I still remember my first foray into makeup: brow furrowed and nose pressed against the mirror, I painstakingly tried to recreate that Barbie-blue-eyeshadowed, rosy-cheeked glow. I made sure to take just long enough that by the time my mother saw me, it would be too late to wash off before my afternoon activity—that was an interesting day at Hebrew school.
You can take control of the chemicals you put on your skin by making your own cosmetics at home.
Years later, I haven’t lost the sense of fun that accompanies a beauty routine, though my taste has (hopefully) matured. My priorities certainly have, as I try to emphasize quality products that are good for my skin and the environment. A 2015 report by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found that women apply an average of 168 chemicals to their bodies every day.
The Guardian reported that while some of these are harmless, others have been linked to health concerns like reproductive issues and cancer. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act does not mandate government regulation before products enter the market. The FDA only gets involved once a consumer has made a complaint.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, said Deborah Burnes, cosmetic chemist, CEO of natural beauty company Sumbody and author of “Natural Beauty Skin Care: 110 Organic Formulas for a Radiant You!” That’s why you need to pay attention to what you put on it.
Slowly, there has been a shift toward wider acceptance of natural ingredients, she said.
A lot of consumers “have in their head that natural equals noneffective and chemical ingredients equal effectiveness,” Burnes said. “If anyone’s ever had one glass of wine too many they know… that natural substances are powerful. They just need to be harnessed properly and used properly. … That’s the switch we need to have in (our) mindset.”
When you’re buying personal care items, read the ingredient list and do your research.
“Don’t be sold by what the front of the label is selling you. If it says ‘natural,’ ‘organic,’ ‘good for you’—forget it. Don’t even look at the front of that label,” Burnes said. “Turn (it) over and look at the back of the label at the ingredient list.
“If you can’t pronounce it, if you don’t know what it is, if you can’t get a hold of a representative to walk you through (what the ingredients are), don’t buy it.”
Complicated and misleading labels have led many people, including me, to take their beauty routine into their own hands. “Using the kitchen cupboard as (your) own beauty pantry” and making your own products from natural, easily accessible ingredients can save you money, keep your skin and hair synthetic chemical-free and help the environment by cutting down on processing and packaging, Burnes said.
Skincare starts with your cleansing routine. A natural approach known as oil cleansing uses natural oils (usually a combination of castor and olive) and steam to purify, balance and moisturize the skin.
When developing natural skincare, you might have to do a few test runs.
As dermatologist Joshua Zeichner explained in Self Magazine, the premise is that oil dissolves oil, removing pollutants from skin without stripping the natural moisture it needs.
The natural lifestyle site WellnessMama goes step-by-step through the process, and provides oil mixture recommendations based on skin type. Different ratios and oils work better for different needs, so make single-use batches until you find what works for your skin.
Once you have your mixture, it’s as easy as massaging the oil onto dry skin and steaming with a hot cloth.
If you’re looking for a DIY swap for your weekly face mask, Buzzfeed spoke with several dermatologists about the best natural ingredients for facial care. The recommended DIY face mask combines:
- ½ mashed avocado—hydrates and exfoliates
- ¼ mashed banana—exfoliates and gels the mask together
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil—hydrates and prevents acne
- 2 tablespoons dark organic honey—moisturizes, softens, and breaks apart sebum, the oil makes your face shiny and contributes to acne
- ¼ cup ground, raw oatmeal—exfoliates
While the combination of avocado and dark honey temporarily turned my face Frankenstein green, once I rinsed it off, my skin was as moisturized and soft as with any commercial product I’ve tried.
Other dermatologist-approved ingredients include:
- dairy products like milk and Greek yogurt—moistening and anti-inflammatory
- tea tree oil—antibacterial and anti-inflammatory
- green tea—can reduce redness and inflammation
For cleaning the rest of your body, raw sugar and olive oil make an effective scrub swap. I’ve had a lot of success with this one, which combines half a cup of olive oil, a cup of raw sugar and optional essential oil (I make a peppermint one for morning showers and a lavender one for nights). It does leave my skin oilier than commercial scrubs, but I like the extra hydration, especially in the winter.
HaircareHave you tried the “no-poo” method?
Cleansers with harsh chemicals can strip hair of necessary oils just as they can do to skin. The “no-poo” method of haircare recommends switching to a baking soda and vinegar cleansing routine, or just warm water. You can learn more about making the transition here.
However, some people find that baking soda turns their hair dry or frizzy, possibly because of its much higher pH level (the apple cider vinegar is meant to counteract this, but it can be difficult to get it just right). WellnessMama offers several haircare alternatives, including clay-based shampoo and shampoo made from soap nuts.
And for dry shampoo fans, this cornstarch swap can get you from wash to wash.
Makeup can be expensive and can contribute to the skin problems you use it to cover in the first place. WellnessMama has several natural makeup recipes, although some contain less commonly found ingredients, like arrowroot powder and mica dust.
The most accessible ideas are for an eyeliner made with a pinch of cocoa powder mixed with coconut oil and a mascara made from a mixture of aloe vera gel, a few drops of Vitamin E oil and a bit of activated charcoal—this combination has the added effect of keeping your lashes moisturized and healthy.
On that note, applying Vaseline to lashes at night with a Q-Tip or clean mascara wand can help them grow and thicken.
For starting your beauty routine from the inside, a few final tips from WellnessMama:
- cod liver oil for nail, hair and skin health
- gelatin to reduce cellulite
- magnesium to fight inflammation
Taking control of your beauty routine can mean doing some legwork and experiments as you figure out what works for you. But it’s not all hard work. Discovering DIY swaps has been some of the most fun I’ve had with beauty ever since I first cracked open that pan of blue eyeshadow.
Additional reporting by Rewire web editor Katie Moritz.
Miranda Konar is a Rochester, NY native and Wesleyan University grad working in Minneapolis as an after-school educator and opinionated ice cream scooper (all salted everything). Ask her about her favorite historical dramas, but only if you really have the time. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.