My Mom, Superwoman

I always knew my Mom was Superwoman – Superwoman of the mind. When I get stuck with my thinking, she has answers. When I get stuck with my writing, she has solutions. When I get stuck with my emotions, she has advice.

I never knew until this week that she is, simply, Superwoman. Not “just” Superwoman of the mind. She had COVID-19, and she beat it. Alone. Without doctors (except for herself, she is an MD after all). Without hospitals. Without “bothering” anyone about her condition.

When I realized that the novel corona virus became a threat, I worried for many of my family and friends – but most of all for my Mom. She splits her time between Paris and Geneva and travels a lot. She is in the high risk COVID-19 group, due to her age and her delicate lungs and asthma. She is a free spirit and I doubted her willingness to abide by the confinement rules. I worried that she would contract this virus (and I was right) and that it would beat her (and oh was I wrong) and that I would not get back to Switzerland in time.

Over the last two and a half months, she experienced many symptoms of this virus, one after the other. Terrible cough. Exhaustion. “COVID toes.” She followed the confinement and mask-wearing rules to the letter. She told my three sisters and me that she was doing this for us, so that we did not have to worry about her getting sick on top of all of our other COVID-19-related worries.

On Monday this week, she received the results of her anti-body test. Very, very, very positive. Of course, Barbara Polla has never failed an exam or test in her life… why should I be so surprised that she would pass this one with an A+?!

Thank you Mom for being Superwoman. In all ways, and always.

Self care and silver linings

Self care is having a moment. Some even say that the COVID-19 virus is transforming the “lipstick effect” into the “self care effect.” 

I was raised to believe in self care, and specifically in self care through skin care with my brand Alchimie Forever. But what exactly is self care? Over the past couple of weeks, I connected with Britta Cox, the founder of Aquis hair, about beauty, hair care, skin care, and most recently self care. We shared our respective ways to care for our selves, in general and more specifically during this time of confinement. Here are the highlights of our conversation. 

Britta’s self care wisdom: 

  • “Being in nature, moving and breathing deeply clears my mind and rejuvenates me. It’s also when my best ideas come, it’s when my subconscious and thoughts can float freely. 
  • Sleeping with the windows and doors open and breathing fresh air makes a big difference in how my skin looks and how well I sleep. It makes all the difference to feeling well-rested and fresh in the morning. 
  • Dry brushing. It’s a Swedish thing. Use a dry brush on dry skin, brushing towards your heart to keep lymphatic fluids and blood flowing to enhance circulation, remove toxins and keep skin healthy. Sunday is my self care day when I’ll dry brush and exfoliate from head to toe before taking a nice soak in the tub, with a few drops of oil in the water to replenish moisture. 
  • Detoxing my scalp. The scalp also develops sebum build up. We have a wonderful Detoxifying Scalp and Hair Wash with charcoal. It cleanses deeply without stripping the hair of natural oils, and is pH balanced for the hair and scalp specifically.
  • Spending time in the garden. I love spending time in the garden which is abundant with life, learnings and miracles of nature. I’ve been a certified organic gardener for 14 years, living on almost two acres, which brings such joy. You can just step outside, close your eyes, and experience life and nature everywhere. It makes you appreciate and tune into the small things in life and be in the moment. 
  • Beauty is all about what we put inside. I saw my first aesthetician at age 21, she got me hooked on fish oils. All of the omegas they have are one of the best things you can do for your skin, hair, and mental clarity. And I eat smoked salmon as another source.
  • Drinking water and tea to stay hydrated. Warm tea at night helps with digestion. Chrysanthemum tea is amazing for skin and reducing inflammation & the warm tea water is cleansing. 
  • Music. A good playlist can help you find your Zen, and completely change your mood.” 

I shared some of my current self-care rituals as well, which include: 

