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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Review - Galgorm Resort and Spa, Northern Ireland

My first memory of Ireland was one of great mirth and childhood tomfoolery.

I was 10 years old, peering over the till of a rather rustic looking sweet shop with my naughty brother and literally dying in a frenzied fit of laughter as the shop keeper kept repeating the price of our candied goodies. 

'That'll be farty five pence my love.' We could hardly breathe through our suppressed chuckles but sensing an opportunity to prolong the merriment, managed to mutter, ' Sorry what was that?'

'FARTY FIVE PENCE.'.....Sorry what?....FARTY FIVE!'

And so my love affair with Ireland and its people began. I adored the accents, the green pastures, the idyllic country pubs...and the potato-based snacks with funny names such as Tayto.

How could anyone say no to Tayto?

A couple of months ago, I was invited to visit the charming Galgorm Resort and Spa in Northern Ireland and try their Organic Muslin Bag Massage. Having never been to the northern side of this lush n' green land I jumped at the chance and took my beloved buddy Hiba, aka Bumder (dont ask).

After we jigged off the Air Lingus flight (too much?) we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a plush Galgorm Range Rover, there to whisk us away in comfort to the resort which resides in a pretty green village of the same name, just 30 minutes away from Belfast.

Hell yeah!
Our friendly driver catered to our every (slightly demanding) whim, stopping off at numerous food establishments so that we could stock up on plentiful snackage for the evening ahead (being the 6 meals a day type of girls that we are).

We were ecstatic when we were shown to our spacious room and rejoiced at the chocolate treats that welcomed us. A nice touch Galgorm. A nice touch....

After an evening of ridiculously girly conversation and fine cheese feasting, we called it a night, remembering to fill out our breakfast forms of course....

Too much maybe?

After devouring our delicious Irish breakfast platter we skipped downstairs to the spa in eager anticipation of our massages.

The newly refurbished spa at Galgorm is truly stunning. Decadent crystal chandeliers, elegant velvet sofas and bubble gum pink lighting give the place a fabulously girly, boudoir feel - which is why I suppose it was named 'The Boudoir.'

You can always tell a good spa by their product houses. The most exclusive, luxurious spa can be bitterly let down by the dodgy, low quality products they sell and use. (not mentioning any names...)

Anyone know where the spa be around ere?

I was very impressed with the high quality skincare that adorned the glass shelves of 'The Boudior.' Aromatherapy Associates - one of my favourite spa brands and Voya - exceptional, certified organic products enriched with locally sourced, antioxidant-rich Irish seaweed.

The Organic Muslin Bag Massage that I had later that morning used soaked and warmed muslin bags filled with Voya's detoxifying seaweed and herbal concoction. 

After five minutes on that heated treatment bed, at the mercy of the expert strokes of the therapist, I found myself drifting off (It was also an early morning and being the night owl that I am, was surviving on the 4 hours sleep of the night before).

The base oil of sweet almond nourished and hydrated my skin. The muslin bags felt smooth, yet invigorating, pummeling away all the tension and stress of the city that languished within my weary muscles and induced a deep, tranquil state of mind.

Benefits of Galgorm's Organic Muslin Bag Massage

  • Detoxifying
  • Exfoliating
  • Celulite busting
  • Moisturising 
  • Circulation boosting
  • Stress releasing 

By the end of this epic full body massage, my relaxed and happy self was led to an inviting relaxation area to meet Bumder - who had just returned from an equally blissful massage and was delightfully spaced out.

'Fancy chilling in this relaxation area? um.....DO I?!'

After flicking through the various magazines and gloriously numbing our minds with mindless celebrity gossip, we made our way down to the resort's thermal spa and were truly flabbergasted by the pure magnitude of the place - and I don't use the word magnitude lightly. Oh no.

Come. Swim in my inviting azure waters

We yelped with joy as we plunged into the gorgeous blue water of the incredibly elegant pool. Ok, maybe it was more like gradual ebbing inch by inch rather than plunging but we were still rather excited about it all.

After a few laps, we decided to explore the outside section of the spa and gasped as we discovered not one but two bubbling hot tubs, steaming away against an idyllic backdrop of green pastures and...wait for it...a babbling brook.

When our fingers were suitably wrinkly after our excessive soakage we made our way to the spa's steam room...where we remained for most of the day, laughing, debating and.,..well, opening our pores.

Dinner that evening in the resort's Italian restaurant, Frateli's was a belt-busting affair. Oh how we gorged on sumptuous dishes such as baked aubergine and tomato and massive rib eye steaks that although divine, sadly defeated us in the end with their abundant meaty nature. We still, of course, made room for a hearty portion of desert - a trio of indulgent chocolate, lemon and cherry puddings. 

Queasy Bumder after excessive meat consumption

The next day before we left for bustling London streets, we walked around Galgorm's spacious, scenic grounds. We agreed it was a place of true escapism and beauty - vital for us city dwellers to take time out in to relax our perplexed minds.

