Saving Face When You’re Lazy

I really wanted to title this post “It Rubs the Lotion On Its Skin”. Fortunately, my grown-up side prevailed.

This week, we’re working with a beauty book, something I have generally pooh-poohed. I consider myself too smart to get sucked into the vortex created by the yearly avalanche of books that North Americans are subjected to on how to be younger, thinner, more beautiful … and blah, blah, blah.

And Yet …
And yet, Dr. Harold Lancer’s book “Younger” intrigued me enough to make me open it up, and then check it out of my home library. Contrary to my pompous stereotyping, this is a thoughtful, intelligent how-to manual for taking good care of your own skin, written by a man who has spent his entire professional career taking care of other people’s skin. He starts the book by explaining the biology — how skin works and what happens when we start to age. From there, he moves on to a technique he calls the Lancer Method.

Here’s What You Do
The Lancer Method is composed of two simple three-step regimens:

In the morning, you:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Moisturize
  3. Protect

In the evening, you:

  1. Exfoliate
  2. Cleanse
  3. Moisturize

The Method applies to all types and ethnicities of skin, and there are some variants for those with acne, rosacea and sensitive skin. There’s also instructions on technique and product recommendations in three economic categories: luxury, moderate and affordable. In short, the Lancer Method is one of those concepts that is so well-designed and flexible that it makes my geeky little heart sing.

Dashing Off to the Cosmetics Counter
I was excited to start using the Lancer Method, so I went out to buy products before I’d even finished reading the book. Here’s where I ran into my first hitch. Beauty products change and evolve rapidly, and even though “Younger” was published in 2014, I couldn’t find the L’Oreal exfoliator and cleanser that Dr. Lancer recommended. I made some educated guesses and got to work.

As I read further, I came to the section on sensitive skin. In the lists of recommendations, I discovered some Aveeno products that were much easier to find and relatively inexpensive. Here’s what I’m currently using:

Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening
Daily Scrub
$8.89 inc tax
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Foaming Cleanser $8.89 inc tax
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer
Broad Spectrum SPF 15
$20.97 inc tax
TOTAL $38.75

It takes about 10 minutes at night, and less in the morning. I should also mention that the Lancer Method subscribes to the European definition of “face”, which means that your face extends from your hairline to just above your bra line.

Meet my comrades in the War on Wrinkles

Meet my comrades in the War on Wrinkles

Does it Work?
I’m going to give you a cautious “yes”. To my amazement, I think it does work. It took about three weeks, but I noticed a difference first on my chest.

There’s a triangular patch of skin that extends from the collarbone to just above the cleavage, and since this area gets a ton of sun exposure, it also gets a little leathery when we age. This was just starting to happen on my own chest. But about three weeks in, I took a look in the mirror one morning and thought “Hey! Wait a minute. I’m smooth again!” With the Terrible Triangle taken care of, I’ve now focused my attention on my neck.

I started this experiment with a pretty mixed bag of genetic and lifestyle factors. I’m blessed to come from a family who tend to look younger than the years listed on their passports, and my oily skin takes longer to age. Since I’m of Anglo Saxon descent, however, I’m very fair and have had crows feet under my eyes since my 30’s. And my sloppy approach to skin care eventually tipped the scales in the wrong direction. The Lancer Method seems to have worked well for me so far, and I think it will most likely work for other people.

Two Small Wrinkles
The Aveeno moisturizer is — oddly — pretty heavily scented. It’s really irritating to use anywhere near my eyes. Aveeno also makes an SPF 30 version of this product, which I’ll test-drive when the SPF 15 runs out, and see if it’s any less smelly.

The other concern I have is the environmental impact of the microbeads found in the exfoliating product. Governments in Europe are moving to ban microbeads, and the Canadian government isn’t far behind. If you’re willing to spend some time creating your own exfoliating products, there’s a natural alternative available, which is made from 100% biodegradable jojoba oil.

Here’s the skinny on Dr. Lancer’s book:

Written by Harold Lancer, MD
Published by Grand Central Life & Style
Released Feb 4 2014
ISBN 1455548901

Show Me the Money
My total investment in Aveeno products came to $38.75, and my best estimate is they will last an average of three months. That works out to $12.92 per month, which I see as a very reasonable price to pay for skin care that appears to be effective.

