Warning: long post ahead!
Sometimes, I go a little hippie (nothing wrong with that!), and I’ll be the first to admit it. Particularly now that I’m doing more yoga and feeling really great, I just feel a little bit more of a pull to do as much good for my body as I can.
Also, I am currently not working, so saving every penny helps. Making stuff on your own can cost a bit up front, but will save you money in the long run if the products you make work for you.
Let me give you a little bit of background about my skin and hair situation:
I have combination/oily skin, generally in my T zone. My skin is also very sensitive (I am allergic to benzoyl peroxide, the main ingredient in most acne and skin-clearing products) and if I use too much of any strong or prescription product, my skin gets dry, flaky and red. It also gets a bit dry in the winter months, which I think is fairly normal, but still annoying.
I’m 25, and I don’t really have acne or major breakouts anymore (thank goodness), but I usually have at least one or two small spots on my face at all times. I have some minor acne scarring (because I pick at my face too much) and spots of discoloration, but nothing crazy. I usually wash and moisturize twice a day. I never, ever leave the house without at least concealer, powder and blush, so I do wear a decent amount of makeup.
I have used so many skin products in my life – prescription oral and topical medications, washes, scrubs, lotions, serums… you name it, I’ve probably tried it at some point. Some have worked, most have not. I have wasted so much money. SO. MUCH. However, in my years of searching for high quality products that work for my skin, I have found a few really great ones. So, I share. Here are some of my tried and true over-the-counter skin products:
Aveeno Ultra Calming Foaming Cleanser: This is great for sensitive skin, and is a super light foaming cleanser that doesn’t leave my skin feeling dry or super tight. It works well as an everyday cleanser.
Aveeno Positively Radiant SPF 15 Daily Moisturizer: This is the only SPF moisturizer that I will use. Using SPF is really important, especially living in Florida, but other moisturizers and products with SPF left my skin feeling extra oily. This doesn’t, and it’s very light.
Burt’s Bees Sensitive Facial Cleansing Towelettes: I use these to remove my makeup at the end of the day, or if I’m in a huge rush and don’t have time to wash my face in the morning (which is rare). Some cleansing towelettes leave my skin burning or feeling really dry, and these don’t at all.
Burt’s Bees Orange Essence Facial Cleanser: This cleanser actually has orange oil in it. Some people get really freaked out by oil-based skin products, because they think that the oil will clog their pores and cause a break out. Not the case! Some swear by the “like dissolves like” principle – meaning that using an oil or oil-based cleanser will actually dissolve the oil that’s clogging your pores. I believe in that principle. This stuff is AWESOME. It smells amazing, and I sometimes don’t even feel the need to moisturize after I use it. If you’re accustomed to using harsh soaps and other skin products (most of which truly strip your skin of it’s natural and healthy oils, which then causes your skin to produce excess oil to make up for it. Using shampoo does this to your scalp, too), switching to this will be very different from what you’re used to – and it might take your skin a couple of weeks to acclimate, but I promise if you keep it up, you will love it. I sometimes use this as a facial cleanser in the evenings before bed.
Clinique Moisture Surge: This is a real splurge, but it is totally worth it. It is the only moisturizer that will get rid of any eczema-like dry patches that I get in the winter. I also really fu – messed – up this fall when I used a salt scrub on my skin for three days in a row, and had a terrible, dry, flaky, red, irritated reaction that I am JUST NOW recovering from, four months later. It was bad, guys. Like, heaps of makeup wouldn’t cover it, bad. This was the only thing that helped. I use it both in the morning and at night. It’s not oily at all – it’s more of a gel – and I feel like my skin just soaks it right up, like a tall glass of water, or something like that. It might be my favorite product, ever.
Naturopathica Chamomile Cleansing Milk: My mom bough this for me for Christmas this year, and I love it. I keep it in the shower and use it daily, in the mornings. It’s light, smells great, and leaves my skin feeling super clean and healthy. Unfortunately, this brand is kind of ridiculously expensive. However, all of their products are mostly natural and organic, which I love.
Naturopathica Oat Cleansing Facial Polish: This is a great scrub. The oatmeal is very gentle and moisturizing – not harsh at all on the skin. I love it, and use it maybe once or twice a month. However, it is wicked expensive, so I have never actually purchased any – I stole the little bit left that my mom had. However, if you want an oatmeal scrub and don’t want to make any yourself, I would highly recommend the splurge on this one. Otherwise, keep reading for a couple of homemade oatmeal and cornmeal based skin products.
Finally, anything from Origins. I’ve used a ton of their products: Modern Friction Exfoliater, Plantscription Anti-Aging Eye Cream, Ginzing Eye Cream, Eye Doctor Eye Cream, High Potency Night-a-Mins Moisturizer, Vita-zing Moisturizer, Mega Mushroom Skin Relief Moisturizer, and the Clear Improvement Charcoal Mask.
