4 years ago I started to switch all my skincare to natural, mineral and plant based products – and WOW have I seen an amazing improvement in my skin. Through trial and error, I’ve found 6 affordable products I love made by good companies with good ethics. Some of them might surprise you.
First, some background. I have oily skin and I get pimples… even at 27. My Mom gets them too, so I suppose it just runs in the family. Like with food, in the old days I went through hell and back trying to “fix” the problem with chemicals. When I was a teenager, every morning I’d go through a 45 minute scripted regimen of cleanser, prescription acne medication, alcohol-based toner, moisturizer and cake-thick concealer … only for an embarrassing tight, shiny nose and dry, peeling cheeks like face dandruff. I applied mattifying powder obsessively. The thought of leaving the house without an emergency stash of makeup made my stomach twist. I avoided sunlight. But what I didn’t realize is that I was only attacking the symptoms instead of healing the underlying situation.
When I moved to the west coast and finally clued into the natural=better idea, I gradually began ditching my old methylparaben, propylene glycol and sodium laureth sulfate filled cosmetics and experimenting with simpler things. My first step was to get rid of everything containing mineral oil, paraffin or petrolatum – all petroleum-based ingredients. You’d be surprised how many moisturizers and lip balms list that as an ingredient (can I say: gross, and vom). Check yours.
The second thing I learned was that I could only find a very shallow level of pseudo-natural products if I stuck to the big box stores and pharmacies. They’re too mass-domesticated. No, for the real stuff that stays true to ancient crush-some-plants-in-a-mortar-and-pestle ways, I had to go off the beaten path. So I began to hunt through the personal care sections of Rainbow Grocery, PCC, herb shops, and local organic co-ops. I found racks of mysterious tiny bottles. I found piles of beautiful hand-cut soaps. I discovered rows of giant hand-pump dispensaries of bulk soap and shampoo (whaaat?). And finally I stumbled upon the displays of tiny, organic, crafted-with-love, expensive natural skincare products. Hooooo boy. If I were rich, I’d buy the whole pile and roll around in them. Take THAT, aging! But I also discovered that with skin, simpler things are cheaper – and sometimes even better. I started to explore the lower price ranges that still listed organic, pure plant and mineral ingredients.
Most importantly, I learned to treat my skin like a garden, like a pet; a living, breathing thing that needed to be cleaned, soothed and nourished in order to grow into its soft, radiant, living breathing self.
Some disclaimers: I can only speak to what I know personally, so this advice is for those with oily/combination skin and my makeup recommendations are for pale shades. My links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means if you are kind and inspired enough to buy some things, I will get a small percentage to help me keep writing about the things I love. Thank you.
On the advice of dermatologists, I wash my face with a clean wet washcloth every morning and night. But that’s not quite enough cleaning for my skin so I also give it a good scrub with an exfoliating cleanser every 2-3 days in the shower. Exfoliating gets rid of dead skin and cleans out pores – both essential for reducing pimples and getting that glowing, velvety-clean look. Exfoliating is like weeding the garden to get rid of dead leaves and stones cluttering and choking things. But man, there are a ton of scrubs you can buy. I have not even come near to trying them all. Especially since they’re expensive and I’m not made of gold bars.
That said, I’ve stumbled on one that is absolutely fan-tastic, totally natural, vegan, and… handmade?!
I’m speaking, of course, of Lush – specifically their Dark Angel Cleanser. I’ve tried a lot of things from Lush. With locations all around the world, exuberant salesfolk who make the products fresh on-location, and a layout like a candy store for your face, I couldn’t help but fall in love and try lots of their products. But they’re quite pricey. So I save my bucks for the absolute best.
Dry skin? Moisturize. Oily skin? Moisturize.
Moisturizing your skin is like watering your garden. You should never let it sit dried out for longer than 20 seconds. I’m serious! After you wash it, or use a natural oil-dissolving toner (like witch hazel), immediately moisturize. The moisture lets your skin know it can chill – no need to freak out and start making more oil to protect itself. I’ve heard from many people (dermatologists included) that drying out your skin will make it produce more oil in the long run. I use a light, balancing moisturizer for daytime and a more intense one at night.
Daytime is time for a moisturizer that gives my skin the chill-out signal while reducing oily shine. Are you ready for my secret oily skin weapon? The best – best – moisturizer I have found is Aubrey Organics Oil Balancing Moisturizer. I order it 3 bottles at a time to save on shipping because I know I’ll never switch. If they ever stop making this, I will be heartbroken and shiny-faced for eternity. (By the way, I have tried Lush’s Enzymion moisturizer and still find that the Aubrey Organics one beats it out in price AND effectiveness).
