James Read Gradual Tan: an instant success

Generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of self-tanners. This is because they’re sometimes difficult to use with facial hair and because I generally don’t like to smell of digestive biscuits. I do, however, recognise how useful they can be and how their popularity with men is growing.

The question is, which is the best? I’ve tried lots (with various and sometimes hilarious results) so it’s a delight to come across one that a. works brilliantly; b. doesn’t honk to high heaven and c. is an added-value product, providing skin with a raft of anti-ageing ingredients as well as a decent, natural-looking tan.

The product I’m talking about is the new Gradual Tan Face by the UK’s leading tanning expert James Read. Part of a James’ inventive new tanning range, I tried it out at the weekend and mightily impressed but the results. Not only is it fragrance-free (you won’t even smell of a Rich Tea let alone a Digestive), it gives a natural-looking bronze to the skin that you have total control over (it has a just a touch of self tan that develops over time, the intensity of which you can govern by applying more if you wish).

What’s especially good about this product is that it also contains anti-aging coenzyme Q10, hydrating hyaluronic acid and cell-renewing red algae too, perfectly capturing the zeitgeist for multi-functional products. Though it’s designed for the face I also tried it (after exfoliating) on my feet, to see if I could get them looking vaguely decent for Birkenstocks and it worked a treat – giving them just enough colour to prevent them from blinding small children. I used the medium version but if you’re a self-tan newbie and nervous about using them why not try the light version  to begin with? I think you’ll be impressed with the results.

James Read Gradual Tan Face £18.50. If you fancy trying James’ range QVC are offering a  great-value ‘discovery set’. For details click here.

Daniel Sandler launches bronzer brush for men

When it comes to giving skin a bit of colour I’ve always been a fan of powder bronzers over liquid ones, tinted moisturisers or self-tanners. I think this is for two reasons: growing up in the early Eighties I was never afraid of using a bit of slap and, being a control freak, I like to be able to have total control over the end results.

One of the problems with them, though, is that it’s so easy to overload the applicator brush which can lead to a too-strong effect, patchiness and a shirt dusted in powder. Make-up artist Daniel Sandler has very cleverly tackled this problem, however, with this brand new bronzer brush.

Taking its cues from the silver tipped badger shaving brushes most men are familiar with his ultrafine, supersoft High Speed Bronzer Brush is supersized, made from a mixture of goat and synthetic fibres and features more sparse hairs than regular brushes making it almost impossible to overload. Having given it a go myself I can vouch for its effectiveness and its large surface area means you can get the job done in a matter of seconds.

If you’ve never used a brush (or a bronzer) before don’t worry, I asked Daniel for a few expert tips: “For the best results, gently sweep the tip of the brush hairs over your bronzer powder to pick up colour, tap off any excess then gently sweep over face making sure you apply beyond the jaw line so your tan looks natural,” he says.

“To get the best out of the brush itself, always apply without pressing the brush tip too hard on skin and use quick light, circular motions for a speedy, even-finish.” If you’re applying over moisturiser he recommends waiting for it to be fully absorbed before using  the bronzer – that way you’ll avoid streaks. Easy, no?

You can use the brush in conjunction with your own bronzer (I’ve just tried it out with the Jean Paul Gautlier one I regularly use) or why not try it with Daniel’s Mineral Bronzer Powder? Go on! Don’t be a scaredy-cat – give it a whirl!

Daniel Sandler’s High Speed Bronzer Brush is available from 1st Feb and costs £26. For stockists, or to buy online go to www.danielsandler.com.

The Grooming Guru Awards 2011

There are so many grooming awards these days that I thought, what the hell, why not have my own, with a few unique Grooming Guru categories thrown in for good measure? In fairness, I don’t think this year has been a stellar one in terms of new launches and innovative products but amongst the assorted lowlights there have been a few genuine highlights. The great thing is I don’t have advertisers to answer too so can reward who the hell I like and for what I like. So here are my awards, the ‘Gee Gees’ if you will. Who gets the gongs this year? Well, here goes…

MEN’S SKINCARE LAUNCH OF THE YEAR – Him by John Barrowman.

