Beauty, Life Style, Style

‘I’ve not really seen anyone that looks good with plastic surgery’ – Helen Prest Ajayi, Ex-beauty queen (BEAUTY SECRETS OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS)

 Looking at her it’s so hard to believe that she recently clocked half a century. It was she who dazzled and mesmerized us in the late 70s when she won the then coveted Miss Nigeria pageant. And here and now after three teenage daughters, she is still turning heads. Refreshingly down to earth and wickedly funny. I had to ask the still stunning lawyer how she does it. Did I mention that cheerful lady laughs  lot?


1-helen ajayiCongratulations on your recent 50th birthday celebrations. You seemed to have had a really good time?

Yes! I wanted something very laid back and informal with all my friends from over the years. I am very laid back.

No, I am serious. Nigerian women want to know how they can get to look like you when they hit 50…

To be honest, there is no real secret. Nothing monumental.

Tell me what are three indispensable beauty items that you can’t live without? And why?

Oh, that’s easy. First is my facial cleanser. I use Clinique Liquid Cleanser No 2 and I’ve been using it for years and years since I was in school. If I don’t use the soap, I use The Clarifying Lotion. I have to say I am a very laidback, lazy even about these things. I don’t like fussy, complicated. I like Clinique because of the 1-2-3 step care. Very easy and straightforward. You just wipe or wash with the soap, moisturize and then you are good to go. So the second thing I can’t do without is the moisturizer. Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion. I can’t do without moisturizer and no woman should. It’s what keeps the skin from permanently creasing and developing wrinkles.

Then I would say Estee Launders Refiner Idealist, it’s a great eye scrum. Yes, those are my three.     

What’s your skin type?

I would say sort of normal but then which woman doesn’t have those times of dry patches every once in a while.

What’s your skin regime like?

Very simple. Wash, clarify and moisturize. I like my skin supple and moisturizing does that. You learn even in school to make sure you wash you face properly or else your skin suffers. I am very minimalist. Having said that, I don’t mind trying turn out to be wonderful. I’ve discovered absolutely lovely products just by trying them once. Like Dermalogica, they are pretty good, I had a facial with their products for a while ago. Clarins cold cream, Glycolin – that’s a skin mast face peel, Rose Musk Face Oil. I like discovering new skin care treats.

Do you wear makeup?

Not really. I mean, when I have an event or going out at night I like MAC foundation. I can blend three different shades because believe me, there is no way a foundation can be your exact shade.

Black women have hundreds of shades.  It’s all the details. That way I get a perfect match for my skin tone. By day I like a very light look so I only use facial powder. The one I like is the one from the Japanese cosmetics company, Sheisido, I use L4 which is actually three shades in one that you blend and brush on. It’s fantastic and very light. I love mascara and eye pencils. I think Lancome make the best mascaras. They’ve got lengthening ones, thickening ones – and they all work fabulously well and don’t clog. I like YSL as well but I find it trends to clog.

What’s the best beauty advice that you tend to live by?

Eat well. Let’s face it, beauty comes from inside out. In fact, I know that from experience if you eat well it will show on your face. I don’t eat special things but I do eat in moderation. Stay in love, be happy! There’s something to your hormones (laughing).

Really? I mean I looked at some of the pictures of my birthday and I almost didn’t recognize myself. I looked so radiant and I think it’s because I was genuinely happy. When you are happy your skin glows, truly.

...With Nike Oshinowo

…With Nike Oshinowo

How do you keep in shape and trim?

That’s the bane of my life I really don’t exercise. I don’t like it. I am too lazy but I find it really boring.

You start off with good intentions. I wake everybody up. Yes, we are going to jog today! We jog for two say and then it’s too much of a hassle. I remember before the party (he 50th birthday party) me and all my friends exercising. I have a great instructor and we did dance. I am learning different dances and that was fun. Even then after the party I haven’t continued. We are back to our sloppy ways. My friends were saying, “Ah, at least, we can eat now the party’s come and gone.”

