When it comes to beauty products, many of us often think that "organic" or "natural" must mean "better." But that's not necessarily so.
While at-home beauty remedies can be lighter on the pocket, and free from harsh chemicals, they still come with their own risks, which many of us tend to overlook.
We talked to Angela J. Lamb, M.D., director of Westside Faculty Practice, Mount Sinai Dermatology, who helped separate fact from fiction.
"If you have an allergy or are sensitive to certain ingredients, you may still develop a rash or reaction," she said.
Dr. Lamb sees many patients, in fact, who try at-home remedies then show up in her office, dismayed to discover a skin reaction. Certain ingredients can cause allergies and make things worse. Tea tree oil, for example, is a common allergy-inducing culprit due to a small molecule that can act as a "sensitizer."
That's not to say that you can't use at-home hair and skin treatments, but it's important to understand that these remedies are not necessarily guaranteed alternatives to what you can find on drugstore shelves.
Here, we dispel some myths and shed light on some at-home skin and hair care remedies that just might work.
1. Rose Water Toner
Apparently used for centuries as an ingredient for gentle cleansing eyewashes, rose water, according to Lamb, does contain some acidic properties, which might offer medicinal qualities. Soothing and cooling, rose water can work to tighten large pores.
"But," said Lamb, "there are not a lot of intrinsic properties in rose water in the use of exfoliation." Rose water does, however, smell nice. Paired with its cooling property, rose water may offer a soothing remedy after a long day.
For your own soothing DIY rose petal freshener: Try this recipe from motherearthliving. Boil water, then cover and steep the petals until the liquid is cool. Strain and then squeeze the liquid. Refrigerate in sterilized jar.
For a better anti-inflammatory option, Dr. Lamb recommends chamomile and calendula. These two ingredients can be used to ease pain and swelling.
For a DIY astringent oil: Try this at-home remedy.
What you'll need: 4 oz. water or herbal infusion, 1 teaspoon dispersant (like aloe vera or vegetable oil), 5 drops of essential oils (your choice. Lavender is one option).
Mix the essential oil with the dispersant and then add to the liquid. The dispersant is used to dissolve the essential oil.
2. Lemon Skin Softener
Lemon might actually help soften skin, thanks to its oxidizing properties. Lamb also suggests that lemon can be used to lighten hair, streaking darker locks.
What you'll need: One freshly cut lemon. Gently rub the lemon wedge on your elbows and knees, targeting rough patches of skin. The acid in the lemon softens these rough spots and may also lighten dark areas.
3. Brown Sugar Exfoliating Body Scrub
Because of the granular quality of sugar, it is often used as to exfoliate. "But," said Lamb, "sugar, in itself, is not necessarily an exfoliating agent." Whether you use brown sugar or granulated white sugar won't make much of a difference.
You can create a quick and easy body scrub by mixing brown or white sugar with Vitamin E oil.
What You'll Need: Sugar, honey, and a few drops of essential oil (if you have some).
Combine the ingredients to make a thick paste. Then slather the scrub all over your body once you're in the shower (it's a bit messy). This simple scrub rids your skin of dead skin cells, leaving soft and supple skin.
Intensify your scrub experience by using bath gloves or a loofah, and focus on problem areas like elbows, knees, and heels. Rinse and reap the benefits of soft, sweet-smelling skin.
4. Strawberry & Honey Acne Exfoliating Facial Scrub
Strawberries, as well as some other fruits, contain some natural acidic properties. In a much milder form, they can offer an alternative to chemical peels, which are more intense procedures involving chemical agents to treat skin issues. The three most common acids used in chemical peels, explained Lamb, are:
- Glycolic acid - the most common peeling agent, it comes in different strengths (30 percent to 90 percent) and different pH levels (levels of acidity), which will determine how deep it penetrates and how much peeling you get. Glycolic acid can be used to treat fine lines and wrinkles, sun damage, help improve skin texture, and brighten skin.
- Salicylic acid - the most unique among the hydroxy acids bunch. This acid can penetrate deeper into the oil glands, causing exfoliation even in the oily areas of the face and scalp. This makes it ideal for treating acne and oily skin.
