just say Noh
Welcome readers! It’s nearly sakura season here in Tokyo and the marketplace opportunities are in full bloom, from Starbucks drinks to skincare.
At school pickup last week, my granddaughter’s other Grammie asked me what I’d meant by “frozen faces” in a recent post. The idea that I might actually know people who’ve been treated with too much neurotoxin seemed to surprise her. A few days later, she sent me a photo of a Noh mask (below). “Like this?” she asked, which is what she thought of after our conversation.
About that mask: Though it might look expressionless, the Noh mask is said to be imbued with “ambiguous” expressions of all the feels—joy, sorrow, rage, pleasure. A viewer becomes aware of them as the Noh actor slightly alters the position of the mask. Elevate it and the face might project elation; hold it at a lowered angle and sorrow emerges. The delicate manipulation of the mask allows us to project feelings onto it (and onto the character being portrayed). My son, ever practical, suggested that overly ‘toxed people might learn the subtle gestures of Noh to be able to convey feelings their faces no longer can.
I’m not into acquisitions in general, but shopping in Tokyo is terrifically fun; even the most mundane objects, like a steel soba extractor with copper cord (below, around $7 USD), are often designed with gorgeous, artful detail. I noticed the parachute fabric Ball & Chain brand bags (below, around $23 USD) a while ago. Soon after, at Mitsukoshi, one of Tokyo’s largest department stores, I saw a crowd of women around a pop-up, and there the bags were again—in a wide range of sizes, colors, and designs referencing everything from vintage postcards to mandala. I bought a small one for my granddaughter but—bad Grammie!—I can’t seem to part with it.
Speaking of crowds around a pop-up, the lovely, curious hosts of the podcast A Thing or Two recently asked me this question on Instagram…
Q: Everybody seems to be talking about new retinol supplements as a way to stave off visible signs of aging. What gives, Val?
A: What gives? I’ll tell you what gives. Marketing gives—generously. And I feel a little sorry for us, because marketing is also often deliberately confusing. And when we’re deliberately confused about issues involving our mental and physical health, that’s not just an innocent shell-game; it’s an unwelcome invitation to a party where the gift bags brim with useless stuff that may even be harmful. When I checked out one website marketing a retinol supplement, I found myself as bewildered about it as you might be. Which is why I emailed HNTFUYF DermDiva, Heidi Waldorf, for clarification.
“I do not recommend ingesting retinol,” she said. A “retinol” supplement is simply the fat soluble vitamin A (as retinyl acetate). (Fat soluble: What your body can’t use is stored in fatty tissue and the liver, not excreted in your urine.) Did you catch the trick? Calling the supplement by a name widely and correctly touted as a hard-working skincare ingredient, we’re led to believe our complexion will benefit from oral ingestion.
We get plenty of vitamin A—and other nutritional building blocks that help with a variety of organ and biologic functions—in our diets, says Waldorf. Carotenoids found in bright orange, yellow, and red foods (like carrots, peppers, and tomatoes) are converted into vitamin A in the body. So vitamin A deficiency (associated primarily with childhood blindness, infections, anemia, and maternal mortality) is rare in developed countries.
Moreover—here’s where the party trick turns mean—ingesting too much of it can be dangerous, potentially resulting in nausea, muscle aches, vision and coordination problems, and even coma and death. Overdosing on vitamin A during pregnancy can cause severe birth defects. Some research suggests that ingesting more than an average of 1.5 mg of Vitamin A a day over many years may affect your bones, making them more likely to fracture when you're older (an issue especially important to post-menopausal women). Bottom-line, says Waldorf: Unless you’re malnourished, adding a “retinol” or any vitamin A supplement to your diet will neither improve your health, nor reduce the effects of aging.
You’ve probably noticed folks encouraging you to also try collagen supplements as a way to improve your complexion. But “oral collagen supplements are simply a source of protein,” says Waldorf. Like other proteins, collagen is broken down into amino acids in the gastrointestinal system. And there’s little to no evidence that taking collagen internally directs its component amino acids to the skin more than any other protein source does, she adds.
If you’re like me, the magic of supplements, tarnished as it may be, still holds allure. And there are a few contestants in the beauty arena that might be winners. Waldorf recommends Nutrafol or Viviscal to encourage hair growth, and believes they’re more helpful than biotin supplements without the potential side effects from high doses. And the supplement Heliocare may be a useful occasional addition for people who work outdoors or for patients with a history of skin cancer and melasma. It contains a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory extract with a photoprotective effect (though it doesn’t replace sunscreen). Speaking of sunscreen, that happens to be the most effective supplement you can add to your skincare routine.
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A Moment of Personal Horn-Blowing
HNTFUYF was recently included in a roundup of the “23 Best Health and Wellness Newsletters of 2023” by the (what else?) health and wellness website Ness. Thanks, Ness, and thanks to all you HNTFUYF-ers for inspiring me with your thoughtful questions and comments. xo
HNTFUYF, a Payola-Free Zone
Readers, a few of you have asked if I get a cut from sales when I mention a product. I do not. I only mention products I’d like to buy myself, and therefore think you might like, too. I share this so you know my recommendations are offered without obligation.
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send your beauty-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.
Val, I love it when you give it to us straight!!
"Here’s where the party trick turns mean—ingesting too much of it can be dangerous, potentially resulting in nausea, muscle aches, vision and coordination problems, and even coma and death. Overdosing on vitamin A during pregnancy can cause severe birth defects. Some research suggests that ingesting more than an average of 1.5 mg of Vitamin A a day over many years may affect your bones, making them more likely to fracture when you're older (an issue especially important to post-menopausal women). Bottom-line, says Waldorf: Unless you’re malnourished, adding a “retinol” or any vitamin A supplement to your diet will neither improve your health, nor reduce the effects of aging."
This came after you thoroughly and gloriously entertained us with the Noh, the little bag, and that gorgeous fly-swatter thing.
Dear Val, it was so much fun to tag along virtually on your shopping spree. Love your finds, and that soba extractor is indeed a work of art! I may try to look for one in the West Village Japanese food market near Bigelow’s (not that I make soba often either—actually, not at all; but the exquisite gadget may inspire me!)
Also, big thanks to you and DermDiva HW for the scoop on supplements. Along with taking a B6 Complex that has 400 mcg of Biotin, I’ve also added a Biotin supplement (2500 to 5000 mcg a day) to boost my protein intake for healthier hair and nails.
Since Biotin is water soluble, I haven’t been too concerned about “overdosing.”But recently I’ve become aware that Biotin can interfere with testing of thyroid levels. Results might inaccurately read too high or too low.
Since I also take a thyroid med and have thyroid levels checked yearly, this is something I need to look into before my next physical. Another lesson for me: although supplements aren’t classified as “drugs,” they can have significant side effects that impact our health, and shouldn’t be popped so casually. Even when they come in yummy gummies!