A lot of my patients ask me what I recommend for a natural skincare line. For a long time, I didn’t really have a great answer, because a) most of the products on the market, high end or otherwise, are full of toxic chemicals, and b) even the products that are clean tend to be really expensive. That seemed so unnecessary. Most of the “clean” ingredients aren’t that expensive in and of themselves.
Some years back, I actually experimented with making my own skincare line, to see if I could create a clean, quality line that was also reasonably priced. In the process, I learned why a lot of those cleaner lines *are* so expensive: it’s not so much because of the ingredients themselves, as because of the cost of testing, manufacturing in bulk, etc. I also realized that there are a million recipes on Pinterest for pretty much any skincare product you’d care to make, and they’re all clean, because nobody has industrial chemicals in their kitchen anyway! All mass production of such products would do is raise the price (and probably force the manufacturer to add preservatives, which would defeat the ‘clean’ objective).
Natural Ingredient Benefits
In the process of my research, though, I learned a lot about the health benefits of various ingredients. Once you know the benefits of a given ingredient (or ingredient category), you can mix and match according to your goal. Here’s a quick summary:
- Nearly every plant out there is chock-full of antioxidants. This goes for herbs, essential oils, carrier oils—you name it. Some more than others, of course.
- Nearly every plant out there is also antimicrobial. This is less true of the oils (as they’re mostly fat), and more true of herbs, and especially essential oils. Not every skin condition requires antimicrobial activity, but you’re likely to get at least some from pure natural ingredients anyway. (I love how God distributes health benefits across plants and plant extracts of all kinds. It’s almost like He wants us to be healthy or something. )
- If you’re trying to get a medicinal effect (anti-aging, anti-acne, anti-histamine, etc), you can use an herbal infusion if you have the herbs on hand (meaning dry the herbs, cover them with a carrier oil, put them in a dark room and let them sit for a couple weeks before you filter off the herbs again), but you’ll get the most power by far if you buy the essential oil and just use that. Plus, less trouble.
- Nearly every carrier oil is full of fat-soluble vitamins, including Vitamins A, E, D, and K, and many also contain essential fatty acids. Not every oil contains all of them, but you’d be hard pressed to find an unprocessed oil that contains none. (You can also directly add most of those vitamins and essential fatty acids too, but that can be more expensive.) All carrier oils will also help lock in moisture (as long as they’re substantially higher on the ingredient list than water – and ideally water shouldn’t be on there at all).
- If you’re trying to heal something, find a way to drive blood flow to it. This is straight naturopathic theory anyway: the healing is in the blood. It eliminates metabolic waste, and delivers oxygen and nutrients. The faster you can drive blood flow, as a general rule, the faster it’ll heal.
- If you’re trying to draw out impurities, few things work better than clay. Pick your type; nearly any type of clay will work.
- If you’re trying to exfoliate, few things work better than cane sugar. I knew there was a benefit to sugar somewhere… 🙂 I don’t care for salt as an exfoliant since if there’s any breach in the skin barrier, it would be painful (“salt on a wound” is an adage for a reason). Pulverized nut shells also work, but they’re too much trouble if you’re making it yourself, and if you don’t pulverize them well enough you can scrape yourself.
My Favorite Natural Skincare Ingredients
There are many possible natural ingredients out there, but these are my favorite because they’re generally easy to get and not too pricey. (Disclaimer: for all essential oils, please check and make sure that they are not contraindicated for you! Essential oils can be very powerful.)
- Almond oil. This is my favorite oil, because it’s not too heavy. It’s also high in vitamins E and A. (Note for those who are allergic to almonds: you’d probably be just fine with almond oil, since it’s the protein that causes an allergic response, and oil is just the fat. That said, if you have a severe IgE allergy, best to avoid it.)
- Jojoba oil. Probably the closest oil to that your skin naturally produces, jojoba is still sometimes too greasy for some. It’s also high in Vitamin E, contains antioxidant activity, and it’s antimicrobial.
- Coconut oil. This is great for deep moisture, but very greasy. It’s also antimicrobial and antifungal, which makes it great for oil pulling or as an ingredient in a natural deodorant. When I have the time to make a balm, this is usually one of the ingredients.
