We all know that a home-cooked meal made with whole ingredients is far healthier than a package of processed food from the store. The same is true for skincare. Most of us are becoming increasingly thoughtful about what we put in on our skin, and a DIY approach can give you some of the freshest, highest quality, therapeutic care that plants can offer, chemical-free, and at a fraction of the cost.
DIY skincare classes are one of my favorites to teach because the payoffs are so big when people start making their own at home. It’s fun, products can be custom blended with herbs from the garden, they can be designed to meet individual skincare needs, and when using choice ingredients, there is nowhere you can buy this kind of fresh, quality product. These products are especially suited for those with chemical sensitivities, but anyone can really feel the difference of a fresh, clean product on the skin.
Can You Trust Skin Care Product Labels?
One of my first motivators to start DIY skincare about 10 years ago was my uncertainty about what’s really in skincare products and my concern about putting chemicals on my new baby’s tender skin. While food products in the United States have strict labeling laws and third party verification is required to label anything as organic, the skincare industry is left to their own devices, and can use the word organic however they see fit (as nobody is checking to verify their sources). The skincare industry in the United States alone is a $9.6 billion business, and “organic” products make up more than one-third of these annual sales. While consumers are demanding organic skincare free of chemicals, these kinds of products are very difficult and expensive to produce if they are expected to have a long shelf life and maintain stability across variable temperatures. In fact, some industry insiders I know argue that for some products – like skin creams – creating a stable product with a long shelf life, without chemicals, is not even a possibility.
Because there are billions of dollars to be made every year from consumers seeking organic skincare, most companies put profits above making an honest product. Skincare companies market products that appear to be organic and chemical-free, but in reality, most are not, because it’s too expensive or it just can’t be done. Often, you can see evidence of this when reading the ingredient label, but not always. For example, skincare manufacturers are allowed to put “fragrance” on the label to represent an undisclosed cocktail of various chemicals that help preserve the formulation and create a long-lasting scent. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database, these ‘fragrances’ typically include phthalates, which have been associated with allergies, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system. While there are some truly mission-driven, high-quality organic skincare lines out there, I’ve seen many high-end skincare products that market their brand as organic and chemical-free, yet they list ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfum’ on the label! It’s so disappointing because if they were using something plant-based, like essential oils, to scent their products, they would definitely brag about that and feature those oils on the label instead of hiding behind a deceptive term.
Do a Few Chemicals Really Matter? Aren’t There Safety Limits?
Theoretically, if my only concern about chemical exposure was from my favorite skin cream I buy at the store, I wouldn’t worry about such small amounts. However, in today’s world, we are exposed to thousands of man-made chemicals in our environment – many of them in our air, water and food. Sadly, human exposure to chemicals is now so widespread that the umbilical cords of American babies have been found to have an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants (including those found in personal care products) – they are exposed to a broad chemical cocktail before they are event born! So, if my skincare products contain chemicals within certain predetermined safety limits (which are largely set by the manufacturers who sell them, not the FDA) I am still concerned because nobody has tested the accumulative effects of multiple exposures of multiple chemicals that most of us face today. Many of these chemicals are persistent, meaning they accumulate in our bodies over time with multiple exposures. That’s why I advocate for reducing exposure where we have control – especially with what in terms of what we put inside the body on slather on the skin.
Scientific American has a great article on the topic of the regulation (or lack of) in the cosmetic industry here, and check out the Skin Deep Database to look up third-party testing to reveal what’s really in some of your favorite skincare products.
Easy DIY Alternatives
Here are some easy DIY alternatives to commercial body care products. I love these recipes because they are easy to make, they result in high-quality products, and I can customize them with herbs from my garden or other selected ingredients for the therapeutic qualities I’m looking for. It’s a joyful and creative process, and I know these products are safe for my whole family to slather on the skin.
Here is my most basic recipe for DIY skin cream. It’s what I use most often for body cream at home, and what I share with friends when they ask me for a skin cream that doesn’t irritate their skin.
Tinted Lip Balm
Tinted, sparkly, and therapeutic lip balms are easy to make, and they are a great way to opt-out of commercial lipsticks that still contain lead in the Unites States. Here’s how to take a therapeutic salve for the skin and turn it into something colorful for the lips.
The easiest one of all – use jojoba, almond, or any other light oil to remove make-up from your face. Its simple, easy, and won’t dry out your skin. People are often surprised at how well this works without clogging pores!
DIY hair care takes a little more time to get right, but you can replace your shampoo, conditioner, and hair spray with these DIY alternatives and prevent drying out your hair.
If you are looking for more ideas, or need some help getting started, check out my classes on DIY skincare here. You’ll learn how to use therapeutic plants and other organic ingredients, indulge in some treatments in class, and go home with a set of products and the recipes to make them again on your own at home.