Updated 7/10/18 An ongoing trend in skincare, fueled by the popular green and craft movement, is the concept of taking items found in your refrigerator and kitchen and using them topically on the skin in an effort to deliver a certain result. The thought of using something in its natural, unadulterated form seems to be the healthiest, non-toxic way to go — right? As a skin care expert, I’m often asked by magazines and blogs to contribute homemade recipes and whenever I do, they are always well received by the readers. But is achieving clearer, healthier and younger-looking skin really as easy as using ingredients found in your kitchen?
Let me provide some insight to help you make a more educated decision when deciding if this is the most effective approach for your skin.
FACT: When you eat something, your saliva starts to break down the food. It then goes through the digestive tract and nutrients from the food will be distributed throughout the body where it is needed. The skin doesn’t have a similar process as the digestive system; therefore, it isn’t really possible to put food on the face and expect the nutrients to easily get into the skin.
Common Ingredients Used in DIY Skin Masks, Mists, and Moisturizers
Plants (white tea leaves, rosemary leaves, and eucalyptus leaves).
Some crush the leaves and rub them directly on the skin or soak the leaves in hot water to create a toning mist. While they have potent soothing, energizing, or antioxidant properties, you get mainly the fiber and caloric content properties when used this way which don’t offer any value to the skin whatsoever. It’s important to note that even though plants have enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids that have all their own benefits, only antioxidants can be absorbed through the skin from plants. When science is involved and plants are extracted (known as a “plant extract”), plants are able to penetrate the deepest skin layers where they participate in various cellular activities. By supplying the skin with numerous elements, plants help remedy various skin deficiencies and take an active part in its metabolism, necessary for aging skin. This is often referred to as “biomimicry”: using plant biotechnology to harness the best of what’s in a good thing and make it even better. It’s important that skin care companies who formulate their own products, demand “standardized” plant extracts from their suppliers. This allows us to know exactly the composition of the extract and every constituent in it; therefore we can measure the extract’s performance and ensure its consistency.
It’s also important to note that many active ingredients used in advanced skin care products that come from plants, are from the parts that you don’t eat, like the stems, seeds and roots.
Yogurt or Milk
You may have heard yogurt and milk contain natural lactic acids which can be used as an exfoliator to smooth skin in its pure form, but this isn’t quite true. These foods are not effective because they are not in an absorbable form. Also, the pH of milk is only 6.5 and yogurt is generally around 5.0. At these levels, they are not low enough to truly have exfoliating properties, such as glycolic, lactic, salicylic or malic acid serum which have pHs around 3.0 or 4.0. Simply put, in order for an acid to be truly effective to dissolve dry skin cells, the pH needs to be very specific and it needs to be much lower than what edible items would contain.
Vitamin C Tablets
I’ve also heard of people crushing up a vitamin C pill and applying it to the skin (sometimes mixed with a natural oil) to create an antioxidant serum. The biggest problem with this method is that vitamin C has a very difficult time penetrating the skin; even the best cosmetic forms of vitamin C struggle with this issue. Vitamin C is proven to be an excellent ingredient to encourage collagen and slow down damaging free radical activity, but the delivery system is of crucial importance to be effective. Improper forms of vitamin C can irritate the skin and provide no benefits. In fact, it can damage the skin more because vitamin C is highly unstable and oxidizes quickly. When the vitamin C is crushed and placed on the skin, there is no opportunity for the vitamins to penetrate. Due to the nature of vitamin C, its quick oxidation can cause irritation and promote blackhead formation by speeding up sebum oxidation. These rules also apply when using pure lemon juice to the skin. (See my science experiment where I applied a vitamin C serum to the half of an apple.) I’ve also heard of people taking the peel of an orange and baking it in the oven and then hand-grinding with a mortar and pestle to make a fine powder. This is then mixed with various ingredients to attempt to give the skin antioxidants from the vitamin C found in the orange peel. For the record, this one is complete nonsense mainly because the heat from the oven would negate the vitamin C content completely. Bottom line, If you have sensitive skin and looking for an effective way to get scientifically-proven, stable antioxidants into the skin, I highly recommend using Vitamin C&E Treatment daily under sunscreen moisturizer.
