Review: Asli Desain Sportswear (modelled by little ol’ me)

This short-ass was never going to be a supermodel, but I can review scuba gear and apparel, hell yeah!

While completing my Divemaster course out here in Bali, I was asked to pose for a few publicity shots for Asli Desain, a new Indonesian sportswear brand.

We had a good old laugh while I tried to look seductively at the camera, holding wrenches and stroking cylinders. You’d think after working on the Top Model TV shows I’d be able to smize like a pro… But I can’t take myself seriously enough (I’ve omitted the shots of me pouting and wetting myself laughing when I couldn’t concentrate).

I love the ‘Diver’ hoody, which looks and feels fab on the boat between dives and the ‘Born 2 Dive Forced 2 Work’ rash vest says it all about divers.

It’s a fun and edgy new clothing line to hit the sportswear market; you can tell the brains behind the business are divers, because their products are both practical and look good. Rule #1 of diving is to look cool, right? It’s in the manuals somewhere, I swear…

If you like what you see, they have loads more designs on their Facebook page too.

Enjoy, merfolk!

Thanks to Tanner Smith for the photography.

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Review: Navy Spot Oil Cloth Constellation Luggage

If you spend your life living out of a suitcase, like I seem to, regardless of the purpose being work, pleasure or both, it’s important to have some reliable luggage that can cope with you battering it about.

Not only is durability a priority for me, I am a girl, so I like to cart my life around in something pretty.

Constellation Airport Lounge
The cabin size case is packed full of travel style
As I write this, I’m waiting for a flight to Indonesia, where I’ll be running this blog from while I become a PADI dive professional (writing that made me smile, but I’m papping it). So, this is the perfect road test – or air, moped and donkey test – for the latest luggage range to come from Constellation.

They offer pretty, floral designs, which are lovely and ditzy-cutesy, but I liked the look of the Navy Spot Oil Cloth Collection the best: I do love a polka dot print and I thought this design was a perfect mix of cute and chic.

Coming in a set of three, you can buy them as separate pieces or the whole range if you want your cabin size case to match your weekend case, to match your two-week holiday case.

All 3 cases stack neatly inside each other for easy storage
Three cases stack neatly inside each other for easy storage
As I need to transport all my dive gear out there, something that can cope with heavy kit and keep it safe throughout the journey is paramount. The largest piece of luggage out of the three was more than ample enough for me to fit in all my equipment – and it felt sturdy enough to protect it. I’ll let you know when I get to the other side whether everything is still in one piece…

The dive clobber fits in perfectly
The dive clobber fits in perfectly
If you’re just packing pants and swimmers though, the largest suitcase really is roomy enough for you to take everything you’d need for your holibobs, including all your make-up bags and toiletries.

I managed to ram my cabin size case full to the brim with more equipment too, so that I can still work out there while I dive. It coped with heavy laptops, kindles, microphones, headphones, plus a change of clothes, magazines, make-up and endless trivial nonsense absolutely necessary for travel.

The cases really did look nifty stacked up next to each other and are easy to wheel about. The handles are nicely padded too, so no swearing needed as you heave them out of cars and onto trollies. Having a cabin-size regulation case also gave me peace of mind that I wouldn’t have a Meet-The-Parents-style argument at the check-in desk or on the aeroplane.

Constellation Close-Up

If I had to pick a snag about these cases, it’d be the little padlocks that come with it. Better to get some heavyweight padlocks if you want to ensure those baggage handlers don’t rummage through your smalls. But you’re not about to buy luggage based on padlocks, really…

If you’re looking for pretty patterns in your travelware that can cope with lugging your life around, this is a choice that marries style, affordability and practicality.

Please note: this luggage set was donated to The Adventure Girl’s Guide for review. www.constellationluggage.com/

Constellation Logo-04

Kind To You & Nature: New Eco Beauty Products Reviewed

Protecting the planet doesn’t have to mean taking part in organised activities, like beach cleans or conservation programmes. Although they are extremely worthwhile and essential, there are everyday choices we can all make to help take care of the environment, as well as ourselves.