- Lactic acid - this acid occurs naturally in human skin and is also found in milk. Less irritating than other AHAs, lactic acid has a natural moisturizing effect on the skin. It's ideal for skin brightening, and can also be used to treat pigmentation, dry or dehydrated skin, sensitive skin, and rosacea.
Will an at-home strawberry facial scrub work wonders on your skin? "Our role, as professionals," said Lamb, "is to say what will work, and what will not work."
The strawberry scrub may smell sweet, and possibly offer some benefits, due to its naturally acidic nature. But don't bet that it will offer a miracle cure.
What You'll Need: If you're interested in making a DIY strawberry scrub, take a few strawberries, cut into slices, and mash. Add some honey to the berry pieces. Then, massage the mixture into your face for a few minutes. Rinse with warm water.
Benefits of the strawberries: gentle enough for sensitive skin types. The natural fruit enzymes in strawberries may help to slough the dull top layer of skin.
Benefits of the honey: ideal for dry and oily skin. The honey hydrates parched patches, while the two-ingredient combo produces a mild antiseptic that may help prevent breakouts.
5. Strawberry Teeth Whitener
And what about for teeth? Do strawberries help in this department? Can they actually make your teeth whiter and brighter?
While strawberries do contain malic acid — an agent found in fruits that gives them their sour taste, and thought to contribute to teeth-whitening — Lamb does not suggest supplementing your daily brushing routine with a strawberry concoction.
There's no harm in trying strawberries as a teeth-whitening tool, but don't be surprised if you don't get the pearly white results you were hoping for. Besides, strawberries get their power to brighten from their acids, which can be harmful to teeth.
What You'll Need: If you do decide to try a DIY strawberry whitener, just remember to brush thoroughly with regular toothpaste afterward to remove the berry mix, which you don't want to leave on your teeth.
To make your own recipe: take one strawberry and add a ½ teaspoon of baking soda. Mash the two ingredients to a pulp and then use a soft toothbrush to apply the paste to your teeth. Leave on for about 5 minutes.
6. Moisturizing Yogurt & Avocado Face Mask
Dairy products like sour cream and plain yogurt can help reverse damage and restore moisture. The lactic acid gently strips away dirt while the milk fat moisturizes.
There are different types of exfoliation: the physical, granular kind, like in brown sugar scrubs, and chemical. "Also," explained Lamb, "the lactic acid in the yogurt works as an exfoliant."
What You'll Need: To moisturize and refresh dry, sallow skin, blend yogurt, honey, avocado, and a dash of cold cream in a blender. You can use a foundation brush to apply the mask to your face. Let sit for about 15-20 minutes, or until dry.
7. Deep-Conditioning Coconut Oil Hair Mask
Great for coarse, curly hair, or even relaxed hair, coconut oil works doubly as a conditioner and moisturizer to tame your locks. Coconut oil also adds shine and may penetrate the hair shaft to strengthen hair.
Lamb also recommends olive oil as a hair treatment because it is a lighter oil, with a high fat content.
And you can use olive oil on your body as well. To repair and revitalize dry skin, all it takes is a few drops of extra virgin olive oil. Apply to clean, dry skin and gently massage in a circular motion.
Essentially, she explains, anything with a high amount of fats will work to condition rough, unruly hair: mayonnaise, egg yolks, avocado. These high-fat foods provide deeply moisturizing, although messy, effects.
What You'll Need: Similar to the olive oil, you will need a dime-sized amount of extra-virgin coconut oil, which can range in price and easily be found online. You can create an at-home hair mask and leave it in overnight, or condition for a shorter length of time with a heat cap if you're in a rush.
8. Banana & Avocado Frizz Fighter
Similar to the coconut or olive oil concept, the oils in avocado (light and moist like our own natural skin secretions) as well as the proteins provide a great combination of nutrients for smoothing and weighing down unruly hair.
It may be a bit messy, but this dynamic duo — when mashed together and applied to frizzy hair — can work wonders. The combination of potassium-rich, sweet-smelling banana, and moisturizing avocado (thanks to all those fatty acids) will soften and tame frizzy hair.
What You'll Need: Simply mash together half an avocado with one banana. Then massage into clean, damp hair. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes before rinsing with water. Apply treatment every two weeks.