Nighttime is time to bring out the intense, healing moisture that nourishes your skin while you sleep. And when you’re talking whole, natural, deep moisturizing on the cheap, you just can’t beat oil. Cosmetics marketing teaches us to be afraid of oil; forget them. Like the “anti-bacterial” folks, they’re selling you fear. Oil is luxurious, healthy and natural – think of smooth, oiled wood, or massages. Your skin absorbs it like soil absorbs a spring rain. Oil dissolves makeup too, so if you use oil you can toss your regular makeup remover. I intend to keep moisturizing with oil for many years. I hear it staves off wrinkles like a charm. What should you look for in a facial oil? Organic and cold-pressed if possible, with no additional ingredients. You can even use edible oils for your skin. There’s nothing wrong with that. Crazy, right?
My main inspiration for moisturizing with oils is Shreve Stockton of Honey Rock Dawn (one of my blogging and adventure heroes) who says she only uses cold-pressed oils on her face, mainly Jojoba. I was also inspired by Karol Gajda, who swears by moisturizing with Vitamin E Oil in his post on traveling light.
Here are some different types I’ve personally tried:
Vitamin E: Great for dry skin, a little thick and non-absorptive for mine, but I used it for years. Like Karol says, a little goes a long way.
Jojoba: Supposed to mimic skin’s natural oils, but it seemed too light and slippery and I didn’t notice anything special during the months I used it.
Olive oil: I tried this in a homemade sugar scrub a few times. Felt like a fatty oil slick on my skin, way too much even for me! But it actually absorbed quickly after the initial oilyness.
Grape Seed Oil: Finally! The perfect oil. Medium-light, absorbs quickly, and seems to tone my skin enough that it barely looks shiny half an hour after I’ve put it on. Some packaging even recommends grape seed oil specifically for oily skin. All the better. While I got my current grape seed oil from our local organic grocery store down the street, I bought this one as a Christmas gift for my mother: Nature Certified Organic Grapeseed Oil and she loves it.
There’s always a few days a month when the red spots come out to play. WAY less since I’ve been using Dark Angel scrub, but still a few. For those times, tea tree oil is my solution. I even put a drop or two of it in my nightly moisturizing oil and my regular bar soap contains some. It’s aniseptic, anti-fungal and good for many things if used in small amounts (I’ve even used it to treat yeast infections). In pure oil form it can feel crazy icy/hot/burning like Tiger Balm if you put it directly on sensitive areas. Before I knew what it was, I once tried to use it straight up as makeup remover (oil, right?) on my eyelids in a friend’s bathroom. YEEOWCH. You can find it at most Trader Joe’s in the US, or order it right to your door: Mason Vitamins Tea Tree Oil
And a bit of Mineral Makeup for Special Occasions
I don’t wear makeup every day anymore. Gosh, I can’t tell you weird that feels to say that. However, when I do, Zia is my go-to. They make mineral makeup that’s reasonably priced, definitely on the budget end when it comes to the pure natural, organic stuff. Their mineral concealers are smooth, light and sheer, and the Alabaster color has a golden tone that’s perfect for under-eye-circles and giving my cheeks a nice glow. Here’s a link to Zia’s mineral foundations on their website. I’ve found good deals on Amazon in the past, but right now I don’t see a good seller. I also recommend checking your local stores for it too because you can sometimes find the concealers for $12-14.
Update on 2/23/12: I just tried Lush’s new Colour Supplements, specifically their Light Yellow color. When I stopped in to the Seattle location, the store lady helped me choose which shade went best with my skin by doing a spot test on my jawbone. This company has some SERIOUSLY good customer service! Compared to the Zia foundation, Lush’s goes on smoother and doesn’t dry as fast, doesn’t feel as “tacky” (which is probably due to Zia’s sunscreen content). It’s nice and sheer, but I can dab it on a little thicker for better coverage, which is perfect. Even though it says it’s pale yellow, it’s less yellow than the Zia Alabaster shade.
And finally, I use a light mineral powder to set my makeup (a tip from my sister’s modeling courses: any liquid makeup stays put longer when you set it with a dry powder). I used to obsess over finding the right mattifying powder and then slather it on throughout the day, but now I just pat my nose in the morning and go. I prefer Zia’s pressed powders but I can’t find a good source for them in Seattle or on Amazon so I switched to Physician’s Formula pressed powder in “buff” (even though it does contain talc, which I don’t like… clearly a purchase in a moment of weakness there). Either one works well for me.
That is it! Done and done. That’s all I use on my face. The best part? It all easily fits into an airplane carry-on baggie.
I’d love to hear any revelations you’ve had about your skincare. Do you have a favorite moisturizer or scrub? How about makeup?
If you liked this post, please share it: