Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Making my own skin and hair care products

Two things motivated this. First, after my daughter was born, I started thinking much more about the environment and the impact that toxins and pollutants could have on her health, and I wanted to make changes in my lifestyle for her sake. Second, I had to make changes in my beauty routine out of necessity.

Skin Care

As teenagers, my siblings and I had very little acne. What we suffered from instead was red, scaly rashes the frequently spread across our faces. My mother took us to a dermatologist every other week, who kept prescribing different medications, which might or might not work for a while, but which often had side effects, for which he'd prescribe something else. And our skin issues never really went away.

Well, I went off to college with my skin care prescriptions in hand and tried to get them filled at my college pharmacy. The pharmacist stared at me and refused to fill them. "There is NO WAY any reputable doctor should have prescribed so many medications for you," he said. And he added, "I think most dermatologists are talking out of their neck anyway. Most of the time, they have no idea what's wrong with your skin; they're just guessing."

I am not trying to disparage dermatology as a profession, but as you can imagine, that soured me on dermatologists. But now I was stuck: what to do about my skin? One night, when my red, itchy face was driving me nuts, I thought, "What if nothing is wrong with my skin? What if it's just dry and sensitive?" And I grabbed a jar of petroleum jelly and slathered it over my face.

The next morning, my skin was clear and soft. No red patches, no itching, no scales. I had found the answer: nothing was wrong with my skin that keeping it well-moisturized wouldn't handle.

Of course, petroleum jelly is horrible for your skin, clogging pores (and I now know, is also bad environmentally). So I started trying different moisturizers. The problem was, after a few months, my skin would start to react again to whatever product I was using, even those labeled "hypoallergenic" (e.g., Eucerin, Cetaphil, etc.).

Enter my new interest in the environment. In the process, I discovered a lot of DIY homemade product recipes online, many of which I've modified to best suit my needs. Here are a few:

Skin care routine:

1. Cleanse with a mixture of powdered milk and water.

2. Tone with green tea.

3. Exfoliate with a mixture of baking soda and water (once a week).

4. Do a homemade facial mask once a week. I've tried a few different ones. My favorite so far is a mixture of plain yogurt, milled flax seeds, and yeast.

5. The best part: the moisturizer! I mix equal parts (usually 2 TB) pure shea butter (a company in Georgia, AAA Shea Butter, sells a 16 oz. jar for $25; it lasts me about a year) and extra virgin olive oil. Shea butter is a solid, so I melt it in the microwave. I also crush a couple of Vitamin C tablets in a pill crusher and add that, as well as about a tsp. of Vitamin E oil. I mix all this in a small jar with a good lid. I tilt it on its side overnight (otherwise, the Vitamin C will all sink to the bottom). By the morning, the mixture has the consistency of a cream. This amount lasts me about a month. Then I clean and disinfect the jar and make some more. Every morning, I apply it generously to my face and either rinse several times with warm water, or take a really hot washcloth and place it on my face so it absorbs in.

Since I've been using this routine (almost 2 years now!), my skin is soft and smooth, and I've had NO recurrences of the red, scaly itchy skin.

Hair Care

OK, I'm an African-American with lots of other stuff in my ancestry, and I have very thick, dry, curly, hard to comb hair--a nightmare for my mother as a child! (And I'm experiencing the same issues, trying to care for my daughter's hair). I have also suffered from really bad dandruff since I was a child as young as eight, something no dandruff shampoo seemed to alleviate. I'm still working on my hair care routine, but here is what I'm doing so far:

1. I've been 'poo free for almost two years. I used to use the baking soda/vinegar method, washing with 1 TB. baking soda in 8 oz. of water (applied with a squeeze bottle), letting it sit a few minutes and rinsing with warm water; followed by 2 TB. apple cider vinegar in 8 oz. of cool water as a rinse, letting it sit for a few minutes, and rinsing with cool water. For more than a year and a half, that worked well and eliminated my dandruff. Then my scalp started to itch like crazy! The odd thing was, my dandruff didn't return. In the past, if I scratched my head, a shower of flakes would fall on my shoulders. No flakes this time around, but boy, did it itch!

I have recently started reading about the "Curly Girl" method, in which you wash your hair with conditioner instead of shampoo (recommended since curly hair tends to be naturally dry). I started washing with Trader Joe's Tea Tree Oil conditioner (awesome, all natural product, 16 oz. is $3.99) mixed with water, and I still do the apple cider vinegar rinse. I've been doing this for six weeks now, and it's working out well. The itch is gone! I've since read that baking soda is a great cleaner for oily hair, but not so much for dry, but that occasionally (maybe once a month), a baking soda wash should be used to get rid of any build-up. I currently wash my hair about once every five days.

2. I make a daily leave-in conditioner from 1/3 part TJ's Tea Tree Oil conditioner, 1/3 part extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), and 1/3 part filtered water. Very nice, keeps my hair well-moisturized without feeling greasy.

3. I make my own detangler! The "Curly Girl" method says you shouldn't comb your hair, but I can't imagine that--my hair would be a rat's nest if I didn't. This is an AWESOME detangler. I fill an 8oz. spray bottle about 2/3 full with filtered water. Then I add (no set amounts, just until the bottle is full) some TJ's Tea Tree Oil conditioner, some pure Aloe Vera gel (I can purchase a large bottle at Super Supplements for $7.99), and some EVOO, along with about 10 drops each of peppermint essential oil and grapefruit seed extract to make it smell good. I can't believe how easy my hair is to comb after spraying this stuff on! It even works well on my daughter's hair, miracle of miracles! (Oh yeah, you have to shake well each time you use it)

4. Here's the area I'm still working on. I still use a chemical relaxer about once every 3 months. I recently learned about a product called Natural Laxer from a company called Treasured Locs, made from Saharan Clay and herbs. I'd like to try it, because I want to get away from chemical products altogether. The only thing is, it says that it could discolor light-colored hair (which I have). But I hope to still try it in the next couple months, and post about the results.


UPDATE: I've also started adding a little vegetable glycerin to the above products. Vegetable glycerin is a humectant, which when used on the skin or hair, help them to attract and retain moisture. I purchased a 16 oz bottle of vegetable glycerin from Super Supplements for $7.19.

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