The book “Younger” works out to an average of $22.49, which is money I saved by taking it out of the library. (Almost enough for two months of Aveeno products!)

That’s a Wrap
Tune in next time, when we investigate “One Drawing A Day”, a six-week course in creativity, all contained within 128 pages of a book. Until then, thank you — as always — for reading this post and happy exfoliating!

Here Comes the Sun(screen) — a mini-post

The finished product

The finished product

Hello! And welcome to my first mini-post.

Saying No to Chemicals
If you’ve been reading for awhile, you’ll know that I spent some of the summer experimenting with homemade cosmetics. A reader named Goldie wrote in and asked if I had any recipes for sunscreens, particularly ones that were baby-friendly, as the chemicals in commercial sunscreens are not necessarily what you want to be slathering all over little people. (I totally agree.)

And Here’s a Recipe
Goldie pointed me in the direction of Wellness Mama’s blog. My own resources had a recipe for sunscreen, but nothing that sounded as effective (or safe) as what Wellness Mama had whipped up, which has a natural SPF factor of about 20. Of course, I had to give it a try. The recipe had ingredients I was already familiar with, plus non-nano zinc oxide. (“Non-nano” simply means that the particles aren’t so finely ground up that they might be absorbed into your system through your skin.)

It knocked together very quickly — about 35 minutes start to finish. Using essential oils, I gave it a very light scent of lavender, reasoning that this would probably be baby-safe. Half of Wellness Mama’s recipe nicely filled three 1 oz. jars, which were out the door that same afternoon. I gave two to testers and tried one out on myself.

How Dedicated am I to Research?
Now, given that I burn easily, I have to admit that I had some concerns about experimenting on myself (or anyone else) with sunscreen. I mean, if a cake recipe doesn’t work, there’s some ingredients wasted and a few dishes to do. But if the sunscreen didn’t work, I was in for some skin damage and a few days of annoyance. I applied a healthy dose and re-applied often.

My other misgiving was that the zinc oxide would turn white on my skin. I was willing to sit in the privacy of my backyard looking like a ghost, but not in public. Happily, that was not the case. The sunscreen seems to sink in and leave only a slight sheen.

But It Works!
And … I can say with relative confidence that this sunscreen works. Several tests on late-summer hot days were positive. No sunburn and nice soft skin to boot.

There’s More
Now that summer is well past us, the sunscreen doubles as a very effective moisturizing body cream. Since this particular recipe has a shelf life of about six months, you can simply segue out of suncare and get a jump on the dry skin that happens in the fall and winter. I LOVE it when a product is this useful. No waste at all.

Dollars and Cents
As to the dollars and cents, it works out to $1.61 for a 1 oz. jar. By my reckoning, I would use up two or three jars in an active summer. Sunscreens come in a  very wide range of formulations and prices, so it’s difficult to do a comparison, but I’d say that an annual cost of $4.83 is quite a bit less than what I’ve paid for sunscreen for many years.

And that’s it! Thank you to Goldie for her question and see you again soon!


Can’t Read My Poker Face: DIY Face Cream

Raw ingredients and the finished product

Raw ingredients
and the finished product

Hey there! It’s Week 22 here at Library Life Hack. This is the final installment in our three-part series on homemade cosmetics, but I have to tell you that I’ve been inspired enough to order the ingredients to try out homemade sunscreen and lipstick too. If they work out, I’ll post the news in the Check-Back section.

Going for Broke
This week we’re going all-out and making face cream. Once again, our resource is Stephanie Tourles’ excellent book “Organic Body Care Recipes”. The recipe we used is Rich and Royal Regeneration Flower Cream and it’s found on page 198. There are plenty of ingredient options, but my version contained these:

  • almond oil
  • rose hip seed oil
  • beeswax
  • rose hydrosol
  • lavender essential oil
  • rose geranium essential oil*
  • ylang ylang essential oil

*On the advice of Sedona Aromatherapie’s blog, I substituted rose geranium oil for the very expensive neroli oil the recipe calls for.

This recipe was the only face cream that didn’t require a blender, but there is a fair bit of stirring involved, so that the ingredients bind as they cool. It took about 30 minutes to make up, and then it set for a few hours.

