The broadcaster and author reveals her post-menopause confidence-boosters for thickening hair, smoothing skin and calming the mind
As chair of the Menopause Mandate campaign, not to mention co-author of one of the best books on menopause and perimenopause out there Cracking the Menopause, journalist Mariella Frostrup, 59, is a true trailblazer when it comes to all things menopause. Her 2018 documentary The Truth About Menopause was one of the first of its kind, produced after Mariella's three years of lobbying the BBC to tackle the then 'taboo' subject finally paid off. It paved the way for others such as Davina McCall, who has made two hugely successful menopause documentaries and who, like Mariella in the documentary, shared her exact HRT regime in a bid to normalise the conversation.
Mariella continues to laud HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for its insomnia and anxiety-busting capabilities ("my current reliance on a daily squirt of gel and nightly popping of a pill seems a small price to pay for so many health benefits," she concurs) but how exactly does she manage the menopause's impact from head to toe?
Keen to glean her skin, hair and makeup secrets, Get The Gloss editorial director Victoria Woodhall sat down for a chat with Mariella, who is based in Somerset.
From her love of face creams ("I'd rather sell my car than be without") to the hair-thickening spray she swears by and her £7.49 dry body hack, it turns out Mariella is just as transparent about the beauty weapons she employs.
My makeup marvels
"There was a watershed moment in my early fifties when I realised that makeup had become compulsory, unless I was in strict home hibernation. Being bare-faced no longer suggested fresh and healthy, but had become Victorian late-stage consumption in my case. I have to wear it to avoid frightening people in the street.
"Now I'm all about defining my eyes. MAC Eyeshadow in Omega, £17 – a lovely caramel – is my go-to eye shadow but in the summer, I swap it for a cream shadow as I like something with a bit of a sheen.
"I like really dark eyebrows and get mine, and my lashes, tinted. I've tried all kinds of products for filling them in and find most break so quickly but I've had a Laura Mercier Eye Brow Pencil, £21, in a dark brown shade for donkey's years.
"I also love Charlotte Tilbury products. After the Cannes Film Festival, I was invited into her bedroom to try on different makeup and it was one of the most exciting hours of my life.
"She looked at me and said 'you, you Dolce Vita' and gave me all the products from her Dolce Vita collection [now called The Bella Sophia collection]. I've narrowed it down to her Pillow Talk Push-Up Lashes Mascara, £25, and her brilliant Filmstar Bronze & Glow, £49. Her Rock 'n' Kohl Eyeliner Pencils, £21 each, are wonderful, too. I'm very careless about putting on eyeliner but I find these quite easy to deal with. I use Barbarella Brown and Midnight Blue which weirdly brings out the colour of my green eyes.
"A stylist friend of mine once told me Demi Moore is never without a tint on her cheeks so I started using Benefit Benetint Lip Stain and Liquid Blush Tint, £16, that gives me a flush as if I've been up to something naughty; like I'm still alive.
"Lipstick doesn't really work for me unless I've got loads of eye makeup on but my best friend bought me Dior Addict Lip Maximizer in Pink, £30, and it's lovely for plumping your lips a bit as they become thinner.
"I also wear Trinny London BFF Skin Perfector SPF30 in Light, £39, every day. I think Trinny [Woodall] is fabulously inspiring, I love her. That's the only product I use with SPF in it unless I'm on holiday. I wish I'd been more careful with sun protection when I was younger because I have sun damage all over my body – my tan is just made up of freckles joining up. But I was young and foolish."
Dry skin rituals
"After the age of 50, I noticed a definite drop in my face's smoothness and an increase in pigmentation but, most of all, thinning skin all over my body. In the spirit of full confession, I've had twice-annual anti-wrinkle injections for the deep frown lines developing between my brows, and I once had a treatment called the Six Point Lift, by Dr Dray.
"But I'm mainly a sucker for a good face cream – a habit inherited from my mum; even when we had no money for shopping as a child, she would always have one. I like Elixseri Rescue Diver Hydrating and Cell Plumping Serum, £85, which really helps smooth my skin. It drinks it up. I'd rather sell my car than be without that.
"Dr Barbara Sturm products, in particular her Super Anti-Aging Face Cream, £225, are also amazing. I'd have it cannulised, if I could. I mean, you have to re-mortgage your house to buy it but it's totally changed the elasticity of my skin.
"Her Eye Cream, £115, Balancing Shampoo, £50, and Hydrating Conditioner, £50 – while costing a fortune – are also incredible. I'm a devotee – a disciple.
"Every night, I cleanse with Eve Lom Cleanser, £60, and use Vaseline, £1.95, to take off my eye makeup – another trick learned from my mother. I never understand why anyone buys eye makeup remover because it works so well and seems to make my eyelashes thicker. And for a deep cleanse, I use Aesop Primrose Facial Cleansing Mask, £43, that sucks everything out of my pores.
"To really lubricate the dry skin on my body, I mix Jason Vitamin E Skin Oil, £7.49, with Cowshed Replenish Uplifting Body Lotion, £22, as I find body oil alone just sits on top of the skin.
