Girl Stuff: Out, damned spot!

Two of my gorgeous friends, both in their 20s, are currently suffering from facial acne. And they're none too happy about it. Not only does waking to a face full of pimples make you feel crapola, it's also hard to digest the pity stares you get from your clear-skinned comrades. Cue bad self-esteem and social angst.

Both girls have bumps on their cheeks and hairline. Unlike the pimples you get as a teen, which can usually be tamed with a little topical treatment cream, your typical case of adult acne needs to be fought on a few fronts – dietary, hormonal, superficial and lifestyle. A fancy skin-care pack from your department store ain't the answer. Oh no.

Using my former practising beauty ed. knowledge, beauty tomes and some lovely webby resources, I've come up with some solutions for saying ciao to the acne in your (or your friend's) life:

While it's popular to dismiss what you eat as the cause of your skin's woes, there's no denying that what you feed your body will be reflected on your exterior. It just makes sense. Recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that acne sufferers who go on low-GI diets see improvements in their skin's condition, while others noted that their skin condition worsened when they consumed certain 'trigger' foods, like chocolate, greasy take-aways and soft drinks (if your skin flairs up after a day of carefree chowing on chips and Cola, there's your answer right there).

Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of The Clear Skin Prescription, says acne is a systemic inflammatory disease, therefore the best place to start is your diet. He says: "In addition to eating foods that are rich in antioxidants (nature's natural anti-inflammatories), you must avoid pro-inflammatory foods. Foods that are starchy – bread, potatoes, chips and sweets – cause inflammation at a cellular level that leads to a clogged pore, the first step towards an acne lesion. Therefore, what you eat is a direct cause of your break-outs, and you need to stop the cycle. Start a supplement regimen that includes antioxidants, a good multivitamin with zinc, the B vitamins, and essential fatty acids [omega-3s and omega-6s found in oily fish like salmon, unsalted nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.]"

Coincidentally, an anti-inflammatory diet will also help lessen the onset of wrinkles (whee!) and appearance of sun damage (bonus!). In short, a sensible diet will definitely aid in your quest to clear you skin – the added benefit of which will be improved overall health. Plenty of fruit and veggies rich in antioxidants, low-GI carbs, low-fat protein (fish, turkey, chicken), essential fats and hydrating water will help. For comprehensive dietary info, read this piece at

Diet alone will not cure your skin woes. Depending on the severity of your acne, you may also need to go on a course of antibiotics (doxycycline, tetracycline, erythromycinor), or, if you're not averse, an oral contraceptive. Oral contraceptives reduce the amount of male hormone in your system, which has the affect of decreasing sebum (oil) production. Diane 35 and Brenda 35 are popular Pill brands for reducing acne. The oral retinoid treatment Roaccutane, though very effective, has caused some controversy due to reported side-effects, such as depression.

Of course, you can't self-prescribe, so see a doctor or skin specialist. Oral treatments should be used in addition to diet and cleansers, etc., to maintain clear skin (i.e. not an excuse to skip on removing your slap before bed when you're overtired).

Back in the 90s, when I was experiencing teen acne, I used to scrub my face with a gritty, grainy mixture procured from The Body Shop. I thought this wonderful stuff would unclog my pores and clear my pimples. In fact, it had the opposite affect – it just aggravated them. While exfoliants have developed to the less abrasive acidic variety now (I couldn't buy one containing, say, salicylic acid back then), they should be used weekly (or twice weekly, as instructed), with a gentle hand. I personally recommend Olay's Total Effects Cleanser for blemish prone skin (cheap as chips from the supermarket), which contains a mild dose of salicylic acid to tame breakouts. You can use it everyday or just when your skin's freaking out.

It goes without saying that you need to keep your skin clean to avoid pore blockage. You'll need a gentle cleanser that won't dry your skin out and a topical treatment cream containing benzoyl peroxide (dries out affected areas and kills bacteria) or salicylic acid (unclogs pores and breaks down blackheads/whiteheads), which can be bought over-the-counter at a chemist. You'll also need oil-free moisturiser to stop your skin from drying out (over-dry skin will compensate by producing pore-clogging oil) and a topical treatment cream to apply to target areas containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid or resorcinol (I keep OXY 5, which contains benzoyl peroxide, in my cosmetics bag for emergencies).