Transported Directly to France
Words fail to describe how fantastic this stuff smells. The rose is very pronounced, but the other florals make a great patchwork of scents in the background. I think this is what it would be like to run through a summer field in southern France. With flowers exploding in bloom all around you. And perhaps a nice man chasing behind you, lugging a picnic basket loaded with croissants, goat cheese and wine. But I digress.

Smells Great, But Does It Work?
Like the body oil we made last time, a little goes a long way. I liked the texture and it left my skin quite soft. My only (minor) complaint was that it never seemed to quite sink into the skin around my eyes. I wear water-soluble mascara, and I found that this made it melt a little. (It only got really bad when I spent some time in Toronto. The combination of high humidity and face cream meant that I came home from an afternoon outing looking like an old-enough-to-know-better version of Avril Lavigne. Oops.)

I also gave some to my co-workers to try out. Here’s one of the reviews:

I found the texture of this face cream to be really enjoyable. It was light and fluffy instead of dense and oily. The smell was relaxing, though I would not recommend it to anyone with a sensitivity to scents as it can be overwhelming. Maybe not something to wear at work, but to use as a nighttime moisturizer. It absorbed nicely and did not leave a really greasy texture behind. I have had quite a bit of trouble with medication-induced dry skin, and this helped while not causing further skin reactions.
Overall, a very nice product, though you were right, a little goes a long way!
Is this a long enough review?

Shout Out to a Local Business
I must give a shout-out to the Sherwood Park Optimum Health store, who had rose hip seed oil in stock when Saffire Blue ran out. Their staff was really helpful, and really nice. Also, they offer fascinating workshops on homemade body care, tea crafting, soap making and more. Check out the current schedule here.

Show Me the Money
The recipe makes enough to fill two half-ounce jars. Including the reusable containers (which were 81 cents apiece), each jar of this face cream costs $3.59 and lasted for two months. Oil of Olay Classic, which is what I had been using, is $8.47 and lasts about three months. That works out to $3.32 a month vs. $1.80 a month, and in the second month, that would go down further to 99 cents if you reused the containers. In a year, you would save $18.76. Cha-ching!

And That’s a Wrap
All in all, I am super pleased with Stephanie Tourles’ book. Having had only marginal success with cosmetic recipes before, for three of them turn out this well is wonderful. I’m excited to get back into the kitchen and try out the sunscreen and lipstick. Make sure you tune in next week when we beat the heat with a batch of homemade limoncello. And until then, have a great seven days!


Slip Slidin’ Away: DIY Body Oil

News Flash!
Library Life Hack gets a brief cameo this week on Discovery Channel’s “Stuff of Genius” blog, written by Christian Sager. I’m honoured and very excited! You can find the blog post here. (And by the way, it’s an outstanding top-ten list of highly useful life hacks, all courtesy of your local library.)
A Tale of Two Moisturizers

A Tale of Two Moisturizers

Hi! It’s good to have you here at Week 21. Last week, we tried making lip balm, with the help of Stephanie Tourles’ book “Organic Body Care Recipes”. This week, we’ll take on something trickier: moisturizing body oil.

No Blender, No Cry
There are all kinds of recipes in this book for moisturizers. I combed through them, rejecting the ones that required expensive ingredients or the purchase of a blender (remember, part of the deal with life hacking is that you’re supposed to save money).

The recipe I settled on is called Sesame and Shea Buttery Body Oil and it’s found on page 219. It was simple, inexpensive – and didn’t require a blender. I also liked that it was unisex. It used sesame seed oil, shea butter and a tantalizing combination of ginger, cardamom and sweet orange essential oils.

Like the lip balm, it took only about 20 minutes to knock together. And it smelled fabulous! I kept one bottle and gave three others to dry-skinned co-workers. These are their reviews:

Thanks for letting me trial your body moisturizer.
The good news: love the oil and its lasting power, and quite liked the scent, although a bit heavy on the ginger.
The bad news: didn’t love the consistency and found the ginger was too chunky (Note: I think she actually means the shea butter, which got solid and grainy within a few days.)
I use the body oil on my hands constantly and on dry areas. It smells so nice and is very easily and quickly absorbed. It only takes a few drops for my hands so it goes a long way.
The Good – smelled really nice, and it seemed to moisturize pretty well, my skin felt quite soft a few hours later.
The maybe not so good – It was fairly solid in the bottle so I used a Q-tip to get some out. Also, it was quite greasy/oily and didn’t soak in quickly. That was a big con for me because I live with pets, so having greasy legs meant I ended up with a lot of cat hair stuck to me.

