The Beauty Pantry

Look no further than your kitchen for indulgent (and budget-friendly) skin savers.
By Hillari Dowdle

It’s getting easier every day to find clean and green skin- and haircare products as more and more brands introduce sophisticated formulations that feature the best of nature’s bounty with minimal chemical residue. You can now go organic with virtually anything you choose to spray on, rub in, or lather up with.

Unfortunately, the price of these products continues to climb, forcing many a cost-conscious girl to become highly selective in her choice of lotions and potions. But being frugal needn’t compromise your beauty regimen, says Renee Loux, eco-beauty expert and author of Easy Green Living (Rodale, 2008). These products are nice she says; they can even be amazing. But gorgeous skin and lustrous hair don’t necessarily carry a high price tag. “You can do a lot at home to transform your skin,” says Loux, “simply by using the things you have on hand in the kitchen.”

As an “eco-advisor,” Loux helps companies and spas go green, and she well knows what constitutes good natural skincare. “The highest quality ingredients in any organic line are always labeled ‘food-grade,’?” she explains, “which makes perfect sense, since your skin has the capacity to absorb up to 60 percent of what you apply to it. If you’re not willing to eat it, why would you put it on your skin?” When you go straight to the source—that is to say, the honey jar or an avocado—you know what you’re getting and where it came from, Loux adds.

Kitchen staples can’t solve every skin problem, of course—certain products are well worth the cost (see “When to Indulge” on page 31)—but they work for maintenance. “You can reach right into your pantry,” says Loux, “and pull the ingredients for an awesome facial.”

Honey
A potent “nutraceutical,” honey can work as a simple mask to heal the skin and draw moisture to it. “For millennia, people have been using honey as an antimicrobial agent, and it really works to kill bacteria on the skin,” explains Lisa Benest, MD, a holistic dermatologist practicing in Beverly Hills, California. “Honey’s moisture-retaining quality gives it definite cosmetic benefits.”

Loux recommends applying a thin layer of honey to your face, then sitting in front of a fan for 10 or 15 minutes before rinsing with warm water. “When the air blows on your face, you get an incredible warming effect,” she says. “Honey is rich in minerals that nourish the skin, and enzymes to help slough off dead cells. It’s a balancing mask that’s good for every skin type.”

Don’t worry about finding expensive imported honey—it doesn’t have to be “fancy” to work. But do seek a source close to home. “Buying locally sourced honey is a fantastic way to support local agriculture,” Loux says.

Olive oil
Many Mediterranean women—most famously Sophia Loren—credit their youthful, glowing good looks to olive oil. Loren added it to her bath, and rubbed a few drops into her skin every day. Indeed, this simple pantry staple can offer big benefits for skin and hair. “Olive oil is a natural moisturizer that’s rich with anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agents,” says Alan Dattner, MD, a holistic dermatologist practicing in New York City. “It also contains the lipid squalene, which is especially beneficial to dry skin.” Dattner recommends applying olive oil after the shower so that it spreads easily and soaks in readily as the skin dries.

Olive oil also makes an effective deep-conditioning treatment for hair and scalp. “I massage it in and let it sit for 20 minutes before I shower,” says Beth Greer, holistic health advocate and author of Super Natural Home (Rodale, 2008). “Then I shampoo, and my hair always comes out looking great.”

Whether you’re using it for skin or hair (or cooking, for that matter), choose high-grade extra-virgin olive oil, and look for the organic label, Greer says. “Oils can concentrate any pesticides or industrial chemicals the plant has been in contact with,” she explains. “Since there are many olives in a tablespoon of olive oil, you’re multiplying your exposure when you don’t choose organic.”

Avocado
For all-around good health, it pays to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, especially vitamin E. You can get all that in avocados—whether you eat them with chips or rub them on your skin. “Avocados are naturally rich in nutrients, which get into your skin directly when you apply them topically,” says Benest. “And since they contain so much oil, they provide a great pick-me-up for dry or dehydrated skin.”