Topical retinoid creams are increasingly popular for the treatment of blackheads and whiteheads. They're based on Vitamin A and cause the skin to peel, thereby unblocking pores. They can be irritating and make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so proceed with caution (use at night).

Your skin can also be aggravated by the products you use, so look for the words 'non-comedogenic' (translation: non-pore-clogging) on the labels of your cosmetics and skin-care products (foundation, blush, bronzer, moisturiser, cleanser...), and make sure they're oil-free. You don't want to ruin all your hard work by clogging up your skin with nasty cosmetics. Mineral makeup products are popular amongst girls with sensitive or acne-prone skin.

It goes without saying that adequate sleep, stress management, outdoor activity (while protected by SPF), regular exercise and love/hugs/smiles will go a long way towards healing your skin.

Recommended reads: The Skin Type Solution by Dr. Leslie Baumann and The Acne Prescription by Nicholas Perricone.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl Stuff: Hey, grumpy; hey, frumpy...

I love a scientific scapegoat to explain my sometimes erratic/nonsensical/repugnant behaviour. And here's a new one. Researchers from Duke University, North Carolina, who questioned men and women about their sleep patterns, have found that women suffer much more when deprived of sleep. Those women who slept poorly, says The Daily Mail, reported more symptoms of depression, hostility and anger – in addition to a thickening of the arteries, which can lead to heart disease, and higher levels of fibrinogen, which can lead to blood clots/stroke – though men with sleeping difficulties showed no increase in these conditions.

"The study suggests that poor sleep - measured by the total amount of sleep, the degree of awakening during the night, and most importantly, how long it takes to get to sleep - may have more serious health consequences for women than for men," says Dr Edward Suarez, associate professor in the Duke department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences. "We found that for women, poor sleep is strongly associated with high levels of psychological distress, and greater feelings of hostility, depression and anger. In contrast, these feelings were not associated with the same degree of sleep disruption in men."

So now, in addition to making you super-sized, sleep deprivation can give you depression and heart attacks! All the more reason to cosy up with a good book and catch some guilt-free zs.

Meanwhile, The Sydney Morning Herald asks, is celebrity cook Nigella Lawson a curvy goddess or dumpy frump? Gabriella Coslovich writes, "The near-hysteria with which some worship Lawson's carnality is a sign of just how starved contemporary culture is of rotund, sensual role models — of women, in short, who embody the pleasures of the flesh... [yet] as anyone addicted to her cooking shows would have noted, [her body weight] has been creeping towards the less glamorous side of the scale, becoming more corpulent than carnal." Lawson, who uses liberal doses of full-fat cream and lard in her cooking, has reportedly started to see a personal trainer.

Weight gain can be an unhealthy thing, for sure, but strict diet/exercise regimes drain your brain (who has time to think about politics when there are calories to account for? A robust figure = a robust mind.), make you moody and boring (would you rather party with a celery stick or a cupcake?) and stifle your creativity (been there, done that; it's no fun). As The Sunday Times reported last year, not only do men find curvy women more attractive, women with hourglass figures, like Nigella's, are brighter, too. Which makes me think: exactly who do we diet for? Besides, as Professor Dick Telford recently wrote in the Herald (Skinny folk can't rest easy), as long as we are physically active (and, therefore, can climb a flight of stairs without passing out), it is not technically unhealthy to be overweight (fat and fit people are less prone to chronic disease than thin, unfit people).

My favourite food doctor, Dr. Rick Kausman, tells the Herald Lawson is a good role model, whose philosophy about enjoying food is important at a time when people have developed warped relationships with food, with fad or restrictive diets leading to anxiety and guilt.

I personally love Nigella's fleshy, womanly look – she makes eating pleasurable, curves sexy and lives life with the gusto one can't manage when calorie-deprived (bet she has no gnawing night-time hunger pangs depriving her of sleep, either). Her figure certainly outweighs the skin and bones little-girl shapes we're accustomed to seeing in the media.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Mags: state of the (mag)nation

I'm quite tardy with this exploration of the latest mag circulation figures (soz) but a piece in The Sunday Telegraph by Carmel Melouney and Melissa Hoyer (see right) prompted me to post.

In the six months to December 2007, Australians spent $105 million – that's $17.5 million a month – on magazines. Not bad for a country whose population is 21 million. It's no secret that we love our mags. And while publishing companies will wax lyrical about readership figures (by nature higher than circ. figures – i.e. for every one mag bought, at least three or four people will read it), the real indicator of where the mag market is at is the ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) circulation audit.

