Monday, February 22, 2010

Bath time … for Mama

My maternal grandmother may have driven her daughters a bit nuts with her vanity, but she never had a hair out of place, her lips were expertly drawn, and her skin was always powdered to perfection. Her beauty was her pride and driving force as she raised and educated five children in post Korean-War Seoul -- all the while, sewing and knitting their clothes by hand. In my grandmother's fashion, no matter what happens with A in the morning, I put myself together in one way or another before I head out the door. But just because you start the day "fresh off the shelf" doesn't mean you're going to come home looking or feeling that way. And that's when you indulge in a long, warm, bath.

I grew up traveling and spending a lot of time in Japan and Korea where the bath/spa culture is huge and historic. Soaking and/or immersing yourself in very hot water for long periods is considered something that should be done if not daily (Japan), then at least weekly (Korea). The hot bath, which customarily you would do in the evening, is where you 'remove the day,' cleanse yourself of toxins, and stimulate blood flow.

A relaxing soak of at least 15-20 minutes is extraordinarily restorative. We spend so much time bathing our kids and letting them have fun in the tub that it's easy to overlook the importance of being in there yourself. Set it up as your at-home spa treatment -- schedule it like you would a massage. Make sure you won't have any interruptions: turn your phone off, have the kids in bed. Then, draw your bath to a temperature of your liking. You can add a couple of drops of bath oil (like Neutrogena Body Oil , $11, or Bamford Baby & Massage Oil, $56) to help seal the moisture into your skin. But, I usually prefer plain hot water, which in and of itself will hydrate skin, not to mention soothe any aching or tense areas of your body.

Give yourself time to decompress, and relish in the tranquility.

Lovely Bath 1-2-3:

1) If you prefer a bubbly soak, I always enjoy the aroma of Philip B. bath products. Try his Thai Tea Mind & Body Wash ($35: 12 oz.).

2) Candles do add a luxe element to a home bath. Here is a scented candle set by Kai Fragrance ($40), that reminds me of Hawaiian Ginger leis.

3) One of my new, favorite bath towels is the traditional Turkish Pestemal ($25). It's lightweight -- the baby's heavy enough -- absorbent, and dries quickly.

-- N.C.

Disclaimer: Nuy Cho has no affiliation to any of the beauty companies mentioned on

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Surviving the Home Haircut

During my twenties, I cut my hair constantly. I experimented with layers, bangs, different lengths -- you name it. Maybe it stemmed from my love of scissors, which I get from my mother. She had a pair of stainless steel sewing Singer's, which now are as old as me, and they still cut through jeans like a knife through butter. As a child, the clicking sound they made was sensational -- the undulating rhythm of creativity at work.  When A was born I vowed not to touch her hair for several years. Her hair was precious in a way mine had never been. But then during a painful, cry-filled, teething day, A started yanking furiously at her hair as it fell uncomfortably in her eyes. The time had come for her first haircut.

I took a couple of deep breaths before I started, and though I merely trimmed the front, I felt a pang of, strangely, guilt? For fifteen and a half months these loving locks had grown with my little girl.  In the end, A was so relieved to have the hair out of her face that amidst the swollen gums she quieted down. I'd helped her cope. And when I took a step back, I saw that the new fringe was a bit Betty Page!

Since then, I've given her a full-on haircut, and experienced none of the emotions I originally had. It was easy. I realized that children need haircuts regularly to maintain healthy hair, just as adults do. It rejuvenates hair growth by alleviating some of the weight. And sure a little kid's ends don't endure the same amount, or kind, of wear and tear that an adult's does, but the ends are the oldest area of every strand. And with A's curly hair, it was refreshing to see how much more her ringlets bounced and spiraled naturally with less weight.

The trick to a successful, at-home haircut is to have a good pair of scissors. Just like with food prep where you're less likely to cut yourself with a sharper knife, your child's hair will be cut more safely and efficiently with a solid pair of hair-cutting shears. Our last haircut took all of ten minutes. I didn't have a smock so I took a small garbage bag and cut out three holes: one at the bottom seam for her head, and then two at the side seams for her arms. You can place a cotton bib underneath the smock for added protection from the falling locks. A went into the high chair, Sesame Street was turned on, and I gave her a snack cup.