Verdict? I have loved them all. They are all plant based, which is great, and they never irritate my sensitive skin or make me break out. All-around win. They are also usually (fairly) reasonably priced for being high end products, which I like. A lot.
While I’ve used a ton of prescription skin products – I have never liked any of them. I do have two over the counter acne products that I swear by and keep on hand at all times:
Image Skincare Clear Cell Medicated Acne Masque: I’ve had the same 2oz bottle of this for about four years, because you only need a teeny tiny amount. Really, like, the size of the tip of a pen, small amount. This is ABSOLUTELY NOT a product you put all over your face. It has some seriously powerful ingredients that will mess up your skin if you use too much. However – it works magic. I use it as a spot corrector – if I get a pimple or blemish, I put this stuff on overnight and in the morning, it’s either come to a head (gross, I know) so I can fix it, or it’s pretty much gone. I’ve never had to use this stuff more than two or three nights in a row to get rid of a spot on my face. I seriously swear by this, and it’s well worth the $20 since it’ll last you several years. The only downside is that it leaves a white residue on your skin when you use it, because you don’t rub it in – it’s supposed to be a masque – so it doesn’t work well under makeup or for daytime wear. Thus, my daytime solution, below.
Clinique Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel: I think this is the new version of the Spot Clearing Gel that I’ve had for probably five or six years. It’s a salicylic acid spot treatment, and just like with the clear cell masque, you also only need just a teeny bit of this product. I find that this isn’t too harsh on my skin, which I love, and it works well under makeup, so you can wear it during the day to fix some problem spots. I think the bottle of the six-year-old stuff I have is under 1oz… so this product also be well worth the $25, because it’s lasted me over five years, and still works.
Phew. Onto the hair.
I used to have pretty thick, healthy hair, but I think that all the years of coloring and heat damage has wreaked havoc on it. I still have a lot of hair, but its very fine and has little to no volume. Unfortunately for me, it also gets oily super fast – like, halfway through the day fast. It’s extremely frustrating, so I have recently resorted to dry shampoo. It does help a little bit, but also leaves a build up and white dusty powder in my dark brown hair. Not ideal. It is also very drying on my scalp, and if I use it too often, it gives me dandruff. COME ON. Honestly, just like with my skin, I’ve bought, used and wasted all sorts of hair products, and I haven’t found any that I really love enough to share here with you.
Well, maybe I lied. The one brand of products that I always go back to is Aveda. They’re a bit expensive, and there isn’t a store by me down here, so I haven’t used them in awhile.
You may ask: “Jen, if you’ve got so many great skin-care products that you love, why do you want to make your own?” Great question. First and foremost, it can save money. Second, even with the products I love, my skin is still not perfect and is almost never completely clear, which is frustrating, particularly because I’m now in my mid-twenties, and feel like my skin should be better than it is (whether it’s true or not). Third, the skincare products that I listed above may be great – but they are still made with chemicals and things that might play a role in my skin woes. Finally, just like how I feel about the food I put into my mouth, there’s nothing like knowing exactly what’s in the products you use on your skin and hair. So I say, why not try some all-natural, homemade methods?
A few months ago, I tried the oil cleansing method. I mixed up some therapeutic grade grapeseed and castor oils, put a few drops of lavender and tea tree essential oil in there, and started washing my face with it. I was mortified to try this, because I was really scared that my skin would completely freak out.
Actually, it was quite the opposite. My skin was extra oily for the first couple of weeks as it adjusted, but I kept tissues nearby to blot, and it was manageable. Despite the oily-ness, I didn’t have any more spots on my skin than usual, and I had no breakouts. After a few weeks, the oily-ness subsided, and my skin actually started to clear up. It almost felt like I had a little glow, and it was really awesome.
I stopped washing my face in the morning, and only used the oil cleansing method at night. I made up an apple cider vinegar facial toner by mixing about 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup water and a few drops of lavender oil to use after I oil-cleansed. It was really great, despite the smell (alex complained all the time. His face, every night, was priceless).
Alas, after about two months of oil cleansing and apple cider vinegar-ing, the salt scrub skin fiasco happened, and I was so stressed and overwhelmed with trying to fix it that I just went back to some of the tried and true skin care products that I listed for you above. I haven’t gone back to the OCM, but have toyed with the idea.
Last week, after our trip to Savannah (where we were bombarded with all sorts of unique little boutiques full of handmade body products and artisan honeys and salts), I became obsessed with making my own stuff. So, I decided to give a few things a try: Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash, a Facial Exfoliator, Facial Toner, Face Wash and Lotion. I copied most of the recipes I found, which I will link for you, and will let you know if I made any changes. I will also give you a little blurb about how they worked (or didn’t) for me.
