I basically called my mom for help. Except when I say mom, I mean an esthetician.
I’ve seen a lot of awful skincare advice on the internet,
but some of the most cringeworthy and, unfortunately, most persistent are DIY
treatments that use common household items.
I understand why these treatments are
attractive: they're cheap, easy, readily available, and may seem safer than the
unfamiliar and unpronounceable treatments on drugstore and boutique shelves. Plus, some of these popular treatments, like
honey, yogurt, and oatmeal can be truly beneficial to the skin.
But, as I hope
you know by now, natural is not always safer or better. And I say that as a
born-and-bred granola girl who practically eats compost for breakfast. Some of
the most popular DIY treatments you’ve probably "pinned now to read later" are
downright terrible for your skin.
Lemme ‘splain you why.
Your skin, the beautiful, multilayered beast, is topped off
with a couple of protective barriers. The acid mantle, a thin coating on your
skin that maintains your skin at a pH of 4 to 5 keeps it slightly acidic so that your skin is inhospitable to unwanted bacteria
while supporting the good flora, making it harder for acne and infections to
thrive on your skin. You also have a lipid layer, another thin layer of fatty oils secreted by the sebaceous glands that protects
the skin and retains moisture so that you don’t dry out like an unlucky
DIY treatments like lemons, sugar, baking soda, and
toothpaste, are very unkind to these layers and disrupt the work your skin is
constantly doing to repair itself. I know some of you in the comments will tell
me that these things have done awesome things for your skin. Fine. But I’m
confident that there are plenty of better-formulated treatments will give you
the same clear, smooth skin without the potential damage. It’s worth giving
some of the alternative recommendations I’ll give below.
First up, let’s talk about lemons and lemon juice. This is
the bad beauty advice that just will. Not. Die. I’ve seen it everywhere, from beauty mags,
bloggers, online forums, pinners, and YouTube gurus. The only thing that makes
me cringe harder is when I hear of people mixing lemon juice and sugar, but
I’ll get to that later.
lemons for exfoliation and to lighten dark marks, but they are bad news because
they are highly acidic, with a pH of 2. They will mess with the natural pH of the acid mantle and can irritate
the skin. Also, because the citric acid content in lemons varies from fruit to
fruit, you don’t really know how strong of a treatment you’re putting on your
face; not to mention that citrus oils are potentially phototoxic, meaning that when you make contact with daylight with lemon on your face, the irritation
will only increase, possibly to the point of chemical burns.
If you want the benefits of lemons without the nasty
irritation, try an AHA toner with a pH between 3 and 4--still a low enough pH
for an exfoliating effect, but not too low that your skin will freak.
options include Makeup Artists Choice Mandelic Toner (if your skin can tolerate
the alcohol), Paula’s Choice 8% AHA gel, Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing
Elixir, or Silk Naturals 8% AHA Toner.
If you still want to go the natural DIY
route, though, try blending a little bit of pineapple or papaya with plain
unsweetened yogurt and applying it as a mask. This will exfoliate your skin
gently with a combination of fruit enzymes and lactic acid.
As I mentioned before, I often see recommendations to mix
lemons and sugar. Sugar is another major skin NOPE. The uneven, jagged edges of
sugar crystals will tear at your skin cells and disrupt your lipid barrier
right quick, leaving you vulnerable to dryness and flakiness. After you’ve
irritated your skin by scratching at it, the disruption of the lipid layer will
only make it take longer to heal. If you want to make your skin soft and
smooth, sugar will have the opposite effect in the long run.
Alternatively, if you must with physical exfoliation, your
best bet is a more subtle method like the gentle
application of a microfiber cloth, or a honey and turmeric mask, which will exfoliate lightly while the humectant honey draws moisture to the skin, rather than letting it slip
Another “natural” exfoliant I see floating around is baking
soda. Avoid this one, too. Not only is it too harsh of a scrub, but it is also
extremely basic (in the pH-of-9 way, not in the thirsty-haters way), so it will
knock all the power out of your acid mantle, making your skin more basic than
acidic. So basically, baking soda will tear your skin up and then strip it of
its first line of defense against bacterial infection.
Finally, I want to talk about what is quite possibly the
first ever DIY beauty treatment you ever tried: toothpaste. The first beauty magazines I ever read
recommended this as a spot treatment for acne. And in a sea of acne treatments
marketed to teens that are way too
harsh and quickly strip the lipid barrier, I can understand why toothpaste
seems like a gentler option. Still, this is misguided advice because most
toothpastes are very basic in pH, so they mess with the acid mantle--the opposite
of what you want to do when killing acne bacteria is your aim.
contain a whole bunch of ingredients that aren’t doing your skin any favors.
The surfactants that make it foam up and the flavorings that keep it minty
fresh? Irritants. All of them.
Better spot treatments include tea tree oil (diluted with
your favorite carrier oil, please) or a dab of your favorite clay mask. Some of
my best bets are Origins Clear Improvement mask, Proactiv Refining Mask, or
just bulk yellow kaolin clay from your local health food
store. (Try mixing it with honey!)
If you are nice to your acid mantle and lipid barrier, your
skin will be nice to you. High five for skin horror stories avoided! That said, what's the most horrific DIY treatment you’ve