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My Saturday night emergency comes via a Facebook message. The lovely woman who makes my curtains and cushions in Shropshire has been for a facial and had a reaction that has left her face puffed-up and dry-looking. Two days later, it’s not getting any better. The spa she went to had dealt with it badly – the staff made her stand in the reception area while all three of the therapists came out and stared, which sounded pretty humiliating. Who should she write to at Decléor, she asked, to get help?
Beauty columnist might not rank highly on many people’s lists of jobs with a strong social purpose, but I beg to differ – sometimes I feel like a junior doctor on the rounds. Just you see who’s more popular at a dinner party of forty-somethings – me or the off-duty humanitarian. Within 10 seconds of discovering what you do for a living, the questions start coming: what anti-ageing cream to use, which dermatologist to see? Find a beauty writer on holiday (our limbs spray-tanned pre-trip at St Tropez or by James Read) and we’ll be the one everyone wants to sit next to on the beach, dishing out the sunscreen (Sisley’s finest – or Lancôme’s SPF50 BB cream is very good).
We are useful people to know. Take the beauty desk at your average glossy magazine office. Sometimes we call ourselves the special services department – not only do we have a cream for pretty much anything, but who do they come running to when they need lipstick for an office-to-party evening? Exactly. One beauty editor I know got fed up with having to tell everyone that actually, no, due to an absence of articles being written about deodorant/hairbrushes/plasters/toothpaste, she didn’t have spare supplies, and had they tried the chemist across the road where such items could be bought? Finally, she relented and bought enough for everyone, then even provided a mirror so that visiting staff from other departments could just get on with it, quietly, and that she might stand a chance of getting on with some work.
Occasionally, the special services department has been known to extend its benefits to friends. It’s nice to be popular, and needed too – particularly when it comes to recommending a good day spa (I love the Four Seasons for its rooftop views and Omorovicza facials) or a hair colourist (I’ll say it again, Nicola Clarke at John Frieda or, if you’re in Paris, Christophe Robin, a beautifully private salon secreted away at Le Meurice).
It’s also a two-way street: I’ve been known to dish out samples (having only one face to try things on myself) specifically so that I can get honest feedback, and often the recipients are so grateful not to have to fork out hundreds of pounds for a “luxury” moisturiser that they’ll test for me extensively and report back with detailed reviews.
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You can’t always help. There are times, infuriatingly, when friends will go off and buy something that you know to be a gimmick, not trusting your boring, sensible replies and preferring to buy into the latest flash-in-the-pan nonsense. “Don’t try that treatment!” I’ll say, unless you’re happy paying an extortionate amount for what every plastic surgeon worth his proverbial salt has said is a load of rubbish. That anti-frizz hair brush? Sure it had a glowing write-up, but a top session stylist recently told me that the effects last only five minutes. They’ll go ahead and buy it anyway – after all, we’re so worried we might miss out on something new.
But the most satisfying part? When you help someone resolve a problem that has been making them miserable. Thinning hair, acne, discoloured teeth – it’s amazing how long we’ll put up with conditions that damage our self-esteem, believing that there’s nothing we can do. This is when I get annoyed at the way beauty is sometimes trivialised in society. Feeling good about ourselves affects how we approach life on many levels. And, dare I say it, it’s a very British trait to believe there is something vain or frivolous about making the most of ourselves.
But back to my Shropshire friend. A contact at Decléor passed the message on to their director of training, who called her up and told her exactly what to do. Allergic reactions can happen to anyone at any time, it could even be a number of things that occur outside the treatment, like diet or stress, and these factors can manifest under the skin until they get the right catalyst, and then hey ho, up they come, like a volcano. What she needed to do now was to repair and restore her skin to a healthy state – Decléor’s Prolagene Gel (£36) is apparently very good for this. This advice was undoubtedly very helpful for my friend. But for me, to know how a company treats customers at grass-roots level, this information was priceless. So my friends, my message to you? Keep the questions coming, and thank you.
Kathleen Baird-Murray won the News Soundbite prize in the 2013 Jasmine awards