I think we’ve all been there: you see a post on Instagram or an article on Refinery29 or Well+Good about some new fad/trend changing the lives of countless basic white girls and you think to yourself “man, that seems cool” AND “wow, I wouldn’t even know where to start.” Welcome to a new series where I share my own knowledge on a topic and shed some light on the basics and where to begin.
I’m someone who loves to dive headfirst into learning about new things. While I was a good student in college, I never wanted to do any of the reading required of me (and there was a lot!), even in the classes that I loved and in subject matters that truly interested me. I think it goes back in part to my stubbornness and my strong aversion to being told what to do! Now that I am out of college, I’ve been able to rediscover my love of reading and researching new things, especially in the areas of health, wellness, and food. By having a chronically misunderstood medical condition, it’s become my responsibility over the years to do my own digging in an attempt to solve the riddles my body throws my way almost every day. Instead of feeling trapped by this job of constantly seeking new ways to make my body feel good, it has actually empowered me and brought me to where I am today!
And today we’re looking at one of my favorite things lately… skincare! Now, let me preface this post with a disclaimer: I do not consider myself an expert on all things skincare. At all. My intention with this series is to put forward what I have learned about something so maybe you don’t have to start at the beginning. When it comes to skincare, I have my good days and my not-as-good days, like everyone else! But I 100% believe that my skin is in much better condition now that I’ve made some very significant changes.
Change #1: Drink more water
I know, you’ve probably heard this one repeated a million time, but that’s because it’s one of the simplest things you can do to keep your entire body hydrated and healthy. As for your skin, scientists disagree on whether drinking more water actually affects the look and feel of your skin – some say that it helps rid your body of toxins and some say that the water you drink has a lot of other work to do in your body before it actually reaches your cells (in this case your skin cells). It also doesn’t help that water can’t be patented and therefore no one will fund studies on the effects of adequate hydration on your skin’s health. HOWEVER: I’ve noticed a huge difference in my overall health since I’ve prioritized my water intake and it’s one of the first things I do (and recommend others to do) when I’m feeling a little wonky or like my body and my skin in particular is lacking luster.
Change #2: Ditch the harsh cleansers
When I was a teenager I was quickly converted to the fun scents of Neutrogena cleansers and scrubs, convinced that using them once or twice a day would eliminate my persistent acne. I was under the impression that I was taking care of my skin and doing the adult thing – needless to say things have changed now that I’m older and wiser! I now see that skincare is not one size fits all, instead what works for someone might not work for someone else. So I’m not here to rag on conventional cleansers that you can find at any drug store – it your skin looks fantastic, you’re healthy, and you feel good then props to you! But maybe do some research into what all those ingredients on the back of the bottle actually do… The beauty industry is largely unregulated, which means that companies can pretty much do whatever they want and add whatever ingredient they want to their products, even if they are known to cause health issues. Ingredients like formaldehyde, polyethylene, petroleum, asbestos, lead, and coal tar are largely carcinogenic or cause hormonal mischief and yet they are legally allowed to be in your “beauty” products? Not that beautiful, huh?
When society tries to condition us into believing that using a man-made face wash twice a day will lead to perfect skin? I call bullshit because as soon as I ditched the abrasive, chemical-laden cleansers my skin breathed a sigh of relief. Nowadays I wash my face with water. Yup, you heard me. My skin doesn’t need (or want) to be exfoliated every day, and by using my hands to rub water over my face for a minute I’m getting off any dirt or gunk that accumulated throughout my day without going overboard! I don’t wear makeup so this works for me, but if you do wear makeup on the regular then I would use a makeup remover (I’ve heard amazing things about this one!) before cleansing with water.
When I feel like my skin needs a little extra love I’ll do a calcium bentonite clay mask, combining equal parts dry clay with raw apple cider vinegar. This stuff is AMAZING and I try to use it once or twice a week. It makes me feel like I’m at a fancy spa and leaves my skin feeling super nourished afterwards. In addition to the clay mask, when I have a stubborn pimple (it still happens!) or when I really want a slightly rough scrub I use equal parts baking soda and sweet almond oil (the sweet almond oil prevents the baking soda from drying your skin out) and it always does the trick.
