www.lipstick.com

You can't buy your favourite cleanser on the internet - yet. But you can browse in peace and there are tips galore. ANNALISA BARBIERI goes surfing
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If, like most people, you've been avoiding the internet, the subject of skincare might just lure you on. Almost all the major cosmetics companies now have their own websites where you can read up on products, find out what's new and e-mail the company direct. This last is a particularly useful tool because while most of us wouldn't bother to put pen to paper or phone a skincare company, e-mailing is easy. So if your favourite lipstick colour has disappeared off the shelves or you've suddenly developed an allergy to your usual cleanser, then you can ask the people who know what they're going to do about it. And, what bliss to be able to browse without being hassled by an assistant.

But buying beauty products via the internet has yet to really take off. With the exception of Molton Brown (www.moltonbrown.com) you can't buy any of the big names online in this country. The reason is the deal they have with department stores - their lifeblood - so quite understandably they don't want to alienate them. After all, if everyone bought their moisturiser direct from the manufacturer, the glossy perfume halls of Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols et al would be eerily empty. Things are a little more advanced in America - Clinique (www.clinique.com) started selling online in the US at the beginning of the year. It has no plans to do so here yet but it's still fun to go into its online US store and see what American customers can get that we can't.

The real beauty of the internet, however, comes when dealing with subjects that are all too often passed over in other sections of the media. There are hundreds of articles every year on how to make your eyes look bigger, but precious few on the things that really bother people, such as eczema and acne. A really excellent site is Sher System's (www.sher.co.uk/skincare). It's a bit too full on when talking about its founder, Helen Sher, ("she should be cherished and nurtured as a national treasure") but wade past the treacle because this is a site that has been put together with real care. There is information on acne, the drugs available and their side effects (Helen strongly believes acne and other skin conditions, such as rosacea, can be treated without drugs); what Sher System products can do for you (lots judging by the letters she receives, and I've seen them). There are relevant articles from newspapers you can link into and you can also buy the products by sending an e-mail.

Regular readers will know that Helen Sher advocates the use of water, as does the man who invented the splashing technique, Erno Laszlo. The Erno Laszlo site (www.ernolaszlo.com) went live only at the beginning of this year so some sections aren't fully up and running yet. In the near future you will be able to answer some questions and get "clocked", the Laszlo method of telling you if you have a dry, oily or in-between skin. Again, you can't buy on-line "yet, but this may change". (It's the same story with all of them - I think they're looking for some magic formula whereby they can sell online but not piss the big stores off. Good luck.) You can read all about the Laszlo philosophy (and my spies tell me that after reading this newspaper's profile on Erno a few month's ago, someone Very Important Indeed asked for more info to be sent to her) and e-mail an adviser with your skin problem.

My vote for the most useful site goes to the Skincare Campaign (www.skincarecampaign.org/). This is made up of "an alliance of patient groups, companies and other organisations with a common interest in skin health" - folk such as the National Eczema Society (www.eczema.org), the British Association of Dermatologists and the Health Education are involved. It has a quarterly newsletter that tells you the latest news on skin issues - August's details how the British Association of Dermatologists is launching guidelines for GP training in dermatology. It lists lots of useful addresses, such as that for the cosmetic camouflage network (no website but you can e-mail on thropm@resources.demon.co.uk), loads of info about eczema - what causes it, different types, info for teachers and so on. And there's an excellent events calendar which lists meetings up and down the country for related issues.

For a bit of light relief, go to www.beautylink.com where you can turn to Angora "ask me, darlin'" Teasdale for advice. The currently posted problem is about dark circles under the eyes and the answer is really rather good. Angora, bless her, not only talks you through the different causes but also tells you that "Indian women who are prone to dark circles swear by red lipstick". Not, as I thought, used on the lips to detract from said panda eyes, but actually applied, very lightly, on to the dark circles under foundation.

But I've saved the best till last. Dermatology Cinema (www.skinema.com) is truly a work of art. This is one to check out at work because your telephone bill will go sky high. You can find out who sported moles or other lesions in various films, gawp at actors' sun-damaged skin (Bardot, Redford) and there's an alphabetical list of actors who either have a skin condition or have played a character with one. Did you know that James Cromwell (the farmer in Babe) sported a mild form of rosacea? Or that Richard Gere's birthmark (under his left shoulder, and there's a close-up) appeared in Breathless? Want to gawp at Minnie Driver's freckled/liver spotted/age-spotted (depending on how bitchy you're feeling) arms? Here's where to do it. And if Vail Reese MD who compiles the site has missed any skin-related film appearances then you can e-mail him direct at his San Francisco Bay office and tell him.

ADVICE WORTH LOGGING ON FOR

www.thebaldtruth.org

Chat with others who have/are losing their hair and get useful information about balding.

www.beautynet.com

The best thing about this site is the Bulletin Board where you can post a query or answer someone else's. At the moment, Babydoll has been having problems with her acne and doesn't like her cleanser. Flowergirl is looking for a pinkish/silver irridecent (sic) eyeshadow. You could get addicted to this site.

www.evelom.co.uk

Read all about her legendary cleanser and order products. A slick, to- the-point but meaty site.

www.aveda.com

Lists every product Aveda makes. Imagine what you'd buy if you had lots of money.

www.lancome.com

Shows all the latest colours and lists in-store events.

www.revlon.com

Fun for about two seconds. You can change the model's make-up. (I recommend Iced Silver eyes and Bolt lipstick.)

www.clarins.com

A bit like reading a magazine with fact sheets on subjects such as how to relax (using its products, of course).

WATCH OUT FOR

Neal's Yard Remedies' site (www.nealsyard.co.uk) which launches Christmas time. And Jo Malone (www.jomalone.co.uk) goes live next month.

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