The Cottagecore Gift Guide

Not much good has come out of 2020, but the development of ‘cottagecore’ – a wholesome, whimsical aesthetic focusing on a romanticised ideal of a cottage garden lifestyle – has got to be a highlight. Cottagecore is floral skirts worn with walking boots and hand knitted cardigans, it’s pressing flowers you grew yourself, it’s embroidery on a Sunday afternoon, it’s foraging for mushrooms and baking them in a pie. It’s delightful, calm, simple. Everything that 2020 is not. If, like me, someone in your life has discovered this year that there’s a cottage-dwelling hedgewitch inside them, aching to be let out, then read on for some suggestions of gifts they’ll love this season. To be clear – this gift guide is just a bit of lighthearted fun… don’t take it too seriously, just enjoy the inspiration!

There’s so mushroom for treats

Mushrooms and flowers will be a recurring theme throughout this gift guide, which makes sense, considering cottagecore is all about celebrating the beautiful world we live in. Here are a few irresistible fungi-themed items, all, naturally, created by small business owners…

I’m honestly squealing with how adorable these all are. Get the earrings here, the mugs here, the ornaments here, the British mushrooms print here, and the grow your own kit here.

Cosy up with a good book

Books are unmatched when it comes to their ability to transport you into another world or another life – essential escapism for these times. One particularly wonderful suggestion I have for you is Hag: Forgotten Folk Tales Retold, which is a collection of modernised retellings of British folklore. I recommend it because the short stories are not only absorbing, gripping and highly entertaining, they are all based on local folk tales that we don’t really hear about. We’re all familiar with many European folk stories, but ones from our own isles don’t usually make the cut, and it’s so interesting to learn about them.

And because, of course, cottagecore is all about embracing the nature in our own world, non-fiction needs a mention too. How about Wilding by Isabella Tree, in which the author shares the journey of her and her husband letting nature take over their farm. Or what about Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. This is a beautiful book in which she shares the importance of reconnecting with the natural world, and the lessons we learn when we do.

The links above will take you to Waterstones, but if you’d like to support independent bookshops instead, head to my Bookshop.org Nature and Folklore list, where you can find links to all of these and more.

Plus, if you’re buying a book, why not dial up the nature-factor with handmade pressed flower bookmarks? They are absolutely adorable, made from upcycled paper and only cost £2.50 for three! Get them here.

A floral embrace

As I mentioned above, the cottagecore aesthetic is all about flowers and fungi. So here are a few beautiful options for floral-inspired gifts, again, all created by independent makers and small businesses.

A beautiful flower press

My partner actually got this for me for my birthday, so you can thank him for this idea! If the person you’re buying for has taken up gardening during the pandemic, this is the perfect way to celebrate their newfound love for plants, because it will allow them to press the flowers they’ve grown themselves, and keep them for years to come! It was also a finalist in the 2019 Etsy Design Awards. Get it here.

Dried flower bouquet

Dried flowers are a lovely eco-friendly, sustainable option for bringing the joy of blooms into your home, especially during the winter months. I am obsessed with this like this absolutely beautiful one from BloomPost (which was another birthday present for me, thanks James!) Get it here for gorgeous florals all year round.

The most beautiful floral earrings

Sabi Studio creates these breathtakingly beautiful earrings, all hand painted on polymer clay. I simply cannot get over the stunning designs. Don’t hate me, but the designs you’re looking at are currently all sold out – that’s the nature of shopping small! BUT, on the 29th of November at 5pm she’ll be restocking with 200 more of these beautiful nature inspired designs, so be sure to set a reminder, because any flower lover will have their day made by a set of these beauties.

Resin flower earrings

Forget-me-nots are the perfect choice for pressed-flower earrings because they are tiny enough to make subtle pieces, but their rich purple colour makes them stand out. I love this set from Nordic Flowers on Etsy, and they do all kinds of other flowers too, take a look here!

Boldly adorable cottagecore wall art

Yes, I am so obsessed with this print that it got its whole section all on its own. Can you blame me? It’s gorgeous! I think it would transform even the most modern city apartment into a kitschy cottage. The price starts at £18 for a 30x42cm paper print, and there are three larger sizes to choose from, with the price going up to £61 for a 60x84cm cotton canvas print. Get it here.

Eco friendly whimsey

A key tenet of cottagecore is low-impact living. A lifestyle aesthetic that revolves around nature and slow living means time to embrace plastic free reusables, but giving them as gifts can often seem a little utilitarian, so I’ve hunted out an item that combines prettiness with eco-conscious practicality. It’s always been amazing to me how quickly handkerchiefs fell off the radar – when I was little, they were just going out of style. All of those beautifully embroidered hankies your granny had were slowly making their way to the back of the cupboard, to be replaced by plastic wrapped travel tissue packs. There’s a lovely seller on Not on the High Street who makes absolutely gorgeous hand-embroidered and printed hankies, every bit as delightful as the old-fashioned kind, but with a lovely modern twist. Check them out! Click here to take a look at the mushroom hankie and here for the set of three floral ones. Or you could just visit the shop, because there are all sorts of gorgeous hankies on there, these are just my personal favourites!

Eclectic handmade wearables

I haven’t included clothes in this list because honestly, I think clothes are tricky to buy as gifts and even tricker to recommend as them! But these gorgeous handmade items are sure to delight, without being reliant on sizing or fit.

Get the socks here, the choker here, and the beret here.

I hope you enjoyed this gift guide! The cottagecore aesthetic isn’t a serious thing or anything, it’s just a bit of whimsical fun, and I hope reading through these gave you a big of inspiration. Much love!

Olaplex 3 Curly Hair Review

If the first lockdown is anything to go by, I’m fairly certain that by now, half the population of the UK will have started eyeing up vibrant hair dyes on beauty websites, or googling ‘how to cut a fringe’. It’s irresistibly tempting to experiment with our hair when things get bad, and since no one will be seeing us for a good few weeks, what’s the harm?! Well, I have another suggestion. While I’m certainly not against dying your hair any number of vibrant, wild, brilliant colours or taking the plunge and giving yourself a chop (I did this myself in April!) I think it’s an even better idea to spend this lockdown giving our hair some love. Especially if, like me, your hair is naturally dry, and/or curly, or if it has heat or chemical damage. And there’s no better way than with the only home-treatment that actually repairs your hair. That’s right – the only one. I’m talking, of course, about Olaplex 3. In this review I’m going to talk about what Olaplex 3 is, how to use it, and share the results I got!

What is Olaplex 3?

Although there are all kinds of hair care products that claim to repair, restore, revive and even fix split ends, Olaplex 3 is the only product on the market that actually restores the bonds that hold a hair strand together. If you look at a single hair under the microscope, you’ll see that rather than a smooth strand, it’s made up of little scales, called keratinocytes. These are dead cells, and in a healthy hair strand, they sit more or less flat together. But for people with chemically treated, heat damaged, or naturally dry hair, the scales lift up, causing breakage, brittleness and split ends. Olaplex 3 works by rebonding these scales, so that they lie flat together again. No other product does this – other repairing products work by creating a layer over the hair strand. It’s the difference between plastering over a hole in a brick wall verses rebuilding the wall. And in fact they have similar benefits – plastering a hole in the wall is something you can do as often as you like, and will protect the wall from further damage. This is exactly what your everyday ‘repairing’, ‘restoring’ products like masques, serums and leave in conditioners will do. They protect your hair, help to prevent further damage. But Olaplex 3 requires more time investment, can’t be done as often, and is the only way to truly fix the damage.

