beauty

The Bare Minimum – Your 5 Green Skincare Essentials

February 26, 2018

If you’ve ever strolled down the beauty aisle of your local pharmacy, you know how daunting buying skincare products can be. On offer, right in front of you, are countless choices for almost any skin type, body part and budget. Add to the mix the line up of celebrity endorsements and myriad packaging sizes available (do you want a mini travel set or one that will last you a year?) and it’s easy to understand why it can feel overwhelming.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The secret, especially if natural skincare is important to you – is that you only need a few core products in your bathroom. Most natural products are brilliant multi-taskers and you can even use them to make your own skincare products. Not only that, by keeping things simple and natural, your health will benefit in the long run too. When you make the switch to natural, you are cutting out harsh chemicals from your life – a key trigger for most of our modern ailments. And when you buy fewer products, your wallet will thank you too, as you are able to stretch your dollar further.

Ready to declutter your bathroom? Here are the only 5 basic green skincare products you will need:

This picture is not a real brand – but an example of how a cleanser could look.

Cleanser

The most critical step in skincare is to start every routine with freshly cleansed skin. So don’t skimp on this as it sets the stage for the other products you’ll be applying after cleansing. Skincare products will work better on cleansed skin because dirt, pollutants and dead skin cells can’t interfere with their effectiveness.

How do you choose a suitable cleanser? Look for one that cleans well – but not too well. Harsh cleansers do such an excellent job of cleaning that it strips everything indiscriminately from your skin, including your skin’s natural oils (also known as sebum) – and this is what contributes to the tightness you feel after. Over a prolonged period, depending on your skin type and age, your skin will start to either overproduce sebum to compensate for its loss during cleansing (contributing to oily skin) or start to suffer from dry patches.

A gentle cleanser that is made without chemicals such as SLS, parabens, colourants or artificial fragrances are ideal. Most liquid cleansers are simply detergents (yes, similar to your laundry or dishwashing detergents) but formulated with milder ingredients. So it’s important to choose liquid cleansers that have been formulated with natural ingredients. And although safe for most, they can be problematic for those with sensitive skin. If this is your concern, an alternative worth checking out would be a cleanser bar, preferably one that is made using the cold process soap method. Cleanser bars made in this way do not contain any detergents or harsh chemicals and can leave the skin feeling moisturised and hydrated.

Facial oil

The natural world is abuzz with the miracles of facial oils. And although no magic spells are used in the production of facial oils, it can be a life-changing product for your skin. At its core, facial oils are simply oils made from plant materials such as nuts, seeds and fruits. Some common examples include virgin coconut oil, argan oil and sweet almond oil.

Just like the plants they originate from, facial oils will retain the nutritional properties from their source – giving your skin a boost of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals every time you apply them. Therefore, it’s important to check the quality of the oils before purchasing – using cold-pressed or virgin oils is ideal as they are extracted without the use of heat, helping to preserve the oil’s nutrients.

If you suffer from oily skin, it may sound counterintuitive to apply even more oil on your face. But here’s something that will blow you away: oily skin happens because there is not enough oil on your skin. Your body produces sebum to protect skin from dryness, infections and foreign objects – and there is an optimum level of sebum your skin needs in order to function properly.

When sebum levels on your skin are subpar (possibly caused by that harsh cleanser you’ve been using), your body kicks into sebum overdrive – resulting in oily skin. Facial oils will help balance out your oil levels as they can assist in controlling sebum production and bringing your skin back to its ideal state. Lighter, fast absorbing facial oils that are better suited for oily skin includes camellia, rice bran, rosehip and evening primrose oils.

Conversely, if dry skin is more your problem, facial oils can help too. Dry skin can be caused by your body’s inability to produce enough sebum, so applying facial oils will help to address this imbalance. Use heavier, slower absorbing facial oils for dry skin to allow the oils enough time to penetrate into the layers of your skin. Examples include coconut, almond, avocado and olive oil.

Body oil

Just like facial oils, body oils can work wonders on your body. But don’t limit its use to just a body oil – they are a great deal more versatile than that. Use them as massage oil, shaving oil, bath oil, makeup remover, cuticle oil and so much more. This makes body oils your secret weapon in the fight against bad skin. Frequent travellers and those with minimal bathroom space will also find this a godsend, as it will help reduce clutter and free up precious storage space!

The same concept applies to your body as it does to your face – if your skin is dehydrated, body oils can help to replenish moisture and repair your skin. So you must be asking, what’s the difference between facial oil and body oil? Well for starters, the layers of skin on your face (and neck) are much thinner than on the rest of the body, making it more sensitive. So it is a good idea to be more cautious about the type of oils you’re using on your face – and to do patch tests before applying.

Oils that are comedogenic (i.e. can cause blockage of the pores) should be used with care on the face, but are perfectly suitable for the body. Oils such as coconut, flaxseed and wheatgerm oil rate as highly comedogenic but they also offer amazing skin nourishing properties. If you want to benefit from these oil’s nutritional properties, it’s best to blend them with another non-comedogenic oil such as sunflower, jojoba or argan oil – giving you the best of both worlds.

