Is there an iconic Cameroonian beauty aid? If there's one cure-all for everything from scratches to dry patches, it's palm oil. I have memories of my grandmother using it on me when I was very little.
Which part of the palm tree is the oil from? The kind that's good for skin comes from the kernel, which you mash after removing it from the middle of the fruit.
Have you found palm oil in the States? The pure oil is harder to find, though it's added to some beauty products. But since arriving here, I've mostly switched to olive oil. While similar, it's lighter and less oily -- and you can use it on cuticles, scalp, hair, and limbs for all-over softness.
Are there times when you still have to use your palm oil?
In the dead of winter, when you're more scales than skin, there's nothing better.
Avon ANEW Ultimate Age Repair Cream Cleanser Gets its rich feel from palm oil that's sourced through GreenPalm, a program that supports demonstrably sustainable palm growers. (avon.com)
Alaffia Red Palm and Shea Nurturing Body Soap sources its hand-pressed red palm oil from small, sustainable organic farms in Togo, and forgoes any refining. (alaffia.com)
Ojon Damage Reverse Restorative Hair Treatment Plus uses a different -- but similarly hydrating -- kind of palm oil: sustainably harvested, Central American Ojon oil, whose ability to resurrect hair is legendary. (ojon.com)
Did you learn any beauty secrets from your mom?
That natural ingredients really work. Beer, for example, is great at making your hair bouncy and shiny. So, periodically, I’d wash with organic shampoo, rinse, then saturate my hair with Astra, a lager from Hamburg, where I grew up. I’d leave the beer in for 30 minutes, then rinse.
Any other Germanic remedies? Chamomile, to bring out the blond in my hair. I brew up some fresh chamomile tea and let it steep for a while. Then, after washing and rinsing, I splash my hair with the cooled-off tea, then let it dry -- the relaxing scent is a bonus.
Sounds simple! Yes, but for the chamomile to work, you need to be blond to begin with, or at least blond-ish. The beer trick, however, works for everyone.
Weleda Iris Hydrating Night Cream combines suppleness-boosting iris root extract with moisturizing shea butter and soothing chamomile. (usa.weleda.com)
Logona Color Care Chamomile Shampoo blends its marquee blonding ingredient with silk protein for softness, wheat for strength, and other botanical boosters. (amazon.com)
Dr. Hauschka Eye Solace depuffs with black tea and soothes with chamomile and other botanicals. (drhauschka.com)
What does being born in Hawaii mean for your beauty routine? It was all about the beach for me. From the salt water (it keeps your skin glowing) to the incredibly moisturizing tropical oils, the local environment provided whatever we needed.
What sort of oils? Kukui nut oil is arguably the island’s best traditional moisturizer and conditioner, but since moving away from home, I’ve been using another Polynesian oil called monoi. Though officially Tahitian, this gardenia oil is really popular with Hawaiians, too. It smells like the beach and reminds me of my mother.
How do you like to use monoi? On my skin as moisturizer and to style and condition my hair for a beachy look.
PhytoSpecific Intense Nutrition Shampoo supplements its kukui content with macadamia oil and mimosa wax for maximum moisturization. (amazon.com)
Alba Botanica Hawaiian Kukui Nut Body Cream packs shea and cocoa butters in addition to its namesake ingredient to remedy the driest of skin. (albabotanica.com)
Hawaiian Bath & Body Lavender Kukui Oil contains lavender, so it's as soothing as it is moisturizing. (hawaiianbathbody.com)
What’s your secret for glowing skin? I love a traditional Russian bath, with dry heat, an icy plunge, and a thwacking with naturally astringent oak leaves. You feel like your whole body is breathing and clean after.
Do you go to a Russian bath in the States? They’re not as common here, so I save them for when I go back to Russia.
So how do you take care of your skin? I still use an old Russian remedy: honey. It's moisturizing and even more softening when mixed with sugar to make an exfoliant. A neighbor in Russia who does holistic health treatments taught me this. Plus, like the oak leaves, the rub warms up your skin and gets circulation going.
Can you do this at home? Easily. Combine equal parts honey and granulated sugar, and massage the mixture in gentle, circular strokes over your body. It's messy, so do it in your shower, but don’t turn on the water until you're done.
Nahla Wildflower Honey Vitamin Mask is extremely concentrated and the anti-inflammatory calendula and geranium help fight blemishes. (nahlabeauty.com)
Apivita Queen Bee Firming and Restoring Face Cream moisturizes and fights signs of aging with honey, myrrh essential oil, royal jelly, and seaweed. (apivita.com)
Burt's Bees Honey & Shea Sugar Scrub blends honey with sugar and ground almonds to slough off the skin. (burtsbees.com)
Are you a traditionalist when it comes to your beauty routine? Yes, like my ma's and grandma's, it’s incredibly simple: Wash your face, apply lotion, and always use sunscreen.
Any special treatments? There is a drink that several of the women in my family swear by for keeping skin clear: barley water. The handwritten recipe still circulates on a tattered index card.
What are the directions? Boil 2 1/2 quarts of water in a large saucepan. Add 1/2 cup of pearl barley, cover, and simmer for one hour. Strain, and add the fruit of 2 lemons and 6 oranges to the barley water. Add brown sugar to taste.
How often should you partake? I keep a bottle of it cooling in the fridge. A glass a day is supposed to be good for digestion as well as your skin.
Clinique Liquid Facial Soap Extra Mild foams but doesn't strip lipids, leaving the barrier intact. (amazon.com)
Estee Lauder Idealist Even Skintone Illuminator fights all manner of unevenness, from acne marks to redness, with antioxidant rice bran extract and soothing licorice, among others. (esteelauder.com)
Origins Starting Over Eye Cream with Mimosa employs a battery of botanicals (in addition to the barley and the headlining mimosa) to combat crepey lids and other local wrinkling. (origins.com)
What’s Belgium’s best beauty secret? Great spas, including the town of Spa itself. It's been a destination since the 14th century, when health and beauty seekers would go to soak in the healing hot springs.
Did you partake? I was always drinking Spa Reine, a brand of mineral water that you find at most Belgian grocery stores. It’s believed to be purifying.
Any other secrets to share? I've started studying holistic medicine, and have created my own curative toner with 1 part apple cider vinegar, 1 part witch hazel, 3 parts green tea, and a few drops of tea tree or lavender essential oil. I keep it in the refrigerator because the cold is invigorating.
EuroSpa Sea Salt is an all natural, mineral-rich blend that can be poured directly into your bath or mixed into a scrub. (seasalt.com)
Lush Geo Phyzz Bath Bomb is dense with salt that's been covered in mineral-rich volcanic clay -- a concoction that adds effervescence (and a pine and cypress scent) to your bathwater. (lushusa.com)
Pevonia Botanica Mystique Escape Bath Salts are mineralizing and contain uplifting grapefruit and mandarin essential oils. (shoppevonia.com)