How do you use Olaplex 3?

Olaplex 3 can be used up to three times a week, and can be left on for a very long time. I was really confused when I bought my bottle, because I couldn’t work out how long I was supposed to leave it on for. Olaplex simply say that the longer you leave it on, the better. I even read that it can be left on overnight, but I decided to go for 4 hours. I started by shampooing my hair, and detangling with my fingers. Olaplex 3 must be applied to wet hair or it won’t work, and if you have any leave-in products on, you should wash them out to make sure it can actually make contact with the hair. So, once my hair was clean, I took a palmful of the product and gently raked it through with my fingers. I decided to avoid my scalp, because I had read that some people had experienced scalp irritation from the product – and the hair at your scalp should be the healthiest part so it shouldn’t really be necessary anyway. I then took my Tangle Teezer and brushed my hair to ensure it was fully distributed. I have a lot of hair, so after I had brushed it through, I took another palmful and repeated this process to make sure my hair was well saturated. I used about a third of the bottle. After this, I took a spray bottle and sprayed water all over my hair, to the point where my hair was almost dripping. I wanted to make sure that my hair wouldn’t dry out during the treatment, because this would render the Olaplex 3 inactive. After that, I got some cling-film and wrapped my hair up in it, then took a microfibre towel, and wrapped that around the cling film. And then I waited! I stayed alert for any feelings of itchiness or irritation, but my scalp was absolutely fine the whole time.

How to rinse out Olaplex 3

After four hours, I unwrapped my hair and got into the shower. From the second I took the cling-film off I could see the difference, but it was when I started to rinse it out that I really saw what it had done to my hair. Usually, when I rinse a conditioner or masque out, my curls will start to fluff up immediately, but when I rinsed out the Olaplex 3, my hair looked like strands of seaweed. It was unbelievably silky and smooth. It’s very important that you use shampoo to get Olaplex 3 out of your hair and follow with conditioner, because it needs to be thoroughly removed and it isn’t a conditioning product. I did a good first rinse with water, then shampooed, rinsed, and followed with conditioner. I was kind of expecting my hair to look how it normally does once I’d finished shampooing and conditioning, but it didn’t. These perfectly soft, frizz-free, silky locks remained, and they felt strong. I was so excited to see what it would look like once it had dried. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Olaplex 3 results on curly hair

Because I have so much hair, and much of it is quite fine, I don’t like it to be frizzy (but to be clear, I don’t think frizz is automatically a bad thing, and isn’t necessarily a sign of unhealthy hair. The demonisation of frizz is actually a very Eurocentric beauty standard – personally I think it can be utterly beautiful on other people but I don’t like it for myself, because when my hair is frizzy it gets in my eyes and mouth and I can’t control it). Olaplex 3 completely eliminated the halo of frizz I used to struggle with, and every single curl lay perfectly in line. You can see from the pictures! It was mind-blowing! My hair feels so smooth and soft since I started using Olaplex 3, it doesn’t tangle as easily, my curls are more defined, and they stay hydrated for so much longer between washes.

Olaplex 3 also did something to my hair that I really didn’t expect. Because my hair is really heavy and thick, I don’t tend to get curls at the roots – the weight of the hair pulls them down. Olaplex 3, somehow, restored the curls all the way to the roots! And this has lasted for months between treatments. I think it must be because of the incredible strengthening effect – restoring the bonds has meant that my hair is strong enough to sit in its natural state, whereas before it was constantly undergoing a kind of gravity-based straightening!

I hope you found this useful and interesting, and maybe gave you some inspiration for a lockdown 2.0 activity! If you want to purchase your own bottle of Olaplex 3, you can get the 100ml here, and if you really wanna go for it, there’s also a supersize 250ml here! That’s definitely the size I’ll be getting next time.

Also, before I sign off, let me caution you against buying from Amazon – while it’s tempting because Look Fantastic and other retailers do sometimes sell out, the Amazon listing for Olaplex 3 is really dodgy. Sometimes people get the genuine product, but other times, because of the way that the warehouse system works, people end up with fakes that wreck their hair. Don’t risk it! Be safe, and buy from a certified seller like Look Fantastic.

How to get rid of maskne

Hello hello! Its been a while. This year has thrown a lot of unwanted surprises our way, and while it may not be the worst plot twist of 2020, we could all have done without a new skin problem cropping up on top of everything else. Maskne. A weird word for an unexpected problem. One of my favourite jobs back when I worked in skincare was helping people get to the root of their skin concerns. It was incredibly satisfying to work with customers to demystify their skin, and to see them reap the rewards. So when this issue started cropping up on faces all over the world, I couldn’t help myself from researching what maskne is, what causes it, and how we can get rid of it. Like with most skin concerns, it’s hard to find information that doesn’t have a skincare company’s spin on it (“only our product/treatment/service will cure you!”) and some of the advice I came across was genuinely horrific, so I thought I would put together what I learned, and eliminate anything I felt was ‘brandspeak’, in search of the best advice possible. So, here’s what I’ve got!

What is maskne?

To make matters more confusing, maskne isn’t just one thing. There are several different ways your skin might be reacting to your mask, but luckily none of them are particularly ‘new’ – they’re all well understood skin issues, it’s just that we’re experiencing them different ways and unexpected areas now. Even though it might not seem like it, most cases of maskne boil down to simple spots – it’s just that the causes and presentation might differ from what you’re used to. So let’s have a deep dive into what spots actually are, to help you understand what might be going on with your individual case of maskne.

Spots are caused by a combination of four things – dead skin cells and grime, sebum (the oil our skin naturally produces for protection), bacteria, and inflammation. Dead skin cells and grime (for most of us this ‘grime’ will be leftover makeup) get trapped on the skin by your sebum, and this gunky mixture settles into your pores. This is totally normal, but if your skin is struggling to shed dead skin cells, or it has more sebum than necessary, it gets worse, and the pore gets blocked. Some of the bacteria that naturally lives on your skin eats sebum, which means these pores are full of lovely food for them, so they chow down, and start reproducing (aka, infecting your skin). Your body notices this infection and sends the cavalry – your immune system – which increases blood flow to the area to fight the bacteria. This causes discolouration*, swelling, and everyone’s favourite thing, pus. Et voila, you have a spot!

It’s pretty common for dead skin cells and oil to settle and solidify in pores without the bacterial infection and immune response – that’s what blackheads are. It’s also possible for bacteria and immune responses to cause havoc on their own, without blocked pores – although this will look and feel different to a normal breakout, such as with folliculitis, which is a bacterial infection that causes itchy, burning, tender skin and blisters (more on that later), or eczema, which is a purely immune response. Wearing a face covering doesn’t do anything other than trigger these processes, it’s not a new or particularly surprising eventuality. And there are lots of ways you can combat it, so keep reading!

How to treat maskne

Now that we know what spots are and why we get them, all we need to do is think about what’s happening under that face mask to cause a breakout of maskne. I’ve broken it down into the four different causes of spots, and shared pandemic-specific solutions for all of them.

