There's nothing quite like it for cooling the blood: Marcella Borghese Active Mud, pounds 29
Kids make mud pies; grown women apply mud masks. The same basic urge to make a mess is satisfied, with the difference that mud masks are supposed to do you some good. Otherwise, pounds 29 might seem rather a lot to pay for what could be achieved just as easily in the back garden.

Regular visitors to the beauty counter may suppose that the Princess Marcella Borghese range of products is a recent invention with a particularly daft name. In fact, although the range was relaunched in 1992, the company was founded 20 years ago by a genuine Italian princess. She was a frequent visitor to the Montecatini spa in Tuscany, well known for its beneficial effects, and hit on the idea of getting her personal chemist to make up skin creams using the spa's mineral-rich volcanic mud.

Fango (Italian for mud) Active Mud for Face and Body contains nine specific minerals, along with a number of herbs and botanics; astringent, antiseptic geranium, lavender to balance the skin's natural functions, peppermint to purify and cleanse and avocado to soothe and moisturise. We're talking natural beauty long before there was a Body Shop in every high street.

Borghese make some pretty extravagant claims for Fango. "It's a deep- pore cleanser which dissolves clogging debris and draws off impurities," explains Mary Scott at the company's UK distributors. "It also invigorates, exfoliates, hydrates and firms the skin to reduce fine lines. It's very stimulating, so you can use it on the body to reduce the appearance of cellulite." The independent Montecatini Dermatological Institute provides scientific back-up for the spa's magical properties.

For your pounds 29, you get 500g of incredibly thick, deep olive mud, a dinky little sponge and an glass preserving jar you can use to keep pate in afterwards. The mask did indeed leave my skin feeling soft and matte, and since I discovered that medieval monks prescribed St John's Wort like we use Prozac, I have become a believer in natural products.

But what of the Body Shop? Surely its Warming Mineral Mask must be cheaper and just as effective. It might look that way, but at pounds 5.25 for 100ml, it works out at only marginally less expensive. On the positive side, a compound called Zeolite produces a novel warming effect when combined with water, opening the pores to receive the full benefits of the kaolin clay. But 15 ingredients, even groovy-sounding ones like Zingiber officinalis (aka ginger oil), look pretty paltry next to, count 'em, Borghese's 31, with all their added aromatherapeutic action. Plus my skin didn't feel as nice.

Fab, therefore, though the Body Shop very often is, on this occasion Marcella Borghese appears to be spectacular value for money.