- Beeswax. The most important ingredient in a natural balm, though it’s a big pain (requires a double boiler).
- Shea Butter. An alternative to beeswax for a balm, though it’s creamier so it will produce a much softer consistency. Also requires a double boiler. (And also a pain.)
- Apple Cider Vinegar. There are many internal benefits for apple cider vinegar, but it also can be useful topically for acne or as a toner. But it has the same pH as your stomach acid, so dilute it. I also use this as an ingredient in a natural facial mask (see below).
- Bentonite Clay. A drawing agent that helps remove impurities—useful for facial masks (see below), or also as an ingredient in tooth powders if you’re looking for an alternative to toothpaste, as it’s high in calcium and potassium.
- Baking Soda. Antimicrobial, cleansing, and odor-fighting, it’s also useful for a number of household cleaning purposes.
- Matcha Powder. A finely ground green tea powder, this is a fabulous antioxidant source. I stumbled on this as a skincare ingredient by accident: I’d bought some for a house guest, and don’t much care for the flavor, but I had a bag of it left. Lo and behold, it makes a great scrub (see below)…
- Cane Sugar. A great exfoliant. Much better to put on your face than to eat it!
- Lavender Essential Oil. I use more lavender than any other essential oil. It’s antibacterial, stimulates skin healing, and the smell also is very soothing.
- Sandalwood Essential Oil. Increases circulation, stimulates skin cell turnover and thickening, and thus is anti-aging.
- Cayenne Essential Oil. Initially drives blood flow which stimulates healing. Also very high in minerals and vitamins. (But don’t get it near your eyes; it’ll burn!)
- Jasmine Essential Oil. Improves skin elasticity, moisturizing, antimicrobial, and helpful for dermatitis.
- Frankincense Essential Oil. Promotes regeneration of healthy cells, and is thus anti-aging.
- Geranium Essential Oil. Increases circulation and skin elasticity.
- Tea Tree Essential Oil. Antimicrobial and anti-fungal, this oil is also soothing.
- Patchouli Essential Oil. Anti-inflammatory, and also tightens pores.
- Tangerine Essential Oil. Anti-fungal; can also stimulate regeneration of new cells.
- Ylang Ylang Essential Oil. Very hydrating.
- Peppermint Essential Oil. Anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal.
My Favorite Recipes
Over the years I’ve experimented with quite a few recipes. I’ve found the proportions don’t matter that much, with few exceptions (mentioned below). These are some of the recipes (if you can call them that) that I use most often.
- Body Lotion: I just use almond oil for this.
- Hair oil: I also use almond oil for this – about a dime size, smoothed onto dry hair.
- Facial Oil: I typically do an almond oil base, and add any combination of essential oils I might have on hand, in 5-20 drops each. Most commonly I do lavender, tangerine, and sandalwood. I apply this morning and evening after washing.
- Facial Scrub: fill a small wide-mouthed jar with mostly cane sugar, add some matcha powder on top (about 1/4 the amount of sugar, though it doesn’t really matter) until it appears to be full. Close it, shake it so they combine, then add a dropperful or two (or however much you want, really) of lavender essential oil; then saturate with almond oil. Shake again until it forms a paste. Keep in the shower and use daily after washing.
- Acne Spot Treatment: I use an almond oil base, and somewhere around 20 drops each of cayenne and tea tree oil. But again, the amount doesn’t really matter, as long as you have a decent amount of carrier oil.
- Facial Mask. 1 tbsp each of bentonite clay and apple cider vinegar, and a squirt of jojoba oil to keep it from being too drying. Apply as desired until dry, and then wash off.
- Deodorant. In a roller applicator, combine some baking soda (however much you like, really: a tablespoon or two works) and top off with coconut oil. Shake to combine. (When it gets cold you might have to run it under hot water before you can apply it!)
- Tooth Powder/paste. Some baking soda and bentonite clay (the amount doesn’t matter, but the more baking soda you have in there, the saltier it’ll taste.) Add some peppermint essential oil (to taste) and mix with coconut oil until it forms a paste of the desired consistency.