Let’s Look at Some Alternatives
The cat hair comment cracked me up, but I have to concur. As a moisturizer, it was great and left my skin really soft, but it didn’t sink in very fast. Speaking as someone who goes from sipping coffee in her housecoat to sprinting for the bus — in 45 minutes flat — I learned to put on a very small amount and really massage it in. But I needed a body oil that was quicker.

Open, Sesame!
This called for some additional research. I tried the sesame seed oil on its own, with the three essential oils blended in. On one hand, this worked great! It seemed to just melt into my skin. On the other hand, it wasn’t quite enough for dry skin like mine.

I wondered if I could blend the shea butter and sesame oil to get something that’s more like a body butter. I tried a 4:1 ratio of shea butter and oil. That’s the solid you see in the photo above. It’s very nice, and holds together well. (No separation of the oil and butter.) I think you could safely go down to a 3:2 ratio and get something a little softer yet.

The finished product still needs to be used sparingly and massaged in, but it sinks in quicker than the original version and has great staying power.

Try This At Home
I’m going to continue to experiment, but if you want to try this at home, it’s very simple:

Over moderate heat, melt 4 tablespoons of shea butter and stir in 1 tablespoon of sesame seed oil. Add your favourite essential oils, stir well and pour into a clean jar. Let it set overnight and start using it right after you shower the next morning!

As I mentioned earlier, I used a combination of cardamom, ginger and sweet orange to scent this, but I think any essential oil would smell great. (If there’s a man in your life with dry skin, I’d try cedar oil in the shea/sesame blend. I bet he’d smell super sexy. And be all moisturized to boot.)

Dollars and Cents
Including the cost of the containers, the initial recipe worked out to $1.67 per 125 ml (4.23 oz) bottle, which I thought was a good deal for a pretty effective body oil. There isn’t a way to do a valid cost comparison with a commercial product, so we won’t be adding any numbers to that “cha-ching” column on the right this week.

That’s a Wrap
That’s it for this week’s life hack. Tune in next week, when we get really fancy and tackle face cream. Thank you — as always — for reading this post and have a great week!


Hand to Mouth: DIY Lip Balm

Some well-used pots of lip balm

Some well-used pots of lip balm

Hello and welcome to Week 20! This week, we’re starting a three-part series on homemade cosmetics.

Bad, Bad, Bad
We all know that commercially-manufactured cosmetics come with a whole list of sins tied their tails: false claims, cruel animal testing, and toxic chemicals. Plus, they can be really expensive.

And Then There’s Science
In 2010, the David Suzuki Foundation conducted an online study that asked Canadians to search for twelve sets of chemicals (the Dirty Dozen) in their beauty products. The results are startling. Of the 12,500 products reported on by 6200+ participants, 80% of them contained at least one of the Dirty Dozen – chemicals that were linked environmental problems and potential health hazards, including cancer, respiratory, and reproductive issues.

If you want to check your own cosmetics, here’s a link to the Dirty Dozen pocket guide.

Can You DIY Something Like This?
So … is it possible to create your own cosmetics, have them be as effective as commercial ones, but safer and more ethical? You’re about to find out. That’s a fairly tall order, but we know that Library Life Hack likes a challenge.

Now, I’ve dabbled in this before, with not-exactly-great results. Waxy lip balm, watery hand lotion … you get the picture. But I was up for giving it another try, in the name of research.

My home library has multiple books on natural cosmetics and remedies, but the one that really caught my eye was “Organic Body Care Recipes” by Stephanie Tourles. This book is a veritable encyclopedia – almost 400 pages, jam-packed with information and recipes.

Given my past results, I was still feeling a little cautious. But, I dove in and bought enough supplies to make lip balm, body oil and face cream, from a wonderful little mail-order house in Ontario called Saffire Blue. They had reasonably-sized quantities of everything I needed, and their prices were great.