With A's curls, my plan of attack was to go around her in a circle and take a 1/2-inch off as evenly as possible. And with curlier hair, remember that when it's wet it appears longer than it is, so be careful not to take off more than you'd like. After spraying her hair with water, I combed it out, removing all the tangles. Then, using the comb to grab one-inch sections of hair from the roots (working around her head in a downward spiral from the crown), I would slide the sections through the index and third fingers of my left hand (I'm a rightie), stopping just short of a 1/2-inch from the ends. At that point I would snip with the scissors in my right hand. I took some photographs with A's doll to illustrate.

While cutting, your fingers should always be there in between the scissors and your child as a safety. You can still manage even lines while using your fingers to hold the hair against their neck, forehead, ear, etc. If you're having trouble keeping your child still -- bangs can be particularly challenging -- you can always try when they're asleep, and/or have a friend/husband/partner help you hold their head. One trick I've used for both my fringe and A's is to cut at an angle (see photo) as you go across. This will give you a softer, easier to cut, line.

Pro Cut 1-2-3:

1) I love these scissors by Diane Professional ($65). They saw me through some of my own at-home haircuts and now they're navigating A's.

2) A spray bottle ($3) filled with water is useful not only for haircuts but for daily styling and detangling. Our spray bottle was actually what kept A still for most of her last haircut. She kept spraying her face with it, exclaiming, "OOOH!"

3) The comb I use for A is this Mason Pearson ($26) one. It is a great detangler for both straight hair like mine or curlier hair like hers.


Disclaimer: Nuy Cho has no affiliation to any of the beauty companies mentioned on

Monday, February 8, 2010

Outsmarting Dry Skin

Any item entering my house, no matter how small, requires the most careful consideration regarding design, tactility, and function. Seems anal, but this is how I've always operated. When I was 8 years old and had to pick a dress to perform piano in with the Honolulu Symphony, nothing off-the rack would do so I picked a pattern and worked with a seamstress. No kidding -- my poor Mother. Before I had a kid though, no one ever fought me on my choices. I was head of Chez Nuy. That said, for A's first pair of mittens, I searched high and low for the best pair to combat the cold air, and the dry skin it was inflaming on her hands. When they arrived at our door, I put the selection on A and to my dismay, she freaked out. A hated the mittens -- everything about them. Our, my mitten meet-and-greet had gone awfully awry: my fashion remedy for her chapped hands was a no-go.

When we're out and about, I try to keep A's hands tucked into her oversized, Polo jacket. But when she's snacking, playing Ring Around the Rosy, or negotiating the jungle gym, her little mitts are inevitably exposed to the chilly NYC air, and the area below her knuckles suffers. Like her hair, A's skin is dry, and the winters are typically challenging -- what with the overheated, moistureless apartments and the icy, outside air. And maybe it's sympathy-symptoms, but my own hands, on and around the knuckles have also been raw and chapped, similar to A's. There are days when the pinkness of my knuckles are akin to the prettiest spring blush, but blush doesn't, and shouldn't burn! 

A's intense dry skin can act out, particularly in arid conditions, expressing itself as mild atopic dermatitis, per her pediatrician. Her case is far from severe, but when it's intense it has caused tiny bumps to rise on her body (concentrated on her stomach, her bum -- areas where clothing is most often rubbing against her skin), and caused discomfort to the point where she'll itch the problem areas until chafing occurs. 

It's important to remember a few basics when dealing with mild baby eczema / atopic dermatitis: Use a humidifier (here's Hello Kitty one, $39), apply moisturizer daily and liberally, don't wash the skin too often with drying soaps (use pH balanced soaps like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($6), which is safe for babies), and alternate washes with soap by just cleansing your child with water.  

I was feeling victorious because I had recently gotten both pairs of hands at Chez Nuy in tip top shape -- mostly due to the religious application of lotion (here's a luxurious one I love for Mom by Rescue Beauty, $42) and lots of Vaseline before bedtime. Then today, while we were out in the tundra of the city's early February blizzard making snowmen, a friend of mine offered A a pair of white toddler gloves akin to Minnie Mouse's or an old-fashioned waiter's. Gasp! Something I never would've picked.

But A kept them on, flashing me a satisfied smile as she gathered some snow, fully-gloved: Yes, mama, I like these!