We may sneer at celebrity-endorsed ranges and fragrances but John Barrowman’s Him range for men, launched exclusively on QVC earlier this year, is a genuinely good- quality, well thought out and nicely-formualted range of skincare essentials for blokes. Sure, I suspect the people who are buying it are JB fans wanting to improve their men (or make them look like their idol) but that’s fine right? As John himself said at the launch the more well-groomed men out there the better. For more of my thoughts on the range read this.

BEST AD CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR – Braun Oral B Pro-Expert Toothpaste


This advert has made me laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. I simply never tire of watching it. It doesn’t just cross the line where bad becomes good it actually pole-vaults right over it into uncharted territory. As comedy goes, it’s certainly miles funnier than Come Fly With Me, making me think the Beeb should have just shown this instead and saved license payers a fortune in the process. A friend of mine is convinced that, like the cringeworthy Jenson Button Head & Shoulders ad and the laughable Just For Men Luis Figo one, it’s intentionally this awful so that people remember it. If so, it deserves the most fulsome praise I can give it.

NB: Alas Oral B have pulled this ad from YouTube now. They might be known for saving teeth but it looks like in this case they wanted to save face too!

BEST NEW GROOMING GADGET – Panasonic ES-LV61-K Wet/Dry Foil Shaver

Back in the summer, Panasonic launched this, the first wet/dry foil shaver, transforming the lives of guys who prefer foil shavers to rotary ones but who wanted the convenience of shaving with a traditional shaving prep or even in the shower. Losing my beard for a week to give it a whirl I was hugely impressed by the closeness of the shave and how beautiful it felt in the hand. Which is what matters most to us men right? The last bit I mean.

THE “I DON’T THINK SO” AWARD OF THE YEAR – Guylashes

Guylashes. Please. A couple of years ago the big story was men and makeup. I bigged it up myself. Did men buy it? Did they buggery. In fact, many companies launched cosmetic products for men only to quietly ‘retire’ them within a matter of months.  And if men aren’t going to use concealer (a genuinely useful product and one I heartedly recommend) do you really think they’re going to be fluttering fake eyelashes? Eylure, kindly collect your gong! If I was being cynical I’d give you another one for ‘Best way to generate publicity for your company by grabbing a headline in The Daily Mail award’ too. If I was being cynical.

BEST NEW FRAGRANCE – Potion by DSquared2

I have been to so many fragrance launches this year you’d think it would be hard for me to pick my favourite. Not so. Most left me decidedly cold with their tiresome top notes  bland basenotes. This one, woody and sexy with notes of amber and a host of ingredients actually used in magic, like angelica and gentian, is one I wear regularly. It’s not as long-lasting as I might like but that’s a minor flaw. Being the only fragrance that really cast a spell on me this year (sorry!) I’m proud to give it a ‘Gee Gee’ for Best New Fragrance.

BEST BUDGET GROOMING BUY – Montagne Jeunesse’s face packs for men

Sure I like a bit of luxury but like all good working-class lads I can do cheap-as-chips grooming products too and my favourites this year were these face masks for men. Costing just over a pound each (except for the eye one which is wallet-busting £1.99) they’re practical, effective and (best of all) great fun to use. I challenge any man not to enjoy using the peel off one.

BEST INDUSTRY BLOG – British Beauty Blogger

Okay, I’m slightly biased because British Beauty Blogger is what you might call my ‘Twitterwife’ but even if I didn’t happen to know the person behind it I would still give it my vote as Best Industry Blog. I read it religiously –  and I have absolutely no interest in make-up or the beauty side of the industry whatsoever. And yet, it’s still utterly compelling.

In terms of providing an honest insight into the (sometimes ludicrous) workings of the industry it’s unrivaled and as a window onto the turbulent and much-maligned art of blogging it’s an absolute must-read. If you’re a blogger, journalist, PR or just a beauty junkie who wants to know what shade of blusher is hot this season it should be your very first port of call. Best of all it’s a BS-free zone. To check it out click here.