Loux likes to mash up half an avocado, stir in a tablespoon of honey, and then apply the mixture to clean skin for 10 to 15 minutes. “It gives you an instant glow,” she says. “And it’s delicious!”

Almonds
Carol Zubrin, owner of Los Angeles’ Purity natural spa, is nuts for noninvasive treatments. “I don’t believe in peels or in microdermabrasion or any other kind of aggressive exfoliation,” she says. “These treatments damage the skin, and over time the skin will get thinner and weaker, or—worse—develop scar tissue.”

Still, exfoliation is important, she acknowledges. The key is to keep it gentle. Her favorite exfoliating agent? Ground almonds. “Almonds are quite soft, but abrasive enough to lift up the dead skin layer,” she says. “They contain a good deal of healthy oils.” To make your own almond scrub, just throw a few nuts in a coffee grinder and process until a semi-coarse meal is formed. Then add a little water and honey and massage the paste into clean skin, using a circular motion.

Lemon
Not all who seek home beauty treatments want added moisture; oily and acne-prone skin needs special care. The at-home solution? The zesty lemon, say Benest and Loux. “Lemons contain alpha-hydroxy acids, which act as a gentle exfoliant for oilier skins,” says Loux.

Cut the lemon juice with a little water to help buffer the skin, says Benest, and even the driest skins can benefit. “When the skin becomes too alkaline [dry], its moisture barrier starts to break down,” she explains. “A little acidic lemon can help maintain the skin’s proper pH level, and restore its natural lipid barrier.” Apply the toning mixture directly to clean skin with a cotton pad, she says.

Chamomile tea
Zubrin’s other secret weapon is chamomile tea. “It’s a natural calming herb,” she says. “Cool chamomile tea works wonders for rosacea and sensitive skin. It’s also a good remedy when your skin is irritated from over-exfoliating or exposure to the elements.” Zubrin recommends storing the tea in a spray bottle in the fridge (make a new batch every few days) and misting it on when you need to soothe skin or spruce up your complexion. You can also use it on hair as a clarifying rinse or soak cotton pads with tea for a refreshing eye treat.

Caveat: Make sure to brew the tea with purified water. “Chlorine from the tap water would undo every good thing the chamomile is doing,” Zubrin says.

Hillari Dowdle is a freelance writer in Knoxville, Tennessee, who firmly believes in the healing power of honey.


When to Indulge

Renee Loux suggests spending the most money for the beauty products that stay on your skin the longest. “This would be moisturizers and serums,” she says. “And often, you get what you pay for.” Loux gives high marks to serums in particular, because they have the most potential to affect real change in skin. “A serum is expensive, but it contains 50 to 70 percent of the active ingredients, whereas a skin cream only has 5 to 7 percent,” Loux notes. “There’s no fluff, and a little goes a long way. Think of a serum as an investment.” Four serums Loux likes:

C the Change Ester-C Serum by Kiss My Face ($21, 1 oz; kissmyface.com) “is affordable and potent, and the formula is very clean,” Loux says.
3O2 Drops (around $75, 1 oz; 302skincare.com) contains a patented extract of avocado with an extraordinary ability to penetrate the skin and help promote elasticity, Loux says.
GRN Hydrating Face Serum ($34, 1 oz; exhalespa.com) was developed by Loux for Exhale Spa. Its hydrating formula relies on an Asiatic tuber called konjac mannan, and contains organic extracts of aloe, mango, corn silk, and lavender.
Biodynamic Beauty Serum by Jurlique ($75, 1 oz; saffronrouge.com) comes from organic plants tended to with high maintenance nurturing. “Plants grown in biodynamic conditions will yield the most potent active ingredients,” Loux says. “Yes, the price point is higher, but it’s simply a higher quality product.”

To get the most out of your beauty investments, Loux recommends having two or three products on hand, and rotating them regularly. “If you overuse any one product, your skin develops an immunity to it, and you need more and more of it to get the same effect,” she explains. “If you rotate products, you prevent this, and since you need less, you can make each one last much longer—which saves you money in the long run.”