Dry Skin 1-2-3:

1) Vaseline ($5): This inexpensive classic that I use daily for A, is a fantastic heal-all and works well for both baby and mom. Put it on the raw areas (works great for diaper rashes and chapped lips too) when you and/or your kid goes to bed. You'll see a difference overnight.

2) Mustela Dermo-Pediatrics Stelatopia Moisturizing Cream ($19): After trying many, this was the only lotion that made A's tiny, dry skin bumps go away. 

3) Aveeno Baby Soothing Bath Treatment ($5): You can use this a few times a week to soothe dry, itchy skin (and it also works for diaper rash). Just make sure to have your child soak for at least ten to fifteen minutes in the treatment.

UPDATE (March 21, 2010):
Try Vanicream. A and I have been having fantastic results with it in the last few weeks. It is possibly the most irritant-free moisturizer I have found so far, and highly absorbent.

-- N.C.

Disclaimer: Nuy Cho has no affiliation to any of the beauty companies mentioned on 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Baby Curls 101

My daughter, sporting the natural curls I always coveted.
All my life I dreamt of having curls. There was this girl at the high school I went to in Honolulu who had the most sensational head of sun-kissed, blond spirals -- the Shirley Temple of the Surf. I was supremely envious and looked in the mirror at my sorry, straight hair, wishing my hair gene would spontaneously mutate. Then I gave birth to a mixed-race daughter with natural corkscrews and was suddenly faced with the reality of curly hair: tangles, crazy bed-head, even mini dreadlocks! I realized beautiful curls were going to take a little know-how.

My daughter has my fine hair, but with quite a curl. Her ringlets can be gorgeous but as all moms know, babies spend a lot of time with their heads rubbing the backs of pillows, strollers, rugs, etc., and that means a lot of whacked-out hair. I started approaching moms on the playground and asked them about their curlicue routines. And though I got some advice overall, I was surprised to discover that most were still miffed, even if they had curls themselves as to what to do with the little mane, in an easy, manageable way.

The only case I heard of where the curls (and routine) were impeccable involved a mother conditioning her toddler daughter's hair every morning with Pantene. The kicker being that after detangling her hair with a comb, she would let the Pantene sit and set for five minutes under a shower cap before rinsing. The spirals, as a result: picture-perfect 24-7. But both my busy toddler and lifestyle demand a simpler routine.

After a few months of trial and error I figured out what worked: the bottom line being that we wash and condition only twice a week, with some minor maintenance in between. And with this the tangles are minor, and my daughter's hair is healthy and clean. And most importantly, we have more time to luxuriate in our lives.

Easy Curls 1-2-3:

1) Shampoo and Condition: Twice a week

My daughter's hair is on the dry side. As a rule, the curlier the hair, the less natural moisture it maintains. Oil from the scalp travels more easily down the straight hair's shaft than it does with curly hair. Early on, I was washing her hair on a daily basis. Then I realized it was frizzing, had way too much static, and was matting more as a result. Washing and conditioning twice a week provides the right amount of time saved as well as maintaining the right balance of natural oils.

For washing, we’ve been enjoying an organic, tearless, and moisturizing shampoo ($9) and conditioner ($10) by It’s a Curl. For wet-detangling, I let the conditioner sit in the hair for a minute or so while she plays in the tub. Then I take my fingers, or you can use a plastic needle brush like our Hello Kitty one ($5), and gently remove all the tangles before rinsing.

2) Dry Combing: 2-3 times a week

In between the washes it's important to provide some light maintenance to keep the knots at bay and the spirals bouncy. You will need a wide-toothed comb (try this one by Conair, $2) and a detangling product, or you can just opt for water in a spray bottle. We alternate between these detangling products: Fairy Tales Static Free Leave-in Detangling Spray ($9) and Johnson’s No More Tangles Leave-in Conditioner ($5), although I admit to preferring the slightly milder scent of the latter.

3) Styling: If you want, when you want!

For those days you want to amp up those corkscrews, try this Hair Milk ($12: 4 oz.) by Carol’s Daughter, which is safe for baby but designed for moms so you can both use it. And as a rule, don’t apply styling products to the roots, just toward the ends or you'll end up with greasy hair.

Bonus tip!  You can convert blah waves into spirals: Wrap a section of hair around your index finger like a telephone cord while rubbing the product in with your thumb and index finger.


Disclaimer: Nuy Cho has no affiliation to any of the beauty companies mentioned on