Posing by a brook that is babbling is mandatory

Galgorm Resort and Spa is one of those magical places that remain in the memory long after you leave. The warm hospitality, good food, beautiful grounds and luxurious spa make this idyllic countryside retreat an Irish haven full of lucky charms...

Prices start at £115 for an overnight stay at Galgorm Resort and Spa (based on two people sharing), breakfast and full use of the thermal spa.

The Organic Muslin Bag Massage costs £110 for 85 minutes.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Banishing adult acne - a holistic approach

There you are with barely a smidgen of tinted moisturiser, merrily mincing about with gloriously clear skin for weeks when an angry red blighter decides to make an unwelcome appearance. This dreaded occurrence is of course, usually around the time of an exciting social soiree or a date with a very dashing, much yearned for individual.

The bane of adult acne affects so many of us, yet it is still a somewhat taboo subject. We were meant to grow out of our pimply faces as we did with the embarrassing crop top and shell suit stage of our teenage years.  

Except many of us sadly haven't.  Adult acne, as we are told by dermatologists and GP's, is not curable and can only be suppressed - usually via the health damaging route of over-prescribed, toxic medications and skin-striping topical treatments laced with harsh chemicals.

It appears we are not alone. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 54% of women over 25 are diagnosed with low-grade acne and oily skin.  

In my early twenties, when it was clear that I was still suffering from adult acne (although mild), I visited my GP in despair. I was told abruptly that make up was causing my condition. No talk of hormones, diet or lifestyle. Oh no.

It was here that my turbulent relationship with GP's began...

I was prescribed long term antibiotics to clear my skin. This did work after a while, yet I also endured the toll these toxic tablets took on my immune system - which I believe was weakened due to such a lengthy usage (over a year). I started feeling lethargic and seemed to endure more colds - which ironically made me feel more down than the acne did.

So back to the doctor I went with my plight and spoke of the research I had conducted online into adult acne. I explained how androgens (the male sex hormones present in both men and women) played a big part in causing the sorry state of my skin. 

I had discovered that women who produce higher levels of androgens, (the most common being testosterone)  tend to develop adult acne as these hormones encourage sebum production and increase the rate at which skin cells shed (thus blocking the hair follicles). Testosterone in the body can also be converted to a more active version of this skin-plighting hormone, called dihydroterstosterone - leading to an even mightier onslaught of pimply wrath.

I asked my doctor (who by this stage was increasingly looking like she was about to slap me for being such a know it all, pretentious twat ) to prescribe me a course of the oral contraceptive, Dianette - which works by inhibiting androgen production.

Dianette can only be prescribed as an acne treatment, not solely for contraceptive purposes - which is a side effect of the drug. After taking these tiny, innocent looking pills for over 3 months, I started to notice a significant improvement and by 5 months my skin was flawless. 

The acne on my face, chest and back disappeared and I was jubilantly clear-skinned after years. I ignored warnings online (God bless the internet) of deep vein thrombosis (a higher risk with Dianette than other OCP's), liver damage and mood swings. I finally had the glowing skin I craved and was basking in a happy abundance of compliments.

After being on this pill for over eight years, and moving towards a new holistic lifestyle, I did start to worry about the potential long term effects. I had read that Dianette should be discontinued after 8 months or so and had been banned in America - yet my doctor was still readily prescribing these toxic nuggets of synthetic hormones.

I noticed that I would get unusually upset about seemingly unimportant issues but would blame these mood swings on my hot-blooded Persian side. I then started to suspect that maybe I was wrong and that my ethnicity had nothing to do with my occasional outbursts of teary blubberings. Could Dianette have been the culprit? Were my Iranian genes innocent?

It was after all this research into the dangers of antibiotics and anti-androgen oral contraceptive pills, which are so heavily prescribed by healthcare practitioners  (the reasons behind which are for another lengthy blog post...) that I started looking into holistic methods of healing. I had finally discovered a healthy way to rid my body of the cause of acne, naturally.

I realized that nature has provided us with all we need to heal ourselves holistically. My rampant use of Dianette was discontinued and I dealt with the unyielding fear of my acne reemerging (type 'coming off Dianette' into Google and all manner of horror stories will greet you).

I discovered that for example, Saw Palmetto berries have been used for years to heal the body internally from acne, in a similar way to Dianette - by slowing down the conversion of testosterone into the dreaded dihydrotestosterone. I stated taking Solgar's Saw Palmetto Berry Extract (£22.21 for 60 capsules from Revital) for a month before coming off Dianette and was ecstatic to find that my acne did not return to haunt me.

Let meh elp your naughty skin...

There was, admittedly, the odd annoying spot or two around my time o' the month, but after 8 weeks of taking Solgar's Saw Palmetto, my skin was again completely clear and I felt confident enough to shun my foundation and unveil my naked face to the world.

A word of advice - don't just buy any random Saw Palmetto supplement as many contain fillers and sugar (why, damnit why?). Always purchase the best quality, which I personally believe is made by Solgar. Their extract is also quite a potent dosage, whereas others can be too weak to produce the required healing effects.