Start With the Lips
I started easy, with lip balm. There were two recipes that looked good: Honey Fruit-Flavored Lip Balm on page 215 (which I gave a lemon flavour to), and Vanilla Velvet Honey Lip Balm (page 216). Each used only four ingredients (almond oil, beeswax, honey and flavouring) and they sounded simple to make.

All in all, it took about 20 minutes to whip up each batch. You need to stir the lip balm as it cools so that the ingredients bind together. Knowing when to stop stirring and start filling containers takes a little bit of practice. (You’ll notice some comments about graininess in the reviews.) For filling the jars cleanly, I found that an icing bag was the perfect tool.

I ended up with eleven jars. I gave one to my sister, kept two to try out myself and took the rest to work and recruited volunteer testers.

How Did It Turn Out?
I’ve been a diehard Blistex user for two decades, so this lip balm was going to have to be pretty great.

I liked the lemon version and — to my honest amazement — I think the vanilla works better than Blistex. Given that it’s a very simple product, I don’t really understand why, but it seems to be totally effective. My only gripe? Because it has honey in it, you have this sticky finger situation after you’ve put the lip balm on. And the vanilla recipe seemed to separate a little, but I think that could be fixed with a longer binding time.

Here are some of the reviews from my co-workers:

I quite like the lip balm. The top bits are a little grainy but underneath it is smooth. I like the light taste of it. Effectiveness? As good as other balms and maybe better than others. Some balms even seem to dry my lips rather than moisten them but this one is good. My sisters liked it, too.
My lip balm is scented and creamy smooth. It smells lovely and stays on the lips longer than my commercial brand. It moisturizes my lips nicely. It has a long lasting taste of cotton candy. The taste is the only drawback for me as cotton candy would not be my flavour of choice.
The lemon works great! Smells nice. It’s slightly grainy but not too bad. It’s better than many products on the shelves but not as good as my buffalo tallow lip balm. Thanks for letting me try it!
The lip balm is delicious in smell and taste – it goes on easily and is not sticky. I have to make sure I don’t eat it all.
My first impression was that it was too greasy but I thought I would give it a day or two and now I quite like the lemon lip balm. You need very little so it lasts. The scent is very light but you can certainly smell lemons – I like that! I even left it in my car in the sun for a couple of hours and it didn’t melt.
The organic lemon lip balm you gave me lives on my night stand and I faithfully apply it before bed each night. And voila, no more dry, chapped lips. The scent is light, which is a plus.

Dollars and Cents
7 pots of lemon lip balm cost $6.04 total, or $.86 each, including the containers. 4 pots of the vanilla version worked out to $5.01 total, or $1.25 each. By comparison, Blistex is $3.29 a tube at Wal-Mart. That means that the vanilla recipe is a savings of $2.04 per pot (or 263%), and the lemon is a savings of $2.43 per pot (or 383%). Based on a purchase of 11 tubes of Blistex, the homemade lip balms would save you $25.14.

The book averages out to $17.00 between and That makes this week’s life hack worth a total of $42.14. Cha-ching!

Here’s the lowdown on our feature book:

Organic Body Care Recipes:
175 Homemade Herbal Formulas for Glowing Skin & a Vibrant Self
Written by Stephanie Tourles
Published by Storey Publishing, LLC
Released May 30 2007
ISBN 1580176763

So … let’s call Experiment #1 a success. Next week, we’re going to get a little more adventurous, with body oil. In the meantime, have any of you out there tried making your own cosmetics? What were your results? Post a comment or drop me a line at librarylifehack [at] Make sure you tune in for Part Deux and have a great week!


“… sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care…”

Hello and welcome to Library Life Hack, the Week 8 edition. This post borrows its title from Act 2 of “Macbeth”, Shakespeare’s creepiest play. Today, we’re entering the world of extreme knitting. Can an inexperienced knitter turn out a good-looking sweater in a weekend? You’re about to find out.

Don’t Know Much
I learned to knit as a child and picked up the sticks again briefly in my 20’s. But when I sat down to tackle this project, I hadn’t knit anything since 1986. Luckily, my home library was full of books for novice knitters. I found a cute funnel-neck sweater pattern in “The Yarn Girls Guide to Simple Knits”. It fit the life hack bill: practical, didn’t look like a box made of yarn and I thought I could complete it in a weekend without intervention from someone craftier than myself.

