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Chances are, you’ve seen plenty of do-it-yourself skincare ideas floating around on the internet, especially on Pinterest. Many people are making the switch to a more natural skincare routine, which can be great for your skin (unless you’re like me and your skin freaks out at everything you put on it). Natural ingredients can be incredibly beneficial depending on your skin type, but some ingredients do more harm than good no matter what kind of skin you have.
Searching ‘natural skincare’ brings up hundreds of results- egg and avocado masks, baking soda scrubs, tea tree spot treatments, and all sorts of other ideas. Examples of cured acne, dark spots, dullness, etc. promise the same miracle results. But what most people don’t realize is that a lot of these ‘miracle treatments’ are actually bad for your skin, and can cause more damage.
That’s right- some natural ingredients are actually more harmful to your skin than store-bought products.
I have ultra-sensitive, reactive skin, and if you’re anything like me, you understand how hard it can be to find products that your skin will actually tolerate! Making your own skincare products at home seems like a good idea, but before you slather anything all over your face with reckless abandon (patch testing is important, you guys) do your research and make sure that your chosen ingredients won’t have any adverse effects.
Here are some of the most common ingredients in DIY natural skincare recipes, and why you should think twice about putting them on your face.
1. Baking soda
Baking soda is touted as a remedy for all kinds of skin problems; from acne and blackheads to dark circles and hyperpigmentation, baking soda is said to fix it all. But that’s not actually the case- baking soda can do long-lasting damage to your skin, and here’s why.
Remember when you first learned about the pH scale? It runs from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything above 7 is alkaline, and anything below 7 is acidic. Your skin has its own pH level, which is usually around 4.5 to 6.5. It’s maintained by your normal skin flora, as well as sebaceous and sweat glands. This acidity is called the skin’s acid mantle.
When you put something with a high pH level (aka something alkaline) on your skin, it disrupts the acid mantle and rearranges the composition of your healthy skin flora. Studies show that using an alkaline cleanser, even just once, can cause cumulative damage to your skin.
On top of that, baking soda is a physical exfoliant, which is too harsh for the delicate skin of your face. Manual exfoliation with baking soda, sugar or salt scrubs, walnut shells, or microbeads causes microscopic tears in your skin.
Baking soda has no real benefit for your skin; dermatologists recommend steering clear of baking soda and using gentler products with a more balanced pH level instead.
2. Lemon juice
On the surface, lemon juice seems like a great treatment for lightening spots and scars, but in reality it can exacerbate the problem. Lemon juice is on the other side of the pH scale with a level of 2, which can also disrupt your skin’s acid mantle and cause long-lasting damage. Lemon juice is also extremely drying, and it can cause irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin.
The other issue is that lemon juice can cause photosensitivity (sensitivity to light and sun), which worsens existing dark spots and can actually cause hyperpigmentation. Too much lemon juice could even cause blistering and burning rashes, if your skin is exposed to sunlight right after applying it.
3. Coconut oil
This one is a hard pill to swallow, because I love using coconut oil for all sorts of things. But coconut oil really isn’t that great for your skin.
Every oil has a comedogenic rating, which ranges from 0 to 5, and is based on how likely that oil is to clog your pores. An oil with a 0 is the least comedogenic and won’t clog your pores, while an oil with a 5 is extremely pore-clogging. Coconut oil has a rating of 4, which means most people can’t tolerate it (though there are a few lucky people who can!).
Clogged pores are a driving factor behind acne and blackheads, so if you’re prone to breakouts or have sensitive skin, you’ll probably want to steer clear of using coconut oil on your face. It has plenty of other great uses, though. Try using it as a body lotion, hair treatment, or shaving cream replacement!
Back to the issue of physical exfoliants. Sugar scrubs are safe for your body and your lips, but using sugar as an exfoliant on your face will leave you with microscopic tears in your skin. It also disrupts your skin’s natural lipid barrier, which causes dryness and flakiness, and can make your skin take longer to heal.
If you need to exfoliate, look into using chemical exfoliants. They’re not as scary as they sound! Alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids (aka AHAs and BHAs) are much gentler than physical scrubbing, and they work by lifting dead skin cells from your skin, revealing the fresh and glowing skin underneath. Glycolic acid is one of the most popular AHAs, and can be used on even the most sensitive skin.
You probably know this one by now, but toothpaste is the last thing you should reach for when you need to treat acne. While it may be semi-effective at zapping zits due to its drying properties, the amount of surfectants and flavoring in the toothpaste can seriously irritate your skin, especially if you’re already sensitive to begin with. It can also cause flakiness, and using toothpaste on acne can potentially leave behind red spots that take longer to heal.
So what can you use when you’re looking for safe & effective natural skincare?
Ideally, you’ll want to use ingredients that are gentle, not harsh. Look for ingredients that have a pH level similar to your skin’s level, and if you don’t know how your skin will react to something new, make sure to patch test before applying it to your whole face. (I wrote a little bit about the importance of patch testing with essential oils in an article about my favorite home remedies, so if you’ve read that one, you’ll know how I feel about being careful with what you put on your skin!)
Try these ingredients for your next DIY skincare project:
Using raw, organic honey on your face has great hydrating benefits. Honey is a humectant, with means it helps draw moisture into your skin. It has a balanced pH level, ranging from about 3 to 5, and works with your skin’s acid mantle. It’s gentle on all skin types, and has antibacterial properties. It’s better suited as a mask treatment rather than a moisturizer (plus who wants to be all sticky anyways?). You can also use it as a kind of ‘aftercleanse’ to soothe your skin after you’ve washed with regular cleanser. Or use it as a spot treatment for open sores/popped zits- the antibacterial properties act like nature’s Neosporin.
Manuka honey is one of the best types of honey for skincare, plus it tastes good! Try this one, or look for one at your local health food store.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is best for your skin when you dilute it as much as possible, otherwise it’s too strong for the skin on your face. You can dilute it in water and use it as a facial mist or toner, since it’s lightly drying; the mist is perfect for when you get oily throughout the day and need to refresh your skin! Or try putting the diluted solution on a cotton swab and using it as a spot treatment for acne.
I use this tea tree oil, but you can use any skin-grade tea tree oil- just make sure to test it first, and always dilute it as much as possible!
Plain yogurt is another great option for a mask treatment; yogurt has naturally-occurring lactic acid, which is an AHA (remember those?). The lactic acid helps dissolve dead skin cells and make your skin soft and smooth, as well as diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles over time. Mix it with honey for a super-hydrating, glow-boosting mask. You can even use yogurt to help soothe and cool a sunburn!
- Yogurt Honey Mask from Eat Thrive Glow
- Calming Cucumber Yogurt Mask from Hello Glow
- Avocado Honey & Yogurt Face Mask from The Everygirl
Thanks for reading! If you have any more ideas for DIY skincare ingredients, I’d love to hear about them! Leave a comment or message me on any of my social media.