MOST GOBSMACKINGLY DESIRABLE THING  – Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino Collection

When I first clapped eyes on Tom Ford’s Neroil Portofino Collection in its entirety I had a glimpse into how Howard Carter must have felt when he first peered into Tutankhamun’s tomb. Revealed to me in Claridges by the PR, the range, when seen in its entirely, is gobsmackingly lovely.  It costs over £500 – well out of the reach of most of us – but thankfully we can all buy into a small piece of its delicious luxury. Oh and it smells bloody fantastic too.

BEST NEW MASS MARKET SKINCARE PRODUCT FOR MEN WITH BEARDS OR STUBBLE – Nivea For Men Sensitive Hydro Gel

Okay, so it’s quite a specialised award buy hey, it’s my blog so I can do what I like. This inexpensive non-stick moisturiser (for want of a better description) is just brilliant for beards. Why? Because it’s lightweight and hydrating but doesn’t make your facial fur all sticky like some things can. It’s also great for preventing beard dandruff so for that reason alone I am giving it a much-deserved award.

Best Home Fragrance – Jonathan Ward Russia Collection

I’ve been on something of a mission this year to get men to invest in scented candles for their homes. There’s nothing girly about it. Scented candles rock. As does having a house or flat that doesn’t smell of last night’s curry. Jonathan Ward’s Russia Collection, launched late this year, impressed me for being decidedly man-friendly, delightfully complex, beautifully conceived and reasonably priced to boot. Besides, two wicks are always better than one in my book.

John Barrowman’s new skincare range HIM is so good it might even turn Davros into ‘Fabros’!

As someone who writes about male grooming for a living I attend scores of launches every year. I’m used to the flannel, the endless hyperbole and the daft presentations. I’m also used to the celebrity meet ‘n’ greet, especially since so many brands now feel obliged to slap a famous face to their products to grab attention (witness L’Oreal’s endless conveyor belt of stars).

To be honest, I decline quiet a few invites simply because I’ve no interest in seeing an ill-informed celebrity trotted out like a prize bull at a country fair. They can be fun though. I remember once asking a famous but badly briefed sportsman, who was fronting a premium skincare range, what his favourite product was. Looking, not so much like a rabbit caught in the headlights but one that had already collided with the car, he admitted he didn’t actually use them! Then there was the actor flown over to the UK from the States to talk about a self-tanner when he clearly didn’t have the faintest idea what it was for, how it worked or (and I charitably put this down to jetlag) what day of the week it was.

With Mr B. He taught me a few tricks about how to pose for the camera - sadly, after this pic was taken!

Receiving an invite for the launch of John Barrowman’s first foray into skincare with HIM  – a range of grooming products for men exclusive to QVC – was a bit different though. For starters – and I’ll hold up my hands here – I’m a huge Doctor Who and Torchwood fan. But I was also fascinated to meet someone about whom I’d heard so much and, if I’m honest, dying to test his integrity a little in terms of the brand he’s putting his name too.

First off, if you’re wondering what he’s like in real life, the stories are true. He’s effortlessly charming, gracious and attractive but, yes, ridiculously extrovert, raucous and saucy too. He’s also positively naughty  – a quality rare and rather captivating in an adult. He spontaneously mounts the table we’re seated at, ending up on all fours in the process, just to shake the hand of a female journalist seated in the corner, for example.

As it turns out I needn’t have worried about the ‘integrity question’ (during the course of the Q&A session it emerges he clearly knows his stuff, has an obvious passion for skincare and understands exactly what makes men tick) but what’s revealing (and reassuring) is a comment he makes in reference to his cheeky, nudge-nudge-wink-wink personality. “I don’t change for anyone,” he says forcefully. It’s a statement that always gets bonus points from me, regardless of who says it.

