I buy organic produce wherever possible, try and eat as little gluten and sugar as I can manage (often failing catastrophically, btw), and eating as little processed food as I can. Stick your head into my bathroom cupboard though and that’s a whole other story. Natural beauty’s shaking off its granola reputation and moving toward genuinely high-performance formulations that, they say, rival even your favourite chem-laden products. But do they really?
I know, I know, the skin is the largest organ of the body and absorbs everything I put on it. I’ve heard and read the statistics on how much lipstick I’ll eat in a lifetime (loads, and apparently it often contains lead), and how my face absorbs a lot of what I slap on it. All of this means, let’s not sugarcoat it, that I am basically a sponge for all sorts of shit. I know the data, and I know the ingredients I’m meant to avoid: dioxins, sulfates, phthalates (to start), I know that they’re all pathogens, and that they’re probably right this minute the cause of at least one allergy and likely some deep-gestating cancerous rumblings but here’s the thing… all the natural shampoos I’ve used have made my hair like straw and I really, really like Kerastase. What’s a girl to do when she is both vain and a worrywart?
The thing about skincare is that it is more than vanity. Though your skin you discover what’s working in your environment, and in your diet. You can gauge whether you’re sleeping enough, drinking enough water, and whether you’re moving enough... through your skin you gain a sense of whether your body’s working as it should be, and when it is, your skin is rested, radiant, and healthy. When everything inside is in balance, then everything outside is in balance. I really do want to do right by my hardworking skin, but my transition to the natural end of the beauty spectrum has been a slow one, and it is still (clearly) an ongoing thing.
Living in India I’m probably less guilty of aggressions against my body than most, in that much of my beauty arsenal is handed-down rituals from mum: making sure I’m pre-conditioning with hot oil, and making time to do the odd yoghurt-and-honey mask. I use ubtan to decongest, and oil and a body brush to smooth my body… plus I’ve been trying natural beauty products for as long as I can remember.
There are things that I’ve hated, like Dr Hauschka’s iconic Rose Day cream, which just makes me sticky, and every time I’ve bought a tube (I’m on my fourth, and I cannot for the life of me tell you why I keep buying the stuff) I end up using it as lip balm instead (it is a great, if very expensive, lip balm). There are also multiple oils that were raved-about, written-about, and that I (obviously) bought that just don’t work with my skin. I’d glow like the sun on day one, and then my face would erupt into a sea of little bumps by day six. Also, oils don’t work if you have a fringe so I've given up on those for my face altogether.
A lot of products I’ve hated have been chock full of antioxidants, plant-based active ingredients, and nourishing oils, and yet they just didn’t work for me like Skinceuticals CE Ferulic did. I’m still looking for an effective natural deodorant that doesn’t have baking soda in it, because I’m allergic to that stuff, and it leaves me covered in a burn-like rash so suggestions are welcome, and everybody’s favourite makeup brand RMS is just way too oily for me and the climate I live in. I’ve always wished that Un Cover-up (their concealer), would work for me, and I’m besotted by their packaging, story, and concise ingredients list, but it is coconut-oil based and it is just too damn hot in India to be spackling your face with coconut oil.
The bugger about the really good stuff that is also effective is that, when you tally it all up, you’re looking at spending an eye-watering chunk. I don’t begrudge those brands their price tags; they cost the earth because they’re using great ingredients and they’ve spent many, many man hours tinkering with their product until it is both good and good-for-you. But I don’t know that I can currently afford to be using that good stuff from my hair down to my toes, given how frequently some of these products need to be replaced. There’s also some of the stuff laden with chemicals that really, really works and I struggle to part with those. That Kerastase shampoo I mentioned before? That’s one. Dermalogica’s Gentle Cream Exfoliant is another, a mask that is probably hella bad for my adrenals, but hella good for my long-suffering pores, laden with all of Delhi’s muck. It’s so good. Plus, makeup. I’ve tried many of the natural brands and they just don’t cut it like the nasty stuff does. The lipsticks never had as much true pigment, and the liquid eyeliner ran into my eye before lunch. That stuff I swore off for good. Until now.
For a start, there is suddenly so much good stuff out there. Check this list and this one for a toe-dip into some of the world’s most indulgent and delicious new formulations that have all the active ingredients and none of the nasty shit. Think luxe balms that melt off your makeup and finely-milled powders to help you brighten and exfoliate. I’m also arming myself with this list to help me replace some of my favourite makeup; YSL’s Touche Eclat has been a staple for as long as I can remember, but I’ve started to find it troublesome to be dabbing it onto my every day when its ingredients are questionable at best, and Beautycounter’s version is formulated with botanicals that will, apparently, actually improve the skin beneath. Now I just need someone to bring me some from the states, or Canada. The good news is that Cult Beauty deliver to India and they stock Aesop whose face creams are divine, and you can find a lot of these products on Amazon, albeit sometimes at exorbitant rates.
Closer to home, Forest Essentials do delicious scrubs for the body, or you can just make this one, which is what I use. Purearth’s formulas are as effective as they are natural, and their mandarin body butter is something else altogether - yum. I love the ubtans that both these brands make, as well the ones from Kama Ayurveda, but while I’ll use oil to take off my makeup, I’ll still always follow that step up with a foaming cleanser (I know, I know, sudsing agents etc). I’m not all-natural yet, but I am natural-leaning, and that’s something.
An all-at-once overhaul probably isn’t on the cards, and it will, I suspect, always be about the mix. In the meanwhile, the things on my to-try-next list:
For now, perhaps just follow the ingredients and navigate around your own price cap. A great way to get started without making this another stressful thing is by taking things away, and doing less, rather than adding things to do into your day. So for example you might start to read the labels on products you’re considering buying; anything that contains super-complex ingredient lists, or words and names aren’t familiar, chemicals and synthetics etc… forego those. If you’ve already got loads of products, perhaps do this exercise with your existing arsenal and just put aside any that feel too chemical-ey, just for a while, and just to see how you do without them.
Plus, if you find something you love, tell me what you're using in the comments?