Dead skin cells

A buildup of dead skin cells and grime means more gunk in the pores. When wearing a mask, it’s possible that the protection it offers is preventing your skin from shedding skin cells like it usually would – the lack of moving air and higher humidity levels are perfect conditions for preventing airborne viruses from flying around, but it also means that your skin’s usual ‘sloughing’ process could be interrupted too. Masks can also create friction, which rubs dead cells and makeup into the skin, physically creating extra blocked pores for bacteria to flock to, causing a type of breakout known as acne mechanica. This is something that most commonly occurs on our backs, and other sebum-rich areas which have clothes rubbing against the skin a lot, like the chest or thighs. It wasn’t often seen on the face, until now of course!

Solution: exfoliation. Gentle, daily chemical exfoliation like Pixi Glow Tonic or Aesop Parsley Seed Cleanser should help your skin to catch up on its shedding schedule. But be careful – if you’re getting irritated rashes or blotches, but aren’t noticing an increase in blocked pores or spots with definite ‘heads’, you might actually have the opposite problem. Your skin could be being over-exfoliated by your mask! This is more likely to happen around the edges of your mask, particularly if you’re wearing an N95 or similar style. If you think that might be what’s happening, scroll down a bit and have a read of the immune response section. If you wear makeup under your mask, it’s also a good idea to use a lighter layer so that there’s less stuff on your skin to get compacted into your pores. I’ve been skipping makeup below the mask entirely, l but if I was going to wear some I wouldn’t bother buying a BB cream (if you have one already though, go ahead!) I would just use an ultra thin layer of my normal foundation.

Excess sebum

Your skin is covered by a very delicate layer of oil and water called the hydrolipidic film. When this layer becomes disrupted, your skin tends to react by producing more oil. Unfortunately, your skin doesn’t quite know when to stop, so it tends to produce an excessive amount of extra oil, leading to spots. In the case of maskne, if your mask is absorbing too much of your sebum, you might experience excess oiliness as your skin tries to compensate, and if your mask is causing friction, your skin might be producing oil for extra protection.

It’s a total myth that humidity and heat makes your skin oily – something that skincare companies and lifestyle websites love to peddle in order to get people to buy mattifying products in the summertime, but actually, when your face gets shiny in the warm weather, its sweat, and if it gets spotty, it’s probably a reaction to your SPF, a heat rash, or your skin over-producing oil in response to those mattifying products. Anyway, that’s a pet hate of mine, sorry to rant! My point is, you don’t need to worry about the humid climate inside your mask contributing to oiliness.

Lastly, it’s important to take into account the fact that oil levels are affected by hormones and stress. This is why so many people get acne when they’re going through a tough time, and let’s face it, who isn’t going through a tough time right now? Hormonal and stressed out skin is a whooole other topic that I can’t really cover in this already very long blog post, but rest assured, there is a lot you can do if that’s the cause of your skin issues!


Solution: balance. Choose daytime products that will intensely hydrate your skin without being too oily – Jordan Samuel Serum and Caudalie Moisturising Sorbet are great examples of this kind of product. Whatever you choose to buy, when shopping for daytime skincare, look for hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin and squalene. A few nights a week, use a replenishing oil like The Ordinary Squalane, or Trilogy Rosehip Seed Oil, which should soothe, help healing, and encourage your skin to slow down its own oil production. If your skin is naturally oily or combination, don’t use a face oil too often, make it a Sunday night treat and use a lighter oil like Weleda Almond Facial Oil. You could also try a silk mask, because silk doesn’t absorb oil like cotton and paper, so it shouldn’t kick your skin into oil-overdrive.

Bacteria

Of all the spot-causing issues, when it comes to maskne, bacteria is probably the least of your worries (ironic considering that this is all happening because of another microscopic menace). The only thing you need to be aware of is that bacteria can be transferred to the fabric of your mask and then back to your face, causing bacterial overgrowth. Make sure you wear a clean mask every day, but there shouldn’t be any need to change it throughout the day, unless you have very oily skin or you haven’t washed your face that day. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, you don’t need to worry about humidity or heat causing bacterial overgrowth, because Cutibacterium acnes (the bacteria that causes acne) doesn’t care about external humidity levels or air flow – it lives in your pores, it’s always wet and warm in there!

Solution: gentle cleansing. Your skin’s microbial ecosystem is delicate, and essential for maintaining skin health. The best thing you can do is keep up a regular, gentle cleansing routine to keep your bacteria nicely under control. My favourite cleanser for this is Aesop Parsley Seed Cleanser, but if you prefer non-foaming cleansers, I also love Fresh Soy Face Cleanser. Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea to use anti-bacterial agents daily (stuff like witch hazel or salicylic acid toners) because they can destroy the ecosystem on your skin, doing way more harm than good. If you want to use something with anti-bacterial properties on your face, make sure that a) it’s designed to be used on the face, and b) don’t use it daily. When my skin is acting up, I love to use Caudalie Vinopure Toner, which has salicylic acid, but it’s very astringent, so I only use it as an occasional treatment. Lastly, remember that severe acne can be treated with an antibiotic prescription, so keep that in mind if things are getting out of control.

Immune response

This one is a bit more complicated – I want to incorporate some stuff that I glossed over earlier, and mention types of maskne that are not necessarily ‘spots’, but may occur alongside them, and may be confused for them. All forms of skin irritation are immune responses – from swellings to rashes to cysts, the bit you notice is actually created by your body, not by whatever has irritated it. And there are a lot of different ways that wearing a face covering can trigger immune responses/skin reactions. It’s really important to look closely at your skin, and be aware of the symptoms of skin conditions. Although the environment under a mask isn’t particularly extreme, and is unlikely to cause anything serious, if you’re at all worried that it might be ‘more than maskne’, do try to see a doctor. Warning signs might include widespread discolouration* and soreness, itchiness, flaking, or painful rough patches. However, if you’re confident that it’s nothing serious, there are lots of things you can try.

Solution: calming, gentle products. I’m not above putting porridge on my face when it’s really irritated, as oats are fantastically calming, but it’s messy, and there are better recommendations. Avene Tolerance Extreme Emulsion is my holy grail skincare product – it’s the simplest moisturiser imaginable, and will hydrate and protect your skin without any potential irritants. If your skin is in need of extra protection, (if you’re suffering from over-exfoliation for example) then opt for Avene’s Skin Recovery Cream, which contains mineral oil to create an invisible protective layer over your skin. When it comes to calming the irritation of spots, simple is always best, so gently apply a warm compress on unbroken spots. I also sometimes use Caudalie Purifying Mask on unbroken spots, as I find it helps reduce swelling, but doesn’t dry out the swollen, irritated skin covering the spot (like every other mask or treatment that I’ve tried). While it’s usually best to leave open spots completely alone, I will sometimes apply a tiny amount of Germolene with a very clean fingertip, and I do find it really helps me.

I’ve seen some places recommend the use of barrier creams under masks – and while this may be a good idea for people wearing N95s, a barrier cream will present a whole new set of problems for the average mask-wearer, because non-prescription barrier products like nappy creams are extremely thick, pore clogging products. If your skin is getting very irritated and causing you discomfort, you could always ask a doctor for a medical grade barrier product, like Cavilon (which is used in incontinence care and for the prevention of pressure ulcers in bedbound patients).

Lastly, try a softer mask, like the silk masks as I suggested above. If you’re wearing paper masks a lot, perhaps you could put a thin, soft one underneath? Avoid masks with protruding seams, and while you should definitely make sure it’s secure along the edges, try to wear one that isn’t super tight all over your face (this is better for infection control too I believe, because it’s the layer of humidity inside the mask provides important protection from the virus).