So, given this is a range by John Barrowman, why isn’t his face and name not in the ad campaign (shot, incidentally, by supermodel-turned-superphotographer Helena Christensen) or on the range itself? “I didn’t want HIM to be about me but about the products,” he says without hesitation.  He also wanted it to be driven by simplicity and functionality. “I’ve always been an advocate of simple skincare because I need to get out quickly in the morning. So it’s into the shower, cleanse, shave (while my skin still wet), moisturise, eye cream and ‘Bob’s your uncle’ – I’m outta the door!’

Certainly, his experience as an actor has influenced both the ingredients and the range as a whole. “I have really sensitive skin which is difficult given all the make-up and prosthetics I’ve had to wear for things like Torchwood and Doctor Who,” he says. “I’m even sensitive to people touching it so it was important to me that the products were hypo-allergenic, suitable for sensitive skin and were free of alcohol.”

Nor did he want the range to be highly fragranced. “I don’t actually wear fragrance myself, partly because of the alcohol, which can irritate my skin, but I didn’t want the products to smell flowery either,” he says. ”Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind fragrance on other people but just don’t like it on myself.”

And the products themselves? Well, I’ve reviewed them in more detail individually below, but the range will initially launch as a specially created five-piece taster collection, retailing on QVC for £19.99, with full-sized products available later. Housed in a handy washbag (I’d suggest keeping a set a home and one in your gym bag or office drawer so you’re never without) it shrewdly features five skincare essentials that create a complete grooming regime. The quality is excellent, but then the range was created by the people who gave us premium haircare brand Ojon – a beauty editor favourite and a brand known for its carefully considered products and top-notch ingredients.

The potential of HIM is obvious, so much so that more products are already in the pipeline and you can bet that they’ll also have John’s singular aim as their focus. “HIM is there to make you look and feel better,” he says. “I want all the men out there to be walking around looking fantastic!’ So confident is he that the range will deliver on this objective that he reckons the range could even do wonders for Doctor Who’s fugliest-looking nemesis. “Davros would be Fabros if he used these products!” he says with a huge laugh. Let’s hope the Dalek creator is listening.

 

The lowdown the HIM skincare collection:

Daily Face Wash: The bedrock of any grooming routine, a good cleanser is essential for healthy-looking skin. “Make-up artists always ask me whether I’ve cleansed my skin before applying anything so I’m really conscious about the importance of cleansing,” says John. Designed to be low-foaming (froth does always equal efficacy) and packed full of natural plant oils to prevent dryness it’s perfect for removing grease and grime without leaving skin tight as a drum.

Shaving Cream: Like John, I’m a big fan of shaving creams over foams and gels (which can be drying and irritating) so it’s great to see a nourishing cream at the heart of the collection. Alcohol-free to prevent the skin drying out or becoming irritated and enriched with Shea Butter and Jojoba oil, this one provides the perfect cushion for the daily shave. 97.5% of its ingredients are derived from plants too.

Anti-Bacterial Aftershave balm: Another alcohol-free product, this quickly-absorbed cream is much more than your average aftershave balm. As well as calming razor burn and protecting post-shave skin, it also contains Gymnema Sylvestre – a plant extract that slows hair growth and, over time, makes hairs finer making shaving less arduous. Cleverly, there are also ingredients in there to minimise oil production, reduce more size and prevent spots. “It’s also a great product to help prevent those annoying ingrown hairs,” says John.

Daily Face Moisturiser: A triple action daily moisturiser (it’s designed to hydrate, refresh and protect) this lightweight skin-saver is everything you want from a good moisturiser – easily absorbed, non-greasy and instantly hydrating.

Revive and Refresh Eye Roll On: John’s favourite product from the range (and mine too), this lightweight gel is packed full of beneficial botanicals like Calendula, Aloe and Edelweiss extract to minimise dark circles, fine line and reduce puffiness. Its cooling roller-ball delivery system makes it a cinch to use and brilliant for tackling those eye bags, especially if you chill it in the fridge or on a windowsill before use. “Along with a bacon sandwich it’s the best cure for a hangover!” says John.

To see John introducing the new range tune into QVC at 9am on Monday 12th September.

QVC is available on Freeview channel 16. Sky digital channel 640, Virgin TV channel 740 and Freesat channel 800.