Homemade Shampoo: There is a “no-poo” (no shampoo) method that some people use, which is basically using just water (or vinegar) and baking soda to clean your scalp, but I wanted to try an actual lathering shampoo before I made that jump. I used brewed green tea, unscented castile soap, lavender essential oil, xanthan gum, and baking soda. I also cut this recipe down by almost 75%, because I didn’t want to make a lot of it before I knew whether I liked it or not. It’s a good thing I did.
Verdict: This just isn’t for me. The shampoo left my hair feeling super gunked-up and waxy. I ended up dumping baby powder and/or baking soda onto my roots to try and soak up some of the oil, or waxiness, or whatever it was. I tried adding more castile soap to the mixture, but it didn’t help, so I really wonder if it’s the castile soap that actually causes the waxy, heavy feeling. I didn’t stick around to find out with a new batch.
I used this for four days, and then stopped. I know it takes time for your hair to adjust, but my hair just felt so gross that I didn’t even feel comfortable wearing it down. I ended up putting my hair into a bun every time I used this shampoo, which is exactly the opposite of what I wanted to do.
Now, I will tell you that my hair had more volume than usual – but I think it was because of whatever was causing the waxy feeling. It was almost like I had put too much hair wax or pomade in. Personally, I just didn’t like it, but I also didn’t stick with it for long enough to see if my hair would adjust. This recipe has a lot of really wonderful reviews, which is why I tried it in the first place, so I definitely recommend, if you want to make your own shampoo, that you try it on your own, stick with it, and come up with your own verdict.
Ugh, well what do I do now!?
Since I’m a little turned off the the whole homemade shampoo thing for now, I am currently rotating Soma Colour Protect Shampoo, Aveeno Nourish 2 in 1 Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner, and Redken Color Extend Shampoo. I find that if I stick with one product too long, I get build up in my hair. I may go back to using the Neutrogena Anti- Residue Shampoo once a week, since it really made my hair feel super clean and voluminous (I’m sure, though, that it also completely strips the healthy oils from my scalp to give me that feeling. I can’t win!). I’ve been using the apple cider vinegar conditioner, below, on the days when I don’t use the dandruff shampoo, since it already has conditioner mixed in.
Apple Cider Vinegar Conditioner: This is super simple – 1 Tb Apple Cider Vinegar and 1 cup water. Mix well in a spray bottle, and use as a conditioner after shampooing. Done. It definitely smells like feet – but it DOES NOT leave your hair smelly when you use it, honest. Apple Cider Vinegar is supposed to be wonderful for skin and hair – not only for balancing pH, but for moisturizing and cleansing as well.
Verdict: I think I like it. It seems a little weird at first to spray on your conditioner, but it actually works surprisingly well as a de-tangler, and makes my hair really soft. I think it causes a bit of static for me, so after using it for about a week all over my hair, I am going to continue to use it only on my ends and see how it pans out.
Body Wash: I made this body wash using 2/3 C unscented castile soap, 1/4 C raw honey, 3 tsp of almond oil, about 35 drops of grapefruit essential oil and 15 drops of geranium essential oil.
Verdict: I think I like it. I feel like my skin gets sticky/waxy when I use this body wash in the shower, but when I get out of the shower and dry off, my skin feels really clean (maybe it’s the castile soap, again. Or, maybe I just have super hard water). It even lathers on my loofah, which is great, but it doesn’t go as far as a regular body wash, so I end up having to use seven or eight pumps of it. I love the idea of a grapefruit scent, because it’s supposed to be very enlivening and awakening. However, I don’t recommend the geranium oil – it definitely has a funky floral-y smell that I read somewhere went with grapefruit. Nope.
I’ve used this body wash for a few days now, and my skin actually feels really hydrated and soft. Alex has even used it, and besides the geranium smell, he liked it. I’ll keep it up, and play around with more scent combinations – maybe I can make a pine or cedar one for Alex to use!
Cornmeal Exfoliator: I found this recipe on the Aura Cacia website – which is the brand that makes all of the essential oils that I use (I’m pretty sure they just own a giant share of the market, since their brand is pretty much the only one I can find anywhere). This exfoliator supposed to be for oily skin, and the cornmeal is supposed to be very gentle. I used 6 Tb white cornmeal, 5Tb water, 10 drops lavender essential oil and 5 drops tea tree oil – which is significantly different from the original recipe. Lavender is supposed to be very calming for the skin, and tea tree is great for clarifying skin issues. I mixed it all up and put it in an airtight jar. When I exfoliated with it, I took about a nickel sized amount, added a bit of water, and just gently massaged it into my face and neck.
