Sali Hughes, ex-make-up artist, beauty journalist, mother, Welsh woman living in Brighton, karaoke-hater and now author is nothing if not pretty honest when talking about what prompted her first book.

"I wrote it because I was really worried someone else would. I was afraid someone would nick the idea and the thought of that made me demented."

"I was given eight months to write the book and I ended up procrastinating for a bit and not doing anything at all.

"Then a reader tweeted me saying that they'd pre-ordered it. I almost puked on my laptop. So then I wrote it - in four really big bursts, each a couple of weeks long.

"Something was changing in the way beauty was written about - we were starting to see a demystification and it felt like being part of something that was changing within the industry."

Hughes has written features and opinion pieces for a magazine rack's worth of titles over the years, but her first foray into books afforded her the opportunity to merge the compendium of knowledge accrued over her career into one tangible object.

"In the list of suggested edits the only things to check were legalities. Other than that, no one made any suggestions about what should go in.

"I was talking about something publishers had no idea about."

Eight months later out popped Pretty Honest. Working as a make-up artist for 17 years gave Hughes a comprehensive base to write from, but don't be fooled into thinking the book is exclusively about make-up.

"It's not a make-up manual. It's a celebration of beauty."

Pretty Honest is a celebration in every sense, and taking into consideration that beauty is often about problem solving (skin conditions and post-partum gripes for example), it's also an exploration into reexamining exactly what we mean by the word beauty.

So, yes, there are chapters on hair and make-up, icons, and bridal; in other words, all the ideas that are traditionally synonymous with 'beauty'. There are tips on the best gifts for mums, daughters, sisters and even men (styptic pencils and hand cream, FYI - Hughes receives hundreds of letters a year from men complaining about dry hands).

But there is also a section about beauty in illness, and how a simple cosmetic routine can uplift and give structure when everything else that surrounds is chaotic. Hughes provides an anecdotal tale of a friend in hospital receiving cancer treatment who, unwilling to sacrifice on her grooming, brought in with her five lipsticks, three lip stains, and two lip balms. This chapter is my bittersweet favourite, though I had to read it with an industrial sized hanky.

Hughes elaborates that it is the feeling of regaining control that is critical for women experiencing illness, as well as the ritual of applying make-up feeling like a way to reclaim yourself.

"We live in a climate where there is a backlash against beauty and I understand that, I do. But there is a big difference between beauty as an industry and beauty as an idea."

Pretty Honest's exploration of beauty and feminism and the relationship between the two is its greatest strength. Too many times as a woman I have been asked to explain why I want to 'change myself' with make-up if I identify with being a feminist and promote positive female body image.

But it's not about being changed. For me, anyway, it's much more complex than that. If we attempt to better ourselves with education, or therapy, or exercise it's not questioned. So why not with beauty - because it's perceived as being only skin-deep? Pretty Honest shows us that in actuality, it's anything but.

Who says that only titles that feature in the Booker prize list can be thought of as credible literature? Why can't a beauty companion leave its readers with not just advice and information but also vignettes of sage wisdom and, most importantly of all, really beautifully realised views on societal expectations and pressures?

"I feel sorry for men," Hughes says to me. "They wear boring clothes, they usually have short hair and they can't play with their faces."

Pretty Honest is infinitely, soaringly quotable, but part of its introduction is the best way to encapsulate exactly the effect beauty can have on a woman.

"People often ask me, 'Why do you feel the need to put on make-up? Don't you love yourself without it?' It's a rather offensive and highly patronising question but one that, as a beauty columnist, I sadly come across every single day (primarily from people who seem to believe that washing their face in carbolic soap and cleaning their teeth with twigs makes them a much better and more intelligent person than me, obviously.)

"The truth is, I go bare-faced constantly and my self-esteem is resolutely intact, thanks. But I would be miserable if I looked like that all the time. To me, deciding to be vampy one day, classic ingénue the next, painted Madonna on a Saturday night and bare-faced Joni Mitchell on a Sunday morning is exactly what feminism is about: freedom."

Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes is published by Fourth Estate and is out now.