It's that's time of year when we're beginning to feel the after-effects of Christmas excesses and it's showing on us – inside and out. Too much rich food, alcohol, the pressures of the Christmas rush, and even the odd family-related tension, can build up levels of toxicity we're not used to coping with.
Everyone knows the basic rules of detoxing: plenty of water, lots of fruit and vegetables, a good walk and less red meat, chocolate and alcohol, but we sometimes need a little extra help to feel reinvigorated. We asked three experts to give their advice for the ultimate New Year detox: award-winning beauty therapist Margaret Morgan, iridologist and herbalist Joan Howard and holistic health practitioner Ruth Pringle.
The beauty expert
Margaret Morgan runs Complexions beauty salon on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, which specialises in hi-tech treatments by the leading French skincare brands
Q Margaret, what's the most common damage to the skin that you see after Christmas?
A Many of us tend to drink a little more than usual over Christmas and alcohol causes the facial blood vessels to dilate. Repeated over-indulgence can cause the vessels to dilate permanently, causing red spidery veins. This can also worsen pre-existing flare ups like rosacea and psoriasis, as well as drying out your skin, making it appear lifeless.
A good quality moisturiser will keep the harsh conditions from attacking your skin and lock in moisture. You also need to catch up on beauty sleep to get rid of dark circles under the eyes, drink lots of water, eat foods rich in antioxidants and embark on a good skincare routine.
Q What can we do to repair our dull post-Christmas complexions?
A Try a few facials to see which type works best for you. Microdermabrasion is brilliant for smoothing out the skin surface, and great for uneven skin tone and helping to reduce pigmentation. By using tiny rough grains to buff away the surface layer, the skin is left soft, uneven skin tone becomes brighter and scar tissue less noticeable.
The Clarins Tri-Active Facial is great for cleansing congested pores and helps to balance oily skin. Guinot Hydradermie uses double ionisation – mild electrical impulses – to help balance skin and help with uneven skin tone and congested areas.
A simple but effective skin care routine, exfoliating your skin weekly and using a good quality mask to draw out impurities will keep blocked pores and congested areas at bay.
Q If Christmas party make-up and excess have resulted in congested skin, is it okay to squeeze any blackheads?
A There is no right or wrong answer to this but there are lots of products on the market to help draw out blocked pores. Clarins minimising pore serum is great if used regularly.
Over-squeezing the skin can lead to broken capillaries and – if using bare finger tips – can lead to infecting other areas of your skin.
Q What are the best beauty treatments for puffiness and detoxing the lymph glands in the face?
A Lots of facial treatments can help increase the circulation, promoting healthier skin. Try a facial that includes a manual massage, which aids better lymphatic draining around the eye area, helping to reduce puffiness and dark circles.
Q Can you recommend any home remedies for post-Christmas baggy eyes?
A Eye puffiness is a build up of fluids in the tissues around your eye area, and like other types of swelling it can be reduced with the application of a cool compress. Cool cucumber or damp teabags should be applied to your eyes for 15 minutes. Crushed mint leaves will also help soothe redness. Drink plenty of water, as puffiness can also be a sign of dehydration.
Q Any tips for the most effective anti-ageing skincare regime for 2014?
A I love Clarins Double Serum, one of the most talked about beauty products in 2013. It contains 20 plant extracts that target all aspects of skin ageing. It's also crucial to cleanse your skin well; we use the Clairsonic cleansing brush in Complexions. Always use a good quality moisturiser preferably with an SPF. Book regular facials – every four to six weeks – to help maintain hydration.
Q Are there any exiting new products and treatments to look out for in 2014?
A There is a lot of hype surrounding laser treatments to help rid the skin of cellulite and firm and tone the contours of your face. There's also everything from micro lifts to non-surgical face treatments to live snails on your face!
But I still firmly believe in having your skin analysed correctly so you use products and facial treatments specifically to suit your skin type and age. A good healthy diet, a good night's sleep when we can and a straightforward skin-care routine that isn't packed with oodles of products that we're never going to use, will help keep our skin looking its best.