To conclude…

I think one of the key things here is not to overdo anything in your quest to eliminate maskne. I’ve seen recommendations like “wash your face in the middle of the day!” and while I see the logic, overwashing your face can lead to an increase in oil production, as the skin barrier (that hydrolipidic film I mentioned) becomes compromised, and can also cause dermatitis and bacterial imbalance. Make slow, gradual changes to your skincare and focus on treating your skin gently – remember that just like you, it needs time to adapt to our new world, so treat it nicely.

*a note on discolouration – often in Western skincare we talk about ‘redness’ but the colour of a skin condition is completely dependent on melanin levels – for example, eczema resembles a kind of rough textured hyperpigmentation on some skin colours, and red blotches on other. The term ‘discolouration’ might not be perfect, but it’s better than just saying ‘red’.

11 things you need to know before going to Iceland

James and I went to Iceland for my 30th birthday, and wow. What a place. Nowhere will ever top the Amazon Rainforest as my favourite place I’ve ever been, but after spending a week there, Iceland has firmly taken the no.2 spot! I couldn’t let that wonderful holiday pass without writing a blog post on it, so I thought I would share the learnings and recommendations we have, in the hopes that if you’re visiting, we’ll be able to help you make the most out of this wonderful country!

Part 1 – Preparing for your trip to Iceland

Go for AirBnbs.

Obviously this is up to you and how you travel, but when I hear how much people who stay in hotels have paid, not only for accommodation, but for eating out, I shudder. I genuinely couldn’t have afforded to go to Iceland if I’d done that! Eating out in Iceland is infamously expensive. Instead of that, we stayed in two lovely AirBnbs, and bought all our own food – we made cheese sandwiches for lunches, and warming soup/pasta sauces in the evenings. On days where we would be out late, we simply made dinner the night before and kept it in the fridge. This saved us so much money, as the supermarket wasn’t that much more expensive than in the UK (I’d say it’s comparable to buying fancy stuff in Waitrose) and the choice is… incredible. They have everything we do, plus their own Icelandic brands, and loads of European and North American stuff that you can’t get here!

Get the bells and whistles car insurance.

You’ll probably balk when you see the price (our insurance alone was about £400 in total) but I would strongly suggest going all-out on your insurance. For Avis, it was called a Super Collision Damage Waiver, but it will vary depending on the company you go for. Anyway, why am I suggesting you splash so much of your holiday budget on car insurance? Because when we were driving along the road to visit the magical Reynisfjara black sand beach, a lorry came steaming past us on the other side of the road, kicked up a gigantic stone, and took a huge chunk out of our windscreen, which then cracked to about 50cm. We were going below the speed limit, on a regularly used road, and driving a HUGE car. So if it happened to us in those conditions… imagine how common it is. It was covered by our insurance with no problems, but guess how much it would have cost if we hadn’t gotten that full coverage insurance? £4,000. Yup. If you want to try and limit potential cost without the best coverage insurance, you can get a small car instead (ours was an absolute beast which made the windscreen very pricey) but do be aware that smaller cars can be more challenging to drive in stormy weather.

Don’t skimp on your winter clothes.

If you’re travelling during the wintertime (which is November to February) then don’t mess around, bring the right gear. People say Iceland isn’t that much colder than Western Europe, but I don’t buy it. When we were there in November it was incredibly cold, icy and windy! However, it is also the most beautiful country you will ever visit – you WANT to be out in that weather! So be prepared. Bring cleats, snowshoes, a WARM hat (my normal bobble hat was utterly useless), and thermal layers (I recommenced OEX and Tog24 brand base layers, but Icewear, an Icelandic brand you’ll find everywhere in the country, sell a brilliant line too. In fact you could get everything I mention here from them to be honest). I also strongly suggest you get a good pair of mountaineering gloves, and a thinner wool pair to go under them. My gloves have smartphone touch fingers, which was lifechanging when we went to Goðafoss waterfall – we don’t know how cold it was exactly but I have truly never felt a temperature like it, and I know I’ve been in -20 before. Winter gear might seem OTT when you’re packing it, but trust me, not being prepared for the weather will genuinely ruin your trip.

Budget for guided trips, especially in winter.

If you’re used to going it alone like I am, this is something you might initially cringe at. But I didn’t realise how extreme the landscape is – there are areas like the glaciers that you literally cannot access without a giant 4×4 monster truck. It’s different in the summer, but with all that ice, hail, snow and stormy weather, you simply cannot be safe out there on your own. Plus, the guides are LOVELY and really enrich your experience of the incredible country. I recommend Arctic Adventures and Icelandic Mountain Guides.

Be prepared for it, but don’t focus too much on seeing the Aurora.

If you aren’t going to see it, you just aren’t going to see it. No amount of staying up all night looking at gaps in the cloud is going to change how much solar activity there is! Download the app ‘Aurora’ and check it before the sun goes down to see if you have a chance. Iceland is not the best part of the world to see the lights, and although they can be spectacular up there, this country has so much to offer so you’re better off saving your energy for the daytime!

Part 2 – Recommendations for when you’re there

Sampling the local food.

Now, to be honest, we did not try that much food. I have so many food hangups, that it makes it really difficult for me and is something I have to overcome every time I travel. But here are the things we really loved:

  • Dairy products – I don’t know what they do to their cows up in Iceland but their dairy products were on another level. The milk, butter, cheese and Skyr yoghurt were all noticeably more delicious than any dairy product I’ve consumed before or since. Also, Skyr is a must have – we ate it almost every day for breakfast and it would genuinely keep us going until lunch! The raspberry flavour was my favourite.
  • Sandholt Bakery – This is genuinely the best bakery either of us have ever been to. I cannot recommend it highly enough, the pastries and bread were UNBELIEVABLE. I was messaging friends back home and they were like “You’re in Iceland, is this really the thing you need to be telling us about?” but seriously, they do this brown sugar iced bun that I’m still dreaming about. We even got up extra early on the day of our flight so we could come back down from the north to stop in before going to the airport. Our theory is that it’s the Icelandic butter that makes their pastries so good. Their sourdough loaf was also incredible – we ate it with local cheese and butter for lunches. Divine.
  • Bakaríið við brúna – This is the bakery we went to when we were up north in Akureyri and it was also excellent. Get the farmer’s loaf if you’re buying bread.
  • Fresh produce – Because of the geothermal activity, heating and energy is extremely cheap in Iceland, so they are able to grow just about anything there, using artificially heated polytunnels. This means that the fruit and veg is really amazing quality – we were blown away by the freshness and taste of just about everything we bought.
  • Reykjavik Chips – This is a funny little place, which sells fresh, made to order chips – sweet potato or normal, and a variety of dips like vegan mayo, sweet chilli, barbecue etc. The chips were absolutely delicious and well worth a stop for a snack when you have a museum/shopping day in the city!

Shopping

This is the only holiday I’ve ever been on where I was genuinely excited to go shopping. Plus, shoppers in the UK are eligible for tax refunds! Make sure you ask for the tax receipts! Iceland has an incredible community of makers and creators, and in recent years there has been a huge resurgence of traditional woollen goods – James and I both invested in a handknitted, 100% Icelandic wool jumper, and I mean it when I say, these things are built to last.