But realistically you have to be disciplined. There is nothing that I don’t eat from pounded yam, ice cream, even Coca Cola. I am not supposed to take that but once in a while, I do! But I don’t snack. Come on, it’s just a few hours between meals. Can’t you wait till lunchtime? And if you are busy you don’t even notice that time flies and it’s already dinner time it’s greed and indiscipline that make people fat. Stay away from the biscuits and if you must then count it as your meal and wait till dinner before you eat another meal. It’s either or, you can’t have both – food and be snacking and wish to be slim. I don’t deprive myself, I just have very moderate portions and I don’t snack.

What dress size are you?

I’m a size 4 American and size 8 British. I really haven’t changed in size. I clearing out my wardrobe recently and I have clothes of 10, 15 years ago, before I had the children and they still fit. At the moment my daughters raid my wardrobe, because we wear the same size. We wear the same size jeans, although the two oldest are certainly more busty than me. So, we wear the same jeans, trousers and even shoes. It’s funny how we don’t really see ourselves. I always thought I was getting a bit fat, but the clothes still fit perfectly. Clothes I used to wear when I was practicing, they all fit, perfectly. I was planning to throw and give some away, but I changed my mind.

Do you have facials?

I think now that I’m 50 I will have to make an effort to do them. I have had facials, usually when I am on holiday abroad. I had one in America at the Ritz Hilton that made me look and feel 20 years younger! But that’s on holiday, here it’s so difficult for me.

It’s time factor thing. Look, I actually booked an appointment for a facial last Saturday, 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock. I just find I am so busy and so many things just overtake you. That’s how I didn’t go. I am so busy. Now, I don’t even want to look in advance because I find I just don’t have the time, but I must try to make the time.

1-The DressHow do you relax?

I do go for spas when we are on holiday abroad l like to watch films with the children.

What’s your favourite colour?

Yellow. It flatters my skin tone the most. And it’s a happy colour, uplifting. My colours of the moment though are midnight blue and chocolate brown.

What are your favourite perfumes?

I like perfumes. They are nostalgic and bring back memories. I like Tom Ford-Black Orchid. I like old perfumes as well – Charlie, Posion, Chanel No 5, Miss Dior, and White Linen. But I don’t buy hundreds of perfumes and put them on my table. I like to buy a perfumes and put them on my table. I like to buy a perfume and finish it. I like to see the end of it and get that satisfaction. Perfumes are mood enhancers and I believe you are supposed to luxuriate in the scent and enjoy it, feel special in it.

It shouldn’t just be for when you are going out and you dab two drops behind your ear and ten keep it. I wear perfumes even if I am not going anywhere. It’s just one of the luxuries we have part of being a woman.

Do you like lip gloss or lip stick?

I like both because they have different functions. I like lipstick for the intensity of the colour. You are not going to some glitzy place at night and wear just gloss. It’s very natural looking. And one has to be careful because of the shape of your lips and the outing. My daughters can get away with glittery ultra shiny lip gloss, I can’t.

It wouldn’t even suit me. Also, I think glittery lip gloss is for discos and clubs  – for the very young!

What things do you do to your hair?

My hair is another bane of my life. Which woman doesn’t have issue with her hair? I feel like I’ve spent the last 50 years looking for the right hair cut.

…I have to ask is this your real hair?

It is my hair…but I use weaves my hair is very long and fine and full, but because of the humidity if I didn’t use weaves and products it would frizz so badly into one gigantic afro. I can’t imagine myself blow drying my hair every morning. So, I use the weaves to keep it sleek and smooth.

What’s your favourite article in your wardrobe?

I have to say Dane von Furstenberg wrap dresses. I have a few of them and I love them all. They are easy to wear. They hide a multiple of sins. They are smart and non-fussy. All you need is a pair of shoes and bag and you are ready to go.

What’s the most expensive article in your wardrobe?

Probably my Birkin Hermes bag.

What’s your fashion fetish?

