Real bodies: Hangover rule one: do not look in a mirror

When you've been on the sauce, your skin is the first thing to suffer. ANNALISA BARBIERI explains how to make it better

A microwave once saved my life. One morning, having spent most of the previous night vomiting recycled alcohol into a bucket, I woke up quite close to death. Cold, shivery, blood sugar level well into the danger zone, I shuffled into the kitchen, slung a baking potato into the microwave, cooked it, sliced it open and mashed in some butter and salt. If I had had to wait for it to cook in a conventional oven I would have been in a coma.

Now, for serious hangovers, that is about all you can manage and, coupled with drinking copious amounts of water, that is really all you need to do. Not for one minute can we pretend that a beauty routine has any place during the 24 hours after a heavy night's partying. But after this, as too much food and drink work their way out of your system, some remedial action may be necessary. You can buy almost everything mentioned here before New Year, and even if you don't manage it, where possible I have given "cupboard basics" alternatives.

Remember that the skin is seen by our wise old bodies as the least important organ. So when we pump ourselves full of wine, spirits and sausage rolls, the crap has to come out somewhere and the skin is where our system decides it's going to dump it. This is why spots, all-over body rashes and the like often manifest themselves after we have eaten and drunk like pigs.

What to do? Nearly all of us have a small tub of bicarbonate of soda in the back of the larder, and a solution of this dabbed on with cotton wool can certainly calm down angry skin. If things are really bad, you can even put a few tablespoons of BoS in the bath and soak your whole body in it. (Please be careful if you are still half cut - drowning is a dreadful way to end a party.) The more organised among us can allow ourselves a moment of smugness because we will, of course, have put on Guerlain's Issima Midnight Secret, pounds 68, before bed. This should really be called The Party-Goer's Friend because it is superb at making you look fab even on two hours' sleep.

Next drink a glass of water (sparkling with a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of sugar - a good way to settle your stomach). Alcohol or smoking will deprive the skin of oxygen, which makes for a dull, sometimes almost transparent complexion. If you can bear to lean over a sink, splashing (see for the splashing fact sheet) is a good way to get oxygen to the skin and rehydrate it. If not, don't worry, all that stuff can come later. A good replenisher for skin is Lancome's Souplesse, pounds 19.50. This is excellent at turning dry, stretched, flaky skin into plumped up, dewy, soft, happy skin; ditto Origins' Drink Up, pounds 17. But if you don't have moisturising masks in the cupboard you can just apply a thicker-than-usual layer of your normal moisturiser.

Now drink another glass of water and lie back for 15 minutes or two hours, whichever seems to come sooner. If all the cream hasn't been greedily supped up by your poor skin, wipe it off with a damp cloth. (Normally, you understand, I would recommend splashing it off but hangovers call for a different way of doing things.) If you have no creams, maybe you will have some yoghurt in the fridge? If you do, a couple of teaspoons of the stuff, mixed with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dollop of honey, is lovely spread on to skin for five minutes. (This is Jo Malone's recipe for a face mask.) That's if the smell of yoghurt doesn't make you feel sick.

By this time you will no doubt be exhausted. A baked potato would be good at this stage, all that carbohydrate slowly releasing energy into your system, mashed up with some salt to help with lost minerals and some butter cos it tastes so good. And a glass of water. While you're in the kitchen see if you have some frozen peas or lollies that you can wrap in a T-shirt and stick over your forehead. The latter can also be used to soothe a hot, arid mouth. Now a five-minute power-nap. Remember that good skin is a holistic approach.

And up you get, and drink another glass of water. If going out is something you have to face up to soon, I hope you either have some Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat, pounds 19.50, or Chanel's Precision Eye Protection Moisturising Radiance Complex, pounds 24. Both are completely worth the money because they are fantastic; they contain light-reflective particles that greatly disguise dark circles around the eyes. Sadly, there is no home-made alternative although two cotton wool pads soaked in freezing cold water and then applied on the eye lids is very soothing. (Resist the urge to fall asleep; it is about now that you will experience flashbacks and remember what you did the night before.) In an ideal world you would have a pot of Martha Hill Evening Primrose Toning Gel, pounds 7.30, in the fridge which you would now put on and let sink in for a moment before applying your usual moisturiser. This toning gel is really wonderful. It's slightly tightening, and once cooled it's just bloody fantastic.

A shower is, of course, a great pick-me-up and two of the best shower gels I have ever tested are Neal's Yard Remedies' Rosemary and Elderflower, pounds 3.50, and Origins' Mint Condition, pounds 14.50. Remember that post-partying one's sense of smell becomes cruelly more acute so anything with a heavy scent is likely to make you reach for that bucket again. Luckily neither of these products is likely to cause offence.

Hair is the other casualty of a hangover; invariably it will smell like an ashtray. The obvious thing to do is wash it (Origins' complementary mint shampoo, Clear Head, pounds 8.50, is a must here) but if you don't have time or just can't be bothered, then fill a water spritzer with water and two drops of vinegar (no more or you will smell like a chippy) and a squeeze of lemon and spray over hair. If even this is beyond you, you may have some Christmas clementines around: eat one and get the peel and squeeze some of the oil out on your hair and rub it in. It's better to smell of citrus fruit than fags.

In the days after a binge, spots will appear. Let them come out. It's no use me saying "don't pick them" since you have to be really strange to be able to resist picking a spot. So go right ahead and gouge them out but please make sure you have one of the following before you do so. Either stock up on The Sher System's On The Spot, pounds 12.50, which is great for drying out spots and also acts as a concealer, or get what I think is the best spot treatment of all (On The Spot is a close second though), Guerlain's Creme Camphrea, pounds 15, which is Germolene pink. It is billed as a treatment and concealer but I think you'd have to have the most bizarre colour skin for it to blend in. No matter, it just works so much better than all the others. Put it on before flopping in front of the telly (with a large glass of water). And before you know it you'll be ready to start the whole thing all over again.

Stockists: Neal's Yard Remedies (tel: 0171 627 1949(; The Sher System (tel: 0171 499 4022); both numbers will be manned 29 and 30 December. Martha Hill mail order (tel: 0800 9806665) - you will be able to place orders to be delivered in January. Chanel, Guerlain, Yves Saint Laurent and Lancome will all be available to buy from large department stores.

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