Take a look at the ingredient list on your body lotion. Given the common inclusion of parabens, phthalates and a bevy of petroleum products – among other worrisome ingredients – chances are that most of us wouldn’t be willing to take a swig. Yet we slather it all over our skin, inadvertently overlooking the chemicals we’re massaging into our body’s largest organ.
Adults have around 22 square feet of skin – which is kind of a freaky way to think about it, but that equates to some eight pounds of skin that we rub lotions into, scrub with exfoliants, let shampoos and conditioners rinse down, spray perfume on, and purposely expose to synthetic chemicals in other ways, all in the name of beauty. Crazy as it seems, with the exception of color additives and a few prohibited substances, beauty companies may use any ingredient or raw material in their products without approval from the Food and Drug Administration. While the European Union has banned more than 1,000 ingredients from use in cosmetics, the FDA has only prohibited a handful.
So with that in mind, why not switch up the routine and employ beauty products that are gentle enough to eat? Aside from being healthier, using ingredients from the kitchen is much cheaper, reduces packaging and since we're focusing on staples, you probably already have many of these things on hand. Plus, if you should ever accidentally get locked in the bathroom overnight, you won’t go hungry.
1. Baking soda for shampoo
Advocates for the no-shampoo movement tell of the harm that shampoo ingredients do to the hair and scalp and swear by the enhanced texture and look of locks that have been liberated from commercial shampoos’ harsh treatment. To shampoo with baking soda instead, mix 1 tablespoon into a cup of warm water and stir, then pour onto hair and massage. It won’t turn into a lather — more like a slippery paste. Rinse well and follow with vinegar (below). Most people find that they need to shampoo much less with this method, like once every four or five days. It may take a few weeks for hair to adjust and the formula may take some tinkering with (like, try doubling it for long or extra thick hair), but the results — more often than not — are promising.
2. Apple cider vinegar for hair shine rinse
After you have squeaky clean hair from your baking soda shampoo, it’s time to give it some shine. Mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into one cup of warm water and slowly pour down your hair (double the formula for long or extra thick hair.). Rinse well. Your shower will smell like vinegar ... and yes, your hair may emit the slightest whiff of vinegar, but it should be barely noticeable and can be completely fixed with a little rub of shea butter mixed with flavor extracts.
Also good for: Treating acne.
3. Shea butter for hair serum
Shea butter isn’t a common kitchen staple in all parts of the world, but in African countries, this oil made from karite tree nuts has long been used for cooking. (It is also an ingredient in a number of confections, especially chocolate.) For the beauty-minded, it can be put to wonderful use on the hair to both lock in moisture and as a styling product well-suited for girls with curls. Raw, unrefined shea is best – it comes slightly hard, you can either melt it in your hands or whip it with other oils using a hand mixer to make it creamier, adding some vanilla or other flavored extract if you like. Apply to slightly damp hair – used sparingly just at the roots it can add volume; applied to the ends it can enhance curls.
Also good for: Skin, skin, skin!
4. Nut and seed oils for moisturizer
Nut and seed oils are packed with vitamins and antioxidants. (Photo: mythja/Shutterstock)
Aside from using shea butter for skin, there are a number of other nut and seed oils that work beautifully to moisturize your exterior. Grapeseed, jojoba, apricot kernel, sweet almond, argan, sunflower and macadamia nut oils are just a few that do wonders to bring bright life and moisture to dull skin. You can also add essential oils or flavor extracts (below) to add some olfactory pleasure to the mix.
Also good for: Body and facial moisturizer, bath soaks.
5. Coconut oil for face wash
This may sound counterintuitive, but the oil cleansing method has women everywhere ditching face soap in favor of oil. Yes, oil. (Read more about it here: Oil cleansing: Why would I want to do that?) Of the many different oils you can use, writer Starre Vartan sings the praises of coconut oil for keeping her skin in tip-top shape. Says she, “I just scoop a bit out of the container with my fingers, warm it up a bit between my (clean) fingers and spread it around my face, working it in just as I would a foam cleanser. Then I rinse off with warm water. Some of the oil stays on, but much gets washed off. Pat the face dry and voila!” And if you don’t want to use coconut oil on your face, other recommendations include grapeseed, sunflower, safflower and apricot kernel oils.
Also good for: Body scrubs and anti-frizz hair serum.