We are what we eat, so I also took the vital steps to change my diet, introducing whole foods to heal and prevent acne breakouts.

Scientific studies have shown that excessive insulin levels can stimulate the androgenic activity that causes acne, so I found that cutting out foods that increase the amount of this hormone in the body does wonders.

Naughty sugary things and refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and rice all were shunned in favour of sugar-free and B Vitamin-rich wholemeal varieties as well as introducing skin-beautifying quinoa and bulgar wheat.

A few months back I met a charming celebrity medicinal chef by the name of Dale Pinnock at a press event by Revital (see earlier post 'Revital's 21st Birthday Party') - my favourite health food chain. He explained to me (over a ludicrously delicious vegan curry) how years of suffering with acne led him to research into the important role food plays on the health of our skin. Dale believes that healthy eating and introducing zinc and B vitamins to the diet is the optimum way to heal the body internally of acne.

Sensing my apparent eagerness to discover more, he gave me a copy of his acclaimed foodie skin bible - The Clear Skin Cook Book (£7.99 from Revital)

Nom your way to clear skin

This book became my skin-clearing savior over the following months as I learnt how to cook creative, nom-worthy meals such as the detoxifying tomato and fennel soup and the insanely moreish raw key lime pie - made primarily (and amazingly) from vitamin e-rich avocado.

Dale's top five acne-fighting foods

Pumpkin Seeds - high in zinc and fatty acids
Prawns - bursting with zinc and skin-smoothing selenium
Red Bell Peppers - plentiful anti-inflammatory properties
Sweet Potatoes - immune system boosting

Strengthening the immune system is vital for your body's fight against acne. It seems somewhat ironic  (and incredibly counterproductive) that GP's so casually prescribe long-term antibiotics which weaken our immune systems in such a slyly evil manner. 

Probiotics can help reverse this damage and ensure the future health of our skin by promoting a healthy gut.

For this reason, as part of my holistic clear skin regimen, I have been taking vegan supplement brand Viridian's Clear Skin Complex (£21.20 for 60 capsules from Viridian), which contain a powerhouse of acne-fighting ingredients such as zinc, selenium and gotu kola along with a potent blend of probiotics.

So wholesome, I store them on a bed o' grass

I also slather a generous amount of their vegan Organic Clear Skin Omega Oil (£15.50 for 200ml) over my superfood salads for a further skin-purifying boost. A blend of organic, cold-pressed, omega-rich seed oil's including flaxseed (a miracle oil for treating acne), pumpkin, avocado and rosehip, this golden oil is a permanent fixture in my kitchen cupboard.

Traditionally prescribed topical acne treatments such as benzol peroxide, salicylic acid and Retin A tend to strip the skin of its natural oils and cause irritation. I would recommend cleansing with a natural, gentle cleanser such as Priori's Revitalizing Cleanser with antioxidant-rich coffeeberry (£32 from Cosmestore) and using argan oil (which has anti-acne properties) to moisturize. The brand that I always swear by is Douvall's which is 100% organic and pure.

Priori's cleanser contains Coffeeberry - natures most potent antioxidant

Another recent natural acne-busting find that I am rather excited about is the Konjac Puff Sponge with Bamboo Charcoal (£6.99 from Konjac Sponge Company). Made from the purifying konjac plant root and mineral rich volcanic water, this cleansing puff of joy also contains bamboo charcoal to deep cleanse and decongest oily, acne prone skin, whilst respecting the natural PH levels of the delicate epidermis. 

LED therapy is another chemical-free way to effectively treat adult acne. I had a course of 6 Dermalux LED treatments at Jill Zander's fabulously plush beauty salon in leafy Esher (£250, and was completely ecstatic by the results. This futuristic light therapy works by using a combination of red light (to increase collagen for an anti-ageing effect) and blue light for an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory action to heal acne lesions and prevent new ones from occurring.

Bask in my healing rays. Bask!

I received so many compliments when I unveiled my new, flawless face during and after completing this skin-transforming therapy and was genuinely impressed after every treatment. My skin looked brighter after just one session and after completing the course, silky smooth, clear and radiant. I would also recommend Dermalux as a radiance-boosting beauty treatment before a special occasion for that head-turning, radiant glow makeup simply cannot achieve.

Often, we overlook many simple ways to prevent bothersome breakouts. Paraben-laden shampoos and conditioners laced with artificial fragrance and colour can clog pores and aggravate body acne in the shower. Ensure you opt for natural formulations free from such skin-troubling ingredients such as Organic Colour Systems Power Build Shampoo (£10.95) and Conditioner (£11.95 from Organic Colour Systemswhich contain skin-soothing extracts of lemon and green tea.

Acne is an incredibly frustrating, embarrassing and mood-deflating condition to be riddled with throughout our adult lives. The good news is that we can take simple holistic steps to heal ourselves naturally, whilst improving our overall health at the same time. Clear, blemish-free skin can be achieved without chemicals or scary fake hormones.

As for those off days when a menacing blighter erupts on the tip of our nose....well, its just a good excuse for a much needed duvet day...