I was fortunate to first meet Sarah Stacey about a decade ago. In the intervening years she has been one of the greatest supporters of the natural beauty movement, building on an already incredible record of raising awareness of natural health alternatives and the importance of nutrition through her columns in YOU magazine and other national titles. On the eve of Organic Month we caught up to discuss her career, the sensitive skin epidemic, and her top tips for happiness and beauty:
Sarah, you are a very well respected health editor and journalist. What made you decide that this was the field you wanted to write about?
It was happenstance. I was writing for The Daily Telegraph about the environment, way back in the late 1980s, and started to find health related stories so I got co-opted on to that section. I had worked for a doctor at one point and learnt a few things so I already had some knowledge of the medical world.
Which story are you most proud of – where do you feel you have made the biggest difference?
Gosh – so many things I have campaigned about for over three decades. Originally, bringing essential fatty acids to the fore: I think I am right in saying I wrote the first story about those, ditto Traditional Chinese Medicine and eczema. In 1994, I was a founding member and first Honorary Chair of the Guild of Health Writers, which was set up to report accurately on all types of health care: complementary and alternative medicine alongside allopathic medicine, together with the wilder frontiers of gene therapy.
In 1997, together with Liz Earle and Michelle Berriedale-Johnson I set up the food labelling campaign FLAG and I wrote a report for Downing Street on food from plough to plate. We didn't have food labelling then: now we do. My latest big campaign is a better understanding of cholesterol and statins, which I feel passionately about. [Truly remarkable - we expect an MBE nomination - Ed]
What are your thoughts on natural health and skin care particularly – can you tell us why?
I have always been a huge supporter of preventive health care, rather than treating disease. It's just common sense in all ways. Natural health to me includes eating well, taking well chosen supplements if necessary, taking plenty of exercise, getting good sleep, learning how to manage the pressures of modern life and being as happy as possible on a daily basis.
The various therapies that come under the umbrella of CAM [complementary and alternative medicine - Ed] can help greatly, from acupuncture to massage, via homeopathy and flower remedies to reflexology and nutritional therapy.
Regarding skincare: there is an epidemic of sensitive skin nowadays, partly due to environmental pollutants, poor diet and not least for some people too many synthetics in skin care products. Some ingredients, such as MI and MCI, have been shown to exacerbate facial eczema and other problems.
Of course, natural ingredients won't suit everyone either but on the whole touchy skin sufferers tend to do better with natural skincare and fewer ingredients. Personally I also like the ethos of many of the natural and organic brands.
Do you have any skincare no-no’s?
Don't swap products every week: unless you have an outbreak of sensitivity of any kind, stick with product for two to three months to see if it works. And don't scrub your face with harsh exfoliants. Treat your face with TLC and extend the same to every bit of your skin.
Do you have any memorable beauty mistakes you can share with us?
Elziabeth Arden green eye shadow when I was 12. Too much brick coloured blush when I was in my 30s. Too much foundation as I got older.
A terrible time when Jo and I were doing publicity in the North and I had a terrible cold with a red nose. I put some essential oil, probably eucalyptus under my nose, and the dry sore skin exploded – I couldn't even get concealer near it. So I looked like the Dong with the luminous nose for the event
You are a big advocate for natural health care – when did you first discover how potent the natural approach can be?
My great grandfather Thomas Skinner was one of the first homeopaths. He was a Scottish obstetrician who, having fought against complementary approaches, then discovered that a homeopathic remedy was the only thing that helped his intractable digestive problem.
So although I didn't understand what it was, I think it seeped in from an early age. My first concrete memory is doing a piece for the Daily Mail when I was about 36 (Im now 66) where I was prescribed nutritional supplements.
I had always got exhausted very easily – and would faint if I didn't eat regularly - and it was the first time I actually felt well and had enough energy. Over the years I went on to try many other therapies, including acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, western herbal medicine and reflexology – which I still rely on today.
I know you must have been asked many times, but can you talk us through what lead to you starting Beauty Bible with Jo?
A war correspondent friend – very glam – asked me what was the best waterproof mascara for the battlefield in Bosnia where she was reporting from. I realised I didn't know.
Then another journalist started quizzing me about AHA's (fruit acids) - and said 'you must write a book about all this'. I was sitting having breakfast with a young PR (now the head of a thriving business) and telling her about it and my idea for a book that gave all sorts of insider information and - importantly - trialled products on real women in real time.
She said 'ah you mean a real bible?'. I skipped down the road singing 'The Beauty Bible', got home, rang Jo and asked her if she wanted to do it with me, she said yes – and the rest is eight books and over 20 years of history.
What is next for your career – are there any specific causes you are passionate about right now?
See above on cholesterol/statins. Also exposing the inadequacies of mental health treatment. Also fighting against eye lash enhancers that contain prostaglandins, which are actually used in glaucoma drugs. And always, responding to what people want to know about. Many readers over the years have been victims of dinosaur GP's as one more modern one put it. I can fight for them
We have been grateful for your support for a number of years now – what is it about Odylique that you like?
I love the story, the honesty, the passion behind the brand, which is manifested in the products.
Is there an Odylique product you particularly love and why?
Coconut candy scrub! Makes me remember making and eating coconut ice as a little. I like the fact I could eat it. I love the way it makes my skin really soft and luscious.
How do you feel about the explosion of natural therapies and skincare in the last few years – where do you see the industry going?
If someone was interested in switching to a natural beauty regime, how best would you advise them to do this?
Get samples and try them one by one to see what suits your skin. Once you find a brand that you like, you can introduce more products.
Can you share your best natural pick-me-up advice?
Take five. Stand or sit still and breathe – in for 4, hold for 7 out for 8. Do it a few times. Sip a glass of water. Eat something good if you are hungry - slowly. Long term, practise mindfulness. Hug a horse [one of Sarah's passions is her rescue horses - Ed], husband, or friend. If they are not there, think of them – or a good joke.
The Beauty Bible series is available from good booksellers and Amazon - the Natural Beauty Bible is available here.