Then there’s the question of costs – popular oils like argan oil offer amazing skin nourishing properties but can be quite costly when you’re applying from head to toe. So a cheaper alternative that works just as well – sunflower or almond oil, for example, might be a more affordable alternative. If you still want to take advantage of the nutritional properties of costlier oils while on a budget, another option would be to blend them with a more economical oil. And if you’re feeling creative, why not make your own body oil? They’re fun, super easy to make and can last for months (see recipe tomorrow!)

Floral water

During production of essential oils, plant materials such as flower petals and leaves are steamed at high heat to force the release of the plant’s volatile oils. These volatile oils evaporate with the steam and are then separated out in the next phase. The volatile oils are bottled as essential oils while the water that is separated from the distillation process is referred to as floral water, hydrosols or hydrolats.

Although floral water is effectively a by-product of essential oils production, they still pack a punch. Essential oils are very potent stuff and often all it takes to do the job are a few tiny drops. When used neat or in high doses, they can trigger allergic reactions, so using them in small doses is vital. So unless you have some basic working knowledge of essential oils, it is best to avoid using them on your face altogether.

This is where floral water steps in. In essence, they are diluted versions of essential oils – giving them the benefits of the essential oil they come from, but without the negative consequences. This makes them safe to use on the face, hydrating and nourishing your skin at the same time. Floral water is primarily used to rehydrate skin, usually in a spritz bottle for easy application – making them a handbag must-have during long-haul flights or when travelling to colder climes.

Another, lesser-known use for floral water is as part of your moisturising routine. Immediately after cleansing, spritz some floral water on your face. While your skin is still damp, gently pat your facial oil onto your face. This water-oil combo will create a silky soft emulsion that will not only hydrate and soften your skin – it will also draw water deeper into your skin. This will ensure that your skin stays hydrated for longer.

The fun part about using floral water is the (virtually) never-ending choices to choose from – as you can imagine, there are almost as many options as there are essential oils. But with so many options on the table, how do you decide what to pick out? A good place to start would be to first take a look at your skin type and goal. Do you have sensitive, irritated skin? Lavender or rose water can help calm skin down. If instead, you’re looking to fend off wrinkles (and who isn’t?), geranium flower water might be a better option.

Exfoliator

As your skin cells regenerate, they push out older, dead skin cells to the top outermost layer of your skin, called the epidermis. The entire outer layer of your skin is composed of dead skin, with our body shedding about 30,000 – 40,000 dead skin cells daily. However, if your skin doesn’t regenerate as quickly (possibly due to age or compromised skin), the dead skin cells might pile up, causing your skin to look dull in the process.

To slough off the dead skin cells and keep your skin looking radiant and healthy, you should add exfoliants to your bathroom basics. Normal skin types should aim to exfoliate once a week, while those with sensitive skin should only do so every other week. This is owing to the fact that sensitive skin is more prone to irritation – so scrubbing off more than you planned to can cause redness or flare-ups. And remember, because the skin on our face is much thinner than the rest of the body, it is essential that you use an exfoliant that is gentle enough for delicate skin.

While exfoliators like walnut shells, apricot seed kernels and the like are indeed natural, they are much too rough for the face. Using them over a prolonged period can, in fact, cause dry skin due to the micro scratches they leave behind. Hence, they are better suited for the body, which has a thicker layer of skin that isn’t as sensitive. Ideal facial exfoliators should be sourced from grains or beans – think oats, beans or even your grandmother’s favourite beauty ingredient: rice.

And when armed with a standard kitchen blender, you can even make them yourself. Oat flakes mixed with yoghurt doubles up as an exfoliator and mask for sensitive skin, with its soothing and softening properties. Rice grounded up into powder and mixed with milk or your preferred oil can help to brighten and even out skin tone. You can even make them ahead and bottle them in a jar for easy reach the next time you’re in the shower. Your homemade exfoliator can stay good for months if you ensure they’re bottled dry (i.e no wet ingredients such as milk or water, which can go bad quickly) and stored in a cool, dry place.

Hopefully, we’ve managed to convince you to chuck out all that chemical-laden products you’ve been using and to consider a more natural, simpler approach. By doing this, you’re not only helping yourself but the environment as well. When you use fewer products, you are able to reduce the carbon footprint that comes from the production, transportation, stocking and disposal of non-essential products. But before you stock up on your new skincare essentials, it’s of course vital to know what to look for.

Tomorrow you can read my guide on “What to look for when buying natural skincare products”, so make sure you stay tuned. If you want to try out making your own skincare, there’s a great recipe on nourishing body oil coming up on Wednesday.

Good luck decluttering!

Wendee Lee holds an Advanced Diploma in Organic Cosmetic Science from Formula Botanica, and is co-founder of natural skincare brand, Biconi.

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