Sugar, Salt, Baking Soda and Oats
These particles are used in DIY scrubs to give a physical exfoliation by rolling over the skin and lifting off surface dry skin cells. These can be very effective; however, when using sugar or salt, I recommend only using it on the body since they can be too rough for the face — especially for sensitive skin types.
I’ve heard of people mixing pure zinc oxide or titanium dioxide with coconut oil to make their own sunscreen. While zinc and titanium are excellent sunscreen ingredients, you can’t get the same level of protection when you’re making your own. After all, sunscreens must be FDA-approved and go through rigorous testing to ensure their effectiveness. (Sure, there could be arguments made about the FDA. They definitely have their strengths and weaknesses.) But considering UV light from the sun is the #1 cause of premature skin aging, this makes sunscreen the best product on the planet, so you don’t want to jeopardize this important step in a routine using a properly tested product.
Aspirin is sometimes said to have similar properties to BHA, a beta hydroxy acid known as salicylic acid, which is an effective exfoliating and anti-bacterial ingredient. Aspirin is the active acetylsalicylic acid, so it’s not technically salicylic acid like BHA. Also, aspirin doesn’t become salicylic acid until it is metabolized after ingestion. Comparing the results of a well-formulated BHA exfoliant like BHA Clarifying Serum to that of aspirin is unfounded. Salicylic acid, when used in a skin care formula, is challenging enough to keep stable and the pH low; so trust me, if curing acne was as simple as rubbing aspirin on your face, we would all know this and be doing it too.
Sweet Almond Oil, Jojoba Oil, Avocado, Mayonnaise, and Honey
These all have moisturizing or humectant properties and are popular when used in masks. I actually don’t have an issue with any of these being used topically on the skin because moisture is always needed and these common goods can provide benefits.
In summary, most foods are simply not in an absorbable form. Physiologically, they are nowhere near as effective at absorbing into the skin where it’s needed and they are not in a stable form that can hold up like manufactured products can. So that’s my opinion on that.
A Few More Thoughts
When it comes to caring for your skin, there have been incredible advancements in skincare technology. There is tremendous scientific brainpower dedicated to research and development. We have learned so much about how the skin works in the past 25 years and what we can do to slow down (and sometimes reverse) the visible signs of aging such as lines, wrinkles, and brown spots, as well as clearing and preventing breakouts. Skin care products and treatments are becoming increasingly sophisticated at targeting the critical functions of skin health. For example, the production and maintenance of collagen and elastin, the building blocks of healthy skin. We can now safely speed up the skin renewal process without unwanted dryness and irritation, with products that contain retinol, like Advanced Resurfacing Serum. New products coming onto the market may be able to mimic DNA functions of healthy skin to repair skin damage on an individual cell level. Many products successfully harness the healing power of antioxidants, which play a very important role in preventing the aging effects on skin cells caused by free radicals in the body. In other words, scientific advancements are amazing at what it provides and if you’re wanting true change in your skin, there is no better place to find it then with science. As a colleague recently said to me, “If you have an infection, you don’t have to eat moldy bread to get an antibiotic. You can take a pill orally.” (Not that moldy bread would be effective for treating an infection anyway.) We all can benefit from science when it comes to our health.
Let me also say that I believe there are benefits to both science and a natural approach, so in my skin care line I continue to embrace the best of both. Nature offers us a slow and steady course that works gently with the skin with proven results, while science offers the more advanced, sometimes stronger ingredients, that are required as we age. Advances in medicine will continue to expand in the field of skin care, so it’s a very exciting time. (Read more about my thoughts on natural skincare and the safety of ingredients).
I also believe that a skin care company has to be responsible for what they are selling — they must sell truths. On the organic side, I see all sorts of lies and scare tactics to make you believe that so many ingredients are toxic and are going to harm you. On the science or medical side, I do see companies using their powers to cut corners and create cheap ingredients for the sake of profits, with many possibly not being beneficial to your overall health.
It’s okay to be a naturalist and if you love your make-your-own home skin recipes and they work really well for you, then go for it. There’s no rule that says you have to fight aging every step of the way and that everything that touches your skin has to create change. I’m certainly not here to force anyone in how to care for their skin; I’m simply sharing what I know to be true so take this as my personal food for thought. Using skin care products, in whatever form they may be, brings confidence, and a ritual that makes us feel cared for. And we all win from that.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”