A Yarn About Yarn
Finding yarn turned out to be trickier. I wanted something that was at least 50% natural fiber, would look good, and hopefully wouldn’t cost more than buying a sweater at retail. I hit River City Yarns, where I got an education in working with gauges and understanding yarn terminology. What I didn’t get was yarn. They just didn’t have much selection in the “bulky” I was apparently looking for.

The next day I stumbled onto, a Washington-based yarn seller. I was overjoyed to discover their bulky “Wool of the Andes”, a 100% Peruvian Highland wool and available in a rainbow of colors. Enough yarn to complete this project plus shipping set me back only $42.73 US ($43.93 CDN).

The Adventure Begins …
Friday night rolled around and it was time to start my knitting engines. The project began with a test swatch to make sure I had the gauge right. (Every knitting pattern and every ball of yarn in the world will give you a gauge that reads something like “X number of stitches to a 4-inch swatch, when knit on X size needles”.) “The Yarn Girls Guide to Simple Knits” stresses the absolute importance of testing the gauge, and as it turned out, my first set of needles was actually a little too small. I got larger needles and tried again. This time, the swatch was perfect.

I cast on and started knitting! And about an inch in … I decided that I didn’t really like the way the cast-on edge looked. (I’d followed the book’s instructions instead of using the method I already knew.) So, I called it a day and started from scratch again Saturday morning. This time, things went very well.

I took a break in the early afternoon for a dental appointment to patch up a tooth I’d broken earlier in the week. Things started to go a little off track at this point. My appointment turned into a surprise round of dental surgery when the tooth in question blew apart during patching and needed to be extracted. I valiantly resumed knitting in the evening. But I’d definitely lost a little bit of momentum.

Sunday, I started again, buoyed up by Tylenol and some very funny episodes of “The Vicar of Dibley” on DVD. (I do think that a knitting project is helped immensely by the right playlist of movies and TV shows.) I knit through the afternoon and into the evening. Now, normally, Sunday night marks the end of a weekend. So right about now, you’re probably wondering “Did she get finished? Was she able to knit a good-looking sweater in a weekend?”

The Answer Is …
The answer is yes … and no. As of right now — Tuesday night — I’ve finished the back of the sweater and about 4” of the front. Once that’s done, there are still sleeves to knit. I’ve invested exactly 14 hours and 21 minutes and I think there’s at least that much to go. My best guess is that it would take someone of my skills (and level of fussiness) about 37 hours to knit and assemble this sweater. To build that much knitting into a single weekend, a person would have to be a complete maniac. (And risk ending up like Lady Macbeth — totally bonkers.)

Ah, but I also answered “yes”. Remember, there were two parameters here. The first one was “good-looking”. And the finished part of this project thrills me! I love the way this wool knits up. The stitches look so even and lovely. It’s beautiful, and I can’t wait to have the sweater done and wearable.

And In Conclusion …
To conclude: no, a novice cannot knit this particular sweater in a weekend. But (and this is the joyful part) YES, armed with a good pattern and the right wool, a novice can indeed make a sweater that looks great. Even if one of her teeth blew up in the middle of the project.

This Week’s Book
Here’s the knitty gritty details on the book I used:

The Yarn Girls Guide to Simple Knits
Written by Julie Carles and Jordana Jacobs
Published by Potter Craft
Released Sept17, 2002
ISBN 0609608800

Now, The Numbers
“The Yarn Girls Guide” sells for $28.35 on and $24.99 on That’s an average of $26.67 saved by borrowing the book. Do you save money by making your own sweaters? That’s debatable. Certainly, I considered $43.93 a bargain for a pure wool sweater. But how much value do I place on the time? If I were to only wear sweaters that I had knit myself, I don’t think there’d be very many of them in my wardrobe. But as an experiment, this has been kind of fun so far.

Have you got a good knitting story to share? Leave a comment or drop me a line at LibraryLifeHack [at]

That’s it for this week. The next life hack we’re going to tackle is beef jerky, in response to a request from reader Stackë Peaumonde. I’ll leave you with a quote from British knitting revolutionary Elizabeth Zimmermann:

“Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and slightly below-average intelligence. Of course, superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage.”

Have yourself a fabulous week!