Lastly, the cup o’ coffee face mask from Lush is SO luxurious and is perfect to use first thing in the morning because there’s real coffee in it that acts as a natural exfoliant. I recently used up the last of my tub, and since I consider it a bit of an extravagance I’m not sure when I’ll get it again, but mannnnn this made my skin feel so clean and fresh. Lush is a very cool company but I’m not entirely on board with all of their ingredients, so while I think they’re definitely a step up from most drugstore products, I now prefer homemade skincare recipes and companies that are even more hippie/crunchy!
Change #3: Go easy on the makeup
I know, this is where I’m going to lose a lot of you! But hear me out. When I was younger I got caught up in a vicious cycle: I got acne -> I used aforementioned harsh face washes -> I had to manage my dry skin with even harsher moisturizers -> My acne intensified -> I used a ton of pore-clogging makeup in an attempt to cover my pimply, blotchy skin -> my acne remained. Pretty sucky, right? Once I was out of school and working as a part-time nanny/summer camp director/ juice bar manager I realized that there was no use in putting a ton of foundation/concealer on my face every damn day. I was running around, working my butt off, sweating, and in pretty relaxed environments in the sense that no one cared what you looked like. So I ditched my CoverGirl foundation and got comfortable leaving the house without a stitch of makeup on, and you know what? The world kept turning and over time my skin really benefitted.
On the rare occasion when I do want to wear makeup, I tend to stick to one company: 100% Pure. This company is so cool and all organic/cruelty free/natural/toxin-free/no freaky artificial colors/and zero synthetic preservatives. Their fruit-pigmented lip gloss is always in my bag and their mascara is dyed using black tea which is genius. My only problem with makeup now is the fact that I never wear it – which is great! But all makeup products have expiration dates, which most people don’t know (see above). They tell you how many months you have to safely use the product once you open it. As much as I love 100% Pure, their products are very expensive, and while they use all natural ingredients, they too have expiration dates! And I definitely can’t use one of their products within their timeframes so that’s sad. But if you’re someone who still wears makeup everyday, check them out. I know it’s significantly more money than your drugstore brands but they are so high quality and are made with ingredients that your body can actually recognize.
Change #4: Get acquainted with S.W. Basics and Adina Grigore
Adina Grigore (badass founder/CEO of S.W. Basics) has changed how I view skincare and she’s inspired a lot of this post. Her book, Skin Cleanse, debunks a lot of the myths surrounding skin health and offers DIY recipes for making your own scrubs, lotions, masks, and hair products. These recipes are an awesome place to start if you want to experiment with natural skincare but you’re afraid to spend the big bucks on products you’ve never tried before. Grigore uses very simple ingredients in her recipes, like apple cider vinegar, baking soda, shea butter, witch hazel, vegetable oils (like avocado, sweet almond, jojoba, sesame), and sea salt. You can find so many of these ingredients on Amazon so I would pick one or two recipes that you want to try and just get those ingredients. Chances are your skin will love them and then you can use those same ingredients to make more recipes. I use one of her recipes for my body lotion, and when I get out of the shower and lather it on my skin just drinks it up!
Once you try your own recipes you should really check out the S.W. Basics products. Grigore’s company is so insanely amazing and is alllllll about simplicity. Their products have very few ingredients (usually 3-5) and they’re all perfect! I use the toner (water, apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, and essential oils of clary sage and sandalwood) and the oil serum (avocado oil, geranium oil, turmeric oil, and coffee oil) almost every day after washing my face with water and they leave my skin feeling so nourished. I feel so great supporting a company like S.W. Basics and and I encourage you to do the same. They offer sample sizes of most of their products which gives you the perfect excuse to try them out! That way, if for whatever reason they’re not your jam, you’re not out a ton of money. But I doubt that will happen because they’re SO GREAT.
