The Austin Chronicle

Now You're Cooking With Gastronomy: 'Return to Beauty' by Narine Nikogosian

By Sarah Jean Billeiter, November 3, 2009, 12:33pm, Chronique

"Because you have sensitive teeth, Capricorn, this mask is a must for you. It will keep your teeth and gums shiny and healthy!"

Wait. This is confusing. Teeth and gums? As in, this mush of lemon juice, baking soda, and bread crumbs is meant to be smeared over my teeth, and it has to sit for 10 minutes? Yeah, okay, I'm calling my dentist.

Waiting for Dr. Yarborough to return my call and explain to me why this Tender Tooth Mask is beneficial, I check out the section in Narine Nikogosian's Return to Beauty: Old World Recipes for Great Radiant Skin for my own sun sign: Aquarius. The list of beauty traits for Aquarians includes "well-shaped legs and slender ankles." Well isn't that a slap in the face? Because, according to the list of trouble areas for Aquarians, I have poor circulation and some unexplained problem with my calves, ankles, and lower legs. Perhaps the poor circulation affects the ankles and lower legs. Perhaps that's why, in my early 20s, I get the swollen ankles of a geriatric and can't even imagine how beautiful I would be with "slender ankles." Thanks, Narine; thanks for thumping my bruised ego with your contradictory assertions.

Clearly, there's skepticism here. I appreciate that Nikogosian, a professional aesthetician, has written a book of natural alternatives to the toxic cosmetic slurries we expose ourselves to every day. But I'm immediately turned off by the book's ridiculous zodiac section (Libra: "Enchanting men is your art form. You move like a prima ballerina through their lives."); the inclusion of treatments that scream 1950s middle America ("D├ęcolletage mask," anyone?); a recurring address of the hetero female so overt that it annoys even me, a hetero female; and the completely erroneous belief that 1 cup of cottage cheese and 2 tablespoons of pineapple provide a hearty enough breakfast to curb my Aquarian snacking.

After getting riled up, it was a little disappointing to find that Nikogosian's recipes, when cherry-picked to avoid oral treatments and the application of lemon to dry skin, are actually quite effective. Outside of the zodiac section, the book is conveniently divided and subdivided by seasons and skin types. I wrangled a normal-to-oily friend, and we tried recipes for cleansers, masks, and moisturizers in the autumn section for her skin type and for mine, normal-to-dry.

The Almond Cool and Revitalizing Kiwi cleansers left our skin impressively clean and smooth for simple concoctions of fruit and milk. The Miracle Parsley Honey and Simply Strawberries masks moisturized and softened without leaving sticky residue, which again impressed considering we'd just smeared honey, egg, and strawberry on our faces. The real test was the moisturizers. Many of Nikogosian's moisturizers call for a warm rinse after application, which strikes me as counterproductive since warm water drains skin of moisture. For this reason, and because we were curious to experiment with actually leaving food on our faces, we chose moisturizers that do not call for rinsing. Surprisingly, the Lemony Sweet and Carrot Protector moisturizers did not leave our faces overly oiled or orange-tinted. Both concoctions were too chunky to leave on the face, though, so bits of carrot and lemon had to be brushed away with dry towels.

Nikogosian suggests her recipes be used as part of a daily routine. I support this suggestion only if you have a live-in maid to prep the treatments for you. The recipes are certainly effective, but they can't be stored well because they're all made of fresh foods. And annoying as it would be to go through the steps to create these products every day, the problem is compounded by the fact that many of these single-use recipes are too small for a blender or food processor to mix well, so the prep time increases as the maker has to chop, mash, and mix by hand more than the book implies. Of course, if you have a juicer/food processor combo, even though Nikogosian doesn't suggest one, I'm pretty sure you're golden.

If you're a working guy or gal who wants a guide to daily use of homemade skin-treatment products, Return to Beauty may not be for you. If you have servants or are looking for once- or twice-a-week treatments to pamper yourself with, go wild; Nikogosian's "Old World" recipes have withstood the tests of time and modern cynicism.

n.b. The dentist never called back, and I don't think my landlord is going to appreciate the cucumber and carrots in my bathroom sink drain.

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