this particular product, that it won several Cosmopolitan Beauty Awards (not to mention a host of others).

So you can imagine my excitement when I got the call inviting me to go and have a make-up consultation with the great man himself. And when I say great, I refer to an illustrious career that has seen him design catwalk make-up looks for Gucci and supermodels such as Kate Moss and Yasmin Le Bon. Needless to say, meeting Daniel was a life-changing experience. I've always been super-inquisitive, I was the type of child who would inevitably ask his parents "why?" at any given opportunity. So of course, when I had the privilege of spending an hour in this legendary make-up artist's chair, I jumped at the opportunity to ask him as many pertinent questions as I could.

They say patience is a virtue and it is without doubt one of Daniel's greatest assets, together with his genuinely polite, gentle and kind manner (and of course his superior artistry). At the end of the consultation, not only had I learned a great deal about the art of make-up application, I also realised that I had a genuine passion for make-up and skin care (a passion sparked at an early age as I watched in awe as my glamorous mother applied her own make-up for parties when I was a child). I recall Daniel telling me that he thought there was a make-up artist inside me. Who'd have thought that a few years later I'd be a make-up artist myself? Or that my new skills would see me working with celebrities such as pop star and X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke?

I've always taken a very holistic approach to beauty. Even as a child, I had a freakish fascination for the subject and would quiz the women in my family incessantly about their personal rituals. It was at this young age that I learned about essential oils, herbs and flowers and their effects on the mind, body and spirit (I've my maternal and paternal grandmothers to thank for this). How many 8 year old boys do you know that make their own face masks and facial spritzers from herbs and flowers hand-picked from their herb garden? Given my precocious interest in all things natural, it's not surprising that given the choice today, I'll always opt for natural formulations over synthetic ones.

So on the subject of all things natural, I'm going to share with you a selection of some of my favourite products from Urban Retreat. I've heard on the grapevine that the brand's own line of products is being discontinued. When I heard this I was genuinely in shock. Partly because both the skin care and cosmetics have been developed with the input of some of the world's leading experts, and partly because I'm at a loss as to what to replace these products with once they've sold through. Talk about tragic!

First we have Urban Retreat THE Cleanser. Priced originally at £12.30 and reduced to a wallet-friendly £8.61, this literally blows Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish out of the water (though in fairness, the latter can also be found in my bathroom). When it comes down to it, comparing the two is like comparing diamonds and coal (ie comparisons are best avoided). Designed with the input of the world-famous facialist Anastasia Achilleos, this product has worked miracles for my skin (and with the input of the woman who gives Prada models facials backstage it ought to).

A recent bout of stomach flu knocked me for six for an entire week and it was evident in my skin, which had taken on a sickly hue. My pallid complexion was further "enhanced" by a sprinkle of pimples (nice), suffice to say my confidence was not at its greatest. So what does a man do when he looks in the mirror and is confronted by complexion imperfection? He turns to his hero products, that's what! So wondrous is this cleanser that rays of golden light should emanate from the jar when you open the lid, with Bonnie Tyler's "I Need A Hero" playing in the background (well, in my over-active imagination at least).

Formulated without skin nasties such as Parabens, the one beauty award this product is missing is "Eighth Wonder of the World". And with premium grade ingredients such as skin-softening apricot kernel oil, mineral-rich avocado oil, anti-ageing rosehip seed oil, antioxidant pomegranate extract, hydrating fig extract and skin-softening / hydrating rose flower water, you'd be hard-pressed to use this regularly and not end up with fabulous skin. Trust me folks, I have the privilege of testing the world's leading skin care and cosmetics, so I'd like to think I know a thing or two about what works (and let me tell you, this REALLY works). Not only is my skin glowing again, the scarring caused by my pimples has all but faded.

To get the best from this product, it's worth following Anastasia's principles of skin massage and to follow this process with the product morning and night (religiously). A muslin cloth and warm water are essential for the best results. I found a video online featuring Anastasia's tips for facial cleansing. In the video, she is using products from Olay (which you can feel free to use too) - but given the choice between synthetic Olay products and Urban Retreat THE Cleanser, I'd choose the latter every time:

Facial spritzers are a handbag / manbag essential. They're superb for toning and freshening the skin and brilliant for setting make-up and imparting a dewy glow. After cleansing, I like to spritz my skin with Urban Retreat The Hydrating Mist. Reduced from £10.25 to £7.18, it is packed with skin-friendly botanicals such as antibacterial bergamot oil, detoxifying and astringent lime oil, soothing peppermint oil and hydrating aloe vera.

To complete your three-step skin care routine, massage Urban Retreat THE Moisturiser upwards, starting at the neck, taking the product up behind the ears and neck (this is an essential tip for maintaining firmer skin in years to come), moving up the face and finishing with circular motions on the forehead and temples. Reduced from a whopping £19.40 to a modest £13.58 (what a bargain), the "wet" gel / cream texture of this product leaves my skin hydrated and glowing throughout the day. Like the other products in the facial cleansing range, the list of ingredients is like an A-to-Z of anti-ageing miracle workers, with a fragrant blend of hydrating rose otto oil, antioxidants Vitamin E and rooibos tea extract, sensual ylang ylang oil, skin-smoothing jojoba oil, anti-ageing rosehip oil and last but not least, hyaluronic acid. Sodium Hyaluronate holds more than 1000 times its own weight in water, occurs naturally in the skin and is being championed by a vast number of high end miracle creams currently flying off the shelves of beauty counters across the globe.

If you follow Anastasia's application tips to the letter and cleanse tone and moisturise morning and night, you'll be blessed with beautiful skin for years to come, and no doubt realise that taking time for yourself isn't vanity, it is uplifting for the soul. Furthermore, you'll have such flawless skin that you'll probably only want to use this last product on special occasions. Developed with the input of celebrity make-up artist Daniel Sandler, this light-as-a-feather foundation provides the skin with a sheer veil of coverage and soft-as-silk texture. If you're the type of person who likes a sheer-to-medium coverage without the heavy feel of a foundation, this is definitely the one for you. Urban Retreat Smart Base and Blusher is reduced from £19.95 to £13.97 and in my opinion, is best applied with a foundation brush for the flawless airbrushed celebrity look. Available in Light, Medium or Dark, the product comes with a colour-coordinated cream blush, housed discretely in the lid (with a rather nifty pop up mirror, these guys literally think of everything). Super-light, this wonder is supremely portable, essential for the girl (or guy) on the go.

All the products featured are available to purchase from Beautique, Urban Retreat's online shopping portal:

Top British model Ruth Crilly (star of Channel 4's This Model Life) has done a fantastic review of some Daniel Sandler products, watch the video to get a taste of his cosmetic genius:

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