They are so warm, comfy and well-made, it’s insane. You can expect to be tempted by woollen blankets, Icelandic-made homewares and clothing, and of course, lots of touristy stuff, mostly featuring vikings or puffins. Most of the good shops are on a street called Laugaveger, which makes things easy, but be aware there’s another street called Skólavörðustígur which branches off from it and has some great stuff too. I particularly recommend the shops Farmers and Friends (aka Farmers Market) and Icewear, but there are so many places selling cool stuff! Just outside the city, in a shopping centre called Smaralind, there a European chain shop I’m now 100% obsessed with: Søstrene Grene, which is like a crafty, sustainable version of Tiger. The Smaralind shopping centre is a brilliant place to stop at to do your shopping when you arrive too – it’s halfway between Keflavik (where you’ll land) and Reykjavik. There’s a Hagkaup supermarket, a pharmacy, all manner of outdoor clothing, fashion and homewares, and plenty of junky food outlets and coffee places.

Hot springs/nature baths

We visited two of Iceland’s world famous geothermal baths, and no, neither of them were the Blue Lagoon. I’d seen instagram stories of it that made it look really busy and touristy, which I just didn’t fancy. I’m sure it’s great, but I wanted to relax and savour the experience. So we went to Secret Lagoon, which was the most relaxing experience of my entire life, especially when it started gently raining into the perfectly warm water. And for the ‘blue water’ experience, we went to the far north Myvatn Nature Baths – located in the middle of a lava field, we were surrounded by snowy plains, which wafted into view whenever the steam lifted. It was utter magic. The serenity of being cosy and warm in a bright blue, hot pool, in the middle of a desolate snow-covered lava field, is just… incomparable. They also have a geothermal sauna there, with a window to look out onto the landscape. There was another one we wanted to visit called Geosea, which uses geothermal seawater – but that will have to wait until next time!

Beauty/cosmetics – Now I definitely didn’t set out intending to buy any skincare products while in Iceland, but as it turns out they have two amazing brands that you will definitely want to sample. The first we discovered because the cold air was leaving my skin feeling a bit tight. Although the water is amazing for your skin, the weather isn’t, and I needed a slightly richer moisturiser. I bought one by a brand called Sóley – their Dögg Moisturiser, and it’s incredible! I’ve been using it twice daily ever since. Then when we went to the Myvatn Nature Baths they had Soley hair and body products in the showers, which we both LOVED. We bought a big bottle of the Varmi shampoo and body wash when we were at the airport. They do free shipping on orders over £100… and the terrible thing is… I know I’m gonna do it. Anyway. The second brand is called Angan, and is a higher-end, luxurious brand. I bought their Volcanic Glow Body Oil, which smells delightfully herbal, feels gorgeous, and has lovely golden shimmer in it. We also bought a gift set of their bath salts, which all use sustainably harvested, natural Icelandic plants. And they smell… unbelievable. Again we got this at the airport to save a bit of cash.

Southern Iceland – this is where we spent most of the first half of our trip (apart from a day shopping in Reyjyavik) and I’ve just written out a list of what we did, because it was all brilliant!

  • Hiking on Skaftafell glacier. We went with Icelandic Mountain Guides for this tour, and loved every moment. After a drive to the glacier, we were taken up into an ice cave, which was amazing, and then up for a short walk over a literal, real glacier. The guide gave loads of fascinating info about the glacier, and it was absolutely beautiful. We also met a friendly crow!
  • Snowmobiling over Langjökul glacier. We kicked off my 30th birthday bouncing over mountainous terrain in a 4×4 van, then got on a snowmobile and sped across a glacier, looking out at the awe-inspiring Icelandic landscape. I mean… can you name a better way to kick off your 30’s? It was perfect for me. We were then given a tour of a really cool ice cave, before getting back on the snowmobile. Oh god it was just so much fun! I cannot recommend it highly enough. Again, the guides were fantastic, such lovely people – this time we went with Arctic Adventures.
  • Visiting the Eyjafjallajökull visitor centre. There is a Geologist-in-residence here who will show you a film about the 2010 eruption film and talk you through it, so you can understand more about the science, as well as the myths and legends around Iceland’s volcanoes, and also discover how volcanically active the island is! It was really interesting, and I highly recommend it. My Geologist husband was beside himself with glee (and so was the Geologist who worked there when he found out he could have a proper conversation with James, haha).
  • Walking on Reynisfjara beach. Surreal, beautiful, ethereal, but get there early before the tour buses show up, because otherwise you’ll be constantly distracted by people not paying attention to the deadly waves.
  • Exploring the Eldhraun moss covered lava field. This was one one of those moments where you really feel you could be on an alien planet.
  • Soaking in the Secret Lagoon. As I’ve mentioned, heaven on earth.
  • Finally, we paid a visit to Gulfoss and Skogafoss. These are two of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls, and really don’t disappoint. I do love a good waterfall, and these are just stunning. And hey, I’ve been to Niagara Falls so I know a good waterfall when I see one 😉 We also spent a little time just driving and wandering around some little towns and things – it’s nice to meander a little I think.

Northern Iceland – this is where we spent the second part of our trip, and WOW. Nothing compares to this incredible landscape. We stayed in Akureyri, and didn’t actually do that many things because we were only there for a couple of days, but we really want to return as we were blown away by how stunning it was. Here’s what we did:

  • Visting the serene, icy Goðafoss. While we were there, this beautiful waterfall was half frozen over and absolutely magical. It was so cold that my fingers went numb despite being in my thermal-lined mountaineering gloves, and my phone turned itself off, so be prepared! But it was so worth it, you won’t see anything like that anywhere else. It’s one of my favourite memories.
  • Soaking in Myvatn Nature Baths. The memory of floating in that blue water, in the BITING cold, is one of my favourite memories, not just of this holiday, but of my entire life.
  • Walking (and gagging) around Námaskarð geothermal area. Just to prepare you, this STANK. The sulphur smell coming out of the hot taps in Iceland is completely bearable, and you get used to it right away, but this smell? It had LAYERS. I was totally unprepared, it even made me lightheaded! I’ve been to Yellowstone National Park which has similar geothermal vents and the smell was NOTHING in comparison. But still, it’s always cool to see the ground steaming and mud bubbling away.

And that’s it! Obviously this isn’t supposd to be a ‘guide to Iceland’ or anything like that, it’s just our recommendations and suggestions, based on one, incredible holiday. I really was not prepared to love Iceland as much as I did, it truly was the most wonderful place to spend my birthday, and we both loved every moment of it.

The Harris Tweed Gift Guide

The Isle of Harris is one of my favourite places in the world. Although during my lifetime my family lived on the neighbouring Isle of Lewis, Harris is where my Granny grew up. So I’ve been lucky to have received more than my fair share of Harris Tweed gifts in my lifetime (and have furnished my home with plenty of my own purchases too). I thought I’d share a few ideas for high quality, long lasting and thoughtful gifts made from this historic, sustainable fabric.

Before we begin, I just wanted to point something out – Harris Tweed is the name of the fabric, not the brand that makes the product you’re buying. You’ll know that the product is made with genuine Harris Tweed fabric because of the logo on it, so look out for orb logo, and you’ll know you’re getting the real deal. The great thing about Harris Tweed is that it’s available to anyone, from big brands like Nike to old ladies on the island who only sell at craft fairs, so you can support small businesses and independent makers, with the guarantee that you’re buying a super high quality product. Because of the cost of the fabric, you don’t get people buying it and making rubbish out of it. Harris Tweed products are made with serious love and care. I’ve bought from many, many makers and all of the products have been amazing quality!

