Columnist tallies trends in looks, life and love

It's gooey, glittery, cheap, bouncy and kind of obnoxious. What more could you ask of a new hot plaything?

We're talking the "Water Yo Yo Ball," a simple squishy globe full of water that swings on a rubber string. The Los Angeles-based Imperial Toy Corp. has sold more than a million in nine months.

The balls were banned at a Brooklyn elementary school because kids were hitting one another with them, according to The Wall Street Journal. One child opened his and drank the water. But on the other coast, a Beverly Hills school handed them out as rewards for good behavior.

They are recommended for children 8 and older, says Peter Tiger, Imperial's CFO. For younger kids, "parents should use caution. It's a rubber band. If kids wrap them around their wrists tightly or something, it could hurt them," he says. The solution inside the ball is water with a food preservative.

The newest ones come in shapes such as footballs, lady bugs and baseballs. Some kids have started collections, trading them as they might marbles or cards. They're $1 at Wal-Mart stores.

Getting under your skin

Customize, customize, customize has been the mantra for the 21st century.

We wear our initials on clothes and design athletic shoes online. We personalize our houses, weddings and food (hold the butter sauce, and skip the cilantro, puh-leeze). Toyota even offers consumers POD ("personalization on demand"), an automobile with you-asked-for-it features like front seats that can rotate to face the back.

But now here comes the ultimate sales ploy in personalization.

It's an anti-aging skin treatment cream presumably based on your own DNA. It's offered by the New York-based company Lab21, and since its introduction in December, response has been phenomenal, says spokeswoman Mai Lin.

It all starts with a cotton swab that is swept across the inside of your cheek. The company sends the DNA sample to a genome laboratory along with your answers to a 21-question quiz. The laboratory tailors a cream of 50 to 60 ingredients.

The technicians look at such factors as the breakdown of collagen, which is the protein below the skin that causes wrinkling as it loses elasticity and your propensity for sun aging. The cream is three times more effective than off-the-shelf skin products, says Nathaniel Benson, Lab21 president and founder. For $250, you get 1.7 ounces.

Doctors are skeptical, The Wall Street Journal says, and want to see more research. No published data so far show it can prevent aging.

The line is carried at some Saks Fifth Avenue stores, but you can also order an at-home DNA test. For more information, call 1-877-MY-LAB21, or log on to www.lab21.com.

In the cards

These scary times have triggered a craving for peace of mind and closer connections with other people, says Hallmark Inc. trend analyst Marita Wesley-Clough.

It has also spawned a new relish for comfort foods that reminds us of relationships, connections and happy times.

You can read it all in greeting cards that zoom in on today's moods with remarkable accuracy. For example, Hallmark's line "A Little Slice of Happy" features cheerful figures and foods such as meat loaf, mashed potatoes, chocolate, doughnuts and toast and jam.

Wesley-Clough predicts peace of mind will become such an issue in the future that it will be taught in schools, and the "value of a person will be based on one's sense of self."

A new hot tea

Colors come and go in fashion. Also in tea.

Move over green. The newest hue (and most expensive) hue of tea is white, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Little evidence exists thus far, but its promoters say white tea contains more flavinoids, a chemical found in all tea. The substance is considered to be an antioxidant beneficial in fighting cancer, heart disease and even weight gain and cavities.

The color of this tea is determined by how the leaves and buds of the South Asian white evergreen, Camellia sinensis, are picked and processed. Green tea is made from withered leaves. Tea is white when buds are plucked by hand, air-dried and steamed, says the Journal. Because the buds are harvested only a few days in March, the tea is costly.

White tea is a already the basis for a new skin-care line called A Perfect World from Estee Lauder's Origins brand. Look for it as vitamins, hair-care products and fragrances to come. (White tea skin scrub, anyone?)

Don't feel cheated if your brewed white tea isn't white. It's actually a pale yellow or light red.

Designer porch?

Almost everybody knows Michael Graves is a familiar label at Target stores for swell teakettles and toilet bowl brushes. But what about a new front porch?

The architect known for famous museums and corporate buildings around the world is extending his repertoire to prefabricated rooms, porches and gazebos, The Wall Street Journal reported recently.

Priced between $10,000 and $26,000, the structures are by far the most expensive Target items. The company expects a boost from the nesting instinct that comes in uncertain times. People tend to put their money into the home.

Also, think of the status boost in the neighborhood when you can boast a porch by Graves.

The kits are expected at www.target.com sometime this spring.

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