It’s time we had a talk, guys. It’s about “natural skincare”. Wayne Goss, whom I usually LOVE SO MUCH, recently posted this on his blog and I was devastated. He also recommended putting Milk of Magnesia, straight, on your face on the reg (it is ok in very small doses, very irregularly – thanks Chanelle). Sure, it makes your skin look a little better (debatable) in the short term, but with long term, frequent use it can cause major bacterial proliferation. Jaclyn Hill recommends using sugar to scrub your face. Come ON guys! I don’t want to go on and on about this, so I’ll try to keep this short (spoiler alert: I failed). I also don’t want to tell people to stop doing what works for them. But this is a dangerous trend that I want to put in my US$0.02 about.
Look, everyone wants to be closer to nature, right? Everyone wants to save some money, everyone wants to seek out multi-use items. I get it. I really do. But some things can be as natural as hell, but still not great for your skin. In fact, some people can react really badly to natural ingredients. Sure, they can also react badly to synthetic ingredients, but those are often formulated to be less likely to make people’s skin fall off.
The bottom line is, not everything that is natural is good for your skin. Take oft-touted lemon juice for example. Your skin’s natural pH is somewhere between 4 and 5. It already HAS a natural acid mantle and this acid mantle is INCREDIBLY important. Lemon juice is extremely acidic – it has a pH of 2 (approx. 6% citric acid) – and can burn your skin. Some people manage to use it JUST fine. But I would suggest that those people are in the minority, and most people’s delicate facial skin will be irritated by this. Irritation can show up in a myriad of ways – it can be redness, small whitehead bumps, cystic pimples, dryness and even sores/blisters or burns. Same goes for baking soda. Baking soda + vinegar (also acidic, pH 2.4ish) is the kind of thing you clean stubborn stains from pans, sinks, drains and cooktops with. Do you really think you should put that on your face!? No. Stop it.
Sugar is jagged crystals. Same goes for anything like those awful apricot scrubs that are literally crushed apricot seeds.What! They’re sharp as hell. Sure, they’ll exfoliate the SHIT out of your face, but they’ll also create microtears around your pores and aggravate any problem areas you already have. Don’t do it. I’m a huge proponent for NEVER scrubbing your face with anything more abrasive than a muslin cloth. If you want to exfoliate, use something gentle that won’t mess around with your skin’s pH level. I personally use the Paula’s Choice AHA gel, because I find it works well for me, but if you are oily you might prefer the BHA. Dr Dennis Gross also does a wonderful exfoliant line. Don’t scrub your face! Microbeads, though smooth, are still not great for your skin, or necessary, and they’re REALLY bad for the environment (some States in the US are about to ban them). Body skin is different – it’s much tougher and thicker. Scrubs on the body are fine but I would still recommend doing this only once a week at MOST.
Things like bee pollen can also cause a huge allergic reaction. That’s a LOT of concentrated bee product to be putting on your face. Honey is much less concentrated in allergens but there isn’t very much health benefit in it – so eat it instead of wasting it by putting it on your face. It’s delicious.
Another common one is tea tree oil. TTO does contain antiseptic, antibacterial properties, for sure. But please dilute it in another carrier oil like almond oil or another neutral oil before you dot it on your spots (DOT, people, don’t slather!). It’s REALLY strong!
Which brings me to the current wonder-product: coconut oil. I CONSTANTLY hear people say that this is all they use to remove makeup, wash their face or moisturize or whatever, any number of things. And it works brilliantly for them! Which is wonderful. Those people are probably not prone to acne though, because let me tell you something that is a scientific fact and not at all an opinion: coconut oil is EXTREMELY comedogenic (meaning that it blocks pores like a mofo). On a scale of 1 to 5, it is a 4. That’s basically just below … what is the most? Beef tallow? Engine oil? So please don’t put it on your face unless you have never had a pimple in your life. Or, by all means give it a red-hot go, but if you break out, don’t say I didn’t warn you! Put it in your food, use it for lube (seriously it’s great for that in my experience *eyebrow waggle*), but please be really careful using it on your face.
If you are still dead-set on using natural products, remember that science often loses to marketing. I dug up this great article on WebMD about things that actually probably/maybe do work, but note that even the “active soy” in one of the products mentioned has been altered in a lab to be more effective. Please also note “industry sponsored study” as a phrase to indicate taking results with a grain of salt.
Natural skincare doesn’t even necessarily save you money. Be very careful of expensive products containing cheap ingredients. It might be important to you that the ingredients in your skincare are sourced ethically, locally or organically, which is of course going to bump the price up. There is incredible, simple, cheap skincare available at the drugstore/pharmacy (Cetaphil, CeraVe etc) that works great for a lot of people. No need to spend an arm and a leg.
Finally: please remember that everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical. Lemon juice is a chemical. Salt is a chemical. Stop talking about things being chemical-free. You are made up of chemicals. If you don’t want to put chemicals on your skin then enjoy never bathing, touching food, dressing or leaving the house ever again. Hooray!
To me, this is a bit like the great Tim Minchin line from his excellent anti-alternative medicine animation, Storm, “You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proven to work? Medicine.” I feel the same way about skincare. Technology is so incredible these days, and skincare / beauty etc is at the forefront (because $). Why shouldn’t we take advantage of the benefits? It can even help the environment. Synthesized ingredients stop the destruction of habitats by mass farming, for example.
Really, I don’t care what people do in their own homes that works for them. The thing that upsets me is when people, particularly people in positions of authority like WG and JH, make dangerous, bad recommendations to their friends or followers that could be disastrous.
Be safe, be careful, do your unbiased research, but mostly – do you boo.