Harris Tweed Weekender/luggage/holdall bag – £150

This is one of the first Harris Tweed items I was ever given, and it’s been going strong since I was 17. You can get one in just about every colour under the sun, to suit your loved one’s personal style. Get one here for £150 – there are many places you can buy one of these bags but this is the place I got mine from (you can see it in the first image, it’s the exact same make, just 13 years old!) and has a MASSIVE array of colours to choose from!

Harris Tweed Cushion Cover – £29+

There are some absolutely brilliant makers on Etsy who have really lovely cushion covers, depending on the style and the colour scheme of your recipient’s home. The first I’ve chosen is CoverandShade, who make a range of gorgeous front fold cushions for £29, and the second is TillyTreeMouse who makes ones with zips across the seam, for £29.99+, depending on the size you want. Both come in a variety of colours. But the third… oh my god I can only dream of these. Hand embroidered thistle and Highland coo (cow) authentic Harris Tweed cushions by TallaTweed. How delightful are they?! Shop here.

Harris Tweed Teddy Bear £58

There are lots of teddy bears out there made purely from Harris Tweed, but I do wonder if the hardy fabric would be a bit too scratchy to cuddle with. I think much better is a normal fluffy teddy with a Harris Tweed jacket – it also means that the parents of the kid you’re buying it for can protect the pricy fabric on days spent playing in the mud! And again, this one comes in loads of colours. See the range here.

Harris Tweed Tea Cosy – £28.50

I couldn’t find the exact version of the blue tea cosy that you’ll see in the photo at the very top of this post – but such is life, we’ve had it for years so hardly surprising! Here is a similar version, with an infamous Scottish midgie on it (be sure to check the dimensions for your teapot). But I also wanted to share this very lovely patchwork number from Etsy seller PoppyMallow. It might not be as whimsical, but it’s nice and tasteful, and guaranteed to keep a teapot warm until the end of time. Get it here!

Harris Tweed Dog Collar – £10+

Etsy is definitely the place for Harris Tweed dog accessories, and there’s a shop called Itsallaboutdog, who have leashes, bows and collars in pretty much every colour you could ever want! The gorgeous colour collection I’ve shared in the photo can be found here.

Harris Tweed Tie – £29.95

This tie makes me wish I was the kind of person who had to wear a suit to work. I love it. Nevermind your friends and family, buy this for me!!

Harris Tweed Coin Purse – £14

This is a lovely small gift, great for a friend or colleague. I have one and actually I’ve started using it as my normal purse, as I love how simple it is! It’s also great because this one comes in a million different colours, so no matter what their style, you can find one for them.

Harris Tweed Washbag – £34 – £41

These absolutely gorgeous washbags from Etsy seller faithmonsoon are the perfect example of a Harris Tweed toiletry bag if you ask me. I’ve wanted a tweed washbag like this for ages and haven’t found one in a colour I like, but my eye is firmly on the herringbone pink one! Get one here.

Harris Tweed Slippers – £49

A pair of slippers is always a safe bet for a gift if you ask me. Unfortunately, the pink ones in the first photo, which we bought in Sainsbury’s and are by a brand called Totes, are already sold out on Sainsbury’s website (though you could have a look in store!) so I thought I’d put up a different recommendation, which are these gorgeous £50 ones from House or Bruar. I love the thick lining and proper soles, you just know those are going to be amazing slippers.

I hope you found something you like in this list! There’s an almost unlimited amount of stuff that can be made with Harris Tweed, but these are some that I either really love for myself, or firmly have my eye on for the future…

Foodbank (Black) Friday with Ethical Superstore

Everyone loves Black Friday. We all love a deal, we all love stuff. It’s natural, and when you’re not as well off as you’d like to be, it can be a fantastic chance to get Christmas presents for people you love. I also understand that for a lot of people, it’s their only opportunity to afford things that other people can afford any day of the week. However, one thing I absolutely HATE about Black Friday is corporate greed. Many companies see it as an opportunity to exploit their customer’s trust, employ every trick in the book to get you to buy, without offering anything of value (or any particularly good savings either).

But not Ethical Superstore. This company is fast becoming one of my favourite places to shop, for their amazing customer service, fantastic, eco-conscious, low plastic, sustainable products, and now, for their brilliantly compassionate approach to Black Friday.

Ethical Superstore are offering 20% off for Black Friday, but in addition, they are also donating grocery items to their local Foodbank with every order over £30. No one should need to use a Foodbank, but unfortunately in this country, many many people are forced to turn to them. I’m 100% behind any initiative to help get more food to people in need, and I think this is such a refreshing way to do it. I thought I’d share some of their most ingenious sustainable swaps and ethical alternatives, to inspire us all to have a better Black Friday. I’ve done two different sections, an Ethical Festive Bits section (’tis the season after all) and a Sustainable Household Swaps section.

Ethical Festive Bits

Ethical Superstore have some beautiful Christmas products, so I thought I’d kick off with a few of my favourites.

I love these candle holders – they have a 100% traceable supply chain, which means they’re guaranteed to have been made in fair working conditions. I think two of the 2D stars and one of the 3D stars would make a perfect Christmas table centrepiece. Get the flat/2D one here, and the 3D one here. The brass wreath is from the same company and I love it too. You could tuck sprigs of pine and fairy lights into it, or keep it simply for a tasteful, minimal look. Get it here.

I love star lampshades but they usually come in bold colours which don’t really suit my decor. This silver one is perfect, and what’s more, it’s made from cotton waste instead of paper, which means their production doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment where they’re manufactured. Get one here. And aren’t these baubles gorgeous? I really want to move away from plastic baubles and these are made from recycled glass. Perfect. Get them here.

This stunning wrapping paper is ethically made in Nepal from lokta paper, which is much more sustainable than normal paper, and a percentage of the sales go to a Nepalese charity Children’s Rescue Nepal. Get it in black here, white here and red here.

Sustainable Household Swaps

I know most of us use Black Friday to treat ourselves or others, but since its on offer, I think it’s the perfect chance to try a few sustainable swaps!

Ocean Saver Refill Pods are brilliant, bottle free home cleaning products. You simply put the sachet into a reusable spray bottle and fill with water – and you never have to buy any more plastic bottles ever again! Get the pack of five different cleaning products for £5.59 (was £6.99) here. Ecoliving Solid Dishwashing Bar – I have been looking for a solid washing up product for months! It’s completely plastic free, and all you do is wet it, rub your sponge or brush on it, and then wash like normal, I can’t wait to give this a try, as we seem to go through so many bottles of washing up liquid in this house, it’s awful seeing all that plastic going in the recycling! Get one here for £8 (was £11). I’ll also be buying this lovely olive wood soap dish to keep it on!

Carrinet mesh produce bags for putting your fruits and veggies in at the shops, made from recycled plastic bottles, £5.59 for 5 (was £6.99). Or if you prefer cotton, these A Slice of Green bags are £5.56 for 3 (was £6.95). If you’re looking for ways to store food more sustainably, try some vegan wax food wraps like these Vegan Food Wrap Company ones for £19.99 (worth £24.99) or if you can’t quite get your head around reusable food wrap (like me) then try these If You Care sustainable sandwich bags for £3.56.

Bio-D Washing Powder comes in an eco-friendly paper bag. I use this and love it, my clothes are super clean and fresh, despite it being fragrance free, enzyme free, and biodegradable. It’s also really affordable at £3.48 for a kg (link), but this Black Friday I’m taking advantage of the 12.5kg box and going all in.

