Evermore imaginative anti-aging products and treatments keep proliferating — in fact, the global beauty market is expected to hit a lofty $265 billion this year alone, according to Lucintel, a Texas-based market research firm. But consumers opting for a clean and natural look need search no farther than their kitchens for effective potions. Even Goop.com, Gwyneth Paltrow’s high-living lifestyle website, runs DIY beauty recipes.
Why make your own? Many commercial lotions and creams expose users to harsh chemical ingredients, according to the watchdog Environmental Working Group. And it can be hard to justify dropping hundreds of dollars on a wrinkle-defying serum or a collagen-building cream that shamelessly exaggerates what it can accomplish “when used on a regular basis.” (Many of these “miracle workers” run more than $1,000, so use on a regular basis can easily cost more than a Chanel bag.)
But hidden away in your pantry and fridge is a stockpile of beauty ingredients that hydrate skin, lend a healthy glow and reduce the signs of aging — often as effectively as their pricey counterparts. “Americans, in general, have a misconception that skin care and beauty require fancy products with lots of ingredients to work better,” says organic spa owner Charmaine Leah, who writes the Glamology.com blog. “The reality is that an inexpensive bottle of sweet almond oil from the market will likely work just as well as an expensive bottle of the latest big-brand moisturizer.”
While there’s no official definition of “clean” (as opposed to “organic,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture codifies using a precise set of certification guidelines), so-called clean products are typically derived from plants and other natural ingredients, and are devoid of the most demonized cosmetic chemicals (e.g., parabens and petroleum jelly).
Cold-pressed organic vegetable oils contain many phytochemicals, antioxidants and nutrients that help moisturize, protect and strengthen your skin. “Basically, if an oil can be ingested, it’s good for the skin,” says Los Angeles acupuncturist Carmella Pingatore, who makes her own oil blends. The exceptions, she says, are canola, corn and modified vegetable, which are likely derived from genetically modified crops that have been sprayed with heavy doses of harmful pesticides. Here are some of the ways other versatile oils can be used in your beauty regimen.
Best for dry skin: Olive and sunflower oils
There’s a reason Mediterranean women have used olive oil as a moisturizer for centuries. In addition to providing intense lubrication, the rich antioxidants that make it so good for your insides benefit your outsides too. Sunflower oil is just as good as olive oil but a little less expensive. In addition to being a rich moisturizer, it makes for a good massage oil because it’s thinner, more slippery and absorbable than other oils.
Best for eyes and neck: Grapeseed oil
A byproduct of winemaking, grapeseed oil comes from the seeds of pressed grapes. “It’s especially good for thin skin and fine lines around your eyes and neck,” says Pingatore. “It’s also high in vitamin C, which brightens your skin.”
Best hydrating treatment:
Virgin coconut oil (VCO)
At cooler temps, coconut oil solidifies, but if you warm it by rubbing a bit between your hands, it will turn into a smooth body moisturizer that Paltrow, Courtney Cox and other beauties swear by. The Mayo Clinic even reports that ingesting VCO can help reduce waist size. It can also be a blessing for hair — not only is it a great styling and conditioning aid, the oil can correct a shade gone brassy. Trader Joe’s carries convenient travel packages. But a word of caution: avoid using it on your face if you’re prone to acne.
Best for puffy eyes and sunburn: Cucumber
Cucumbers’ antioxidants reduce irritation, and applying cold slices reduces puffiness. Place thick slices in a plastic bag and chill (or freeze if you’re in a hurry). Place over eyes for five to 10 minutes. Applying them to sunburned skin also reduces burning and itching.
Best filler bruise
The tropical fruit contains bromelain, which helps decrease bruising and swelling both by eating it and applying it to affected skin. You can use pineapple that’s sold in slices, but it must be fresh, not frozen or canned. Eat half the pineapple before your treatment, the other half after. “Ingesting pineapple is part of the protocol when we’re doing cosmetic surgery,” says Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Robert Kotler, who does not also apply the fruit topically. You can buy bromelain in pill form, but fresh pineapple is more effective, beauty experts say.
Best blemish-battling mask: Yogurt
The zinc in yogurt diminishes skin redness and inflammation while reducing the amount of sebum (oil produced by the sebaceous glands). Keep pores clear by using yogurt made from skim organic milk — the lactic acid in yogurt gently exfoliates skin yet soothes for noticeable results. Apply to damp face for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove with warm water.
Best for fighting skin dullness: Sugar
It’s actually one of the best exfoliants for sensitive skin. A sugar-based scrub will dissolve as it exfoliates, so it’s impossible to overdo it. Use weekly to gently slough off dead skin cells that can rob you of your glow.
Best for busy mornings: Apricot kernel oil
Apricot kernel oil is super-light and absorbs quickly, making it a great moisturizer for busy days. It’s also full of vitamins A, C and E — antioxidants that protect the skin from signs of aging and sun damage.
Best for shiny hair and a quick facial: Egg whites
Boost your hair’s shine by adding a beaten egg white when washing with your regular shampoo. For a fast facial, beat the whites until stiff and apply to face and neck until it dries, then rinse.
Best for keeping hands smooth and clear: Milk
For reddened hands, wash them in warm milk each night — the lactic acid helps lighten skin. Here’s another good skin bleach: one ounce each of lemon juice, honey and perfume, combined. Finally, keep elbows smooth by rubbing them with lemon rind.
A final plus to using healthy cooking ingredients on your skin: If you don’t like the way one feels, you can still use it in cooking — money doesn’t goes to waste, and bathroom cabinets don’t get cluttered with half-empty bottles. Keep the oils in a cool, dry, dark place. When applying any of them, aesthetician Pingatore notes, less can be more. “If it hasn’t absorbed within a couple of minutes,” she says, “you’re using too much.”
Yummy-smelling essential oils, such as lavender, citrus, jasmine, rose, tea tree oil, frankincense and evening primrose, come from specialized cells within the plant. Readily available in health food stores, they are marvelous for targeting particular skin issues but are too potent to apply directly to one’s skin. The basic formula is add one drop of essential oil to three drops of a carrier oil (e.g. coconut, olive, sunflower or jojoba).
And then there’s that stress-relieving, muscle-relaxing, mind-relieving tub soak we all crave. Most of us run a bath, add a few drops of essential oils, then step right in. “Wrong,” says Suzanne Teachey, herbalist and owner of Nectar Apothecary in Prescott, Arizona. She offers a few tips to enhance the experience: “When it comes to putting essential oils in the bath, remember — essential oils are not water-soluble.” Combining essential oils with a carrier oil prevents the essentials from just sitting on top of the water. To get the most from a single bath, she recommends adding three to 12 drops of essential oil to one tablespoon of carrier oil.
For full aromatic effect, fill the tub and turn off the water before adding essential oils. “Otherwise the hot running water will cause the essential oils to escape the bath and scent the bathroom instead,” says Teachy.
Now that you know the essentials, it’s time to test the waters. Here, Teachey shares her go-to combos for turning tub time into transformation. All recipes should include one tablespoon of carrier oil:
Mood boost bath: This revitalizing combo can also boost concentration and memory.
5 drops lemon
3 drops rosemary
2 drops thyme linalool
Muscle-soothing bath: Target tired, overworked muscles with this trio shown to dial up circulation and dial down pain.
5 drops marjoram
4 drops lemongrass
3 drops lavender
Relaxation bath: This calming combo has been linked to less stress and better sleep.
5 drops lavender
4 drops chamomile
3 drops frankincense