When we learn about potential benefits and downsides of certain foods and move toward as nutritious a diet as possible, a natural next step is to look at ways to promote health in other aspects of our lives. Some of the biggest, and often least-suspected, culprits in health problems are skin care products. Skin is our largest organ and absorbs just about everything we put on it. Perhaps the best evidence for just how penetrable our skin is comes from the fact that things like birth control patches are so effective. Just placing a hormone-infused sticker on our skin is enough to manipulate the hormones within our bodies.
Unfortunately any lotions, soaps, fragrances, and cosmetics that we put on our skin also absorb into our bodies. And there are some nasty things in conventional skin care products and cosmetics. We’re talking lead (found in most lipstick), dioxins, parabens, and other toxic and carcinogenic compounds. The best solution I’ve found is to make my own skin care products using oils and foods I have around the house. There are times when I will wear some makeup with imperfect ingredients, but the vast majority of my skin care routine revolves around things I would feel ok about eating.
Consider this the crunchy version of natural skin care – I will write a later post to talk about some other options for anti-aging skin care, sun protection, and makeup options that are much safer than the typical drug store options but consist of more than just oils and plants.
Having struggled with acne for much of my life, I was a bit wary about using oil on my face. The whole thing seemed a bit counterintuitive. But it has worked surprisingly well. There are a lot of different recommendations for oil cleansing regarding the right combinations of oils and the exact method. In an attempt to simplify things as much as possible, I stick with using one oil. My favorite is extra virgin olive oil, and I know some people have really good success with coconut oil or varying oil combinations.
I rub the oil on my face for 30 seconds to 1 minute wet a washcloth with very warm water and hold it over my oily face for about 2 minutes. I refresh the washcloth with warm water halfway through, especially when it’s cold out. Then I rinse the washcloth with warm water again and use it to gently wipe any remaining oil off my face.
Again, oil is my solution here. In the mornings, I primarily use coconut oil. During the summer I can usually get away with not using any moisturizer at all, but fall and winter leave my skin quite dry. I just dab a little bit of coconut oil out of the container and swipe it on my face. Somewhat unexpectedly, this seems to have also helped alleviate acne, possibly due to the antimicrobial properties of coconut oil.
In the evening, I generally use rosehip oil. It’s nice to use at night because it soaks into the skin really quickly without leaving any sort of oily residue. I haven’t had any issues with my pillows or sheets being oily after using it. It’s also considered to be helpful for preventing wrinkles and reducing the appearance of scars. I use VoilaVe and have found that a little bit goes a really long way, so even a small bottle lasts for a long time.
Moisturizer (other than face)
During the winter, my husband and I both get very dry hands and chapped lips. Coconut oil doesn’t quite cut it when it’s really cold and dry out, so we mixed up our own hand salve using oil, beeswax, and shea butter. That’s the only thing we use anymore and we love it. Recipe coming soon to the blog!
Antiperspirants and deodorants have some particularly nasty ingredients. Aluminum, a suspected carcinogen, is probably the most well-known. I was very resistant to discontinuing use of antiperspirant, making this the last skin care product for which I found an alternative. I tried the ‘natural’ options, but they didn’t work for me and I got rashes from most of them.
I’m not about to go around work and school smelling bad, so I needed to find a solution. My answer? Coconut oil and baking soda. No joke, these two simple (edible!) ingredients have worked better than any deodorant I’ve tried, including the nasty ones, and I don’t have to worry about absorbing toxins from daily use. Some people make a paste and put it in old deodorant containers to make it easier to rub on. I just dab some coconut oil out of the container and onto my underarms, then pat on a bit of baking soda.
One thing that’s been interesting is the lack of excess sweat. I was a bit worried that, without using an antiperspirant, there would be nothing to stop me from sweating profusely. But I can honestly say that I have never once had a problem with sweating too much while using this deodorant solution, and even after long workouts I still don’t smell. I am so confident with this method that I used coconut and baking soda as deodorant on my wedding day in 90 degree weather. Never had to reapply once. Not too shabby.
This can get a little tricky, and if you’re a heavy makeup user it could mean a total overhaul. I very rarely wear makeup, but when I do I make my own or I find products that I am confident have only nontoxic ingredients. One option is to use foods for makeup. Roasted beets, blackberries, or pomegranates can be used as a lip stain. Beets and berries can also be used as blush. It’s even possible to make your own foundation by mixing things like arrowroot and cocoa powder or your own eyeliner using a combination of coconut oil and activated charcoal. If you’re interested in experimenting with homemade cosmetics, there are plenty of recipes online.
If you’re not excited by the prospect of making your own makeup, there are some great natural products out there. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has an amazing cosmetics database with recommendations for safe makeup of all types. They rate products on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being the safest. I look for products that have a score of 0, but generally speaking 1 is also considered to be ok.
Here are a few of my favorites:
I think this really deserves it’s own post, but I’ll try to keep it short. Conventional sunscreen has a lot of problems. For one, there’s evidence that you leave chemical sunscreens on for too long, your risk of cancer increases over what it would be if you never put sunscreen on in the first place. Chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, both ubiquitous in sunscreens, are also hormone disruptors, reproductive toxins, and skin irritants. I have no interest in messing with this stuff.
The ideal solution is to stay in the sun for a short period of time and then stick to the shade. Hats are a totally underrated tool for keeping your face shaded. The amount of acceptable time in the sun varies a lot from person to person, so it’s important to know your limits. For many people, about 15-20 minutes in direct midday sun is a safe bet. If staying out of the sun is impossible, there are a few options for safer sunscreens. The important thing is to avoid chemical sunscreens ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, in favor of mineral sunscreens such as zinc oxide. I like Badger brand. The EWG site is a good place to look for safer sunscreen recommendations.
Again, my overall rule is to only put things on my skin that I would be ok with eating. Just like with food, I think it’s important to avoid manufactured products. Fortunately, There are plenty of natural ways to keep your skin healthy. Homemade beauty products are also far less expensive than store-bought products. Always a nice bonus 🙂