Patch Bamboo Plasters are another brilliant product that we love in this house – they’re just like normal plasters, but plastic free! Get a tube for £5.59 (was 6.99). I was going to share some suggestions for reusable cups and straws, but Ethical Superstore have one of the biggest online selections you’re ever going to find, so I thought it would be better to share the link to their cups/straws page and let you find your own! Not all of it is in the Black Friday sale, but it looks like most of it is. Check it out here. Though I have to say, my personal recommendations are a Stojo cup and these ecoLiving silicone straws (both in the sale!)

Hope you found something that catches your eye in my list! And if you want to learn more about what Ethical Superstore are doing for Black Friday, click here.

30 things I’ve learned in my first 30 years of life

I turned 30 last week, and honestly, it feels great! Saying I’m 30 feels pretty surreal, but I don’t feel any dread or anxiety, which I honestly thought I would. I’ve put together a couple of posts to celebrate making it through this most tempestuous of decades, and this is the first, 30 life lessons I’ve learned in my first 30 years! Enjoy!

1. Life isn’t a climb, it’s a hike. It’s not about getting to the top, it’s about making your way along, at your own pace, seeing what’s there, being curious and enjoying the journey.

2. You’re way more competent than you think you are.

3. Your hair will NEVER do what you want, so you may as well let it do whatever it’s gonna do and enjoy yourself.

4. You are stronger – both mentally and physically – than you give yourself credit for. Like, A LOT stronger.

5. Don’t get into fights on Twitter.

6. You don’t have to finish every book you start – dump the ones that do nothing for you.

7. Showering before bed makes your sheets last longer between washes.

8. Some people don’t like you, and that’s fine (fuck ’em).

9. You also don’t have to like every single person you ever come into contact with.

10. When you start to notice signs of early depression, pay attention.

11. Embracing the seasons, surrounding yourself with nature and generally being more connected to the world is essential for your wellbeing. It’s not a cure or a treatment for anything, it’s a basic need.

12. Shaping your life around other people’s judgemental attitudes will not make you happy.

13. Be as feminine as you want, it doesn’t make you less intelligent, feminist, or queer.

14. There is such a thing as love at first sight ❤

15. Sort out disagreements openly and honestly – no games, no repressed feelings, no sulking.

16. Hiking up a mountain is one of the best feelings in the fucking world.

17. Grief is the most painful thing in the world, there is no cure and no escape, but it won’t kill you.

18. Puy lentils are the best replacement for beef mince and are perfect in shepherd’s pie, bolognese and tacos.

19. Add marmite to vegan stews, lentil dal and shepherd’s pie, and add a dash of red wine vinegar to pasta sauces to go all the way to flavourtown. Add both to bolognese.

20. When you start being able to keep a houseplant alive for longer than a few months it will become your child.

21. You will never get ‘compliment’ and ‘complement’ right the first time.

22. Your judgemental inner voice has the capacity to completely ruin your life, so learn to ignore it once in a while.

23. Having a tidy house makes you feel relaxed.

24. Doing the washing up actually helps you de-stress, stop pretending like it doesn’t.

25. Travelling is wonderful, fulfilling and educational, but it is a privilege, not a moral imperative.

26. Being stung by an Amazonian bullet ant F U C K I N G H U R T S.

27. Having problems you can’t overcome doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of happiness.

28. Having wonderful parents, a partner who respects you and friends who adore you makes you one of the luckiest people in the world.

29. You need to work harder on staying hydrated.

30. You aren’t doing anything wrong by being angry at the state of the world. Don’t let your anger hurt you or others, but hold onto it, and use it to fight for better.

Perricone MD’s new No Lipstick Lipsticks*

I absolutely love Perricone’s lip products. A few years ago I received their No Lipgloss Lipgloss and Lipstick as part of a trial, and was completely besotted. And now, they’ve launched a full range of No Lipstick Lipsticks (that’s a UK link – if you’re in the USA click here!) featuring 6 colours, which they very kindly sent to me to try out!

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perricone_md_no_lipstick_swatches

I was really impressed by the diversity of the shades. Despite going on feeling sheer like a lipbalm, they all had a really different look, and I can imagine that there will be at least one to suit every skin tone. I also loved how they melted into the lips, rather than sitting on top like a lipstick. It feels like a light balm, but the colour payoff is amazing.

perricone_md_no_lipstick

Perricone MD pride themselves on using really advanced, high tech ingredients in their formulas, and their makeup is no exception. Even these lipsticks have ingredients like neuropeptides, which help to reduce wrinkles and  smooth the skin, as well as hyaluronic acid to plump, and sunscreen, which I’d never thought of using on my lips, but makes perfect sense really.

DB005B48-DF98-4D74-A266-3E386F4E9BD3

I’m really impressed with these – I think my favourite shade is the red, closely followed by the berry, as they are bright, but subtle enough to wear with not too much makeup. My lips feel ultra soft throughout the day too, which is ideal given that winter is coming up. And they smell gorgeous, which always helps!

Each lipstick costs £25/$30, and you can get them here if you’re in the UK, and here if you’re in the USA or elsewhere. They’re also currently on offer in the USA, at $21 each!

* These lipsticks were sent to me for review with no obligation to post 

5 Ways You Can Reduce Your Microplastic Waste

My head was left spinning the other day when I heard the news that microplastics were being deposited in the arctic by snow. I mean, WHAT? I know that a big part of people’s worry about the climate/environmental crises is that we all have absolutely no idea what, specifically we should be doing. So here are 5 things you can do that will have a direct impact on microplastic waste.

CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES

1/3 of all microplastic pollution comes from washing synthetic textiles like polyester, nylon, viscose, acrylic and elastane. This is because sewage treatment stations cannot filter them out (and when you imagine the kinds of things that sewage treatment CAN remove, that’s a pretty scary thought). It’s imperative that we stop buying synthetic textiles. Ideally, when we buy clothes, they should be made from natural, biodegradable fibres instead. It’s also important to note that a lot of ‘eco/sustainable’ fabrics like tencel and bamboo fibre may also contribute to the microplastic pollution – they are made from a type of cellulose that might not biodegrade. Fabrics that are guaranteed to biodegrade include linen, cotton, wool, hemp and silk.

Manufacturing any new fabric puts a huge strain on the environment in other ways, including chemical pollution and carbon emissions, so please don’t chuck out all your synthetic clothes and buy a whole new wardrobe (and don’t sweat if you simply can’t afford to buy natural fabrics, or have a uniform for work that you can’t change). For the synthetic clothes you already have you can buy a Guppyfriend Laundry Bag from Ethical Superstore (link) which will catch some of the microplastics, and allow you to dispose of them in a way that will pollute less – instead of directly into our waterways, they’ll go to landfill instead.

WASH SMARTER

Am I talking about your clothes or your body? Actually I’m talking about everything. The less water you put down the drain, the less microplastics end up in our water. Wash your clothes less, and don’t tumble dry as this wears the fibres down making them release more fibres when you next wash them. Wash your body less (use a 100% cotton cloth to wash your bits every day if you need to) and don’t use a plastic shower puff or sponge – use a soft ramie puff (link) instead. Ditching flushable wipes is another big one – there are alternatives like sprays you can use with toilet paper. Also, wash your dishes in a dishwasher or switch to a biodegradable loofah (link) or natural fibre brush (link) instead of a plastic sponge or brush to do the washing up. Finally, microfibre cloths, plastic brushes, cleaning sponges and even cellulose sponges all produce microplastics too (when you rinse/wash them after use), so switch to cleaning with a cotton or hemp cloth (link), and for heavy duty cleaning, use a coconut scrubber (link).

