I know this is not the normal kind of thing I post on my blog, but let me explain. Bush beauty is all about surviving the Kalahari (and really any outdoor adventure) with the condition of your skin and hair intact – and with as little sun damage as possible. Those of you who have no interest in skin care or sun protection, are excused from reading further . . .
If you read Take your camera to the bathroom (and other Kalahari safari tips), you’ll know that the conditions in the Kalahari are harsh. I’ve also spoken previously about the harsh water (it is brackish i.e. has high salt content and is alkaline) in the Kalahari – particularly in the wilderness camps. Since it has taken me several Kalahari trips to sort out my skin and hair issues while in the bush, I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered. Not only general information, but I’m going to be naming some specific products which work for me. (Disclaimer: None of the brands I mention are paying me to endorse their products. Unfortunately. I just took ages to find products which work for me – and I think they will work well for most people.). My strategy at home is: the milder and simpler your routine, the better . This works just as well in the bush. Also, I find the less expensive brands work just as well as the very expensive ones.
I’ve got sensitive, dry, normally pale skin which burns first and then tans. In the Kalahari, where the bathing water is very harsh on any skin, it absolutely strips my skin of its protective layer, and I usually struggle with dry, patchy, itchy skin. The first couple of Kalahari visits I would take along medicated soap (the anti-bacterial, anti-fungal variety) which just made things so much worse. My skin felt raw by the end of a trip. So after a lot of Internet research, and talking to my doctor and others with sensitive skin, I figured out a regime which works for me. I still have problems towards the end of the second week there, but now that I know how to treat my skin on my return home, it improves rapidly after the trip. Previously I’d struggled for months afterwards.
The “Slip-Slap-Slop-Slide” health campaign started in Australia, is the best bush beauty advice EVER. Not only is it designed to protect you against skin cancer when you are out in the sun, it also prevents against long-term sun damage which is extremely ageing (for those of you worried about such things!). So what does it stand for? Slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade, slide on some sunnies (“Australian” for sunglasses!). In the Kalahari, a good pair of polarized sunglasses is a must. Not only will your eyes thank you, but you will stop squinting and “enhancing” those wrinkles.
I can’t stress enough how important a good sunscreen is. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this is not the place to work on your tan. Do that before a trip to the Kalahari – or just fake it. You won’t be wandering around the bush in a swimsuit, so having an all-over tan isn’t that important. Although you may not want to look as pale as I usually do! This year, thanks to walking with Rosie and some photo-walks, I didn’t look quite as ghostly.
I use a combination of sunscreen products. For my body and face – the Everysun Aquasport range. Everysun make an “invisi-spray” which is a fine colourless spray in a 40 SPF with both UVA and UVB protection. I also use the Everysun Aquasport Stick which is a 50+ SPF. The stick is useful for swiping across your cheekbones and nose – both of which will catch the sun even if you are wearing a hat. Lips are another area that need protection from the sun. My first couple of visits to the Kalahari, I’d have blistered lips after the first two days. So I either use the Everysun stick or an Aloe Sun stick with a 50+ SPF. If you do get sunburned lips then Labello Med works wonders. And if, after all my great advice (!), you still get sunburned read this article by dermatologist Dr Cynthia Bailey on How to treat a sunburn.
Showering is done with a very mild soap – either an aqueous cream bar (which I prefer because it has no perfumes in it) or Dove soap work well. They are not going to lather well in the water, but they will get you clean without stripping your skin.
As a body lotion, I go for something with a natural oil (Almond, Jojoba) in it – like Nivea Body Lotion – or take along some tissue oil. I’ve found that other body lotions – which only provide a moisture barrier - just don’t work. Because I’ve got dry skin I use the body lotion for very dry skin. Even though it feels oily at first, my skin just soaks it up in the dry Kalahari climate.
Face care is just what I do at home. A simple cleansing lotion and moisturizer routine. If your skin is really sensitive, take along some face cleanser tissues (whichever brand works for you at home) too, so you don’t need to cleanse your face with water. Something to avoid is using retinol based anti-aging skin creams. On several dermatological sites I’ve read that retinol can make your skin a lot more sun-sensitive, and actually increase sun damage.
Post-Kalahari skincare is kept as simple as possible with as few products as possible. If you do develop skin problems while in the bush, use perfume-free, colour-free products. My favourite range here is the E45 range. The idea is to treat your skin as gently as possible, and give it a chance to recover naturally.
Hair care is all about using products which nourish your hair. Mine gets very dry at the ends when I’m in the sun a lot, and from washing it in the Kalahari water. I’m using a damage reconstruction shampoo and conditioner at home, and used these successfully on our last Kalahari trip. The conditioner is essential. Included in the hair care and skin care is wearing a hat when you’re out in the sun.
My top products
1. Nivea Body Cream/lotion and/or E45 Endless Moisture body lotion.
2. Tissue Oil – I’m using the one by Johnson & Johnson.
2. A friend used Aloe gel successfully after a trip to the Kalahari to sooth her dry, itchy skin.
3. Dove soap or aqueous cream soap.
4. Sunscreen & day cream with high SPF and UVA/UVB protection. I use products in the Everysun Aquasport and Nivea ranges.
5. Simply Aloe Sun Stick (may only be available in South Africa – I always get mine at the pharmacy in Upington!) and Labello Med (lip balm) for soothing sun-stressed lips.
6. Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Lotion – if it’s good enough for Scandinavian fishermen**, it’s good enough for me! During the day use sunscreen on the backs of your hands. These also get a lot of sun if you’re clutching a steering wheel – or a camera all day.
7. Facial cleansing tissues – I use any brand that has a version for sensitive skin. Usually either Nivea or Johnson & Johnson.
[** From Allure Magazine via Mis Tified: "Faced with some of the harshest weather on earth, the [Norwegian] fishermen swore by a glycerin-based formula developed by a local chemist for preventing dryness and chapping…[it] became a staple for men working in the region and was still being used two decades later in the 1960s when the Norwegian company who owned the patent sent it to Neutrogena.“]
The Kalahari 2011 Series:
- An oasis in the desert
- Take your camera to the bathroom (and other Kalahari safari tips)
- The Long Road North – Southern Cape to Upington
- The Long Road North – Upington
- Showing your kid where its food comes from
- Fierce Creatures
- Gemsbok Graphics
- The Long Road North – Upington to Twee Rivieren and beyond
- Campfire story: The Last Outpost
- Slip-Slap-Slop-Slide and other Bush Beauty Tips (this post)
- Hey Mom . . . wait for me!
- A tough customer
- Frenzy at the “water hole” – includes the movie
- The Camp Cat