Scanning the ingredients list in beauty products is now something I do just as much as the food I buy. From a personal-care point of view, if I’m trying to be (mainly) healthy with the food I eat, why would I throw the equivalent of junk food on my face, by choosing something crammed with chemicals?

And if I’m trying my best to buy sustainable, ethically sourced food, it’d be irrational to not care what my beauty brands put in their produce. I’ve talked before about checking for plastic particles, or microbeads, in your beauty scrubs, which the Marine Conservation Society has been working for years to eradicate with its Scrub It Out campaign.

Eco beauty brands: natural ingredients for a healthier skin and world
Eco beauty brands: natural ingredients for a healthier skin and world

So, I’ve been looking for the emerging eco-products making waves in the beauty market; products that work but don’t cause harm to the earth, animals or the communities who help make them.

Although it might be hard to get it right every time, thanks to some businesses ‘greenwashing’ or jumping on the natural ingredients bandwagon without really being true to what they promise, I do my best to make the most responsible choices. The eco beauty brands you can trust are those that are transparent about their ingredients and their origins, and employ sustainable business methods.

Here are some pioneers of the eco beauty industry I’ve put to the test:

Fresh Therapies: Natural Nail Polish Remover, Nail Polish Remover Wipes and Nail Elixir

I’m never going back to nail polish removers that are packed with acetones.

What a joy to discover Fresh Therapies, a company that’s managed to make a nail polish remover with natural ingredients and is not tested on animals.

A fresh approach to nailcare
A fresh approach to nailcare

As soon as you open the bottle of the simply titled ‘Natural Nail Polish Remover’, you feel like you’re pampering yourself rather than just taking off nail polish. I can’t say that I particularly enjoy removing nail polish usually; it isn’t a relaxing or indulgent aspect of self maintenance, like lying back with a face mask in the bath is.

But the zingy, lime fragrance that pops in the nostrils feels like you’re giving yourself a treat: the process of removing nail polish actually feels nourishing rather than damaging to your nails and skin.

My nails have always been my weakness; they’re my stress point and I gnaw on them absent-mindedly. As a result, not only have my nails been short, my cuticles and skin around the nail have always felt neglected. After applying this product, I felt like my nails had been given a treatment and that I was healing myself.

To test the efficiency of the product, I also tried it on my toenails. The polish seems to weld on if I haven’t changed colours for a while (euw), so this would show whether it could cope, despite its gentleness.

You do have to rub a bit harder than you might with other chemically-packed removers, but it does work and all the polish came off with no hassle. And a little does go a long way, making its price tag of £8.99 worth it. Buying cheaper products that harm us is surely a false economy anyway.

I also tested the Nail Polish Remover Wipes – the same product, but in a handy, travel-friendly size. They do the job just as well and I’ll definitely be popping them in my bag for when I’m on the move.

As my nails could do with some extra looking after, I gave the Nail Elixir a try. This little bottle of oils is an indulgence that deserves a permanent place in anyone’s beauty box.

It soothed the sore areas around my cuticles and left skin and nails feeling soft and smelling like I’d visited a spa. Even though I applied it quite generously with the pipette, the oils soaked in quickly without needing to walk around with my hands out flat, like I was in an alerted state of a game of slaps.

I also love how the products don’t come in plastic packaging and that they’re gentle enough for pregnant women, sensitive skin and children.

The Fresh Therapies range is worth spending a few more pennies on for the strong and healthy nails it leaves you with. Or even just the smell that makes you go oooohhh.

Zk’in: Calming Cream Cleanser and Relief Moisturiser

Our skin changes throughout our lifetime and mine changed about 3 years ago, which I’ve struggled with constantly. I never had skin problems before and didn’t spend my life on a quest for products that would be kind to my skin, as I do now.

I’ve been looking for the best sensitive products on the market, which would calm and soothe rather than irritate.

Australian brand Zk’in (pronounced simply as ‘skin’ – not ‘zke-uh-in’ with glottal stops and clicks) has just made its debut in the UK, which promotes organic skincare. I tried their sensitive range of Calming Cream Cleanser and Relief Moisturiser.