  • Stepping outside and breathing  fresh air. I try to spend part of every day outdoors, for my mental and emotional well-being.
  • Exercising 3-5 times a week. It has a positive effect on my skin. Exercise activates blood circulation, it’s good for my mental state, and for my physique. Normally I’m a morning exerciser but had a challenging day and decided to go for an evening run. I needed to shift my mental state and sometimes to do that I have to engage my body and shift my physical state.
  • Masking it up. I sleep with the K18Peptide™ Masque overnight. It’s so good for my hair and amazing at mending split ends. 
  • Scrubbing my body. My alternative to dry brushing (although I may have to embrace this technique) is Aveda’s Beautifying Radiance Polish. When we’re young our dead skin cells naturally fall off. As we age, those natural processes get a little lazier and don’t function as well. The older you get the more important it is for you to help your body naturally shed dead skin cells. Be super gentle with the skin on your face and neckit’s delicate, but the body benefits from a good scrub. Always scrub against gravity, so from the feet up your legs, from the hands up your arms, it’s good for lymphatic drainage. 
  • Smelling the roses (or magnolias in this case). My husband brings flowers into the house. We’re in Louisiana right now and he brought in a magnolia from our tree.
  • Soaking it up. I’ve been taking baths almost every night which I don’t normally do. It feels so good for my head, and I love the feeling of weightlessness. Kneipp bath salts make the baths feel like a real treatment.  
  • Being mindful of what I eat and drink. What we eat and drink is reflected in our skin. I’m trying to eat extra healthfully, and be very diligent about going three days each week without alcohol. A trip to the fridge is the most tempting trip. My girlfriends and I joke about the COVID-19. I don’t want that.
  • Taking care of others. The other aspect of self-care is care of others, your children, your spouse, your partner, care of people who can’t care for themselves.

 Last but not least, we both agreed that gratitude is a powerful form of self care. To read more about our respective silver linings, click here

How are you taking care of yourself during these times? 

 

Practice Safe Sun

May is Melanoma Awareness Month, a good excuse to brush up on sun protection knowledge. If you stop reading right here, just know that a moisturizer with SPF is a must every single day, from January 1st to December 31st. This will not only prevent skin cancer, but it will ensure that you age more gracefully.

Continue reading to refresh your SPF knowledge.

What is SPF? SPF = Sun Protection Factor. The number tells you how long the sun’s UVB rays would take to redden your skin if you apply the sunscreen exactly as directed compared with the amount of time without sunscreen. So, if you use an SPF 30 product properly, it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you used no sunscreen.

“SPF Math”. SPF 15 blocks about 94% of UVB rays; SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays; and SPF 45 blocks about 98%

UV rays are bad. UV rays lead to melanoma and 90% of signs of skin aging. Wear a moisturizer with SPF every day. Avoid laying out in the sun between the hours of 11 am and 4 pm when the sun is strongest. You will get a tan from being in the shade… And please do not use tanning beds.

UV rays are bad in different ways. UVA and UVB rays are both harmful. UVA rays cause wrinkling and skin aging. UVB rays cause sunburn and skin cancer. This is why you need to use a broad-spectrum SPF (meaning one that protects from both UVA and UVB rays).

Wear SPF even when indoors. UVA rays penetrate through glass windows. Let me say it again: wear SPF every day, even when you plan on staying inside all day.

Chemical versus physical. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays. Physical sunblocks block UV rays. Both are better than not wearing sunscreen.

Vitamin D. Yes, we all need vitamin D. No, this is not a reason not to wear sunscreen every single day.

Please wear sunscreen. Every. Single. Day. Thank you!

What to keep, what to release

I have been listening to podcasts. Lots of podcasts. They are yet another of my COVID-19 coping strategies. This week, I listened to Episode 198 of the Business of Fashion podcast – a conversation between BOF founder Imran Amed and activist Sinead Burke

What struck a chord with me is the framework that Burke uses when making decisions about what projects to take on, and what projects to pass on. When Burke considers a new task, she asks herself the following four questions:

  1. Is this part of my list of goals and objectives that I have always wanted to achieve? 
  2. Does this pay the rent? 
  3. Does this give back? 
  4. Does this bring other people with me? 

“Everything that I do has to answer yes to more than one of these questions” says Burke. These questions are her compass and help guide her decisions. 

I have found these times conducive to questioning everything, including scrutinizing the various projects and commitments I have said yes to in the past. Did I say yes for good reason? Did I say yes because saying yes is easier than saying no? When asked to take one something, I (try to) systematically ask myself if this said project is worth doing. 99% of the time, the answer is yes. That one question is hardly a framework…  

What is the right framework for me to use to make decisions about what and whom I give my time to? What is my compass? I need to work on this. In the meantime, I might just use Burke’s framework. I am sure she wouldn’t mind… 

 

Some of My New Sanity Rituals

Business has slowed drastically. My inbox is full of COVID-19 update emails instead of “normal” emails, so even “office work” is different. 

My meetings have been postponed and my trips cancelled for the foreseeable future. No trainings, store visits, events, or conferences for days. 

