Italian Peasant Beauty Tips From My Feisty 90-Year-Old Grandmother

“Don’t put anything on-a your body that you wouldn’t put in-a your body.”
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Publish date:
April 25, 2013
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DIY, olay, family, recipes, Italy

You know those grandmas who slip you $20s and sneak you cookies? Mine’s not one of them.

My Nonna is 4 feet of Italian fury—a 90-year-old spitfire who’s always eager to share wisdom, guilt and pasta. I lived with her for two months when I first moved to Toronto. The strict 11pm bedtime she enforced quickly turned me into a boxed-wine alcoholic, which worked out well because she yells when she talks, and her advice was a lot easier to digest with a wine-warm belly.

I’d tune her out when she’d ask me, “Why you no marry?” but I listened to her beauty advice with rapt attention because she’s 90 and pretty much has firmer skin than I do.

A strict Oil-of-Olay-er, when it comes to treatments, Nonna Fanny is all about 20th century hills-of-Italy methods that will make both mother earth and your body very happy.

Her motto: “Don’t put anything on-a your body that you wouldn’t put in-a your body.” (Except Oil of Olay, and don’t eat that.)

GARLIC

“You want a nice skin?” Nonna asked me one day as I slathered Nutella on a piece of toast, trying to forget about the giant zit on my chin. “Garlic.”

Nonna’s go-to product is garlic. It’s like her Windex. (If you’ve seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, that’ll make sense. If you haven’t, you should.) She once told my uncle Steve, who has been horseshoe-bald since he was 19, to “rub-a the garlic on the head; make-a the hair grow.”

We all laughed at that, but in my research, I learned she might be onto something. Garlic has killer antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and stimulating properties, so with its encouraging nature, that pungent bulb may even be able to make hair grow.

And I’ll be damned--it makes zits shrink! The next time you get a massive pimple, try rubbing the sliced edge of a half a garlic clove on it instead of crying, or popping it.

I’M A POPPER.

And I have the scars to prove it. Garlic might be the only substance strong enough to stop me. If garlic shows up, I’m like, “OK, I trust you. You can kick my ass.” If garlic were a person, she’d be Wonder Woman.

LEMON

For a toner that’s loaded with vitamin C and safe for everyday use, try lemon juice and water. Just dab a cotton pad in it and sweep across your face. Ahhh. I suddenly feel like drinking a gin and tonic on a beach.

Speaking of beaches, when I lived in Italy, I used to bring lemons to the beach with me, cut them and douse my hair with their juice. Nature’s highlights were better than anything I’ve ever paid for.

In fact, my regular stylist was all, “where did you get this color?” when I came back home. From the lemons and the sun, yo!

I now do this in public parks because I no longer live in Italy and don’t have a backyard.

YOGURT

Let’s move on to rashes and sensitive skin. I once accidentally bought some sort of Ocean Mist or Bermuda Leaf Sweat laundry detergent instead of my normal scent-free and washed my sheets with it. The next day, I woke up with a face like Freddie Krueger’s. It was an itchy, irritated nightmare.

Later that day, at a family function, Nonna was quick to notice my red, irritated skin and told me to put some plain yogurt on it. It soothes and heals and feels heavenly, too.

Plain yogurt works just fine for sensitive skin, but if you’re looking for a more hydrating, nourishing, line-reducing mask situation, mash up half an avocado and half a banana with the yogurt and drizzle in some honey to bind it all together.

This mask isn’t pretty, but it smells delicious and leaves your skin hydrated, nourished and glowing. It’s like a hug for your face.

OLIVE OIL

I called Nonna for this article. She yelled at me for 10 minutes because I’m still not married or with child, but I managed to ask for her number-one beauty tip.

At first, she said, “What? I no remember.”

She eventually remembered that it's olive oil, and she also wants me to tell you all that she’s praying for you.

Both Nonna and Sophia Loren swear by using extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) on their skin. It’s soooo moisturizing and loaded with antioxidants, and you will smell fresh, like a garden salad.

It’s best to apply the olive oil right out of the shower for quicker absorbency. You can use it on your face, too, if putting oil on your face doesn’t freak you out.

I’m hardcore and use it straight from the bottle, but if you fancy, you can make a half-water/half-EVOO emulsion in a spray bottle and spritz yourself like Cleopatra might have.

STRAWBERRIES

We’ve come to the strawberry scrub, which is where Nonna lost me. Considering she used to cry with delight as a child on that odd Christmas morning when she’d get an orange, I really don’t think that if she came across a strawberry in those days, she’d mash it up and slather it on her face.

Some of these recipes were harvested in the hills of Italy’s pastoral land, and others were likely taken from a segment she observed on Kathie Lee & Hoda.

For the strawberry scrub, I recommend using older berries, with plenty of visible seeds. Cut two up “fine a fine” and mash them with a tablespoon of honey until a spreadable paste is created. Then rub it on your face.

You should do this in the shower--it’s messy. The period scene from Carrie may come to mind when you look down after your scrub, but it’s worth it.

You can use the berries on your body, too. The fruit enzymes and seeds will exfoliate your skin, while the honey moisturizes. It’s also delicious, so I ate whatever fell off my face because I’m gross like that.

Here’s a rundown of Nonna’s best beauty tips. Good a-luck!

Garlic Spot Treatment

  • 1 clove garlic, raw
  • Gut a garlic clove in half and apply juicy side directly to the pimple. You can do this a couple of times and let it dry. It will sting a bit, sorry.

Green Goo Mask

  • half an avocado
  • two to three tablespoons of plain, natural yogurt
  • half a mushy banana
  • one tablespoon of honey
  • Mash together in a bowl and slather on your face. Wait until dry, then remove with a washcloth.

Olive Oil

For skin moisturizing and make up removing. Extra virgin, first cold pressed. No exceptions.

Lemons

  • For face toner, cut the lemon juice with some water before dipping a cotton ball in and sweeping across your lovely face.
  • For summer highlights, cut a lemon and paint your desired highlights with lemon juice.

Strawberry Scrub

  • two ripe strawberries
  • one tablespoon of honey
  • Cut up strawberries “fine-a-fine” and mash with honey until good and mushy. Then, rub on skin for a few minutes and rinse with warm water. And eat, if you wish.

Let me know if you try any of Nonna’s recipes!