Zk'in: Great for soothing sensitive skin
Zk’in: Great for soothing sensitive skin

As soon as I applied the cleanser, it felt extremely gentle and I realised I’d got used to most products leaving me with a stinging feeling. The Calming Cream Cleanser was just that and I felt like my face was being caressed. *Blissful sigh*

My skin was left clean and glowing with no tightening sensation, as is the case with lots of mass-market products I’ve used before.

The usual highly sensitive areas, which often flare up, felt relief. Plus, it works. I think there’s a feeling that some natural products must be so gentle that they can’t do the job, but this removed heavy make-up, including thick eyeliner. I enjoyed the two-step process of removing make-up with a cotton pad and then reapplying the product for a deep clean.

I followed this with the Relief Moisturiser, which left my face feeling silky and nourished. The overall effect was a zingy, healthy glow to my skin and I felt rejuvenated.

Zk’in clearly try to be transparent with their ingredients by giving an organic percentage rating of each product; the cleanser racked up 85.93% and the moisturiser clocked 92.51%. This might fall short of your expectations if you make your own beauty products in your kitchen and know that they are 100% organic, but if you don’t cook your cleanser just yet, the brand ticks the list for being not tested on animals, vegan and the cleanser is palm oil free.

The moisturiser is palm oil sustainable; I’m on the fence about deriding this yet in favour of everything being palm oil free, because replacing it with other, less yielding, oils would use more land. For now, my guiding thought is that palm oil sustainable products shouldn’t be dismissed – as long as they really are and businesses get palm oil production right.

Zk’in’s range of products is definitely one to watch and a brand I suspect will become a new beauty staple.

Africology

Like Zk’in, another brand making its UK debut is South African-born luxury beauty brand, Africology. And I know I go on about smells a lot, but their products really did grab me with their spa-quality fragrance.

There’s something transportive about smell. I might be sat indoors looking out at the rain lashing against the window, numbed in the brain from the sheer amount of work to do, but a smell can take your mind to another time and place, lifting you out the slump.

When I opened the Africology products, I pictured myself in a fluffy robe and those open-toed towel slippers that make you shuffle around like you don’t have knees. Quite disappointing to realise there isn’t a therapist on hand to work out your knots when you put the lid back on and shut the spa scent away.

Smells and feels naturally beautiful
From a South African kitchen: smells and feels naturally beautiful

I tried a few of their products, including their antioxidant masque, body balm, moisturiser and exfoliating cream. What stood out to me, smelly sensuality aside, was their use of African potato in their ingredients. I know, sounds weird. But it’s helpful for treating acne, eczema, psoriasis, skin cancer, arthritis and er, prostate enlargement. Who knew?

Their products are jam-packed with organic ingredients, which left me feeling healed and revived. What stayed with me after applying products was, yes you guessed it, the smell. I caught whiffs of myself and felt expensive and nourished all day.

I’ll be keeping Africology goodies in my bag for when I need a pick-me-up.

Ermana

Ermana‘s products make you feel like you’re getting something special and made with love. As they’re made in small batches and come in cute cardboard boxes with a batch date, stamped by hand, you really feel like you’re getting some homemade goodness.

As you’d expect from a natural beauty brand, their ingredients are 100% organic and are free from all the nasties you want to avoid when you turn to eco products.

The pots are densely packed with botanical oils and waxes and they go a long way; they’re also dinky, making them perfect for travelling.

Little pots of organic delight from Ermana
Little pots of organic delight from Ermana

I tried the Comfort Balm before going to bed, which I applied to my temples and wrists. Breathing in the scents of lavender, ylang ylang and geranium soothes as well as nourishes. It’s ideal for those dry or chapped areas and leaves you feeling buttered up and delicious. Like a marinade.

The Refresh Lip Balm is simple and effective. Some lip balms don’t seem to last very long, making you reapply frequently, but this little pot of natural lip love kept my pout feeling hydrated and soft. The grapefruit tang perks you up too, without that artificial blast of synthetic smell you get from chemically-laced products.

