I basically called my mom for help. Except when I say mom, I mean an esthetician.
Last week, I went down to Washington DC with my mother to attend a sexual freedom conference because my family likes to bond through activism. This little trip coincided with me reaching my breaking point with my skin.
Remember way back when I said I was still chasing the elusive perfect skin that artificial-ingredient acne wash had gifted me with? After I was comment-shamed into ditching the coconut oil in my oil cleansing method (OCM) routine, my skin freaked out as I experimented with fan favorites like castor and jojoba oil. Everyone's body and skin are different, and I was left wishing I never packed away my coconut oil in the first place.
I was ready to call it quits with my edible-skincare aspirations and just get my clear skin game back on.
In our downtime from the conference, we went to meet our friend, Ruby, who runs a multicultural center on Georgia Avenue that offers medical and social services as well as career training for the LGBT community. Next door to Casa Ruby is a hidden treasure trove to any beauty and health aficionado: Blue Nile Botanicals.
Ancient Egyptians believed in an immortal afterlife and a beautiful, immortal-like waking life. The aspirational ideals of beauty and health were one in the same. Blue Nile Botanicals is a mom-and-pop exotic herb and import shop that takes its cue from the ancient Egyptians, offering all natural health and beauty supplies.
The walls are jam-packed with glass jars filled with every tea, spice, herb and supplement you could imagine from all around the world. Everything from organic maca to turmeric to Irish moss is sold at dirt-cheap prices by the ounce. I even picked up an ounce of unprocessed green stevia powder for $1.50 to stir some into my hotel room tea.
Somewhere in Manhattan, a raw-foodist is weeping at these prices.
Tucked in the back is the beauty corner, with little bottles of different types of unrefined organic oils, each bottled and labeled in-store with accompanying histories and uses for each one. I chose sunflower oil from an unspecified semi-arid region, rose hip oil from the Southern Andes of Chile, and four-ounce of argan oil from Morocco that cost me a whopping $14.00. (For comparisons sake, Josie Maran sells the same size for $96.)
Like most argan oil, this one is produced by a Moroccan women’s cooperative that shares the profit among local women of the Berber tribe. The cooperative has even established a reforestation project so as to not deplete their supply.
I was slightly suspicious that my little clear bottle of argan oil was refined, but the shop’s owner insisted it is shipped in amber glass and then bottled into small amounts for sale upfront.
I put it in the fridge and it congealed, which told me it was, indeed, unrefined. It’s been giving me glamour hair without heating tools every day since.
Nestled in between the oils and the colon cleanser supplements (don’t worry, I'm not going there again), sat a variety of African black soaps, which I never thought of trying until I read Kara’s recent piece on it. I had to have someone re-explain to me the differences of getting it in its raw form versus its processed form like Nubian Heritage. I settled on something in-between and picked out Tropical Naturals Dudu-Osun from Nigeria, which also has some honey mixed in.
For good measure, I picked up some turmeric powder and Nag Champa soap from India so I can smell like delicious incense all day.
Small shops like this can be found in almost any city if you ask around. It's a great way to save money on quality ingredients that you can experiment with as apposed to dropping a lot of cash on a high-end product that might not be right for you.
So despite the woebegone state of my skin, I decided, in a last-ditch effort, to give my newly acquired international pantry of beauty products a try. Or I would have to get back to being a hypocrite when I returned home to Brooklyn.
Well, it’s a total cliche, but it is always darkest before the dawn. My last-ditch effort ended up saving my skin.
WHAT I DID
First, I threw out my jojoba oil. Sorry, jojoba fans and devotees, but my skin wasn’t feeling it.
I decided to trust the bottle of sunflower oil when I read that it can be used on any type of skin, and can effectively treat acne by fighting skin-irritating bacteria. Those are some big claims, but after doing some research, I discovered that John Hopkins University has conducted a study showing that newborn babies treated with sunflower oil are less likely to contract infections. It seems to be pretty powerful stuff.
I used the sunflower oil for a classic OCM routine: I rubbed it all over my face and removed it with a clean hot and damp towel.
I followed this up by adding some turmeric into a jar of raw honey that I had brought along. I rubbed this bright yellow concoction all over my face and really freaked my mom out by accident. My reasoning was to use the anti-inflammatory properties of the turmeric to calm down any redness on my skin.
I rinsed off the turmeric and honey with warm water then washed my face with the black soap. I used my regular raw apple cider vinegar as a toner.
My skin started clearing up at a rapid pace. Today, a week later, it is clearer and smoother than it has been in months. Last night, I actually stared at my nose for a good 10 minutes, fascinated at seeing empty little pores which were filled with blackheads just days earlier.
The lesson I learned was that experimenting with beauty products and cosmetics can have rapid negative or positive effects. I kept waiting and waiting for the jojoba oil to “do its job” and clear up my skin but, if it was going to work for me, it would have, and it didn’t.
On that note, and in the spirit of experimentations gone horribly wrong and fantastically well, I’d love to get any recommendations on how to use this bottle of Chilean rose hip oil I got from Blue Nile Botanicals. It’s supposed to be great for fine lines but bad for acne prone skin, so I’ve been avoiding it until I actually process the fact that my skin is clear now.