Shoes, without a doubt! I know people were shocked by Imelda Marcos’ shoe stash. I certainly wasn’t. No, I love shoes. I am a size 30. I don’t really go for the trendy shoes. I prefer classic shoes. I like Manolo Blahnik best. They are fashionable, yet comfortable and the workmanship is second to none. I like shoes that you can bring out ten, fifteen years later and they still look good to wear. That’s why for me, I don’t mind spending the extra money. I like Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Christian Dior and Ferragamo. I like Chanel slippers, very classy and comfortable. But Manolo is my favourite.  I don’t shop for fashion. I shop to fit my wardrobe, so I always buy something that will work with what I already have, not because it’s the ‘in’ shoe.

How would you describe your style?

My mantra is less is more. I am a minimalist. I’ve learnt that you have to study your body type and dress accordingly and then you can’t go wrong. Don’t buy what is fashionable just for the sake of it, buy what will suit your body, that way you don’t end up a fashion victim.

What wouldn’t you be seen dead in?

I say never say never. This is because I have said I will never wear that and then when it becomes a vogue you find yourself wearing it. You know those bicycle shorts we used to wear some years ago. I said, God forbid I will never wear those and then I ended up wearing them. Myself and Nike (Oshinowo) even wore them to a party. And I have a picture to prove it. And what about platform shoes? In the seventies it was yuk! Now everyone is wearing them so I’d say never say never.

With Nkiru Adekola and Folake Coker

With Nkiru Adekola and Folake Coker

Would you ever contemplate plastic surgery?

I used to say to myself, the minute I get older I’ll have plastic surgery to correct everything. But as time goes on, I haven’t really seen anyone that looks good with plastic surgery. Have you seen Sarah Ferguson? She looks terrible. None of the people I’ve seen look nice, they look frozen and unnatural. All the botox and plastic surgery. Even the boob jobs, none of them look natural and they nearly always have complications. Now, I am thinking I don’t think so.

Now that you are 50, do you still feel young?

I’ve found you have to be youthful in your mind, in your heart. You have to stay in touch with the kinds of people of different age groups, which is what I try to do. I learn from younger people, my daughters and my friend. I learn from older people and they learn from me. It’s fun, you have to make life fun. If you think you are old, you start looking old and behaving rigid.

I know some people that if you see them you will be afraid to even speak to them because they are rigid and calcified! Look at people like Uncle Sunmi (Smart Cole, the ingeniously famous photographer). He just seems ageless, it never crosses your mind that he might be older.

To be young, you have to be youthful and joyous. It comes from the spirit. My mother is like that too. You can’t keep her down, always laughing. On my birthday she was the first to get dressed and start having her pictures taken. My husband is like that too, funny.

Enjoy life and it will show. I can’t even imagine a day going by with my staff, my house helps, my children, and not find something to laugh about.

Do you find at 50 you have more challenges beauty-wise?

I would say I am fortunate. I don’t think anything has changed. I think it’s so important to start taking care of your skin and body while you are younger. Our lives are etched on our faces and that’s why it isn’t very good to live a wild life.

It all catches up with you, the same way bleaching does. It might look nice now, but it will show up somewhere in your future. By nature I am a calm person. Stress also shows up on the face. I am very boring but consistent. I sleep early and avoid stress. Really you can only polish what you already have, you can’t change it. You can only improve a good skin, that’s one of the reasons I am going to at least make an effort to do facials now. You can make bad skin better by being consistent, and having good habits, I keep out of the sun.

If you were going to give a women one piece of beauty advice, what will it be?

The cheapest beauty secret is laugh a lot. Be nice to people. Nastiness shows up as a scowl on the face! Be good natured. Do good things, nurture people. Beauty doesn’t start outside, it starts within. Don’t speak of bad people. All those wicked, dastard thoughts and things you say show up on the face.

Sleep, be well rested. Be consistent in your beauty and healthcare. Some night creams, from Boots and Body shops. Vitamin E eye cream is relatively cheap, so you don’t have to spend a fortune. But the best is still laughter. Laugh a lot. That is absolutely free. And laughter is a healer.




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