Astara's approach to skincare could be summarized as face feeding. The company's CEO, 60s supermodel Sunny Griffin, would put in a rather more sophisticated way, but essentially we are in hearty agreement: the skin is a living organ and if you feed it the right kind of nutrients, it can recover from almost anything. I have recently been trying out the Astara Blue Flame Purification Mask ($42) and it more than bears out the theory.

The first time that I used it, I had a little crop of under-the-skin spots on my forehead. Ten minutes of Flame Purification Mask and they were gone. Actually gone. I should say that I don't particularly like masks that dry on your face and become hard (as this one does) - it feels somewhat claustrophobic. Secondly, this is not a product (at least in my experience) for dry skin. I found, however, that it does an excellent job on the T-zone. If you have oily skin, enlarged pores or problem areas, Flame Purification Mask is for you. You can also dab it onto a zit and leave it overnight.

One of the ingredients that interests me the most is bentonite. It is a kind of clay and, amongst other things, is used to caulk swimming pools. More relevant to us is its ability to absorb stuff. For example, it is widely used to absorb proteins in white wine, which would otherwise be unappetisingly cloudy. This ability to absorb impurities makes it very effective for facial masks.

Also worthy of a shout out is red clover extract. Research from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) confirms that red clover extract contains four anti-tumor compounds. Red clover also contains the powerful antioxidant tocopherol, which is a form of vitamin E. Lemongrass is also a good antioxidant, according to a Tunisian study.

Although there are no particular standouts amongst the rest of the botanicals, they all serve a purpose. For example, sage is good for cuts and irritations, while rosemary is an antioxidant that helps heal wounds.

Sodium hydromethyglycinate seems to be the preservative of choice for many natural cosmetic makers. However, it can breakdown to become formaldehyde (as can disodium EDTA), so here at TIA we remain a little wary of it.

Ingredients in Astara Flame Purification Mask

Water (Aqua), Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice, Kaolin, Bentonite, Glycerin, Stearyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Steareth-21, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (Lemongrass) Oil, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Oil, Citrus Aurantium Amara (Bitter Orange/Petitgrain) Oil, Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine) Peel Oil, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Peel Oil, Echinacea Angustifolia (Cone Flower) Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Trifolium Pratense (Red Clover) Flower Extract, Xanthan Gum, Ultramarines, Iron Oxides, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Sodium Stearate, Disodium EDTA.