Unlike America, where most mags are bought through cut-price subscriptions, Aussies prefer to make their weekly and monthly mag purchases in newsagents, at inner-city stands or at the supermarket, selecting titles based on loyalty (I always buy this magazine), interest (hobby/specialist titles), cover (I love this celeb/this story is a must-read), flick-through (appealing content), cover-mount (ooh, free gift!), promotional exposure (saw it on Sunrise), addiction (GWAS), boredom (on holidays, nothing better to do) or life events (getting married; travelling; having a baby; renovating). And we're happy to pay the full cover price for the privilege.

Australian mag sales are, therefore, a great indicator of consumer sentiment – mags are seen as luxury items (for GWAS, they're obvi a necessity), which, along with DVDs, clothes, perfume and such, are the first to be scratched from the shopping list when the purse strings tighten. Given current economic conditions, it'll probably be more interesting to look at results for the six months to June 2008, rather than the July-Dec '07 results, but it's a start. The ABC's auditing standards have also tightened, so publishers can't be sneaky and inflate sales data by giving away copies, etc., so it's probably not productive to compare with previous results, though it's fair to say the market has witnessed an overall downward trend (or experienced 'rationalisation', which is easier for publishers to swallow).

I should note, social commentator/journo David Dale is the supremo when it comes to assessing the market, and I've used his piece on the circ. figures as a jumping-off point, then mined the mags' websites for updated results (if someone wants to send me the official ABC report, go ahead!). I've used Australian circulation figures only (i.e. no international sales figures).

I'm going to give you stats for the women's/fashion market. Some magazines, such as Russh, Yen, Frankie and Oyster, don't audit, which is a bummer, but the majors are included...

Woman's Day: 465,565 copies per week (ACP)
New Idea: 388,257 (Pacific)
NW: 170,046 (ACP)
WHO Weekly: 141,682 (Pacific)
OK!: 140,826 (Northern & Shell/ACP)
Famous: 73,058 (Pacific)

The Australian Women's Weekly: 570,228 per month (ACP)
Cosmopolitan: 175,455 (ACP)
Cleo: 160,137 (ACP)
Marie Claire: 115,500+ (Pacific)
Madison: 97,632 (ACP)
Shop Til You Drop: 75,017 (ACP)
Women's Health: 75,000+ (Pacific)
InStyle: 64,874 (Pacific)
New Woman: 60,229
Harper's Bazaar: 53,531 (ACP)
Vogue Australia: 51,827 (News Magazines)

Teen girls
Dolly: 121,578
Girlfriend: 121,080

Not a lot of surprises – Harper's continues to out-sell Vogue (the only country in the world, I believe, where it does so), and the gap between teen titles Girlfriend and Dolly is practically non-existent, which is a huge coup for Pacific and departing Girlfriend editor (and friend of GWAS) Sarah Oakes, and should make things nice for the ad sales girls.

It will certainly be interesting to see the figures for the year to June '08, as well as the affect that Grazia and Glamour's entry will have on local market. The end-of-year results for Harper's, InStyle, Shop Til You Drop and Girlfriend will be eagerly anticipated by their respective new editors, I'm sure.

Read my post about Jan-June 2007 circulation figures here.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. The women's lifestyle division of Australia's biggest magazine publisher, ACP Magazines, has launched an interactive online consumer insights site, All Woman Talk (it's pink, of course!), where women can sign up to give their opinion on the company's women's titles, as well as other products and services.

"I have always believed in the power of research to identify a gap in the Australian market," says Pat Ingram, group publisher women's lifestyle titles. "Our focus is on launching magazine titles that consumers want, not what publishers want to sell - research is key to getting it right and our success over the years proves that."

The site will allow consumers (aka valued readers) to give instant feedback on editorial content, ad campaigns, products and services.

"Consumers who participate can hold virtual highlighters and circle elements they like of a magazine cover or advertisement," says women's lifestyle research director Justin Stone. "They can flip through virtual magazines while we track where they look. They can even participate in virtual shopping exercises, where browsing as well as purchasing, is possible. The respondents are given 'in context' situations providing a far greater degree of insight from the research."

Every time a site member completes a survey, she'll go into the quarterly prize draw (sign up before April 14 and go into a draw for $1000 cash).