Verdict: Love it! This stuff rocks. It’s easy, wicked cheap, smells good and does a great job exfoliating my skin gently. The only catch is that, when using natural food products, they are prone to going bad if you don’t use them quickly. I only exfoliate maybe once or twice each week, so this stuff went bad (in just one week!) before I could use it all. When I make it again, I’m going to use half or less of my recipe so that I don’t waste any. Another way to do it is to mix about a teaspoon of plain cornmeal with warm water and rub on your face – no essential oils necessary, and that way, you can use only as much as you need with no worry of it spoiling.
Sweet Orange Facial Toner: This is another super simple recipe. Mix some witch hazel with some sweet orange essential oil, put into a pump bottle, and use daily. This recipe is supposed to be great for combination/oily skin, because witch hazel is a natural astringent and has antibacterial properties. Witch hazel is often mixed with alcohol, so it can be over-drying for those who have naturally dry skin. However – everyone is different. My mom has dry skin and uses witch hazel as a cleanser without any problems.
Verdict: I like it. I squirt one or two pumps onto a cotton pad and gently wipe my face and neck with the toner after I wash and before I moisturize. It helps take away any tightness I might feel from a wash, and it seems to work just fine so far. I’ll keep using it, but I also might go back to my stinky apple cider vinegar toner for comparison when it runs out.
Oatmeal Face Wash: I’ve been reading for some time now that honey and oatmeal are supposed to work wonders on the skin, so I found this recipe and decided to give it a go. I used 1/4 cup rolled oats, (ground in my coffee bean grinder to give it a better texture), 1/8 cup lemon juice, 1/8 cup water and 1 heaping tsp of raw honey. Not super different from the original recipe, just a halved version because you don’t need very much.
Verdict: LOVE THIS!!! But really, you don’t understand. I am so obsessed with this, I feel like dancing. Major win here, people.
Okay, time to calm down. Let me explain.
I was contemplating going back to the OCM before I found this – but now I don’t think I ever will. Not only does this face “wash” smell good, but it feels good, too. It leaves my skin feeling soft and clean, and I actually think that it’s helping to clear my skin up. The one and only downside is that this, like the cornmeal exfoliator, will go bad if not used quickly. So, after almost two weeks, even in an airtight container, it started growing mold. I’d recommend mixing up a quarter of the recipe, and make sure you use it within a week. I use about a dime-sized amount of it at a time, and mix it with a little warm water before massaging into my face. I follow with the sweet orange toner and one of my moisturizers, or sometimes, homemade lotion, below.
Homemade Lotion: We used cocoa butter in this recipe, and left out the vitamin E oil. I used about 15 drops of lavender essential oil and some vanilla extract, but it really just smells like cocoa butter. The vanilla extract all sank to the bottom, too, which was kind of a bummer. It’s the most labor-intensive recipe I tried, but it’s still really easy (Alex actually made this one) and makes a lot, so it will last you awhile.
Verdict: I like it. It does a wonderful job moisturizing my skin. I don’t use it a lot on my face because it’s pretty oily up front, but I have used it a few times with no breakouts or issues. It hardens in the jar after it completely cools – but you don’t need much for moisture (I might use a quarter sized amount to cover both of my legs), and I find that if I just push down around the edges of the lotion in the jar, it softens up enough for me to get the amount that I need. I wish I would have been able to find shea butter – it has a less pungent scent than cocoa butter – so that it smelled more like lavender, but it also smells kind of like chocolate cake, so I’m not complaining. I’ll definitely make this again, if I ever run out!
Phew! That was a lot to take in, I know. Just a couple more things, I promise.
Let’s talk about cost. Essential oils can be pretty damn expensive, but they last a really, really long time. They run anywhere from $4-$25 per little bottle, although there are many, many more on in the $4-$8 range than anything else. They are well worth the investment if you will be using them for multiple purposes (I use mine as perfume, and also for my dogs). If not, no essential oils are required for any of these recipes, they just happen to add a little bit of fragrance and provide added benefits.
There is an upfront cost for containers and supplies if you don’t happen to have a bunch lying around, but you can reuse pump or spray bottles as long as they’re cleaned very well (bleach is probably the best. Since these will be used for your skin and hair products, you want them absolutely sterilized from whatever was in them to begin with). The waxes and oils are also an upfront cost, but fairly minimal, and they can also last a very long time.
On the bright side, water doesn’t cost anything (mostly), and things like apple cider vinegar (I used the unfiltered kind), honey, rolled oats, lemon juice and cornmeal are staples in many kitchens already. If they’re not a staple in yours – not to worry – you can always use them for cooking purposes (new recipes!), or keep them on hand, since they don’t really go bad on their own.
Like I said, this is my first time trying many of these things, but I’m truly finding that I’m more pleasantly surprised than not with the results. I’m hoping that I can perfect some of these recipes over time, save some money, and get great results. I know that everybody is different and has their own opinions, so these homemade skin and hair products are definitely not for everyone. But, I’m excited about this, so I figured I would share my thoughts and experiences here – just in case anybody is interested!