Youth, beauty and a will to live - all in a sweet-smelling unguent

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Had a heavy night? Need a beauty product to remove the bags under your eyes and perk you up for another busy day? Belinda Morris and friends check out the latest revitalisers.

By rights, I should not be looking my best this morning. Apart from the fact that I'm staring at my PC a whole hour earlier than normal, and therefore am not at my perkiest, I've had one of those weekends - the sort that would take it out on anyone. I should, in an equal world, have the sort of pallor usually associated with the undead, and the dark, under-eye shadows commonly sported by terminal insomniacs. But I haven't, and it's nothing short of miraculous.

Normally I have one of those tell-tale bodies that is a horror hall of mirrors to my emotions, excesses and general level of decrepitude. OK, I admit that for me any sort of emotion will lead to a chocolate binge, which brings with it an understandable rash of problems, but, that aside, I only need to sniff a glass of Rioja and suddenly my face is my misfortune - and to add to my misery, I'm a martyr to the march of time. I've noticed recently, for instance, that I seem to have bypassed the looking-like- my-mother stage and now look rather more like my nanna. I've started to avoid cameras.

So, now that the weather appears to be on the turn (and it turns more fiercely and effectively in Norfolk), and the dreaded party season is looming ominously closer, I've decided that some drastic action is in order. It's OK to turn into a blotchy, wizened old hag if I never leave the house again, but unfortunately the wonders of modern science and telecommunications have not extended to sending a more beautiful hologram of myself to meetings. I need help, but thankfully the beauty industry has the answer - albeit temporary.

In fact, I don't mind temporary. I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that you can't reach two score years without some outward signs of wear and tear. But I'm all for disguise and delaying tactics. If there's an unguent out there that promises to create the illusion of youth, vitality and even beauty, then I'm vain enough to give it a try and be back home before midnight, by which time the magic has doubtlessly worn off.

I chose a particularly hectic, fun-packed weekend (to be followed by a frantic, stress-filled week) to put a handful of miracle-working lotions and potions to the test. I inveigled friends and husband to try those that I couldn't manage, and even wondered whether the pigs' scaly backs might not benefit from a rehydration mask - but you have to draw the line somewhere. Anyway, suitably tanked up with toxins, these are the findings of my rejuvenation fest:

Face Lift, from University Medical. This sounded and looked promising - especially the "Reappearance of Youth" bit on the box. Absolutely no attempt at gilding the lily packaging-wise, but it has that alluring combination of authority and Hollywood naturalness and tech- nology. Take the cleanser - Prima Hydroxy Daily Cleanser (pounds 12.49) with chardonnay grape seed extract (hair of the dog?) and sea kelp.

A total stranger to water these past 10 years, my face, surprisingly, didn't fall off into the sink, and felt squeaky clean and soft afterwards. Smells exactly like that bubble-blowing soap that we used to have as kids.

Then on went the Youth Serum/C (pounds 16.99) which is supposed to "strengthen the elastin and collagen fibres and plump the cellular matrix" with its High Potency Vitamin CA-HA formula. Well, time will tell. But the immediate effect is a slight tightening sensation - I like it.

The Under Eye Therapy pounds 16.99) is in a tube, so passes one test at least, and goes on smoothly. "When you wake up, you won't need make-up," it states on the box. I think I'll be the judge of that, but puffiness does seem less noticeable.

Loads of good things - such as asparagus root and green tea - are included in the Anti-Oxidant Moisturiser (pounds 12.49), which feels runnier than my usual, beat-the-wind-chill-factor stuff, but it goes on smoothly and afterwards my face felt slightly taut, particularly around the eyes - which was good.

Decleor Instant Beauty Booster (pounds 21.50). Do I have dull, tired skin? Do I want all traces of fatigue to be gone in seconds, and to have a radiant, satin-smooth complexion? It sounds too good to be true. The first impression is a very fresh, botanical fragrance, which is immediately cool and soothing. And although this is another runny rather than gungy cream, it feels smooth and there's a curiously pleasant, pulling sensation round the eyes. My skin two hours later does feel soft - I keep stroking my cheeks like Katy Boyle in a Camay commercial.

Kyusu Restore Hydrating Mask, (pounds 7.50, exclusively from Boots). Maria is extremely enthusiastic about this, in particular the packaging, which does have a clear, oriental look to it and could grace any pure white urban bathroom. It fits with the product's promise of "rediscovering the inner person ... to regain the natural sense of unity and equilibrium". But "it smells nice, and after an initial dry, taut, tickly feeling, my skin feels really soft and smooth." She was, though, unable to say whether she felt a "moisture surge".

She also tried Restore Night Creme (pounds 3.50). "It smells beautiful, very florally fresh - and even though it's thick and creamy it absorbs quickly, unlike a lot of other night creams."

It's left to Tamsin to brave the Unity Sauna Face Mask (pounds 7.50) which initially turns her face a rather exciting shade of red, with the sensation of prickly heat. We pretend not to be concerned, and in fact it calms down soon afterwards. She now looks simply glowing with health, and her face is baby soft (but then, it was before).

L'Occitane Soothing Exfoliating Face Mask (pounds 19.95) We have to stop Chrissie from eating this, because it smells like lemon meringue, apparently. The sensation of applying it "is like going from a warm room into cool fresh air - lovely." The dead skin cells being eliminated gives a tingly, tight sensation, but the sense afterwards is definitely soft and revitalised. She follows it up the next day with Christian Dior's Hydra-Star Masque (pounds 26) for a quick, perking effect, and likes the refreshing sensation.

Donna Karan Natural Exfoliating Mask (pounds 42). Rather foolishly I imagine myself as Demi Moore as I struggle to massage in this rather thick, buff- coloured cream. But I like the fact that there are no AHAs - just gritty stuff to rub away at dead cells. It does come off as promised, and after I've rinsed my face, patted it dry gently (as instructed) and applied the After Mask Skin Conditioner that comes with it, my skin feels polished and smooth.

Masks and excessive rubbing usually leave me with a rash; not this time.

Boots Botanics Clear Away Cleansing Scrub (pounds 2.99), Revitalising Eye Masks (pounds 4.69) and Eye Gel (pounds 5.99) are all applied to a baggy-eyed Roy, who's grateful for any girly attention, so also gets slathered in Lancome's Viveclat Instant Radiance (pounds 19). The latter he likes because it's somewhere between a cream and a gel, so "doesn't feel tacky, but smells really refreshing and luxurious". After it's tissued off, he doesn't need another moisturiser. The scratchy cleanser is approved for its purifying sensation, the eye pads feel soothing, and the gel does seem to eliminate some bagginess.

As a final antidote to the hard weekend I urge him to try Aveda's Hydrating Masque (pounds 25), which he says feels cooling, but is still moisturising (that'll be the combination of aloe, kelp, rosewater and lavender).