I have been home for 9 days straight. 

This is not my “normal life,” and I must rethink my days and my rituals, to ensure that I don’t think of every day as “day” (instead of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc), which I must admit I am guilty of. 

I am not there yet, but I am trying. Here are some of the things I have implemented (some new, some similar to what I did “before”) to stay sane during these insane times. 

  • Waking up between 4:30 and 5 am on weekdays (my normal wakeup time). 
  • Making a weekly gameplan on Mondays as I usually would, focusing on prioritizing projects I have not had a chance to work on over the past six months. 
  • Listening to Yo Yo Ma daily in the evening (on Instagram). 
  • Skyping weekly with my sisters during the weekends (instead of monthly). 
  • Defining Wednesday as vacuuming day. Given that we brought our cat to Georgetown, my husband just gifted me a new Dyson mini vacuum which is perfect for cat hair. Did I mention how satisfying vacuuming is? 
  • Being super strict about my eating and drinking. I am still not drinking three days per week (although last week I slipped and only made it two days) and am very aware of the “COVID-19” and eating with awareness to avoid gaining weight.  
  • Notwithstanding the above, ordering takeout from my favorite restaurants to support them as best as I can. 
  • Doing 100 sit ups every day. 
  • Taking advantage of the many (free) webinars that many publications and associations are offering to discuss the current crisis and how to do business during such times. 
  • Ensuring that at least two evenings per week involve no “TV.” 
  • Listening to a Master Class per day (so far, I only did this once this week though). 
  • Doing virtual cocktail hours and lunches and dinners with friends (oh friends how I miss thee…).  
  • Reading. I am still finishing The Only Plane in the Sky, the timing of which I can’t decide is scary or fortuitous, following which I plan on reading mostly fiction until “life goes back to normal.” 
  • Reminding myself of all of the things I have to be grateful for, including my husband, my health, my home. 

What are you doing to stay sane? Please share! I need more ideas…

Our Kantic® Brightening Moisture Mask: Better than Ever!

One of the things that I love about the skin care industry is the constantly evolving body of knowledge and the ingredient innovation that keep things exciting, and keep me forever working on our product formulations.

When we created our first Alchimie Forever products, back in the late 1980s, we used parabens (we also loved big hair and worked out to Jane Fonda). We no longer use parabens anymore of course, and the process of removing them from our formulations was not easy (imagine making your grandmother’s tomato sauce with cherry tomatoes instead of heirloom tomatoes and wanting it to taste exactly the same). That was Alchimie 2.0.

The improvements continue, as we move from Alchimie 2.0 to Alchimie 3.0.

Recently, we updated our Purifying gel cleanser formulation, removing sulfates, and replacing them with more natural, gentler alternatives – while preserving the beautiful foaming texture of this product.

We also just improved our hero SKU, the Kantic® Brightening moisture mask. For all of you out there who have used and loved this product for decades, and who do not like change (I am in this group), here is more information on exactly what we changed (starting with Lot Numbers 10151J21 and 11041K21).

We removed the following ingredients, in our continued effort to make our formulations as clean (yet still effective) as possible:

  • Phenoxyethanol (preservative, slightly controversial)
  • Dimethicone (silicone derivative, texture ingredient, can clogg pores)
  • Trimethylsiloxysilicate (silicone derivative, texture ingredient, can clogg pores)
  • PPG-15 Stearyl Ether (ethoxylated ingredient, slightly controversial)
  • PPG-20 Methyl Glucose Ether (ethoxylated ingredient, slightly controversial)

We replaced these ingredients with the following cleaner alternatives:

  • Coco-Caprylate/Caprate (non-controversial alternative to silicone)
  • Dimer Dilinoleyl Dimer Dilinoleate (non-controversial texture ingredient)
  • Caprylyl Glycol (non-controversial texture ingredient)

Rest assured: while we have made the formula “cleaner,” we have not changed any of the active ingredients that give the mask all of its wonderful properties and benefits. You will still get the same glow, hydration, calming and anti-redness effect, as you have for years.

And remember, as our products do not contain artificial dyes, the color may vary slightly with each production batch. Similarly, the viscosity (how thick the product is) is a range, as it cannot be replicated 100% batch to batch without a purely synthetic formulation. This means that sometimes the mask will be a little thicker, and sometimes it will be a little more watery.

But the Kantic® Brightening moisture mask, in all of its iterations, remains our best-selling, first ever product, and hero of our brand. And your favorite!