6. Salt for body scrubs
Nothing makes for smoother, softer skin than a good exfoliating with the help of salt and oil. The salt acts to remove dead skin cells and the oil does double duty as a vehicle for the salt and a moisturizer as well. Make this mix in a clean jar, and it should keep for around six months (although you'll use it up long before that): Combine one cup sea salt with one-half cup of sweet almond oil or olive oil (or oil of your choice, really) – you can also add essential oils, herbs, spices, flower petals or flavor extracts of your choice. In the shower, slather the mix on your body and massage well, then rinse. Smooth radiant skin will be yours. (See more scrumptious recipes here: 8 homemade salt and sugar scrubs.)
7. Sugar for lip smoother
Cutting down on refined sugar is a good thing, but here’s one place to put it to great use: make a treatment to exfoliate and condition your lips. Create a paste with equal parts sugar and olive or sweet almond oil; and while the addition of a drop of peppermint or vanilla extract is not required, it's delicious. Rub a small amount on to your lips and massage, gently exfoliating as you do it. Then the best part: lick it off.
Also good for: Sugar body scrub, cleaning hands and extending lipstick.
8. Turmeric for boosting a glow
Turmeric is one the spice rack's many beauty secrets. (Photo: Marina Shanti/Shutterstock)
Its vibrant hue makes turmeric an ally in brightly colored foods like curry, but it can also help to make the skin glow. Some women have found that a bit of turmeric added to ashy foundation can make the perfect color for hard-to-match skin tones. Meanwhile, women in India use turmeric in face creams and body scrubs to bump up the radiance factor; try adding the spice to any of the formulas here, sprinkling in a bit at a time until you have the proper tone.
Also good for: Brightening your teeth and dandruff care.
9. Oatmeal for a face mask
Many fruits and vegetables are commonly employed in face masks, but since we're keeping this list mostly to non-perishable essentials, we're going for the oatmeal face mask. Oatmeal has a long history of being used as a gentle way to soothe skin, and an oatmeal face mask is an especially good choice for people with sensitive or dry skin (although it will benefit all types). Start by grinding 1/4 cup of uncooked oats in a blender or coffee grinder until fine, then add in 1 1/2 tablespoons plain yogurt and 2 teaspoons honey. Mix together well, clean and dry your face and neck, and apply. Leave it on for 15 minutes, then rinse well and pat dry.
10. Honey for scalp care
Dandruff shampoos are strong and expensive. Honey is gentle and relatively cheap and is a miracle worker in the health and beauty departments. Among its many beneficial uses, it has been proven to be effective in treating chronic seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. In one study, itching was relieved and scaling disappeared within one week for all patients. Skin lesions were completely healed within two weeks, and patients showed subjective improvement in hair loss as well. Here’s the formula: Mix 90 percent honey with 10 percent warm water and rub into the scalp for a few minutes. Cover with a shower cap and leave on for three hours, then rinse. Do this every other day for four weeks, after which the treatment can be done once a week to prevent relapse.
Also good for: Eyelash balm, facials and hair enhancer.
11. Olive oil for all moisturizing needs
Since it’s likely you have this workhorse ingredient in your kitchen already, you can always rely on it for moisturizing needs addressed by other ingredients here. It penetrates deeply and is rich in nutrients, making it great to moisturize hair, use on cuticles and nails, moisturize hands, use on the rest of the body, use to shave with, use as massage oil – you get the picture. Anywhere your skin is dry or feeling lackluster, give it a few sips of olive oil to perk it up.
12. Flavor extracts for an extra kick
As innocent-seeming as perfume may be, not everyone realizes that in general, modern perfumes are not some heavenly distillation of flowers and spices; most perfume is chock-full of synthetic chemicals created to mimic the scents we love. And perfume companies aren’t required to list perfume ingredients. In fact, private analysis of numerous perfumes reveals dozens of nasty chemicals within. So you know the drill by now: Use food! By skipping modern perfume and adding an edible source of fragrance to any of the applications listed above, you can find yourself suitably scented without the toxic, asthma-inducing chemicals of synthetic perfume.
There are a number of places where you can buy food-quality essential oils, but you can also use all-natural flavor extracts – even quotidian vanilla and peppermint extract are easily available and lovely. Other ideas include using fresh vanilla bean, nutmeg, rosemary, flower petals, dried citrus zest or other herbs and spices. If you have a Middle Eastern market nearby, try rose water and orange blossom water, which are redolent with the essence of flowers grown in the soil, not chemicals born in the lab. Your nose, and your body, will thank you.