P.S. they also offer these adorable reusable cotton rounds (to replace disposable cotton balls) and I use them to apply my toner. The pack comes with 8 cotton rounds and when I’ve used them all up I throw them in the washing machine with my laundry and they’re good as new! Makes me feel a bit better about not throwing out a million cotton balls a year, ya know?
Change #5: Swap things out one at a time
I know. You thought you were taking care of your skin. I know. This is a lot of information to take in, and it’s especially alien if you’re not already somewhere on the hippie/crunchy scale. Don’t let it freak you out though! If any of this is resonating with you, just take it one thing at a time. For your first step I would focus on replacing one product in your shower/medicine cabinet that you use every single day. What’s something that goes on the biggest area of your body? Is the eyeliner you wear on special occasions full of crappy ingredients? Don’t prioritize it just yet, it’s not going to kill you when you wear it a few times a year! Instead think about things like soap/body wash/body lotion. Think about how you slather it over your entire body practically every day! I am a HUGE fan of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap products. Pure castile soap just means that it is vegetable oil-based, and Dr. Bronner’s soap is so bare-bones and you know that you aren’t going to get any of those gunky filler ingredients. They’re a company that I trust immensely, which is definitely saying something. I use their peppermint bar soap in the shower in place of shower gel, I use their liquid soap for hand soap/dishwashing soap/general cleaning, and I use their shave gel for shaving (duh). If you’re looking for a place to start, I would definitely embrace Dr. Bronner’s products!
If you’re someone who takes baths a lot, I would take a look at your bubble bath products. Knowing what I know now, I shudder to think about how many baths I took with chemical-laden, artificially colored/fragranced soaps! Dr. Teal’s epsom salts are my favorite way to bathe now – they relax my entire body, ease muscle tension, and work to fight pain and inflammation, which my body needs on the regular. They use essential oils and the lavender one and the eucalyptus and spearmint one are my favorites!
Speaking of essential oils… this is my last tip for replacing your products one at a time: your perfume. I used to love my Betsey Johnson and Marc Jacobs Lola perfumes back in the day, but commercial perfumes are filled with SO MANY GROSS INGREDIENTS (you really don’t want to know). It’s disgusting and you can do a quick Google search if you’re so inclined. Instead, why don’t you just use essential oils? They smell amazing, their scent lasts all day, and you can get any fragrance you want or you can combine multiple scents to create your own signature scent! Just a word to the wise: don’t apply essential oils straight to your skin. Combine them with a carrier oil like coconut oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, etc. If you’re not feeling the DIY project, check out Pacifica – they are a vegan and cruelty free brand that has some really yummy smelling perfumes using essential oils! Every time I go to Whole Foods I spray some of the sample bottle for the Tahitian Gardenia perfume allll over my coat so I can smell it for the rest of the day and it’s pretty dreamy. Santa, if you’re listening, I want a bottle of this for Christmas!
BONUS TIP: Let an app do some of the work for you
The Environmental Working Group has this super handy app where you can scan something while you’re out shopping and it will give it a rating and tell you about potentially dangerous ingredients. You can also access this database online on their website which is awesome, but prepare to be thoroughly freaked out when you use it. It’s unflinchingly honest and even some products that I thought were safe aren’t feeling so wonderful after checking out the Environmental Working Group app. But don’t let that discourage you – this is all a process, and any help you can get along the way is worth it.
So. Have I cracked the skincare code? Nope. I still have days where an annoying pimple pops up, or my skin reacts negatively to something and gets super dry. I am constantly playing around with different natural ingredients and combinations and continuing to do my own research. But my skin likes me a lot more lately now that I’ve started paying attention to what I’m putting on it! And that feels goooooood.
So I hope you’ve learned something from this post and I hope it’s inspired you to make some small changes when it comes to your skincare. Once you get going it’s not as hard as it seems! Most of our trepidation comes from having to undo years and years of advertising that has been geared towards us and product campaigns that attempt to convince us that beauty is one size fits all. We are all unique and we all require different combinations of things in order to feel our best, and that includes our skin. So start playing around! You’ve got this.