Safe Sun

My two grandmothers, one from an Italian farming family, the other from a Swiss-German pastor family, did not agree on many things. But they did agree on one thing: too dark a suntan is borderline inelegant, and a sunburn is outright offensive.

My two grandmothers, one from an Italian farming family, the other from a Swiss-German pastor family, did not agree on many things. But they did agree on one thing: too dark a suntan is borderline inelegant, and a sunburn is outright offensive. Between them and my dermatologist father, with whom I have never been in so much trouble as when I sunburn my skin, I like to think I have perfected the idea of practicing “safe sun.” While this is something to think about daily, including in the dead of winter and on rainy days, it is particularly important during vacation season, which is upon us. If you are heading to the beach, the pool, on a boat, or anywhere else where you are planning on spending most of your summer days outdoors, keep this in mind:

  1. The safest way to be in the sun is not to be in the sun. In particular in between the hours of 11 and 3 pm, stay in the shade.
  2. Use sunscreen. Even if you are planning to be in the shade all day, sunscreen is essential. A body oil with SPF 2 does not count as sunscreen… UVA and UVBs are both harmful to the skin, so make sure your sunscreen says “broad-spectrum” (the SPF value only refers to protection from UVB). Keep in mind that SPF 30, which my father recommends for “beach vacation days” will protect you from 96% of UVB. A higher SPF will increase the protection by a few percentage points only: SPF 50 will increase it to 98%, and SPF 75 to 99%.
  3. Apply sunscreen liberally. Don’t think of it as applying your moisturizer or foundation – be generous, err on too much rather than not enough. The general rule of thumb is a shot-glass worth of product for an “average-sized” body.
  4. Re-apply after every time you get in the water. There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen; the FDA does recognize the term “water-resistant,” so look for that word when making your purchase, and reapply.
  5. Purchase new sunscreen annually, at the very least. While you may not need a new bathing suit before every summer vacation, be vigilant about the expiration dates on sunscreens. The formulations are delicate, and do break down – an expired sunscreen will not provide the protection claimed on the bottle.
  6. Remember the ears, back of the neck, and top of the feet (where I have gotten some of my worse sunburns). Apply your sunscreen before you put on your bathing suit, to avoid getting a tan right around where your bathing suit meets your skin.

There are lots of great sunscreens out there, I tend to find a new favorite one every summer. La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Nutritive Oil Comfort SPF 50+ and all Coola products are wonderful. Yet remember, no sunscreen is 100%. This means using an antioxidant product is key, both layered under your sunscreen and as a post-sun product, so that you instantly repair any free radical damage caused. Once again, there are many great antioxidant products on the market, my current favorite being the newest Alchimie Forever cream, Protective day cream SPF 23. As a first layer of protection, it is packed with antioxidants including blueberries, vitamins C and E, and edelweiss extract, and also has some chemical filters to help fight UVAs and UVBs.

Lastly, remember, you earn the skin you’re in! Protect it, and always practice “safe sun.”

How to blow dry your hair and other tips from Tatum Neill

I was born into a skin family, and married into a hair family. I was born into a family of all sisters, and married into a family of mostly brothers. I can’t think of better combinations. This is top of mind today as I am on my way to Chicago for America’s Beauty Show, and will see my brother Tatum on stage doing hair, and deejay (yes, another amazing combination) during his ElevateHair Show on Sunday evening (along with many other amazing artists, including Holly Pistas of Gordon Salons).

I am reminded of the below conversation I had with Tatum early on, picking his brain about the life of a hairstylist. Today, being behind the chair (at Paris Parker Salons) is only part of Tatum’s role. He launched ElevateHair shows and branded tools, teaches haircutting at Neill Corporation, and is the North America Artistic Director, Social Media, for Aveda. And yes, he’s my brother – and yes, he’s cut my hair and my sisters’ hair (Roxane said he might have given her the best short haircut of her life).

AP: What do you recommend clients do to ensure getting the best possible haircut when going to the salon?

TN: Do not use your previous stylist’s language; each hairdresser has their own way of talking about things, so don’t get tied up with the lingo. What I appreciate the most is when people bring a few pictures of what they are looking for. Pictures are worth a thousand words. The tricky part about images is that sometimes the hair has more to do with the styling than with the cut… so always be open to your hairdresser’s recommendations.

AP: As a hairdresser, what are your pet peeves?

TN: Turtle necks and lip gloss. When my clients come in wearing a turtle neck, it’s hard to cleanly get to the hairline, and impedes the cut. And if I need to trim your bangs and you are wearing sticky lip gloss, the hair ends up on your lips and it creates a mess. Of course, like any hairdresser, while I appreciate some direction from my clients, I don’t like it when clients want to direct me too much…

AP: Razor or no razor?

TN: The thing about a razor is that it needs to be new and sharp. Razors dull really quickly, and that is why razor cuts are sometimes bad. Also, it is essential to only use a razor when hair is wet or damp.

AP: Thoughts on at-home product use?

TN: Where do I start… typically, clients have three main concerns for at-home care: moisture, body, and shine. So you usually want a trifecta of products: for curly hair, you need to use a product to bring moisture to the hair, a product to control the curl, and a product to hold the curl; for straight hair, you want to use a product to bring moisture to the hair, a product to add body, and a product to add shine.

