When was the last time you tried a new recipe? Was it something you tried in a restaurant that you wanted to replicate? Or did you find yourself wandering off to Smitten Kitchen or Punchfork during a long afternoon at work when the mind tends to drift toward the stomach? Whether or not you actually like cooking, most people think nothing of looking up a recipe, shopping for ingredients and preparing a meal. Yet, we balk at the idea of making our own skin-care products, because it just seems so complicated. But the truth is, making simple cosmetics at home is really no more challenging than cooking dinner (depending on what you’re making, that is), and sometimes a whole lot less.
Here’s the thing. I have passed that milestone birthday where one starts to think about aging in a way that is less “conceptual” and more “impending”, and in recent years I have often spent more money that I care to revisit on various products claiming to stave off the ravages of time because – well – why not start early? However, after reading a riveting book on the cosmetics industry, No More Dirty Looks (highly recommended), I spent one evening looking up all my cosmetics on the EWG’s database, Skin Deep, and found that most of the products I was using on my face every single day were registering moderate to high on the hazard spectrum, even the ones that purported to be “natural”. When I started looking up the ingredients – especially the ones I couldn’t pronounce – I was more than a little grossed out. I could do without a daily dose of diethanolamines and phthalates soaking into my skin, but they appear to be in just about everything. Clearly, I needed to find another path to the fountain of youth.
Around that time, my friend, Alexa Wilding – a concoctor of potions, if ever there was one- gave me a sample of her homemade cleansing scrub and I was hooked. Intrigued, I decided to try an experiment: what if I were to dispense with all my expensive cleansers, serums and elixers for a year? Would my face fast forward? Would I suddenly develop jowls? I admit it was risky, as I have no background in skin care. But neither am I a professional chef and I manage to feed myself every day. I decided to start with a basic facial cleanser containing just three ingredients that I picked up on a trip to the grocery store: oat flour, almond meal and dried milk powder (rice powder is a good vegan substitute). Oats are both anti-inflammatory and contain saponins, which make them practically the perfect cleansing agent for sensitive skin. The milk (or rice) powder is also soothing to dry skin and adds a creamier consistency to your cleanser. Almond meal contains vitamin E and works as an exfoliant, but use it sparingly with sensitive skin. The basic ratio I started with was:
1/2 c. Oat flour
1/4 c. milk powder (or rice powder)
1/8 c. Almond meal
All you have to do is mix them together and put in a jar. Really. That is all.
This, of course, is just the beginning. Although this basic recipe makes a lovely cleanser, pretty soon you’ll want to branch out – trust me. As with DIY deodorant and lotion, the internet is abundant with skin care recipes and resources for ingredients. My favorite site for recipes is Crunchy Betty. Not only is she a hilarious writer, she will inspire you to try all sorts of funky things – like making your own toothpaste. And once you go down that road, you will need to know about Mountain Rose Herbs, the best internet source for ingredients. Soon, you will be whipping up cleansers while waiting for your pasta water to boil.
While the basic oat flour/milk powder combination is perfect for sensitive skin, there are also a whole host of other ingredients you can start to add if you want to mix it up. Everyone’s skin is different, and while all of these ingredients are natural, they can cause reactions and it’s important to experiment with small amounts. For instance, when I added salt and orange peel to my mix, I found them too abrasive, although they might do wonders for your skin. I love adding a little ground calendula and chamomile, though, as they are very soothing. With a little experimentation, you can easily come up with a cleanser that works wonders – right from your own kitchen!
Mix up your potion, store it in a jar and dish it out by the spoonful. A 1/2 teaspoon, mixed with a little water (or rosewater if you want to get fancy), it makes a soothing paste with just enough texture to cleanse the skin. Mix it with a little honey or yogurt on the weekends and you have yourself a mask! One caveat I must mention: this cleansing paste doesn’t remove eye make-up. But fear not, just use a little almond (or olive) oil for eye makeup removal – another kitchen trick.
If you like the idea of chemical and preservative-free skin care, but are just not into the whole kitchen cosmetics vibe, do not despair. Between You & The Moon is a holistic skin care company run by Emma Graves, a trained esthetician and herbalist. Her products are all hand-made and her skincare knowledge is vast. If you live anywhere near Brooklyn, I urge you to go and see her – she will change the way you think about your face. She also gives classes and her products are available online. Her site alone is full of helpful information and is beautiful to look at.
So I have been on this kitchen cosmetics regimen for almost a year-and-a-half now. While I haven’t gotten carded at the liquor store (yet), the absence of my cosmetics-counter skin care hasn’t had any detrimental effects on my face as far as I can tell. But it has saved me a whole lot of money, kept me from slathering my skin with chemicals every day and as a bonus there is no product packaging to throw away. Plus, when I run out, it just takes a few minutes to whip up a new batch in the kitchen.