I do enjoy a ritualistic cleanse and the Cleanse Balm allows you those few minutes of calming  rejuvenation. After a minute of warming up the balm between my fingers, it melted into my face, quenching the skin instantly. Once I’d removed the balm with a hot muslin cloth, my skin felt plumply smooth, without that need to throw on loads of moisturiser.

High street cleansers tend to make my skin feel stripped and tight, but the natural goodness of shea butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil simply worked in tune with my body.

Ermana’s use of oils, butters and waxes isn’t only kind to the skin – it means you’re getting more for your money. An obvious win. They don’t use water to bulk up the products and therefore there are also no preservatives to prevent bacteria growing.

I rate their ethos and attitude. My quest for something that finally nourishes and cares for my skin, without costing the Earth, may be over.

What eco beauty brands do you use? What do you look for in eco beauty products – ingredients, packaging, community projects…?

Please note: these products were gifted to The Adventure Girl’s Guide for review. I have made every effort to include the best eco beauty brands and declined to review those that I believed didn’t fit in with the conservation aspect of the blog.

Review: Blue O Two Liveaboard, Deep South, Red Sea

If racking up as many dives as possible is on your travel wishlist, you can’t cram in much more than going on a liveaboard.

Our latest dive trip to the south of the Red Sea marked our third liveaboard holiday (if you’re new to the term, it means you live aboard the boat, spending days at sea, exploring the best dive sites and sometimes reaching reefs and wrecks that day boats can’t easily access).

Your first experience of it may be getting used to being in close confines with 20 strangers for a week, but as this was our third liveaboard, we embraced the dive, eat, sleep, repeat routine. That is all you do. Bliss. Well, it is if you love diving. If you’ve come to appease your other half and only want to do the odd dive, bring a well-stocked Kindle and don’t work out how much each dive is costing you.

A liveaboard is the only time you’ll get me out of bed at 6am on holiday every day. Sometimes 5.30am. I’m really not a morning person and when I first got into diving, I recall being a very grumpy mare with my boyfriend when he set the alarm for 4:30am to dive the Thistlegorm in the Red Sea. But it was my birthdaaaaay.

I’ve come a long way and even got a knowing wink from the other half when I said as much. I don’t moan about getting up anymore – but that’s helped by the Blue O Two cabin crew, who wake you up with a cup of tea. That’s the selling point, folks. Forget the pictures of pelagics, this should be in bold font all over the website – “The crew bring you a brewwwww!”

And getting up with the sunrise was well worth it this trip – I can honestly say this is the best dive trip I’ve ever been on. But that might be because I saw this fella at St. John’s…

Manta Ray at St. John's, Red Sea. Photo by Dave Reed.
Manta Ray at St. John’s, Red Sea. Photo by Dave Reed.

Seeing a Manta Ray was on my bucket list. And it was as breathtaking and mind-blowing as you could imagine: my mask may have got a bit watery when I saw this beautiful creature, flying towards us like an underwater bird.

He was as playful as I’ve heard mantas are, circling around us and barrel-rolling, enjoying the feeling of our bubbles tickling his belly. Swimming right above my head, he was close enough for me to see the spots that uniquely mark every single Manta. I looked right into his eye as he swam past and wondered what he made of us lot. The only snag was that Mr. Adventure Girl (hee) got a cold and missed this dive, no! Oh, and some turdburger touched the Manta, prompting it to swim off. Livid.

Check out the magic manta as it happened…

And it didn’t end there, we were treated to hammerhead sharks, grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, dolphins, hawksbill turtles and all the wonders of the Red Sea fish I’ve come to know and love. I’ve never seen so many of the higher trophic fish levels before, or ‘the big stuff’. So unusual is it for us to spot the big guys, that I usually had my eyes trained on a little nook in some hard coral, scouring for tiny crabs in pocillopora, when I’d feel a frantic tug on my fins to look into the blue.

This was the farthest south we’d ever ventured in the Red Sea and we’ll definitely be doing the Deep South itinerary again. The Blue O Two schedule covers St. John’s and Fury Shoals, balancing offshore reefs with magical swimthroughs and pinnacles. Check out the way that light streamed through the fissures in the reef to create an ethereal experience.