The herbalist: the eyes have it
Joan Howard is a master herbalist and iridologist based in Newcastle. The former horticulturalist uses common hedge herbs to treat symptoms of minor ailments. According to iridology, nutritional patterns, mental and emotional states record themselves in the iris and as each part of the body is related to a section of the iris, Joan can pinpoint imbalances from an in-depth analysis of the eyes
Q Joan, which are the biggest toxic Christmas culprits?
A Sugar and stress overload have the biggest effects on the system. Unfortunately we forget that Christmas or Yule was supposed to be a time of breaking up the winter darkness and austerity, and allowing in the light in anticipation of spring and regrowth. In today's society we have plenty to eat the entire year round, so we don't experience that period of hardship but we still want to feast, and feel obligated to do so.
Given the fact that much of our food now is laden with extra sugar and additives, it's no surprise that we experience sugar highs and lows, both physically and emotionally after Christmas. I don't think you can separate the physical from the emotional. People are under enormous pressure at Christmas and often are coping with loneliness, grief, illness or hardship.
By overindulging we overload the digestive system and we become sluggish, lethargic and often constipated.
Q How can iridology help in detoxification?
A In the iris, colour, markings and overlays are all indicators of a person's constitution and predisposition to certain types of conditions and also to the make-up of that person. It is not a diagnostic tool but rather an indicator to what tendencies that person may have to certain conditions and what dietary errors they may be vulnerable to. The segments of the iris relate to the organ systems in the body, the same way the feet in reflexology relate to the organ systems.
On several occasions I have noticed a particular marking in the eye and the person has told me the same area was picked up on when they had a reflexology treatment. The iris picture tells a story both physically and emotionally. For example, I have a client who had broken his shoulder – he had iris markings in the clavicle region in both eyes.
Iridology is not an exact science and I cannot tell what conditions a person has but I can get an indication of what that person has a susceptibility to and I base my herbal formulas on that.
Q What's the best way to detox the digestive system after Christmas excess?
A Fasting and giving the digestive system a chance to eliminate and rest. I recommend vegetable juice fasting, as this gives the body live nutrients and enzymes from the vegetables and allows the body to balance. It is a great way to settle blood sugars and cravings and helps the body to eliminate all the toxins.
I'd also recommend a bowel cleansing powder, and liver and kidney herbs that support the organ systems. The herbs are based upon the iris picture of that person, so all the formulas are personal.
Q How can we keep our toxicity levels down in 2014?
A We must be mindful of what we are putting into our bodies. I would recommend that the majority of our foods and nutrition be plant-based and, if possible, organic. If you have to consume animal protein, then try and have it organic. Grow your own veg if possible or buy fresh local produce grown in this country. Water is very important in keeping the body hydrated and we should all drink more. Juicing is a great way to get a lot of fresh nutrients quickly and for maintaining blood sugar levels. Herbs are wonderful for eliminating toxins, healing the body and giving a general feeling of well-being.
Q What are your tops tips for better health throughout the new year?
A Reduce processed foods and sugar, and eat more fruit and veg. Drink herbal teas and water. Find your passion in life and try and pursue it. Get out in nature and connect. And develop the habit of gratitude and kindness – that's just as important.
Reiki: for mind, body and soul
Ruth Pringle, from Helen's Bay, is a holistic therapist who is in demand for her weight-loss and anti-smoking therapies, particularly around the New Year, at her home and Belfast practices. The former PR expert is also a hypnotherapist and regression therapist, Reiki & Seichim Master Teacher. She runs regular Mind-Body-Soul workshops, and offers one-to-one consultations, in person, by phone or on Skype
Q Ruth, how can our minds and souls – never mind our bodies – become toxic with Christmas excesses?
A Excesses can affect us at any time of the year, but Christmas is traditionally the time we associate with over-indulging. If you think of excesses as imbalances then you can see that anything that affects our energy negatively is going to make us feel out of whack.
Imbalances can be detected by toxic thoughts and feelings. These deplete our energy. At Christmas many of us can identify with this, such as feeling we haven't prepared enough, bought enough and so on. Any imbalances can be felt physically (headache, aching back and so on), mentally or emotionally.
