I basically called my mom for help. Except when I say mom, I mean an esthetician.
The universe works in funny ways. Sometimes you post a selfie to your friends and brag about how well your adapted version of Wendy’s DIY vitamin C serum is working (because it was my birthday and I’ll selfie if I want to). Also, Kevin The Cosmetic Chemist sent me a great dupe of my beloved salt spray, and my hair looked awesome. Then the pimple gods laugh at your lack of blackheads and bless you with some sweet-ass forehead zit bombs, like a constellation of swollen red giant stars, mapping out a sad face cat emoji in the sky.
I’m not particularly stressed--after all, it is birthday week, not Aunt Flo week--so why the zits?! There is no reason I can really come up with to explain these guys.
This weekend, at my party, I will be serving a selection of vegan cheeses that I made! Some of these are fermented, some of them not, just like real cheese, and they all use thickening agents to help mimic the texture of real cheese. For thickening some of my cheeses, I used agar-agar, which is also known as sea gelatin. You may recognize this ingredient from our darling Claire’s hilarious fruit snack overview, agar-agar is used in many applications; from petri dishes in a lab setting to culinary and beauty uses, this stuff is really versatile. It is mainly used as a gel-like base for growing cultures, but also as a gelling and thickening agent; it's even being studied as a dietary supplement.
Agar-agar is derived from seaweed and was discovered in the 1600s in Japan, though folk remedies from coastlines around the globe have been using seaweeds and sea vegetables for their dietary and medicinal value for centuries even before that. Seaweed of many different kinds is used in countless luxury skincare products due to its potent mineral content that is then readily absorbed by the skin. The seaweed that agar-agar is made from is packed with iron, magnesium, copper and calcium, and many other nutrients. Seaweed in any form, when topically applied, has an anti-inflammatory effect.
For a face mask, agar-agar makes a great thickening agent, allowing you to apply other liquid treatments to the face and keep them there. You could really go crazy with this if you follow a few guidelines.
I chose calming and healing ingredients, such as white tea and Manuka honey. White tea is basically my favorite tea ever next to Darjeeling. It is mild, sweet, and tastes great hot or cold, but its claim to skin fame: a higher antioxidant dose than green or black teas. Manuka honey could be subbed for regular honey, but I am giving its claims of extra concentrations of antibacterial powers a shot. Manuka honey is only different from regular honey in that it is harvested from bees who are only pollinating the Manuka tree, native to New Zealand and Australia. Cucumber is another favorite mask ingredient of mine, when I’m not using clay-based masks.
• 3 bags of white tea
• ½ cup water
• 1 tablespoon agar agar powder
• 1 teaspoon manuka honey
• 1 capsule (or ½ teaspoon) evening primrose oil
• 2 drops tea tree oil
• 1 drop lemongrass essential oil
• 1 drop lavender essential oil
• ½ a medium sized cucumber
Bring ½ cup of water to s boil in a small saucepan with 3 tea bags, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove tea bags and add agar-agar powder, and bring to a boil for 2 minutes while stirring.
Pour into a bowl and immediately dissolve honey and evening primrose oil in warm liquid.
Grate ½ of a peeled cucumber into the bowl and allow to cool slightly.
Add essential oils and cool until it is safe to touch.
Apply to face in a thick layer.
Allow to dry/gel completely, then peel off!
This was great! I even slathered the excess all over my hands so it didn’t go to waste, so you might want to find someone to share this with.
Some helpful hints: As long as you bring the agar-agar to 185 degrees (a quick boil at 212 degrees is always easier to be on the safe side) in a liquid, it will gel as it cools, so feel free to experiment with milk, hydrosols, mineral water, or anything you can dream up! If you use agar flakes, you will need more than if you use power. Add essential oils after heating so they are not evaporated. You can even add a pinch of clay or a scoop of yogurt--whatever your little heart desires!
I really enjoyed peeling this off, and recommend hanging out with someone who doesn’t make you laugh while it’s setting for best results. My photog, Darney, was experiencing an irritating rash on his leg that he thought was related to Chinatown’s current Mycobacterium Marinum outbreak, and his plight made me laugh off the huge pieces around my mouth because I am a bad friend. He applied it to the itchy rash and was shocked when it actually calmed down the irritation! Definitely not a weird skin infection from the fish market that we all stay far, far away from.
Afterwards, I noticed smooth and hydrated skin, which is why I’m glad I did my hands, too; it was easier to tell on them over my face, which has been feelin’ some type of baby-soft. The zits are a little less angry, and they don’t feel all scabby, which is great because the scabbiness is what usually leads me to skin picking. Less of that is always a good thing!
Overall, I feel like I have opened up a new chapter of gel based face masks, and I can’t wait to experiment further!