Faking a blow-dry at home
"I've never really worried about my makeup in work situations but my hair has always been a 'thing.' If my hair looks okay, I feel dressed up and professional. But I've always felt like a failure as a woman because I can't give myself a blow-dry. Now I've discovered Dyson Airwrap, £449.99, and it really works. I rough dry my hair, clip it up in sections and then curl it under at the ends.
"I take a hair supplement formulation that my friend Gina Bellman recommended. It contains hair helpers such as zinc and selenium, and I'm sure it has thickened my thinning locks. I'm also addicted to Color Wow Raise The Root Thicken and Lift Spray, £21.50.
The wellbeing lessons I've learned
"I can’t help wondering whether menopause is also a reminder to women, who carry so much of the world on their shoulders, that we are not infallible. We need to stop trying to take care of everyone around us and try to take better care of ourselves.
"Yoga is one of my weapons against post-menopause insomnia, stress and generally seizing up. A handful of times in the last five years, I’ve gone to a retreat in Devon called Yeotown. Here, I walk, detox (sensibly – no caffeine, no alcohol, no sugar), and do yoga twice a day.
"Speaking as someone who once spent four days holed up at the Hotel du Cap during the Cannes Film Festival with a selection of debauched movie moguls and George Clooney, with barely an afternoon nap as sustenance, then went straight to work on Monday morning – you may know that imbibing Bacchus’s finest is an activity of which I have some experience.
"Now, though, I know that those happy decades when any problem could be diminished by a vat of fermented grape juice are well and truly behind me. The worsening hangovers are linked to age and hormones, yes, but also connected with levels of hydration, stress and sleep quality. Does that mean that we have to become teetotal? Not necessarily. I like the ‘no drinking at home’ rule, which guarantees most of us at least half the week giving our livers time off.
"Another thing I'm sure helps to maintain my physical and mental health is running. I aim for a couple of three-mile runs a week. If I stop moving, my mood drops and my body stiffens up like an old twig.
"I'm really excited about the FemTech revolution – the idea that women are addressing things that haven't been dealt with for centuries because it was all 'men thinking about what men needed.' The Elvi Smart Pelvic Floor Trainer, £169, is really good. My only disappointment was that I thought it did the training for you. But it turns out, you insert the device and the app on the phone gets you to squeeze really hard and hit lots of dots, like the old-fashioned Space Invaders game. We exercise all the other bits of our body so it makes sense to put that part through a routine, too."
My HRT heroes
"From the age of about 48, I started experiencing horrendous anxiety and sleeplessness. I had countless blood tests and kept being told I was peri-menopausal, post-menopausal and then that I wasn't menopausal at all.
"My GP finally sent me to a brilliant gynaecologist called Sara Matthews who just listened to my symptoms and put me on HRT. That's when things really started to get better.
"I was quite annoyed that I'd been so ignorant about it. I'd always consider myself fairly intelligent –you know, an 'up-on-things woman of the world' – and here was this sort of black hole of ignorance that I slipped into unwittingly. Now I'm on the other side of it, I have a 'Devil may care' attitude and think 'by God that's over' since I never liked having periods anyway.
"I am now completely addicted to HRT and if I don't use it my insomnia and anxiety comes back. But I haven't felt a sense of loss that some women feel. I was miserable in my 20s and early 30s so I'm actually quite relieved that I'm not miserable anymore."
The sleep weapons I swear by
"I'd be a liar if I said there were any supplements I use regularly. I can't help feeling that menopausal women are a gift to the supplements industry, as we can be both vulnerable and desperate. I have seen some quite extraordinary concoctions advertised, especially on social media, and with very strange-sounding ingredients. These often purport to hold the secret to weight loss and amazing energy. That said, I do like certain supplements, which I’ve carefully researched. I take daily vitamin D, B vitamins, a probiotic and omega-3.
"Above all, I love magnesium – I like the brand Better You, from £4.95. My collection may appear to constitute product overload. But fellow sufferers of the debilitating condition known as ‘restless legs syndrome’– problems such as joint and muscle aches and pains are common in menopause – will know that there are few lengths to which we won’t go to banish the symptoms of this little-understood condition. My attacks start with a slight fizzing in my calves that swiftly becomes a brain-addling desperation to stretch my ‘restless’ leg and turn a relaxing night’s sleep into a marathon of irritated wakefulness.
"A friend recommended I buy magnesium tablets a few years ago and, within a few days of taking them, the worst of my symptoms had eased off. Magnesium can be absorbed via the skin, and a quick squirt of a magnesium spray on the affected area before I go to sleep also helps. On nights when there’s time for a pre-bed relaxing bath, I pop in magnesium flakes as well.
"My gynaecologist Sara also showed me how to use melatonin effectively to help 'reset' my body clock if I'm having any problems. I used to take the super-strength tablets and have terrible nightmares. Now, I have a very low dose (2mg) for just a few weeks at a time. Sara advised me there's a huge disparity in brands and you really want to be taking the clinical ones."
Cracking The Menopause while keeping yourself together by Mariella Frostrup and Alice Smellie, £6.99 published in paperback by Bluebird Books/Pan Macmillan is out now