You might have read it in a national magazine, found it on Pinterest, or it was something passed down from your mom. Homemade beauty treatments are a fascination for many women, especially do-it-yourselfers (DIY) who want to live an all-natural, organic lifestyle. But are they really all they’re cracked up to be?
Ellen Clark, CEO of Control Corrective Skincare Systems, likens DIY skin care to cooking. “If you did an Internet search of natural home-cure beauty recipes, you’d find tons of them—there are as many as you would find for spaghetti sauce,” she says. “Perhaps 20 percent of moms have time to do their own homemade spaghetti sauce; the other 80 percent don’t have time. And is it better to do it homemade? Not necessarily—Mario Batali’s sauce is fantastic, and my homemade sauce might not be as good as Mario Batali’s can.”
And just as you wouldn’t cook a new recipe for the first time and serve it at a party, if you’re going to try a new skin care treatment—homemade or otherwise—do a patch test first. “People don’t always know what they might be sensitive to, until they have a reaction,” Clark says. Acidic or citrus ingredients like papaya, pineapple or lemon can cause a reaction in many people, she says. “The pH of a lemon might be 1.0, and a balanced skin pH is more like 6.5. If I put something acidic on my face—like chop up fruit and make a mask—and I don’t restore the pH, my skin could get irritated and sensitized. Two days later, my face might feel like sandpaper or I’ll have rough bumps on my cheeks.”
Also avoid putting homemade cures on the eye area, as well as putting acids on sunburns, open wounds or acne, adds Amy Koehler, Dior beauty director for Dillard’s in the St. Louis metro area.
Plenty of fresh foods you might find in your kitchen are used as active ingredients in professionally made products, notes local esthetician Nettie Mueth of Medical Aesthetics RX. “They have the right idea—they can help, because those ingredients are in products, and using it straight up might be great for the skin if you know how to use it—and if you know how to clean it up,” she says. Cucumber slices are known to help with puffiness, while ancient Egyptians and Romans used honey as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and moisturizer, Mueth notes. “But putting honey on the body—for me, with my dogs, I wouldn’t be safe. I’d have to barricade myself in or I’d be licked to death!” she jokes.
Simple home remedies—like olive oil used to break down mascara or remove false eyelashes painlessly—can be very effective, though, Koehler says. Other cures she suggests include mixing sugar, salt or baking soda with other ingredients to exfoliate; crushing almonds and making a paste as a nourishing anti-aging ingredient; and using an avocado mask on the hair to naturally hydrate. The biggest difference between these homemade cures and professional products is the consistency, she notes. “Typically, when they’re creating a product in the lab, they put ingredients in a specific order, in specific amounts to help them work more effectively and deliver deeper into the skin. You can get some results at home; but if you want long-term effects, they do in-depth research so they know exactly how it’s going to work every single time.”
Keeping precautions in mind, DIY skin care can be fun, Clark adds. “The expectation is part of it, too. If my girlfriends and I are going to do masks and have fun, then that is fun. We’ll mix it up in the kitchen, and have a good time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not therapeutic skin care, but it’s fun skin care.”