Natural facial cleansers and scrubs give your skin a healthy, attractive glow.
by Jodi Helmer
From sweat and pore-clogging pollution to layers of makeup, your skin takes a lot of abuse.
“While our skin has a good natural barrier, some of the stuff that finds its way onto our skin gets into our bodies and our bloodstreams,” says Valori Treloar, MD, CNS, a dermatologist with Integrative Dermatology in Newton, Massachusetts, and co-author of The Clear Skin Diet (Cumberland House). “A regular cleansing routine protects our skin and our bodies.”
A skincare routine that includes regular facial cleansing and exfoliation is the best way to keep your skin healthy and looking its best.
Cleansers dissolve oils and lift dirt off the surface of the skin while facial scrubs, which contain abrasive substances (natural scrubs often use ingredients like apricot pits or walnut shells), remove dead skin cells, smoothing the skin and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Choosing non-toxic products is as essential as a regular cleansing and exfoliation routine.
“We can’t control chemicals like the trail from the jet overhead or the exhaust from cars but we can control the chemicals we use on our bodies,” says Keeley Lore, a licensed master aesthetician, certified natural health professional and vice president of the Association of Holistic Skincare Practitioners. “The goal is to minimize the chemicals and toxins in the products we use on our skin.”
Facial cleansers and scrubs often contain parabens, sulfates and phthalates, substances that have been linked to health problems ranging from skin irritation to hormonal disruptions.
“There seem to be differences among us in our ability to detoxify or tolerate these chemicals, so some of us may be fine while others sicken at the same dose,” says Treloar.
In her Fredericksburg, Virginia, practice, Lore uses only food-grade ingredients. “If I can’t eat it, I won’t put it on my clients’ faces,” she says.
You can actually use certain foods as natural exfoliants. According to Lore, a scrub made from crushed pineapple, strawberries or kiwi can help slough off dead skin (steer clear if you have food allergies); the sweet smells are a bonus. You can also incorporate aromatherapy oils, such as rosewood, and finely ground almond meal into your scrubs.
Don’t want to DIY? There are lots of great skincare products on the market but take heed when considering the options: Some manufacturers add “all natural” to their labels to trick consumers into believing their cleansers and scrubs are toxin-free.
As Treloar says, “‘Natural’ has no definition in the world of personal care.”
To ensure cleansers and scrubs are truly natural, you must look at the list of ingredients—all of them. “It might be all natural right down to the last ingredient,” Lore explains.
To narrow down the options, look for organic products. Although the Food and Drug Administration regulates personal care products, including facial cleansers and scrubs, it does not regulate organic claims. (That certification is handled through the Department of Agriculture, which cannot regulate organic claims on personal care products.) But facial scrubs and cleansers marketed as organic can follow the same labeling guidelines as organic food; others are verified through third parties.
“The organic label means there are a lot of things that aren’t included in the product,” explains Alan Dattner, MD, holistic dermatologist and author of Radiant Skin from the Inside Out (Picture Health). Such products may include toxic ingredients you’re trying to avoid.
If you’re concerned about a skincare product, check its ratings through SkinDeep (ewg.org/skindeep), a cosmetics database created by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.
Wash With Care
Even if you’re using the best natural products, you need to exercise caution when you’re washing or exfoliating your face.
“Your skin has a certain amount of minerals that keep it moist,” Dattner says. “If you wash your face too often, you strip the natural oils and minerals and it dries out your skin.”
When it comes to cleansing and exfoliation, be gentle.
In the mornings, use warm water and a washcloth to rinse your skin; use a cleanser—a gentle one, to avoid drying—in the evening to remove dirt, oil and makeup.
“You never want your skin to feel tight or dry after washing,” Treloar says. “If that happens, you can go with a gentler cleanser and add a moisturizer after washing your face.”
Your face doesn’t need daily exfoliation. In fact, using facial scrubs too often could irritate your skin. Treloar recommends using facial scrubs two to three times per week.
It’s also a good idea to see a holistic dermatologist or master aesthetician who specializes in natural skincare to address any problems that aren’t solved with a regular cleansing and exfoliation routine.
“Your skin health is reflective of your internal health,” Lore says. “If you’re not getting the results you want at home, consulting with a professional could help.”