By Alice Hart-Davis
It was when my daughter Molly began asking me, persistently, whether she could shave her legs — and was it true that the hair would grow back darker and thicker and if not, why not, and if she couldn’t shave then what about waxing — that I realised it had begun.
Sooner or later, every girl reaches an age where she starts asking questions about her skin, her hair and her looks. It might be nine, it might be 19; for Molly, it was 11, and her supposedly hairy legs were the tip of the iceberg. What about her face? Did she need a special wash for it like it said in the magazines? And anti-ageing cream? When could she wear make-up? And how could she cut the fingernails on her right hand (she’s right-handed, and nail scissors are tricky little things).
As one question led to another, a book began to emerge. Be Beautiful: Every girl’s guide to hair, skin and make-up is the result. It’s for 11-17 year-old girls who, like Molly, are full of questions, and it’s all about getting to grips with the basics of skincare and discovering the fun of make-up – and doing it all in a way that isn’t going to cost the earth.
The difficulty with explaining the basics of beauty is that an awful lot of it is a matter of opinion. Should you wash your hair every day, or once a month? There are arguments to be made for both strategies. “But which is right?” Molly asked. Neither is right; it’s whatever you feel is right for you. Should your nails be rounded or squared? Should you floss your teeth before brushing or after? Even dentists argue themselves in circles on that one. The one thing that isn’t a matter of opinion is whether you should wear sunscreen, since it has been proved beyond doubt that ultra-violet light is responsible for most of the signs of ageing in the skin, though I find I have to be careful how I tell that to teens. Wrinkles are light-years away as far as they’re concerned, and being told you have to do something, well, like being told to brush your teeth twice a day, it’s boring, isn’t it?
And which face cream to use? How long have we got? Here in the UK, the skincare industry has belatedly woken up to the fact that there is a huge, latent, market among teens who would like to be using something other than spot-blasting face washes. There are terrific ranges from Amie, Elizabeth’s Daughter, Face Boutique, with recent additions from Tesco (My Skin), Dermalogica (Clean Start) and Neal’s Yard Remedies (PowerBerry) all designed to support and protect young skin that doesn’t need the complexities of creams aimed at adults.
These teens are a big group that’s curious to know about this whole area. Whenever I meet bunches of them to answer their beauty questions, I love the fact that once their initial shyness wears off, once I’ve convinced them that it’s in no way dumb to ask the most obvious questions, because we all need to understand why we do what we do when it comes to beauty, they ask terrific questions that really make me think. Should you tie your hair back at night, to keep it off your face, to avoid spots? (I wouldn’t bother, unless it’s dripping with oil, as you’re more likely to damage the hair from friction on the pillow if it’s tied in a band). And can you use baking soda to whiten your teeth like it says on the Internet? (No way; it sounds good but all my dentist friends flinch and say it will really harm the enamel).
That’s another reason why teen girls need a basic looks-primer: to counteract some of the many myths that skitter through classrooms and across the Internet, causing endless alarm. Antiperspirant deodorants are not going to give you cancer (the Cancer Research UK website has a good exposition of why not). Paraben-based preservatives and sodium lauryl- and laureth- sulphates are not the devils incarnate that many make them out to be, but they can certainly irritate the skin. And no, shaving won’t make your hair grow back thicker or darker than before (it just feels that way because you’ve sliced neatly across the shaft of the hair, which then grows, bluntly, out from the skin). I could go on.
As for the shaving… After a summer during which I said it was ridiculous for an 11-year-old to shave her legs, and Molly wore tights in protest, to make her legs looks smoother, I relented, and let her use hair-removal cream, like her best friend did.
“But how could you, of all people, let her cover herself in all those chemicals?” asked another friend. Oh heck. Fair point. So I let her shave and she was happy, and now dutifully helps me assess all the razors in my in-tray (we both love the Gillette Venus Embrace, with its gel bars and flexible head, best).
Actually this fall, we’ve moved on, and once a week, pass a quiet evening with me zapping her legs with a SmoothSkin home-use IPL device, while she reads aloud to me from the brilliant and terrifying The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness (like Twilight, it’s technically for teens but compelling for anyone). I can tell if the setting is too high when she starts holding her breath or yelping. Ok, it’s not your average form of mother-daughter bonding, but we enjoy it. And will it give results? We’ll have to see.
Be Beautiful: Every Girl’s Guide to Hair, Skin and Make-up, by Alice Hart-Davis and Molly Hindhaugh, is published by Walker Books, £9.99. Until the end of November, you can buy it for £5.99 by going to www.walker.co.uk/bebeautiful and using code BB09 at checkout.