Red Sea SwimthroughRed Sea Swimthrough

A huge selling point for me was that our dive guide, Elke, was extremely knowledgable and gave the most detailed dive briefs I’ve seen. It helped that she’s a marine biologist and so is an expert in the underwater environment. Plus, she records data on sharks for her conservation charity redseasharks.org, meaning that everyone can do some good on the trip, by sharing photos of sharks they see on their dives.

We were also fortunate to experience little to no current throughout the week, meaning that we actually slept during the overnight boat journeys. This itinerary covers a lot of distance, so there isn’t much moored-up sleeping. Of course it also meant that the diving was pretty gentle; no head-down finning and air guzzling.

Right, so it was an amazing week and one I want to do again. And again! But it’s important you’re prepared for the trek to get to this liveaboard. The boats depart from Port Ghalib, so you’d look at the map and see that Marsa Alam airport is the obvious choice, as it’s just minutes away.

But oh no, flights from the UK to Marsa Alam only operate on Wednesdays and the boat changes over on Fridays. So, you fly to Hurghada and then take a three-hour transfer bus down to Port Ghalib. And if you’ve been to Egypt before, you’ll know that you’ve got a good hour of faffing with visas and getting through passport control. Now, I’ll fess up here and reveal that we decided to go at Easter – no we’re not teachers, we’re just a pair of plums who didn’t check school holidays. So it was particularly manic, but still, from get-up at Gatwick Premier Inn to arrival at the boat took 17 hours.

We’ve figured a way round it for the next Deep South trip – fly out on the Wednesday, have a couple of nights in a hotel and get on the boat rested and ready for that 6am brew alarm.

THE INFO

We went on a Blue O Two liveaboard holiday, booked through Regal Dive.

Review: Deep Heat Muscle Rescue

Deep Heat Muscle RescueGetting outdoors does wonders for your mind and body. Compared with sitting at a desk in the same position for 40 hours a week, I found six weeks of diving in Thailand a marvel physically and mentally.

I got stronger thanks to lugging heavy kit across sand and rocks and throwing tanks onto a boat. Of course, diving in itself put my body through its paces. The same goes for all outdoor sports – walking, climbing, canoeing, cycling… Getting in the fresh air clears the mind and shakes out your muscles.

But it can ache a bit afterwards. I’ve struggled with an aching back for years: it was particularly bad when I spent most of my life sat at a desk, getting stressed out, and the knots never went away. Then dragging said kit back and forth every day did add more strain. So when I heard that the makers of Deep Heat had created a bath soak and cream, I thought it was worth a try. And it might keep the massage bills down (not telling the other half about this review… I need the massages).

When I think of Deep Heat, I think of the distinctive smell. But the bath soak doesn’t assault your nostrils; in fact, it made me go ‘ooh’ with delight. Let’s be clear, it isn’t Deep Heat bubble bath – it contains essential oils of rosemary and orange, which instantly soothed thanks to their scent. Someone who makes a living out of this, medical herbalist Pamela Spence, says this isn’t just a figment of our imagination: “Scents activate the brain’s limbic system – where we store memories and emotions – which can influence our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.”

I was looking forward to getting in that steaming tub. My back could always do with some attention, but the night before I stupidly did a Pilates class and a Legs, Bums & Tums class back to back. I was using the bannister a little too much to get down the stairs and sitting down was accompanied by an elderly ‘eeeeehhh’. The perfect time to test the Muscle Rescue products.

Whether it’s my mind convincing me to feel better thanks to the warming smells or not, I did feel relaxed after my soak.  I tried out the neck & shoulder cream afterwards too. This is a particular problem area for me and massage therapists are always stunned by the state I’ve got in; my neck and shoulders carry all my stress and worry.

The PR line is that the product is a “soothing, warming cream”. Remember that with caution – the instructions do say to use sparingly, but it really does set on fire if you use a little too much. Start with the smallest amount and see if you react before liberally attacking all over! Yep, note to self.

The whole experience felt like I was creating my very own spa and that’s reason enough to do it at least once a week until my tired muscles are fully relieved.

You can find out more about Deep Heat Muscle Rescue on their Twitter and Facebook pages.