REDUCE AND REUSE

As I mentioned above, the manufacturing industry is hugely culpable in the microplastic crisis, and the best way to stop industrial pollution is to stop increasing demand for new goods. Repair your socks when they spring a hole, repurpose an unwanted dress into a top or a bag, buy secondhand, cut up old sheets for cleaning – quite simply, before you buy something new, try to think of an alternative way of getting what you need first. It might not sound like fun, you might think I’m suggesting a return to the housewives and domestic servants of days past – but no. People of all genders should be doing this, and unfortunately, its the convenience culture that we rely on to make life easy that got us into this mess in the first place. If you aren’t a DIY-type person, you can ask for my hourly rate and I’ll fix your socks for you instead.

STOP BUYING BOTTLED

Bottled water is obviously an un-environmentally friendly choice, but if you’re concerned for the effect that microplastics could also be having on your health, steer even clearer of them than you were before, because 90% of bottled water contains microplastics that you will ingest.

If you want to learn more about the ways in which microfibres are destroying the planet, here are some resources:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/14/microplastics-found-at-profuse-levels-in-snow-from-arctic-to-alps-contamination

https://www.whatsinmywash.org.uk/the-microfibre-issue

How to make staying in a hotel for work easier and enjoyable

I’ve travelled for work a LOT in my life. For PR events, marketing activities, training, head office visits with companies based abroad or in different parts of the country, and even for companies that liked to hold their annual meetings abroad as a ‘work perk’. I’ve stayed in luxury hotels, I’ve stayed in Travelodges, I’ve shared hotel rooms with colleagues, and I’ve been unexpectedly upgraded to suites. After all this time I’ve pretty much perfected the art of the stress-free work hotel stay, so read on and hopefully you’ll find some useful suggestions!

Pack weather-versatile outfits – When travelling within the UK and Ireland at least, no matter what time of year it is, never ever leave for a work trip without a pair of shoes you can wear in the rain, and clothes that can be layered and removed as needed. Bring tights and a cardigan, and clothes that can be worn with or without them. It’s a horrible feeling to underestimate the weather and be cold/damp for your whole trip!

The do not disturb sign – Not just for people having a lie in after a heavy night. If you put this on your door in the morning, the hotel staff won’t come into your room to make the bed or replenish the toiletries. When you’re on holiday there’s something nice about coming back to a straightened up room, but personally when I’m travelling for work, I’m not at my most relaxed or easygoing, so I really don’t want someone in my room moving all my stuff. I have utmost respect for hotel staff because damn that’s a hard job, but it’s just that when I travel for work I really want my hotel room to be my own space. Sometimes when you use the DND sign, they even leave you an extra towel, toilet roll and shortbread packets outside your room for you to pick up on your way back in.

Bring your favourite tea with you – Come on now, does anyone really enjoy that vile Twinings Breakfast Blend? The best hotel room I’ve ever stayed in had a little bottle of complimentary fresh milk in the mini fridge, big chunky mugs instead of measly cups, and bags of Yorkshire Tea. It was heaven to come back to that in the evening, and so now I always bring my Clipper teabags (I’ve switched because they’re plastic free and taste just as good as Yorkshire Tea) with me so I can have a comforting cuppa when I get in, just like I would at home. Of course this only works if you’re travelling within the UK where we have kettles in hotel rooms, but then, who drinks tea when they’re abroad anyway?

Spend the evening doing your ‘self maintenance’ – I strongly do not recommend working in your hotel room, but even if you don’t work, it can be tricky to fully switch off when you’re in work trip mode. I often can’t concentrate on a book, or even crap TV. So instead, make a list of all the ‘body chores’ you’ve been meaning to get around to doing – your self tan, cutting/painting your nails, dying or deep conditioning your hair, shaving your legs, face masks… and spend your evening doing it all!

Laundry bag routine – If you’ve ever bought anything from Aesop, or received fancy pyjamas as a gift, you probably already own one of these nice drawstring cotton bags. They are perfect for keeping on top of your laundry, because you can hang it off the side of the desk chair, or on a wardrobe door handle, and every time you take off your socks and underwear for the day, you just conveniently stuff them in the bag. It means you never have to worry that there’s a forgotten pair of knickers under the bed when you leave, and you won’t be picking up stray socks from the floor when you’re supposed to be checking out to catch your train home. Also, it eliminates the need for a plastic shopping bag, which is what I used to use before, and, well, would never dream of using now!

Be wise about your skincare products – The key with skincare is to make it as fuss-free as possible, because you never know what kind of bathroom facilities you’re going to be confronted with. When I travel, I always bring a travel size of Caudalie’s Cleansing Oil instead because it dissolves makeup on its own and then rinses off. It’s the most convenient makeup remover ever! I also bring my bar of facial soap for a second cleanse/morning cleanse. Then I bring a small slice of soap to wash my body with too, because unless its a nice hotel, I know I’ll hate the shower gel they have (recently I’ve been trying to move away from plastic wherever I can, hence the bars of soap!). Some people recommend bringing skincare sample sachets along on a trip, but I wouldn’t recommend trying new skincare while you’re travelling for work – you never know if something will trigger a reaction, or make you so greasy that your foundation slips off your face by noon. I usually just bring my full size serum and cream because I don’t want to take them out of their normal packaging (for example, you don’t want to dip your fingers into a product that is designed to be squeezed out of a tube because the preservatives won’t work).

Fluffy slipper socks – It’s very difficult to fully relax when you’re on a work trip, but a pair of comforting fluffy socks certainly helps me.

Always be lovely to the staff – There’s no excuse for being rude to hotel staff, and it’s something I’ve seen a LOT of from people on business trips. No matter how tired, stressed or irritable you are, there’s no need to make someone feel like crap just because you do. And you never know when you might need them. If the TV broke in your room, I certainly wouldn’t rush to help you if you’d been a dick to me two hours earlier.

And lastly, a few things to never ever forget:

  • Ear plugs. As my dear favourite fictional character, Dale Cooper once said: “Once a traveler leaves his home, he loses almost 100% of his ability to control his environment.” (if you aren’t familiar with Twin Peaks, this is said while he is being kept awake by a huge group of other business people who are combatting jetlag by getting drink and singing all night. Now I’ve never experienced that, but I would have been grateful for earplugs while staying in a room next door to a very amorous couple… and now I’ll never forget them (the earplugs that is, I’m trying desperately to forget the couple).
  • Pyjamas. I’m just putting this here because I DID once forget pyjamas and it just so happened to be in the one hotel I’ve ever stayed in that didn’t have over the top central heating. I had to tear around a Primark between meetings and ended up buying the crappest pjs ever because they were ‘between deliveries’. Never again.
  • Pillow spray. Not only will this help you to calm down if you’re nervous about something big going on during your trip, it also means you don’t have to worry about any weird smelling hotel rooms!
  • A long charging cable. Even modern hotel rooms with plug points by the bed are sometimes too far away to charge your phone and FaceTime your SO (or play a game) at the same time, so make sure your cable can handle it!
  • Your takeaway coffee cup. Be environmentally responsible and don’t use travelling as an excuse to fall back on disposable cups. Plus, having your cup with you means you can fill it with filter coffee at the hotel breakfast to start your day with WAY more coffee than you’d be able to drink in one sitting!