The challenge is that nourishing products (ranging from conditioners to masks to oils) will compromise body, so it’s all about balance. The hardest hair type to recommend product for is dry fine hair (think most colored blondes for example…). For that type of hair, a lighter moisturizing agent is essential as otherwise your hair will be nourished, but weighed down. Coarser hair can use thicker moisturizing products of course. It’s also key to show people how much product to actually use. I find that most of my clients will underuse product at home, only using about 1/3rd of the recommended amount.  Regardless of product, however, I always remind my clients that no matter what they put in their hair, hair is like skin; what you put in your body will affect your hair. I hate to say this, but when styling runway models, I can always tell from their hair which ones eat and which ones don’t…

AP: What is something few of your clients know?

TN: While it is generally known that pregnant women have thicker hair, and that once the baby arrives, hair thins out, people don’t usually extrapolate from that to the general fact that hormones affect your hair. Not just during pregnancy… during your cycle, during menopause, etc. And this is true not just for women of course. Men’s hair will be affected by their hormones also.

AP: Any tips about blow drying?

TN: I find that most people blow dry their hair the same way they did as when they were 12, i.e. head upside down, blow air all around, with the end goal being drying the hair. There is not a lot of consciousness about the direction of the hair. When you are upside down, most of the air and heat is focused at the nape of the neck, so you end up bottom heavy in terms of volume. Instead, you want most of the volume on the crown, so you should focus the air and heat there. And remember to always blow dry in the direction of the cuticle, to help seal it (which will give you shine); again, that is harder to do when your head is upside down. Remember also that if your roots are wet yet your ends are dry and smooth, the water will end up moving down the hair shaft from the roots to the ends, which will eliminate that nice dry smoothness. That means you need to make sure your roots are dry first, before drying the ends.

Also, next time you go see your stylist, ask him or her to show you how to hold your blow dryer; most people have never been coached on this, and are trying to figure it out by themselves, and you would be amazed what a difference a slight tilt of the wrist will make! Another typical mistake is not to blow dry your hair completely. The recommendation is to blow dry your hair until it is 100% dry, even if you have curly hair. Until the hair is totally dry, the hydrogen bonds that shape it are not set. Same thing if you are letting your hair air dry: your hair needs to be left alone for as long as possible, until it is 100% dry. If you play with it too much you can cause frizz (because touching it breaks the hydrogen bonds and that is what causes frizz).

My favorite blow dryers are made by Parlux – specifically the Alyon. No one makes a dryer like the Italians… I want a blow dryer that gets really hot and has strong wind velocity, so that heat is evaporating the water, while the wind makes the process faster.

AP: What about flatirons and curling irons?

TN: The most important thing to realize about flatirons is that a professional flatiron needs to go up to 450 degrees to be used during permanent or semi-permanent straightening treatments. At that heat, the hair will be chemically altered. What this means is that for at-home use, you need to make sure that your flatiron has good temperature control. Don’t ever use it about 400 degrees when doing your hair at home. I actually recommend a low to mid 300 temperature range. Hotter in this case is not better. 400+ degrees is for the hair professional only. The concept is the same for curling irons, but it is harder to find a curling iron with temperature control capability. So do the following test, carefully of course: set your tool on a piece of paper; it if scorches it, it’s too hot for your hair.

Click here to hear more from Tatum.

Mardi Gras

I married a man from Louisiana. A condition of our union was that we would never miss Mardi Gras weekend. And here I am, on Mardi Gras Friday, writing from New Orleans. I wish nothing more than for all of you to experience this amazing time in this amazing city. And trust me, there is much more to Mardi Gras than Bourbon Street.

I married a man from Louisiana. A condition of our union was that we would never miss Mardi Gras weekend. And here I am, on Mardi Gras Friday, writing from New Orleans. I wish nothing more than for all of you to experience this amazing time in this amazing city. And trust me, there is much more to Mardi Gras than Bourbon Street. Here is what you need to know:

  1. Mardi Gras is the culmination of Carnival season, which starts on January 6th.
  2. The actual Mardi Gras day depends on when Easter falls (which depends on the Moon). This means that Carnival season can be as short as a month or as long as two.
  3. The colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold.
  4. The foods of Mardi Gras season are delicious, and fast – given that no one has time for a sit-down meal: King Cake, finger sandwiches, fried chicken, and one pot Louisiana dishes such as red beans and rice, jambalaya, or gumbo.
  5. King Cake is the Louisiana version of Galette des Rois. In New Orleans, the two best sources of said King Cake are Gambinos and Dong Phuong (at a recent taste test at my friend Angie’s house, Dong Phuong won hands down). It is not possible to eat King Cake after Fat Tuesday.
  6. Krewes are Carnival organizations that exist solely for the purpose of putting on parades and balls during Carnival season.
  7. Costumes are de rigueur during this weekend. Most New Orleans residents have entire costume closets, and costumes don’t necessarily represent specific characters (one year I dressed up as the color purple).
  8. Mardi Gras day is followed by Ash Wednesday, which is the official start of Lent.
  9. The Mardi Gras rules of our household are the following:
    1. Me first.
    2. No plans.
    3. Always have something to drink in your hand.
    4. No breaking up.
    5. No fighting.
    6. Everyone is welcome.
    7. If one partakes in the revelry of Mardi Gras, one must give up something for Lent. (I am still trying to figure out what to give up on Wednesday).

Happy Mardi Gras weekend y’all!