We use so many products on our bodies, far more than are actually necessary or even advisable, with devastating effects. But all can be sourced ethically and plastic-free, or can even be home-made.
In each of the categories below, you’ll find suggestions for where to shop for products that tick as many boxes as possible (no animal testing, organic/fair trade ingredients, no or sustainable palm oil, no or conscious packaging), as well as recipes to make your own when possible.
Ingredients for DIY cosmetics:
Note: This is not a list of things you must buy before you start! Most of the recipes here require only 2 to 4 basic ingredients. Other ingredients are described so you can experiment with your own recipes if you wish.
Please be aware that DIY products can feel quite different from the industrially-made ones we are used to, but they are just as efficient, with no undesirable side-effects. We just need to stop expecting the familiar frothing or texture, and to grow accustomed instead to more natural products. After a while you’ll find it impossible to go back.
- Olive Oil has a long history of being used in skincare. It is similar to the oil produced by our skin, so it doesn’t clog pores or dry the skin out. A small amount rubbed on the skin is readily absorbed. If I’m ever caught needing moisturizer while travelling, I just rub in a little olive oil.
- Coconut Oil is an immensely popular ingredient in DIY recipes but it’s not actually indispensable: if allergic, just use half as much olive or other oil of your choice. However, its texture makes it a great base for homemade products, and it is highly moisturizing.
- Granulated sugar is an excellent basic exfoliant that dissolves in water and leaves no mess. Brown sugar is slightly gentler, but fair trade white sugar is widely available packed in paper.
- Finely ground sea salt is detoxifying and muscle-relaxing, but it is less gentle and a bit drying (and will sting on cuts or after shaving).
- Ground coffee smells great of course, but it is also a vasoconstrictor: when applied to the skin it tightens blood vessels, thereby reducing varicose veins and rosacea. It also helps to redistribute fat cells and lessen cellulite. In scrubs, sugar, salt and coffee need to be mixed with oil, not water, for obvious reasons.
- Oatmeal is an extremely gentle exfoliant, good for the face. It is also emollient, softening and hydrating to the skin, very helpful when it’s dry and itchy. It is mixed with a bit of water (or milk) before use. You can grind your own from rolled oats, which can be found in bulk or packed in paper. Similar to oatmeal: almond meal, flax meal (ground linseeds, good for dry skin), rice bran, wheat bran.
- Yogurt or milk can be used in face masks as non-granular exfoliant: lactic acid dissolves dead skin cells.
For use on the body, only use oils that are listed as safe for this usage! Find the list here.
- Rosemary: A natural astringent, it tightens and tones the skin, making it firm and supple and preventing wrinkles. It also helps the body eliminate toxins.
- Frankincense: Also astringent, it’s known as an “anti-aging” oil that also helps heal scars, stretch marks and similar. It has the ability to eliminate abnormal cells while promoting the regeneration of healthy cells.
- Lavender: Accelerates the healing of scars, cuts, scratches and so on, and helps with acne. It leaves the skin smooth, and its smell has deeply relaxing properties.
These are more specialized and will mostly interest people who want to take their DIY products to another level. They may be harder to find plastic-free, but a Google search for them (remembering to specify “organic” and “fair trade”) does turn up products in glass jars. Raw/unrefined are preferable as the refining operation involves chemicals. In London they can both be bought in bulk at the Bulk Market.
- Shea Butter: Derived from the vegetable fat of the karite tree, it is the most wonderful natural moisturizer, a source of vitamins A, E and F, and a helper for skin to produce collagen (which keeps down lines and cellulite). You can use it alone (a little goes a long way!) or as a base for cosmetics. Look for it unrefined: the refinement process uses high heat and chemical solvents to achieve a bright white product with a long shelf life, but this strips away some of its properties. Unrefined butter is processed by African women in a traditional way (benefiting small communities), is yellowish and is very high in antioxidants.
- Cocoa butter: Pressed from roasted cacao beans, its main use is making chocolate, so it smells and is edible! This makes it particularly ideal to use on dry hands when you need to be preparing food, since it’s edible. Another great moisturizer with soothing properties, it adds thickness to your preparations. As above, it is at its best when unrefined (in which case it smells like chocolate). It is harder than shea butter, so that the two can be combined to control consistency.
Toilet paper, cotton pads, Q tips…
Soap, deodorant, scrubs, moisturizers, masks…
Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouth wash…
Shampoo, conditioner, razor, shaving cream, hair removal…
Biodegradable and reusable alternatives.
Eyeliner, eye shadow, blush, mascara, lip tint, remover…