Q What can we do to detox and give our New Year resolutions a kick-start?
A Christmas or any time when you're rushing around with work and so on can give the opportunity to flag up areas that need restored back into balance. For example, as soon as the holidays start, do you find you get a cold or flu? I see this a lot with clients. It's like your body is running on overdrive and as soon as you have a break, then you literally break down physically. This means that you are doing too much or there's too much mental pressure.
The key to detoxing or restoring equilibrium is just to start – and be realistic. A punishing bootcamp style is likely not to be maintained for very long. From a holistic point of view you could go for a session of reiki (energy) healing, get your chakras balanced and restore balance that way. Or if there's an area that you are ready to change, such as smoking or creating healthy eating habits, then programmes such as my smoking cessation hypnosis or my hypno-gastric band have proved amazingly effective for so many people.
Many of my clients find this is a great way to set them on the right track. Also, on this note, I'm running a New Year workshop that's going to help in this area. It's called New Year Liberation. Instead of resolutions, I've put together a really enjoyable, practical and relaxing way to achieve what you want.
So, rather than punishing resolutions that you know you're not going to keep, we're going deeper, to make lasting changes. I love working with groups in this way. We do meditations and I show everyone therapeutic techniques that I've developed in my private practice with clients. It's a great way to put you back in control.
Q What's the best way to de-clutter an overloaded mind for the New Year?
A There are lots of energy therapies that can do this, such as meditation, Reiki or crystal therapy. And this is something I teach regularly at workshops, showing people how to feel better, how they are in control and they don't have to be victim to their feelings, emotions or thoughts.
A simple technique you can try now is to close your eyes and imagine a bubble of pure white light all around you. Imagine and feel this light is cascading down around you, like a waterfall, and washing away any stress or tension. Continue until you start to feel lighter and more balanced. To finish, seal the white light bubble around you with a protective seal. This can be another colour, like a force field that protects you and keeps negativity away.
Q What are your tips for dealing with stress?
A Stress is the number one culprit for imbalances in the energy field. You can experience stress mildly such as a headache or exhaustion, or it can present much more serious symptoms. Everyone is well aware of the impact of stress now, but we often continue to let it rule our lives.
I work with a lot of professional and community groups and individuals to provide clear, easy and understandable ways to turn the stress around. There are so many ways to do this and I always tailor techniques to suit personal circumstances so there's no quick fix! However, saying that, I can definitely recommend that you begin by getting to know your stress. How often are you affected by it? What triggers it? What does it feel like and how intense is it?
Quite often people don't realise that they've been imprisoned by their stress and this is a great motivator to creating dynamic change. With any health concern it's always advised you contact your GP. And here's a simple checklist which will increase positive energy in your mind, body and spirit.
1. Get outside. No matter what the weather, a quick stroll, some daylight and taking time out will relieve stress. From a holistic point of view, walking will ground your energy and make you feel more present and connected.
2. Take a few deep breaths and repeat to yourself "here and now" and focus on the fact that, no matter what is happening, or how stressed you feel, everything is, essentially fine in this very moment.
3. Breathe. When we are stressed out our breath is shallow. Start by taking a few deep breaths right from the pit of your stomach. And say a key word such as "calm" to yourself.
4. Learn to meditate. Check out YouTube, buy a CD or read a book on the subject. I run meditation classes in Belfast and Helen's Bay.
Q What are the most important things we can do for our spiritual or inner wellbeing in 2014?
A From a spiritual point of view (or just a healthy point of view) everything is exactly as it should be, right now in this moment. If everything is designed and orchestrated for our highest and greatest good, then whatever situation or experience we are having at the moment is exactly as we need it. It's a bit of a huge concept to think about if you haven't come across it before, but it makes sense and takes away stress instantly.
In terms of what you "should" do, go with what feels right – spiritual or not. We are physical beings, here to experience life in all its complexity and colour. Go with your gut feelings, fulfil your heart's desire, what ever that is.
For me, this means walking and exploring more, watching my boys grow up, pausing to enjoy the moment, expanding and extending my therapy rooms in Helen's Bay, being spontaneous, living as authentically as I can and laughing. Even more in 2014.