DO YOU PANIC when you have to buy a new moisturizer? Have security cameras captured you wandering the drugstore aisles, shiftless, trying to make sense of the bewildering array? Oily skin. Dry skin. Sensitive. Combination . . . You didn't know your face required a chemistry degree!
And when the season throws wintry cold and stuffy heat into the mix, treating one problem often contributes to another. First your cleanser dries you out, and then your moisturizer makes you break out. Could the culprit be all of those mysterious (and potentially toxic) methyls, ethyls, and propyls that you can't even pronounce, let alone identify? Time to simplify.
Everything your skin needs for proper health can be found in your kitchen. The rule of thumb: If you wouldn't eat it, rule it out. People have been rubbing on comestibles for centuries. It's a natural, gentle, effective way to get that spa-day shine -- and whatever you don't use, bottle up and give away. Everyone needs a little pampering at this time of year.
There are a few basic rules when it comes to skin care: Remove dirt and surface oil, but don't strip away all your natural hydration. Moisturize, but don't clog pores. Exfoliate to remove dead cells, but not so much that your skin becomes irritated. With that in mind, delve into the following edibles, which can be used on all types of skin.
Dry Skin Succulents
Olive oil is a powerful moisturizer that doesn't clog pores. It's particularly good for hands, feet, and lips, but use it wherever you are dry or chapped. Get the best quality you can -- extra virgin contains the most skin-protecting antioxidants, and a little goes a long way.
Honey, although it can be pricey, is a natural antiseptic that heals and hydrates. In addition to producing a healthy glow, it inhibits infection and reduces inflammation. Dark is better than light, and the raw (unprocessed) kind is best of all.
Salt helps to open pores, exfoliates dead skin cells, and discourages bacteria. Coarse kosher salt makes a great scrub; for soaking, use sea salt, which dissolves more easily.
Oily Skin Astringents
Apple cider vinegar invigorates and tones, restores natural acid balance, and promotes healthy circulation. Vinegar also helps to dissolve excess oil and to eliminate dead skin, including dandruff.
Lemon juice contains citric acid, which exfoliates and promotes the growth of healthy new cells. It also has a mild bleaching effect that fades scars and evens out skin tone (avoid it if you don't want to lighten your complexion). Use fresh juice; the bottled kind often contains sulfites, which can cause allergic reactions.
Garlic is a natural astringent and antibiotic that helps your body heal. Applying it directly to skin may sting a little; try diluting a chopped clove in water instead.
Sensitive Skin Solutions
Baking soda will clean anything, and your skin is no exception. It absorbs oil, exfoliates, tightens pores, and draws out toxins, but it leaves your face feeling soft and smooth, not tight and dry. Add half a cup to the bath with a few cups of sea salt.
Cucumber soothes sensitive skin in the same way it cools the palate after a spicy meal. Place a slice on each eyelid for five minutes to refresh tired or puffy eyes.
Yogurt is a balm for irritation and encourages your skin to produce moisture. It contains mild lactic acid, which smoothes and helps to restore proper pH balance. Use the plain stuff -- cream-top whole milk for dry skin, low or nonfat for the oilier variety.
Recipes for Her
GENTLE FOAMING CLEANSER
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, apple cider vinegar (oilier skin), or plain yogurt (drier skin)
1/2 teaspoon water (1 teaspoon if using yogurt)
In a small bowl, add water to baking soda, then add lemon juice, vinegar, or yogurt and stir; the mixture will foam up. Wet face and gently massage in mixture, then rinse well with lukewarm water.
SALTY-SWEET BODY SMOOTHER
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons honey
Combine salt and honey in small bowl and use in the shower or bath to exfoliate and cleanse rough or dull skin. This smoother rinses away easily and leaves a pleasant honey scent.
COOL-AS-A-CUCUMBER SOOTHING MASK
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup peeled, chopped cucumber
Mix yogurt and cucumber with food processor or blender. Apply to face and leave on for five minutes, then rinse with cool water. This mask soothes the skin and takes care of blotchiness and irritation. It will stay fresh in the fridge for three to four days.
MEDITERRANEAN FOOT SCRUB
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine salt and olive oil in a small bowl and apply in rotating circles to damp skin wherever it's chapped or dry. This scrub treats scaly winter feet and makes ashy knees and elbows velvety soft. Careful, though -- the oil will make your tub slippery!
Recipes for Him
SPIKED VODKA AFTERSHAVE
1/2 cup vodka fragrant blend, sweet or spicy
1/2 cup mineral water
1 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2-inch piece vanilla bean, cut in half
2 bay leaves, broken
15 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
Add spices to vodka and steep in covered glass jar for at least one week (the longer it steeps, the stronger it will smell). Strain liquid and dilute with mineral water. Splash on after shaving -- the alcohol acts as a toner, astringent, and antiseptic, and a subtle scent will linger on the skin.
SALT AND PEPPER BODY SCRUB
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine salt, honey, and olive oil in small bowl, then mix in black pepper and vanilla. This scrubs away rough or dull skin from head to toe and leaves a scent that's a little bit spicy, a little bit sweet.
Reprinted from the inventive how-to magazine ReadyMade (Nov./Dec. 2004). Subscriptions: $27.95/yr. (6 issues) from Box 469172, Escondido, CA 92046; www.readymademag.com.